“The planet of the imagination is as old as we are.”
A writer may find that having a particular way with words is somewhat valuable to the craft, potentially essential, undeniably rare, exhilaratingly natural. Some may be taken aback by the words of others and seek to do the same with their own, maybe even coming to take it for granted if that way with words becomes a familiar way. Writing is sharpening, and just as a pitcher pitches to improve his pitching so too does a writer write to improve his writing. Some, like Ezra Pound, recognize that words are tools and there is a correct tool for a particular job. There is in fact a correct way to tell a particular story. Some, like Alan Moore, recognize that all of that is a crock of bullshit.
Which is not to insinuate that something like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is not well-written, at least in the comic format of Moore’s original publication. It is. As with the impressive majority of Moore’s works League seems leagues beyond the typical comic, nurtured with a higher degree of care or just drawn from a more inspired place. It operates on a higher plane. This cannot be said truthfully of the film version, though by now that’s sort of a preconditioned assumption.
Continue reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
It can be pretty hard to compare one Batman to another Batman. The points of similarity between the super-campy Adam West iteration, the super-rubber Michael Keaton iteration, and the super-dark Christian Bale iteration essentially begin and end with the pointy ears. Val Kilmer and George Clooney are both sleepwalking through their outings, so there’s that. Ben Affleck’s latest incarnation in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice looks to change it up yet again, providing a more world-weary Dark Knight Rises spin on the superhero. Surely the longevity of the character is the major contributing factor to the gradual shifts in tone, as with goofy/serious Bond and goofy/serious Sherlock, and it’s true of the Caped Crusader in the comics as well.
We talked about all of that in our review of Batman Returns, but it’s far more obvious when we go all the way back to the 1943 serial Batman. “Batman and Robin” wasn’t at all a part of the cultural lexicon at this point. The character had only just appeared in 1939, largely as a response to the popularity of counterpart Superman, and so the 1943 theater release of the 3.5-hour marathon serial was for many the very first encounter with Batman. More importantly, 1943 was arguably the height of World War II, meaning that a solid 85% of theatrically-released serials felt compelled to include a strong commentary on nationalistic duty and American pride. Batman was no different. Watch it today and you might find yourself using different descriptors, those being really really racist.
Continue reading Batman (1943)
After dragging Sean Connery back one last time for Diamonds Are Forever, the hunt was on for a new Bond that would be so kind as to stick around for more than one movie. That meant the first movie starring this new Bond would have to be really good; instead, it was Live and Let Die. No more Connery to be found here, sadly, but also no more world domination plots or supervillain nutjobs — just drug trafficking and regular nutjobs. Live and Let Die is weird, sure, but it’s not good weird. The film is too weak and Roger Moore is too clueless for any of the weirdness to cut through the muck. But the follow-up The Man with the Golden Gun is weird, is good weird, and may in fact be the best weird you’re going to find in the entire Bond franchise.
The film was more or less pronounced Dead On Arrival. As Moore’s second outing, The Man with the Golden Gun continued to fail to live up to any of the Connery Bond films. You name it, the critics decried it: weak plot with low stakes; weak dialogue; weak delivery of that dialogue, particularly from Moore’s Bond; weak Bond girl Mary Goodnight; stupid, unimaginative gadgets like a flying car; stupid, unimaginative inclusion of that fat sheriff from Live and Let Die; and, most damning of all, the simple and nearly indescribable fact that something about this doesn’t feel like a Bond movie. “Maybe enough’s enough,” wrote one critic, which is a funny thing to read with Spectre, the 24th film in the series, being released this year. Nowadays we know that it doesn’t matter how terrible Bond gets, or how many films in a row are stinkers, or how many miscast actors are handed the license to kill. There will always be another Bond flick, another ten, until the time comes to cast an invading alien as 007 (coming to zombie-infested theaters everywhere).
Continue reading The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
1993 is very likely the pinnacle of Crichton-ness: Jurassic Park shot the writer to a level of stardom he’d only grazed with the likes of The Andromeda Strain and Westworld, and filmmakers scoured his existing properties for an opportunity to catapult themselves into Spielberg-level notoriety. This needed to happen fast, before anyone else jumped on a Crichton adaptation, but there were essentially only three of his novels that hadn’t yet been adapted. One was Congo, which featured super-smart gorillas, so that wasn’t much of an option (until it was, years later); second was Sphere, a really weird subterranean “imagination adventure” that couldn’t possibly be adapted (until…well, you know); and the third was Rising Sun, a relatively low-key murder mystery masquerading as a cultural economic diatribe (or is it a diatribe masquerading as a murder mystery?) that seemed to provide a perfect mix of commentary and storytelling. For quick kicks, the choice was an obvious one.
And as tends to happen with projects undertaken for such reasons, Rising Sun sadly marks the downward trend in Crichton adaptations sloping sharply away from Jurassic Park. Probably anything would fail to measure up to Park, but the tale of clashes that is Rising Sun failed thoroughly in every arena (except the box office — it rode Park‘s wave to a pretty good domestic haul). TGSC, baby. TGSC.
Continue reading Rising Sun (1993)
Grantland’s Chris Ryan makes a great point here about the way in which the James Bond franchise has changed, for better or worse, to not only gel with modern viewers but to fit the current model of blockbuster franchising. It was always the case that each 007 flick was a standalone film, made even more explicit with those little “James Bond will return” tags at the end. These are installments, and if this particular one stinks then we still have the next one to look forward to or the previous one to rewatch. If you want to jump in on a random one (like, say, Never Say Never Again — wait, bad example), that’s no problem. You won’t miss a step.
Ryan’s point is that all of that has changed now, as the Spectre trailer makes fairly heavy reference to Skyfall and even to Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale. This is continuity as Bond has never known, and Ryan further posits that the filmmaker might be the one who mainly benefits from such a thing — Spectre now seems “more important” than Skyfall (whatever that might mean) just by virtue of being a continuation of the story. Who wouldn’t rather direct “the Bond movie that the last few have been leading up to” over “the next Bond film in a string of other Bond films”?
Continue reading Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
If the worth of a film can be measured in the height of the protagonist’s hat, then The Great Train Robbery is one of the finest cinematic endeavors in history. Look at that thing! More than once I thought of this:
Even if we strike that particular criteria, Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery is still one of the most unique and enjoyable entries in his long and storied career. We’ve discussed Crichton’s popular status as a “sci-fi writer” before, positing that although The Andromeda Strain and Coma and Jurassic Park certainly number among his finest works, Crichton also defied the genre to which he’d been assigned by the popular media on more than one occasion. In no single script is this more apparent than in The Great Train Robbery, adapted from his own 1975 novel, and the reason why isn’t simply because there’s no science fiction involved.
Continue reading The Great Train Robbery (1978)
Of the three Daniel Craig Bond films, two have been received with applause from audiences and critics alike. One of the two is Casino Royale, Craig’s debut as 007. Royale has changed the game as far Bond films go. No more (completely) preposterous gadgets or (literally) impossible feats are featured in this film. No more corny lines and no more maniacal, manacle-wearing, super-genius super-villains. Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is rooted in reality. Of course, there is some stuff that might seem somewhat far-fetched, but you just don’t have yourself a Bond film without at least a splash of absurdity.
Daniel Craig is stupendous in this film. He fully embodies the perhaps overly confident, womanizing alcoholic who, at the same time, wears a badge of courage and integrity at (almost) all times. Craig portrays the smoothest Bond I have ever seen. I know what you’re thinking…probably screaming, actually. Connery will always be Bond, no one is saying otherwise. At the same time, Craig, in my most humble opinion, one ups him in the “I’m the coolest dude on planet Earth” department. It’s everything from the way he carries himself to the timing and delivery of his lines (every one of which hits perfectly). What is most notable, though, is the dark side that Craig brings to the timeless character. His orphanage is addressed in the film, the emotion behind his first kill is evident, and Bond drinks with a purpose throughout Royale. Craig makes it all work so well, from the stern look in his eyes as he races through the Miami Airport to the sarcastic smirks he makes at Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from across the poker table.
Continue reading Casino Royale (2006)
The next Bond movie will be Spectre, which will mark the fourth outing for Daniel Craig’s modernized James Blonde and the second for director Sam Mendes following 2012’s Skyfall. Mendes won’t be the first to return for another helping of 007, and in fact the trend since Dr. No has hewed closer to “we’ll ask you back if your movie doesn’t suck” than anything else. The math, for those of you struggling here: Skyfall doesn’t suck = Mendes returns.
But Spectre will also mark the return of…well, SPECTRE. The evil organization (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) has been absent from the Bond franchise for the past eleven films, at least according to Bond purists. According to everyone else, the last time SPECTRE plotted against MI6 was in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the only Bond film not produced (or sanctioned) by Eon Productions, a film that saw the valiant (ahem) return of Sean Connery to the James Bond role. Never Say Never Again pits this 53-year-old version of the spy against SPECTRE as the organization counter-intelligences, terrorizes, revenges and extorts all over everybody’s ass. Math: SPECTRE = evil.
Continue reading Never Say Never Again (1983)
Our Director Series on Robert Altman is partially responsible for a look at The Big Sleep, as the overlapping rapid-fire back-and-forth dialogue characteristic of Altman’s films was first characteristic of the films of Howard Hawks. Toss in the fact that the source material is by Raymond Chandler and the fact that William Faulkner himself helped write the screenplay, and The Big Sleep is still one of the finest American film scripts ever committed to celluloid.
Private eye Philip Marlowe has appeared in a few films – notably portrayed by Elliott Gould in 1973’s The Long Goodbye (also Altman) and then by Robert Mitchum in both 1975 and 1978 – but Humphrey Bogart’s time in the role is the most valuable. He’s Marlowe in the way that Sean Connery is Bond: it’s not the only portrayal of the character…but yeah, it’s the only portrayal of the character. Marlowe’s investigation into a whole host of strange occurrences rolled out one after another, starting with the disappearance of one Sean Regan, provides the drive for the film. But one solution inevitably leads to two more problems in The Big Sleep, and there’s little hope of piecing everything together into a neat little answer to “so what actually happened?”
Continue reading The Big Sleep (1946)