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film of the week: The Lobster

I often like to walk along a busy thoroughfare, taking for granted the happy faces, either with friend or lover. What brought them together and will they last? Who can say, we must trust that they actually appreciate each other’s company at least.

This well established trusim is somewhat challenged in the Lobster. A film that although set in near contemporary times, takes on a dystopian reality, where spurned lovers choose to check into a isolated hotel to find another special someone. The duration of their trip is to be forty five days. That’s how long the guest has to find a lover. If they fail they are to be ‘turned’ into an animal of their choosing. David (played by Colin Farrell) chooses to be a lobster if things don’t turn out for him.

We see David stripped of his individuality and personal affects, one arm tied behind his back to ensure no personal relief is attained in his small single room. Thankfully he is allowed retain his dog, which is quite important in the context of the story but I won’t spoil it. He is soon introduced to some of the fellow guests. Ben Whimsaw and John C Reilly with a particularly good lisp.

The only means of increasing the length of your stay (and subsequently, the chances of finding courtship) is by catching one of the loners who live in the woodlands. Loners are those currently living off the grid, preferring to take their chances in the wild, away from the functioning cities of normal people in normal relationships.

The social scene at the hotel is limited. The entertainment is provided by the husband and wife couple ( Olivia Colman, great as always) but despite his best efforts David doesn’t see anyone he likes enough.

It is a film that offers the viewer plenty of time to think about the world we live in now and how while we feel connections are often difficult, forcing the issue in some 1960s style resort with succinct East German style small talk hardly makes for a better option.

The term visually stunning is thrown around far too often these days. Especially in the ea of digital filmmaking and the advantages it offers. However d.o.p Thimios Bakatakis works very well here, often utilizing Kubrikian style wide shots to compliment the eery dated premises of the hotel.

It’s not what you’d call a melodrama either. The actors deliver their lines in a cold, matter of fact fashion, drawing attention to the fact that we often spend so much of our own lives speaking in a routine cadence, trying to convince a stranger that we’re just about normal enough.

As time goes on, the film manages to portray perfectly so many traits of the modern meat markets, be it discos or online apps. Women throwing themselves at men despite their better judgements, men pretending to be something else to impress women. In the film the mission appears to be find someone and move back to the normal life in the city. If you fail you get to live out your days like an animal. It’s fascinating stuff and not only because it’s the kind of swill served up by churches and governments ( and Western romantic comedies) for so long. It holds up the single person as someone been forced to comply for the sake of uniformity.

Eventually David, with time running out on him, decides to try and start something with an unnamed heartless woman. She sees through his falseness and he decides to flee, making his way into the woodlands. Here he meets the previously mentioned Loners and lives happily ever after…

….well not really. But I don’t think me outlining the plot can do this film the kind of service it deserves. Rachel Weisz also stars, as does upstairs in the mecca of Irish retail, the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre.

The producers must have paid a small fortune for that location

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Telefon

*Note: I’ve made a deliberate attempt to shorten these reviews. Less than 300 words is now the aim!

At first this film shows good promise. The set up is done quickly and the stakes are something we can invest in. Sleeper Russian agents living in America. Unfortunately we’re soon into the Hollywood version of the Kremlin. Anachronistic uniforms, Russian characters in either American or English accents (with respect to Patrick Magee who had that grand thespian presence). They discuss the matter of the sleeper agents and come to the conclusion that they have to bring down the rogue agent ‘Dalchimsky’ who is responsible for all this.

And so we have Charles Bronson, a Russian major who is charged with finding Dalchimsky. We are introduced to him coaching young ‘Russian’ ice hockey players. Upon hearing the accents, we are very much in the territory of suspending disbelief.

He heads to America to team up with Lee Remick. She’s enthusiastic and impossibly horny for a person trying to stop men from killing lots of people. We learn too that she’s been sent by the CIA who have a super computer that is trying to help them capture Dalchimsky.

This Dalchimsky chap is played by Donald Pleasance. Pleasance’s first appearance in this film is him sitting in a station wagon admiring the first of his agent’s handiwork from afar. We can tell he isn’t there on set because not only do we not have a cutaway establishing shot, we also have a very noble attempt of back lighting/green screen. I say noble because someone spent hours on it, even though it is simply doesn’t stand up now.

Anyway this film seems like the heart went out of it. Like as if they couldn’t afford the finale they wanted so they settled on something else.

I would have defended this a few years back. Urged people to see it. But there really isn’t a reason. Except of course to watch Patrick Magee. Tyne Daly is also in it and is completely underused as a CIA computer expert.

Anyway Siegel was no doubt saving his energy for the Alcatraz film. This wasn’t his baby and he came on board a bit later into production. There is some good stuff in here. As mentioned the initial scenes are set in Russia and some of these look good, despite being filmed in Finland. The Lalo Schifrin music is also typically class and well eh…yep that’s all I can think of!

*Roughy 400 words, I’ll work on it!

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Riffed: Full Movie

The 2014 film ‘Riffed’ is now available on Youtube for a limited period!

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All About Andy: Ten Years On

Yes, that’s right. Ten years. Don’t ask me where the time has gone, because I don’t have a clue.

I wanted to get this back out into the world after a long absence. I had grand ideas of a new colour grade and spectacular new graphics but alas, I have been unable to do this for a few reasons.

Nonetheless, here are the original four parts , all on YouTube. I will endeavor to get a new and improved version up this year but it might have to wait until I get back to Ireland.

All About Andy Part 1

All About Andy Part 2

All About Andy Part 3

All About Andy Part 4

allaboutandyscreenshot1

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book of the month : SULLY (aka)Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters

sully cover

 

In the midst of my recent house move I mislaid my Kindle and only managed to throw a few paperbacks in a box. One of these was Sully. I had won it in a table quiz two years ago along with some Guardians of the Galaxy keyrings I think.

Anyway, Sully( Chelsey Sullenberger) as you may nor may not know was the pilot responsible for the successful landing of an airbus jet on the Hudson in 2009. The book outlines his career up to that point and how his formative years shaped the kind of character who was able to hold his nerve in such trying circumstances.

The story goes back and forth with occasional glimpses of the fateful day of the incident itself, whilst maintaining a steady timeline from childhood through his life as a father and husband. Having not seen the Clint Eastwood film of the same name, I can only hope that they went for a similar approach. The crash lasted approximately four minutes which would challenge the creativity of most film directors. With all that said I couldn’t help but picture Tom Hanks all the way through.

We learn that Sullenberger came from a very modest family home in Texas. His father was prone to mood swings which would later be diagnosed as depression. He instilled in his family a strong work ethic however, with all of the unit charged with assisting in the construction of the house they lived in. Everything from the floorboards to the furniture was made by them.

Sullenberger gets his urge to fly from seeing fighter jets at a nearby airbase and takes lessons in his mid teens. Again he is eager to illustrate the sacrifices his family made to make this possible. Learning to be a pilot has never been cheap. We follow his career into the airforce, where he explains his cautious philosophy of flying in comparison to some of his peers. How he was keeping one eye on his future now that America was no longer at war at this stage and his decision to go into commercial airline work rather than staying in the military.

His recollections are key to creating an easy visual of the time he lived in. In the late 1960s right through the 70s there was still a great glamour to air travel. Passengers used to dress up just to get on the plane.

As cost cutting measures become the norm in the 1990s he is forced to cut his own cloth to measure. His anecdotes about packing his own lunch for flights are very telling. As are his attempts to get free flights for his family and his young daughter calling him out for being a cheapskate.

The book is a fine easy reading account of not only the career of this man but perhaps a subtle commentary on middle class America. For most of his adult life right into his fifties( I think he was 57 when the Hudson incident occurred) Sullenberger is constantly worried about money. He even maintains a second job as a health and safety contractor. Remarkable to think that a pilot would have to do this.

All in all I think this is well worth a read. Sully comes across as a very knowledgeable professional and the now deceased co-author ( journalist Jeffrey Zazlow) really helps him find his voice.

 

 

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Film of the week: Traffic

traffic-trafiki-qartulad

 

Recently I have been spending a few nights re-acquainting myself with some of the most popular films from the first decade of this century. This is in part due to my lack of broadband in the house and also my apathy in maintaining the newness of my DVD collection. So I’m stuck with a big case of ten to fifteen year old films. But that’s okay.
Traffic is a Steven Soderbergh film which gained both audience appreciation and a shedload of awards. It charts the movement of drugs across the Mexican and US border and the efforts of both administration’s efforts to halt said movement. In between the two plus hours of the film the documentary style cinematography is broken up with a melodramatic subplot or two which endeavors to show the human cost of drug taking.
At the time Traffic looked like very little else. We were in the midst of the uncomfortable crossover of textbook 1990s filmmaking being taken over by the digital age. Soderbergh himself had plans to rework the Ocean’s Eleven crime caper, a vacuous but entertaining exercise in 3D camerawork, lighting and cgi. Here he displays his passion for cinema verite, differentiating the changes in location by generously grading each one with either yellow tints for Mexico and blue for Washington. I later learned that he operated the camera himself a large number of the handheld shots. Bet the unions didn’t like that.
Traffic is a template for almost everything which has followed since in terms of raw indie filmmaking. Shaky cameras, jump cuts, the aforementioned grading. This could mean that you feel some kind of anger towards the film merely for the imitation it has spawned. But that would do Soderbergh little credit.
It is a sweeping epic kind of quality. In a similar vein to maybe Heat or indeed the TV series Miami Vice though with a far different aesthetic. The script while often verging on the side of lecture is informative and gives a good grounding in the basics of drug warfare in the US.
Really though the film might be best remembered as an exercise in having Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones in a film together, though in separate strands. Douglas plays a middle aged judge who gets promoted to DC to take on the tricky assignment of winning the war on drugs. He soon is to find out that he is part of an never ending industry and the war is keeping a lot of people in high paying jobs. He also learns first hand the effects of drugs on his family, as his private schooled daughter becomes beholden to crack.
For her part Jones is the heavily pregnant wife of a drug lord who is arrested and almost certain to face a lengthy jail term. As she pursued by the buddy cop team of Soderbergh regulars Don Cheadle and Luiz Guzman, we see her trying to unravel the spools of her husband’s enterprise and how she is going to survive without him.
Of course the film is anchored by Benecio Del Toro, a hugely popular actor who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the unbreakable Mexican cop. He is in fine form here, understated and proud with few ambitions beyond installing lights at the local baseball park so kids have something to do at night.
It is a fine film. The multiple strands of story move the action on at a good pace, wisely not dwelling too much on any character’s arc, instead giving them just about enough shade that we can make out their m.o. Many of the scenes too seem to be improvised which certainly add a sense of authenticity to the proceedings.
Ultimately though many will say it’s safe, a project designed to make some mainly white Hollywood A-listers feel good about themselves, all the while exploiting the rich and fertile ground of crime that Mexico always seems to provide in movieland.
But I still like it.

 

 

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FILM OF THE WEEK Aguirre: The wrath of god

aguirre

 

Spanish conquistadors speaking German going down the Amazon on rickety wooden barges, built by their slaves. Filmed on a stolen camera. It should be a mess but it’s far from it.

Klaus Kinski has gained much infamy in the years that have passed. One would assume it had plenty to do with his determination to stay in malevolent character all the way through the film’s production.

Here he plays Aguirre, who in a mission led by Pizarro want to get downstream. After struggling through some troubled waters Pizarro thinks better of it and wants to turn back and go in a different, easier direction. Aguirre believing his destiny is to find some mythical city of gold, declares a mutiny and in turn his support for a new de-facto Emperor.

As the local tribes battle both each other and Aguirre’s arrivals, long arrows fly towards them. Meanwhile everything happens on the barge. The animals they carry begin to get restless on the water, as do the people. As various people take sides and figure out where best to butter their bread, Aguirre stands not quite tall, but slightly bent over, seemingly impervious to the attacks coming from the shore.

I would have to watch this again to fully appreciate it and indeed get everything right. The first viewing was such a curiosity. I simply couldn’t figure out how they managed it. How they got through that amazing opening scene. How the equipment managed to stay safe. How they got the master tapes back to the editing room in Germany. How they didn’t all kill each other beforehand.

This is not a wanton bloodfest like say Cannibal Holocaust. But one must wonder how much was made up on the spot and again what was put upon the performers after they’d surely agreed to lesser demands of them.

It certainly doesn’t compare to the grandeur of Fitzcarraldo( another Werner/Klaus collaboration) in my opinion. With Aguirre, we are talking about a film with a similar ambition but a far inferior budget. But when you look at the facts and what they achieved, Aguirre wins out on force of will.

There are two main reasons this works. Herzog and Kinski. This was the first time they worked together despite a long term ‘friendship’. The former’s determination to see it through and refuse to be cowed by the challenges of the terrain. And of course Kinski and that deathly stare of his. His performance is so convincing. This other worldly presence determined to bend the will of the other characters to do his bidding.

I guarantee you, you’ll not see many like this.

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Film of the week: The Eiger Sanction

Eiger_sanction

 

When it comes to 1970s Clint Eastwood movies you can usually have a good idea of what’s in store before you go in.

While the genres and surroundings might change and horses and orangutans are swapped freely with prisons and views of San Francisco, Clint’s act rarely changes. He’ll either talk tough or not talk much at all. And it usually works great.

In the Eiger Sanction, the formula is altered with very mixed results. While Harry Callahan’s racist bigotry can be indulged to a point considering the times it’s set in and the ultimate payoff of taking scumbags off the streets, here we see Eastwood play an unrepentant asshole and none of us are in on the joke.

The film opens with a mysterious spy in Zurich, getting killed over microfilm. So far, so seen it before. Soon John Hemlock(Eastwood) is summoned by a secret organisation to carry out a killing[Sanction) on the killer in exchange for cash and further improvements on his art collection. You see he’s been retired and is now a professor at the local university, teaching horny uninterested students about fine art.

He carries out the bidding of the strange albino Dragon, his de facto boss, but is double-crossed by air stewardess he met earlier.

Jesus, it’s a mess. By now he’s already chewed through five films worth of smart ass and unnecessarily angry remarks and made a bizarre joke about rape that surely wasn’t funny in 1975 either.

The stakes are raised and he’s told he has another Sanction to carry out. This time on a large dangerous Swiss mountain. This mountain holds particular resonance for John as he failed to climb it during a past life as a climber.

John heads to Utah to get some training in. George Kennedy comes in and does his George Kennedy act from Cool Hand Luke, though not really as good. More women appear, either get fucked or get their asses slapped. John gets trained by a mute girl who entices him to train harder by stripping off her top. Meanwhile, an old enemy turns up at the resort. He’s gay and he calls his dog Faggot.

I’m exhausted. We’re only an hour in.

Anyway, in between this horror, we get some amazing cinematography. Beautiful wide angles of mountain climbing, some death-defying sequences too. Very often nowadays you might take for granted such mastery of the camera. But here, with the technology available so limited, huge credit must be given. Indeed it is the saving grace of the film.

The standard of camera work only improves when they get to the snowy mountains of Switzerland. By now John is up the Eiger and we’re still none the wiser as to his enemy. I was very indifferent at this point too.

I watched the new Wonder Woman during the week and while I was moderately charmed by a good performance by the lead, ultimately I became restless as the CGI began to dominate. After watching Eiger I could plainly see that Clint did all the mountain climbing himself. That’s impressive.

Ultimately though, the script would have lost nothing by cutting the first thirty pages and advising Eastwood that he was never the debonair playboy type.

I really can’t recall a more uneven film. Frank Stanley, the man behind the lens deserves all the acclaim. Sadly, the film cost him his friendship with Eastwood and they never worked together again.

The film had three screenwriters none of which were the author of the original novel though one, did end up writing Lethal Weapon 2.

Those with a low tolerance for chauvinism should give this a wide berth. 

 

 

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film of the week: Unstoppable

unstoppbable

 

I always had a bit of a liking for trains. A certain nobility about a big engine traversing the land, carrying cargo, people or both. It has also been a great provider of employment down the years, or at least it used to be. In this, Tony Scott’s last feature film, we are treated to a high-octane but plausible critique on the state of freight train commerce in recession-hit America. Once again it’s a dark day for the white collar shills.

Denzel Washington plays Frank, a widowed locomotive driver coming up on nearly thirty years of duty, soon to be made redundant as a new company merger forces out older staff. His sidekick here, conductor Will Coulson played by Chris Pine is a more recent recruit, having joined an ailing company at the wrong time, hoping that he can make a good impression and survive the cull.

The setting is in Pennsylvania, by way of Scranton and other cities that keep the engine room of America glowing.

In a well-flagged move, a burly dope by the name of Dewey takes his eye off his linesman duties and a train carrying a large payload of toxic fuel gets away from him and his bumbling partner. They are unable to rectify their error and the train gets away on full power. We now have the title of the film.

As it gathers speed, the man in the editing suite tries to keep pace, jumping manically from engine room to operations room, to boardroom. There are multiple local news channels documenting the event as helicopters fly just above the train, none of which are able to offer any assistance but are still well able to photograph the impending tragedy. Such is life.

There is a chief welder, Ned Oldham who pops in the B-team role. He and his ill-advised ponytail will eventually make a vital intervention but in the interim, we are treated to some classic male bonding between Washington and Pine as they lament lost women and soon to be lost jobs. They are occasionally interrupted by Rosario Dawson, who plays the earnest, open-minded yardmaster. She is never too far away to remind them of how close they are getting to catching the runaway train, offering words of encouragement without sounding totally helpless.

This all could fall on its ass rather easily in the wrong hands, or indeed with a budget normally associated with True Movies type fare. Here, however, we are well covered, there is an impressive scope to the entire production. Notably too, Tony Scott, he of Top Gun, he of Crimson Tide, knows exactly how to draft an action movie graph. All the peaks are in the right place.

It is very sad that he is no longer with us. Rumours persisted for a while about his death. In time, brother Ridley disclosed that his sibling had been fighting a long and frustrating battle with cancer and wanted to go out on his own terms.

What he left behind, apart of course from a broken hearted family, was a body of work that is hugely impressive in retrospect. Compared again to his brother, he might easily be dismissed as a reliable but uninspired filmmaker. Top Gun was undoubtedly the big one. Among others, we had Days of Thunder, True Romance, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Domino, Deja Vu. Very few of his films were disappointments. So perhaps the reliable tag is fair.

With this film, the last one released before his death( others followed posthumously) I believe he went out on a high. Definitely recommended.

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Film of the week: Octopussy

Octopussy_12

There comes a time in every person’s life when they are faced with the unwanted reality of mortality.  Never enough hours to make up for your regrets. The sands of time drifting away before you accomplish everything you desired. But perhaps Roger Moore came closer than most.

Born in London in 1927, Moore was the only child of a policeman and a mother born in India, where his youth was often spent sick in the confines of a modest but respectable apartment in Stockwell, in the south of the city.

During World War 2 and the terrifying blitz he was one of many youths to be ferried out of the nation’s capital. Around this time he was beginning to cultivate that slightly roguish but ultimately very charming personality we would all fall in love with.

He didn’t know quite what he wanted yet but after a short unsuccessful spell at an animation studio he ended up as an extra on a feature film. This came about by pure chance, a favour owed to his father.

So began a journey in cinema that would last until well into the turn of the new Millennium. Initially, he was booked in the old system as a studio star. A supposedly comfortable but often uncertain existence where there might be guarantees of work but only on the say so of some executive.

While this was occurring Moore seemed happy just to be happy. His affability just as important as them matinee idol looks. Before the household fame, Moore would serve in the Army as an entertainment officer, which seems so quaint when you say it. He modelled woollen cardigans and in time lost the cockney twang for something altogether more silken.

There was a youthful engagement and marriage by the age of 25. There followed more marriages and more high society evenings in a 1950s London that arguably has never been bettered for its galaxy of stars and starlets.

After that came famous TV programmes such as Ivanhoe, The Saint and The Persuaders. And what would follow that, would change this scribe’s life.

I first encountered Roger on a 14” portable colour Samsung television in Beechdale, Dunboyne, possibly late 1987. Ulster Television was to me, just a place where Liverpool perennially broke my United father’s heart every weekend on The Match. Where I could watch cartoons like Trap Door and Mask, as well as more adult, themed fare like Bullseye, Corrie and if the schedules were consistent, The A-team and Knight Rider. At this point in my life, I had not developed any real taste in anything except what my friends and parents liked.

James Bond was the first thing on TV that I had sole ownership of in my little world…or at least I thought.

The first 007 film I saw was Octopussy. Of that, I have no doubt. I know this because all I wanted to do that Christmas was buy a ridiculously expensive Lego train set and recreate the epic chase between the black Mercedes and the speeding locomotive.

I had no reason to think that adults would scoff at the title of the film or that Moore, himself now into his sixth Bond film and his fifty-sixth year was being sniggered at by critics for committing the cardinal sin of getting old. I had no frame of reference. Octopussy to me was just brilliant.

The opening scenes, shot most probably in Nottingham but doubling for some communist republic in South America, sees Bond unsuccessfully try to plant a bomb in the opposition army base. His cunning moustache disguise is soon detected and he is taken away in the direction of a military prison. Before you can say ‘look at that horse’s tail’ 007s earlier seen female ally has reappeared, just in time to distract the driver of the paddy wagon. Soon Bond has made good his escape, via an eight-foot long mini aeroplane. Not content with simply regaining his freedom, he engages in a short round of cat and mouse with some opposition missiles, returning to the enemy base for just a moment long enough to see the opposition blow their own base up. With his fuel tank inexplicably empty and no time to gloat on this fortunate turn of events Bond aims his craft downward and finds a local filling station and a befuddled attendant.

Bond opens up his plexiglass and says

‘fill her up please’

And with that, I was in love.

It would be a very indulgent waste of time for me to review the rest of the film in such detail. Except to say with this alongside Die Hard, The Warriors and probably all the other Bond films, I could pretty much do so without having to watch the film ever again.

If you want my 2011 review though, it’s here. And it’s pretty good proof that this positive spin has nothing to do with the week that’s in it or that my opinion has been formed on a whim.

But I guess if I don’t win the doubters over with this piece that’s okay. The more hardened fan might prefer Live and Let Die or of course, The Spy Who Loved Me( which is peak Roger, no doubt). I myself must admit a preference for 1973 Moore wardrobe over its rival ten years on.

Screen shot 2017-05-26 at 21.09.50

rogerlald

And they called it turtleneck love…..

But in the context of Octopussy being his penultimate adventure and the important note that he had in fact quietly half retired after For Your Eyes Only in ‘81, even now I always thought Roge had a bit more spring in his step on this film.

For a number of reasons. After flirting with the idea of the first American cinematic Bond(James Brolin did a screen test and was days away) producers decided to go back to the ever dependable Moore. With Connery returning in an opposition Bond movie the same year, Broccoli perhaps felt it dangerous to put a new guy up against the Scotsman. This decision was vindicated at the box office.

Reason number two, in my opinion, is the chemistry he enjoyed with his co-stars. Maude Adams always seemed to look the ideal fit for Moore. Two strikingly handsome but understated souls. Though she kind of cheated by coming back from the dead(also starring in The Man With the Golden Gun) I would venture that her second go around is the most successful second go around in the series…and Joe Don Baker fans are just going to have to deal with it.

The film also stars a flawless Louis Jordan and a fantastically over the top Steven Berkoff but I digress.

The third and perhaps most poignant reason was Moore falling in love with India and the people of India, the birthplace of his mother. Particularly the poverty stricken youths of the streets. It was around this time that Unicef ambassador Audrey Hepburn had been encouraging him to use his profile more in the field of charity. Moore was reluctant to do so, preferring to make his donations privately. But Audrey quite correctly managed to explain that his profile would do wonders for the organisation and easily dwarf his previous efforts in terms of the bottom line.

So began a new legacy just as this old one was reaching the end. Roger would do one more Bond, A View To a Kill in 1985.

But in the years that have followed it has been somewhat irrelevant what James Bond will return in. A little bittersweet to acknowledge its silliness as your adult mind struggles to retain the innocence of youth. I still love the character and love whoever plays the character, but you never forget your first.

Thank you Roger Moore.