Face Off: James Bond and Star Wars

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

Every single time a Star Wars movie comes to theaters, a James Bond adventure always accompanies it within a year of release. That’s a weird bit of trivia, no? Two of the most gigantic franchises of all time, both in popularity and in cold hard box-office revenue, and the jaunts through a galaxy far, far away are always paired with some good old British womanizing. I smell a conspiracy. Maybe old Bond is just insecure about his lack of Force-wielding prowess and feels the need to release a movie every time a new Star Wars flick hits cinemas.

Regardless, it gives us an opportunity — nay, begs us — to revisit those years and the state of the respective franchises. With the trend continuing this year upon the release of Spectre and The Force Awakens, let’s zip back almost four decades ago to the beginning of the phenomenon.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and A New Hope (1977)

SHLM and NH

A brief look at the weekly box office number-ones throughout 1977 betrays what you’d expect: Star Wars absolutely dominated, reclaiming the top spot again and again weeks after the original release. Great films like SorcererBobby Deerfield, and Cross of Iron have since been relegated to obscurity in the looming shadow of A New Hope. And The Spy Who Loved Me? It’s not even in the Top 10 highest-grossing Bond films (and yet Octopussy is, somehow).

And still The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the better entires in the long-standing franchise, certainly one of the better outings for Roger Moore’s 007. After the idiocy of Live and Let Die and the beautiful weirdness of The Man with the Golden Gun, Moore’s Bond got relatively straightforward in a collaboration with the Russians against the maniacal Karl Stromberg and his trusty metal-toothed henchman. It seemed like Moore’s Bond was finally coming into his own, like the franchise was on its feet again after a long string of so-so spy shindigs. To this day it’s one of the most revered Moore outings.

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Soldier in the Rain (1963)

Buddy films almost always have two clashing personalities at the core. Butch and Sundance, Woody and Buzz, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Thelma and Louise — more often than not it’s the Hardass and the Free Spirit, or the Mentor and the Newcomer, or the Brainiac and the Simpleton. But as far as the casting goes you can usually say cool: those two guys will be great together. Newman and Redford is a more obvious pairing than Hanks and Allen, but the latter’s not strange enough to raise any eyebrows.

But Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen? That’s not an immediate sell as a buddy-comedy duo, is it? Each of them is legendary, but in a different fashion. Gleason is a comedic entertainer at heart, delivering highly effective drama in smaller portions in The Hustler and a handful of other notables; McQueen, meanwhile, would build his career on strong silent types even in his lesser-known dramas, from The Sand Pebbles to The Getaway. He would rarely do comedy, and Gleason would rarely share the limelight in any of his comedic films (not intentionally, of course; he just stole the show pretty much every time). So perhaps a Gleason/McQueen team-up isn’t inherently strange until you consider that a) it’s a comedy with the duo sharing top billing, b) it’s fairly dramatic at times in a satirical Catch-22 sort of way (more on that in a minute), and c) McQueen is the loopy goofball and Gleason is the knowing-smile know-it-all. That said, the most important consideration is d) Soldier in the Rain is highly underrated.

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Film & TV News: October 27

News

  • The bad guy is back: Empire has released a few new pictures from next year’s Suicide Squad featuring Jared Leto’s Joker. Just in time for Halloween!
  • SNL is set to be hosted by Matthew McConaughey for the first time in over a decade, and Adele will be the musical guest. That might just be enough for me to actually tune into SNL again.
  • Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, the highly-anticipated Christmas Special and return of the BBC show, will air on both sides of the Atlantic on January 1st, 2016.
  • Even if you haven’t seen Crimson Peak yet, this conversation between director Guillermo del Toro and fellow directors Christopher Nolan and Alejandro González Iñárritu is highly recommended.

Continue reading Film & TV News: October 27

The Leftovers 2.4 – “Orange Sticker”

Last night The Leftovers rickrolled everyone. I can’t exactly put my finger on whether that makes me ecstatic or annoyed, but I’m quite sure it’s the former. More importantly, “Orange Sticker” got back to Storyline A of the second season after a brief detour with last week’s “Off Ramp“. The Murphy Family seems to be fully driving the show now, sort of an odd thing considering we weren’t even aware of their existence in The Leftovers for the entirety of the first season. But their presence was noticeably missed in “Off Ramp”, and the events in Jarden now seem to have the cosmic weight of significance while the Mapleton subplot is just that: sub.

And more important still is that Nora and Kevin entered into respective character arcs that will drive their own actions in the coming episodes. “Axis Mundi” and “A Matter of Geography” caught back up with the Misplaced Mapletonians (great band name), but “Sticker” really took the opportunity to push forward. The episode began with an overlap of the conclusion from both of those first two episodes, making this the third time we’ve seen the earth-shaking occurrence that seemed to pluck Evie Murphy from existence. Interesting that there’s so much overlap this season — come to think of it, we’ve spent less than two hours with the Murphys as we approach the midway point of the season — and yet it still feels consistently fresh. This time the earthquake and the aftermath is seen from Nora’s point of view.

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Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Today is the day, the distant future, to which Marty McFly travels in Back to the Future Part II, hurtling through time with Doc Brown to October 21, 2015. As predicted in the first film, Marty sees some serious shit — hoverboards, Pepsi Perfect, Jaws 19 playing in the local Holomax Cinema. Paradoxically, if Marty were to actually arrive today he’d find Back to the Future Part II re-released in cinemas instead, depicting the story of the day he traveled to October 21, 2015. He’d sit in the theater and have his recent past recounted and his impending timeline spoiled, which is an obvious time-travel no-no. His actions in the future would be influenced by the movie depicting his actions in the future, which would in turn change the 2015-set scenes of BttF2, which would in turn jeopardize Marty’s presence in that very theater, which would in turn jeopardize our ability to hypothesize about Marty’s presence in that very theater, which would in turn [head explodes].

The actual plot of Back to the Future Part II isn’t actually much simpler. If there are Ten Basic Ideas about time travel — meeting yourself, erasing stuff from existence, etc. — then three of them made it into the first movie and all ten of them were crammed into Part II, leaving Part III to differentiate itself by pretty much not being a time travel movie. But simple time paradoxes (paradoxi?) are for wimps — let’s have Michael J. Fox play a billion different roles, including three versions of Marty McFly! So silly!

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Film & TV News: October 20

News

  • The final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens dropped last night (below). There are a lot of other news items to get to, so we won’t dwell on this single point.
  • The trailer for the new J.J. Abrams flick also went up (below), and it looks pretty good!
  • Disney just released a special sneak peek at a new Marvel movie or something, seemingly a crossover between Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner, with Harrison Ford and everything. See below.

Continue reading Film & TV News: October 20

The Leftovers 2.3 – “Off Ramp”

The episodic nature of a show like The Leftovers could be its downfall. Take Tommy and Laurie Garvey, the only two familiar faces in “Off Ramp”, and consider that a) we’ve seen a lot of their respective stories, from backstories to experiences at the moment of the Sudden Departure to their lives in the aftermath, and then consider b) that the episodes featuring them almost always seem like weaker entries. Why? Lost-style episodes on single characters aren’t inherently weak, and in fact “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (about Matt Jamison) and “Guest” (about his sister Nora) were two of the best episodes of the first season of Leftovers.

But Lost still had its dreaded Sun episodes, or its Shannon/Boone episodes, or a f*cking Rose & Bernard episode right in the middle of a major action arc, and that last example gets to the heart of the problem: some great characters just slow the action down. Tommy and Laurie always kind of did that in the first season, involved with their little cults of various ilks and mindsets, and we always had to cut away to get to them. Cutting away, of course, implies that the stuff we actually care about will be waiting when we get back. It’s not that Tommy or Laurie walked on screen and sucked the life out of the show, but even in their best moments the structure was such that you’d still be waiting to cut back.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts of No Nation lives in the space between realism and allegory. Uzodinma Iweala’s original novel approaches that space but seems far less concerned with it, narrated entirely by the young central character, Agu, in his simplistic present-tense dialect. A child soldier in West Africa, Agu’s journey in the novel is one of survival. His family is killed, and to avoid being killed himself he accepts an offer to join the army of the Commandant, a rebel warlord. At first he declares “I am not wanting to fight”; eventually, though, Agu is killing with knives and guns, willfully attacking “enemies”, tearing through his war-stricken country at the whim and call of the Commandant.

Everything about the novel is heartbreaking, but nothing more so than the sense that Agu is too young to realize that his journey across his country is also a descent into hell. The first-person narration is one that nonetheless conveys the bare minimum about Agu’s own thoughts and feelings about his actions, and yet at times it conveys more than enough. “I am liking it” — this is what Agu says about the sound of his knife hitting a woman’s head, about the splashing blood. It’s brutal in how direct it all is, in its impossibility and in its plausibility. Iweala never has to name the West African country or convince us that someone like Agu really exists; Agu very definitely does.

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Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Sand, Shadow, Fire, Fable

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our Face Off between Lawrence of Arabia and Queen of the Desert.

David Lean’s T. E. Lawrence film is a visual adventure boasting some of the most impressive and ingenious staging you’ll ever see. One might be tempted to test Steven Soderbergh’s theory on the removal of sound and color from Raiders of the Lost Ark, an exercise meant to highlight how well Spielberg’s film is staged and framed, although sitting through a soundless black-and-white version of the nearly four-hour Lawrence of Arabia seems an especially colossal task. So, instead, we’ll examine here a few of the visual cues that drive Lawrence the film and inform Lawrence the character, and in so doing might uncover what Lean’s epic has to say about the explorer’s fabled legacy.

One would be remiss to announce a discussion of the visuals of Lawrence of Arabia without beginning at the most famous smash cut of the film, one of the most famous smash cuts of any film:

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This is how Lawrence gets to Arabia. Due respect to the Old-West-to-South-America-via-NYC montage of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but in Lawrence the journey to Arabia is not as significant as the journey in Arabia; but Lean’s matching of the two images does more than save time. There’s an ever-so-slight grin that Lawrence gives just before he extinguishes the match, enough to suggest a truth that he knows and we do not. Fire is one of the primary visual symbols of the film, and in retrospect the correlation between Lawrence’s ego and the story told by that single cut is highly revealing.

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The Leftovers 2.2 – “A Matter of Geography”

Let’s state up front that “Axis Mundi” is a hell of a season premiere. It’s utterly disorienting in the best way possible, fresh and yet eerily familiar, pushing The Leftovers into uncharted territory. If the premiere boldly goes where no Leftovers has gone before, then “A Matter of Geography” is the return to Earth, the necessary where-are-they-now refresher that connects the seasons in a narrative sense.

It’s not anywhere near as strong as “Axis Mundi”, but “Geography” is still a highly emotional hour. There’s a niggling sense that the cliffhanger at the end of “Mundi” won’t be revisited for a few more weeks, as “Geography” takes us back to Mapleton and next week’s episode looks to be dealing with the New York town as well, reconnecting with Laurie and Tom Garvey. But there’s more than enough in “Geography” to touch on in the lead-up to that final scene, which mirrors the final scene from the premiere but adds a completely new dimension to it.

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