Monday, May 26, 2014

Film Review: A VIEW TO A KILL (1985, John Glen)

Stars:  5 of 5.
Running Time: 131 minutes.
Tag-line: "Has James Bond finally met his match?  Find out this summer."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Grace Jones (VAMP, CONAN THE DESTROYER), Christopher Walken (THE DEER HUNTER, MOUSEHUNT), Roger Moore (THE QUEST), Tanya Roberts THE BEASTMASTER, SHEENA), David Yip (Wu Han from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM), Alison Doody (Elsa from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE), Desmond Llewelyn ('Q' from FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE through THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH), Lois Maxwell ('Moneypenny' from DR. NO through A VIEW TO A KILL), Patrick Macnee (THE AVENGERS, WAXWORK), Patrick Bauchau (PHENOMENA, THE RAPTURE), and Dolph Lundgren (ROCKY IV, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE).  Cinematography by Alan Hume (RETURN OF THE JEDI, A FISH CALLED WANDA). Music by John Barry and Duran Duran. 
Best One-liner:  "Wow!  What a view."  –"TO A KILL!"

I'm going to begin with a quote by Roger Moore:


"I was horrified on the last Bond I did. Whole slews of sequences where Christopher Walken was machine-gunning hundreds of people. I said, 'That wasn't Bond, those weren't Bond films.' It stopped being what they were all about. You didn't dwell on the blood and the brains spewing all over the place."
What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Walken?  Have you besmirched the legacy of Bond by rewriting the punctuation in your lines and machine-gunning hundreds of innocents?

Walken weighs in:
"In the Bond movie I had my hair dyed an impossible yellow color, and that became my motivation in a lot of scenes: I had a secret subtext, which I never discussed with anybody. Every time I had a scene with somebody I’d be thinking: What do you think of my hair? Do you like my hair? Do you like what they did to me? That they made me look like this? So next time you see the movie, every time I torture somebody I’m really thinking, You see what they did to me with this hair?"

It would seem from those quotes that A VIEW TO A KILL took Bond in a new direction, truly a Bond for the 80s; a Bond that came out the same year as COMMANDO and ROCKY IV and DEATH WISH 3; a Bond for a Cold War edging its way toward a natural conclusion (whether that means a "hot" war or Glasnost); a Bond for the Reagan-consumerist era; a Bond for the Computer Age; a Bond for the hair salon; a Bond that's not afraid to live dangerously; a Bond that's not afraid to–
DANCE!
 
INTO THE FIIIIYAHH
THAT FATAL KISS 
ISSS ALL WE NEED

DANCE INTO THE FIIIIYAHH
TO FATAL SOUNDS OF BROKEN DREAMS

DANCE!
INTO THE FIIIIYAHH 
 
 
And just like that, James Bond's silhouette shoots a leftover laser from MOONRAKER at a black-light day-glo body-painted skiing-gal who happens to be on fire, and said laser transforms her into an ice sculpture.  All of this is accompanied by the best of all the James Bond themes, Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill."  This is the only Bond film that could ever be confused with Lorenzo Lamas' BODY ROCK, and that's the highest praise I can give anything.

Here are five reasons why A VIEW TO A KILL joins MOONRAKER and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER in the holy trifecta of Bond movies that perfect the art of big-budget absurdity:


#1.  The Grace.  As villain/quasi-Bond girl and Chris Walken-squeeze "May Day," Grace Jones takes what could have been a throwaway role and makes it subversive, beautiful, insane, and transcendent.
Here she is, dressed in 'Cardinal Chic' with a New Wave miter, I guess?

Shes a badass, she's a singer, she's a fashionista, she's the scariest vampire of the 1980s, and according to her own drunken rant, she's the "Queen Bitch Jungle Mother of New York."  And no one will ever dispute that.  Hell, if I was Mayor, I'd make it official.  I'd build her a statue on Liberty Island.
Pictured:  an artist's rendering of said statue.

It's a pity that she hasn't starred in more movies (though we still have this, VAMP, CONAN THE DESTROYER, and STRAIGHT TO HELL, among others).  However, I must point out, having seen her live in glorious concert in Fall of 2012, that she looks exactly the same at age 64 as she did in the 1980s.  At the risk of offering too much information, yes, this means she can rock out a thong (which she did) and receive a senior discount at the same time.  So, Hollywood: it is your duty to cast her in every action movie from now on (or at least THE EXPENDABLES 4?).

At any rate, she's on, to quote Duran Duran, "FIIIIYAHH": 
WATCH!  Grace Jones force-eject some poor sap from a zeppelin with extreme prejudice!
AIEEEEE!

SEE!  Grace Jones evolve hairstyles and make more costume changes than at one of her concerts (once per song, by my reckoning).

GAZE UPON! Grace Jones clawing and fighting her way through an assortment of action scenarios, relentless as a Terminator, and then some!

BEHOLD!  Grace Jones base-jumping off the Eiffel Tower as some perturbed guy tries to chase her:
Who is that guy, anyway?  I've already forgotten.  Isn't this film part of a larger series?


#2.  The Dolph.  Grace Jones' then-bodyguard/boyfriend Dolph Lundgren happened to be on set when the role of a "KGB henchman" needed to be filled, and the rest is film history.

Here is a picture of Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren, in case you've forgotten what they look like:
Again, just imagine this, 900 feet tall and where the Statue of Liberty used to be.  It'd be like the Colossus of Rhodes meets the ISLAND LIFE album cover.

(By now, you've probably figured out that Grace Jones will slink her way into as many entries on this list as possible.)  So the scene is this:  the KGB comes after Christopher Walken for reasons that don't really matter, and he sics Grace Jones on their caviar-eatin', vodka-swiggin' asses:
 She promptly free-lifts (did I mention that she has super-strength?) one of the KGB,
prompting a young agent who doesn't get any lines (Dolph) to briefly leap into action, drawing his gun.
This isn't quite a Mexican standoff.  I'm actually not sure what to call this. 

Walken gives her the ole' pursed-lip head-nod
and Grace flings the guy to his well-deserved humiliation.  Dolph blankly checks on him and gives Grace a look of respect and abject fear.  It is difficult to determine whether or not he is "acting" in this moment.
Even Ivan Drago cowers in the presence of Grace Jones.

#3.  The Walken.  It's already been said, but I can't emphasize enough that Walken's acting motivation is whether or not the other characters in the scene like his hair.  
 
 Walken gets needy when his hair is ignored.

That alone could be enough to make him the most ludicrous Bond villain, but then you stick him in a scene with Grace Jones, and it's like mixin' bleach and ammonia– they're edgy, they're volatile, and if you have inadequate ventilation, they could induce a fainting spell.

Take this scene for instance, where Grace and Walken are practicing aerobo-judo-jazzercise or whatever
and Grace is revealing that she has the best crazyfaces since Jean-Claude and Bolo hit the mat.  After a takedown, the pin quickly takes on a sexual connotation and the two bark and growl and bite at one another
for what seems
an inordinate amount
of time.  

The fact that this was allowed in a Bond movie is simply wonderful.  It's like performance art, like they were having a joke on mainstream movie audiences; an outré, private joke.  

I wish that there was a freeze frame that could perfectly encapsulate this sentiment.  Wait, there is!
Eat yer hearts out, Bond fans!


#4.  The Robot.  There's a subplot where 'Q' (Desmond Llewelyn) is fucking around with a comical robot creation who is the median point between SICO in ROCKY IV and Johnny Number Five in SHORT CIRCUIT

The film ends with Q fondly using the robot to spy on Bond's sex life,
a voyeuristic episode that ends prematurely with a well-flung towel.
The fact that Q is a massive creeper is casually brushed aside because the robot is pretty fucking adorable.  I approve of all of this.


#5.  The Music Video.  Technically this isn't part of the canon, but I couldn't resist checking out Duran Duran's tie-in music video for "A View to a Kill."  The premise is that the members of Duran Duran are wandering around the Eiffel Tower, doing "spy" things, like Simon Le Bon operating a secret remote control hidden inside a walkman
 and Nick Rhodes taking high-fashion photographs.
It bears mentioning that all of this is basically a backdrop for some amazing blue-screen cut-out images of flying videocassette cameras that zoom to and fro like 2-D drones, with no sense of depth or perspective:
It's jaw-droppingly terrible, and by terrible, I mean "great."  I have no idea how one would even come up with such a concept, much less actually try to visualize it.
It ends with the brilliant one liner, "Bon.  Simon Le Bon."  
Then an explosion is set off on the tower and all of Duran Duran are apparently caught up in the blast.  We cut to a wide shot of an Eiffel postcard exploding, and not the actual Eiffel Tower.  
 
I suspect this was done so not as to offend some French tourism bureau, but it thus implies that the entirety of the music video took place on the surface of a postcard of the Eiffel Tower (thus vindicating the terrible 2D camcorder graphics?), which is the kind of logic that simply doesn't exist outside of a classic music video.
 
And hell, what's once more for good measure:

Five stars.

–Sean Gill

5 comments:

John Guedes said...

This might have been my first Bond film ever as a young lad and if memory serves me, I was quite taken with Bond Girl Stacey played by Tanya Roberts, aka SHEENA, aka Kiri from THE BEASTMASTER.

Mike B. said...

If memory serves, I believe that Walken reprised this character on an awful Saturday Night Live sketch, too! Moore may have been disappointed to see his last Bond film look more like a Cannon release, but at least it's fun for folks like us. The Jones/Lundgren/Walken trio is dynamite! And, in all seriousness, for some reason the Bond songs by Duran Duran here and a-Ha in The Living Daylights were always some of my favorites. It's like those Bond-ian horn blasts fit in perfectly with mid-period new wave pop! The music video review was a nice bonus, thanks! If I may recommend another, maybe take a look at 80's one-hit wonder Eight Seconds' "Kiss You (When it's Dangerous)," which, besides having an all-time great title and use of parentheses, is a similar treasure trove of odd, faux-exotic comedic delights!

Sean Gill said...

John,

Good 'ole Tanya Roberts. I do enjoy THE BEASTMASTER quite a bit, but never saw SHEENA. She's certainly a pleasure, but it's hard for her to pull focus amid the insane Walken/Jones happenings!

Mike,

I'd like to see that awful SNL sketch, but cursory internet searching didn't turn up much. I agree about the odd successful matchup of new wave pop and John Barry horn section- it's mesmerizing in its own way. Watched the Eight Seconds video, and it was pretty spectacular. I appreciate that the keyboard player is too lazy to play without reclining on those steps... and then ultimately freezes to death from lack of movement? Well done.

J.D. Lafrance said...

This is one of those cases where Walken/Jones transcend the material they're given through sheer force of WILL and attitude. Holy crap, I had forgotten just how batcrap crazy both of them are in this film, like they just walked in from an even stranger Polanski film (maybe a sequel to FRANTIC? ah, if only!).

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Oh yes, and the Polanski reference is right on, what with all of the weird couples dynamics in his films. I can already see Walken and Jones in KNIFE IN THE WATER, or ROSEMARY'S BABY, or even MACBETH. Especially MACBETH. Also, I would watch the hell out of a FRANTIC sequel with those two as Eurotrash villains.