Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A View to a Kill

Roger Moore's send-off as the longest-tenured James Bond is a bit of an underwhelming one, and probably should have come sooner. The movie certainly isn't terrible, and is better in a lot of ways than its predecessor. I've lost track of how many times Moore's Bond has gone skiing (it's like three or four), something which every Bond seems to do except Connery, strangely; but he does so in the opening sequence, killing his only victims until the very end, and of all five, he actually directly personally offs zero of them. It's a bit unusual how sometimes he'll destroy a small army by himself, and others he'll barely harm a fly. I wonder if it's a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers to mix it up from film to film, because while movies often follow similar story structures to previous entries in the series, if he was always involved in the same amount of violence people might wonder what the point is.

This is also a high water mark for number of different girls slept with, pretty impressive for a 58 year old. The problem is that it's hard to believe he could pull it off, he doesn't so much romance them as just let them fall into his bed. Even Moore himself he either didn't have chemistry with or downright didn't like the two main women. And it took me this long but I finally got fed up with his constant boring witticisms. When he's infiltrating the villain's base with the girl, he points to a hiding spot on a vehicle and says "Why walk when you can ride." Does every god damn thing out of your mouth have to be a quip, dude? It's okay to talk like a normal person once in a while. I liked Christopher Walken as the antagonist, he's one of the more psychotic ones in the series and actually has something approaching an interesting background. He's pretty much the highlight of the movie, although his penchant for theatrical executions over definite ones is his downfall as usual. Not a bad movie, but again, not a great one.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran
Foreign locations: Siberia, France, California
Bond, James Bond: 32:05 (fake name), 1:12:10 (other fake name), 1:33:55, 1:34:30
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 4
Chases: 3
Kills: 5
Non-lethal takedowns: 5

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How I Met Your Mother - Season 4

So now I'm caught up. While the show has always been funny, only now does it seem to actually be getting somewhere with the actual supposed point of the whole thing, the story of the title. I'm curious how much planning has actually gone into this, because they started dropping hints about future events in the previous season, and really did it in earnest this time, but all of it seemed to culminate around the finale with very little that I can think of as far as suggestions for what's next, other that Bob Saget basically saying "No seriously, I'm getting to the point now". The whole season is basically life kicking the crap out of Ted in order to apparently get him to make a decision that will lead to him meeting his wife, though I can already see how they're going to continue pussy-footing around the issue with teases and fake outs.

One of the secretly most interesting things of watching this time was noticing all the ways they tried to hide the fact that both female leads were pregnant for at least part of the filming. Some worked, like when Lily wins an eating contest and has a resultant bulge, others not so much, like loose shirts and bags or boxes doing a fairly poor job of obscuring it. They even wrote Alyson Hannigan out for a few episodes when I guess it was especially bad. There's not a whole lot to say about the actual comedy, it's a nice mix of clever wordplay, snappy dialogue, and humorously over-elaborate rules, diagrams, and theories about dating. Just a couple days from when I'm writing about this until season five begins, and I couldn't have timed it better.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Here's another Moore Bond film I didn't really appreciate, mostly because it seemed more concerned with making the audience chuckle than exciting them. It's sort of like Moonraker, but instead of an utterly absurd final act it's just pervasively silly almost the entire time. It's just hard for me to be interested when action sequences are played for laughs instead of any sense of tension or suspense. There's a part on a speeding train late in the movie which is decent, but otherwise it's a pretty goofy film. An early scene in India is less a chase than a personal challenge by the filmmakers to see how many clichés they could stuff into a single scene. Sword swallowers! Walking on hot coals! Juggling torches! I mean, at one point Bond is trying to escape some pursuers in a jungle and swings away from them on some vines, and the iconic Tarzan shout plays. Just for no reason. This movie is fucking stupid.

It does have some decent elements, though. The plot involving Fabergé eggs, nuclear weapons, East/West Berlin, and the tenuous truce between the USSR and the western world is one of the less terrible ones in Moore's tenure. Maud Adams, in a rare return for a Bond girl actress and I believe the only one to do so as a different character, has been treated relatively kindly by time in the nine years since The Man with the Golden Gun, and is still pretty good at it. And I mean, Jaws isn't in it. The main henchman is a big, mostly quiet Indian fellow, and pretty forgettable... but he isn't Jaws. The final action scenes are a mixed bag, the stuff with the circus people in the chateau is silly as usual, but the airplane sequence is fairly tense and an okay climax. It's a shame the movie is so silly, because otherwise it's really not bad.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "All Time High" by Rita Coolidge
Foreign locations: Latin America, India, Germany
Bond, James Bond: 31:20
Martini shaken, not stirred: 1:08:40 (Unspoken)
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 13 humans, 1 spider, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 10

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Muse - The Resistance

Muse isn't exactly breaking a lot of new ground here. This album is a little more operatic, a little more theatrical, a little more like Queen, but there's no real change to the sound they've had for years. It's actually one of the most predictable albums I've heard in years. I could guess some of the flourishes and melodies before they finished happening, and the only real surprise was when "Exogenesis", the three part symphony that closes the album and impresses the most of anything on the record, didn't explode bombastically at some point, instead merely building and then falling pretty beautifully.

It's not a bad album by any means, just an unexciting one for a group that's ostensibly unique and totally original. I can't think of any groups that have the mix of synth elements, driving bass, and falsetto vocals that make up their identity, but it doesn't quite sound new anymore. Also, Matthew Bellamy's guitar playing is totally restrained here, which is not a good thing at all. "Uprising", "Resistance", and "MK Ultra" sound like normal singles for the band; catchy, epic, and occasionally a bit silly. A couple tracks incorporate excerpts from classical music and operas, which is a bit pretentious, but doesn't really hurt them. "Guiding Light" is the epitome of sounding like they've done this all before. The key to whether you enjoy this album might hinge on whether you like Muse for their style or just for being a rock band.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

For Your Eyes Only

Among Moore's Bond movies, this is one of the more enjoyable to me, a little behind The Spy Who Loved Me. The girls are a little sketchy, with one seeming a little old and the other not quite the natural beauty you usually see in the role, but I ended up liking her when she turned out to be one of his more competent allies. This is also the only film in the series without the M character after Bernard Lee died, and the first time I noticed Moore looking a little too old for the part. He's older than Sean Connery, so casting him 11 years later in the same role was something of an odd decision. Bond shouldn't be a young buck, but he shouldn't look like he's visibly in his 50s at times either. Still though, the events was reasonable, there's actually something to the plot besides an elaborate scheme to take over/destroy the world, and the action wasn't bad.

Oh! Blofeld finally dies in this one. It's just the opening sequence and he's not identified by name or face but it's totally him and he doesn't actually die on screen but he probably did since he never reappeared in this continuity. Pretty ignominious end, but it was much a statement by the filmmakers as anything, as they were showing the guy who won the rights to the character after a legal battle that they didn't need his ass. Anyway, Bond does some skiing and SCUBA diving and mountain climbing, including some pretty tense scenes throughout before the final assault on the villain's hideout in a mountaintop monastery. It's one of the best end sequences yet, not because of big action or explosions but because it's an interesting setup in an interesting location. The movie is not without its flaws, but at the least it seemed like they were trying.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton
Foreign locations: Greece, Italy
Bond, James Bond: 28:25, 36:40
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 2
Chases: 2
Kills: 11
Non-lethal takedowns: 10

Friday, September 25, 2009

How I Met Your Mother - Season 3

Hmm, what should I talk about this time? Instead of a bittersweet finale, this season ends with a couple cliffhangers. I'm not sure I actually truly care what happens to these characters yet, but they're doing a solid job of developing them without taking the focus off the humor. With Marshall and Lily married, their conflicts are more financial in nature than human. Honestly, I'm not finding that aspect terribly compelling. And Robin just sort of seemed like she was treading water this season. They're really trying to humanize Barney, which I'm not sure isn't a mistake. Ted plays the field a bit but eventually gets into another serious relationship, this time with Sarah Chalke from Scrubs, playing basically the same character.

As always there are several good and clever bits, like the Bro Code being an actual legal text, the episode where Ted the narrator can't remember a girl's name so the characters refer to her as Blahblah and he replaces references to marijuana with sandwiches, and Marshall using Thanksgiving to completely torture Barney with the promise of an incoming slap (Oh yeah, after a bet he earned five slaps on him and to date has only used three, one of my favorite running gags ever in a show). The two minute date is also one of the cutest and nicest things I've seen in a while. I'm starting to wonder how long the show is going to end up lasting, but I'm still enjoying watching it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


This marks the midpoint of this little project, so a brief status report: Um, it's going all right. The general level of quality is about what I expected. This right here is definitely one of the worst films of the lot, and a disappointing one for the longest tenured M to go out on. It starts out strongly enough as Bond goes to meet Drax, an insanely rich gentleman with his own space program, and there's some mild intrigue and subterfuge as he investigates the disappearance of one of his shuttles. His mission leads him to Venice, where he engages in a wacky chase involving a transforming gondola/hovercraft and a lot of reaction shots, and then to Rio de Janeiro, where one of the single worst sequences in the series occurs. There's a tension-free encounter on a cable car where the irritating Jaws returns to terrorize him in a dimwitted fashion as hilariously bad editing and fake stunt work prevent it from ever being exciting. After Bond escapes a petite but mysteriously strong woman helps Jaws escape from wreckage, and the two fall in love instantly while Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" plays in the background. It's hilarious to me when I read that filmmakers were skeptical such a romance would work with Jaws being so much taller, when the real reason it wouldn't is that she was pretty attractive while he was a hideous freak of nature.

The main thing you'll notice if you watch these movies in order is that this is basically the same damn movie as The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond parachutes in the opening scene, is pursued by Jaws, is chased while driving an amphibious vehicle, defeats the villain on their own turf, and is unintentionally seen by his superiors re-consummating his relationship with the main girl right before the credits. The antagonist her has the exact same scheme as the last one, to destroy civilization and then create his own, only this time using weaponized nerve gas from Brazilian flowers and a space station instead of nuclear missiles and an underwater vessel. Things get truly ridiculous once they reach the station, especially after the cavalry alive (alarmingly quickly considering they're in orbit) and engage the bad guys in a LASER SPACE BATTLE. Seriously, there's outlandish spy action and then there's bad science fiction. Pretty dumb movie overall.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey
Foreign locations: California, Venice, Brazil, outer space
Bond, James Bond: 18:00
Martini shaken, not stirred: 57:35
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 11 humans, 1 snake
Non-lethal takedowns: 6

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Liveblog 23: The Yankees Are In the Playoffs

The Yankees have already won seven more games than they did all of last season, and they have ten more to play. If they win just half of those, they'll finish with 101 wins and their best record since 2004. Last night they overcame the Angels in the ninth inning, and in the process clinched the first playoff berth of the year. Needless to say, this is a big improvement over last time. Surprisingly, it really has very little to do with pitching. CC Sabathia has been brilliant and Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera have been rocks in the bullpen, while A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte have at times been very good, but overall the pitching has been a little below average, partially due to the easy home runs at the stadium.

What has carried them to such a great performance is the hitting, as the offense has been outstanding. They have an amazing eight players with an OPS+ of at least 120, meaning they have by a certain measure hit 20% better than the average, and if Derek Jeter can manage three more home runs in the short time left they'll all have at least 20 as well, a big league record. The defense has been less terrible than recent years as well. They set the record for consecutive games without an error, which actually isn't a great measure of that, but they've gotten to more balls than years past, helping the pitchers a bit, as a lot of them are outdoing their peripherals.

The team's magic number to clinch both the division and homefield advantage through the playoffs for the first time 2006 is six, and they can reduce both of those as well take a rare series victory in Los Angeles today as Burnett faces off against former Ray Scott Kazmir. For no understandable reason, in a few hours I'll be blogging at least the first five innings of the game.

Top 1 - The Yankees have four regular players out of the lineup today so this should be interesting. Jeter leads off by flying out to right. Since I last blogged about baseball he took over the record for most hits by a Yankee, but considering how many other teams have players with more it's not as impressive as the New York media made it out to be. Jerry Hairston Jr. works a full count walk. Mark Teixeira pops out to second. Hideki Matsui ends the inning with a line drive right to Gary Matthews Jr. in right field.

Bottom 1 - Watching A.J. pitch this year has been frustrating. You can't say enough about his stuff, but it is too frequently ineffective for whatever reason and he leads or nearly leads the league in a bunch of negative statistics like wild pitches and walks. He's had stretches of brilliance, and hopefully that's the side of him that shows up in October. Chone Figgins, constant thorn in the Yankees' side, singles to left. Burnett gets two strikes on Erick Aybar with a fastball and then the curve. Another curve in the dirt gets Aybar swinging. Former Yankee and Angels-offensive-resurgence-credit-getter Bobby Abreu lines out to Shelley Duncan in right. Figgins finally tries to steal second, but the effort is wasted as Torii Hunter grounds out to Robinson Cano.

Top 2 - Duncan is way late on the first fastball from Kazmir. Two more escape his grasp and he strikes out in a very feeble-looking at bat. Cano drives one to center field that falls into Hunter's glove. Melky Cabrera grounds out meekly for the third out.

Bottom 2 - Kendry Morales, getting some mild MVP consideration from people blissfully ignoring the real world, leads off with a single past Cano. Juan Rivera swings through a fastball for strike three. Howie Kendrick strikes out on the eighth pitch of the at bat as Morales swipes second thanks to a bad throw by Jose Molina. Matthews walks on four pitches to bring up the only white guy in the Angels' lineup today, catcher Mike Napoli. He strikes out on three pitches to end the threat.

Top 3 - I really don't understand Joe Girardi's decision to only play half of his good hitters today. Two of them are kind of hurt, but the others aren't, Kazmir already kind of destroys this team, and there's an off day tomorrow anyway. Brett Gardner gets an infield single off a grounder right back to Kazmir, who doesn't get to the ball quickly enough to make the play. Molina pops out to right. Back to Jeter, who grounds into a double play.

Bottom 3 - Figgins raps his sixth hit of the series, a single up the middle. Aybar bounces one that Burnett grabs and throws to first for the out as Figgins moves to second. Abreu watches three pitches go by and walks back to the dugout. Gardner takes a funny route to a fly ball by Hunter but tracks it down for out number three.

Top 4 - Hairston watches a third strike for the first out. Teixeira doubles into the corner in right. Matsui lets five pitches go by and walks. Duncan rips one that ricochets off Figgins' glove and dribbles to left field, but Teixeira held up thinking it might get caught and is thrown out at home trying to score. Matsui and Duncan moved to third and second on the play. Cano makes up for it by grounding a single between first and second on a 2-2 pitch, two runs score and he moves to second on the bad throw to home. Cabrera doubles into the gap in left and drives in Cano. Rivera puts about twice as much effort into catching a Gardner pop fly as he did trying to prevent the Red Sox from scoring the winning run on a simlar play a little while ago, and the inning's over, but the Yankees lead 3-0.

Bottom 4 - Now pitching with a lead, Burnett responds by throwing three straight balls to Morales, but comes back to strike him out, already his sixth of the game. Rivera walks in a kind of irritating at bat. Kendrick strikes out again. Another full count, and another strikeout, as Matthews becomes Burnett's seveth different victim of the K. He's pitching well.

Top 5 - Molina flies out to the warning track in dead center. Jeter fails to check his swing on a third strike but the ball gets away from Napoli and he makes it to first base. For the record, I think it's dumb that you can do that. Jeter steals second on the next pitch. Hairston pops out to short center. I just noticed that Teixeira is creeping towards .300 as the season ends. After a terrible first month he's been around .280 all year, but if he made it that would be neat. Kazmir just misses a called strike that puts the count full and the next pitch is fouled off the ground into Napoli's junk. After a short break, ball four comes in for a walk. Matsui pops out to cut the frame short.

Bottom 5 - Napoli recovers from the ball shot by smacking a ground ball past the listless Jeter for a single to open the bottom of the inning. Figgins comes up as the only batter A.J. hasn't retired at least once. He stays that way lining a double down the right field line. Aybar swings at a curve that actually hits his foot for strike two. Another curve down and in gets him for the second time. Abreu drives in the Angels' first run with a groundball out to Cano playing deep. Hunter lines out to Duncan in right, and Burnett gets out of it with a two run lead intact.

Top 6 - Duncan works a long at bat before Hunter makes a catch near the wall for the first out. Cano strikes out on another ball in the dirt, but this one doesn't get far enough away for him to reach. Cabrera singles, but Gardner flies out to end the inning.

Bottom 6 - Full count and another called strikeout for Morales. Rivera singles up the middle. Kendrick fans again, the 11th of the game. Matthews crushes one to right that Duncan falls over going after and a run scores. Napoli walks on a questionable fourth ball, and that's it for Burnett. I'm out of here before this gets worse.

Wrap-Up - Damaso Marte finished off the sixth, and then there was a couple of tense innings as the Yankees' second-string relievers bent but didn't break against the Angels' offense before Rivera shut the door in the ninth. Good win, as it's the Yankees' first series win in Anaheim in years and an admirable job in a pressure-filled situation. If Boston loses today or tomorrow against the Royals, then the Yankees can clinch the division with a series win at home against them this weekend. That would certainly be sweet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Spy Who Loved Me

Of the five Moore Bond films I've seen now, I probably liked this one the most. I've definitely noticed that with these earlier films I prefer down to earth plots, and for some reason, Russian Bond girls. There are basically four types of Bond girls, two primary and two secondary. The secondary ones will either help Bond and get killed for their efforts, or turn out to be or remain on the side of the villain (and usually get killed too). Primary ones are either silly and just there to be pretty, or capable equals to Bond himself and perhaps slightly less attractive. The latter are my favorite kind, and agent XXX here is definitely one of those. It's another movie where Bond ends up cooperating with the USSR, which is also a common thread for some enjoyable entries in the series, and is sort of one long chase as he tries to track down the man responsible for stealing some nuclear submarines.

I'd like to talk about Jaws for a second. He's probably the most recognizable Bond henchman. He also sucks. He's seriously irritating. Sure, he's initially imposing, but all he does is chase Bond ineffectually for two movies (more on that later) and look stupid. It's amazing to me that anyone likes him. He's fine at first, but the way he just keeps coming and refuses to die is tiring rather than intimidating or anything. I liked to movie in spite of him, not in any way because of him. Anyway, there are some pretty good sequences like Bond and XXX matching wits in Egypt and a prolonged car chase that turns a bit silly when it turns into a submersible. The climactic large scale battles near the end of these earlier films are rarely interesting to me, though this turned out to be a pretty good one, and I like the deadly finality of his confrontation with the villain. I really wasn't sure about Moore when I started this thing, but I think he's a pretty good Bond stuck in a pretty dull era for the series.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon
Foreign locations: Austria, Egypt, Sardinia
Bond, James Bond: 35:10, 1:06:50 (fake name)
Martini shaken, not stirred: 33:55
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 14, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 10

Monday, September 21, 2009

True Blood - Season 2

True Blood's second season in just over a year was a definite improvement over the first, although the show is still more enjoyable schlock than actual quality entertainment. The main reason for the improvement is the feeling that stuff actually happened this time. Sure, the first season had the thread of a serial killer lurking around town and killing people who got too close to vampires, but it was a subplot in the background until the very end while everyone else just went around screwing each other. Season two has an actual main plot, maybe not the most rapidly paced one ever, but it's there. It's actually funny when I see comments about the show not treading water, because I feel like it does as much as a drama with an actual serialized story can. I liked this batch of episodes a fair amount, but it would have been better if it was more like eight episodes instead of twelve.

The main points covered this time are Jason joining a cultish anti-vampire church, a supernatural being introduced last season turning Bon Temps into a haven of debauchery for evil purposes, and a brewing war between said church and the vampire leadership in the region that just sort of gets abandoned in the last few episodes so there can be a proper, unencumbered climax. The show is still pretty sensationalist and ham-fisted, but its main problem is that a lot of the cast kinda sucks. I mean, let's be honest. Sookie and Bill suck. Tara sucks. Sam kinda sucks. Gran sucked when she was alive. Tara's mom sucks. Eggs sucks big time. By sucks, I both mean the person can't act and the character is irritating. On the other hand, the show has enough enjoyable cast members that I don't regret watching it. Jessica and Hoyt are okay. Jason and Lafayette rule. Andy and Eric are good. We already know season three's coming, and I look forward to whatever wacky crap comes next.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Man with the Golden Gun

I'm not sure how I felt about this one. It was a little unusual in some ways, I mean, just look at the kill count. Christopher Lee plays Scaramanga, a villain that I enjoyed for the most part but seemed to lack some of the ambition of his peers. Nick Nack is one of the series' more memorable henchmen, but more because of his novelty than being an interesting character. The movie is just sort of subdued, except when it isn't. Bond returns to Asia, but instead of doing it with a lot of their ladies he mostly gets attacked by martial arts schools. A welcome car chase is marred by the reappearance of the bumbling Southern cop from the last movie, a stunt sequence I'd be sure was a reference to The Dukes of Hazzard if the movie didn't come out five years before the show started, and a ridiculous transformation of a car into a car-plane.

I definitely thought I liked it more than the first Moore film when I was watching it, I'm just now struggling with reasons why. I guess it's just different from recent movies, a nice breath of fresh air to meet someone who just wants to make money and chill on his private island instead of blow up the planet or destroy society for some insane reason. Also, being honorable enough to want to duel with 007 is a much better reason to open yourself up to death than deciding to slowly lower your opponent to his doom without paying much attention to him instead of just shooting him in the fucking face. Maud Adams is a rare case of playing more than one Bond girl, as she reappears later in the series, but here plays Scaramanga's angry mistress and has some good, memorable scenes. The more traditional Bond girl is the garden variety Ditzybot 1.0, but she looks nice in a bikini so she gets a pass. Also, you know Moore's a pretty good Bond when he can pull of a love scene that's interrupted by an angry dwarf without it killing the momentum.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "The Man with the Golden Gun" by Lulu
Foreign locations: Beirut, China, Thailand
Bond, James Bond: 16:15, 22:15 (fake name), 46:45 (third person)
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 2
Chases: 2
Kills: 1
Non-lethal takedowns: 6

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How I Met Your Mother - Season 2

Are you worried I won't catch up in time for the season five premiere? Joke's on you, man. I'm writing this almost a week before it will show up. Now that I'm halfway through this show I can admit it's far better than I expected, although still outside of the top five best current comedies. This season felt a bit different than the first, since the main character Ted spends most of the time in a relationship instead of looking for the perfect one. It's a little more mature, without changing the style of humor that makes it enjoyable. I'd still prefer it if it was single camera, but I actually decided I prefer the laugh track over a live audience, at least for this show. The reason is that they do a lot of quick cutaways and playing around with the timeline that wouldn't really work if they were beholden to an audience watching them make it, and besides, most live reactions are touched up with a laugh track anyway.

A trend that I've noticed with this show is bittersweet season finales. Both times, they've ended with things going really right for some people and really wrong for others. I've gotten over my desire to see Ted get his ass kicked, although I imagine it might rear up again at some point. Barney's still the best character which isn't too surprising, and even mild attempts to sympathize his character can't prevent him from staying great. At least not yet. Marshall and Lily are still an entertaining pair, and right now I'm just rehashing because I don't have much else new to say. It's a funny show worth checking out. Whee.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Live and Let Die

And here we have the blaxploitation entry in the series. The villain is still fancy and has a secret base, but world-changing plots and nuclear weapons are replaced with heroin trafficking and voodoo rituals. Oh, it's also the first one starring Roger Moore, which is fairly significant. I've seen three of his movies now, and I think he's a pretty good Bond stuck in an era of not very good movies. Live and Let Die is actually pretty good for a while. Paul McCartney's theme song is really entertaining, and it informs the score for the entire movie. Bond's interactions with the predominantly black antagonists are an interesting and somewhat humorous look at the time. Baron Samedi and Tee Hee Johnson are quintessential weird villains for the era. Jane Seymour is a good Bond girl, years before she became the crazy cougar in things like Wedding Crashers.

Once the film gets to New Orleans though, I sort of lost interest. As I've mentioned, the filmmakers back then were very good at finding ways to make action scenes boring. There's a massive boat chase across a bayou that's just interminable. It's over twelve minutes long but filled with very little action other than skipping boats over short strips of dry land and a lot of comic relief by a bumbling southern cop that's not even close to funny. After the villain takes off his insanely bad makeup and reveals himself, he shows up chilling underground with some sharks while his inept henchmen dance to tribal music upstairs. His eventual death is hilariously cheesy looking, and it also marks the first time Bond actually directly killed the main villain in the story. Live and Let Die has some competent moments, and also the series' first real curse as an old lady says "shit", but I didn't like it that much.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Live and Let Die" by Wings
Foreign locations: New York, Caribbean, New Orleans
Bond, James Bond: 24:05
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 3
Kills: 6 humans, 1 snake
Non-lethal takedowns: 7

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

With all of the Beatles' music being remastered and rereleased a week ago, it seemed like the time was right to start listening to them. I chose Sgt. Pepper's for no reason in particular other than liking some of the songs already, and I predictably liked it a lot. It's sort of a failed early attempt at a concept album. The idea is that the Lonely Hearts Club Band is a real group and the album is a recording of one of their concerts, but that only comes through in the first two tracks and the second to last. Other than that, it's just a nice collection of songs; four by John, one by George, and the rest by Paul.

I've heard a lot of these songs before, but the ones I haven't are enjoyable too. Even simple, somewhat dopey songs like "Fixing a Hole" and "When I'm Sixty-Four" have interesting elements to them. "With a Little Help From My Friends", the only track sung by Ringo, is good for getting into the mood of the album proper after the opening title track, and it was a revelation when I realize Joe Cocker covered it in The Wonder Years theme song. I'm not convinced "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is really about drugs, but either way it's a nice, trippy little tune. I don't have to talk about "Getting Better" because it has to be in a commercial every year by law. George's "Within You Without You" is a unique track, infused with an Indian sound that serves as a nice breather in the middle of the album. "She's Leaving Home" was the best surprise of the songs I hadn't heard yet, and "A Day in the Life" is pretty much the perfect closer. Every song transitions smoothly into the next, and it's just a really easy to listen to collection of songs that comes together really well into quite a good album. I'm not sure it was the perfect jumping on point for the band, but I don't think it was a bad one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Diamonds Are Forever

Sean Connery's swansong for the role, at least in an official capacity, completes a sort of trilogy featuring Blofeld as the main antagonist. This time he's played by another different actor, and one who played a different character that was killed by one of Blofeld's henchmen two movies ago, plus there's a bunch of plastic surgery-created clones of him running around, so it's all a bit confusing. The story is about blood diamonds, and of course the villain's plot is more diabolical than simply controlling the market. Probably needless to say, a satellite is involved. Blofeld's main agents throughout the story are a pair of hitmen who go around killing whoever comes in contact with the diamonds and taking them for themselves. Except for James Bond, of course, whom they merely leave to die in fairly easy-to-escape situations despite him being easily the most competent of any of their marks. One of them's just creepy too, not in a good way, just in a can't-act-what-is-this-man-doing-in-films kind of way.

The movie starts off okay, but once they get to Vegas, the story just kind of slows down. Bond does some spying and driving and impersonating and flirting, but for some reason I just wasn't totally into it. Bond only really has one girl as Jill St. John is running around most of the time, which was generally fine by me. There's a chase in a moon buggy and a pair of deadly female henchpeople called Bambi and Thumper. Really a visible increase in silliness in this film besides the absurdity of the evil plot - an elephant wins at a slot machine and dances happily, Bond is able to drive a car through a tight alley by balancing it on two wheels and thanks to a continuity error comes out the other side flipped in the other direction, and John is so unprepared for the recoil of an automatic weapon that it blows her back fifteen feet and off the edge of an oil rig. I also enjoyed how there's a guy there at the rig sitting by a microphone and counting things down, instead of it being automated. As we're entering the 70s, I can see it becoming a series that I can find enjoyment in, but not truly appreciate as films like the earlier Connery ones or the Craig ones.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Diamonds Are Forever" by Shirley Bassey
Foreign locations: Amsterdam, California, Las Vegas
Bond, James Bond: 1:30
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 1
Chases: 2
Kills: 7
Non-lethal takedowns: 7

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How I Met Your Mother - Season 1

I haven't seriously followed a multi-camera sitcom in years, let alone one with a laugh track, so it took some convincing for me to check this one out. That convincing came in the form of everyone I know who's watched it calling it one of the funniest shows on TV, and the hard to deny the fact that it stars two Whedonverse alums and an Apatowcolyte. Those three stars are genuinely enjoyable as always, and the other two are a cute enough will-they-won't-they (which the narrator has said they ultimately don't) that it was easy enough to keep watching. The basic premise is that the show is actually in the future where the protagonist tells his kids the story of how their parents met, which takes place in the past, which happens to be our present. He takes the role of narrator (voiced by Bob Saget, which is odd because the character is 27 when the show starts and the actor already has his big boy voice), and begins the confusingly long-winded story.

Ted is an architect who is spurred to step up his attempts to find a mate for life after his friends Marshall and Lily, played by Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, get engaged. He meets and quickly falls for Robin, although things don't quite work out and he spends a lot of time bouncing between trying to land her again and going after other girls and generally making a big ass of himself. I'm actually surprised I liked him at all considering the amazingly moronic things he does in the name of love. Some of it isn't just idiotic, it's downright awful and hurtful to other people, and I'm still waiting for him to really get nailed at some point. I really can't dislike a show with Neil Patrick Harris in this form though, and he could probably carry it all by himself even without his other recognizable costars. He plays Barney, extreme womanizer and corporate dick, and is actually probably a worse person than Ted, but you can't not like him. Definitely the reason to stick with the show. I have three more seasons to work through before the fifth premiers on my birthday, so I'm gonna get to it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

George Lazenby's first and only turn in the James Bond role is something of a black sheep in the series, and not just because of his presence. The movie is just weird in so many ways. It's the only one with an instrumental main theme since they started doing sung ones (It's actually a pretty good theme though). The James Bond theme is played with a weird electronic twinge. They actually overdub Lazenby's voice with someone else when he's in disguise. Peter Hunt had worked on the series previously as an editor, but he was the first person to only direct a single Bond film until 1997. You can see the only breasts I'm aware of in the series' history, when you can catch a glimpse of the Playboy centerfold Bond is looking at. He actually makes a fiction breaking joke about Sean Connery. And spoiler alert for a thirty year old movie here, but Bond gets freaking married. And not a fake marriage for the mission which he is known to do, a real one. Just a weird movie all around.

On the other hand, it's really not a bad one besides these oddities, I might have enjoyed it more than the last three Connery made. Well, maybe. There's some decent espionage stuff as he makes his way towards infiltrating Blofeld's (I'd also credit a returning villain as unique if they didn't do it again in the next movie) secret clinic in the Swiss Alps (pretty tame after a volcano lair), and some decent chases and shootouts after he gets there. Telly Savalas, recognizable by me as the crazy member of The Dirty Dozen, takes over the Blofeld role, and while his plot this time is less grand it also makes more sense, so I'll give him some credit there. I have a question though - if him getting his face constantly redone with surgery to maintain cover is the excuse for them changing actors for the part, why did the first guy to play him on screen have that big eye scar? Something so striking wouldn't help anonymity. Was that really his original face? Probably not, since his voice changes each time his face does and he easily had a higher voice than the guy who played him when they weren't showing his face. It's also odd how he acts like he doesn't recognize Bond when they meet in this movie, staying close to the source material which was written before the source of the previous film. Meh. Bond does some skiing and shooting and there's a tragic ending that leads directly to the next film. Lazenby really wasn't bad, and turning down the huge offer to stay was the biggest mistake he ever made.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
Foreign locations: Portugal, Switzerland
Bond, James Bond: 4:35
Martini shaken, not stirred: 22:15
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 4
Kills: 5
Non-lethal takedowns: 7

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pushing Daisies - Season 2

I thought that after loving the first season so much, my affection might lower after prolonged exposure to the show's unique charm and feel. But honestly, it really didn't. Ned and Chuck are still adorable. Emerson is still the best displaced film noir protagonist I've ever seen. Olive is still a great, sympathetic supporting character. The revolving door of guest actors portraying murder victims and murderers is still overflowing with talent. The visual style is still one of a kind and fun to look at. The writing is still a perfect mix of honest emotion and sharp banter. It's just a damn good show in every aspect. It really is a shame it got canceled after only 22 episodes, but the characters will live on at least for a little while in comic book form, so I can't be too depressed.

In season two, they do a really good job of expanding the story while still having a new mystery every week. Ubiquitous character actor Stephen Root (If you don't recognize him from something, then you don't watch many movies or TV) plays a mysterious stranger who starts digging up everyone's pasts, we learn more about Emerson's daughter, Olive's time at a nunnery expands her character, and Ned and Chuck develop realistically without it veering too far into melodrama. Chuck's aunts also get pretty far with their recovery from their death, and by the end I was genuinely disappointed they didn't have time to get to plot teases like Ned's father, because they definitely showed they can handle long term stuff like that. The series finale wraps up everything very quickly in a little narrated sequence that's about as good as you can expect for something put together at the last second, but it's really just the final kick in the nuts after coming to grips with the fact that Pushing Daisies never got a chance to see its full potential.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You Only Live Twice

James Bond's descent into silliness was a slow and gradual one. You can see it coming here in the script penned by Roald Dahl which only slightly resembles the original novel, although it's less of a goofy tone here as just fairly outlandish situations. This movie is probably actually the key for Dr. Evil. We finally see Blofeld's face in this one, and he's got the baldness, eye scar, fluffy white cat, and less than threatening voice. Also, he has a secret volcano lair. Which Bond ends up attacking with an army of ninjas led by the chief of the Japanese Secret Service. And to help infiltrate operations beforehand, he gets disguised as a Japanese man by wearing prosthetics on his eyes that don't actually seem to do much and a black wig. And Blofeld uses the volcano lair to launch spaceships that capture other ones in an attempt to trigger World War III on Earth - you know, the planet he lives on. I can't remember if he explained why he wanted to do that.

It's kind of a shame the second half is so ludicrous because I actually really liked the first. There's a good theme song, classic catchphrases are subverted, Bond does some legitimate espionage work. A girl he sleeps with who works for SPECTRE gets dropped in a pool of piranhas after she leaves Bond in an airplane she bails out of. When Bond is being chased at a harbor he makes it to the roof and there's a really cool overhead shot as he is pursued by a bunch of guys and he coldcocks several of them. And the plot really is genuinely intriguing until you figure out what's really going on. The change in setting and characters to predominantly Asian is an interesting one, although apparently responsible for Sean Connery's temporary abdication of the role after he was constantly bothered by the Japanese press during filming. Twice is a flawed movie, though I admit to liking it more than the last one.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra
Foreign locations: Hong Kong, Japan
Bond, James Bond: Not uttered
Martini shaken, not stirred: 21:55 (backwards)
Ladies seduced: 4
Chases: 2
Kills: 15
Non-lethal takedowns: 16

Friday, September 11, 2009

Peggle Deluxe

My first Peggle experience came when they released a demo for the game as a part of The Orange Box, with levels themed around the different games in that package. I enjoyed it, but not enough to put up the asking price for the full game. Earlier this year though they had a deal for the game plus its sequel for only ten bucks, and I decided to give it a shot.

As far as a casual game that's pretty much leading the charge for its genre, it's pretty good. If you haven't played it, there's a board with a bunch of different colored pegs on it. You aim and launch a ball from the top and try to get it to hit as many orange pegs as possible before it reaches the bottom. Pegs disappear shortly after you hit them. You start with ten balls, and you can get more by catching them in a moving container at the bottom or reaching a certain high score in a single shot. The two green pegs temporarily give you different powers based on which cartoon character you're currently using, and the roving purple peg bumps up your score. It's pretty simple, but can be heavily addicting.

The basic adventure mode takes you through all the different levels, five at time for each of the characters before the final five let you choose. There's also other modes that challenge your skill or let you play human or computer opponents. There's enough variety in the levels that you never really get bored, and it's fun to screw around with the different abilities. The physics on the ball can be really entertaining and the feeling of just nailing a ton of pegs in one shot is pretty satisfying. I generally prefer more purpose and meaning in the games I play, but Peggle is definitely a nice diversion.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


After the Bond movies continually seemed to get better through the first three, the fourth felt like an honest misstep. You get the feeling that the technology they used to film underwater must have been new and impressive at the time, because they spend an absolutely unreasonable amount of time there. The movie is fun as always when Bond stays above the surface, but the insistence on having so many major plot turns take place with everyone wearing breathing equipment and floating around turns into a real drag. It culminates in the big fight scene where dudes writhe around trying to choke and stab and shoot each other with harpoons, and I couldn't even tell which one was James after a while. It's hard to make a major action sequence actually boring, but they managed to pull it off.

On the good side of things though, it did continue to inspire future movies and spoofs with things like an eye-patched, high ranking henchman to the still mostly-off screen principal villain and a board room where inadequate employees can be conveniently executed from their seats. Bond's sneaky and the Bond girls are as nice as ever, and they even subvert the formula a bit this early on when one of the villainous ones asks incredulously if he expected her to change sides after he slept with her, something that worked quite well in both previous films. Number 2 is a solid primary antagonist, and shockingly the fourth in a row that Bond doesn't actually kill directly. The action scene where they duke it out on the bridge of a runaway boat is unfortunately quite dated at this point, as the sped up footage of the ocean superimposed on the background is laughably absurd looking. You can sort of see in this movie of the roots taking hold that would transform the series from interesting spy films to high budget, silly action fests. They're still enjoyable, but for me definitely less so.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Thunderball" by Tom Jones
Foreign locations: Paris, Bahamas
Bond, James Bond: Not uttered
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 14, more underwater. I lost track of who Bond was.
Non-lethal takedowns: 11

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pushing Daisies - Season 1

Pushing Daisies is one of the most original and entertaining shows I've seen in a long time. It's just a shame I didn't find out until after it was canceled. I mean, of course it was canceled. It was unique and quirky and not marketed to the right audience. After it ended, creator Bryan Fuller returned to Heroes, the show that was good before he left, but only managed to write one episode (one of the best of the season, big surprise) before leaving again. Will he ever find lasting success with a show he can call his own? Who knows.

What I do know is there are a lot of words that can describe Pushing Daisies. Several of them are words like "cute" and "sweet" and "adorable". It's the kind of cute with a Tim Burton-esque edge to it though, which you can see from the premise - main character Ned can return dead things to life with the touch of his finger, but there are two caveats. Touching them again will kill them forever, and if he doesn't do so for one minute something nearby will die instead. Of course, he can bring that thing to life too, but then the cycle starts over. Anyway, him discovering his power and the rules to it lead to an eventual future as a pie maker who works with a private detective to solve murders by asking the victim who killed them on the side. One day the victim happens to be his childhood sweetheart Chuck, who he of course neglects to kill once again after reviving her, and then the show starts properly.

It's a mix of a bittersweet romantic comedy where Ned can never touch the object of his affections and a surreal forensic mystery show put together. Two of the show's strongest elements are the writing and the visual design, which work together to create an unusual and quite funny universe, trapped between a kid's fairy tale and a hardened detective story. Each episode brings a new case to solve and new issues for Ned and Chuck to deal with in their own version of a relationship. Things are predicated by flashbacks to Ned's earlier life as an abandoned child in a boarding school which relate to whatever's going on at the time, and it's a good mix of strong dialogue, clever mystery, and a fair amount of tugging at heartstrings. The entire cast is strong, from the two leads to Emerson, the detective who's not fond of the dead girl brought to life situation, Olive, the pie shop assistant with an unrequited affection for Ned, and Chuck's two aunts who are still dealing with the tragedy of her apparent death. Even the dog is one of the better animals on television. Or was. The only thing that ever bothered me about the show was the slightly overbearing nature of the orchestral score whenever anyone shared a moment. Otherwise, I pretty much loved every minute and can't wait to check out the second and final season.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Of all these early Bond films I've seen (I'm up through the sixth), this is my favorite. It's also the only one that has nothing to do with SPECTRE. It's not that I don't like SPECTRE, I just enjoyed Goldfinger's story and characters the most. It gets rolling early with the classic scene of the woman covered in gold paint, something that wouldn't actually kill you, but an iconic moment nonetheless. Goldfinger himself is a classic Bond villain, with a particularly clever evil plan and penchant for theatrics. I mean, this is the guy who strapped Bond to a table with a laser and told him he expected him to die. Oddjob is the quintessential henchman; silent, nearly indestructible, and extremely deadly. And Pussy Galore is a great Bond girl; the first one who actually spoke with her own voice and was a legitimate actor, and actually put up a fight instead of just falling into his arms.

This is the first Bond movie to take place in the United States at least part of the time, and it's funny to hear the voices of the actors picked to play the gangsters Goldfinger works with, they're as stereotypically American as possible. The most important location in the film is actually Kentucky, which is fairly tame by Bond's standards, but there's a good reason, his target is Fort Knox, and the assault on said building is the series' biggest and most elaborate sequence yet. Bond actually spends a great deal of his time in Kentucky being captured and trying haplessly to get a message to the outside world, and it's interesting to see the first time he really seemed vulnerable. Of course his manhood's just as deadly as his brawling skills or Walther PPK and ends up being what saves the day in a convoluted sort of way. As a break from the early films' all-SPECTRE-all-the-time approach, I liked it a lot.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey
Foreign locations: Cuba, Miami, Switzerland, Kentucky
Bond, James Bond: 12:00, 38:20 (interrupted)
Martini shaken, not stirred: 55:30
Ladies seduced: 4
Chases: 3
Kills: 7
Non-lethal takedowns: 5

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weeds - Season 5

After the first three season arc of Weeds, the fourth year changed things up dramatically with a shift in setting and tone. Season five continues along the same path, as the second part of the show's second trilogy. There's at least one more batch of episodes coming, and it could easily either wrap things up or begin a new saga. It's come quite a ways from "suburban widow sells weed", and I'd actually be interested in where they could go next. The broad strokes this time are Nancy's pregnancy and engagement to Esteban, Silas and Doug's attempt at a (mostly) legitimate business, Andy's attempts to move on from his affections, Shane's continued to development into a pretty unusual kid, and Celia's latest attempt to replicate Nancy's success. Not everything goes well, and it's fun to watch how everything they do connects and forces them to make tough decisions.

Weeds has always seemed a bit odd to me, especially these last two years, because it's remarkably plot-focused for a half hour comedy. It's not like there aren't hour long dramas that are just as funny. I currently have a vague inkling that I've brought this point up before. Oh well. The fact that it's so short though lends a strong, really quick pace as twists and events come hurtling through at breakneck speed. They could probably work it into an hour long show, but it would be a more placid one not in tune with the series' wacky and frenetic style. You never have time to get used to a gag or concept which could easily be milked for more humor before they're already on to the next one. There are several shows running I'd probably call funnier right now, but Weeds is its own unique brand of dark comedy that is always welcome.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

From Russia with Love

It's interesting to see how these early Bond films influenced the later series and pop culture in general. This might have made more sense to mention in the last review, but the first time he says "Bond, James Bond," it's in reply to someone else asking his name after she revealed hers using the same pattern. I was quick to find out that his catchphrases weren't nearly as consistently used in the early films as more recent ones. This movie had multiple firsts - the first opening scene between the gun barrel intro and the animated credits sequence, the first theme song sung by a popular artist, although it doesn't make an appearance until the end of the film. Dr. No mentioned SPECTRE, the secretive evil organization that became the basis for all secretive evil organizations in the future, but this was the first movie where we saw a man petting a cat and executing his numbered henchmen when they failed him.

I enjoyed this movie overall more than the first. The storyline is more overtly political as the bad guys start a conflict between the Brits and the USSR, and more adventurous as Bond gets around a bit more. He's actually fairly docile in this one, rarely getting violent outside one scene, and, unless I misread his intentions in a scene with a couple gypsy girls, not too frisky either. Part of that might be how quickly they introduce the Bond girl, because usually it's a while before she's on his side or even introduced in these early movies. I honestly liked the subdued nature of the movie, because while there's something fun to the ridiculousness of higher budgeted spy capers, this just seems closer to the spirit of what a debonair operative like Bond might actually do. It's not without excitement, as a single brawl on a train car can be just as thrilling as a massive action sequence if done properly. They actually based a video game on this film a few years ago, which I now find perplexing because it's one of the least video game-y Bond movies I've seen, and I liked it for that.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "From Russia with Love" by Matt Monro
Foreign locations: Istanbul, Yugoslavia, Venice
Bond, James Bond: Not uttered
Martini shaken, not stirred: Not ordered
Ladies seduced: 1 new, 1 repeat
Chases: 2
Kills: 8, plus possible explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 3

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight

Remember when I talked about the straight to video series this is basically a sequel of and said it felt like it was a retelling of someone's role playing game campaign? Well it turns out that's exactly what it is. Well, a retelling of a book series which itself is a retelling of a game. You can definitely see it when watching, as it follows the basic formula of a party of adventurers containing warriors and sorcerers pursues a quest and occasionally messes up before emerging victorious. The structure's a bit odd as it begins a few years after the last series and has a little story with the familiar main characters before it jumps again another decade and has a new main plot, with a new main cast. The old characters still show up frequently, but the focus is on the new ones, who are neither as capable nor as interesting.

And that sort of describes the entire show for me. It wasn't terrible, I just didn't care about the story or any of the characters too much. The animation never really impressed and I was basically slightly bored the entire time. Each episode ended with a couple minutes of cute versions of the characters engaging in poor attempts at comedy. Uh... I really don't have anything to say. Thoroughly unremarkable.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dr. No

So I'm gonna watch all the James Bond movies. The reason for this is pretty simple - I've usually only seen the earlier films as part of marathons on TV where everything runs together, and so my mind is full of incomplete and fuzzy ideas of what the series is. Really, the only Bond actors whose films I can actually distinguish from each other are Pierce Brosnan and and Daniel Craig. Anyway, here we start at the beginning with Sean Connery's first turn as the famous character. Dr. No does a pretty solid job of establishing the franchise as we see a lot of the key elements in place. There's no opening scene before the credits, and said credits don't feature girls dancing around or a famous singer crooning a theme with the title in the lyrics. But Bond says some clever things, romances a few girls, faces off against a slightly over the top villain, spouts a couple catchphrases for the first time, and a few things blow up.

Really though, the movie is fairly tame. Not too violent, not too long, only one major exotic location. There's not even a scene where Q gives Bond a wacky high-tech gadget, just one where he's lectured on his choice of firearm. From what I can tell this was intentional, to start a movie series on a grounded, reasonable footing before letting things get bigger and more explosive. Dr. No himself is a pretty good villain though, complete with metallic hands and a menacing dinner conversation. He's one of the only early antagonists or main Bond girls to actually use his own voice, and it's fun to watch him interact with Bond for the first time, really setting a tone for what was to come. Ursula Andress is pretty damn hot in her bikini, but although she went on to some other movies doesn't do her own voice and just sort of stands around looking pretty in the second half of the film, more femme than fatale. In the end, it's a solid movie, not great, but better than a few other Bond flicks I've seen.

James Bond stats
Theme song: James Bond theme
Foreign location: Jamaica
Bond, James Bond: 8:00
Martini shaken, not stirred: 24:40, 1:28:10
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 3 humans, 1 tarantula
Non-lethal takedowns: 9

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Dirty Dozen

I know Inglourious Basterds got to me because I keep watching old movies that are somehow related. Dozen is a popular sixties movie with a similar premise on the surface, an officer training a group of ragtag soldiers for a special purpose during World War II. In this case, Lee Marvin is given twelve soldiers condemned to hard labor, prison, or execution and what amounts to a suicide mission to kill as many Nazi officials as possible holed up in a chateau on the eve of D-Day. Most of the movie is just Marvin training the soldiers into a cohesive unit while they occasionally rebel against perceived injustices, but eventually they get to the surprisingly violent climax.

Just like the Basterds, most but not all of the Dozen get significant character development. Charles Bronson is a former officer and the old hand of the group, almost a secondary leader. It's funny how he has the hard reputation and when they do the lineup by height, he's the fourth shortest. Donald Sutherland has an early role as Pinkley, who's a bit dimwitted, but ends up being one of the more likable characters. Other ones that stick out are the big guy, the black guy, the rebellious guy, the short guy with the moustache, and the crazy one. Ernest Borgnine is also the general in charge of the operation, and he's pretty much the same dude he still is today. It takes a while, but eventually the Dirty Dozen (so named because of their refusal to bathe or shave with cold water) gel into a cohesive whole, proven when they win a training exercise through unconventional means.

Then they drop into France, and the tone shifts rather dramatically. The carefully orchestrated mission has a couple slip-ups but still stays on course until someone screws it up big time (guess who!), when things turn into a bloodbath. It's a pretty large scaled and impressive action sequence for the time, although there were a couple situations where it was less than obvious that certain characters died and I just had to assume they did later when they didn't show up. Their Plan B to take out as many Nazis as possible is surprisingly brutal for the time, and honestly made me a little uncomfortable with the whole thing. But I guess the whole point of movies like these is to show how hellish war can be. The conclusion isn't exactly satisfying, but it's what you might expect from a cynical movie like this. I was pretty impressed overall.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

For a Few Dollars More

The second film in the trilogy is a nice intermediary in terms of length, epicness, and major supporting cast. Gian Maria Volontè returns as a villain once more, Lee Van Cleef is an ally of the nameless man before he'd be a foe in the sequel, and Clint Eastwood is yet again the hardened man with no name. Interestingly, the protagonist here is supposedly not the same person as the one in the previous movie, or at least that's what Sergio Leone claimed and convinced the courts after he had a falling out with that movie's producer and he sued for whatever rights were involved with the character. It doesn't really need to be though, as the character is more of a western archetype than a fully developed person. As usual, the people around him have more involved backgrounds and character development, while he's just there being a bad ass.

The story's about how Eastwood and Cleef, as maybe an older and wiser version of the same character, run into each other as they both pursue the bounty on Volontè and his gang's heads and decide to split the ransom and work together. The friendship isn't exactly a fast one, and they spend almost as much time at odds with each other as they do with the real bad guys. Eastwood spends some time infiltrating the gang and yet again getting caught and having his ass kicked, but eventually they get their shot when the villain, high on drugs and still hung up on events earlier in his life, makes a lot of strange, bad decisions. His eventual downfall is as much his fault as anyone else's. I hope it's not a spoiler that he dies, but if it is... well come on, dude. As is standard with Leone's films, the introductions of the characters and clever final showdown are the best parts, although the middle here might actually be the most enjoyable of the three movies. It doesn't reach the awesome heights of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly's best moments, but it's a solid movie all the way through.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

La Femme Nikita

Nikita is the film that put Luc Besson on the map, and while these days he hasn't done a lot of directing, in the 90's he made a few of that era's best action movies. My favorite is Léon, known originally in the US as The Professional, and I thought Nikita was almost as good. It's not too dissimilar of a story, either. It begins as a drugged-out murderer named Nikita is arrested and tried for her crimes, but she's saved from her sentence by the French government picking her for a program where they turn criminals into killers for the state. She's resistant to the training at first, but eventually she gives in and a few years later she's finally allowed to return to society.

But not before she assassinates a couple VIPs in a restaurant, of course. It's the movie's first big action scene, and sets the tone for what will become Besson's signature feel, violence that's stylized enough to be exciting but also down to earth and brutal enough to be unsettling. When her escape doesn't go quite as planned, Nikita's attempt to get out alive is truly desperate and perilous. Once she's done though, she gets to go, and as soon as she finds a place to live she falls in love with practically the first guy she sees. It's interesting how she allows herself to become attached to someone despite knowing that any time she could get a call with instructions for a hit. Her motivations up to the very end are somewhat mysterious, and she's a unique and enigmatic protagonist to be sure. Near the end Jean Reno appears in a couple scenes as a character that clearly inspired the Besson movie he would later star in, and his brief appearance is the worth watching the whole movie just by itself. It ends pretty abruptly and maybe in an unsatisfying way, but Besson's whole thing back then seems to have been subverting expectations for action movies. Definitely worth checking out today.