The Road To Spectre: Lazenby's Early Exit, Connery's Return (1969-1971)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'Whilst Lazenby as the lead is undoubtedly a key issue, to lay all of On Her Majesty's Secret Service's problems directly at his feet is entirely unfair'.

The films that marked the Bond franchise's transition from the 1960s to the 1970s saw the first genuine period of uncertainty, perhaps even crisis, for both the series and its future. Sean Connery's desire to leave the role of 007 had germinated following Goldfinger, growing during Thunderball and You Only Live Twice to the point where he was reportedly not speaking to series producer Albert Broccoli whilst making the fifth film. Connery's exit meant a new actor playing Bond on the big screen for the first time, with the part ultimately going to George Lazenby, a choice roundly criticized upon his debut in the role in 1969.

Unfortunately, time has done little to improve Lazenby's brief tenure in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Whilst never terrible, Lazenby simply fails to imbue his version of the secret agent with the same swagger and charisma Connery had embodied from Dr. No onwards. To be fair, Lazenby is far more convincing during the action and fight scenes, with the extended ski chase sequences during the final act some of the film's most enjoyable of all. Unfortunately however, as the longest Bond film yet (a title it would hold onto until the Daniel Craig era), On Her Majesty's Secret Service has some serious pacing issues, failing to deliver much action at all for the first ninety of its bloated one hundred and forty minutes.

An opinion which has gathered momentum in recent years is to declare On Her Majesty's Secret Service as one of the strongest Bond films helmed by one of the weakest Bonds. But, whilst Lazenby as the lead is undoubtedly a key issue, to lay all of the film's problems directly at his feet is entirely unfair. Peter R. Hunt, directing his first and only Bond film after serving as editor on the previous five, seems decidedly unsure on the tone he wants for his film. The gadgetry is dialled down considerably, but the camper style is more prevalent than ever; Hunt even has Bond inexplicably break the fourth wall during the pre-titles sequence. The casting issues don't begin and end with Lazenby either. Telly Savalas as Blofeld fails to achieve anywhere near the success of Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice and, thanks to some clumsy scripting and direction coupled with his lack of suitability for the role, at times feels like a different character all together.

Thankfully, Diana Rigg as Tracy Di Vicenzo counterbalances these shortcomings by providing one of the most well-rounded and satisfying love interests seen in a Bond film before or since. The entire romantic subplot between Bond and Tracy is undoubtedly On Her Majesty's Secret Service's strongest element, feeling well-structured and providing a number of pleasingly emotional scenes, with Rigg bringing out the best of Lazenby's performance away from the action.

Initially contracted for seven appearances as 007, Lazenby chose instead to leave the franchise after a single film. Whilst casting for a new Bond recommenced, at this stage there was only one man the studio executives at United Artists wanted to put on the black tux once again...


Connery was lured back to the series for one more turn as Bond for a salary of $1.25 million - a record amount for a single-film deal at the time. A film that has come under considerable critical fire from its initial release onwards, Diamonds Are Forever is in many ways a perfectly satisfying entry into the series. Whilst there are definite moments throughout where Connery looks and feels too old for the part, and others where he has clearly lost his enthusiasm for the role, there are also a satisfying amount where the actor brings a pleasing vitality back to Bond after Lazenby's muted performance. A mid-film car chase through the streets of Las Vegas is particularly memorable, providing one of the film's highlights whilst proving that Connery was finishing his time as Bond well before Bond finished him.

There are other elements to enjoy here too, such as the genuinely unsettling homosexual hitmen Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) - criticised for their exaggerated characterisation when the film was released, but who in hindsight feel ahead of their time when compared to the likes of Skyfall's Silva. Charles Gray becomes the third actor to take on the role of Blofeld, improving considerably on Savalas' take on Bond's nemesis despite being given by far the most extravagant and theatrical version of the character to deliver.

The main problem with Diamonds Are Forever is the irksome feeling that pretty much everyone involved is simply going through the motions throughout. Whilst previous Bond films may have adhered to a formula, there was always an underlying enthusiasm to them, something which this seventh outing too often lacks.

The plot is relatively basic, offering an unremarkable diamond smuggling narrative which gives way in the second half to a somewhat ridiculous SPECTRE master plan. This is also arguably the most cartoonish Bond film released up to this point in the series, with Bond's escape from a research lab by joyriding a moon buggy through the desert perhaps typifying the approach of returning Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton. It's not enough to stop Diamonds Are Forever from being an entertaining watch for much of its running time, but it does hammer home how seriously the Bond franchise needed freshening up at this point in its history.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Vacation - Cinema Review

'Far better than it perhaps deserves, or indeed anyone expected a return to this franchise to be'.

The "soft reboot" train continues to gather pace as it chugs across 2015, with franchises from all areas of cinema's past jumping on board showing flagrant disregard as to whether a new entry is either wanted or needed. Vacation is perhaps one of the strangest selections from the current part-sequel-part-remake crop for the simple fact that, despite the affection the 1983 original National Lampoon's Vacation is held in by many, it's hard to imagine anyone particularly hankering after either a continuation or update of either the original film or its franchise. With three sequels already spawned, the last of which - Vegas Vacation - appeared in 1997 to a distinct lack of fanfare, perhaps the Griswalds were best left in the 20th Century.

In spite of this, however, Vacation for the most part manages to capture what made the original such an easy film to enjoy. This is unchallenging entertainment that's light on plot development and heavy on throwaway laughs which, far more often than not, hit their target. Vacation never feels like a desperate attempt at modernising the 1983 film either. Aside from a slightly forced gag about "liking" Facebook photos and a few jokes about the technology housed in the family's Albanian-made car, much of the humour here wisely isn't tied into a specific time period, potentially future-proofing Vacation to an extent from becoming dated. Likewise, a few welcome references to the original are included, but anyone who's never heard of Marty Moose or Walley World before now will also be just fine.

Road movies are by definition much more about the journey itself than the reason it's being made, something Vacation keeps in mind through delivering what could in many ways be a series of vignettes on a sketch show. Inevitably, some are more successful than others, but most offer at least a few satisfying laughs. The cameos crop up regularly but are not overdone, including a welcome if somewhat brief return from Chevy Chase and Beverley D'Angelo, and the most successful by far from Chris Hemsworth as the well-endowed brother-in-law of Griswald patriarch Rusty (Ed Helms).

The main cast also keep things enjoyable. Christina Applegate is reliably entertaining if a little underutilised; Helms meanwhile channels Chase's performance from the original, largely getting away with it whilst never reaching quite the same level of success. Vacation won't win any prizes for originality or innovation, but it's also undemanding and fun - as well as turning out far better than it perhaps deserves, or indeed anyone expected a return to this franchise to be.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Foxcatcher - Blu-ray Review

'a slow burn narrative that has the dubious 'benefit' of a true life conclusion that's barely believable'

Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is a quietly impressive film, with a showcase for Steve Carell, an actor not often blessed with the label 'significant screen presence' but, nevertheless, one of the finest screen presences going.

The concept of presence is a slightly misquoted one, which often seems to be bestowed on actors with some sort of heft; Tom Hardy in... everything. Vince Vaughn in TV's True Detective. Josh Brolin in... a Mercedes-Benz advert. But presence is something else, a level of watchability that means you gravitate towards actors whenever they're on screen, or that prompts them to stand out amongst a collection of other talented performers. Carell, in ageing and substantial nose make-up, has this here as John du Pont, but he also had it in last Summer's The Way Way Back, playing an Average Joe schlubb. As a comic actor, he's great; as a dramatic one he could be outstanding, which he is here.

The film is more of a mixed bag, a slow burn narrative that has the dubious 'benefit' of a true life conclusion that's barely believable. Miller plays his cards the only way he can really, keeping the events of the finale from view, but that still doesn't change the fact that they jar and alter the film; what is essentially a quiet character study becomes something else very suddenly.

The subtext is more interesting, but nothing without a more consistent on screen experience. DuPont might have the gunpowder, but he lacks the tinder to light it. Perhaps that analogy is falsely representative; DuPont has the gun, the gunpowder and the tinder, but he has no idea where to fire it, how to get the desired reaction. He is American excess and imperialism, marauding through long, lonely lands (his palatial estate), uncertain how to exert influence over them, to bring what he and his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) might term success.

It's a beautiful film, with noble intentions to expand its tragedy out into something wider than its own, narrow, focus. But ultimately, the film's well-told narrative of American over-reaching, punctuated with a blatant undercurrent of not having the ability to fulfil dreams, never surprises (beyond the jarring finale), becomes compelling or establishes a higher gear at which to operate. It's never a dull film, but it does flatline throughout, dragging you, rather than leading.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Monsters: Dark Continent - Blu-ray Review

'The monsters in Monsters appeared not very often but had quite a lot of impact on our protagonists when they did. The monsters in Dark Continent are on screen often but offer little beyond window dressing.'

Monsters: Dark Continent takes an admirable approach to the sequel game. This isn't a remake or a reboot of the original film. It doesn't simply replace Monsters' protagonists with two of its own and tell the same story. It's not satisfied with revisiting the same areas, scenes (to a degree) and locations as Gareth Edwards' excellent 2010 offering.

What this takes instead from Monsters is its thematic resonance. Monsters was a film which featured aliens but was at pains to point out that the 'monsters' were all already here, all around us. The cheating spouse, the violent individuals; from a first person view they were arguably the dark heart and potential for 'bad' in all of us. Dark Continent takes that idea and moves it to a recognisable war zone, which is again peppered with aliens who have little to do with what the film is trying to say. Instead, we end up with two main stars, both employed by the US Army; Staff Sergeant Frater (Johnny Harris) and Private Parkes (Sam Keeley), who experience war, conflict and 'monsters' in their own individual ways.

Whilst the idea is a sound one in some ways, there is a fundamental problem. The alien monsters just aren't needed. Where in the first they metaphorically represented our expressly off-screen internal fears, the worst parts of human nature, here, all of that is on screen anyway. The monsters in Monsters appeared not very often but had quite a lot of impact on our protagonists when they did. The monsters in Dark Continent are on screen often but offer little beyond window dressing. Only a handful of scenes with them, which hint that we may be misunderstanding the creatures by summarily bombing them into next week, have any resonance and it's again arguable that that point is conveyed without them. 'Put a bullet in a monster, that was supposed to be our war', says Parkes in overly heavy opening narration. The point stands with or without the aliens, in a narratively heavily laced with the unnecessary outcomes of recent Middle East conflicts. 'Are the IEDs for the monsters, or for us', a character asks later, laying it on even thicker.

Thus somewhat undermined from inception, director Tom Green does still give things a good go. Several of the scenes in the desert call to mind the beautiful contrasting cinematography of Jarhead, whilst the director is ultimately wise to essentially repeat Monsters closing scene, as two characters realise the innate potential beauty of the monsters, if only they stopped shooting them for a second and embraced optimism.

You can easily argue to knock off a star if you've had your fill of war moralising, but the visuals are occasionally impressive and the entire endeavour is laced with the same well-meaning as Edwards' original, even if it is ultimately far less successful.




Monsters: Dark Continent is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 31st August 2015.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

The Road To Spectre: The Later Connery Years (1965-1967)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'You Only Live Twice stands tall as the first and perhaps best example of how to get the Bond balance just right'.

In Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the fourth and fifth instalments in the James Bond series, we essentially get two attempts at what might now be considered the archetypal Bond film. Whilst the first three entries in the franchise all feel quite distinct not only in narrative structure but also arguably in tone and execution, this is arguably the pair of films where the franchise is first seen to truly establish the "Bond formula" in a number of respects.

Thunderball starts well enough, returning the focus to SPECTRE after Goldfinger and presenting its own potentially iconic adversary in the criminal organisation's "Number Two" Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). After further establishing the lighter tone through an opening sequence involving a fight with a villain disguised as his own widow and Bond (Sean Connery) utilising a jet pack to make his getaway - a gadget that disappointingly doesn't reappear later in the film - returning director Terence Young initially missteps by spending too long on Bond's stay at a health clinic. Thankfully, SPECTRE's theft of two nuclear warheads to hold the world to ransom that follows this offers a strong first act premise from which a compelling narrative might unfold.

The problem is that Thunderball never quite realises this potential. The action within the first hour is meagre, with Young's slow-burning direction that worked so well in Dr. No and From Russia With Love making matters feel decidedly sluggish here. Largo never comes into his own, becoming less effective and less memorable as the film wears on. The ransom plot gets lost amongst Young's preoccupation with underwater action scenes which, whilst certainly innovative and unique, slow the film's pace considerably and aren't nearly as interesting as the director thinks. Despite containing many of the elements that would become staples of the series, Thunderball ultimately ends up just as much as an exercise in how to mishandle these elements as it does in making them work.

In contrast, You Only Live Twice stands tall as the first and perhaps best example of how to get the Bond balance just right. An entry in the series that it has become fashionable to deride in recent years, with many picking out a handful of the more dated elements to judge the entire film by, You Only Live Twice must also now contend with being the film which is most often plundered when pastiching Bond films and their ilk, most recognisably in the Austin Powers franchise. Taken on its own merits and as a product of the time in which it was made, however, the fifth Bond film is pretty hard to fault.

The screenplay from the endlessly creative Roald Dahl is one of the sharpest the series has to offer, utilising the Space Race superbly at exactly the right time from the chilling opening scene onwards. Despite his particularly cringeworthy opening line ("Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?"), Bond himself is arguably more compelling here than ever, Connery shifting from one brilliant espionage sequence to the next without missing a beat. The action set piece in which Bond dogfights against several enemy helicopters in "Little Nellie", Q Branch's souped-up autogyro, is brilliantly shot, superbly entertaining and a perfect Bond sequence. The cinematography is also consistently impressive: extreme long shots during a fight sequence at a dockyard are especially striking; and the way in which the Japanese setting is captured and utilised throughout regularly makes You Only Live Twice a real joy to look at.

Through the long-teased revelation of SPECTRE's "Number One", Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), in his film's final act, director Lewis Gilbert feels as though he finally delivers the early promises made four films earlier in Dr. No. Everything from the hi-tech volcano base, to the army of Japanese secret service ninjas facing off against SPECTRE's swarm of henchmen, to Pleasance's iconic creepy and calculating portrayal of Blofeld himself, so much of You Only Live Twice is not only brilliantly entertaining, but would also go on to define what is loved about the Bond franchise for years into the future. If Thunderball's legacy is to identify many of the potential pitfalls when using the Bond formula, then You Only Live Twice is a lasting reminder of just how good it can be when it works.

If Sean Connery had had his way, his fourth and fifth Bond films would have been his last. Had that been the case, then his tenure as the first big screen 007 would have resulted in a quintet of solid action spy movies that on the whole set an admirably high bar for the series. The fact that Connery would in fact return to the role following his departure after You Only Live Twice is a discussion for another article; but had the actor called it a day at five as he originally intended, it's interesting to consider whether or not his overall time as Bond might hypothetically be viewed differently.


Thunderball

You Only Live Twice


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) - DVD Review

'Bathsheba's 'rebellion' feels, as it did in the Schlesinger version, temporary and incomplete; a feminist movement told through masculine hands.'

This year's attempt to adapt Far From The Madding Crowd has unarguable pedigree. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, this update also benefits from a script by David Nicholls, who has previous Thomas Hardy on his C.V., as well as assembling a cast that leads with Carey Mulligan, arguably and increasingly one of our finest screen presences.

It feels slightly strange then to report that Vinterberg's version of Hardy's novel is disappointingly vague, singularly failing to take the tale on from the point that John Schlesinger realised in 1967. Rather than notice the differences, it is the similarities that feel more obvious and stand out most significantly.

The obvious feminist overtones of the source material, for example, are present on screen as they were in Schlesinger's version. But as with the situation in 1967, Vinterberg here feels uninterested in taking them further. Bathsheba (Mulligan) is still undermined in her progressive views, still ultimately turning to her chosen suitor and asking him to 'tell me what to do'. Bathsheba's 'rebellion' feels, as it did in the Schlesinger version, temporary and incomplete; a feminist movement told through masculine hands. You can't help but feel it is a missed opportunity of significant size: Hardy's work was ahead of its time on so many levels, yet Vinterberg's film feels at least equally behind the zeitgeist.

With that element of the story uncapitalised upon, the rest of Far From The Madding Crowd is merely just an adequate, satisfying love story, caked in farmer's mud and tragedy. Michael Sheen, as Boldwood, is the best of Bathsheba's suitors, as well he should be, yet clearly entirely unsuited to her. Tom Sturridge and Matthias Schoenaerts feel a little miscast as the other two, although the former is admirably detestable and the latter acceptably square-jawed. They engender a compelling conflict for a time, but post viewing there is little to secure the memory of Vinterberg's version of this story.




Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 31st August 2015.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

True Detective: Season Two - TV Review

There are copious and frequent SPOILERS in the below article. It is recommended that you watch True Detective: Season Two before reading it.

'Vaughn, the target of a lot of ire, is impressive in Episode One and Two, before he is forced to regurgitate the season's worst scripting, which he can't sell (could anyone?)'

The much-maligned True Detective: Season Two is not a terrible show, but based on the series' high standards to date and HBO's wider mini-series standards, it is a disappointing one. If that was the end of the criticism then perhaps its failings would be easier to forgive, but the background, the why and the how of Season Two's disappointments, are particularly disheartening.

The first comes during the bridge between Episode Two and Episode Three. The former ends with Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) lying prostrate on the ground, having been shot at point blank range with a shotgun by a man in a crow mask. The latter begins with him waking up. Had Farrell, apparently one of this season's main stars, stayed dead then not only would this have been a different show altogether, it would have been one signalling its intent not to conform to genre, or cliché; to look at most past cop shows and reject them out of hand. Instead, it dives in, rescues Velcoro from an early death and plods on with its plot, which is admittedly more ambitious than the standard police narrative. The rejection of Velcoro's early death though, and the cliffhanger presentation, is endemic of this season: True Detective has become, in some ways, less daring, happier to occupy a middle ground.

The ambitious plot too, has its own problems. The fact that True Detective: Season Two has a convoluted plot, or that it pads out its convoluted plot with superfluous detail, or even that it has to constantly explain all of the above in awkward exposition, isn't the problem. The problem with it is that it does nothing with the ideas it spends so long introducing.

Take the idea of sex and sexuality for example, introduced over the course of Episodes One to Three. Nearly every character has a problem of this nature. Velcoro is essentially abstaining (something confirmed in the final episodes), whilst he deals with the uncertain nature of whether he fathered his ex-wife's child. Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) is recovering from a childhood incident with a sexual predator and is introduced to us dashing out of a room where some apparently kinky sex has been attempted. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is gay, but is struggling to reconcile that fact with his macho personality and current female squeeze. Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), true to his name, is in a cycle with wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) where sex seems uninteresting and each is concerned they may be unable to have children.

'Pizzolatto deserves some sort of book to be thrown at him, possibly his own'

All of those strands, some of which (Frank and Jordan) take up obscene amounts of screen time, offer nothing to the plot. It doesn't matter that Paul is gay, or that Velcoro is revealed, finally, to be his child's father. Neither matters to how you feel or react to the characters or the storytelling. Frank, for example, is a failure of writing. By the finale he is meant to be this anti-hero avenger, out to do some level of good. We've been given no reason to see him as such, and his constant discussions around conception have contributed nothing to helping us to do so. Similarly, Velcoro's finale matters because his journey has been from one of corruption to one where he attempts to do the right thing. Whether he is his son's father or not feeds into that picture not a jot.

There are worse elements. There are inherent dangers with discussing the behind-the-scenes goings on between personalities in film and TV, as recent discussions around Josh Trank and his Fantastic Four film have shown. When the behind-the-scenes leaks onto the screen, however, as has plausibly been suggested for True Detective: Season Two then showrunner Nic Pizzolatto deserves some sort of book to be thrown at him, possibly his own. TV, in this sort of HBO-sponsored format at least, can be art, but great art never came from artificially inserting your hissy fit into the narrative. At best, Pizzolatto is guilty of ungraciousness and pre-Maddonaism. At worst, it's a creatively bankrupt move that shows a talented creative force throwing away the opportunity afforded him. Either way, I'd challenge anyone to find a positive reading of what is, admittedly, a very small part of this season.

What of the good? The cast are as great a choice as they were ever going to be. Vaughn, the target of a lot of ire, is impressive in Episode One and Two, before he is forced to regurgitate the season's worst scripting, which he can't sell (could anyone?). Kitsch and McAdams are perfectly fine, the former doing 'black ops bad ass' in his sleep, the latter convincingly treading a line between concern, brittle outrage and personal anger. Farrell is probably the best he has been, although for me that is still a distance from the rave reviews he has been given in some quarters.

Like all tragedies, which is what Season Two is, the finale has an air of inevitability about it that extends further than just the conclusions for the main characters. Frank and Jordan devolving even further into bizarre Noir fantasy cliche ('you wear a white suit, with a red rose in your pocket'), was inevitable. The reveal of minor characters (Nails and the bartender Felicia) back stories in overplayed, over-talked exposition, that tried far too late to have an impact on the lead's characterisation was inevitable. The fact that there's something going on with fatherless children around every corner was inevitable. The fact that Ray and Frank meet their deaths along roads they set out on long ago, that they do not get to have happy endings was, yes, inevitable.

When I turned on the finale of Season One - which I've been desperately trying not to mention here - there was not one single thing which I thought was inevitable. True Detective: Season Two is fine, it's not a terrible show. But it is a long way from the genre-busting outing that it could have been, a long way from Season One, a long way from brilliance. Perhaps even, you could say, inevitably so.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.