Film Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Also known as: Bond 22 (working title), B22 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: October 29th, 2008 (London Film Festival)
Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen, Rory Kinnear, Alfonso Cuaron (cameo), Guillermo del Toro (voice)

Eon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 106 Minutes

Review:

“They say you’re judged by the strength of your enemies.” – James Bond

Quantum of Solace is a weird James Bond movie that seemed like it was trying to reinvent the franchise, tonally, after it already went through a major stylistic overhaul in the superb, previous film, Casino Royale.

I think that the director, Marc Forster, took a lot of creative license and the film suffers for that. Something that is part of a franchise, should have certain standards that keep the film cohesive and consistent with the other chapters in the larger, decades long, body of work.

I don’t necessarily blame Forster, as the studio may have been really keen on altering the Bond franchise following the immense success of Casino Royale. Plus, Forster wasn’t a guy known for action movies, he is known more for his dramatic, artsy films like The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction, Stay, Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball. And if I’m being honest, his other major action film, World War Z, really missed the mark too. But, personally, I really like most of Forster’s dramatic work and he is typically a great visual storyteller. I think that is probably why he was given a shot with this film, as Eon Productions possibly wanted an actual visionary to come in and freshen things up even further.

However, the problem with his action direction is almost immediately apparent in this film, as the opening scene features what should be a really fantastic sequence but it’s destroyed by quick, choppy edits that make it pretty hard to follow. It’s like a rapid paced mess of wasted, expensive shots, all of which deserved more than a split second of screen time knowing the level of craftsmanship and work that went into setting up those shots.

This issue carries over into all the other action scenes though and this is a hard movie to watch and absorb during these moments, which are aplenty.

Apart from that, the film also feels incomplete. It feels like two-thirds of a Bond movie were slapped together as best as the studio could salvage and then released with the hope that it would just be a hit, capitalizing off of the great movie before it.

For those who might not know, this film was made during the time of a big writers strike in Hollywood. When the strike happened, for better or worse (definitely worse), all writers stopped working. So it’s possible that the script was unfinished and for fear of losing money and being delayed, the studio just shoved this into the filming stage. It’s hard to really place blame on anyone due to the situation but the end result was a really lackluster Bond film and the worst one of the Daniel Craig era. Granted, there is still one more Craig-led film, which is slated to come out whenever this COVID-19 crap passes.

Quantum of Solace isn’t terrible; it’s just okay. Frankly, it’s almost forgettable other than the plot threads that tie it to the reemergence of the villainous SPECTRE organization.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other James Bond films of the Daniel Craig era.

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: 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.

Film Review: Operation Double 007 (1967)

Also known as: O.K. Connery (original title), Operation Kid Brother (US), Kid Brother (US informal title), Divided Evil (alternative title), Secret Agent 00 (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Alberto De Martino
Written by: Paolo Levi, Frank Walker, Stanley Wright, Stefano Canzio
Music by: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Agata Flori, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell, Yachuco Yama

Produzione D.S. (Dario Sabatello), 104 Minutes

Review:

“It’s going to blow up soon. Maybe even tomorrow. With you on board.” – Dr. Neil Connery, “You read too many novels by Fleming.” – Maya

As I’m getting close to finishing my quest of reviewing all the movies showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I saved one of the best pictures for last. That was partially by design, as I remembered seeing this years ago, was somewhat captivated by it and wanted to save something I liked (or was at least interested in) for the tail end of my long journey.

Since the Italians don’t give a crap about copyright law and make unofficial sequels to anything that made more than five lira at the box office, this film “borrows” pretty heavily from the James Bond franchise, which was super popular at the time.

While this film is parody and not a “sequel” it features some of the iconic actors from the early Bond films: Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo, the main antagonist from Thunderball). Even nuttier than that, it features Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil, as the super spy hero.

It’s alluded to that he is the younger brother of the more famous spy but the similarities between the two men end there, as Neil doesn’t look the part nearly as well as Sean does and he kind of stumbles through the film without the confidence and panache of any of the actors that played legitimate James Bonds.

In fact, the younger Connery is completely overshadowed by the other actors on the screen, especially the ones that were in actual Bond movies. Celi steals the scenes he’s in and it’s cool seeing Lee and Maxwell here too but none of them can make this a salvageable picture.

The only real high point, apart from how bizarre this is, are the dozens of hot Italian women thrown onscreen simply because this is Italian schlock that is ripping off a franchise that puts a high emphasis on the tried and true ideology that sex sells. You should certainly be pleased with the amount of eye candy here and even if no one is really acting like they care, most of the women heavy scenes are playful, fun and lighthearted.

Comparing this to the typical films that were riffed on MST3K, this is actually one of the better ones even though it’s still a bit shit. It’s that good kind of shit though, especially for fans of the early years of the James Bond franchise.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy parody films.

Video Game Review: Spy Hunter (NES)

I wanted to replay the arcade version of this game but I couldn’t get the rom to work on MAME. So I went back and played the original Nintendo port of the game, as I still own the cartridge.

This is one of those games that I used to play a lot, whether it was the arcade or Nintendo version. Granted, at the time, I didn’t know that it just replays in cycles and that there isn’t really an end to it.

The NES version of the game was the one I played most and for a port of the arcade version, it’s really well done and not too different.

Spy Hunter is still fun to play but I guess I am less motivated at trying to conquer it since you actually can’t. It’s an endless loop and because of that, there’s not much about it that feels rewarding.

In fact, the most rewarded I ever felt playing it, as a kid, was when I used to reach the boat dock and then got to play the boat stage, which usually led to a pretty quick death.

Based off of the game’s box art, which featured a bunch of vehicles, I always assumed that the game had all sorts of playable modes that were just really hard to access, due to the game’s difficulty once you get to the boat stage.

Other kids my age thought the same thing, as there was always that one kid that claimed he flew the plane or drove the motorcycle. Now I know that those kids were liars.

Anyway, this is still a good game and a good way to kill twenty minutes but without a real objective, it seems kind of pointless.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other vertical scrolling vehicle shooters for NES.

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, Rory Kinnear

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.