Category Archives: Movies

Honest Trailers and No Time to Die

We spent some time at our house warming up for the final Daniel Craig Bond film, No Time to Die, followed by a write up of the movie struck me, so it is probably pretty unremarkable that I was up for the Honest Trailers take on the film.

As with my own write up, there are spoilers in this video.

This hits on a couple of the points that I made, like the fact that things kind of lose their edge when Ana de Armas character Paloma, the most dynamic person in the whole film, waves bye-bye and the fact that it is difficult to sustain a five movie narrative arc when it takes 15 years to get there.

But if you’re really into it, the Honest Trailers Commentary discussion video, where they go over the film goes into some further details about the movie and where Bond might go next.

Because, of course, James Bond will return.

Watching Dune Part One

The big day came this past weekend; the new Dune movie arrived.  I was going to put off posting this until next weekend, but I finished up the post and the topic seems timely, so here we go with a Monday movie post.

That brief moment when they tell you it is a two part series

I am also going to put a mild spoiler warning here.  I discuss plot points of the story.  If you’ve read the book or seen the previous movie or mini-series, these plot points are well known to you already.  If you haven’t, well, they’ll probably be more confusing than spoiler-ish.  But if you want to go into the film clean, don’t read any reviews, including this one.

My wife and I had been talking about seeing Dune in the theater and then I saw that it was also going to be available to watch on HBO Max for the first month of its release… the hedging against small pandemic audiences continues… so we decided to sit on the couch and watch it instead.

I regret not seeing it in the theater on a really big screen a bit… but not enough to actually go out and do so.  It is quite beautifully shot and there were points my wife and I both said something like, “I bet that would have been spectacular in the theater,” but that is the way it goes.

I am also going to make a minor fuss up front here about this being “Part One,” but only because the studio seems to have gone out of their way to hide that fact.

None of the movie posters, ads, or other marketing I have seen says that this is only the first half of the book.  Even on HBO Max it just says Dune.  This seems to me like a particularly pointless, and even counter productive, act.

People are going to find out.  I knew about it before we saw the film from people complaining that the studio seemed to be hiding the fact.  Turning the book into two films certainly didn’t bother me, and it is not something without precedent in Hollywood.  People remember Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Hunger Games: Mockingjay were both two parters and neither seemed to suffer in the box office… though admittedly both were the final chapters in already established successful series on the big screen.

So I am at a bit of a loss about the studio trying to hide this fact.  Even in the opening credits, the title of the movie only appears for about five seconds, and only in the last two seconds of that appearance does it say “Part One.”  That is enough to miss it, which actually happened to my wife while we were watching, though that is one of the hazards of watching at home where there are many more distractions.

Having hidden the whole “Part One” thing, what are they planning to call the next movie, Also Dune? More Dune? Dune Dune? Or will they go full George Lucas and call it Dune Episode IX – The Fremen Ascendant?
Anyway, that was more words expended than the issue required, though there is more to consider on this front, which I will get to in a bit.

The film itself is very good, certainly relative to its 1984 sibling, about which I wrote last week.

The whole tale still needs a lot of explaining to get the audience on board as to what is actually happening, but it is done in a much more organic way.  Gone is the almost non-stop intonations and articulated thoughts of the main characters of the earlier outing as the script/director strive to show the situation through a series of less structured encounters.

People are still spilling forth more information than they might otherwise, but it doesn’t begin to approach the “Ben Stein lectures on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act” presentation to the audience that even the book spins perilously close to at times.  My wife said aloud at several points early on that the story was being presented in a much better fashion.

The film also dispenses with the Princess Irulan historical narration, which is in both previous adaptations and the book.  This version is firmly set in the here and now.  Or the “then” I guess, since this is ten thousand years in the future.

Things are not quite as grandiose in this telling either.  It is beautifully filmed and looks excellent on screen, but it is also more like to real life.  Things are dirtier or grittier or less well lit.  Uniforms are not as gaudy, ceremonies are more subdued, and House Harkonnen isn’t so obviously the bad guys.

I mean, they are still clearly the antagonists, but not quite in the almost comic book fashion of the 1984 film, where they were comparable to Batman villains.  Their evil is more banal, their greed more ordinary, their machinations less fraught, their maniacal laughter much more subdued.  The Baron is still weird and icky, but at least we aren’t spending a lot of time focused on his acne issues..

We also get a much closer look at the Emperor’s Sardaukar troops, establishing their loyalty and fanaticism.  The Emperor himself though, he gives the whole thing a miss, and we see only his herald delivering the news about Arakkis is being transferred to House Atreides.

The whole house swap plan still seems like a mildly ludicrous way to deal with whatever problem the Emperor is trying to solve… a problem that is not really explained at all… but the film does at least spend some time demonstrating how House Harkonnen screwed over House Atreides on the deal more fully than I seem to recall even the book doing.  House Atreides is clearly being set up for failure, and that is the part of the plan that is important in the moment.

The film spends its first 90 minutes with foundational material and setting up the coming conflict before House Harkonnen finally attacks to retake Arakkis with support from the Emperor’s Sardaukar.  There is the betrayal, the battle, the escape, the Baron, and all the bits and pieces you may recall from book, movie, or mini-series past.

The battle and aftermath gets things close to the two hour mark, after which we spend about 40 minutes with Paul and his mother traipsing about the desert, finding the Fremen and getting accepted by them which, while an important aspect of the story, is kind of a slow roll even when compared to the early exposition laden portions of the film.  And then the end credits show up and we’re done.  That was a bit of a surprise to my wife who, as I mentioned above, missed the two seconds flash of “Part One” in the opening.

Overall a strong outing, well written and performed, with a Hans Zimmer score that seems to live and breath with the film.  I enjoyed it.  Go see it in the theater if you can, if Dune and theaters are both your thing.

They trimmed back the cast of characters, no doubt to keep the focus of the story getting too diluted/confused.  So the Emperor and his plans are left out, along with the Spacing Guild and Baron Harkonnen’s other nephew, played by Sting back in 1984.  But Dave Bautista has chops enough to fill out all the nephew needs of this film.  Even the Bene Gesserit feels like it has been left behind after the Reverend Mother plays “What’s in the box?” with Paul early on.

But there is time for all of those who went missing in Part One to make their appearance in the second film, which will necessarily revolve around Paul rising to lead the Fremen and the reactions of House Harkonnen, the Emperor, the Spacing Guild, and the Bene Gesserit to the Fremen insurrection and the disruption of the spice trade.

That is, if we get a second film.

Part of the reason the studio might have been shy about the whole “Part One” things is that, as of this writing, the second film hasn’t yet been officially sanctioned.  There is a lot of vagueness about the future of the series at the moment, which I imagine mostly rests on how well Dune Part One does at the box office.

Given that the film barely cracked $40 million mark in the US on its opening weekend, which is good but not great, there does seem to be reason for doubt. (For comparison, Venom did $90 million, Shang-li did $75 million, No Time to Die did $55 million, and even Halloween Kills managed $49 million, all during the last two months.)  I am sure HBO kicked in a pile of cash to be able to show it on their service, but was it enough to make up for how many people they kept from going to see it in the theater.

I know at this point somebody is at least thinking “foreign box office!”  I would like to remind anybody going down that path exactly how many Warcraft sequels we got when it did so well overseas:  Zero.  Zero sequels.

So we shall have to wait and see and hope.  I want the next film.  My worry is that the current one won’t make the cut financially to warrant it.

This is also a reminder to those of us in the nerd faction about the popularity of the Dune IP.  I keep seeing people ranking the Dune series in importance culturally with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.  That might just be for our demographic.

Meanwhile, even if the sequel does get the green light to go forward, we’re probably 2-3 years away from a release.  Maybe more.  That will give people time enough to go read… or re-read… the entire Dune saga.

Addendum: The sequel has been officially sanctioned.  The estimate is October of 2023 currently.

Watching Dune 1984

The new Dune movie landed this weekend and my wife and I are both considering seeing it in the theater.  We’re not James Bond worked up about it, like we were for No Time to Die, but going to the theater was still in contention.

Dune from another era

And, of course, we decided we might like to do a bit of build-up for it, so we decided to watch the first attempt at a Dune movie, the David Lynch film from 1984, which we happened to have on DVD right there on our shelf in the family room.

Two things right off the bat.

First, I have/had very strong positive memories of that version of Dune.  It had actors I liked, an extremely strong visual style, and I had read the book not too soon before it came out… though later, in digging through my memories, I might have read the book after it came out.  It is kind of a blur.

Second, I am not sure if I have watched the movie since I saw it in the theater when it came out.  Yes, we have the DVD, but who among us hasn’t bought a DVD then never watched it.  I know I considered it back when the SciFi channel, now SyFy, made their own mini-series… which I also only vaguely remember and which wasn’t available anywhere to watch or we might have given it a go as well… but I think I bought the DVD from the CompUSA that used to be down the street from us when they were fail cascading, whenever that was.  They went hard into DVDs one month, then were getting rid of them the next.

So, with that I booted up the PlayStation 3 once more, inserted the DVD, and off we went.

And… wow, that movie is a mess.

I mean, it is still visually stunning, and my having seen it in the theater back when it was new meant that those visuals left a lasting impression on me.  It was, and remains, unique in that regard.

Also the fact that I had not read the book before I saw the movie, something I am prone to at times, no doubt helped me some.  It is often easier to let the visuals wash over you as the dialog tries to keep up and not have to worry about whether or not it is actually getting the story right.  The movie version of a book is a work that has to stand on its own, should stand on its own, and while you can compare the translation from one medium to another and debate as to whether or not the essence of the story was captured, they will always different experiences.

Still, I am a bit surprised how positive my impression of the movie was going into this view was.   Sure, the visuals had a lasting impression and there is the whole passage of time to account for.

It suffers from what many movie adaptations stumble over, which is the need to condense a 400+ page science fiction novel… and one that eschews many of the easy tropes of the genre… into a movie experience that needs to be well under three hours from coming attractions to the end of the credits.

In order to catch viewers up the first hour of the movie is filled with exposition.  And when characters aren’t just filling us in by telling somebody else something they likely already knew in more detail than would be required in a conversation between anybody besides complete strangers, we’re hearing their thoughts, once again running through details that probably wouldn’t bear consideration if they were really part of the universe in which they are projected.  It would be rather like a fish being constantly concerned about the fact that it lives in water and going over all the details of that existence for the first 20 minutes or so of Finding Nemo.

Though, to be fair, the book does the same damn thing.  You can pick up a copy and find that the film grabbed the internal monologues almost verbatim from what Frank Herbert wrote.  The movie even tries to play the whole thing as being a history to explain the fact that it isn’t being seen through any one person’s eyes, once again, as the book does, though it doesn’t give you a lot to hang onto in that regard.  (I was ruined by a high school lit teacher and now my brain demands to know who is telling any story, whose perspective I am viewing, something that the entire Dune series, and the Brian Herbert prequels especially, are not very concerned with.)

Anyway, once you get past the “tell the story by voice overs of people’s thoughts” section of the movie… which I am sure I didn’t mind back in 1984 because I didn’t mind them in the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner either… the film hits one of the other problems of the translation to another media, the fact that it has spent a huge chunk of its run time setting up the story such that it doesn’t have a lot to waste on the middle of the tale and the build up for the finale.  And so we enter the “greatest hits” potion of the show, which even includes a montage of scenes meant to convey the rise of the Fremen under the leadership of Paul and how they are disrupting the flow of the spice.  You could splice in film clips of the French resistance or Russian partisans and they would fit.

And then everything comes to a head and everybody is on Arrakis including the emperor, who we at one point see sitting at a four seat periscope viewer device that I swear was a left over prop from the 1966 Batman film, spiffed up a bit and spray painted gold, and there is a little girl with a strange voice who later is Zelda in Orange is the New Black, and Kyle MacLachlan fights Sting, and then the emperor’s daughter is telling us about what happened and we’re in the credits and the whole thing is over.

A bit of a wild ride, though in hindsight I think my biggest problem with the whole thing was the plan from the book itself.  Was putting House Atreides on Arrakis to replace House Harkonnen only to have the Harkonnen’s come back almost immediately really the best plan they could come up with?  Seems a bit dodgy.

Overall, it is very much a piece of its time.  It is stylistically unique in a David Lynch sort of way… Patrick Stewart charging into battle shouting and carrying a pug cradled in his arm springs to mind… with a very talented cast tasked to carry too much story in too little time.  Our DVD is the original theatrical release, though there are other cuts available, some of which have David Lynch’s name removed as director by his request.  I am not sure the different cuts make a difference.  I doubt this is like Brazil, where the studio cut has a dramatically different ending from the Terry Gilliam cut.

I am a bit torn as to whether it is better to watch the movie having read the book and have it not translate into what your mind’s eye pictured, or whether it is best to go in blind and let its bizarre nature overwhelm.

Basically, it probably isn’t as bad as you’ve been told nor as good as you might remember.

And with that groundwork in place we’re keen to the new Dune.  I am already aware, in part through the wailing I have seen online, that it is a two part series and that  we’re only getting the first part now.  The marketing has been very low key on that, which reminds me a bit of the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings animated film that hit theaters back in 1978, which omitted the fact that it was only part of the story. (Excellent review of that fiasco here.)  If you’re not up front about the fact that people are not getting the full story they will be angry.

Be more like Mel Brooks with History of the World: Part I.  You can then get to the second part whenever.

Addendum: There are a bunch of re-reviews of this version of Dune out there, but my wife just pointed me to this one over at Ars Technica that might be the best ever.

No Time to Die First Take

We went to see No Time to Die this past Monday afternoon, which ought not to surprise anybody who read last week’s post about watching all the previous Daniel Craig Bond films.

This post contains spoilers.

I am going to put the title card in, then write a few more general paragraphs about the movie, then I will put a cut in and discuss spoilers below that.  Spoilers will not appear on the front page of the blog, but if you read this via RSS or came directly to the post then you are in danger of tainting yourself with them.

Again, spoiler warning.  You carry on from here at your own risk.

So, as noted, we saw the film on Monday at an afternoon matinee in a sizable theater with maybe a total of ten people on hand.  There is a reason we chose that time slot.  It was the first time we have been back to the theater since either Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker or Knives Out, both of which we saw during the holidays in 2019.

It has been a while.

And I will say that movie theater popcorn is every bit as good as I remember it.  It beats the crap out of home popped or microwave popcorn.  Really, they don’t even compare.  It was so good that I am sure it must somehow be destroying the environment or involve some sort of exploitation of labor.  Amazon probably runs the factory and the delivers services using entirely gig labor compensated as piece work with impossible to meet quotas.  But I savored it all the same.

James Bond, however, was a bit of a let down.

No Time to Die picks up where Spectre left off with James and Madeleine in Italy, together after having thwarted Blofeld.  They are in love and going to spend the rest of their lives together.  James says that they have “all the time in the world,” which I couldn’t help recalling is pretty much what George Lazenby said to Diana Rigg at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service right before Diana Rigg dies.

Foreshadow much Bond?

Maybe, or maybe not.  We’re not to the spoilers quite yet.  Anyway, it turns out SPECTRE the organization (as opposed to the movie) is still kind of pissed off and they come to get Bond and there is a car chase and guns and a guy loses his prosthetic eye and when they get clear there is the question of who sold out whom and the relationship is off.

Then we get the opening credits, which were a bland montage backed by a bland theme song.  Completely forgettable.  If you’re a Billie Eilish fan, I’m sorry, but it just wasn’t enough to carry the opening.

After the credits it is five years later, a sinister plot is afoot and Bond, who has been in retirement in Ian Flemming’s old digs in Jamaica, gets pulled into things despite the fact that he’s off the list and there is already another agent sitting at the desk labeled “007.”

Anyway, he goes in, there is action, betrayal, a major double cross, more action, lots of gun play, an escape, another double cross, then a big reveal about how all of this a black project that is now in the hands of the bads.  More Bond digging, plot discovered, bad guys one step ahead, big chase scene, Bond gets away.  Then finally the big set piece infiltration op, facing the bad guy, then the grand finale, roll credits, the Daniel Craig era is over.

And it was okay.  Mostly on formula.  It looked good on the big screen.  There are, as always, boxes that need to be checked.  Action was done in the Bond fashion.  But, as with Spectre, the whole didn’t really come together into something greater than the box-ticking parts.

Having seen all five in the space of a week, my wife and I hashed out our ranking of the Daniel Craig Bond films as:

  1. Skyfall
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Spectre
  4. No Time to Die
  5. Quantum of Solace

I might give QoS the benefit of the doubt and put it ahead of No Time to Die, maybe… as at least it wasn’t two hours and forty five minutes getting somewhere.  If you’re going to be mediocre, at least be brief about it.  But my wife insisted it be at the bottom, so I’ll leave it there.

The odd thing about that list is that the best film, at least in our ranking, is the one that doesn’t get all bogged down in the shadowy world of mysterious global criminal organizations that control most everything behind the scenes… though the SPECTRE organization roster seems a bit thin in No Time to Die for an organization that claims to have people everywhere.

Anyway, we are at the spoilers section.  You have been warned.

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Warm Up for No Time to Die

As I may have mentioned here a few times, my wife and I are fans of the James Bond movie series and, with the final Daniel Craig film in the series, No Time to Die, coming out this weekend we felt it might be time for a warm up back into the series.  It has, after all, been five freaking years since we’ve had a proper Bond film in the theaters.  Not the longest gap in the series, which was between Dalton and Brosnan, but still a long time.

Having seen the cast interviewed on Graham Norton where it was mentioned that the new film carries on straight from Spectre, we thought we had best watch that again.  Then my wife suggested before I could even utter the words myself, that we should watch all the Daniel Craig Bond films.  So that was what we did, and here is the summary from our viewing.

Of course, this was easier said than done.  Much to my disappointment, none of the streaming channels to which we currently subscribe… which total more than half a dozen at the moment due to following various series, including HBO, Showtime, and Starz… had the films available.

So it was time to get out the disks and crank up the PlayStation 3, which is still out source for watching DVDs and Blu-Ray.  Fortunately we have all the Bond film on disk.  I had to put new batteries in the remote and go through yet another patch update for the PS3 and then figure out again how exactly it was hooked up to our sound bar, but once settled things went well enough.  We have the first film, Casino Royale, on DVD only.  That was fine and it looked good on our TV.  For Quantum of Solace we bough the DVD+Blu-Ray combo, because we didn’t have the PS3 yet.  The other two are on Blu-Ray only.

It had been long enough since we watched a store bought Blu-Ray film that I had forgotten how the studios liked to cram trailers for other films to run before you get to the main menu.  You can skip through them, but I tend to watch them for as long as it takes me to guess the film and get it confirmed.  It was a reminder of past times.

  • Casino Royale – 2006

Not my favorite Bond film, but I have softened on it since I put it on my “least favorite” list back in 2012.  I’ll trade it out for Die Another Day.  I think I’ve seen Casino Royale three times since then, including the past week’s viewing, and it has grown on me a bit.  I still have my gripes.  I am not saying they should have dumped Judi Dench, but when they made a big deal about cleaning house for a fresh Bond look and then kept the same “M” as the Brosnan series still strikes me as odd.

It also has to bear the weight of being an actual Bond story, one that has been done twice, once on TV and once in parody form.  It breaks the Bond mold in that it starts off with him not yet being a double-0 agent, so we have to establish that first, then we break into the intro credits before getting onto the traditional set piece action sequence which, true to the series, isn’t all that relevant but is a lot of fun.  Best parkour ever.  But we keep having to establish the Bond tropes because it is a reboot of the franchise.

But the real failing point of this outing for me is that the stakes really aren’t that high; win a card game.  What happened to plots to destroy the world?  Yes, there is a lot around that card game, but it still comes down to cards… and not even baccarat which, while unfathomable to me, still has all the classic dealer lines.  Instead it was Texas Holdem, which was a fad at the moment.  But Bond films are always of their time.

The opening credits are an excellent animation and the theme song is perhaps the most on-point since Goldfinger; a line like “But you yourself are nothing so divine, just next in line” calls to the reboot very nicely.  It might be one of the more underrated songs from the series… and it made an excellent WoW parody.

Overall decent, though it gets out of hand for the last 30 minutes or so, most of which could/should have just been appended to the opening of the next film.  Also, Daniel Craig looks so lean and crisp in the face.  I guess we were all a lot younger in 2006.

  • Quantum of Solace – 2008

My trajectory with QoS has been rather a flip when compared to CR.  I liked QoS a lot when it came out, but less so with each viewing.  It feels a bit like an appendage to the first film, carrying on immediately from the final scene, lurching forward with promise, then losing its way.

It doesn’t start out bad.  It opens with a car chase, a quick interlude, then a foot chase, then a quick trip, followed by even more action including a boat chase.  Very Bond.  And it carries on hitting all the usual Bond points with more action and a woman with whom he slept being murdered.

But the opening is about a shadowy organization that has infiltrated everywhere and is potentially a world menace, and ends up with Bond solving a water utility problem in Bolivia.  You might not notice the sudden reduction in scope on the first pass, but after a few viewings I’m left with sort of a “Hey, what the hell?” kind of reaction, and it is something that doesn’t even get revisited until Spectre.  We start with one goal, straight off the end of CR and end up in the Bolivian desert with no real answers.  Cool plane chase though.

Certainly not the worst Bond film, but doesn’t really stand out either.  Even the theme song, which was again on point, fails to stick.

  • Skyfall – 2012

After all of that secret society stuff that ended up nowhere, the franchise headed off in a more traditional “crazy bad guy with a Rube Goldberg level scheme that is timed down the second” event that would fall apart the second you applied any thought to it.  But it looks so good and runs along at such a brisk pace, giving you little time for reflection, that it works in almost a “a whole that is greater that the sum of its parts” sort of way.

Skyfall does not have the best stunts, the best chases, the best action, the best shootouts, the best locations, the best gadgets, the best villains, or even the best theme song of the series.  The story isn’t even that compelling.  But everything is good, or at least good enough, the villains especially after the tedious Le Chiffre and dull Mister Greene of the previous two outings.

This is my favorite in the Daniel Craig batch so far.  It also nicely brings in some of Bond’s past and does the leadership transition at MI6.  Sam Mendes did a good job.  A solid outing.

We even got Adelle for the opening theme, which is a bit nonsensical in the vein of the Thunderball theme, but at least sounds nice.  I don’t remember any of the lyrics, just that it is easy on the ears and goes with well with the credits.

  • Spectre – 2015

After writing past Bond stuff I meant to write a review of Spectre when it came out, but I wasn’t moved to do it because it felt kind of empty.

Part of it was, of course, the fact that Skyfall came together as such a solid outing.  Having Sam Mendes come back to direct after that seemed like a promise of more quality work.

And the film seemed to have so much going for it out of the box.  The title is literally the secret organization we have wanted to know about as recently as half way through Quantum of Solace, Andrew Scott shows up as a menacing “C,” Christoph freaking Waltz as the main bad guy, there are locations to die for, and it kicks off with arguably the best opening action scene of any Bond film ever.  This was going to be great.

Okay, the opening theme was completely forgettable… I’ve seen Spectre three times now, including just minutes before I started writing the section and I can’t remember anything about it… but you can’t have everything.  It just has to live in the shadow of the Mexico City opening.

And it is ambitious.  It tries to tie together the previous three films… ret-conning Skyfall and its main villain into the mix… as all part of the grand plot of an international cabal that drives everything behind the scenes.  Bond goes from Mexico to London to Rome to the Alps to Algeria, and is fairly exciting the whole way.  And then we end up at their HQ in the desert and things start to come unglued as we find out what is going on.

There is the big reveal, the raison d’etre for Spectre…  and I won’t spoil it, but it was akin to  when I found out that Lex Luthor is evil because young Superman caused a lab accident that made all his hair fall out and, rather than using his considerable intellect to work on a baldness cure, Lex spends all his time trying to kill Superman with kryptonite.  It was a serious “Are you shitting me?” moment.  I mean, sure, they’re still a sinister and powerful international crime syndicate, but their leader is hung up on something that happened ages ago and all his wealth and power somehow hasn’t assuaged it.

It was hard for me to take the movie seriously after that.  It felt like a lot of build-up expended pointlessly.  There is still the whole final climax yet to play out at that point, but you know Bond is going to win, it is just a matter of filling in the details.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

  • No Time to Die – 2021

So we’ve had the build up, seen Daniel Craig age as we all have over the last fifteen years, now it is time to see the final act in his Bond arc.  The movie apparently picks up right where Spectre left off, which is a bit of a theme for these five movies.  I’ll probably write something up for next weekend about how it played for us.

Zombies Eleven

When I saw trailer for the Netflix movie Army of the Dead I knew we had to watch it… and not just as revenge for my wife making us watch all of season six of Fear the Walking Dead.  This looked like what I refer to as a “Friday night movie,” which in another era might have been a drive-in movie special, a title you watch expecting it to bad and silly and are ready to embrace it as such.  This is Job Bob Briggs territory, not Siskel and Ebert.

Army of the Dead

I’ve seen a number of people online complaining about this movie, saying it is bad, confused, lacks a coherent plot, among other things.  And, to me, that just means they came in with the wrong set of expectations.  I am more than willing to allow for a lot of unforced errors in pursuit of a great goal.

Which isn’t to say the film lacks for problems.  It is a Zack Snyder movie, which means that it probably spends way too much time building back story and character motivation than it really needs to.  Being a Snyder cut, the film weighs in at 148 minutes in a genre where two hours generally pushes a story well beyond anybody’s ability to care.

I will say that, were Warner Bros. left alone with the print, they could (and probably would) trim out a good 45 minutes of the run time and end up with something arguably as good, if less coherent, but the run time didn’t really weigh on me all that much.

The premise, which plays out in the intro scene and opening credits, if that a zombie being transported by the military in a secure container escapes just outside of Vegas.  It immediately heads to the Las Vegas strip, biting as it goes, turning people into zombies.  The military, which includes Dave Bautista and some companions, including his wife, manage to contain the zombie outbreak, walling in Las Vegas with shipping containers.

The George Romero rules of zombies apply.  If you get bit, you get the zombie fever, die, and become a zombie.  Bautista’s wife gets bit and turns after they get out and he has to kill her.

Then we skip forward a bit and Bautista is working at a fry cook at a roadside greasy spoon where he is approached by a casino owner who wants him to go in and retrieve $200 million that is still in the vault.  The US government is going to nuke Vegas to “solve” the zombie problem due to public pressure, so the idea is that Bautista and team can slip in, steal the money, get out, and any evidence will be vaporized.  For this Bautista and his team will get 25% of the take.

So it is really a heist movie.  A Vegas, zombie apocalypse, casino heist movie.  You have to respect that.  Also, that explains the title of the post, if you didn’t make that leap already.

So Bautista has to go assemble a team, make a plan, get the access codes from the casino owner, reconcile with his estranged daughter, and deal with the “totally not the Carter Burke role from Aliens” observer the casino owner sends along as a technical advisor (who is played by the same actor who played John Dorie in Fear the Walking Dead), get into Vegas, grab the money, and get out.

Bonds are forged, betrayals are acted out, dear friends die, guns are fired at full auto, things explode, a father daughter relationship is restored, zombies bite people, and a nuclear weapons destroys Las Vegas.

I will say that I kind of like the Army of the Dead zombies better than The Walking Dead zombies.  They have more depth, they dry out in the sun, come back in the rain, hibernate when bored, can zombify animals, and have a zombie hierarchy.  Yes, a shot to the brain kills them, but these zombies would own the zombies from TWD.  These zombies are also more contained, there being no “everybody who dies for any reason becomes a zombie” virus going around.

In the end, the cast and the special effects sell a movie like this.

The cast was very solid.  Dave Bautista, and I say this in the most respectful way possible, is where you go when you can’t get Dwayne Johnson, does not disappoint.  He is the anchor, and the rest of the ensemble falls into some of the heist movie roles, from flamboyant to world weary to suspicious to the clearly going to die in the first big fight.  And you barely even notice that Tig Notaro was digitally injected in post production to replace Chris D’Elia, which probably made the whole thing just a bit better on all fronts.  She is much better at being world weary and cynical.

And the special effects worked well.  There were a couple of things I expected to see that didn’t come to pass including on that was technically not real “Checkov’s pistol” error because they ended up using it, but when you show a daydream sequence of somebody churning a zombie with a big power tool, you kind of expect it to happen, so a spiritual violation of the rule at least.  If you show a pistol on the wall in the first act I don’t think you’re excused if somebody uses it to open a beer in the third act.

Overall, I had a good time.  It is a dumb movie and easily could have been a bit stronger or a bit tighter or maybe had a good memorable catch phrase of three.  But, as I said above, I came in with my expectations set correctly and was thus not disappointed.  That, as far as I can tell, is the secret of life.  This is a silly, dumb, Vegas, zombie, heist movie.  If you’re expecting zombie Casino or some other Scorsese level effort, pick up the remote down and press “stop.”

I probably wouldn’t watch it again outside of a group drinking movie night, but it was still more fun and excitement than any four TWD or FTWD episodes.

Of course, if you’re not keep to spend the time… and I can’t really blame you… then Honest Trailers has you covered on the picking the movie apart front.

Also, Screen Rant’s Pitch Meeting is on the job as well.

Experiencing Tenet

Last Friday I declared a movie night, suggesting that we sit down and watch Tenet.

Tenet

Somewhat to my surprise I received agreement from both my wife and daughter.  This almost never happens.

My daughter had been told by one of her film loving friends that she should see it while my wife, having watched the trailer on her phone after I suggested it, was good to go as well.

My wife actually said that the trailer made it feel a bit like Inception, an insight I had to applaud because Tenet is another Christopher Nolan film.  I, having seen neither the trailer nor having been coached by a friend about  the movie, was actually the least informed about it.  Nothing was spoiled for me in advance.

And, having watched it, it is very much a Christopher Nolan film.  I quite enjoyed it.

It is both a decent action flick and a puzzler that makes you keep track of what is going on.  John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, and Robert Pattinson all put in good performances, and I have been a sucker for Kenneth Branagh since Henry V, though I am starting to wonder if he only even plays non-Englishmen in his roles.  He’s played Americans, Germans, Russians, and Swedes.

Anyway, my main observation about the film, not wanting to spoil anything, is that it is very much a movie that seems designed to make the viewer feel clever.

You start out following the main character through their voyage of discovery as to what is going on.  They know nothing, you know nothing, and so things get explained to the both of you as things progress.  This can be a very powerful technique and, in my opinion, made films like The Matirx the successes they were.

As the film progresses and more bits and pieces of information are filled in, you will start to make guesses as to what is going to happen as well as the meaning of what has happened already.  We actually paused the film a couple of times to confer about what was really going on.  I can see fans watching the film over and over to pick out all the bits and clues about what is really going on.

The combo of learning with the main character and the feeling of cleverness really left me with a positive impression of the film.  I feel a bit like Christopher Nolan created this to draw in people like me.

And yet, for all of that cleverness, I still didn’t call the ending before it happens.  Nolan doesn’t give you all the clues and teases you with a few things, the camera lingering on this or that leaving you knowing it must mean something yet unable to attach it to something yet.

That sort of tease can be a bit of a hazard.  I have been annoyed by shows that spin you around and don’t give you some critical bit of information until long after it should have likely been revealed.  I was very critical of the first season of the series Broadchurch because at the end it felt like it had been jerking you around with false clues for seven episodes, then suddenly had a “hey surprise!” moment and it was obvious who had done it.  I didn’t come back for the next two seasons after that performance.

But Tenet successfully avoids that trap and feels quite satisfying at the end.  You feel clever, but not too clever, like the film gave you too much.  I wouldn’t mind watching it again, just to see what other clues I might have missed.  Maybe I could have figured it all out if only I had seen something.

Godzilla vs Kong

The week before last we took a short break from our series binge watching to have a movie night.  I declared a movie night and my wife brought home Red Vines and popcorn from the store and I cooked up some hot dogs so that we could simulate something of a theater experience.

The reason for this was the premiere of Godzilla vs Kong which, in addition to landing in theaters, was available on HBO Max so we could watch it from the comfort of our own couch, avoiding the ongoing pandemic and all that.

The Aqua/Red tone thing keeps showing up in the film

I am not a huge fan of such movies, though I am pretty sure I saw all of the early Godzilla movies, they being something of a staple of Sunday afternoon television for the low budget UHF channels in the area back when I was a kid.  But I was okay with the 2014 remake of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island was another good Friday night movie at our house, complete with Samuel L. Jackson.  And I have tried to make Friday night movies a thing around our house, favoring mindless action and explosions and such, so the premiere of Godzilla vs Kong seemed like the right moment to revive this idea.

Let me just say up front that this is a dumb movie and trying to think too hard or force logic on it is a futile effort.

But that aside, the whole thing spectacular in a very raw and visceral way.  There is a story there… and a too complex by half story at that… but the film makes no bones as to what it is about.  Godzilla shows up and wrecks some of Florida while the team watching over Kong declares that the two will end up fighting in less than ten minutes.

And fight they do.  This is what the film is about.  Giant monsters fighting and smashing stuff.  They fight at sea, with Kong and Godzilla duking it out on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Kong lands a solid punch

Kong fights stuff in the secret center of the earth, where giant monsters seem to live, with perhaps the best grab and smash routine since Hulk smashed Loki repeatedly in one of the MCU films.  Then, after Kong somehow jumps through a hole Godzilla burned into the center of the Earth… don’t think, just roll with it… Kong and Godzilla go at it again, destroying most of Hong Kong as they fight in the middle of the city.

See, lit in that aqua/red lighting yet again

And, of course, there is an evil corporation involved who have built their own Pacific Rim-esque Jaeger which has to get into the mix for the finale.

When it was over my wife was shaking her head at just how dumb the whole movie was, which I had to admit was true, but my own reaction was that I wish I had seen it on a big screen in a theater.  This is the sort of mindless spectacle that was made for a huge screen in a dark room full of strangers.

Godzilla vs Kong delivered exactly what I expected, with the effects dialed up to eleven.

And, because it appeared on HBO Max with the premiere, Honest Trailers already has their video about it up and ready.

It contains spoilers, but if you’re not going to watch the film anyway, this will dig into its essentially silliness.

Farewell Commander Bond

I woke up this morning to the news that Sean Connery had passed away.

Sean Connery had a long career in film. He was well paid and played many roles over the years.  But for all of his other work, both excellent and regrettable, he will forever be associated with James Bond.

About to say his famous intro, ‘Bond, James Bond’ for the first time in Dr. No

In the 60s he helped cement the James Bond franchise.  By the third film, Goldfinger, the style and required tropes, from the opening, to the required plot points, to the nature of the villains, of any James Bond film were set in stone.  And with that he became the benchmark against which any future actor taking on the role would be measured.

He played Bond five times in the 60s in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Thunderball.  He came back again in 1971 in Diamonds are Forever after replacement George Lazenby declined to play the role again, lest he be typecast, and once Cubby Broccoli threw enough money at him.

And then he returned once more to the role in Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball, and outside of whatever continuity the EON produced Bond films have.  So that is seven total appearances as the character, for which, by the end, he was paid more than most actors will ever see in their lifetime.

But the appeal of Sean Connery was him being Sean Connery.  The role might have been James Bond, but he made it his.

There are actors who get lost in roles, who become different people with different scripts.  Actors like Daniel Day Lewis or Meryl Streep.  They can morph into what the script needs them to be.

With Sean Connery you got what you got, a tall handsome Scotsman with an oft imitated accent and a brash, confident demeanor.  The character was molded to fit him.  A Soviet submarine commander, Indiana Jones’ father, a Kipling hero, a Irish Chicago cop, a Franciscan friar, or a post-apocalyptic “brutal,” all of those roles ended up on him like so many tailored suits.  They clothed him, sometimes quite well, but did not change what you were getting.

While he had been retired from acting for almost two decades, he still casts a long shadow, especially for anybody taking on the role of James Bond.  He leaves behind a legacy on the big screen that will endure.

Fantasy Movie League Paused for Now

Two weeks into the spring Fantasy Movie League season, the whole thing is being suspended.

I suggested in my Awards Season wrap up that there might be issues come the spring because of the Coronavirus.   Me of two weeks ago was somewhat more optimistic than me of today, sitting at home under a three week long “shelter in place order” that covers most of the SF Bay Area.

Because of FML I have a few movie relates feeds in my reader, and come Monday there was a slow drum beat of bad news.  People were rightly afraid of somebody sneezing in a crowded theater, so the industry reported a 20 year low number for the past weekend box office despite having sent out reassuring press releases about sanitizing venues and spacing out patrons to maintain social distancing.

It also seemed clear that local governments might start closing non-essential business, especially those that packed groups of people into confined spaces for extended periods of time.

So the large chains began to announce they were temporarily closing all their venues.  Regal, Landmark, Alamo Drafhouse, and finally AMC all announced they were going to remain closed for at least a few weeks.  At last report it is estimated that 4,000 theaters are shut down across the country, about 80% of the national total.

And without that, there isn’t much of a box office to play against, so late Monday FML announced that the spring season was going to be paused.  The text of the announcement, since I think you need an account to get to that link:

Temporarily Pausing Fantasy Movie League
@fmlqa · FML Quality Assurance
Mar 16, 2020, 4:20pm PDT

Dear FML Community,

Like you, we have been monitoring the changes being put into place to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Given the impact on the movie industry, including changes in premiere dates and movie theater closures, we’re anticipating challenges in being able to provide you with up-to-date box office information in the coming weeks. We also want to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to help our employees stay healthy and safe.

Due to this, we have come to the difficult decision to temporarily pause Fantasy Movie League.

You’ll be able to see the final results for the weekend of March 13-15, and your standings within your leagues will update based on that. That standing will remain until we resume. We don’t know quite yet when we will be able to start up again, but we will let you know as soon as we do.

Thank you for being part of the FML community. During this hiatus, we encourage you to stay connected with others through Chatter and on noovie.com.

Stay safe,
The FML Team

Another sign of the growing crisis here.  And it isn’t clear when things will return to normal or if there will be a new normal.