Tag Archives: Action films

Dr. No-1962

Dr. No-1962

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Ursula Andress

Reviewed July 27, 2017

Grade: A-

Watching the 1962 film that launched the James Bond franchise into the legendary status that it has since become, Dr. No is rich in history and is a blueprint of what the Bond films would encompass in the decades to follow. Admittedly more basic in comparison to the more sophisticated and fleshed-out chapters to come, the film is nonetheless a superb entry in the franchise and a chapter to be cherished on its own merits.

Charismatic Sean Connery, soon to forever be identified in the role of James Bond, fills the role with a suave, masculine, confidence oozing from the screen in each and every scene. In fact, his performance in the role is so seamless, one might assume he had been playing Bond for years, rather than being a novice. And who can forget the characters first entrance- in a casino, confidently gambling, and introducing himself to Sylvia Trench, a character originally slated to be his steady girlfriend.

The film version of Dr. No is adapted from the first Ian Fleming spy novel of the same name, which is clever. As the years have gone by, the Bond films were modified a great deal from the original written pages, so it is cool and original to have the film closely mirror the book.

Lacking a hefty budget, the action mainly takes place in both London and Jamaica, and at Crab Key, a fictional island off of Jamaica. When Strangways, a British Intelligence Chief, is killed and his body taken by assassins known as “the Three Blind Mice”, who also steal files related to Crab Key island and a mysterious man named “Dr. No”, Bond is summoned to his superior’s (M) office in London and tasked with determining whether the incident has anything o do with radio interference of missiles launching in Cape Canaveral.  Natural, it does and the adventure sets off  a series of dramatic events involving henchmen, scrapes with death, and  Bond’s bedding more than one beautiful woman, before facing the ultimate showdown with the creepy title character., who is missing both hands.

Notable  and distinguishable to the film are the fabulous, chirpy, child-like songs featured in the film. From the tuneful, harmonic, nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice”, sung calypso style, to the sexy and playful, “Under the Mango Tree”, both are light, yet filled with necessary mystery too. The fact that the former is featured in the beginning of the film and implies that the named the same villains are joyfully singing the happy tune, is a good indicator.

Dr. No is also inspired for the introduction of the crime organization, SPECTRE, that any Bond aficionado knows very well is a staple of the franchise. Joseph Wiseman, as Dr. No, is well cast, though sadly, we only see him at the latter part of the film. Much more character potential is left untouched, though the mystique of knowing the man exists, but not what he looks like is worth mentioning.

Admittedly, rather silly is the assumption that the audience will not be witty enough to realize that both  the characters of Dr. No and Miss Taro (a villainous secretary) are  clearly caucasian actors wearing unconvincing makeup. Why the choice was made not to cast authentically ethnic actors is unclear. My guess is the powers that be wanted to go a safer route due to the uncertainty of the franchise at that time.

Still, for a first try, Dr. No gets it just about right. What woman in 1962 was sexier or cast more perfectly than Ursula Andress as the gorgeous and fiery sex kitten, Honey Ryder? This casting was spot on and who can forget her sultry introduction to the film as she emerges from the roaring waves on the beach in a scantily clad bathing suit. The set designs and locales also work well in the film. Contemporary are the set pieces, specifically the spacious prison apartment Bond and Honey briefly reside in. Sleek and sophisticated, the sofa, rug, and tables all exude luxury and class.

Dr. No is a worthy film on its own merits and a fantastic introduction into the world of James Bond and the many trademark elements and nuances that the films contain.

Dunkirk-2017

Dunkirk-2017

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy

Reviewed July 24, 2017

Grade: A

Of the hundreds of war films that have been made over the years, most have a similar style with either a clear patriotic slant, or, of a questioning/message type nature. Regardless, most  have a certain blueprint from the story to the visuals to the direction- and rarely stray from this. The genre is not my particular favorite as the machismo is  usually overdone  and too many  of the films turn into standard “guy films”, or the “good guys versus the bad guys”. Finally, along comes a film like Dunkirk that gives the stale genre a good, swift, kick in the ass.

The story is both simple, yet historical. In 1940, Nazi Germany, having successfully invaded France, pushes thousands of French and British soldiers to a seaside town named Dunkirk.  With slim hopes of rescue or survival, the soldiers are sitting ducks for the raid of German fighter planes, who drop bombs both on the soldiers and rescue ships. In parallel stories, a kindly British civilian (Mark Rylance) and his son sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the soldiers, and two British fighter pilots chase the German fighter planes, attempting to thwart their deadly intentions.

One will immediately be struck by the pacing of the film as it is non-stop action from start to close. The action, combined with very little dialogue, and an eerie musical score, are what make the film feel so unique and fresh. Directed by Christopher Nolan, (The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) critics are heralding this film as his greatest work yet- I tend to agree.  Scenes involving such differing musical scores as screechy violins mixed with thunderous, heavy beats, really shake up the film and keep the audience on their toes as to what is coming next.

An interesting facet to the film, and certainly done on purpose, is that the backstories of the characters are not revealed- we know very little about any of them.  Do they have families? Are they married? This is a beautiful decision by the screenwriters and by Nolan.  For instance, the very first scenes involve a disheveled private, named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead).  Panicked, he runs through the streets in pursuit of the beach, where he meets a fellow soldier named Gibson, who is burying another soldier in the sand. Together, they find a wounded soldier and carry him to a departing ship- the men never speak, but communicate through their eyes and gestures-it is  a powerful series of scenes.

Another positive to Dunkirk is the anonymity of the enemy. The German soldiers are never shown. Certainly, we see many scenes of the fighter planes overhead, pummeling the soldiers with bombs, and pulsating gunfire in various scenes, but the mystique of  the enemy troops is a constant throughout the film. The faceless component to the villains adds a terror and haunting uncertainty.  In this way, the film adds to the audiences confusion about where the enemy may be, at any given moment.

The visuals and the vastness of the ocean side beach, forefront throughout the entire film, at one hour and forty six minutes relatively brief for a war film, elicits both beauty and a terrible gloominess. Scenes of the vastness of the beach peppered with thousands of cold and hungry men is both pathetic and powerful.

The best scenes take place on Mr. Dawson’s  (Rylance) mariner boat. Aided by his son Peter, and Peter’s frightened schoolmate, the trio head for dangerous Dunkirk to help rescue, but en route pick up a shell-shocked soldier determined to stay as far away from Dunkirk as possible. This leads to compelling drama and a deep characterization of all the central characters.

Many list 1998’s Saving Private Ryan as tops in the modern war genre, but Dunkirk may very well rival that film in intensity and musical effectiveness. Dunkirk also contains shockingly little bloodshed or dismembered soldiers- it does not need this to tell a powerful story. At times emotional,  the film is always intense and never lets go of its audience from the very first frame. A war film for the history books and a lesson in film creativity and thoughtfulness.

Bullitt-1968

Bullitt-1968

Director-Peter Yates

Starring-Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn

Reviewed July 7, 2017

Grade: B+

Bullitt is one of the ultimate “guy movies”, hardly a stretch considering it stars the “regular guy” hero of the time, Steve McQueen. With his macho, tough guy persona and his cool, confident swagger, he was a marquee hero during the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s. While the film is rife with machismo stereotypes and is not exactly a women’s lib film, it is also a good old-fashioned action thriller with plenty of chase and fight scenes to make most guys  (and some girls) happy. The story is  not too thought-provoking, but the film works as escapist fare and an example of good late 1960’s cinema.

Set in San Francisco, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is assigned to watch a Chicago gangster, Johnny Ross, over a long weekend, before the criminal is set to testify against his brother on Monday morning.  Robert Vaughn plays ambitious politician, Walter Chalmers, who is determined  to see the case go off without a hitch  and see convictions in the organized crime syndicate.  Predictably, the weekend does not go as planned and  Ross is attacked by hit men. This, in turn,  sets off a cat and mouse game of deception and intrigue. As expected, the action is virtually non-stop with many action sequences lighting up the screen.

The plot of Bullitt does not much matter and, in fact, one does not need to completely understand what is going on to enjoy the film for what it is. The intent of a film like Bullitt is not of good story-telling, but rather of good action. This is not meant as a put-down, but rather good, honest critiquing.  One can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the testosterone laden affair.

Bullitt contains some riveting scenes that raise it above an average, middling, action flick. The muscle car chase involving a then state of the art and flashy Ford Mustang  and Dodge Charger is fantastic and one of the high points of the film. The quick and edgy camera angles as the cars zip down the windy and narrow San Francisco roads  make for compelling tension. Will one of the cars careen off the side of the road or blow up in an explosion? Since one of the cars holds Frank Bullitt and the other car the bad guys, it is not tough to guess how the sequence will end. But it’s good fun all the same and well filmed.

The other spectacular sequence is the finale- as Frank and company overtake busy San Francisco airport in pursuit of a baddie about to board a transcontinental flight, the chase sequence leads them throughout the airport, onto a taxiing plane, and finally onto the runway, as a plane is about to take off. It is action at it’s finest and also a treat for the viewer in that it brings us back to airport days, pre-9/11, when airports were just-different. The luxurious flight crew, the innocence, and the glamour- all a distant memory.  The scene is such that it shows all of the airport elements- the people, the employees, the airport, and the planes, giving it a slice of life  feel, circa late 1960’s airport days.

Appealing is the time period that the film is made in. 1968, a great time for film, Bullitt capitalized on the newly liberal use of blood that films were able to show, so in this way, Bullitt is an influential action film. Dozens of imitators (some admittedly with superior writing) followed, including classics Dirty Harry and The French Connection. These films contain the same basic blueprint that Bullitt has.

A negative to Bullitt is the trite way in which women are portrayed. Female characters are written as either dutiful nurses, gasping  in fear and helplessly running away when an assailant runs rampant in the hospital, praying for a man to save the day. Or, they are written, in the case of Bullitt’s girlfriend, as a gorgeous yet insignificant character, given a laughable scene in which she questions whether or not she really knows Frank after witnessing the violence in his job- hello?  he is in the San Francisco Police Department after all.

Bullitt is meat and potatoes kind of film-making. An early entry into  what would become the raw 1970’s and the slick formulaic 1980’s action genre, the film deserves credit for being at the front of the pack in style and influence. The story and character development is secondary to other aspects of the film and Bullitt is just fine as escapism fare.

Live and Let Die-1973

Live and Let Die-1973

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Jane Seymour

Reviewed May 25, 2017

Grade: A-

When Live and Let Die was released in 1973, it began a new chapter in the James Bond film franchise with the introduction of a new Bond. Sean Connery, refusing to do any more Bond pictures, Roger Moore was crowned the new film hero and successfully made the role his own during his tenure. My personal favorite Bond from top to bottom- I enjoyed the wry humor Moore added- he makes Live and Let Die more than it otherwise might have been with a less charismatic actor. The story and the subsequent elements of the film have issues, but this installment holds a soft spot for me as it was one of my first exposures to the mountainous franchise that is Bond, and I adore the time period of the mid 1970’s.

Bond (Moore) is summoned to duty by his leader, M, after three MI6 agents are simultaneously killed in the Caribbean, New Orleans, and at the United Nations in New York City. Bond is then tasked with figuring out who killed these agents and how the deaths are connected. The adventure takes Bond from Harlem to an unnamed island in the Caribbean, and back to the bayous of southern Louisiana as he tangles with heroin drug lord, Dr. Kananda. Bond’s main love interest in the film is the virginal tarot card reader, Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour.

Live and Let Die is a breakthrough in some ways, though the film admittedly contains both positives and negatives worthy of discussion. Since the film was made in 1973, following a successful run of “Blaxploitation” films like 1971’s Shaft and 1972’s Super Fly, the film is clearly influenced by those in style (for better or worse). This means that all of the villains are black, from the main villain, Kananga, to various henchman and even background criminals growing the massive amounts of heroin shipped to the United States for distribution. Having such representation among a minority group is fantastic and feels cutting edge, but stereotypes such as derogatory racial epithets, a pimp mobile, and the addition of weird voodoo, exist.

Another major flaw to the film, and despite my  overall warmth for Live and Let Die, is the goofiness that the film turns into towards the end of the film. At a certain point, the film feels like a different film from what it starts off as, which becomes quite jarring.-the introduction of Sheriff J.W. Pepper during a Louisiana chase scene turns the film into more of a cheesy Dukes of Hazzard episode , with bumbling law enforcement officials, rather than a quality film, and the southern stereotypes run rampant. Why does a throwaway scene of a speedboat racing through an outdoor wedding feature all high society white folks with nary a black character existing other than as servants? Some diversity in this scene would have been nice considering the film goes out of its way to feature black characters.

Still, many positives  do exist-Live and Let Die has the honor of containing the first ever black Bond girl- the CIA double-agent, Rosie Carver, who sadly meets a grisly ending far too soon. Gloria Hendry’s  chemistry with Roger Moore is readily apparent, though the film chooses to make the character inept rather than a true equal. The smoldering sex scenes between the duo are wonderful and groundbreaking to watch so the film gets major props for pushing the envelope in this way.

Memorable is the terrific title theme song, “Live and Let Die”, by Paul McCartney and Wings. The success of this hit song, especially decades later, does wonders to elevate the film and keep it relevant in pop culture.

Also great to see are the location sequences and good action car chase scenes along the West Side Highway in New York City and into Harlem. A treat for this retro fan is the inclusion of early 1970’s Chevrolet Impalas and Chevy Novas throughout the entire feature film- was Chevy a financial backer? In fact, classic cars are a major inclusion in Live and Let Die, which as a current day viewer is a cool treat and quite retro.

In the way of the primary villain and primary Bond girl, the film misses. Jane Seymour is a dud as Solitaire, a character that really should have been played by a black actress. Seymour and Moore have zero chemistry and her character is weak and simpering, lacking any sort of backbone. Similarly, Yaphet Kotto as Dr. Kananga seems miscast and lacks any real qualities that make him neither devious nor dangerous and his inevitable swan song underwhelms.

Live and Let Die is certainly not the greatest in the Bond collection and suffers from some problematic, now dated aspects, racial issues, and a silly overtone, but, perhaps more so as a terrific childhood memory,  I hold a particular fondness toward this film despite many negatives.

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Barbara Bach

Reviewed April 27, 2017

Grade: A-

The Spy Who Loved Me is pure James Bond- an installment of the franchise that successfully contains all of the elements of an exceptional Bond film- and then some. By this time Roger Moore was firing on all cylinders and had clearly made the character of James Bond his own- Sean Connery who? With his third appearance in the role, Bond exudes charisma and wry wit, combined with a fabulous story, sexy Bond girls, and a villain worthy of his role, The Spy Who Loved Me achieves near perfection, save for too drawn out of an ending- otherwise, an excellent, memorable film that does not feel dated in the least.

When Soviet and British submarines begin to vanish, the two sides team up and send their best agents forward to uncover the circumstances surrounding the disappearances. Barbara Bach plays Major Anya Amasova, also known as Agent Triple X, a Soviet agent, and naturally Bond becomes enamored with her beauty and intelligence. Together they face off against a megalomaniac named Karl Stromberg, who is intent on destroying the world with nuclear missiles and creating his own underwater world. Stromberg’s sidekicks are Jaws, a giant with steel teeth, and a deadly vixen named Naomi.

Interestingly, if watched as a companion piece to a Bond film of the 1960’s, as I did this time around (You Only Live Twice), the viewer will notice the change in how Bond female characters are treated. No longer servile and obedient to the male characters (Bond specifically) Bond women are now his equals in every way, matching him in career success and intelligence. The main “Bond girl”, (Anya), is a shining example of this, which the film immediately offers. In one of my favorite scenes, Anya is in bed with a handsome man- when “Agent Triple X” is paged, we assume the agent is the man, until Anya slyly responds to the message- it is a nonchalant, yet brazen way to make the point that women have emerged as powerful and sexy figures in the modern Bond world.

The chemistry between Moore and Bach is immeasurably important to the success of the film and their romance is dynamic- they simply have “it” and their scenes smolder with sensuality. To complicate matters, Bond has killed an agent whom Anya was in love with and she plans to kill Bond as soon as their mission is victorious. Director, Gilbert, also adds in a slice of Bond back story- giving truth and rich history to the story-Anya mentions Bond’s deceased wife (married and killed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), a subject Bond deems off limits. This ode to the past only enhances the connection between these two characters.

Villains play an important part in the success of The Spy Who Loved Me. Take Stromberg- he is sophisticated, mature, worldly, and rich- and quietly insane. He also has a lavish dining room in his underwater submarine with exotic fish swimming about through visible tanks- a gorgeous element to this film.

Through a trap door,  victims meet their demise by a vicious killer shark swimming about. One unlucky female assistant, who has double-crossed Stromberg, meets her maker in bloody fashion. Later, Bond sees a severed hand floating about in one of the tanks. This is great creative writing and adds nuances to the film.

Hulking henchman, Jaws, who would return in the next installment, Moonraker, dazzles and impresses with his deadly, steel teeth. A great scene, aboard a high-speed train, and a throwback to 1963’s From Russia With Love, is action packed. Naomi, meets her demise after an ill-fated helicopter chase scene. I would have liked to have gotten more screen time and gotten to know this character. Her brief, but obvious flirtation with Bond is all too short- and he never even gets to share a bed with her!

Not to be outdone, the locales in the film are lavish and gorgeous- Egypt and Italy are countries explored and scenes are shot on location in each country in grand fashion. The Egyptian pyramids are features as a chase and a murder occur during a night time exhibit- also fantastic are the gorgeous shots of Sardinia- a beautiful region in Italy, where Stromberg’s hideout is set.

A mini gripe is the lengthy conclusion to the film. As Bond struggles to recalculate the two nuclear missiles set to destroy New York and Moscow, Bond must rush to make sure they do not hit their intended target. The “final act” of the film just goes on too long with way too many soldiers and men running around in a panic. The action is great, but enough is enough by the end.

Roger Moore once commented that The Spy Who Loved Me was his favorite of all the Bond films to make- it is easy to see why he felt this way. The film contains all of the necessary elements to make it one of the top entries in all of the film franchise and has a magnificent feel to it.

You Only Live Twice-1967

You Only Live Twice-1967

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi

Reviewed April 23, 2017

Grade: B+

You Only Live Twice is the fifth in the James Bond film series franchise and also the fifth to star iconic Bond, Sean Connery, in the starring role. Reportedly growing bored with the role and eager to move on to meatier acting challenges, Sean Connery is not quite as mesmerizing in the role this time around, but is still indisputably charismatic and sexy with his delivery of one-liners and various affairs with women. You Only Live Twice is the last to feature Connery until he would be coaxed into returning to the role four years later with 1971’s Diamond Are Forever.

The film is not tops on my favorite Bond films of all time nor is it even top ten for that matter, but nonetheless still quite an enjoyable watch, and certainly the Japanese locales are the highlight. The film as a whole suffers from a silly story, dated special effects, and a completely lackluster villain, but it does have Connery to rescue it and a nice little romance between Bond and main girl, Aki, played by Japanese actress, Akiko Wakabayashi- that is until she is unceremoniously poisoned.

The plot involves the hijacking of an American NASA spacecraft by another mystery spacecraft. The Americans suspect the Russians of the action and the British suspect the Japanese since the aircraft landed in the Sea of Japan. MI6 (Bond) fakes his own death in Hong Kong and subsequently begins to investigate who is responsible. His search brings him to Tokyo where he investigates Osato Chemicals and stumbles upon evidence. He is aided by both Aki and Tiger Tanaka, Japanese Secret Service leader. Soon it is revealed that the mastermind is SPECTRE villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld-in this installment played by Donald Pleasence. Bond must destroy his enemy and inevitably save the world from a global nuclear war.

Though a timely story-line since 1967 was in the midst of the Cold War, the plot seems somewhat forced and a bit uninteresting. The countries blame each other for the hijacked ship, but this comes across as extremely plot driven and secondary. The “swallowing” of the aircraft seems cheesy and preposterous even considering the year that the film was made and the writing is not as rich as some of the proceeding Bond films like From Russia With Love or Thunderball. The film also has an overall “cheap” look to it.

However, the film does have plenty of positives worth mentioning. The gadgets that James Bond fixture, Q (the MI6 technical wizard) creates are state of the art and fun. The mini flying helicopter that Bond uses is creative and allows for even more views to enjoy. Bond faking his death in the opening sequence is a treat (albeit having been done before) and ceremoniously being cast off into the sea in a coffin only to be wearing a suit and an oxygen mask inside the casket is clever and light.

Donald Pleasence, a storied, fantastic actor, is not well cast in the role of main villain Stavros and I am not entirely sure why. The fact that his face is not shown until the last act is not helpful and the character (though seen in other Bond films) is not compelling and is underutilized. I would have liked to have the character be a bit more visible, though surprisingly the character was highly influential in the 1990’s spoof Austin Powers films. Adorable yet creepy is Stavros only being seen clutching and stroking a gorgeous white cat.

As for the Bond women, the aforementioned Aki is the best of the bunch. Gone too soon in the story, she is replaced by Kissy Suzuki, who is rather unappealing. Mostly clad in a skimpy white bikini and heels, and appearing to wear a black wig, the character is forgettable and serves no purpose. Conversely, villainous Helga Brandt, SPECTRE assassin, is very well cast and shares good chemistry with Connery. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill Bond, she is fated with a date with killer piranhas as payment for her failure.

You Only Live Twice has a myriad of ups and downs, but is worth watching for fans of the franchise, and specifically, fans of the classic Bond films featuring Sean Connery. Some will argue that the film feels dated and is chauvinistic, and to some degree they are correct, but the film is a large part of a treasured franchise and a fun experience.

From Russia with Love-1963

From Russia with Love-1963

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi

Reviewed February 5, 2017

Grade: A

From Russia with Love (1963), only the second in the storied James Bond film franchise, is a sequel to the debut installment, Dr. No, and received twice the budget that its predecessor did. This is evident as the cinematography and the look of the film are exquisite with chase and battle scenes galore. The film is lavish and grand and what a Bond film ought to be- consisting of adventures through countries, gorgeous location sequences, and a nice romance between Bond (Sean Connery) and Bond girl, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi), though she is not in my top Bond girls of all time. Terence Young returned to direct the film with successful results.

Vowing revenge on James Bond for killing villainous Dr. No, SPECTRE’s Number 1 (seen only speaking and holding a cat) recruits evil Number 3, Rosa Klebb, a Russian director and defector, and Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s expert planner, to devise a plot to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and kill Bond in the process.  Klebb recruits expert killer Donald “Red” Grant, and manipulates Tatiana into assisting. The story takes Bond mostly through Istanbul, Turkey, into a gypsy camp, and via the Orient Express through Yugoslavia to the ultimate climax.

The villains in From Russia with Love are outstanding and a major draw to the film. Both Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Grant (Robert Shaw) are perfectly cast. Klebb, militant and severe with her short cropped red hair, has a penchant for deadly footwear (she has a spike that shoots out from her boot containing venom that kills in seconds) and casually flaunts her lesbianism in front of Tatiana. I admire this level of diversity in early Bond films from a sexuality perspective- it was 1963 and this was extremely rare to see in film.

Grant, on the other hand, is handsome and charismatic and has a chest of steel. With his good looks and beached blonde hair he is a perfect opponent for Bond as the final battle between he and Bond aboard the Orient Express is a spectacular fight scene and a satisfactory conclusion to the film.

The action sequences are aplenty and compelling especially the aforementioned, and lengthy Orient Express train sequence finale, which is grand. As Bond and Tatiana, along with their ally Ali Kerim Bey, a British Intelligence chief from Istanbul, embark on a journey, they are stalked by Grant, who waits for an opportunity to pounce on his foes. This sequence is the best part of the film for me- Grant, posing as a sophisticated British agent, has a cat and mouse style conversation with Bond and Tatiana over a delicious dinner of sole. Grant drugs Tatiana by placing capsules in her white wine- the fact that he orders Chianti with sole- a culinary faux pas- gives him away.

Other notable aspects of From Russia with Love are the soon to be familiar cohorts of Bond who will be featured in Bond films for years to come: M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny become treasured supporting characters that audiences know and love. Mere novices in this film, it is fun to see their scenes- especially lovelorn Moneypenny.

An odd scene of sparring female gypsies is both erotic and comical as the two women wrestle and fight over a gypsy chief, only to soon forget their rivalry and both bed Bond- falling madly in love with him as the two women suddenly become the best of friends.

The chemistry between Connery and Bianchi is good, but nothing spectacular and not the real highlight of this Bond entry. Don’t get me wrong- they make a gorgeous couple- his dark, suave looks, and her statuesque blonde figure look great, but I found the pairing just decent rather than spectacular.

The action sequences, especially the Orient Express scenes are a spectacle and the many locations shots in and around Istanbul are ravishing. From Russia with Love is a top entry in the Bond series and a film that really got the ball rolling with fantastic Bond features- it is an expensively produced film and this shows.

Hell or High Water-2016

Hell or High Water-2016

Director-David Mackenzie

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster

Reviewed January 16, 2017

Grade: B+

Reminiscent of the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men or a classic Sam Peckinpah film from the 1970’s, Hell or High Water is a splendid tale of bank robbers being chased by lawmen in rural, western Texas. The film provides good story with a tale of morality so the viewer is unsure who to root for- the good guys or the bad guys. This gives the film substance compared to the typical action, guy film, done to death. Odd, quirky, small characters are interspersed throughout the film which adds comedy and a unique feel. The film is directed by David Mackenzie- up until now an unknown to me.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play Toby and Tanner, two brothers who embark on a series of small town bank robberies in order to save their recently deceased mother’s ranch. Tanner (Foster) is the more seasoned criminal of the two, having spent time in jail and being more volatile than his brother. Toby (Pine) is a family man with two kids, and is more intelligent and sensible than his brother. They are pursued by two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Bridges), a grizzled man weeks away from retirement, and his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

What I enjoyed most about this film is the authenticity of the setting. The film was actually shot in New Mexico, but, meant to be west Texas, this is believable and the cinematography is gorgeous. The vastness of the land, the sticky desert heat are filmed very well. Small town Texas is portrayed as tiny characters are introduced as townspeople, given much credo to the film. My favorites are the diner waitress-smitten with the handsome Toby (and her $200 tip), and t-bone waitress- grizzled and rude after forty-four years in the same place- their sassy and abrasive behavior works and adds much to the film. Dale Dickey is a treat in any film and her turn as a bank employee is a joy.

How nice to see Chris Pine in a challenging role. His character is conflicted morally- not wanting to hurt anyone, he struggles with the robberies, and wants to do right by his kids and his mother. He is a decent man caught in uncertain circumstances and Pine does an excellent job at portraying him, proving the actor is becoming more than just a pretty face.

Bridges plays surly quite well and how nice to see the actor succeeding career-wise in his golden years. His Texas Ranger character is determined to uphold the law, but below the surface is more than a bit worried about his upcoming retirement, closing a chapter in his life that undoubtedly is important to him. His relationship with his partner is jovial, and buddy-like, but is there an underlying physical attraction between the men? The film does not go there, but perhaps on a subconscious level it is hinted at.

A fantastic scene laced with tension occurs near the end of the film, when two of the main characters are killed. It is a stand-off of sorts, atop a desert mountain ridge. One of the characters loses it, which results in a shoot-out and a shocking loss of life. The scene is great in that it is good, old-fashioned shoot ’em up done well.

Hell or High Water is a gritty action film that contains great elements, nice characterization, and good, clean fun. A throwback to a crime-western of long ago, without the standard stock characters. This film is more layered than the traditional sort of film and is intelligently written, thereby achieving something unique in its own right.

London Has Fallen-2016

London Has Fallen-2016

Director-Babak Najafi

Starring-Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart

Reviewed January 13, 2017

Grade: D

Save for plenty of very interesting, cool London shots- mostly aerial views- London Has Fallen is complete drivel. The films attempt at being a red-blooded, patriotic film, comes across as insulting and racist, with a machismo that is cringe worthy. The dialogue is bad and the “us against them” mantra has been done to death in film- mostly the 1980’s and 1990’s. To quote one reviewer, “London Has Fallen is Donald Trump in film form”. How the film convinced such a talented cast to appear is beyond me (must have been money), and several’s parts are so small (Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley) they are nearly glorified extras.

The plot is painfully contrived to say nothing of the ludicrous nature of the entire story. To retaliate against a drone strike killing a Pakistani leader, terrorists take advantage of the death of the UK Prime Minister in order to assassinate several world leaders who have gravitated to London in order to attend the funeral services. The President of the United States (played by Aaron Eckhart) is naturally in attendance and his murder is thwarted by top Secret Service official, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler)-our films hero. The rest of the film involves the President and Mike running throughout London attempting to catch the terrorists and bring them to justice while avoiding death.

The London locales are superb, but sadly, mainly appear at the beginning and the end of the film. The London Eye, the Thames river, the Underground and various metro stations are featured. The numerous London bridges also get some exposure. The best part is the way the film showcases the vastness of London and not just the up close shots of historic places like Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace. Certainly London is known for those gems, but the aerial views give the viewer an appreciation of all that London has to offer- I loved only this aspect of the film.

The supporting roles are abysmal and one imagines the actors cringing as they read the scripts for some of these roles, given the more artistic parts they’ve received in the past. I hesitate to think what possessed Leo, Forster, and Haley to accept meaningless roles save for a hefty pay check. Each played members of the President’s staff and were largely reduced to reactionary shots. Getting more screen time, but being treated to equally uninteresting roles are Angela Bassett as an ill-fated Secret Service Director and Radha Mitchell as Banning’s weary looking, pregnant wife. The performances overall are forgettable. Respectable actors Butler and Eckhart merely phone in their vapid, dull lines, failing to make any of it believable.

The film never bothers with character development or anything beyond basic good and bad roles- every character is either 100% good or 100% bad. It is made crystal clear that the Americans are the good guys, and the foreigners (all Middle eastern or Asian actors, of course) are simply the bad guys. There is never an explanation of what the “bad guys” motivations are and one cheesy line after another is written for the “good guys”. During the finale Banning professes that “we have been here for thousands of years and always will be”, as he beats a bad guy senseless. Good grief. I’ve seen better dialogue on a network television drama.

And there is never any doubt how the film will end- there is an American mole who has used his power to enable all of the assassinations, but when the mole is revealed, it is a character we have never seen before, so who cares?

Surely a film soon to be forgotten for the poor story, cliche-riddled script, and stereotypes galore, but the fantastic London shots were inspiring and lovely to see. I would have been happy with one hour and forty minutes of those.

Snakes on a Plane-2006

Snakes on a Plane-2006

Director-David R. Ellis

Starring-Samuel L. Jackson

Reviewed August 5, 2007

Grade: B

Snakes on a Plane, the surprise internet bruhaha sensation of 2006 has much to criticize. The plot is inane, the acting way over the top, and the subject portrayed in such a dumb manner, I could the results being horrific, but there is just something I really enjoyed about the film too, as admittedly stupid as it is. I simply could not help but sit back and enjoy it.

I enjoyed the setting of an airplane- trapped at 35, 000 feet, in peril, has always enamored me (think Airport disaster films of the 1970’s). The story involves a plot to release hundreds of deadly snakes on a passenger flight, in order to kill a witness to a murder trial.  Of course, innocent passengers are met with their dire fates as the cartoon-like characters are offed one by one, horror film style.

Sadly, the film did not live up to anticipated expectations, commercially or critically, and was considered somewhat of a dud after all of the hype, but I rather enjoyed it for what is was. Hardly high art, it entertained me.

Inglourious Basterds-2009

Inglourious Basterds-2009

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz

Reviewed August 23, 2009

Grade: A

Inglorious Basterds is simply a great movie. Blending many film genres together, it is hard to categorize, but that is because it is a Quentin Tarantino film and that says it all. The film as a whole contains excellent acting, is wonderfully shot, and extremely detail oriented, plus it has the familiar “Tarantino” style of music and sound, the chapter breakdown, and the heavy violence.

Set mainly in German occupied France during the early 1940’s, clearly during World War II, the action centers around two stories- Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a teenage girl whose entire family is killed after being discovered hidden by a dairy farmer who is a Jewish sympathizer, barely escapes with her life when a SS Colonel, brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz, interrogates the man. Three years later, now living in Paris and owning a cinema, she plots her revenge. The other story is also of a revenge plot by a group of Jewish-American soldiers to kill as many Nazi’s as possible. Both stories eventually intersect with a grand finale inside a cinema.

The story itself is richly nuanced and unlike many generic films of today. The fantastic set design and the perfection to every last set piece is amazing. Long scenes play out slowly, but bristle with authenticity and good dialogue. Take the first scene for example- as the SS Colonel, aptly nicknamed the “Jew Hunter” plays cat and mouse with the dairy farmer, politely asking for two glasses of milk, the audience knows the pay off will be huge, but the conversation crackles with good dialogue.

What strikes me most about the film is the intelligent writing. The many scenes of conversations between characters- a chat over strudel and cream, a trivia game at a bar, and the aforementioned scene at the farmhouse, bristle with unique, clever written dialogue so that the scenes are far from merely filler. Of course, this is also a characteristic of Tarantino.

At over two and a half hours Inglourious Basterds is long, but satisfying. My only criticism is of Brad Pitt. I didn’t buy him as a Tarantino guy and found his character the only weak point of the film. His southern drawl just did not draw me in like I thought it might. He was touted as the main character (perhaps because he was the biggest star), but he really plays a supporting role.

Salt-2010

Salt-2010

Director-Phillip Noyce

Starring-Angelina Jolie

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Reviewed February 2, 2011

Grade: B+

Salt is a very good, fast paced, political thriller starring Angelina Jolie as a woman accused of being a Russian sleeper agent, who must go on the run in order to clear her name, all the while being chased by officials attempting to accost her.

The film really offers nothing that has not been seen countless times before in movies like this, but seeing Jolie in a role typically played by a male (the role was originally written for Tom Cruise), is really cool and the makes the film unique in itself. She is great in the role.

There are some twists and surprises along the way that keeps the viewer on edge- numerous action and car chase scenes abound and will keep the action flick viewer quite pleased. It is quite fast-paced and very big budget.

On the downside, I couldn’t help but think are they really making movies about the United States vs. Russia again? Apparently they are, but I could  not help but enjoy it for what it was.

Machete-2010

Machete-2010

Director-Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba

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Reviewed February 27, 2011

Grade: B

Machete is a clear, fun homage to exploitation films of the 1970’s movies. directed by Robert Rodriguez (a protege of Quentin Tarantino) and quite heavily influenced by his mentor. In fact, it very much resembles a Tarantino film- the comic, over-the-top elements, the violence, but is somewhat less compelling in the story department, and lacks the crisp, rich storytelling.

It tells the story of a Mexican ex Federale (named Machete) involved in a plot to kill a horribly corrupt United States Senator (played by Robert De Niro). He attempts to flee Mexico for Texas, is shot, and spends the remainder of the film vowing revenge on his assailants.

Machete contains many celebrity cameos and is fun to watch- in a light way. The film is not intended to be looked upon in a serious way. For the interested, you also get to see Lindsay Lohan topless.

The film is a fun, violent, popcorn flick,with a nice political message, but if interested in these types of movies, rent Grindhouse: Planet Terror, which is a better experience.

A View to a Kill-1985

A View to a Kill-1985

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Grace Jones

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Reviewed September 21, 2016

Grade: A

Not exactly deemed a masterpiece, or even a treasured favorite, among the masses of James Bond lovers, A View to a Kill holds a soft spot for me personally. It is one of the first Bond films that I was fortunate enough to see in the movie theater and it has continued to enamor me all these decades later. Yes, it has flaws (to be mentioned later), but it is a classic, fun, exciting, mid 1980’s Bond offering. It contains Roger Moore- in his final Bond appearance, the exotic Grace Jones, a great villain, and on location treats such as Paris and Iceland- who could ask for anything more?

We are re-introduced to MI-6 agent James Bond on the snowy slopes of Siberia as he discovers the body of 003, along with a Soviet microchip believed to belong to the wealthy Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). Bond attends a horse sale hosted by Zorin and discovers he is drugging the horses to make them perform better. It is also revealed that he intends to destroy Silicon Valley in order to rule the microchip industry. In Zorin’s camp is a mysterious woman named May Day and an odd Nazi scientist named Dr. Carl Mortner. Events conclude in San Francisco as the action packed finale takes place in a mine and overlooking (via blimp) the historic Golden Gate bridge.

I completely get the criticisms hurled at this film- both Roger Moore and, as a secondary character, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, had gotten quite long in the tooth by this point in the franchise (1985), which is a shame because both are favorites of mine. Most glaring in the “bad” department is Tanya Roberts as the main Bond girl, Stacy Sutten- almost rivaling Halle Berry (Die Another Day) as screamingly awful. Not appearing as a major character until quite late in the film, Stacey is a wealthy heir, who Zorin is attempting to pay five million dollars to in order to relinquish her shares in Silicon Valley (she refuses). Robert’s acting is quite poor if I am being honest- she has no chemistry with Moore, and comes across as a bit of a dimwit, despite being written as a doctor or scientist of some sort. Regardless, she does not work as a Bond girl. Yes, the cartoon-like chase around San Francisco with the brooding police chief is unintentionally funny- another negative to the film.

But here are some strengths- Fantastic is Walken as the main villain role of Zorin. Psychotic, loony tunes, and such a pleasure to watch. With his bleached blonde hair and grimacing sneer, a particularly controversial, and favorite scene of mine is when Zorin, machine gun in hand, sprays bullets from left to right, undoubtedly killing dozens, as he gleefully laughs. This was unprecedented in Bond films up to this point as most villains contained a safer personality- Zorin is positively monstrous and to be feared.

Also worth mentioning is Jones as May Day, simply mesmerizing in the role- although sadly her character is weakened  toward the end- did she really believe Zorin was capable of love?? Countering with the anemic chemistry between Bond and Roberts, the chemistry between Jones and Moore sizzles. Interesting to note is that this is not the first time Bond has explored an interracial (white and black) romance- far from it. Live and Let Die- circa 1973 takes this honor. I would have enjoyed much more exploration on an emotional level between Bond and May Day instead of the animalistic physical attraction.

One may wonder with all the recognizable flaws with the film, why the A-rating? Because simply put this film is fun and contains all the elements a Bond film ought to. The action is plentiful- who can forget the nail-biting Eifel tower chase or the Paris car chase- sans car roof?

Certainly not high art, but a grand favorite of mine, A View to a Kill is entertainment personified. The pop title-theme song, performed by Duran Duran, which became a #1 hit in the summer of 1985, is a wonderful aspect of the film and immediately takes me back to a different time- I suppose the film does as well and that is a great part of my fondness for it.

End of Watch-2012

End of Watch-2012

Director-David Ayer

Starring-Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena

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Reviewed March 24, 2013

Grade: B+

End of Watch impressed me much more than I was expecting. What I expected was a safe, by the numbers, buddy/action type movie, since it was rather promoted as such from the previews. It was worlds better than that and through me for a loop- in a good way.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as two detectives patrolling the streets of grizzled central Los Angeles, which are riddled with drug and gang violence. The viewer is brought along for the ride as we see a day in the life, if you will, of their cop beat.

The one knock I’d give the film is the implausibility factor of a cop videotaping everything. This seems silly and unrealistic.  Wouldn’t he be incredibly distracted? That said, some of the filming was amazing, including the opening sequence. The film contains a realistic, grittiness to it, and the Los Angeles locale is very effective.

End of Watch feels painstakingly real, is not always happy, and the dynamic between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena evident and their friendship feels real.

The movie feels like a day in the life of an LA cop, sparing no edgy detail,and does not gloss over the lifestyle as many cop films choose to do.

Dirty Harry-1971

Dirty Harry-1971

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino

Top 100 Films-#86

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: A

Dirty Harry is a classic crime drama that became a signature role for Clint Eastwood as the title character, a character he has played four more times. Dirty Harry set the tone for the plethora of crime thrillers and police action films that filled theaters throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. This film still holds up very well and is a masterpiece of the cat and mouse/detective genre.

Quiet, controlled, but filled with anger below the surface (we learn his wife was killed by a drunk driver), Harry Callahan is a tough cop in San Francisco who has clearly seen it all. He is a red-blooded American good guy, though is brooding and has a mind of his own, oftentimes disagreeing with his superiors and their rules. He epitomizes good versus evil. A vicious killer named Scorpio (based on the real life Zodiac killer) is on the loose, having killed two people already. His motives are unclear, but that is rather unimportant. What is important is that he threatens to kill one person per day unless his demands of $100,000 are met. Harry is immediately assigned to the case despite his reputation for being difficult and violent. This leads to a cat and mouse game between Harry and Scorpio in Harry’s pursuit of the criminal.

Scorpio is played by Andy Robinson, who is a fantastic villain- perhaps one of the most frightening in film history. His dirty blonde locks, yet angelic face, combined with maniacal facial expressions make his portrayal quite frightening. He is a sniper so he is continually perched on rooftops seeking his next victim. As he watches a couple eating ice cream in the park or a woman swimming in a roof top pool, we feel a sense of voyeurism and dread. His disturbed sense of humor and sadistic personality make him quite scary.

The film succeeds in large part because of its grit and violence.  And it is a very masculine film. Harry is a take no prisoners kind of guy and he is hell bent on stopping Scorpio from killing- no matter what. In a very effective scene, Harry chases Scorpio to a vast football field and uses torture to elicit a confession from Scorpio. It is a bloody and intense scene, but quite necessary to who Harry is. Of course, this tactic backfires as Scorpio is released from the hospital and set free. This leads to a further feud between the two men.

An added bonus of Dirty Harry, and one aspect that gives so much authenticity, is the on location setting of San Francisco. From the Golden Gate bridge to the illustrious mountains outside of the city and of the Pacific Ocean, these elements give a realism to an already gritty film. Chinatown and Dolores Park are also featured. Highlighting all of this is a sequence where Scorpio forces Harry to go from locale to locale on foot in part of a wicked game to save a victim.

Harry’s famous lines as he points his gun the perpetrators and mocks them by asking them if loaded five or six bullets in his gun are now legendary as is his “Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” On the surface a bit silly and gimmicky, these catchphrases somehow still work.

The school bus finale as Harry and Scorpio once again square off is great. As Scorpio hijacks a bus filled with grammer school students, he tricks the students, unaware of his intentions, by engaging them in childrens song sing alongs as the harried bus driver drives out of the city. When one child catches wind of the situation, Scorpio turns nasty, scaring the children into a frenzy.

Dirty Harry is a classic cop film that I never tire of watching. For the genre it is as good as it gets and holds up well. After all of these years, it is tough to disassociate Clint Eastwood from the role of “Dirty Harry”.

The Getaway-1972

The Getaway-1972

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw

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Reviewed July 3, 2016

Grade: A-

The Getaway is a classic action film from director Sam Peckinpah- known for works such as Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch. His films are known as “guy films” and rather violent-The Getaway is no exception, though it is not immensely brutal either. Still, there are more than one macabre scene and one dastardly villain. For fans of Peckinpah, The Getaway is a must see.

The films stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, perfectly cast as lovers Doc and Carol McCoy. Inescapable is their chemistry, and art mirrored life as the two were embroiled in a torrid love affair during shooting and later were married. We meet Doc in a Texas prison, where his parole has just been denied. Doc and Carol decide to make a deal with corrupt businessman, Jack Benyon, to ensure Doc is released. One stipulation is for Doc to participate in a bank heist with two of Jack’s men (Rudy and Frank). The heist goes off, but things go awry and Doc and Carol head for El Paso with a large sum of money, being pursued by Rudy, and a double-cross attempt by Jack. Rudy kidnaps veterinarian Harold and his young wife Fran (Sally Struthers) to aid him with his injuries, taking them along as he pursues Doc and Carol. Mixed in with the already complicated plot is a con-man, who attempts to steal Doc and Carol’s money.

Doc and Carol are clearly the heroes of the film and meant to be rooted for and the characters work very well together. Yes, they are criminals themselves, but they portrayed as nice and not hurting anyone who does not deserve it. Doc does spare Rudy’s life at one point, and I think this only reinforces his appealing anti-hero character. The love story is also a great aspect of the film making Doc and Carol likable. A few sweet, tender scenes of their romance are mixed in, adding a nice balance to the otherwise testosterone fueled events.

The Getaway contains spectacular editing as, particularly in the beginning of the film, we watch Doc in prison, going through his day to day rituals, mixed in brilliantly with other stories in the film. The musical score matches perfectly with the editing as it adds a provocative element of intrigue. These components add the necessary elements to a film like this- edge of your seat!

I love the Texas setting. Characters are constantly traveling to get somewhere- either by train, by car, or on foot- so we see much of the Texas countryside, almost giving The Getaway a western flavor. It is certainly a hot and humid environment, though McQueen always has a sophisticated suit on and MacGraw looks stylish and put together. And from a prop perspective, I never tire of seeing those early 1970’s sedans driving at high speeds.

Unfortunately, as with most Peckinpah films, women are not portrayed in a positive light, though Carol is one of the strongest of his female film characters. Yet, in one tough scene, she is smacked around by Doc after he realizes she slept with Jack to ensure his release from prison.

The most confusing and weak character is Fran. In a strange bit of writing, she inexplicably falls madly in love with her kidnapper, Rudy, even as he abuses and humiliates her- while her husband is around. This is odd and tough to watch and not the best part of The Getaway. Her character is not developed well and it is head shaking why she feels any passion for Rudy.

The heart of the film belongs to Doc and Carol as they are on the lam for much of the time and this is a successful part of The Getaway- hence the title. Will they get caught, will they escape? The characters remind me of Bonnie and Clyde, so we wonder if Doc and Carol will meet the same fate, but of course we like them so we do not want that.

The Getaway is a fast paced, down home, red-blooded sort of action film. It is stylized, gritty, and sometimes violent. The chicken wing scene between Rudy, Fran, and Harold starts light and turns ugly, adding to the unpredictable nature of the film. A supreme offering by Peckinpah.

The Dark Knight Rises-2012

The Dark Knight Rises-2012

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Christian Bale, Tom Hardy

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Reviewed May 11, 2013

Grade: C+

The Dark Knight Rises is a sequel to the exceptional The Dark Knight from 2008 and, unfortunately,  is  a complete let down, especially compared to that film. Perhaps my expectations were too lofty- it is a sequel after all, and sequels, typically disappoint.

To be fair, the film looks great and has a fast-paced, modern feel- slick and action packed. A summer popcorn film. The story, though, is uninteresting- the villains are not compelling, which is a major miss in a film like this where the villains are crucial. Tom Hardy as Bane is miscast. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, under-developed and one dimensional. We never really know much about what makes these characters tick.

I did enjoy the twist at the end involving Marion Cotillard, which impressed me and I did not see coming throughout the story.

I might have rated The Dark Knight Rises even lower than a C+ had it not been for the group of top notch actors appearing in the film. Having loved the most recent Batman film, I expected more and received less.

Spectre-2015

Spectre-2015

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz

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Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: B+

A modern treat for James Bond fans, Spectre is a slick, very expensive production sure to please die-hard aficionados of the storied franchise. It contains rich history and nods to recent installments, wrapping the story-arc up, a fantastic villain, and fast-paced, compelling story-telling. What it does lack is an interesting lead Bond girl, a quality that detracts from the film, and what is a must for the cherished franchise. This is the only major flaw in an otherwise fantastic film.  In typical Bond fashion, his adventures take him to London, Rome, Mexico City, Austria, and Morocco.

Speeding along in what is now the twenty-fourth Bond film, and still feeling fresh and relevant, Spectre commences where its predecessor, Skyfall, left off- mainly hot on the heels of M’s (Judi Dench’s) shocking death. How wonderful to see her again, albeit in a videotape message- that turns out to be crucial to the central plot. The new M is a male character again and portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. In the films sub-plot, a new character, C, comes into play as the head of  Joint Intelligence Service, who deems the 00 section outdated. The focal point of the story is Bond’s avenging of the former M’s death by taking down Spectre, an organization not seen in a Bond film since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, but once again a strong presence.

The opening sequence in Mexico City really kicks off the energy of the film. Fast paced, and with an awesome helicopter chase/fight sequence, it is a long sequence that thrills. We watch, engaged, as the helicopter swirls and tumbles mid-air, while hundreds of spectators in a large outdoor square flee for safety. The film then forays into the inevitable Bond song- “Writing’s On The Wall”, this time written and performed by Sam Smith.  This particular song has received mixed reviews, but I am fond of it. This leaves the audience geared up for a wild adventure to come.

The return of the crime organization, Spectre, to the story, brings rich history and is the strongest, most interesting part of the film. We have a rooting value since it is a familiarity. Even more pleasing is the return of Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, known more forcefully as “Number 1”, has been played by such legendary actors as Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Max Von Sydow.  In Spectre, Christoph Waltz takes over the role and this is a major win. Waltz, a tremendous actor, plays Blofeld in a sly, wicked manner- taunting, yet with some comedic elements mixed in. In a compelling scene (and the first one containing Waltz), James Bond appears, hidden, at a Spectre summit.  He recoils as he recognized the shadowed Blofeld, realizing the detrimental repercussions this will mean. I only hope that in subsequent Bond films, Waltz will return.

Let’s discuss the Bond girls in the film- Ironically, the small role featuring the oldest Bond girl in franchise history (aged fifty and played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) is more compelling than the lead Bond girl, Dr. Madeleine Swann, played by Lea Seydoux. As Lucia Sciarra, widow of the Italian crime lord, Sciarra, there is more chemistry between Daniel Craig and Bellucci than Craig and Seydoux. I would have much rather seen Sciarra as the primary focus, but she is shamefully underused, appearing in two scenes only. Seydoux seems to lack energy and I noticed zero chemistry between she and Craig.

I am not sold on the new Moneypenny either- Bond’s labored sidekick and always suggested one-sided love interest, in earlier films it used to be a fun dynamic. She was a secretary, older, and their flirtation was charming, light, and fun- she was almost a mother figure to him. Now, there really is no flirtation or romantic hints at all as the character has clearly been modernized to fit the twenty-first century.

Despite these character misses, the film is exceptionally well-made with tons of action. Sometimes Bond films hold up well, other times they do not. Time will tell what fate holds for Spectre, but my hunch is that it will age well.

Thunderball-1965

Thunderball-1965

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Claudine Auger

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Reviewed January 15, 2017

Grade: A

By 1965, the James Bond franchise was embarking on it’s fourth in the series, and the budget certainly reflected the success of the preceding films. Thunderball has the luxury of reaping the benefits of an enormous budget and as a result is a grand, epic film. The sheer lavish nature of the film make it one of my favorite Bond films simply for the look of it. The special effects are a marvel.

By this time Sean Connery had comfortably immersed himself into the role of bond with his charms and his ability to exude charisma into the role. In this story, two NATO atomic bombs have been stolen by SPECTRE and holds the world to ransom for millions in diamonds. They are threatening to detonate one of the bombs in a major city in either the United States or England. Bond must race against time to deter this from happening.

For starters, the opening sequence is one of my favorite. Bond attends the funeral of deceased SPECTRE agent (number 6) at a lavish chateau in France. The agent is disguised as his own widow, but Bond is not fooled. This sets the tone of the film as a dramatic fight scene ensues between the two “men”.

The main villain of Thunderball is Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), a handsome, suave, SPECTRE agent (number 2). He is rich and sophisticated which mirrors the whole of the film. His grand estate is set and filmed in the Bahamas giving most of the film a steamy, posh, look, with blueish-green waters, and white crispy sand the most gorgeous of backdrops. Largo is a great Bond villain and on par with Bond. He also has charm, good looks, and charisma.

The main Bond girl is Domino, played by Claudine Auger, and she is Largo’s mistress. She is typically clad in black and/or white, hence her name. Auger has the perfect balance of beautiful looks, sophistication, and intelligence, and is a perfect match for Bond. The chemistry between Connery and Auger is apparent and a major part of the success of the film.

What sets Thunderball apart from some other Bond films is the major portion of the film, mostly in the second half, taking place underwater. In a clear example of showing off modern technology of the time (1965), some complained that these sequences went on too long and did not further the plot. These points may contain some validity, but oh are they so gorgeous to look at. The exotic underwater world is majestic.

Thunderball really has it all and is one of the most gorgeous of films. The film is big, bombastic, and filled with bright colors. It contains all of the elements of a great Bond film and why it holds up incredibly well all these years later.

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland

Top 100 Films-#77

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Reviewed February 7, 2017

Grade: A

Though not typically regarded as one of the more appealing of James Bond films, and the second chapter to feature Roger Moore, Sean Connery’s replacement, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of my favorites, firmly placed in my top 5 of 007 offerings. This could be the result of the film being one of my first introductions to the world of 007 as a child. Moore seems more comfortable in the role than he did in the uneven Live and Let Die, released in 1973.

Qualities that make The Man with the Golden Gun a success in my view is the wonderful casting of Christopher Lee, a famed horror film icon, in the central role of Francisco Scaramanga, the title character, and nemesis of Bond. Who cannot think of Count Dracula while watching Lee act- his dark, swarthy looks, angular face, and his deep baritone voice make for a perfect villain. Known in large part for participation in Hammer Horror films opposite another legend, Peter Cushing, this is casting at its finest and a true high point of the film.

To summarize the story, MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” sketched in the side, a clear threat to the life of James Bond. It is assumed to have been sent by famed assassin, Scaramanga, who’s trademark is a deadly golden gun. Bond is ordered to remove himself from his current mission, but he pays no mind and sets out to find Scaramanga on his own, leading him into a mystery involving a stolen solar energy weapon feared to destroy the world. The adventure takes Bond to a bevy of gorgeous locales such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, and the South China Sea where our villain resides on a private island reached only by helicopter.

I found the main locale of the sunny deserted island and Scaramanga’s dwarf sidekick, Nick Nack, great aspects of the film. Majestic caves, sandy beaches, and a gorgeous array of water sets the tone with gorgeous fantasy elements. Servant Nick Nack is sinister, but with a sweet smile, one almost trusts him as he serves lunch or expensive champagne to guests sure to be killed afterwards. The secret maze of mirrors that Bond finds himself in is made perfect by Nick Nack’s taunting and cackling. And the flying car that Scaramanga and Nick Nack drive in, though gimmicky, is a real hoot.

A demerit to The Man with the Golden Gun that I have always been able to look past since other factors usurp the importance of her, is the miscasting of Britt Eklund as Bond’s assistant, Mary Goodnight. The writers pen Goodnight as simpering, silly, and a big goof. An attempt at comic relief falls flat as the character epitomizes a blonde bubble head- constantly screwing up everything. Scaramanga’s girlfriend and co-Bond girl, Andrea Anders, played by Maud Adams is much better, though we do not get to know the character very well before she is offed. Fortunately, Adams would return to star in Octopussy in 1983.

Perhaps middling at times and suffering from some negative characteristics, The Man with the Golden Gun is a love of  mine, a trip down memory lane to a time as a child when I was first discovering my love and zest for James Bond films. This offering cemented my love of Roger Moore in the central role and I still adore watching this film.

Escape from New York-1981

Escape from New York-1981

Director-John Carpenter

Starring-Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau

Top 100 Films-#76

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Reviewed January 27, 2017

Grade: A

Escape from New York epitomizes a great action film to me. Too often, action films are filled with run of the mill characters, are plot driven, and are mediocre stories that lack creativity. I adore Escape from New York, however. The creativity and amazing direction by John Carpenter allow the film to soar high above what is typical for this genre. The unique premise sets things off immediately as we follow the mission of ex-con Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to save an important figure in peril.

In futuristic 1997, we learn that due to skyrocketing crime throughout the United States, New York City has been fenced off and turned into a maximum security prison. All of the most hardened and demonic criminals have been isolated on Manhattan island to fend for themselves- free to kill or be killed as they like. The rest of the country is presumably crime free- though we never see the rest of the country. The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is taken hostage when Air Force One crashes on Manhattan island. Snake is injected with a poison that will kill him in twenty-four hours unless he successfully rescues the president and returns him alive and well.

I love this film because it is strictly Carpenter’s vision. Due to the success of 1978’s Halloween, he was given creative freedom and a big budget to film in St. Louis (doubling for New York). The film contains eerie synthesizer music (reminiscent of Halloween and Halloween II) which sets the tone exceptionally well. The dark and abandoned sets are wonderful and capture a futuristic world oh so well.

The audience will undoubtedly become enraptured as Snake’s mission is literally do or die- if he does not save the president he dies. As Snake arrives atop the World Trade Center via glider, now post 9/11, this scene takes on a haunting quality. Snake then immerses himself into the gloomy world of Manhattan facing all sorts of dangers along the way. Punk rock looking creatures scurry around the city- many insane, and Snake meets odd character after odd character in his quest to save the president. His main ally is Cabbie, played by Ernest Borgnine.

The villain of the story is Duke, not well cast nor well developed in my opinion, but this can be overlooked because of his super rad Cadillac and his two fascinating accomplices- Maggie (Barbeau) and Brain (Harry Dean Stanton). The lavish sets include the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station- I love that there are so many iconic New York City locales featured- the fact that they are not actually shot in the genuine areas does not bother me. The art direction is done so well that I was fooled.

Escapism fare to be sure, but a unique entry in the action genre. Thanks to fantastic direction and a likable star, escape from New York succeeds.

Goldfinger-1964

Goldfinger-1964

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Sean Connery, Gert Frobe

Top 100 Films-#72

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Reviewed February 16, 2017

Grade: A

By the time Goldfinger was released, the third in the James Bond franchise, the films were huge successes and the budget was not to be spared a dime. The lavish sets are proof of this and Goldfinger is one of the best of all the Bond films- containing all of the necessary elements to make it successful- interesting villains, Bond girls, gadgets, and locales. By 1964’s Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s franchise had clearly hit its stride and was achieving runaway success.

The intriguing premise immediately sets the tone- 007 is assigned to investigate a massive gold smuggling scheme. The conspirator is Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), who hatches a plot to contaminate the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.  His goal, naturally, is to control the world.! The adventure takes Bond from the United Kingdom, to Switzerland, and finally to the United States in  Kentucky and Florida. The main Bond girl, a villain, is the uniquely named, Pussy Galore. The film implies that the character is bisexual and she is very tough. Bond becomes intrigued by and smitten with her.

Goldfinger has the honor of containing one of the greatest Bond villains of all time- the title character of Goldfinger. Big and burly, he is menacing looking and actor Frobe is perfectly cast. We first meet the man, cheating at gin rummy, poolside at a lavish Miami Beach hotel, whilst Bond looks on from dozens of floors up, with the assistance of Goldfinger’s moll, Jill Masterson. In one of the greatest scenes in Bond history, a knocked out Bond awakens to find Jill dead- and completely covered in gold paint! The fact that this scene occurs early on sets up the Bond/Goldfinger rivalry in outstanding fashion.

Goldfinger’s henchman, Oddjob, is also a grand Bond villain- Asian, menacing, and wearing a trademark steel-rimmed hat, which he uses to kill his victims. Jill’s sister, Tilly, seeks revenge on Goldfinger only to find herself a victim of Oddjob’s infamous bowler hat as she flees for her life.

On the heels of an exceptional Bond film, 1962’s From Russia With Love, a stellar film itself with nary a flaw, Goldfinger excels slightly because it has got all the right ingredients for a perfect film, and was firing on all cylinders by this time in the franchise. Everything simply flows with precision.

Unforgettable is the climax of Goldfinger at the legendary Fort Knox itself. Goldfinger’s private army, an atomic device, a countdown to destruction, and Oddjob, all make for a satisfying and riveting conclusion to one exceptional Bond entry.

Magnum Force-1973

Magnum Force-1973

Director-Ted Post

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook

Top 100 Films-#87

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Reviewed February 25, 2017

Grade: A

The follow-up to the original action thriller to end all action thrillers, Dirty Harry, 1973’s Magnum Force is as good as the original in my opinion, but rather flies under the radar as compared to the acclaimed Harry. Both films are similar in style and grit, but Magnum Force holds sentimental memories for me, as I remember watching the film countless times on rainy Saturday afternoons as a kid. The similarities abound between both films as the screenwriter and score are by the same writer and composer, respectively. Admittedly, Magnum Force is more conventional than its predecessor.

Certainly playing not just the same role of Harry Callahan, the grizzled, hard-nosed Inspector from Dirty Harry, but Clint Eastwood also plays him in quite the same manner. Not one to blow anyone away with his dazzling acting talent, Eastwood is smart to keep to the status quo. The character is tough, no nonsense, but has a take no prisoners vulnerability we love and admire.

In this chapter, a syndicate of vigilante cops are taking matters into their own hands by assassinating known criminals who have been let off the hook either by connections or some other form of loophole. The pattern is for uniformed patrol officers to pull over a criminal for a mundane reason only to shoot and kill them on the side of the road at point blank range. They deserve it, but are the cops justified in their actions? The appeal and mystery of the film is that the police officers wear dark helmets that hide their identities from the audience adding a level of intrigue.

In this way, the film offers up a moral question- do the criminals get what they deserve and do the policemen have the right to justify their actions? Especially relevant is the final thirty minutes of the film, as Harry and the central “villain”, Lieutenant Briggs (Holbrook)  have a standoff and discuss the topic. Of course, Magnum Force is a shoot ’em up action flick, so this debate is skirted over largely in favor of car chases and fight scenes. But the point is able to be thought about.

The best sequence of the film is, in fact, the finale, as Callahan is lured to an abandoned garage and chased by three remaining cops. The big reveal is that Briggs is running the show and as he drives around in his early 1970’s Ford LTD, soon to become battered and weathered, it is a great scene, especially for those who enjoy car chases.

Magnum Force is a no frills “guy” film, but one done very well and with an interesting, semi-controversial premise. The film is 1970’s action genre at its very best. Surprisingly, and to the films credit, one can have a discussion about the film after watching it instead of it being a generic, forgettable flick.

Diamonds Are Forever-1971

Diamonds Are Forever-1971

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Sean Connery, Jill St. John

Top 100 Films-#57

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Reviewed May 16, 2013

Grade: A

Despite this being one of the lower rated James Bond films, this is actually one of my favorite films of all time and many would disagree with me. Some say Sean Connery phoned this performance in, some say there was little chemistry between him and Jill St. John, and tension filled the sets leading to a sub-par offering, but I think this is a great film.

I love the Las Vegas locale, the bright lights, flashy costumes, and a ritzy underbelly- and the Vegas car chase is amazing. A bright, shiny Ford Mustang takes center stage throughout the sequence, and if one looks closely, they will realize that nearly all the cars are Fords- fun fact!

The title song by Shirley Bassey is great- sultry and stylish only enhanced by the glitzy setting. One immediately imagines the film oozing with diamonds as it does.

The villains are interesting and Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd were the first openly gay Bond villains, which, in 1971 was groundbreaking. Yes, they are evil and slightly baffoonish, but what a risky and surprising blatant scene to see the gentlemen holding hands.

St. John is a sophisticated and intelligent Bond girl and the action in this film is plenty. It contains all the elements for an enjoyable Bond experience.