Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

Release Date: October 23rd, 2012 (London premiere)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, Judi Dench

B23 Ltd., Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 143 Minutes

Review:

“What is this if not betrayal? She sent you off to me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you’re likely die. Mommy was very bad.” – Raoul Silva

Everyone seems to think that Casino Royale is the best of the lot when it comes to Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Well, those people are wrong, as Skyfall is pretty close to perfection with a lot more action and meat than the mostly boring Casino Royale.

While the plot of this movie borrows a lot from the plot of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I don’t really care, as it all works well within the film’s story and the payoff at the end is one of the best in James Bond movie history.

This film, at the sake of spoiling some plot details, brings a character arc to an end. That character is Judi Dench’s incarnation of M. It gives her a fitting and truly memorable exit from the series while examining the wreckage and collateral damage that someone in her position could cause by making the toughest decisions. A ghost from her past comes back to haunt her and even though he ultimately succeeds, this isn’t a film consumed by nihilism, so much as it is a reflection of a person’s life and having to come to terms with past actions.

What really made this work for me was the performance by Javier Bardem as the villainous Raoul Silva. The guy was just creepy as hell and legitimately scary in a way that modern Bond villains aren’t. Honestly, other than Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Spectre, does anyone remember any of the other Craig era baddies? And honestly, Silva blows Blofeld right out of the f’n water!

The plot had lots of layers and a good three act structure that actually had a very different aesthetic from act to act. The big finale in this looked breathtaking and is one of the best shot James Bond sequences of all-time. Plus, it added in Albert Finney and had him trying to get M to safety while Bond took on a small army, a military helicopter and a madman starving for revenge.

I also like that the film finally fleshed out MI6 with the inclusion of Moneypenny, Q and a new M. I had hoped that this would mean more going forward but since 2012, we’ve only gotten one other Bond movie and this new team has sort of lost its momentum. But I hope they get their time to shine some more in the upcoming Bond film, which looks to be Craig’s last.

Anyway, Skyfall, as far as the Craig movies go, is the bees f’n knees. It’s not bogged down by a three hour poker game or a writers’ strike like the two before it. It’s just action packed, classic Bond but retrofitted for modern audiences that want less camp and more gunfire.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

Film Review: Danger!! Death Ray (1967)

Also known as: Nest of Spies (UK), Hellish Beam (Sweden), Death Ray (Netherlands)
Release Date: January 28th, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Baldanello
Written by: Dick Arthur, Juan Antonio Cabezas, Al Christian, Jaime Comas Gil, Aldo Cristiani, Domenico Paolella
Music by: Gianni Ferrio
Cast: Gordon Scott, Maureen Delphy, Nello Pazzafini, Tullio Altamura

Leda Films Productions S.L., Meteor Film S.r.l., 93 Minutes

Review:

Not all spy thrillers are created equal. This is one that is pretty close to the bottom of the barrel.

But this is an Italian-Spanish co-production that ripoffs a lot of tropes and stylistic cues from much better, more famous movies.

Also, this was thrashed pretty hard in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It’s schlock, pure schlock… although, there is still something charming and endearing about it.

That’s not to say that some sequences won’t bore you to tears but I did enjoy how insane the plot was and it almost felt more in tune with the Matt Helm movies than the James Bond ones. However, this was lacking Dean Martin, solid laughs and a sea of gorgeous women.

But I really can’t compliment it beyond that and beyond saying that I didn’t hate it.

This has a lot of flaws from the acting, the dubbing, the direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the set design and just about everything else.

It’s goofy, it’s shitty but it’s a strong, solid turd, as opposed to a soft mushy one. And I guess that’s something.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other low budget spy films and James Bond ripoffs.

Video Game Review: Elevator Action (Arcade)

This was one of those games I dumped a lot of quarters into. It was always at my bowling alley and skating rink as a kid. While the video arcade had better video games, you had to take what you could get elsewhere, especially in a small town.

But that’s not to diminish the awesomeness of this game. I loved the hell out of Elevator Action. So much so that I bought the port of it for the original Nintendo.

While it may look simplistic, it’s a pretty challenging game, especially as you work your way through it. I’m not sure if it is beatable, as I’ve never beaten it and it seems to go on forever.

In the game, you start each stage by grappling onto a roof, then you work your way down every single floor from the rooftop to the street level. You can use elevators and stairs but you have to dodge the bullets of the baddies while also trying to shoot them yourself.

My only gripe about the arcade version is that the controls can feel wonky and slow to react sometimes. Still, once you play it enough, your brain kind of adjusts to that. But that also doesn’t excuse the fact that you just can’t dodge in time.

Elevator Action is mostly just mindless entertainment and a good time killer. But for what it is, it is one of the best of its era. And despite being pretty straightforward and a bit basic, it’s still a good challenge.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: games like Lode RunnerBurger Time and Elevators.

Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966)

Release Date: January 5th, 1966 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Gerd Oswald
Written by: Blair Robertson
Music by: Gene Kauer, Douglas M. Lackey
Cast: Peter Mark Richman, Carl Esmond, Barbara Bouchet, Martin Kosleck, Wendell Corey, Robert Quarry

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“This could’ve been you, and don’t you forget it! Better go back to the judo range.” – Adam Chance

This is a bad and bizarre movie but it was also riffed in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so that probably goes without saying.

Agent of H.A.R.M. was released in the mid-’60s when there were a slew of spy films coming out due to the success of the James Bond franchise. This one also adds in some crazy sci-fi elements, which was also popular at the time.

The threat in this film is a special gun that shoots spores. When these spores come into contact with flesh, it turns them into fungus, which basically transforms its victims into mushroom goo. I can’t believe I just typed those two sentences but that’s the MacGuffin in this sci-fi spy turkey.

Originally, this was developed to be a television pilot but Universal ended up deciding that it would be best to be released as an actual motion picture on a double bill with Wild Wild Winter, which was a beach party movie that left the beach behind for the slopes. So this wasn’t really a logical pairing but studios didn’t care when they were just trying to make a dime back off of a dollar thrown away.

I didn’t find this as terrible as most of the reviews I’ve read on it. It certainly isn’t good but it’s also far from the worst thing to make it on an episode of MST3K.

I also didn’t get too bored watching it but I’m also fascinated by batshit crazy sci-fi plots and I’ve got a soft spot for ’60s spy films regardless of their quality.

In the end, if you are into weird shit like this, it’s worth a look. If you’re an MST3K fan and haven’t watched this one, it won’t drive you to madness.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy movies with a weird sci-fi twist.

Film Review: The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

Also known as: The 1000 Eyes of Su-Muru (review title), Sax Rohmer’s The Million Eyes of Su-Muru (UK long title), Sumuru (UK alternate title)
Release Date: May 17th, 1967
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Kevin Kavanagh
Based on: a story by Peter Welbeck, the Sumuru novels by Sax Rohmer
Music by: John Scott
Cast: George Nader, Frankie Avalon, Shirley Eaton, Wilfred Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski

Sumuru Films, American International Pictures, Warner-Pathe, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I have a million eyes… for I am Sumuru!” – Sumuru

This seems like it had the makings of something that could have, at the very least, been an enjoyable spy romp. It was anything but.

The Million Eyes of Sumuru is a pretty dreadful and boring movie. It was featured in the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local television in Minneapolis. But even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was really damn hard to sit through. There’s probably a reason why they didn’t resurrect this for the show once it went national on Comedy Central.

I mean, this is a film with Frankie Avalon and Klaus Kinski in it; two guys I never imagined would wind up in the same motion picture or even find themselves in the same room together.

This also stars George Nader, Wilfred Hyde-White and one of the most memorable Bond girls of all-time, Goldfinger‘s Shirley Eaton. You know, the girl that was actually turned to gold.

I’m just not sure what this film was going for, other than trying to tap into to ’60s movie spy craze that was created by the success of the James Bond franchise. This almost feels like poorly crafted parody that is devoid of any sort of intentional humor. There are things you can certainly laugh at but that was not the intent of the production.

But this isn’t so bad that it’s worth seeing because of its awfulness. It’s terribly slow, boring and tapped into my strongest primal instinct: hitting the fast forward button. But I stuck with it and fought this fight just for the sake of writing a review about this total mess of a movie.

I mean, I’m on a mission to review every single film ever featured on MST3K, so I couldn’t just skip over this. And still, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen on MST3K but it is way down in the murky bottom amongst some of the more abominable movies the show has made me aware of.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: really bad spy films from the ’60s that were poor attempts at cashing in on the James Bond craze.

Film Review: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Release Date: December 14th, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“A duel between titans. My golden gun against your Walther PPK. Each of us with a 50-50 chance.” – Francisco Scaramanga

This is the last of the pre-Daniel Craig era James Bond pictures for me to review. And well, I saved one of my favorites for last.

Why do I love this one so much? Well, it has the legendary Christopher Lee as the villain and also features Hervé Villechaize and Britt Ekland, who was one of those early crushes I had as a young kid discovering movies. But I also love the story and the locations in this film. Plus, we even get to see Sheriff J.W. Pepper one more time but sadly for the last time.

As grandiose as James Bond movies are, and this one still lives up to that, the actual threat is smaller, more intimate and very personal. Essentially, James is lured into a duel: one on one, man to man, for all the marbles if those marbles are your own mortality. And there really was no one greater than Christopher Lee to play the role of Francisco Scaramanga, the anti-Bond with his iron sights aimed at Britain’s greatest spy.

Scaramanga was also assisted by Nick Nack, played by the tiny Frenchman Hervé Villechaize, who is most famous for his role on Fantasy Island. Nick Nack was a sinister little shit and amusing in every scene he was in. In the end, his fate is pretty hilarious.

The film spends a lot of time in Asia but primarily features Thailand, which is just a beautiful country. The sights are nice, the action is great and seeing Sheriff Pepper stumble through an exotic land was entertaining.

I loved the opening of this film and it’s one of my favorite in the series, as it sees a hired hitman trying to kill Scaramanga in his maze. The maze was cool and it would return in the climax of the film for the duel between Bond and Scaramanga. I liked the very ’70s style of it and it was inventive and clever and something we hadn’t seen in a Bond film up to this point.

I’d hate to say that Lee really steals the show here but this is very much his movie more than it is Roger Moore’s. Moore is still fantastic in all the ways that make him great but in this film, Lee really proved that he was a major player and should be given more roles of this caliber. At this point, he was typecast as just a horror actor but this showcased his talents at a higher, more mainstream level. He would eventually get other major mainstream roles again but not until the early ’00s, thirty years later, with the roles of Count Dooku in the Stars Wars prequels and Saruman in The Lords of the Rings trilogy. But I doubt Lee would complain, as he loved his horror career and still worked on over 200 pictures.

The Man With the Golden Gun is just a fun, exciting film and it kind of grounds James Bond after the voodoo shenanigans of Live and Let Die. It’s simple, effective and just a good movie.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.