Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ten Statements About....THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Sometimes these fights for top billing can get hairy...
1) I’m ready to call it; Guy Ritchie should only do period pieces from now on.  Just as with the Sherlock Holmes films, Ritchie is able to catch the feel visually and aurally of the 60‘s in this movie.  Such things as  the frequent use of split screen only emphasizes this.

2) I like the use of a variant of the trick Ritchie used in the Holmes film, this time rewinding time to show us information we didn’t originally have.

3) Of course, the most 60‘s thing about this movie is Alicia Vikander’s Gaby.  Given her modest figure and impeccable poise, she’s able to rock those Mod fashions something fierce.  Hell, she even makes those overlarge sunglasses work for her.  Granted, I would have preferred they named her April Dancer, but that might have tipped the movie’s hand as to what her role was in the
"Why yes, I know how to rock these Carnaby Street fashion..."
plot.

4) This is another film that suffers from a lackluster set of villains.  Neither Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria or her husband make much of an impression, and their motivation could use some work.  Even their main henchman is ruined by the way he blabs it up so readily when the tables are turned on him.

5) I wonder if we really needed an origin story for the two leads.  One being a thief and the other having anger issues doesn’t really contribute anything to what is, at its core, a very simple high concept.  We don’t need that level of depth in this context.

6) Boy, Henry Cavill is...earnest in his portrayal of Napoleon Solo.  It’s the kind of performance where I don’t know if he’s being serious or taking the piss out of the spy genre.  Considering that Armie Hammer plays his role straight, it sets up a weird vibe between them.
"No, really...we ARE so villains!"

7) While I think Ritchie’s urge to do a chase scene on three different planes of location was intriguing, I don’t think it quite works.  The fact is, even with the shots showing where the planes were in relation to each other, I found it quite hard to follow.

8) There are a couple of interesting sequences which use two focuses, both for comic effect.  And both seem to benefit from Cavill’s comic timing.

9) Even though an argument could be made that he’s underplaying it, it does seem that Hugh Grant is having fun playing Waverly...and I like how the movie foreshadows his appearance a couple of times before he makes his full debut.

10) While it was nice to see the distinctive UNCLE guns in one sequence, it would have been nice to get a clear shot of them (no pun intended).

Overall...Yes, it’s flawed, but it’s also great eye candy and further proof that Guy Ritchie knows his period pieces.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ten Statements About....THEY LIVE (1988)

"We wear our sunglasses at night..."
“Brother, life’s a bitch...and it’s back in heat."

1) For a first time actor, Rod Piper does pretty well.  His John Nada manages to be fairly low-key and almost melancholy at times throughout the first act...until he puts on those sunglasses, at which point he keeps switching from Nada to Rowdy Roddy Piper, and those moments tend to detract from the main story.

2) Man, does this film move slowly.  There are long stretches where pretty much nothing happens, especially at the beginning and end of the film.  There’s none of that increasing speed of storytelling we see in some of Carpenter’s other films like Escape From New York  or Big Trouble In Little China.  As such, the story crawls, making it seem longer than its ninety-five minutes run time.

3) One of the many slow moments Carpenter could have cut to liven the pace?  That third act ‘tour’ of the alien’s facility.  All we really need to know about the aliens is that they are the  ultimate capitalist exploiters--they see humanity as chattel and are altering the planet to suit their industrial needs.  We don’t need to see every. single. thing. about how things work with them.
So a skinless man walks into a bar....

4) Even though her role is so wispy it could fly away with a good strong breath, Meg Foster does nothing to give any life to Holly.  She’s just not a good actress, delivering every line in a soporific monotone that, if anything, serves to reveal a major portion of her character arc way too early.

5) This films relies so much on coincidence in moving its plot that it’s ridiculous.  Even though Nada is surprisingly proactive for a Carpenter hero, he would be just sitting with his thumb up his butt if he didn’t happen to meet the right people who happen to be wandering by at the right time.

6) Hello, primitive CGI flying thingie.  If only you hadn’t flown apart so awkwardly when shot....
I've heard of simplifying articles, but this....

7) Okay, that fight scene--I really don’t think it works as a parody of wrestling (as my buddy Derrick Ferguson claims; I’ve always thought it was Carpenter’s tribute to the legendary Rod Taylor fight scene in Darker Than Amber) even if Piper does break out a couple of wrestling moves.  It doesn’t work because it stops and starts.  The killer isn’t the fight itself but the constant pausing we get throughout it.  Those pauses disrupt the flow and make us impatient to get the scene over with.  That being said....

8) It’s really refreshing to see a lead who obviously isn’t being doubled for his stunt work and fights.  This is where Piper’s experience as a wrestler works for him rather than against him.
Something for the ladies....

9) If you ask me who this film’s MVP is, it’s Keith David.  David is given a character whose arc literally changes in mid-stream, is made to work opposite an actor he really has no chemistry with, and goes out like a punk...and yet he makes this character work.  It’s a testament to his skill that Frank has any dimension at all.

10) One of the things that bugs me the most about this film is how it doesn’t so much end as stop.  Maybe Carpenter thought a sex gag (which makes no sense given how the aliens claim humans are repulsive to them, but that could just be me reading too much into a throwaway line) was a fitting capper to this story....but it, well, isn’t.

Overall...a messy, sloppy film that probably has its reputation due to a handful of--well, okay, a single--memorable line.  Its slowness and tendency to work in fits and starts blunt what could have been an effective little satirical thriller.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ten Statements About....ANT-MAN (2015)

Ant-Man gives this shower curtain thumbs up....
“The world sure seems different from down here, doesn't it, Scott?"

1) It’s refreshing for once to have a Marvel movie where the stakes are not on a city-destroying level.  Because this is a more personal story, there’s not any of the ‘collateral damage fatigue’ that some of these later entries have suffered from.  And it makes us easier to accept the explodey parts in Act Three.  Although...

2) ...I wonder if the fact that this is many ways a kinda, sorta remake of Iron Man struck anyone at any period of time.  There are moments in the film--especially in the third act, it comes down to our hero and a bald guy in a more aggressive version of his suit throwing down in a major metropolitan area--where the connections are inescapable.

3) There is a moment where a character asks ‘when did this happen?’, and I had to agree.  That development comes way out of nowhere given how the relationship between the two characters being referenced had been prickly-to-friendly up until that point.

4) It’s surprising how the film still has Edgar Wright’s fingerprints are on it, even after that acrimonious split.  There are moments (especially whenever Michael Pena goes into flashback mode) that are pure Wright, giving this film a different sheen than other Marvel films.
That's right...Mole Man is already taken!

5) Maybe it’s me, but Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym comes off as a dick, even after he gets a moment where he explains his angst by borrowing some of comic book era Captain America’s.  It’s not so much a character arc as a character line.

6) Similarly--and this may be because I’m comparing him to Obediah Stane--I find Cory Stoll’s Darren Cross sort of one-dimensional and broad.  At no point do we doubt that he’s Pure-D-Evil, here only to hiss and make us appreciate how honorable Scott and his crew are.

7) Okay, those television spots spoiled the big surprise, but I did enjoy the throwdown between Scott and The Falcon.  It’s a very Marvel moment, having two heroes fight over a misunderstanding.

8) As someone who hates CGI, I have to admit that the use of it here gives the action scene a sense of three-dimensionality I enjoyed.  The way the camera swoops and slides as Scott and Cross are battling both in miniature and enlarged (am I the only one who thinks the Yellowjacket outfit looked silly in its enlarged state?), changing perspective a number of times in novel ways while never losing sight of what’s going on
"Follow me, because I'm like...evil and stuff."

9) Even though the light hearted nature of this film required a comedic actor like Paul Rudd at its center, I appreciate how he keeps things more or less low key.  There’s no mugging, no out-of-place quipping, no winking at the camera.  In fact, Rudd manages to keep Scott seeming very ‘regular joe’ while still giving us a hint of charisma.  It’s a rather commendable performance.

10) So you set your film in one of the most photogenic cities in the country....and yet you manage to make it so generic that you don’t even notice the setting until it’s mentioned in the third act?

Overall...while it has its flaws, this is a non-offensive time waster with some nice moments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ten Statements About....FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)

"Did I tell you about the time I was a rich man, James?"
"The Chinese have a saying.  When preparing for revenge, first dig two graves."

1) Oh, Lord...the sequences that bookend this film are brutal to watch.  They’re so bad, so broadly performed, and so transparent in their purpose (particularly the big ‘Fuck You’ Broccoli throws to Kevin McClory in the pre-credit sequence) that they actively work against the mood this film is trying so hard to maintain...

2) ...as is, for that matter, the disco-fied score by Bill Conti.  It’s woefully out of place in a Bond film, and actually actively reduces the tension in what are some effective action sequences.  Imagining how the centerpiece ski chase would feel with a John Barry score only emphasizes how unsuitable these synth-heavy, rhythm propelled pieces are.

3) Even though there are still moments where the John Glen we know and loathe shine though (particularly the gratuitous slapstick and animal noises), his direction is uncommonly focused here.  The choices he makes are more subtle and nuanced than the ones he makes in other films, and he shows a restraint that fits this film’s more grounded and, for lack of a better word, realistic orientation.  It adds to the refreshing feel of the production as a whole.

4) Even though we are at a point where Roger Moore looks noticeably--some would say alarmingly--older than his leading ladies, the relationship that develops between him and Carole Bouquet’s Melina makes sense for a number of reasons.  The script makes certain that Melina has plenty of screen time with Bond (more than a lot of other Bond Girls before and since) and  gives her roles in both the plot and the theme that are integral.  On top of that, Bouquet and Moore do have something of a chemistry that makes their relationship seem organic.
There's no jokes about birds in this moment, no sir....

5) This is one of the performances of Moore’s that gets me angry, as it gives us a hint of the Bond that could have been.  Moore plays it more or less straight here, and it gives Bond a little bit of a harder edge.  It’s the darkest Bond’s been since Moore threatened to break Maud Adams’ arm in The Man With The Golden Gun, and seeing this more serious interpretation welcome.

6) I like Topol’s Columbo quite a lot.  In many ways he reminds me of Kerim-Bey in his lustiness and good humor.  More importantly, he’s the most effective ally character we’ve had in a long time.

7) Go away, Lynne Holly Johnson.  Just...go away.
"Go away, little girl...."

8) I know they’re not going to kill Bond, but the climactic set piece is extremely tense, most likely because of the lack of scoring.  Because the music is at a minimum, we focus on Bond and his enemy and hear the creaking of the pitons and cord as Bond dangles miles in the air.  It’s a show of restraint in an era that didn’t know what restraint means.

9)  You know, when you’ve got Charles Dance’s Locke, who is an effective killer and, more importantly, somewhat anonymous-looking...why do you farm out your murders to a crazy-eyed, balding Cuban who might as well have ‘mad dog killer’ stamped across his forehead.

10) Considering how much I derided Thunderball  for being scuba-tastic, I find the underwater sequences here rather engaging.  Granted, part of that might be because they don’t take up all of the third act, and part of it might be because the script uses a lot of cutting edge (at the time) tech that gives them a particular flavor.

Overall...a pulling back from the excess of Roger Moore’s era, this film is actually pretty dark and engaging.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ten Statements About....KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

"...a man with an umbrella is always prepared..."
“Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson."

1) In spots, this is the Avengers (the TV show, not the comic/movie franchise) movie that I always wanted, and so much of that is because of Colin Firth’s Hart.  He is the best John Steed never named John Steed, and is made all the more remarkable by the sense that Henry was as much a rebel as Taron Egerton’s Eggsy is when he was younger.  If only the Mark Millar-isms didn’t keep creeping into the film....

2) And speaking of Egerton, thank goodness the film doesn’t shy away from Eggsy’s, well, dickishness.  While he has aspects that are admirable, he’s never too far away from his chaviness right up to the payoff in the, ahem, end.

3) What is up with Samuel L, Jackson’s performance as Valentine?  It seems all mannerisms and quirks, and that lisp he affects bugs me the fuck out.

I've heard of wet dreams before, but this is ridiculous.
4) For a film that wears its love of spy culture on its sleeve, quoting and referencing everything from James Bond to Maxwell Smart to Jason Bourne, its got some sincere disconnects that can be laid at the feet of Millar.  When the good guys gleefully blow up the heads of major world leaders, the feel Vaughn is going for is lost.

5) While I have no problem with the film’s comedic coda given the James Bond formula it’s aping, the thing that makes it not quite work is that there’s a painstakingly created potential love interest in Sophie Cookson’s Roxy.  The script does a lot to forge this bond between the two only to have her discarded towards the finale without any resolution to their arc.

6) One of the spy tropes this film gets a hundred percent right is the henchman, Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle.  Grotesque but graceful and a formidable presence, Boutella gives this film her all, and her presence livens up the proceedings while also giving us a Hell of a ‘final boss’ for Eggsy to fight during the climax.
"I'm gonna introduce you to this chick with a machine
gun for a leg.  You two would get along great!"

7) Given that this is a film based on a Mark Millar comic, it’s excessively violent--so violent it almost doesn’t fit into the superspy movie genre the script gleefully wants to emulate.  Every time a human being gets sliced in half, or we sit through a horrifyingly brutal sequence where Hart slaughters a church full of people gone mad with bloodlust, we’re tossed right out of the spell this film weaves throughout its narrative.

8) I’m not surprised that Michael Caine is cast as Kingsman head Arthur given Caine’s position in the canon of superspy movie culture.  But I was surprised at how Arthur’s story arc ends up--although I shouldn’t have, given Mark Millar’s involvement.

9) Given the nature of the MacGuffin, I have to ask...did somebody watch too much Russell T. Davies era Doctor Who?

10) While I may not appreciate the way the storyline involving Eggsy’s mother was handled, I do appreciate that it is given a payoff in the post-credit sequence.

Overall...A peculiar film that is a very good pastiche of superspy movies, but becomes a mess whenever it hews closely to the Millar original and revels in its low sexuality and high brutality.

I was at the Atlas this time--maybe for the last time, given I’m moving at the end of this month.  Among the trailers were ones for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which, to my pleasant surprise, is going to be a period piece), Ant-Man (which could have benefitted from not having that goofy comedy sting at the end), and...shudder...Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, which proves than Kevin James can’t be funny in an unfunny Die Hard parody.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ten Statements About....THE SILENCERS (1966)

This is the perfect illustration of this movie...because it
certainly looks like ass....
“Mr. Helm, now do I look like an enemy agent?"
“Well I dunno, I haven't seen the latest models yet."

1) I wonder if a film ever started as slowly as this one.  The seemingly endless sequence showing Matt Helm’s lazy morning routine drags the film down even before it’s started.

Of course, some people would claim it never gets started.

2) It’s really hard to avoid the conclusion that Dean Martin is way too old for this--at 49, his face even more weathered due to his alcoholism and hard living, his love scenes with women twenty-plus years his junior comes off as uncomfortable to watch rather than sexy.  But speaking of those women...

3) ...easily the best thing in this film is the divine Dahliah Lavi.  One of the most beautiful women to grace spy films of the 60‘s, she has grace, poise and actually forces a playful chemistry with Martin’s Helm.  She’s a joy to watch, which makes her disappearance for a long stretch of time one of the true crimes of the film.
I wouldn't look half asleep if Dahliah Lavi was rubbing
my shoulder....

4) On the other hand we have Stella Stevens’ Gail, who is more typical of a Helm Girl--clumsy, awkward, unintelligent and there primarily so Martin can make fun of her and expose her body.  Her performance is downright painful to sit through, doubly so as you can’t decide if this is her fault or Martin’s.

5) What is up with that singing Greek Chorus Dean Martin commenting on the plot?  It’s not funny, and actively interferes with the flow of the story.

6) Unlike with The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, the film attempts to match the Bond films in terms of sets, gadgets and the like on a limited budget...except that the sets are chintzy and the mini-grenades and ‘reversible gun’ make little sense.   The acrobatics which Helm and Gail go through to get their opponents to shoot themselves with the reversible gun only draws attention to how silly the weapon is.

7) This is one of those films that dated the second it came out.  The bulk of the gags seem to reference old commercials, while some are simply impenetrable (why is Victor Buono’s Tung-Tze sipping Diet Egg Fu Yung?)
"What's there to understand?  It's a Big O--like our organzation!

8) It’s obvious that ‘The Big O’ is meant to be an Asian organization--although there are no actual Asians on its payroll, and seems to be the chinziest evil organization ever.  Hell, they seem to run the majority of their operations from a converted moving van!  Of course, Matt Helm seems to operate solely out of a Nash Rambler, so it’s not like they have to spend a lot of money to oppose him.

9) Did anyone tell Victor Buono that this was supposed to be a spy spoof?  It certainly does seem like he’s playing it painfully straight, which gives many of his scenes a discordant tone.

10) Perhaps the weirdest thing is that the script does sometimes remain faithful to the two Helm novels it purports to be based on; strip it of the humor and the first act is very much from Death of A Citizen.

Overall...a painful film to watch for spy fans, no matter how much Dahlaih Lavi in cute outfits we’re given.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ten Statements About....WHERE THE BULLETS FLY (1966)

1) While this film is still painfully low budget--like The 2nd Greatest Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, this Charles Vine adventure confines itself to London and its environs--it’s obvious more money was spent on this film.  There are more elaborate set pieces, including several multi-person gun battles, and a number of sets that seem more spy movie-like.

2) This film also learns from what its predecessor lacked by providing an actual villain in Michael Ripper’s Mr. Angel.  Now granted, Angel is a strange creation with an indeterminate accent and appearance, but at least he’s someone we can focus our animosity on.

3) It amazes me that the film was directed by veteran film and television director Lewis Gilling, because there’s a frequent sense of amateurness to the whole thing.  Particularly alarming is the way the camera is constantly shaking and readjusting itself as if we’re experiencing a very, very slow version of Shaky-cam.

4) I have to wonder if Tim Barrett’s Seraph was meant to be a parody of John Steed in the same way that Charles Vine is supposed to be a mockery of Bond.  It doesn’t quite work, but I will admit that his sudden exit from the film is one of its bigger shocks.

5) While Dawn Addams’ Felicity Moonlight is an upgrade from the previous film’s female lead by, you know, actually being a female lead as well as a spy-movie girl, it’s weird how the film doesn’t introduce her until the third act.  But then....

6) ....there are long stretches where Vine himself doesn’t appear, including a painful ten minute stretch where a ‘comedic’ minister and his secretary visits the air base where the film’s MacGuffin is stored.  It’s a peculiar choice in a peculiar franchise.

7) You know, I don’t think James Bond, even in the Roger Moore era, would stop in the middle of a running gun battle to watch the world’s most awkward stripper.

8) There are moments where Gilling is trying to be too artistic for what, at its core, is a bread and butter spy film.  The sequence where various actors in a room are reflected in a cat’s eyes is particularly jarring.

9)  Boy, you guys got the most out of the cooperation of the Royal Air Force, didn’t you?

10) While the jokes about Tom Adams’ resemblance to Sean Connery is gone, they’re replaced by some forced comedy.  Besides the minister scene, there’s an interminable one with Sidney James as a cranky mortician.

Overall...only a marginal improvement over the original, and still a curiosity that might be of interest to fans of 60's spy culture.