Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quantum of Solace Review

Unlike prior Bond films, this movie is a sequel so if you haven't seen Casino Royale yet you may want to watch it first. If you are just looking to be entertained don't worry. It's not like this is a complicated Shakespearean plot that will go over your head. Warning: This review contains spoilers.

007 has become a darker character over the last two movies. Bond could simply be described as a brutal assassin. He now prefers his fists over gadgets. There is definitely a more serious and realistic feel to this movie. You don't see Bond driving a hovercraft through Venice square or sledding on a cello but there is still plenty of fake stuff like the inability of bad guys with machine guns to shoot him at close range. This film is grittier and more violent than prior Bond movies. The previous movies also featured violence and death but they were usually accompanied by the obligatory witty quips and cocky attitude so it wasn't taken as seriously. In Quantum of Solace the corny puns and innuendo are kept to a minimum, however I did find myself laughing at some of the one liners. Since Bond is so hardened and angry in this movie I was surprised and even touched during a seen when he holds a dying friend and comforts him as he passes away, but my hopes were soon dashed when he callously tossed his body into a giant dumpster as soon as he died.

The action and stunts are great and nearly non stop so there isn't a dull moment; however the cinematography is choppier and harder to follow as is the trend these days in many action movies. Most of the fight scenes reminded me of The Bourne Identity. This movie is very entertaining with action sequences and stunts on the ground, air, and sea. The globe trotting covers England, Italy, Austria, and Bolivia. I found it interesting that Bond did not have the usual romp with the lead actress who was played by Olga Kurlyanko. In the past 007 has been much more prolific and promiscuous with the ladies, but here he seemed very focused on revenge. The other Bond girl , Agent Fields had a trivial part and didn't really fit in or contribute much to the movie. At least they used her to pay homage to a scene from Goldfinger.

Judi Dench grows on me more with each movie. She is more complex and effective than any of the men who have previously played the role of M. I think her character is one of the more intriguing and entertaining ones. I miss Q but since Desmond Llewelyn died it has been hard to replace him. There was really no need for a Q in this movie since there was no gadgetry with the exception of the cool computer screens at the MI6 briefing room. The most recent villain didn't have metal teeth, scars, a third nipple, a pet cat, or bleeding eyes, like prior eccentric villains we've seen. He didn't even have an underground lair or secret facility with hundreds of henchmen working for him either. He was just an average guy which made him appear less threatening and even vulnerable, but he seemed more realistic than prior villains. The scariest thing about the villain was his right hand man's horrible haircut.

If you are a long time fan of the Series and enjoyed Connery and Moore for their suave and smooth performances you may not enjoy this movie as much. I have noticed that many of the seasoned 007 fans are not happy that Bond is being re-defined. Some feel he his identify has been hi-jacked and they've been critical of the direction of the last two movies. I can see their point and as a long time Bond fan I can empathize with them, but I think Daniel Craig does a great job and has revived the series for a younger generation. This movie met most of my expectations despite it's departure from many of the traditional Bondisms we've grown accustomed to over the years. I give it 7.1 out of 10.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Movie Trivia Quiz

If you enjoy movie trivia I thought it would be fun to test your movie trivia skills with a quiz. If you don't enjoy movies then you are reading the wrong blog. To show you how it works I will give you a very easy example. What do Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Michael Keaton, and Christian Bale have in common? Yes they all make more money than us but I was looking for the fact that they have all played the role of Batman. See how you do on the rest of the questions. Answers are listed below. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to write them upside down so try not to cheat.

1. What do Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson, Ethan Hawke, and Laurence Olivier have in common?
2. What do The Fellowship of the Ring, Back to the Future, The Matrix, and the God Father have in common?
3. What do Gary Oldman, Klaus Kinsky, Wesley Snipes, and George Hamilton, have in common?
4. What do Jackie Chan, John Wayne, and Buster Keaton have in common?
5. What do Stand by Me, My Giant, Saving Private Ryan, Supersize Me, and the Sandlot have in common?
6. What do Alec Baldwin, Harison Ford, and Ben Aflec have in common?
7. What do Star Wars, Police Academy, Harry Potter, and Rocky Have in common?
8. What do Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, Adam Sandler, Robert Redford, and Clint Eastwood have in common?
9. What do Al Pacino, John Malkovich, and Mark Rufallo, Ben Affleck have in common?
10. What to Rosamund Pike, Famke Janssen, Sophie Marceau, Jill St. John, and Jane Seymour have in common?
11. What do Paul Giamatti, Mel Gibson, Mark Whalberg, Bryce Dallas Howard,and Bruce Willis have in common?
12. What do Patriot Games, National Treasure, Lorna Doone, and Goldeneye have in common?

If I would have had questions like this in school then I could have been a Sterling Scholar. Instead my parents were stuck with a bumper sticker that says "Proud parent of a movie trivia geek" . Feel free to post your scores.

Answers: 1) They all played the character of Hamlet 2) All are the first movie of Trilogies 3)They all acted roles as vampires 4) They did their own stunts 5) They all feature throw up scenes 6) They each played the role of Jack Ryan 7) They all have 4 + movies in the series 8) They have all been prisoners in movies 9) They all played blind characters 10) They are all Bond girls 11)They were the lead actors in M. Night Shayamalan movies. 12) Sean Bean was the villain in each.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Motivational Movie Endings

I'd like to address one of the most inspirational, yet over used and formulaic occurrences we have seen at the movies. It happens at the climax of a movie when everyone gets involved (chanting, clapping, etc.) to help the underdog character overcome the opposition and achieve victory. I think I will name this occurrence so we can better identify it in the future. For now I will call these "buzzer beaters". I love many of the movies that employ this technique, but it looses its impact the more you see it. Here is a list of some of these movies:

Rudy- The crowd begins to chant his name in unison so the coaches will put him in the game so he can make the final big play.
Dead Poets Society- The entire class standing on chairs and saying "Oh captain, my captain" to show their respect to their teacher.
Strictly Ballroom- The dad claps after the judges pull the plug. Others slowly join in until the entire crowd is clapping the beat so they can finish their number.
Karate Kid 2- The scene when the villagers use their spin drums to give Danielson the strength and guidance he needs to defeat the bad guy.
Iron Will- As they approach the end of the race exhausted, the spectators at the finish line begin whistling the secret melody to make the dogs run fast enough to cross the finish.
On the Waterfront- The final scene as Terry Maloy confronts the union boss after being beaten and all the dock workers stand in solidarity and take a stand against the union leaders.
Cool Runnings-When the Jamaican team wipes out and they carrying their sled towards the finish line. One person starts with the strong, slow, deliberate clap and it catches on until the crowd erupts once they finally cross the finish line.
Spartacus- The slaves standing up one by one claiming to be Spartacus in order to protect him

I'm sure there are many more, so please send me your suggestions so I can add them to the list.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rival Movies

Over the years I have noticed a trend of two different movie studios releasing very similar movies that come out within months of each other. It makes me wonder if rival studio heads come together and say "lets see who can make a better movie starring someone who once played James Bond, but in this movie they will play an eccentric art thief who has a romantic interest with the younger woman who is assigned to investigate him". Then in 1999 both Entrapment and The Thomas Crown Affair come out at the same time.

Was it just a coincidence that 1492 and Christopher Columbus both came out in same year? The different movie makers must spy on each other and try to outdo the other. That is why you just happen to have two movies about the fight at the OK Coral released at the same time. Both Tombstone and Wyatt Earp came out in 1993. Maybe they say "I heard another Studio is planning a movie about a volcano. We are going to miss out on the volcano craze if we don't compete". In 1997 Dante's Peak and Volcano are both in theaters at the same time.

Perhaps the rivalry is as simple as getting a short e-mail challenge that says: Lame Mars science Fiction movie due in 7 months! Then in 2000 both Mission to Mars and Red Planet are released. I saw Without Limits in 1998 which is a movie based on the life of long distance runner Steve Prefontaine. When I returned the video I noticed a movie called Prefontaine which was basically the same story that another studio had released the prior year.

What are the odds of having more than one action packed drama released at the same time about a meteor headed towards earth that will wipe out the entire planet? Deep Impact and Armageddon were both in theaters in 1998. How about a gritty epic World War 2 movie with all star casts? Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line also came out in 1998. For the longest time I honestly thought that Antz and A Bug's Life were the same movie. Apparently they are separate animated ant cartoons that both came out in the same year.

In 2006 did you see a suspense/mystery/drama about Magicians in the early 1900's in Europe? I have actually heard cases of people going to the theater and seeing the wrong movie because their friends weren't specific enough about which Magician/period movie they were recommending. The Prestige and The Illusionist were both good movies and even better examples to illustrate this topic.

The saddest form of copying is when a big movie is coming out and another studio throws together a cheap piece of junk movie that goes straight to video with essentially the same name and storyline with hopes that the uninformed or very elderly will not notice the difference at the video store.

If you can think of any other movies let me know by listing them in the comments section. Ideally they should be released within a year of each other. Also sequels obviously wouldn't count. I know there are many more out there, so let me know the next time you see another example of this.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

I prefer action, comedy and sci-fi, movies but I occasionally watch documentaries so I won't feel so shallow. Several months ago I heard about Expelled just before it was released. I was surprised to learn that Ben Stein was behind this movie. I knew him as the lethargic teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and from Clear Eyes Commercials, but I didn't know much else about him. Due to the controversial nature of this movie I did not expect it to do well in the theaters, but I had no idea that the critics would crucify it like they did. It currently has a 3.5 Rating on IMDB and it was much lower than that when it first came out. In fact the low rating was one of the reasons I decided to rent it. I was curious to see if this movie had been black listed or if it was really as bad as reviewers and comment boards said it was.

In this film Ben Stein takes a look at many of America's institutions of higher learning and their opposition to allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution. He interviews several distinguished professors who claim to have lost their jobs for even bringing up the topic in their classes or in papers they had published. He claims the faculty members and higher powers who are proponents of Darwin's theory of Evolution have gotten rid of anyone who even raises the possibility of creationism as a theory in the classroom.

There is silly slapstick footage of old black and white movies spliced in throughout the movie which is supposed to be analogous to the ongoing battle over this topic. Stein really offended his critics when he compared those who teach only Evolution to Nazis. I think it's usually a mistake to compare anyone to Nazis, but I could see the point he was making. Many of the leaders of the third Reich were stanch disciples of Darwin and Eugenics and believed it was their duty to purge the world of weaker species and inferior humans. He addressed how planned parenthood and the euthanasia movement have also been influenced by Darwin. The movie took a very somber turn as he visited holocaust sites and Darwin's museum in Europe. I thought the movie started to drag and this point and lost some momentum.

An insightful part of this movie was to watch some of the most bitter opponents of intelligent design, creationism, and God. You get a real feel for their condescending attitude and the disgust they have for anyone who is foolish enough to even entertain such ideas. Seeing some of these intellectual giants made me grateful that I am not consumed in academia. (Watching some of their interviews also made me want to send them a gift certificate for a makeover.) I find it ironic that many of the great scientific discoveries were made by men who were under a great deal of scrutiny and opposition from the scientific community of their time. I would think that some of the antagonistic scientists would acknowledge this but when it comes to this topic there is no room for debate.

The highlight of the film was an interview Ben Stein had with Richard Dawkins, a devout atheist and outspoken opponent of intelligent design. Dawkins begins the interview by outright denying the existence of God and belittles the idea of ID but after continual questioning he ends up saying he could see some higher intelligence or life form seeding the planet for life but says it could possibly have been aliens but not the God we know. It was interesting to hear him contradict himself and actually describe the concept behind intelligent design.

The critics claimed this was a shallow one sided documentary. Few documentaries are unbiased these days. I have a feeling the critics of this movie are the same ones that give Michael Moore's work rave reviews. Ben Stein obviously had an agenda and wanted to convey his concerns and he does succeed raising several legitimate questions. I think it is interesting to see how quickly industries and societies that clamor for tolerance, diversity, and open mindedness will put the clamps on a movie like this if it doesn't agree with their beliefs or agenda. The media and academia ripped this movie a new one, but I thought it deserved a much better rating than most people have given it. I give it 6.7 out of 10 rating. Now I can't wait to get back to my shallow non-controversial movies.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

James Bond

In honor of the approaching release of Quantum of Solace I would like to discuss James Bond. I know many people are not fans of the series claiming it is stupid and fake. I also have some issues with it. 007 is a womanizer, drinking, gambling, assassin. I will admit he is not the ideal role model but I still like James Bond movies.

Sean Connery was the original 007 and probably the most charismatic and confident. He was also the most physically intimidating. (with the noted exception of Diamonds are Forever where he wore a toupee and had a gut since he was well past his prime). He was in seven Bond movies if you include the Renegade Never Say Never Again which was produced by another studio. I have found that he is "the real" Bond for the old school crowd (People over 45).

George Lazenby was Connery's successor and is more of a trivia figure since his only move was On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He was very physical but had a hard time living up to his predecessor. The clothes he wore in his movie were ridiculous. The fashion in this movie is what Austin Powers makes fun of. Overall he wasn't bad for an Australian used car salesman who got a one time chance at a big movie. It is also probably the only movie in which you will see James Bond cry.

Roger Moore was more suave than the rest. He was a gentleman and well mannered, despite the fact he cracked more of the stupid puns and innuendo than the others. He was also cockier and more smug than the rest. He relied heavily on gadgets since we was not too intimidating. He was one of the smarter ones who seemed to know everything. The first Bond movies I saw were with Roger Moore. He was also in seven Bond movies before leaving the series.

Timothy Dalton was a nice change after Moore got too old to be convincing, but Dalton came across as being too serious and brooding. He was the pissed off James Bond. That may be why he only lasted two movies. I didn't dislike him but he was one of my least favorite.

Growing up I hated Pierce Brosnan. I thought he was the world's biggest wimp on Remington Steele. I was glad when he lost the part to Dalton in the 80's, but I have to admit he surprised me and is one of my favorite Bonds now. He relied heavily on gadgets and tricks and didn't have a big physical presence, but he was very convincing. I thought he did a good job in the four movies he was in. I was actually sad to see him be replaced.

A few years ago I had never even heard of Daniel Craig. When he was named to be the new Bond for Casino Royale I looked him up and was surprised since I couldn't imagine him as James Bond. However; After seeing Casino Royale I was totally impressed with his performance. I thought he was the most exciting 007 so far. He is not as polished as Connery, Moore, or Brosnan. He has the toughness and short temper of a Dalton and the physicality of Connery and Lazenby. I know they intentionally portrayed his character as being unrefined since he was a rookie to the role, but it was refreshing to see Bond make mistakes and have bad judgement for a change. I just hope the upcoming sequel is as entertaining as the first movie.

There have been over 23 Bond movies, and these are some of my favorite:
Casino Royale
Die Another Day
For Your Eyes Only
The Living Daylights
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Tomorrow Never Dies
From Russia With Love
Dr. No

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Dark Knight Review

I wrote this back in July just after the Dark Knight was released. As of today this movie is still $72,000,000 short of being the top domestic money maker despite it's' success at the box office.

Let me start by clarifying that this is less of a review and more of a request for help to break a record. For years I have followed movie revenue statistics (I know, get a life) and have been baffled that Titanic is still the top domestic money making movie of all time. Everyone loved it when it came out but almost everyone rips on it now. It was a strange deal because it started slow and picked up steam. It didn't set any opening week records, but after it had been out for a month or two word of mouth and repeat viewers fueled it to take off for the next couple months. This is the same rare occurrence that happened with My Big Fat Greek Wedding although it was not nearly as successful. Titanic ended up making $600,779.00 in the U.S. before it was released to video. The next closest money maker is the Original Star Wars at 460,998.00 and that was even after Lucas cheated and re-released it a second time 20 years later. How can this be possible?

I have always watched and wished any movie would come along and replace Titanic as the top money maker of all time but nothing has ever come close. I have hoped in vain over the years as Lord of the Rings, The Star Wars prequels, and even Indiana Jones could not pull it off. After seeing the Dark Knight's numbers from the opening weekend I again have hope that this will finally be the movie to dethrone Titanic. I give this movie a solid 9 out of 10 stars and and I am very frugal when it comes to giving out stars. I am the Simon Cowell of movie reviews so even though the audience will boo me for saying this I have to admit if I would have liked to see a few minor details changed. I know it is a comic book movie and not real, but a couple small items distracted me. Especially considering how well everything was done. (Warning spoilers)

1) When Batman kidnaps the Chinese dude I would have preferred to see him strap the cable to a harness for them instead of just hold onto the bad guy and the cable and get ripped away by a speeding plane.
2) The make up for Dent/Two Face was a little extreme. No swelling the day after half your face is burnt off? I could have gone for a little less skeleton open eye socket and a little more swollen, charred look.
3) When he dives out the window of his skyscraper for Rachel he falls with her onto a car. That would kill anyone even if you were holding onto Batman. At least they could have shown a parachute or his wings open up to better show that their fall was slowed down.
4) Two Face and Batman had nearly the same raspy deep voice. It was like dueling banjos of who had the scratchiest voice. I was waiting to see Rod Stewart come out to challenge them to a voice duel.
5) I'd also cut out 15 minutes somewhere. I think the whole cell phone tracking/ sonar deal could have been eliminated and was only included to show how his sonar bat eyes worked. This felt like 2 or 3 movies in one. It was long but didn't drag on like Return of the King where they should have ended the movie about 6 scenes sooner than they did. I got my moneys worth in the first half hour so I'm not complaining.

There are a lot of reasons you should see this movie if you haven't yet. (Those of you who might be in a coma or prison). First of all if you divide the cost of admission by how many minutes the film is you are in for a bargain. The cost per minute is quite competitive at 2 and 1/2 hours. Compare that to an animated Pixar/Disney movie that lasts 90 minutes and you can see the value. The cast is top notch and there is great acting by many well known actors including Heath Ledger's last performance. It has amazing special effects, action, and drama accompanied by an intense James Horner music score.I really enjoyed this movie and encourage everyone to go see it. (with the exception of young kids). I give it 8.5 Stars.

Some people look at this as entertainment but I am looking at it as something far more important. I feel kind of like Jerry Lewis during one of his telethons. I will keep pleading with the public for their support and help over the next several weeks no matter how tired I get. This is the only movie that has a chance to sink Titanic. Together we can make history and do this. If we accomplish this goal I will throw a party at my house and I will invite Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. I'll let you know if something comes up and they are unable to make it.
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