Tag Archives: James Bond

A very short review of “Spectre” (2015)

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM.]  “Spectre” (2015) was an impressive James Bond film, if not an unforgettable one.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  It’s got style, terrific action sequences and absolutely gorgeous shooting locations.  Daniel Craig is still a decent Bond, too, even if I always find him a little understated in the role. And Dave Bautista makes a sufficiently intimidating henchman.  (The man looks gigantic, too.)

It brings little new to the franchise, however, and it doesn’t rise above being a standard action film in the same manner as its predecessor, 2012’s nuanced and surprisingly emotional “Skyfall.” (I’ve gained a greater appreciation for that movie after having watched it a second time.)

It occurs to me, too, that “Spectre” seems a little easy to nitpick — at least to someone who’s enjoyed a lot of spy films and novels that are intended as procedural thrillers.  We watch Bond gain easy access to a super-secret meeting of the titular cabal, for instance — he just kinda bluffs his way in.  Then the organization’s Big Bad calls him out, after apparently feeling his presence, as Darth Vader felt the presence of Luke on a passing ship in “Return of the Jedi” (1983).  Later, we watch Bond employ incredibly risky and haphazard tactics to rescue a kidnap victim — it seems to me that the consequent random vehicle crashes, explosions and gunshots could just as easily kill her as they might free her.

Still, this was a fun movie.  I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an enjoyable action flick.

 

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A baffled review of “Lucy” (2014)

Everything you’ve heard about “Lucy” (2014) is correct — it’s exactly as trite and nonsensical as its multitude of unfavorable reviews have described it.  Maybe this was intended as some sort of weird, meta, inside joke by writer and director Luc Besson … after all, it’s a movie about increased “brain capacity” that is, ironically, really dumb.

I can’t imagine why Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman would sully their reputations by starring in this film.  Although, sadly, even the wonderful Johansson is not at her best here.  She seems to try to portray increased intelligence by delivering some of her lines like a robot.  (Seriously, she reads some of her lines like a speedy automaton, and it’s a bad creative decision for her performance.)

I could go on and on about the silly things in this movie.  So could you, if you’ve seen it.  But it’s a lot more fun listening to the surly wise-asses over at Cinema Sins.  Their trademark “Everything Wrong With” video for “Lucy” is particularly harsh.  At one point they call it “an aggressive dickhead of a movie.”  Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3rZmnJ66Po

There is one overriding problem I need to address myself … and that’s how its premise seems to relate so little to the events of the story.  We begin by understanding that the titular Lucy is affected by a drug that increases her brain capacity.  Before the movie reaches its halfway mark, she appears to gain omniscience.  (She doesn’t need to actually learn anything — she simply knows virtually everything already.  This is evinced by her ability to translate foreign languages instantly, with no books or instruction at all.)  She also appears omnipotent by the film’s end.  Her powers become literally godlike.  And I’m not talking about Thor or Odin from the Marvel Cinematic Universe — we’re talking the all-powerful,  Old Testament God of Abraham.

Why?  Why should increased intelligence, no matter how incredibly vast, give her power of matter, space and even time?  If she were as smart as a thousand Stephen Hawkings, she still shouldn’t be able to do the things she does in the movie.

Believe it or not, I’d rate this movie a 4 out of 10.  (That’s far kinder than the other reviews I’ve read.)  I managed to have fun with this movie by rewriting some of it in my head while I watched.  Instead of Lucy benefiting from a drug that increases her brain capacity (which borrows a bit from 2011’s excellent “Limitless,” anyway), I pretended that I was watching a movie in which Scarlett Johansson became God.  (Think of 2003’s “Bruce Almighty.”)  Honestly.  I swapped out the plot device in my head, and imagined a different movie.  That made it fun — watching Scarlett Johansson as a wrathful God was strangely satisfying, especially when she wreaks havoc on the bad guys.

And speaking of bad guys … that is actually one thing that this otherwise clueless movie manages to get right.  No, I’m not kidding — the Taipei gangsters that serve as the story’s antagonists were performed to perfection by their actors.  The villains were repulsive and terrifying, and they aroused more interest in me than the good guys.  Min-sik Choi was terrific as the homicidal patriarch of the Taiwanese crime syndicate.  Even better, though, was Nicolas Phongbeth as the cherubic-faced, vaguely androgynous, sociopathic lieutenant.  If they were vanquished in this brainless movie, it’d be nice to see them resurrected in a James Bond film or a season of Fox’s “24.”  It’s weird seeing a movie so bad do one important thing so successfully.

There are really only two reasons why anybody should see “Lucy.”  One is morbid curiosity.  Two is if they are a learning to be a screenwriter, and are looking for a feature-length example of what NOT to do.

 

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A few quick words on”Now You See Me” (2013)

I ought to pan “Now You See Me” (2013), but I just had too much fun with it.  It’s a smile-inducing heist film that barely qualifies as a thriller, given its upbeat tone.  It held my attention and made me laugh, so I’m giving it and 8 out of 10.

Much of it is preposterous, especially if you stop to think about it.  The comedians over at Cinema Sins really skewer it here, for example.  (Spoilers.  Do not watch the linked video until after you’ve seen the movie.)  But if you take it as an escapist fantasy, it’s a good movie — like maybe one of the Roger Moore-era James Bond films.  It’s got a terrific ensemble cast, it’s funny, and it makes great use of its novelty story device — famous stage magicians using their skills to commit high-profile crimes, and incorporating those crimes into their show.

I’d definitely recommend this.

Quick note — if you’re a movie buff and you haven’t checked out the Cinema Sins Youtube channel, then you’re cheating yourself.  Their “Everything Wrong With” and “Honest Trailers” series are two of the best things on the Internet.

 

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Throwback Thursday: TSR’s “Endless Quest” books!

Okay.  Who remembers these?  I do, and fondly.

I always assumed that the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that every 80’s kid remembers were inspired by the “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing games.  But I was wrong.  Edward Packard penned the first draft of “Sugarcane Island,” the very first CYOA book, way back in 1969, half a decade before Gary Gygax and Dave Ameson at TSR released the groundbreaking first edition of “D&D” in 1974.

The “Endless Quest” books, which arrived on the scene in 1982 and 1983, conversely seem like TSR’s attempt to cash in on the CYOA phenomenon.  And they did a damn fine job, if you ask me.

These were far better written.  And they seemed aimed at older children or young adults — maybe the same target demographic that TSR was hoping would graduate shortly thereafter to its RPG’s.  A few of them arrived under the Christmas tree for me when I was, oh … maybe in the fifth grade or so.  And I was thrilled to discover that they were frikkin’ awesome.

They were slightly different than the CYOA books.  For one, the “you” described in the story wasn’t really a reader avatar. It was already a fully realized character, with a backstory in the context of a TSR fantasy universe.  The diverging storyline options were less random, too — they were all part of a larger, more detailed and coherent overall story.

Maybe the “Endless Quest” books didn’t appeal as much to every kid.  They certainly weren’t as popular as CYOA.  A more detailed story meant far more text in each book’s introduction, and in the “choice” sections.  That meant fewer choices could be made within the length of the book.  If memory serves, for example, you had to read 11 or 12 pages to set up the story in “Mountain of Mirrors” in order to reach the first junction of the narrative.  My best friend and next-door neighbor, Shawn Degnan, complained about that.

All of my books were authored by Roses Estes.  I think my favorite was “Dungeon of Dread.”  That had a straightforward story that most closely resembled a game of “D&D;” you proceeded room to room in a dungeon, fighting monsters in turn.  And monsters appealed slightly more to this grade-school boy than magic swords and spellcasting and codes of honor and such.

In fact, “Dungeon of Dread” boasted what remains one of my all-time favorite monsters to this day — the wicked-cool, alliteratively named “water weird.”  You entered a room with an ornate well at the center, where a stone-inscribed warning advised you to “Watch The Water That Is Not Water.”  If you failed to be so circumspect, then the quite ordinary-looking clear water in that well would magically form up into the shape of a serpent and rip your goddam head off.  (I don’t think that this is much of a spoiler, as the water weird and its method of attack is depicted right there on the book’s cover; you can see it below.)  A smarter child might have wondered why whoever built this dungeon and placed the creature there would also include a helpful PSA about how to avoid the monster.  But that didn’t occur to me at the time.

It was a fairly dark fantasy book, too, at times.  One room revealed the fate of a less fortunate adventurer — he had been captured by some unknown bad guy, and chained to a wall where a running fountain of fresh water was easily reached.  His cruel captor had deliberately fated him to starve to death.

“Mountain of Mirrors” was my second favorite “Endless Quest” book; it had frost giants.  Yes, the intro was lengthy, but Estes did a great job in establishing a sense of setting for a freezing cold mountain range.  I enjoyed “Revolt of the Dwarves” slightly less; it was a little strange to see dwarves cast as antagonists when I they were the good guys in the animated film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

The only book about which I felt equivocal was Estes’ “The Hero of Washington Square.”  That wasn’t even a fantasy adventure at all. It was just some average kid getting swept up in a spy adventure — it was based on a different RPG created by TSR called “Top Secret.”  “The Hero of Washington Square” was a toothless adventure that seemed more aimed at younger kids, if I recall.  It was lame.  It had little in common with the James Bond films that I absolutely loved, even if I did grow up in the Roger Moore era.  And my love for Tom Clancy’s universe would only bloom many years later, when I read my sister’s thick paperback copy of “The Cardinal of the Kremlin” the summer before college.

The Internet informs me that the “Endless Quest” books are still easily purchased.  They were rereleased in 2008.  And they’re edited now so that “you” are described in gender-neutral language, so that girls can better enjoy the books.

I honestly would recommend these for older children or pre-teens.  Parents, keep these in mind for Christmas.

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