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

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.