Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Frank Review of "Live and Let Die" (1973)

The Short Version? Never Bet on Black against Bond.
What Is It? James Bond Action.
Who Is In It? The Saint, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Lt. Al Giardello
Should I See It? No.

The fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the first James Bond novel was in 2003. I don't recall if there was much celebration of that fact, aside from the last Brosnan film being released the previous year. On the other hand, October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first screen adaptation, and a couple of the cable movie channels have devoted themselves largely to running the twenty-odd films. I grew up with the Connery Bonds airing as the Sunday night movie on ABC and the Moore ones at the cineplex. By the late '80s, when TBS was running regular marathons of the flicks as part of their exploitation of the MGM library, I was tuning out. While the Bond films may have been the action extravaganzas of their time, they had gotten rather long in the tooth, and a chilly response to Timothy Dalton didn't help. While I've seen most of the films over the years, I'd be lying if I said I was truly a fan of the material from where my head's at in the year 2012. Still, there are so many Bond flicks I've either never seen or not for decades, I figure this is the year to sit down and analyze what I feel has or has not worked for the franchise in retrospect.

An obvious starting point for criticizing the Bond franchise is Live and Let Die. There's a line in Goldeneye about 007 being a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur," but this one adds in racism, ageism, and general misanthropy for good measure. It was the first Roger Moore film, and seemed to me the first to nakedly chase the zeitgeist. Through the injection of independent blaxploitation tropes in the wake of their massive success (especially compared to the ailing studio system,) Live was very much of its time, and quite successful. It's only when viewed through the lens of history that the sticky awfulness of the flick can be truly absorbed through the skin like a toxic compound.

Moore lacks the physicality of Connery, so it's hard to believe he could win a fight against a single one of his adversaries. He's too pretty and tan to put forth the effort, and perhaps weakens his foes through an endless barrage of puns. His overbearing smugness carries the weight of the whole of patriarchal society as he condescends to women, Americans on either side of the Mason-Dixon, and especially all them there darkies working out of their secret base in the Fillet of Soul restaurant (I shit you not.) What do you expect from denizens of a post-apocalyptic vision of Harlem?

The movie starts by revealing that every single black person who isn't in the C.I.A. (and at least one who is) are part of a multinational murderous negro criminal combine. Them coloreds got rhythm, whether they're dancing in a street parade after filling the casket in a funeral procession turned "Saints" march, or building up to human sacrifice in a hoo-doo island ritual. They've got no staying power though, as a honky with a revolver can take out a whole village of their lot. How about the evil priest whose machete fight with Bond lasts approximately two-and-one-quarter seconds? The rotund goon too lazy and lumbering to even put forth the effort to talk, and is clowned by his own boss? The same boss taken out like a expatriate from Toontown? Only Tee Hee (yes, Tee Hee) puts up any real fight, but he spent more time playing with pieces of chicken (blessedly unfried) than actively attempting to kill Bond. I'm a bit disappointed that Bond never managed to get even with the 1,500 other random blacks who assassinated his fellow agents, burned him, or simply broke the code against no snitches.

Yaphet Kotto is too good of an actor for his part as the movie's big bad. Aside from the high tech tribalism, Kananga is only a glorified drug pusher surrounded by sadistic but ineffectual goons. How many times can Bond get captured, only to escape a simplistic death trap with a bare minimum of guile, thanks to moronic half-assed henchmen? Despite this, Kotto seems truly pained by the betrayal of his lovely fortune teller Solitaire, while Julius Harris, Geoffrey Holder and more rise above dreadful material on pure charm.

White people do not escape the racism unscathed, with Clifton James as Sheriff Pepper offering a Southern drawl drawn out like it was tied to the back of a pick-up truck. His buffoonery was so epic that it left a legacy to be followed by hammy character actors looking to defame the entire South for years to come. The man is Ernest P. Worrell, Boss Hogg and Larry the Cable Guy all rolled into one. Jackie Gleason paid royalties, even though he was comparatively naturalistic as Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit series.

Let's not neglect the womenfolk... or really, the "girls." Gloria Hendry as Rosie was perhaps the worst Bond Girl prior to Denise Richards' turn as Christmas Jones. At least Jones was a nuclear physicist, instead of a bumbling coward. She looks fantastic in a bikini, though. Jane Seymour may be one of the best looking Bond girls, and Solitaire has a nice hook as the virgin seer, but she also has all the personality of a young Queen Amidala.

The action sequences are cartoonish, yet somehow flat and plodding. They're like the long preamble of a joke whose punchline was easy enough to guess without all the winks and nudges. It's depressing how mundane the set pieces are, involving a worn out double-decked bus, shitty little fishing boats, and speeding way down yonder on the Chattahoochee.

"Live and Let Die" has one of the better Bond themes, but it is thoroughly abused here, from instrumental cues to a lousy karaoke rendition. The wannabe "soul" animated credit sequence is stiff and awash in "voodoo" imagery that mostly bypasses sex appeal for scary blackness. I'm happy that Sir Paul McCartney managed to hit a few out of the park in his post-Beatles career, but association with this flick does not help the song's appeal one bit. Overall, I'd say the world could do itself a solid and try to forget this one ever existed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Frank Review of "Resident Evil: Retribution 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? The Matrix with zombies in 3D. Yes, still. Moreso, even.
What Is It? Action-Horror
Who Is In It? Leeloo, Letty, Helen of Troy (TV version,) General Dix Hauser, Ardeth Bay, Will St. David, Ni Chang, Fred Dukes
Should I See It? Maybe.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think that the Resident Evil film series is a big stinky turd that doesn't even deserve proper reviews on geekcentric movie sites like CHUD and Ain't It Cool News, and those of us who don't want to be judged for our slummy affection. Well, that's a tad hyperbolic. There's probably a fairly slender sliver of the planet's total population that know what Resident Evil is and have any strong opinions about it. Sort of like how this movie's tagline is "Evil Goes Global," when 99% percent of it takes place in a single isolated complex. Cards on the table, this is an objectively bad series, but like an especially toxic street drug, it hooks into addicted users' pleasure centers in such a way that they don't care that the credibility of their opinions is covered in scabs and their taste is wasting away before their friends' eyes. Retribution is as pointless and nonsensical as its title, going deeper into the rabbit hole within its own navel. It will get the junkies lit as fuck, and send the uninitiated into a convulsing fit.

The title sequence involves an epilogue/prologue that picks up the threads of its predecessor, Afterlife, more directly than any prior episode in the series. This one actually illustrates the consequences of the series' typical cliffhanger ending, but of course more directly swipes the innovative trailer to the video game Dead Island without any of the nuance or obscured meaning that toyed with viewers' perceptions. Here, shit just runs slowly and backwards, which for a popcorn flick showcasing 3D gimmickry is perfectly acceptable. Clearly seeking to broaden its appeal, the action is emphasized and gore and nudity minimized. A lengthy monologue from series star Milla Jovovich offers the basics on Alice's story, illustrated by scenes from prior movie presented in chronological disorder and lean on detail. By this point, we should all know that Alice is the only person that matters in these things, and everyone else is zombie fodder or attempts to elicit some semblance of emotion from viewers through threat of same. No need to dwell on anyone else, so long as Alice looks sexy while fighting the evil corporation and/or monsters.

Returning to formula, the movie re-starts with another cold opening, because a fully oriented audience is more likely to catch the ever present plotholes. Alice gets involved in a restaging of the first scenes from Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, then gets really meta by spending much of the running time lifting from the original Resident Evil movie which is most noteworthy for being a completely unoriginal collection of swipes from other movies. It's like a samurai sword composed of derivation folded hundreds of times over into itself. I think writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson decided to summarize everything people loved about the film franchise to date and showcase it in 3D, without regard for the resultant literalizing of the rampant genre copycatting and its rendering nearly every prior plot point moot. Is it any wonder the Umbrella Corporation is utterly nihilistic when their resources are so vast that they could surely end the global epidemic if it wasn't so much fun, then repopulate the Earth with assembly line efficiency? Also, Anderson has reached the point of borrowing from such non-classics as Sucker Punch and the Matrix sequels, so a nonchalant viewpoint of genocide is understandable, and the lack of pretension elevates the thief above the victims. The world could have done without Newt II trading jackhammer jaws for tongues and facehuggers for robot spiders, but the imperiled kid doesn't get much screamtime, so it evens out.

While Milla never gets naked in this adventure, she's in her most luscious battle uniform to date, and there's a titillating tease early in. Milla remains head and shoulders the best actor on screen, but a reunion of favorites from early installments are welcome. Michelle Rodriguez is great fun in a dual role, neither of which being a duplicate of Rain. Oded Fehr has less to do, but does it well. Sienna Guillory never worked as Jill Valentine in Apocalypse, but she's fine as a totally unrelated blond amazon rarely referenced by name. Colin Salmon could have been the black James Bond, but instead has a smaller cameo here than he did in Devil's Playground. Boris Kodjoe's Luther West fares much more poorly here than in Afterlife, with Kevin Durand's Barry Burton getting all the moments that you would have expected from the returning character. Even J Pop Girl and the Japanese businessman are back from Afterlife. Johann Urb is execrable as Leon S. Kennedy, bearing virtually no resemblance to my favorite character from the games, nor any charisma to speak of. Bingbing Li on the other hand stepped right out of the game, although she and Shawn Roberts' Albert Wesker remind me of why a truly faithful adaptation of the voice acting from the games is more a comedic premise than a thrilling one.

The stunts and fighting choreography in this episode look swell, especially when contrasted against an all white background in certain sequences. Unlike most movies I see in 3D, the filmmakers maintain conscious recognition of the illusory depth of field throughout the running time. Where that sort of calculated reminder might distract from more civilized cinema, novel junk like Retribution demands that kind of attention to profitable detail. Thanks to poor planning, erratic schedules, boom and bust cycles, etcetera, the Resident Evil films may be the most comic book-y ever in their inconsistency, dated trend hopping (ooo-- dubstep,) fidelity to unwieldy concepts, and the overall effect of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. By extension, the devoted should squeal over the fan service dutifully delivered here, while normal people will only shake their heads at our detachment from a meaningful shared reality.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Illusion On-Demand's Top 20 Villains

According to Wikipedia, "Illusion On-Demand is an American VOD Video On Demand cable TV network focused on science fiction and fantasy programming. Illusion launched nationally in October 2007 with a special Halloween lineup. The regular programming consists of 21 shows and content blocks" I'd never heard of it, but while killing time checking out free programs on my cable box, I stumbled upon a 21 minute program counting down the "network's" top comic book bad guys. The production values were YouTube low, mostly static images (pulled directly off sites like Comic Vine and Wikipedia) with generic screen script and extremely repetitive bland (Creative Commons?) rawk music playing. Then, cut to a chubby middle-aged guy in a nondescript, poorly lit room talking noise. Oh wait-- that's Spider-Man writer Dan Slott. My bad. I bothered to check because I recognized the guy who followed him in the brief pathetic improvisational explicating upon the individual malcontents. Anyway, this sort of thing is how I gets me kicks, so here's their(?) picks...

20. The Kingpin (presented by Dan Slott)
19. P'Gell (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti)
18. Bullseye (presented by Dan Slott)
17. Poison Ivy (presented by Afua Richardson)
16. Doctor Octopus (presented by Justin Gray and Dan Slott)
15. Skrulls (presented by Dan Slott)
14. Two-Face (presented by Dan Slott and Jimmy Palmiotti)
13. Venom (presented by Sonya Paz and Afua Richardson)
12. Sentinels (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)
11. Catwoman (presented by Afua Richardson and Amanda Conner)
10. Green Goblin (presented by Sonya Paz)
09. Red Skull (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)
08. Dark Phoenix (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner)
07. Darkseid (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti)
06. Nazis (presented by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)
05. Magneto (presented by Afua Richardson)
04. Doctor Doom (presented by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and some redhead)
03. Galactus (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti, Dan Slott, and Arthur Suydam)
02. Lex Luthor (presented by Dan Slott, Afua Richardson and some redhead)
01. Joker (presented by Amanda Conner, Afua Richardson, Sonya Paz, Justin Gray, and Jimmy Palmiotti)

Well... that was dull and amateurish.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Frank Review of "ParaNorman 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? Dreamworks of the Dead
What Is It? Stop motion horror-comedy
Who Is In It? Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, and Elaine Stritch.
Should I See It? Maybe.

I saw Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in the theater back in 2001. It was a highly derivative work; its obvious influences worn on its sleeve. I ended up enjoying it more than most people though, from the state-of-the-art animation to the curious theological template, not to mention the metaphysical downer ending. The filmmakers wanted it to be so much more than they were capable of delivering; their ambition was plain, but so were their characters and the basic plot. It was a high quality, thoroughly impressive bad movie.

I want to like ParaNorman more than I do. The animation is peachy, the voice acting solid, there are some great gags, and the 3D works more often than not. The designs are awfully familiar though, and the characters they represent threadbare. Nobody really gets an arc, at least none lighter than leaden, and balls get dropped left and right (like, where did all the ghosts disappear to at sundown, and what purpose did they serve beyond establishing Norman's gift/curse?) To a large degree, ParaNorman seems to exist to evoke movies I really like in a kid-friendly PG way. The film is darker than you'd expect, and it also gets a bit trippy toward the end. At the same time, a lot of the humor is low, the characters are more types than people, it really starts to drag on, and the morals are ham-fisted. As much as I liked the horror movie references and general attitude of the film, I was too conscious of the compulsion to homage, and too emotionally disconnected from the proceedings. From the Grindhouse riffing opening to the closing that recalled last year's Fright Night, this felt like a collection of other people's art. It needed more ambition, because as it stands, it's on the nakedly pandering side of the kids' animation spectrum. I can't think of a flick of its kind more geared toward my personal interests, and I can't think of a movie of its kind I've been less moved by in recent memory. Monsters vs Aliens? Still, there were a slew of 3D trailers ahead of the flick, and I'd rather see the safe, sweet, and mildly scary ParaNorman again than suffer through another one of Tim Burton's suburban goth yarns like Frankenweenie, or more friggin' Middle Earth boredom. There was that Despicable Me sequel teaser, however...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Girl's Guide to Depravity" Season 1 (2012)

The Short Version? Sex. City Optional.
What Is It? Comedy-Drama
Who Is In It? Nobody you know.
Should I See It? Maybe.

"Max After Dark" is the Cinemax cable channel's way of letting viewers know that they've stepped out of the movie zone and into notorious "Skinemax" territory. Where cable channels often slum for viewers with softcore porn after hours, Cinemax has the dedication to commission original programming for this block. The Girl's Guide to Depravity, based on the blog of Heather Rutman, chronicles the adventures of a pair of single twenty-somethings trying to get their fuck on in between monogamous relationships without getting the short end of any given stick. Lizzie (Sally Golan) is a hard ass attorney, while Jason (Jesse Liebman) is her much abused fellow lawyer. Comparatively meek best friend Samantha (Rebecca Blumhagen) works in public relations or advertising or something, and has a catty relationship with her relatively chaste office mate Kate (Margaret Keane Williams) and loudly sextastic next door neighbor Kaylie (Riley Steele.) Queer barkeep Tyler (Joe Komara) slings advice with the drinks as the girls spill woe and prowl for pole. Let's see how that pans out on an episode-by-episode basis...

  1. "The Break-Up Rule": Cute start. The credit sequence is lightly animated with a decent tune that I wasn't sick of after numerous listens, followed by a dialogue-free opening section involving another nice tune and lots of quirky digital effects highlighting various "rules." Perfume bottles arranged by the type of man they're meant to attract, onscreen text messages, and so on. The acting is low-end TV fare, but relatively high end for a weekly softcore comedy. Whoever cast the deceptively legal Rebecca Blumhagen is a sexual deviant, and bless their hearts/nether regions. Sally Golan's hiring is more typical along the lines of this sort of show, and her character is overly bitchy. I would hope the "rules" were intended to parody dogmatic self-help bestsellers by applying them to opportunistic promiscuity. As employed here, rather than coming off as sexually empowered, the "girls" quote rules so often and with such fervor as to seem like mindless disciples. It makes Samantha come across as a weakling and Lizzie deluded. The misandry is also off-putting, as decent enough if underwhelming guys are treated like lepers, while abusive himbos are adored. The plot is too involved to be this shabby and misguided, especially as it cuts into Samantha's severely truncated sex scene, and leaves Lizzie's feeling tacked on.

  2. The Last Woman Standing Rule: I'm sure awkward was what they were shooting for, but funny would have been a nice inclusion to a scene involving an attempt to start a relationship. The plot where a lawyer goes undercover to try to trap an employer in a sexual harassment suit is ridiculous. There's also the part where two hot and fairly indiscriminate girls struggle to get laid, because that happens, right? Lizzie's sex scene is best measured in seconds. There was a nice foley gag during a barroom competition. To spoil the ending, not only doesn't Samantha get a satisfying sex scene, but her drunk-stick bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired (entendre intended.)

  3. The Puma Rule: Jesse Liebman's Jason has been eating shit for 2¼ episodes, so it was nice to see things turn around for him for a little bit. There were two decent sex scenes in this ep, but none for Samantha, I'm afraid. Still, this one shows marked improvement. Lizzie's aggressiveness delivers comedically, and I'm finding that I dig her nose.

  4. The Vibrator Rule: The acting in general is still porn quality, but Blumhagen and Golan are getting further into their characters with each episode. I figured Jason was introduced as the nice guy who would eventually man up for one of the girls, but a new sad sack named Kate getting introduced into Samantha's workplace indicates they'll eventually get paired off. For a series with a four million budget spread across fourteen episodes, the music is surprisingly good. There's a nifty little techno tune this time that helps sell the vacuous whorishness of Riley Steele's Kaylie character. It's nice to see that Samantha can bring the bitch when needed, and I guess Kate will carry the innocent quasi-virginal torch. I felt bad for the wine guy, but sometimes being bold leaves a body cold.

  5. The Bitch Rule: Okay, this was an annoying episode. The worst rules are spoken as absolutes, and I'd absolutely sneer at these bitches over their shenanigans. Also, Samantha can't pull it off at all, and I guess these ladies are unfamiliar with the concept of the hate fuck. Worth noting: thirteen minutes until the first sex scene, and a later one was more creepy than funny.

  6. The Magic Pussy Rule: After getting Lizzie's best sex scene so far out of the way immediately following the credits, the funniest episode so far emerges. Too bad weak drama fills the closing minutes, plus Justine Joli gets wasted in a cameo, but this was still a good one.

  7. The Fuck Buddy Rule: I'm glad Teef McLottanose got shown the door, as the prospect of Samantha masturbating is more enticing than further frustrating encounters with that guy. Besides, everyone knows Milla Jovovich is the hottest action star (not counting weirdos who favor that ice queen Fetish Posh Spice from the Underworld movies.) The Matrix gag was cute for half a minute, but everything about this episode dragged on too long, and most every other bit missed.

  8. The Cheating Rule: That shit where they recycled scenes from the first episode? Fuck that shit. I understand why they did it, but this whole episode was too stupid to justify it. Someone watched a decent dark comedy, tried to imitate it, but lacked any aptitude for it. The sex wasn't great, either.

  9. The Bi-Guy Rule: There wasn't a lot of sex, because it was too busy being a really fun episode with elevated acting game and a story to tell. I regret not keeping up with the individual screenwriters, as IMDb doesn't give credits, and some of these folks are clearly better than others. For you homophones out there, the action on display is strictly straight.

  10. The Unavailable Rule: They finally introduced Sienne (Whitney Kimball Long,) and like "her" stupid rules, I pretty much dislike her on sight. Depressing and annoying is not a great combination. Lizzie has a nice sex scene, but Jason's (yes, Jason's) only works if you're into Jason. I had to multitask reading some blogs to get through this weak romcom shit.

  11. The Pill Rule: Lizzie gets things off right by riding Dirty Hot Guy with all her might. Elizabeth Carlisle takes Clarityn, in case you're also OCD about reading stuff off bottles on a screen. Hannah Fierman's Pill Pusher Patty is probably the most interesting character on the show to date, for whatever that's worth. Man, this episode was heavy, relative to a series that I don't think is built to carry the weight. Go back to making fun of tiny dicks.

  12. The Getting His Attention Rule: Oh shit, stark slow piano playing. That's like the Incredible Hulk closing theme of softcore drama. Your mournful genitals are getting left on an empty highway. There appears to be a strict no-homo rule on this show, so a trip to jail is more Mayberry R.F.D. than Chained Heat, although I still hate Sienna too much to have enjoyed it anyway. Better than the depths of the last ep, but still undermines the premise of the series with (blech) traditional values. Kate does get her fuck on as a result, though. Also, the music over the last several episodes has been very nice, and it was solid to begin with.

  13. The Revenge Rule: So yeah, they totally gave up on comedy and went right into romantic drama for the last quarter of the season. I'm glad they got away from the dogma, but if the humor doesn't come back in a big way, there aren't enough strong sex scenes to warrant TiVo speed viewing. They made sure to tie up everything with one long loose thread in the event of a season two. They even worked Riley Steele and Pill Pusher Patty in, though not for the five minute lackadaisical lovemaking montage. It ends on a meh note as a result.

What have we learned from the first season of Rules? That by the end, the cast really showed their chops in the acting and fucking department, but were hampered by spotty writing and a lack of conviction in the softcore department. Aspirations mean the series has excellent music and looks great, with solid direction. However, the drama is a buzzkill, the comedy often isn't up to snuff, and the mediocre attempts at both crowd out the nudity meant to put bare asses in seats. The show is ultimately charming, coasting on charisma and chemistry where it lags in T&A funny. Hopefully, the creators will reevaluate their priorities if the show continues, because they get plenty enough right to earn another look.


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