Monday, February 25, 2013

Double Oh...11: Moonraker

Moonraker preamble: if you will recall (or even if you won't), at the end of the credits to The Spy Who Loved Me it read "James Bond will return in... For Your Eyes Only".  What wasn't foreseen at the time was the outrageous success of Star Wars, leading to a mad scramble to assemble something more sci-fi/space related to try and shamelessly exploit the burgeoning SF geek market.  It worked, on me at least.  Moonraker still stands out to me as my favourite Bond movie as a kid, almost entirely because of its exploitation of sci-fi.  Some Bond watchers loathe this film (*ahem* my wife) and generally rank it towards the back end of Bond features, and I wondered if my childhood fondness would hold up in adulthood (because, as I've been discovering over the past few years, it rarely does).

Villains: Oh, look who's back in the opening sequence... it's Jaws!  Hooray!  I honestly love the big lug, primarily because I know well his redemptive arc in this one.  He's a monster, a monolithic man mountain whose feats of strength and durability obviously triggered my youthful fascination with him.  In the opening sequence, Jaws and Bond wrestle in the sky in a fabulous skydiving sequence.  Jaws loses his parachute and crash lands in a circus big top ("SPOON!").  Later Jaws is hired by megalomaniac space pioneer Hugo Drax to keep Bond off his tail.
   Their repeat encounter takes place in a Rio back-alley during Carnival.  Jaws, in a very creepy (to a 10-year-old me, anyway) carnival costume, slowly stalks Bond's Brazilian station agent, Manuela, in the alley, before he reveals himself, picking her up, and getting ready to take a bite out of her jugular with those big silver chompers.  When Bond shows, they exchange a charming set of smiles in recognition before they get on with it.  Later Bond and Dr. Goodhead tussle with Jaws on top of a stranded cable car (after Jaws bit clean through one of the cables).  They're seriously outmatched.
    At the end of that sequence, Jaws has a meet-cute with a busty blonde in lederhosen and braided pigtails, and they literally fall in love at first site.  It's adorable and sweet and I can understand why people hate it but I just find it charmingly campy.  Finally, Jaws turns up again in the space station as Drax's right-hand thug, but Bond wisely convinces him that he won't be included in his little space eugenics project and he turns hero, protecting his adorable special lady.  They're the last survivors on the station, as it explodes, but the main capsule detaches and survives the landing to earth, we learn in a goofy bit of exposition at Mission Control.  Jaws is really a star player in this film, and while I understand that more appearances by him would be too much, I'm also kind of sad this is the last we see of him.
    Hugo Drax has a thug, Chang, a trained kendo fighter, who is his right-hand prior to Jaws, but Bond squares off with him in a glass objects shop (naturally destroying everything possible) before winding up in a beautifully lit and decorated stained glass clocktower set (that seems to me to be what Sam Mendes was riffing off of in the wonderful skyscraper sequence in Skyfall).  Naturally Chang is sent flying out through the stained glass into the throngs of evening diners below.
    Finally there's Drax himself, seemingly yet another Blofeld substitute.  He's hits all the right notes as a full-on destroy-the-world-and-rebuild-it madman, much like Stromburg in the last film.  Michael Lonsdale plays him as a no-nonsense, powerful man with little conscience and massive ambition.  He's not a cunning adversary for Bond, but rather sees Bond as little more than a pesky nuisance, and never feels like his plan is in any danger of being derailed.  He dies with a dart in the chest before being sucked into the vacuum of space.

Bond Girls: We start with Corrine Dufour (the lovely Corrine Clery), Drax's personal pilot.  Bond literally pumps her for information.  Once he gets it, she's pretty much expendable.  I swear Bond has a death-dick which leads to a 50/50 chance of you being dead after he beds you.  Corrine is good with the one-liners, but she winds up as dog meat for Drax's dobermans.  Sad, I liked her.
   Next is Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles).  She's a CIA agent who has infiltrated Drax's organization to expose his dirty deeds and bring it down from within.  She's exceptionally smart, so naturally Bond's charm takes a lot longer to work its way into her pant.  She first sees him as a patronizing smart-ass know-it-all, but has a grudging respect for him when he survives the centrifuge.  As well, she's a trained astronaut, and a lot better at a lot of things than James, except perhaps fighting, which she doesn't get to show off a lot.  Overall, she's a pretty great character.
   There's Manuela (Emily Bolton), Bond's Rio station agent.  He spends all of about 40 seconds getting to know her before he's sexed her up, and I was certain Jaws was going to kill her in that alley afterwards (Bond's death-dick strikes again).  Manuela doesn't have much fight in her, and after the Jaws incident we don't see her again.
    Finally, there's Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), Jaws' girlfriend.  She seems absolutely sweet and adorable and seems to have the biggest heart, falling for Jaws like she did.  I couldn't really tell though, was she supposed to have braces?

Title/Theme: Shirley Bassey's back to sing yet another batch of awkward and awful lyrics.  Bassey's a hell of a singer but she's never given anything good to work with.  It's orchestrated well by John Barry and sung well by Bassey, but it's dull, dull, dull.  And then there's a disco version over the end credits... ouch.
     The visual sequence is supposed to represent flying, and I was wondering if it was in response to Superman, but it's terribly cheesy (and even more obviously trampoline-ing than in the previous film's title sequence).

Bond: Moore's over 50 at this point, still very handsome, but starting to encroach upon his age.  He still has the vigor of youth though, and seems more up to physically fighting in this one than in any of his preceding pictures.  Bond is back to being more interested in sex than super-spying, but thankfully Dr. Goodhead is actually more invested in the case than he, so she keeps him on the right path.  Bond actually achieves a successful infiltration into one of Drax's laboratories, however his sneaking around makes a bit of a neurotoxic mess.  Oh and he also delivers this wonderful bit of sexism to the CIA Doctor Lady:
"But then again I keep forgetting that you're more than just a beautiful Woman"

Movie: The initials sequence, in which a pair of Drax's men steal a space shuttle off the back of its airplane ferry mid-flight was conceptually sound, but executed poorly visually.  It bode ill for the rest of the film, but I was pleased to find that it actually recovered quite well from there.  Through to the final act, this is very much your garden variety Bond movie, with women and mystery and henchment and not one, but two boat chases, one in Venice, the other down the Amazon (oh yeah, Jaws falls over a very nasty waterfall and survives that too).  After the waterfall sequence (in which Bond escapes certain death with an emergency paraglider, crashing down near a Mayan(?) temple which Drax has stocked with beautiful people and a massive network of space shuttle launch bays (and a snake grotto).  As far as evil hideouts go, it's not the best, but also not too shabby.
    Of course, this all makes way for their launch into space, at which point Bond and Dr. Goodhead have stolen away in one of the many shuttles routing towards Drax's cloaked space station.  There, with all the pretty people gathered, Drax unloads his masterplan of wiping the earth clean of humanity and restocking it with only the best looking people (I don't recall if he considered their intelligence as well, but they all seem capable of working in a space station so I guess that's good).  Bond disables the cloaking device and the US government rapidly deploys a shuttle full of space-lazer troops to combat Drax's space-lazer troops.  It's frightfully silly, but it's so reminiscent of the great underwater battle in Thunderball that I still manage to appreciate it.
    The effects and models throughout the space sequences are quite good (which can't always be said throughout the film).  The fuck city in space (because, really, that's what it is) is a creaky looking thing but so apt for its time.  Lewis Gilbert's third directorial effort is perhaps the best of the series so far, capturing some wonderful vistas and applying most of the effects well, increasing in skill with each outing.

Q-gadgetswrist dart gun, cigarette case /safe Cracker, 007 embossed mini cam, explosive bolas, lazer guns, a tricked out speedboat (Mines, torpedoes, emergency paraglider) to cruise the Amazon and C4 hidden in a watch.  It all, naturally, comes in very handy.

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.7

3 Short Paragraphs: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

2013, Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) -- cinema

It is with unreserved glee that I state out loud that I really liked this movie!  Sure, you might want to lump it into the same sub-genre as Van Helsing but I am one of the nine people who really enjoyed that movie too.  Sure its silly and over the top.  Sure its so antagonistically anachronistic I have to internally explain the presence of modern guns in an 18th (??) century setting by saying it all happens in a post-apocalypse age where society has collapsed to a semi-medieval state but technology has survived.  Pshaw I say to all the haters; just relax and enjoy leather bound monster hunters with cool weapons fight a plethora of creatively nasty witches.

So, plot, as if the one sentence above doesn't cover it all, is that Hansel & Gretel are led into the forest by their hunter father and left in the dark.  They follow their noses to a cabin made of candy and are capture by an evil witch.  But rather than lying down and being baked (that's the other movie) they kick ass and cook the witch.  Thus are born the legend making witch hunters.  But by now, shouldn't they be Hans and Greta? Anywayz, the movie begins with our heroes in a town where the witches are doing more than eating the odd child here and there. Some sort of prophecy is in action!

While Werewolf: TBAU claimed to be a failed followup to The Wolfman, it turns out to be this movie's mockbuster with the same plot structure -- the usual monster is not so usual, the town's established law & order do not trust the hired guns and the main characters have their history revealed.  But unlike TBAU it doesn't elicit cringes.  I am not sure if this is Tommy Wirkola's you-did-a-popular-foreign-film-here's-an-hollywood-script intro but he did a good job of blending traditional horror with humor in Dead Snow and he does a good job here as the guffaws blend in well with the, well, on-par action bits.  And it was nice to see Arterton lead the genre action for once, instead of just being the girly support for the hero. It was nice to note the female hero cried out in shock and pain as much as Renner did.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Double Oh...10: The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me preamble:  We're starting into "foggy memory territory" with the Bond films now, as I think I've seen this one before, and all of the Moore films to follow, but I remember very little about the specifics.  Except this is where Jaws debuts, and Mrs. Ringo Starr has a starring role (pun intended!).

Villains: It's quite evident to me the moment that Karl Stromburg's crab-like aquatic base of operations emerges from the depths that I actually haven't seen this film before.  That emerging- from-the =-sea sequence is utterly impressive, model or not (it's a model).  The fact that the Stromburg base, Atlantis, became the inspiration for the Legion of Doom's evil lair in Super Friends (and beyond) only serves to make it more impressive. Stromburg (Curd Jurgens) is an obvious supplement for Blofeld here (as Blofeld was entangled in the Thunderball lawsuit and off limits), but he has his own distinguishing affectations and characteristics, namely a strange longing for humanity to return in the sea, as well as webbed hands.  To this end he's kidnapping atomic submarines (first British, then Russian, then American), to steal their warheads and set of the nuclear holocaust, after which the only option will be for the surviving countries to invest in his plans for an undersea kingdom (really shouldn't he have that ready before he nukes the place).
    Stromburg has a pair of henchmen, the burly wrestler-type Sandor (who gets dropped off a roof within minutes of meeting Bond for the first time) and perhaps the most infamous henchman in the series, Jaws.  Actor Richard Kiel stands an impressive 7 feet, 2 inches, and seems even bigger here.  With a mouth full of metal (one can't even call them teeth), inhuman strength (he picks a van up off its rear wheels), and seeming nigh-invulnerability (he gets crushed between the truck and the wall at one point, barely phased) he's the most challenging henchman Bond has faced.  The fact as well is Jaws (at least here) isn't stupid, and he's a lot faster than he looks, which are the two usual failings of burly henchmen.  Jaws is last seen swimming away from the wreckage of the Atlantis at the end of the film (though we know we'll be seeing him again soon).

Bond GirlsStromburg has an alluring woman-at-arms, Naomi (Caroline Munro), whom, I suppose, shares his evil lair with him, as she certainly knows her way around the place.  She gives Bond the googly eyes, and Bond can barely keep his tongue in his mouth when she shows up in a itty bitty bikini, but he has no qualms with blowing her up in a helicopter (which she was piloting I might add. Good pilot, terrible shot) when the time comes (and he doesn't even sleep with her first).
  Besides Naomi, there's Agent Triple X, Major Anya Anasova (Barbara Bach), Bond's equal over in the Russian secret service.  We're introduced to her in one of the greatest fake outs ever.  The opening sequence has the Russians needing to call in their top agent, and cutting to the bedside phone ringing as a couple are... mid-romance.  He's a terribly handsome, chiseled  hairy and barrel-chested fellow so reminiscent of Connery.  He answers the phone, and then passes it to the attractive, saucer-eyed woman he was bedding.  "Agent Triple X", she answers.  Bach is a bit dead eyed in the role, frequently lacking in emphasis in her delivery.  The character, however, is exceptionally capable but not entireIy given the latitude to show it off (certainly not like Michelle Yeoh or even Halle Berry or Olga Kurylenko in later films).  Her relatively equal status beside Bond certainly puts her in the upper echelon of Bond Girls.

Title/Theme:  Carly Simon sings the hell out of "Nobody Does It Better", and I think I'm close to declaring it the best song from a Bond movie.  Perhaps not the best theme, but I love that song.  There's a bit of a disco influence in the Bond theme in this picture, but I kind of like it.  It perks it up nicely and doesn't outright crass like the Disco Star Wars theme.
     The title sequence is the best of the series so far, with Bond actively injected into the silhouette proceedings.  There's a lot of gymnastics involved, including the high-bar acrobatics on the barrel of a Luger, and a lot of nude women in Russian military imagery.  It's a very well orchestrated piece, but I'm all too aware of the sexism of the naked-women, besuited Bond pairings (but then again, men find naked women sexy, women generally find men in a suit sexier than naked men).

Bond: Bond in this film is incredibly restrained from his more primal tendencies (for both killing and for sex).  The fact that he has an woman who is as much his equal (if not more intelligent and shrewder than he, though perhaps not as skilled a fighter) goes a long way to tame those baser elements.  He's still a bit of a sexist pig, but here it seems more a pointed character trait, rather than the sexism of the writers as in previous films.  I like that they kept Tracy's death as part of his background, and Moore's reaction when it's mentioned is perfect.  Bond shows more physical prowess in this one, certainly less afraid to fight physically than in other films, but he's still very reliant on accessories.  Oh, and we're back to Bond being the worst infiltrator once again, as every attempt at infiltration is a complete wash.

Movie:   Oddly, this film cannibalizes great sequences from previous Bond features:  a ski sequence that doesn't quite measure up to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, an underwater sequence that doesn't quite match up to Thunderball, and a massive good guys vs bad guys sequence in the belly of a super-cargo ship that rivals if not exceeds the assault on Blofeld's volcano lair in You Only Live Twice.  Despite plundering its own resources The Spy Who Loved Me is judged better as the sum of its parts.
    The editing can be clunky from time to time... a particularly stilted kissing sequence and an awkward drop from Jaws being most notably.  I disliked that Triple X was kidnapped and kept by Stromberg, and that Bond had to rescue her.  She really shouldn't need to be rescued.  Also I liked that the film put an actual human side to one of the toadies Bond killed: from the opening sequence, one of the Russian agents Bond killed was Triple X's lover.

Q-gadgets: The Lotus Esprit converts into a submarine and is loaded to the gills with doodads (of which Triple X knows all about since she stole the designs two years ago).

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.9 (I loved this one)

Monday, February 18, 2013

(Crossover part 1) Stake Land / Sweet Tooth vol 1

Stake Land (2010, Jim Mickle) - Netflix
Sweet Tooth volume 1, DC Comics/Vertigo

From alien annihilation to crippling pandemics to robot uprisings, zombie plagues, and nuclear holocausts, so often in post-apocalyptic fiction (as opposed to non-fiction?) we're left unaware of the specifics of how the near-obliteration of came about.  We're often given small clues through the progression of the story, yet the characters we're following are rarely privy to the true source of their condition, and the cause of the apocalypse is rarely relevant to their survival.

A lot of post-apocalyptic fiction is derived from the elements of the western genre.  The idea of the wasteland is akin to the wild west replete with roving gangs of marauders, rapists and opportunists, run-down towns, bounty hunters and/or the lone wanderer, lawlessness and a general lack of technology amongst other tropes.

Stake Land and Sweet Tooth are not of the same sub-genre of post-apocalyptic storytelling (nor of the same medium), yet they utilize many of the same tropes, starting with the lone wanderer rescuing a boy and taking him under his wing as they navigate the treacherous terrain that remains, a specific end destination, a supposed safe-haven, in mind (its a genre staple, this same starting point was also used in Winterworld, an comic mini-series from the '80's I recently recapped).

Toasty wrote about Stake Land here a year and a half ago, and has brought it up occasionally in conversation since (including making a point to let me know it was recently made available on Netflix).  My initial impression, before actually watching it, was that it was a low-budget, vampire riff on Zombieland, but beyond the title and the lone-wanderer and his protege, it's a vastly different film owing more to dire hopelessness of Cormac McCarthy's The Road than the Jesse Eisenberg-starring pop-art semi-comedy.  It's actually a very well made, well acted, and well conceived film which takes its characters journey very seriously and, besides a single mis-step towards the end, presents a bleak vampire-infested future that doesn't just recycle but actually adds something to the genre.

Teenaged Martin witnesses his family being slaughtered and eaten by vampires, and is only spared himself by the intervention of Mister, a grizzled veteran hunter of the vamps.  Mister takes Martin under his protection as they travel through middle-America towards Canada ("New Eden") where it's too cold for the vampires to live.  Along the way they pick up a couple of strays, and come into contention with a burgeoning religious sect (founded by racists and rapists) called The Brotherhood.  They believe that the vampires are a tool of God to cleanse the land, and men such as Mister work in defiance of God's will.  They also proliferate the vampire infection by "bombing" communities with bloodsuckers.

Though The Brotherhood is a dominant presence in the terrain that Mister and Martin (and strays) travail, they seem to be in the clear once they cross the border, until their car breaks down and they must survive the wilderness, where food and other resources are sparse as they'd been warned.  They'd also been warned of cannibals, and as their numbers diminish, they're unsure of what they're facing.  Unfortunately, the script takes an unnecessary turn in trying to loop back the Brotherhood into the story, and it's a somewhat goofy escalation, five minutes of facing down "the big bad", attempting some form of resolution to a story where no resolution can possibly be had.  It's not enough to destroy the film, as it quickly recovers with a solid epilogue.

Most post-apocalyptic stories will take one of two paths, hope or hopelessness, but in both cases survival is always the core focus.  Stake Land clearly follows the hopeless path, since the characters affect very little change in their surrounding, and their continued survival at the end of the film remains in question.  Like the Western, the landscape is what it is, until there's institutionalized change, one man (and a boy) can't make a tremendous difference.  All they can do is survive.

Unlike Stake Land, Sweet Tooth does have a bigger picture to the story than just a man and his ward finding their way to a safe haven, although that is the focus of the first volume of this series (which concluded with issue 40 last month), equally taking inspiration from The Road.  

Review continues over at Second Printing...

Friday, February 15, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: End of Watch

2012, David Ayer (Street Kings) -- download

If anyone is going to pen the story of Chris Dorner, the recently killed cop-killing ex-cop, it will be David Ayer.   He is known for his cop dramas such as Training Day (writer) and Street Kings (director) normally set in South Central LA and in more than one instance, about that infamously corrupt police force.  In light of the media depiction of Dorner, as a murderous paranoid, would he be able to set a story of one cop's unsuccessful war against perceived corruption and injustice?  Hollywood has never been about the realism of "as based on" but it would be interesting to see what direction they would take.

Ayer takes this story from a found footage flick, where we have Gyllenhaal's Brian Taylor shooting with a handicam for a class project, into a multi-format movie seen through various hand held cameras as well as the traditional film camera.  This is not about the gimmick of video cameras but a choice of style, carrying some realism through real world perspectives.  And it works.  It really does, making it more personal than anything.  We are thrust into the lives of the cops and criminals, via dash cams and wedding videos, class projects and amateurs just fucking around with a camera.

Are all south central cops assholes?  Are they assholes who we grudgingly acknowledge as necessary with their bravado and in-your-face attitude?  Does it take this attitude to survive those dangerous neighbourhoods and actually make a difference?  This is what we are given when we meet Taylor and Zavala, products of their job and their world. And we also get heroes, not seasoned and corrupt veterans, but grunts driving their beat every day and seriously seeking to make it safer. We also get the tragic consequences of what happens when an unprepared police force runs into the unrepentant brutality of these new Mexican cartels.  You know those ones known for killing politicians, journalists and even bloggers who dare to write about them? Ayer does what few others do when telling stories about South Central LA, he leaves us caring about the cops we watch through the lense.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Double Oh...9: The Man With The Golden Gun

The Man With The Golden Gun preamble: This is the infamous film that features a superfluous third nipple, a defining character trait of Christopher Lee assassin-for-hire Scaramanga.  As well it features famous Little Person actor Herve Villechaize as Scaramanga's right-hand man.  These are the two most notable things about this film, and since I couldn't recall either,  I was fairly certain I had not seen this one before.  From the numerous "Best of Bond" lists I read, this was not among the favourites of the Moore era, but then, most of those lists ranked all of Connery's movies quite high and I didn't respond to those all that well.

Villains:  Christopher Lee as Scaramanga is a mysterious ex-super spy, now gun-for hire.  Nobody knows what he looks like though his aforementioned third nipple is widely known, as is being the titular "man with the golden gun"... (Double Affectation!).  We're introduced to him emerging from the water (no trace of a Honey Ryder homage, unlike Die Another Day or Casino Royale), and after a long pan up, and a pause on his triple teets, he's toweled down dutifuly by his woman, Miss Anders (Maud Adams).   Scaramanga grew up in a carnival and keeps an odd funhouse in his home... more of a trap for unsuspecting assassins (because that has to happen so often).  His Golden Gun can be disassembled to resemble smoking attaches, and it only holds one bullet... but for a killer of his caliber, one bullet is all he needs.  He stacks up well against Bond, much like Javier Bardem in Skyfall... men of similar capabilities, intelligence and background. 
   Herve Villechaize plays Nick Nack, because he's small and the Bond writers are real assholes.  Nick Nack is Scaramanga's accomplice as well as a master chef.  It's hard to truly suss out their relationship, but he seems a lot more than hired help.  Nick Nack is actually written as quite a capable character, so it's frequently at odds with the film's more insulting attitude towards Little People.  As a threat, Nick Nack doesn't really stand up (no pun intended, seriously) to Oddjob, Jaws or Tee Hee, but he's equally as memorable an henchmen as there ever was.
   Hai Fat is a wealthy Thai businessman who has paid Scaramanga to kill a scientist and steal his newly developed solar energy technology.  He's not really a major part of the film, or a major villain, more a necessary plot device.

Bond Girls:  Andrea Anders is a chilly mistress, and her role in the plot of the film is crucial, as she's the instigator for Bond and Scaramanga's tete-a-tete.  She's in such utter disgust with her life as Scramanga's woman that she essentially dupes Bond into being his assassin.  Of course, she meets a cruel end for her betrayal at a Thai boxing match, which is one of the more memorable deaths in a Bond movie.
   Anders proves a bit of a foil for Goodnight, Bond's contact and station agent in Hong Kong.  Goodnight has been carrying a bit of a torch for James, perhaps not as long as Moneypenny, but certainly more desperately.  Goodnight isn't an outright ditz, but she's also meant somewhat as comic relief.  Her character isn't really given many strong moments, but Britt Ekland plays her with such buoyant life that she's utterly likeable and she sells the comedy very well, from being stashed in the closet while Bond sexes up Miss Anders, to being stashed in Scaramanga's car boot.  It's a lot of cramped-space comedy I guess.
   There's a handful of minor Bond girls as well, with Cha and Nara, the giggling nieces to Bond's Thai associate, Hip.  Cha and Nara turn out to be quite useful, being daughters of a karate master, as they help Bond square off against a school of martial artists.  Early in the film Bond meets a belly dancer, a former flame of the recently killed-by-Scaramanga 002, from whom he tries to retrieve the golden bullet which she now uses as a lucky charm in her navel.  She's a saucy woman, good to go, as they say, and Bond seems to be thinking only business.  Finally there's Chew Mee, notable only as the naked swimmer in Hai Fat's pool and for her ridiculously suggestive name. 

Theme/Credits:  The title sequence is terribly dull, with lingering shots on nude women (or silhouettes thereof) beneath a rippling water effect (why the water effect?) and frequent screen penetration from the barrel of the titular golden gun.
The title theme, as sung by Lulu, is awful.  Just terribly written lyrics and sung with far too much gusto.  I hate it so... and yet, I kind of like it by the end.  The underlying composition is actually really really good, which carries it a long way from being a total disaster.

Bond: Roger Moore seemed settled into the role within minutes of his first outing.  Here he seems completely content, and has the charm meter set to 11.  He's an effortless Bond, not cocky or brash.  He's not as dangerous as Connery was, but he seems a bit more capable.  Here his libido seems oddly in check.  Whereas in Live and Let Die it seemed Bond was driven quite solely by his trousers, this film it seems like every woman has to coax him out of his pants, and if they do, he plays it as if it were a service he performs for his country, somewhat tongue in cheek, but with equal earnestness.  Goodnight seems to have the good manner to resist his casual overtures, holding out for something more from him, but she ultimately cant resist him.  But then he honestly doesn't have the time of day for her. James seems a lot more focused on the job, slapping Anders around for intel not even trying to seduce her.   I truly like Bond and Goodnight's dynamic though, there's a great awkward chemistry occurring between them that really takes its time in aligning.

Movie:   Scaramanga is on the hunt for Bond so Bond is pulled off assignment from tracking down the film's maguffin, the Solex agitator.  Forced into a holiday, Bond redirects his efforts to finding Scaramanga first.  Along the way, Bond meets Lazar, the weaponsmith who makes custom guns and bullets, including a triggerless gun for a 3 fingered man, and, of course, Scaramanga's unique ammunition.   I don't think Lazar became a recurring character, but he should have.  His gadgets were far more interesting than most of Q's.   This film features a truly great set in the half-sunken ship RMS Queen Elizabeth, which doubles as a secret MI6 base of the coast of then British occupied Hong Kong.
  Though the film starts off as a seeming cat-and-mouse game of death between Bond and Scaramanga, it actually weaves back nicely into Bond's dropped case on solar energy (apparently there was an energy crisis early in the 1970's which this film was reacting to.
   Oddly, this film features yet another boat chase sequence (as"Live and Let Die" did, but not nearly as high-octane), and also, for some unfathomable reason, also features another J.W. Pepper cameo.  Because there's never enough time for racist comic relief, although this film portrays Pepper as a truly ugly America abroad.  Yes, Moore's Bond seems to have a greater focus on comic relief, but far too much screen time is spent on J.W. Pepper and the Dukes of Hazzard-style antics that result when he's on screen (there's one particularly pained moment where Bond's car does a spinning jump over the river, and they use a slide whistle to punctuate the moment.. A FUCKING SLIDE WHISTLE).  I'm just surprised they didn't spin J.W. off into his own film.
   Scaramanga has a great trick with an airborne rocket car which takes him to a private island off the coast of China.   There the island is powered by the solar generator Hai Fat had installed, which also, naturally has a weaponized component.  Scaramanga plans to Show the science to Countries that can afford it, then sell to the highest bidders, so they can monopolize the market.   Bond naturally duels with Scaramanga in his fun house and comes out the victor.  The film ends with a big explosion... or should have ended anyway.  Bond winds up on the water with Goodnight, only Nick Nack has stowed away and he decides to fight James in a very indignant fight sequence.
   Honestly, despite a few over-the-top gags, I quite liked this one.

Q-gadgets: none, really, but Q actually proves to be somewhat useful as a scientist in this one.

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.6

Sunday, February 10, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Mama

2013, Andrés Muschietti -- cinema

There are some movies that I have to see at the giant cineplex, on the big screen with the great sound and crisp glory.  There are steps up I can aspire to, AVX or IMAX, but they just give me headaches.  And then on the other end of the spectrum we have our re-run theatres that have screens not much larger than my coworker's TV.  Those are not for me either.  So if I decide it can live without the big screen, I go see a flick at the nieghbourhood cinema, smaller screens and not always the clearest but satisfactory.  But then sometimes a movie comes along that I honestly cannot tell if it is the sub-standard quality of the projector or screen or is it really that the movie intended on being shown as if through an Instagram filter[1].  Mama was one such film, but to be honest it sort of lent itself to the character of the movie - small, gritty, unadorned and visceral.  The ever present greens and brown fit the tone of the movie.

This movie is based on a short [2] that Guillermo del Toro loved.  He, in his current status of clout and influence (which confuses me considering how he speaks about his derision of Hollywood), helped the director turn the 3 minute vignette into a full-fledged movie.  Its a creepy movie about creepy kids being stalked by a creepy (who was probably a creepy woman in life) ghost.  This is one of those movies where it will scare you if you borrow from the emotional state of the characters.  But it also takes on the tactic of revealing the ghost very early on, more interested in telling the story of how the characters will deal with the ghost than the build-up to the reveal.  Oh, the japanese / korean style scares made me pee my pants a little but my true enjoyment came in how the characters dealt with what they learned.  There was very little cliche blind panic followed by ignoble death.

Jessica Chastain also stood out for me, which isn't hard, considering she is the adult with the most amount of screen time.  She is a rocker chick, a tattooed punker [3] with no interest in kids or family, thrust into responsibility by circumstances.  She adapts to the role and embraces it even as she embraces the creepy cabin kids.  Chastain is a bit of an enigma to me.  Based on how the Hollywood machine has portrayed her, I assumed she had been around for ages in smaller movies only now coming to light.  But no, not really just a few flicks that actually are from the same time the machine focused on her. But she is wonderful here, not at all the statuesque redhead of the runway. And for the life of me, I cannot remember who I think she looks like, which gives a nod to the power of the machine.

[1] There is going to come a time when everyone, and not just people actually using Instagram, forgets an Instagram filter is a computer approximation of a real world camera effect, like a Diana camera using cross-processed Ectachrome film.

[2] Embedded for your  viewing pleasure.... that sounds dirtier than it is.

[3] Does she have Derek Powazek's kraken tattoo ?!?!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Skyfall

2012, Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) -- cinema

This is the one where we take the reboot back to the Broccolis.  This is the one where Bond comes home.  This is the one where they resurrect Bond for , IMO, another take on the films.  The reboot is done and whether they continue with Daniel Craig or not, the franchise has changed (again) by the end of this movie.  That is rather bitter sweet for me as I am quite fond of Craig's Bond, of the "gritty reboot".  I was let down by Brosnan, I was let down as I considered the last few movies as the Batman & Robin of the franchise, all glitz and product shots, little character. Craig's Bond is the tough guy who wears his tux like armor, comfortable in the 007 role but rather new to the money and locations. While I am curious whether a cliche, younger actor would be chosen, I would prefer Craig stay.

If only two movies ago, we have the new 007 chasing the money and finding a shadowy organization that the world intelligence agencies are barely aware of, I was somewhat surprised to see a presentation of the resurrected Bond as getting old and out of touch.  If the first two were tightly woven, one story leading into the other, we can only assume there have been a number of unseen years between two and three.  Bond has become the seasoned veteran, the jaded hitman who is only too happy to fade into alcohol and brown in the sun, after his death. But it is his bond (forgive that) with the also aging M (who, since The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I finally see as getting old) that returns him to London, to MI6 and eventually... home, where he struggles against obsolescence.

But redemption is in tow.  Skyfall is a story about washing out the old establishment and embracing the new.  As viewers, we are still accepting Craig as the new but Dench was around pre-Craig and MI6 itself has left the Cold War behind and is seeking new enemies, new villains.  We saw the greatest threat to Intelligence rise in the real world, as a "hacker" who revealed our governments' secrets through Wikileaks.  And the "OMG look what he can do with a computer" fear is dragged along into this movie as a click that can blow stuff up a continent away and nobody, nothing staying hidden ever again.  But circumstances prove they need the old methods, the veteran agent, to defeat the "new" enemy.  In the end we see MI6 embrace its heritage as Bond visits the new offices which mirror the first office a Bond (Sean Connery in Dr. No) ever walked into.  Old is new and whether new is old, is yet to be determined.

Bonus Paragraph: I take exception in introducing a character named Moneypenny.  Moneypenny the role was already filled by Vesper in the first movie, as revealed by the short dialogue:

Vesper Lynd: [introducing herself to Bond] I'm the money.
James Bond: Every penny of it.

Kent's view.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Beyond the Black Rainbow

2010, Panos Cosmatos

'80's fetishists take note, here's the ultimate in retro-styled boutique filmmaking, a film so in tune with a very specific type of genre storytelling it actually feels authentic.  Director Panos Cosmatos has said of his film that he wanted to recreate what horror films were like in his mind as a child after only seeing the box covers at the video store.  I know exactly what he's talking about.  I remember seeing the cover to the laserdisc of Iceman and still have a vivid impression of what that film was based on that one glimpse of a picture, and yet I've never seen it or even read up on it since.  The mind of the young will roam wildly to places adults would never think to go outside of a fever dream or hallucinogenic trip.

Beyond the Black Rainbow begins in 1983 with a videocassette, a square-boxed introduction to a fictional research institute that completely nails the ethereal sensibilities of the time, droning synthetics, pixelated sterile video effects, random images of nature, metered and low-speaking talking heads.  The intent on the part of the in-context maker is to seem progressive (nonsense terminology emblazened across the screen in primitive digital scrawl), but the filmmaker's goal is obvious.  That stuff is creepy as hell.  Though 8mm and vintage reel-to-reel handheld filmmaking has long been adopted by the modern mainstream as providing a sense of familiar warmth, the VHS or Beta age has now become a staple of science fiction and horror, because of tracking issues and fidelity loss associated with magnetic tape.  The glitches and the textural aspects to tape, both in visual and audio aesthetic seem to be the perfect starting point for establishing "creepy" or "ominous" and have been used to expert effect by shows such as Fringe and Lost.

Beyond the tape, Cosmatos presents a sterile, 80's "futuristic" environment, a concrete and plexiglass facility that's sparsely decorated, highlighted with only flat colors painted with hi-gloss finishes.  It's seemingly inhabited by only a handful beings:  A teenaged "patient", Elena;  her doctor, Barry Nyle; the nurse, Margot; the institute's barely lucid, aged founder Dr. Mercurio Aboria, and the curious non-human entities, the Sentionauts (their exact purpose I'm not entirely clear).  The film labors over Dr. Nyle's meetings with Elena.  He's after something from her, but what it is we're not too sure.  Margot, meanwhile has stumbled across a note book that looks like a disturbed and deviant field guide of sorts.  Dr. Aboria is either senile or purposefully kept in a state of dementia by Dr. Nile, while at home, Dr. Nile and his wife are utterly disconnected.

It's apparent that Elena has some sort of psychic ability, but it is kept tempered by a geometric crystal kept deep in the facility.  Dr. Nile will adjust the "volume" on the crystal to control Elena, but her powers seem to be evolving beyond the crystal's complete control.  Of course, all of this makes it sound like it's a delicious set-up to some sort of Carrie-like freak-out or Hanna-like action set-piece, but it's not.  Cosmatos' film moves at an extremely deliberate pace from the onset, reliant as much on the sound design and the atmospheric, plodding synth score from Black Mountain's Jeremy Schmidt as it does any sense of story or character.

I was constantly peeling off influences on this film as I watched it.  Early Michael Mann like Thief and Manhunter (as resonant as they were in Nicolas Winding-Refn's Drive), and Cronenberg's Videodrome, moreover his 70's Montreal horror (this is a Vancouver-based one), somehow innately Canadian yet transcending any stereotypes.  Mann's The Keep's smoky, monochromatic aesthetic and its Tangerine Dream score stick out the most, but perhaps that's because The Keep feels like a smoky, monochromatic dream I had back in the late 90's the one and only time I saw it.  Additionally the film recalls the soundtracks of John Carpenter, the grotty feel to his 70's and 80's work, as well as the cold cleanliness of Kubrick's genre work, like 2001, The Shining and the dementia of A Clockwork Orange or Roger Avery's Killing Zoe (or the far less known Frankenstein riff, Mr. Stitch).  I couldn't help but feel the same unerring sense of equally heightened intensity and detachment as Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void, which in many ways feels like a sister film.  They're both mood-based head trips that require you to succumb or freak out.

Cosmatos' film is so purposeful, fulfilling so closely his intent.  It's a challenge to view for sure, since it's not a logical film.  There's no story or clearly defined reason for it, and it's overlong by at least 15 minutes (a paring back of long establishing shots could accomplish this without sacrificing much or any of the story, though it may hasten the mood), so it's definitely not going to appeal to everyone, or most.  But I was awed by Cosmatos' conviction to style and his attention to the filmmaking details.  Whenever I felt my attention waning, something visually would draw me back.  It's an incredibly strong debut picture, with a very clear vision and sense of self. 

"I think sometimes a film can’t even be seen for what it really is during the era that it’s made. So, a lot of these films have become an interesting works of art just by aging."
[Panos Cosmatos quote link]

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bad Movie: Werewolf: The Beast Among Us

2012, Louis Morneau -- download

Aaargh, I don't know why I like them, I just do.  You know, those bad straight-to-DVD (for as long as the term has a lifespan) genre movies produced purely for the world multi-market distribution system. Someone, somewhere is willing to pump money into a movie (but only so much money) knowing they will make it back via the various avenues where people don't always full consider what they are getting themselves into, such as the inflight movie or hotel chain pay-for-view.  And of course, there is the genre cable station who doesn't like to spend much on movies.  Much to the chagrin of movie snobs everywhere the flick have been made for as long as there was a "straight to ..." market and will continue.

My usual fare is the Disaster or Science Gone Wrong flick. Throw a meteor at the earth, crack the core in two or develop a weather tracking system that actually freezes New York under a glacier and I am tempted.  Considering the blockbuster versions of these movies are usually not very well made, how much worse can the mockbuster (sub-genre of what I am talking about) be ?  Much much worse is the answer. I am less tolerant of other genres, such as slasher horror or even swords & sorcery (look! a movie starring LARPers!) but every so often something about the plot (?!?) attracts me.

This one?  It was the idea of a motley crue of werewolf hunters that brought me in.  The grizzled leader in the duster & wide-brimmed hat, the steampunk woman with a flame thrower, the guy pretending to be Dracula and that guy and that other guy !  Ensemble casts are the in-thing now.  They are the skilled hunters of the supernatural but unfortunately, we never actually see their skill as they fail to capture or kill the beast.  Seriously, we don't even get a preamble where we are presented with their accomplishments.  Unless you count the drunken tale of how his horse ended up with only two legs.

Apparently, this movie was originally slotted to be a follow-up to the Benicio del Toro The Wolfman, where Universal was rebooting its classic monster stable.  This really cannot be seen as a followup or even mockbuster of anything, unless you count Van Helsing, because the heros both wear floppy hats and leather dusters.  It's just a boring, low budget vehicle for a European (shot in Bavaria!) practical effects school (how gross can you make the corpses?) with bad acting, swiss cheese script and terrible pacing.  And that's all I can recall even though it was only a week ago.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call - New Orleans

2009, Werner Herzog -- netflix

What a delightfully godawful, wonderfully crappy, exquisitely ramshackle-crafted piece of trash art Werner Herzog has so austerely fashioned.  I have to wonder what it was exactly that provoked Herzog, now mainly a documentarian, preferring to tell true stories than fictional one,to do this anti-sequel/anti-remake.  His direction here, his wandering camera eye, seems to be disconnected with the material at hand, as if he couldn't care more about what it was he was putting to screen.  His note to  Nicolas Cage seems to be "there's no such thing as too big" and "don't just chew on the scenery, make it a meal".

Cage has become quite renowned for going broad in his roles.  Restraints are for children in car seats.  Here he's as big, brassy, and affected as he ever was.  He's a drug-addled, pill-popping (yes, both) crooked cop with an equally crooked spine that causes him perpetual pain.  He shakes down rich college kids coming out of clubs for drugs and/or sexual favours and seems to have no conscience when it comes to his actions.  His girlfriend (Eva Mendes) is a high class call girl, and he frequently interrupts her business to shake down her clients.  Meanwhile, he's the lead investigator on a gang related retribution case in which an entire immigrant family was murdered, and the only person who seems less interested in going through the motions on it is the film's director. 

Herzog, Cage and writer William F. Finkelstein bounce the Bad Lieutenant from one messed up situation to another, whether it be looking after his recovering alcoholic father's dog to a failed attempt at a one night stand with a highway cop (a great, whacked-out cameo from Fairuza Balk), to an ill-advised road trip to an out-of-town casino with a teenaged key witness.  There's also a gang infiltration (where you're never sure if he's actually turned heel or if he's just playing everyone), his sombre connection with his alcoholic step-mother, and sticking a gun in an old lady's face at a retirement home.  And there's still more.  He's just a bad, messed up dude who does everything wrong and manages to come out of it like he's got a golden horseshoe stuck up his ass. 

The film takes a compounding pile of disparate elements to paint the picture of Cage's Bad Lieutenant, and in the end it comes together in a most unexpectedly coherent manner.  For all the insanity of Cage's performance on screen, it's all in service of the story... not necessarily the murder investigation, but the story of Terence McDonagh, an incredibly, INCREDIBLY, beyond belief complex man.  You're never really rooting for Terence to succeed... in fact, you're acutely aware that his failure would probably be better for everyone, and yet when he ultimately does succeed, and royally so, it's incredibly rewarding.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a solid 2 hours, which at once drags its heels but never stops moving forward.  It a feat of viewing, not in an insufferable way, but like a very exhausting high.  It's the type of film cinephiles are going to enjoy, because it's a film unlike any they've seen before.  It's also the type of film that's so disrespectful of genre and its conventions that it's daring the conventional film goer to like or even understand.  I loved it and hated it.  I admired it and was done with it after 20 minutes.  I'll probably watch it again and be even more conflicted about why I'm watching it again. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Double Oh...8: Live and Let Die

Live And Let Die Preamble: Alright, here we go.  Roger Moore as Bond.  My Bond.  Well, "My Bond" only in the sense that it was only Roger Moore Bond movies that I grew up with, having never seen a Connery nor a Dalton.  I suppose you could say that Pierce Brosnan was actually "My Bond" but I don't know anyone who would actually cop to that.  I have to be honest and say I don't really recall most of the Moore-era Bond movies I have watched, not fondly or at all really.  I have a vague impression of them but I really don't know that I spent all that much time with JB in my youth.  Before watching this one, I couldn't tell you whether I had or had not seen it before... after watching it, turns out I had, many times, but only half of it, consistently beginning around the Boat chase.  In fact, when I think of Moore-era Bond, this is what I think of.  I'm not sure if that bodes well for the rest of them or not.

There's a lot of bad guys in this one, perhaps the most eclectic roster of all Bonds.  Mr. Big, I believe is supposed to be a black albino.  He's the head of an expansive drug operation in Harlem, operating out of a secret lair underneath (behind? I'm not exactly certain the spatial relation) a night club called A FILLET OF SOUL.  They also have a bunch of drug fronts, one a voodoo supply shop called OH CULT VOODOO SHOP.  Bless this film and it's corny heart.
  Mr. Big has a bunch of henchmen, most of which don't get called by their names very often, so I had to look them up.  My favourite was Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown), the hoarse henchman who seems to be everywhere at one, and consummately ineffective.  He has the oddest body shape, kind of like a Blue Meanie.
  Then there's the giant with the claw hand, apparently named Tee Hee (Julius Harris).  He smiles a lot and has a claw hand (which looks very much like he's holding onto a prop under his extended suit sleeve, which, naturally, is exactly what he was doing) and he's a freaking monolith.  He also keeps alligators and crocs (which is how he lost his arm) down in Louisiana.  He's very memorable, but he'd be even more memorable if he had a name that was actually used throughout the film.
  Bond learns that Mr. Big has connections to Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), a powerful man on the tropical island of San Monique.  Kananga is growing a tremendous amount of poppies, enough for 2 tonnes of heroin... which he and Mr. Big plan to continuously give away for free, driving all the competition out of business, leaving them and only them monopolize the marketplace.  Is so crazy it just might work!  Wait, no, it's just fucking crazy and it would never work.  What kind of junior highschooler thought up this genius scheme.  Oh, and it turns out that Big and Kananga are one and the same, that it wasn't albino skin but exceptionally terrible prosthesis.  He did look a little like Chris Noth though.
  Last but not least on the villain roster, the 7-Up uncola man himself, Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedy, a voodoo priest who I was never quite sure was legit or just an act for tourists.  He's a delightful presence though underutilized.

Bond Girls: Solitaire is a Tarot reader for Kananga, like her Mother was before her.  She was disposed of by Kananga after she had Solitaire, since, apparently, you have to be a virgin to be a Tarot reader.  Jane Seymoure looks young...very, very young...almost child-like... too young for Bond to deflower her, thus robbing her of her power, or at least her belief in her power.  It's a particularly caddish thing for Bond to do, as deplorable as what he did to Pussy Galore, tantamount to the same thing.
  Rosie Carver comes in as his rookie CIA contact.  She a little too demure (she shrieks and screams an awful lot for a CIA agent) and definitely lacking confidence, but has just enough to tell Bond "no" more than once.  Classic Bond is as persistent as ever, wearing her down and sexing her up, just before putting a gun to her head (again classic Bond).  Rosie, turns out, is a double agent, and she's killed by one of Kananga's security voodoo totem guns.

Theme/Credits: I'm just not sure what they're going for in this opening sequence.  Is it supposed to be sexy, or creepy?  The fact that you can quite clearly see nipples in the opening sequence is totally counteracted by the fact that the woman's head turns into a flaming skull.  Later on there's some weird interpretive dance thing going on which I just don't get, and by and large this title sequence confuses me.
  As for the theme by Paul McCartney and Wings, well, Live and Let Die is a classic, manic and intense, but it's also not a very good song.  McCartney is famous for his erratic song structure, his numerous switch-ups, but these are just laughably discordant.  When groovy breakdown happens over the title sequence I expect to see Igor and the Wolfman from Hilarious House of Frightenstein dancing in front of the bluescreen, not curvy naked women.  Then there's the part where it gets all bouncy and... wow.  Terrible.  The lyrics, what little there is of them, they're not so good either...
What does it matter to ya
When you got a job to do
You gotta do it well
You gotta give the other fellow hell
Really, Paulie Mac?
I like the Guns'N'Roses version better.


Bond:  We're introduced to a new Bond as he wakes up in bed with a young Italian woman, really setting the tone for who this Bond is... a glib old creeper.  Moore was already 45 when he started in the role, and though he's very handsome, the pairing of Bond with women who could be his daughter gets kind of gross, very quickly. Bond's rather libido focused  even moreso than Connery or Lazenby were. Moore owns the role of Bond from the get go.  Having played the Saint for seven years and playing on the Persuaders just prior, he was already well versed in this kind of role.  This Bond is a little more dependent on his guns, gadgets and improvisation skills than his fighting prowess.  Also this Bond is an expert barista, with a super-duper espresso maker created by Q in his kitchen.

Movie:    Ah, Live and Let Die, the Blaxsploitation Bond.  The first half of the film is very much a product of the genre with Bond very awkwardly, but also quite knowingly inserted into the mix.  The Harlem in this movie looks like a bombed out wasteland for some reason.  Exceptionally grotty.  When Bond makes his first trip to San Monique, he enlists the help of Quarrel Jr., an odd continuity connection to Dr. No (especially since Bond basically got Quarrel Sr. killed).  Bond films have never been shy about camp, and the shenanigans at the airstrip, where Bond coaches a novice pilot around the tarmac avoiding gunfire and ultimately taking out the bad guys.  There's an odd and lengthy sidetrack during the boat race sequence (the film is keen on its comedic diversions) with Good Ol' Boy Sheriff J.W. Pepper as he tries to chase down the reckless speedboats. It's real Dukes of Hazzard type stuff.  The film climaxes on San Monique, with Solitare the victim in a hoary stereotype of a Voodoo ritual... it's totally ridiculous posing as creepy. But then, I don't think they were going for authenticity. Another shark grotto makes an appearance in a Bond movie as 007 faces off mano y mano against a knife wielding Kanaga and defeats him by feeding him a compressed gas bullet (so he inflates and pops like a balloon).  Weirder than that though... just what was that Yaphet Kotto fighting style?  As exploitative as it is, and as creepy as the Bond/Solitare dynamic is, I quite enjoy this one.

Q gadgets: a magnetic watch. bug detector. portable teletype machine, shotgun with compressed gas pellets

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.7