Wednesday, January 31, 2007

George Lucas was a p*ssy: "Starship Troopers"

This movie is awesome. Just awesome. Sure, it might not be what some people would call "good," but I don't care. For me, it's in that hallowed category that also includes such films as "The Cable Guy," "The Last Boy Scout" and "Flash Gordon." Mediocre to critics, perhaps, but a hell of a lot of fun to watch over and over again.

I love this movie so much that I keep asking people to give it to me for Christmas, my birthday, Purim, Victoria Day, whatever. Yet nobody has done so. That's why I recently said, "Screw it," and bought a used DVD for $6 at at a nearby used music and movie store. That'll show you guys.

Why is this movie so great? Let us count the ways:

90210 vs. Space Bugs
Yep, that's pretty much the concept, and if you can't get behind beautiful teens and twentysomethings getting impaled, beheaded, torn in half and blown up in outrageous ways -- really, you laugh more than wince -- then go watch "Sense and Sensibility."

That Verhoeven Touch
After famously straying into weird sex stuff -- see "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls" (which I own on VHS, thank you very much) -- Paul Verhoeven came back to sci-fi with "Troopers." Those little quirks from "RoboCop" and "Total Recall," such as the fun TV programming and off-kilter future, are back in full effect. I mean, the TV spots actually seem real. Would you like to know more? (Click.)

Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown
That's right ... both of them in the same movie! I didn't think that had happened before, but IMDB tells me they were in "Extreme Prejudice," which also had Powers Boothe and William Forsythe. Wow, that's a lot of "that guy"s. Anyway, I'm a big fan of Ironside, from Ham Tyler in "V" to Jester in "Top Gun" to Richter in "Total Recall." The same thing with Brown, from Rawhide in "Buckaroo Banzai" to Kurgan in "Highlander" to Hadley in "The Shawshank Redemption." Just great, great guys -- never boring, and not disappointing here as a drill sergeant and a teacher-turned-battalion leader, respectively.

Sure, it's mostly computer stuff, but you have to dig the squeals and the flailing legs anyway. And that scene in on the desert planet, when the bugs come out from the rocks and storm the compound. Guaranteed "Oh, sh*t" every time. (The look on Ironside's face ... priceless.)

Denise Richards, Starship Pilot
Well before she was tapped to play a nuclear scientist in a James Bond movie, the young Ms. Richards was the driver for one of those big crates way up in the sky. Um, yeah. At least the Bond movie was tongue in cheek with that casting. Double negative: She's one of the few hardbodies who doesn't get naked here. Boo! (Of course, "Wild Things" -- where she was used much more correctly -- made up a little for that.)

Dina Meyer, Butt Kicker
Hadn't seen her much before (one of Joey's girlfriends on "Friends") and haven't seen her much since ("Star Trek: Nemesis"), but Meyer is supercute as tough Dizzy Flores. And yes, she does get naked.

Heil, Casper!
Often the most discussed aspect of this movie: Hey, they're futuristic Nazis! I have to admit, it wasn't a big focus for me the first few times I saw "Troopers." But yeah, it's not hard to see the riff on the Third Reich in the "Federation" and its recruitment of young people for military service, which leads to citizenship. And it's not like our hero, Casper Van Dien, looks like anything less than Hitler's wet dream. By the time Doogie Howser shows up at the end wearing a black leather trenchcoat, well, it's hard to ignore Verhoeven's take on fascism, which is biting.

All in all, just great fun. But I'm sure I've left something out. Would you like to know more?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Irony and celeb gossip can take you only so far: "The Break-Up"

And really, that's not very far at all. Still, I'm curious ... did they ever name the Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn couple? Vinnifer? Jence? Dipshitz?

I'll confess to being curious when this so-called romantic comedy came out last year. Vince Vaughn can be funny, of course, and Jennifer Aniston is easy to look at. But I told myself that if the reviews weren't good, I'd pass on making this a theater experience. They weren't, and I did.

Alas, in the ongoing quest to find movies My Radiant Bride and I can tolerate together, Netflix sent "The Break-Up" our way. Since my wife has been churning through movies lately -- keeping our per-flick cost down -- I didn't mind a middling movie like this in the mix.

And middling it was, which is a shame because there are real issues at play here. Not the absurd premise of both people in a split couple refusing to move out. That's just dumb, and not funny dumb, either. But scenes such as Vaughn's character being confused because he grudgingly gave decided to help Aniston's character, only to have her be mad because he didn't "want" to help her. Of course he didn't want to help! But he did it, right? Calm down!

Sadly, that's about the only time I sympathized with Vaughn -- looking worse every year -- in this movie. Basically, after the two break up, the lackluster "War of the Roses"-type hijinks amplify. Friends and relatives get dragged into it, including Aniston's is-he-gay, a-capella-singing brother, that guy who played Letterman in "The Late Shift" and is in all the Christopher Guest movies. He's funny, as usual, but it's a bit part. Otherwise, we get Jason Bateman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jon Favreau and Ben Affleck's girlfriend from "Chasing Amy" dancing around the fringes.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another supporting player: Peter Billingsley. Yes, that Peter Billingsley, Ralphie from "A Christmas Story." Yeah, I didn't know we was still working, either, and apparently he doesn't use his real name anymore. He did here, but you probably have as much chance of recognizing him as I did. It was only after the fact that I thought, "Yeah, I guess I can see it." In any case, weird.)

As you might expect, Vaughn mugs for the camera and Anniston furrows her brow and whines. She's much more tolerable, with Vaughn OK only when he does his usual rat-a-tat riffing, i.e. "Is that how you want to play it? Because I can play it like that. I'll play it like Lionel Richie, 'All Night Long', lady." Still, nothing approaches the "Old School" or "Wedding Crashers" level, lending further credence to the thought -- shared by this guy -- that Vaughn can't handle the lead and should still to playing the comedic foil, either in a duo or an ensemble.

As for Aniston, like I said, easy to look at. And between the two leads, she's the one who can actually act. ("The Good Girl," and she was OK in "Along Came Polly," too.) That distinction and the idea of her being stuck with Vaughn -- here and in real life -- leave me sympathetic to her plight these days. But at least her ex didn't leave her for someone who's hotter, right?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More like DUMB-ino!: "Domino"

I actually wanted to like this movie, just so I could write "More like Domi-YES!"

Why did I give Tony "ADD" Scott yet another chance? Because I can't get enough needless quick cuts? Because I love silly subtitles and other words streaming across the screen? Because sometimes I just feel too smart? Nope. Sadly, I must confess that I wanted to see Keira Knightley kicking tail, and not while wearing Victorian garb or running around a soccer field.

"Domino" is sort of about the life of Domino Harvey, an actor's daughter who rejected the trappings of fame -- modeling, private schools, etc. -- and became a bounty hunter in L.A. Why would she do this? Daddy didn't love her? She actually wanted a real meal? Just for gits and shiggles?

In the end, we never know, because this is far from a true biopic. Instead, it's another excuse for Ridley's brother to show kooky characters, stunt casting, gunfights and explosions. Oooohhh! But hey, I guess it wasn't bad to look at. I mean, KK does a lap dance AND gets topless, so that works.

Otherwise, there's nothing to take seriously here, and not much to laugh at. As Domino does time as a bounty hunter, we see her fall in with Mickey Rourke, a legendary bounty hunter and a father figure of sorts. (Yes, that's scary.) The third member of their trip is a Latino who insists on pulling his hair back in a ponytail, then letting it out. Pulling it back, then letting it out. It got old the sixth or seventh time, amigo.

With the story told in mostly incoherent flashback and flash-forward style, we learn that the bounty hunters become the subjects of a reality show produced by Christopher Walken and hosted by former 90210 stars Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green, playing themselves. That's only mildly amusing, unfortunately. Then things go awry as the gang gets tangled up with a casino owner, a mob boss and a bunch of money.

It's all a big mess, and a long one -- more than two hours -- at that. The casting is somewhat intriguing; Dabney Coleman is the casino owner, and Macy Gray is a sistah in a robbery scheme. But we also have Tom Waits. Man, why does everyone think he's so cool? Actually, the neatest thing was the sight of Fred Koehler, the little kid from "Mr. Mom" and "Kate & Allie." He was one of the mob boss's sons, and I immediately thought, "Hey, I know that guy!"

So yeah, when that's a high point of this movie -- that and the boobies -- it's hard to give this a passing grade. Now if Keira had taken out the bad guys with a penalty kick ...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One tool to see them all: "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy

Yes, I did it. Not all in one day, and not even all in one week, although it was close. But I finally watched the extended versions of the three "Lord of the Rings" movies back-to-back-to-back. The Woman at the Center of My Universe initially was game for the journey, but she pooped out after about 40 minutes of the first movie. That left your faithful blogger to forge ahead alone, with no one remotely resembling Samwise Gamgee to watch my back.

Most of us should know the plot by now: Mythical world is in danger of falling into darkness unless a little man can destroy an all-powerful ring. (Hijinks ensue.) Rather than elaborate on that, let me share a few thoughts about seeing the whole trilogy in a short span.

First ... man, these director's cuts were long. We're talking about 11 hours combined for the three movies. Just in case three-and-a-half hours each for the first two, "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers," isn't long enough, the third, "The Return of the King," clocks in close to four hours, I think. This isn't watching a movie. This is like getting engaged. "Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure?"

That said, the movies are rarely boring, provided you go into it knowing it's one big, long odyssey. That's means a little more exposition that you might want at times, and I'll confess to losing interest here and there. That became more acute given my commitment to see the trilogy in one burst. There were a few times when Frodo and Sam were toddling along with Gollum and I was like, "I know, the squirmy little guy loves only the Ring and can't be trusted. Let's move it, people."

I also didn't care much about the would-be romance between Aragorn and Arwen. While Viggo Mortensen does pretty well as the long lost heir to the throne of Gondor, the times when he's waving his sword around and pursuing his destiny as king were a heck of a lot more fun that watching him mope over an elf. Dude, the king can get any woman he wants. Why cry over that Aerosmith guy's kid?

Other nitpicking: There was probably too much hobbitt overall for me, with Merry and Pippin chewing up more screen time than necessary in the second and the third installments. I also noticed much more here than when I first saw the movies how Gimli the dwarf morphed from a tough little guy in the first movie to comic relief in the third. I know the point was to show how he and Legolas the elf had become friends, but I thought the elf (Orlando Bloom, who wasn't bad) held up a lot better. He also looked a lot cooler killing orcs and Uruk-Hai.

Of course, if this is the worst I can find in such a sprawling epic, then we're probably doing OK. And I can safely say that the battle scenes, special effects and scene settings were just as impressive when seen all at once. The battle in the mines of Moria in "Fellowship," the siege on Helm's Deep in "Towers," the relentless assault on Minas Tirith in "King" ... especially the Minas Tirith battles. Very cool how sh*t just kept coming.

Perhaps most telling, by the time push came to shove in Mordor, I found myself a little more emotional about the final leg of Frodo's trek to Mount Doom. Compared with seeing the three movies over three years, watching them in the span of several days made me feel more invested in the journey. It was kind of nice, actually. After the all flash, no substance "Star Wars" trilogy that was out at the same time -- well, before, during and after the "Rings" trilogy -- coming across a fantasy story where the dialogue and personalities don't make you cringe is noteworthy indeed. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I saw the Narsil, the sword of Elendil, for sale in SkyMall.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Not quite as funny as "Midnight Run," but what can you do?

In fact, neither of these movies about finding and/or transporting prisoners is funny at all. But when you've got grizzled heroes and black men with a bullseye on their backs, who cares?

Die Old: "16 Blocks"

This breezed through theaters relatively quickly last year, but I recall hearing it was halfway decent. So it came to be in the Netflix queue over the holidays. Our story: Bruce Willis plays a haggard loser of a cop who gets ordered to take a convict (Mos Def) from jail to court to testify in some big case. Sure, Willis is about to go off duty that morning, but he's got two hours to go only 16 blocks. What could happen?

Well, a lot, as it turns out. A bunch of cops who are a wee bit crooked want our man Mos dead, and only Willis can keep him alive as the clock ticks toward the testimony deadline. So we've got the broken man, wise-cracking black guy and a real-time element. Throw in one of our favorite supporting players, David Morse, as the lead bad guy, and it's a recipe for something at least mildly interesting.

And that's about what we get. For a bare-bones concept, the movie delivers a somewhat plausible scenario for why Willis can't get Mr. Def to the courthouse that easily. There's some stupid stuff -- i.e. a hostage situation -- but it's tolerable enough. As for the performances, Willis isn't doing anything special but isn't laughable. Def is actually more than a cartoon dropping one-liners. You actually feel for the guy, although I might not have hit viewers over the head so much with his hopes and dreams.

In short, eminently watchable fare, but rather forgettable once the credits roll.

What, no cameo by former roommate Al Gore?: "U.S. Marshals"

Shhh, shhh ... if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of Tommy Lee Jones selling his soul.

Actually, given the chunk of change he likely got for this lackluster "sequel" to "The Fugitive," you probably don't have to listen that carefully.

This is a strange movie to start. One, it's a sequel without the main dude. That's a great recipe for success, of course. I mean, just look at "Speed 2." Anyway, with Harrison Ford gone, Jones gets top billing as returning U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, this time charged with tracking down a mysterious fugitive, Wesley Snipes. It takes a while to figure out what exactly Snipes did to be most wanted. Something about killing a bunch of vampires, I think.

To be honest, this movie takes a while to get going. Oh, there are some decent action scenes, and Jones says all these cute lines. But the plot kind of pokes along for at least an hour. Another guy might say it was nice to see all the pieces slowly come together, but hey, go read that guy's blog.

Even the presence of Robert Downey Jr. doesn't do much for me here. Downey can be great, but his whole "I've got a secret" thing rings hollow. But since it's all been downhill for him since "Weird Science," is that really a surprise?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Another post, another roundup

Still a big backlog here at the world's best blog devoted to fine cinema. (Seriously, I've got trophies and everything.) Today we'll focus on a few classics -- some I saw for the first time, others old favorites.

Paging Patsy Cline: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

You know ... "Craaazyyyy ... "

While I read, and loved, the book way back in high school, I had seen only bits of Jack Nicholson's tour de force until recently. That's a shame, since this is a pretty good movie.

We know the basic story: Nicholson is an instigator in a mental hospital, mainly because he's not really a nutjob. Rather, he's merely ducking a prison sentence. Once among the challenged, however, he starts riling them up, much to the dismay of uber-controlling Nurse Ratched. (What a great character name ... very Dickensian.)

Louise Fletcher is perfect as Ratched, and Nicholson's performance as Randle Patrick McMurphy is legendary; they both won Oscars, as did the film. But just as interesting are all the supporting roles, with mental patients played by these guys in their somewhat tender years: Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, "that guy" Vincent Schiavelli. Throw in Brad Dourif as sweet Billy Bibbit, and it's a great ensemble. Just keep anything sharp away from them.

If you thought "Clerks" was low-budget: "Plan 9 From Outer Space"

Yes, the oft-regarded "Worse Film Ever." And you know, they may be right.

You really owe it to yourself to sit through this, especially since it's not long. You might think this tale of aliens turning people into zombies would falter when it comes to special effects -- Is that a pie tin as a flying saucer, and is that fishing line holding it up? -- and sure, they're pretty bad. (Watch for those cardboard tombstones.) But what really sets this Ed Wood "classic" apart is the (a) ham-handed attempt to pass various footage off as a coherent story and (b) amazingly hokey acting, from police officers to aliens to the zombies themselves.

What really must be seen to be believed is the "casting" of famous horror star Bela Lugosi. What we get are a few scattered scenes of a frail Lugosi outside a house and wandering through a cemetery, then a guy who looks nothing like him -- taller and fairer, to start -- walking around with a cape covering his face. Calling it comical is like calling Paris Hilton shallow -- a major understatement. It's not "so bad that it's good," but it is so bad that you have to see it for yourself. I'm glad I finally did.

Believe it or not, he was young once: "Rocky"

Well, maybe not "young" in his late 20s, but at least easier to accept than the geriatric in the ring these days.

I've seen "Rocky" several times, of course, but The Woman Who Makes Me Complete never had, so we caught it on TCM the other night. Good timing, considering this "Rocky Balboa" nonsense now in theaters. The first time around makes a little more sense, with a palooka from Philly's less-than-swanky side getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight the heavyweight champ. (With the great name Apollo Creed, no less.)

While the story still holds up well enough after 30 years, what surprised me was the relatively short amount of time devoted to the big fight/climax. Maybe I remembered it being longer, or was thinking of the drawn-out fight scenes in the sequels, especially two-fight affairs like "Rocky III" and "Rocky IV." But while the original seemed to move a little too quickly when it came to the fine art of pugilism, it's still a rousing tale. Bonus points for creating a reflex anytime you meet someone named Adrian.

And yet "Lethal Weapon" still gets all the buddy-movie pub: "The Last Boy Scout"

Did I say this post would cover "classics?" Hey, this counts in my book. Consider it part of the misunderstood movies category, a la "The Cable Guy" and "Flash Gordon." Sure, it's directed by the bludgeoning Tony Scott and written by Shane Black, the scribe behind the aforementioned "Lethal Weapon" and its sequels. And sure, it opens with a ridiculous sequence involving a pro football player with a gun tucked into his pants during a game. I still love it.

Because really, what's not to love? A post-"Die Hard 2", pre-"Pulp Fiction" Bruce Willis playing a haggard private eye/former Secret Service agent with a dry wit. Damon Wayans as a hotshot quarterback with a drug problem and a dead girlfriend. Taylor Negron -- yeah, I know ... who? -- as a slimy bad guy. They're great!

If you really want to know what this story of the PI and the QB trying to solve a murder mystery does for me, consider the abundance of throwaway one-liners and exchanges. To wit:

"This is the nineties. You don't just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first."

"Right now, I'm trying to figure out which one of you looks the most like my d*ck."

"OK, what would Joe do at a time like this? He'd kill everybody and smoke some cigarettes."

"Yes, officer. As a matter of fact there is a problem. Apparently there are too many bullets in this gun."

"Danger's my middle name. " "Mine's Cornelius. You tell anybody, I'll kill you."

"Where are you goin'?" "To the bathroom, OK? You wanna come? The doc said I shouldn't lift anything heavy."

"You think you are so f*cking cool. But just once, I would like to hear you scream in pain." "Play some rap music."

That last one always kills me. And just imagine if they had gotten Brando and Poitier like they wanted ...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Truth, lies and football

OK, time for some serious catch-up. While I haven't made it to the movie house since My Tiny Ray of Light was born, Mommy and I have managed to catch a veritable buttload (metric, not U.S.) of movies on video and cable. These covered a good half-century, but today we'll tackle a few recent DVD releases.

Next thing you'll say is that my SUV gets bad mileage: "An Inconvenient Truth"

I wanted to catch this in the theater, especially since it hung around for several weeks in my relatively conservative community. Alas, I think I was too busy strip mining and spraying aerosol cans into the air for no reason.

Although this look at former Vice President and winner of the presidential popular vote Al Gore's traveling powerpoint isn't much more than a lecture on the sad state of our environment, it's still somewhat compelling. We probably shouldn't confuse it with a true documentary, I think, because it's all about Al's research and campaign to get people to take better care of the earth. Then again, would it have mattered if the oil companies or W. got equal time? Not really.

Since I generally like Gore and generally care about the environment -- I recycle and try to walk instead of drive at least a few times a year -- this movie is all right by me. Preachy? Sure. Eye-opening? I guess. For all the raves "Truth" got about its message, I have to ask if people didn't know about much of this stuff already. I mean, when's the last time anyone said, "The ice caps? They're fine!"

Too much lip: "The Last Kiss"

I may have said this before, but it's worth repeating: Zach Braff was thisclose to being my fraternity brother. Well, maybe not thisclose, but close enough that we rejected his ass. I don't recall the details, but he apparently was something of a tool in college. I guess we showed him, huh?

These days, I don't mind Braff so much. I'm not a regular "Scrubs" watcher, but it's funny enough. "Garden State" wasn't bad, although a bit on the mopey/aren't-I-deep side. "The Last Kiss" is pretty much the same ilk, although it has a different writer and director than his one man show in "State." Even so, we get a lot of talky-talky and what-is-it-all-about jabber, which delivers both hits and misses.

My biggest problem with this movie about a few guys going through various "turning 30" crises is a rather key plot point -- that is, a nubile college girl scoping out Braff's character from across a crowded wedding reception, then pursuing him. Nothing against Braff, but guys like him -- hell, like me, too -- don't turn the heads of hot young things. Oh, I'm not saying he couldn't get her. It's just that it would take a little work -- some chit-chat, a chance to show your sense of humor and get under her skin. But to have hottie Rachel Bilson look at him and go, "Mmm mmm, that's what I want" ... um, no.

But did he ever play in the Pee Wee league?: "Invincible"

Another entry into the "Disney Movies That Adults Would Like" library, this time the story of a blue-collar Philly guy who manages to play for the NFL's Eagles. Mark Wahlberg -- yes, all 5-foot-7 of him -- is a bartender who attends open tryouts for the woeful Eagles, then wins a spot on the team, carrying all the hopes and dreams of his working-class 'hood with him to the big time.

It's a sweet, true story, from the same folks who brought you "The Rookie" with Dennis Quaid. Like that movie, you have to suspend belief, which is odd for a couple of real-life tales. In "Rookie," Quaid was just too old -- even for a guy who was 35 when he made the major leagues. In "Invincible," Wahlberg looks like he's in great shape, and I dig the 70s hair. But he's a tiny guy, and even if he's fast and has great hands and spirit, I can't believe someone that size with no college experience and pushing 30 would make the team.

But hey, it's all in good fun, and you can't help but root for Marky Mark and his coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear). You also have to love Elizabeth Banks -- Beth from "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" -- as another bartender and Wahlberg's love interest. Just look close to make sure she's not taller than him.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Double-Oh Heaven

And now, my Top 10 James Bond movies, starting with one of the more controversial ones:

10. Never Say Never Again
Connery is back, with quite a few wrinkles but a good sense of his lot in life. I liked the references to his old age and some actually funny one-liners. (The best: Nurse: "I need a urine sample. If you could fill this beaker for me?" Bond, across the room: "From here?") Even if the story is a remake of "Thunderball," the villain (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and the femme fatale (Barbara Carrera) are solid. Cool motorcycle, too.

9. Octopussy
Perhaps the most scandalous title, this movie has a Roger Moore getting long in the tooth. Yet it's saved by some cool sequences -- such as the mini-jet stunt before the opening credits -- and a decent story. I also liked the henchman with the turban, the bad guy (Louis Jourdan) and the whole island-of-women thing. The knife-throwing twins were neat, too.

8. Live and Let Die
Introducing Moore as 007, but check out Jane Seymour. Hubba hubba. As for the story, the whole Caribbean/Harlem/black villains thing can be a bit uncomfortable. But Yaphet Kotto seems game, and the tag team of a claw-wielding henchman and the 7-Up guy as a voodoo priest is entertaining. Gotta love the powerboat chase (and record-setting jump) and the alligator hopping, too.

7. For Your Eyes Only
What this lacks in gadgets it makes up for in good action scenes, including one of my favorite sequences: a ski chase that includes a bobsled run. Also some cool scenery, and a nice turn by Topol as a gangster who ends up helping Bond. Maybe it's just me, but I never get bored watching this one.

6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
It wasn't so long ago that this aberration was the subject of strong debate. Now, though, most agree that George Lazenby wasn't that bad, especially since the story is one of the best in the series. As he takes on nemesis Blofeld, Bond ends up getting married(!) to Diana Rigg of "Avengers" fame. She's a great Bond girl, dishing out attitude while keeping pace with our hero's adventures. As for Lazenby, we'll never know if he would have been a good Bond in the long run, since this was his only shot.

5. Thunderball
A bit long, but this tale of a nuke heist and underwater battles is solid all the same. We get a perfectly slimy bad guy in SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo, and the best good/bad Bond girl combo ever. Claudine Auger is beautiful as Domino, but Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe remains in a tie for my favorite Bond girls of all time. Maybe it's the red hair. Maybe it's the nasty streak. Whatever it is, she's something. Woof.

4. Dr. No
The movie that started it all. It's a tad slow in parts, and Connery is a bit raw. But that's good, since it gives him more menace, especially in the great scene where a bad guy tries to shoot Bond and finds his gun empty. "That's a Smith & Wesson," Bond says, "and you've had your six." Then he shoots him ... twice! That's cold, man. Then we have Ursula Andress. Oh, mommy.

3. From Russia With Love
Another fantastic looking Bond girl -- I know, aren't they all -- and some good stunts, such as the helicopter scene. But the real fun here are Bond's ally, Ali Kerim Bey, and the assassin Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw. One of the best exchanges of the series: Bond, discovering Grant is a bad guy: "Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something." Grant: "You may know the right wines, but you're the one on your knees."

2. The Spy Who Loved Me
Hands down the best Roger Moore outing, and here's where we see my other favorite Bond girl, Barbara Bach as Russian spy Triple-X. This movie also introduces Jaws, the steel-toothed henchman, and another notable Bond car, the Lotus that turns into a submarine. Other cool underwater stuff includes the villain, Stromberg's, modern-day Atlantis. Oh, and let's not forget one of the coolest pre-credit sequences, the skiing-off-the-cliff-parachute jump. I thought that was awesome the first time I saw it. Of course, I was maybe 6 years old.

1. Goldfinger
This can't be a surprise, since most consider it one of the best if not tops in the series. Count me among the masses. Connery at his smoothest ... the tricked-out Aston Martin ... a Bond girl named Pussy Galore ... the henchman Oddjob with his deadly bowler hat ... one of the best lines in the series: Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?" Goldfinger: "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." Sure, there are parts of other movies I like just as much if not better. But when it comes to the most complete Bond movie, this one has it all. Even the title song. All together now ... "GoldFEENGAAHHH!!! He's the man ... the man with the midas touch!"

Monday, January 01, 2007

Insert misogynist pun here

Happy New Year, kids. I'm easing back into action after taking a few weeks to help She For Whom My Love is Boundless raise our brand new baby girl. (Thank you, thank you very much. Please send money for the college fund now.) Still adjusting to less sleep than I'd like; you all get 12 hours, too, right? Even so, I've managed to knock out several movies on DVD and cable, and expect to recap some of those in the coming days.

Until then, here's something inspired by one of my Christmas gifts, Vol. 1 of the James Bond 007 Ultimate Edition. You may have seen this new DVD collection, which splits up 20 Bond movies into four volumes. Of course, they're not chronological, instead giving us a mix-and-match that's something of a mixed bag. You like only the Sean Connery movies? Too bad! You'll have to buy all four and take the lackluster Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan films as well.

Even so, it's a cool set, and between that and the recent "Casino Royale," I'm moved to rank the Bond movies. I'll leave "Royale" out of the mix for now since I've seen it only once. But I'll add "Never Say Never Again," the famous non-sanctioned Bond movie with a somewhat seasoned Connery coming back after several years.

That gives us a total of 21 movies, and let's go from bottom to top, taking the 11 at the lower end of the scale before hitting the top 10 later this week. Oh, and I won't bother with listing the plots of each movie because if you care enough to even read this list, you already know what's what. With that ...

21. Moonraker
Hey, I loved "Star Wars" as much as anyone, but no need to send Bond into space. This generally sucks all around, from a boring Bond girl to a dull bad guy -- his one good line: "See that some harm comes to him" -- to a cartoonish Jaws.

20. A View to a Kill
Narrowly avoids "worst Bond ever" status because of a cool pre-credit sequence that helped launch the snowboarding craze. Otherwise, Roger Moore is old and fat, Tanya Roberts is shrill, Grace Jones is scary and Christopher Walken as the villain is laughable. Great theme song, though.

19. Die Another Day
This may move up this list in time since I've seen it only a couple of times. But my initial disappointment was significant. Between an invisible car and an ice palace, the gadgets and settings were unintentionally funny. As for Halle Berry as the Bond girl, sure, she looked fantastic. But I'm not sure what all the fuss was. She didn't bring much to the table, further proving that "Monster's Ball" may have been a fluke.

18. Licence to Kill
I kind of like the plot here, with Bond becoming a rogue agent to avenge an attack on his CIA buddy. And Timothy Dalton, in his second outing, seems tough enough. But the drug lord villain ("that guy" Robert Davi) is too much, as is the series of events that brings Wayne Newton (yes, that Wayne Newton) into the picture. Finally, Carey Lowell is a very cute Bond girl, but Talisa Soto gives such a horrible performance that I always cringe when she comes on screen.

17. The World is Not Enough
Great looking movie, and the pre-credit bank scene and boat chase get things off to a nice start. But Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist is ... well, insane. Even with the great-looking Sophie Marceau, the casting of Richards, the ham-handed dialogue, the silly villain and the far-fetched story are way too much to swallow.

16. The Living Daylights
Dalton's first turn, and not bad. But take away the welcome sight of someone new after Moore wore out his welcome, and you're left with a couple of lacking bad guys -- a Russian officer and an American arms dealer -- and a bland Bond girl. Nice to see the Aston Martin updated, though.

15. The Man with the Golden Gun
I used to think this was pretty cool because, dude, the bad guy has a golden gun! But the villain is way too easy to sympathize with, the two Bond girls are kind of boring -- not that Britt Ekland was hard to look at -- and a henchman played by Tattoo from "Fantasy Island" is hard to handle.

14. Tomorrow Never Dies
I'm a little surprised this is so high on the list because I think the villain, a Rupert Murdoch type, is pretty stupid. But there are some good action scenes here, especially when Michelle Yeoh is around. It's also Pierce Brosnan's second outing, in which some of the pressure is off and he seems to be having a good time.

13. Diamonds are Forever
Man, does Sean Connery look old here. Another minus: Much of the action takes place in Las Vegas and California, which just seems off for our globe-trotting spy. What I like, though, are the two gay assassins -- how progressive! -- and the general sense of levity that Connery brings to the proceedings. And, of course, this exchange when Plenty O'Toole meets Bond: "Hi, I'm Plenty." "But of course you are."

12. GoldenEye
Brosnan's first, more than six years after the previous (Dalton) movie. After such a big gap, Bond fans probably would have been happy with anything. For me, though, it was nice to see Brosnan wouldn't be just a pretty boy. I thought he came off relatively tough, and I liked both the villain and the bad Bond Girl, Xenia Onatopp. Famke Janssen may have gone on to "X-Men" fame, but to me she'll always be the naughty woman who kills with her thighs. Onatopp, indeed.

11. You Only Live Twice
I'll confess I've seen this one only a few times, but it's just never grabbed me, leaving me to consider it one of the lesser Connery films. One, I never bought him as "Japanese." Two, Donald Pleasance's Blofeld didn't see sinister enough. Three, Blofeld's volcano lair didn't seem like that big a deal. But hey, it's still Connery.

Coming soon ... The Top Ten.