Last Night in Soho

A nostalgia soaked horror film from director Edgar Wright is just what we need for this Halloween Weekend, but does it satisfy? My companion for this film was invested in the first two thirds of the movie so much that it rivaled other films of Wright’s for praise, but,there is a turn and a series of actions that happen in the film that stopped her embrace of the film in mid-hug and resulted in a display of invective that I marveled at for a hour. While I did not have the same negative reaction, I did feel the film fall from greatness to mediocrity in the third act. Regardless of it’s ultimate faults, there is still much to recommend for this interesting addition to Wright’s filmography.

I avoid as much as possible, simply recapping the story in these posts, but sometimes you need a little context and this is one of those times. Thomasin McKenzie plays Eloise, a slightly off center girl from a countryside community, who longs to become a fashion designer. Ellie is the kind of kid who is willing to go out in public in clothes she has designed, but she has yet to develop the thick skin needed to deflect the catty comments of schoolmates, who in a two faced manner praise her bravery, but secretly despise her and are jealous of the attention she will generate. Her mother also was interested in the industry but took her life ten years earlier, and Ellie has visions of her Mom on a regular basis. Eloise soaks herself in 60s nostalgia, because that’s the style her Mother and Grandmother knew so well. Peter and Gordon, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark ring in her head as she moves to London to attend a college of fashion design. When her wold collides with the hipster bitch she is roommates with, she decides to take a flat in a nearby neighborhood and suddenly the distance between the world she lives in and the era of her dreams begins to diminish. New visions of a girl not unlike herself, striving to make it into the pop world as a singer in 1965, fill Eloise’s nights and she gets caught up in another life in a different era, with outcomes much more grim than she is prepared to face.

The 1960s settings are nicely staged with appropriate production details. I especially liked the giant “Thunderball” Poster on the cinema, as well as the stylish women’s fashions of the time. The two nightclubs that Eloise sees in her visions are also startlingly beautiful in a retro way. The most beautiful thing she encounters however is Sandie, the girl aspiring to be a singer who is a near doppelganger for Eloise and who is played by Ana Taylor-Joy. Wright uses some marvelous camera tricks and clever choreography to meld the two girls from fifty years apart into one character that we see at a time, although both are present. This is a horror story in the long run, and the events in the 1960s should be enough to make us pull back in terror at what can become of a girl trying to make it in a world filled with sharks dressed as men. The first part of Sandie’s story is plenty horrifying without having to elaborate too much with blood and viscera. Like all horror stories these days, there has to be a twist and this is where things start to go off the rails a bit.

Eloise’s obsession is turning dangerous and she has difficulty separating her visions from her real life. There is a character set up to tie the two eras together in the real world, and naturally, this is one of the places where Wright has to cheat a bit to get in the surprise that he has in store for us. If you are turned off by characters in horror stories doing illogical things and making unsubstantiated assumptions, then you will start to feel the resentment that I referred to in the opening of this piece. Somewhere out there, a young adult woman would ask some questions that all of us could see might be relevant, not Ellie. She pursues an investigation but she ignores a key term in her search that is sitting right in front of her. The explanation that her nightmarish visions begin to follow her is the best cover that can explain why she acts the way she does, but that seems inadequate and it ignores a lot of options that she had available to her. After successfully creating a real world heroine in Eloise, who can perceive a threat from an otherwise chipper cab driver, you want to scream at her for not looking more closely at the red herring in front of her and the obvious connection to the past that she occupies every night.

At this point, the movie turns into a conventional piece of cinema horror trickery, which uses the distractions of another historical era to misdirect us while the heavy footed plot twist plays out. If you can ignore those irritating moments of character stupidity, then the follow through will be satisfying enough. I for the most part went along with it because I want the magic trick to work. The fact that I noticed the trick movement did not rob me of all the pleasure I’d already had from the film, but those missteps will bother a lot of people more than me. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are both excellent. They create a real sense of the enthusiasms for a bygone time and watching them revel in the fashion, dance and music of the era is a pleasure. Diana Rigg makes her final screen appearance in this film in a role that is more substantial than you might have expected. The film also features Terrance Stamp who has been menacing and charming and revolting in movies for sixty years now. Stamp gets to show his persona with just a few scenes and some great close ups on his face. Wright gets the most out of the camera and lighting when he is looking at Stamp’s character. It is too bad that this effort gets wasted as a plot device rather than an essential plot component.

Edgar Wright has a number of films to his credit that I have loved. His sense of humor is terrific and he has an editors eye as a director, he is capable of creating a scene in our mind that works because he knows how long the shot should last and where to cut it and what kinds of transitions to make. As a storyteller, he has taken some sharp left turns over the years that work, but maybe that is because of the genre he was working in. The tone shift and plot twist in “Last Night in Soho” don’t hold together as well as the work he has done before. I would still recommend the movie, but if you get whiplash from third act character actions, don’t say I did not warn you.

Double 0 Countdown: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

My on-line friend Dan Fogarty, holds this entry into the 007 cannon in low esteem. He has it ranked near the bottom of the list and he lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of George Lazenby. He thought Lazenby was boring and the script is boring having Bond go undercover as a college professor. Maybe I’m a little biased, what’s wrong with that?  Anyway, this is the first, first run Bond film I saw as a kid. All of the Connery films I’d seen before this had been in re-release. I had watched enough Avengers to know who Diana Rigg was, and the idea of Bond really falling in love was a nice twist.

001  The New Blofeld

After meeting Bond in the Flesh, and Bond meeting Blofeld face to face in “You Only Live Twice” it is a little hard to figure why in continuity, they would not recognize each other when they finally meet up here. Maybe it is the fact that both characters are played by new actors. I’ll let other debate the merits and faults of Lazenby, but as for Blofeld, I think this was a step up. Instead of being a near dwarf with a scar, in this film, he is played as a vigorous man, capable of fighting on a bobsled and skiing dangerously down a mountain. Telly Savalas wins my vote as the best Blofeld that we get to see.

002 The New Bond

In the one wink to the audience, the new Bond acknowledges his situation. Sean Connery had left the series, the posters for the movie featured a faceless 007, and after the first fight, when Bond beats the bad guys but loses the girl as she drives off. He stands on the beach with her shoes in her hand and says, as he looks straight at us…”This never happened to the other fellow…“. That’s a good laugh and it is in the spirit of the films continuing on.

“This never happened to the other fellow”

003 No Title Song

For years one of my pet peeves about the movie was the lack of a title song. The Louis Armstrong vocal is a nice tune but it is buried in the plot. At some point however, I started paying attention to the theme played over the titles and guess what, it kicks ass. Those four descending notes played with electronic magic actually build a lot of excitement.

The guitar and horns complement this melody perfectly. Excellent!

004  1969 Technology

Bond breaks into a solicitors office in Switzerland to gain access to documents that might reveal Blofeld’s location. He need a safe cracker and a photocopier. Lucky for him, they come together in a single piece of equipment, unlucky for him, that equipment is the size of a shipping trunk. No problem, he arranges to have it delivered to him in the office by a construction crane and bucket from a project next door. Now, what to do while waiting for the safe cracking machine to do it’s job? Fortunately, there is reading material in the office. 

 This is a tight little sequence that build tension out of a guy coming back from lunch. It may not be a countdown on a nuclear device, but it builds some good suspense and it has a fun little payoff when 007 tears out the centerfold to take with him. 

005  The Bond Girl

Countessa Tracy Draco is played by the former Emma Peele of the Avengers British spy TV show. That catsuit she wore in the credits was enough to solidify my sexual orientation at 10 years old.  Now I was more mature and so was she. As Bond’s object of affection she was quirky, standoffish, beautiful and capable. Late in the film she fights a henchman for five minutes and thrashs him with a broken bottle and nails him against a wall. She is not a damsel in distress, so much as the type of woman Ian Fleming always said Bond would fall for, “a bird with a wing down”.

 She also rescues Bond and drives her car as well as he does in the opening scene and in the chase that is featured latere in the film. 

006  Snow Plowed

I appear to have an affinity for exotic death scenes in the Bond series. The skiing chase down the snow covered alps is the first of a long line of ski sequences in Bond films. From the looks of the trailer, Daniel Craig is about to join the list of Bonds who have used mad snow skills to defeat their enemy. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, one of Bonds pursuers does not make it across the trench that a large snow plow is working on. Well before Steve Buscemi was disposed of in “fargo” we got this scene.

007 The Ice Slide

This series will be filled with brief moments that mark the series with indelible memories. My favorite from this film is James Bond, on his belly, with a machine gun blasting, sliding along the ice at Piz Gloria, where he had been curling with the bodacious beauties just a day or two before. It is the coolest image from this snowbound story. It was an improvised moment of brilliance from director Peter Hunt.

James Bond Will Return in “Diamonds Are Forever.”