May 24, 2017

BOND '17 - Sir Roger Moore

When I started my every-five-year-or-so re-evaluating the EON Productions' James Bond, 007 franchise in series order about 14 weeks ago, I never thought that the first post - which comes on the heels of viewing the final Roger Moore picture A View to a Kill this past Sunday, would be a memorial post. I had planned to kick the series off with a 30-year anniversary look at The Living Daylights.  Given that I had just finished the Moore films, the news yesterday morning that Sir Roger Moore has passed away at the age of 89 was especially sad.  He was alive and well on the screen just days before, and I have been also watching all the special content for each film, including the commentaries recorded for the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray set by Sir Roger Moore himself on each of his entries.  In those commentaries he comes across as warm and playful, and truly blessed with being given the chance to play such an iconic character so many times, while doing so in the shadow of Sean Connery whose shoes are still difficult to fill.

Sir Roger Moore and Grace Jones as Mayday in A View to a Kill (1985)

Sir Roger came into the role the same year I came into the world, so growing up I was introduced to the world of Bond by seeing ads for the Moore pictures on television, on marquees and elsewhere.  The first full Bond picture I saw from beginning to end was For Your Eyes Only, which not only cemented my life-long passion for the franchise, but also stands as my favorite in the Moore series (which I will discuss in more depth in a separate post).  My first memory of being exposed to anything Bond anything was a poster for Moonraker that had Sir Roger in a spacesuit surrounded by lingerie-clad women.  I was 6 at the time, and my parents didn't like me seeing that poster.  This was the age of Star Wars though (it was in between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) so a dude in a spacesuit with a gun was what I found intriguing.  I was too young to notice the women - well, yet.

Sir Roger Moore and Barbara Bach as Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Watching the series all the way through like this, and this being the 5th time I am doing so (it just keeps growing.  This will be the first time through with Spectre) I pick up the nuances of the actors as they take on the role, Sir Roger was more of a spit-spot gentleman  than the rough-edged Connery.  On the commentary tracks, he frequently discusses how he hated a scene in The Man With The Golden Gun where the story required that he rough up Maude Adams, something Connery seemed to be much more comfortable with.  Watching the scene, you can sense the uncomfortable tension between both of them, Miss Adams because she is such a sophisticated beauty, and Moore because he does not want to be doing it at all.  This is a scene that he brings up in almost every commentary on every picture.  When making For Your Eyes Only, Sir Roger had expressed concern over a scene where he wantoning kills an assassin, a scene that really stands out in that picture as great, but to Sir Roger, he did not feel it suited him.  To him, Bond wasn't ruthless for the sake of being so.  He had a gentleman's code and even if a woman had a gun in his back, he treated her with respect.

007 gets ruthless revenge in For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Sir Roger brought a tongue-in-cheek lightness to the role that has turned off many a Bond fan over the years that felt he wasn't tough enough - like Connery or more recently Daniel Craig.  He had a twinkle in his eye, and was always charming in the role, flirting with any woman who passed his way.  His reactions were always that of someone enjoying themselves, and if you watch closely, you can catch some very real and amusing reactions to lines and actions like in Octopussy when Maude Adams explains to Bond that her father referred to her as "his little Octopussy", Moore's head is half turned but you can see a look of "err, that's not right" cross his face when the line is delivered.  One poor choice on the filmmaker's behalf had Roger coming off almost obsessed with women in Octopussy where at an auction he comments on all the beautiful ladies twice, then later zooms a camera in on Q's busty assistant's bust line.  This didn't suit his persona who always seemed to respect women even as he jumped into bed with all of them (well except for young Lynn-Holly Johnson in For Your Eyes Only where Bond drew the line on the incredible age difference - another first for Bond, Bond turns down sex).

About to face off with Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Early on in Live and Let Die, Moore's first outing as 007, Sir Roger finds himself in 1973 Harlem, one of the few times where Bond looks and feels so completely out of his element.  There is a danger here where even in the most rough spot surrounded by bad guys it felt as though Bond could always find a way out, here he is in deep and really feels unaware of how to carry himself in these surroundings.  Sir Roger is perfect for this predicament. Connery had a roughness where you feel he could carry himself even here whereas Moore is as clueless white as a white guy can get in the way he's dressed, his perfectly coiffed hair and impeccable manners.  He sticks out like a sore thumb (the CIA operative on his tail that saves him even says so), and it's a rare moment where you feel Bond is in way over his head.

Bond stands out in Harlem in Live and Let Die (1973)

The films always took great delight in having Moore's Bond busted in a compromising position with the leading lady while an authority figure shockingly looked on (M and the Russians catching him with XXX in The Spy Who Love Me, in zero gravity with Dr. Goodhead in Moonraker, during a phone call from Margaret Thatcher in For Your Eyes Only, a Q invented surveillance robot in A View To a Kill that finds Bond in the shower with Tanya Roberts).  It was a nice gag that never wore out its welcome.

007 taking full advantage of Zero Gravity in Moonraker (1979)

Sir Roger was not just known for Bond, having starred in The Saint Television series as well as being active in UNICEF among other film roles and writings.  That being said he leaves behind his strongest legacy with two almost full decades of Bond pictures (1973 - 1985), an unbroken streak of seven that beats even Connery (unless you count Never Say Never Again which is not an official entry in the EON series since it was done by another producer who was always trying to kick off his own Bond series.  If you do count that, then he and Connery are tied) and I doubt anyone inhabiting the role now will reach that amount given how actors don't like to be typecast and are probably pretty antsy to move on more quickly.

Defusing a bomb is no laughing matter in Octopussy (1983)

Here's hoping Sir Roger is now enjoying a good cigar and one Vodka martini, rather shaken, wherever his spirit may rest.

The Roger Moore Bonds:







Apr 2, 2017

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH LOS ANGELES - L.A In Print, On Film and Television: LETHAL WEAPON (1987)

Warning - spoilers and plot details of Lethal Weapon lie ahead.

When it comes to Christmas action films (who knew there was such a genre) one picture always dominates the conversation, Die Hard.  This past Christmas, I revisited that other L.A. Christmas action picture that doesn't get mentioned enough during the season, Lethal Weapon.

Scripted by Shane Black who is known for setting his films during Christmas time, Lethal Weapon was released in 1987 (one year before Die Hard) and still stands as the ultimate 80s buddy-cop picture.  Mel Gibson cemented his stature as a mega-80s-superstar as Martin Riggs, an on-the-edge and suicidal cop and Vietnam special forces vet mourning the death of his wife.  He is teamed with veteran cop Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) who is just "too old for this s--t" having turned 50 when we are first introduced to him.

It's Christmas at the Murtaugh house which takes an immense beating in this picture

Lethal Weapon was a smash hit and kicked off a blockbuster franchise consisting of 3 sequels and recently a TV series on Fox.  This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the film, so revisiting it recently I was asking myself before watching, am I now "too old for this s--t"?

Lethal Weapon is a surprisingly dark-toned picture, and I would even go so far as to call it an action-Noir which I believe is enhanced by the Los Angeles setting.  L.A. is very much a central character in this series with prominent locations like Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, Hollywood Boulevard and a beach near El Segundo.  The picture opens with the credits super-imposed over the Los Angeles skyline as the camera moves to an iconic circular hotel in Long Beach as a young, beautiful woman leaps to her death with a word (there is also one on Sunset Boulevard off the 405 that looks similar).

The opening of the picture already sets the Noir tone and establishes L.A. as the setting

I never really clued into the Noir elements in the picture until this most recent viewing.  First you have a lead character, played by a mega-star, who is seen shoving a gun into his mouth and contemplating suicide.  He lives in a small trailer by the beach with his dog, and keeps himself alive through re-runs of The Three Stooges.  Gibson's Riggs is an ideal Noir character, a law-enforcer who is a good cop, but clearly just one step away from going over the edge at any given moment.  Murtaugh thinks it is an act until a situation with a suicide jumper makes it clear to him that Riggs is a self-destructive powder keg just waiting to be ignited.  There is also a Vietnam vet backstory in play here that was becoming a big thing in films during this period thanks to films such as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.  Riggs' issues seem to stem more with the death of his wife, but it becomes apparent there are other demons at play here from his war years and his experience in special forces.

Murtaugh realizing that Riggs' suicidal wish is no joke

Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh isn't exactly an upbeat character either.  Having just turned 50, he is starting to feel his age as he deals with his lovely middle-class family that seems to be maturing around him much too quickly.  You can tell he loves being a cop, but the years are starting to catch up with him and the introduction of the unpredictable Riggs enhances that.  Murtaugh's home life takes a beating in this picture as his daughter is kidnapped, the villains descend upon the house with no trepidation and the front room - Christmas tree and all - is demolished by a car smashing through the living room wall.  This trend continues into the sequels like in Lethal Weapon 2 when South African heavies break into the home at night, bind Murtaugh and his wife in their beds and threaten to blow their heads off.  Needless to say their insurance premiums must be through the roof.

Gary Busey as the picture's heavy, Joshua

This brings me to the villain, Joshua, played by a still sane and (at least visibly) sober Gary Busey.  Joshua has no qualms going directly after the LAPD, kidnapping an innocent (Murtaugh's daughter) nor attacking a home in broad daylight during a wedding with a barrage of gunfire from a helicopter (a scene that later is copied to an extent in the Shane Black directed Iron Man 3).  He is just as lethal as Riggs, but more calm and collected making him more dangerous than your average thug.  The fight between he and Riggs on the lawn of the Murtaugh residence in the mud as fellow LAPD officers watch on, is dark, violent and unsettling as the two beat themselves to a pulp.  Riggs is getting all his demons out on Joshua who has threatened his newly adopted family, the one that has begun to help with the healing process and bring him back from the edge.

Tis' the season to fight on a lawn in L.A.

The score by Michael Kamen has an tone of melancholy to it, with a jazz sax wailing in the background mixed with his usual dose of pulse-pounding actin cues, it plays up a Noir feel that other action pictures just don't have.

The Christmas tree lot gunfight, a unique setting

Finally this brings me to Los Angeles, and the part it plays.  During the day, it has the feeling of oppression with the sun constantly beating down during a time when most of the country is cold, snowy and dark.  A gun battle in a Christmas tree lot is as noisy and as brutal as they come, definitely not in the holiday spirit and enhancing the idea that Christmas in L.A. is something out-of-the-ordinary.  It may be Christmas, but L.A. is a hard town even when it comes to buying the symbol of the season, a tree.  Later the location shifts to the desert, reminding us that Los Angeles and is surrounded by this hot, barren terrain.  It almost doesn't feel like the United States as Murtaugh and Riggs confront Joshua in an effort to get Murtaugh's daughter back (even more surreal is the addition of a limousine that is among the vehicles present).

The Car chase set piece on Hollywood Boulevard is a highlight of the film

A brutal and exciting action sequence that begins on Hollywood boulevard and moving to the nearby 101 Freeway is the piece de resistance of the picture's set pieces.  It is amusing watching in 2017 as Riggs is able to run around Hollywood brandishing a machine gun without a badge, and is merely flagged by an LAPD office who doesn't seem to react to the weapon at all.  Had it been Murtaugh waving that piece on the streets at night without identification, would he be treated as fairly?  The sequence is big, bold and surreal, an action sequence that plays up the L.A. surroundings in a dark setting that once again spotlights that L.A. truly is alive at night, but underneath all the glamor of Tinseltown there is an element of menace, something that Film Noir and the writings of authors such as Raymond Chandler really put the spotlight on.

Nobody minds Mel running around with a Machine gun on 1987 Hollywood Boulevard.  Not sure he'd be so lucky in 2017.

Am I calling Lethal Weapon a Noir picture?  No, not at all.  It is really what it appears to be on the surface, a big, blockbuster buddy-cop action picture.  It is a smarter movie though than one would think it to be with fleshed out characters and a distinctive Noir tone that you can tell both writer Shane Black and director Richard Donner has injected into it.

Mar 27, 2017


My poor neglected blog, time to give it some love.  Yes, at the beginning of the year I threatened to get back to regular posting - well, it didn't happen so much. If at first you don't find you have time, try, try again.

For the record, my promised Love Affair with Los Angeles series is coming.  I have it all mapped out, and just have to get it down on "paper".

There has been a social media trend of people posting their favorite films from every year they have been alive.  I learned of it from the editor of the James Bond Social Media Project blog and since Saturday I aged another year, it feels like perfect timing for me to jump onto this bandwagon.

So here it is, my favorite films, by year, for the past 44 (yikes) years.

1973 - PAPER MOON (Dir: Peter Bogdanovich)

1974 - CHINATOWN (Dir: Roman Polanski)

1975 - BARRY LYNDON (Dir: Stanley Kubrick)

1976 - (tie) NETWORK (Dir: Sidney Lumet) / ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (Dir: Alan J. Pakula)

1977 - ANNIE HALL (Dir: Woody Allen)

1978 - THE DEER HUNTER (Dir: Michael Cimino)

1979 - ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (Dir: Don Siegel)

1980 - RAGING BULL (Dir: Martin Scorsese)

1981 - RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Dir: Steven Spielberg)

1982 - THE VERDICT (Dir: Sidney Lumet)

1983 - THE RIGHT STUFF (Dir: Phillip Kaufman)

1984 - A PASSAGE TO INDIA (Dir: David Lean)

1985 - THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (Dir: Woody Allen)

1986 - SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT (Dir: Spike Lee)

1987 - RADIO DAYS (Dir: Woody Allen)

1988 - DIE HARD (Dir: John McTiernan)

1989 - DO THE RIGHT THING (Dir: Spike Lee)

1990 - GOODFELLAS (Dir: Martin Scorsese)

1991 - JFK (Dir: Oliver Stone)

1992 - THE PLAYER (Dir: Robert Altman)

1993 - REMAINS OF THE DAY (Dir: James Ivory)

1994 - THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (Dir: Frank Darabont)

1995 - (tie) BRAVEHEART (Dir: Mel Gibson) / CASINO (Dir: Martin Scorsese)

1996 - FARGO (Dir: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

1997 - L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (Dir: Curtis Hanson)

1998 - BULWORTH (Dir: Warren Beatty)

1999 - THE INSIDER (Dir: Michael Mann)

2000 - WONDER BOYS (Dir: Curtis Hanson)

2001 - THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Dir: Wes Anderson)

2002 - CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Dir: Steven Spielberg)


2004 - FINDING NEVERLAND (Dir: Marc Forster)

2005 - SYRIANA (Dir: Stephen Gaghan)

2006 - THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (Dir: Jason Reitman)

2007 - THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)

2008 - THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir: Christopher Nolan)

2009 - UP (Dir: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson)

2010 - THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Dir: David Fincher)

2011 - MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir: Woody Allen)

2012 - SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Dir: David O. Russell)

2013 - ALL IS LOST (Dir: J.C. Chandor)

2014 - EDGE OF TOMORROW (Dir: Doug Liman)

2015 - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (Dir: George Miller)

2016 (tie) MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins) / ZOOTOPIA (Dir: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush)

2017 - (so far...) GET OUT (Dir: Jordan Peele)