Friday, November 30, 2012

Lincoln (2012)

I've gone on record before saying that my feelings on Steven Spielberg have reached a point of full-out dislike. And I stand by that. I'm not a fan of his films anymore, at least not the ones he's been making lately. And by "lately" I mean roughly the last 15 years. I'm also a complete weirdo in the fact the only movie of his I've seen since "Saving Private Ryan" that I did like was "Kingdom of The Crystal Skull," so please feel free to take whatever I say with a grain of salt since apparently I'm insane.

Here's the thing, though. Spielberg is a good director. Seriously, he is. I'm not going to say he isn't a master at what he does, because that would be ignorant. There are just certain things he does which I don't like, and of the 3 primary issues I have with him, only 1 of those has to do with his actual directing.

The first thing is that I don't like the scripts he chooses. They're cheesy, overly long, preachy, and play it pretty safe and mediocre. He directs them well, but I'm usually very bored by them. Yeah that's a big issue to have, but it has nothing to do with his actual directing. The second thing is that he keeps hiring John Williams. Similar to Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, this symbiotic relationship has gone from working beautifully to becoming one of tired acceptance with a distinct overtone of forgettable "not caring anymore." And at this point, Williams really seems to be running low on ideas as the last memorable piece he wrote was "Duel of the Fates" for "Star Wars: Episode I." Back in 1999.

Third and finally comes the only real issue I have with Spielberg from an actual directorial standpoint. There comes a time, oftentimes several throughout the course of his films, where something dramatic will happen, usually having something to do with racism and the like. In any case, someone will make a dramatic gesture, will say something, or will do something to fly in the face of the established oligarchy that has been opposing them. Everything slows down, the camera pans around everyone at a low angle as they look upwards with thoughtful expressions or mouths agape as they slowly nod their heads with new understanding on life and humanity,  all to John Williams' music swelling underneath.

This happens in nearly every Spielberg drama I can think of. And I hate this scene. I really do. It's so cheesy. It's so telegraphed. It's so cliche. And it's seldom really earned. It's just there because well, that's what Spielberg does a lot of. People are always labeling grand, sweeping action shots as "Spielbergian," but why doesn't anyone else use it to describe that hunk of cheese as well? He uses it more often than the first one, it seems to me.

I think it's the head nod. That's what kills it for me.

So it was not without some sense of apprehension that I went to go see "Lincoln." I'm not going to lie, I really wasn't digging this one from the trailers. Maybe if it had been another director I would have had more interest in it, but because it was Spielberg, I knew it would be cheesy and preachy. And I was right about that. It was cheesy. In fact it was cheesier than I had imagined it was going to be. And it was indeed preachy, but not as much as I had feared. So we've got a plus and minus with that.

But one thing I didn't count on "Lincoln" being was so droning, and even bordering on dull on occasion. And the reason for that is because the only reason this film exists is to get a few more Oscar nominations (and probably wins) for Daniel Day-Lewis. Now some of you may read that as being overly callous, but what else am I supposed to think about a film that is made up of Daniel Day-Lewis performing monologues for roughly 73% of the 2 and a half hour run time?

This should have been called "Speech: The Movie."

I'm going to come out and say right now, however, that if you like Daniel Day-Lewis, you will love this film for those exact reasons. Perhaps that is one of the benefits of being a weird method actor that only does a movie once every 5 years or something - when they finally get you to star in something you know nobody else is going to matter.

Daniel Day-Lewis is undoubtedly good as Abraham Lincoln. I did genuinely like him in it, he was quite convincing, and yeah I guess he "became the role" as he is wont to do. But honestly I didn't really feel an appreciable difference between his performance and any other good actor who would have probably played the part just as well. At no time did I think to myself "Only Day-Lewis could have pulled this off. Nobody else would have been close."

Does that make "Lincoln" bad or Day-Lewis' performance not matter? No, of course not. I'm just throwing it out there before the awards season begins and everyone starts kissing his ass as The Greatest Living Actor again. He's good, but perhaps people are mistaking lack of quantity for excess of quality. I call that the "Terrence Malick" effect. Although Day-Lewis is far better at his trade-craft than Malick is at his own.

The rest of the elements really don't matter too much, to be perfectly frank. It's set during Lincoln's last few months as he fights to pass the 13th Amendment, and much of the movie is political maneuvering as the Republicans fight to get a majority of the vote in the Senate in order to pass it. That's all well and good, and it is interesting to learn about aspects of the country's history that I was unaware of. But it's just a backdrop to see Day-Lewis start up with another amusing anecdote, which he does so often that it even becomes the topic of a joke at one point. And yeah, that was actually a funny joke, but we still had to sit through the long, plodding story afterwords.

To be fair there are many speeches Lincoln gives that are quite good. The best one that I recall concerns The Emancipation Proclamation, and the risks involved in doing it, and the potential fallout from it. Not only does that give us great insight into his state of mind, but it dumps a whole lot of exposition on us in a pretty believable manner, and clues us in as to why the 13th Amendment needs to be passed now. That's great stuff, but there just too many dull, repetitive monologues in between the good ones, and it makes Lincoln come off as more than a bit long-winded.

Tommy Lee Jones, playing senator Thaddeus Stevens I found to be a more interesting character than Lincoln, mostly because I liked his story and conflict along with his more fiery personality. The point when he is forced to compromise his values for the greater good is one of the more engrossing moments of the film. Unfortunately it's relegated to a 2 minute sequence and then never really brought up again.

He and his wig were honestly my favorite characters.

Sally Field will probably get some Oscar buzz, as its the kind of role that demands it. Was she good? Yeah, I guess. Am I going to remember her performance in a few days? Probably not. More than paying attention to whom they gave screen time to, I was more annoyed with the actors they wasted. Great actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jackie Earle Haley who are pushed to the back of the room and given pretty "nothing" roles. For shame.

There isn't much more to say about "Lincoln," honestly. I came away feeling profoundly unmoved. The schmaltz of Spielberg didn't help, especially during the painfully bad opening scene where two soldiers recite The Gettysburg Address back at Lincoln, and the ridiculous closing shot featuring Lincoln superimposed over a flame in a lantern (SYMBOLISM!) which looked straight out of an early 90's sitcom.

There's also the scene right before the Senate vote on the 13th Amendment which has a group of black folk walk into the balcony to be seated. Everyone instantly goes mute, stops what they are doing like they have "black radar" and stares at them. Then one of the senators slowly stands and says with great gravity "We welcome you here" like they're the first black people to set foot in the building. Because apparently Mary Todd Lincoln's servant didn't count even though she was there all the freaking time. But whatever. Everyone gets to slowly nod in approval. That's what's important.

I don't hate Spielberg. I just hate Spielberg's cheese. But since his movies are jammed full of it, it's difficult for me to enjoy one. It bores me and makes me roll my eyes every 5 minutes. But whatever. It will win tons of Oscars. That's what's important.

I miss Bill Oberst Jr.

THE BOTTOM LINE - You know exactly what this movie is, even if you haven't seen it yet. It will do nothing to surprise you. If that's what you want, here you go. Daniel Day-Lewis fans will call it the best of the year and demand Best Actor, although they did that before they even saw the film. I personally found it boring.

Inception (2010)

There are two mainstream directors working today whose entire works I have seen that are, in my opinion, batting 1.000. The first guy is Darren Aronofsky. Every movie this guy makes is phenomenal. "Black Swan" was the best film I saw in 2010, I adore "The Fountain" in all it's beautiful sadness, and  "Requiem For A Dream" is a movie that's so powerful that I'll never watch it again. The man is 5 for 5 so far, and I'm fully anticipating 6 for 6 when "Noah," his next project comes out in 2014. Let's hope.

The other guy is Christopher Nolan. Now the interesting difference between Nolan and Aronofsky for me is that while I think that while technically Aronofsky makes the "better films," there's always a portion of my brain that gets more excited about the next Nolan project. The reason for that is because while I believe they both make powerful, objectively excellent films, I have to give it to Nolan in the entertainment department. His movies are just too much damn fun.

"Memento" and "The Prestige" are two of the best twisty-turny thrillers I've ever seen, and appear to have been made for the sole purpose of apologizing to the Universe for M. Night Shyamalan's fall from both talent and sanity. I consider his Batman trilogy to be the current apex of the comic book movie. Hell, when your weakest film is "Insomnia," a fantastic thriller featuring Robin Williams as a believable and kind of scary bad guy, you know you've either got supernatural amounts of talent or several deals with the Devil. Any one of these films would be considered a high-water mark in any other director's career, a movie they would be best remembered for - and Christopher Nolan has made a career of making those career-making movies.

Ken Watanabe is very strict about bathtime procedures.

Where Aronofsky's films are deep and leave me feeling like I've been punched in the gut and make me slowly nod my head as I contemplate life between deep, soul searching breaths, Nolan's films leave me sitting in my seat, a smile slowly drifting over my face as I have no words to say other than "Wow" as my brain fires 900 miles an hour in an attempt to process all that I just saw. Then I have conversations about it with my friends that last for hours, then I go and see it again, because all of his movies only get better the more you watch them. It's an equally powerful, if quite different reaction to two great filmmakers and their particular styles.

This brings us around to Christopher Nolan's "Inception." This 2010, labyrinthine, sci-fi mind-defiler was the second best movie I saw that year. And it was running in first place until late December when "Black Swan" was released. And even then it was a close match. Then again, it always is whenever Nolan and Aronofsky release a movie in the same year, which is surprisingly often. They both seem to go in two year cycles.


The thing about "Inception" that I think earned it something of a bad reputation, and indeed the main reason some people came down harshly on this film, was that people were labeling it as an exceedingly difficult to follow film, and was nearly impossible to make sense of. People coming out the theater were saying they had no idea what was going on, and that it was a royal mess of nonsense.

This is all untrue. What people need to understand even to this day since there are still folks who refuse to see "Inception" based on these unenlightened opinions of it, is that it's not a difficult movie to follow. It's really not. It makes sense within the context of the story, and nowhere does the narrative fly off the rails. It's actually presented in as straight forward of a manner as you could possibly present a story involving plot elements like "dreams within dreams within dreams."

So why were there people getting all flustered over it and saying it was crap? Well, it's very simple, and I'm going to tell you the secret to understanding "Inception" right now. You ready? It's only four syllables long, so it's not hard to write down if you need to. Here we go:


"Inception" isn't asking a lot of you, audience. It's really not. All it's asking you to do is to give it your undivided attention for two and a half hours. That's not that long of a time to not check Facebook on your phone or not go make a sandwich or not break out your Nintendo DS. You can manage. I know Michael Bay has gotten us used to not working our brains past the point that comprehending how big that last explosion was will allow, but seriously just pop some Ritalin and watch a filmmaker who knows what he's doing. You might thank yourselves later.

I've also heard it called pretentious. Honestly, I have no idea what people who say that are talking about, and I've never heard a proper argument to explain why anyone would say this movie wrongfully has its nose in the air. I just think "pretentious" is a word thrown around by people who didn't like a movie, but don't know how to describe why they didn't like it. But here's a news flash, "Inception" is not pretentious, because it is intelligent, it is well made, and it is an important movie by an important director. Pretentious only counts if the thing being accused isn't possessed of things like that. Like Terrence Malick. Now call him pretentious, and I'll agree with you completely. Christopher Nolan? Not a chance.

And by the way, isn't it strange that often when a director becomes popular and starts building up an impressive collection of films under their belt, if they're doing anything unique at all, some label them as "pretentious?" Give it enough time, so that we see a new generation of directors emerge, those that grew up watching Christopher Nolan films, and watch what they'll say then. Nobody will call him pretentious when every other filmmaker is copping his style. He'll be called a visionary.

You can't be pretentious if you actually are that important.

"Inception" is a story about industrial espionage. Using technology which allows a person to construct and enter dreams, these criminals steal secrets from the very minds of their subjects, presumably to sell to the highest bidder. A far more difficult task is inception, which is the planting of an idea into someone's mind. Inception is actually considered to be impossible by most everyone, expect for Dom Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio's character. He's the only person who has been able to successfully pull it off. And as we find out, having done so is his biggest regret.

Cobb takes the customary "one last job" in an effort to bring himself out of the exile he finds himself in at the beginning of the film. The job is one of inception - to enter the mind of a businessman (Cillian Murphy) and plant the idea in his head to break up his father's huge energy conglomerate. Cobb and his team will go several layers into his mind as dreams within dreams within dreams are necessary to plant the idea deep enough to take hold.

That's where the movie starts to get a little nuts. As they go deeper into Cillian Murphy's mind the film jumps back and forth between "levels" of the dream, each level being in the head of a different team member, who "builds" that level. For instance, the first level of Cillian Murphy's dream is created by Yusuf (Dileep Rao). But when they go a level deeper within Yusuf's dream, everyone but Yusuf plugs into Arthur's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dream, which he constructs. Then within Arthur's dream they go into Eames' (Tom Hardy) mind, so that the idea can be planted deep enough. And believe it or not they end up going deeper than even that.

(caption unnecessary)

That's the speed-bump in watching "Inception." You have to keep mental tabs going in your head as to whose dream you're currently in. But the dreams are all different from each other, and the settings unique enough to the point that you're never mistaking one level for another. True, by the end of the dream, when there are four or five levels of dreams going on and it's rapidly cutting back and forth between all of them, it does tend to get a little chaotic, but even if you're not completely following every last detail, the general idea is still solid enough to carry you through. But I can't lie and say that even looking back it isn't a chore to connect the dots.

Even typing the plot out is honestly an exercise in brain activity.

The cast of "Inception" is the standard Christopher Nolan stable of actors, although to call them standard is something of a misrepresentation since all these people are amazing. Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard are all here, making it almost feel like part of the "Dark Knight" series. And I shall not complain about that, because it is purely a good thing. Add to the mix DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Berenger and the late Pete Postlethwaite in one of his last films, and it's a good sampling of some of the best actors around. That's another reason Nolan is awesome: He always gets awesome people.

If there is one thing about "Inception" that I love more than anything else, it's that every time I see it, there is more to be considered that I hadn't found on a previous viewing. I've seen the film about six times now, I'd guess, and every time I find something about it that I get to thinking about that hadn't occurred to me earlier. At first, I'll sit back and ponder it until I've exhausted my brain, and my conclusion will be that I'd found a plothole or something that doesn't make sense. And I'll let that sit for a time.

Then, a few days later, out of the blue the answer will strike me as my brain has finally made sense of things, and I discover that what I thought was a plothole wasn't a plothole at all, but merely another layer of this dense onion of a story that I had yet to uncover. This happens nearly every time I rewatch "Inception." And how many movies can you say keep your brain working that long after seeing it? That's why I love "Inception."

Party hard.

In fact, there are a few theories I have about the end of "Inception" that I'd like to share with anyone taking the time to read these ramblings. If you haven't seen it yet, I'd recommend skipping these next parts, because there will be spoilers, and I'd hate to ruin it for you. Then again, if you haven't seen it, there's probably little chance you'll be able to make heads or tails of what I'm about to say anyway.

1) The first theory I have is one that many people probably had as well - which is that the end of the movie implies that Dom is still asleep, or has fallen in limbo again. This is a pretty safe theory considering that the chances are 50/50. Either the totem is about to fall over or it's not. But an interesting thing happens when you consider the following: That Dom's totem cannot be trusted to tell him if he's awake. And the reason for that is that the totem isn't his. That totem belonged to Mal.

"Mwahahaha! You can't trust me!"

They make it clear that the totem has to be uniquely known by the owner and the owner alone. No one else can know what makes it special, because that's the whole point. But Dom's totem didn't belong to only him, which invalidates it as a test. Also, he flat out tells Ariadne (Ellen Page) what its trick is, which makes it doubly invalid. And who knows how many others know about the totem at this point?

2) This being considered, I think it's entirely possible that we never see the waking world throughout the entirety of the film. If we can't trust the totem to tell us the truth, then we can't trust anything we see. There are also occurrences in the "real world" that are suspect. For instance, the entire sequence where they recruit Eames (Tom Hardy) is full of imagery which might be found in a dream. I'm referring not only to the gang of bad guys that spring out of the aether to give chase to Dom, but also the alleyway which narrows to a dubious level. I can't imagine anyone building an alleyway that narrows to be like a foot wide at the end. What would be the point?

In addition, when Saito (Ken Watanabe) just appears in a car to give Dom a lift and rescues him, it certainly seems overly convenient. It may just be a movie cliche, but perhaps in this case a movie cliche is being used to drop a hint that what we are seeing isn't real life, even in movie terms.

3) And if we are dreaming to whole time, which I think is entirely likely, I thought of something that I won't call a theory but I will call "a thought." Consider the following: If that were the case, I think it's possible that the entire film takes place not in Dom's dream, but in Mal's.

Wait. A dream within a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream?! That's going one step too far!

Why is it that Mal is always popping up in the dreams that Dom goes into? Why is she alone brought along through his subconscious not being able to let her go? Why is Dom the only person who is doing that? Surely some of the other dreamers have issues they might not have resolved. And even if the rest of Dom's team did have their subconscious under control, there's still Saito and Fisher (Cillian Murphy), who are not, in fact, career dream thieves. Even Ariadne (Ellen Page) is a rookie. Why aren't they bringing anything crazy through? At the very least, Fisher clearly has daddy issues. That's the whole point of the job. So why don't we see Pete Postlethwaite popping in from dream to dream?

Maybe it's because Mal being dragged in from Dom's subconscious can't really happen. Maybe the reason she's always there is because we are, in fact, in her mind, and we are just following the story from the perspectives of the people sharing her dream. Think about it.

Then again that could be complete bupkis. I'm sure there are plenty of holes to be poked in that idea, which is why that is all that it is: an idea. But that just showcases one more reason I love "Inception" - because how many movies can be discussed using ideas like that?

Hur hur. Tom Hardy's is bigger.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Inception" is a movie that, like all of Christopher Nolan's films, you owe it to yourself to see. It's an amazing movie that rewards thought, conversation, and repeat viewings. Phenomenal film. Don't let what you've heard scare you off. See it. Multiple times. It only get better (and easier to follow) the more you watch it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Goldfinger (1964)

Welcome to the final installment of this week's trilogy: "Bond - Sean Connery, Part I." We've gone from the dated and frankly dull "Dr. No" to the groundbreaking and sleeker "From Russia With Love" Then one year later, everything changed forever with the film that has been called by many to be the crowning achievement of the franchise. And even if you don't agree with that assessment, it can't be argued that it stands as the quintessential Bond film, and the movie that first comes to mind when the series is brought up. That film shares its name with its antagonist, the Man with The Midas Touch himself: Goldfinger.

"Goldfinger" is, to put it simply, my favorite Bond movie, and I consider it the best of the series. Perhaps it's because it was the first Bond movie I saw. At least I'm assuming it was the first one I saw. I can't imagine that I hadn't seen a Bond movie before "GoldenEye" came out when I was 12, otherwise that probably would have been my first, however I distinctly remember playing the game for the N64 before seeing the movie. But I do remember Oddjob and the heist at Fort Knox and the cool car with the ejector seat and the naked golden lady and "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

Even the introductory song is the best one ever. And I'm not just saying that because it's been stuck in my head for the last three days.

But I really don't think that any kind of nostalgia goggles are clouding my judgement on this. I really do think that "Goldfinger" is objectively the best of the franchise, at least from a standpoint of all the elements working together in perfect harmony. From an historical standpoint it's also significant as well, since "Goldfinger" perfected the formula that was used in nearly every Bond movie after it. The gadgets were plentiful, the women gorgeous and numerous, the villains over-the-top, their plans diabolical, the action frequent and exciting, the one-liners cheesy while actually being funny, and the opening theme memorable and catchy. This movie was just perfect.

This is what Republicans think Obamacare will end up looking like.

"Goldfinger" finds us with James Bond as he investigates a gold merchant, Auric Goldfinger. MI-6 suspects him of being less than scrupulous, as they're sure he's heading a major gold smuggling operation. Of course, being a Bond villain, Goldfinger has much bigger plans than that. And while most villains are content to stick with the Herculean task of taking over the world, Goldfinger's plan, while admittedly insane, amounts to screwing with the economies of every country on the planet. That's awesome.

While "investigating" (ie - screwing with) Goldfinger, Bond makes the mistake of underestimating not only Goldfinger's pride and mean streak, but also the potential for him to have scary henchmen. This leads to one of the most iconic movie images of all time: actress Shirley Eaton lying dead on the bed, covered in gold paint.

This is the first of a number of occasions where Goldfinger completely one-ups Bond, and it's only because of his dry amusement, excess of hubris, or lack of common sense that Bond is allowed to live. That's one of the reasons this movie works so well - it's because it was the first Bond movie to have a fantastic villain who actually poses a real threat. Oh true, Robert Shaw was awesome in "From Russia With Love," but he wasn't really showcased much. There was just that 25 minute or so stretch on the train that he had to work. And there wasn't ever a point where he had beaten Bond. He had him tricked momentarily, but Bond knew what was up pretty quickly.

Goldfinger has Bond completely helpless and beaten on definitely three, and I might be so bold to argue even four separate occasions. These are moments when there was literally nothing Bond could do except for to hope that Goldfinger either screws up, lets him live, or that someone else comes to rescue him. And each time it happens, had it been any other action hero, it's easy to imagine that he might not make it. After all, Goldfinger has bested him before. Why not again?

A look like that makes you feel like he's about to pull up in a rusted out station wagon and ask if you want candy.

There was the golden women scene, where Bond is knocked unconscious from behind without ever suspecting anything, only to wake up unharmed since it was just a message. But Goldfinger could have easily had him killed. There's the famous laser scene where Bond is strapped to the table, and it's only through Goldfinger's second guessing himself that he spares him. There's the climax where Bond is handcuffed to a nuclear bomb, and is about to push the wrong button before one of the other good guys comes in and shuts it off properly. And I would argue that the final scene on the airplane counts, too. Goldfinger had Bond at gunpoint. It was only because he was stupid and gestured with his gun that Bond was able to make his move.

It's true that this is a blueprint that was used forever after in the Bond franchise, but there were few Bond villains that ever got one over on James so often. In fact, Bond's plans are constantly getting royally screwed, and the whole movie basically consists of him flying not by the seat of his pants, but by the tiny threads remaining after all the rest has been torn away by wind shear. Luck is the only thing that saves James. Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck.

Goldfinger may not have been the most physically intimidating villain, but he did have two important things going for him which more than made up for it. The first was his sneer. Gert Fröbe played him with such evil, slimy contempt for anything not useful to him that there was never any doubt that he was capable of anything. And the self-satisfied grin he had whenever he was wallowing in his own crapulence was simply marvelous.

The other thing he had going for him was Harold Sakata, a professional wrestler who would forever be known afterwards as Oddjob. His stocky build and adorable hat (which wasn't so cute after you saw its trick) makes him the most recognizable henchman in Bond history. Maybe Jaws could give him a run for his money in that department, but Oddjob was still the first heavily featured henchman in the series, he's still the most awesome, and he's probably the most beloved.

Expect in GoldenEye multiplayer. Cheating short piece of *grumble*

And what would a Bond movie be without the ladies? Shirley Eaton may have had the most memorable single moment in the film, but who remembers her name? Nobody. (It was Jill Masterson.) But there isn't a railroad spike through the cranium that could erase the name of Honor Blackman's character from the collective minds of the movie-going public.


It still blows my mind every time I hear it. Seriously? Pussy Galore? Really? Even Sean Connery, not Bond but the actual actor, seems like he can't believe it. His first words after hearing her name are "I must be dreaming," and I don't know if that was an ad-lib or not. Watch his face during that line. It's either a forth wall break or Connery cracking. It's possible since the original line was apparently "I know you are, but what's your name?" Wow. That's classy right there, James.

And the crazy thing is that nothing about her name is ever mentioned again by anybody else. People are just casually saying it. Goldfinger introduces her by name and nobody flinches. Even Bond never brings it up again, although he does get this little grin every time he says "Pussy." Her name is plastered on giant banners, for the love of Zeist.

Wouldn't this be taken down by some neighborhood committee or something?

"Goldfinger" is of course also notable for not only this most egregious double entendre of a name, but also the most nifty of cars: the silver Aston Martin DB5. I love this car. It's the definitive Bond car, so much so that it's used in "Skyfall" as a callback to older films. And I'm not joking, it's the same car. It's got the machine guns in the headlights and everything.

But what I love most is the ejector seat, because it makes possible one of the funniest moments in Bond history. I laugh so hard every time he hits that red button and sends that random goon through the roof. Every damn time.

The red button also instantly turns you into a dummy.

Throughout this whole entry I've been trying to think of things that I didn't like about "Goldfinger," since you know, that's kind of my thing. I do like to complain, I'm not going to lie to you. There aren't too many things I can think of, though. I guess the mobsters that Goldfinger assembles to describe his plan to are kind of annoying. Actually, that whole scene is pretty stupid. When you see the elaborate means he took to do what essentially amounts to pointing at a map, it seems needlessly complex.

And keep in mind, he plans on killing everyone in this room. Who is this map for and why is it being shown to them?

But that's all part of the charm of not only "Goldfinger," but all Bond movies. Of course it's ridiculous. That's the point. Of course the bad guy is eccentric and does things that no sane, rational person would do. The whole point of a Bond villain is to be the complete antithesis of "sane and rational." If they were they'd be extremely boring, which, as we've seen in later entries is the deathblow to a Bond movie. The worst things these movies, and indeed any action movie can have is a bland villain. That's why they invented Christopher Walken, Alan Rickman and Christopher Lee - so that movie villains aren't boring.

So much credit is due to the Bond franchise for making the action genre what it is today. And "Goldfinger" deserves a big slice of that. Even if you prefer your Bond even-keeled, you can't deny that "Goldfinger" was where the series really found its identity. And I think even those who did prefer a more down-to-earth version of 007 would have to admit that out of all the movies that could qualify as campy, "Goldfinger" did it with the most skill, style and taste.

It also has my favorite post-kill line in Bond history. Glorious.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Goldfinger" is the quintessential Bond film. It laid the blueprint for what the Bond series should be. In my opinion, it's the best one, and one of the greatest action movies ever made. From here on out, they tended to get more and more zany. But here is where the campy and awesome were mixed just right. Shaken not stirred, naturally.





Monday, November 26, 2012

From Russia With Love (1963)

Welcome to the second installment of this week's trilogy - "Bond: Sean Connery, Part I." As is probably evident based on the name, in this trilogy I will be looking at the first three movies of what is arguably the apogee of the action genre - the James Bond franchise. Last time we looked at Bond's more subdued beginnings in 1962's somewhat dull "Dr. No." The next year saw 007 return in an adaptation of one of the most popular Bond novels, "From Russia With Love."

When you ask a fan of the series which Bond film is the best, you get different answers depending on what kind of Bond they like. The fans who love the gadgets and over-the-top villains with a sprinkling of camp often cite "Goldfinger" as the best. "GoldenEye" and "The Spy Who Loved Me" are usually up there, too. But for those who liked a bit more realism in their Bond movies while keeping it exciting, it never got better than "From Russia With Love."

"From Russia With Love" introduced aspects of the series that became standard, including the introduction of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and the first appearance of Blofeld, although we don't see his face or even know his name at this point. There's a theme song featuring the title of the movie (which is, eh, meh at best. It's okay). There's also a boat chase, a helicopter attack, and a train sequence, all of which are very common in later entries. It was also the first Bond movie to have gadgets, and even though Bond's briefcase isn't exactly a car that turns into a submarine, it's still nifty, useful, and ends up saving the day. And while some might say that the briefcase doesn't count, allow me to submit that any device which features a smoke grenade automatically counts as a 'gadget.'

"Very good, Bond. Now allow me to show you - if I may be so bold - a dash clever innovation. It's called a briefcase. It holds papers."
"Q, you're quite mad."

All of these elements that are prevalent in later, more outlandish entries got their start here. But "From Russia With Love" is, at its core, a relatively grounded in reality spy thriller. And it's a pretty good one at that. And that's where "From Russia With Love" gets interesting, because it exists at a crossroads in the Bond franchise. From here, it could have gone either way. We could have ended up with a Bourne style series in the 60's had they decided to continue keeping their feet on the ground. Instead they went the other way until Roger Moore boarded a ship to outer space, and whether or not you think that's to the series' credit or determent is a matter of opinion and taste.

The story concerns a Soviet agent, our Bond Girl Tatiana, luring Bond into a trap using a Lektor coding machine, and her defection, as bait. The possibility of MI-6 getting their hands on one is too much for them to ignore, despite them assuming that it's a trap. Tatiana makes it clear that the only one she'll trust is Bond, so he is given the mission to meet her in Istanbul, recover the Lektor, and bring her to England.

Unbeknownst to Tatiana but knownst to us, Klebb, Tatiana's superior, is a double agent working for both the KGB and SPECTRE, and is using Tataina's loyalty to the KGB to manipulate her into serving SPECTRE's needs. Their objective is to humiliate and kill James Bond in retaliation for the death of Dr. No, another SPECTRE member, hence them having Tatiana make sure it's Bond who is sent.

This makes "From Russia With Love" a direct sequel to "Dr. No," which means that I'd been operating under incorrect assumptions for some time now. I had always thought that "Quantum of Solace" had been the only Bond film to directly follow another one, but I was wrong. Not only is Dr. No referenced by name, but there is a possible reference to Honey Rider, as Bond is sporting a knife scar on his back, we presume to be a result from her not being a fan of his less-than-monogamous ways. That's pretty cool.

"Yesh, room schervish? This ish Jamsh Bond, room 204. My phone ish entirely too schmall."

Sean Connery is the same stoic James Bond as he always is, with the same swagger and machismo that endears him to so many fans. Daniela Bianchi was a tolerable, if somewhat forgettable Bond girl despite having one of the more interesting stories to go along with her. She wasn't bad, and there is some sympathy to be felt for her as she is being manipulated by her superior to basically degrade herself and betray her country for no good reason other than revenge by an evil organization bent on world domination.

But the real story in "From Russia With Love" is all about the great Robert Shaw as Grant, the assassin sent to do Bond in. This guy, and what they do with him, is amazing. I don't believe he utters more than a few words for the first 2 acts of the film, if that. He's this silent, steel-eyed demon who seems more robot than man. He calmly dispatches his victims with hardly an emotion on his face at all, which makes him freaking intimidating as hell. He reminds me a bit of Ivan Drago, now that I think of it. I think it's the fact that so much is conveyed by his physical performance that words are unnecessary. Or maybe it's the white/blonde hair.

This dinner is about to get...awkward...

But then, something awesome happens: Grant speaks. At the beginning of the final act, Grant boards the Orient Express with Bond and Tatiana after killing the MI-6 agent sent to meet him and taking his place. We then see that Grant is a pretty smooth talker and pulls off a pretty convincing MI-6 agent act, as Bond is duped, at least for a time. Not too far into the ride he begins to suspect something, not so much because of anything Grant did, but more likely out of intuition. But the act is still great, and it was quite a nice surprise when the facade is thrown over this stone faced killer, and we see there is more to Grant than first anticipated.

I loved Robert Shaw in "From Russia With Love." He was fantastic, especially in the lead up to him and Connery's fight scene on the train. Once Bond switches around some things in his briefcase in anticipation of things going south, the tension really starts ratcheting up. This is especially true in the dinner scene right before the fight. It's one of those scenes with a lot of unspoken tension, as both Bond and Grant are suspicious, but neither one is dropping their act of chivalry and politeness. And Shaw is able to convey so much with a simple glance or a glint of emotion in his eyes that he doesn't have to say anything at all. He was an amazing actor.

You wonder if he told SPECTRE he'd find Bond for three, but catch him and kill him for ten...

That dinner scene also leads up to what is one of the best fight scenes in Bond history. When Bond and Grant go at each other in their cabin, it's a realistic, rough and brutal fight that looks like it hurts. The lack of music, the hard hitting sound effects, and the lights getting shot out to flood the room in an eerie blue hue add to the experience, and it really seems like a scene more in line with the later Daniel Craig films than something from the 60's. It's an intense fight, and there weren't any stunt doubles, either. It was all Connery and Shaw.

If I were to make a list, like most other fans of the series I'd have to put that fight scene up there among the best of the best. I think the only thing that I wasn't a fan of during that fight is the fact that Shaw basically gets done in by his own greed and stupidity, which seemed a bit odd. Then again, I probably wouldn't suspect a smoke grenade in a briefcase. Then again, I might have suspected something. Good thing Grant didn't insist on Bond opening that thing, eh? That may have come across as...intelligent.

As far as other problems I had with the movie, there really aren't that many of terrible importance to note. Maybe the helicopter scene was a bit lame, as I couldn't really tell what the bad guys were attempting to do. Yes, it does make for a dynamic shot whenever the helicopter swoops low over Bond, forcing him to duck slightly, but last I checked buzzing a person isn't lethal. Maybe if they angled the nose down so that the blades were in a position to cut him, that might work. Maybe they could use the fact that a helicopter can hover to help them with that instead of only zooming past him, since this pilot is under the impression that a helicopter operates exactly like an airplane.

Or here's a pro-tip: Use that freaking machine gun you were just shooting the truck up with.

There's also the issue of the final boat chase. Bond and Tatiana get on a speedboat with about 6 barrels of gasoline (!) on it, and when they're being chased, he dumps the barrels over the side. When the bad guys see the barrels, they inexplicably stop right next to them for no good reason I can determine other than to look at them as closely as possible, which they do for no good reason expect to make sure that when Bond uses a flare gun to explode them, they all die. I mean, yeah it's cool and all, and the explosion is pretty boss, but really, come on. There was absolutely no reason at all for the bad guys to stop.

Also, we're now out of gas. Oh right. Venice is a long ways away. I guess all that fuel was there for a reason. Crap.

Do these little gripes ruin the movie? Nah. It's still a neat spy thriller. If anything will drag the movie down it's the fact that honestly, it does have a slight tendency to drag, especially around the part near the middle when Bond visits a bunch of gypsies. The whole point of that scene is to introduce a minor villain that they have a shootout with, and whom Bond and his contact in Istanbul subsequently kill in retaliation for the attack. This whole 20 minute sequence has pretty much nothing to do with anything that I could determine, and it's unwelcome upon reflecting on the rest of the great Robert Shaw moments. Go figure the parts where "From Russia With Love" drags is when the best villain isn't around.

In the end, "From Russia With Love" ended up being a great success critically and in the box office, and many Bond affectionados count it as the best Bond movie ever made. My opinion? It's good. Damn good. Especially when compared to the lackluster "Dr. No." It's a great entry in the series.

But it's not my favorite, and I wouldn't list it as the best. I'm too much of a fan of the gadgets and the fun hyper-realism. It's a great time, but in my opinion, it can't compare to what came next...

THE BOTTOM LINE - "From Russia With Love" is a really good flick. It's more for those who like their Bond on the more realistic side, but it merges the more outlandish aspects of the series together with that realism arguably better than any of the others. Defiantly worth a look if you don't mind a slower, more deliberate pace than you're used to in these movies.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dr. No (1962)

It's time once again for another trilogy! This time I'll be looking at the first three films of one of the greatest film icons of all time: James Bond. The first three movies in the James Bond series shows one of the coolest evolutions of a film franchise that I've seen, and is very fascinating to watch it go from the humble beginnings of a simple spy caper to the overblown action rollercoaster that created the image of the Super Agent. I'm calling this series "Bond: Sean Connery, Part I"

In the world of action heroes, few are as universally recognizable or as beloved as MI6 Agent 007: James Bond. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first time the world met this dashing super-agent, and since then the role has been played by 6 actors across a staggering 23 films (7/24, respectively, if you count David Niven, which most don't). Those are the kinds of numbers that even slasher films would be envious of. And it's no surprise why they keep cranking out the Bond movies - They are awesome.

When the Bond series is at its finest, there are few films that can compare in the realm of the "fun action movie" department. There are fast cars, big explosions, pulse-pounding music, awesome gadgets, a bulletproof hero spouting almost-lame one liners, over the top villains, and lots of scantly clad beautiful women with ridiculous names that sound like a Bart Simpson phone prank. This is a perfect storm of awesomeness that, when done well, produce frankly some of the greatest films ever made in the action department.

And when they're done poorly, you get Roger Moore.

What most people never get around to seeing, however, are the far more subdued beginnings of the series. When Sean Connery first played the role in 1962's "Dr. No," it was not a Bond movie like we are used to seeing now. In fact, the Bond movies didn't really become anything like what we are used to today until a few films into the series. All the elements were there, and it's an interesting watch to see all the seeds that were planted but had yet to grow.

The big question though, is "Does that make it a good Bond movie or not?" And the answer to that really boils down to the matter of if you are willing to look at it separately from the rest of the series. If you are, "Dr. No" will be a somewhat passable little spy movie that is very VERY 60's to the point of being a little silly and, depending on your tastes, perhaps quaint or droll. But it won't really feel like a Bond flick. At all.

And if you can't help but compare it to the others, well, honestly this will probably be a pretty boring ride for you.

Right from the beginning, it's clear that "Dr. No" is going to be a very different experience. The opening gun barrel/montage tells us that straight off. Instead of a theme song sung by a soulful, sultry lady (or even Paul McCartney), it's simply the now-classic James Bond Theme played in all its glory while a lot of very 60's looking colorful dots play around on a black screen.

Pssh. He's wearing a hat. This movie's already lost me...

That's all well and good, but not too far past that it gets weird. A drum circle fires up and while we do get silhouettes of ladies dancing, it's just not the same with congas going on. And then we get a calypso band singing "Three Blind Mice." And yes, okay, the titular "mice" do actually have something to do with the opening scene of the film, but to say that song doesn't exactly scream "spy movie" let alone "James Bond" would be an understatement akin to saying Willy Nelson enjoys weed on occasion.

This brings me to the biggest complaint I have with the music of not only "Dr. No," but also the sequel, "From Russia With Love." In both of these films, the music is not edited in well. At all. It honestly comes off as at best amateur, and occasionally as downright embarrassing. And the biggest issue with it is that it really doesn't feel like the composer, Monty Norman, wrote any music specifically for any scene. There isn't enough change in tone, or composing the music to fit the feel of the scene, especially when the James Bond Theme is being used.

For instance, there is a scene in "From Russia With Love" when Bond checks into a hotel room. He walks around, checking for hidden cameras and whatnot. That's all he's doing. It's a quiet, investigative scene. In later Bond movies we might hear a quiet little ascending/descending bass line with some strings softly playing the motif. But in this scene we get the full blown, triple fortissimo swing band playing the theme with all their might. All to the image of Bond slowly walking around his room and checking behind a picture frame. This is the kind of music to play when Bond is driving an Aston Martin off of a skyscraper, not when he's tipping the bellhop.

It'd be like blasting Pantera while Bond is waiting for a boat.

*hums* Re...schpect...walk...what did you schay?"

On top of that the music has a tendency to start very abruptly and end in a very fast unprofessional fade out that just doesn't fit well at all. This nitpicking may come across as unfairly dogging on a movie that's older for not being as slick and polished as we're used to now, but just as a reminder to you, 1962 was also the year that "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Longest Day," "Cape Feare," and "The Music Man" were released. People knew what they were doing back then. Music was not a process that was still being ironed out. Hell, they had music properly reacting to what was on screen in 1933 with "King Kong." What excuse does "Dr. No" have?

There are also fewer action scenes than we are used to, and the ones that are there are much more subdued and tame than later entries are. The worst of the violence isn't even shown, as quick cutaways "spare" the audience from the sight of a man getting roasted by a flamethrower and the villain being boiled in super heated water, among other things. And the hand to hand fighting is fairly safe and choreographed, and has the tendency to come across as very original "Star Trek" looking.

Am I the only person who would have loved to have seen Shatner as Bond? Yes? Darn.

All this is due to it being a product of its time, and the movie truthfully has not aged well at all. But the story does have a tendency to override some of those annoyances, because it's not a bad little spy caper. In "Dr. No," two MI-6 agents in the Caribbean are murdered when they get close to uncovering an operation designed to sabotage the American space program. This operation is run by the enigmatic Dr. No, who is revealed to be a member of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the ludicrously named conglomerate of evil bent on world domination.

MI-6 sends an agent named James Bond, code name 007. As soon as he arrives, it's clear that there are people after him, as even the chauffeur picking him up at the airport has been sent to do him in. But Bond proves to be too clever and resourceful for their attempts, and after investigating with undercover CIA agents discovers Dr. No's island fortress and infiltrates it.

I found it interesting how "Dr. No" features Bond doing much more investigation than we're used to seeing him do in later installments. This is especially true in the first half of the film as he's getting to the bottom of the murders. But he's still using his charm, sex appeal and occasionally his Walther PPK to extract the information, so it's still familiar territory.

There is also a lack of zaniness in these earlier films, which really highlight the fact that in truth, Bond is a really cold blooded killer. I particularly like a scene where he sets up a trap for a scientist working for Dr. No using the old "fake body in the bed" routine. As he's waiting for the guy to show up, Bond calmly plays a game of solitaire. Then after the ruse has worked, Bond casually asks him a few questions at gunpoint. When the scientist goes for his gun again and pulls the trigger only to find it empty, Bond dryly states:

"That's a Smith & Wesson. And you've had your six."

And then he straight up shoots him twice. It's one of the more badass moments I've seen Bond have, and it's really cold and brutal. Sean Connery, of course being awesome, does give more of a thuggish quality to Bond than some later actors would. Then again maybe it's just the hairy chest, which you see an uncomfortable amount of, frankly. I mean I love Sean Connery and all, but for god's sake, the man is a yeti.

When the big hairy spider crawling on your shoulder appears more like a lion in the tall grass on the savanna, consider shaving.

Of course, no Bond movie would be complete without a Bond girl or two, and Ursula Andress made history by having the most famous introduction of all of them. The image of Honey Rider coming out of the surf in a white bikini became one of the more recognizable images of the entire series, and it's not hard to see why as she does cut quite a striking figure. As a character she's pretty decent as well. She's not too much of a damsel in distress, and in fact is a bit of a badass herself, but she does go from being ready to slice Bond's face off with her knife to clinging to him like saran wrap distressingly quick after Dr. No's people show up.

 She just pulled her knife because the first time she meets Connery, he's singing.

We also find out that she's got a bit of a vengeful streak, as she once killed a man who raped her using a poisonous spider. She has little to no remorse for it, almost to the point of not even comprehending what she did as she asks Bond "Did I do wrong?" as she tells him the story. The way she says it is both childlike and cold, almost like a sociopath. It's like she's daring Bond to say that she wasn't justified. So she's got a bit more depth than the average Bond girl has, and I liked her as a character. And at least they're not trying to fool us into thinking she's a rocket scientist or something. Seriously, the amount of pornstar named doctors walking around in the Bond universe is staggering.

"Paging Dr. have an outside call on line 3. Dr. Crotchpound...line 3."

Speaking of dubiously awarded monikers, Dr. No, played by Joseph Wiseman, isn't exactly what I'd call a great villain. This is partly due to the fact that he doesn't show up until about the last 25 minutes of the movie, and also because he really doesn't do anything. The great villains in the Bond series should be threatening, and if they're not physically threatening, they are still dangerous because of other kinds of power they have, which usually amounts to resources.

But Dr. No isn't threatening at all. He doesn't have any hands, his "army" is easily routed and small, and even his secret base is designed so that the ventilation shafts in the jail cells are human sized, easily opened up, and lead directly to the top secret control room. How convenient for saboteurs and MI-6 agents.

Honestly, that's the biggest problem with the story of "Dr. No." When you have a Bond movie with a weak villain, it drags the whole operation down with it. But as long as you're watching it from the standpoint of it "not really being a Bond movie," and the comparison to guys like Blowfeldt and Sacramanga and Alec Trevelyn go away then Dr. No really just becomes another problem that Sean Connery needs to fix, and at that point it's easy to look at the movie as not having a central villain at all.

And apparently, Dr. No is supposed to be Chinese.

 Uh huh.

Yeah, ok. What, did they think they could just do some half-assed eye squinting makeup and he'd look Chinese? The dude's as Asian as Sean Conne-

  Oh. Well, that's awkward.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Dr. No" is an historically significant film, being the beginning the Bond franchise. For that reason, it's worth watching if you're a fan of the series. If for nothing else it's cool to see where it all began, from the first "Bond...James Bond" to the first shaken vodka martini. That being said, it's probably the most dull of the franchise, and it really doesn't feel like a Bond flick at all. The best I can say about it is that "It's OK. Kind of." On the plus side, it sets us up for greater things to come...


Friday, November 16, 2012

Doom (2005)

It's an old question, but it's one that bares repeating. And the main reason it bares repeating is that we keep getting subjected to movies that serve only to make the audience shamble out of the theater scratching their heads and asking it aloud to each other throughout the car ride home. They are not out of line to ask, either. In fact the question is quite logical, but may be unanswerable because reality does seem to defy common sense in this case.

"Why are video games so hard to make into movies?"

I don't have the answer for you. I really don't. It seems to me that video game movies, particularly the games of this current generation of consoles would be easy, at least from a script standpoint. Most games nowadays are pretty much interactive movies anyways. Have you ever played any of the obnoxiously numerous "Call of Duty" games? Those things are Michael Bay movies that let you choose when stuff blows up, which is often because out of the 8 buttons on the controller, 6 of them call in a napalm strike on the area directly ahead of you. As for the other two buttons, one of them spawns an ethnic person, and the other makes their head explode.

What I'm saying is at that point, all the hard work is pretty much done for you. Just play the game and write down what happens. BOOM. Script. If that's what they actually did it would save me a lot of annoyance, since I could just spend 2 hours watching a piece of crap like "Call of Duty" and get it over with relatively quickly instead of having to play it for 6. It would be cheaper, too. Having to choose between $9.50 for a movie ticket or $60 for a game isn't a tough call, especially when you know it's probably going to suck either way.

And shut up about multiplayer. If I wanted to get called a "fag" by 7th graders while they beat my ass I'd buy a time machine.

Oh, he may look tough. But s00perKrunk69 can't even drive yet. And he has zits. Lots of zits.

Video game movies have rightly earned a really bad reputation for their crap. Out of all the movie adaptations of popular games, and there's been a lot, you could count the passable ones on one hand. Which ones those are is subject to debate, and there would probably be a lot of changes to the list depending on who you asked, but I seriously doubt anyone's number would ever go past 4 or 5 movies. If that. I'm guessing most people would struggle to think of more than 3 video game movies they consider decent.

As for myself, I can only list 5 that I thought were decent. One of them is a movie you probably didn't know existed, "Oni-chanbara," a Japanese film adaptation of the "Bikini Samurai Squad" games, which in a reality shattering perversion of common sense was actually pretty good. I liked "Silent Hill" alright, "Mortal Kombat" from back in the day was kooky fun, and I don't care what anyone says, the Van Damme "Street Fighter" was frigging awesome. That movie is one of my "feel good" standards. From Jean-Claude's indecipherable accent to the late great Raul Julia chewing so much scenery you could have finished a basement with the contents of his lower intestine, it's fantastic. And I will duel to the death any who say otherwise.

He is so American. Just look at that tattoo. That's the most American arm I've ever seen. Yup. America.

The other movie is "Doom." Yes, I know, it's an unpopular opinion, but I actually thought that "Doom" was a reasonably solid action flick with a (very) light sprinkling of horror elements, and I would argue that it's one of the better video game movies I've seen up to this point.

I know that the biggest argument against "Doom," and indeed the argument that is always leveled at video game movies, is that it wasn't faithful to the source material. In that regard, I'm going to go ahead and disagree, but only to a point. First off, it's obvious that the tone of the film is more in line with "Doom 3," which was not as action-packed and mindless as the original games, in which you hit the ground running and never stopped pulling the trigger. "Doom 3" was more about atmosphere and anticipation of what's ahead, with fewer enemies and more horror elements as opposed to straight action. I'm not saying that makes "Doom 3" better, but that's the tone they went for.

"Doom" is obviously going for the "Doom 3" tone, and in that regard they succeeded. If they hadn't done that, and had gone for the original game's style, the whole movie could basically have been an hour and a half of that scene from "Predator" where Arnold and everyone else fires like 40,000 rounds of ammunition into the jungle. The only difference would be replacing every tree and bush with demons, and have them keep coming at them like clowns piling out of a car until there's a pile of them 90 feet deep. Not a single word would be uttered during the proceedings.

I dunno, maybe that could have worked.

Another argument against "Doom" was that there were no demons, and yes, here's where I will concede that they got it wrong. Instead of a portal to Hell being opened and all manner of gross stuff pouring out of it, they give us genetic mutations and gene augmentation which for some reason is attracted to evil. You see, in this movie, a race of humanoids on Mars created a 24th pair of chromosomes, which made them super intelligent and super strong. If they were good, that is. If you were bad, it still did all those things, but it also turned you into a bloodthirsty monster. Since in this movie there's a gene for the soul which labels you as "good" or "bad." So apparently "Doom" is Calvinist.

Okay, I can't really defend that. I'm not even going to get into describing all the why of how that's dumb, because you don't need me to. And yeah, it's the biggest problem of the movie, and the one point against it that I totally agree with and can't understand the purpose of. Was the phrase "Portal to Hell" just too much for the writers to comprehend? Seems to me that not only would that have made it more dark and disturbing, but it could have been more interesting and entertaining as well. Plus with a bit of clever writing you could tie it into "Event Horizon," and that would have been awesome!

I would have loved to have seen Karl Urban blasting his way through Hell. I can see him covered in offal and gore, bringing his shotgun up to shoot a winged demon in the face, its black viscera and brain matter splattering on Karl as he then proceeds to kick it in the chest, sending it tumbling over a precipice to plummet into a roiling lake of fire. I'm trying to think of a movie that's done anything close to that, and I'm drawing a blank. You'd think that if there was ONE movie that would have jumped on that idea, it would have been "Doom." It's enough to make a guy start writing fan-fiction. Ah well.

I think my favorite thing about "Doom" is the cast. Everyone knows I'm a huge Karl Urban fan, but I like The Rock, too. He's ridiculously entertaining and a legitimately good actor for the stuff he does. If you want him to be a badass, say no more. The man's 6' 4", like 500 lbs of muscle and can squint really well. He can be funny, and he's even got a fairly good dramatic range on display in stuff like "Faster." I don't mean this to sound condescending, but especially for a professional wrestler, the man's a shockingly good actor.

Karl and The Rock work really well together in "Doom." They gave what I found to be surprisingly good dialogue between them a lot more depth than you would expect. The Rock's character Sarge and Karl's character, Reaper, obviously have great respect for each other. When that starts getting interesting is in the back half of the film when Sarge and Reaper start having very different ideas on how to deal with the situation on Mars, because both of them are right in different ways.

Karl should have known The Rock would turn heel. After all, he is a wrestler.

Sarge, being the one in command, is doing precisely what his orders told him to do, even if it means killing everyone there and sacrificing himself and his entire squad if need be. Reaper is more emotional and refuses to go along with the script once Sarge starts issues orders akin to fighting a hangnail by cutting off the arm, very much in a "Let God sort 'em out" way. And what I liked about that was that honestly, Sarge is the one making the most sense.

I'm not saying it's not cruel and terrible or that I could ever do it, but if you were facing a situation with an outbreak that would potentially kill everyone on the planet, and it came down to making a choice between saving every single person regardless of their condition, or making damn sure that there was no way it could get out, and so be it if everyone there dies, you have to admit that the later is the more logical, if admittedly crueler choice. If you really think about it, Sarge, despite turning into the bad guy at the end, is doing far more to save the world than Reaper, our hero is. In fact, by surviving and escaping at the end, he's very likely putting the world in mortal peril.

An action hero surviving an action flick. What a jerk.

The end of "Doom" also has some of the best dialogue between the two as well. My favorite exchange in the movie comes right before their showdown, when they come to the decision that they're probably going to have to kill each other. Sarge asks if Reaper is planning on shooting him, to which Reaper casually replies "I was thinking about it, yeah." It's very John McClane, and it showcases why I love Karl Urban. He can deliver on the action movie lines, and that's no small talent.

That being said, I wasn't a fan of everyone in the movie. Richard Brake as Portman, the impossibly sleazy creep is pretty annoying, and his character doesn't get taken out near quickly enough. Portman is what you would get if Christian Slater and Iggy Pop merged and crapped out a rapist who started doing his best "Perverted Master Roshi" impression. It's unpleasant. Ben Daniels as the super-religious whack job Goat wasn't as annoying because he shut his mouth and wasn't up in everyone's face about it, but like Portman I had a hard time understanding why this guy is on the active duty roster for a Special Forces team.

If you carve a cross into your arm every time you blaspheme, a Section 8 should be an option.

Those were really the only two annoying characters though. The rest were basically stock and unmemorable with no real defining characteristics, and it was easier to know them by their cliche niches than their names. There was The Rookie, The Pervert, The Religious One, The Quiet Ethnic One, and finally The Big Angry Black Guy and The Smaller Friendly Black Guy, or alternatively Bill Duke and LL Cool J. Okay, it's not actually Bill Duke and LL Cool J but the resemblance is uncanny.

That's about the level of depth we're talking about. But it never seemed like an issue to concern yourself with because you knew they were all going to die anyway. That's how these movies roll. And there's nothing wrong with that. I only had three problems the characters, the first being that Porter The Pervert is around way too long. Although I love that during his death scene Sarge, without a second's hesitation, completely annihilates both the monster and Porter with the BFG without bothering to even attempt a rescue of Porter, whom at that point could have easily been potentially still alive.

The second thing was that Mac, The Quiet Ethnic One, does precisely nothing of value, and has but a single line before being randomly decapitated. I felt bad for the actor because he got screwed. At least Sonny Landham got to look badass by cutting himself with a machete.

Not saying it helped matters, but still, that was awesome.

Third, I hated the scientist, Dr. Carmack, played by Robert Russell. This freaking guy was near unwatchable. I know what he was going for, playing a beyond freaked out guy who has lost his mind and is in a constant state of hyperventilation, but he's so damn annoying with it. He's got this thing he does with his tongue darting in and out, and between that and him puffing his cheeks with his rapid fire breathing he looks like a sweaty rodent. About the only cool thing he did was pull off his own ear. That was sweet, but the stupid tongue thing just drove me up the wall. It was the same thing David Tennant did in the forth "Harry Potter" movie. And they get the camera SO close to his mouth while he's doing it. So annoying.

Finally we have the matter of the First Person Shooter sequence, which I've heard many people label as the moment where it finally keeled over and died. This was the final straw for some audience members. This was Fonzie on skis right here. For them, the 5 minutes where we are looking through Reaper's eyes wasn't so much a tribute to "Doom" as it was tea-bagging its corpse.

Oh yeah. Such a betrayal. This looks nothing like "Doom."

Honestly, I think those people are nuts. The FPS sequence for me was possibly the best highlight of the film, if not certainly the most memorable. More than anything in the rest of the movie, that part was the most fun "Doom" got, and I think it could have used a lot more of that hokeyness, because "Doom" should be before anything else, fun. As I understand, an early concept for the movie was to have the entire film be in first person like that. I'm not sure if that would have worked, but I would have loved to have seen it.

Look, I know I'm not going to convince anyone that "Doom" is a good movie. I'm not naive. If you're not into that kind of movie or genre, or if you think it's too big of a betrayal and can't look past its faults, then yeah, it's going to be painful to sit through. But if you're like me, and can see it for what it is, which is a cheesy sci-fi action flick that plays it safe but competently, at the very least you have to admit that it's trying. And for what it set out to do, it succeeded with at the very least a C+.

After all, it could have been worse. It could have been PG-13.

Check and mate, "Doom" haters.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I like "Doom." I like the two leads. I like the look and feel of it. I like that they actually gave a story to what is a game with literally no plot besides "Mars. Demons. Shoot." Is it a great movie? No. Did it ever have a chance to be? Not really. Is it better than your average video game movie? You're damn right it is.