27 November 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1977-1981)

1977 - The Spy Who Loved Me - After trying a more comical tone didn’t work and after following in Connery’s footsteps also failed miserably, we are presented with something different: an espionage thriller cut wide open and replaced with Bond organs, creating a monster which works wonders. Moore finally gets his spy legs.

Between reminders of what you’re watching, it’s easy to forget that this is 007 and shit is quirky. See, here, shit is also heavy. 007 knocks a henchman off a roof and one-lines him at a moment where it would do good to no one, only to gloat I suppose. Bond’s marital status is even mentioned and responded to with a serious ‘shut your mouth’ look. Have I not been paying attention? Or did things just get this way?

After mucking up You Only Live Twice, the film is a total redemption for the director. This is who that Gilbert guy thinks he is, making Bond look absolutely badass riding a tiny water vehicle, backflipping over a snow dune, and dispatching Jaws with a giant magnet. This has come at a welcome time, too, since I haven’t fully enjoyed Bond for six films. Twelve years. Utter crap.

It really is nice to see actors and crew fully utilizing all of their talents, with none of the ’oh well, it’s only Bond’ attitude. Movie’s awesome. There’s no reason why they can’t all be like this.

“Pyramids. AHHHHHH!” (7.0/10)
o. 1977
d. Lewis Gilbert

1979 - Moonraker - I swear to sweet tiny Jesus (the littlest Jesus of all) the next time we jump cut to Bond after a double entendre, I will murder someone.

Oddly, the first act briefings have gotten predictable faster than the gadgets have. "Bond, come into my office to learn the plot. Flirt with Miss Moneypenny and off you go." Even the female roles have gotten a bit stale. Introduction means that in ten minutes, she’ll be dead or screwed.

Signs that the Bond movies are starting to go downhill: needless use of process screens. Another sign: when villains order Bond killed on their own property. How exactly is that not going to look suspicious to British Secret Service? Try being a spy for a bit, maybe, see if that works.

For the record, I love Jaws as a recurring invincible henchman, even if he is a bit overused here. He appears in every action sequence, grinning like a rapist. His reappearance is somewhat sudden, with no justifiable excuse other than ‘he was there/the movie had some.’ As if a skydive with no parachute wasn’t enough?

And how does Moore always get into a speed boat chase? Canals bring him nothing but trouble.

Bond succeeds in his pilot’s disguise this time and makes it into outer space, where well-done special effects await. The third act kicks the movie into high gear, accompanied by an excellent score which fills me with a sort of chest-inflating pride, grateful that 007 is on our side and saving the entire world sometimes.

And even though the scheme is recycled from the previous film, the idea is still neat. And- hey! That’s the guy from Munich! Woo. Not bad, third act, not bad at all.

“Well, here’s to us.” (5.5/10)
d. Lewis Gilbert

1981 - For Your Eyes Only - Fine, keep the double entendres, movie. See if I care.

I remember being especially wary about this entry, as it takes place in a decade where good action films go to have one unforgivable aspect ruin them entirely. The cheesily produced score does not help this one in the slightest, but luckily, the script and the direction help immensely, making for what is probably going to be my favorite of Moore’s films.

Keeping with Bond tradition, second unit director takes up directing job, with great down-to-Earth results. John Glen ain’t there to muck about. He throws out most conventional Bond filming techniques and treats the entire film like a second unit shoot, placing Moore right there with the action and only using projection screens as a last resort. Everything’s so damn honest, and combined with the setting, it makes me wonder what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been like if it were handled as serious as this.

But perhaps the reason it is so serous is because it lacks the grandeur of the previous entries. Brilliant staging nonetheless, the actions scenes don’t go far outside of their point of origin, and with the ‘ending’ of the SPECTRE organization in the obligatory opening teaser, the plot is confined to mere lies and double-crosses between organizations. I for one delight in seeing 007 running around and being all angry and spy-full. Heheh, ‘spy-full,’ get it?

I'm left with not much to nitpick about. For Your Eyes Only does well in forcing my complainy trap shut.

"I trust you had a pleasant fright!" (7.0/10)
d. John Glen

18 November 2007

OLR: Children of Men (2006)

The most effective part of this movie for me is that, outside of the unlikely initial cause, it depicts the most realistic dystopia I've seen on film. (10/10)

d. Alfonso CuarĂ³n

11 November 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1973-1975)

1973 - Live and Let Die - Bond clashes with the seventies because he’s so progressive. He is? Yes.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is Roger Moore, Bond as a hotshot Cary Grant, less refined and more topical humor oriented, escaping harrowing situations not with a dark comic spin but with lightfooted wackiness. Moore’s got the look and he’s got the demeanor, but not so much the attitude, and therein lies my biggest complaint with this outing: did I accidentally walk into a Howard Hawks picture?

Owning a kind of Superfly/The Enforcer tone, 007 smirks his way through a simple mystery involving a kingpin and his pointlessly psychic assistant. Great action set pieces contained within, one with a double-decker bus, another with a grounded plane, a third with a bunch of speed boats and comic-relief police cars, and there’s even an escape from crocodiles. You certainly cannot fault any of the action.

For what you can… I’m not too sure. What is clear is that forcing the tone of the film to reflect the era doesn’t work. Bond is so out of place in this environment that it seems like sheer goodwill that he is allowed to survive. The producers were concerned that his suave elegance no longer interested a peace-loving antiVietnam-war audience, who wanted more of bluntly violent Dirty Harry-style justice and meandering plotless road trips. They didn’t consider that perhaps, maybe, the reason why Bond was sloping is because the material was missing some of the intelligence of earlier entries.

Heheh, “Butter-claw,” the first funny Bond quip since Thunderball’s “You can’t win them all.” Guy Hamilton does good here. It is clear to me that style isn’t his strength. He is much better at atmosphere. Is it just me, or is voodoo never adventurey? It can be scary or disturbing, not ‘boy this is fun.’

Yapphet Kotto as Kananga is a wonderful villain, second only to Blofeld. Bond’s confrontation with him at the climax stands at even height to the best Bond films. It gets undeniably cool towards the end. If only the rest of it were as interesting as these final scenes. Did that man ‘splode? Very much so.

I would have preferred a better debut for Moore, at the very least it’s a step in the right direction.

“Trouble!” (5.5/10)
d. Guy Hamilton

1974 - The Man with the Golden Gun - A return to the well, sorta. Gone is the prevalent 70’s tone and back is the dreamlike whimsy. Course, the problem is that the story could have been compressed to about an hour. Well, okay, more than just one problem: terrible opening theme, a stupid midget sidekick, Moore smacking women around and grabbing sumo ass, which is not my idea of spy coolness. That sort of thing is sure to send some corpses spinning.

Scaramanga’s obsession on dueling with Bond is the focus, but it is so overwrought that by the time it finally happens, it’s more of a relief that at least we don’t have to sit through any more setup. Christopher Lee's catlike also fails to interest.

It’s no cat-and-mouse game if there isn’t a mystery at work. We know why Scaramanga’s bad within the opening scene; he kills people by boring them to death in a stupid funhouse. After that, the progression is pretty simple: Bond figures something out, cut to a shot of Scaramanga looking pleased, Bond figures something else out, cut to another shot of Scaramanga being a puppeteer again. This gets tedious very, very quickly.

In spite of its numerous shortcomings, it does has its moments. The solar power implementation is neat, and Goodnight and Bond have great chemistry, probably the only thing that did fully immerse me in the film. I cared about those two kids getting together, even if it is painfully inevitable.

The Man with the Golden Gun ultimately saves itself from being terrible, barely, and I suppose that means that it is only a waste of time and nothing worse.

"I like a girl in a bikini. No concealed weapons." (5.0/10)
d. Guy Hamilton

04 November 2007

OLR: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Yeah, people were crying an awful lot, but it was neato other than that. (7/10)

d. Sam Raimi

03 November 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1969-1971)

1969 - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - The series is in its darker days. A lead actor has quit and the replacement is doomed to unfavorable comparisons. It’s time to pick up the pieces and carry on. Is it pulled off? IS IT? HUH?

In several cinematic throwbacks to Dr. No, actual introduction of (the new) Bond is held off to the last possible second, George Lazenby finally revealed after a beautiful fight sequence on an underexposed beach. Fourth wall breakage, live-zooms, dropped frames, and echoed sound effects ensue.

For better or worse, it looks like the old school style is back. Using a veteran Bond editor and second unit cameraman as this movie’s helmer works very well. Peter Hunt has a definite vision for the series, and his portrayal is accurate; he clearly knows what he is doing, thankfully abandoning much of the style of the previous picture.

The film’s major downfall isn’t the casting change, but the length. It definitely feels as long as it is, and doesn’t ever recover from the pacing drop in the middle. Excellent sexual tension and interplay with the female lead is abruptly halted in favor of the main story, confining the budding relationship to a cheap montage.

So then the main plot steals center stage… and it’s a drag. Some of the blame goes to the poor pacing of the act. It takes Bond forever to uncover SPECTRE’s simple quest for world domination, and his method for doing so is interviewing (read: screwing) the girl test subjects. Gee, thanks for that giant waste of time, movie, it wouldn’t have felt like a Bond film without the womanizing.

It’s a huge relief when the romantic subplot returns to the forefront, and I can’t remember feeling that way about any movie. Ever.

Lots of love goes to supporting characters. Diana Rigg gets to hurt some bad guys, and Blofeld takes a hands-on approach to his work, hunting right along side his henchmen. Very refreshing to see, as opposed to trying to be Bond’s friend and killing the guy standing next to him by way of example. Telly Savalas is my favorite on-screen portrayal of the villain, hands-down.

In a sharp contrast to the brilliance of the fistfight at the beginning, the rest of the fight sequences aren’t convincing enough, especially the ski battles. Background plates are used frequently throughout, quality ranging from poor-looking to terrible-looking, and the climactic Bond-Blofeld fight could have been staged a whole lot better.

It’s typical early-007-era throughout, save for the ending, which still hits me pretty hard. This time, I don’t know if it’s because of content or context. The further I venture from the ‘good old days,’ the more depressed I get. Bond’s heyday is clearly at an end, and even the production team is palpably losing their passion for the material, letting the smallest things bother them (bad press, Lazenby’s set behavior, the lack of fitting lyrics to the title). Like the Korean war and the third season of Arrested Development, it is easy to forget this ever happened.

Farewell, Lazenby. Noble effort. I would have gladly accepted more.

“We do not discuss the affairs of ze cleaning!” (5.5/10)
d. Peter Hunt

[ASIDE - This marathon is already beginning to drain on me. It is no MST3K yearlong thing, for certain, which is the thought that keeps me going. This should be easy. These movies don’t require much thought to enjoy, and like the Eon Productions team stubbornly insists, they are fluffy escapes from the drudges of reality. But man, I had to watch Goldfinger a total of three times to knock out the commentary, unnecessary since (and I hate it when studios do this) most of the comments are edited from interviews from at least ten years prior. I understand when most of the crew is long dead, but it is annoying when comments are repeated in the featurettes. If these movies are nothing but escapes, why do we need multiple commentary tracks for any of them? I don’t care how ten minutes of Thunderball sounds in Italian, I really don’t.

I am getting through it all quickly enough, quicker than these reviews are appearing on the site (it takes time for me to write in a less interesting manner than ‘rex, after all). John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation does a fair job of moderating and explaining most of the contributing comments, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the first time the commentary kept me interested. Peter Hunt talks about the stresses of being a first time director, the artistic choices he made with some of the scenes, and insists that this stuff is a lot harder than it looks. I believe it.

Save for getting all of the visual references in Madonna’s Die Another Day music video, most of this information is going to end up being useless to me. Maybe in situations where I could annoy people by rambling on and on about which title sequences Maurice Binder designed or how Tom Jones passed out at the end of the Thunderball theme. Does that make it worth pressing the right arrow button over and over again in the image gallery menus? No. It does not.]

1971 - Diamonds Are Forever - Sean Connery makes a triumphant return. This means it will be awesome, yes?

Not by a long shot.

Connery hurts his previous performances with this sad, sad show of near-B-movie antics. No one learned their lesson from You Only Live Twice, though unlike the slow build to crap in that movie, it is apparent right away that this one won’t be good, no, not at all.

After a poorly sound-designed rampage across the world in search of Blofeld, we are reintroduced to 007, who looks worse than ever, suffering from a clear case of ‘I should have been in the last one.’ He can’t throw a punch fast enough to knock someone out from behind, is distracted by breaking glass, and manages to make running around on the moon look ridiculous. His government offers no assistance, and I don’t care what anybody says, jewel smuggling will never be an interesting subject.

This was scribed by Richard Maibaum (he wrote Thunderball… THUNDERBALL!) and yet it’s so thin it could escape a prison cell a la stupid Catwoman. SPECTRE’s behind it, they despise the space program, and they want money. How interesting. Watch Bond kill somebody in a batch of mashed potatoes! Watch him run around Las Vegas! Watch him make unfunny quips about being helped out of hairy situations! Gasp at the ridiculous villains! You think killing somebody on their property in broad daylight is ridiculous, think how bad it is leaving him in a pipe and walking away. Surely Bond will die and the situation will work itself out. How in God’s name was this filmed, let alone written?

When it comes time for Bond to figure out where the climax will be, all he has to do is look at Whyte’s updated model of his factories, now including the newly constructed secret base where the laser control center is housed. Good thinking, Blofeld, villains have to keep the world current, after all.

The movie is little beyond an excuse to feature a car chase, a moon buggy chase, a three-way fistfight between Bond and two women, and an oil rig explosion. Hard evidence of how low the series can get, and I sincerely hope it never gets any lower.

See ya later, Connery. Bring me Roger Moore.

“And Tree was a crowd, Mr. Kidd.” (4.0/10)
d. Guy Hamilton

01 November 2007

OLR: Stargate: "Children of the Gods" (1997)

Effective as a sequel to the movie and as a setup for series; hooray for the bonus nudity even the feature film lacked. (7/10)

d. Mario Azzopardi

OLR: Stargate (1994)

You have to hand it to Colonel O'Neil: going to an alien planet on the other side of the Universe and blowing up a nuke is pretty much the most badass suicide plan anyone could ever think of. (7/10)

d. Roland Emmerich

SWH07: Week 6 (thirteenth)... Halloween

Six Weeks of HalloweenSix Weeks of Halloween 2007
Week 6 (thirteenth)

Tales from the Crypt: "Spoiled" (1991)
Twenty-five minutes of waiting around for a 10-second zinger at the end. (5/10)

d. Andy Wolk

Tales from the Crypt: "Yellow" (1991)
This big big-budget tale of the horrors of World War I, though not exactly a traditional TftC story, was a great finisher for season 3. (7/10)

d. Robert Zemeckis

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (trailer)
Bad Channels (trailer)
Looney Tunes: "The Case of the Stuttering Pig"

The Shining (1980)
It's feels like a horror movie made by someone who'd never watched a horror movie in his life, or intentionally tried to ignore the traditional conventions, or thought he could create new conventions. (9/10)

d. Stanley Kubrick

The Return of the Living Dead (trailer)
Evil Dead (trailer)
Happy Tree Friends: "Remains to be Seen"

Masters of Horror: "Sounds Like" (2007)
What if Daredevil was a fat, bald guy who could see and hated his wife? (6/10)

d. Brad Anderson

The Exorcist (TV spot)
Class of Nuke 'Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (trailer)
The Simpsons: "Treehouse of Horror: The Raven"

Masters of Horror: "The Washingtonians" (2007)
Everything outside of the Washintonians themselves was played far too seriously to match the utter goofiness of the cannibal cult. (5/10)

d. Peter Medak

Halloween (1978)
Still the greatest slasher movie of all time. (9/10)

d. John Carpenter

This Halloween, I was joined by Mrs. K and C. Once again, the upstairs lights were kept off. Sorry kids: movies are more important than handing out free candy. A feast of pizza, Beck's Oktoberfest and Halloween cupcakes were enjoyed by all (well, Mrs. K had to stick to that god-awful O'Doul's).

I saved the three glass bottle flavors of Jones Soda's Halloween flavors for Halloween night. Monster Mojito still tastes to me like the alcohol drinks served in college that make you vomit. It's not really a flavor I crave in a carbonated, stand-alone form. Dread Licorice tastes exactly, exactly like liquid red licorice. It's not bad. If you've ever used a red licorice whip as a straw when you were a kid, the experience is similar. It's fraternal twin, however, is awful. I knew Black Cat Licorice, the black licorice-flavored drink, had the potential to be pretty bad. It was. Even though I'm one of the rare people on the planet who actually likes black licorice candy, I couldn't even finish this one. I addition to the liquid black licorice flavor, it leaves the distinct aftertaste of skunky beer on your pallet once you swallow. Not pleasant. Of this year's seven flavors, it's the only one I couldn't drink. Compared to other years, this is actually an improvement for the Jones company. Maybe they can make 7/7 good ones in 2008?

I decided to dress as Mirror Universe Spock for work this year. I know, I know. Evil Spock didn't wear that type of uniform shirt. You can dock me 10 points from my geek account. No one would've ever have figured out who I was suppose to be if I tried to duplicate Evil Spock's weird, shiny blue shirt-with-sash thing. In fact, no one did figure out the whole evil part. Despite the goatee and that one South Park episode that emphasized the idea of evil facial hair, no one guessed that I was the evil version of Spock. Ah well. I knew.

It's always interesting to hear what people will say to you when you're dressed up. Especially since most of the people at work don't wear costumes. Those of us in disguise were in an exclusive club; we acknowledged each other's shared experience when chatting in hallways, lamenting everyone else's lack of holiday spirit. Memorable comments from the non-dressed-up folks included:
  • called "Dr. Spock" four times
  • called "Captain Kirk" three times
  • delivery guy: "Hey, why aren't you teleporting?" me: "I need the exercise"
  • lady in elevator: "Do you have your translator chip in?" she asks, pointing to spot behind her ear. "We could really use those here." (no idea what show this she's thinking of here)
  • guy from India who apparently wasn't aware of what day it was: "If you don't mind me asking, what's with the outfit?"
There were also many Vulcan salutes directed my way, plus many smiles as people recognized who I was dressed as. All in all, it was fun. And, damn, those uniform shirts are comfortable.

And, that's it! My Six Weeks of Halloween celebration is over. I didn't watch as many movies, nor eat as much candy, as I did in years prior. That's fine. I had fun and maximized my enjoyment of this, the last child-free Halloween of my life. Next year: making a goofy costume for the kid, and reading kid Halloween books as bedtime stories are what I'm most looking forward to.