Movie Review: Spectre


Here’s the thing about James Bond movies: they’re not so much films as they are spectacles. They’re not meant to be broken down and reviewed as if they’re saying anything important. Structurally they’re all similar, where the greatness of any particular Bond film lies in the main villain and exotic locations. If you nail just those two elements…you have a great Bond film.

I mean think about it, how many Bond movie plots can you actually recall?

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Spectre is the fourth film in the Daniel Craig as James Bond series, and it is a straight up throw back to old school Bond. Some people (Bond lovers) are going to like it; others (assholes) are not going to like it at all, and then waste time writing articles about the “need” for a James Bond and all that other navel gazing bullshit that follows a Bond movie release.

Director Sam Mendes started to aim the current Bond series towards the classic Bond films with Skyfall. Having the main villain and Bond interact and play off each other is a staple of the “great” Bond films and something that was sorely lacking from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Moreover, while I respect the Daniel Craig reboot for injecting some much-needed modernity in to the Bond films, it lost many of the things that made the James Bond movies great in the first place.

Seemingly ridding itself of the Jason Bourne heavy leanings of the first two Craig Bond films, Spectre takes us back to the golden era of Bond: beautiful locations, hot women, menacing henchmen, fights in small spaces, and blowing the shit up out of things. Oh yeah, and the return of James Bond’s greatest villain Ernst Blofeld!

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With the return of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), there is also a return to the sadomasochism that was slowly drained from the Bond series as they started leaving the books behind. To be fair, there’s a lot of Bond getting his shit tortured in the Craig Bond’s, but Spectre takes it all the way back with the main villain being the torturer in charge. Ridiculous monologuing and all!

The only real complaint I have with Spectre is in regards to its use of Christoph Waltz as Blofeld. I remain optimistic with Craig having one more film on his contract and Blofeld not being killed at the end of the film that there very well could be more Blofeld/Bond hijinks in another film. Because he’s not given much to do in this film.

I think what I love the most about Spectre is that the production trolled a fair amount of people in to thinking that the film was going to be something it wasn’t. When it was announced that Monica Bellucci was cast as a “Bond Girl”, the media was all “Finally an age appropriate woman for Bond!” Nevertheless, she’s in the movie all of five minutes, half of that being a super sexy foreplay scene, the other half being a plot propulsion device…not pun intended!

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Of course, the 30-year-old Lea Seydoux is going to be the main Bond bitch! This is James Bond we’re talking about here! Nothing against Bellucci she is fine as shit in this movie, but no Bond film fan was confused as to who Bond was going to pick.

Perhaps another disappointment with Spectre would be in Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, Blofeld’s henchman and Bond ass kicking deliveryman. Maybe this is a throwback to the less-as-more villains in past Bond films, like Oddjob and Jaws, they’re more physical presences than substantial characters. Mr. Hinx is very menacing and makes a great entrance in to the film proper, but then he winds up being wasted in a bunch of vehicle chases. Look, I love beautiful expensive cars racing around “exotic” locations as much as the next man, but come on! You’re wasting a giant imposing figure that looks great fighting Bond!

Spectre spends a little bit of time in film continuity, with Bond focusing on previous events in the series. Which does kind of make sense as Blofeld explains he was the mastermind behind all the plots of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall? However, it’s not necessary, and Bond dealt with a lot of this “demons” and “being too old” nonsense to great effect in the previous movie.

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They don’t even pretend as if James Bond is too old to be out in the field fucking bitches and ruining master plots. Although there is a great visual gag early in the film when Bond is given essentially a tracking device in his blood and a screen that reads “Alcohol Content” that is clearly on an uptick is briefly seen.

As I stated at the beginning, Bond movies are more spectacle than film, so all these critics that are panning the movie because “It’s not as awesome as Skyfall” need to get over themselves. Skyfall is literally the plot of The Dark Knight, it has a bloated run time and Raoul Silva was a shitty villain. Compared to Quantum of Solace, of course Skyfall is going to be leagues better.

In addition, all this talk of continuity is absurd as well. Bond movies are the perfect cable movie marathon material! That’s how most people became Bond fans in the first place! You watch these movies on your ass during the holidays as you try to fight off a food-induced coma.

Better yet, Bond movies have always been a father-and-son pop culture fixture. At my viewing, there were several fathers and sons watching the movie. For a matinee, the theatre was packed as well. This is the type of “movie” James Bond will always be. It’s not one of those things you break down and discuss within an inch of it’s life. Either you like a particular Bond movie or you don’t. In the case of Spectre, I loved it very much and look forward to the next Bond movie…as always.

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Movie Review: Spectre

Movie Review: American Ultra

In a review for American Ultra, a reviewer posited that August was the month where studios dumped their lesser movies; in the attempt to wring out just a bit more money out of summer moviegoers. Sadly, it’s not August that’s the true dumping ground, that distinction would go to February.

If it is a dumping ground, at least August has way better movies in it than the turgid, miscast, shelved-for-years nonsense that mucks up a February movie release calendar. This is why I hold out great hope for Deadpool, seeing at its only real competition will probably be another Katherine Heigl starring romantic-comedy abortion that a studio sneaks out.

As I stated in my The Man from U.N.C.L.E. review, August is home to the cable movie incubator. Sadly, this means that American Ultra joins its ranks as well.

From what little he has done between American Ultra and Chronicle, screenwriter Max Landis seems to be the king of great concepts that somehow lose something in the translation to the big screen. Perhaps in it’s the low risk/high reward budgets of his movies. Seeing as no studio in their right mind would give American Ultra the kind of budget that would do the material true justice. So instead, we get a modest $12 million dollar budgeted film that wisely uses that money for star power and less for action movie bang-pow.

American Ultra also lends itself to the notion of “it’s not for you”, a concept that a movie might not be for everyone. Sometimes old ass Peter Travers isn’t going to be the intended audience of a movie like this, even with his lackadaisical review style that inexplicably finds itself blurbed on every turd movie that’s released in a calendar year.

The movie is clearly aimed at a younger audience who doesn’t really have the necessary touchstones to better action movies.

Another problem that American Ultra is contending with is the idea that since its protagonists are potheads this is supposed to be a stoner movie. The movie clearly labeled itself as an action movie first, with comedy coming in a distant second. If this were to be a comedy, why would the two leads be Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart? Hell, the only real comedic elements in the film come from John Leguizamo and he’s barely in the film!

From left: The
From left: The “comedic” stylings of John Leguizamo, Jessie Eisenberg.

The limited budget means that the “action” in this action film is bare minimum. Many shaky-cam-laden and obscured camera fights scenes try to disguise that Eisenberg, or any of the other actors, didn’t spend six months learning how to fight or train in any kind of movie-kung fu. There are explosions, but they’re small and wimpy and if you’ve seen an action movie at any time in recent history, you’ve seen what’s on offer here.

The concept of Eisenberg’s super-spy Mike Howell being able to kill anyone with anything is awesome. Unfortunately, it’s never really used to great effect, outside of the first scene in which he uses a spoon and a cup of ramen. You’d think the climax taking place in a hardware store would yield great results, but it does not. It mainly reveals the budget constraints of the film and the need to keep things small. No unique kills with a brass wing nut or anything, just typical screwdrivers and hammers type maiming. And guns lots and lots of gunplay.

I still remain firmly unimpressed with Kristen Stewart and while she and Eisenberg have great chemistry, and help ground the film in the real human stakes the story tries to imply, she’s just…Kristen Stewart. She’s boring and constantly has her mouth open just this much to be annoying. You’d think she’d use all that Twilight money and get some acting classes.

“Acting” as seen in every movie Kristen Stewart has EVER been in.

American Ultra‘s true problem is pacing. If it is indeed an action movie then it can’t have so many pudgy parts padding out the time. Again, budget constraints are probably more to blame than anything else is, but in between the action set pieces is a lot of downtime. Some of it is used to great effect, especially considering the kind of actors they got for the film. It’s fun to watch Bill Pullman, Connie Britton and even Topher Grace kind of flex some semi-over-the-top acting.

But when it’s to the determent of the action, that’s where it begins to lose its edge and starts to become that cable movie masterpiece, languishing on TNT and AMC the rest of its days.

There’s an animation sequence at the end that reveals the true heart of the film. Its black light tinged color palette and over-the-top violence are only merely hinted at in American Ultra. Had this end scene informed more of the movie tonally and stylistically, perhaps it would’ve been better than cable movie average.

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Movie Review: American Ultra

Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

August is what I like to refer to as the “Cable Movie Month” for releases: most of the movies are solid, but they lack that “Wow!” factor that most summer movies have. They make great background noise entertainment as you do something else while it plays on the television. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is that movies in spades.

The trailer for Man from U.N.C.L.E. definitely sold a sexier movie than the one I saw in theaters. I also had NO IDEA that Guy Ritchie was at the helm of this flick. Even during the run-time I couldn’t tell you who the director could be, that is just how vanilla The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is.

To be fair, there is some great comic book panel-type work that plays well in action scenes and helps mask the utter cheapness that sits at the edges of the film. Made for an estimated $75 million one supposes that Ritchie spent all that money on sexy locations and great clothes for all the main characters and villains of the film.

1960's Movie Checklist: Sexy Clothes? Check. Sexy Locales? Check. Sexy People? Check.
1960’s Movie Checklist:
Sexy Clothes? Check.
Sexy Locales? Check.
Sexy People? Check.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on the ‘60’s television series of the same name, and from the geriatric laden crowd in attendance when I went to the movie theater this weekend…was the main audience of this film. As I stated earlier, I came for the sexy spy film that is teased in the trailer, and I was GREATLY disappointed that that really wasn’t the case with the movie.

According to good ol’ Wikipedia, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was supposed to be a Tom Cruise starring jam, and it reeks of the kind of middling end of summer film that he would get up to in the odd years between his bigger blockbusters. He would’ve elevated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with his Cruise-like powers of riding a motorcycle in a few scenes, running around sexy locations in a sexy suit, climbing sexy architectural marvel buildings in a sexy suit and other cliché ass Tom Cruise things that fill his movies. Instead, we settle for Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, gentleman spy.

Cavill is the only actor in this film that I really liked. Illya Kuryakin, played by  Armie Hammer, who pretty much does the only thing he’s good at, being a straight man, and Alicia Vikander as “the girl” is cute and does what she can with what little she’s given. Cavill seems to be the only one having a real good time.

I may be the only reviewer that found Napoleon Solo’s aloofness endearing and infinitely watchable. Apparently he also saw the same trailer I did and somehow been ripped out of that and jammed in to this by-the-numbers spy movie with the same tired twists and supremely uninteresting villains with a rigid ass boring plans as far as that goes. I was half surprised they didn’t have a scene wherein the villainess held the world hostage for one million dollars or some trite bullshit.

The biggest problem that I had with this film, surprisingly, came from Jared Harris’ American accent. It’s fucking atrocious. Perhaps he was trying to impersonate the television series Saunders character or be in that campy movie that Henry Cavill thought he was starring in, but it just doesn’t work. On top of that his pronunciations are off as well, with been persistently being pronounced “BEAN”. I guess we can chock this one up as a paycheck for an otherwise great British actor.

Unintentional comedy is unintentional.
Unintentional comedy is unintentional.

Astonishingly enough with four credited writers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t have any tonal issues, and manages to only bog down in a few spots. They’ll be completely unnoticeable to the cable movie crowd, and more than likely truncated for run time and more commercials.

Ritchie as director-for-hire one would think he would lend more of his visual language to the film. Maybe his “influence” on younger directors is such now that even he is indistinguishable from your run of the mill director-for-hire as nothing in this film particularly stands out.

The use of the comic book style panels are used to great effect at the end of the film as both Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), descend on the villains’ compound (naturally) they essentially montage the entire event. Stylistically it’s kind of cool and essentially works as a fast forward to the films denouement. Nevertheless, realistically looks like they hired MAYBE six people to play bad guys, and they plainly use them repeatedly in various shots.

The biggest problem of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is that is doesn’t pick a side and stay there. Is it a campy romp reminiscent of its source material, or is it a Guy Ritchie movie with modern overtones set in the 1960’s because of the source material? Which is very well why it wound up in the middling vanilla graveyard of an August instead of the bombastic awesome flavor of July? Doomed to live out the rest of its days as a cable movie mainstay played as background noise to folding laundry or midday sex romps.

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Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

You have to wonder just exactly movie critics were expecting out of this Fantastic Four reboot. Better yet, was this movie an excuse for critics to expound on all their pent up dislike of the current, seemingly endless, barrage of comic book superhero movies clogging up mainstream pop culture at this point?

Like it or not all comic book movies are only middling to good. There’s not really one you can point to and say “Yes, this was all worth millions of dollars to final realize [Insert Comic Book Hero]’s journey to the big screen.”

As I said in my Ant-Man review, Marvel Studios is just making genre films and wedging superheroes in to them. Even the most middling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are buoyed by this ridiculous idea that you need to watch all of them in order to be “in” on the overarching story arc that all these movies portend to.

That being said, I love the general “Fuck You, Marvel!” nature of the 20th Century Fox and Sony Marvel licensed movies. They keep making movies as a way to hold the licensed superheroes like X-Men and Spider-Man hostage, and Marvel just has to watch in horror as each successive “remake” or “reboot” comes to theaters. And critics are there to gleefully pan the shit out of them.

Fantastic Four harkens back to the late 90’s/early 00’s way of making comic book movies: Hire a director to put their “take” on a license, then drown the film in studio notes and general malfeasance and hope that whatever comes out is watchable. It is in the regard that Fantastic Four doesn’t disappoint.

Josh Trank’s Choronicle proved that if given a proper budget, he could do great things with a superhero movie. The bulk of Fantastic Four’s plot proves this out. It’s in the odd seemingly forced in action bits and clearly filmed many months later re-shoot scenes that the movie starts to unravel.

Look at that horrible ass wig on the right! Who approved that?
Look at that horrible ass wig on the right! Who approved that?

There’s some awful continuity shots in the movie, which I found so-bad-to-be-great and humorous. Sue Storm’s (Kate Mara) hair is a major culprit. One scene it looks normal, then a horrible ill fitting wig in the next, and then sometimes a less horrible wig, perhaps more of a bad dye job filling in. Towards the end of the film Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) sports a clean shaved face only to magically grow a full goatee in the very next scene. Richard Reed (Miles Teller) also gets in on the game with a scruffy five a clock shadow and zitty chin only to be clean shaven and mildly LESS zitty in the next scene. Apparently only The Thing (Jamie Bell) was able to keep up continuity wise.

The humor in all of it is the notion that this movie cost $120 million dollars to make, and no one seemingly gave a shit that the movie played and looked patched together. From the continuity, to the shitty workman like heroes costumes, you have to wonder where all that money went?

Keeping with what I hope will be a continuing trend Fantastic Four clocks in about an hour and forty minutes. Even in its shoddily patched together framework, it doesn’t mess around plot wise. It even has the temerity to just move the film forward a year, because why waste time watching the heroes come to grips with their powers? The film leans on the audience being somewhat familiar with the source material, and perhaps a lot of this “Now the Fantastic Four will be used by the military ‘for reasons’” was more of a studio move than a directorial intention.

Aside from Trank’s recent (now deleted) tweet at dissatisfaction at the finished product, Fantastic Four is a pretty solid movie, outside of the clearly studio added elements that bog down the rest of the film. There are glimpses of a more grounded, less superhero-laden narrative that keeps getting pushed aside for scenes of the Fantastic Four using their powers. The “You’re Only Strong as a Family” sentimentality of the film seems more forced and out of place in this ramshackle version of the film.

Dr. Doom...or just Doom in this film.
Dr. Doom…or just Doom in this film.

It’s also too bad that they had to front load Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) with so much “he’s totally going to be the bad guy” nonsense before he becomes the vaunted archvillian of the movie. Plot-wise it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for him to want to destroy Earth. If he loves Planet Zero sooo much, then why not go back to it and leave well enough alone? Instead he’s all “Y’all be killing the Earth anyways, so fuck you, I’ll kill Earth for you!” and the Fantastic Four are compelled to stop them because they have superpowers. The End.

So if you were wanting an uncut version of a superhero movie, perhaps Fantastic Four isn’t for you. It’s not as a bad as critics are making it out to be, and it’s no less horrible than any of the other dozens of middling comic book movies cluttering up the movie theaters this summer.

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Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)