Warning: spoilers abound for Independence Day, which you’ll have watched by now if you were ever going to, and Battle: Los Angeles, which you’ll not watch if you have any sense. Which apparently, I don’t.
I’ve been watching films at an increasingly insane rate for the past sixteen years, and in that time styles and fashions have changed. Cutting edge directors push the boundaries of what’s possible on film, dramas get more intense and big explodey films get bigger and explodier. But over that time, it feels as if the quality of the smaller films has maintained and, if anything, improved, but somehow the biggest films, with the occasional Inception-shaped exception, seem to have been declining in quality. This left me doing something on Sunday that I’d never thought possible: pining for a big invasion movie of the quality of Independence Day.
News reached us yesterday that Bond 23 is on its way in approximately, oh, about 667 days or so. Good news everyone! Daniel Craig is due to return as Bond and, as entirely expected because it was announced before MGM ran out of pennies, Sam Mendes will tell him where to put his gun. I will, of course, be near the front of the queue when it’s released, for what will be the seventh Bond I’ve seen on the big screen. Thanks to my age and the tragic fact that, between The Black Cauldron in 1985 and Speed in 1994 I saw only one film in the cinema, my childhood passed entirely untroubled by seeing Commander Bond on the big screen.
Of course, for the last half of that period there was nothing new to actually miss, given the gigantic rights wrangle that engulfed the series and stopped us getting Bond 17 with giant robots made by Disney. (At least, if Wikipedia is to be believed.) Nonetheless, all of my childhood understanding was based around the Bonds that were on heavy rotation on ITV while I was growing up, so my understanding of what it was to be a good Bond was based on one man – Roger Moore.
The suave sophistication, the safari suits, the arched eyebrows and the innuendos that bordered on filth; this is what it was to be a man in the Seventies, or indeed early Eighties when I was watching. I was also slightly crippled by growing up before the advent of the VCR and having such thing as a bedtime; in particular, my first viewing of The Spy Who Loved Me was cut short by this parental annoyance. I did manage to put it off just long enough for a car to be involved in a really long chase and then the car drove off a pier and went underwater and then it was like a submarine and it had a scanner thing and then it fired out a missile and it blew up a helicopter!! BRILLIANT! I do think it was fairly pointless sending me to bed at this point, as I was so fundamentally over-stimulated that I stayed awake for what felt like hours, then dreamed of Lotus Esprits and men with metal teeth.
And so it was that finally, in 1995, my first ever big screen Bond experience arrived, in the form of Goldeneye. After such a long wait, anticipation could have been fatally high, especially after this fantastic teaser trailer had been getting my excitement inflated for months;
As it turns out, the only blemish of any kind was Eric Serra’s score, which is an abomination against man and nature; thankfully John Altman was brought in to rescore a few key sequences, including the tank chase through St. Petersberg. Of course this was what a Bond should be like: gruff, Irish and with a hard stare and a nasal monotone.As I stumbled out into the night after having watched it for the first time, I had a good look around, then hummed the theme loudly to myself as I skipped up the road, pausing occasionally in a doorway to put my hand and fingers into a gun shape and imagine I was about to get the drop on 006. I also did this the second time I saw it at the cinema. And the third. And also possibly the fourth.
Casino Royale heralded yet another new era, and landed when my cinema addiction had finally begun to exert its vice-like grip. Finally, it felt like a grown up Bond film, with interplay and decent dialogue for Bond and his lady and stunts that were well thought out and well executed. We’ll ignore the product placement so gratuitous that I think the backs of my retinas had sponsorship on them, which has blighted all of my cinematic Bond-age, because it’s time to start getting excited again. By the time the nights are drawing in next year, either the little kid or the grown man in me, or maybe even both, are going to be very happy. Fingers crossed.
I’ve been writing this blog for a little over six months now, and in that time I’ve not been compelled to comment on the passing of any of the great movie stars who we’ve lost, mainly because others have done it so eloquently. But this morning, I awoke to the news that one of the stars of my all-time favourite comedy, in a movie that served to reinvent him for the last thirty years of his career, has died at the grand old age of 84.
Leslie Nielsen became famous for his deadpan comedy style, and it’s easy to underestimate the skill required to pull this off successfully. Indeed, I wondered how much was down to him and how much to the writers, especially after seeing an episode of Columbo from the Seventies in which Nielsen appeared. Watching with a friend one Sunday afternoon, Nielsen’s straight-faced delivery and tendency to glide in at the side of frame had us in hysterics, and it would be a shame of thirty years of comedy had tarnished his more serious roles.
But I’m sure it’s because he was so good at comedy. I only saw four of Nielsen’s movies at the cinema, and sadly that list includes two Scary Movies, Spy Hard and Superhero Movie. But Superhero Movie did, if nothing else, help to convince me of Leslie’s actual talent – about 4000% better than anyone around him, you could see how effortless he made things appear. My regret is that I’ve never get gotten the ability to take in Airplane! or The Naked Gun with a cinema audience, especially one coming to those movies fresh. The gift of shared laughter is one to be treasured, and Leslie Nielsen has handed out his fair share of treasures over the years.
At least we got to enjoy three Naked Gun movies in the end. One of the great tragedies of twentieth century comedy is that Police Squad was cancelled after only six episodes. People talk of the quality of twenty-first century television, but these were six of the densest and most finely crafted half hours of TV put together. If you’ve never sat and experienced them, for once I’m going to recommend a TV series to you; here’s the first act of one episode to get you started, but you’d better not come back until you’ve hunted down the rest.
Even to this day, I head to the shops and call out to my wife, “See you shortly.” She ever unfailingly replies,”OK, and stop calling me Shortly.” Leslie Nielsen, you will be much missed.
I’d like to think that the last two or three years of heavily dedicated movie watching have given me a fairly rounded view on cinema. I do still like my mix of summer blockbusters in among the more art house delights I’ve discovered as I’ve started to venture into middle age. But I think it’s taken a while for me to refine my critical faculties and to truly appreciate what was good. For evidence of this, look no further than my childhood.
Whenever I read about how people my age got into movies, it often relates to a Star Wars epiphany. Now I’m 36, which means that when Star Wars arrived in the UK, I’d have been no more than four. If I did go and see it at the cinema, then that memory is lost to the ravages of time now. So the first experience I can remember of a Star Wars movie when I was a kid was The Empire Strikes Back in the cinema.
It’s finally here. After months of secrecy, speculation and salivation (not to mention alliteration), the saviour of the summer blockbuster is finally upon us. And anticipation in my head is reaching levels not seen since the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phanton Menace, when, despite having a ticket, I queued for an hour outside the screening to get the best possible seat. (Despite the movie being satisfactory rather than spectacular, my flatmate and I still bought lightsabers and fought with them until the early hours. I was 25 at the time.)
The risk here is that I have built this movie (and Toy Story 3 to a lesser extent) up in my mind to such an extent that it can never deliver on that expectation. Christopher Nolan has succeeded in pulling together possibly the best cast for a major Hollywood release known to man (and the best ensemble I can think of since Heat), filmed in seven countries on four continents, spent a huge amount of money on realistic stunts that avoid too much CGI, but has one thing which makes it stand out above pretty much anything else I’m likely to see this year – Christopher Nolan.
There are a few directors whose movies I would go and see if I had been kept in a hermetically sealed bubble until the day of release and knew nothing of the movie itself; they include David Fincher, the Coen brothers, Michael Haneke, Brad Bird and David Cronenberg. But if every other rational human being had dismissed his latest opus, I would still give Nolan a chance.
I could sit and write a lengthy dissertation for this (because, being a blogger, I love nothing more than the sound of my own voice reading my own posts back in my head). It occurred to me, though, that it might be easier just to share with you, my readers (hello, both of you), my top 50 movies of the previous decade. I originally wrote this for my Facebook at the back end of last year, as a summary of my movie-going obsession of that decade; reading it through gives some clear indication of my Nolan-love and why my expectations are vertigo-inducingly high for this one.
“I’m only doing it so I can poke your eyes out,” said my wife. How did it come to this?
From me reading blogs, for a start. I have read as much advice as possible as I could be bothered to before starting blogging, and one I found particularly useful recommended reading other people’s blogs. Seems sensible. Then an article on one of them caught my eye. Someone was attempting to see a movie without any prior information as to what the movie was about. In this case, an interesting movie called Five Killers, which has ended up as a rather anodyne looking movie called Killers, with Katherine Heigl and Mr Demi Moore.
Coincidentally, I’d been feeling a similar frustration, and had tried to think back to the last time I walked into a movie knowing almost nothing about it. The closest I’ve come for a long time was this year’s Exit Through The Gift Shop, mainly because I saw it before most of the major publications had gotten round to reviewing it, but I’d still seen a trailer and read some random bits on the internet before seeing it, so wasn’t totally cold.
Went to see a touring company production of The Marriage of Figaro last night. I must be getting old, because I couldn’t stand opera when I was younger, and I’m seeing two this week, out of choice. (Also, because once in a while 3D is good, as long as it’s proper 3D.) And it was nice not to think about movies for the evening, to prove to myself that I’m not completely obsessed.
Indeed, I wasn’t thinking about any movies during the opening overture, especially not Trading Places or The Last Action Hero.
And I wasn’t thinking about The Shawshank Redemption during this aria.
No siree, I didn’t think about movies all evening. Not me.