Bond-ed for Life ~ You Only Live Twice

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: Agent 007 and the Japanese secret service ninja force must find and stop the true culprit of a series of spacejackings before nuclear war is provoked.

Stars: Sean Connery, Donald Pleasence, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Rated: PG

Running Length: 117 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Bouncing back from the iffy Thunderball (which still was a phenomenal success), the producers of the Bond franchise brought in a new director, advertised that James Bond would die, and created some of the more impressive set pieces of Connery’s tenure as 007.  The result is a pleasing fifth film for James Bond but one that doesn’t linger in the memory any longer than it has to.

James Bond does indeed “die” in the movie…in fact, he’s a goner before the opening credits start to roll.  As Nancy Sinatra begins her song over Maurice Binder’s impressive designs, Bond has apparently been gunned down in a Murphy bed hit.  As we all know, thanks to decades filled with more sequels, Bond is merely faked his own death with the assistance of her majesty’s secret service.

You Only Live Twice is more notable now as the clear inspiration for Mike Myers spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.  From the swinging vibe of Bond’s animal instincts to the chrome domed look and outfit of his nemesis, Blofeld (a wickedly taut Pleasence pre Halloween and From Beyond the Grave) you can see where Myers drew some concepts from.   Never mind that Blofeld will take on several different looks throughout the series…but I’ve always found Pleasence’s take on the role to be the most naturalistic and threatening in tone.

Not that there is very much of threaten in the film as many of the situations, lovers (this was a real yawners for Bond girls), and one-liners seem old hat to Bond.  Connery looks checked out for much of the picture and it’s easy to see why he stepped away from the series for the next entry…maybe it was just an oversaturation with the world of Bond.  When released in 1967, Connery has been averaging one Bond film a year and it’s understandable that a certain staleness would set in.

Looking at the film now, it’s hard to swallow some of the more racist tones of the film.  Bond’s adventures lie mostly in Japan and at one point he has his features altered to look more Japanese (cringe!) and then has a faux marriage to a Japanese woman (double cringe!) to maintain his anonymity while searching for Blofeld’s volcano fortress.  Some of the themes of the picture would never be acceptable today so it’s best to just take these awkward moments as they come without holding too much against the series of Bond himself.

You Only Live Twice may not be a Bond film you’ll need to return to twice…but it does wind up bridging the gap nicely for the films that lay ahead.  I love the title track and much of the splendid production design.  With a droll villain that would inspire a totally different themed series and solid (if slightly uninspired) direction from new director Gilbert…it’s a fair entry to take in.

31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

The Facts:

Synopsis: Approximately one year after the events of Halloween 4, Michael Myers is back on Halloween night to try and kill the last remaining member of his family. This time, though, the town is ready for him.

Stars: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Wendy Kaplan

Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: With Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers performing so well at the box office, it was a given that another sequel would be put into production.  The cost to produce these films was so cheap that it frankly was a no-brainer to keep the series going until they ran out of William Shatner wigs or relatives of Myers to knock off.  Made and released exactly a year after Part 4, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers spoils most of the good will that its predecessor earned in service to the ever mighty dollar.

Like Halloween II, Halloween 5 picks up right at the end of Part 4 to create one continuous story.  Myers has escaped yet again and spends an entire year under the care of an old hermit that pulled him out of a quarry.  How Myers knows that Halloween has rolled around again is anybody’s guess but before you can chop up a pumpkin with a carving knife he’s donned his mask once more and is looking for his niece Jamie (Harris) again.

I’m going to tread carefully here so as not to spoil the wicked twist of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers but let’s just say that Jamie ended that film on a sour note.  What could have set the stage for an interesting exploration of generational traits instead is pretty much forgotten – it’s as if screenwriters Michael Jacobs, Shem Bitterman, and Othenin-Girard (who also directed) didn’t have the cojones to really go to a dark place for this round.  To be fair, the previous film painted any future sequels into a corner so with a small acknowledgement of the events at the end of 4, Halloween 5 just moves on its merry way.

That leaves the film to become just another brainless sequel putting Myers in impossibly well-timed appearances to do his dirty work.  Some of the things the quiet killer does in this entry are beyond the scope of believability and I can’t help but wonder what creator John Carpenter thought of Myers hunting people down with a souped up muscle car instead of his faithful knife.  There’s no rhyme or reason to his stalking here…he does what the script tells him to do without any point.  It’s a pretty sad state of affairs we find Myers in.

Even more embarrassing is Pleasence being subjected to this abject low-brow filmmaking.  I’m not sure if he was contractually obligated to be in the movie or did it for the hell of it but he doesn’t look entirely convinced of what he’s doing going another round with the same killer. 

Aside from Pleasence and an improved performance from Harris, the rest of the cast is dreadfully rotten with Kaplan turning in a most annoying performance of a character we’re supposed to like.  Even the actor playing Myers looks like he’s asleep behind his mask and who can really blame him?

Though it does pick up at the end with a sweaty palm inducing chase though the dilapidated Myers house and a baffling yet intriguing ending, most audiences will already have had their fill of the expired candy that Halloween 5 is giving out.

31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

The Facts:

Synopsis: Ten years after his original massacre, the invalid Michael Myers awakens and returns to Haddonfield to kill his seven-year-old niece on Halloween. Can Dr. Loomis stop him?

Stars: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris

Director: Dwight H. Little

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: You just can’t keep a bad guy down and it only took seven years and one misguided sequel in name only (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) for Michael Myers to return to the big screen.  Producer Moustapha Akkad was a pretty keen businessman and when the rights to the franchise reverted back to him he didn’t waste time in assembling the pieces that would bring the killer also known as The Shape to fans across the country. 

Forgetting the previous sequel for the stumbling block it was, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was a tight little horror film that gave fans of the series exactly what they asked for and maybe a little something more.  In 1988, audiences were becoming immune to the endless entries featuring Jason and Freddy but hadn’t yet been satiated on the silent killer wearing a reconfigured William Shatner mask. 

Opening with shots of the sleepy town of Haddonfield IL, there’s a nice atmosphere introduced from frame one.  When John Carpenter’s unforgettably simple theme starts to play, it comes at such a precise moment that you can’t help but get a sliver of a shiver up your spine.  Though we ended Halloween II thinking Myers had perished in a fire along with his psychiatrist (Pleasance), Halloween 4 tweaks history just a tad to keep both figures alive. 

Through a sequence of events that doesn’t stretch credibility as much as one might think, Myers is headed back to his hometown to stir up some more trouble and dispatch anyone that gets in his way.  What he’s after seems to be his niece (Harris), now orphaned after her parents were killed in an auto accident (a picture of Jamie Lee Curtis stands in for the actress).  The niece…named Jamie of course…is out and about trick or treating with her foster sister Rachel (Cornell) when Uncle Mike comes a callin’.

Pleasence is also present, reprising his role as Dr. Loomis who yet again is tasked with bringing down Myers no matter the cost.  Pleasence is an agreeable force in the movie, lending it a nice vibe with his lived in look and musings on the nature of evil.  Though hardly ever speaking above a whisper, he conveys authority with ease…it’s too bad Myers isn’t as easily swayed as we are.

The script is the product of four (four!) writers but what could have been a real mess of styles and themes are rounded out nicely in Alan B. McElroy’s screenplay that explains more about the origins of evil and how it relates to Myers.  In future entries, there would be an almost supernatural element to the power of Myers but here it’s just suggested that evil is something that arrives by nature and not by nurture. 

Director Little moves the pieces of the film around in an orderly fashion with solid but overly workmanlike nature.  Neither Harris nor Cornell have the acting chops to pull the whole thing off without a few hiccups but things could have been much worse in the acting department considering how fast and cheap movies were made then.   

Abandoning the anthology idea that was introduced in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the homecoming of Myers has a devious little ending that caps off this above average sequel to Halloween.