The Avengers (1998)

Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Starring: Ralph Feinnes, Sean Connery, Uma Thurman, Jim Broadbent, Eddie Izzard
Music: Joel McNeely
‘Avengers Theme’ by Laurie Johnson
Song ‘Hurricane’ performed by Grace Jones

You know I loved the original Avengers TV series – c’mon, we all do!. It is with a heavy heart that I report that The Avengers movie is a major disappointment. All the ingredients are there for the film to work. The film has a great cast. Ralph Fiennes fills the bowler hat rather well, and few actresses could fill the black leather catsuit as curvaceously as Uma Thurman. Sean Connery is Sir August DeWinter, the villain of the piece. And thankfully the film-makers haven’t tried to Americanise The Avengers. Everything is very British: – ‘Bowler Hats’, ‘Afternoon Tea’, ‘Red London Double Decker Buses’, sporty ‘E-type Jaguars’. All but Union Jack underwear. So where did this film go wrong?

In practically every department. Ralph Fiennes fills the bowler hat well, but seems to lack the joie de vivre that Patrick Macnee displayed. But Fiennes, out of all the actors in this film, comes off the least unscathed. Uma Thurman looks great, but she is terrible in the role. I realise Dame Diana is a tough act to follow, but Uma is ice cold in this performance. I never thought I say that Sean Connery is simply awful in a movie. Sure he’s been in bad movies, but he is usually the best thing in them – for example Meteor, Zardoz and Highlander 2! But in The Avengers Connery reaches a new low. I guess a large proportion of the blame should go to the script writers who had him mouth lines like, ‘I enjoy a good lashing before teatime’. So despite the great cast in this film, nearly all of them give the worst performances of their lives.

The next big mistake the film-makers made is that they couldn’t decide if they were making a few set in the sixties, with all the mod fashion that goes with it, or making a new updated version of The Avengers for a new younger generation. Instead we got a film that hard back to the sixties, but has all these dreadful high tech gizmos and display screens.

The overall look of the film is rather gloomy, despite it’s mod sensibilities. In it’s defence, the story is about the ‘weather’ and ‘storms’ but even then, all the interiors are grey and dark.

The story is a bit of a muddle too, but it does feature some ‘Avengers’ moments, that could have almost been lifted from the sixties series, but in the futuristic setting they look wrong, or simply don’t work.

The plot concerns the theft of the Ministry Of Defence’s Prospero weather shield. The main suspect is Dr. Emma Peel, due to the fact the have video footage of her committing the crime. She claims to be innocent, and is teamed up with secret agent John Steed to find out who the true culprit is. Their investigations lead them to eccentric recluse, Sir August De Winter.

Their are rumours that a better ‘director’s cut’ of this film exists, but as the film did so poorly, there are no current plans to release it. Who knows – over a passage of time, it may one day see the light. But I don’t hold much hope of it even being significantly better. There are simply too many things wrong with this film, and most criminally of all is it lacks that humour, and I’ll use the term again, the ‘joie de vivre’ that the original television series had. I hate to say this, but I wouldn’t bother tracking this down. If you need an Avengers fix, go back to the originals.

The Avengers (1998)

The Hard Word

Film GenericFar be it from me to comment on the Australian criminal justice system, but this week Tony Mokbell has been extradited back to Australia to stand trial. Now I am pretty ignorant of the gangland wars that happened over the last decade, where rival gangs literally slaughtered each other on the streets of Melbourne. My knowledge of these events comes from the recent TV series Underbelly. This series features Mokbell and a few other characters, who are still to stand trial for their crimes. As such, so as not to influence any juries, the TV series was banned in the state of Victoria. As a Melburnite I was unable to watch the show. I’d love to say that because of my high standing in the entertainment community I was granted access to this series – but that would be bullshit. By banning the show, it simply pushed it underground and pirate DVDs popped up everywhere – and I do mean everywhere – practically everybody has seen the show. But it sort of set up a strange little network…now Melbourne’s underworld weren’t just pushing drugs, they were also pushing bootleg DVDs of their mates exploits.

Anyway with Australian gangsters being rather high profile at the moment, I thought I’d take the time over the next few weeks to look at some Australian gangster films. Now the Australian gangster film, to be honest, is pretty much a knock off of it’s English cousins, except that it has even more swearing, and possibly even more corrupt cops. First cab off the rank is…The Hard Word

The film opens in the Long Bay Correctional Facility in Sydney, New South Wales. The three Twentyman brothers, Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson), and Shane (Joel Edgerton) have been is prison for two years, but after some dodgy legal practices and some bribes by their Lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor), the boys are released early.

On their first day on the outside the boys are at it again. Dale dresses as a cop; Mal as a parking meter inspector; and Shane and a car window washer (you know the type that try to wash your car windows while your stopped at a traffic light). Their target is an armoured car making a delivery of cash to a bank. The heist goes without a hitch – no one is hurt – and the Twentyman boys make off with the armoured car and take it to a pre-arranged meeting place in a warehouse.

The mastermind behind the heist was Frank. Now Frank is not just a criminal mastermind and a lawyer – he also a bit of a cad. He has been diddling Dales wife, Carrol (Rachel Griffiths), while Dale has been inside. This is to be the boys last job though. Now they have some money, they will each go their separate ways and go straight.

But first things first. The cash must be divvied up. The police are in on the heist, and two officers come to the warehouse to collect their split. Then they take the Twentyman brothers with them to the police station. This is an old trick they they have done before. The corrupt police officers say that they have been interviewing the boys all day, so their is no way that they could have participated in the robbery.

Well that it in theory! In fact, Frank has double crossed them. It has been a set up all along. The Twentyman’s are identified and arrested and sent back to Long Bay to do a little more hard time.

But this extra detention is another of Frank’s ploys. He wants to soften the boys up, because he has one last BIG job for the brothers to do for him. It is down in Melbourne on the first Tuesday in November – the day they run the Melbourne Cup.

After the horse race, all the bookies come together at a central location for a piss-up and to count their days takings. With a little inside help, Frank plans to rob the bookies and pull in between ten and twenty million dollars. Of course, in this type of film, nobody can be trusted – particularly Frank. But the heist ‘almost’ goes to plan. The Twentyman brothers manage to get hold of the loot, but a few other people who were involved in the heist do not want to play nicely and share.

I found The Hard Word to be very entertaining, but if you look at the characters and story too closely, you’ll realise you’ve seen it all before. Every violent robbery movie cliché is being played out on the screen. But that is not necessarily a bad thing if you like watching these types of films, like I do. Those seeking originality and a few unusual twists could find themselves disappointed.

The Hard Word

Le Professionnel (1981)

Directed by Georges Lautner
Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein, Jean-Louis Richard, Cyrielle Claire, Michel Beaune, Elisabeth Margoni, Marie-Christine Descouard
Music by Ennio Morricone

Le Professionnel is a good old fashioned adventure spy flick. Well, it starts as an adventure, then it turns into a revenge flick, but either way it is still very entertaining, and buoyed by the presence of Jean Paul Belmondo who stars as ‘The Professional’ of the title. Belmondo play Joss Beaumont who is one of the French Secret Services best operatives. He has been trained to the highest level in weapons and tactics. He has been taught to live off his wits and not rely on backup from other agents or gadgets. But as this film opens, a mission has gone wrong. Beaumont is in the ficticious African country of Malagawi, and he is standing in the docks in a court of law. Beaumont has been accused of the attempted assassination of the leader of Malagawi, President N’jala. In the courtroom, Beaumont admits to the assassination charge. He also admits that he was working alone, and not coerced by any political power. During the proceedings though, Beaumont collapses. Court is adjourned and Beaumont is shuffled into a side room. Here he is held down and injected with a magic potion. The potion makes Beaumont compliant to his captors will. Court is readjourned and Beaumont admits to all crimes against the country, and admits that the full penalty of the law should apply in his case.

Beaumont is convicted an sent to a primitive African prison where he is tortured and treated as a slave. During his two years of incarceration, Beaumont befriends a native prisoner, and they formulate a plan to escape – it’s the one where one man pretends to have stomach cramps etc…I am sure you’ve seen it before. Their ploy works and the two men escape and head to the village where the African prisoner came from. Unfortunately the Malagawi army is on their tail and follows them to the village. The soldiers shoot up and burn the village. Beaumont’s companion is shot during the insurgence, but Beaumont, armed with a sniper’s rifle, shoots a few key soldiers and during the confusion he manages to escape.

The film then moves to Paris – we know this because of the aerial shots of the Eiffel Tower. Back on his home turf, Beaumont announces his return to France by sending his superiors at the French Secret Service a telegram. The telegram is in a code that has not been used for over two years, and takes a while to decipher. Once they do, the heads of the Secret Service and the government are in for a shock…

You see, two years ago, Beaumont was sent to assassinate President N’Jala – that much is true. But he did it on the orders of his superiors in the French Secret Service, who in turn were following orders from the French Foreign Minister. But by the time Beaumont had arrived in Africa, the situation, politically, had changed. President N’Jala was now an ally and the need for his death was no longer warranted. But the Secret Service chose not to abort the mission. Instead they sold out Beaumont to N’Jala’s Secret Police.

Now Beaumont is back, and his telegram states that he is going to go through with his original mission – kill President N’Jala. Coincidently, N’Jala is going to be in Paris over the next three days, involved in some diplomatic discussions. This gives Beaumont plenty of time to carry out his mission, and provide plenty of headaches for the Secret Service.

One of the many headaches, on top of protecting the President of a foreign nation from assassination by a highly trained operative, is that Beaumont may go to the press and release details of his original mission and his subsequent betrayal. The truth would cause the government quite a great deal of embarrassment.

Ultimately there is only one option that can be employed by the government and the Secret Service; and that is to silence Joss Beaumont permanently. The man selected to do this is the sadistic Rosen (Robert Hossein), who get’s off on hurting people. In his attempts to capture Beaumont, he manipulates and abuses those that Beaumont still has a connection wife, such as his wife, Jeanne (Elisabeth Margoni) and his oldest friend, Valeras (Michel Beaune). This begins a cat and mouse game between Beaumont and Rosen which dominates much of the film.

Le Professionnel is professionally made entertainment. Despite the quasi-political nature of the story, the film isn’t too deep. The plot machinations are simply to showcase Belmondo’s brand of death defying mayhem. As usual, Belmondo does most of his own stunts, and while they aren’t as outrageous as some of his other films, he still gets to climb about on the ledges on building and participate in a high speed car chase through the streets of Paris.

Le Professionnel (1981)

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaise, Demond Llewelyn, Bernard Lee
Music by John Barry
Title song performed by Lulu
Based loosely on the novel by Ian Fleming

The Man With The Golden Gun is the most psychedelic of the Bond series or at least tries to be. The villains lair, which is revealed in the opening sequence, and features in the finale is a carnival of flashing coloured lights, revolving mirrors, robotic toys and wall high video screens. But despite all the toys it isn’t that trippy. As such, it provides the setting for one of the Bond series weakest endings. The story for two thirds of it’s running time is okay, but it is always leading to the showdown between Bond and The Man With The Golden Gun, Francisco Scaramanga. And that showdown is a bit disappointing.

James Bond (Roger Moore) is summoned to M’s office. M (Bernard Lee) presents Bond with a package that has been sent to M.I.6 headquarters in London. Inside the package is a golden bullet and etched on the side are the numbers 0-0-7. It looks like somebody wants James Bond dead, and that someone happens to be Franscisco Scaramanga. Scaramanga is the world’s most expensive and dangerous assassin. He is known as the ‘man with the golden gun’ because he always uses a gold bullet to kill his targets. On top of that, he charges one million dollars for every target – it’s not bad work if you can get it! M relieves Bond from duty. M.I.6 cannot jeopardise a mission by having an agent shot while on active duty. Bond suggests that if he found Scaramanga first, then the tables would be turned. M agrees and begins tracking down the mysterious ‘man with the golden gun’.

Bond’s first port of call is a nightclub in Istanbul. A Double-O agent had been killed there many years previously by Scaramanga. The agent had been with an exotic dancer named Saida when he was killed, and now she uses the remnants of the bullet as a lucky charm, wedged in her navel. After some gentle coercion, Bond obtains the bullet and takes it to Q-Branch. Q (Desmond Llewellyn) examines the bullet and the mineral content of the gold that it was made from. Q ascertains that the gold could have only come from one part of the world, the Far East, and only one man in that part of the world is equipped to make some specialised bullets. His name is Lazaar and he works out of Macao.

Bond pays a vist to Lazaar and threatens to kill him unless he leads him to Scaramanga. In fear for his life, Lazaar offers to help, but he is only a small link in the chain. He takes the golden bullets to a casino where they are collected by a lady. As it happens, Lazaar has another shipment of bullets ready to be delivered. As he takes them to the casino for collection, Bond follows and watches.

At the casino, the bullets are collected by Andrea Anders (Maud Adams). She leaves and catches a hydrofoil to Hong Kong and then checks into a hotel, all the time with Bond discreetly on her trail.

Later, Bond convinces one of the hotel staff to open the door to Andrea’s hotel suite. Inside she is taking a shower and does not hear Bond enetre the room. After she has exited the shower, Bond asks her where he can find Scaramanga. She refuses to say. In one of Roger Moore’s more brutal scenes as Bond, he gives her a backhand across the jaw and then literally twists her arm. She tells Bond that Scaramanga has an appointment that evening at a Hong Kong night club called the ‘Bottom’s Up’.

As this Bond film is set in Asia, and at this time Kung-Fu films were exceedingly popular, it is not surprising that The Man With The Golden Gun jumped onto the martial arts bandwagon. The scenes aren’t too successful because Roger Moore is not too convincing as a martial artist, and most of the scenes fall to Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Tek Oh), who plays Bond’s contact in Hong Kong.

The Man With The Golden gun of the title is played by Christopher Lee, and he is pretty good in the role, but he is at his most charming and menacing when he is simply conversing with Bond. Whenever Scaramanga has to engage in any type of action it comes off as silly (this probably has more to do with the script, than Lee’s acting ability). On such scene is where he has to slide down, on the soles of his feet, an embankment of flattened steps (don’t ask!), and then roll into a somersault, grab his gun and fire at the target. Equally silly, is when he has to pilot a flying car. Lee is at his best as an urbane gentleman – not as a two bit action hero.

Hervé Villechaise is Scaramanga’s diminutive manservant Nick Nack who at the height of 3′ 11″ is not a particularly threatening henchman. In fact, he is one of the few villains in the Bond series who is not killed.

There are two main Bond girls in The Man With The Golden Gun. The first is Maud Adams. Adams plays Andrea Anders, the woman who sets the whole chains of events in motion by sending James Bond one of Scaramanga’s golden bullets. The bullet usually signifies the recipient is to be the next target for assassination by The Man With The Golden Gun, but in this instance it is simply a ploy to drag James Bond into Miss Anders game. And she is quite prepared to use her body to sweeten the deal, if it will get her what she wants.

The next Bond girl is Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight. Goodnight is the good girl in this movie, but she is also lumbered with some awkward comic relief moments.

After George Martin had taken over the musical reigns for Live And Let Die, it was back to the maestro, John Barry for the score to The Man With The Golden Gun. It was Barry’s seventh score for a Bond movie, and it is lighter than previous scores, to suit Roger Moore’s lighter interpretation of Bond. But as always, it is good to have John Barry back in control, and in the chase sequences where he, once again, comes into his own with pounding rhythms and driving horns to underscore the action.

The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the weaker Bond films. This is mainly due to the ending. The duel between Bond and Scaramanga works on paper, but not particularly well cinematically. And when the gunfight moves into Scaramanga’s funhouse, the ending becomes repetitive – because we have seen it in the pre-title sequence. It is also predictable – again the pre-title sequence enables you to guess what happens next.

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

Masquerade (1965)

Directed by Basil Dearden
Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Charles Gray, Bill Fraser, John Le Mesurier, Roger Delgado
Music by Philip Green
Based on the novel, ‘Castle Minerva’ by Victor Canning

Sometimes when you’ve seen as many spy films as me, you believe you’ve seen the cream of the crop and all that is left is the dregs. Thankfully that is not true. Every now and then I come across a spy film that a) I know little about, and b). is a rollicking piece of entertainment. Masquerade is one such film. Most films of this type have received a great deal of fanfare and are readily available on DVD. Strangely this is not the case for Masquerade – currently it is one of the great sixties spy films that is still ‘missing in action’. So if you get the chance to watch this little gem, grab it with both hands.

The story concerns the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Ramount, which has an oil trade agreement with Britain. This agreement is due to expire and the English are keen to renew the contract.

Currently, Ramount is under the rule of Regent Ahmed Ben Faïd (Roger Delgado). Ben Faïd does not favour renewing the British contract and would rather deal with countries behind the Iron Curtain. But Ben Faïd is just the care-taker ruler of Ramount. The rightful heir, Jamil is only two weeks away (his fourteenth birthday), from ascending to the throne and taking control of the country. Jamil is pro-English, and would renew the oil contract.

So for Ahmed Ben Faïd, to retain his power, and to get his own way, the solution is simple – he must kill Jamil. The British Secret Service fear that there may be an attempt on Jamil’s life and hatch a scheme – unofficially, of course, – to protect the future leader.

Leading this scheme is Colonel Drexel (Jack Hawkins). His plan is to stage a mock kidnapping of the heir, and spirit him away to Spain until he is old enough to take control of Ramount. Aiding Drexel in his plan, is David Fraser (Cliff Robertson), a down on his luck American, that Drexel knew from the war. Much to the chagrin of the British Secret Service, Fraser is not from Eton, but Drexel vouches that he’ll do a splendid job.

Fraser is professional, but he does have a tendency to get side-tracked. In Spain, Fraser’s attention is diverted by a group of smugglers who wish to ‘borrow’ his high powered speed boat. Amongst the smugglers are such familiar Eurospy faces as the gorgeous Marisa Mell, who plays Sophie, and Michel Piccoli, who is the leader of the smuggling ring.

The film saves it’s first great twist until the halfway mark. I’ll admit that I didn’t see it coming. But once the twist has played out, it opens the floodgates for all sorts of plot shenanigans, and a great deal of viewer enjoyment. This film has a bit of everything – an engaging and unpredictable story line; quite a few nice set pieces and action sequences; midgets with guns; and a great cast of actors to bring it all to life. Track down a copy if you can.

Thanks to Skadog.

Masquerade (1965)