Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Innkeepers (2011)

I really enjoyed "House of The Devil," at least by the end when I realized that something was indeed going to happen at some point. While that film had a slow start it certainly paid off in the end with some really insane stuff which made the slightly dull sit totally worth it. And it also had a very stylish feel of a director who knows exactly what he's doing. So I suppose that puts director Ti West on my People to Watch list.

In "The Innkeepers," West keeps the pace much the same as in "House of The Devil," meaning that if you're not a fan of very, very, VERY slow and uneventful lead-ins, this is probably not the best film to recommend to you. I must admit to being slightly put off by the glacial pace of it, although to both the film's and Ti West's credit, it was never boring since West is very good at creating tension out of very little. Whether it's done with strange noises or subtle tricks with the camera or playing with the expectations we have come to have after seeing so many horror films, "The Innkeepers" keeps a pace which is surprisingly compelling despite the fact that nothing much is actually happening.

*Beer can opens*
"Yep."
"Mmm yep."
"Mmm hmm."

The story revolves around Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two twenty-somethings who work in an old hotel which is on its last days open as it goes out of business. Being an old hotel in a horror movie, naturally terrible things involving death have occurred there, and the place is haunted. And since they are amateur ghost hunters, in-between sitting at the front desk being bored, Claire and Luke take it upon themselves to try and record events going on in the hotel before the place is turned into a parking lot.

So that's what they do for most of the film. One of them sits at the front desk and is bored until they hear something creepy and pick up a mic and go off looking for it. Every once in a while we get a scene where they're talking to a really bitchy lady and her kid who are staying in the hotel or with Leanne (Kelly McGillis), a psychic who is also staying there, but for the most part "The Innkeepers" is made up of slowly creeping around looking for whatever is making noises.

That's not to say I thought it was boring, although I can easily see someone being bored stiff by it. I thought it was actually very engaging and on occasion brutally suspenseful. The issue I have with it comes when you consider the fact that in the end, the ghosts really don't do anything. By the climax it's gone into full blown horror movie land, but when you get to the end and you tally up the body count, nothing that the ghosts did actually killed anyone.

 "Oh man. Is your side of the bed as lumpy as mine? This is insane, I'm gonna talk to someone."

I won't get into spoilers, but the big death of the movie is caused by a locked door and a medical condition. True, there was a ghost present at the time of death, but from what I could tell, the only thing it did was slowly walk forward. It's similar to my issue with "The Woman In Black," although at least in that movie the ghost did directly cause deaths. It's always been an annoyance with me when all a ghost does is stand there or suddenly appear and scream at you like it has nothing better to do with its time. Like, if it were a person instead of a ghost and that's all they did, there's no way you'd be scared of them. They'd just be a jackass. And "The Innkeepers" does a have a nasty habit of trying to scare us with the ghosts doing such insidious things as PLAYING A PIANO! The horror!

The best aspect of the film is the acting, because it's across-the-board fantastic. I really, really, really liked Sara Paxton as Claire in this movie. She is absolutely adorable in her quirky weirdness, coming across like one of those people who is kind of naturally uncomfortable in their own skin, and as someone who has known many people like that, and in fact has been one of those people myself, I could easily relate to her. And I really didn't want to see bad things happen to her, which only made the movie more intense when bad things inevitably did happen.

And THAT, film makers, is why it's more effective to NOT liter your horror films with douchebags.

Pat Healy as Luke was a lot of fun as well, being one of those guys who likes to talk big and be snarky and cool, but it's clear that he's just as awkward as Claire. It's a really nice subtle acting job. And even Kelly McGillis was quite good, redeeming herself somewhat for her performance in "Top Gun" all those years ago. Although I must admit that she does look a lot like Dame Judi Dench now. It's weird.

I'm not going to lie and say that I really enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed aspects of it, for sure, but at the end of the day when the credits rolled I was left rather lukewarm. The climax, as intense as it admittedly got, just wasn't enough to make the slow burn of the rest of the film worth it. Ti West did it far better in "House of The Devil," which ended with an Earth-shattering kaboom whereas "The Innkeepers" just goes out with a decently large firework.

Check out the trailer unless you want some of the bigger jumps to be a surprise.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Innkeepers" is a very well-shot film with fantastic performances across the board. It's spooky, it's very intense at parts, and puts you on edge for nearly the entire film. However, it is somewhat of a let-down in the end due to a vague and unsatisfying ending which does not live up to the tension the rest of the film provided. It's well made but disappointing. I'd recommend "House of The Devil" over this one.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Léon: The Professional (1994)

Jean Reno is one of my favorite actors. I love when he's playing a tough guy, because he keeps it so low key that you're never quite sure of how much he's capable of, giving his characters an air of mystery and coolness about them. When he does finally break out the pain, it's almost like a surprise. A wonderful surprise with a sexy voice.

Gary Oldman is another one of my favorite actors. I particularly love when he's playing villains, which he has done on numerous occasions to legendary effect ("Dracula," "Air Force One," "The Fifth Element" anyone?). This is especially true when he goes over-the-top with it. Anything to make me sit back and say "Holy crap this guy is freaking crazy," which Oldman is very good at.

In "Léon: The Professional," Jean Reno plays a hitman and Gary Oldman plays a drugged-out maniac who kills people while ranting about Beethoven. I think it's obvious what my opinion on this movie is predetermined to be.

Widely considered director Luc Besson's masterpiece, "The Professional" is the story of Léon (Jean Reno), an assassin who finds that he does indeed possess a soul after saving a life for a change. When a family in the apartment next to him gets slaughtered by corrupt DEA officers, Léon takes in 11 year old Mathilda (Natalie Portman in her debut performance), the only survivor who was lucky enough to not be in the apartment at the time. Seeking revenge, Mathilda asks Léon to teach her how to be an assassin as well, which is something Léon reluctantly agrees to do on the basis of "She's going to try anyway, so better to teach her so that she won't die."

A hitman and a young girl walking down the street as she carries his plant, who is also his best friend. This movie is so French.

"The Professional" isn't just about gearing a kid up for violence, however. There's a real emotional core to this movie which is either extremely sweet or extremely disturbing. I can't quite tell which is more accurate. It's probably a helping of both. Léon and Mathilda make a great pairing as he becomes a father figure to her, giving her the support and affection that she never had before. Because of that he discovers what has been missing from his life, while giving her a new lease on her own. In the end this is a movie about two people saving each other, as she rescues him as much as he rescued her.

But on the other hand, their relationship from the beginning is based on killing people. So there's that weirdness that was mentioned previously. Much like "True Romance" or "Natural Born Killers" or even "Kick-Ass," it's always a freaky thing when you consider the nature of the relationships some characters have, to the point where it's difficult to tell whether or not we should be happy for them or even hoping that they succeed. Is it okay for characters to kill if the story is told from the perspective of the people doing the killing? Does the fact that we root for the main characters by default excuse anything they do? I find that to be a very interesting discussion.

 That's just wholesome right there.

Jean Reno is of course great, but Natalie Portman has to give one of the absolute best first-time performances ever captured on film here. Some of her lines may be a little hammy (not her fault), but I defy anyone to watch the scene when she walks past the bodies of her family to go to Léon's apartment and pleads with him to let her in and tell me that it's not gut-wrenching. I suppose it should be no surprise that she was great considering that years later she was able to maintain her dignity after being forced to say lines like "Anakin, you're breaking my heart." That's talent.

Although Léon and Mathilda are great, the guy who steals the show is the villain, Stansfield (Gary Oldman). This guy is a miracle, I swear. This is probably the scariest villain Oldman's ever played, and he's so unhinged and drugged out of his mind that there is absolutely no telling what he's going to do. He's one of the those characters who would never in a thousand years hold any kind of position of authority given the fact that he's clearly a psychotic butcher, but it doesn't matter because he's amazing while he's doing it. He's got many great moments, but the scene where he corners Mathilda in a bathroom and pulls out a gun, asking her if she enjoys life because he takes no pleasure in killing somebody if they don't, is one of the most chilling things I've ever seen.

Of course, most will remember the shouting.

"The Professional" also has a good amount of action in it, although it's not as much as you'd probably expect. After starting with a bang, the middle is more reserved for character development and slow building tension, with the final act making up for it as many bullets fly and many things blow up as a veritable army of SWAT team members descend on Léon and Mathilda in an ending which is the very definition of bittersweet.

There's not many negative things I can say about "The Professional." It's a really solid movie. I think the biggest issue is the awkwardness a person is almost certainly going to feel whenever Mathilda is hitting on Léon, which is understandable. Besides that issue (which isn't even really an issue), the only thing I can find to complain about is the length of time a grenade takes to blow up. When that's the worst thing you can come up with to nitpick, that's pretty damn good.

Okay, okay. I know this trailer sucks, but you do get a little bit of Gary Oldman awesomeness in it.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Professional" is a fantastic, stylish, very French action movie that showcases some powerhouse acting talent. The action is great, the tension is pins and needles, and the characters are impossible to not love. But all that aside, honestly it's worth a watch for Gary Oldman alone. Great flick.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shaun of The Dead (2004)

Despite the fact that I am of the opinion that zombies are played out and are officially boring at this point, in an ironic twist one of my favorite comedies remains to this day "Shaun of The Dead," a film that is so genius it manages to make me laugh my fool head off in spite of the zombies within it. It's one of those wonderful movies that gets better the more you watch it, since the jokes contained within are so dense and fast-paced that it's probably close to impossible to catch everything the first, second, or even third time you see it. That combined with the fact that it contains two of my "Three Funniest People in The World in No Particular Order" makes "Shaun of The Dead" a film that I'm always okay with busting out.

The film follows a couple of days in the life of Shaun (Simon Pegg), a 30-something who is a bit of a slacker without much direction in life. After he gets dumped by his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), he gets very drunk and then decides to get his life sorted out the next day. Unfortunately for Shaun, the next day is when the zombie apocalypse happens.

Who knew, right?

Shaun and his flatmate Ed (Nick Frost) head out to safety, deciding that the best place to go is the Winchester, the pub they are regulars at. On the way there they pick up Liz and her two flatmates, along with Shaun's mother and step-father. Together do their best to survive the onslaught of zombies, as well as their leader Shaun who, despite the best of intentions, has a habit of mucking things up. To be sure, the whole "Go to the Winchester" idea turns out to not be a very good one. This all leads to a finale which gets surprisingly grim given the light, fun-filled tone of the rest of the film, although at the end of the day "Shaun of The Dead" still ends on a relatively happy note. (And song.)

While both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are comedic geniuses, that wouldn't have mattered much had they not had a great script to work with as well, which they fortunately do. "Shaun of The Dead" is written as tight as a drum, with barely a word wasted or not made to return later as a gag. This includes entire sequences both physical and verbal repeating themselves in different context. Things like a passing exchange during a video game session coming back verbatim during a last stand at the bar makes for extremely rewarding re-watching when you catch it. The iconic "walking to the store" shot playing out twice in extremely different but yet oddly identical ways is probably the best example of that.

And if you notice, he does switch it to a Diet Coke. I love those little touches.

Most likely surprising to most people is that aside from being very funny, "Shaun of The Dead" functions quite well as a straight-up zombie film. All the tropes and standard elements of the genre are present, which makes sense considering its parodic nature, but what's interesting is that were you to take all the humor away the film is actually a far better zombie movie than most legitimate zombie movies manage to be. And I'm not talking a little bit here. I'm talking light years ahead of anything a maestro like Romaro has done in decades.

Perhaps the reason it works is because of the fact that, since it's a comedy, the stone-faced seriousness of the genre along with its fatalism and commentary on human nature is absent. To me, that garbage usually makes zombie films a boring sit, and I have a difficult time caring about any of the characters because generally speaking, in a zombie movie most every human is a terrible person. And if they aren't, by the end it's usually a good bet that they'll have lost most of the humanity they had. Since you know, these movies are very diverse in their plots.

Since "Shaun of The Dead" is free from that crap, and it's okay to actually like the characters since it's a comedy, when bad things happen to them it actually has the shocking side effect of being sad, which the movie plays up to a heartrending degree on occasion. You don't want to see these people get killed (Well, maybe David), which is such an alien reaction for me to have in a zombie movie that it's hard for me to comprehend. Even Ed, the most obnoxious, dense, and insufferable member of the group is a fantastic character who usually ends up being everybody's favorite despite him being a total chump. In fact he's front and center of the second most emotionally charged and tearful scene of the film. And how many zombie movies can you remember which had a death scene you even felt like considering entertaining the notion of crying at in the first place? And that's for the "loser" of the movie.

Damn it, Ed. That was an original pressing.

I would also feel remiss to not mention that the acting in "Shaun of The Dead" is unexpectedly fantastic. And I'm not just talking comedic acting here, although this film is a master's class in the very finest of British humor. While every single actor here is hysterical, even the deathly serious Bill Nighy (I freaking love that guy), there are scenes of such emotional depth, particularly from Simon Pegg, that on occasion it is easy to forget that you're watching a zombie spoof.

You know, it's a difficult thing explaining why you like a certain comedy. Humor is always troublesome to quantify without sounding redundant, so I'll just leave my comments regarding the comedic aspects at "This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen." It speaks completely to my particular tastes in comedy. Whether or not it will for anyone else is completely dependent on that individual. But seriously, I have a hard time believing anyone could watch this movie and not love it. Unless of course they're deathly offended by zombie gore and gratuitous f-bombs.

I should probably stop there. The more I think about "Shaun of The Dead," the more I want to write. And I don't really want to write a novel here. Just freaking watch it. If you've already seen it, see it again. It gets better each time. If you're like me and have already seen it like a dozen times, well hell. Let's give it another go. You grab the hog lumps and I'll grab the pints. (Might be a bit warm. Cooler's off.)

I'm actually not a huge fan of this trailer, but it's decent I guess. At least it's not made to look like a dumbass American comedy like the American trailer made it out to be.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Shaun of The Dead" makes my short list not only for favorite comedies, but it's also probably one of my favorite films, period. Like "The Big Lewbowski," it's an infinitely quotable and re-watchable film that somehow, impossibly still manages to get better every time.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Am I the only sick S.O.B. here who found the original "G.I. Joe" to be entertaining? True it wasn't any kind of masterpiece by any stretch, but I had a shockingly good time watching it. I think the reason was the relatively minimal amount of superfluous B.S. attached to it. It was a movie that knew what it wanted to be, there weren't any notable boring stretches that I recall, and it was so over-the-top that it was just generally kind of awesome in a ridiculous kind of way.

So, as surprising as this may be to people who know me, I was actually looking forward to the sequel. The addition of Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis to the cast was enough to make believe that there might actually be something worthwhile to be found here.

Normally that kind of lead-in implies that I'm about to drop a really negative statement saying that my beliefs were sadly misled, but that's not happening here. Like its predecessor, I enjoyed "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." And like what happened with its predecessor, I'm sure my opinion is going to be a bit outside the normal since I'm guessing most will find it to be dumb. But I call it like I see it.

Following the events from the first film, but only bringing back a scant handful of cast members from it, we find the Joes doing their Joe thing and blowing stuff up, led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and new addition Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson). Apparently they are like BFFs. I had not been aware of that previously, since you know, Roadblock wasn't in the last movie. Meanwhile the POTUS is a Cobra imposter, and takes the opportunity to frame the Joes for...something, I don't know, and under that pretense orders an airstrike which wipes nearly all of them out. This leads to the surprising and frankly gutsy move to kill off Duke in the opening 20 minutes of the film.

Yeah, spoiler alert but honestly, do you really care all that much?

The survivors of the attack, Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianna Palicki) make their way back to the States to deal out the vengeance, as Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and newcomer Jinx (Elodie Yung) reenact the greatest game of Ninja Gaiden ever and pursue evil ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to a monastery in the mountains. This makes for the most entertaining bit of the movie, as we are treated to absolutely insane ninja shenanigans over, across and around mountainsides as if "Cliffhanger" were suddenly "The Matrix." And that's pretty cool.

That also begins a trend with "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," which is that when you boil it down, this is actually a ninja movie. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow may not have the most screen time, since that had to be given to the guys with their names big on the poster, but their story contains some of the more memorable moments of the film. And honestly if you took everybody else out you'd still have a reasonably coherent movie reminiscent of something Chuck Norris might have starred in back in the late 80's. And that's kind of awesome.

The President has been kidnapped. And Snake Eyes is indeed a bad enough dude.

If you watch the film from that perspective, it's actually pretty well done. I mean yeah, their storyline has The RZA showing up every once in a while to be really bad at acting, but other than that it's fun. I've seldom reason for complaint when ninja craziness is done well, and this film does indeed feature well done ninja craziness. So point to "G.I. Joe: Retaliation."

The rest of it is just acceptable. It's much like the first movie, being basically a highlight reel of explosions and shell casings flying out from the screen. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. I'm not going to begrudge an action movie for having lots of action. And in a surprising twist, it's actually decently filmed action as well, occasional shaky-cam overindulgence aside. But it does get quite silly as far as the plot goes, and I'm talking the "G.I. Joe" cartoon level silly here. You know, the kind of silly where it stops you in your tracks, makes you do a double take and say "There's no freaking way." The amount that the imposter POTUS is able to get away with simply because he is the POTUS and the military hardware Cobra has simply because they're Cobra and have military hardware is pretty ridiculous.

 Don't you need 2/3's Senate approval to fly evil tyrant overlord banners from the White House?

That does lead to some (possibly intentionally) hilarious moments. My favorite was when the 8 world superpowers at a peace conference all whipped out their Nuclear Holocaust briefcases, which they all had with them just because I guess that's something you never leave home without, and they all pushed The Button in the most severe case of "Well that escalated quickly" ever recorded in movie history. But hey, it's "G.I. Joe." If you're not just rolling with it, your gonna have a bad time. And honestly, that scene did pay off far better than I was expecting it to. Cobra's plot is insane, but it did make the slightest bit of hypothetical sense.
 
I have to admit that I don't like the fact that Channing Tatum isn't in it for very long. I like Dwayne Johnson plenty but Tatum and he have really good chemistry together, far more so than the other two he's with for the majority of the film, and it was a real blow to the film to lose that. Even Bruce Willis just kind of seems bored here when he finally shows up, so it's like Johnson's got nothing to work with. But he and Tatum make a really good team.

So take all that for what it's worth. I'm not sure what I expected, but whatever it was I think I got it. Let it not be said I don't enjoy dumb stuff on occasion. I think it's just a matter of technical skill in which said dumb stuff was done. Hey, I've seen it done way worse. That's got to count for something.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!

And can you believe that, in a startling upset, we have a film with a generic subtitle like "Retaliation" that ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE?! There IS retaliation in this film! And it fits the themes of the movie! I am so shocked by this I can't even tell you. Massive credit to "G.I. Joe" from me.

Check out the trailer for "G.I. Joe Retaliation!"

THE BOTTOM LINE - While "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is probably going to be looked down at by everyone trying to not appear dumb, I have to admit that it and its predecessor were entertaining. Both films contain imaginative, over-the-top set pieces and action segments, they're pretty to look at, and despite the neutered PG-13 violence they manage to be fairly badass. While I think the previous one was a slight bit better, "Retaliation" had more awesome ninja stuff. I liked it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Snitch (2013)

I am of the slightly odd opinion that Dwayne Johnson is a legitimately good actor. I know, I know. I don't care that the dude's a wrestler. When you've got it, you've got it. And Johnson is one of the most charismatic screen presences I've seen in the past ten years, ever since he first surprised us all in "The Rundown" back in 2003 by actually being pretty great in it. And as long as I'm spouting weird opinions, I've gone on record saying that I enjoyed "Doom," which Johnson was the highlight of. And now that he's done "Pain & Gain" and managed to steal the show while sharing a screen with Mark Wahlberg, can we finally admit that this guy has a legitimately huge amount of talent?

Seriously. This guy looks like a bad-ass while dressed like Matthew Broderick.

"Snitch" is one of those movies that Johnson does every once in a while to remind everyone that he can act and be a serious action movie star in-between all the kid stuff he does. While watching this I was reminded a bit of one he did called "Faster," which was by itself just alright, but managed to be one of those movies that was surprisingly better than you were probably expecting it to be. And like "Faster," "Snitch" turned out nearly the same with the difference being that not only was "Snitch" better than I expected, but I'd go so far as to call it really good.

Dwayne Johnson is John, a guy whose 18 year old son (Rafi Gavron) gets blasted with the incredibly harsh "minimum sentencing" policies of the American Justice System regarding drugs when he stupidly agrees to hold a box of ecstasy for a day for a friend. He immediately gets arrested since it was a set up, and even though it was his first offense and all he did was hold it briefly, the system mandates that he get slapped with 10 years in prison at the very least, possibly going to 30, unless he can rat out some drug dealers to get his sentence reduced (which is how he got set up in the first place).

Unfortunately he doesn't know any drug dealers, and he refuses to set up his friends, so in jail he rots. Not willing to see that happen, John works with a federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to catch drug dealers in exchange for his son's freedom. We follow him around as he works angles and makes connections to become a drug trafficker as he gets reluctant (and possibly backstabbing) help from Daniel (Jon Bernthal), an ex-con who would rather not be doing this.

Also, Daniel is Commander Sheppard from "Mass Effect." True story.

All of this plays out like "Breaking Bad" or "The Sopranos," and it's really an intense little setup they've got going on as John gets deeper and deeper into this criminal world which is always two seconds and one slip-up away from tearing him and everyone he loves apart. While he's doing it, he's dealing with Susan Sarandon's character, who is nearly as despicable as the cartel members he goes up against, as she milks him more and more dry to get the most she can out of him, regardless of his safety and to the point where he is very likely going to die. By the end we're not really sure how in the world it's all going to play out. It's a bit of a nail-biter.

The cast is also worth calling out because everyone here just knocks it out of the park. Johnson is admittedly fantastic, but Bernthal threatens to steal the show with his intense "Clifton Collins Jr. meets Ben Foster" ex-con. The only problem was his accent which seemed to not solidify until the second act of the film. It wasn't too distracting, but it was kind of weird when I found out Daniel was Hispanic, because I honestly had no idea until he started in with the whole "Ay essay, yo loco, meng" thing seemingly out of nowhere.

Barry Peppers amazing beard also deserves mentioning as the most glorious facial hair since ever.

There is some Hollywood style violence that starts to flair up by the end, before turning into a straight up action flick, but while it seemed slightly dubious it wasn't outside the realm of possibility. It was less of an "Oh, come on" series of events are more of a "Well, that escalated quickly" scenario, if that makes sense. For sure it may seem weird that John is driving a big-rig and firing off a shotgun one-handed in a high speed pursuit with a drug cartel with cars flying off the road and exploding when he's been portrayed as a huge but average guy the whole film, but he is a truck driver by occupation and any idiot can figure out a shotgun. So I can't be that irritated. Made sense to me.

I have a feeling most people would call this one "forgettable," and while you may have to rack your brain to remember specifics about it after a few days, at the very least this is leagues ahead of the kind of movie you usually get with this scenario and budget. Usually this kind of stuff stars Paul Walker or something. Maybe Casper Van Dien. And screw that.

Check out the trailer for "Snitch!"

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Snitch" was surprisingly good for the kind of fare this usually is. It's what you would get if you took the average direct-to-DVD flick about a dad out for revenge and gave it to someone who knew how to make a movie. This one was solid, and features a lot of really good acting, including one of Johnson's best performances to date.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ghosts of Mars (2001)

John Carpenter is one of those weird directors I can't determine if I like or not. On one hand, "The Thing" is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I love "Escape From L.A." in all its campy insanity. On the other hand I actually wasn't a huge fan of some of his other classics like "They Live" or even "Halloween." I think the problem with the later was that I just don't like slasher films that much. They bore me. Anyway, that's besides the point. What I'm saying is that I never know what to expect when watching a Carpenter movie for the first time, which is nice but at the same time makes watching his films a bit dicey.

"Ghosts of Mars" is widely considered as displaying Carpenter at his absolute worst, and while I went into it with an open mind, it's difficult for me to imagine him topping it in terms of badness. I mean, "The Ward" was crap, but "Ghosts of Mars" is one of those films that just kind of hurts you while you watch it. It's not an instant, excruciating pain, but it is a slow turn of a screw that keeps digging something into your back, making the sit more and more uncomfortable the longer it goes on. And by the end you're just wishing it would stop and put itself out of your misery.

The film stars Natasha Henstridge as a cop on Mars who is sent with her unit to transport a murder suspect back to town from an outlying mining colony. Her unit contains both Pam Grier and Jason Statham in one of his earlier roles, so there is a bit of star power at work. True it's also got Clea DuVall acting like she's on quaaludes dragging down the talent, but any movie that stars both Foxy Brown and Turkish has at least a little bit going for it.

Wot's 'appening wiff dem sausages, Foxy?

And then they reach the town, which is deserted sans the mutilated dead bodies hanging all over the place as if they've wandered onto the set of "Predator." Going to the jail, they meet their assignment, a man by the name of Desolation Williams (snicker) played by the Master of Scowling himself, Ice Cube. Believe it or not I have found Ice Cube to be entertaining on occasion, but this was not one of those moments. In "Ghosts of Mars" he's pretty much checked all of his limited acting talent at the door and gives a performance that you'd expect from a rapper turned actor. I don't know if he wasn't having a good time on set or something, but there's nothing to him except just being a guy who sneers a lot, shoots guns and says every line like a jock who was cast in a high school play and is really pissed about it.

Desolation and the cops are quickly accosted by a large mob of colonists who have gone insane, as we find out that spirits of alien beings have possessed them, and have been killing everything in sight. There's an interesting element to them, since once the body they're inhabiting is killed, they are free to move to another host and possess them. This means that generally speaking, killing them is a bad idea since their spirit can still get you afterwards. But then again these incorporeal beings apparently can't move through walls or doors or glass and can only move very slowly so I'm not sure how the crap that all works. The important thing to remember is that for some reason the spirits turn people into Uruk-Hai.

"Whom do you serve?"
"Sarumaaaaaaan!"

That's a fine enough setup I suppose, and it could have made for an entertaining film, but there are a number of factors at work with prevent that from happening. First and foremost is the fact that "Ghost of Mars" looks unbelievably cheap. I'm serious, you have no idea how chintzy this movie looks. I'm all for actual sets and whatnot, but not when they're done so poorly and lit so as to look like everything around the actors is made of cardboard. It's difficult to describe without you having seen it, but whenever they're outside there's no depth to anything on screen, and it looks like you're watching the characters faff about on the "Ghosts of Mars" Action Playset. Or maybe a better way to put it is that it looks like you're watching a taped production of a stage play. It's really bad.

Apart from the bad sets and the TERRIBLE CG they had going on, which are bad for even 90's CG standards, there are some truly bizarre choices that were made in the editing room which makes the entire film teeth-grindingly aggravating to watch. Nearly every single transition between scenes - NEARLY EVERY SINGLE ONE - is a dissolve fade, an edit which is normally associated with some passage of time. However the passage of time between edits in the film is sometimes as little as a couple of seconds, like when characters move from one room to another.

 Get used to this.

On top of that the film makes heavy use of using a dissolve fade when most films would simply use a normal cut within the scene itself. So you'll have situations when you're watching a character walking from one end of the room to the other via two or three of these dissolves, giving off the impression that he is fading in and out to move. I have never seen this technique used before to that extent, but I tell you I hope to never see it used like this again. It's horrendously distracting and completely asinine, and the guy who edited this film needs to be punched in the face.

And don't get me started on the chronology which is as fractured as season four of "Arrested Development." The entire story is told in flashbacks, being narrated by a person who could not possibly be relating the events to anyone considering she was not present during many of them, and the people who did experience them are all dead. So how could she be describing what they saw or did? I guess the character had a copy of the script.

You know what this movie is? This is an Uwe Boll film. I'm dead serious. This is something you'd see from Uwe Boll. And not even more recent "slightly competent" Uwe Boll. This is "Bloodrayne" or "House of The Dead" or "Alone In The Dark" here. This is amateur, cheap, lazy, cheesy, "I did this for the tax write-off" schlock. And it was made by the same guy who did "The Thing." I am saddened and stunned by that revelation.

This was just a test-run for "In The Name of The King."

This summer...in a world...where trailer cliches are king...one man...will make a stand...unlike anything you've ever seen before...

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Ghosts of Mars" is terrible. It's cheap looking, it's boring, and it's poorly acted despite having a handful of legitimate talent. About the only decent thing is the Anthrax penned soundtrack, which manages to be fairly metal. It doesn't make the movie work, but it's nice to know the band got a paycheck.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Whereas "The Man With The Golden Gun" was one of the more bi-polar Roger Moore Bond films as far as reception goes, as it was either considered one of the best or one of the weakest depending on whom you asked, the general consensus of its follow-up, "The Spy Who Loved Me," is near universal praise. Most fans and critics consider it Moore's finest outing as far as acting goes, and the actor himself called it his favorite.

To be sure, there are plenty of things about "The Spy Who Loved Me" to enjoy, and like "The Man With The Golden Gun" it's by far an improvement on "Live And Let Die." The sets are frankly stunning, the action is plentiful and reasonably exciting, the end recalls the fantastic climaxes of "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice," and there are some interesting ideas going on with actual character development of the Bond girl.

 It also features the very finest in Shatnerian fight choreography.

Of course those ideas don't pay off and are ultimately unsatisfying and borderline insulting, but later films would do it much better. And while it's unfortunate that those elements failed horribly here, it's nice to see them at least trying something the slightest bit interesting with the Bond girl character, whom is almost always portrayed as an insufferable lump of dumb blandness with a target painted on her butt with the words "INSERT BOND HERE" on the bulls-eye.

I give the film credit for that, and like I said it's still an improvement on the preceding Moore films, but within that statement lies the overlying, inescapable problem: It still stars Roger Moore. And while the man does have his fans, I'll never understand it. Like every Bond movie he did, in "The Spy Who Loved Me" Roger Moore is a boring, stiff cream-puff who gives off the impression that he wouldn't last 3 seconds on "American Gladiators," let alone survive a bullet-riddled pursuit down a mountain while on skis, ending in him leaping off a cliff and parachuting to safety.

Is it even worth it for me to inquire as to how he knew he was going to need that?

I think what I like most about "The Spy Who Loved Me" is the scale of it all. It feels really huge, not only with what is at stake but the sets and locations the characters go to. The villain, Stromberg's huge mobile underwater city Atlantis is an inventive, beautiful set, as well as his massive super-tanker Liparus, which is big enough to swallow 3 submarines. Even the henchmen are gigantic, with Richard Kiel making his first appearance as fan-favorite Jaws. All this makes the film seems more epic like "You Only Live Twice," which had the gigantic base in the crater of a volcano and whatnot.

This was the first Roger Moore Bond film I've seen that I was actually saying to myself "That's cool" on occasion. Atlantis, particularly Stromberg's dining room/lounge with the windows looking out at the water, was a very impressive effect which really did a lot to immerse the viewer in this outlandish underwater base which seemed like something out of "The Abyss." And the famous Esprit that was also a submarine is undoubtedly the coolest Bond car since the Aston Martin from "Goldfinger" - even if leads to one of the stupidest gags in the film.

I hate you, Roger Moore.

It's just too bad the actors couldn't have lived up to the scale of the production. Roger Moore is, as I've said, just as bland and obnoxious as ever, but even the villain played by the venerable Curt Jurgens wasn't very memorable. And it wasn't his fault, really. He's slimy enough I suppose but the fact that he's just a crotchety old ocean enthusiast who built an underwater city and wants to blow up the world because he wants to live under the sea (which he already does anyway) makes him fairly hard to care about. I guess his motivation is to force everyone else to do the same, but he's a loner, so even that doesn't make any sense. You'd think he'd just stay underwater and be content without killing everyone.

I mentioned earlier the Bond girl having some interesting elements going on, and that is true. Barbara Bach plays a Russian spy named Agent Triple X, and right off the bat you can tell that any attempt at depth of character is in the septic tank based on her name alone. Her name itself implies porn. What self respecting country would code name their agents that? Did they make her a secret agent strictly for the purposes of having sex? Was she aware of it? Did she go through spy school and all that intense training, only to be given a name like Triple X and was told "Okay, comrade. Now get to screwing" by her superiors? With a name like that it's hard to think otherwise.

More countries should name their secret agents after what they do. James Bond could be code named Agent Kaboom.

The issue is that we're supposed to believe that Triple X is capable of getting through "The Spy Who Loved Me" without banging James Bond, which, like I said earlier, based on her name is a statistical impossibility. Early in the film Bond kills a Russian agent who we find out was Triple X's lover, and she swears vengeance on whoever did it. During the course of the movie Bond and Triple X are forced to partner up, and when she finds out that Bond was the guy who killed her boyfriend, she professes her hatred of James and promises him that as soon as the mission is over she will take him out.

That is not only a load of rubbish, as her name is Triple X and she's a Bond girl, but it also makes her really stupid as well. Letting a guy like James Bond know that you're going to try and kill him and giving him the exact moment when that promise will go into effect is probably not a wise move. Any normal secret agent would probably put a slug between their eyes immediately after they finished shooting the villain. But since it's James Bond he puts something else of his between something else of hers instead, because he's James Bond and her name is Triple X. And naturally she forgives him for no reason other than that the script requires that every single female on the planet has a clinical need to bang him. I guess that overrides the fact that he killed your boyfriend.

 You can go ahead and attempt to make her a deep character, but you still named her Agent Triple X. We're not buying it.

I think more than anything else that's the biggest problem with what could have been the most interesting element of the film. I do like the idea of Bond and a Russian agent needing to work together despite deep hatred and fist-clenched vengeance perpetually making its presence known, but they really don't do anything with it, mostly forgetting about it with the exception of the scene she swears vengeance on him and the scene at the end where she forgives him out of nowhere. She doesn't even shoot him a nasty look in between or anything. If I didn't know better I'd say she was never more than two seconds away from dry-humping his leg. Then again, it may have been because Barbara Bach was a horrendously bad actress in this.

Despite all of that, I can't be too mad at "The Spy Who Loved Me." It's actually a pretty solid movie, even with Roger Moore and the fact that the title doesn't make any sense since I'm pretty sure James Bond does not love Triple X, nor does Triple X love Bond. I'm not sure that I'd call it his best, but at the very least he's going to cool locations which provide plenty of action beats, giving it a brisk pace and making it not boring. And at least he's not in space. Although I sense utter fear and rage on the horizon for me.

I know I've mentioned this before, but man were trailers bad back in the day. I officially apologize to every fade in/fade out I've complained about. At least it provides a tempo.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Spy Who Loved Me" is close to the best you're going to get as far as the Roger Moore Bond movies go. At the very least it's not dull, although the acting is atrocious and the villains lackluster apart from Jaws, who is lackluster himself but is so huge that his presence makes up for it. One of the only Bond outings starring Roger Moore that I'd say is worth checking out. As we see in the next entry...it got far, far worse.

JAMES BOND

WILL RETURN IN

MOONRAKER

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

1973's "Live And Let Die" was one of the weaker Bond outings, and by far the worst of the "New Guy" debuts. With Roger Moore at the helm, the series sank further into a spiral of comedy that had began some time ago, but had previously been kept above water due to the badassery of Sean Connery and even George Lazenby (yeah you heard me, I said Lazenby). Now with the Earl Grey flavored tofu blandness of Mr. Moore, the series continued as if it were slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) becoming a parody of itself.

Its follow-up, "The Man With The Golden Gun" is something of an enigmatic film, as it seems to be a transitional one. The lack of gadgets and inclusion of a sadistic, depraved psychopath of a villain who gets sexual thrills from killing suggests a darker, more gritty entry. However, at the same time it also features third nipples, the return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper, Bond giving a wedgie to a sumo wrestler, and Tattoo from "Fantasy Island." Oh dear. I sense being annoyed by shifts in tone in my future. It's not full blown comedy yet, but we're getting there.

Why is it that nearly every expression Roger Moore makes can be accompanied by a *BOING* sound effect?

"The Man With The Golden Gun" could have been a really solid entry, and I'm saying that while being a HUGE detractor of Roger Moore. I enjoy the initial setup, which finds Bond taken off of active duty when he finds himself the target of Scaramanga, the world's most infamous assassin and the titular character. While officially off-duty, Bond is given the under-the-table go ahead to find Scaramanga and take him out first, so that Bond can get back to his current mission, which involves a new solar power source which could solve the energy crisis. Eventually and conveniently these two plots meet up in an endgame which may seem somewhat contrived, but it does give Christopher Lee a chance to fire a laser cannon, and that's awesome.

Gentlemen, the contest shall be overly large collars at dawn. May the most starched win.

There are plenty of action beats which are perhaps not quite as good as previous entries including "Live And Let Die," due to the fact that they seem rather lackadaisical and too gentle with the smug creampuff that is Roger Moore, but for what they are they serve their purpose acceptably well and tend to not be boring. The editing may be wanting, as some of the numerous chase sequences had an overall lack of reference as to who was where, and on occasion the film flat-out confuses the audience with "How in the world did he get there?" moments which are never explained, but like I said they serve their purpose just fine. And unlike "Live And Let Die" or "Thunderball," I was not bored stiff by "The Man With The Golden Gun."

Scaramanga is a thankful reprieve from Yaphet Kotto's forgettable Mr. Big from the previous outing, and for the first time since "Goldfinger" we get a memorable bad guy who isn't Blofeld. Naturally when you get Christopher Lee to be your villain its extraordinarily unlikely that he won't be the best thing about the movie, and he unsurprisingly manages to steal the show. The film does keep his debauchery to a PG level, but there are scenes with him that could have come right out of an exploitation flick, and could have gotten really, really raw and kinky had they kept going past the point the camera cut to another scene. Part of me is glad they cut away but another part of me wanted to see it, just so his character was made just that much more twisted.

You know, just to take it from an "Oh man he's going to shoot Bond" level to an "Oh man he's going to shoot Bond and then wear his skin" level.

The thing about Scarmanga that makes him so great as a character is the nonchalant manor in which Christopher Lee plays him. Lee can be super intense when needed, as his turns as Dracula showed us, but in "The Man With The Golden Gun" he overall stays icy calm and detached from the violence that he is inflicting, discussing it like it's a golf outing. Normally this would be a point against a performance but it's clear by looking into his eyes that the reason he's detached is because it's no big deal to him. He'll shoot someone in the face with the same emotion as he would have eating a sandwich. And then he'll have sex with his concubine because death puts him in the mood. It's a role fueled by juxtaposition and subtle fire behind Lee's eyes, and it's really a killer performance by one of the masters.

However, I said earlier that "The Man With The Golden Gun" could have been a really solid entry. The issues come up when discussing the aforementioned shifts in tone. While the film starts off with a very promising first act, once Bond arrives in Thailand posing as Scaramanga himself, it quickly devolves into bizarre territory as Bond is attacked by sumo wrestlers, gets forced into a martial arts contest for some reason, and then goes off on prolonged escape and chase sequences featuring the return of J.W. Pepper, who marks the absolute nadir of the film's ups and downs.

I think Rosco Coltrane and Boss Hogg congealed into a tubby, racist mass.

It's this goofy, cornball crap interjecting itself into what is otherwise a fairly dark story involving some really twisted stuff that makes "The Man With The Golden Gun" not work that well. I can't tell you how frustrating it was for me watching this film because of that reason. There are scenes in "The Man With The Golden Gun" that are outright brilliant, but they are sullied by the bad comic relief.

"I claim this land for Oz!"

A pitch perfect example is a scene where Scaramanga and Bond first meet at a mixed martial arts fight. The scene is brilliantly set when Bond sits down next to Andrea (Maud Adams), Scaramanga's consort who recently sold him out to James, only to find that she's quite dead from a gunshot. Scaramanga then sits down next to Bond and tells him in so many words, "Yeah, I killed her. And I know you tried messing with me. That's cute. Don't do it again or I'll kill you like I killed her." This is also one of the few moments where Roger Moore plays Bond in a halfway acceptable manner, making the scene very intense.

Immediately after that Bond girl Goodnight (Britt Ekland) becomes an offensively useless ditz when she gets her dumb ass captured by Scaramanga, and we get a chase scene where Bond and J.W. Pepper follow him through the streets of Thailand while Pepper shouts shockingly racist epithets which I think are supposed to be humorous. This all culminates in Bond jumping a river via a broken bridge, which spins the car in a spiral complete with a slide whistle sound effect (because that's essential to the stunt), and then the case ends when Scaramanga's car turns into a plane. Then I remember the previous scene of dead-serious coldness and I get sad.

It's just not right without the OOOOOOOOOOOOOOWHOOP!

That's really the biggest issue I have with "The Man With The Golden Gun." There are other things that annoyed me, chief amongst those is a rather anti-climatic end to the final showdown, and the utterly worthless character of Goodnight, who is insufferably dumb and pathetic even for Bond girl standards. Keep in mind this is a character whom Bond locks in a closet for hours so he can have sex with another girl in the same room, but when released she's mostly upset because Bond won't plow her immediately. That's an escalation of both Bond's piggishness and a 37-year setback for women in cinema all in one scene! Good job!

And she's supposed to be a secret agent. That's "Glasses on Tara Reid = Ph.D" level stupid.

The rest of it is middling to okay. Despite Roger Moore still choosing to act like he doesn't give a crap, it's surprising how much millage a film can get from a decent villain. Add to the fact that "The Man With The Golden Gun" is actually a very pretty film, and showcases some fantastic scenery and really cool set designs (I was particularly a fan of a secret base made from a slanted, sunken ship) and you've got a Bond flick that manages to be surprisingly not bad considering all the crap that goes along with it. It's still not anywhere close to the best, but it's far from the worst.

I wish I could have been a movie trailer maker back in the day. I wouldn't have had to give a crap.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Man With The Golden Gun" is one of the better Roger Moore entries. Most of that has to do with Christopher Lee, as he drags the movie kicking and screaming into respectability on occasion. His presence alone is enough to override some of the Roger Moore zaniness, but it's still present, which irritates me to no end. A big step up from "Live And Let Die," however.

JAMES BOND

WILL RETURN IN

"THE SPY WHO LOVED ME"

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Live And Let Die (1973)

Ugh. You all don't even know how much I've been dreading this. In my quest to go through the entire Bond filmography, I knew I'd have to suffer through a lot of crap. The Bond films aren't exactly known for consistent excellence. But out of all the things that were weird or wacky or wackily weird about the series, nothing can top the mountain of bizarre WTF-ness that is Roger Moore.

I can't stand the Roger Moore Bond films. I hate the way Moore plays Bond, I hate the way they are crammed to the brim with goofiness and absurd comic relief, and I hate how boring they are. Now granted, as of my writing this entry I have not seen all of them, and apparently I've missed out on some of the better ones, but I'm not holding my breath. And frankly the fact that I've seen four of the Roger Moore Bond movies and am still only about halfway through them since he was Bond SEVEN DAMN TIMES makes me want to punch a llama. And I don't even know why I'd punch a llama. I like llamas. Moore just takes me there I guess.

Whatever. Let's get this started so I can get this over with and get to Timothy Dalton. I'm pretty sure that's the first time that sentence has ever been typed out.

"Live and Let Die" was the first Bond movie made in the 70's, and more than nearly any of the rest of them is clearly a product of its time. In a change of pace from the usual evil villain out to take over the world plot it focuses on drug trafficking, black gangsters and strange voodoo magic, as if Bond wandered on to the set of a blaxplotation movie being filmed across the way and everybody just kind of rolled with it. This has the side effect of, at least for me, making it seem little like a Bond movie past the twenty minute mark. It feels like I'm watching "Shaft." Only here Shaft is pasty, English and far less intimidating.

God, it's like casting Hugh Grant to play Jules Winnfield.

Obviously this was to capitalize on a fad and attempt to boost numbers in the box office, but I can't tell you what an utter shock it is to hear blaxplotation style dialogue being thrown about in a Bond movie. I had to rewind the movie every time somebody called James "honkey" or "cue-ball," just to make sure I wasn't losing my mind. And I think my jaw literally hit the ground when Felix Leiter said "Get me a make on a white pimpmobile!" The levels of bizarre and "does not fit" are off the charts.

"New for 1973 - The Pontiac Pimpmobile. Starting at the low price of $3,000 or 2 kilos of heroin. Test drive one today."

The plot, much like many of the lesser Bond films, is convoluted and overly-long. It involves agents in the Caribbean/Southern US getting killed, and Bond is sent to investigate (much like "Dr. No"). The trail leads him to Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), a dictator of a small island, whom we find out doubles as a drug lord named "Mr. Big." His plan is to distribute a crap-ton of heroin on the streets for free using his chain of restaurants as a front, driving the competition out of business and creating many new addicts in the process. Then he'll charge jacked-up prices for the drugs once that is accomplished and make lots of money.

Doesn't that just scream "James Bond movie?" True, there may be Bond villainy to be found, as Katanga has henchmen, an underground liar complete with a shark tank (!) and has a tenancy to monologue, but he's still just a jumped up drug dealer when you boil it down. And Yaphet Kotto, as intimidating as he can be, isn't really selling the role very well here. He's really low-key and comes across as kind of sleepy most of the time. He doesn't seem like he cares very much, and I'm just not feeling it. And as we all know, any good action flick hinges on its villain. This is particularly true of Bond movies.

Look out, Jane Seymour! It's an evil medicine man! Quick! Get her a medicine...woman?

Even the henchmen aren't very notable. Julius Harris as the hook-handed Tee-Hee serves as kind of a prototype for Jaws, but Richard Kiel this man was not. Like most of the rest of "Live And Let Die," he's just kind of sleepily floating through the thing. And I don't what we are supposed to make of Whisper, the henchmen whose gimmick is that they can't speak above a whisper, since that's clever. What is he going to do, inaudible me to death?

Every once in a while "Live And Let Die" throws in a relatively decent vehicle segment, the most famous being the boat chase through the bayous of Louisiana. And while that bit is alright and more in line with what we're used to with the franchise, at that point we are also introduced to what is one of the more egregious examples of everything that is wrong with the Roger Moore movies...

Mitchell!? NO!!!

I'm not sure why Clifton James is in this movie as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, but his mere presence alone would be enough to make me write off the entire film, even if the rest hadn't been a snore-fest. There are plenty of problems that I have with the Roger Moore series, but the one thing that I can't see fixing any of it is a tobacco chewing, "Where you goin', boy" spouting, goofball redneck sheriff. Once again, it's something that just does not belong in a Bond flick.

Finally, let's talk about Moore himself. The problem with Roger Moore is that he's way too big of a ham, and he doesn't feel the slightest bit intimidating. Connery's smirk was less of a smile and more representative of a wolf getting ready to eat a small animal. Even Lazenby could throw a convincing punch and scowl when he needed to. And let's not even bring up Dalton's cold eyes, Brosnan's sleek physicality or the muscular wrecking ball that is Daniel Craig. But that raised eyebrow of Moore's always makes me feel like he's one step away from tugging at his collar with his finger and going "Nee-uh-uh-uh" like we're watching Benny Hill or something. There's no badassery with Roger Moore. He doesn't seem like a dangerous guy, he seems like someone you might hire to do your taxes. 

Yes, you're correct. Carnac the Magnificent would be a much better role for you.

And I know I've said this before, but my god is James Bond a creep. It's really getting old with this schtick of Bond being an utter pig, which has the ladies tripping over themselves to strip off their panties quicker. It's not quite as bad here as it was with the later Connery films as far as brute force goes, but here Roger Moore basically tricks and extorts women into having sex with him, which is just another flavor of "creepy border-line rapist."

There's little chemistry going on between the actors, either. Roger Moore and Bond girl de jour Solitaire (Jane Seymour) together are rather luke-warm at best, with the more intense but far more ill-fated and mean-spirited relationship being between Bond and Rosie (Gloria Hendry), a double agent working for both the CIA and Kananga whom Bond basically lets die without much concern. Of course that's immediately after he has sex with her, since he's a nice guy like that. And while there is a decent scene between Roger Moore and Yaphet Kotto where Kananga reveals he is Mr. Big, I was honestly hoping that it was going to be Hank Hill under the mask.

"I sell heroin and heroin accessories."

I also find it rather strange that his introduction is so underwhelming. Usually when a new Bond is paraded out in his debut it's with a dramatic reveal, usually involving a slow buildup or a flashy action sequence culminating with a one-liner to showcase what the new guy can do. But here we just see Roger Moore lying in bed with a woman way too hot for a dude like him. Then the doorbell rings and he gets up, answers it, and makes coffee for his boss while trying to keep the girl out of sight. Thrill as he attempts to hide the fact that he just had sex!!!

And that really sets the stage for the entire affair. "Live And Let Die" is just not trying very hard. And it's really about as exciting as watching James Bond get out of bed and hide a chick in his closet. I honestly don't have too much more to say about "Live And Let Die." I didn't care for it. It was actually a struggle for me to stay awake during most of it, much like "Thunderball." And, much like that film, I really don't like it.

But hey, good news. I've only got six more Roger Moore films left to go! ::shoots myself::

Man, that trailer makes me wish I hadn't nearly slept through most of this movie.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Live And Let Die" isn't the worst Bond movie, but man is it bad. It's a boring introduction to my least favorite Bond actor, and the tone, setting and themes are a radical departure which simply do not fit. About the only good thing I can say about it is that it doesn't take place in outer space, but don't worry. We'll get to that soon enough.

JAMES BOND

WILL RETURN IN

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

Monday, August 5, 2013

42 (2013)

I don't know much about baseball, it's true. I can remember a thing or two about the '90-'91 Minnesota Twins, since that was the team I watched when I was into the sport. I remember Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch and other various things, but my knowledge is pretty limited at best. So it goes without saying that I know basically squat about Jackie Robinson. I know he was the first black player to play professionally, and that he was apparently very good. And that's about it.

After seeing "42" I can now add that he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was married, he had a kid, they made him play 1st base, and he apparently had a knack for stealing bases to the list of things that I know about Jackie Robinson. That is the extent of my knowledge. I still don't have much of an idea who Jackie Robinson was because "42" didn't do much to tell me anything about him besides those very basic facts.

That's not to say that "42" is a bad film. It's a decently made, nuts and bolts bio-pic that tells an undoubtedly complex story in an undoubtedly simplified way. That sounds like a slam but bio-pics by their nature are dumbed down because otherwise they'd be 37 hours long and probably really boring. In that respect "42" is fine. It's good. It's solid. If you're a sports fan or if you like baseball movies you've probably little to find offensive within it. And I suppose it's sufficiently inspirational to boot.

And filled with the requisite Spielbergian wistful gazing.

My biggest problem is that the film makes Jackie Robinson seem more like an idea or a theme than an actual person, if that makes any sense. I got a basic grasp on what it is that he did from the film, but I still don't know who he was. He's simply a near-mythic figure who floats through the movie on a rail which brings him through the tunnel of racism and hate, which he takes on the chin stoically until the ride stops and he saves the day in a manner which is most likely not entirely historically accurate since it reeks of Hollywood convenience. Again, all of this is done well, but it's hardly anything we've not seen before.

Pictured Above - Oh hell, you've seen this before.

Perhaps it's the fact that this trope of the boundary-breaking pioneer having to contend with bigoted opposition has been so thoroughly crammed into our brains at this point that it all seems quite trite. Of course that subject, particularly when it involves racism, is still an important subject to address since it's still an unfortunately prevalent force in this time and age. But that still doesn't stop a movie about it from being slightly banal if it's not doing anything new with the format.

There are good things to take away from it, however. Chadwick Boseman's performance as Jackie is respectable, if ever so slightly low-key. He was more of an impressive physical presence than a dramatic one, since the dude really looks like he knows what he's doing with a bat. However he did get a moment to shine during a sequence which is probably the best stretch of the film, during a game where the opposing team's manager (Alan Tudyk) is hurling racist insults until Jackie goes into the tunnel and snaps. That scene also involves the real memorable take-away from the film, Harrison Ford, who tears it up as the Dodger's manager, Branch Rickey.

So much lawn to tell those damn kids to get off of...

I don't want to say that Ford is the only shining light in "42," since there is plenty of good acting to be found here, but he's probably the thing you're going to remember most about it. And it's not because he's Harrison Ford, either, although that does help a bit. Branch Rickey is just the most interesting character to be found here, and there's more probing insight into his mind than any other person. Because of that I had more connection to him than the main character, whom like I said was simply a figurehead to be showcased throughout the various stops along the path of the "inspirational sports movie railroad."

So would I recommend "42?" Sure, go for it. But don't expect to be too blown away by it. Or even remember much about it after it's done besides Harrison Ford doing a crotchety old man voice. I must admit that was pretty awesome.

Oh yeah. I automatically go to Jay Z when I think of the 1940's.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "42" is serviceable but a bit lackluster and mostly forgettable. If you had a knowledge of old-school baseball it would probably help put more things into historical context, but as it is, it's just kind of there. Not bad, but pretty much exactly what you'd probably expect it to be. And not a quick hand-off from shortstop to 2nd base more.