Celebrate National Trivia Day With The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond!


 

Today is National Trivia Day so I thought why not share some trivia?  I love film trivia.  I especially love trivia about who was considered for certain films.  Hell, one of my most popular posts on the Shattered Lens dealt with all of the actors who were considered for the Godfather!

(I even came up with an alternative cast for The Godfather, even though I consider the actual film to be the best cast film in history.)

I also happen to love the James Bond films.  (Well, not so much the recent Bond films.  I’ve made my feelings on SPECTRE clear.)  As a franchise, I absolutely love them.  So, with all that in mind, here is a look at the actors who could have been Bond.  I’ve compiled this article from many sources.  And yes, you could probably just find a lot of the information on Wikipedia but then you’d miss out on my editorial commentary.

Hoagy Carmichael

Ian Fleming himself always said that his pick for Bond would have been the musician, Hoagy Carmichael.  He even made a point, in Casino Royale, of having Vesper Lynd exclaim that Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael.  Of course, the first actor to actually play Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale.  Nelson is probably best remembered for playing Mr. Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Barry Nelson, the first James Bond

When Dr. No went into production in 1961, many actors were considered for the role before Sean Connery was eventually cast.  Many of them were very well-known actors and, had they been cast, Dr. No would not have been remembered as a Bond movie.  Instead, it would be remembered as a star vehicle for … well, let’s take a look at some of the better-known possibilities:

Among the famous actors who were mentioned for Bond in 1961: Cary Grant, Richard Burton, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Stanley Baker, George Baker, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Harrison, and David Niven.  (Of that list, I think Burton would have made for an interesting Bond.  If the Bond films had been made in the 1940s, Grant would have been my first choice.  Trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart as a British secret agent is … interesting.)

Once it became obvious that a star was not going to play Bond, the role was offered to Patrick McGoohan and Rod Taylor.  McGoohan had moral objections to the character.  Rod Taylor reportedly felt that the film would flop.  Steve Reeves, the American body builder who became famous for playing Hercules in Italy, was reportedly strongly considered.  At one point, director Terrence Young wanted to offer the role to Richard Johnson, who later played Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Of course, the role went to Sean Connery and made Connery a huge star.  In 1967, after Connery announced that he would no longer play the world’s most famous secret agent, there was a huge and widely publicized search for his replacement.  Some of the names that were considered are intriguing.  Others are just bizarre.

Oliver Reed

To me, perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned was that of Oliver Reed.  Reed definitely would have brought a rougher edge of the role than some of the other actors considered.  However, that’s one reason why Reed wasn’t picked.  Apparently, it was felt that he did not have the right public image to play the suave Mr. Bond.

Somewhat inevitably, Michael Caine was sought out for the role.  Caine, however, refused to consider it because he had already starred in three back-to-back spy thrillers and didn’t want to get typecast.  Caine’s former roommate, Terrence Stamp, was another possibility but wanted too much control over the future direction of the Bond films.  Future Bond Timothy Dalton was considered to be too young.  Another future Bond, Roger Moore, didn’t want to give up his television career.  Eric Braeden has the right look for Bond but was German.  Rumor has it that producer Cubby Broccoli even considered Dick Van Dyke for the role, though I find that hard to believe.  An even more surprising possibility was the nobleman Lord Lucan, who was offered a screen test in 1967 and who, ten years later, would vanish after being accused of murdering his children’s nanny.

Lord Lucan

Among the actors who auditioned before George Lazenby was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Michael Billington, Jeremy Brett, Peter Purves, Robert Campbell, Patrick Mower, Daniel Pilon, John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Hans De Vries, and Peter Snow.

After the mixed reception of both Lazenby’s performance and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby was soon out as James Bond.  Even today, there’s a lot of controversy about what led to Lazenby being dismissed from the role.  Some say Lazenby demanded too much money.  Some say that Lazenby was merely used a pawn to try to get Sean Connery to return to the role.  Regardless, Lazenby only made one film as Bond.  (Of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has retroactively been recognized as being one of the best of the series.)

With Connery still claiming that he would never return to the role, the film’s producers went through the motions of looking for a new Bond.  Once again, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were considered.  Connery suggested that a talk show host named Simon Dee should play the role.  An actor named Roger Green auditioned.  So did Michael Gambon, though he later said he was turned down because, in his own words, he “had tits like a woman.”  Interestingly, several Americans were mentioned.  Clint Eastwood as James Bond?  Burt Reynolds?  Adam “Batman” West? The mind boggles but their names were mentioned.

John Gavin

And interestingly enough, an American was cast.  John Gavin is best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho but he was also, briefly, James Bond.  After Gavin accepted he role and signed a contract, Sean Connery announced that he would be willing to return to the role.  Gavin was paid off and Connery went on to star in Diamonds are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery left the role for a second time and, once again, Bond was recast.  This time, Roger Moore would finally accept the role.  However, before Moore was cast, several other actors were considered.  Some of the regular possibilities were mentioned again: John Gavin, Simon Oates, Timothy Dalton, and Michael Billington.  Others considered included Jon Finch, Ranulph Fiennes, Peter Laughton, and Guy Peters.  Some of those names are probably as unknown to you as they are to me but it’s intriguing to think that Guy Peters may not be a well-known name but, at one time, there was a possibility that he could suddenly become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Looking over the history of the Bond franchise, it’s interesting to see the number of times that Moore tried to leave the role, just to be talked into returning.  Every time that Moore considered quitting, a new group of actors would be considered for the role of Bond.  In 1979, when Moore said he might not return after Moonraker, Timothy Dalton, Michael Jayston, Patrick Mower (who was also considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Michael Billington were all considered as replacements.  So was Julian Glover.  Ironically, when Moore did agree to return to the role, Glover was cast as the villain in For Your Eyes Only.

David Warbeck

To me, the most intriguing actor mentioned as a replacement for Roger Moore was David Warbeck.  Warbeck was a television actor and model who subsequently had a nearly legendary film career in Italy.  Not only did he play a key role in Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker!, but he also starred in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and The Beyond.  He also appeared in the best of Italian Apocalypse Now rip-offs, The Last Hunter.  In interviews, Warbeck claimed that he was under contract to Cubby Broccoli to step into the role in case Roger Moore ever walked off the set.  The likable and rugged Warbeck would have been an interesting Bond.

In 1983, when Moore again said he might not return to the role, Michael Billington (who actually did appear in a Bond film when he played a KGB agent killed at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me) would be once more considered as a replacement.  British TV actors Lewis Collins and Ian Ogilvy were also considered for the role.  In a repeat of what happened with John Gavin in Diamonds are Forever, American actor James Brolin was actually put under contract until Moore agreed to play the role in Octopussy.

James Brolin, in a screen test for Octopussy

After A View To A Kill, Moore left the role for the final time.  Famously, future Bond Pierce Brosnan was actually cast as his replacement until the surge of interest created by his casting led to the renewal of Remington Steele, the American television show in which Brosnan was starring.  Once the show was renewed, Brosnan could no longer work the Bond films into his schedule.

Among the other names mentioned: Sean Bean, Simon MacCorkindale, Andrew Clarke, Finlay Light, Mark Greenstreet, Neil Dickson, Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson, and Antony Hamilton.  Sam Neill was another possibility and reportedly came very close to getting the role.  Watch any of the films that Neill made when he was younger and you can definitely see hints of Bond.

Sam Neill

In the end, Timothy Dalton finally accepted the role.  Ironically, for an actor who spent 20 years being courted for the role, Dalton turned out to be a bit of a flop as Bond.  He made two movies (both of which were considered to be disappointing when compared to the previous Bond films) and then left the role.

Looking over the contemporary reviews of Dalton as Bond, one thing that comes through clearly is that a lot of people resented him for taking a role that they felt should have gone to Pierce Brosnan.  When the Bond films resumed production with Goldeneye in 1994, Brosnan finally stepped into the role.  Reportedly, if Brosnan had turned down the role, the second choice was Sean Bean.  Much like Julian Glover, Bean may have lost out on 007 but he did end up playing the villain.

Sean Bean

Among the other actors who were reportedly considered before Brosnan accepted the role: Mark Frankel, Paul McGann, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, and Lambert Wilson.  Ralph Fiennes, who has been M since Skyfall, was also considered.

As opposed to his predecessors, Brosnan seemed to be very comfortable with the idea of playing Bond and never threatened to leave the role.  Looking over the Bond-related articles that were published from 1995 to 2004, I found the occasional speculation about whether Rupert Everett would be the first gay James Bond or if Sharon Stone would be the first female James Bond but I found very little speculation about Brosnan actually leaving the role.  Indeed, when Brosnan officially retired as Bond in 2004, it was less his decision and more at the prodding of the franchise’s producers, who felt that the series needed to be rejuvenated with a new (and younger) actor.  After Brosnan left, the series was rebooted and Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that Daniel Craig is hardly my favorite Bond.  I loved Skyfall (and I consider it to the 2nd best Bond film, after From Russia With Love) but, even in that case, I felt that the film succeeded despite Craig instead of because of him.  With Casino Royale, we were supposed to be seeing a young and inexperienced Bond.  That’s never come through to me, probably because Craig looked like he was nearly 50 years old when he made Casino Royale.

Among the actors who were mentioned for the role before Craig received the role: Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Salmon, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, Rupert Friend, Julian McMahon, Alex O’Laughlin, Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, and Goran Visjnic.  Dominic West, who I think would have been great in the role, reportedly ruled himself out because he heard a rumor that Brosnan would be returning to the role.

Dominic West

Daniel Craig, of course, has been talking about leaving the role ever since he was first cast.  I think Skyfall would have been a perfect movie for him to leave on.  (It would have saved the world from SPECTRE.)  However, Craig has apparently agreed to do at least one more Bond film.  Maybe two.

When Craig does leave, who will replace him?  Idris Elba, of course, is probably the most widely discussed possibility.  James Norton has also been named as a possibility.  Others that I’ve seen mentioned: Tom Hardy, Jack Huston, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Henry Cavill (again).

My personal choice?  Dominic Cooper.  He’d be an off-center Bond but I think it would still be an intriguing pick.

Dominic Cooper

Who knows what the future may hold for 007?  All I know is that I look forward to the speculation.

Happy National Trivia Day, everyone!

Cleaning Out The DVR #20: Tom Jones (dir by Tony Richardson)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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Oh, how I wanted to love Tom Jones!

No!  Not that Tom Jones.

I’m talking about Tom Jones, the British film from 1963.  Based on a novel by Henry Fielding, Tom Jones was a huge box office success and it was one of the few comedies to ever win the Oscar for best picture.  Whenever you watch a documentary about the British invasion of the early 60s, chances are that you’ll see at least a clip or two from Tom Jones.  The film (or perhaps I should say the film’s box office success) is a part of 60s pop history, right up there with The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and Sean Connery shooting that guy in cold blood in Dr. No.

Up until last night, I had heard about Tom Jones but I had never seen it.

And I really wanted to love it.

The film takes place in 18th century England and it tells the story of young Tom Jones (Albert Finney).  It starts with a lengthy sequence that plays out like a silent film, complete with title cards.  Upright Squire Allworthy (George Devine) comes home and discovers that a baby has been left in his bed.  He assumes that the child was born to two of his servants and declares that he will raise Tom Jones to be a good and worthy man.

Two decades later, Tom Jones has grown up and now he’s being played by Albert Finney (who, it must be said, was quite a handsome man when he was young).  Because Tom is good-looking and kind-hearted, every woman in England lusts after him.  But Tom is in love with innocent Sophie Western (Susannah York).  However, Sophie is a member of the upper class and Tom is a “bastard,” at a time when that actually means something.

Indeed, Sophie’s aunt and uncle (played by Edith Evans and Hugh Griffith) demand that Sophie have nothing to do with Tom Jones.  They decide that she will marry Blifil (David Warner, young but already typecast as a villain).  Through clever lies and manipulations, Blifil convinces Squire Allworthy that Tom has turned bad and must therefore be exiled from his home.  Does Blifil want to get rid of Tom just so he can marry Sophie or is it possible that there’s more to Blifil’s scheming?

Before we get the answer to that question, we spend a while following the exiled Tom as he wanders around England and attempts to prove himself worthy of Sophie.  Along the way, Tom serves briefly in the army, gets into numerous fights, and has several affairs.  One of those affairs is with Mrs. Walters (Joyce Redman), who he briefly thinks might be his mother.  Eventually, Tom ends up as the lover to the decadent Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood).  Through Blifil’s scheming, he also ends up framed for attempted murder and facing the gallows…

And, as melodramatic as that may all sound, Tom Jones is definitely a comedy.  It doesn’t take itself seriously and there’s hardly a single scene that isn’t played for laughs.  Director Tony Richardson goes out of his way to make sure that you never forget that you’re watching a movie.  There are freeze frames.  There’s plenty of characters around to supply sarcastic commentary.  There’s even a few cases of fourth wall breaking.

As I watched Tom Jones, it was hard for me not to compare it to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.  After all, both films take place during the same period of time and both deal with a young man making his way through European society.  I would even argue that, in its way, Barry Lyndon is far more satirical than Tom Jones.  The main difference between the two films is that Barry Lyndon is all about subtext whereas everything that happens in Tom Jones happens right on the surface.

As I said, I really wanted to like Tom Jones but, seen today, the entire film seems to be trying a little bit too hard.  Tony Richardson’s direction is so manic that it gets a bit exhausting after a while.  That said, I can understand why the film was such a success when it was first released.  I’m sure in 1963 — after having to deal with decades of pompous costume dramas — viewers probably found Tom Jones to be a breath of fresh air.  Not only was it a British film released at a time when all things British were in style but it was also a film that, by the standards of 1963, dealt frankly with sex.  In short, Tom Jones is definitely a film of its time.  If it doesn’t hold up as well today, that’s because it wasn’t made for 2016.  It was made for 1963.

And obviously, if the judgment of the Academy is to be trusted, Tom Jones was the perfect film for 1963.  That said, I would have given best picture to another British film, From Russia With Love.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #116: The Young Victoria (dir by Jean-Marc Vallee)


Young_victoria_poster

So, earlier, I was having a conversation with my BFF Evelyn and I discovered that we both have a massive girl crush on Emily Blunt.

And really, can you blame us?

First off, Emily Blunt is incredibly talented.  She’s one of those actresses who can play just about anyone and anything.  I have never heard or seen an interview with her where she seemed to be anything less than intelligent and witty.  She speaks her mind and projects an attitude of not really caring what other people think about her.  Add to that, she’s absolutely gorgeous and she has a body and a face to die for.  If I were to ever get a nose job (and that’s always been a temptation for me), I would definitely tell the surgeon to give me Emily Blunt’s nose.

Evelyn and I also love the fact that Emily Blunt always plays characters who kick ass, often times literally.  Whether it was in Looper or Edge of Tomorrow or the upcoming Sicario, one thing remains consistent.  You simply do not mess with Emily Blunt because she’s a fighter.

Finally, Emily Blunt gets to spend every night with Jon Krasinski!

Seriously, how can you not love Emily Blunt?

Emily Blunt first received attention as the result of supporting turns in The Devil Wears Prada and Charlie Wilson’s War.  Her first starring role — or, at the very least, her first starring role to receive wide distribution here in the states — was in the 2009 film, The Young Victoria.

The Young Victoria attempts to do for Britain’s famous Queen Victoria what Elizabeth did for Queen Elizabeth I.  It attempts to humanize an iconic figure and show that, underneath the popular image of Victorian refinement and emotional repression, Victoria was actually a passionate and headstrong woman.  And the film largely succeeds at doing that because Victoria is played by Emily Blunt.

Unfortunately, The Young Victoria is never quite as interesting as Elizabeth.  Whereas both films feature young queens struggling to prove themselves worthy of leading Britain, Elizabeth benefited from being conceived as a renaissance version of The Godfather.  Elizabeth was full of shadowy conspiracies, ominous whispers, and secrets.  When, at the end of the film, Elizabeth had solidified her hold on the British crown, you felt that she had truly accomplished something and that perhaps her victory was worth living the rest of her life as the Virgin Queen.

Whereas in The Young Victoria, the conspiracies basically amount to smug civil servants assuring themselves that Victoria won’t do something and then being shocked when Victoria does exactly what they weren’t expecting her to do.  And, while it’s undeniably fun to watch Victoria refuse to sign away her power and announce that she can decide for herself what her royal role should be, that’s largely because it’s always fun to watch Emily Blunt stand up for herself.

The majority of the film is taken up with Victoria being courted by Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).  Again, there’s no real conflict in Victoria and Albert’s relationship.  We know that Victoria is eventually going to marry Albert.  And, even when the two have an argument towards the end of the film, you know that they are going to reconcile.  What you may not be prepared for is a scene where Albert is gravely wounded while protecting Victoria from an assassin’s bullet.  That’s because it never happened.  A man did attempt to assassinate Victoria but he failed and Albert was not wounded at all.  But then again, why let history get in the way of a good story?

On the poster at the top of the post, The Young Victoria is described as being “gorgeous.”  And really that’s the main reason to see the film.  The film looks really, really good.  The costumes and the sets are wonderfully ornate.  The cinematography is vibrant and lush.  And Emily Blunt’s performance can rightly be called gorgeous.   By the end of The Young Victoria, you really don’t feel like you’ve learned anything new about Queen Victoria.  But you do appreciate Emily Blunt.

Lisa Reviews The Oscar Nominees: Nicholas and Alexandra (dir by Franklin J. Schaffner)


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(Depending on how much you know about world history, the review below may contain spoilers.)

It was nearly four years ago that I decided that my goal in life was to watch and review every single film — no matter how obscure or potentially disappointing — that had ever been nominated for best picture.  Of course, that’s not my only goal.  If anything, I may have too many, often contradictory goals in my life.  But seeing all of the best picture nominees was definitely one of them and, all these years later, it’s a goal that I’m still trying to achieve.  With the help of TCM and their nonstop schedule of movies made long before I was born, it’s also a goal on which I am slowly but surely making progress.

Last night, as I scrolled through the guide, I noticed that TCM would be showing Nicholas and Alexandra, a three and a half hour film from 1971.  Now normally, I would be hesitant about watching a film that long, if just because I have ADHD and I doubt I’d be able to concentrate on it.  In a theater, watching the action unfold on a big screen, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However, it’s totally different when you’re talking watching a movie on TV in a house that is full of potential distractions.  Add to that, Wednesday night is when I usually watch shows like Survivor, Hell’s Kitchen, and South Park.

But, here’s the thing.  The title Nicholas and Alexandra sounded familiar to me and not just because I’m an obsessive history nerd.  I did some checking and I discovered that, regardless of how obscure the film may be today, Nicholas and Alexandra was nominated for best picture.  It lost to The French Connection but it was nominated.

So, of course, I had to watch it.

And you know what?

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It’s not a terrible movie.  It’s certainly not great.  It has multiple flaws and it’s hard to imagine this film being nominated alongside films like The French Connection, Last Picture Show, and A Clockwork Orange.  Watching the movie, I got the feeling it was probably nominated because it was a big, expensive epic and not because it was one of the best of the year.  But, if you stick with the film (which, if we’re going to be honest here, is much easier said than done), it’s not quite as disappointing as you might expect it to be.

Nicholas and Alexandra tells the story of the last monarch of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston).  Struggling to escape the shadow of his father and incapable of understanding what life is like for those not born into royalty, Nicholas is portrayed as being well-meaning but autocratic and blind to the fact that the days of royalty are rapidly coming to an end.  His wife, Alexandra (Janet Susman) is also unpopular with both the Russian citizenry and the royal court on account of being German.

Alexandra spends most her time doting on her youngest son, Alexei, who suffers from hemophilia.  When a flamboyant Serbian monk named Rasputin (Tom Baker) claims that he has the power to heal Alexei, Alexandra immediately brings him into the court.  Soon, rumors are flying across Russia about Rasputin’s relationship with Alexandra.

Meanwhile, men with names like Lenin (Michael Bryant), Trotsky (Brian Cox), and Stalin (James Hazeldine) are plotting to lead a “worker’s revolution…”

If you know anything about history, it’s not really a spoiler to reveal what happens in the second half of Nicholas and Alexandra.  (And if you’re not into history, you probably would not have any interest in watching the movie in the first place.)   Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, plunging the entire world into war.  Russia declares war on Germany and the German-born Alexandra becomes even more unpopular than before.  The rest of the royal court, jealous over the mad monk’s influence, plots against Rasputin.  The Tsar is forced from the throne and Nicholas and his family spend their last days as captives of the people they once ruled.  Now a powerless prisoner, Nicholas finally starts to understand the world beyond his palace walls.  However, in the end, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, and their loyal servants are taken into a small room and violently executed.  End of movie.

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So, there are a lot of things wrong with Nicholas and Alexandra.  Not the least of the film’s problem is an unwieldy length and generally slow pace.  (The film was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who also directed the still-fun original Planet of the Apes.  Little of the flair he brought to Planet of the Apes is present here.)  This is one of those films that is full of incident with various characters popping up and discussing the intricacies of international politics with little concern as to whether or not any of this is the least bit cinematic or even compelling on a narrative level.  The film has a huge cast but very few memorable characters.

Even worse is that neither Nicholas nor Alexandra never come across as being all that interesting.  The film makes the case that Nicholas’s downfall was largely a result of him being unlucky enough to rule at a time when people across Europe and Asia were rejecting the old ways for the new ways of revolution and industrialization.  Nicholas is continually portrayed as being well-meaning but isolated and that has the potential to be interesting but, at times, the film feels almost as emotionally detached as its characters.

That said, Nicholas and Alexandra does work as a spectacle, as a showcase for beautiful clothing and ornate scenery.  As a character study, Nicholas and Alexandra largely fails but, as a fashion show, it’s actually a lot of fun.    Early on in the film, there’s a lengthy sequence in which Nicholas and Alexandra walk down the red-carpeted hallways of their palace.  It’s shot through Nicholas’s eyes and we see a collection of guards and noblemen and women standing to the side and bowing their heads as the Tsar and his wife walk past.  It’s a good scene and one that perfectly shows not only the life that Nicholas is used to but also why Nicholas doesn’t want to change that life.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, the first two hours of Nicholas and Alexandra work best when they focus on the flamboyant character of Rasputin.  Baker does a really go job as Rasputin, delivering all of his lines with a ferocious intensity while staring with obviously unhinged eyes.  When he’s with Alexandra, Rasputin is calculating and coldly conniving, providing just enough comfort to keep her under his control.  When he’s with Nicholas or any of the other male members of the court, he reveals himself to be an arrogant libertine, making profane jokes and bragging about his conquests.  It’s a really good performance but, as with so many other good performances in this film, it occasionally gets lost in the film’s dense production.

The best moments of Nicholas and Alexandra come towards the end, with the humbled Nicholas finally revealing his humanity and the Tsar’s family struggling to maintain their dignity even as their inevitable fate approaches.  At this point, the performers came to life.  The film suddenly had an emotional resonance.  It finally became about something!  For those final 20 or so minutes, Nicholas and Alexandra suddenly seemed worthy of being awarded.

In fact, based on those final 20 minutes, I would even be willing to see a sequel called Nicholas and Alexandra and Rasputin Makes Three.  

(Though I’m not sure how that sequel could ever be made.  As @Kev1Media pointed out when I suggested it on twitter, Adam Sandler would have to be somehow involved.)

As for Nicholas and Alexandra, it’s not a great film but if you’re into history or you’re an Oscar completist like me, the film has its occasional charms.  You just have to be willing to look for them.

Nicholas and Alexandra

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.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E10 “Valar Morghulis”


“We are the watchers on the Wall.” — Qhorin Halfhand

[spoilers within]

With last week’s explosive ninth episode, “Blackwater”, it was going to take much to make tonight’s season finale to really stand out. Just like the first season’s finale we get an episode that deals with the aftermath of the previous episode and also goes a long way into setting up events for the upcoming third season.

“Valar Morghulis” is the title of tonight’s episode and it’s spoken by Jaqen H’ghar to Arya as the two part ways. It’s a saying in Essos from ancient High Valyrian (a Roman Epire-like civilization which perished centuries before the series’ timeline) that translated means “All men must die”. Jaqen sees potential in Arya in becoming like him, a Faceless Man, assassins who follow the teaching of the so-called Many-Faced Gods. While Arya seems intrigued by the offer her need to re-connect with her family takes precedence over everything else. As the two part ways Jaqen imparts to Arya a coin that should she ever need passage to Braavos to start her journey into becoming a Faceless Man. In another instance that this series still has magic in it’s DNA we finally see why Jaqen is a Faceless Man as he walks away from Arya and her group wearing a new face.

Tonight’s episode lays the foundation that next season magic and sorcery may become more common place than the first two season of the series. We see Daenerys finally make her way into the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragonlings from the warlocks of Qarth. It’s a sequence that’s akin to spirit journey for the Targaryen Queen-to-be and Mother of Dragons as she walks the darkened halls and corridors of the House of Undying until an egress suddenly takes her North of the Wall to find a Dothraki tent where she discovers the two most precious things she has lost since coming to Essos. In what I could only see as a surprise that was kept by showrunners Benioff and Weiss from the press and bloggers (a feat nowadays) Daenerys sees her husband Khal Drogo and who could only be their son both alive and waiting for her.

Her reaction to this event was both poignant and tragic in that she finally has a chance to be with those she loves most but must give up the quest to retake Westeros with her dragons. Her decision to leave the tent and leave behind those she loves comes as her character finally realizing that sentimentality and the needs of her heart must take a back seat and wait. Daenerys comes out the other side a more confident ruler and one whose magic really is stronger than those warlocks who scheme to keep her and her dragons captive for themselves. It really sets up the Daenerys character on a much stronger footing for next season just like last season’s finale did. For all the moping around Daenerys did for most of season 2 the pay off in the end goes a long way into forgiving the show’s writers in their inability to write her character’s motivations consistently. Most likely the naive young girl being used by others for their own agendas and ends would be seen less and less next season while the Mother of Dragons reasserts her authority.

The same can’t be said for one of the five kings vying for control of Westeros. For those who have read the third novel the scenes with King Robb Stark were full of sentimentality but lacking in the cold-hearted logic that rulers must use in order to play the game of thrones successfully. Even his mother, Catelyn Stark, sees danger in Robb’s actions with the Volanti healer Talisa Maegyr. Catelyn knows well enough that Robb could destroy everything he has won and worked for since war begun because he has thought with his heart and not with his head. In what could almost be seen as more doom coming for the House of Stark, Robb cements his relationship with Talisa in secret even though we’ve come to learn through two season of this show that nothing ever remains secret for long.

Back in King’s Landing we see the balance of power shift once more as Tywin Lannister’s opportune arrival to take victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of last week’s episode sees him back as Hand of the King to Joffrey. Tyrion has lost all the advantages he had worked and gamed for all season as even Bronn has been removed as Commander of the Goldcloaks. We’ve not seen Tyrion laid so low as we have in this episode and the horrible scarring of his face looks to go deeper as he finally realizes that as much as he would enjoy running away with Shae and leave the politicla intrigues and backstabbing of the kingdom it’s something that he would miss terribly because it’s the one thing he’s best at. With Tywin now in charge of the kingdom and Petyr Baelish having earned himself the king’s good graces for manufacturing the alliance between the two most powerful houses in the kingdom with the Lannisters (Baratheon by name only) and the Tyrell’s of Highgarden. It’s going to be interesting to see how Tyrion readjusts to the new power dynamics in King’s Landing for season 3. If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about Tyrion over two season’s worth of episodes it’s that he’s a survivor first and foremost.

Lastly, we come to Jon Snow and his dilemma North of the Wall. A captive of the wildlings and seen as someone very important for the still unseen Mance Rayder the so-called King-beyond-the-Wall, Jon must do the only logical thing (something Qhorin halfhand agrees as the only thing that could save Jon and maybe give him time to warn the Wall) and earn the trust of Ygritte, Rattleshirt and the rest of the wildlings even if it means killing one of his own to do so. In what would be one of several sweeping scenes that show the epic nature of this series lest we forget Ygritte shows Jon over the lip of a glacier the army of wildlings Mance Rayder has gathered.

Yet, it’s not that army that gives tonight’s episode that cliffhanger send-off that last season’s finale did with Daenerys coming out of the funeral pyre with her three dragonlings perched on her unharmed body. No, tonight’s episode gets a cliffhanger that is more ominous and reinforces the House Stark motto of “Winter Is Coming”. We see poor Samwell Tarly (having been abandoned by the two other Night’s Watch Brothers once they heard the three horn blasts in the distance) scared out of his wits as he realizes that the three horn blasts that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years could only mean one thing: the White Walkers are on the march towards the Wall. In a final acknowledgement that as realistically the show has tried to portray the series in terms of warfare and political intrigue there’s no getting away from the fact that magic is still alive in this world born out of George R.R. Martin’s fevered mind as a massive army of undead slouches south towards the Wall and the kingdoms beyond it.

This scene just ups the ante on what we could only imagine what would be season three of the show. Across the Narrow Sea we have Daenerys Stormborn gradually detaching sentimentality from how she operates and this could only mean more bad news for the warring kingdoms of Westeros. The power struggles against King Joffrey looks to be going the mad king’s way as Lannisters and Tyrells ally together to retake the rest of the rebelling kingdoms. Now we have two armies, one living and preparing to go south towards the Wall (most likely to get away from the gathering White Walker horde) and the other undead and also heading towards the only bastion (one that is ridiculously undermanned) protecting the southern kingdoms from a gathering darkness.

If there was a complaint about this season’s storytelling it was that so much of the novel this season was based on was condensed to make it fit in a ten-episode season. Despite lulls in character development with Jon Snow and Daenerys we get major pay-offs for these two with tonight’s season finale. It’s good news that showrunner Benioff and Weiss has decided to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two with the first half comprising season three with the latter half set aside for season four. Even with missteps along the way tonight’s season finale goes a long way into proving that HBO’s Game of Thrones is currently the best genre show on tv and one of the best tv shows airing now.

Now we have ten months of waiting to see how Westeros and Essos will deal with the events that ended season two. One thing for sure is that we’ll see more people die before all questions get answered if ever.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E09 “Blackwater”


“And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.” — The Rains of Castamere

If there’s been a complaint (actually more of a nitpick) from fans of the show in regards to Game of Thrones’ second season it would be that a majority of the episodes this season looked to be cutting corners in terms of budget. The show’s first season was already the most expensive  TV series ever and this season things just got more expensive. There was one thing that seemed to have forced the producers of the show into scaling things back for many of the episodes (this season was really about shooting many scenes indoors whether it was inside a castle or tent) and that one thing was tonight’s ninth and penultimate episode of season two: “Blackwater”.

Tonight’s episode is the culmination of everything which has come before it during this season. Sure, we had some machinations that involved Daenerys across the Narrow Sea at Qarth and Jon Snow north of the Wall. Outside of those two subplots which has yet to fully play out this season (most likely extending into season 3), every storyline this second season was about moving the necessary pieces and characters that would affect the outcome of the battle that was going to take place on Blackwater Bay outside King’s Landing. This was a battle that’s been eagerly anticipated by fans of the books. It’s a gamechanger in the novels and after tonight’s episode played out it looks like it also changes the ever shifting dynamics of the tv show.

First things first, all the money being saved by cutting back on outdoor filming during this season looked like it went all in with this episode. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss know that they had a great chance of alienating the fans of the books and, most likely, even those of just the show if the most pivotal storyline this season was to be turned into a battle told off-screen and after the fact. No, this battle had to be filmed and done so that it didn’t look cheap. Even writer George R.R. Martin who gave birth to this epic medieval fantasy saga came in to pen tonight’s teleplay in order. The show even decided to go with an outsider to direct tonight’s episode and did they ever hit it out of the park with their choice of veteran genre filmmaker Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Descent, Doomsday, Centurion).

“Blackwater” did something this series has never done and that’s focus the entirety of it’s running time to telling the story of just the one location and tonight it was to be King’s Landing and Blackwater Bay. Every episode in this series has jumped from location to location that viewers have had to learn how to expertly track each storyline just to make sense of the show’s overall narrative. Yet, tonight Martin, the showrunners and, most likely, Marshall himself, knew that jumping the episode from location to location wouldn’t be the smartest of ideas. Tonight had to be about this battle and how it furthers the character growth of many characters in the show.

I was surprised at how well the episode depicted the Battle of Blackwater Bay. We can definitely see Martin’s hand in the writing of tonight’s episode as things gradually built-up from the very moment the intro sequence ended and we come to see the invasion fleet Stannis has brought to King’s Landing just moment’s away from seeing the walls of the city. Even this late in the stage of the siege preparations we get to see how terrified everyone seems to be about the coming siege and battle. Everyone seem to be dealing with the prospect of battle in their own unique way. Tyrion spends it with Shae in his quarters with the notion that this time with Shae might be the last he’ll ever have adding a sense of poignancy to their scene.

Tyrion’s partner-in-crime and lord of the Goldcloaks spends it with some of his men at one of the local taverns with many tankards of good brown ale and the warm companionship of the city’s many prostitutes. Bronn may be acting cavalier about the coming battle, but his behavior and those of his men in the tavern doesn’t seem farfetched as we’ve learned through first-hand accounts of soldiers on the eve of battle trying to make the most of what could be their final hours on Earth. Bronn’s behavior is a stark contrast to that of Sandor “The Hound” Clegane who shows up in the very tavern but not with thoughts of a final night’s of debauchery and merrymaking but instead spending time drinking brown ale in silence and a mood that’s telling in how The Hound sees the prospect of victory in the coming battle. Bronn may think the battle is hopeless but he knows well enough not to waste what time he has left brooding and acting like a Debbie-downer like the bigger Hound.

Even Cersei and Sansa get a chance to show how the battle brings out the best and worst in people. The former’s caustic tongue and even more bitter personality comes to the forefront as she drops any sense of pretense of being the courtly Queen’s Regent. She knows exactly that the battle will not be about glory and honor. The battle will be about bloodshed, destruction and, if the defenders lose, the raping and killing of all the women behind the wall’s of King’s Landing. Cersei is prepared to do what is necessary to keep herself, her children and the women from being raped and murdered, but in doing so loses what semblance of loyalty her handmaidens and courtly allies may have had for her. Sansa, on the other hand, still tries to put up a brave front. Maybe it’s a genuine reaction or one she knows she must put up if just to keep the ladies in the Red Keep where she and Cersei have stashed themselves from running in panic.

As a student of military tactics and history tonight’s episode wasn’t cringe-inducing once the battle itself began. Martin does a great job in condensing the tactics and maneuvers he had written in detail in the novel, but could be confusing to the uninitiated. The episode wasn’t too simplified to the point it hand-held the audience through every step and move both sides made. We knew that Tyrion had a surprise waiting for Stannis’ invasion fleet and that it involved the use of the alchemical concoction “wildfire” (the show’s version of that near-legendary weapon that the Eastern Roman Empire used to defend Constantinople for centuries called “Greek Fire”), but we still had no idea just how the surprise would turn out. Even when the single boat silently approached the vanguard fleet led by Ser Davos we still didn’t know how the wildfire would be used. To say that the surprise Tyrion had for the invasion fleet was jaw-dropping would be an understatement. It was a scene that brought to life how the historical battles like the Battle of Red Cliffs, Siege of Antwerp, the Gravelines, the Battle of the Downs, the Battle of Solebay and the Battle of La Hougue must’ve looked like.

Even the amphibious landing that Stannis’ infantry made to start the siege of King’s Landings’ walls was both accurate in how such a military maneuver was done, but also shot in a way by Neil Marshall to be exciting and chaotic. This battle was chaotic but not in the shaky-cam variety but in how battles was always about the killing and dying of men on the ground who were just feet from each other. It was a bloody execution of the episode’s order of battle that really earns this show that label of epic that fans like to throw at it. Again I must hand it to Martin as episode’s writer for making things accessible to those who have never read the book, but also keep enough of what made this battle exciting to those who have been fans of the novels.

All of this would still have come for naught if the person directing the episode dropped the ball, so to speak. “Blackwater” needed a director who could handle massive action scenes both from a bird’s eye view and from that of the grunt on the ground. Neil Marshall is a filmmaker who has always been great at maximizing the small budget he works with to create thrilling genre films. As the first outsider hired by the show’s producers Marshall was already behind the eightball in that he’s not knowledgeable of the what the show is about. Yet, one couldn’t tell with tonight’s episode. If HBO ever decided to continue this series for many more seasons I hope that they and Benioff and Weiss just hire Marshall to become the default director when it comes to episodes that require that epic hand at the till. Even with the quieter scenes with Cersei and her youngest Tommen as they sat on the Iron Throne waiting for the bad news that she truly thought would come was handled with a filmmaker’s deft touch that most tv directors are rarely able to pull off.

“Blackwater” may be the second to the last episode of this show’s second season, but just like the first season’s penultimate episode with the execution of Ned Stark, fans and audiences of the show have been treated to what could be accurately called the season’s climax. It’s not a bad way to end a season, but as we found out with last season the final episode will have it’s own surprises but also end the season with new avenues of storytelling that would make waiting for the start of season three to arrive be an exercise in agonized waiting. Season one’s second to the last episode might’ve been more traumatic but tonight’s “Blackwater” may have just been it’s best.

A job well done by Martin and Marshall.