Saturday, June 28, 2014

Live and Let Die (50th Anniversary Repackage) (2012)

Live and Let Die"Live and Let Die", released in 1973, is the eighth entry in the James Bond series produced by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. It is also the debut of Roger Moore as the British secret agent, a role he would play of total of seven times, more that any other actor.

Sean Connery was originally slated to reprise his starring role but no amount of money could tempt him to sign on. The producers turned to an actor they had originally wanted to play Bond back in 1962, Roger Moore. At that time, Moore had to turn down the role because he was committed to play Simon Templar in the successful television series "The Saint". But by time "Live and Let Die" was ready to go into production, Moore was available to take on the role. Guy Hamilton did return to direct his third Bond film and "Live and Let Die" does have a feel similar to "Diamonds are Forever". Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprised their roles as "M" and Miss Moneypenny but Desmond Llewelyn is notable for his absence, the only time "Q" has not appeared in a Bond film. Also missing, this time permanently, is the evil organization SPECTRE and its leader Blofeld. Except for one uncredited cameo, Blofeld never again appears in a Bond film.

In this outing, James Bond is investigating a series of murders targeting British intelligence. The one common thread appears to be the prime minister of the island nation of San Monique, Doctor Kananga, who is currently residing at his consulate in New York City. The CIA already has a team led by Bond's opposite number Felix Leiter keeping tabs on Kananga. Bond follows Kananga to Harlem where he meets another ruthless character named "Mr Big", the boss of bosses in the black underworld. Bond also meets a mysterious young woman named Solitaire who seems to be able to predict the future by using tarot cards. Somehow, these two men are connected to each other and Bond must go to San Monique where he must penetrate a world of voodoo and discover the secret which has killed all others who tried.

"Live and Let Die" was shot on location in New York City, Jamaica and around New Orleans. It was the first Bond film (and the last) where African-American actors played many of the prominent roles. Yaphet Kotto plays Doctor Kananga with the sauve, menacing manner usually associated with Bond (some have called Kananga, rather than the assasin Scaramanga the anti-Bond). Solitaire is played by Jane Seymour, who portrays her in a detached, wistful manner. Bond participates in his first interracial love scene with the lovely CIA agent Rosie Carver(played by Gloria Hendry). Kananga's henchman TeeHee is well played by Julius W. Harris and Clifton James provides the comedy relief by playing Sheriff J. W. Pepper up as the reddest redneck one could ever hope to meet. Finally, Felix Leiter is played by his fifth different actor, David Hedison, who would later become the only actor to play the CIA agent twice.

Despite all the promising elements, "Live and Let Die" comes off as a pale shadow of Bond films past. Unlike his excellent portrayal of the Saint, whose character was similar to that of Bond, Roger Moore comes off as very stiff and formal, earning him the nickname as the "wooden Bond". However, the dry wit that is characteristic of the Moore Bond is much in evidence in this film. The female characters seemed to have regress from the strong minded women in the earlier Bonds. Even CIA agent Rosie Carver is played as hopelessly inept. Another problem is the growing tendency to play James Bond up for laughs, continuing a trend started in "Diamonds Are Forever". James Bond and his world are becoming a caricature of its sixties self. That kind of formula works better with Bond facing a major foe rather than a small time one. It is ironic that the story of "Live and Let Die" might have worked might have worked better if it had been made in the 1960's. In 1973, James Bond almost seems wasted here since the moviegoing public expects him to save the world or at least some of part of it.

If the sum is less than satifactory, "Live and Let Die" certainly has some good parts. The action scenes are first rate, particularly the boat chase and the plane chase. The fight scene on the train between Bond and TeeHee is reminiscent of the one from "From Russia With Love". Geoffrey Holder's portrayal of Baron Samedi is downright eerie, it is a shame that this fasinating character could not have had a more prominent role in the script. Perhaps the best element of all was the lack of references to earlier Bond adventures in order to establish Roger Moore as the new Bond. Moore is Bond, period.

Despite it all, "Live and Let Die" did well enough at the box office to permanently associate Roger Moore with Bond. Moore would in time make some of the best Bond movies of all time.

The special edition DVD contains the best print and sound track of "Live and Let Die" this reviewer has seen. The movie is shown in the widescreen format although it was not shot with the very wide Panavision camera like many earlier Bond films. Typical of the special editions, there are two audio commentary tracks and the documentary material as well as trailers, advertisements, and still photos. If one was just starting out their Bond collection, one might start with "The Spy Who Loved Me", "For Your Eyes Only" or "Octopussy" to see Roger Moore at his best. However if one has to have a copy of "Live and Let Die", the special edition DVD is the one to have.

In 1973 Roger Moore made a smooth transition from his most famous role that of Simon Templar to yet another literary character who had been made famous by another actor. Whereas the Saint had been immortalized by George Sanders in a series of movies much earlier (allowing Moore to make it his own in the highly successful television series), the memory of Sean Connery as James Bond was much more recent in the publics mind so Moore had his work cut out for him.

It is hardly surprising then that "Live and Let Die" plays it relatively safe. Moore went on record as saying that he read one line detailing how Bond had to kill once, but didn't very much like it (from the novel "Goldfinger"), and took his portrayal from that. In fact in his first couple of movies Moore plays the character much closer to his television Simon Templar persona than later in the series (the producers subsequently felt it was too close to Connery's interpretation of the role). This is a sad development as Moore never really had the chance to show he could play both charming and ruthless as he had plenty of chances to portray on The Saint.

Taking one of Fleming's most controversial novels (the villains are all black) the producers were faced with a vexing problem. They overcame this by not only giving Bond a black ally, but also allowing the villains to get the better of 007 on several occasions. They also threw in a redneck sheriff as comic relief for good measure.

The movie is essentially one long chase and in a definite break with tradition we are offered up a pretitles sequence in which James Bond does not appear. In the opening we see two British agents killed by ingenious means first a man is killed at the United Nations through use of what can only be assumed a sound weapon and a second by snakebite on the Caribbean island of San Monique. James Bond (in only the second and last time we see a glimpse of his London apartment) is assigned by M to investigate.

What follows is a chase as Bond pursues the Prime Minister of San Monique Dr. Kananga and an underworld gang leader named Mr. Big across the United States to a fiery, explosive (literally) climax in the Caribbean. On the way our interepid hero must escape from all manner of tricky situations, such as being stranded on a tiny island surrounded by crocodiles. The action highlight is most probably a boat chase half way through the movie that has probably only been bested by an even better boat chase sequence in "Puppet on a Chain."

This movie does seem to have trouble deciding if it wants to be humorous or serious and I liked the introduction of the voodoo element that makes this a very unique 007 picture.

Truth be told, the initial Bond movie by Roger Moore is a mixed bag in my book. Whereas the supporting villains are excellent, the main villain is underwhelming and his plot (flooding the US with drugs) is rather ho-hum compared to bigger plots like destruction of the world (Moonraker) or the nuclear attack of British cities (For Your Eyes Only).

Roger Moore is also still finding his way in the part and apart from a few glimmers of what he would eventually deliver, the movie and his performance seems to be on remote control.

The DVD is one of the refurbished releases of late 1999. Previously the Bond movies had been released by MGM in the accursed snapper cases with few special features. MGM corrected this oversight throughout 1999 and 2000 releasing special editions of the movies in a series of three waves.

"Live and Let Die" was one of the seven movies released in the Oct. 19, 1999 wave (the first). For this reason its format is slightly different from releases in subsequent releases with this one serving up two audio commentaries and one documentary on the making of the movie.

It is in the commentaries were the real joy of this DVD lies. We are treated to a scene specific commentary from writer Tom Manckiewicz. The fact that he is sitting in the studio watching the movie with us is very obvious he even noticeably yawns during the opening credits (hold in there Tom there's another couple of hours to go). His commentary is informative and very enjoyable. There is also a commentary by Guy Hamilton which is also entertaining. Aside from this the special features are very recognizable to collectors of these DVDs with trailers and tv spots and a still gallery with over 150 images. There is of course the requisite "Making of" documentary and a very short "On the set with Roger Moore" featurette that will prove interesting to Bond fans. Perhaps most curious of all is a UK Milk Board commercial that was released to tie in with the new James Bond movie. One special feature also here (and one I really miss on MGM releases these days) is a very handsome collectible booklet with trivia and notes on the production.

UPDATEIt should be noted that there is a rerelease of this movie coming up on DVD which will feature a newly recorded scene specific audio commentary by Bond actor Roger Moore. So, it may well be worth holding off on a purchase until these Ultimate Editions are released towards the end of 2006.

Buy Live and Let Die (50th Anniversary Repackage) (2012) Now

Roger Moore's debut as Bond, in terms of quality, is a so-so outing, as was expected. Moore brings about an aura distinct with that of Connery's. The Bond that Connery portrayed was more of the consummate professional type, serious, rather impatient, edgy, relying more on toughness and innate resourcefulness to see him through. On the other hand, Roger Moore concentrates on the finesse side of Bond. He is debonaire, more intuitive, more blueblooded in the sense he is articulated and sophisticated, and a definite poster child on what it is to be a British gentleman secret agent. Moore reflects the 70's, where poise and style rules and therefore more adequate than Connery to play Bond in this point of time. Live and Let Die lays the foundation of this revolutionized Bond attitude the next six films, with Moore at the helm.

Although Live and Let Die wasn't quite anything truly special in terms of overall story quality, besides Paul McCartney & the Wings' eerie, but memorable theme song, this film has to be one of, or if not Moore's most provocative and intriguing under his tenure as 007. First off, the mood and the pace of this particular episode has changed. Aside from the fact that the 70's feel prevails throughout, there is a supernatural, superstitious sense, a very foreign concept to the Bond series, even to this very day. There is a sense of mystery and unsettled emotion in Live and Let Die right from the get-go. Bond must investigate the enigmatic murders of three of his fellow agents: Dawes on the floor of the United Nations, Hamilton on a New Orleans street right in front of a funeral procession, and Baines who became part of a bizarre voodoo ritual on the island of San Monique. Getting a lead, 007 is on the trail for a Dr. Kananga, a UN representative of San Monique who "witnessed" Dawes' murder, while a Harlem kingpin Mr. Big (Kananga's other personality) gets in Bond's way. Bond also encounters an intriguing tarot reader, Solitaire (a very young Jane Seymour) who aids Kananga in foretelling the future. Bond is calm, cool and collected, amidst intimidation, inspired by the spiritual and supernatural circulating the movie and obviously, by Mr. Big's African-American organized crime machine. Successful in dispatching Solitaire's fears of the superunknown, Bond embarks on a mission to foil Kananga's plot to smuggle and distribute free heroin in an attempt to control the heroin market.

The most controversial aspect of Live and Let Die is obviously its stereotypical subject. Filmed during touchy times, naturally African-Americans are portrayed as the big, bad, baneful dirty criminals, selling or in this case, giving away heroin for gain. At the same time, blacks obtain somewhat of an irrational label, portraying voodoo as just that, an irrational, outdated religion. The relative uneasiness of race relations is focused on as well (i.e. Bond/Rosie's love scene, the "Billy Bob" segment) Whites aren't exactly exempt from exploitation either. J.W. Pepper, played by Clifton James, is the stubborn, tobacco-spitting, indifferent redneck Louisiana sheriff, in essence, mocking southern culture. And of course, Bond, the seemingly omniscient, refined white man conquers all.

Other than the relevant shortcomings, Live and Let Die is an action-packed extravaganza, meant to be taken with a good sense of humor. Moore elicits more of an over-the-top, lighthearted element to the film. Seymour's peformance as Solitaire is a definite bright-spot, as she plays out the innocent, vulnerable side of her character well. Yaphet Kotto's Kananga/Mr. Big is a competent villain who is seen off, Monty Python style and arguably is given the unenviable association with the worst death of a head villain in the Bond series. The supporting cast, in particular, Rosie Carver, Baron Samedi, and J.W. Pepper add a smart, eerie, and hilarious touch, respectively. And of course, the action scenes make up for its blatant flaws. A stellar speedboat chase, highlighted by Bond's crocodile-crossing stunt getaway before the chase even starts the chase, takes the cake, as the best sequence of the movie. All in all, a high-octane Bond adventure caper with an odd, but enticing supernatural kick.

Read Best Reviews of Live and Let Die (50th Anniversary Repackage) (2012) Here

And none the worse for it, since every Bond film needs a fresh spin on the same old formula. Roger Moore's first outing as JB is, in equal measures, comical and action-packed. You'll never get bored. But it's definitely the weirdest Bond ever with loads of utterly bizarre moments.

It begins with M turning up at JB's house in the early hours while he's pumping some Italian agent for information (don't you just love his initialed dressing gown). Before sending him to America to investigate a Harlem pimp known as Mister Big he delivers some gadgets from Q-Branch, including a very useful watch. Q himself, or Major Boothroyd if you want to call him by his proper name, doesn't make any appearance in this one.

Standing out like a Muslim in an airport, almost every single black person JB encounters in Harlem is on Mister Big's payroll. And they've got a seemingly endless bag of tricks to play on him. The funny thing about Moore is that he's very proper and British and doesn't think anything of walking into a tough Harlem bar while dressed up like the Duke of Edinburgh. His stunned reactions when they mess with his head are seriously funny.

The action then moves to Louisiana and a savage Caribbean island as JB uncovers a massive heroin plot. There's a particularly long speedboat chase across a bayou where JB encounters Sheriff J.W. Pepper, the most stereotypical southern redneck ever. Think of Texas Businessman from The Simpsons and you get the idea. JB also gets to dodge a hundred hungry Gators and do, many times over, Solitaire, Mister Big's Tarot card reader.

I'm not sure what kind of formidable villain uses a Tarot card reader to help him do business but when you also surround yourself with a hook-handed maniac called Tee-Hee, a quiet fat guy called Whisper and a seemingly unkillable voodoo high priest called Baron Samedi then you really do become a serious baddie. Right? He even goes on a big speech about how his master plan works before attempting to kill JB slowly. Obviously this makes much more sense than just shooting him right away. When will they learn?

Despite being the oldest actor to debut as Bond (at 46), Moore does look younger than Connery. And while Sean was gruff and Scottish, Moore is perpetually calm and refined, even in the face of danger (fingers being chopped-off, snake in the bath, being eaten by gators/sharks). Everything that the British once thought they were. He has a certain sarcastic edge that the other Bond actors lacked. While some of his films may have been the sillier of the franchise, Moore has always been my favorite. And the massive revolver and holster he uses at the end is so much more masculine than the usual, wimpy as hell, Walther PPK.

And, as much as I am no fan of Paul McCartney, you gotta love that theme song! Exciting and iconic at the same time. And also yet another juxtaposition in the weirdest Bond movie ever.

MI6, Harlem, Pimps, Paul McCartney, Gators, Heroin, Voodoo, Snakes, Sharks, Clairvoyance, Rednecks, Afros, Fake Afros, Fillet of Soul, Human Sacrifice, Scarecrows and a small-headed man in a Top-Hat who lost a fight with chickens. Is this a Bond film or did the whole world just go insane?

The DVD is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (this AR doesn't suit a Bond movie) with Dolby Mono sound and a fair whack of extras.

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I had very high hopes for Moore who just "looked" the part of Bond. I like him on "The Saint" series and thought he'd be a natural as Bond, and admittedly, he was at times. I just hated the storyline of this Bond and the emphasis on chases and stunts which Connery feared the franchise was focusing too much upon as time progressed. It was all rather silly and the staged stunts all looked just that, staged.

Moore decided to play Bond more as a cartoon-like character. He did go on to much better Bond flicks though such as "The Man with the Golden Gun", "Moonraker", and the outstanding "The Spy Who Loved Me." However, he was a rather forgettable Bond in the end. I liked him, but it wasn't until Pierce Brosnan took the role that I really enjoyed Bond films again.

NOTE: Connery's last Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever", cost about $7 million and grossed $120. Not a bad profit and this first outing of Moore as Bond had almost identical numbers. Whether I necessarily like Moore or not as Bond means little as the general public certainly did and he played Bond very successfully for the producers. His versions always brought in a nice profit.

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