Wednesday, 31 January 2018



At the end of last year I looked through my lists and spreadsheets and concluded that I'd watched way too many terrible movies for any (nominally) sane mind to endure, and would therefore try to avoid the obvious stinkers. Many of these, sadly, were horror movies, dropped out of the obscurity vaults onto Amazon Prime with no warning except for the titles, artwork, trailers, synopses and whatever can be gleaned from three minutes on the IMDb. Nevertheless, I persisted and got repeatedly kicked in the nethers like an idiot. I am definitely making the effort this year to wean myself off films which clearly weren't going to be worth the wettest of Wednesday evenings (yes, I said that last year and the year before that and the year before that). Happily, it seems to be working: I've had no one-star movies so far and the least enjoyable things I've seen have mainly been disappointments or simply not to my taste. But the cravings for obviously trash films aren't always defeated that easily: just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Luckily, Devil's Express just about scrapes its second star, though it's a close run thing. Nominally it concerns a mysterious creature on the New York subways, lurking in the tunnels and ripping apart any idiot wandering onto the tracks. The cops think it's either a turf war between the black and Chinese gangs (this was made in 1975) or a series of attacks by mutated animals in the sewers, but it's actually a Chinese demon inadvertently released by an idiot when he removed the protective amulet from its 2100-year-old coffin.

Most of the movie isn't actually concerned with the demon monster killer stuff, which is a pity because that's the most interesting angle: Barry Rosen seems more interested in making a martial arts movie in which a bunch of impressively muscled guys take their shirts off and lamp each other. I've no particular objection to that, but they go on for far too long and in the main they're nowhere near bone-crackingly vicious enough, so they're the least engaging scenes in what is supposed to be a horror movie. And female presence is minimal: there's one barmaid, who beats up a couple of morons in a scene which has nothing to do with the rest of the film, and a rambling bag lady on the train. Otherwise the film is pretty much undiluted testosterone.

Yet, as cheap, dull, stupid and terribly acted though it is, the demon in the subway stuff is more interesting and provides a few of the better moments in the film. It's not much fun, but it's presented in nice widescreen rather than a cropped video, it has the grimy 70s New York feel to it (including brief footage of old 42nd Street trash cinemas showing Tower Of Screaming Virgins, Kung-Fu Cops and, er, The Italian Job) and some agreeable music over the opening and closing titles. Plus, the lead actor's name is War Hawk Tanzania and you've got to give it a second star just for that.


Thursday, 25 January 2018



So what does James Bond do when he gets too old to be James Bond? The snarky answer is that he makes A View To A Kill, but what really happens? Does he get pensioned off and he opens a pub somewhere? Does he, as the blasphemous Never Say Never Again suggests, spend his time teaching and training the next generation of Double-Ohs? Does he just keep going until the villains finally manage to shoot him? Or, as this Canadian cable thriller might imply, does he eventually move up the ranks into management, directing operations remotely by phone instead of leaping onto the nearest jetski or curvaceous floozy?

Sixteen years after signing off from 007 (typically in the shower with a woman half his age), the great Sir Roger Moore turned up in The Enemy as one of the few bright supporting lights in this mostly dull Canadian thriller. It's always good to see Moore in anything (even Boat Trip) but he's not in this one enough: he claims to be a senior Mountie but is actually a senior highup in MI5 trying to track down a missing scientist who hid the formula for a biological weapon and was then abducted. Now his son (Luke Perry) and a Canadian cop (Olivia D'Abo) has to find the formula and its antidote or they'll kill him...

This is unusual as it's one of the very few times I've read the book before seeing the film. I'm (not in the least) sorry: I'm ultimately a film person rather than a book person, cinematic rather than literary, but I'm not sure that it matters because appropriately enough they've decided on the Moonraker technique of adaptation: throwing the bulk of Desmond Bagley's novel in the bin, simply retaining a handful of fragments and character names and concocting a whole new story with them. They've ended up with something vaguely passable as an evening distraction, but it's all very wet, bland and colourless, it's not that exciting or thrilling, and if you can't spot the Third Act Twist Mystery Villain from about three seconds after they wander on screen you're not trying. Another film that's dropped through official distribution channels in the UK.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018



I'm a fan of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It has one of the best Bond girls in Diana Rigg, fine villainy from Telly Savalas, one of John Barry's best 007 scores, terrific action sequences, general fidelity to the Ian Fleming's novel (a surprise coming after You Only Live Twice, which retained the principal locale and a handful of character names and threw the rest of the book away) and a still-startling ending. But I'm not so blinded by the good stuff that I can ignore the film's problems, which include [1] the fact that Blofeld doesn't recognise 007 from the previous movie despite him wearing absolutely no disguise at all, and [2] the intergalactically horrible song "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown", which makes the average piece of tinkly lift muzak sound like Motorhead turned up to twelve. And, of course [3] that George Lazenby bloke.

In fairness to Lazenby, he's actually pretty good in OHMSS sometimes, particularly in the quieter and more romantic moments, and some of the physical fighting stuff is still impressive nearly half a century later. But there are times when he absolutely isn't any good: times when he's clearly not an experienced actor, but some good-looking Aussie wearing one of Sean Connery's suits who just happened to catch the right person's eye at the right moment and who then blagged and bluffed his way to the biggest and best job in the movie world. And then walked away from it, turning down a cash payment of a million pounds (more or less a whopping sixteen million in today's money) and a contract to play Bond for another six films.

Becoming Bond is a semi-documentary, a dramatised reconstruction of key (and some off-key) moments in Lazenby's life, from his childhood and early jobs as a car mechanic and salesman to his relationship with a girlfriend waaaaay out of his social league, all narrated by Lazenby (sometimes with the actors lip-synched to the voice-over). All very well but, like James Whale lamenting that "you only want to know about the horror films" in Gods And Monsters, we only really want to know about getting the Bond gig and I'd have liked a lot more since, let's face it, this is still what Lazenby is and will always be known for. There are already dramatisations with stand-ins for Peter Hunt and Harry Saltzman, why not with stand-ins for Savalas and Rigg?

For hardcore Bond fans there probably isn't very much that we don't already know: about how he was arrogant and big-headed and how he acted The Great I Am all the time. Strangely, there's also an unhealthy chunk of stuff that we most likely didn't know already, and I rather wish I still didn't. I don't really want to hear about the time Lazenby couldn't get an erection or cheated on his girlfriend or had half a dozen colourful diarrhoea attacks the night he was planning to sneak into her bedroom for a cheeky shag. Thanks for sharing, George. If only in the name of good taste (and not even because we might not think too highly of our hero) those wacky anecdotes should perhaps have been left out as they sour the tone a little.

It also left me slightly baffled as to how much Eon and the current Bond producers (and their lawyers) might have had to say about it. Presumably enough of it is true (as Lazenby says, how could could he remember it if it never happened?) and already on the public record, and the stuff that isn't well known is more about Lazenby himself and not the producers. Still, it's amusing enough in parts with Bond references and quotes scattered through (and a cameo from an actual Bond girl). And like all the best film documentaries, it did leave me wanting to rewatch the movie(s) in question; I need far less prodding to rewatch OHMSS than I do for Moonraker or Thunderball. Worth a look as a curiosity.