Tuesday, 25 April 2017

BECOMING BOND + 78/52 - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017HotDocsHotPicks - About Movies

PSYCHO dissected. BOND Lazenbyed. Movies on Movies.

Becoming Bond (2017)
Dir. Josh Greenbaum
Starring: George Lazenby, Josh Lawson,
Kassandra Clementi, Jeff Garlin, Jane Seymour

78/52 (2017)
Dir. Alexandre O. Philippe
Starring: Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Richard Stanley, Scott Spiegel, Leigh Whannell, Bret Easton Ellis, Illeana Douglas, Marli Renfro, Tere Carrubba, Stephen Rebello, David Thomson, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Movies about movies are certainly a treat for movie aficionados, critics and fanboys, but all those nuts can be the toughest to crack since most movies worth making movies about hold a special place in the hearts of the "converted" being preached to. Becoming Bond is an in-depth biography of George Lazenby, the only actor ever to play 007 once (in one of the greatest Bonds of them all) and 78/52 (the number of setups and cuts in the Psycho shower scene) examines the three-minutes of watery, bloody Hitchcock mayhem with more anal detail than Oliver Stone (no doubt) studied Abraham Zapruder's footage of JFK's assassination. Both documentaries have merit, but both also have a few bones to be mercilessly nitpicked at by geeks.

Walter Murch analyzing the editing of PSYCHO. Wow!
"I felt I'd been raped," says Peter Bogdanovich after describing his first helping of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. He's one of many worthy interview subjects to talk about the shower scene in Psycho. His description of the audience reaction to the sequence in the Times Square cinema he saw it in, is alone worth the price of admission to 78/52.

Happily, Phillipe's documentary offers a sumptuous buffet of perspectives.

Some of the best include:

- an astonishing dissection of the editing from Walter Murch (so amazing that one could have simply made an entire film of Murch discussing it with clips);

- a series of insightful analyses from the brilliant Hardware director Richard Stanley whose passion and appreciation seems so deliciously bonkers (and spot-on) that his demeanour seems almost malevolent in its glee;

- Janet Leigh's nude/stunt body double Marli Renfro who not only provides a cornucopia of production tidbits, but does so which such natural zeal and talent one wonders what we lost from her not being a more prolific actress in movies herself;

- filmmakers Eli (Hostel torture-porn-gore-meister) Roth, Neil (The Descent) Marshall and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), all proving they've got the chops to be film professors of the highest order if directing ever turns out to be a dead-end for them and;

- ace composer Danny Elfman brilliantly discussing Bernard Herrmann's game-changing, shriek-and-heart-attack-inducing string score.

Of course, no such documentary would be complete without a stellar passel of eggheads and Phillipe doesn't disappoint in this regard by including film critics/historians Stephen Rebello and David Thomson, PLUS an art history expert casting light on the strange Baroque painting Hitchcock chose as the instrument by which Norman Bates would, peeping-Tom-like, spy upon Janet Leigh.

Oh, but there are several questionable inclusions in the picture which only serve to add unnecessary longueurs and head-scratching to the whole affair. I mean, really. Was it absolutely necessary to waste our time with the "insights" from those responsible for the Saw sequels and Hostel IV? And come on, why even acknowledge that Gus Van Sant's idiotic remake of Psycho exists, much less spending any time on it whatsoever?

However, this is kind of like picking out undigested bits of corn and peanuts from a good, healthy turd deposit and 78/52 is, for most of us fanboys, robust and satisfying.

The Many Facets of George Lazenby in a kilt.
Not so with Becoming Bond. This biography of actor George Lazenby has so much going for it; namely Lazenby himself, that one wonders why director Josh Greenbaum made the decision to tell this fascinating man's story with dramatic re-enactments.

To be in the up close and personal sphere of Lazenby, the 77-year-old former-model-turned-actor, is to be in the presence of a master raconteur. He tells a marvellous tale of his life as a mischievous kid, auto-mechanic, master cocksman and finally, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. We're privy to the most intimate details of his prodigious sexual hijinks and very movingly, the story of the first love of his life (and how he blew it, big time).

The story of Lazenby's wild days as a male model and the extraordinary turn of events that led to him being cast as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Peter Hunt's film is still one of the greatest Bond pictures ever made) is the stuff of legend. Even more astonishing is the aftermath - when Lazenby did the unthinkable and walked away from a multi-picture, multi-million-dollar offer to continue in the role as a very worthy successor to Sean Connery.

The elder Lazenby is a joy. One doesn't want to take one's eyes of the guy, except when the picture cuts to film clips and archival footage. Whenever we're flung into the dramatic re-enactments, our hearts sink. We can hear his voice, but alas we're forced to watched a strange amalgam of Richard Lester London Swing with sniggering Gerald Thomas Carry On shenanigans. It's not that I have a problem with either, nor do I have a problem with blending them, but the overall tone of these sequences seems tonally off and too often comes across as pallid, by-the-numbers recreations of a particular period of film history as well as Lazenby's life. (In fairness, there are two excellent performances in these recreations - Jeff Garlin as suitably bombastic producer Harry Saltzman and Jane Seymour as Lazenby's sexy, no-nonsense agent.)

Look, I don't want to be one of those assholes who wishes a filmmaker had done a different movie, so ultimately, I won't. My hat is off to Greenbaum for doing something this audacious, but sadly, it's all too close-but-no-cigar.

I am, however, going to be an annoying movie geek, though. How could someone make a documentary biography of George Lazenby and not refer to the lunch he was supposed to have with Bruce Lee that never happened on the very day the martial arts star died? Or the three Golden Harvest action pictures he starred in? And, most notably, one of Lazenby's strangest post-James-Bond roles in Peter Bogdanovich's masterpiece Saint Jack? (In Bogdanovich's amazing film adaptation of the Paul Theroux novel, Lazenby played the politician with a penchant for little Asian boys who is tailed by Ben Gazzara's Jack Flowers, the two-fisted Singapore pimp-turned-stoolie.)

Well, movies are like life. We can't have it all.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (for 78/52) ***½ Three and a Half Stars
THE FILM CORNER RATING (for Becoming Bond) *** Three Stars

78/52 enjoys its Toronto Premiere and Becoming Bond, its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.