Avengers: Endgame Is As Good As Endings Get

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began way back in 2008 with the first Iron Man, I was a nineteen-year-old college freshman. In the years since, I graduated from college, was the best man at a dear friend’s wedding, had four or five jobs, turned thirty, and wrote more than two hundred blog posts (this one is number 204, but who’s counting?)

Throughout my twenties, a third of my life, I’ve gone to the theater a couple times every year to see the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Sure, many of them are far from perfect, but each movie has many things to enjoy. Throughout all these movies, I’ve come to know and love the characters, and seeing every actor reprise his or her role in each movie is like seeing an old friend again.

My attachment to these movies and their characters partly stems from the fact that I’m a lifelong reader of comics of all kinds and a superhero aficionado. Even then, many of the MCU characters were ones I had only a passing familiarity with, but since the MCU started I’ve read comics featuring many of the MCU characters, because I liked them so much that I wanted to hang out with them more. I’ve also watched a lot of movies featuring various Avengers cast members, because I liked all the actors so much too.

Whoever the casting director was who cast these actors, he/she deserves a lot of credit. In all of the literally dozens of characters that populate the MCU’s 22 movies, not once have I thought that an actor wasn’t well-suited to his or her role. And with very few exceptions, every character has been played by the same actor for the better part of a decade.

I mention all of this to illustrate how emotionally invested I am in this series. Like many people, I left last year’s Avengers movie, Infinity War, feeling like I had just been slapped in the face. The movie was amazing, and its ending left me utterly devastated. I watched Infinity War again the day before I saw Endgame, and that Spider-Man scene (you know the one) still hits me like a ton of bricks. After Infinity War ended, the idea of waiting for a year to find out what would happen next was agonizing.

Fast-forward a year and a few more movies later, and that continuation is finally here. Avengers: Endgame had a hell of a lot of expectations and hype to live up to, and it exceeded them all. From this point on, there will be spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know what happens, what are you waiting for? Go see it!

Images: Marvel/Disney

That spoiler warning is doubly important when you consider that the movie’s trailers and advertising have spoiled nothing about the plot. There were some plot details that leaked before the movie came out but I stayed as far away from those as I possibly could so I was able to see the movie completely unspoiled. And it was GLORIOUS. I LOVED Endgame. It was everything I hoped it would be. It was tense, exciting, action-packed, emotionally resonant, and most of all, fun.

It’s an amazing storytelling achievement. It resolves Infinity War’s brutal cliffhanger ending, it brings closure to the story arcs for several beloved characters, and never once feels three hours long. Yes, this movie is three hours long, and not once did I feel like it was dragging on for too long. Those three hours flew by. The story is consistently surprising, the acting is excellent, the dialogue is sharp and funny, the chemistry between the actors is strong, the relationships between the characters develop in meaningful and unexpected ways, the action sequences are thrilling, and the final epic battle is pure cinematic bliss.

The movie was directed once again by Joe and Anthony Russo, who previously helmed Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: Civil War and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Those movies had some of the best, most intense and well-choreographed action sequences of the MCU, and the Russo brothers pulled out all the stops for Endgame. The final battle in this film is epic in every sense of the word, bringing together nearly all of the major characters for a spectacular showdown that I didn’t want to end.

Like the rest of the movie, the final battle is so full of great moments that I can’t even remember them all. Captain America is worthy of the power of Thor! Captain Marvel arrives at a crucial moment to beautifully destroy Thanos’ mothership! Valkyrie rides in on a winged horse! Thor dual-wields Mjolnir and Stormbreaker! Ant-Man rescues the Hulk! The triumphant return of the characters we lost in Infinity War! All of these moments, and so many more, are immensely satisfying and an absolute joy to behold. I don’t have enough superlatives.

The epicness comes to a tragic end, as Tony Stark uses the Infinity Stones to evaporate Thanos and his minions, in a reverse version of the Snap that Thanos unleashed in the conclusion of Infinity War. But the power of the stones was too much for Tony to handle, and he dies, surrounded by his friends and family. It’s a full-circle way to end not just the movie but a decade’s worth of movies. The series began with Tony Stark, and in many ways it ends with him too.

Which is not to say that the MCU will be ending. Endgame has already made a jaw-dropping amount of money and is well on its way to becoming the biggest movie of all time. The MCU will continue, but it will look very different. The movie also ends the story of Steve Rogers as Captain America, bringing his story to a poignant and moving conclusion. It’s hard to imagine an MCU without Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but they will never be forgotten.

And no, I’m not forgetting about Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, who sacrifices herself so her friends can obtain one of the crucial infinity stones and her friend Hawkeye can get his family back after his wife and three kids are taken from him in the movie’s wrenching opening scene. I was expecting Tony and Steve to reach the end of their journeys, but Natasha’s death came as a complete surprise. There’s still a Black Widow movie in the works so we will probably be seeing Natasha again at least once, but it will have to be in prequel form.

There are other unexpected character beats that are less sad. Hulk, for example, was an absolute joy. It seems that Bruce Banner was able to fuse himself with the Hulk, so he now has the Hulk’s body and Bruce Banner’s personality and intelligence. I thought of him as Professor Hulk, and he was wonderful. I really want a Professor Hulk movie now, which was something I didn’t realize I wanted until I saw Endgame.

Also a joy was Fat Thor. Chris Hemsworth is very underrated as a comedic actor, and he is hilarious, slyly stealing every scene he’s in. In the years since the Snap wiped out half of all life, Thor has let himself go a little bit. He’s fat, plays videogames in his house all day, and is quite possibly a full-blown alcoholic. It’s very funny, but it’s also shocking to see him this way, since it’s the polar opposite of how we’re used to seeing Thor, since let’s face it, Chris Hemsworth is pretty much the epitome of physical perfection.

I’ve read some stupid comments online about how the movie is fat-shaming Thor or making fun of people who play video games as being fat slobs, but like with most things on the internet, such talk is utterly ridiculous. The movie isn’t fat-shaming or making fun of anyone, it’s showing that Thor is a broken man. It’s funny to see him in a way we’ve never seen him before, but it’s also tragic when you think about it because it shows how depressed and broken he is.

Another aspect of the movie I liked was how it made Hawkeye, Nebula and Ant-Man three of the most important characters. Ant-Man and The Wasp was the first MCU movie post-Infinity War, and at the time of its release it was a bit difficult to see why Marvel chose it to be the first movie to come out in the wake of Infinity War’s devastating conclusion. But as it turns out, that movie introduced a key plot element that is very important in Endgame, and it ends up being Ant-Man’s idea that helps the Avengers bring back everyone they lost in Infinity War.

Yes, there is time travel in this movie, and it can get a bit messy. But I find it’s best not to get too bogged down with the logistics of time travel and just enjoy the ride. The time travel shenanigans lead to the Avengers revisiting the events of previous movies, and I thought it was awesome to see things from earlier movies that we didn’t see before, like the aftermath of the battle of New York from the first Avengers movie. I also liked how all of their intricate plans end up going awry in various ways, and there are scenarios like Tony Stark running into his dad or Steve Rogers having a fight with his past self.

Avengers: Endgame is a big, complex beast of a movie, and it can be a little overwhelming at times. There’s a lot to digest, and I’m sure that fans will be debating many aspects of its story for years to come. I can’t wait to see it again and pick up on things I missed the first time. It’s a hugely satisfying movie. It rewards the fans with an epic conclusion that is fun and exciting but also moving, and it doesn’t lose track of its characters amongst all the spectacle. A tip of the hat is due to writers Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely. Telling a coherent story with so many characters and such a complex plot, not to mention huge fan expectations, must have been an incredibly difficult balancing act, but they pulled it off with aplomb.

I will miss the characters we lost, but I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the MCU. The only MCU movie that currently has a release date is Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is due for release on July 2. Marvel hasn’t announced release dates for more movies past that, but I’m sure they will eventually. It’s been a heck of a ride, and Marvel has managed to fulfill the promise of its shared superhero universe with more success than anyone could have predicted.

Until next time, true believers!

James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – Moonraker

If I had to pick one word to use to best describe Moonraker, it would be: incoherent.

For Your Eyes Only was originally intended to be the follow-up to The Spy Who Loved Me, but in 1977 a movie came out that turned everything upside-down. That movie was called Star Wars and in the wake of its massive success, sci-fi was all the rage. The Bond producers took note of this and decided to send Bond to space.

Images: MGM

To achieve this, they very loosely adapted Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name. The book was Fleming’s third Bond novel, and in stark contrast to the movie, had nothing to do with outer space and took place entirely in Britain. Compare this to the film, which jumps from California to Venice to Rio de Janeiro to the Amazon rainforest to SPACE. In the book, the villain Hugo Drax is an ex-Nazi now working for the Soviets. He’s building an experimental missile called Moonraker that purportedly is to be used to defend England, but secretly Drax is planning to launch it at London.

The book draws from a lot of Cold War fears and is a Bond novel that feels very relevant to the era in which it was written. The movie, on the other hand, is a jumbled mishmash that jumps around wildly, never establishing a consistent tone (a recurring problem in Moore’s Bond films) and featuring one of the most outlandish and far-fetched scenarios that the Bond series has ever presented, which is saying something when you consider that an earlier Bond villain had a secret lair hidden inside a volcano.

The movie has a great opening sequence, involving Bond jumping out of a plane without a parachute and fighting a henchman with a parachute on the way down. It’s impressive that such a dangerous sequence was filmed all the way back in 1979 (it took 88 skydives to complete), and still holds up today. It also involves everyone’s favorite Bond henchman, the legendary JAWS, played once again by Richard Kiel, whose character was so popular in The Spy Who Loved Me that he was brought back for another round.

Bond’s mission is to investigate the hijacking of a Moonraker space shuttle. The Moonraker was made Drax Industries, the headquarters of which are located in California. He promptly seduces Corinne, Drax’s sexy helicopter pilot, and she helps Bond steal some of Drax’s blueprints for a mysterious kind of glass vial that is being made in Venice. When Drax learns of Corinne’s betrayal, he, er, sends his hunting dogs after her and they, um, eat her. Corinne’s death is one of the most unpleasant in the entire Bond series, it seems exceptionally cruel. I understand that this kind of thing shows how nasty the villain is, but Corinne’s death comes off as unnecessarily brutal.

Bond then heads to Venice, where he again encounters an astronaut he met at Drax’s California headquarters. This astronaut’s name, sigh, is Holly Goodhead, and she is of course an undercover CIA agent who is also investigating Drax. Has there ever been a person in history who was both a CIA agent and an astronaut? I mean, that’s a pretty impressive resume right there. It turns out that the mysterious glass vials are meant to hold a nerve gas that is deadly to humans but harmless to animals.

The section of the film that takes place in Venice also has one of the dumbest action sequences in the entire Bond franchise, in which Drax’s henchmen chase Bond through the canals and Bond’s gondola turns out to be outfitted with a bunch of gadgets and like grows wheels or something and he drives it around and a pigeon does a double take and it’s just monumentally stupid. I didn’t make up that part about the pigeon by the way, that’s in the movie. They actually edited footage of a pigeon to make it look like it was doing a double take and PUT IT IN THE MOVIE. I shit you not.

Bond ends up in Rio de Janeiro where a bunch of other dumb stuff happens, and eventually finds Drax’s hidden base in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Bond and Goodhead hitch a ride on one of Drax’s Moonraker rockets and are blasted off INTO SPACE, where the rocket docks with Drax’s space station and Bond and Goodhead learn the details of Drax’s evil plan. He intends to use his nerve gas to wipe out all human life on Earth, then repopulate it with a few dozen genetically perfect young men and women he has brought to his space station, and therefore create a new master race.

It’s an audacious evil scheme but it’s also, frankly, kind of generic. It’s just so hard to come up with an original plot for world domination, you know? The movie climaxes with a massive laser gun battle waged both inside and outside Drax’s space station. It’s a pretty fun sequence and the effects are impressive by 70’s standards, even if they are undeniably cheesy. The laser guns literally make a PEW! PEW! sound. It’s goofy as all get out, but undeniably entertaining. As a very special bonus, here’s my photo-realistic artistic interpretation of the climactic laser battle, made with MS Paint. I know, I know, I’m a brilliant artist. You’re welcome.

Moonraker is one of those movies that manages to be entertaining almost in spite of itself. It’s undeniably dumb as shit but at least it’s fun. The plot barely hangs together, but there’s so much going on that you can’t really help but get swept up in the sheer giddy silliness of it all. It succeeds as a piece of entertainment even as it fails to tell a coherent story.

It has plenty of other problems too. The tone veers drastically from deadly seriousness to slapstick buffoonery. The fact that this movie has one of the Bond series’ most brutal deaths (Corinne killed by Drax’s dogs) and one of the dumbest sight gags (a pigeon doing a double take) should serve as ample evidence of the movie’s tonal inconsistency.

The acting is also not great. Holly Goodhead was played by an American actress named Lois Chiles who was plenty easy on the eyes, but had no chemistry at all with Roger Moore. She’s tough and capable, sure, but also kinda boring. She doesn’t have much personality and her relationship with Bond ends up feeling inconsequential. This is particularly disappointing when you remember the nuanced and complex relationship between Bond and Anya in the previous Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Holly Goodhead isn’t an offensively bad character, she’s just bland. And she has an awful last name.

Similarly underwhelming is French actor Michael Lonsdale as the villain, Hugo Drax. Lonsdale delivers his lines in a weird monotone that makes Drax sound perpetually bored. For crying out loud, you’re playing a guy who wants to wipe out mankind and you have your own space station! Chew some scenery! Don’t act like you’re always wondering if you left the oven on! Much like the Bond Girl, Moonraker’s Bond Villain is bland and forgettable.

Much as he did in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws upstages the movie’s main villain. Richard Kiel remained an imposing physical presence and I continue to enjoy the running gag where he survives various seemingly-deadly incidents and emerges calmly from the wreckage, brushing the debris off his jacket and straightening his tie. But in another example of Moonraker’s wild tonal shifts, for some incomprehensible reason the makers of this movie saw fit to give him a girlfriend and make him a good guy who helps Bond during the battle on Drax’s space station. It’s dumb, and not in a good way. It feels like an attempt to neuter an iconic villain, and as a connoisseur of cinematic villainy I take great umbrage at that.

But you have to give the filmmakers some credit. The sheer scale of the production is impressive and the variety of locations gives the film a lot of visual flair. Moonraker is a movie that totally goes for broke, and even though the story is a mess the ride itself is quite enjoyable. And if the producers wanted to cash in on the success of Star Wars they succeeded, since Moonraker was a huge hit that made $210 million and was the highest-grossing Bond movie until GoldenEye in 1995.

I love this poster for so many reasons. It has not one, but two awesome taglines. Bond is wearing a tux under the spacesuit. There’s a Union Jack on the shoulder of the spacesuit. Above Bond’s left hand, there’s a name tag which reads “J BOND 007.” And the piece de resistance, which is that Bond is not wearing a helmet in outer space, and would therefore be dead in moments. A gloriously cheesy poster for a gloriously cheesy movie.

Moonraker ultimately feels like a movie that was made to capitalize on the success of Star Wars without understanding why people liked Star Wars in the first place. It’s not just the space ships and laser guns, it’s the complex lore and elegant world building and appealing characters. Moonraker doesn’t have any of that, but it does deliver considerable entertainment value. It’s good, pulpy fun that would make for a great night of popcorn-fueled weekend movie watching with friends.

Moonraker was so far over the top that for Bond’s next adventure, the filmmakers brought Bond back down to earth and took a more grounded approach. For Your Eyes Only is one of my favorite Bond films, and easily one of Roger Moore’s best. I can’t wait to talk about it.

Hellboy 2019 is a Bloody Mess

I need a shower after that. The new reboot of Hellboy is one of the goriest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to even put into words just how gruesome this movie is. This ain’t your grandpa’s Hellboy, that’s for sure.

But let’s back up a bit. This new version of Hellboy is the latest incarnation of the comic book character created by Mike Mignola in 1993. You probably saw the commercials for the new movie and thought to yourself, wait, didn’t they already do that? The short answer is yes. Hellboy previously appeared in two films directed by monster aficionado Guillermo del Toro: Hellboy in 2004 and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, released in 2008. Del Toro’s films starred Ron Perlman as the title character and are movies that are fondly remembered today.

Del Toro and Perlman tried for years to get a third Hellboy made but for whatever reason it never got off the ground. You know what that means: reboot time. So here comes a new version directed by Neil Marshall and starring David Harbour in the title role, with no involvement from either del Toro or Perlman. And it’s…not great. It currently has an abysmal 15% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as opposed to 81% and 86% for the del Toro movies) and made an equally-abysmal $12 million over its opening weekend. It seems poised to become one of the biggest bombs of 2019.

Images: Lionsgate

So…what happened?

There’s no easy answer, of course. But I had two takeaways from this movie: number one is that it’s really weird, and number two is that it’s really, really violent. Combine these two and you don’t exactly have a recipe for box-office gold.

So let’s talk about these two things, shall we?

This movie is weird as hell, no pun intended. Let’s chronicle some of that weirdness. The movie involves King Arthur, Merlin and Excalibur, and (spoiler) Hellboy himself turns out to be a descendant of King Arthur (!). There’s a group of upper-crust English gentlemen who dress up as knights and use electric-powered spears to hunt giants. There’s a Mexican luchador wrestler who turns into a winged vampire monster. Thomas Haden Church briefly appears as a guy named Lobster Johnson. One of the main characters turns into what must have been a were-leopard, or perhaps it was a were-jaguar. The main villain is named Nimue the Blood Queen and her main henchman is basically a sentient, bipedal warthog with a cockney accent. And have you ever heard of Baba Yaga? She’s in this movie too, complete with house that walks on chicken legs.

And covering all this weirdness are several squishy layers of blood, guts and gore. While del Toro’s Hellboy movies were rated PG-13, this reboot is a very hard R. Heads and limbs are severed, bodies melt, explode and dissolve, people are stomped, slashed, chopped, mutilated and maimed in every way imaginable, all of which is accompanied by soaring geysers of blood. During one particularly audacious sequence, an army of giant demons (demon giants?) are released from hell and unleash gruesome mayhem on the citizens of London, leading to people being skinned, impaled, incinerated and even ripped in half vertically like a wishbone.

The architect of all this grisly carnage is Neil Marshall. I last mentioned Marshall when I wrote about his 2002 werewolf movie Dog Soldiers, which was also extremely gory. But Hellboy had a much higher budget than Dog Soldiers, which allowed Marshall to indulge in his favorite pastime, which is of course painting the screen with blood and viscera. Seriously, this guy’s movies are GORY. Does Neil Marshall need a hug? I think he needs a hug.

But is there a story buried beneath all the blood and body parts? Yes, although it’s nothing particularly special. During the age of King Arthur, Nimue (pronounced Nim-way) the Blood Queen had some evil plan to unleash a plague or something, only to be defeated and dismembered by King Arthur and Merlin. Arthur sent her body parts to different corners of the kingdom so that no one could reassemble her. But in the modern day, there is that bipedal warthog creature who’s trying to reassemble Nimue so that she can turn him back into…a fairy, I think? The warthog-man also has a beef with Hellboy for reasons that didn’t really make any sense.

That was probably the most incomprehensible plot summary you’ve ever read, but trust me, watching the actual movie doesn’t make things any clearer. The movie’s plot is a complete mess, confusing at best and utterly baffling at worst. Guillermo del Toro is known for making movies that are full of bizarre creatures and monsters, and getting the viewer to sympathize with the creatures. With his Hellboy movies, he took a lot of care in establishing the world and the backstory of Hellboy and his supporting cast, and spent a lot of time developing their relationships so that you really cared about them.

Neil Marshall is a talented filmmaker, but with this movie it seems like he didn’t care about little things like plot or character and instead decided to throw everything at the wall to see what would stick. And the things he threw at the wall were severed heads and body parts. He tries to get the viewer to sympathize with Hellboy and attempts to add a bit of nuance to the thin plot by having Nimue try to recruit him to join her cause, since he’s a monster and everyone hates and fears him anyway, so why should he bother to help humanity? It’s a decent idea but it’s been done to death in the previous Hellboy movies, not to mention about a dozen X-Men movies.

Okay, but is there anything decent about this movie? I mean yeah, there is. It’s reasonably entertaining, and I was never bored. Baffled maybe, but not bored. David Harbour is good as Hellboy, although he probably won’t be making anyone forget Ron Perlman anytime soon. It’s got to be hard to act under all that makeup, and the guy gives it his best shot. Milla Jovovich is also good as the evil Nimue, and really sinks her teeth into the role of an ancient sorceress out for revenge.

The special effects and creature designs are also solid. It must be a lot of fun to work on a movie like this and let your imagination run wild, and there are all kinds of trolls, gremlins, zombies, and demons. The action sequences are also quite a bit of fun, if you can get past the copious bloodletting. Marshall is a talented director of action sequences and there is a reason he was hired to direct some of the biggest battle episodes of Game of Thrones. The action scenes are fun and exciting, even if the gore is excessive. I haven’t read any of the Hellboy comic books so I don’t know if they’re anywhere near as gory as this movie is, but if they are you’d probably need to wash your hands after reading one.

The new version of Hellboy isn’t very good. It has decent entertainment value, but it adds nothing to the world of Hellboy that hadn’t been done better in the earlier movies, and ends up feeling like a cynical cash-grab. There’s not just one but two post-credits scenes that tease sequels that will most likely never happen given the underwhelming box-office numbers. This movie will be a footnote in the history of superhero cinema.

Pet Sematary: Sometimes Dead is Better

I’m going to do something with this post that I have never done before, which is that I’m going to start with a disclaimer. Pet Sematary deals with some very intense and sensitive topics, so if you have trouble with discussion of pets and/or children dying, or if you’ve maybe lost a loved one recently, you might not want to read this. If you do decide to read this, strap in: things are going to get dark.

I’m going to be looking at the book itself and both of its film adaptations, and there will be spoilers for all three. Dark, gruesome stuff lies ahead. You have been warned.

Pet Sematary is the book that Stephen King, the Master of Horror himself, thought was too dark and disturbing to publish. He has stated that of all the books he’s written, Pet Sematary is the one that scared him the most. King put it away in a drawer after he finished it, thinking he had gone too far with the subject matter. The only reason King published it was because he switched publishers at one point, but he still owed a book to his previous publisher and Pet Sematary was the book he had.

The plot itself is straightforward. Louis Creed is a doctor from Chicago who has accepted a job at the University of Maine as the director of campus health service. His family consists of his wife Rachel, daughter Ellie, and son Gage, along with Ellie’s cat Church. Ellie is eight or nine, Gage is around two. Upon their arrival in the small town of Ludlow, Maine, they meet their new neighbor, elderly Jud Crandall. Jud warns the Creeds to be careful around the highway that runs past their house, since it is regularly used by speeding semi-trucks.

Jud shows them a pet cemetery in the woods behind their house (the sign is misspelled because it was written by children) where the town’s children bury their deceased animals, many of whom fall victim to the semi-trucks. There is a large pile of dead and broken tree trunks and limbs nearby, which Jud is reluctant to discuss. The pet cemetery leads to an argument between Louis and Rachel on the subject of how to discuss death with their children. Louis favors a practical approach, whereas Rachel doesn’t want to acknowledge the topic of death at all. This is because she is deeply traumatized by the death of her sister Zelda, who suffered from spinal meningitis that twisted and contorted her body. When Zelda died, young Rachel was alone in the house with her, so she holds herself partly responsible for her sister’s death.

Later, Louis is by himself during Thanksgiving (Rachel and the kids are spending the holiday with Rachel’s parents, who have never liked Louis) when Jud tells Louis some bad news: Ellie’s cat Church has been hit and killed by a semi-truck. Louis knows that Ellie will be heartbroken and struggles with how to break the news to her. Since Louis and Jud have become good friends, Jud offers to accompany Lewis to the pet cemetery to bury Church. But once they get there, Jud leads Louis over the deadfall behind the cemetery, and they go to an ancient Indian burial ground, where he instructs Louis to bury Church.

Louis thinks that’s the end of it…until the next day, when Church comes back. Louis tries to rationalize this, thinking that Church wasn’t actually dead, but it’s apparent that Church is not the same. He’s aggressive and mean, he hunts animals more frequently and tears them apart without eating them, his fur is matted and filthy, and he stinks so badly that Ellie doesn’t want him in her room anymore.

A few months later, every parent’s nightmare happens: 2-year-old Gage is killed by one of the speeding trucks. Torn apart by grief, and despite Jud’s dire warnings that “Sometimes dead is better” (the book and film’s most famous line), Louis does the unthinkable: he exhumes the body of his dead son and buries him in the Indian burial ground.

Inevitably, Gage returns. He is demonic and vicious, and brutally murders Jud and Rachel with one of his father’s surgical scalpels. Louis puts him down for good with an injection of chemicals. Desperately thinking that the results will be different if he doesn’t wait as long to bury her, Louis buries Rachel in the cursed burial ground.

At the end of the novel, Louis sits in his home, a broken man. As he glumly plays solitaire and waits, a cold hand drops on his shoulder and his wife’s voice rasps a single word: “Darling.”

Chilling.

Reading the book is like being in a roller coaster heading into a pit full of spikes. You know something terrible is going to happen at the end, but you are powerless to do anything about it. Perhaps more than any book I’ve ever read, Pet Sematary has this incredible sense of irresistible forward momentum. You know Louis is making a terrible mistake, and you get the sense he knows it too. The rational part of you wants to start yelling at the book to make the character stop what he’s doing because it’s all going to end tragically…

…but at the same time, the emotional part of you understands.

Of course this man wants to see his son again.

Of course he wants to heal his family.

Two years old is far too early for a person to die.

This is the unanswerable dilemma posed by Pet Sematary. Does Louis do the wrong thing for the right reasons? Does he think he’s doing the right thing? Does he deserve what happens to him and his family as a result of his decision to resurrect Gage? What would be worse: losing someone you love, or losing someone you love only for them to come back and not be the same? And perhaps the most haunting question of all, what would you do in his situation? Even knowing what you’re doing is wrong, would you be able to stop yourself?

The true horror of Pet Sematary isn’t the resurrected, murderous toddler, which doesn’t even happen until the last fifty or so pages of the book. That would be horrific enough on its own, but what’s far more disturbing about Pet Sematary is its ruminations on the subject of death, and why people are so afraid of it. Losing a loved one is terrible, but having them come back and not be the same would be even worse. Pet Sematary is more about dealing with loss and tragedy and learning how to move on with your life than it is about defending yourself from a murderous toddler. Stephen King paints a compelling and deeply harrowing portrait of a family enduring a terrible loss, only to have something even worse happen as a result.

It’s easy to hate Louis Creed, but there is no real villain in this story. Or, conversely, a compelling argument could be made that everyone is a villain. Jud shows Louis the burial ground and plants the idea of resurrecting Gage in his head. Rachel’s inability to talk about death leads to Louis burying Church in the cursed burial ground. Louis exhumes his dead son and reburies him, knowing what will probably happen. And of course Gage, brought back from the dead only to brutally murder a nice old man and his own mother.

Who’s the villain here?

Everyone, and no one.

Pet Sematary was initially brought to the screen in 1989, six years after the book was first published. The movie is very faithful to the novel, which could partly be because Stephen King himself wrote the screenplay. The movie was directed by Mary Lambert and starred Dale Midkiff as Louis, Denise Crosby as Rachel, and Fred Gwynne as Jud.

Images: Paramount Pictures

Gwynne, known as Herman Munster from The Munsters, easily gives the movie’s best performance. In his books, King is (at times overly) fond of writing dialogue in regional dialects. One of his favorite expressions is “Ayuh,” and there are “Ayuh”s aplenty both in the book and in the 1989 film. I won’t lie, King’s frequent use of dialect in his books is one of my least favorite things about him as a writer, I love his books but the parts written in dialect can be tiresome.

This actually translates well to the screen. I didn’t mind it so much because it felt more natural coming from an actual person than it did reading it on the page. Gwynne was in his 50’s when the movie was released, but he looks much older. I was surprised to discover that he was only 66 when he died in 1993. He gives a tremendously convincing performance as Jud, and his grisly death at the hands of the undead Gage is, for me, the movie’s most horrific scene.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie’s acting isn’t as good. Dale Midkiff as Louis gives one of the flattest performances I’ve ever seen in a movie, he has no charisma at all. His portrayal of Louis is as flat as a pancake. You know it’s not a great sign when a movie’s lead actor gets out-acted by a three-year-old, as Midkiff does here. Gage was played by Miko Hughes, who was pretty much the cutest kid you’ve ever seen, making his murder spree all the more disturbing.

The problem is that, while the idea of someone’s dead child coming back to murderous life is a horrifically disturbing idea that is chilling to read in a book, its translation to the screen is…a mixed bag. Watching a man battle his murderous undead offspring is horrifying, but it’s also a bit silly. Reading it may be scary but actually seeing it is equal parts scary and ridiculous. Reading the book makes it easier to suspend your disbelief.

Which brings us to the new version of the movie. The 2019 movie stars Jason Clarke as Louis, Amy Seimetz as Rachel, and John Lithgow as Jud. The new movie follows the same general plot structure with one key difference, sadly given away by the film’s trailers: in this version, it’s not Gage but Ellie who is hit by a truck and brought back to murderous life. This is a change that angered some fans of the original, but I like it. It puts a fresh spin on the material and keeps it from feeling like the exact same story. And since Ellie is older than Gage, it gives the viewer a chance to get to know her more as a person, which gives her death and resurrection more emotional weight.

Ellie is played by a young actress named Jete Laurence, and she deserves a lot of credit for what is probably the best performance in the movie. She makes Ellie inquisitive and likable, without ever being shrill or annoying. And when she later goes full psycho and begins her murder spree, Laurence’s performance is chilling and believable. Watching a 9-year-old girl repeatedly stab her mother with a kitchen knife is one of the nastier things I’ve seen on a movie screen in quite some time. An evil 9-year-old is also more plausible onscreen than an evil 3-year-old.

The movie also gets a lot of mileage out of the body horror aspects of Rachel’s sister Zelda. The Zelda scenes in the original movie were unsettling, but the Zelda scenes in the new movie are far more horrific, and provide some of the most effective scares. Old-school fans of the original movie will probably disagree, but I think the new movie is better than the original in almost every way: the acting is (mostly) better, it’s more atmospheric, it ramps up the gore, and most importantly it’s much scarier.

Which is not to say that it doesn’t have flaws. The relationship between Jud and Louis could have used a bit more detail, and there are a few intriguing ideas that don’t go anywhere. One of the scenes that featured prominently in the movie’s trailers was of a procession of children, wearing animal masks and slowly beating a drum, pushing a dead dog in a wheelbarrow in the woods towards the pet cemetery.

It’s a creepy image that presents all sorts of intriguing possibilities: do the kids know about the burial ground that will bring things back to life? How much does the rest of the town know? Could the kids themselves have been resurrected there? Unfortunately, the image is there and then gone, and ultimately only serves to provide Ellie with a creepy animal mask she wears during her murderous rampage. It’s a spooky early scene that doesn’t end up serving the plot in a meaningful way, and feels like a missed opportunity.

One thing both movies really nail is the ending. The original movie’s ending is much closer to the book’s ending, with Louis embracing his grotesquely reanimated wife before she picks up a knife off the table and the screen cuts to black as Louis screams. The new movie ends with Ellie, Rachel and Louis all being killed and resurrected as murderous versions of their former selves, with the strong implication that cute little Gage will be next. Both versions are chilling.

Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King’s darkest stories. It’s also one of my favorites of his books that I’ve read. I don’t know if I could ever read it or watch either movie again, since the experience took me to some very dark places. Pet Sematary is a story about death. It’s a story about a very nice family who has unspeakable things happen to them. It lets the reader/viewer decide for themselves who they think the villain is. It’s a story with a lot of ambiguity, it doesn’t offer any easy answers and the ending of every version of the story offers no encouragement.

It’s a difficult and astonishingly dark piece of fiction, and it’s not hard to see why Stephen King himself is a little scared of it. Pet Sematary is a story that forces you to come to the inevitable conclusion that no matter how painful it is, sometimes dead is indeed better.

James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – The Spy Who Loved Me

Now that is what I call a Bond movie.

After the boring awfulness of Live and Let Die and the mostly-mediocre The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore hit a home run with his third Bond film, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. TSWLM is classic Bond. Everything people associate with Bond movies is here: beautiful women, exotic locations, cool gadgets and vehicles, a villain with a diabolical plot for world domination…you name it, this one’s got it.

Images: MGM

The movie is an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name in name only. The Spy Who Loved Me is unique among Fleming’s novels in that it is the only one written from a first-person perspective. And you would think that would be from Bond’s perspective, but it’s not. It’s from the perspective of a young woman named Vivienne Michel, and Bond doesn’t appear in the book until it’s about two-thirds over. It’s not generally regarded as one of Fleming’s best books but for whatever reason it’s one of my personal favorites and one I find myself coming back to most often.

Fleming was never entirely happy with the book and when he sold the film rights to his work he only gave the producers permission to use the title of The Spy Who Loved Me, and none of the book’s plot. It’s still a catchy title but it doesn’t have the same literal meaning as it does in Fleming’s novel. The film uses Fleming’s title but the plot is a creation of the filmmakers. This is not, as we shall see, a bad thing.

But let’s get to the movie. Its opening sequence is a classic. It begins with something mysterious happening to a British submarine. When M, Bond’s boss, is informed that a nuclear submarine has gone missing, he immediately puts Bond on the case. Meanwhile, in Moscow, M’s opposite number General Gogol is informed that a Russian nuclear submarine has also gone missing. He promises to put his best agent, codenamed Agent Triple X, on the case.

As it turns out, both agents are rather preoccupied when they receive their instructions from headquarters. Bond, of course, is shacking up with a beautiful young lady in a cabin in the mountains. When he receives M’s summons, he puts on his hideous bright-yellow ski suit and prepares to leave.

“But James, I need you!” his paramour protests.

“So does England,” James replies stoically, and departs.

Meanwhile, Bond’s Russian counterpart, Agent Triple X, is also in bed with a lover. There’s a clever bit of misdirection here when the viewer thinks that Agent Triple X is the male half of the canoodling couple, but it turns out that Agent Triple X is in fact a woman, and a badass woman at that. This is Major Anya Amasova, played by Barbara Bach, and she is one of the best Bond Girls. Her lover is also a Russian agent, and leaves on a mission of his own.

It turns out that his mission is to kill Bond, because shortly after Bond leaves his mountainside hideaway, he is beset by several armed skiers who pursue him down the mountain. Bond kills one of them with a weaponized ski pole (provided by Q Branch, no doubt) and the camera zooms in to reveal that Bond has unknowingly killed Agent Triple X’s lover. This will be problematic later. It’s a fun chase scene (despite Bond’s hideous Ronald McDonald-colored snowsuit) that ends with an iconic stunt, where Bond ski jumps off a mountain and opens his parachute, which is emblazoned with the Union Jack. The patriotic parachute segues into the opening credits, accompanied by the song “Nobody Does It Better,” performed by Carly Simon.

It’s a fantastic opening: it’s fun and exciting, it establishes the plot, and it sets up things that will be important later. The ski jump is also very impressive, considering that an actual stuntman named Rick Sylvester risked life and limb by jumping off a dang mountain, an action that most human beings would never dream of attempting. Sylvester was paid $30,000 for the stunt, and it was money well-spent.

Bond and Anya are instructed by their respective bosses to go to Egypt to retrieve microfilm plans for a highly advanced submarine tracking system. They inevitably encounter one another and sparks fly in more ways than one. The relationship between Bond and Anya is one of my favorite things about the movie. Anya is as much of a badass as Bond his, and when he pitches her grief, she pitches it right back. This is in stark contrast to female characters in previous Moore Bond movies, who were pretty one-note. There is also the looming question of what will happen once Anya inevitably discovers that Bond killed her boyfriend, which provides tension to the relationship.

Anya one-ups Bond and delivers the microfilm to her boss, and Bond discovers that the British and the Russians have temporarily decided to set aside their differences and join forces, since they have determined that neither is responsible for the missing submarines and they therefore share a common enemy. “We have entered a new era of Anglo-Soviet cooperation,” General Gogol says. Inspecting the microfilm leads Bond and Anya to a man named Karl Stromberg.

Stromberg is the film’s primary villain, and he has a whopper of an evil plan. He built a massive oil tanker in order to capture and house nuclear submarines. He then plans to use these submarines to launch missiles which will destroy New York City and Moscow, thus triggering nuclear war which Stromberg will survive in his evil lair, called (rather uncreatively) Atlantis, and subsequently establish a new civilization underwater.
Heck yes! All of that is thoroughly ludicrous, and I love it. Classic Bond villain stuff.

All of this is complicated once Bond and Anya start to, you know, hook up, and Anya discovers that Bond killed her boyfriend. She declares that she will kill Bond after they complete their mission. Bond defends himself by saying “When someone’s behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don’t always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him.”

That’s…actually pretty good writing. The Spy Who Loved Me does not repeat the mistakes made by Moore’s previous films, in that it doesn’t feel the need to undercut everything with crappy attempts at humor. The film’s plot may be far-fetched, but the relationship between Bond and Anya is complex and given room to develop. When Stromberg captures Anya later in the movie, Bond risks his life to rescue her even though he knows she might kill him for having killed her boyfriend.

But lest you think the film skimps when it comes to delivering the action set-pieces Bond films are known for, think again. The Spy Who Loved Me is full of slam-bang action sequences, some of the best of the Roger Moore era. Who can forget the moment Bond drives his car off a dock into the water to escape a pursuing helicopter, only for his car to transform into a submarine and shoot the helicopter with a missile? That’s awesome stuff. Bond’s submarine car is subsequently attacked by divers and mini-submarines, which Anya helps destroy by dropping mines. When Bond asks her how she knew how to do that, she informs him that she stole the blueprints for the car two years ago, which is a nice reminder of how badass she is.

This movie also has one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history. No, I’m not talking about Stromberg. I’m talking about JAWS, played by the late Richard Kiel.

Standing at more than seven feet tall and sporting a mouth full of deadly metal teeth, Jaws is a fearsome adversary. It’s telling that when he and Bond fight on a train, Bond actually looks kind of scared. 2015’s Spectre would later pay homage to this film’s train fight by having Bond engage in a massive brawl with a hefty henchman played by Dave “Drax the Destroyer” Bautista.

Jaws is also the source of the movie’s funniest running joke, in which something happens to him that would kill any normal man (part of a building falls on him, he gets thrown out of a train, he’s in a car that goes off a cliff), only for him to emerge from the wreckage unscathed, dust himself off, straighten his tie, and continue on his way. Jaws proved so popular that he returned for the next Bond movie, 1979’s Moonraker. Jaws kicks ass, and is one of the most instantly-recognizable cinematic villains of all time.

The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favorite Bond films. It strikes the perfect balance between campy and serious. Its plot is over-the-top and ridiculous but it’s treated with gravity and it feels like there is a tangible threat that needs to be stopped. The central relationship between Bond and Anya is complex and intriguing. The humor actually works and the film doesn’t feel the need to undercut every cool thing that happens with a silly sound effect.

As a Bond nerd, there are also quite a few things that happen in this movie that rarely happen in Bond movies. Bond wears his full dress uniform. The British and the Russians work together. M is addressed by his first name (Miles). Q, the long-suffering gadget master, is called Major Boothroyd. M calls Bond by his first name. And there is even a mention of Bond’s late wife. These are all rare occurrences in Bond movies, and the fact that they’re all in this one movie is nothing short of remarkable.

It’s not perfect, of course. Barbara Bach as Anya is beautiful and badass, but her line readings are a bit flat. Main villain Stromberg is overshadowed by his henchman, Jaws. And the pacing can be a bit sluggish at times. But overall, the pros far outweigh the cons, and I think this is Roger Moore’s best Bond movie. If you haven’t seen it or if it’s been a while, skip Moore’s first two Bond movies and watch this one instead.

At the end of the movie, the end credits inform the viewer that “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.” But this turned out not to be the case, since there was a little movie that also came out in 1977 that changed everything. It was a movie you might have heard of called Star Wars, and it led to the Bond producers sending Bond to space in Moonraker, one of the Bond series’ most outlandish entries. We’ll take a look at that one next time.

James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – The Man With the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun is better than Live and Let Die.

But that’s not saying much.

Images: MGM

Roger Moore’s second Bond adventure does actually have a few things to recommend it, even if it suffers from the same problematic racial and sexual aspects of its predecessor. For one thing, it’s got an excellent villain, Francisco Scaramanga, the titular Man with the Golden Gun, played by the late, great Christopher Lee. Lee and Ian Fleming were actually step-cousins and Lee almost played Dr. No in the first James Bond film.

Lee is fantastic as the title character, who is portrayed as Bond’s equal in many ways. He’s the world’s most deadly assassin, a crack shot with a pistol, who charges one million dollars per hit. He uses a gun that is assembled from different parts: a fountain pen, a cigarette case, a cigarette lighter, and a cufflink. And his next target is 007. There’s a great scene where a gangster yells at Scaramanga, while Scaramanga sits at a desk and nonchalantly assembles his weapon, with the gangster being none the wiser. When the gangster finishes ranting, Scaramanga calmly shoots him.

The golden gun itself is extremely cool, one of the coolest weapons wielded by any of Bond’s numerous villains. And of course it will be remembered by anyone who played GoldenEye007 on the Nintendo 64, where its one-shot-kill ability was loved and loathed in equal measure. The weapon is iconic in movie history, as is the man who wielded it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is kind of a mess. It’s a more entertaining mess than Live and Let Die, but given how boring that movie was it’s a low bar to clear.

The movie was released in 1974, only a year after Live and Let Die. That movie drew from the Blaxploitation films that were popular at the time, and The Man with the Golden Gun (which I’m going to abbreviate as TMWTGG because I don’t want to type that long title over and over) draws from kung fu films that were also in vogue (Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s most iconic film, was released in 1973).

TMWTGG was very loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, which was released in 1965, eight months after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. It’s not one of Fleming’s better novels, he was in poor health when he was writing it and it showed. I haven’t read it in some time, but I remember thinking it was pretty lackluster and unfortunate that it was Fleming’s last, it’s too bad he couldn’t have gone out on a higher note.

The film’s version of Scaramanga is much more interesting that the book’s version. In the book Scaramanga is basically a crook who’s a really good shot, but in the movie he’s suave, sophisticated, and calculating. He’s really the only villain in the movie, aside from his diminutive henchman Nick Nack and a gangster named Hai Fat, who’s not very important in the overall scheme of things. I really like the idea of a Bond movie being structured as a one-on-one duel between Bond and a man who is very much his equal.

But there is more going on in the movie than just the standoff between Bond and Scaramanga. The film was made during the 1973 energy crisis and as such there is a MacGuffin called the Solex Agitator, a component of a solar power station that Britain needs to help solve the energy crisis…or something. The Solex Agitator is a classic MacGuffin, a device that drives the plot forward. It’s not particularly interesting in and of itself. Basically, Scaramanga wants to sell it to the highest bidder and Bond’s superiors don’t want that.

As part of the film’s incorporation of kung fu movies, much of the film takes place in Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau. There are some great locations, such as Scaramanga’s secret island, but there are also some…problems. For example, at one point Bond gets captured by the gangster Hai Fat and sent to Fat’s martial arts academy, where the students are instructed to kill him. Bond escapes and runs into Lieutenant Hip, his contact in Hong Kong, who just sorta happened to be there at the time I guess. Ludicrously, Hip and his two teenage nieces proceed to thrash the entire martial arts school, while Bond stands by and does nothing.

Hip and his nieces pile into their car and Hip moronically drives away before Bond gets in the car. Bond is still being chased and tries to escape in a boat down a canal (AGAIN WITH THE BOATS), and at one point the camera pans over to reveal…

…SHERIFF J.W. PEPPER?!?!?!

Yes, they brought this racist caricature back for a second movie.

This is absolutely inexplicable. Why would a racist hick sheriff from the bayou in Louisiana be on vacation in Thailand, of all places??? AND WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO BRING HIM BACK?!?! He might even be worse in this movie, since he refers to Asian people as…sigh… “pointy-heads.”

I’m assuming this is some kind of a racial slur, and if it is I deeply apologize. I could Google it but I don’t want to. Even just typing it made me uncomfortable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Fuck J.W. Pepper.

Seriously.

And then he shows up AGAIN later in the movie when Bond steals a car from a showroom to chase after Scaramanga. Why the hell was J.W. looking at cars in Thailand? Who buys a car on vacation in a foreign country? WTF? So then there’s an otherwise pretty good car chase that features some great stunt driving, but it’s nearly ruined by the fact that J.W. fucking Pepper is sitting in the car next to Bond the entire time, spewing his usual stream of unfunny bullshit. Talk about killing the tension.

There’s also an amazing car stunt in this scene, when Bond does an incredible corkscrew jump over a river, doing a 360-degree midair twist. It’s an awesome stunt that is still impressive by today’s standards, but for some incomprehensible reason it too is nearly ruined by the inclusion of a goofy-ass whistling sound as the car spins in midair. Why would you nearly ruin such a great stunt by adding a comedic sound effect?! It’s so stupid, and shortly afterwards, SCARAMANGA’S CAR GROWS WINGS AND TURNS INTO A PLANE AND FLIES OFF!!

God, that’s stupid.

The film’s treatment of women is also problematic. The first time Bond encounters Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders he hits her and threatens to break her arm if she doesn’t tell him where Scaramanga is. She later sleeps with Bond anyway, which is another embarrassing anecdote that we’ll get to in a bit. Interestingly, Andrea was played by Maud Adams, who I think is the only actress to play different Bond girls in two Bond movies. Nearly a decade later, she would play the titular character in 1983’s Octopussy, and yes, I did enjoy writing that sentence.

The film’s other Bond Girl is Mary Goodnight, played by the very beautiful Britt Ekland. Goodnight may very well be one of the sexiest Bond girls, but unfortunately she’s also one of the dumbest. In Fleming’s novels Goodnight is one of Bond’s secretaries, and Bond trusts her because she is smart and capable. In the movie she is reduced to a blonde bimbo in constant need of rescuing. She admittedly looks spectacular, especially in the bikini she wears for most of the film’s climax, but as far as personality goes she is a total bore.

But you have to feel sorry for her because of one scene. In it, Bond and Goodnight are in Bond’s hotel room having a hot-and-heavy makeout sesh when the hotel room’s door slowly begins to open. Bond hides Goodnight under the covers and prepares for action, only to discover that his visitor is Andrea Anders, who wants Bond to kill Scaramanga. You can probably guess what else she wants, so when she goes into the bathroom to, uh, slip into something more comfortable, Bond hauls poor Goodnight out from under the covers and shoves her in the closet, where she is forced to stay while Bond hooks up with Andrea.

Is this worse than Bond tricking Solitaire into sleeping with him in Live and Let Die? It might very well be, but the fact that I even have to ask this question is clearly problematic in and of itself. It makes Bond look like an absolute cad, and yes, Goodnight later sleeps with Bond anyway, despite being unceremoniously shoved in a closet while Bond hooks up with another woman. Goodnight may be a ditz but she seems like a sweetheart, she didn’t deserve such treatment.

There’s also Scaramanga’s henchman Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, a four-foot-tall actor. To be honest, I kind of liked Nick Nack, even if watching he and Bond try to kill each other is a bit…weird. And Nick Nack speaks with such a strong French accent that I had to keep turning on subtitles to understand what he said. Still, he’s certainly unique among Bond henchmen, even if Bond eventually defeats him by, er, stuffing him in a suitcase.

The film also has a fun final confrontation, with Bond and Scaramanga squaring off in a one-on-one showdown on Scaramanga’s private island. Bond’s Walther PPK against Scaramanga’s golden gun. Since Scaramanga’s weapon only fires one bullet, Bond comments that six bullets in his PPK versus Scaramanga’s single bullet doesn’t sound like fair odds.

“I only need one,” Scaramanga replies, and thanks to the awesomeness of Christopher Lee, you believe him.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a decidedly mixed bag. This is still a marked improvement over Live and Let Die, which was a bag filled with pure crap. TMWTGG boasts one of the Bond series’ best villains, and there is a good movie to be made here, but the movie we got is really not it. It comes close at times but the filmmakers apparently couldn’t resist the urge to insert “comedy” when there didn’t need to be any.

I didn’t even mention the scene where Bond gets attacked by a sumo wrestler and attempts to escape from the wrestler’s crushing grip by grabbing a big ol’ fistful of sumo ass cheek in each hand and twisting them around a bit. When that doesn’t work, he gives the wrestler’s jockstrap a good yank and this eventually forces the wrestler to release Bond.

I also didn’t mention that Scaramanga’s unusual physical feature is that he has three nipples, and Bond impersonates him by, um, wearing a fake third nipple and bluffing his way into Hai Fat’s estate. “He must have found me quite titillating,” Bond later quips. This also results in several close-up shots of men’s nipples, which it’s safe to say are things that most people do not want to look at.

I love the idea of a Bond movie where there is only one villain for Bond to fight, and this movie provides the occasional glimpse of what that might be like, but sadly is mostly overcome by a tidal wave of goofy bullshit that didn’t need to be there at all. At least it’s better than Live and Let Die, and thank God this is the last time we’d see the horrendous J.W. Pepper. Good riddance, you racist asshole.

Fortunately, Moore’s next Bond outing was one that many consider to be his best. It’s The Spy Who Loved Me, and it’s a doozy.

James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – Live and Let Die

I love James Bond. Books, movies, games, you name it. Bond is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. Recently I’ve been watching the Roger Moore Bond films that were released in the 70’s and 80’s. Moore made seven Bond films from 1973 to 1985, the most of any Bond actor. Technically Sean Connery also made seven, but his last one, 1983’s Never Say Never Again, was produced by a different studio and is not considered an official entry in the Bond series, so it doesn’t count.

Why am I writing about the Moore films instead of going to back to where it all began with Connery? I dunno. Because I’ve been watching the Moore movies lately for whatever reason. I’ll get to Connery eventually. Moore is probably not many people’s favorite 007, but since he played Bond seven times there had to have been at least a couple good movies in there somewhere, right?

Well, yes. But his first one was not one of them. 1973’s Live and Let Die is a dreadful movie that has not aged well at all. It draws from the Blaxploitation films that were popular at the time, and its attitudes towards race and sexuality are uncomfortable at best, and at times deeply problematic. Live and Let Die was the eighth Bond film, and was loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, which was published in 1954. It was Fleming’s second Bond novel, following Casino Royale which had been published in 1953.

I haven’t read the book in quite some time, but I remember liking it quite a bit. The movie, however, is flat-out terrible. Moore was in his mid-40’s when he made the movie (he was born in 1927), and he certainly looks the part. Bond is tasked with investigating the deaths of three British agents, one who was killed in New York, one in New Orleans and one in the fictional Caribbean nation of San Monique, which is run by a dictator named Dr. Kananga. Live and Let Die is unique among Bond films in that it takes place mostly in America, although as we shall see that is not necessarily a good thing.

Images: MGM
Bond’s investigation leads him to a ruthless gangster named Mr. Big, who runs a chain of restaurants called Fillet of Soul throughout the United States. Bond ends up in Harlem, and is conspicuously the only white person there. When his cab driver, who is black, warns Bond that they’re headed to Harlem, Bond offers him an extra twenty dollars to continue on their current path. “Hey man,” the driver responds, “for twenty bucks I’d take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout!”

Bond soon encounters Mr. Big, played by Yaphet Kotto, and his assistant Solitaire, played by the transcendently beautiful Jane Seymour. Seymour was 22 when this movie came out, literally half Roger Moore’s age, and the age gap between the two of them will become extremely problematic later on, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Solitaire is a tarot card reader who Mr. Big uses to predict the future. Big promptly orders his men to kill Bond, first proclaiming when Bond tries to introduce himself that “Names is for tombstones, baby!” before instructing his henchmen to “take this honky out and waste him.”

Bond escapes said wasting and travels to San Monique, since there appears to be a connection between Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga, the island’s dictator. There, he discovers expansive poppy fields, and also encounters Solitaire again. It should come as no surprise that Bond and Solitaire end up in bed, but the method Bond uses to seduce her is…troubling.

He sneaks into her house on the island and somehow replaces every card in her tarot deck with The Lovers card, so when he tells her to draw a card from the deck, she inevitably draws The Lovers card which convinces her that she and Bond are meant to, you know, be together. Aside from the fact that this doesn’t make sense logistically (how did Bond find like 50 of these cards?), this is one of the skeeviest things Bond has ever done. Basically it amounts to a man in his mid-forties tricking a naïve young woman half his age into sleeping with him.

I don’t need to explain the problems with this. Just…ick. Let’s move on.

Once Bond and Solitaire have, you know, hooked up, Solitaire loses her ability to “see,” and is worried that Kananga will kill her. They escape to New Orleans and are promptly captured by Mr. Big, where it is revealed that Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga are, to no one’s great surprise, one and the same. The movie seems to think that this is a brilliant twist but it doesn’t make much difference in the overall scheme of things. Like seriously, who cares?

Big/Kananga’s plan is to produce heroin from the poppy fields on San Monique and basically get rich off it and create a bunch of addicts. It’s one of the more low-key Bond villain schemes, honestly. No world domination here. Kananga hands Bond off to his henchman whose name is Tee Hee, who sports a metallic prosthetic arm with a pincer on the end. Tee Hee takes Bond to an alligator farm in the backwoods of Louisiana and leaves him to be consumed by the gators. Bond escapes and the most interminable boat chase in cinematic history begins. Seriously, the boat sequence feels like it goes on forever, and is one of the most boring action scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s just a bunch of boats driving around endlessly.

But it’s made excruciating by the addition of one of the most appallingly horrendous characters in cinematic history.

Say hello to Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

This guy is a tobacco-spittin’, word-slurrin’, stubborn, racist, redneck sumbitch.
He. Is. The. WORST.

When he encounters one of Kananga’s henchmen (who is black), he calls him “boy” and implies that his car is stolen and that it’s not the first time the henchmen has been arrested. Again, I don’t need to explain the problems with this. It’s not funny, like, AT ALL, and it goes on for WAY too long, making the endless boat chase even more interminable. The inclusion of this wretched character is absolutely inexplicable. I try to avoid using this kind of language in my blog posts, but in this case it can’t be helped:

Fuck J.W. Pepper.

Seriously.

Anyway, Bond eventually (finally!) escapes and heads back to San Monique to destroy Kananga’s poppy fields and, um, rescue Solitaire from a voodoo ritual. I forgot to mention that there’s a voodoo aspect to this movie. Kananga basically uses voodoo to scare the locals away from his poppy fields, in a move that can only be described as being worthy of a Scooby-Doo villain. The whole voodoo ritual scene is just painful to watch.

Kananga captures Bond and Solitaire (again) and, in a classic Bond villain move, is about to lower them into a shark tank but Bond escapes (again) and kills Kananga with what Wikipedia describes as “a compressed-gas pellet used in shark guns,” which causes Kananga to inflate like a balloon and fly into the ceiling before exploding. When Solitaire asks what happened to Kananga, Bond replies “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself,” which I have to admit is a pretty decent one-liner.

God, this is an awful movie. Its pacing is glacially slow, there’s very little action, the racial and sexual aspects of it are highly problematic, and it has one of the worst characters in cinematic history. But its greatest sin as a piece of entertainment is that it’s BORING. By my estimation, it takes an hour and four minutes into this two-hour movie before Bond even throws a punch. I remember renting this movie from Hollywood Video many years ago and being bored to death by it. The racial and sexual stuff didn’t bother me much then but they sure do now.

Wow, what a stinker. The only good things about it are the ethereal beauty of Jane Seymour and Paul McCartney’s very catchy theme song, as well as a good performance from a very young-looking Roger Moore. The rest of it is borderline-unwatchable. This is a movie for Bond enthusiasts only, and now that I’ve watched it I never want to experience this abomination again. Maybe the racial and sexual stuff wasn’t that weird in 1973, but watching Live and Let Die in 2019 can best be described as a profoundly uncomfortable experience.

It’s really a shame because the book is one of Fleming’s best, but man does this movie suck. For my money it’s one of the worst Bond films. The Moore movies would eventually get better, but they didn’t get off to a good start. At all.

Well, I was originally planning to cover multiple movies in one post, and I may still do that, but this post ended up being quite a bit longer than I had anticipated so I’m going to end it here. Moore’s next Bond film was The Man with the Golden Gun. Was it better than the rancid pile of crap that was Live and Let Die? It would be hard to be worse!

And just because she’s so beautiful, here’s another picture of Jane Seymour.