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?)


Oscars Countdown: Does Size Matter?

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Just two weeks to go until the annual climax to the Awards season, and we’re up to the BAFTAs this weekend. It’s easy to think of the Oscars as quite literally a marathon; thousands of runners, many of which are there to look stupid or make up the numbers, which are narrowed down as they can’t keep the pace, until there’s either a front-runner out on their own, slogging through the awards season like Paula Radcliffe, or there’s a couple which are competing in a nail biting finish right up to the line. At this point this year we have what has pretty much become a two horse race – it would seem that it’s either going to be The King’s Speech or The Social Network, unless something sneaks in and springs a Crash level of surprise at the last minute, like a charity runner in a comedy outfit beating out the professional athletes. There is one thing that stands out about both of these films, and indeed all but one of the Best Picture nominations this year – they’re all really, really short.

Well, not short in terms of the average film you see these days, but they are a lot shorter than the average Oscar winner of years gone by. Allow me to prove this with the use of a well placed graph.

The blue line indicates how long each Best Picture winner has been since the awards began in 1927. There’s a few where the lengths have varied over the years due to Director’s Cuts, studio interference and the like, but to be honest it doesn’t matter how many versions of Gone With The Wind they make, there’ll never be one short enough to remove the need to wear surgical stockings to avoid getting a DVT while watching it. The black line is the underlying trend, which as you can see got longer in the Fifties and then longer again through the Seventies and Eighties, but has been getting shorter since.

They key point in there has been the two hour mark (120 minutes if your mental arithmetic isn’t as sharp as you’d like). Only three winners of the biggest of the little gold men in the last two decades have been under that mark; they were The Silence Of The Lambs, Chicago and Crash, and on that basis not a suggestion that shorter films are a trend we should welcome. The midpoint average in those two decades is actually over two hours and ten minutes. But this year, we only have one film out of the ten which is over two hours:

To illustrate how short this year’s field are in comparison, looking at the bottom end, there have only ever been two winners shorter than 127 Hours (and they’re Annie Hall and Marty, in case you were wondering). Right, that’s the science bit out of the way, but what does it all mean? (Other than I spend more time coming up with pretty but pointless graphs than I really should, but of course you knew that already.) The key question is, of course, are these films getting shorter, and is it a trend we can expect to continue?

There was a view that Inception this year proved that audiences can cope with more demanding fare and that films don’t need to be dumbed down, but at the end of the year it’s proven to be the exception rather than the rule. What’s missing from many of this films that has characterised winners in the past is the level of sub-plots and secondary characterisation. Often sweeping historical epics will concern themselves with great expanses of the passage of time; although The King’s Speech nominally spans two decades, most of the drama is over two fairly short periods. That’s not to say this year’s films are poorer by any means, but they are somewhat leaner affairs than most winners from the past.

As to what’s driving that, then look no further than the box office. The Hurt Locker, last year’s winner, was the lowest in terms of box office performance for many years; films have largely been shunted into this two month “corridor” around December and January in order to be fresh in voters’ minds, but that means that there’s stern competition for screens, and for the studios to get the return that they perceive award nominations and the shiny statues themselves will bring in terms of extra cash to line their pockets. A film like Inception could play only three or four times a day at the box office due to its length, but the films at the other end of that spectrum above could get five or even six showings a day in, and films like The King’s Speech have been packing out most of their showings. That driver of box office is likely to keep lengths down; while we might get the occasional longer film, three hour epics in awards season will be very much the exception rather than the rule for as long as cinemas are in business.

As to what will win this year? The Social Network is two minutes longer than The King’s Speech, so if historical precedent means anything, it might just give it the edge, but that’s not even enough time to go out and buy extra popcorn, so it probably doesn’t mean very much in terms of choosing a winner from those two. But ultimately, this year’s nominees have proved one thing – it’s not how long it is, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Review Of The Year 2010: The Top 20 Reviews Of Mine, By Hit Count

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I set out this year to try to encourage people into the cinema again. As much as anything else, cinema as an experience is enhanced by having company, and I seem to be fortunate in that, by and large, the people who cohabit the cinemas that I attend generally observe the rules of etiquette that you would want, keeping their shoes on, not eating nachos too loudly and generally keeping pretty quiet. But one of my purposes was to encourage others to watch movies by sharing my opinions in the form of reviews, so I thought it would be interesting to see which of my reviews garnered most hits, and so most encouraged others to venture out.

So, here’s the list. If you work out what to make of it, do let me know, as I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a bit odd.

20. Winter’s Bone

19. London River

18. The Girl Who Played With Fire

17. Certified Copy

16. The Expendables

15. Scott Pilgrim vs The World

14. The Rebound

13. The Crazies

12. The Illusionist

11. True Legend

10. Black Dynamite

9. Mr. Nice

8. Leaving

7. Chico & Rita

6. Wild Target

5. Dark Souls

4. Round Ireland With A Fridge

3. Heartbreaker

2. The Hole in 3D

1. Inception / IMAX Inception

Review Of The Year 2010: The Half Dozen Best Trailers of 2010

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Yes, it’s party time – end of the year, Christmas dinner is eaten and everyone’s learning the words to Auld Lang Syne ready for the weekend. At the end of my first year of blogging, I thought would be sensible to reflect on what’s happened in cinema, and indeed what’s happened to me, over the course of the year. The purpose of my blog, which I’m going to attempt to reinforce as we enter 2011, is that I firmly believe that the vast majority of movies can be improved by watching them in a cinema, and that there are still a significant number of good movies being made.

Our window into this world of movies, and sometimes the only crumb of comfort at the start of a poor movie, is the trailer, and for the last seven months I’ve picked out a selection of half a dozen trailers each month that caught my eye, in an attempt to encourage you, the reader, to see as diverse a range of movies as possible. So I’ll start this look back at the year with a selection of trailers that really stood out, for one reason or another, and I’ve come up with half a dozen of them, unsurprisingly.

Trailers are a fine art, and in the wrong hands can completely destroy anticipation for a movie (see this trailer for Tamara Drewe that probably ended up doing not only that, but costing it some of its audience in the process, having pitched this as a Richard Curtis-lite fluffy rom-com, which it most certainly isn’t). I’ve also already blogged this year on my frustrations at trailers which effectively give the game away; the best trailers give a flavour of what the movie is about, enticing you in, but still leave you to discover the true delights of the movie while you’re watching the full length version, not the two minute digest.

Anyway, these are the six trailers which I felt this year were the finest exponents of their art.

Best Trailer Where The Movie Didn’t Quite Live Up To The Trailer: The Brothers Bloom

I must confess to not having seen Brick when it came out, but it did get a lot of good word of mouth, and consequently I was looking forward to director Rian Johnson’s latest effort. This got stuck in release hell and took two years to finally land in cinemas, and it was evident when it did that it was maybe just a little too quirky for its own good. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s an OK movie, but the trailer is fantastic, and it’s almost a mini movie in itself. Shame something got lost in the final cut.

Best Use Of Old Music That Everyone Was Sick Of But Now Really Likes In A Post-Modern Retro Way Trailer: Four Lions

Confession time: I like Toploader. I used to have their first album on Mini Disc; in fact, it was the only album I owned exclusively on Mini Disc when I still had a player. Thankfully my taste in film has always been a little better, and indeed a little wider, than my musical taste, but at least when this trailer got everyone bopping along to the much derided “Dancing In The Moonlight” I could feel that, for once, I was ahead of fashion and trend, rather than trailing painfully in its wake.

Best At Not Giving The Game Away Trailer: A Single Man

If you want to know how to cut a trailer together, then this is pretty much a masterclass from the school of “let’s stick lots of press quotes so people know how good it is in among some random footage”. (Which is a pretty long and rubbish name for a school.) It’s a work of art, quite literally, and reflects the aesthetics that director Tom Ford brought to the movie without giving away vast reams of plot, or even dialogue. It helps when you have Colin Firth and Julianne Moore so that people know the acting will be up to scratch when the movie arrives, of course.

The Ronseal Award For Doing Exactly What It Says On The Tin: Jackass 3D

Did the world really need another Jackass movie? One minute and twenty three seconds into the trailer, when a giant hand covered in flour made me laugh as much as anything else I saw this year, I knew the answer. Probably not, but what the heck!

Most Iconic Trailer Of The Year: Inception

The most recognisable trailer of the year, the subject of numerous spoofs, mash-ups and even this South Park parody, and oddly the trailer actually gives a lot away; but you wouldn’t know this until you’d seen the movie at least once, and probably twice, because the trailer is so well constructed and the movie itself so densely packed.

Best Trailer of 2010: The Social Network

I liked it so much, I bought the soundtrack. (Thankfully that cost me 99p from iTunes.) As perfectly constructed as the movie it was promoting, it was a perfect storm (editing, soundtrack, dialogue, story) of the elements to make a great trailer, and I quite literally will never tire of watching it.

So that’s your lot for this year. 2011 doesn’t look the most promising in terms of output, but there’s already some great trailers in the offing for the first few months – here’s hoping that the movies they’re promoting turn out to be just as good, if not better.

Movie Con III, Chapter III: And The Crowd Goes Wild

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It’s now less than a week before the second part of my summer cinematic extravaganza takes place. (In case you missed it, the first part was my Inception / Toy Story 3 double bill at the IMAX, and it was a thing of rare beauty and joy.) But all my prep is done; the hire car to get me to and from some Tube station at the end of the Central line is booked, my T-shirts, one of which is custom made, have all now arrived, I have my ticket for one of the Saturday night previews as well, and all there is left to do is to sit back and wait for the excitement to start.

In the expectant pause between now and then, I’ve found myself wondering exactly what I’m getting myself into. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but one thing that struck me reading this article about audience reactions at Screen Rant this morning made me realise that I’ve always missed a little of the American brashness at the cinema – us Brits can be a little too reserved sometimes. Sure, I’m no fan of loud popcorn munching, mobile phones or discussing what you had for breakfast in a stage whisper, and the cinema experience is usually better without distractions. But sometimes it’s the investment of those around you that really makes the experience and sets it apart from watching on even a good home cinema set-up.

The opening movie is The Expendables. I’ve been looking forward to this all summer long, and even more so after the relative disappointments of The Losers and The A Team, its two nearest cousins in this summer’s entertainment. But although it’s not getting the best reviews at present, what gives me hope is the audience I’ll be seeing it with, especially after this Guardian article’s recommendation on how to see it.

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In praise of the movie widows

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I was at the IMAX last week watching Inception. The movie reached the final scene, got the usual gasps and howls of frustration as the title card came up, and then as the music started, everyone got up and started to move. The lady sat next to me turned to her partner and simply said, “Do you want to stay and watch the end credits? Is there anything at the end?”

I know that reaction; I’ve lived with it for nearly ten years. As I’ve descended into further and further levels of movie geekery and obsessiveness, my girlfriend was sat on the sidelines. It’s not stopped her becoming my fiancée and, five years ago, my wife, but somehow she’s stuck with me through thick and thin.

So far this year, I’ve seen 61 movies in an actual cinema, and four of those twice (in two of those cases, to take her to movies I’d already seen). Her tally is 9 for this year; against my 52 last year she managed 13. She is not averse to getting in two in one day, as long as we get something to eat in between, and I did manage to get her into three in one day a few years back (not in my league, of course, but still an impressive achievement). But as you can see, I do end up seeing the vast majority on my own.

We do try to structure our lives so I see movies when she’s doing other things, but if there’s something I really want to see she will actively encourage me to make the trip. For example, last week I made a journey down an hour of winding country roads to the town of Wisbech, as they had a tiny cinema down a back street that was showing Skeletons, and I hadn’t managed to make it to one of the four screenings in the more convenient Cambridge. She managed to find that cinema when I hadn’t (and if you’re in the area, The Luxe is well worth a visit).

When your partner, regardless of your respective genders and orientations, shows a commitment like that to your hobby, you know how much you love each other. When he / she puts up with your obsessive list making, blog starting and taking a week off work to spend time in a film festival, then you consider yourself very lucky indeed. If you have your own movie widow (or widower), don’t forget to show them your appreciation once in a while.

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Eight reasons why it’s OK to love Inception

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WARNING: while my other articles and reviews mentioning Inception have remained spoiler free, this article contains massive spoilers, the size of buildings folding back on themselves. You have been warned.

It’s been two weeks now since we were all incepted. It appears the idea didn’t take for a few people, but by and large there’s a lot of love for this movie, especially evidenced by the fact that it’s currently third on the IMDb Top 250 Movies. No matter what you think of that chart or its methods, it shows that of the first 100,000 people to see and rate the movie, pretty much 2/3 of them thought it was a 10/10 movie on however they judge their scales.

Maybe because of this, or maybe because people felt they were being incepted with the idea that they should love this movie with all the pre-release hype. Part of that hype was generated because of the poor quality, apart from the odd gem such as Toy Story 3, of the competition in the summer movie market (and if anything, next summer is even worse).

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IMAX Review: Inception

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For my standard review of Inception, with all the normal bells and whistles, see here. However, I followed this up with a visit to the IMAX; some thoughts on that viewing and then some further thoughts on the movie itself, after the jump. There are no big spoilers here but I would still recommend seeing the movie before you read too much further.

Why see it on IMAX: There are pros and cons, actually. The cons are all in the picture; there are a few points when the picture is a little muddy or out of focus, and blown up to gigantic proportions this looks so much worse. The picture also appears to have been cropped slightly; while not filling the whole screen, so it’s not down to the 1.44:1 IMAX ratio, it’s not the 2.35:1 ratio you’ll get in most other cinemas.

The pros are in the sound; Hans Zimmer’s amazing score comes over in a much clearer way and captured me in ways that it didn’t manage in a normal cinema. In addition, the 40 speaker system of the IMAX packs plenty of bass, and Inception is not short of ways to exploit it.

I’ve now seen four films on the IMAX format (The Dark Knight, Avatar and Journey to Mecca being the other three). Of the four, this has the worst picture but the best sound. So your choice to see it will depend entirely on your priorities.

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Why everyone who loves movies must see Inception, because next summer sucks

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Seen Inception yet? Sorry, what do you mean it’s not really your kind of thing? It’s an intelligent action movie, at least by my reckoning. You may not agree on either or both of those counts, and that’s fine, but hopefully you won’t disagree that it’s a movie overflowing with ambition, not afraid to take a few risks and to try to stimulate the brain cells or the adrenal gland.

But you should see it, not only to have an opinion on one of the most talked about movies of the last couple of years, but also to show your support for movie-making of this kind? Why should I fork out my cash to see a movie I might not like, I hear you cry? Because, dear reader, if you don’t I may have to hold you and your kind accountable for what’s to come. Now not every movie is going to have that Inception level of ambition, but it would be nice if at least the odd one or two summer blockbusters did.

And not only do film-makers need ambition and courage, so do the studios. Inception took $62 million in the US at the weekend – that’s the second largest amount of money ever for a sci-fi movie that wasn’t a sequel, behind only Avatar. So to have the balls to believe you’re going to see that money again, with only the director and cast’s past histories to go on, requires leaps of faith.

To illustrate my point, consider the list of big summer releases currently lined up for next year. These are all due to land between May and August next year in both the States and the UK.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Hangover 2
X Men: First Class
The Green Lantern
Transformers 3
Winnie The Pooh
Rise of the Apes
Cars 2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom
The Smurfs
Cowboys and Aliens
War Horse

Not the most inspiring list, is it? I am passingly interested in the majority but there are maybe two at most that genuinely excite me at this point. The thought that this might become the summer movie norm makes me weep for the souls of humanity. So see Inception – if you accept the mediocre and the derivative as standard, don’t come crying to me if that’s all you get in future.

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Why I will almost certainly be disappointed by Inception – My top 50 of the noughties

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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.

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