Friday, November 16, 2012

You Only Live Twice

For me, this one is unquestionably an improvement on Thunderball, although part of that is a reflection of how much I disliked Thunderball. With one glaring exception, just about every part of it is better - the action is more focused, the villain is more interesting, the girls are (by about one iota) better characterized, and the movie just looks and feels like it has a better handle on what it wants to accomplish.

The exception, and it's a big one, is Bond himself. It's impossible not to look ahead and realize that this was Connery's last Bond picture that he did on his own volition, rather than as a result of having a dumptruck full of money dropped on his doorstep, and it shows. His performance is pretty charmless and totally checked out. Depending on how important you think Bond's performance is to the success of a Bond movie (and, you know, it's pretty important) you could make the case that Connery's lifeless performance makes this the weakest of the first 5. Me, I like enough of the rest of the movie that it's probably sitting at #3 (better than Thunderball and Dr. No, worse than the other two.) So that's my general impression. Some specifics.

There's a big matzo ball right in the opening credits: Written by Roald Dahl. Apparently he was friends with Ian Fleming, and also apparently he completely rewrote the book that this movie is ostensibly based on.

The action, like I said, is really good, for my money the best of the series so far. There's a cool fistfight that spills on to a rooftop which is shot, in part, with a wide-angled helicopter shot, and it's really great the way the shot never stops the action, so you get a sense of the full geography of the scene. There's a helicopter dogfight scene which is only partially marred by the fact that Bond is flying this incredibly doofy, dorky single-seater helicopter. The movie makes a big deal of having Q's people assemble it (and this is the second straight movie where Q's scene is out in the field, which kind of takes some of the fun out the character, but whatever) so they're obviously proud of it, but it's really pretty stupid.

Were you wondering if this movie had ninjas in it? Well wonder no more. There are ninjas. Their training montage is kind of cooler than their field work but still, *ninjas* you guys.

Donald Pleasance's performance as Blofeld is balls-out crazy, in the best possible way. Even the way he pets the cat is weird, with this repetitive head stroke thing that suggests either Pleasance was fully plugged in to Blofeld's insanity or else maybe he just had never seen a cat before and took his best guess. He's the first villain in the series so far who gets Poochy status from me, in that when he wasn't on the screen (and he's not on the screen very much, sadly) I kept asking, where's Blofeld?

Does this movie have an enormous base that is built inside of a volcano? You bet your ass it does. I mean, the set itself is *huge*. The set designer managed to fit a fucking monorail inside of it, and it works as a conveyance. This is easily the coolest set of any movie so far, and it's hard to imagine any movie topping it. It's a base, in a volcano, back when that wasn't a parody, that was deathly serious.

Even by Bond movie standards, the plot of this movie makes no sense. If you were a criminal organization with basically unlimited resources who were tasked with igniting WW3, how would you do such a thing? If you said, "By sending a weird rocket out into Earth orbit to basically swallow both the American and Soviet manned space capsules whole, so the two countries get mad at each other and start fighting" congratulations, you are a crazy person and also you can run SPECTRE now, apparently.

Sexist/Racist - well, that was a short hiatus. Definitely racist. Bond undergoes some singularly unconvincing yellow face, which is actually not that racist (because, seriously, it's basically just Bond in a Spock wig.) But there's something insidious about the way the movie treats its women. We spend almost the entire running time of the movie in Japan, and the movie has a very distinct tinge of the "exotic, Geisha girl" flavor to its portrayal of its women, so what you end up with is a film that basically posits that Japan is the perfect country for someone like Bond because the women there are obedient sex goddesses, and they are that way because Japanese men expect them to be that way. This really follows the male/female dynamic all the way through the movie, and it says nastier things about what the movie thinks about Japanese people than what it thinks about women.

Bond beds 3 women (keeping this count is often difficult, but I think this is right) because he gets cut off by the end credits before he's able to sex up the "proper" Bond girl, Kissy Suzuki. I actually don't think she should be considered the Bond girl of the film (Aki should, since she's the one with the most to do plotwise and also she drives a bitchin' white roadster) but she has the Bond girl name, so she wins by default. In any case, Bond beds a woman at the beginning who either helps him fake his death, or is a dupe that he uses to fake his death. Then Aki, and finally the villain girl, a redheaded firecracker with an indeterminate accent.

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