The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Director: Lewis Gilbert

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★★★★☆

The Spy Who Loved Me is the tenth Eon James Bond film, the third and by far the best of the Roger Moore Bond series. The title is derived from the Ian Fleming novel -apparently Fleming disliked this novel so much that he refused to release it in order to prevent it from being made into a film, so studio executives simply created a whole new plot but kept the title. They also wanted to re-introduce the infamous Blofeld character, after the somewhat lackluster villains in the previous two Roger Moore Bond films, but, once again, they were unable to acquire the rights for either Blofeld or SPECTRE due to ongoing issues with the copyright holder Kevin McClory. The Spy Who Loved Me is the first James Bond film made solely with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli as the producer, after his unfortunate falling out with Harry Saltzman. Previously, Saltzman and Broccoli were the dynamic duo who produced every prior James Bond film through their company Eon Productions, overseeing the franchise from a small-budget novelty film into a massive blockbuster series.

The Spy Who Loved Me opens with the mysterious disappearance of two submarines: one British and the other Soviet. The Soviets call up their best agent, Major Anya Amasova (a.k.a. Agent XXX, played by Barbara Bach -wife of Ringo Starr), and the British call up their best agent, James Bond (a.k.a. 007), who is predictably in bed with a woman in Austria, but when he gets the call he sports a vibrant yellow suit and starts skiing downhill away from a group of villains until he plunges off a massive cliff and opens a parachute revealing the British flag -the “Union Jack.” One of the skiing henchmen he kills is a rival agent -who turns out to be Amasova’s former lover at the beginning of the film. Bond then travels to Egypt to seek out recently stolen microfilm plans for a highly advanced submarine tracking system, where he meets up with Amasova. The two reluctantly join forces, realizing they have mutually shared objectives in this case. Bond also encounters a massive henchman who is seemingly indestructible with steel teeth named Jaws (played by Richard Kiel -a 7 foot 2 inch tall man who struggled with gigantism all his life until his death in 2014. He also reprised the role of Jaws in Moonraker). Bond and Amasova encounter Jaws in a train scene that contains strong echoes of From Russia With Love.

Both agents learn that the man behind the submarine attacks is a megalomaniacal billionaire named Karl Stromberg (played by Curd Jürgens). Stromberg brings the two scientists who developed the submarine tracking down to his submerged vessel “Atlantis” to thank them, but he demonstrates his power to them by shockingly dropping his secretary into the shark tank where she is killed for stealing information from Stromberg. He then allows the two scientists to escape but he blows up their helicopter shortly thereafter for some reason. 007 and XXX travel to Sardinia to investigate Stromberg’s secret base. Posing as a married couple, they infiltrate the base and learn that Stromberg has ofthe massive underwater base called “Atlantis.” They are captured, and Amasova learns that Bond killed her lover. She vows to kill Bond after the mission. Stromberg reveals his plan to use the two captured Soviet and British submarines to launch nuclear warheads from each, thus spawning a massive nuclear holocaust, while Stromberg remains secluded in his underwater lair, Atlantis. He hopes to create a new civilization under the sea. He takes Amasova as his prisoner down to the Atlantis, meanwhile Bond escapes his captivity and he frees the trapped British and Soviet submariners and they reprogram the submarines not to fire the nuclear warheads. Next, Bond goes to Atlantis to rescue Amasova -he encounters Jaws again and throws him into Stromberg lethal shark tank, but instead Jaws kills the shark and survives. Bond and Amasova leave in an escape pod together and Amasova decides against killing Bond. They are rescued by the British Royal Navy. Meanwhile, Jaws escapes the destroyed Atlantis and we see him swimming off into the ocean at the end.

The featured song at the outset of the film is performed by Carly Simon entitled “Nobody Does It Better” -a surprisingly apropos song. Interestingly enough, the cinematography for the film was done by Claude Renoir, son of the actor, Pierre Renoir, and the grandson of the famous Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favorite Bond films, or at least my favorite from the Roger Moore era. The mystery and intrigue surrounding a villain who desires to build a submerged, deep-sea civilization is amusing and compelling all at once. Also, the introduction of Bond working together with an enemy, albeit reluctantly, and then falling in love with a rival Soviet spy is a new twist. The Spy Who Loved Me is a welcome departure from Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The Matrix

The Matrix (1999) Directors: The Wachowskis

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

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★★★★★

I am a sucker for a good mind-bending science fiction film, and The Matrix delivers a spectacular, thought-provoking, modern superhero adventure. It takes place in a futuristic dystopia. Keanu Reeves plays an underground computer programmer named Thomas Anderson known by his online hacker moniker “Neo.” as a result of his illicit hacking activities, he is pursued by a cohort of bureaucrats led by “Agent Smith” (played by Hugo Weaving) while an underground, enlightened, rebellious group of hackers led by Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) tries to help Neo escape capture. After some persuasion, Morpheus shows Neo that the real world is a dark, Orwellian fraud run by machines where most humans are indoctrinated to live within “the Matrix” -a virtual, illegitimate reality. After taking the “red pill” from Morpheus, Neo awakens in the real world (cue allusions to Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy). He becomes a crew member aboard Morpheus’s underground ship called the Nebuchadnezzar (an allusion to the infamous Babylonian king as found in the Bible). Morpheus and his followers believe Neo is “the one” who can wield great power over the matrix and bring an end to the war between humans and machines. They teach Neo how to bend the reality of the matrix by virtually re-entering the simulated world of the machines. However, re-entering the matrix has its costs. The rebels are constantly being hunted by Agents. Eventually, they are betrayed by Cypher, a member of the crew, and Morpheus is captured and tortured until Neo and Trinity re-enter the matrix to save him, and at the end Neo is suddenly capable of demonstrating great “supernatural” powers. He battles and defeats one of the agents -leading Morpheus and his crew to continue their belief that Neo is the one.

As far as criticism goes the plot of The Matrix is a somewhat tired and recycled narrative involving a superhero, who is not totally aware of his own heroism, as he grows more confident throughout the movie until he is nearly beaten to death by his nemesis, and then, somehow, he musters the inner strength to overcome all obstacles. It is predictable but nevertheless it is a fun and intellectual film. It was an extraordinary cultural phenomenon when released at the birth of the internet age. Computer hackers, donning trench coats, listening to metal, and watching old kung-fu movies became a cultural stereotype. The Matrix highlights a terrific series of special effects, anime, science fiction, and Hollywood’s reimagining of kung-fu movies. The Matrix is a beautifully shot film -the fight scenes are amazing and the story continues to grip me, even if it has become a cliche that hundreds of Philosophy 101 students each year draft papers comparing Descartes and Plato to The Matrix. Interestingly enough there were numerous injuries among the actors during training for the choreographed kung-fu scenes, including a serious spinal fracture incurred by Keanu Reeves that limited his mobility for months.

The Wachowskis were formerly known as the Wachowski Brothers (Andrew or “Andy” and Laurence or “Larry”). In the early 2000s, Laurence completed a gender transition and became known as Lana, and in 2016 Andy did the same and began being known as Lilly. The Matrix is actually their second directorial film after a movie called Bound in 1996. The Wachowskis are also known for V For Vendetta in 2005. The Matrix spawned a string of sequels including an animated film called The Animatrix in 2003 along with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions also in 2003. There is also a fourth installment planned to be released in 2021 called The Matrix Resurrections. 

The Gay Divorcee (1934) Review

The Gay Divorcee (1934) Director: Mark Sandrich

★★★★☆

The Gay Divorcee is a delightfully nostalgic film. It was the second of ten pairings for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in movies. It was based on a musical of the same name. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

The film takes place on a trip to England. Mimi (Ginger Rogers) is trying to get a divorce from her quirky Italian husband who has abandoned her. She consults an odd attorney who notes the difficulties of getting a divorce in England, so he proposes that she be caught in an adulterous affair so that detectives will grant a divorce. However, at the last minute the attorney realizes he has not notified detectives of the situation. Another man, Guy (Astaire), has fallen in love Mimi, despite her initial lack of interest. In the end, Mimi is granted her divorce and she and Guy depart to get married.

The newly enacted Hay’s Code in Hollywood demanded the title be changed from “The Gay Divorce” to “The Gay Divorcee”, as it was unthinkable that a divorce could be a happy affair. Today, it is difficult to imagine Hollywood adhering to any kind of ‘code of conduct’ with concern for healthy values.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) Review

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) Director: Alfred Hitchcock

★★★★☆

When Francois Truffaut famously interviewed Alfred Hitchcock (published in 1967), Hitchcock remarked that The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) was merely the work of an amateur. Hitchcock later went on to create his own remake in 1956, which he much preferred. The film holds nothing in common with the G.K. Chesterton book of short stories of the same name. Apparently Hitchcock held the rights to the title of the book.

Nevertheless The Man Who Knew Too Much of 1934 is an excellent film. A family is on a trip to Switzerland, Bob and Jill Lawrence and their daughter Betty. They befriend a man at their hotel, and Jill proves herself to be an excellent shot at clay pigeons. That evening, their new friend Louis is shot through a window while he dances with Jill. He reveals a secret to Jill about a note in his room that needs to be delivered to the British consulate about a crime that is going to take place. An international criminal group kidnaps their daughter Betty and threaten to kill her if the couple reveals anything they know. Therefore, of their own accord, Bob and Jill eventually track Betty down to a strange cult in London where they kidnap Bob, too. Meanwhile, Jill attends a performance at the Royal Albert Hall where an assassination attempt is planned of a European nobleman. She screams at the last moment before a gunshot happens, which distracts the gunman. He flees in a car but the police chase him to the house of his criminal group. A massive shootout scene occurs, and eventually the police kill all the criminals and rescue and reunite the Lawrence family.

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The great Peter Lorre, of and later Casablanca fame, played the lead criminal agent in the film. He had only recently fled Nazi Germany and spoke very little English. He had to learn his lines phonetically for the film.

Although Hitchcock preferred his own 1956 remake, the 1934 version is an excellent film – worth watching again and again. The master of suspense demonstrates his early skills – particularly notable is a scene in which a murder is planned at the Royal Albert Hall, Jill fades in and out of consciousness while the camera blurs and quickly cuts between scenes of a ruffling curtain, the European nobleman to be killed, and a gun slowly moving out of stage-right. The tension built in the film is palpable.