Friday, February 26, 2016
"THUNDERBALL" (1965) Review
I had just viewed the 1965 Bond movie, “THUNDERBALL” for the first time in several years. And I can see why this movie is considered to be one of my all time favorite Bond flicks. But I do not think I can state why in one or two sentences.
“THUNDERBALL” turned out to be director Terrence Young’s third and last Bond film. Most Bond fans consider it to be his least superior film, but I consider it to be his second best, following 1963’s “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. The story, based upon an unfinished script called “Warhead”, co-written by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. The unfinished script eventually became Fleming’s 1961 novel, “Thunderball”. This resulted in a major lawsuit between McClory and Fleming and eventually, EON Productions became dragged into it. The story is about SPECTRE’s theft of NATO nuclear warheads and how they used it to blackmail the U.S. and British government for the sum of 100,000,000 pounds. Naturally, MI-6 sends all of their “00” agents to recover the warheads before SPECTRE can carry out its threat to detonate the weapons on U.S. and British soil. Many moviegoers found the movie’s plot a little hard to buy and viewed it as part of the realm of fantasy. But considering the current obsession of terrorism and the high illegal weapons market,“THUNDERBALL” is probably one of the more relevant plots of any Bond film.
Aside from the underwater sequences, “THUNDERBALL” turned out to be an elegant and exciting thriller with excellent drama, a solid plot that managed to avoid any major plotholes, a classy score by John Barry and a first-class cast. Sean Connery portrayed James Bond for the fourth time in this film. Thankfully, he seemed to be at his top game in this one. It is a vast improvement over his performance in 1964’s “GOLDFINGER”, in which he seemed to come off as an immature prat. And he is ably assisted by a first-class cast – Claudine Auger as Domino Duval, Adolfo Celi as villain Emile Largo (SPECTRE’s Number 2), Rik Van Nutter as CIA Agent Felix Leiter and especially Luciana Paluzzi as villainess Fiona Volpe.
Below is a list of positive and negative aspects of the film. I have decided to start with the negative, since there was little that I did not care about the movie:
*Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter – Do not get me wrong. Van Nutter’s performance as Leiter was competent and very personable. My problem was that his role was written as a “less-than-bright” sidekick of Bond’s, instead of an ally. Bond has been assisted by Leiter in other movies, but they have never come off as some dumb sidekick . . . except for Cec Linder in “GOLDFINGER”.
*Theme Song – I will not deny that the movie’s theme song, performed by Tom Jones is slightly catchy. But I also found the lyrics to be slightly sexist and off-putting.
*Underwater Sequences – Yes, the underwater sequences had threatened to drag the movie a bit. Actually, I can point out two sequences that came close to boring me – the sequence that featured Largo’s acquisition of the warheads and the final battle between Largo’s men and U.S. Navy frogmen.
Blackmail of Patricia Fearing - James Bond's attempt to seduce Shrublands Clinic nurse, Patricia Fearing, came off as disturbing and tacky. It was bad enough to watch him make attempts to kiss the very professional Ms. Fearing without her consent. But when he resorted to blackmail - willingness to conceal his near death experience with the physiotherapy machine aka "the rack" in exchange for sex - the whole situation became rather sordid.
*Luciana Paluzzi – Let us be honest, folks. The red-haired Paluzzi came dangerously close to stealing the picture from Connery. Like Honor Blackman before her, she radiated sexiness and a strong on-screen presence. She seemed to be even more of a threat than Emile Largo and his men.
*Adolpo Celi – What I like about Celi’s performance is that he does not come off as an over-the-top villain. He was elegant, intelligent, ruthless and egotistical. Perfect villain.
*Nassau Setting – The setting in Nassau gave the movie an exotic, yet elegant feel that really added substance to the movie.
*Villain's Goal - Many critics have claimed that the villain's goal in the movie - nuclear blackmail for money - seemed unrealistic, due to a belief there was little chance that an organization like SPECTRE could get its hands on a nuclear bomb from a NATO strategic bomber. And yet, I have never considered such a scenario unrealistic. Especially in today's world. In a way, this scenario seems much more possible than some of scenarios featured in other Bond movies from the same period.
*Dialogue – The dialogue in this movie was unusually sharp and witty. But what really appealed to me was that Connery’s puns did not come out of his mouth every other minute, as it did in his previous two movies. In fact, the movie featured what I consider to be one of Connery’s best lines during his tenure with the franchise.
Speaking of dialogue, below is what I consider to be some of my favorite lines:
* Moneypenny: In the conference room. Something pretty big. Every double-o man in Europe has been rushed in. And the home secretary too!
Bond: His wife probably lost her dog.
*Bond: My dear, uncooperative Domino.
Domino: How do you know that? How do you know my friends call me Domino?
Bond: It's on the bracelet on your ankle.
Domino: So... what sharp little eyes you've got.
Bond: Wait 'til you get to my teeth.
*Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead.
*M: I've assigned you to Station "C" Canada.
Bond: Sir, I'd respectfully request that you change my assignment to Nassau.
M:Is there any other reason, besides your enthusiasm for water sports?
*Pat Fearing: James, where are you going?
Bond: Oh, nowhere. I just thought I'd take a little, uh... exercise.
Pat Fearing: You must be joking.
*But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue...[she steps on Bond's foot]... but not this one.
I would like to conclude with this little note. In 1983, Kevin McClory – one of the original authors of “Warhead” - produced his own movie version of the story, which starred Connery as Bond. The movie, "NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN" was not exactly terrible, but it almost seemed like an overblown version of the 1965 movie.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.10) "Red Flag"
At the end of the previous "JERICHO" episode, (1.09) "Crossroads", Jake Green had approached his father, Mayor Johnston Green, about raising a militia unit for the defense of their town, Jericho. I could say that this next episode,(1.10) "Red Flag", is the result of Jake's idea. Instead, show runners Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer and Jonathan E. Steinberg decided it had another story to tell.
The episode began with Jericho's militia trainees hunting turkeys for Thanksgiving. The story immediately shifted when Jake, along with best friend Stanley Richmond, find a crate of food - from China - in the middle of a field. The episode soon shifted to the skies above Jericho when bomber planes drop crates filled with food, medicine and a generator upon the town's streets. Wary of receiving food from China, Mayor Green, Jake and Eric decide to hesitate in distributing the food and other supplies; until they can ascertain whether the material is safe or not. Unfortunately, standing in the Greens' way are three impediments:
1) the politically ambitious Gray Anderson's insistence that the food be immediately distributed
2) the group of criminals/survivalists led by Jonah Prowse, who wants to use the food and supplies for profit
3) Jericho's citizens who desperately want the food
In a way, "Red Flag" reminded me of the series' earlier episodes in which the plots focused on the basic survival of Jericho's citizens. Food supplies have been diminishing for weeks, despite Dale Turner's discovery of an abandoned freight train filled with supplies in (1.03) "Four Horsemen". I have mixed feelings regarding the Greens' reluctance to distribute the food to Jericho's citizens. On one hand, I understood their wariness to do so, considering that the food came from China, which had been a political enemy of the United States since 1949-50. On the other hand, this episode was set during the Thanksgiving holiday, which meant over two months had passed since the bombs were dropped. If China had been behind the attacks, the United States would have been under the control of an invasion force by this episode. I found it improbable that the Greens or Robert Hawkins never considered this.
I will give credit to the episode's screenwriter, Mike Ostrowski, for using the China supply drop for extending the series' main narrative forward. Johnston Green's reluctance to distribute the food led to conflicts between him and many of the town's citizens - especially Gray Anderson, who harbored ambitions to become the new mayor. While Johnston is too busy dealing with the town's survival, his wife Gail sees the writing on the wall and fears that he will soon be out of a job. Both the supplies and the generator leads to another conflict between the town and Jonah Prowse, who makes a grab for the generator. This, in turn, leads to Emily Sullivan surprising everyone with a quick recovery of the generator . . . and trouble for Jonah. His second-in-command, Mitchell Cafferty, murders storekeeper Gracie Leigh in an attempt to frame him - an act that ends up having far reaching consequences in the near future.
The most interesting story arc of "Red Flag" turned out to be the consequences of Eric Green's failing marriage to Dr. April Green. I must admit that Ostrowski and director Martha Mitchell in continuing the fallout of Eric's affair with tavern owner Mary Bailey and the end of his marriage with surprising maturity. The situation becomes increasingly heated after Eric learns of April's pregnancy. Those scenes that featured Johnston and Gail Green's failed efforts to convince Eric to continue his marriage to April were probably the best in this entire episode. I found them emotional, real and surprisingly mature, thanks to the performances of Kenneth Mitchell, Gerald McRaney, Pamela Reed and Darcy Stanchfield.
There were also pleasant aspects to "Red Flag". It featured another step in Robert Hawkins' efforts to re-bond with his family - especially his children. This story arc ended on a pleasant note when he founded a way to make Thanksgiving a positive experience for his kids and Jericho's other citizens, using the recaptured generator. And when Stanley is beaten by Jonah's men, while stealing the crate on his property; he is nursed by his current tenant, former IRS agent Mimi Clark. Not surprisingly, the pair finally acknowledge their attraction to each other and begin a romance.
As much as I admire how the episode's story arc propelled the series' main narrative forward, "Red Flag" is not a major favorite of mine. It is a pretty decent episode that featured one particular story arc - the Eric and April Green marital breakup - that really impressed me. Unfortunately, the food supply story arc left me feeling as if the episode had regressed the series on an emotional level.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Below are images from the new Western-mystery film, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT". Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the movie stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Walton Goggins:
"THE HATEFUL EIGHT" (2015) Photo Gallery
Friday, February 19, 2016
"MAD MEN": WASTED PARTNERSHIP
Looking back on Season Two of AMC's "MAD MEN", it occurred to me that the rivalry between the series protagonist, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) and a supporting character named Herman "Duck" Phillips (Mark Moses), seemed like a complete waste of time . . . story wise. Do not worry. I am not criticizing the writing of Matt Weiner and his staff. At least on this subject. Instead, I am criticizing the behavior of two male characters, who I believe had the potential to be a winning advertising team.
Following senior partner Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) second heart attack in the Season One episode (1.11) “Indian Summer”, one of the Sterling-Cooper’s clients had advised Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), the firm’s other senior partner, to make Creative Director Don Draper a junior partner. Which Cooper did at the end of the episode. He also told Don that as one of the partners, he should be the one to find someone to replace Roger as the Director of Account Services. In the following episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, Don hired Herman "Duck" Phillips.
In the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”, Duck seemed appreciative of how Don’s creative skills landed Kodak as a client for the firm. Yet, the early Season Two episodes clearly made it obvious that storm clouds were hovering on the horizon for the pair. In the Season Two premiere (2.01) “For Those Who Think Young”, Duck informed Roger that he believed younger copywriters with a bead on the youth of the early 1960s, should handle their new Martinson Coffee account, instead of veteran copywriter Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). Don dismissed the idea, claiming that a bunch of twenty year-olds lacked the experience and knowledge on how to sell products. But Roger forced Don to go along with Duck’s plans and hire the latter’s protégées - Smith "Smitty" (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Kurt (Edin Gali). Pete Campbell's (Vincent Kartheiser) father perished in the famous American Airlines Flight 1 crash on March 1, 1962 in the second episode of the season, (2.01) "Flight 1". And when Duck convinced Roger that Sterling Cooper should dump the regional Mohawk Airlines as a client and use Pete’s personal plight to win the bigger American Airlines (who sought to change advertising agencies following the disaster) as a new client. Naturally, Roger and Cooper dismissed Don’s protests and went ahead with Duck’s idea.
In the end, both men lost and won their arguments. Instead of gaining American Airlines as a new client, Sterling Cooper ended up with no client altogether. In (2.04) "Three Sundays", Duck informed the Sterling Cooper staff that their efforts to present American Airlines with a new campaign had been for nothing, when the airline fired Duck’s contact. Many fans saw this as an example that not only had Don been right about not dropping Mohawk, they also seemed to view Duck as someone who was no longer competent at his job. However, three episodes later in (2.07) "The Gold Violin", Duck proved to be right about hiring the much younger Smith and Kurt as copywriters for the Martinson Coffee account. Their efforts led to a new client for the Sterling Cooper agency.
But despite the success and failures of both men, Don and Duck continued to duke it out over the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper. Only once, in (2.08) "A Night to Remember", did both men seemed capable of working seamlessly as a partnership, when their efforts led to Sterling Cooper landing the Heineken Beer account. But this ability to work as a pair failed to last very long. One, both men seemed adamant that their particular expertise in the advertising business – whether it was Creative or Accounts - only mattered. Two, Don received most of the praise from Cooper and Roger for the success of the Martinson Coffee account in "The Gold Violin". Granted, Don tried to give some of the praise to Duck (who mainly deserved it), but he really did not try hard enough. And finally, Duck became so resentful of his failure to acquire a partnership in the firm that he maneuvered a takeover of Sterling Cooper by the old British advertising firm that he used to work for. The main conflicts between Don and Duck seemed to be twofold – Don’s preference to take the nostalgia route over the future in his advertising campaigns (unless forced to) over Duck’s willingness to look into the future of advertising (television ad spots and younger employees, for example); and each man’s belief that their respective expertise in the advertising field is the only one that matters.
Most viewers seemed to view Don as the hero of the conflict between the two men and label Duck as the villain. This preference for Don even extended to his belief that Creative was the backbone of the advertising industry. Personally . . . I disagree. Not only do I disagree with Don and many of the viewers, I would probably disagree with Duck’s view that advertising needed to solely rely upon images – especially television spots. Frankly, I am surprised that no one had ever considered that both Don and Duck’s views on the future of advertising are equally important. Don and other copywriters might create the message or jingo to attract the public. But it is Duck's (and Pete's) job to not only snag the client, but provide the client with the opportunity to sell his/her wares. Even if that means using television spots – definitely the wave of the future in the early 1960s.
But many fans seemed to be blinded by their own preference for Don over Duck. And both characters seemed to believe that their ideas of what the advertising business should be were the only ways. The problem with both Don and Duck was that business wise, they needed each other. Look at how well they had worked together in mid-Season Two over the Martinson Coffee and Heineken accounts. Duck needed Don's creative talent. Don needed Duck's business acumen and ability to foresee the future in advertising. Unfortunately, both remained stupidly resentful of each other.
In the end, Don's career managed to survive, despite the failures of two marriage and the near failure of his career, due to personal problems, heavy drinking and shirking. Duck, a former alcoholic who resumed his old habit in later years, was simply plagued with bad luck. Sterling Cooper's British owners fired him after he had indulged in a brief temper tantrum. He worked at an advertising firm called Grey for a few years, before being reduced to a corporate recruiter. Copywriter Peggy Olson and Accounts executive Pete Campbell learned to maintain a balance between Creatives and Accounts whenever they worked on an account together. Yet, every now and then, I find myself wondering what would have happened if Don and Duck had managed to achieve the same.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Below are images from Season One of the ABC series, "REVENGE". Created by Mike Kelley and loosely based upon Alexandre Dumas père's novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo", the series starred Madeline Stowe and Emily VanCamp:
"REVENGE" SEASON ONE (2011-2012) Photo Gallery