James Bond Film Review: Moonraker (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


For the past two weeks, here at the Shattered Lens, we’ve been reviewing the James Bond film franchise.  We’ve reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly of James Bond and today, we’re going to take a look at James Bond at his silliest.  Today, we’re going to review the 11th official James Bond film, 1979’s Moonraker.

Moonraker starts out with a genuinely exciting pre-credits sequence.  James Bond (Roger Moore) is on an airplane when he’s suddenly attacked by the stewardess, the co-pilot, and Jaws (Richard Kiel), the henchman with the steel teeth.  All four of them end up falling out of the plane.  In mid-air, Bond wrestles the pilot’s parachute away from him and uses it to safely land on the ground.  The pilot and the stewardess presumably plunge to a very grisly death.  Jaws, meanwhile, crashes into a circus tent and walks away without a scratch.  This scene pretty much establishes the tone of Moonraker — increasingly implausible action sequences that usually end with some sort of crowd-pleasing joke.  In short, Moonraker is Bond as pure spectacle.  Those looking for another From Russia With Love should look elsewhere.

As for the rest of the film, someone’s stolen a space shuttle and James Bond and CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) team up to find it.  It turns out that the shuttle was stolen by Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), who plans to wipe out life on the Earth and start a new society in space.

That’s right, in space!

Moonraker was made in 1979, at the height of the cinematic science fiction boom.  In the late 70s, everyone was going into space and James Bond wasn’t going to get left behind.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that Drax has a secret HQ in a space station that’s orbiting the Earth and Bond is not only the world’s greatest secret agent but the universe’s as well!

It also turns out that Jaws is now working for Drax and his girlfriend Dolly (Blanche Ravelec) works in the space station.  I know that a lot of Bond fans hate Moonraker because of this very subplot but seriously, just take a look at the happy couple!  They’re so cute together!

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on Moonraker.  On the one hand, it’s the most over-the-top of Roger Moore’s Bond films and it’s certainly the silliest.  Your reaction to it will depend on just how seriously you take or want to take your Bond films.  Myself, I appreciate Moonraker as a celebration of excess but, at the same time, I can also understand why so many fans of the Bond franchise consider Moonraker to be a low point for the series.

At its weakest, Moonraker feels almost like a generic Bond rip-off as opposed to an official Bond film.  It’s obvious that most of the preproduction attention was devoted to the film’s special effects.  The rest of the film feels almost like an afterthought and several of the sequences feel as if they’ve been lifted from other Bond films.  Bond’s initial meeting with Hugo Drax is reminiscent of the golf game in Goldfinger and both Drax’s evil scheme and motivation appear to have been borrowed from The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Karl Stromberg.

Especially when compared to his witty performance in The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore appears to be simply going through the motions here and he has next to no chemistry with Lois Chiles.  One gets the feeling that Bond is merely with her so that he can brag to his mates back in London that he actually hooked up with someone named Holly Goodhead.  If her name was Holly Smith, he wouldn’t have any interest in her.

On the plus side, Michael Lonsdale makes for a good villain, the film’s special effects still look good over 30 years later, and I like the way that Jaws’ storyline is resolved.  I know that a lot of people hate the fact that Jaws softens up by the end of this film but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Richard Kiel and Blanche Ravalec are so cute together that you simply can’t help but smile at their unlikely romance.

Finally, how can you not enjoy the curiosity value of having James Bond in space?  I’m not a huge sci-fi fan.  Whenever I hear people mention Dr. Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek, my eyes roll up into the back of my head and I end up zoning out for a few hours.  But there’s just something so odd and vaguely inappropriate about the idea of James Bond floating around in a space station with a laser gun.  If nothing else, Moonraker serves as a time capsule of the late 70s, a time when even James Bond could turn up in outer space.

Much like The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker has little in common with the book that inspired it.  The literary Moonraker featured a villain named Hugo Drax but the Moonraker of the title was a nuclear missile.  Nobody went into outer space and there was certainly no one named Holly Goodhead.  Instead, Bond worked (and fell for) a fellow agent named Gala Brand.  It’s a shame that no one has ever filmed a faithful adaptation of Moonraker because it’s actually one of the best of the Bond novels.  Bond and Gala have a genuinely interesting relationship and the book has a melancholy, rather introspective feel to it.  Surprisingly, the end of the book deals with why none of Bond’s relationships last that long and makes an attempt to deal realistically with the psychological consequences of being the world’s greatest secret agent.

Surprisingly enough, the spectacular, effects-heavy Moonraker would be followed by the much more realistic and low-key For Your Eyes Only.  We’ll take a look at that film tomorrow.

Until then, here’s the Moonraker theme song:

Congratulations to the SF Giants: 2012 World Series Champions!


Two years ago I celebrated the San Francisco Giants winning the team’s first World Series title since they moved to San Francisco from New York. Tonight they do it once again and it is a fine time to be a sports fan in the Bay Area. Looking like a mini-dynasty in the making I’m so very proud of this team and solidifies why my first sports love will always remain baseball and the Giants as the top sports team in my heart and soul.

So, congratulations to Sergio Romo for shutting down the feared Detroit Tigers line-up and for sporting one awesome beard. Congratulations to our city’s own Kung Fu Panda in Pablo Sandoval. No one’s talking and complaining about his weight problem now. He has achieved his inner peace and let this Dragon Warrior do what he’s good at even if it means eating and eating. Congratulations to Buster Posey who now has two World Series title under his belt and barely two full seasons of work as a major league baseball player. He’s the cornerstone of what looks like the team of the NL for years to come. Finally congratulations to Bruce Bochy. Let no one ever dispute whether he’s a Hall of Fame manager or belongs in the company of baseball’s great managers past and present.

Finally, congratulations to the rest of the San Francisco Giants, it’s fans, the City that has supported it and the rest of the Bay Area all the way down to San Jose who have supported the champs through thick and thin. Now let the celebration begin and let the parade of Champions start on Halloween.

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S3E03 “Walk With Me”


“We’re going out there and taking back what’s ours…civilization.” — The Governor

[some spoilers]

It’s been quite a refreshing surprise to see this new season of The Walking Dead unfold. Even though it’s just been two episodes in the change in pacing, acting and writing has been noticeable and all for the good. This fresh new start courtesy of Glen Mazzara and his crew of writers could easily revert back to the old bad habits that made season 2 of the series such an uneven and frustrating show to watch. The potential for this show to hit it’s stride was kept from happening by wheel-spinning and extended philosophical introspection that put the brakes on any momemtum a great episode had going into the next one. This hasn’t been the case for this season and tonight’s episode, “Walk With Me”, will show whether this streak of very good television continues or the bad habits return.

“Walk With Me” starts off interestingly enough as we see a military helicopter on it’s flight to who knows where, but still it is a scene that’s above the danger and not on the ground. It doesn’t take long before something goes awry and this whirly-bird crashes in the Georgia woods. It’s a scenario that doesn’t bode well for those inside and seeing all this occur in the far-off distance is our wayward Andrea and her new companion in fan-favorite Michonne and her two pets.

It’s been a long time coming but we finally see the appearance of The Governor. This character has been a huge part of the series’ comic book universe. He’s been the best symbol of what happens we those leading a group of desperate people loses their humanity and becomes as much a danger as the zombies and, at times, even more so. So, this character (being played by British actor David Morrissey) already has a built-in for it not just from the fans of the comic book, but even just the fans of the show who have heard about all the things the character has done in the original source material. It’s going to be a hard slog for David Morrissey and the writers of the show to make the character sympathetic or, at the very least, charismatic enough not to come off across as a villainous caricature.

We don’t spend any time with Rick and his group at this prison in tonight’s episode. This episode concentrates on Andrea and Michonne meeting up with The Governor (aka Phillip Blake in the comic books and novels) and the introduction of the Woodbury town settlement. It’s an interesting departure from the previous two season which tried to juggle two locations at once. Sometimes this juggling works in the show’s favor and, at times, it has been to it’s detriment. Tonight it’s more of the former than the latter. It would’ve been nice to see how Rick and the group has been keeping themselves busy since taking over the prison, but with the promise of The Governor and his group being the main antagonists of this third season the show couldn’t delay this part of the season’s main story arc to remain on the sidelines.

Tonight’s episode was much slower than the season’s first two but it made up for it in introducing the character of The Governor to the show’s audience and reuniting these same fans with one of the show’s favorite in Merle Dixon (played with sociopathic glee by genre venteran Michael Rooker). Andrea and Michonne don’t know what to make of The Governor and his safe haven of Woodbury. It looks peaceful and, most important, safe enough at first glance, but we could see that they both sense something is a bit off with their current benefactor and his Norman Rockwell-esque town. Andrea seems to be warming up to the leader of this group more than Michonne and this reaction should elicit more groans from her detractors who already see her as a character who seem to switch allegiances, or at least, jump from one leader to the next.

Andrea as written for the tv series is definitely not as fan-friendly as her comic book counterpart. Again, the writers of the show have made a conscious decision to try and make the Andrea role be more complex and earn her role as a badass through trials and tribulations. It’s going to be a tough sell the writers will need to do to try and rehab this character as the season goes along. So far, Laurie Holden has kept the character tics and habit which has made her such an uneven character the past two seasons to a minimum in tonight’s episode but it still show’s up here and there.

It’s interesting to see how much Rick and the Governor seem to share not just in how they’re leading the group, but in how efficient he’s gotten his people to become to adjust to this new world they now live in. Both are trying to recapture a piece of the civilization that’s fallen since the outbreak began and both have done so in varying degrees of success. Even though Rick doesn’t appear in tonight’s episode his character looms large as we see with each passing scene just what sort of leader The Governor is to his people. Throughout the episode we see that The Governor is not running a democracy (same as Rick) and from little bits of dialogue we get a notion that his benevolent dictator act could be hiding something more sinister.

Could we be seeing in The Governor how Rick could turn out to be a year from now if and when he loses more people? One thing for sure is that The Governor comes across as being more charismatic and in control of his situation than Rick, but at what cost and as the season plays out it’ll be interesting how the two stack up next to each other if and when they finally meet face-to-face. As both characters struggle to regain the very civilization The Governor spoke about retaking at the dinner table with Andrea and Michonne it goes without saying that the two alpha males of the series have the right ideas, but one’s methods seem to have gone beyond the pale. As the saying goes about how power corrupts it looks like it might be the case with The Governor.

“Walk With Me” is not as action-packed as the previous two episodes. There was some action close to the end and for some it probably came as a surprise, but for readers of the comic it was a sequence that was inevitable. The fact that the writer of tonight’s episode decided to reveal the ulterior motive and agenda behind The Governor’s benevolent facade so soon was the true surprise of tonight’s episode.

NOTES

  • Tonight’s episode was directed by series regular Guy Ferland and written by another series regular in Evan Reilly.
  • The pre-credits opening says a lot about the world beyond Rick’s group. A military helicopter patrolling and looking for any signs of survivors means there’s still some sort of organized government or military group trying to save as many people as possible. Even though we find out the safety has been compromised it still shows that there might still be hope out in the wilderness.
  • From the sounds leading up to the chopper’s crash it could be mechanical failure but part of me thinks it was a long-range shot that could’ve taken out the engine.
  • Finally the Governor shows up and his group is just as well-organized and efficient as Rick and his people.
  • MERLE! Michael Rooker’s return is as over-the-top as the character yet I have a feeling fans of the show (even some detractors) wouldn’t have any other way.
  • He’s sporting the Aquaman harpoon for a hand look and he seems to have gotten pretty good at using it.
  • It didn’t take long for the show to show us Woodbury and this once again I commend Mazzara and his writers for not delaying the inevitable and stretching it out for drama’s sake.
  • David Morrissey has definitely done a very good job in just one episode in making the character much more charismatic and multi-layered than the comic book counterpart.
  • The role of Milton (played by Dallas Roberts) is a nice homage to Romero’s Day of the Dead head scientist Dr. Logan.
  • His reaction when dealing with the survivors of the military convey was quite interesting and it had no dialogue explaining why which is another of the positive things about this season. The writers are showing rather than telling every little detail of each character and scene.
  • There’s definitely some unresolved issues going on between The Governor and the military.
  • The roles of the helicopter pilot has been expanded to be part of the military. In the comic book the chopper was a tv station newscopter and the survivors from the crash civilians.
  • I wasn’t sure how the ending reveal about The Governor would play out but it wasn’t as over-the-top as I thought it would be and actually came off as very creepy and disturbing. Once again I think this is in due part to David Morrissey performance as Woodbury’s leader.
  • Danai Gurira still comes across as more of a cypher (a badass one), but her dialogue has been limited, so far. This could be a good thing as she seems to be more suspicious of The Governor and Woodbury, in general than her partner of the past 7-8 months. Her survival instincts is not just about the zombies out in the world, but of strangers she meets for the first time. Her instincts may just save both her and Andrea in the long run.
  • Final reveal of the episode was chilling, disturbing and creepy as anything that has happened in the past 21 episodes of this series.
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: 12.

October Music Series: Skyforger – Zviegtin’ Zviedza Kara Zirgi


Latvia’s Skyforger have been around for ages. They first formed in 1991 as a folk-leaning death metal band called Grindmaster Dead, but by 1995 they changed their name to Skyforger and turned their attention to black metal. After leaving their mark on both the second generation of black metal and the formative years of pagan metal, they turned their attention to Latvian folk traditions unconditionally. Zobena Dziesma, translated as “Sword Song”, was released in 2003. It left metal at the door, and presented, in coordination with the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, an outstanding compilation of songs in traditional Latvian style.

Here is the explanation on Skyforger’s official website for how Zobena Dziesma came to be:

“Skyforger is not a professional Folk group, and we are traditionally known for playing Folk/Pagan Metal. We started playing Folk music as amateur enthusiasts, only for ourselves. However, our friends and fans expressed a desire to hear more of these songs, and that led to the creation of this album. Most of the songs you can hear on this recording are taken from the repertoire of well known local Folk groups. Others are reworked versions of material from our previous albums. Our passion is to play olden songs of the war and mythology of our forefathers. In that respect, this album is no different from those we have recorded in the past. It is our tribute to ancient Latvian history, culture and folklore.”

Skyforger translate Zviegtin’ Zviedza Kara Zirgi as “Neighed the Battle Horses”. It’s the track that has always stood out to me most on the album. It is exceptionally visual. It’s one of those songs that transports you to another place and time, and allows you to engage an ancient world trapped somewhere between history and fantasy.