Ian Fleming’s minor role in the war drama Operation Mincemeat was greatly outweighed by his later fame as an author. Fleming, an officer in British Naval Intelligence, had earlier been in charge of Operation Goldeneye, a stay-behind plan to prevent a possible alliance between Spain’s Generalissimo Franco and the Axis powers of Germany and Italy.
It had orders to carry out sabotage, if Germany took control of Spain, or the British territory of Gibraltar was invaded. Neither happened, and Operation Goldeneye was shut down in August, 1943. But the name lived on as Fleming’s estate in Jamaica, where he wrote the first James Bond thriller, Casino Royale, published in 1953. Goldeneye was revived as the title for the seventeenth Bond movie, GoldenEye, released in 1995.
Though Fleming published only a dozen Bond thrillers in his lifetime, the movie franchise has produced 27, starting with Dr No in 1962. All but two were produced by the same company, Eon, with distribution handled by MGM, acquired last year by Amazon.com.
This means that 25 Bond movies, including the latest, No Time to Die, are available to subscribers of Amazon Prime Video in New Zealand. Market leader Netflix recently reported its first big drop in subscribers, as competition ramped up from Prime and other major Hollywood studios such as Disney.
This means Netflix is heavily dependent on original or acquired productions, while the studios bring their substantial film libraries into play. Apart from the Bond movies, Prime has such heavyweights as The Godfather, which has been reissued in cinemas for its fiftieth anniversary. Another 50-year-old movie getting the same treatment is Cabaret.
The Godfather, based on the novel by Mario Puzo, has become the most celebrated movie of its era. The balancing of the Corleones’ crime business with family obligations changed the nature of gangster movies, as did its other themes of assimilation, succession, and the temptations and pitfalls of capitalism.
Its box office and critical success spawned two sequels, and Paramount digitally restored all three to today’s high standards. Director Francis Ford Coppola re-edited the often-criticised Part III as The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, making changes to the beginning and ending, but not wholly satisfying those who objected to the casting of his daughter, Sofia, in a key role.
Paramount also marked the anniversary with a 10-part TV mini-series The Offer, of which only four episodes were available at the time of writing. It tells how Alfred S. Ruddy, the young producer (Miles Teller), pulled it off.
He wrangles with studio chief Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), Paramount’s then-owner Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), gangsters such as Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), and the man who most objected, Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes). Other key roles include Juno Temple as Ruddy’s assistant Bettye McCartt, Patrick Gallo as Puzo, and Dan Fogler as Coppola.
Amazon ratings: Parental guidance, R16 and R18 respectively for the movies. 179, 204 and 160 minutes. The Offer (TVNZ On Demand): 16LS.
(Hi Gloss Entertainment/Vendetta)
Amazon Studios turns up as the ultimate backer of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s Cannes 2021 Grand Prix winning production, which is having its long-overdue exposure in cinemas. Those who admired A Separation, my film of the year in 2012, will need no more endorsement than that this is its equal. Farhadi’s main characaters are ordinary in the extreme: a man (Amir Jadidi) has a couple of days’ leave from debtors’ prison to plan an escape with his new paramour Sahar Goldust. They become entwined in a tightly-wound plot that threatens to unravel at each turn. But as each deception of the couple’s fraudulent scheme to pay back a large debt is exposed, a new one appears. The setting is in Farhadi’s homeland, unlike his three movies since A Separation, but its moral centre is universal rather than anything that is unique to the Islamic republic.
Rating: Mature audiences. 127 minutes.
Director Steven Soderbergh pushed the boundaries of his minimalist technique with Unsane (2018) and The Laundromat (2019), exploring topical issues (mental health, money laundering) by cutting casts to a minimum and wielding little more than an iPhone. His editing pares the dialogue and action to its barest essentials. The formula works if he has an actor to carry it, as Zoë Kravitz does effortlessly as an agoraphobe making the most of being self-isolated during the Covid-19 pandemic. She monitors users of KIMI, a virtual assistant, and overhears an apparent murder. She is forced outside to report the crime to her seniors, but quickly becomes the target of mysterious attacks from a conspiratorial corporation. The climax provides a suitably cathartic outcome for all who appreciate paranoid thrillers.
Neon rating: R16. 85 minutes.
Ukrainian Film Festival
Bad Roads is an anthology of four stories set in war-torn Donbas, and was Ukraine’s official entry for this year’s best foreign film Oscar. Director Natalya Vorozhbit completed it before the Russian invasion of February, 2022, and it contains no actual war scenes. But the human impact of those caught up in a conflict is only a matter of degree. 105 minutes.
The Inglorious Serfs is writer-director Roman Perfilyev’s take on Taras Shevchenko (1814-61), the founder of modern Ukrainian literature and art. He was exiled to the Caspian Sea region for his opposition to the Russian Empire, and died in St Petersburg after being pardoned. He is buried near Kaniv on the Dnieper River in central Ukraine. 90 minutes.
The festival comprises three Sunday sessions, each a week apart, from May 29-June 12, at the community-owned Victoria Theatre in Devonport, Auckland. The June 5 session comprises four short films. 113 minutes. Proceeds of $20 from the $30 tickets will go to three humanitarian charities in Ukraine and one to support its filmmakers.