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James Bond: SPECTRE is Back October 22, 2015

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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Daniel Craig rocks the black turtleneck a la Roger Moore in “Live and Let Die”. As the Sterling Archer character would say, “It’s the tactical turtleneck, Lana, the…’tactle-neck’!”

In just two weeks (and change), a new James Bond film shall hit the theatres.  It shall be the 24th in the official series dating back to 1962 (“Never Say Never Again” from 1983 was never acknowledged as official), and Daniel Craig’s fourth go at the iconic, timeless role.  His inaugural appearance as Bond in “Casino Royale” in 2006 was a smash debut, initiating a new tone to the franchise unseen to such a degree since Roger Moore debuted as Bond in “Live and Let Die” in 1973.  Oddly enough, Craig’s second appearance as Bond (“Quantum of Solace”, 2008) frankly did not work out quite so well, but that was primarily the fault of how badly the story was written, for Craig maintained his intense effort toward the role.

Throughout the Bond series that spans 53 years and counting, there has been a consistent pattern of the third time being a charm.  That is to say, Sean Connery in particular and the series in general truly hit its stride during the ever-popular “Goldfinger” from 1964, the third in the series.  Roger Moore came to truly “own” the part in “The Spy Who Loved Me” from 1977, his third turn in the series.  Similarly, Craig truly put his mark on the same role in “Skyfall” (2012), which is considered by most to be his finest effort/contribution to the franchise thus far.  Indeed, “Skyfall” has had mass appeal, as many viewers have considered it one of the all-time greats of the series as a whole.  What was particularly intriguing about the 23rd installment film was that it was released on the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the silver screen, and, moreover, the story set things up for the entire series to come full circle, complete with a new “M” and his relatively modest, albeit stately, office by film’s end.  Even the story began its final act with Bond driving his silver 1963 Aston Martin DB5 though some of the most desolate Scottish terrain imaginable, as if it were the early 1960s.

So at this point, two major questions arise, and both are variations on ‘where do we go from here?’  To put it another way, after such a grand contribution to the series in “Skyfall,” are we setting ourselves up for disappointment the movie that is soon to follow?  Also, in what direction is the series to head, now that the storyline has come, as already mentioned, full circle?

 To answer the first question, we ought to look at history.  Sean Connery followed up from “Goldfinger” with “Thunderball,” which, while not nearly as iconic as its predecessor, was still a huge hit when it was released in 1965.  Similarly, Roger Moore followed up on “Spy Who Love Me” with “Moonraker” in 1979.  Full confession:  the latter is a personal favorite of mine.  James Bond goes into space, after all:  no other movie in the series can lay claim to that!  Better yet, they brought back the iconic Bond henchman Jaws; Moore’s performance was reliably smooth; and Lois Chiles remains one of the most underrated of all the leading Bond Girls (lightyears better than Olga Kurylenko from Q of S, but that sets the bar quite low).

The bottom line is, both follow-ups were at least very pleasing.  If the pattern holds, we ought not to be disappointed with the upcoming installment.

 But let us get further to the point.  For the longest time, we Bond fans have been hungry for a return of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executives for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) to the series for a very long time.  The last time Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Ol’ “Number One” in the evil organization) made an overt appearance was “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1971, for goodness sake.  Granted, SPECTRE was originally meant to operate in a Cold War-dominated world.  Author Ian Fleming made no mention of it in his novels, but rather used SMERSH, the Soviet equivalent of the CIA, instead.  The switch to SPECTRE was made with the introduction of James Bond to major motion pictures with “Dr. No” in 1962, where the main villain of the story/film openly described the organization to Bond over dinner in said villain’s luxurious lair.  To this day, nobody has been able to pronounce the acronym in such a delightfully sinister way as Joseph Wiseman did in his role as the half-German, half-Chinese evil nuclear scientist!

Bond_24_SpectreLogosSo yes, it’s been so long since we last heard an overt reference to S.P.E.C.T.R.E.  The fact that it shall be front-and-center to the plot (and title) of the upcoming new Bond movie has us fans practically chomping at the bit to see it.  With the storyline having come full circle upon the conclusion of the last film, it has been as if the writers read our minds in thinking that it is time for the return of this evil “A-Team.”  The shattered windshield in one of the movie’s posters has been designed to appear as the octopus-like logo of the nefarious organization, in another nod to the classic Connery-era bond films.

SPECTRE_ONE_SHEET2Even more intriguing is the garb in which Craig has been wearing in the movie’s promotional photos.  The white dinner jacket is perfectly within the grand traditions of Connery and Moore, but what has really grabbed the eyeballs, so to speak, is the black turtleneck, which Roger Moore rocked quite well during the nighttime raid sequence on the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique (a thinly-guised Haiti, because voodoo) in “Live and Let Die.”  But why?  Do so many fans and casual observers alike recall such a garment?  Or is it on account of another, semi-iconic spy character in Sterling Archer?  He is the main character in the animated TV show on FX, “Archer,” who is well-known for wearing this shirt during his shenanigans as a secret agent.  The comedic show in question has attracted a strong following among the educated 20-and-30-somethings, and that alone has created considerable cross-franchise intrigue.

 Regardless, we eagerly await the release of the 24th official Bond film, “S.P.E.C.T.R.E.”  The historical parallels of the series, combined with timeless elements lead us to a prognostication that this is an installment surely not to disappoint!


Cowboys and Aliens: An awesome film August 14, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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Many reviews have not been the most flattering about the recently released film Cowboys & Aliens.  The average rating has been around 2 stars — not terrible (“turable,” if you’re Charles Barkley), but not necessarily good, either.  After seeing the film, my conclusion is that the 2-star treatment is an error, for it merits a better assessment than that.

Full confession time:  I had actually been anticipating the release of this movie for most of the year, practically since I first saw the posters for it around December or January.  The title itself sounded intriguing — aliens in a wild west setting.  Then I found out the top-billed cast, and it hit me.  Director Jon Favreau came up with the right ingredients that when combined — at least, on paper — would make for one of the coolest ideas for a movie in recent memory.

What are the ingredients?  The setting, the top cast, and the story itself.  The setting is obvious, and has already been covered.  What about the cast?  The two big names are Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.  What is Daniel Craig known for playing these days?  Why, he’s the latest James Bond, with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace already under his belt, and Bond 23 due to be released in 2012.  What is Harrison Ford best known for playing?  Puh-leaze:  Indiana Jones!

With all of this in mind, how do things add up?  As mentioned previously, it adds up — again, on paper — to the coolest idea in recent memory:  James Bond and Indiana Jones team up to fight aliens in the old west.  Can a movie idea get any more awesome?  I submit ‘no.’

From there, things can only go in two directions:  either the movie lives up to such expectations of awesomeness, or it flops completely.  Usually, a film that potentially cool sounds too good to be true, and that was my primary concern going in to see it.  The concern was alleviated within the first minute.  Craig definitely brings his swagger and brutality that he used to portray Bond, and Harrison Ford brings his A-game as well.  One scene was particularly tantalizing in that it made many a movie buff wonder ‘what if James Bond did try to take on Indiana Jones?’  Craig plays a desperado trying to remember who he is and what he was doing.  His fighting style and cowboy tough guy talk definitely remind folks ‘in the know’ of 007.  Meanwhile, there certainly are times where Ford’s occasional glances and smirks are as if he inadvertantly let Indy seep into this role of Civil War army officer-turned-tyrannical town overlord (think Indiana Jones with a dark side).

So why the relatively low reviews?  Lots of critics expect every film they see to have the dramatic value of MacBeth or Death of Salesman, and when it does not deliver under such a false premise, then the film is to be panned.  Moreover, lots of critics do not understand some of the pre-requisites of westerns.  The beauty of the film is that it is a western first, a sci-fi flick second (albeit a close second).  As a western, you know going in that there are going to be cliches, and heaven knows, the film is rife with them.  If that bothers any would-be viewer, then he or she is apt to detract a star or two from their own personal rating.  But if they are of no consequence to others, then the others will be more apt not to be distracted from the film’s overall awesomeness.

As a western, it also delivers satisfaction.  A lone stranger with a more-than-checkered past comes into town.  The town’s overlord dislikes him, to say the least (Why, you ask?  Watch the film!), until all hell breaks loose, well, you get the rest.  Like most westerns, the emphasis is on actions, not words, though to be sure, the film is not without the occasionally choice dialog.

The object of the story is even somewhat cliche, that of disparate forces having to band together to overcome a foe with a host of advantages.  The action sequences are pure awesomeness, and the ending is very satisfactory, as is the character development taking place throughout the film.  Moreover, Olivia Wilde (who played Quorra in Tron: Legacy) does well as an unexpected helper in the protagonist’s cause, and it was a nice touch to see Adam Beach (who played the part of Ira Hayes in Flags of our Fathers), whose character becomes a needed ambassador as the story unfolds.

If you’re looking for a good movie for a “Saturday (or Friday) night out with the boys” occasion, this film is perfect.  It is perfect for a father taking is son and son’s friends* for a fun time, or for a band of college buddies getting together for movie night.  If this film were made and released during my undergrad days, the boys and I would still be talking about it today:  it delivers that well.  James Bond and Indiana Jones team up to fight aliens in the old west.  A movie like that is so awesome, it’s worth repeating.

*Bear in mind that with a PG-13 rating, there is some violence — mostly modern western-style shooting violence, etc., so it is always wise for parents to exercise discretion accordingly.