Sunday, September 26, 2021

The 007 Project: Moonraker

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
After the Moonraker space shuttle mysteriously disappears, 007 is sent to California to question the shuttle's builder, Hugo Drax. Bond tails Drax to Venice, Rio, and outer space in an attempt to stop him from destroying the world and creating a master race in space. 

Memorable Quote:
My God, what's Bond doing?  ~Minister of Defense 
I think he's attempting re-entry, sir.  ~Q

Highlight:
The pre-credit parachute sequence is incredible. I'm not a film historian, but I venture to say it has to be in the top 5 of most impressive stunts of all time. I even like the surprise of seeing Jaws, though I will note that the pilot inexplicably puts up little to no resistance as Bond takes his parachute from him in midair. But then the moment at 5:07 where you think it's over and then Jaws comes flying in and the Bond theme starts playing -- wow. 

Lowlight:
Obviously the ending of Bond going in space requires a suspension of disbelief of the highest order, but the laser battle between the floating spacemen is a bridge too far, to put it mildly. 

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Except for a few brief close-ups, the entire sequence of Bond, Jaws, and the pilot falling from the plane, with Bond and the pilot fighting for a single parachute, was shot in free fall. The entire sequence required eighty-eight jumps, and five weeks to film, just to produce the two minutes of footage in the final movie.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • This is the first time that I noticed that Moneypenny doesn't have a British accent. The actress, Lois Maxwell, was Canadian. 
  • Another highlight of the movie is the first scene between Bond and Drax. I'm putting Drax so far as the 2nd best villain behind OHMSS Blofeld, and Michael Lonsdale is terrific in portraying Drax as humorless and cold. 
  • 19:17 -- Holly shows Bond the centerfuge training machine and says, "Why not try it?" To which Bond should say, "What would be the point of me trying it?" rather than his actual response of "Why Not?" I do like how Bond disarms the machine with his wrist dart gun. 
  • 31:33 -- Fun scene where Bond and Drax go hunting, and Bond shoots the sniper in the tree. 
  • 40:48 -- The guy who can't believe his eyes and looks at his wine bottle when Bond drives the gondola through St. Mark's Square is the same guy who was in disbelief when Bond drove the car out of the water in The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Shouldn't the Venetian museum with the priceless china have some security? There is an alarm on one of the pieces that doesn't do a darn thing. 
  • The whole Jaws experience is kind of weird and too focused on laughs, but it doesn't bother me too much. The actor, Richard Kiel, does a good job of playing him with a sense of likability and was liked by the viewers, which is why he was brought back in this movie in the first place. 
  • 1:15:40 -- Apparently Bond's knowledge extends to identifying a rare orchid species from its chemical formula. 
  • After Bond comes down from his hang glider, how does he find Drax's hideout so quickly? The Amazon is a big place. 
  • The bad guys never learn to take Bond's watch after locking him up.
  • After Bond and Holly escape using the watch, they decide, "Let's just hop in the shuttle and take off!" And somehow they know exactly how to fly it and what all the buttons do. 
  • Then, when the US military gets the call to action, they send a shuttle up instantaneously! Is this what the new US Space Force is going to be like?
  • Dr. Holly Goodhead is ice cold, and it's the worst acting performance so far by a Bond girl (though there's one later that is much, much worse). Nevertheless, I'm still a big Holly Goodhead fan. I just think she's a babe.
  • In previous posts I've mentioned my fondness for the N64 Goldeneye video game. That game had a Moonraker laser weapon which was super powerful, and there was an Aztec Temple level that was based on Moonraker and included Jaws. It was the last level and the hardest one in the game, and it had one of the best video game themes I've ever heard. 
  • Just as in You Only Live Twice, the bad guys make the mistake of leaving Bond in the control room without any restraints or handcuffs. 

Final Analysis:
I'm surprised to say that I enjoyed this movie a great deal. Surprised because I didn't remember being a huge fan of it, but other than the space battle, I didn't really dislike any of it. Drax was a great villian, the California, Italy, and Brazil settings were all fun, and I liked the title song more than I remembered. Ranking it 2 out of 11. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The 007 Project: The Spy Who Loved Me


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
When British and Soviet nuclear subs mysteriously disappear, Bond teams up with Russian agent Anya Amasova (aka Triple-X) to investigate. 

Memorable Quote:
The answer to the question is yes, I did kill him.  ~Bond
Then, when this mission is over, I will kill you.  ~Anya

Highlight:
The Lotus Esprit emerging from the water onto the beach, to the shock of the beachgoers. 

Lowlight:
At the 26:00 mark, Bond is about to seduce the lovely assistant to Mr. Fekkesh, when she gets shot in the back. It's not clear to me whether Bond turned her into the path of the shot or if it was just bad luck on her part, but either way, it bothers me that Bond just left her to die without even checking on her to see if she was still alive. I mean, I know he's a misogynistic dinosaur and all, but it still would be nice to see at least a little bit of empathy. 

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Richard Kiel (Jaws) could only keep the metal teeth in his mouth for about half a minute at a time, due to the excessive pain and discomfort. He often had to show comic expressions, which was quite contradictory to the way he was feeling, wearing the extremely uncomfortable braces. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I've read all the Ian Fleming books once upon a time, and I remember thinking that The Spy Who Loved Me was my favorite, although Fleming hated it. The book is completely different from the movie. I don't remember a lot about it, but I remember that it's different from all the other books in that it's told from a woman's point of view, and the first part of the story is about her life. Then she meets Bond at a motel in rural New England and he saves her from some two-bit mobster villains. I liked how Fleming told her story in great detail before bringing Bond into it, so that as the reader we are very curious to see where the story is going and how Bond is going to fit in. 
  • This is the first out of six appearances by Walter Gotell as General Gogol, though he did appear in a different role in From Russia With Love. Gotell appeared in two MacGyver episodes: GX-1 and Gold Rush
  • Fantastic opening to the movie culminating with Bond skiing off a mountain and opening a Union Jack parachute (which was originally George Lazenby's idea). The dangerous stunt was performed in the Canadian arctic and had never been done before. 
  • Also, the opening ski scene features some great music, which segues into Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better, which I'm a big fan of and is going to the top of the song rankings (for now).  The composer for this film was Marvin Hamlisch, who also scored The Sting
  • The design of the Stromberg Atlantis set is very cool, both inside and out. 
  • We get a rare sight of Bond in his navy blue commander uniform -- the only other times are in You Only Live Twice and Tomorrow Never Dies.
  • We also get to hear the real names of M (Miles) and Q (Major Boothroyd). 
  • Bond and Anya take a train to Sardinia, which doesn't make sense because Sardinia is an island. Then, they meet Q who gets off a boat with their Lotus car. So instead of Q meeting them with the car, why not just take the car themselves and travel the way that Q did? I guess the writers really wanted to get the train scene in. At least it leads to some fun Bond/Q dialogue:
    • Q, have I ever let you down?  ~Bond
    • Frequently.  ~Q
  • 1:31:47 -- great moment when Bond when looks over at the helicopter attacking them and Naomi responds with a wink and a smile. 
  • Barbara Bach, an American actress, does a nice job portraying a Russian. In real life she's married to Ringo Starr. 
  • They kind of gloss over the fact that two nuclear bombs go off in the ocean. Better that than going off in major cities, but there would still be some significant environmental ramifications. 

Final Analysis:
This is a good movie with a strong cast, music, and sets. It also has enough serious moments to outweigh the humor that was common in the Roger Moore era. The movie does feel too long -- the submarine battle in particular drags on a bit -- but the rest of it moves nicely. Ranking it 5th out of 10. 

Friday, September 3, 2021

The 007 Project: The Man with the Golden Gun

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Bond learns that he is being hunted by Scaramanga, a legendary assassin who uses a golden gun. Bond in turn seeks out Scaramanga, who has stolen a device that harnesses the sun and can make solar beam weapons. They have a final face off in a fun house on Scaramanga's private island. 

Memorable Quote:
I'm afraid I'll have to owe you.  ~Bond

Highlight:
Great scene where Bond and friends take on the 40 karate students in the temple, followed by the boat chase where he pushes the little merchant boy into the water. 

Lowlight:
For the second straight movie, the lowlight is Sheriff J.W. Pepper. I have to admit the part at the 1:02:44 mark where he recognizes Bond in the boat is mildly amusing, but they should have just stopped there and quit while they were only a little behind. Instead, they bring him back for an additional 8 minutes of screen time, which is 8 minutes too many and blemishes an otherwise good car chase scene.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
The body count of only six, including James Bond's one single kill of Scaramanga, are the lowest in the official film franchise to date.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The opening is like Brainwashed meets Halloween Knights with a training ground for killers that is reminiscent of a carnival fun house. Also in the opening we see Christopher Lee (noted English actor), Maud Adams (reappears in Octopussy as Octopussy), anHervĂ© Villechaize (little person of Fantasy Island fame). 
  • Instead of Bond going all the way to Beirut to track down Scaramanga's bullet from a previous hit and analyze it for clues to his whereabouts, why not just analyze the bullet that Scaramanga mailed to them?
  • Soon-Taik (Lieutenant Hip) appears as the lead villain in MacGyver episode Murderer's Sky
  • Maud Adams's appearance reminds me a bit of Melania T. (I don't want to say the T word). 
  • The car spiral jump stunt was real and not a camera trick. There's a short video of the stunt being done a few years before this movie. 
  • One fun legacy of this movie: The Man with the Golden Gun mode in the Goldeneye N64 video game, where it takes only one shot to kill. 

Final Analysis:
I'm sorry this post is so short, but it's been like six months since I've watched this. This movie didn't do much for me, which might be why it took me six months to get the motivation to write. I'd still put it above From Russia With Love and Diamonds Are Forever in the 7th spot out of 9 on my list.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Vicki Mayk: Outstanding Author


Author:

Vicki Mayk is the author of Growing Up on the Gridiron, a book about Owen Thomas, a student and football player at the University of Pennsylvania who committed suicide.  Owen was also my next-door neighbor.


Matt, Morgan, Owen, Kathy, and Tom Thomas

Conversation:

Total run time: 38:24


3:59 - Why Vicki wrote this book
8:35 - My relationship with Matt
15:35 - My memories of Owen, including when he broke our window with a bb gun
21:38 - Penn professor Adam Grant on how Owen was special
25:28 - Football as a brotherhood, and if any changes to football should be made
32:05 - Impressions of Parkland School District



The embedded player works best in Google Chrome.  You can download the mp3 by clicking here, and the podcast is available in iTunes.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The 007 Project: Live and Let Die

 

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Bond goes to Harlem, New Orleans, and the Caribbean island of San Monique to investigate the killings of three MI6 agents who were investigating a heroin ring led by Kananga, the ruler of San Monique who is also doubling as Mr. Big, an American gangster. Kananga uses Baron Samedi, a voodoo priest, to scare the locals of San Monique, and he uses Solitaire, a virginal psychic, to predict the future. 

Memorable Quote:
Darling, I've a small confession to make now. Try not to be too upset. The deck was slightly stacked in my favor.  ~Bond

Highlight:
I'm all in on the "voodoo in the Caribbean" angle. As I wrote in my review of MacGyver episode Walking Dead:

In the convenience store, the racketeer invokes the name of Baron Samedi, who I'm familiar with from Live and Let Die, my favorite Roger Moore Bond movie.  I'm also a big fan of the book as well.  In general I like island and voodoo themes which is probably why I dig this episode.  

Lowlight:
While the boat chase through the Louisiana bayou is mostly excellent, it's tarnished by the inclusion of J.W. Pepper, a redneck Louisiana sheriff whose only function is comic relief, except he's not funny. I'm not looking for comic relief in my Bond movies, and certainly not in the form of the cartoonish, annoying, and racist J.W. Pepper.  

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Ross Kananga (credited as stunt coordinator) was the owner of the alligator and crocodile farm in which Bond escapes some hungry crocs. Kananga did this stunt by himself wearing Mr Roger Moore's clothes (and shoes made of crocodile skin). The crocodile shoes were a fun idea of Mr Moore. It took 5 attempts to complete the stunt. During the 4th, one of the crocodiles snapped at one of the shoes as it went by. The producers (while scouting locations) first took notice of Mr Kananga's farm from the sign out front: WARNING: TRESPASSERS WILL BE EATEN (the sign can be seen in the film). They liked Ross Kananga so much, they used his surname for the film's villain, Dr. Kananga.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Interesting to note that Roger Moore is 3 years older than Sean Connery. 
  • 1:57 mark - no reaction from the guys at the UN after the dude sitting next to them suddenly collapses.
  • Kananga is played by Yaphet Kotto, who also played Alonzo Mosely in Midnight Run.
  • Fun opening Roger Moore scene in Bond's apartment with M, Moneypenny, and the "missing" female Italian agent. 
  • Kananga's network of people working for him is massive.  
  • Great performance by Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi -- very charismatic. 
  • 34:40 - Bond leaves the burned snake on the ground and resumes his self-care. I would have first wanted to confirm the snake was actually dead. 
  • 39:10 - Very brief scene where Bond walks into the tarot card shop -- good setup for later when he uses his deck to trick Solitaire. 
  • Cool that they brought Quarrel Jr. in as the son of Quarrel from Dr. No
  • 1:16:00 - Bond is very calm for having his pinky finger about to be cut off by Tee Hee's hook. And no way that Kananga would have spared Bond's finger after Solitaire answered incorrectly. 
  • Here's an amazing video of the failed takes of Ross Kananga running on the crocodiles.  
  • I'm not a fan of graphic death scenes, which become more prevalent later in the series. Kananga's death is not overly graphic but is kind of disturbing as his body inflates and explodes. 

Final Analysis:
I'm a big fan of this movie, even if the current viewing didn't quite measure up to my memory of it. I enjoy the cast, including Jane Seymour as Solitaire (my favorite Bond girl so far), and mostly I'm just a sucker for anything related to Caribbean/voodoo/island stuff. Ranking this number 2 on the list. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The 007 Project: Diamonds Are Forever


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
While investigating an illegal diamond operation, Bond runs into Blofeld once again. 

Memorable Quote:
Hi, I'm Plenty.  ~Plenty O'Toole
But of course you are.  ~Bond

Highlight:
I like the scene in the lab where Bond pretends to be the radiation inspector who he just met in the hallway, and then the real inspector enters the lab after Bond leaves. 

Lowlight:
Not a specific moment, but just the overall weak plot, lack of character development, and general campiness. A few examples:
  • I don't fully understand who Tiffany Case is or what her motivations are. 
  • The Willard Whyte subplot is weird and confusing, like how he was secretly locked up for years and then just emerged like nothing happened. 
  • Blofeld is significantly less menacing and interesting than Telly Savalas's Blofeld in OHMSS, and Felix Leiter is not well acted. 
  • I have no idea what was going on related to Blofeld's plan in outer space, and it's unclear why it doesn't succeed considering that Tiffany is unable to switch the cassettes (although maybe the oil platform blowing up has something to do with it). 

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Jill St. John and Lana Wood have been involved in a decades-long feud that began during the filming of this movie, throughout the spring of 1971, when both women were dating Sean Connery at the same time. In February 1982, less than three months after the mysterious drowning of Lana's sister Natalie Wood, St. John started a relationship with Robert Wagner, Lana's brother-in-law, and eventually married him. At a photo shoot of former Bond girls in September 1999 for Vanity Fair magazine, an altercation occurred between St. John and Wood when photographer Annie Leibovitz asked for a picture of them together. Reportedly, St. John was so adamantly opposed to the idea that it reduced Wood to tears. A publicist for the shoot, however, said it was he who vetoed the photo because Mr. Wagner would prefer his present wife not be shot with his former sister-in-law.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • 15:57 mark - cool hovercraft. I've never seen one that big before, and it looks like a fun way to travel. 
  • 21:44 - clever move by Bond outside the apartment to blend in by giving himself a self-hug. 
  • 24:57 - apparently Bond is a member of the "Playboy Club and Casino". 
  • 33:35 - I don't understand the "coffin on the conveyor belt" scene where the conveyor belt and the surrounding flames disappear when the coffin is opened. 
  • 54:02 - when Bond sneaks into the back of the van at the gas station, the guy in the car behind the van somehow doesn't seem to notice.  
  • I like the moon buggy as a vehicle in an action scene, even if I'm not sure what the bad guys were doing with a moon buggy. 
  • Some notable actors include: 
    • Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint. His son Crispin was George McFly in Back to the Future
    • Charles Gray as Blofeld. He played MI6 agent Henderson in You Only Live Twice
    • Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte. He started Jimmy Dean sausages. 
    • Lana Wood as Plenty O'Toole. Many of her scenes were cut, which is why her character is so underdeveloped. Her acting was not good -- perhaps that's why the scenes were cut.
  • 1:28:25 - seems like Bond gets the upper hand on Bambi and Thumper too easily in the pool given their demonstrated physical prowess. 
  • Just as in You Only Live Twice, Blofeld inexplicably allows Bond to roam unrestrained in the control room. 

Final Analysis:
Not a good movie. In fact, it's really bad. It's crazy that they followed up OHMSS (which had just the right serious tone) with this silliness. Perhaps they were trying to zag from OHMSS's relative lack of box office success, and they clearly missed the involvement of OHMSS director Peter Hunt. Ranking this at the bottom of my list.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The 007 Project: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

 


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The head of the Corsican mob asks Bond to woo the mob head's daughter, Tracy, and Bond and Tracy fall in love. Meanwhile, Bond tracks down a lead on Blofeld in Switzerland, and he gets into Blofeld's compound by pretending to be a genealogist. After Blofeld discovers his true identity, Bond escapes and meets up with Tracy, and the pair are hunted by Blofeld's men.  

Memorable Quote:
This never happened to the other fellow.  ~Bond

Highlight:
The thrilling nighttime ski scene where Bond is racing down the mountain toward the town with Blofeld's men in hot pursuit, all to the tune of the great OHMSS theme song.

Lowlight:
The relationship and chemistry between Bond and Tracy is lacking. For starters, there's no context for the opening where he rescues her in the ocean -- why is she trying to drown herself, why is he there, how does he know who she is, and why is he trying to save her? With their casino/hotel encounter, I'm still trying to determine how they know each other and what their motives are, and their rapport at the bullfight turns from frosty to lovey-dovey at the drop of a hat. The lack of chemistry might be partly due to the tension between the actors or by Lazenby's lack of acting experience, but nevertheless the script could have been better in that regard. 

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Having secured a suit ordered but uncollected by Sir Sean Connery and getting a Rolex and haircut like him, George Lazenby talked his way into meeting producer Albert R. Broccoli, producer Harry Saltzman, and director Peter R. Hunt. After bluffing his way through the meeting and falsely claiming he had wide acting credits, he secured a screentest. Lazenby then confessed to Hunt that he had made it all up and that he wasn't an actor. Hunt laughed and told him, "You just strolled in here and managed to fool two of the most ruthless bastards in the business. You're an actor."

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The whole George Lazenby story is really interesting, and if you want to learn more about him, I recommend the movie Becoming Bond, which is like a documentary with reenactments. The cliff notes version is that Lazenby was a model and had no acting experience whatsoever (other than commercials) before landing the coveted role of 007. He caught the eye of the producers with his looks, physicality, and arrogance. After making the movie, he turned down a deal for multiple Bond movies and a huge payday because it wasn't what he wanted. His performance in this movie is ok but not great -- he doesn't have the "it" factor, and his acting often seems clunky (not surprising since this was his first movie). I found this clip of him in Gettsyburg where his acting seems quite good, so it's possible that he might have grown into the role. And does his story mean that despite my total lack of acting experience, my dream of playing Bond is still alive?!
  • The fight scene in the beginning seems ahead of its time with the rapid camera cuts. 
  • 21:15 mark - the janitor is whistling the Goldfinger theme. 
  • 28:55 - fun scene at Bond's desk where he takes out artifacts from previous movies like Honey Ryder's knife and Grant's watch. 
  • 46:07 - a mention of Bond's family motto, "The World is Not Enough."
  • Lazenby's voice was dubbed when doing the impersonation of Hilary Bray, which makes me wonder what the point of Bond disguising his voice is if he's not disguising his appearance.  
  • 49:57 - Bond's compatriot is a bit obvious following behind on the deserted road in his beetle bug. 
  • It doesn't follow that Blofeld wouldn't recognize Bond considering they met in You Only Live Twice, and so it would have made sense for Bond to have a disguise. Also, it's surprising that an international criminal mastermind cares about getting a title certified by a genealogist. 
  • Telly Savalas (aka Kojak) is a great actor and villain -- much better than the Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.
  • 1:18:30 - this part startled the hell out of me where Irma Bunt surprised Bond in Ruby's bed. 
  • 1:23:14 - weird for Blofeld to lock up Bond in the big room with all the gears. 
  • Switzerland is one of the stars of the movie -- it looks like such a happy, Christmas-card kind of place, the tons of SPECTRE goons notwithstanding.
  • 1:33:58 - love Blofeld throwing the cat down on the desk after getting the call that Bond has escaped. 
  • A little too convenient that Tracy is ice skating and finds Bond so easily when he's trying to hide in the crowd. 
  • 1:53:56 - what a great moment where Bond and Tracy are skiing to the sound of happy music and then it suddenly turns to the ominous main theme.  
  • 2:05:49 - risky move by Draco's men shooting through the windows considering that Tracy could have been shot (she hits the deck along with Blofeld). 
  • Great acting from Lois Maxwell in the wedding scene -- she captures the bittersweetness of the moment perfectly. 
  • The ending is one of the most poignant scenes in any Bond movie. 

Final Analysis:
I didn't remember this movie one bit, and I have to say it's really good. There's a sense of realism and grittiness, in part due to the lack of gadgets, and the Bond/Tracy relationship gives the movie some depth that most Bond movies don't have. The Swiss locale is fantastic, the theme song is memorable, and there are great performances by Telly Savalas, Diana Rigg, and Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt). And the film is able to survive a mediocre performance from Lazenby, who is at least likable; in fact, his likability is notable given that the producers were impressed by his arrogance in the audition process, and yet he doesn't come across as overly arrogant. Ranking this as my #1 movie thus far.