“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (2013) Review

ac9585a9dfb1448cb087e3771249d106

 

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (2013) Review

I can think of only three previous times in which one of director Martin Scorsese’s films has courted controversy. The first time the director courted real controversy was the release of his 1976 film, “TAXI DRIVER”. He also encountered controversy from two other movies – “THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST” (1988) and 1997’s “KUNDUN”. Scorsese and controversy have met once again . . . this time in the form of his latest release, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”.

As the world now knows, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” is a film adaptation of the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who ran a firm that engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s. The movie begins when Belfort lands a job as a stockbroker at a Wall Street firm. His boss, Mark Hanna, advises him to adopt a lifestyle of sex and cocaine in order to succeed. Unfortunately for Belfort, the firm fails after the stock market crash of Black Monday within a few months. Now unemployed, Belfort is pushed by his wife Teresa to take a job with a Long Island boiler room which deals in penny stocks. Belfort’s aggressive pitching style soon earns him a small fortune and he also befriends Donnie Azoff, a salesman who lives in the same apartment building. The pair decides to start their own firm together and name it Stratton Oakmont. They recruit some of Belfort’s friends – among them, experienced marijuana dealers, colleagues from the boiler room and his parents as accountants. Despite the respectable name, the firm is basically a pump and dump scam. The movie depicts the decadent lifestyle enjoyed by Belfort and his employees, the break-up of his marriage to Teresa and his second marriage to lover Naomi Lapaglia. However, due to an exposé inForbes magazine, Stratton Oakmont attracts more enthusiastic employees and the attention of F.B.I. Agent Patrick Denham.

What can I say about “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”? I thought it was one of the most outlandish and crazy movies I have seen in years. Out . . . landish! And I loved every moment of it. Well, most of it. Who would have thought that after forty years as a director and producer, Martin Scorsese could still astonish moviegoers? Or even piss them off? I had first heard about the negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, when I read about veteran actress Hope Holiday’s angry post on her Facebook page about the Motion Picture Academy’s screening of the film. But her reaction was not the first. I have come across a good number of negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” since learning about Holiday’s reaction. Curious over the hullabaloo, I found myself becoming very eager to see the film. And it did not fail.

It is possible that some might assume that I enjoyed the film simply for the characters’ excess – the sex and drug use that could have easily turn this film into one with a NC-17 rating. Actually, I did not feel one way or the other about the characters’ exercises in degeneracy. I simply accepted it, due to the fact that his excesses had been a part of his life during those years as head of Stratton Oakmont. And from what I have learned about the financial world of the super rich, such excesses were and still are very common. Some have claimed Scorsese had not only glorified Belfort’s lifestyle and crimes, but also allowed the character to get away with the latter with very little punishment – less than two years in a “Club Fed” prison, before becoming a motivational speaker. The U.S. government is responsible for Belfort’s scant punishment, not Martin Scorsese. And I cannot accept that the director glorified Belfort’s lifestyle. All I saw on the movie screen were a bunch of silly men behaving like a bunch of overindulged adolescents with too much money and too many “toys” (namely women, drugs and other expenses) on their hands. Thanks to Scorsese’s direction and Terence Winter’s screenplay, Belfort and his cronies merely struck me as pathetic and infantile.

More importantly, Scorsese’s movie frightened me. Belfort’s willingness to exploit the desires of ordinary men and women to satisfy his own greed struck me as off-putting. Scorsese emphasized this negative aspect of Belfort’s profession by conveying the latter’s lack of remorse toward his victims. I am not lacking in compassionate when I say that I did not need to see the effects of Belfort’s machinations toward his clients. The amoral attitudes of the stock broker and his employees seemed more than enough for me to get an idea on how much those clients suffered. I still have memories of that bizarre scene in which Belfort and the Stratton Oakmont staff treated shoe designer Steve Madden with great contempt, as Belfort expressed his intent to invest in Madden’s company . . . a scene that almost left me shaking my head in disbelief. But if there is one scene that scared me senseless was the one that featured the business luncheon between Belfort and his boss at L.F. Rothschild, Mark Hanna. In this scene, Hanna gave the newly hired Belfort tips on how to become a successful stockbroker. A good deal of those tips involved the use of drugs and sex. But the one tip that really comes to mind was Hanna’s instructions that Belfort prevent clients from cashing out their investments for the profit of the firm and the stockbroker. Hanna’s advice reminded me of how Las Vegas casinos try to keep even winners playing so the latter would eventually lose what they had gained – something I learned from Scorsese’s 1995 film, “CASINO”. That was some scary shit. One other scene proved to be just as scary . . . the last one that found post-prison Belfort hosting a sales technique seminar in Auckland, New Zealand. That last shot of the audience drinking in Belfort’s words they believe will make them rich struck me as a sure symbol of the greed in human nature that really never dies – even if humanity would rather pretend otherwise.

I certainly cannot complain about the movie’s production values. “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be a sharp and colorful looking film, thanks to the crew that contributed to the movie’s visual style. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is the man mainly responsible for that sharp and colorful look that I had commented upon. But I also have to commend both Bob Shaw’s production designs and Chris Shriver’s art direction for taking movie audiences back to the excessive greed era of New York during the 1980s and 1990s. Legendary costume designer Sandy Powell contributed to this look by basing many of the men’s costumes on Giorgio Armani’s archives from the 1990s. I also enjoyed her costumes for the female cast members, especially those for actress Margot Robbie. Long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker took a movie with a four-hour running time and managed to trim it into a movie one-minute short of three hours. She did an excellent job, although I believe the movie could have benefited with another twenty minutes or so trimmed from its running time. In fact, the extended running time is my one major complaint about the film – especially the sequence that featured Belfort’s downfall.

Other than the frank portrayal of Jordan Belfort’s career as a stockbroker and the financial world of the 1990s and Martin Scorsese’s excellent direction, the one other major asset of “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” was its talented cast. Once again, the man of the hour is Leonardo Di Caprio, who gives one of the best performances of his career as the charismatic and corrupt Jordan Belfort. When I say it is one of his performances, I damn well mean it. Not only did he give an excellent performance throughout the movie, he gave one of the funniest and probably the best acting moment during the entire year of 2013 – namely a sequence in which Belfort, high on Quaaludes, struggle to get into his car and drive home in order to prevent his partner Donnie Azoff from revealing too much during a telephone conversation bugged by the F.B.I. My God! It was hilarious.

Portraying Donnie Azoff (who is based on Danny Porush) was comedy actor Jonah Hill, who proved he could mix both comedy and drama with great ease and hold his own with the talented Di Caprio. His portrayal of Azoff’s forays into excess and egotistical behavior was a marvel to behold. Margot Robbie, who I remembered from the ABC series, “PAN AM”, portrayed Belfort’s second wife, Naomi Lapaglia (based on Nadine Caridi). She really did an excellent job in portraying the sexy, yet very tough Naomi – especially in one difficult scene in which her character had to deal with marital rape before she put an end to their marriage. The always impressive Kyle Chandler portrayed F.B.I. Special Agent Patrick Denham (based on Special Agent Gregory Coleman), the man responsible for Belfort’s arrest. Superficially, Chandler’s Denham seemed like a quiet, straight-laced type whose dogged investigation brings Belfort to his knees. But Winter’s screenplay and Chandler’s subtle performance allows a peek into the possibility that Denham, who had harbored ambitions to become a stock broker, envies the lifestyle that Belfort managed to achieve, despite the corruption that surrounds the latter.

The movie also featured outstanding performances from Jon Bernthal, who portrayed Belfort’s muscle-flexing Quaaludes dealer. I was amazed at how much Bernthal resembled a younger and better-looking Danny Trejo. Joanna Lumley gave a charming performance as Belfort’s British in-law, Aunt Emma. I especially enjoyed one scene in which Belfort asked her to engage in money laundering on his behalf and both ended up wondering about the other’s attraction. Jean Dujardin gave a sly and funny performance as Swiss banker, Jean-Jacques Saurel, whom Belfort used to hide his money from the Federal authorities. The movie also featured solid performances from Cristin Milioti (“The Mother” from “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”), Kenneth Choi (from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”), P.J. Byrne, Jon Farveau, Rob Reiner (who was especially funny as Belfort’s accountant father), Shea Whigham and Christine Ebersole. But the one supporting performance that really had me rolling with laughter came from Matthew McConaughey, who portrayed Belfort’s L.F. Rothschild boss, Mark Hanna. Despite the scary content of Hanna’s advice, I must admit that McConaughey really did a great job in making the most in what almost proved to be a cameo role.

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be appreciative enough for the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures to give it several nominations, including Best Picture. And there seemed to be a good number of people who seemed to understand what this movie is really about. But I get the feeling that too many are determined to write off this film as nothing more than a glorification of Jordan Belfort’s excessive lifestyle and corruption. I cannot share this feeling. I believe that Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and the first-rate cast led by Leonardo Di Caprio gave us a movie that many should view as a cautionary tale. I mean, honestly . . . if I ever consider investing my money in stocks, I will whip out a copy of this film to remind me there are plenty of people like Jordan Belfort in this world – even in reputable investment firms – who would not blink an eye to separate me from my money for their benefit. I once read an article that compared stock investments to casino gambling, to the detriment of the latter. After viewing “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, I cannot help but wonder if both means of “gambling” are a lot more similar than we would like to believe.

Advertisements

New Ranking of JAMES BOND Movies

James-Bond-Logo

With the recent release of the new James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, I have made a new ranking of all the Bond films produced and released by EON Productions (do not expect to find 1967’s “CASINO ROYALE” or 1983’s “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” on this list) from favorite to least favorite:

 

NEW RANKING OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

1-On Her Majesty Secret Service

1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – The only film to feature Australian George Lazenby, this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel has James Bond’s search for master criminal Ernst Stravos Blofeld affecting his private life. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie also stars Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

2-Casino Royale

2. “Casino Royale” (2006) – Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1953 novel about Bond’s efforts to beat a banker for a terrorist organization at a poker tournament, in order to force the latter to provide information about the organization. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.

3-The Living Daylights

3. “The Living Daylights” (1987) – Timothy Dalton made his debut as Bond in this partial adaptation of Fleming’s 1966 short story in which Bond’s efforts to stop a Soviet sniper from killing a defector leads to a revelation of a conspiracy between the defector and an American arms dealer. Directed by John Glen, the movie co-stars Maryam D’Abo, Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe.

4-For Your Eyes Only

4. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) – Based on two Fleming short stories from 1960, the movie has Bond searching for a missing missile command system, while becoming tangled in a web of deception spun by rival Greek businessmen and dealing with a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Co-starring Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover and Topol; the movie marked the directing debut of John Glen.

5-From Russia With Love

5. “From Russia With Love” (1963) – Terence Young directed this adaptation of Fleming’s 1957 novel about Bond’s efforts to acquire the Soviet’s Lektor machine, unaware that he is being set up by SPECTRE. The movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, along with Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw and Pedro Armendáriz.

6-Octopussy

6. Octopussy” (1983) – A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncover an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used by a Soviet general and an Afghan prince to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces in West Germany. Directed by John Glen, the movie stars Roger Moore as Bond, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Steven Berkoff and Robert Brown in his debut as “M”.

7-Thunderball

7. “Thunderball” (1965) – Adapted from Fleming’s 1961 novel, this movie has Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter attempting to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE for an extortion scheme. Directed by Terence Young, the movie stars Sean Connery as Bond, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi.

8-Goldeneye

8. “Goldeneye” (1995) – Pierce Brosnan made his debut as Bond in this tale about the agent’s efforts to prevent an arms syndicate from using Russia’s GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in order to cause a global financial meltdown. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen and Judi Dench in her debut as “M”.

9-The Spy Who Loved Me

9. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) – Taking its title from Fleming’s 1962 novel, this movie has Bond and Soviet agent Anya Amasova investigate the disappearances of British and Soviet submarines carrying nuclear warheads. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Barbara Bach, Kurt Jurgens and Richard Kiel.

10-Quantum of Solace

10. “Quantum of Solace” (2008) – Taking its title from a Fleming short story, this movie is a follow up to “CASINO ROYALE”, continuing Bond’s investigation into the terrorist organization Quantum, while dealing with the emotional effects of a tragic death. Directed by Marc Foster, the movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric.

11-License to Kill

11. “License to Kill” (1989) – Directed by John Glen, this movie has Bond resigning from MI-6 in order to seek revenge against the Latin American drug lord that maimed his best friend, Felix Leiter. The movie starred Timothy Dalton as Bond, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto and Don Stroud.

12-The World Is Not Enough

12. “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) – Directed by Michael Apted, the movie has Bond uncovering a nuclear plot, when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who cannot feel pain. The movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle and Denise Richards.

13-A View to a Kill

13. “A View to a Kill” (1985) – Taking its title from one of Fleming’s 1960 short stories, this film has Bond investigating an East-German born industrialist with possible ties to the KGB. Directed by John Glen, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Tanya Roberts, Christopher Walken and Grace Jones.

14-You Only Live Twice

14. “You Only Live Twice” (1967) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1964 novel, the movie has Bond and Japan’s Secret Service investigating the disappearance of American and Soviet manned spacecrafts in orbit, due to the actions of SPECTRE. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsurō Tamba and Donald Pleasence.

15-Die Another Day

15. “Die Another Day” (2002) – A failed mission in North Korea leads to Bond’s capture, fourteen months in captivity, a desire to find the MI-6 mole responsible and a British billionaire with ties to a North Korean agent. Directed by Lee Tamahori, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike and Will Yun Lee.

16-Live and Let Die

16. “Live and Let Die” (1973) – Roger Moore made his debut as Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1954 novel about MI-6’s investigation into the deaths of three fellow agents who had been investigating the Prime Minister of San Monique.

17-Moonraker

17. “Moonraker” (1979) – Based on Fleming’s 1955 novel, this movie features Bond’s investigation into the disappearance of a space shuttle on loan to the British government by a millionaire with catastrophic plans of his own. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Lois Chiles, Michel Lonsdale and Richard Kiel.

18-Tomorrow Never Dies

18. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Bond and a Chinese agent form an alliance to prevent a media mogul from creating a war between Britain and China in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

19-The Man With the Golden Gun

19. “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1965 novel, this movie has Bond sent after the Solex Agitator, a device that can harness the power of the sun, while facing the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the “Man with the Golden Gun”. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee and Maud Adams.

20-Dr. No

20. “Dr. No” (1962) – Based upon Fleming’s 1958 novel, this movie kicked off the Bond movie franchise and featured Sean Connery’s debut as the British agent, whose investigation into the death of a fellow agent leads him to a Eurasian agent for SPECTRE and their plans to disrupt the U.S. space program. Directed by Terence Young, the movie co-starred Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman.

21-Skyfall

21. “Skyfall” – Directed by Sam Mendes, this film has Bond’s loyalty to “M” tested, when her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a former agent, who initiates a series of attacks upon MI-6. The movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris.

22-Diamonds Are Forever

22. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Based on Fleming’s 1956 novel, this movie has Bond’s investigations into a diamond smuggling ring lead to another conflict with SPECTRE and Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

23-Goldfinger

23. “Goldfinger” – Based on Fleming’s 1959 novel, this movie has Bond investigating a German-born gold magnate, who harbors plans to destroy the U.S. gold supply at Fort Knox. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Honor Blackman and Gert Frobe.

Top Favorite CHRISTMAS Movies

Christmas Movies

Below is a list of my favorite Christmas movies . . . or movies set around the Christmas holidays: 

TOP FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIES

kinopoisk.ru-On-Her-Majesty_27s-Secret-Service-1647473

1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – Based upon Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel, James Bond’s professional life and personal life intertwine, when he falls in love during his search to find criminal mastermind, Ernst Stravo Blofeld. George Lazenby starred as British agent James Bond.

Annex - Loy, Myrna (Thin Man, The)_04

2. “The Thin Man” (1934) – William Powell and Myrna Loy starred as Nick and Nora Charles in this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel about a former private detective who is drawn into an investigation of the murder of the secretary/mistress of a wealthy man, who is missing. W.S. Van Dyke directed.

kinopoisk.ru-Die-Hard-1118307

3. “Die Hard” (1988) – Bruce Willis debuted as NYPD detective, John McClane, who faces a group of highly organizedcriminals, performing a heist under the guise of a terrorist attack, while holding hostages that include McClane’s wife on Christmas Eve. Directed by John Tiernan, the movie co-starred Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman and James Shigeta.

kinopoisk.ru-Trading-Places-1518684

4. “Trading Places” (1983) – John Landis directed this comedy about an upper class commodities broker and a homeless street hustler, whose lives cross paths when they are unknowingly made part of an elaborate test of nature vs. nurture by a pair of wealthy elderly brothers. Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy starred.

christmas-in-connecticut11

5. “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) – Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan starred in this charming comedy about a food writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife. She is forced to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Peter Godfrey directed.

kinopoisk.ru-Lethal-Weapon-1717959

6. “Lethal Weapon” (1987) – Mel Gibson and Danny Glover first paired together in this action tale about a veteran cop and a suicidal younger cop forced to work together and stop a gang of former C.I.A. operatives, turned drug smugglers. Richard Donner directed.

kinopoisk.ru-Santa-Clause_2C-The-1772606

7. “The Santa Clause” (1994) – Tim Allen starred in this funny tale about a man, who inadvertently kills Santa Claus, before he finds himself magically recruited to take his place. Directed by John Pasquin.

kinopoisk.ru-Die-Hard-2-579993

8. “Die Hard 2” (1990) – Bruce Willis returned as police detective John McClane, who attempts to avert disaster as rogue military officials seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., on Christmas Eve.

kinopoisk.ru-While-You-Were-Sleeping-1507626

9. “While You Were Sleeping” (1995) – Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman starred in this charming romantic comedy about a Chicago ticket collector, who saves a man for whom she harbors feelings after he is pushed onto the commuter train tracks. While he is in a coma, his family mistakes her for his fiancée. Jon Turteltaub directed.

kinopoisk.ru-Home-Alone-1445507

10. “Home Alone” (1990) – Macaulay Culkin became a star in this holiday comedy about an eight year-old boy, who is mistakenly left home in Chicago, when his family flies to Paris for the holidays. Chris Columbus directed this movie, which co-starred Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard and Catherine O’Hara.

“THE CAT’S MEOW” (2001) Review

catsmeow-3-women

 

“THE CAT’S MEOW” (2001) Review

There have been many accounts of the infamous November 1924 cruise held aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, in honor of Hollywood producer Thomas H. Ince’s birthday. But the biggest . . . and probably the most fictionalized account was featured in “THE CAT’S MEOW”, Peter Bogdanovich’s adaptation of screenwriter Steven Peros’ stage play. 

The movie takes place aboard Hearst’s yacht on a weekend cruise celebrating Ince’s 42nd birthday. Among those in attendance include Hearst’s longtime companion and film actress Marion Davies, fellow actor Charlie Chaplin, writer Elinor Glyn, columnist Louella Parsons, and actress Margaret Livingston. Many of the guests harbor agendas that revolve around Hearst and Davies. Chaplin, who has become infatuated with the actress, sees the weekend cruise as a chance to declare his feelings for her . . . and convince Davies to end her relationship with the publisher. Parsons sees the cruise as a chance to develop a stronger professional relationship with her boss, Hearst, and relocate from the East Coast to Hollywood. Faced with a bad financial situation and accompanied by his mistress Margaret Livingston, Ince hopes to convince Hearst to allow him to become a partner in the publisher’s Cosmopolitan Pictures. Hearst suspects that Davies and Chaplin are engaged in an affair and has great difficulty in battling his jealousy. Thanks to this jealousy, a violent death ends the cruise, which becomes a subject of Hollywood legend.

After watching “THE CAT’S MEOW”, I realized that after so many years of documentaries and somewhat mediocre films, Peter Bogdanovich had maintained his touch as a first-rate director. At least back in 2000-2001. “THE CAT’S MEOW” struck me as a first-rate character study of a good number of film and publishing luminaries in the world of 1920s Hollywood. What I found interesting is that aside from one or two characters, most of them are not what I would call particularly sympathetic. Well, superficially, hardly any of them are sympathetic – including the very likable Marion Davies, who was not only Hearst’s official mistress, but who was doing a piss-poor job of hiding her attraction for Charlie Chaplin. But despite the lack of superficial charm, the movie managed to reveal the demons and desires of each major character. And thanks to Steven Peros’ screenplay and Bogdanovich’s direction, characters like Hearst, Davies, Chaplin and Ince rose above their superficial venality and ambiguity to be revealed as interesting and complex characters. The most interesting aspect of “THE CAT’S MEOW” was that many of the characters’ agendas either succeeded or failed, due to the romantic drama that surrounded Hearst, Davies and Chaplin.

For costume drama fans such as myself, “THE CAT’S MEOW” offered a tantalizing look into the world of Old Hollywood in the 1920s. Bogdanovich made a wise choice in hiring Jean-Vincent Puzos to serve as the movie’s production designer. In fact, I was so impressed by his re-creation of November 1924 that I felt rather disappointed that his efforts never received an Academy Award nomination. Puzos’ work was aided by the art direction team led by ChristianEisele and Daniele Drobny’s set decorations. But the second biggest contributor to the movie’s 1920s look were the gorgeous costumes designed by Caroline de Vivaise. I was extremely impressed by how the costumes closely adhered to the fashions worn during that particular decade. But de Vivaise did something special by designing all of the costumes in black and white – as some kind of homage to the photography used during that period in Hollywood. And if anyone is wondering whether de Vivaise won any awards or nominations for her work . . . she did not. What a travesty.

Bogdanovich gathered an impressive cast for his movie. “THE CAT’S MEOW” featured first-rate performances from the likes of Claudie Blakley and Chiara Schoras as a pair of fun-loving actresses that embodied the spirit of the 1920s flappers; Claudia Harrison as Ince’s frustrated mistress, actress Margaret Livingston; Ronan Vibert as one of Hearst’s minions, the stoic Joseph Willicombe; and Victor Slezak as Ince’s sardonic and witty colleague, George Thomas. But the more interesting performances came from Jennifer Tilly, who gave a delicious performance as the toadying and opportunistic columnist, Louella Parsons; Joanna Lumley as the wise and occasionally self-important novelist Elinor Glyn; and especially Eddie Izzard, who was surprisingly subtle and witty as the wise-cracking, yet passionate Charlie Chaplin.

But in my opinion, the three best performances in “THE CAT’S MEOW” came from Edward Herrmann, Cary Elwes and Kirsten Dunst.  The latter was the only member of the cast to earn an award (Best Actress at the Mar del Plata Film Festival) for her performance as Hollywood starlet and W.R. Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies. What made Dunst’s performance so remarkable was that she was the only one – as far as I know – who portrayed the actress as a complex and intelligent personality, instead of the one-note stereotype that director Orson Welles had introduced in his 1941 movie, “CITIZEN KANE”. I suppose one could credit screenwriter Steven Peros for writing a more realistic portrayal of Davies’ true nature. But it would have never worked without Dunst’s performance. Cary Elwes gave – in my opinion – the best performance of his career so far as the harried and ambitious movie producer, Thomas Ince. What made Elwes’ performance so impressive was the subtle manner in which he conveyed Ince’s desperation to save his career as a Hollywood producer through any means possible. But for me, the best performance came from Edward Herrmann as the wealthy and controlling William R. Hearst. Herrmann did a superb job in conveying some of the worst aspects of Hearst’s nature – sense of privilege, arrogance, his bullying and bad temper. Yet, Herrmann also managed to convey Hearst’s desperate love for Davies and vulnerabilities through the more unpleasant mask. It was a remarkable performance that failed to garner any real recognition. And this is more of a travesty to me than the lack of awards for production design or costumes.

I tried to recall anything about the movie that left a negative mark within me and could only come up with one or two matters. The movie seemed to be in danger of slowing down to a crawl, following the tragic shooting that followed Ince’s birthday party. I wonder if Bogdanovitch had tried too hard to reveal the details that led to the cover up of the incident. However, one particular scene really annoyed me to no end. It was the scene that featured Elinor Glyn’s theory about the “California Curse”:

“The California Curse strikes you like a disease the Minute you set foot into California..so pay close attention, my dear. You See this place you’ve arrived in, the place we call home…isn’t a place at all. But a living creature. Or more precisely an evil wizard like in the old stories. And we all live on him like fleas on the belly of a mutt. But unlike the helpless dog, this wizard is able to banish the true personalities of those he bewitches. Forcing them against their will to carry out his command, to forget the land of their birth, the purpose of their journey, and what ever principals they once held dear. The Curse is taking hold of you if you experience the following: You see yourself as the most important person in any room. You accept money as the strongest force in nature. And finally your morality vanashes without a trace.”

As far as I am concerned, Elinor Glyn was full of shit. She could have easily described any individual who forgets his or her principles, no matter where that person resided. And according to Ms. Glyn, the curse has three symptoms – seeing yourself as the focus of all conversations, using money as the most important measure of success, and the disappearance of all traces of morality. Why she seemed to believe that such a mindset only existed in Calfornia . . . or better yet, Hollywood, is beyond me. Anyone with too much ambition could acquire this curse in many other places in the world. Peros and Bogdanovich’s decision to include this crap in the movie damn near came close to ruining my enjoyment of the movie.

But in the end, I managed to overcome my annoyance of the so-called “California Curse”. Why? Because “THE CAT’S MEOW” remained a first-rate and entertaining movie about Old Hollywood that impresses me, even after ten years.“Hooray for Hollywood!”.

“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” (1969) Review

screen-capture-4

 

”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” (1969) Review

At least ten years or more must have passed since I last saw the 1969 Bond movie, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS)”. EON Production’s sixth entry in the Bond franchise has the distinction of being the only movie that starred Australian male model-turned-actor, George Lazenby. It was the first EON movie that did not star Sean Connery – already fixed in the public’s mind as the only actor who can portray James Bond. And it was the only movie that was directed by former film editor, Peter Hunt.

I first became aware of “OHMSS” back in the mid-1980s. I had seen it on television once, when I was a child. But ABC Television’s botched editing had turned me off from the movie. I eventually became a fan during repeated viewings of the movie during the mid and late 1980s. By the beginning of the 1990s, “OHMSS” had been fixed as my favorite Bond movie. For years, it remained in this position, despite repeating viewings of other Bond movies, the release of the Brosnan films and my own mysterious reluctance to watch “OHMSS”. It seemed as if I was afraid to watch it again, fearful that my earlier adulation of the film might prove to be misguided. And then EON Productions released the new Bond film, “CASINO ROYALE” in the theaters. The latest entry in the Bond franchise had impressed me so much that my doubts about “OHMSS” increased even further. After seeing “CASINO ROYALE” for the third time and later “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, I finally decided to watch “OHMSS” for the first time in years.

In the end, my fears seemed groundless. My latest viewing of “OHMSS” proved that I had every right to view it as one of my all time favorite Bond movies. After nearly 40 years, the movie still holds up as one of the finest Bond movies in the entire franchise, if not the finest. And it also one of the few Bond films to closely follow its source, namely the 1963 novel penned by Ian Fleming. What makes the latter remarkable is that the previous Bond entry, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” barely resembled its literary source, aside from a few characters and the setting.

“OHMSS” picks up with Bond searching for Blofeld, now wanted by various governments for his past forays into international terrorism and extortion. His search leads to meeting the most important woman in his life other than Vesper Lynd – Teresa (Tracy) Draco di Vicenzo. Not only will his meeting with Tracy lead to a serious change in his private life, it will also affect his professional life, thanks to Tracy’s father, Marc-Ange Draco when he provides Bond with information leading to Blofeld. Of course, Draco was only willing to provide this information, if Bond courts his daughter. In the end, Bond not only tracks down Blofeld, but destroy the latter’s latest attempt to extort the United Nations. But as many know, Bond’s latest professional conflict will result in tragedy for his private life.

I only have a few problems with “OHMSS”. One of them was the director Peter Hunt’s decision to have actor George Baker (portraying the real Sir Hilary Bray), dub Lazenby’s voice, while Bond is impersonating Sir Hilary at Piz Gloria. Why they had decided to do this confounds me. It seemed very unnecessary, unless the director was aiming for Sir Hilary to sound like a cliché of a British scholar. Another problem I had were some of the jokes that came out of Bond’s mouth. I consider this problem minor, since “OHMSS” – like many other Bond movies (good or bad) had its share of bad jokes. One particularly good joke was the St. Bernard who came to Bond’s “rescue” after the latter had survived his bobsled fight against Blofeld. And last, but not least, there were a few moments when the editing seemed a bit . . . questionable. A good example would be the scene that featured Bond’s first meeting with Draco. There is a moment when it seemed that Bond had asked Draco for Blofeld’s whereabouts. It seemed as if Lazenby had spoken too soon, cutting off actor Gabriele Ferzetti’s lines too soon. Another viewing seemed to reveal that poor editing might have been at fault and not Lazenby’s acting. And another review seemed to agree with my findings.

Aside from the previously mentioned quibbles, I had no problems with “OHMSS”. In fact there is so much to enjoy about this movie – including the main star, George Lazenby. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss his performance as wooden or give him minor credit for his valiant attempt at a decent performance. Frankly, I think that he was a lot better than many give him credit for. I must admit that he has a rather odd voice (which I suspect has been influenced by his Australian accent), but so did most of the other Bonds – including Connery’s tendency to indulge in pre-adolescent diction, Moore’s drawl, Dalton’s Welsh accent and Brosnan’s . . . well, I cannot really describe Brosnan’s voice. I just find it odd. But despite Lazenby’s odd voice, his acting comes off very natural and he seems to project Bond’s emotions with an ease that should not have come easy to him. But he does. And instead of portraying Bond as some kind of action/sexual icon, he portrays the character as very human. This is very obvious in the following scenes:

-Bond’s growing impatience with Tracy’s antics
-Bond’s surprise that M had given him leave instead of accepting his resignation
-Bond’s breakthrough with Tracy
-the Piz Gloria dinner sequence
-Bond’s fear of capture during his escape from Piz Gloria
-Bond’s proposal of marriage to Tracy
-Bond’s quarrel with M over Tracy and Blofeld
-Tracy’s death

Personally, I thought that Lazenby really shined in the marriage proposal scene, those scenes that featured Bond’s quarrels with M and the Piz Gloria dinner sequence. Despite having his voice dubbed by George Baker in the latter, Lazenby managed to express Bond’s emotions during that scene effortlessly without having to say a word.

The movie also benefited from the presence of Diana Rigg, who had recently left “THE AVENGERS” to begin a movie career. What can one say about the great Diana? Not only did she effortlessly combine all the complex personality traits of Tracy di Vicenzo – witty, emotional, sad, brave, determined, etc. Is it any wonder that Tracy is viewed by many actresses as the ultimate Bond woman? Even better, both Rigg and Lazenby managed to create great chemistry together as the romantically doomed pair.

Not only did “OHMSS” benefited from both Lazenby and Rigg’s performances, the pair was ably supported by a fine cast that included the warm and charismatic Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father, the talented Ilse Steppat who portrayed the intimidating Irma Bunt shortly before her death (she never lived to experience the movie’s release), the always dependable Bernard Lee as M – giving one of his better performances, and the charming and fun Angela Scoular as Blofeld’s English patient, Ruby. Of course one cannot forget the legendary Telly Savalas, who became the second actor to portray Ernst Blofeld on-screen. And as far as I’m concerned, he was the best. He was not impeded by Donald Pleasance’s ridiculous scar and questionable accent or Charles Gray’s foppish portrayal. Instead, he radiated intelligence and menace, making him the only Blofeld (in my opinion) worthy of being Bond’s nemesis.

I also have to commend Peter Hunt’s direction. “OHMSS” was his first time at bat as a director. Any other inexperienced director could have turned one of Ian Fleming’s best novels into a hash job. Fortunately, Hunt proved to be a talented director and did justice to the novel – although I did have a problem with the editing of a few of his scenes. Hunt was not only ably supported by a fine cast, but by screenwriter Richard Maibaum, editor and future director John Glen, and John Barry’s marvelous score and Hal David’s haunting lyrics to the song, “We Have All the Time In the World”. Cinematographer Michael Reed superbly recaptured the majesty of the Swiss Alps and the exotic elegance of Portugal with his photography. And one cannot forget skier Willy Bogner Jr. and Alex Barbey for creating the first and probably best ski chase in the Bond franchise.

I could probably go on about how much I love “OHMSS”, but I do not want to sound repetitive. What can I say? After 40 years, I consider to still be one of the best Bond movies in the franchise . . . and definitely one of my favorites. And I am happy to see that “OHMSS” is finally being recognized by many as the fine film it is. If you have not seen this film, I suggest that you rent or buy it as soon as possible. Or else you will be missing something special.

Below are some memorable lines from the movie:

Memorable Lines

Draco: My apologies for the way you were brought here. I wasn’t sure you’d accept a *formal* invitation.
Bond: There’s always something formal about the point of a pistol.

[a bad guy chasing Bond skis into a snow blower, which then spews red snow]
Bond: He had a lot of guts.

Sir Hilary Bray: Our methods are very exacting. We never like to speak until we’re *absolutely* certain that there can be no possibility of error on our side or… forgery on anyone else’s.
Bond: I hope I can live up to your high standards.

Tracy: You’re hurting me.
Bond: I thought that was the idea for tonight.

Bond: [to the camera] This never happened to the other fellow.

Draco: She likes you, I can see it.
Bond: You must give me the name of your oculist.

Tracy: Why do you persist in rescuing me, Mr. Bond?
Bond: It’s becoming quite a habit, isn’t it, Contessa Teresa?
Tracy: Teresa was a Saint; I’m known as Tracy.
Bond: Well, Tracy, next time play it safe and stand on 5.
Tracy: People who want to stay *alive* play it safe.
Bond: Please, stay alive! At least for tonight.

[a girl writes on Bond’s leg under the table, to which Bond makes an awkward face]
Irma Bunt: Is anything ze matter, Sir Hilary?
Bond: Just a slight stiffness coming on… in the shoulder.

Blofeld: Merry Christmas, 007.
Bond: [as Hillary Bray] I’m Sir Hillary Bray.
Blofeld: No no no, Mr. Bond. Respectable baronets from the College of Heralds do *not* seduce female patients in clinics. On the other hand, they do get their professional details… *right*. The De Bleauchamps tombs are *not* in the Augsburg Cathedral as you said, but in the Ste. Anna Kirsch. Sir Hillary Bray would have known.
Blofeld: [beat] A small slip. Takes more than a few props to turn 007 into a Herald. [breaks Bond’s glasses]
Bond: [normal voice] It’ll take more than cutting off your earlobes, Blofeld, to turn you into a Count.

[M refuses to authorize an attack on Blofeld]
Bond: And the girl who helped me escape? We just leave her there?
M: This department is not concerned with your personal problems.
Bond: This department owes her a *debt*. She saved my life.
M: Operation Bedlam is DEAD! Do you understand, 007?
Bond: Yes, Sir. I understand.

[Bond has realized what Blofeld is really up to]
Bond: Allergy vaccines? Bacteria. Bacteriological Warfare.
Blofeld: With a difference. Our big breakthrough since last summer has been the confection of a certain… Virus Omega.
Bond: Infertility.
Blofeld: TOTAL Infertility! In plants and animals. Not just disease in a few herds, Mr. Bond. Or the loss of a single crop. But the desturction of a whole strain. Forever! Throughout an entire continent.

[Blofeld wants to share his life with Tracy]
Blofeld: Now, if you’re very, very nice to me. I could make you my Countess.
Tracy: But I’m already a Countess.
Blofeld: Whereas if you displease me, I can promise you a very *different* estate.

Bond: [Tracy has just been shot and killed] It’s all right. It’s quite all right, really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.

10/10 stars

majestys-a