Film Review: Casino Royale (2006)

Also known as: 007: Casino Royale (alternative international title), Bond 21, Bond XXI, Bond Begins, James Bond 21 (working titles)
Release Date: November 14th, 2006 (London premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Based on: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic, Jesper Christensen, Richard Branson (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Eon Productions, Casino Royale Productions, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[tied to a wooden chair as he is being tortured] I’ve got a little itch, down there. Would you mind?” – James Bond

As much as I loved this movie in 2006, I think I forgot just how damn good it was. It’s also aged exceptionally well while possibly being the greatest movie in the Daniel Craig James Bond era. I really like Skyfall a lot but this is in the same ballpark and my brain will probably debate which one is actually superior until the day I die. But I’m allowed to love them both, equally.

The film starts off with a bang and this really is a Year One type of story for the James Bond character, as it starts with him becoming a Double-O agent and then follows him on his first big mission.

The story is well crafted and one of the best in the entire franchise. This movie also sort of reboots the series and the character in a more serious tone after the Pierce Brosnan era films became cheesy, goofy, hokey and mostly terrible following his initial outing in 1995’s GoldenEye.

Speaking of which, Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye, returned to direct Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond, as well. He also showed that he could do a much more serious and realistic Bond film in the wake of other directors ruining what he started with the first Brosnan era picture.

Getting back to the tone, this character and these films desperately needed a change, if they were going to survive for future generations. While I know that some James Bond traditionalists didn’t like the gritty realism, most people did and that’s why this was such a hit after the deplorable Die Another Day.

While I’m still not sure if Daniel Craig was the best casting choice at the time, I do like him as Bond. My only real issue with him is that he lacks that suaveness that other had before him. Sure, he’s tough, he’s badass and he looks great in a suit but he does lack a certain charm. That’s also not to say that he’s charmless, it’s just really damn hard to follow Pierce Brosnan, who was stupendous in that department and maybe the best Bond in that regard.

That being said, Craig was great for what this picture needed but I don’t know if his seriousness was best for the franchise over multiple films, as he never really seems to be too comfortable or natural in being a real charmer. Although, his chemistry with Eva Green in this film is really good but I also think that’s because both of them are damn good actors.

Not known at the time, this film’s story sets up the return of SPECTRE, the massive, worldwide terrorist organization that was front and center as the antagonists of the Sean Connery era. There had been legal issues surrounding the use of SPECTRE and I’m not sure that they were resolved when this film was made but this did lay the foundation for their return and the return of top Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The only thing that hurts this film a bit is the long, drawn out poker sequences. While those probably worked for most people and they exist in the novel, they took away from more energetic storytelling. But on the flip side of that, the action sequences in this film certainly make up for the duller moments.

While there really isn’t a perfect James Bond film, this is one of the few to get pretty damn close to it. Plus, it’s one of the best looking movies in the long film series.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bond films of the Daniel Craig era.

Film Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

Also known as: Terminator 4, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins (working titles), T4, T4: Salvation, Project Angel (working titles)
Release Date: May 14th, 2009 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: McG
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Based on: characters by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside, Linda Hamilton (voice – uncredited)

The Halcyon Company, Wonderland Sound and Vision, Columbia Pictures, 115 Minutes, 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“This is John Connor. If you’re listening to this, you are the resistance. Listen carefully, if we attack tonight, our humanity is lost. Command wants us to fight like machines. They want us to make cold, calculated decisions. But we are not machines! And if we behave like them, then what’s the point in winning? Command is going to ask you to attack Skynet. I am asking you not to. If even one bomb drops on Skynet before sunrise, our future will be lost. So please stand down. Give me time to protect the future that all of us are fighting for. This is John Connor.” – John Connor

While this is the best Terminator movie since the outstanding Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the franchise has had a pretty low bar since that 1991 masterpiece.

Terminator Salvation isn’t necessarily a bad motion picture, it’s just an absolutely dull one with no substance to speak of.

At this point, I guess they decided to finally have a movie take place after Judgment Day. This was also supposed to kick off a new trilogy with stars Christian Bale and Bryce Dallas Howard, contractually attached to two sequels. None of that panned out, however, as Bale wasn’t this franchise’s savior, despite The Dark Knight coming out less than a year before this.

I remember people being stoked when Bale was cast as an adult, war-weathered John Connor. But the fact of the matter is that he was boring as hell, way too dry and looked just as bored in the film as the audience did watching it. Where was that emotion from his famous meltdown from the set that became a massive meme during this movie’s production?

No one else really seemed like they wanted to be there either, except for Anton Yelchin, who actually put some passion into the role of a young Kyle Reese. Yelchin was the best thing in the film and unfortunately his role was greatly cut down from the original script, as Bale joined the cast later and had the film reworked to feature him more.

Sam Worthington, a guy I don’t like in anything, was so lifeless that it was fitting that his character was actually already dead.

The film looks as dull as its actors’ faces. It was filmed in a boring desert with late ’90s style edgy boi lens filters that tried to add some grit but the film ended up looking like a straight-to-DVD low budget ’00s Jean-Claude Van Damme flick instead of a tent-pole blockbuster with a 200 million dollar budget.

The big finale sends John Connor into a Terminator factory where he faces off with a Terminator that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It isn’t really Arnold, however, it’s just another actor with a really bad Arnold CGI face superimposed over his visage. This shit looked so bad that they shouldn’t have done it or wasted money on it in the first place. Just use the jacked actor to play the big cyborg. It was distracting as hell, takes you out of the movie and it looked worse than facial CGI effects from almost a decade prior.

I’m done. Fuck this movie. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I only watched it this time in an effort to review it before going on to the latest film in the shitty saga, Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ll watch and review that one in the fairly near future.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other shitty Terminator movies, so everything after Judgment Day.

Film Review: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Also known as: T3 (promotional abbreviation), York Square (fake working title)
Release Date: June 30th, 2003 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Tedi Sarafian
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, Earl Boen, M.C. Gainey, Chris Hardwick, Matt Gerald

Intermedia Films, IMF Internationale Medien und Film GmbH & Co. 3. Produktions KG, C-2 Pictures, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“[raises palm to cashier] Talk to the hand.” – Terminator

I saw this the night it came out, back in 2003. It was a massive disappointment and thus, I’ve never gone back and watched it again until now. But this film is really where the Terminator franchise completely went off the rails and honestly, it has never recovered, except for the too brief television show that ended on a cliffhanger.

Out of all the sequels, I think that this one is the worst. Genisys actually had a worse story but Schwarzenegger was really enjoyable in that one and kind of saved it from being complete and utter shit. In this one, however, his humor and attempts at one-liners are so fucking cringe that it drags a somewhat better story way down into the mud.

For positives, I think there’s really just one: Nick Stahl. I’m not sure what the critical and fan consensus is on his performance as John Connor (I’d assume it’s not good) but I actually thought he did fairly well for having a terrible script to work with and being a last minute replacement for Edward Furlong, who couldn’t return due to his drug abuse issues at the time.

Beyond that, Claire Danes is terrible in this and Kristanna Loken looked great but was so boring she pulls you out of the film.

One could say, “Well, Robert Patrick wasn’t exciting in T2.” But those people would be wrong. Just because an actor has to play an emotional robot of a character, doesn’t mean that they have to be a generic blank slate, tilting their head like a dog that heard a high pitch sound. Patrick in T2 and Schwarzenegger in T1 both knew how to move and how to act in order to come across as a soulless predator. It was in their body language, their facial expressions and the way they hunted their targets. To be fair, I don’t necessarily blame Loken, I blame the director for not seeing this and fine tuning her performance to live up to the standard set before her.

While I like the idea that Armageddon is inevitable, as this film strongly implies throughout the entirety of its story, I want to know why. It never tells us why. It just has Schwarzenegger randomly say, “You just delayed Armageddon; Armageddon is inevitable.” Well, why does he say that or think that? What does he know that makes this a fact? There’s a story there that could’ve enriched the bigger picture here but it’s just a repeated throwaway line that we just have to accept and go, “M’kay, sure… that makes sense.”

The most important thing working against this film isn’t any of the stuff I’ve already mentioned, it’s the fact that this is just really fucking boring. It doesn’t matter that the Terminator uses one-liners that were already out of date by 2003 or that the Loken Terminator doesn’t make a lot of sense and she’s overpowered for the sake of being overpowered. This is just a dreadfully boring piece of shit.

It’s not competent, it feels incredibly generic and there’s nothing in the film that is memorable. There’s no great action sequence that you will care to remember like many of the great sequences from the first two films. I guess the biggest one I remember is the car chase with the crane truck and remote control police cars but I was more annoyed by it than impressed.

The whole film felt as soulless as Loken’s Terminator.

But at least it’s less than two hours.

Side note: I thought the closing moments in the underground bunker were actually kind of good and somewhat chilling.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other shitty Terminator movies that followed.

Film Review: Enemy Mine (1985)

Release Date: December 12th, 1985 (Germany)
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Edward Khmara
Based on: Enemy Mine by Barry B. Longyear
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr., Bumper Robinosn, Brion James

Kings Road Entertainment, SLM Production Group, Twentieth Century Fox, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Uncle, what did my parent look like?” – Zammis, “Your parent looked like… my friend.” – Davidge

Enemy Mine was about ten years old when I discovered it late at night on cable. I probably saw it on TNT’s MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs, the greatest TV movie host of all-time. I immediately fell in love with the movie and watched it every time I came across it on television. Once I bought the DVD, years later, I recognized the cover art and realized it was something I used to see at video stores in my childhood. I probably never rented it in the ’80s because I didn’t know what it was and I probably assumed it was sub B-level schlock.

Over the years, I’ve grown to love the film even more and even though it has gained a cult following in spite of its awful theatrical performance, there are still a lot of people, even fans of ’80s science fiction, that haven’t heard of or seen the movie.

The plot is about two enemy pilots that are marooned on a planet together after a dogfight. One is a human, the other is an alien. Over the course of the story, they have to get past their mutual distrust of one another and learn to work together in order to survive. The film takes a drastic turn at the end of the second act, as the alien pilot dies while giving birth. The human then has to raise and protect the alien child, which becomes much more difficult when human scavengers show up and abduct the alien kid, forcing it to work in the mines with other enslaved aliens.

At first glance, this isn’t a movie that you expect will be an emotional journey. On the surface, it looks like it’ll be a non-comedic version of the Odd Couple in space. However, it tugs at the heart strings pretty hard and it’s impossible not to fall in love with both pilots, their bond and then, the child that comes into the life of Davidge, the human in the story. By the time the evil humans show up, you’re fully invested into these characters and the abduction of little Zammis is a real punch to the gut.

All in all, this is a fine motion picture. Being directed by Wolfgang Petersen, fresh off of The NeverEnding Story, this film has a similar style in its fantastical setting. It’s also made even more beautiful with the spectacular matte paintings used to create the sky and outer space. The whole film feels as if it takes place in a living painting.

I think that the practical effects are also amazing, especially in regards to the alien makeup and the dangerous sand creature that keeps trying to make the pilots its lunch.

Enemy Mine has found its audience over the decades since its release but even then, I don’t think that enough people know about it or have given it a shot. It’s one of the top sci-fi films in a decade that was littered with them. Plus, very few have ever been as emotional or had as much heart as this one.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: ’80s science fiction films.

Film Review: Rambo (2008)

Also known as: Rambo IV (unofficial title), Rambo IV: End of Peace, Rambo IV: In the Serpent’s Eye, Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra, Rambo: To Hell and Back, John Rambo, Rambo: First Blood Part IV (working titles)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2008 (Kuwait)
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Art Monterastelli, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Tim Kang, Rey Gellegos, Jake La Botz, Maung Maung Khin, Ken Howard

Lionsgate, The Weinstein Company, Millennium Films, 92 Minutes, 99 Minutes (extended), 80 Minutes (heavily cut)

Review:

“You know what you are… what you’re made of. War is in your blood. Don’t fight it. You didn’t kill for your country. You killed for yourself. God’s never gonna make that go away. When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing.” – John Rambo

This was a film that I never knew I wanted until I saw the trailer for it back in 2007. But after the success of Stallone’s return as Rocky Balboa in Rocky Balboa, a decades late Rambo sequel felt like a natural follow up, creatively speaking.

I assumed the Rambo character, like Rocky, was long gone. I figured that someone would eventually just do a shitty remake. But no, we got this, a legit sequel and one of the most intense action films of its decade.

Rambo is super violent, supremely extreme and it doesn’t just feel like a throwback to ’80s action movies, it feels like a fucking throwback to ’70s gore porn exploitation! I’m not even sure what Stallone or the other executives were thinking but this movie was like a big “fuck you” to the Hollywood status quo, who ruined action and horror by forcing every genre filmmaker to keep their art neutered for PG-13 audiences.

This is the best Rambo movie since the original: First Blood. It, like the other films, has a message and a point to it, as it draws attention to just how shitty the decades long genocide was in Burma. It’s unapologetic in how it displays the sadistic nature of the fascist dictatorship and its treatment of its citizens. Since the movie, things have improved in Burma (actually officially called Myanmar).

In fact, the film was banned there by the government. However, it was eventually disturbed via bootlegs by the resistance, hoping to use it as anti-military propaganda. It also went on to inspire the people in the country, who adopted some of the film’s most notable lines in their battle cries. Learning of all this, Stallone said, “That, to me, is one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in film.”

I point that out because some people have wondered as to whether or not things in Burma were as bad as the movie portrayed. Also, it shows that Hollywood can make a difference and inspire change when it addresses real world problems and doesn’t get fixated on faux bourgeois identity politics or being overly fixated on trashing the other end of the political spectrum most of them subscribe to.

The film’s story is pretty simple: a group of missionaries charter Rambo’s boat in Thailand. They want to go up the river into Burma to deliver aid to the people there. Rambo reluctantly agrees. The missionaries eventually get captured and Rambo goes back to Burma with a group of mercenaries to bring war to some of the worst humans on the planet.

If you thought that previous Rambo films were too violent, then you might want to skip this film. This is insanely violent but when the villains are as evil as they are in this movie, it feels gratifying to see them literally blasted to bloody chunks.

Also, Stallone feels completely at home in the John Rambo character; like no time has passed and he’s been living in Rambo’s head for twenty years, waiting to get out. For die hard fans of the film series, this more than makes up for a twenty year gap between the third film and this one.

It’s a short, quick and badass motion picture. It’s also one of the best that Stallone, himself, has directed.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)

Also known as: New York Calling Superdragon (informal English title)
Release Date: February 17th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget)
Written by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget), Remigio Del Grosso, Bill Coleman, Mike Mitchell
Music by: Benedetto Ghiglia
Cast: Ray Danton, Marisa Mell

Films Borderie, Fono Roma, Gloria-Film GmbH, 95 Minutes

Review:

Secret Agent Super Dragon is just one of several attempts of the Italians trying to capitalize off of the James Bond phenomena. It’s a film that fails in just about every way but luckily for us, it was so bad that it was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is one of those films that is unintentionally funny. It’s not officially a comedy but some of the stuff in it is so ridiculous that it plays like parody in parts.

The story is flimsy but that could also be due to a bad English language dub. But films like this get a lot lost in translation so it’s hard to say if there are actual details left out and if the really atrocious dialogue is just a really atrocious translation.

Still, the movie looks bad. It’s poorly shot, badly lit and shows no signs of competent cinematography. While one could claim it’s at least stylish, I could claim that it’s just due to the time and the country it was made in and that whatever style there is, is just a byproduct of it trying to mimic a James Bond picture.

Apart from its lack of technical and artistic merits, the film is just a dreadful bore to get through. It’s only really worth checking out on MST3K.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible ’60s wannabe Bond movies of which there are many.

Documentary Review: Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (2004)

Release Date: September 4th, 2004 (Germany)
Directed by: Michael Palm
Written by: Michael Palm
Cast: Edgar G. Ulmer (voice, archive footage), Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Ann Savage, John Saxon, William Schallert, Arianne Ulmer, Tom Weaver, Wim Wenders

Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corporation, Mischief Films, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), 77 Minutes

Review:

While I was perusing the offerings on the Criterion Channel, I came across this documentary about filmmaker, Edgar G. Ulmer.

This guy made magic in three of my favorite genres: horror, science fiction and film-noir. I believe that this documentary may actually be included on the Criterion Collection version of Detour.

What’s neat about it is that it features interviews and conversations with a lot of well known directors and actors that worked with or were influenced by Ulmer’s work behind the camera.

This also features his daughter who gives more intimate details on Ulmer, his life, her life as his daughter, as well as talking about her time in front of the camera with her father directing.

I really liked the conversation here between Joe Dante and John Landis. I also enjoyed the parts with John Saxon, Ann Savage, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders.

This was just a solid piece of work that really went through the man’s career with insight from some of the people who were there and others who had their own unique insight.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the documentary, so I put a trailer for Detour below, as it is my favorite Edgar G. Ulmer picture.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about horror, sci-fi and noir filmmakers.