My Favorite Bonds (James Bond)

BondActors_45-magazine_com

So, James Bond as a character was very much influential to me growing up.  My uncle was a James Bond fan and had seen all of the Bond films and introduced them to me whenever they were on network TV and I enjoyed the action of the films–though I was too young at the time to get the more risqué elements of Bond’s nature. Whatculture.com did a feature listing their favorite Bond actors and I thought I do the same since the character was one of my favorites growing up.  I will not include every actor who played the role, just the ones most known for playing the iconic role.

6. George Lazenby
Not really a huge fan of his performance.  I saw him once as a child and I remember thinking that he wasn’t like the other Bonds.  His portrayal just didn’t have the same calculated “coldness” that I’ve come to associate with the character.

5. Timothy Dalton
This is one of those places where Whatculture.com and I disagree.  I believe that Timothy Dalton is a fine actor, but not a very good Bond.  They tried to do with Dalton what they tried (and ultimately succeeded with Craig) was to modernize Bond and make him more violent and move him away from the camp of Roger Moore, his predecessor.  I just don’t think it worked–his cold calculation came across on-screen more as peevishness and annoyance.

4. Pierce Brosnan
I really liked Pierce Brosan and wished I could rank him higher.  I used to watch him when he was on Remington Steele and was overjoyed when he I heard he might play Bond.  Then came word that the show wouldn’t let him out of his contract and Dalton became the next Bond (if my memory recalls correctly).  Finally, however, Brosnan got a chance to become Bond and I enjoyed his run (especially the first two movies).  The problem is that the world changed and Jason Bourne came on the scene AND the screenwriters went back to their excesses with camp–Die Another Day is STILL the ONLY Bond film I have not seen–although, if it ever comes back to streaming, I will watch it, if only for completeness sake.

3. Daniel Craig
I really like Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond.  I didn’t think I would and I resisted watching Casino Royal as long as I could.  However, I watched the Bourne movies and enjoyed them and took a chance on Royal and was pleasantly surprised. I think Craig needs both the right script and the right motivation.  He was masterful in Casino Royal and Skyfall, but Quantum of Solace and Spectre were both disappointments.  I know others will rate him higher, but to me he has very high highs as Bond, but also very low lows.

2. Roger Moore
I know I’ll get hate for this choice, but Roger Moore’s Bond was actually a great successor to his predecessor.  The problem in most people’s eyes is the campiness of the stories.  While I agree they do get silly sometimes, Roger Moore is able to summon that “cold calculatedness” of Bond even in the midst of some of the most absurd situations.  While Roger Moore is more comfortable with the amiable jokester qualities of the character, his flinty gaze can still be seen when necessary.  Besides, this is the Bond I grew up with, so nostalgia also has a lot to say in influencing my decision.

1. Sean Connery
While I don’t think that Sean Connery always played the role perfectly, the fact is that his portrayal helped to define the character on-screen.  Connery could do both dead-pan humor and “coldly calculating” with but a quirk of the lips or a tightening of the eye and that to me (not including the womanizing aspects) are the key to the character.  To me, the idea that Bond is ruthless while masquerading as charming is central to Bond’s character and without a doubt, Connery’s portrayal always gave hint to this inherent contradiction of the character.

Advertisements

Mini-Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

tmnt_oos_YouTube

The four turtles in NY.  Image Source: YouTube

Okay, so I’m an original TMNT aficionado.  I grew up during the first independent comic craze of the mid 80s and then watched as TV struggled to get to grips with the new resurgence of comic mania (the original Flash TV show mania and hype (and letdown) in the 80s is probably a reason why I never got super invested in the hype for the current slate of DC/Marvel TV shows).  I didn’t have access to a (dedicated) comic shop at the time (I had to buy my comics from the spinners at Waldenbooks or Eckerd Drugs–now Rite-Aid), or I probably would have picked them up as I was into all things ninja/martial arts at the time.  I’ve seen the original trilogy, the multiple incarnations of animated series, and own the animated movie version that existed before this current reboot of the franchise.

So, coming from a TMNT aficionado (won’t say fan), is this movie any good?  In a word, no.  This is from Nickelodeon films and it all but screams “kid movie.”  It is if they took the cartoon (from the 80s), mixed it up with the original movie with the goofy suits, changed the goofy suits to slick CGI actors, and threw in an 80s/90s mixtape because, hey that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy did and it worked for them, so it’ll work for us too. There are so many elements that don’t work in the movie–the dialogue, the shift in tone from goofy to serious and back to goofy.  The motivations of characters or lack of motivations.  The forced plot lines and betrayals that seem forced.  And so on.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep watching the movie.  Even from the opening sequence where the Turtles are “skating” across the buildings of the NY skyline–which seemed like a good, cool intro.,–had me wondering about all the damage they were causing.  There’s a reason why city officials go out of their way to build skate-parks and encourage skaters to use them instead of city streets and curbs–the damage skateboards can cause is enormous, and that’s on cement.  I don’t think the glass that most skyscrapers are made of would fare any better–yet, the filmmakers didn’t even take that into account when designing, planning, or displaying that scene.  And it just goes on from there.

Yes, TMNT is supposed to be campy (they are teenage turtles who know ninjutsu), but Eastman and Laird were able to find the right balance of farce and heart in their depiction of the characters.  This one is all farce, right down to the “flatulence jokes” of the henchmen, which begs the question of why the “baddest” villain of all time (aka Shredder) would tolerate his newest henchmen if that is all they could do.  It would have made a better movie, had the two henchmen been created within the first ten minutes of the movie and hunted the turtles “to extinction.”  Sort of like what Kraven the Hunter does to Spider-Man in several of his storylines.  Then it would have made the “moral crisis” of the movie (manufactured as it was) at least relevant: “hide among the humans as humans to save ourselves or stay true to our turtle forms and find a way to beat these two hunters as a team/band of brothers.”  As it stands, the way this actually plays out in the movie is very weak and not very convincing.

Bebop-and-Rocksteady-concept-art-TMNT-Movie-2016_tmnt_com

Character Sketches for BeeBop and Rocksteady.  Image Source: TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com (a TMNT fan site).

On the whole, I only finished the movie because: 1) for completeness sake–I’ve seen most everything else Turtles-related, so I might as well see this since it is on streaming and 2) I’m trying to stop abandoning movies mid-stream (I have at least four movies–Terminator: Genisys–I looking at you that I started, but did not finish because of the overall hokiness to them) and I’m trying to stop doing that (although this movie sorely tested my resolve).

OVERALL GRADE: D  (My suggestion–watch this ONLY if there’s nothing else to watch and make sure that you understand that you are going to most likely need to metaphorically “dive into the kiddie pool” in order to get through this one.)

Mini-Review: The Mummy (2017)–No Spoilers

The-Mummy-2017_DhakaMovie

The Mummy Movie Poster, Image Source: Dhaka Movie

For the Labor Day Holiday (in the US), I watched The Mummy (2017).  I thought it was fun and the action set pieces were very interesting, but The Mummy tried to mimic several things from the previous Mummy movie (with Brendan Fraser) and didn’t do it as well as it could have.  Here is a short review (& rumination) on some of the reasons why the movie was not as successful as it should have been.

Characterization

We were supposed to understand and buy that the main character is a “rogue,” similar to Han Solo.  He is a man of questionable actions and intents, but ultimately has a “good heart.”  This doesn’t come through in the script.  This is told to us by other characters, mostly by the female lead, but we don’t actually get to see him be a good man or a scoundrel.  We just get to see him make several questionable choices that don’t really make sense.  The filmmakers needed to have given him one “trait” that he could have done over and over again to emphasize that he is “impulsive,” let’s say, or something similar.  He frees the mummy without asking the “expert,” but is unprepared to deal with the consequences.  If he kept doing impulsive things throughout the movie, then that would show us that he acts before he thinks and this would have been a problem that he could have worked to solve (or understand) by the end of the movie, but that’s not what happened.  Look at World War Z if you want to see characterization by showing rather than telling.

Dialogue

“Witty Banter.”  My bane in Ken Smith’s Writing Class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (at least during my early, formative days as a writer).  I had to learn that witty banter (a la Star Wars and Star Trek) doesn’t equal a good story.  Witty banter comes about with characters who are in opposition with each other, but who are also clever and know they’re clever and they fight not just with guns and swords (or phasers and lightsabers), but who also fight with words.  The writers used witty banter in place of true characterization and instead of making the characters seem human and real, witty banter was included to make the characters seem hip and cool.  The problem is that without true characterization, the banter felt (to me) forced and didn’t have the necessary zing to it.

Tone

Finally, there was a problem with the tone.  The movie wanted to be everything at once.  It wanted to be dark, funny, irreverent, clever, scary, and a blockbuster all in one go.  It had too many elements that didn’t mesh as well as they could have.  It was trying to channel the old irreverence of the Brendan Fraser Mummy while still trying to tell as serious story like King Kong: Skull Island or something similar.  It reminded me very much of the movie Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey in terms of tone.  It was angling to be a much more serious movie, but was undercut constantly by in-jokes, witty banter, and improbable plot turns that turned it into something more like a comedy than an action movie.  The same is true here.  It had the same type of protagonist, the same “ditzy” sidekick, and the same independent woman/dependent woman love interest.

Sahara_Amazondotcom

Sahara Blu Ray Cover Art, Image Source: Amazon.com

Now again, I thought it was fun movie, but even as I watched it my mind was critiquing it for the problems that it had.  Truly exceptional movies, however, have the power to withstand my inner critic and only upon repeated viewings do problems arise.  If the makers of The Mummy (2017) really want a successful movie franchise, then they’re going to have write it in a much more believable and consistent manner or audiences are not going to show up for future installments.

 

Great Actors in Small Roles: Madalyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach

011 Madalyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach_joesmoviestuffdotblogspotdotcom

I watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back a few nights ago and I liked the movie.  In particular I like both the character and the actor playing Sgt. Leach, Madalyn Horcher.

“Helper”

The character of Sgt. Leach is one that is a “helper” character to the main character, meaning that this character finds out information and gives it to the main character in order for the plot to advance.  In function, this character is on-stage to provide exposition and/or plot complication for both the audience and the main character.  Dr. John Watson from Doyle’s Sherlock stories is probably the best known helper, but it can range to much smaller parts such as Sgt. Leach in this movie.  In many cases, the helper is put in physical peril, and sometimes dies, so this can be a thankless role for some actors.

Sgt. Leach: Understated

I think the reason why I noticed Madalyn Horcher’s performance is the “understated” nature of how she plays the character.  While I’ve not served in the military, my uncle and grandfather did and they explained that while on duty, there is a certain detached “decorum” that soldiers are expected to follow (sort of like Spock from Star Trek), but if you know how to read what’s being said and the tonality of how it is being said, there are a whole range of emotions that you can pick up from a soldier.  Horcher’s performance captured all of the nuances that I’d imagined in my mind’s eye every since my uncle told me about his military experiences.  This is why it is so important to look for (and cast) actors who can bring the right emotional intensity to a specific role.

While the movie wasn’t necessarily a critical success, nevertheless it was a pretty interesting story made better by the actors in both small and large roles.

 

 

Dark Tower Redux

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You know, I’m almost sorry that I posted that I was conflicted about the failure of the Dark Tower movie to connect with fans.  I mean, this very blog takes its name from a line that Jake speaks in the first book (paraphrasing): “Go then, Gunslinger.  There are Other Worlds Beside this one).  My point being simply that Stephen King DID NOT invent the Dark Tower or the mythos that has grown up around it.  His story is but ONE of MANY out there–yes, it is the most popular, but it is NOT the only story that has been told or will be told about the Dark Tower.  He doesn’t own the Tower anymore than J.K. Rowling owns “Magic.”

However, some really ugly arguments and memes have sprung up around the failure of the movie and just want to take a moment to address some of the most problematic ones.

SCRIPT
So this is where most of the critics and fans have expressed most of their disappointment.  The movie is only approx. 90 minutes long, but tries to infuse 7-8 books worth of material (from my understanding–haven’t seen the movie yet) into this (very) short time-frame.  However, the element that really concerns is the fact the movie writers are essentially “work-for-hire” contractors and considered the lowest on the totem pole for the creative endeavor of the movie.  This is where the problem lies–a movie is a creative endeavor, true, and you need all parts to work, but the script (the story) is the most important part.  Without a solid script, even the best actors and directors are going to struggle.  Yet, writers of screenplays get no version of royalties if the movie does really well nor is their input sought (usually) for rewrites as in many cases they are replaced with other writers and movies become written essentially by committee.  Another thing that hurts writers is the fact that it is a closed system that privileges only a few.  Even in today’s internet connected world, you still have to move to Hollywood if you really want a serious chance at writing a screenplay–how is this even still a requirement in 2017?  If there’s an awesome screenwriter in Wisconsin, the internet is MORE than robust enough to allow that writer to write wherever works for them.

IDRIS ELBA AS ROLAND
This one is the most troubling.  Yes, King based Roland on the “gunslinger” archetype made popular by actors like Clint Eastwood and Yul Brynner.  However, nothing precludes Roland from being portrayed by an actor of another race, even though King’s description may have indicated/favored another race.  There is a tendency on the Internet today to label a person, or group just to be able to belittle said person or group.  Everyone wants a winner, or wants to be associated with a winner.  However, in a capitalistic structure such as the American movie industry there HAVE be winners and losers–there’s no way around it.  You can do things to help swing the pendulum in either direction, but there are no guarantees in a creative endeavor.  If it doesn’t “win,” then there’s this need to find a scapegoat and the Internet is currently on this kick where a diverse person/group gets the blame irregardless of whether or not its fair (I direct your attention to the 2016 Ghostbusters movie as prime example of this).

SONY
Speaking of Sony, I should probably note that Sony also has taken blame in this from many circles.  Sony, as a huge faceless conglomerate, tends to get a lot of blame for things that are beyond their control.  We (probably wrongly) think of the director as the most important component of a movie (I would argue it is probably an equal weight between writer, director, and movie talent), but I haven’t seen or heard anyone criticizing the director, but the studio.

We all hope for our favorite properties to “hit it out of the park” (a la The Lord of the Rings), but at the end of the day–is it the studio that failed to deliever on the story you wanted or was it the script?  Which of the two is more intricately tied to “story” and “story” formation, ideation, and creation?  For me, opening up the system and allowing it to be based on merit (good writers) and not location (living in Hollywood) or more importantly, networking (good a “pitching” a story instead of good at “writing” the story) would be a far more equitable system that might result in a rise in quality in the stories being told, and as a result, increased satisfaction from fans who just want their stories “done right.”

 

 

The Dark Tower

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came_Goodreads

The Childe (Apprentice Knight) Roland holding up a sword.  Book Cover.  Image Source: GoodReads.com

The_Dark_Tower_teaser_poster_Wikipedia

The Man in Black vs The Gunslinger (Stephen King’s The Dark Tower). Movie Poster. Image Source: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A movie version based on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series releases this weekend and the reviews are not favorable.  It currently stands (Aug. 4) at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I’m actually ambivalent and conflicted about how I feel about this development.

On one hand, I’d like to see this movie be successful because it stars a Person of Color (Idris Elba) in a lead role playing someone other than a “drug dealer”/”gangster”/”any other stereotypical roles” that people of color are generally relegated to in movies.  Also, I’ve read quite a few books of this series and I know how the story ends, so even though this series isn’t one I’m invested in, I do have familiarity with the material, so I’d like to see a good adaptation of it just for that reason.

On the other hand, everyone seems to forget that Stephen King didn’t “invent” the “modern” conception of the Dark Tower.  That honor goes to Robert Browning in his poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”  And even he wasn’t the first as the title appeared as a line in Shakespeare’s King Lear.  And even though we don’t where it originated, we can assume that Shakespeare borrowed it from an even older source.  My point is that the Robert Browning poem is old enough to be in the public domain and ANYONE can write stories based on it.  Stephen King didn’t invent the Dark Tower, he only popularized it and moved it from the realm of English Literature classrooms out into the general public.

Yet, whenever someone mentions the Dark Tower, immediately the discussion turns to Stephen King’s universe.  For me, as a lover of the Dark Tower mythos (remember, I even had a board game called the Dark Tower as a child), this is more than aggravating.  It would be as if Disney’s Snow White was the ONLY version of Snow White being talked about, when we know that there are a multitude of versions out there.  Yes, Disney’s version gets the lion’s share of attention, but there is still space for other stories based on the fairy tale to exist and thrive, which is NOT the case with the Dark Tower.

I guess I’m writing all of this to say that a part of me is glad that the Dark Tower failed as a movie.  Not for any malicious intent or even to make Stephen King any less rich (it won’t), but rather that now, perhaps, other stories based on the “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” can find purchase in the public consciousness and that Stephen King’s version of the Dark Tower doesn’t become the only version of the Dark Tower that exists in the world.  “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” is a remarkably rich and varied poem–other writers should be allowed to formulate successful stories and worlds with the Dark Tower as a backdrop just as King was allowed to do by the publishing industry.

(Belated) Comic-Con Post: Blade Runner 2049

bladerunner2049_YouTube

This was the post I was planning to write on Saturday before the world went all topsy-turvy on me.  It will finish out the Comic-Con announcements that I was most interested in.  I will return to a couple of Comic-Con based news items that I want to touch on briefly, but I will save those for later posts.

Blade Runner 2049Blade Runner 2049 Trailer–features a new “detective” and a return by Harrison Ford as the old “detective” in a world of Replicants (human-like androids).  Featuring a new villain, this is a sequel that will probably also serve to bring the “Blade Runner” story to a new generation.

I saw the original Blade Runner on cable as a child.  I liked it, but it wasn’t a favorite.  Although it achieved cult status as one of the first visions of what a “cyberpunk” society might look like on the big screen, it was never more than just a simple Sci-Fi movie to me (just as LadyHawk was a typical Fantasy movie of the time).  I was much more into the more mainstream franchises of Star Wars and Star Trek and the Alien/Aliens duology out at the time.

It will be interesting to see the reception to the film.  Outside of quirky films like The Fifth Element, cyberpunk as a genre doesn’t seem to really do all that well in the film media (as evidenced by the lack of success of the movie version of Ghost in the Shell earlier this summer).  However, where cyberpunk really shines is in the realm of anime. Many of today’s generation grew up on anime shows, while I, unfortunately, was about 5 years before the boom of anime–I saw some early anime, but the real revolution happened while I was in college and during the first years of my first job, so I missed out on a lot of shows that contained a heavy amount of cyberpunk influenced narrative.  It will be interesting to see if movie-goers embrace this new attempt or if it, like it’s predecessor, will also only be cult hit.