Revisiting… Goldeneye

Last week I wrote about my introduction to the cinema through the unexpected medium of the Care Bears. A decade or so later, I was granted an introduction to a cinematic icon in the James Bond reboot, Goldeneye.


The iconic poster for Goldeneye (1995)

I had six when Timothy Dalton’s debut, The Living Daylights had been released but my folks weren’t quite up to a cinema visit for that sort of film, so I mainly remember having to make do with cards from the Trio chocolate promotional packs stuffed into the pocket of my Parka. Then came Dalton’s second outing Licence to Kill; and, let’s face it, that movie is no place for children.

So, 1995 was my chance to watch Bond on the big screen. The movie debuted on 21st November and the way we watched it speaks volumes about how movie going had changed over the 10 years which had elapsed.

My parents took me – both of them this time as disabled access was now available. We were no longer in the charmingly crafted but dilapidated flea pit Picturedrome, Bognor Regis, but in the plush surroundings of Hampshire’s Port Solent, an area of reclaimed landfill and marshlands re-purposed in the late 80s to become a marina and expensive housing development. Tickets prices to see films had of course increased by, on average, 104%.

But what of the movie?

We open on a plane flying over a gigantic dam. We’ve had the opening gun barrel walk but all incidental music ceases as the light aircraft sweeps over this vista in spectral silence.

Then, we see a man run and bungee down this impressive 750 metre edifice, which saw stuntman Wayne Michaels set a world record for a tethered jump. By the way, this location is the Contra Dam in Switzerland, and because of this – still impressive – stunt, voted the greatest of all time in a 2002 Sky Movies poll. Incidentally, and this blog in no way endorses this course of action, the stunt inspired a company to begin offering you the opportunity to bungee jump off it yourself if you’re in that frame of mind. Details here:

bond16 dam jump

Pierce Brosnan’s Bond (stuntman Wayne Michaels) dives off the 750m Contra Dam

And, I gotta tell you – Pierce Brosnan never looked better. Especially in the early part of the movie, that man is channeling both Dalton, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. There’s a best of feel to his performance which, if he’d had better scripts throughout the rest of his tenure would have put him significantly up the pecking order of greatest Bonds. Man could wear a tuxedo, too…

Tom Cruise and his rhyming slang character, Ethan Hunt, would’t debut for another six months, but Brosnan’s toilet entrance now looks like a fun twist on the famous vault access from Mission Impossible.

Alongside Brosnan, Sean Bean, an actor who ordinarily I find as sympathetic as a serial killer and as appealing as an aggressive cavity search, is never better than as Alex Trevelyan. His performance is cleaner, more nuanced and significantly more subtle than I remembered. His “execution” is harsh – even today.

Martin Campbell is clearly the man for reinvigorating the franchise as, nine years later, it would be him in the hot seat to replenish the steaming, coiled wreckage visited on the series in the superlative Casino Royale.

Here, he settles for the charmingly nostalgic return of the Aston Martin DB5, which is an excellent touch, as is the race with Famke Janssen- a driving sequence arguably not bettered until Quantum of Solace.

Dutch actress Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp, famed for her unique way of dispatching villains. Memorable for sure, but she somewhat overshadows Bean’s performance with her cartoonishly psychotic antics, which is a shame.

Famke Janssen

Other downsides? The body count is troublesome. I know this came before advent of introspective heroes, but jeso, do people get mown down with video game abandon in this movie.

Also, the incidental music is more 80s than a superhero team up featuring Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. Which is odd because it couldn’t really be more mid-90s but this the consistent pounding on the synthesizer is hard going on the ear. It’s a rough listen today: heavy handed and distracting.

And, finally the theme tune. Tina Turner does belt out a tune but the only Edge that should be invoked here is the one which U2 should have been shoved off. The lyrics read like they were constructed during a Madlibs game fuelled by LSD.

Some of my favourites include:

See reflections on the water/ more than darkness in the depths/ see him surface in every shadow/ on the wind I feel his breath

Goldeneye I found his weakness/ Goldeneye he’ll do what I please/ Goldeneye no time for sweetness/ but a bitter kiss will bring him to his knees…

Goldeneye not lace or leather/ Golden chains take him to the spot/ Goldeneye I’ll show him forever/ it’ll take forever to see…

It’s a gold and honey trap/I’ve got for you tonight…

with a goldeneye, goldeneye.

To which I can only say: gibberish.


Brosnan and 006 Alex Trevelyn (Sean Bean) in happier times

There’s more to say about this movie and, especially, the spin off video game which is a peak in the history of that medium so high it couldn’t be bettered by a pair of Italian plumbers, but I’ll leave it there for now. A high in the career of Pierce Brosnan as Bond, this is classic well worth #revisiting.

With a golden, goldeneye…


Revisiting… Inspector Morse

30 Not Out.

Sunday night, 8th January 2017, the fourth series of ITV’s Endeavour begins. With a pleasingly orchestrated symmetry, this also marks the 30th Anniversary of its beloved origin show, Inspector Morse.

Morse on DVD

The DVDs of the Complete Inspector Morse episodes are available for purchase from Amazon

Inspector Morse aired for the first time on Tuesday 6th January 1987 and, it is fair to say, it did not appear at a time of optimism for the contemporary TV viewer. ITV’s reputation for drama had all but evaporated – the pinnacle, Brideshead Revisited, lay 6 years in the past

The previous year, 1986, had included  modern classics like The Singing Detective  and The Monocled Mutineer so, there were things of note happening on television.

Just not on ITV.

Morse would change all that.

Its leisurely pace of two hours an episode was in stark contrast to what the public were used to seeing, and even Colin Dexter, the author of the 13 novels upon which some of the television episodes are based, has acknowledged that the show was an unlikely success. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Bookclub in 2007, Dexter told presenter James Naughtie in typically tongue-in-cheek fashion, “one of the huge things about Morse was that he came at the right time, when everyone wanted to get away from the American programmes where everybody was shooting and car chasing all over the shop. And somebody said, ‘what we want is something a little bit slower and more tedious. More gentle and – perhaps – more cerebral.’ Somebody wrote, right from the very word go, Dexter’s idea of any sort of thrill in a story was to get two aged classics professors arguing about Aristotle in the Sheldonian.”

This is a little harsh perhaps, (the first episode drew approximately 14 million viewers after all), however, you can see right from the very opening of, ‘The Dead of Jericho’ that this is to be different and that, in lead actor John Thaw, here is a leading man about to put to bed his reputation-defining turn as Jack Regan in The Sweeney.

This blog has looked at this wonderfully dated slice of action thriller elsewhere (Revisiting: The Sweeney) but contrasting the opening of the two shows is instructive. The Sweeney has rushing cars, handheld wobbly camera angles of gritty realism, tyres screaming and that famous title sequence theme tune booming electronica, like sirens through a 70s hangover, frantically edited.

As Morse opens there are quick edits too; a close up of a painting cuts to: some people in a choir, beginning to sing Vivaldi’s Gloria in excelsis Deo, a stark white on black title card announces:


Cut to: a close up of the moving bonnet of a red classic Jaguar, shiny polished chrome of the big cat gleaming.


We get our first look at Thaw, a serious look on his face.


The music swells, the car sails past like a stately ocean liner. As he passes, a sign on the wall reads: beware-morse

This is exactly the sort of instruction designed to insight maximum disobedience from Regan, not so for Morse. He pulls up.

Another cut:


After a close up of a woman from the choir, we move again to such exciting action as: some men listening to tuneless electronica on a radio while they respray a car. You can tell they are baddies: they have appallingly out of context cockney accents for Oxford.

However, the class of the production is hinted at in shot of Morse from within the garage through the bolted doors. The intercutting of the classical with the crass modernity as signified by the music choices and locations continues before the impending victory of the law and order side is represented by the drowning out of the modern music and the man from inside realises that it’s a trap (“It’s da law!” he shrieks), men in hard hats sneak up and handcuff him to the door of his car.

In the days of Regan and The Sweeney this would have been the time he would have bounded out and traded blows with the “blaggers”. Here, he sits passively, while he is left trying to block the escape of the criminals.

There is a poignancy and clarity of symbolism in the ownership of this car by Morse. A Mark II Jaguar was so often used as the car of the criminals in the earlier series that later Thaw claimed that he had witnessed it being written off several times in The Sweeney and that allegedly, this was the reason Thaw was frequently seen in close-up driving the vehicle as it was being towed because it had broken down.

Here, the climax of the action is the criminals crashing into Morse’s car while he looks to the heaven’s being serenaded by the choir with an exasperated look on his face, as though the holy spirit of Regan and his physicality is finally being exorcised.


And it is this change, this passive exorcism, which lies at the heart of Thaw’s performance as we see the final move between the 1970s rough and tumble to the leisurely pace and intellect of Morse and the 1980s.

In that same Bookclub interview James Naughtie describes Morse thus; “He’s grumpy, he’s odd, he’s lonely, he’s not always kind to people he loves underneath.” But he then asks, “Why do we warm to him?” Dexter replies, “I think quite a lot of the ladies would like to go to bed with him… but I think people enjoy Morse because he was sensitive and vulnerable to a certain extent. Never quite happy about life, but always wonderfully happy about his love of music and poetry.” Thaw is the constant embodiment of this duality; the soul of an artist, the tortured longing of the unfulfilled.

The programme ran until the year 2000, consistently drawing large audiences and spawned the spin off Lewis as well as the aforementioned Endeavour. Success does not always breed total fondness and even the British Film Institute’s (BFI) entry for the series on its Screenonline section has the slightly less than effusive Philip Wickham couching his praise in backhanded terms: “’Middlebrow’ is often used as a derogatory term in British culture… the series offers little that is new or challenging; it adopts the familiar patterns of the English ‘whodunnit’…No one could accuse the programme of being grittily realistic – Oxford’s murder rate rivalled the Bronx…There is a formulaic edge to the series that veers occasionally to parody.”

Not all of 1987 has aged as well as Inspector Morse. Oliver Stone’s Platoon, Chevy Chase’s Three Amigos! (and his post-Community career), A-ha’s Cry Wolf, The Housemartins’ Caravan of Love and Alison Moyet’s Is This Love were all near the top of the charts in their respective mediums and are all wearing the years more heavily than Morse. But, with his classic cars, his classical music and his preserved architecture, he was never of the time anyway, so he could scarcely be out it now.

Inspector Morse is well worth #revisiting and will surely reign supreme over domestic television crime fiction for at least 30 years more.

Revisiting… The Sweeney (1975)


Dennis Waterman, left, as George Carter and John Thaw as Jack Regan in The Sweeney

January 2nd 1975 saw a show debut which was so unlike anything to come before it that it has been loved, parodied, referenced and adored for now over 40 years. It was Euston Films and Thames Television’s, The Sweeney.

Some shows take their place in the canon from a steady evolution of a genre and some just punch through as though out of nowhere – The Sweeney is definitely – defiantly – one of the latter.

From the opening of the first episode, ‘Ringer’, we are catapulted into a London not previously seen on British television. Famously filmed on 16mm, it’s like Ken Loach had decided that police dramas were his true metier. A villain seated in a car, smoking a cigarette, lowers a copy of The Sporting Life newspaper to reveal a green flat cap and natty sideburns. We cut to a point of view shot of a van – is it an ambulance? – speeding across an industrial wasteland.

Oh, the sky might be blue, the trees verdant green – but they frame nothing more than a concrete scar in the landscape, fringed by abandoned buildings with shattered windows. As the cars pull off, we get another point of view shot from inside the car’s cabin as now a mounted camera position allows us to feel the speed generated by the vehicles.

After a conversation, in which we are treated to handheld over the shoulder shots and sweeping nausea-inducing sweeps, we have revealed to us the gas masks and guns these gangsters are planning to use. There’s more conversation, more handheld camera antics, a light dash of humour with the villain who can’t count.

Then, and only then, do we cut to the title sequence.
These titles explode for the viewer – trumpets blaring over a thumping soundtrack as a Ford comes haring towards the camera with a staccato movement created in the edit. This is the most literal arrival of the boys in blue one could envision.

Opening titles: This wasn't your Daddy's police force.

Opening titles: This wasn’t your Daddy’s police force.

All of which presents a stark change from the world of Dixon of Dock Green, which (unbelievably) was still running when The Sweeney made its debut, (and, indeed, would run for another year afterwards, till 1976). One thing was for sure: this wasn’t your Daddy’s police force.

The origin of the series can be found in the one-off drama called – not with sparkling originality – Regan written by Ian Kennedy-Martin for ITV’s Armchair Cinema strand of programmes as a vehicle for John Thaw, with whom he had worked in Redcap.

The relationship between Thaw, playing Jack Regan, and the young Dennis Waterman as George Carter is the central heart of the series. The older colleague mentoring the youngster, whilst they both have to overcome their professional and personal vulnerabilities remains as powerful as when, albeit in a very different form, it was repeated in the more cerebral Inspector Morse (1987)

However, what concerns one now is the way that The Sweeney has come to be seen as a beacon for reactionaries who mythologise its perceived homophobia, racism, casual sexism and other areas now seen as attractive to the unreconstructed. This is simplistic to say the least. The show does have elements of all of these, it is after all an historical document of a particular time, but to say that it is more, vastly more, sophisticated than this suggests is to dance a quick step with understatement.

The character of Regan is not that guy. He wrestles with dilemmas; he is straight in a corrupt world. These are characters that inhabit a bleak world – both at work and at home – and who have to regularly make choices which are unpalatable. Thaw is a cut above the average actor in showing the self-determination wrecking his soul as he torments himself with his self-disgust, whilst Waterman was never better at playing the enthusiastic conscience for his damaged mentor.

All of which makes both the simplicity of the Gene Hunt character in Ashes to Ashes and the humourless, clod-footed Ray Winston reboot The Sweeney debacle all the more disturbing for the viewer who appreciates the importance of what this show tried to do in the period.

The poster for the humourless, clod-footed 2012 Ray Winston reboot

The poster for the humourless, clod-footed 2012 Ray Winston reboot

There’s a lot been written about the show – the bust up between creator Ian Kennedy-Martin and Ted Childs (which Kennedy-Martin discusses in a blog post) – means that the show has been subjected to a lot of analysis. There are the movies, Sweeney! (1977) and its likeable, if at times harrowing, sequel Sweeney 2 (1978) but, at the end of the day, for humour, action, emotion and drama – there’s rarely been anything better on UK television and it deserves to be revisited.

Farewell Jackie C…

Revisiting…Jackie C

Jackie Collins' Chances

Jackie Collins’ Chances

Yesterday (Sunday 19th September) I had an unusual experience. I found out that a writer I had loved and read voraciously had died. Nothing especially odd in that, I hear Enid Blyton isn’t exactly going strong these days. Except that, it was a writer from so long in the mists of my own reading life, that I had forgotten I ever read her, enjoyed her, been influenced by her.

I can’t really pinpoint when I first discovered the Jackie Collins canon, but I know I was in primary school, probably about 10 years of age. I also can’t remember how I came across a doorstop-sized bonkbuster aimed at grown women, suffice to say that I have a dim memory of being into gangster films around this time and being attracted to what, I now know to be, the first of her books about Lucky Santangelo, Chances.

But I do remember reading and re-reading that book. I do remember the yellowed pages, the smell of cheap paperback glue disintegrating and the pencil written 25p jumble sale price tag.

Oh, and the sex. I remember the sex as only a little boy in a pre-internet age could. Jackie Collins taught me anatomical details hitherto unmentioned in south coast Church of England primary school education and hinted towards untold riches for the gainfully exploratory. A lesson stored for the (all too distant) future, I remember thinking even then…

I remember action, gangster stories told with brisk clarity and swift violence. This was The Godfather but with more sex. A heady brew for the time. So much so, that I went on to read Lucky, the sequel, and – memorably startling the wee Reading Assistant who came into hear the year 6s read – Lady Boss the third instalment.

It occurs to me now, I was probably quite an odd child. But, no one really seemed concerned in the late 80s that what I was reading was probably vastly inappropriate. They just liked that I was reading at all.

I drifted away from Jackie. I dipped back in during my mid-teens but I never really took up the habit again – like smoking in reverse. I remember seeing her face on the back of the novels and being a bit alarmed (I don’t know what her stance on plastic surgery was, but all I can say for decorum sake is I found her disturbing).

Anyway, as I said, I drifted away from Jackie. But in her genre she could write. Effectively, efficiently and – I know realise – she did things for women readers (and, clearly, some men too) that stuffier ‘artsy’ writers couldn’t.

So, I’m sorry she went out of my mind for all this time. She deserved better. Now, I wonder if I can get hold of her back numbers on my i-pad…

If you are interested, you can find her work here:

And there’s a lovely obituary here:

Revisiting… Mallrats (1995)

With Kevin Smith have recently taken to Twitter to confirm a sequel to this slacker comedy of the mid-90s, currently titled MallBrats, now seemed like an excellent opportunity to revisit the original for the second in a series of posts Revisiting works worthy of reconsideration.

Mallrats - Returning to the Mall at a cinema near you.

Mallrats – Returning to the Mall at a cinema near you.

The story follows a day in the life of two listless buddies in an unnamed American suburb, Brodie (played by Jason Lee in his first starring role after a career as a skate boarder) and TS – Jeremy London (before the legal difficulties).

The movie opens with these two “heroes” being dumped by their respective partners – Renee (Shannon Doherty in spikey form throwing off the Beverly Hills 90210 shackles) ditching Brodie for his total lack of drive or ambition and addiction to Sega ice hockey games (retro!) and Brandi (the picturesque Claire Forlani) ditching TS because his sage wisdom has lead to a girl dying in a freak swimming pool accident. The loveable idiots retreat to the mall where they indulge in sulking, introspection, discussion of the practicalities of comic book character sex and retail therapy.

Full disclosure: I’m a Kevin Smith fan. There are not many people I can actually write that about and I’m not blind to his faults – as a filmmaker or in any other area of his public life, but truth be told, I’ve drunk the Kevin Smith Kool Aid.

I am embarrassed to admit how many hours I have spent listening to him and Scott Mosier on Smodcast, or Smith and Ralph Garman on Hollywood Babble On, or Smith with guests on the Fat Man on Batman podcast or… You get the idea. I sincerely believe, that there is an argument to be made that Smith is, in fact, one of the most creative and important directors working today, for, for example, having shifted the expectation of how much ‘inside baseball’ you share with the audience, but that’s another article for another time.

But, one of the reasons for my fan-dom is that I have a penchant for art that tells stories and creates universes out of multiple parts. Knowing that the Rick Darris who Rene cheated on TS with is the same Darris who tells the ‘Finger Cuffs’ story in Chasing Amy is an ‘Easter Egg’ for the viewer which pleases. This is true in the Parlabane-era work of Christopher Brookmyre too, in writing, and I think is a gift for the careful audience member.

Either way, what is undeniable is that the movie was panned on release – Smith has spoken about this too in other sources. However, he has also said that he has lost count of the amount of people who say that Mallrats was their introduction to his work – the gateway drug to his other work like Chasing Amy or the other View Askew titles and this was certainly true for me. Like a great many people, I was introduced to this flick by friends (friends who bore a striking resemblance to Jay and Silent Bob (or maybe Cheech and Chong) truth be told) on home video and fell in love.

Rewatching it now, Mallrats definitely has the feel of an updated teen comedy like Porky’s for the Gen X’ers. Smith has written about this at some length (you can read the thoughts of the man himself here: and, on this level, the film really starts to make a lot of sense. In the credits, Smith thanks the two Johns – Landis and Hughes for inspiring and entertaining him as a teenager and it is clear that Mallrats was his attempt to make that kind of a film. But, you can see why it might not have connected with an audience that was – in that year alone – enjoying Get Shorty, and released in the year of Empire Records, Dangerous Minds and The Usual Suspects – the tone just didn’t fit for the times.

However, it has now found its niche and these days, is – I think – regarded with affection. I’m fairly certain that American Pie, the whole of Judd Apatow’s career and, even The Inbetweeners would not exist without Mallrats. Now, there’s a claim to juggle with.

It has some jokes that are still pretty solid within the genre – the carpet store in the mall called Rug Munchers, the intertextual references to The Godfather, Batman (Michael Keaton, not Christian ‘The Gruffalo’ Bale) and Jaws, as well as Smith’s usual litany of fast paced, whip smart characters all pondering at pace like dime store Sartres. The stink palm and the chocolate covered pretzels scarred a generation. There is also a great turn from Ben Affleck as the sleazy store manager. Affleck plays the unsympathetic role with a strutting insouciance and you realise what a big man he is when he goes toe-to-toe with Lee.

Interestingly, Affleck is also key to one of the scenes that does jar the viewer 20 years on. The scene where he attacks Lee in a corridor and explains his nefarious plan for Doherty has a gritty realism which actually makes the punches stark and aggressive. It really takes the audience aback, especially as mere moments before there have been comedic punches and kicks to the groin galore. It’s a shift which is uncomfortable.

There are other gripes, Jason Mewes is not as comfortable an actor here as he would go on to be, and some of the scenes have strange moments and pauses which I can’t help but think an editor as accomplished as Smith would now remove, but these are minor quibbles.

Smith has confirmed via Twitter, Instagram and the like, that the bulk of the cast have agreed to return, which is a huge boost. He’s also spoken about including the man of, like, 7 voices, Ralph Garman in the movie which is a massive boost for those of us who have marvelled at his dynamic performances and fury fuelled diatribes as point man on the tremendous Hollywood Babble On. The man will be a huge addition to the ensemble.

Mallrats shines on as movie which, if you have seen it, lives with you. I don’t know if it’s the simplistic tale of lovers spurned and returned or because no movie with a three-nippled fortune teller can be all bad, but it has a sweetness which resonates and which means that 20 years on, I think we’d all like to see what happened to Brodie, TS et al.

But, before you see the sequel, go back to mall – it’s worth it.

Revisiting… Dream On

Revisiting… A new series of posts revisiting film and television shows worthy of attention

Revisiting… Dream On (1990)

As HBO was setting out to prove that it was not just television, (“It’s Not TV – It’s HBO”) the station that went on to dramatically shift the landscape of American media culture over the succeeding quarter of a century, commissioned Dream On as its earliest original series.

John Landis – best known for directing movies like The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London – asked Universal if he could take advantage of their catalogue of old movies it didn’t really know what to do with. They agreed and, in an entrepreneurial mood, David Crane and Martha Kaufman were hired to produce a show that could utilise these clips – Dream On was the result.

The series follows the ups and downs in the life of book editor Martin Tupper, played by Brian Benben. His life is variously disrupted, supported, scuppered and generally beset by his ex-wife Judith (Wendie Malick who you may recognise from another American sitcom Just Shoot Me where she played the predatory sex-crazed former model Nina Van Horn), his teenage son Jeremy (Chris Demetral), his charismatic talk show host best friend Eddie played by Dorien Wilson and his acerbic secretary Toby (played with fine bulldog force by Denny Dillon).

The show now stands out for the way in which it both set and broke established norms of television sitcoms. On the one hand, the dating disasters of a recently divorced single man in New York was hardly ground-breaking topical comedy and Benben spends a lot of time mugging for the camera in order to allow the clips to be fed into the screen time, like a live-action collection of Family Guy cut aways.

On the other, HBO pushed the fact that it was allowed to do things that the networks couldn’t – Look: nudity! – which also meant they could address issues outwith the perimeter of ordinary television fare – open about sex, for example, and willing to do an entire episode centred around Martin taking an AIDs test; pretty close to the knuckle 25 years ago. Four years later, Crane and Kaufman were responsible for the behemoth that was Friends, not a story line I can imagine attaching to the casual liaisons of Joey Tribbiani.

Dream On is not laugh out loud funny, it has to be admitted. Benben is a likeable lead – although whiny – but this aspect is addressed by the writers too. The classic movie clips are used to punctuate the emotional beats of the scenes, which can get wearying for the viewers.

But there is charm: in the performances and in the chance to see the forgotten oeuvre of Ronald Reagan, and to realise how much B-movie schlock Lee Marvin made. The show has dated too – there are a lot of pastel colours and the shoulder pads are a wonder of quarter century old engineering.

But, it has a classic opening sequence, “” which is actually the origin of the classic static opening for all later HBO shows and if, like me, you watched it as a child on late night Channel 4 in the UK, there is nostalgia for a time when kids were sat in front of the TV and told to be seen and not heard. A bit like the narrative of Martin himself, come to think about it.