It has not been a good week for fans of the James Bond Franchise. Earlier, the first singer to pass, of all those who had contributed a credits song was Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell at 52. Now the Big C has claimed the life of Roger Moore, the third actor to play James Bond, and the first one to shuck off this mortal coil at the age of 89. While Moore was often associated with the ‘silly phase’ of the franchise (culminating with the space romp, Moon Raker), in fact things has taken an over-the-top tone as early as the fourth film, Thunderball (1965) a few years earlier when Sean Connery still had the role. Moore had a lighter, more above-it-all, attitude that he carried throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s. His model of 007 was clearly the template for the Pierce Brosnan era that followed in the 1990s.
Moore started his career on television, where he was involved with several series in the 1950s and 1960s, the chief among them modern day Robin Hood vigilante series, The Saint, which ran for most of the latter decade. This was often cited as the reason he got the James Bond role after Australian George Lazenby turned down long term commitments to the role after making only a single film. Moore went on to make seven 007 films over twelve years, starred in a few other (forgettable) action films in both the UK and the US concurrent to his lengthy stint as the worlds most famous super spy. He went into retirement after 1985’s A View To A Kill, popping out for charity work (Unicef, PETA) or the occasional sly casting in parodies of spy films.
Cannes is happening now, and as per every year it looks like the festival has a diverse and wonderful line up. This includes the latest from “New Greek Weird” standard bearer, Yorgos Lanthimos. And the poster designed for its festival debut is easily my favourite one sheet of the year. Look at those glorious vertical lines, that create a medical space that absolutely dwarf Colin Farrell. White matting, and some strange varied typesetting on the mouthful of a title, which of course involves an animal, as per Lanthimos’ previous films, Dogtooth and The Lobster. Speaking of the latter, Farrell was so good in that film as the dumpy protagonist, he is again collaborating with the director. If this poster is any indication of the tone and style, expect great things for The Killing of A Sacred Deer.
There are too many mediocre music docs. This is definitely NOT one of those. Amazon Prime financed Amir Bar-Lev’s epic four-hour Grateful Dead documentary, which was built almost entirely out of unearthed archived video. And if you have seen the official Grateful Dead archive, it looks (I’m not kidding) a lot like that Area 51 matte painting in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Long Strange Trip starts out when Jerry Garcia is a teenager, and ends with his death in 1995, and in between it (somehow) acts as both a primer for novices, and a very specific set of images and information for experts. I caught it at Hot Docs and it played like gangbusters with an enthusiastic (and greying) crowd. Also, the bands first Tour Manager has a voice that is dead-on Michael Caine, so even in the talking heads segments you are in good hands.
The 30-year odyssey of the Grateful Dead was the most unlikely success story in rock ’n’ roll history. Famously averse to publicity and seemingly incapable of recording radio-friendly hits, they flouted music-industry convention by giving their live music away to a global network of tape traders and becoming the highest-grossing concert act in America through word of mouth alone.
Long Strange Trip is the first full-length documentary to explore the fiercely independent vision, perpetual innovation, and uncompromising commitment to their audience that made the Bay Area band one of the most influential musical groups of their generation. Artfully assembling candid interviews with the band, road crew, family members and notable Deadheads (including Minneapolis Senator Al Frankin), director Bar-Lev reveals the untold history of the Dead and the freewheeling psychedelic subculture that sprouted up around it. The film also provides poignant insight into the psyche of late lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose disdain for authority clashed with his de facto leadership of the sprawling collective that kept the show on the road.
With a soundtrack that captures some of the band’s most dynamic live performances as well as unguarded offstage moments and never-before-seen interviews, footage and photos, Long Strange Trip explores the Dead’s singular experiment in radically eclectic music making. Much more than the “behind the music” backstory of an exceptionally talented and beloved group of musicians, the film is at once an inspiring tale of unfettered artistic expression, a heartfelt American tragedy, and an incisive history of the rise and fall of 20th-century counterculture.
Amazon Studios is giving the film a limited release in NY & LA on May 26th, and across the country in select theaters for single night playdates, but if you have Amazon Prime, Long Strange Trip will be available worldwide on that streaming platform on June 2nd.
The rebooted Planet of the Apes series keeps on chugging, and keeps on empathizing with the Apes, while making the human villains more vile with each chapter. Here we have a genocidal Colonel played by Woody Harrelson with his military apparatus, juxtaposed against Ur-Ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis returning) taking in a human orphan. As always the motion capture animation of the Apes is astounding.
After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in a battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.
Oh, and writers, please, let us all place a moratorium on “I didn’t start this , but I WILL finish it.” (blech.)
It was not a good week for fine, grizzled, aged character actors. Powers Boothe passed on Sunday, and the world of genre films is sorely diminished. Boothe was a favourite of directors who liked their films packed with testosterone. Walter Hill used him as a loose canon in the underrated soldier thriller, Southern Comfort and again alongside Nick Nolte in Extreme Prejudice. William Friedkin gave him a tiny scene in the 1981 leather-bar murder mystery, Cruising, which he makes the most of. John Milius cast him as the soldier role model for the high school kids in Red Dawn, John Boorman used him in The Emerald Forrest and Oliver Stone cast him in the icky back-water horror, U-Turn. Boothe was apart of the all star cast in the Disney (well, Touchstone due to all the violence) telling of the shoot out at the OK Coral, 1993’s Tombstone. Robert Rodriguez used him as a vile senator in both the Sin City films. And finally, the coup de grace of his career was in that bastion of character actor bliss, HBO’s Deadwood where he was the rival saloon owner who was the boss of the marvelous Ricky Jay as a dealer of cards.
If you wanted high energy, straight-backed menace with a dollop of showmanship, well, Boothe was your man. He will be sorely missed.
With Alien: Covenant on the horizon, it is about time for a religious primer of the images and ideas considered in Prometheus. Here video blogger Eugene Baldovino looks at the various Egyptian, Christian, and Mayan images and stories that are incorporated into the basic storytelling DNA of Ridley Scott’s Alien Prequel. Since that prequel is on its way to becoming an entire prequel trilogy, and the second part has the very religious subtitle of Covenant, have a look. His theory at the end, feels more like Interstellar, than Alien (this video was recorded prior to Christopher Nolan’s film), but the journey leading there is pretty intriguing.
As the title says, pink is back, at least for this week, in poster design. The latest one sheets for both Edgar Wright’s cool-action comedy, and Sophia Coppola’s civil-war Southern Gothic remake. Both are ‘character collage’ style posters done quite differently. Baby Driver design goes for the 80s blockbuster cast-pastiche floating above the overall concept of the picture (a getaway from Atlanta), while The Beguiled has the three principal ladies straightened with poise with its calligraphy typesetting, while the calligraphy typesetting and credit block are perpendicular to that poise (suggesting the turn midway through the film). The Peach/Pink contrast in both posters is different, more modern feeling, than the recent resurgence of pink ‘neon’ typesetting highlights in retro-designs like the posters Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.
I would love to see this further developed as a feature. Dolby Labs’ Escape feels like a combination of No Man’s Sky, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and 9. It absolutely pops colour and energy. I would love to hear it in full Dolby Atmos sound, as it was recorded. I’m not sure what your local multiplex does with its pre-shows, but this short would be far better served in the cinemas instead of the usual Dolby promos, and certainly better than any of the popcorn soldiers, or snow-man torture shorts that Cineplex puts together.
Musician, actor, and all around badass Michael Parks has passed on at 77. Familiar to TV audience from his myriad of guest-appearances over four decades on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, The Equalizer and Twin Peaks (playing a French Canadian scoundrel), Parks just brought that heady brew of intimidating and crazy, with a twinkle in his eye. His peculiar cadence and mannerisms of speaking make him in the league of Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Robert Deniro, as being instantly recognizable in any part, but still able to fold into a character. And he could do this with only minutes of screen time, whereas A-listers had a whole film to do so. Parks was exceptionally efficient and talented as a character actor and a thief of scenes.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez cast him as the ubiquitous Sheriff McGraw across 4 films (Kill Bill, Death Proof, Planet Terror, and his stunning mood setting intro for From Dusk Till Dawn.) Lately Kevin Smith has been using him to play megalomaniacs and put him in a very central role both Red State and Tusk, but really, Parks ace in the hole was stealing single scenes, like his Mexican Pimp in the back half of Kill Bill, or his prospector in Django Unchained. He worked right up to his death (Hostiles is currently in production). He will be sorely missed.