October Music Series: Forgotten Woods – The Principle and The Whip

This is by far the most disturbing song of my series, but what’s wrong with this picture is not remotely obvious from a distant, inattentive listen. On the surface you’ve got a pretty dark, melancholic guitar; soft, soothing female vocals; a love song’s refrain; and a slow transition into a sort of Planet Caravan chill out. Relaxing and mournful. Is that all?

But what’s this business about a whip? And what exactly is Anne Lise Frøkedal, frontwoman for Norwegian indie pop band Harrys Gym, saying? And what the hell is she doing singing with Forgotten Woods?

Let me preface this with something else that shouldn’t be remotely obvious. Forgotten Woods are a lo-fi Norwegian black metal band. Don’t just take my word for it. Pause the song and click. The song I’m linking here appears on the same album. (Race of Cain, released in 2007, is also the source of the avatar I’ve been sporting on most sites for the past year or two.)

I hope you clicked. Just in case you didn’t:

Are we good and thoroughly confused just yet? Go ahead, put the song back on again from the start, and pay close attention now. “Indeed, we’ve seen the serpent rise. Six-legged triumphant reptile”? Is that guitar slide just an effect, or is it simulating a bomb falling through the sky? What exactly is this love song about, really?

Founding member “R” had this to say about the song in a Vampiria magazine interview: “The track itself is about discovering your true self, shedding your former suit of denial and fear and simply embrac[ing] the ultimate ego. Individuality, intolerance, indulgence. That’s what it’s all about in that song.”

They’re juxtaposing humanity at its most brutal to humanity at its most tender and calling attention to the similarities. Make what you will of them. The medium as best I interpret it: A woman reflecting on her experiences in the Third Reich with a sense of nostalgia. She acknowledges that it was the total social upheaval, dehumanization, and mass destruction, not the shallow ideologies used to justify them, from which she derived the highest state of personal fulfillment. But she has no regrets.

Indeed, we’ve seen the serpent rise
Six-legged triumphant reptile
Success! Chakra! I love you like no other
Totalitarian regards
The principle and the whip
Silence the mutant mind
Success! Chakra! I love you like no other
Inside, inside this dormant cyst
Outnumbered, writing in his presence
Reinventing the myths
Reversing the symbols
It is inevitable

James Bond Review: Never Say Never Again

With the release of the latest James Bond yarn, Skyfall, imminent, the Shattered Lens has been looking back at every single James Bond film ever created – the entire history of the franchise. Today’s selection for review is 1983’s Never Say Never Again. Unlike the overwhelming majority of the franchise, this film was not produced by EON productions, but rather by an independent studio. It is an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, much like the 1965 film that shares the novel’s name. It also marks the return of Sean Connery to portray the film’s lead, 00-agent James Bond, 12 years after appearing in Diamonds Are Forever.

I have to say, when I entered into reviewing this film I was certain that I had seen it before, but it took only ten minutes or so of film action before I realized that this film, somehow, had completely flown under my radar.

I have to say, it does not make a strong first impression. We don’t get a cold open with Bond, but rather launch directly into the credit sequence with what I have to admit may be the worst opening theme song of the entire franchise. I haven’t even posted it here, I’m so embarrassed by it, but I’m sure a quick youtube search will yield some results. It’s lengthy, slow, and weirdly incongruous with what proves to be a fairly action-packed Bond adventure.

The story here is sort of needlessly complicated. Addressing the long lapse between Connery appearances as bond, M (Edward Fox) notes that he has recalled James Bond to service against his will, and that after failing a routine training exercise, that Bond is in unacceptable physical condition. His first assignment? To proceed to a health spa to be placed on an exercise and dietary regimen to bleed all of the toxins out of his system, with a strong implication that Bond’s behaviour and mind-set are as much of a problem as his physical condition. While at the spa, of course, Bond becomes privy to a strange interaction between the beautiful nurse Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) and an accomplice with a bandaged face, one Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy). The duo spot Bond, and attempt to have him assassinated, but 007 is able to overcome the assassin and lives to fight another day.

We learn that both Blush and Petachi are agents of the infamous terrorist organization, SPECTER, headed by Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Max Von Sydow). In a convoluted plot, Jack Petachi will use a surgically implanted false eye to replicate the retinal scan of the President of the United States. Using this eye, he is able to arrange for two nuclear warheads to be placed aboard cruise missiles. Using strategically positioned transmitters, SPECTER’s agents then guide the launched missiles remotely, driving them into the sea where their agents can retrieve the nuclear weapons. With the warheads, Blofeld plans to hold the world hostage, forcing world governments into paying an annual tribute to SPECTER, or risk the annihilation of world cities in nuclear fire. Soon after, Jack Petachi is murdered by Fatima Blush, who throws a snake into his speeding vehicle, causing him to lose control and crash through a wall. She then plants a bomb in the vehicle and blows him sky high.

Responding to the crisis presented by SPECTER, M reluctantly reinstates the 00-agents, including James Bond. Bond is immediately assigned to track down the missing warheads.

From there, we’ll travel from the Bahamas, home of SPECTER agent Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer)’s massive yacht, Flying Saucer. Bond meets Domino Petachi, Jack Petachi’s sister, and Largo’s lover (Kim Basinger) and comes into conflict with both Fatima Blush and Largo himself. Bond will chase Largo from the Bahamas to France, into the Mediterranean, and out to the Middle East, with help from noted CIA agent Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey). The action sequences, once they get rolling in the second half of the movie, don’t really let up, and take us to an underwater finale where Domino finally kills Largo in revenge for the needless death of her brother.

For all that this film does right, I have to confess that this was definitely not my favourite James Bond film. The pacing seemed brutally uneven for much of the film, with the action sequences spaced too far apart. The film does spend a little effort winking and nodding at the earlier Connery Bond films, probably in part because Never Say Never Again was not developed by the franchise’s principle producers, EON. Although this film is a far cry from the extremely gadget and superscience-y Bond films that dot the landscape after Connery’s original departure, there is a definitively 80s quality to this film – especially in the film’s score, which at times is loud and invasive, and other times oddly subdued – which prevents it from ever fitting right in with the other Connery films.

The performances are pretty good all around. Sean Connery himself might never have taken a 12 year vacation from playing 007, the women around him are beautiful, and Brandauer is a flamboyant villain in the classic Bond style. Max Von Sydow is excellent in presenting yet another take on supervillain Ernst Blofled, though I thought he was more or less wasted in a very limited role.

If you are waxing nostalgic and just can’t live without one more trip with Connery as James Bond, you probably won’t find this film disappointing. Something about it never really struck a chord with me, however, and I came away thinking of it as a bit of a slog.

Join us tomorrow as we continue our odyssey through the history of James Bond with the slightly-silly but always-fun Octopussy. Until then, against my better judgment, I’ll leave you with the theme song to Never Say Never Again … remember what I said about the music score before you chance it though!

Horror Scenes I Love: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Last night we saw the return of Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon in season 3 of AMC’s The Walking Dead. He’s been one of those actors who has made a living in genre film and projects and for this he has gained quite a loyal and zealous fan-base which includes myself. Not many people actually know that he starred in one of the most disturbing piece of filmmaking in the last quarter-century. Many people will throw the word “most disturbing” all the time, but with the film I’m taking the latest “Scenes I Love” entry it’s been a consensus amongst genre fans and just film-lovers in general that it’s a film that deserves all the praise thrown it’s way.

It’s not a film that’s really enjoyable. In fact, it’s a film that’s made to elicit a reaction that ranges from disgust to plain creepiness. The film I’m talking about is John McNaughton’s classic horror film simply titled Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The film has so many sequences that has become etched in the minds of those who have seen the film. Whether it’s the opening of the film where we see Henry going about his business like some average joe interspersed with scenes of violence and degradation left behind. Another infamous scene that many has decried the film for being tasteless and is the home invasion scene. Even the final scene of the film is disturbing for the fact that we don’t see the redemption we thought the end of the film was going for, but instead just another start in a new cycle of violence and death for the title character.

The one scene I picked and saying I love this scene is pushing it. Let’s just say that this is the scene that really solidified the film to me as a horror classic. It’s a scene between Henry and his old pal Otis on a double date and it’s a date that horrible goes awry. The horror of Henry killing people is enough for some, but the reaction afterwards of both Henry and Otis just shows that these events do happen in real-life and that the banality of evil in everyday life is more horrifying and disturbing than any horror fiction people can come up with.

October Music Series: Piorun – Nadbuanski Wit

Here’s a song that captures bizarre pagan ritual at its most Dionysian. Barely coherent woodwinds teeter on the brink of madness, spurred on by seductive, primitive drumming and the string drone of what I’m guessing is a hurdy-gurdy. Piorun are a folk and ambient band from Poland, which is not a particularly active country in the pagan metal scene, but it should come as no surprise from the brand of folk they play that the band has ties to Nokturnal Mortum.

It’s not particularly easy to dig up information on these guys. What’s available to me had to be plugged through Google Translator from Polish, but I gather Stajemy Jak Ojce, the 2004 release on which Nadbuanski Wit is the opening track, is their only full-length album.

I’m a bit confused as to just how “Polish” Piorun really is. The references I saw to “ties with Nokturnal Mortum” are a bit of an understatement; Knjaz Varggoth, Saturious, and Munruthel are all a part of the line-up, amounting to half of the band and all of the folk elements. Of the band’s three presumably Polish members, two are only credited with vocals. One, and possibly all three, were members of the now defunct Polish black metal band Archandrja. (I’ve not heard them save a few youtube samples just now.)

At any rate, Stajemy Jak Ojce is an absolutely brilliant album when the folk is allowed to shine. When the ambient takes more primacy it leaves a little to be desired. Nadbuanski Wit falls firmly in the former. Whether you choose to hear it as chilling and demented or as ritualistic and reverent, it’s bound to leave a lasting impression.

James Bond Review: For Your Eyes Only (dir. by John Glen)

For Your Eyes Only marks a few changes in the way EON Productions wanted to go with James Bond.  With Moonraker being so over the top, the producers decided to go a little more low key and practical. After working on the 2nd unit for Moonraker and a few other Bond Films, John Glen would step up to the plate as the director for this and every 007 film leading up to Goldeneye. Instead of John Barry working on the music, Bill Conti would take over here, which ended up being a very different kind of sound for the film, one fitting of the early 80s.

For Your Eyes Only opens with an interesting start, having Bond visit the grave of his wife, Tracy, who was killed during the events in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond is informed that his helicopter is ready, but when he climbs inside, he finds that it’s under the control of someone with a serious grudge, and though we can’t see his face, we’re to assume he could be Ernst Starvo Blofeld. Supposedly, the scene, which ends with Bond reclaiming control of the helicopter and dropping the would be Blofeld into a chimney pipe, was a jab at writer Kevin McClory. Over the years, the Thunderball lawsuit caused some rifts between McClory and EON Productions. The statement made with For Your Eyes Only was that EON could come up with plenty of great stories without having to use a signature villain like Blofeld. They’d been successful with two movies back to back using Richard Kiel as the henchman Jaws, and probably felt they were doing pretty well. In reponse, McClory would give the Thunderball another try in the bond film Never Say Never Again (which isn’t part of the EON produced Bond films, and won’t be found in any of their Bond Blu-Ray / DVD compilations.

Similar to Tomorrow Never Dies, the story starts with a boat being attacked and sunk. Bond is asked to retrieve a targeting system from the ship and return it to Britain before the Russians do the same. One of the great things about the time period is that since it was pretty much the Cold War, everything was a black ops -sneak in, sneak out – scenario to avoid World War III and nukes being fired by both sides.

The Bond Girl for this film is Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), who I really liked here. After her parents are gunned down on their boat, she picks up a bow and arrow to take revenge. As a result, she manages to run into Bond on a number of occasions and had a real sense of calm to her (or as calm as one could be when facing a giant fellow in a scuba suit). The villain of the story, Kristatos was played by Julian Glover, who I enjoyed in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and currently on Game of Thrones. I didn’t care much for him in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as Hagrid’s pet spider, Aragog. One thing to note about Glover is that at one point, he was approached to actually play Bond after Connery left. An interesting casting choice if you notice him is Charles Dance as one of the henchmen and Fiddler On the Roof’s Topol, who played a former business partner of Kristatos’. I found that kind of fun, that you could see these actors here in 1981 that people are familiar with to some degree. The year this came out, Liam Neeson was in Excalibur, for example.

The story features a number of good moments, particularly a great snow skiing chase, a mountain climb as well as a fight between Bond and some hockey players. There’s even a well filmed underwater sequence. Of the Roger Moore Bond films, I always thought of this one and The Spy Who Loved Me as two of his best. With the mission being as small as it is, there wasn’t a lot of room for anything as wild as Moonraker. It’s a pretty tight, practical film that doesn’t rely too much on the gadgetry of the other films. It should also be pointed out that like The Spy Who Loved Me, the signature car for Moore’s Bond is still a Lotus, as I don’t believe the Aston Martins made an appearance until The Living Daylights. That was a little of a letdown for me, but otherwise, the film is beautiful.

Tomorrow, The Shattered Lens takes on Octopussy, a film that showcases just how deadly the circus can be when James Bond is involved. We’ll leave you with the theme song to For Your Eyes Only, sung by Sheena Easton.

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.