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THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

While it’s not a terrible film in terms of action, theme song and the villainous Christopher Walken, Roger Moore’s final outing as James Bond, A View To A Kill (1985), is on the whole a kitschy let-down. A geriatric Moore planks woodenly through the dramatic scenes and the joins between him and his wiggy stunt-doubles are plain to see. Even Roger Moore admitted, in an interview, he was “400 years too old to play Bond.”

While Moore is my least favourite Bond there were some highlights during his tenure, notably: Live and Let Die (1973) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), plus his battles with arch-henchmen Jaws (Richard Kiel) and some fine gadgets were always memorable. However, I found his performances too cheesy and his Bond lacked the charisma and steel of the inimitable Sean Connery. Eventually, his performances and films overall slipped into parody and Moore’s 007 was rightly retired.

After A View to a Kill, Pierce Brosnan was all set to take over. But due to a last-ditch contract renewal of TV show Remington Steele – which ironically benefited from the publicity of Brosnan’s Bond casting – the role was taken by an actor of some standing, namely Timothy Dalton. Moore’s blonde, safari-suited playboy would be replaced by a brooding, angry, dark-haired Welshmen who had trod the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company and played iconic roles such as Heathcliff and Mr Rochester in film and television.

Dalton’s debut Bond was The Living Daylights (1987) and having watched most of the Bond films a few years ago – when they were replayed on Sky in 2012 – this one stood out as a right cracking espionage thriller. It was annoying because in the past I had wrongly dismissed it due to Dalton’s short career as Bond. But the Prince Charles Cinema in London began a 007 retrospective this year, screening the entire Bond series, thus I decided to experience it on the big screen for the first time.

After years of fun but hollow and almost satirical spy performances from Moore, Dalton gave a darker more nuanced tone in The Living Daylights. The film opens with a thrilling skydive and chase involving a training exercise gone wrong and culminates in Bond battling an unknown assassin on top of an exploding truck. As Bond parachutes to safety atop a passing yacht you soon realise we’re in safe hands with Dalton as he’s tough, athletic and very realistic. In fact, from research I gather he did many of his own, less dangerous, stunts in order to assure authenticity.

The plot of The Living Daylights is one of its major strengths. There’s no one single pussy-stroking-scarred-megalomaniac threatening to take over the world but more of a corporation of villains, from Joe Don Baker’s over-the-top-military-nut-with-a-Napoleon-complex, Whitaker, to Jeroen Krabbe’s Georgi Koskov; a devious Russian triple-agent attempting to reignite Cold War tensions between the KGB and British Secret Service.  There’s also a formidable henchman called Necros played with physical prowess and Aryan superiority by Andreas Wisniewski.

Bond enters the fray when he is sent to take down a sniper sent to kill Koskov. In a plot twist, very much faithful to the energy of Ian Fleming’s original short story, he spares the baited “assassin”, a cellist named Kara Milovy portrayed with naive charm by Maryam d’Abo.  During the “assassination” attempt on Koskov Bond senses something is wrong and spares Kara’s life. This sets in motion some wonderful cat-and-mouse espionage set-pieces and chases through the streets of Vienna and on the ski-slopes of Austria. Indeed, the relationship between Kara and Bond, while starting from a deadly position, provides a key romance and subplot but never feels forced. I especially enjoyed the integration into the story of Kara’s cello which is used throughout as a means to bring the two together; notably during the early “sniper” scene; plus when they trick KGB agents in Vienna; and when it’s employed as a makeshift snowboard while escaping capture.

The “cello ski-slope” stunt is just one of the brilliant action sequences in the film. Other great action scenes are the gadget-heavy car chase featuring the Aston Martin which precedes it plus a heart-stopping stunt at the end involving the huge cargo plane. Bearing in mind this is before any kind of computer-generated imagery was used in cinema, the feat of the stuntmen hanging out of the plane on a net while fighting just took my breath away when witnessed on the big screen. Within the action there’s a lovely pay-off too as Bond eventually uses the ticking time-bomb he set to blow up an Afghan bridge to defeat the Soviets.

Of course, while Bond is ultimately a cartoon-action-spy-thriller there are some interesting socio-political points made. Whitaker, Koskin and Necros’ nefarious plans involve using Soviet funds to pay for a huge opium purchase from the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and in turn use the profit to buy more weapons and further the Cold War conflict.  The film suggests certain Governments, Military and Secret Services often manufacture wars and assassinations for their own political and economic needs and Bond himself is the “Lone Ranger” policing the world against these crazed, avaricious warmongers. While I really like the Daniel Craig Bond era, on the main, his films do lack a certain political depth in regard to current topical events; desiring to avoid accusations of political incorrectness no doubt.

Compared to the Moore films it could be argued there’s a lack of humour in the Living Daylights. I think this is incorrect though as there’s some nifty laughs and fine one-liners throughout; it’s just Dalton plays it dark and deadpan. Yet there is also playful invention in the film, for example, I loved the way Koskin defects by being shot down a huge pipeline. Furthermore, Necros has a cheeky line in unlikely disguises and accents, while Dalton himself has some cracking puns, especially when Necros is literally given “the boot” during the final aerial punch-up. Right at the end during Cara’s cello recital we get the most risqué joke of the film as the Mujahedeen turn up adorned in full “terrorist” garb saying they “got held up at the airport.” In today’s po-faced, politically correct climate we probably wouldn’t get satire like that because it is arguably xenophobic and proffering certain derogatory Middle Eastern stereotypes. However, it gained a massive laugh while I was watching.

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The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller.

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SPECT-ACULAR TIMES – SPECTRE (2015) A FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

SPECT-ACULAR TIMES – SPECTRE (2015) A FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

 We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. .  . It becomes a substitute for experience.  (Larry Law, Images and Everyday Life)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

Life is all about managing expectations. I mean we don’t why we’re here on this planet and we don’t know why we’re alive. Is there a point to life? Perhaps there is no point? If that’s the case then why carry on living? Why not kill yourself or go berserk and do what the hell you want and be damned to the consequences. Well, it doesn’t really bear thinking about does it? Thus, generally, we block out such existential questions – well I do – by filling our life and times with things we enjoy doing, seeing, feeling, and eating, hearing and experiencing.

One of the major things I use to distract me from the inquisitions of life is going to the cinema. I am obsessed with films. I could perhaps, rather than watch films, raise a people’s army and seize control of the state?  But what system would I put into place instead of the necessary evil of capitalism? I could eschew society and live off the land growing my own vegetables; but whose land?  All land is now owned by some person, persons or shadowy corporations. I could become a criminal and finagle the law in order to avoid the punch-clock drudgery of life; but I’d like to sleep guilt-free at night and hurting others does not sit well with me. I could train a pack of ants to perform tricks for money in an Ant Circus; but that would just be silly. I could go on…

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What I am saying is films and television are helpful in drawing a big thick line between the sane and insane shit in life. They are a big deal for me. Not as bigger deal as my loved ones but pretty close. So, when a new series of a current show I love such as Doctor Who or South Park or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Game of Thrones is released I am very happy. Life is good. That thing called hope rear its head and says, “Hi, it’s me again!” The same goes with film releases from my favourite directors or movie franchises or series. It happened at the fag-end of the 90s with the new Star Wars trilogy and also when the new Indiana Jones film was released; hope came a knocking and expectations were raised. Unfortunately the Lucas’ space opera prequels were pretty bad and least said about Indiana Clones and The Kingdom of Crystal Dulls the better!
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So, what I am saying is, AND I realise this is a sad thing to admit, A JAMES BOND FILM IS A BIG DEAL TO ME!  I know Karl Marx, Guy Debord and Edward Bernays are all correct in that the media is corrupting the proletariat, BUT WHO CARES – IT IS JAMES BOND and CHRISTOPH WALTZ IS THE BAD GUY!   I got my hopes up! I was really looking forward to it! It stopped me from thinking about reality! I failed to lower my expectations. So, what I am saying is I liked Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond but not as much as I’d hoped. I shall explain why.

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I have seen Spectre twice now and it is very entertaining. Was it was good film?  Yes – it was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Yes and no I would say.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film in its own right; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically it was very strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing a fulcrum to the narrative. Skyfall was also lusciously shot with fantastic set-pieces and direction but it wasn’t necessarily a great Bond espionage adventure like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987) or a combustible boy’s own adventure like Casino Royale (2006). It was an Oedipal soap opera with explosions and the past destroying the present. Spectre is very similar in fact although the destruction is much larger in scale.

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I would also compare Spectre to Quantum of Solace (2008) in the context that it is a kind of sequel to the previous outing and links back to Bond’s past. The main difference is Spectre is over fifty minutes longer than Quantum of Solace and certainly feels slow in places. I’m aware that Quantum of Solace is not rated highly in the Bond canon. However, I feel there are some incredible action sequences in there; notably the Opera shootout, great Plane chase and explosive desert hotel/hide-out denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace succeeded for me as a spectacle and by tying up the loose ends from Casino Royale.

Similarly, Spectre has some breathtakingly cinematic moments. Indeed, the first hour was sensational in terms of pace, action, mood and atmosphere. It’s a film about death and the past and opening at the massive Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City was a masterstroke in symbolism. Bond is an assassin; a hired killer used by the British government to take out the bad guys and where better to do it at a carnival celebrating those that have kicked the bucket. The opening chase, building demolition and helicopter fight is classic Bond and really kicks the film off in style. A spurious plot twist then gets Bond to Rome where he then meets – in the shadows – his nemesis, and the childhood ‘friend’ he thought dead, Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. Waltz is one of my favourite actors but is criminally underused in Spectre. Aside from one particularly brilliant torture scene he is not allowed to express that wicked wit and devilish smile witnessed so adroitly in Django Unchained (2012) and Inglourious Basterds (2009).

The Oberhauser backstory does offer an interesting subplot to the main action and a very fun Bond revelation; however, it is similar to the Skyfall revenge-plot with touches of Cain and Abel thrown in.  Arguably too it doesn’t quite gel alongside other aspects of the script such as the global “Big Brother” programme to connect ALL the security and CCTV systems across the world which would make the 007 programme obsolete. So, with Bond under threat physically, emotionally AND politically we have an ambitious story with a thin plot that gets soggy at times.  Thematically Spectre is strong but Bond feels very reactive in some respects and not always making the decisions. Indeed, there is a scene where a RAT assists him; not torture or cunning or sheer violence but an actual rodent.  This moment and the anorexic characterisation of Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) were very much weaknesses in the script.

Sam Mendes and his production team have produced much for Bond fans to revel in. The opening credit sequence is stunning and I loved the Octopus imagery and motifs throughout. It also manages to mask the soporific non-entity which is Sam Smith’s theme song Writing on the Wall. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is a brute of a henchmen and his Rome car chase, Austrian snow pursuit and train punch-up were all brilliant action set-plays. Q (Ben Wishaw), M (Ralph Fiennes) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) all brought fine dramatic and comedic qualities to the film although, again, with SO many characters involved it took away screen time from Christoph Waltz. Finally, the “ticking-time” bomb denouement was well-executed but the film had run out of steam a bit by then.

Spectre is a technical tour-de-force and in Daniel Craig we have an actor who absolutely nails the role. He rocks the action, driving, shooting, running, falling, crashing with a coolness, toughness and insouciance which will be a hard act to follow. Indeed, the way they tied in the strands from previous films tells me this is probably his final Bond. Overall, the first hour-and-a-half of Spectre writes a spectacular cheque the final act cannot quite cash.  The big-bad-wolf reveal is not as surprising as I would have hoped and the Orwellian supporting story didn’t feel that deadly to me. And while our villain’s revenge on James was believable I didn’t quite buy the fact that Oberhauser was the architect of ALL Bond’s woes in the previous three films.

I realise it is a very big responsibility to maintain quality in a big movie franchise and Spectre does so but the long running time does it no favours. Paradoxically too by trying to give it more depth in respect of the familial backstory it again lost the espionage stuff I love.  We do indeed live in the Society of the Spectacle and this film offered up some solace away from the daily grind. But I must learn to manage expectations and perhaps stop living my life by proxy through fictitious cinematic spies and face the spectre of existence a bit more realistically.   (Mark: 008 out of 11)

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MAGNIFICENT 007 – MY FAVOURITE BOND FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

MAGNIFICENT 007 – MY FAVOURITE BOND FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

SPECTRE (2015) is out in UK cinemas soon and I’m anything but original so I’ve listed my 7even favourite Bond films.  Selections are in alpha-male order!

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CASINO ROYALE (2006)

I can watch this film over and over again. Daniel Craig’s debut is a lean-mean fighting machine in a movie which begins with a quick stylish black and white opening and then moves onto his pursuit of cold-blooded banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Mikkelsen steals the acting plaudits from Craig as the reptilian poker player while Eva Green is a great foil too. In fact, Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she saves his life and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship. The gambling, double-crosses, parkouring, humour, hand-to-hand combat and explosive action all combine to make this a 007 classic.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

Dr No (1962) established all the classic Bond tropes including: memorable opening guitar riff; iconic gun barrel scene; glamorous women and locations; spy plots; action and stunts; megalomaniac villains and henchmen and women. Indeed, From Russia With Love had TWO great baddies in Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya).  Klebb was a nasty piece of work while peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a muscular adversary for Bond and their claustrophobic fight on the train was brutal and full of suspense. Sean Connery really nailed the role of Bond as he did in the debut film.  He sails through a complex plot dispatching enemy agents with unruffled hair, an insouciant glare and meaty hooks, as evil crime syndicate SPECTRE are foiled by Bond with formidable style and power.

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Pierce Brosnan is a very good Bond. He’s very much like IKEA; reliable, spacious, sort-of-attractive and open on Sundays. His debut effort is his best and has him going up against a dastardly double-agent and series of Russians hell-bent on starting World War III.  The spectacular bungee-stunt opening is awesome and Famke Janssen is brilliant as thigh-crushing nemesis Xenia Onatopp, while Alan Cumming provides some laughs as a cowardly computer nerd. Of course, however, it’s the action that rules including self-destructing trains, stealth helicopters and Bond smashing a tank through KGB military headquarters in St Petersburg.  What’s NOT to love about that?!

GOLDFINGER (1964)

Everything about Goldfinger is first rate. The cat-and-mouse plot twists between Bond and Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who do battle over cards, golf and then during the devilish Fort Knox heist. It also features a cracking villain in Odd-Job who uses a murderous, metal hat to vanquish foes and a great Bond girl in the cheekily-named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Last but not least we have one of the most iconic deaths of any character with Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) being suffocated by pure gold for her treachery.

Moreover, while there was an element of gadgetry in prior Bond movies such as flick-knife shoes, in Goldfinger the ingeniously designed Aston Martin was a school-boy’s wet dream. The car was pimped up with: ejector seat; bladed wheels; revolving number plates and missiles and became an iconic toy to own.  Such awesome technology and the deathly gas and the lasers which almost kill Bond would become the kind of staple devices used throughout the franchise. Indeed, ‘Q’ played by Dennis Llewellyn would feature in nearly all the Bond films right through to the Brosnan era. Finally, this definitely has the GREATEST Bond theme song EVER!  Probably!

LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

It was a toss-up between this and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) for my favourite Moore instalment.  While his final films were a stain on the franchise where he was out-acted by his wig Moore provided a twinkle and humour to the role as well as those saintly looks.  In Live and Let Die he comes up against the ridiculously named Mr Big and the film invokes the Blaxploitation archetypes and clichés of the day. Interestingly, Clint Eastwood was approached as a possible Bond before Moore got the role and Eastwood’s persona would certainly have matched the Harlem and New Orleans settings.  I found Jane Seymour very intriguing as the “white witch” Solitaire and the voodoo and tarot themes lent themselves well to the drama.  Live and Let Die has a cracking theme tune from Wings and is a fast-paced delight; with a move away from spy-games to more of a 70s-cop-show-crime-thriller-with-jokes-vibe.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)

Dalton was an under-rated Bond; a tough, serious man more akin to the Fleming vision. He only did two films but this is still one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases which, by-the-way, I don’t mind too. A globe-trotting Bond, as usual, smashes round the world to places such as Bratislava, Vienna and Afghanistan tracking blonde cellists, assassins, Soviet defectors, KGB villains and the general air of cold war espionage stuff make this a formidable story. It also has a great pop theme song from A-Ha and the poster is a genuine classic.  Many of the recent Bond posters have been subdued and monochromatic but this one just bursts with fireworks and colour; much like the movie itself.

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

George Lazenby was the David Moyes of the Bond series inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. He’s as wooden as a park bench but his physicality proves formidable in the hand-to-hand combat scenes and O.H.M.S.S is a cracking film with some great drama and a tragic romance. The opening sequence is full of smashing action and ended with a knowing one liner: “This never happened to the other guy!” Telly Savalas is a decent enough Blofeld but Peter Hunt and his directorial units steal the show with some wonderful chases especially in the snowy landscapes of Switzerland. It memorably has TWO theme tunes plus THAT ending where Bond suffers heartache; an especially brave scene to include in a populist franchise.