Friday, July 25, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

If the film was just these two...and maybe Maud Adams...
I'd have been a lot happier.
“You see, Mr Bond, like all great artists I want to create one indisputable masterpiece: the death of 007."
“You mean stuffed and mounted over your rocky mantelpiece?"
“It's an amusing idea, but I was thinking more in terms of history.”

1) This is the last of the Maibaum and Mankiewicz scripts...and it is the most nonsensical one of all.  Never has a Bond film been more a string of crazy stuff that happens than in this film.

2) It’s obvious at this early juncture why the Moore era seems so dated while the Connery films aren’t is how they seem to be constantly chasing trends--in the case of this film, there’s a lengthy and fairly out of place kung fu sequence that ends with Bond being saved by a pair of schoolgirls in plaid skirts.  I remember thinking it was cool at one point, but now it just seems gratuitous and more than a little embarrassing.

3) And speaking of gratuitous and pointless...the film seems to literally stop so that Clifton James’ Sherrif J.W. Pepper can act like the ultimate ugly American (his constant referring to the Thai people around him as ‘pointy heads’ is particularly winge-worthy)...and then somehow shoehorns him into the major action sequence so that he can ‘enliven’ the film with his southern fried hick comedy.  It’s indicative how the Moore films seem skewed more to comedy than action.  However...
When you need two schoolgirls to save your ass...well,
you're no longer an effective secret agent.

4) It’s to the credit of the script that Bond himself is not part of the comedy.  We’re still in the phase where Moore is finding his voice, and he shows glimmers of true ruthlessness, especially when he’s dealing with the arms dealer Lazar and Maud Adams’ Allison Anders.  It’s a hint of what Moore’s Bond could have been if he hadn’t decided to coast on his charm and go for broad comedy.

5) What little life the film has lies in the hands of Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga.  Playing a dark mirror for Bond, Lee (Ian Fleming’s cousin, and the author’s choice to play Dr. No) sinks his teeth into the part enthusiastically, giving an otherwise thinly written character a dimension of quiet menace.  Giving him all the gadgets gives the film one of the few interesting edges.

6) Hmmm...a hired assassin with a perchance for carnival memorabilia who charges an exorbitant fee, lures victims into a funhouse to kill them and has an assistant named Locke...is it time to add another item on the list of Things Chris Claremont Stole Shit From?
The only reason Britt Eklund is in the film.

7) Britt Eklund’s Holly Goodnight may very well be the single stupidest character ever to appear in a Bond film--and that’s saying something.  She contributes nothing to the film except to needlessly complicate things and look good in a bikini, and even has the distinction of extending the film’s bloated running time by having her butt activate a giant solar gun.  Adam’s Anders is much more effective, which is why it’s so sad she becomes the Sacrificial Lamb.

8) Hey, and speaking of that Giant Solar Gun...it comes out of nowhere, makes no sense for Scaramanga to have it, and seems to be there solely so he can blow up an airplane.  It’s a real non-sequitur end to a villain plot.

9)   You know, there are moments where Herve Villechaize’s Nick Nack is an effective, even nightmarish presence...but then you see him in a diaper and an oni mask, or running around a yacht throwing wine bottles shouting ‘I keel you!  I keel you’ where he becomes embarrassing.
Go away, J.W Pepper...just.  Go. Away.

10) As uninteresting as I found many of the settings this time around--Thailand in particular comes off as a tawdry backwater of a country (but maybe that’s the Pepper Hate talking), I love the unique look of Scaramanga’s hideout in a series of small islands now ironically named The James Bond Islands.  They provide a bit of color and flair in a film that sorely needs it.

Overall...one of the worst Bonds from the Moore era that comes off better than it should thanks to the character of Scaramanga (and the performance of same by Lee) and some interesting minor characters.  I’m sure it thanks the Cinema Gods that it looks miles better when compared to Moonraker and A View To A Kill, as we’ll learn soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-TWO: EARTHSHOCK (1982)

"Is he looking at me--don't look--is he?"
“Emotions have their uses.” 
“They restrict and curtail the intellect and logic of the mind.” 
“They also enhance life! When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal?"
“These things are irrelevant.” 
“For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about!"

1) While this serial is supposedly script edited by Anthony Root, it’s actually the first script edited by Eric Saward, and it pretty much sets the tone for his tenure as a whole.  In writing this script, Saward creates a template for what he’s looking to do with the series--the shocking violence, the high body count, the way the story seems to split into two unrelated mini-stories, the obsession with the Doctor and/or companions shooting guns, the unhealthy Tegan love, the sometimes bizarre snatches of dialogue (a sample of which is quoted above), etc.

2) I think this version of the Cybermen is one of the better, if not the best version.  The use of flight suits, the strange plexiglass chin guard that reminds us that there is something human in these creatures, the hints of circuitry underneath that chest respirator...all contribute to give these Cybermen a visually engaging appeal.

3) Given that this is Adric’s swan song, it’s not surprising that Matthew Waterhouse is given the most chances to act and, you know, do something other than throw in with the enemy and eat.  And sometimes it kinda, sorta works in rare moments. Granted....
"I'm afraid one of us has to die in a needlessly
pointless way....and it won't be me."

4) ...given Adric is very front and center and Saward’s love of Tegan results in her going all Signourney-Weaver-In-Aliens cosplay, Nyssa is once again reduced to effectively sitting in the TARDIS and worrying over everyone else alongside Clare Clifford’s Professor Kyle.  And sadly, even after the TARDIS crew is reduced to two companions, this is frequently Nyssa’s only contribution.

5) Beryl Reid being cast, highly inappropriately, as the hard-nosed ship captain Briggs, is the beginning of John Nathan-Turner’s obsession with casting big name stars (for England) in Doctor Who.  And in this case it thoroughly fails, as Briggs is about as hard nosed as a kitten on a catnip overdose.

6) The efforts to create a tighter continuity from episode to episode is in overdrive here.  Not only do we get a reminder of last serial, there are direct references to the E Space trilogy as well as a montage in Episode Two that tries to put the various Cybermen appearances in some sort of historical timeline.

7) Wow....yet another serial this season with a cliffhanger where the Doctor gets threatened with execution.  Who would have guessed?
No, we're not using triple exposure to deceive you
into thinking there are hundreds of us...why?" 

8) This is the second time in three serials that the villain uses androids to disguise their true intentions--and ironically these androids are way more effective than the stupid playing card android that served the Terrileptils in 'The Visitation', and fit easily into what The Doctor said about beauty in that previous tale.

9) Hope you liked the abrupt, fairly pointless and gratuitous death of Professor Kyle, because there’s more--loads more--of the same in the coming seasons.

10) While the death of Adric was shocking in its way, the silent ending of the credits running over his broken Badge For Mathematical Excellence is a tad over the top.

Overall...a portent of things to come, this is a messy and ill-conceived serial best remembered for its last few moments and not the ‘just go with it’ nature of the segments preceding it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ten Statements About....DATE NIGHT (2010)

Okay, so their knowledge of the New York Subway system
is hinky....
"They stabbed a chicken nugget with a sharpie.  These are bad people."

1) This film would not work without the sheer primal chemistry between Steve Carell and Tina Fey.  The two of them have such a chemistry that you thoroughly believe that they are a long-standing married couple with two kids wondering if they're in a rut.  The way these two interact keep this movie moving forward even when it stalls and sputters.

2) ...and it's to the credit of John Klausner's script that it lets its leads behave awkwardly and out of touch, but never does it allow them to behave stupidly.  Just something as simple as going to the cops after their first encounter with the bad guys makes perfect sense.  It's these little niggling things so many other movies would ascribe to 'just go with it' that Klausner takes care to resolve, allowing us to move forward much more quickly and not get bogged down with the implausibilities.

3) I'll admit it....the geography of this film is real hinky, given how our heroes move from Soho to Central Park to Alphabet City to the Hudson River (they say it's the East River, but it's obvious the way that sequence was filmed that it's the west side of the city) and beyond in one night at breakneck speed.  And yet, unlike other films that mangle New York geography, the script is so effective, and the narrative flow is so fast-paced and smooth, that I didn't notice these discrepencies until after the movie was over.

4) Having seen other 'action comedies' recently that are clumsily constructed, I have to admire how the 'action' and the 'comedy' parts of this film are so well-integrated.  There is none of the herky-jerky stop and start flow that so many modern action comedies have, and each set piece moves into the next smoothly and without any sudden changes in tone.
"Yeah, Mila...I just figured what the Hell, I'll be a crackhead
petty criminal in this movie...looks like fun."

5) It does seem like cameos/small roles are de riguer for comedies these days, and the ones that appear here are much better than the average, from Ray Liotta’s gangster to Mark Wahlberg’s security expert, they’re well cast and well handled.  That being said...

6) I get the impression that as long as it interests or entertains him, James Franco will appear in anything.  His turn opposite Mila Kunis as the couple (named Taste and Whippet) Carell and Fey’s Fosters are mistaken for is a true highlight of the film--and also provides a mirror to their own status as being in a long standing relationship--but all the time the scene was unspooling, all I could think of was ‘what is James Franco doing here?’

7) No wonder Tajari P. Henson left Person of Interest, as her Detective Arroyo is practically to all extent and purposes the detective she played in this series, only a lot less serious...which means she was playing the same character for four years.
Sumptin' for da laaaadies....

8) There are some songs that simply should be banned from ever appearing on movies again.  Look, I love Jackie Wilson as much as the next person, but when they used ‘Higher And Higher’ as the outro it just screwed up what is supposed to be an up moment.

9) With the exception of a running gag involving vomit, I’m pleased that this film is relatively clean of that grossess-for-the-sake-of grossness that infuses so much of modern comedy.

10) It’s funny; as much noise as this film seems to make about Fey showing up in this stripper saloon girl outfit, there’s nothing that really tops how she looks in that simple blue dress.  The elegance of it just emphasizes what needs to be emphasizes.

Overall...a very clever action comedy bouyed by the chemistry of the leads, a clever script and some great casting.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE: BLACK ORCHID (1982)

"Doctor, don't you think your new outfit is a little...weird?"
“Why do I always let my curiosity get the better of me?"

1) This is the last of the pure historicals, which is kind of sad given that it is both very good and the last vestige of the series’ original intent as a vehicle for teaching history.

2) You know one of the major reasons I like this series?  This is the first time since the Davison era began where the companions seem to be having fun.  Even Tegan, who I usually loathe, comes off as charming...and maybe a tiny bit sexy.  Because they’re enjoying themselves instead of arguing and bitching, the serial comes off as a lot less dour than the stories before and after them.

3) This is a story that benefits from being only two episodes.  It fairly zips along.

4) And this is another, very rare episode where Sarah Sutton gets to prove that yes, she can act.  By playing dual roles, Sutton may not get to show she can play two distinct characters (but then, the similarities between Nyssa and Anne are part of the plot), but that she can do more than lecture Adric and be the teacher’s pet.
Hope you like cricket!

5) I appreciate how, when all is said and done, the entropic element is treated with sympathy.  Even its demise is borne of tragedy rather than vengeance.

6) Okay, I get that everybody in this time period is familiar with time travel thanks to H.G. Wells...but did all the police officers have to be all blase’ about the nature of the TARDIS?

7) Once more we continue with the speculation that the production staff had made the decision early in the season that Adric was Not Long For This World.  After all, Nyssa has a main plot purpose, Tegan is providing color commentary, and Adric...Adric eats.
"Mainly the just make me sit around, Other/Me."

8) I sometimes think that John Nathan Turner and company overcompensates when it came to making this Doctor vulnerable.  There’s a major part of this serial that’s devoted to Davison accidently stumbling into a secret passage and feeling his way around ala’ Scooby Doo.  I don’t mind making a Doctor who isn’t all-knowing, but this is ridiculous.

9) Do we really need to see an extended sequence of The Doctor playing cricket, one of the most incomprehensible and boring sports in the world?

10) I understand why we have our entropic element being cared for by an Amazonian Indian...but is the lip thing absolutely necessary?

Overall...a surprisingly charming and fun episode that serves as a breather between much darker stories.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ten Statements About....POINT BREAK (1991)

"I know what you're thinking...in about a decade, some guy
named Diesel and another guy named Walker will have
the same confrontation back in LA."
"It’s not tragic if you die doing what you love."

1) Why do people get the idea that Keanu Reeves should play former quarterbacks?  The man’s Canadian; he played hockey, not football.  There are other sports he can be retired from.  Stop it.

2) You can easily see why Kathryn Bigelow was attracted to this script.  The movie is chock-a-block with surfing, skydiving and other activities that freely allows her to indulge in her perchance for painterly images.  Which is fortunate....

3) ...because seen without the sheen of early 90‘s nostalgia, this script by Rick King and W. Peter Iliff is rock stupid.  Shorn of its visual style, the story hits every cliche, the dialogue is exposition-tastic and the characterization struggles to be two-dimensional.  It’s always one step away from being a laughably bad movie.

4) If you want to see how handheld cameras can be used effectively for an exciting, clearly shot action scene, take a look at Bigelow’s shooting of the footchase between Patrick Swayze’s Reagan-masked Bodhi and Reeves’ Johnny Utah.  This is how you do it, Paul Greengrass.
"So, umm, in a second I should shoot away from my
suspect...right?  RIGHT?"

5) I do find it intriguing how the film sets up Bodhi and Gary Busey’s Angelo as two extremes of father figures for Johnny--and yet the expected roles of who Good Dad and Bad Dad is are inverted.  It does help that Reeves exhibits chemistry with both Swayze and Busey.

6) I am not surprised that Lori Petty is cast as romantic lead Taylor; she certainly has the same angular looks as previous Bigelow female leads as Jenny Wright and Jamie Lee Curtis.  She still provides a rather interesting contrast to Reeves as far as her acting style.  Her rather brassy presentation (which ironically makes her come off more ‘city boy’ than the laid back Reeves) stands out against all the characters around her.

7) Boy, has John C. McGinley’s Harp stepped straight out of Cliche Casting.  The script doesn’t even bother giving Harp a second emotion; he’s just Antagonistic Superior Guy whose purpose is to yell at and belittle Johnny.  Even in the first act where McGinley acts as Exposition Drop Machine, he seems ready to start spraying spittle at a moment’s notice.
"huh...that don't look like a hockey helmet."

8) I defy anyone to explain what the sky diving scene at the beginning of Act Three is doing where it is.  The one narrative beat that’s essential to the plot is handled at the end of the sequence that could be presented sans several minutes of elevated atmosphere porn.

9)  Boy, does The Fast and The Furious need to send this movie a present every Father’s Day....right down to the bad guy being allowed to do the thing he loves by our hero instead of being dragged in cuffs back to face the music.

10) You know, Anthony Kiedis may not have much to do in this film, but as an actor he makes....well, a pretty decent musician,  Maybe he should ask Flea for some acting advice.

Overall...a cliched, stupid action movie elevated (highly elevated) by the keen visual style of Bigelow.  If you can turn off your brain and ignore all the narrative silliness, you can enjoy this immensely.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY ONE HUNDRED TWENTY: THE VISITATION (1982)

"You don't see me making fun of your haircut, do you?"
“The android's armed. If it wanted, it could destroy us ten times over.” 
“Once would be enough."

1) There are many reasons why this is one of my favorite--if not my all-time favorite--Davison serial, and the prime reason is the presence of Michael Robbins’ Richard Mace.  Mace, who was originally created for a series of radio plays, is a magnificent creation that plays off of Davison expertly.  I’d be a truly happy man if he had joined the TARDIS crew permanently (maybe kicking out Tegan in the process, one could hope).

2) The rather intriguing attempts John Nathan-Turner makes to create a tighter continuity continues here.  Having taken place literally minutes after the events of Kinda, we see Tegan trying to explain what happened.  That is effective; the dismayed Doctor going ‘not again’ when he’s about to be decapitated (a callback to Four To Doomsday) not so much.

3) While everyone participates, it’s obvious the strain of having three companions is wearing on the production crew.  Tegan gets mind controlled for an episode, after all, and Nyssa is left in her bedroom working on a sonic amplifier (which sadly, makes this one of the serials where Nyssa actually has anything to do).  It’s no wonder that Adric is given his walking papers in two serials.
"Yes, yes, Doctor...I know I'm awesome.  Let
us not spread it around."

4) There’s definitely something to be said about a serial with location shooting.  No generic rock quarries or stark landscapes here; the lush forests and seemingly authentic architecture contribute to the veracity of this story, making it work all the more.

5) Wow....for a so-called ‘beautiful’ android, that playing-card looking thing is seriously goofy.  It’s much more effective when it’s wearing the Grim Reaper disguise, and even then the hints of its soccer goalie gloves takes the drama out of it.

6) I always felt the Terrileptils should’ve been used more.  In this serial (their only appearance) they prove to be a compelling and scary opponent for the Doctor.  I’ve always wondered if the cumbersome suit with its limited animatronics hurt the creature in their popularity.

7) This was Saward’s first script for the show, a script he sold before he became script editor.  And even in this early script we can see a lot of the weaknesses in Saward as a writer, especially his bloodthirstiness.  The scenes of the Terrileptil’s bodies being consumed by the fire (including what I presume to be their eyes blowing up and bursting) is a gruesome sign of things to come.
"Raaawr!  I's a crap android monsta!"

8) I wonder if everyone--save Matthew Waterhouse--knew Adric’s time was up.  There are some lines in a conversation with Nyssa that sounds an awful lot like foreshadowing.

9) Is it just me, or are these some of the lamer cliffhangers in a long while?  I mean, Nyssa gets upset because the Doctor walks through a holographic wall?

10) So let me get this straight--the Terrileptils are all refugees from a prison planet where the environment is so nasty that they are horribly scarred....and yet the other two Terrileptils seem rather pristine.  Okay, granted the budget couldn’t afford three animatronic suits, but couldn’t special effects guys mess up their face, or lose them a thumb or something?

Overall...even with some of the silly bits (Go away, playing card android), this is a well-done basic Who episode that triumphs thanks to atmosphere, effective enemies and one of the stand out temp companions of all time.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ten Statements About....FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975)

This fate is worse than any execution you can imagine.
"I’ve been a New York City cop for 14 years.  I know the dope that comes out of this city has killed a lot more than I have."

1) Gene Hackman could never be a movie star, let alone an action star, today.  Never mind that he submerges himself in Popeye Doyle completely and never allows his real actor-ly persona to break through, Hollywood would have no use for him.

The same goes for John Frankenheimer and his direction.

2) Only in 70‘s do you get a fight scene that is not smooth and full of shakey cam, but ungainly, awkward and exhausting.

3) I’m still puzzled by the whole point of Ed Lauter’s general.  Yeah, I guess it’s Frankenheimer’s way of
"Nyah, I have no idea what I'm doing here, either."
hinting that the American government has a hand in Charnier’s operation, but that character could be removed whole and not affect the film in any way.  It’s a weird bit that is never followed up.

4) It’s typical of 70‘s cinema in general and Frankenheimer specifically that Charnier’s discovery of Doyle’s presence is purely by accident.  And his seeing Doyle watching a volley ball match leads us into the film’s biggest and most harrowing set piece.

5) I do appreciate the fact that while Doyle and Bernard Fresson’s Barthélémy gain respect for each other after the French cop forcibly detoxes Doyle, there’s a sense they still don’t like each other--witness how Doyle continues to call Barthélémy ‘asshole’ long after the man literally saves his life.

6) Reason Editing Can Do Amazing Things #684: It’s obvious by the establishing long shot of the drydock in one of the major action sequences that it has only two gates...and yet, through judicious use of different angles and a number of tin plates with different numbers on them, Frankenheimer is able to make it seem like the place is ringed with gates, and Doyle and Barthélémy are going to drown in minutes if they stay within.
Yep...nothing says maverick cop like a Hawaiian shirt...

7) I appreciate, especially in this day and age where every single film is afraid of making people think they don’t understand what’s going on, how Frankenheimer refuses to give the French people Doyle encounters subtitles.  This emphasizes Doyle’s feeling of being a fish out of water (a concept brought home in the film’s early scenes by Doyle finding an April Fool’s Fish taped to his taxi) in a foreign land.

8) I get that the cable car chase is a parallel to the subway chase in the original; it just doesn’t feel as frenetic, and appears to be there for no reason other than to remind us how good the first one was.

9)  Cathleen Nesbitt’s brief role, named ‘The Old Lady’ in the credits, shows Frankenheimer’s way with actors.  At first introduced as a harmless woman who witnesses what Charnier is doing to Doyle, we see her true nature when she appears to comfort him...and we realize she’s a junkie looking to steal Doyle’s watch.

10) It’s a telling fact that Charnier’s evil revenge on Doyle would have gone on forever if Barthélémy’s attempts to find the cop resulted in too much attention being drawn to the drug operation.

Overall...an excellent film that is as good as the original, this shows how Frankenheimer’s talent can make a sequel work as something other than a money grab.