Bond Legacy: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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It could have been worse - I could have been Adam West.

Finally, a true turning point in our series of reflections on the James Bond films, and my sixth attempt to prove the influence of Bond on not only his other subsequent films but also the larger world of film. For this month, such a shift in the world and such a unique entry in the series it feels that I need a similarly unique entry to outline the legacy of this month’s Bondage. So I’ve written a poem, which is completely unique and in no way almost exactly like something I did just last month for the general blog.

Sean Connery’s Bonds had reached number five,
But felt his career was taking a dive,
So he left the series, and here in his place,
A man with the same name – but what of that face?
He’d been in commercials, he hailed from Australia,
He told Cubby Broccoli, “I’ll never fail ya,”
He wore a Rolex and knocked out a wrestler,
They hoped he’d bring energy worthy of Tesla.
Many more changes were also impending
But not from the book; especially the ending.
To set our Bond series on such a new course,
They actually stayed quite close to the source.
However the casting saw more than one swap out
And maybe the makers were guilty of cop out;
Some of their casting was frankly quite callous,
Replacing that Pleasance with Telly Savalas?
But our premier legacy for this fifth of sequels
Shows that the movies can all remain equals
Or even be better, their impact is lasting –
And not much, it seems, is down to the casting.
For this film has shown that the reboot’s a winner,
And while some would claim it to be a dog’s dinner,
The strength of the concept is clearly the key here,
And viewers still wanted to regularly be here.
Legacy two is in some way related,
For even as earlier Bonds become dated,
They all link together, as one single story,
Although some connections are just a tad hoary,
But clearly we must take this as all one account,
Even as fresh inconsistencies mount,
This new Bond has trappings of that other fellow,
But when he meets Blofeld they’re surely too mellow?
Sworn enemies surely would not be forgotten?
Some of this plotting’s a little bit rotten.
It all makes uneven this odd Blofeld triple,
But thankfully these changes couldn’t quite cripple
The series. Now sadly ol’ Lazenby wouldn’t
Be back for another, or he just couldn’t
Deal with the stresses of filling those shoes.
(It’s also a problem for some Doctor Whos.)
As well as reboots and Bond continuity,
Other small legacies come as gratuity.
Legacy three’s a peculiar notion
For this is the first Bond to feature slow motion
And also the flashback, enabling the story
For much grander notions and narrative glory.
(And contrary to those who’re appalled by the fact,
The fourth wall’s not broken, it remains quite intact
Through pre-credits dealings, so please do not judge
Based on misconceptions; but yes, it’s a fudge
And you could be forgiven for misunderstanding
This film from the year of Apollo’s moon landing.)
Legacy four’s also small and bizarre
For John Barry used an electric guitar
To enliven the soundtrack, and some synthesiser,
So the music was great; like a blue pill from Pfizer
Had been handed out to all soundtrack players
And the music throughout had so many layers
Thanks to Barry, Hal David, and old Louis Armstrong
Which links to the legacy that’s taken so long
To come to fruition. Yes, it’s love feelings
That only the Craig Bonds have had such deep dealings
With, and of course they are both so true
To this film’s first legacy – and actually, the first two!
The fact that Bond’s love life can be so forlorn
Has clear implications for Bauer and Bourne –
The life of a spy must be totally selfish
And dealings with women all casual and elfish.
One more Bond legacy this month I offer
To add to the bulging heredit’ry coffer
That Bond has bequeathed us from six films of great means,
This one inspired the Inception snow scenes.
So film number six, and six legacies here
But question why this film is not held as dear
As some of the other Bonds already produced.
I think that you’ve by now most likely deduced
That it had nothing to do with Diana Rigg
Replacing the girl with the face like a pig;
Yes, Bond’s shoddy casting made this film lack
So next time we’re getting Sean Connery back.

Next month: Bonds come and go, but Diamonds Are Forever. (See what I did there?)


Cambridge Film Festival Surprise Film Review: Chico & Rita

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The Pitch: Hello, and welcome to Jazz Club. Tonight, a jazz love story. Mmm, nice.

The Review: When I was growing up, I had a very fixed perception of animation; understandable, since my niece is currently going through the same diet of wall-to-wall Disney films, there’s just a lot more of them about these days. Thankfully, TV came along with The Simpsons and South Park and showed that animation can take many forms and can have many purposes, but it’s still a rarer occurrence than would be preferable to see something different gain an audience in the field of animated movies. (In the ten years of the animated movie Oscar, for example, there hasn’t been a single truly adult animation nominated, although Waltz With Bashir rightly got into Best Foreign Language.) But Chico & Rita is that rare beast that can deliver a grown-up animation, and feel fresh into the bargain.

The setting for the movie is twofold; a framing device of an old man listening to the music of his youth, which turns out to be literally his music. He’s Chico, a talented young pianist in Havana in the late Forties with an ear for jazz. His eye for the ladies falls on Rita, a singer whose voice enchants him as much as her appearance. They begin to make music together, but so begins a tempestuous love story that takes them from Havana to America, taking in the jazz scene at a pivotal moment in its history, but also reflecting critical developments in the evolution of their homeland.

The movie has a distinctive visual style, using rotoscoping to capture the actors from live action, with the supplementation of computer animation. This gives the movie a more idealised and romanticised feel which perfectly complements the storytelling, but also allows the performances to come through and gives a sense of realism in the emotions. (There’s also something about brief full frontal nudity from animated characters that oddly made me more prudish than live action would have done, but I’m pretty sure that’s just me.)

The story navigates seamlessly between the cities and the timeframes, but the star, other than the scenery and the process, is the music itself. Jazz has a history and a passion that’s made it probably the most influential musical development of the twentieth century (sorry, rock’n’roll, nothing personal, just the way I feel), and this is a love letter to the music wrapped up in a love story that spans decades. If your only knowledge of Tito Fuente is from that famous Simpsons episode, then you need to treat yourself to this pair and their compelling story, for if you do, a genuine and unexpected pleasure awaits you.

Why see it at the cinema: The visuals are lush and overtly cinematic as the journey takes you across countries. But being in a cinema with a good sound system will also give you the chance to fully envelop yourself in the gorgeous soundtrack.

The Score: 8/10

Review: The Secret In Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)

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The Pitch: “The past is never dead, it is not even past.” – William Faulkner

The Review: Much consternation was made about last year’s Foreign Language Oscar. For once, people weren’t able to moan about the main award as it was generally accepted the right decision had been made, so most of the contention occurred around the decision to ignore A Prophet and The White Ribbon, not to mention Ajami and The Milk of Sorrow, and give the award to an unheralded Argentinian film. Seemingly most of that contention arose out of the fact that few people had seen it, but both Jacques Audiard and Michael Haneke’s movies were being touted as modern classics. Surely we couldn’t have been blessed with a third in the same year?

This, as it turns out, is certainly fit to stand in the same company. It’s a story of regret, and being unable to gain closure on the past – a past which has a traumatic series of events at its core. Ricardo Darin plays the legal counsellor who investigates the brutal murder in the Seventies, but more than twenty years later pours his retirement into writing a memoir of the events, and finds himself slowly revisiting the events with his former department chief, played by Soledad Villamil. As the story unfolds, predominantly in flashback to the time after the murder, we are fed the details of the case, but what’s causing Darin’s Benjamin Esposito to still cling to the past so incessantly is initially unclear.

The actors are all required to play a double role here, both past and present, and all acquit themselves admirably, Darin especially not only taking on physical changes, but managing to channel both the ebullience and determination of the younger man, but also the regret, tinged with layers of sadness, of his elder counterpart. The dialogue often crackles as the investigation unfolds, men not afraid to pull their punches but also having to fight for their position. As the events play out, it’s evident that this is not as clear cut as your average American crime drama would be, as the political system puts as many obstacles in the way as the lack of leads, which gives it a refreshing advantage over other crime tales. It’s also clear that it’s not just the events of the crime that Esposito is unable to put behind him, but his unreciprocated feelings towards his superior, obvious to all of his colleagues at the time, and helping to give a deeper emotion to the events of the past.

While the screenplay is excellent, the cinematography is also worthy of mention, giving a different feel to the two eras to aid our transition, and managing one stunning single shot as the counsellors close in on their man. Throughout, there’s an ambiguity to events which allows you to remain sympathetic to the characters but still leaves you guessing about the final outcome – safe to say, when it arrives you may not see it coming. The structured narrative is also more effective, allowing the poignancy of the later events to be emphasised by the time that has passed without the closure that Esposito continues to seek. Overall, this may not quite be the equal of The White Ribbon, but it does deserve mention in the same breath and it would be hard to deny such a complete and satisfying piece of cinema the awards it’s received.

Why see it at the cinema: There’s a strong visual sense throughout the movie, but the single tracking shot at the stadium, starting way up then sweeping into the crowd and through the tunnels in a seemingly unbroken move, demands viewing on the biggest screen you can find.

The Score: 9/10