KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Grateful for “HATEFUL”: Actor Michael Madsen Bends Our Ear about Steve McQueen, James Bond, HAWAII FIVE-O, Vintage Muscle Cars, Lee Marvin, Matt Helm, Roger Corman, and How He Saddled Up for Quentin Tarantino’s New Western, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Posted on: Dec 22nd, 2015 By:
Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

By Gregory Nicoll
Contributing Writer

“I don’t always play bad guys,” observes Michael Madsen, his voice as raspy and powerful as a Harley-Davidson’s exhaust pipe, “but for some reason when I do, it gets more attention than when I play somebody who doesn’t have a gun.”

Even without a firearm in his hand, the burly 6’ 2” actor radiates an onscreen menace so palpable it inspires nightmares. His breakthrough role was playing Mister Blonde in Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), for which he tortured a policeman with a razor and gasoline in one of the most disturbing sequences of ’90s cinema. But despite equally convincing performances in high-profile good-guy parts – such as the loving dad in FREE WILLY (1993), the action hero in SPECIES (1995), and a stoic lawman in WYATT EARP (1994) – Madsen still finds himself cast more often on the dark side, with unforgettable bad-guy turns in KILL BILL (2003/2004), HELL RIDE (2008), DONNIE BRASCO (1997) and THE GETAWAY (1994) His latest movie is Tarantino’s much-anticipated new western, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, which opens on Christmas day in an extended limited-release 70mm Ultra-Panavision “Roadshow” presentation with a overture and an intermission (Regal Atlantic Station 18), with a wide release starting Dec. 30 (Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, etc.).

We spoke with Michael Madsen by phone from his seaside California home.

ATLRetro: Let’s hear about THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Sure hope you’re not weary of talking about it.

Michael Madsen: Not really! It’s hard to get weary of Tarantino, who’s such a force to be reckoned with. This is the third time he’s reached out to me with, “Let’s get on the bus.” Only in this case it’s, “Let’s get on the horses!”

So, this is a western about characters who all get stranded together after their stagecoach is re-routed?

It’s pretty hard to put a lid on what it is, but it’s about a bunch of eight people who’ve got an agenda, an agenda that’s pretty complicated. The script was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. I guess it’s somewhere between THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). 

Hateful-Eight-posterIs there any previous classic western movie to which it could easily be compared?

Well, maybe ONE-EYED JACKS (1967), which is probably the greatest western I’ve ever seen. It’s the only picture Marlon Brando ever directed, taking over from Stanley Kubrick. I just love it. ONE-EYED JACKS is about everything. There’s nothing that it isn’t about. There are so many themes in there, it’s mind-boggling. It’s one of Marlon’s finest. Him and Karl Malden are so wonderful together, it’s just unbelievable.

Karl Malden was fabulous in just about everything, from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) to NEVADA SMITH (1966).

That was with Steve McQueen. What a power he was on the screen!  [Quoting NEVADA SMITH] “You haven’t got the guts!” Yeah, he’s shot in the kneecaps and it’s pretty horrendous, but, wow…

When I first moved to Malibu, I lived right next door to Steve McQueen. Steve was one of those guys who came along at time when the movie industry – when Sam Peckinpah and John Sturges and Norman Jewison were making films. Those kind of directors, they don’t really exist anymore. They were as much responsible for Steve’s success as he was himself, the combination of him, a personality like that, put together with those kinda directors. Steve was one of a kind and he made some – well, I like THE GETAWAY (1972). To me, that’s the quintessential Steve McQueen movie. I got to be in the remake of it, which was great, but I would have preferred to play Doc McCoy [McQueen’s role]. Alec [Baldwin] did a good job, but I think I coulda pulled that off.

The character of Doc in the original Jim Thompson novel THE GETAWAY has much more of an edge to him than in the films.

Well, I teased Alec constantly during the making of that thing. Every single time we were on the set and he was doing something, I’d go, “You remember the way Steve was standing?” or, “You remember the way Steve was holding the gun?” or “When you look around the corner, you remember how Steve did it?” and he’d go [imitating Baldwin’s voice], “Madsen! Shut up, Madsen! You’re driving me crazy.” It was really funny. I teased him quite a bit, but he had a good sense of humor about it. At the end of the film he actually bought and gave me the Smith & Wesson handgun that I used in the movie.

Speaking of firearms, will we be seeing much of the trademark Tarantino gunplay violence in HATEFUL EIGHT?

Oh, sure. Of course. Wouldn’t be the same without it.

Michael Madsen in HATEFUL EIGHT. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen in HATEFUL EIGHT. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Last year Tarantino was furious when his HATEFUL EIGHT script got leaked online, and you were one of the few insiders who’d been given a copy.

People actually thought it was me! I was in Italy at the time. My buddy and I were on an elevator, this was about 2 :00 in the morning and we’d just got back to the hotel, and he was looking at his phone, and all of sudden he goes, “Oh my god!” And I go, “What is it?” And he goes, “Oh, Michael, oh my god, somebody leaked out Quentin’s script and he’s all pissed off, and he says he only gave it to three people, and it wasn’t Tim [Roth].” And I was, like, “Holy shit, man, it sounds like I’m a suspect!” So I called him the next day and I said, “Quentin, man, say something to somebody, because obviously it wasn’t me.” And he started laughing actually. He thought it was funny that this had so quickly been heard about as far away as Italy, that the very next day it was worldwide news.

Not much later you participated in a staged public reading of the HATEFUL EIGHT script. Was Tarantino directing you live on stage?

Oh, he sure was, he had on a black cowboy hat and was coming over to the actors and giving them direction, right in front of everybody. Quentin read all the stage directions aloud. He had a coffee pot for a prop, and I had a bandana for my prop. It was a fascinating night. I’ve never done anything like that.

Did you rehearse for this?

Yeah, we rehearsed for three days before the show, and once in the afternoon right before the show. It was a lot of hustling around to get everybody together, but to have the whole cast together in one room and start reading through this thing, and putting it up on its feet, and to know now that we’re actually gonna go and film it later, it was a great, great, great kind of boost for me.

How did it feel to have that immediate feedback from the audience? People must have been laughing, reacting in various ways…

Well, everybody was very, very respectful. That’s what I remember. I’d seen everybody coming in, because I was in the back as the theater started to fill up, and I’d been looking out the windows in the front of the building, and everybody was all dressed up! It was really kind of an evening with all the girls all dolled up and guys dressed up. Nobody was allowed to bring their phone inside or have any kind of recording devices.

I heard that you don’t carry a cell phone. Is that still true?

I don’t like them, put it that way. I didn’t even get an iPad till about six months ago. I just really didn’t get the point of it. I would see people on their phones in the car, on their phone constantly, and when I had one myself it seemed like I became so dependent on it. I started wondering why does everyone need it so badly when no-one ever had it before, and back then everyone got along fine. Was it really that important to talk to somebody if you can call ‘em an hour later? But I have five kids, and I gotta have a phone,  but I frequently don’t charge it up and “accidentally” leave it somewhere, and I try really hard not to become obsessed with it.  I heard that Christopher Walken doesn’t have a cell phone, and he’s my hero; and if he honestly doesn’t – or if he’s just saying that to sound cool – I don’t know, but I’m hoping he really doesn’t have one.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Speaking of contemporary actors, you recently worked with Danny Trejo on a film called HOPE LOST. What was that like?

I’m not real fond of that title but, uh, it was shot in Rome and it’s basically about girls sold into the sex trade. The movie is a little rough, not for everyone. When you’re working on lower budget things, sometimes you have a bit more control over dialogue and scenes. In the original script I did some terrible things and got killed, but I didn’t end up doing that. My character lives, and I actually walk away from a bad situation at the end. Danny’s such a great actor and wonderful presence on screen. You walk the streets of Rome with Danny, and people come out of the restaurants shouting, “Machete! Machete!” Pretty funny. He’s Machete, no doubt about it. He’s got that mug!

I always wanted to see you cast as James Bond’s CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, in the 007 series. That unfortunately didn’t happen, but you did get that nice supporting bit in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002).

I loved working on that! Pierce Brosnan was a friend of mine and he lived right down the street from me, and that’s how that kinda happened. I went and I met [007 film producer] Barbara Broccoli, and they wanted to find a spot for me, and I did that one. I would have come back, I would have loved to. Judi Dench was such a great pleasure to work with. Having a Bond film as a credit is pretty cool. I’d like to do a few more.

You did an episode of HAWAII FIVE-O in 2014 which was notable because you were a bad guy who turned out to be a good guy.

What happened was, I’d heard there was some interest in having me on the show, and I was a huge, huge fan of the old show [the original HAWAII FIVE-O series which ran from 1968 to 1980]. That music, that opening title sequence is so bitchin’ and I remember watching that show most of my life, and just thought it was super cool. You can’t touch that thing. When they were interested in me, it was like a boyhood dream to be on HAWAII FIVE-O, but when they started calling me to do it, I said, “You know what, man, I’m not gonna come on the damn thing if you’re gonna kill me. There has to be something else. I’m gonna come in and get thrown down the steps by Scott Caan and then at the end get killed in a shoot-out. Please, please come up with something better for me.” And so, it really wasn’t until six months later after that conversation that they actually called me to do the show, and obviously when I read the script, the ending was the wonderful thing about it. You realize that this guy wasn’t such a bad person, and there’s this huge redemption, and that’s why I did it.  I’ve never seen the episode; I was out of the country when it aired. I got a lot of compliments from my family about it.

hell-ride-movie-poster-2008-1020412950You were crammed into the tiny backseat of that Chevy Camaro for much of the time.

Being trapped in a car with Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan is an interesting experience. Both of those guys are good actors and I had fun with them, but if they’re not complaining about being stuck in Hawaii, all they do is talk about cigars all day.

They complain about being in Hawaii?

These two guys, you gotta understand, were in their fourth season, and after that many episodes I would imagine that sooner or later it might start to get to you. I saw Scotty in the parking lot in the early, early morning on my first day, and I said,”Hey man, where’s a good place to eat?” And he goes, “L.A.!” [laughs]

Hey, you know who directed that episode? Peter Weller, ROBOCOP (1987)! Peter’s a really intelligent guy, and I really enjoyed working with him. He really gave me a wide berth, let me come in and do my thing. He understands the actor’s dilemma, and he’s very, very methodical in his direction of exactly how he wants certain things. I was lucky to have him there because I wanted that thing to matter, I wanted that to be a good episode, I was thrilled to be on it, and to have him direct it made it just that much better.

I’m betting that you personally own some cars that are cooler than Danno’s Camaro.

Well, over the years I certainly have had some interesting vehicles. I entertained my boyhood fantasies after I started making some money as an actor. I got a ’57 Chevy small block and put dual quads on the damn thing. I had a Stingray with a big block four-speed. I went through a couple of Plymouth Roadrunners and even a Superbird. The thing is, you get these cars that you’ve always dreamed about having, and you end up with flat tires and dead batteries. You can’t really drive them that much, and you have to keep them somewhere, and it ends up being an expense that doesn’t make sense, especially if you have children. A lot of my toys are gone. I let most of them go. The last one I had was a ’67 GTO; that was really pretty cool. I bought it from the original owner. I got a couple motorcycles and I still have my Jaguar, but I’ve recently – funny you should say – I’ve recently started to get that feeling again. Wouldn’t be nice to have a nice 427 Chevelle downstairs? Nice fuckin’ four-speed convertible. I was even thinkin’ of getting something for my son, something we can build together.

Are you a liquor guy or a beer guy?

I’m not any one thing.  I think drinking is one of those things that requires moderation.  I like to have some wine with dinner, but I’m not like a big drinker. If I’m flying on a plane, I’ll have a Jack and Coke. If I’m out with my wife and I don’t have to drive anywhere, I’ll have a martini. If I’m with my sons watching a game, I’ll drink a beer. But I’m not…

You’re not Charles Bukowski or anything.

Jesus, no!

Reservoir_dogs_ver1Or Lee Marvin.

[Laughs] You know, I’m very fond of Lee Marvin. That fuckin’ guy, he had such a – you look at CAT BALLOU (1965) or POINT BLANK (1967) – he really, really had a tremendous screen presence, and whenever you read a little bio of him, they have to throw in that last little line about him being a heavy drinker. You kinda wonder, is it really necessary to highlight that particular part of his personality? Most of the guys from that era were drinkers. Look at Dean Martin in the Matt Helm movies – he was hammered, and you can tell when you watch the movie! All of those guys were drinkers back then, and nobody thought there was anything wrong with it.

You have over a hundred screen credits. If you could pick three that you feel were unjustifiably overlooked, and get them re-appraised, which movies would they be?

I did a boxing picture called STRENGTH AND HONOUR (2010), playing an Irish-American prizefighter, probably one of the better pictures I’ve ever done, and it never got a proper release. It was actually finished at the same time as Mickey Rourke’s huge comeback, THE WRESTLER (2008).  I spoke to the director and he told me about trying to get it a second life, and how some investors convinced him he should re-release it in 3D. I was speechless! I hung up on him.

In addition, I did a cop picture called VICE (2008) which was shot by Andrzej Sekula, who was the director of photography on RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION (1994). I rewrote the beginning and the ending, and then I got Darryl Hannah into it and had a lot to do with the whole production. It’s a slow, quiet film but it’s about redemption, and I dedicated it to Chris Penn [Madsen’s RESERVOIR DOGS co-star] because he had passed away when I was making it.

And HELL RIDE! That came out on DVD, and people didn’t really know what it was. Now it’s become kind of a cult thing. The plot doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun to watch. Those are three of them, right off the top of my head.

I know that you own your character’s motorcycle from HELL RIDE. Did you keep anything else? Do you have, say, the Zippo lighter from RESERVOIR DOGS?

As a matter of fact, Quentin has that. He has the razor, too. It’s the exact same razor that Uma Thurman uses in KILL BILL, when she’s buried alive. Mister Blonde’s razor! Quentin’s real good about keeping stuff. I’ve got a lot of clothes. I have Mister Blonde’s suit.

Tarantino must have been a big fan of John Dahl’s KILL ME AGAIN (1989)an earlier film where you tie somebody up and get rough with them.

There’s a strange story. Originally I remembered him telling me that that’s where he got the idea for me to be Mister Blonde, but I did a cable talk show many years ago and said that, and later when I ran into him he told me that was not why he’d cast me as Mister Blonde. KILL ME AGAIN was a good movie, but nobody saw it. John Dahl, man, John Dahl in his glory. Whatever happened to John Dahl? He’s vanished. I was supposed to do RED ROCK WEST (1993) with him, and then he opted for Nick Cage, and that’s where my relationship with John went south!

There was once talk of you and John Travolta reprising your roles from RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION in a prequel, in which your characters were brothers.

The Vega brothers! Well, you know John and I are not kids any more. I was at the Cannes Film Festival recently, hanging around with Quentin, when I finally met John. Now that the two of us have been standing together in the same room with Quentin, I think the idea became a little more interesting, more timely. I don’t think it would necessarily be a prequel, but I do think him and me together in some capacity, in a reminder of the other two pictures, is a lot more possible now. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But you’ll have to ask Quentin about that.

One final question: Have you thought about doing any directing?

You know what? I just finished a Roger Corman picture called COBRAGATOR (2015). I love Roger! His movies are sci-fi pictures, and there is something about a Roger Corman film that’s different from the rest of that genre. Working for him is a pleasure, and I did get to do some directing in it, and I got a great deal of pleasure out of it. I realized that I’ve been wanting to direct forever, but nobody’s ever asked me to do it. The hard thing about it is you need that breakout, you need someone to actually say, “Okay, you get to direct this movie,” but if you haven’t ever done it before, there’s always that doubt. Can he really do it? Can he actually direct? Which, obviously, I could. I’d love to do that. I hope it’s in my future. I would like to do that a lot.    

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Dark and Dangerous: Revisiting the Dalton Duet as The Plaza Theatre’s 50 Years of Bond Celebration Continues!

Posted on: Jul 14th, 2013 By:

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987); Dir. John Glen; Starring Timothy Dalton, Maryam D’Abo, John Rhys-Davies and Joe Don Baker; Monday, July 15 @ 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

LICENSE TO KILL (1989); Dir. John Glen; Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi and Joe Don Baker; Tuesday, July 16 @ 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The celebration of James Bond’s 50th anniversary at the Plaza Theatre continues throughout the month of July, and as we hit the middle of the month, we find ourselves at another crossroads in the Bond series. So once again I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of movies you may have overlooked in favor of the higher-profile Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig entries.

Unexpected developments in casting the Bond series always lead to interesting results. Prior to 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS; see our Retro Review here), Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s Eon Productions had unsuccessfully wooed Roger Moore to take over the role of James Bond. Instead, they cast George Lazenby as a more grounded and serious protagonist compared to the increasingly gadget-reliant Sean Connery Bond.

The eventual Roger Moore entries, likewise, became increasingly criticized as the 1970s progressed and the series entered the 1980s. The Bond films had seemingly embraced the decade’s love of camp, and also appeared over-reliant on current cinematic trends. By the time of 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL, the nearly 60-year-old Moore had already been upstaged by the unofficial return of Connery in the non-Eon NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)—a film that at least addressed Bond’s increasing age (and Connery was three years Moore’s junior!). Eon then turned its bullet-sights on Pierce Brosnan, who was then starring in the about-to-be-cancelled TV series REMINGTON STEELE. With the Bond interest raising Brosnan’s cache, however, NBC renewed the program and put a kibosh on Eon’s efforts.

In a move as unexpected as Eon’s offer of the role to George Lazenby, the part was extended to relatively little-known film and TV actor Timothy Dalton. Dalton—most recognized for his roles in 1978’s mini-series CENTENNIAL and 1980’s FLASH GORDON—may have been more of a known quantity than Lazenby in his day, but was untested in comparison to the more-established Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan prior to their castings.

In a parallel with Eon’s desires to take the character back to basics after Connery’s departure, Dalton’s Bond was an attempt to return to the early Connery days and to bring back realism to the series. And with 1987’s THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, the series delivered the darkest Bond to date: a tense tale of espionage between MI6 and the KGB in the waning days of the Cold War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Timothy Dalton and Maryam D'Abo in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

Looking at the film today, Dalton brings a grim seriousness to his Bond, obviously still haunted by the death of his wife Tracy and channeling his violent energy into the work. His self-performed stunt work is also excellent. The direction by veteran Bond helmsman John Glen is tight, yet still preserves the gloss and slickness long associated with the franchise. It’s a solid effort all around, with a screenplay that rises to the demand of re-establishing Bond in the contemporary world nearly as successfully as OHMSS. While some critics went after the film’s lack of humor, I feel that it’s one of the most underrated Bonds: a hard-hitting take on the character with a keen intensity not generally seen in the series. The only downside to the film is its dated score (the last by John Barry, incorporating glaringly ‘80s sequenced rhythm tracks) and a truly unfortunate title song by A-Ha.

Sadly, a confluence of events derailed what looked to be a developing good thing and cast a shadow on the fortunes of 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL. The fall of the Soviet empire ended the Cold War and suddenly made traditional Bondian international espionage seem dated: the very fate that Ian Fleming worried would impact the series in the mid-’60s. In response, the film focused on an international cocaine-smuggling ring, a storyline which made the film seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of nearly every other successful action-adventure franchise of the time. In addition, a writers’ strike led to difficulties in scripting the film as long-time Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was largely removed from its creation. If that weren’t enough, budget problems resulted in this being the first Bond not to feature locations filmed in the U.K. Instead, the movie was shot largely in Florida and Mexico. The success of LIVING DAYLIGHTS’ darker take on Bond led to this film offering an even darker and more violent look at the character, but instead of extending what worked about Dalton’s performance, it further removed Bond from his previous depictions and rendered him almost unrecognizable.

Critically speaking, LICENSE TO KILL self-consciously takes things too far, resulting in a James Bond movie that doesn’t really feel anything like a James Bond movie. Dalton succeeds much as he did in the previous film, but his good efforts are in service to a compromised vision and merely echo the previous, better film. In an ill-advised attempt to recall an OHMSS plot point (and perhaps to justify the lack of London locations and keep official MI6 spy work out of the picture), Bond unsuccessfully attempts to resign from MI6. (In OHMSS, Bond is instead given leave, and in LICENSE Bond is temporarily suspended and his license to kill revoked.) It may have been an attempt to link this depiction of the character to his source, but it simply shows how much better this plot turn was handled in the 1969 entry. Even as a general action film, LICENSE falls flat in comparison to other contemporary efforts such as 1987’s LETHAL WEAPON or 1988’s DIE HARD. Is it a horrible film? Not hardly. Even the worst films of the Bond series are still entertaining. But it’s definitely a disheartening effort when compared to the entry that immediately preceded it.

Unfortunately, Dalton was never able to star in another Bond film. Legal problems put a hiatus on the series, and it would be six years before another Bond film would be made. During the break and with the future of the franchise in doubt, Dalton decided to hang up his hat and move on to other projects. Because of his limited run, Dalton’s films have been largely overlooked (another echo of Lazenby’s turn), but they deserve a closer inspection. His approach to Bond lays the seeds for Daniel Craig’s eventual more gritty portrayal, and beyond the pleasures that both films offer (though admittedly harder to come by in the second), it’s interesting to view them now in light of the recent Bond films.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: All the Time in the World: James Bond Hits a Crossroads High as The Plaza Theatre presents ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

Posted on: Jul 4th, 2013 By:

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969); Dir. Peter Hunt; Starring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas; Plaza Theatre; Saturday, July 6 @ 7:30 p.m.; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Throughout the month of July, the historic Plaza Theatre is paying tribute to 50 years of James Bond. And while much will be made of the many great entries starring Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, I’d like to focus some attention on one film you may have written off: 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS).

The tumult of the 1960s came to a head in that decade’s final year. The optimism of the Kennedy era and multi-national political intrigue had given birth to the cinematic Bond. But as the decade progressed and global politics came to be viewed in increasingly complex shades of grey, the Bond series changed as well. The films began departing freely from Ian Fleming’s novels and relying more and more on spectacular gadgetry and hyper-stylized set design, which reflected the culture’s growing fascination with pop art. The pairing of pop art and the burgeoning psychedelic art movement came to a head with 1967’s colorful and nearly cartoonish YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967, YOLT for short) [Ed. note: plays Friday July 5 at The Plaza]. And if the onset of the late ‘60s were when change really began to ramp up, this too was reflected in Bond: series stalwart Sean Connery announced during YOLT’s filming that he was retiring from the role.

Aesthetically speaking, 1968-69 was a time of pulling back. Music from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band reflected a retreat from the rococo excesses of psychedelia. Meanwhile, movies like BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and THE WILD BUNCH (1969) inspired a newfound emphasis on realism in film. Politically speaking, the rise of the feminist movement and its influence offered a vocal critique of the seemingly disposable nature of the neverending series of “Bond girls” presented in the series thus far. Bond—with his fantastic toys and rampant womanizing—was rapidly becoming dangerously old-fashioned.

It was time to do something different.

“This never happened to the other fellow.” — James Bond, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

Tracy (Diana Rigg) is every bit the equal of James Bond (George Lazenby) in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969).

After attempting to woo eventual Bond lead Roger Moore for an adaptation of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, development on that title stalled and Moore returned to the TV series THE SAINT. Series producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, along with director Peter Hunt, then decided to revive earlier plans to adapt OHMSS. And for their new Bond, turned to a relative unknown: Australian commercial actor George Lazenby.

The pairing of Lazenby and Bond started off on a bad note. Lazenby had been offered a seven-picture deal by Broccoli, but his agent advised against signing. The times were changing, the agent reasoned, and predicted that Bond couldn’t continue into the ‘70s. To add to the problem, by all accounts Lazenby and co-star Diana Rigg didn’t get along, and the actor complained of a lack of communication and coaching (this being his first feature film) from director Hunt.

Despite the unsure footing of the new star, every effort was made to try to make this the definitive Bond picture. The creative team decided to make this film hew as closely as possible to Fleming’s original novel, to the point of having Telly Savalas’ Blofeld (who had already been introduced in YOLT) not recognize Bond upon meeting him—a result of the novel having predated the previously-adapted YOLT. The movie also stripped back Bond’s reliance on gadgetry and returned to a more realistic depiction (for Bond, anyway) of spy work. Most significantly, though, OHMSS reflected the changing sexual politics of the time and presented Bond with a “Bond girl” that was his equal; in return, Bond eschewed his promiscuity and devoted himself to her.

In an epic tale that reached from the beaches of Portugal to the Swiss Alps, Bond must join forces with Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), the head of a European crime syndicate, in order to track down Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the international terrorist organization SPECTRE. In doing so, he went undercover to reveal a sinister plot at Blofeld’s clinical allergy-research institute, put his position as a 007 agent with MI6 at risk, and found that he was falling deeply in love with Draco’s daughter, the Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo.

Telly Sevalas’ malevolence as villain Ernst "Stavro" Blofeld shines through even his most subdued scenes.

In my eyes, the filmmakers succeeded at their task. This truly is the definitive Bond film. It presents a James Bond who is both confident and vulnerable. Unlike any Bond outing before, the character is allowed to show fear and express true love while simultaneously providing a no-nonsense and strong presence. If anything, his depicted vulnerabilities strengthen his resolution and character. Though these elements are present in Fleming’s novel, to allow them in the film was a brave turn by the Bond team.

Despite Lazenby’s lack of experience and occasional lack of finesse, his performance was solid. A formidable presence, he retained some of  Connery’s suavity while still offering a more serious and sinewy take on the character. Savalas’ Blofeld was allowed to be a truly physical threat, unlike Donald Pleasence’s “evil genius” take on the role, and Savalas’ malevolence shone through even his most subdued scenes. Finally THE AVENGERS star Diana Rigg was perfect as Tracy. Displaying a complexity that matched this complex movie, she delivered a Tracy in turns melancholy, witty, intelligent and joyous. She captured the emotional arc of the character pitch-perfectly.

And for all the film’s distance from by-that-point traditional Bondian high-tech wizardry, OHMSS didn’t skimp on action in the slightest. For its length (it’s the second-longest Bond title), it plays lean and muscular. While the film wasn’t received well upon its release and still divides critics more so than probably any other Bond film, it delivers everything a Bond movie should.

That Lazenby did little to help his relationship with Saltzman and Broccoli (his appearing at the film’s premiere with shoulder-length hair and a beard was probably the last straw) probably served to hurt the film’s reputation more than anything else. Bad blood on both sides led to this film always being served up as something of the black sheep of the Bond family. It’s long been viewed as only slightly more legitimate than the 1967 parody CASINO ROYALE or the unofficial 1983 THUNDERBALL re-hash NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. But latter-day viewers and critics have finally started to come around and give the film its due. And it’s about time.

Are these Bond girls asking what's under George Lazenby's kilt?! Yes, while Sean Connery was a Scot, Lazenby, the stiffest Bond, was the only 007 to put that new meaning to not shaken but stirred.

Some will argue for 1965’s GOLDFINGER. Some may argue for 2006’s CASINO ROYALE. Some even will argue for Timothy Dalton’s short run as 007. But I root for the underdog. Both Lazenby and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE are that underdog. GOLDFINGER is a close second, tied with last year’s SKYFALL (2012; laugh if you must, but SKYFALL is going to hold up far better than any of the Moore outings, mark my words). However, there’s nothing like MAJESTY.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday Happy Hour: Shaking, Stirring and Cooling Off from the Summer Heat at the Czar Ice Bar

Posted on: Aug 15th, 2012 By:

ATLRetro has been planning to launch a cocktail and food section ever since we revved up, but we wanted to ensure that when we did, it would be a regular feature that you could count on. The ground rules would be simple – Retro location in a vintage building; Retro cuisine from the best in classic diners and blue plates to tantalizing tiki (guess where, we dare you!); venues that have been around long enough to be Atlanta institutions;  and/or worthy additions to the city’s cocktail scene. In other words, when you want to dress up in your swanky suit or vintage dress and slowly sip a fantastic drink with that special date, spouse or just friends, where should you go? We’ll alternate between supper club and happy hour pieces and promise at least one of each every month, always posting on a Wednesday to help you plan your weekend.

Appropriately, we think, ATLRetro first piece is a Happy Hour because everyone on MAD MEN knows that a great cocktail is the essential apertif to a delicious expense-account dinner, isn’t it? Our drink of the week is Vodka, and with hundreds of different vodkas on the menu, Czar Ice Bar, in Buckhead’s Andrews Entertainment District, has perhaps the largest selection in Atlanta. Normally heading to Buckhead might be a bit too neo-trendy for us, but we found Czar Ice Bar to be a surprise charm with a touch of old world class worthy of James Bond. Atmospherically the intimate blue-lit space was the perfect retreat from summer heat with a bar literally made of ice and a dramatic blue glass ceiling, seasoned with a taste of old Russia thanks to ornate seating, bottles lined in cathedral windows and towering paintings of pre-Soviet nobles. Oh, yeah, we could easily imagine Pierce Brosnan seated at it in a tux sipping a martini with a sexy spy in a slinky evening dress.

We recently caught up with co-owner Stephen de Haan to find out more about Czar Ice Bar’s striking interior design, generous vodka selection, and why sushi is on the menu (we can attest Master Sushi Chef Saito Saito‘s creations are both original and scrumptious). Of course, we also asked for  some advice on crafting the perfect vodka cocktail and how to stock your own bar at home.

ATLRetro: What’s the story behind Czar Ice Bar? 

Stephen de Haan: Czar Ice Bar developed from our passion for amazing cocktails. Specifically, with hundreds of different vodkas, flavors and house-made infusions, we have an amazing palate to paint with. Also, with the success of Prohibition around craft cocktails, we saw a void in the market. Specifically around women who enjoy vodka both in flavor and because it has the lowest calories for any spirit, and who are looking for a sexy nonsmoking environment. How did the owners get the idea for it?  We developed Czar around this idea of a sexy environment focused on vodka. Initially Cold-war era Soviet Union comes to mind, but we went back further to the aristocracy of the Russian Empire during the period of the Czars. We were inspired by the Winter Palace, specifically the sitting room, and what would a modern day Czar’s sitting room look and feel like. Combine this palatial feel with a modern vodka-based cocktail program and Master Sushi Chef Saito’s sushi masterpieces, and you have a place where any Russian princess would want to relax.

How many different vodkas are on the menu, and how do you select which vodkas to serve?  

We have over 300 vodkas. They have all been tasted and selected by [myself]. The first criteria is the nose; they need to be clean, not offensive like rubbing alcohol. The second is the mouth feel. All of our vodkas are smooth, with very little after-bite. Also we look for uniqueness, for example, vodkas that have unique distillates, such as Russian Bear which is distilled from molasses, and Pau which is distilled from pineapple in Hawaii. We love a the story behind the brand, the people, the process, and how it impacts the final product.

Vodka is often thought of as not having a lot of taste nuances when consumed straight-up. Other than flavor-infused vodkas, what are a few aspects that differentiate vodkas and makes one better than another for drinking straight or in cocktails?

When comparing the traditional vodkas side by side you will find a large difference between a potato vodka, or a winter wheat, or corn vodka. Once you know the flavor profile for each and find a preference, then explore the others in that category to find a personal favorite. Also, some people with a gluten sensitivity have not thought about the vodka, and the clouded head may not be a hangover, rather a reaction to some part of the distillate. A switch in vodka may be all it take to keep you feeling well and the head clear. Then again sometimes it is just imbibing a bit too much.

What traditional vodka cocktails do you serve (i.e. martini, cosmopolitan, etc.)? 

Of course, we have traditional martinis; our Czar Martini features Imperia vodka 8 times distilled and is made in a traditional style with a Dolin Dry Vermouth-rinsed cocktail glass served with blue cheese-stuffed olives. We also serve cosmopolitans, apple martinis and the like. One unique feature is a California Cosmo with your choice of 14 different orange-flavored vodkas.

What are a few of your more favorite, more innovative creations, and any anecdotes about how you came up with them? 

Recently for National Donut Daywe featured our own house-made Krispy Kreme vodka. We chopped one dozen doughnuts, paired with Van Gogh Caramel vodka and spun it in our laboratory centrifuge at 4,000 rpm for 20 mintues.  The result, a clear smooth Krispy Kreme vodka.

What’s your philosophy behind a vodka cocktail? For example, are there some mixers that are go better with vodka than others?

Very simple. Fresh is best, less is more. Start with a smooth clean vodka like Van Gogh Blue, and mix it with any fresh juice. You need not overdo the juice because a clean vodka will already disappear in the drink.

Any secret to the perfect martini? And is it shaken or stirred?  

The perfect martini, is almost like the perfect BBQ. Every region, every person has their take on the perfect martini. Some believe the vermouth should stay in the next room, others a spritz, and still others a rinse. The Czar Martini is what I consider the perfect martini.  Made with eight times distilled Imperia Vodka from Russia, shaken ice cold, served in a Dolin vermouth rinsed martini glass with Cabrales Blue Cheese-stuffed olives.

Sushi is traditionally paired with sake, so why sushi at a vodka bar?

Think Russia and caviar. Caviar is used in many sushi dishes so taking the next step only seems natural. Also, with Master Chef Saito’s house-made sauces that he garnishes many of his dishes with, we are using the same ingredients, mango, fresh orange, etc.

Are there any particular sushi/vodka pairings that you recommend from your menu, both for the conservative and the more adventurous diner? 

I particularly like the Smash Hit, a martini made with 360 Georgia Peach Vodka, fresh mint and fresh-squeezed lemon juice paired with the Lobster Roll. The sweetness of the lobster is enhanced with this clean sweet peach martini. On the more adventurous side, I would recommend the one of Chef Saito’s special dishes, the Pacific Ocean.  With a wonton sheet and sail, mixed fish, fresh cucumber, cream cheese and Shiro Dashi sauce, it pairs nicely with a Square One Organic Cucumber martini.

The interior design of Czar Ice Bar combines traditional elements of old Russia with the giant portraits and bar items displayed in spaces resembling cathedral windows with a very contemporary club atmosphere—blue lights and 2st century furnishings. Who was the designer and how did you come up with the look?  

I researched many images of the Czar Palaces and relayed those to my partner Stan Weaver who took the ideas and ran with them creating our own modern interpretation of these palaces.  We are very proud how all of the elements came together.

Do you have any advice to our readers on how to stock their home vodka bar?  

I see a lot of vodka that has spent tons of dollars on advertising producing a premium image. Those are ok, but I prefer to look at the artisanal small batch vodkas. On the label they will say small batch or pot-distilled. These are made by artisans one batch at a time creating the best product possible.

Finally how did you create the ice bar?  If it has not been done regionally before, how did you develop it?

The ice bar itself, 27 feet long, four inches thick of solid ice was a huge undertaking. We first found an ice skating rink manufacturer that “thought” it could be done but never had himself. They went to great lengths for us custom-manufacturing the refrigeration mat that freezes the ice. After that, we worked with local fabricators for a custom pan to house this in. Next was working with a number of engineers to review the cooling load specifications. Initially we thought we were going to have to use medical grade chillers, but soon found a source with a unit that met our very strict guidelines. As we installed it looking at different insulation technologies developed by NASA so that a guest’s legs sitting at the bar would not be cold from the immense slab of ice resting inches above them. The whole process was an experiment in itself, but it could not have turned out better.

All photographs are courtesy of Czar Ice Bar and used with permission.

Category: Features, Wednesday Happy Hour & Supper Club | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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