November 30th, 2012

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) ***

For many Bond fans, Timothy Dalton’s arrival as James Bond must’ve been a breath of fresh air. Personally, I love Roger Moore as much as anybody, but even I had to admit that having a younger, tougher Bond was a nice change of pace. It’s just a shame that Dalton’s first Bond film never quite finds its footing. While Dalton grew into the role nicely in his second outing, Licence to Kill, unfortunately it wound up being his last.

The Living Daylights never quite knows what it wants to be. The film was originally written with Moore in mind, so there is some of the usual silliness found in the Moore movies here. Since the dead serious Dalton was cast, some of the comic moments (like the cello case escape) fall flat. The comic shtick given to other cast members (like the lusty security guard) works better and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) has a handful of nice moments. But overall, the tone doesn’t quite gel.

The flick suffers from some obvious producer meddling too. In The Living Daylights there was a conscious effort to address the AIDS epidemic, so Bond is more or less a one woman man in this. To me, this is completely unnecessary. Bond is, and always should be a fantasy character. There should be no reason why you would shortchange his sexuality. And besides, the man sleeps with a gun under his pillow, so I’m sure he knows how to protect himself in bed.

Another thing that holds the film back is its muddled plot. At first you think the film’s about “Smiert Spionem”, a Russian plot to assassinate enemy agents. But we eventually learn it’s just a smokescreen for the villains’ true aim: Selling arms and smuggling opium. The trouble is, the Smiert Spionem stuff is a lot more intriguing than all that arms dealing shit. And plus, the stakes never really seems all that high, so it’s hard to care about the shenanigans of the sniveling Russian general Georgi (Jeroen Krabbe) and the rube arms dealer Whitaker (Joe Don Baker, who later turned up in the Brosnan series playing a different character).

Despite its flaws, The Living Daylights is still rather engrossing for the first hour and a half. Bond’s introduction is pretty awesome, the Aston Martin chase is a lot of fun, and it was nice seeing Bond engaging in some old fashioned Cold War style espionage. But once 007 hooks up with some Afghani freedom fighters, the whole movie just kinda falls apart. With the exception of the cargo plane fight, nearly all the action in the last half hour of the film is lackluster. And what’s with the end where Bond says there’s nowhere to land the plane but after he jettisons the jeep from the cargo hold there’s a big ass road right there? And Bond’s final confrontation with Whitaker is especially lame.

As for the new cast members, John Terry is probably the all-time worst Felix Leiter. You’d think teaming up Hawk the Slayer with James Bond would be awesome, but Terry looks pretty out of it. The good news is that the new Miss Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) is hot. I also really liked her interaction with Bond. There’s a particularly funny bit where she tries to tempt James by asking him to come over to her place and listen to her Barry Manilow collection.

But for all of its faults, The Living Daylights works more often than not. Despite the rather dry and chaste approach, there’s still enough of the old school gimmickry here to make it worth a look. If anything, the film is proof that there’s no such thing as a bad James Bond movie.

Anyway, here’s the REAL James Bond review:

The Pre-Opening Title Sequence. It’s one of the best. Bond is on a training mission when an assassin infiltrates the group and starts picking them off one by one. He later escapes in a truck full of explosives and Bond jumps on the roof. Naturally Bond makes short work of him and makes a daring escape out of the truck via parachute. ****

The Opening Title Sequence. Like the movie itself, it’s a bit chaste. All the girls in the title sequence are overdressed as most of them wear one piece bathing suits. (One chick even wears a gaudy sunhat.) I did like the one babe floating in a giant glass of champagne, but even she was overdressed for the occasion. **

The Song. Next to The Man with the Golden Gun, I think “The Living Daylights” is the most underrated Bond song. Of course, a-ha is trying a bit too hard to sound like Duran Duran. That’s not exactly a bad thing though. ***

Bond. Timothy Dalton is great at playing the physicality of the character. He has a license to kill and he looks like he’s ready to use it. However, Dalton has some trouble with the humorous aspects of the character and stumbles over some of the one-liners. (“He got the… boot!”) I will say I did like the eye roll he does occasionally, which shows he does have SOME sense of humor. Since Dalton’s next entry, Licence to Kill is my second favorite Bond movie, I’ll cut him some slack. *** ½

The Gadgets. The Living Daylights contains my all-time favorite gadget, a rocket launcher disguised as a boombox called “The Ghetto Blaster”. Too bad Bond never uses it in the field. He also gets an exploding keychain and gets to bring the old Aston Martin out for a spin too. ****

Bond Girls. Maryam d’Abo is easy on the eyes, but she’s a bit on the bland side. She’s much too innocent and lacks the fire of the best Bond girls. In fact, she’s probably my least favorite Bond girl ever. I mean I know the producers were trying to turn Bond into a one-woman man with this one, but couldn’t they have picked someone that would be his equal in some way at least? (Think Diana Rigg, Michelle Yeoh, or Halle Berry.) **

Action. The Aston Martin chase is a winner, but the follow-up escape via cello case is a bit goofy. I don’t even think Roger Moore could’ve sold that one. Once Bond goes to Afghanistan, a lot of the fights, shootouts, and explosions get a bit repetitive. (The fight on the cargo plane being the lone exception.) And the final confrontation with Whitaker is fucking pathetic. **

M. M (Robert Brown) does his briefing at the safe house and then does the customary meeting in his office. He doesn’t really have a lot to do in this one, unfortunately. I did like the part in the pre-opening title sequence where he issued the 00’s orders and when they jumped out of the plane, all of the papers on his desk went everywhere. ** ½

Villain. The Living Daylights features the worst lot of villains ever to be found in a Bond movie. That more than anything is probably the reason I rank it so low. Jeroen Krabbe’s constant mugging is annoying and Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker (who plays with toy soldiers) is a complete joke. * ½

Villain’s Plot. It’s muddled and more than a bit low key. It involves double crosses, deception, arms dealing, and opium smuggling. It’s a bit lacking for a Bond flick. **

Villain’s Lair. It’s just a mansion, but there is a pool so a bunch of hot girls hang out there in bikinis. **

Villain’s Henchmen. Yet another standard issue blond hair musclebound dude, but at least this guy strangles people with a Walkman. **

Martinis. Bond drinks one, but it’s drugged. ***

Bond Movies Ripped Off. The Living Daylights’ plot relies heavily on Cold War espionage. Because of that, it’s sorta in the vein of From Russia with Love. The Aston Martin scene is reminiscent of Goldfinger and since it takes place in the snow it brings On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to mind.

The Living Daylights is my least favorite Bond film, putting it right behind Never Say Never Again.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) ***

Pierce Brosnan’s second go-around as James Bond finds him matching wits with a Rupert Murdoch type media tycoon named Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). Since Bond had a dalliance with Carver’s wife (Teri Hatcher), M (Judi Dench) sends 007 snooping around his media empire. He eventually discovers that Carver is instigating international conflicts just so his latest news station will have something to cover.

The plot of course, is ridiculous, but it has a Bondian type of logic to it. I mean Bond has fought villains obsessed with gold, diamonds, microchips, and cocaine, so a villain with a mass media empire isn’t too much of a stretch. Like many a middle of the road Bond movie, it helps if you just turn off your brain and try not to think about it too much.

The important thing is, the puns come fast and furious and so does the action. Bringing Supercop’s Michelle Yeoh into the mix was an inspired touch. Her Kung Fu skills are in top form and she is given several opportunities to show them off. The scene where she and Bond are handcuffed together and have to jump their motorcycle is pretty sweet and the big scene involving a helicopter is one of the best stunts in the Brosnan era of Bond films.

However, the other major Bond Girl in this one is rather dreadful. People always complain about Denise Richards being the worst Bond Girl, but I have to say Hatcher is far worse. We never quite believe that such a shrill and cold babe could make Bond care about her. And you never really buy that they had a previous relationship either. And to me, her inevitable death isn’t really all that impactful. I think if the filmmakers really wanted to sell the fact that Bond knew Carver’s wife, they should’ve really used a character that had an actual history with Bond (say for instance Izabella Scorupco from Goldeneye) than a character with a manufactured history. Plus, Hatcher’s line deliveries (“I’ve made my bed… you don’t sleep in it anymore!”) are so bitchy that you just don’t really give a damn about her.

Brosnan is once again pretty badass. I love the scenes where Bond needles Carver at his big gala and pulls the plug on his broadcast. And there’s a great scene where Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is disguised as a car rental worker. His interaction with Brosnan is hilarious in this one.

Tomorrow Never Dies is never short on action, but like most Bonds, it runs out of gas before the finale. Once Bond starts running around Carver’s ship, the shootouts and such get a bit repetitive. It’s a definite step down from the heights of Goldeneye, yet it’s still plenty of fun.

And now, the REAL Bond review…

The Pre-Opening Title Sequence. Like the movie itself, it’s solid and gets the job done. Bond hops in a jet and narrowly avoids getting blown up by an incoming missile. There’s also a cool bit where he plays chicken with another jet and uses the ejector seat on a dude trying to strangle him in the cockpit. ***

The Opening Title Sequence. Like most of the Brosnan title sequences, the special effects look too computery. I liked the stuff with the chicks dressed up like Tron. But for the most part, this sequence isn’t especially memorable or anything. ** ½

The Song. I like the retro vibe to this song. I think Sheryl Crow might’ve been the wrong person to sing such a silky sounding song, but she doesn’t do a bad job with it. I liked it. ***

Bond. We get another great turn by Pierce Brosnan. He’s great with the ladies (“I’m brushing up on a little Danish!”), and gets lots of funny lines (like when he uses the ejector seat on the guy behind him and says “Backseat driver!”). No matter how uneven a lot of the Brosnan Bonds got, he always gave 100%. ****

The Gadgets. A remote control BMW (with re-inflatable tires!), a phone with a fingerprint scanner, and Michelle Yeoh has a bunch of Chinese gadgets like a killer fan. *** ½

Bond Girls. Michelle Yeoh is great in this. She shows that Bond can have a female equal without being in your face about it. (Say, like Halle Berry in Die Another Day.) However, Teri Hatcher brings things down quite a bit with her annoying performance. (I still think she’s pretty hot though.) **** for Yeoh. ** for Hatcher. That makes an average of: ***

Action. As previously mentioned, the pre-opening title sequence is strong. There’s also a good fight where Bond tosses a dude into the newspaper press, causing blood to smear all over the papers. (“They’ll print anything these days!”) Bond’s escape in his remote control car is pretty cool too, but it’s Yeoh’s fancy footwork that makes the movie memorable. All of the stuff with Brosnan and her being handcuffed and jumping off buildings and riding motorcycles is great. It’s just a shame that the finale on Carver’s boat is pretty bland. *** ½

M. M (Judi Dench) does her briefing back of a car. Of her seven outings as M, Dench probably has the least amount of screen time in this one. That’s not a bad thing though. She gets Bond on his way quickly without slowing the plot down. ***

Villain. Elliot Carver is not a bad Bond villain. The way Pryce plays him is a bit wishy-washy, but I did like how he held his conferences and manipulated the news all from his giant TV screen. Plus, Pryce’s interaction with Brosnan was appropriately catty, so he did a solid job. ***

Villain’s Plot. It’s kinda cool. Carver is all about creating news and being the first one to print it. He’s launching a new news channel and wants a big catastrophe to cover for its big premiere. It’s silly, but it somehow works. ***

Villain’s Lair. Carver rides around on a big ass stealth boat. ***

Villain’s Henchmen. Yet another standard issue blond hair musclebound dude. **

Martinis. Bond drinks half a bottle of vodka while waiting for a would-be assassin. *** ½

Bond Movies Ripped Off. All the stuff on the boat at the end is a bit reminiscent of The Spy Who Loved Me and the Kung Fu scenes echo The Man with the Golden Gun a bit. ***

Tomorrow Never Dies is my 21st favorite Bond movie, which puts it in between Skyfall and Die Another Day.

IT CAME FROM THE THRIFT STORE: PORTRAIT OF A HIT MAN (1984) **

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Trailers: Cat in the Cage starring Sybil Danning. You know, I used to have the flick on VHS. I wonder why the heck I got rid of it because Sybil was looking GOOD.

Jack Palance stars as a hitman who paints. His girlfriend is always pissed because every hit is his “last one”. Rod Steiger co-stars as his boss, who hires him to kill a brilliant neurosurgeon played by Bo Svenson. As it turns out, Svenson and Palance are friends from way back when and Jack refuses to go through with his assignment. Naturally, that lands Jack in a heap of hot water.

The best thing about the film is that it kinda has a European flavor to it. From the lighting to the long introspective dialogue scenes, Portrait of a Hit Man feels like an arty kind of action movie. But while the set-up is sound and the lead performances are solid, the flick gets rather dull in a hurry. It also contains too many of the aforementioned long introspective dialogue scenes and not enough scenes of Jack kicking ass.

Jack Palance is pretty good here. Maybe a little too low key in spots, but overall he did some fine character work. Rod Steiger of course, gets a few opportunities to chew the scenery. If he didn’t, then what would be the point of having Rod Steiger in your movie? Bo Svenson and Richard Roundtree don’t fare quite as well in their supporting parts. Roundtree sports a cheesy Jamaican accent and it’s pretty hard to buy Svenson as a neurosurgeon.

Bottom Line: Portrait of a Hit Man is off the mark.

AKA: Jim Buck. AKA: Killer. AKA: The Last Contract.

Next week’s movie: Bruno the Kid starring Bruce Willis.

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: JACK PALANCE

Jack Palance famously won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Curly in 1991’s City Slickers. True Palance fans know he SHOULD have won for his back-to-back performances in Batman and Tango and Cash. (Not to mention an Emmy for Ripley’s Believe It or Not.) To make up for that oversight, I’m proclaiming Jack Palance a Legend of the Silver Screen.

First up is…

CHE! (1969) * ½

This is a movie about the dude who sold a million T-shirts. It’s not that two-part four hour movie Soderbergh made a few years back. It’s so dull that it often feels like a four hour movie though.

If you’re looking for a history lesson on Che Guevara, this won’t be of much help. All we learn about him in this movie that he hung out with Castro, did a lot of marching, had asthma, and that’s about it. When he thinks Castro has gone soft, Che hightails it to Bolivia, which eventually leads to his downfall.

Director Richard (Conan the Destroyer) Fleischer’s use of on camera interviews doesn’t really work. I don’t know if he was going for a Citizen Kane feel or what, but the scenes of eyewitnesses talking directly to the camera feel like filler more than anything else. It doesn’t help that all of the dramatic scenes in the movie are dull and mostly take place in somebody’s living room. Plus, Fleischer never ever shows Che’s face being put onto a T-shirt, so epic fail for that.

As Che, Omar Sharif is almost as funny as he was in Top Secret. He’s funny because he’s so lifeless that you can’t tell why anyone in the world would want to make a movie about his character. In fact, he shows more emotion in his autopsy scenes than he does in the rest of the movie. The only cast member with any fire in his belly is Sid Haig as one of Che’s upstart followers. He’s good when questioning Che’s methods and standing up to him. The movie only really comes to life really when Haig is on screen, and sadly he’s not on screen very much.

Of course, Che! is revered in bad movie circles just because it features the woefully miscast Jack Palance playing Fidel Castro. Covered in bronzer, a bad beard, thick glasses, a fake nose, and smoking a big cigar, Jack looks like he’s wearing a cheap Halloween costume. Even funnier is the fact that he doesn’t even bother with a Spanish accent! At all times he just sounds like Jack Palance. Believe it or not.

If you want a concise history of the real Che Guevara, you won’t find it here. I’m sure if that’s what you really wanted, you could always Wikipedia him. However, if you want to see a great actor floundering in a bad costume, bad make-up, and saying bad dialogue in a bad movie, then Che! should fit the bill.

Our next film in the Palance-A-Palooza is…

CAN BE DONE AMIGO (1974) **

Bud Spencer stars as a horse thief who helps an orphaned boy return home. When they get there, they learn the place has been taken over by the crooked sheriff. Bud eventually agrees to help the boy take back his ramshackle abode. Meanwhile, Jack Palance is in hot pursuit of Spencer because he knocked up his sister. Jack forces Bud into a shotgun wedding, which further complicates matters. In the end, Bud finds out there’s oil on the kid’s property, which leads to a big McClintock style brawl. (Except instead of mud, it’s oil everyone’s fighting in.)

Can Be Done Amigo (I think the full title is “It Can Be Done Amigo”, but the pan and scan transfer is so bad it cut off “It”) is a decent enough Spaghetti Western comedy. If you’ve sat through enough bad Spaghetti Westerns like I have, you learn to appreciate one that at least tries to be a bit different. Most of the film moves at a snail’s pace, but the interaction between Bud and the kid keeps you watching. There’s a funny running joke where Bud puts on his reading glasses every time he’s about to kick somebody’s ass. But other than that, most of the jokes fall flat.

Jack is pretty good too in a comical performance. It’s funny because his voice is dubbed in by somebody else sometimes. Most of the time, Jack speaks in his normal voice, but every so often, he’ll be speaking in a southern or even a Spanish (!?!) accent. Because of that and that alone, Can Be Done Amigo is at least good for a (unintentional) laugh.

AKA: It Can Be Done Amigo. AKA: Bulldozer is Back Amigo. AKA: Hallelujah Amigo. AKA: Saddle Tramps. AKA: The Big and the Bad.

And our final Jack flick is…

WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY (1977) **

A group of strangers wake up with no memory of who they are, only that they are convicted killers. They make their way to Blood City, a bizarre western town where Jack Palance is sheriff. The strangers are made to be slaves to the citizens, but one of them (Keir Dullea from 2001) defies the rules and kills a man, which makes him an honorary citizen of the town. Eventually we learn that Blood City is just an elaborate Virtual Reality simulation used to train assassins. One of the scientists monitoring the experiment (Samantha Eggar) falls in love with Dullea and doppels herself into the program, which could jeopardize the whole simulation.

Welcome to Blood City is an odd mix of western and sci-fi. It’s pretty much a riff on Westworld, but instead of Yul Brynner, we have Jack Palance playing more or less the same kind of heavy he played in countless westerns. Despite a semi-interesting only-in-the-70’s kind of premise, Welcome to Blood City wears out its welcome somewhere around the halfway mark. While it’s not entirely successful, it is watchable; well… for a while at least.

Keir Dullea’s performance anchors the film. He has a rebellious spirit that endears him to the audience. The best scenes in the whole movie come whenever he’s messing with the confines of the town’s silly “rules”. And Samantha Eggar isn’t bad either. I really liked the scene where she watches her computerized self bone Dullea on TV. And Jack does what he can. His part is kinda underwritten and he gets to say some goofy dialogue, but he keeps his dignity for the most part.

AKA: Blood City.

Next week’s Legend: Bruce Willis.