Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas!! Happy Holidays!! Competent Kwanza!! Happy That Other Thing!!

We're going to take a little break officially until January 2. Unofficially, we'll probably post something before then. But in the meantime, take some time off, see the real world.

Christmas is an amazing time of year. This is the one time of year we get a glimpse of what the world would be like if we all lived the way we know we should. And that's a great glimpse. I love this time of year. I love the festive spirit, the sights, the sounds and the smells. This is a happy time when people feel charitable, forgiving and friendly. It is the one time of year we all try to live up to our better natures. So take this opportunity to think about the people you love, the things that make you happy, and focus on the good side of life. Think about how you can be a better person to those around you and enjoy the Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas everyone (and assorted holidays)!

As always, consider this an open thread. Click here to comment at CommentaramaPolitics
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 008 Live And Let Die (1973)

This was one of the hardest to rank. There is much to love here. The film has a really cool blaxsploitation feel to it and it’s pure fun, suckas. The funeral scene is iconic. Jane Seymour is gorgeous. The theme song and title are two of the best. But then there are the problems. The problems are what keep this one at No. 008 of 0023.

Plot Quality: Our story opens with the assassination of three British agents. One is at the UN, one is in New Orleans and one gets killed in a voodoo ceremony in the Caribbean island of San Monique. Bond is called in to investigate. He lands in New York only to have his driver killed in an attempt to kill Bond and make it look like an automobile accident. Bond pursues a lead on the killer into Harlem, where he stands out: “You can’t miss him! It’s like following a cue ball.”
Bond finds himself captured by Mr. Big, the most powerful black gangster in the country. Bond escapes and in the process learns that there is a connection between Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga, Prime Minster of San Monique. Bond travels to San Monique to investigate. There he meets CIA agent Rosie Carver, who is basically incompetent. She’s also working for Kananga and she leads Bond into a trap, but he escapes. Bond then stumbles upon Solitaire (Jane Seymour). She’s Kananga’s psychic and Bond tricks her into sleeping with him. They then escape from Kananga to New Orleans, where Bond wants to check out a restaurant owned by Mr. Big, the Fillet of Soul, from which Mr. Big is distributing heroin.
Bond is met immediately by Mr. Big’s thugs, but he escapes. Then he’s recaptured at the restaurant, learns that Kananga is Mr. Big, and is sent to be fed to crocodiles. Once again, he escapes and a classic boat chase through the Louisiana bayous takes place. Eventually, Bond escapes and then pursues Kananga back to San Monique, where he blows up the heroin fields, kills Kananga and his henchmen, and rescues Solitaire.

As plots go, there’s not a lot here. Instead, action gets substituted for plot as the film involves numerous chase scenes. The bus chase is decent and the plane chase is stupid, but the boat chase... the boat chase is spectacular. The plot is entirely believable however, and Kananga’s scheme is one of the better ones. The characters are all interesting and memorable too - this isn’t License to Kill where you can’t remember anybody except the main actors. Here you remember everyone, from incompetent Rosie to fat Whisper to the Voodoo Baron to the man with the hook for a hand to the little guy who kills at funerals. The dialog is fun too with lots of over-the-top slang. The images are iconic, like the powerboat flying through the air, the deck of cards that are all lovers, Bond jumping onto the backs of crocodiles, and the Olympia Brass Band doing the funerals. This film has a travelogue film too, even if it takes place in gritty areas.
Against this, however, you have a couple problems. Bond very much feels like a passenger in this film and he survives because of the nonsensical decisions of the bad guys, not because he’s a great spy. The ending comes a little to easily to Bond as well. Sheriff J.W. Pepper is an abomination as the fat, racist Southern-cop stereotype. I’ve seen him called the Jar Jar Binks of the series, and I can’t disagree with that.

But in the end, the positives far outweigh the negatives and have kept this as one of the more popular films. Indeed, it is the rare Bond-a-thon where this one doesn’t feature prominently. The film also made $851 million (in 2013 dollars) at the box office, which blows away all the later films up to Skyfall and puts it at No. 4 in the series (behind Thunderball, Goldfinger and Skyfall). So they did something right.
Bond Quality: This is Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond and boy is he stiff. As we’ve discussed before, Bond needs to project a suaveness, a cold-bloodedness, and a sense of humor. Moore doesn’t really achieve any of that in this film. For one thing, in keeping with the blaxsploitation theme, Bond is repeatedly presented as hopelessly square and out of his element... dumbass honkey. It’s hard to be suave when you pretend you don’t even understand obvious slang which the audience will know. He also comes across as a clothes horse, and a prissy one at that. Connery spoke about his tailor in passing, but you never watched him shop for suits. Sadly, we get to watch Roger pick out his favorite suits; it feels wrong. And there’s really only one moment where he’s cold-blooded (with Rosie) and he doesn’t even go through with that.

What he does have going for him is competence and that his confidence builds throughout the film. He looks the part too. And all told, there is a sense of potential. At this point at least, he seems like he will be an adequate replacement for Connery. Unfortunately, this may have been his peak as Bond.
The Bond Girl: Jane Seymour plays Solitaire, Kananga’s Tarot Card reading psychic, and she’s great. She’s not the most active of Bond girls, but she brings a strong sense of emotion to the film and solid chemistry with Moore. In particular, she helps make Kananga feel like someone to fear, rather than the clown he would appear to be without her cringing when he speaks, and she helps sell Moore as a lover, something that gets harder and harder to believe in Moore’s later films. She also helps sell the whole voodoo aspect of the film, and she becomes a much better prize for Bond than just stopping a drug dealer. In many ways, she is essential to the film, which is rare for Bond girls.

Villain Quality: The villain is Yaphet Kotto, who plays duel roles here. As the film opens, he’s Mr. Big, the biggest, baddest black criminal in the US. As the CIA explains, “You name the racket and they say he has a black concession.” We soon learn, however, that Mr. Big is really Prime Minster Kananga of San Monique in disguise.

Kananga’s plan is to give away two tons of heroin for free on the streets of America. His goal is to drive the Mafia out of business and to double the number of addicts in the US. Then he will monopolize the market and start charging. This is actually a brilliant plan as it’s very realistic as it would cost him nothing to do this and it would be effective, as evidenced by other companies who “dump” products to take over markets. It’s also quite threatening, given the mess this could make of the country and the power he would have over this army of addicts who were totally reliant on him. It was also topical, being little more than a year after Nixon gave his “War on Drugs” speech. All told, this is a scheme worthy of Bond’s attention; it’s not just Bond fighting a drug dealer.
Kotto does an excellent job too in the role of Kananga. He portrays an interesting mix of sane and crazy. On the one hand, his plan is very rational, but on the other hand, he seems to genuinely believe his own lies. He cynically uses voodoo to keep the San Monique locals from snooping around his poppy fields, but then believes it himself when it comes to Solitaire. He’s maniacal too, but thinks he’s just a businessman. Even his language changes significantly when he’s Mr. Big, all slang and jive, compared to when he’s the very erudite and educated Kananga. It’s like he has a split personality. And that give him a neat edge that many of the other villains lack. Compare his tightly-wound personae against the tired villains Moore would face in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker or flakes like Zorin in A View To A Kill. He feels much more maniacal and much more dangerous than those lame honkies.
There are problems with Kananga, but they aren’t with the character or his plan. The problems really come up with his henchmen. For example, he has either corrupted Rosie Carver or planted her in the CIA, but that reeks of being too coincidental and she seems too incompetent to be hired as an agent. His henchmen Whisper is enormously fat and can only whisper, but he isn’t someone you would hire to do the things he does. His main henchman Tee Hee has a hook for an arm, but the physics behind it are distractingly wrong, e.g. he can’t bend the barrel of a gun. Baron Samedi is cool and menacing and an excellent character, but ultimately proves to be pretty pathetic as he gets killed with just a single shove. Even more questionable, each of the characters in the organization, from the cabbie to the fat waiter, somehow appear wherever Bond goes. This feels phony. And with Samedi, Tee Hee, Rosie, Whisper and the cabbie all having ample opportunities to kill Bond in cold blood, but none even trying, the film has a high “Why didn’t he just ___?” quality to it.
This affects Kananga too as he is the first James Bond villain to truly engage in a Rube Goldberg approach to killing Bond. Each of the prior guys had reasons they did what they did, even if simply shooting him would have proved more effective. This time, Kananga does what he does because the script calls for it, and that ads an air of silliness to the films. In some ways, his insanity helps us swallow his Rube Goldberg attempts to kill Bond... but not quite enough.

All in all, this was a good film. The villain is lively, well-written, and has a great plan. The Bond girl is special. The film has a cool vibe. It is an iconic film with iconic images that even casual fans know, and it’s pure fun. It has also proven its staying power. So the film deserves a high ranking. But there are significant problems that make the film feel less than it is. Those keep the film from going any higher. So here it sits at No. 008 of 0023... can you dig it?
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Words Have Meaning!!

Have you ever thought about how a single line of dialog can change a movie? It's true. A single line of dialog can convey enough information to completely change a character, a plot point or even a theme. Indeed, think about the infamous "Noooooooooo!" from George Lucas and how that completely changed the nature of Darth Vader.

This idea has long fascinated me and frustrated me. It fascinates me because of the vast amount of power that just a few words can have to change a meaning. Think about it. You can take a movie of any length, say two hours, and with the right word or sentence... only a few seconds long, you can completely the change movie. That is amazing. And it's a real testament to the power of words and of language. It's also the basis of "the twist."

What frustrates me is that this should be obvious to anyone who writes. Yet, so few scriptwriters pay attention to the importance of the details. They look for big themes, cool moments and symbols of whatever point it is they want to make, but they completely overlook the little things that trip up films. How many times have I seen a film that makes no sense, but which could be saved by the hero uttering one single line... one single line to explain why they did something inexplicable or couldn't do something obvious. How many characters could be given depth with a single additional line of dialog? How many could be kept from being ruined by avoiding that stupid line you never needed to say. As a lover of words, and an understander of the power of words, I find this very frustrating that people who make a living writing can't see these things... or won't bother.

Anyway, let's make a game out of this. And for this, I need to credit tryanmax. He mentioned a couple weeks back how you could completely change the meaning of Planes, Trains and Automobiles by adding this one line: "Marie is in the trunk!" Wow. LOL! Yeah, that would totally change the movie!

So lay it on us. Tell us how you could totally change a movie with one little line.
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Disney Villains Who Got Off Easy

by tryanmax

“And they lived happily ever after.” That’s how every Disney cartoon ends for the heroes. For the villains, it’s another story. Heck, most of them aren’t even alive by the end. While Disney stories aren’t really about vengeance—they’re more about overcoming, self discovery, bursting into song and the antics of marketable furry sidekicks—there’s something reassuring about the bad guys getting their comeuppance. But wait! It seems not everyone gets what he deserves. Here are a handful of Disney villains who got off easier than they probably should have.

Cinderella’s Step-Mother and Ugly Step-Sisters
Cinderella was the beloved daughter of an aristocratic widower who decided his child needed a mother’s affection. So naturally, he went and married a gold-digging, social-climbing bitch with two daughters to match. Then he promptly died. Cinderella spends her formative years waiting hand-and-foot on the very women who stole her inheritance. Maybe it was a different time when an orphan was lucky to have a roof over her head, but the constant berating was simply uncalled for.

Fortunately for Cindy, she had a Fairy Godmother to help her bibbity-bobbity-boo her way into Prince Charming’s heart. (I’m not sure if that’s more or less sexy than it sounds.) There’s a little mix-up when Cindy leaves the prince her shoe instead of her name. Her step-mother and step-sisters do everything they can to exploit the situation, not because they have a chance with the prince, but just to keep from losing their punching bag.

Still, everything comes up Cindy in the end and she and Charming ride off to his palace while her cruel step-family gets… well, they get to keep everything. Granted, keeping up that mansion without slave labor is not easy or cheap. And good luck finding one person to do all the work Cindy did alone. Yeah, she got mice and birds to help, but that falls under Cindy’s skill set and is very hard to replace.

Hades (Hercules)
Hades is just not a nice guy. Being the ruler of the Underworld will tend to do that to anyone. I hear the social scene is totally dead. (These are the jokes, people.) So it’s somewhat understandable that he might hatch a plot to unleash prehistoric Titans to destroy the earth and everyone on it to gain a throne on Olympus. Still, nastiness reaches a whole new level when your lust for power leads you to kill a newborn infant. Very, very bad things should therefore happen to you.

Gladly, the minions Hades put to the job of dispatching baby Hercules—who did you think I was talking about?—failed their mission and we have a full-length feature to show for it. Hercules grows up to be the world’s strongest man, yada, yada, yada, and gets the chance to take on Hades in something closer to, but still not approaching, a fair fight.

Hercules saves the world from the Titans, saves his lady love, and wins his godhood. And Hades gets plunged into the deadly River Styx. Wait a minute. The Styx is the river to the Underworld. So, basically, Herc punched Hades in the face and sent him home. Yeah, the guy lives in a bad zip code, but for trying to destroy civilization, he basically got off scot-free.

Mad Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
It takes a special kind of crazy to take it personally when a sparrow flies down your chimney. But then, it takes a special kind of crazy to turn the future King Arthur into a sparrow and send him on flying lessons with a talking owl. These are things Merlin understands, not me.

It seems that Madam Mim’s way of dealing with intruders is to eat them. I’m a fan of the castle doctrine myself, but I draw the line at consuming trespassers. Just so we’re clear, we’ve got a bona fide nutcase on our hands. Still, regular nutzo and wizard nutzo are two different things. Merlin decides to defuse the situation, not by walking away, but by challenging Mim to a Wizards’ Duel.

Based on the only one I’ve seen, Wizard’s Duels are hilariously dangerous and only to be entered into for comedic purposes. In this particular duel, the participants agree to change only into various animals in an effort to destroy one another. Sounds fair since this all sprang from an attempted homicide to begin with. The duelists transform themselves into all sorts of animals, from rabbits to rhinos, until Mim turns herself into a giant purple dragon. This is a violation of the rules, since dragons aren’t real but wizards apparently are.

Merlin thinks fast and turns himself into a germ. (We could quibble over whether a germ is an animal, but we’ve already gone to dragons, so screw it.) Mim becomes infected, breaks out in spots and is put on bed rest with the assurance from Merlin that she will recover in a few weeks. So instead of being dead, Mim will only spend the next month wishing she was.

Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Attempting to assassinate a totalitarian king could make one a hero, if one weren’t doing so for the sake of taking over the gig. So we’re not really rooting for Yzma when she tries to poison Kuzco, Emperor of the Inca Empire for that very reason. In any case, she makes the classic mistake of sending her witless henchman Kronk to do the job who only manages to turn Kuzco into a llama. This is what happens when you keep your animal transformation potions next to your poisons, but some people never learn.

Yzma finds out that Kuzco is still alive—as a llama—and sets out to find and kill him yet. Apparently being turned into a llama isn’t technically grounds to remove the emperor in ancient MezoAmerica. At least, not as far as we know. There isn’t a lot of archeological evidence one way or the other.

In the end Kuzco, now a better despot/llama for his ordeal, finds the antidote potion he needs and reclaims his throne. Yzma, on the other hand, accidentally transforms herself into a kitten with another of her potions. I don’t know about you, but I think being turned permanently into a housecat is less a punishment and more an upgrade. For someone wanting to become an unchallenged despot, it’s pretty much exactly what she wanted.

All the Bad Guys in Pinocchio
In the pursuit of becoming a real boy, little Pinocchio finds himself kidnapped, locked in a cage, sold into slavery twice, turned partway into a donkey, and finally swallowed by a giant whale. While the theme of the story pushes the idea that Pinocchio brought all of this upon himself, the fact is that Honest John, Gideon, Stromboli, and the Coachman all took incredible advantage of a little boy who was literally born yesterday. (Okay, maybe not so literally. Carved is more accurate.)

The only “villain” who didn’t try to put one over on ol’ Pinoc’ was Monstro, the whale. But he’s the only one who gets any sort of punishment. And for what? Just for doing what comes naturally to a giant whale—swallowing stuff. Fortunately for Monstro, he inhabits a fairy tale where having a fire stoked in one’s belly results merely in a sneezing fit.

But what of all the other cads and scoundrels who make a practice of luring naïve children into unsavory lifestyles? As far as we know, nothing! They all get to go on their merry ways, presumably to continue snatching up innocent little boys for the foreseeable future.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Lesson of Gene Autry

Gene Autry is a national icon. He rose from telegraph operator to Hollywood hero to owner of the Los Angeles Angels. He was known as a humble and decent man who made lifelong friends. He was a beloved hero to millions. He was also a solid conservative who supported Ike, Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan. Over the past few months, I’ve watched almost his entire film catalog and I’ve found many interesting lessons in these films. But there is one I want to talk about today.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Autry was a Top 10 Box Office star, and he remained super popular until his death. In fact, his popularity was astounding. What made Autry so popular? To put it simply, Gene Autry was essentially impossible to dislike because he came across as genuinely nice and he came across as someone who actually cared about everyone. Indeed, he always smiled, no matter what the circumstances. And he always remained relentlessly positive. Even when he faced the bad guy, he still smiled and chose to counter the villain’s conduct good-naturedly rather than with anger.

More importantly though, he cared about everyone. No issue was too small for him to want to help and there wasn’t anyone he was unwilling to help. In fact, in his films he rejects racism, classism and genderism. At one point, he created a Cowboy Code which he shared with tens of millions of kids and that code specifically said that a genuine cowboy “must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.” It also said that a genuine cowboy must “respect women,” may not take unfair advantage, must always tell the truth, must help people in distress, must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals, and must never go back on his word.

Right now, I can hear some people mocking him as “a Boy Scout,” but that says more about their cynicism than anything about Autry if they dislike people who display all the virtues we claim to prize.

Anyways, he was forgiving too and never acted in anger. Indeed, Autry never gave up trying to talk the villain out his plan because he wanted the best solution for everyone, not just victory. He would use violence sometimes, but only in genuine self-defense (not fake self-defense like modern heroes). Interestingly, he was also the kind of guy who would race to save a villain who had fallen over a cliff and would beat himself up for failing to save the villain from falling to his death.

Compare that with modern “heroes” who are cynical, nasty, and presume the worst. They only seem happy when they are kicking ass or killing bad guys. Autry never did that. Autry simply wanted to help people. He was the kind of guy who never failed to give the shirt off his back at the first sign of need. He never ridiculed anyone, never spoke ill of anyone, and never wished harm upon anyone... friend or foe. He had tremendous patience and was always willing to forgive. He was humble, honest, and he genuinely cared about everyone. This is what he projected on film and all indications are that this is who he really was.

Ok, so why am I telling you this? Because this is what made Autry irresistible to the American public. They loved him.

Now look at Ronald Reagan. How did Reagan come across to the public? He came across as humble and honest, and he genuinely seemed to care about everyone. He talked about making “all boats” rise, not just those of his friends, his donors, his voters, or people of a certain color or class. He spoke proudly of all Americans of any gender, race or religion. He never tried to section people off under the law and he never sold his policies as hurting or getting even with people he didn't like. He never ridiculed anyone, never spoke ill of anyone, and never wished harm upon anyone... friend or foe. Even as Tipp O’Neil and the MSM savaged him and tried to destroy him, Reagan kept his sunny disposition and treated them as friends.

And do you know what? The public loved him! He became the most loved politician this country has ever produced. Just think back to his funeral and you’ll see that. Think back to the hundreds of thousands of people who turned out to see his body, who lined the streets, and who openly cried that a man they hadn’t seen in 20 years had died. That is an amazing emotional connection, the same connection Autry achieved.

This is the lesson. It’s no secret how to be popular. When the public believes that you care about everyone equally, and that you do genuinely care and want to help people... when the public sees you as humble, honest, and decent... the public will love you. Ronald Reagan, just like Gene Autry, won over a massive majority of the public because the public knew that these were decent men who cared about everyone and wanted the best for everyone. That created the trust which caused the public to give Reagan a chance and to stick with him. If we want to regain the public’s trust, that is the course we need to take. It’s not about ideology, it’s about attitude.

To put a fine point on this: if conservatism wants to win back the public, it needs to learn to care about all Americans again, not just those it likes. Drop the anger, drop the exclusion, and drop the cynicism that is the essence of talk radio. Embrace America. Embrace Americans... every American. This is the greatest country on earth and her people are amazing. Give them the opportunities and trust them to excel. Be someone the public will love and respect and the public will love and respect you. It’s that simple. Remember this the next time a candidate tells you what his goals are.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 103

Who says television can't raise kids? Television is crawling with mothers and fathers!

Who are your favorite television parents?

Panelist: ScottDS

For favorite father, Tim Allen (as Tim Taylor) in Home Improvement, which was the last family sitcom I watched on a regular basis. Yeah, he was a schlub who had to be frequently corrected by his no-nonsense wife, but he learned (assisted by his next-door neighbor Wilson), and he was a good husband and father. And like so many of us, all he wanted was "more power." And favorite mother... man, I'm not sure you can top Barbara Billingsley but I will go with Jane Kaczmarek who played Lois on Malcolm in the Middle: harsh when necessary, but always had the best interests of the kids at heart. And like so many moms, she also had her borderline psycho moments as well.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Well my favorite television mom was Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver. Wow could she do naive or what? She really got to show off her comedic talent when she talked "jive" dialect in the film Airplane.

My favorite television dad was Ozzie Nelson. If you go to Webster's dictionary to look up the term "nice guy" there is a picture of Ozzie.

Panelist: Floyd

I'm going to go with Charles and Caroline Ingalls -- Pa and Ma of Little House on the Prairie. My kids have been watching these the last few months and it is breathtaking what you could get on TV in the 1970s (really from both perspectives if you look at All in the Family). Disciplined, hard working, generous, full of wisdom and laughter, but worldly enough to fear for the well-being of their family. Yeah it's a bit Romanticized, but better that than the doofuses and harpies that pass for parents since the 1990s.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

How can you beat Bill Cosby for television father? The guy has it all down. Don't care for the Mrs. though. So let's swap out Morticia Addams. She's got style and nothing phases this woman.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Now, I was from the era of television parents who were smarter than their kids, so June and Ward Cleaver are A#1 in my book. Sometimes the parents learned from the kids too. Second would have to Father Knows Best with Jim and Margaret Anderson.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Film Friday: Three O’Clock High (1987)

Three O’Clock High is an interesting film. You could call it a forgotten film, except that no one knew about it in the first place, plus it’s not really forgotten – it seems to have found a fan base. I like it a good deal. What makes Three O’Clock High so interesting to me today, however, is why I think it never caught on: it’s a dark comedy that was too “real” for people to enjoy.

** spoiler alert **
Three O’Clock High is the story of Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko), who is about to have a very bad day. When he arrives at school he hears everyone talking about the new “kid,” Buddy Revell (who looks like a 20 year old thug), a transfer student with an extreme history of violence. Much to Buddy’s chagrin, he is assigned by the school newspaper to interview Buddy.
Jerry finds Buddy in the mensroom and tries to arrange the interview. It doesn’t go well, so Buddy decides to retreat: “Let’s just forget the whole thing,” he says, and he pats Buddy on the arm. Big mistake. Buddy does not like to be touched and when Jerry touches him, he tells Jerry that he will fight Jerry at 3 o’clock.

Jerry freaks out and tries to find a way out of this. He even enlists his friend to help him. The results are bad for Jerry. His friend tries to plant a knife in Buddy’s locker, but Buddy uses the knife to cut the hoses on Jerry’s car and plants the knife in Jerry’s steering wheel. Jerry then gets in trouble for trying to escape school as he is apprehended by school security (Mitch Pileggi as “the Duker”). He is caught with the knife. He tries to escape by telling the truth, but is accused of trying to shift the blame to Buddy. He also gets accused of cheating off of Buddy, and he gets threatened with even greater harm.

In a near panic, Jerry robs the school’s store, which he runs, and he uses the money to bribe a football player to threaten Buddy. Buddy destroys him. The cops are called to investigate the theft and they suspect Jerry. Jerry’s whole future is threatened.
Finally, Jerry buys off Buddy. Buddy takes the money but mocks Jerry. That is the moment Jerry finally decides to stand up for himself. The tells Buddy there will be a fight, and there will. A fairly brutal fight scene ensues involving brass knuckles. In the end, the other students show their respect for Jerry by helping him replace the money he had stolen from the school store. Even Buddy appears and returns the money Jerry used to try to buy him off. Jerry has prevailed and proven himself.

Doesn’t sound like a comedy, does it?
Why This Film Failed
By their very nature, teen films are angst ridden and dark. The reason is that the most effective ones deal with the fears and insecurities of teens. Sixteen Candles dealt with issue like teens who feel ignored by their parents. Pretty In Pink dealt with dating problems. The Breakfast Club dealt with feeling like an outsider. Risky Business dealt with being too uptight. Better Off Dead dealt with all of the above. How these films deal with these issues varies. Some take the teens’ complaints and insecurities and blow them way out of proportion to make the teens laugh and, thereby, get some perspective. Others take the complaints and insecurities seriously and then defuse them by showing it all getting better. Those are the formulas. By addressing these issues, these films assurance the teens in the audience that they aren’t alone and that things will get better. (As for the adults, it reminds them of how stupid they were as teens.) And that is how these films attract their audiences.

Interestingly, while these may seem like dark comedies at first glance, they really aren’t. In each case, the “dark” humor is either so blown out of proportion that it isn’t even vaguely realistic (e.g. a pimp steals everything from your house, you are hunted by a paperboy), or it is immediately defused by all the characters telling the affected character that everything will be all right and then jumping into action to help them. There is also always this overriding sense in these films that everything will eventually work out before the credits roll; this is why they are comedies instead of dramas.
Three O’Clock High is different. Three O’Clock High is truly a dark film. Indeed, it’s not clear if this is meant to be a comedy or a drama, and the topic is something that is hard to laugh about – waiting to get beat up after school is something many people have experienced, it’s not something you laugh off. Moreover, the fear here is realistic. Nothing about Jerry waiting for his appointment with Buddy is bizarrely exaggerated to the point of being funny, as it would have been in Better Off Dead, or completely unlikely to happen in real life, as with Risky Business. There is no comfort given either. Jerry’s friends aren’t helping him; to the contrary, they are hurting him. Some are even exploiting his impending destruction. The teachers don’t help. And Jerry doesn’t seem capable of finding a way out or surviving the fight.

Further, as the film progresses, it even gets progressively darker. The school administrators treat Jerry like a criminal. You get the feeling that no matter how this ends, Jerry’s life will be forever altered negatively. Buddy becomes even more menacing to the point of becoming a total psycho. His actions get worse and worse too, as he cuts the hoses in Jerry’s car and leaves the knife in his steering wheel, as he destroys a football player with one punch, as he introduces brass knuckles, and as he takes out the Duker and principal with his fists in single blows. Again, none of this is comedic, it’s just menacing and can easily make you sick to your stomach if you’ve shared Jerry’s dilemma.
This is a ton of darkness and takes this film very, very far from the tried-and-true formula for teen films. Because of this, I suspect this film turned people off, which is why it made only $3.7 million.

Interestingly, as I think back over the films I’ve seen throughout my life, there are very few dark comedies that did all that well – excluding Coen Brother’s films. There are quite a few that did poorly, such as this one, The War of the Rose and To Die For, but few that did well. And what I realize about the Coen Brothers, and why they have done well, is that the Coen’s present an unreal world for their dark comedies. Just as with the teen comedies like Better Off Dead and the Hughes films, there is an unreality to the Coen films which lets you look beyond the ugliness and the horror and laugh at the silliness of it all. That is what Three O’Clock High is missing. So apparently, the rule is dark is fine, but it can’t be dark and realistic.

Now, all that said, I do personally enjoy Three O’Clock High a lot and I recommend it. The humor, when it comes, is hilarious. It stands in such contrast to the rest of the film that it almost forces you to laugh out loud. There are some great scenes like the book report. I also like that Jerry finally finds his self-respect and takes down Buddy. It’s one of those moments that makes you proud. And then to see the other students, who have been such bloodthirsty sh*ts up to that point come together to help Jerry really is one of those rare well-earned “feel good” moments in film. This is perhaps too why it still has some staying power today when it had no staying power in the theaters.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 009 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a unique position in the Bond series. It comes at the end of the 1960s, right before Bond became a creature of the 1970s. It is also the only Bond with a one-time Bond. At one point, this film would have been considered the bottom of the barrel by the public, but over time it has risen in estimation. Here it sits at No. 009 of 0023.

Plot Quality: Had we done these ratings twenty years ago, OHMSS would have been near the bottom of the list. The film was seen as a mistake, a wrong turn in the series done by an actor with no business trying to replace Sean Connery. But over time, perceptions have changed. A great many people now recognize that Lazenby wasn’t as bad as he seemed when the wounds of Connery quitting were still so raw. And with the benefit of hindsight, the plot doesn’t seem as weak as it once did either. In fact, comparing this film to what was to come over the next ten years, this film actually comes across as quite solid.
The story opens with Bond saving Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, aka Tracy, from trying to kill herself. She invites Bond back to her hotel room. The following morning, Bond gets kidnapped by Tracy’s father, Marc-Ange Draco, who just happens to be the head of a huge European crime syndicate. Draco offers Bond one million pounds if he will marry Tracy. Bond refuses, but says he will continue to romance Tracy if Draco tells him the whereabouts of Blofeld. Draco directs Bond to Switzerland, where Bond steals information from a law firm which tells him that Blofeld is trying to claim a title: “Comt Balthazar de Bleuchamp.”

To prove his claim, Blofeld wants Sir Hilary Bray of the London College of Arms to come investigate. Bond now impersonates Sir Hilary to get close to Blofeld and he travels to an allergy research institute Blofeld is running in the Swiss Alps. There he meets a group of women who are being treated for allergies (it actually seems to be more aversion than allergies). Bond passes himself off as Sir Hilary while simultaneously suggesting to the women that he’s gay. He then proceeds to fool around with several of the women as he discovers that Blofeld’s secret plan is to send these women back to where they came from, brainwashed so they will release bacteriological warfare agents which will destroy food sources.
Bond tries to trick Blofeld into leaving Switzerland because he apparently can’t arrest him there. When Blofeld refuses, Bond’s identity is discovered and Blofeld’s agents chase him through Switzerland. Tracy just happens to be nearby and saves Bond, but then gets captured. Bond returns to London where he learns that Blofeld has demanded ransom to keep from releasing the bacterial agents, and the world has decided to pay. There will be no attack on Blofeld and no attempt to rescue Tracy.

Bond then contacts Draco, who attacks Blofeld’s chalet along with Bond and his men. They free Tracy and injure Blofeld. Bond and Tracy then return to Portugal, where they marry. As they leave the wedding, Blofeld drives up next to Bond’s Aston Martin and pumps it full of bullet holes. He kills Tracy and the movie ends.

As I said, this film has a growing legion of fans. What they are responding to is the feel of the film. This film was made in 1969 and thus is the last film made in the same vein as the Connery films before it: same film quality, same acting styles, similar dialog, similar types of action, similar costumes. By comparison, each of the films that follow will be creatures of the 1970s and will become increasingly ridiculous. It is, therefore, easy to see this film as being of roughly similar quality to the early Connery films. That is what has gotten the film ranked as high as it has.
But I don’t see this film going any higher. And the reason is that ultimately, this film is seriously flawed. Seriously, are we really supposed to believe that Blofeld won’t recognize the mortal enemy he’s seen repeatedly in the past just because Bond wears glasses and calls himself “Sir Hilary”? And since when has Bond ever worried about needing a warrant before he could take down a bad guy? He’s 007, licensed to kill, not licensed to make arrests with the permission of local authorities only.

Further, how silly is the idea of using these women to release bacteriological agents. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send dozens of trained SPECTRE agents all over the world than it does to send supposedly hypnotized women, each of whom can be found very quickly because each will have a visit to Switzerland on their passports and each of whom will have bragged about being at Blofeld’s institute. Hell, put Blofeld’s picture on the tube and ask anyone who has seen him to call the cops. These women would call in unless Blofeld could somehow activate them first. Also, it’s not clear why Bond pretends to be gay. Is this meant to confuse Blofeld or is it meant to confuse the women he finds? “Well, he sure looks like Bond, but he says he’s gay, so it can’t be him.”

Each of these ideas sound like they are potentially interesting ideas on paper, but none of them were developed before they were thrown into the film, and the result is a film which leaves you wondering why the heck no one seems capable of spotting the obvious things right before their noses. This is why OHMSS has peaked at number 0010. From hereon out, the rest of the films simply hold together too well for this one to rise any higher.
Bond Quality: This was George Lazenby’s only time as Bond, and Lazenby doesn’t have what it takes. He’s far too stiff in the role to be taken seriously and he never projects the ability to handle the level of violence Bond needs either. Even worse, the director sabotages him. For example, at one point, he mentions how “this never happened to the other guy,” a reference to Connery, which jarringly breaks the wall with the audience and reminds them that Lazenby is a replacement. At another point, while Bond is robbing a safe, he actually stops to look at a porno magazine... something that would never interest Bond, and then he even steals the magazine. Apparently, this Bond plays with himself. They also had him fall in love with his Bond girl (and far too easily at that), which again goes against the character. This was too much to be dumped on the plate of an actor who never seemed to take the role seriously enough to begin with.
The Bond Girl: Best. Bond. Girl. Ever. At least, that’s what a lot of people say. Tracy (Diane Rigg) is not my favorite, but she’s close. And she is without a doubt the strength of this film. Her screen presence is compelling enough to make up for Lazenby’s lack of chemistry. She’s an excellent foil too for her father and then for Blofeld, even as Lazenby is not. She is a definite highlight and for the only time ever in a Bond film, her Bond girl outshines Bond himself.

Villain Quality: Who loves ya, baby? The villain here is Kojak as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Casting Telly Savalas as Blofeld was actually a good call. He brings both a real maniacal twist to the role and a serious level of menace, which fits with the insane plan he’s concocted. He is both larger-than-life and yet believable. In many ways, Savalas was the 1960’s version of Christopher Walken and he made any film he was in better. Between Savalas and Rigg, this film has a strong cast.
Savalas’s plan is to brainwash a group of women who have come to his institute to be treated for allergies (or really aversions) to various foods. These women will be sent back to their homes with germ warfare agents which they will release upon command to contaminate local food sources. That contamination will then spread until the country’s entire food supply is destroyed. He plans to use this to blackmail the world.

Ultimately, this plan is rather silly. While it’s possible such biowarfare agents could be invented, and that would be fertile ground for blackmail, a chick-based deliver system is not the recommended way to release this. But then, this never really seems to be the point to the movie. In this instance, Blofeld’s plot actually feels like a MacGuffin intended solely to give Blofeld and Bond a reason to play cat and mouse in the Swiss Alps. Even his desire to claim the title feels like a pretext to give Bond a way in... the real Blofeld couldn’t care less about such an honor, and neither do you. Nevertheless, as MacGuffins, these things work to give the veneer of a purpose to the film, even if the audience doesn’t really take it seriously.

To sum this one up, the film is not nearly as bad as it seemed when people were still upset about the casting of Lazenby. Comparing it to what was to come over the next ten years, and then some, this one at least felt like one of the early Connery films. Thus, it has moved up in many people’s estimation and I think a ranking of No. 0010 is appropriate. But the film is seriously flawed and simply doesn’t have what it takes to rise above the better films above it, and it may actually fall again a bit over time, probably below Skyfall and Quantum of Solace. In the meantime, it has peeked at No. 009 of 0023.
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Toon-arama: How The Grinch Stole Christmas

How The Grinch Stole Christmas is perhaps my favorite Christmas cartoon. What I love about it most is how it has several layers of meaning and those layers become more apparent to you as you grow older. It is, in essence, a cartoon you must see many times over your life to fully understand. Consider some of these ideas:

Good Will Triumph: The first meaning you probably took from The Grinch when you were a kid was that good will triumph over evil. Simple. As a kid, it was obvious that the Grinch was the villain. He's a mean one. He wants to ruin everything for everyone. He's not even nice to his dog! And he tries to ruin everyone's Christmas. But he fails because Christmas is such a powerful force that it melts his evil heart and he actually returns everything he stole. For a child, this is a simple and reassuring message. It is what we want to believe about the universe and, at Christmas, all things are possible.
The Real Meaning of Christmas I (people matter, not things): Over time, as we mature, we start to see another meaning in this story. Rather than simply seeing that good will defeat evil, we start to focus on why good defeated evil. This brings us the next level of meaning. In this instance, we realize that the reason the Grinch lost was because he valued the wrong things. He thought the gifts were what made Christmas so special, and he never realized that what gave Christmas its joy and meaning was the people we love, not the things we exchange. Since he could never take that away, he could never win. Thus, the true meaning of Christmas is that the people in our lives are what matter, not the things in our lives.
The Real Meaning of Christmas II (redemption): As a corollary to our discovery that Christmas is about the relationships of the people in Whoville, and not the gifts they exchange, we also see the Grinch decide to give the gifts back. There are many possible reasons for this, but the one we are told is that the Grinch suddenly felt the Christmas spirit and decided he wanted to make their Christmas brighter.

But if you think about it, there is something strange in this. For one thing, if Christmas isn't really about the gifts, then what does it matter if he gives the gifts back? Indeed, if he couldn't kill Christmas by stealing the gifts, then he can't restore Christmas by giving gifts), ergo his return of the gifts is ultimately a hollow gesture when it comes to the harm he tried to inflict. Hmm. So does this mean the Grinch still doesn't get it? Well, no.

By taking the gifts back, the Grinch is atoning for his sins. He is trying to make right the wrong he has done. But the real atonement isn't in the return of the gifts, it is in doing so publicly. Basically he is submitting himself to their judgment, and in the process is seeking forgiveness. Had he simply left the gifts at the edge of town, he would not have been redeemed. Thus, the meaning of Christmas according to this story is that the Grinch can be redeemed, and if such a villain can be redeemed by atoning for his sins, then so can you. All you have to do is seek forgiveness.

Now we get more complex.
The Real Meaning of Christmas III (forgiveness): There is another lesson here, and it's the one most people have forgotten in the modern age. The people of Whoville must forgive the Grinch to make his redemption possible. If they don't, then he cannot be redeemed. If he cannot be redeemed, not only will he go back to his evil ways, but then there would be no possibility of redemption for any of them. Thus, the most complex lesson is forgiveness. If someone seeks redemption, the right thing to do is to forgive them. This is a lesson that is all but lost in our cynical world, but it's true.
Loyal Max: The loyalty of Max is another interesting message in this story. Yes, Max is a dog and therefore presumptively loyal, but he knows that the Grinch is wrong. You can see it. And what's interesting about his loyalty is that he doesn't sell out or abandon his friend. Instead, he does his best to change the Grinch's mind. The lesson I take from this is actually "love the sinner, hate the sin." If Max had walked away he wouldn't love the sinner. He would have just left the Grinch to his unredeemed ways. If he had turned the Grinch in, he wouldn't have helped either because he would have denied the Grinch the one thing he needed for redemption: a chance to change his mind on his own. So by telling him that he was wrong and letting the Grinch reach the conclusion himself, he gave the Grinch exactly what he needed.

Who's The Grinch: Finally, there's one last lesson, which is probably the hardest for most people to see -- what made the Grinch into the Grinch and set him off on his life of crime was his intolerance for the happiness of others. The Whos never did anything wrong to him, but he came to hate them. And the reason he hated them was that they had something he did not, they had happiness. What's more, they found their happiness in something he did not understand. This is the same impulse that gets people complaining about "those kids today." If the Grinch had focused on his own happiness and had been happy for the Whos that they had found happiness, rather than being upset that others found happiness in things he did not and trying to bring down their happiness, then he never would have woken up one day to find that he was alone and in desperate need of redemption.

That's an awful lot of layers to stick into a cartoon, but it's all there.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 102

It seems that Disney princesses inspire a vast number of young girls. And ya know, some of them are kind of cool.

Who is your favorite Disney Princess?

Panelist: Floyd

I'll go old school with Cinderella. She's dealt a bad hand and the deus ex machina that is The Fairy Godmother saves her bacon. But she has pluck and perseverance and she never says "die".

Panelist: BevfromNYC

This is hard because I grew up with these dang Disney princesses. They annoy me. They always had to be saved by some handsome prince. Blah, blah, blah. Actually, Stephen Sondheim wrote a great musical called “Into The Woods” that addresses my sentiments beautifully. In his musical, the handsome princes only save the princesses by chance and really couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. BUT the new crops of modern Disney princesses are cool! I loved Merida in Brave. She is spunky.

Panelist: T-Rav

Really? Disney princess? Sigh....I guess Belle from Beauty and the Beast, because I honestly couldn't give a flip about any of the others.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

A flat out tie between Chelsea Clinton and Zooey Deschanel. I mean aren't those names just too precious for words?

Panelist: ScottDS

I'm more of a Warner Brothers guy, meaning I don't have a lot of Disney-themed childhood memories (Disney World, notwithstanding). But I like Belle in Beauty and the Beast... probably because she liked to read and was considered an "oddball" a.k.a. just my type!

Panelist: AndrewPrice

I'm going with Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. That's always been one of my favorite Disneys... very romantic! Though if the question were expanded somewhat beyond princesses, I would pick Alice from Alice in Wonderland. She's the only one who can handle a bit of unreality and come out smelling like a rose.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Film Friday: The Hobbit (2012)

The Hobbit is one of my favorite books. It is a great book. It’s also made to order to be turned into a movie because, unlike a lot of classics, this one reads like a film. It has very clearly described scenes and characters and lots of action, all of which will present a fun adventure. Even more importantly, it has great characters whose depth unfolds through their actions and the dialog. What could go wrong?

Peter Jackson.

When Jackson did The Lord of the Rings, I was excited to see it. The images they released looked amazing and he spoke about how closely he wanted to follow the books. Sounds great! Then the ominous signs started appearing. First, they added a love interest. There is no reason to do that in The Lord of the Rings, and someone who really was trying to be true to the books would know that. Then some of the actors started giving interviews and they mentioned that the script couldn’t just follow the books because The Lord of the Rings doesn’t really concern itself with character development.... because The Lord of the Rings doesn’t really concern itself with character development.

WHOOP!! WHOOP!! WHOOP!! Retard alert!
Yeah, that statement right there told me there would be problems, as indeed there were. As anyone who has read and understood The Lord of the Rings knows, the whole fricken book is character driven. It is about people who must push themselves much further than they ever imagined possible. Some must learn they cannot control events, some must come to peace with ancient enemies, some must deal with the betrayal of friends. There are characters of unswerving loyalty who find themselves accused of treachery, suicidal stands, and redemptions galore. There are friendships that get explored at their extremes. And for limited thinkers like Jackson, we’re even told what these people drink.

...because The Lord of the Rings doesn’t really concern itself with character.


Sure enough, Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was very pretty. And as generic fantasy stories go, it’s pretty good. It’s certainly better than Dungeons & Dragons and Eragon in that regard. But it’s an emotionally dead film. You don’t care about any of the characters because they are all generic... they are all Hollywood Reluctant Hero, Standard Grade™.

What’s really frustrating is that Jackson was handed a series of books with everything already in them. All he needed to do was put what he read on screen and he would automatically create a deeply, emotionally-satisfying film. But he stripped all of that out. If there is a moment where you learn something about the values, beliefs and worth of these characters, he took it away and replace it with Hollywood Reluctant Hero Anguish, Extra Strong™.
Then came The Hobbit. Once again, the warning signs were there. Jackson injected characters from The Lord of the Rings into the film because his marketing team said it would help. He stretched this simple story into three movies, because his marketing team said he could get richer that way. He once again swore to follow the book religiously (wink wink), because that’s good marketing too.

So I watched it. And you know what? Zzzzzzz.

The film opens with Jackson showing right away that he intends to make a dull film. Like a declaration of failure, Jackson opens the film with the story of Smaug. This is wrong. The Zen of The Hobbit, the book, is the way it grows. The story starts small. Gandalf is a bumbling old fool who seems to pick Bilbo at random to fulfill a contract... but he proves his worth little by little as the story grows. The dwarves are blowhards with no experience doing what they are about to do. They are quickly exposed, but little by little prove their worth as well... only to prove too stupid to know when they have won. Bilbo opens as a fussy wimp, a whiny, neurotic, defeatist homebody who is out of his element the moment he leaves his house. But as the story goes on, he find his inner strength. He learns the difference between confidence and arrogance. And he becomes a hero. Middle Earth too is like a puzzle, a puzzle you assemble bit by bit: you start in the safe shire. Then you are in the wild. You discover trolls. You meet the elves. You come to the Misty Mountains and you learn about Orcs and Goblins. Little by little, this amazing world reveals itself until you come to the climax of the story, the story of Smaug and the battle to take and keep the mountain.

Jackson skips to the end and hands you a cheat sheet at the opening. He thereby wipes out the growing wonder. It’s like leaving your Christmas presents unwrapped.
After the bad start, it gets worse. First, we meet the dwarves. As with Snow White’s dwarves, each of the dwarves in the book has his own personality. Some are foolish, some are arrogant, some are cowardly and most are ungrateful. Some are mischievous, some are childish. And together they form an interesting party who are much more than Bilbo can handle in the way of visitors. For his part, Bilbo is neurotic. He spends the opening of the book worrying about the mess the dwarves are making, worrying that he will be seen as a bad host if he does not let them eat him out of house and home, and generally panicking. These things are vital to the book because they define who these characters are by their negative traits and they tell the audience what the characters must overcome to succeed. It is their journey to become better people which will give the book its strength. Indeed, seeing Bilbo go from whiny coward to standing boldly before his enemies is what makes the book so inspiring.

Jackson tosses all of that out. His dwarves are all Hollywood Badass, Generic Grade™, meaning they are tough and competent and their only flaw will be overconfidence... they are all the same. Bilbo is Hollywood Reluctant Hero, Standard Grade™, meaning his only flaw is that he’s not willing to admit yet that he’s a hero (look at the determined look on his face in the images... is that anything but a hero?). There will be no growth here, as each of these characters are already fully complete. In fact, the only moment of growth will be when the dwarves decide to honor Bilbo by telling him he has earned their respect. Yawn.
Having gotten Bilbo and the dwarves together, the story continues in the same order as the events in the book, though none of the scenes are all that close to what you see in the book. It stops with them being rescued by the eagles. Nothing interesting happens in between, or maybe I passed out for two hours... not sure.

Put simply, the film bored me to tears.

Now let me be clear. I am not saying that this film stinks because it wasn’t the book. I knew it wouldn’t be the book and I’m fine with that. What I’m saying is that it stinks because it was a lifeless, dull movie. And the reason it was lifeless and dull is because you just can’t care about the characters. And the reason you can’t care about the characters is because Jackson doesn’t give them any chance to grow, to become better, to give us anything interesting. They are machines, traveling from point A to point B executing the plot.

Seriously, think about this. Do we really care that Bilbo played a rather lame riddle game with some frog-creature? Does that make a good film? Hardly. Imagine Superman and Batman doing that in their next movie. What made that scene with Bilbo and Gollum so great was that it showed Bilbo shedding his fear, gaining confidence, and pushing things too far to arrogance. It is something we can relate to. Jackson’s Bilbo doesn’t do that. He’s just going through the motions. Zzzzzz.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0010 Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall is essentially a re-tread of Goldeneye which leans heavily on other popular films. It is alternately brilliant and mind-numbingly stupid. And while the public loves it right now, that will fade because this one doesn’t feel much like a Bond film. For now, it sits at No. 0010 of 0023.

Plot Quality: To understand Skyfall, we need to break it into three parts. The first part is an amazing Bond film. It begins with one of the best chase scenes ever in a Bond film as Bond chases a suspect who has stolen a hard drive containing the names of every western agent imbedded with terrorist organizations around the world. The chase opens with Bond trying to decide if he should save the life of a fellow agent or finish the mission; the mission wins. He jumps into a car driven by fellow agent Eve, who struggles to stop the bad guy. Bond casually reaches over, grabs the wheel, and yanks the car into the bad guy, causing the bad guy to crash. It’s a brilliant moment. The bad guy gets out and sprays everyone with bullets until he can get onto a motorcycle and escape. Bond grabs another motorcycle and they engage in a rooftop chase through Istanbul until they end up on top of a train, where Bond and the suspect engage in hand-to-hand combat. That’s when Eve shoots Bond by mistake. This is an amazing chase. I can’t talk highly enough about it.
With Bond apparently dead, M gets grilled about losing the list. As she returns to the office, the office explodes in a terrorist attack. Someone hacked into MI-6's computer to cause this. Bond returns and is sent after the man who stole the list. He will be in Shanghai. Before Bond goes, we meet the new Q, who is an arrogant 20-something computer nerd. In Shanghai, Bond follows the killer to a high-rise building where he performs an assassination. Bond watches him perform the assassination and then tries to capture the man to question him, but kills him instead. Bond follows the only lead he has left, which is the woman who helped stage the assassination. She leads Bond to the villain, Raoul Silva, a former British agent in Hong Kong. Silva is a deranged killer who kills the woman and seems to want to enlist Bond to join him, but Bond captures him instead. The cinematography in China is perhaps the best of any film I’ve ever seen, not just a Bond film.
Up to this point, the film has been an excellent Bond film with one small complaint. Throughout this portion of the film, there is a steady theme of “you’re too old.” Seeing as how this is Bond’s first mission after the Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace reboot, this feels really misplaced. Ultimately though, Bond ends up proving himself more necessary than ever and the film proves the doubters wrong, so this isn’t a huge sticking point.

Now we come to the second part of the film. This lasts about twenty minutes and it’s mind-numbingly stupid. Essentially, these twenty minutes are The Dark Knight without the capes. First, they copy Silence of the Lambs by putting Silva into a glass cage. Silva reveals that he was M’s best agent in Hong Kong but M surrendered him to the Chinese after he hacked their computers. They tortured him and he tried to kill himself with a cyanide capsule that didn’t kill him, but instead ate away the bones in his jaw (like Harvey Dent in Dark Knight). He is crazy and wants to get even with M. Silva is essentially Heath Ledger’s Joker without the face paint.
Then Silva escapes... and things get really stupid. He escapes because Q connected Silva’s computer to theirs and Silva’s hacking program opened the doors. Somehow, Silva manages to kill armed guards who would have had plenty of time to shoot him from across the room when the doors started opening. Then his henchmen appear with impossible precision at various rendezvous points to give him things he needs (like a cop uniform). Batman Bond chases him exactly where he needs to be at the precise time so Silva can explode the roof of the sewer above them and cause a subway train to crash down on Bond. Silva and his crew then go try to kill M as she testifies before a committee. Bond stops him, but Silva escapes.

This. Is. Nonsense. There is no way Silva could have known the things he needed to know to pull this off, no way he could have predicted the behavior that took place. How did he know MI-6 would move here after he blew up M’s office? How did he know M would be testifying today? How did he know Bond would follow him to this subway stop and through the precise door and down the tunnel at that precise speed and then shoot at him but only as a warning shot? How did he even know that MI-6 would plug his computer into theirs? The only reason we can accept them doing this is that Q is an arrogant nerd who thinks he can handle anything. But he’s new. Silva would have no way to know that he would be Q right now or that he wouldn’t have followed obvious safety protocols and decrypted Silva’s computer on a standalone station.
Thankfully, the third film begins pretty quickly. The third film is Harry Potter. With Silvamort proving invincible, young Bond decides to take M-bledore to the manor in which he lived before his family was killed up in rural Scotland. Here we will discuss Bond’s childhood, meet a loveable old caretaker, race through a secret maze inside a spooky old mansion, see the graves of Bond’s parents, and dispense knowledge to Bond about the meaning of friendship. Silvamort and his Deatheaters will attack with overwhelming force, but good will prevail and Silvamort will meet his end in a dank marsh after complaining to M-bledore, “You made me.” Arg. This was actually an entertaining bit of filmmaking and would have been an excellent addition to the Taken franchise, but it feels nothing like Bond.

So what you have here is a film that starts as a great Bond film, suddenly goes full-retard, and ends as a completely different movie.

Bond Quality: Craig is solid again as a cold-blooded, efficient killing machine Bond. There are cracks this time, however, and those make this his worst performance of his three films. For one thing, there is a strong vibe of Bond being too old or too tired to continue. Fortunately, this fades as the film progresses. But then we are shown careless Bond.

One of the things that made Craig so great in the first two films was how ruthlessly efficient he was. He never wasted a step, a bullet or a punch. Here, he burns through his bullets repeatedly and then actually throws away his gun... repeatedly. He almost never hits anything he aims at. The punches he throws seem ineffective. We also get stupid Bond. He never has a plan. He races to Scotland to set up a confrontation with Silva on turf that is familiar to Bond, but never stops to get any weapons. Instead, he just assumes there’s still a gun case he hasn’t seen in 20+ years, a gun case that won’t hold real firepower. These are the kinds of things Craig did not do in the first two films and that makes Bond seem far less than he has been. Still, even playing stupid-off-target Bond, Craig remains better than all but Connery in the role.
The Bond Girl: Was there a Bond girl in this one? Technically, it was probably Judy Dench as M... but we’ll look past that. The Bond girl here is either Naomie Harris as Eve or Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine. But neither is in the film all that long. Eve shoots Bond by mistake early on in the film and has a non-plot-related surprise at the ending. Sévérine is Silva’s mistress and leads Bond to Silva. The total airtime for both is about 10 minutes. The scene where Bond meets Sévérine is pretty sexy and they have great chemistry, but she’s really just a prop.

Villain Quality: The villain is Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, a former British agent gone rogue after M surrendered him to the Chinese in exchange for a number of other agents China held. A large number of people have said that Silva is one of the best villains ever in a Bond film. They’re smoking crack.
Silva is basically a copy of Heath Ledger’s Joker with the added suggestion of homosexuality. He copies the Joker both in terms of mentality and even plot by using explosions as distractions and letting himself get captured as part of his plan. This is a problem, however. The Joker worked because he was so random. He was dedicated to chaos without a specific target. That meant anything he did made sense and it made him so dangerous because he wasn’t predictable. Silva, on the other hand, is obsessed with hurting M. The difference is significant because it means that his actions need to make sense in that regard, and they don’t. Why wait all these years to get her? Why not get her in some far less Rube Goldberg way? “I shall wait until she has a list the release of which will embarrass her, then I’ll steal the list and let them capture me so I can escape, so I can go shoot her before Parliament.” Uh, why not cut out all the impossible steps and just go shoot her?

Silva also brings back things that Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace specifically removed from the series. Silva has an island lair. He has armies of killer henchmen. He has no subtlety whatsoever as a villain. He’s insane. He’s also unrealistically powerful. Unlike Green or Le Chiffre, Silva brags about how easy it is to destroy anything he wants. He is clownish Blofeld in a world that is supposed to be realistic. That makes him a poor villain.

Summing this up, the first part of the movie is probably the best Craig has done, and that’s high praise. The second part is crap and belongs down with Die Another Day. The third is a good film, but not a Bond film and doesn’t belong on the list. The public loves this film, having made it the most profitable by far, but I think that the favorable view of this film will slide as the “event feel” passes. Over time, I suspect this will slide below Quantum of Solace and possibly even Goldeneye. For now though, it sits at No. 0010 of 0023.
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