Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday Top 5

Because we can never rank enough stuff, let's do another Top 5!

Question: What are the Top 5 board games?

Andrew: I know what you're thinking. Ok, actually I don't. Here are my answers.
1. Chess -- the brainiest of games.
2. Clue -- Miss Scarlet in the bedroom.
3. Risk -- Canada should belong to the US... to complete the set.
4. Life -- the game about unexpected pregnancies, the risk/rewards of insurance, and lottery winnings.
5. Trivial Pursuit -- the game which gives meaning to the meaningless.
Scott: In no particular order...
1. Monopoly -- a classic!
2. Checkers & Chess (tie) -- I never got into chess but I'm always up for a good game of checkers.
3. Scrabble -- when in doubt, you can always use "the".
4. Clue -- Mrs. Peacock in the library.
5. Risk -- hilariously referenced in a Seinfeld episode.
There you go... the definitive answers. Wait a minute, what about Hungry, Hungry Hippos?
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 79

First impressions are a powerful thing, and in films they set the tone for the whole film.

What film has the best intro?

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Duh, Gone With The Wind. Nothing more needs to be said.

Panelist: ScottDS

This one's a tough one but you know what intro immediately gets me into the movie? The opening of Lethal Weapon 2. We're literally thrown right into the action with Riggs and Murtaugh, mid-car chase with their fellow officers. (The Looney Tunes fanfare over the WB logo helps, too.) The usual mayhem, lights, sirens, fleeing civilians, a helicopter, property damage... it's all very exciting and just fun to watch! (I actually prefer this film to the first one.) "Diplomatic immunity!"

Panelist: T-Rav

I don’t know if I would call it the “best,” but I really like how Pulp Fiction begins. At first you think Rango (that’s his name, right?) and Yolanda are planning a crime, then you’re led to believe “oh, they’re just talking hypothetically,” and then turns out they really are about to rob the joint. It’s a great metaphor for the movie in general, when you think about it; confusion and misdirection only gradually becoming clear.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Star Wars. 'Nuff said. Seriously, you see a planet, you are told there will be a cool story, then you are blown away by the big honking star destroyer that is about to blow away the rebel ship. That scene sets up the entire movie and tells you everything you need to know about both sides.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Recognizing that films viewed more recently have a built in advantage, I offer up the following three films whose intro's all had a huge impact on me (starting with most recent) - Inglorious Basterds, Mulholland Drive, and From Russia with Love. As for the latter, admit it, when you looked down at the face of Connery lying dead in the garden, they had you going for just a second. :)

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, April 26, 2013

Film Friday: Zulu (1964)

Zulu is one of my favorite films. It’s a war film about the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift between a small detachment of British soldier at a farm in South Africa and an army of Zulus. It’s one of those films that does everything right.

** spoiler alert **
Zulu is an historical war drama about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. On January 22, 1879, the British Empire invaded Zululand. Eleven days later, a force of 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked a British column of 1,800 soldiers. The Zulus overran the column and killed 1,300 British. A few days later, a force of 4,000 Zulus moved against nearby Rorke’s Drift, a farmhouse where around 150 British soldiers had set up a field hospital. This is where Zulu begins.
As the Zulus surround and attack the field hospital, the British inside put up a series of defenses. Between attacks you get to know the soldiers and you see their true characters emerge. You’ve got the dissenter who turns out to be a hero (Private Henry Hook – James Booth). The hero who thinks he’s a coward, but really isn’t (Lt. Bromhead – Michael Caine). The every-man who uses his brain and his will to save the unit (Lt. Chard – Stanley Baker). You’ve got a conflict with a minister (Rev. Otto Witt – Jack Hawkins) who wants them not to fight. You’ve got conflict between the commanders. You’ve got conflict between the soldiers. And you have a relentless, courageous and powerful enemy. The film ends in a draw, with the Zulus saluting the British soldiers’ bravery.
What Makes This Film So Interesting
This film is interesting on several levels. First, you have the cast. Baker was a rising star who had been offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No, but was forced to turn it down. He died a few years after this film at the age of 48. Richard Burton does the narration. This was Michael Caine’s first starring role, and he almost didn’t get it. He had tried out for a different role before trying out for Bromhead. His screen-test went so poorly that Baker (who produced the film) wanted to replace him, but it was too late as shooting was scheduled to begin. The leader of the Zulus was played by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who some of you might recall as the actual leader of the Zulu nation in the 1980s - he founded the Inkatha Freedom Party and allied himself with white South Africans against the ANC.

As an aside, due to apartheid laws, none of the Zulus could be paid for appearing in the film, so the director left them cattle as gifts.
Secondly, this film respects both sides. One of the reason most modern war films feel hollow even though their effects are great is because the enemy is typically presented as cardboard. Be the enemy Arabs, giant bugs, robots, or Nazis, the enemy is no longer humanized in Hollywood. That robs the audience of any sense of realism. Basically, instead of seeing this a struggle between real people, where both sides put their lives on the line for what they believe in, you get a videogame where you watch supermen take down pixilated enemies. Even worse, since the enemies are no longer real people, Hollywood allows the supermen to kill them in droves to keep the audience entertained. This robs the heroes of their achievement. They are no longer mere mortals struggling and overcoming a powerful, believable, well-matched or overwhelming enemy, they are characters in a shooting gallery taking down the enemy at will.
Zulu was before all of that. In Zulu, the Zulus are courageous and dangerous. This is no simple fight and there is a really good chance the British will fail. In fact, you keep wondering throughout how in the world they will prevail, and the film reinforces this by showing that the British are reaching the end of their rope as the film nears its climax. That makes the ending truly spectacular. Indeed, the climax isn’t a battle, it’s a non-battle as the Zulus do a show of respect for the British rather than attack, and then they withdraw. That adds a really strong emotional punch to the film. Not only are you shocked (and relieved) that the climax you expected didn’t come, but you feel a sense of pride that both sides have earned the others’ respect. It makes you feel like you watched something truly special, i.e. a battle between the best. It also lends an air of authenticity to the film (even though that didn’t happen in real life) because it makes you realize that these were real people on both sides. War film should go back to this idea, because it really works.

The final aspect of this film which makes it so interesting are all the messages throughout and how subtlety they are delivered. Moreover, while the film was directed by Cy Endfield, who was blacklisted in Hollywood, and it intended to lean left, it almost seems more libertarian. Consider this.

● The film presents an anti-empire message. It does so by showing that the carnage proves pointless and by making it clear that no one seems to know why they are in South Africa, except Chard who is there to build a bridge. At the time, this would have been seen as a message of the left, which was anti-empire and embracing the anti-war movement. However, this rings more libertarian right than progressive left, as the modern left seeks to impose their beliefs on everyone. Indeed, the left were big on empire building throughout history, except for the brief moment when they wanted the British Empire dismantled. And even that was quickly replaced by leftist intervention from the Soviets and their allies, and from Western-leftists pushing their beliefs on indigenous people. Really, the only people saying we should leave everyone else alone to live their own lives are American libertarians.

More interestingly, this message and the anti-war message are only hinted at throughout the film, with characters asking why they are here and finally with Bromhead being disgusted at the carnage he sees – aside from this, there are no speeches, no lectures, and no demonizations. This actually makes these messages amazingly effective because it leaves it up to the audience to reach their own conclusion based on what appears to be a simple presentation of facts rather than arguments. This makes a stronger message because people feel that they reach the conclusion on their own and it takes away the sense that the messages are propaganda.
● The film also makes an anti-elite message where the effete upper-class Bromhead proves to lack the competence of the blue-collar Chard. Bromhead stands in as the representative of the British upper crust. He is stiff, smug, and arrogant. He can tell you his heritage back before time began and he sees himself as the descendent of the heroes who shaped the world. But he’s also incompetent and cowardly. Chard is a mutt. He has no background, he’s clearly middle-class, and he got here on skill alone. He is an engineer, a profession you must earn rather than inherit, and he quickly proves to be everything Bromhead is not – thoughtful, competent, brave, and a solid leader. The message here is very anti-elitist and pro-meritocracy. At the time, this would have been a leftist message as they wanted to topple the existing power structure, but in hindsight, this is highly libertarian. Indeed, meritocracy is a conservative/libertarian idea, with the left favoring rule by elites and elite-appointed experts.

As an interesting aside, there have been suggestions that Bromhead may be homosexual based on certain behaviors he exhibits, particularly being “foppish” with a whip. I cannot say if this was truly intended, but it does seem to be suggested as a further reason to look down on Bromhead, i.e. the idea that the elite are abnormal and perverted – another interesting flip for the left.

All of this makes for a truly fascinating film. The film is beautifully shot, having been filmed in national parks in South Africa. The costumes are perfect. The acting and writing is excellent, and it’s neat to see Michael Caine in his first major role. The interaction of the soldiers is believable and not at all cliché. The messages are powerful and they are made all the more powerful because you are left to reach them yourself. And ultimately, this is a heck of a war film because the enemy isn’t downgraded to cartoon status so you’re never really sure if the heroes can prevail. It is a tense film.

I highly recommend this film.
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0019 The Living Daylights (1987)

Today we continue our journey through the James Bond films with No. 0019 of 0023: The Living Daylights. This was Timothy Dalton’s first Bond film and it’s a very small movie. This film was meant to bring realism back to James Bond and explore his darker side. It didn’t. Instead, they created a film which felt small all around – small Bond (not larger than life), small-time villains, small-time plot, small sets confined to small areas. Even when Bond travels, you never get the travelogue feel of prior Bond films. Small, small, small.

Plot Quality: The Living Daylights begins with a bit of intrigue. During a mock 00-operative invasion of Gibraltar, some bad guy kills 004 and then nearly kills Bond. This leads to the discovery of something called Smert Spionam (“Death to Spies”). The scene then shifts to Czechoslovakia, where 007 has been assigned to protect KGB General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), who is planning to defect. Bond shoots the female cellist (Maryam d’Abo) who was assigned to assassinate Koskov if he tries to flee. But Bond doesn’t kill her because he recognizes her as an amateur. Bond then smuggles Koskov out of Czechoslovakia into Austria through a pipeline. This is the best part of the film, even though it is a small idea involving few people, low stakes and confined sets. It also involves an annoying trope – the inept bureaucrat who despises Bond being called in to handle “his” operation.
When Bond returns to Britain, he meets with Koskov, who is being debriefed at a safehouse. Koskov warns MI6 about Smert Spionam, an operation supposedly being run by the new head of the KGB, Gen. Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), to assassinate British spies. Koskov claims this could start a war between the Soviets and the West. Koskov is then kidnapped from the MI6 safehouse. This is where the problems start with the film. For one thing, it’s not obvious how killing spies could lead to war – who goes to war over a dead spy? For another, the film now gets needlessly complicated with a series of double and triple crosses, which seem like they are included merely as filler.

Bond is ordered to kill Pushkin to stop this Smert Spionam operation and avenge the death of 004. Bond, however, decides that Pushkin would not have ordered this operation, so he confronts Pushkin, who tells Bond that Koskov is under investigation for embezzlement, which makes Bond realize the defection was faked by Koskov so he could trick MI6 into killing Pushkin for him. Bond then decides to track down the cellist, whom he believes helped Koskov fake his defection. Naturally, she falls for Bond and he escapes with her. Bond then returns to Tangier to find Pushkin, but Bond gets kidnapped by Koskov and taken to Afghanistan. There he meets the very westernized Mujahedeen. He then steals a Soviet military transport which Koskov is using to smuggle opium to enrich himself and an American arms dealer named Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). Bond saves the cellist and showers the countryside in opium. Then he goes to Tangier to kill Whitaker and Koskov. He kills Whitaker, but Koskov ends up being arrested by Pushkin, who will extract revenge. The film ends with the grateful Soviets letting the cellist leave for the West so she can play for Western audiences.

Unfortunately, despite this dizzying travel schedule, the audience never really gets a sense of travel in this film because the film never ventures out of closed sets, except at the Russian airbase in Afghanistan – and all you see there is dirt. This keeps the film small, as does the evil scheme. Indeed, ultimately, this scheme boils down to a guy looking to skim profits off a drug deal. This is hardly worthy of James Bond, especially because there are no real consequences if he doesn’t succeed. . . some opium gets to Europe. Big deal. They get all they want already. Moreover, the climax moment in the film is a fight between Bond and Koskov’s henchman Necros on an airplane. . . not even between Bond and Koskov himself. Again, small thinking.

Finally, as with License to Kill, there aren’t really any iconic moments and there aren’t really any memorable quotes. This isn’t a film that makes an impression.
Bond Quality: Timothy Dalton was a bad choice for Bond. With Roger Moore too old to play the role, the producers wanted Pierce Brosnan, but he was contractually bound to play Remington Steele. The next choice of the director and co-producers was Sam Neill, but Albert Broccoli wanted Dalton. Dalton had previously expressed disdain for the role and, frankly, he just didn’t have what he needed. For one thing, this film was meant to show a more realistic and darker Bond, but Dalton really couldn’t pull that off. For while Bond is meant to be cold-blooded, Dalton projects a lot of anger onto the screen. Bond is also meant to be stylish, but Dalton never once makes you wish you knew his tailor.

Dalton also never feels comfortable in the role. This is because Dalton is one of those Shakespearean-type actors who can’t shake his training. If you compare him in this role to his role in The Rocketeer or his role in Flash Gordon, they’re identical. And anyone who thinks you can play James Bond the same way you play Prince Baron just doesn’t understand acting.

The Bond Girl: The Bond girl here was Maryam d’Abo as Kara Milovy, the cellist. She’s kind of passive. She exudes no passion, no mystery, and she has no great motive to be in the film. She’s just the narcoleptic girlfriend along for the ride. Nor do you ever get the sense that she sees Bond as more than just a friend.
Villain Quality: Finally, we come to the villain(s). Yikes. This film has two villains, and neither is worthwhile. First, you have Koskov. Played by Jeroen Krabbe, the villain in The Fugitive, Koskov is not fitting to be a James Bond villain. Essentially, he’s an embezzler who tries to trick James Bond into killing his boss to keep from being discovered. This makes little rational sense and robs the story of any stakes. Indeed, whether Bond succeeds or not, nothing changes for the world. Perhaps realizing this, the writers try to up the stakes by telling the audience that Koskov is trading arms to the Mujahedeen in exchange for drugs, which he will sell in Europe. But how does this help? It’s not like Europe won’t get plenty of drugs either way, and the US was openly arming the Mujahedeen. So what do we care?

Moreover, his plan to get Bond to kill his boss is Rube-Goldberg silly. Does anyone really think the Soviet Union won’t figure out that he staged a fake defection and met with Bond right before Bond killed his boss? The Soviets would need to be retarded not to put those facts together. Seriously, just shoot Pushkin or stage a car accident like everybody else does. Of course, Koskov may be mental because he keeps not killing Bond for no apparent reason. Even worse, throughout the film Koskov comes across as a bungler who kisses everyone’s butt... like the Biff of the James Bond Villain world. This is not a Bond villain, not in scheme, not in personality.
The other villain is Joe Don Baker as Brad Whitaker. Baker is a B-grade actor at best and Whitaker is pathetic. He’s an arms dealer who likes to dress up like a general and play with toy soldiers. He doesn’t really have a scheme either because the writers assumed that the audience would accept the fact that he’s an arms dealer as proof enough of his villainy. Stupidly, his death is essentially treated as the climax of the film, even though he’s a bit player with an uninteresting story not worthy of Bond. In fact, there wasn’t even a reason for Bond to go after him because the cops could have picked him up just as easily.

Neither villain rises to the level of a Bond villain. This is probably why the film’s true climax involves Bond killing Koskov’s henchman aboard the Russian transport plane. And just to add insult to injury on that point, the only cool thing about the henchman is his name “Necros.” He has no other defining traits.


This was a rocky start for Timothy Dalton. The film began well enough, but quickly became a jumbled mess, and there was little to mark this film as a James Bond film: small time villains, small locations, small Bond, small plot, mousy Bond Girl, dated soundtrack. The only thing that wasn’t small was the transport plane fight, and that was too long to stay interesting and it lacked any real stakes. . . it was just a nice stunt. But this film was better than Dalton’s second attempt. That’s why this film is No. 0019 of 0023.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guest Review: Compliance (2012)

A Film Review By Tennessee Jed

Most of us have seen movie posters or trailers touting “based on” or “inspired by” real events. For me, that tends to evoke images of a story so loosely based on facts, any similarity to a real event would be strictly coincidental. Compliance is yet another of the small independent productions to which I have been attracted of late. Directed and written by Craig Zobel, it premiered at the 2012 Sundance Festival. The storyline is generally linked to an actual series of prank phone calls made to fast food restaurants over nearly a decade. This film is based on one particular such incident occurring at a McDonald’s Restaurant in Mt. Washington, Kentucky in 2004.

** spoiler alert **

The title is taken from a term used in experiments by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgrim back in the early 1960‘s analyzing the degree to which subjects were willing to perform acts that differed with their personal code of ethics when ordered to do so by persons in authority. During the premier, several viewers walked out of the following Q&A session feeling the film was demeaning to women. When first viewed, I also felt uncomfortable with the events on screen. Like a gawker at an accident scene, it seemed impossible to not continue watching. At first, the characters and their behavior seem plausible. As the story unfolds, though, I got the distinct feeling the plot was crossing into the realm of fantasy that would turn into some kind of cheap exploitation flick. I was very wrong. These events are all too real, as is the phenomenon being portrayed.
The Events at Chick-wich - Sandra (veteran actress Ann Dowd) is a 50-ish supervisor at the fictional Chick-Wich fast food chain. Becky (Dreama Walker) is a cute 19 year old working the counter. As Sandra prepares for the busiest shift of the week, she takes a call from a person claiming he is Officer Daniels (Pat Healey) from the police and stating he has the regional manager on the other line along with a women alleging an employee stole something from her purse earlier in the day. He claims her story is corroborated by the surveillance unit. He further claims he is involved in searching the suspect’s home, and cannot come to take custody of the suspect for a while. He offers a generic description of a suspect (it could describe half the clerks at most fast food restaurants) but roughly fits Becky. Daniels not so subtly hints that he wants to be able to write favorably in his report of her cooperation, so Sandra agrees to try and help and summons Becky to the office explaining she has been accused of theft.

Becky, of course, denies stealing anything. The caller skillfully switches back and forth between Sandra and Becky to keep them compliant. He convinces both that if Becky doesn’t agree to a strip search, she will likely be arrested, jailed over night, and the incident will be on her official record. She is told to strip naked while Sandra is instructed to carefully examine each article.

Sandra allows her to put on an apron to partially cover herself. To prevent Becky from tampering with possible evidence, Sandra must place the clothing in a bag, and leave it in her unlocked car. She is told to get a male employee to guard Becky, and tells Kevin, a fellow employee, to do so. He is extremely uneasy, and refuses to comply with Daniel’s request to “inspect” her. Daniels is adamant about the need for a cavity search, and convinces Sandra to bring in her fiancee, Van (Bill Camp). When he arrives, Van appears to have been drinking. While Sandra resumes her work duties, Daniels not only convinces Van to conduct the search, but frightens Becky into performing various acts of a humiliating and sexual nature. Feeling guilty, Van leaves, and Daniels tells Sandra she must get yet another male to guard Becky. Becky notices there is monitor in the office covering various surveillance cameras including both the front counter and the office.

The maintenance man, Harold (Kevin Payne) stops by to try the new dessert, and Sandra asks him to come to the office. After listening to Daniels, Harold explodes, and tells Sandra what Daniels ordered him to do. She immediately calls the regional manager who explains he was out sick and never talked with police, confirming to Sandra that she was duped. After three and a half hours, Becky’s ordeal ends, and the real detectives escort her home. In a sort of coda, we learn the man posing as Officer Daniels was apprehended. Sandra has been fired, broken up with Van, and is being sued (along with Chick-Wich Corporate.) The film ends as she is being deposed, and a message stating that over 70 similar incidents have occurred.
How the Real Incident Played Out - After the caller hung up, an employee alertly called *69 before another call came in, and was able to record the number from which the call was placed, a phone card purchased at a Wal-Mart in Florida. In following up with Florida authorities, it was learned similar incidents had been going on for years, although none as long or severe as Mt. Washington. Surveillance cameras at Wal-Mart were able to determine the purchaser of the card used at McDonald’s was an employee of a private security firm named Corrections Corp. of America. Various surveillance stills were used to make a composite, and working with the company’s H.R. department, police identified the suspect as David Stewart, a married father. They also found a card in his home that had been used to call nine restaurants including one on the same day it’s manager was “pranked.” Despite this circumstantial evidence, Stewart was not convicted.

The victim underwent therapy for over three years. She sued McDonalds for $200 million for failure to protect her. The basis was they were aware of the hoax calls and had defended themselves in four other similar lawsuits in different states. The assistant manager, Donna Summers (really!!) was terminated, and her ex-fiancee, Walter Nix sentenced to 5 years for sexual assault. Summers also sued McDonald’s for $50 million. After all the appeals, the victim received just over a million and Summers about $400,000. The incident also formed the basis of a Law & Order S.V.U. episode starring Robin Williams as the caller. I don’t watch that show, but apparently he used the name “Detective Milgram,” a reference to the Yale psychologist. This material on the real incident is taken almost exclusively from a Wikipedia article on the subject, and while I haven’t certified it’s authenticity, it appears amply documented.
Issues and Themes - Without familiarity with the actual incident, It was extremely hard to believe the apparent gullibility and naiveté of Sandra, Becky, or even Van. One initially feels a certain sympathy for those that called the film exploitive. This led me to read more online about the Strip Search Prank Call Scam and the actual Mt. Washington case. It turns out, the events in the film rather closely followed the Kentucky incident. While it easy for viewers to be appalled that Sandra and Becky seem so easily duped, these are most likely unsophisticated people, trusting of apparent authority. The restaurant, in fact used failure to exercise “common sense” as one of the defenses at trial. There has been ample evidence in history of people doing bad things on the orders of their superiors, as well as plenty of legal precedent. Consider war crimes such as the Nazi death camps, or Vietnam atrocities. Van realized what he was doing was wrong, felt remorse afterwards, but still performed unconscionable acts for which he was legally responsible. We don’t know how intoxicated he might have been, but bondage, and humiliation are well known fantasy perversions that may have been somewhat in play for both the caller and fiancee. I’m less certain about Sandra, but many people don’t want to rock the boat. She was harried at the time, and somewhat fearful she would get a bad write-up if she didn’t cooperate.

Conclusions - This film is a bit disturbing, and likely not for everybody. On the surface, it does seem somewhat exploitative. Yet when one considers it is a fairly accurate depiction, it leaves the viewer to ponder some pretty weighty questions. One of the actresses in the production apparently defended the film during the controversy at it’s premiere. The cast is comprised mainly of veteran character actors who do a good job of creating the appropriate atmosphere. The one thing that might not ring true is the young actress Dreama Walker (Gran Torino). She actually does a pretty good job with the Becky character, but is probably a bit too good looking to be truly authentic. In the film’s defense, it does not directly depict any of the sexual acts involved.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top 5 Tuesday

Let's start a new feature today by moving a little beyond film and discuss other aspects of entertainment. Today we start with a really, really hard one that probably should have been broken down into more categories, but we totally lack foresight. So here goes!

Question: What are the Top 5 songs of the 1980s?

Scott: In no particular order...
1. "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" - The Proclaimers
2. "We're Not Gonna Take It" - Twisted Sister
3. "Thriller" - Michael Jackson
4. "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" - Beastie Boys
5. "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" - Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
Andrew: Wow! Talk about a hard one to start with. But unlike Scott, I won't shirk my responsibility to put these in order... ;)
1. "Melt With You" -- Modern English
2. "Every Breath You Take" -- The Police
3. "Little Red Corvette" -- Prince (story of my life)
4. "Sweet Dreams" -- Eurythmics
5. "Sweet Child of Mine" -- Guns and Roses

I think that about covers it, unless you folks have any suggestions? Though, I can't imagine what anyone could add to these lists...
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 78

Do you remember when Kermit the Frog knifed Fozzy Bear? Oh wait, that didn't happen. But it would have been better than some fight scenes.

What was the most pathetic fight scene on film?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I suppose any number of poorly dubbed Asian kung fu movies, but how about Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Keith David in the totally wretched They Live.

Panelist: ScottDS

There are plenty of B-movies with horrible - and horribly funny - fight scenes (you can find tons of clips on YouTube) but, as far as mainstream Hollywood films go, I'd say the "Neo vs. 100 Agent Smiths" battle in The Matrix Reloaded. It actually starts off pretty bad-ass, then the CGI kicks into overdrive and it just looks bad!

Panelist: T-Rav

There are few fight scenes I would call “pathetic,” unless the CGI and wire-action is just too obvious. In that context, I’ll have to pick 2008’s Hancock (not a terrible movie in most respects), where Will Smith and Charlize Theron are having a smackdown in the middle of L.A. Not a believable fight at all.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

I would say any film that uses wire-fighting where it doesn't belong. But for real crapulence, look no further than CGI Kung-Fu Yoda and his lightsaber dance in Attack of the Clowns. I kid you not that I almost turned off the movie at that point. To flip this around, my favorite fight scene is almost anything in Desperado, but particularly the shoot out in the bar at the beginning where Cheech gets whacked.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, April 19, 2013

Film Friday: Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus is perhaps one of the most anticipated films of modern times. Tantalizingly premised on the Alien universe and directed by Ridley Scott, who has redefined science fiction a couple times, this was a film everyone wanted to see. So how was it? Well, that depends.

** MAJOR spoiler alert **

The Plot

Prometheus opens with a truly inspired scene where a human-like creature kills himself so he can release his own DNA into a waterfall. This was the creation of the human race. Flash forward to two scientists (Shaw and Holloway), who discover a cave painting in Scotland, which they think tells us where we can find the beings who created humanity (“the Engineers”). Flash forward a couple more years and we are onboard the Prometheus, a spaceship on its way to that planet. The Prometheus belongs to the Weyland Corporation, the corporate quasi-villain of the Alien series. Weyland Corp. hired Shaw and Holloway to lead the expedition, but the ship is actually under the control of a woman named Vickers (Charlize Theron), though confusingly the ship also has a captain. So it’s not really clear who is in charge. Also among the crew are several scientists and android David (Michael Fassbender).
When they get to the world they are seeking, they find a man-made structure and they investigate. Inside, they learn that some disaster has befallen the Engineers. Some people die. Some twists happen. We learn the evil truth about the alien and the Engineers. The credits roll.

Where The Movie Excelled/What Sucked

This film is stunningly beautiful. It looks like science fiction should look. And if you know nothing about Alien, and you can ignore some problems, then you will also find this film to be quite impressive. The film builds a mystery quite nicely and it leads to some shocking moments. Its pacing is good. Its writing is solid for what it offers. The Engineers are beautifully designed (though the makeup to make Weyland look old is pathetic). There is a little tension now and then. And Fassbender does an excellent job of presenting us with a robot without morals.
The film also does an excellent job of raising really great issues. What if we were created by an alien species. Would that mean there is no God or just that there is a different God than we thought? The Engineers seem to be rather evil, quite frankly, so does that affect our nature? The film also raises the issue of the Engineers creating us and then deciding to kill us off. Why? Are we just a lab experiment that has run its course? Do they want the planet for something better? Did we turn out to be too dangerous? These are great questions. Too bad they’re never developed.

Indeed, this film has some serious problem, especially if you know Alien. If you’ve seen Alien, then forget everything I just said about the film creating mystery because none of the surprises will surprise you. The moment they say, “Gee, it looks like something came out of this Engineer’s chest,” you know exactly what that means and the mystery ends. From that point on, it’s just a matter of watching the alien evolve from worms to snakes to giant face huggers to finally the familiar form, though annoyingly, the film keeps acting like it’s surprising you with each step.

Moreover, the film is totally predictable if you’ve seen Alien v. Predator, because it’s the same movie. Swap out the Predator for the Engineers, set the movie in space, and you’ve got the exact same film: minority chick/scientist hired to lead expedition, Weyland comes along seeking a form of immortality, they find ancient pyramids where there shouldn’t be any, all ancient Earth cultures worshipped these creatures as gods, unleash aliens, run from aliens, scientist-chick fights back and saves the day, and aliens fight each other to the death. Same plot... same story arc... same characters. Unfortunately, this makes it very easy to guess what will happen next in scene after scene.
There are other problems too. Scott keeps trying to reach back into the prior films to take things that worked well before, but he doesn’t ask if they work here. For example, in Alien, the crew constantly argued because they were sick of each other and they were in the middle of a contract dispute. Hence, they were surly. Scott tries to recreate that here, but it doesn’t make sense because this crew consists of scientists who have only just met. Why would they in-flight and treat each other with contempt for no reason whatsoever? Scott also tries to repeat the idea of the crew being blue collar, as they were in Alien even though it makes no sense this time because this is a scientific crew, not a space freighter. Thus, even though they are all scientists who are put into stasis the moment they board, they show up dressed like grizzled lumberjacks and truck drivers in dirty work boots and flip-flops and they act like longshoremen. It doesn’t make sense.

Another problem is that most of the characters are meaningless. You could remove everyone except Holloway, Shaw, David and the Captain and not a thing would change in the story. Basically, it’s red-shirts galore. That means most of the setup, like the tension between Vickers and everyone else or between the various scientists is just pointless filler.

Even worse, there’s a frenetic twenty-minute period toward the end of the film where everything completely falls apart. It begins when Holloway is poisoned and turns into a monster and needs to be killed. Strangely, only Shaw is freaked out about this; everyone else acts like nothing happened. Would real people not care? Shaw then immediately learns that she’s been impregnated by an alien (through Holloway) and she wants it removed from her. David, however, decides to freeze her against her will. The reason isn’t given but presumably he wants to preserve the specimen -- the same idea as in Aliens. This makes sense at first, but a moment later he mysteriously lets her run away after beating up two doctors and he doesn’t even chase her. No one else tries to stop her either, or even follow her, even though they know she’s infected with something. That makes no sense.
She then reaches the surgery pod, which you would assume would be part of the ship, but they pointlessly made a big deal of it being something Vickers brought on board herself. Shaw climbs into the pod and has the alien taken out of her. It’s still alive, so she hits the decontaminate button and walks off. . . never waiting to see if it’s actually dead. What? She then stumbles around the ship like she’s dying since she just underwent major surgery until she happens upon Weyland himself, who faked his death and came aboard the ship secretly. Huh? The guy owns the company. He owns the ship. No one would tell him he couldn’t go if he wanted. So why do this in secret?

Bizarrely, neither Weyland nor David nor any of the new crewmembers with them act at all surprised to see Shaw, nor are they alarmed by her ill appearance. They chat as if nothing is happening, with the infection/freezing alien issue entirely forgotten. Shaw then leaves again to wash up. After she leaves, we learn that Vickers is Weyland’s daughter, and we just don’t care because it means nothing to the story. Not only does Vickers add nothing to the story, but her being Weyland’s daughter is never used in the plot in any way.
Suddenly, we’re off to see the last living Engineer. Once they find it, it chooses to attack them for no apparent reason. . . actually, the reason is that if it spoke to them, then it would need to say answer some questions and Scott didn’t want to answer questions. At that point, the plot returns to a simple chase film and sanity is restored. For about 20 minutes though, nothing in this film made any sense – not the actions of the characters, not the things they said, not the plot itself.

Finally, while there’s nothing wrong with science fiction films leaving ideas unexplained so the audience can fill them in, it is a cardinal sin not to at least give the audience some clues. This film, unfortunately, does this all the time. For example, it raises the issue of how the meaning of God would change if we were created by mortal beings, but it never addresses it beyond asking the question. By comparison, Tom Sizemore gives a four or five line speech in Red Planet that is deeper and more meaningful than all the discussion on this topic in Prometheus. Another example is why the Engineers would create us and then decide to kill us? Sadly, we don’t know. The film never even speculates as to a motive. Thus, there’s nothing to debate except “why might someone want to commit genocide?” which isn’t really that interesting of a question as it’s too abstract. It also strikes me that the Engineers must be clones, but that’s never mentioned. Intellectually, the film is a complete disappointment. It’s like someone suggesting topics you could discuss and then walking away without saying anything further.

Ultimately, what you get here is a film which is probably excellent for anyone who hasn’t seen Alien, but is weaker if you have. I enjoyed the film a good deal and it held up to being watched a second time. But I can’t help but feel let down. This is a film with so much potential throughout, but it always feels lazy to me. They raise ideas, but don’t address them - they don't even tease them. They constantly swipe from the prior films (almost every scene steals from prior films, right down to the heroine walking around in the same underwear Sigourney Weaver’s character wore). In fact, if this had been a film outside of the Alien universe, people would be angrily denouncing it as “a total ripoff.” They establish ideas they then ignore because they didn’t want to bother making them work. And ultimately, little in this film matters. You don’t care that any of these people are dead. There is no sense of terror that something bad will ultimately happen. And there’s no sense of wonder or the type of thought provoking that usually happens with good science fiction. That makes this a bit disappointing, especially as I think each of the mistakes was avoidable.
[+]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Questionable Bond No. 4

Who’s the Honey? Or is that Pussy? Or was it Goodnight?

Question: "Name the Top 5 Bond girls!"

Scott's Answer: In no particular order...

1. Domino - Thunderball
2. Pussy Galore - Goldfinger
3. Teresa - On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. Vesper Lynd - Casino Royale
5. Melina Havelock - For Your Eyes Only

Honorable mentions...
6. Tatiana Romanova - From Russia with Love
7. Anya Amasova - The Spy Who Loved Me

Andrew's Answer: In particular order...

1. Tatiana Romanova - From Russia with Love
2. Solitaire (Jane Seymour) - Live and Let Die
3. Domino - Thunderball
4. Camille Montes - Quantum of Solace
5. Teresa - On Her Majesty's Secret Service
[+]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

American Mythology

Unfortunately, genuine analysis is becoming a lost art. Indeed, in the modern world, most analysis takes the form of uninformed opinion followed by the cherry picking of facts to fit the conclusion. This is probably because it’s easier to be right when you pick your own facts. In any event, I ran into just such an article the other day and I think it’s worth discussing.

This article was on Yahoo, a wretched hive of scum and idiocy. And what drew my attention was the assertion in the headline that Americans can’t do fantasy stories: “Where are all the American fantasy characters?” Well, this struck me as rather stupid because America wasn’t around in the time of knights and dragons, so naturally there won’t be any American fantasy characters. But it turns out this wasn’t what the writer meant. What he eventually got around to saying was that “our mythology” is based on fantasy books and Americans simply don’t write fantasy books. See, the big three fantasy books (Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter) are all British and “talk about British values.” Thus, spoke the moron,
“Yet if Fantasy books make up much of our mythology, and I think strongly that that is true, then I also think that we, in America, have a problem. The problem is that most of our Fantasy isn't written by Americans about American culture and values.

* * *

English values are similar to ours, but they're still not American. And if mythology is supposed to teach a culture how to act and behave, what type of person you should strive to be, then we have a serious problem, because all our mythology is teaching us how to be good Brits, not good Americans.”
Oh boy.

Let’s take this idiot down, shall we?

First, in the article itself, he notes that it was the start of the third season of Game of Thrones which made him ask this question. Game of Thrones was written by an American. So his own article contradicts the point he was pondering. He also seems to have ignored other American fantasy writers like Terry Brooks to reach this point.

Secondly, I don’t for a minute buy his conclusion that “fantasy” is our mythology. American mythology is much more real-life, focusing on the Founders, on the Civil War, on the American West and gangsters and astronauts. American kids don’t say, “I want to be Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter when I grow up,” they say, “I want to be a cowboy... an astronaut... a gangster.”

Actually, if you really want to know what forms our mythology, it’s not wizards and dragons at all. Sure, we like dragons, but out mythology is a combination of many things: some dragons/wizards, some Ancient Greece, some Rome, some Samurai and Ninjas, lots of cowboys, lots of science fiction and some horror. And what does all of this add up to? Superman. Batman. James T. Kirk. American kids don’t get their understanding of our culture from Harry Potter, they get it from superheroes who lay out truth, justice, and the American way.

Finally, even if you look at Narnia and Harry Potter as something which resonates with kids, it’s rather selective to just pick those but ignore Twilight and The Hunger Games, both of which are American. Walt Disney’s effect on our culture is a million times that of Harry Potter. So is Luke Skywalker’s effect. So is Stephen King’s.

This is one of those theories that has some appeal for the brief moment the idea enters your head until you realize that you just picked some random stuff and invented a pattern rather than finding a genuine pattern. Sadly, in the modern age, there is no longer a filter that requires people to think before they voice their opinions authoritatively. Welcome to the net.

Anyway, what do you think makes up our mythology?
[+]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Questionable Jones No. 7

Joe Camel has nothing on Indiana Jones when it comes to cool. Jones oozes cool, and so do his films.

Question: "What was the coolest moment in the series?"

Scott's Answer: You're probably thinking, "When Indy shoots the Cairo swordsman." But for me, the coolest moment in the series is in Doom when Indy, after breaking the spell that Mola Ram had on him, punches out one of the Thugee guys. We see the slave children working as the guy literally gets punched into the frame. Then we cut to Indy, backlit and looking all badass.

Andrew's Answer: The coolest moment is when the Nazis are talking in the camp and the plane explodes over the hill and they say one word: "Jones!" What bigger compliment can you give than knowing right away that anything that goes wrong is because of one man?
[+]

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 77

With everyone's taxes no doubt finished, it's time to party! So...

What movie party should we attend?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I might go to a musical concert film festival: Black and White Nights (Roy Orbison and friends) coupled with Richard Thompson at Celtic Connection in Glasgow, Scotland. If it had to be films, I probably would watch The Benny Goodman Story (Steve Allen) and The Glenn Miller Story (Jimmy Stewart.)

Panelist: ScottDS

The masked orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. Just kidding!!! While it wasn't in the question, my mind immediately went to teen movies and, in particular, the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles. Just a lot of fun, plus with Anthony Michael Hall and his pals hanging around (not to mention the Donger!), I wouldn't be the geekiest one there.

Panelist: T-Rav

Now that the Chris Nolan trilogy of Batman films has wrapped, I wouldn’t mind going to a party with all three shown back to back. Kind of a long film party, but as long as we’re talking hypothetically.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

What about the New Years Eve parties in Boogie Nights? That might be fun if you like being around porn stars. Okay, there was that one party where the guy killed himself and his wife, but other than that, there were lots of drugs and booze. What could be more fun?

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Film parties always look better than the real thing, be it a party with hot Ewok babes or the eternal damnation of partying at the Overlook hotel. But for a simple good time, I'm going with the party in Animal House.

Comments? Thoughts?
[+]

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dark Shadows (2012) v. The Addams Family (1991)

Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows and Barry Sonnenfeld’s The Addams Family are the same movie. Both are films adapted from television shows from the 1960. They involve similar plots, similar themes, similar sets and even similar gags. Both are good films too, though The Addams Family ultimately proves far superior. Here’s why.

** spoiler alert **

Let’s start with the similarities. Dark Shadows is the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), who is a vampire who returns to his family home after two-hundred years locked in a coffin. His family has fallen on hard times because they’ve been cursed by the same witch (Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard) who turned him into a vampire and locked him in the coffin. He must work his way back into the family and must save them from the witch. By comparison, The Addams Family is the story of Fester Addams (Christopher Lloyd), who is the older brother of Gomez Addams (Raul Julia). He disappeared years before and now has returned to the family home to find his place again. Only, Fester is under the control of Abigail Craven, who is supposedly his mother but is more of a fraudster. As with Barnabus, Fester must learn to fit in with his family and then must save them from his mother.
As you can see, both films involve the return of missing heirs who must work their way back into families in which they don’t quite fit and both must save their families from evil women intent on stealing their fortunes and destroying their families. Both films even follow the same plot diagram: outsider arrives and family must adapt... adversary revealed... as the outsider begins to fit it, the adversary strikes and appears to win... the family must come together to regain their fortune and overcome the adversary.

The themes are the same too. Both families are out-of-place in the modern world. They are strange, with strange customs, and both are disliked by the outside world. They are seen as freaks – both families actually are a mix of normal humans and the supernatural. Both families also have a hint of being anachronistic, with both feeling somewhat Victorian in style and manner. This gets confused a little in Dark Shadows because Depp’s character is 200 years old and thus all the jokes about being abnormal are at his expense, but if you look at the family alone, you will see that they don’t feel “modern” either compared to the rest of the world either – Burton adds another layer of anachronistic-confusion on top of this by setting Dark Shadows in the 1970s and playing it as a sort of period piece.
Both films also involve lost family members trying to fit back into their families. The tensions are reversed in the films, with the Addams family welcoming Fester back, even though he feels he doesn’t belong, and Depp forcing himself back into the Collins family, which doesn’t want him, but the end result is nearly identical themes of acceptance and families growing together.

All of this, makes these films essentially the same movie. Nevertheless, there are key differences which make The Addams Family the much better film.

Tone: Despite similar themes and both films being comedies, their tones are rather different. Dark Shadows has a darker tone. It is driven by drama rather than humor, particularly the miserableness of the Collins family, and its humor comes from insults, from injury, and from the good guys being made to feel uncomfortable. The Addams Family does the reverse. The Addams Family is driven by how the Addamses happily endure in their own little world, untouched by reality. Its humor is based on the family succeeding in ridiculous ways, on the frustration of the bad guys, and on the avoidance of injuries. This results in Dark Shadows being much darker. But since the darker tone isn’t really used to achieve anything interesting, this only makes the film harder to enjoy.

Dark Shadows also suffers from a bit of schizophrenia in that it never can decide if it’s more comedy or more drama. Burton also floods the film with musical interludes of 1970s music, which are just too long. It feels like Burton is copying Goodfellas, but it never meshes with the film and it hurts the comedic timing.
Characters: Although both films involve unusual characters in outlandish situations, Dark Shadows doesn’t capitalize on this nearly as well as The Addams Family, because Dark Shadows doesn’t give its characters much freedom. Essentially, Dark Shadows focuses entirely on Johnny Depp, with Depp either dominating the screen or the other actors waiting for him to arrive. Thus, despite the fact the character list includes a werewolf, a ghost, a reincarnated woman who sees ghosts, a thieving father, and a witch, none of these characters ever becomes all that interesting.

By comparison, you remember all the characters in The Addams Family because each functions as a fully-formed person with their own storyline. Thus, throughout the movie, each of these characters engages in a variety of activities related solely to themselves, which gives each a chance to do memorable things. This, in turn, lets you enjoy each scene on its own, whereas many scenes in Dark Shadows feel like filler as you wait for Depp to do something.

Actors: The actors matter too. Raul Julia was Gomez Addams, Anjelica Huston was Morticia, and Christopher Lloyd was Uncle Fester. These actors immersed themselves in their roles and created characters who fit the needs of the story rather than playing themselves. Indeed, if you look at the other films done by Julia, Huston or Lloyd, you won’t find similar characters in any other film because the acting they did here was meant to portray the characters they played. The actors in Dark Shadows are not as convincing. For one thing, none of them except Depp have unique characters. They are simply “angry teenage girl” or “rotten father,” and the actors are all interchangeable. The one exception is Depp, but it really is starting to feel like Depp does the same character from film to film. Thus, while Gomez Addams felt like Gomez Addams, Barnabus Collins felt like Johnny Depp playing Captain JackWonkaHatter. This makes it harder to see the characters as real.
Cleverness: The final difference lies in the cleverness of the writing. The Addams Family involves some truly brilliant writing. It includes jokes that are hilarious and yet unexpected. It takes risks, as we discussed with Clue, by not dumbing it down. It ties its humor directly into the characters and the plot. It swerves between innuendo and child friendly, but in such a way that is safe for kids and hilarious for parents. And it uses some fantastic word play. Moreover, the storyline itself moves unexpectedly and, while you know how the story will end, you still never know how you will get there.

Dark Shadows, on the other hand, offers none of this. The humor in Dark Shadows is not witty, it is “fish out of water” humor, with Depp misunderstanding what the people around him are talking about. It is essentially him not understanding how a McDonalds sign lights up or that Alice Cooper is not a woman. The writer took no risks either as there is nothing here to make an audience think. There is so little about the writing that is memorable that I can’t even remember a favorite line. Further, everything in this film is expected. You know how the film will end. You know what each character must do before we get there. And you know exactly how things will play out.

When Depp goes to see the witch alone, you know he will be captured. You also know he will be freed at a critical moment to save the day. You know that Depp and Victoria will end up together even though there’s no chemistry between them (or even a relationship) because that’s what’s expected. You even know that Dr. Hoffman will not die when she’s tossed into the ocean... because that’s exactly what you would expect to happen. You see everything coming a mile away because this film does exactly what general audiences expect it to do.

In the end, both movies are good. Dark Shadows will keep your attention, it will make you laugh at times, and it doesn’t feel like anything else out there right now. So I do recommend it. But The Addams Family is far superior. It pulls you in much stronger and makes you care about the characters. You really come to like these people and you want to see more of them (hence, the sequel). If you can see only one comedy about a bizarre supernatural family this summer... make it The Addams Family.
[+]

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0020 Moonraker (1979)

Today we continue our journey through the James Bond films with No. 0020 of 0023: Moonraker. It’s fitting that Moonraker starts with a theft because everything in this film was stolen. This film uses a carbon copy villain, a recycled henchman, and a plot stolen from the prior movie. That’s really lazy writing. In fact, everything about this movie feels incredibly lazy.

Plot Quality: Moonraker tries to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars and other science fiction films. They even play the Close Encounters theme at one point. On its own, the plot doesn’t sound half bad. Crazed billionaire misanthrope Hugo Drax wants to wipe out humanity so he can repopulate the planet with his own master race. To do this, he’s built a secret space station. But he draws the attention of James Bond when he steals back a space shuttle he’s loaned to the British government. Bond investigates and saves the day.

Unfortunately, this is the exact plot of the prior film, The Spy Who Loved Me, except that Spy’s villain Stromberg built his paradise under the ocean. Again, Jaws (Richard Kiel) is brought back as the henchman. Again, Bond is quasi-competing, quasi-partnering with a hot secret agent, only this one is American instead of Russian. And, once again, Director Lewis Gilbert gives us a rage-inducing moment as Bond emerges from the ocean in a Lotus drivable gondola as we watch animals do double-takes, people stare mindlessly as others somehow don’t notice, and a f***ing drunk look at his drink as if he’s %$#@#% hallucinating!! I swear to God, Gilbert, I will p*** on your grave one day! Oops, did I say that out loud?
So... what else to say? Well, beyond that, this movie is just lazy and there seems to have been no filter on whether or not ideas made sense. Let’s start with the theft of the space shuttle. Why is a space shuttle being loaned to the British? They have no space program. Who in their right mind would load the space shuttle with fuel before putting it on the back of a 747 to transport it? The space shuttle is not even close to capable of launching off the back of a 747 in any event. Why would someone wire the 747 to give them a sensor to tell them that someone was starting the shuttle’s engines? Why wasn’t the shuttle destroyed in the same explosion it caused which blew up the 747? Why on earth did no one ask these questions and change this whole idea?

It gets worse. Doctor Goodhead (Lois Chiles) infiltrated Drax’s empire long before the shuttle was stolen, yet the shuttle theft is supposed to be the reason she’s there. I guess the CIA’s psychic branch sent her. . . they felt a great disturbance in the farce. When Bond gets to Brazil, after a brief stop in Venice, he needs more equipment, so he puts on a poncho and hops on a fricken horse and rides out into the countryside to the local headquarters of MI-6 in a fake monastery. Uh. Did no one ask why MI-6 would be somewhere Bond couldn’t get to quicker or easier? How does he plan to bring his equipment back to wherever the action is? What if he doesn’t have a horse? Did no one ask if anyone with a brain would really set up a spy agency like this?

Finally, Bond hops a boat and heads straight to Drax’s hidden lair. There is no way he would ever find the hidden lair except that Drax’s henchmen chase Bond right to it, where Bond kills a snake and finds Drax’s super-harem. Bond is captured and escapes and he and Dr. Goodhead, who was not killed for reasons unknown, sneak aboard a space shuttle as the pilots. Conveniently, the space shuttle is programmed to take them directly to the space station. Once there, they turn off the cloaking device, which allows NASA to see them and to immediately launch two shuttles so we can have a zero-G space fight. But where did NASA get the two shuttles and how can they be ready to launch immediately? How does this cloaking device work anyway? Launches are monitored. Satellites can be seen from earth. How did everyone miss this? And why build a space station at all? Wouldn’t it make more sense just to build a large bunker? And why didn’t Drax kill Bond and Goodhead? This has become such a cliché you can’t do that anymore! This is all because the writers were too lazy to work their way through problems. They just pretended the problems weren’t there.
Bond Quality: This is Roger Moore’s fourth outing and he’s well past his prime by this point. He’s lost the tough-guy Bond he played in his first couple films and by now consists largely on being smug and providing comic relief. He’s not too old yet to play the role, but he already comes across as disinterested. This is a Bond who does not run, he walks. This is a Bond with no sense of urgency. This is a Bond who does not seduce, he lazily assumes women want him because it’s in the script and he lets them do the work for him. This is a Bond who needs to take a breather during his fight scenes. This is a Bond with “low T.” And at no point, does Moore develop any chemistry with any other actors in the film.

Bond isn’t helped by the script either as Drax, Goodhead, Jaws and even Drax’s generic henchmen Chang all prove smarter than Bond at one time or another, and Goodhead is always one step ahead of him. Moreover, Goodhead and Jaws both save him during the movie. And while Drax proves more than a match for Moore’s Bond, it’s hard not to think that Connery’s Bond would have just shot him at the start of the film and been done with him. It really feels like Drax only gets as far as he does because Bond isn’t really interested in catching him.
The Bond Girl: As usual, this film has two Bond girls: Lois Chiles and Corinne Clery. Clery plays Corinne Dufour, Drax’s personal pilot. She flies Bond to the estate and tell us about Drax through exposition until she hands Bond off to Chiles. Later, she finds Bond in Drax’s study and he seduces her. She never really realizes that Drax is evil, but Drax has her killed by his dogs in any event. In a strange way, her death is unsettling. As far as I can tell, she’s the only Bond girl who is truly innocent of knowledge of the evil of the villain and whose death then goes completely unnoticed by Bond. Usually, Bond kills the evil Bond girls or laments/avenges the deaths of the good Bond girls. Corinne kind of gets the cinematic equivalent of an unmarked grave.

Lois Chiles plays Holly Goodhead, a CIA agent and astronaut, who infiltrates Drax’s space program and then competes with Bond to solve the mystery. Chiles is sexy and smart, which is good, but she’s also rather disinterested, which is bad. As with everything else in this film, she comes across like she’s going through the motions and can’t really get worked up about anything. Shoulder shrugs and “oh well” seem to be the extent of her interest in the film.

Villain Quality: Oh boy. The main villain is Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). He’s an industrialist who wants to kill everyone and then repopulate the planet with his own master race. Unfortunately, he’s a carbon copy of Karl Stromberg from Moore’s prior film, The Spy Who Loved Me. What’s more, Lonsdale’s acting feels totally lazy. He speaks in a monotone. He doesn’t even move around – every scene has him standing in place or sitting. He seems bored by the film and disinterested in Bond or Goodhead or even his own plot.
His plot is kind of nonsense too. He plans to drop nerve gas on the human race from a string of satellites, but it’s not really clear how that will work. Then his team of about 50 people will “descend from the Heavens” and rebuild mankind. Sure, but why put them in space at all? Why not just build a bunker? And doesn’t that seem like a small number of people to use? Talk about inbreeding! And why bother killing everyone else anyway? Why not just buy an island and start the master race there? It doesn’t seem that Drax has really thought this through, yet he doesn’t seem crazy enough to plan what he’s planning either.

Beyond Drax, you have two henchmen. First, you have Drax’s Asian manservant, who is actually Japanese and does Japanese martial arts, but answers to a Chinese name because the writers were too lazy to think through his character. He tries to kill Bond, but fails. There’s not much more to him.

After Chang dies, Drax needs a new henchman, but the writers are too lazy to think of one, so they bring Jaws back from the prior film. . . a retread. They don’t even explain how he gets there, except through some garbage phone call which makes it sound like Drax called a temp agency. Jaws is not a great character either. Jaws is one of those henchmen who only works when everyone else gets stupid. Indeed, Jaws has no skills except the bear hug, so the people he kills need to mysteriously run out of bullets right before he arrives and then need to freeze in terror so he can grab them. Deus ex Machina is lazy writing.
Jaws arrives and tries to kill Bond by doing things with his metal teeth which just aren’t possible, but again, the writers are too lazy to do it right. Then it gets worse. After Jaws fails to kill Bond, Jaws somehow survives a crash which should have killed him – he’s tall, ergo he’s indestructible. He then meets the Swiss Miss and they fall in love on the spot. Completely against character, Drax takes both Jaws and the Swiss Miss to his space station of love, where they realize (after Bond tells them this) that they will eventually be killed by Drax to preserve his master race, which means it made no sense for Drax to bring them. Jaws then becomes a good guy and saves Bond. He also impossibly lands safely on the earth after riding debris to the surface. Lazy, lazy writing.


There is something about this film which makes it watchable. It has the grandeur and the big themes of a James Bond, which make it feel like a James Bond film. But the details and the execution really do stink: a stolen villain, stolen henchmen, stolen plot, uncaring Bond-girl, and a lazy Bond do not a great Bond film make. That’s why this film is No. 0020 of 0023.
[+]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Letting the Geek Flag Fly

By ScottDS

A few weekends ago, some friends and I went to MegaCon, Central Florida’s largest celebration of pop culture, sci-fi, horror, comics, anime, and assorted nerdery. This was my fourth visit in ten years and the crowd was as big as ever. Looking back on the trip, a few thoughts have occurred to me... social, political, and otherwise.

One event was Sci-Fi Speed Dating. Yes, really! (I was pressured into it.) There were 53 guys and 50 girls, all of various shapes, sizes, and complexions. We sat with a girl, traded pleasantries for three minutes, then rotated. Multiply that by 50. At the end, we anonymously exchanged phone numbers and I’m proud to say I got two! Some people got bupkes. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t expect anything to happen but I would’ve felt worse getting nothing. How damaging to the self-esteem it must be not to receive any positive attention from the opposite sex at a sci-fi convention! If not here, then where? After chatting with 50 girls, there seems to be a clear dividing line in fandom. Imagine a Venn diagram: on the left are games, comics, and anime; on the right are sci-fi and filmed entertainment; in the middle are Dr. Who and all things Whedon. 98% of the girls in attendance belonged exclusively to one side or the other, with only a few in the middle.
I can’t explain it. Not only that, I’m guilty of it as well, with my tuches firmly placed in the right side of the diagram. I don’t hate videogames or anime – they’re just not on my radar but who am I to question someone else’s esoteric hobbies? Most of the girls were into anime and videogames. A handful were into Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, etc. Only one woman understood my T-shirt! One girl, when asked, said she was a fan of anything that had a good story and interesting characters. "You’d make a horrible Hollywood executive!" I thought to myself. No one mentioned anything resembling classic science fiction or any entertainment more than 20 years old (Dr. Who being an exception). We all decry the speed at which pop culture operates in the 21st century: nothing is allowed to settle and we’re always onto the next thing before the current thing has been given a chance. I had a small sample size to work with but it would seem that this thinking even permeates geek culture, at least to a small extent – the very people who you’d think would ponder the future while treasuring the best of the past.

Others may imply that there’s an element of sexism on display: in other words, that females can’t be "real geeks." I’m the last person on the planet qualified to write about the battle of the sexes but in my experience, anyone – male or female – can be a poser. Anyone can claim to know more about a subject than they actually do. And I hate to think us male geeks are so close-minded that we wouldn’t let females into the clubhouse! Are female geeks held to a higher "standard" because many of these things are seen as strictly male interests? Trust me, I’d be nervous if I were asked to go head to head with a hardcore Trekkie. Believe it or not, I don’t know everything there is to know about Star Trek! But in any subculture, there will always be arguments and a competitive streak. Sadly, it’s human nature. (As an aside, just because someone is a geek doesn’t mean they’re on the prowl for a geek companion – some of us have learned this the hard way. Even 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon fantasized about alpha male "astronaut Mike Dexter.")
There’s also a danger in geek culture being "co-opted." We’re seeing this already, with studios peddling their wares at the San Diego Comic-Con – a fun event that, in my opinion, has sold out – hoping for those coveted geek dollars. While some are easily swayed, others know when they’re being sold a bill of goods. PC Magazine’s Will Greenwald stated that, "Geek culture requires not just enthusiasm, but depth and scope. Those latter two characteristics are why geekdom will never be truly co-opted by popular culture." There’s a reason why Star Trek fans have conventions but viewers of Keeping Up with the Kardashians don’t. (If they do, call in a drone strike!) On the other hand, one can argue that conventions are celebrations of the best of pop culture, period. Breaking Bad and Dexter aren't exactly Comic-Con fodder but there's no shortage of merchandise or people dressed up like the characters. No one’s dressing up like Honey Boo Boo!

(They are, however, dressing up like characters from The Big Bang Theory, which drives me nuts. It’s nice to have smart characters on TV but their social awkwardness doesn’t help the stereotype. As one comedy writer put it, "Geeks who watch The Big Bang Theory are like black people who watched Amos ’n’ Andy!")
Then there’s the political angle. These things are 99.9% apolitical and can be enjoyed by anyone of any persuasion. It’s funny that MegaCon took place on the same weekend as CPAC, which might was well be MegaCon for conservatives. I’ve said it before but if a hack like Steve Crowder really wanted to make a difference, he’d stop preaching to the choir on Fox News and start working on his own comic book, or short film, or e-book, etc. Nothing that has to be exclusive to geekdom, mind you, and nothing political... just an interesting story well told, with conservative-friendly themes in the background. Sci-fi/comic conventions are the perfect place to interact with fans and sell your own work – capitalism in action! And geeks are early adopters – if they like something, they make sure the world knows it. And if they like you, they’ll support you through thick and thin.

I’m not saying folks on the right should cater to the geek demographic in order to win elections... then again, who do you think devised Obama’s election technology plans? It would also help if certain conservative bloggers (paging Mr. Schlichter) stopped making fun of geeks, nerds, etc. every chance they got. Sadly, in this economy a lot of people are living in their parents’ basements, and they’re not all geeks! Also, and this goes for the media in toto, it’d be wise to stop putting so much emphasis on box-office numbers. (Yeah, when pigs fly...) Money is no guarantee of quality. In most industries, that’s not true, but it is in this one and that requires a change of thinking that some people – especially market-friendly folks on the right – may not feel comfortable with. If Apple sells millions of iPhones, then it must be a good product, right? Right. If a movie like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World bombs, then it must be a bad movie, right? Wrong. So many variables are involved that it’s a miracle any movie gets released, let alone a good one. Filmmakers can try their best but no one knows what they want until it’s given to them.

And consider this when it comes to elections. Jim Geraghty of the National Review recently discussed how politicians could possibly hope to spread their message in such a fragmented culture. I’ve mentioned pop culture in this article but it might be fair to say that there is no pop culture anymore: only a variety of niche interests. In the 80s, The Cosby Show was watched regularly by 30 million people in a country of 240 million. Today, the aforementioned Big Bang Theory is watched by half that number in a country with an additional 80 million people in it. HBO’s Girls is a water cooler show in maybe three offices that have water coolers, yet it’s liked by "the right people" so it’s considered a hit with less than one million viewers! And the problem with a niche is that it can end up an "acquired taste," i.e., intimidating to newcomers. Star Trek certainly has this problem. Dr. Who’s history intimidates me. And, oh yes, a certain political party that seems to repel as many people as it attracts (such is my observation).
This brings me to a larger non-geek point. Conservatives need to pick an option: either culture is a trifle, in which case it’s not worth analyzing; or it’s important, and it’s worth taking seriously. And if it’s worth taking seriously, then realize that, behind every actor, there are thousands of talented artists and craftspeople, some of whom might be sympathetic to other points of view! And I'm all for the DIY approach but let's stop pretending that anyone can make a movie or write a book. Anyone can not do that, but they’re welcome to give it their best shot and hopefully the cream will rise to the top. I realize that many in the creative community don’t do themselves any favors when they say things like, "So and so was so brave for doing XYZ" where XYZ = putting on a prosthetic nose and saying someone else’s lines. I get that. But many conservatives do themselves no favors when they say things like, "Sure, XYZ might be a great actor but have they fought for their country? Can they plow the fields or perform open heart surgery?" It’s apples and oranges!

(You guys are good, though. Every time Andrew mentions his love of John Barry music or Tennessee Jed gives a shout-out to Douglas Trumbull when discussing visual effects, it warms this geek’s heart!)

[sigh] Well... my first semi-political article spawned from a trip to a sci-fi convention. Amazing! I suppose my point – if any – is that geek culture is like any culture; it’s a microcosm – one that Hollywood claims to love yet many of their films imply otherwise. But we’re a loyal and passionate audience... and as far as politics go, I’d like to think some of us are open-minded. So whaddya got? [smile]

(Special thanks to Orlando Attractions Magazine for the wide shot.)
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