Tag Archives: Franchise

Cracking Whip and Wit: Indy IV Delivers

All the Indiana Jones movies open with the famous Paramount Pictures logo dissolving into some mountainous form, be it a South American peak in Raiders of the Lost Ark, an embossed emblem on a Chinese gong in Temple of Doom, or a dry boulder in Utah at the start of The Last Crusade. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the long-awaited fourth installment in what may be one of the best franchises in movie history, the logo dissolves into a tiny prairie dog hill in Nevada located on the outskirts of Area 51. Perhaps director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas are reminding us at the start of the movie to keep our expectations low despite the arduous wait and growing anticipation we lovers of the series have endured. Still, the first frame of Crystal Skull is reassuring. To our benefit, those involved in resurrecting Indy after a 19-year hiatus have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks.

Indiana Jones is back and he still kicks ass.

Crystal Skull delivers enough fun proving the naysayers wrong. It doesn’t match the unfairly high expectations Raiders of the Lost Ark
sets forth, which we all know is ultimately impossible. After all, we
are experiencing a movie that Spielberg and Lucas know how to do best. Crystal Skull makes all the imitators pale in comparison. Okay, so there are a few flaws but to complain about Indiana Jones is like complaining that your visit with an old friend went terribly awry because he or she wore the wrong shoes. Indiana Jones and the franchise itself is a throwback to those old-fashioned, B-movie matinee serials. (Buck Rogers, anyone?) The goal is simply to entertain and be swept away to another world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that filmmakers sacrifice quality storytelling. (Raiders, anyone?) Movies of this sort should be fantastical and off-the-wall—relentless in its adventurous spirit and bold in its often-implausible moments. We’ll go for the ride if the ride’s well worth it. These movies demand our imagination. Sadly, that’s the biggest obstacle Indy’s going to have to endure this summer. How can an old-fashioned adventure hero be relevant to the iPod generation, who’s perpetually plugged-in, apathetic and incredulous?

Ironically it’s technology that makes this movie less than stellar. For all it’s old-fashioned sensibilities, the use of CGI in Crystal Skull feel
painfully out of place, taking away the pure, visceral joy of what
makes an Indiana Jones movie—there’s no real, tangible sense of danger here, and the film suffers for it. Also, the dialogue could use a
little polishing. Perhaps screenwriters David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson try too hard to emulate the spirit of the earlier entries.

 

Crystal Skull is one gorgeous set piece after another, with purposefully garish lighting (very reminiscent of Last Crusade)
and out-of-this-world (literally) plot points. It’s now 1957, and the
bad guys are no longer the Nazi’s but the Commies. Dr. Jones is a
tenured professor who partners up with a young student named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) because their good friend Oxley, played by John Hurt, disappears while tracing the origins of this crystal skull—a quartz relic that evil Soviet agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) believes came from an earlier civilization, possibly form another world. On their quest, Indy and Mutt cross paths with one-time flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who also happens to be (spoiler alert!) Mutt’s mother. There’s some healing to be had between Marion and Indy, and perhaps some secrets that need revealing. Throughout the film, we’re jampacked into loads of action, thrilling set pieces and lots of trap doors and hidden clues. The action is relentless. For example, when Spalko and Mutt cross swords above moving vehicles and other obstacles, it brings me back to the glorious action of pre-CGI movies—and I’m not just saying this as a fencer myself. It’s nice to see movies do good old-fashioned stunts again.

Thankfully, there are way too many strong points to overlook the weak ones. The best is Harrison Ford. Even if he’s older and wiser, his whip (and wit) still cracks and finally, Ford shines again in a role he was born to play. Composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn give reliable work, be as they are Indy veterans having worked on all four films now. The supporting cast is great as well, with Cate Blanchett as the evil Ruskie dominatrix Irina Spalko complete with an over-the-top babushka accent. It’s also nice to see Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. Shia LaBeouf tries to keep up with his older counterparts and succeeds most of the time, even if his sensibilities seem a bit too 21st century. His strength has always been playing the young sarcastic, uber-cool know-it-all which LeBeouf doesn’t really get to display here since he’s suppose to be a cool kid in the 1950’s. Speilberg tries to immerse him in the era, even giving him a grand entrance a la Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones, complete with the hog, jacket and tilted cap.

 

Indy IV could also be considered a coming-of-middle-age story. There are plenty of over-the-hill jokes about Indy’s age. Besides, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford made the first three well into their thirties. Now they’re in their sixties and still going strong. Perhaps, that’s the coolest thing about this whole Indiana Jones resurrection. Underneath the excitement and brought out by Indy’s constant fatigue and “I’m-getting-too-old-for-this” comments is a celebration of journeys traveled. Those of us old enough to remember experiencing any one of the first Indy movies on the big screen are probably too old to be going around celebrating an iconic character of our youth by gorging on the merchandise and wearing fedora hats at the mall. (Raiders is the movie that made me want to become a filmmaker.) But having Indiana Jones back now that we’re older reminds us that life is full of adventures, no matter how old or young. It’s one thing to be old and another thing to do it the old-fashioned way.

And sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best way.

Welcome back, Dr. Jones. We’ve missed ya.

RATING: B+

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The Trouble With Harry

(My MoviePatron.com Review)

Playtime is definitely over in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. In the first few minutes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our boy, er, man Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) performs necessary magic to save himself and his muggle relatives. Right then and there it’s clear; childhood has become a dream of the past. Gone are the days of Quidditch and chocolate-covered frogs. For any kid Harry’s age, the scariest reality is the notion of growing up.


Underneath the darker tones, nifty visual effects and the high production values, Order of the Phoenix works best once you realize that it’s simply a strong coming-of-age story making the fifth installment of this well-crafted franchise a worthy entry; if not necessarily its best or most eloquent. It’s not as rich as Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban and perhaps much more disjointed than Goblet of Fire. Here, director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg make it clear that this latest saga is a transitional piece—a placeholder during a phase of growth teasing us with uneven jolts of something far more thrilling, more sinister and perhaps even more enjoyable in things to come. A clever parallel to or our trio of heroes, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson), who also seem to be stuck in a similar phase of growth: puberty.

This time around, Harry faces a prickly new teacher, Miss Umbridge, played with delight by Imelda Staunton. She’s the epitome of that cheery, suburban socialite—like one of those church ladies you know who’s got an evil side underneath that plastered smile. But her veneer is convincing. No one believes Harry except for a trusty handful. Bureaucracy, in the form of the Ministry of Magic, has become such a negative commodity in the wizarding world that you wonder if it’s a social commentary on the part of the filmmakers or the author. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) haunts Harry in his nightmares, and the increasing denial of evil reignites an order to stand against it, not just in the wizarding world, because sadly this evil sorcery has trickled into ours. All this lies on the fate of Harry, and his weariness is all the more apparent. Finally, Harry comes to his own and Radcliffe nails the character down in perhaps his best performance as the kid wizard.

There is magic and mayhem all around, and loads of exposition but make no mistake, this is Harry’s darkest tale yet. When Harry recalls his encounter with the Dementors, those ghost-like creatures in black tattered threads, you can’t help but agree with him. “It was as though all the happiness had gone from the world,” An accurate description of the film’s tone. Perhaps younger viewers will find it scarier and dragging at parts, but fans of the series will eat this up. It’s nice to see the characters progress no matter their direction, and of course there’s That Kiss, which in my opinion, falls a bit flat and forced.


The key to the Harry Potter films is that all-star British cast. With such names as Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Jason Isaacs, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, George Harris and Julie Walters, you’d think a cast like this would be doing rep for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of ‘Mother Courage.’ Instead, they’ve all come together to be part of a Hollywood blockbuster targeted for a much younger demographic then they are all probably used to.

Perhaps the most advantageous aspect of the entire Harry Potter universe is synergy.

Credit can go to J.K. Rowling, the author/creator of the franchise, or perhaps to Warner Bros, for cleverly marketing their now profitable acquisition, turning what started out as a small English children’s novel into a blockbuster tentpole. Yet, the real credit goes to the fans.

Take for example my little sister, a die-hard fan that has grown up reading the books, watching the movies, and gorging herself in the merchandise. She’s roughly Harry’s age, so she’s practically grown up along side Harry, reading his memoirs of Hogwarts and finding relatable experiences with Hermoine Granger. Now when the last book is finally published in a few days, all those summer evenings of reading the books together with friends, going on trips to see the latest Potter movie in the local Cineplex, and most importantly, helping them pass through that awkward ‘tween’ phase of crushes and growing pains—all that will become part of their childhood memories because they grew up with Harry Potter, and Harry Potter on the other hand helped them grow up.

RATING: B-

No Silver Lining

CGI, also known as computer generated visual effects, has become a celluloid plague.

Even though Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer clocks in under 90 minutes, the movie lags and meanders in and out of clichés, vacuous characterization, and pseudoscientific gibberish. What can be more unsatisfying than watching visual effects for the sake of visual effects? I was hoping that the addition of the Silver Surfer this time around could bring the Fantastic Four out of B-list superhero mediocrity. Instead, he really doesn’t do or add much.

Looking like a shiny hood ornament, the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones, voiced by Laurence “Morpheus” Fishburne) glides in and out of the screen but he’s as weightless and dull as Jessica Alba’s acting chops. You can’t help but realize that the bulk of this movie is CGI, and the glossy surfer dude loses much of his shine when you come to that realization and it’s hard to shake off. There’s also not much to latch unto in terms of characterization and plot. At least the first film dealt with weighty issues of identity and family, and it was slightly fun to see Johnny Storm a.k.a. the Human Torch (the hammy Chris Evans) in action. In the sequel, Johnny’s fireball CGI is supposedly upstaged by the Silver Surfer, only because we are told so. As Johnny watches the Silver Surfer exit a skyscraper unharmed through an energy field in slo-mo, Johnny reacts “that is so cool.” Hey, if he said so, so shall we believe.

This constant spoon-feeding from recent visual effects-driven blockbusters is what stalls them. We’re not a dumb audience. We know what we like and we know what works.

Yet I’ll admit that the movie garnered a few light chuckles now and then, and it isn’t as convoluted as some recent blockbusters of late. Also, truth be told, the Fanastic Four are generally likeable characters. Non-offensive even if a bit bland. Ioan Gruffudd does what he can as Reed Richard’s a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic and Michael Chiklis is reliably gruff as Ben Grimm a.k.a. The Thing. Although Julian McMahon deserves props as he plays up the villainy and smarminess of the evil Dr. Doom. He’s got a believable handle on the character and its loads of B-movie fun to see our favorite TV plastic surgeon play a well-loved comic book villain.

Slapped with a guaranteed box-office PG rating, the Fantastic Four franchise needs to find its footing. In my opinion, it could use more bite come Fantastic Four 3 (yes, expect it). I brought my little sister along and even she found it a bit juvenile. About halfway through the film, she leaned over to me and whispered “You look bored.”

Maybe I was. A gluttony of CGI does not a movie make. If that’s the case, then I can just go home and stare at my screensaver for 90 minutes.

RATING: D

Shake Sinatra’s Hand

After a dismal start to a summer that seems to be marketed towards geeky fanboys drooling over confused pirates and superheroes, Ocean’s Thirteen whizzes along as a smart and cheeky film–one that delights filmgoers who aren’t all that interested in CGI and marketable toy products but snappy dialogue, witty repartee and heady filmmaking techniques. Oddly enough, O13 feels a bit misplaced in a summer filled with fraternity-minded comedies and nerdy threequels. Director Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney and company have fashioned a tart, pure but hardly simple movie among bloated blockbusters. You can’t help but notice. O13 is like that one fashionable yet appropriately dressed gal in a picnic filled with girls in jogging outfits and sweats–she’s classy and simply stands out among the rest.

At the film’s core, this “class act” act is the point of it all, and a rather fine one at that. Soderbergh and the gang remind us how being a class act goes a long way. It’s a throwback to the lost art of being a gentlemen, and who would have thought that a bunch of fictional merry thieves would bring that into light?

This time around, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) enlist the gang to take revenge on casino owner Willy Bank (an understated Al Pacino) who ousted the ailing Reuben Tishkoff (an excellent Elliott Gould) from a partnership deal in owning their latest venture; an Asian-inspired casino on the strip shaped like ribbons. This sends Reuben to grave illness, almost to the point of death. Of course, no one does that to one of Ocean’s Eleven. Reuben reminds Willy that he can’t do that. “We shook Sinatra’s hand,” Reuben pleads. “Screw Sinatra’s hand!” Willy rebuttles. At that point, the driving force of the movie becomes clear. Even rich guys have no class.

The boys have no choice but to take revenge and bring down Willy’s casino on its grand opening, meaning they’ve got to rig the house to lose. As expected, there are lots of witty back-and-forth banter from the boys–dialogue that would make Howard Hawks proud, and of course obstacles along the way that seem impossible to the downright farfetched (a man-made earthquake). But still, you can’t help but root for the gang. Their motives are clearly backed up by a sincere sense of friendship and honor. Also, who else would you trust to take down the house in Vegas? Danny Ocean of course, and what fun–if for at least two hours–is it to see a house in Vegas lose? Those of you who’ve placed bets there would certainly agree with me.

Of course with Reuben, who often funds for all of Ocean’s expensive capers, being bed-ridden, who else are the boys to turn to for financial support? It’s the old adage of “the enemy of your enemy is your friend.” There’s no surprise that the 13th member of the group is no other than their former nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia).  Benedict wants to see Willy go down in flames because Willy’s new hotel casts a shadow over his Bellagio fountain pool. But then again, perhaps there’s more to Benedict than we think.

The film’s charm is undeniable and it has the cool slickness of the first, and the sheer audacity of the second. If the first film was an exercise in style and coolness, and the second being a frivolous (if not always successful) commentary on success, the third one is all about honor and friendship. It’s a fitting ending to our boys. But it’s not all sappy. The film is loaded with fun gags. The opening shot is amazing and the pay-off is hilarious. There’s duping the NightFox (Vincent Cassel) all over again (yep, he’s back) and well-placed Oprah jokes. There’s jokes about “soft openings” and Vegas traditions that pay off so cleverly and so well. The third time around, there is evident homages to the heydays of the Rat Pack and that lost Vegas myth of glamour and style. There’s much more throwback here than there was in the previous two installments, and for fans of that lounge-era, this is a welcoming touch.

Throwback has been the film’s engine from the get-go. Roman Nagel, the euro-tech guy from Ocean’s Twelve played with such delight by Eddie Izzard reminds Danny and Rusty that they have become “analog players in a digital world.” Rusty and Danny are perplexed, and rightfully so. Perhaps it’s a response to how fluffy popcorn flicks of this nature have become callous CGI videogame-like drones. Yet I think it’s a strong response to how gentlemen like Danny and Rusty aren’t the ones who are no longer in touch with the world we live in, but the other way around. It goes back to the whole notion of being a class act. Even though they’re genial thieves, they’re still thieves nevertheless, but at least they understand the meaning, the properties and social norms of being gentlemen.

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Perhaps it’s too much to ask. After all, this is the summer of pirates, ogres and toy robots. Clooney’s Ocean remind’s Pacino’s Willy that “he shook Sinatra’s hand once. You should know better.” Definitely a jab at Willy for not having any class.

Too bad. Half the summer moviegoers don’t even know who Sinatra is.

RATING: A-

Sweeney/Ocean/Bourne in movie news, all in the same day!

I’m not one to overblog or even blog about future movie tidbits that much but today gave news to some films I’m interested in seeing this year. So I have to share. Forgive my lameness. I’m going back to Maltese Falcon after this short E!-like blog.

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Old Hollywood Feel
I just saw the official trailer for Ocean’s 13 and it looks so stylish and classy. Love Pacino as the addition to the cast. It feels like those classic glossy golden-age Hollywood all-star movies. I think I’m the only guy in the world who appreciates this trilogy beyond it being an exercise in style. It truly is a throwback to cool. Frank & Dino cool.

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The names’ Bourne. Jason Bourne.
The Bourne Ultimatum
international trailer just blew me away. I am officially stoked. The trailer just makes recent spy movies (ahem, particularly a beloved yet now revamped one) look like a cheap imitation.

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Raise your razor, Sweeney!
And finally, I am extremely excited about the pairing of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim and filmmaker Tim Burton reinventing Sondheim’s classic Sweeney Todd onto the screen. The casting is spot on and Depp (looking like Edward Scissorhand‘s long lost daddy) is going to be amazing as Sweeney. Helena Bonham Carter as Ms. Lovett? Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin? Sasha Baron Cohen as Pirelli? Christopher Lee as the Ghost? This is the cast of the year bar-none. Perfect fits.

Nobody Does It Better – A James Bond Appreciation

UPDATE: I just found out that Robert Altman, acclaimed filmmaker passed away today. I’m deeply sadden by the news. I might just write up one of these essays about his films and their impact on me and on the rest of the film world. I’ll keep Bond up for awhile for everyone to ponder and discuss on but you can expect a healthy tribute to Altman in the coming days.

I’m aware that I’m one of three people in the entire world who didn’t care much for Casino Royale. Perhaps it’s my penchant for vintage Bond. In all reality, Casino Royale was too much of a redefinition for me that everything that’s new and reinvented in the latest installment can be found in other recent cloak and dagger movies. I’m also aware that we are being reintroduced to a character that perhaps lacks a true identity; one going through a serious mid-life crisis. Bond was no longer special. He has become more efficient, bolder and bloodier . . . just like his fellow cinematic spies. Bond was once the man who inspired countless characters like him. Now, he’s been reintroduced to us much like everybody else. Who is this James Bond?

Watching James Bond in film school opened me up to the notion that Bond on screen (not in the novels) found his true identity in the era he was in at the time. What made Bond survive all these years is that he truly is a man of his time. One can take a look at all twenty past Bond films and see that Bond’s identity came from the geopolitical climate of the era he was in. When Dr. No came out in theatres in 1962, the world was at the height of the Cold War, and here was a mere secret agent doing his job. We knew espionage existed then, and to be personified rather suavely catered to the growing popularity of “the dashing bachelor.” Riding the crest of prosperity after WWII, young men of this generation weren’t ready to settle down. Domesticity was not their groove. They relished their independence, and around them formed a unique culture of cool.

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Thus James Bond strived. Sean Connery, too. As the Cold War stories and theories grew far more outlandish, so did our favorite British secret agent. Goldfinger came along and sealed a franchise.

By the early 70’s a new approach was needed for Bond because the Cold War didn’t seem to end. It was almost ridiculous, creating new political language: superpower, nuclear, arms race. So in many ways we needed James Bond, not just someone who can save the world, but provide escapist entertainment. We had Vietnam on our TV screens nightly. It was a time of rapid social experimentation, energy crisis and Watergate. Pop culture responded, and so did James Bond. We needed James Bond to make us feel warm, not necessarily safe. Live and Let Die (which is essentially a Blaxpoitation film) introduced a witty, lighter Bond in the likes of Roger Moore, who probably had the toughest role of stepping under the shadows of Connery and providing the ‘funny’ while balancing the tougher act of Bond. His tenure as Bond the Entertainer lasted till the growth of computer technology and the rise of the venture capitalist, 80’s Reaganomics and greed. Moore’s final bow as Bond in the underrated View to a Kill pits him against Zorin (Christopher Walken) an industrialist billionaire who plans to take over Silicon Valley and the world. Zorin would probably fit right in with the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs elite.

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By the time Timothy Dalton stepped in as James Bond, the Cold War was near dormant and the future and purpose of James Bond was uncertain. The same summer License to Kill was released in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. It seemed we no longer need a James Bond, no matter how tough or realistic. Bond was no longer relevant.

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We entered a new world order in the 1990’s, facing rapidly shifting global alliances. Real-world villains were smarter, more technologically advanced, and soon enough, it seemed there might be a reason, even a need, for James Bond. Enter Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye catapulting the series into heights never before seen in the franchise. Bond was back and his enemies ranged from terrorist arms dealers, media megalomaniacs even a fellow double-o agent. The last Brosnan outing, Die Another Day suffered greatly from the dramatic shift of political attitude when September 11th occurred. Released a little over a year after the tragedy, Die Another Day had no other choice but to be a nostalgic, bombastic film. We needed escapist entertainment yet again and Bond came through. Instead of taking the approach of actually tackling terrorism, the Bond filmmakers decided to make a yearbook film, homaging the past nineteen Bond films. Looking back at it, it was a necessary entry: one to celebrate the man that is Bond. Despite a new and gritty opening title sequence, a riveting fencing battle (yes, I’m a fencer) and some interesting psychoanalysis, the film is marred by bad CGI eclipsing the stunts that were actually performed. The spirit was right, but Bond lacked credibility because the world around him got serious and confused. He needed a different approach.

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Now that Casino Royale is wowing audiences, it seems Bond’s timing to reinvent himself is right. In this day and age, perhaps we need a Bond who is all work and no play. Real-life Blofeld’s exist and it seems necessary to restart Bond, reintroducing himself to a new world; a far more dangerous one. What saddens me is that the previous Bonds all did it with a sense of fun and a great deal of wit and charm. Now Daniel Craig’s Bond is poised to be tough and desensitized. There’s something wholly out of touch by a Bond who is desensitized to me. Bond needs to have a soul and a wit that’s uncompromising. I hope it comes through later on with Craig’s Bond.

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Perhaps it’s because James Bond movies don’t just rely on the performance of the actor playing Bond. The villains, the gadgets, the women, the locations, the music—all of it contribute so much to a Bond film. To have them stripped away isn’t getting rid of a formula; it’s stripping away a cinematic identity. Bond films are the only movies that created its very own niche; its very own genre and there is much merit to that. Call me crazy, but as a budding filmmaker, one would want to be involved in such an established franchise. One of the first questions asked to us in film school was “what would you do with a James Bond movie?” Many composer friends have mentioned to me of the dream of “scoring a Bond film.” This is what disappointed me in Bond’s latest adventure; not much is referred to what creates a Bond film. Over forty years of creating something unique, is now stripped off of anything special. It’s like watching a film noir with all the characters perfectly lit. Or Indiana Jones never brandishing a whip. Can you imagine Star Wars without “May The Force Be With You?” I know I can’t.

These movies need to be looked at as a whole, and yes, it’s unfair to be so cold to Craig’s Bond as he has just started his run as the man in the tux. Looking back at the Bond films recently, I realized that there’s really not much merit, in this blogger’s opinion, to rank the actor’s who played Bond. Bond’s own identity shifts with the times, but his character will always be the same. Each five have contributed a lot to a character that never lost his true character: a man with rapier wit, lethal charm and ruthless determination.

Here are my takes on the eras of Bond. Going from most recent to the very first one.

The Brosnan Era

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Still the most successful Bond in terms of earnings, I find The Broz’s take on Bond the most fascinating. His introduction as Bond in GoldenEye is probably the best but there’s a lot of veneers in The World Is Not Enough, that are rather interesting choices for Bond. His execution of Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) caused a huge uproar by purists (mostly Moore fans) as it was the most cold-blooded killing of a woman by Bond to date. For anyone who doubted The Broz considering him a poor Bond, watch his kill of Elektra. A layered, nuanced moment in perhaps the second best of his era. There’s much to be said for taking a franchise in its all time low and taking it to all new highs. Much of what makes the Broz’s Bond so delicious are the subtler things; the dodging of bullets in GoldenEye as he preps his gun, the way his eyes check out the ridiculous Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). “First things first” he says, obviously alluding to the only reason why she’s in the film, and the delivery of “No more foreplay.” He also fits Ian Fleming’s physical description to a tee. Many Bond fans consider this era the second golden age of Bond, thanks to the right elements, particularly the hiring of David Arnold as the composer of the new Bond films. Arnold hits all the right diminished notes a la John Barry.


Best Brosnan Bond Movie:
GoldenEye, then The World Is Not Enough

Best Brosnan Bond Song: It’s a three-ring toss-up: Tina Turner’s GoldenEye is seductive, Garbage’s sultry The World Is Not Enough is the epitome of the classic Bond song with wailing horns and progressive minor chords but I’d have to give it to k.d. lang’s Surrender by a hair, the end credits song in Tomorrow Never Dies.
Best Brosnan Bond Villain: Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough, Trevelyan in GoldenEye

Best Brosnan Bond Girl: Xenia Onatopp (Famke Jansen) in GoldenEye

The Dalton Era

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Dalton’s Bond is highly underrated. It was a serious take that actually had the right amount of subtle humor. Dalton’s Bond was highly volatile (as experienced in License to Kill) but you still didn’t miss the notion that he could have a dandy ol’ time (something that Daniel Craig can take a few notes from). There is believability to him that many overlooked and his Bond might just be ahead of its time. His Bond can kick major arse but he knows how to balance the two opposing notions that make Bond; serious but witty. When he unexpectedly lands on a yacht in the Mediterranean with a woman who “can’t seem to find a real man in her life,” Dalton’s Bond goes from dead-serious to debonaire. She invites him for a drink and suddenly there’s a slight twinkle in the eye. A perfect Bond moment if there ever was one.

Best Dalton Bond Movie: The Living Daylights

Best Dalton Bond Song: If You Asked Me To by Patti LaBelle. Popularized by Celine Dion, but in true Bond-ian fashion during the end credits of License to Kill

Best Dalton Bond Villain: Hands down, Sanchez (Robert Davi) in License to Kill

Best Dalton Bond Girl: Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) in License to Kill simply because she’s hot.

The Moore Era

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Roger Moore’s Bond had the best villains: Scaramanga, Jaws, Zorin, May Day, Dr. Kananga! But if anything Moore’s Bond was the wittiest and most engaging, even if it goes overboard. He brought that “elegance under fire” charm to Bond with such poise and ease. Even though it may have made Bond a bit more effeminate and less lethal, his Bond had wonderful moments. I still get a kick when Jenny Flex (Allison Doody) introduces herself to Bond in A View To a Kill. His response, “of course you are.” Effortlessly Bond.

Best Moore Bond Film: For Your Eyes Only

Best Moore Bond Song: A tie between Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die and Duran Duran’s A View To a Kill or Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me

Best Moore Bond Villain: Jaws (Richard Kiel) Need I say more?

Best Moore Bond Girl: Dr. Holly Goodrider (Lois Chiles) in Moonraker is a fave of mine, but Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live and Let Die is unforgettable.

George Lazenby

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A very athletic Bond, George Lazenby’s Bond is young and naïve, attractive and flawed. Lazenby’s lucky to have starred in probably one of the best Bond movies to date, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There are striking similarities to this film with the new Bond film; Bond contemplating resignation, falling truly in love, a more sarcastic James Bond, etc. There’s very little to go by as he only made one Bond film but I think the true success of this film lies with the music (the best John Barry James Bond score which was openly imitated by Michael Giacchino for The Incredibles) and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Bond. I think it’s apparent that Lazenby lacks the acting ability when he does his scenes with Rigg, who ranks high among Bond girls.

The Connery Era

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The epitome of James Bond. Sean Connery had the privilege of working closely with Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, giving him insight to the character and if Brosnan nailed Bond, and Daniel Craig is refreshing as Bond, Connery IS Bond. He paved the way for the world’s most famous secret agent, and even though his last “official” outing as Bond in the strange but fascinating Diamonds Are Forever was a bit uneven, Connery help shape a legendary character.

Best Connery Bond Film: Goldfinger
Best Connery Bond Song: Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice and Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger

Best Connery Bond Villain: Blofeld. The best Blofeld is Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice

Best Connery Bond Girl: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman)

The Name’s Bond . . . I guess.

On the surface, Casino Royale is a good movie. It’s just not a James Bond movie.

Not yet, anyway. I’m not saying this as a loyalist to a franchise that’s almost half a century old.

But then again the franchise is almost half a century old so to throw away some of the conventions of a Bond movie seems a little backwards. Why does an iconic film character have to earn his stars and stripes all over again? It’s okay with comic book characters because they’re always being reinvented all the time by artists and numerous interpretations through wonderful graphic novels. James Bond found his way through the world of film and, believe it or not, set the standards for action conventions. If I wanted to see a human James Bond I’ll wait till next year when The Bourne Ultimatum comes out. Why should the new James Bond be like Jason Bourne? Bourne has become the better franchise, even after this overrated and bloated movie. (It’s way too long with a neverending third-act.)

True, Die Another Day wasn’t much of an entry but it had the right spirit. Yes, the franchise has had its lows but it also had its share of highs. To disregard the high points of such an established franchise leaves a bad after taste to Bond afficianados. There is a reason why the franchise has lasted this long, no matter what you may think of it.

With Daniel Craig as the new Bond, it just feels forced. The guy can act no doubt, as we saw in last year’s Layer Cake, but let’s face it. He’s just downright ugly. “I’m all ears,” Craig’s Bond says in one scene, obviously poking fun at his own appearance. When did Bond have to mock his own looks?

Daniel Craig’s not a bad James Bond, really. He actually reminds me of Timothy Dalton who was an equally gritty and realistic Bond. But Dalton’s Bond knew how to have a good time. Craig mostly mugs and grunts his way through Bond. Not an inkling of what would (and should) become a collection of Sean Connery’s charms, George Lazenby’s looks, Roger Moore’s wit, Timothy Dalton’s finesse and Pierce Brosnan’s playfulness.

Casino Royale misses the magic primarily because it is so blatant in reaching its target demographic, perhaps the same demographic that lined-up overnight for the studio’s PlayStation 3 outside stores. For example, the plot revolves around Bond having to beat ubervillain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for the terrorist elite in a high-stakes game of Texas hold’em poker! (Dorm room crowds rejoice! A game you can understand!) Wouldn’t baccarat be a bit more realistic game to play for the likes of Bond and Le Chiffre? When a bartender asks if Bond wants his martini shakened or stirred, Bond quips, “Do I look like I care?” Dashingly smug is one thing, but being downright sarcastic loses the Bond-ian charm. If the writer’s were gonna do that, then they should have just changed the man’s drink. The movie, perhaps unintentionally, lacks a real sense of humor and a real sense of fun.

They call it a reinvention much like Batman Begins. Perhaps what they should have done to the franchise is rejuvenate it more than reinvent. I can look at all the past Bond films and catch all the highlights, (even with Die Another Day) proving to naysayers and revisionists that Bond films aren’t as trite as one might take them to be. A rejuvenation would mean not to go dark and macho (which is the obvious choice), but to actually give the conventions to a more apt filmmaker, like Tarantino or Soderbergh.

Perhaps future installments of the new Bond will harken back to golden ladies, babes with scandalous names, cool gadgets, Miss Moneypenny and Q. I look forward to it. I’ll give Daniel Craig another go come Bond 22. But right now this baby Bond leaves much to be desired and perhaps us Bond fans just aren’t used to it. Or maybe this is the end of the Goldfinger era. No more outlandish movies. Too bad. Looking back at it, that’s what made Bond such a cinematic experience different from anything else out there. Now he’s just another spy movie in the post-9/11 world.

James Bond is a ‘relic of the Cold War’ as M (Judi Dench) tells Bond in GoldenEye. In Casino Royale, she says she simply misses the Cold War entirely.

So do I, ma’am. So do I.

RATING: C+

Don’t X-pect Anything Good

X-Men 3: The Last Stand left such a bad after-taste that I had to go see Over The Hedge again just to get back on track.

The track record for this summer has been pretty ugly. Out of all the summer blockbusters I’ve seen thus far—Mission: Impossible 3, The Da Vinci Code, Poseidon (which has the distinction of being the worst film of the year), Over the Hedge and now X-Men 3, the only memorable blockbuster was Hedge, the animated film about animals stuck in suburbia. So far, the summer blockbuster season hasn’t impressed me much.

The X-Men franchise should go out with a bang, and if this latest installment is said to be the last, well, it definitely went out with a limp fizzle. The first two films were strong efforts, and X2 United was considered by many to be one of the best films of that year. So the franchise has quite a track record to uphold. When news came that Brett Ratner was directing the third installment and not Bryan Singer, it left unease in many fan’s hearts such as myself. Well, unfortunately, our expectations for Ratner we’re met and he proves time and time again that he is incompetent; he’s more in it for celebrity status than actually being a good director. Scenes in X3 feel so ill-prepared and thrown together at the last minute that you wonder if Ratner spends more time using up his monthly VIP passes to the Playboy Mansion than actually prepping for a scene in a film he’s directing.

Brett Ratner gives directors a bad name.

Forgive my rant on him. Back to the topic.

The major problem with the X-Men movies have always been the overload of characters. So it seems the filmmakers wanted to clear the overstuffed screen, follow modern film conventions and have just one archetype of each character. So the film, at its core structure, almost feels like a roll call—we can only have one room for a femme fatale so now that Jean Grey is the saucy Phoenix, off you go Mystique! We can only have one brooding leading man, so off you go Cyclops and welcome to your new seat, Wolverine! Too many smart mutants so let’s kill off Professor X and give the expository lines to Beast! Brett Ratner, who is so stupid that he completely trashed the idea these films are ensemble pieces. Instead, he and his writers give most of the work to Halle Berry (fresh Oscar clout), Huge Jackman (box office draw) and Sir Ian McKellan (for panache and his popularity thanks to a little film about a Renaissance man and his codes).

There are wonderful themes and issues in X-Men 3 that could have been beautifully drawn out, reflecting today’s hot-button issues such as immigration, citizenship and homogenizing society. Instead, Ratner resolves to “orange fireball cinema.” Nothing is really accomplished. The issues of acceptance, differences and diplomacy are brought to the table and are just left there to rot while we marvel at the CGI, which were downright unimpressive. A good amount of the film takes place in San Francisco but the city streets sure didn’t look or feel like San Francisco. All the effects felt as real as an XBOX 360 demonstration. It’s clean, no doubt, but its still just pixels on a screen. Nothing really comes to life.

Characters are wasted for the sake of eye candy, which is a common trait found in most of Ratner’s cinematic fumbles. It’s too bad too, because to his credit, he delivered a pretty good first act. It just goes down hill from there.

The last scene in the film is supposed to give you hope. Instead you groan at the possibility of a fourth film. And at the tail end of the credits (if you sat through it) is a scene that solidifies the notion of a fourth film. One can only pray.

This could have been an excellent film due to its premise. Instead, it ends up being rather . . . X-traneous.

RATING: D

Decoded, yet Clueless

In all honesty—religion and theology aside—my drive to see The Da Vinci Code sat purely on my strange fascination of Tom Hanks’ new ‘do.

 

After reading Dan Brown’s bestseller earlier this year in preparation for Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation, I felt cheated. The book was an utter bore akin to reading a police procedural mixed in with pseudo-theological “facts” thrown in. It was a second rate Michael Crichton novel with so-called history substituting for science. And much like Crichton and his novels, it was a chase story with characters devoid of character. Each chapter got more and more preposterous in its revelations, finishing off with obvious cliffhanger endings and ‘uh-oh’ moments to reel you into the next chapter.

 

I did, however, managed to enjoy the film despite major flaws and heavy-handed moments. Overall, it worked due in part to Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s visual treatment of the film. Hanks is a trooper. No matter what you throw his way, he’ll make it work. Robert Langdon has got to be one of the most paper-thin characters ever written but somehow Hanks has managed to pull it off, despite some really awkward lines and revelatory moments, particularly the last revelation. I couldn’t help but laugh.

 

The execution of plot, clues and flashbacks are rather clever which seem to borrow from the Bee Season, where the little girl, using her kabbalistic magic, visualizes her spelling clues right onto the screen, appearing in thin air. All of that in Da Vinci is cleverly and masterfully done. Hans Zimmer score, though highly unoriginal, which has become expected of this once great composer is serviceable. His score is a mixture of Batman Begins and King Arthur. The score fully soars when Zimmer goes liturgical, particularly his Kyrie for Magdalene piece. The film’s strength is in its style and execution, but in all reality that’s just beautiful gift-wrapping for an empty box.

 

The core of the film is rather shallow and inert. Too many speculative theories to throw around. Too much exposition. “Who is Opus Dei? What is the Priory of Sion?” And to have Hanks’ Langdon remind us at the end of the film that ‘what matters is what we believe’ is, well, rather obnoxious. After the debates and theological arguments this book and film brought up, don’t you think we kind of figured that out ourselves? Duh.

 

But I’ll give the filmmakers this; the movie is much better than the book. The real problem of the film, and the book for that matter, is that it takes itself way too seriously. That’s like taking National Treasure seriously. Sure, the dollar bill has clues to a hidden treasure. Give me a break.

 

Everyone else seems to be wasted in sketches of character, especially Jean Reno playing Bezu Fache, yet another gruff French cop. Didn’t Bezu Fache help Steve Martin’s Inspector Closeau catch the Pink Panther earlier this year? Sir Ian McKellan plays yet another physically tormented yet brilliant old chap. And poor Audrey Tatou from Amelie, who is completely miscast in the role of Sophie. Were Mission: Impossible’s Emmanuelle Béart and Braveheart’s Sophie Marceau too busy or too booked to do a high profile summer blockbuster? Audrey Tatou has completely killed off any aspirations to star in another English-speaking film due to her thick French accent. To make matters worse, her and Hanks had zip chemistry.

 

As I was walking out of the theatre with my friends, I realized that the true problem with the Da Vinci Code as a phenomenon is that it feeds off society’s laziness. The catch-phrase in the poster and advertisement simply states to seek the truth. But as a society, faithful or not, we’ve blurred the lines of fiction and truth. What matters is what we believe, Langdon reminds us. Perhaps the true reminder is not what we believe, but why.

 

I believe in a lot of things. I believe in good filmmaking and good storytelling.  And yes, a lot of things brought up in Da Vinci Code are worth scrutiny and fascination.

 

But it’s not as fascinating as Tom Hanks’ hairdo.

RATING: C

Real Friends are rare . . . just ask Harry.

Each Harry Potter adventure offers a great lesson.

In the latest cinematic installment of the popular Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, winds of change blow new and exciting adventures for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). They’re teenagers now and attitudes have altered; particularly about the opposite sex.

But bigger things are happening.

 

Hogwart’s School of Wizardry has been granted the distinction of holding the TriWizard Tournament where students over the age of 17 compete in daring (and death-defying) challenges. They must conquer fire-breathing dragons, swim murky waters and fight off prickly mermaids. Finally, they must enter a maze that challenges even one’s very own perception of truth and sanity.

 

 

Students who wish to participate enter their name into a goblet of fire and three will be chosen to represent each school of wizardry. Ah, but the Goblet of Fire spits out a fourth name, which is inevitably Harry Potter’s. It is one name too many and it baffles everyone at Hogwart’s. Harry is too young to compete at 14. The faculty’s hands are tied because the Goblet of Fire makes the rules and Harry is forced to compete in the tournament. Yet Harry swears he never entered his name. The mystery begins . . .

 

This twist causes a major riff between best friends Harry and Ron, and being forced between the two is Hermoine who grows tired of the bickering. Friendships are tested and this is just the beginning of dark and difficult times. Voldemort (fabulously portrayed by Ralph Fiennes), we come to discover, comes back in the flesh, and Harry is forced to face him alone . . . or so it seems.

 

The Harry Potter films get better and better as the kids grow older. I didn’t think Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in the franchise, could be topped.

 

I was wrong.

 

Goblet of Fire improves the franchise, beefs it up, and energizes what’s already strong about the Harry Potter films—it’s a fantasy world that seems all too real. All the characters, from faculty to students, all seem like someone we know (ourselves, perhaps) and the situations—grand and imaginative they may be—resonate with honesty. Harry, Ron and Hermoine now have to endure what we muggles had to endure–the awkwardness of growing up, our increasing attraction towards one another and all that being youthful encompasses. We learn that our beloved three wizards are just like us and they’re just like the friends we have.

 

The cinematic strength that the Harry Potter films all share is that it has melded such real and intense emotions and characterizations into a world completely magical and surreal. It collides these opposing forces together so beautifully and boy do we gaze in wonder at our screens as it all unfolds cinematically. Or better yet, magically. The only thing missing from the film is the majestic presence of composer John William’s memorable themes.

 

 

 

Perhaps the strength of these stories lie in the lesson in each adventure Harry takes. In the Sorcerer’s Stone, we learn through Harry’s initial journey into wizardry that we are to accept who we are.

 

In the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore reminds Harry (and the rest of us moviegoers) that it is not in our ability that shows us who we are but in our choices.

 

In the Prisoner of Azkaban, we learn that love, especially the love of your family, never fades.

 

Yet the lesson learned in Goblet of Fire is a propitious one, at least in our wondrous world—timely due to the season, of course, but more so appropriate as we look back at the end of the year at the ups-and-downs we encountered through our own personal journey.

 

Real strength doesn’t necessarily come from within. Strength, or as Dumbledore would call moral fiber, may come from those we hold dearly; our true friends.

 

We may feel like Harry as we take upon our lonely paths as we encounter our own personal dragons, swim murky waters and travel through our own dark mazes—but true friends don’t abandon, disappear or turn away.

 

Not by disagreement.

 

Not by convenience.

 

Not by misunderstanding.

 

Not by choice.

RATING: B+