A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

James Bond: Goldfinger

September 4, 2011

James Bond: Goldfinger

Tonight we’re continuing Amanda’s James Bond education with the movie that is pretty widely accepted to be the best Bond movie, at least before they began playing with the formula on the last couple. I really felt that this needed to be in our collection if we were going to be exploring older Bond films because it is the quintessential Bond flick. It has the gadgets, the cool car, the mad plot, the babes, the bad puns. There were two films before this one in the franchise, but it wasn’t until this one that everything that you expect in a James Bond film truly came together. This movie established the formula not just for the whole James Bond franchise but for some of the knock-off films that came out around the same time. (For example the two MST3K films Secret Agent Super Dragon and Danger! Death Ray.)

This was one of the classic Sean Connery James Bonds, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him at work. Where his successor Roger Moore, who we watched a couple days ago in A View to a Kill, was cheesy and corny Sean Connery was much more suave. He simply projects machismo, from the moment he takes off his wetsuit in the prologue to reveal his white tuxedo jacket to his banter with the nefarious Goldfinger.

In this film James Bond, suave super-secret super-spy must find out how a madman named Auric (get it?) Goldfinger has been smuggling gold around Europe and devaluing the UK currency. Ultimately of course it turns out that Goldfinger’s plan goes far beyond mere smuggling – he intends to break into Fort Knox and using a dirty nuclear weapon to irradiate the American gold reserves, rendering it un-usable and thus raising the value of his own supply. Along the way Bond naturally sleeps with every woman he encounters and gets to use his usual collection of cool gadgets and toys.

One thing I can’t help noticing about Bond in this movie however is that he’s a bit of a dick. I expect all the womanising – hell that’s part of his charm – but he also spends a lot of time needlessly antagonising Goldfinger. His method of investigation seems to be to go piss off his subject as much as he can for no apparent reason. If he hadn’t messed with Goldfinger’s gin rummy game then the alluring Jill Masterson wouldn’t have been gilded. Then Bond challenges Goldfinger to a golf game and sneakily switches balls to prevent him from winning. Why does Bond go out of his way to antagonise Goldfinger at every turn? I honestly couldn’t say.

I do enjoy his car here though. The other gadget he gets from Q is his high-tech magnetic tracking device which probably seemed high-tech in the sixties but in the day of modern smart phones with GPS seems outrageously dated. His awesome silver Aston Martin on the other hand is as cool today as it ever was. It’s so full of cool tech! It has the rotating license plates, ejector seat, smole screen, oil slick, machine-gun headlights, spinning blades on the hubcaps and bulletproof windows. (All of which have been confirmed effective by Mythbusters, the authority on spy veracity by the way.) When I was in high school my best friend Jeff had a die-cast model of this car with spring loaded missiles, windcreen and ejector seat, which is proof that even in the eighties this car still had appeal to teenaged boys. I suspect that holds true to this very day.

As to the womanising, well, that’s a mixed bag. The first woman Bond hooks up with, a flamenco dancer, betrays him. Then he woos a pair of attractive sisters, each of whom is killed. Finally he aggressively “seduces” the very independent Pussy Galore who insists for most of the movie that she’s immune to his charms. Yes, she does eventually succumb and ultimately betrays her employer because Bond is just that good a roll in the hay, but the means by which he overcomes her reticence are a little too direct for modern audiences. Indeed I have to wonder if the scene where he forces himself on her seemed appropriate even in the sixties. And I had so been looking forward to seeing Honor Blackman of Avengers fame in the role of Pussy. Different times, I suppose.

It must have been interesting for Amanda watching this for the first time tonight. So much of this movie is so firmly entrenched in the modern pop culture lexicon. This movie is lampooned in everything from Austin Powers to the Simpsons. In Austin Powers when Random Task throws his shoe is it as funny if you haven’t seen Odd Job throwing his deadly hat in this movie? I’m guessing that Amanda was well aware of the scene where Bond is strapped to a table with a laser menacing his crotch but she had never seen it in context as part of the movie. Now at last she’s seen the film and she can understand just what the fuss is all about. I think with the four Bond films she has now seen she has a pretty good idea just what the whole character is about down through the years. There’s no need for us to collect all twenty of them I think.

September 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 551 – James Bond: A View to a Kill

placeholderJames Bond: A View to a Kill – September 2nd, 2011

After we watched the two newest James Bond movies we decided we might as well get a couple of others. One Connery for the early stuff, one Moore for the later stuff, and that would do us just fine. Andy picked out what to buy, since I had no real preferences whatsoever. He bought this and Goldfinger. Now, I’ll get to Goldfinger eventually when we watch it, but we decided to do this first. And looking at the cast? I can totally see why Andy picked it. This is a cast that immediately sent me into paroxysms of joy. Who gives a crap about the plot? This movie has the stunning combination of Christopher Walken, Grace Jones and Patrick Macnee. It’s like it was tailor made to put a smile on my face.

Granted, the plot is ridiculous and there’s a lot of shooting and exploding and whatnot. And Walken and Jones are the villains and Macnee is doomed (what with being an associate of Bond, whom I still say is a Typhoid Mary), but it doesn’t matter. Not to me anyhow. It filled me with glee to see these people on the screen together. I don’t give a damn if they got along or not (apparently Moore and Jones barely spoke off screen). I just can’t help but be happy that they were there. And I genuinely can’t decide whether I’m disappointed or not that Walken was given the part of the villain because they couldn’t get David Bowie. Because I love Walken, but I love Bowie too. Like I said: Tailor made for my interests.

But enough about my obsession over the cast. For now. Let’s talk plot. It’s overblown and ridiculous, as one might expect. I wasn’t really surprised by that much. I mean, it’s James Bond, and I started out watching the newest one, in which a secret cartel is planning on hijacking an entire country’s water supply and then causing a drought. Overblown and ridiculous is not a problem here. And I’ve seen plenty of parodies and rip-offs. Movies that rely on the tropes and traditions the Bond series has put in place. I expect there to be super villains. I expect there to be big grand plans to ruin economies and steal trillions and poison cities and hold things for ransoms. The plot of this one involves villain Max Zorin planning on destroying Silicon Valley to get a monopoly on the manufacture of microchips. It is so beautifully 80s, I can barely stand it.

Zorin himself is a wonderfully over the top villain and I hope Christopher Walken had fun playing him. He’s a product of a former Nazi scientist’s medical experiments in the Soviet Union, a genius and a psychopath who was trained by the KGB. And now he has a palatial estate and races doped up horses and entertains wealthy guests and flies private jets and so on and so forth. That’s just the sort of guy he is. He’s a villain. There’s no mistaking it. And he has a sidekick, the sinister and oft-hooded May Day, played by Grace Jones. And okay, I’m going to digress again into cast talk, but I do so love seeing Walken and Jones as villains together. It’s a marvelous thing.

So, Bond looks into a dodgy horse race, gets himself invited to Zorin’s estate for a horse auction, snoops around, gets his pal Tibbett to snoop around, gets Tibbett killed, finds how Zorin is getting his less-than-perfect horse to win races, and then he goes to California. I do mourn the loss of Tibbett, who was played by Patrick Macnee. He’s actually Sir Godfrey Tibbett, and I sort of envision him as John Steed’s slightly less badass cousin. He poses as Bond’s driver and valet while they’re at Zorin’s and does a bunch of investigating for him (being less visible because he’s posing as a servant, not a gajillionaire) and he does quite well, really. He doesn’t get killed because he’s bumbling or anything. We’re not talking Upper Class Twit territory here. We’re talking about a guy who helped Bond out and when Bond said “Take the car into town” he did so, with May Day hiding in the back seat. Alas, poor Tibbett.

As super spy action movies go, overall this one is pretty standard, I suppose. Apparently Moore was of the opinion that there was too much shooting and exploding and whatnot, and I can see his point if he was more on the side of the spy stuff than the action stuff. At the same time, having seen some far more explosive action movies in my time, I can’t say I would have noted it otherwise. Maybe it’s an earlier Bond thing? I don’t know. I’m not really looking to go out and buy the entire Bond collection to find out and let’s face it: Quantum of Solace definitely did the explosion thing to a greater degree. Really, what I thought when I watched this movie was that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was a very period sort of action flick, but it didn’t stand out to me for anything other than the cast.

What did occur to me later on was the notion that Bond seems to be an interesting sort of display of the concerns of the time period. Bond’s been around for a good long while now, going through several decades. And by its nature as a spy franchise, depending on pitting its hero against international criminals whose actions would involve MI5, it will involve geopolitical issues. It’s not really all that surprising, therefore, if a plot here or there actually manages to reflect a true concern. They can’t all be gold-obsessed psychos bent on destroying Fort Knox. So even though this felt like an utterly ridiculous movie in many places, and the sheer volume of puns didn’t help there (though I admit they amuse me) it also feels like a reflection of its time. Which was the 80s. That plus the cast (and the theme song – I love Duran Duran) let me enjoy this movie, probably far more than most Bond aficionados do.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 548 – James Bond: Quantum of Solace

James Bond: Quantum of Solace – August 30th, 2011

Imagine my relief when we put this in and I realized that it was indeed picking up where Casino Royale left off. Andy had mentioned that he suspected that would be the case, but I wasn’t sure just how much would be carried over. Turns out the two are very closely connected, with some questions and issues from the first movie being answered and dealt with in the second. Alas, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but I will allow that an effort was made. I would also like to brag a little that I had this movie’s two plot twists nailed from exceedingly early on. These aren’t bad things, I’m just amused by them. Also, it helps that we’d recently watched Rango. And yes, that is relevant.

So we’re back with more Daniel Craig as James Bond, with more women and more car chases and more international conspiracies and more gun fights and more evil villains. More Bond, in other words. This time the plot is focused on the further machinations of the shadowy organization that was involved in Vesper Lynd’s death as well as an attempt on M’s life. They’re up to something and not just something small. They’re up to something big. Huge. Intricate. And, as they make plain by having M’s own personal agent try to kill her, they have people everywhere. The best part about this whole plot, and the part that really works for me on a “this is a super secret spy movie” level is that prior to the big reveal, no one in MI6 and likely none of the intelligence agencies across the globe knew that this shadowy organization even existed. Now that is a good conspiracy.

I’ve got a question about Bond: Does he normally have any angst? Because this Bond has a wee touch of it, which is expressed through his inability to leave anyone alive. In fact, his itchy trigger finger is a running theme throughout the movie. I have to hand it to the writers to set up a reason for Bond to kill everyone he encounters that doesn’t just amount to “That would make it too easy.” Because it would make it too easy. Who knows what sort of information Bond or MI6 would get out of the people he kills? And if he hadn’t killed them, M would have some proof that something was going on, which would make for less tension later in the movie. So of course he has to kill everyone and end up making it harder on himself. After all, he’s pissed off (and angsty). I don’t blame M for being ticked with him over it, but looking at it from outside the story, I’m both impressed at the whole question of whether he’s killing for revenge or just out of necessity and also a little skeptical, because really? James Bond is that angst-ridden over a woman? Right.

So Bond is off to find Vesper’s killer root out the source of this conspiracy, which takes him to places like Haiti and Austria and Bolivia, in that order. I guess there’s just a lot of travel in these movies. Which is cool. It fits the tone and all. But I can’t help but think of just how much time this is all taking. Trans-continental flights aren’t day trips, regardless of whether you have a private jet or not. Anyhow, most of the story takes place in Bolivia, where a shady supposed environmentalist named Greene (haha, get it?) is facilitating a government coup. Of course he has other aims than getting a new dictator in power, but they’re left unsaid for quite some time. This is what I was so pleased about figuring out and I will give the movie credit for it because it hints at it without saying it outright. Everything going on points to Greene and his secretive buddies trying to gain control of oil but it’s not oil that’s the resource at hand. There are clues to what’s going on, from the background dialogue of a cab driver to some otherwise unremarkable bits of landscape. And what I like most about it is that this plot isn’t as heavy-handed as it could have been. This isn’t a movie out to make a statement, but by not going out of its way to make a statement it ends up doing so far more effectively than if it had. Because it’s worked into the story and the plot is the important point. It doesn’t feel forced, so the danger feels real, so the non-message doesn’t make me roll my eyes. It’s also the sort of over-the-top manipulation that works for the world Bond inhabits.

So the story works for me, and Bond himself works, though I’m still giving the angst some serious side-eye. M is, as always, super fantastic, and Bond’s allies, Mathis and Felix, have some good moments even if they’re not present for a whole lot of the movie (I admit, I love Felix lots because he is so clearly Not Amused By Shenanigans). The villains are nice and villainous, and I do like that Greene is mostly a slimy bastard who never really gets involved in the action. All the best villains let their underlings get their hands dirty so the villains don’t have to. And that brings me to the ladies. There are two of consequence here: Fields and Camille. We meet Camille first, and she is every bit as kick-ass as I could want. Defiant and strong, with a touch of desperation that works for the character’s backstory. I like Camille. She brooks no shit from Bond or anyone else unless it suits her plans and she’s in a nice gray area for a while. Fields, alas, is more what I expect from a woman in a Bond movie. Pretty, decently capable but not kick-ass, generally perky in a not-necessarily-positive way, and ultimately doomed. Also? She falls for Bond at the drop of a hat. Were I in charge of training female agents who might ever come in contact with Bond, I believe I would devote at least a semester to lectures and workshops titled How To Avoid Sleeping With James Bond, Yes I Know He’s Suave, Really Though, Don’t Sleep With Him Because He Is a Typhoid Mary.

Fields aside, I was really rather pleased with this movie. My only remaining quibble with the movie is the handling of the loose lends left in Casino Royale. It’s not so much that there were loose ends as that I don’t feel that the holes I spotted were ever handled as holes. Yes, in this movie we do find out what happened to the boyfriend and we do get confirmation that Vesper was indeed duped. But we still don’t know what deal she made and whether she knew what the truth about the boyfriend was. And that’s never touched on. I guess I find it frustrating because I really liked Vesper. She was a good character and while Camille is certainly fantastic and I greatly enjoyed watching her in this movie, Vesper was clearly intended to be shown as a match for Bond. I don’t argue with her not sticking around. The series is about Bond, after all, not Bond and Lynd. But if she’s going to be such an integral part of two separate movies and the new Bond that Daniel Craig is playing, then I’d like to think her story would be treated well. Can’t have everything, I suppose, and in the grand scheme of things this really was an enjoyable movie.

August 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 547 – James Bond: Casino Royale (2006)

James Bond: Casino Royale (2006) – August 29th, 2011

I have an admission to make: I have never watched a Bond movie from start to finish. Cue the gasps of horror. I know. It’s one of those things I always mean to do and never get around to. I’d be most interested in seeing the Connery movies, because Sean Connery is fucking awesome and I love him. But while I’ve seen bits and pieces and I’ve absorbed much of the tone and concept and character through cultural osmosis, until this movie I had no sat down to watch a full Bond flick. I will say, I’ve also gotten some assumptions in my head about how female characters in said movies are treated, and that’s a bit of a turn-off, but I was game for this tonight.

Alas, I found my assumptions were still somewhat justified. While there were no naked female silhouettes during the opening credits, the female characters with lines were treated pretty much the way I expect. Oh, the female lead, Vesper, gets more than a few good lines and moments, but in the end we’re talking doomed femme fatales. And M. But I dare someone to try and make Judi Dench a doomed femme fatale. She would kick the ass of anyone who attempted it and I would cheer her on. Anyhow, I didn’t expect there to be any more than what I got and what I did get was much better than what it could have been, it’s just frustrating.

Moving on. The point of the movie is, obviously, James Bond himself, being awesome and kicking ass in a multitude of ways and getting the job done. A job with high stakes and lots of bad guys and guns and money and so on and so forth. In this particular movie the story is about terrorists planning bombings and Bond tracking down who’s responsible for funding them and what larger plans and conspiracies they have in place. And how does Bond achieve his goals of thwarting terrorism? By chasing people through crowded streets, sleeping with his target’s girlfriend, enduring torture and playing poker. If it wasn’t done as well as it has been and if it wasn’t one of the origins of the super suave spy, it would be amusing. All that, and he looks good in a tux.

So, there’s a lot of action, with chases and fights and Bond generally being multitalented and clever and skilled at all manner of actiony things, like shooting guns and driving vehicles and fighting hand to hand. And then there’s the card game. At one point earlier in the movie Bond establishes himself as a good poker player, winning a car off of one of the baddies in a game. At that point Andy mentioned “there is a lot of card playing in this movie.” Which yes, there is. After all, the title is Casino Royale. I sort of expected card playing, since you could only get so much mileage out of Bond sitting at a roulette wheel or playing slots. A high stakes poker game seemed much more likely, and that’s exactly what happens.

The poker game and the immediate lead-up to it really are what I consider the meat of the movie. For one, on the train to Monte Carlo we meet Vesper Lynde, our female lead. And I like Vesper, even if her story is convenient and lazily handled in the long run. She’s strong and smart and while she does warm up to Bond eventually, she’s not about to let him charm her from the get-go. She’s perfectly capable of holding her own against him in a battle of wits and in the end he only figures out what she’s up to because she set it up for him to figure out. Eva Green has a wonderful little smirk for much of her performance and in many other movies that smirk would be too much. But in scenes where she’s turning the tables on Bond’s attitude? It’s perfect. So with Vesper at his side, Bond heads to the poker table to face off against the villain of the movie: Le Chiffre. And the game itself is nice and tense. I’m sure I’d appreciate it more if I knew the game better, but I’ve never been terribly interested in poker. As it is, I was glad of the dealer showing the hands as they were revealed and explaining what was winning with at least a hint as to why. Nicely done for us poker-illiterate viewers! And along with that there was the game-interrupting poisoning scene, a scuffle with a couple of terrorists during a break and the revelation that another player at the table was working for the CIA. All in all, it was precisely what I expected and wanted out of the movie, which I could say goes for the entire film.

To be honest, what most shocked me about this movie was how varied the locations and moods were. It bounced around a lot. Black and white intro in a high rise, chase scene on foot in Africa, beachy resort with lots of quiet backstabbing and sex in the Bahamas, action chase scene in a fuel tanker at an airport in Florida, casino scene in Monte Carlo, torture scene, recuperation in a hospital somewhere, romance in Venice, then action in Venice. That’s a hell of a lot to fit into a single movie, which is probably why it’s over two hours long. The plot is winding, going from a planned bombing in Africa to another planned bombing in Florida to the Texas Hold’em game in Monte Carlo. And then it doesn’t end there. The game isn’t the end. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s not the end. After the tension of the game the movie just keeps going. Are all Bond movies paced like this? Slow then fast then slow then fast? Action, romance, action, tension, torture, romance, action? It just strikes me as strange, I suppose. A bit of a roller coaster, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it.

I do know that I’m frustrated by the end of the movie and by the lack of information on Vesper. It feels incredibly easy to have set her up to double cross Bond, then have M say “Oh, it wasn’t her fault. They were holding her boyfriend to force her to cooperate. And she’s dead now, so no mess!” For one, what happened with the boyfriend? I assume he’s dead. Vesper just sort of gives up on him mid-movie and switches her affections to Bond. And then M suggests to Bond that Vesper made a deal with the terrorists so that the two of them could go free. But if the terrorists already had her boyfriend, what more would they need from her? I can think of a few ways to resolve it (they’d killed the boyfriend but she kept working for them to save Bond, or perhaps she worked with them on making Bond lose in exchange for her boyfriend’s life, then made a new deal to steal the money in exchange for Bond’s life and her own?) but neither what I can think of nor any other explanations are ever offered by the movie. Which is a shame, because it wouldn’t have taken a whole lot more. Just another line or two of exposition from M. But the movie just doesn’t care. Which I find intensely irritating. I liked everything else about it and it went to the length of giving Bond some actual character development! It had action and clever dialogue and tension. And then a major character’s backstory and the key to her actions? Nah, no big deal. So I enjoyed the movie, but it did leave me rolling my eyes a little.

August 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 546 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair – August 29th, 2011

Where the current series of adaptations has stopped and gone back, the BBC series went on for one more in the timeline while they still had the actor who played Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the right age for The Silver Chair. I can’t fault them that, though I have to say that this is my second least favorite of the Narnia stories (the very least favorite being The Horse and His Boy, which I could never quite get into). It’s not the concept so much as the characters. And it’s not the characters in general so much as Jill Pole. I want to like it a hell of a lot more than I do and that’s frustrating.

The thing about the earlier stories is that they’re mostly about grand adventures in the wondrous land of Narnia. The children brought through from our world to Narnia have a sense of epic destiny and importance. And while there’s plenty of danger to go around, there are also friendly allies and the general knowledge that the heroes aren’t alone. This story, on the other hand, is rather dire. And made more so because of the air of missed opportunity. Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia in this story, having entered when he and a schoolmate, Jill Pole, wanted to get away from some bullies. The thing is, their adventure starts quite differently than all the others. They start in Aslan’s country. And instead of organically finding out what needs doing by exploring in Narnia, Aslan sets out specific tasks for them. Tasks they mess up at every opportunity.

On one hand, things go awry as soon as Eustace and Jill arrive, so perhaps if they hadn’t, Aslan would have just sent them on their way without any instructions and trusted that they’d figure it out along the way. On the other hand, he didn’t drop them directly into Narnia, so I take that as an implication that he was planning on talking to them at the outset anyhow. Regardless, Jill earns some distinct grumbling from me when she shows off, makes Eustace fall over the edge of a cliff and then has such trouble remembering four simple directions from Aslan that she arrives in Narnia too late to convince Eustace of the first one. And that right there sets the tone for the whole thing.

The purpose behind Eustace and Jill being in Narnia this time is to save Caspian’s son, Rillian, from a witch who has kidnapped him and imprisoned him for years. Caspian is now old and sick and they witness him leaving to sail out to the islands, Eustace not realizing that the elderly king is his old friend. Of course, the first instruction Aslan gave Jill was to tell Eustace the first person he saw would be an old friend and he should go to him at once to get the help they’d need for their quest. Jill gets there late, Eustace doesn’t understand what Aslan meant and Caspian sails off without speaking to him. No help for them! Fortunately for them, the talking owls help them out, deciding that the assistance they need is a Marshwiggle.

Now, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle is one of my favorite parts of this movie, and not just because he’s played by Tom Baker, though that is certainly amusing. But he’s one of the few touches of Narnia in the story, since the adventure itself takes Jill and Eustace far to the north. He’s much like Trumpkin the Dwarf was before he believed in Aslan. Very pessimistic and talking down much of what he encounters. But he’s also quite brave and he knows more about the land than either of the two human children, so he’s a good companion to have on an adventure like this. So with Puddleglum in tow, they set off northwards to find the missing prince and return him to Narnia.

And as they go, Jill manages to forget pretty much everything she was told by Aslan. She and Eustace fight and bicker and prod at each other constantly. Puddleglum’s dour and negative nature eventually wear the two others down and they start ignoring his advice. They miss two instructions and end up almost eaten by giants. And through it all I can’t help but think “If Lucy was there, she’d have found Rillian, brought him back and thrown a party by now. Get on with it!

Now, I’m pretty sure that’s the story itself as written. As I said, I’m not as fond of this one as I am of the first three and the last two, so I haven’t read it as many times as I’ve read the others. But given how faithful the other BBC adaptations were, I expect that holds true for this one as well. Which means I can lay it all at C.S. Lewis’ feet. On one hand, I understand that after writing the first three, with the Pevensies and grand armies and adventures with kings and all, writing a different type of adventure must have been nice. They can’t all be romps with royalty through beautiful Narnia. There’s a widening of the world here as Eustace and Jill discover places that we were never shown in the earlier stories. And I appreciate that. I just wish that these dangerous and grim lands had been explored by people a little more likeable, who could see the mysterious magic of their surroundings better than Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum do. As it is, while Eustace is a good deal better here than he was when we met him in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I like Puddleglum as a character, Eustace and Jill aren’t a great pair. It’s as if the entirety of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was told with Lucy and Edmund traveling together, before Edmund spoke to Aslan.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s just not fun to watch this group have an adventure. The movie was shot in lovely country and I like all the ideas of there being a ruined giant city and the “gentle” giants who are only gentle in that they’ll cook you before they eat you. The underground kingdom isn’t anything terribly special, but the costumes are amusing and there’s a nice blueish cast to everything that sets an eerie otherworldly mood. I’ve got no fault with the acting. It’s not the performances that keep me from enjoying this. After all, I like the David Thwaites, who plays Eustace and I love Tom Baker ad Puddleglum and while I don’t like the character of Jill I do think Camilla Power did well with her. And then there’s Barbara Kellerman as the witch. And I really kind of love that the White Witch, Green Witch and the hag from Prince Caspian are all played by the same person, as if all the witches in the stories are one force. It’s the story. And since the BBC sticks close to the stories with these adaptations, there really wasn’t ever going to be anything to help that.

August 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 545 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC) – August 27th, 2011

More Narnia tonight, and this one a real departure from the newer adaptations in that it’s been packaged as a single story even though it’s really not. I know originally it was meant to be two separate stories, but by the time it was aired in the US, it had been combined into one. The best reason I can think of is that the first part, Prince Caspian only takes two ½ hour episodes from beginning to end, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader takes four and both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair took six each. So it makes perfect sense for Wonderworks to have stuck the two and the four together to maintain a regular schedule. Then again, if they’d had a daily half hour time slot they could have just shown the entire four story set as a run of eighteen episodes. That’s practically a full season of television. Regardless, we watched them together tonight as a single movie.

Really, they do go well together. After all, they’re linked by the character of Caspian. And it’s clear that they were intended to be watched rather close together. From what I recall of the books, Prince Caspian ends with the children all heading off on different trains to different boarding schools, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has Susan off in America, Peter visiting with Professor Kirke and Lucy and Edmund stuck spending the summer with their aunt, uncle and cousin. This adaptation, which is as faithful to the books as the first one was, has changed this one thing to bump the stories up against each other. The trip into Narnia to help Prince Caspian claim his throne here takes place as one last adventure for the whole family before Peter’s off to school, Susan’s off to America and Lucy and Edmund go to their cousin’s. And to be honest? I like what it does with the story. It wouldn’t work for a feature film, but for a serial it’s rather nice. And then too, the timeline works out nicely. Narnian time going faster than our time, it works for me to have a short time in our world mean only a few years in Narnia, as opposed to a year or so meaning the same thing when it apparently meant hundreds of years before.

So it’s clear that the two stories were meant to run into each other, regardless of whether they were packaged as a single six episode set or one two episode set and one four. And I like that. In my review of the new adaptation of Prince Caspian I complained a good deal about all the walking and talking that happens in the book. It’s tedious, to be honest. And in an slavish adaptation, it would bog down the entire story. So it’s a little truncated here. Far more present than in the new version, but it’s not allowed to overwhelm the actual story of Caspian fleeing for his life and encountering true Narnians and leading them in battle to reclaim his throne and bring faith in Aslan back to the country.

The thing is, without all the talking and walking and meandering thoughts on the nature of faith, it’s really a rather short story. Caspian flees the castle and meets the Dwarves and Trufflehunter the talking badger, who introduce him to many of the other old Narnians before they all have a wild feast on the Dancing Lawn. He uses Susan’s horn to call for help, which arrives in the form of the Pevensies, who show up at Aslan’s Howe (where Caspian and his people are already dug in) just in time to stop an attempt to resurrect the White Witch. And then Susan and Lucy head off with Aslan to wake the trees while Edmund and Peter challenge Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, to buy time before the battle. Which ends up being not so big a deal since Aslan shows up and scares everyone away before the battle really has a chance to get going. It’s accurate to the book, yes, but it’s amusing to see what the book comes to when all the talking is reduced but the rest of the plot isn’t padded out.

All of that means that Prince Caspian makes for a good introduction to the next story. It shows the differences that have come to pass in Narnia without delving too deeply, since they’re not going to be all that different for long. It introduces a character who, by the next story, will have grown into his role as King. And it primes Lucy and Edmund for going right back into Narnia, which of course they do, given the set-up I mentioned before. So almost as soon as they’re back in England, they see a painting with a Narnian ship and they’re being pulled into it with their cousin, Eustace and there’s Caspian, now a young man, sailing off on a quest.

This version is, like the others, quite faithful to the book, so there’s no additional plot here, just Caspian’s search for the seven lost lords and a trip that goes from island to island, event to event. This being a serial, the episodic nature of the story works far better than it would in a single movie. It feels right to have things happen bit by bit. They go to one island and find slavers and then they deal with that! Then they go to another island and find a different problem, deal with it, move on. Etcetera. There’s no attempt to tie everything together with a villain or additional overarching problem to solve. The only problems at hand are the missing lords and the specific issues at each location. It doesn’t quite translate out to an island per half hour episode, but near enough. And I’m fine with that. I like each island having its own story and its own problem. I like the time allowed for Eustace’s transformation and I like that he changes for internal reasons in this version, as opposed to external reasons in the other.

In many ways, this story is about individual voyages for each of the main characters. Edmund is the only one I can think of who doesn’t get a solo situation to face. But Lucy has to face down her jealousy of her sister. Eustace becomes a dragon and has to cope with his greed and attitude. And Caspian has to face the responsibility he has as a King. Edmund’s only real problem to face down is when he and Caspian argue over the island where the water turns things into gold. But then, Edmund already had his personal journey all the way back in the first story, so I forgive that and I enjoy seeing the group grow. And the movie does it all nicely. It’s lovely seeing all of the ocean scenery and I love the boat used as the Dawn Treader. The end has always disappointed me somewhat, but I credit that to the technology to do what needed doing not quite existing at the time it was made. Overall, though, I just enjoy this movie. It’s the sort of thing I can put in and watch a portion of, then go back to later and it’s perfect comfort viewing.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 544 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC) – August 26th, 2011

Back to Narnia for the weekend, which feels rather fitting. There’s something about traveling to an imaginary land that seems perfect for a stormy day and we’re expecting a hurricane to arrive this weekend. I’ve probably been influenced by Wizard of Oz. Regardless, staying inside and watching a trio of three hour long fantasy serials seems like a fantastic way to spend a nasty weekend. And these three are straight out of my childhood, much like The Box of Delights and A Little Princess. All BBC adaptations of classic children’s books. All shown in the US on PBS’s Wonderworks series. All long and incredibly faithful to the books.

It’s a shame, really, that the budget for this wasn’t higher. These Narnia serials were made to be shown in six episodes each, covering just under three hours. That gives an enormous amount of screen time to a book adaptation and that’s one reason why they can afford to be so faithful. Much as I love and adore seeing books I enjoy on a big screen, I admit that when it comes down to it, I think a television miniseries is a hell of a lot more effective. Just look at Dune as an example. Think about the David Lynch adaptation, then, if you’ve seen it, think about the Sci Fi Channel miniseries of the same book. They’re very different creatures, and while I enjoyed the Lynch version, I thought the miniseries did a far better job of bringing the world of the book to the screen. I’m saddened to hear that the planned Dark Tower movies are in limbo now, but I honestly hope that someone like HBO picks them up and gives them a good miniseries treatment. Because a miniseries allows for a lot more exploration. And so it is with this series. If only it had been given more money.

Granted, the effects aren’t terrible. I’ve seen far far worse. But anyone who’s seen older Doctor Who episodes will understand when I say that it is distinctly obvious that this adaptation is a BBC production. Which personally, I find charming. I grew up with this stuff. It’s nostalgic for me to see the 2D animation for many of the animals and the not-quite-matched-up torsos and bodies on the centaurs. It’s the spirit of the thing that I find important, and I really do think that this adaptation manages to capture that even with a budget that is a tiny fraction of what the newer big screen adaptation surely had.

The story is, of course, much the same as the book. I mentioned already that it is impressively faithful as adaptations go. The Pevensie children, sent away from London to the safety of the countryside during World War II, discover a passage to Narnia through the back of a mysterious wardrobe in a spare room of the country house they’re staying in. Again, Lucy is the first in. Again, her siblings don’t believe her. Again, Edmund follows her then lies to Susan and Peter after having met the White Witch. And again, he sells them out for a pile of Turkish Delight. Again, the children all end up going into Narnia and again, they discover that they are to lead a revolution against the White Witch. The basic story doesn’t change from version to version. But in this adaptation, it feels as if the writers went through the book page by page to decide not what to include, but how to include it. At times, it works very well. At times it’s obvious just how far beyond the means of the adaptation some things were. And that isn’t necessarily a budget issue every time. This was made in 1988. Even the highest budget couldn’t have made some things technologically possible.

Still, I’m not criticising it for its shortcomings. The acting isn’t winning any awards, though I always did like the children who played the Pevensies. Barbara Kellerman as the White Witch chews far more scenery than I ever would have thought possible had I not seen this as a child. I compare all other scenery chewing to this, really. But that works. She’s over the top and incredibly dramatic and I love it. I think my only criticism is Aslan himself. The huge fake lion is well done and all, but there’s something a little too ponderous about his line delivery. It makes everything he says feel like he’s trying to put people to sleep. Which is frustrating, because I like the vocal quality of the person doing the lines, but the delivery is so slow, like they were directed to speak more deliberately to communicate authority or something. Whatever the reason, it just sounds drowsy, not powerful.

Other than that, however, I really do enjoy this version of the story. It’s not lush or epic or spectacular, but it is thorough and sweet and it feels right. It’s faithful, which I’ve mentioned, but it’s also respectful of the source. I’m not saying the newer version isn’t, just that it’s readily apparent here that this was made by people who knew the story and knew the source and who wanted to take everything on the pages and put it all up in visual splendor. And if that meant some awkward bits that didn’t translate perfectly from one medium to another, then so be it. Those bits would still be there so there’d be no doubt that this is the story in its entirety. And I appreciate that.

August 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 543 – Dinocroc vs Supergator

Dinocroc vs. Supergator – August 25th, 2011

When we were doing Shark Week we had some real gems like Sharktopus, and when we have movies like that we will often watch the trailers before the movie on the DVD. Why? Because every so often we will see something like this. All it took was one line and we knew we had to have this in our collection and I’m sure that’s why that line was included in the trailer. When you hear a character say, straight, that crocodiles and alligators are naturally mortal enemies, then propose making the two monsters of the movie fight each other? That right there is a thing of amazing beauty. Amazingly stupid and ridiculous beauty. That it had David Carradine in it was just the cherry on top of the sundae.

I did worry a little that this would be a Megalodon situation, where it would be fun, but not as much fun as I wanted it to be. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because this movie was everything I wanted it to be, right down to a hunter named Logan from Louisiana who goes by the moniker “The Cajun.” Because that’s unique. And no, he does not have claws or glowing eyes and he only wishes he was as cool as the X-Men. It’s got ridiculous science, laughable attack scenes, shoehorned romance and big monsters chomping on each other. All filmed against a rather lovely backdrop.

I actually feel a little silly just going over the premise. I mean. It’s a movie titled Dinocroc vs Supergator. Does it really matter why these two things exist? Or why they’re fighting? One’s a dinocroc! The other’s a supergator! Chomp chomp! But okay, let’s gloss over the basics. They do not make this movie any less silly. There’s a biological research lab in Hawaii with government grants to develop super huge food sources to combat hunger or something like that, but undercover agent Paul Beaumont thinks there’s something fishy about the place! And of course he’s right, because this place is also developing enhancements for humans to make them into supersoldiers. And what could possibly produce the right chemicals to make supersoldiers? Crocodiles and alligators! And how did they get said animals to produce them? By zapping them with rays, of course! There was an attempt to have this all make sense, but I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t important in the grander scheme of things.

The important part here is that instead of having the scientists at the lab devise a way to take the dinocroc and supergator out, the head of the company – David Carradine – orders them all to be executed by mercenaries. You know, like you do. He even goes so far as to have his assistant assassinate one of the scientists in the hospital after she escapes and spills the beans to Beaumont, Logan and the local sherrif’s daughter, Cassidy, who’s also in law enforcement. The amusing thing to me is that Logan almost immediately takes up with Beaumont and Cassidy, agreeing that these monsters must be stopped and not because he cares about the company’s reputation. So they all work together against the monsters.

Meanwhile, as the humans all chat about how the monsters were created and what they should do about it and whether they should sell tickets for the final giant reptile showdown, the reptiles themselves are snacking on the local tourists. These scenes, are, by the way, fantastic. And I don’t mean they’re incredibly well done. I mean they’re hilarious and awesome at the same time. Now, you have to understand that these things are supposed to be huge. Like, fifteen feet tall or long, depending on the creature. One of them is up on large rear legs, like a velociraptor. The other is just, well, a really big alligator. At least three feet tall at the head even when it’s on its belly. These are not stealthy animals! And yet at one point one pops up from underneath a guy who is wading in calf-deep water. Like, straight up from under him! They pop out from the brush and snap up a couple of bikini-clad ladies. They are hilarious.

There’s really not a whole lot more to this movie. It’s not complicated or deep. There’s no meaning here. There’s no message, other than don’t tamper in god’s domain, which is the theme of every man-made monster movie. But what makes it fun to watch is exactly what got us to buy it in the first place: It knows what it is. I think this is key to our enjoyment of movies like this. When they’re made to be cheese, and embracing that, it’s so much more fun. When everyone is on board, from the cast to the crew to the director to the writer, it’s just so much easier to laugh along with the movie. There are monster movies that are sincerely trying to be serious horror action monster movies and when they’re laughable it’s kind of sad and disappointing. But when the movie is not only aware of its nature but playing it up? That’s fun. And including a line about crocodiles and alligators being mortal enemies, with shots of the dinocroc stomping its way down a road while the supergator nabs a snack? That’s some great self-awareness.

August 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 542 – The Goonies

The Goonies – August 24th, 2011

We’re on hiatus from Narnia at the moment, since the BBC productions are about three hours long each and while tonight that would work, tomorrow I do not have three hours to spend watching a movie, regardless of how nostalgic it might be. So we’re taking two days off so we can watch the BBC adaptations back to back to back over the weekend. So! We needed to pick a movie tonight. When Andy got home this evening he was a little cranky. Long days do that, and when I have a long day goodness knows I am the queen of cranky. Therefore, when picking a movie I gravitated to comfort movies and this caught my eye. Andy’s suggested it a few times and I’ve always said nah, some other time. And this is why. It is a comfort movie, more for Andy than for myself, and I didn’t want to waste it on a night when we didn’t need something fun and easy to watch. Tonight? We needed fun and we needed easy. So I’m glad we held onto it.

This is one of those movies that every geek within Andy’s generation and my generation should know. It’s a classic, and not just a classic but an underdog classic. Geeks love a story where outcasts win. I remember watching this as a kid and being just slightly too young for it to make the impact on me that it made on my peers. A couple of years later I saw it again and enjoyed it a lot more, but I think because I’d already seen it, it was just never going to make that impression. I can enjoy it and it makes me smile and I’m all for the Goonies as a group, but I can think of other movies that speak to me more and I feel a little frustrated with myself for that.

On the surface it’s an odd movie. Below the surface too, but even up top it’s got its oddities. It’s one of those stories about a nasty rich guy trying to take advantage of or shove out the poor but goodhearted family or families of the hero or heroes. This is not an uncommon plot for a movie, especially a kids’ movie. The money-grubbing adult makes a good villain, especially when they have a stuck-up jackass of a kid for the juvenile heroes of the movie to square off against directly. And so of course we have here Mr. Perkins, who is foreclosing on the houses belonging to the Goonies’ families to expand his country club, and we have his son Troy, who bullies the Goonies themselves and treats his girlfriend (who joins up with the Goonies later) like crap. There’s just a lot here that feels like it could be standard. And then there’s the adventure into a series of caves under the cliffs near the Goonies’ homes, with booby traps, treasure and a family of criminals after them.

The basic plot involves the foreclosure and the Goonies – Mikey, Mouth, Data, Chunk, Brand (Mikey’s older brother) and later Andy and Stef – going off on an adventure to try and make the most of their last weekend together. Sure, they’re going off to search for lost pirate treasure, but I get a very Swallows and Amazons sort of vibe from this adventure. They head out to follow the map more to have an adventure, not because they truly think they’ll find treasure. Sure, treasure would be amazing, but an adventure together with friends is the initial purpose. It’s only when the kids encounter the Fratellis, one of whom is an escaped convict, that things actually get dangerous. Until then it’s more imagination than reality for them. And I love that idea of a typical kids’ adventure turning into something far more real than expected. And I also love that the Goonies rise to the occasion.

Once the Goonies are in the caves, dodging booby traps set by pirate captain One-Eyed Willie, it’s sort of a chase movie. The Fratellis are behind them and the Goonies know it. But they’re also determined. The traps are silly and fun and the movie establishes a lot of the set-up for them early on with Mikey’s house’s Rube Goldberg-esque front gate. And then there’s Chunk, left behind with the Fratellis’ brother, Sloth. Now, Sloth is my one real point of discomfort with this movie. He’s a joke and a hero and a joke because he’s a hero and he’s handled largely positively, but he’s also a caricature of a physically deformed and mentally disabled man and I can’t help but think of the Toxic Avenger when I see him. I’m just not fond of the movie’s use of the character, that’s all.

Outside of that and the stereotype that is Data (and to nitpick – while his inventions might well work in theory, his materials are so flimsy they would never hold up to that sort of use), however, I do love many the characters. One of the things I really love about the movie is that it’s got some really impressively subversive stuff in it, mostly in the form of Mikey’s brother, Brand. He’s clearly a bit of a jock, what with all the working out, and he’s cute, but he doesn’t have his driver’s license and he seems to be regarded as a dork, likely because of a combination of that and the fact that he’s pretty damn smart. He’s not an easily pigeonholed character, and I love that. I love that he’s genuinely concerned about his brother. I love that he hangs out with the Goonies. I love that he’s unabashedly himself, which makes him a Goonie regardless of his age.

Despite its silliness, it’s clearly meant to be an empowering movie, and not just in a ‘they found pirate treasure and saved their homes from foreclosure’ way. It’s meant to say it’s okay to be proud of being unique. It’s okay to be yourself and embrace the things that make you you. It’s okay to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet. I love when Andy gives Troy’s sweater back. I love Mikey’s speech at the bottom of the well. On top of the movie being a fun action and adventure story for kids, it’s also a good story about friendship and individuality and letting your freak flag fly with pride. No, it isn’t the banner I hold over myself, but I get it. And I do enjoy it.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 541 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) – August 23rd, 2011

I’ve mentioned that I grew up with the BBC versions of these stories and I have to admit that the third story was always my favorite. Same for the books. I loved this story of a voyage at sea, full of all of the perils of such a quest and all of the beauty of it too. I loved venturing past the known lands of Narnia into the unexplored islands and the waters beyond. So I was looking forward to this installment, but I was again nervous. I knew going in that it was going to be a difficult transition from page to screen. I knew that like in Prince Caspian, changes would have to be made. I also knew that they’d run into trouble with the movie during filming. So I think my worries were reasonable. Turns out they were also at least a little justified.

Now, let me make it plain that I really did enjoy this movie. I had fun watching it and it had a lot of what I wanted from it. But it is not the story I loved from the book and it is not the story that the BBC put on the small screen. In some ways that was inevitable. Much as I love the original story, it is almost tailor made for a mini-series. It’s an episodic journey from Narnia to the edge of the world, stopping at one island to deal with a problem, solving it, then moving on to the next. There’s the dragon episode and the sea serpent episode and the Dufflepud episode and so on and so forth. Yes, there is a plot that ties them together, but it seems to have little in the way of urgency.

In the original story Caspian, who is now King, has embarked on a voyage to the Lone Islands and beyond to try and find the seven lords who were loyal to his father and banished by his uncle. And in the original? That’s the plot. Caspian has gone in search of the lords. That’s it. Reepicheep, the valiant talking mouse, wants to sail to the end of the world, but Caspian’s just looking for some lords. And maybe it’s been too long since I read the book and there’s some pressing reason for it to be Caspian doing this, but If there is, it’s not really enough of a reason to have made an impression on me. Why Caspian himself? Why would a young king, new to his throne, recently done overthrowing the uncle who’d killed his father to steal the kingdom, leave said kingdom to go sailing? It just seems like perhaps he could have sent envoys to the islands instead. I’m just saying. So I totally understand why this new adaptation felt the need to make the whole thing have more of a pressing need.

Not that said need shows up right away. Caspian’s already on the ocean in the Dawn Treader when Lucy and Edmund and their sulky and obnoxious cousin Eustace get pulled into Narnia to join him. But it’s not long before we get a clue as to the larger overarching plot that’s being introduced. One of the first episodes of the original story involves Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace being captured by slave traders and auctioned off. And that’s kept mostly intact. But added to it is a mysterious green mist that swallows human sacrifices sent out to it in dinghies. And there you have your overarching plot. Now not only is Caspian out to find a bunch of lords for his own personal reasons, but he has a duty to the people of his kingdom. To people long neglected before he came into power. And I like the concept there. It makes the whole voyage seem a little more important and a little less like Caspian wanted a vacation.

The trouble here is that the whole mist thing then has to permeate the entire movie, tying it together. And it succeeds in some places and not in others. There are places where it feels somewhat organic, and other places where it’s clear just how much needed to be changed in order to give the movie an exciting climax instead of the ending it had originally. Working the mist into places like the island with the water that makes everything into gold? That doesn’t feel unreasonable. Having it be a sort of sign of temptation and fear works nicely. And that’s a common theme in the whole story anyhow, with people wanting to do things they know they shouldn’t. Lucy is tempted to say a spell that will let her take her sister’s place as the favored daughter. Eustace gives in to the temptation to take a dragon’s treasure. Edmund and Caspian fight over the gold water. The Dufflepuds are all but ruled by their own whims and wants, regardless of reason. I get it. I do.

Unfortunately, at the end the movie has to take all of that and work it into a big climax. Using an island from the actual story, where all of your nightmares become real, was a good idea. It means there’s no new locations being added and a truly sinister location from the original story gets more of a featured position. But it also takes the sea serpent and puts it there as the climax. And comparatively speaking, that just doesn’t measure up to the giant battles in the other movies. It feels like it’s trying too hard. And while the serpent itself is well done, I’m also disappointed that it’s shown to be a creation of fear, not an actual thing living in the oceans around the Lone Islands. Battling everyone’s fears to help find the last lord and dispell the curse that threatens the islands? Yeah, okay. It works in theory. But it’s so very different from the original story and from the previous movie adaptations.

As a movie, I think it works in many ways. As always I enjoyed the acting of the leads, this time including the absolutely marvelous Will Poulter as Eustace. Georgie Henley has grown up wonderfully and I truly hope she continues to act, be it on stage or screen. Same for Skandar Keynes. Ben Barnes does a lovely job as Caspian, though as I mentioned in my review for Prince Caspian, I do wish Caspian had been allowed to grow up across the two movies. It’s not the acting I take issue with. And I like what’s changed at the end, with Caspian deciding on his own not to continue on. Not to mention, I love the neverending wave at the edge of the world. And it’s not the necessity of changing things to make a feature film that I take issue with either. It’s that while I can see the germ of a good idea here, and I can see how it was meant to play out, it never strikes quite right. I wish Eustace had changed earlier. I wish things hadn’t been quite so melodramatic. I wish the sea serpent had been worked into the rest of the movie and something else had been incorporated into the end. I think that given how this movie went, it was a good idea to change tacks if this series is to continue. I’ve heard that The Magician’s Nephew is up next, and I think that’s a good plan. It’s got a clear villain in Jadis and it takes the audience back to the root of Narnia, reminding us why we’re supposed to care about the magic of it all. I hope it goes well. I’ll enjoy it anyhow, like I enjoyed this, but I’d like it if more people could enjoy it too.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment