The Saint In The Church

Sir Roger Moore In Conversation
November 25th 2008
Baptist Church, Flinders Street, Melbourne

Tuesday evening I was lucky enough to attend a special event in Melbourne with Sir Roger Moore, arranged by the Readers Feast Bookstore. The event was held in a church, not far from the iconic Flinders Street Station. I arrived in town early, and with time to kill, stopped off at Young & Jacksons for a quick libation. Refreshed, I headed off to the event. Inside, I took a seat on one of the pews (as close to the front as I could), and then nervously awaited the arrival of the legendary actor. Needless to say, I was not alone. Four hundred other patrons packed the tiny church.

The evening consisted of an MC asking Sir Roger a series of questions about his life, and this was followed by questions from the audience. Afterward he naturally signed copies of his new book, My Word Is My Bond.

Sir Roger was, as you’d expect, charming and witty as he recounted tales from his childhood, early film roles and then his work with UNICEF. One of his more amusing tales concerned being shot in the leg with an air rifle. Then later, after describing a rather graphic tale about the plight of some children in Salvador, he then paused and then apoligised for bringing the tone of the evening down. The apology wasn’t necessary. We were all eager to hear what Sir Roger had to say, and it certainly didn’t taint the evening that it wasn’t all sweetness and light. If an apology is required, it is for his work on Fire, Ice and Dynamite, not in performing his duties as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

An interesting tidbit that was revealed is that the new Saint project is going forward – Sir Roger didn’t mention any cast members – but did say filming was to begin in January. He also alluded to having a cameo in the production! Time will tell.

Then the questions were opened up to the floor. There are two types of ‘fans’ in this world. There are those who follow the mainstream and just want to know about James Bond, and naturally Sir Roger was asked quite a few questions in relation to his most famous screen role. The other type of fan wants to show how well researched they are, and ask more obscure questions. In this instance the obscure question related to the film North Sea Hijack (or Ffolkes as it also known).

Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Sir Roger a question. Sadly, I would have been one of the ones who asks the obscure questions. I would have asked him about working with hellraisers like Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Lee Marvin. I am sure his response would have raised a chuckle. After the questions, orderly queues were formed to have copies of his latest book signed.

And then it was over. All too brief. But, for me – and let’s face it, I’m a guy who writes a blog about spy films – this event was a big tick in my life box. On this side of the world, down under, not many people make the time to come out and meet the fans. Sure stars will fly out for a quick promotional tour to flog their latest movie (most premieres are in Sydney), and then they’ll be gone. Sure, Sir Roger has got his wares to sell too, but he could have spent the time in a hotel and just participated in a few television interviews. Instead, he was gracious enough to appear at multiple events around the city.

Sir Roger, sincerely, thank you.

Special thanks to Mick

The Saint In The Church

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Rudolph Klein Rogge, Aud Egede Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Bernhard Goetzke, Paul Richter, Robert Forster-Larrinaga, Alfred Abel
Based of a novel by Norbert Jacques

Even though many silent films are regarded as classics these days, it’s worth noting that many of these films still share a lot in common with your typical B-grade and exploitation picture. Both feature sex and violence, sexism and subjugation, nipples and nudity (remember this is before the Hays Code) and most of all, a desire to put as many bums on cinema seats, and make as much filthy lucre as possible.

One of the most lauded directors of the twentieth Century was Fritz Lang, and many of his films are considered the finest examples of cinema ever created. Lang’s masterpiece, Metropolis has been in the headlines quite a bit recently after a complete print of the film was found in Buenos Aires. Prior to this though, Lang directed another of his triumph’s, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. Unlike Metropolis, which was a flop, and was subsequently butchered, Dr. Mabuse was a massive hit. It could be considered The Lord Of The Rings of its day. There was a huge advertising campaign leading up to the film’s release. Norbert Jacques’ novel, on which the film was based, was serialised for magazines, and the novel was released twice in hardback and paperback. There was a great deal of public awareness about the Mabuse character.

Another comparison between Dr. Mabuse and The Lord Of The Rings (the book) is in the way it was originally presented. The argument still rages, is The Lord Of The Rings three books or is it in fact nine books? Similarly, people cannot decide if Dr. Mabuse (the film) is one long film, or two films. There is no doubt that the film was shown in two parts as The Great Gambler (which first screened on April 27, 1922) and Inferno (premiering on May 26, 1922). But every source I look up, seems to have differing opinions. Some poorly researched sources, even imply that they are three different films. In the end though, with the DVD age upon us, what does it really matter? If you want to watch it all in one sitting – go ahead. With a running time of between 242 and 297 minutes (depending on the version you’re watching), I feel a break is required.

With a film of this age, many reviews tend to look at the restoration of the film, or even the multitude of DVD releases available. I guess this is understandable as so much has been written about director Fritz Lang and Dr. Mabuse. Covering such a well respected director and well documented series of films almost seems like an exercise in futility. But you’ve got to go with what you love, and by now, my penchant for spy films is well documented (mostly by me). So is Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler a spy film? The short answer is no. But in the Mabuse character, a lot of the seeds for the villain in films from the great sixties spy boom were sewn. In Mabuse, we have a master of disguise, whose almost super human powers allow him to control an evil organisation, that in the confines of the universe created for the film, attempts nothing short of world domination.

Mabuse’s progeny is Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE, Tung Tse and Big O, and many of the operatives of THRUSH. Even Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers films is the bastard child of Mabuse. Naturally, I could branch off onto a tangent about the role of the Mad Doctor or Mad Scientist in cinema – but I’ll leave this for another day.

Dr. Mabuse: The Great Gambler – A Picture Of Our Time
Dr. Mabuse (Rudolph Klein Rogge – yeah, he was Rotwang in Metropolis) looks at a selection of photographs, which appear to be different men. But each of them is Mabuse in different disguises. He shuffles the photographs, as if they were a deck of cards. He chooses a photo from the deck. It is an old man. He hands the photo to his valet, Spoerri (Robert Forster-Larrinaga) It is Spoerri’s job to transform Mabuse into the old man in the photo. But Spoerri’s mind isn’t on the job. He is a cocaine addict and pretty rattled. Mabuse warns that if he catches Spoerri in such a state again, he will drive him out like a dog.

Meanwhile a steam train rattles along the tracks. Onboard, in a compartment, a man is carrying a commercial coffee contract between the Swiss and the Dutch. Also in the compartment is a scruffy looking workman who is dozing in the corner. At exactly twenty-five minutes past eight, the sleeping workmen, who happens to be one of Dr. Mabuse’s henchmen, awakens and stands to stretch his tired limbs. Then he pounces on the courier, snatches the contract and hurls it out the window, as the train crosses over a bridge. At that exact moment, another of Mabuse’s henchmen drives his car under the bridge and the contract lands in the back seat. Obviously the theft has be planned and timed to perfection.

While the robbery has been taking place, Spoerri has been completing Mabuse’s metamorphosis. Now with the countenance of an old man, Mabuse gets into his car, and is chauffeured into town. At a ‘T’ intersection, another car runs into his, rendering it useless. The other car though, is fine. The driver of that vehicle offers to drive the irate Mabuse to his destination. What seemed like an accident was actually planned too. The car that Mabuse is transferred to, is the car with the stolen contract inside. Mabuse reads the contract, and then gives orders that the briefcase is to be found intact, half an hour before the close of the stock exchange.

Next through the winding city streets and back lanes, we see the same car. It stops at a street corner and a drunkard practically falls from the vehicle. The car races off as the drunk staggers along a path, using the wall to hold himself up. The drunk though, as you may have already guessed, is Mabuse in one of his cunning disguises. He stops at a building and is abused by an old women sitting at the front. She throws a ball of knitting yarn at him. Hidden inside the ball is the key to Mabuse’s top secret counterfeiting works. Inside a forger is running off dollar notes, and a team of blindmen are counting and bundling the fake money.

Back at the stock exchange, news is breaking about the stolen coffee contract. It is feared that the Swiss will pull out of the deal if the contents of the contract are revealed. The rumours cause Dutch coffee prices to plunge. Everybody begins to panic, and tries to rid themselves of their quickly diminishing stock – all except one man, Sternberg. Once the price bottoms out – he buys!

Then with only half an hour till the stock exchange closes, a report comes in that the secret contract has been found – unbroken – by a railroad attendant. The contract is subsequently returned to the Swiss consulate. The Dutch coffee prices begin to rise again – sharply. On this day, Sternberg has made an absolute killing on the stock market. Sternberg, of course, is actually Dr. Mabuse, in another of his clever disguises.

The second act opens with Dr. Mabuse chairing a lecture about psychoanalysis. After the lecture, the story cuts to the Folies Bergeres. Here we have a sequence encompassing two themes that Lang frequently explored and revisited over his career. The first is voyeurism, and the second is surveillance. In the scene, a drunken male crowd leers at a female striptease artist as she performs. The sequence is repeated in Metropolis when mechanical Maria performs a Mata Hari style dance. In both instances, Lang really plays on the ugly voyeuristic side, showing the men viewing the show as drunk lecherous men. Mabuse is different from the other men. He doesn’t leer. He sits in a booth at the back, watching. Rather than witnessing a performance, Mabuse is watching the crowd. it’s almost like surveillance. In fact, in Lang’s last film, The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse, the eyes are not his evil minions out on the streets, but a series of cameras he has hidden in a hotel.

At this point we are introduced to Miss Cara Carozza (Aud Egede Nissen). She is a dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Mabuse is watching her perform. But as I said, it’s more like surveillance. He is in fact watching, and sizing up his next victim, Edgar Hull (Paul Richter). Using his mind control techniques, Mabuse convinces Hull to go to the Pontoon Club and engage in a friendly game of cards. At the club, as the game progresses, Mabuse sends out telepathic signals so Hull tosses away winning hands, and keeps losing cards. Meanwhile it is revealed that Cara Carozza, the dancer, is one of Dr. Mabuse’s evil minions. In her dressing room after the show, she receives orders to go to the Excelsior Hotel and await further instructions.

Hull loses a filthy amount of money at the card table. Under Mabuse’s power of suggestion, he plays and bets recklessly, even when he has a winning hand. Eventually he loses 170,000 marks to Mabuse. Hull does not have the cash on him, so he arranges to meet Mabuse later so he can repay his debt. Mabuse hands Hull a business card, with a fake name and an address at the Excelsior Hotel.

Later, Hull goes to the Hotel to repay his outstanding gambling debt. In the room that Mabuse said that he was staying in, there is another man with a hangover. He has no knowledge of the debt. Hull leaves, relieved that he does not have to shell out his cash, but on his way out of the building, he meets Cara Carozza. This meeting is not a co-incidence. Soon Hull and Carozza are an item – but as we know dear reader, the strings are secretly being pulled by Mabuse.

State Prosecutor von Wenk (Berhard Goetzke) is investigating illegal gambling in the city. It seems that Hull isn’t the only innocent young aristocrat to have lost an obscene amount of money in unusual and in an ‘out of character’ fashion. Von Wenk, in an attempt to catch the ‘unknown’ fiend who is behind the spate of gambling crimes, enlists the help of Cara Carozza. From her he obtains a list of all the illegal gambling dens. Another ally that von Wenk collects along the way, is Countess Dusy Told (Gertrude Welcker). The Countess is a bored rich housewife. Very little in life excites her, as she has everything. She attempts to add excitement to her dreary life by spending each evening out at the city’s nightclubs and gambling dens. She offers to help von Wenk – but maybe not because she has a social conscience, but because she craves drama and excitement.

On the third night of his investigation, von Wenk comes into contact with Mabuse in an illegal gambling den, but neither man recognises the other as they are both in disguise. After von Wenk pulls a huge wad of cash from his pocket and places it on the table, he becomes Mabuse’s target for the evening. Mabuse attempts to use his hypnotic powers on von Wenk, but he isn’t a weak minded fool like many other of Mabuse’s victims. Mabuse’s attempt at mind control leaves him drained and he almost collapses. He leaves the game and the table. Von Wenk chooses to follow. He trails him to the Hotel Excelsior, where Mabuse makes a quick change and escapes once more. But before leaving, Mabuse arranges for one of his minions to pose as a taxi driver and collect the State Prosecutor as he leaves the building.

In the taxi, Mabuse’s evil minion gasses von Wenk who passes out. When von Went awakens he finds himself, minus all personal possessions, in a small wooden dingy in the middle of a lake. As von Wenk awaits rescue, Mabuse goes through von Wenk’s notebooks and other personal effects. Inside the notebook, Mabuse discovers how close the State Prosecutor has come to tracking him down and stopping his operation. He orders both von Wenk and Edgar Hull assassinated. Luring both men to their doom is Cara Carozza.

Of course, as we have seen, Mabuse doesn’t do his own dirty work, and rather than participate in the assassination he is to attend a seance being held by Countess Dusy Told. The seance is another attempt to break away from the mundane life that she lives. At the seance Mabuse becomes entranced by her free spirit. Seances, and the occult appear to be another of Fritz Lang’s interests. In the films Ministry Of Fear and The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse, Lang uses seances as the setting for assassination attempts on some of the principal characters. But nothing quite so sinister here. In fact, it is the beginning of Mabuse’s infatuation with Dusy Told. And as part one comes to a close, Mabuse kidnaps Dusy Told and takes her back to his lair.

What happens to von Wenk and Hull…ahhhh, that would be telling! You don’t want me to reveal all the story do you?

The first hour of this production absolutely rattles along, but then after that the story begins to crawl. As von Wenk begins his investigation, the story becomes very ‘talky’, which is not ideal in a silent movie. Watching the characters stand still and mouth great chunks of dialogue, and then waiting for the intertitle translation does become tiresome. Sure, there still some of Lang’s fantastic trademark visuals and extraordinary set design, but they don’t compensate for the sluggish story line.

Dr. Mabuse: Inferno – Men Of Our Time
The second part opens with a few flash backs to the end of part one, and then it focuses on Count and Countess Told. The Countess, of course, in now the prisoner of Dr. Mabuse. The Count, on the other hand, has no idea what has happened to his wife. He believes she has left him because he cheated at cards one night. In a distraught state, Count Told seeks the help of a psychiatrist to assist him with his problems. He chooses to see Dr. Mabuse. Mabuse toys with the Count and insists that he does not see anyone from the outside world, which the Count agrees to. Once cut off, the Count slips deeper into depression. The manipulation continues, and once Count Told is at his lowest ebb, Mabuse suggests that he cannot live any longer. The Count takes his own life, leaving Mabuse as the only suitor for Countess Dusy Told’s affections. Unfortunately, she does not share Mabuse’s feelings, and wishes to leave.

Mabuse’s obsession with Dusy Told slowly leads to his undoing. After the Count’s death, he is one of the major suspects, and when he attempts to kill those who get too close, the net tightens. Eventually the police and the army surround his hideout and shoot it out. One by one, Mabuse’s minions fall, and the mad Doctor decides to leg it. No doubt, you will have noticed that if you look at the Doctor’s name, it contains ‘ABUSE’. I am hardly an expert on language, but it seems an interesting co-incidence to me. First the character starts by abusing those around him, and then, once he becomes involved with Dusy Told, it could be argued that his actions turn to ‘self abuse’. It is he, who gave the police the information and clues to track him down. If he’d stayed out of it, and kept committing the cold clinical crimes, like at the beginning of the film, most likely he’d still be at large. But the man in the final frames of this movie is a very different being. After Dusy Told has been freed by the police, and his criminal empire destroyed, Mabuse has quite literally gone insane…haunted by the ghosts of the people whose lives he has destroyed.

There are two kinds of villains in this world. The first looks to improve his position in the world by obtaining wealth and/or power. Fu Manchu, Diabolik and Kriminal all fit into this category. Then there’s your villain who is just plain evil. They want to destroy the world and then rule the ashes. Villains like Fantomas and Dr. Mabuse are from this school. And like Fantomas, and all great screen villains, Dr. Mabuse would rise again, again and again. The first follow-on film, The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (1933) was also directed by Fritz Lang and starred Rudolph Klein Rogge. It is considered a classic. Many years later, as mentioned previously, Lang also returned to the character for the film The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960). This would be Lang’s last film as director as his eyesight was failing. Harald Reinl took over the reins for The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961), but by now the films had been dumbed down into standard crime dramas (Krimi). Next came The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962), then a remake of The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse, Scotland Yard Vs. Dr. Mabuse, and The Death Ray Mirror Of Dr. Mabuse. Each of these films has many versions and many alternate names, but these are your core films. There are a few other foreign productions which feature the Mabuse character. One film that continues to elude me, is Jess Franco’s Spanish The Vengeance Of Dr. Mabuse (1972) . Just the thought of Mabuse and Franco together makes me giddy. I know, one day when I finally do track down the film, I am going to be disappointed, but until then, in my mind it lives as a hypnotic, psychedelic ‘mind fuck’ that has the potential to be the greatest film ever made!

Even the bizarre horror film, Scream And Scream Again (1972) was released in Germany as The Living Corpses Of Dr. Mabuse – which means that Vincent Price was Dr. Mabuse – in my lopsided opinion anyway. But that is exactly as it should be – Dr. Mabuse can be anyone, and turn up anywhere. Although details are sketchy at this stage, it appears that Dr. Mabuse will plot to take over and destroy the world once more. On IMDB it lists a 2010 Dr. Mabuse film in production. And I for one, am looking forward to the madman’s return!

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Country: United Kingdom
Directed by Mark Forster
Daniel Craig, Mathieu Amalric , Olga Kurylenko, Gemma Arterton, Judi Dench, Jeffery Wright, Giancarlo Gianni, Jesper Christensen

Music by David Arnold

Title Song by Jack White and Alicia Keays

Based on characters created by Ian Fleming

Right off the bat, I’ll say that I really enjoyed Quantum Of Solace. Following up Casino Royale was always going to be a big ask, and the film-makers have fallen short and presented us with a very flawed film. However, the film still has some truly great new Bondian moments, as well as providing a few reminders of the films of the past.

Minor spoilers ahead:

The film opens half an hour after the close of Casino Royale and James Bond (Daniel Craig) is racing along an Italian coastal road in his Aston Martin. Hot on his trail are a few carloads of goons, who are firing their machine guns at him. Thankfully, it would appear that the same fellow who trained the Storm Troopers in Star Wars trained these goons. Even at point blank range they can’t seal the deal and kill Bond. Although it is never made clear, it is safe to assume that these villains chasing Bond work for the same group as Le Chiffre and Mr. White (the villains from Casino Royale). I don’t think I am giving too much away when I say that this outfit is the ‘Quantum’ group. It appears that Quantum is the new S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

Driving, Bond is able to out maneuver the bad guys and is free to continue his journey. He arrives safely in Sienna, although his car is a little worse for wear – all shot to pieces and missing a door. He drives under cover, pulls up and then pops open the boot (that’s ‘trunk’ for you American readers). Inside is a very visibly shaken Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the surviving villain from Casino Royale.

After that brief cowcatcher, we have the main title sequence. This time it has been put together by a company called MK12, who director Marc Forster has called in to do the graphics on this film. I must admit that I was slightly under whelmed by the visuals, especially when compared to Daniel Kleinman’s recent work, or that of the maestro himself, Maurice Binder. In my other life, when I am not writing about spy films, I while away my hours as a low-rent graphic designer, so I am always fascinated to see how the titles are presented. I was intrigued to note that they used a Herb Lubalin inspired stencil font for the titles. Now possibly I am reading too much into this, but this font style was very popular in the mid sixties through to the early seventies. Is this the designer’s subtle love letter to the Bond films of the past? And while talking about fonts, it is interesting to see that when Bond arrives in each new location, the city’s name is displayed in a different font, which reflects the nature of the country they are in. I think this is pretty cool – after all, the seasoned spy film viewer may have burst out laughing if green phosphorescent computer type flickered across the bottom of the screen.

After the titles we are back in Sienna and Bond, M (Judi Dench) and another agent named Mitchell are interrogating Mr. White. However the interrogation is short lived as Mitchell turns out to work for Quantum. Yes, he’s a bad guy. He attempts to shoot M and then flees with 007 hot on his trail. This diversion allows Mr. White to escape.

After a chase over the rooftops, Bond catches Mitchell and rather unprofessionally kills him. It’s hard to get information from a dead man. The only lead M.I.6 has to work on, courtesy of some marked dollar bills, is a man called Slade who is currently in Haiti. Naturally Bond is sent off to interview the man, and after a meeting him (if you can call it that – yeah, he kills him) he is contacted by a girl named Camille (Olga Kurylenko). Camille leads to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who is the head of an ecological business venture called ‘Greene Planet’. As you’ve come to expect from Bond films, Greene is not all he is painted to be.

As the adventure unfolds, Bond reacquaints himself with a few allies from the past. The first is Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). The scenes played out between Bond and Mathis are the best in the film – and dare I say it, some of the best in the series, recalling the relationship bond had with Kerim Bey in From Russia With Love. Another returning character is Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). When Casino Royale was released, I was concerned with the new interpretation of the character. But by using Wright again, and providing a bit of continuity, which Felix has sadly missed in the past – I am happy to accept the new Felix. Let’s just hope Wright continues with the role, and the charater does not have to be reinvented once again.

The climax of the film takes place in a hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert. After seeing the movie I watched The Making Of …Quantum Of Solace on television. It answered one question that I had been asking myself – what is a hotel doing in the middle of the dessert and why would anyone want to stay there? In reality, the hotel is a real place, and is next to an observatory. Visiting astronomers and scientists stay at the hotel. Now, couple that little tidbit of information with MK12’s title sequence, which uses ‘star map’ graphics, and I begin to wonder if there was an excised sub plot pertaining to astronomy or astrology?

One strange part about the ending is the lack of people at the hotel. There only seems to be one staff member servicing the entire building – hopefully she made it to safety. Also, earlier in the movie, Mr. White says about the mysterious Quantum group, ‘the first thing you should know about us, is that we have people everywhere’. It appears that ‘everywhere’ does not include in the middle of the Bolivian dessert, because Greene only has one odious, pudding bowl haircutted minion on hand to protect him (there may be another fellow who hands over a suitcase of money, but he just seems to dissappear). There may be plenty of explosions and flame – as you’d expect at the climax of a Bond film – but Bond really only has to contend with Greene. There is no evil army of Quantum soldiers on hand to provide a modicum of resistance.

Some media outlets have reported that Dominic Greene, compared to Bond villains of the past, is pretty lightweight. And to that I say, they are absolutely right. But I believe this perceived weakness is due to the lack of a good henchman at his side. Auric Goldfinger, Hugo Drax and Karl Stromberg were never really a physical threat to Bond, but each of them had a cruel and strong henchman at their side (Oddjob, Jaws et al.) But poor old Dominic Greene is lumped with Mr. Puddingbowl Haircut, and Mr. Puddingbowl doesn’t seem to be of much use in a scrap. Mathieu Amalric ’s performance as Greene is quite good. He spits out his lines with the right amount of vitriol and never overacts to the point of parody – which has been an issue with Bond villains in recent years (Toby Stephens and Jonathan Pryce, I am looking at you!)

The main Bond girl is Camille, played by Olga Kurylenko, who we all fondly remember from The Hitman – don’t we? Camille is an interesting character with a back-story that could have been lifted from a Spaghetti Western. Her father was killed, and her mother and sister raped before her eyes. She, herself was left to die in a burning house. She now has scars, a fear of fire – understandable really – and a burning (sorry) desire for revenge.

The other girl in Bond’s life at this time, is agent Fields (Gemma Arterton). Fields is a M.I.6 operative stationed in South America. After a rocky start, she becomes Bond’s ally when he arrives in Bolivia to continue his investigation into the business dealing of Dominic Greene.

Those of you who are regular readers here, may have noticed that my reviews are rather formulaic. Generally when describing the plot, I write up to the point where the mission is declared. That is to say that I describe the story up until the point where the secret agent/hero has his mission outlined by his superior. This has worked well for the Bond films because this is usually the ‘M’ scene. The Bond formula consisted of a heinous act being committed and then M sending his or her – depending on your favourite M – best agent out to round up the perpetrators. But the last two films in the series have altered that formula. M and Bond no longer seem to know what’s going on. In Quantum Of Solace, although M and Bond meet early on, the mission isn’t really declared. There are a few hazy leads, and ‘people of interest’, but no actual crime or mission to investigate. Look at the films of the past – in Dr. No, Bond is sent to investigate the death of Strangways – in Goldfinger he investigates Auric Goldfinger, who M suspects is a gold smuggler – in Diamonds Are Forever, it diamond smuggling – I’m sure you get the idea. But nothing is defined in Quantum of Solace. M and Bond then keep in continuous contact throughout the mission (of course, ignoring the political and trust issues inherent in the story). Now, not that this is necessarily a problem, but this new relationship between M and Bond poses a dilemma for future installments in the series. As I have already alluded to, in the past Bond was called into M’s office and given his mission briefing. As we all fondly remember, Bond would also flirt with Miss Moneypenny on his way in and out of M’s office. And also quite often, Bond would also receive the latest hi-tech gadgets from Q. But with this new dynamic, there is no briefing scene, and therefore, very little room for Q or Moneypenny. I am sad to say, we may have seen the last of these much loved characters.

All of the above are simply my observations and ramblings – not really intended as criticism, more of an analysis of how the Bond series is changing. But I do have a criticism, and that is the Bourne inspired rapid cut editing that takes place during the action scenes. The technique is so abrasive it ruins the flow of the movie. I have heard it said, that this style of editing draws the viewer into the scene. The viewer is supposed to feel like they are right beside the hero in the fight or chase scene. I actually believe that the rapid editing diminishes the power of the sequence. It is often used when an actor doesn’t have the skill set required to sell the action scene he (or she) is participating in. If you look back to the first Lethal Weapon film (how long ago was that?), you may remember that the film ended with a horrendous, heavily edited fight scene between Mad Mel Gibson and Gary Bussey (who is only a little bit mad). Both men were not trained fighters – skilled in whatever martial art was supposed to be on display – and the fight was heavily edited to hide the actors shortcomings. Now applying that school of thought to the new Bond film, were the action scenes edited that way to hide Daniel Craig’s inability to perform an action scene? Of course not! We have all seen Casino Royale and know that Craig can handle fight and chase scenes. So begs the question, why would you dilute Craig’s performance by using this technique? The answer is Bourne, Jason Bourne. Once upon a time, Bond was the trailblazer and other spy films would follow and blindly imitate Bond. But now Bond has become a follower. I would have thought that the film-makers would have learnt their lesson with Die Another Day, where they adopted a style of editing that mimicked that of the hi-tech films of Tony Scott (Scott’s editor on Spy Game, Christian Wagner, also edited Die Another Day). The editing ruined Die Another Day, and while not as destructive here, it certainly reduces the impact of Quantum Of Solace.

As I said at the top, Quantum Of Solace is a flawed film, and many commentators are sticking the boots in. I choose not to do that. It is different, and it must be a tough tightrope to walk when you add another piece to a franchise that has been going over 45 years. You have to keep the old fans happy, but also win over a new generation of filmgoers who will (hopefully) continue to support the franchise. I, as one of the old school fans, gladly accept and embrace Quantum Of Solace as the latest Bond film. I enjoyed myself for the full 105 minutes of it’s running time and on future viewings I am sure I will do so again. But I hope for future installments in the series, please Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (or the director that you entrust to carry on the legacy), do not slavishly follow filmic fads. You know better than that.

To read Tanner’s review at the Double O Section click here.

To read Paul’s review at Bish’s Beat click here.

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Peacemaker (1997)

Directed by Mimi Leder
George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Marcel Iures, Aleksandr Baluyev, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Music by Hans Zimmer

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that The Peacemaker is one of the best films of it’s kind. Strangely, it wasn’t a big box office success.

There a couple of things that lifted this movie above the pack. Firstly is the sexual politics. For those who haven’t looked at the credits at the start of this review, I’ll start by mentioning that director Mimi Leder is a woman. Why does this matter? Well, the film opens with Dr Julia Kelly thrust into a high-powered position. Initially she flustered and then soon takes control. At this point, and I may come off sounding like a sexist, but I don’t mean to, it seems like the film is another feminist manifesto; the weaker woman proving she can cut the mustard with the high and mighty male powerbrokers in Washington. But then the film introduces Colonel Thomas Devoe. He is boyish and gung-ho, and seems determined to knock Kelly back a peg or two. His actions at the start of the movie are your ‘black & white’ clichés. At one point he explains field work to Kelly like this:‘The good guys, that’s us, chase the bad guys, that’s them…’ Also Devoe, when reasoning fails, is quick to resort to violence. He is the antithesis of Kelly’s character. But as the movie progresses, Kelly gets thrust into the field herself and learns that it is as simple as she may have presumed. And Devoe, the man of experience, makes a few mistakes by looking at things from a military point of view, rather than a human one. The end result is, that both of them work better as a team than as individuals. I know, it sounds a bit ‘twee’, but in the movie it works well.

Another element that lifts The Peacemaker above the norm, is a stylised sense of realism. Let me explain? But first I’ll go back to the movie Patriot Games. In that film, there is a small section where Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is in a control centre watching satellite images of an incursion on a terrorist base. This small section is quite visionary. It set the foundations for a new style of spy thriller. Ones where logic and information are the tools for power rather than guns and gadgets. On the whole though, Patriot Games, whilst being a spy thriller, it played out more like a revenge flick. But that small section of hi-tech mayhem is expanded upon in The Peacemaker (and taken even further in Tony Scott’s Enemy Of The State). The use of ‘intel’ and satellite imaging is quite frightening in it’s depiction. There is almost a ‘Big Brother’ aspect to the military’s use of technology in tracking down their suspects. Sure, it’s a ‘stylised reality’, and whether the technology is really that advanced in our world is probably open to debate (or at least a ‘confidentially clause’) but as our world continues to become one where information technology rules, it is slightly chilling to see it played out on the screen.

And finally, the last element that makes The Peacemaker a superior spy thriller, is it’s humanity. Human life has a cost. When the U.S. chopper is shot down over Russia, Kelly is seen going over the dossiers of the nine men who died. She seems almost despondent. Was it worth it? Even Devoe, when his friend Vertikoff is killed is seen to shed a tear. It’s a long way from the expendable troops that stormed volcanoes and secret lairs in the sixties.

So there you have it. This is my pick for the best spy film of the nineties. As I mentioned at the top, the film wasn’t a box office success, so if you haven’t seen it, dig up a copy and enjoy!

Peacemaker (1997)

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

Country: United States / Germany
Directed by Jon Amiel Bill Murray, Peter Gallagher, Joanne Whalley , Alfred Molina, Anna Chancellor, Richard Wilson, Geraldine James, Terry O’Neill Music by Christopher Young Based on the novel ‘Watch That Man’ by Robert Farrar

The name for this film is obviously a play on Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, but as the titles unfold, it’s apparent that this film borrows from plenty of other sources too. The animated text that runs over the screen looks like the legs of an animated stick figure, which recalls The Saint. Another portion looks like a lit fuse recalling the titles for Mission: Impossible. All the time, the theme tune playing over the top is reminiscent of composer Henry Mancini’s work, and reminds us of Charade or possibly even The Pink Panther – and this out of all the subtle references is the most appropriate, because this film plays out as a lighthearted farce in the Blake Edwards tradition.

In the film, Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) is an insecure and lonely American who works in a Blockbuster video store in Demoines. His brother James (Peter Gallagher), on the other hand is a successful young businessman who is based in London. On his birthday, Wallace flies to London and un-announced turns up on James doorstep. Normally this would not be a problem, but on this particular evening, James and his wife, Barbara (Anna Chancellor) are hosting an elaborate dinner for some of James’ potential clients. During the course of the evening, James intends to pitch his company and services to the businessmen assembled. This is an environment where it would be better if Wallace was not around. James and Barbara have to quickly arrange an evening out on the town for Wallace – one which will keep him out of harms way until the dinner is over.

The latest craze sweeping London is a production called ‘Theatre Of Life’, which is an interactive theatre show. In it, regular people can participate in dramatic fantasy situations surrounded by professional actors who can guide them through the scenario. Unlike regular shows, the ‘Theatre Of Life’ does not take place in a theatre – it takes place in normal locations, such as the streets and in houses. James and Barbara decide that this is the perfect distraction for Wallace and arrange for him to participate that evening.

Wallace’s interactive evening of adventure is to begin at a phone booth. From there he will be contacted by the ‘Theatre Of Life’ team and given an address where the show will begin. Wallace doesn’t have to wait long at the booth. The phone soon rings and the caller asks for a man named Spenser. Wallace believes that ‘Spenser’ must be his character’s name in the theatre production, so he assumes that identity, and is promptly given an address.

Wallace makes his way to what he believes is the starting line for the ‘Theatre Of Life’, but in reality he has intercepted the wrong call. Spenser is a real person – not some character in a fictional theatre piece. He also happens to be a hit man – and the address that Wallace has been given is the address of the target.

You can see where this is leading, can’t you? Yep, Wallace gets involved in a real-life espionage adventure, but the whole time believes he is playing a role in an elaborate game, oblivious to the dangers that face him.

Okay, it’s a pretty contrived set up, but Bill Murray makes the film work. He can play this kind of role in his sleep, and does so here. Well, that’s not fair – Murray’s quite good, but we have seen him in this type of role a bit too often. Still, he carries this film, and if you’re a fan of Bill Murray, you find a lot to like here, but it does lack the sparkling one liners of some of his earlier work like Stripes or even Ghostbusters.

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

Country: United States / Germany
Directed by Jon Amiel Bill Murray, Peter Gallagher, Joanne Whalley , Alfred Molina, Anna Chancellor, Richard Wilson, Geraldine James, Terry O’Neill Music by Christopher Young Based on the novel ‘Watch That Man’ by Robert Farrar

The name for this film is obviously a play on Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, but as the titles unfold, it’s apparent that this film borrows from plenty of other sources too. The animated text that runs over the screen looks like the legs of an animated stick figure, which recalls The Saint. Another portion looks like a lit fuse recalling the titles for Mission: Impossible. All the time, the theme tune playing over the top is reminiscent of composer Henry Mancini’s work, and reminds us of Charade or possibly even The Pink Panther – and this out of all the subtle references is the most appropriate, because this film plays out as a lighthearted farce in the Blake Edwards tradition.

In the film, Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) is an insecure and lonely American who works in a Blockbuster video store in Demoines. His brother James (Peter Gallagher), on the other hand is a successful young businessman who is based in London. On his birthday, Wallace flies to London and un-announced turns up on James doorstep. Normally this would not be a problem, but on this particular evening, James and his wife, Barbara (Anna Chancellor) are hosting an elaborate dinner for some of James’ potential clients. During the course of the evening, James intends to pitch his company and services to the businessmen assembled. This is an environment where it would be better if Wallace was not around. James and Barbara have to quickly arrange an evening out on the town for Wallace – one which will keep him out of harms way until the dinner is over.

The latest craze sweeping London is a production called ‘Theatre Of Life’, which is an interactive theatre show. In it, regular people can participate in dramatic fantasy situations surrounded by professional actors who can guide them through the scenario. Unlike regular shows, the ‘Theatre Of Life’ does not take place in a theatre – it takes place in normal locations, such as the streets and in houses. James and Barbara decide that this is the perfect distraction for Wallace and arrange for him to participate that evening.

Wallace’s interactive evening of adventure is to begin at a phone booth. From there he will be contacted by the ‘Theatre Of Life’ team and given an address where the show will begin. Wallace doesn’t have to wait long at the booth. The phone soon rings and the caller asks for a man named Spenser. Wallace believes that ‘Spenser’ must be his character’s name in the theatre production, so he assumes that identity, and is promptly given an address.

Wallace makes his way to what he believes is the starting line for the ‘Theatre Of Life’, but in reality he has intercepted the wrong call. Spenser is a real person – not some character in a fictional theatre piece. He also happens to be a hit man – and the address that Wallace has been given is the address of the target.

You can see where this is leading, can’t you? Yep, Wallace gets involved in a real-life espionage adventure, but the whole time believes he is playing a role in an elaborate game, oblivious to the dangers that face him.

Okay, it’s a pretty contrived set up, but Bill Murray makes the film work. He can play this kind of role in his sleep, and does so here. Well, that’s not fair – Murray’s quite good, but we have seen him in this type of role a bit too often. Still, he carries this film, and if you’re a fan of Bill Murray, you find a lot to like here, but it does lack the sparkling one liners of some of his earlier work like Stripes or even Ghostbusters.

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

Enemy Of The State (1998)

Country: United States
Directed by Tony Scott
Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Jason Robards, Regina King, Lisa Bonet, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Ian Hart, Jack Black, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Seth Green, Tom Sizemore, James LeGros, Gabriel Byrne
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Trevor Rabin

Yep, another incursion into the noisy violent world of director Tony Scott. In this instance, his hi-tech visual style is appropriate because the story is about surveillance and privacy. Scott’s penchant for grainy and manipulated images, rapid cuts and ramped footage suit a story of this kind and reflect the technology and equipment utilised by the characters throughout this film.

The film begins with Congressman Phillip Hammersley (Jason Robards) pulling up his car next to a lake. He gets out and so does his dog. This is the Congressman’s recreation time and he regularly comes to the lake to walk and play with his dog. On this occasion though, somebody is waiting for him. This somebody happens to be a gentleman named Reynolds (Jon Voight). Reynolds appears to work at the higher levels of the NSA and controls a team of minions who are prepared to do his bidding and unquestionably carry out his orders. Reynolds has met with Hammersley before and has been trying to persuade him to support a particularly invasive surveillance and security bill. Hammersley refuses to support the bill – he sees it as an invasion of privacy. Reynolds has a contingency plan for this. Along for the ride is Pratt (Barry Pepper), one of Reynolds aforementioned minions. As Hammersley walks away angrily towards his car, Pratt walks behind him and injects a hypodermic needle into his neck. Hammersley dies almost instantly, and Reynolds and Pratt stage an accident. Hammersley’s death is made to look like he had a heart attack.

However there is one glitch in Reynolds murderous plot. On the other side of the lake, a conservationist, in a hide, had set up a remote video camera to watch the ducks on the lake. The camera is activated by a motion sensor and it just happened to be pointed in the right direction at the time when the Congressman was killed.

The conservationist, Zavitz (Jason Lee) also happens to be a compueter nerd and conspiracy theorist. Once he checks the recording, he immediately knows what he has, and also realises that he will be in a lot of danger once Reynolds is onto him. What Zavitz doesn’t realise is that they are already on to him and Reynolds minions are standing outside his apartment door. Zavitz barely has time to duplicate the footage when the minions kick in his door. Zavitz escapes out onto the roof and then down onto the street. Reynolds’ men, utilising the latest hi-tech satellite imaging, track his every movement and pursue him relentlessly.

Meanwhile Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) is doing a spot of Christmas shopping and is attempting to buy a surprise gift for his wife – so he finds himself in a lingerie boutique. At that moment, through the back door, Zavitz enters the boutique and quite literally bumps into Dean. The two mn are old acquaintances as they went to college together. They exchange pleasantries, and Dean hand Zavitz his business card. While they are talking Zavitz secretly slides the ‘murder tape’ into one of Dean’s shopping bags.

With Reynolds’ men closing in, Zavitz is quickly on his way, and once back out on the street he steals a bicycle. The evil minions close in and Zavitz is forced to ride down a highway head on into the on coming traffic. As Zavitz tries to cross over into safety, he is collected by a rapidly moving fire engine and killed. The minions search his body but do not find the recording. Instead they find Dean’s business Card.
Robert Clayton Dean is a highflying lawyer. He lives a good life with his wife, Carla (Regina King) and his son. The only blip on his radar is that he had an extra-marital affair with a girl named Rachel Banks (Lisa Bonet). Even though the affair has long since ended, Dean and Banks still keep in contact, as she has a contact named Brill, who supplies specialised and secretive documents that Dean uses from time to time in the course of his job.

Reynolds and his men are a pretty thorough lot, and quickly ascertain that Zavitz must have passed on the recording to Dean, and turn their attention to retrieving the footage from him. This isn’t as easy as it seems, as Dean is unaware that he has the incriminating evidence. Once he refuses to co-operate, Reynolds and his team begin to apply pressure. First they provide his wife with photos of one of his meetings with Rachel Banks. This causes a rift in the marriage. Next they freeze all Dean’s account so he has no access to cash. As more pressure is applied, Dean goes to further extremes to clear his name.

Enemy Of The State has three things going for it. The first, and most obvious is the simplicity in the telling a story about a need for surveillance and access to people’s most private information in the interests of national security, and at the same time showing that power abused. The second thing in Enemy Of The State’s favour is the casting of Gene Hackman as Brill. This character is not new territory for Hackman – he played a similar character in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation – or should I say, you could almost imagine that Hackman’s character from The Conversation, Harry Caul, could grow to become someone like Brill. And the final plus on Enemy Of The State’s ledger is it’s amazing allstar cast. Apart from Smith, Hackman and Voight, in supporting roles there’s such familiar faces as Jack Black, Jason Lee, Seth Green, Scott Caan, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Lisa Bonet, Regina King and Ian Hart. There are even cameo appearances by Jason Robards and Gabriel Byrne. This film is jam packed with actors you’ll recognise, some of them in bit parts, but it all adds to the films rich tapestry.

Quite often I come down quite hard on Tony Scott as a director because his films all tend to be the same and he utilises a lot of on screen ‘gimmicks’ to tell his story. Thankfully this is one film where his visual overload style can be given free reign and in fact is entirely appropriate. That being the case, I’d have to say that this is Scott’s most solid directorial achievement. After all that though, remember this film comes from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable, so it is loud and lots of things explode. Despite any hints of intelligence in the screenplay, this film was made primarily to entertain, and generally on that level in succeeds.

Enemy Of The State (1998)