James Bond and You Only Live Twice (1967)

You Only Live Twice (1967) – First, the bad news. The movie, early on, includes a scene in which Bond sits watching a Sumo wrestling match. This is the first scene, for me, during this viewing, in which Connery’s wig fails him.

Backing up a bit, the first Connery balding shock for me, ever, as opposed to just the Sumo bad rug in YOLT, came when he was swimming underwater in Thunderball (1965). The strands of his untoupeed hair wafted up in the water, too thin by far, for the hirsute superspy. But wait. Could that have been his double? Wow. Both Bond and his stunt guy (Bob Simmons, who also came up with the fight gags. Bob was one of the first to break down fights into cuts, which has led to the absurd extremes of today, wherewhen some fights are 100% quick cuts and totally fabricated and incomprehensible. It’s an outrage.) going bald at once? But wait again. There is an underwater scene like that in YOLT. That’s probably what I’m thinking of. The memory is 43 years old,  after all.

It meant that he had to go, that thin hair, and now, four decades later, Bond’s hairpieces in YOLT haven’t held up stylistically for this viewer. His rugs are dated in the way that a spiked toupee today would be dated in 2050. Connery went the hairless route gracefully in his career, like Bruce Willis and Billy Zane and unlike Burt Reynolds and Travolta. If Burt has ever appeared au natural in a movie, please let me know. I’ve seen him in more wigs than those ladies down at the nursing home.

Connery announced that YOLT was his last Bond flick before shooting even started. He was sick of the whole thing. His hair and his age had nothing to do with it. In fact, as he aged, Connery lost that goofy pouty look about the mouth. He looks great in YOLT, the perfect Bond. Except for those scenes with the rug.  He and Broccoli were on the outs over $$ issues, and Connery begrudged the time the movies took to make and promote. The Japanese fans on location drove him nuts. The Bond films did make the heretofore penurious Connery a rich man, though, and he was able to move his parents out of their tenement in Edinburgh.  As an actor, however, he didn’t miss the fact that the franchise was moving toward gimmicks and formula and away from character and any sort of dramatic class.

But enough about the man’s hair and dudgeon. On to the movie. It’s rated PG. PG, and it starts out with Bond in bed with a young Chinese woman, he commenting that Chinese women taste different than Russian women do. One chicken, the other fish, I presume. And then the bed gets flipped up, Bond is machine-gunned, and the bed is flipped back down to reveal him dead, “in the line of duty,” with a little discrete blood soaking into the sheets. PG. But wait. I forgot that there was no PG-13 until after a heart got ripped out of a living guy’s chest (at least it was a guy) in the PG Temple of Doom, and that was 16 years after YOLT. Explains why I got so many glimpses of nude women in the 70s.

The YOLT intro music is one of my favorite Bond theme songs. John Barry did good on that one. Possibly the only Nancy Sinatra recording I ever liked. 28 takes to make it, with her scared the whole time after flying over to London and walking into a room that contained, in addition to Barry and Broccoli, an orchestra that seemed, to her, to number in the hundreds.

Wrt the movie: nice shot of a ’59 Chevy Bel Air as it pulls into traffic in Tokyo.

When YOLT the novel was published in 1964, I eagerly snapped it up. I waited for each new Bond book to come out and… and what? Checked it out of the library? Or did the Signet paperback come out at the same time as the hardcover book did? Can’t remember… But anyway, I got my hands on the book and enjoyed it, though it didn’t strike me as one of the best of the ouvre. In it, Bond goes to Japan to deal with a crazy doctor, Shatterhand, who has set up a suicide garden behind high walls, for suicidal citizens to sneak into and die. Turns out that the doctor is Blofeld, who killed Bond’s bride in The Spy Who Loved Me, which was written before YOLT. YOLT was filmed out of sequence because TSWLM needed winter and it wasn’t, at the time. Can’t remember more than that about the book, except that Bond’s Japanese opposite number was a tough dude named Tiger Tanaka, and the two of them drank a lot of saki and played paper/stone/scissors while drunk. Guess who won? Also, I remember that Bond, who goes to live in a fishing village where the young women dove down for pearls or fish, if it’s a fishing village, bare-breasted, opines that the women were beautiful but that their nipples were coarse. The rotter. Plotwise, perhaps Fleming was stretching a little by the time he wrote YOLT. He died the year that it was published (The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy, and The Living Daylights were published posthumously).  But any Bond was better than no Bond. At least he died several decades before The Wall fell. He didn’t have to figure out what to do with Bond then, unlike an author like John Le Carre, who was stuck with a writing career full of spies who were suddenly in from the cold.

Three years after the book, the movie arrived. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay, borrowing some plotting from Harold Jack Bloom and others and claiming it as his own. Dahl  and Fleming were buddies and as far as I know, Dahl didn’t think much of the movies made from Fleming’s books; but he took the money. The movie begins with a giant alligator satellite eating a U.S. satellite with one astronaut in it and another snipped off to spin off into space. (Apollo 13 launched three years later and in spite of a lot of problems, did not have to deal with a spacecraft-eating satellite  chasing it.) This was at the height of the space race, so…  it’s topical. Forget Blofeld in a castle with a suicide garden. Here he’s the prototype Dr. Evil, ensconced in the largest, most expensive movie set ever built, trying to top the spectacles in Thunderball and moving ever farther away from the zeitgeist of the Bond books and the original Bond movies. Although credit where due: the director flew all over Kyushu looking for a castle like the one in the book and couldn’t find one – but spotted the cool volcanoes there and Dahl made the switch. The inside of the volcano is a hellava set. The Bond franchise was so big by then that UA (or Eon. I can’t follow the money between production companies and distributors) couldn’t say no to Broccoli and Salzman if they wanted something, and production designer Ken Adam convinced them that they wanted the set. Motorists could see the building when driving between London and Oxford and local residents demanded a tour of it as recompense for the inconvenience of the traffic and nighttime gunshots that they had to endure because of its presence. Richard Harland Smith in a TCM review suggests that the thing is a reincarnation of the Dahl Willie Wonka chocolate factory.

For the lover of practical (mechanical or physical) effects, a movie like YOLT is swell. No CGI. Things got built to look at. Ben Hur (1959)? Real stadium, real race track, real chariots, real horses. The audience anticipation was terrific. I mentioned somewhere else how Samuel Bronston built huge sets out in the Spanish countryside. Nowadays, a $150 million budget is mostly about salaries and computers. Nothing wrong with CGI, that’s for sure, but the real thing is still the real thing.

Just to put my thoughts about YOLT in context: when JFK included From Russia With Love on a list of favorite books and told a reporter that Ian Fleming was a favorite for bedtime reading, I went out, just like a lot of others, and acquired the first Bond book, Casino Royale. After that, I tracked down the other Bond books that Fleming had written up to then (maybe up to Goldfinger). After that, I waited eagerly for every new Bond. In the ’60s, Playboy began publishing best-selling authors in the magazine. I never liked reading Bond in magazine format, but Fleming wrote some short stories (including Quantum of Solace – so blame Fleming for the title) and that’s where the stories appeared (or not. Can’t remember if Playboy serialized a book or what. But when I told folks that I was just buying the magazine for the stories in it, I wasn’t totally lying).

I tend to forget now that back then, it was the books that I cared about and couldn’t wait for. I was on a road trip in Florida with three young women and on our big night out in Miami, I ended up staying back in our room because I had just got my hands on the latest Bond out – maybe The Spy Who Loved Me. I was still sitting on the couch reading it when the three young women came back. None of them had met a Bond type, obviously.

It was back then that I also discovered Matt Helm (the book, not Dean Martin) and Travis McGee, who first appeared in The Deep Blue Good-Bye (1964). John D. McDonald, R.I.P.

And speaking of R.I.P., Fleming was a heavy smoker and drinker. As the ambulance attendants wheeled him away during his final heart attack at the age of 56, in 1964, he thanked them and told them that it had been a wonderful life and he wouldn’t change anything. Gone. His br0ther Peter, a noted travel writer, survived him. Maybe Ian didn’t regret anything, but we, his loyal readers were pretty bummed. Often imitated, never duplicated (what product was that?).

Dr. No (1962) – Saw it at the drive-in with Charlotte while home from college. My attention was divided but I liked it ok. The climax sagged but Ursula Andress didn’t. Watched a bit of it the other day and was sad to see that some of Connery’s expressions looked goofy.

From Russia With Love (1963) – This one excited me. As a reader of the books, I wanted the same spy-like flavor in the movie. At the time, the fight with Robert Shaw on the train was the most violent I had seen.

Goldfinger (1964) – Went over to Glendale from college with friends to see it. Liked it, except that it ended in Kentucky. Not exotic.

Thunderball (1965) – Harvard Squre Cinema. The movie was a knockout. I had to run out to the bathroom multiple times, and it was down a long flight of marble stairs in the basement. Harry Cohn (or one of those old studio moguls) measured movies by how many times he used the bathroom while watching them, but I’ve never been clear whether more pit stops was good or bad. Fleming was gone, so now it was going to be movies or nothing.

It says something about the impact that these movies made on me that I can remember where and when I saw them.

In 1966, the Bond spoof Casino Royale came out. Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Woody Allen all played Bond. Ursula Andress and Orson Welles were in it. Sellers had made Lolita, Strangelove, two Clouseau movies, What’s New Pussycat, and The Wrong Box, and was a mega star. Woody Allen hadn’t made his first movie yet; he was moving from stand-up to acting and at the time was just a funny guy. I remember the movie as being ok, but for us Bond lovers, especially with Fleming dead, it was a disappointment.

You Only Live Twice (1967) – Biggest commercial hit for a Bond film up to that time. Connery mailed in his license to kill. Or left it on Broccoli’s doorstep in a brown paper bag full of burning dog poop.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – Like all the other Bondophiles, I was on pins and needles waiting for OHMSS. Lazenby? What kind of name was that for the star of a James Bond movie. But he did OK. I was ready to see him in the next one. One little problem with OHMSS was that Diana Rigg was a bigger star than the Bond guy. And after her stint in The Avengers, I think that most of us thought of her as tougher and smarter than him as well. Another problem was Telly Savalas (R.I.P.). Telly as Blofeld? Telly Savalas, Maggott of The Dirty Dozen (1967), and appearances on every popular TV show that ever aired in the 60s? Really?

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Connery back, but for me the movie jumped the shark with scenes like the driving on two wheels down a narrow alley (not even counting the switch from the two right wheels to the two left wheels on entering and exiting) and Lana Woods getting tossed out of a high hotel window (hotel windows still opened in ’71) into the pool. Woods did a spread after that for Playboy, so that was good. Too bad her sister didn’t join her. How could Bond jump the shark, you ask, but before Roger Moore showed up, the franchise was… well, not realistic, but a little more… something… serious? Freighted with Connery’s natural gravitas? Not in this one, though. Connery donated his salary to his Scottish International Educational Trust. Jill St. John also took me out of the movie. Like Savalas, she was just too Hollywood or something. Just now I was conflating her with Angie Dickenson, but only because Dickenson had that same affect on me in movies like Point Blank and Rio Bravo – just not what I wanted.

Then a dozen years in the wilderness. Seven Bond movies. Forget Telly Salavas and Jill St. John and jumping the shark: I never liked Moore for Bond and I never liked the turn toward humor that the franchise took. I saw all the movies but the only memory that occurs is for Moonraker (1979). We headed down to the New Varsity in Palo Alto for my birthday. We got there late, bought our tickets, and couldn’t find an empty seat inside. I was pissed. When I finally saw the movie, though, I did like Jaws… The whole Roger Moore thing was Cubby Broccoli’s fault. I liked Cubby the Mouseketeer and I like broccoli when it’s cooked right, and for all I know Cubby Broccoli was a wonderful guy, but whether he went to Heaven or Hell when he died, he’s probably still trying to explain to the big guy there why he screwed up the franchise with Moore. For me, the magic was gone forever. Sure, I still watch them and enjoy, but it’s not the same.

When Moore finally had the grace to realize that he was too old to make another Bond movie and the franchise turned to Timothy Dalton, I had moved on psychologically. Henceforth, I liked the movies, watched them multiple times, but Connery was Bond and the rest was feathers. Dalton had the gravitas, though. He had the glower, the weight. I was satisfied. So of course it didn’t last. Pierce Brosnan signed up. I like Brosnan. I liked him in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). I can almost remember him in The Lawnmower Man (1992) and Mars Attacks! (1996). I liked him in The Tailor of Panama (2001) and Evelyn (2002) and The Matador (2005), and I really liked him, and Liam Neesom, in the underappreciated Seraphim Falls (2006). Wonderful career choices. But he never had the weight, the dark side that I want for Bond, and the Moore goofiness clung to the Brosnan movies, recurring from the Moore era. And the shark jumped the shark with the invisible car and ice palace. Q, Desmond Llewelyn, R.I.P.

Daniel Craig, like Dalton, has got the crazy anger working. If you’ve got a license to kill, show me a little psychosis, for Pete’s sake.  Roger Moore, cold-blooded killer?? At this point, though, the franchise is all about figuring out what a British spy should be doing these days. How to stay relevant. In Quantum of Solace (2008), we get some green eco-plotting. At least the writers (and the producers pulled in Paul Haggis to polish the Craig films – the only guy to write two Oscar winners in a row. Purvis and Wade, who wrote two earlier Bond films did the screenplays for Casino and Quantum) are trying.

But back to YOLT. Early in the film, the presumed-dead Bond is given a Naval burial at sea in Hong Kong harbor. You can dump bodies in Hong Kong harbor? Legally, I mean, with a twenty-gun salute? When land-based naval officers pass on, they’re slid into the sea from the nearest destroyer? Does the family get to come? (Bond’s subsequent rescue underwater was filmed in the Caribbean; perhaps the Thunderball unit hadn’t packed up to come home yet.)

Lewis Gilbert got the call to direct; he sent it to voice mail, twice. He’d done action movies like Damn the Defiant (H. M. S. Defiant) (1962), as well as dramas like Educating Rita (1983) and Alfie (1966), and he wasn’t interested in doing a Bond cinqual.  He was eventually persuaded by a crew that included Dahl;  Freddie Young, number-one cameraman working in England at the time (Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)); Ken Adam; and Gilbert’s editor, Thelma Connell. The film’s megabudget helped. Gilbert finally accepted and in the end  did two more Bonds after YOLT. He found a six-month shoot waiting,  with four or five units in place around the world.

An example of Freddie Young’s work: Bond and Tanaka stand with towels wrapped around their waists. The camera zooms gently in, so that as the towels fall away, the frame only reaches down to their hips.

And I notice a goof in the movie! Maybe the only goof I’ve ever noticed in a movie, so I’ve got to give it some love. Bond is being driven about in a sports car by a young Japanese woman in a white head scarf. Driver on the right. In one quick scene, she’s on the left.

Another goof, which I missed: an English compatriot makes Bond a martini and tells him that he was careful to stir it, not shake it. Bond nods approvingly. I can understand the compatriot (who in a later Bond movie plays the arch-villain) getting mixed up (no pun intended), but what was Connery thinking at that point in the scene? He’d been Bond for five movies.

The movie blurs the line between halters/shorts and bras/panties.

This is the one where Bond is trapped in a small plane as the female villain bails out and he plunges toward the ground. Also the one with the mini gyrocopter, which hasn’t caught on I guess, since I don’t see any flying around 40 years later, but it’s still pretty cool. Neither have jet packs, which Bond also used, in Thunderball, caught on, as Pretty Bird (2008), the Paul Giamatti/Billy Crudup vechicle, will attest. This is also the one with the gigantic in-the-volcano set, as I mentioned above, designed by Ken Adams and built for a million dollars, back when that number meant something more ,than the price of  a modest home in Palo Alto.

Production budget $9.5 million. Gross revenue $43 million (domestic), $111 million (worldwide).

I  was thinking about that female villain (Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor, who is still out there getting it done, on stage and in TV – one of the few females in the Bond ouevre who was able to resist his chick-magnet appeal). One way to tell that she was cold-blooded: when the piranhas ate her, there was no blood. And apparently they ate her whole outfit, too, as there weren’t any scraps of  fabric floating to the surface either. And cold-blooded?  Bond is in bed with Tanaka’s assistant, post-you-know-what, dozing, when she is cruelly murdered.  “She’s dead,” Bond says, and then the next day is back in training, dah dee dah, and shortly after that, is getting facial surgery by a team of women who are, for no good reason, dressed in white shorts and halters. Wait. It’s the same team that bathed him and whatever earlier in the movie… And then he’s getting married, as part of his cover, to Kissy Suzuki, who in her first shot looks like Julie Andrews. I remember now. In the books he is cold blooded, except when he’s hot blooded.

Question for fans: Is this the only Bond movie where the bad guy shouts, “Kill Bond! Now!”?

That is one patient Persian cat.

Until Blofeld pulls the trigger, that is. You can see the cat on the ground for a couple of frames and then it’s gone. Took the crew two days to find it again on that mega-set and it would never work in films again. The cat wrangler sued.

Best trick in the movie: Bond and Kissy climb out of the water after swimming for their lives, and stand on the shore looking up at a distant volcano. Quick montage of climbing shots and they’re lounging at the top of the mountain. Lounging  and smooching, looking scrubbed and chipper. I didn’t think Kissy looked especially Japanese in this movie, but she is, and was a  star (now an environmentalist). Since I’m watching Red Beard (1965), I’ve tried to picture her in a Kurosawa film of the 60s. I can’t. But she starred in King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and when she wasn’t learning English fast enough for YOLT, she announced that, if fired,  she’d kill herself because of the dishonor. Old school. Anyway, then Kissy and Bond whip down the inside of the volcano and once they’ve figured out what’s what, Kissy zips back up to the top and down the slope, all in the dark. Now that’s a day’s hike! She’s next seen swimming back to her home island. Includes a stint underwater as a helicopter spots her in the dark and tries to machine-gun her. She’s a veritable Energizer  bunny. And then she’s back at the volcano, still in her immaculate white halter-and-pants set, running back up the slope again,  this time with Tanaka and a small army of ninjas. Get her on a bicycle, for the full triathlon. How did Bond survive their wedding night? Then down into the volcano on a rope, running around, shooting a bad guy and then dropping the gun and doing a lot more running and cowering, then swimming out under the exploding volcano into the open sea, to finally clamber into an inflated raft with Bond for some final canoodling before the credits roll. An Olympic performance. All hail Kissy.

Advertisements

Robin Hood (2010)

I’ve been reading Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, Amy Kelly (1950), for, well, for years, a few lines at a time. I keep the book in a spot where I usually only have time for, say, a half page or less, not being one to dawdle. And now, in Robin Hood (2010), it’s spoiled for me in the first five minutes of the film. Unbelievable…I wasn’t interested in the movie until I listened to an interview with the director, who described the historical research that went into the script-making. I’m a total sucker for historical dramas, so I obtained the movie immediately.

Kermode and Mayo have been merciless re Crowe’s accent or accents in this movie. Northumberland residents writing in to the show, Irish-Scottish-Kiwish references made. Good example of ignorance (mine) being bliss: I can’t hear the problem. I’m postponing my plans to become wiser by learning the Northumberlish accent, at least till I’ve finished this movie.

Why would a major-league scriptwriter put dialog into these twelfth-century mouths like “We go all the way back, me and him.”  “Stay safe!”  “I love you all to bits!” “Don’t go in harm’s way!” and worst of all, “They’re men of the hood”?… And speaking of accents, William Hurt did just fine in The Yellow Handkerchief,(2008), with his Louisiana oil-platform speakin. But here, as a Norman noble, he looks pained and wisely lets out his assigned dialog, in barely disguised American, as surreptitiously as possible. King John to Hurt: “What the devil are you doing here?” which is what I was wondering, too… How many actual Englishmen are there in this movie? Any at all?…

Lot of black capes in this movie. Bill Russell wore a black cape. Velvet. You have to be a mighty cool dude to carry that off, and when I saw him in an S.F. restaurant with it on, he was…

Request for comment: Does a steel sword pulled quickly from a leather scabbard always give that mighty ringing sound?

Anyway, the history: 1200 A.D. is sort of early to be doing the English/French thing. Is it better to insist on getting the history right, or to just go ahead (splitting the infinitive) and make a movie full of nonsense because it, at least, introduces the subject?… There is something basicly wrong with this movie. It’s got the visuals, and Ridley Scott in good form, and the stars. Was it just me, wanting a Roberto Rossellini cinema history lesson, or was there something more going amiss here? Perhaps there should have been less history, to mitigate the nonsense. Yes, that’s it.  This is a fundamental good guys/bad guys tale, and the good are very good and the bad are melodramatically bad, and history isn’t; lose the history and keep the fable.

Jumping from Crowe’s Robin Hood to FanFan le Tulipe (1952) makes me realize, in contrast at least, how turgid R.H. is. Gérard Philipe  and Gina Lollobrigida leap off the screen in FanFan. Rotten Tomatoes has Robin Hood at 43%. I think that the MRQE graph gives a better idea of the critical situation: the movie is regarded as a solid C. Why? Because half the critics came in expecting some fun in the movie, and found none; instead, Robin gets the Blade Runner/Gladiator glowering glum trudging treatment, which, in sum, caused the reviewers to average out  with an “It was just OK” judgement.

Has someone done a chemistry comparison of the Robin/Marian couples in cinema? Do Crowe and Blanchett have chemistry? Together, I mean. She’s still Queen Elizabeth to me, even if she’s hanging out in the Saxon fields here. Crowe and Blanchett, the beauty and the beast… Flynn and DeHavilland, Connery and Hepburn, Costner and Mastrantonio, Elwes and Yasbeck, Bedford and Evans, Fairbanks and Bennett, Bergin and Thurman, Greene and Driscoll, Greene and O’Farrell, Todd and Rice. Ten couples to watch and rank on the romant-o-meter. I seem to recall Connery and Hepburn squabbling before one or both of them expires tragically. Bummer! Don’t end a Hood movie with a dead Hood, even if he’s a geezer!… Romance question: when one member of the couple, usually the female in the case of a heterosexual pairing, is grievously or mortally wounded, often with blood on, in, or about the mouth and lips, how often in real life do the man and woman go into a passionate lingering kiss? Seems like the suffering one would push off weakly, going “Jesus, Robin. Please…”

One thing that this R.H. got right: in the ’38 version, Flynn brings down a huge buck and later carries it into the noble’s banquet hall draped over his shoulders. The real thing would have weighed 500 pounds. In the final scene of the 2010 R.H., one of Robin’s men strolls along with what is essentially a fawn over his shoulders. Less dramatic, but there’s good eatin in those fawns!

The final climax with the bad guy ***spoiler alert*** struck me as a case of lazy writing or a need to wrap things up sooner than expected: bad guy spends whole movie doing bad things and then at the end, goes riding off. Robin steps up, nocks the shaft, draws, releases, and skewers the dude with a clean neck shoot at three hundred yards, from the top of a cliff (two-hundred-foot drop, say). Plot point checked off. Robin should be hunting mountain goats in Peru, or traveling with the circus.

Gunga Din (1939)

William Goldman has named Gunga Din (1939), multitudinously and vociferously, as the greatest movie ever made, and his favorite, of course. He was eight years old when the movie came out. Obviously it made a big impression on him, one that has not faded with time.

The movie is old-fashioned cowboy-and-indians in spirit, with Bengal Lancer cowboys and Indian indians. Working as I do with many from the subcontinent, it was hard to ignore the colonial spirit of the thing. I queried some Indians about the movie – five thirty-somethings first. None had heard of Gunga Din, the poem or the movie, or Rudyard Kipling either. One of them knew the Jungle Books, perhaps because she’s a mother with young children. An older Indian friend didn’t know the movie but took a dim view of Western adventure movies set in India in general. I also asked about hats in India, as there was many a turban in evidence in the movie and it occurred to me  that I’d never seen a non-Western, Indian hat. My coworkers and friends reported that there is no Indian tradition of hats, but that the turbans in their many forms, a feature of northern India, could sometimes be doffed and undoffed like hats. A Sikh friend wrapped one out of lemon-yellow cloth for my daughter years ago, on Halloween. It’s still sitting around somewhere. Southern India not only has no tradition of hats, but also has no tradition of turbans. Bare heads all the way.

So then I asked a random selection of non-Indian coworkers about Gunga Din. The first fellow I chose recalled that Gunga was a water-carrier. Good Kipling knowledge! But the next few uniformly had no clue, had never heard of Kipling.  😦  A couple guessed that Gunga Din was a musical group. I checked LinkedIn for possible Gunga contacts. There are a few, all last-named Gunga. Grupo Malungos de Capoeira could be useful in combating Thuggee, the bad guys in the moive. Ganga is a river, the Ganges, the river goddess who flows from the head of Lord Rama, but that’s not an alternate Gunga.

Anyway, the first hurdle that must be mastered on the way to enjoyment of Gunga Din, for some viewers – those of us who spend part of the time in a movie just eyeballing the set locations – is the Californianess of the Hindu Kush in the film. Same problem as with Sherwood Forest’s Chico-like aspect in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Gunga Din was filmed near Lone Pine, California. The backsides of the Sierras filled in for the Himalayas. These days in California, those thousands of extras in the movie could be actual Indians from India. (The movie was RKO’s most expensive to that date, but it made the money back, and plenty more. Faulkner took a first crack at the screenplay.)

Pandro Berman, the production manager, claimed that many an Indian told him that the locations look just like the Hindu Kush, do maybe just because I thought they looked like California didn’t mean that they didn’t look like India as well.

After locations, and Cary Grant’s coming-and-going English accent, it’s all good fun. The kind of fun where the background music is sort of jolly and zippy as the three Lancer heroes kill Thuggees in droves. These days, the music would be more ironic as the dead pile up. We’ve lost some of the innocence of 1939, what with the degradation of the planet, extinction of countless species, deterioration of retirement accounts and pensions, and use of steroids. Fortunately, high body counts in the movies can still be fun. And WW II did shortly provide Hollywood with priceless Nazi drama gold.

Gunga Din also features the old-fashioned type of socking and punching: quick, short blows that put down the opponent quickly. I watched Johnnie To’s Election (2005) the other night and brother ben, guys had to hack guys, and kick them, and whack them with large rocks on and on to finally force quiessence upon them. Added 30 minutes to the film.

I listened to a Kipling biography on tape some time in the past. One thing I remember from it: in a long life, there is plenty of time to do a lot of things and go to a lot of places. Kipling wrote the poem Gunga Din, along with the Jungle Books, Captains Courageous, and various other pieces, while living in Vermont, for example. Reading the poem again, it’s a heckofa poem. The man really got it right with that one. In the movie, they magically transport him to the scene of Gunga Din’s sacrifice and have him write the poem right there on the spot. Then they read it at the grave site. Or at least the final line. Like Gunga, the leader of the other side sacrifices his life for the Indian nationalist cause, jumping into a pit of cobras sort of like Borgnine with the wolves  in The Vikings (1958) (RIP, Tony Curtis, who played the young Viking Eric; Janet Leigh was Morgana; Jamie Lee was born that same year.). Gunga (Sam Jaffe) gets the graveside plaudits; the Indian nationalist (Eduardo Ciannelli) is execrated.

Finally, there is a punch-bowl-at-a-party scene, in which Grant adds the potent contents of a bottle (elephant tranquilizer?) to a bowl of punch. The Key Club (junior Kiwanis)  did the same thing in high school at a Women’s League luncheon, though we used something more conventional than liquid animal trank. Subsequently, as we bused the ladies’ tables, we were disappointed to observe that they seemed to be enjoying their drinks an awful lot without any concomitant falling down dead drunk, or anything more than heightened color in their cheeks. In retrospect, I think that we were doing them all a favor as they faced a spate of boring presentations. Once started, they returned with increasing frequency to the bowl to top off their cups. This was back before doing a couple of lines in the powder room had been accepted by the moms as a way to take the edge off.

Watchmen (2009)

After I watch a movie, I read some reviews about it to find out whether I liked it or not. A.O. Scott does a nice job on Watchmen (2009), but he tells me that I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did. The gist of his argument seems to be that Zack Snyder brought the 80s graphic novel faithfully to the screen and that this was not a good thing: that the ideas in the book are dated and jejune. Scott’s review is so well-written that I felt ashamed to be writing one of mine own, this one in fact, and I put it aside unfinished.

But wait a minute. Of course the ideas in the book are dated. The ideas in Pride and Prejudice are dated. So what? And of course the ideas are the sort that would appeal to a teen reader. Watchmen was born as a series of comic books. A.O., grow down.

But then, I liked 300, so what do I know?

A.O. also calls out the primary sex scene in the movie as the worst of the year. Evidently A.O. steers clear of 99% of the DVDs on Blockbuster’s shelves. At any rate, what I saw in that scene was an ineffective Snyder attempt to maintain Watchmen’s PG-13 rating, an attempt doomed from the gitgo by the movie’s blue penis.

That blue penis. Over and over before watching the movie I heard about the blue pee pee. I was expecting gratuitous closeups of the prosthesis. I was expecting an azure member of a size worthy of the movie’s only true superhero. What th… The little guy was as unobtrusive in the movie as it was in the book. U.S. society is messed up wrt the phallus. Judd Apatow ran a couple of focus groups while making Funny People, to discover how many dick jokes in the movie would be too many dick jokes. The answer: you can’t have too many. And what is a man’s member a member of anyway?

I read Watchmen just before watching it. I like to read a book and then see the movie. If the movie heads off in some wrongheaded direction, I might shake my head philosophically, but my bile is not wont to rise when it happens. A shrug is sufficient. For example, Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet did not do it for me, but I have moved on. I do not brood. Kiera, go back to POTC before Jane Austen comes back from the grave to haunt you. OK, maybe a little brooding eventuated, but hey, Elizabeth Garvie in the role will suffice for me until Pride and Prejudice is remade yet again, which it will be.

In the 60s, I went gaga over Fowles’ The Magus. But then the movie version became my biggest book-to-movie disappointment. On the other hand, I read Robert Parker’s Appaloosa a while back and believe me, Ed Harris is the perfect Virgil Cole in the movie version. Ditto Tom Selleck as Parker’s Jesse Stone. Perhaps a reader who found Watchmen magical in the 80s and then waited twenty years for the movie might have problems with it, though I’m willing to bet that most of those folks – I’ve got no data – loved the movie.

Anyway, I liked Watchmen the movie better than Watchmen the graphic novel. Snyder left out the pirates and other boring stuff and stuck to the main line, getting it all in, or so it seemed to me. Fresh faces in his casting choices, a big plus. I watched the movie in pieces, as if it were a mini-series, so it didn’t seem to run long. And for me, if not for A. O. Scott, adding a collection of 80s tunes to the soundtrack tweaked the experience in a way not possible in a silent book. Even if those tunes have been played to death, which they have been.

There has been conversation about the excessive violence in the movie. Sorry, I must have been distracted by Maggie Gyllenhaal getting blown up in the Dark Knight, and The Joker’s pencil to the eyeball, and Saws I, II, III, IV, and V, and folks checking into hostels never to check out again, whatever, so that I missed the fact that Rorschach in prison got a little extreme. He does splash hot oil in a dude’s face, but see, I just watched Trailer Park of Terror (2008), in which a victim is lowered whole into hot oil like a very large freedom fry. At any rate, Snyder had obviously given up on his PG-13 quest by the time he cut together the prison fight scenes.

Near the end of the book and movie, Dr. Manhattan tells Ozymandias that he’s leaving for a galaxy where things aren’t so complicated. The average galaxy contains 100 billion stars and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe. I’m guessing that one collection of 100 billion stars is pretty much the same as another. Stick to your own galaxy, blue guy! Remember, wherever you go, there you are. And about creating some humans of your own: who do you think you are, God? Fundamentalists are outraged! God is not blue! And if you saw His pee pee…!

For recent urban total destruction, the late scenes in Watchmen are ok (reimagined from the original), but I liked the devastation in Knowing (2009) better –  speaking of freedom fries.

Finally, for your consideration, the beginning and end of the Watchmen review found on “Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.” A reviewer with his feet in the mud and head in the clouds:

“For conservative Christian audiences, the prospect of seeing Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” is a non-starter. There is male frontal nudity (albeit blue and animated); numerous instances of blasphemy; shots of women’s breasts; gory violence; and a nude love-making scene… Watchmen is a long viewing. It is sometimes ponderous, grisly, and confusing, but for those who have read the book and have reasonable expectations of what can be done in cinematic form, it is an instant classic — a tour de force which asks universal questions through comic book characters. For Christians, Dr. Manhattan represents the seeker who questions the existence of God and the meaning of life. His questions are in part answered in the realization that life is a miracle, “gold from air,” unexplained by the processes of nature. When the movie is over, the character that viewers will be most interested in is Dr. Manhattan and his journey to another galaxy, a journey he wouldn’t make if he were just interested in matter.”

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Full disclosure: I haven’t read “My Wicked Wicked Ways,” so I’m taking Errol Flynn at face value in this movie. What he did behind those fake castle walls I don’t know and I don’t want to know.

I faced certain hurdles in reviewing the movie:

1. Erroll Flynn looks like my shrink in his younger days.

2. Sir Guy of Gisbourne is played by Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone). You can tell all through the movie that he knows stuff he isn’t saying; I mean, he’s Holmes, you know, thinking, always thinking… Any minute he’s going to take Robin aside and give him a good talking to.

3. The movie is Ivanhoe with no Ivanhoe. What does this mean? No jousting!! (Actually, the movie was to start with a jousting scene, but it got dropped for budgetary reasons.)

Nonetheless, I am prepared to describe and discuss the film. First thing: it has held up over the years. Made in the first decade of talkies, it’s still fresh (it was the top grosserof 1938). The new Technicolor process is more than fine (Dr. Natalie Calmus was on set to handle all color issues). We should only see color like this today. Second thing: that’s Claude Rains under the bright red wig and blond beard. A corrupt senator in Washington, yes; a police chief in Casablanca, yes; a Nazi, sure; but this? Third thing: Rains is eating a pomegranate in England in the 1100s; but that’s ok; pomegranates are mentioned in the Song of Solomon – I’ve heard that Prester John himself brought pomegranates to Great Britain. I didn’t notice what else was in that fruit bowl – bananas?

The movie begins when an old poacher skewers a big buck. The nobles are about to stretch the poacher’s neck when Robin rides up and saves him. With the nobles gone, Robin, up on his horse, tells the old guy, “Fetch the deer.” This is a 200-pound buck. The old guy would have to drag it by one hoof. Presumably it’s dressed out when Robin carries it in later, nimbly,  and dumps it on Prince John’s table. (The exterior shots are done in the California hills near Chico. The forest doesn’t remind one of England, but it does have big oaks in it and it’s dressed up enough not to seem irredeemably Californian.)

Cut to the banquet hall. The first thing to notice is how clean everybody and everything is. Reminded me of Samuel Goldwyn, who insisted that his sets be clean. When Dead End was being made, and the single set was meant to reflect slum conditions, he kept patrolling it, picking up litter, to the discomfiture of the set dressers. Goldwyn would have loved this movie. Immaculate. But who wears chain mail on their head during dinner?

During his escape, after he finishes spouting off in front of the prince, Robin the dead shot unaccountably puts two in the door frame when he could easily have skewered Rathbone. And this paragraph is my nod to Patric Knowles, who plays Will Scarlett in his red getup. No fighting for him. He carries his lute and he and Robin laugh and jest. Ok, maybe there is a little tension with Will when Robin and Little John get it on with the long staves and knock each other about and end up fast friends, but then Robin and Will are back walking side by side again, big grins on their faces. If only Maid Marion hadn’t shown up.

Maid Marion gets the Casablanca line about how England is bigger than just Saxons and Normans. As someone points out, the Saxons were happy (and grimy), living with their pigs, before the Normans showed up. Or am I thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail? And by the way, no language problems between the two groups in this one.

Forget Korngold’s musical score, especially Robin Hoods’ March. Recycled by Korngold from 1919. But when the trumpets are lifted in a line, with banners hanging from them, and the trumpeters give a blast, do we ever hear the real thing, or is it always the trumpets in the studio orchestra?

[Spoiler] Robin wins the archery tournement. Did they really have those big, multicolored bulls-eye targets back in the 12th century?

Robin and Maid Marian kissing: After all you hear about the Hayes Code, it seems like you’d be lucky to see anybody kiss anybody in the late 30s, but Robin and Marion smootch it up more than once. I like it onscreen with the mouths closed but you could see, when they pulled back from each other dry-lipped, that they were both wondering, Is the audience going to settle for this?

One of Hollywood’s Top 5 swordfights ensues. But Rathbone will be back, with his deerstalker on his head!

Did this movie make me want to go out and nock up an arrow? No. But next time I’m in Chico, I’m going to stop and remember Merrie Olde Englande.

Watchmen (2009)

After I watch a movie, I read some reviews about it to find out whether I liked it or not. A.O. Scott does a nice job on Watchmen, but he tells me that I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did. The gist of his argument seems to be that Zack Snyder brought the 80s graphic novel faithfully to the screen and that this was not a good thing: that the ideas in the book are dated and jejune. Scott’s review is so well-written that I felt ashamed about writing one of mine own, this one in fact, and I put it aside unfinished.

But wait a minute. Of course the ideas in the book are dated. The ideas in Pride and Prejudice are dated. So what? And of course the ideas are the sort that would appeal to a teen reader. Watchmen was born as a series of comic books. A.O., grow down.

But then, I liked “300,” so what do I know?

A.O. also calls out the primary sex scene in the movie as the worst of the year. Evidently A.O. steers clear of 99% of the DVDs on Blockbuster’s shelves. At any rate, what I saw in that scene was an ineffective Snyder attempt to maintain Watchmen’s PG-13 rating, an attempt doomed from the gitgo by the movie’s blue penis.

That blue penis. Over and over before watching the movie I heard about the blue pee pee. I was expecting gratuitous closeups of the prosthesis. I was expecting an azure member of a size worthy of the movie’s only true superhero. What th… The little guy was as unobtrusive in the movie as it was in the book. U.S. society is messed up WRT the phallus. Judd Apatow ran a couple of focus groups while making Funny People, to discover how many dick jokes in the movie would be too many dick jokes. The answer: you can’t have too many. And what is a man’s member a member of anyway?

Like Risselada and some other Spouters, I read Watchmen just before watching it. I like to read a book and then see the movie. If the movie heads off in some wrongheaded direction, I might shake my head philosophically, but my bile is not wont to rise when it happens. A shrug is sufficient. For example, Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet did not do it for me, but I have moved on. I do not brood. Kiera, go back to POTC before Jane Austen comes back from the grave to haunt you. OK, maybe a little brooding eventuated, but hey, Elizabeth Garvie in the role will suffice for me until Pride and Prejudice is remade yet again, which it will be.

In the 60s, I went gaga over Fowles’ The Magus. But then the movie version became my biggest book-to-movie disappointment. On the other hand, I read Robert Parker’s Appaloosa a while back and believe me, Ed Harris is the perfect Virgil Cole in the movie version. Ditto Tom Selleck as Parker’s Jesse Stone. Perhaps a reader who found Watchmen magical in the 80s and then waited twenty years for the movie might have problems with it, though I’m willing to bet that most of those folks – I’ve got no data – loved the movie.

Anyway, I liked Watchmen the movie better than Watchmen the graphic novel. Snyder left out the pirates and other boring stuff and stuck to the main line, getting it all in, or so it seemed to me. Fresh faces in his casting choices, a big plus. I watched the movie in pieces, as if it were a mini-series, so it didn’t seem to run long. And for me, if not for A. O. Scott, adding a collection of 80s tunes to the soundtrack tweaked the experience in a way not possible to a silent book. Even if those tunes have been played to death, which they have been.

There has been conversation about the excessive violence in the movie. Sorry, I must have been distracted by Maggie Gyllenhaal getting blown up in the Dark Knight, and The Joker’s pencil to the eyeball, and Saws I, II, III, IV, and V, and folks checking into hostels never to check out again, whatever, so that I missed the fact that Rorschach in prison got a little extreme. He does splash hot oil in a dude’s face, but see, I just watched Trailer Park of Terror, in which the victim is lowered whole into hot oil like a very large freedom fry. At any rate, Snyder had obviously given up on his PG-13 quest by the time he cut together the prison fight scenes.

Near the end of the book and movie, Dr. Manhattan tells Ozymandias that he’s leaving for a galaxy where things aren’t so complicated. The average galaxy contains 100 billion stars and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe. I’m guessing that one collection of 100 billion stars is pretty much the same as another. Stick to your own galaxy, blue guy! Remember, whereever you go, there you are. And about creating some humans of your own: who do you think you are, God? Fundamentalists are outraged! God is not blue! And if you saw His pee pee…!

For recent urban total destruction, the late scenes in Watchmen are ok (reimagined from the original), but I liked the devastation in “Knowing” better – speaking of freedom fries.

Finally, for your consideration, the beginning and end of the Watchmen review found on “Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.” A reviewer with his feet in the mud and head in the clouds:

“For conservative Christian audiences, the prospect of seeing Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” is a non-starter. There is male frontal nudity (albeit blue and animated); numerous instances of blasphemy; shots of women’s breasts; gory violence; and a nude love-making scene… Watchmen is a long viewing. It is sometimes ponderous, grisly, and confusing, but for those who have read the book and have reasonable expectations of what can be done in cinematic form, it is an instant classic — a tour de force which asks universal questions through comic book characters. For Christians, Dr. Manhattan represents the seeker who questions the existence of God and the meaning of life. His questions are in part answered in the realization that life is a miracle, “gold from air,” unexplained by the processes of nature. When the movie is over, the character that viewers will be most interested in is Dr. Manhattan and his journey to another galaxy, a journey he wouldn’t make if he were just interested in matter.”

Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009)

Why would you even hesitate to obtain this film and fire it up? I’m rooting for the octopus. Aren’t they supposed to have human brains and eyeballs, or something?

This is not some sleazy movie that just uses “vs.” in the title, like “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Here we get the whole “versus.” Note to self: check out “Monkey versus Robot” (1999).

Not a movie about some megashark, but a movie about Mega Shark.

My daughter slathered on a tube of artificial tan before flying to Maui. While she was snorkling there, a playful guide stuck a little octopus on her arm. When she pulled it free, its suckers took away small circles of the fake tan with them. Such is the power of the octopus!

High point of the film, Mega Shark leaps into low clouds to eat a 707. Such is the hunger of the Mega Shark for wing-ed fowl! Do not try this at Marine World. And as the star of the movie said in an interview, “You want to keep it as realistic as possible.”

Lesson of the movie: don’t trust a script by a writer/director named Ace. Question of the movie: why does Jake Perez use the aka Ace Hannah?

A thing that you can learn about cinematography in this movie: watch the scene where the actors stand next to a beached whale that has been chomped up by Mega Shark, or Meggie as I like to call him. Or her. Yeah, the carcass looks like foam rubber kind of tore up, but holy cow, it’s the size of a whale! Now go to bloopers and watch as the actors stand by the whale and a member of the film crew accidentally peeks over from behind the model and you see that it’s situated in the foreground right next to the camera, while the actors are all off down the beach pretending to look up at it. Perspective. Cool.

Most annoying aspect of the movie: the little “Half Moon Bay, California” titles that appear, immediately followed by shots of Malibu and Long Beach. The southern and northern California coasts do not resemble each other. And why not take three steps to the left so that the Queen Mary isn’t visible in the background?

Also, I forgot that bad, low-budget movies often have long, long,… loooonnngggg stretches where nothing happens. Definition of a low-budget movie: everybody takes turns looking in the microscope and gasping, but you don’t ever get to see what they’re looking at.

Whatever else, you can tell that everyone in this movie is just glad to be there. You can see it onscreen, and they say so in the “Making of” short, only it’s hard to hear them because of the traffic in the street they’re standing by while being filmed. My personal favorite moment comes in that short, when Lorenzo Lamas tells us how he likes to die at the end of a movie because that completes the character’s arc, and that he’s about to go in and shoot that death sequence. And then he doesn’t die in the movie. Ace must have changed the script. Lamas appears fresh from “30,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “18 Fingers of Death.” Guy has a thing for strange numbers.

Most fascinating feature of this feature-length feature: Deborah Gibson’s acting. Listen, I am not here to rag on Deborah Gibson or anyone else about MSVGO. I rented it, didn’t I? “Deborah Gibson is a creative force in the entertainment industry who does it all! She has single handedly transcended music and entertainment trends and fads. Deborah stands poised at the top, embarking on the second phase of her hugely successful pop career.” So there. Anyway, the thing is, she acts every moment that she is up on the screen. She’s an acting fool! Her face careers through more different expressions, sometimes relating to the current action, sometimes not, than there may be names with which to identify them. Never mind the movie, it was fun just catching a quick expression on Deborah’s face and trying to figure out what it was in the seconds before it was replaced by another.

Oh, wait. I just realized why Ace pretends that the actors are all up in the San Francisco area. It’s because Meggie has to eat the Golden Gate Bridge! All monsters have to.

Although this might be the first movie wherein the monster is lured to the bridge on purpose – unbeknownst to the Bay-Area residents, many of whom are commuting across the bridge when Meggie, after a minute or two of Jaws-ripoff music, bites it in two.

This film should be on the short list for treatment by the Mystery Science Theater successors, if it hasn’t been done by them already.