Monday, November 11, 2013

Never Say Never Again (1983)

When Sean Connery hung up the tux in 1967 after playing secret agent 007 for the fifth time in You Only Live Twice, he was replaced by George Lazenby for 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  The retirement was brief, however, as Connery reprised the iconic role in 1971 for one of the franchise's worst entries to date, Diamonds Are Forever.  It was at this point in history when the legendary actor stated that he would never again play the part of James Bond.  Near the end of the Roger Moore era, as fate would have it, this broken promise would lead to the title of the 1983 film Never Say Never Again.

The thing to keep in mind with Never Say Never Again is that it wasn't developed by Eon Productions and therefore isn't considered to be part of the main James Bond series.  Consequently, viewers won't find this entry in any of the series DVD or Blu-Ray box sets.  Twenty-three James Bond movies were made by Eon between 1962 and 2012, and Never Say Never Again is one of just two non-Eon movies from this time period to feature the 007 character.  The other, a comedic spoof, Casino Royale (1967), would sully the title of Ian Fleming's original novel until Daniel Craig's debut in 2006.  Never Say Never Again is actually a loose remake of 1965's Thunderball which features 007 as an older agent getting closer to his retirement.  Roger Moore's sixth Bond movie, Octopussy (1983), was the Eon film released in the same year as Never Say Never Again and proves an interesting comparison in regards to the age of the two most prominent actors who played Bond.  Roger Moore is three years older than Sean Connery and played the role of Bond in the fourteen years that followed Connery's last Eon picture, so a script that treated an aging actor as an aging Bond was an appropriate change of pace because the complaints of Moore's seniority are certainly valid (just wait for Roger Moore's 58 year-old sex scene in A View to a Kill, 1985).  As for the actual films, Octopussy takes the cake for 1983; it's my favorite of the Roger Moore era, if only surpassing Live and Let Die (1973) due to its major flaws.

That being said Never Say Never Again isn't bad and is better than at least a handful of the Eon films.  Despite being a remake, it feels surprisingly different from Thunderball, and this tonal difference validates its existence.  There's no reason to make an exact replica of a film like they did with Psycho in 1998, and thankfully this is not what they did here.  When it comes down to it, I think, if any, Thunderball was the one to remake because, although it's good, it's a bit weaker than Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), and Goldfinger (1964, my personal favorite Bond film) and was the first time the series felt repetitive to me.  You Only Live Twice (1967) still stands as incredibly unique and striking among the series, and Diamonds Are Forever (1971) was just a flop.  As for the others, I don't think you can fairly put Connery in movies that weren't written for him.  Lazenby may not have worked in any single other Bond movie, but he works in On Her Majesty's Secret Service because he's just that vulnerable shade of Bond one doesn't see very often which that particular story requires.

But I digress.  Never Say Never Again is a different take on the story of Thunderball that legitimately feels different.  Similar characters and plots feel fresh.  Reimagined versions of villain Emilio Largo and girly Domino Vitali provide a more modern vision of an abusive relationship, and the people cast look and act differently than their 1965 counterparts.  There's a lot of boat and water scenes, but nothing looks remotely copied from Thunderball, which in retrospect serves to the benefit of both.  Felix Leiter is black for the first time.  Connery is good, and the older character of Bond was well-played.  Maybe it's just me, but his Scottish accent sounds more pronounced here, and his charisma still exceeds an equally or even lesser aged Moore.  The film's title track, "Never Say Never Again" performed by Lani Hall, is a light and melodic soft rock song that I personally like quite a lot.  I have all of the Bond themes in my iTunes library, and this is one of the 24 that gets played more frequently.

As for the Bond girls, they're nice.  Claudine Auger, who original played Domino in 1965, was one of the finest Bond girls of all time, but Kim Basinger looks alright here, better than in Batman (1989), and those see-through ballet leotards push the envelope for nudity in a James Bond movie and help her make the grade.  Basinger is nowhere near the fairest or the sultriest when it comes to the many actresses and models who've starred alongside 007, but she's flaunted to her potential here and character-wise does a decent job with this new version of Domino.  As the secondary female character, Nicaraguan-American Barbara Carrera plays Fatima Blush, the easy vixen whose exotic charm seduces Bond and viewers alike.

All in all, Never Say Never Again is definitely worth checking out at some point if you're a fan of James Bond, particularly Connery's Bond.  With continuity as loose as it gets in these movies, a remake with the same actor eighteen years later both in actuality and character doesn't really feel out of place.  In my opinion, this movie ranks somewhere in the middle-back when compared to the 23 Eon films but has its unique merits that make it stand out.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

The year was 1984, and the long toil of writer-director-producer trio Chris Columbus, Joe Dante, and Steven Spielberg had come to fruition; their creative endeavor Gremlins jumped on the silver screen to take Hollywood by the haunches.  Its story begins when a mysterious creature known as a Mogwai is negligently purchased from a Chinatown pawn shop and given to a teenage boy as a pet.  The caretaking rules for these cute Ferbie-looking critters are simple: 1) No bright lights 2) No water 3) No feeding after midnight.  Sure enough the rules are broken, the first two by mistake, and the third by a nasty trick of the soon to be transformed scaly, clawed, and evil-looking little monsters henceforth known as Gremlins.  Hell breaks loose as the Gremlins attempt to take over the town, but they're eventually bested by the bright rays of morning sun.  Even though it might be scary for a young audience, Gremlins is light on the horror, focusing more on plot, comedy, and badass animatronics.  There's even a bit of suspense as we slowly discover the life cycle of the Mogwai (think Alien, 1979).  Gremlins is a great movie that successfully blends multiple genres and tells a holiday tale for the ages.  Despite a strong Christmas theme throughout the film, Gremlins was released to theaters in the contradictory month of June, but who cares?  Fuck it.  This would be the Gremlins mentality for the duration of this short-lived franchise.  Gremlins had a diverse line of toys, trading cards, other memorabilia, and even a sequel in 1990.  This sequel would be the last we ever saw of the Gremlins, but God damn did they go out with a bang.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch.  What can I even say about this movie to describe it?  It's undeniably terrible for so many reasons, but under the surface it might just be brilliant.  The plot sucks, a shitty attempt at story just to bring back the main character and his Mogwai friend, Gizmo.  Six years after the original run-in with the Gremlins, Billy Peltzer and his fiancee Katie (who both still look like they could be in high school) are working at Clamp Enterprises, a corporate behemoth which specializes in all products and services imaginable.  Secretly in one of the in-house laboratories, animal experimenting and cloning has been taking place at the whim and sick imagination of a mad scientist.  Somehow Gizmo comes back (does it really matter how or why?) and some dumbass janitor gets him wet when trying to fix a water fountain, and once again his evil brethren are unleashed to make their new habitat their playground.  It's all a big excuse to set up for the introduction of new and ridiculous mutant-Gremlins which take the form of bats, giant spiders, vegetables, and even ugly hookers, all causing chaos and pandemonium when the secret lab is taken over and vial after vial of tranformative potions are consumed by the little monsters.  It's clear that they spread the budget over a much wider array of effects and new Gremlins because although there are much more of them, most of the special effects look pretty crappy in comparison to the original's.  Don't forget the ultra-intelligent talking Gremlin-Professor who can actually say "fuck you" in English in addition to giving the usual scaly, Gremlin middle finger.  The fact that he never degrades the viewer in as many words is a testament to the sly bastards who wrote this sequel because for the duration of Gremlins 2, I couldn't help but feel that the joke was on me for deciding to watch this dumb movie in the first place.

I think one of the greatest lines I've ever heard in a film is simply an uncredited voice blaring over the company intercom at a random point in the movie, "Tonight on the Clamp Cable Classic Movie Channel, don't miss Casablanca, now in full color with a happier ending."  The fact that Steven Spielberg, great and mighty re-editor of the Indiana Jones series, might have had something to with this line makes it all the more hilarious and depressing.  Of course you can't rip on Hollywood without some star power of your own.  Cue Christopher Lee as the twisted, maniacal Dr. Catheter (I am not making this up) and a fourth-wall-breaking cameo by Hulk Hogan (who was presumably a big deal in 1990).  Last but not least, Chuck Jones himself made a comeback to animation for Gremlins 2 to create brand new Looney Tunes/Gremlins animated microshorts.  They're incredibly brief and primarily exist to feature some naughty Gremlins crashing Merry Melodies sketches, once again illogically crossing the reality barrier and interrupting the flow of the film.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch.  I can't make sense of it, but this movie has balls.  Is it garbage?  Is it brain pollution?  Is it a masterpiece in disguise?  Is it the world's greatest practical joke?  Fuck if I know.