Tag Archives: Movies

Random Thoughts about The Force Awakens – Spoilers

Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers!

Are we clear on that?  If you read further, I will likely spoil key aspects of the movie for you.

SFTFAThe movie is still playing in theaters just about everywhere, so go see it first.

Context

Everybody’s view of the film is influenced by their past experience with the franchise.  I have yet to read a review that wasn’t in somewhat tainted by the relationship the writer already had with the series, though I have seen more than a few that refused to own up to the baggage the author brought with them.

I will try to explain my own baggage.  I didn’t mind the prequels.  I wasn’t one of those people who raged about how George Lucas had destroyed my cherished childhood memories.  Yes, there was a lot to dislike about the prequels.  But I had already had my moment of hate when it came to GL, because I felt Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was the big betrayal.  After Star Wars: The Muppet Movie, I was never as big a fan of the series.  So midi-chlorians were a kick in the nuts, but not the deal breaker it was for a lot of fans who had no problem with Ewoks defeating Storm Troopers with bows and arrows.

General Statement

I like it.  I liked it a lot, enough for my daughter and I to go back and see it a second time.

That isn’t to say I liked it uncritically.  There are aspects of the movie than make me shake my head and groan, choices that I clearly would not have made.  But in the totality of the film, I liked a lot more than I disliked, it far exceeded my low expectations, and I had a lot of fun.

I’d go see it again.

I will admit that having watched the George Lucas prequels and remastered original trilogy, where the added CGI bits get more annoying with each viewing, in the run up to this movie helped set up a situation where The Force Awakens was going to sit favorably with me.

After the cut, some more specific thoughts.  Last chance to avoid spoilers.

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1986 in Movies

The XKCD New Years cartoon was one of those “make you feel old” entries that pointed out a few things that were turning 10 or 20 years old in 2016.  Pokemon, for example, will turn 20 this February.

For no particular reason I was sitting in bed this morning thinking about this and decided to look up on Wikipedia the movies that were released in 1986.  What titles would I remember from way back then?  What is turning 30 this year?

Before we were resisting capitalism

Before we were resisting capitalism

Then I started looking down the list and found what a prodigious year it was for the cinema.  Films I remember from that year, and sort of what I remember off the top of my head, include:

9½ Weeks – Probably the last Mickey Rourke looked good.  Had a girlfriend who really, really liked this movie.

52 Pick-Up – About a sex tape and named after a childhood card game/trick/prank

About Last Night… – Rob Lowe BEFORE the sex tape!

The Adventures of Milo and Otis – I am surprised that this is from 1986.  I think I found this when looking for a movie my daughter could watch when she was about 4. (From this list.)

Aliens – The action sequel to the suspense/horror original.  Saw this with Skronk and some friends at a theater in Fairfield.  Literally ashamed I do not own this on DVD or BluRay.

An American Tail – Animated immigrant mice.

At Close Range – I don’t think I ever saw this, but I remember Roger Ebert’s review of it, which is pretty much the same thing 30 years down the road I suppose.

Back to School – Rodney Dangerfield at the peak of his movie career.

Behind Enemy Lines – A knock-off of Rambo II.

Big Trouble in Little China – Kurt Russel cult classic. You probably either love it or hate it.

Blue Velvet – The beginning of the Pabst Blue Ribbon revival thanks to the well dressed man.

Brighton Beach Memoirs – Neil Simon on being young Neil Simon.

Captain EO – Became a ride at Disneyland.

Children of a Lesser God – Film Adaptation of the Broadway play.  Trailer voice over was that guy who does all the art house films.

The Clan of the Cave Bear – Film adaptation of the book with Daryl Hannah in animal skins.

Clockwise – Not very popular, but pretty much a primer on the John Cleese writing style. (Came from this list.)

Club ParadiseProof that Robin Williams alone cannot carry a film… or was that Popeye?  Michael Caine was in there too, but I think he was in half of these films somewhere.

Cobra – Stallone as unshaven bad boy cop in a cool car.  You’re the disease, I’m the cure… I think that was the Roger Ebert review.

The Color of Money – Trying to remake The Hustler and nearly succeeding.

Crocodile Dundee – ‘stralia!  Made my daughter watch this decades later.  That’s not a knife and all that. (From this list.)

The Decline of the American Empire – Went to see this with some friends based solely on the title.  Turns out it was a metaphor.  Not at all what we were expecting.  French-Canadian relationship angst. (From this list.)

The Delta Force – Chuck Norris; sand rails and dirt bikes taking out tanks by jumping over them.  Became the basis, along with Top Secret, for a Goon propaganda film about Ev0ke.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills – Nick Nolte, but no Eddie Murphy and not a cop.

Down by Law – I have no memory of this other than my friend Bill started saying, “Down by law!” a lot.

F/X – Special effects were getting so big that there was a movie about a special effect guy.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Holy crap, is this really going to be 30 this year?

The Fly – Jeff Goldblum’s face comes off!  Also, Eeeeewwwwww!!!

The Golden Child – Eddie Murphy bomb (at least in the reviews), he should have gone to Beverly Hills with Nick Nolte.

The Great Mouse Detective – A big year for animated mice.

Gung Ho – Japanese and Americans teaming up to build cars.  Only real draw was to see if Gedde Watanabe would reprise his “Automobeeeeeeel!” quote from Sixteen Candles.

Hannah and Her Sisters – Woody Allen during the Mia Farrow years, with Micheal Caine.  Angst.

Heartbreak Ridge – Clint Eastwood takes Grenada.  Basically a vehicle to retell that story of the guy who used a pay phone to call in an airstrike.

Highlander – The film that sold a million duster coats and spawned as many bad Sean Connery imitations .  I remember laughing at it then.

The Hitcher – Best hitchhiker film ever!  Scared the crap out of every woman I knew, a couple of whom literally angry at me for recommending it.  Scared the crap out of me too.

Hoosiers – About basketball players… in Indiana… yeah… Gene Hackman.

Howard the Duck – A Marvel film so bad they they didn’t even reference it until Guardians of the Galaxy.

Labyrinth – David Bowie teenage angst metaphor fantasy adventure thing.

Little Shop of Horrors – The remake.  In color.  Steve Martin.  There was a Mac OS extension that would play the line “Feed me!” whenever you inserted a floppy disk.  That sound sample came from this.

Luxo, Jr. – The first Pixar short.  Pretty sure I don’t remember it from 1986, but I remember it.

Manhunter – A of the stories from the Hannibal Leckor series, before Silence of the Lambs introduced us to fava beans.  Remade as Red Dragon, which was the name of the book.  Once tried to rent it, but picked up THE Manhunter instead, a bad dubbed horror film from Brazil.

Maximum Overdrive – Emilio Estevez being chased by angry animated vehicles.  From the mind of Stephen King.

The Money Pit – Tom Hanks film about a house that costs a lot of money.  Can’t recall if he has one of his trademark pisses in this or not.

The Mosquito Coast – Harrison Ford as the anti-Indiana Jones.  Makes ice in the topics, which you would think people would appreciate.

Off Beat – Judge Rheinhold gets mistaken for a cop and doesn’t just say, “Sorry, no, it was just dress up.”  Also, something about roller skates.

One Crazy Summer – Bobcat Golthwaite is hilarious, we should put him in a movie!

Peggy Sue Got Married – Kathleen Turner goes back in time to make a mint by inventing pantyhose.  Or maybe it was just a metaphor.

Pirates – I would say “worst pirate movie ever,” but then Yellowbeard springs to mind.

Platoon – Because Charlie Sheen got first choice.  Go to war, get stoned, feel bad about all we did. Catharsis or something.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side – The real curse from the original was being damned into making a seuqel.  Never saw it.

Pretty in Pink – Molly Ringwald vehicle because Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club rocked.  Wasn’t quite the same.

Running Scared – Undercover cop car joke, Cubs jersey… oh, and Billy Crystal as a cop.

Ruthless People – We could not get enough Danny DeVito and Judge Rheinhold back then.  Also, Bette Midler.

Salvador – We’re very concerned about press freedoms in Central America.

Stand by Me – Lord, is this 30 years old too?

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Even number, so decent film… for the series.  The Enterprise goes to 20th century SF to talk to whales because some space probe demands it.  Scotty talks to a Mac mouse because those are so new and crazy!

¡Three Amigos! – Proof that just putting three comedians in a film won’t make it a hit, if we allow that Chevy Chase might be a comedian.

Top Gun – Most homoerotic film about Navy fighter pilots ever.  A film so pro-Navy that they felt buying an ad to run before the movie on VHS rentals would be redundant.  Would watch again.

Wise Guys – What we had to put up with between The Godfather and Goodfellas.

That is what, more than 50 movies from 1986 of which I have some recollection?  That seems like a lot of movies from a given year to remember something about.  Yes, looking at the titles did help spark some memory, and yes that happened to be a year when I was probably in the prime of my movie going days, though I will say that I don’t remember them all because I saw them in 1986 in the theater.  The advent of the VCR and video rentals put a lot of them in front of me after they left the big screen.

Anyway, that was my trip down memory lane this morning.  And I didn’t even go into Stellar Emperor or Stellar Warrior, online video games I was playing in 1986.

The Problem with Bond Villains…

A friend of mine was complaining about the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall.

He did not like the movie because the Bond and the MI-6 team did several things that he felt were… well… dumb.  Dumb to the point that they ruined the movie for him.  And, I had to admit that some of the items he listed had merit.

However, I still had to laugh as he didn’t seem to have any problem with the villain’s plan until I pointed out that the bad guy could have accomplished his goal, wrapped things up nicely, and gone off to live happily ever after in the first 30 minutes of the movie had he not been bat-shit insane.

And that is a major aspect aspect Bond Villains.  To get in the cross hairs of 007, you practically have to be certifiable.

I wrote a piece back in December, Travels with Commander Bond, which included some lists of some of my favorite aspects of the film series.  However, I felt one list was clearly missing, the list of my favorite Bond villains.

The problem was that, while the other lists sprang to mind pretty much fully formed, when I think of Bond villains, things get a bit confused.

Certainly some quips come to mind.  “I don’t expect you to talk Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” is a favorite.

I speak English well! I learned it from a book!

I speak English well! I learned it from a book!

But then I start thinking about henchmen.  Rosa Klebb, Odd Job, Jaws, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd… but they are just the hired help.  They aren’t running the show.  Then there are the various incarnations of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Does he count as one Bond villain, or is he a different villain in each movie?

Then there are the plots.

And here is where thinking too hard about Bond movies starts to fail you, because the schemes, when examined, can underwhelm.  Wikipedia has a nice list of Bond villains from the movies, what their plan was, and the result.  Simplifying the plans down to desired results, out of 23 films, I count the following motives:

Money – 14

Surprisingly, to me at least, this seems to be the most popular motive.  I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.  Twice it is in the name of drug cartels.  But a lot of the time… especially in the SPECTRE years… it seems to be an already fabulously wealthy organization spending a lot of time and money on a result that, even if successful, would have paid off less than just investing in US Government securities.  Max Zorin, for example, wants to destroy Silicon Valley in order to increase his company’s market share.  That is his business plan!  I suppose you have to go to some lengths to look evil relative to Bill Gates… though this pre-dated most Microsoft shenanigans… but still, couldn’t he have just lured away a few key execs?  He already had immense wealth.

Start a War – 3

Actually, starting a war comes up four times, but I am not counting Elliot Carver because he was trying to start a war merely to expand his media empire… so, really… money. And I am not sure I should count SPECTRE’s attempt in You Only Live Twice, since they are doing it for a third party.  But since they spent enough money to create a secret space program more advanced than either the US or USSR (whom they want fighting) and hid it in a dormant volcano, I have to imagine that the return on investment will be pretty poor.  And, of course, in none of these movies does the whole war scenario really seem like a good idea.

Revenge – 2

This is at least a raw, emotional motivator.  It just doesn’t come up very often.  SPECTRE wants revenge for the death of Dr. Julius No (After all, the R in SPECTRE stands for Revenge! It is part of their mission statement in a way that smart financial planning is not.) and Raoul Silva wants revenge because he simply isn’t as tough as James Bond.  Alex Trevelyan claims he wants revenge, but his revenge involves stealing a lot of money and covering his tracks, so I put him in the money column.

Utopia – 2

Kill all of humanity except for a chosen few, who will repopulate the world.  In one the chosen were going to hide under the sea, and in one they were going to hide in space.  This plot came up twice in the 1970s, back when we thought we were destroying the Earth (global cooling) and running out of resources.  I am glad we’re past that now.

Just Doing My Job – 1

In For Your Eyes Only, Aristotle Kristatos steals the ATAC device for the Soviet Union… because that is who he works for.  And when the plan fails, his boss doesn’t even seem that upset.  Maybe the most realistic plot ending ever in the world of James Bond.

Random Asshattery – 1

I am not sure it is ever fully explained WHY Dr. Julius No was messing with the US space program in Dr. No.  I guess SPECTRE was funding it, though it could have just been a hobby.  Or it might have been version 1.0 of SPECTRE space program.  It could have been meant to start a war eventually, or used for extortion.  But in the movie Dr. No just seems to enjoy pissing off NASA.

So the prime motivator for a Bond villain appears to be money, followed by, but not exclusive from, insanity.  After all, in Live and Let Die, Dr. Kanaga’s drug cartel plans were built around readings from a tarot deck.  Then there is how all these guys plan to kill Bond after they inevitably capture him during the course of the film.  Like that SNL skit said, when you capture Bond, don’t screw around, just shoot him and be done with it.

And don’t even get me started on the poor rank and file of these villains.  How do they recruit them?  And what entices people to work for these guys?  I have to think the death benefits for your family must be excellent, since these villains kill their own rank and file on a regular basis.  Their HR staff must be going crazy.

So, in the end, it is very hard for me to pick a favorite James Bond villain because they are all so bad at what they do.

It is almost like they are put up there simply to make James Bond look good…

Oh…

Yeah…

Well, without them, we wouldn’t have had the Austin Powers series.

Roll on Dr. Evil.  Your plots are not half as mad as they could be.

Travels with Commander Bond

50 years worth of travels in about three weeks time.

As a household, my wife and I are James Bond fans.

I would not say we are excessively so however.  We do not own any sort of memorabilia.  Any affinity towards martinis tends to center around the cosmopolitan. And while I do own a tuxedo, any resemblance between myself and Bond is a matter of coincidence and poor eyesight.

And we don't smoke...

And I don’t smoke…

But we do like the movies.  So we ran out to see Skyfall on the opening weekend, daughter in tow.  The reviews had been quite favorable.

However, a couple of reviews said that Skyfall was the “best Bond ever,” an opinion which put that skeptical look on my face. The movie was certainly, to my mind, the best of the Daniel Craig outings.  But the BEST Bond ever?  That was something that needed some thought.  And some research.

So we decided to watch  all the Bond films.  In order.  Again.

We’ve done it before.

We may not have memorabilia, but we do have all the movies on DVD.  MGM put out a three-part boxed set around 2000 that included all of the Bond movies up to that point, a run that encompassed Dr. No to Tomorrow Never Dies and five of the six Bond actors from the official, EON-produced films. (Never Say Never Again and the 1967 Casino Royale do not enter into this discussion.)  We have purchased all of the subsequent films on DVD or Blu-Ray since then.

And so we set out on a three week journey with a plan to watch one of the movies every night.  In addition, we also watched supplemental material included with each of the movies.  One of the nice things about the set is that MGM produced a “making of” documentary for each of the movies up through License to Kill that covers the trials of making the movie, the stunts, and some of the politics and justifications around what went on.

These documentaries run anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes each, and since rare is the Bond movie that runs under two hours, we were committing ourselves to quite a nightly camp on the couch.

But we made it.

What follows after the cut are some observations and lists based on the experience.  If James Bond isn’t your thing, you can safely go elsewhere.

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A World of Warcraft Movie May Still Be On…

News came out that Sam Raimi will not be directing the World of Warcraft movie.

(Though I thought it was just a movie based on the wider Warcraft IP.  But you cannot say “Warcraft” in the media without pre-pending “World of” I suppose.  And WoW is certainly the most popular form of the Warcraft IP.)

Anyway, the glint of positive in this for those who want the movie to come to fruition… and I count myself among them, even if I suspect it will be comically bad, because we need comically bad movies… came in the reason for Raimi’s departure/removal from the project.  They key quote from Crave Online:

Actually, they don’t have me directing World of Warcraft anymore because when I took the Oz job, they had to move on to another director. They had to start making it.

Emphasis is mine.

He is off to make Oz: The Great and Powerful, but production had to go on.  They had to start making it.

So we might yet see if a Warcraft movie can do for WoW what two Dungeons & Dragons movies did for D&D!  Too bad that chances of a Bruce Campbell role in the movie just went down.  Still, there is plenty of space for epic casting.

Bonus Item: The Fear the Boot podcast watched and talked about both D&D movies in one episode, if you have never seen them but want to hear about them from people who are passionate about role playing games.  You can find the episode here.

 

Driving Music for the Criminally Reckless

Or how the soundtrack for TRON Legacy became irrevocably associated with Need For Speed: World in my brain.

I like the movie TRON Legacy.

I felt Legacy delivered about the same level of cool visual imagery, excitement, and goofy pseudo-technical nonsense as the original movie did back in 1982.  While no instant classic, it was fun to watch for many reasons.

One of those reasons...

One of the main breaks with the old movie was the sound track.  Daft Punk‘s musical accompaniment was so good, and so integral to the movie that my mind barely registered that is was, or could even exist as, a separate thing.

Until I saw it on iTunes for seven dollars, which was a price point I could not resist.

Another Disney soundtrack in my collection

Jeff Bridges says about 20 words on the second track of album, but otherwise it is nothing but the music of Daft Punk.  For seven dollars it was a deal.  It has been a long time since the default price for an album was that low.

And, as timing would have it, I got the album just before I decided to download and Need for Speed: World.

I got into the game, started the album up in iTunes, and started playing.

And it was amazing.

It was like the magical sound track.  Whatever came on seemed to fit in with whatever I was doing at that moment.  If I was in a police chase or in a race or smashing through downtown or just sweeping through the hills, the music seemed just right.  It was more like the soundtrack for the game than the movie.

It's eerie, but don't worry about it... I'll drive

And now, of course, the game and the soundtrack are linked in my brain.  I cannot play one without thinking of the other.

Which isn’t a bad thing.

Have you ever had a strong musical association like that?