My Weeks in Movies: Nov. 11-24

Skyfall (2012) Yup, again. It’s just that good. (A side note: my favorite film of 2011 and my so-far favorite film of 2012 both end with the same line of dialogue. Well played, universe!)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) I’d forgotten just how cartoonish some of the humor is, which is curious, since that same cartoonishness is what I loved about the film in my youth. But over time, I began to remember the sentimentality of the film far more. Oh, I never forgot the moments of grand comedy (most notably the car rental scene), but the smaller bits involving strange side characters and absurd physical gags got swept aside as my memories centered instead on that killer ending, a sadness that explodes in sweetness, a finale that still brings me to tears twenty-five years later. So it was nice to be reminded of the oddities in the film – and of John Candy’s flawless, layered performance, one that manages so much with just a glance.

Dr. No (1962) My daughter and I have embarked on a fun new journey: one Bond movie a week, every Sunday, in order. She loved Dr. No (except for its awful title sequence, because I raised my girl right) and dug Connery and his quips, although she’s anxious to get to the movies with Q in them, because she’s got a crush on Ben Whishaw and is going to be very disappointed when she sees Desmond Llewelyn. (Don’t talk to me about Peter Burton in this one. He’s Boothroyd, Q by technicality, and I don’t count him.) As for me, I find myself liking Dr. No more and more every time I watch it, now that I’ve gotten over its mangling of the Bond theme (cut into the picture at ridiculous moments) and thin-for-a-Bond-movie plot. It’s just a darn fine thriller and a solid way to start the franchise.

Force of Evil (1948) Abraham Polonsky’s directorial debut is a hell of a B picture, brutal and poetic on a budget, although I keep getting hung up on the romantic subplot that softens John Garfield’s character. Does such softening allow the film to work more fully within the grey areas of morality – our bad guy lead is kind of a good guy; his good guy brother works in crime; in this world, nobody’s clean, but nobody’s irredeemable, either – or is it just a case of the script getting off track with a story thread it doesn’t really need? Either way, there’s plenty of dynamite material to enjoy, especially from Polonsky’s stunning visuals and Thomas Gomez’s fiery performance as Garfield’s stressed-out brother.

Lincoln (2012) I keep wavering between wanting to champion all the parts that work in Spielberg’s latest – and there are many – and complaining about the film’s overall unevenness. This is a collection of tremendous scenes, one after another, yet the script is so unfocused, the film becoming less than the sum of its parts. Lincoln rarely feels like it’s going anywhere – a rarity for Spielberg – and instead rambles from moment to moment. (Oh, and I have a complaint about the ending, too.) But it’s tough to gripe too much when everything else is so damn good (including, for all my irks over the script, the dialogue, which is at times flat-out wondrous). It’s an artistic powerhouse and technical stunner, and as you’ve heard, the performances are amazing. At least for now, that’ll make up for the shaky structure and irksome ending.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) I can understand why Sky Captain wasn’t a theatrical hit; despite the cast, Paramount didn’t quite know how to market this high concept and admittedly fringe film. But how did this not become a cult hit on video? The whole thing screams geek fave. Perhaps it was just too niche, even for the geek crowd. After all, fans – myself included – who dig 1930s-inspired pulp sci-fi (artdecopunk?) aren’t exactly a major chunk of the population, and those who also thrill to experimental effects and self-aware storytelling are even fewer. And so Sky Captain sits as a relic of the mid-aughts, which is a shame, because it’s a dynamite film that works beyond its visual gimmickry and plays as tremendous whiz-bang entertainment.

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2 thoughts on “My Weeks in Movies: Nov. 11-24

  1. Does Jon Burlingame’s Bond music book make any clearer how the score to DR. NO came together, and more to the point whether Monty Norman really had that much to do with writing the “James Bond Theme”? I’ve read some of the previous-written history of Bond music, and I still don’t know for sure who did what when. I’m not even 100% sure that John Barry and Monty Norman didn’t work together at all, though I’m pretty sure they didn’t.

    The dropped-in bits that Barry recorded are about the only parts of the score, IMO, that work. (I love how Lukas Kendall once said the theme’s “dropped in crudely whenever Bond does something heroic or just walks around. I wish that music played whenever I walked around.”)

    And uh-oh, I’ve implied that Norman didn’t really write the theme as we know it. He’s sued people over saying that. D:

    • The Burlingame book explains a heap. Long story short, the butchering of the theme was Peter Hunt’s doing – he just edited in pieces of the track whenever he wanted, which ticked off Barry. The book makes a great point: you never hear the complete theme in the film in one go. It’s all bits and pieces. (As for the opening titles, it was Binder who mangled the music.)

      As for who wrote it, the book makes a strong case that Norman wrote the melody, Barry added the energy that made it recognizable, and the two may or may not have collaborated on the swinging middle bits. (They did meet several times, but always just to talk about ideas, and never in studio.) Burlingame tries to be very fair in not coming to any direct conclusions, just presenting all the contradictory stuff everybody’s said, coupled with proof of Norman’s sheet music from his “Bad Sign” song, which, if nothing else, shows he wrote the main melody. It’s mostly a great example of how an arranger can make a difference.

      I like what little score we actually get from Norman – the tarantula track is great – but he was mainly hired as a song guy. The movie has very little incidental music, most of it build around trying to make “Under the Mango Tree” a hit. (Which it does well.)

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