Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Lewis Gilbert, who directed the stunning finale of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE a decade earlier, was the perfect craftsman to juggle THE SPY WHO LOVED ME’s epic production, which opens with an exciting ski chase culminating in stuntman Rick Sylvester’s impressive jump off Mount Asgard and witty Union Jack parachute. From there, 007 (Moore for the third time) gets down to business, teaming up with Russian spy Anya Amasova (CAVEMAN’s Barbara Bach) to prevent megalomaniacal shipping magnate Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) from conquering the world with stolen nuclear missiles and ruling from his ocean stronghold.
While Bond has the sultry KGB agent Amasova on his side, Stromberg stacks the deck with an army of colorfully jumpsuited minions, not to mention Jaws; the hulking Sandor (Milton Reid), reminiscent of GOLDFINGER’s Oddjob; and the sexy chopper-flying assassin Naomi, portrayed by British cult actress Caroline Munro (STARCRASH). He also has a shark tank that comes in handy when disciplining disloyal employees.
From a technical standpoint, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is top-notch down the line. Derek Meddings’ miniatures are seamlessly blended with live-action photography to create the film’s authentic comic-book universe. The Maibaum/Wood screenplay isn’t afraid to inject real drama into the adventure, giving Moore and Bach juicy moments to play. Bond visibly flinches at Amasova’s mention of his late wife Tracy (from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) and doesn’t hesitate to kill a helpless enemy in cold blood — moments Moore handles with great assurance.
While the climactic assault on Stromberg’s wonderfully designed lair is the film’s best setpiece, mention must be made of the Italian car chase, which pits Bond’s tricked-out Lotus Esprit against a car, a motorcycle, and Naomi’s helicopter — a chase that continues underwater after the car transforms into a submarine. The only major misstep is Marvin Hamlisch’s disco-influenced score, which was nominated for an Academy Award (as was the theme song performed by Carly Simon), but pales compared to the Bond music composed by John Barry and David Arnold. Producer Albert R. Broccoli planned to produce FOR YOUR EYES ONLY next, but the success of STAR WARS induced him to make MOONRAKER, set in outer space, instead.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Filmed in New York City by director Jack Smight (HARPER) and director of photography Jack Priestley (who brilliantly lensed the Big Apple for the NAKED CITY television series), the adaptation by John Gay (SEPARATE TABLES) differs wildly from Goldman’s vision, but remains a great deal of fun. Most of the fun, however, drips from the performances by Steiger and George Segal (THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT) as two mother-dominated figures on opposite sides of the coin.
Segal is dead right as Morris Brummel, a nebbishy cop investigating a series of murders in which woman are strangled and left with lipstick on their foreheads. The killer, revealed as Steiger’s Christopher Gill, celebrates murder by calling Brummel on the telephone, which upsets the detective’s mother (Overbearing Jewish Mother Supreme Eileen Heckart) and interferes with his budding relationship with lovely Lee Remick (TELEFON) as the beguiling witness Kate Palmer.
As much a dark comedy as crime meller, NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY gets good mileage from its cast, including supporting players victim (Martine Bartlett, Doris Roberts) and non-victim (David Doyle, Val Bisoglio, Michael Dunn as a midget who confesses to the murders). Director Smight, whose verve for the theatrical pales next to that of Steiger, Segal, and Gay, doesn’t totally connect with the material. In particular, a scene in which both Steiger and his victim (Kim August) are, unbeknownst to each other, in drag should play with more wit than it does. There’s unintentional humor in the obvious rug the actor Steiger wears when his character is not in disguise, even though his character seems like the kind of guy who would wear a bad toupee.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Like LIVE AND LET DIE, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was directed by Guy Hamilton and written by Tom Mankiewicz, who shares credit with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum (GOLDFINGER). It looks cheap — unusual for a James Bond movie — the sets are uninviting, and most of the performances are abysmal. Sadly, what should have been the film’s most outstanding setpiece — Bond spinning an AMC Hornet lengthwise in midair — is ruined by a tasteless sound effect of a slide whistle — another indication nobody was taking this film seriously enough.
Bond (Roger Moore) opens the film minding his own business until Scaramanga’s calling card — a golden bullet — arrives at MI6 headquarters with “007” carved into it. Since nobody knows what Scaramanga looks like, Bond has his work cut out for him, but he manages to track the killer as far as Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga’s moll. That lead doesn’t pan out, and neither does Bond’s infiltration of the estate of Thai mobster Hai Fat (Richard Loo from all those 1940s WWII movies). At least it leads to Bond fighting a pair of sumo wrestlers (a fine idea) and then an entire karate school in an action scene inspired by the popular martial arts movies then glutting drive-ins.
In addition to Adams (later in OCTOPUSSY as a different character), Bond dallies with Britt Ekland (THE WICKER MAN) as Mary Goodnight, possibly MI6’s most inept agent. Somehow more embarrassing are FANTASY ISLAND star Herve Villechaize as a dwarf henchman ignominiously trapped in a suitcase and Clifton James, returning from LIVE AND LET DIE, as bigoted Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper, who is inexplicably shopping for an AMC automobile on his Bangkok vacation.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was a major box office disappointment, grossing almost 40% less worldwide than LIVE AND LET DIE. This may have spurred producer Cubby Broccoli to up his game with the next feature, giving THE SPY WHO LOVED ME higher stakes, more scope, less comedy, and double the budget.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Directed by GOLDFINGER’s Guy Hamilton, the eighth 007 picture contains terrific action sequences, including a double-decker bus passing under a short bridge, Bond’s escape from a crocodile swamp, and a spectacular boat chase in which a speedboat jumps 110 feet over a road. It also boasts an Oscar-nominated theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings (which lost to the treacly title song from THE WAY WE WERE) and the gorgeous Jane Seymour (DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN), then 21 years old, as Solitaire, a psychic who retains her powers only as long as she remains a virgin — a status Bond quickly remedies.
The plot by Tom Mankiewicz (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) sends Bond to Harlem to investigate the murders of three MI6 agents. He meets Solitaire, the moll of black druglord Mr. Big (a disguised Kotto), as well as his CIA contact, Rosie Carver (BLACK BELT JONES’ Gloria Hendry), and the vicious Dr. Kananga (Kotto), the dictator of a Caribbean island who also manages a multimillion-dollar heroin operation from there. Bond follows the bouncing ball to the Caribbean, Louisiana, and back to Kananga’s island for the climax.
David Hedison (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA) plays the reliable CIA agent Felix Leiter (he would reprise the role in LICENSE TO KILL), and Clifton James (LONE STAR) regrettably plays the ridiculously stereotyped Southern sheriff J.W. Pepper (why he returned in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is beyond reasoning). Especially of note are Julius Harris (BLACK CAESAR) as hook-handed Tee Hee, Earl Jolly Brown (BLACK BELT JONES) as quiet Whisper, and choreographer Geoffrey Holder (ANNIE) as Baron Samedi, all members of the Bond Villains’ Henchmen Hall of Fame.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
TERROR is the work of three (!) credited directors: Tom DeSimone (credited with Plane Sequence), Alexander Grattan (Temple Sequence), and Andy Janczak (Jungle Sequence). Any scene set elsewhere, who knows who directed it? Each director looks as though he had his own cinematographer (and perhaps film stock), and DeSimone (CHATTERBOX) claimed he never left California. His footage is the funniest, as the movie sets up an array of stock characters Irwin Allen-style, including some nuns, a struggling starlet, a rock band (with awful wigs), and a 5-year-old boy traveling alone to meet his mother in Rio de Janeiro.
All the character development is wasted after the plane crashes 25 minutes into the movie, and almost everyone is killed, either by the crash or by hungry crocodiles. It's difficult to say which element of this part of the film is funniest: the incredibly poor acting, the cheap sets, the laughable special effects, the ridiculous song ("Sweet Lips"?) performed by the band, the dead nun that pitches forward out of her coffin (which is stored standing up next to the door!), or the stupid plot.
The lone survivor of the plane crash is the little boy, Henry, who is portrayed by one of cinema's worst child actors. All he pretty much does is whimper, and I can only imagine the ways in which the directors terrorized him, because all his crying jags have to be real. No way is this kid a good enough actor to fake crying. Henry is captured by a tribe of Jivaro natives, who are convinced he is the son of their god after the chief sees a terrible special effect/blinking yellow glow emanating from the kid's blond hair. Only one native disbelieves and keeps trying to convince the chief to kill the brat.
Meanwhile, the boy's father, Henry Sr., learns about the plane crash and travels to South America to find his son. He hooks up with a priest, who takes Henry to see another priest deep in the jungle. Priest #2 says he can get some natives to guide them to the Jivaros' village if Priest #1 will give up his robe and his rosary to one of them. Priest #1 is surprisingly reluctant, considering a little kid's life is at risk, but I can understand why he wouldn't want to traipse through the jungle in his undershirt.
Back at the village, the chief is finally convinced to kill the kid, but a friendly native and his posse start a riot. Many huts are burned down, many natives are stabbed to death (the stabbings are depicted with animation!), and little Henry escapes. Just when he's about to be grabbed and stabbed by the one evil native, his stuffed toy tiger somehow transforms into a real leopard (!) and mauls the guy to death.
The whiny kid gets away (and the leopard changes back into a toy), but falls into some "quicksand" (in reality, a two-foot hole in a mud puddle). While a stock-footage python stalks him, he yells for his daddy, who manages to be within earshot and runs to rescue his son. This is done by laying on his chest in a puddle, while his companions grab his legs and pretend he's in danger of being sucked into that 1/8-inch-deep water. Dad "pulls" his kid to safety, "The End" appears on the screen, and Crown International has successfully ripped off another audience.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Prosetanos escapes the tomb in which King Richard the Lion-Hearted sentenced him 800 years earlier and seeks all nine pieces of a jeweled scepter he needs to rule the world. His murder of a rabbi in the Windy City attracts the attention of detective Frank Shatter (Norris) and his wisecracking partner Jackson (Calvin Levels), who journey to Jerusalem to continue their investigation. Although the film’s first act gives hope of a movie about Chuck Norris kicking the crap out of demons, HELLBOUND is instead a police procedural that, to be fair, culminates in Chuck Norris kicking the crap out of a demon. But it’s too little too late.
Weirdness abounds, above and beyond Chuck Norris fighting a minion of Satan. A bit about street urchins ripping off Jackson’s wallet serves no purpose except killing time, and a running gag about Shatter preventing his partner from eating is just bizarre. Both clash with the tone of an R-rated film with action and gore about Satan’s acolyte ruling the world. I don’t know what to make of the film’s vocal support for a Ross Perot presidency. Sheree J. Wilson, Chuck’s WALKER love interest, appears as an antiquities expert whose contribution is mainly preventing HELLBOUND from being a total sausagefest.
HELLBOUND’s depiction of Chicago on a Jerusalem soundstage is laughable, but once the film’s setting moves to Israel, production values aren’t half bad for a film at this budget level. Editing by Cannon regular Michael Duthie (AVENGING FORCE) and music by Cannon regular George S. Clinton (AMERICAN NINJA 2) are quite good. Director Aaron Norris (Chuck’s brother) and stunt coordinator Mike Norris (Chuck’s son) deliver plenty of karate-kicking, heart-ripping (literally) action. Weaknesses are the performances, particularly Levels’ “ugly American” jive and Neame’s histrionics, and the nonsense script credited to four writers, including Brent Friedman (AMERICAN CYBORG: STEEL WARRIOR) and Donald G. Thompson (THE EVIL).
Saturday, August 20, 2016
The two-hour pilot, which was released in syndication and on videocassette as a standalone movie, aired opposite a special two-hour episode of CHARLIE’S ANGELS on ABC, so the competition was afraid of SUPERTRAIN at first. They shouldn’t have been. Produced and directed by television veteran Dan Curtis (THE WINDS OF WAR), the pilot titled “Express to Terror” flashes an early warning sign when it misspells the name of “Special Guest Star” Vicki Lawrence, who had been a regular on the popular CAROL BURNETT SHOW for over a decade.
Guest stars were to be the focus of SUPERTRAIN, as was the case on THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND, two ABC hits being blatantly ripped off (including a scene where the passengers wave goodbye and toss ticker tape at spectators on the platform). EXPRESS TO TERROR’s top-billed guest star is Steve Lawrence, another early warning sign. He plays Mike Post (!), a gambler targeted by a mysterious black-gloved killer. Helping him find the assassin are his best pal Don Meredith (BANJO HACKETT) and ditzy Char Fontane, an actress NBC was really pushing at that time (to no success). George Hamilton, Ron Masak (MURDER, SHE WROTE), Stella Stevens (THE NUTTY PROFESSOR), and Fred Williamson (THAT MAN BOLT) are also in it, but it’s not clear to me who they’re playing.
An atomic-powered train equipped with a gym, a swimming pool, a beauty salon, a movie theater, a disco, and luxury passenger cabins, Supertrain, granted, is an impressive set, even though some of the sets seem improbably large. The script, however, amazingly credited to Oscar winner Earl Wallace (WITNESS) and acclaimed crime novelist Donald Westlake, is awful. When Lawrence and Meredith are trapped in the sauna, they can hear the tinkle of a barbell being lifted outside, yet the weightlifter can’t hear them yelling and pounding on the door. The writers do a horrible job of introducing the characters, not just their names, but also their backstories and relationships with each other. The story is as confusing as the sets are expensive. For some reason, the TV Guide ad from the premiere uses an illustration of Robert Culp as the killer.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Perry filmed MAN ON A SWING in an actual small New England city on what appear to be practical sets (the police station is in a dingy basement). He uses long lenses to show his actors in realistic landscapes crowded with extras to emphasize the grounded environment in which the mystery is set.
It also helps the audience put Franklin Wells (Joel Grey) into the proper perspective. Tucker doesn’t investigate many murders, and this one is tricky. Margaret Dawson (Dianne Hull) vanished after buying groceries at a busy shopping center. A day later, she turned up in the center’s parking lot on the floor of her Volkswagen. She had been strangled, but not raped, with a single drop of blood on her bosom.
After encountering a few dead ends, including Maggie’s former boyfriend played by future Buck Rogers Gil Gerard, Tucker receives a phone call from Wells, who claims to be clairvoyant. Wells knows things about the murder that nobody else could have, such as the prescription sunglasses that Tucker found in her purse. He’s also a strange guy who falls into trances (or so he says), fidgets, bounces around the room, and occasionally displays a sharp temper.
Maybe he’s the killer.
David Zelag Goodman (STRAW DOGS) based his screenplay on an actual 1968 case, which was chronicled in THE GIRL ON THE VOLKSWAGEN FLOOR by William Clark, the Ohio journalist who covered it. Barbara Ann Butler’s real-life murder was never officially solved. That conclusion just wouldn’t do for a Paramount drama, so Perry gives us a killer. He also knows how to ratchet up the suspense when he needs to, and MAN ON A SWING is damn creepy in spots.
While Grey (CABARET) has the showier part, to say the least, it’s Robertson (CHARLY) who has the more important job of making us believe that Wells could possibly be psychic. His Lee Tucker is patient, calm, tolerant, but not naive.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Let’s get this out of the way. Despite flashing clips of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dayle Haddon, this so-called sequel has next to nothing to do with CYBORG and even lies about that film’s plot to better serve its own story. “Filmed entirely on location in Los Angeles County, California,” CYBORG 2 is set in 2087, when the world is run by two rival corporations that manufacture robots. One is in Japan. The other, Pinwheel, is American and operated by sleazy Dunn (Allen Garfield, who dedicated his performance to the late Ray Sharkey).
Pinwheel plans to implant a powerful explosive called Glass Shadow (I dunno) into foxy female cyborgs and then blow up executives of its Japanese rivals, leaving Pinwheel with no competition. The company’s secret weapon is the luscious Cash Reese, played by Jolie, and one can understand how a company that can mass-produce teenage Angelina Jolie sex robots could easily rule the world.
Cash escapes from Pinwheel’s underground lab, however, along with her human karate instructor Colt (Elias Koteas, the guy you hire when Christopher Meloni is unavailable). Pursuing the mismatched duo, who may or may not fall in love with each other, is a bounty hunter named Bench (Billy Drago), whose face fell apart in a losing battle with battery acid five years earlier. While the chase is going on, the mysterious Mercy (Palance, who worked maybe a whole day reading a TelePrompter) pops up intermittently on monitors and television sets to ramble gibberish that’s meant to advise Cash and Colt on their next move.
I’m making the plot sound simple and clear, but, believe me, it isn’t. It hardly makes sense and is bogged down with groggy exposition and droning dialogue credited to director Michael Schroeder (DEAD ON: RELENTLESS II) and writers Ron Yanover and Mark Geldman (THE JUNGLE BOOK). Schroeder’s slow pacing, cheap sets, and unconvincing effects and makeup (partially done by the KNB Group) further bog down CYBORG 2. Even the usually reliable Drago, whose Method mumbling can often be entertaining, seems reaching for a characterization that isn’t on the page and comes across as irritating. The intense Koteas is miscast as a martial artist in an action movie.
As for Angelina Jolie, who performs the first of many nude scenes in her career, she’s obviously well-cast as an vacant sex toy, but was not yet an actress. Instead, she performs with the grace and the awkward detachment of the fashion model that she was at the time. Obviously, she got a lot better at her craft, but it would be nigh impossible to predict from CYBORG 2 the direction her career would go.
Other familiar names, such as Karen Sheperd (AMERICA 3000), Sven-Ole Thorsen (THE RUNNING MAN), Tracey Walter (REPO MAN), Robert Dryer (SAVAGE STREETS), and Richard Hill (DEATHSTALKER), appear in supporting roles to jazz the cult fans. Did this terrible direct-to-video movie make money? Sure did. Schroeder returned a year later with CYBORG 3 with HEAD OF THE CLASS redhead Khrystyne Haje playing Cash.
Friday, August 05, 2016
And if eight credited editors doesn’t signal disaster, a scene where Ayer establishes the circus-like sharpshooter abilities of hitman Deadshot (Will Smith giving the film’s only competent performances), later followed by yet another scene establishing his skills, tells you the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, even though both hands belong to David Ayer.
This would normally be the place to briefly synopsize the film’s plot, but because SUICIDE SQUAD has none, I’ll jump to the basic premise. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) conceives the bright idea to put together a squad of evil villains with superpowers and abilities to fight Superman (or a “metahuman” like him) in case Superman ever became a terrorist. Two problems with this stupid premise. First, there is zero chance the B- and C-listers in the Suicide Squad could ever defeat Superman. The second is that the film repeatedly tells Waller that her idea is a stupid one — “These people are uncontrollable!” — and the movie never tells us why it isn’t. Seems like assembling a squad of superheroes, rather than a squad of supervillains, would make a helluva lot more sense.
The Suicide Squad consists of Deadshot, who shoots people; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who also shoots people, so no idea what she brings to the table except a wardrobe of wet T-shirt and panties; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), who throws boomerangs at people; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), who throws fire at people; Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who cuts people with a sword; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who’s basically a stronger pro wrestler; Slipknot (Adam Beach), cannon fodder; and Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a soldier and the group’s leader. As mentioned above, no chance these guys could stop Superman from hailing a cab. Some of them receive little flashback origin stories. Some just show up (“Hey, that guy’s called Slipknot.”).
Also in this movie is Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a witch who exists only to give the squad someone to fight. Her powers and motivations are poorly explained, and it beats me what her endgame is. And there’s the Joker (who has the word “Damaged” tattooed on his forehead in case, you know, we didn’t figure it out), embarrassingly portrayed by Jared Leto (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) as a brilliant underworld figure who openly hangs out in Gotham City nightclubs, leaving one pondering why Batman lets the madman run around loose. Of the main cast, Leto appears only with Robbie and serves no purpose to the story, but allows Ayer to stretch the running time to a ridiculous 130 minutes.
The film contains no surprises. Everything you think is going to happen does. The soundtrack consists of the same six family-friendly oldies that have been littering bad films for years, and just when you think Ayer surely isn’t hacky enough to include “Spirit in the Sky,” ah, hell no. Outside of Smith’s Deadshot, who could use a movie of his own without rummies pulling him down, the characters behave strictly according to action movie tropes nearly as old as action movies themselves.
Look, you knew SUICIDE SQUAD wasn’t going to be good — if it were, Jai Courtney wouldn’t have been in it — but who could have expected it to be ineptly paced garbage with no exciting action scenes, no innovative visual effects, no adequate performances (save Will Smith), and no visual style? Ayer aims for heavy dramatics during the climax when Smith shouts at Robbie to toss him her gun in slow motion, and all I could think while fighting drowsiness was, “What’s wrong with the two guns you have strapped to your arms?”