Double O Countdown: Octopussy

I have a fondness for this film that is out of proportion to it’s qualities. That fondness may stem from the circus theme, the Cold War plot, or maybe it is the Indian setting that dominates the movie. Anyway, this was the last good Roger Moore 007 outing. It went head to head with the Sean Connery starring “Never Say Never Again” rogue film in 1983, and it was the box office champ in that showdown. I like the posters for the movie as well. If you are interested in a post I did on the film for a blogathon last year, just click here. 

 001 The Clown Prince of James Bond Actors

Roger Moore just seems like a good sport to me. He was willing to make the movie the director and producers wanted, and he did not mind taking one for the team. As proof I offer the following.

Can you imagine Daniel Craig letting this happen to him?

Another 00 gets tracked down and killed early in the movie, trying to escape dressed as a clown. He manages to deliver the MacGuffin of the film, a Faberge Egg.

Late in the film, 007 needs to also blend into thecircus background he finds himself in, and lo and behold, he is done up the way the other agent was. Holy bookends! Well anyway it works for the story and the image of Bond saving the day from nuclear destruction as a clown probably fits most critics views of James Bond to begin with.

I give them credit for chutzpah anyway.

002 The Flying Guillotine

The only place I’d ever heard of a weapon like this was in some crazy Kung Fu movies from the 1970s. It may not make much sense but it is a lot of fun.

003 The Pre-Title Mini Jet

The opening of the film is an entirely self contained story that has nothing to do with the main plot. Bond is up to some spy business in Cuba and has to escape. Fortunately, he has a RV that he is towing which is perfect for the moment.

In one side of the building.

Out the other side.

And after blowing up the secret military operation and escaping, you discover you need fuel, no problem.

004 Kalashnikov on the Stairs

Many cool moments in Bond films are fleeting and feature James shooting a weapon in an unusual way. Like the shot of 007 sliding on his belly with a machine gun from “OHMSS”, this is just one of those fun moments. They also get in a Bond style joke .

To outfox the thugs on the first floor, Bond descends the stairway in an unconventional manner, with his gun blazing.

All is well until he notices the stop at the bottom of the stairs.

Its OK though, that’s the advantage of having a machine gun.

He just shoots it and it breaks off when he gets there. Smooth James, not enough ooos in smooth.

005 James Bond loves to get it on on a train. 

Bond is notorious for traveling by train, which makes some of his fights more interesting because of the close quarters. In this film, the close quarters are replaced by a open sky.

He gets smuggles himself aboard the circus train and confronts the deadly acrobat knife throwing team that killed his 00 predecessor on this assignment.

The struggle finally ends up on the roof of the train as it travels through East Germany.

It is one of the better action sequences in the Roger Moore films.

006 The Plane Fight

Not content to have mixed it up with secondary characters on a train, he ends up having a great fight on the outside of a plane when it is in the air. Again, this was terrific stuntwork.


The blue screen work matches up pretty well with the actual stunt.

007  I love the Cold War plot.

The movie was released in 1983. The Soviet Union was in a strong strategic position with conventional weapons in Eastern Europe. American policy moved to deploy theater nuclear weapons to balance out the  advantage the Soviets had. That move was controversial and was one of the factors behind the Nuclear Freeze movement of the time. This film plays off of real geopolitics of the moment. A rogue Russian General, is planning to detonate a nuclear device on a NATO base, which will be blamed on the U.S, resulting in a withdrawal of nukes from the theater and giving the Soviets an opportunity to invade.

The general cannot convince his superiors so he finances his plot with loot stolen from pre-revolutionary art collections

octoThe smuggler “Octopussy” thinks she is moving contraband jewels, but she has been fooled by a switch to a device hidden in the cannon of the human canonball in her circus, scheduled to visit a NATO base.

No honor among thieves.

James Bond will Return in

“A View to a Kill”

 

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

I love 1960s spy stuff. James Bond was born in the sixties, Patrick Magoohan was Danger Man, Johnny Rivers killed it with his spy themed “Secret Agent Man” and Mel Brooks spoofed it with “Get Smart”. Even before I’d seen my first Bond film, I saw “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on television. When I heard that a movie version was planned, I was relatively pleased. I know there are people who hate the idea of a classic show being adapted for movie screens. The list of failures is long: “Lost in Space”, McHale’s Navy”, “The Flintstones”. Video bins are littered with 60s shows re-imagined as big screen entertainment. The hope is that you will get an occasional “Addams Family” or “The Fugitive”, the reality is you end up with “Sgt. Bilko”. So, which way did it go with the latest effort to rob our childhoods to feed our adult addictions?

The movie version of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” gets a lot of things right. It also leaves out some of the things that you treasured. In the end, it works as a stand alone concept because the only things that really remain from the show, are the concept and time period. By sticking to the time period of the original series, the Cold War years of the 1960s, the film manages to keep the tension between East and West as a background. More importantly, they get to costume the leads in stylish 60s garb. One of my favorite things about Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can” was the way he captured the vibe of the early 60s. I have not watched a minute of “Mad Men”, but I suspect this movie would do the set decoration and costuming on that series proud. Henry Cavill, who plays the Napoleon Solo character, is dressed in stylish suits in every scene. The fabrics are vivid and the cut flattering. Although they would look a bit old fashioned now, they would carry a lot of retro cache with them.  Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin is not wearing the high turtleneck sweater that was practically a trademark of the character, but the Henley styled shirts and plain suits he does wear are perfectly appropriate. The women are the ones who get shown off to the greatest advantage with some mod evening wear from the villainess. The girl that helps the two spies out (a standard storyline from the 60s show) has some cute 60s outfits that would be snapped up in an instant by hipster thrift store shoppers.

The plot really feels like it could be taken from a lost episode of the show. An East German girl is being used by the spy network, to locate her missing father, a nuclear genius who has technology that gives it’s owners great powers. A loose band of Nazi sympathizers have the Doctor captive and are using his knowledge to gain power and build bombs. Most superhero franchises start with origin stories, and this film does the same thing. It attempts to explain how Russian and American spies, begin working together. The TV show never bothered with such background, it simply presented the covert network as a functioning entity from the beginning and then focused on the case for that week. Creating a background story for the agency is the biggest add by Guy Richie and his collaborators. The problem is that it leaves out stuff that made the original series cool, at least to us old enough to remember it. The badges, secret entrance to headquarters, briefings by Mr. Waverly, and the communication gadgets are all missing from the movie. Solo is given a backstory that makes him more Alexander Monday than James Bond. Someone decided that Ilya needed psychological problems to balance out his perfect physical capabilities. The changes work for a big screen adaption but they do distance the audience that might have been drawn in to the film by their love of the series.

Some of the things that work well in this film include the opening section where the Russian spy Illya Kuryakin is chasing after the American spy Napoleon Solo. The car chase and running gun fight are worthy stunts for an opening to a spy thriller. The banter between the two spies is also one of the things that Guy Richie brings to the movie. Anyone seeing his London based crime thrillers knows that snappy dialogue and quick exchanges are trademarks of his work. Hammer does not get quite as many of these lines as Cavill does, but he does get a lot of the physical reaction shots that make a joke pay off. Alicia Vikander is in her third film of the year with this movie. I thought she was great in both “Seventh Son” and “Ex Machina” , the later of which she should always flaunt on her resume. She does not get to do a lot of action material in this movie, but she is definitely more than just the damsel in distress. Hugh Grant is in the film but very little. if there is another in the franchise I know his role will be expanded. The split screen effect used during the storming of the island fortress was an efficient way to get through what might have been a long sequence very effectively, I could do with less shaky cam in the pursuit that follows.

One mistake that I think the film makers make is that they don’t use the original Jerry Goldsmith music effectively. Take a look at how the “Mission Impossible” series has managed to weave the iconic song into those films. They may owe half their box office take to Lalo Schiffrin. The U.N.C.L.E. theme is in the film but only as an exit instrumental rather than as a transition piece. It has been altered from a big horned, bass heavy theme into a nearly unrecognizable conga tune. The result was one of the least satisfying parts of the film. Overall, I enjoyed the film a lot, but there are things to fix to make it as much fun as it should have been. If Guy Richie and his writing partners want some advise for the sequel, they can reach me on channel D.

Terminator Genisys

I suppose it is faint praise to say “I didn’t hate it”, but that was my first impression of the new version of “The Terminator“. I was highly dubious when confronted by the most recent trailer (not the one above) which gives away more plot elements than most of today’s narrative revealing advertisements do. This is an attempt to make “Terminator” a continuing project without the messiness of having to deal with the narratives from previous versions of the story told in other sequels. The creators here have the right fulcrum for moving us to that point, but they use it so often, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all the variations.

On a technical level, the movie looks good. The special effects are up to snuff and there are several spots where practical effects seem to be used instead of the now dominant paintbrush of CGI. Believe me, there is plenty of CGI also, but the frequent car chases, crashes, and combat scenes are much more realistic than you would find in most computer generated effects. The opening sequences which are set in the future and feature Reese and John Connor are actually a well told story of that relationship and the events leading up to the original insertion of a Terminator into 1984. The mix of elements from the original into this current version was effective, and although Bill Paxton’s punk character is recast, you would almost believe that the sequence was lifted whole cloth from the first movie. Almost immediately though the plot twists start and it is apparent that a complete revision is being undertaken.

Time travel stories are always interesting, at least they are to me, but they can be confounding. It would be helpful to have Doc Brown in the basement with a chalkboard, diagramming all the possible contingencies so that we can keep track of what is going on. Everyone who loves cinema wants a movie that is thought provoking as well as entertaining. The problem with this movie is that the thoughts provoked have nothing to do with morality, politics, society or history. Your brain will start thinking about the mechanisms of the story rather than the implications of the characters choices. Instead of pondering what choice would be the most ethical to make, or whether we as a society are surrendering too much power to the technology we use, you are left wondering “how did this timeline get started, or what happens to the future if John Conner kills his own parents, or how do we get John Conner when his parents don’t seem to be getting together?” You end up thinking about the machine that is driving the plot rather than the social implications. That turns the discussion into a nerd fest rather than a philosophical imponderable. Kyle Reese says it himself in more than one scene, this story is hard to keep track of. “Pops” may come along and say it is rather simple, but that does not make it so.

Instead of lingering on plot loopholes or time travel conundrums, I want to discuss for a moment the philosophical question, is Skynet already happening? In 1984, before we had the sort of internet and dependance on technology that exist now, it was scary enough to contemplate. Today, Google and Apple know almost everything that everyone does. The NSA is mining that data, most of us operate electronically in banking, services, communication and almost every other part of our lives. The “Genisys” app in this movie is not far removed from the kind of technological innovation that is going on right now. Earlier this year, there was the spy film “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” which postulated a nefarious takeover of technology that was more cartoon like but which could be plausible because just as in this movie, it recognizes that we are all wired in to each other in some way. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a story about an A.I. experiment where the computer got a bit nasty with the the programmers. That’s just the kind of thing that might make us believe that the combination of Artificial Intelligence and widespread dependence on computer technology might not be a match made in heaven. “Terminator Genisys” touches oh so briefly on this concept, but it is mostly focused on building an action plot to attach visual spectacle to.

I don’t watch “Game of Thrones” so I am largely unfamiliar with the work of Emilia Clark. She is made up to resemble Linda Hamilton enough to sell the idea that she is the same character. Jai Courtney is an actor I can’t quite seem to warm up to. I’m not sure he is being cast correctly but someone has decided he is the next big thing, I’m not sure he’s not the next Sam Worthington. Jason Clarke is an actor that I have admired in a number of films but he seems to be directed here to play the character of John Conner a bit over the top in the opening and then a little too subdued in later sections. Arnold continues to be Arnold. I am so much happier with him as the Terminator than as Governor that a couple of awkward moments don’t even register. There are some pieces of humor plugged into his part and the usual stoic mannerisms seem to be working. The explanation of his aging is acceptable and I thought the three different time periods he appeared in seemed matched appropriately.

The movie is ambitious and attempts to put all of the elements of the story we have come to know into play. Judgement Day has been shifted somehow and that is one of the unclear lines of thinking created by the multiple time line angle. We don’t yet know how Terminator 2.0 gets sent to protect Sarah at age nine, it looks like this is being set up as a series of films and that will be a plot point for another entry. The movie is under-performing in the U.S. market (largely I suspect because of the lingering demand for Dinosaur mayhem). Internationally it may do well enough to justify continuing the series. I don’t think anyone will become emotionally invested in the story enough to be disappointed if this is the last in the series, but I won’t roll my eyes in disbelief if a new entry is eventually announced either.

If you would like a ranking as a way of assessing this opinion, I’d put the first two films on a level all their own. I prefer the original to Terminator 2 but that is mostly because I love that last sequence with the stop motion and puppetry. “Terminator Genisys” and “Terminator: Rise of the Machines” are also pretty equivalent, to each other. They are action generating plots and each has some spectacular stunt work but neither has the depth or imagination of the first two films. “Terminator Salvation” is a vague memory. I enjoyed it well enough at the time but it is six years later and I have never rewatched it since then so it must not have impressed me that much. I’d be willing to see this film again but I will never be willing to try and figure out all the time line confusion that this entry in the series introduces.

TAK3N

This should not take too long. This is a perfunctory sequel to a sequel to a terrific movie. It has little to offer on it’s own, except for standard action sequences and interminable car chases and crashes. The story is convoluted nonsense that  fits into many of today’s thrillers where criminals lurk around every corner and there is a convenient betrayal behind every door. All the actors do their jobs but it is mostly going through the motions rather than creating something memorable or essential. None of this is a surprise after the lackluster second entry, also directed by Olivier Megaton. When I looked back, I was more enthusiastic than I remember, and I know I must have been somewhat blinded because I have never revisited the sequel.

There are three things that make this movie worth a visit. Forrest Whitaker does a nice job playing a sharp LAPD Detective. At some point in his career, someone decides that he would make a good cop. I think he has been an FBI agent or a cop in the last two or three things I saw him in. The part is not especially well written but he adds some thoughtfulness to it through his performance and especially his voice. The second element that makes this somewhat worthy is the use of Bryan Mills team of buddies. That actually get to do something in this movie and they show they are pretty clever also. They still could have been utilized more but at least they don’t just show up and drop something off for him.

The third thing that makes this somewhat worth seeing is the star himself. Liam Neeson can now play these parts without breaking much of a sweat. Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on your view of Neeson. I have always liked him as an actor, my family jokes a little that I have a mancrush on him. I’m a fan, and I will probably always be available if Liam wants to show up on screen and kill a bunch of people. I do think it is interesting that he became an action star at the point in life when other action stars who have been doing these kinds of movies much longer, are sometimes mocked for being geriatric. He did star as “Darkman” in 1990, but his career did not really become littered with action roles until maybe ten years ago. I suppose he still feels fresh enough to the audience that we can still go with it.

Now the other things that made this movie a problem for me. I already mentioned the frequency of car chase sequences but they are problematic for some other reasons as well. The director shoots the car scenes in such frequent close ups that at times you might forget that the characters are in cars. Thie action of the cars is also so tight that you can’t really get a sense of what is happening to whom, except that there is a lot of mayhem in most of these parts. The ubiquitous shaky cam is present in all of these scenes as well, and once again instead of creating tension or a feeling of being in the action, it creates a sense of vertigo that made at least one member of our party nauseous enough that they had to leave the theater. The action sequences also have that problem, but they suffer from a bigger deficiency, “sanitized brutality”. There is a minimum of blood, the broken bones and cracked skulls don’t jump out and make you winch they way they did in the first film. There is something too “PG-13” in the way the material is being put together. I did however appreciate Bryan’s impromptu waterboarding sequence. It can’t hold a candle to the electric shock scene in the original “Taken”, but it does show what a nasty customer Bryan can be.

I liked the movie a little more than the second film, but neither will betaken_three very memorable. If you are a connoisseur of Liam Neeson action films, than you can’t really skip this one. It is a part of a Neeson Franchise and so it is necessary for you. If you are interested in an average action thriller for a date night, this will suffice. If you wanted a good movie, move along, this will not give you what you need. The fact that i enjoyed it probably says more about my faults than it does about the quality of the film.

Godzilla

Why anyone would need a review for this is not clear. If you like the idea of watching giant monsters destroy a city and battle it out among themselves, then you will already be queuing up for this and you will have a good time. If you think that special effects movies and worldwide destruction are being over done in films these days, then you will probably want to stay home and find a more intimate horror film to spend an evening with. All in all, you will get what you expect from this movie. There are some surprises, and some disappointments but they are minor in contrast to the spectacle of a 300 foot high gorilla-like lizard wrecking havoc on most of the stuff around him.

The movie is fortunately a slow burn. Some people want the money shot from the get go, but like romance, anticipation and deferral can make the ultimate outcome so much more rewarding. There is an effective action beat to start the movie but it may be unsatisfying because we don’t really see a monster or even know for sure what is going on. Bryan Cranston plays a supervising engineer at a nuclear power plant in Japan. I like Bryan Cranston, I’ve never seen “Breaking Bad” but I know his work from many other movies and TV shows. His performance is a little consciously showy. He is not quite chewing the furniture because the part calls for him to be a bit “mad”, but it is noticeable that he is playing it that way. His wife is also a specialist who is responsible for monitoring and controlling leaks of radioactivity. She is played by the Academy Award winning actress Juliette Binoche. We have barely had time to get started when before you know it, both of these characters disappear from the story. Flash forward fifteen years and their son played by “Kick Ass” star Aaron Taylor Johnson becomes the focal point for the story. All three are excellent but they have little opportunity to emote or build character because the real star of the movie is a big monster still to be revealed.

Father and son briefly reunite to discover the truth behind the accident at the nuclear power plant a decade and a half earlier. The original Godzilla from the 1950s was a mediation on the dangers of nuclear war and the power of radiation to destroy the planet. This story is more about the dangers of government cover up and the risks we take when we seek to supress information rather than shine a light on it. This last couple of sentences suggests a level of philosophical thought that is never really developed or cared about. It is just in the background to give us something to pay attention to until monsters start duking it out. This movie is filled with halfway developed points to keep us involved until something reaches it’s creepy foot out of a hole to do some destruction. Taylor Johnson has a wife and son who are neglected by his military career but love him anyway. Academy Award nominees Sally Hawkings and Ken Watanabe are scientists with something to say about the dangers of screwing with the environment and the power of nature, but they are simply the heralds for “Godzilla” himself. A lost little boy will be a surrogate for Taylor Johnson to care for at a given point.

Last year in “Pacific Rim” there were giant robots fighting giant monsters. In “Godzilla”, following the tradition of dozens of Japanese predecessors, monsters fight each other and we are bystanders with a rooting interest. The explanations for the MUTO monster are a bit confusing and they are placed in the narrative in a way that tries to avoid having some scientist give us a lecture for five minutes, but they are coming at the same time that we are being delivered information about “Godzilla” and that made some of the characteristics unclear. It will only bother you for a couple of minutes because soon the monsters are tearing up cities and being general douches on a grand scale, and at that point no one will be thinking about their origins, mating and eating habits. Not when Cesar’s Palace is getting shredded before our eyes. There is a good sequence featured in the teaser above that shows a HALO action and makes use of the same style of wailing choruses found in “2001”. However, it is the monster fights in the big cities that everyone came to see, and except for the fact they are frequently shot in the dark, with dusk clouds obscuring our vision, they are pretty good.

We ended up paying $16 a ticket to see this in 3D at a time that worked for us. You absolutely do not need to see this in 3D. There was nothing special or dramatic or interesting that was enhanced by the third dimension. Now the volume in the theater and the size of the screen will make a difference to you so be sure to take that into consideration when making a movie selection. “Godzilla” will be a place holder in the summer movie line up. It will do good business and people will be entertained for the running time, but it is not special enough to think back on for long or to see a second or third time. Half of my enjoyment of the movie came from the Hot Tamale candy I dumped in my box of buttery popcorn. Searching for one of those treats was able to distract me enough that I could ignore how standard much of the movie narrative was. I don’t know that American audiences will take Godzilla to heart as a hero like the Japanese have, but if you liked the T-Rex at the end of Jurassic Park, then maybe a “Godzilla” stuffed toy should be under your Christmas tree this year.
godzilla_ver4

3 Days to Kill

After yesterdays orgy of films in the Best Picture Showcase, it was time for a little palate cleaning with a new release that won’t be nominated for anything next year. That does not mean that it is worthless but it does mean that this movie is designed only to be consumed and disposed of like the popcorn you should be overdosing on while it plays out in front of you. Kevin Costner has always been a favorite of mine, and although he has gone out of vogue a bit, he appears to be enjoying a renaissance. This is the second of three movies that he has out in the first four months of the year and the second one where he is playing spy games.

When the movie starts you might be tempted to laugh immediately. Two of the characters that the CIA is going after are codenamed “The Wolf” and “The Albino”. I expected Clint Eastwood to show up and he and Costner to scale a mountain in the alps. This just sounded like stereotypically cliched writing from a 1970s spy film. When Amber Heard show up repeatedly in black leather or latex, like some dominatrix that walked in out of a Roger Moore 007 outing, it was even more embarrassing. I began to wonder if people had lost any sense of reality and what century we are in. There is an effective shoot out to begin the movie, but the exterior of the hotel did make it look like an abandoned area of Serbia, which given the technical credits would not be surprising.

As it turns out, the film is a bit of a comedy spy film. They try to play most of the explosions, chases and shootouts straight, but every now and then, Costner’s character makes contact with an opposition counterpart and a relationship begins to form. It is a little one sided but it works to make this a different kind of movie. The character of Ethan Renner is motivated by a different type of ticking clock and it is not just the bad guys he has to tangle with. He is trying to reconnect with his daughter Zoey, played by Hailee Steinfeld, from the “True Grit” remake back in 2010. She is a little older now and works well as the antipathetic and somewhat estranged child of a spy. It turns out that the nut does not fall far from the tree when it comes to the truth department.

The most satisfying element of the film takes place when our hardened spy takes on punks that are in over their depth. Four young men on the brink of drug induced date rape get the sort of ass kicking that every father would like to inflict on someone who dares to even look sideways at his princess. He suckers some professionals with a doorstop and simply displays a gun as a way of coping with some bouncer types at an underground rave. The laws of France appear to be a little to liberated from my point of view when it comes to your personal property, but Ethan manages to negotiate a sticky situation with his apartment in a manner that lets us know that even though he is a bad ass, he is not really a bad man.

Three or four times in the story, a convenient kryptonite moment shows up to make a conventional action scene a little more unique. It was actually annoying the last time it was used and it only exists there to give Amber Heard’s character one more thing to do during the story. The plot elements building a bond between father and daughter don’t go to the extremes of having her put in personal jeopardy by the villain, that was a change that I appreciated. The romantic interludes between attractive but older actors are told without the graphics that would turn younger viewers off, and the settings in Paris, make the film feel a little more familiar but still with an exotic locale. No one will remember this for long but it is enjoyable for as long as you sit in the theater.