Monday, 30 April 2012

Licence To Kill: Breaking The Rules

Licence To Kill made me break the law.

With its 15 Certificate and me a callow youth of just 12 years old, I wasn't allowed to see it legally.

And yet, with pester power reaching new heights, I forced my parents take me to The Regent Cinema in Wantage on its opening day.

Was it worth breaking the law for? Absolutely. It was Bond gone rogue, Bond gone badass, Bond gone slightly off the rails. But it was Bond.

So here's what stuck out for me on my most recent viewing...

(I have to acknowledge here my friends Helen and Chris who I made watch LTK with me on Saturday afternoon. They professed to have nothing better to do - a lie for which I thank them)

1. Sanchez is basically Simon Cowell

Power-hungry and showy with high-waisted trousers, Simon Cowell must have taken inspiration from "Isthmus-ian" (?) drug lord Franz Sanchez.

Sanchez prowls around that big white house of his, wearing dodgy pastel colours, and offering Bond cream and sugar in a supremely menacing way.

Robert Davi is a bit terrifying as Sanchez and gives a strong, subtle performance. He's calm most of the time, even when whipping his girlfriend, but loses it brilliantly when his empire is in flames.

He is, though, for someone so apparently clever, an idiot. He falls so easily for Bond's suggestion that he is being betrayed by one of his own. He claims to value loyalty, and yet believes the word of a total stranger.

Sanchez is well-crafted, deliciously evil, and stands way above your Strombergs and Zorins in the ranks of Bond film villains.

2. Carey Lowell is hotter than Talisa Soto

This is something I have argued with my friend Helen about for years - and I'm still right.

She would argue that I prefer Pam Bouvier (Lowell) because of her mannish hair which isn't (entirely) true. Pam has more about her, more intrigue, and looks better in night attire than Lupe (Soto), especially the cocktail dress with the detachable bottom.

I'm not saying that Lupe is a munter - that red dress in the casino is pretty snazzy (although not 'supportive' enough) - but Pam outclasses her all the way.

And my favourite Pam moment is when she downs Bond's vodka martini in one massive unladylike gulp before pulling a face of pure disgust (and if you've tried one in real life, you know how she felt).

"I'm here all week. Try the veal..."

3. It stands out from the crowd

Rewatching this film, I couldn't help but draw parallels with On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Both shun the gadget-laden, smirking template started in the 60s and which blossomed in the 70s and 80s under Roger Moore.

Both show Bond getting hurt, both show him to have a raw emotional core that motivates him to chase down the villain, and both feature some of the best chase sequences in the series.

What we're left with is a more complex Bond who's not just doing what M tells him to do.

His revenge unveils a different - and welcome - side to the character.

4. Timothy Dalton's hair should be revoked

Four words, Timothy: short back and sides.

I suppose Bond's dishevelled look is in keeping with his wayward quest for revenge, but even when he tarts himself up for the casino, he can only manage a slicked-back creation reminiscent of a resting porcupine that's so high you wonder how he doesn't have to duck under doorways.

In The Living Daylights his hair was unmemorable. Here's it's just plain distracting.

Bon Appetit!

5. The men's outfits are (mostly) woeful

Where did Dario get those fetching bolero jackets? Who cares, they're awful.

As mentioned above, Sanchez's waist line creeps dangerously near nipple level, as does Professor Joe's, but Bond still rocks the tuxedo, and looks even better in it the day after when just wearing the shirt and trousers.

Oh, and Milton Krest looks like a refugee from Howards' Way.

6. The goodies barely show up

Bond's allies are in short supply in LTK, and the actors playing Sharky and Felix Leiter turn in reasonable performances, although I'm a bit baffled why they asked David Hedison to play Leiter for a second time after a gap of 16 years.

The less said about Miss Moneypenny in this film, the better. Caroline Bliss's simpering performance is anything but bliss.

But Q is a scene-stealer and it's great to see him released from his brutalist bunker

It's a very fitting tribute when Bond says "You're one hell of a field operative, Q".

7. The soundtrack is a corker

Given the film's location, Michael Kamen's stringy latin-influenced score seems to be well-pitched.

The final song, If You Asked Me To, is from the Diane Warren stable of power ballads and I'm not sure it sits entirely comfortably with the rest of the film, despite referencing the 'why don't you ask me' theme of Bond and Pam's banter.

Gladys Knight's theme tune is a ruddy belter and I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it for the first time.

I was sat in the car one Friday night in the supermarket car park while my parents were inside shopping. It was on one of those round table programmes (on Radio 1 probably).

I marched down to Woolworths the next day, and subsequent Saturdays, to see if it was in.

Even now, I remember that 'him again' look in the shop assistant's eyes. But buy it I did, and listened to it REPEATEDLY for about four weeks.

Still sounds great.

8. Action sequences? Trucking brilliant

The pre-credits plane-fishing sequence kicks off the whole show neatly enough, although I hate that Della on the ground can see that her fiance Felix is waving to her from a helicopter which, from the wide shots, seems to be flying at 16,000 feet. That's quite bollocky.

I love, love, love the water-skiing behind the sea plane by harpooning the hull. Very Bond.

But the honours fall to the truck chase sequence at the end. Watching it the other day, I found myself thinking 'here we go' when it all started and genuinely looked forward to it.

It's a properly original idea to have a shit-load of tankers chase each other. Bond is all over the shop: jumping on them, climbing under them, leaping from one to another and, occasionally, driving them.

Yes, I know the various wheelies are stupid, but not stupid enough to detract from the overall effect.

(One question remains: how did that Stinger missile move around a corner to explode the crashed truck?)

9. The baddies steal the show

Sanchez's main assorted group of baddies are a real treat in this film, from the silent Braun, to the bookish number-cruncher Truman Lodge, to the flashy sort-of-televangelist Professor Joe.

Milton Krest is a drunken dick and I was very very happy when he met his fate in that pressure chamber.

The role of El Presidente Lopez is phoned in by Pedro Armendariz Jr although I suspect a dodgy reception.

Dario is criminally underused, but for plot purposes he needs to stay out of Bond's way till the end in case Dario recognises him.

And, finally, there's Killifer. Who looks like he has a very tired gerbil perched on his head.

The Beverley Sisters throw their hat into the ring to sing the title song

10. Violence, what violence?

I remember the big fuss about LTK being the first Bond film with a 15 Certificate and critics complaining about the violence and bad language, but I would argue that it's just a sign that Bond films were growing up and shaking off the cosy Moore era.

Yes, Roger Moore would never tell anyone to 'piss off' like Dalton does, but that's what makes Dalton Dalton. He's tougher, and - I suspect - not a million miles away from a 'fuck off' if pushed.

The violence against Della and Felix at the start has to be extreme to give Bond his motivation for revenge. 

The whipping of Lupe by Sanchez paints clearly for the audience exactly what the nature of their relationship is.

What's more interesting to me is the question of whether the producers felt that there had to be more violence in it, as they were competing with the other big hits of the time like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. I would be genuinely interested to find this out.

11. The happy couple make me unhappy

How can Della not know that Bond had been married?!

Surely it would have come up in conversation at least once.

Maybe Felix tells her nothing and, in which case, it's a mercy they didn't stay married for longer than 2 hours.

12. The "laughter"

When Bond laughs at his own line about being a 'problem eliminator' in Sanchez's office, part of me wants to die.

13. Senor Montolongo's Assistant

Watch the scene where Bond makes his deposit, and watch her gurn.

It'll turn your milk into butter.

14. The winking fish

The John Glen era was punctuated with infantile jokes (California Girls, anyone?) and the winking fish at the end of the movie is a shockingly bad example of this.

What does it mean? Is it supposed to draw a veil on what Bond and Pam are about to do? It's the end of a frigging Bond film, of course they're going to do it every which way till the sun comes up.

And it's the last shot of the film. Poor. Oh, so poor.

So, in summary, Licence To Kill is one of my favourite Bond films; one that is distinctive, distinguished and edgy.

Very often maligned as a freak entry in the Bond series, I think it's actually one of the strongest exactly because it didn't follow the rules.

And it only leaves me wondering what a third Dalton film would have been like...(sigh)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Mr Blue Sky III

Le nuage et la Tour

Another example of what I'm now informed is cloud porn - and it seems I'm not alone.

I took this in Paris last summer against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. I bloody love it there.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tune-raker: The Best Bond Themes (Part 1)

This is a list I started during the long months of unemployment in the not-too-distant past.

Faced with a plethora of rejection letters and impending poverty, my mind naturally turned to my one constant touchstone in my life: James Bond.

So, one day, I decided to list Bond themes in order of preference, starting with chaff and ending with the wheat, and I present the first part of that chart for you now, from 22 to 12.

Feel free to disagree. But you'll be wrong.

So let's start with the worst...

22. Wings - Live & Let Die

Yes, I know, a controversial choice. I can only think that Paul McCartney was high on the whiff of Mulls of Kintyre when he wrote this atrocious calamity. The psuedo-reggae parts are just plain embarrassing. It sounds like Ali G taking the piss, although I concede that such things might have been perfectly acceptable in 1973.

Summary: Like a bad meal where the courses just get worse and worse and worse.

21. The James Bond Theme (from Dr. No)

Another contentious one, possibly. It's never been my favourite, despite being a constant thread through all of the films. I accept that later versions of this theme (the one that opens The Living Daylights, in particular) are tons better but this version from Dr. No leaves me cold. The calypso and crashing cymbals are just too much for my delicate ears.

Summary: The worst thing about Dr. No

20. Madonna - Die Another Day

This stuttering vocoder-ed oddity doesn't so much annoy me as just constantly disappoint me. It starts out pretty sinister with sharp orchestral accent-y bits, but then I suspect Madonna or one of her producers fell on the synthesiser, accidentally overlaying the master track with a whole of unwanted bells and whistles that they then couldn't delete.

Summary: "Sigmund Freud. Analyse this". No thanks, Madge, you're alright.

19. Shirley Bassey - Diamonds Are Forever

I once saw the lyricist on this song, Don Black, being interviewed and he said that you should just substitute the word 'diamonds' for the word 'penis'. It's THAT one-dimensional. I think he meant it to be sensual, but it's just a bit... well, seedy. In its favour, it is pretty well-orchestrated with lots of sumptuous guitars, and it does build into a nice, ahem, climax.

Summary: It's about dicks. We get it.

18. Rita Coolidge - All Time High

A sleazy saxophone is never a good way to entice me in, and no truer here. It plods along with an okay chorus but - like a lot of the plot of the film - seems thrown together at the last minute, with lyrics that are just cliches that rhyme. Utterly forgettable, and produced the worst ever performance in the charts by a Bond theme.

Summary: Rita who?

17. Lulu - The Man With The Golden Gun

Like Diamonds Are Forever, this goes heavy on the innuendo (he has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot, etc etc ad Carry-On-um) and is none the better for it. The producers of the films were keen to cash in on Roger Moore as the new Bond (having debuted in Live & Let Die the year before) and the film was rushed out. This was a corner that they cut. It's as if they said: "Lulu, can you just read the smutty graffiti on that toilet wall and shout it into the microphone? Thanks, love."

Summary: Oh dear, Lulu. Oh dear, everyone.

16. Louis Armstrong - We Have All The Time In The World (from On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

Another bore-fest. Yes, Louis Armstrong was a legend, but this schmaltzy ballad is so out of place in the Bond canon, it's untrue.

And yes, I know that OHMSS was a completely unique film with George Lazenby, its adherence to the Fleming novel and Bond - shock, horror - getting married, but are you kidding me with this saccharin shit? It is passable at best.

(My advice is skip to the Iggy Pop version below the original. It's brilliant, and shows you that it is not beyond salvage)

Summary: I wouldn't be surprised to find that Westlife have covered this. It's more their bag.

And the Iggy Pop version:

(If the executors of my will read this, I want this version played at my funeral)

15. Sheena Easton - For Your Eyes Only

John Barry, who scored 12 Bond films in total, was in tax exile when FYEO was being put together, so it fell to Bill Conti to come up with a Bond sound for the 1980s. He doesn't do a bad job, neither does Ms Easton, but the whole thing falls a bit flat.

The opening note is like a diver dropping into the sea (to fit with a large nautical section of the film) but it struggles to resurface after that. The lounge-y piano does it no favours either. So 1981.

Summary: Could do better. Much better.

14. Tom Jones - Thunderball

First off, I rather like the lumbering, shark-like orchestration on this theme. Tom Jones' performance is powerful but unexciting.

What I really like about this theme are the lyrics about a man hell-bent on domination, a clever word-play on the growing cult of Bond. I like not being sure whether the song is about Bond or the film's villain, Largo. These lyrics were written by Don Black, responsible for two of the previous entries on this chart (Diamonds Are Forever and The Man With The Golden Gun), and this is a lot better than those.

Summary: Reminds you that Tom Jones isn't just a grey-haired man sat on a revolving chair.

13. Nancy Sinatra - You Only Live Twice

Plundered by Robbie Williams for his Millennium single, this underrated theme bumbles along nicely enough. You get the feeling that by this stage (YOLT was the 5th Bond film), the composers were just writing everything to be sung à la Bassey after the bang-up job she did on Goldfinger. Nancy is no Shirl, let's face it.

But the string arrangement is pleasant, and I love the occasional 'pling' of the harp.

Summary: A solid job. Not much more than that.

12. Sheryl Crow - Tomorrow Never Dies

*Huff klaxon* This should never have been the theme for this film.

If you listen to the end credits, you'll hear a far superior song sung by kd lang, officially entitled 'Surrender'. My theory is this: poor old Sheryl was parachuted in at the very last minute when producers got cold feet about the bankability of kd lang singing the main theme. I may be wrong, but until David Arnold or Barbara Broccoli corrects me personally, I'm sticking to it.

The Sheryl song isn't terrible but suffers - as some Bond themes have - with 'Should-Have-Been-Sung-By-Shirley-Bassey' Syndrome. Who on earth told Sheryl she could hit that top note? Presumably, the same person would suggest Neil Tennant to have a bash at Madame Butterfly. The song demands too much of Sheryl - and the evidence is there to hear for everyone. (I do like some of the guitars, though)

Summary: Repeat after me. Should've been kd lang. Should've been kd lang. Should've been kd lang

And the rightful theme:

So that's the bottom 11.

Who will be number one?

How will Shirley fare? Will nobody do it better than Carly Simon? Was Garbage a load of garbage?

Check here to find out!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Mr Blue Sky II

Looking back through my back catalogue of photos, I spotted another cloud shot, this time reflected in the HSBC building at Canary Wharf.

One Sunday back in May 2010, and on the spur of the moment, I decided to walk from my flat in Borough to Canary Wharf through Wapping and along the north bank of the Thames - one of my favourite walks.

Walking from dockside warehouses to high-rise skyscrapers is a real reminder of how London's wealth has changed; from turbulent seas to turbulent money markets.

As with The City, Canary Wharf is a spookily serene place on a sunny Sunday afternoon. There is virtually no-one about, apart from the odd dishevelled banker; empty buses trundle past.

I remain endlessly fascinated by skyscrapers, and remember enjoying being sheltered from the sun in their immense shadows.

And a big thank you to the window cleaners at HSBC for providing a shiny building. Carry on washing, guys.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cooler Than Ice, Flyer Than Wind

For non-Swedophiles, this is Eric Saade.

There three things you need to know about Eric Saade.

He is hot.

He makes great music.

He wears gloves more often than Madonna.

Enjoy the video!

Mr Blue Sky

I'm not sure why - maybe it's my age - but I've started to take quite a few photos of blue skies and clouds in recent years.

There's nothing quite like the random patterns that are created on cloudy days, like today on White Horse Hill near where I live.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A F1cking Disgrace

It's a huge weekend for Formula One, whether you give a damn about it or not.

The teams will meet to decide whether this year's race in Bahrain on April 22nd will go ahead or not, with the smart money on it being cancelled for the second year in a row due to ongoing civil unrest.

One argument in favour of the race going ahead is that cancelling it would deprive the economy of millions of dollars and would, therefore, be bad for the 'man on the street'.

The same 'man on the street' - one presumes - whose human rights have been consistently denied by an oppressive regime, and whose fellow countrymen have been convicted in unfair military trials.

One of the most persuasive voices in the debate is former Formula One champion Damon Hill who told the BBC that: "My concern is really that F1 is perceived to be indifferent".

There's an easy way to solve that perceived indifference: don't bloody go.

F1 needs to realise it doesn't exist in its own bubble; for example, the current F1 calendar includes FIVE countries - a quarter of the entire calendar - where being gay is illegal.

The sport has an impact like no other in terms of worldwide reach and appeal, and should be working it arse off to benefit the people who keep it alive, who watch in their millions, and who feed its greedy commercial fire.

So it's a big weekend for Formula One. It has the chance to show dickhead regimes that it's not right to kill, detain and torture people - and show the rest of us that it cares. A bit.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Let's Start At The Very Beginning...

...a very good place to start. So sang Dame Julie Andrews many moons ago.

This is me, Adrian. Welcome!

I'll be blogging about a whole load of shit: from sports to gay stuff, from radio comedy to Swedish royalty, from Howards' Way to... oh, you get the point.

In the meantime, if you want an A-Z of me in my work role, click here.

I'm also on the Twitter @adrianstirrup.

Happy reading!