Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Man on the Moon

Throughout history Man has always stared at the night skies and watched the stars.  Before I was born a man became the first to actually touch another world.

Usually deaths of celebrities and the famous don't really register with me.  You mourn the loss of talent and remember the bodies of work of comedians, musicians, actors and the like but it's an intangible thing.  You never knew them so have little real reason to grieve other than empathy and compassion.

To me this situation has changed with the passing of Neil Armstrong.  Not because I knew him or had any personal connection but because of the idea of him, the ideas and sheer goodness of mankind that he represented.  The Moon landings were the culmination of the 1960s' Space Race.  Of course it was a political and military driven stunt but it still remains the most glorious achievement of Man.  In his short life he stepped on another world and touched the stars.

When Eagle touched down on the Moon and Armstrong first stepped on lunar soil it was the culmination of unbridled ambition and determination.  It showed what we, as a species, could truly be capable of.  JFK promised a man on the Moon by the end of his decade and despite him not seeing it his promise was realised.  What could happen now if Obama promised to cure cancer within ten years with the same amount of drive and ambition?  There are many serious problems here on Earth; climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources, who's to say that the solutions for these can't be found 'out there'?  It's been forty years since Man last set foot on the Moon and now we make do with buggies and robots sometimes landing on Mars.  We should reach further, push ourselves to discover.  Perhaps putting a man on Mars or even back on the Moon will help us solve some of our Earthly problems.

Armstrong passing makes us all feel our mortality.  Whether he liked it or not, he was a hero for people all over the world, an inspiration for all the children of the 60s and afterwards.  Do you really think that no one who saw the Moon landings in fuzzy black and white didn't come away wanting to change the world?  Armstrong seems to me as an unassuming man who worked hard for his country and despite all  the craziness concentrated on what he knew; aviation and engineering.  He began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a pre NASA body, in the 1950s.  The 1950s when half the world was recovering from World War Two and Armstrong is looking to Space.

It's hard to comprehend that in 1962 he was given astronaut status and four years later commanded Gemini 8 as it nearly disastrously docked with a glorified missile in Space.  Three years after that, in 1969, and he's on the Moon looking down on all of us.

I've read and heard the stories and memories of bleary eyed kids being sat in front on tiny TVs to watch Armstrong's moment of history unfold.  I'll admit it. I'm jealous.  I might have another 50 years left and I know that I'll never witness anything that will come close to that.  The Twin Towers or the Lost finale don't compare.

It was 50/50 whether or not Apollo 11 would actually succeed and see it's Eagle module touch down and we should all be glad it did.  Whilst the promise of the Moon landings has largely evaporated over the last forty years they still stand as testament to what Mankind is capable of, especially the 'a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer' that Armstrong saw himself as.  It proves that we should all look to future, avoid the short term and dare to chase our dreams.

The next time I see the Moon I will 'think of Neil and give him a wink' like the Armstrong family suggests.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

It's better than Never Say Never Again

Unlucky thirteen for Roger as Octopussy sees all the good work done by For Your Eyes Only wiped out by an ineffectual baddie and a dodgy Tarzan impression.  Still, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few Faberge eggs.

For Your Eyes Only was a stripped back reboot of the Bond franchise made necessary by the outlandish MoonrakerOctopussy sees a return to slapstick and nonsense, it's complete reversal only avoided by Jaws and that fucking pigeon being absent.  The circus involved is more than just a setting.  At the heart of Octopussy is a reasonably good story, a renegade Russian general wants to storm Europe with the aid of a nuclear accident.  Unfortunately, the story is a Christmas tree and the writers and producers just kept adding tacky baubles and bits of tinsel.

Octopussy doesn't actually start of all that bad.  Disregarding the pre credit sequence which really is a load of Toro the film proper begins with 009.  Oh, yes, another '00'.  He doesn't get to do much as he's dispensed with the Ferrero Rocher and ruined the ambassador's patio doors before a cunning deployment of a Faberge egg.  A fake Faberge egg as we soon find out.  The fake egg seems to be of more concern to M and (bloody Hell, yet again) the Minister of Defence, than 009's demise so Bond is sent to Sotheby's to find out what's going on.  Meanwhile General Orlov is having a right ding dong with General Gogol.  He only wins as he seems to be in charge of a revolving table.  A Pyrrhic victory as his comrades basically tell him to shut up.  Watching Steven Berkoff sulk is brilliant.

I will defeat Bond with smarm
Back at Sotheby's Bond deploys some poor sleight of hand and raises his eyebrows higher than the auction bids.  The auction is eventually won by mysterious Afghan Kamal Khan.  Naturally this is Bond's cue for a plane ride.  Destination India this time.  We now see Khan in his natural habitat.  A massive nod to Goldfinger sees Khan fleece a Fawlty Towers-esque major at the backgammon table.  Bond intervenes and takes a ridiculous pile of cash of Khan.  Trousering enough bank notes to make Zimbabwe's inflation rate look minuscule Bond annoys Khan's henchman and goes on a tuk-tuk ride downtown.  Now it's time for a random chase following in the footsteps of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.  Villains are everywhere and pour out of the crowd to chase Bond across hot coals and a bed of nails.  It's all very tiresome, especially when they needn't have bothered.  To get anything out of Moore's 70s/80s Bond all you have to do is appeal to Little Roger.  Khan's interestingly accented associate Magda has a turn between the sheets and recovers Khan's treasure before falling off the balcony.  The only intriguing part of Magda is her tattoo.  Her tattoo loses all mystery when we later hear of the women-only island.

Things are getting muddled.  We now have a bonkers Russian general passing on jewels to Khan to forge who then uses Octopussy to smuggle them around.  Octopussy has a squad of fearless fighting women but owns a circus.  She's got the hump with James Bond.  But how does any of this help Orlov make his tank divisions go east to west?  What's the point of Octopussy other than to get Bond and Andrea Anders in the same room again?  And who the bloody Hell is Rita Coolidge?

Octopussy is a mess of a film wrapped up in a game of 'That's not Roger' as myriad stunt doubles hurtle around the jungle and hold onto planes.  Real Roger pops up ebery now and then to tell a tiger to 'sit' (I know) or bugger up the planting of a listening device.  Khan smarms his way through scenes rather than offering any menace and Q is unleashed into the Subcontinent only to hold on to a native ally as he expires and fly a hot air balloon.  None of it makes any sense or makes you care about anything.  You could see why Moore really wanted to call it a day before the cameras rolled.

 Somehow we establish that Orlov has planted a nuclear bomb in Octopussy's circus and is in the process of double crossing Khan and Octopussy by running off with the valuables.  For a bloke Hell bent on world domination he is very involved in petty theft.  The Western world's hopes lie with Bond, so what does he do?  He gets on a train.  No good can come of this and, true enough, a fight with a spot welding twin kicks off.  At least Bond got out of the gorilla suit.  By now Orlov is dead, his character completely redundant and yet his bomb still counts down.  Berkoff was completely wasted as Orlov was relegated to the sidelines.  The film would have benefited from him taking over from Khan as the main villain of the piece.

What do you mean this bomb has no Waldorfs?
I'm serious
Anyway, about that bomb.  It's in the big top of course but Bond is stuck outside a phonebox in a stereotypical German town.  Bratwurst flies as he steals a car and makes his way to the US Air Force base where the circus is performing.  Whilst being hunted by base security Bond manages to apply perfect clown make up and head inside.  Not a smudge of the chalk face as Roger heads towards the base commander.  The base commander has relented on his search for a Waldorf salad and is lapping up the circus shenanigans.  You can almost see the bomb timer counting down as eventually Bond convinces people he's not part of the circus.  With predictable ease the bomb is disarmed with seconds to go.  Europe is saved!
How Roger's clown make up should have looked
Alas, a debrief on the biggest crisis since Cuba has to wait as Bond and Octopussy return to India for a dust up with Khan.  Invoking the same light aircraft which featured at the beginning of Moonraker Bond is up over the mountains.  This whole sequence only serves as a dry run for the end of The Living Daylights as Khan gets his comeuppance leaving Bond to convalesce on board Octopussy's private yacht.

Apart from the fact that Octopussy is a turgid lump in the Bond canon it's notable for one reason.  It was produced at the same time as, and went up against, Never Say Never Again and the return of Connery. It's good that Octopussy pulled in more dollars than Never... and hopefully now that MGM have the rights to Never... we'll never see it again.

Octopussy jumped up and down on For Your Eyes Only's goodwill and was a step too far for dear old Roger.  It should have been an omen that most of the crew had Delhi belly on location.  There's one more to come from Roger.  Hopefully he'll go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

James Bond will return and this time he'll be accompanied by another Avenger.

No, not one of those Avengers

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Fiddler In The Monastery

After the over the top and frankly horrendous Moonraker Bond is returned to his roots.  This is almost a reboot as Bond is stripped bare and we have a film actually driven by plot rather than stunts and gadgets.  For Your Eyes Only is a reinvention, we have new music for the gun barrel and Roger seems to be buying into it.  He doesn't look as tired and disinterested as in Moonraker.  The next Bond reboot, Casino Royale, bears a few similiarities to For Your Eyes Only, both are stories of double cross with hints of revenge.  However, For Your Eyes Only doesn't start too well.

Sheena the Gozerian
Bond visits Tracy, the only reference made to Mrs Bond during Roger's reign, before being interrupted by a soon to be remote controlled helicopter.  It seems Blofeld is back, crippled and soon to be dead once and for all (or not Kevin McClory).  Moore's Bond has never faced Blofeld before and this is a timely, if a little flippant, nod to past glories.  As Blofeld falls away to nothing the warble of Sheena Easton takes over.  The most notable thing about Easton's involvement is her boat race plastered all over the opening titles.

Back to the film proper and we soon find we have an understated, almost subtle Cold War thriller on our hands.  Secrets and Russians abound as we have a naval ship, the St Georges, disguised as a trawler doing a bit of actual spying.  There are no killer freighters hungry for the Royal Navy but an almost humble World War Two mine to provide Great Britain with problems.

This is where we need M, not the bleeding Minister Of Defence.  A mark of respect to the late Bernard Lee but a memo would have been better than Fredrick Gray.  The extent of Gray's conversation seems to be 'Hmmmm'.  It's like his prostate is falring up.  Thank God for good ol' General Gogol.  It's Gogol who lets us know what the Navy were looking after, an ATAC which turns out to be some kind of nuclear submarine walkie talkie.  Quite an important bit of kit and now the Russkis are after it.  Cue Bond.

Or not.  We're off to the Greek Islands first where some posh bit with too much hair is going home to daddy.  It doesn't end well and a long and lazy close up let's us know she's out for revenge.  But will she bleach her upper lip first?  Now it comes together as Bond is tasked with finding a Cuban hitman, shame it's in that bloody Lotus.  It seems the daddy of posh bit (Melina) was a British agent.  This doesn't explain the quite bizarre difference in accents.  Anyway, Bond goes off to find Tony Montana.

There's a Viagra joke in here somewhere
Cunningly dressed as a middle aged man trying to recreate his youth Bond bumps into Melina and her crossbow and loses the Lotus. YES!  This is the first time we've seen Moore's Bond have to think on his feet as in between umbrellas and a very resilient Citroen 2CV he escapes some goons.  A quick lecture for Melina on the perils of vengeance before Bond is headed back off to Blighty.

Seeing that Q pretty much invented LCD TV amongst other things it's a bit odd he still uses a Charles Babbage original.  Despite this, the interplay between Bond and Q this time around is up there with the best and helps Bond identify a bloke from a Tron storyboard as a bad guy.  Target acquired.  And he's Belgian.

Sporting some more dubious leisurewear Bond encounters Ferrara (reprised as Casino Royale's Mathis?) and Kristatos.  Now I don't trust Kristatos.  Anyone spending that much time watching teenage ice skaters is a bit dodgy.  Even if he is sponsoring her.  And he's got a Russian bird in his employ.  Alarm bells should ring loud but Bond is happy to make friends and let Kristatos lay the blame with Colombo.  Thank God Bond didn't make friends with Bibi.  Perhaps Roger put his foot down over the age difference.  Despite later thinking that Bond is from the British Narcotics Board(?) Kristatos sells Bond his story.

Colombo is 'The Dove', a semi legit businessman who munches pistachios and doesn't have a trenchcoat.  The chase for Colombo is manipulated by Kristatos via a biathlon and a needless turn in ice hockey gear before a very awkward dinner with ex Mrs Brosnan.  There was nowhere near enough soft focus and vaseline going on to make her attractive and how she thinks that's a Liverpudlian accent is beyond me.  Our newly promoted director John Glen again reaches back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service as Mrs Brosnan is dispatched rather brutally on the beach.  We've already seen a cosy ride in the snow, a ski chase and a bobsleigh.  Nice to reference your first Bond film every now and then.

My wings may be a shield of steel but they're no match for Topol's hair
 Bond is kidnapped and dragged before a very Drago like Colombo.  It's now that the Fiddler on the Roof tells Bond the truth.  Bond really is getting gullible in his old age, he's buying stories of any Topol, Kristatos and Harry.  Dr Hans Zarkov proves that he is a good guy by taking Bond on a jolly to a drugs factory in Albania.  It seems that Kristatos is, indeed, a KGB'd up bad guy.  Especially when he appears to have a stash of mines like the one that blew up the St Georges.  It's amazing what Topol can do with some nutshells, his improbable hair and a penchant for dressing like a bin man.  He makes Neville Southall look dapper.

Coveted by Bond villains everywhere
The tension (remember that?) builds underwater as Bond goes after the elusive ATAC only to find the bastard Kristatos waiting for him on the surface, it's only dispelled as Moore talks to himself while cutting the ATAC free like a pensioner trying to get a Sky+ box to work.  Don't worry, the bad guys still have their obligatory yellow submarine.  A spot of keel-hauling from the novel of Live And Let Die and a chat with a parrot leads Bond to cracking Kristatos plan.  Yes, that said 'parrot'.  Just be grateful the fucking pigeon hasn't come back.  The tension is ramped up some more as Bond ascends to a remote monastery as Kristatos prepares for victory.  A sequence which Sylvester Stallone managed to turn into an entire film.

For Your Eyes Only sees Bond as gritty and realistic.  Devoid of gadgets Bond becomes the cold killer that we've been missing for ten years.  This is best shown as he says goodbye to the Belgian Lucque with a kick and an acceptable quip.  Bond is proven to be resourceful as the ATAC is lost to both sides.  Detente indeed.

Not only has Bond saved the western world but he's had a good go at rescuing United Artists too.  After their humbling with Heaven's Gate and Kris Kristofferson For Your Eyes Only provided some much needed box office dollar.  Despite this United Artists was swallowed up by MGM and Bond will be represented by a roaring lion from now on.  For Your Eyes Only shows that Bond can be realistic and successful.  Just don't mention Maggie Thatcher.  Hopefully the producers will keep this in mind for the next film.  Oh, wait, Octopussy's up next.

James Bond will return but he'll be doing an impression of Dr Dolittle.