(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, September 2018) Bond goes to mid-sixties Japan in this fifth instalment (after a three-year break), and the film soon becomes one extended Orientalism riff. To be fair, Japan was considerably more exotic to Western audiences fifty years ago and the film wisely avoids much of the truly regrettable stuff. (Which isn’t to say that watching Bond doing in-universe yellowface isn’t mystifying, or that there isn’t a laugh or two in seeing the film laboriously explain what is a ninja.) The sexism is worse than the racism, but again there’s some slack to be cut given that the movie is fifty years old. Once you get past those problems, You Only Live Twice remains a strong Connery-era entry by codifying two of the series’ most defining icons: showing the scarred-face cat-petting villain Blofeld (later becoming Austin Powers’ Doctor Evil) and setting the climax in an underground lair in an extinct volcano. Add some spiffy space-age plot, a travelogue through then-mysterious Japan and you’ve got the making of a classic-formula Bond. (The script is from no less than Roald Dahl—and if you think that’s weird, check out who wrote the script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang—who famously complained about the instructions he had been given regarding the number and nature of Bond Girls.) Bond doesn’t spend a single moment in England, but M and Q and Moneypenny all show up a few times to keep him on the right track. The special effects are ambitious and flawed, but the spirit of the sequences they serve is there. All things considered, You Only Live Twice remains a slight improvement over Thunderball. I first saw this film as a boy and remained mystified for a long time about the opening sequence and How could Bond actually come back from the dead?!?. The best thing about a jaded middle-age re-watch is that it now makes perfect sense that they faked his death, even if the specifics of the scene seem elusive.
(On DVD, March 2018) Surprisingly enough, I had never seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a kid … and I’m almost glad I hadn’t, because few other children’s movies have such a naked contempt for their audience. (Needless to say, it’s adapted from a novel by famous misanthrope Roald Dahl.) As a result, the film is almost more interesting for adults than for kids—my favourite aspects of the film was the madcap “the world’s gone wild for golden tickets” news footage from the first half, and then Gene Wilder’s spectacularly sarcastic performance as Wonka in the second half. “Bad kids versus super-snarker” would be one possible alternate title. For a 1971 film, it certainly delivers on high concept imagination: The wild world of candy is pushed to its conceptual limits, and the special effects are often surprisingly good. Still, much of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory depends on Wilder and his oddball sense of humour. I audibly laughed at a few moments, from the computer sequence to the teacher scenes to Wonka’s literary allusions. Wilder’s performance in incarnating eccentric trickster Wonka is terrific—no wonder it became a reference. What’s particularly likable about the film is how it’s really not afraid to hop between moods as needed—the tunnel sequence is just as creepy as it ever was, and yet it fits in-between the far more light-hearted rest of the film. (It probably plays much better on a second viewing, as it becomes a pushed-to-eleven example of Wonka’s deliberate eccentricity. While the musical numbers are hit-and-miss (“The Candy-man” is a classic for other reasons) and the ending is a bit abrupt, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a surprisingly good time for those who haven’t yet seen it.
(On TV, January 2018) I didn’t end up enjoying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang all that much, which is strange given that I certainly expected to like it. Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, fancy retro-technology … what’s not to like? The film is a minor reference in Science Fiction fannish circles, so I finally got some of the jokes. Even the opening credit sequence has a few promising surprises, from a Roald Dahl script of an Ian Fleming story. What a pedigree! For a while, it looks as if the film is off to a good start with an eccentric inventor, a big musical sequence set in a candy factory and enough quirky ideas to keep things interesting. I even had an audible “ah ha” as I recognized the source of a verbal tic (“toot sweet”) of an acquaintance of mine. Somehow, though, along the way Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sort of lost me. The radically different second act takes us to an unpleasant place, and while I was momentarily fascinated by the film all over again during the “music box doll” sequence, the film seemed less interesting as it went on. It wasn’t what I was expecting.