Friday, November 29, 2013

My Christmas wish list?

Because, as I've noted before, I just love an excuse to talk about movies. The idea for this particular piece is to catalog SOME of the films I've desired for my collection, but for whatever reason haven't been able to add them to my library yet. (Yes, one reason is because movies, like anything else in this world, cost money, but some of these titles being absent just seems rather strange!) I'm sure I'll get these films eventually, but hey, it's something to talk about! (And shortly after writing that, I realized this is actually nothing less than a Christmas wish list! Given the season and all, I figured why not go ahead and frame it as such.)

UNTAMED WOMEN -1952 cavegirl picture reportedly features that familiar -and as such somewhat comforting- dinosaur footage from ONE MILLION B.C. Also, if this the one I think I read about, prefigures TEENAGE CAVEMAN with a plot about a prehistoric world growing out of an atomic disaster. What it boils down to is, here's another 50's science fiction film I somehow haven't seen yet!

AGENT FOR H.A.R.M. -Mark Richman gets the all-too-rare chance to play the hero in this Universal spy film which was shot as a potential pilot for a teleseries. Richman plays Adam Chance, top agent of the titular organization, who protects a scientist and his deadly new invention from enemy agents. Barbara Bouchet is among the cast, and that right there is reason alone to get this one. Great opening theme music, dandy -if low-budget- espionage action. One of my favorite spy films I don't own....

THE GIRL IN LOVER'S LANE -After being mugged, a young man teams up with a professional hobo. They find a nice town, but there's a killer on the loose. Fine little movie.

THE REBEL SET -Criminal mastermind enlists a bunch of beatnicks to help him pull off a heist. Great cast.

THE STARFIGHTERS -Nifty action/drama built around pilots testing one of my all-time favorite jets.

THE TWONKY -Hans Conreid battles a living television set from outer space in this nearly forgotten -and by me unseen- 50's science fiction comedy. Had I not run across a poster for the film and one brief clip somewhere, I'd have doubts this film even existed!

EARTHQUAKE -All-star disaster vehicle includes Charelton Heston and O.J. Simpson before he turned killer. How is it possible I never got this one?

CONDORMAN -Disney superhero movie of some kind. All I've ever seen of it was those clips that were part of an long advertisement that used to come at the end of every Disney video tape. Looked pretty exciting, and the theme was certainly catchy. 

ICE STATION ZEBRA -I haven't seen this one in years, maybe 15, 16 or more. I want very much to see it again!

THE CROWDED SKY -Dana Andrews airplane disaster movie. That's all I need to know right there! Haven't seen this one at all, but would love to.

SPACEMASTER X7 -50's science fiction epic details reaction to a fungus brought back from space and  the hunt for a woman who is unknowingly carrying the spore. Noted mostly by trivia fans as featuring Moe Howard of the Three Stooges in a bit part as a cabbie.

PLANETS AGAINST US -Black and white (Italian?) science fiction flick from around 1960. Saw just a part of it as a little kid.

MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE -From what I can gather, the film has a fungus that continues to multiply and threatens to consume a space station. Similar in theme to THE GREEN SLIME, it would sound, but from a couple of years earlier.

REVENGE OF BIGFOOT -I don't know why, but I'm a sucker for 70's Bigfoot movies. This one was one of the last, from 1980, I think. Never saw it. Saw almost exactly five seconds of footage from the trailer on a Bigfoot documentary once. Looked right up my alley.

OPERATION KID BROTHER -Of all the imitation James Bond movies, this one may have been the most blatant. Some producers tracked down Sean Connery's brother Neil and cast him in a spy film playing the younger brother of Her Majesty's Top Agent! Despite the seemingly comical nature of the premise, this is supposed to be a straight-forward spy thriller. Would love to see it!
TO TRAP A SPY -First (?) in a series of movies made for British audiences by adding new footage to existing episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Other entries include THE SPY WITH MY FACE, ONE SPY TOO MANY, and HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD. Amazingly, I was only able to get three of these (including the already mentioned HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD), by taping them from television. This particular film I saw thanks to a 16mm print Pop managed to get ahold of when I was younger. Great stuff.

KING KONG LIVES -Probably the dumbest movie to ever feature the big ape, filled with insanity and stupidity. Still, giant ape suit action!

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER -1960 Robert Clarke vehicle has test pilot ending up in the future just in time for a revolt of sub-human mutants. I've seen the trailer a few times, looks quite nifty!

THE GREEN SLIME -I actually have a copy, but it has a glitch and I can't get it replaced because it was a dealer copy. One of the great happenings of this decade has been the widescreen release of this pulp classic from the Warner Archives. From the same people, I would love to get the widescreen release of FROM HELL IT CAME and CAPTAIN SINBAD (a 60's film featuring a multi-headed, fire-breathing hydra!).

STAR TREK -Paramount Home Video VHS release, episodes 4, 12, 18, 23, 26, 29, 30, 33, 34, 38, 45, 51, 68, 69, 71, and 72. With those, I'll have the complete series.

And on laserdisc, the original PRE "special edition" versions of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE RETURN OF THE JEDI in their widescreen forms. 

And a couple of non-movie ideas to cap the piece off:

1) Ever hear of Robostrux? They were an Americanized version of the Japanese "Zoids" which became more popular State-side about 20 years later. Basically, they were motorized battle platforms constructed like dinosaurs and having little gold-colored pilots. Not long ago, I came into possession of a couple of the Robostrux figures I always wanted, Raydox and Gordox. I'd still very much like a (blue) Terox and Brutox to round out the set.

Terox. I had one just like this as a kid. Very much want another.
 2) Although very pricey, there is a new artist's model that's been released in Japan which I have oft needed, and would very much love to have. It's called the S.F.B.T-3, and I can actually really use one.
Looks a tad grotesque, but very useful for proportions and odd poses.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dahl and the Queen

Some pencil details from the recently written DAHL. It's okay for mermaids to go topless, you know. Here, Dahl confronts the Queen of her people.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oddball Film Report: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)

   1983 was a banner year for Bond fans. That year saw TWO 007 hits roaring toward theater screens in an event the media quickly dubbed "The Battle of The Bonds." 

   In one corner, Roger Moore was returning* in the official franchise entry OCTOPUSSY. In the other corner, the original Bond himself, Sean Connery, was slipping back into his tuxedo to star in Kevin McClory's oft-delayed remake of THUNDERBALL, still considered one of the all-time great 007 epics. Who would win the day? Moore had established himself as 007 by this time, but could he really compete with Connery? After all, in the minds of most Bond fans, the tagline of 1967's YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE still rings quite true: Sean Connery IS James Bond!

(* Moore stepped in at the last minute to star in another Bond epic, and would do yet another -A VIEW TO A KILL- before finally saying goodbye to the part. For a time, though, Moore had decided not to pick up the PPK for another mission and the producers were scrambling to find a replacement actor. American actor James Brolin was screen tested and all but cast in the part when Moore decided to come back. Noted for his generosity, Moore usually came back to the part as a favor to the producers. Sir Roger eventually did the largest number of official Bond films. Interestingly, the number was evened with Connery when the original Bond made NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.)

   OCTOPUSSY eventually won the day with a higher gross (and Connery himself reportedly felt Moore's film was the better of the two), although fans had reason to rejoice in the release of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. While in many ways a remake of THUNDERBALL (McClory had helped prepare the story with Ian Fleming as the first Bond film, but delays resulted in the story being turned into a novel. McClory sued Fleming when he felt the book was a steal of many of his own ideas and a long legal battle ensued. Ultimately, the story was brought to the screen as the fourth 007 film. Not long after, McClory sought to remake the film on his own. The resultant film wouldn't get made until 1983, however), the most important factor was that Sean Connery was back as Bond!

   And, it must be noted, Connery still looks much the same as he did in the previous decade's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER

   Not being an official entry in the Eon series, however, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN took a different approach than might be expected. The film resides in a weird parallel universe where the double 0's have been retired by the new M, Q-branch has been drastically cut back, and Felix Lieter is played by Bernie Casey! (They do have Felix joke about having a device blowing up in his face, presumably as a cute riff that he's now being played by a black man.)

   Plot-wise, the film is a remake of THUNDERBALL, but it manages to be it's own adventure. Were it not for a couple of returning character names, it probably would have avoided recall of what it still considered one of the best Bonds of all. For what it's worth, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is based on earlier drafts of the THUNDERBALL script, from before the novel version and eventual EON motion picture.

   With the double 0's having been retired, Bond is now little more than a teacher for younger men. The validity of the double 0's in the modern world is put to test in training exercises and Bond has been partaking in several. We open observing one of these exercises and see Bond infiltrate a phoney enemy encampment to rescue a hostage. Said hostage gets the drop on Bond and he is 'killed.' The new M reviews Bond's poor performance (although Bond insists the field offers a certain edge one doesn't have when they know the experience is a fake) and sentences him to a heath spa to get him back into proper condition.

   At the spa, our hero finds trouble. Bond happens onto something fishy involving Petachi, a patient who has undergone recent eye surgery, and his sadistic nurse. Bond's snooping gets him noticed and an assassin later tries to kill him.

   The previously mentioned nurse is actually SPECTRE agent Fatima Blush, who has been put in charge of the organization's most ambitious scheme yet: the theft of a pair of atomic bombs from a USAF base close by. The mentioned eye surgery gives Petachi the same eye print as the President of the United States. This allows him to substitute the dummy warheads, to be used in a test flight of a new delivery system, with the real items. The missiles are fired and fall into the sea, where they are taken aboard a yacht owned by millionaire Maximilian Largo, another agent of SPECTRE.

   His part in the scheme concluded, Petachi is killed by Blush when she throws a snake into his car and causes him to run off the road. Erasing all evidence, Petachi's body is incinerated with a bomb as well!

   SPECTRE blackmails the free world with the atomic bombs they now possess and M is forced to put the double 0's back to work. For Bond, this means going to the Bahamas to investigate Largo. In due time, Bond meets Largo's kept woman Domino (Petachi's sister) and gets close to her. He manages to turn her against Largo, and the trail eventually leads to the oil fields of the middle east, where one well-placed atomic explosive could wreck the world economy.

   The film tries to balance the fondly remembered Bond of the 60's with the freshness of the 80's, thus such timely elements as middle east oil fields and a high-tech video game at which Bond bests Largo in a casino environment. These are mixed with traditional Bond elements like exotic locations and high fashion, so the film looks like one of the Moore vehicles, only starring the original Bond.

   The production values are quite high, so this isn't some cheap mock-Bond as no doubt many would be tempted to write it off as. It's quite handsome, and gives one an idea of what the series might have evolved into had Conney not hung up his holster twelve years earlier. The set design for the climax, in particular, is stunning.

   A fine cast is assembled, including Edward Fox, Alec McCowen, a young Rowan Atkinson, and Max Von Sydow as Blofeld! Barbara Carrera plays Fatima Blush, the SPECTRE agent who gleefully kills. Kim Basinger plays the new Domino. While not as stunning as Claudine Auger, she does possess some nice gams which are given acceptable coverage. Keep an eye peeled for Valerie Leon, former Hammer queen who played two minor parts in Bond films, the other being Roger Moore's own THUNDERBALL, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

   In the original film, Aledfo Celi played Emilio Largo, the imposing, one-eyed thug who kept his Domino under his thumb with force and fear. In this take, Max Largo is played by Klaus Maria Brandauer as a considerably more charming figure. He's always smiling and in good humor, and his Domino is happy to be his woman. He looks like the kind of guy who hired bigger kids to protect him when he was in school, so his revealed psychotic nature is less expected. It's hard to say which is a better approach. The original Largo was dangerous from the start, and only grew more impressive as the stakes got higher. This newer version, though, is in keeping with 80's sensibilities. 

   What hurts the film is the absence of the Monty Norman-penned James Bond theme. Although the music used here is fine, and the theme song "Never Say Never Again" is easily as good as any of the Moore era ballads, the spy's personal theme is so closely connected with him that it's absence is glaringly obvious. No doubt this helped to re-enforce (even subconsciously) in audiences' minds that Roger Moore by this time WAS Bond!

   NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN tries to use Connery's presence to let audiences know Bond is going back to basics, to the 60's aesthetic that made him so popular to begin with. With Bond/Connery back on the job, Q notes "I do hope we'll see some gratuitous sex and violence" as if it's been missing from the franchise since his departure. Bond's sex appeal is also played up, as virtually every female who sees him stops to leer as this Dream Man walks past. This was something Connery himself was no doubt familiar with after becoming the biggest star in the world by playing Bond in the 60's.

   Both films' ad campaigns screamed that their star "IS James Bond." Today, Connery's position as top Bond is more than secure, but Moore has a huge fanbase as well. OCTOPUSSY eventually won the Battle of the Bonds, by virtue of it's more original plot. Had NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN not re-used the character names of Largo and Domino, it might have had a better showing. That's not to say the film was a flop or anything, but it's remembered today mostly as a re-run footnote to THUNDERBALL.

   I recall rumors around the turn of the century that Connery was considering again donning his tuxedo to play 007 in yet another remake of THUNDERBALL! There were then rumors that he would play Blofeld (!) in an official Bond epic for EON. Needless to say, neither happened, much to the disappointment of fans the world over.

Commission sketch