Monday, October 18, 2021

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Classic Horror Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a classic horror film (they're all pre-1960 so that should help) and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. I Screamed When I Saw My Groom!

2. Silver Wolf Cane and Wolfbane.

3. The Return of Maleva.

4. Dracula Is Alive and Well and Living in Louisiana.

5. The Hairy Adventures of Little Joe.

6. Andoheb and the Tana Leaves.

7. Quest for Wilbur's Brain.

8. Look, He's All Eaten Away!

9. Amy and Her Friend.

10. Blood Under the Door.

11. A Man Called Gill.

12. Jane Eyre of the Caribbean.

13. Christine Takes Singing Lessons.

14. Don't Pic the Mariphasa Flowers!

15. The House of Pain.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Ranking All 25 James Bond Films from Best to Worst

Sean Connery as the movies' first 007.
I originally ranked the first 22 James Bond films back in 2008. After recently watching No Time to Die, I thought it'd be interesting to review my list and update it to include all 25 Bond movies. Surprisingly, my rankings stayed much pretty the same. The two biggest movers were License to Kill and Quantum of Solace, two offbeat series entries which have improved with age. In the list below, the hyperlinks lead to in-depth film reviews by former Café staff writer Sarkoffagus. His assessment of a movie may not always be consistent with mine.

1. Goldfinger (1964) – The ultimate 007 film: terrific pre-title sequence, memorable song, worthy adversaries (Goldfinger and Oddjob), strong women, fun gadgets, clever plot, right mix of humor and action, Shirley Bassey's booming vovals on the title track, and Connery in peak form. Need I say more?

Roger Moore in Spy.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – As a fan of The Saint TV series, I thought Roger Moore would be an ideal Bond. But his first two entries had me re-evaluating that assessment; fortunately, this one restored my faith in Roger. He seems incredibly comfortable in the role for the first time. The film also benefits from lush scenery, the most famous henchman of the series, a great Carly Simon song, and Caroline Munro & Barbara Bach (did she ever make another decent film?). I only wish Stromberg was a more compelling villain.

3. From Russia With Love (1963) – Connery’s second-best entry features the meatiest plot of any Bond film. It introduces the trademark gadgets with 007’s versatile attaché case. Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw (in freaky white hair) score as the villains. The close quarters fight on the train between Bond and Shaw’s henchman is one of the best in the series.

Lazenzy in his solo series entry.
4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – OK, so George Lazenby made a pretty bland Bond. The rest of the film more than compensates for the lack of a dynamic lead. We get Diana Riggs (truly worthy of being Mrs. Bond), a snowy mountaintop headquarters for Blofeld, and some of the most memorable action sequences in the whole series.  Director Peter Hunt, a former editor, was far ahead of his time with his quick-cutting fight scenes. I love the John Barry title theme, but am not a fan of the closing song warbled by Louis Armstrong. Composer John Barry loved it, though, and the song resurfaces in No Time to Die.

5. Casino Royale (2006) – Daniel Craig's first 007 outing remains his best. It’s a muscular Bond film in every way. I even think the poker game—often criticized as the lull point in the film—is exciting. The torture scene goes on too long, but that’s my only qualm. Eva Green easily convinces us why Bond is smitten with Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre is a worthy 007 adversary. Craig brought an edge to 007 that had been missing since Goldfinger (except perhaps for a brief flare-up in Licence to Kill).

Dalton was growing in the role.
6. Licence to Kill (1989) – It took me several years to warm up to this one. It’s basically a revenge tale and that’s what disappointed me at first. But I later came to appreciate its uniqueness from other Bond films. It’s too bad Timothy Dalton didn’t appear as 007 again. Like Roger Moore before him, I think Dalton was growing into the role and might have had a breakout with his third film. The title song, sung by Gladys Knight, is an underrated gem.

7. The World Is Not Enough (1999) – All right, Denise Richards wasn’t convincing as a physicist and is saddled with the worst name of any Bond character (Christmas Jones, really?). However, we still get Pierce Brosnan in his best 007 outing, along with a great plot twist, a breathtaking pre-title sequence, and strong performances from everyone not named Denise.

Craig as the "blonde Bond."
8. Skyfall (2012) – Daniel Craig’s second Bond film delves deeply into the complex relationship between 007 and M (Judi Dench). That, along with a nail-biting chase through the London Underground, elevate Skyfall into the top third of the Bond filmography. It would rank even higher if it didn't dip into self-importance and borrow Bond’s last stand climax from The Bourne Identity (2002). Adele’s title song is one of the better later themes.

9. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – This was a pivotal entry because it righted the ship after Moonraker steered the series too far into comedy. It’s almost too low-key compared to others, but that works in its favor. Carole Bouquet, Topol, and Julian Glover boost this outing with convincing performances (although former ice-skater Lynn-Holly Johnson is a distraction).

10. Thunderball (1965) – It features most of the virtues of Goldfinger, but has too much of each of them. For me, it verges on being over-the-top, but that’s not to say it isn’t a lot of fun (especially Luciana Paluzzi who steals the film from pretty, but dull heroine Claudine Auger). The underwater climax should be exciting, but everyone moves slower in the water!

Ursula Andress in Dr. No.
11. Dr. No (1962) – The series’ first entry is enjoyable from a historical perspective. It takes awhile to really get going, but Joseph Wiseman sets the standard for Bond villains and Ursula Andress makes the most memorable entrance of any Bond heroine (so much so that Halle Berry pays homage to it in Die Another Day).

12. Octopussy (1983) – This solid outing benefits from Maud Adams in the title role (in her second 007 film) and more screen time for Q. The circus setting near the climax is certainly unusual, but who wants to see James Bond in clown make-up? John Barry’s “All Time High” is easiest his weakest title song.

Pierce Brosnan.
13. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – It initially works in fits and starts, but finally gains momentum once Michelle Yeoh’s character gets paired with Bond. Their action scenes are dynamite and their chemistry keeps the plot perking along.

14. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) – This entry is a hodgepodge that balances Britt Ekland’s bubble-headed heroine and the unnecessary return of Clifton James’ J.W. Pepper with Christopher Lee’s delightful turn as the high-paid assassin Scaramanga and Lulu's blistering version of the title song. I probably rate it higher than most people—but the bottom line, for me, is that it’s consistently entertaining.

Charles Gray as Blofeld.
15. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Connery’s much-publicized return after a one-film absence results in a lightweight affair where everyone seems to be having a grand time. Charles Gray steals the film as Blofeld, but, in all honesty, the supporting characters are the attraction here. Who can forget Bond fighting Bambi and Thumper and the amusing dialogue exchanges between henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd?

16. Quantum of Solace (2008) – It’s a grim, violent revenge picture from start to finish. It’s imperative that you watch it immediately after Casino Royale, because that film establishes the motivations for Bond’s actions. The first time I saw it, I was unimpressed. However, it has improved with subsequent viewings, likely because I watched it and Casino Royale back-to-back. I also like that it’s efficient action film (the shortest running time in the series) and Bond’s relationship with the heroine is all business. 

17. No Time to Die (2021) – This fitting conclusion to Daniel Craig’s five Bond pictures starts off promisingly with two gripping pre-title sequences. Once the dust settles, it focuses on Bond trying to find his place in the world as he comes out of retirement to help CIA friend Felix Leiter. Much time is spent on the relationship between Bond and his one-time love Madeleine—who harbors two big secrets. There are some fine set pieces and several delightful homages to previous 007 films. However, Craig and lead actress Léa Seydoux lack chemistry and Rami Malek’s weak villain seems to be channeling Peter Lorre…in a bad way.

Donald Pleasance as the best Blofeld.
18. You Only Live Twice (1967) – Donald Pleasance gets high marks as the series’ best Blofeld and his volcano headquarters (courtesy of set designer Ken Adam) is ingenious. On the downside, Connery looks tired and the climax is a letdown.

19. GoldenEye (1995) – This lackluster debut for Pierce Brosnan has its fans and was a big hit.  However, it feels like a mash-up of previous Bond films. Its highlights are Brosnan, who brought some panache in his 007 interpretation, and Sean Bean as the villain, a former MI6 agent bent on revenge. Incidentally, the GoldenEye video game is famous in its own right and is a personal favorite.

Judi Dench as M.
20. Spectre (2015) – Its first half is full of promise as a posthumous message from M sends James on a mission to expose a mysterious criminal organization. Unfortunately, the second half collapses under its own weight with the revelation that Bond’s evil foster brother is behind every bad thing in 007’s life. It’s a shame because Christoph Waltz is an excellent modern-day Blofeld and the story didn’t need to connect him to Bond.

21. Live and Let Die (1973) – I remember Roger Moore being interviewed when this came out and commenting that Bond films consisted solely of connected chase scenes. Well, the best ones do have a plot! But Live and Let Die has minimal plot and indeed features a ton of chase scenes, most of which are silly (Sheriff J.W. Pepper did not belong in a 007 film!). Yaphet Kotto makes a memorable villain, but needs more to do.

Richard Kiel as Jaws.
22. Moonraker (1979) – I first saw this film at wonderful time in my life and that probably shades my assessment (otherwise, it might be ranked lower). There’s little to recommend it: it’s too spoofy (e.g., the silly use of The Magnificent Seven theme) and it transforms Jaws from bad guy to good guy…with a love interest no less.

23. The Living Daylights (1987) – One of my nephews likes this one and says I need to see it again. I recall it being an uninspired affair except for Dalton, who brought some energy back to the role.

24. A View to a Kill (1985) – It’s hard to decide what’s worse: Christopher Walken’s incredibly campy villain, Tanya Roberts’ non-performance as the heroine, or the fact that Roger Moore seems to be walking through his role. On the plus side, John Barry and Duran Duran collaborated to compose one of the best James Bond title songs--and the only one to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

25. Die Another Day (2002) – An invisible car? A female spy that’s the equal of Bond? Madonna as a fencing master? These are indications that the producers and writers had run out of ideas and ingenuity. The decision to reboot the franchise with Craig? Excellent!

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Moon-Spinners: A Disney Film With a Touch of Hitchcock

Hayley Mills as Nikky.
What do you get when you cross an Alfred Hitchcock suspense film with a Disney movie? The answer is something like The Moon-Spinners (1965), an attempt to transition 17-year-old Hayley Mills to more grown-up roles.

The Moon-Spinners opens with musicologist Fran Ferris (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Nikky arriving on the island of Crete. Despite telegraphing ahead to reserve a room, they are initially turned away by The Moon-Spinners Inn. The inn's owner (Irene Pappas) and, more emphatically, her brother Stratos (Eli Wallach) don't want strangers snooping around. However, when a young lad intercedes on behalf of the visitors, they are allowed to stay for a night.

Nikky becomes infatuated with a handsome stranger named Mark (Peter McEnery), who seems to be keeping a watchful eye on Stratos. Later that night, Mark is shot while spying on Stratos and his crony at the Bay of Dolphins. Nikky discovers a wounded Mark in an empty church the next day and agrees to help him--even though he refuses to tell her what he's really doing on the island.

The windmill where Nikky is captive.
It's a familiar Hitchcock plot: a normal person encounters a stranger and gets involved in a tangled adventure with mysterious people (see The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent). Alas, although loosely based on a Mary Stewart novel, The Moon-Spinners' resemblance to a Hitchcock picture ends with the premise. At a length of almost two hours, it moves sluggishly against its colorful backdrop and struggles to manufacture suspense. Indeed, the only scene that generates any legitimate thrills is when Nikky has to escape from a windmill by grabbing hold of one of the arms.

John Le Mesurier.
Eli Wallach makes for a menacing villain, but also a surprisingly tedious one. It's a shame as we know from The Magnificent Seven that he can play a wonderfully despicable baddie. Fortunately, Wallach gets some help in the villain department from John Le Mesurier, who is introduced late in the film as Stratos' boss. His suave English gentleman remains remarkably calm while dealing with his second-rate henchman and his own wife (a delightful Sheila Hancock), whose propensity for liquor results in talking too much.

One wishes that The Moon-Spinners had made better use of Joan Greenwood, Irene Pappas, and former silent film star Pola Negri. These fine actresses are limited to a handful of scenes, though Negri appears to be having fun as an eccentric heiress with a pet cheetah and a penchant for rare jewels.

Hayley Mills never seems to find the right tone as the teenage heroine; her character comes across as too juvenile. Additionally, she and Peter McEnery have little rapport. When he finally kisses her--Hayley's first on-screen smooch!--it comes across as very chaste. Mills followed up The Moon-Spinners with an excellent performance in The Chalk Garden (1964) and later starred in The Trouble With Angels (1966), one of her most beloved films. The handsome McEnery's film career petered out by the end of the decade despite a promising performance in the earlier Victim (1961) and a starring role in Disney's The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966).