Saturday, June 28, 2014


2014, Gareth Edwards (Monsters) -- cinema

The first thing I noticed is that the new Godzilla is so very much the product of Gareth Edwards. But only in a way that people who saw, and enjoyed, Monsters would notice. It was the subtle things, like the looks on people's faces when they looked at the towering creatures over your right shoulder, or the way something so large could disappear into the background if the lighting was not quite right. And the silences. Whether realistic or not, Edwards makes such wonderful use of silences in his movies where there must be so much of a cacophony at all times.  The second thing I noticed was how much he wore his appreciation for other Giant Monster movies on his sleeve. You could see stylistic elements from Cloverfield, Pacific Rim, original Godzilla movies and, yes, even the much hated previous American Godzilla movie. He is probably like me, just in love with the genre and able to see the successes in even the worst considered examples.

I wanted to say this is not a reboot of the Godzilla franchise but really its not a re-imagining but probably does fit within the confines of a reboot. It is not the continuance of the series of Japanese movies, i.e. we are not picking up where a previous movie ended. Gojira or Godzilla is not a known entity, but we are given some background material to show that the Japanese are aware of him. In fact, they teamed with the US to bomb the @!$& of him in the 50s, thus the Bikini Atoll "tests". But he is not known outside of this hidden history. Subsequently the Japanese discovered the remains of other such creatures and had been studying them for decades, an unfortunate decision that leads to the plot of the movie. The discovered eggs hatch into a MUTO (massive unknown terrestrial organism) and they wreak havoc on populated areas. Godzilla awakens from his sleep in the Pacific, not killed as they previously thought, and seeks out his natural prey. Chaos ensues.

The stylistic choice that I love about this movie is that Godzilla and the monsters are presented as natural disasters. Oh, there is a bit of anthropomorphization of the beasts, especially in the antagonistic way they react to each other, but for the most part we watch from afar, as the monsters wade through, ignoring the humans and destroying all in their path.  These things are happening and humans just happen to be in the way. For the most part, all we can do is run, hide and watch.

If the movie suffered from anything, it was a choice of choppiness in its story telling. The overly long intro, which felt like an extended bit part for Bryan Cranston, leads to a monster chase that is constantly jumping from one scene to the next, one geographical location to the next. The human element is there, giving us a military character to follow along behind the monsters trying to be balanced by a moreso extraneous civilian character that has Elizabeth Olsen contributing only a "look up scared" performance.  I am thinking a more ensemble cast, like in Battle Los Angeles, would have tightened up this story thread but even so, I so so much enjoyed this movie.

There is just so much scale to this movie, angles that are breath taking, destruction that is awesome (full of awe, not totally cool, man) that we are given over to what Kent mentioned, seeing things from security monitors and TV screens. It is a way for our brain to digest the sheer magnitude of what is happening, or at the very least, this is what Edwards was alluding to. I would love to see some post-movie web series that are made up on phone cam, Twitter posts and YouTube videos of the events.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Notes for the End of the World: Parts Per Billion

2014, Brian Horiuchi -- download

This is not an apocalyptic movie about the end of the world, it is a movie about relationships that happens to be set during the end of the world. Whether this is the premise you use to defend or condemn the movie, this pretty much describes what we watch. This is the point in my fictional novel (non-existent novel, not novel of fiction) compares his own conspiracy focused theories with those of a very real sounding catalyst for the end of the world. Right now, as we speak, Iraq is collapsing again. And army of very capable insurgents is taking city after city, and with no US soldiers backing them up, the Iraqi military is falling. In the movie, not the other fiction, this war culminates with the release of a man-made disease. And this ends the world. We experience it through the eyes and hearts of a handful of couples.

Anna and Erik are light hearts, a musician and a poetry lover, ignoring the end around them and trying to focus on starting a life long (???) relationship already crippled with doubt. Len and Mia are a damaged couple, trying to bring it back together when the finality of events drives them further apart. Only elderly couple Andy and Esther, solid in their love for each other despite having a real hand in what is happening around them, are not afraid of the end and only pull together. Each couple is shot independently but we are shown their connections, a statement that no one is really ever alone in anything.

Previously, in Goodbye World, the couples are focusing on surviving the end of the world. There is no defined way out in this movie; yes, it is that bleak.  But with soft lighting, beautiful people and lovely (but challenged) relationships, we are exploring the emotional impact. It doesn't hurt that the director chooses to make this a very clean kill disease, with no horrible death scenes of bodily functions. Basically, you have difficulty breathing and then you lay down and die. Horiuchi also side steps the panicking masses, giving all his characters solitude and empty spaces to come to terms with their ends. Its well shot, well directed but fails because we are never able to deep dive into any of these couples and actually care about their independent reactions. In the end, it felt like another shallow attempt at a first movie that means something but isn't sure what it means.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Notes for the End of the World: The Retreat

2011, Carl Tibbetts -- Netflix

The Retreat is a by-the-numbers thriller about two people confined to a house, captives of a madman. It stars Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Inception) and Thandie Newton (Chronicles of Riddick, tv show Rogue) as a married couple surviving the still birth of their child.  Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, King Kong) is the madman who shows up on their doorstep, wounded and bleating about the end of the world. According to Jack, a virus has appeared in the world and in the few short days while the couple were spending some alone time in a quaint cottage on an isolated island, the world has fallen. He tells them how it is all Road Warrior out there, all violent people seeking to escape the plague. We are never sure whether to believe him, with no evidence at all, or to add this to the premise of the movie.

As a movie, it easily hits all the familiar notes of a thriller. The couple don't quite support each other, having to deal with the still birth in their own ways, but repressing the anger with each other. Jack is extreme, dominating and intent on expanding the rift between the two. The questions as to the validity of his claims are given equal amounts of doubt and support, with a broken radio and the mysterious disappearance of the cottage's caretaker, who should have been here days ago. And when the two began to rebel, Jack threatens with violence. Who is to be the bigger man, Cillian Murphy or Jamie Bell? Who will Thandie gravitate towards, loyalty and love or the strength of a survivor?

It was actually somewhat of a surprise that there was actually a plague. After the notes of the thriller are all played out, and Thandie choses Cillian, Jack is shown as just a madman, a criminal that was confined to a military hospital and given the disease. When he escaped, it escaped into the world with him. His first victim was his wife. In a small bid for redemption, he actually escaped to the island to isolate himself from the world. The only thing awaiting him outside was death at the hands of the military. But he is a bad man, one that cannot redeem. And as the story of the couple ends, so ends the story of the world. And yes, it was that bleak of an ending.

Friday, June 20, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Maleficent

2014, Robert Stromberg -- cinema

A few things to say right off the bat. It's Mal-E-ficent, not Mal-I-ficint as so many TV news programs were misspelling and mispronouncing. I have no childhood attachment to the original character, but if you want to see her character done better in live action, see Susan Sarandon in Enchanted. If you see this all because you think Angelina is hot, this is probably not the movie to see. No, not me. I do not find her remotely attractive in her current incarnation. I was here for the visual effects and Sharlto Copley as the King. For a first time director with over 90 visual effects credits under his belt, he did a masterful looking job. Just wish I had enjoyed the movie more.

Maleficent is the ruler of The Moors, the extension of faerie that sits next to a traditional human (i.e. white, euro) kingdom. Think the sweeping vistas of Chinese wuxia films combined with the denizens of a Brian Froud painting. She is so cute as a child, all raven wing and dragon horned with those big manga eyes and an absolute love of the world. She has been warned about humans but all it takes is one innocent acting thief (in fae worlds, river stones are priceless gems) to steal her heart. Unfortunately, as he grows, so grows his ambition and when they are in their 20s, he returns to The Moors to steal not her heart but her life, so he can become King. He is tortured about it so he second guesses and takes her her wings. That is an injury to her soul as well as a violation of her body, and turns her bright, gold magic into something putrid, green and dark. I won't go so far as saying evil, for she never really is.

And honestly, while I was not attached to the Bad Guy original character, it really did diminish her in this movie. She's misunderstood and even that's stretching it -- we completely understand and probably root for her green magic acts. We spend most of the movie watching her play Godmother to Sleeping Beauty, who only really sleeps briefly. We see motherly devotion, love lost and misplaced kindness. by the time we get to see her with her agro all riled up, I was bored. I get it, Angelina is the current Mother Goddess figure to the media, a patron of all things matronly. But Maleficent is also a very boring spurned lover. She wants nothing more than to have revenge on the boy who spurned her and satisfies herself by becoming proxy mother to his daughter, more loved than she loves her own father.  And all of Angelina's grace and cheekbones and equine movements were not befitting Queen of the Faeries for me; she needed to be a bit more rough around the "lives in a swamp" edges. And in the end, it all sums up that Maleficent finds fulfilment not through getting the boy (or even getting revenge) but by bequeathing her kingdom to her surrogate daughter. I wonder how the rest of the faeries felt about that, or were they just happy the sulkly green lighting was gone?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Notes for the End of the World: Goodbye World

2013, Denis Hennelly (Bold Native) -- download

Fingers are pushed through the remainders of hair product, forcing the hair up in madman stance. The stress the man on the bed is feeling is palpable, mirrored by a single vein pulsing on his forehead and the tautness of the tendons on his neck. He is over 40, wearing much more age in weight and lines around his eyes. He has been crying.

These are the opening words of my fictional novel. In it, our hero (??) is immersed deeply in apocalyptic fiction. He reads about the coming of The End and the science fiction days long after The End. He watches movies where The End is upon us, the earth shattering and plagues being released. War and famine and death in heart shattering multitudes. But like all, when the evidences are apparent in our real world, he misses them, he ignores them, until his droves of fictions come together like prophecy. And he sees what is really, truly happening around him. Madness or awareness? Not really sure. And definitely not autobiographical. Nope.

In Goodbye World we see The End through the eyes of the 20-something somewhat counter culture kids. Not, the young and poor on the streets on skateboards & smoking weed, but the new hippies and hackers and politicos, all thick with money and not hurting at all. Despite their very very apparent dependence on a world of plenty, they consider themselves apart from it all, one way or another. In a plot not unlike The Big Chill, where old friends are gathered for a weekend after a long separation, we see the gathering of these counter culture kids (I say kid, but late 20s early 30s is the demographic) along with their already tangible issues with each other. The End is happens around them, floating to the forefront and occasionally seeping out from under their personal trials.

 James (Adrian Grenier; Entourage and not-Aquaman, but no stranger than Jason Momoa being cast) is the center figure, a back-to-the-earth guy who could have only got there because he had tons of dot-com cash available to him, after a tense sale of his company. He is married to hippy extraordinaire, Lily, who also happens to be a hacker. She is the ex-fiance of his ex-business partner, now yuppie (what is the new term for well dress, heavy working lot?) Nick who is married to Xian, stuffy, ex-college roommate Becky (outstanding Caroline Dhavernas, who was schtuping Hannibal of late). Late to the party is hacker Lev, hipster dressed and a little upset about something he recently did, and politico Laura, who kinda wrecked her cred by blowing her boss and becoming a YouTube star. And then we have revolutionary Benji, fresh out of jail and preaching Against The Man with his college age fuck-bunny Ariel. We stuff them all together in James' hidden away north California home, off the grid (but great wifi) with water and power and food and weed and medicine, while the End of the World happens because of a nasty cell phone virus that is Taking Everything Down. Its not a question of recovering, The End is happening so its about riding it out.

This is a mostly talky kind of movie about survival and the state of human being. James is a bit of a dick, a bit of a survivalist but really has it together enough to survive the coming new age.  The problem is that some of his friends believe he should think about more people than those in the current gathering. What about his neighbours? What about the rest of the world? He is able to ignore them. Then again, add in a bit of a marital spat and he is able to kick out his friends and his wife. It takes a bit of violent, nasty reality for him to start getting it. As for the rest, some get it almost immediately, so fade out and some just get stoned. But none seem to get that the world is ending. They probably think a little bit like my fictional hero, that the end of the world might be a bit cool and that humans might just deserve it. They actually spend a few scenes sitting in lawn chairs watching something big in the distance burning away, like it was a beautiful sunset. Insert commentary on how morally vacant tech culture kids are.

The End is based on a cell phone virus. Turns out (**SPOILER**) two of our central characters are responsible for it. They. Have. Ended. The. World. Yes, a single virus spreads from cell phones to every system in the world. Its that standard myth that because all systems are based on computers, all computers are somehow connected and can talk to each other. So, a cell phone virus written in whatever code could end up talking to the power company and the streetlights and flight navigation and whatever. And if all those systems are gone, the world as we know will be gone too. Not. I think the world could be royally fucked for a few years, but it wouldn't be gone. It wouldn't become a Road Warrior wasteland, just one where computers would likely become more separated, the Internet a little less world wide and our freedoms even more curtailed. We would recover until the next time we fucked ourselves over. My hero would have to envision a much more devious Skynet kind of connectivity before he could become hair wringing depressed.

3 Short Paragraphs: Veronica Mars

2014, Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars TV) -- download

We finished watching the last two seasons of the acclaimed and cult popular TV series, even though by the end of season one, I was a little let down. Season Two gave us another full season mystery, the crash of a bus load of school kids and danced us all over the map as to whom the villain was. In the end, another bait & switch reveal with a ton of loose threads.  Season Three had Veronica in college investigating two separate crimes, a murder and a rape spree. Both seasons were equally fun as frustrating, solidifying my disappointment in the reputation of the series, if not exactly the show itself. As a show, it was definitely out of its own mould.

The movie, ground breaking on its own by emerging out of a Kickstarter campaign, picks up a decade after the series ended, actually 9 years, but during the same time as their ten year high school reunion. Veronica is in NYC with Piz, applying for a corporate lawyer job. She has left the investigation life behind as well as Neptune. She doesn't get back much; I know the feeling. But on cue, she gets a call from Logan, her tumultuous ex-BF, who is in trouble again. This time he is accused of murdering another girlfriend, this one a rock star with a troubled history, part of which we saw in season one. Veronica drops everything and goes home.

This is a movie for the fans, plain and simple. Sure, it was theatre released and is well enough produced to bw enjoyable to average theatre goers, but there are about a thousand in-jokes and the reunion aspect was probably cheer inducing for only the fans. Piz looks great, Wallace is happy & comfortable and Mac looks absolutely stunning; hell, even Weevil's skin cleared up. Logan is Logan, a little skinnier and in the military and Dick is dickier than ever, but pretty much exactly the same. As usual, the murder is all over the place, entwined in the usual suspects from her past. Neptune, as much as character as the high school kids, had gotten darker and seedier and more noir in Veronica's absence. In the end, Veronica has to make a decision --- return to her life in NYC with Piz or stay in Neptune with her dad and her past, and make a difference. Of course, the fans know exactly what she has to do, bad decision making skills and all.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Delivery Man

2013, Ken Scott (Starbuck) -- download

Ken Scott directed the original, which I previously blogged about, which is the only reason I watched a Vince Vaughn movie. In general, I don't like the man. Well, at least the cookie cutter way in which he plays all his characters. I have to admit, that a certain part of that character applies to the character of Starbuck, or David Wozniak. David is a bit of a dick or manchild lacking in personal responsibility and personal ambition. Vaughn's characters are always attempting to be outgoing and charming, convinced of their own greatness, but I cannot stand them. Maybe its the loveable big galoot that makes him popular, maybe its his pitch, but I cannot stand his standard delivery. But, again I admit, it works here and he actually is able to pull off the sincerity of the original Starbuck character.

To recap, Starbuck was the nom de plume of a man making many many many visits to the sperm bank. And in his hundreds of donations, he ended up fathering hundreds of children. Of those he fathered, 142 are suing the sperm bank to find out who their father is. David takes this opportunity to clean up his life and find out about the kids he is feels responsible for. Along with his best friend and lawyer (Chris Pratt, soon to be Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy, and just as brilliant as this character as the original was) he investigates a number of the kids, providing fatherly advice and acts of support. But he never tells anyone who he is until he is pushed in that direction and when it becomes apparent, he has to in order to show himself he has changed.

Vaughn's David Wozniak is almost on the mark to me. He does a great concerned father, but I never really bought the underlying sweetness that was apparent in the original. "Everybody loves you, " says David's immigrant father (its funny, a NYC immigrant has to be very obviously immigrant, with accent and European look, while the original was just a Montrealer) and we believe him.  Well, at least in the original. I cannot think how we would like this guy, but that may be my bias. But he does carry off the sincerity of changing his life, which is the underlying point of the movie. Both sidestep the bigger questions of father's responsibility vs the rights of the mother (how many of the 142 kids have their mother's support in finding Starbuck?) but I still think a message of unwed fathers being part of their kids lives is a good one.

One additional paragraph. In the original, I loved how Montreal was a secondary character in the movie. Here we are in NYC, and really, its just another movie in New York. Any character we could have garnered has probably been done a thousand times before, so setting and location are less than secondary here.  I wonder if we had transported it to another American city, like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, we could have played with that was well.

One Episode: Bitten, The After, Crisis

Bitten is an original Space channel series about werewolves.  It is based on a book series by Kelly Armstrong and is set in Toronto, for the most part.  Elena is the only female werewolf having been changed by an ex-boyfriend and now lives apart from the pack. But try as hard as she can to keep away, they will keep dragging her back in.

This is CW lite fare. With a little bit more nudity than American stations allow, the werewolves are all pretty, buff boys with blonde, lithe Laura Vandervoort (Kara/Supergirl from Smallville) as the lead. The first episode reveals her difficulty in leading a normal life without giving into the change and the hunt. It is likened to a psychological addiction where you need release, but in this case, if you don't do at least a little skin walking, you might wolf out and eat your neighbours.

That is the central plot of the first episode, as someone is eating girls in a park, and suspicion is cast on her or maybe its just on a rogue werewolf, a mutt. That is why the pack draws her back to upstate New York to discuss her place in the werewolf world, to flaunt around in expensive clothes and give sideways looks at each other. They are werewolves, so you know they will never really get along.

It was boring. Not even CW tantalizing, because if we are only get one female werewolf, then its meant for the female population. I am so far outside its demographic,  I am not sure why we downloaded it. I am not against that, it just didn't do anything for me. Slick, decently produced and full of nice locations and well dressed people. But I want more wolf and less soap opera.

Meanwhile, we get The After, from Chris Carter (The X-Files) by way of Amazon. The pilot aired on the Internet (Amazon's streaming service, I would assume, though its not available in Canada) and that has been about it. It must have been so under the radar, nobody has even provided a decent Wikipedia summary, but made enough money that a full season has been ordered.

Post-Apocalypse meets Lost is how I heard it billed. Basically, an ensemble cast are tossed together in the parking basement of a hotel when something happens. We are not sure what; we just see the chaos outside the building. Cell phones are flaky, TV is showing weird happenings, but along with the trapped bunch in the basement, we are mostly in the dark. Oooooo, cue mysterious tense music.

The opening act gives us french actress Louise Monot as Gigi, as an actress in LA trying to get a good role but offered a bad one. She is our eyes into what happens around the city, as the cast gets tossed together, trapped in the basement. Tense moments, conflicts, allegiances and essentially an entire season mingled into act two.

When they finally escape, they are given a bit of deus ex machina by escaping to The Rich Lady's house. Therein lies food, booze and rest. It would have been a perfect place to hole up for a few episodes while the series lays out the groundwork for the season, but nope, bad guys show up and everyone has to run off into the dark, into the woods. Are there woods in LA? End act three.

It has possibilities, as it flowed back and forth across the line of decent indie production to half-assed web series. It was definitely not a polished Netflix original series (not sure how they knew how to produce such quality as the first of its kind) but it has potential. I have a feeling the cast will be gutted before the series properly starts but even so, there could be some fun to be had.

And then we have Crisis, which I just noticed is running on broadcast TV now.  It was a mid-season replacement series from NBC, which I am pretty sure we saw long before it properly aired, but it has all the feeling of half-assed web series. The charm of web series is that despite their clunkiness and limited budgets, they are often labours of love and that shows through. Their condensed formats, usually running much less than 42 minutes of standard TV, keep things flowing and create a whole new rhythm. This one has all the bad acting, head shaking story telling and boring sets without any of the charm. It was really bottom of the barrel scraping for mid-season replacing.

Basically the plot is that a bunch of kids, including the President's son, are kidnapped by an extreme group, one of whom we find out is actually one of the kidnapped, a disgruntled intelligence worker played by Dermot Mulroney in scary-geek mode. So, its up to the Secret Service (who had traitors in their midst) and FBI (when did late-20s blonde become an FBI model?) and the kids themselves to save everyone. But I am not sure we actually care about these over-privileged kids and their desperate parents. I am sure someone billed it as 24 for soccer moms,  but again, not my demo.

Its kind of disappointing that soon after the emergence of exploring TV from different sources, I am already running out of decent stuff to watch. I guess I should just give up for a while and watch the three Bridges.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Double Oh...22; Quantum of Solace

2008, d. Mark Forster

Quantum of Solace Preamble:

From my blog, November 24, 2008:

At first I was excited for the new Bond, and then the reviews came in and all but put me off it. Then I started reading reactions and hearing what family and friends had to say and I realized that sometimes critics overthink things and don't know how to have fun. Though an immediate sequel to Casino Royale, the steely Daniel Craig settles comfortably into Bond's globetrotting, ladykiller skin. Craig is a much more rough-and-tumble Bond, but he's resourceful and seems to say more with his expressions (or lack thereof) than proliferation of snappy rejoinders. The direction was arty and playful, but the action was quick-cut shaky-cam making it hard to discern what was going on. Bond is generally a clean fighter, with cleanly structured action sequences, and that wasn't quite apparent here. Still, overall, a satisfying and entertaining Daniel-Craig 007 sequel that sets up more films for the series in the future. (3.5/5)
Yes, the critical reception was (and generally still is) fairly down on this turn at Bond (it commonly ranks in the lower-middle of the films), but I liked it rather well at the time of its first release and, in hindsight, it's even grown more favorable.  When I catch it on cable I regularly get sucked into it.  The episode of James Bonding podcast that covered this film came to the conclusion that as a stand-alone feature it's lacking but as a continuation of Casino Royale, it's aces.  I'm excited by that (watching it the next night after watching Casino Royale).


Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) is the first holdover villain since Blofeld in a James Bond picture.  He was a peripheral string-puller in Casino Royale and his part here is only slightly more illuminating.  At the close of Casino, Bond had shot White in the shin and this film picks up minutes later with a high speed chase/shootout on Italian coastal highways.  When Bond arrives successfully at his destination, he opens his trunk to reveal White inside.  Bond, M and her two aides interrogate White, but he reveals they have people everywhere, including MI6.  M's personal guard of 8 years Craig Mitchell turns and shoots the other agent and targets M.  Bond does his thing and they pursue on foot into the streets of Italy during a horse race.  The assailant shoots wildly into the crowd (Forster makes a point of showing collateral damage) and they make to the clay rooftops.  This leads to a bell tower to restoration scaffolding and swinging ropes.  When Bond returns Whyte is missing, having shot him, unsure whether dead or not.  White appears later at the Tosca performance, and once Bond emerges, White disappears (hopefully to appear in the post-Skyfall feature).

Dominic Greene (Matthieu Almaric) a powerful broker/facilitator for a price, though it's not about cash, but rather furthering his own agenda.   His public face is as a utility magnate and philanthropist, and even though he's not an on-the-level guy it is his public face that puts both the CIA and a British adviser to the PM in bed with him.. He's not much of a fighter but when he finally faces down against Bond, he turns into an unhinged wild man with a blunt object or axe in hand.  Bond captures Greene and extracts info about Quantum before leaving him in the middle of the desert with only a can of oil.  "I bet you make it 20 miles before you consider drinking that."  It's a fitting revenge for poor Strawberry Fields.

General Medrano (Joaqui Cosio) is a deposed dictator meeting with Greene in Haiti.  He's looking to destabilize Bolivia so that he can retake control.  Greene is arranging sanctions and international political affiliations in favor of the regime change in exchange for a plot of land in the middle of the desert.  Bond reveals he's creating a drought by damming up the water, and once Medrano is reinstated, he's selling the water back to him at twice the price.

Bond Girls:
Camille (Olga Kurylenko) is Bolivian secret service, but introduced after Bond takes out Mitchell's associate Slate in Haiti.  Slate was hired by Greene to take Camille out (she's been undercover as his girlfriend, but undermining his business) and she mistakes Bond as Slate and she nearly shoots him.  She's playing Dominic to get at the General (who murdered her family), but she's not quite up to his game.  Dominic hands her over to the General but Bond in an apparent rescue actually interferes in her attempt to kill him. She's feisty ("gimme the wheel" she commands Bond as they are chased on the water by the General's men, Bond tells her to navigate).  Bond leaves her unconscious with a doc worker.  She reemerges later at a Greene Planet philanthropic fundraiser and sabotages an informal deal he was brokering.  With nary a hint of romantic tension (just two beautiful people sharing each other's platonic company, discussing matters of murder/revenge/justice), she joins Bond on his investigation into Greene's operation, and as they mount their final assault, Bond coaches her through her first assassination.

Strawberry Fields (or "Fields, just Fields) meets Bond at the airport in Bolivia, sent from the consulate to turn Bond around.  As they approach a conventional hotel, Bond objects.  "We're teachers on sabbatical, this fits our cover."  Bond steers her out of the building and off to a 5 star hotel ("We are teachers on sabbatical, and we have just won the lottery").  Fields is stunned and impressed with Bond's swagger, and can't help but be impressed and overwhelmed with a real agent.  At Greene's party, she does manage to pick up on Bond's need for assistance and trips up Greene's goon, playing secret agent herself, but when Bond leaves the party with Camille, he's left her at Greene's mercy.  She's found at the hotel (now swarming with MI6) covered and drowned in oil, posted atop white bedsheets, a grisly death (but a nice and homage to Goldfinger)


Another Way To Die by Jack White and Alicia Keys.   I like the staccato tempo and,n hfcaZ thumping rhythm of the piece.  I'm not certain White and Keys are complimentary voices, but the song has the hook that Chris Cornell's Casino Royale piece was missing.  The visuals of sand and stars set against a piercing moonlit night sky is actually quite neat, and the scantily clad sand sculptures bring back the titillation of the old Maurice Binder credits.  It's not as classy as Casino Royale but the sharp-edge filter that makes the shadows pop gives it a certain je ne sais quoi.  It's very slick.


M - "I need to know if I can trust you."
Bond - "You don't trust me?"
M - "It'd be a pretty cold bastard who didn't want revenge for the death of someone he loved"

This, in a nutshell, is Craig and Dench's relationship.  There's a motherly concern for Bond which gets in the way of her truly getting in his way.  She should have cut him off, sent him on house arrest, just restrained him, but somewhere within her, she wants revenge for his pain too.  Here it's her professional duty to ensure that Bond isn't going to do anything crazy, getting her and MI6 in trouble, but at the same time she's also condoning his pursuit of revenge.  Talking with Camille, she asks why Bond is so keen to go after Greene.  He tells her that "among other things, he tried to kill a friend of mine."
"A woman?"
"Yes.  But it's not what you think."
"Your mother?"
"She likes to think so."
If the Casino Royale was about Bond falling in love, and Skyfall about Bond's makeshift family, Quantum of Solace is about dealing with heartbreak and bridging those two stories.  M is his mother figure increasingly so in these three Craig films, and it's a dynamic between Bond and his handler that he hasn't had before.  It's sweet, but more importantly, intriguing.  Much like Casino Royale, this film more than most Bonds, keeps cutting back to headquarters and M, hinting at how important her role is in Bond's life.

I think my favourite Bond movies all have to do with love and revenge.  Bond is at his best when he's emotional, it gives the character something more than just pithiness and innuendo.

I love that he pulls out a Universal Exports business card.  He also flies a cargo plane outmaneuvering a fighter jet.


I'm on the record as liking this outing on its own merits, but as the next chapter of Casino Royale, it's even better.  The film opening with the reveal of Mr. White in the trunk is less poignant unless you remember the immediate close of the preceding film, but with White's interrogation, he expands Casino Royale by detailing the leverage that his organization had on Vesper.

The film moves forward quickly, not mulling over the details too much, making its transition to Haiti.  Overall it's more of action-focused feature due to the writer's strike.  The hotel fight with Slate looks more like a Bourne movie than Bond sequence, with Bond executing a very quiet, patient bleed-out of his assailant.

M calls the CIA to see if they have any interest in Greene.  She's transferred to the South African section chief who tells her they have no interest which tips her off immediately.  Greene boards a plane Off to Brigenz Austria where the SA Section Chief and Felix Leiter are waiting.  They're making a deal with Greene to allow the destabilization of Bolivia in exchange for first rights to any oil found.  Leiter doesn't like what the Section Chief is up to, but is told to get with the program.

Perhaps my favourite Bond sequence ever happens in the theatre in Austria. where an outdoor performance of Tosca  is the covering ground for Quantum's secret and anonymous dealings going on over wireless ear pieces.  Bond ferrets out the brokers, capturing photographs of them exiting the performance, and a platoon of goons are sent after Bond.  Chase through the facility restaurant, and kitchen intercut with the inspiring and ominous (not to mention violent) Tosca performance.

We also get more from Mathis, still a little bitter about Bond having him arrested after Le Chiffre and Vesper's deceit.  I love the interplay with Mathis and his lady.  Bond coaxes Mathis back into operation, (in large to bankroll his flight after M cuts him off).  Mathis respects Bond's apology, but also can't seem to give up the life.  He arranges for help with the police, only to have him beaten, killed and stuffed in his trunk, framed for a false arrest.  Bond has a habit of getting the people around him killed, Greene predicted moments earlier. After embracing him for his dying breath, Bond dumps Mathis' body into a dumpster ("Is that how you treat your friends?" Camille questions.  "He wouldn't care" he says coldly).

The film culminates with Bond and Camille assailing a desert hotel where Greene and General Medrano are meeting to close their deal.  It's a very curious building (one I'm wondering if they built for the film).  It's powered by fuel cells throughout, which we learn very quickly, explode really good.  The place goes boom.

This two film saga closes with an epilogue In Kazan Russia, where Bond has tracked down Vesper's lover who was actually working for Quantum all along.  He's currently working over a Canadian intelligence worker in the very same fashion he did Vesper.  Bond gets his closure, and M is there to greet him, telling him she needs him back (because technically he did tender his resignation in Casino Royale) to which he replies "I never left."


These aren't officially Q-gadgets as there's no actual Q in these first two Craig films, but there's some nifty technology on display:
High tech digital touch interface table table with integrated scanner - Minority Report style, plus a digital glass wall for all kinds of elaborate displays.
Q-pin transmitter and earpiece
Cel phone camera with facial recognition piped right into MI6's databases.

Classification [out of 01.0]: 00.8 - it's not a perfect movie and the complaints that its story and script is slight are right about that, but it's beautifully shot, with some tremendous fights and more than a few of my all time favourite Bond moments.  It's another Purvis, Wade and Haggis script, so there's a consistency with Casino Royale that no Bond before had ventured to attain.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Double Oh...21: Casino Royale

2007, d. Martin Campbell

Casino Royal Preamble:

From my review, 12/15/2006
"As a James Bond movie  you certainly get more than most other films give you in the way of character.  It works for the movie but feels more akin to Bourne Identity than Bond in many ways.  At the same time, the big action moments that bookend the film are drastically out of place and too big for their own britches.  In Bond terms it's suitable, but in film terms it's just disjointed and leaves the film "V" shaped with the story sagging in the middle between these two big moments.  As I've told friends, it's a good Bond film, it's an okay movie."
With really only the Brosnan films and scattered memories of Moore under my belt at that time, I'm not sure I was really the best judge of Bond.  I really do wish I'd been more of a fan at the time though, as my ex-girlfriend at the time (now wife) were in London at the time of the film's premiere and actually wandered by the red carpet festivities (with helicopters overhead and paparazzo abuzz)... and kept walking.  As noted above, I liked the movie okay, but I felt it was overlong and a little too wild in structure (looking at this now, I can tell that I really didn't understand the tempo of a Bond pic).  I've seen snippets of the film since but haven't sat through it fully, so my initial impressions have held these past 8 years.


When Mads Mikkelsen was cast as Hannibal, I only knew him from Casino Royal, as the blood-weeping Le Chiffre.  I thought it was interesting casting when I first heard, and he's so dominated that role that he's supplanted Anthony Hopkins as the quintessential Hannibal by a wide margin.  I was excited to see him face off against Bond again, and had to remind myself that it's not Bond vs. Hannibal (but how cool would that be.  We're introduced to Le Chiffre in Uganda, providing banking services to the seediest men around the world.  He takes a great deal of money from this ...drug baron? rebel? it's not quite clear... and immediately short sells some Skyfleet stock (despite the protests of his colleague since the stock is only predicted to go up).  Bond's interference interference in Miami stopping the destruction of the new new Skyfleet megaplane loses him this $101 million.  As a result Le Chiffre sets up a high stakes poker game in Montenegro to attempt a recoup before his investors find out (desperate and overconfident).  But those guys from Uganda come to Montenegro looking for their money and it's Bond's interference that actually sames him.
Le Chiffre's has a rather prominent tell when playing poker, the weeping blood, which is a result of deformation of the tearduct.  He's very much a gambler, a statistician, a chess prodigy and mathematical genius.  He's scarred around his weeping eye, and requires an inhaler for unspecified reasons.  He's also developed fancy hand tricks playing with his chips at the table.

Le Chiffre is inevitably killed by Mr. Whyte, who largely just looms in the background of this film.  He's told "money isn't as valuable to our organization as knowing who to trust" as they recognize that he's a hunted man and that he will turn over on his clientele to save himself.

Bond is led to Le Chiffre by his colleague, Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) in the Bahamas.  Like Le Chiffre, Dimitrios is a gambler, and a violent and petty man.  He's a terrorist contractor, a middleman but a practitioner when the time comes.  He's arranging the bombing of the plane in Miami, and Bond, to get close, plays him in an escalating poker game where he wins wins his vintage Aston Martin (and Valet ticket) and then seduces his girl Solange (but leaves her hanging) when he learns he's off to Miami.  A pursuit through the Body Worlds exhibit leads to a tense knifegrab, and Dimitrios stabbed.  Bond pursues the bomber, a tough, silent, resourceful mercenary, but gets the better of him in the most delightful way possible (a moment that's fun with each viewing)

Bond Girls:

Solange Dimitrios (Caterina Murino) is introduced bounding on horseback in a bikini, but instead of Bond leering at her from afar, it's the opposite, with her leering at Bond emerging from the water -- Ursula Andress style -- buff, toned and in tiny shorts.  Later she parades into the Ocean Club in a slimming, sheer, sexy red dress, but Dimitrios admonishes her for being two hours late instead of appreciating her effort (but later Bond buys Vesper a dress and tells her she needs to come in, kiss him on the neck, and distract the other players with her cleavage, obviously learned this from the Dimitrios').   She winds up being interrogated and killed by Le Chiffre and left mangled out front of Bond's hotel room in a hammock.

Introduced roughly half-way through the film, Vesper Lynde (Eva Greene), is the money (HM Treasury) "and worth every penny", Bond comments. They have a dueling match at reading each other, with Bond observing that she overcompensates for her insecurities and drive in a man's world by wearing slightly masculine clothing.  But she's equally adept at reading people, or so it appears (but later revealed that she's perhaps not so observant).  She's never seen combat before, and does not take helping Bond kill the Ugandans well leading to a solemnly sweet shower sequence.  Bond recognizes that Vesper has a man (by way of her love knot necklace), which may be perhaps what draws him to her.  They have a wonderful rapport but she's understandably standoffish.
Once she warms to James, her past comes calling and she betrays him.  Her lover was being held captive, and she's been feeding the organization with information, and, in the climax, James' winnings from the poker tournament. After James stops her money transfer, she drowns herself, both because she can't face her betrayal of James, nor can she face that James' interference has gotten her lover killed.  She'd been a deceiver, a rather adept one, all alone, having even framed Mathis (and Bond arranging for his arrest).  When it's over James' reverts to form... "The job's done, the bitch is dead".
But it's revealed that she made a deal with Mr. White to spare Bond in exchange for the money.  So she did care for him, but she was torn between her two lovers and neither relationship was going to work out for her.
Vesper has become the benchmark Bond girl, the ultimate love in Bond's life, at least in the Daniel Craig series.  It's a pained romance, one where Bond opened himself up, and was betrayed fully for it.  In following the timeline, it wouldn't be until Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service that Bond would love again, and face heartbreak once more.

Valenka (Ivana Milicevic) is LeChiffre's girl who almost loses her arm thanks to the Ugandan guys out for money and blood.  She makes a quick recovery from the attack and Poisons Bond's drink (despite the fact that he unknowingly saved her...gratitude for you).


The film opens with a black and white sequence that leads directly into the gun barrel shot.  The vibrant splashes of opening theme animation animation take over.  Chunky vector graphic silhouettes battle against the backdrop of beautifully rendered playing card ornamentation and imagery.  The theme from Chris Cornell and David Arnold is acceptable, inoffensive, but not catchy.  It does come close to having a hook but never quite gets to it.

Arnold and Four Tet provide a fantastic closing credits crawl that I like far more.


This film begins with Bond not yet a double oh agent, facing down a corrupt section chief with the task of taking him out.  It's just an introductory sequence to introduce us to him, to call into question whether he has the confidence in himself to take out this far more experienced player in international intrigue.  The conversation is intercut with flashbacks to Bond's brutal clash with the section chief's contact in a bathroom.  It really highlights how rough-and-tumble this Bond is (far more than any before him), in direct contrast to the Bourne series.  Following the credits, Bond's pursuing a bomber in Madagascar, leading to a very destructive chase at a construction site and very extreme feats of parkour.  There are some very clever moments in the fight, leading James into a very painful but utterly inspired pursuit, winding up in an embassy which Bond escapes in a fiery blaze.  It's clear James is an extremely resourceful fighter.

"You`ve got a bloody cheek," M says to Bond discovering him in her apartment (where he hacked her computer to track down info on that he learned from the bomber's phone). They bicker about his botched job and the international incident he's caused.  She says he was too young, too raw to be promoted to a double oh, to which he counters "Well, I understand double ohs have a very short life expectancy... so your mistake will be short-lived."  M considers him a `blunt instrument at least to his face, but there's a buried maternal instinct she has towards him (one she didn't share with Brosnan's Bond, that plays out all the way through to Skyfall).

As Vesper delves into his background we get a quick synopsis of his schooling at Oxford, being an orphan, his appreciation of his affluent lifestyle... the film directly approaching his personality in a way that Bond films past rarely did.
Bond to Vesper: "Don't worry, you're not my type."  "Smart?" "Single." But when Bond figures out that Vesper's necklace is a "love knot" he's drawn in even more by this woman obviously still clinging to a (former?) love?  She is indeed his type.

Bond is indeed confident, directly addressing all the doubts of the fan reaction.  Showing him gambling he's fearless, smart and observant.  But when he loses, Vesper chides him... "You lost because of your ego, and that same ego can't take it."  Of course, it turns out that he only lost because Vesper informed Le Chiffre of his tell and he used it to pull Bond into a big loss.

With Craig taking over, with all his beefy manliness, the movie spends as much time leering at James.  He's objectified moreso than any woman in the movie which after 20 films is a nice change of pace.

The recurring theme of the film is how cold Bond's hart is, M addressing it a number of times (such as his reaction to the death of Solange Dimitrios), and Vesper commenting on the armor he puts up.  Even Le Chiffre senses it when he's being tortured, Vesper screams and Bond doesn't even consider giving up his password to his gambling winnings.  It's Bond's unwillingness to yield during his torture that really showcases his character.  Naked, strapped to a chair, having his testicles walloped with a knotted rope, when he should be at his most vulnerable, he seems at his strongest, his most resolved.  He's a man with no shame or fear, he's committed to his task, his country, if not the rules they want him to follow.

As Bond recovers (Vesper - "If the only thing left of you was your smile and your little finger, you'd still be more of a man than anyone I've ever known.".  Bond - "That's because you know what I can do with my little finger.") he's raw from his torture and Mathis' perceived betrayal, from almost dying (a half dozen times) in two nights, and is utterly smitten with Vesper. He lets down his guard.  He and Vesper vacation and develop as lovers, Bond ready to quit the service and live his life with Vesper (whom, even still, he has trouble reading... she's his blind spot, his tell).  But when all's said and done, with Vesper having drowned herself, he's angry, mostly at himself, and he freezes his heart once more.  "The job's done," he tells M, "The bitch is dead."


Well, I have to admit that after having seen all the Bond films now, most of them multiple times at this point, this really does stand out as one of the best.  It does everything on such another level, from the technical execution of the action set pieces to the involving emotional drama.  Hitting the reset switch on Bond was a risky proposition on 2006 but it worked out extremely well, reestablishing Bond and M's dynamic in a much different manner (there's more cutting back and forth between M and Bond than any other in the series) as well as showing Bond as being more fallible than ever. Craig steps into the role with both extreme confidence and a hint of vulnerability, something that I recognize I like best in my Bond.  He can't just be a cock-sure smarm machine, he has to take some lumps, and not just physical ones.

Nearly every Bond film has a romance, but none compare to Vesper.  Most films end with Bond getting the girl (or, at least, a girl...) usually on a boat or a raft or somewhere adrift.  But here, though water is still a strong image, it's where he loses her.  Perhaps it's this underwater trauma that gets him so randy when asea...?

My initial complaint that the film was overlong but that had more to do with my lack of understanding of (or perhaps just investment in) the story the first time around.  Most Bond films feature overly convoluted plots that often have huge leaps in logic or stretching of credibility, but this one plays out, sure in larger than life ways, but in a more organic fashion than most Bonds.  Beyond the opening sequence, which is really just a Bond reintro, the rest of the film moves from point-A to B to C to D to E to F.  Sure you have to pay attention, but if you don't that's what repeated viewings are for.  There's such a solid through-line, and yet that coherent story doesn't stifle any opportunity for exciting and inventive action sequences, tense fight scenes, romance, character building, and a thoroughly gripping series of poker matches.  The story doesn't give you every little detail, so much is left unsaid, plus there's a lot of parties in play, which is why it was so easy to lose the thread on first viewing.  It's not often we're asked to understand the motivations of Bond, the Bond Girl, and the Villain, as well as understand how so many of the other players fit into the piece, but this script, from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (writers of a few of the Brosnan features, oddly enough) and a redraft from Paul Haggis make the assumption that the audience is ready for a more involving and mature Bond.

Two characters of note in this one.  Firstly, Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), Bond's Montenegro contact.  He's always  watching the scene, brokering deals and making sure that Bond has his back covered.  In one instance, LeChiffre has the local police chief in his pocket but Mathis manages to have him ferreted out by state police.  Mathis also proves helpful at disposing of dead bodies (and finding a use for them).  It's an unfortunate turn when LeChiffre's  states "I'm afraid your friend Mathis is really my friend Mathis", but of course we later learn that this was Vesper's doing.  Secondly, the return of Felix Leiter, last seen in License To Kill, half eaten by a shark.  Of course this is before then and it's his first meeting with Bond at the high stakes poker tournament.  Jeffrey Wright is the perfect Felix, affable but astute, calm and observant.  He's the type of Agent who knows how to use his country's resources wisely, but doesn't rely upon them solely.  He doesn't measure up to Bond, not in the same way, but he's not that type of Agent.  Wright just has the perfect demeanor for the role, and if there's one thing I don't like it's that there's not more of him (and no place for him in Skyfall, boo).


A very sweet Aston Martin with secret compartments for emergency medical, and a tagging device that tracks his vitals.

Classification [out of 01.0]: 00.9 -this is about as good as Bond can get, actually.  I'm a convert.

3 Short Paragraphs: Frozen

2013, Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee -- download

Delete delete delete. Enough introspection! This is a Disney animated princess movie, for gawd's sake Toasty! Its the one that spawned that irri... catchy song that all the kids and coworkers are singing! It has a talking snowman voiced by not-Jonah Hill !  It stars Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars herself) and Idina Menzel (the rival for the princess from Enchanted and the actual singing voice of the character) and solidifies (pun intended) the trend that princesses do not need princes to be fulfilled. But yeah, you all saw it and I am just getting around to it, long after Marmy watched it and after it has been growing stale in our Downloads folder.

In the past, Marmy and I would have been into seeing this movie on its first week, in the cinema. We were part of the resurrection of the Disney animation moment. We saw them all, bought them all and she (with me joining occasionally) re-watching them all on a regular, constant basis. That was the VHS days when Disney had its very smart, back-into-the-vault, lucrative business model of selling and re-releasing the expensive tapes. I was even briefly part of the after-market of finding and reselling these movies, often for vast markup.  Mulan was the last one we made a concerted effort to see cinema-wize, we did see Rapunzel and rather enjoyed it actually, and we were rather disappointed with Brave.  I guess we shall have to see what comes next to determine if we have ended our run of princess cinema viewing.

So, don't like musicals, tired of princesses and already annoyed by the song. So, what did I watch this movie for? World Building!! You have a northern kingdom, obviously wealthy, with a great port but imposing, towering mountains behind it. Part of the plot is someone trying to establish trade relations with the kingdom, so they must have something worth selling. Wood? Fish? Mining? And like all faery tale kingdoms, it seems focused on a single village surrounding a castle. Where is the rest of the kingdom? What is out there? Is this one island in a chain of islands that feed the wealth of its hereditary rulers? And what about the magic? Obviously the fae folk have a place in this world, so is she also of fae blood? Perhaps this kingdom is a last vestige of elfen magic in an increasingly mundane world? Perhaps that was the wealth their southern neighbours were hoping to buy into? Alas, I am always left to my own devices when pondering these dilemmas. Maybe, someday, someone will release a coffee table book about a faery tale movie that answers all these nagging questions.

P.S. Kent's view was less chilly than mine, pun intended.

Monday, June 9, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs (no pun intended): Unhung Hero

2013, d. Brian Spitz

Patrick Moote, actor and stand-up comedian, became internet famous in one of the most embarrassing and devastating ways. He proposed to his then-girlfriend in a very public setting, on a kiss-cam at a UCLA basketball game, and was shot down. I can't really even bring myself to watch the video, which has over 5 million hits on youtube (at least from where I pulled the one below, and many more hits elsewhere around the site and internet). But this film isn't about that devastating moment, it's about the fallout in Moote's life after that upsetting and very public failure. The reason he was rejected was (he tells us, second-hand) was due almost entirely to his small penis size... something that has mentally crippled him, occupying far too much of his time and attention. This film follows three threads: the first being Moote's emotional journey, the second his first-hand experimentation with penis enhancers, and third a look at the history of global culture and the penis.

The hardest part of the film to take is Moote's "character story", which sees him visiting family and friends, shanghaiing ex-girlfriends and talking about his penis size in a way that doesn't always seem genuine. Particularly there's a "meet-cute" element to the film which seems somewhat put-on. The conversations seem to be reflective, rather than reactive, as if revisiting a conversation and pretending it's the first time it's been had. It's clear Moote's been dealing with this issue for some time (rather than just starting to deal with it after the failed engagement). But these awkward elements certainly reveal some truths in Moote's outlook on life, and one's empathy can certainly see the pain in his eyes, particularly a desire to change his situation. Moote winds up investigating "size enhancers" (pills, pumps, injections, surgeries, "exercises") Morgan Spurlock-style only to either chicken out or learn that they're not what they're sold to be (and in some cases may be counterproductive). This is a rather fascinating, first-hand examination backed up with some therapist and medical opinions, really dispelling the myths of the most infamous products and casting a wary eye at some of the others. The journey through penile culture in history and other civilizations (the Korean penis park was something else) was equally fascinating, though not directly illuminating on the whole "size" issue. I think a deeper look into the heterosexual female and gay male perspective on penis size would be fascinating, as the broad range of opinions weren't collected into any coherent data. In the film's most daring and ultimately shocking sequence, Moote even visits a dojo where they practice the martial art (?!) of lifting weights with your penis.

This film will prove an uneasy journey for most men, and perhaps somewhat frustrating to many women. For men, this kind of frank talk about our frank and beans isn't something that's generally dealt with, certainly not with any honesty. Nobody ever wants to admit they are below-average in size, and almost every guy would probably like to be bigger than they are. A meeting with the current record holder for largest penis says that having something that big isn't all it's cut out to be either (though his complaints and insecurities seem to be far less). As pundit (and sex columnist) Dan Savage comments in the film, it's a product of the porn culture which has penetrated society incrementally for the past forty years, putting some of the societal pressure of "measuring up" on men that women have been facing in "beauty standards" by advertising and popular culture for even longer. For women, it may prove genuinely interesting as insight into the male psyche and how much stock we put into our penis size (it's called our "manhood"), but for some women it may kick in a schadenfreude reflex, or at least reduced sympathy given how much focus and attention they're pressured to pay to every part of themselves. Some women may just not see what all the fuss is about.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


2014, d. Gareth Edwards

One of my first film experiences was at age 5 or so viewing of King Kong vs. Godzilla at the public library in town I grew up in.  It's one of those indelible experiences that has never left me, and has endeared me to the giant monster (kaiju) genre for a lifetime.  That said, giant monsters were never a huge part of my life... not even my geek life.  I don't remember watching a lot of Godzilla films on weekend afternoons as a kid (when such things would play back then), and I only have the vaguest recollection of the silly cartoon from the early '80's.  I didn't really actively start catching up with the Toho-built world of kaiju and miniature sets being destroyed until my late teens when my local comic book shoppe started stocking cult and B-movie video cassettes, and I was doing time reviewing these many dreadful things.  Godzilla pictures were the natural standout, with a very specific sensibility to them, and a formula that would sustain for generations.  The meaningful intensity of the first film, its atomic warning, gave way to the simple pleasures of rubber-suits-stomping-on-toys.  Still, that first film, the original Gojira, proved very early on that even populist entertainment can have social resonance, carrying a message beneath it's simple pleasures.

The last time Hollywood licensed the character from Toho, it was a disaster, essentially dispensing with everything that made the character great by people who though they could do better (it's a common problem with the Hollywood ego, thinking they know better than what decades of history have proven works).  It may have made tonnes of money (though wildly underperforming to expectations) and fueled a marketing bonanza, but it tainted the name Godzilla for quite some time.  Toho went back to the drawing board with a series of epic kaiju disaster films centered around Godzilla that were decent, owing far more to their roots, though never escaping the slightly camp factor of guy-in-rubber-suit, which suited the fans just fine.

Another American stab at Godzilla I think was rightfully met with wariness by the audience at large and with even more jaded reception from fans.  Was this really necessary?  How good could this possibly be?  The answer to those questions are a resounding, no, it's not at all a necessary film, and the results were freaking fantastic.

Director Gareth Edwards came into Godzilla from his small-budget semi-scripted quiet adventure-drama Monsters (about navigating a world after giant alien creatures hatched on Earth), and many were concerned how he would scale up.  Monsters brilliantly set the stage for this movie, which does bank on a human reaction to the events happening around them, as well as building a lived in world where this sort of giant monster thing feels possible and the impact of it is truly felt.

This is, at its heart, a disaster picture.  It treats these giant creatures as forces of nature which military weapons are almost entirely useless against.  The best we can hope for is being prepared, and getting out of the way.  Dave Callaham's story and Max Borenstein's screenplay very wisely remember that the creatures are the center of the film, and the people involved in the story are all in some way reacting to or actively engaging that center.  There's no romantic sub-plot, and any character dramatics are rightfully overshadowed by the events happening around them.

Edwards' direction is, quite simply, inspired.  So much of the film is from the perspective of us as humans: seeing things happen on the news or on a portable device or security monitor (even if the actual events are happening right before us, only a screen can seem to contain the sheer enormity and provide outside context), watching through the window of a bus or train as the monsters crash through infrastructure, fleeing in terror as Godzilla's emergence from the ocean causes a tsunami, seeing the creature eye-to-eye from the cockpit of a fighter jet... Edwards deliberately doesn't use many wide shots just so that we can rarely ascertain just how big these creatures truly are, while also keeping us grounded in the film's reality and the brutal havoc they create.  When we do get those broad shot, they're so quick, so outside our usual point of view that they are truly awe-inspiring.  From purely a visual storytelling standpoint this is a brilliantly made film.

Beyond that wonderful accomplishment, Borenstein and Edwards create a really interesting origin for the creatures that is simple and logical, and they build a history dating back to the bombs dropping in Japan in World War II that first awakened the creatures.  Since then, a shadow organization devoted to understanding and tracking such kaiju appearances has emerged, but even they are unable to influence the military strategy for how to handle them.  Ken Watanabe is, as always, aces in his role as the head of this org.

The film naturally builds to a big monster battle which is executed perfectly, totally capturing the feel of classic Toho with the spit and polish of tens of millions of dollars of big US studio money.  I cheered numerous time.   Early trailers and posters showing a dramatically up-sized Godzilla had me nervous but the gargantuan scale, it turns out, makes the futility of human intervention even more potent.  The film takes its time building to Godzilla's reveal, and even more time before it gets to the combat stage, but the anticipation and intrigue it creates more than pays off.

Beyond that, the film carries with it an undercurrent, warning not just of our nuclear activities but of how all of humanity's presence on the earth has an effect.  Godzilla is no longer just a warning of the dangers of the atomic age, but a metaphor for nature's violent reaction to our mistreatment of the planet.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Christian Bale: The Fighter vs Out of the Furnace

2010, David O Russell (Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook) -- download
2013, Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) -- download

I held a weird mirror held up between these two movies. In Out of the Furnace, Bale plays Russell Baze, a hard working man dedicated to his family and his moral compass. Casey Affleck plays his nogoodfornuttin younger brother, usually drunk or high or fighting ... or some combination of the three. In The Fighter Bale plays Dickey Eklund, the nogoodfornuttin brother of Mark Wahlberg's Micky Ward, a boxer doing his best to establish himself. Dickey is a washout ex-boxer seeking a comeback, training his brother but screwing it all up with crack and petty crimes. Both movies take place in working class towns full of snaggle toothed questionably moral-ed people.

I imagine that the writers and directors of Hollywood have a strange relationship with working man stories, especially now, as we watch the divide between working class and wealthy class separate even further. Even I experience this in a minimal (major? look at the last line of the last paragraph) way, having left a working class small city (coal, steel, fishing) but was never directly part of that milieux -- my dad was a newspaper distribution supervisor. As I moved around Canada in mostly large cities, I felt further from that origin. But in all working class depictions I see a sense of timeless familiarity. I know the nobility of Work Hard but I also remember all too clearly the snaggle tooth, in personality if not always molars.

The depiction is always walking the line between admiration and loathing. Take Russell Baze -- the movie gives us the epitome of an admirable blue collar guy. He works in a steel factory, hard and dangerous work, and he comes home to empty his pockets caring for his dying father and screwup brother. He is loyal to a fault, affectionate and admired by his peers for his sacrifices. Then we see Dickey, crack-head and completely lost in his not-exactly-successful past. So the man knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (debatable); that was ages ago and he hasn't done anything since. His family is scary (OK, his sisters are scary) and his friends are the worst of the worst for a small city - the local crackheads and whores and petty crooks not taken seriously by anyone. I see Bale as the Janus of Hollywood, expertly accepting both sides of the working man coin.

That both of  these guys are pulled off expertly by Christian Bale impressed me. I always thought of him as one note, Batman gravelly vs Quinn Abercromby, Dragon Slayer vs John Connor. But here he mirrors the two men so fucking well. Dickey is astoundingly not-Bale, but I suspect there was more of the man in Baze. When you see the post-credit footage of the real people the movie was based on, you see some impressive emulation. Hell, even the past-40 bald spot adds to the character depiction.  He is loud, annoying and just so much out there, more so than typical Bale. Russel Baze is more typically reserved Bale, but he establishes a deep integrity in the character very early on; you see the tension and pressure of his family and environment but he always remains calm, dependable, respectable. That the character suffers at the hands of Fate, drinking a glass of Scotch he cannot refuse and then getting into a car accident, but still maintains his relationship behind the walls. We knew he would stay at the scene, that he would take responsibility. Working Man Hero.

Both movies are character focused, and while The Fighter should be more about the lead Wahlberg, it was always about Bale for me.  Even if I hated much about the character, it was just so fascinating to watch. In the end, I guess both movies showed the responsibility and nobility that comes with a dedication to family. Both characters end up admirable, even if Baze is lowered in our eyes by making the hard, ultimately more human choice, while Dickey pulls up his track pants and does what he needs to do to regain his brother's respect. The fighter in question may be Micky Ward, but we root for Dickey.

A little about each plot? Out of the Furnace has Russell Baze going to jail for vehicular man slaughter, from a blatant example of alcohol impairing judgement. He accepts his fate but his life falls apart as he is in jail -- his father dies, his girlfriend leaves him and his brother falls in with criminals. When his brother eventually falls, Baze accepts that retribution must come at his hands. Its a gloomy, ingrained dirt kind of movie taking place in a Pennsylvania steel town. The Fighter is a boxing movie, depicting real life boxers Mickey Ward and ex-boxer Dickey Eklund, from Lowell, Massachusetts. It covers the rise of Mickey, after he accepts that his family is holding him down, eventually becoming a rising star in the sport, but really only after he accepts his brother back into his faith.

Monday, June 2, 2014

I Saw This!! - Reject pile

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so.  Now they they have to strain to say anything meaningful lest they just not say anything at all.  And they can't do that, can they?

Gymkata - 1985, d. Robert Clouse (youtube)
Knights of Badassdom - 2013ish, d. Joe Lynch (DVD)
The Dictator - 2012, d. Larry Charles (Netflix)
Flash Gordon - 1980, d. Mike Hodges (Netflix)


Oh Gymkata, you have been sitting on my to-write-about list for what seems like forever.  I first caught wind of this film back in 2006 when it was released on DVD and was on display at my local Sunrise Records, with it's stark red painted poster cover of a semi-super-heroic athlete/action star taking out some ninjas.  I was just at the tail end of my "ironic enjoyment of bad cinema" phase (replete with attending Kung-Fu Fridays at the local Revue), so I wanted it, but I was also tight on funds so I let it go.  Still, I never really forgot about "the gymnastic action movie", and when it cropped up on the "How Did This Get Made" podcast and I learned the entire film was easily available on YouTube, how could I not watch it (especially since the HDTGM crew seemed to recommend it)?

To be honest, it's not that bad.  I mean as far as bad films go.  It's entertaining, using a Running Man/Most Dangerous Game type plot where a number of special operatives from different countries compete in this small nation's bloodsport tournament for a chance to appeal to its ruler and secure ....well, whatever the hell it was they were trying to secure.  The basic formula has been done dozens of times, but it's just as entertaining and nonsensical here as it ever is.  These type of bloodsport competitions always fall into fantasy no matter how horrific or puerile they are.  And when gymnast-turned-action star finds uneven bar and a pummel horse-like objects in the middle of crazy town (where all the crazies are kept) you can bet a deliriously dumb, but entertaining action sequence will ensue.  Stupid but great in that 1980's direct-to-video way.  Truly.


David covered Knights of Badassdom's messed up release history already, so I won't retread it here.  This is a slight film, one that feels like it should have been longer, more epic, and hewing closer to the genres its attempting to emulate.  The short story finds a gang of LARPers (live action role players) unwittingly unleashing a real demon into their weekend tournament, and having little but foam swords and padded axes to defend themselves with.  Madness ensues.

The cast is extra impressive, a geek's delight of True Blood's Ryan Kwitney Kwanten, the immaculate Peter Dinklage, perennial nerd fawn Summer Glau, and Steve Zahn, with support from Mad Men's Michael Gladis and Community's Danny Pudi, with the film centering around Kwitney's recent relationship break-up and depression, and his roommates attempts to bring him into their world of role playing.  The through line of dealing with one's relationship demons, a metaphor literally coming to life here, is quaint and 1980's-inspired, but the execution, the technical limitations (and subsequent interference from studios and distributors) make for a choppy and unfulfilling experience.  Were the film to have a budget, it would play into the LARP fantasy and bring it to life (punctuating the exaggerated with the comedic reality), because when we the real LARP action happen before us, it's just rather dull.  When the film shifts into horror mode, it becomes quite evident the director Lynch doesn't have the experience (or possibly just the budget) to truly execute it as a horror film.  It's cheesy, low-budget, light-comedy horror and it's always in want of intensity.

It makes due with what it has and it provides a modicum of entertainment without sacrificing the LARPing community to punchline after punchline (redneck paintballers instead get that distinction), but it never hits the comedic highs it should and it just doesn't push itself hard enough.  It's a film that kind of screams "good enough".


I'm trying to gauge my feelings on Sacha Baron Cohen at this stage.  Borat, quite rightfully, entered our popular consciousness because it was goddamn funny by being so very wrong.  But it was wrong with a sweet, ignorant core, and also an element of cultural satire underpinning it all.  Borat was one of three major characters that Cohen developed on his British television series Da Ali G Show alongside  Ali G and Bruno, both receiving the cinematic treatment, but not nearly to the same cultural penetration as Borat.  The foundation for these characters however was all based in the awkwardness of taping the interview segments between dim-witted, self-involved and unapologetically racist put-on characters and real people who are, in most cases not in on the joke.  This type of improv creates an unease that in gifted hands develops into riotous comedy.  But it's also exhausting and hard to revisit, hence my avoidance of most of Baron Cohen's work in recent years.

The Dictator eschews this type of improv, removing the interactions with the public of Borat in place of a scripted (though profusely ad-libbed) comedy that feels at once more comfortable, but less satisfying.  The Dictator is, in some ways, a rehash of the 1980's Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming To America, where a wealthy, out-of-touch individual must struggle for survival as a layman.  In this case it's the globally reviled dictator of a non-descript Middle Eastern country, Aladeen, who narrowly escapes his own assassination and schemes to retake his position, now held by his Uncle and a dimwit puppet double.  Along the way, he meets an old subject (the ever-amazing Jason Mantzoukas) whom he thought he had assassinated (turns out everyone he hed assassinated was actually relocated to New York) who wishes to help him for a price, and he falls in love with the crunchy granola whole-foods proprietor who gives him a job when he appears to be just another disheveled refugee named Paula Burgers (Aladeen has a terrible time coming up with fake names, a running joke in the film).

There are some solid comedic moments in this film, some aces running gags, but also a lot of duds that just come far too easy.  I imagine there's a pile of lengthy ad-lib takes on the cutting room floor that would be utterly hilarious but there's no sustained improv here, and the scene cuts and transitions are pained.  If this film has a fatal flaw, it's that Aladeen never becomes a likeable character.  He's always wrong-headed with such zeal that it's always on the cusp of being amusing (occasionally spilling over) but without ever being likeable, you never want to root for him.  I'll give him one thing though, his speech to the United Nations comparing living in a dicatorship to living in the US was potently funny, if only it really mattered that it was said.

My conclusion on Baron Cohen is that he certainly has a type he likes to play and how he likes to play it, and I'm not opposed to it, but I'm not always receptive to it either.  I think perhaps a dosed watching of Ali G may make my mind up for me.


What amazes me about watching Flash Gordon is how terrible it looks at first, especially upon realizing that it was made after Star Wars.  It's clunky and awful, and its flaws further exacerbated by a cornball opening sequence of a video screen showing natural disasters as the bejeweled glove of Ming the Merciless presses buttons activating these events (including one labeled "Hot Hail".  This leads to the introduction of our protagonists, Flash Gordon, football hero, and Dale Arden, travel agent, on a chartered plane caught in the Hot Hailstorm.  The pair lack both chemistry and acting chops, playing the roles straight out of a community college production.  Sam Jones looks the part perfectly, but he just isn't a strong enough actor to pull it off. 

Things get a fair sight better with the introduction of Dr. Zarkon, played by the always lively Topol, and he kidnaps the duo, straight out of their crashed plane into his rocket ship that takes them on a psychedelic trip to a wormhole and Ming the Merciless' home planet.  From here the set design and costuming take over for the lackluster story and pitiable leads, with vibrant and elaborate stage sets that are wonderful to behold, and a parade of costumes that today still look fantastic (sorry lizard men, not you though).

At a certain point, Max Von Sidow, Topol, Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton and the fetching Ornella Muti start to take over, elevating the quality of the presence on screen, delivering enjoyable performances in a somewhat dreadful and misguided production.

The conceit of the 1980's Flash Gordon is that it's a then-modern retelling of the 1930's pulp serials, and it does an all-too-good job of recapturing that aesthetic.  But capturing and directly relaying that nostalgia to a post-Star Wars, post-Alien, post-2001 crowd was a fatal flaw and has largely driven a nail in the character since.  Looking at the poster gallery for the film, there's a tremendous amount of wonderful pulpy and 50's sci-fi inspired images.  It's a terrible movie with a certain amount of pleasantness that ultimately sucks you in to admiring it, but still has problems you can't get a curious-looking girl made more beautiful with her charm but disarming everyone with her braying horse laugh. 

Flash! Ah AAAH!