Category Archives: Action Films

Licence to Kill-1989

Licence to Kill-1989

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell

Scott’s Review #1,196

Reviewed November 14, 2021

Grade: B

Of the two turns as 007 that Timothy Dalton gave us License to Kill (1989) ranks as the weakest with The Living Daylights (1987) being superior. But that doesn’t mean the film has no good qualities.

It’s an okay film and director John Glen, now returning for his fifth James Bond film seems a little out of gas. Many of the stunts and sequences are very familiar territory and the dialogue is far from crackling or exciting.

The James Bond film franchise would go on a six-year hiatus after Licence to Kill and return refreshed in 1995. Perhaps it needed to.

Dalton does his best but his heart doesn’t quite seem in it and the serious tone of the film gets even darker than The Living Daylights. I don’t think this is a bad thing and I love how the franchise regular Felix Leiter (David Hedison) gets more of a storyline. But the wit and charm are lacking.

Events begin in sunny Key West at the impending nuptials of former CIA agent and Bond friend, Leiter. On the tale of one of the international drug cartel’s most brutal and powerful leaders, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), events quickly escalate. After a double-crossing poor Felix is fed to the sharks. While he survives the attack his now wife is murdered. Bond goes rogue and seeks personal vengeance.

What separates Licence to Kill from other Bond entries is the limited locales. Though exquisite, they only take place in North America. The Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Mexico are used in fine form especially the latter. The gorgeous coastline feels European and I surmised that it was shot and set in Spain when in fact it was Mexico.

Also enjoyable is the Latin flair with lots of cultures throughout. Davi is powerful and dangerous as the Latin drug lord and he exudes violence and treachery. He is gleeful when a nemesis falls victim to his pet shark and loses a limb or two before succumbing to death. A great kill is when dastardly Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) topples into a giant microwave oven and explodes into bloody bits. His death is deserved and satisfying.

To build on this, the inevitable death of Sanchez himself is a crowd cheering moment. Before he explodes into a giant ball of flames Bond is certain to let the villain know that his death is courtesy of Leiter. This is an exciting and fulfilling moment.

The Bond girls are not at their finest in Licence to Kill. Carey Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-Army pilot, and DEA informant. While sometimes portrayed as a tough-minded and brazen female character she is also written as simpering and pining over Bond. She can also be silly and foolhardy like when she carelessly plays with dangerous gadgets that Q creates. I would expect more intelligence and wherewithal based on her credentials.

Secondary Bond girl Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) and girlfriend of Sanchez, lacks much depth. Beautiful to be sure, she is quite wooden in the acting department and suddenly falls in love with Bond insisting on her powerful feelings for the man she barely knows. It’s a bit far-fetched even for Bond standards but she is nice to look at. So there’s that.

Licence to Kill (1989) usually gets either lost in the shuffle or derided completely and this is unfair. It’s not one of the greats but neither is it garbage. Rather, it feels a bit tired and of its time. Truth be told, it’s grown on me since I first saw it and even the title song performed by Gladys Knight has enamored me over the years.

The Living Daylights-1987

The Living Daylights-1987

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo

Scott’s Review #1,194

Reviewed November 12, 2021

Grade: B+

It’s 1987 and Timothy Dalton is the new James Bond having replaced the aging Roger Moore. Moore made seven Bond films. Dalton’s reign was to be brief and made only two films- The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989).

The Living Daylights is a fine Bond film ranking somewhere midstream with Best Of lists. I completely agree with this sentiment as it mostly borrows from other Bond films or stays true to the course, providing a quality action film with all of the typical trimmings a fan would expect from the franchise.

Nothing wrong with that.

This is unsurprising since director John Glen is at the helm once again. Responsible for directing the three prior Bond films- For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View To A Kill (1985) he certainly knows how to create a decent picture and he does just that.

The main issue is with Dalton himself. Certainly handsome, dashing, and British, he doesn’t quite possess the charisma that other Bonds like Moore, Connery, or Lazenby had. There is a seriousness to the actor and a lacking of a smirk or wink of his eye that makes fans melt like putty in his hands.

The action commences with British secret agent James Bond (Dalton) helping KGB officer Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) defect during a symphony performance. A mysterious blonde woman who plays cello immediately catches Bond’s attention for more than one reason.

She is Russian assassin Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo). Predictably, as events unfold they become madly in love (or lust).

Koskov reveals that a policy of assassinating defectors has been instated by new KGB head Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies). But as Bond explores this threat, counterplot surfaces, involving a shady American arms dealer (Joe Don Baker). Bond must thwart the evildoer’s fiendish plans and save the world from disaster.

The plot is secondary and difficult to follow but the gist is the same as any other Bond film.

The fun (for me anyway) is enjoying the exquisite locales that the film takes Bond to. I salivated at the gorgeous concert hall and surrounding areas of Czechoslovakia (pre-Czech Republic) and was mesmerized as the action went to the stark desert lands of Afghanistan, Morocco, and finally into historic Austria.

The pre-title sequence was filmed on the Rock of Gibraltar and is utterly fabulous.

With every Bond film, this is a real treat and much of the enjoyment. The Living Daylights doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

The thrilling finale aboard a speeding airplane is thrilling and pulsating, edge-of-your-seat fun. Fights, ticking time bombs, and impending peril keep the action moving at a breakneck speed.

The villains lack much gusto save for a hunky blonde assassin named Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) who enjoys prancing around in skimpy swimwear and who may or may not be gay. In a more progressive Bond, they might have had a dalliance.  The main antagonists, Brad Whitaker, an arms dealer General, and Koskov are too goofy to present any real danger or feel diabolical.

Also forgettable is the main Bond girl. Maryam d’Abo is an okay actress but lacks much chemistry with Dalton. Their adventures are appealing but more as buddies and the romance didn’t work for me. He does respect her more than other Bonds would so that is a win.

Delightful is the title theme song performed by the band A-Ha, which is catchy enough to stick in my head as I write this review. It is exotic and upbeat. Its standard inclusion in the opening credits makes the cheesy sequence more bearable.

Undoubtedly intended to launch a long and storied career as the new James Bond, Dalton lasted only briefly in the role. The Living Daylights (1987) presents a Cold War theme still relevant but slightly tired for the times. As usual, unless we’re talking one of the superior Bond films, the locales are the real highlight.

For Your Eyes Only-1981

For Your Eyes Only-1981

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet

Scott’s Review #1,185

Reviewed October 10, 2021

Grade: B+

Following the outrageousness of 1979’s Moonraker, a film I nonetheless find enjoyable, the decision was made to bring James Bond back to earth in the next chapter. For Your Eyes Only (1981) has matured well over the years and is an above-average entry among my all-time James Bond list.

The main Bond girl and the villain are not as top-notch as other Bond films but the action, suspense, and nods to Bond history are fantastic as is the grittier look and feel. And, the locales of Italy and Greece are breathtaking.

The title song, a sleek and syrupy love ballad performed by Sheena Easton, is a favorite of mine and is instantly recognizable in association with the film. It charted at number one on the charts and sold a gazillion copies.

The plot is typical of a James Bond film. After a British ship is sunk in foreign waters, the world’s superpowers begin a feverish race to find its cargo: a nuclear submarine control system. And 007 (Roger Moore) is thrust into the middle of the action as he aligns with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), Milos Columbo (Topol), and others to thwart the fiendish plans of the villainous Kristatos (Julian Glover).

The story is rather secondary to the enjoyment of the film and I quickly stopped trying to follow every plot point or detail. It’s not that important to know who every bad guy is or their motivations. There is a plot to take over the world and there you have it.

I adored the opening sequence when Bond visits the gravestone of his deceased wife Teresa. This tender moment immediately made me reflect on the goodness of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and the humanistic tone that the film brought. Bond then engages in a thrilling helicopter chase with arch-rival Blofeld which parlays into the opening credits with the title song as a backdrop.

Admittedly, this first sequence has nothing to do with the rest of the film but fabulous is the London shots of Big Ben and other historical treats. And it’s just desserts to see Blofeld dumped into a massive chimney and presumably to his death.

Bond historians will love this.

The film is recommended to be watched in the winter months since the snowy and icy scenes fare better in the appropriate calendar months. It could be a warmup act to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or From Russia With Love (1963) also cold-feeling Bond films.

I didn’t perceive much chemistry between Moore and Bouquet but neither did their lack of chemistry ruin the film for me. The thirty-year age difference didn’t help matters but at least James Bond had the decency not to bed the horny underaged figure skater, Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson). Her character is played for laughs and her schoolgirl crush on Bond is cute.

Kristatos isn’t the most memorable villain either. His true colors aren’t revealed until late in the game and his motivations are a stretch. I didn’t buy him as a former war hero and ally turned smuggler. Nonetheless, Glover plays him straightforward and a compelling sequence occurs when he attempts to kill Bond and Melina with his massive boat and hungry sharks.

Topol, well-known for his role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (1971) is great to see as one of Bond’s allies. The actor’s distinctive voice is tough to miss though I half-expected him to break into “If I Were a Rich Man” at any moment.

The final sequence atop the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, and Eastern orthodox monastery in Greece is terrific and quite justifiably the highlight. Bond dangles for his life as a henchman slowly breaks each of Bond’s rock climbing stakes is a nail-biting and suspenseful scene even though you know that Bond will find his escape.

Flying under the radar, For Your Eyes Only (1981) is delightful for the locales and action sequences alone. Dragging slightly midway and not featuring a memorable Bond girl or villain, it offers a darker story and contains less cheeky moments. This is refreshing following a silly trip to the moon. The villains are more dangerous than cartoonish and the extreme locales and throwback to history make this an appreciated effort.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“For Your Eyes Only”

Ocean’s Twelve-2004

Ocean’s Twelve-2004

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring- George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #1,157

Reviewed June 30, 2021

Grade: B-

The casino heist gang is back together again for more action and adventure in a film that was most certainly only made because of the success of its predecessor, Ocean’s Eleven (2001). The uninspiring title of the film, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) is a letdown as compared to the fantastic and enthralling 2001 film. What felt like a purely original idea, even though it was a remake, now feels like stale bread that was fresh only yesterday.

Thankfully, Steven Soderbergh returns to the fold which adds some style and general good direction.

The story is slow to kick off and provides an implausible and unconventional ending that doesn’t work nearly negating most of the previous activity. There is something a bit irritating about watching a film with the knowledge that it was only made for one reason and the plot seems to be rushed and poorly thought out.

But that’s Hollywood, isn’t it?

Undoubtedly, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and other top talent enjoyed the hefty paychecks they received. This is also perturbing as the performances seem ho-hum and clearly inspired by the big bucks being deposited into big bank accounts for services rendered.

The inauthenticity all around is evident in lazy acting and writing.

The foil and mark, Terry Benedict, once again played by Andy Garcia realizes that the gang has robbed him of millions and demands the money back with interest. Unfortunately, much of it has already been spent. Unable to come up with the cash, the crew is forced to come together to pull off another series of heists, this time in Europe. Presumably, they are not well known there.

Being “forced” to do what the career criminals love to do is far-fetched.

Danny (George Clooney)and the gang hatch a plan to swap a Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg for a holographic recreation. Linus (Damon) comes up with a second plan involving Danny’s wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), posing as a pregnant Julia Roberts to get close to the Egg and swap it. They are foiled by Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a coincidentally present Bruce Willis, and the rest of the group are captured.

While it’s slightly clever having Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts appear as themselves especially when Julia Roberts plays another character in the film, it doesn’t work as well as it sounds on paper.

The story is way too convoluted and Ocean’s Twelve quickly turns into the sort of film that you tune out of enjoying the non-story points more than the written word. In this case, that’s not a positive aspect.

The film’s successes, mainly the returning A-list cast, are also negative. While it’s fun to reconnect with familiar characters like Danny Ocean, Rusty (Pitt), and Linus, we know the characters too well and they become caricatures. Meaning, they behave exactly as one would expect them to.

Still, it is admittedly juicy and exciting to witness so many A-listers on one big screen especially when there is trickery, scheming, and just a hint of romance to be had.

I’ll also partake in just about any film that goes on location to Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo, and Amsterdam. It’s an orgy of European history and goodness adding cultural trimmings to a sub-par storyline. Particularly inviting are the villa scenes in luscious Lake Como.

Ocean’s Twelve (2004) will please only those who are obsessed enough with the franchise to enjoy what is basically a retread of the 2001 film only set in various parts of Europe instead of Las Vegas. It isn’t nearly enough for me as most cleverness and bright and crisp writing are gone.

Tenet-2020

Tenet-2020

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-John David Washington, Robert Pattinson

Scott’s Review #1,149

Reviewed June 4, 2021

Grade: C

For those film lovers craving a plot that serves as a weaving puzzle that can never be figured out Tenet (2020) is highly recommended. Others who crave a more defined and linear story and character development will be disappointed by the film. Tenet is a visuals only experience as I tuned in and out of the actual plot points after realizing they intersect past present and future elements.

I really did try from the outset to understand but ended up falling flat.

One’s enjoyment will depend on your own cinematic desires and expectations.

I skew much more towards a good story with excellent acting and an emotional reaction to the project. I’m not as focused on brilliant CGI or dazzling visuals as some but I recognize that Tenet has these elements.

However, I’m not sure I agree with the film’s Oscar win for Best Visual Effects or nomination for Best Production design- thank goodness the terrific Mank (2020) won the latter award.

I’ll try to summarize the plot. A secret agent simply named the Protagonist (John David Washington) embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III. The villainous Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branaugh) is a Russian oligarch who communicates with the future and is intent on destroying the world. His wife, Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki) despises her husband and aligns with the Protagonist to stop him. They fall in love.

Along for the ride are an arms dealer, Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), and Robert Pattinson plays the Protagonist’s handler who may or may not be trusted.

Let’s start with the positives. Tenet gets off to a terrific start with a scene at the Kyiv opera house in Ukraine. Though silly, the invasion of the theater and massive sleeping effect of the theater attendees and performers is like a domino effect. The scene is fast and exciting. Later, a daring car chase featuring a car speeding down a highway in reverse gear is pretty exciting. Add a character bound and tied in the passenger seat with no driver and no way to get out provides a cool James Bond moment.

Another positive are the luscious locales like Estonia, Oslo, Norway, London, and the Amalfi coast.

That’s where the fun ends.

I have to admit that I expected more from Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed the project. The man has churned out superlative efforts like The Dark Knight (2008) and Dunkirk (2017), but Tenet will not rank among his finest moments.

To that end, it’s a Nolan film. Sound and visuals are his trademarks and the bombastic, booming score is tight and familiar. The mixing of loud, techy, thundering beats is commonplace but sadly does little for the film. They almost become annoying.

The cast is seasoned and capable. With Washington, Pattinson, Branaugh, and Debicki onboard there is a talent to be found. Even Michael Caine is cast in one wasteful scene. Nonetheless, the actors drift through their scenes looking perplexed and stiff. Probably because they didn’t know what the hell was going on in the scenes.

Just like the viewer.

The dialogue is an issue because it’s not written well. Why would Kat want to kill a man who is already dying of terminal cancer? Why not wait out his demise? And the time travel was lost on me from the first sequence. I simply didn’t care.

The most laugh-out-loud line occurs when Kat exclaims to the Protagonist, “I just knew you’d have a backup plan. Wait, you do have a backup plan, right?” With juicy dialogue like this, it’s a wonder Tenet didn’t receive a Best Screenplay nomination. I jest, of course.

Little nitpicky items like the Protagonist and Kat having zero chemistry even though an interracial romance had so much potential are disappointing.

I can’t say I’d recommend Tenet (2020), but I can provide details of what you can expect from the experience. Some cool visual moments can’t overcome the lack of any storyline and the viewer will become lost in the tired moments. By the final sequence, I thought I had watched a generic episode of a network television series like NCIS.

Ouch.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects (won), Best Production Design

The French Connection II-1975

The French Connection II-1975

Director-John Frankenheimer

Starring-Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey

Scott’s Review #1,148

Reviewed June 2, 2021

Grade: B

The French Connection, the winner of the coveted Best Picture Academy Award for pictures released in 1971, is a brilliant film, holding up well as a cream of the crop cop film. An action film winning an Oscar is as rare as a horror film winning it. It’s rare.

The decision to make a sequel is debatable but The French Connection II (1975) forges as a decent action crime thriller but hardly on par with the original.

Is anyone surprised?

Sequels rarely usurp their predecessors especially when The French Connection is such a superior genre film. In a way, Part II didn’t have much of a chance measured up against Part I. Films like The Godfather only come around once in a lifetime. Unfortunately, William Friedkin did not return to the fold to direct, replaced by John Frankenheimer, best known for the nail-biting The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Thankfully, Gene Hackman did return. He helps the film from an acting perspective and gives his all in a tough role. His partner, played by Roy Scheider does not appear and is not mentioned.

Picking up a couple of years after the first one ended, Detective “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) is still hot on the heels of cagey and sophisticated drug trafficker Charnier (Fernando Rey). Doyle hops a flight to lovely Marseilles, France. Away from his familiar New York City territory, he struggles to assimilate himself in a strange city and conquer the drug ring to bring Charnier down.

Doyle is accosted and spends time as a dreary heroin addict in rough confines before being tossed away and forced to recover cold turkey style. He becomes even more determined to bring the bad guys to justice- dead or alive.

As a stand-alone action film, The French Connection II is not a bad experience. It is certainly better than the still-to-come 1980s doldrums like the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon cop/buddy films that marginalized the genre into cookie-cutter popcorn films.

The gripping New York City is replaced by the equalling compelling French landscape. Gorgeous locales like the French Riviera and the Meditteranean Sea are featured but Marseilles is not Paris. There exists a seediness and dirtiness that helps the film a bit.

Hackman acts his ass off especially as a drug addict. I shudder to think of a weaker actor trying to pull off this acting extravaganza. From scenes featuring his withdrawals to his drug cravings are exciting to watch and showcase Hackman’s wonderful acting chops.

But the intent is to produce a good action film after all and that effort is mediocre. The French Connection II is simply not as compelling as The French Connection and despite some decent chase scenes and a cool finale where Doyle gets his satisfaction there is little else but by the numbers activity.

To be fair, the final fifteen minutes is the best part of the film.

Remember the frightening car chasing a subway sequence? Or the delicious cat and mouse subway sequence between Doyle and Charnier? Brilliant scenes like this do not exist.

A few clichés are bothersome. Predictably, Doyle stands out like a sore thumb in France and his hot-headedness emerges quickly, offending or pissing off the French authorities. He is not the most likable character and I frequently found myself rooting for the bad guys!

I don’t think I was supposed to.

Other implausibilities occur like the boneheaded decision to send Doyle to Marseilles, to begin with. Was he the only detective, including the French authorities, capable of catching Charnier?

What was the point of the old-lady heroin addict stealing Doyle’s watch?

A shadow of The French Connection, The dull titled The French Connection II is a weaker effort but still respectable as matched against other genre films. This is mostly because of the French landscape and the return of Gene Hackman.

Cross of Iron-1977

Cross of Iron-1977

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-James Coburn, Maximilian Schell

Scott’s Review #1,140

Reviewed May 8, 2021

Grade: B+

Cross of Iron (1977) is a film that sticks with you. I appreciate that it’s not a standard, cookie-cutter war film that too often graces the big screen decade after decade featuring different wars but applying virtually the same message. The tone is usually pro-United States with little explanation or defense of the other guys. This is not one of those films.

That said, I could have used more of a straightforward approach because Cross of Iron is all over the place. It’s like a fragmented puzzle that doesn’t add up or come together but the experience is something both mind-blowing and unforgettable. Sometimes confusing and unpleasant, it’s directed by Sam Peckinpah so anyone possessing knowledge of some of his other works knows what the experience will be like.

His best films, Straw Dogs (1971) and The Getaway (1972), are famous for their lightning-fast editing sequences galore and sudden still frames. Violence and mistreatment of female characters are also Peckinpah staples and Cross of Iron sure has those elements. But it’s definitely not on the level that Straw Dogs and The Getaway is as far as a solid storyline. Not even close.

The synopsis goes something like this. The time period is World War II and Corporal Rolf Steiner (James Coburn) is a well-respected member of the German military and a recipient of the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military honor. He leads a group of soldiers to battle somewhere in Russia, presumably.

Envious of Steiner’s Iron Cross award, Captain Hauptmann Stransky (Maximilian Schell), a Prussian officer clashes with Steiner when he joins the unit near the Russian front. Desperate to receive his own Iron Cross, Stransky takes the credit for a significant attack and sparks a heated rivalry with Steiner.

Mixed in with all this machismo drama between Stransky and Steiner are several brooding German soldiers, one French soldier, and a rescued Russian boy. A homosexual relationship between the French soldier and another soldier is discovered by Stransky and used as blackmail while Stransky himself may also be gay. Yet another soldier kisses a fellow soldier on the mouth.

Sadly, these story points go nowhere. And I didn’t care one iota about the Iron Cross.

To add to the confusion, a few of the German soldiers appear to be German while the others, especially Steiner, seem American. They frequently denounce Hitler which makes the viewer wonder why they are fighting for him. Are they forced to? Were many German soldiers not pro- Hitler but had to fight to avoid execution? Again, these points are not explained.

The film introduction features children singing German songs amidst real-life footage of Hitler and Nazis and the conclusion also features children singing and still frames of children suffering during the war. The sequences, while powerful, have nothing to do with the story since the story has nothing to do with children except the one lone Russian boy.

If you can get past the cloudy storylines Cross of Iron has some delicious stuff to chew on. Besides the fantastic editing, the film features one of the most intense and interesting scenes I’ve witnessed in a long time. When the soldiers stumble upon a group of female Russian detachments things really heat up. A despised Nazi Party member takes one of the women into a barn and rapes her. She bites off his penis and he kills her. Steiner allows the remaining women to exact revenge on the rapist and they beat him to death.

A couple of things stand out in this scene. As much as Peckinpah usually reduces his female characters to victims, in this scene there is a strong feminist angle which I love. Were there actually Russian female soldiers in real life including a high-ranking major? Steiner allowing the women to kill the Nazi would make his group anti-Nazi?

There are lots to ponder throughout and after watching Cross of Iron (1977). I’m not sure if I’m a huge fan of the film or ever need to see it again but maybe I should. So much goes on throughout the film that either adds or detracts from the experience that it’s a perplexing watch.

Personally, I’d add much more to the relationships between the characters, especially the male-male sexual dynamic to bring more substance. The dynamic of Steiner taking the Russian boy under his wing had more to offer and I’d also reduce the number of battle scenes seemingly thrown in every so often to prove or justify that Cross of Iron is a war film.

U-571-2000

U-571-2000

Director-Jonathan Mostow

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton

Scott’s Review #1,126

Reviewed March 25, 2021

Grade: B-

U-571 (2000) is a film that entertains. It’s got excellent cinematography, some thrills, and clear good guys vs. bad guys mentality with machismo for days. It’s an American film if there ever was one and will please American audiences seeking cookie-cutter material with loud noise and a satisfying ending. It’s also got some scenes of guy peril that will please a certain type of audience demographic- think blue-collar males.

The modus operandi is that all the Americans are good and the Germans are bad. It is World War II after all. It wasn’t that simple folks but according to the film, it’s pretty cut and dry. But that’s entertainment and a box-office hit.

It’s not a bad film at all but a beer and pizza style film, not a martini and avocado dip film.

For those seeking something more authentic versus formulaic and riddled with cliches, U-571 will disappoint. It’s also shamefully inaccurate and severely muddies waters. The film does not portray a historical event so there is a lot it gets away with.

But it’s a fictionalized film and is meant to entertain so my suggestion is to sit back, grab some popcorn (or beer and pizza), and enjoy it for what it is. Don’t look for any rationale other than the studio wanting to make a ton of money. And there is the exceptional cinematography and cool locales to keep us marginally happy. The story is inane but the trimmings work.

When a German U-571 submarine (hence the title of the film!) with a sophisticated encryption machine onboard is presumed lost and buried during a World War II battle at sea, the Allies send an American Navy force led by Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) to retrieve it for study.

Boarding the German ship, the Americans’ cover as a rescue force is quickly blown. Forced to take the crew hostage, the Americans lay their explosives and prepare to destroy the German vessel before the Nazis can send naval backup. It’s a race against time routine seen frequently in masculine thrillers.

About those historical inaccuracies. The American portrayal is horribly skewed and slanted to be pro-American and this point offended many of the British military and public. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair got involved. The Allies captured Enigma-related codebooks and machines about fifteen times during the War; all but two of these by British forces. Watching the film one would think the Americans did everything and the British were incompetent.

Let’s ponder for a moment why filmmakers, especially screenwriter David Ayer and director Jonathan Mostow would embrace such inconsistencies. My hunch is that they were attempting to target their film to male American moviegoers. The tactic worked and the film was a hit.

A cool tidbit is the casting of rock star Jon Bon Jovi in the supporting role of Lieutenant Pete Emmett. At this time launching an acting career that included a role on television’s Ally McBeal, it’s impressive to see him on the big screen and not playing himself. I’m not sure he totally pulls it off but as a fan of the 1980’s hitmaker, I enjoyed this aspect.

McConaughey carries the film well and is his usual dashing and charismatic self. Before the actor started doing more quality and character representative films nearly a decade later, he would later state that several roles he took he disliked and did completely for the cash payday. One wonders if U-571 is one of those films.

Bill Paxton and Harvey Keitel have little more to do than to act tense and play second fiddle to McConaughey.

From an inclusive perspective, and I kid because there is nary a strong female to be found, there are no strong women characters. A shame because being the year 2000 Mostow should have known better. Couldn’t one of the high-ranking majors or lieutenants have been a woman? If nothing else it could have added some sexual tension. Or perhaps a same-sex relationship. The film does nothing for diversity.

It’s a very intense and exciting war film that accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s well-executed and a crowd-pleaser, U-571 (2000) doesn’t contain much more than that and will be remembered as a slick entertaining thriller with a big movie star.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound (won)

Ocean’s Eleven-2001

Ocean’s Eleven-2001

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #1,105

Reviewed January 28, 2021

Grade: A-

Steven Soderbergh was awarded the Best Director Academy Award for his exceptional direction in Traffic (2000) one of my all-time favorite films. He follows up that gem with a slick, commercial film that is stylish and looks cool. It’s fast-paced with quick editing and is set in the dangerously appealing world of casinos as a group of sophisticated thieves attempt to steal $160 million from a casino owner with whom they have a vendetta.

I expected a film of this type to be generic and by-the-numbers but instead, it’s unpredictable and unexpected.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is the first (and best) installment of the popular Ocean’s franchise and a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name.  George Clooney was in his film prime and leads the pack of A-list stars like Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon in a packed and brimming two-hour entertainment fest.

A nice touch is inviting two stars from the original, Henry Silva and Angie Dickinson, to appear as themselves.

Clooney leads the charge and embraces his leading role status with charm, polish, and style. He plays a handsome Danny Ocean, a man with a plan. Less than one day into his parole from a New Jersey penitentiary, the thief is already traveling to California to arrange his next plan with his partner-in-crime Rusty (Brad Pitt). It’s tinged with revenge.

They abide by three rules: Don’t hurt anybody, don’t steal from anyone who doesn’t deserve it, and play the game like you’ve got nothing to lose. Danny orchestrates his charges into creating the most sophisticated, elaborate casino heist in history. And it will take place in glitzy Las Vegas on the night of a boxing match.

By providing the rules it makes me think fondly of a similar proclamation in David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club, Danny and the gang immediately feel sympathetic to me. After all, they don’t intend to hurt anyone, and the money stolen will be from folks who are dastardly and might even deserve to be penniless. Didn’t JigSaw from the Saw films only kill those who harmed other people? Suddenly their motives are clear and justified making them the good guys.

As a bonus, the “victim” of the heist is the unlikable Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who owns three casinos and is worth billions. Making the bad guys the heroes and Benedict the bad guy is clever and situates the players properly so the audience is sure who to root for. As if the film doesn’t have enough treats some drama is thrown in.  Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), is Benedict’s girlfriend. Is she loyal to Danny or Benedict or might she be playing both sides?

Loyalties are tested and questioned and the intricate bank heist sequence is titillating and an edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride. The Las Vegas backdrop with the casino’s bright lights, bells, and like elements cement Ocean’s Eleven as one of the best of its genre.

It’s also tough not to root for Clooney, Pitt, and Damon in or out of character.

Ted Griffin writes the screenplay and adds some nice characters, more than one-note bank robbers or thieves. Along with Soderbergh’s direction, which adds the nice atmospheric trimmings like the razzle-dazzle casino scenes they make a great pair.

I love how Danny and Rusty recruit a team with specialized skills like mechanics, pickpockets, and an electronics and surveillance specialist. There’s even an acrobat! This seems an ode to the 1960s television series Mission: Impossible as the team is carefully selected based on skill.

A highly entertaining popcorn film just perfect for a summer night, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is sure to satisfy. The intention is to sit back and enjoy what is offered and all the elements come together perfectly. The culminating main event boxing match and subsequent twist catapults the film from pure entertainment to something more nuanced and exciting.

The film was a success at the box office and with critics leading to two sequels directed by Soderbergh and a spin-off with an all-female lead cast, was released in 2018.

Air Force One-1997

Air Force One-1997

Director-Wolfgang Petersen

Starring-Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close

Scott’s Review #1,085

Reviewed November 21, 2020

Grade: B+

If ever a straight-ahead, summer blockbuster, popcorn flick ever existed, Air Force One (1997) is it. Surprisingly, this is not a bad thing. It’s not cerebral, but it’s never dull. The film has hooks and muscle and assembles a thrill ride, edge-of-your-seat action fest. Some would say this is just what the doctor ordered, and they’d be right, provided the mood is for a mind escaping, meat and potatoes affair.

Air Force One is pure Americana. With a patriotic musical score and a clear hero and villain, it’s easy to know who to root for. Suspension of disbelief is mandatory since some scenes are as implausible as Santa Claus really shimmying down a chimney on Christmas Eve, but the film is entertaining and fun. The action is non-stop.

At the tail end of his prime action star years (the 1980’s and 1990’s), Harrison Ford stars as the president of the United States of America, James Marshall. After making a bombastic speech in Moscow vowing never to negotiate with terrorists, a group of them led by the dastardly Ivan (Gary Oldman) hijack Air Force One with the president and his family on board. Marshall, a former soldier, hides in the cabin of the plane and races against time to save his family and those aboard the flight from the terrorists.

The plot is implausible and hokey and reeks of plot points to carry the story along, but surprisingly, the film works. There is no way a president would ever race around performing stunts aboard an airplane, conquering the villains like clockwork. But Ford has the charisma to make us believe it could happen, and his character is a family man, a Vietnam veteran, and a Medal of Honor recipient. Can this guy be any more perfect?

Oldman, always reliable as a villain, is perfectly cast. His character’s motivations are simplistic and nationalistic. Ivan believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union has ruined his country and somehow it’s the fault of the United States. The reasoning is silly, but it’s in keeping with the patriotic nature of Air Force One- us versus them mentality. The United States is good; Russia is bad. It’s what middle America wants, and the target audience of this film is clear. Back to the Cold War.

Wolfgang Petersen, who directs the picture, knows his way around the action genre. After all, he crafted the memorable Das Boot (1981) and Outbreak (1995). The film has a Tom Clancy-Patriot Games meets Die Hard (1988) style. Petersen meshes the score with the quick editing style to layer the film with more action than slowed down conversational scenes. We know how it’s going to end but enjoy the ride.

Looking closely, the film is not just for the guys. Glenn Close is cast as a female Vice President and a strong gender twisting presence. Kathryn Bennett is a bold, careful woman and the implication is that she is more than capable of taking over should anything happen to the president. Her scenes mostly take place in the White House Situation Room and provide a nice calm as she is pressured by Defense Secretary (Dean Stockwell) to declare the president incapable. The scenes between Stockwell and Close are very strong.

Air Force One (1997) is a cliché-riddled and mainstream Hollywood creation to the max. Both the pacing and the pulsating style make the film a guilty pleasure and is quite enjoyable. When the mood strikes to kick back and relax with a fun, action-packed affair, this one is your choice. Just don’t dissect the details too much or expect real-life to mimic art.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound, Best Film Editing

Mad Max-1979

Mad Max-1979

Director-George Miller

Starring-Mel Gibson

Scott’s Review #1,070

Reviewed October 15, 2020

Grade: A-

Mad Max (1979) is a gritty and dirty film that is nothing like any other film coming before it. There are an edginess and an “off the beaten track” quality that sucks you in and pummels you into submission with its energy and ferocity. The film is raw and not slick and hats off for that. This is all done with fun intentions and it’s meant to be enjoyed, but the film has brutality and power that must be experienced to be believed. The plot is not the most important quality, nor is it the most believable, but it’s the trimmings that make Mad Max unforgettable.

I haven’t seen the two follow-up sequels, Mad Max 2 (1981) or Beyond Thunderdome (1985), but my understanding is they are more family-friendly films, disappointing to hear after viewing the raw power of the original. The undesirable Fury Road (2015), an enormous critical and commercial success, but the appeal lost on me, is to be skipped in favor of the first. I disliked that film. But alas, a treasure such as the original can never be duplicated. The revenge-themed, fast car driving, lewd masterpiece, is a must-see cult classic. It stands the test of time.

In a post-apocalyptic future, an angry cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is looking forward to retiring, having had enough of the derelicts that populate his region. One day, his world is shattered when a malicious gang murders his family as an act of retaliation, forcing a devastated Max to hit the open road seeking vengeance. As he travels the Australian outback’s empty stretches of highway, he tours the bloodstained battlegrounds ruled by low-life bikers who feed on violence.

Mad Max made Mel Gibson a star. His breakthrough role, led to future work in the action and buddy genres, specifically the Lethal Weapon franchise (1987-1998) with tepid success from any artistic standpoint until he bravely took on more creative and challenging roles. Max is his finest action character and most authentic feeling. He mixes a blend of rage, sentimentality, and humanity, perfectly, never missing a beat. And his youthful looks are enchanting to see.

The multitude of scenes featuring super fast-cars, motorbike gangs, and leather-clad creatures with colorful tattoos and missing teeth are just the icing on the cake of the fun that lies ahead. Names like Toecutter and Bubba give you an idea here. These are all great add-ons, but the revenge-seeking Max is the one to watch. The scene is immediately set when the grizzled Nightrider is killed by Max in a chaotic police chase. His gang goes rampant and loots and destroys shops and businesses, raping both women and men. All hell breaks loose.

The best sequence is also the most horrific. Taking place on the open road, naturally, a sweet vacation by Max, wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and son Sprog begins with a pleasant drive, only to result in a chase scene climaxing with Sprog’s death and Jessie languishing in intensive care. The image of Sprog and Jessie lying on the open road, tattered and torn, is memorable and sticks with you.

The film is intelligent if studied thoroughly enough, and a study in film school is recommended. Credit must be given to director George Miller who knows his way around a camera. The cinematography lends much to the film and a feeling of being there is the desirous result. The editors deserve a special prize for their brilliant efforts.

Undoubtedly influencing countless action genre selections of the 1980s and 1990s, most running the gamut between only marginally fun (the Terminator franchise-1984-present) or downright atrocious (The Running Man-1987), Mad Max (1979) breathes life into the genre. Action films are categorically known to be one-dimensional but by adding a cool Australian locale, characters who are filled with cartoon bombast and punky zest, and a futuristic mystique, Miller crafts well.

It’s a low-budget flick, destined for underground viewership and appreciation, that is somehow nearly flawless.

The Great Escape-1963

The Great Escape-1963

Director-John Sturges

Starring-Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,053

Reviewed August 17, 2020

Grade: B

Often heralded as one of the great World War II action films of all time, there is little great about the first half of the interminable two-hour and fifty-three-minute running time. With enough military silliness to make television’s Hogan’s Heroes seem like high drama, the first half of The Great Escape (1963) would be graded a mediocre C or a C- and that’s being generous.

The final hour is an entirely different matter and when the actual “great escape” is launched the film kicks into high gear. Not only does the action kick-off, but the characters become more layered, emotional, and compelling. There are also killer location shots of Germany and Switzerland occurring at a zooming pace and the comedy soon turns to tragedy. Why the decision to save all the goodies for the final act instead of dispersing them around is beyond me, but I am glad this film took off as it did.

Directed by John Sturges, known for creating a similarly masculine and muscular offering from 1960, The Magnificent Seven,  he once again is lucky to cast several of Hollywood’s then hot, young stars like Steve McQueen and James Garner, and more relatable character actors like Donald Pleasence and Richard Attenborough who provide the acting grit. While not on my list of great World War II films Schindler’s List (1993) gets top honors, the film is recommended for the gutsy and enthralling finale alone.

The film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 nonfiction book of the same name, a firsthand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, and rather shockingly, the real events are significantly modified from the historical record, depicting a starkly fictionalized version of the escape, including Americans among the escapees.

Let’s discuss both portions, warts and all. The changes are most irritating and done to make it more “Americanized” and therefore more appealing to mainstream audiences. This manipulation gnawed at me during most of the film since it’s factually incorrect. To be fair, there is a brief disclaimer at the beginning of the film with a note basically saying the story is a work of fiction save for the escape portion, but this will inevitably be unnoticed or forgotten by the casual viewer.

Most of the first arc action is spent within the confinement of a massive, high-security, prisoner-of-war camp where the group of men is huddled, having escaped other camps or prisons. You would think the camp would be the equivalent of Alcatraz but besides some barbed wire and not so threatening German soldiers with guns they rarely use, it’s not so intimidating. Nonetheless, shortly upon arrival, the group begins to plot their elaborate, mostly underground escape.

Whoever composed the musical score for the first section was going for a campy, situation comedy style tone with brassy, patriotic tunes worthy of Gilligan’s Island. This does nothing to create tension or danger nor do the Nazi soldiers. The men would be terrifying and rely on torture, but there is none of that to be found. Safe, but trying to be stern, this does not work as the German soldiers are played more like foils than those to be feared.

When the “great escape” is upon us, The Great Escape gets an A-plus for its thrills, action, and emotion. A harrowing plane ride taken by Robert Hendley (Garner) and Colin Blythe (Pleasence) is juicy with tension and atmosphere. As the duo flies low across the German terrain heading over the Swiss Alps for safety the plane exhibits trouble. Meanwhile, Hilts (McQueen) steals a motorcycle and traverses the Germany/Switzerland border in a frantic chase scene while the Germans are in hot pursuit. In a third sequence, other men flee via train in a cat and mouse pursuit.

Seventy-six POWs flee the camp and a startling fifty are killed. Twenty-three are returned to the camp and only three successfully escape. If Sturges had built around the final hour and reduced the silly comedy style, probably attempting a contrasting theme to make the drama more imbalanced, he might have had a masterpiece on hand. Instead, The Great Escape (1963) is a twofold experience. A comedy that develops into a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller, but suffers from too much historical inaccuracy to reach the depths of cinematic greatness.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Director-James Mangold

Starring-Matt Damon, Christian Bale

Scott’s Review #1,041

Reviewed July 18, 2020

Grade: B-

Ford v Ferrari (2019) is a film based on a real-life situation in the world of race car driving featuring two of Hollywood’s most recognizable leading men, Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Co-leads, they share equal screen time and independent story lines that merge together nicely. Bale gives the better performance and is the best part of an otherwise mediocre film. The rest is quite formulaic and traditional in plot and film making sensibilities. Receiving several Academy Award nominations, I expected more from the experience. Granted, car racing isn’t the subject I’m most intrigued by.

Carroll Shelby (Damon) is an American car designer and entrepreneur, who is hired by the Ford motor company to build a car that will beat the Italian owned Ferrari after a feud erupts between the two owners. Shelby is tasked with building the car to debut at the upcoming 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in France. Rebellious race car driver, Ken Miles (Bale) who has no fear, is chosen to drive the new car. He and his wife have money troubles and need the pay day.

Director, James Mangold, certainly adds his share of pomp and circumstance clearly making this a testosterone fueled guy’s film. Traditional styles ensue as the climactic race fills the last act of the way too long production. There is a story of loyalty and brotherhood between Carroll and Ken that feels forced and dated. Ford v Ferrari is formulaic to a tee with a clear modus operandi of providing entertainment and action.

The pieces are all in play. The Ford corporation is pissed at being tricked in a deal by a foreign country (Italy). They vow revenge with a big boy American car that can defeat the foreign car. There is a climactic finish with the American car the clear victor. But first, there are hurdles to face to increase the tension and drama. Ken’s driver door malfunctions causing him to have to gain laps to catch up to Ferrari. Ford is written as the underdog which is a tough sell.

Since the real-life events took place during the Cold War, Mangold spins a definitive Americana, good old boys’ creation that feels too patriotic to be genuine. So many other films have a similar vibe- Apollo 13 (1995), The Martian (2015), and especially the similar themed Rush (2013). The Ford guys, though cagey and gruff, are meant to be the characters the audience roots for and the Italian characters are not. And is there really a need to still show the cliched scene of a dedicated wife obediently watching television at home and cheering on her husband as he races?

The gripes are not to say the film is a bad experience- it’s not. It’s just that it’s on par with good Mexican takeout from your favorite restaurant. You know exactly what you are going to get and there is some comfort and satisfaction in that. Ford v Ferrari is an easy watch and one can sink into his or her lazy-boy and enjoy the revving engines, squealing tires, and smoking mufflers. The film is machismo at its finest. Think a better version of The Fast and the Furious (2001-present) franchise.

Let’s talk Oscar nominations. There is no way Ford v Ferrari should have received a Best Picture nomination. Either Us (2019), Hustlers (2019), or A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) could have deservedly taken its spot. Warranted are nominations for Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in which it won the first two. More realistic is for Christian Bale to have been awarded a Best Supporting Actor nomination, which he did not receive. Sometimes the Academy gets it right, sometimes they don’t.

Being a non-race car driving aficionado might have hindered my enjoyment of the film over a more passionate viewer. For those seeking a standard rev ’em up, male driven race car film, kick up your heels and enjoy the ride- you’ll love it. Ford v Ferrari (2019) will only marginally please those seeking deeper meaning in film or film as art. The film will certainly be remembered as one as mainstream and Hollywood produced as humanly possible.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing (won)

10,000 B.C.- 2008

10,000 B.C.- 2008

Director-Roland Emmerich

Starring-Steven Strait, Camilla Belle

Scott’s Review #988

Reviewed February 11, 2020

Grade: F

10,000 B.C. (2008) is a by the numbers adventure/action hybrid film that attempts to be slick and modern with catchy visual elements and instead bottoms out resulting in an example of terrible filmmaking.

The CGI usurps all other qualities providing no historical accuracy, with a ridiculous 2008 feel rather than the time period at hand. Those involved only had maximum box office returns in mind when the film was created. There is an irritating formulaic quality and poor acting across the board that leaves this one dead on arrival.

Fierce, masculine mammoth hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait) sets out on an impossible journey to rescue the woman he loves, Evolet, (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord and save the people of his village. While venturing into the unknown and frightening territories, D’Leh and his fellow warriors discover an amazing civilization rife with possibilities.

Predictably, the warriors are attacked and slaughtered, leaving the young man to protect the remaining group while winning the heart of a princess, well above his station in life.

The story is complete schmaltz and easy to predict from nearly the very beginning of the film. Powerful invaders force the hunters of D’Leh’s tribe into slavery and accost the princess in such a fashion that the setup is all put neatly in place for the viewer, providing nothing out of the ordinary. When the young and naive boy has an epiphany and realizes he is the only one who can save his tribe from extinction, it is all too much. The film is riddled with cliche after cliche after cliche.

A tough ask to lead a film with summer blockbuster written all over it, newcomers Strait and Belle do their best, which only enhances how poor their acting is. Clearly cast for their good looks, they can offer little else. Strait is costumed with a bad wig, dripping sweat, and bulging muscles, purely for audience delight. Belle is also victimized as she pouts and sulks wearing skimpy clothing. The result is a standard boy meets a girl, the boy loses the girl, and the boy becomes a man to save the girl’s mess. Inexplicable is how they meet and fall in love before ever speaking or getting to know each other.

If only the bad acting were the only negative the film might be fair to middling, but nothing good is ever offered. All the hunters and tribesmen look like modern people dressed to look from a different time period. The endless battle scenes borrow from the legions of action and adventure films that have come before it. The animals prance across the screen in obvious timed moments providing little in the way of authenticity.

Director, Roland Emmerich, known for films such as Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) has a knack for creating large epic adventures to please mainstream audiences. There is nothing wrong with a conventional film if it manages to teach the viewer something or offer something of merit. With a target audience of pubescent boys and girls yearning to learn, Emmerich misses a golden opportunity to present an imaginative prehistoric moment and provide a lesson.

Complete with a bad story and bad acting, the drivel conjured up is nearly too much to take. 10,000 B.C. (2008) cannot be saved by the over stylish visuals because they are so phony one cannot even fathom any credibility out of them. The good-looking main stars look straight out of a glossy magazine and hardly from the prehistoric era presented. With a little attempt at giving audiences anything of substance, this film is an epic fail and is to be missed.

300-2007

300-2007

Director-Zack Snyder

Starring-Gerard Butler, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #977

Reviewed January 7, 2020

Grade: D

On paper 300 (2007) could have been a good or even a great film under different circumstances, if a historical realism or a message of some kind had existed. Unfortunately, what sounds like an interesting premise is met with a cartoon quality, over-acting, and cheesy testosterone-laden bombast. Little more than drivel, the film is saved slightly by a charismatic lead, male flesh, and potent homo-eroticism, but this is no Magic Mike (2012), and the content fails because it is intended to be taken seriously. The result is a silly affair, with predictability, and cliches for miles.

The story is based on a 1998 comic series of the same name that is a fictionalized retelling of a battle within the Persian War. The flimsy plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers (hence the title).  As the battle rages on, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband (Leonidas) and conquer the army.

Butler is the only slight positive worth mentioning as he preens and prances in little more than a loin-cloth with chiseled abs during the battle scenes, ferociously bellowing at his enemy. A fine-looking man, he is unarguably charismatic and poised, so the audience is strongly encouraged to root for him, and naturally for the Spartans. Leonidas makes for a powerful leader and is great to look at, but that is where any positives to this film end.

The scantily clad gimmick is not intended to draw female viewers to the film, or at least the intent doesn’t seem to be there unless the marketing was botched. There is enough male nudity to go around and the beefcake and machismo are clear in most of the characters. Laughable is how the Spartans all have washboard abs and appear to be freshly waxed. Did they have access to state-of-the-art fitness centers in 479 BC? The Persians are mostly face-pierced and sneering, the clear enemy, which does nothing to diminish racist overtones. Spartan-good, Persian-bad.

Zack Snyder’s (Dawn of the Dead-2004) motivation seems to be to market this film to pubescent teenage males or the low-IQ crowd so the stereotypes are not the best thing to witness nor will they cause anyone to feel very liberated or united. The characters are either cookie-cutter or grizzled and violent, which is in tune with most of the film- bloody, but without reason, substance or merit. One-note character after one-note character appears through each scene. Most bothersome is the intent to stir a pro-war stance, not helpful given the target audience.

300 was filmed mostly with a superimposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book which does nothing but make the film look like a high-energy video game. The product is quite stylized with gloomy battleground scenes and dire bleakness and derives a graphic novel or comic book approach but lacking any subtle qualities or pretty much anything else interesting from a cinematography perspective.

The battle scene finale is by the numbers and should come as no surprise who the inevitable victor is. The film requires little thought or attention span and one can simply immerse themselves onto a cushion and absorb the nonsense couch-potato style. Battle after battle erupts with cliched earnestness and a bevy of blood spurting wounds and kills. This would be okay if there existed any point or good plot twist. Any character development is missing.

300 (2007) is a weak offering and decidedly boring, a surprise since much of the events take place on the battleground where the action is produced a mile a minute. The experience is forgettable, and a legion of other action-fueled films exist with more meat and potatoes on their plate. The sinister and stereotypical aspects make the resulting film less than fun and the big, loud, dumb product is only marginally cinematic. We can do better.

Atomic Blonde-2017

Atomic Blonde-2017

Director-David Leitch

Starring-Charlize Theron, James McAvoy

Scott’s Review #857

Reviewed January 19, 2019

Grade: B+

Atomic Blonde (2017) is a female empowering action/spy film directed by David Leitch, a former stuntman. The film plays similarly to a James Bond film only with the genders reversed. Featuring dynamic music and cold, crisp location sequences of Europe, the film is visually stylish. The story is not the main appeal and cannot always be followed, but thanks to a great performance by Charlize Theron in the title role the film is pleasant and recommended for fans of either the spy or the action genres.

Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, the film is set in Berlin during 1989 and its major theme is the collapse of the Berlin Wall amid a spy story and the Cold War backdrop. A grizzled female MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), is quizzed about events that occurred during her recent time spent in the German city investigating the death of a fellow spy. She recounts her mission via flashbacks and the whereabouts of a mysterious list that reveals the names of MI6 and KGB Russian agents. Lorraine deals frequently with David Percival (James McAvoy), an odd colleague who may or may not be trusted.

The plot and subsequent story are hardly the finer points of Atomic Blonde and the title- a play on words of “atomic bomb” is too cute to take seriously. Given that the novice director is a former stuntman one should not expect high art nor exceptional writing material. The largest issue besides the plot holes and implausibility of the story is that it is not that engaging. After thirty minutes of trying to ascertain who had “the list” I gave up and tried not to follow too closely instead enjoying the other qualities the film offers.

Theron is well cast as bleached blonde vixen Lorraine- tough as nails and bad-ass to the core. With icy eyes and a sneer to make the toughest opponents cringe the actress contains the charisma to make the role her own. The number of fight scenes that the tall and fit woman endures are too plentiful to count, but her pizzazz and wherewithal make the character believable. Her toned and physicality is not dissimilar from her character in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Bisexual, Lorraine has a brief romantic escapade with Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a young French agent, until the woman is murdered.

Any adventurer of Europe will be enamored from a logistical perspective with the exciting locales featured heartily in Atomic Blonde.  Sleek and modern, the photography and cinematography departments do a fantastic job of giving the film authenticity and audacity daring to reveal the terrific nooks and crannies the best cities have to offer. Given the number of high-speed car chase scenes and a fantastic underwater sequence, London, Paris, and Berlin are all given their just due.

The feminist overview that Atomic Blonde possesses is worthy of praise. Able to tangle with the best of them, Lorraine takes no prisoners and is determined to battle until the end or until she is too bloody to battle back. She is tough yet sensitive and puts up with no nonsense. Still she has a heart as evidenced by not only the violent death of her girlfriend and her subsequent reaction, but her calm despair at being unable to save a drowning man’s life. Lorraine’s calm and resilience instead of over-dramatic emotional outrage make her a character developed very well and a role model for young women everywhere.

McAvoy is cute as a button as David adding comic relief and sly witticisms to many scenes. He often appears shirtless exposing his lean and muscular physique. As a fan of sexual dalliances, he is both combative and flirtatious with Lorraine though he never beds her. A yin to her yang and sparring partners throughout, David is a nice addition to a cast containing mostly serious characters.

The 1980’s themed musical score features treat after treat of nostalgic songs peppered throughout the film seemingly every few moments. Atomic Blonde plays like a bold music video with intelligently penned songs not disposable crap. The inclusion adds a genuine celebration of the decade of decadence crafted in a thoughtful way. Treats such as the masterful “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday, “London Calling” by The Clash, and “Der Kommissar” by After the Fire are placed perfectly during relevant scenes.

With a ballsy lead character and enough action to envelope a nearly two-hour action thriller Atomic Blonde (2017) is a gift in atmosphere and great ambiance. Forget bothering to deep-dive into the complex story too much- it isn’t worth it. Admittedly coveting style over substance this can be forgiven because the nice elements overshadow the negatives. Atomic Blonde is best served as a kick-back and enjoy the ride experience.

Moonraker-1979

Moonraker-1979

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Lois Chiles

Scott’s Review #770

Reviewed June 8, 2018

Grade: A-

Moonraker (1979) is an installment of the James Bond film franchise not usually well regarded and rarely appearing on critic’s top ten lists. Perhaps a reason for this is the timing of the film, hot on the heels of the late 1970’s Star Wars craze. Plans for a different Bond film were scrapped in favor of an outer space story. Regardless, I adore most of Moonraker, save for the final thirty minutes when the plot gets way too far-fetched for anyone’s good. The rest of the film is a superior entry and holds up quite well in the modern age of all things Bond.

Many of the familiar elements remain intact following the successful and lavish The Spy Who Loved Me (1975). An even heftier budget featuring gorgeous locales like Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon rain forest are featured as well as a capable, intelligently written “Bond girl”. The villains, compelling and suave, including the return appearance of Jaws (Richard Kiel), and handy, dandy gadgets make Moonraker a treat for fans. Therefore, I find the non-love for the film rather mystifying.

The action starts like a jumbo airplane carrying a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked in midair causing the plane to crash and the shuttle to disappear. Since the space shuttle was on loan to the United Kingdom from the wealthy and powerful Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), 007 (Roger Moore) is tasked with finding its whereabouts. He visits the grand shuttle-manufacturing plant in California where he learns that Drax and his bodyguard Chang are sinister and plotting global destruction.

Bond befriends the gorgeous and highly intelligent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), an astronaut who works at the facility, and Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery), the beautiful personal pilot of Drax. As events roll along Jaws returns to the story seeking revenge on Bond and subsequently serving as Drax’s new bodyguard. Of course, treasured favorites like M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), return to the fold.

To explain the weakest portion of the film first, producers were clearly attempting to capitalize on the tremendous success of 1977’s Star Wars by featuring a space exploration theme. Interestingly, only the final half-hour does this come into play as Bond and Goodhead, and nearly all the cast, don bright yellow spacesuits. Drax’s evil plan is to eradicate all humankind and begin a new world with only beautiful people existing and reproducing.

The inevitable final battle scenes take place in a sprawling space station amid laser guns shooting bright beams- a direct rip-off from Star Wars. In fact, the entire sequence is too long and quite reminiscent of my criticism of the tedious finale from the otherwise brilliant The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker’s predecessor.

Otherwise, the film is top-notch. Fantastic sequences involve Bond’s mid-air fight with a bad guy and a dangerous struggle for a parachute, a fight scene high atop a Cable Car during Rio Carnival, vicious sparring in a Venice museum, and a female character chased and torn to bits by Drax’s carnivorous dogs, all make for great action sequences. The highlight though may very well be Bond’s harrowing ordeal inside an out-of-control centrifuge chamber.

The return of Jaws is certainly a highlight to Moonraker especially as the popular villain turns “good” and finds a love interest! When he sees the cute blonde girl with pigtails and glasses, both character’s eyes light up in a “love at first sight” moment. As Jaws realizes Drax plans to both of them exterminated his alliances suddenly switch resulting in a touching scene between the two over champagne.

Moore and Chiles have tremendous chemistry as the MI-6 agent teams with the capable female CIA agent. In fact, Holly Goodhead is portrayed exceptionally well: female, intelligent, gorgeous, and savvy. Impressive (and progressive) is how Goodhead takes charge as she and 007 make a harrowing journey back to planet Earth and then work nicely together to destroy Drax’s deadly missiles. Sure the romance is there, but also the mutual respect between the two.

Fondly recalling childhood memories watching this film numerous times, Moonraker (1979) holds good memories for me. More importantly, it possesses wonderful Bond qualities that will enchant many Bond fans seeking fun and entertainment. The film admittedly contains a ludicrous plot attempting to fit the times, but thanks to lavish sets and a competent main Bond girl, the film is quite memorable.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects

GoldenEye-1995

GoldenEye-1995

Director-Martin Campbell

Starring-Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco

Scott’s Review #717

Reviewed January 19, 2018

Grade: B

By 1995, after a record six years between films, the James Bond franchise re-emerged energetically with Pierce Brosnan assuming the role of the MI6 agent-, and breathing some fresh life into the character.

The charming and suave Irish actor gave a new direction to the role last played by Timothy Dalton-an an actor who gave Bond more of a brooding quality. The resulting GoldenEye offers mixed results, though the casting is a vast improvement over its predecessor.

In fact, GoldenEye sees other monumental roles recast- that of Judi Dench as M and Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny. The film has a slick look, a compelling story, but at times is tough to follow, and overall- despite containing all the elements- something seems missing. Or maybe I just prefer the other Bonds more? Still, the offering is far from a bad watch.

GoldenEye kicks off with, in hindsight, a major clue to the story as Bond  (Brosnan) and fellow 00 agents, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), infiltrate a Soviet facility in northern Russia during 1986, searching for chemical weapons. Alec is tragically killed by sinister Soviet General Ourumov and Bond mourns the loss of his friend.

The action resumes in present times (1995) as, now in gorgeous Monte Carlo, Bond follows the beautiful and sadistic Xenia Onatopp, a  crime syndicate member known for crushing men with her thighs. Xenia and Ourumov travel to Siberia where they destroy a bunker holding GoldenEye satellites and kill everyone except the computer programmer, Boris (Alan Cumming), and the lone survivor, Natalya  (Izabella Scorupco).

In a clever twist, it is revealed that Alec has betrayed British Intelligence and is, in fact, himself leading the crime syndicate.

In one of the quietest, and best scenes, Bond and M have an interesting exchange in her office as M (a woman) calls Bond out on his arrogance and chauvinism, and states that it is a new day. Dench adds a ton of female modernism into the role (about time in 1995) as Bond now reports to a woman. The scene is important as it leads the two characters to achieve mutual respect and arguably parlays the franchise into a new, more female-empowering direction.

A great positive to GoldenEye is the setting, which I think does wonder for the film as a whole- the bitter, blustery, Siberian set gives a soothing feeling, especially while watching the film during the ravages of winter, snug with a warm blanket and heaters. Regardless, the sets are realistic, never cheesy, and loaded with atmosphere- so the film itself looks wonderful.

Issues abound with the frenetic pacing of the film- at times I found myself losing track of the action or the sequence of events. Understandably, as in many Bond films, events circle the globe and, surely London, Russia, and Monte Carlo are great locations, but especially within the film’s final climax, I suffered from sensory overload.

Furthermore, Brosnan is not one of my favorite Bonds. Sure, he has the charisma, the looks, and the charm to pull off the role, but something about him does not measure up to Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, or Daniel Craig- certainly he supersedes Timothy Dalton.  Don’t get me wrong- I do not despise him as Bond, but nothing stands him out against the others either.

The villains in GoldenEye are perfectly adequate if not spectacular. Sean Bean gives Alec a sly, aww shucks appeal and defines good-looking, but his motivations for switching sides is not very exciting- something about Nazis in World War II, the Cossacks, and revenge are quickly mentioned, but it doesn’t much matter.

General  Ourumov is effective- with his sinister look he is the perfect Bond villain. Xenia is little more than a cartoon character 9with the name to boot) and her gimmick quickly wears thin. Finally, Cummings as the programmer is played only for laughs, and his final chant of “I am invincible!” as he freezes into solid ice is mildly humorous.

The title theme song, “GoldenEye”, performed by Tina Turner is forgettable at best and one of the most lackluster in the illustrious musical catalog.

GoldenEye has many of the standard Bond elements within its frames and is a decent entry in the franchise. With the debut of a new Bond, the film has a fresh and very modern and technical feel to it that, along with a fantastic setting, overlooks some flaws in the storytelling.  Filled with bombast and a crowd-pleasing method, GoldenEye is hardly the best Bond film, but certainly not the worst.

Octopussy-1983

Octopussy-1983

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Maud Adams

Scott’s Review #716

Reviewed January 17, 2018

Grade: A-

Hardly regarded as one of the most stellar of entries in the James Bond franchise, 1983’s Octopussy is nonetheless a guilty pleasure of mine. This is undoubtedly due to the film being the first installment that I was allowed to see in the movie theater and is filled with exciting memories.

As the film stands in current days it is perfectly fine, containing all of the enjoyable elements necessary for a good Bond film- interesting villains, solid action, and gorgeous women. Perhaps at times suffering from a bit of silliness, Octopussy is still quite the fantastic watch.

Roger Moore, admittedly looking slightly aged and sagging, returns to the fold as 007, the shaken, but not stirred action hero known as James Bond. However, he is, true to form, as witty and suave as he always is with witty one-liners and mischievous smirk.

Interesting to note is how Moore ritualistically infuses the character with a measure of comedy- a wink of the eye or a raised eyebrow adds humor to the character-more so than any other actor who has portrayed Bond.

In this installment, Faberge eggs, clowns, and gorilla suits are featured. Attempting to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin, 009- dressed as a circus clown, is murdered on the estate of a British Ambassador while attempting to deliver a fake Faberge egg.

Assuming the Soviets are involved, MI6 instructs Bond to investigate the matter and a complex smuggling ring is uncovered- featuring a gorgeous female smuggler named Octopussy (Maud Adams), along with sinister Afghan exiled prince Kamal Kahn (Louis Jourdan), and his bodyguard, Gobinda.

Watching the film in 2018, and even though it was made in 1983, Octopussy does not suffer from the dreaded “1980’s look” that so many other films do and seems surprisingly clean and fresh. The colors are vibrant- especially the prevalent circus and clown scenes, and the best two scenes- the airplane and train scenes- still bristle and crackle with good action.

As the climax to Octopussy culminates, the inevitable heroine and main Bond girl- Adams’s “Octopussy”, has been bound and gagged and taken hostage by the baddies in a fleeing airplane, Bond grabs hold of the fuselage, and begins a harried flight over the mountains of remote India, clinging for dear life.

The scene climaxes with an exciting fight scene atop the rooftop of the speeding plane as Bond and Gobinda fight to the death as Kamal unsuccessfully attempts to twist and turn the plane and rid themselves of pesky Bond. The scene is still compelling and loses none of its appeal over the years, never appearing dated.

Additionally, the train sequence is still relevant but admittedly does suffer from a small dose of silliness. The action is plentiful as Bond races against time to prevent a Russian missile from detonating and killing thousands of American citizens, and worthy of note is the timely Cold War subject matter of the Russians versus the Americans- plentiful in American cinema during this time period.

As Bond dons a phony looking gorilla outfit- embarrassing even for the comical Roger Moore- he can successfully take off the costume and sneak out of a train car, all before the three seconds that it takes for Gobinda to turn around and slice the head off of the gorilla thinking it is Bond. Suspension of disbelief is required.

Impressive is the female empowerment slant that is evident throughout the film. From the strong businesswoman character that Adams portrays- she is decisive, intelligent, and savvy, she is neither cowering nor impressionable and cannot be bullied or pushed around.

Albeit her name, “Octopussy”, does teeter on male chauvinism. Be that as it may, her gang of feminist followers, all wielding assault rifles, are quite inspiring and, at this point, unusual for a Bond film- certainly typically masculine leaning.

Octopussy is an overlooked, under-appreciated, too easily dismissed slice of goodness served up with a bit of comedy, plenty of action, and good solid villains- everything that makes a Bond film a Bond film. Certainly, the film is worthy of a viewing.

Dr. No-1962

Dr. No-1962

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Ursula Andress

Scott’s Review #667

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 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 originally 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 to 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 at 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 by the introduction of the crime organization, SPECTRE, that any Bond aficionado knows very well is a staple of the franchise. Joseph Wiseman, like 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 is 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

Scott’s Review #666

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Christopher Nolan, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won)

Bullitt-1968

Bullitt-1968

Director-Peter Yates

Starring-Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn

Scott’s Review #660

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 1960s and into the 1970s.

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 hitmen. 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 its 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 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 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 a 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound, Best Film Editing (won)

Live and Let Die-1973

Live and Let Die-1973

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Jane Seymour

Scott’s Review #646

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-1970s.

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 a 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 henchmen 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 pimpmobile, 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 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Song-“Live and Let Die”

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Barbara Bach

Scott’s Review #637

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 1960s, 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 nonchalant, yet a 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’s 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 a 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 nighttime exhibit- also fantastic are the gorgeous shots of Sardinia- a beautiful region in Italy, where Stromberg’s hideout is set.

A mini gripe is a 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Nobody Does It Better”, Best Art Direction

You Only Live Twice-1967

You Only Live Twice-1967

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi

Scott’s Review #636

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 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 the 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 leaders. Soon it is revealed that the mastermind is SPECTRE villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld-in this installment played by Donald Pleasence. Mr. 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.