Friday, November 22, 2013

Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming [1990]

On today's agenda: the 1990 television film Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, which was the second such biopic in as many years.  The Internet seems to be lacking when it comes to details on the film's production, place of initial airing, and so forth.  From what I recall, I saw the movie on TNT -- under the title The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (no Spymaker in evidence) -- and since the back of the DVD claims it was a TNT Original, I suppose that clears up at least that much of the origins.

Here is a vintage VHS cover.  Note the busty Bond-girl-esque figure on the left.

Here is the cover art for the Warner Archives DVD release.  You will note that the busty Bond-girl-esque figure has gone missing, which is, one supposes, the difference between 1990 and 2013.

I'd like to draw your attention to the way Spymaker is being sold in that artwork.  "All the excitement of a Bond movie," claims the blurb on the back of the DVD.  "CONNERY," trumpets the front.  (I especially enjoy how much smaller the word "Jason" is than "Connery."  I choose to read that as "Jason CONNERY," for the record. It's fun.  Try it at home!)

I mention this as a means of illustrating a point: in terms of its marketing, if not in terms of the actual content of the film, Spymaker was sold as a quasi-Bond film.  It comes close to outright pandering.

We're going to do this the same way we did the 1989 biopic Goldeneye, i.e., I'm going to offer up a plot summary with extensive screencaps, and then hastily score the film on the Double-0 Rating system, just for a larf.  Because I won't be forgetting that blurb; "all the excitement of a Bond movie," it promises.

We shall see.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Goldeneye [1989]

And now for something completely different...

Today, I've got a look at Goldeneye, the 1989 television movie in which Charles Dance starred as Ian Fleming.  This, obviously, is not a James Bond movie, and so it is, strictly speaking, somewhat outside the boundaries of this blog.  Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to have a look at, since it is -- again, obviously -- of tangential relation.

Easier said than done!  The movie -- which you will sometimes see referred to as Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming or Golden Eye (although the on-screen title is merely Goldeneye) -- has never been released on commercial DVD, and is difficult to obtain on VHS.  YouTube will not help, you, either; nor Netflix, nor Hulu, nor Amazon Prime.  There doesn't even appear to be a torrent for the movie...and when the pirates haven't figured out a way to upload it, you know you're talking about some obscure stuff.

In trying to find a copy, however, I did eventually prevail.  At some point, evidently as part of some 14-part series of alleged ACTION THRILLERS, the Daily Mail evidently did a DVD for the film that they included as a supplement for subscribers!  Some kind soul on eBay had one of these up for just a few bucks -- or pounds, technically -- and so I bought it and had it shipped across the Atlantic.  So, one problem down.

Second problem: the DVD is Region 2.  I've got nothing that will play a Region 2 DVD.  So I did a little research to find out how one could rip a different region's DVD, and found that my laptop will allow me to change the region code for a limited number of times.  I changed it to Region 2, ripped the disc in four parts, and that was that.

Except, it wasn't.  Of all the programs I've got, only VLC Media Player will actually play the files that I ripped off the DVD.  And it will only play them spottily.  It's prone to crash every few minutes (especially when pausing and doing the other sorts of things that are a necessity of screencapping images), and the audio occasionally goes glitchy, though rarely in the same place twice.  Very weird.

I say all that as a means to illustrate just how devoted I was to the idea of seeing this movie and passing along knowledge of it to readers of this blog.  In this case, it actually took a bit of doing.

So, the question: was it worth it?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Licence to Kill [1989]

I have, so far, enjoyed the hell out of writing this blog.  However, I have a confession to make: around roughly the third or fourth post, I was already having serious reservations about the format I was using.  Not the conceit itself: I still like the idea of using a funky kind of math to assess the Bond series.

No, my concern is that the breakdown of categories is moderately broken.  Specifically, I think that the current format is a little too restrictive.  I occasionally find myself wanting to write about certain aspects of the filmmaking process that are not represented in my formula: the sound design, for example, or the vehicles and weaponry.  I've occasionally wondered if I ought to take the marketing of the film into consideration: posters, trailers, and so forth.

Eventually, I'll do a 2.0 reboot of the blog, and implement that updated/improved scoring system.  When I do, I think one of the categories I'm going to add is one that assesses big-picture-type production decisions, by which I mean how the producers of the series are handling the series on a picture-by-picture basis.  That's a slippery category to define, and I haven't figured out how to do so.  However, I know the need for it when I see it, and Licence to Kill offers a couple of excellent examples.

Example the first: the original title for the film was Licence Revoked, which, to my way of thinking, is a much better title for this particular movie than Licence to Kill is.  The reason for that is simple: for the majority of the film, Bond does not actually possess a licence to kill.  Or a license to kill, for that matter.  Allegedly, the fear was that American audiences would not be intelligent enough to figure out what "revoked" means.  This is patently ludicrous; American audiences are dumb as hell, but they weren't put off by the fact that none of them knew what a moonraker is, or a thunderball.  Take it from someone who knows: they mostly just ask for a ticket to James Bond anyways.

Example the second: the tone of the movie was a conscious attempt to move into a harder-edged, more realistic vein, such as could be (allegedly) found in the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movies.  In a sense, that can be judged in the Mission Briefing category, but the screenplay was written in service of the tone mandate, and the tone was mandated by a decision from the producers.
I think it would be worthwhile to have a category (or, more likely, a subcategory) devoted to deciding whether decisions like these were good, bad, or somewhere in between, and to have that stand somewhat apart from the question of whether the execution of the decisions worked.

So bear in mind that, at some point in the future (probably while we're enjoying the adventures of the next 007 to take over after Daniel Craig's era has ended), that will be happening.

For now, though, let's soldier on.  It's too late to turn back now.  So using the same old ragged system we've been using so far, what do we think of Licence to Kill?

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

I like Timothy Dalton's take on James Bond a lot, as I made abundantly clear in my review of The Living Daylights.  And I think he's pretty good in Licence to Kill, too, but nowhere near AS good.  The tone of the movie was supposedly tailored to suit his style, i.e., darker and more realistic.  Maybe that's true, but there are numerous scenes in which he seems a bit ill at ease, almost as though he's being weighed down by the material.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Living Daylights [1987]

I've been looking forward to this one.

The Living Daylights has been one of my favorite James Bond movies ever since it came out in 1987.  When I began this blog, and its weirdo scoring system, one of the things I most wanted to find out was how The Living Daylights would fare.

So without further preamble, let's find out.

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

He's been the subject of occasional ribbing over the years from people who feel his era was a sort of 007 Dark Ages, but Timothy Dalton remains one of my favorite James Bonds.  But then, all the James Bonds are on my list of favorites; there isn't a one of them who I don't love.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A View to a Kill [1985]

When last this blog convened, we were assessing 1983's Never Say Never Again, which gets my vote as being THE all-time worst James Bond film.  It takes place outside the main series, however, since it was made by a rival production company, so in some ways it doesn't count.

As for the ones that do count, i.e. the series produced by the Broccoli family, one of the titles that is perpetually seen as being a potential candidate for the dubious title of Worst Bond Ever is our subject for today: 1985's A View to a Kill.

I'll dispel some of the tension right up front, though, and admit that while I don't think it's a particularly good movie, it's nowhere near the bottom of the pile.  No, sir; not as long as Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me are in the world, not to mention a few of the flicks we still have on our to-discuss list.  Admittedly, some of this is personal bias on my part.  (What here isn't?)  But I'm okay with that, and you should be, too.

So, let's dive in and find out what, exactly, my personal biases consist of when it comes to this delightful turkey of a film.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Never Say Never Again [1983]

Many people steadfastly refuse to list Never Say Never Again as a James Bond movie, given the fact that it was not produced by Albert Broccoli or his offspring.

We here at You Only Blog Twice have a more enlightened approach, and realize that not counting it as a James Bond movie is a simple fallacy.  Want an analogy?  Not counting it because of the origins of its production would be like saying that the Columbus Clippers are not a baseball team simply because they are not a member of the MLB.  That, of course, would be a silly statement, given that the Columbus Clippers demonstrably play baseball.

Similarly, Never Say Never Again is demonstrably a James Bond film.  It doesn't count as part of what we think of as the James Bond series, as produced by the Broccoli family, but that doesn't negate the fact that James Bond is its protagonist.

And so, for better or for worse, You Only Blog Twice is going to give it the same treatment we've given every other James Bond movie.

By the way, before we get started, maybe a wee bit of context is in order.  The reason producer Jack Schwartzman was able to make Never Say Never Again is because Ian Fleming was, depending on how you look at things, a plagiarist.  Well before the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was made, there had been attempts by various parties to launch a film series based on the Bond character.  One of those parties was producer Kevin McClory, who, along with screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming himself, helped to originate many of the ideas that would form the basis of Thunderball.  When their proposed movie failed to get made, Fleming took the ideas from the story sessions -- including the ones McClory and Whittingham had come up with -- and incorporated them, without credit, into the novel Thunderball.

Needless to say, this did not please McClory and Whittingham, and both sued Fleming over the matter.  None of this came to a head until after Dr. No had been released, and it made some trouble for producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.  The eventual verdict granted film rights to Thunderball to McClory, who struck a deal to co-produce the film with Broccoli and Saltzman.

He also retained rights to remake the film after a period of ten years, and once that time had elapsed, he began seeking to do so.  Eventually, he sold those rights to Jack Schwartzman, who was able to convince Sean Connery to star.

And thus, we have Never Say Never Again: a tepid bath, a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal, a rampant mediocrity, a pointless remake of Thunderball .. but, in every sense including the legal one, demonstrably a James Bond film.

Let's explicate the nature of its shittiness, shall we?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Octopussy [1983]

A quick consultation of the blog's main page informs me that it has been nearly three months since my last post here.  THREE MONTHS!!!

All I'll say in my own defense is that work -- you know, the thing I have to do for 45-50 hours per week in order to have money for rent, and car payments, and bill payments, and cat litter, and food, and whatnot -- has been more than a bit hectic since.  I've also been working on my Stephen King blog, primarily on this whopper of a post.  However, I've felt bad about the extent to which I've been neglecting You Only Blog Twice, so I'm going to do my best to get several new posts up here before doing anything else substantial there.


Alright, moving on...

Today's subject, obviously, is Octopussy.  If we consider where that movie came in, in terms of the history of the series, it's an interesting place: the series had been going for a bit more than twenty years by 1983.  The late '70s had seen a pair of massive successes in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, but those movies came under criticism in some camps for being too outlandish and excessive.  So, producer Albert Broccoli tried to swing things back in the other direction with the next film, For Your Eyes Only, which was more realistic, more patently influence by Ian Fleming's original works.  That film, too, was a hit; not as big as Moonraker had been, but big enough that nobody seemed to worry that going back toward gritty realism had been the wrong move.

And yet, ever in search of the perfection of the formula, the creative personnel made another key decision regarding Octopussy: to keep a certain amount of the realism, but within a highly escapist framework.  The result is a film that tries very hard to be, at once, all types of Bond movies, for all types of Bond fans.

Was it a successful attempt?

Let's have a look and render a verdict.

easily one of my favorite of all Bond posters