Category Archives: Pop Culturing: Movies, Books, Comic Books and Other Arts

Ranked

Hello,

One of the things I noticed while I was researching Moonraker‘s standings with Bond fans is that there a million best of lists for James Bond movies and they’re all garbage.

All of them.

There is no consistency where what movies lay where on the rankings. Oh sure, you’ll see From Russia With LoveCasino Royale and The Spy Who Loved Me hovering near the top consistently, but it’s a wild shot in the dark to see what movies are actually the best and which are actually the worst.

There are two conclusions that I can draw from this:

The James Bond movies aren’t really great movies, with one or two exceptions, and the differences between the majority of them is entirely subjective.

This conclusion is erroneous.

The second, true, conclusion I came up with is that there is not a consistent scoring system designed to actually rate the James Bond movies. But I have it. I made it. It exists now.

I’m going to randomly go through the Bond movies and create a list based on numbers and facts and it’ll be glorious.

Starting now.

-D-

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Raked Over the Coals: In Defense of Moonraker

Hello,

I want to talk about Moonraker. Not the book. The movie. The criminally underrated movie.

On most lists ranking Bond movies, lists by the way that are all shockingly wrong, Moonraker is usually toward the bottom, sometimes below such objectively awful entries like Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again.

just watched Moonraker for the first time, have, in fact, been avoiding it due to the reputation it has an I’m livid that I waited this long to watch it.

Full disclosure: Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond. He’s less of a callous bastard than Sean Connery’s Bond and much more wry and playful at his job than any other Bond. He might also be the only Bond I’ve seen who turns down a overly amorous woman (Lynn-Holly Johnson‘s Bibi in For Your Eyes Only).

Back to Moonkraker.

This a Bond film that kicks off with a space shuttle being stolen midflight and then a spectacular sky diving sequence where Jaws and James Bond battle it out in mid-air as they hurtle toward the ground, a sequence that took 88 jumps to capture on film.

This is a Bond film that, once again, has Bond matched up with an equally competent and equally wry secret agent as his love interest (Lois Chiles as Doctor Holly Goodhead). Note: The novel has Bond working with an agent from M5 who is infiltrating Hugo Drax’s installation. So, you know, basically the same thing.

This is a Bond film that ends with a laser battle in space and the villain has a truly derange plot that he lifted straight from a story in Doctor Who.

This is also a Bond film where Bond shoots a gun once and that’s it and yet he still manages to stop the bad guy and avoids being murdered by Jaws.

Oh yeah, Jaws is in this. I can take him or leave him.

The point is, this is a Bond film that has all the moments and pieces that you need for a truly great Bond flick, especially if you’re a fan of the best era of Bond movies (The Roger Moore Era). So what you should do is what I should have done and ignore everything that people have told you about Moonraker and just go watch it.

This experience has convinced me that I need to come up with a definitive rating scale for the Bond films, especially given the number of prfoundly wrong lists I saw while researching this entry.

Also, check out my last Bond blog entry, my endorsement of the many Bonds theory.

-D-

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Soundtrack

Hello,

Music and I have an iffy relationship at best. I’ve never been the kind of person who sits and just…listens to music. The idea of doing that doesn’t even really make sense to me, although I’m aware that my attention span requires a very specific set of circumstances to keep me in my seat.

Most of the time, music for me is background. It’s just there if I need a certain amount of distraction to keep me focused on my writing or cleaning or whatever. If I’m writing a western story, I like to have Hank Williams. If I’m writing horror, I like AC/DC. If I’m writing a my 22nd consecutive blog entry, it’s anything.

Although, today it’s the James Bond themes on repeat again.

Because if there is something that i will listen to over and over and over again, it’s soundtracks.

I have an immediate emotional connection to a soundtrack that I don’t have with just a random song. And this applies to terrible soundtracks as well. It doesn’t matter how creatively bankrupt a song is if it conjures up images of giant robots cutting through sharkticons with buzzsaws.

In my heart, I feel like this makes me a bad person, that I should appreciate music more for what it is on its own. The chords and the melodies and the notes and…the other…things and pieces.

But…in the end, I know I’m just to continue to use music as a tool for other purposes, rather than appreciating it for what it is on its own.

-D-

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Movie Review: Vengeance: A Love Story

Hello Again,

I just finished watching this movie and I have thoughts.

It is not a great movie. It is, at its best, an average movie. There are small moments here and there that make it interesting and there are some very large plot arcs that also make it interesting, at least to me.

****Just as a warning, the movie deals pretty heavily with sexual assault, so I’ll be talking about that as well.****

Let’s get the synopsis out of the way:

Based on Joyce Carol Oate’s Rape: A Love Story, Vengeance: A Love Story is about a young single mother, Teena (Ann Hutchinson) who is brutally gang-raped in front of her twelve-year-old daughter, Bethie (Talitha Eliana Bateman). Because the justice system caters to jagoffs and rapists, it’s up to Detective John Something (Nicolas Cage) to put away the trash….for good.

This is not going to be a typical review. I’m not doing a blow-by-blow of the cinematography or the acting or whatever you want. I do want to talk about the rape scene, which is brutal and awful and involves a child actor being present for a fair amount of it, to the point that the daughter covers her own brutalized mother’s nudity with the discarded and torn clothing.

This is…unnecessary. Whenever I see children in this type of movie, I think about Danielle Harris. She’s an actress who played the ten-year-old niece of Michael Meyers in the Halloween movies (IV and V?). Because the production team did such a lousy job of protecting her and screening her from the worst of it, she suffered nightmares and eventually did the Rob Zombie Halloween movies as a form of therapy, which is…the most mindbogglingly sentence I’ve had to type.

So there’s that. Additionally, I’m extremely over scenes of extreme sexual violence in movies because usually they’re just used as a catalyst to propel the male character to do some violence.

Ann Hutchinson as Teena.

However….this movie did something right. Nicolas Cage’s character is the over-the-hill cop who has seen it all and is tired of the system and the revolving door in our criminal justice system….except he’s very low key and he’s not really in the movie that much. He appears here and there and then shows up toward the end in a big way, but for large chunks of the movie, it’s about Teena and Bethie dealing with what happened and the emotional ramifications of that.

There’s an especially affecting scene when Teena is about to swallow a handful of pills in a suicide attempt and then throws them away in an angry fit. In a lot of movies, that would be the end of it. She conquered her suicidal depression in one angry act! But the movie continues to show that she is not okay, that she is still having trouble emotionally processing the attack and what happened to her and that’s she’s still suffering from suicidal ideation.

And Nicolas Cage is Sleepy Cage in this movie. He’s not grandstanding. He’s not taking over the movie when he’s around. He’s mostly silent, mostly in the background and mostly just waiting to act. And when he does act (yes it’s to murder the rapists) it’s thoughtful, careful, planned violence that removes the problem with no collateral damage.

This movie is still problematical in that in robs Teena and Bethie of dealing with the resolution themselves, but it does something right in that it actually highlights their journey after the assault. It highlights the women that were attacked, the women around them who are trying to help.

This is not a good movie. It has some great moments, Ann Hutchinson and Talitha Batemen work well together and have great chemistry and don’t pull any punches with their performances. And Cage makes the right choice in this movie and minimizes his impact.

I’m not recommending you see this movie, unless you, for some reason, think we need another movie in which a woman is brutally raped and her male whatever needs to avenge her. Vengeance takes a step in the right direction. Focus on her story. How she deals with it and copes with it.

It’s not his story.

-D-

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Care About Other People

Hello Again,

Today, there was a news report about a woman who has the measles and who apparently decided to travel through every major population center in Eastern Massachusetts.

Now, ten years ago, I don’t think she would have hit the news, much less having articles tracking her progress through Massachusetts like new anchors tracking Santa’s sled during Christmas.

The thing that’s changed, of course, is that a surprisingly large number of people have decided that, just because they don’t understand the basic science behind how something works means they no longer have faith in it working.

Which is surprising to me, because I’m sure a large number of those same people drive cars, use computers and talk on telephones without batting an eye. They do not let the fact that have a profound ignorance in these devices and how they work to deter them from using them.

However, the moment vaccines come up, suddenly they become experts who feel the need to shout down the actual scientists and researchers who know how vaccines work. Let’s be frank here: you do not know how the science behind vaccines work, so stop pretending you do. You did not try to educate yourself on how they work, you just shoved your head into the echo chamber and heard your own ignorant rants repeated back at you.

And then, here’s the kicker here, you let your ignorance kill people because you did not want to vaccinate your child.

If you’re an anti-vaxxer, you contributed to the deaths of human beings.

That’s it. That’s all you’ve done.

There are people who would be alive today if you had just done the sane thing and protected your own children from disease.

That’s all.

-D-

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Play Review: Chalk by Walt McGough

Fresh Ink Theater Company presents CHALK. Written by Walt McGough and directed by Sarah Gazdowicz, it is currently running at the Boston Playwright Theater through January 24.

I haven’t been to very many plays.

Five.

I’ve been to five plays.

So I’m not the most informed when it comes to this particular medium. However, I do know when I’ve had a damn good time and I had one last night.

Chalk is a tightly wound story, involving only two characters and a single space that, at times, feels perilously small for the heroine. Maggie (Christine Power) is, by all appearances, the last survivor of the end times. Until, that is, her daughter Cora (Caroline Rose Markham) suddenly reappears. It quickly becomes clear that this is not a friendly reunion and that something is horribly wrong.

Chalk makes great use of its space. The set sketched out the environment without being visually overwhelming. Old books, stacked cardboard boxes, and flickering lights and the thrum of a generator in the background let me know all I need to about Maggie’s refuge. And there are so many little touches that helped to enhance the feeling that we were peering into a little slice of post apocalyptic life. As the audience was sitting, Maggie went about her morning routine within her shelter; brushing her teeth, some calisthenics and tending to the circle. It let us into her life gradually, before we were thrown in with a bang.

Both Christine Power and Caroline Markham brought their all to their performances. Power’s Maggie reminded me a lot of Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo: sweet no-nonsense sensibilities with a biting sarcasm when necessary. And Markham was a spitting, mean-spirited creature, full of vitriol and animalistic fury. They counterbalanced one another and drew toward one another and held my attention the entire show.

In spite of the subject matter, which could potentially be overwhelmingly depressing given that is the end of the world, there was hope and humor rather than grim and gritty. Walt McGough‘s story eschewed the usual tropes and cliches that are rife within this genre. This is no The Walking Dead or A Boy and His Dog where humanity is shown to be THE REAL MONSTER: this is a small scale story focusing in on a mother and her daughter. It’s two people circling each other and figuring each other out and it’s funny and touching and wonderful all balled together. There’s one moment at the end, when Maggie throws back a line at Cora that’s hilarious, the kind of line you’d hear in any action movie as a throw-away gag, but it turns into an important, defining moment in the final act. It’s a play with good feelings in bad times and that’s really what I needed right now.

It’s a well-written, well-acted, well-produced feature that provides a great reason to get out of the house and into the theater. Even if you’re like me and you don’t really go to plays, this one you should make the effort to see. It’s seventy-five minutes long, hilarious, deals with the end of the world and will make you have an emotion or two. Go!

I give it five bags of chalk dust and a cherry pop tart.

To buy tickets to see Chalk (playing at the Boston Playwright’s Theater), please go HERE.

For more information about Fresh Ink Theater and their future works, go HERE.

-D-

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James Bond: Chapter One; The First Chapter

“Today we are fighting Communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”
― James Bond, Casino Royale

I like James Bond. And, like everything else I’m interested in, I have to like it in a obsessive compulsive way that deeply worries the people closest to me. I hate half-measures and lackluster efforts. I have to take my interests and plow them into the ground, wringing out every last bit of enjoyment until I can’t stand the subject and put it on the shelf for a year.

James Bond is one I keep coming back to. He’s a hero that has survived over sixty years, from Ian Fleming’s first novel all the way to his next movie that’s due to be released next year.

He has fought communists, insane madmen seeking to blow up Silicon Valley, North Korean terrorists with a penchant for plastic surgery and duplicitous water stealing businessmen.

James Bond is a hero who has maintained the same posture and panache for his entire run, but, throughout, has maintained a relevancy that few other characters can claim. It is remarkable that someone who was so defined by the culture of the Cold War has not only survived twenty years after the end of that war, but has thrived.

He is defined by a cultured ruthlessness, a suave viciousness. He will lecture you on the correct way to drink a martini and then callously dispatch a henchmen without reflection or doubt. He remains, in many ways, thoroughly British, though beloved around the world.

His longevity is compelling in and of itself. He has been portrayed by many different actors in many different ways through vastly different era. His novels are still being written to this day, in spite of the fact that the original author has been dead and buried for fifty years.

Because of my obsessive compulsive madness, I need, NEED, to figure out a way to go the extra mile in James Bond researches. So, with a complete lack of careful thought and a dutiful inattentiveness to how much free time I actually have, I have decided to watch every James Bond movie, in chronological order, until I lose interest or I reach the final movie.

I will start with the first on-screen appearance. Which is, obviously, the hour long TV episode of Casino Royale.

Look for it at this location next week.

-D-

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The American Hero

Superman is an interesting character.

I know; that’s not a popular idea. Superman, for me and a lot of people, is The Superhero. He has every power that he could possibly have: flight, super strength, freeze breath, laser eyes, great hair. He holds all life sacred. He does not use his powers to alter humanity’s way of life, no matter how much he may or may not disagree with it. He stands for Truth and Justice and he…does…not…bend from those morals.

This does not make for a compelling character. The reader or viewer or listener (just in case you’re a huge fan of Superman audiobooks, I guess), wants a hero with flaws. They want someone who doubts and second guesses and makes mistakes. This is true in all fiction. If the central character if flawless and is an indestructible being of unimaginable power, the reader is bored at Page One.

However, whether or not you think a writer can tell a good story with Superman isn’t the point today. The point is what Superman says about us. Superman is as American as cowboys, jazz and baseball. Like America, he is the biggest, most powerful guy on the block. His strength is uncontested and his reach is unlimited.

The difference between Superman and America is as clear as the difference between the Ideal and the Real. The wonderful thing about this character is that he has the power to split the world in two. He could rule this planet with an iron (Steel) fist. There is nothing on this planet that could stop him. Instead, against all odds, he helps old people and saves cats from trees. He is an uncorruptible, unstoppable force. He is goodness personified.

America, once it took up the mantle of a global superpower, does not have the same track record. Our country has interfered in the affairs of other nations; not to their benefit, not to correct some wrongdoing or to right some terrible wrong. It has been about money or unfounded paranoia or because of some stupid, political morass that our country has involved itself.

We have wrecked countries over communism, a political system that was so flawed it annihilated itself. We have decimated populations to protect oil fields, which lead to enraged populations that struck back in vicious, terrible ways that caused us to reciprocate in like-mind.

Superman is how we wish America was. He is the ideal for the nation. He is how our country, our government, should be. When people ask for help, Superman responds. If a building was on fire, Superman would save everyone inside. And then he would probably rebuild the building for good measure. He would not make sure that his contractor friends got the job to rebuild and allow them to use shoddy and questionable materials to save a buck and turn a quick profit.

He would not charge into a situation where he was not wanted. He does not impose his will and then leave the situation worse than how he found it. He does only what he can be reasonably expected to do and what he does do, he does because he can and because it is righteous that he uses his might and influence to make things better.

Superman is interesting, he is fascinating, because he represents how everyone in a position of power or authority should be and rarely is. He has ultimate power and he would just as soon use it to talk a young woman out of killing herself as he would fight the Villain of the Week. He is what we should all aspire to be and, while that does not always make for interesting reading, it is sometimes important to be reminded of what we can be.

-D-

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Movie Review: V/H/S/2

V/H/S was an interesting, albeit flawed, horror movie anthology. It featured six short films, all of which were found footage with an overarching frame. There were one or two strong entries, but, for the most part, they were average horror stories that didn’t really make full use of the found footage genre.

Still, I have a soft spot for found footage. But, like all horror, it must abide by very specific rules in order to be scary. Found footage is about convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real. It’s not a slasher film or a monster movie, it’s something that really happened and we somehow stumbled across this missing tape. To that end, any found footage horror film must follow these rules:

1. No big name actors or people you’d recognize. It pulls you out of the narrative the very moment you see Robert Englund or Kane Hodder onscreen

2. No digital effects. Unless it’s used in a very minor way to enhance a practical effect, digital effects are immediately obvious. No matter how good they are, no matter how real they appear to be, you still say to yourself, “Oh, that’s some cool CGI.” and it’s ruined.

3. The more supernatural or sci-fi or unrealistic the plot is, the harder it will be to keep the audience invested in the idea that the movie really took place in our world and we’re just viewing a dark and strange corner of it. That’s not to say that they must avoid the supernatural at all costs, just that it’s harder to pull off.

With all of this said, they’re just about to release the sequel to V/H/S, creatively titled V/H/S/2. Let’s see how it fairs by my draconian rules.

Like in the first movie, there is a framing story. Two private detectives are on trying to track down a missing college student. They break into his house and come across a familiar set-up for anyone who has seen the first movie.

TVs

 

When breaking and entering into someone’s house and confronted with dozens of TVs that were on when you arrived, there is really only one thing that you can do….

InfrontofTVYou start watching the tapes.

Instead of the six shorter vignettes that were in the first V/H/S, the sequel only features four stories this time, which is a shame. I preferred the shorter, quicker films of the original film. No matter. Away we go.

Tape 1

Our protagonist has had his damaged eye replaced with a bad-ass looking cybernetic eye that works just as well as any other eye, but the doctor warns that there may be…glitches (ominous foreshadowing). Everything that the character sees will be recorded. What’s odd is that his eye also records sound which…doesn’t make a lot of sense. Possibly there’s an upgrade package for cybernetic eyeballs that lets them capture sound as well.

CameraEyeAfter seeing a couple of bloody people roaming around his apartment he freaks out, meets someone with similar problems and all hell breaks loose in rather rapid fashion. All told, it’s nothing special, but still entertaining. A couple of jump scares, twitchy acting and some gruesome scenes and then it’s all over. All told, this ranked dead middle for me out of the four shorts.

It did win a lot of points by not pandering too much to the audience. Through some context clues, you realize why the guy is being haunted. It’s not extremely subtle, but they never once say it out loud, which is impressive in this day and age where every motivation apparently needs to be loudly explained with a couple of exclamation points to boot.

Tape 2

This one, this was my favorite one. It’s about zombies, which made me groan and nearly turn it off, but then it turns into a zombie movie that I had never seen before.

It’s a zombie movie from the point of view of the zombie.

It’s one of the few entries that could only have been done effectively as found footage and makes good use of the genre. Tere’s not much else to say about it since the concept really says it all.

Great, bloody, gory and my favorite out of all the shorts in V/H/S or V/H/S/2.

Tape 3

Right after the cozy little nastiness that was Tape 2, we hit the worst of the four. This one breaks pretty much all of the rules I laid out, except for the first one. It’s about a cult in Indonesia that’s being investigated by some young people with cameras.

And there are subtitles. In a found footage movie, there are subtitles. While these can be explained away, it stills pulled me right out the narrative and wrecked any chance of me immersing myself in the thing.

There is also some pretty bad and obvious CGI. It’s not even always good CGI. Even if this had just been run as a regular old horror movie, it wouldn’t have been very scary and was wracked with spooky cult cliches.

Except for this guy:

CreepiestDudeEverThis guy creeped me right the fuck out.

Tape 4

While their parents are out of town, a brother and sister prank each other mercilessly while recording the results and then they’re attacked by….somethings.

This one, like the first, is average. There are some creepy moments and great visuals. There is CGI, but it’s better done than in the third video. It’s very frantic and hectic and blazes through.

In a lot of ways, I think it most accurately reflects what it would be like to suffer this kind of attack. It was pure chaos, lights and sounds flashing and blaring out in a confusing cacophony. It’s good, basic horror except there’s a crying dog throughout most of it and I don’t like dogs being hurt, so I was just sad instead of scared.

F–

Summary

All in all, I think V/H/S/2 suffers by having fewer shorts than its predecessor. V/H/S had one or two clunkers, but, for the most part, it was pretty entertaining and if you didn’t enjoy one short, it would be over soon. V/H/S/2, on the other hand, limits itself. The Cult Story just never seemed to end and went on interminably merely because I wasn’t digging the story. By the time it had ended, I had checked out mentally. More films and shorter films, I think, is the way to go with this style of filmmaking.

In the end, V/H/S/2 was a disappointing follow-up. I wanted more variety and more stories and more chances to delve into a subgenre I love.

I give it Two Tracking Errors, One Rewind Snarl and A Betamax.

V/H/S/2 comes out in theaters on July 12, but is available for rental now through various providers, like Amazon.

-D-

 

 

 

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Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek for most of my life and I’ve tagged along with the franchise through good times (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek First Contact ) and troubled times (Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek Insurrection). When I was kid, I loved the original series, but I love the movies more and watched Wrath of Khan so many times that I could (and, embarrassingly, still can) recite the lines along with the actors.

When they announced they were re-booting the series back in 2009 with an all new cast playing Kirk, McCoy, Spock, et all, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, nothing they did could hurt the franchise worse than anything Rick Berman did. Star Trek came out and everybody loved it and it made a ton of money and, most impressively, it made Star Trek cool.

When the sequel was announced I was more than cautiously optimistic and bounced around like a loon waiting for it to come out. To the credit of the marketing team, the trailers they released showed almost nothing of the plot. I knew next to nothing about what to expect going in. Except explosions.

And lens flares.

Star Trek Into Darkness  picks up pretty much where the first left off, with Kirk (Chris Pine) the Captain of the Enterprise and still as reckless and brash as he was in the last movie. Spock (Zachary Quinto) still doesn’t get human emotions. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is still dating Spock. And so on.

One of the reasons why the first movie was so successful with both old and new fans is that they jettisoned decades of cumbersome backstory in order to tell new stories wit established characters, which Into Darkness continues to do. Everyone still feels very familiar, but you don’t need to have seen Spectre of the Gun to understand the multiple layers of Chekhov’s character. The classic characters have been rebuilt on the same foundations, but with enough tweaks and modifications to keep them compelling and interesting.

In fact, the plot of this movie builds upon plots of some older episodes and reintroduces a few new/old characters as well as aspects of Starfleet like Section 31, more so than Star TrekInto Darkness has a stronger villain, a more compelling plot and a tighter grasp of the characters that comes from everyone involved being more comfortable.

It’s a visually brilliant movie right from the beginning  where Kirk and McCoy (Karl Urban) run through a vivid red alien jungle chased by striking, white aliens while Spock rappels into an active volcano from a shuttle. And, if you couldn’t tell from that preceding sentence, the action is just as lively as it was in the first movie. There are ships exploding and fight scenes and disintegrations and cool warp effects. It’s a shiny, pretty movie and one that does the genre credit.

Also, spoilers: Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly who you think he is and he’s wonderful and I want to hug him and hold him and never let him go.

All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness is a funny, explosive and intense entry in the Trek series and J.J. Abrams once again proves that he was the right person for the job and it makes me want to see, more than ever, how he handles the Star Wars series.

I give it a Baker’s Dozen of bowl cuts and pointy ears.

-D-

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