Sunday, October 31, 2010

Horror Videogames

In honor of Halloween, I'm going to talk about my favorite horror videogames. Everybody always talks about horror movies this time of year, but I wanted to do something a little different, and something that I hope is a little more fun. By no means is this any kind of best of list, nor is it a complete round-up as I am wont to do, but it's just a list of my personal favorite horror or gothic videogames.

And I'm going to do my best to write this in chronological order:

Castlevania
I'm not sure if this was really a horror game, since it wasn't actually scary. But it was a series about a family of vampire hunters that dedicated their lives to stopping Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the grim reaper, and, um, flying Medusa heads that were annoying as shit. The Castlevania games have gone down in history as some of the best and most challenging games ever. Very few games exemplify the 8 bit era better than the first three Castlevania games. They're just... brilliant.

I still remember the first time I played the very first Castlevania game. It was 1986 and I invited my best friend Johnathan Kovatch over because my mom had bought me some game called Castlevania. When he came over and I put it into my NES (because, good friend that I was, I waited for him to come over. Of course, he lived only a block away.), it blew are minds. I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said it was a serious contender for best... game... ever. It generated a bunch of sequels, some of which were great and some of which were terrible, but I'll save that for another blog post.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

American Gangster

This is a great movie.

I saw this when it first came out, but I picked up the two-disc special edition DVD the other day because I saw it on sale for four dollars. At that price, it was a no-brainer. It's just a fantastic movie that came with two-discs of fully loaded extras and bonuses. But, honestly, I probably would've purchased the bare bones single disc version at that same price anyway.

American Gangster, if you are unaware or haven't seen it, tells the epic, sweeping life story of Frank Lucas, perhaps the most powerful and influential druglord in Harlem during the 60s and 70s. Lucas is played by Denzil Washington, the officer assigned to take him down is played by Russell Crowe, the screenplay is by Steve Zaillian (who also wrote Schindler's List and Gangs of New York), and it is directed by Ridley Scott. That's really all you need to know, but if that's not enough, it's also a great story full of drama and excitement, featuring all of those people at the top of their games.

There are really only two scenes featuring Crowe and Washington together (and they come about two hours into the movie!), but they are absolutely amazing. These are the two best actors currently working in films, and they are amazing together. Their performances in this film are much better than their performances opposite one another in Virtuosity. But this film also kind of works as a prequel to Virtuosity, and I bet some of Frank Lucas's personality was injected into the Sid 6.7 program. But I'm digressing from my point. This is a brilliant movie and you should just go rent it already. 

Now that I got that out of the way, I just want to talk about the one thing that bothers me about this film: (SPOILER!!!!!!!) Even though he went to prison and lost his empire, Lucas never really got his comeuppance as far as I'm concerned, and the film even kind of glorifies his life and his character. The guy was a stone-cold murderer who caused the deaths of untold thousands and thousands of lives because of the drugs he brought into the city. So the film's coda where Lucas gets out of prison and is shown to be all buddy buddy with Richie Roberts never sits right with me, even though I'm sure it's probably historically accurate. I needed a little better sense that he was sorry for what he did, or that he was looking for some kind of redemption. But I don't think you get that. It's not a deal-breaker, since it actually adds another level of depth to the story, but on a personal level, I think he should've gone to prison for the rest of his life. Screw that guy.

And to make matters worse, the real Lucas appears on the bonus features in interviews and behind the scenes footage. He was a key person on the set working to get the story right and appearing at press junkets. Now, I believe in forgiveness and the power of redemption, but it still seems odd to see people like Ridley Scott and Brian Grazer acting all buddy buddy with a convicted murdered in a behind the scenes featurette. I mean, if you go to the biography for Frank Lucas on wikipedia, the picture is of him appearing at Comic Con.

But still... amazing movie.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dave Stevens's The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection

The Rocketeer was created by comic book creator Dave Stevens in 1982. It originally appeared as a back up story in a comic book published by Pacific Comics, but it jumped from company to company, appearing regularly albeit erratically. It was turned into a major Hollywood film in 1991, which still stands as one of the best comic book movies of all time. Stevens died in 2008. IDW recently published the complete series in a prestige, hardcover collection.

Now, I didn't know most of that before I saw the book on my local library's comic shelf last week. I've been a big fan of the film even since I first saw it in the theaters, but I had never read an issue of the comic book until just I checked out this book. Honestly, I didn't realize the character premiered in the 80s. Stevens created such a brilliant homage to the comics and movie serials of the 30s and 40s that I always assumed that was when the first Rocketeer comics came out.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this comics other than that they are really, really good. The artwork is beautiful and the stories are great fun. I think the film told the origin story a little better, but only because they had two hours to let it unfold while the first story only had a page or two. Once the origin gets out of the way and the Rocketeer takes flight, the fun never lets up. The art by Stevens is wonderful and perfectly reminiscent of comics from the 40s, only with updated colors and a slightly more modern style.

Anyway, check it out if you are a fan of comics or of the Rocketeer film. Or, really, if you just love great stories and beautiful artwork.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Iron Man 2

I didn't really care for this movie.

The first Iron Man was overrated, but a lot of fun. It was a cool action movie with a funny performance by Robert Downey Jr. and a great visual portrayal of the Iron Man suit. The sequel is boring, has an obnoxious performance by Downey Jr., and has maybe ten 15 minutes or so of actual screen time for Iron Man. This movie was basically 99% Tony Stark and only 1% Iron Man. This is annoying not only because the movie is called "Iron Man," but because the character of Tony Stark (as portrayed in this movie, and not the way he is in the comics!) is completely annoying, obnoxious, and unlikable. In the first movie he was kind of charming and witty. In this movie, he's literally one of the more hateful characters I've ever seen in any movie. I couldn't root for him because I didn't even like watching him on screen. I just kept waiting for him to put on the damn suit, which only happened about three times, with about 45 minutes or so between appearances.

In the comics, Iron Man is actually a hero who fights crime, goes up against super villains, and does a lot to make the world a better, safer place. In the Iron Man movies, Iron Man fights people who attack Iron Man. That's all he does. There is absolutely nothing noble or heroic about this character. He basically just defends himself when other people attack him. So why am I supposed to care? I don't even like the character, so the idea that all he's doing is defending himself and not actually working to help anybody else makes this entire film pointless. Honestly, there really was no plot other than that Tony Stark was annoying so a couple of other guys wanted to kill him. But the end of the movie, I was rooting for the other guys.

But the scenes with Iron Man were pretty cool, I must admit. I just wish there had been more of them and that they had gone on a lot longer. The big action sequence at the end where Iron Man and War Machine fight those robots was awesome, but it was over in about two minutes. No joke. Then there was the final confrontation between Whiplash and Iron Man, which was over in about 30 seconds. This final battle was without a doubt the most anticlimactic finale I've ever seen in a comic book movie. It sucked.

I did like the scene where Sam Jackson and Robert Downey Jr were talking at that donut shop, but only because Sam Jackson was the only likable character in the entire movie. There was a lot of drama about how Terence Howard was replace by Don Cheadle, but I honestly think that Howard lucked out. Cheadle is a wonderful actor but he had nothing at all to do in this movie, and his total lack of chemistry with Downey Jr. made the pair seem like enemies and not the close friends they were supposed to be. Oh, and Scarlet Johansson is gorgeous and looked fantastic in that leather suit, but I also wish those scenes had gone on longer too.

So this movie kind of sucked. It was boring, had a main character who was thoroughly detestable, and was almost completely devoid of any satisfying action scenes. Here's my advice for the writers of Iron Man 3: Have a lot more Iron Man, and have him fighting for something other than the preservation of Tony Stark and his company.

Captain's Log: Jellico

The Star Trek Next Generation two-parter Chain of Command is a fan favorite for many reasons. Many fans love it for the amazing acting performance by Patrick Stewart. Some fans love it for the deep story and exciting set pieces. Everybody loves it for giving trekkies one of the most quoted lines in the entire series: "There... are... four... lights!!!" Me, I love it for Ronny Cox's portrayal of Captain Edward Jellico. I don't care what anybody says, Jellico is awesome. After years and years spent being forgotten, the character finally gets to star in his own comic book one-shot.

Star Trek Captain's Log: Jellico is something of a prequel to the game Chain of Command, where Picard is sent on a secret mission to infiltrate the Cardassians while Jellico takes over command. The story here takes place on the Cairo and details a showdown between him and a Cardassian ship, and ends with him getting the information that sets in motion the plot of Chain of Command. However, if you've never seen that episode (or even if you just don't have it memorized like I do), don't worry since this is a very good stand alone issue. Even if you don't know who Jellico is (and, to be sure, nobody knows who any of these other characters are), it's still a darn good story that holds up on its own.

Writer Keith R.A. DeCandido knows Star Trek. He captures the feel of the Next Generation perfectly, and he completely nails Jellico's personality, which is something I was nervous about going into it. Jellico should be an asshole, of course, but he also should shown to be an effective captain who gets things done. Don't believe what Riker said about Jellico. He was being a whiny little bitch in Chain of Command. Jellico is the man. DeCandido did a great job of balancing all aspects of this character's complicated personality. Also, he's just a wonderful writer who seems perfectly suited for this kind of technical, military writing. There was some Trek jargon here and there, but none of it was used as a deus ex machina to solve plot problems. This story was fully thoughtout and brilliantly told from start to finish.

I wasn't a huge fan of the art style, however. I'm not sure what tools artist J.K. Woodward was using, but the end result looks a little bit like water colors. The man (or woman?) is obviously very talented, but I'm not really a fan of painted comic books, and these paints looked a little too flat and the colors were too muted. In the close ups, the details and likenesses of the characters were extraordinary, but for the medium and long shots, they just looked like stick figures. Some of the space battles, however, looked fantastic. So I didn't love the artistic design of the book, but I got used to it as the story went along, and it was never so off-putting that I found it to be a deal breaker.

This stand-alone, one shot comic book issue about captain Edward Jellico was one of the best Star Trek comics I've read in a long time, and that is saying a lot because IDW's current line of Trek books have (almost) all been fantastic. Maybe it's because DeCandido is such a wonderful storyteller, or maybe it's because Jellico is such an interesting yet underused character, but I can definitely recommend this issue for anybody who loves Star Trek, whether you remember Jellico or not. I liked it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cool Links

The Onion AV Squad has a pretty good interview on their website with Tony Todd, one of our very favorite character actors here at Blessed Are the Geeks. Check it out. He's a cool guy and a brilliant actor.

Video Clip of the Week: Bond meets U.N.C.L.E.

Yesterday I mentioned an appearance George Lazenby made as James Bond in a made for TV movie based on the Man From U.N.C.L.E. Well... here it is. If you've never seen an episode of the original TV series from the sixties, you'll just have to trust me that it was a lot less cheesy than this movie was. Still, it's good gun, and it was quite a thrill to see another appearance by Lazenby as James Bond. He's always good.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Next Best Thing to Bond

When the James Bond film series first debuted with Dr. No in 1963, it became an instant sensation, with the main character becoming a worldwide icon. It wasn't long after that the imitators started to arrive, some better than others, but none quite as popular or brilliant as the best of the James Bond films. Still... some of them are quite fun, and many have become icons in their own right. For the last day of James Bond week here at Blessed Are the Geeks, I'm going to briefly discuss some of these series and characters that were inspired by the James Bond series.

In no particular order:

Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a phenomenally popular tv show starring Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, a secret agent for the United Network Command for Law Enforcement. The stories were a little slow at times, but the chemistry between Vaughn and his partner Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum) was phenomenal. Really, this show is worth watching because Napoleon Solo is a brilliant character who out Bonded most of the actors who played James Bond.

If you only know Robert Vaughn as the guy from Superman 3 and Pootie Tang, do yourself a favor and track down some episodes of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. It's good fun. David McCallum is currently one of the stars of the hit show NCIS, but I've never actually watched it. Good for him.

From the Mail Bag

I received an email yesterday from Chris Wright, who runs the wonderful website FelixLeiter.com (along with Hunter Graybeal). He had some comments, corrections, and insights about my Felix Leiter post.

I'm quoting some of it here with his permission:

Donald,

Sorry for the delay in my response but I wanted to wait until I had
time to send you a proper reply. I'm so glad that you enjoyed
FelixLeiter.com! Since Leiter is such a small part of James Bond
fandom, I always appreciate getting feedback.

Thank you very much for linking to us in your wonderful blog post and
I will be sure to post an article linking to your post ASAP. I don't
really consider myself a Felix Leiter expert because I haven't read
all the Ian Fleming novels but I do own the only Felix Leiter website
in the world so I have a few nitpicky complains about your article
(sorry in advance!):

"Today, I'm going to be talking about nobody's favorite Bond character
Felix Leiter."

This saddens me because he's my favorite character after James Bond
and many Bond fans' favorite ally.
Donald: Oops. I obviously didn't mean any offense to Felix Leiter nor to any of his devoted fans. I was mostly being facetious. He's one of my favorite characters too! I was mostly making a joke on how he has been so important to the series, and yet only the most hardcore fans recognize his name. It saddens me too.

Cec Linder:

Jack Lord is actually one year older than Linder!

You just blew my mind! Well, Lord definitely aged a little more... gracefully. 

"Actually, it's not even clear who this version of Leiter is working
for, since he seems to take orders from M as well as from the
Americans."

Linder's Leiter is shown talking to M on the phone in his office near
the White House therefore he's working for the CIA, not M or his
Secret Intelligence Service.

Norman Burton:

"His performance was mostly notable only for being the first portrayal
of Leiter opposite new Bond Roger Moore."

Connery stars in 'Diamonds Are Forever', not Moore. David Hedison is
actually in Moore's debut film, 'Live and Let Die'.
Yeah, I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I wrote that. For some reason I went back to edit my post, and got all mixed up. I apologize for any confusion this caused. Good catch, thanks. I changed my post.

Also, the film 'Licence to Kill' is spelled the British way, even when
it was released in the United States.
Damn it! Another detail I shouldn't have overlooked. It's funny that after all these years, I've never noticed the spelling of the title. 

Other than these minor things, your article was fantastic. I
appreciate you dedicating an article to an under appreciated character
like Felix Leiter. I like how you mentioned Michael Pate (he actually
played "Clarence" Leiter, a British agent against Jimmy Bond, an
American agent).

Did you know that Leiter had a son named Gordo in the 1991 children's
cartoon, 'James Bond Jr.'? This is relevant to the films because it
was produced by Eon Productions and MGM during the legal issues of the
early-1990s. They couldn't make a James Bond film until 1995 so they
used their highly profitable property on television.
I did not know that! Sounds... interesting. I'll have to track that show down and check it out. Gordo Leiter? That's just weird.

Best regards,

Chris Wright
Executive Editor, FelixLeiter.com
Thanks, Chris! Thanks for checking out my blog, thanks for taking the time to write that email, and, most of all, thanks for running the world's only Felix Leiter website.

Bond Bios: Bond

(Disclaimer: I actually wrote and posted this a while ago on my blog. I decided to bring it back with some edits and updates to make it more consistent with the other Bond Bios I wrote. Also, I hadn't seen Quantum of Solace back then.)

James Bond has been played by six actors over the course of 22 official EON produced films. He has been parodied and copied countless times, and has inspired more characters and concepts than any one blogger could even begin to contemplate. He is quite possibly the greatest and most iconic character in film history. He has probably appeared in more films than any other character except for Jesus Christ and Santa Clause, but Bond's appearances have probably been a lot more exciting.

He was created by Ian Fleming for the 1953 novel Casino Royale, and appeared in about a dozen more novels and short story collections. After Fleming passed away, the role of Bond chronicler was handed over to other writers who wrote dozens and dozens of other novels and short stories. Ian Fleming is a wonderful writer whose stories are full of action, intrigue, not to mention a masterful use of the English language, but I'm a fan of Bond from the movies far more than I am of the novels, although they are absolutely splendid in their own right. But today we are going to talk about the Bond I grew up with: The Bond of the silver screen.

When I originally wrote this post, I structured it as a ranking of each Bond in terms of overall quality, charisma, and impact, but I no longer car to look at them that way. I actually think James Bond fans have been lucky in that all of the leading men who played the part have been fantastic. That isn't to say they've all been in fantastic films... and that's what I think it comes down to. The question of which Bond was "best" is a false one, in my opinion. I don't exclusively watch films by any one of the six actors, since all of them have been in some that were good and some that were terrible (except for Lazenby, who was only in one... and it was awesome!). They were all good in their own ways, and every one deserves respect for their appearance as the ultimate movie hero.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bond Bios: Blofeld

Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the quintessential supervillain, and the primary (or, at least, the most commonly used) antagonist in the James Bond series of films and novels. He is the head of the criminal organization known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence,Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). His underlings and associates usually refer to him as "Number 1," and he then refers to them as "Number 2," "Number 3," or whatever their numerical position is in the organization. As a job, there seems to be many opportunities for advancement within S.P.E.C.T.R.E., because either James Bond keeps killing the higher numbers or Bloefeld does. Bloefeld has appeared in six official James Bond films, three of the novels, and his creation is credited to Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory.

Wait? Who's Kevin McClory, you're asking? We'll take a moment to talk about him first, because it's a pretty good story. This is a very condensed version of the story from a blogger who is only kind of aware of what went down:

By the late 1950s, Ian Fleming was a fairly popular writer with a bunch of James Bond novels under his belt. He was approached to adapt the character to the screen, and he wrote a film treatment (and maybe even a full script. Sources are sketchy on that point) with Kevin McClory and maybe some other writers. When that project fell through, Ian Fleming turned that story into Thunderball and published it as a novel. McClory received no credit, so he sued Fleming, winning a bunch of money and the future film rights that would become effective ten years after the release of the EON produced version of Thunderball. That's why, years later, we got the film Never Say Never Again, featuring the character of James Bond, the plot of Thunderball, and nothing else remotely resembling the other films. That was McClory's version of Thunderball, and it wasn't very good.

Bond Bios: Miss Moneypenny

These are really hard to do. I suppose in the back of my mind when I started writing these Bond biographies, I knew I'd have to talk about Miss Moneypenny at one point, but I guess I figured that would be as easy for me to write as my thoughts on Felix Leiter and Q. But she's a tough one. I'm really going to try to do my usual thing where I go down the complete list talking about the most minute details and minutia about every actress who ever played Moneypenny in a Bond film, offering the occasional interesting tidbit that we all know isn't actually interesting. But it's going to be tough because, frankly, there is only one Miss Moneypenny actress worth mentioning in any great detail. Even more so than the people who replaced the other characters, all of the new actresses were only trying to fill her high heeled -- but sensible -- shoes.

Lois Maxwell

Maxwell portrayed the character from Dr. No in 1963 all the way up to A View to a Kill in 1985. She appeared in 14 Bond films, which makes her total second only to Desmond Llewelyn's 17 appearances, but she has the longest consecutive streak, since those 14 films were complete starting with the first film. Desmond Llewelyn's and Bernard Lee's longest consecutive streaks were both eleven films, although not the same ones. She is also notable for having the longest run of any of the actors who appeared in Dr. No, the first official Bond film. Maxwell sparred wits with, and watched the hat toss of, three different Bonds.

So historically speaking, she was important to the Bond films, but that's only the half of it. She was even more important because she was an impeccable actress, a charming presence on screen, and an absolutely stunning woman. It was her performance and conviction that grounded the character of James Bond. Somehow, because she loved him, we knew that he was a good man, even when he was killing people and bedding woman after woman after woman, some of whom he then killed. Moneypenny always loved him and saw the good in him, so we did too. Moneypenny was more than just a surrogate for the audience -- letting us swoon over him the way we would've had we been in her shoes -- but she was also the heart and soul of the entire series.

Or, at least, the Moneypenny played by Lois Maxwell was. All of the other actresses, as lovely and talented as they were, just played M's secretary. But Maxwell made the character much more than that, which is especially impressive considering how her combined screen time for all of those 14 films added up to only about twenty minutes. But those were memorable minutes.

Caroline Bliss

Bliss appeared in The Living Daylights and License to Kill, making her Timothy Dalton's Miss Moneypenny exclusively. She was also the only Blond Moneypenny to appear in an official EON produced Bond film. And... she was ok. She wasn't quite as striking or charming as Lois Maxwell, but who is? She did a fairly good job and she was very cute. I liked her, and she acquitted herself well to the role, especially in License to Kill where she is allowed to be a little emotional for a scene or two.

She didn't exactly light up the film industry with her appearance in these two films, but then again, neither did Dalton. But I loved both of these movies so I have affection for this actress as well. She was fine.

Samantha Bond

Yeah, that's actually the actresses name. I wonder if that gave her a leg up in the auditioning process. Anyway, Samantha Bond was Pierce Brosnan's Miss Moneypenny, appearing with him in all four of his films, making her the second longest-running Moneypenny after Lois Maxwell.

This brings us to an interesting tidbit that I just realized: Lois Maxwell was the only actress to portray Miss Moneypenny opposite more than one James Bond.

But we were talking about Samantha Bond, whose performance as Moneypenny never really won me over. I'm not sure why, but I found her performance to be slightly abrasive, but maybe that's because by 1995, they wanted to give the character a certain amount of depth beyond just being there to swoon over James Bond. Maxwell was able to give the character that kind of depth with her nuanced performances, but Samantha Bond just came on a little too strong. Also, as lovely as she is, I was never all that attracted to her. Above all else, Miss Moneypenny has to be beautiful. I am glad that they returned Miss Moneypenny to her rightful role as a redhead, however. That is also important.

After that, there was no more Moneypenny. For whatever reason, they decided to get rid of the character for the Daniel Craig films. Maybe they decided the character was too much of a stereotype, maybe felt she wasn't a good fit with the new female Bond, or maybe they just felt her scenes with Bond added too much levity for the darker version Craig portrayed. Either way, she will be missed, and I hope she comes back soon, along with Q... and Blofeld. But we'll talk about him later.


Unofficial Moneypennys

Pamela Salem

Pamela Salem played Moneypenny in Never Say Never Again, and I have absolutely no memory of how she was, what she looked like, or any thing else about her at all. So that's all I have to say on that. The same goes for Barbara Bouchet, who played Moneypenny in the comedy film Casino Royale (1967). I've never actually made it through that entire film, and I don't remember her appearance in it. But I do remember her from an episode of Star Trek, where she was stunningly beautiful. Too beautiful to be Moneypenny, probably, but she would've made a great Bond girl.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday: Roger Moore

Birthday, happy birthday. 

Well, I couldn't have planned that better! Roger Moore, the third but certainly not least James Bond, turns 81 day, and he still looks handsome as ever.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bond Bios: Q

And then there's Q, everybody's real favorite James Bond supporting character. I'm pretty sure M was the supporting player to appear in the most Bond films (missing only For Your Eyes Only), but Q and Miss Moneypenny are probably tied for second place, since neither of them were featured in either of the Daniel Craig films. Anyway, Q was the "quartermaster" (hence the name) who supplied James Bond with all of his wonderful weapons, toys, gadgets, and vehicles. As the films went on, these item became more and more ridiculous, until they were finally done away with in the current era of Bond films. But let's hope he returns someday, because he was a great character who helped to give a lot of heart and soul and whimsy to the series.

Talking about Q is actually kind of difficult, since nobody is really sure if that is the character's actual title, a nickname, or just a reference to the entire "Q Branch" as his division is also known. Also, like M, there have been multiple Qs, at least two of which are shown on screen together so we know that one is the other's successor. But are at times referred to as Q. Let's start the round-up:

Peter Burton


Dr. No (1962):

Peter Burton played the first quartermaster in the first EON produced James Bond film. He is only referred to as "the armorer," but the credits have him listed as Geoffrey Boothroyd, which is the name given to Q in the novels. He only has one scene, which is a very faithful scene in the novel where he gives Bond his first -- and now famous -- Walther PPK handgun. It's a good scene and Burton is fine in it, but it lacks the charm and humor of the later Q scenes. Then again, this wasn't really Q, and all he was demonstrating was an actual gun that exists in the real world.

Desmond Llewelyn

Um... almost every damned Bond film between From Russia With Love (1963) and The World is Not Enough (1999)

Peter Burton was unavailable to return for the second film, so the role was recast. Too bad for him, great for the movie-going public. Starting with From Russia With Love, the series saw Desmond Llewelyn emerge as the new Q (and perhaps the first Q, since Peter Burton was never actually referred to by that title). Llewelyn played the character for almost forty years over the course of 17 films. He appeared in more Bond films than any other actor in history, and matched wits with every Bond except Daniel Craig. In fact, his near perfect streak was broken only by missing out on appearing in Live and Let Die in 1973. But he didn't miss much by skipping that one.

(Interesting tidbit: Desmond Llewelyn wikipedia page inaccurately stated that he appeared in every Bond film until his death, and that he starred alongside Roger Moore in seven Bond films. Of course, we know that he wasn't in Live and Let Die, so that means he didn't appear in every Bond film until his death, and that he only starred alongside Moore in 6 Bond films. I got to make my mark on Bond history by correcting Desmond Llewelyn's wikipedia entry.)

As far as his performance went, Llewelyn (and, trust me, that name only gets harder to spell the more I have to type it out) was a revelation, perfectly balancing the whimsical nature of his appearances with his proper British manner. With a lesser actor, the idea of Bond being presented with a watch that shoots a laser beam or with an Aston Martin that has an ejector seat wouldn't been ridiculous and maybe even laughable. Llewelyn made it all seem, if not realistic, at least serious and maybe even plausible. Also he was just so damn funny and charming and likable. I love the guy -- and so do you -- and I don't think the series every really recovered after his retirement in 1999.

And that gives us another interesting tidbit: Desmond Llewelyn's Q was the only Bond character who was actually given an official farewell on screen. Nobody cared about Leiter, Bernard Lee and Robert Brown both died in between films, and the Bonds came and went too often for people to make a fuss, but Llewelyn was actually able to retire on screen, introduce his replacement, and then have a very touching goodbye scene that almost made me cry when I saw it in the theater.

John Cleese

The World is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)

How beloved was Desmond Llewelyn? So beloved that they could only replace him with one of the most beloved British actors of all time, John Cleese of Monty Python Fame. The only other choice could've been Rowan Atkinson, but he may have hurt his chances by appearing in the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again.  Anyway, Cleese is a brilliantly funny man and his dry wit is even sharper than Llewelyn. He was a joy to watch and his scenes were just about the best things about his two Bond appearances.

But he was no Desmond Llewelyn. It was just a little too forced, and as good as he was, by that point Llewelyn was irreplaceable. They did a fairly good job, of course, both with the send off they gave him and with the casting of Cleese, but I dunno. Maybe it's for the best that the new films have no Q, since Llewelyn's performance was so indelible, but I think it would honor his memory better to continue on with the character. Q is important, and enough time has passed that I think we are ready for the next portrayal.

Interesting tidbit: Cleese's character was originally referred to as "R" when he began, but Bond finally gave him his seal of approval by dubbing him Q in his second film. This sounds kind of dumb, but it was actually pretty clever and somewhat cathartic. Bond's reluctance at accepting this new Q by calling him R reflected our own reluctance as audience members. When Bond finally accepted him, we did too.

Unofficial Qs:


Alec McCowen

Never Say Never Again (1983)

I have no real memory of this guy. I suppose that means he wasn't very memorable. His character is never actually referred to as Q, although he does refer to his position or department as being called Q. His name is actually Algernon. Whatever. He was still supposed to be Q, but he was a fairly poor man's attempt. Alec McCowen is a fine British thespian, but by 1983, Llewelyn had been in about ten films as Q, so there was no way this guy could measure up.

And... that's all. So, basically, there was really one Q. Or, at least, only one Q anybody really has to care about. John Cleese was just attempting to fill his shoes for a bit, and everybody else sucked.

Here's to you, Desmond Llewelyn, the unsung hero of the James Bond films.

Bond Bios: M

I would imagine that most casual Bond fans aren't even aware that there or multiple Ms over the course of the series, or at least most probably assume that there are just two: The guy and Dame Judi Dench. Well, if you're one of those people, it's a good thing you found this blog because I'm about to give you a PhD in M-ology. Would you believe that there were actually three official Ms, one unofficial M (in the now infamous to readers of this blog Never Say Never Again, which always seems to be mentioned only in parenthesis), and countless other versions and variations in other works of literature, film, and TV? Well, let's get right into it:

Bernard Lee

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball(1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live and Let Die (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker (1979)


Damn! That's a lot of movies. That's more movies than even any of the lead actors have appeared in. I'm pretty sure only two other actors have appeared in more Bond films than Bernard Lee... but we'll talk about them later. Bernard Lee was the first M and he was the best M. His reign saw him as the head of MI6 for 17 years, overseeing three different 007s, which is one more Bond than either of the other two EON Ms saw. He was in the first eleven Bond films, without missing a single one. And then, after he died in 1981, they retired the character without being recast in For Your Eyes Only, out of respect.

Lee was just a fantastic actor whose demeanor as a proper British gentleman made him the perfect foil to Connery's (and Lazenby's and Moore's) rakish, devil may care secret agent. Even before being cast as M in the first Bond film, Lee had a distinguished career, appearing in such films as the Third Man and in Father Brown, written by Graham Green and G.K. Chesterton respectively, both of whom most likely greatly influenced Bond creator Ian Fleming. The Living Daylights even had a scene that took place in the same Ferris Wheel where Orson Welles gave his famous cuckoo clock speech, possibly as an homage to both Green and Bernard Lee.

But I'm digressing. The bottom line is that Lee was a marvelous actor who's gravitas and commanding presence did as much for the franchise as any of the actors who played Bond. The Bonds came and went, but for eleven films, M was always Bernard Lee.

Interesting tidbit: Bernard Lee appeared (along with Lois Maxwell who played Miss Moneypenny and the guy who played Largo in Thunderball) in a film called Operation Kid Brother starring Neil Connery, Sean's younger brother. Yes, this is true, and yes, I have seen it. I don't recommend it.

Robert Brown

Octopussy (1983)
A View to a Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
License to Kill (1989)

Robert Brown was so perfectly cast as Bernard Lee's replacement, that I bet most people didn't even realize it was a new actor. He looks just like Lee, he sounded just like Lee, and the characterization was identical to the way Lee did it. There was no messing around with M like they did with Felix Leiter. With Leiter, each new portrayal had a completely different appearance, varying ages, and often different jobs. But M was always M, and Brown was quite good. Not as good as Bernard Lee, maybe, but then again, I don't think he got as much screen time. M had a bigger role in the Connery films than he did later on, with each new film having less and less of the old standby characters. But I have nothing bad to see about Robert Brown, who was a wonderful actor who maybe didn't do a whole lot to make the role his own, but he certainly kept the tradition alive over the course of his four films.

Brown's first appearance in a Bond film was actually in the Spy Who Loved Me, playing a character named Admiral Hargreaves, which begs the question of whether his role as M was meant to be a promotion for Hargreaves, whether his character was actually meant to be the same character as the one Lee played, or if this was an altogether third character entirely. Another interesting tidbit: Robert Brown's first credited role was in the Third Man, alongside Bernard Lee. Small world.

Dame Judi Dench

Goldeneye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)

A woman? Yeah, all right. Why not? It was 1995 by that point, so I can't blame them for wanting to finally have a strong female in the series who wasn't actually a Bond girl. And, all things considered, her casting was brilliant. Dench is basically the female version of Bernard Lee. I don't have a whole lot to say about Dench's version of M if only because I don't have much affection for the Brosnan films. I liked her a lot in the Daniel Craig films, but I dunno. I never loved her. As good as she was, I would rather have seen them recast the role again with -- and I hate to say this -- a man in the role. I'm not sexist at all, but I think having a woman give orders to James Bond adds a deeper level of subtext that the series doesn't really need. I'd prefer somebody like Derek Jacobi or Michael Gambon.

But I think at this point she is here to stay, and I can't really complain because she's a wonderful actress who created a completely new and fresh character. She's a good M. She's the only M to have won an Oscar, although not for a Bond film. She was not in the Third Man.

Unofficial Ms:

Edward Fox

Never Say Never Again (1983):

Say what you will about Never Say Never Again, at least it had a fantastic cast. I've always loved Edward Fox, and he was as wonderful as always as the M in this film. He played M as kind of a jerk, but kind of being a jerk is what Edward Fox does best.

Not a whole lot to say about this guy, other than that he played M in Never Say Never Again. And he was fun.

Anno Dracula (1992):
In this novel by Kim Newman, an alternate history vampire novel set during the 19th century. The British Government is ruled by the Diogenes Society (taken from the Sherlock Holmes stories), which is run by a character named Miles Messervy, which is the name given to M in Ian Fleming's novels. Co-Chairman of this organization are Mycroft Holmes (who legally has to appear in every work of alternative history) and Alexander Waverly from the Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was also developed in large part by Ian Fleming. Confused yet? Just try reading the book.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999):
This amazing comic book series by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill was obviously very inspired by Newman's Anno Dracula series, since may of the same ideas and characters are used, although to much better effect by Moore, in my opinion. Another alternate history story set in the 19th century, we see another version of the British secret service run by a man known only as M, who later turns out to be Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories. After he is killed (spoiler!), the role of M is later taken up by... Mycroft Holmes.

In a later series of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics set during the early 20th century, the latest version of M is revealed to be Harry Lime, the character played by Orson Welles in The Third Man. This never made much sense to me, considering how Lime was always a criminal, and not really any agent of the British government.

And that pretty much exhausts my knowledge of the character M. Come back tomorrow when we'll talk about everybody's other favorite letter from the James Bond films.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bond Bios: Felix Leiter

I'm just going to go ahead and say that this week is the unofficial James Bond Week on Blessed are the Geeks. Writing one post about James Bond gets me thinking about other posts I want to write about James Bond, so I figured I'd just go ahead and get them all out of my system. Today, I'm going to be talking about nobody's favorite Bond character Felix Leiter.

If you aren't a die hard fan of the franchise, you're already confused. Although the character has appeared in ten James Bond films (nine official EON productions and in Never Say Never Again), he has never achieved the iconic status of other Bond characters like Q, M, or Miss Moneypenny. Maybe it's because he has only appeared in about half of the films (alongside every version of Bond except George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan), but it's more likely he has been overlooked because of those ten appearances, he has been portrayed by eight different actors. By contrast, there have only been three Ms, two Qs, and five Moneypennys (not to mention six James Bonds!). Here, in chronological order, are all of the actors who portrayed Felix Leiter, along with my brief opinions and thoughts:

Jack Lord
Dr. No (1962)
Jack Lord is the first -- and in my opinion, the best -- Felix Leiter. Just look at him. He's a stone cold cool mother. To begin with, Jack Lord is a fantastic actor who is a major star in his own right, so casting him as Bond's American counter-part made him stand out as something of an equal instead of the second banana he turned into in some of the later films. He is a CIA operative who can handle himself in a fight and has as much of a way with the ladies as Bond. Well, maybe not as much of a way, but he probably does ok. Lord also has awesome chemistry with Connery, and the scenes featuring the two of them working together are great fun. Lord set the standard against which all the other Leiters are to be judged, and he set that bar really high. According to James Bond folklore (which is probably true), they dropped the character from the next film (and eventually recast it for the third film) because Jack Lord wanted more money and a co-starring credit. He went on to bigger and better things as the star of Hawaii Five-O.

Cec Linder
Goldfinger (1964):
Are you kidding me? Were Martin Balsam and Vic Tayback busy so they got this guy instead? Did Leiter age, like, 30 years since Dr No? What happened to him? Don't get me wrong, Cec Linder is a fine actor who has done a lot of fine work over the course of his career. And, all things considered, he is fine in this movie, giving a really fun performance that is charming and likable. But come on. What happened to the suave, cool, agent from the first film? This guy seems more like James Bond's wacky uncle than a cool CIA operative.

Actually, it's not even clear who this version of Leiter is working for, since he seems to take orders from M as well as from the Americans. Maybe he is a part of some kind of exchange program where we sent one of our agents to England while they sent one of theirs to America. Anyway, Linder is ok. He actually has a pretty big role and gets maybe the most screen time of any Leiter in a single movie. But I miss Jack Lord.

Rik Van Nutter
Thunderball (1965):
I have no opinion on this guy. In fact, I have no real memory of this guy.


He definitely had a look more akin to Jack Lord's, with his suave good looks and nice hair. He definitely seemed more comfortable and believable as a CIA operative. Anyway, he wasn't an old man wearing an old man hat and being all wacky and weird. Then again, I remember Linder's performance and enjoyed it. Nutter... I always forget about this guy. We'll call him the lost Felix Leiter.

Nutter, we hardly knew ye.

Norman Burton
Diamonds Are Forever (1971):
There was very little good about this movie, and Norman Burton's portrayal of Felix Leiter certainly didn't help much. He was just kind of unlikable and unappealing. He was more comic relief than anything else, although he wasn't actually that funny. He approached the role of Felix Leiter as though he thought he was playing Darrin on Bewitched. Here's a snippet from his Wikipedia page:

" In the movies, he is best-known for his unconventional (and frequently disparaged) performance as Felix Leiter in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971)."

Ouch. I should edit his wiki page so it says, "everybody loved his portrayal as Felix Leiter..." It wouldn't be true, of course, but it'd be nice.

David Hedison
Live and Let Die (1973)
Licence to Kill (1989):
Ok, now things are starting to get interesting, since Hedison was the first actor to portray Felix Leiter more than once, although there was a span of sixteen years and he played opposite two different James Bonds. After Jack Lord, Hedison is probably the best Leiter, if only because over the course of his two films he has so much to do. He works and fights along side James Bond, hijacks a plane, goes skydiving, gets married to a beautiful woman, and gets eaten by a shark. In that order too. In fact, his entire character is the driving force for the plot to Licence to Kill, since the movie details Bond's search for vengeance against the man who fed Felix Leiter to that shark. It sounds funny when I write that out, but that's actually the plot of the movie.

And the movie works -- with the audience getting invested in Bond's quest -- mostly because Hedison is such a great actor who made the character his own. He was ok in Live and Let Die (if a little too Alan Alda esque to match up to Jack Lord or Rik Van Nutter), but over those 16 years he grew into a fairly rugged leading man. According to what I've read, they decided to recast a previous Leiter because this film's story revolved around his character. Kind of odd that they recast an actor who did the role that long again, but I guess their choices were limited. They weren't going to bring back Burton, and Jack Lord was an old man by then. Anyway, he was a good Leiter. And he survived the shark attack (spoiler!!).

John Terry
The Living Daylights (1987):
John Terry played Felix Leiter after Hedison played him in 1973, but before Hedison played him again in 1989. You got that? He was the first actor to play Leiter opposite Timothy Dalton and the last new actor to be cast in the role until they rebooted the franchise with Daniel Craig's Casino Royale.

Anyway, now that we got all of that out of the way, let's talk about John Terry's performance: He sucked. He definitely looked the part, since he was young and probably the handsomest actor to play the role since Jack Lord. But boy was he boring. He was only in the film for once scene (which was completely pointless and probably stayed in the film only because it contained Felix Leiter), showing up on a yacht wearing some blue Member's Only jacket. He had no chemistry at all with Dalton and gave a very wooden performance.

John Terry, of course, went on to bigger and better things, playing a major role on the second season of 24, and then as Dr. Christian Shephard on Lost.

Jeffrey Wright
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008):
And then we have the 7th (and so far last) Felix Leiter to appear in an official EON produced James Bond film. Jeffrey Wright is notable for being the first African American Leiter in an official Bond film, the first actor to play Leiter in two consecutive Bond films, and the first actor to portray Leiter more than once alongside the same James Bond.

And he's also notable for being pretty darn good. His portrayal isn't quite as fun or exciting as Jack Lord's or Hedison's from License to Kill, but that's only because he isn't really much of a man of action. He's more of a behind the scenes, puppet master type. But he's still a lot of fun to watch because Wright is such a fantastic actor. He gives a very subtle yet nuanced performance in both films, making Leiter seem very deep and suave and full of intrigue. When Casino Royale first came out, I honestly went into it fairly cold, since I didn't read much of the hype having all but given up on the franchise after the abysmal Brosnan years. So when Wright came on screen as Leiter, I was overjoyed, not just because one of my favorite characters was finally back in the series after almost 20 years (!!), but because I was already a fan of Jeffrey Wright. And he didn't let me down. His performance wasn't quite as iconic as Jack Lord's, but he was well cast and a delight to watch. I hope he makes another film, if one ever even gets made at all.

Unofficial Appearances:

Bernie Casey
Never Say Never Again (1983):
Wright may have been the first African American to portray Felix Leither in an official Bond film, but Bernie Casey was the first African American to play Leiter overall. Bernie Casey is also totally and completely bad ass. If you've ever seen Bernie Casey in any movie, you'll have some idea of how he approached the role of Felix Leiter. Casey is a big, commanding actor with a lot of presence and a lot of charisma. His was a Felix Leiter that could've been an action star in his own right.

He's just a cool, fun actor who's only problem was that he was cast as Felix Leiter in Never Say Never Again. This movie isn't as bad as a lot of people will claim, but it still doesn't really feel like a true James Bond film. This movie is kind of like a version of James Bond as viewed by the characters on Sliders, who went to some other dimension where the James Bond series is completely different (even though they both feature Sean Connery, but this was not the Connery from Goldfinger). Anyway, I liked Casey.

Joe Don Baker
Goldeneye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997):
Let me be completely clear: Joe Don Baker did not play Felix Leiter. He actually played CIA agent Jack Wade. But Jack Wade was clearly meant to be a stand-in for Felix Leiter. Why didn't they just make the character Felix Leiter? I have no idea. It was just another in a long list of bad ideas and confusing decisions made during the Pierce Brosnan era. They kept Q, M, and Moneypenny, so I'll never understand why they created a new CIA agent who fulfills the exact same role as Felix Leiter. I suppose they recast the character because Leiter had his leg bitten off by a shark in his last appearance, but since when did consistency matter for the character of Felix Leiter?


But, anyway, as fun and engaging as Joe Don Baker is, he wouldn't have been my first choice to play Felix Leiter. First of all, he's not exactly suave, not is he very good looking. Ok, he's chubby and ugly (no offense!). And while that's fine for Jack Wade, he doesn't quite cut the right figure for Felix Leiter. But at least he is fun to watch. Baker also played one of the villains in The Living Daylights, making him one of the very few actors to have played multiple characters in different James Bond films.

Conclusion:

And... that's it. There was also an appearance by Michael Pate in the 1954 version of Casino Royale, but I've never seen that and, chances are, neither have you. Michael Madsen played another similar character in Die Another Day, but that makes him even more removed from the character than Joe Don Baker's Jack Wade so we'll forget about him too.

Anyway, we had some fun today and I hope you learned a lot about Felix Leiter. If you want to learn even more, I recommend FelixLeiter.com, which I only just discovered while I was doing a bit of research for this post (mostly looking up the names of a couple of the actors and searching for pictures).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Video Clip of the Week: Albert Brooks Ventriloquist Bit

Albert Brooks is the funniest man who's ever lived. Here he is performing his ventriloquist bit on an episode of the Flip Wilson Show. This never stops being funny.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

James Bond Teaser Round Up

For almost fifty years, the James Bond films have almost universally beloved, not only because of the exciting stories and excellent actors who have been cast as the main character, but because of the familiar formula almost all of the films follow. We know the man will introduce himself at least once as "Bond, James Bond," order a martini "shaken, not stirred," bed at least a half dozen beautiful women, and save the world once again from some monomaniacal super villain. Even the latest films starring Daniel Craig have followed this formula by attempting to poke fun at the cliches. But my favorite piece from the James Bond formula are how (almost) every film begins with an opening teaser before the main titles that is almost a short film all by itself. Sometimes the teaser connects to the main plot, but usually it seemed to be wholly unconnected, almost as though they were beginning a film with the previous adventure of James Bond coming to a close.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I'm going to go down the list and discuss each film's opening teaser, giving my brief opinions and comments. Why? Because I want to, that's why!

Dr. No (1962):
This is the only James Bond film that doesn't start with a teaser before the main title sequence. So I'm mentioning it here just to point out why I'm not actually going to mention it.

From Russia With Love (1963):
This films opens with the ultimate teaser: The death of James Bond! Of course, it's not really the death of the real James Bond, but just a guy in a ridiculously realistic James Bond mask. It turns out that it was all an elaborate training exercise for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Red Grant. As opening teasers go, this one is light on action big high on suspense. Also, it's just cool. It perfectly sets up Robert Shaw's Red Grant as the best Bond villain ever, and that's saying a lot.


This sequence is also notable for being the first James Bond teaser... and it doesn't even feature James Bond at all.


Goldfinger (1964): 
One word: classic. James Bond comes out of the water wearing a wet suit, sets a bunch of explosives, and then goes to a bar where he reveals himself to be wearing  a full tuxedo under his suit. Bond then seduces some babe and goes back to her room, where he is attacked by some enemy agent, whom he tosses into a bathtub and electrocutes him with a fan. "Positively shocking," he says, capping the scene.


This teaser has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot, but it has lots of action, big explosions, a beautiful woman, and a great one liner. This teaser is better than most of the later Bond movies.


Thunderball (1965):
Bond attends the funeral of one of his adversaries, which is revealed to be a sham. Bond unmasks the villain, who is alive and well, and actually attended his own funeral dressed as his window. Bond kicks his ass and then flys away in a jetpack.


Not without its charm, but this teaser was a bit of a let down after Goldfinger. Then again, Thunderball as a whole was a letdown after Goldfinger. Still, this was all just a bit silly. The fight scene was cool, however, and the jetpack is classic James Bond. But this wasn't the best.


You Only Live Twice (1967): 
James Bond gets killed again. This time, the death was faked by Bond and MI6. Or something. I hardly remember. I just remember it being one of the lamer Bond teasers, and that YOLT was one of the lamer Bond films. This was one of those teasers that just sets up the rest of the film, and doesn't stand alone as a separate piece.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969):
Another good one. Bond watches Diana Rigg try to drown herself in the ocean, but when he tries to save her, he's jumped by a bunch of goons. What follows is an absolutely fantastic fight sequence on the beach, ending with Rigg stealing Bond's Aston Martin. Bond is revealed to be the new actor George Lazenby, who looks at the camera and says, "This never happened to the other fella."


What a cheesy line, but it makes me laugh every time I hear it. It probably marks the only time James Bond ever broke the fourth wall and talked directly to the audience (ala' Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell), but it worked because the filmmakers had to address the change from Sean Connery to George Lazenby. Anyway, it was just a good fight scene.


Diamonds Are Forever (1971): 
Sean Connery is back for one more adventure (well, never say never, I guess), and it begins with him seeking to avenge the murder of his wife (spoiler if you haven't seen the previous movie!!!). Bond tracks down Blofeld and finally beats the crap out of him, drowning him in a pit of mud in some health spa. Neither a great teaser nor a very good film, but it's a pretty fun opening sequence. Connery should've stayed retired from the series.


Live and Let Die (1973):
This film is notable for being the first to star Roger Moore as James Bond, and for having the lamest pretitle teaser ever. It's just a bunch of scenes where various agents get killed. James Bond isn't seen. It sets up the rest of the film, but it's still lame.


The Man With the Golden Gun (1974):
By this point, opening a James Bond film with the death of James Bond has become a cliche of its own. This one doesn't really open with the death of Bond, but it does have the main villain shoot a wax statue in the shape of Bond. Anyway, this teaser has some unknown guy wandering through some deadly funhouse as he's tracked and eventually murdered by the titular villain. It's a lot of fun, in my opinion, but I could see how you might think it's also kind of dumb. Aside from as a statue, James Bond doesn't appear, making it two for two of Roger Moore's Bond films where he doesn't actually appear in the teaser. Lame.


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977):
We had to suffer through two dumb opening sequences that didn't even feature James Bond before we got to this one, but it's pretty awesome. The film opens on Bond making love to some chick in some mountain cabin. He receives orders and has to leave, which leads to him being attacked and having to flee on skis down the mountain with the enemies following closely behind. Awesome action sequence that is a return to form for the James Bond opening teasers. This is the first teaser since Diamonds that doesn't directly lead into the actual film's plot.


Moonraker (1979):
Terrible movie, amazing opening sequence. Bond is attacked by villains on an airplane (including the return of Jaws from the previous film, making him the second Bond villain since Blofeld to make a return appearance... I think. Right?). They fight in the plane, and then out of the plane in free fall. This sequences features some of the most amazing aerial stunts ever captured on film, and it is incredibly thrilling and well done. After Goldfinger, this is probably the coolest teaser in my opinion. Just be sure to turn off the movie after the teaser is over.


For Your Eyes Only (1981): 
Did you think that Bond really killed Blofeld back in Diamonds Are Forever? Well, think again! Bloefeld returns as a foil in an opening teaser by kidnapping Bond with a radio controlled helicopter. Bond manages to free himself and take control of the helicopter, and then finds Blofeld and drops him down a smokestack. Did he really kill him? Keep watching those Bond teasers. Only time will tell for sure. This one was... ok. It had some good helicopter stunts and some funny lines from Blofeld, but all in all it was pretty mediocre.

Octopussy (1983):
As teasers go, this one almost has enough to add up to a full film. Bond and some woman infiltrate an enemy base. They escape and then Bond gets into a little plane, flies through the hanger, and blows up the base with a misdirected heat seeking missile. I'm not doing this one justice, but way too much happens to recap here. But it's a really good one. This one was like a mini movie. I liked it. Too bad the rest of the movie is really, really dumb.

Never Say Never Again (1983):
Not an official part of the Bond series, I'm still including it here because, well, it's a Bond film starring Sean Connery. A lot of people give this film a hard time, but it's really not that bad, and it's certainly better than Octopussy. Anyway, this film opens with... you guessed it... the death of James Bond. Bond attacks some enemy compound, rescues the hostage, who then turns on him and kills him. Of course, she doesn't actually kill him, since it was revealed to be some elaborate training exercise. This leads to a scene where M tells him he failed because he's old and out of shape. This is funny because it's true. Still, it was a fun opening teaser that did a pretty good job of setting up an older, slightly rounder James Bond. 

Interesting tidbit: The made a note to address Connery's age in this film, but he is actually three years younger than Roger Moore.

A View to a Kill (1985): 
Another ski chase sequence, which are always fun. This one adds a little twist by having James Bond invent the snowboard, but balancing on the ski of a broken snowmobile while "California Girls" by the Beach Boys plays on the soundtrack. And I swear to god I'm not making any of this up. It sounds stupid, but it's actually awesome. I remember seeing this opening night in the theater and the entire crowd went nuts. People were actually hollering and cheering. Of course, because this was A View to a Kill, the hollering and cheering didn't last very long. The Extraordinary teaser aside, this was a terrible movie.

Not so interesting tidbit: This opening teaser led into the title sequence that features my all time favorite Bond song: A View to a Kill by Duran Duran.

The Living Daylights (1987):
This films opens with another double 0 training mission, that turns deadly as it turns out one of the trainees is actually a double agent who tries to kill Bond! Bond takes down the badguy and then parachutes into a yacht carrying a beautiful woman. Classic James Bond, even though it all features the debut of new lead actor Timothy Dalton. I like this movie, I like Tim Dalton, and I like this teaser. It's a good one that's full of action.

License to Kill (1989):
James Bond and Felix Leiter capture druglord Franz Sanchez by hijacking his plane midair while it passes through American airspace. Great opening teaser that works as an outstanding action set piece and as a set up to the rest of the film. Good stuff.

Goldeneye (1995):
I don't like this movie and I never really bought Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, but this is a pretty fantastic opening sequence. Agents 007 and 006 infiltrate a Soviet base, kill lots of bad guys, and are about to escape, when it is revealed that 006 is a bad guy! This leads into the rest of the film, which sucks, but it does have a lot of action and cool explosions. This film is notable for opening with an amazing bungie jump stunt that is one of the best in any Bond film. Fun stuff.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997):
I don't even really know what happened in this scene. Bond is in some black market where people are selling illegal weapons. He steals a jet and blows everybody up. It's pretty cool. I'm not a fan of the Brosnan Bond films, but they definitely do have some amazing action sequences, of which is is one of the best. But, again, it didn't really make a whole lot of sense, and I can't remember if it tied into the rest of the film or not.

The World is Not Enough (1999):
Another awesome action sequence: Bond gets into trouble at some bank, kills some people, and then has a great boat chase on the Thames. Well done and exciting, but lacking in personality and originality. But it was a good boat chase.

Die Another Day (2002):
James Bond fights some Koreans. It's basically the same opening as every other Brosnan Bond film, only this one takes place in Korea and has tanks instead of boats or jets. Not bad, but nothing special. It ends with Bond being captured, which sets up the rest of the film.

Casino Royale (2006):
James Bond kills some guy. There is a flashback to some incredibly brutal fight scene in a bathroom. Good scene and a good set up to the rest of the film, but not an amazing teaser as far as these things go. The action sequence that begins after the opening titles is way more memorable and exciting.

Quantum of Solace (2008):
This teaser pretty much starts right where the previous film ends, which is a first for any film in the series. Every Bond film has a certain amount of overlap (like references to his late wife, for example), but this is the first film in the series that really feels like a direct sequel. Anyway, it starts with an awesome car chase, that is probably the best scene in the movie. Good chase, good sequence, ok teaser. The probably with the teasers in the Daniel Craig films are that they don't really feel like teasers, so much as just the first scene in a movie. That's all fine, but it makes them lack charm, and it makes them hard to discuss on a list such as this. Anyway, good chase scene. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Birthday: Aaron and Shawn Ashmore!

Today marks the birth of twin actors and all around cool guys Aaron and Shawn Ashmore. They are 31, which makes them about ten years older than they look.

For the longest time, I didn't even know there were two of them. I just noticed the same guy appearing over and over again in some of my favorite movies and TV shows. After a while, I noticed the name Ashmore appearing in the credits, but I never made the connection that there were often two different first names. I'm pretty sure it was my friend Justin who made the discovery that this one actor was actually two... and that they were twin brothers.

I think they are both cool, likable, talented actors, though I couldn't pick a favorite, nor would I want to. I loved Shawn's work on Veronica Mars and his spot-on portrayal of Jimmy Olsen on Smallville, but Aaron was just as good -- and perhaps made a a better name for himself -- as Iceman in the X-Men movies. Aaron also had the lead in that Earthsea mini-series, and even did a couple episodes of Smallville before his brother became a regular cast member.

Interesting tidbit: Aaron is the one with a photo on the IMDB, but Shawn actually has one more credit to his name. Anyway, happy birthday, guys!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Robin Hood

Ugghh.

When this movie came out and got panned by the critics, I didn't understand. I mean, it looked awesome, had a fantastic cast, and was directed by Ridley Scott. The critics are fools, I said, because they usually are. Most movies that I end up love usually got panned by the critics. I never got around to seeing it, however, and because it was kind of a flop, it didn't stick around for long. Well, I finally got around to renting it, and owe something of an apology to those critics. This movie kind of sucked.

On paper, this sounded like a sure thing. Russell Crowe as Robin Hood and reunited with the director of Gladiator. How could it go wrong? Well, for one thing, it's just boring. There is absolutely nothing interesting, engaging, or entertaining to be found. Some of the acting performances are fine, but the battles are boring and the story is bloated and overly convoluted. Who cares about the history of Robin Hood? If you're going to give his origins, at least make it somewhat interesting. It was an hour before Robin Hood even made it to Nottingham. And I'm not exaggerating. I checked the timer on my DVD player.

And then we have some nonsense about Robin pretending to be the returned husband of Cate Blanchett's Maid Marion, which never made any sense to me, and made their romance feel not just forced and contrived, but kind of gross and inappropriate. It really only took a day or two before she hooked up with the man who came to her town just to tell her that her husband had died in battle?

Sure, there was a lot of action, and most of the battle sequences were epic, but there was nothing here that we all haven't seen dozens of times by now. Giant battles -- no matter how well done -- simply aren't all that exciting anymore, unless something new and different is being offered. This movie just looked like a two hour version of that opening battle form Gladiator, only no where near as good. This movie just didn't feel like Robin Hood. I understand that they were attempting a more realistic approach, but it just felt like Gladiator part 2. Honestly, I would rather have seen Gladiator part 2. The only real update they made to the Robin Hood myth is that they made him into a bit of an asshole.

Russell Crowe is a brilliant actor and Ridley Scott is a wonderfully talented director, but this movie wasn't even as good as Prince of Thieves. Honestly, I didn't event think it was as entertaining as Men in Tights. Sucked.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Classic Review: The Savage Dragon #s 1 - 50

I collected the Savage Dragon pretty faithfully for the first 50 issues or so, with just a few lapses here and there. I have written a great deal about Image Comics lately, so I couldn't help myself by digging into my old back issues and checking some of them out. Savage Dragon was always a favorite of mine, and it's the Image title of which I own the most titles. I collected it from the beginning, spanning about six years of my life where I lived in two different countries and three different states. I stopped collecting it not because I lost interest in the title, but because I began to lose interest in comics in general. But, anyway, I reread every issue of The Savage Dragon in my collection, so I figured I'd give my thoughts here.

The Savage Dragon is written and drawn by Erik Larsen, and it details the adventures of a character known then only as Dragon, a massive green man with a fin on his head. That's pretty much the full extent of the characterization even across fifty of so issues. He becomes a cop and he often talks about the importance of upholding the law and fighting for justice. Also, he seems to enjoy the company of women. Beyond that, I can't say I know much about the character's personality. Or, really, about the personalities of any of these characters. Larsen is a wonderful artist and he writes snappy dialogue, but characterization was obviously not one of his main priorities as a storyteller. But that's fine because, at the end of the day, this is a fun comic where lots of people beat each other up.

Dragon is the main character, obviously, but there is also a huge cast of supporting players an villains, almost all of whom are really lame. There is a character named Star who shoots stars, a character named Dart who throws darts, and a character named Ricochet who, um, ricochets off of stuff. As character creators go, Larsen isn't exactly up there with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Lee and Kirby created the entire Marvel universe. Erik Larsen created Freak Force. Then again, maybe it's just me because the letters at the back of the book are always full of correspondences from fans who love all of the characters. There was one funny letter that was published after Star had appeared maybe once for maybe a page from a guy who had a petition going to demand Star got his own series. Really, guy? And, of course, since this was Image, Star did get a series, as did most of these other dumb characters, all of which lasted maybe two issues at most.

And the villains are even worse. The main villain for most of these early issues is Overlord, a completely generic crime lord who looks exactly like Doctor Doom. Then there are such brilliant creations as Cyberface, Mako, Cutthroat, and Dung, who shoots poop at people. Seriously, just look at these losers.

And there's actually a character named She-Dragon. Ugh.

According to the letters pages and the editorials supplied by Larsen, many of these characters were created when Larsen was a kid, and it really shows. Hey, I used to create comic book characters when I was a kid too, but as an adult you don't see me publishing the adventures of Super Don. Nobody wants to read that. And I don't think anybody wants to read about Mighty Man and Star.

As a writer, Larsen tells his stories entirely through dialogue. For some reason, he doesn't like narration, captions, or thought balloons. This was an artistic choice with which I won't question, but it does make every issue read more or less the same way, and it takes away some major tools of comic book writer. What's wrong with captions and narration? The lack of these things, along with the lack of any real subtlety from Larsen as a writer, leads to a lot of scene transitions that feel abrupt and often make no sense. There are often scene changes mid page that you won't even realize at first, which leaves you wondering why there are different characters that weren't there before. This was a major problem for me as a reader. Just use captions and stuff, man.

But, despite all of that, these stories were still fun to read. Obviously I enjoyed them at the time because I kept buying them, but I still enjoyed them this time, because I kept reading them. I never really found myself reading issue after issue because I really cared what was coming next, since the plots were really kind of boring the characters were all unengaging, but the issues were still fun to read because they were filled with so much energy and action and funny dialogue. I just liked them, even though just about every issue was a variation of "Dragon fights villain. Dragon wins."

There were a lot of guest appearances from other characters from other comics, most of which didn't really work in my opinion. There were the usual guest appearances from various other Image characters like Spawn and Youngblood and the Maxx, but there were also cross-overs with characters published by other companies, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles and Hellboy. Having the Dragon fight alongside the TMNT was fun, but why was Hellboy in the Savage Dragon? That made no sense to me, and it seemed completely contrary to the universe that was established in the Hellboy comics. I'm a huge Hellboy fan. I'm sorry, but Hellboy doesn't exist (nor does he work within the context of) the Image universe. So it got annoying to see so many cross-overs with characters that simply didn't work in this context, but they kept appearing just because Larsen thought they were cool.

Worst of all was the cross-over with Mars Attacks, which made absolutely zero sense. In one issue, the Martians attack the Earth (like in that terrible movie), until the Dragon is transported to Mars... where he kills everybody on the entire planet. The Savage Dragon actually caused the mass genocide of the entire Marian species, and I'm not making this up. When he wrote the story, I don't think Larsen really thought about how the Dragon was committing genocide, since the entire issue was clearly played for laughs, but it really struck me as odd and completely ill-fitting with the rest of the series. Throw into that the fact that there was no more mention of the Martian attack ever again, and all of the damage that was caused was gone by the next issue. Just dumb.

As an artist, however, Larsen is a lot of fun. This is just a cool looking book with lots of explosions, fight scenes, and hot chicks with big boobs. I will admit that the boobs got a little old after a while (I never thought I'd admit to something like that), since every female character was so well endowed and, for whatever reason, always had erect nipples. Chicago must be really, really cold. Maybe it's all that wind. But, seriously, is this supposed to be arousing?

I always loved Larsen's work, especially back when he replaces Todd McFarlane back on Amazing Spider-Man. A lot of people complained and accused him of being a McFarlane clone, but I thought he was way better. His stuff is just so much fun and so full of energy and excitement. And for as hyper detailed and full of crackle as it is, it also feels clean and readable, which made him a far step ahead of his peers at Image. And while he isn't really a very good writer, he still managed to tell a fun story in a fun story book. Even though they needed an editor and Larsen needed to be reigned in and given a little more guidance, these are cool comics that I definitely recommend checking out if you haven't read them before, or given a second look if you used to love them too.

But skip that Star series.