Romancing the Stone [1984)

This movie was very dear to me as a kid.

It’s one of those which came on TV all the time.

And it always pulled me in.

For me, nothing in this film beats the scene in which Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas huddle ’round a marijuana campfire in the fuselage of a crashed plane.

Taking strong belts of Jose Cuervo tequila.

Basically sitting in a giant bong 🙂

But the best part–the cutest part…is KT eating olives.

An old jar.  To be sure.

But they last awhile.

And liquor kills all germs, right?

Who cares if the dead pilot took a few swigs long ago 🙂

It’s such a cozy scene.

Perhaps it’s what the Danish mean by hygge.

And it’s an ambiance I’ve only seen approached in Vertigo (Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart by the fireplace in his apartment…after he rescues her from the waters of San Francisco Bay) and, surprisingly, The Pink Panther (David Niven and Claudia Cardinale by the fireplace…Claudia on the tiger-skin rug).

But Romancing the Stone, unlike those two films, is a full-on romcom.

Sure, there’s action…to entice the leery men 🙂

But there’s no denying that this is a romantic comedy.

And so I’m glad to join the ranks of romcom lovers.

Glad to christen a new category on my site with this fine film.

Some of it hasn’t aged so well (like Alan Silvestri’s sequenced electro-samba soundtrack), but most of it has…so kudos to director Robert Zemeckis.

Zach Norman plays a gay villain in such a way that one cannot help thinking of John Podesta.

Danny DeVito, who plays Norman’s cousin, is definitely the funniest thing in this film.

Neither Turner nor Douglas are particularly funny, but they are graceful and charming (respectively).

I would even add that Michael Douglas encapsulates a sort of masculinity which has been on the wane since the 1980s in America…UNTIL DONALD TRUMP WON THE FUCKING PRESIDENCY!

Yeah 🙂

It is trippy.

To watch this movie late at night.

To relive childhood memories.

And then to rouse oneself to one’s feet and think, “Is Donald Trump really the President? Is this not some kind of dream???” 🙂

I know for many it is a nightmare.

So I will just leave that train of thought there.  For now.

Actually, there is a more serious villain in this film:  Manuel Ojeda.

He is certainly a BAD HOMBRE 🙂

[sorry, can’t help it]

So yeah…

The bulk of the action takes place in Colombia.

It’s like William S. Burroughs, in search of yage, writing back to Allen Ginsberg.

Though the narrative becomes evermore-farfetched as it unfurls, it’s so much fun that we don’t much care 🙂

Buried treasure?  Check.

Wrestling crocodiles?  Check.

Mr. Dundee and The Goonies were from this same era 🙂

Alfonso Arau is here too…with his little “mule” 🙂

[I guess, on second thought, that is a drug-smuggling joke]

This was the performance which preceded Mr. Arau’s all-world turn as El Guapo in Three Amigos.

Yeah…the plot really gets ridiculous right after the waterfall 🙂

But this is a feel-good movie!

And we need this kind of stuff.

Sitting down to ENJOY a movie 🙂

What a concept!

 

-PD

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery [1997)

I imagine I’m the only film critic in the world simultaneously engrossed in the oeuvre of Godard and the semi-genre of spy spoofs.

Yet it’s true.

And this film sets a sort of modern standard.

When I first saw this picture it didn’t have the same effect on me which it does now.

The difference?

Total immersion in the James Bond series.

This brings me back to my first statement…stated differently:

How could a person delve into the deepest recesses of French intellectual film and yet appreciate a notoriously shallow succession of pseudo-cinematic pap?

The James Bond franchise succeeded in its early years on sheer will of confidence (expressed in the nonchalant swagger of Sean Connery).

And so for those of us who are drawn to films such as Dr. No like moths to a flame Austin Powers provides just the right measure of fun to mercifully deflate our nonsensical ambitions.

Truth be told, most average citizens (myself included) would make horrible secret agents.  We can’t keep secrets.

We can’t outrun a young assassin.

But we like to dream.

There are always analyst jobs.  Perhaps…

But let’s get on with it…

What makes this film special?

It is that outsider/outcast aspect which plagues Austin “Danger” Powers.

The most poignant (poignant?) touch is Austin in the casino bar flashing a peace sign (V) of naïvete to a tableful of unsympathetic twits.

It should be noted that Mike Myers actually does a formidable job of not only referencing the various minutiae of Bond films but also of evoking the humanism of Chaplin embodied in the closing speech of The Great Dictator.

Put simply, this is a very smart movie.  Don’t let the fart jokes fool you.

Sure…some aspects of this film have not aged so well, but it was made in a spirit of fun.

Did this opening installment in the franchise pander to the mediocre intelligence of American movie-going audiences?

Of course.

But hey…that spirit has powered (no pun intended) some of the great films of all time.

What Austin Powers brought to the world was really a reawakening of the American comedy zeitgeist from the 1980s.

Think of those great, enjoyable films like The Three Amigos (and especially Spies Like Us), Trading Places, the National Lampoon movies, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…  I don’t care what anyone says:  those were great movies!

Those are the films I grew up on.  Airplane, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure…heck, even Romancing the Stone pulled me in every time it came on TV.

Director Jay Roach did a really nice job of providing that enjoyable experience with this film.  We all need some laughs.

Life is too hard; too sad.  Too serious!

But Austin Powers is most of all the gold standard of Bond spoofs.  When you can’t watch Goldfinger for the umpteenth time, give yourself a break with this film.

It will feel like a masterpiece.  We all need a funhouse mirror in which to see our own reflection and laugh.

There’s no shame in that 🙂

-PD

For Your Eyes Only [1981)

This is where it gets good again.  After the misery of Moonraker, leave it to a guy named John Glen to rescue the series from ineptitude.  Like a master astronaut compared to Lewis Gilbert, Glen’s directorial debut in the series was auspicious enough to grant him the chair for four more films.

The MacGuffin (the ATAC machine…a missile command system) bears a striking resemblance to a Boss DR-880 drum machine.  When I was a boy this was a film I saw numerous times on TV.  It may, in fact, be the first Bond film I ever saw.

Credit the props department or perhaps wardrobe for the iconic octagonal glasses of the transient villain Locque.  While not as obviously creepy as Blofeld (seen in the intro where he meets his demise at the bottom of a smokestack), Locque’s silent presence is a unifying element for a series which had recently lacked imagination.  His nickname “The Dove” is said to be, “a sick joke.”  In short, he is a complex if not central character.

For once in the series, Bond turns down the affections of a beautiful young woman (ostensibly because she is too young).  Bibi Dahl also perhaps makes it too easy for our Don Juan superspy.

The underwater recovery of the ATAC is the closest thing to a true hint of return to the glory of Thunderball the series had captured in a long time.  It is a genuinely engaging scene and makes us realize just how far astray the franchise had gone.  Even the escape from the keelhauling is convincing and ingenious.  Glen distinguishes himself as a careful director in the Hitchcock tradition (attention to detail)…a far cry from his predecessor Gilbert.

The climb up the cliff face to St. Cyril’s monastery is riveting.  I remember this scene palpably from my youth.  The stress on the climbing tools…the rope…the hooks and hammers.  Bond’s recovery (with aid from his copious shoestrings) is really a nifty trick.

Carole Bouquet is mysteriously beautiful (and deadly with a crossbow) as Melina Havelock.  She is such a step up from previous Bond girl Lois Chiles.  Chaim Topol (credited as merely Topol) is really a great, great supporting actor in this film.  I mistook him for Alfonso Arau from Romancing the Stone (another great 80s film).

Michael Gothard was very well-cast as Locque.  Walter Gotell is brilliant as always as General Gogol.  We see a bit more of him in this film as the Reagan era of the Cold War was beginning its deep freeze.

The final touch of having Bond wired through to Prime Minister Thatcher is hilarious.  Janet Brown does an impeccable impersonation.  Bernard Lee (M) had passed on before he could film his scenes and this seems like a good time to honor the memory of a fine actor.  Thank you Mr. Lee.

Further recommended viewing is That Obscure Object of Desire (directed by Luis Buñuel)…that is, if you can’t get enough Carole Bouquet.

That Bond goes from driving a Lotus to a Citroën 2CV is emblematic of a film which hits all the right buttons both high and low.  Fans of The Pink Panther (1963) might recognize the location shoot of Cortina D’Ampezzo.  The greatest cheese factor comes at the outset with the song by Sheena Easton.  It really does get better from there.  Happy viewing!

 

-PD