You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967). My wife and I have a couple of James Bond traditions. One is that we catch each new movie when it comes out. This grew out of … well, I hesitate to call it boredom, but we decided to watch every 007 movie, in order. This was back in the VHS days … we made sure we finished our festival just as the new Bond was released, so we could complete the project. (I think it was Tomorrow Never Dies.) Nowadays, you can watch pretty much anything whenever you want, but it was harder back then to hunt down movies like the 1967 Casino Royale. Still, we eventually managed to see them all, even finishing in time for the new release. The second tradition is that I put a copy of a Bond film in her stocking every Xmas. I’ve done this the last few years, choosing the movies in chronological order, skipping any we already own. All of which explains why we watched You Only Live Twice the day after Xmas. It’s a nice rebound from the sluggishness of Thunderball. The first three Sean Connery Bonds were good enough that everything after is treated a bit like an afterthought, but if you can get past that, You Only Live Twice is a good effort in the series. At the least, I prefer it to most of the Roger Moores. There is, of course, a fundamental stupidity to the entire affair, but there are some good action scenes, the set of Blofeld’s volcano hideout is marvelous, and Mie Hama is gorgeous. And there’s also plenty of bad jokes and casual racism and misogyny, but you know that going in. 7/10. For a good double bill, you might watch it with Diamonds Are Forever, which saw the return of Connery to the role, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which might be the best Bond of all if it wasn’t for George Lazenby as 007.
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011). A slight film that proudly displays its seemingly humble story. André Wilms is believably human as a former Bohemian who lives as a shoe shiner with his wife and dog. There is a plot … the wife gets sick, and the shoe shiner by happenstance gets involved with a young immigrant smuggled into France on his way to England. Kaurismäki trusts in the essential humanity of his characters … no one is perfect or even particularly successful, but they look out for each other and they feel allegiance with the underdog. The humor in the film is so deadpan I barely noticed it, but that’s in keeping with the low-key charms of the movie. And the tone is far from the kind of dreary realism the above might suggest. In fact, there is a level of romance and fantasy that Kaurismäki wouldn’t get away with if he weren’t so skillful at making us like his characters without feeling manipulated. #214 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 8/10. I haven’t seen it, but La Vie de Bohème might be a good double bill … Wilms plays the same character, and Kaurismäki directs. Casablanca would also be a good match.
The Interview (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 2014). 6/10.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Paul Weitz, 2009). 6/10.