Top Pops: Brad Pitt

William Bradley “Brad” Pitt was born on the 18th of December 1963.  This means that yesterday was his 50th birthday, and what better way to celebrate than by examining some of my favourite films of one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the last few decades?  He’s not a particular favourite of mine, but there’s no denying that he’s been a big part of some terrific films.  There are also a couple of his major pictures I haven’t seen, but these are my top picks of the ones I have.

#7 Thelma & Louise (1991)
thelma
Although he plays a relatively minor role in this classic tale of two women on the run, Pitt appears in one of his earliest significant roles as J.D., a young man who hitches a ride with the title characters.  He showcases the carefree attitude for which he would become particularly known later in his career.

#6 Babel (2006)
babel
In an altogether more serious role, Pitt stars as part of an ensemble cast in this 2006 drama from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu.  In one strand of this interwoven film, he plays the husband of an American tourist inexplicably shot in the Moroccan desert.  Pitt doesn’t get too much screen time, but he takes hold of what he has and makes the most of it.

#5 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
button
Pitt gives an  Academy award-nominated performance as the titular Benjamin Button, a man who is born an old man and grows young.  It’s an intriguing concept for a story, and Brad produces a worthy portrayal of a very difficult character to come to terms with.  I’ve only seen this film once and need to dig it out again some time soon.

#4 Moneyball (2011)
money
Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, Pitt plays Billy Beane, the infamous manager of the Oakland Athletics who tried (and almost  succeeded) to assemble a winning team from a bunch of outcasts and misfits based on their game statistics.  The fact that I enjoyed this tale despite having zero interest in baseball whatsoever tells me that Pitt’s performance was central to its appeal, and his second Best Actor Oscar nomination for the role backs this up.

#3 Snatch. (2000)
snatch
In Guy Ritchie’s very British hit, the man with the same name as two British Prime Ministers plays an Irish-traveller bare-knuckle fighter who cares about very little outside of his caravan and his ma.  It’s a crucial role to the development of the film, and Snatch wouldn’t have all the appeal it does without Brad.

#2 Fight Club (1999)
fight
In an inclusion which will surprise nobody, Pitt plays underground social activist, soap maker and secret fighter Tyler Durden, who wreaks havoc on cities worldwide as well as on the mind of Edward Norton’s unnamed narrator.  This is perhaps his best-known role, and for good reason, as he plays ruthless Durden remarkably convincingly.

#1 Inglourious Basterds (2009)
basterds
Basterds was to me undoubtedly Tarantino’s masterpiece until Django Unchained this year (which makes a two-horse race).  Pitt excels as Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a troupe of Nazi-hunting American Jews.  This performance, although somewhat overshadowed by Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa, is a vital part of a superb film and brings a lot of the humour which prevents the movie becoming perhaps too dark.

So it’s clear to see that Brad Pitt is a solid performer, and probably deserves most of the fame he’s accrued.  And at 50, he’s probably got a good few years left in him yet!

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Music Pop: The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Artist: Eminem
Year: 2013
Example song:  Rap God

As I promised a good while back (in my first post in fact) I’ve finally managed to find the time to give The Marshall Mathers LP 2 enough of a listen to be able to say something about it.  As a big Eminem fan (second in my all-time most played list) I got hold of this album as soon as it came out and played it through within a couple of days.  It impressed me immediately, and it usually takes me a few goes to get into an album (for example Kanye’s Yeezus).  Last night I gave it another go and it’s only growing on me.

The LP opens with “Bad Guy”, a surprisingly long but certainly worthwhile sequel to “Stan”.  Eminem sings from the perspective of Stan’s little brother Matthew, who picks up the stalking baton with added thirst for revenge.  This flows into the album’s only skit before Zombies-sampling “Rhyme or Reason” and my personal favourite “So Much Better”, a hate-filled yet catchy song which reminds me of “Puke” from 2004’s Encore.

Then follows “Survival”, an aggressive, almost rock-y single which might even sound more at home on 2010’s Recovery.  “Legacy” and “Asshole” come next, two decent but unspectacular efforts.  “Berzerk” (the album’s first MMLP2single) is a good fun throwback to the Golden Age of hip-hop, with a couple of Beastie Boys samples, although it is perhaps a little incongruous to the flow of the album which is itself an homage to 2000’s Marshall Mathers LP.

In “Rap God”, Mathers boasts of his rapping prowess while simultaneously proving it with the performance. “Brainless” and “Stronger Than I Was” are good solid tracks, and “The Monster”, featuring Rihanna, is a good song but I’m not sure it deserves all the attention it’s getting.  “So Far…” and “Love Game” are again not bad but neither has apparently stuck in my mind.

The album heads towards a close with “Headlights”, an apology track to Eminem’s mother for all the blame he placed on her throughout his career.  The first time I heard this song I just sat there stunned, unable to believe my ears, but it seems that Marshall and Debbie Mathers have actually patched things up, hopefully for good.  It’s a decent song featuring Nate Ruess of fun., an artist currently popular with the industry as well as with me.  “Evil Twin”, the final track of the album proper (there is a lot of bonus material), is nothing special but not bad.

After the rubbish of Relapse and the more modern sound of Recovery, MMLP2 harks back to a much earlier time in Eminem’s career and feels more traditionally Marshall Mathers (hence the name, I guess).  Eminem refreshes his well-honed writing skills with a burst of fresh energy, reminding everyone why he was so successful in the first place and assuring us that even as he gets older he’s still got a reserve of that trademark enthusiasm to keep him going for another while yet. It’s perhaps a backlash to the criticism of his recent albums that they’ve been a little too “mainstream”.  This rap pioneer brought hip-hop to the mainstream, and he’s not going to let anyone say he’s abandoned it just yet.

My rating:  8.5/10

Film Pop: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Year: 2013
Director:  Peter Jackson
Stars:  Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice) et al.
IMDb

Yesterday for my birthday I was treated to a trip to the cinema to see The Desolation of Smaug, the second part of the big budget Hobbit trilogy.  Having only managed to catch 2012’s An Unexpected Journey a little over a month ago, I was well prepared for this two-and-a-half-hour journey into epicdom.

Following a Bree-based flashback, the film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin and the dwarves (Armitage et al.) fleeing from the goblin hordes before sheltering in the house of dwarf-hating shape-shifting smaugposterbear-man Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt).  Fortunately Beorn’s hate of dwarves is surpassed by his hate of orcs, so he protects the party and advises them that the only route they can take on their quest is through Mirkwood, the forest of the dwarf-hating elves (I’m sensing a pattern here).  Before entering Gandalf heads off on one of his characteristic mysterious quests, promising to meet up afterwards (pull the other one, wizard).  In the forest the elves, captained by the ever-popular Legolas (Orlando Bloom), help rescue the troupe from giant spiders but soon lock up the dwarves in their forest fortress.  Bilbo, by virtue of being able to turn invisible (some sort of magic, I suspect), evades capture as always and cunningly engineers everyone’s escape by floating them downriver in empty barrels, despite the combined efforts of elf and orc.  This is in fact the best sequence of the film, as we get to see the bloodbath everyone loves mixed with some beautifully choreographed scenes only made possible by dwarves in barrels.  They float to the mouth of a lake, and are smuggled into conveniently-named Laketown by the unpopular Bard (Luke Evans).  After winning over the  town, the dwarves make the journey to the Lonely Mountain minus the wounded Kili (Aidan Turner), caught in a love triangle between Legolas and she-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), his loyal brother Fili (Dean O’Gormann) and Bofur (James Nesbitt), who drank too much and overslept.  Thorin, driven by Boromir-esque greed, brings the others into the mountain to reclaim the Arkenstone from the great dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch), while Laketown is ambushed by orcs and Gandalf confronts the Necromancer (also Cumberbatch) in a duel he can never win and ends up trapped (sound familiar?).  The picture ends with Smaug heading off to wreak havoc on Laketown, just like Bard warned.

Of course as the middle film of a trilogy there are no real conclusions of any sort, but there’s enough action to stand the movie mostly on its own and the character development, notably absent in the first film, is admirable in the second.  Perhaps this is a vote in favour of stretching the novel into three movies, as it would be nowhere near enough time to devote to more than a couple of characters were this not the case.  This is seen particularly in the case of young dwarf Kili, and, unlike for example Frodo and Galadriel, Legolas’s reappearance is actually worthwhile.  The introduction of Lilly (another TV actress) as Tauriel, a character not really seen in the book, surprisingly adds a welcome softer element to a film that might otherwise have been too action packed (i.e. the previous film).  It still retains the moments of humour, mostly provided by Stephen Hunter’s Bombur and Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown.

smaugfry
This Guy.

Overall it’s fair to say that it’s pretty pointless watching this film if you haven’t seen An Unexpected Journey and don’t plan to see next year’s conclusion, There and Back Again.  In fact, it’s a bit pointless reviewing the film at all because if you’re interested in the series you’re obligated to watch it and if you’re not then it’s a waste of (quite a lot of) your time.  But I think it’s a promising improvement on the first film, and I think the average Tolkien-lover will find The Desolation of Smaug very enjoyable, which I can definitely say I did.

My Rating:  8/10

Literary Pop: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Author: James Joyce
Nationality: Irish
Year: 1916

I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.”

I think it’s fair to say that the easy readability of a book is inversely proportional to the number of footnotes/endnotes it contains (I’ll call this Dan’s Law).  James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a little under 200 pages long, and includes well over 500 explanatory notes.  With this in mind, believe me when I say that this book was not an easy read.  Consistently ranking high in “best novels of all time” lists everywhere, I get the feeling that A Portrait of the Artist is something that I’m going to have to read again when the time is right.

Joyce’s first novel follows the life of young Stephen Dedalus as he grows from confused, inquisitive Catholic schoolboy to inquisitive, confused university student.  Stephen is a young man with a lot of internal conflict, although it’s hard to work out how much of that is because he’s special and how much is because he’s a growing boy.  He is forced to deal with such situations as the decline of his family’s status, a girl who may or may not return his affections, and his own struggles with religion, morality and sin.

James Joyce as a Young Man
James Joyce as a Young Man

As I’ve already suggested, I struggled with this book.  I found the writing style very difficult to get used to; this is particularly a problem in the earlier parts detailing Stephen’s childhood, as the style develops and grows with the protagonist, but since the protagonist evolves into quite a pretentious character the text becomes very difficult to follow again towards the end.  From start to finish the book took me almost four months to read.  This is partly because of my unwillingness to commit to reading it (I read three other books in the middle) and partly because it was a very slow read whenever I did get round to diving in.  I probably read the thing in about three serious chunks of a week or so each, and that was with me deigning to look up roughly ten of the endnotes.  I’m sure I would have understood it far better if I’d committed to investigating every reference I didn’t understand, but I’m also sure I’d be reading it for at least a year if I did so.  And as anyone who’s ever read my blog will probably know (and anyone else can probably relate) I don’t have the time to do that when there are so many other things to fit in, nor do I expect to read this again any time soon when there are so many other books on my list already.  It seems that books can be grouped with albums in that they need to be experienced several times before I can really say I understand them, but unfortunately an album takes about an hour and this book took me several months.

Overall I guess there’s not much I can say other than you need to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for yourself, but of course far more informed people than me have already said that.  It’s intricately-written and some of the imagery is superb.  What I’ll add is that you shouldn’t take it lightly.  It’s often easy to pick up any book, including many of the classics, and breeze through it.  That’s entirely not the case with this book.  It’ll take some time, for sure, so give it some time and see if you can make something more of it than I did.

My Rating (first read): 6.5/10

Film Pop: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Year: 2011
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
IMDb

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the Oscar-nominated tale of a young boy coping in his own peculiar way with the death of his father in the September 11th attacks. Thomas Schell (Hanks) is always setting little challenges for his nine-year-old son Oskar (Horn) in order to teach him about life. After Thomas is caught attending a meeting in the World Trade Centre on “the Worst Day”, young Oskar is thrown into personal chaos, rejecting the affections of his mother (Bullock) to go on an epic adventure he believes his father intended for him. He is soon joined in his quest by his grandmother’s mysterious mute “renter” (Oscar nominee Max von Sydow), and the two journey throughout the five boroughs of New York in a seemingly impossible search for answers. They encounter a whole host of interesting characters (most of whom share the name Black) and learn a lot about life, each other and themselves.

It’s touching in parts, but a lot of the action seems unnecessary and perhaps the two-hour plus running time is a little too much for what it is. It’s also slightly annoying that, having no idea what the film was about beforehand, from the two names at the top of the DVD case I was expecting a little more Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Instead I was made to sit through two hours of a somewhat annoying kid and this had me a little put out throughout. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat heavy subject matter the film displays an optimism in the face of adversity that can only serve to inspire even if it is a little hard to relate to some of the issues Oskar seems to struggle with.

This film marks the ninth of ten Best Picture nominees from 2011 that I’ve now seen, coming somewhere in the middle of a decidedly mediocre bunch (Midnight in Paris, the one I most wanted to see all along, has still managed to elude me and will probably let me down when the time comes). It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, and as usual I haven’t read this (yet) so can’t pass judgement on that side of things. The theme of “child comes to terms with loss of parent” isn’t exactly an original one, but the approach is interesting and the emotive setting will certainly reach out to some perhaps more than it did to me.

So Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a little long and a little fantastical but I’d say it’s definitely one worth watching. At its best it’s highly moving, even if these moments are buried slightly too deep in dawdling drama, and at its worst it would be harsh to call it a bad film. Despite the feeling that I was tricked into watching it, it held my attention and came close to moving my emotions, which isn’t the easiest thing for a film to do. It’s not quite something I expect to watch again any time soon, but at least I don’t regret watching it in the first place.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Film Pop: March of the Penguins

Year: 2005
Director: Luc Jacquet
Stars: Morgan Freeman (voice)
IMDb

The past week has been a very busy one for me.  I’ve had a lot of fun, but I haven’t had the time to watch many movies at all.  One film I did manage to catch was March of the Penguins, this critically-acclaimed documentary showing the lives and hardships of the titular Antarctic birds.  From French director Luc Jacquet, the film was initially released in his mother tongue as La Marche de l’empereur and took a very different approach.  While in English the story is told by a lone, detached narrator (Freeman), the original French version took the perspective of a male and female Emperor Penguin couple, giving them voices to hear the story from their point of view.  This version sounds like it would be worth investigating, but in the English edition Freeman puts his well-tested voiceover skills to excellent use here, with a depth of emotion that really helps the viewer feel involved and even invested in the progress of these flightless birds thousands of miles away.

It’s probably easiest for me to tell you just to watch the documentary than trying here to detail everything the penguins go through, but it mostly covers the lives of a group of Emperor Penguins from courtship and mating through egg incubation and hatching until the new chicks are old enough to fend for themselves, finally releasing the parents from this epic obligation for the time being.  The film itself, on the other hand, is considerably less epic; the box claims an 85 minute run time (which would be short in itself) but the credits begin rolling around the 75 minute mark.  This makes the film a pretty easy watch, although with a considerable amount of activity packed into such a short time it’s important to pay close attention so as not to miss anything important.

Winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature the year it was released, March of the Penguins thus becomes only the second Oscar-winning documentary I’ve seen (following 2002’s Bowling for Columbine) which informs me that I ought to make these kinds of films a bigger part of my movie watching adventure.  I do like to learn, and if I can do that while being entertained then so much the better.

I can definitely recommend this as one to watch.  It’s hardly groundbreaking, but as one of the few (non-controversial) documentaries to break through into the realm of the wider popular cinematic culture it must be doing something right (Freeman’s involvement probably being a large part of this).  As I say, it’s easy to watch and although there are certainly a few gloomy moments it’s mostly the uplifting story of the triumph of a small group against their harsh, unforgiving environment.  It has drama, tension, sorrow and success.  Really, what more can you ask for in a movie?

My Rating: 7.5/10

Music Pop: Odessey & Oracle

Artist: The Zombies

Year: 1968
Example song: Time of the Season

I’ve always pondered over how well-known the Zombies are; almost everyone will recognise their signature song “Time of the Season” from various film and TV appearances, but when I mentioned them to my Dad shortly after I discovered them (a few years ago) he didn’t seem to have heard of them at all, and he was interested in this kind of music while growing up around the time it was released. I’ve since come to realise that he’s surprisingly ignorant at times, but that still answers none of my questions about the popularity of this band from Hertfordshire and their misspelled second LP (by the release of which they had already broken up).

Recorded in one session due to time and budget restraints, Odessey sounds remarkably professional and well put together. This probably (positively) contributed to the fact that the album flows exceptionally well, as the band would have to dive from one song straight into the next as smoothly as possible. Coherence is a trait I value highly in an album; you need to have well-defined tracks, but it’s nice not to be abruptly informed when they change.220px-Odessey_and_Oracle

As such this album is one that always sits nicely with me, and it brings back pleasant memories of a time a few years ago when I was really discovering new music (and devouring it at that). Before today I hadn’t listened to it in too long, and I sometimes feel a little sad that old unassuming favourites like this get left behind somewhat in my neverending quest to discover more and more. It’s nice to sit down every once in a while and listen to an album that means something to me, whatever that may be.

The opening track, “Care of Cell 44”, is hauntingly depressing yet optimistic as it deals with one partner waiting for the other’s release from prison. Haunting is in fact an appropriate appraisal of the rest of the album, coping with melancholic subject matters in a delicate and beautiful fashion. Excellent examples of this are “A Rose for Emily” and “Butcher’s Tale”. You get the general feeling from the album that even though things might be tough right now, with a little bit of faith and a little bit of love you can get through anything.

Overall Odessey & Oracle is an album I rate highly and one I think everyone should experience. It should be a particular hit with fans of ’60s music in general but this isn’t the extent of its appeal. It almost defies genre; I’ve heard it described as psychedelic pop, and I think that’s as apt an interpretation as you’re likely to find. It’s not packed full of hit singles, so if that’s what you’re after then maybe give it a miss. But if you like the sound of a well-written, peaceful yet thought-provoking album then give Odessey a listen, and you might just like what you hear.

My Rating: 8/10

Film Pop: Marnie

Year: 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker
IMDb

It seems I don’t have too many movies fresh enough in my mind to choose to review today, but I did recently watch a film starring Sean Connery from 1964. What’s that, I reviewed Goldfinger last week? But no, I managed purely by chance to settle on Marnie, Hitchcock’s thriller from the same year with the same leading man, to watch on Friday. Based on the book of the same name by Winston Graham, the film details the troubles of the titular young woman (Hedren). Marnie is compensating for an apparently troubled childhood by lying her way into jobs and sneaking her way out of them with pockets full of cash from the safe. This routine is abruptly halted by new boss Mark Rutland (Connery), who recognises her from her last job but pushes to hire her so that he can catch her in the act. Rutland has fallen in love with Marnie and quickly marries her despite her abject fear of being touched by a man (as well as of storms and the colour red). He promises to help her overcome her stealing problem, a task in which he is hindered by her total inability to tell the truth in addition to the scheming of Lil (Baker), his first wife’s sister who for some reason lives in the family home and is unsurprisingly madly in love with Mark.  He then agrees to pay back all of the former employers from whom she has stolen, including the aforementioned most recent manager who confronts Marnie having been invited to a party by Lil to cause trouble. I won’t spoil the ending, as it certainly took me by surprise, but it is both intelligent and intense, and is undeniably the crucial scene of the film.

Marnie is a good watch, perhaps middle-of-the-road by Hitchcock standards but that’s no little praise. Tippi Hedren produces a commendable performance off the back of The Birds a year earlier, really coming into her own in the denouement, although perhaps she ended up a little typecast as a Hitchcock heroine as she has few noteworthy credits to her name in the fifty years since. Connery, in the midst of his turn as 007, at least plays his character of “man who gets what he wants” believably; I’m not sure how much that’s a compliment on his acting and how much it’s a criticism on his character. It’s definitely the ending that saves the movie from the mediocrity that I felt it was in danger of drifting into and places it far above the likes of Family Plot in my Hitchcock standings.

I haven’t read the book, and so again I can’t attest to its faithfulness, but it seems to fit perfectly as an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. If you’re a Hitchcock fan you’ll certainly enjoy Marnie, and even if you’ve never seen one of his films this is a good one to see what he’s all about without jumping straight to the blockbusters with a Rear Window or a Psycho. I personally feel he can be very hit-and-miss, but Marnie is definitely a hit as far as I’m concerned.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Top Pops: Opening Tracks on Début Albums

It takes a certain skill to dive straight into the music business and capture your audience, and not everyone pulls it off as well. Eminem is an excellent example of this; although the opener to his major-label début The Slim Shady LP is the unforgettable My Name Is, the majority of Mathers’ true first album, Infinite, is rather mediocre by comparison (although I’m sure I’ve probably written it off too soon). So today I’m looking at traditionally accepted début albums, not necessarily major label (but at the same time not mixtapes or EPs), that jumped straight into my head from the off and hooked me from then on. (For the record, I’m not counting skits or intros as opening tracks). These are only somewhat in order, and it’s certainly not an exhaustive list (so may produce a sequel some time in the future).

#6 Papercut (Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory, 2001)

Linkin Park let everyone know who they are in the opening track to the best-selling début album of the 21st century, introducing the surprisingly fluent combination of Mike Shinoda’s rap vocals and Chester Bennington’s harder approach, a staple of their success.

#5 Nobody (Skindred, Babylon, 2002)

Nobody is right; nobody expected heavy metal and reggae to blend as well as they do in this opener from the so-called “ragga-metal” ensemble from Newport, Wales. Skindred are a band who I only discovered a few years ago, but I wish I’d heard this record when it first came out.

#4 We Don’t Care (Kanye West, The College Dropout, 2004)

They didn’t care in the industry about Kanye’s ambitions as a rapper for years, having viewed him as more of a producer, but when he finally persuaded them to give him a chance following a near-fatal road accident, he showed them why they should.

#3 Feels Like the First Time (Foreigner, Foreigner, 1977)

Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, and yet so easy to fall for; Foreigner have been showing everyone how the power ballad is really done ever since the aptly-named first track from 1977’s eponymous introduction.

#2 I Saw Her Standing There (The Beatles, Please Please Me, 1963)

Among my favourite Beatles tracks, but then again, what isn’t (step forward Revolution 9); this was a strong contender for my first of the firsts of the firsts. Although unsurprisingly not the first Beatles song I heard, had you bought this LP upon release and stuck on side #1, track #1, I don’t know how you could ever have danced with another.

#1 Bombtrack (Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine, 1992)

This scrapes the top spot simply because I consider it such an appropriate introduction to Rage as a band – every Rage Against the Machine song is a Bombtrack in its own right, and if you hear this song and like it, as I did, then you know immediately that Rage are the band for you. The track introduces the trademarks of almost all RATM songs; Zack de la Rocha’s somewhat unnecessary yet endearing repetition of political-type mantras over Tom Morello’s punishing guitar riffs.

Film Pop: Goldfinger

Year: 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: Sean Connery,  Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman
IMDb

Perhaps similarly to my Doctor Who experiences, my Bond history is firmly centred around recent times.  I’ve watched all the Craigs, most of the Brosnans, and nothing before that.  I now own all but about five or six of the back catalogue, and having returned from a brief Christmas shopping trip with Goldfinger and Moonraker I felt that the time was right to immediately change this fact.  I settled on the former, as my girlfriend assured me that her home state of Kentucky would be central.

After the iconic Bond opening with the timeless Shirley Bassey number played over the top, the film settled in to show Secret Agent James Bond (Connery), in his third official film outing, tasked by MI6 to follow the machinations of the ominously-named Auric Goldfinger (Fröbe), a gold-exporting Englishman with a suspicious foreign accent.  Goldfinger is smuggling his gold out of the country, Bond discovers, by coating his car in the precious metal and driving it to Switzerland before taking the opportunity to speak indiscreetly yet inconclusively about his grand scheme, “Operation Grand Slam”.  Bond is captured but bluffs his way out of death before being flown with the rest of Goldfinger’s entourage to Fort Knox (in Kentucky), where Grand Slam will take place.  It transpires that Goldfinger’s aim is not to rob the largest gold reserve in the world of its shiny bricks but to detonate a nuclear device, making them radioactive for several decades and thus driving up the price of gold (of which he owns quite a lot) tenfold.  Of course in the end Bond prevails either thanks to or despite the input of Pussy Galore (Blackman), Goldfinger’s exotic plane-flying henchwoman who never seems to decide her allegiance, and certainly no thanks to Oddjob, a mute man-mountain with a killer hat.

One thing I found very noticeable about Goldfinger was the soundtrack, and I don’t usually notice a soundtrack.  As I’ve mentioned, I was of course already well-acquainted with the main theme but I was highly impressed with the way variations on the same melody kept popping up throughout the story, always sounding just right whatever the scene required.  Other than that nothing was particularly remarkable other than the inherent excitement of James Bond, but the charm of the enduring legacy is more than enough to keep my interest when a stand-alone film might have lost it.

Overall it’s definitely fair to say I enjoyed the film.  Of course the acting wasn’t the best (Connery’s accent), and the plot was a little weak in places, but it’s always fun to watch one of those iconic films that are known across countries and generations and quoted all the time (“No Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die” a personal highlight).  I’m certainly inspired to delve deeper into the Bond experience, although I do worry that I’ve set the bar a little too high.  I’d like to close with a pun about being shaken or stirred, but I like to think I’m better than that.

My Rating:  24 carat gold.

My sincerest apologies.  7.5/10.