Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disney Acquires Lucasfilm!

The biggest film industry bombshell in a longtime was exploded today as news of Disney acquiring Lucasfilm (the company behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones) for a whopping $4 billion, broke.  Filmmaker George Lucas has sold the rights to some of the most beloved stories of the past few decades, opening the door for Disney to make new Star Wars films, TV shows, video games, etc.  Along with the announcement came the word that George Lucas has written treatments for a new trilogy of Star Wars films and he is now handing it off to Lucasfilm's Co-Chairman, Kathleen Kennedy, and Walt Disney Studios, to hire writers and directors to bring this new trilogy to life, with Star Wars:  Episode VII slated to hit theaters in 2015.

First thoughts:  surprise, confusion, a smidge anger (Why can't they  just leave it alone?), sadness, and perhaps even a small ray of excitement deep inside.  I know I am talking about this as if it's life-and-death, but when my top 5 favorite films of all-time include four Lucasfilm productions, I can't help it.  How did we get to this?

A few months back it was revealed that George Lucas was preparing to retire from Lucasfilm and he had appointed Spielberg-film producer, Kathleen Kennedy, as his replacement to take over the running of the company once he was gone.  For me, that was a smart move, with Mrs. Kennedy proving she knows how to handle big movies, big stars, and big directors, and oversee their work to ensure the best quality possible.  Of course, I had no idea that this was coming.

Lucasfilm has been an independent company since its inception in the 1970s, and I think what took me as such a surprise by this announcement, was I had simply assumed that by Lucas picking Kennedy as his replacement, that it was his own way of ensuring the future of his company, but it was only the beginning of this whole thing.  I am assuming that Lucasfilm will still be in charge of their day-to-day operations, but Disney will have the final say as to what their money will be spent for and what it wont, thus Lucasfilm loses its independence.  It's just sad to see a filmmaker I greatly admire, a man who spent all of his filmmaking career trying to gain independence from the Hollywood studios, selling his company to the biggest studio out there.  It's safe to say, Disney has a monopoly on the entertainment industry now.

With Disney's recent acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel, as well as their partnership with Dreamworks, and now owning Lucasfilm, they have a firm hold on the entertainment industry from comics, to films, to TV, and beyond.  Great if you're a Disney shareholder, perhaps not so great if you're a fan of the films of Lucasfilm.  The problem with Disney being a major studio and not an independent like Lucasfilm, is that it now creates that money mentality where it's no longer about the stories, but about making something that can inspire theme park attractions and sell toys.  I mean, how many lackluster sequels has Disney made to Pirates of the Caribbean just to make a quick buck?  That's the last thing I want is for Star Wars to turn into a bland adventure film franchise with little heart, originality, and fun.  Which brings me to the point of the new Star Wars film, Episode VII.

You can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that this film will happen, and with Disney setting a release for 2015, they're subliminally saying that they want this to cement their relationship with Lucasfilm to filmgoers.  Personally, I am not opposed to the idea of making new Star Wars films, my biggest fear is that they're rushing this to do as I said above, to cement the relationship.

Say they want the film out by Summer 2015, then that's less than two and a half years away, and what do they have right now?  A treatment for the film, that's it.  From a filmmaking point-of-view, that's not a lot to go on with so little time to mount the now most hyped film of all-time.  Here's the thing, that's only two and a half years to write a script, get a director, get the cast, shoot the film, do the effects, and release it.  Working on such tight time constraints, you inhibit the creative opportunities for whatever filmmakers come on board to realize Episode VII.  A lot of really great, clever writers and directors would love to probably work on a Star Wars film (I mean Spike Jonze nearly directed Attack of the Clones), but majority of visionary filmmakers need more time than that to produce something that is truly mindblowing (as well, most truly original filmmakers probably don't like the idea of being bound to the conventions that one has to conform to when making a Star Wars movie, but that's a different post all together).  So who would you probably get to make the film?  Someone who needs the paycheck, or the exposure doing a Star Wars film would grant, or who simply does whatever the studio tells them.  That is not conducive to good filmmaking.

Quite simply, if Disney is to win over the Star Wars fans, they need to make all of the right moves here.  Personally, I feel Disney needs to let the fans know that they are serious about taking care of the franchise, and to ensure this, they need to get topnotch talent behind the camera, people who are on the same imaginative level as George Lucas.  Well, that makes the list very small.  Some might say James Cameron or Peter Jackson, both inspired choices who have proven with other films that they could deliver, but they wont do it, because they are so driven by their own storytelling efforts on Pandora and Middle Earth.   To me, if Disney wants to make Episode VII work, they should realize the dreams of fanboys all over the world, and the dream of the filmmaker, as well, and allow Steven Spielberg to finally helm a Star Wars film.  Think about it, Spielberg is George Lucas's best friend, Kathleen Kennedy is his producing partner, and Spielberg was to have directed Return of the Jedi until Lucas ran into his little trouble with the Director's Guild of America (which is another story for another time).  Spielberg has the imagination, the caliber, and talent to succeed Lucas at the helm of the franchise.  Now, that's just my personal dream, but someone akin to Spielberg's level needs to be hired if they're to win us fans over.  It also wouldn't hurt if Disney and Kennedy could woo screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan back to write the film, Kasdan having co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Of course, what could really allay fanboy fears, is the cast.

Disney will not just need to get Anthony Daniels back as C-3P0, but with the assumption that Episode VII will continue the tradition of each Star Wars film, following the Skywalker family, and the film following the original trilogy in chronology, it's safe to assume that in some way, shape or form, we could potentially expect to see Luke, Han, or Leia.  While Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are old, and perhaps not necessarily in the best shape to return to action, seeing a ghost Luke Skywalker mentoring his kid or grandkid, akin to Obi-Wan in the original trilogy, isn't too far-fetched for me.  Personally, I think Hamill and Fisher would probably say yes in a heartbeat, but Ford would take the most convincing.  He's been very public about how he felt that Han should have bit the dust at the end of Empire and not have returned for Jedi, freeing him from the persona of Han Solo to pursue other parts.  I honestly don't know if Ford would do it, which is why getting top tier talent like Spielberg and Kasdan would help to possibly get Ford to sign on the dotted line, with Ford still harboring a great relationship with Spielberg.  Of course, all I've talked about so far is how disastrous this acquisition could be, and there are a few rays of light at the end of the tunnel.

If Disney does hire the right talent, it could finally wash the bad taste of the much debated prequels out of the mouths of Star Wars fans.  Obviously, though, there will always be detractors, but there really are an unlimited number of stories to be told in the Star Wars universe.  Who's to say they even have to make a film about the Skywalker family?  They could make a Bobba Fett film, or an Old Republic film, or explore some territory that no storyteller has ever even thought about before.  As well, many Star Wars fans have been dissatisfied with all of the changes George Lucas has made to the old films on DVD and Blu Ray releases, perhaps Disney will see the great chance to make money and will release the original versions of all Star Wars films with none of the changes that were made.  On a similar note, most blame George Lucas for how the prequels turned out, and with him only on as a story by credit from now on, like he was on Empire and Jedi, this could yield some of the best films since those two.  Then, there is Disney themselves.

Right now, Disney has positioned themselves really well by hiring Alan Horn a few months back to run the studio.  Horn has proven himself over the past decade at being very great working with visionary talents and bringing franchises to the screen, thanks to his work on the Harry Potter films and with director Christopher Nolan, the right type of guy to shepherd a new Star Wars to the screen with top notch talent attached.  As well, the way Disney has dealt with Marvel and Pixar since acquiring them a few years back, really fills me with hope for how they'll deal with Lucasfilm.  For the most part, they've left the creative talents at those institutions in charge of the creative decisions and it's yielded great results, ranging from the films, Up to The Avengers.  As well, now Disney has picked up Lucasfilm's effects branch, Industrial Light & Magic, and their sound branch, Skywalker Sound, two of the leading innovators in film technology, now adding their power behind the films of Disney to only create better product for Disney films in general.

Even with this large amount of information, there are many question marks remaining.  Who is going to make the new Star Wars film?  What will its story be?  Will John Williams stick around to do the music for this new trilogy?  Will the Star Wars comics continue to be published by Dark Horse, or go to Marvel?  And my biggest question of all:  What about Indiana Jones?  The press release mentioned nothing about the future of Dr. Jones, and it makes me wonder how much power Disney will now have over the Indy brand.  These questions, and many more, will be answered slowly over time, but the real take away today is that Disney is now in charge of Lucasfilm.  While there will always be that fear of a Star Wars reboot in my mind, now that it is no longer independently owned and is owned by a Hollywood studio seeking money, but I am choosing from now on to be a lobbier for this new direction for Lucasfilm.  It's tough to do, but I love Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and to me, more Star Wars is never a bad thing.  All I want is good Star Wars, and if Disney delivers that, I'm going to be a happy fan.

(Check out this video with George Lucas detailing the acquisition in his own words:)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Movie Review: "Cloud Atlas"

There are many things one could call Cloud Atlas -- ambitious, emotional, thought-provoking -- and all of those things would be rightly justified.  Quite simply, it's the hardest movie to sum up in words.

The film, directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, is a collection of six stories set in different time periods, ranging from the 1800s to modern day, all the way to two stories set in the future.  With Cloud Atlas, it has a seemingly simple aim, to try and show how the smallest acts a person can make can impact and shape mankind's future.  This is done brilliantly as an 1800's man details his story in memoirs, which are read by an aspiring composer in the 1930s, who writes a piece (that becomes the film's unforgettable theme) that is heard by an investigative reporter in the 1970s, and so on and so forth.  This could have easily been a boring slog fest, as the Wachowskis and Tykwer tried to piece everything together, but what makes the story work is how they jump back and forth between each time period.

Each time period represents a different genre of film:  one story is a comedy, one is a drama about artistic passion, another is a period drama, and one is like a political thriller akin to All The President's Men.  Add on to those, two futuristic sci-fi stories, and it creates an intrigue in the viewer to try and piece together how these stories are connected, not making it completely obvious at first how these six stories are similar.  Where everything starts coming together is how the Wachowskis and Tykwer use parallel action to unfurl the story.  What is happening in one time period will mirror what is happening in another time period, where they are crosscutting between multiple time periods to form one scene that has a larger impact than any one time period could offer on its own.  It's this use of thematic similarities that ultimately ties everything together.

Each story is about a person doing something against the established order to try and create something greater than what has ever come before.  It's this thematic idea that each story represents that makes the film so emotionally powerful when all of the revelations start to be revealed.  As it is, this is one of the more unique films I've ever seen because of the storytelling.  The way the story does not conform to traditional storytelling methods by intercutting between the different genres, constantly keeps you on your toes and keeps you engaged.  I mean, here in one scene you'll be in a broad comedy, then the next you'll be in a thriller, and the next you'll be in an action flick.  However, the storytelling is not the only thing makes this film truly one of the most ambitious films ever made, it's the approach to the acting.

The story uses the same group of actors in every time period, from Tom Hanks to Halle Berry to Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.  They do this by using makeup and prosthetics to change the actor's looks.  At times, some of the actors are completely unrecognizable -- I mean, who ever thought they'd see Hugh Grant as a post-apocalyptic cannibal?  Take Halle Berry, for example:  she plays an old Asian man, a white Jewish woman, and an African American woman, all in the same movie.  Every one of these actors relish in the opportunity to play such vastly different characters, many of which are unlike any they've ever been able to play before.  In this one film, you see charming Tom Hanks, mobster Tom Hanks, villain Tom Hanks, and even a Tom Hanks who is plagued by a dark force battling inside of him.  I'll just say it, I have never seen this done before, and I am not sure I ever will again, and that is what makes Cloud Atlas such an important film.

Whit all this said, Cloud Atlas is not for everyone.  Not everyone will like the way the story is told, and not everyone will connect with it as I have, but for individuals who like something that tries different ways to tell stories and to express emotions and ideas, this is a film for you.  It's impressive, exceptionally well acted and exquisitely well made on every level, featuring one of the most beautiful endings in any movie I've seen in recent memory.  Cloud Atlas is close to a flawless movie, if only it didn't drag for about the first half hour, as you're left wanting for forward momentum and not exposition.  So what?  It's an A+ for originality, but unfortunately I must grade the entire film.

I give Cloud Atlas an A-!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Best James Bond

In celebration of James Bond's 50th Anniversary and the release of the latest Bond film, Skyfall, I am doing a series of 007-related posts.  Next week, I'll ask the all important question, what is the greatest Bond film of all-time, but this week I have a question that is in some departments, a more heatedly debated topic:  Who is the best actor to have ever portrayed James Bond?

I have rewatched all of the James Bond movies, and I've decided upon what I believe to be the answer through analyzing each and every Bond performance.  Now, one note before getting started, I did not include the actor from the 1950's TV version of Casino Royale, seeing as how the character was portrayed as an American card shark named Jimmy Bond and not as 007.  Same goes for the spoof film, Casino Royale from the late '60s which starred Woody Allen and Peter Sellers, along with three other actors who all played different, comedic versions of James Bond.  I only looked at the six "real" James Bonds:  Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

Each of the "real" Bonds have their individual elements that make their portrayals charming and enjoyable, with James Bond being a character that has been open to different interpretation time and time again.   Of course, in my mind there is only one, true James Bond, but I want to have a little fun getting there, so I've ranked the six actors from my least favorite, to my favorite Bond performer of all-time, to create some sort of suspense.  I don't really know, but it sure is a lot of fun for me to write, so here we go with number 6:

6.  George Lazenby
Lazenby famously portrayed Bond once, and only once, in the now cult classic, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  There are many differing stories as to why Lazenby only played Bond once.  One story goes that he told producer, Cubby Brocoli, to go f-himself, and another goes he became too much of a liability drinking, partying, and joining the hippy counterculture for the studio to want him to represent Bond, and another story simply goes that due to the poor box office returns of his one Bond film, he was seen as a dud and was replaced.  No one truly knows why Lazenby only got one crack at Bond, and perhaps we'll never truly know why, it could be a combination of all three things, or something completely unrelated, all we can do is evaluate Lazenby's one time Bond performance.  Initially, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was viewed as a major disappointment after the five previous Sean Connery films, grossing way less than the previous entries, with many fans detesting Lazenby and crying for the return of Connery.  Over time, the film has been rediscovered by the later generations who grew up with the idea that there is no one James Bond, but several, being portrayed by many different actors, and these later generations have developed a fondness for the film, and for Lazenby himself.  Up till Casino Royale, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was quite possibly the most serious, and most emotional Bond film, and that won it a lot of favor with die hard aficionados.  While I feel On  Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the better scripts of the entire franchise, I am not a big fan of Lazenby's bond.  He often comes across as wooden and trying too hard to match the charm and tough guy swagger of Sean Connery, just paling in comparison, though he does manage to go to some great emotional depths when called for, as well he flies across the scene in action sequences like a stunt man, making him one of the more believable Bonds in regards to having a license to kill.  Even with the few things Lazenby excelled at, he just too often comes across as a Sean Connery impersonator and not as the genuine article, and that is why George Lazenby is my least favorite Bond performer.

5.  Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan was the Bond of my childhood, though I knew him primarily through video games.  Brosnan's likeness was used in nearly every Bond video game produced from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, and that truly was my first exposure to him as Bond, playing Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64.  So when I was younger, I thought Brosnan was Bond, in fact, the first Bond film I ever saw was when I was twelve and saw Die Another Day in theaters.  It wasn't until I was actually in college did I venture outside of Brosnan and Daniel Craig to see another Bond film that didn't star either of the two, and while I still have a child-like affection for Brosnan's portrayal, it isn't my favorite James Bond.  Majority of what keeps Brosnan from being the best Bond is the films themselves.  The way the producers portrayed Brosnan's 007 was more as a suave superhero with a witty remark around every corner, doing and saying more insane things than Roger Moore and Sean Connery combined.  Brosnan's Bond just had this feeling about him that he could never be hurt, and it's the biggest detractor of his performances, which are as suave and charming as any other Bond, perhaps even more so.  Brosnan was the most pretty boy of any James Bond, and I actually believe his ability to romance women more so than any other Bond.  As well, I never had a hard time buying that Brosnan was a man with a license to kill, who wouldn't hesitate to use it.  The biggest problem is the fact that Brosnan was only given one truly great script to really flex his acting muscles and go beyond just the suave charmer.  Goldeneye, his first and best performance as 007, was the only script out of his four that actually gave him anything to play with.  In Goldeneye, he actually humanizes Bond by allowing himself to show how the events of the story emotionally affect his character, but the rest of his tenure as Bond never gave him any more to chew on than that, and so majority of his time as 007 is utterly forgettable.

4.  Roger Moore
I initially wasn't a big fan of Roger Moore's work as Bond, but that's because I wasn't watching the right Roger Moore Bond films.  Roger Moore has played James Bond more than any other actor, racking up seven times as agent 007, but it took nearly three films for the producers to finally tailor the role to Roger Moore, rather than trying to make him another Sean Connery impersonator.  The problem with his first two portrayals as Bond (in Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun), is that the scripts were written as if they were still for Sean Connery, and were not written to let Roger Moore influence the role.  The results in both films, were a Roger Moore trying his hardest to make something work, but he often came across more so as a jerk and not as a charming British spy.  Then, with The Spy Who Loved Me, it felt as if they either wrote the script to where Moore's own personality finally came through in the character, or Moore himself just finally found his groove to make the role his own, either way, from that point on, Roger Moore's films developed their own identity.  Most of Roger Moore's tenure after his first two films was dominated by high adventure stories with tons of parody and comedy, but that is what made them work.  Like Adam West as Batman, Roger Moore had the right sense of comedic timing, and the right amount of gentlemanly charm to make his Bond one of the more likable of the entire franchise.  Roger Moore's Bond seems like he'd be a fun guy to hang around with, while I never felt as if he could be a cold-blooded spy with a license to kill, I always felt that I was safe whenever I saw Roger Moore having fun on the screen.  His making Bond more of a gentleman and less of a tough guy may still alienate a few Bond fans to this day, but it's what makes his time as Bond unique and enjoyable, even if it's a far cry from what I think of when I think of tough guy secret agent, James Bond.

3.  Timothy Dalton
Neither of the Timothy Dalton films were all that good, but the portrayal that Dalton turned in as Bond is one of the finest any actor has ever done.  What Dalton did in The Living Daylights and License to Kill (his two appearances as the character), shed much of the gentleman-like aspect of Roger Moore's performance and made Bond darker to what he even was initially.  Dalton's Bond was a man who was still charming and romantic, but not in the way of Roger Moore or even Sean Connery.  Dalton sort of had a quietness to him, a dry wit, which gave his performance an unpredictability.  In one second, you could see him charming a girl, and the next I would totally buy it if he leapt up and killed a man in cold blood.  That's what I love so much about Dalton as Bond, I actually believe he has a license to kill and wont hesitate to use it.  This is not because Dalton is a tough guy, I mean, he's a Shakespearean actor for crying out loud.  No, this is because of the attitude that Dalton gave Bond.  He isn't the bad boy Bond, but rather he has the personality that I would imagine a real spy would have to have in order to operate in the field.  Which goes back to unpredictability and believing that he would actually pull the trigger if he had to kill.  It's a shame Dalton was never given a better script, I mean, it took three films for Sean Connery's tenure as Bond to be enormously successful, the same with Roger Moore, perhaps if Dalton had managed to get a third go around he'd be more valued by most Bond fans, but alas it was not meant to be, with United Artists having money troubles that delayed the return of Bond for six years, with Dalton ultimately calling it quits before he got his third chance.  I for one would have loved to of seen Dalton return for Goldeneye, with a good script and a proper chance to actually make Bond what he wanted it to be, but now it's just a what could have been rather than what was.

2.  Daniel Craig
The current James Bond, and the second best portrayal of all the actors that have ever played Bond.  It's actually quite astonishing to make a claim like that after only two Bond films as the character, one of which being just so-so, but Daniel Craig has proven in both of his 007 outings that he understands the character in-and-out.   Daniel Craig's Bond is less boyish, he makes less quips, and is kind of the lone wolf, quiet man-type.  While he has a sense of humor, it's very reserved and dryer than even Dalton's Bond, and the way he entrances ladies is by showing humanity, rather than charming them.  Of course, what makes Craig one of the most effective Bond's of all-time is the fact that he is the most believable actor in regards to Bond being an assassin.  There's something about the coldness in Craig's blue eyes and his chiseled face that just lets you know, he's not a pretty boy, but a man's man.  A guy who could actually take a punch in real life and get back up and tear the other guy apart.  He just has that swagger of a guy I wouldn't want to cross, but I would most definitely want on my side, and when you really think about it, a guy who kills for a living wouldn't be Roger Moore cheery or Pierce Brosnan charming, but he'd probably be more akin to what Daniel Craig is as Bond.  While there were a few times in Quantum of Solace where I felt Craig went a touch too serious with the portrayal, not allowing himself to have any fun, when it comes to humanizing James Bond, he is the actor to beat.

1.  Sean Connery
Was there any doubt that Sean wouldn't be number one?  He's the quintessential Bond, and a large part of that is because he created the role.  While his portrayal is in fact quite different from the original literary character, to people like me, who discovered Bond through film rather than literature, it was Sean Connery who set the precedence as to what Bond could, and should be.  To this day, I still prefer the Bond who always has the witty comeback after a kill or night with a lady, but where Connery does one better on all the other Bonds that tried to infuse humor into their performances, is that Connery is a believable tough guy.  He just has that toughness about him, even if he's cracking jokes and having a good time, you can tell Connery is the kind of man that could hold his own in a fight and probably come out on the winning side.  It's hard to describe it, perhaps it's simply attitude, I don't know, but it's that something special that makes Sean Connery the best Bond of all-time.  From the first time he said, "The name's Bond.  James Bond," in Dr. No, he delivered each line, every action, as if it were his natural, everyday language.  In so many ways, watching Sean Connery as 007 is like watching an idealized man that most want to be, but never can be.  I think that's what's made the character of James Bond so enduring.  He's wish fulfillment for the 12-year-old boy in all of us, we all want to be that hero and do insanely awesome things while making light of a situation, and that's what's so special about James Bond, and Sean Connery did this better than any other actor, making him, once more, the greatest James Bond of all-time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Best James Bond Theme Song

It is the 50th Anniversary of the cinematic James Bond.  While the books have been around a little bit longer, it was fifty years ago that Dr. No was released in Oct. of 1962, introducing cinemagoers to 007.  With the next Bond film, Skyfall, hitting theaters in less than three weeks, I figured it'd be fun to do a post a week, leading up to the release of the film and celebrating the 50 year legacy of Bond, James Bond, at the same time.  The goal is to eventually review each individual Bond film, and ranking them from my least favorite, to what I feel is the best of the series.  However, that is not today.  Today, I wanted to take a look at what is the best James Bond theme song.

There have been twenty-two films released thus far, and with the exception of Dr. No, each film has had a different theme song.  The real test of a theme song is not merely how good the song is or how well it is performed, but it's how the song ties into the film itself.  The best Bond theme songs not only opened the films, but they also influenced their musical scores, recurring as the main motif throughout the movie played by the orchestra.  That is what makes a great Bond theme song, a song that is so catchy that it can be used as thematic material throughout.  Now, there have been many Bond films that have succeeded in doing this, which is why I felt making a 10 Best list was by no means a stretch.

The funny thing is, not every one of these Bond theme songs are from good Bond movies, they just are either, such catchy tunes that they stand on their own, or they reflect the individual film and work in the larger context of the musical score to be a standout.  With that said, I feel I've explained myself enough as to what I would or wouldn't consider a great Bond theme song, and now it's just time to lay 'em out there:

10.  "Another Way to Die" Performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys from Quantum of Solace
This song was admittedly more awesome than the film it opened.  This is what a James Bond theme song should sound like,  with loud orchestras and aggressive vocals.  However, the theme does not recur throughout the movie's score, which is sad, because that would have made the musical score more of a joy to listen to.

9.  "Live and Let Die" Performed by Paul McCartney & Wings from Live and Let Die
The first rock song to open a Bond film.  Not only do many still consider it the quintessential Bond theme song, but it also happens to be considered a classic rock tune in general.  While I've always found the verses' upbeat swing a little odd, the chorus is pure adrenaline.

8.  "Moonraker"  Performed by Shirley Bassey from Moonraker
Often considered the weakest of the Shirley Bassey theme songs, I disagree.  Unlike, "Diamonds Are Forever," this song captures the feel of the story, creating an otherworldly feeling of weightlessness, like being in space.  As well, the way the theme is incorporated into the musical score by John Barry, helps sell the more out there ideas that the film deals with.

7.  "Nobody Does It Better"  Performed by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me
This song is simple and easy to listen to.  As well, it lets the viewer know that the film will not be like the previous two Roger Moore offerings, which were trying too hard to make Moore like Connery, and not allowing his own personality to come through, with rock songs dominating the intros of his prior two appearances.  Ultimately, this song tells you, Moore's a gentleman lover, and not a Connery bad boy.

6.  "The Man With the Golden Gun"  Performed by Lulu from The Man With the Golden Gun
To be quite honest, I don't like the movie this song opened, but I enjoy the song.  It's one of the more aggressive Bond theme songs, and its extremely catchy.  It just feels like a Bond theme song, too bad it goes with one of the worst Bond films.  Oh, well.

5.  "You Only Live Twice" Performed by Nancy Sinatra from You Only Live Twice
This song just sounds romantic.  I love it, with the song utilizing Asian-sounding instrumentation that alludes to the film's Japanese setting, it's a beautiful song that fits perfectly in the larger musical score from John Barry.

4.  "Goldfinger"  Performed by Shirley Bassey from Goldfinger
Perhaps the most iconic Bond theme song of all-time, it's sultry and has an air of menace around it.  Brilliantly used throughout the film by composer John Barry, few Bond themes are this perfect.

3.  "Goldeneye"  Performed by Tina Turner from Goldeneye
This song was really like the herald coming out and saying that Bond was returning to his roots, after slipping into obscurity throughout all of the '80s.  Written by Bono and the Edge from rock band U2 and performed by Tina Turner, the song channels the best of the Shirley Bassey theme songs while outdoing them in the process by merely just being a more rocking, awesome song than any of Bassey's themes.

2.  "From Russia With Love"  Performed by Matt Monro from From Russia With Love
The tune has the feel of an old standard from the likes of the Rat Pack or something, just solidifying Bond as cool.  As well, this song is used throughout the film by John Barry, utilized in the score as a romance theme, a suspense theme, and everything else between, marking this as one of the more versatile Bond themes in film history.

1.  "You Know My Name"  Performed by Chris Cornell from Casino Royale
Simply the most awesome Bond theme song.  It's pure adrenaline, from the rocking guitar to the Bondish horns blaring in the background.  No Bond theme song represents a character with a license to kill better than this song does.  Not to mention, it had the sheer audacity to say to audiences, "You know my name," after four years out of the spotlight -- the second longest drought without a Bond film, now matched with the wait between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie Review: "Argo"

In the film Argo, Ben Affleck plays real-life CIA agent, Tony Mendez, during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, when Iranians took over the United States embassy in Iran.  It was during the chaos, that six Americans escaped from the embassy, taking refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador.  That is where Mendez comes in, trying to get the six Americans out of Iran before they are found and killed, by using the cover that they are members of a Canadian film crew, making a Star Wars rip-off, called "Argo."

In so many ways, where the film works best is in dealing with the historical aspects of the hostage crisis and utilizing what was happening in the world at that time to create a history lesson for people, who like me, were not alive then.  From a production standpoint, the film is meticulously crafted, often using 8mm photography mixed with the 35mm cinematography to create the look and feel of 1970's films like Dog Day Afternoon or All the President's Men.  The cinematography definitely mimics such films, with its emphasis on natural light and handheld camera work, making the scenes often feel like they were shot by a news cameraman in the real-life field.  As well, the production design is staggering.  Very often you see films that are set in the past that look as if they haven't been lived in and were built yesterday, but Argo actually shows these environments in a more real, lived in fashion.  Of course, when Argo starts to deal more so with the film cover story, it often falters.

While this is all part of the true story, when Mendez is dealing with Hollywood producers trying to create this fake movie as a cover, the film loses some of its propulsive intensity, languishing in humor, rather than the suspense of the other nine-tenths of the film.  However, these Hollywood scenes work on their own, thanks in large part to John Goodman as makeup legend, John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as an aging movie producer, both in top form, essentially portraying their charming selves.  However, when Argo returns to the matter of the hostage crisis at hand, it excels with many scenes of white nuckle suspense.  These are in fact, the finest moments of the film, when director Ben Affleck works to create a news-like feel in the hostage situations -- such as the embassy takeover or the escape from the Iranians at the climax -- by using minimal music and no Hollywood thrills to create a truly authentic, and terrifying glimpse at this event.  For these reasons, Argo works brilliantly as a suspense thriller and as a time capsule, and that is why it must be seen, especially if you were not alive during the event and have limited knowledge of its history.

I give Argo a B+!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie Review: "Seven Psychopaths"

Seven Psychopaths is a film that requires an acquired taste.  If you like films in the vein of Quentin Tarrantino, or loved Psychopaths' director, Martin McDonagh's previous film, In Bruges, then you'll love this film, and if you don't, you're left scratching your head for the entirety of this film at all of the senseless violence and pointless obscenities.

In the film, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, and Christopher Walken, kidnap a gangster's Shih Tzu, and this leads to all of the crazy, bizarre antics of the entire film.  That's all you need to know about Seven Psychopaths.  It's psychotic and the character's psychosis make very little sense in a realistic fashion.  It's over-the-top, and glorifies itself for being as such.  However, whenever you have the likes of Rockwell, Walken, and Woody Harrelson, sharing the screen together, there will be laughs, even if they're laughs entirely in darkly comedic circumstances.

Seven Psychopaths is just for a small niche audience, and I've just accepted that I am not one of that audience.  I can see how someone would love this nonsensical film, I'm just not a fan.

I give Seven Psychopaths an F

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Top 6: Marvel Studios - Phase One

Now with The Avengers out on Blu Ray, and having had time to rewatch it a few more times to see if it truly was the real deal (which it still is), I thought it'd be a good time to take stock of Marvel Studios and their movies.

Only six movies have been produced under the Marvel Studios' banner:  Iron Man and Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America:  The First Avenger, and of course, The Avengers.  These six films have garnered the title of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the promise of Phase Two kicking off next year.  In fact, let's look to the future for a moment and see what Marvel Studios has in store.  

Next May brings Iron Man 3, then next November holds Thor: The Dark World, followed in 2014 by Captain America:  The Winter Soldier and The Guardians of the Galaxy, capping it all off with The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015.  That is a full slate of five films, four of which are sequels, and there are still the rumors that an Ant-Man movie will surface somewhere between all of those, as well.  So Marvel isn't just sitting around patting each other on the back after completing Phase One so successfully with The Avengers.  However, I would like to take a little time as a fan just to sit back and look back on the awesomeness that was Phase One before going full speed ahead into Phase Two.

In the recent weeks I have rewatched all of the Marvel Studios' movies, and I've gotta say, I love them all.  Some of them worked well on their own before The Avengers, like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and then others, like Thor, have actually gotten better due to The Avengers thanks to how Thor and Loki were fleshed out even further in that movie.  With six films, I figured it'd be fun to do a list and just see which movie of Phase One was the best, and which ones kind of dragged their feet a bit.  It was real fun to go back and rewatch all of these films, and in my personal opinion, all of these films are special in their own individual ways, but there is always one that is better than the other.  So without further ado, here are the films of Marvel Studios' Phase One, counting down to my personal favorite of the six:

6.  Captain America:  The First Avenger
Chris Evans as Captain America is the highlight of this film.  He plays Steve Rogers with the right amount of heroic idealism, portraying the kind of man that most want to be, and that is what makes the character of Captain America so endearing.  The period setting was also an extremely nice touch, with the pulp traditions of the early Captain America comic books being given a chance to shine.  The characters work brilliantly, and the film clicks along at a nice pace, but there just never is a moment in the film that delivers that jaw-dropping moment that makes you say Captain America is a superhero, not just a soldier, but a superhero, doing things that only a superhero can do.  Even still, it's hard to not be charmed by this film.

5.  Iron Man 2
This sequel seemed like it was merely a prequel to The Avengers when it was first released, mainly because it expanded the role of SHIELD and introduced Black Widow, but after seeing what Marvel did with The Avengers, you begin to realize how much of this film really was its own entity.  It successfully continued the story thread in Iron Man where Tony Stark reveals his secret identity to the world (more on that in a moment), and it also delved deeper into who Tony Stark is, setting his character up where he is at the beginning of The Avengers, allowing him to go on that journey.  There is a surprising lack of action in this sequel, and there are a few moments where it seems the actors were more interested in improving than moving the story forward, but the story about Tony's arc reactor in his chest slowly killing him, and the answer to saving his life lying in his fractured relationship with his father, is where the movie still works the best.

4.  Iron Man
This was the film that kickstarted Marvel Studios' whole initiative, and almsot all of the success lies with Robert Downey, Jr.  The action in this film was minimal, but it was merely the charisma that Downey, Jr., brought to Tony Stark that made this movie.  It's just flat-out funny, but also has a ton of heart.  As well, this film innovated in two ways.  First, Tony Stark revealing that he is Iron Man at the end of the movie was such a novel concept, that has sort of played throughout all of Marvel Studios' movies.  None of these Marvel characters really have secret identities, people know who is under the mask, saving the day, and it was a new approach to superhero storytelling on film.  Second, and most importantly, the after credits scene with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was that first shimmer of hope for The Avengers to become a reality.

3.  Thor
I was not all that crazy about this film when it was first released, but subsequent viewings -- after having seen The Avengers -- has made this film for me.  I was never a big Thor fan before, and I still do not read the books, so the fantastical nature of the world of Asgard took me aback the initial time I saw this movie, because I knew very little about it.  The whole concept of the nine realms boggled my mind, but what The Avengers did was renew my vigor for the characters of Thor and Loki, and now going back to this film I find it more charming.  The way the film plays, it kind of thrusts you into this fantastical world, with little setting you up about the Norse mythology at play here, and even though The Avengers is technically a sequel, I think it works better to see The Avengers first and then see Thor.  Here's why.  These characters are so fantastical, being thrust into Asgard with all of these fantastical characters is overwhelming, but meeting the fantastical characters first on a more realistic setting like Earth, and then going back to see where they come from, plays better for me.  I can't quite explain it, but I now appreciate this film so much more.  Not to mention, the film is, and always has been, funny, and wears its heart on its sleeve.  Director Kenneth Branagh expertly deals with the familial conflict between Thor, Loki, and Odin, as great Shakespeare, and the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor as a charming romantic comedy.  It's one of those movies that perhaps I wasn't in the right mood when I first saw it, or something, but I now love it and feel it is one of Marvel's better efforts.

2.  The Incredible Hulk
This is a film that is often beaten by the ugly stick from fans and critics alike because of the behind the scenes politics that mired this movie.  Star Edward Norton wanted more creative control on the project, clashing very often with writer Zak Penn, ultimately rewriting much of the script himself and not getting screen credit for it.  It's still in the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this is the reason as to why Edward Norton did not return in The Avengers and was replaced with Mark Ruffalo.  It's a shame, because Norton's version of Bruce Banner was not all that different from Ruffalo's that everyone loved so much.  Norton played Banner as a guy travelling the world, helping people, while trying to gain control of the Hulk.  What this movie did, was it made the Hulk a hero, when Norton battles Abomination at the end of the film, he saves New York and those that he loves.  This actually created the biggest confusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Avengers sort of retells the character arc of Bruce Banner from this film, him seeking to gain control of the Hulk, with this film ending with the idea that Banner has finally gained control of the Hulk and his transformations.  Even still, this is a fun, entertaining movie with a sweet romance between Banner and Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler.  The most action packed Marvel movie aside from The Avengers, I really don't understand why this film gets a bad wrap, cause it truly is awesome!

1.  The Avengers
Come on, did anyone think that this wasn't going to be number one?  The Avengers had all of the goods:  tons of action, wonderful characterizations, humor between ego clashing superheroes, and moments of spine-tingling heroism.  Few movies are the whole package, and this movie is.  I often liken it to the original Star Wars from 1977.  It's an enjoyable, feel-good movie that takes itself seriously enough to understand and feel what is at stake, and yet it has enough fun to keep you from getting bored to death.  Like Star Wars, The Avengers emotionally involves the audience, because without knowing it, we have grown to love these characters and have become emotionally invested in them.  This is a rare feat, which is why I feel The Avengers will forever be remembered, not just as one of the greatest superhero films of all-time, but as a genuine classic of cinema.  It changed the game and proved it possible to do a crossover film between four different franchises.  This is Marvel Studios' finest moment they have had so far, but I am only hoping that this is just the beginning of what they have in store for us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Seth MacFarlane Will Host the Oscars

It's official, next year's Academy Awards have their Oscar host, and it is comedian Seth MacFarlane, writer/director of the hit comedy Ted and creator of the TV shows Family Guy and American Dad.  Perhaps Seth MacFarlane will be a good Oscar host, but I've never seen anything from his body of work to allude to him being a perfect fit for the show.  While MacFarlane can be funny, his humor tends to be crass, political, and often lacking the touch of class that one needs to host the Oscars.  The Academy Awards is a celebration of film, honoring the legacy and tradition of cinema by welcoming new classics into the fold, and an attempt to make them hip and draw in younger viewers is not what the show is or should be about.  It's about cinema, a night of just good-natured fun, and nothing more, cynical jokes shouldn't have a place at the Oscars.  MacFarlane will really have to curb his humor and step up to the plate as classy as he can be in order to win me over.  Do I think he has it in him?  Yes.  I think MacFarlane can be funny, and has been very often in the past, but the producers will need to keep him on a short leash in order for him to work.  Of course, that's just my thoughts:  What does anyone else think?  Sound off in the comments section with your own ideas.