TBT – Live and Let Die (1973)

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This week, amidst all of the horrors of the terrorist attack in Manchester, we got the terrible news that actor Roger Moore had died at the age of 89. Moore has become a household name thanks to his numerous television and film roles but it is his time playing James Bond that cemented his place in the annals of pop culture history. Everyone has their own favourite James Bond but I guess Sean Connery and Roger Moore are two of the more iconic names associated with the role. Connery was the first Bond and created the basis for the character. However, it was Roger Moore who stepped in, after George Lazenby’s forgettable attempt, to give the character his own spin. For my part, I think Moore is my ultimate Bond. I mean a huge part of me will always love Pierce Brosnan because it’s Pierce fucking Brosnan. He’s ridiculous but wonderful. I’d also be so bold as to say that Brosnan and Moore both approached the role in similar ways, which probably explains why they’re both my favourite. I understand why people think Sean Connery is the best and, I admit, he’s bloody great. I just prefer my Bond to be a little sillier and that’s one thing we came to expect from the Sir Roger. Bur you know what, I’ll be honest, I think it really just comes down to the eyebrow.

If you don’t count Never Say Never Again, which a lot of people don’t because it isn’t canon, then Roger Moore played James Bond in the most films. If you do count it then he ties for first place with Sean Connery. No matter how petulant you are, it’s clear that these two actors are pretty important when it comes to the character of James Bond. Both had very different approaches to the role and, in quote you’ll have seen a lot since his death this week, Roger Moore himself suggests that Connery played the character as a killer whilst he played him as a lover. I think this sums up the differences quite well. Sean Connery had fun with the role but it was Roger Moore that really got to grips with the funny. He played to his strengths and presented the character as suave, sophisticated and very silly. Moore’s own sense of humour is evident in his interviews and he was always well aware of the absurdity that went with the Bond brand. So he used it for all it was worth.

As he got older, Moore’s bond relied on humour more than the physical side and some of his films are up there the best of the franchise. His first film, on the other hand, is fairly forgettable and. until I rewatched it for the purposes of this blog, I couldn’t have told you a lot about it. James is called into action after 3 British agents die in mysterious but connected circumstances. He finds that a dangerous Caribbean dictator, Dr Kananga, is running around town as his drug baron alter ego Mr Big. The plot itself is very convoluted and overly complicated. We see Bond stick out like a sore thumb in African American communities as the Bond franchise embraced the blaxploitation films of the era. It makes for kind of uncomfortable viewing nowadays but the film was a financial success at the time.

The problems with Live and Let Die aren’t necessarily that it’s a bad film. I mean it’s not great but there are some interesting ideas floating around. The main issue is that it’s a bad James Bond film. We lack that super villain presence and the crazy gadgets. Instead we just have groups of drug smugglers chasing Bond through the Louisiana marshes in speedboats. It’s exciting to a point but we’ve had better chases. And ones that weren’t punctuated with the world’s most annoying and stereotypically Southern Sheriff. This is a film that just doesn’t really know where it’s going or how to make it big enough. People had come to expect great things with James Bond and they wanted to see him fight a villain who could destroy the planet. Instead we see him chasing voodoo loving drug dealers. We were on more realistic ground but the simplicity of the plot gets lost in a confusing narrative. It should have kept things more basic.

Roger Moore takes some time to get used to the character and this is definitely not one of this greatest moments. Although, there is a certain twinkle in his eye that suggests he is constantly aware of how crazy this all is even if he keeps his poker face on for the entire film. It’s got all the aspects that will become Moore’s trademark but he isn’t quite self-assured enough to pull it off yet here. There are some pretty great moments, though, and it’s a good start. He also works really well alongside his female co-star, Jane Seymour. As much as I hate the huge 24 year age gap between the pair, I think they have great chemistry. and Seymour has to be up at the top of the most beautiful Bond girls of all time.

After watching this film again after so long, I’m kind of upset that I picked this film to celebrate the life of Roger Moore. It’s an overly complicated, lengthy and fairly forgettable film in the entire franchise. There are some great elements and some fantastic scenes but it never really feels like it’s on steady ground. It has a lot of things we’ve come to expect from a Bond film but it lacks the finesse and grandeur of the rest. It’s just not outrageous enough. We’ve seen with the Daniel Craig era that realistic Bond can be successful but it still needs to be over-the-top to give the character room to move. Instead, things just awkwardly plod from one location to the next. Despite all this, I still love Roger Moore and, when it comes to James Bond, nobody does it better.

TBT – Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

debbie reynolds, films, fucking funny, fucking sweet, golden age, Hollywood, in memoriam, musical, review, TBT

This has been a week of great losses. With actress Liz Smith leaving us on Christmas Eve, George Michael’s death on Christmas Day, and Richard Adams dying on 27th December it was already bleak. Then we had the absolutely devastating news that Carrie Fisher had passed away on December 27th after being in hospital for 4 days. Finally. only 1 day after her daughter, the legendary actress Debbie Reynolds died of a suspected stroke yesterday. It’s heartbreaking news and I can’t imagine how their family are coping with everything. Both women were iconic and important in their own time and the world is a sadder and darker place without them. Just as Carrie Fisher made a huge impression in her breakout role as Princess Leia, Debbie Reynolds has been most notably linked with one of her earliest onscreen moments. Back in the 1950s, Reynolds took the part of Kathy Selden opposite huge star Gene Kelly despite having no experience as a dancer. It’s a testament to her skill and determination that Reynolds more than held her own against the more experienced cast members. Singin’ in the Rain sums up everything you need to know about Debbie Reynolds. She didn’t let her inexperience stop her, she didn’t shy away when her co-star, Kelly, reacted badly to her casting, and her natural charisma ensured that she stole every scene she was in. I couldn’t think of any better way to remember the great actress than watching her in this breakthrough performance.

Way back in 2011 I review the Oscar winning film The Artist and I, like everyone else on the planet, couldn’t help but compare it to Singin’ in the Rain. The two films had a great deal in common as they both dealt with the difficult transition from silent movies to talkies in Hollywood in the 1920s. The two films have even more in common because of how goddamn adorable and charming they both are. However, I always felt that The Artist was just retelling Singin’ in the Rain‘s plot with a dog instead of the songs. Let’s be honest, the earlier film is one of those classics that you just can’t beat. It’s stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular musicals of all time. That is thanks in no small part to the success of it’s new star, Debbie Reynolds. As much as I loved The Artist, I can’t say that I’ve watched it since. Whereas I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain. There’s no greater joy than sitting and watching Gene Kelly and co. merrily dancing and singing around the screen.

It’s one of the jolliest films concerning the world of Hollywood that I can remember. Especially when you consider the fact that the plot comes about as two fading stars face becoming redundant as Hollywood modernises around them. Yes, the film simplifies the transition from silent films to talkies but it is grounded in reality. The problems of making films with sound were all based on real life events and there were recorded moments of audiences laughing upon hearing actors’ voices. It’s all played off for humour here in the 1950s but in the 20s and 30s there was a massive impact on movie making and the big name stars of the day.

Stars like Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood and Jean Hagen’s Lina Lamont who had found immense fame as silent movie stars but found their usual act didn’t quite work when you turned the sound on. After his film studio demands that Don’s latest film be made using sound, the pair face certain ruin thanks to their own performances and the many trials of filmmaking. Lockwood’s hammy performance may be necessary to get his point across without words but it looks ridiculous when accompanied by words. But that is nothing when compared to pin-up Lina’s grating vocal performance and thick accent. Their film, The Duelling Cavalier, has a disastrous first screening so, with the help of his friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Conner) and love-interest Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), Don decides to turn the ill-fated film into a musical. The only problem is, what to do about Lina’s voice?

As I’m writing this I’m listening to the soundtrack in the background and just hearing the music is filling me with such an insane amount of joy. There is so much brilliance within this film. The performances are incredible, the musical numbers are astounding, Gene Kelly’s choreography is perfect, and the story is highly entertaining. It hasn’t aged in any way and still feels as fresh today as it did the first time I saw it. Singin’ in the Rain may be, at it’s heart, a love story but its greatest feat lies in the portrayal of a difficult time in Hollywood. It is accurate but doesn’t lose any charm or energy thanks to the bleak situation. Debbie Reynolds steals every scene she’s in and it’s easy to see why so many people fell in love with her after this film. As much as the actress should be remember for her huge body of work, I don’t think it’s any great shame if you predominantly praise her for this film. It’s perfect.

TBT – See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

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Last week the great Gene Wilder died at the age of 83. Whilst the news was upsetting, I have to admit that a part of me thought he was already dead. Plus, in the ensuing days it really showed me that my ability to differentiate between Gene Wilder and Gene Hackman was sorely lacking. I lost count of the number of times I confused those two. Now, when a colleague mentioned the news the other day she referred to it as “the death of Willy Wonka”. Now, because I never miss a chance to argue with people, I declared this as being an insult to an actor with so much talent. What of his work with Mel Brooks and his films with Richard Pryor? Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is iconic, no doubt, but he is more than that. Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever really liked Wilder’s interpretation of the owner of the world famous chocolate factory. I’m fucking stubborn and it didn’t fit with my idea of the book. Still, Wilder was a phenomenal performer and probably had a huge impact on many people’s childhoods. I even considered reviewing it for this post. However, I’ve always been a bit freaked out by that one fucking creepy scene on the boat and didn’t want to go through it again. Like the well-adjusted adult that I am. I also think, as adaptations go, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory isn’t as good as it could have been. As such, I’ve never been the biggest fan. So I turned to the ever reliable Netflix to see what alternatives I could find. Turns out, not many. Now, if I was a person with more time and less laziness I would have gone down the Mel Brooks route. Unfortunately, I’m not that person. Instead I’m the kind of gal that will pick one of his shitty comedies because of how easy it is to watch.

On paper See No Evil, Hear No Evil had huge potential for an 80s comedy film: Wally Krue, a blind man, gets a job at a newsstand working with the deaf Dave Lyons. Both men try their hardest to hide their disability and get by using their other senses. Dave manages by reading lips whilst Wally has learnt how to get around using his hearing. Clearly, when the pair come together they find each other making up for their own limitations and the way is left open for some incredible moments of hilarity. There are plenty of situations that the pair could have got themselves into to provide the audience with a laugh. The film had the makings of a fantastically silly comedy where two men come to terms with their own issues thanks to their new friendship.

Of course, See No Evil, Hear No Evil is not that kind of film. No, it was decided that the best thing to do with Wally and Dave is to get them mixed up in a shitty murder plot. Inspirational. When Wally’s bookie turns up a the newsstand demanding money he ends up being killed by a mysterious lady with great legs (Joan Severance). Thanks to their respective disabilities neither Wally or Dave are able to describe the killer and, thus, become implicated in the crime. Cue many repetitive moments where nobody remembers that you need to look at Dave for him to understand you. Meanwhile, it turns out the bookie was working with a couple of criminals to steal a coin, which is actual fact a microchip or some shit… not that it fucking matters that you know that. Great legs and her sidekick, a young, British-accented Kevin Spacey, follow the pair in order to retrieve their loot. Cut to many classic capers where the pair escape, get captured and escape again before making their way to the final showdown in a huge house in the middle of nowhere. This film has it all: a blind car chase; a kidnapped sister; mistaken identity; fake European accents; and angry guard dogs.

With that list I’d suggest that the plot is just your standard, paint by numbers 80s action/crime/comedy but that seems really unfair to other films of that decade. There’s nothing about the story that seems to have been put there to interest you. The narrative is patchy and the script is mostly awful. There are a few nice touches here and there but the majority of the stuff is just uninspiring guff. The only thing that makes this film even remotely successful is the partnership between its two main stars. See No Evil was Wilder and Pryor’s third outing together and they show the great chemistry that had made them such a hit with audiences before. The scenes in which the two are just talking are fantastic. It’s just a shame that they are over with so quickly. Clearly the director  believed we didn’t want sentiment but an endless stream of mindless nonsense… which is fucking insane.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil is hardly the worst film of its kind, especially when it comes to the 80s, but, considering who was starring in it and the exciting premise, it should have been better. Rather than being a clever comedy that uses the interesting dynamic between its two main characters, it settles down to be a cheap and easy comedy-crime caper. I wouldn’t exactly say that I wish I hadn’t seen or heard this film (because that would be both incorrect and vomit-inducing) but I wish I’d watched one of the better Pryor and Wilder pairings. The films boats an excessive 5 writers, including Wilder himself, so maybe that explains why the See No Evil script feels so disjointed. It’s like a patchwork quilt where the plots of several films all sewn together in a manner than was only just workable with various embellishments thrown in from several different people. It’s the kind of quilt you’d love because it was handmade but would definitely hide in you spare room so you didn’t ever have to see it. The film very often doesn’t make sense and logic is easily replaced with lame gags. I’d be okay with it if it was funny enough to make up for it but it’s just not. This film fails on nearly every count. Although, despite all of this criticism, it’s a great film to watch if you want to remember just how fucking awesome Gene Wilder is. It’s not many actors that could star in such shit and still make it work for them.

TBT – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

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So it’s been four throwback Thursday’s since Alan Rickman died and I’m still remembering him through his classic films. I was only planning to do this for a month to properly mourn his passing but I’m tempted to continue indefinitely until I get all the good ones. There are still a few to chose from and I’d be keen to rewatch them. This weeks film is one I haven’t seen in a long time and was both a fantastic and awful thing to do to myself. Watching the film was fucking hilarious because it has not aged well. The major consequence was having the fucking abysmal Bryan Adams song ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ in my head all day. I’ve never wanted to bash my head with a frying pan more than I have today.

The legend of Robin Hood is one that has understandably struck a chord with people’s imagination. A brave archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor and still manages to save the damsel in distress: he’s exactly the kind of guy young kids grow up wanting to learn about. It’s no wonder, then, that he has a long history with films. He is surrounded by excitement, romance and morality. Still, there had been better versions of his tale before and there have been better since. It’s certainly weird watching Kevin Reynolds 90s modernised version in the wake of the BBCs recent television series starring Jonas Armstrong.

It’s not possibly to say that Reynolds’ film stands the test of time and looks more outdated now than some of the earliest films about the eponymous hero probably do. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves takes the story that we are all so familiar, a band of outlaws taking money and distributing it to the poor, and tries to sex it up. Robin (Kevin Costner) is joined by Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a Moor Robin helped escape from prison and who has vowed to save Robin’s life in return. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) becomes more than just greedy and has turned to the dark arts to attempt to take the throne from the departed King Richard. Newly returned from the Crusades, Robin finds his father dead and vows revenge on the Sheriff and those who helped him… whilst still trying to woo the lovely Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is one of my ultimate guilty pleasure movies. There’s so much to dislike about it but it’s so fucking awful that it’s something you can’t stop watching. I mean the performances and the script are pretty horrendous and often verge into unintentionally funny. The scenarios are just bizarre at times and the references to other movies is just weird. The fight scenes are so confusing and badly directed that its difficult to see what’s going on. The costume design is just misjudged and the sets are inconsistent. It can also boast one of the most annoying songs in film history, probably tying with Armageddon for first place. It’s a terrible song and you can see why Reynolds kept it out of the film as much as possible.

It’s also an incredibly dark film: both literally and figuratively. Literally, because most of the action takes place in a fucking forest or a castle lit only by candles. Figuratively, because it’s really ducking gruesome for a family film. There’s so much death, torture, sex and devil worship on display and that’s before you get to the final act which is just a lengthy scene of attempted rape intercut with classic one-liners from the Sheriff of Nottingham. The film has a really weird tone which doesn’t work at all with the hero as we know him. Overall, is a totally misjudged and badly made film but I fucking love it.

When it comes to our hero, Kevin Costner is particularly dull and decides to go against the norm and play him as an introspective and quiet hero rather than the dashing and sassy man in tights he usually is. He even forgoes the wacky hat and joyful demeanour for a brooding look. Costner really never quite gets the tone of Robin right and, because of Costner’s insistence that we get some backstory to Robin’s life, he is a man wounded by his experience fighting in the Crusades. I much preferred the fox in Disney’s version. At least he always tackled his crazy schemes with a fucking smile on his face.

Then there’s the underwhelming love story that really only takes place because it has to. Maid Marion, on the whole, isn’t that abysmal and has some real moments of brilliance. She isn’t the shy and retiring type when we first meet her and can actually hold her own in a fight. That is until she, very quickly, falls in love with Robin and becomes the helpless damsel who needs to be rescued. Still, Mastrantonio comes across much better than fellow American Christian Slater who plays outlaw Will Scarlett. All three actors struggle with attempting a British accent but Slater fails to convince as an Englishman on so many levels I’m kind of embarrassed for him. Plus, he has one of the least secretive secret histories of any movie character to date.

So, why, I hear you cry, do I love this film so much? For the same reason anyone does. Alan Rickman. Rickman is in a completely different film to anyone else. Rickman actually has fun with his role. He’s anything but subtle but that’s what we need. He delivers every line perfectly and it’s always dripping with venom. This is Rickman at his most venomous but, it’s important to note, he’s also incredibly funny with it. To say he’s the best thing about this film isn’t saying much but he’s no doubt the reason people come back to this film so often. It’s Rickman’s film and he fucking smashes it. 

TOP 10 WEN-SDAY – TOP TEN David Bowie Songs

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After what seems like the longest January since time began, we’ve arrived in February. It’s fucking freezing outside and I never want to go outside again. Unfortunately, I have to leave the house for my stupid job. I tend to be outside pre-7 am so it’s even more miserable and cold. To cheer myself up I’ve been listening to David Bowie songs for a while now. It does make the mornings go a little better. Of course, I’ve been drawn to Bowie a lot after his death and took it as an opportunity to indulge in the music of a great man. At university I made a list of my top 10 favourite songs for a stupid Facebook thing and it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I actually did it again a year later for some reason but that’s beside the point. What I remember about it is that Rebel Rebel was on there as my favourite Bowie song. I still love that song but, since that time, I’ve realised my loyalties lie elsewhere. So, in order to make things official, I think it’s time to make a note of my top 10 Bowie songs. I’m sure it’s what the great man would have wanted.

     Ten: Here Comes The Night

From his Pin Ups album, this cover of the Them (and Lulu) song is one of my all time favourite songs. It’s just a fantastic arrangement and I think Bowie is phenomenal on the track. However, I couldn’t, in all good consciousness, give one of the higher spots to a song that wasn’t originally Bowie’s. Still, this song always makes me feel good.

     Nine: Fashion

Maybe not the first song that comes to mind when you list Bowie songs but I love it. Of course, that could do with the fact that it’s used in the movie Clueless but I reckon it’s got more to do with the fact that it’s so fucking great. An easy addition to the list.

     Eight: Sound and Vision

Classic Bowie. With an uplifting backing track, the singer really excels here. It’s a fantastic song that it’s almost impossible not to sing along to.

     Seven: Heroes

I was never that sure about Heroes and I think it has something to do with Moulin Rouge. However, this is Bowie at his greatest. With fantastic lyrics and a great tune, it really highlights the great partnership of Bowie and Brian Eno. It’s no wonder it’s one of his most covered songs.

     Six: Oh! You Pretty Things

After Bowie’s death I’ve thought about this list non-stop and had several conversations with colleagues about which song would come top. I nearly always said this one, which makes it weird it only made it to number 6. This is a great song but after listening to Bowie songs for weeks I’ve realised I kind of prefer Au Revoir Simone’s cover. I’m sure that’s sacrilege but it’s the truth.

     Five: Under Pressure 

If I’m honest the version of this that I love the most is actually the RAH mix because it’s fucking awesome but it can’t be denied that even in its original form this song was epic. Taking two great voices like David Bowie’s and Freddie Mercury’s and mixing them together was utter genius. This has always been one of my favourite Queen songs (which, to be honest, isn’t saying much) and, in my heart, it’s one of my top Bowie tracks too.

     Four: The Man Who Sold The World

Obviously, fucking Kurt Cobain has sort of claimed this song as his own and his version is remarkable. Awful teenage me would probably be trying to convince you that it’s the definitive version or something. However, Bowie’s voice makes this song incredible. It’s such a powerful song in his hands and I love it.

     Three: Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy Stardust is one of Bowie’s biggest alter egos and the concept album about his fictional biography contains some great songs. Non more so than Ziggy Stardust.

     Two: Changes

I love this song. I really do. I love Bowie’s original and I love the version included on the Shrek 2 soundtrack. I realise this would probably piss off all Bowie fans but it’s a fantastic cover. Bowie sounds great and there’s a nice mix of voices in there. It’s part of the reason this ranks so highly. Watching the film gave me a new respect for this track.

     One: Golden Years

I’ve had this song in my head since Bowie died. It’s so addictive and fucking brilliant. I probably first grew to love this song thanks to The Knight’s Tale dance scene but in my adulthood I’ve only come to realise it’s a true masterpiece. There was really no other choice for my number 1.