Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The last time I watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was when I was 19, a freshman in college, in an Intro to Film class. It did not end well. I was having difficulty staying awake and would have fallen asleep if it weren't for Snow White's shrill, high pitched singing voice. When it was over and the class discussion began, I tore into it like a dumb teenager with something to prove.

Of course, I was wrong. Revisiting it now at the age of 30, I see now that it really is a landmark cinematic achievement. Every scene is animated with such care and craftsmanship. The amount of detail and humanity expressed in the characters is staggering. It's easy for us to take animated features for granted, but at the time Disney and Co. made Snow White, this was a huge gamble. It was unknown if audiences would be willing or able to emotionally invest in a cartoon. Nowadays, you are chided as inhuman if Up or Toy Story 3 didn't make you cry. This is all because of Snow White.

There were several sequences that struck me. Snow White fleeing into the harsh unfamiliarity of the forest, hysterically visualizing monsters in the trees where there are only gnarled branches and birds. The deep anguish of the scene of the dwarfs mourning her after being poisoned by the apple. The evil queen fleeing the dwarfs' vengeance and ultimately meeting her demise. I mean, holy crap, if falling off a cliff wasn't final enough, they really bring it home by dropping a boulder on top of her and sending a couple of vultures down to eat her remains! Disney uses the heightened world of animation to pull the audience in one direction or another, laughing one moment, crying the next, action and excitement after that.

So, I get it now. Snow White is truly a great film. It's still not my favorite Disney film. I'm still not a fan of that shrill singing voice, but I'm willing to overlook it as an artifact of the 1930's. Of the four classics I've revisited (or visited for the first time) in the last year or so, my favorite is still Sleeping Beauty. Fantasia is pretty incredible too. I plan on getting Bambi before it goes "back in the vault". It was another one I didn't much care for in my stupid days, so I'm curious to see where I stand on it.

Well, I've once again revealed myself as a complete dummy in my youth. If any of you readers have a time machine, could you travel back to that day in Film 101 and give me a swat in the back of the head, courtesy of my future self? Thanks.


I didn't know very much about Alfie before I saw it. I expected it to be a swinging 60's comedy about a charming ladies' man blah blah blah. It really wasn't that. It was something so much better. This movie actually comes down really hard against Alfie's choice of lifestyle.

Alfie, played by Michael Caine in one of his career defining roles, only thinks he's a charming ladies' man. He drifts from woman to woman, ditching them without a moment's thought if they show any signs that they're growing attached. His perceived perfect life begins to show cracks when one of his girls gets pregnant. Against his better judgment, she keeps the kid, and he finds himself acting as a weekend dad. He takes to it for a while, but is still unwilling to commit to the kid's mother, and is thus kicked out of the relationship. Not long after that, a health scare gives Alfie his first glimpse at his own mortality, which only persuades him to continue his attachment-free lifestyle with even more reckless abandon.

Caine as Alfie is all bravado. He acts cocky and confident, and addresses the camera like he has all the answers. He is a man without any respect, for women (he dehumanizes them by calling them 'birds' or even referring to them as 'it'), for other men, for social structures, or for himself. He constantly breaks the fourth wall and even basically tells the opening credits to fuck off, showing us that he has no respect for the established rules of moviemaking either.

How can anyone respect a man without any respect? They can't, and it's a slap in the face for Alfie when that fact is bluntly laid out before him. We as the audience can't respect Alfie, either. Instead, he's an object of pity, a shallow man who runs away from everything of substance ever presented to him.

This was the first time I had ever seen young Michael Caine at work. I think the oldest Caine film I had ever seen before this was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. You can see how he became such a huge star. Just like the women he seduces, Alfie draws you in with his superficial charm and wit, then pushes you away with his crass and insensitive behavior towards others.

Lewis Gilbert directed Alfie, and it's quite an accomplishment, though I find it fascinating and a bit confusing that he would make a movie decrying this sort of lifestyle and follow it up with You Only Live Twice, in which James Bond lives pretty much exactly the same way, but with none of the consequences.

In the end, after hurting a lot of people with his selfish ways, Alfie himself suffers a series of personal blows, and you could say he learns a lesson, but the movie doesn't tell you for sure if he has changed his behavior for good. He's not a young man, and he's pretty set in his ways, and it may be too late for him.

Alfie (the movie, not the character) is funny, thoughtful, and full of compassion. Not only compassion for the women who fall victim to Alfie's charms. There's even a little compassion left over for Alfie himself, who thinks he has all the answers, but really has not a one.

The Artist

I was genuinely surprised by The Artist. You see, going in, I thought I was going to love The Artist, and was surprised to discover that I only liked it. The buzz around it has been so loud, and it's in black and white and old timey, visually rich. I was sure this was going to be my kind of movie.

Director Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist is the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie star who struggles to continue his career in the face of the onset of the talkie. His fall is contrasted with the rise of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a fresh faced star of the sound pictures that George helped launch.

It was good. I liked it. There are lots of good scenes, like when George spends his fortune funding his own silent epic, when nobody is interested in working with him anymore. What he makes winds up being a pretentious piece complete with a metaphor of him being buried alive with quicksand. It fails, of course.

Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, and the rest of the supporting cast are all great. I especially liked Bejo as Peppy Miller, who goes out of her way to help George get back on his feet, if only he would set aside his pride and let her. James Cromwell is also very good as George's loyal chauffeur and best (human) friend.

And speaking of best friends, everybody loves that dog, am I right? Am I the only one that is so used to seeing trained dogs do these exact things in movies dating back to the silent era, that I'm not particularly impressed? Wasn't that dog in the Thin Man movies pretty much doing the same thing? Some people just automatically love something if a dog thinks it's people.

I guess one reason I didn't love The Artist is that I saw two other movies in 2011 with a similar idea behind them, and I liked both of them better. The Muppets and Hugo were both about former celebrities that got lost in the march of time, coming back to earn the love of a new audience, and I thought they were both more fun, more magical, and less, you know, pretentious.

The Artist is probably going to win Best Picture, and maybe it deserves it. Most of my favorite movies of 2011 weren't even nominated, so what do I know? Heck, why does a nomination even matter? Go see The Artist and judge for yourself, but also watch Attack the Block because that movie ruuuuled.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Murder a la Mod

I know I said in my Blow Out review that I wanted to watch more Brian De Palma films, but this isn't what I meant. Murder a la Mod was one of De Palma's very first films. It was possibly a student film. I don't know, I couldn't find out for sure. Anyway, I'm going to keep this one short and sweet, because I really only watched this because it was a special feature on the Blow Out Blu Ray.

Murder a la Mod is not very good, but you can see throughout early versions of a lot of the techniques that eventually come to be known as De Palma's "style". Some scenes with an unsettling sense of voyeurism, some of his weird, hit or miss (mostly miss in this case) sense of humor, and importantly, much of the second half of the movie is the same sequence of events repeated from several different characters' perspectives.

Like Blow Out, Murder a la Mod is a tale of murder set in the world of filmmaking. A key sequence involves the swapping of a real ice pick and a movie prop ice pick that retracts into the handle. The lead guy from Phantom of the Paradise, William Finley has a pretty big role as a weird prankster character who spastically narrates everything he does in his mind. It's pretty bad. But he also wrote the theme song, which is a pretty rollicking piece of 60's garage rock. In fact, the theme song was my favorite part of the movie.

There are a couple of interesting moments, but Murder a la Mod is, like a lot of directors' first films, really only relevant due to what came after them. The seeds are there. It's definitely De Palma. But I see no reason for anyone to watch this unless they're a completist or something.


Over the last two decades, Steven Soderbergh has proven himself to be the most versatile and chameleon-like film director currently working. He can jump from genre to genre, tell a great story, while still keeping his trademark style at the forefront. In the past, he's made slick heist movies (the Ocean's 11 series), sweeping crime epics (Traffic), a science fiction romance (Solaris), tiny improvised independent films (Bubble), and so on. Just four months ago, he gave us an apocalyptic medical thriller with Contagion. What I'm saying is, you could find a Steven Soderbergh film in just about every Netflix category. I suppose that's why he plans on retiring a few movies down the road.

Haywire is Steven Soderbergh's martial arts movie, starring MMA fighter Gina Carano as Mallory Kane, a mercenary on the run from her employers who set her up for a fall. There's more of a story, but that's kind of all you need to know. She kicks lots of ass and tells her story to a 19 year old kid she takes with her. It's like a smart, slick, and stylized Steven Seagal movie, but with a hot girl mercifully put in Seagal's place.

Gina Carano is not an actor (or wasn't before this), but she did alright. She did better than I probably would have done if I ever tried acting. I thought she was better in some scenes than she was in others, which made me wonder if her better scenes were the ones that were the ones that were shot later on. Soderbergh wisely surrounds her with a lot of big talent, including Bill Paxton as her military father, Ewan MacGregor and Antonio Banderas as those plotting against her, Michael Douglas as the government man who hired them, and Michael Fassbender as a British agent she must work with.

I liked Haywire. It's not one of Steven Soderbergh's best works, but you can tell he's having a good time, and I found it infectious. Lots of cool camerawork, great editing, and a funky Out of Sight-esque score by that movie's same composer, David Holmes. The action sequences are really cool too, choreographed to play to Gina Carano's strengths as an MMA fighter. I'm not sure if this movie made a star out of her, but I bet she'll continue to find work based on it.

I'll always gladly go see a Steven Soderbergh movie upon release. I hope his talk of retirement is just talk. I hope he takes a couple years off, gets bored and comes back to filmmaking. I'm sure there are still a couple of minor subgenres he hasn't tackled yet.

Blow Out

I've always been kind of back and forth on Brian De Palma. Granted, I haven't seen too many of his films, so I've never really given him a fair chance. I was touched by Carrie, but I never cared for The Untouchables. Things started to turn a little in his direction for me a few years ago, when I saw Phantom of the Paradise, his truly bizarre cult glam rock musical with a soundtrack composed by Paul Williams. Last week, I finally watched the movie that many say is De Palma's finest and most underrated work, Blow Out.

Blow Out stars John Travolta as Jack, a sound effects man for a trashy independent movie studio. The movie opens with a hilariously cartoonish parody of Halloween, a steadicam shot from the perspective of a heavily breathing serial killer entering a girls' dormitory. This, of course is the movie Jack is working on. His boss is unsatisfied with Jack's work, and tasks him to find a new scream for the victim and record some new wind audio for the background.

While at a park recording the wind and nature sounds, Jack is witness to a car's tire blowing out and crashing into a lake. He jumps into the water, and though the driver is clearly dead, he sees the woman in the passenger seat still lives and rescues her. At the hospital, he learns that the man who died is the governor of Pennsylvania, who was primed to run for president. His people request that he keep quiet about the event and aid them in covering it up by sneaking the woman, Sally (Nancy Allen), out of the hospital for them. Jack reluctant agrees to do it.

Jack takes Sally, still in shock from the accident, to a motel. While she's out of it, he listens to his recording. In it, he hears two distinctive sounds: not just the sound of the tire blowing out, but a loud bang preceding it. Jack then enlists Sally's help in uncovering a political murder conspiracy, though they are blocked in seemingly every direction they attempt to investigate. Meanwhile, the man who shot out the tire (John Lithgow) is cleaning up the mess he made: by making it appear that a serial killer is on the loose killing prostitutes who resemble her, he will murder Sally and make it seem like she is a victim unconnected to the governor.

Wow, that's a pretty intricate story with a lot of set up. I usually don't need more than one paragraph to give a decent description, but this one took three. What De Palma has crafted with Blow Out is a tragedy wrapped in a conspiracy. As we learn more about Jack's past, we begin to understand his desire to play the hero in all this mess. And Sally, who is not entirely clean herself, gets wrapped up in Jack's futile idealism.

Stylistically, De Palma employs all of the tricks he had been developing through the 70's. He plays with seeing the same scene from different perspectives. He utilizes split screen like nobody else. He does that thing where the foreground of the shot and the background of the shot are both completely in focus, which causes an excellent, jarring effect on the viewer. I don't know what that technique is called, but it's in Blow Out a lot and it looks great. De Palma used Vilmos Zsigmond as his cinematographer, and Zsigmond gives the film a dark, seedy look, with lots of red lights and stuff.

This is probably my second favorite John Travolta performance I've seen, behind Pulp Fiction. I'm not a huge Travolta fan for the most part, but every once in a while, he takes just the right role for himself and runs away with it. John Lithgow is great as usual, but this is really the type of villain role he could do in his sleep.

The score by Pino Donaggio is a pretty mixed bag for me. Some of the music was really unique and underlines the tension and growing sense of paranoia, but at other times, I think it goes way too dramatic and over the top.

I won't give away the ending, but De Palma himself might. If you catch on early enough in the movie, you can see where it's headed. I was pretty in-the-moment when I was watching, so I wasn't really thinking ahead, but my wife totally saw it coming. Still, the ending is appropriate and unsettling. I can see why the movie failed to capture an audience upon its release. Also, that poster up there is pretty terrible, so it might have something to do with that.

I still haven't seen a lot of Brian De Palma's films, but this is probably the best I've seen. Phantom of the Paradise is still my personal favorite for it's craziness and music, but Blow Out is definitely the better movie. He's show-offy and often not very subtle, but he doesn't come across as pretentious to me, which can make those traits tolerable, even endearing at the best of times. I believe I will be checking out more of De Palma's films in the future.

Friday, January 27, 2012


It's not fair that every superhero lives in New York, is it? People need rescuing the world over, right? Well, now Mirageman is here to fill that void in Chile.

Directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, Mirageman is another entry in the "normal guy in the real world, inspired by comic books, puts on a mask and decides to fight crime" genre that we're getting more and more of these days. I've heard about a few other independent ones, but I suppose the most recognizable entry in the genre would be Kick Ass.

Mirageman is the story Marco (played by Marko Zaror), by day a lowly bouncer at a sleazy night club, who spends all of his spare time exercising and training in martial arts. You see, three years earlier, Marco's parents were murdered and little brother raped (!!!) and traumatized, now catatonic in a home. One night, a ski-masked Marco stops another home invasion and rescues Carol, a beautiful news reporter from certain rape (!!!). Carol thanks him publicly and calls him a hero. When he next visits the hospital, he finds that the news of this mysterious rape-preventing hero has brought his brother a little bit out of his shell, the first positive response in years. Inspired by this, Marco dons a costume and becomes Mirageman.

Visually, the movie is as gritty and down to earth as the silly subject matter allows. It has a near documentary style, and relies heavily on news reports to fill out the narrative. In fact, the anchors and reporters often give Mirageman advice on what he should and shouldn't do, and even downright manipulate him for their own gain.

Though Mirageman strives for a certain kind of realism, at the same time, it doesn't take itself too seriously. There's a great deal of comedy mixed in with the violence and awesome martial arts. Marco's trial and error attempts at superheroics offer a lot of laughs, poking fun at comic book nonsense, such as the length of time and difficulty one would actually encounter when trying to change into costume while a crime is in progress. He also has a hilarious sidekick figure, who goes by the name "Pseudo Robin", who is not much of a fighter, but all heart, and he has an extra motorcycle.

Mirageman has some fun with the audience, undercutting our expectations at times. At first, it seems like a typical martial arts movie is happening, where every opponent he faces, every gang of crooks, appears to be a martial arts master himself. But then, when Mirageman attempts to bust his Holy Grail, an evil pedophile child trafficking ring, he realizes how out of his element he is when facing people carrying guns.

Marko Zaror is awesome as Mirageman. It's hard to say how good he is with dialogue, as he only had a few lines in the whole movie. His actions speak for him, and he's a killer martial artist. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and Marko Zaror have made two more movies together, and I believe I'm going to have to watch those as well.

Mirageman was one of those movies that I knew next to nothing about and had no expectations for. I was very pleased with what I got. It is action-packed, funny, self aware, and a little bit cheesy, all in all a movie worth geeking out over.

Check it out! It's on Netflix Instant if you're in America.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (Shuriyuki Hime: Urami Renga)

The original Lady Snowblood is, for my money, one of the greatest revenge movies ever made, and also one of my favorite movies. If you are unfamiliar, it was one of Quentin Tarantino's primary inspirations for his Kill Bill movies. Major narrative elements, such as The Bride's "kill list" and the division of the story into novelistic chapters were lifted directly from Lady Snowblood. He even copied specific shots from it and included the end credits song on the soundtrack. I was aware that there was a sequel, but for some reason, it took me about 8 years before I finally got around to watching it.

The first film follows Lady Snowblood (in Japanese, Shuriyuki Hime), born in prison and spirited away to be raised as an instrument of vengeance, to be unleashed upon the criminals who murdered her mother's family. It's a complicated story, and I won't go into the details, but it ends with a whole lot of blood, a large amount of it Lady Snowblood's own. In fact, were there not a sequel, one would assume that she was dead.

At the start of the second film, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance, Shuriyuki Hime is alive and kicking, and it's never really explained how. I guess we can just assume she's a fighter. With her vengeance served and no purpose remaining in her life, Lady Snowblood spends her time running from the authorities, indiscriminately killing any who attempts to take her in. This is demonstrated in a single shot scene where she mows down one after another without displaying any emotion on her face.

Finally overwhelmed, she gives up and turns herself in, and is promptly sentenced to death. She gets a stay of execution when she gets kidnapped by a government official and recruited to go undercover as a servant in order to steal a document and assassinate a known anarchist. Things go further awry when she becomes sympathetic to the anarchist's cause and turns the tables on the corrupt government official and his cronies. And of course, there's lots and lots of blood. Bright red, thick blood, unrealistically and gloriously spraying from bodies like fountains. Limbs go flying, eyes get stabbed out, there's a black plague outbreak, what more could you ask for?

The first movie was a revenge story set upon a political backdrop. This time around, the politics of the period in Japan (early 1900's) are in the forefront. It's an interesting story, and well executed (pun intended HAHA), but nowhere near as visceral and personal as the simple "I need to kill the people on this list" premise of the first one. Both films were directed by Toshiya Fujita, and both are dark, stylized, and smartly plotted.

Lady Snowblood is played by Meiko Kaji, star of the Stray Cat Rock series. She's tough, complicated, a total badass, and way sexy. If the first film was about her vengeance, and how a lifetime's pursuit of it leaves her empty and without identity, the sequel is about her finding something outside of herself to fight for and be willing to die for.

While not as great as the first film, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance is still worth looking into if you're a fan. I would recommend watching the first Lady Snowblood and deciding from there if you want more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Mostly, I like to watch good movies, or movies that I think I will like. Sometimes, I like to watch bad movies, too, but only the ones that still provide some kind of weird entertainment value to them. Surely you guys know what I'm talking about. So bad it's funny. I especially enjoy bad movies like Xanadu, bizarre artifacts from a forgotten time. Movies you can show somebody and say "See, Timmy? (His name is Timmy) This is what a bad idea looked like in 1980."

Xanadu is the only Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra Rollerskating Disco Musical Dance Showcase ever made, and for that reason, it is a unique jewel of crappiness that deserves our respect. We are never going to get another movie like this.

Kira (Olivia Newton-John) is one of the Greek Muses, released with her sisters from a painting on a building to go out and inspire. After dancing around, she runs into Sonny, an aspiring artist, who has all of the talent but none of the inspiration. At the start of the film, he is returning to his job at a company that paints album covers, after attempting and failing to embark on his own path. Not long after, he recognizes the same mysterious girl in a photograph that he is assigned to paint and decides to track her down.

I'm a little confused about the record album cover painting job. They already had photographs, why was he painting photoreal copies of them? Was there something I was missing?

Anyway, in his search for Kira, she guides him to Gene Kelly, playing a former song-and-dance man and club owner, also being inspired by the Muse. Together Sonny and Gene Kelly hatch a plan to open Xanadu, a new club that combines the Big Bands of the 1940's with the Rock and Roll Bands of the 1980's. And also roller skates. This is demonstrated in an painfully long dance musical number where a stage with a goofy rock band and a stage with a goofy Big Band combine and form SOMETHING ENTIRELY NEW!

So Sonny and Kira fall in love, but once the inspiration is given, she must move on. He follows her into the painting on the building, which is the most disappointing portrayal of Olympus in movie history and plead with Zeus and Hera to let her return.

It's ridiculous, I know. It's also totally innocent and in earnest, which is, in my mind, better than those bad movies that stink of cynicism and exploitation and making a buck. There were even a couple things about it that I genuinely liked. ELO was a good band, and there are one or two songs in there that I enjoyed, including the title song at the end. There's also a pretty great musical number, beautifully animated by the legendary Don Bluth. It reminded me a lot of the transformation sequences in The Sword in the Stone, which Bluth also worked on.

I felt the worst for Gene Kelly. The guy proves in the movie that he still has the skills. It's too bad that in his old age, he had to demonstrate his moves in a movie like this. They put him in some pretty embarrassing outfits and stuff. I hope he at least had fun and I'm not just projecting my embarrassment onto him.

So, I guess I could say that Xanadu is the best Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra Rollerskating Disco Musical Dance Showcase I've ever seen. I'm glad to have finally seen it, in the way that it's kind of a pop cultural touchstone. But it doesn't even come close to the level of amazing badness of another disco musical I know of: The Apple. If you are the type who enjoys watching shitty movies with your friends, skip right past Xanadu and watch The Apple. Xanadu is a curiosity at best. The Apple is a hilarious crime against humanity.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Joe Wright's 2011 film Hanna could have been pitched as The Bourne Identity meets Kramer vs. Kramer. It's basically about a young girl caught in the middle of a very messy divorce. The girl just also happens to be a genetically modified kung fu killing machine.

At the opening of the film, we meet Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, I promise to learn how to say that out loud someday), a teenage girl living in the Northern European wilderness with her father (Eric Bana), cut off from the civilized world. He has devoted his life to teaching her combat, hunting, survival skills, languages. You know, spy stuff. When she comes of age, and begins to wonder what the world outside their forest is like, he gives her the option to leave, though it will alert the CIA, the agency he has been hiding her from all these years, of their existence.

They split up, agree to meet up at a specified rendezvous point, and both go on the run. Hanna is soon captured by the CIA, led by the villainous Cate Blanchett, spiteful of Bana's character's defection and kidnapping of Hanna after all these years. Hanna escapes in a really cool little sequence where you see her life of training put to the test, and leads them on a chase across Europe. Along the way, she befriends an oddball family of English Bohemians and learns what it's like to be a real person.

I really thought I would like this movie better than I did. The first half hour or so, all the way through Hanna's escape from the secret CIA facility, had me locked in. From that point on, the movie kind of lost me, only pulling me back into the story once in a while. Joe Wright, best known for period dramas that I've never seen but might look into someday, such as Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, seems to be doing his best to bring a dynamic, somewhat artsy kind of visual style to the story. It's kind of reminiscent of Danny Boyle in his more hyperactive mode. Combined with a thumping score by electronic artists The Chemical Brothers, the action sequences are propulsive and as relentless and violent as a PG-13 film will allow.

Saoirse Ronan is very good as Hanna. It's fair to say she will be around in movies for some time to come. Hanna speaks English with a German accent. I wondered to myself if Hanna was ever taught German, or if she just knows English with a German accent, since she speaks to her father in English in all of their private scenes together.

Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, made what I think was a very big mistake with her character in giving her a southern accent. I don't know if it was scripted that way, or her idea, but for some reason, it seems to me like something she would bring to the table herself. It's the kind of accent that, I don't know, might pass muster outside of America, but sounds pretty bad to us. She's done decent American accents before. I guess she just really wanted to play a Texan.

Despite it's problems, Hanna had some fun sequences and a good soundtrack to keep it going. I appreciate that Joe Wright seemed to really want to give us something different, it just didn't quite get there for me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Hey, I'm back! Sorry I haven't been writing many reviews lately. No excuses, just being lazy. I still love you, though. Don't let anyone think otherwise.

Today's review is my first non-James Bond review of 2012. Ironically, it's the opposite of a James Bond movie: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John le Carre's classic espionage novel. The story, set in the 70's, follows George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a disgraced British Intelligence officer who is forced into retirement after a botched operation, and then called back in to weed out a Soviet mole who has infiltrated his way up to the very top of the system. They have narrowed him down to one of only five men.

Smiley was conceived as the complete antithesis of James Bond. He is an over-the-hill cuckolded bureaucrat. Being a spy is not romantic at all in this world. Gary Oldman is excellent in the role, very understated and unassuming which are qualities much more suitable for a secret agent, if you ask me.

Tomas Alfredson, whose first film was the beautiful adolescent vampire romance Let the Right One In, directs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with a muted, melancholy touch. The cinematography is top notch, and the acting is some of the best I've seen in 2011. In addition to Oldman, the cast includes Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy. Their performances are all as understated as Oldman's, though, and generally, the awards folks like things to be a little bit showy, so I'm not surprised that this movie is getting pretty much passed over by everyone.

As for the story, well, it's pretty dense and murky, and requires the viewer's utmost attention and patience. I admit that I may not have been able to follow it entirely, but I saw that as a plus. It's rare that a movie comes out that requires the viewer to work. I enjoyed trying to puzzle it all together, but much of the audience at the theater I was attending seemed completely turned off.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not for everyone. Personally, I enjoyed it, though it did take a while to really get going. I would very much like to read the novel that it's based upon and then watch the movie again, and see if and how that will alter my perception of it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Ok, right now, imagine me walking into the middle of a crosshair and turning towards you and shooting you, because I'm back with yet another of my chronological series of James Bond reviews! The first five are as follows: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. And now on to the next one.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the sixth James Bond film, directed by Peter R. Hunt, and is truly an odd man out in the series for more than one reason. Most obviously, Sean Connery opted out of this movie, and was replaced by George Lazenby in the lead role. And secondly, this movie is one of the only Bond movies where the consequences of his actions as 007 actually spill over into his personal life.

The plot this time around follows Bond on a hunt for Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the diabolical leader of SPECTRE who eluded him at the end of the last movie. Bond finds a lead through a rich man who agrees to give him Blofeld's whereabouts if he agrees to romance his troubled daughter, Tracy (Diana Rigg). The romance gradually becomes mutual, as Bond and Tracy fall in love. Finally, the mission: Bond, undercover as a mild mannered genealogist, must infiltrate Blofeld's research institute in the Alps, where women from around the world are being brainwashed into releasing a disease in their home regions.

The movie cuts to the chase, acknowledging and addressing Connery's absence right away, by having Lazenby utter the line, "this never happened to the other guy" after a big fight. Oh, crap! Bond has become self aware. He knows he's in a movie. That's the only explanation for him to say that line, because it's given absolutely no other context whatsoever. I understand why they would want to acknowledge the lack of Connery, but there has to be a more clever way to do it.

By the way, let's talk about the lack of Connery. Why'd he quit? I'm sure at the time he felt his tenure as Bond had run its course, or maybe they just weren't offering him enough money. But why did they go ahead and make the Bond movie with one of the most defining moments of his entire life in it WITHOUT the actor who we all associate with the character? It's still a pretty cool scene at the end, but it would have packed SO much more of a punch if it had been Connery experiencing it.

You know what? That last sentence could pretty much describe the entire movie. This is a really cool, back to basics, character driven Bond movie, loaded with plenty of action, but more importantly, plenty of spying, something the last couple Bond movies had set aside in favor of action. Unfortunately, George Lazenby just doesn't cut it as James Bond. He gets the job done, I guess. He can throw punches and spout one liners as the script demands, but he lacks the charisma that made Sean Connery so iconic in the role. The lack of Connery casts a heavy shadow over the whole film.

James Moore will be back with his review of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You Only Live Twice

Welcome to another installment of my series of James Bond reviews in chronological order. If you would like to read my previous entries, please follow the links: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball.

You Only Live Twice is the fifth James Bond film, again starring Sean Connery as 007. It's directed by Lewis Gilbert, a newcomer to Ian Fleming's universe. It quite literally rockets past Thunderball as the most expensive, and the most excessive, James Bond film up to this point. I chose the above poster to represent this movie in order to prove that point. Yes, there's a sequence where Q assembles a sweet ass portable helicopter for Bond, followed by a big crazy helicopter dogfight. And that's not all!

This time around, Bond, after faking his death in order to get off of SPECTRE's hit list, is sent to Japan to investigate a stolen spacecraft that landed in the Pacific nearby. A stolen spacecraft. See, Spectre is trying to escalate the cold war by using their own, larger spacecraft to eat American and Russian spacecrafts and have each country cast the blame on the other.

This is actually a pretty important James Bond film for a few reasons. First and foremost, we are introduced to 007's arch-nemesis, evil mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), seen in 3 of the previous 4 films as only a pair of hands stroking a cat. We are also introduced to his secret evil mastermind headquarters located inside a volcano. This is the reason villains always build bases inside volcanos! The base itself served as the inspiration for Dr. Evil's base in the first Austin Powers film.

There's a lot more silliness to go around in this movie, including a scene where Bond has his face "altered" to look Japanese. He has some prosthetic eyelids put on and brushes his hair forward. The effect is less than impressive. The finale is also pure craziness, where Bond and an army of NINJAS invade Blofeld's volcano base! This is a dream come true. It was also parodied brilliantly in You Only Move Twice, my personal all-time favorite Simpsons episode, guest starring Albert Brooks as loveable-boss-slash-diabolical-terrorist, Hank Scorpio.

As ridiculous and over the top as You Only Live Twice gets, it's probably the most fun of the first five. Not the BEST, mind you, and also not my favorite, but it's loaded with action and camp value. The script is written by Roald Dahl, best known for childrens books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox, and he brings a level of cleverness to the story that balances out the ridiculousness.

It only took a few movies, but by this point there is absolutely no attempt to ground James Bond in any kind of reality. You Only Live Twice is pure escapism, and I can't fault it for that.

James Moore will be back with his review of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I'm back again, with yet another installment in my chronological series on the early James Bond films. If you want to start at the beginning, click here to read my review for Dr. No, and follow the links at the end for the following movies in the series.

The fourth Bond movie is Thunderball, again starring Sean Connery in the role of superspy 007. Terence Young returns as director, after sitting one out for Goldfinger. This time around, evil organization SPECTRE returns, holding the world hostage with stolen atomic bombs. The villain this time around is Emilio Largo, Number 2 in SPECTRE's hierarchy. The primary Bond girl is Domino, who also happens to be Largo's mistress.

At this point, most of, if not all of the James Bond formula has been established. He has his Aston Martin, his gadgets from Q, the theme song (this time by Tom Jones), etc. A lot of the action this time around is set underwater, which is pretty ambitious even by today's standards. The final battle at the end is a huge, no-holds-barred SCUBA melee in shark filled waters, and it is awesome.

As enjoyable as Thunderball is, and there is a lot to enjoy about it, the Bond series is also beginning to show signs of fatigue at this point. Things are starting to cross that line into the absurd. The opening sequence features Bond beating up a man in drag before blasting off with a jetpack. We're getting into silly territory.

Another thing that kind of bothered me is the amount of sharks that they must have killed to make this movie. There are points where sharks are shot with harpoons on camera. There are scenes where an already dead shark is used to act as a live one. They didn't really have any kind of rules in the 60's about harming animals in movies. I'm not huge into animal rights or anything, but seeing animals get hurt still bugs me.

Thunderball is the biggest and most ambitious movie up to this point in the 007 series, with triple the budget of the previous entry, Goldfinger. Unfortunately, it's also the point where the series shows signs of weakness. With all the staying power that Bond movies have shown over the decades, Thunderball serves as the point where the movies become more of a hit-or-miss affair.

James Moore will return with his review of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.


For those of you just tuning in, I'm in the process of writing about all of the early Bond movies in chronological order. Goldfinger is the third film to star Sean Connery as 007, and if Dr. No started the ball rolling, and From Russia with Love formed the template that all Bond movies are built upon, then this is the movie that refined it to an art form.

This time around James Bond is on the trail of Auric Goldfinger, a gold-obsessed businessman (in the business of gold), with plans to increase his riches by devaluing the gold in Fort Knox. Gert Frobe plays Goldfinger, who is quite possibly the quintessential evil mastermind in a James Bond movie. The oft quoted line "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die." is spoken by Goldfinger.

Though I had never seen Goldfinger before, so much of it has bled its way into pop culture that I already knew a bunch of it. Bond girl Jill Masterson, murdered by being coated in gold paint. Korean mute assassin/footman Oddjob and his razor sharp throwing hat. Bond being cuffed to a table while a laser slowly climbs its way toward his junk. And of course, the most famous Bond girl of all, "Pussy Galore".

This particular adventure is more of a standalone side mission to Bond's ongoing dealings with the sinister criminal organization, SPECTRE. No reference is made to his defeat of Dr. No or their revenge attempt in From Russia with Love. I like that; it shows us that James Bond doesn't just deal with one enemy. SPECTRE is just one of many international threats bearing down upon us.

Several Bond traditions are established or elaborated upon in Goldfinger, too. The opening credits are projected upon sexy ladies once again, a tradition started in From Russia with Love, but for the first time, the movie's title theme is played over it. The song, Goldfinger, is, of course, one of the most famous Bond themes. M, Moneypenny, and Q all make their standard appearances. Bond's flirtation with Miss Moneypenny continues, as well as a running hatrack gag established in Dr. No. CIA agent Felix Leiter also appears, though he is played by a different actor who doesn't even remotely resemble Jack Lord.

Also of note, for the first time, we get a sequence inside Q's massive weapon-testing warehouse, seeing background gags of stuntmen getting sprayed with flamethrowers while Q is talking with Bond. Bond's tricked out Aston Martin makes its first appearance in this scene, too.

Now we all know these early 007 films can be pretty damn politically incorrect at times, and downright misogynistic at others, right? Well, Goldfinger may contain the worst thing I've ever heard James Bond say. Before a meeting, he dismisses the girl he's with by telling her it's time for some "Man talk", and then smacks her ass as she goes! Whoa!

The stunts, fights, and chases in Goldfinger are spectacular. We get to see everything his car can do. The final showdown in Fort Knox with Oddjob is one of the greats. For the first time in the series, Terence Young steps aside as director. His replacement is Guy Hamilton, who is more than able to fill Young's shoes.

Goldfinger is definitely one of the best James Bond films ever made. I still love Dr. No for its lower budget, more stripped down, edgier feeling. But when it comes to the more familiar over the top spectacle that we've all come to expect from 007 films, Goldfinger is the gold standard. See what I just did there?

James Moore will return with his review of THUNDERBALL.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Wrap-Up

Hi, everybody! 2011 has come and gone. It has actually been one of the best years of my life on a personal level, thanks in no small part to writing this blog. One year ago today, I resolved to watch for the first time and review 100 movies in 2011. Sometimes it was a struggle finding things to say about a movie. There were a few reviews I wasn't happy with, I'll admit. But I pressed on anyway and actually achieved my goal back in October, and kept on going past it, ultimately watching and writing about 138 movies.

As for what you're reading now, I thought I'd write a little year-end piece, maybe talk about the highlights of writing I Probably Liked It. This isn't going to be a best movies of the year list (I'm not sure if I'm going to do one yet), just my personal favorite blogging moments.

So read on, if you're interested. And in case you decide you're not, thanks for reading! Keep coming back, I've got big plans for 2012. I have no idea what they are.

First things first: Here is a list of all the movies I watched in 2011.

1: Branded to Kill
2: The King's Speech
3: Fantasia
4: Fantasia 2000
5: How to Train Your Dragon
6: Cyrus
7: Starcrash
8: The Kids are Alright
9: Evilspeak

10: The Secret of Kells
11: Seven Samurai
12: A Town Called Panic
13: Cedar Rapids
14: Frankenstein
15: The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
16: Bride of Frankenstein
17: Popeye

18: Rango
19: Follow that Bird
20: Brewster McCloud
21: Arthur (1981)
22: Once Upon a Time in the West
23: Hausu
24: Son of Frankenstein
25: High Noon
26: Paul
27: Whisper of the Heart
28: Gojira (Godzilla)

29: Win Win
30: Sleeping Beauty
31: Circle of Iron
32: Four Lions
33: Black Dynamite
34: Source Code
35: Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal
36: Invaders from Mars
37: The Mikado
38: Topsy Turvy

39: Thor
40: Student Confidential
41: Bridesmaids
42: The Golem
43: Mac and Me
44: Heaven Can Wait (1943)
45: Winter's Bone
46: Attack the Block
47: Kung Fu Panda 2
48: The Mack
49: Tokyo Drifter

50: X-Men: First Class
51: The Tree of Life
52: Tales from the Crypt (1972)
53: The Vault of Horror
54: Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
55: Submarine
56: Super 8
57: MacGruber
58: Green Lantern
59: Puppet Master
60: Microcosmos
61: Cars 2
62: Summer Wars

63: Good Morning
64: Fright Night Part II
65: Pinocchio
66: Samurai Rebellion
67: The Knack ...and How To Get It
68: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
69: Captain America: The First Avenger
70: A Little Princess

71: Cowboys & Aliens
72: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
73: 30 Minutes or Less
74: Power Kids
75: Fright Night (2011)
76: Alakazam the Great
77: Paper Moon
78: Zardoz
79: Sword of Doom
80: Wing Chun

81: Our Idiot Brother
82: Winnie the Pooh
83: The Outlaw Josey Wales
84: The Maltese Falcon (1941)
85: Contagion
86: The Invisible Man
87: Planet of the Vampires
88: The Thing with Two Heads
89: The Secret of the Urn
90: Moneyball
91: The Killing
92: Killer's Kiss
93: The 10th Victim
94: 50/50

95: The Bad Seed
96: The Uninvited
97: Patrick
98: Vampyr
99: Real Steel
100: The Last Man on Earth
101: Goke, Bodysnatcher from Hell
102: The Innocents
103: Tales that Witness Madness
104: The Wolf Man (1941)
105: The Old Dark House (1932)
106: The Sentinel
107: Martha Marcy May Marlene
108: The House on Haunted Hill (1959)
109: Carnival of Souls
110: In Time

111: Rope
112: Winnebago Man
113: Dracula (1931)
114: Logan's Run
115: Citizen Ruth
116: The Descendants
117: The Warriors
118: The Muppets
119: Kagemusha
120: Mystery Team
121: Hugo
122: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

123: American Graffiti
124: Machete Maidens Unleashed
125: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
126: Charley Varrick
127: Johnny Dangerously
128: Murders in the Zoo
129: Young Adult
130: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
131: Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece
132: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
133: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
134: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
135: Dr. No
136: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
137: War Horse
138: From Russia with Love

That list is in order, so if you're interested in reading any of those reviews, check them out in the corresponding month on the bar to the right.

Holy crap! I just found out that due to a counting error on my part, my super special 100th movie review was NOT actually my 100th movie review! Whoops! Let's pretend that never happened.

Here is a list of my five favorite entries of 2011:

Zardoz: My friend Kent over at Cinematic Seppuku and I enjoyed writing a few collaborative movie reviews over the year, and our review for this baffling John Boorman sci-fi oddity was probably the best of them. We haven't done any since because things got busy and those ones took a long time for us to write.

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell: Not only was this trippy 1960's Japanese sci-fi/horror cult classic one of my favorite movies that I watched last year, it was one of my best entries to date. Scratch that, it IS my best entry, the one I'm proudest of, anyway. It was written under the belief that it was my 100th review, and to make it special, I loaded it up with my own crappy (but hopefully funny) MS Paint illustrations.

Logan's Run: Yet another weird cult classic sci-fi movie. This was my third (and final so far) illustrated movie review. The review itself is maybe a little on the lazy side, but I think my "artwork" has improved. This time I did it as more of a comic strip. A Logan's Run fan site found it and linked it on their page, and now it's one of my most successful entries. I want to do more illustrated stuff this year, but it all depends on time and if I see the right type of movie.

Real Steel: This entry seems to be very popular among people I know in real life, probably because I really, really hated this movie. Considering that this website is about 99% positive reviews, people must have really gotten a kick out of hearing me tear into something. Plus, I think it's decently well written.

The Knack... and How to Get It: This review of a 1960's Richard Lester classic provided me with one of the highlights of my year: When I put a link up on Twitter, I theorized that Edgar Wright had been influenced by this movie. Shortly after, he tweeted me back and confirmed it! That might seem like small potatoes to you, but to be complemented on my astuteness by one of my favorite writer/directors ever was kind of incredible for me.

Those aren't all the highlights. Others include the time I experimented with Adware and dropped it because I didn't like how it was changing my priorities. Or how about when I joined the Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB)? They've been really cool to me and I've gained several regular readers and Twitter friends from them. Or how about the time I accidentally killed my little girl's turtle and had to find an identical one to replace it with? Wait, that might have been from Full House or something.

That's about it for now. I'll be back soon with more reviews. I would like to do more illustrated stuff this year, but it all depends on me having time and proper inspiration. I'll be continuing some of my ongoing movie watching projects, including the early James Bond films and Disney classics. Also, I'm not necessarily limiting myself to the "100 movies, 100 reviews" thing, so there might be something new and different if it strikes me. Thanks again for reading! Happy New Year!