The Latest Bond Epic Ever!

After seeing the movie that went nowhere, my wife  bent her finger making a little worm. “eht,” her way of mimicking the limp and shriveled things of the world.

Skyfall, the latest Bond epic directed by Sam Mendes, fell short in so many ways. What is a Bond film? The Evil, The Exotic Location, The Women, or in this case, A Plot and A Script. Poor desiccated Daniel Craig (who must have a strong stomach for Broccoli), and poorer Ian Fleming. Had Sam simply consulted the mentor of them all – Sidney Reilly – the spy who started all the evil, well, that might be a search for origins. (Sam Neil did that assignment superbly.)

Where was the satanic villain threat that terrifies the audience into hoping James will kung fu, shoot, and seduce his way into saving the free world? This Bond film struggles with cat and mouse chases after assorted assassins and a goofy supposedly bad guy. Javier Bardem, the alleged evilman who terrified in “No Country for Old Men,” is allowed to be creepy, but he is no world threat. What has given Javier his diabolical skills (and what are they)? Get this. A very hands-on former field agent is let go by the service. Somehow the unemployment victim develops the computer skills of Bill Gates and amasses a football field-sized server farm and can personally out-hack anyone on the planet. Do we see him use this skill for a last minute “James-Save-Us-From-This-Unfathamobly-EVIL MAN that will kill us all?”, you know that master stroke some demented writer has schemed for a truly horrible EVIL ACT? No way, Jose. I’m scratching my head. The only bad thing we see Bardem do is shoot a really inept employee. That it’s a she is almost pointless.

Remember the vacation you spent in the Bahamas with Bond in Thunderball? Well, you whisk through Istanbul for ten minutes, get stuck in Shanghai high rises for fifteen, a hotel in Macao for five, London for half the film, Scotland for the rest, but you never sample the definitive exotic local cuisine, and sink your teeth in the location, or the siren-like women who inhabit the place, like biting into Ursula Andrew’s foot to spit out the poisonous urchin spines in the Jamaica Keys in Dr. No. And please, are we too PC to have a Pussy Galore in 2012, when we have Pussy Riot?

Where went the seducing spy and those women who get a bit under his skin? Bond, James Bond in a swanky Macao hotel room shirt off, lets his cohort female shave his neck with a straight razor. He peels off the first button of her blouse, but they have the chemistry of Barbosol and after some hapless dialog she leaves. “eht.” Could it be James can’t get it up anymore? A shower scene, where James slips in as creepily as Javier Bardem and gives our female bather a lip lock with enough suction to lift the silver-birch paint of an Aston-Martin.”eht.”  Assumably James and the washing woman had their clothes off, but Mendes wants it clean. Apparently no females in profile, (no tities for kiddies or suggestions thereof), is the new standard, as this unsexual production proudly proclaims, “50 Years of Bond.”  The hottest scene was when Bardem touches Bond’s leg, clothes on of course.

And what was that big bad explosion of Bardem’s underground tube train that crashes over our aging hero? (No passengers on board of course – kind of a ‘clean evil’ Bond experience that San Mendes has been told to direct). Back to the exploding tube train problem. After an exceedingly improbably long, down the rabbit-hole chase of Bond after Bardem, and while England’s Prime Minister (who looks and sounds like a housewife soccer mom), the deed happens. So we think the evil plot being executed – as the train careens and undermines the place where the PM is berating Judi Dench for her bad acting – is Javier’s nefarious scheme to take out the PM and everyone with her. But that scene goes nowhere. On to the next chase and worry. What to do with a plot in search of evil?

As the film shutters down, why would Sam Mendes have James and Judi ride off in a resurrected Aston-Martin without even a good chase, only to arrive at a bucolic estate in the middle of nowhere. (“She sure runs great doesn’t she M, notice the original foot high airhood cowling, not the streamlined silver model that did the damage. The screenwriters didn’t give me any gadgets but a gun and a tracker, but I kept this old baby in the U-Store for 50 years, how old did you say you were, and  how do you like the smell of my Old Spice?”) And why, knowing  their purpose to wait for perhaps 100 bad guys to come kill them, would Ms. M the head of field operations of the British Secret Service not even call for a security detail? And why does not Bond insist on it to protect her? Think about it. Of course the two have the aide of the hobo-looking Albert Finney, Kincaide the groundskeeper. Then over the hill they come in two waves and a chopper, apocalypse now style. The defenders. A hobo with a shotgun, and James with a shotgun, and Judi making nail light bulbs. A lot of loud things happen until the movie ends with the most inexplicable causes that a stately forty room two story stone mansion has to explode itself, entirely, and all at once. Sam Peckinpah did more with a couple fending off a handful in Straw Dogs.

In the denouement closure with the villain, (it could not be called a climax), what does our sterling 007 do to finish his nemesis off? A knife in the back! Come on – where is the mano a mano, clever whip-sockey, haiku of death, I’m looking you in the eye until you die catharsis?  A knife in the back? That’s pretty low down, pardoner Sam. Not even a bon-mot, ‘I beg your pardon, but there’s a knife in your back.’ And then we in the audience wondering how James can be so consoling, when in fact the continuity assistant left a couple of wild machine-gun wielding thugs just outside the door. Like much of the movie, your imagination must finish James Bond’s job. He’ll deal with it somehow. But we are on to the next scene. Now, does the new ‘M’ fire James for the cowardly stab in the back, the inability to foil the tube plot, the failure to intercept the heist of the secret drive, his ass-fool silliness of setting up an indefensible situation so that the former M, Dame Judi dies? Sadly, more script about aging, getting old, and I am not ready to die. “eht”

One thing, definitely right, Thomas Newman’s sound score makes you believe you are seeing a classic Bond film. It may be the best Bond soundscore, ever.


Promotesaurus Rex – Ridley Scott’s Prometheus

Warning: Explosive Bolts. If you hate spoilers, do not read this review. Just see the movie Prometheus.

Love cars, hate salesmen. A critic said Ridley Scott’s new movie ‘Prometheus’ created a mix between Bladerunner and Aliens. Being devoted to all things Ridley Scott, and having a day job, I was in the 10:30pm theater line. And all by my lonesome, as my wife knew something I didn’t. She hates salesmen worse than I, but I’m primitively attracted to shiny things.

Pre-reviewers painted a picture of discovering a lost civilizations in space, beings connected to us.  The first five minutes of the film suggest as much, so my imagination began taking the trip.That’s because after working on the latest NASA Hubble Space telescope images and making fine art prints of the grandeur of the Carina Nebulae, I was ready for a vision!

The thing about car wrecks is mostly they don’t have to happen. Sadly, even an expert driver, having ridden the long highway too many times, the roadsides all decked with franchises and blinking lights, a man can find himself dozing off.

The greatest thing to say about Prometheus is what it might have been. The awareness of planetary civilizations. (Civilization, in case you don’t know, is that thing  going out of control for much of human-kind). Imagine, some other world of minds is out there existing. We are not praying to the aliens, but  trying to understand and possibly love them like Starman or 2001 – the stuff many felt in 1966 when Star Trek was about to pilot and we were about to land on the moon. It is what archaeologists on site and historians feel when they realize there was something greater than we now – something came before, when humans had another magnificence. The discovering of civilizations brought hope.

My mornings in Escondido begin at my doormat. Ferrel cats nicely lay out  half- chewed gopher kidneys and tails – an honorable instinct learned in Egyptian times.

And so what hope does Ridley Scott lay at my feet? Kidneys and tails. Kind of like Prometheus, the clay god punished for stealing fire. Each day an eagle sent to feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again. Like an Escondido morning, Promethean gutlore. In my Cineplex bay, really, must advanced civilizations desire to rip the heads off every living thing and scare the bejeebers out of the audience with every move they make? Where’s the wonder? There is more head ripping, tail swallowing than when Joe Bob Briggs ended every drive-in review with the body count and number of bouncing breasts.

This mashup of Aliens belies the little and lazy imagination. Space is the place! But, to not be transported? To be flushed and brought down again? I’m already living in that civilization.

Driving the highway. Nothing like a wreck. I’ve seen cars on fire, vehicles crumpled on the highway. Not like  John Chamberlain’s, the Pop artist who made an art from compressing automobiles. (Just passed in December 2011). All those Promethian wrecks. Were they good wrecks? Who’s to say? Take this movie.

Prometheus did not even fly the myth. I am certain, kindergarteners imagine better screenplays. Actors were stellar mostly; but the stars did not shine. The always watchable Sean Harris (the mangy assassin in HBOS’s The Borges), and the sensitively courteous android ‘David’ played by Michael Fassbender made the theater seat worth bearing. David was the only civil creature of the civilizations. How much I wanted the original ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’s’ to take the camera (Noomi Rapace), but damn, the dame comes off like your mom. She made the theater floor worth watching. And Charlize Theron, perhaps the most capable dimensional actress of our times does nothing but stand up straight. WHO WAS DIRECTING?

So for another creature-is-com’nta-gitchya movie, as Joe Bob says “Everything’s in this one. It’s a no-holds-bared but tasteful drive-in flick, an oldie but not necessarily a goodie. We’re talking plus-nine dead bodies, creature-fu, helmet-fu, alien aardvarking, but we got a problem: zero breasts. The T& A team sucks. There’s a drive-in Academy Award waiting for someone.”

Come and See

Drive-ins. Today Google’s opening page honors Drive-in’s 79th anniversary with a bubble-gum pink ‘Admit One’ ticket see-sawing in front of a sign that reads oogle. Last night by coincidence, I saw one of the most unforgettable films of my viewing life.

The power of film! I am still reeling from an unconventional movie made in 1985 called “Come and See.” Not since my younger brother and teenage me saw Jaws at a Galveston drive-in (double-billed with Capone) and next day had to build courage to step into the Gulf, has a film disturbed me so.

I gave the film a chance because 1) It was on the AFI top 250 list and I never heard of it, 2) The filmmaker tells the story of a young boy. Ever since Mark Twain and Harper Lee, I’m a fan of stories told from a child’s point of view about adult experiences. Come and See is a startling tell.


After a vile runt of a boy shouts invectives to his tall likable friend, the camera rolls with two excited Russian boys as they search for a forgotten  battlefield. They pull up war gear and rifles deep from the sands of an overrun Russian position of the unstoppable German invasion of 1941. The runt dons found Nazi battle gear, imitating a meanness that he believes will suit the German occupiers he later meets. The eldest boy carries home a Russian rifle to  join the Partisans. He charms away his little twin sisters and anxious mother to run off a meet them. The Partisans reject the hopeful lad along with their favorite pretty girl mascot. Sending the innocents home from their forest camp, the Partisans head for the front. The boy and girl share disappointment of their rejection. The next day, left alone, they enjoy an idyllic time until the look to the sky. Strange parachutes open, the SS descend, and the boy and girl face their helpless fate together.

At first it is uncomfortable to see actors and actresses emote deadpan, full frame, directly into the lens. But the director  does not want you to be comfortable with the subject – and focuses us on this – one extermination of over six hundred villages in Belorussia. The focal length is short, making the actress cross-eyed, adding a sense of idiocy to her naivety of the world.

You can forgive the film for some too-long takes because the pacing sets you up for a final thirty minute run which is perhaps the most breathtaking, non-stop war scene ever filmed.  The uniforms and obscure gear are entirely authentic of 1943. Some of the scenes are genius – a flash that we see with the girl that would mean everything to the boy as they are fleeing. After some courage, she utters the image in short words. The rolling camera has more juice than the napalm & helicopter Ride-of-the-Valkyries vertical assault in Apocalypse Now!, or the terror of the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.  The camera rolls and floats with the endless victory of cruelty, shear madness, and horror that a few actors actually experienced in the invasion of their homeland in World War Two.

There are few predictable moments. Sometimes you get stuck in a scene with a Quentin Tarantino cruelty we must endure.  At other moments there is a Fellini-esque vitality of raw moments that I have never seen in a Hollywood depiction of war. There is no stand-out villain Nazi like Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, the entire mixed-German platoon wheels an invisible zeal of distinct beer house characters – except they are dead sober, being at war for years. The film is a marvelous intertwining of direction (Elem Klimov), writing (Ales Adamovich), and cinematography (Alexei Rodionov). The actors may have been over their heads, for how can a boy credibly act, react, and emote such witness. The unsettling soundtrack and original music complete the film’s psychological pacing. I admire a film shown from a young boy’s point of view that avoids the easy way out of first person narrative overdubs. Raw images, raw acting all the way. This is a cinema experience no US teenager will ever experience from a car seat. And that is unfortunate, not because this is one of the early heroic uses of a steadicam when they weighed 100 pounds, but because you walk away feeling in your gut the horror of something that really happened to us, the human race.

Greatest Movie of 2011 (so far) Hobo With A Shotgun

If you still believe in the power of film:

This is the kind of movie my bachelorhood allows, Joanna being out of town.

I just watched “Hobo With A Shotgun.” Mesmerizingly Brilliant, Astonishingly Insane, Powerfully Profane, and most important, shot in amped up Technicolor. As you may not have time to see it, I have distilled the pivotal essence.

The scene. Rutger Hauer confesses his soul (recall Blade Runner). Before  newborn infants at the delivery ward with a bloody shotgun in hand is, if you can believe it, far better than the magnificent Ridley Scott moment, setting free the doves when his hand expires. Cinema rarely has such fine acting moments. This reel is one chomp of existential delivery after another. See it with a vengeance – the minimum is two glasses of wine.

Hobo and Newborns

Hobo sez

The immortal words:

“A long time ago I…was one of you. You’re all brand new and perfect — no mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think of how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special…like a doctor, or a lawyer. But, I hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here you’re more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. When you’re successful you’ll make money selling junk to crackheads. And you won’t think twice about killing someone’s wife…because you won’t even know what was wrong in the first place. Or…maybe, you’ll end up like me…a hobo with a shotgun. I hope you can do better. You are the future.”

Atlas Shrugged Part 1 – Two Shoulders Up

Just went to see Atlas Shrugged Part 1, which takes you through half of the book. Given the high tone of the book, it is surprisingly watchable. Very faithful to Ayn Rand’s masterwork.  Liberties were taken and they were good ones, like the time period. Don’t want to give it away. I was pretty amazed how quickly they put you in the story, because reading it takes a few hundred pages before you get the “big picture.”
Mature casting, characters pretty much as the book. The role of Dagny Taggart played by Taylor Schilling, is a persona even stronger than the book. Man of steel, Hank Rearden, played very well by Grant Bowler.
Negatives: a few wooden lines, could have shortened scenes that acted as narrative. “Who is John Galt?” was said way too many times. He is apparently this dark fellow in the corners who looks like Freddy Krueger. When this hero comes knocking on your door, you expect a scream and a throat to get cut. They could have used more imagination on this “invisible man,” I the book, I never saw him as the black grim reaper. Other than that I loved it.
Go see it with someone rational.
Two shoulders up – in a good way.
mrb – 2011/04/27

Children of the world – I need an architect

This weekend two movies, back to back “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and “Inception.” The 48 hour Chinese Water Torture justly served cold. The two confused as follows:

Imaginarium – Worth it to hear the lyric – “We are the children of the world and we have suffered for your sins” and the visage of Lily Cole’s Valentina, what a lensful.

Inception, the plot? “Man walks into a special effects machine. Things happen.”  Seriously, a finely mad movie of elaborate construction that ends up the design of an architect. The fect of this film is as bad as seeing Jaws for a kid who is going to the beach the next day.  You will never sleep again because when you go to bed and sit up in your jammies, you dream about you sitting up in your jammies. And you are really sitting up in your jammies. That kind of thing. Reminds me of a conversation with Gary Wolf (Wired) when we both determined to have a hundred French meals in San Francisco.  May have been dreaming there.

As any good googler knows, Terry Gilliam never injected his child suffering song into the world wide brain. I listened. Here’s my take. With my devious variant.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

We Are The Children of The World
lyrics: Terry Gilliam

We are the children of the world
and we have suffered for your sins
but if you open up your hearts
a beautiful new day begins
to lead us out to pastures green
where we are free to laugh and run
with our good shepherd so mean
please let his will be done


We are the children of your world
And we suffer for your sins
If we can open up your hearts
a beautiful new day will begin
to make you suffer we will scream
so we’ll be free to laugh and run
without your good shepherd he’s so mean
we pray our will be done

Look. Up in the air. It is Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Earhart opens tomorrow night. Getting to know Amelia is a media journey. Didn’t think much of her initially. Then Joni Mitchell sings Amelia, a 70’s haunting address to the pilot. But driving to work this morning listening to XM,  I got to know Amelia Earhart better. It set me right up for the day.  The broadcast is at the On Point radio site. The program mixes great newsreels, the biographer for the movie, WWII pilot Maggie Gee, interesting call-ins with Tom Ashbrook’s winning recap and high ground moderation of the discourse. Amelia kept her name when marrying, hearing Amelia’s matrimonial letter on the air was sensational.

You must know again my reluctancy to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means so much to me.

In our life together I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.

I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.

I must extract a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

There are whole generations who still don’t believe that men and women both benefit if women are more adventurous, independent and well educated. Amelia’s purpose. I am hoping the best for Hilary Swank’s interpretation. Great Show Mr. Ashbrook.

PS: Saw the movie. The plane goes down.