Iconic

November 17, 2012

Double-ovember: Goldfinger

ICONIC

If you looked in the spy movie encyclopedia and searched for James Bond, the first film it would reference would be Goldfinger.  It is an ICONIC example of the world Ian Fleming created all those years ago on the beaches of Jamaica.  It is the starting point for all the other spy movies in this encyclopedia I just made up.  It stars the most ICONIC Bond in Sean Connery.  It has one of the most ICONIC villains in Goldfinger.  It has one of the most ICONIC henchmen in Odd Job.  It has the most ICONIC Bond girl in Pussy Galore.  The car, the kills, the gadgets, the catchphrases, the song…all ICONIC.  There have been many great Bond films since, but in my eyes, none have surpassed the notability of Goldfinger.
I have stressed before my belief that the best kinds of Bond girls are not just beautiful.  They are not just a pawn for which Bond can casually move around for his own benefit.  They are women who can hold their own with Bond physically or mentally or both.  The larger the challenge they give James, the brighter he shines.  Bond girls in the beginning were victims of the time.  Female empowerment was rarely seen in cinema in the 60s.  Goldfinger, however, manages to have two girls that bucked that trend.  Jill Masterson, who has probably the most ICONIC fate in Bond history, does fall into the pawn category.  However, her vengeful sister Tilly does not.  She makes it her life’s mission to find and kill the man responsible for her sister’s demise.  Even if that means shooting through 007 to do it.  She still  pales in comparison to Pussy Galore.  Pussy is beautiful, a pilot, proficient with firearms, and a judo master.  The first time Bond meets her, she pushes him around at gunpoint.  The next time they meet, Pussy knocks Bond on his ass and recaptures him.  The next time, they both have a Judo showdown in a barn.  Pussy Galore is the opposite of a pushover.  Even her relationship with Goldfinger seems more like one of competitive equals than employee/employer.  Pussy Galore was the benchmark Bond girl for me until Vesper Lynd came along.  But that is a conversation for another day.
Goldfinger and Odd Job shouldn’t work as villains on paper.  A British born, Dutch sounding, gold obsessed, spoiled sport teamed with an Asian chauffeur who likes playing ring toss on people’s heads with a lethal, metal brimmed bowler.  However, they are two of the Bond franchise’s most referenced villains.  You’ve never seen a Bond retrospective without seeing THIS…or THIS.  But other than ICONOGRAPHY, how do they stack up as villains?  Goldfinger’s plan is surprisingly sound, even for today’s standard.  Hell, a version of it was used in Die Hard With A Vengeance.  He should also get props for making Sean Connery’s Bond appear actually desperate.  That laser scene always reminds me of this amazing scene in Mission Impossible 3.  Goldfinger’s obsession with gold falls short only to his obsession with winning.  If Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure grew up to be a Bond villain he’d be Auric Goldfinger.  
A henchman’s scariness and effectiveness usually depends on their commitment to their boss’s cause.  Suffice to say, Odd Job is committed.  So much so, when the authorities begin to close in to stop a bomb he’s transporting, Odd Job locks himself inside a vault with the bomb and kills a nearby henchman to make sure he won’t diffuse it.  He’s more than a match for Bond physically and uses a weapon so implausible that it would make Q scoff.  That is a great henchman.
Goldfinger is literally James Bond 101.  If you ever need a refresher course on what exactly a Bond film should feel like, I advise you to …sing along with Dame Shirley Bassey…buy back all your gold from this guy…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 

October 19, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Psycho (1960)

Psycho (1960) – Prodding

Slasher films have been around for a loooooong time, and have had plenty of ups and downs.  Take “Halloween” for instance, it pretty much invented “the formula.” Then you have “Friday the 13th” that perfected “the formula.” After that you had plenty of other slasher fodder, including any holiday being translated into slasher fare.  Let me illustrate.

I digress, I’ll continue this rant in another review, but it does bring me to a point; recent slasher films (and I use that term loosely) are awful.  There is nothing iconic about the sub-genre anymore.  Gone are the days of Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, and Leatherface.  However, it does bring me to the most recent review on the “31 Nights of Halloween” and that is Alfred Hitchcock’s proto-slasher film, 1960’s “Psycho.”

You might think that I’m going to laud “Psycho”and say how great a film it is, well, it’s just okay.  While there are many redeeming aspects, namely the cinematography, music, and the balls Hitchcock had (spoiler alert, c’mon this is a 50 year old movie) to kill off his star, Janet Leigh, “Psycho”doesn’t hold up as well as some people think, and watching it again as an adult with more of a appreciation of the genre and film in general; it’s prodding.

Maybe I’m committing blasphemy (I must be, because there is nothing negative out there about this film).  I’ve besmirched the greatness that is Alfred Hitchcock, The Master of Suspense.  Sorry Alfie, no hard feelings I hope, but “Psycho”just seems antiquated in this day and age.  It’s almost a procedural serial killer/cop drama, which wouldn’t work for the genre today.

“Psycho,” based on Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name, and loosely on 1950’s serial killer, Ed Gein, is about Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), whose on the run with $40,000, and finds her way to the Bates Hotel, run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his domineering mother.  Crane is soon murdered by what seems to be a woman while taking the most famous shower in cinema history.  Bates finds the body, and disposes of both it and Crane’s car.  Worried about her sister, Lila Crane (Vera Miles) hires private detective, Milton Aborgast (Martin Balsam), to track down her sister.  The P.I. meets a grisly fate at the hands of the same woman that murdered Marion.  Hearing nothing from their detective, Lila and Marion’s lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), take matters into their own hands and head to the Bates Hotel. Lila, while investigating the Bates’ residence, stumbles upon the basement revealing the skeletal remains of what seems to be Norman Bates’ mother, revealing the twist that Bates was actually acting as his mother, thus committing the murders of both Marion and Aborgast.

When you break the movie down that way it sounds great; simple, effective, and trendsetting.  No one had seen that level of violence from a mainstream film, especially one done by Hitchcock.  The problem with “Psycho” is the pacing.  The interactions between characters seems forced (granted, I’m looking at this from a 2012 perspective as opposed to the 1960s) and it takes a while to move the story along.  I understand that is the point of a suspense film, but “Psycho” comes off as more of a noir, and when you think about it in that sense, it’s an excellent study in noir film making.

What drives “Psycho” lies in the director and the composer.  Hitchcock brings an eeriness unlike any film before it and Bernard Herrmann’s score brings a sense of dread in every scene, and “the shower scene” speaks for itself.

The point I’m trying to get at is this; would “Psycho” make it in today’s horror market?  No, and the proof of that is the 1998 remake.  It’s the same exact movie, only with different actors and in color.  If it didn’t work then, it won’t work now.  You also have to take into account what movies studios are pitching; found footage films.  You might say, “Hey Matt, you just watched “V/H/S” and you said you liked it?!”  Yes, I did enjoy “V/H/S”, but when it comes to the horror genre that’s all you’re going to get.  That, and another “Final Destination” and something else that has something to do with demonic possession.  No matter how bad the film is, people will eat it up, and a relatively smart film like “Psycho” wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Psycho” is a film that you can call timeless in it’s direction, tone, and music, but the way the story is constructed and once the twist ending is out there is little replay value from a shock standpoint.  If you want an education in film study, sure, “Psycho” is great, but it’s a time capsule film what worked then, but doesn’t really work now.

Fun Fact:  John Carpenter named Donald Pleasence’s hero psychiatrist from the “Halloween” series after Sam Loomis from “Psycho.”

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