Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Break Time



I was planning to cover Licence to Kill this week and spend August just on Pierce Brosnan. It's turning out to be an unusual week though (in a good way), so I'm taking a break and will pick up again next week.

See you then.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Gernsback Continuum [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Johnny Mnemonic
I know its cheeky to speak ill of the successful. They are after all... successful. But I can't help it. "The Gernsback Continuum" by William Gibson begs me to be cheeky. And suggest an... improvement. Let's back up for a moment.

William Gibson, a fellow Canadian, has been big since the early 1980s. My first encounter with him was "Johnny Mnemonic" in Omni (May 1981), later made into a film with Keanu Reeves. Gibson is best remembered for Neuromancer (1984), the quintessential Cyber-Punk novel, which I still haven't gotten around to reading yet. "The Gernsback Continuum," according to editor Terry Carr (in Universe 11 (1981) was his second story to be published.

Universe 11
When I heard of the story, probably in some random Gernsback search for pulp publishing details about the editor, I sat up and took notice. A story that supposes a universe based on Gernsback's magazine publishing? I'm in! This is going to be a crazy pulp ride! I had read Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe (1949), that supposes a universe created in a fanboy's mind, and liked it a lot, but here was a story that takes Gernsback head on!

So I found my copy of Universe 11 and read "The Gersnback Continuum" and before I know it, it's over. It's a rather short story. And I am profoundly disappointed. Here's why. The plot follows a photographer named Parker who is hired to do a shoot about 1930s futuristic architecture and culture. He does so much of it that after a while he starts to see things like a boomerang-shaped propeller-driven ship. The Gernsbackian reality is taking over in his mind. He talks to a friend, Merv Kihn, who reports for the UFO magazines but Kihn says it happens all the time and it doesn't mean you're crazy. The climax comes when Parker sees a man and a woman from that weird future-that-never-was. They're tall, blond, white, and robotic (in the sense that they appear less human). Parker flees the vision and the story ends with the photographer's numbing his sensitivity by focusing on the dullness and strife of today, keeping that past vision of the future at bay.

Frank R Paul
Which is pretty good but... it's not enough. I needed more to buy it all. I wanted the two people from the vision to take him to their world of the future. And in a plot right out of Gernsback's magazine, the visitor would see why this world is too perfect. Maybe there are no races anymore, only the Teutonic Nazi version. Maybe children are raised by machines and the air is filled with propeller ships and SHIELD-style flying fortresses. With the resultant pollution problem (heroically fixed by a single scientist who brilliantly saved the earth from fossil fuels), maybe Parker even starts to fall for one of these future gals. Come on, if you've read any 1930s SF you know what I'm talking about: an Edmond Hamilton plot within a Gernsback story, and in the end he saves himself from becoming one of these terrible future drones by a memory. A single memory of something so un-Gernsbackian, it draws him back to our reality. Perhaps something from the Hippie '60s (like listening to Zeppelin II for the first time) or even God-help-us the Disco '70s. Something that says the way the world went was better. (I'll leave that really hard part for Bill Gibson to figure out. He is collecting the check after all.)

So, that's what I was expecting. Now, it's not fair to put all that pressure on Gibson's second published story, but wait, there's more!

I thought someone might have adapted the story so a Google search told me I was right. A British short film from 1993 called Tomorrow Calling starring one of my favorite British actors, Colin Salmon. He's been in Bond films, on Doctor Who, but more recently he played Walter Steele on Arrow. The short film version sticks pretty close to Gibson, and only reinforced what I thought after reading the story. It's too facile; not Gernsbackian enough.



So where do we go from here? I don't think Gibson has any real desire to write about 1930s pulp anymore. He does like using the Raymond Chandler mode in his novels, but the futures he sees - like in his last novel, The Peripheral (2014) - are much darker than those goofy Frank R Paul drawings. "The Gernsback Continuum" exists for me in those crumbling pulp pages, but Gibson 's characters were too afraid to explore that shiny world of machines and machine-like people. I think I'll have to be satisfied with a little vintage Edmond Hamilton or A Hyatt Verrill, a world that is AMAZING and filled with WONDER, but as Gibson suggests, perhaps a little too haunting and cold.

Next stop? The Farnsworth Wright Protraction!

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Living Daylights (1987) | Music



Inspired by the success of Duran Duran's theme for A View to a Kill, the producers chose another hot-right-then New Wave band to record the theme for The Living Daylights. Rumor has it that the Pet Shop Boys were also approached, but turned it down because they wouldn't get to do the whole score. The Pretenders were also considered, but a-ha was more popular at the time, so the Pretenders instead created a couple of extra songs for use later in the move. "Where Has Everybody Gone" is Necros' favorite and gets adapted into the score as a dangerous action theme, while "If There Was a Man" is played over the closing credits and is adapted as a love theme for Bond and Kara.

John Barry famously didn't get along with a-ha during their collaboration, though - like Duran Duran - the band admitted to appreciating his input. I have no idea how their conversations went, but if I had to pick a side, I'd be planting my flag with a-ha. That's even though I like Barry's movie mix of the song better than the band's (which appeared on their album, Stay On These Roads). I was a huge fan of those guys in the '80s and still am. They have a reputation of being a one-hit wonder thanks to the enormous success of "Take On Me," but people are forgetting not only "The Living Daylights," but "The Sun Always Shines on TV" and "Cry Wolf," which both got a lot of radio time in the US. The band did even better in Europe and went on to release seven more albums after The Living Daylights, with an eighth coming out this September. If you've ever liked a-ha, all their stuff is worth checking out, especially Minor Earth Major Sky from 2000.

I could seriously go on and on about a-ha, but I'll just leave it at "I love this band" and "I love this song." Morten Harket's falsetto is amazing as always and though the lyrics make even less sense than "View to a Kill," they sound vaguely dangerous and paranoid and set a cool tone for the film. The song was a great follow up to Duran Duran and raised my hopes quite a bit for the future of James Bond themes.

Too bad the credits aren't as great. They're not awful, but I'm bored with Maurice Binder's style by now. The Living Daylights credits are more photography, mostly of the usual acrobatics or women lounging in swimwear with softly rippling water. Not that water or swimwear have anything to do with the movie. They don't even have anything to do with the song, though that's where Binder gets a lot of the credits' imagery. Like when Harket sings, "Comes the morning and the headlights fade away," Binder shows a headlight... you know... fading away.

As usual for a Barry score, the James Bond Theme isn't used enough in The Living Daylights, but it's in play more than he often lets it be. He's actually created a cool, snappy version of it and plays extended bits of it during the cold open and again during the Aston Martin chase. But he relies really heavily on the adaptations of the Pretenders songs and even a-ha's (during the rooftop chase in Tangiers and the airplane escape from the Soviet base).

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. The Living Daylights
3. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service instrumental theme
5. Diamonds Are Forever
6. You Only Live Twice
7. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
8. Live and Let Die
9. Dr No
10. Thunderball

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia with Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. Live and Let Die
9. Moonraker
10. Octopussy


The Living Daylights (1987) | Villains



Ever since Red Grant in From Russia with Love, the Bond series has loved to give us big, blonde henchmen. There's actually not that many of them, but there's still enough repetition that I usually groan and shrug when I see one. Necros is a step above the rest though (while not rising to Grant's level, I mean). I don't know if it's the accents that he's able to adopt or his wearing some great-looking glasses the first time he kills someone, but he's way more memorable than his counterparts in You Only Live Twice and For Your Eyes Only. And he's a Pretenders fan (though he needs to buy more than just that one song).



Brad Whitaker is the weakest part of The Living Daylights. I tend to like Joe Don Baker, but this character is infuriating with his stupid "pantheon" and his his stupid pretending-to-be-a-statue that makes him look ridiculous. He's a huge nerd too, but not any kind that I like. He's never participated in or contributed to the subject he's so passionate about, but that doesn't keep him from being an attention whore with judgmental opinions that he forces on everyone in the room. He's kind of like Hugo Drax for me. Both of those guys rub me the wrong way on a deeply personal level.



Georgi Koskov, on the other hand, is a great villain. Jeroen Krabbé is hilarious and exuberant in the part, especially early on when he's hiding his true nature. Even when he's revealed as evil, he's still entertainingly obnoxious. My one gripe about him - and it's a big one - is that he should have died in that Jeep explosion at the airbase. That's a very A-Team moment, and not in a good way.

Koskov's plan is pretty good. Unlike Orlov's in Octopussy - which was full of stupid errors and had no chance of not being found out - Koskov knows where his vulnerability is and takes steps to fill it. His mistake is deliberately involving Bond, who's just better and smarter than Koskov and Whitaker. But that's awesome. I want to see Bond succeed on talent and wits (and a gadget or two); not because the bad guy's dumb.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Necros (The Living Daylights)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Living Daylights (1987) | Women



Already kind of talked about the function of Margot's friend. The credits call her Linda, but she's never named in the film. So let's move on to...



Kara Milovy is one of my favorite women in the whole series. She functions the way women do in Fleming's novels. Not as part of an endless procession for Bond to have his way with and leave, but as a person who - for better or worse - has an effect on him. She's a perfect companion for Dalton's authentic Bond.

More than any other woman in a Bond film - including Tracy - her relationship with Bond feels like a real thing. I can see with my eyes that she's falling in love with him and I believe it every step of the way. And I believe that he also likes her. It's never going to last because he's too messed up and driven, but that carnival stuff is beautiful and (because we know how it's going to end) heartbreaking.

I love that Kara's a normal woman. She's not a spy or a villain (or even "kept" by a villain). She just got involved with the wrong dude. But she's brave and tough. I don't think she gets enough credit for that, because she does spend some time getting rescued and yelling, "James!" but she's the one who convinces Kamran Shah to help Bond escape the Soviet airbase. Everything she does in that battle is to help and rescue him.

There's a great scene at the end of that battle that defines her for me. She's stolen a Jeep and is racing down the runway to catch Bond's plane so that she can escape with him. She pulls up alongside the cockpit and he pantomimes that he's going to lower the back ramp and let her drive up. She doesn't get it right away and his frustration is funny, but then - without any additional effort from him - she gets it and pulls the Jeep into position. At first, it looks like she's a comedic ditz and a danger to herself and Bond. That's what we expect from this kind of character. But in reality, she's very smart and a way better partner to him than he - or we - hoped for.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
3. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
4. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
5. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
6. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
7. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
8. Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)
9. Mary Goodnight (The Man with the Golden Gun)
10. Andrea Anders (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Living Daylights (1987) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Before Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton was my favorite Bond. Until recently, I would have told you that it was Connery, but too many rewatches of You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever have changed that. It's not that those are bad movies (which they are); it's that Connery is bad in them. I have problems with Licence to Kill that dilute my enthusiasm for Dalton's short run, but the problems are never with him. He's always doing excellent work, playing exactly the kind of intense, serious Bond that I want to see.

Not that he can't joke. There's a lot of humor in his performance, but it's normal person humor. That's the big key for me. I like the quippy, gallivanting Bond a lot, but I love flawed, tragic Bond so much more. When Dalton introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond," he says it like a guy at a party, not like he's expecting someone to applaud. And as I mentioned yesterday and will talk about more below, Dalton still jokes and quips, but his humor feels genuine. Don't get me wrong: I love Moore's deadpan and Connery's grimacing at his own jokes. But they're playing larger-then-life versions of Bond. And I understand that that's exactly what makes him so attractive a character most of the time. But my heart has a special place for the unromantic, literary Bond.

I mean "unromantic" in the sense that he's unfantastic and down-to-earth. As we see in the cold open when he delays checking in for an hour, Dalton's Bond certainly has time for women. Once he meets Kara in The Living Daylights, he sticks with her, but he's still got the reputation of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. The concierge at the hotel in Austria is used to Bond's checking in with various women and Saunders, the head of Station V, can't really take Bond seriously because of the rep. Dalton is at ease and charming on his carnival date with Kara and I can see why the ladies like him. But I can also see why his intensity and underlying anger mean that he can never have a lasting relationship with a woman. That's totally Fleming's Bond right there.

Speaking of Saunders, he's an interesting character because he acts as a surrogate for viewers who are expecting a different kind of Bond than what Dalton is. Saunders has heard all the stories about Bond and he's not impressed. He's expecting an agent who's more interested in women than getting the job done. Let's face it, he's expecting Roger Moore. So as Dalton loses patience with Saunders, he's also losing patience with that expectation, making clear that he's doing something totally different.

Back to Bond and women though, we've got a new Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) and it's tough to figure her out. Or more likely, it's easy, but I'm resisting. There's a smile on her lips as she invites Bond to come over sometime to listen to Barry Manilow records. Is she joking? I want her to be. I want to find a hint of the mutual flirtation that the best of Lois Maxwell's scenes had. But I don't think she is. She lets out a telling sigh and when he puts her glasses back onto her face crooked, he obviously isn't taking her seriously. Bliss' Moneypenny is every bit the infatuated schoolgirl that Maxwell's had the reputation for.

Another female ally for Bond is Rosika Miklos, who helps him put Koskov into the "pig" to go through the oil pipes. I like her a lot. She's fun and confident. She's sexual, but not with Bond, which is refreshing. They just seem like work buddies.

Bond's professionalism also affects his relationship with M and the Minister of Defense in a positive way. They're furious when Koskov is abducted, but even though Bond's in the room when they're shouting, they don't blame him. M does threaten to recall 008 from Hong Kong if Bond can't/won't kill Pushkin, but that feels like a serious business consideration rather than an idle threat made from irritation. Robert Brown's dull, bureaucratic M is shocked when Bond makes substitutions to Koskov's gift-basket, but I imagine that he hasn't had to deal with much embarrassment over Dalton's Bond. Dalton isn't the kind of guy who's going to get caught by the top brass in bed with another agent.

I sort of wish that Walter Gotell had been up to playing Gogol for longer, but I don't have strong feelings about it. Pushkin is fine and I do like John Rhys-Davies. It just would have been cool for Gotell's last film in the series to have held such a significant part for him. Rhys-Davies makes me believe that he has a previous relationship with Bond though and he owns the role so much that it's hard to imagine Gotell in it. And it's nice closure to see that Gogol has moved on from the KGB and is doing other things.

Bond's new attitude also brings with it a sort of role reversal for him and Q. We get a nice, "Pay attention, 007" from Q, but without the usual irritation. Bond takes the briefing seriously and "pay attention" is just Q's usual way of starting his lecture. If anything, Q is now the silly one. It's not intentional; he's just a little absent-minded. He bumps his head on the Aston Martin at one point and later foolishly asks Bond to whistle while in a gas-mask.

One of Bond's coolest allies is the man known only as Green Four. He's the butler/security operative at the Blayden safehouse and puts up a surprisingly awesome fight when Necros shows up to abduct Koskov. You think Necros is going to end him quickly and move on, but the fight lasts a long time with the nameless agent nearly beating the superhenchman. It's a great, trope-breaking touch.

Felix Leiter is back, played by Jack Shephard's dad from Lost. It's a tiny appearance, but I like John Terry a lot in the role. He's laid back and casual like I want Felix to be. The thing I hate about the Bond movies is the inconsistency of Felix Leiter and it's times like this - when we get one I really want to see more of - that that hurts most.

The last ally to talk about is Kamran Shah. I feel like he deserves more discussion than I'm interested in giving him, just because of the way political relationships with Afghanistan have changed since 1987. Is Shah a freedom fighter or a terrorist? That's a way deeper discussion than I want to get into in a post about James Bond, but feel free to hit me up privately if you want to hash that out. In the movie, I like Shah a lot. He's charming and complex and adds interest to a section of the movie that's otherwise overlong. I like the stuff in Afghanistan and I can't think of any of it that I would like to cut, but it does add up to a lot of screen time.

Best Quip



"We have a saying too, Georgi. And you're full of it." Georgi Koskov is a great villain, but he really is full of crap (though I don't think that's the expression Bond's thinking of) and it's great to see Bond finally call him on it.

There aren't a lot of quips in The Living Daylights, though Bond does have a sense of humor. Whether it's the self-deprecating way he orders his vodka martini or the lame excuses he comes up with for his car's gadgets, he's not so driven and serious that he can't enjoy himself.

He even comes up with a good old-fashioned death quip after he finishes off Necros: "He got the boot." It wouldn't be an especially strong one, but I love the way Dalton says it. He comes back into the cockpit in a good mood now that he and Kara are safe and just starts to make with the joke before realizing they're about to crash into a mountain. He's all, "He got the..." then gets an "oh crap!" look on his face before lamely finishing the line. If you're going to make a bad joke, that's the way to do it.

Worst Quip



Sadly, Dalton delivers "He met his Waterloo" totally straight.

Gadgets



Bond only uses a couple of gadgets in The Living Daylights, but they're both multi-purpose. The personal one is the key-ring locator. It's magnetic and has a great collection of skeleton keys, but the really nifty parts are the stun gas and explosive charge keyed to particular whistles.

Better than that is Bond's new car, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. It's a great-looking vehicle that comes with a laser cutter, rockets, outrigger, spiked tires, rocket motor, and self-destruct.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
6. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
7. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
8. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
9. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
10. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)

Bond's Best Outfit



I did say I love a leather jacket and this is a great one. Very European. Like the layered sweater look on him, too.

Bond's Worst Outfit



Dalton pulls off every look they give him, including the Mujahideen raider outfit. But once he lost the black, badass head covering, it let me notice how baggy those pants are. And since I gotta pick something...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Living Daylights (1987) | Story



Plot Summary

Another Soviet general looks at Orlov's notes from Octopussy, figures out a better (if no less complicated) way to work that plan, but stupidly gets Bond involved on purpose.

Influences

It was clear to everyone - filmmakers and audiences both - that A View to a Kill was one Roger Moore movie too many. People didn't like it and (worse) it made no money. It was time to finally get a new Bond. Pierce Brosnan was super popular thanks to Remington Steele, so he was Broccoli's first choice. But when the producers of that show screwed the deal by exercising a last-minute option to renew Brosnan's contract, Broccoli had to go with Plan B.

Timothy Dalton had already been considered for the role a few times, going all the way back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He's said in interviews since that he turned it down that first time because he didn't want to follow Connery (though his official reason at the time was that he was in his mid-20s and considered himself too young). He was approached again for Octopussy, but Broccoli decided not to cast a new Bond against Connery in Never Say Never Again, and Dalton likely wouldn't have accepted the role anyway. He always preferred a darker, more Fleming-esque Bond to the campy clown (literally, in Octopussy's case) of the Moore era. The series needed to balloon and burst again before it was ready for Dalton.

And burst it did after A View to a Kill. The Bond series has always had cycles of trying to top itself; getting bigger and bigger until it gets out of control and has to go back to basics and start all over again. It happened after You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, and A View to a Kill, and it happened again after Die Another Day.

For the story, Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum picked one of the few remaining Fleming tales, "The Living Daylights." It's one of Fleming's better short stories, featuring a very angry James Bond on a mission to protect a returning double agent by shooting the sniper assigned to kill him. It's perfect material for Dalton to play the back-to-basics, Fleming-like Bond that he wanted.

How Is the Book Different?

The opening (post-credits) scene of the movie is right out of the short story with one important exception. Instead of protecting a returning double-agent, Bond is trying to save a defecting Soviet general. That opens up the possibility that there's a deeper plot afoot, which Bond immediately suspects when he realizes that the sniper he's supposed to kill doesn't know what she's doing. (In the short story, she actually is an assassin, but he still refuses to kill her.) From there, the movie goes into all-new territory, but I love the approach of starting with faithfulness to Fleming and spinning off from there.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



In addition to the whole Czech mission, Bond repeats the line from the short story that gives the tale its name. In that same scene, he does one of my favorite things in any Bond movie. When Saunders threatens to complain to M about Bond's performance, Bond replies, "Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I'll thank him for it." And he means it. That's not only the Bond of "The Living Daylights," it's the Bond at the end of Casino Royale and a few other books. Fleming's Bond struggles a lot with his job and this is the first time we've seen that in a movie. The first time I saw this movie, that's the moment I fell in love with Dalton's Bond.

Speaking of early Fleming, I also love that The Living Daylights makes use of SMERSH, the proto-SPECTRE of the first novels. Sadly, it's just a diversionary tactic by the real villains, but it still makes me smile.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



The whole movie is incredibly faithful to the spirit of Fleming's books, but it's hard to imagine Fleming's Bond getting along and working with the head of the KGB. Bond's relationship with Pushkin is a child of the Moore era. In fact, I understand that Pushkin's character was originally going to be General Gogol, but Walter Gotell was too ill to play that large a role. Pushkin and Bond's friendship works in the context of the movie series though. No complaints.

Cold Open



Gibraltar is a cool place to stage a set piece. And I like the idea of the Double-Os taking on the SAS in a training exercise. I don't even mind that M is there to personally oversee it. That's one of the few times where his presence in the field sort of makes sense.

What I don't like is how horrible the other Double-Os are. This is the reason we need some real, butt-kicking Double-Os. In Octopussy, 009 is murdered after running through the woods with a balloon strapped to his wrist and dressed like a clown. Bond finds 003 frozen in Siberia after a failed mission in A View to a Kill. And let's not forget 002, poor Bill Fairbanks, who was murdered by Scaramanga prior to The Man with the Golden Gun.

Another 002 appears in The Living Daylights, but he's rubbish. He parachutes into a tree and quickly gets himself out, but then stands in the middle of the road until an SAS soldier pops out from behind a bush to shoot him twice. 004 isn't nearly as incompetent, but he has a worse fate when he's murdered by the fake SMERSH agent to lend credibility to Koskov's story later on. (Incidentally, the Bond movies do have one other Double-O who may be Bond's equal. 008 is never killed and is brought up in both Goldfinger and The Living Daylights as a potential replacement for Bond if Bond can't continue his duties.)

As sad as the other Double-Os are in the Living Daylights cold open, I forgive it for introducing Bond the way it does. We don't see his face until he reacts to 004's screams. Dalton immediately gives the impression of someone with whom you do not want to mess. And that gets even stronger when he leaps into action, chasing the killer and extricating himself from a flaming vehicle full of explosives that's plunging toward the sea. It's not as flashy a stunt as the best of the Roger Moore ones, but it proves that Dalton's Bond is relentless and resourceful. And when he answers a bored woman's wishes for "a real man" by landing on her boat and stealing her phone, we find that he's also got a charming side, even if it's a bit rough.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. The Spy Who Loved Me
2. Moonraker
3. Thunderball
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. A View to a Kill
6. Goldfinger
7. The Man with the Golden Gun
8. The Living Daylights
9. For Your Eyes Only
10. Octopussy

Movie Series Continuity



I read a rumor that there were ideas of officially rebooting the series with Living Daylights, as in a really obvious way like with Casino Royale. I don't know if that's true, but they definitely didn't end up that way. We have a new Bond and a new Moneypenny, but M, Q, the Minister of Defense, and Gogol (who does make a quick appearance) are all the same.

Like M in the cold open, Q goes into the field again too, but his presence there also makes more sense than usual. He's helping with Koskov's defection, presumably overseeing the technological elements of sneaking Koskov through the oil pipes.

Other nods to past continuity include MI6's Universal Exports sign outside their HQ. And though Bond isn't an obnoxious know-it-all, he does use his expertise to choose a better brand of champagne for Koskov's debriefing than the one M (or his people) picked out.

There's also a "shaken not stirred" line when Bond checks into his hotel in Austria, but it's delivered with humor. Dalton undercuts a lot of the silly clichés with his line readings. He's serious about wanting his martini a certain way, but he's letting the concierge know that he realizes it's a frivolous indulgence. I'll talk about more examples of this tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Double-O Movie Universe

My buddy Pax (from Nerd Lunch and the Cavalcade of Awesome) and I got to talking about how poorly the Bond series treats all the Double-Os except Bond. Octopussy and A View to a Kill both start with Bond's picking up the mission of a dead Double-O and things get even worse in the movie we're covering this week. Pax mentioned that it would be cool if we saw some Double-Os worthy of the designation and added, "That's a Bond Movie Universe right there. Movies about the other 00 agents. Then every few years they all crossover."

We started talking about who we'd like to see play the other Double-Os and invited the rest of the Nerd Lunchers (Carlin and Jeeg) and my frequent co-guest Kay to join in. This is who we came up with.

001: Emily Blunt



Anyone who saw Edge of Tomorrow knows how tough Emily Blunt is. And she's got Sicario coming out in September where she plays an FBI agent fighting a drug cartel in Mexico. She's got the presence to play a spy whom audiences will take seriously, but as seen in movies like Looper and The Adjustment Bureau, she's also got the range to give that character depth and make us care about her.

002: John Boyega



It's appropriate that John Boyega was the suggestion of Kay, Star Wars fan extraordinaire. If he isn't already, Boyega is about to become a household name thanks to The Force Awakens. And if you've seen any interviews with him, you know how charismatic he is. Of course, fans of Attack the Block already know this. There's a lot that's great about that movie, but Boyega's at the top of the list. The script for Attack the Block asks viewers to hate Boyega's character at the beginning, but love him by the end, and Boyega is the perfect man for that job. I'd love to see him play a suave, but impulsive and unconventional Double-O.

003: Dan Stevens



Downtown Abbey fans know how charming Dan Stevens can be. Anyone who's seen The Guest knows how much the world is hurting for more action films from this guy. Hurting. Please stop hurting the world.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ranking the First 15 Bond Movies



We've finished another five Bond movies and wrapped up Roger Moore, so it's time to check in again and see how the films stack up so far. As usual, we'll do it two different ways.

The first list is based on the accumulated rankings of the individual parts I've been measuring in this project: women, villains, theme song, cold open, gadgets, henchmen, and title sequence. There's a complicated, Top Secret algorithm for figuring that out and it assigns a total points value to each movie. Here's how they fall when measured that way.

1. Thunderball (127 pts)
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (85 pts)
3. From Russia with Love (69 pts)
4. Goldfinger (55 pts)
5. The Spy Who Loved Me  (51 pts)
6. Never Say Never Again (46 pts)
7. The Man with the Golden Gun (41 pts)
8. A View to a Kill (38 pts)
9. For Your Eyes Only (36 pts)
10. TIE: Live and Let Die and Moonraker (33 pts each)

The second list is based on my gut reaction. It's how I personally feel about the movies, taking into account crucial elements that I'm not ranking like plots, actors, tone, and pacing.

1. From Russia with Love
2. Thunderball
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. Dr. No
5. For Your Eyes Only
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Never Say Never Again
8. Goldfinger
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
10. Live and Let Die

Monday, July 20, 2015

Atlas' Barbarians of Vengeance [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Atlas Comics (also known as Seaboard) has a weird but brief history. The company was started in 1974 by Martin Goodman, the man who took Marvel to the top of the pile. Having sold Marvel for millions, he was ready to walk away, with his son Chip Goodman ensconced as editorial director at the "House of Ideas." When Stan Lee fired Chip, some believe, Martin took his money and began the rival company, giving it the nickname "Vengeance Inc."

Goodman's policy was simple: Copy everything Marvel. Steal their ideas, steal their people, with higher pay and creator's rights. This included their successful sword-and-sorcery title, Conan the Barbarian, which became two titles: Ironjaw by Michael Fleisher and Wulf the Barbarian by Larry Hama. Despite the fact that both Ironjaw and Wulf were wandering barbarian/princes, the two comics were as different as their underlying philosophies.

Ironjaw's creator, Mike Fleisher, had a bad boy reputation in comics. At DC he wrote such downer characters as the violent Spectre and the unattractive gunslinger, Jonah Hex. He left DC to join Atlas and create the barbarian Ironjaw, giving him the same name as the 1942 Lev Gleason Nazi villain from Boy Comics, even the same wide metallic mandible. Much has been made of the essay at the end of the first issue where the editor tells about Fleisher's method of writing Ironjaw, basing it on "what a real man, placed in that same situation, would do." Sadly, this drive for "realism" means Ironjaw is a robber, a rapist, and an idiot. He lacks Robert E Howard's brooding fatalism and comes off like an adolescent.

The first two issues of Ironjaw follow how he regains a throne he didn't even know he had lost. In a Hamlet-like scenario, the step-father had become king while the father was murdered. The baby heir Roland was supposed to be drowned, but instead was left among the rocks. He was found by the robber Tarlok, who raised the boy. Now a mighty fighter, Ironjaw seeks only gold, wine, and women. He ends up with the throne, but soon leaves it behind when he sees the job as monotonous and dull. In the third issue (May 1975), we see Ironjaw return home to his bandit brothers and rescue Tarlok from head-hunters.

Ironjaw #1 (January 1975) bore a Neal Adams cover. This is significant because Adams was the man who had produced the first covers for Marvel's Savage Tales and Savage Sword of Conan (strongly associating him with sword-and-sorcery) and because he was a relentless champion of creator's rights. Later he would be the point man on securing Jack Kirby his original art and getting the creators of Superman credit and money from DC. When the independents came along in the 1980s, he was active with companies like Pacific Comics. All that started here with Atlas, doing their best covers.

The interior art in the first issue was by Mike Sekowsky and Jack Abel. The look of the artwork was adequate, feeling a little like what Ditko had done for Warren back in 1965. Abel was one of the old crew of inkers from DC, having done Superman for years. Still, the look wasn't very Conan and Goodman wanted everything to scream Marvel. The second issue (March 1975) also had another Neal Adams cover, but the story art was done by Pablo Marcos. Marcos had been doing horror art for Skywald, Warren, and Marvel. This was his first chance to pencil and ink sword-and-sorcery and he made the most of it, producing very nice work that looked more like John Buscema's Conan than Sekowsky's did. Marcos would finish the run as artist. After Atlas folded he would become one of the regular inkers on Savage Sword of Conan.

Alternating with Ironjaw, Wulf the Barbarian #1 appeared in February 1975. Written by Larry Hama, it has a very different feel to Fleisher's downbeat work. Where Ironjaw is a Conan imitation, Wulf the Barbarian bears a stronger resemblance to JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, with its Trolls of Drakenroost and the evil sorcerer Mordek, who rules them. Young Prince Wulf of Baernholm sees his father and mother slain and swears a blood oath for vengeance. He's raised by Stavro, the king's man, but when Stavro is murdered, Wulf arms himself and pursues the killer, the same troll who had slain his mother. Using one of Stavro's juggling tricks, Wulf gets back the sword of his father and takes his first revenge. He rides off, swearing to kill the sorcerer Mordek next.

The artwork was penciled by Larry Hama and inked by Klaus Jansen, who as a young fan had written letters to Charlton's Adventures of the Man-God Hercules, eight year earlier. Now he had a chance to do his own sword-and-sorcery comic. The Hama-Jansen art looks similar to DC's Sword of Sorcery or Claw the Unconquered. It didn't look much like Conan the Barbarian, but since Ironjaw did, perhaps there was less pressure. After leaving Atlas, Jansen became inker for Frank Miller on Daredevil, a move that would establish him in comics forever.

In the second issue (April 1975) Wulf takes up with a swordswoman, a rogue, and a magician to kill a wizard who has plagued the land with drought. Like the Conan story "Rogues in the House," they enter the wizard's domain and confront horrors, including a giant water demon named Bel-Shugthra. Sacrificing one of his comrades, Wulf summons a fire elemental to fight the water demon. They flee and the tower explodes House of Usher style. Of all of Wulf's adventures this one is closest to Robert E Howard. (Well, Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp anyway.)

By June 1975, Atlas was in trouble. The comics were not selling and Martin Goodman was losing writers and artists. The reason for leaving was not necessarily money, which Goodman had been generous with, but editorial tampering. All that promised freedom hadn't materialized when the owners looked at the sales figures. Goodman pushed for more Marvel-ness, and people left. This included both Michael Fleisher and Larry Hama. (Fleisher would write Conan the Barbarian from 1983 to 1985 before becoming a professional anthropologist. Hama would turn to acting, appearing in guest spots on MASH and Saturday Night Live, but would return to comics and create Bucky O'Hare.) In fact, all the titles were now written by Gary Friedrich. Friedrich had created Ghost Rider for Marvel and even the copy-cat "Hell Rider" for Skywald. He now had the big job of carrying on every title for the company.

June 1975 saw a strange experiment for Ironjaw. The Barbarians featuring Ironjaw #1 published a short 10-pager called "Mountain of Mutants," written by Gary Friedrich and drawn by Pablo Marcos. Ironjaw is set in a post-apocalyptic America and this story tells how mutants from the nuclear war were created. Ironjaw is captured by these twisted creatures, but his life is spared by their queen. He must fight a giant mutant in an arena to prove the worthiness of the human race. Along with this tale was a reprint of the first portion of "Andrax," a European comic written by Peter Wiechmann and drawn by superstar Jordi Bernet. It too supposes a world strangely changed by radiation with monstrous mutations. Sadly, since there were no future issues, the "Andrax" story line is left incomplete. The cover for this one-shot was drawn by Rich Buckler and Jack Abel. Buckler did not give up his gig on Batman at DC for this, but had been experimental in sword-and-sorcery comics with "The Bloodstaff"(Eerie #29, September 1970) and "The Shadow of the Sword" (Hot Stuf'#1, Summer 1974).

The changes at Atlas became apparent from the first cover. Wulf the Barbarian #s 3 and 4 had covers by Canadian newcomer, Jim Craig. Craig would pencil the last issue as well. His style is reminiscent of Joe Staton at Charlton. Even worse, the interiors art for Issue #3 was given to Leo Summers (who had drawn for Creepy) and inked by anonymous collectives like the "Atlas Bullpen." Issue #3 was written by Steven Skeates, who had created "Thane of Bagarth" at Charlton years before, then wrote for Warren and DC. Wulf and his new Moorcockian companion Rymstrydle rescue a lady from the Rat-Men and their kangaroo mounts only to find that she is destined to marry Modeo, the son of Mordek. They take her to her fiancé's tech-filled castle. Wulf almost kills Modeo until he finds out the machine master hates his father as much as Wulf does. Unfortunately, Modeo's been played for a fool and Mordek takes control of his giant robot. The good guys escape in a hot air balloon.

Issue #4 was written by Mike Friedrich (not Gary, no relation) who had only recently started publishing his independent comic anthology Star*Reach. After stealing a horse from a female brigand, Wulf falls in with Lord Makhel, an old friend of the family. The lord is afflicted with a curse, turning him into a blood-sucking fiend. The brigands attack again and Wulf is forced to kill his old friend when he transforms. The female brigand, Beatryce, escapes shouting behind her that she might one day be his queen. If more issues had been printed, we can assume Wulf eventually got his throne back and married Beatryce.

In the final issue of Ironjaw #4 (July 1975), Gary Friedrich begins the origin of Ironjaw's namesake. The adopted son of Tarlok grows up into a minstrel and his songs are turning all the bandit girls' heads. One of the bandits, Dektor, crucifies the minstrel (Conan style!), then mutilates his jaw with a hot sword. Carlotta, Dektor's betrothed, who has fallen for the minstrel, takes him to the witch Soran for medical help. The witch turns herself into a beautiful woman and falls for her patient. Not only does she save his life, but she augments his physique magically. She has a smith create his iron jaw to cover his disfigurement and allow him to speak. She also says she will take him to be trained in the martial arts so that he can exact his revenge on Dektor. The issue ends there, so we never get to see what comes about, but it's not hard to guess that Dektor will die and the witch will be spurned, Ironjaw riding away singing Lynyrd Skynrd's "Free Bird." Friedrich's approach to writing an Ironjaw story is not much different than Fleisher, except that he breaks up the flashbacks with some present day dragon-fighting.

But Atlas wasn't quite done with sword-and-sorcery yet. "Temple of the Spider" appeared in their black and white magazine, Thrilling Adventures Stories #2 (August 1975). This was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Walt Simonson, who both knew plenty about sword-and-sorcery comics. Goodwin wrote the first and most important sword-and-sorcery stories for Warren between 1965 and 1967. Walt Simonson worked on Sword of Sorcery at DC in 1973 and then wrote and drew a sword-and-sorcery parody, "A Tale of Sword & Sorcery" for Star*Reach #1 (April 1974). In later years, Simonson would bring a sword-and-sorcery feel to Thor at Marvel.

The plot for "Temple of the Spider" follows two ronin, the young and impulsive Harada and the older Ishiro. They seek a treasure in the Temple of the Spider, but find instead a cave behind the shrine, filled with giant spiders. "Temple of the Spider" is intriguing because it shows Simonson's interest in Japanese manga, a style he partially adopts for this piece. Manga had not really hit America yet, with the first piece to appear in Star*Reach #7 (January 1977) with Sitoshi Hirota and Masaichi Mukaide's "The Bushi."

Atlas/Seaboard closed its doors fall of 1975. "Temple of the Spider" was later reprinted in Swords of Valor #3 (A-Plus Comics, 1990), a hint of what was to come in March 2011, when At Last Entertainment (started by grandson Jason Goodman) revived Wulf in a four-part mini-series written by Steve Niles and drawn by Nat Jones. The comic is dedicated to "the hard work of Martin and Chip Goodman." The new comic takes Wulf out of his barbaric world and places him in ours, chasing a hideous necromancer through dimensions. Ironjaw comes in halfway through and the two Atlas characters finally get to rumble together against some rather Cthulhian bad asses. Of all the comics produced at Atlas/Seaboard, only their sword-and-sorcery characters are remembered well enough to warrant reprinting or reviving.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A View to a Kill (1985) | Music



The story goes that John Taylor from Duran Duran (with a few drinks in him) approached Cubby Broccoli at a party and asked when they were going to get someone "decent" to do a Bond song. Taylor's a Bond fan (he talks about it a bit in this 1985 interview for the movie) and I can imagine that his asking that was as much out of frustration over the blandness of the last few theme songs as it was out of ambition. At any rate, Broccoli listened and Duran Duran worked with John Barry to create one of greatest Bond songs of all time.

I kind of dread writing about Skyfall and having to pick between that song and this one, but I'm a huge Duran Duran fan and "View to a Kill" pushes all my buttons. From the pounding drums and synth to the nonsensically poetic lyrics and the delightfully whiney way that Simon LeBon sings them, it's a perfect Duran Duran song and it makes me so happy to have it in a Bond movie. I remember being ecstatic at the time, hoping that this was a herald for better times for Bond music.

To go with it, Maurice Binder created a very '80s opening credits sequence with blacklight effects and girls literally dancing into the fire. There's a lot of dancing in the credits, but also pointing guns and skiing. Binder's been using more photography in his last few sequences, with silhouettes just popping in now and then. At some point he'll work in a unique image like in A View to a Kill where he has Bond shoot at a woman to turn her into ice for some reason. It's been a while since I've felt any real inspiration from his titles. He's mostly just picking a gimmick and then doing his usual thing with it and I admit that I'm getting weary of the formula. Maybe that's because I'm watching these so close together.

Barry barely uses the Bond Theme in A View to a Kill. It shows up clearly as Bond chases the parachuting May Day through Paris, but other than that it's only just noticeable as part of another action theme that Barry uses during the ski chase, the fight at Stacey's house, and the fight on top of the Golden Gate bridge.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service instrumental theme
4. Diamonds Are Forever
5. You Only Live Twice
6. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
7. Live and Let Die
8. Dr No
9. Thunderball
10. Goldfinger

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia with Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. Live and Let Die
9. Moonraker
10. Octopussy

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A View to a Kill (1985) | Villains



I know this is the point, but May Day is so weird. Grace Jones, man. I never know what she's doing, but I always end up sort of liking it. You always know exactly how she's feeling, whether she's glowering or laughing maniacally for no reason. And those emotions flip so quickly. She's all into sparring and wrestling with Zorin until he starts winning and then she turns feral, snapping and biting at him. When he exerts his power even more by trying to make out with her, she resists at first, but becomes totally okay with it as long as she's on top and in control.

It's fascinating to me that her defining characteristics - he need for control and having zero masks on her emotions - are huge weaknesses. She's such a strong and imposing woman, but there's a desperation about her that makes her endlessly compelling to me. I don't even know if I'm talking about May Day or Grace Jones now, because it's the same situation in Conan the Destroyer (though I like her character a lot better in that movie). It's probably a moot point, because I always get the feeling that she's more or less playing herself anyway.

I love that she switches sides at the end. Some folks have a problem with it because behind the scenes it was probably due to '80s sexual politics about Bond's not being able to kill a woman. I don't care about that as long as it works in-story and it totally does. It doesn't make May Day a weaker character; it makes her stronger by tragically letting her find her humanity moments before giving her an heroic death. Up to that point, she was basically a bizarre, flamboyant substitute for Oddjob, but turning against Zorin makes her into a character that I care about.



Speaking of May Day's transformation, let's talk about Jenny Flex. She introduces herself and her weird name to Bond like she's going to be important, but does nothing the rest of the movie. Her ultimate, best purpose in the film is to die, betrayed by Zorin, and motivate May Day to change.

Which, actually, I'm okay with. That's her role in the movie, to be the object of May Day's grief. It's the first sign of humanity we get from May Day when she sees Jenny's body and cries out her name. We have no clue what their relationship was, but whether they were close or Jenny was just a trusted underling, her death affects May Day and makes May Day see that Zorin is more monster than even May Day can take.

What threw me was Jenny's name. I'm used to women with punny names having more to do than Jenny does. But her name gets my attention and keeps it whenever Jenny's on screen, even if she's not really doing anything. That way, when she dies, I remember who she is and understand why May Day is upset.



Zorin's head of security is Scarpine (who has a scar, what are the odds?). He's one of the two people in Zorin's inner circle; the other being Dr. Mortner. I should maybe say a quick word about Mortner, partly because he also plays the king in Princess Bride and that's awesome, but also because his role in the story suggests something about Scarpine.

Mortner was a Nazi scientist who experimented with steroids on pregnant women in order to create super soldiers. Zorin was one of those babies and it's clear that he sees Mortner as a father figure. My theory - and I'm sure that others have had it before me - is that Scarpine was another of the steroid babies. That not only explains why Zorin doesn't betray him, it also explains why Scarpine seems to be just as psychotic as Zorin, ruthlessly and brutally helping Zorin to murder his own men.

My favorite thing about Scarpine is that he's played by Patrick Bauchau, whom I think I first noticed as the vampiric prince Archon in Kindred: The Embraced and also enjoyed on Carnivàle, Alias, and anywhere else I see him pop up.



Finally, I love Christopher Walken and Max Zorin is a very Walkeny performance. It's impossible for me to not enjoy him in this movie. The original intent was to have Zorin played by David Bowie or Sting, who were both doing a lot of acting in the '80s. I love both of those guys too, but they would have played the role straight and I'm glad we got Walken. Zorin is a miserably written character and desperately needs Walken's energy to keep him watchable.

Zorin is clearly insane and that's fine for a Bond villain, but we're also supposed to believe that he's been able to fool the whole world into thinking he's respectable. Watching him at his party, I can buy into that. He's super charismatic. But his plans are ridiculous and he goes to very little effort to conceal his involvement in them. There's a French detective who's looking into Zorin's horse racing activities and even though the guy has literally nothing on Zorin, Zorin has him murdered in a public place, in a spectacular way, and even drives the getaway boat himself. I can easily believe that Zorin's psychosis makes him want to be as closely involved with the killing as possible. I just don't accept that no one's noticed his activities before now and that he's got this perfect reputation the Minister of Defense refers to.

Then there's the fact that his plan rips off Goldfinger's and we even get a repeat of Mr. Solo's fate from that movie. And there's also Zorin's trying to drown Bond in a lake without killing him first. Zorin's a cliché, nothing villain and the movie is damn lucky that it has Walken to bring him to life.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Irma Bunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

A View to a Kill (1985) | Women



I'm kind of surprised that Kimberly Jones even gets a name. All she does is pilot the iceberg boat and "keep Bond company" on the way out of Siberia, but I like her. She seems to enjoy her job and why wouldn't she? She gets to drive that cool, swanky ride and hang out with super spies. I sort of want a whole TV show about her and her iceberg boat.



May Day is way more interesting as a villain than a romantic partner for Bond, so I'll save most of my thoughts for that post. I don't have a good idea about why she gets into bed with Bond; it's not like he's going to spill any important information because of it. I guess the one thing it does is shows us that she's not monogamous with Zorin. She and Zorin have a strange relationship that seems to be partly a battle for control and power, so maybe having sex with Bond is a way for her to show Zorin the limits of his control over her.

Not that Zorin seems to care, which means either a) that I'm way off the mark or b) his not being bothered is his own way of maintaining control. Walken plays Zorin so nonchalantly that it's hard to get a read on what he's thinking.



Pola Ivanova is a fun character. She's not in the movie much and is only there to give Bond information that he hasn't been able to pick up on his own, but I love the idea that he sometimes runs into former flings in his line of work. Rumor has it that Ivanova was originally intended to be Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me, but Barbara Bach wasn't interested in reprising her role. If that's true, it's too bad it didn't work out. That would have been even more fun.



And then there's Stacey Sutton, California State Geologist and daughter of an oilman whom Zorin put out of business. She's played by Tanya Roberts, who had replaced Shelley Hack (who'd in turn replaced Kate Jackson) on Charlie's Angels in 1980. That led to her roles in The Beastmaster and Sheena, which is where the Bond producers found out about her. She's not great in the part, but I like the post on Hill Place that defends her against her most aggressive critics. The author argues (successfully, I think) that the role of Stacey doesn't play to whatever strengths Roberts had as an actor, and that director John Glen seems to have done little to help her improve.

It's not that Roberts is unconvincing as a scientist, it's that the character is just bland and kind of dumb. She's only as necessary to the story as Pola Ivanova is: solely there to give Bond a crucial clue. The problem is that she sticks around well after she's done what the story needs from her. As far as Roberts' acting goes, she does just fine as a companion for Bond. Like I said earlier, their relationship is pretty innocent up until the last shot of the movie. The shower scene ruins it, because if that had been left out, Bond's relationship with Stacey is almost paternal. He very clearly notices that she's an attractive woman, but as I quoted yesterday for the Best Quip, he's "trying not to think about it." That's a cool relationship and Roberts holds up her end of it just fine.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
3. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
4. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
5. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
6. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
7. Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)
8. Mary Goodnight (The Man with the Golden Gun)
9. Andrea Anders (The Man with the Golden Gun)
10. Honey Rider (Dr. No)

Friday, July 17, 2015

A View to a Kill (1985) | Bond

Actors and Allies



As mentioned many times by many people - including the man himself - Roger Moore was too old to be playing Bond anymore. But let's not lie by saying that his age is the problem with this movie. He's still as charming as ever and his age is only an issue when he's climbing into bed with much younger women. For the most part though, those trysts make sense. The one that doesn't is Stacey Sutton, but except for a tacked-on, last minute dalliance in the shower, their relationship is mostly chaste, so even that's not distractingly creepy for most of the movie.

The problem with A View to a Kill is the story, as we looked at yesterday. Since there is no one, central mystery to solve, Bond's not able to succeed through detective work. The script forces him to rely entirely on hunches. He looks into the horse steroids on a hunch. Then, when that leads nowhere, he goes to San Francisco on a hunch. While there, he hears about problems with some missing crabs, so he investigates Zorin's oil wells on another hunch. He has to get his details about Zorin's most sinister scheme from the Soviets, and he meets Stacey - the final piece of his puzzle - quite by accident at City Hall when he goes to visit the Department of Oils and Mines for some reason. Probably a hunch.

It's sad that Bond can't do his job through honest problem-solving, because it's not for lack of trying. He goes undercover twice in the movie, which has to be hard for him, because that never works out well for Bond. I mean, one of his aliases is James Stock. I had to chuckle when he tells Sir Godfrey that "a successful cover becomes almost second nature." Like he would know.

Speaking of Sir Godrey, it's a pleasure seeing Patrick Macnee in this movie. I've never seen The Avengers (something I have plans to fix soon), so I mostly know him from View to a Kill and guest appearances on '70s TV shows like Battlestar Galactica. But even if you don't get the spy reference, he's still a fun character and a pleasant companion for Bond during the rambling horse investigation. That part of the movie is always better when he's on screen.

Once Bond gets to San Francisco, his main ally becomes Jack Lee of the CIA. Rumor has it that the screenwriters considered using Felix Leiter for that role, but opted for a Chinese American agent since Chinatown is such a well-known part of San Francisco. Good for them. The character probably wouldn't have been as memorable had he been yet another Felix.

General Gogol is back. He's sort of an adversary in that the initial microchip that got Bond involved had been stolen from the British and ended up with the Soviets. But Zorin refuses to play nice with the KGB and gets on Gogol's bad side, so there's another alliance between the KGB and MI6 as they both work against Zorin.

Speaking of MI6, everyone's very professional during Bond's briefing. Except maybe for Q, who will keep playing with that robot. Bond is attentive and serious, so M and the Minister of Defense don't have anything to get upset about. I guess that Robert Brown's M is having a positive effect on Bond in that regard. He seems neither easily riled nor willing to put up with any crap from Bond. I imagine that if Bond played the fool, this M wouldn't just gripe. Discipline would probably be swift and stern.

I wish I had a good, in-story explanation for why M sends in Q's robot to check on Bond at the end of the movie. They make a big deal of not knowing if Bond is dead or alive, but instead of sending an agent around to Stacey's house, they sneak that robot in. It makes no more sense than Stacey's wanting to take a shower with Bond.

Finally, we need to talk about Moneypenny, especially since this is Lois Maxwell's last performance in the role. She's also the last remaining cast member who'd been around since Dr. No. There's no flirting this time, just some friendly ribbing, but we're used to that by this point. I enjoyed her relationship with Bond, which wasn't nearly as one-sided (most of the time) as legend has it. That more-or-less platonic relationship with a woman is something that I miss about the rest of the series. At least until Skyfall anyway.

Best Quip



"I'm trying not to think about it," in answer to Stacey's question, "Do you know what I'm sitting on?"

Worst Quip



"There's a fly in his soup," after his dinner companion is murdered with a butterfly-shaped fishing lure.

Gadgets



The best piece of tech in the movie is the iceberg boat that extracts Bond from Siberia. I love its camouflage, I love it's Union Jack hatch cover, and I love its swanky interior.

But while Bond doesn't have anything else that cool in the movie, he certainly makes up for it in quantity. View has to hold the record for most gadgets in a film so far, especially the personal kind. He uses a bug-sweeping device disguised as an electric razor, polarizing sunglasses, a reader that makes impressions of the last check someone wrote, a camera ring, and a credit card (from Sharper Image, naturally) that opens locks electronically.

Looking at how my Top Ten list is shaping up for gadgets, I wonder if I shouldn't have made two separate lists to differentiate between vehicles and personal items, because the vehicles are definitely taking over. But nah. The vehicles are just way cooler. It's still a fair list.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
6. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
7. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
8. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
9. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)
10. Ski pole rocket (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Bond's Best Outfit



Love a leather jacket.

Bond's Worst Outfit



Still don't like brown suits.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A View to a Kill (1985) | Story



Plot Summary

Christopher Walken watches Goldfinger; thinks, "Hey! I should do that, but with computers!"

Influences

After the relatively down-to-earth Cold War stories of For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, Cubby Broccoli and step-son Michael G Wilson (now listed as a full co-producer on the series) decided to go back to an over-the-top villainous plot. They also talked Roger Moore into one last movie, which confused me, because I was under the impression that everyone knew Moore was getting to be too old even for Octopussy, but they brought him back for that movie specifically to compete with Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again.

But it's the NSNA threat that best explains Moore's presence in View to a Kill too. The day before NSNA's release, Broccoli attempted to steal some of its wind by announcing that Moore would return for one last film. Without the benefit of hindsight, it must have seemed like a smart move. Everyone loved Roger Moore as Bond and no one really wanted to see him go. But if he was at his expiration date for Octopussy, he was long past it for View.

I wish I knew the thinking behind the movie's title. It was announced at the end of Octopussy as From a View to a Kill in keeping with the short story, but at some point it was shortened to the more wieldy version. The shorter version is better, but neither has anything to do with the movie. Even The Spy Who Loved Me at least has a plot suggested by its title. View just tries to force a reference with an extremely clumsy line of dialogue. It's true that they were running low on cool Fleming titles, but that's not even trying. What a cool challenge it would have been to improve on Fleming by creating a story that actually fits that title. Sadly, View isn't interested in doing anything challenging.

How Is the Book Different?

The one thing that the Fleming story has in common with the movie is Bond in Paris, but the circumstances are totally different and there's not a shred of Fleming's plot left. "From a View to a Kill" is one of the weaker Fleming stories, but it still has some set pieces that could have been put to good use. Instead, Wilson and veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum drew inspiration from the microchip boom and just laid that over the plot from Goldfinger.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



Max Zorin is a mediocre villain because of his goals. With something else to do, he could have been great. Walken is pretty awesome in the role, but also, Zorin's origins feel very Fleming-esque. Like many of Fleming's bad guys, Zorin has his roots in WWII. And the evil program that created him is totally something that Fleming would have been interested in.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



Sloppy diversionary tactics. The main problem with View is that it doesn't have enough plot to sustain a movie. Instead, it introduces a couple of extraneous plots to try to fool us into thinking there's more story than there actually is.

It starts the same way Moonraker did, with some technology going missing and Britain's only clue being the tech's manufacturer. In View's case, it's a special microchip that Zorin Industries was developing for Britain, but has now turned up in the Soviet Union. Because Zorin's organization has an obvious leak that needs looking into, MI6's lead is stronger in View than in Moonraker, but beyond that, the only thing Bond has to go on is an unsupported hunch that Zorin himself might be involved.

For some reason, this leads everyone to investigate Zorin's horse-breeding operation. The Minister of Defense urges caution because of Zorin's spotless record, but it's not even Bond who suggests the horses as a first line of inquiry. Moneypenny is all dressed for the races before Bond even shows up for his briefing, so this is apparently the approach to the case that M wants to take.

And it has nothing to do with the mysterious microchip that's supposed to be the purpose of the investigation. Man does it ever take a lot of time to look into though. Worse than that, despite the horse plot's including a microchip element and introducing Bond to the big players in Zorin's organization, uncovering Zorin's cheating in that area turns into a big, fat dead-end. All it does is confirm that Zorin is a bad guy, which - contrary to his reputation - everyone already suspected anyway.

Bond's second tactic then is to go to San Francisco where Zorin has other operations, and it's there that he uncovers Zorin's plan to profit from the deaths of millions of people. That's enough engine to drive the rest of the movie, but notice that it still has nothing to do with the initial microchip that started this whole thing off. What we have are three, different schemes of Zorin's that all involve microchips, but are otherwise unrelated.

Cold Open



I do like that the cold open at least appears to have something to do with the main movie this time. It takes place in Siberia where Bond finds 003 frozen with a locket containing a microchip. This is the second movie in a row where Bond picks up an investigation from a less-successful Double-O. The series never treats the rest of Bond's department very well and that won't end with this movie.

Once Bond has the microchip, he's chased by Soviets in another exciting ski chase (I honestly never get tired of these) until someone shoots his ski off and he has to steal a snowmobile from one of his pursuers. But than that gets blown up, so he turns the front ski into a snowboard and the chase becomes even more awesome.

Well, almost. As happens too often in Bond movies, the fantastic stunt-work is ruined by the soundtrack. This time it's the Beach Boys' "California Girls" playing, because snowboarding kind of looks like surfing, I guess?

After an otherwise thrilling chase, Bond escapes via a boat shaped like an iceberg, which is also pretty great. Without the Beach Boys, it would have made one of the best of the cold opens. Heck. It still does.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. The Spy Who Loved Me
2. Moonraker
3. Thunderball
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. A View to a Kill
6. Goldfinger
7. The Man with the Golden Gun
8. For Your Eyes Only
9. Octopussy
10. Never Say Never Again

Movie Series Continuity



I already mentioned the presence of the Minister of Defense. He's outworn his welcome for me by this point. I'm ready to be done with his micro-managing and get back to M's running the show on his own.

Bond is sort of a show-off about wine during dinner at the Eiffel Tower, but he's eating with a French guy who appreciates Bond's knowledge, so it's not obnoxious.

The hat rack gag makes another appearance. This time, Bond is about to toss his hat, but notices a fancy, flowered hat already on the rack. That distracts Bond, so he just places his hat on the rack instead. It turns out that the flowery hat is Moneypenny's race-wear and he almost tosses it on the rack at the end of the scene, but Moneypenny stops him.

Proving once and for all that Bond's in-world fame can be used or discarded as the story demands, no one recognizes Bond in either of his aliases, even though he's wearing no disguise. He's in Zorin's database though, so Zorin's able to find Bond out when he needs to.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Nerd Lunch's Return of the Jedi drill-down



As usual, I'm late telling you about this, but last week Nerd Lunch released the third in their Star Wars drill-downs featuring me and Kay from the FANgirl blog. We wrapped up the original trilogy with a lively discussion of Return of the Jedi, white-boarding the Han Rescue Plan, arguing over which Sy Snootles song is better, and - most importantly - uncovering the secret Yoda Tapes.

I have many, many problems with Jedi, but I also have new appreciation for the Luke/Vader story, which moved me in a surprising way this time. Hope you'll give the episode a listen.





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