Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Film Review: MOONRAKER (1979, Lewis Gilbert)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 126 minutes.
Tag-line: "From the most exotic locations on Earth, MOONRAKER will take you out of this world!"
Best One-liner:  "Take a giant step back for mankind."

 A few James Bond films (like, say, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE or SKYFALL) attempt a stern and serious atmosphere, a kind of no-nonsense-thriller vibe striving for a degree of class that's slightly more "John le Carré" than "Ian Fleming."  MOONRAKER is not one of these films.

It shares more in common with the delightfully insane DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER or the funhouse loopiness of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN than your typical higher-tier Bond film.  And that is why I love it.
So, without further ado– my six favorite head-scratching, spit-take worthy moments in MOONRAKER: they're what make life worth living.

#6.  Bond hurls a henchman through a priceless clock-tower window, whereupon the unfortunate lackey plummets to his doom...

 and completely penetrates a grand piano

 in a live-action Looney Tunes tableau that achieves near-Joe Dante levels of comic grotesqueness.
 Go ahead, James.  Care to lay the cherry atop this sundae of slapstick savagery?  I know you've got something good up your sleeve.

There you go!  A-plus!

#5.  Spielberg ouroboros.
In addition to having a returning character named "Jaws," MOONRAKER uses the famous, five-note theme from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND as the electronic combination to a door in a high-security area.  Little did the makers of MOONRAKER know that Spielberg would soon begin his own James Bond-ian series (INDIANA JONES) which would eventually include in its third installment a Venice speedboat chase sequence, just like in MOONRAKER!  The mind reels.

#4.  Lasers, Lasers, Lasers!
I mean, the movie is called MOONRAKER.  Obviously, you wouldn't rake the moon with anything less than a laser.  What else are you supposed to use... a rake?  

Now here are some pictures of an undercover MI6 agent dressed as a monk zapping the hell out of a goopy dummy, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-melting-Nazis-style:

Carry on, then.

#3.  Roger Moore as Clint Eastwood.
Set to the raucous strains of Elmer Bernstein's MAGNIFICENT SEVEN soundtrack, Moore makes an entrance while dressed in a near-facsimile Man With No Name costume.  This feels like a gag better suited for THE PIRATE MOVIE or a NATIONAL LAMPOON'S flick, but I'm more than okay with it.

#2.  Jaws' Love Interest.

Fan-favorite, metal-mouthed behemoth Jaws (Richard Kiel) returns from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME with appropriate grandeur and succeeds in stealing a second James Bond movie away from James Bond himself.  In a mind-blowing setpiece scored by the love theme from Tchaikovsky's ROMEO AND JULIET, Jaws is swept up off his feet by the Heidi-esque "Dolly," a super-strong woman with pigtails.  I'm going to stop you right there, tell you to lower your arched eyebrow, and ask you to just go with it.

This culminates in a crowd-pleasing plot-line of Jaws becoming something of a good guy, which leads to Jaws tossin' Mr. Bond a hearty outer space thumbs-up
and celebrating his new life choices by gnawing the cork off of a bottle of champagne and enjoying it with his lady friend.
Clearly, I wish that Jaws could be in every James Bond movie.  Alas.

#1.  I have to give the number one spot to the moment that inspired an actual, non-theoretical spit-take:

James Bond blasts his motorized gondola out of the Venetian canals and onto a main thoroughfare, rapidly inflating a bottom panel that transforms the vessel into a hovercraft.
He then gallivants about the streets of Venice, wearing a "I say, what are you looking at, good sir?" expression upon his smug face.

 This prompts a pigeon to do a show-stopping double-take, achieved through a forward-reverse-forward motion effect.
This is one of the ballsiest, most wonderfully inane gags to appear in any movie, James Bond or otherwise.  Its sheer lameness is such that it goes through the rabbit hole and back again, trampling your logic centers until you have no choice but to admit its brilliance. 

Four stars.

–Sean Gill

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Film Review: THE SANDPIPER (1965, Vincent Minnelli)

Stars:  2 of 5.
Running Time:  117 minutes.
Tag-line: "She gave men a taste of life that made them hunger for more!"
Notable Cast or Crew:  Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Eva Marie Saint, Charles Bronson.  Written by Martin Ransohoff (producer of THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, CATCH-22), Irene Kamp (THE BEGUILED), Louis Kamp (MR. QUILP), Michael Wilson (PLANET OF THE APES, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), and Dalton Trumbo (SPARTACUS, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN).
Best One-liner:  "What would you do, in my shoes?"  –"Wear them!"

THE SANDPIPER is a mostly torpid romantic drama featuring star-crossed dipsomaniacs Liz Taylor and Richard Burton being directed by the legendary Technicolor dream-master Vincent Minnelli.  It's got some nice nature photography, but then again, so does ROBOT MONSTER.  So, here's a list of my favorite things that Charles Bronson does in it:

#1.  Bronson is real hip to your jive, daddy-o.  That's right:  Charles Bronson is playing a beatnik.  A loud-mouthed Bohemian-by-way-of-Big-Sur liberated artsy know-it-all.
And check it out, there– he's totally doing the arm motion from the "It's MY car!" scene in DEATH WISH 3!
It's MY car!

Talk about goin' through the rabbit hole:  Bronson's playing the sort of hilariously stereotyped youth-subculture ne'er-do-well that he'd later spend large chunks of the 1970s and 80s gunning down in the street!

#2.  Bronson the sculptor.  So Beatnik Bronson's artistic discipline happens to be sculpture.  And sculpt he does:  specifically, he sculpts a nude wooden Liz Taylor while Richard Burton (playing a lovestruck Reverend) paces around uncomfortably.
Given the context I'm used to seeing Bronson in, this is fairly bizarre and absolutely welcome.  Though it's worth noting that even Bronson's "sensitive artist" is a brawny guy who spends most of the film tangling with and harassing outsiders.

#3.  Bronson, the drug addict.  Being a bongo-n-beret-luvin' Beatnik with loose morals and declining character and grumble, grumble would you believe kids these days grumble, grumble:  Bronson naturally acts like a total dick to the Reverend Richard Burton and starting talking about heroin ("H", to use Bronson's parlance) like it's no big deal and

wondering if God lives inside his hypodermic.  Again, it's amazing in context– twenty years later, he'd be flinging a bag of crack in a dealer's face and saying "How many children have you killed with this shhhhhitttt!" while unleashing a hail of bullets.

#4.  Bronson, Liz Taylor smoocher.   As the film develops, Bronson briefly becomes a sort of romantic rival to Richard Burton, and even sneaks a smooch.
Later, they duke it out and Burton proceeds to kick Bronson's ass

but then Bronson gets back up to have the last word and knocks Burton out.

So there's your schoolyard hypothetical "what would happen if Bronson and Burton had a fistfight?" played out on screen.

#5.  Bronson, the man who leans on things.  If there's anything around to lean on, anything at all, Bronson makes the acting choice... to lean on it.

He is simply a man who leans on things.  I would like to believe that he wasn't just feeling lazy, and that in fact this was a conscious acting choice–  hell, maybe it's Bronson's take on the Beatnik generation:  too namby-pamby to stand up straight on their own, or something.  I don't know.  

Anyway, even all this Bronson greatness (in what amounts to three brief scenes in a nearly two hour movie) can't come close to savin' this weird-n'-jazzy, pre–"Summer of Love" snoozer.  Two stars.

–Sean Gill

Monday, November 11, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... BULLET TO THE HEAD

Only now does it occur to me...  that I would ever witness the following tableau:  A drugged-out, minor henchman played by Christian Slater (in a fox mask), partying at a low-rent version of EYES WIDE SHUT's creepy ball 
is stalked into the bathroom by a sheet-music-mask-wearing, revenge-seeking Stallone
and abducted at knifepoint whilst mid-whiz
as Stallone uses the one-liner:  "Grip it and zip it, party boy!"

As to the film: though it's a mean, semi-lean action picture by the legendary Walter Hill, it's not quite as good as I wanted it to be, despite the meaty acting stylings of Mr. Stallone and the extended-cameo-appearance by The Slater Factor.  Carry on.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... THE FLY II

Only now does it occur to me...  that Eric Stolz may have been fired as Marty McFly, but eventually he did get to be "Martin the Fly."  It seems too weirdly specific to be mere coincidence.

By the sound of it, THE FLY II doesn't seem as if it would be a "good movie," and subsequently I'd avoided it for years, assuming the worst.  Now I'm prepared to say, without reservation, that THE FLY II is dad-blammed fantastic and one of the great sci-fi films of the 1980s.

The directorial debut of Chris Walas (one of the FX masters of 80s creature features– from GREMLINS to THE FLY to ENEMY MINE to ARACHNOPHOBIA to NAKED LUNCH), THE FLY II has a tremendous eye for visual detail and some of the finest practical effects I've ever seen.

We have spectacular makeup á la THE FLY and ENEMY MINE,

viscous ALIEN/THE THING-esque cocoon props,
 mind-blowing gore that nearly puts Tom Savini to shame,

and a titular creature whom history may well remember as one of the last great movie monsters before our fun was ruined by CGI.


And since this isn't a full review, I'll share a few random observations:

#1.  There's a nice Cronenberg shoutout when a random Bartok security guard happens to be reading THE SHAPE OF RAGE, the first major scholarly study of the Cronenberg canon.

 #2.  An amusingly acerbic cameo appearance by John Getz ("Stathis," the quasi-villain and Goldblum rival from THE FLY 1).
He's the only FLY 1 cast member to officially return, though we do see Goldblum in some archival footage, a few clips of which were deleted scenes from the prior film.

#3.  A sensitive, pathos-filled lead performance from Eric Stoltz, who probably scored the gig based on his ability to deliver even when covered in makeup (MASK), but who in every sense transcends what you'd expect from a sequel to a remake of a sci-fi B-movie.

#4.  Also, it occurs to me that this may be the greatest accomplishment of Mick Garris, who wrote the story and co-authored the screenplay (with Frank Darabont, Jim Wheat, and Ken Wheat).  Though storywise it's closer to, say, a Spielberg flick rather than a Cronenberg one, it's a helluva lot of fun.  I've been ragging on Mr. Garris a lot lately (i.e., for DESPERATION and QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY), but hey– he brought us the finest CRITTERS sequel and the greatest (and only) sequel to Cronenberg's version of THE FLY.  Thanks, Mick!

–Sean Gill