Goldfinger : A Double 0 Blast from the Past

My Mother watching me open a Bond Attache Case on my Birthday in 1966

One of the bloggers I follow is reviewing films in his library in alphabetical order. I’ve been enjoying his posts and have responded to several of them. He recently posted on Goldeneye, the 1995 reboot of the James Bond film series. So I am anticipating a great look at Goldfinger next. I did not think it would be right to put all my comments on his page since they are likely to be lengthy, so I decided I would create my own post and link it from his site. I will also link his post when it goes up here. I do all of this because when all is said and done, Goldfinger is my favorite James Bond movie. Double 007, is a character that I have followed since I was seven years old. Bond is my heroin, I need another injection as soon as possible because the rush makes me incredibly happy. Later this year I will get a fix when 007 returns in Skyfall, but for now, let’s stick to the classic cream of the crop.

My favorite Bond novel has always been “From Russia with Love”. I read it dozens of times and I loved the movie version. So how is it that a great movie made from my favorite Bond novel falls to second place behind this particular film? It is simple, “Goldfinger” defined what James Bond would be for most of the world. This was the movie that exploded into the public consciousness, this was the story that took Bond from being a secret agent to being an icon.  This was one of the most audacious acts of film making to ever become a mainstream hit. For it’s time, (and in my opinion for all time), it invented the modern action film. Sure there had been other movies that featured spectacular action sequences, but none had the personality of James Bond. While at times the movie has it’s tongue planted firmly in it’s cheek, it also keeps us in suspense and creates a realistic scenario for the most outrageous storyline imaginable, a robbery of the gold depository at Ft. Knox. Mainstream films had not seen the amount of sexuality on the screen that Bond made standard for most films that have come after. When your hero manages to turn a lesbian criminal into a hot blooded last minute hero, you know you are approaching epic chutzpa.


Goldfinger was the template for most Bond films for the next twenty five years. There was a main villain, a series of women who may or may not be reliable allies, a secondary villain/henchman, sexual innuendo galore, and gadgets. The greatest gadget James Bond ever had in the movies was the Aston-Martin from this picture. When “Q” points out the ejector seat, Bond himself replies “you’re joking”.  When we get to see the car in action, midway through the movie, we are treated to three minutes of pure cinema joy, topped off by seeing the ejector seat actually being used. Even with all of it’s tricks though, the car can’t save Bond, and like in most of the books, he has to rely on his personal strength, ingenuity and charisma to achieve victory.  There is a lot of humor in Goldfinger, but never so much that we forget we are watching a real story. The over the top gags in the pre-title sequence, never make you feel like it is a comedy, they just punctuate the mood with the right amount of sly humor and fun that any film goer should want. I remember how in “Goldeneye” Pierce Brosnan tries to pull off some of the sexual puns that Connery drops without effort. What was breezy and a little bit naughty in “Goldfinger” was a lot less easygoing and a lot more vulgar in “Goldeneye”. The most recent Bond films have been very serious, which is nice for those of us who want a real spy movie, but It leaves something to be desired still for those who want the “James Bond Experience”.
 

There are a couple of additional elements to mention that make Goldfinger the top Bond film of all time. The image of Shirley Eaton, splayed out on the bed, naked but covered in shiny gold  paint, will certainly leave a deep impression. It is sexual and deadly at the same time. That is what Bond has always been about.This became another iconic image from the movie series and perhaps next to the gun-barrel title view of Bond, the most recognizable visual image from almost any movie. It was featured on the film’s poster, on magazine covers, and in parodies ever since. It is a backdrop for the titles of the film as well. And since I have just mentioned Miss Eaton, I’ll share an image with you that should make you all a little jealous.  The image here is of a custom printed poster painted for a group that sold these types of Bond memorabilia. It is hanging on the wall in my family room right now with about eight other posters from the Bond movies, but if you enlarge it a little you will see that in addition to the artist signature on the print, it has the signature of the golden girl herself. 

The other element that so defines Bond, one that was created with this movie, is the Title song and the score by John Barry.  Shirley Bassey belts out a smoky, power ballad with enough imagery and force that the world of 007 would never be the same. Every Bond film since has chased the magic of this title tune. Some have come close, but none can match the lasting impact that this song had. John Barry was previously responsible for music in the Bond films, and he largely created the sound of the Bond theme although the writing credit goes to Monte Norman. This song, and the score of the movie prove that Barry was the real creative genius behind the music of James Bond. He scored many more of the Bond films and his contribution to the movie series cannot be overstated.

Goldfinger was also the start of the marketing of the James Bond image. His character is used in TV commercials, radio ads, magazine layouts, newspaper stories and a variety of tie ins that are hard to imagine. There were Bond toys, collector cards, dolls, books galore. Long before I saw the movie (I did not see it in it’s initial release), I knew the story and the characters because I collected the bubble gum cards and read about the movie in fan magazines. Some of you will hate this, but if you ever get a Movie tie in cup at a fast food franchise, or a toy in a kids meal, or an adult collectible from the movies, you probably can blame Goldfinger, this is the movie that started all of that.

The story of the Bond explosion as a cultural phenomena equal to Beatlemania, is explored in a couple of the Laser disc versions of the movie. There is a rare Criterion Laser disc that I don’t have, which covered the subject in detail, and then there was the MGM disc that came out (and may have been the reason the Criterion Version was pulled from shelves). It was an elaborate multi-disc set, and the documentaries on it may be found on the DVDs but I have not double checked. Just as an addition to the marketing of James Bond through Goldfinger, take a look at this photo:

That is the beach towel that covers my office chair and that I sit on every time I am posting to this blog. Those of you who are purists about movies will probably hate this, but to me the movies are not just about the film but the Zeitgeist of the event and my own personal memories. They are hard to separate from one another. I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, and if any of you wish to dispute that Sean Connery is the best James Bond, go buy another lottery ticket, because you clearly live in a fantasy world.

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The Hunger Games

It is rare that a book series that is aimed at young adults, addresses themes as effectively as The Hunger Games Series attempts to do. While the books have the trappings of a young love story, they are much more dark than might originally appear. The world in which these characters live is actually one of brutal fascism, designed to benefit one group at the expense of the rest of the world. The back story of a rebellion that failed is the groundwork for a set up of a merciless contest designed to bring the defeated to their knees repeatedly each year. None of the original combatants still remains, but their descendants will bear the burden of the combat in this dystopian  story. The movie made from the books harkens back to storytelling of earlier science fiction films. This movie has action and some dramatic visuals, but what it mostly has are some big ideas and an actress and character that we will want to follow.

When I read the Hunger Games I was impressed with how moving some elements of it were. I visualized the sacrifice that the main character was making and from then on I was hooked. There are several strong moments in the film that bring those emotions to home immediately. The fear and courage that comes at the reaping ceremony does exactly what it needs to. We have a heroine who steps forward not out of pride or fear but out of love. The kind of self sacrifice that the fascists in charge may ultimately rue. Speaking of Rue, there is another character that is important to the story. Our lead identifies with another contestant, one that reminds her of her vulnerable younger sister. Katniss, the hero of this story develops the kind of empathy that might lead to trouble for the hierarchy of the existing social order. We don’t get to know most of the children who are being forced into this death match, but there are times when we can see that many of them have the qualities that suggest they have not accepted being stepped on for seven decades. While they are not yet rebellious they do have questions and needs. Certainly there are cutthroats among them, but that is to be expected. What is surprising is the hollowness of each victory over another one of the tributes. When there is glee, it is almost always a show for others, on their faces, when alone there is despair.

The movie has the pacing of a traditional science fiction narrative from the fifties or sixties or seventies. It is not frantically forcing us forward from one scene to the next. Characters are given time to respond to events and process them. We focus only on two main characters, but their story is the backbone of the suspense in the movie. For example,we don’t  see the whole flashback that plants the seeds of their relationship all at once. It plays out in moments revealed over a stretch of time. The romance does not blossom from the first but is tentative and perhaps not even real. The battle is not staged continuously, but in starts and fits. We keep the point of view of our heroine and are not invited into multiple scenes of the others managing alliances and resources. While we sometimes see shots of the viewers and managers of the games, they are usually brief, and the story of the will of the two leads is what moves us into the last conflicts. In the book, the political forces are much more in the background but in the film they come forward more clearly. The role of President Snow in playing out the games is beefed up and benefits from the casting of Donald Sutherland. He can play rogue, snake , or charmer with the best of them. His voice carries both venom and sincerity at the same time, marking him as a more important character than we might believe from this first story. Katniss does not learn the politics of the game quickly, but in time we can see Jennifer Lawrence’  facial expressions convey a growing wisdom. For the climax to work, we have to believe she has figured out the way politics work in this futuristic world. She is not an invincible foe who conquers all comers, she is lucky and clever, and ultimately has the biggest heart of anyone on the screen, even if she tries to keep it hidden.

For almost an hour we get a slow build to the game at the center of the story. Like films of old, we are given small amounts of information along the way. Everything is not clear from the beginning but we get what is needed by the time we require that information. There is a dramatic visual look to the movie but we are not lingering over that look. The odd dress and manner of the residents of the Capital, are not shown to provoke a reaction from the audience, they suggest a culture that has gone to lengths to find diversion from the reality of their empty existence. The idea is to contrast the lifestyles of the dominant Capital residents with those of the subjugated districts. The inequities that exist here are not a result of hard work and enterprise, but rather the consequence of the power that is wielded so brutally against the other districts. The bread and circuses for the district residents, divert them from paying much attention to the social system that they benefit from. The forced sacrifices of the outer districts, reminds them of the order of things. The screenwriters and director however have sown the seeds of future stories by showing that there are limits to how far a people can be pushed. Katniss shows compassion and honor for one of her rivals, and it suddenly becomes clear that they are not all enemies, and they all have the same oppression to face. Just as there is an emotional surge when Katniss steps forward to take the place of her sister, there is a nicely timed emotional eruption when she honors a competitor with a salute that undermines the point of the games. The game designer gets justly blamed for a number of mistakes in the proceedings, but having no seven second delay built into the broadcast means that the control of the emotions is actually in the hands of the competitors. Katniss figures this out and uses it to her favor in several spots.

The one major flaw in the film from my point of view is the use of a shaky cam technique in the set up in that first hour. Usually that tool is used to build energy into action scenes, and to make the choreography of a fight scene pop. Here, it is used to suggest energy and tension in the slow build segment that comes prior to the tributes arrival in the capital. I thought it took us out of the story. It is rarely used in the more traditional action sequences in the rest of the film. There were a couple of chase scenes but most of the time, the camera is still as Katniss, Peeta, and Rue develop in the battle. The more traditional editing and camera work help in the confrontation with Cato, the antagonist from another district toward the climax of the film. Other technical aspects of the film work better. There is CGI but it is very limited to the Capital City shots and a couple of the challenges the contestants face. It is relatively subdued compared to most modern science fiction based stories.  The music sounded like it fit the coal mining district that our leads come from. It would not be out of place in an episode of “Justified” or in the film Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for last year, “Winter’s Bone”. The supporting performers are well cast and give just enough energy to the proceedings without going over the top. Stanley Tucci is both exploiting and supporting the combatants in the role of host for the games. Toby Jones who was in the other Truman Capote film a few years ago, and was excellent in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” just last fall, could have been over the top, but he is used just enough for us to get the sense of entitlement of the Capital City viewers. Wes Bentley’s mustache and beard do most of the acting for him, but there is a nice expression on his face when the outcome of the games becomes clear and he must face his consequences.

You know whether or not this movie is for you, if you read the books and respected them. This is not the soap opera that so many young adult stories entail. It is also not the twelve round mortal combat bloodsport that an exploitation film maker might turn this into. It is a work that reminds me of the original “planet of the Apes”. It moves slowly forward, steams out information and character as needed, contains several action sequences that are not overdone, and asks some pretty important questions about us as human beings. I liked this movie a lot and I think I respected it even more. My guess is that you will as well if you take a chance and watch it with an analytical mind as well as a romantic heart.

Turner Classic Movies Presents Casablanca 70th Anniversary Event

Turner Classic Movies Presents Casablanca 70th Anniversary Event

There is no reason to go into detail or review the story of this classic film. If you need that kind of information you are on the wrong site. What kind of person are you who would not know and love this movie? I’m not sure I want to know. I can say that once again the movie was the pure delight that it has been since I first saw it when I was eight years old. It would be twenty two years old when I saw it on a Sunday afternoon movie program, probably KHJ TV channel Nine here in the Los Angeles area. In those days old movies were the backbone of the local channels, back before they started buying re-runs of TV shows, strip programming of game shows, and daytime talk shows. Only the network affiliated stations could afford original programming like soap operas, so the locals usually played movies from packages they had leased or that belonged to their parent companies. KHJ was an RKO station and probably had the rights before all the repackaging and corporate mergers turner small time outfits into branches of the mega firms. Sundays in the 1960’s were filled with Bogart Flynn, and Cagney movies. Musicals were offered but were frequently cut down to fill time slots. With a strong narrative like this, there was too much danger in cutting things out so the time slots would be adjusted to get all of the movie in.

Robert Osborne with an Intro to the Film.

My parents almost named me Laura May, but since I wasn’t a girl they nearly defaulted to Kit Carson. I lucked out and they finally decided on the name of the main character from their favorite movie, I became Richard (usually Rick to them) because of Casablanca. Bogart and Bergman are so terrific in this that many other performances might be overshadowed. I noticed two great sequences where Ingrid Bergman does all the acting with her eyes and mouth, no dialogue, no gestures, just her face, and what a face. One of those scenes is where she is watching her husband Victor Laszlo take over the room and order the playing of the French National anthem in response to the Germans boisterous Deutchland Uber Alles. She is amazing, but what many will miss is how good Paul Henried is in that scene. You can feel the passion he brings to the cause as you read her eyes and know that it was hero worship that lead her to marriage with him, not sexual passion. He sometimes comes off as a wet blanket but if you are watching, you know how good he had to be to overcome the great love story at the heart of this movie.

I guess I should not suggest that Claude Rains would be overshadowed, after all next to Bogart himself, he had the best lines in the film. His stammered thank you upon receiving his winnings after claiming to be shocked about the gambling is hysterical. There are so many casual asides with Bogart and the evil Major Strasser, that an inventory would be pointless, but pay attention to the playful way he gives those lines or the gleam in his eye as he looks at another potential romantic victim. He is the most lovable cad in the history of movies, because he plays the part not as a letch, but as if he were really interested in all the women he exploits. He is charmed by Bergman’s beauty, envious but not licking his lips like a wolf. Of course he turns out to be the ultimate hero by choosing sides like Bogart does when his ability to ignore the tragedy going on in the world finally runs out.

Two films never leave me dry eyed. Along with “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Casablanca” pretty much guarantees waterworks from me. As Rick sits in the dark of his bar, in the most distant place he could retreat to, his forlorn curse about encountering Ilsa again is heartbreaking. When Rick tells Ilsa that they will always have Paris, it is a grown up response to the sad dilemma they find themselves in. It also means that we have to suck it up and accept that they will never be together. That is tough because that is what we all want ultimately.

The event last night wasn’t sold out but it was at 80% capacity and everyone was happy to be there. The other eleven theaters were not doing any business but a seventy year old film, still managed to bring in a crowd on a Wednesday night. It was my wife’s birthday and she seemed happy to be spending it in our favorite club, after all Everybody comes to Ricks.

Prometheus Trailer Premire at AMC

Last week I checked on one of my Facebook links and there was an invite for me to attend a Special Event at the Downtown Disney AMC Theater. The new trailer for the movie Prometheus was being launched with an on-line streaming event that included a Q & A with Director Ridley Scott. Now Sir Ridley Scott is one of the masters of modern cinema and I am Jones-ing for this movie like you would not believe. He is maybe the most creatively visual of the major directors out there. His original background was in art and advertising. “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Legend”, and “Gladiator” are all stunning works of visual splendor. If you have seen the teaser trailer for “Prometheus”, you can tell it is in a similarly grandiose style.

I had to go through a complicated process which involved signing up for a movie promotion site I had not heard of before in order to get the passes. Here is the PDF file that shows the ticket:

Of course my daughter Amanda is as big an “Alien” geek as I am, she believes all the best movies open in June to celebrate her birthday, so she was looking forward to this as much as I was. Well it was a rainy day here in Southern California, and the freeways were slow and the parking lot at Downtown Disney was Full. We had to wait like vultures for a spot and then scamper through the rain to get to the Theater. There was a long line for the theater the screening was in, but when we got to the end there was an attendant who directed us with our invitation to the front and a lanyard and pass to go on in. Yeah Stubbs card membership.

The front of the theater was set up as you see in the picture at the start of this post. There were a view brief announcements and then the trailer was screened for us in 3-D. Here it is in all of it’s magnificence.

After the awe that we just witnessed, Ridley Scott and Co-Producer and Co-writer of the film Damon Lindelof came out and began the Q & A with a series of questions from on-line viewers, most of which came through Twitter. There were some very descent questions and a good deal of jocular ribbing when it came to keeping mum about the plot of the movie.

When the guests left, we were given another chance to salivate over the 3-D trailer. The movie was shot in 3-D, not converted to 3-D. The questions suggest that there are aliens in the film but they are not of a type we have seen before. There was also a very intriguing question about the impact that the story presents on our religious faith and place in the universe. The two film makers thought the question was particularly relevant to the theme of the movie and suggested that we will have some similar provocative questions once we have seen the film.

On our way out of the theater we were presented with full sized posters for the movie. Clearly they saw that we were coming. It was a great experience and I can hardly stand to believe that we still have almost three months until we get to sit down in the dark and experience the whole thing for ourselves. It should be exciting, frightening and profound. Of course it will also look spectacular.

AMC Has added the video feed from the event stream to their site. Here it is for you.

Watch live streaming video from prometheus at livestream.com
prometheus on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

John Carter of Mars

This movie is going to suffer an ignoble fate at the box office and that is just too sad. The source material has been an inspiration for science fiction films and fans for decades. The fact that this project was never developed into a film property before now has hurt it in strange ways. It should be an anticipated series of films based on an original character that was popularized in a set of stories told in books. The books unfortunately are nearly a century old and the modern audience has no familiarity with the characters. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other creation, Tarzan, has been adapted for films since Elmo Lincoln first played him in the silent days. Audiences that may never have encountered a Tarzan book have seen a version of Tarzan at some time or other. He is a character that entered the public consciousness and has stayed there even in long fallow periods. John Carter on the other hand has remained a literary icon, for the community of science fiction and fantasy aficionados and those things that were original about the books have been strip mined for movies since Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon to Star Wars and Dune.  So the material here may seem like old hat although the character of John Carter precedes any of the other modern heroes.

The trailers do not do the film justice. It looks too much like there is a somber theme, attached to a CGI crapfest which comes from the studio that brought us the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise which was a success and the would be “Prince of Persia” franchise that failed. The emphasis in the previews is on the spectacular look of the movie and the alien creatures that inhabit that world. If you don’t know who John Carter is, you probably won’t care much about seeing the movie. I have to admit that I voraciously consumed Tarzan novels when I was a kid, but never dove into the John Carter story. I remember in college, when we had seen “Star Wars”, my debate coach John DeBross, tried to encourage me to read the stories since so much of the Star Wars mythology drew on the Burroughs work. I was too distracted to get around to it and my knowledge of the series is severely limited as a consequence. I can say based on the movie I saw today, that I am encouraged enough to take up the task of catching up with a hundred years of science fiction history.

A couple of things about the movie stand out and should encourage viewers to seek it out. To begin with, the tone of the film is set pretty effectively with the bookend story that puts the author Burroughs into his own fictional work. The start of the movie details the background of the John Carter character without revealing too much. It provides a reason for us to want to follow this character into the story. The technology for his transportation to Mars is partially explained and it turns out it is less space travel than astral projection. The performance of Taylor Kitch in the lead is fine, he seems a little contemporary at times, but plays the southerner he is supposed to be solidly due to some appropriate dialogue and vocal tone. He is a gentleman from the South, not a redneck farmer but a Captain in the Army of Northern Virginia. He manages the transition to life on Mars (Barzoom) about as well as any man of the times could hope to.  The other strong part of the story is the Princess of Mars that he comes to know and defend and is the romantic interest for his character. She starts off a little too eager but settles into a more serious character who finally begins to realize the sacrifices she might have to make to save her planet. She is not so much a damsel in distress as a warrior scientist that needs some common sense and love. The actress Carol Lynn plays her with just a right amount of sensuality but a lot more intelligence. 

Mars is depicted as a dry and barren planet nearing the end of it’s life cycle. This is the way it has been visualized by movies since the earliest of times. The origin of this vision is contained in this story.  While there is a significant amount of CGI in the backgrounds and sets, it did not feel overdone. There were maybe a couple of scenes where the goal seemed to be to wow us but most of the time the film makers stuck to their story. The alien races are visualized in an adventure action style that is reminiscent of old pulp novels, horns in their jaws, multiple arms, body tattoos, and friendly and dangerous animals to interact with. There is some good humor in the tribal story of the race that Carter first encounters, that helps keep us in mind that we are watching an entertainment. It may strain at credibility as most fantasy will, but it sets up some believable moments to keep us in the story. The story is much too complicated to try and explain. The character names all sound similar and it sometimes feels like a Russian novel with hard to pronounce names and characters that can easily be mixed up with one another. In “Dune” back in the 1980s, David Lynch gave characters internal dialogue to try to clarify the story. That had the effect of making the movie portentous.  George Lucas would have some long scene of exposition that is stuck into the middle of the story and slows the pace of the movie but then he would try to slam it back into action with an elaborate and overlong set piece.  Here they go for something in the middle. The characters sometimes verbalize plot, usually they try to show it and plenty of times we are left to infer it, which may leave a viewer confused at times. Even if you lose track of all the characters, you still have a pretty good sense of who the good guys and bad guys are.

Your willingness to give into the pulp roots of the story and accept the complications of plot and character will be your best guide for determining if you will enjoy this movie. I was very much surprised by how much it all worked despite my familiarity with the world Burroughs had created. The battles are epic and well staged, the look of the movie seems true to it’s roots, and best of all, the growing relationship of the two leads and the resolution of the story left me hopeful about the characters.  They spent a lot of money making this movie and most of it ends up on screen. I am just afraid that it will not mean much to most potential customers and they will move on to some other film that is not as much fun or as ambitious. John Carter does not succeed entirely, but there is plenty here to satisfy the  twelve year old boy in all of us.

AMC Stubbs Program

I was not a fan of the program when it first started. I enjoyed the surprise of a promotion on my ticket with the old Movie watcher program. I must say however, it is nice to know how much I have got back on ticket purchases and concession spending. In the year since the program started, I have received $260 back. You earn $10 for every $100 you spend. That means I spent $2600 at AMC Theaters in the last year. That could be one nice vacation, but instead I had over fifty mini vacations and got to eat popcorn too.