Kanał [1956)

I feel like this film.

Every day.

But it might as well be today.

Trudging through excrement.

There is no kindly way to put it.

War.

I do not know.

Resistance.

I do.

Give me that wedding ring.

No thing of value will perish with you.

It is hard to keep your thoughts clear in a sewer.

Surely lighting a match is unadvisable.

But we only know the Merry Christmas war.

Shitter’s full.

The miserables.

Henry Miller may have imagined it too late.

As Robert Schumann said, you must only think of a melody and write it down.

Or remember a melody that no one else has remembered.

I don’t know.

It’s hard to think down here.

With these fumes.

Starved for oxygen.

But we have a real story.

Teresa Iżewska is all but forgotten in the English-speaking world.

What a shame.

Because she conjures a dying palliative.

Don’t open your eyes, Saul.

Let me describe it to you.

There is a Bechstein piano with the left front leg missing.

Kissing the ground.

And the composer goes to work.

The focal point of our story.

Władysław Sheybal or Vladek Sheybal.

He brings the movie to life along with director Andrzej Wajda.

Yes, I fell in love with Polish films because of Popiół i diament.

And now we come to Kanał.

The sewer.  Sewers.  Dante.  Hell.

“Piano music should only be written for the Bechstein.”  –Claude Debussy

But did he say it in English?

Surely not Polish.

And so we celebrate our heroes now in our resistance.

Andreas von Bülow, for instance.

And we turn our ear to the acoustics of this torture chamber.

Thanks to Hans von Bülow.

You probably know Sheybal (if at all) as Kronsteen of From Russia with Love.

Yes, the early Bond films had credibility.  Class.

Goldfinger employed Gert Fröbe (whom I should have mentioned for his small-yet-comedic role in Mr. Arkadin).

And now we still have great actors in the Bond films…Daniel Craig (yes, I believe he’s truly special), Jesper Christensen (an acting god!), Ralph Fiennes (another holy)…even Ben Whishaw when he doesn’t have shite lines.

And who doesn’t love Léa Seydoux?

But to this formidable ensemble was added the raw sewage/faux talent of Christoph Waltz.

Likewise, John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth…these four fell far short of the mark in Spectre that Jerzy Stefan Stawiński set with Kanał.

I mention Spectre because I have been reconsidering my harsh review of it.

But, dear friends, much of my revulsion concerning Spectre remains (even after a second viewing).

On the other hand, a film literally steeped in shit (Kanał) has stood the test of time for 60 years.

ATTN:  James Bond franchise (Eon Productions), Hollywood, et al.

Stop stopping at Hitchcock.

Sam Mendes.

Your rips of The Birds and North by Northwest did not go unnoticed.

But why not delve deeper into film history?

Wanna help bring down the surveillance panopticon?

Gonna have to try a lot harder than that.

The façade won’t crumble with half-assed efforts.

Start here, perhaps.

 

-PD

 

 

Spectre [2015)

There’s a moment in this film when a character says “shoot” instead of “shit”.  It is the linchpin of the film.  What follows is the strangest cut in James Bond history since Roger Moore abruptly went gaucho in Moonraker.  But what we cut to is perhaps the first truly vicious, self-inflicted attack of self-parody the James Bond franchise has ever experienced.  Yes, self-parody.  Vicious.  Like a postmodern vomit of confetti.  This whole film.  But mainly starting at the amorous activities which follow the word “shoot”.

Derrida would find his hinge for deconstruction at “shoot”.  As if the film could not bear one more mild expletive and still retain its PG-13 rating.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

A series notorious for running low on creativity must have been thrilled to have the intellectual property rights to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. following the death of Kevin McClory.  It was not just the death of McClory which allowed the franchise to resurrect its proto-NWO, but also the acquisition by MGM and Danjac LLC of McClory’s estate in late 2013.

And so things must have looked rosy for Eon Productions.

Sadly, they made a few blunders.

Those blunders became the ramshackle, mutilated would-be masterpiece Spectre.

And so just what were these mistakes?

My guess is that many of them occurred behind closed doors.

There are moments in this film at which a film school freshman could have done a better job reeling in the mise-en-scène than did Sam Mendes.  But there’s a problem with that equation.  Sam Mendes is not that bad a director.  NO ONE wielding a nine-figure budget is that bad a director.  And so chalk another crappy movie up to the real villains:  MGM and Colombia Pictures.  Credit Eon Productions likewise with rubberstamping this high-school-science-fair of a picture.

But we can’t let Mendes off that easily.  I hope it was a good payday (again) Sam, because this film is generally a piece of shit.

HOWEVER…there are moments of what could have been.  If the executives had kept their noses (and asses) out of the production process, this could have been a homerun.

Christopher Waltz is good when approached with Hitchcockean framing.  As a silhouette.  You can feel Mendes reaching for Mulholland Dr.  But as per the Sony hacks, eventually you have to show the guy (or do you?).  Suffice it to say that Mr. Waltz is the least-scary Bond villain ever and barely more creepy than Jar Jar Binks.

And so it becomes obvious that cost cutting has its downside.  Who was the other bloke they were going to get for the villain?  Who cares.  Waltz sucks royally.  And yet, he is more competent as an actor than the film is solid in structural integrity.

As a whole, Spectre is a disaster which should never have made it out the door of the dream factory.  Anyone with an artistic bone in their body could have “fixed” this film.  Mendes was apparently not allowed to actually direct.

Fix number one would have been cutting an hour’s worth of superfluous meh.  I mean, really godawful, expensive, explosive meh.  Jesus…this film didn’t need to try and compete with Spiderman or whatever the superhero flavor of the week is.

The writers (God, the writers…) of this film are not worth their weight in rancid butter.  I heard rumors that the dialogue was bad.  Truth is, it is dry-heave bad…but mainly near the end of the film (the last quarter).

Next time, spend $200 mil. on a single, competent writer (Pynchon perhaps) and <$1 mil. on stunts and CGI.  This film experiences a leveraged shite effect throughout.  Oh, by the way…the opening scene in Mexico City is probably the weakest part of the film.  I would rather see Daniel Craig take a moist crap on a silver platter.

But let’s be fair…

This film tried.  It had grand aspirations.  SPECTRE…yes, bringing it all back home.  Establishing credibility from New World Order to Snowden.  Awesome.  Well-done in that regard.

As for the execution…for fuck’s sake.

I’d rather have a clumsily-performed lobotomy than watch this film again any time soon.

The biggest upside of the film is Léa Seydoux.  Ok, so casting got one thing right.  It almost makes up for Christopher “The Last” Waltz.

There are very important themes addressed in this film.  This could have been a light for liberty.  Someone sabotaged it.  Find that corporate person and you have found the real head of the real SPECTRE.

-PD

Skyfall [2012)

If you wait too long, you lose the impression.

I was way behind on trying to support my compatriots.  It is not necessary to agree.  What I champion is freedom of expression.

And so we try to remember the mood…the efficacy of cinema in the hands of Sam Mendes.

Perhaps the first “real” director to approach the Bond franchise after having had success beforehand.

Mendes will always have a place in my heart for his deft touch directing Thora Birch in American Beauty.

Fortunately we can look forward to a second contribution in the forthcoming Bond film Spectre.

But for now we have this.

What of it?

I should dispense with self-congratulatory pomp at this time rather than let it distract me.

Yes, I have now seen all of the Bond films from Eon Productions.  You can access the reviews of all 23 pictures here on my site by clicking the Bond tab.

Now that we have that out of the way…

The first glaring bit of strategic signaling occurs when we learn that our MacGuffin is a hard drive.

Of course, it’s what’s on the hard drive which makes this worth mentioning.

NATO agents embedded in terrorist groups.

For anyone with a knowledge of Operation Gladio this brings up a troubling association.

To wit:  the possibility that the organizations are controlled by NATO for cynical purposes.

This was, and continues to be, a fundamental aspect of geopolitics.  False-flag terror.

Perhaps Mendes (or the writers of the film) knowingly left this bread crumb to add a quasi-credibility to what has often become a propagandistic series for the power elite.

Whatever the case may be, the opening sequence is generally good.

Let’s face it:  it’s getting harder and harder after 23 films to have James Bond do something novel.

His seeming demise before the credits roll make us think of that horribly daft episode from the Connery days:

You Only Live Twice.

Ralph Fiennes is unlikable from the start, but we learn why as the film progresses.

Mendes does a nice job of faking us out on several occasions.  We even suspect Bond as a terrorist briefly.

Another breadcrumb:  the depleted uranium bullet fragments from Bond’s shoulder.

With this we are brought back to that stain upon U.S. military operations over the past 15 years.

Keeping in mind the research of Doug Rokke, we might again be seeing an attempt by the Bond franchise to relate with an increasingly informed viewer base.

Think on your sins?

Well, all cinematic sins are forgiven once director Mendes has occasion to mold and shape the lights of high-rise Shanghai into a sci-fi backdrop for good old fashion ass kicking.

Modigliani.

We are meant to associate the extra-terrestrial eyes with Bérénice Marlohe.  Like the grey-eyed goddess Athena, we will later meet her in the shower (ohh-la-la!).

When all else fails in a film, have the location shift to Macau.

Indeed, the best dialogue comes between Daniel Craig and Mlle. Marlohe at the casino bar.  It reminds us of that fleeting bit of verbal mastery aboard the train in Casino Royale when Craig and Eva Green took turns sizing each other up.

Enter Javier Bardem.

Bardem is certainly among the most convincing villains in the entire Bond pantheon.  Something about that bleached-blond hair gives us a creepy feeling every time his character Raoul Silva is shown.

Bardem’s acting, particularly around the time of his character’s first appearance, is world-class.

Ben Whishaw does a fine job as the new Q (though we miss John Cleese and, of course, Desmond Llewelyn).

Credit Sam Mendes with a deft portrayal of the battle between old ways and new.

New is exemplified by the new Q:  cyber-reliance.

Old is exemplified by the crusty James Bond:  HUMINT.

This film almost telegraphs the Zeitgeist which would spawn Edward Snowden as global hero, but it casts such genius (>145 IQ) as the enemy in Bardem’s character.

[As a side note, I should like to add that Snowden’s story would have to be most ingenious cover ever if found to be inauthentic.  Such iron-clad credibility no doubt came at a steep price for the NSA (see PRISM).  Though farfetched, one never knows to what lengths the Western national security state will go next to try and salvage its tenuous hold on global hegemony.  All things considered, his defection to the public side (in the interest of the general public) seems to be authentic and highly admirable.]

Skyfall becomes less successful when Bardem has Hannibal Lecter lighting cast upon him during the glass-cage treatment later in this film.  This is an unimaginative bit of filmmaking beneath the level of director Mendes.

As trivial as it may seem, Mendes later redeems himself with a simple shot of approaching figures reflected in the chrome of a side-view mirror.   It doesn’t hurt that the mirror in question is attached to an Aston Martin DB5.

Overall, the successes of this film should rightly be attributed to Sam Mendes.  That said, this is not a masterpiece.  It is a very good, yet flawed, film.

Here’s hoping Mendes knocks it out of the park with Spectre.  Cheerio!

-PD

The Revenge of the Pink Panther [1978)

It all starts to blur together.  After the masterful return to form in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, this film fails to distinguish itself from the series.  There are some amazing moments.  True.  But perhaps it would have behooved the creators to have set the entire film in Hong Kong rather than merely the last portion.

The saving grace of the Bond series from Eon Productions is that, though formulaic, one can differentiate one film from another (more or less) by the location shooting.  The original Pink Panther movie boded well for just such expectations by having Clouseau go off to Cortina d’Ampezzo for a postcard background.  When one thinks of Bond, we can picture Jamaica (Dr. No), Turkey (From Russia With Love), Japan (You Only Live Twice) and Switzerland (particularly On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but also Goldfinger) to name just a few.  Such differentiation was sorely lacking in this parallel string of sequels.

Back to the film at hand:  it is not at all bad.  It just becomes difficult to tell it apart from the preceding four installments (not including 1968’s Inspector Clouseau which featured Alan Arkin rather than Sellers).  [I suppose Arkin is the Lazenby of this franchise.]

There are some nuggets in this film–some “set pieces” which make it wonderful viewing in spite of its meta-laziness.  When Sellers manages to kill Ed Parker…that’s surely a laugher.  But what follows is even better.  As Clouseau has the floor sawn from beneath him, we once again enter a surreal world of Sellers vs. Kwouk (which Blake Edwards had begun to capture ever more rivetingly in the preceding two films).  Sellers ends up largely covered in blue paint (which also splatters on the walls of the apartment beneath his…a half-finished renovation) and the whole thing begs the question as to whether Sellers and the creators of this film were versed in the history of Yves Klein.  Klein, of course, in addition to “patenting” a particular shade of blue (International Klein Blue) was also a martial arts enthusiast (becoming a master of judo at age 25).  And.  He was, of course, thoroughly French.

Dyan Cannon looked lovely in this film and the scene with Sellers by the fireplace is both charming and hilarious (in a Samuel Beckett sort of way).  Sellers as Godfather Scallini presages the Austin Powers “fat suit” antics of Mike Myers.  Finally, the medal presentation at the end of the film is befitting for the aging Sellers:  a grand exit from the series proper.  [One last trio of antics…the faulty sword, the pigeon on his gendarme casque, and the thorough unraveling of the French president’s necktie.]

Graham Stark is excellent in yet a third separate role (over the course of the series) as Auguste Balls.  Special notice should also be given to André Maranne who was an iconic face and personality throughout the franchise’s run.

Sellers contributed a magnificent archetype to cinema with his storied presentation of the Clouseau character over the course of these many films.  He is, and always will be, (notwithstanding Casino Royale) the anti-Bond.  Farewell sweet soul.

 

-PD

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969)

Lazenby.

Not Connery.  Not Moore.

After the bloated disaster of You Only Live Twice, my expectations were not very high.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This is perhaps the best Bond movie up to this point in the series.  I know it is blasphemy to say so.  I love Connery.  I adore Moore.  The achievement in question is perhaps best attributed to the director (new to the series in this capacity):  Peter Hunt.

Telly Savalas is masterful as the cat-petting Blofeld.  He adds a depth to the character which was missing in the previous depiction by Donald Pleasence.  It is interesting to note the similarities of Blofeld’s allergy institute (a cover for brainwashing) to the CIA’s dirty program Project MKUltra which was headed by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb.  The ghastly “research” was administrated from 1953 onwards by Dr. Gottlieb.  Blofeld’s methods in this film bear a striking resemblance to those of MKUltra’s head experimenter Dr. Ewen Cameron.  The world can thank CIA agent William Francis Buckley (“Bill”, but not the one of which you’re probably thinking) for blowing the whistle on this dark, dark period in CIA misadventure.  Buckley observed the deplorable results in Montreal at McGill University.

But back to fun stuff 🙂  High-speed chases!  The Bond series from Eon Productions redeems itself with a great ski chase down Piz Gloria (atop which is Blofeld’s “clinic”).  While not as epic as the underwater battle in Thunderball, it is much more entertaining that the autogyro sequence in You Only Live Twice.

I really must compliment Lazenby.  His was no easy task.  It was the right decision for him to not speak in an affected Scottish accent after Connery.  Lazenby could have been a great long-term Bond.  Thankfully he contributed this one fine performance to the annals.

Peter Hunt is to be equally (if not more so) congratulated.  This was a unique ending for a Bond movie.  It was handled deftly and had just the right amount of suspense to keep the incredulous at bay.  I’m speaking of course about 007 getting married.  You’ll have to see it for yourself to find out just how Eon Productions managed to finagle a continuance of the series after this “blow” to the womanizing lead character.  Of course, in today’s world marriage wouldn’t be a hindrance at all in a similar dramatic case.

This film is really an odd duck, but it should stand as an example for the series.  It is a bit humorous to hear John Barry give the famous 007 guitar line to a harpsichord in the opening credits.  The effect is similar to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”  Louis Armstrong even sings a song especially recorded for this film!  He was near the end of his life and it is as touching as Billie Holiday’s album Lady In Satin.  Armstrong never recorded another song (dying two years later from a heart attack).

 

-PD