10 Films to Watch if You Like Classic Bond

Casino_Royale_1_–_UK_cinema_poster

North by Northwest (1959): It’s no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock was offered the chance to direct Dr. No because he had singlehandedly propelled the spy thriller into the public eye through such classic as The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, and Notorious. It’s also no surprise that he turned down the chance because had essentially made the greatest spy thriller ever. There was no reason to attempt to make another. Cary Grant. Eva Marie Sainte. Bernard Hermann. Ernest Lehman. Mt. Rushmore. Cropdusters. Just a few of the things that make this film awesome. It’s a must for all Bond fans.

That Man from Rio (1964): So there’s no doubt that Philippe de Broca’s film was made in a world conscious of the James Bond phenomenon but it’s also a charming blend of Tintin-esque action serials and wild humor that’s anchored by the charming pair of Jean-Pierre Belmondo and Francoise Dorleac. Its mixture of lavish location shooting, fun-filled action, and consistent humor makes it a must for all Bond lovers.

Charade (1963): By now we’ve all heard that this picture from Stanley Donen was the best Hitchcock film that he never made. Sure, that’s probably true if you want to put any stock in such an assertion but beyond that, we have Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn starring opposite each other in a spy comedy romance. It sounds like an absolutely delightful proposition and it is. It’s funny as a rom-com but still exhibits enough intrigue to pass as a compelling thriller.

The Ipcress File (1965): Sir Michael Caine as British spy Harry Palmer should be enough to pull audiences into this franchise. But if not that then consider this. Although it was made by some of the minds behind Bond, this franchise was supposed to be its antithesis in its representation of the spy life. It’s the anti-Bond if you will. Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain would follow in the subsequent years.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965): However, if you want something completely different from Bond with a sense of stark realism matched with a cynical edge you probably couldn’t get closer to the mark than watching this thriller based off the work of John Le Carre. Richard Burton is as disillusioned as any spy in the history of the movies and you get the strange sense that he has the right to be. If you looking for another tonal shift in the realm of spy thrillers look to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s demanding but certainly worthwhile.

Casino Royale (1967): We’re about to enter the territory of less demanding fare and the epitome of that is this initial Casino Royale (please don’t dare confuse this installment with Daniel Craig’s. Please don’t). All you need to know is that Peter Sellers plays Evelyn Tremble (ie James Bond), Ursula Andress is Vesper Lynd (ie James Bond), Orson Welles is Le Chiffre, Woody Allen is Jimmy Bond…must I go on or do you get the idea? If you had any preconception that this was a Bond movie you were mistaken.

Our Man Flint (1967): James Coburn the tough guy from such classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape landed his own headlining gig as a spy in his own right. See him in Charade (previously mentioned) and the continuing installment In Like Flint.

Murderers Row (1966): Dean Martin as super spy Matt Helm. Need I say more? Is it any surprise that he’s a dashing ladies man who also seems to like the high life and hitting the sauce. It grabs hold of the Bond phase like any good (or mediocre copycat) although it was based on a number of novels by Donald Hamilton. A number of sequels followed including The Silencers, The Ambushers and The Wrecking Crew.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997): Mike Myers as Austin Powers the most ludicrous, wacky, grooviest, and strangely perverse spy you’ve ever known. But his arch nemesis Dr. Evil is far worse. Pit them off against each other and you’re bound to have a stupid good time amid all the outrageous bits of parody. Oh yeah, check out The Spy Who Shagged Me and Austin Powers in Goldmember too. Groovy Baby!

Get Smart (2008): This is a public service announcement. No offense to Steve Carell or Anne Hathaway whatsoever, but please just go ahead and watch the TV show with the iconic duo of Don Adams and Barbara Feldon with Edward Platt. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry were comic geniuses and they knew a good fad when they saw one. Spies might come and go but “Shoe Phones” and “Cones of Silence” will never die. Would you believe? Because you should.

Bonus – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) et al: It might not feel exactly like Bond and Indiana Jones is a big enough star in his own right but there’s no doubt that the special mixture of thrills, humor, and iconic status also falls on the mantle of Dr. Jones. Of course, it doesn’t hurt either that his father is played by none other than Sean Connery the guy who was in Marnie, The Hunt for Red October, and, yes, a few other movies.

This is only a few options so please don’t think you have a license to kill me for leaving something off. But hope you enjoyed this assortment of 10 classic flicks for every Bond lover.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

hannahand1Recently I was thinking about who I would characterize as favorite directors versus directors that I simply respect. In the latter category, I would stick the likes of Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, and Wes Anderson. Because truth be told, I do not always like or even enjoy all their films, but I can still appreciate them. They have their own unique artistic visions when it comes to making movies and that comes out of the fact that they know the lineage that they are derivative of. That’s something that cannot be taken lightly.

I think I would same the same of the work of Woody Allen, and he truly is a special icon of film. There’s no saying that his work is not original because each film bears his mark, but it also takes cues from the past.The utmost compliment I can give Hannah and Her Sisters is the fact that it might be one of my favorite Allen films thus far, behind Annie Hall. It does noticeably take cues from the likes of Bergman and Bunuel however, but that does not detract from its own charms.

hannahand4It begins and continues throughout with rather arbitrary inter-titles written in white letters over a black background. But it’s the perfect embodiment of Allen’s style of writing to go along with his typically anachronistic scores that nevertheless elevate the charm of his films. What follows is an engaging storytelling set piece extended over three Thanksgiving dinners with Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her two sisters. Holly (Diane Wiest) is the aspiring actress, who has run a catering service on the side while fighting a drug problem and trying to figure out her love life. Lee (Barbara Hershey) is a natural beauty, who lives with an older intellectual named Frederick (Max Von Sydow). She has also unwittingly made a conquest of her sister’s respectable husband Elliot (Michael Caine), who nevertheless gets quite nervous in her presence.

This is a film about their families — their interconnected lives that constantly fluctuate and change dynamically with every passing month and holiday. Their lives go from the invariably awkward, to the tragic, and finally, find their perfect equilibrium. The voices inside their heads are constantly active with fears, thoughts, and desires.

hannahand5What’s perhaps most striking about this film is the great depth of the cast. Maureen O’Sullivan stars next to her real-life daughter. Carrie Fisher makes an appearance as Holly’s friend and rival. Even Daniel Stern, Julie Louis Dreyfuss, and Allen regular Tony Roberts pop up in various moments. Perhaps most spectacularly of all, Allen himself commands the spotlight as anxious hypochondriac Mickey Sacks. Essentially it’s the character that Allen always takes on, but in this case, he stuck himself in almost a B-plot. He gets his chance to swim in his fatalism, pessimism, and philosophical dialogues about God and religion. In fact, it is quite reminiscent of Bergman in this respect, but from a uniquely Allenesque perspective. His awkward jokes (eg. I had a great time tonight it was like the Nuremberg trials) make me crack a smile or let out a genuine chuckle in spite of myself. Bergman would never do that to me, but Allen enters that territory while going so far as casting von Sydow in a slight nod to his Swedish hero.

But really all of this is set to the greater backdrop of the familial drama. That’s where the meat and potatoes of this story lie and in this dynamic, there is a lot of genuinely great moments. One of the most memorable is also one of the most difficult when the three sisters gather together over lunch and their relationships seem to be falling apart in front of our eyes. As it goes with the passage of time, things eventually turn out okay and another holiday gathering comes. Each sister is content with where they’re at and so are their spouses. It’s probably one of the most upbeat Allen movies I can think of, if only it were not besmirched by his own personal life. But that’s a dialogue for a different time. After all, this film is really about Hannah and Her Sisters.

4.5/5 Stars

Alfie (1966)

alfie“I’ve been doing things my whole life I’m not suppose to” ~ Alfie

Alfie is a real character, with his cockney accent and personal insight about the world he resides in and the people he crosses paths with. Before Ferris Bueller, there was originally Alfie constantly breaking the fourth wall. Although that’s where any comparison ends because Ferris may be a schemer but he is good at heart. Safe to say Alfie is no Ferris Bueller. Not by a long shot. He is a self-indulgent, hedonistic, womanizer, constantly playing the field without looking for anything real.

True he has a kid, a few affairs and casual trysts, but he never sees “Birds” as anything more than objects. Every girl is an “It” not a “Her.” They fulfill his desires and their main purpose is to be used for his pleasure and his needs. He is a man who lives for himself and no one else. He is a real cynic and a deplorable sort of person at that.

Initially I had nothing complimentary to say about the character because the reality is there really was nothing good to say about him. But in a single moment Alfie proved that he might be selfish but not heartless. He finally attempts to “settle down” only for it to backfire on him. That’s the way it works and so Alfie is about right back where he started. I would like to think his heart is a little softer though.

Michael Caine is likable enough to make me not completely hate Alfie and that is to his credit because it was difficult not to. His various conquests and companions were played by, among others, Julia Foster, Jane Asher and Shelley Winters. The film’s jazzy score may not be rock and roll but it seems to personify Swinging London as much as Double-Deckers and Tower Bridge.

3.5/5 Stars

Interstellar (2014)

77062-interstellar_film_posterAs has always been his calling card, Christopher Nolan has an eye for grand, expansive, thought-provoking experiences wrapped up in cinema. Perhaps his aims are too ambitious at times, but you can never accuse him of making an everyday film. He always shoots for the moon (or better yet a wormhole) and so his projects are ultimately better than most, even if they miss the target a bit. The reason being, Interstellar is still full of enough questions and concepts to leave us thinking for a good long time after we leave the theater.

Although approximately 2 hours and 49 minutes, hardly anyone could call Interstellar too long, because it is more often than not engaging, as we try and decipher where Nolan is going to take us next. His story starts on a world that is certainly earth but strangely dystopian compared to the planet that we know and love. Reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally or something, old folks speak of the way the world was when the dust first hit and the corn crops had to be burned. Not much explanation is given but it is what it is.

This is the climate that the engineer-turned-farmer Coop (Matthew McConaughey) has to raise his two kids after his wife passed away. They are good kids for the most part. Murph blames a so-called “ghost” for accidents that happen around the house and her brother teases her some. But they hardly complain about this life they have they; just push forward.

However, their father has always been an explorer at heart, a pilot who never got to truly test the vast seas of space or spread out his wings fully. That changes when he and his daughter come across an old relic from the past. No, it’s not a monolith but something far more human. He somewhat reluctantly teams up with his old professor Brandt (Sir Michael Caine) and the professor’s daughter Amelia(Anne Hathaway) in a major undertaking.

They want Coop to pilot a mission to a wormhole which is just out of humanity’s reach. It was seemingly miraculously gifted to the human race by some unknown third person. This is their chance to A: find a new planet for a mass exodus or B: restart a colony on a far away destination. The first option is far less grim. Coop takes the mission in the hopes of saving his kids, but he knows the ramifications. Since time is all relative he does not know when he is coming back. He does not even know what he will find or if he will be successful. He heads off as an angry Murph tearfully watches him fall out of her life.

In a match cut of his own, Nolan transports Coop from his truck to the outer reaches of the galaxy. The real adventure has begun. The mission is clear. Save humanity from most certain extinction. It does not make it easier however that messages are constantly being relayed from earth. Coop and his three colleagues set up a plan of action. Their first target is a water covered environment that looks promising. Not so. Next, Coop overrules Brandt and they head to a desolate world that a previous explorer had labeled as inhabitable. To put it bluntly, he lied and he was not the only one.

Now Murph is older (Jessica Chastain) and she still has a hard time reconciling the departure of her dad. In an especially impactful scene, a still ageless Coop watches tearfully as his older son’s life literally passes before his eyes through the video communications that have been relayed up.

Coop has no way to reply. He can only watch and push forward to try and find a solution. But the answers are few and far between as time continues to move rapidly faster on earth than with the crew of the Endurance. In one final act of selfless valor Coop heads into a black hole and thus begins his own mind-blowing leg of his space odyssey. Some connections are made and when all the pieces are put together all that really matters is his inextinguishable love and family. In the end, Coop spends a nice moment with his daughter under very different circumstances. Together they saved the human race. Together they survived.

For a film that was made for Physic nerds with talk of black holes, worm holes, relativity, quantum mechanics, Newton’s Third Law, gravity and the like, Nolan’s conclusion has a universal ring. As Amelia Brand claims, “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” There are still scientific questions left to be debated for years to come, but we know that love is one thing that is forever true.

There are obviously numerous comparisons that can be made between Interstellar and 2001. I would rather focus on the differences very briefly. In Nolan’s film, A.I. is actually useful and more reliable and kind than humanity itself. It is Man who lies, cheats and reverts to animalistic behavior all in the name of survival. Interstellar has a lot of scientific theory behind it (which I will acknowledge I do not know the ins and outs of), however, it also has a very human component. It is grounded on earth with Coop’s kids.

The visuals in Interstellar are often breathtaking but we would probably expect that for such an ambitious space saga. What I really took out of this film was the score and juxtaposition of sound. Hans Zimmer’s compositions were full of pounding organs that somehow fit the mood with their majestic and still austere sound. Furthermore, this film had a lot of dialogue and tense moments of noise, however, when we are outside the spacecraft it is almost completely silent reminding us of the reality of space. It is more often than not a vast, silent unknown.

I am reminded of when Coop explains to his daughter why she was named after Murphy’s Law which seems to be bad. He replies that “Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen, will happen.” And that was good enough for Coop and his late wife. In some ways I think these words can be used to describe Interstellar. With Nolan, there is the potential that whatever can happen, will. There is excitement and magic in that, even if it sometimes overshoots its bounds. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and that’s good enough for me.

4/5 Stars

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas

The Prestige (2006)

87836-prestige_posterStarring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johannson, and Michael Caine with director Christopher Nolan, this film is about two magicians who ultimately become rivals. After the death of Robert Angiers’ wife, he blames Alfred Borden and thus begins their quest to become the greatest magicians the world has ever seen. Along the way Borden finds a wife and has a daughter, while Angiers tries to discover Borden’s secrets various ways. Both men will stop at nothing to succeed even if it means sabotage, wounding, or even traveling to Colorado in Angiers’ case. With Borden in jail for murder of his rival, it appears as if Angiers has won. However, in the end all is not as it seems and it is revealed to the audience. Once again Nolan uses non linear storytelling to develop this intriguing mystery. I was not much of an authority on magic but now I know you have the pledge, the turn, and of course the prestige.
 
4/5 Stars

The Best Films of Michael Caine

1. Get Carter
2. Sleuth
3. Zulu
4. The Italian Job
5. Hannah and Her Sisters
6. The Man Who Would be King
7. The Ipcress Files
8. The Dark Knight Rises
9. The Dark Knight
10. Alfie
11. Children of Men
12. The Prestige
13. Batman Begins
14. Mona Lisa
15. The Quiet American
16. The Cider House Rules
17. Educating Rita

Inception (2010)

Starring Leonardo Dicapprio, Joseph Gordon-Levit, Tom Hardy, and Ellen Page with direction by Christopher Nolan, the film follows the elaborate plot to plant an idea in someone’s mind. Dom Cobb is skilled at entering into peoples’ minds in order to steal ideas. However, in order to get back to a normal life now he must plant something instead. He gathers a team to help him enter the dreams successfully. However  they are not just going one level down but in fact several tiers into the mind. This will make  each successive perception more unstable and perilous. The team enters the first dream fine but soon they realize that their influential subject has built up defenses in his dreams. Furthermore, if they die the dream will not simply end but they will all be trapped in limbo. With those problems they enter the second tier and then the third and so on. Ultimately, Cobb must face one of his own realities or else all is lost. This film is so intriguing because it is different and in many ways it blows your mind (including the ambiguous ending).

5/5 Stars

The Dark Knight (2008)

In honor of the release of The Dark Knight Rises next week, the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I would like to review The Dark Knight.

Starring a great cast of characters including Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, this is a great incarnation of Batman. In this film Bruce Wayne, alias Batman (Bale), faces his biggest challenge to protect Gotham City yet in the form of the villainous Joker (Ledger) With the help of Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, Lucius Fox, and of course Alfred, he works to bring peace. However, the Joker is not your everyday criminal. This psychotic villain’s only goal is to create utter chaos and he forces the Batman into difficult choice after difficult choice. By the end, the lines are so blurred it is hard to tell who actually won. Ledger’s performance alone makes this movie a good one. His unpredictable and chilling portrayal has the audience constantly intrigued. Thus your everyday action packed, superhero film becomes an unconventional showdown between good and evil.
5/5 Stars

We will have to wait and see what the third installment starring Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway, has in store for us.