Sean Connery

Better In The Dark #57: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN and A VIEW TO A KILL

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We reach the darkest part of our journey through cinematic Bond as The Guys Outta Brooklyn dissect the horror that is Roger Moore’s final film. Of course, before they reach this particular (shaken, not stirred) Heart of Darkness, Tom and Derrick debate the value of the Kevin McClory curiosity that marked the surprise return of Sean Connery to the role that made him famous! Plus Derrick reveals his choice for worst Bond Girl ever, the guys discuss busted pilots of the 70’s, and a very, very bad Christopher Walken impression! It’s a dance into the fire, so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/episodes-51-60/

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Better In The Dark #44: ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER

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We continue our survey of the longest running action series in movie history with two curios: the only film featuring Australian actor George Lazenby as Bond, and the last Connery Bond film. It’s a strange period just before Moore comes on-board, and the Guys Outta Brooklyn dissect these two films with the flair you’ve come to expect. Plus, we explore the connection between Blofeld and Lex Luthor, use the phrase ‘it makes no sense’ more often than anybody anywhere on this planet, and world premiere our brand new Theme Song by our very own B-Hyphen. This never happened to the other guys–whoever they are–so get to clicking!

http://betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-41-50/

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Better In The Dark #40: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and CASINO ROYALE (1967)

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It was bound to happen, and here’s where the Guys Outta Brooklyn are finally brought to their knees by the crapitude that is the ‘psychedelic cinema’ version of Casino Royale, a film so nonsensical, so awful that Tom and Derrick are near speechless! Of course, before they descend into the all-star train wreck, they discuss and dissect the Sean Connery opus/Japan travelog You Only Live Twice as part of our ongoing look at the James Bond series. Plus Tom wants you to pet his kitty, Derrick reminisces about syndicated television and we try to figure out how a man can hand wash his own intestines. It makes the pretty colors…so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-31-40/

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Better In The Dark #37: GOLDFINGER and THUNDERBALL

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The Guys Outta Brooklyn return to the world of guns, gadgets and girls as they examine the two Bond films that launched Bondmania, Goldfinger and Thunderball. Tom and Derrick go in depth to dissect and discuss these two classics, one of which they revere and the other…not so much. Plus there’s a spirited debate about what makes a great Bond theme song, and the story of how James Bond caused the bankruptcy of the oldest toy company in America! We don’t expect you to talk–we expect you to get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-31-40/

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Better In The Dark #34: DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

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The Boys From Brooklyn have been threatening it for a long time…and now it’s here! Join Thomas and Derrick as they attempt to trace the history of the longest running action movie franchise in history, The James Bond Series! We cover the origins of this landmark motion picture institution before going into a critical overview of the two films that made Sean Connery a household name. Plus we reveal the long-lost words to Monty Norman’s James Bond theme and discuss our own memories of discovering Bond for the first time. You know you can’t just let this opportunity live and let die–so get to clicking! (This episode is dedicated to two of the people who made the Bond films so memorable and are sadly no longer with us, Desmond ‘Q’ Llewelyn and Lois ‘Moneypenny’ Maxwell)

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-31-40/

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

2003

20th Century Fox

Produced by Trevor Albert and Don Murphy

Directed by Stephen Norrington

Screenplay by James Robinson

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

The concept of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is so simple that I’m honestly surprised nobody before Alan Moore thought of it. Here it is in a nutshell: From time to time many of the great fictional heroes (and sometimes villains) of the past and present have found it necessary to come together to form an alliance against evil so overwhelming that it threatens to conquer or destroy the world. They do so under the authority of a special Branch of The British Secret Service, under the direction of a mysterious figure known only as M and this alliance is known as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It is rumored that members of Leagues past and present have included Dr. Syn, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Blood, Lemuel Gulliver, Robin Hood, Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, James Bond, and many, many others. But this movie features a particularly unique grouping of The League, one led by the world famous adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery)

Allan Quatermain is an old man, living in Africa, drinking his days away and only wanting to be left alone. However, events in the rest of the world bring him back into action. A mysterious man known only as The Phantom is threatening the governments of the world into a global confrontation.  There is seemingly no way to stop him since he has advanced weapons such as automatic weapons, body armor and tanks. Quatermain is brought to London where he is introduced to M (Richard Roxburg), the current head of the British Secret Service who informs Quatermain that he has been chosen to lead the newest incarnation of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.   The membership includes Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), The Invisible Man (Tony Curran) and Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) who has the benefit of vampiric powers due to her relationship with an infamous Transylvanian count. Quatermain and his team quickly acquire the grown up Tom Sawyer (Shane West) who is now an agent of The United States Secret Service along with Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) and his monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) as well as the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend).   And they’re off an adventure that takes them all over the world from London to Paris to Venice to a final confrontation at the top of the world in the frozen Artic where the secrets of The Phantom are revealed and the destiny of a new century will be decided as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen make their final stand against the madness of the old.

You’re going to have a lot of comic book fans that will tell you not to see THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN as they feel that the movie bastardized Alan Moore’s concept. I’ve given the trade paperback of the comic to several people whose opinions I trust and they have told me that while they like the comic and appreciate it for what it is they wouldn’t have gone to see a movie that was strictly based on the comic book. However, those people have also said that they greatly enjoyed the movie version and I think that’s because the movie version does exactly what it’s supposed to do: provide us with two hours of thrills, adventure and excitement. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not the comic book story but it is a great piece of outsized, overblown, pulp action/adventure taken to the extreme and part of the reason I had so much fun watching the movie was that I could see the directors, actors and special effects guys just saying “the hell with it” and allowing themselves the room to have fun with the concept and just working with the material they were given and making sure they delivered. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a movie I recommend to friends and family often when they ask me what’s a good Saturday night movie.

First off, you’ve got Sean Connery who’s simply great. When he made this movie he was 75 years old and he’s the only 75-year-old actor in the world who can beat the snot out of actors half his age and look totally badass doing it. Other actors such as Charles Bronson and Roger Moore looked embarrassingly silly in their older years trying to do action scenes but somehow Connery can still pull it off and look convincing. There’s a bunch of great scenes he has with Shane West’s Tom Sawyer where the characters build a father/son type of relationship, especially in the scenes where Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer are chasing down Mr. Hyde across the rooftops of Paris and a later scene aboard Captain Nemo’s Nautilus where Quatermain teaches Tom how to shoot.

Peta Wilson is terrific as Mina Harker who shows a delightfully dark side to her character and I really liked how Naseeruddin Shah played Captain Nemo. As far as I know this the first time the character of Captain Nemo has been played racially correct in a movie and he supplies the team with their technological/transport support. And his fight scenes are among the best in the movie as he gives Captain Nemo a distinctive martial arts style. He plays Captain Nemo in a way unlike any other actor that’s ever played before and I think he’s probably the only actor in this movie who might have read the graphic novel the movie was based on. There’s a certain way he carries himself and the way he says his lines that make you sit up straighter and pay attention. Listen to how he says: “Behold Nautilus…The Sword of The Ocean” and tell me it doesn’t make you grin.

That’s not to say that the movie is without its flaws. I really didn’t like how the CGI guys went nuts on the effects. Especially when it came to Mr. Hyde and The Nautilus. In this movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are more like the Marvel Comics version of Dr. Bruce Banner and The Hulk than the Robert Louis Stevenson version and Captain Nemo’s Nautilus is huger, bigger and more technologically advanced than any modern day aircraft carrier. And the scenes in Venice make absolutely no sense whatsoever. There’s a whole lot of yelling and chasing around and fighting and shooting but when it’s all over you’re wondering: “What was that all about?”

But there are a lot of little nice touches. The obvious one is where Quatermain is receiving his assignment to assemble The League from M. And if you don’t appreciate the humor of Sean Connery once again getting orders from M then you really need to go back to Basic Film School. And pay attention to the scene between M and Quatermain because in the background are huge portraits of former Leagues.

There’s some incredible fight sequences and plot twists that I honestly didn’t see coming.  And even though I felt the final fight between Mr. Hyde and The Phantom’s main big bad was yet another reason for the CGI boys to go wild I liked the teamwork between Mr. Hyde and Captain Nemo as they struggled to find a way to defeat their foe as well as the ending scenes between Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer.

So should you see THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN? I see no reason why you shouldn’t. Don’t listen to your comic book reading friends who’ll tell you that it’s nothing like the comic book. Of course it isn’t like the comic book. It’s a movie and a pretty damn good entertaining one. Go ahead and watch it and have fun for what it is: it’s purely pulp action/adventure designed to get you interested in reading the source materials and characters it’s based on. No more and no less. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time watching THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN before you read the material it’s based on.

110 minutes
Rated PG-13

Diamonds Are Forever

1971

United Artists

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Screenplay written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

Memory is a funny thing. Ask me what I had for dinner last night and I’ll probably take a few minutes to think about it. Ask me what I did last week and there’s a better than average chance I’ll tell you I have no idea. But ask me about the Saturday afternoon in 1971 when my father took me to see my first James Bond movie DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and I’ll go on and on for hours recounting every single detail in such a way that you would swear it had happened to me yesterday.

I think that the major reasons DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is my absolute favorite James Bond film of all is because of two reasons: It was the first James Bond movie I saw in a theatre and I saw it with my father, who is also a huge movie fan. He took me to see Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” during its original theatrical run and we drove my mother crazy discussing the movie for days and days afterwards. My voracious movie addiction can be blamed on the both of them. A favorite story they like to tell about me is when they took me as a baby with them to see “The Ten Commandments”.  While other babies in the theatre were crying and had to be taken out by their disgruntled parents, my parents claim I was totally silent, eyes open as wide as possible, staring at the screen as if hypnotized. I probably was. Movies do that to me, y’know.

The movie’s pre-credits sequence has an unusually brutal James Bond (Sean Connery) hunting down his archenemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). Although it’s never stated outright, one can assume Bond’s looking for Blofeld to take revenge for the murder of his wife, Tracy that occurred at the conclusion of the previous Bond adventure, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.  Bond seemingly dispatches Blofeld in a particularly nasty manner and after the gorgeously lush theme song sung by Shirley Bassey we get into the meat of the plot:

Startling amounts of high-grade diamonds are being smuggled out of South Africa to Las Vegas by means of an efficient pipeline of couriers. There is worry that these diamonds will be dumped into the market at some future time, which would drastically drop diamond prices. Bond is assigned to follow the pipeline, an assignment that he clearly thinks is beneath his talents but M (Bernard Lee) quickly puts him in his place: “Blofeld is dead, 007. I think we have the right to expect some plain honest work from you now. Bond heads off to Amsterdam to take the place of Peter Franks, an international jewel courier and he makes the acquaintance of the superhot redheaded smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), the next contact in the pipeline.

The trail of deadly diamonds leads Bond to Las Vegas where it quickly becomes apparent that smuggling is only the tip of the iceberg as Bond’s archenemy Blofeld returns from the dead with a scheme to hold the world hostage that involves a diamond enhanced laser satellite. Now when I lay it out like that, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER seems like your straightforward action/adventure, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. I broke the story down to its simplest elements out of space consideration but it has been said by many critics and reviewers that the plot of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is too complicated to properly explain and I have to agree. When you throw in the Howard Hughes-like Willard Whyte who for about half of the movie’s running time we think is the movie’s real villain, the homosexual killer duo Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint who run around whacking the various diamond smugglers for no apparent reason and even Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) who at one point in the movie shows up someplace she has absolutely no business being and is drowned for no reason at all…and that’s not even half the inconsistencies and plot holes that stick out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.

But somehow, none of that seems to matter when you’re right there on the edge of your seat watching the movie. Sean Connery is James Bond and when he’s on the screen you can’t take your eyes off him. Connery understood the dynamics of a James Bond movie in a way no other actor who played the role would until Pierce Brosnan strapped on the Walter PPK and he occupies the center of the movie with total confidence. He doesn’t take it all that seriously but his performance has such wit and charm that while he’s clearly having fun with the character and the material he respects it and thereby respects us. The major acting disappointment comes from Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Gray is simply too effeminate to be a towering mastermind of brilliant evil bent on world domination. He looks as if he would be more at home organizing The Sisters of The Revolving Door Tabernacle Annual Cotillion and Fish Fry. And Norman Burton barely registers on screen as ace CIA agent and Bond’s best friend Felix Leiter. But let’s face facts, except for David Hedison (who is the only actor to have played Felix Leiter twice) and Bernie Casey, Felix Leiter has never been played decently.

But we’ve got dependable regulars such as Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) to pick up the slack and Jill St. John is wonderfully spicy and looks gorgeous as Tiffany Case. And any mention of the acting in this one isn’t complete without noticing the excellent work by Putter Smith and John Glover (Crispin Glover’s dad) as Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. The pair is not only properly chilling but also provides a good deal of the movie’s humor as they grow increasingly frustrated as Bond continually manages to circumvent their efforts to kill him. And I have to mention Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s sister) even though it’s apparent from her first scene that she wasn’t chosen for the role for her acting ability. Why is she in the movie then? I’ll give you a clue: 36C/D-24-35. Need I say anymore other than I commend the casting director for his excellent eyesight? I even liked Jimmy Dean as eccentric multibillionaire Willard Whyte. Today Jimmy Dean is mostly known for his line of pork products but back during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s he was a fairly popular country western singer who occasionally acted. Bond and Whyte click so well during the hunt for Blofeld that I think the producers missed a bet by not having Whyte become a re-occurring character in the films. By the end of the movie Bond and Whyte seem more like best friends than Bond and Leiter.

And it never fails to amuse me that even though people will say that DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER isn’t as good as the other Connery Bonds, it’s the one that has more action sequences people can readily name right off the top of their head than any other Connery Bond. Everybody remembers the chase through the desert with Bond driving the moon buggy. There’s the classic Las Vegas car chase sequence that ends with Bond flipping his Mustang up on two wheels to slide through a narrow alley and evade his pursuers. The helicopter assault on Blofeld’s oil rig headquarters. There’s the nail-biting climb Bond performs on the outside of Willard Whyte’s Las Vegas casino/hotel. The fight in the elevator with Peter Franks. The fight with the outrageously beautiful pair of acrobatic karate killers, Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks)

I suppose that most who read this review will probably have seen DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER on television or DVD and so won’t have the same love I have for the movie as I do. But no matter how many times I see it, I always remember seeing my first James Bond film on the big screen with my father and the feelings I had that day have never left me and it was those feelings that made me want to create stories as exciting and thrilling as the one I was watching and I suppose that in a very large way, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER helped shaped my passion to write and for that if nothing else, it will remain my favorite James Bond movie.

125 min
Rated PG

Highlander

1986

20th Century Fox

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Produced by Peter S. David and William N. Panzer

Written by Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson

Here’s a perfect example of what people mean when they use the expression ‘milking it for all it’s worth’.  When HIGHLANDER had its original theatrical run it was hailed as an above average action/adventure with a strikingly different visual style and an intriguing premise: what if a secret race of Immortals walked among humankind, waging a hidden war that has gone on throughout the ages, lasting for centuries?  A war that would decide the fate of Immortals and Humans alike?

If it had been left at just this one movie, the whole concept would have been stronger but there have been a series of really bad sequels, some so-so television spin-offs, including an animated one.  All of them violated just about everything that was set up so well in the original movie but even HIGHLANDER is not without some glaring plot holes that virtually guaranteed that any sort of sequel that followed it was doomed to failure.

Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is a warrior living in the Scottish Highlands of 1536.  During a battle between rival clans, Connor is viciously attacked by The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) a nightmarishly savage barbarian from Russia whose people entertained themselves by throwing children into pits with wild dogs and watching them fight.  The Kurgan delivers to Connor what should have been a deathblow but amazingly, Connor recovers from his mortal wound and the next day is walking around alive and well, his wound miraculously healed.

Quite naturally this means he must be in league with Satan so his own people cast him out and he wanders the land until finding love and peace with Heather (Beatie Edney).  This peace is disrupted by the appearance of the strutting, dashing swordsman Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery) who reveals Connor’s true nature to him.  Like Ramirez, Connor is an Immortal, fated to slay or be slain by other Immortals who must all kill each other until only one is left.  And this one will receive ‘The Prize’, some great gift that will change the fate of the world forever.  Ramirez trains Connor in swordsmanship and teaches him how to use his Immortal abilities but unfortunately The Kurgan is also an Immortal and once again disrupts Connor’s life, killing Ramirez and brutalizing Heather.

In 1985 New York, Connor lives as an art/antique dealer named Russell Nash and comes to the attention of The NYPD due to the fact that there seems to be a lot of headless bodies showing up whenever he’s around and in particular to police forensic scientist/ancient weapons expert Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) Brenda finds metal shavings at a crime scene near a headless body that she’s convinced came from a samurai sword that was made two thousand years before the first recorded katana and she’s even more convinced that the mysterious Russell Nash knows about the sword.  Well, of course he does.  But he can’t very well tell her that he’s going around defending himself from attacks by his fellow Immortals by cutting of their heads, which is the only way to kill an Immortal with the sword he inherited from his mentor Ramirez.   But she soon finds out the truth as The Kurgan is also in New York and at last after centuries of Immortals slaying each other it has come down to just The Highlander and The Kurgan, who is holding Brenda as a hostage to gain an edge on Connor…. and There Can Be Only One…you just knew I was going to work that in somewhere, didn’t you?

When it comes to the look and visual style of the movie, it still holds up really well.  Russell Mulcahy had directed plenty of videos before HIGHLANDER and he made a horror film called “Razorback” which is about a giant wild razorback pig terrorizing the Australian outback.  Trust me; the movie is a lot better than it sounds.  Mulcahy brought the visual techniques he used in his videos to HIGHLANDER and they’ve been copied so often since then that we see them and yawn but back in 1986 this was really exciting stuff.  Even today many of the shots are breathtaking, such as the opening shot of a crowd in Madison Square Garden that dives and swoops like an eagle trapped inside the building until the camera zooms in on Lambert.  The scenes set in 16th Century Scotland are astonishingly beautiful as well and provide a nice contrast to the concrete cliffs of 20th Century New York.  The fight scenes are beautiful, brutal and bloody as all good movie fight scenes should be.

But it’s after the movie is over and you sit back and think about it you realize that HIGHLANDER is a lot like a politician’s campaign speeches: There’s a lot of talking but not a damn thing has been said.  I’m kinda disappointed that we’re presented with a race of Immortals who instead of working together toward a common goal spend their time running around hacking off each other’s heads.  We’re given tantalizing glimpses into what surely must be a fascinating culture but that’s all we’re given.  It’s never explained why The Immortals have to kill each other off or how they found out that the only way to kill an Immortal is to cut his head off (seems like a secret I’d keep to my own damn self) or why they never fight on holy ground.  And if the whole point is for Immortals to kill themselves to get ‘The Prize’ then why does Ramirez train Connor instead of taking his head?  Do Immortals age naturally until they reach a certain age?  It would explain why Connor, The Kurgan, Ramirez and the couple of other Immortals we see in the movie are all obviously different ages but this is never explored.  How did The Immortals learn about ‘The Prize’?  Who told them?

I know…I know…there were sequels that attempted to explain some of these questions but trust me on this: you don’t want to see them, especially “Highlander II: The Quickening” which is undoubtedly the worse movie Sean Connery ever made.   Supposedly the only reason he was in it was because he and Christopher Lambert got along so well and Lambert wouldn’t do the movie without him.  The bottom line is this: there’s a tantalizing amount of good stuff that just isn’t used here and as a result the movie is wildly entertaining but strangely unsatisfying to me.  I wanted to know more about these Immortals and I didn’t get it.  And the ending of the movie where we finally find out what ‘The Prize’ is has to be one of the biggest let downs I’ve seen in a movie.  I sat through the whole thing waiting to see what this ‘Prize’ is gonna be, figuring it’s gonna be something really nifty and when it was finally revealed I screamed; “That’s IT?!”

However, HIGHLANDER has three big things going for it: Sean Connery, who steals every scene he’s in as Ramirez who even though he has a Spanish name is actually a two thousand year old Egyptian. Christopher Lambert who I really like as an actor.  He can be badass, cool, charming and goofy all in the same scene and make it believable.  He’s got a strong scene where he’s comforting his dying wife Heather who has grown old while he has stayed young and strong and it’s a very touching moment where Lambert effectively captures the pain of what being an Immortal must be like.  Clancy Brown is terrific as The Kurgan and plays him as an unstoppable killing machine with a grisly and totally inappropriate sense of black humor.  He’s one of the best movie bad guys ever.

And I can’t end this review without mentioning the outstanding music score that features songs by Queen. Everybody knows ‘Princes Of The Universe’ but ‘One Year Of Love’ and ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ are equally memorable and near the end of the movie there’s a brief bit of Queen doing ‘New York, New York’

So should you see HIGHLANDER?  Sure.  It’s perfectly entertaining high adventure that’s got a fun story, interesting characters, a great music score, some good fight scenes and despite what I think are plot holes big enough to fall into, you can ignore ‘em and just have a good time.  It’s not a demanding movie by any stretch but it is what it is and that’s more than enough.  Enjoy with my blessings.

Rated R

116 minutes