Book Review – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1965) by Ian Fleming

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1965) **½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 238pp (214pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1965
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1965
Introduction by William Boyd (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57699-0
Blurb: ‘Mister, there’s something quite extra about the smell of death. Care to try it?’ After a year missing in action, Bond is back…brainwashed by the KGB and on a mission to assassinate M. To prove his worth to the Service, he must hunt down and eliminate his fiercest opponent yet: “Pistols” Scaramanga – “The Man With The Golden Gun”.
Comment: Fleming’s final full-length James Bond novel (a collection of short stories followed) was the first published after his death. Hampered by a standard Bond vs. Gangsters plot, reminiscent of Live and Let Die (both share the Jamaica setting) and Diamonds Are Forever (both deal with an organised crime syndicate), this lacks the lavish excesses of Fleming’s later work. The plot is a simple mission for Bond to target and assassinate Francisco Scaramanga, a deadly assassin for hire who uses a golden pistol. There are few surprises along the way, although the finale is reasonably exciting. Disappointing too is the swift way in which the cliffhanger we were left with at the conclusion of You Only Live Twice is resolved here. The manuscript was still in edit when Fleming died meaning further polish and potential expansion, that may have improved the book, was not possible and the result is a rough and ready Bond novel that is perhaps the weakest of the series.

Film Review – THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979)

THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979, USA) ****
Drama, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-EMI-Warner (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / IPC Films; d. James Bridges; w. Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges; pr. Michael Douglas; ph. James Crabe (Metrocolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); ed. David Rawlins; pd. George Jenkins; rel. 6 March 1979 (USA), 20 July 1979 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 122m.
cast: Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich), Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler), Richard Herd (Evan McCormack), Daniel Valdez (Hector Salas), Stan Bohrman (Pete Martin), James Karen (Mac Churchill), Michael Alaimo (Greg Minor), Donald Hotton (Dr. Lowell), Khalilah ‘Belinda’ Ali (Marge (as Khalilah Ali)), Paul Larson (D.B. Royce), Ron Lombard (Barney), Tom Eure (Tommy), Nick Pellegrino (Borden), Daniel Lewk (Donny), Allan Chinn (Holt).
Fonda plays a TV reporter who, with her cameraman (Douglas), finds what appears to be a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. Lemmon is the plant’s senior technician who looks to spill the beans, whilst the corporates try to silence him. This absorbing cautionary tale of the dangers of nuclear power plants benefits from an excellent script that balances its message with character motivation. It is aided by three excellent central performances – notably Lemmon who wrestles with his conscience as he uncovers shortcuts taken in safety checks – and a superb support cast. Whilst the drama may veer toward melodramatic thrills in its final act, the film’s message has an impact that is undeniable.
AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Lemmon); Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jane Fonda); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George Jenkins, Arthur Jeph Parker)

Book Review – YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) by Ian Fleming

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 320pp (288pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1964
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1964
Introduction by Tony Parsons (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57698-3
Blurb: You only live twice: Once when you are born And once when you look death in the face’ Doctor Guntram Shatterhand’s “Garden of Death” is a magnet for suicides from all over Japan. James Bond – grief-stricken and erratic – must kill him to save his career in the Service. But as Shatterhand’s true identity is revealed, Bond is forced to confront his past, in Ian Fleming’s twelfth 007 adventure.
Comment: Fleming’s twelfth Bond book was the last he fully completed before he died on 12 August 1964 (The Man With the Golden Gun was still being edited at the time of his death). The book is perhaps the darkest of all the Bond novels. Bond is initially a shadow of his former self as he continues to grieve the death of his wife, Tracy, nine months on. M is prepared to give Bond a final chance and sends him on an “almost impossible” emissary mission in order to obtain access to Japanese knowledge of US and Russian activity via their MAGIC 44 device. In return the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, seeks Bond’s help in ridding the country of the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand, who has built a castle of death – its gardens containing poisonous vegetation and a lake filled with piranha – aimed at helping people who wish to commit an honourable suicide. Much of the book is taken in introducing Bond to Japanese customs and comparing them with those of the West. The detail of Fleming’s research is admirable, but these early sections tend to drag, despite building up excellent characterisations of both Tanaka and Bond. The book comes alive once Bond has agreed to Tanaka’s request for help and becomes a Japanese fisherman in order to gain access to the castle from the sea cliffs. The final section in Shatterhand’s lair is both tense and shocking. The grisly deaths of some of Shatterhand’s “followers” are truly harrowing.  The novel finishes in a surprising way that leaves the reader wondering where Fleming would take Bond next. Overall, this is a mixed bag, which some may find a slog initially, but the final chapters are worth it and contain Fleming’s most fantastical setting to date.

Book Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) by Ian Fleming

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) *****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 368pp (339pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1963
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1963
Introduction by Stella Rimington (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57697-6
Blurb: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, is holed up in his Alpine base, conducting research into a terrifying biological weapon. 007’s mission is to gain access to Blofeld’s icy retreat and gather information vital to guaranteeing world safety. A new alliance with the troubled daughter of the head of the French mafia offers 007 the chance to bring down his nemesis once and for all – but will Bond be prepared to pay the ultimate price for victory?
Comment: Fleming’s eleventh Bond novel was a landmark for the series. It was the first novel Fleming had published after the release of the first Bond film Dr. No (1962) – indeed the novel has a sly reference when actress Ursula Andress is spotted at Piz Gloria; it made reference to Bond’s childhood and his Scottish/Swiss parentage and gives us much more insight into his character; and it sees Bond find the love of his life in Tracy. It also has the most exciting action sequences in the series with Bond’s escape on skis from Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s alpine base, and the final assault and bob sleigh chase breathlessly conveyed. The opening chapters also have a great deal of introspection on Bond’s part, he even considers resigning from the service, as he becomes knight-errant for the suicidal Tracy. The plot deftly mixes Bond’s relationship with Tracy and her father Marc-Ange Draco, who is head of a crime syndicate, with the tracking down of Blofeld and the uncovering, undercover, of his latest plot involving bacterial terrorism delivered through the hypnosis treatment of ten young female allergy victims. Fleming is at the top of his game as he skilfully weaves the story elements together into a satisfying whole, with its shattering conclusion.

Film Review – BREAKOUT (1975)

BREAKOUT (1975, USA) **
Action, Adventure, Drama
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / Persky-Bright-Vista; d. Tom Gries; w. Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman, Elliott Baker (suggested by a book by Warren Hinckle & William Turner and Eliot Asinof); pr. Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler; ph. Lucien Ballard (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Bud S. Isaacs; ad. Alfred Sweeney; rel. 7 March 1975 (West Germany), 1 May 1975 (UK), 22 May 1975 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 96m.
cast: Charles Bronson (Nick Colton), Robert Duvall (Jay Wagner), Jill Ireland (Ann Wagner), John Huston (Harris Wagner), Randy Quaid (Hawkins), Sheree North (Myrna), Jorge Moreno (Sosa), Emilio Fernández (J.V.), Paul Mantee (Cable), Alan Vint (Harve), Alejandro Rey (Sanchez), William B. White (2nd Officer), Roy Jenson (Spencer), Sidney Clute (Henderson), Chalo González (Border Guard), Antonio Tarruella (1st Prison Guard), Don Norgano Frill (2nd Prison Guard).
Vehicle for Bronson in which he plays a bush pilot hired by Ireland for fifty thousand dollars to go to Mexico to free her husband (Duvall), an innocent prisoner. Saddled with a weak script, Gries fails to find a consistent tone as the film veers uneasily between action drama and comedy. This is not helped by using Bronson in a character more suited to the likes of Burt Reynolds. The story is confusing, and the characters’ motives are never fully explored or explained leaving the audience with little to invest in them. The performances are mixed – Duvall has little to do, and his talent is wasted. There are better performances from Quaid and North, who manage to capture the tonal balance best. Huston has a couple of brief scenes as Duvall’s grandfather determined to keep him behind bars. Technical accomplishments are varied, the editing is often clunky, but there are some genuinely hairy stunts performed. Dan Frazer appears uncredited as a US Customs agent. Apparently the film was inspired by the real 1971 helicopter rescue and breakout of Joel David Kaplan from a Mexican prison.

Film Review – NOMADLAND (2020)

NOMADLAND (2020, USA/Germany) ****
Drama
dist. Searchlight Pictures / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (USA), Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cor Cordium Productions / Hear-Say Productions / Highwayman Films; d. Chloé Zhao; w. Chloé Zhao (based on the book by Jessica Bruder); pr. Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao; ph. Joshua James Richards (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4444 (3.2K) (source format). 2.39:1, 1.90:1 (IMAX version)); m. Ludovico Einaudi; ed. Chloé Zhao; pd. Joshua James Richards; ad. Elizabeth Godar, Tom Obed; rel. 11 September 2020 (USA), 16 October 2020 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 107m.
cast: Frances McDormand (Fern), Gay DeForest (Gay), Patricia Grier (Patty), Linda May (Linda), Angela Reyes (Angela), Carl R. Hughes (Carl), Douglas G. Soul (Doug), Ryan Aquino (Ryan), Teresa Buchanan (Teresa), Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder (Karie), Brandy Wilber (Brandy), Makenzie Etcheverry (Makenzie), Bob Wells (Bob), Annette Webb (Annette), Rachel Bannon (Rachel), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Sherita Deni Coker (Deni), Merle Redwing (Merle), Forrest Bault (Forrest), Suanne Carlson (Suanne), Donnie Miller (Donnie), Roxanne Bay (Roxy), Matt Sfaelos (Noodle), Ronald O. Zimmerman (Ron), Derek Endres (Derek), Paige Dean (Paige), Paul Winer (Paul), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Matthew Stinson (Nurse Matt), Terry Phillip (Terry), Bradford Lee Riza (Brad), Tay Strathairn (James), Cat Clifford (Cat), James R. Taylor Jr. (James), Jeremy Greenman (Jeremy), Ken Greenman (Ken), Melissa Smith (Dolly), Warren Keith (George), Jeff Andrews (Jeff), Paul Cunningham (Paul), Emily Jade Foley (Emily), Mike Sells (Mike), Peter Spears (Peter), Cheryl Davis (Cheri).
In this well-judged drama McDormand plays a woman in her sixties, who after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. The story is a slow-moving mosaic that manages to embody the frustrations of middle-America as recession hits and the victims are left without support or hope. Zhao’s film captures the beauty of the landscape and contrasts it against the harshness of economic decline and corporate mechanics as ghost towns spring up from the rugged landscape. McDormand gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance as the embodiment of the unsustainable ideals of modern America. The result is an ironic reversion to the pioneer mentality that formed the USA in the first place. The slow-pace and introspection will not be for everyone – and certainly may alienate the modern generation – but for those with longer memories and experiences it proves to be a rewarding and chastening experience.
AA: Best Motion Picture of the Year; Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand); Best Achievement in Directing (Chloé Zhao)
AAN: Best Adapted Screenplay (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Cinematography (Joshua James Richards)

Book Review – THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) by Ian Fleming

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) ***
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 237pp (212pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1962
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1962
Introduction by Douglas Kennedy (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57696-9
Blurb: ‘You take a wrong step, play the wrong card in Fate’s game, and you’re lost in a world you had never imagined, against which you have no weapons. No compass.’ Vivienne Michel is running away – from pain, from rejection, from humiliation. When she stumbles into a criminal plot, her life seems over…until a chance encounter with James Bond turns her world upside down.
Comment: Fleming’s tenth James Bond novel is a bold experiment in that it tells its story entirely from the point of view of a female character. The book is written in the first-person allowing Fleming to relate the experiences of Vivienne Michel and how her life is changed by her meeting James Bond. Split into three parts: the first exploring Viv’s life in England leading up to her job at the remote Dreamy Pines motel in the north eastern corner of the USA; the second introduces the two gangsters who would terrorise Viv as she is left in sole charge of the motel pending an end-of-season handover to the owner; the third part introduces James Bond as her saviour and the man who influences her life pathway choices going forward. Whilst the first part is necessary to let us understand Viv’s character, it feels a tad overlong, but the story picks up considerably with the arrival of Sluggsy and Horror at the motel. Then seeing Bond through another pair of eyes is an  interesting diversion, but adds little to Bond as a character that we don’t already know. As such the novel feels more of a diversion – a short story expanded into a novel. The insurance scam plot is simple and slight and only Viv as a character gets any colour due to the nature of the approach. Sluggsy and Horror are given dialogue that could have come out of any 1930s gangster movie. As a diversion it is and interesting, but flawed, experiment that is an entertaining read. Fleming returned to his more traditional writing format for the rest of the series.

Film Review – THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946)

THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. George Marshall; w. Raymond Chandler; pr. John Houseman ; ph. Lionel Lindon (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Arthur P. Schmidt; ad. Hans Dreier, Walter H. Tyler; rel. 16 April 1946 (USA), 1 June 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 96m.
cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard Da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland), Howard Freeman (Corelli), Don Costello (Leo), Will Wright (‘Dad’ Newell), Frank Faylen (Man Recommending a Motel), Walter Sande (Heath).
Ladd stars as a returning vet from WWII with Beaumont and brain-injured Bendix. When Ladd tries to reunite with his wife, Dowling, he discovers her promiscuity and walks out. When Dowling ends up murdered, Ladd is the chief suspect and runs into Lake whilst trying to evade capture and clear his name. A largely effective film noir that has more than its share of melodrama and a resolution that feels overly manufactured. Chandler’s script is a little over-reliant on cliched dialogue and often lacks his verbal spark, whilst the ending was changed against his wishes. There are, though, many wonderful individual scenes and Lake’s confident performance coupled with Ladd’s toughness elevates the material.
AAN: Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Raymond Chandler)

Film Review – THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2016)

LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, THE (2016, UK) **
Horror, Thriller
dist. Lionsgate (UK); pr co. New Sparta Films / Number 9 Films; d. Juan Carlos Medina; w. Jane Goldman (based on the novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by Peter Ackroyd); pr. Elizabeth Karlsen, Joanna Laurie, Stephen Woolley; ph. Simon Dennis (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Todd-AO 35 (anamorphic) (source format). 2.35:1); m. Johan Söderqvist; ed. Justin Krish; pd. Grant Montgomery; ad. Nick Wilkinson; rel. 10 September 2016 (Canada), 1 September 2017 (UK), 8 September 2017 (USA – internet); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 109m.
cast: Bill Nighy (John Kildare), Olivia Cooke (Lizzie Cree), Douglas Booth (Dan Leno), Daniel Mays (George Flood), Sam Reid (John Cree), Eddie Marsan (Uncle), María Valverde (Aveline Ortega), Adam Brown (Mr. Gerrard), Morgan Watkins (George Gissing), Damien Thomas (Solomon Weil), Peter Sullivan (Inspector Roberts), Amelia Crouch (Young Lizzie), Mark Tandy (Judge), Siobhán Cullen (Sister Mary), Clive Brunt (Charlie), Louisa-May Parker (Mrs. Gerrard), Nicholas Woodeson (Toby Dosett), Paul Ritter (Augustus Rowley), David Bamber (Mr. Greatorex), Levi Heaton (Sarah Martin).
In Victorian London, a Scotland Yard inspector (Nighy) hunts down the sadistic killer behind a series of gory, Jack the Ripper-Like murders. The story tries to be clever in its use of a non-linear structure, which doesn’t work, and comes across as simultaneously convoluted and obvious. As a result, there is little tension built from Goldman’s smug adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel. Medina adds some interesting directorial flourishes in an attempt to enliven the material and there is plenty of period atmosphere created by Montgomery’s production design and Dennis’ gloomy photography. However, the production fails to fully explore the themes it highlights – notably Nighy’s character’s sexuality, which is often referenced but never delved into further. The performances are okay, but the production’s fluctuating tone is also an issue and there are no standouts amongst the cast. The result will likely disappoint genre fans of both horror and mystery with the production’s desire to impress, through its non-traditional approach to the material, taking precedence over telling a coherent and well-structured story.

Film Review – TAKEN 3 (2014)

TAKEN 3 (2014, France/USA/Spain) **
Action, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. EuropaCorp / M6 Films / Taken 3 / Twentieth Century Fox; d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (based on characters created by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen); pr. Luc Besson; ph. Eric Kress (Colour. 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format), Super 35 (source format) (some scenes). 2.35:1); m. Nathaniel Méchaly; ed. Audrey Simonaud, Nicolas Trembasiewicz; pd. Sébastien Inizan; ad. Christophe Couzon, Natacha Hatch, Dominique Moisan, Nanci Roberts; rel. 16 December 2014 (Germany), 7 January 2015 (USA), 8 January 2015 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 109m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Forest Whitaker (Franck Dotzler), Famke Janssen (Lenore St. John), Maggie Grace (Kim Mills), Dougray Scott (Stuart St. John), Sam Spruell (Oleg Malankov), Don Harvey (Garcia), Dylan Bruno (Smith), Leland Orser (Sam (Gilroy)), David Warshofsky (Bernie (Harris)), Jon Gries ((Mark) Casey), Jonny Weston (Jimy), Andrew Borba (Clarence), Judi Beecher (Claire), Andrew Howard (Maxim).
Liam Neeson returns for his third outing as ex-government operative Bryan Mills, who is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name. Like its immediate predecessor, this action vehicle is directed by Megaton, who again employs his staccato editing techniques to the action sequences robbing them of any sense of tension or rhythm. The plot formula is a poor man’s riff on THE FUGITIVE. Whilst Neeson is again watchable in the lead and Whitaker adds an element of intelligence as the pursuing detective, the plot implausibility and its increasingly cartoonish and nonsensical violence suck any heart or emotion from the narrative. The movie goes rapidly downhill toward its inevitably formulaic and over-the-top shootout finale. Extended version runs 115m.