Friday, September 27, 2013

Octopussy (1983)

True story: After "For Your Eyes Only" they were looking for someone to replace Roger Moore as James Bond. He was getting tired of playing him, he was getting too old, and it was beginning to be noticeable. James Brolin and future Bond Timothy Dalton were considered for the part, but then Sean Connery happened.

When, after a lengthy legal battle "Never Say Never Again," a non-Eon remake of "Thunderball" was put into production starring the original Mack-Daddy himself as 007 once again and set to come out the same year as "Octopussy," it was widely thought that it was not the proper time to risk trying anything new. So Moore was brought back once again, and I'm forced to grit my teeth and suffer through more of his shenanigans as the series still refused to grow up a little bit.

That being said, I must admit to actually liking "Octopussy." Despite the ridiculous title which you feel silly even saying out loud, this is a fun movie that manages to be quite entertaining. The plot is a little obtuse at times and there is more than one occasion when it's easy to not understand a thing anybody is talking about, but the action in between all of it is abundant and exciting, more so then arguably any of Roger Moore's other outings, and the screwball antics are kept to a relative minimum. Mostly.

Dammit, I said "mostly."

The story this time revolves around Fabergé eggs, and before you say anything, no, the plot doesn't suck. It gets kind of dicey to follow, but essentially what's going on is that there's a lot of forgeries of priceless things going around and being sold for insane prices lately, all to fund a rogue Russian general, Orlov (Steven Berkoff), doing bad things like expanding their borders and conquering some of Europe. I know that sounds stupid, and maybe it is, but it works just enough to get the story from A to B. In any case 007 is naturally the only one who can do anything about it, and sets out to track down the forgers, heading out to India where a bunch of the action takes place, before heading to West Germany (a nice dated reference there) for the admittedly exciting climax.

The *ahem* titular character is a notorious smuggler played by Maud Adams, whom observant viewers might recognize from "The Man With The Golden Gun," where she played Christopher Lee's ill-fated concubine whose corpse was shockingly good at sitting bolt-upright in instant rigor mortis. Like in that previous film, Adams is a strong presence on screen, and makes for one of the better Bond girls of the series, since she's not totally useless or stupid. This is particularly true when you look at the lineup of girls from the rest of the Roger Moore era. In fact she's probably the most respectable of all of them, since she had become an incredibly powerful world-class smuggler all by herself, and Maud Adams does command a great deal of respect in her performance. She's not just some busty ditz they slapped a lab coat on and called "Doctor" like we believe that for one hot minute. (I'm looking at you, Denise Richards.)

Useless? She's got her own elite squad of hot ninja acrobat circus performers who dress like The Flash. That's awesome!

Roger Moore is his usual cream-puff self, but at least here he brought a bit more physicality to the role. Or at least, his stuntman did. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it until I'm finally done with him, but Roger Moore is not a threatening guy, and I've never bought him as an action lead. But despite all of that, the film does manage to make him come across as more than someone's goofy uncle despite his noticeably advancing age.

Like I said earlier, the wackiness is toned down a bit in "Octopussy," an aspect I was immensely relieved by. True, there are moments like Bond dressing like both a clown and a gorilla, a crowd watching a car chase with heads moving back and forth in unison like a tennis match, all while Bond's sidekick Vijay wails on the bad guys with a tennis racket, and Bond yelling like Tarzan while swinging on a vine (groan), but for all of that goofy crap there's still a lot of pretty hard-hitting action and some surprisingly dark stuff in here. When the film features a guy taking a rotary saw yo-yo to the face and a dude hunting humans like he's a cross between Van Pelt and the villain from "Bloodlust," it tends to make up for some of the more comedic moments.

I love ham and eggs!

Once again, however, the villain is slightly lackluster. Louis Jourdan is just...alright as Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince working with Orlov. One one hand he's slimy enough and gives off the impression that he would gladly set fire to a car full of nuns just because, but it's likely that he'd probably get someone else to do it for him. And this is just me, but I like my Bond villains to be somewhat more threatening then that. Otherwise when we get to the final showdown there's going to be little tension because you know he doesn't stand a chance against 007. It's really more about getting past the big henchman they always have at that point, and I've always found that to be a bit anticlimactic when the films go that route. Orlov would have been the more logical choice for James to face off against at the end, but unfortunately that doesn't end up happening.

That's about all I have for "Octopussy." It's a surprisingly exciting entry in the Roger Moore series, and I'd call it one of his better, if not best ones. True, you're not going to know exactly what's going on the whole time, but the climax has Bond fighting a dude on top of a plane. That's got to count for something.

Yeah, the trailer sucks, but you get a taste for how much action is in this one.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I'd call "Octopussy" one of my favorite Roger Moore flicks. The biggest reason for that is the action, which flows fast, hard-hitting, and is surprisingly consistent throughout its overly long run-time. It's just enough to make you forgive the fact that it's still Roger Moore. It's what's great about the English. I must have seen this movie twice.




Wednesday, September 25, 2013

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

There were few places to go after "Moonraker" other than dramatically up, or, in the case of "For Your Eyes Only," back down to earth from the stratosphere of stupid that the previous film had left James Bond floating in. I think the filmmakers had realized one of two things: Either they knew they had pushed it too far into the outlandish, or they didn't think they could one-up it. One option gives them more respectability than the other. In any case, "For Your Eyes Only" was a distinct descent back down into reality (mostly), which went back to being more like the Connery films with fewer gadgets and a less bizarre storyline about Cold War espionage.

This is an entry in the franchise that is a little difficult to talk about. On one hand, it's honestly one of the more forgettable Bond films. The plot is somewhat hard to latch on to, the villain is horrendously bland, it's got what has to be in the running for the absolute worst Bond theme song ever, and there's a lack of iconic moments you can put on a poster to really stick out and make you remember the film. As bad as "Moonraker" was, there are scenes in it you won't forget once you see them. With this film you'll be struggling to remember many specific moments that you can think back on and say "That bit was cool."

On the other hand, I kind of liked it.

Hey, that's the name of the movie!

"For Your Eyes Only" finds Bond (Roger Moore) hunting down an encryption device that is capable of completely controlling all of the British fleet's missiles, which was lost when the ship it was on hit a mine and sank. And now they have to get it before the Russians do, since if they got it they could easily blow up the entire fleet or England or all of Russia's enemies or all of the above. That device seems like an entirely silly thing to create for reasons exactly like this, especially when apparently there's no way to reprogram the British missiles so that they can't be controlled by it. I wouldn't have personally made something like that, but then again I'm not a professional, so what do I know?

When a marine archeologist the British hired to find the ship is assassinated, the trail of the hitman leads Bond to Spain where the assassin is assassinated by Melina (Carole Bouguet), the daughter of the archeologist and Bond girl for this outing. Bond then follows the trail of another hitman to Italy. After that the plot gets a little convoluted as a lot of double crosses are revealed, making it so that it's just a little bit difficult to follow who is working for who. In fact, the main villain of the film isn't even revealed to be the main villain until about halfway through, due to the movie being deliberately misleading.

The guy holding Bond at gunpoint is one of the good guys. Who knew, right?

That's not to say that's necessarily a bad thing, however. Not every action movie needs their villain cackling behind steepled fingers, but it does tend to downplay the threat somewhat because we don't have as much time to build them up. When the villain, Kristatos (Julian Glover) is finally revealed it's a little difficult to be afraid of him because up to that point, all we've seen him do is have polite conversation over dinner and be generally normal. And little changes once the mask is lifted, as Glover doesn't exactly channel Vincent Price or anything in terms of wickedness. He just kind of looks overly annoyed when things don't go his way, makes threats he doesn't follow up on, and acts nonchalant if people die. Yeah, it may be a little more realistic, but it doesn't make for a fun or memorable villain. And I like Julian Glover as an actor a lot but here he's really not trying very hard to be a decent bad guy, particularly for a Bond movie. As silly as it may come across, you kind of want the mustache twirling at some point.

True, he didn't twirl his mustache in "The Last Crusade" either, but at least there he was evil in a Nazi sympathizer capacity.

Rescuing us from the unfortunate dullness of the Big Bad are two things the film does have going for it: An effectively intimidating secondary villain, Locque (Michael Gothard), and a handful of respectably fun action scenes which are pretty impressive in their stunts. A silent assassin, Locque doesn't say much if anything, but Gothard has this great intense stare combined with a detached coldness in his eyes that really sells the 'remorseless killer' angle, and I found myself wishing on more than one occasion that he was the main bad guy instead of Kristatos. After Bond takes him out in a surprisingly cold blooded manner by Sparta-Kicking his precariously dangling car off of a cliff, the film does tend to go downhill from that point on.

Personally I thought this was one of the better Roger Moore outings in the action department. In particular is a pretty good car chase through a jungle road, an effectively nerve-wrecking climb up a cliff, a few large scale shootouts, and what is probably the highlight of the film, a scene were Bond is chased down a mountain while on skis by a bunch guys on motorcycles. All of this is pleasantly well done, and I must give the Bond franchise tremendous credit for having not one, but two films which feature a fight on a bobsled track. I wouldn't have thought that possible.

Seriously. How did you manage to get into this situation twice?

While I'd noticed it from his debut, it was at this point that people started calling Roger Moore too old to be Bond. Some of it had to do with Carole Bouquet being some 30 years younger than him and looking like it, and another had to do with the character of Bibi, a young professional ice skater played by actual young professional ice skater Lynn-Holly Johnson. While Johnson was only a couple of years younger than Bouquet, she looked closer to sixteen, which made the scenes where she's trying to seduce Roger Moore, who looks like he subscribes to AARP magazine, exceedingly uncomfortable. It was played for laughs, and James flat out refuses her advances, but he's been such a pig throughout the series that by this point I'm not putting anything past him.

"Yes, well, put your clothes on and I'll get you some ice cream." = CREEPIEST. LINE. EVER.

I think this movie needs an adult.

I've praised the action and relative down-to-earth nature of "For Your Eyes Only," but that's not to say it got gritty and serious all of a sudden. As much as the tone may have been evened out, there's still scenes of Moore mugging to the camera, fighting hockey players like The Mighty Ducks went evil and at long last killing off a wheelchair-bound Blofeld by picking him up with a helicopter and dumping him down an industrial smokestack. Also, Marget Thatcher talks to a parrot while thinking it's James. This same parrot also helped save the day. I wish I were joking.

But the silly stuff is still to a far lesser degree than we'd seen in the past. Overall, this one gets a pass from me. As strange as it is to say I enjoyed a Roger Moore Bond outing, this is one of the better ones, despite it being rather forgettable. I guess in the end, not suffering throughout the proceedings at the expense of it being memorable is an acceptable tradeoff. At least when it comes to Roger Moore.

For anyone still complaining about movie trailers sucking today...I give you 1981. Ball's in your court.

THE BOTTOM LINE - It's one of the most forgettable Bond films, but it's actually not that bad. Despite his distracting advancing age and continued hamming it up, this is probably one of Roger Moore's better outings. At least it didn't hurt me while watching it.




Monday, September 23, 2013

Moonraker (1979)

During my foray into the world of James Bond, watching his adventures chronologically from the beginning and seeing the evolution of the series unfold before me while knowing what is to come by the time Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig come along, I have learned a bit about myself. Apparently I am a man who enjoys redheads, a martini without olives, and grit and realism in my 007 movies. I used to think that I liked the outlandish bits of the Bond series but as I've watched them I realize that it's when the films are down-to-earth and not goofy that I find the most enjoyment. It's when the movie winks at us, honking its clown nose while doing a silly jig saying "Look how not-seriously we're taking ourselves! This is such fun!" that I fluctuate between not caring and flipping my television the bird.

You see, there is a fine balancing act that must be done while being outlandish. Don't be mistaken, a film can be over-the-top and still maintain its dignity. Just look at "Goldfinger." That movie is insane. A gold merchant attacks Fort Knox and shoves a nuke in the vault? That's crazy and stupid at the same time. For crying out loud his bodyguard has a hat that can decapitate you. He's got a giant laser and a table with straps that could only exist for the sole purpose of cutting a person in half starting at the groin, clearly possessing it before Bond ever shows up. And he just has it because shut up he does. Is the silliness sinking in yet?

"Scheriously, Goldfinga! Why ish thisch here? Who built it for you? HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU EXSCHECUTE?!?!"

But at the same time, "Goldfinger" was arguably the best the series ever got, and it was taking itself as seriously as a heart attack. It was stone faced despite the absurdity. The only winks Sean Connery gave were to the obnoxiously hot 60's women he was about to sexually assault into loving him. There were zero winks directed at the audience. There were no cheeky segments where the spy caper turned into a Benny Hill skit with zany music. There weren't any goofy sound effects to act like a trombone going "wah-wah-waaaaaah" to remind us we're supposed to be enjoying ourselves and have a good time. Instead, "Goldfinger" let the fun be a byproduct of the action and over-the-topness instead of trying to artificially cram it in by having scenes like James Bond driving a gondola through the streets of Venice while pigeons do a double-take, like we needed constant reminding to enjoy ourselves because we're all stupid.

With that...ugh. Freaking "Moonraker."

I hate this movie so much. So much. No film in the franchise pushes so many of my buttons as this one. It's got Roger Moore, it's overly goofy and campy in that special way that treats us like cats with keys jangling in our faces, the action is stunningly bland, lazy and not edited well at all, the theme song is easily one of the worst of the series, and the main villain is nonthreatening and acts like he's asleep throughout the proceedings. And of course, they're in space.

But why are they in space? There's no reason for them to be in space!

It's pretty common knowledge that the reason that the teaser "James Bond will return in 'For Your Eyes Only'" at the end of the previous film was famously made incorrect by instead having "Moonraker" come next was because of a little movie that came out in 1977 called "Star Wars," the popularity of which convinced the filmmakers to send James Bond into space. And that little factoid is pretty telling of the mindset that seemed to be at work here.

They weren't out to make a good Bond movie with this. They were out to make a Frankenstein monster of everything that people seemed to like, like a movie made entirely by a computer that calculated low common denominator preferences, and damn whether or not it fit the tone of how the series started out. The Bond franchise had become a joke long before this, I am aware of that, but "Moonraker" finally put the last flower on the grave of what used to be its dignity.

Hey check it out. Pressed ham on glass.

This time we find Bond investigating a stolen space shuttle. Before you ask how in the world a space shuttle could go missing, just know that is by far one of the least ridiculous things at work here. His investigation leads him to our villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), a super-rich industrialist who would seem more evil if he weren't so sleepy-eyed and bored sounding. While uncovering Drax's plans, which boils down to "kill everyone on earth and repopulate with my master race," Bond goes around Europe and South America and then finally to Drax's space station, getting captured and escaping more times than I'm pretty sure is psychically possible.

Joining him is Bond girl of the day Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). Oh I'm sorry - It's DOCTOR Holly Goodhead. There's much to be said about that name, but I guess I can leave it at "Wow." Technically speaking "Pussy Galore" was worse, but that's still pretty egregious. She's alright I suppose, and since she does fly the space shuttle at one point I suppose she's not as useless as Bond girls normally are, but then again since Bond takes over flight duties at the end to save the day because apparently Bond knows how to fly a space shuttle now, I guess useless might indeed be a fitting descriptor for her.

Making history as the only Bond villain to make a return (Blofeld doesn't count since he was like five different actors), Richard Kiel shows up again as the towering henchman, Jaws. This is a good thing since aside from Oddjob he's probably the best side-villain in Bond history. So what do they do in "Moonraker?" Here, he's the comic relief. Yup. The guy who, just one film before, was ripping people's throats out with his teeth is now the subject of goofy gags which have him taking absurd amounts of damage while mugging at the camera like he's Wile E. Coyote. And then he gets a girlfriend and falls in love and becomes a good guy because the filmmakers thought that would be something the audience would like. Ugh.

You're right. Villains shouldn't be bad in action movies. That would be silly.

I think right there is "Moonraker" in a nutshell. They took what was good, or at least passable, and turned it into a mockery of itself. No longer were we allowed to have an explosive, violent, action-packed thrill ride for adults. By the time "Moonraker" came along, the Bond series had turned into a Happy Meal with easily marketable and kid-friendly goofball characters and a little bit of side boob. And this crap had started before Roger Moore had even taken the helm (just look at "Diamonds Are Forever") although he certainly was the first to completely disregard any kind of shame for the character of James Bond.

Speaking of Roger Moore, he's doing his usual hammy schtick here, and I'm so done with it. I don't buy him as Bond, and I never will. And by the time "Moonraker" came about it was clear that this dude is way too old for the role. It was noticeable earlier but by this point it was officially distracting. The rest of the cast is whatever. Michael Lonsdale is one of the least intimidating and most dull villains ever, Lois Chiles is there just to look pretty, and Richard Kiel, like I said, is turned into the missing fourth Stooge. The only person who is kind of compelling is Corinne Clery as the pseudo-Bond girl who gets killed in the first act, a trope which is a requirement of the franchise evidently. But she gets eaten by dogs so I guess that doesn't matter. At least she sold being afraid.

"I'm ever so enraged at Bond foiling my plans. Can't you see the rage on my face? It's palpable."

"Moonraker" has a following, which blows my mind, but I suppose I can understand why. Kind of. The special effects, particularly on the space station, are admittedly pretty good. This is especially so for a 1979 film which isn't even technically a sci-fi film. And while I personally thought the action was tepid and dull, there is an abundance of it, so I'll give it that. Strictly speaking, this is not a dull movie. And the final laser battle in space, as absurd as it is, particularly when one wonders how in the hell the U.S. immediately scrambled the marines into space, is reasonably well-executed and is far better than the strangely similar scene from the climax of "Thunderball."

Pictured above - *Pew* *Pew* *Pew*

However, that abundant action is constantly tainted by the bad comedy. The best bit of the movie, the opening sequence where Bond is thrown from a plane without a parachute (in a scene oddly foreshadowing of "Point Break") is ruined at the very end by Jaws falling into a circus tent while goofy music plays. You know, because clowns are the first thing my mind goes to when I think about James Bond.

Well, I suppose it is now. (Nice rear projection, BTW. Really convincing.)

I am so done with Roger Moore. At least this marks the half-way point for his run as James Bond. And there's nowhere to go but up from here. I don't care what Rotten Tomatoes says: There is no way "A View To A Kill" is worse than "Moonraker." Not possible. It's not in space, it's got a rocking 80's-tastic theme song and it has Christopher Walken. There's no way it won't be an improvement.

Check out the trailer for "Moonraker." If you dare.

THE BOTTOM LINE - In my humble opinion, it's possible that "Moonraker" is the worst Bond film. Ever. It's possible that it's not the worst from a technical level, or even an interest-holding level since I didn't find it as boring as "Thunderball," but terms of eye-rolling and pain it's the reigning champion. I'd rather watch "Austin Powers." And I despise those movies, but at least those had a couple of jokes that worked. This is just painful.




Saturday, September 21, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

"Oblivion" was described to me as a film it was probably best to go into with exceedingly low expectations. I didn't hear anyone classify it as particularly bad, so to speak, but the general consensus was that it was of a distinctly middling quality. Although I'm assuming a good number of those lukewarm opinions were most likely tainted by the fact that the film is a Tom Cruise vehicle, which I'd estimate alienates roughly half the general population right there. If there is one actor more polarizing than Nicolas Cage, it's Tom Cruise. People are all about not liking Tom Cruise just because. They seldom have a good reason. They just don't like him. Fair enough, I guess.

Since I don't have a particular problem with Tom Cruise and am of the opinion that he's an alright actor most of the time, "Oblivion" seemed an attractive sci-fi outing to spend an afternoon watching. And while it's difficult to imagine anyone ever watching it twice or even owning it just because, I did get a decent two hours of entertainment out of it. But man am I glad I waited to rent it. Had I spent $9 to see it in theaters I would have been slightly annoyed.

That's some war face you got there, Tom. It's the same look I get when I scratch the cue-ball.

"Oblivion" begins with a tepidly read bit of exposition by Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a repairman who is one of the last people left on Earth in the aftermath of an alien war which we won, but ended up devastating the planet. His task is to maintain the drones that protect these giant machines which provide the power to send humanity to Saturn's moon, Titan, which is their new home since Earth is an irradiated wasteland now. The remnants of the invading alien forces are still around and attack the machines all the time, so there needs to be constant surveillance so that humanity can reach Titan and survive.

At least, that's what Jack's been told. It comes as no surprise, given the genre and broad stroke non-description of the talking head authority figure, Sally (Melissa Leo), that there's going to be a twist at some point which will "challenge everything he knows" and all that good stuff. In addition, the amount of obvious obfuscation going on regarding anything outside of Jack and his partner Victoria's (Andrea Riseborough) little bubble on top of their giant tower practically screams out that at some point we're going to find out left is right, up is down, good is bad and any other kind of tropes which would be fine had they not been done thousands of times before.

"What would you say, Mr. Cruise, if I told you that everything you knew was a lie?"
"I'd say I was a government official in a post-apocalyptic setting."

Shock of all shocks, that's exactly what happens. From a plot standpoint, this is one of the most cliched, uninspired, saw-it-coming-15-seconds-in films I've seen in quite some time. If you've seen any amount of science fiction films in your life, "Oblivion" will be like an odd mix-and-match of around a half dozen of them. There is absolutely nothing about it which warrants any kind of praise when it comes to originality.

That being said, there are movies that do cliched well, and movies that do cliched poorly. And you know what? "Oblivion" did it well. It did it damn well, in fact. The story is going to throw you for about as many loops as are in a bowl of Count Chocula, but it takes real skill to make a film that is very familiar like this not boring. And I must admit to finding "Oblivion" surprisingly entertaining considering how much I felt like a psychic while watching it.

This is an absolutely gorgeous film, which isn't surprising considering that it's directed by Joseph Kosinski, who made the world's most beautiful two-hour long Daft Punk music video with "Tron: Legacy." This time he's dealing with a more realistic looking setting, so in that respect I actually think "Oblivion" looks better than "Tron: Legacy." It's a better movie, too, but that's not that difficult of a feat to pull off. I especially liked the subtlety of the CGI, with the huge machines in the sky barely poking through the distant haze almost like an afterthought being one of the more effective and economic ways of keeping the viewer grounded in the setting I've seen in some time. I'm not going to say that alone makes "Oblivion" worth the sit, but that's one more factor in keeping you entertained and distracting you when they rip off "Moon" and the end of "Independence Day."

Did I mention it's pretty?

As far as acting goes, to be honest this isn't one of Tom Cruise's better efforts. He has moments when he's alright but generally speaking he's kind of bland and sleepwalks through it. The same goes for Olga Kurylenko playing his main love interest. This is more a fault of the writing, since they really don't have any chemistry together at all besides the fact that the script tells us they do. It's pretty bad. On the other hand Andrea Riseborough was actually pretty damn good and gives what is by far the most believable performance of the movie.

The biggest fault with the casting was not Cruise's blandness nor the fact that Morgen Freeman is in it for all of 15 minutes total, but that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Zoë Bell are given meaningless and do-nothing roles. And it's especially irritating to see the day saved by I'm-not-too-into-it Tom Cruise when The Bride's stunt-double and Jamie freaking Lannister are in the next room polishing their guns and just waiting to kick some ass.

"Sir. Seriously. Two swords. Give us two swords. We will end this in like an hour."

All that being said, "Oblivion" is fine. It's just fine. The end product is better than it looked in the trailer, but it's pretty safe and familiar sci-fi. It may be a product of many different parts from many other films, and it may not be bigger than the sum of those parts, but trust me when I say it could have gone down a lot worse. At least this is competent film making.

Check out the trailer!

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Oblivion" isn't going to win awards for originality, but it's a well made, familiar sci-fi movie that looks very pretty and does what it does well. If you're okay with Tom Cruise this is worth a watch. Just keep your expectations somewhat tempered and you'll be fine.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Riddick (2013)

One of my favorite movies ever is "Pitch Black." And I'm in the very small minority who didn't hate "The Chronicles of Riddick," despite it being a measurable step down. But then again, there are few places to go from greatness other than downwards. For the third installment, "Riddick," all I wanted was a fun, dumb, gory B-movie. I wanted it to get back to basics. I don't think that's too much to ask.

What did I get? Well, it certainly is a B-movie. It's certainly gory. It's got some elements of fun in it, for sure. It's stripped down and back to a very simple survival story. And it is most definitely, without question, really dumb.

But on the other hand, it does have a very sexy voice.

So why do I feel so empty afterwards? Why am I so disappointed in it? I'm not totally sure, but I think in the end my problem with "Riddick" is that the 'dumb' outweighed nearly everything else that was positive about it. This is a dumb movie with dumb, unlikable characters and a plot that's not exactly terrible but not exactly worth caring about. At least it's that way for the first two acts. When the third act comes along all of a sudden we get dumped into "Pitch Black" again out of nowhere, which would usually be a good thing, but here it's so jarring that it's really unwelcome. But more on that later.

"Riddick" is a direct sequel to "The Chronicles of Riddick," which I honestly found somewhat surprising, which finds our titular anti-hero (Vin Diesel) stranded on a backwater piece of nowhere which isn't the same planet from "Pitch Black" even though it looks just like it. What happened is both he and the Necromongers had had enough of each other pretty early in his tenure as ruler, so Karl Urban gets his little 40 second cameo and screws him over, foolishly thinking that a fall of a couple hundred feet and a cliff landing on him is enough to kill Richard B. Riddick.

Please. Riddick will do that and still choke a buzzard right afterwards. He doesn't even care.

After acclimating himself to the dangerous environment he's found himself in, we go through a montage of what must be a year or so as he survives on this rock. Coming across a mercenary station, he sends out a signal broadcasting his location, which sends a bunch of bounty hunters after him. While that would normally be a bad idea, he's intending to use these guys as a kind of taxi service to get him off the planet. And if they don't want to leave him a ship willingly, well he IS Riddick, so Plan B is simply for him to kill them all.

That's a big chunk of the movie, which consists of Riddick making complete chumps out of all the dumb mercenaries that are too stupid to understand that they are hopelessly outclassed or to attempt any kind of basic safety procedures like "Don't split the party." And while it was cool in "Pitch Black" to see him be a supreme bad-ass like that, by the time the third movie rolls around we know all this already. And frankly I have no idea why Riddick, who is capable of such absurd feats of invisibility and stealth so as to be under suspicion of being a wizard, doesn't just sneak on one of the ships, steal it, and leave. I guess then we wouldn't have the pleasure of dealing with the jackasses who make up the mercenaries/fresh meat.

Like this piece of septic run-off.

Jordi Mollà plays Santana, the weaselly leader of the first band of mercs, and he is without question one of the most insufferable characters I've seen in any film this year. He loses out to that carrot-eating piece of crap from "A Good Day to Die Hard," but it was a pretty close match. He comes across like Peter Stormare after being flushed down into a Tijuana sewer and coming back with a brain injury and even more indecipherable accent. He's one of those special characters that, while you're watching him, you're actively trying to understand why nobody is shooting him in the face. The character is that bad. And Mollà is so unwatchable that he makes professional wrestler Dave Bautista look like a pretty damn good actor in comparison. Allow your mind to process that.

Also in the merc group is Katee Sackoff, so that's a thing I guess. She's basically playing Fem-Starbuck again since that's a thing that she does since she's Katee Sackoff. She's fine, but it's really one of those 'neither here nor there' things. It doesn't matter that much, and it could have been anyone. And as far as tough blondes in this series goes, I assure you that she is no Radha Mitchell.

Oh, and the best part about her is how she's evidently a lesbian, and is forward enough about it to get in people's faces over it, but she ends up being Riddick's love interest at the end because he promised to RAPE HER at one point and then kills a bunch of people which evidently is a move that gets her all kinds of hot and bothered and ready for some heterosexual lovin'. Because that's how human beings work, right? And I'll bet you if we saw an interview with Katee she'd call her character "strong." Because all actresses playing horribly offensive characters say that in an effort to defend it.

I don't mean to go on a feminist rant, but what the actual hell?

At the end of the film, a whole bunch of monsters come out of freaking nowhere to kill off the rest of the chumps who Riddick hasn't gotten around to yet, and the movie becomes something between a remake of "Pitch Black" and any other movie that features a lot of aliens crawling out of walls and burly guys shooting shotguns into the darkness going "AAAARGH." It's not that it's particularly bad, in fact it's just average at worst, but the fact that it only takes up the last half hour or so makes it feel particularly rushed and frankly out of place.

I suppose there are some redeeming qualities. There are some stunning visuals if you can get past the comic book looking, CGI-heavy style. The gore is actually pretty effective and the right level of gratuitous (an especially nice change after the PG-13 of "The Chronicles of Riddick"). And there are plenty of moments that strike the pitch perfect note of enjoyable cheese, particularly with the dialogue. When lines like "Instead of Furya, we wound up someplace called 'not-Furya'" are being said with stone-faced seriousness by Vin Diesel in his earth-quaking baritone, it's hard to not find a bit of fun in it. And as silly as it sounds and admittedly is, Riddick gets a dog. Yup, that's a thing that happens.

"Well, I'd certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Richard, if not particularly good taste."

Those positive qualities being said, I can't really give much more than a slightly below average review for "Riddick." It's not that the fact that it's a B Movie is bad. But you can make a good B Movie (see "The Thing" or "Escape From L.A.") and you can make one that's not so good. "Riddick" just didn't have a good enough script or good enough characters to balance out the B factor. And it's especially noticeable when the first film in the series has already shown us how good a genre film starring this character can be.

Man, this trailer makes "Riddick" look so much better than it was...

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Riddick" has some entertainment value, but despite being the return to an R-rated creature feature (by the end), the story feels very insignificant, the characters are nearly all grating, and so much time is spent with them that by the time the monsters heralding the main event show up, it seems out of place and unwelcome. It's not technically a terrible movie, but it feels superfluous when you could just be watching "Pitch Black" instead.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The World's End (2013)

Being a huge fan of Edgar Wright's work, going so far as to call "Shawn of the Dead" one of my favorite comedies ever, it goes without saying that "The World's End" was up very high on my list of Most Anticipated films of 2013. Like I do with most movies that I'm really looking forward to, I purposefully kept myself somewhat in the dark about it, going so far as to not even watch the trailer for it. And for some reason it didn't play in front of any film I've seen this year. So I went into "The World's End" with basically a clean slate, only expecting quality based on past experience and the cast.

Thankfully what I ended up getting was, as expected, a very well made film that was exciting, stylish, mysterious, funny and surprisingly heartfelt all at once. And while this was only to be expected since that list of attributes could be slapped on the box of every movie Edgar Wright ever made, it still is worth repeating because it just goes to show how impressive of a filmmaker this guy is. I'll say this right now: There are few directors out there whose works are more consistently entertaining than Edgar Wright. When this guy makes a movie, it's to your benefit to pay attention.

"The World's End" follows the adventures of five friends from school who once had a legendary night of pub crawling in their younger days. Twenty years later the de facto leader of the group, Gary (Simon Pegg), who is now a high functioning alcoholic, attempts to get the group back together to relive that night, which in his mind was the greatest moment of his frankly pathetic life. The rest of the group aren't really into it, having moved on and realized that Gary is a titanic schmuck some time ago, but eventually they all cave in and agree.

Oh yeah. Who wouldn't follow this guy?

Past that point is gets a little weird. Once the pub crawl begins, it becomes clear the town and people in it are a bit different since they were last living there. At first they chalk up to them being older, but pretty soon it starts going an "Invasion of the Bodies Snatchers" route, and things get officially, as the English would put it, cocked up. This leads to an escalation of sci-fi craziness that would seem bizarrely out of place had it not been written in such an effective and exciting manner.

The cast is pitch-perfect and made up of some of the funniest people I can think of. Of course Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are two of my Funniest People In The World in No Particular Order, but Martin Freeman does his best revival of his turn as Watson in "Sherlock" to play the uppity one to hysterical effect as well. What's amazing about Simon Pegg though is how much of a pathetic scumbag he's playing in this, but still manages to be somewhat charming and loveable, and you actually want to see him succeed. I suppose that's just called "acting talent."

The script, penned by Pegg and Wright, is full of the usual rapid fire, too-smart-for-most-American-audiences cleverness that is predominant throughout the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy of this, "Shawn of The Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," but whereas those films hit the ground running at a thousand miles an hour, "The World's End" takes it's time and is a bit slower paced with both story and jokes. The laughs aren't as densely packed as the other films, which gives it a sense of maturity the others lacked but at tradeoff of not being as memorable or endlessly quotable. That's not to say it isn't funny, which it very much is, but it's not nearly as goofy as the rest of the trilogy.

"Reservoir Dogs" would have been far less tragic (and more drunk) if it had been these guys. About the same amount of profanity, though.

All of Edgar Wright's films have recurring themes, among the most common of them being growing up, whatever that means. And finding out what becoming "an adult" is all about and what it means to each individual person is at the forefront of the story of "The World's End." Ultimately it's about Gary making amends for his past transgressions (kind of) and coming to terms with himself and realizing what it takes for him to be happy while embracing his faults. And ultimately he saves the world by doing so (kind of). And thanks in no small part to some surprisingly powerhouse acting on the parts of both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it winds up being a rather moving story.

While it may not reach the levels of side-splitting hilarity as the rest of Edgar Wright's filmography, "The World's End" is a worthy final entry in the Wright/Pegg trilogy. It's always nice to know that no matter how many wretched, unfunny comedies are spewed out en masse from Hollywood, there's at least a few people left who still get it. You just have to go to England to find them.

Check out the trailer. I chose the one that DIDN'T give too much away.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The World's End" is a delightful romp of drunkenness that is charming in the way that only Edgar Wright and his cast of regulars can manage to be. Despite being more leisurely in pace than "Shawn of The Dead" or "Hot Fuzz," it's the most touching and visually impressive entry in the series. And while it's not as jammed to the brim with gags both overt and subtle as the others, it's still very, very funny. You gotta check this one out.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cloud Atlas (2012)

"Cloud Atlas" has to be one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Now, whether is amazing in a good way or amazing in an unholy train-wreck way I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's a helping of both. It's probably entirely dependent on whom you're talking to, because it's very clear that this is a film that possesses little room for middle ground. You're either going to be blown away by the hulking scale of it all, or there is going to be a remote control imbedded in the drywall after being hurled across the room in frustration.

Describing the story of "Cloud Atlas" is a rather ambitious exercise in futility, because the structure is very unconventional. Stretching across hundreds of years, the film follows several different stories, all containing different characters and settings, but keeping familiar themes throughout. The cast is also recycled in each story, as each actor plays about half a dozen roles, often under heavy makeup and routinely changing both ethnicity and gender. This coincidentally leads to the majority of the numerous WTF moments of "Cloud Atlas," which kind of make the whole thing worth it by themselves.

Not to mention how jaw-droppingly beautiful this movie is.

The reason for the actors playing multiple roles is because what the film is following is not specifically the characters of any one time, but their souls as they are reincarnated over and over again. Each soul gets their own timeline to shine, so to speak, but because of the pervasive presence of all the other souls in each story and the fact that the narrative jumps back and forth so rapidly, it doesn't ever feel like there's a singular main character. In a strange way it's almost as if the title character were time itself. And that's seriously the best I can do in describing the story. Anything deeper would involve a couple hundred pages and a whole lot of talking about themes and symbolism. And that's kind of boring.

Explosions however, are not.

What is interesting is that while each individual story would probably be considered cliched by itself, the way that it is presented in combination with all the other stories makes it unique enough to be interesting. And since we only spend about a minute at a time with each story until we switch again, there's not really enough time to get bored with the particular cliches that inhabit it.

Adding to the entertainment factor is the game of Where's Waldo that you constantly play while watching "Cloud Atlas," where you do your best to spot the actors under the pounds of makeup they wear. Not only is it fun to recognize Tom Hanks looking like Brad Dourif in "Deadwood" or Hugh Grant underneath the face paint of an Uruk-Hai looking cannibal, which is surreal in of itself, but you also get truly insane stuff like Hugo Weaving showing up looking like Ms. Doubtfire crossed with Nurse Ratchet. And Susan Sarandon looking like Sigmund Freud. And Halle Berry looking like Ming the Merciless. You can't help but laugh and marvel at the horrifyingly entertaining madness of it all.

When Hugh Grant showed up looking like Asian Penn Jillette, part of my life felt complete.

You know, it's entirely possible that this whole thing is simply a pretentious disaster which is so engorged on its own scope that it gives off the illusion of being important and cerebral when it's really just a slideshow of random scenes thrown in a blender and put together without context, and any kind of deeper meaning is completely dependent on either arbitrary visual callbacks, or what the viewer puts in themselves. That is certainly a possibility.

But you know what? It worked on me. I was thoroughly captivated throughout the entire thing, and with a towering run-time of nearly 3 hours, that's saying a lot. It's probably the most pretentious film I've ever really liked, but I thought it was well-made enough to warrant that bit of nose-in-the-air ridiculousness. At least it wasn't boring. There's a lot of things that "Cloud Atlas" can be accused of being, like confusing, overly long and full of itself, but boring is not one of them.

This is a rather accurate trailer for what the movie is like. If this looks interesting, you might dig it.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I must admit to being totally shocked by how much I liked "Cloud Atlas," because I was not expecting to at all. I'm guessing about half of most people won't. It's really long, it's really weird, it goes all over the place, and it's very easy to get lost inside the labyrinthine jumble of stories within. But damn it, it's well made and it's entertaining as crap. This is a movie everyone should see at least once. If you're going to hate it, you'll know really quick. Otherwise hang on and prepare yourself for some craziness. This would have landed in the lower half of my Top 10 of 2012 had I seen it last year.