Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ten Statements About....LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

"In my first act to try and destroy this fanchise, I figured I'd
dress up as a Chicken Elvis Showgirl."
“You do know what the Queen of Cups means in an upside down position? A deceitful, perverse woman. A liar, a cheat, and I'd like some answers now."
“Please... uh... You don't understand, sir. They'll kill me if I do."
“And I'll kill you if you don't."

1) Welcome to the Roger Moore era of Bond, an unfortunate time where the disparity between the good and the bad films is at its greatest.  This is one of the good ones....

2) ...even though it features the second of three nonsensical Tom Mankiewicz scripts, perhaps typified by the way Bond is literally led around by the nose by the rather extensive conspiracy of Black America that plagues him from the second he steps foot in New York.

3) The biggest problem with Moore’s interpretation of Bond is his simple unwillingness to take the role seriously.  Even here we see Moore quipping and punning in a way that burst the seams of the film’s veracity with an unheard of viciousness.  And given how there are some moments (admittedly created because Mankiewicz didn’t know the Bond he was getting) that hint at a colder, more matter-of-fact Bond Moore could have become, the overabundance of easy humor can be annoying.
This dancing, incredibly tall, weirdly made up black man
is brought to you by Nightmare Fuel, for all your
sleepless needs!

4) Look, I’ll admit that the Mr. Big disguise fools no one, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is the most intriguing collection of Bond villains we’ve seen in a while.  From Yaphet Kotto’s Kananga to Julius Harris’ Tee Hee to Geoffrey Holder’s Baron Samedi, this is a strong selection of opponents for Bond, each one having his own distinct and colorful personality.  It’s this group of baddies who manage to lift the story up over the nonsensical parts, smoothing over what would be rough terrain,

5) This Bond film is unique in that it not only includes supernatural elements, but takes them for granted.  The clairvoyant Solitaire who loses her powers with the loss of her virginity and the near silent Baron Samedi who seemingly comes back from the dead not once, but twice both add a texture that other Bond films just don’t have.
"I know, I know...but I get better once I remove this
stupid mask."

6) Was there ever a time when Jane Seymour wasn’t hot?  Even dressed in that Chicken Elvis Showgirl outfit she uses to read her cards in San Monique, she’s smoking.

7) Between the New York, New Orleans and Jamaica-standing-in-for-San-Monique, this is one of the tattiest looking Bonds of all.  All the settings have this dull, run down look to them, and some of them look like ghettos.  Granted, part of the film’s motif is contrasting the natty Bond with the garbage strewn and ugly surroundings he’s moving through, but it wears on you after a while.

8) God, Bond’s outfits are awful.  The tailored suits are fine, but trading in the regular tuxedo for the Canadian one (i.e. jeans and jeans jacket) over a wife beater or a leisure suit is such a terrible idea.
"I had this dream where I was a frontier doctor
 in the Old West..." 

9) Go away, broad comedy characters like Aviation Student Old Lady and...shudder...Sheriff Pepper.  Just...go away.  And speaking of broad comedic characters....

10) Gloria Hendry’s Rosie takes the previous film’s Tiffany Case and removes all the competence from her, leaving just the bungling goofball of that film’s third act.  It’s impossible to take Rosie seriously, so much so that when Mankiewicz gives her a heel turn (a turn that’s not so much foreshadowed as out and out handed to us), we don’t fear for Bond’s safety at all.

And if you think Rosie is bad, wait until you meet Mary next film....

Overall...even though the plot is nonsensical and the attempt to drag Bond into the 70‘s are laughable, the combination of the film’s energy and its villain set make for a fun and engaging entry in the series.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ten Statements About....GODZILLA (2014)

“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight."

1) While I think the script by Max Borenstein (based on a story by David Callaham) has some serious flaws we’ll get to later, I give it credit for finding a new angle to approach a giant monster movie.  By focusing on the military and its mission to contain these creatures, there’s a decidedly different flavor.

2) But then, the film keeps wandering away from the military operation and the monster mayhem to try and persuade us that the family headed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford and Elisabeth Olsen’s Elle is far more compelling than anything else in the film....and maybe it’s Taylor-Johnson’s limited ability as an actor, or maybe it’s the film giving us a far more interesting relationship--namely the one between Ford and his father, Bryan Cranston’s Joe--that’s written off somewhere in the first act, but the usage of this family drama as one of the main thread doesn’t work.

3) And while we’re on the subject of Elisabeth Olsen, she is criminally underused given how talented she is.  Especially given that, judging from the scrubs she is frequently attired in, she’s a medical professional and can be utilized quite easily in the monster mayhem scenes.

4) Okay....who let the Cloverfield monster and her bewinged boyfriend into this movie?
"It must be an egg sack...why else is it so phallic?"

5) Here’s the thing--for a film about Godzilla, there’s not a lot, you know, Godzilla in it.  I’m cool with him showing up as this mystery figure in the first act, but it’s odd how little we actually see of him.  His lack of screen time is even more obvious when compared to the amount of screen time the Cloverfields have.

6) Not sure how I feel about the new Godzilla design, which seems to err too much on the side of making the King of The Monsters more ‘realistic.’  It’s certainly recognizable as being based on the Godzilla of the first handful of films, but he seems
"Weeeeeeeee!  I can fly.  You hear me?  I CAN FLY!"

7) You wanna know why I hooted and hollered when Godzilla first uses his beam weapon?  Because it’s masterfully built up the stunned reactions of the onlooker punch home the fact that This Is A Big Thing.

8) I do not understand why a number of monster fights are not shown ‘live’ but as news broadcasts in the background.  Those news broadcasts aren’t even given prominence; they’re used as literal window dressing for scenes of Elle fretting about her husband and caring for her son.  It’s another way director Gareth Edwards seems to delight in withholding the money shots from us.

9) I find it fascinating that for almost the entire film’s run, Godzilla is treated as a positive influence on the world.  Outside of some cryptic comments from Ken Wantabe’s Dr. Serizawa, Godzilla is looked upon as Earth’s defender, not as a force of nature which may cause untold damage if the world doesn’t get out of the way.  Hell, he even has people applauding and calling the big guy The King Of The Monsters as he heads back out to sea.

10) I wonder why a number of actors--primarily Olsen and Ken Wantanabe --are really here.  We’re here to see monsters and I understand that we need to have people in the movie to look at people and go ‘wow, that’s a big monster.’  But is using such name actors necessary?  Why not cast hungry newcomers?

Overall...even though it is a better film, I am amazed at how much this film commits the same sins as the 1998 version....not the least of it being it needs more monster.

Another trip to Atlas Park, fortunately timed so that I missed the accursed Firstlook entirely.  Not a lot of interesting trailers; the best probably being for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, a science fiction film that seems very un-Nolan-like.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON TWO, EPISODE TEN 'One Angry Veronica' (2005)

"Screw civic responsibility...who wants to solve a crime?"
“It's not always easy doing the right thing”.
“If that phrase isn't on the Mars-family crest it should be.”

1) This episode is evenly broken down into two plots, a jury duty plot for Veronica and a plot about the Kane/Echolls sex tape for Keith.  As such, many of the overarc plotlines are either forgone completely or given a slight bit of lip service.  It manages to remove that cluttered feeling some of the other Season Two episodes have.

2) This is the episode where Rob Thomas starts setting up the status quo for next season (although I imagine Thomas was uncertain about whether there was going to be third season, considering how they got this second season by the skin of their teeth).  And it’s funny how even here, with this brief exchange of dialogue about Hearst College, it doesn’t sound very appetizing.

3) One of the things I really appreciate about this episode is the jaundiced view of the legal system.  Veronica triumphs in solving the done in one case not because of her clever detective work persuading her fellow jurors, but because the hold out gives up due to his desire to return to his own life, and boasts of how the perpetrators will appeal and get off immediately.  And the jurors--even the one who spurs Veronica’s investigation on--are acting not out of civic responsibility but purely selfish reasons.

A man who can cry...
4) Sure, I may not care for Jason Dohring’s limited acting range, but there’s a scene between Logan and Keith that shows us Dohring is capable of greater things.  It’s full of emotion and subtlety.  And let’s be honest, the sight of Logan crying as he views the Kane/Echolls sex tape is moving.

5) I am impressed at how the nature of the trail allows writer Russell Smith to remind us that the racial and class tension in Neptune is very high.  Hell, one of the brief moments not only reminds us of those tensions, but also very quietly reminds us of the schism that’s growing between Weevil and the other PCH’ers.

6) Wait a is!  Veronica is actually working at Java The Hut (the outside of which we actually see for a change).  It’s the first time ever since Keith asked her to come back to work in the office part time that we’ve been reminded that she had to continue working there.

7) Max Greenfield’s Leo reappears for reasons that becomes obvious, but at least let’s give Smith the credit for making his motivations nuanced enough that the character isn’t irreparably damaged.

Would that this was my Christmas Present...
8) You know, like  “An Ecchols Family Christmas" , this is the Christmas episode for the season.  Unlike “An Ecchols Family Christmas,” the Christmas angle seems really incidental.  I think the only references we have to this being Christmas in Neptune are the allusions to Veronica being on the winter break and the Mars family celebration where Keith gives her a lead on the case she’s serving as juror to..

9) Of course, you could count the return of Percy Daggs’ Wallace in the episode’s last scene as Veronica's Christmas Miracle.  Being without Wallace for a few episodes really emphasizes how much Veronica needs Wallace to play a combination of Watson and Willie Garvin for her.  Plus, no Wallace means there’s no reason for Tessa Thompson’s annoying Jackie to be around.

10) One of the things that might not be noticed right away is that the trail is resolved, but the mystery itself isn’t; we don’t find out if the version of the events is the one Veronica pieces together or not.  This lack of resolution is a foreshadowing of a future episode which will ultimately bite Veronica on the ass in the third season. interesting episode more than a satisfying one that sets up what will be the structure in Season Three, and that handles the multiple subplots very well.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ten Statements About....SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)

No, it's not a shaved orangutan....
"One great rock show can change the world."

1) As with almost all Richard Linklatter films, this is fairly lightweight narratively...but that’s the charm, as the slight plot allows for greater characterization and an easier switch from broad to subtle comedy.

2) There never has, and never will be a more perfect role for Jack Black.  Linklatter and writer Mike White has managed to create in Dewey Finn a character that manages to fuse all of Black’s positives into an integrated, fully formed person without any of his excesses.  And speaking of Black....

3) ...who would have ever thought that Black’s perfect female lead was the pre-adolescent Miranda Cosgrove as Summer Hathaway?  There is such a wonderfully bizarre give and take between this chubby man-child and this adult in a child’s body that manages to propel the film through its potentially slow stretches.

4) Even thought she may be one-dimensional in this film, I sometimes wonder if anybody’s hotter than Sara
Mr. is the greatest leading lady you will
ever have.
Silverman.  Period.

5) You know, one of the charms of this film is how it seems to exist in some nether region.  Linklatter very consciously forgoes naming the city in which it takes place in (It was filmed in New York and portions of New Jersey), which results in a timeless quality.  This is a film that is not going to age any time soon because the only touchstone to place and time is the music involved.

6) I am thoroughly fascinated by Joan Cusack’s performance as Principal Mullins.  It’s obvious that Mullins is, for the most part, a bit of a caricature....and Cusack embraces that caricature nature, giving her a strange herky-jerky movement.  But every once in a while, a real person emerges, especially in the scene where she admits her insecurity to Dewey and the nervous moment where she kinda, sorta asks Dewey to be her date to parent-teacher night.  Her choices gives what would have been a one note character a unexpected dimension.

7) One of the true joys of Mike White’s script is that for the longest time Dewey does positive things for purely selfish reasons.  It’s not until his scheme is well in play--maybe even not until the parent conference--that he realizes he has genuine skills as a teacher, and cares for these kids.
"Let this be a warning...if you don't watch out, everything
bad and excessive will return to haunt you."

8) And give the film credit for not going in for the cliched Hollywood ‘Up With People’ ending, choosing instead to give us an ending where our heroes do not get what they want, but end up getting something just as satisfying.

9) I’ll freely admit that every one of the parents here are cardboard--but let’s be honest, is there any reason to give them any dimensionality, given that they’re only there to act as a counterpoint to Dewey?  That being said...I don’t care how surprised they are by their children’s proficiency, I can’t see those parents not bringing the school--or at least Dewey--up on charges.

10) Both the opening and closing credits show a real creativity.  The opening credits, which begin as a series of signs and posters as we descend into a rock club to first meet Dewey, perfectly set the tone for what we’re about to see, while the performance of AC/DC’s ‘Long Way To The Top’ not only acts as a bookend, it does the trick of assuring the filmgoers stay for the whole credit sequence. It also contains one truly great laugh to send everyone home with.

Overall...a funny film that manages to make the most of its core cast while being both rude and, well, kinda sweet.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ten Statements--No, Wait, Eleven!--About....THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

"I know you've got a meeting with Batman Forever's
Edward Nigma for nutball pointers, so I'll let you go."
“You want me to come down there so you can kill me?"
“OK, I'll be right there."

1) Once again, this film succeeds on the absolutely effortless chemistry between Andrew Garfield’s Peter and Emma Stone’s Gwen.  Even when the two are breaking up, there’s a connection between them that is palatable and spurs on Peter’s story arc.  It’s an element that was lacking between Toby McGuire and Kristen Dunst.

2) My God, what is it about this version of Spider-Man where literally everything that ever happens anywhere in New York is connected to Oscorp.  By the time we see the scheming that makes Paul Giamatti the Rhino, the whole Oscorp angle becomes ridiculous.

3) While I have no problems with his Green Goblin, which is different but just as valid as Willem DaFoe’s version (only without the stupid helment), Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is oddly off-putting.  Not only does he have this bizarrely emocore haircut, DeHaan doesn’t have nearly the chemistry with Garfield he needs to have to make his story arc credible.  Their status as best friends doesn’t come off well, doubly so when Harry’s back story in the context of this film is presented.
"So, ummm....which of us has the goofier hair, Pete?"

4) I have to wonder if Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon got together with Jim Carrey’s Edward Nigma to have coffee once a week, because Max is a broad caricature at best.  There’s always a sense of Foxx winking at the audience and playing at being a character as opposed to being a character.  Once he goes all Dr. Manhattan-y as Electro on everyone, he becomes better, but that first act is winceworthy.

5) To my pleasant surprise, director Mark Webb does manage to effectively juggle the three villains who appear in the film--The Rhino by using his story as bookends for the main story, and the Green Goblin by making the origin stretch out across the movie so his ultimate appearance doesn’t happen until the end, giving Electro the chance to, ahem, shine as the main baddie.  That being said....

6) One of my biggest problem with the film’s villains is that two of them have as their motivation a hatred of Spider-Man, and the other’s motivation is spurred on by his worship of Spidey.  These motivations truly are at odds with the grandness of the schemes of these bad guys save for The Goblin.

7) You know, I appreciate that Sony wants to put little easter eggs throughout the film--partially as fan service, and partially as seeds for future characters--but some of these easter eggs make no sense, being transformed so much by the film that there’s no reason for them to be here.  In particular B.J. Novak’s Alistair Smythe and Felicity Jones’ Felicia Hardy are so far away from the basic concepts of those characters that there’s no reason for them to be those characters.  And let’s not get into the fact that Dr. Ashley Kafka gets a facacta sex change and a ridiculous German-ish accent as portrayed by Marton Csokas.
Somehow, Spider-Man's stand-in
seemed a

8) I surely appreciate Mark Webb’s decision to continue the mini-theme of how Spider-Man’s empathy with people may be his biggest strength.  It’s his empathy with Max that gives the man hope and almost defuses the situation when he becomes Electro.  And a moment with a young kid makes for a nice, albeit tense at times, undercurrent and mirror for Peter’s own story arc.

9) The ending to this film has a weird feel to it.  It’s too long, for one, and seems to move well beyond the natural end point for the film.  The thing almost feels like a mini-movie on its own, and prolly should have been better handled.

10) You know, the first film promised ‘the secret story behind the hero’....and yes, the film does do some minor advances to this backstory, but it’s mainly a flashback, some hints that Peter was destined to be Spider-Man and him finding a secret lab under a subway tunnel.  There’s a definite ‘Get To The Fuckin’ Monkey’ vibe beginning to come from this series both with this subplot and the one involving ‘The Man In The Hat’ (that should be called ‘Dr. Spinoff’ given what he’s planning).

11) What the Hell was that totally unconnected scene from X-Men: Days Of Future Past doing in the end credits? Other than, of course, seeing Jennifer Laurence all blue’d up again...

Overall...still a valid and entertaining film in its own right that manages the deficits well enough that they don’t damage the film proper.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON TWO, EPISODE NINE 'My Mother, The Fiend' (2005)

"This is the unnecessary plot element for this episode.
Please pick one up at the end of class." 
"Why do you have to go out of your way to pick off a twenty-five-year-old scab?”
“I just want a little proof that my mom was a good person. That she wasn't one of the girls I hate so much, one of the girls that makes high school miserable for everyone else."

1) One of the main reasons I love this episode so much is that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Duane Daniels’ Van Clemmons is, in his way, as smart and clever as Veronica.  The way he gently manipulates her to get what he wants makes you realize he’s not just a comedic supporting character but someone Veronica can look at with respect.

2) Unlike with last episode, the balance between the ongoing overarc subplot and the done-in-one story is much more effective.  The script by Phil Klemmer and Dayna Lynne North does give us significant movement on all of the threads in play, but the done in one is front and center throughout.  This results in this episode feeling like a Season One episode in it focus and momentum.

3) It also helps that this done in one mystery is personal to Veronica.  Dealing as it does with her trying to learn something about her mother and the circumstances, there’s a level of intimacy that makes it unique while--given that so much hardboiled detective fiction is about digging up the sins of the past--allowing the show to remain true to its noir sensibilities.
"I see my career's future.  In a few years I end up the pointless
recurring girlfriend in a Sly Stallone movie series!"

4) And here Alyson Hannigan’s Trina Echolls is given her send off, and her comeuppance, before the actress settles into her long run on How I Met Your Mother. Hannigan always seemed to have fun playing the flipside of her Willow character, and this episode gives Trina a proper bitter ashes send off that’s gentle due to her being the least objectionable of the satellite Echolls.

(And let’s not forget that there is a mini-Buffy reunion as Trina mocks Charisma Carpenter’s Kendall)

5)  And Eli’s transformation into Veronica’s Hawk continues.  Evoking the Season One episode The Girl Next Door, we see Francis Capra’s character proposing that he and Jason Dohring’s Logan team up--and then orchestrates a fight with him so that no one knows they’re collaborating.  And Eli’s development as a dark avenger only gets better from here on in.

6) It still amazes me that no one caught that the killer for the overarc was in plain sight throughout this season, and Rob Thomas gleefully doesn't hide it much.  Not only do we see more evidence of his being a true mastermind when he recruits two regular characters into his present scheme, we see him begin what we can interpret as him macking on one of them in the interest of making her his Miss Techmacher!
Yes, I am so sad I will watch Kristen Bell do filing...

7) Once more we get evidence of Thomas and co. striving to further create a true interconnected universe for Veronica to exist in, as real life wife of Kyle Secor Kari Coleman’s Mrs. Hauser re-emerges after her turn in Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner as someone who helps spur on Veronica’s investigation into her mother’s suspension.  And it’s fortunate she shows up here, as it gives Hauser a little more depth of character as opposed to the cartoony version we saw there.

8) It is nice that this episode gives us a new perspective on Lianne Mars.  Even though Corrine Bohrer’s time on the show has long passed, leaving us with a very bad impression of who Lianne is and was, the ultimate resolution of the case reminds us that she had a positive side to her.

9) The Meg storyline continues as Alona Tal briefly begins a tenure in the real world before returning to her status as ghostly counsel to Veronica.  Granted, all she does in this episode is lie there....but the double whammy of the very last moments of this episode continues this section of the season’s talent for gobstopping cliffhangers.

10) Is it just me, or does that entire storyline involving the baby simulators have no purpose in this episode?  Yes, it does serve as foreshadowing for a couple of episodes in the future, but we don’t know that in media res, and taken on its face value, it’s not even good comic relief.  You could cut out that aspect of the show whole, have Miss Hauser lecture the sex ed class on something else, and the episode would be unchanged.

Overall...a definite upturn from the previous episode that gives us new insight into past characters, restores the intimacy of the show, and advances all the other plot threads without being obtrusive about it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE (1967)

Roy Orbison is sporting a guitar with
a gun inside.  Your still
very valid.
"Just so you know, I can kill you with this thing, and play your funeral march with it at the same time."

1) I am still trying to wrap my mind, after viewing this film twice, around the fact that this is a comedy musical where the heroes are Confederate spies during the waning days of the Civil War.  The moment where Roy Orbison boasts that Jefferson Davis is going to give him a medal sounds so damn weird.

2) And speaking of Roy Orbison’s Johnny, he spends the entirety of the film’s eighty seven minutes without his sunglasses, wearing a succession of brightly colored western shirts.  As such, he is shorn of the proto-Goth image that everyone associates with him.  And without his black clothing and sunglasses, Orbison’s just another average looking hayseed with jug ears who’s playing at being a love lothario and failing.

3) This being a film made during the 60‘s spy craze featuring a spy ring, there is a gadget involved.  And boy, is that guitar with a hidden gun a goofy gadget.  It doesn’t help that each time that facacta gun barrel slides out of the guitar body, it’s accompanied by a slide whistle sound.
You think I'm joking...but it is a guitar.  With a gun.

4) And while we’re on the subject of sound effects, there’s some odd use of foley work.  In addition to the slide whistle, there’s this bizarre tinkling noise that’s added in every time Orbison or Maggie Pierce’s Flo Chesnut refers to peanuts--a call back to a nonsensical conversation between the two about love.  Every time that tinkle sounds, it pulls you out of the film, provided the entire film hasn’t kicked you out of the movie completely.

5) Go away, stupid Native American comedy relief stereotypes.  Just...go away.

6) You would think, given that this is the first film starring someone who is not an actor, that the studio would have surrounded the production with great actors to take the stress off of him.  Not so in this case, as the film is populated by television actors who, well, aren’t that great.
Just what we need....comedy Native Americans.

7) What is great is the collection of songs performed by Orbison.  The seven numbers show off his country side, and they’re uniformly good.  In one or two cases, like with ‘Pistolero,’ it’s downright amazing.

8) I think one of the fundamental problems--besides, of course, the lack of charisma of its lead and the low budget and all--is that it’s five pounds of plot rattling around in a ten pound bag.  The script by Robert E. Kant meanders something awful, and there are some passages (the theft of the union gold should have been a fast paced, exciting little sequence) that serves to drag the film down from plainly mediocre to gobstoppingly poor.

9) So, ummm....Sam The Sham, huh?  That makes two musicians whose acting career is murdered by this movie.

10) So there are some truly odd moments that reference modern subjects, like when Ben Lessy’s Indian Chief rolls around on an animal skin to produce a piece of modern art that ‘belongs in a museum’ that can be seen as a ancestor to the Sam Raimi/Robert Tappert Hercules series only, you know, really stinky.

Overall...a real oddity (it’s hard to believe that MGM signed Orbison to a five-picture deal thinking he would be an Elvis Presley level star) that might be watchable more as an artifact of its time rather than as an actual movie.  As a movie proper, this simply fails.