THE SOUND OF 007 (2022) – Documentary Chronicles the Stories Behind the Music to the James Bond Movies

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Bond. James Bond.

Bet you like the sound of that. And I bet you can’t hear those lines without hearing the signature James Bond theme playing immediately afterwards.

That’s one of the many on-target points made in THE SOUND OF 007 (2022), a new documentary by director Mat Whitecross that is now available on Prime Video, which chronicles the stories behind the iconic music in the James Bond movies.

The point that the music to these films is every bit as important as the James Bond character, the actors who played Bond, the action, and the overall adventures in each movie, is both true and pretty much unique to this film series. While other film series have notable and recognizable music— the STAR WARS franchise for example— more has been done with the Bond music, and it’s difficult to think of the movies and the character without the iconic theme.

THE SOUND OF 007 explains the origin of that signature theme, and tells the story how producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Monty Norman to write the music for their first Bond movie, DR. NO (1962), and Norman, who till this day still receives sole credit for the James Bond theme, wrote many of the Jamaican songs for the movie, including the catchy “Underneath the Mango Tree,” but he was struggling with the overall music score, so Broccoli and Saltzman hired John Barry, and Barry took what Norman had started and tweaked it, and thanks to the efforts of the two, an iconic theme song was born, and the rest, as they say, is history.

THE SOUND OF 007 does its best to cover the music to all the James Bond movies, but there are so many, and so the film struggles to do justice to them all, and so I’m sure there will be certain fans who will be disappointed that their favorite score wasn’t given ample time in this documentary. But the film has its heart in the right place and does a decent job in its 90-minute running time covering most of the music in the James Bond movies.

It addresses multiple fronts: the actual scores, the theme songs, which became an entity in and of itself, and the process of hiring performers to sing these theme songs, which the film explains, for the producers, became almost as important as hiring the right actor to play Bond himself.

This process really started in GOLDFINGER (1964), which really is the quintessential James Bond movie of the 1960s Sean Connery era. Everything in this movie works, including the music, and it pretty much defined James Bond for a generation. GOLDFINGER was the first Bond movie where composer John Barry was allowed to also write the theme song, and when Barry chose Shirley Bassey to sing the song, it became a huge hit. Barry also incorporated elements of the theme song into the score for the film, a first for a James Bond movie.

THE SOUND OF 007 contains a lot of fun anecdotes. When Shirley Bassey asked John Barry what the song “Goldfinger” was about, since he really didn’t know, all he could tell her was it was about the villain in the movie, so think of the villain. Other anecdotes include Tom Jones nearly passing out when singing and holding the incredibly long note on the song “Thunderball,” Barry telling Bassey to think of the male sex organ when singing “Diamonds Are Forever,” and Michael Caine, who was John Barry’s roommate in 1964, telling a story of how he was kept awake all night by Barry playing the piano, and when he awoke the next morning and asked Barry what he was playing, he answered his new song, “Goldfinger,” and he played it for Caine; so Caine said he was the first person ever to hear “Goldfinger.” And he heard it all night.

The film talks about how the Bond music changed over the years, how Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” was the first rock song to be a James Bond theme song, and how Bill Conti’s score to FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) was the first score to use disco elements. The film makes the point that the James Bond music followed the trends of the time, and so the music changed with the different periods in history, taking on different sounds in the 1960s, 70s, 80s. 90, and 2000s.

The movie spends a lot of time on the music to the latest Bond movie, NO TIME TO DIE (2021), both on the theme song by Billie Eilish, and the film’s score by Hans Zimmer. While this makes sense since this is the latest Bond movie, I found these stories the least interesting in the documentary. I mean, they were fine, but they didn’t deserve nearly a third of the screen time of this movie. There’s a lot of other James Bond movie music that was barely mentioned here and could have been covered rather than spending so much time on NO TIME TO DIE, films like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), which has a great theme song which wasn’t even mentioned, although singer Lulu, who sang the song, is interviewed, but not about her song, and Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” which also wasn’t covered.

But other than this, THE SOUND OF 007 is an excellent documentary and does a very good job covering its subject. Its coverage on composer John Barry is the film’s best part, and every James Bond movie fan needs to know the story behind the Bond movies’ most famous composer. It also does a nice job with the rationale behind the controversial scoring to Daniel Craig’s first James Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE (2006), in which the James Bond theme isn’t played until just before the end credits. I enjoyed this portion of the documentary because this decision in CASINO ROYALE has always been one that I really liked, and it was fun to listen to composer David Arnold explain the reasoning and tell the story of how emotional it was to finally blast that theme song just at the right moment in the movie, and as a fan of CASINO ROYALE, I have to say I completely agree with what Arnold did with the music in that film. It works tremendously well.

All in all, I really enjoyed THE SOUND OF 007. If you’re a fan of the James Bond movies, you will enjoy this one too. And even if you’re not a fan, it’s worth a look, as its stories of how John Barry in particular used some innovative methods to create his film scores, are both interesting and informative for all movie buffs and scholars.

To tweak a famous phrase from GOLDFINGER:

Do you expect me to talk?

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to— SING!

THE SOUND OF 007 sings, and then some.

I give it three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

MY OCTOPUS TEACHER (2020) – Amazing Documentary Tells Unbelievably Moving Story

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Fascinating and moving.

Those two words come to mind when describing MY OCTOPUS TEACHER (2020), a new Netflix original documentary that tells one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever seen, a story about the relationship between a man and an octopus that had it not been true or documented on film, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.

MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is a documentary by Craig Foster, who says at the beginning of the movie that he had just burned himself out with his work and decided he needed to get away from it all, and so he goes to a remote part of the ocean off the coast of South Africa and begins to dive there in order to seek some solitude.

What he finds there in the underground forest fascinates him, so much so that eventually he decides to bring his camera and return to the work that excited him, filming. And it’s there where he first encounters this octopus, which also fascinates him. He gets the crazy idea of going back every day in search of this octopus in order to chronicle its life.

What happens next surprises him, as the octopus develops a sense of comfort with him, and the next thing he knows, it is reaching out for him, touching him, and suddenly he becomes a part of this octopus’ world, seeing and learning things he never expected would be possible for a human to learn.

MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is an absolutely amazing movie. The story is remarkable and inspiring, and it’s also inredibly emotional, because of the bond Foster develops with the creature. Its life is constantly threatened by the sharks there, and it only lives about a year anyway.

In that year, what Foster learns is nothing short of astounding. Seeing this octopus approach him, touch him, seemingly hugging him, is awe-inspiring. Foster also witnesses the octopus hunting, losing an arm to a shark, only to grow it back again, and in another wonderful sequence, watching it play with a school of fish.

Foster is constantly astounded by the octopus’ intelligence, and he says it’s on par with a dog’s or a cat’s, and it’s not supposed to be that way for a mollusk. And it is incredbily intelligent. The way it escapes from a shark is extraordinary!

It also possesses the ability to blend in with its surroundings, to change its color and shape, and it even walks along the ocean surface, as well as on land when it flees from a shark! It’s right out of a science fiction movie, except it’s not fiction.

The underwater photography is brilliant. Even without the story it tells, the photography alone in MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is worth watching.

But it does tell a story, and that story is phenomenal. The connection between Foster and the octopus is a perfect love story. He kinda falls in love with this creature, as evident by the emotion he shows when he discusses its ultimate fate. Foster discovers a wild creature, and with his calm, silent observation and understanding, he invites the octopus to approach him, and it does, inviting him into a world and a relationshop few humans have ever seen or had.

MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is an outstanding movie, a must-see doctumentary not only because of the underwater world it reveals, but because of it’s powerful message of the relationship between two unlike creatures, a relationship that happens because these two creatures had the patience to approach each other with calm which allowed them to understand and appreciate each other.

If only humans could do the same.

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JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (2020) – Documentary on Civil Rights Icon and U.S. Congressman Only Scratches The Surface of his Accomplishments

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When the documentary JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (2020) was released on July 3, I immediately put in on my list of movies to see and review.

Now, as much as I enjoy documentaries, I tend to put them on the back burner as I wade through horror films, action movies, thrillers, and even comedies before I finally get to the nonfiction movie fare. But when Lewis passed away on July 17, there was no more waiting.

JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE is the story of Civil Rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. His is an important story to tell, especially here in 2020 when race relations are taking a hit and we seem to be moving backwards, thanks largely to a Trump administration which seems to relish in the type of aggressive and hatefult rhetoric that emboldens folks with racist views—aka, racists— to say and worse yet do things which do not support the notion that all people are created equal, regardless of the color of their skin. It’s a story that is sadder today, since Lewis has passed away, and he is no longer with us to lend his voice and actions to the cause of ending racism.

Directed by Dawn Porter, who also directed the documentary TRAPPED (2016), about the fight for women’s abortion rights in the U.S., JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE does an adequate and albeit somewhat unremarkable job of telling this story. Its strength is interviews with Lewis in the here and now, as we listen to his wisdom looking back over the years. But its weakness is that it is seriously lacking in depth. It only scratches the surface of the many stories from Lewis’ life, which is too bad because most of these stories are in need of deep research and in depth reporting, two things which this film do not provide.

As I said, the best part of the movie is when Lewis is speaking in the here and now. The trouble is he doesn’t speak at length very often, as the camera cuts away to something else all too often and all too quickly. There were times when I wished the camera would have remained on him and allowed him to reminisce and speak of his ideas and philosophy on things at much greater length. What better way to learn about an historic icon than from his own words? But the film doesn’t go this route.

Instead, it covers a lot of ground, mostly superficially. All this being said, I still enjoyed JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE, as it had a lot to say. I just wished it had dug deeper into its subject.

The title comes from Lewis’ story of how when he was a child his mom told him to stay out of trouble, but he found that wasn’t his way, that things in the world called to  him to become involved, to get into trouble, or good trouble, as he termed it, for the good of humankind.

Lewis was present at the march in Selma and was beaten severely there. He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, the same day as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.” Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders.

The film covers these events with archival footage and interviews with family, friends, and Lewis himself. But again, what’s missing is depth. Few historians weigh in, and the archival footage is minimal.

A microcosm of this documentary is the scene where Lewis is watching archival footage, and he says that this is the first time he is actually watching some of this footage. And this is how the film plays out. It’s almost more of tribute for John Lewis than about him.

It’s all very light and enjoyable, as a bunch of family and friends have all gotten together to say nice things about their valued friend and brother, John Lewis. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this, but I also wanted more. There’s so much more to learn about Lewis that is not touched upon in this film.

But there are plenty of enjoyable anecdotes, such as Lewis’ story on how he would preach to his chickens as a child, and to further show how special this memory was to Lewis, there’s a scene later where he shows off his collection of toy chickens housed in a model doll house which he converted into a model chicken house!

There’s the story of how Martin Luther King Jr. always affectionately referred to Lewis as “the boy from Troy.” And the footage of Elijah Cummings, who also just passed away in 2019, joking about how he was constantly mistaken for Lewis, especially during photo ops with adoring fans of the civil rights icon.

The film also covers Lewis’ tireless work on the Voting Rights Act over the years, which suffered a major setback in 2013 due to an ill-conceived Supreme Court ruling, which led to some pretty unsavory voting practices in several states in recent years, specifically Georgia in 2018 which handed the victory to Republican Brian Kemp over Democrat Stacey Abrams. Stories like this serve as a reminder that nefarious forces are at work in politics, and it takes relentless and tiring work of people who care to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

The world just lost one of these people who care on July 17, 2020, John Lewis.

You can learn a little bit about John Lewis by watching JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE. The documentary serves as a nice introduction to his life and achievements. But if you want to learn more, you’re going to have to do your homework and engage in some reading and research.

But that’s okay. John Lewis is worth the time and effort. Especially in the here and now when his voice is needed more than ever.

A voice that reminds us that when we see things that are not right that we have a moral obligation to speak up and do something about it.

An obligation to get into trouble.

Good trouble.

—END—

Best Movies 2018

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 Movies from 2018:

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10. BOOK CLUB – I really enjoyed this comedy starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen about four friends who decide to read 50 Shades of Grey for their monthly book club, and it changes the way they think about sex and relationships during their senior years. Also starring Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfus, and Craig T. Nelson. My favorite comedy of the year.

9. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?  – in a banner yeary for documentaries, this one was my favorite. Its recounting of the life of Fred Rogers, TV’s Mister Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, resonates deeply today, as Rogers’ message of inclusion and gentle understanding is sorely missed in today’s antagonistic and deeply divided society.

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8. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – I enjoyed this Ant-Man sequel more than the original. Story is better, jokes and situations are funnier, and Evangeline Lily adds a lot as the Wasp and is a nice complement to Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. Oh, and then there’s that after-credits tie-in with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which produced audible gasps from the audience.

7.BOY ERASED – Joel Edgerton wrote and directed this film which exposes gay conversion theory for the dangerous procedure that it is. Fine performances by Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe, and by Edgerton himself as an unqualified leader of the conversion camp.

6. THE FRONT RUNNER – Sure, I’m partial to political movies, but this tale of Gary Hart’s fall from being the Democratic front runner in the 1988 presidential election to dropping out of the race entirely due to an exposed extra-marital affair pushed all the right buttons for me. The film asks relevant questions which are still being asked today. Hugh Jackman is terrific as Gary Hart, as is Vera Farmiga as his suffering wife Lee.

5. EIGHTH GRADE – Awesome film which completely captures what it is like to be an eighth grader. On target writing and directing by Bo Burnham, especially the dialogue, and a fantastic lead performance by Elsie Fisher as eighth grader Kayla Day.

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Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE (2018)

4. THE GUILTY – From Denmark, this claustrophobic intense police drama is as compelling as they come, the type of film Alfred Hitchcock would have made. All of the action takes place inside a police dispatch office as an officer relegated to the emergency dispatch receives a call from a woman being kidnapped, and he has to deal with the situation in real time. You’ll swear you’ve seen all the action scenes, but that will be your mind playing tricks on you, as the camera remains focused on the police officer throughout. Excellent movie, and lean, as it clocks in at a swift 85 minutes.

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3. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – It was an outstanding year for Marvel, as three of my top ten films this year come from the Marvel Universe. This was the biggie, the ultimate showdown between the Avengers and their most dangerous adversary yet, Thanos. Amazing superhero movie, with a big bold ending which is no longer a spoiler, which is, the bad guy wins in this one. One of the most emotional endings to any superhero movie, causing audible gasps and groans multiple times as the film races to its inevitable conclusion.

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2. ROMA – An extraordinary movie, ROMA was unlike any other film I saw this year. Unassuming simple tale of a maid working for a family in Mexico in 1970-71. Features some of the best camerawork of the year, all of it in mesmerizing black and white. Slow at first, but stick with it. The final 45 minutes is among the most emotional moments on film I saw all year.

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1. BLACK PANTHER –  My pick for the best movie of the year is another Marvel gem. This one takes the superhero movie to a whole other level, dealing with racial issues as well as any mainstream drama. My favorite superhero film since THE DARK KNIGHT (2018). I loved the conflict between hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan),and one of the rare times in a superhero movie where the hero admits he’s wrong and the villain is right.  Outstanding in every way, easily my favorite movie of 2018.

So, there you have it, my picks for the Best Films of 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DE PALMA (2016) – Controversial Director Reflects on His Career

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Brian De Palma tells his story in DE PALMA (2016).

Brian De Palma has a lot to say about his career.

And in DE PALMA (2016), the new documentary on the acclaimed movie director by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, he gets nearly two hours to do just that.

The film is actually footage from an interview Baumbach and Paltrow shot with De Palma back in 2010.  They liked the footage so much they added lots of film clips and turned it into a documentary.

DE PALMA pretty much plays like a one person movie panel.  Brian De Palma is front and center speaking to the camera for nearly the entire movie, with appropriate film clips thrown in to highlight his points and stories.  As such, it’s not going to win any awards for creative cinematography.

Back in his heyday, in the 1970s and 1980s, Brian De Palma was a polarizing and controversial movie director, infamous for his ultra-violent yet stylish movies, especially for over-the-top scenes of violence against women.  He was also known for his Hitchcock homages which critics often slammed as simple knock-offs.

In DE PALMA, Brian De Palma takes us through his entire career, beginning with his early years, when he used to operate in close circles with his best friends and fellow filmmakers Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, and Steve Spielberg.  De Palma also worked with a very young Robert De Niro and directed De Niro’s first movie, GREETINGS (1968).

De Palma continues with how he began to make a name for himself with films like SISTERS (1973), PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974), and OBSESSION (1976).  He called Genevieve Bujold’s performance the best part of OBSESSION, and Cliff Robertson the worst part, explaining that Robertson, once he saw that Bujold was stealing the show, tried to sabotage the movie by making things as difficult as possible for both Bujold and De Palma.

Later that same year De Palma was offered the project which would launch his career, CARRIE (1976), based on the novel by Stephen King. De Palma lamented that the studio really didn’t get behind CARRIE since they viewed it as just a gory horror movie, but to his delight, both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were nominated for Oscars.

After the success of CARRIE, De Palma received a huge budget for his next movie, THE FURY (1978) which happened to be the first Brian De Palma movie I ever saw.

After THE FURY, De Palma entered his Hitchcock period with such films as DRESSED TO KILL (1980), BLOW OUT (1981), and BODY DOUBLE (1984), films that critics complained were too derivative of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. DRESSED TO KILL was modeled after PSYCHO (1960) and BODY DOUBLE was modeled after VERTIGO (1958) and REAR WINDOW (1954).

De Palma said he was heavily criticized for power drill murder scene in BODY DOUBLE, especially for making the drill so big, but as he explained, the drill was gigantic because in order for the scene to work, Craig Wasson’s character had to see it coming through the ceiling, and for that to happen, the drill had to be huge.  As De Palma explains it, it made perfect sense to him because it was simply part of the story.  He said he never intended to create extra violent scenes against women, but that those scenes existed only to satisfy the stories he was telling.

In the middle of these films came SCARFACE (1983), starring Al Pacino.  De Palma tells the story of how he was so annoyed at the ratings board for not giving his film an “R” rating even after all his edits, especially to the chain saw scene, that once he did receive the “R” rating, he went back and released the unedited version anyway.

He also said, and it’s true, that the way he edited the infamous chain saw scene, you never see the chain saw cut into the victim’s flesh.  I recently re-watched SCARFACE for the first time in years and I was surprised at how little De Palma showed in that scene.  It’s really not that gory at all.

After the comedic flop WISE GUYS (1986), De Palma made the movie that once more resuscitated his career:  THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), which just might be De Palma’s most popular movie, but strangely, it’s one of my least favorite films that he made.   Oftentimes I find De Palma’s camerawork overbearing.  The famous “shoot-out with the baby carriage falling down the stairs” scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES, for example, I find almost unwatchable because of the pretentious slow-motion camerawork.  Some see it as cinematic genius, but for me it’s just cinematic overkill.

Likewise, in his discussion of CARRIE, De Palma talks about the complicated shots he conceived for the end of CARRIE and how the producers were unhappy with the results, to which De Palma says they just didn’t get the genius of his work.  While this may be true, the climactic bloodbath in CARRIE is another example where the camerawork gets in the way of the story.  To me, and this is why I’m not the biggest De Palma fan, if you’re going to use the camera creatively, you have to do it in a way where it empowers the story, not detracts from it.  Spielberg does this all the time.  De Palma does not.

His next film was CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989), the gripping Vietnam movie starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn.  This one I did like, and it’s probably my favorite Brian De Palma movie of all time.  I remember seeing it at the movies and being blown away by its potency.

De Palma tells some interesting anecdotes from the set of CASUALTIES, specifically of how Sean Penn used to torment Michael J. Fox.   At one point, Penn was supposed to whisper a line in Fox’s ear about payback, but De Palma heard Penn say, “TV actor!”  De Palma felt Penn’s antics caused Fox to feel alienated and defensive on set, which ultimately helped Fox’s performance since his character was supposed to feel the same way.

This was followed by one of De Palma’s biggest flops, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990), a downward trend that would continue over the next few years.  After a brief surge from the Tom Cruise vehicle MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996), De Palma’s career bottomed out with the woeful MISSION TO MARS (2000) which was the last movie to date that De Palma shot in the United States.  His subsequent films have all been made in Europe.

DE PALMA is not the most riveting documentary I’ve ever seen nor even the most informative.  Its style is simple.  De Palma speaks directly to the camera the entire time, and when he’s not on screen, we’re treated to appropriate movie footage, which is  used here effectively.

De Palma also isn’t the most animated speaker around, but he does provide plenty of stories and anecdotes. He also asks questions.  For example, De Palma points out that although people have praised Alfred Hitchcock as a cinematic genius, no one else except for De Palma himself has ever tried to use Hitchcock’s style.  He asks why more directors aren’t making movies like Hitchcock did?  It’s a fair question.

Maybe part of the answer is that De Palma’s homages to Hitchcock never really worked all that well.  Part of the reason they didn’t work was they were too closely based on the Hitchcock movies they were paying homage to. Had De Palma used Hitchcock’s style in stories that were original and not derivative of specific Hitchcock movies, he may have had better results.

For Brian De Palma fans, DE PALMA is must-see viewing.  For the rest of us, it’s a chance to see and listen to a film director reflect back on his entire body of work.  And whether you’re a fan of De Palma or not, you have to give the guy credit for his persistence and for sticking to his guns when it came to making movies the way he wanted to make them.

De Palma is currently 75 years old and still making movies in Europe.

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