4 posts categorized "Franchise"

October 21, 2014

GOLDFINGER — CLASSIC FILM PICK

 

GoldfingerIt took until the third installment of the Ian Fleming-based James Bond spy movie franchise for its identity to crystallize. Following on the successful heels of “Dr. No” (1962) and “From Russia with Love” (1963) — both directed by Terence Young, Sean Connery’s early mentor for the urbane leading role — “Goldfinger” marked a significant upgrade in production values that would make everything about the franchise iconic. Female characters would be sexier and more dangerous, yet also more likely to die. “Goldfinger’s” introduction of Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman) sent a powerful signal. Exotic set pieces would be epic in scale. The series’ signature nuanced tone, straddling dualities such as dry humor and outrageous danger, would be more pronounced.

John Barry’s unforgettable theme, sung by the incomparable Shirley Bassey, created a longstanding tradition of James Bond theme songs becoming chart-topping hits.

Budgeted at more than the cost of the first two films combined, “Goldfinger” launched the ritual of beginning each subsequent Bond film with a stand-alone mission sequence for the fictional British MI6 agent, known by his code number 007, to show off his stuff.

Other customs followed. An assignment meeting with British Secret Service head M allows for the otherwise autonomous Mr. Bond to have his feathers clipped while being informed of his latest mission. A little office flirtation with M’s secretary Ms. Moneypenny segues into a meeting with resident gadget master Q, who gets Bond up to speed on the state-of-the-art devices that the audience can expect to see employed throughout the movie.

It’s not every spy that can arrive on an island in a wet suit, blow up a South American drug lab, strip down to a white tux, and seduce a villainess who must be sacrificed to save his own skin — all without breaking a sweat, as Bond does in “Goldfinger.”

Yet every man wants to be James Bond, and every woman wants to be with a guy as capable, confident, and handsome as Sean Connery. The Scottish actor made such an indelible impression in the role that most audiences still consider Connery’s portrayal to be the truest filmic embodiment of the James Bond character to command the big screen.

A pay dispute between Terrence Young and the franchise’s notoriously selfish producers (Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) opened the door for French-born English director Guy Hamilton to helm “Goldfinger,” a story based on Ian Flemming’s seventh novel in his 16-story James Bond series.

Goldfinger2007’s mission is to foil international gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger (‪Gert Fröbe‬). The treacherous villain uses a trafficking technique later employed by the real-life heroin smugglers represented in William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” (whereby illicit goods are stashed in the body of a large car). Goldfinger’s plan to rob the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox arrives at Bond’s eavesdropping ear in an outrageous set piece of exposition wherein the German mastermind enlightens the heads of America’s regional Mafias before killing them via poison gas. The not-so-subtle nod to Hitler was not lost on audiences at the time.

“Goldfinger” set in stone the formula for what would become cinema’s longest running and most reliably entertaining franchise. Regardless of how many installments have come since, “Goldfinger” retains its reputation as the best of the bunch.

Rated PG. 110 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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November 05, 2013

THE THIN MAN— CLASSIC FILM PICK

The Thin ManLong before Ian Fleming’s James Bond became cinema’s longest-running and most successful franchise, Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books laid their foundation with a “retired” private detective and his up-for-anything wife. The couple’s wire-haired fox terrier Asta played a key role in fulfilling the debut series’ escapist atmosphere, which gave Depression-audiences [circa 1934] temporary relief from the harsh economic realities outside the theater door.

William Powell’s vibrant incarnation of Nick Charles is a sophisticated gentleman without a care in the world. Nick married into money. But rather than flout his luck he celebrates it and even shares it with those less fortunate — witness the Christmas Eve party he and his wife Nora throw in their fancy hotel suite while visiting New York City from their home base of San Francisco. Nick passes out cocktails from a sliver tray to a group of “old friends” made up of characters you might see waiting for a job at the local union hall on in a police department line-up. Nick also keeps one foot permanently in the bottle. He’s a lush with panache. Powell’s lyrical skill with dialogue matches his graceful physicality. He practically dances and sings his way through the entire movie.

Myrna Loy is at turns sultry, bubbly, and tomboyish as her character Mrs. Nora Charles is loyal. Together, the mutually imbibing husband-and-wife sleuthing team live a playful existence of matrimonial bliss. He lovingly calls her “sugar.” When they meet for drinks at the hotel bar, Nora asks how many drinks he’s had. Nick replies, “This will make six martinis.” Not to be five-upped, Nora orders five martinis to be lined up beside the one already in front of her. She pays the price with a hangover that lasts only long enough for the who-done-it parlor game plot to advance by degrees.

The beauty of “The Thin Man” [directed by W.S. Van Dyke] is that it welcomes the audience into an unencumbered marital relationship where a wealthy husband and wife play out their ideal personas of equal parts childish and adult characteristics. Their mutually assured friskiness has a calming and comic effect. Barbs of innuendo keep the humor spicy.

1934-the-thin-man-loy-powell

On Christmas morning Nick shoots out balloons hung on a tinsel covered tree with a popgun Nora gave him as his only gift — he gave her an expensive watch. She watches his boyish antics with calm disdain. The phony gunplay comes just hours after Nick protected Nora by punching her on the jaw to prevent her being hit by a bullet from an unwelcome intruder. Nick comments that he read he was “shot twice in the Tribune,” to which Nora replies, “I read you were shot five times in the tabloids.” Nick gleefully retorts, “He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”

From the look of it you’d never guess that “The Thin Man” was produced as a low-budget B-movie because the chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell is so strong, and their performances so snappy. The movie received four Oscar nominations and inspired five sequels that are just as much fun. Interestingly, the “Thin Man” refers not to Nick Charles, but rather to an unseen murder victim never referenced in the films.

Thinman

Not Rated. 99 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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October 31, 2012

SKYFALL

SkyfallStripped Down Bond
No Competition With Craig’s 007 Around

The 23rd installment in the longest-running franchise in cinema history is crafted to satisfy fans from every era of the series based on the Ian Fleming novels. Sam Mendes tastefully directs this outing of action-based espionage, gently shifting gears between a literary approach to wit, style, personality, and spectacle. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (“No Country for Old Men”) gives generous attention to the visual context of the story. Every composition is a pristine expression of Ian Fleming’s dangerous milieu.

Colesmithey.com

“Skyfall” stands as one of the shrewder blasts of ecstasy in the long list of compelling 007 spy flicks. Another flawless credit sequence — this time featuring an evocative title song powerfully delivered by Adele — follows a mind-blowing mano-a-mano chase scene, between Bond and an estimable baddie, traveling across foot-wide rooftops on motorcycles before heading off on foot across the roofs of a fast-moving train. Audience heart rates go up. This is super-cool-action at its best.

“Skyfall” divides three distinct acts as individual homages to specific aspects of the franchise.

The first act is a nod to the leaner and grittier modern James Bond — as exquisitely played by Daniel Craig. He’s a first-rate action movie actor. This time around, Bond has to return to work after being thought dead for several years. He’s been off playing civilian — i.e., drinking a lot of booze. Sometimes he lets a live scorpion sit on his drinking hand as he slugs down a glass in a remote tropical island bar.

Colesmithey.com

A computer-hacking genius villain named Silva launches an attack on Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s — with M (played by the irrepressible Judi Dench) in the crosshairs. Sliva has been busy revealing the identities of NATO undercover agents embedded in terrorist organizations. Javier Bardem introduces the film’s second act as Silva, with a ridiculously entertaining monologue entrance that hip drama students will be doing at auditions. Bardem’s effeminate Silva carefully measures his steps as he stalks his prey — a momentarily confined James Bond. Javier Bardem spits up and chews out scenery in Tarantino-worthy scenes. There’s a little Hannibal Lechter in Bardem’s creation. Talk about a case of perfect casting — whew.

Colesmithey.com

The third act provides a retro vantage point. Bond pulls his trusty 1964 Aston Martin (circa Sean Connery's "Goldfinger") out of the garage, and treats the audience to a gloomy bit of nostalgia-defying action set in the Scottish mansion where James Bond lived as a boy when his parents died. Bond says he “never did like the place.” One thing's for sure, it won't be the same when his enemies are through with it.

Colesmithey.com

The James Bond franchise is especially compelling for the lengths filmmakers go to in sidestepping hard-worn formula clichés with each new movie. Although it’s all the rage to beat up on Daniel Craig’s last Bond outing “Quantum of Solace,” it too fits the demands of the charismatic series. Daniel Craig’s trilogy of James Bond films — which started with “Casino Royale” — are hard-edged and efficient. The bottom line is it’s taken too long for “Skyfall” to come out. Four years is too long to not be witnessing the best incarnation of James Bond ever. Great as he is, Daniel Craig isn’t getting younger.

Rated PG-13. 143 mins. (A)

Five Stars

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