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Fei ying gai wak (1991)
Indiana Chan and the Search for Fun
You don't go into a nearly 30 year old Jackie Chan flick looking for great storytelling. Actually, I don't suppose you go into any Jackie Chan movie looking for great storytelling. What you want are fun, elaborate stunts and some laughs mixed in with the fisticuffs. You get all that here, but the results are a bit mixed.
I'm not even gonna begin to describe the plot, because I'm not sure there is one. Maybe the version I watched was cut to bits by Miramax and the original cut actually made sense. Sure. We'll go with that. There's the standard Chan Kung Foolery, but nothing that rises above average, save for some fun hijinks at the end with a giant wind tunnel.
At 90 minutes w/credits it breezes by, but nothing here moves the fun meter enough to make even that time investment worth it.
Terror in the sky!... Okay, not really
When a terrorist group with a vague ideology and an even more unclear goal hijack an airplane, who you gonna call? The government. Nah, they'll just bring unlimited resources and do it for free. What you need is a group of colorful mercenaries who operate out of a van and charge you a lot of money.
You don't go into an 80s action show expecting anything approaching reality, and that's okay, because quite frankly reality sucks. You want to see likeable good guys take on mustache twisting bad guys and ultimately prevail; all within the 50 minute mark. Once again, The A-Team delivers. The bulk of the credit for the relative success of this episode (and series in general) goes to the four leads; particularly Dwight Schultz. He brings %100 in every scene, and his "Howling Mad" Murdock is an absolute hoot.
Over the Moon
Over the years I've heard a fair number of fans, casual and hardcore, regard Moonraker as the worst Bond film of all-time. After my most recent viewing I'm afraid I have to disagree. Strongly it turns out.
While its reputation is that of a silly space adventure, it actually keeps its feet here on terra firma for the bulk of its runtime. It's not until the third act that we blast off for outer-space, and the film sorta blasts off with it.
Roger Moore--never an ace w/the physical stuff--had started to age out of being a convincing deadly secret agent by this point, but he gets a few hand to hand bits here and actually acquits himself pretty well. Bond girl Lois Chiles is an underrated beauty and a capable enough sidekick, though she and Moore share little chemistry, Michael Lonsdale's Hugo Drax is a pretty generic and stereotypical Bond villain, but he works well enough for what he's asked to do. And Richard Kiel is back as Jaws, and he's actually more fun here than in The Spy Who Loved Me.
The sets here are incredible. Best in the series in my opinion. And the special effects are just as impressive. The budget here was substantial, and every penny is up on the screen.
So yeah, it's a bit silly, but so what? It's fun and in the end that's what matters most.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Kill fails to thrill
My revisit of the Bond franchise continues with the second of Dalton's two entries, and I'm sad to say that he goes out with a bit of a dud.
Now Mr. Dalton himself is in fine form, once again bringing an edge to the character that continues to be refreshing after the more tongue in cheek portrayal by his predecessor, Roger Moore. Unfortunately Dalton is saddled with a rather unambitious script and some rather cut rate production values that squander some early promise and a potentially powerful personal angle. Also wasted is Robert Davi as the villain. He's no pudgy, cat stroking Euro villain. He's a lethal and dangerous man who could've made for an excellent foil for 007 in a better script.
The Bond girls here are an interesting aesthetic mix, with Carey Lowell as a sort of spunky tom boy (albeit one with a jaw-droppingly beautiful face and a pair of legs to die for) and Talisa Soto as a smoldering Latin beauty. The former brings a great sprit with her, but her chemistry with Dalton is non existent. The latter is given little to do, save look stunning.
After a fun pre-credits opening the movie crawls at a snails pace, lacking anything approximating action until the final act, which does stick the landing on an otherwise shaky routine.
G.I. Joe: The Funhouse (1985)
Funhouse is a complex, existential treatise on the human cond--, nah, it's about the Joes in a Funhouse.
Like the entire Sunbow series, there's little here that resembles reality, but ain't that the reason we watch it? We want colorful villains, upright heroes and lots of action, and Funhouse--and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero--delivers in spades.
This is one of the few Bond films that I hadn't seen at least a sliver of, so I went in with no pre-existing opinion of it and really no knowledge of its plot, iconography or even its theme song.
The movie itself is handsome to look at, being both well shot and obviously sporting a hefty budget. However it lacks anything resembling momentum, and in fact is a rather dull affair until the third act, where some rather impressive underwater action takes place.
Connery is in fine form, toeing the line between comfortable and cruise control. The villains have potential, but are extremely undercooked. The Bond girl (Claudine Auger) is, for my money, the most gorgeous I've seen in any of the films. She is the epitome of breathtaking.
All in all Thunderball is more potential than production, but at least it sticks the landing on what was before it a rather mediocre affair.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
A solid 7 for 007
Roger Moore is the Bond of my youth, and thus I'll always have a warm place for him in my heart. But whenever I revisit his films, and take the nostalgia glasses off, I realize that they're really not that great. Or even good. The Spy Who Loved Me is an exception.
TSWLM is much tighter than your standard Moore outing. It's still overlong by a good 15 minutes, but it lacks the meandering that typifies his Bond films. Moore is also in fine form. He never really sold being the most dangerous man in the world, but here he at least seems fit and capable. The tone here also fits him like a hand in a glove, striking a deft balance between serious and fun; the former having a few surprising moments and the latter never falling into the cheeky camp of the series at its worst.
The villain is standard Bond. Old, white dude in a gray suit hold up in his lair planning to destroy the world because, reasons. But the sets. My God, the sets! They look exceptional. You can see every single cent on screen here. It's a handsome film. Oh, and there's Jaws, perhaps the series' most iconic henchman.
Barbara Bach is the Bond girl, and I dare say she's one of the series' best. Her Soviet agent has some story turf of her own, is capable and she and Moore have a good chemistry. She's also very beautiful. But not the most beautiful woman in the movie. That distinction goes to Caroline Munro as one of the baddie's henchman. She's perhaps the most beautiful woman I've ever seen on screen. Just... Wow. And while we're at it, the film's second most beautiful woman is a bit player. Valerie Leon has a few seconds of screen time as a hotel clerk and my jaw is currently sore from hitting the floor. Woof.
The disco-infused score is pretty awful, the villain is a bit bland and it could be tightened up, but TSHLM is otherwise an exceptionally solid entry in the Bond saga, and perhaps Moore's best one. When Carly Simon sings "Baby you're the best.", she was describing this film in the Moore canon.
The Shadow (1994)
In the shadow of better 90s comic pulp movies
The success of 1978's Superman strangely never led to an explosion of the genre in the early to mid 80s. But in the wake of 1989's mega-hit Batman, Hollywood finally went all in adapting comic and pulp titles. But for some odd, inexplicable reason they didn't go with high profile, well known characters or properties, instead focusing on stuff that had been out of fashion for nearly half a century. Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer (created in the 80s, but set in and in the fashion of, 30s adventure serials and comics) and The Phantom were getting the big screen treatment while hot titles like X-Men were reserved for cartoons.
I have varying degrees of love for the 90s pulp adaptations; having always loved The Rocketeer, and rediscovering and loving The Phantom and enjoying Dick Tracy both in recent years. But I've never much liked The Shadow, even though I want to very, very much. Still, I get an itch to revisit it every 4-5 years, hoping this will be the time I finally do love it. Sigh. Maybe next time.
There's stuff to like and enjoy here. It does a fair job of capturing the romanticized Art Deco look we all wistfully associate w/the period, Jerry Goldsmith delivers an above board score, and the cast all do workmanlike jobs. But it just never really finds its groove. The action is sparse and clunky and the script is second rate stuff.
In the end, The Shadow is a watchable enough affair, but it never scratches that itch in a satisfying enough way. We'll see how I feel in 4-5 years.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
License to shrug
If you've ever wondered where the Austin Powers films got their inspiration, look no further. %99 of the stuff parodied in that series comes from YOLT. Watching it in 2020, it's fair to wonder which film is the more serious.
The plot here is thinner than Connery's hair, the threat seemingly an afterthought for the bulk of its 2 hr. runtime. The principle villain, the iconic Blofeld, doesn't even make a full on screen appearance until the final 15 minutes, and even by early Bond standards, his motivation is undercooked. Donald Pleasance is great, but the film needed far, far more of him.
But there are a few fun sequences, the Japanese travelogue is nice and Blofeld's full scale volcano lair is AMAZING.
A Gold standard
I hadn't watched 'GoldenEye' in several years, but I'd always considered it one of my favorite Bond films. I'm pleased to say that revisiting it only reconfirmed that feeling.
Brosnan slips on 007's suit and wears it well, coming out of the gate w/a smooth and assured performance. Rankings are subjective, but what I will say about Brosnan is that he blends many of the best traits of the Bond actors before him. He's lighter than Dalton, but never as campy as Moore at his worst. He straddles the line rather deftly here, and the result is a Bond that is capable but w/a twinkle and bounce the razor sharp Dalton--who I love--never quite pulled off.
The story is reasonably strong, w/a villain who has personal motivations beyond "ruling the world" and it acts as the sinew for a couple of fun action scenes.
Overall 'GoldenEye' is a very strong outing, bringing together the best of what people have always loved about the character and the series.
The Living Daylights (1987)
An assured debut for Dalton
By 1987 Bond had become a cinematic institution, but there's always a bit of uncertainty surrounding the handoff the tux and the Walther PPK. In 1971, after George Lazenby was one and done, the producers turned to former Bond Sean Connery to right the ship. And they convinced Connery's successor, Roger Moore, to hang on for a couple of more films than he'd intended--in no small part because he was a sure thing. But Moore, never deft w/the physical side of the character, had clearly aged out of the role by 1985's A View to a Kill. Enter: Timothy Dalton.
Dalton brings an edge and a physicality that the charming Moore simply lacked. As a result, the tone here--while far from "real"--is less cheeky and whimsical and the action far more tactile despite sharing the same director and credited screenwriters as Moore's previous entry.
Dalton slips comfortably into the role, making it his rather than trying to mimic his predecessors. Going for Moore's opposite was a wise choice on the part of the producers. Not only did it better suit the zeitgeist of the late 80s, but it helped audiences to accept Dalton as Bond rather than seeing him as guy trying to be Moore. He and Bond girl Maryam d'Abo don't share an electric chemistry by any means, but the pairing is more than serviceable.
The plot, while lacking big, fate of the world stakes, is solid and the story is well told. The pace is just right, with less of the meandering the Moore entries were too often guilty of. The action is very well done, with Dalton's physical prowess adding greatly to the fisticuffs and the action in general is just a notch or two above most of the series to that point.
Where the films falters a tad is w/its villains. Jeroen Krabbe and Joe Don Baker are a lot of fun, but they're more 1B types rather than main baddies.
But that's a minor quibble. Having not seen TLD in many years, I was pleasantly surprised by just how entertaining it is. Good tonal balance, solid pacing and anchored by a strong turn by Timothy Dalton, I've moved this entry up a few rungs on my Bond list.
Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
Thin, bare bones Last Blood still satisfies
Plot; Tortured Vietnam Vet John Rambo is once again forced into violence when his adopted Niece is kidnapped South of the border.
The evolution of the Rambo franchise from an early look at PTSD and an examination of America's attitude toward its Vietnam veterans to a flag-waving, red meat action franchise is an interesting one. When Stallone came back w/2008's Rambo, he attempted to get away from the slick action trappings of the series' middle entries and stick the landing ala his other iconic character w/ 2006's Rocky Balboa. From an artistic standpoint it's hard to say he accomplished this, but the film itself was moderately entertaining, and though it was hyper-violent--almost to the point of absurdity--it had a bit more dramatic meat on its bones than either Rambo II or III. It was also a modest hit, ensuring that calls for one more Rambo would continue.
W/Last Blood, we see an elderly but still capable John Rambo, still tortured by his past, and a plot that feels very much of the moment. Lean to the point of emaciation, it still manages to deliver the action goods w/just enough dramatic purchase to push it past the meh line.
Disjointed Skywalker never quite rises
For those who didn't like Rian Johnson's deconstructionist's approach w/The Last Jedi, good news. Rise of Skywalker does not continue that tack. For those who were hoping that JJ Abrams would be able to take the disjointed and seemingly rudderless story so far and bring it all together, bad news. He doesn't. Not even close.
Rise of Skywalker had a rather impossible task, so it's hard to fault it for not sticking the landing on a story that never took flight in the first place. Instead I blame Disney, who failed to learn the lessons of its success w/its Marvel Cinematic Universe and plan and craft this saga in advance.
Abrams was blamed or credited, depending on who you listen to, for basically cutting and pasting from the original trilogy w/his Force Awakens, relying on nostalgia and fan service to smooth over the cracks. There's some of that here as well, and no surprise the very best moments of Rise of Skywalker involve callbacks, characters and cues from the first trilogy. As for the new stuff...
Little here makes any sense. It starts off w/all the focus of a fly at a picnic and its attempts to take the elements and loose ends its given and tie them up are less than satisfying. It does feature some striking visuals, but set pieces mean little if you're not given a reason to care about the outcome, and here I just didn't.
It does get better in its third act, but it's far too little and far too late to save the film or the trilogy as a whole.
Cinematic quality, sitcom runtime
The first episode ran a commercial free 40 minutes. This second episode runs about 28 minutes, sans credits. That may not seem like much, but when it comes to telling stories of dramatic scope and scale, it's huge. No drama of this type should have the same runtime as an episode of Two Broke Girls. It feels a bit constricting here in the series' early stages, I can only imagine how limiting it will be once the story and world expand.
That said, what we get here is good. I can't say enough about the production values. These episodes so far have looked better than the bulk of 2019's movie releases. Though the story we get is wafer thin, it's well told and entertaining. My only problem thus far is that it's a snack when what I want is a meal.
The Mandalorian with no name
The world we see in The Mandalorian has always existed in the Star Wars universe, but until now it has always remained in the shadows, just off screen. While Empires Strike and Jedi Return, beings struggle to eek out a living in a harsh galaxy.
The main character here is the titular Mandalorian. Like the most famous Mandalorian of all (Boba Fett), he's a bounty hunter. Unlike his more famous and mysterious brother (not literally, though this is Star Wars, so you never know), we get to get to see, if only a tiny bit, behind the mask (figuratively). The curtain is also pulled back a bit to see the Mandalorian culture, which evokes that of Earth cultures like the Native Americans and Norseman.
This first episode drops us right into this world with little to no setup. Not even an opening crawl ala the Episodes. Just a brief mention of its timeline and off we go. Things get off to a fun start and the pace is relentless, but much of the middle is less than compelling. The final act picks back up and it sprints to a fun conclusion, sticking the landing on a solid opening that holds the promise of the most entertaining Star Wars we've seen since Rogue One.
No laughing matter
Plot; A disturbed man adrift in the miasma of a dying city finally snaps and he proves to be the match to its gasoline.
The Joker is, without much debate, the most iconic and beloved comic book villain of all-time. Through the years, there have been several rather diverse interpretations of the character, but I dare say there hasn't been one like this.
Joker plays like an homage to Scorsese's Taxi Driver w/a splash of his King of Comedy thrown in for good measure. Drowning in the zeitgeist of early 80s New York (Gotham here, but we all know Gotham has always served as an avatar for the Big Apple), the atmosphere alone feels like you're wearing a soaking wet overcoat. And then we meet Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). He's a man hanging by his very last string whose grip on sanity is a fragile house of cards. You're just marking time until he snaps, but that's not to say the wait is uninteresting. Exactly the opposite. Phoenix is mesmerizing. Watching him here is to see the difference between an actor and an artist.
I'll leave interpretation of its themes to the viewer, as it's likely to differ from person to person. That says a lot about how subtly deep this film is.
We live in the golden era of the comic book movie. At some point it'll end, won't it? We'll get burned out of watching grown people in costumes or the quality will sag. But right now, at this moment, it's a rich and surprisingly diverse tapestry and the real joke is on the movie snobs who refuse to admit it.
Star Trek: Wink of an Eye (1968)
Deeper meaning is invisible
S3 of Star Trek is often described as the series' weakest, but in my (slow) watch-thru I've found a number of strong S3 episodes. This... isn't one of them. Oh it's not terrible, but it barely makes over the hump to be passable. Like many S3 episodes, the scope is small thanks to reduced budgets, but where the season's better episodes used this to their advantage, focusing on stronger, more personal stories, "Wink of an Eye" is merely unambitious. It's generic sci-fi. Not deep enough to inspire thought nor fun enough to genuinely entertain. It just diverts. That's a virtue, I suppose, but a weak one.
More like John Brick
Plot; The hunter becomes the hunted as hitman John Wick finds himself w/a large bounty on his head,
The first two films in the series did an excellent job of world building in between the inventive action scenes. John Wick 3 starts off as a fulfillment of the promise made at the end of the second film, but soon fizzles out under the bloat of its relentless and ultimately numbing action and excessive runtime.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
So boring it's a sin
The book by Dan Brown certainly caused a lot of controversy when it was released, but that only seemed to fuel its massive sales. Finally reading it a few weeks ago (that's me, always a decade or two behind the times), I can certainly understand why it would ruffle cassocks, but it's all so preposterous (though entertainingly so) that in retrospect said controversy was a touch overblown.
The movie more or less stays true to the book, but where the latter moves along at brisk, white knuckle pace, the former is an over-long and talky affair that lacks the tension and stakes to make it grab you.
The very strong cast fail to lift the material and attempts to blunt some of the novel's harsher takes only serve to dilute an already weak cocktail.
G.I. Joe: Memories of Mara (1985)
80s weekday cartoons are known for a lot of things--selling toys, the inability of the characters to hit one another w/their guns--but romance ain't one of them. When we do see it, it's often clumsy and ham-fisted (Flint and Lady Jaye I'm looking right at you). Here it's not exactly Harlequin material, but the doomed love affair between Shipwreck and the titular Mara has a bit of substance to it. For an 80s cartoon that is.
Everything else is pretty middle-tier Joe stuff, but the "mature" romance lifts it a notch.
Samurai Cop (1991)
Yes, you read that right. 10/10
In art, there's nothing worse than mediocre. In the irony of ironies, there's far more value in that which is awful. Not just bad, but a level of bad that is so bad that it's good. Case in point; Samurai Cop.
I've seen some bad cinema in my time, but never anything as gloriously inept as this. It's so gut-bustingly terrible that it would be easy to mistake it for a parody. But what makes it perhaps the funniest film I've ever seen is that none of those laughs is intentional. Make no mistake, they were trying to make Lethal Weapon, and the fact that no one here seems to be in on the joke is just the cherry on the cinematic sundae.
Samurai Cop is awful at its best. I can't recommend it enough.
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
To review a film like Fantastic Voyage, context is key. By today's standards, the tone is cheesy, the science wonky and the special f/x dated. But by 1966 standards those elements, particularly the latter, deserve praise.
Starting off at a sprint and featuring less fat than the astoundingly beautiful Raquel Welch, Fantastic Voyage does what good sci-fi adventures are supposed to do. It causes you to suspend your disbelief as it whisks you away to strange and exciting places. If it lacks modern sophistication, it also lacks its pretentiousness, and welcomely so.
Continues to be an amiable distraction
Blood & Treasure doesn't aim to be anything more than a fun, if disposable, bit of escape. In that it succeeds. Where I thought it was going to be a string of independent adventures w/perhaps an over-arching bigger story/quest, it appears as if the focus is instead a story that will unfold over the course of the season or perhaps the series. I'm not sure if they plan to sneak in individual, standalone side stories, but there's something to be said for the world building they're attempting here at the outset.
13 Hours (2016)
It's Bay, for better and for worse
Michael Bay is the directing equivalent of a mobile, big-armed quarterback w/a gunslinger's mentality. He passes the eye test, and on any given play he can do things that dazzle the senses. But also on any given play he can do things that leave you scratching your head. And so it is W/13 Hours, a more serious subject than Bay normally tackles.
Based on a true story, Bay does an excellent job of dropping you into the harrowing ordeal w/the characters. At times you feel as if you're pinned down there w/them. But Bay can't overcome his bad habits and worst instincts.
For one, it's a tad bloated at nearly 2 1/2 hours. Bay, for all of his commercial, mainstream success, has always delivered films that are far longer than they need to be. Here the length can be forgiven a bit, as the subject warrants more depth than, say, transforming cars, but it would've benefitted from a little narrative tightening. The film also features Bay's penchant for broad, buddy cop-style humor. Soldiers certainly use humor as a coping mechanism in the heat of battle, but too often here the jokes and one-liners feel at odds w/the tone of the rest of the material.
I don't know what Bay's politics are, but he doesn't use this as a political vehicle as so many of his contemporaries do, to the detriment of their storytelling. Make no mistake, there is a story w/political implications to be told here, but not from the boots on the ground side of the story. This is the story of Brave men who stepped up and proved their mettle against incredible odds and that is wisely the focus of this good but never great movie.
A fun start
Plot; A former FBI agent who now specializes in recovering stolen art and a thief and con-woman team up to stop a terrorist who funds his activities w/stolen art.
If you've ever read the author James Rollins, this series plays like one of his books done in live action. In many ways, it feels like a throwback. The kind of thing that would've aired in syndication in the 90s, sandwiched in between Baywatch and Beastmaster on a Saturday night. That's not a dig, but a compliment. Light, fast moving and refreshingly agenda free, it aims only to entertain, and to that end it mostly succeeds. Leads Matt Barr and Sofia Pernas are likeable individually and share an easy, if not exactly explosive, chemistry. These "will they or won't they?" relationships can often wear thin rather quickly, but for now it works. I liked them. I liked them together. I want them together.
This first feature-length episode shows enough promise to get me to check out the next one. If you're looking for a light, breezy bit of escape, I recommend giving this first episode a go.