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

Our Man Flint [1966)

Derek Flint, the superspy with four girlfriends who picks up a fifth during the course of this film, has the most interesting bed in film history.  In many ways, he’s infinitely more interesting than James Bond.  Of course it’s all a joke, right?  Well, sort of.  It’s not actually that much more far-fetched than the Bond series.  In fact, we simply have a superspy whose life makes explicit everything inferred by the exciting Mr. Bond.  To be sure, there is not much inferred in the Bond series (save sexual inferences).

Director Daniel Mann had helmed BUtterfield 8 in 1960 which starred Elizabeth Taylor.  His filmography otherwise is not really a stunning list to read, but his direction here is fine indeed.  He gets a lot of help from his lead star James Coburn.  In 1960 Coburn was one of The Magnificent Seven.  Coburn was a very capable actor (as evinced in the little-known Blake Edwards film The Carey Treatment).

But yes, this is a spy spoof in the strictest sense.  Instead of S.P.E.C.T.R.E., we get Z.O.W.I.E. (or, actually, for the bad guys, Galaxy).  Funny that an organization wielding power through controlling worldwide weather should make its first assassination attempt on our hero by using a harp (or is it a HAARP?).

The whole bouillabaisse section is infinitely hilarious.  Like a monk through extreme concentration, Flint also places himself in suspended animation twice during the film.  The second time he does so to play dead (quite successfully) which allows for his escape once his watch tickles him back to consciousness.  Flint knows every trick in the book…from Shaolin to spetsnaz.

Gila Golan is excellent as (you guessed it) Gila.

The presidential ringtone (3 x 5) is a catchy, kitsch motif throughout the whole production.  The music in general (by Jerry Goldsmith) is excellent.

If you like James Bond films, you probably have a sense of humor.  If you can stomach the scattershot Casino Royale (1967), this will seem like the greatest film ever made.  It really is a joyful little classic.

 

-PD

 

The Pink Panther Strikes Again [1976)

This is a brilliant film. And though I doubt the Quasimodo disguise kit which Clouseau just happened to have on hand prior to learning of Dreyfus’ escape was spun-off into a product tie-in, it should have been.

The problem with the prior film (The Return of the Pink Panther) is remedied here in spades with liberal experimentation. Having Dreyfus form a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-like crime organization is as ingenious as it is utterly ridiculous. Students of German cinema may be left wondering whether Professor Fassbender is actually a reference to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. No matter: the joy of this film is how little it takes itself seriously.

Clouseau once again is buoyed by his charmed existence: like Charlie Chaplin meets Forrest Gump. The world’s top assassins (assigned to kill our beloved Inspector) are no match for Clouseau’s fateful luck–stumbling over each other like a bunch of amateurs in his wake–and he is none-the-wiser (being both detached and oblivious).  Peter Sellers was pure nitrous oxide when he was at his best. His visual humor has been near-unparalleled in the history of cinema. His performance in this film ranks with The Party as among his best.

Awkward men everywhere can exult in the clumsy attempt Clouseau makes near the end of the movie to simply get undressed (similar to his misadventures with Capucine in the original installment of the series).

Director Blake Edwards expanded on the “psychedelic” touches of The Return of the Pink Panther by having more outrageous slow-motion scream-groans in the primary karate skirmish between Cato and Clouseau. It is a truly masterful instance of surrealism.

In short, it is a viewing experience not to be missed. This is your dossier.

-PD