Friday, May 31, 2013

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #8

Synopsis: It's like an Austin Powers movie, except that it's only unintentionally funny.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A gem of a spy-thriller!”

What Did I Learn?: If you've somehow managed to knock out James Bond, don't try to set up an elaborate death trap for when he wakes up... just shoot him in the back of the head.

Really?: 1) Blofeld in drag...oh dear. 2) So wait - we know that Bond is a tough guy - he beats up a martial arts expert in the first few seconds, yet he has zero offense when he encounters Bambi and Thumper? 3) Hold on - Bond simply shows up at the offshore oil rig, alone and in broad daylight, expecting an opportunity to switch cassette tapes? And why does he even need to do that when it becomes obvious the US Government can simply blow up the platform? 4) Bond never fires his gun...not once. 5) Why is there a mock-up of the moon landing? Is somebody playfully suggesting the entire Neil Armstrong scene was a con job on the American public? 6) Did I miss something...why did the villains need Shady Tree's involvement in the diamond plot? What did he do, exactly? 7) Why would Plenty O'Toole look for Tiffany Case? As far as I could tell, she hooked up with Bond in the casino, and her involvement should have ended after the gangsters threw her into the pool. 8) So, Wint and Kidd leave Bond unconscious in a section of tubing, and the none of the construction workers on duty notice a sleeping man wearing a tuxedo?

Rating: Tacky, campy, low-budget and awful are adjectives I would use to describe Diamonds Are Forever. While the film has a few decent moments, including a great fight scene between Bond and career criminal Peter Franks, this is definitely one of the low points in the 007 franchise, and the explosive finale aboard the oil rig is absolutely atrocious. Interestingly, Sean Connery looks significantly older than he did in You Only Live Twice, and you can tell he did Diamonds strictly for the paycheque. I cannot recommend this movie. 3.5/10 stars.

Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink any time you discover a plot hole.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #8 (Hmm...this would have worked for the "Revenge" theme I did, late last year).

Synopsis: Look out, powder-pushers - somebody's grumpy, and it ain't Sonny Crockett!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "When Bond wants revenge, nothing stands in his way. Not even Her Majesty's Secret Service!"

What Did I Learn?: You can't hit anything with either an Uzi submachine gun, or a stinger missile at near-point-blank range.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that cocaine is bad news - and you want to see somebody famous get really angry.

Really?: 1) Ooh...a shark tank! Hey, hey, didn't we see one of those in Thunderball, You Only Live Twice (albeit with piranhas), Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only? 2) So wait - Sanchez escapes in broad daylight, the same day that Felix ties the knot, and...nobody informs him about it? Wouldn't a daring escape like that be front-page news? 3) Wow...Felix is awfully chipper at the end of the movie, considering his legs were eaten by a shark and his wife is dead. 4) So wait - Bond is a rogue agent, and yet Q shows up with a bag of goodies? 4b) Funny how Bond loses his license to kill, and yet...nothing is ever done with that plot point. 5) So, what exactly is the deal Sanchez proposes to the Asian drug lords... is he just selling them large quantities of cocaine? That's never really made clear.

Rating: Licence to Kill isn't nearly as awful as I remember it to have been (how's that for high praise?), but it certainly isn't one of the better Bond movies, either. While some sort of correction was in order after the Roger Moore years, Licence is pretty much humourless (Wayne Newton's appearance as a new-age televangelist isn't funny - just dumb), and chock-full of brutal violence. In spite of this the movie strangely looks and feels like it was made for TV, with cheap-looking sets and dull action sequences. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time Bond instructs Pam and Q to leave town, and neither of them take his advice.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Living Daylights (1987)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #7

Synopsis: James Bond single-handedly ends the Cold War by, um... helping out the Taliban?!?!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “There’s a new James Bond.  He’s handsome, softspoken, Timothy Dalton, and he’s absolutely fantastic! As agent 007, he picks his way through a maze of death, deceit and treachery that stretches from the Rock of Gibraltar to the wilds of Afghanistan. ”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, a cello case makes an excellent toboggan...why, it's so fast you can even outrun snowmobiles and professional skiers.

Really?: 1) Wasn't Bond awarded the Order of Lenin in A View to a Kill? Mightn't he have mentioned that after getting arrested by Soviet troops? 2) So, there are good Soviet officials, like General Gogol, and General Pushkin, and bad Soviets like General Koskov, and the entire Russian army in Afghanistan...I'm not sure I get the distinction. 3) I'm pretty sure that Connery's Bond would never go back for the cello. 4) So, the Afghan Mujahedeen had bottles of Russian vodka laying around, and didn't object to Western women walking around their camp without a head-covering? 5) Hmm... so, Whitaker and Koskov decide to kill another British agent, and they just happen to pick Saunders in Vienna, at just the same time Bond is visiting with him? That's a coinky-dink.

Rating: I hadn't seen The Living Daylights for a number of years, so I had forgotten that it's one of the better Bond films. Timothy Dalton is decent in his first outing as 007, the special effects and action sequences are legitimately exciting, and he enjoys some noticeable chemistry with Maryam d'Abo as Kara. The Living Daylights is a good movie that's marred by a few problems: 1) assisting the Mujahedeen made sense in 1987, but it seems like a hopelessly dated idea in our post 9/11 world, 2) we're never entirely sure what the villains want (they're, they're, they want the British Secret Service to assassinate the head of the KGB), and 3) the ending is really lackluster. 7/10 stars.

A View to a Kill (1985)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #6 (Yes, I know that Octopussy should be the next in line. Alas, my VHS copy of that film is toast. I will attempt to review it at some point in the future)

Synopsis: Elderly British spy gets raped by Grace Jones. [Oh Roger, why did you agree to make this movie?]

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Agent 007 must save millions of lives in this crackling dynamo of an adventure, jam-packed with the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed, With wit, elegance and style, Roger Moore lends lethal charm to his final performance as James Bond.”

What Did I Learn?: If you're planning a major caper, you might want to put off machine-gunning all of your co-conspirators until after it goes off without a hitch.

Really?: 1) Wow...for a billionaire who should know better, Zorin seems to do a lot of his own dirty-work. And he sure has a knack for showing up at just the right time. 2) So wait, the horsey-set stuff at the beginning has nothing to do with the main plot - which seems suspiciously like a remake of Goldfinger, by the way. 3) Hmm... the KGB gives up rather easily, doesn't it? 4) Somebody actually wrote the following lines: May Day: 'Wow! What a view!', Zorin: 'To a kill!' 5) So, is it possible to drive the front-end of a car after it's been severed from its rear? That seems a wee bit implausible. 6) Did I miss something - does Bond ever once re-load that shotgun? 7) Hold on - May Day (Jones) is standing next to Sir Godfrey's car one minute, and she somehow disappears the next. Wouldn't any normal person look INSIDE THE CAR?

Rating: Roger Moore has said that A View to a Kill was his least favourite Bond movie; he didn't like the gratuitous violence of Zorin (Christopher Walken) shooting his own men, and he didn't get along well with Jones. Everything about this film is wrong, starting with the ill-considered use of a Beach Boys song during a ski chase. Moore does his best with the terrible dialogue, but at 57, he's too damned old to be swigging vodka martinis, bedding 25-year old girls and jumping around the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, and Tanya Roberts is just awful as Moore's far-too-young love interest. Still, kudos to Walken for a nice performance, and to Duran Duran for a kick-ass opening theme song. 4.5/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time Tanya Roberts screams, or finds herself hanging from a ledge.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #5

Synopsis: It's the sequel to Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, except there aren't any: laser gun fights, invisible space stations, underwater fortresses, cars that turn into submarines, gondolas that turn into hovercrafts, or insane billionaires who wish to kill everybody and re-populate the world.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “James Bond is thrust into one of his most riveting adventures in this jam-packed free-for-all of outrageous stunts, passionate encounters and exciting confrontations.  In perhaps the best performance of his career, Roger Moore portrays Agent 007 with lethal determination.”

What Did I Learn?: A guy on skis can easily out-run a couple of speeding motorcycles when careening down a snowy mountain.

Really?: 1) That's how Blofeld meets his end? Sad... 2) The bad guy has a warehouse in Albania? Wasn't that country governed by a fanatical bunch of communists in 1981? 3) Wow...Melina's Citroen rolls over what - 30 times, and it keeps going. 4) I had a little trouble believing Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson) would fall head-over-heels for Roger Moore's Bond, who was about 53 at the time. 5) So, why wouldn't General Gogol shoot Bond after he throws the ATAC off the mountain? I would imagine he might be a bit pissed off about that. 6) The villain attempts to murder Bond and Melina with sharks...hey, that's original!

Rating: For Your Eyes Only is one of my favourite Bond movies, as it is very much a back-to-basics reaction to the silliness of Moonraker. The storyline is believable (or at least plausible), Carole Bouquet's Melina is a valuable partner for 007, the gadgets are kept to a minimum, and there's even some mystery: the audience doesn't even know the identity of the villain until well into the picture. While I've never been crazy about Sheena Easton's title song, Bill Conti keeps things moving with some excellent instrumental music (Runaway and Cortina are noteworthy). Highly recommended. 8.5/10 stars.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Moonraker (1979)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #4

Synopsis: It's The Spy Who Loved Me with lasers and shit.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In a decade when movie fans packed theatres to see hits like Star Wars, it seemed only natural that the world’s foremost Special Agent should also blast into space. Moonraker took James Bond beyond the stratosphere, breaking the all-time box office record for a Bond movie.” [, even the marketing materials admit this movie was made just to cash in on the Star Wars craze.]

What Did I Learn?: Even 7-foot-tall professional killers with razor-sharp metallic teeth can have feelings, too.

Really?: Oh God, where do I begin? I realize the Bond films are supposed to be escapist fun, so maybe I can overlook "Holly Goodhead", or a Venetian gondola that transforms into a hovercraft, but a multinational corporation building a space station without the superpowers knowing about it, or a laser-blaster space battle in 1979?

Rating: While the stunts and special effects are certainly impressive, I've never liked Moonraker. For me, this movie has always been the epitome of everything that went wrong with the Bond franchise: too many gadgets, dopey humour, and ridiculously unbelievable criminal conspiracies. Moonraker is an uncreative rip-off of The Spy Who Loved Me (which is itself a remake of You Only Live Twice, but never mind), right down to the inclusion of Jaws, and the obligatory scene of slack-jawed yokels staring in disbelief as Bond drives his amphibious vehicle from water to land. TSWLM had some great chemistry between Roger Moore and Barbara Bach, yet Lois Chiles provides a wooden performance. Moreover, the plot - such as it is - seems more like an excuse to string a series of action sequences together than an actual story. Sorry, but I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time Bond jumps to a conclusion based on minimal evidence and his hunch pays off.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #3

Synopsis: It's basically You Only Live Twice without the Japanese travelogue.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “From the death-defying opening that finds 007 nonchalantly skiing straight off a 3,000-foot mountain precipice to the explosive finale aboard a humongous supertanker, The Spy Who Loved Me is Bond at his exhilarating best!”

What Did I Learn?: “When someone's behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don't always have time to remember a face.” [Geez, who wrote this dialogue – George Lucas?]

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that Roger Moore is one dangerous dude.

Really?: 1) So, do skiiers in the Austrian Alps often wear parachutes, just in case? 2) Did I miss something... why would Stromberg need to provoke the superpowers into destroying the world so he could start his own colony? Couldn't he have created it without blowing up the world? And wouldn't all that radiation eventually contaminate the oceans, too? 3) I realize Bond is an ultra-smooth secret agent, but he seems very relaxed and witty as Jaws rips the van apart. 4) So, Bond knows how to take apart a nuclear missile. That's a useful skill. 5) Hmm...Stromberg has a shark tank he uses to dispose of people. Didn't we see that already in Live and Let Die, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice? 5) So wait, Stromberg's big plot has been foiled, and instead of...oh, I don't know, getting the fuck out of dodge, he spends his remaining time attempting to kill Bond, knowing full well the US Navy must be getting ready to fire a few torpedos up his ass.

Rating: The Spy Who Loved Me isn't one of my favourite Bond movies. Like most of Moore's 007 films, there's an over-reliance on implausible gadgets and dopey humour, and it's difficult to take the plot too seriously. That said, Moore and Barbara Bach enjoy some great chemistry as the star-crossed Bond and Agent XXX, the first half of the movie - especially the parts set in Cairo, and near the pyramids - is enjoyable, and the special effects aren't bad. The Spy Who Loved Me is a fun way to kill a couple of hours if you can put your brain on "pause." 6.5/10 stars.


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #2

Synopsis:  British bloodhound Bond bangs busty bimbos, battles brutish bandits, bullies bitsy bootlicker, blasts badass butcher.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "James Bond has been marked for death, and he'll need all of this lethal instincts and seductive charm to survive this action-packed adventure!"

What Did I Learn?: Solar energy is nothing but trouble....let’s stick with safe, dependable, ever-lasting oil.

Really?: 1) So wait – Bond is armed, while Scaramanga isn’t, so why does Bond just stand there impassively as Scaramanga destroys his seaplane with that solar gun-thingee?  2), 007’s search for the missing solar energy expert is linked to Scaramanga? That’s quite a coinky-dink...and who would have guessed that such a money-hungry assassin would be such an energy conservation nut? 3) Funny how Bond’s reputation precedes him everywhere he goes...I can’t imagine that would be helpful for a secret agent. 4) Did I miss something – who are those thugs who attempt to beat up Bond in Beirut?  5) Oh God...they brought back Sheriff Pepper from Live and Let Die... 6) So, Scaramanga has one guy - one guy - who runs the solar energy plant? I guess Broccoli and Saltzman didn't want to hire a whole bunch of extras.

Rating: Like many Bond films, The Man With the Golden Gun starts out well, and then gets bogged down in bad comedy and ridiculous plot twists. While I enjoyed Christopher Lee’s top-notch portrayal of the cold-blooded Scaramanga, the movie takes a decidedly wrong turn when Bond wakes up at the karate dojo (and gets rescued by a couple of schoolgirls), the solar energy sub-plot seems tacked on, and it takes forever for the final Bond-Scaramanga showdown to take place, and when it finally occurs, it’s a let-down. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time Roger Moore raises an eyebrow. (1974)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Live and Let Die (1973)

Moore-Dalton James Bond Movie #1 (Folks, I know this should be a review of the atrocious Diamond Are Forever. Thing is - and this is a bit embarrassing - I thought I owned a copy of DAF, and I don't. Even worse, I searched four thrift stores this evening and found nothing. I WILL review it, ASAP).  

Synopsis:  James Bond somehow wanders into Shaft’s Big Score.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "James Bond battles the forces of black magid in this energetic, passionate adventure that hurtles from New York City to Louisiana bayou country."

What Did I Learn?: One good chase scene can really spice up a movie; three chase scenes, not so much. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You want to see that creepy Geoffrey Holder guy push unhealthy junk to America's children.

Really?: 1) Kananga has both a shark tank and a monorail in his hideout...gee, that’s original for a Bond movie. 2) I realize three British agents have been murdered, but what exactly, is the urgency for 007 to get cracking on the case right now? Why do M and Moneypenny show up on his doorstep at 5AM? 3) I realize Solitaire predicts Bond’s arrival in New York, but how does he know what he looks like, or which taxi to follow? Is there a leak in MI6? 4) Why does Mr. Big require half of black New York to report on Bond’s excursion into Harlem when the cab driver is one of his flunkies? 5) I could ask why the CIA is operating on American soil, but let’s leave that aside for a minute...why does the black CIA agent force Bond to drop the pistol and raise his hands? I realize it makes for a suspenseful scene, but it makes no sense. 6) So, Bond openly admits that he’s going to New Orleans in order to use Solitaire as bait for Kananga...what a guy. 7) Wait – was Bond paying attention when his driver is killed with that poison dart? If he wasn’t, how did he get the license plate of the white pimpmobile? 8) Bond has a fistfight with a tougher opponent in a train compartment...didn’t we already see that in From Russia With Love?

Rating: Live and Let Die is a better Bond movie than Diamonds Are Forever, and its theme song is easily the best in the franchise, but that isn’t saying much. Live and Let Die is overly long, and often feels more like a cheesy blaxploitation film than a spy story.  And after a great first act, it quickly degenerates into one long chase scene after another. This was Roger Moore's first outing as Bond, and he's not bad. 6/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #7 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

Synopsis:  It’s like an Austin Powers movie without the jokes.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "A disaster in space pushes humankind toward World War III... and only Agent 007 can prevent it!"

What Did I Learn?: No astronaut would ever board a space capsule carrying his own air conditioner! Smooth move, Bond.  

You Might Like This Movie If: Just like 007, you think you might be turning Japanese. [Warning: this is not The Vapors' version, and it is God-awful].

Really?: 1) So, the head of Japanese Intelligence has a private train underneath Tokyo, and he personally goes on commando missions with his elite team of ninjas(!!)? 2) What, exactly is the point of making James Bond “Japanese”, when he could have simply swam over to the mysterious island without living in the fishing village? 3) Um, does anyone think Bond looks Japanese? I’d say he resembles a young Burt Reynolds playing a Romulan. And why in the world do Bond and Tanaka continue with that ridiculous sub-plot when SPECTRE obviously knows his identity, because they keep attempting to kill him?  4) Um...what happened to the astronauts that Bond frees? 5) Doesn’t Osato realize Bond is within earshot when he orders Helga Brandt to have him killed? 6) Wait – Brandt has Bond right where she wants him; she could torture him until he tells her everything, yet she unties him, bangs him, and then attempts to kill him by bailing out of an airplane? WTF? 7) Oh, what’s the use...?

Rating: You Only Live Twice starts out relatively well, with the assassination of Henderson and a clever ruse by Bond, but it gets stupid and outlandish pretty quickly in the second and third acts. Connery was starting to get tired of the 007 franchise when he made this film, and you can tell he’s not terribly enthusiastic. I'm only barely recommending YOLT. 5.5/10 stars.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Clerks II (2006)

Synopsis: Anyone remember The Trailer Park Boys?  Remember how funny it was in the early years? Remember how it jumped the shark when the cast members suddenly tried way too hard to be funny, and the storylines required the audience to laugh with Ricky and the boys instead of at them? Yeah... Clerks II feels a bit like those later seasons.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Writer-director Kevin Smith returns to the scene of his cult comedy classic Clerks to pick up his... [text blocked by a huge UPC code sticker I can't remove] ... style of humour... and push it right over the edge!"

What Did I Learn?: 1) Folks in the bestiality business prefer the term "inter-species erotica." 2) It's not a good idea to go ass-to-mouth.

You Might Like This Movie If: You're glad this is a work of fiction, and you know the fast-food industry is safe and professional.

Really?: 1) I had a hard time believing Randal would stay employed at Mooby's for more than a day or so. And any other fast-food joint would have immediately fired his ass after he listed off a variety of racial slurs. 2) Wow...once again, Dante has two - count'em - two attractive, college-educated (and in one case, extremely wealthy) women chasing after him. Not only is he depressed and working a minimum-wage job as in Clerks, but he's now 12 years older and overweight. 3) Um...was there a point to including a montage of Randal and Dante riding Go-Karts to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head?"

Rating: Clerks II isn't really as bad as the last couple of seasons of The Trailer Park Boys, but it is a bit of a letdown after the brilliance of the original movie. While Clerks was all about clever writing and observational humour, Clerks II is more plot-driven, and artificial; the Elias character seemed phony, while Becky (Rosario Dawson) didn't exactly fit into the "askewniverse" established in the first film. Clerks II delivers some solid laughs, although it takes awhile for the story to get going, and I couldn't shake a sense of "Do I really want to see this?" Dante and Randal complaining about the ups and downs of working in a convenience store is funny when they're 22; at 34, it's more than a bit depressing. 7/10 stars.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Clerks (1994)

Synopsis:  World’s worst retail-sector employees discuss life choices, oral sex and Return of the Jedi.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Just Because They Serve You... Doesn't Mean They Like You."

What Did I Learn?: 1) Any independent contractors who died on the second Death Star received their just desserts. 2) Guys, if your girlfriend informs you she sucked 37 dicks, it's best to keep that information to yourself.

You Might Like This Movie If: you know that customer service isn't easy.  

Really?: 1) So wait, Dante is 22, tragically uncool and miserable, and he dropped out of school in order to continue working in a convenience store, and yet he has not just one, but two attractive, college-educated women chasing him? Um... I ain’t buyin’ it. 2) Would any straight guy rent hermaphrodite porn to watch with another straight guy, strictly for shits and giggles?

Rating: Clerks is a perfect example of (extremely) low-budget filmmaking at its best. While I'm not a big fan of Kevin Smith's later films, I like this one because it combines brilliantly-written (albeit incredibly foul-mouthed) dialogue, clever observational humour, and a surprisingly positive message about taking charge of your choices in life. It's funny that Dante and Randal spend so much time discussing Empire and Jedi because Clerks is proof that you don't need a George Lucas-sized budget in order to make a great movie. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)

Hmm... it looks as though this video once belonged to Milt Kellar.

Synopsis:  Grumpy-yet-loveable old cuss welcomes estranged daughter into his home...and then craps all over her dreams of getting into show biz.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Neil Simon's Heartwarming Hit!"

What Did I Learn?: 1) Writing your name and phone number on the back of a valet parking stub is not an effective marketing technique. 2) Neil Simon wrote some shitty one-liners. Oh wait – I already knew that from California Suite.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know it's not exactly easy to audition for movie roles. [I wanted to post this during my tribute to Star Wars].

Really?: 1) Hold on, Herb returns Steffy’s money after she pays his gambling debts, and then... we never hear anything more about this matter. Does he have a gambling problem? Does he owe a lot of money? Is he in any trouble with the mob? It’s a wee bit unresolved. 2) Considering Simon created new characters when he adapted this movie from his theatrical play, couldn’t he have written a scene where Libby phones her mom to let her know she’s in California, and ok?

Rating: I Ought to Be in Pictures is a touching, yet quickly forgettable character-driven drama featuring fine performances from Walter Matthau, Dinah Minoff and Ann-Margret.  Matthau and Minoff share some great scenes, especially near the end when she asks him about sex, and how to get ahead in Hollywood, but the film doesn’t exactly go anywhere, and the dialogue is marred by too many unfunny quips. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spaceballs (1987)

Star Wars Movie #7 (Just kidding! Please click the link to read my review of a much better sci-fi spoof, Galaxy Quest)

Synopsis:  It’s a Star Wars parody from 1987. Oooh... that's some timely satire, Mel!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The farce will be with you in this outrageously hilarious sendup of epic sci-fi movies, created by comic genius Mel Brooks."

What Did I Learn?: The phrase “May the Schwartz be with you” isn’t funny, even the first time.

Really?: Spaceballs is a very silly comedy, so it might not be entirely fair to judge the film on the basis of credibility, but I do have a major complaint. The Spaceballs arrive at Planet Druidia in order to kidnap Princess Vespa (how, exactly, they're going to get through the planet's force shield is never explained), and then the Princess - totally on her own - flees from her wedding and flies into space, very close to the Spaceball attack ship. Did the film go through a major re-write or two, and Brooks simply didn't bother to fix such an incredible coincidence? As it stands, this part of the film reflects incredibly lazy writing.

Rating: Spaceballs certainly has its moments of hilarity, especially when Rick Moranis is on-screen as the not-so-scary Dark Helmet, and hey - it's a pleasure to see the late, great John Candy in action. Unfortunately, like most of Mel Brooks' other films, Spaceballs is also dopey, juvenile, extremely obvious, and not terribly funny. I'm barely recommending this movie based solely on a few good laughs (emphasis on "few"), and the fact that I've always liked Daphne Zuniga... I wonder what she's up to these days...? 5.5/10 stars.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars Movie #6 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: Generations)

End the Star Wars Program! Six Movies is Enough!

Synopsis: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Experience the breathtaking scope of this final chapter in spectacular digital clarity and relive all the epic battles including the final climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, even veteran actors consider prosthetic facial makeup to be a license to wildly overact.

You Might Like This Movie If: You want to learn more about Darth Vader's wacky family. [Oh, by the way: it's Friday]

Really?: 1) So, let’s recap the incredible coinky-dinks...Anakin/Vader created Luke, Leia, and C-3PO and flew missions regularly with R2-D2, Boba Fett tries to kill Ben Kenobi, and Chewbacca fought alongside Yoda in the Clone Wars. 2) Padme, the woman who led a commando unit against the Viceroy, and launched a vote of non-confidence against the Chancellor in The Phantom Menace, and then joined the Jedi knights in taking on the droid army in Attack of the Clones somehow loses the will to live? Sure, whatevs... 3) Hmmm... Anakin has weird dreams about Padme dying in childbirth, and then Palpatine tells him (apropos of nothing) about Sith magic that can prevent people from kicking the bucket. And then Anakin slaughters the Trade Federation goons even though they said they were expecting him, and they mention the name of Darth Sidious. Funny how he never once suspects Palpy might be using him. 4) Couldn't Palpatine have figured out an easier way to bump off Count Dooku than to allow himself to be kidnapped, and then almost die in a crash-landing? 5) The more I think about it, Luke's near-conversion to the Dark Side of the Force in Return of the Jedi seems like bullshit. Anakin was clearly a disturbed young man, Palpatine befriended him, he wanted to save Padme's life, and he objected to Mace Windu attempting to kill his friend; Luke was just a little angry. Even if Luke had turned to the Dark Side, why would he have suddenly become Palpatine's apprentice? Why couldn't he have simply killed both the Emperor and Vader because he didn't like either of them?

Rating: Revenge of the Sith opens with a big space battle where the audience can't really tell who is who, and the action is too fast to follow, anyway. That scene represents so much of what's wrong with the Star Wars prequels: George Lucas was given the special effects he needed to present his unique vision to the world, but he never asked himself if anyone wanted to watch a long saga with a predictable and unhappy ending, or if his creations were actually good movies.  

Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequels, but that's a bit like declaring yourself valedictorian of summer school. Much of the dialogue is cringe-inducing (especially the scenes between Anakin and Padme, or when Palpatine calls Yoda his "little green friend"), and the action sequences require such super-human strength and dexterity from the movie's characters that I couldn't relate to them, and tuned out. I also had trouble believing Anakin's conversion. That said, Ian McDiarmid is wonderful (pre-prosthetic makeup) as the charming Sith Lord, and Jar Jar's part is thankfully almost non-existent. 6/10 stars.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Movie #5 (Please click the link to read my review of Star Trek V: the Final Frontier)

Synopsis:  It's 142 minutes of sterile dialogue, whiny teenagers, and explosions...lots and lots of explosions.  

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "The STAR WARS saga continues on DVD with Episode II ATTACK OF THE CLONES."

What Did I Learn?: If you're prepared to spend $115,000,000 to make a movie, you might want to focus on getting the storyline and dialogue just right before you blow the rest of your bankroll on flashy special effects.

You Might Like This Movie If: you know that the Star Wars franchise hadn't yet bottomed out in 2002. Yeesh....

Really?: 1) Funny how Owen Lars doesn’t recognize C-3PO in Star Wars, even though Threepio was actually living with the Lars family at the point when Anakin shows up. 2) So wait – Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is the big villain, and he doesn’t appear until 76 minutes of the film have elapsed? 3) Padme makes Jar Jar a Senator, and he's the one who puts forth a motion that gives Palpatine special emergency powers. Um... isn't this woman supposed to have a keen intellect and sound judgement? 4) It's strange how neither Anakin nor Obi Wan are terribly concerned about making a scene in front of Padme and her entourage... as soon as Anakin starts mouthing off, wouldn't Obi Wan likely say: "we'll discuss this later", or something like that? The dialogue doesn't ring true. 5) Presumably, the Kaminoans spent ten years producing hundreds of thousands of clones for no money down. Do arms suppliers work that way?

Rating: See "Synopis". While many consider The Phantom Menace to be the worst of the Star Wars prequels, I actually found it to be more enjoyable than Attack of the Clones. Sure, the film is visually impressive, and both Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee deliver fine performances as the two Sith lords (I don't think I'm giving anything away with that information), but it takes a loooong time before  Palpatine's plot begins to reveal itself, and the audience is stuck in the meantime with action sequences that are so super-human they aren't exciting, too many formal meetings, and some of the most clich├ęd love scenes ever captured on film. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Would it work for a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time somebody addresses Padme as "Milady", or when a Jedi utters a variation of: "there's something fishy going on."

The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Movie #4 (Please click the link to read my review of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Synopsis: Jar Jar Stinks

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every Saga has a beginning..."

What Did I Learn?: A communications disruption can only mean one thing – invasion.

Really?: 1) So wait...Anakin/Darth Vader created Luke, Leia and C-3PO? And he flew a mission with R2-D2? Give me a break... 2) Hmmm – Naboo has a Queen, and yet somebody says the planet is a democracy, and Her Highness was elected. Who, exactly, would elect a 13-year old to govern a planet? 3) Why in the world would Qui-Gon bring an idiot like Jar Jar to explore Tatooine? 4) Come to think of it, why would Qui-Gon bring Anakin (who’s what - 9 years old, and clearly too young to risk his life fighting a droid army) along on a dangerous mission back to Naboo? And with all the talk of child soldiers in other parts of the world, isn’t it a wee bit disturbing to see him piloting a fighter craft? 5) In Empire, I'm pretty sure Yoda said the Force encompasses all living things...I don't remember him or Ben Kenobi ever mentioning anything about "midi-chlorians." 6) So, Obi-Wan and Qui Gon stumble across Anakin totally by accident. That's some great writing, George.

Rating: To this day, I'm still not sure what prompted George Lucas to go back to the well and produce this second Star Wars trilogy. For one thing, they're prequels - we know how this story ends, and it's a bit of a bummer. The second reason is that he must have known these movies wouldn't be compared to the other summer blockbusters, or even the first trilogy; they would be compared to our memories of Star Wars/Empire/Jedi - as well as countless birthday parties, Christmas mornings, the first time a family owned a VCR, etc... Even if Lucas had created the science fiction equivalents of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Godfather Part II, fans would have found the new films wanting.

Alas, Phantom Menace isn't even close to Citizen Kane. It's a dull, over-designed adventure with unrelatable (or, in Jar Jar's case - extremely annoying) characters, terrible dialogue and too many "Really?" moments for my taste. That said, I like Liam Neeson's performance, and the two-on-one lightsabre duel is pretty cool, so I'll barely recommend this movie. 5.5/10 stars.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Star Wars Movie #3 (Please click the link to read my review of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)

Synopsis: Teddy bears save the day!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The Empire is brought to its knees!"

What Did I Learn?: It’s a trap!

Really?: 1) See “Synopsis”. 2) General Solo? General Calrissian? Have either of these rogues ever attended officer training school? Is the Rebellion handing out commissions like balloons at a birthday party? 3) A second Death Star with the exact same weakness as the first...gee, that’s original. 4) So wait...Luke is told he has a twin sister, and he automatically assumes it’s the only girl he apparently knows? And he’s correct?!?! 5) Come to think of it, if Leia has “always known”...why did she kiss Luke on the lips in both Star Wars and Empire? 6) Um...would anyone seriously bring a shiny gold robot with limited mobility or a compact droid that operates on wheels on a commando mission in thick forest? 7) Is it just me, or did the carbon freezing cause Han to lose about 20 IQ points? He seems more like a loveable fuckup in this film than the super-cool scoundrel of Star Wars and Empire. 8) Gee... that Imperial fleet isn't much of a threat, is it?

Rating: If The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi is definitely the weakest of the original trilogy, and the point at which the franchise started to tumble downhill. While I’m not crazy about the Ewoks, or the cartoony-action scenes of the Battle for Endor, the biggest problem with Jedi is that there’s TOO MUCH STUFF. The scenes in Jabba’s lair/sand barge have nothing to do with the rest of the film (aside from freeing Han, of course), and the last 45 minutes is a non-stop, three-ring circus of space battles, forest explosions, and a lightsaber duel. By the end, I was just tired. 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars Movie #2 (Please click the link to read my review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

May the 4th be with you!

Synopsis: How Vader Got His Groove Back.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The Battle continues..."

What Did I Learn?: 1) Princess Leia is not a committee. 2) Admiral Ozzel is as clumsy as he is stupid. 3) The possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1. 4) Wars not make one great. 5) There is no “try”. 6) There is no “why”, either. 7) Darth Vader is Luke’s... now what was that big revelation, again?

Really?: 1) So wait – Chewbacca starts pushing stormtroopers off the carbon-freezing platform and Vader prevents Boba Fett from shooting him? Come on... 2) Um...just how much time does Luke spend on Dagobah - a few days? I find it difficult to believe he could receive very much Jedi training from Yoda. 3) Hold on... Boba Fett is this amazing, scary bounty hunter with a zillion different weapons and then...he doesn’t really do anything? 4) Am I the only one who thinks Yoda sounds more than a bit like Grover?

Rating: The Empire Strikes Back is both a timeless classic, and easily the best of the six Star Wars films. Empire has it all: comedy, action, suspense, incredible music, and even a nice touch of romance (Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford obviously developed some better chemistry in the three years since Star Wars). And yes, even 33 years after watching Empire for the first time, I still get bummed out at the point when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.