A Movie A Day #28: Scandal (1989, directed by Michael Caton-Jones)


scandal-posterLondon.  1961.  Doctor Stephen Ward (played by John Hurt) is an artist and an osteopath.  He counts among his patients some of the most distinguished men and women in British society, including the Minister of War, John Profumo (Ian McKellen).  After meeting two young dancers, Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley) and Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), Stephen becomes their mentor, the Henry Higgins to their Eliza Doolittle.

Under Stephen’s watchful eye, both Christine and Mandy are soon having affairs with some  of the most powerful members of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.  Christine becomes the mistress of both Profumo and KGB agent, Yevgeny Ivanov (Jeroen Krabbe), along with maintaining off-and-on relationships with drug dealer Johnny Edgecombe (played by singer Roland Gift) and musician Lucky Gordon (Leon Herbert).

When a disagreement leads to Johnny slashing Lucky’s face and then getting arrested for firing a gun at Stephen’s flat, the public learns the details of Christine’s affair with Profumo.  With the scandal rocking the British government, Stephen is a convenient scapegoat and soon finds himself on trial, charged with making a living off of “immoral earnings.”

Based on the real life scandal that led to the eventual fall of Harold Macmillan’s government, Scandal is remarkably faithful to the facts of the Profumo Affair, even if it did leave out some of the more interesting allegations.  (For instance, no mention is made of an alleged encounter between Mandy Rice-Davies and President Kennedy.)  Though it may seem tame by today’s standards, when Scandal was first released in 1989, it was considered to be something of a scandal itself and it initially got an X rating when it was released in the United States.  (The scandal over Scandal is one of the things that led to the MPAA adopting the NC-17 rating to distinguish between films for adults and “adult” films.  Of course, it didn’t work as a potential NC-17 still carries the same stigma as the X rating did.)

scandal

Scandal holds up well as both a recreation of London on the verge of the sexual revolution and a look at contrast between private and public mores.  Both Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda are excellent in the roles of Christine and Mandy.  Fonda gets to deliver the most famous line of the whole Profumo Affair when Mandy is told that Lord Astor has denied having had an affair with her.  “He would, wouldn’t he?” she says.  After I watched Scandal last night, I did some checking and I discovered that Bridget Fonda has not made a film since 2002.  She is missed.

Not surprisingly, Scandal‘s best performance comes from John Hurt, who plays Stephen Ward as a naive and well-meaning social butterfly who ultimately gets in over his head and pays a steep price for trusting that his friends would remain his friends.  Scandal is just one of many movies that proves what a great talent was lost when the world lost John Hurt.

RIP.

SCANDAL, John Hurt, 1989

“THE GUILTY WILL BE PUNISHED!”: The Punisher (1989, directed by Mark Goldblatt)


The-Punisher“What the fuck do you call 125 murders in 5 years?”

“Work in progress.”

With that line, Dolph Lundgren claimed the role of Frank Castle as his own.

Who is Frank Castle?  A former cop, he was mistakenly believed to be dead after mobsters killed his wife and children.  He has spent five years waging a one man war on the Mafia.  When not killing the criminal element, he spends his time naked in the sewers and having conversations with God.

“Come on God,” he says, “answer me. For years I’m asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me.”

Everyone knows him as the Punisher.  Only his former partner, Detective Berkowtiz (Lou Gossett, Jr.) suspects that the Punisher is actually Frank Castle.

Frank has been so effective in his one-man war on crime that the Mafia is now permanently weakened.  Plotting to take over city’s underworld, the Yakuza arrives in New York City.  Their leader, Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), kidnaps the son of Gianni Franco (Jereon Krabbe) and threatens to kill him unless Franco turns his operation over to her.  The Punisher and Franco team up to rescue Franco’s son and to destroy the Yakuza.  Even as the two works together, the Punisher makes sure that Franco knows that he will be punished for being a criminal.

“There’s a limit to revenge, you know,” Franco says.

“I guess I haven’t reached mine yet,” The Punisher answers.

With the current popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is easy to forget that, in the 80s and 90s, almost all Marvel movies were straight-to-video affairs like this one, made with budgets so low that they could not even afford a Stan Lee cameo.  The Punisher was one of the few halfway entertaining ones.  It may not be a great movie but when compared to the 1990 version of Captain America or the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four, The Punisher looks like a masterpiece.  When this movie was first released, The Punisher was one of the most popular of Marvel’s characters, starring in three separate titles.  While the movie embraces the Punisher’s violent methods and reactionary worldview, it also make some unnecessary chances to the character, not only tweaking his origin story by making Frank a former cop (instead of a grieving father whose family fell victim to random mob violence) but also doing away with The Punisher’s iconic skull shirt.

Marvel's Punisher

Marvel’s Punisher

Dolph Lundgren's Punisher

Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher

Can a punisher without a skull still be The Punisher?

Surprisingly, he can.  Dolph Lundgren is not only physically right for the role but he is also believable as a psychologically damaged vigilante.  This Punisher could teach Deadpool a thing or two.  After the Punisher kills one gangster in front of the man’s terrified son, he tells him, “Stay a good boy and grow up to be a good man.  Because if you don’t, I’ll be waiting.”  When the boy aims his father’s gun at him, the Punisher places his forehead against the barrel and says, “Do it.”  When you consider that The Punisher was originally introduced, in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, as someone who would shoot jaywalkers because they had broken the law, you can see that Lundgren’s performance really gets to the twisted soul of the character.

Even without the skull, Lundgren’s Punisher is still far superior to the versions played by Tomas Jane and Ray Stevenson.  When Jon Bernthal plays the role in the second season of Daredevil (and officially brings the character into the MCU), he will hopefully have learned some lessons from watching Dolph Lundgren.

Punisher

 

James Bond Review: The Living Daylights (dir. by John Glen)


Addendum: It was brought to my attention that Maryam and Olivia d’Abo are actually cousins, rather than sisters.  This was corrected.  

The Shattered Lens continues it’s coverage of all things Bond with 1987’s The Living Daylights. Timothy Dalton was once approached to play 007 after Connery left the franchise the first time, but being only 22 at the time, he considered himself a bit too young for the role. It was only after Roger Moore’s final role in A View to a Kill that he reconsidered and brought on as Britain’s superspy. What I liked about Dalton as Bond was that he was very cold and direct. There was nothing stylish about him, nor did he really try to be (aside for the usual Bond quip). For me, there was sense of darkness to the character. Dalton’s Bond felt like someone just a second away from doing damage to someone, but not exactly caring about how smoothly it was done. This may be partially why I’ve liked Craig so far in his films.

Below is the trailer for The Living Daylights. It makes chuckle how the word “Dangerous” gets thrown on screen every now and then.

The Living Daylights deals with a Russian plot to kill spies. General Gogol in the Roger Moore films was replaced with General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies, Sallah from the Indy Films and Gimli from Lord of the Rings), and MI6 believes they are behind the recent deaths of agents during a training mission. Bond is asked to help eliminate a sniper for a defecting Soviet named Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), but upon realizing that the sniper is a woman, he deliberately misses, shooting the frame of the gun and catching the sniper off guard. Bond manages to get Koskov out of Russia via a tube system, but Koskov is later kidnapped again.

We come to find that Koskov’s defection was a fake and that he’s working with an arms dealer (played by Joe Don Baker, who would later return to the Bond Franchise in Goldeneye as a different character), smuggling Opium and arms. Bond locates the sniper, who turns out to be Koskov’s girlfriend Kara (Maryam d’Abo) and poses a friend to Koskov to get closer to him. Granted, this ends up with Kara falling in love with James and we all know where that goes. d’Abo wasn’t bad as a Bond girl, but arguably her cousin, Olivia was more popular at the time.

Q Branch supplies Bond with a few fun gadgets. Back in the 80s, one fad were these keychain finders that would beep when you whistled or made a sound. 007 receives one of these with both an explosive and a smoke gas pellet inside. It’s pretty much the same setup that Connery had in From Russia With Love, placed in a more “modern day” casing (well, as modern as 25 years ago). Bond is also given an Aston Martin V8 Volante, and after all the Lotus editions in the Moore films – perhaps with the exception of the one that doubled as a sub, that one was awesome – it’s really wonderful to see the franchise return to it’s automotive roots. The car is outfitted with missiles, lasers in the hubcabs, on board skis and the all important self destruct system. As with all of Bond’s toys, he doesn’t manage to return this to Q.

From an action point of view, there isn’t a great deal in The Living Daylights. That’s a fantastic snow chase early on, and a fight on an airplane so popular that it was mimicked in the videogame Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Neither of these try to be too over the top and work to great effect, but there are also a number of slow pacing moments that frankly had me wanting to fast forward through the film. I thought the sequence with the desert was drawn out just a little too much, lending to my notion that whenever a James Bond film uses the desert as a filming location, the movie just isn’t as strong in my eyes. Others, of course, may disagree. What the film does do well is establish Dalton as the new Bond. It doesn’t make fun of who he is compared to who came before in the way Her Majesty’s Secret Service did and just gives you an action sequence that says “Take it or leave it, this is who we’re running with”. I like to think it worked well. One could say it becomes the template for all of the “new 007” films

The Living Daylights notes a few changes in the Bond style. It would be the last film ever scored by long time Bond musician John Barry. The Dalton film after this, License to Kill was actually done by the late Michael Kamen (Robin Hood, Die Hard), and everything after that was either done by Eric Serra (The Professional, Goldeneye) or David Arnold (Stargate and Independence Day). A new, younger Moneypenny is introduced after Lois Maxwell’s departure, but I kind of hoped there would have been more time to see the chemistry grow there.

Overall, for a film that had to introduce a new James Bond to audiences, The Living Daylights does so with the 007 style we all know and love. It’s does downshift during the film to concentrate on the love story, but I felt Timothy Dalton’s dark and cold approach to the signature character adds a lot to the story overall.

The theme song to the film is a stand out by the band A-ha (who was popular with their song, Take On Me), and it’s orchestrated version is used heavily in the film. Tomorrow, we’ll visit License to Kill, where Bond goes rogue.