Monday, October 29, 2012

Countdown to Skyfall; 50 Years of 007 Part 5




Roger Moore

The fact that Roger Moore is at the low end of my personal rankings of actors who have played James Bond, should not be held against him. He has always been a gentleman, he has always done his work and he has always entertained. Moore, who was originally considered for the role before Sean Connery, played Bond staring in the 1970s, when the part was written to emphasize spectacle over drama, and action over tension. The James Bonds of Roger Moore's career, were for the most part lighthearted, with a good dose of humor. Two of his films would easily make my top ten list of James Bond adventures. Unfortunately three of his versions of Bond would be in the bottom five as well. Two of the Roger Moore Bond films actually do try to play it relatively straight, and they fall into the middle of the pack of his portrayals for me.



The above clip is on youtube and has some nice clips and there is a pretty good commentary to go with it.

The Least of the Roger Moore Bonds #7



At the bottom of the barrel of Roger Moore Bond films, is Moonraker. A film that was moved up because it's title and theme ultimately let Bond cash in on the Star Wars craze. It was the last of the over the top, repetitive, super rich, villain seeking to start a war and destroy the planet scenarios.

So much of the film is played for laughs that it might actually rival "Airplane" for jokes per minute. Unlike the flying comedy from ZAZ a year later, the jokes here rarely hit. It is unfortunate that the movie doesn't work better because there are some pretty good sequences. The opening parachute escape, the theft of the Moonraker Shuttle, and the fight on the tram gondolas in Rio were all solid Bond moments. These are overshadowed by the somewhat silly hydrofoil gondola in Venice, with the corny music punctuating the jokes, and the ridiculous space battle on board an otherwise well designed space station set. For a moore (sic) elaborate look at my opinions on Moonraker you can click on the poster to the left.

Just One Up from the Bottom


Also scraping the bottom of the barrel is Roger Moore's last appearance as 007. It is hard to believe that a film featuring Christopher Walken as the villain, a guest appearance by Patrick McNee, and a location shoot in beautiful San Francisco and Northern California, could go so wrong. To begin with, the horse racing action scene in the first part of the film is one of the most embarrassing sequences in a Bond film. Tanya Roberts is a pretty woman who is miscast as a wronged geologist. The idea of another chase in San Francisco, after "Bullet", "Dirty Harry" and a dozen others is not really enhanced by doing it with a firetruck and doing it at night where it will look like a processed shot, even if it was done on location. The belligerent local cop did not work in prior Bond films, so why is it here as comic relief?

A couple of things work, Bond chasing Mayday (Grace Jones) up the Eiffel Tower and then her escape by parachute is solid, the car chase at the end of the sequence though is turned into a punchline and it loses it's value. Walken sells crazy a couple of times, but his character is so underwritten that he is not very consistent and his performance is also inconsistent. The Duran, Duran song was great in 1985. It sounds a little dated because it was so much of it's time rather than classic Bond, but I did remember being excited to hear the music and see the video on MTV. A missed opportunity and a fairly lazy end to Moore's career as James Bond.

Once the Bottom But Moving Up Slightly


At one point, "The Man with the Golden Gun" was my least favorite Bond film. Sgt. Peppers (oh yeah, I know it is Sheriff Pepper, but this is part of the joke) makes a return. Bond is focused on the energy crisis, (another topical reference) and the henchman is played by the actor who who go on to fame as Tattoo on "Fantasy Island." The Bond girl is just about the stupidest spy in the world, and with the exception of Denise Richards, the worst actress in the whole series.  The target range for Scaramanga is a good idea, that is executed poorly and the outcome is telegraphed from the very beginning of the movie.

The martial arts theme is another one of those topical ripoffs that so characterized the films of Roger Moore in the 1970s. The villain's hideout is an elaborate resort, training ground, science center and energy plant, all manned by three people, one of whom is so stupid he gets bested by the stupidest character in all 23 007 films. There are a couple of things to recommend it still and some of the reason that it crawled up from the bottom of my list include these. The boat chase in Bangkok is solid (despite the presence of Peppers) .There is an amazing car stunt that was not CGI, although it is undermined by a terrible sound effect that drains it of any plot point. the locations feel fresh and they are spectacular at times. Scaramanga is a great idea for a character, but he is wasted here and Christopher Lee who is perfectly cast is performing the role indifferently. One more thing, while it is not a gadget that Bond gets to play with, I love the "Golden Gun" assembled out of pocket contents and containing one golden bullet. It is truly a cool piece and deserved it's own poster.


So now we have looked at the three worst films of Roger Moore as James Bond, let's turn to some more successful efforts.

Finally Some Films I'm Not Embarrassed to Recommend


"Octopussy" is the name of a James Bond adventure, not the title of a would be reality star here in Southern California with 14 kids. Maud Adams returns to the Bond films as a new character, with a better role and a name eight times as provocative as Honor Blackman's character. Louis Jordan plays the villain, an Indian Prince with an unpleasant  personality and not much charisma. The film is set in India and West Berlin, when there still was a West Berlin. There is a topical theme, but one related to political controversy not just the colorful background. A plot to explode a nuclear device, framing the American Military in Western Europe, in order to create a military advantage for a rogue Soviet General's plans for invasion. The U.S. was indeed deploying advanced theater nuclear weapons in Europe as a defense against the conventional superiority of the Soviets along the Iron Curtain. It was big political news and the "peace" groups that were protesting certainly would have pushed for the outcome of an American withdrawal. All of this makes "Octopussy" one of the rare Bond films that exploits the real dangers of the Cold war instead of the plans of a criminal organization or a mad billionaire.

Still, no one goes to see Bond for a primer on Soviet-American relations. There are a few goofy scenes here that move it a little lower on the list for me. The crocodile one man submersible is a funny joke but a misplaced idea. The hunt for Bond by Kamel Khan through the jungle is mostly silly and it features a joke of Bond using the firm voice of Barbara Woodhouse, a TV celebrity that no one from today would recognize. The best action scene is the top of the train fight with some of the circus performers and the chase of the train by the Russians.

The Third Best Roger Moore Bond


I like this Bond film a lot for some very basic reasons. It brings Bond back to the world of reality, it has some beautiful Mediterranean locales and the girl in the story is Tilly Masterson with a better aim and a lot more sex appeal.  There is a revenge story that drives the plot, the Havelocks who are killed at the beginning are friends of M, and he wants to know what happened. Their daughter shows up and she is a proficient archer with a cross-bow. There are two mortal enemies that eye each other in the world of espionage that 007 drops into in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia, and the suspicion and shifting loyalties play a little havoc with our nerves.

There are a couple of humorous elements but they don't overshadow the story and they are not outright ridiculous the way so many stunts and action scenes had been played before. The ski chase is thrilling, the car chase was turned upside down by the explosion of Bonds car alarm, and the fight on the mountain is solid. Roger Moore's best moment as a real cold-hearted spy exists in this movie. As an assassin is trapped in an automobile, tangling on a cliff, Bond coolly reminds him of the lives he has taken and then kicks the car so it tumbles down and kills the henchman he has been pursuing. That is a spy with a bad attitude and a sense of justice. Topal plays one of the local spies who turns out to be a better ally to Bond then he has had in fifteen years. It also features a pop song that is very much of it's time but also clearly in the long vein of James Bond themes. My buddy Dan over at Fogsmoviereviews.com hates this film, but it is catnip to me.

The Second Best of Roger Moore (Amanda's Favorite)


This Bond film has a lot going for it but I know with many Bond fans it also has some baggage. Let me start with the good stuff, Paul McCartney and Wings do the theme song and it is killer. The Opening crescendos and then we get s string of great guitar riffs and banging piano notes. It slows down for some violin and then crashes again with drums and guitar. Except for Goldfinger, it is the greatest Bond theme song of all time.

The voodoo motif and the tarot cards give the film a distinctive visual style. Let's face it, 70s fashions were not always long lasting, so having a visual sense that is still timeless helps keep this movie somewhat fresh. The boat chase is one of the best action sequences from the 1970s Bond films and it still holds up well. There was humor in the film, but it had not descended to the juvenile level of Moonraker yet. The two best laugh out loud spots are also part of the story, not simply throw away bits. When Bond runs across the backs of the alligators to escape the gator farm, it is funny but also clever and it works (in case you did not know it, those were real gators and the stunt was done live).  Also, when Kananga gets his comeuppance, it looks wild, funny and disgusting at the same time. It is a delightful exit for the loathsome Mr. Big. This movie also has the privilege of being my daughters favorite Roger Moore Bond, she reviewed it for my site as a guest reviewer a couple of years ago.  

Some object to the racism they see in the movie. It was made during a period when blaxploitation films were all the rage and it is an example of how the series tended to piggyback on trends in the 1970s episodes. Bond and his allies never said anything that I thought was racist.  There is an unfortunate comic relief character that comes off as a small time southern bigot, but he seems to be the butt of the jokes. Bond has his first black romantic Bond girl in the film. If your appreciation of movies cannot allow the tone of the times to be present in a movie, there will be a lot of films you should skip. Overriding all of this however is Jane Seymour, the most beautiful Bond girl of the Roger Moore era and the second most beautiful in the whole series.

The Greatest Roger Moore Bond and a Top Five on any Bond List


For a Deeper Look Click here
The Spy Who Loved Me, is the title of Ian Fleming's worst Bond novel but Roger Moores best film. The settings of this film include the romantic Italian Mediterranean islands, Egypt, the snow capped peaks of Austria, and the biggest sound stage in the world which eventually was referred to by everyone as the 007 stage. There are gadgets, and double crosses and kidnapped nuclear submarines. An iconic henchman to finally rival Odd Job, appears and is almost indestructible. The Bond girl is not a random girl but a Soviet spy, equal to Bond in fame and talent. This is cold war paranoia being exploited by a rich nutjob, the first but unfortunately not the last.

The start of the movie is one of the most iconic James Bond moments ever. If for some reason you have not seen it, I don't want to spoil it. Just be aware that it is a real stunt performed by a real daredevil. While it might not make great sense, it has a great sense of style. All Englishmen would certainly applaud the payoff. The title song is a lovely piece of pop perfection that is entertaining and it was a big hit. I just don't think it has the Bond style that I want. While Roger Moore is usually seen as the comic Bond, he got in some good licks in the series and one of them is here. A bad guy is clinging to 007's tie as he leans precipitously over the edge of a high balcony.   Once Bond gets the information from him as to the location of his boss, he swats the tie and straightens it as the henchman falls to his doom. A piece of nonchalance brutality that Roger carries off quite well. I always recommend this film to neophytes because it has so many of the characteristics of a Bond story: A visit with the evil enemy, a reluctant sexy heroine, an outlandish plot that threatens the world, some good chase scenes, a couple of sly jokes (and some bad ones) and a big battle that pits a crew of allies against the army of evil that somehow the bad guys always manage to assemble. They try to top the Astin Martin from Goldfinger, and they have some fun with it, but it does seem a bit too over the limit.





Countdown to Skyfall Part 1
Countdown to Skyfall Part 2
Countdown to Skyfall Part 3
Countdown to Skyfall Part4

Monday, October 22, 2012

Unlock the 007 in you. You have 70 seconds!

  So I found this on Monday morning and my day just got brighter. Love both Bond and Coke Zero. I am a commercial sellout. Big deal, I smiled for ten minutes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Countdown to Skyfall: James Bond 50th Anniversary Celebration Part 4



Welcome back to part three of my countdown. I have been posting a series of rankings for the James Bond films by actor. The first ranked the films of George Lazenby, that one was not hard. Then I ranked the most underrated of all James Bonds, Timothy Dalton, who unfortunately only did two films as 007. The last time out I attempted to rank the current Bond, Daniel Craig, he has three in the can but one of those is not out yet. I feel confident that Skyfall will not be lower than Quantum of Solace, but if I am wrong, I will be the first to tell you that. This post will deal with the films of Pierce Brosnan, a man who was destined to play Bond but had to wait ten years after getting the job to start making any films.


Brosnan was all set to take the reigns from Roger Moore, he was minutes from the big announcement when he got dragged back into the TV series he had starred in, which had been canceled, and then picked up again at the last minute. From my point of view, this actually worked out pretty well. We got Timothy Dalton for two films, and Brosnan was given a chance to ripen into the role. He was a skinny, young, baby faced TV actor about to make the leap to the biggest action role on the planet and he looked like the TV star that he was. Much to pretty to be Bond. When he finally did get to return to the part, he was more mature, handsome but not pretty, and he looked like he could take a punch or two, not like he might break if the wind changed. Just look at the difference and tell me that ten extra years didn't make him a more credible Bond.

Once he had the part, the series had to be relaunched. Dalton did not play Bond a third time because lawsuits and studio intrigue put off the series. There was even an attempt to hijack the character and create another studios version that would compete with the Broccoli version every few years. Once that was sorted out, new people were brought on board to breath life into the old fellow. I remember reading an article in the LA Times that suggested that in light of the big budget, high action, superstar movies like
"Speed" and "True Lies", that Bond had probably run it's course. Does that sound familiar to all you recent 007 fans? I hear all the time how Bourne is the next Bond, but it does not seem to have worked out that way, and once again, our hero is rising to the top of the cinematic world. Martin Campbell, a TV director, who had made a nice brutal action film called "No Escape" was given the responsibility. I had only seen a couple of episodes of Reilly Ace of Spies, so I was barely familiar with his work. He joined with Pierce Brosnan to bring Bond back to the screen in the mid 90s, and they started the series of four Bond films that Brosnan would head up.

It is a bit unfortunate from my point of view that the Brosnan films went in reverse order of their greatness. The weakest of the four was the final one he made, although it was financially the most successful.

Die Another Day


This film had all of the elements to make one of the most memorable Bond films. The opening features an MI6 mission that goes bad, Bond is captured and tortured in North Korea, and then a prisoner exchange returns him in disgrace as he is suspected of giving up info to the enemy. The title sequence shows most of the torture in an inventive way, and actually advances the story during it's running time. The problem is that it is running under the worst of the Bond title songs ever. A piece of Madonna dance music that neither fits the film or makes Bond fans want to dance anywhere except on the grave of her career.



I did not have a problem with Halle Berry as Jinx, the American agent that Bond hooks up with, although the CGI dive she makes to escape the island is annoying to me and a precursor to even worse CGI offenses to come. In the end, instead of being recalled for it's villains or plotting or action scenes, it becomes the Bond with the para-sailing, Tidal wave and the invisible car. A sad legacy to leave the role on for Mr. Brosnan,


The World Is Not Enough


Before the movie came out, I got to flex my Bond muscle a little bit in public. Here in Southern California, there was a popular movie themed radio show on weekends, hosted by writer and soon to be director Rod Lurie (The Contender, Straw Dogs). When the film went into production and the title was announced, I got on his show for a two minute conversation about where the title came from. It is one of those arcane bits of knowledge from having read the books (OHMSS), that it is in fact the motto on the Bond family crest. Like all of the Brosnan films, the scripts here are original and not based on any of the books. Sophie Marceau had just been in "Braveheart" and she was a beautiful choice for an antagonist. I liked the return of Robbie Coltrane in his character from "Goldeneye". The plot point of M being kidnapped would have made a more effective driving force for the story, but I guess Bond does have to save the world in a film entitled "The World is Not Enough".


The character played by Robert Carlyle is largely wasted. he is built up as having this superhuman endurance and an inability to feel pain, but all of that barely registers, even in the climatic sequences where he and Bond engage in direct combat. Denise Richardson is easy on the eyes and hard on the ears. Her line readings sound like some of my students giving a speech that they mostly copied, and have never read out loud before. The opening boat chase on the Thames was solid, as was the submarine fight scene. The lighter than air craft attack seemed a little silly, but for a guy who hates snow and does not engage in winter sports, I am a sucker for some good skiing sequences.  The movie was satisfying in the way a fast food meal might be when you are hungry and do not indulge in all the time. It tastes good immediately, but a day or two later, you barely remember that you ate it.

 The teaser poster for this film is an exceptional example of graphic design. The silhouette of Bond in the classic pose with the raised arm and gun, framing a fiery background in which a nude armed woman can be seen, promises everything a Bond film could want. Sex, Violence and coolness. I have an extensive collection of movie posters, and there are a few Bond films in my catalog, unfortunately this is not one of them. Someday that will have to be remedied.

The reason it did not get there is probably because I was anticipating a killer A sheet when the final form showed up. Instead, what we got was the weakest Bond poster ever, a photoshopped abortion of images that is thrown together so gracelessly that it could actually keep people out of the movie theater. Despite the presence of two attractive women on the poster, it looks about as inviting as a cartoon drawing on the back of a cereal box, designed to entertain kids while they stuff themselves with sugar laden rice, wheat or corn. "The World is Not Enough Falls to third place in part based on this sad excuse for marketing. Wasting the potential that the teaser set up was a nearly unforgivable crime.


Tomorrow Never Dies


There are a few things to recommend this film on. First of all, the female agent from China played by Michelle Yeoh, is the best counterpart Bond has had in just about any of the movies. It always seems strange to me when the secret service agencies are populated with disposable types and Bond continues to be the only one who lives to the next adventure, or has anything at all meaningful to do. Here Bond has met a real equal and when they finally do start to work together, it feels like the odds have moved in their favor. There is an exciting sequence when they make their escape from the villain, while they are handcuffed together. A lot of creativity went into making the sequence both exciting and entertaining.


I know a lot of people who are not enthusiastic about the Sheryl Crow title song, but I thought it worked pretty well. She has a lazy sort of tempo and the nasally tone in her delivery keeps it from being a pretty song. Instead it fits into that category of Bond songs that reflect their times. Like Duran Duran, or Sheena Easton, Crow is a singer of a specific period of music. She was the bridge between indie cool and mainstream success in the mid 90s.

Brosnan is actually very good in this film. In "The World is Not Enough" I felt he was crusing and in "Die Another Day" he was just putting up with the nonsense. I think if there had been a little more development of the Teri Hatcher part with Bond and some of their past, it might have been more meaningful at the end. As it was, it was simply a solid B 007 film.

Goldeneye


In addition to being Pierce Brosnon's first Bond film, it reintroduced the world to 007 after a six year absence. Personally, it meant a lot to me because it was the first Bond film I had seen without my best friend going along. Art Franz and I met in High School and were debate partners. We also shared a love for James Bond. We had both read all of the novels, and together from the time of "Live and Let Die" to "License to Kill" we saw all the movies with each other (and in later years our wives). He died in 1993 and never got to see Brosnan as 007. When I first saw the picture I remember thinking he would be pretty happy with the way it came out. I know I was.

Goldeneye was a relaunch if not a reboot of the series. In addition to a new Bond, M was replaced by a woman, and she is noted as being more of an accountant than a spymaster. While I was suspicious of Judy Dench in the role, she seemed to hit the right notes immediately and she has been a steady presence in all of the succeeding Bond adventures. The director Martin Campbell, managed to take a relatively small budget in comparison to James Cameron's True Lies, and make the film feel big and fresh. The opening bungee jump from the dam, which was actually performed by a real stunt guy, is marred only by the first encroachment of CGI in the series right at the end. They needed a cheat to finish off the dive with the pinion gun shot and Bond being deposited at the base of the dam. It just does not match up well. After that however, everything falls into place.

The villain is revealed to be 006, Bond's friend and equal when it comes to spycraft. The integration of the new Russia into the story worked well. Former antagonists become unwilling allies, former friends become enemies. the dialog between the spies in the story is really very entertaining. Robbie Coltrane and Brosnan have a nice interview with the threat of death and past animosities hanging over them. Joe Don Baker comes back to the Bond series as a different character, like Charles Grey and Maud Adams before him. His work a day, somewhat sloppy American, is a fun contrast to the stiffs Bond usually has to deal with. His avuncular nature and toss off line readings add a sense of fun to the proceedings.

They make us wait through almost an hour of the film, but when the James Bond theme finally shows up, it is in an over the top, exciting chase through Moscow with a tank.

I teared up a bit when the music finally made its appearance and the segment is one of the highlights of the movie.

The one flaw that I always saw in Brosnan as Bond was his inability to sell the sexual double entendres. He doesn't toss them off casually like Connery or Moore did. He seems to highlight them so we will notice. I also found that the scripts with Brosnan put some of those lines into the mouths of Q, Moneypenny, and even M and that is just not right. I liked Brosnan as Bond but I never loved him the way I did Connery and Dalton (and now Craig, if he can try to have a little fun in Skyfall). Even Roger Moore, for whom I hold great affection as Bond, did more to sell that part of the Bond experience.

So Brosnan ends up on my list as declining in each picture. Let's find out about how you see it. Choose your favorite Brosnan 007 in the survey below and let everyone know how you see it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

SINISTER





This is a movie that wants to have it two ways. It wants to be a supernatural thriller and a serial killer procedural. Although there are moments in the film that work pretty well, as a whole the movie just feels empty. It neither builds it's Boogie man enough nor bothers to explain how certain clues leading to the solution of the crimes, end up being relevant. Ethan Hawke stars in the film and while he is a good actor, the part he has to play here does little to build a desire for us to see any particular outcome, one way or another. It's Halloween time, and I wanted a scary movie, all I got were some creepy ideas and a couple of jump shots.

The first hour of the film is the most effective, as the family settles in to a new home. We learn that Dad is an author of true crime stories, and that after hitting it out of the park ten years earlier, he has lingered on the fringes of fame without being able to write a very successful follow up. It is hinted that one of the books since his big breakthrough actually had the opposite effect of bringing truth to light and that good people were harmed by what he wrote. None of this is ever explained, and it sounds to me like a more interesting story than the one we sit down to watch. It turns out that he is so desperate to return to the center stage, he has purposefully moved his financially strapped family, into the home of a family that was recently murdered. Oh, yeah, he doesn't tell his wife. Basically, he is a sad self centered narcissist, one who has talent but has lost his way. You sort of wonder if this has anything to do with the events that follow.  Although it ends up creating some character points for the family, it mostly ends up in screaming scenes that do little to build suspense and have basically nothing to do with the murders.

The clues as to what happened to the family, begin with a reel of super eight film. That's right, the technology that was cutting edge thirty years ago and made for a great Spielberg inspired film last year, it the technology that was used by the killer to film the murders as they take place. Now we understand that there is a supernatural power behind all of this, but how that film gets developed and edited and then ends up in the attic, after everything in the house has been searched remains a mystery. Also remaining a mystery is why Dad is the only person in the house to be awakened by  the loud footsteps in the attic, the repeated running of the projector on it's own, and the mysterious sounds that echo throughout the house. Whenever he goes to investigate, he also manages to lose track of where the light switch is, get out of bed without waking his wife or kids, and generally accepts that material he has boxed up will be placed on the table, threaded into the projector and run on it's own.

The best character in the movie is a small town deputy, who is anxious to help the writer, despite the antagonistic attitude of every other  law enforcement officer due to one of those books that went bad. The deputy likes the idea of being included in the acknowledgements of the new book. When he tells the author that he always wanted to be thanked  in a book with one of those phrases like "It would not have been possible without the help of Deputy So and So", he gets that nickname and that is how we know him. The deputy is a small town guy, but he is not a rube. He understands the nature of true crime investigation and the psychic scars these traumas can leave behind. He also thinks the writer is nuts to be living in the house. The conversations the two of them have are the high points of the film, both with humor and with creepy foreshadowing. He is also one of the only characters that appears during the story. Mom talks about how the family is hated and she can't shop without being stared at, but we never see her anyplace other than the house. The son gets in trouble at school for sharing info about the crime in a disturbing manner, but we never see any teachers, classmates or neighbors. Only the Sheriff ever speaks to them outside of the house. Maybe the idea was to make the movie claustrophobic, but my feeling was that it just made the movie cheap.

There are plot lines that come up and go nowhere. The son in the family has night terrors. It is not clear that it has anything to do with the plot since the parents both speak as if he has had them his whole life. The daughter paints, and that provides the payoff for the home movie set up of earlier crimes. The earlier crimes are visualized for us, but so little background is given on them that they feel a little meaningless, just gruesome wall paper for the current story. Mysterious dogs appear for no reason, do nothing and then are never seen again. The expert that the write consults, talks to him by video chat, for no reason whatsoever. There is no visual payoff on this point and it is just another place where the movie feels cheap because they did not want to have too many locations.I still can't think of any reason that the wife is British.

Maybe since "The Turn of the Screw", haunted children have been creepy. The image of the two little girls in "The Shining" stands out as one of those moments. Earlier this year we had some of the same type of creepiness in "The Woman in Black". This movie goes that direction as well. Unfortunately, it is not a single child or a pair of children that appear to haunt our protagonist. It is a set of six or seven kids that show up in gaunt faces, grey skin and bloodied clothes. The effect is not frightening, instead it feels like a bad birthday party is breaking up and all the tired and grumpy kids are still waiting for their rides home. This movie felt less and less scary as it went along. I did think the ending was true to what had been set up, but I also though it was trite. I don't understand how anyone other than the writer working on his true crime book, would end up doing the things required to bring the evil spirit into their life and then pass it on. It did not make any sense and none of the rest of the movie does either. There is a good premise here, but it is wasted in underdeveloped plot and a shortage of scares.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seven Psychopaths



Some films thrive on story, other depend on special effects and many rely on star power to make the experience worthwhile. "Seven Psychopaths", wants to be story driven. It is pretty clear that it grows out of the screenwriters struggle to come up with an interesting story to tell. The problem is that the screenwriter here has too many ideas to put into a story but no real story that can make them all work. He puts them in anyway. If you pull at the threads of the films narrative, things just don't fit together very well, and it feels like a creature assembled in a windmill somewhere. It is an interesting creature but not a beautiful one and not well crafted. This movie thrives on it's performers. The three main characters are played by three pros who know how to put quirky on the screen. They are joined by another actor, who is not in the same class but brings considerable skill to the game and makes the mix work even at times when the story fails.

 Let us start with the Godfather of modern quirk itself, Mr. Christopher Walken. For thirty years he has been the odd guy out in movies. Sometimes his weird delivery and haunted face bring terror to our hearts. When know that he is a ticking bomb and that when he goes off, there will be trouble like you cannot imagine. Other times, he is the charming comic diversion; a comforting joke in the middle of a movie that needs some life or audience sympathy. If he can singlehandedly steal "Pulp Fiction" from all the great characters populating that movie, and do it with what is basically a three minute monologue, then you know you are in the hands of a real performer. He he is a featured player and he may have the most lines if anyone bothers to count that stuff. He begins the film as all older man charming, movies to scary repressed fury and finishes with bemused indifference. His line readings and facial expressions are worth the price of admission in most movies he appears in, and his part is more prominent here. You will get your entertainment value from him.

 I love Sam Rockwell as an actor. The first time I was sure that I noticed him was in "Galaxy Quest" and I am laughing now while simply thinking about his performance there. He can be warm, dangerous, smart or stupid and he is believable. In "Seven Psychopaths" he may be the most over the top character, but he plays it as naturally as anyone can, slipping into the skin of a deranged but lovable sociopath. He has an uncomfortable sex scene that he plays without any self consciousness. The one spot where he goes off the reservation in an unbelievable way, takes place during a desert camping moment when peyote is the alleged cause of his behavior. Writers must think drug use gives them leave to just put anything they want into a story, including dialogue that is not funny but is supposed to seem funny. I fault the script here, not the performance, this one scene leaves him with nothing interesting to say. Down the road he makes up for it, but it did miss the mark there.

Woody Harrelson, manages to be scary, even though he has the quietest voice and most open face of any of the actors. You can however see the deadness in his eyes when his character turns dark. His moments in the film usually feature humor that stems from frustration and he can be exasperated with the best of them. The plot involves a dog-napping that features Harrelson's Shih tzu. As a psychotic crime boss, you can imagine that this is not going to go down well. Harrelson has a great scene where he terrorizes the dog walker who works for him, after his beloved pet disappears. You will be able to accept either outcome of the interview, because he sells sick pretty well.

 The odd man out is Colin Farrel. He is so much better in a movie like this than in junk like the Total Recall remake. I think he is very solid here, but when you are surrounded by these three specialists in odd, your quirks and work will be less noticeable. He still gets some pretty good lines and his facial expression upon the reveal of Walken's unique body art, is quite convincing. He and Walken play off of each other well once their two characters come together in the rambling nature of the story. Farrel is essentially "Barton Fink", a screenwriter so caught up in writer's block that he starts looking for psychopath stories to fill in his list of characters. We are left to wonder, which stories are his and which are real. He drinks so much, he can't tell where his ideas start and where others ideas take over. This is the plot thread that lets in all kinds of wild story ideas, most of which never pan out. The short bursts of creativity are followed up on occasionally, but often without much purpose and sometimes with confusion. Are the two mixed race couples real, the same, one person with two different lovers, or something all together different? We don't really know, all that matters is the plot point going at the moment, but don't worry, in another minute we will be off on another track.

As an exercise in entertaining performances and short story cleverness, "Seven Psychopaths" works. In the last third when we get three or four different ideas for an ending, I think you will wish that the writer had spent a little less time creating the quirky characters and histories, and a little more time giving them something to do that makes sense.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

James Bond 50th Anniversary Celebration Part 3



Here in the third edition of the Kirkham A Day James Bond Fiftieth Anniversary celebration, we are going to rate the films of the current Bond, Daniel Craig. Officially. he has been in three films now, but as of yet, the third film has not been seen here or many other places. I don't want too much info about it to creep into my advance knowledge of the film, but I can admit that I am listening to the Adele theme song and I do like what I hear so far. We have been working our way up from Lazenby who got his own entry, to Dalton, who only made two. My rankings have been easy so far but now I am faced with a dilemma, how to I rank a movie that I have not even seen yet. To be honest I feel confident that I can safely say it will not be the least of the Daniel Craig Bonds. I cannot imagine that they would make the same kinds of mistakes that they made with Quantum of Solace.



QUANTUM OF SOLACE


This was one of the few 007 adventures I walked out of at the end and said out loud to others, "that wasn't very good was it?" I usually love Bond films, so if I am critical of the movie, then there must have been something about it that did not work. To begin with, the movie starts mid car chase without any set up of the previous film. This is supposed to be a direct sequel to Casino Royale, so I suppose the screenwriters and director felt that we would know enough to be thrown in without warning into the action. One problem was the action was so quickly cut and the shots were so tight on the vehicles, you could not tell what the hell was going on. It was difficult to make out what Bond was doing and even at times which car we were in.

The frenetic pace of the movie continues when the one link we had to the Mysterious Quantum group, Mr. White, is eliminated before we get much sense of what the scale of the group is. MI6 has holes in it, and they are so big that M might as well crawl in one and pull the dirt over her because her bodyguards cannot be trusted. This is the start of the paranoia of spycraft that was largely missing from earlier spy films. All of the John Gardner Bond novels keep relying on this trick. If you never know who you can trust then you can never trust any character and therefore never build much empathy for them. Betrayal is a theme of stories as long as stories have been around, but here the betrayals happen for convenience rather than character or plot. As the assassin leaves and Bond pursues, our attention is diverted from the story. Later, the whole American nation appears to be in betrayal because the CIA wants to do business with Quantum instead of crushing the threat. Felix Leiter, a character that in the books has been Bonds closest friend, barely manages to give him a 30 second warning and may even be hunting Bond himself.  Bond's superior wants to drag him off the case and her motives are shadowy. And none of it is ever very well explained.

The Bond girl is driven by revenge as many of his previous partners have been, so that part of the story works. The villain is an effete Euroweenie with a sadistic streak, so he ought to be more dangerous. He simply feels generic at the end of the movie. We don't know his talents, his motives and all we do know is that he will turn a blind eye to cruelty for money. I can't think of his name or the name of the actor who played him, that is how faceless this was. "Quantum" , as an idea, is a good replacement for SPECTRE, but it is so faceless and tied up with "legitimate" business, that it almost feels like Bond has stumbled into the plot of "Michael Clayton" and George Clooney will show up at any moment as his sidekick.

There are a few things about the movie that I liked. Rene Mathis gets to come out and play with Bond again, and although they have issues between them, there is a fairly good relationship developed here. It ends too quickly with another faceless betrayal by a character that is barely in the movie, simply to make the plot easier. I liked the scene at the opera, when Bond tricks all the members of Quantum into revealing themselves, although the panic seems to run contrary to everything the story has set up about the group prior to this. Still, the rats leaving the ship scenario looked good on screen and then it was followed by a pretty good fight.

I was unhappy when I first saw the movie. I have stopped disliking it but it will never be more than a C- placeholder in the Bond cannon. If it is not at the very bottom of every Bond fans list of great Bond films, it is only because it has lost a fight with the last Brosnan Bond or two of the Moore Bonds. Out of 22 films it is at best 19 and it may be 22. 



SKYFALL


Not yet out, have not seen it. It has to be better than "Quantum Of Solace". If it turns out to be better than "Casino Royale", no one will be happier than me. I will come back here and reverse the rankings. I can say however that Javier Bardem is not going to be faceless, and that shot of 007 straightening his jacket after crashing onto the train from the shovel is cooler than anything in Quantum. Plus the Adele song makes the Jack White/Alicia Keyes theme, feel even more nondescript than it already was.  Here's proof:





CASINO ROYALE


I was so happy that Casino Royale turned out as well as it did that my enthusiasm may sometimes overwhelm my objectivity. The first James Bond novel, finally brought to the screen with a desire to tell a real story, this is what I had waited for since i first read the book back in 1969. The joke version of the movie irritates me constantly, although the music from it was pretty good. The idea or relaunching Bond was handled very effectively. I liked the opening sequences with the newly minted spy carrying out his first kills for her majesty's government. The fight in the bathroom was brutal and exciting. The transition to the new mission was fine.

The chase of the bomb maker is a great modern action sequence, accomplished without all the CGI stuff that makes so many contemporary scenes feel worthless. The conclusion of this scene is just exactly perfect.

The betrayal at the heart of this story fits with the plot, it does not drive the plot for no reason. After the torture that Bond endured, it feels heartbreaking. The sequence of the building crashing into the canals is an add by the film makers, and it looks spectacular, but the original novel suicide allows Bond to harden his heart for the adventures that were to come.

There were so many clever bits of business in the film that it was entertaining even when it seemed to run long. The only thing is, if Bond remains as grim as he has been in the first two Daniel Craig movies, than the series will move away from the entertainment value we have grown used to and it will simply become the next action film. We don't want Bond to lose his character, we just need to have it updated. Still, "Casino Royale" is near the top of my list of Bond films and in my opinion, at the moment at least, the best of the Daniel Craig 007s.






Laser Discs for 007. How is that for love?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Frankenweenie



Twenty five years ago, we bought a VHS copy of "Vincent and Frankenweeine", two shorts by Tim Burton who was rapidly becoming a big time director. The original shorts had all kinds of Gothic charm to them and the kids watched them repeatedly. Here we are in 2012 and Burton has returned to his roots with a full length stop motion feature of the live action short from his time at Disney as a young animator. You might wonder if his creative juices are dried up because his last few films have been weak and he is digging up work from the past. It turns out that what he was digging up was gold.

The original Frankenweeinie, deserved to be more well known but was limited to a short thirty minute run time. Here, Burton reinvents the film as a bigger story with more characters and bigger issues, but just as much heart. As morbid as much of his work appears to be, there is a streak of sentimentality a mile wide running through most of it. The story of a boy who loves his dog so much that he wants to bring it back from the dead will only work if we care about the characters. With this story, we will care, and be heartbroken, and joyful and heartbroken again, all while being entertained by movie memories.

The character of Victor, the boy who loses his dog in a car accident, is an everyman tale. Victor himself is not everyman, but his love for his dog and sadness over losing the only real friend he had is one that will touch anyone who has had a pet. "Sparky" the dog is a delightfully lovable vision of canine friendship. He acts like a real dog would, even though he is a animated figurine. Prior to reincarnation, "Sparky" is loyal, protective, fun loving and very clever. The fact that he remains all of these things when restored to life is the wish fulfillment of all of us. There are some great cute sequences where he and the dog next door, playfully court over a ball. "Sparky" will drop all of this however when his boy comes home from school. Victor's parents are consoling but want him to be able to move on. At one point his dad admits that it's easy to promise the impossible because you never have to be accountable. Near the end, when he tells Victor that "sometimes adults don't know what they are talking about", it is the confirmation that every kid needs to be able to keep following his dreams.

To really enjoy this film, it helps to be a fan of old horror movies. The laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein is lovingly recreated here with waffle irons, bicycles and colanders. The Rube Goldberg nature of the electrical device does not require it to make sense, it is simply entertaining. The creepy kids in the neighborhood will remind everyone of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorrie and Dwight Fry. Japanese monster movies get a nod as well with the appearance of a giant turtle to wreck havoc on the local festival.There is a cute shot where Victors parents watch an old Hammer horror film. And if you don't recognize the image of Vincent Price in the visage of the science teacher, you must not have seen any AIP films from the fifties and sixties. When you see the windmill on the hill in the background of the little suburbia that is New Holland, well anyone who saw a Universal horror film knows what is coming.

Ultimately the story works because we love dogs and understand the horror films that are being saluted here. Winona Ryder makes her return to Tim Burtonville, voicing the odd but oddly cute girl next door. Catherine O'Hara must have the goods on Burton somewhere because she is in so many of his films as well, but she is always a welcome presence. Martin Short lends a hand to the voice cast as well and he works nicely as Victor's well meaning but not always sharp Dad. Martin Landau works with Burton again, providing a reasonable version of Vincent Price as the science teacher whose very name strikes terror in the heart of the town. This movie is so much better than the stupid "Hotel Transylvania", it is a shame that it is being neglected while the Adam Sandler film pulls in a bigger audience. Ten years from now, this will sit on a shelf with "The Nightmare Before Christmas", as another Burton film that becomes beloved after it's theatrical run.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Argo






This is probably the best movie of the year.

Somewhere along his career trajectory, Ben Affleck went from  leading man  handsome guy, to dim witted lucky guy, then overrated talentless hack, to promising director, to full scale talent behind the camera. His has been a roller coaster film career and with ARGO, he has arrived back at the top, with a film that will probably be competing for the biggest awards at the end of the year.  Everybody loves to tear down the ones who make it to the top in a field where talent is envied. Watching the vultures go after Affleck for several years has not really been a pretty sight. Admittedly he made some bad choices, both in movies (Gigli) and in girlfriends (JLo). The fact that those choices did not work out did not demonstrate that he was a failure, they in fact showed that he was a work in progress, taking risks along the way. Whatever he learned from the doormat days, he has turned into something very productive. I have yet to see his other directing features. "Gone Baby Gone" sounded a little too harsh for me at the time, I just don't know about a film concerning child abduction and murder (I skipped "The Lovely Bones" despite an Oscar nominated performance from Stanley Tucci, an actor I greatly admire, for similar reasons). I had every intention of seeing "The Town", but it has just slipped by me . ARGO, on the other hand, hooked me from the very first trailer because the story is one of those things that I remember from the dark days of the seventies.

This is a spy story where the C.I.A. are the good guys, the Iranian Revolutionaries are the bad guys, and the Canadians are our best friends. In other words, this movie reflects reality and my own world view. The seventies were filled with movies in which the intelligence community of the U.S. was overrun with megalomaniacs whose sole purpose was to pull the strings on events of the world stage, for their own benefit. I liked most of those films but I always took them with a grain of salt, because it never seemed to me that people who wanted to protect the country in the first place had to be automatically evil. After the Church hearings in  mid-decade, there were even people who thought we did not need human intelligence agencies anymore, that computers and satellites would fill all those needs. We all now know better and this is a story that celebrates the accomplishments of our intelligence community rather than trashing it. Of course they are not perfect, but they are also not the Keystone Cops with delusions of being Dr. Evil in their heads.

The taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, is recreated on screen here very convincingly. I think some of the shots were real news footage but most of the opening section is a chaotic visualization of a tragic day in diplomatic history. The six Americans who escaped from been taken hostage did so because of the layout of the Embassy, not because they were smarter than the ones who ended up being held for more than a year. They were smart enough to take the small window of opportunity they had, and run with it. It is at this point, that our friends the Canadians stood up for us. The Canadian ambassador takes in the six at great personal and diplomatic risk. The nearly three months that the Americans hid out with the ambassador, were  a period of time that any moment could have ended in disaster. Afflect as director, manages to build tension not only in the usual ways, but in subtle ways. The performances by the actors portraying the six Americans are subtle. They don't over emote, they sweat under the strain in realistic ways. There is self recrimination by one, who ignored his wife's pleas that they leave Iran months earlier. There is stress indicated not by yelling matches but fearful conversations. Simply chafing under the need to be inside all the time, one of the Americans has to step outside for air, just to be able to breathe. That action frightens everyone and you can see in their faces the terror that they faced. When Affleck's CIA agent arrives and tells them his plan, they are even more frightened than they were before. The fear comes from the atmosphere they were hiding in.

The director does a great job of showing us the streets of revolutionary Iran. There are random teeming protests and men with machine guns on nearly every corner. Suspected loyalists to the shah are arrested, imprisoned and even hung from construction equipment in public. We hear how bad the police state before the revolution was, but we see how bad the mob rule of the revolutionaries is during the story. The music in the film was right for building tension but not drawing attention to itself. As our CIA operative arrives at his hotel, we get point of view shots that highlight the fear on the streets. Every official that asks a question feels like a potential bomb, just ticking closer to an inevitable explosion of violence. All of this was done efficiently, without too much lingering and without drawing attention to the film techniques. It reminded me of the David Fincher "Zodiac". Everyday things feel wrong, even though on the surface they appear to be stable for the moment. At the end of the film, the story uses more traditional means of building tension, including last minute door closings, transmissions slipping out of gear, and pictures being matched up just as the escape is under way. All of that is handled well, and although we knew the outcome before the movie even started, it was still tense.

The light moments of the film come from the deep background story that the agency sets up to get the Americans a cover that will allow them to escape. ARGO is the title of the fake movie, that the six will supposedly be scouting locations for in Iran. To be able to sell the idea, the CIA sets up a production company in Hollywood using an Academy Award winning make up artist and a past his time producer. The make up guy was real, he later received recognition from the government for a variety of help he provided to the CIA, the producer is an invention, but represents exactly the kind of personality that would be required to pull off this deception. I have read enough material about Hollywood, and lived in Southern California long enough to be able to say they nailed the spirit if not the exact truth of the insider world that made up that world at the time. Anyone could call themselves a film producer, but to get coverage and connections, you needed insider help. The most true moment in the Hollywood scenes of the film occur as Alan Arkin as the producer and John Goodman as the make up guy turned producer, try to option the script for ARGO, from the agency that represents the screenwriter. Richard Kind plays the agent and the banter he exchanges with Arkin is exactly on point. Movie guys bullshit each other, insult each other and respect each other all at the same time. Each one is trying to outmaneuver the other on a deal and they basically lie to do so.

It always seems strange to me when a period piece is actually reflective of a time in my own life.When I was at USC as an undergraduate, there were always protests against the shah by Iranian students. When the revolution came, I was taking a class from my favorite history professor on revolutions and the Iranian revolution was the last of the four we studied. When I was making deliveries of photo materials all over Hollywood, I saw the studios and the restaurants that the film makers frequented. Everything in the movie felt real. I loved seeing the poster for obscure films in the production offices as the CIA and the movie guys are putting their film together. I remember films like "When Dinosaurs Ruled  the Earth" and the poster in Arkins office for "Sssssss" is on the wall right in front of me as I type this. The glasses and hairstyles of the 1970s are spot on. I was looking at the actors portraying the six Americans hiding, and I noticed how they had their hair parted the way I did at the time. The luggage that they carried was not drawn on wheels but dragged and picked up as it would have been at the time. People smoked in public buildings and on airplanes, try doing something like that today. All the little details are exactly right and the art direction here feels like 1979.

So far I have not talked about the performances. This is a ensemble film, and even the lead character played by Affleck, is one of many stories in the film. Arkin and Goodman steal their scenes in the way pros know how, without being hammy. The six actors playing our trapped diplomats were all unfamiliar to me except for Tate Donovan, and they were stellar. They conveyed the real fears of average people in overwhelming circumstances. Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador is fine but his part is thin despite the real life ambassador's true heroism. Bryan Cranston is stuck playing a bureaucrat again, but this time his role is not a caricature but a honestly conflicted middle agency guy. His warning to Affleck's character as he is heading to the Turkey and Iran is chilling, at the same time funny. Affleck plays a real life hero, Tony Mendez, who hatched the plot and bravely walked into a hornets nest to save his fellow citizens. He is appropriately purposeful and sober in his time with the non-hostages. You can see he is driven in the Hollywood scenes but also appreciates the absurdity of his position there. It is not a flashy part but it is an important one. The backstory of his relationship with his son is an important touchstone. These guys are not James Bond, they are family men, doing a hard job that sometimes puts them in the same place as the worst people in the world. The script and the performance convey that very well. Even small parts seem well cast. Adrienne Barbeau has a couple of lines, but who else would you cast as the producer's ex-wife, fading beauty, working actress doing a read thorough in costume of a B-movie? Kyle Chandler looks like Hamilton Jordan without having to do much more than comb his hair a little differently. The whole cast was excellent.

"ARGO" tells a spy story, though a Hollywood prism, with historical attention to detail. It was exciting as hell despite the fact that everyone knows how it turns out. The director puts suspense on the screen in lots of the right places, and in those spots where it is being artificially jacked up for movie drama reasons, it still works. The film stays largely free of politics, and focuses on honest people trying to do their job, who got caught up in the whirlwind of history. This movie deserves to be a big hit because it is all kinds of entertaining  and you will feel good at the resolution. A terrific story that is told by exceptional film makers.

Bond Bloggathon







Here is a link to Fog's Movie Reviews Bond Blog A Thon. Look at all the 007 fans.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

From ‘Goldfinger’ To ‘Skyfall’ Academy Celebrates 50 Years Of James Bond Music

From ‘Goldfinger’ To ‘Skyfall’ Academy Celebrates 50 Years Of James Bond Music

A great review of an event that I planned on going to and unfortunately missed. It has some nice details on the Bond music legacy.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA



Two years ago, three of my favorite ten movies of the year were animated. I like films that are creative, I like cartoons, and I like smart kids films. This movie is not really all that creative, it certainly is not smart but it is an animated cartoon. I'm not sure why Sony is doing a cartoon movie featuring what were essentially Universal characters in the first half of the last century. As I think about it, maybe their emphasis has been to take cartoons and put them to live action (ala "the Flintstones") rather than going the other way. Universal does have "Despicable Me 2" coming, so I know there is an animation presence there, but somehow this is not theirs. From a financial point of view, maybe they wish they had this but from an artistic one, they can live without it.

Hotel Transylvania is really a movie made for little kids. I mean five years and under. The characters are simplistic, the story is well worn, and plot points feel like they are lifted from a thousand kids movies in the past. When the Monsters jump on stage and start playing music like a rock band for no reason what so ever, I felt like I was in an episode of "Scooby Doo" or "The Archies". I know I am showing my age with those two references, but that is basically how the movie feels. If characters from kids cartoons still do this, then fill in your own example.

The look of the movie is fine but not dynamic or unique. Everything is passable as a castle, or vampire or werewolf, but none of it feels very interesting and when the fart jokes start coming, I was ready to give up. The movie actors giving voice to the Monsters are not doing anything to make the characters really sing, it feels like they are going through the motions and collecting their paychecks. I did not hate the movie, I just did not care about anything in it. It is a little better than Madagascar 3, but it doesn't have the Rainbow Afro/Circus song to make it memorable. If you have tiny children who want a Halloween style movie, this may be OK, we waited on "Frankenweenie" because we thought it would stay in theaters a little longer. Let's hope it is better than this inconsequential effort.

Friday, October 5, 2012

James Bond 007 Celebration Episode 2



A couple of weeks ago, I started my 50th anniversary celebration of James Bond. This date marks the actual debut of Dr. No, so it is a pretty safe bet that there will be Bond tributes all over the net. I checked on Google, but they did not have one of their trademark logos celebrating 007. All is well however, I just finished watching the EPIX exclusive documentary "Everything or Nothing: The Secret World of 007" and it satisfied my needs for a Bond fix. Today, as I was watching "Taken 2" with my daughter Amanda, we saw the trailer for "Skyfall", I leaned over and said "35 more days" and we both gave out a shout of anticipation.

The set up for the current project is to rate the 007 films by the actors outings as James Bond. Since Lazenby was only Bond once, he started us off. The fact that he never made another Bond film is not really a tragedy, he was not really an actor, and subsequent Bonds have been more than sufficient to replace him. I do think on the other hand that it is a tragedy that Timothy Dalton did not get to portray Bond more than the two opportunities afforded him. My friend Art and I both thought he looked the most like the James Bond we had envisioned in our heads when we read the books (at least when we could get Sean Connery out of our minds). Dalton is an excellent actor and he did a fine job restoring some dignity to Bond after some of the over the top Roger Moore outings. The one thing that he seemed to lack was a deftness with a comic line. He always brought great intensity to the role but lost the light touch that the audience had grown used to.

Anyway, my ranking of his films is complicated. I think both movies are excellent, but they are both fairly grim. My final decision is a personal reflection of my mood at the times I saw these films in theaters.

"The Living Daylights"


This ends up as my second favorite Bond, even though it is the more "Bond" like of the two Dalton films. The scenario of the assassin who Bond is supposed to kill but instead merely prevents from caring out their orders is straight from the original story. A pretty face stays his hand. In the original short story, that is as far as it went. Here an elaborate set up of spy vendetta, corruption in the KGB, and ultimately a little detente, fill in the story.





I like the characters of the duplicitous Russian general, and the American mercenary who sees himself as a war historian/General. Their plot to steal from the Russian arms stockpiles, sell the arms on the open market and exploit the British Secret Service to do so, reminded me a bit of the intrigue in "From Russia with Love", with two sides being played while a third is profiting.

There are a couple of long sequences in Afghanistan, and at the time it was easy to look at the Russian quagmire and shake our heads at a distance. Today, it is a little more difficult to do that.

There is a solid sequence in which the Russian General fakes his own kidnapping from British intelligence. The monosyllabic blond Russian strongman, infiltrates the safe house and engages in a series of hand to hand combat situations with other British Agents. I always liked the fact that the MI6 guy in the kitchen was almost a match for the guy. Bond was not alone in her Majesty's Secret Service, and the other guys were competent as well. Of course Bond is special, which is why he rises like cream to the top of the heap.

The girl in the story is the weak link. She is pretty but not any more convincing as a cellist than she was as a sniper. The European scenes and chases are effective and the pre title sequence was good looking although a little confusing the first time through.



License to Kill


"License to Kill", which in my mind should have remained "License Revoked", is at the top of my Dalton list for a couple of very personal reasons. It is the last James Bond film I saw with my best friend.We had seen nine Bond films together when they first opened. Art died during the six year interval between this and the first Brosnan film. It is also the first Bond film I took my daughter Amanda to. She was a year old and slept in the car seat that I deposited in the seat next to me in the theater. When she did wake up, she never fussed or in any way bothered anyone else in the theater, but it was an early matinee that was sparsely attended.

I also like the movie because it is one of the most violent of the Bond films. It's subject is personal vengeance, and one of the classic scenes from the novel "Live and Let Die", ended up in this story. The feeding of Felix Leiter to a shark and his subsequent delivery with a sadistic note reading "He disagreed with something that ate him", is a classic nasty piece of work from Ian Fleming himself. It is one of the reasons that the original novels were criticized for their sadism. The character of Milton Krest is from a different short story in the same collection as "The Living Daylights", and the punishment of the villains girl by being whipped with the trail from a stingray is also a gruesome slice of that short story collection.



There is a strong leading lady, a good plot that makes use of Felix for something more than simple exposition, and a real villain. Actually we get to see Bond dispose of two thoroughly disagreeable bad guys, one of them played by Benicio Del Toro. The main villain is Sanchez, brought to life by the truly great character actor Robert Davi. He has flare, intelligence and a brutal personality to match those other characteristics. His character could also be a real person, the Mexican drug lords are probably even worse so it is not really an over the top visualization of a drug cartel story.  I also think the tanker truck stunt toward the end of the picture is a memorable Bond style trick. Throw in Wayne Newton, and Q in the field for some comic relief and you get a pretty good package despite some script issues.


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The James Bond 50th Anniversary Celebration will Return.



Taken 2




There was almost no chance I would not like this movie, but there was also almost no chance that it would be as great as the original. Apparently I can predict the future because I was right on both counts. Taken 2 is a satisfying sequel to the original revenge story from 2008. It is hard to believe that it was nearly five years ago that the original came out. Liam Neeson has become a go to action star in his late fifties and early sixties and he looks completely credible doing so. In the time between the two Taken films, he has built up his bonifides by playing a series of tough guys in starring and featured roles.

I've enjoyed his work since I first saw him in "Excalibur" back in 1981, but in the last few years he has become a personal favorite. It may be that since Gene Hackman is no longer working, I am looking for an actor to trust when it comes to parts that feature traditional masculine traits. Tough and intelligent, with a sense of purpose in the way they walk and talk. My daughter would probably say I have a "mancrush" on him, but it is really just that he embodies a lot of the mannerisms and directness that actors like Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Hackman possess. They all play real types much more effectively than any other role. I have sort of avoided the "Clash of the Titans" films, because the costumes and hair styles undermine the very things I like about Neeson as an actor. He is not affected in his portrayals, there is no method angst and no tics or traits that seem obviously to be actors crutches. An action movie like "Taken 2" requires a sense of heightened reality, but it has to be grounded in what is real.

This go round, Neeson's character Bryan Mills is the subject of a revenge plot, created by the families of the characters he wiped out in the first film. If there was any way to make sense of the notion that someone would be "Kidnapped" again, this is the lone plausible stream. Otherwise, the movie would seem like lightning striking the same spot or someone winning the lottery a couple of times in a row. The basic set up takes place pretty quickly and I think that may be a weakness of the film. The head of the family of gangsters is cast well and the Albanian environment seems believable, but we get no sense of the scope of the group and their power. I think some plot development that followed their planning of the whole revenge would be helpful. The only reference we get to the set up of their plan, was a scene with the corrupt French security official who was Bryan's friend in the first movie. After that, we barely see the evil doers except as faceless drivers of chase vehicles or thugs shooting innocent bystanders for almost no reason. In the first "Taken", Neeson has to track a guy down with only a brief vocal clue as to his identity. Along the way he interacts with members of the crime family for brief moments, which give him an opportunity to practice his spy-craft, and allows us to loath some of the bad guys individually. In this film, we see the bad guys working but without much sense of animosity or purpose; except for the head man. All of Bryan's tools are used this time against the setting or environment of the abduction. We can see he is clever in tracking the path of the van that is whisking him away, but none of his tricks has anything to do with the people involved (until the very last).

It's not that the first bunch of gangsters were so interesting because they were not. The weakness is that only two of the bad guys seem motivated. The best scene that brings us closest to the set up that I think I needed a little more, takes place with Bryan hanging from a bar in cellar and the evil "Godfather" character gloating over him. The threats he makes and the violence that he acts upon do mark him as the one person that we most want to see get a comeuppance. While the resolution works, it lacked the soul satisfying (or destroying if you are a pacifist) gut reaction of some of the first films multiple climax moments (Yeah, I see how it reads). To be honest there was never going to be a moment like in the first film when Bryan nails the bad guy in the legs, hooks up the electricity and then just walks out. It is a hard moment to top. This version tries to remind us that Bryan's character is not a monster, although he is a death dealing demon of vengeance. There is some slight hint of the emotional release we want, but it was less orgasmic than I hoped for.

There are some terrific fight sequences. The one where Neeson takes on a half dozen or so of the criminal crew with a piece of a baton or re-bar was exciting and well staged. There were a couple of shootout scenes that had the kind of tension and resolution that an action fan is looking for. The car chase sequences were only mildly effective to me, I think the crowded marketplace setting and the lack of a point of view from the pursuers weakened the suspense a little, but that could just be me. The set up of the story focuses too much on Bryan and his family drama, and not quite enough on the hateful (and should be hated) villains. It still works and an 80% dose of Liam Neeson whoop ass still makes for a great two hours at the movies.