2015年12月30日 星期三

Movies of the Early 2010s (Revised as of December 27, 2015)

It's the end of 2015, and in just one day it'll be 2016.  Five years goes by pretty fast.

Can't think of much with regard to personal developments during this time.  Maybe that's good?  I'm still living in Taitung, Taiwan, still living in the same place, and still doing the same job.

Political developments during these five years are also hard to pinpoint, probably because we're still so close to the period under discussion.  I'm sure that in five more years we'll have formed very different opinions about what was important from 2010-2015, so the paragraph below is only an attempt at historicity, not the thing-in-itself.

This said, the early 2010s continue to be the era of Obama and Putin, of tensions between the US and China, and of our continued obsession with mobile devices.  The US is still stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia seems poised for a venture into Ukraine, and China has declared most of the South China Sea its personal swimming pool.  In the wake of the Paris attacks, there is also the remaining concern over terrorism.


Biggest Movies of 2010: Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Inception, Shrek Forever After, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Iron Man 2, Tangled, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon

Inception is a great movie.  Maybe Christopher Nolan's best. 



Honorable Mentions: The King's Speech, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Book of Eli, Edge of Darkness, Shutter Island, Brooklyn's Finest, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Losers, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Get Him to the Greek, Predators, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Machete, The Town, Red, Due Date, I Love You Philip Morris, True Grit

Black Swan is an excellent film.  Perhaps the best film of that year.

I know a few people who can't stand the Human Centipede movies, but I liked this film.  Dieter Laser is super creepy.

I Love You Philip Morris was overlooked at the time, but it's one of the few Jim Carrey vehicles in which he's not completely irritating.


Biggest Movies of 2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five, The Hangover Part II, The Smurfs, Cars 2

None of these movies are very good, though Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol was alright.  With the exception of The Smurfs, all the other blockbusters of 2011 were sequels.


Honorable Mentions: Barney's Version, The Company Men, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, Source Code, The King's Speech, X-men: First Class, Super 8, Bad Teacher, Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses, Captain America: The First Avenger, Crazy Stupid Love, Contagion, Moneyball, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), Tower Heist, The Descendants, A Dangerous Method, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I found The Company Men particularly moving.  I was in the States when the economic implosion was well underway, and this movie reminded me of many things from that time.

The Adjustment Bureau is a great film.  

I didn't think I'd like Moneyball (I'm not a baseball fan), but I liked this one a lot.

The Descendants is an excellent film starring George Clooney.

A Dangerous Method is one of the lesser-known movies from that year.  It's another Cronenberg picture.

Got a strong stomach?  Then the second Human Centipede is for you.  I've already seen the third Human Centipede, and the second is still the grossest.  Those unimpressed by Human Centipede (Full Sequence) are hereby directed to a Japanese film called Grotesque.  And if that movie doesn't gross you out, nothing will?


Biggest Movies of 2012: The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, The Amazing Spider-Man, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, The Hunger Games, Men in Black 3

Judged by its blockbusters, it was a good year for film.  The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Men in Black 3 were all very watchable.

...and in case you were somehow incapacitated, The Avengers was a very popular film.


Honorable Mentions: Haywire, The Cabin in the Woods, The Dictator, Antiviral, Prometheus, Searching for Sugar Man, The Master, End of Watch, Argo, Wreck-It Ralph, Silver Linings Playbook, Killing Them Softly, Promised Land

I really liked Haywire.  Gina Carano actress should feature in the Wonder Woman film.  I realize that another actress (Gal Gadot) has already been cast in this role, but Gina would be so much better.  She's in the upcoming Deadpool, but that's not enough for me.

Antiviral introduces a future where we're all dying to get the most famous diseases.  One of the weirder movies out there.

Prometheus isn't that good, but there's some good gore in it.  I'm hoping the sequel will be better thought out. 

I've seen The Master so many times.  I've always been fascinated by L. Ron Hubbard, and the performances in this movie were exceptional.

Argo was a terrific film, based on real events.  Affleck won the Oscar for it, and I think his win was well-deserved.  This film, and the film it is about, has a fascinating backstory.

Anyone who grew up in the 80s will find a lot to like in Wreck-It Ralph.



Biggest Movies of 2013: Frozen, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Fast and Furious 6, Monsters University, Gravity, Man of Steel, Thor: The Dark World

Iron Man 3 wasn't very good.  What?  Is he Tony Stark or Jackie Chan?

I liked Gravity, but anyone who raves about that movie should see Apollo 13.  I think that as a story of space survival, the latter movie has much more to offer.

Thor: The Dark World was a vast improvement over the first Thor.  I am eagerly awaiting Thor 3. 


Honorable Mentions: Gangster Squad, Broken City, Evil Dead, Oblivion, Pain & Gain, The Purge, Jodorowsky's Dune, Only God Forgives, This is the End, The Bling Ring, The Wolverine, Jobs, Rush, Prisoners, Captain Philips, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers' Club, Philomena, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, August: Osage County

Gangster Squad and Broken City are in some ways very similar movies that would go well together.  That scene where Mark Wahlberg finds out the truth about his girlfriend really hit me in the chest.

Many despise the Evil Dead remake.  I don't.  Honestly, the original wasn't that good anyway.

Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about the greatest science fiction movie never made.  I don't agree with the conclusion drawn by the film makers, but it's still interesting.

That bar confrontation in Only God Forgives is so over-the-top it's worth seeing.  That is one policeman I wouldn't want to fuck with.

Prisoners features Hugh Jackman and Jack Gyllenhaal.  It's a great (and at times profound) movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street has some truly hilarious scenes.

August: Osage County is one of the best movies to come along in years.  Meryl Streep deserved another Oscar for that one. 


Biggest Movies of 2014: Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, X-men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Amazing Spider-man 2, Interstellar

I thought Captain America 2 was good, but not as good as some made it out to be.  It was just trying too hard to make a point.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was decent but forgettable.  Too much CGI.

I think X-men: Days of Future Past was one of the best superhero movies ever.  I say this as someone who was not a big fan of previous installment.

Both the most recent Transformers and the most recent Hobbit are excellent if you are having trouble sleeping.  How can people sit through that crap and remain interested?  Ditto for the Hunger Games, but in a way the Hunger Games is worse, because it reminds me of so many similar movies that are much better.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was... OK.

Guardians of the Galaxy was on par with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Entertaining, but not great.

Interstellar was a crushing disappointment.  I was SO excited to see that film, and it just dragged on, and on, and on.  There are some great bits in it, but it was trying to do too much at one time.  The ending also doesn't make a great deal of sense.


Honorable Mentions: Edge of Tomorrow, Cesar Chavez, Robocop, The Lego Movie, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Draft Day, The Rover, Foxcatcher, 22 Jump Street, Get On Up, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Judge, Nightcrawler, St. Vincent, The Equalizer, The Theory of Everything, Gone Girl, Inherent Vice, John Wick, Fury, Big Hero 6, American Sniper, Kingsman: The Secret Service

I thought Edge of Tomorrow was quite good.  Not spectacular, mind you, but good.  Who doesn't want to see Tom Cruise killed over and over again? 

Cezar Chavez is a good movie, but it's not great.  It seems to me that it could have touched more upon contemporary themes, and upon problems that continue to plague our society today.  As it is, it gets bogged down in the details of Chavez's life.

The Robocop remake could have been much better.  I think that if they'd dispensed with the family drama, they might have made a much deeper film.  The scene where Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman discuss whether he's a man who thinks he's a machine or a machine that thinks its a man could have been expanded upon to much greater effect. 

There were almost too many good movies in 2014.  I'm having trouble coming to any conclusions about them.  I've seen all of the above movies more than once.

If I had to pick a "best of 2014" though, I think I'd settle on either Nightcrawler, American Sniper, or Foxcatcher.  I loved all three of those films.


Biggest Movies of 2015 (so far, though the year isn't quite over yet): Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Minions, Inside Out, Spectre, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, The Martian

The above list is out of order.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already surpassed Jurassic World as the highest-grossing movie of 2015.  Star Wars - exceedingly formulaic as it is - continues to make truckloads of money.

Jurassic World was a lot better than I thought it would be.  I think it might be my favorite in the series.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was an extreme disappointment.  Not nearly as good as the first Avengers.  That movie was just too busy.  Spectre was also a disappointment.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Martian are probably my favorites out of the blockbusters this year.  Both require a suspension of disbelief, but both are good.


Honorable Mentions: Ex Machina, Slow West, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Focus, Chappie, Danny Collins, Get Hard, Dark Places, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spy, Southpaw, Ant-Man, Self/less, Straight Outta Compton, Creed, The Revenant

Ex Machina, Chappie, and Self/less are all good sci-fi movies for completely different reasons, though all three deal with the nature of consciousness.  The first is a suspense film, the second is an action movie, and the third is somewhere between the two.  Ex Machina is by far the best of the three.

Slow West and Dark Places are two overlooked dramas from this year.  Neither are exactly mind-blowing, but they're pretty good.

A lot of people I know despised Hot Tub Time Machine 2.  I liked the first one, but I thought the sequel was much funnier.  Maybe they just haven't seen the unrated version?

Get Hard was a return to form for Will Farrell, who has been mostly unfunny of late.  I hear his newest movie, Daddy's Home, isn't all that great.

I would say that Mad Max: Fury Road was the best movie to come out this year, but after having seen The Revenant I'm not so sure now.  Both films feature Tom Hardy, and both are excellent.

If you liked Rocky Balboa you'll also like Creed.  It feels a bit more forced than the previous installment, but it's still well done.  While you're at it, a double feature with Southpaw might be a good idea.

(Dis)honorable Mention: The Hateful Eight.  That movie is boring AND stupid.

Why Not Go Back to the Future?  There are Certainly a Lot of Good Movies There!

Movies of the Late 2000s
Movies of the Early 2000s
Movies of the Late 90s
Movies of the Early 90s
Movies of the Late 80s
Movies of the Early 80s
 

2015年12月16日 星期三

Bond: The Conclusion!


So what have I learned from my 007 movie marathon?  Well, for one thing, I learned that watching all of the Bond movies in order takes a really long time, and, for another thing, I learned that a lot of the Bond movies were better than I remembered.  Sure, a couple of them were worse than I remembered, but many of them were better.

The Bond films (as of late 2015) are, in order:

Dr. No (Sean Connery, 1962)
From Russia With Love (Sean Connery, 1963)
Goldfinger (Sean Connery, 1964)
Thunderball (Sean Connery, 1965)
You Only Live Twice (Sean Connery, 1967)
Casino Royale (David Niven, 1967)*
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (George Lazenby, 1969)
Diamonds are Forever (Sean Connery, 1971)
Live and Let Die (Roger Moore, 1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun (Roger Moore, 1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (Roger Moore, 1977)
Moonraker (Roger Moore, 1979)
For Your Eyes Only (Roger Moore, 1981)
Never Say Never Again (Sean Connery, 1983)*
Octopussy (Roger Moore, 1983)
A View to a Kill (Roger Moore, 1985)
The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton, 1987)
License to Kill (Timothy Dalton, 1989)
Goldeneye (Pierce Brosnan, 1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (Pierce Brosnan, 1997)
The World is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan, 1999)
Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan, 2002)
Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, 2006)
Quantum of Solace (Daniel Craig, 2008)
Skyfall (Daniel Craig, 2012)
Spectre (Daniel Craig, 2015)

*These two film were not made by Eon Productions, the production company usually associated with the Bond films.  Thus they are regarded as outside the normal continuity.

I offer here a few lists of five.  Make of them what you will. 


I. My Top Five Bond Movies

1. Skyfall (2012)
2. Casino Royale (2006)
3. Goldfinger (1964)
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
5. GoldenEye (1995)

II. The Best Bond Movies, According to Rotten Tomatoes 

1. Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger (96%)
2. Casino Royale (95%)
3. Skyfall (93%)
4. Thunderball (86%)
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (82%)


III. My Five Least Favorite Bond Movies

1. Casino Royale (1967)
2. A View to a Kill (1985)
3. Octopussy (1983)
4. License to Kill (1989)
5. Spectre (2015)

IV. The Worst Bond Movies, According to Rotten Tomatoes

1. Casino Royale (1967) (29%)
2. A View to a Kill (35%)
3. Octopussy (42%)
4. The Man with the Golden Gun (45%)
5. The World is Not Enough (51%)


V. My Top Ten Bond Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
3. Raoul Silva (Skyfall)
4. Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
5. Hugo Drax (Moonraker)


VI. My Top Five Hottest Bond Girls

1. Sophie Marceau (The World is Not Enough)
2. Eva Green (Casino Royale)
3. Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die)
4. Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me)
5. Talisa Soto (License to Kill)


VII. My Top Five Bond Theme Songs

1. Goldfinger
2. Live and Let Die
3. Goldfinger
4. Skyfall
5. GoldenEye

VIII. My Ideas for Future Bond Movies

1. Make a movie in which Bond does NOT go to the U.K., the U.S., or the Bahamas.  Maybe put him somewhere unusual, like Turkmenistan, and keep him there for the entire duration of the movie.

2. Make a movie in which the Bond girl is the villain, and not just the villain's henchman or victim.  A woman who uses his sex addiction against him would be a nice touch.

3. Make a period film, or a film that takes place in several time periods, perhaps involving a secondary character who knows or is known to Bond.  Litter this film with trivia concerning previous films.

4. Hire Idris Elba as the next 007 whenever Daniel Craig decides he's had enough.

5. Make a more controversial Bond film.  Something that gets people riled up.  Having Russians, North Koreans, random terrorists, and rich people as the villains is a bit too convenient.  What about a Bond film set in Tibet?  Or Xinjiang?  Or Iraq?

6. CIA agent Felix Leiter appears in many of the Bond films.  What about a movie in which they were working against each other?  With their respective countries on opposite sides of an international dispute?

7. Make a movie in which Bollywood icon Sharukh Khan is the villain.  Of course given India's (long) history of film censorship, setting such a film in India would be a problem, but there might be ways to work around that.

8. For that matter, Laurence Fishburne would also be a great Bond villain.  Or maybe he could play the version of Felix Leiter discussed in #6 above.

Other Bond Entries:

Bond: The 1960s
Bond: The 1970s
Bond: The 1980s
Bond: The 1990s
Bond: 2002 to the Present

Bond: 2002 to the Present


Overview

Pierce Brosnan would make his last appearance as Bond in 2002's Die Another Day, and it would be four years before Daniel Craig starred in 2006's Casino Royale. 

From the beginning, there was controversy surrounding Craig as Bond.  Many people thought he wasn't handsome enough.  Others thought he lacked experience.  I think it's safe to say that he proved them all wrong, and his own series of Bond films has enjoyed both critical and commercial success.

And while I think that Brosnan was better as Bond, it is two of Craig's movies - Skyfall and Casino Royale - that are my favorites.  When all is said and done, there is a tortured aspect to Craig's Bond that really sets those two movies apart.

The remaining Bond movies are: Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2009), Skyfall (2012), and the newest entry, Spectre (2015).


High Points

Which is better, Casino Royale or Skyfall?  I'd have to pick Skyfall.  Javier Bardem's performance is astonishing, and I love the way most of the action devolves back toward M, not Bond.  It creates a sense of suspense that the other 007 films lack.

Not that Casino Royale is a bad movie.  The plot is excellent, the villain is great, and the stakes are very high.  More than anything, there is a freshness to that film that very few other films in the series can match.  That chase scene in Madagascar is like seeing Sean Connery first appear in Dr. No, all over again.

Spectre has problems, but the opening scene in Mexico City is EPIC, and Cristoph Waltz was almost a good villain.  I only wish his character had been written better, and that his character's connection to Bond was less tenuous.


Low Points

Die Another Day is Bond at his silliest.  The first half of this movie is actually pretty good, but by the time the ice hotel is melting and the satellite is burning through the demilitarized zone it has left reality far, far behind.  I'd be hard pressed to say which movie is sillier, this one or Moonraker, but if Moonraker is Star Wars, Die Another Day is Ghost in the Shell.

Quantum of Solace is much better than Die Another Day, but it was still a letdown after the excellent Casino Royale.  Like Brosnan's Tomorrow Never Dies, it retreats back into formula.

I found Spectre a disappointing film.  But perhaps that sense of disappointment is/was partly my fault.  Skyfall was such an amazing movie, and there was no conceivable way they were going to top that.


Theme Songs

Is that Madonna singing the theme to Die Another Day?  Why yes it is, but her voice is so heavily treated that you probably won't notice at first.  She also turns up in the movie itself.

If, sometime in the 90s, you had told me that Chris Cornell would be singing the theme to Bond film, I probably would have thought you were crazy.  Nevertheless, he did sing the theme to Casino Royale, and the results are... underwhelming.  Perhaps it would have been better with more guitar?

Jack White and Alicia Keys' theme for Quantum of Solace is forgettable.

Adele's turn on Skyfall is one of the best Bond themes ever.  I had that playing in my car for months.

Sam Smith sings the theme to Spectre.  It's not great, but it's not bad.  Who is Sam Smith anyway?  I have no idea.

Eva Green

Bond Girls

Halle Berry plays Jinx, an NSA agent who assists Bond in Die Another Day.  She may have won the Academy Award around that time, but she isn't very good in Die Another Day.

Eva Green.  Damn that woman is fine.  I guess the other woman in Casino Royale is also fine, but in the presence of Eva Green I am unable to remember her.  I love that scene where she psychoanalyzes Bond on the train. 

Olga Kurylenko is one of the most memorable things about Quantum of Solace.  Her character in that film is more interesting than James Bond.

None of the women in Skyfall did anything for me, but that movie is so good it doesn't matter.

Spectre is the one case where I was excited about the Bond girl before I saw the movie.  I have been a fan of Monica Bellucci for a long, long time.  Unfortunately she was wasted on that film.


Where Does Bond Go?

Starting with Casino Royale and ending with Spectre, Bond goes from Madagascar, to London, to the Bahamas, to the USA, to the Bahamas (again), to Montenegro, to Italy, to London (again), to Austria, to Italy (again), to Bolivia, to Russia, to Turkey, to London (again), to Shanghai, to Macau, to London (again), to Scotland, to London (again), to Mexico City, to London (again), to Italy (again), to Austria (again), to Morocco, and back to London (again).

..and I have omitted Bond's travels in Die Another Day from the above list.  Why?  Because Casino Royale rebooted the franchise.

You know, if you removed the U.K., the U.S.A., and the Bahamas from Bond's travels, he hasn't been to all that many countries!

And in Conclusion... 

It's here!  Read on in Bond: The Conclusion! 

Other Bond Entries:

Bond: The 1960s
Bond: The 1970s
Bond: The 1980s
Bond: The 1990s
Bond: The Conclusion!

2015年12月14日 星期一

Bond: The 1990s


Overview

It would be six years between 1989's License to Kill and 1995's GoldenEye.  

Why so long?  Lack of financial success was one factor, as License to Kill was the least profitable Bond film (in the U.S.) up to that point.  A lawsuit was another factor.  Both factors kept production on the anticipated seventeenth (Eon) Bond film stalled for years.

Due to the late start of production on Goldeneye, there would be only three Bond films in the 1990s, with a fourth Brosnan film, Die Another Day, appearing in 2002.  The 90s Brosnan films are: GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and The World is Not Enough (1999).

Not-So-Fun Fact I: Pierce Brosnan's wife appeared with Roger Moore as "the Countess" in For Your Eyes Only.  She died not long after.


High Points

Pierce Brosnan was a great Bond.  He was, in my opinion, the first fully-formed Bond, whereas previous incarnations only showed us different aspects of the same character.  Before Brosnan, we had Bond the Killer, Bond the Sportsman, Bond the Lover, and Bond the Action Hero.  After Brosnan, we had the complete Bond - the Bond pieced together from previous interpretations.  I still think that Brosnan is/was the best Bond, and that Daniel Craig's subsequent, if interesting, interpretation is not the most fully realized adaptation of that character.

Brosnan's first Bond film, GoldenEye, is a great movie, and compares favorably to any of the films that came before or after it.  And it's not just a good Bond movie - it's also a good action movie.  In this sense it resembles Timothy Dalton's best film, The Living Daylights.

It should be noted that director Martin Campbell, who directed 2006's Casino Royale, also directed GoldenEye.  It is also the first appearance of Judi Dench as M, and she would play this character right up to 2012's Skyfall.  Many of the more "realistic" elements that Casino Royale gets credit for appear in GoldenEye, including the more psychologically astute approach to Bond.

The sequel to GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, is a step backward.  It retreats into formula, the villain and his villainy are less than plausible, and there is little chemistry between Brosnan and costar Michelle Yeoh.  It's not a terrible movie, but it's not nearly as good as GoldenEye.

The third Bond film of the 90s, 1999's The World is Not Enough, is not bad, but definitely not great.  Robert Carlyle's Renard is an excellent villain, though this film drags toward the end, and one begins to wonder what the bad guys are really doing, and why. 

Fun Fact II: Sean Bean, of Game of Thrones fame, costars as Agent 008 in GoldenEye.

Fun Fact III: Michelle Yeoh would go on to star in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon two years after Tomorrow Never Dies.


Low Points

The biggest mystery about Tomorrow Never Dies is the villain's motivation.  Yes, I get that he's some kind of media mogul along the lines of Ted Turner, but why go to such lengths for headlines?  Or for broadcast rights in Mainland China?  Aren't most newspaper headlines hyperbole anyway?  And what does it matter if they're true?

And that "terrorist bazaar" Bond investigates at the beginning of Tomorrow Never Dies?  Ridiculous.

As stated above, Michelle Yeoh and Pierce Brosnan don't have much onscreen chemistry, though that scene in the Vietnamese safe house was a nice touch.

Yet even Michelle Yeoh's character looks believable next to Christmas Jones, the nuclear scientist played by Denise Richards (and her gigantic breasts) halfway through The World is Not Enough.  The scene where she first emerges from her containment suit had me giggling, and it only gets worse from there.  Putting her in the same scene with Sophie Marceau is just adding insult to injury. 

Fun Fact IV: Tomorrow Never Dies is actually the second time Bond traveled Vietnam by junk.  He also did so in The Man with the Golden Gun, though in that film he is supposed to be in China.

Denise Richards

Theme Songs

Of the three films, the only good theme song is GoldenEye, sung by Tina Turner and written by 2 of the guys from U2.  Sheryl Crow's theme song might be the worst ever, and Garbage's theme to The World is Not Enough is, well, garbage.


Sophie Marceau

Bond Girls

There are two Bond girls in GoldenEye - Xenia Onatopp and the Russian computer programmer.  The former is one of the best Bond girls in the series, and the latter has some good lines toward the end of that movie.  You gotta love a woman who uses her thighs to squeeze men to death.

Teri Hatcher is good in the beginning of Tomorrow Never Dies, though she exits early and she's basically another damsel in distress.  Michelle Yeoh has been discussed above.

The Bond girls seen in The World is Not Enough are both very beautiful, though one wonders how much of Denise Richard's beauty is the product of cosmetic surgery.  Sophie Marceau gets my vote as the most beautiful Bond girl of this era, and her character is one of the more interesting characters in that film. 

Fun Fact V: GoldenEye was also the name of author Ian Fleming's estate in Jamaica.  Fleming named the estate after an operation from his days in the diplomatic service.

Fun Fact VI: Joe Don Baker, who appears as Bond's CIA contact in these movies, appeared in the earlier Living Daylights as an arms dealer that Bond eventually kills. 


Where Does Bond Go?

Starting with GoldenEye and ending with The World is Not Enough, Bond goes from Russia, to Monte Carlo, to Russia (again), to London, to Russia (again), to Cuba, to Russia (again), to Germany, to Vietnam, to Spain, to London (again), to Azerbaijan, to Kazakhstan, to Azerbaijan (again), and to Turkey.


And in Conclusion... 

No conclusion yet!  But I'm getting there...

Other Bond Entries:

Bond: The 1960s
Bond: The 1970s
Bond: The 1980s
Bond: 2002 to the Present
Bond: The Conclusion!

2015年12月11日 星期五

Bond: The 1980s


Overview

The 1980s were the decade in which Bond wore out his welcome.  The advancing age of two of the actors that played him was a factor, as was the fact that the series was becoming - in many respects - increasingly formulaic and stale.  Actor Timothy Dalton would bring a breath of fresh air to the series at the close of the decade, but his tenure would be short, and the "right direction" for the franchise would remain uncertain. 

The films of this decade are, in order: For Your Eyes Only (1981), Never Say Never Again (1983, with Sean Connery), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985, Roger Moore's last), The Living Daylights (1987, Timothy Dalton's first), and License to Kill (1989, Timothy Dalton's last).



High Points

For Your Eyes Only is a surprisingly good movie, and more closely resembles the earlier Bond films.  It is a lot more "realistic" in tone, and the characters are less cartoonish.

Sean Connery's brief return in Never Say Never Again - itself a remake of his earlier Thunderball - is refreshing.  Though 52 at the time of filming, he exudes a virility that Roger Moore always lacked, and the new cast members bring a lot to the movie.  It also has a great villain. 

The Living Daylights is a vast improvement over the previous film, A View to a Kill, even though it's not without its flaws.  It features a lot of great stunts, and it's definitely the best-plotted film in the series up to that point.  The characters make sense, the villain is engaging (if nonthreatening), and it compares favorably to other action films of that era.

License to Kill is NOT a very good movie, but Robert Davi is one of the better Bond villains.  The chase sequence at the end is also pretty good.

Fun Fact I: Afghans and their fight against Russian occupation would also feature prominently in Rambo: First Blood Part III, which would be released the year after The Living Daylights.

Fun Fact II: Benicio del Toro plays one of Sanchez's henchmen in License to Kill. 


Low Points

The plot to Octopussy is a mess - even compared to other Bond films.  Maud Adams, despite having a larger role in this film, has little to do and less of consequence to say.  Some of the puns in this film are painful, and even Roger Moore looks bored with it.

Fun Fact III: the guy who plays the evil Soviet general in Octopussy would go on to play the evil Soviet general in Rambo: First Blood Part II! 

Fun Fact IV: Roger Moore didn't want to appear in this movie, and James Brolin and Timothy Dalton were considered for the role.  It was only at the producers' insistence that Moore eventually took the job.  He was seen as the only viable alternative to Connery's Bond, (re)appearing that same year. 

Much is made of the "eye job" Roger Moore got before A View to a Kill, but it doesn't look that bad.  The real problem with this movie - like Octopussy before it - is the plot.  Can anyone, for example, tell me why he investigates the stud farm?  Or why he inspects the oil rig?  Or why the hell Christopher Walken's character wants to blow up Silicon Valley?  Yes, there are reasons for these things, but the chain of events is hard to follow, and Bond's reasons for doing certain things is less than obvious.  Even compared to Octopussy this film is a mess.

Fun Fact V: If you squint your eyes real hard, you can see Dolph Lundgren near the beginning of this movie.

Fun Fact VI: David Bowie almost signed on to play the villain!  Ziggy Stardust would have made a great Bond villain! 

The Living Daylights presents another set of problems, even though this film is much better than Octopussy or A View to a Kill.  The trouble with The Living Daylights is that Timothy Dalton's Bond is unconvincing.  He seems too soft-hearted, and he lacks the womanizing aspect that makes Bond Bond.  The villain in this movie is also forgettable, even if he's a more interesting character.

Fun Fact VII: Sam Neill, of Jurassic Park fame, was almost cast as Bond for The Living Daylights.  Pierce Brosnan could have also played Bond in this movie, but his role in the TV show Remington Steele was a problem for the movie's producers. 

This trend continued in License to Kill.  In this movie Dalton's Bond is even less Bondlike, and is definitely the most asexual 007 ever.  The editing in this movie is also terrible, and the beginning feels like the end.  There are moments in the last half hour where it actually does feel like a Bond movie, but the rest of it resembles any other generic action film from the late 80s.


Theme Songs

The only strange thing about For Your Eyes Only is the soundtrack.  It starts off contemporary with a song by Sheena Easton, but the rest of the music was regurgitated from the deepest, darkest part of the 70s.  Not sure what was going on there.

The theme from Never Say Never Again is guaranteed to remain stuck in your head for the remainder of your life.  It cannot be unheard.

The theme song from Octopussy, like the movie, is entirely forgettable. 

Many children of the 80s will remember Duran Duran's theme song to View to a Kill.  You might think you haven't heard it, but believe me, it'll come back to you.  The title sequence for this song is one of the worst ever. 

Norwegian pop band A-ha did the theme for The Living Daylights.  It's catchy song, though the orchestrated versions that appear later in the soundtrack grow annoying. 

They went in a more R&B direction for License to Kill.  I can't say it worked all that well.


Bond Girls

The actress that plays Melina in For Your Eyes Only is very beautiful, but she doesn't have any chemistry with Roger Moore.

Barbara Carrera is fantastic in Never Say Never Again, and she gets my vote for best Bond girl ever.  She's wonderful - right down to that ridiculous outfit she's wearing near the end.  Kim Basinger also makes an early appearance in this movie, and she puts the earlier version of Domino to shame.

As beautiful as Maud Adams is in Octopussy, that movie makes me feel sorry for her.  She was better served by her smaller part in the Man with the Golden Gun.   I would also agree with her that naming her character "Octopussy" was a step too far.  That kind of thing might have flown in the 60s, but in 1983 it just sounded ridiculous.

Grace Jones is the most memorable Bond girl from A View to a Kill.  Tanya Roberts, who later appears as Bond's main love interest, is very beautiful, but she spends a lot of the movie screaming and making a general nuisance of herself.

Maryam d'Abo, who appears as Bond's only (!) love interest in The Living Daylights, is - in my opinion - too damn thin to be attractive.  She looks about 12 years old. 

Talisa Soto, who appears in License to Kill, is extremely beautiful.  If Barbara Carrera wasn't so much more interesting in Never Say Never Again, I'd say she was the best Bond girl of the 80s.

Fun Fact IX: Talisa Soto would go on to star in Vampirella, a direct-to-video movie based on the comic book series of the same name.


Where Does Bond Go?

Starting with For Your Eyes Only and ending with License to Kill, Bond goes from London to Italy, to Albania, to Greece, to London (again), to India, to West Germany, to East Germany, to West Germany (again), to India (again), to Siberia, to London (again?  or is that supposed to be in France?), to France, to the USA, to Czechoslovakia, to Austria, to London, to Morocco, to Austria (again), to Morocco (again), to Afghanistan, to Morocco (again), to London (again), to the USA, to the Bahamas, to "the Republic of Isthmus" (I think it was supposed to be Panama).

As Never Say Never Again is a "non-Eon" film, I have omitted his travels in that movie from the above list.

Fun Fact X: Most of the underwater scenes in For Your Eyes Only were actually shot in the Bahamas, not Greece!


And in Conclusion... 

No conclusion yet!  On to the 90s! 

Other Bond entries:

Bond: The 1960s
Bond: The 1970s
Bond: The 1990s
Bond: 2002 to the Present
Bond: The Conclusion!

2015年12月7日 星期一

"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe (1959)


"Okonkwo was beginning to feel like his old self again.  All that he required was something to occupy his mind.  If he had killed Ikemefuna during the busy planting season or harvesting it would not have been so bad; his mind would have been centered on his work.  Okonkwo was not a man of thought but of action.  But in absence of work, talking was the next best." 

Chinhua Achebe grew up in Nigeria, and later moved to America, where he taught in several universities.  This novel is considered his best, and it is also" the most widely read book" in African Literature.

Things Fall Apart is the story of a small village near the Lower Niger River.  In this village Okonkwo, the novel's protagonist, has risen from poor circumstances to become one of the leaders of his tribe.  He dreams of ascending to the highest rank his people can offer, but a series of personal tragedies, and the arrival of white missionaries, thwart many of his designs.

It's a short book, and up until the arrival of the white men it resembles a folktale.  I thought it was good, though it lacks more descriptive passages that would have made the story more vivid.  Not having grown up in a Nigerian village, I began to wonder what the characters looked like, what their surroundings contained, or how one place differed from another.  In the presence of such details the novel would have moved much slower, but for those of us who grew up in distant, more Western places they would have helped.

It's a good novel, but I found myself wanting something more substantial.  Perhaps this substance I'm looking for can be found in Achebe's other books?

2015年12月4日 星期五

Bond: The 1970s


Overview

Sean Connery did his last Bond film for Eon Productions in 1971.  After his departure it was Roger Moore's turn to play Bond, and he would serve in this capacity until the mid 1980s.  Sean Connery would do a remake of Thunderball in 1983 (Never Say Never Again), but this was done in conjunction with another studio.

Roger Moore's Bond films lean more heavily toward Bond the Lover, and Moore's Bond is more of an English country gentleman.  The 70s Bond films were also working toward more of a formula, and are at times even more cartoonish than Connery's Bond films.  They are Bond films that don't take themselves so seriously, and I think this is an approach that worked well at times.

Sean Connery starred in 1971's Diamonds are Forever.  After this film, Moore appeared in Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979).


High Points

The Las Vegas car chase in Diamonds are Forever is pretty cool, as are the muscle cars on display in that movie.  It was also good to see Blofeld again, especially after the way he was (mis)handled in both You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd were great villains, though the ways in which they try to dispose of Bond are a bit too convoluted.

Live and Let Die is probably Roger Moore at his best.  This movie also features Yaphet Kotto as his nemesis Kananga, and Jane Seymour as the voodoo priestess Solitaire.  Kananga was a great Bond villain, and Jane Seymour was both one of the more interesting and one of the more beautiful Bond girls.

The Man with the Golden Gun gets very silly, but Christopher Lee is good as the villain, and this movie also features two of the most beautiful Bond girls, Maud Adams and Britt Ekland.  The locations in this movie were a lot closer to my heart, with Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, and Vietnam featuring prominently in the film.

Jaws, one of Bond's more memorable adversaries, makes his first appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me.  He would also appear in the following film, Moonraker.  Actor Richard Kiel, who played Jaws, was 7 feet 1.5 inches tall. 

Moonraker scores points for being the weirdest 007 movie ever.  Bond has never been further removed from reality - and it kind of works.  This movie was made shortly after the first Star Wars, and the elements Moonraker borrowed from that film are painfully obvious.  I'm only sorry Bond wasn't given a lightsaber.


Low Points

The casino owner in Diamonds are Forever is annoying, and Plenty O'Toole is a throwaway character if there ever was one.  It's as if she was only put in the movie just to say her own name.

Kananga's thug has a claw instead of a hand.  This claw is the fakest-looking thing that anyone ever put into any Bond movie.

Britt Ekland's character in Man with the Golden Gun is also annoying, and one wonders how someone so accident-prone could have ever found employment in the British Secret Service.  Sure, she looks fantastic in a bikini, but she serves no purpose in that movie.  

...and that scene where Bond bangs Maud Adams for two hours while Britt Ekland is in the closet!  Cold blooded - even for Bond! 

Watching 007 slap women around is also hard to watch.  He slaps Maud Adams around in The Man with the Golden Gun, and this is especially unnecessary because of a plot twist I won't give away here.  Barbara Bach, who starred with Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me, has described the character as "a sexist pig."

In addition, I found myself feeling increasingly sorry for Ms. Moneypenny.  Come on, woman!  Respect yourself a little more!  Why waste time fawning over Bond, when he's clearly not interested?


Theme Songs

Shirley Bassey returned to Bond with the theme song for Diamonds are Forever, and while it's not as good as Goldfinger, it's still good.  Ditto for her Moonraker theme.  Live and Let Die, performed by Paul McCartney and Wings, is one of the all-time classic Bond theme songs.

On the negative side, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of the most annoying theme songs ever written, and singer Lulu, who was a hot property at the time, was wasted on it.  Likewise for The Spy Who Loved Me's "Nobody Does It Better."

Britt Ekland

Bond Girls

Let us not forget this was the era of Playboy and porno chic.  Many of the women in these films can be found nude or semi-nude elsewhere, and the Bond movies tended to be a lot more revealing with regard to their figures.  The sex in these films is a lot more obvious, though still a far cry from more adult-oriented fare.

None of the women in Diamonds are Forever did anything for me.  Jane Seymour however, who appears in Live and Let Die, is stunning.  Maybe the finest Bond girl ever.  Britt Ekland and Maud Adams were also very beautiful, and Barbara Bach is breathtaking.  I think what makes Barbara Bach even more attractive is that her character is more interesting, and she's one of the driving forces within the plot.

The women in Moonraker didn't do much for me, though Bond's contact in Brazil is pretty hot.  It's worth noting that Jaws' girlfriend in this movie later appeared in The Story of O, an extremely graphic film featuring Udo Kier.



Where Does Bond Go?

Starting with Diamonds are Forever and ending with Moonraker, Bond goes to a secret base, to Holland, to the USA, to London, to the USA (again), to Jamaica, to the USA (again), to London, to Lebanon, to Macau, to Hong Kong, to Thailand, to China (actually Vietnam), to London, to Austria, to Egypt, to Italy, to England, to the USA (actually France), to Italy, to Brazil, to (inexplicably) Guatemala, to space, and then back to Earth.

Starting to notice a pattern here?  Almost every movie features locations in both the U.K. and the United States, with a third, "exotic" location thrown in for good measure.  I'm thinking the people and studios that funded these films had a lot to do with the locations they chose.

Barbara Bach

And in Conclusion... 

Again, I have no conclusion!  On to the 80s! 

Other Bond entries:

Bond: The 1960s
Bond: The 1980s
Bond: The 1990s
Bond: 2002 to the Present
Bond: The Conclusion!
 

2015年12月3日 星期四

Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin (2010)


The author of this blog, driven to the brink of insanity by his consumerist, antisocial, ecologically unfriendly lifestyle, interviews himself about Duane Elgin's book Voluntary Simplicity.

A1: So what's this book about?

A2: Voluntary simplicity.

A1: Uh... yeah I know that.  It is the title, after all.  But what is voluntary simplicity?

A2: It's like, making your life simpler and stuff.

A1: OK, but can you elaborate on that?

A2: What's "elaborate"?

A1: Can you tell me more?

A2: Well, it's like our planet is all messed up and stuff, because some people are poor and other people are rich, and we're, like, going to run out of oil soon, and the environment's, like, got all these problems, and stuff like that.

A1: Got ya, but where does voluntary simplicity come into the picture?

A2: What picture?

A1: I mean, what does voluntary simplicity have to do with the degradation of our environment and worldwide income disparities?

A2: Huh?

A1: What does voluntary simplicity have to do with the planet being, like, all messed up and stuff?

A2: Oh, OK.  Well if we just lived simpler then the world would get better.

A1: Understood.  And how does the book suggest we go about living more simply?

A2: I doesn't suggest anything, man.

A1: What?

A2: That's like, you know, everyone's journey man.  I can't tell you how to live simply, and you can't tell me how to live simply.  So we just have to, like, discover that for ourselves!

A1: OK, but it's kind of a long book...

A2: Yeah, but that's it man.

A1: Really?  That's all the book says?  That the world is messed up and we have to live a simpler life?

A2: Yeah.

A1: And it took the author almost 200 pages to say that?

A2: Yeah, man.  I know, right?  Changed my life for sure!

2015年12月2日 星期三

Bond: The 1960s


Yes, I've seen Spectre, and no, it wasn't very good.

Oh well.  They can't all be winners, can they?  And Spectre wasn't the worst Bond film ever.  I wouldn't even put it in the bottom three.  It might have gone a long way towards ruining some of the "realism" seen in earlier Craig movies, but Bond has been done much worse.

After sitting through Spectre, I began wondering whether or not I had seen all of the Bond films before it, and if in the absence of one or two of those films I might have missed some of the Easter eggs.  Spectre references many other films in the series, and I thought seeing the older films might reveal some of the trivia I didn't catch in the theater.

So I got my hands on Dr. No, and I've been working my way forward from there.  At the time of writing, I'm midway into the Roger Moore-era Bond, and by next week I should have arrived at Timothy Dalton.


Overview

The first Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1962.  In it, Sean Connery makes his first appearance as James Bond, a character he would go on to define throughout the 60s.  His portrayal was so powerful, in fact, that author Ian Fleming would later add elements of the cinematic Bond to his original literary creation.

After Dr. No, the films of the 60s are: From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), and On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969).  One of the two "non-Eon" films also appeared during this era, 1967's Casino Royale.


High Points

All of the movies from this era are entertaining to some degree.  I'd pick Goldfinger as the best Bond film from this time, and it remains one of the best Bond films ever.  It has the most interesting villain, Connery is excellent, and it has one of the most memorable conclusions.  It also has the best theme song.

Dr. No, Thunderball, and From Russia with Love aren't bad, but they suffer from some pacing issues and less-than-credible plot twists (even for Bond movies).  You Only Live Twice is silly enough to be interesting, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service - despite its obvious flaws - has one of the best plots of any Bond movie ever.


Low Points

I'm not sure where to begin with 1967's Casino Royale.  It's something of a send-up of the Bond films, and in it David Niven plays an aging Bond.  It goes out of its way to be ZANY, and it makes almost no sense at all.  In its defense, however, a lot of the women in it are extremely hot, and a couple of the jokes were actually amusing.

Thunderball is, in my opinion, the most boring of Connery's Bond movies, though it gets better toward the end.

You Only Live Twice is a mess, but it's a glorious mess.  The plot makes little sense, and many of the story points seem entirely arbitrary.  In a way this adds to the charm of the movie, and the actress who plays Aki is also very sexy.

Many people look down on Australian George Lazenby's only appearance as Bond - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - but I think he was OK as 007.  He would have gotten better if he'd done another film.  

The ending to that movie though!  He gets married, then his wife is shot in front of him, then he sits in his car, crying over her corpse!  I can only imagine that they wanted to end the series altogether at that point, but later changed their minds and decided that killing his new bride was the only way to keep the films going.  Completely depressing, but the rest of the movie is pretty good.


Theme Songs

I've had "Goldfinger" in my head for days.  "Thunderball" is a surprisingly lame offering from Tom Jones.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service doesn't have a theme song, but the theme music is my favorite of all the Bond movies.  Majestic and brooding - it's great!

Is there a theme song to Casino Royale?  I may have repressed the memory.


Bond Girls

What is a Bond girl, exactly?  For those less familiar with the 007 movies, a Bond girl is any sexy and/or interesting and/or important female character in a James Bond movie.  Really.  I'm not making that up.  So using this definition, even "M" from Daniel Craig's Casino Royale and the original Moneypenny could be classified as Bond girls.  In Moneypenny's case, it's not to much of a stretch... but in (Dame) Judi Dench's?

Anyway, the most famous Bond girls of the 1960s were probably Ursula Andress, by some accounts the first Bond girl ever, and Honor Blackman, who starred as the oft-mentioned Pussy Galore.  In my opinion, the hottest Bond girls are Aki (Akiko Wabayashi) from You Only Live Twice, and Teresa de Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

But of course describing anyone as "the hottest" is a purely subjective business, and if Ms. Moneypenny's your thing, that's cool too.  The actress that played her in 1967's Casino Royale was, by the way, very beautiful.


Where Does Bond Go?

Well, starting with Dr. No, Bond and ending with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he goes from England, to Jamaica, to England, to Turkey, to Croatia, to Italy, to somewhere in Latin America, to the USA, to London, to Switzerland, to the USA (again), to France, to London, to the Bahamas, to the USA, to Hong Kong, to Japan, to Portugal, to London, to Portugal (again), to Switzerland, and then to London.  And I'm probably forgetting a couple places.


   
Highlights of the 60s Bond

1. The scene in Dr. No when Sean Connery first appears.

2. The heist at the end of Goldfinger.

3. The scuba fight at the end of Thunderball.

4. That whole weird sequence where Bond becomes a) a ninja, and then b) Japanese (!) in You Only Live Twice.

5. The ski chase which follows the car chase in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

   
And in Conclusion...

Conclusion?  I don't have one!  It's back to the grindstone for me.  Almost through the 1970s Bond movies.  Let you know when I get there...


Other Bond entries:

Bond: The 1970s
Bond: The 1980s
Bond: The 1990s
Bond: 2002 to the Present
Bond: The Conclusion!