Friday, September 04, 2015
One of the questions I'm never asked is which film I've been most disappointed by over the past few months. And yet, the end of summer feels like the perfect moment to talk about film's that have disappointed. Sure, I wanted "Avengers: Age of Ultron" to be better than it was, and while I thought "Hitman" was fine, it certainly could have been more. But no, they didn't disappoint me, not in the same way "American Ultra" did.
With two often enjoyable actors in the lead roles, with a good supporting cast, with a fun idea behind it, "American Ultra" could have been something really and truly enjoyable. It could have been the start of something fun.
It just isn't that. It is one of those movies where it feels as though they knew they had a great starting concept and then just stopped, as though the concept alone would be enough to fill the run time.
I feel like I've seen a lot of those lately, movies where someone came up with a great "what if" setup and declared the job done. Movies, as should be obvious, don't end after the opening 20 minutes, at least not full length ones, there's something on the order of 70 to 100 more minutes to fill.
Why is there this let down? Why is there this problem? I don't believe that people come up with a great idea and then say to themselves, "Aww heck, from here I'll just crib off of stuff that's been done before." No, there's something else going on, and very probably something different for every writer and every film, but with the same end result -- a movie that starts off fresh and fun and all too quickly runs out of steam.
So, head over to IGN, read my full and formal review of "American Ultra," and just know that in some alternate universe somewhere the movie is utterly brilliant, taking its great concept in interesting directions and offering something we really haven't seen before. In that universe, the movie uses the actors to their fullest and deftly balances humor with action. It that universe it is my biggest joy of the summer instead of my biggest disappointment.
photo credit: Lionsgate
Thursday, September 03, 2015
This first Thursday in September brings with it the end of an era, the Roger Moore era. Today, 007(x3) Weeks of 007 takes a look Moore's last outing as Bond, 1985's "A View to a Kill."
Want amazing? "A View to a Kill" was released 30 years ago. It hit theaters the same year as "Back to the Future." That just feels weird.
"Back to the Future," which is purposefully situated in 1985 and 1955 feels like it hasn't aged all that much. You could almost envision a world in which such a movie was made today, one that was structured in similar fashion, shot in similar fashion, and edited in similar fashion. The same is not true for "A View to a Kill." No one would make an action movie like that today.
Really? A zeppelin? Snowboarding to "California Girls?" The turning sand into silicon chips thing Zorin offers? Even the butterfly lunch at the Eiffel Tower feels dated, and dated in a way that other Bond movies aren't.
One of the things that amazes me about it is that despite the fact that most folks would say "A View to a Kill" is a relatively forgettable Bond outing, it has two absolutely classic Bond moments, even if I listed them above as things that wouldn't appear in a movie today. The Eiffel Tower sequence and the zeppelin at the Golden Gate Bridge (don't give me any malarkey about "Indiana Jones" using a zeppelin to great effect, that's a period movie), are both iconic moments for the franchise. It actually feels a little weird that it took more than 20 years of Bond movies for them to do something at the Eiffel Tower, for a franchise full of famous locations, the Eiffel Tower seems like a no brainer.
So, that's one amazing thing, but there's so much more to the movie. For instance, "A View to a Kill" is almost "Goldeneye." They lay the groundwork for the latter here.
No? Don't believe me? You didn't watch then.
At the outset of this film, when Bond is getting his mission, Q explains that they've been working on a microchip that would survive a nuclear blast and that the Russians have stolen the technology, that's what prompts the investigation of Zorin. Momentarily, it looks like this chip or the widespread lack thereof is what the movie is going to be about – saving the world from a nuclear blast that would disable anything with a microchip; saving the world from what would be known in the first Brosnan film, which released a decade after "A View to a Kill," as a "Goldeneye device."
Of course, that isn't what "A View to a Kill" becomes. Instead, it's the tale of a villain trying to corner the market on microchips by destroying Silicon Valley via an earthquake. And, he isn't just any regular villain either, he's the product of Nazi experimentation to create a superman. Maybe that's another one of the reasons it feels a little dated. We may have been 40 years past the end of the War in the mid-'80s, but now we're 70 years past it.
Zorin actually shows those super-human smarts at one moment in the movie (besides with his evil earthquake plan). He has Bond unconscious in the back of a car driven into a lake. Then, rather than disappearing and just hoping that Bond drowns, Zorin actually stays to watch. He, in fact, stays long enough that Bond ought to be dead. Zorin doesn't count on Bond waking up and breathing air from the car tires and he probably should have actually tried to fish out the dead body (or just shoot Bond), but watching to make sure that Bond is dead is a step up from your standard supervillain.
"A View to a Kill" also has the utter brilliance of Grace Jones as May Day. Talk about a great henchman, one who can do anything. She is stellar and yet another example of a woman being Bond's equal during the Moore years.
The other element of the film that really strikes watching me watching it is that despite coming out more than 20 years after "Goldfinger," the franchise can't seem to move away from that Bond outing. Zorin's explanation of his plan to his business partners overtly echoes Goldfinger's explanation of Operation Grand Slam, from the name (Operation Main Strike), to the map that appears, to one guy saying he wants out and seemingly being allowed to leave only to then be murdered. In "A View to a Kill" the producers are still trying to replicate that film's success despite there being 10 movies between "Goldfinger" and this one.
You almost wind up feeling a little bad for Bond. This guy can defeat any villain, foil any plan, go anywhere in the world (or space), but he can't get past his own history. He can't escape his greatest triumph.
I feel like, at this moment, there's some sort of summation required about the Roger Moore years, and that it ties directly in to the "Goldfinger" problem. Even if you don't like him as a Bond, Moore makes the character his own in the same way Connery does, and that character us quite a different one. The franchise grows and changes, moving past SPECTRE, adding more gadgets, and going for a different sort of humor than Connery ever employed. But, despite all that, here in his final outing, the franchise still goes back to a Connery movie. The shadow of Connery looms large—as does the shadow of Moore for those who come after him—and Moore is still facing it here in "A View to a Kill." And that's despite his having been Bond for more years and in more films.
One last thing to note – this is the first Bond movie that uses the now regular "James Bond will return" at the end of the credits as opposed to naming, or attempting to name, the next movie. More than 20 years of films and this is the first time that happens.
As for us, next week, the Timothy Dalton era begins. Sure, it'll end the week after that, but we're not there yet. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with "The Living Daylights."
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Yesterday was the day that I admitted it to myself – the summer is coming to an end. Public schools here start tomorrow and a fresh television season is right around the corner. Those are the two key items that I use to mark the end of summer. So, for the 800th since May, once again I have broken out my fall 2015 television grid to try to figure out, once and for all, what I will be watching.
While the advent of DVRs have made things moderately more easy through the years, the selection process is by no means simple and my children getting older has made picking shows that much more complicated. My daughter is now awake for about the first hour of primetime and I'd rather not sequester myself off from her just so I can watch TV she isn't allowed to see.
To be clear, I do not in any way advocate a television model that insists on family programming being on in the 8pm hour, but I will admit that having things both my daughter and I will like watching on TV does make life easier. Happily, there are a bunch of nights this year where that will work… at least until shows shift around or get cancelled.
Interestingly, in a "the more things change" mode, it's ABC she's going to be watching more than anything else, just as it was when I was her age. The network has done a great job developing family friendly comedies for the better part of the last decade. While some of the jokes on "The Middle," "The Goldbergs," and "Fresh off the Boat" may make me cringe if my daughter is on the sofa with me, the sitcoms are all relatively good-natured and have characters to which she might be able to relate. It isn't that the same isn't true of "Black-ish" or "Modern Family," but I don't have to worry about the 9pm hour yet.
Plus, ABC has "The Muppets" at 8pm on Tuesday nights and anyone who is awake at that hour in my house is going to be watching it. It is a requirement of living here.
I don't mean to suggest that other networks don't have things for my daughter. It's just that somehow ABC's shows are the highlights of the week. I am not at this moment sure that she'll be watching anything on The CW or NBC, but both CBS and FOX offer programs for her.
A huge fan of superheroes, CBS's "Supergirl" is right up my daughter's alley. She has no familiarity at all with the character or how a television series about a superhero might work, so she comes into that with no expectations whatsoever. The producers can weave whatever story they want, change the history of the character, do just about anything, and she'll be able to roll with it that in a way that is sometimes difficult for people who come in already invested in the character/mythology.
Finally, FOX has "Masterchef" and "Masterchef Junior," both of which she's already watched and both of which she has enjoyed. While seeing those hasn't turned into her making me delicious five course meals, she's no schlub with cookies, brownies, and the like. Even so, that's not exactly the sort of "restaurant quality" beef wellington that will get her through "the dreaded pressure test." Maybe though another season or two of each will get her there.
You know what the truth of the whole thing is; why I look for these sorts of series? It's that even if we're not talking the entire time, my daughter and I sit there together and have a shared experience, one we can then examine later. The insights she offers about a show and the way she see things shaking out on it, offer glimpses into her worldview and that's a pretty valuable thing.
So, even if the summer is ending, there's a whole lot to look forward to right around the corner.
photo credit: ABC/CBS/FOX
Monday, August 31, 2015
One of the constant debates we have in our household is, I think, one of the debates constantly had in every household with children – is my child old enough to watch a certain television show/movie or play a certain game.
In our house the question is posed from multiple angles – my daughter (9) asking if she's allowed to watch something; me asking my wife if my daughter, or my son (4), is allowed to watch something; my wife asking the same question of me; and my son asking as well. In other words, we all have questions at one time or another if something is appropriate, and we all look for opinions on the subject.
As the number of media choices continually expands, the number of questions only grows, and each question has to be tackled on a case-by-case basis.
We are aided in our decision-making process by TV ratings, movie ratings, and game ratings, but they're not the ultimate decider. My daughter has attended PG-13 movies. Some people say that this is wrong because she's not 13. Of course, what PG-13 actually means is "some material may be inappropriate for children under 13," not that kids under 13 aren't allowed (and the implication being guidance is not required for those over). Essentially, it's asking parents to be aware and look into the material they're showing their child which is always prudent.
Beyond that, different families handle things differently. People have different levels of horror to the utterance various curse words and ascribe different levels of bad to the use of each. Some would say that one comment about sex should instantly put something into the PG-13 category, or that one mention of death should.
Not just every family is different either, every child within every family is different. One child at nine years of age in a family may be better able to process something than another child when they hit that age simply due to who they are and a slightly varied set of life experiences.
To help then make these decisions there are other sources of information beyond just ratings. There are sites like Common Sense Media, which attempts to put appropriate ages on films, but do more than just that. They offer greater insight as to why the ages are correct for a film. Just what sorts of messages the film offers and specific levels of potentially questionable (for certain age groups) content.
Even that though isn't a full answer, just another aide along the way to arriving at an answer. We are all going to make mistakes trying to assess whether someone is ready to watch a movie.
This comes up again in our house right now because in a few weeks there's a screening of "Jurassic Park" at a local theater. It is PG-13, Common Sense Media says 12 is appropriate. But, as I hope is clear, that isn't enough of an answer. Common Sense also says 13 for "The Avengers," "Age of Ultron, and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." My daughter watched all of those without issue as well as all the "Harry Potter" movies, and at least the last two of those are listed as appropriate for 12 year-olds on Common Sense.
On the other side of things – it's "Jurassic Park" and there's more than one scene there of dino-induced mayhem. People of all ages are regularly put into danger in that movie and the raptors look pretty realistic. Plus, there's that T-Rex scene. There are reasons to be concerned.
One idea floated in our house was for my daughter to watch the movie on DVD first before seeing it on the big screen – that way she'd know where the scares are going to be and what they are. Without a doubt, that would lessen the impact of the chills, but it would also lessen the impact of the magic. That moment when we first see the dinosaurs is wondrous and deserves the biggest screen possible. To see it at home is fine, but it's not the same, no matter how big one's TV.
And so, here is where we reach our conclusion, or, more accurately, our lack thereof. There is no "right" answer, at least not one that can be correctly assessed as such without having more information than it's possible to have.
If my daughter goes to the movie and isn't too scared to go to bed that night, we made the right decision by letting her go. If she doesn't go to the movie but would have been too scared to go to bed that night then we made the right decision by not letting her go. We just can't know which way is the right way though before we decide.
Whatever happens though, you can certainly expect a follow-up piece in the coming weeks.
photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Thursday, August 27, 2015
I have always loved "Octopussy." Following on the heels of the "For Your Eyes Only" reset, "Octopussy" builds Bond back up in interesting ways, most notably with the all-female Octopussy cult helping Bond defeat Kamal Khan in the film's finale. It is yet another acknowledgment on the franchise's part that women can and should play a stronger role in the films as they move into the future.
But, I don't think that's entirely why I enjoy it, I think it has a lot more than that going for it.
First off, the circus. Everyone loves a circus. Okay, not everyone loves a circus and the one in "Octopussy" is first used for smuggling and then used as a cover to explode a nuclear bomb on an American military base in West Germany, but the circus is still fun. The circus is a place where the impossible becomes possible, and not just possible, but reality. The audience stares in disbelief as people perform incredible feats, make us laugh, and scare us a little, too.
The circus is a James Bond movie, and when you're talking about a Roger Moore-era James Bond movie, the circus isn't even played for laughs more than Bond himself is played for laughs. There is a reason that Moore puts on a clown suit during "Octopussy." It's because that's how the franchise is treated during this time.
Separately, "Octopussy" also has an incredible scene with Bond winning (by cheating) at backgammon. Now, Bond only cheats because Khan does first – Bond uses Khan's loaded dice. The interesting thing is not Bond cheating, but what happens after he cheats – he grabs the cash and puts most of it in his coat pockets. 007 has already been told in "Octopussy" to "sign a chit" for the Faberge egg he's going to be taking with him, that it's government property now. It is M, in Robert Brown's first movie in the position, that offers Bond that note. Cut to the backgammon scene in which Bond pockets his winnings and think about it. There is an intimation there.
There is always this question in Bond movies as to how our hero lives so high on the hog and whether he does so only when he's on a job or if he maintains his posh style off-duty as well. Moore gave us some hints about this in his first outing, "Live and Let Die," and we get some more hints from Craig's most recent one, "Skyfall," but the question still remains – are secret agents paid that well? Bond doesn't get to keep the rupees here, he needs them to solidify an escape, but he takes them, with the intention of keeping them. He even gives some cash to two different members of Station I. Moore's Bond may have some moments of buffoonery, but make no mistake, he was going to keep the money.
Sigh, buffoonery. You want buffoonery? I will accept the "Magnificent Seven" theme used earlier in the Moore years, but here in "Octopussy" Bond offers a Tarzan call as he swings across a vine. It is a ridiculous, awful, moment for the franchise. Worse, Bond has his back to us the entire time which makes it pretty convincing that it isn't Moore doing the stunt, and the stunt isn't even that great in the first place.
You know what I do like here, but have to wonder about – the use of the Soviet Union as villain. I know, I love that Gogol keeps coming back, but this isn't Moore's first anti-Soviet (or Soviet faction) outing, and it really starts to date the films. SPECTRE (which, as we've talked about they couldn't use during this time period) is a great foil for Bond because freelance villainy is timeless. There are always bad guys out there who aren't agents of the state, their use helps keep the movies fresh.
As noted, the original M is gone now, but Moneypenny is still around. Lois Maxwell is first in "Dr. No" and here she is, more than 20 years later, in "Octopussy." She doesn't stay with the series past Roger Moore's final outing in "A View to a Kill," but she's here now and fantastic as ever.
Of course, that being said, the producers do make an attempt at getting a younger secretary for Bond to hit on in "Octopussy" as Moneypenny introduces Bond to her new assistant, Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell). Smallbone doesn't stick around and this is one of two credits to Clavell's name on IMDb. Whatever become of Clavell's career, it is interesting to do the casting of Smallbone but I think says a lot about what works for the series and what doesn't that we never see her again.
Lastly, the return of Maud Adams. Who doesn't think that Octopussy herself is a great character, and Adams a great actress, for Bond/Moore to be opposite? Octopussy has reasons she could hate 007, but she doesn't, she respects him and the choice he made in the past in regards to her father. She may get duped by truly evil folks in her already evil organization, but she's cast as a good guy and the film does well by her.
As for us, it is time to bid adieu, but 007(x3) Weeks 007 will return with "A View to a Kill" (not "From a View to a Kill" as the "Octopussy" credits promise).
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
All of that is to say that there's a new Lass is More this week and that if I've done everything right, it should be embedded and totally and completely streamable below. If I've done this wrong, you're just going to have to go to iTunes to download it.
As for the topic, I thought I'd take on something truly difficult the week I'm out of town and can't respond to comments, so it's the Award-winning documentary "Citizenfour" that we're discussing. I'll tell you right up front, I didn't love it. It left me cold and I think that it's impact is only something we're going to be able to judge in 50 or 100 years. And worse than that, I'm not entirely sure that I believe that anything will change just because of the Snowden revelations (and, let's face it, those revelations exist whether or not this documentary does).
Take a listen, enjoy, and remember, I'm somewhere sipping an umbrella drink right now.
photo credit: Radius-TWC
Thursday, August 20, 2015
James Bond may be undergoing a reset this week, but we're not, 007(x3) Weeks of 007 is continuing with "For Your Eyes Only" and the back half of Roger Moore's run as everyone's favorite secret agent.
Last week we talked about "Moonraker" which, as much as I may like it, sends James Bond to space, something more than slightly ludicrous. That means that with "For Your Eyes Only" it is time for the series to dial it back a notch, and it does just that.
Famously, "FYEO" offers a pre-title sequence in which Bond dumps a bald man with a white cat down a smokestack, presumably killing him forever. Due to legal reasons, the film couldn't call this individual Blofeld (legal reasons happily since resolved which means that we can get "Spectre" later this year). We are, however, to understand him to be Blofeld and here he is, finally killed. Can you imagine a better way of saying that you're going back to the beginning with James Bond than killing this guy who had been his filmic nemesis for nearly 20 years?
Sure, Blofeld wasn't in any of the Moore movies (again, legal reasons), but when you look at the plots Moore's Bond deals with, from energy devices to starting a war to killing off humanity, they tend to feel like SPECTRE plots, Blofeld plots. "FYEO" tells us right up front that it isn't going to go there, that it is, for now, done with such things. So, boom, Blofeld's dead and the movie can begin in earnest.
There is no world-destroying plot in "FYEO." There is no super-villain. There is no massive lair and a huge battle between tons of folks to end it all. It actually has some elements quite similar to "From Russia with Love," which is the least bombastic of the Connery films. The story is about an attempt to regain control of a missile command system that has been taken from a sunken British spy boat, and rather than SPECTRE pulling the strings, it is a smuggler.
Do not believe though that just because this film is a reset plot-wise that it doesn't have some great action moments. Oh no, there are really great things going on here. First and foremost among these is the ski chase. We have seen Moore's Bond do boring to mediocre ski stuff before, but here what he get is outstanding. It is a long sequence, features some flips, a trip off a ski jump, and going down a bobsled run. It is truly a tremendous set piece. Not only that, but it isn't played for laughs in the way that so many Moore moments are (I shudder to think about what's coming down the line in a couple weeks).
Frankly, I also love the mountaineering here. No, it isn't very a big sequence, but Moore going up the rock face at the end of the movie and facing off against the gunman who would knock him off the mountain harkens back to old Bond in a way that too many Moore films miss.
I also love Carol Bouquet's Melina Havelock. Her use of the crossbow is tremendous. It recalls Tilly Masterson's inability to shoot a gun in "Goldfinger," especially with both characters' desires for revenge due to the death of a family member (or two), but here it is reformulated for a story taking place more than 15 years later, and Havelock is way better at wielding her chosen weapon than Masterson is with hers. In fact, Havelock's crossbow is pivotal for the film and (as an aside) helps create one of the best James Bond posters ever.
I know I mentioned this briefly last week, but it bears repeating. Here we are, the 12th James Bond movie and the first one without Bernard Lee as M. He passed away before his scenes were shot and was not replaced with a new M. We will get that next week as Robert Brown steps into the role, one which he'll hold until "The Evil Queen of Numbers" appears in 1995's "GoldenEye." The movie gets by without M—the excuse made is that he's on leave—but it still feels weird to watch a Bond movie without one.
You know what I really don't get though—and I'll end after this observation—why does MI6 keep trying to talk to Bond and congratulate him after he finishes a mission? By "For Your Eyes Only" the joke is really old. A Margaret Thatcher impersonator plays better than Q's awful, "It looks like he's attempting reentry" line from "Moonraker," but it is a trope of the Moore era I could do without.
And now there are but two films left in the Moore era now. Next week we'll tackle the first of them as Maud Adams makes her second appearance opposite Mr. Bond. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with "Octopussy."
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Once again I come to you with a voice other than mine reading my IGN review of "Hitman: Agent 47." Not to spoil my review too much, but I gave it a score of "okay." Yup, the movie is "okay."
Here is, essentially, how it all breaks down -- if you like the game but don't require logic to your movie plots or a film to perfectly follow the game on which it is based you're going to have fun with "Hitman: Agent 47."
As a game franchise, "Hitman" is one I've enjoyed through the years, but it isn't one that necessarily translates brilliantly to the world of film. Essentially, the goal of the game is to go through the various missions slinking from shadow to shadow, silently killing enemies, and alerting no one. That might make for a brilliant short film, but not a feature.
Watching a guy do that for 90 minutes is going to get really boring really quickly. The challenge is to get something true to the characters, true to the idea, but not a pure translation.
In this case, I think they did an adequate job, creating a movie with some really fun action sequences (and the aforementioned lack of logic to the plot). But, that isn't for me to say... or my voice to say anyway, that's for you to hear someone else say. Click below, it'll be great.
photo credit: 20th Century FOX
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The results? Wistful nostalgia, naturally, wistful nostalgia. It is great having so many choices of things to watch, but it means that something like Saturday morning cartoons gets lost in the shuffle. I am in no way advocating going back in time to those years when there were but five or six channels, but I do think it's important to remember that change brings both good and bad, nothing is entirely one or the other.
And, speaking of nothing being entirely good or bad, this selection of animated shorts features many brilliant ones, a bunch of good ones, and one that I just don't care for at all. Listen, learn, and enjoy.
photo credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Monday, August 17, 2015
No, I didn't switch companies or, at first, seemingly even jobs, but due to geographic shifts in where people lived, there was no one present in or around New York to regularly do junket interviews. And so, like greatness for some (not suggesting myself), this was thrust upon me and I was terrified. Terrified.
The first movie I had to do a series of interviews for was Walter Salles' "On the Road," and I was told that I would be sitting down with Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kirsten Dunst, and Kristen Stewart. This was 2012, Stewart was one year beyond "Twilight" and had "Snow White and the Huntsman" that summer. Hedlund I was aware of from the "Tron" sequel, Riley had done less at that point, and Dunst was… well… Kirsten Dunst, who didn't know her?
I was, as I've said before, more than a little petrified. Willie Beamen had nothing on me that December morning.
Long story short, the first person I sat down with was Stewart and I somehow made my way through the interview. It wasn't graceful, it wasn't artful, and I'm sure it wasn't very good. Happily, it was a one-camera setup (on her) and so people could only hear my stuttering, not actually have to see the words fail to come out of my mouth as well.
Over time, I improved. There are folks who can conduct a four minute interview better than I can, but with hours of prep beforehand I can hold my own. Not only that, it has become something I love doing and I harbor a not-so-secret desire to figure out a way to turn conducting interviews into a full-time job.
Still though, as I've expressed before, I've always wanted another shot at talking to Kristen Stewart. Not because she would have remembered our interview—I wasn't bad enough to be remembered—but because I did.
Happily, wonderfully, brilliantly, last week I had the chance to talk to her again. She has a new movie coming out this week, "American Ultra" with Jesse Eisenberg, and so I sat down with Stewart and her co-star last week (FYI, her pointing in that still above is not her remembering me). It went far better the second time than the first.
But, you can be the judge of the second interview...
photo credit: IGN