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.

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The Equalizer 2 is a Joyless Slog

Denzel Washington is a legend.

He’s the kind of actor who automatically improves every movie he’s in. When you hear about a new movie that he’s in, you think, hey, Denzel’s in it so it can’t be all bad.

His latest movie, The Equalizer 2, is mostly bad. But at least it’s not all bad.

Columba Pictures

The Equalizer 2, as you may have guessed, is the sequel to the 2014 film The Equalizer, which was based on the 1980s TV series of the same name. The Equalizer 2 is notable for being the first sequel that Denzel has ever made, which is amazing when you consider that he made his screen debut in 1981. Nearly four decades of acting with no sequels until now is quite the feat in today’s sequel-heavy movie market.

It’s a shame that the movie itself wasn’t better. The first Equalizer movie was a solid thriller, even though it’s no masterpiece. It grossed $192 million, making a sequel all but guaranteed. The sequel lacks the forward momentum of the original and spends too much time spinning its wheels. It’s a movie that never quite kicks into high gear and despite Denzel’s solid performance and a handful of quality action scenes, the movie ultimately feels like it was made to cash in on the surprising success of its predecessor.

Denzel once again plays retired special agent Robert McCall. In the first movie he worked in a blatant Home Depot ripoff called Home Mart (I guess Home Depot didn’t want to pay for the product placement) and in the second film he’s a Lyft driver (I guess Uber didn’t want to pay for the product placement). Being a Lyft driver provides ample opportunity for Robert to find people in need of help, and in many cases visit violent retribution upon various lowlife scumbags.

Robert is a likable guy despite his violent tendencies, although the movie skirts the issue of vigilante justice by making Robert’s victims so cartoonishly evil and smarmy that you don’t feel bad for them when he breaks their limbs and snaps their necks. That’s all well and good, but the movie suffers once the actual plot kicks in.

That’s because the plot is lazy and unpleasant. Some people kill Robert’s best friend Susan Plummer, an old friend from his secret agent days with ties to the intelligence community. The scene in which Susan is killed is overlong and deeply unpleasant, as her assailants pursue her through her hotel room and beat her relentlessly while she begs for them to stop. It’s horrible and is the worst thing I’ve seen in a theater all year. It’s also a lazy way to construct a story and shows that the filmmakers didn’t have any better ideas for a sequel than to just nastily kill the one person who means the most to the protagonist. It sucks and I hate it.

Both Equalizer movies were directed by Antoine Fuqua, who is a talented director but has an unfortunate tendency to fill his movies full of scenes of violence towards women. His movies are full of women being beaten, shot, stabbed and strangled. Hell, Susan is played by Melissa Leo, who previously worked with Fuqua on the 2013 thriller Olympus Has Fallen, which included a prolonged scene of the bad guys graphically beating her. The first Equalizer movie had a scene in which a young woman is slowly strangled. I could go on but I don’t want to. Just…yuck. These are the kinds of scenes that make you feel dirty after watching them, and I felt guilty having paid money to see these things happen in a theater.

I’m not going to lie, these kinds of things are really hard to talk about, and make it very hard to judge a film’s quality because they overshadow your entire perception of it. The first Equalizer was released in September, after prime summer movie season. But the second one was released in July, right smack in the middle of summer movie season. Who wants to go to a theater on a nice summer day and watch a woman get beaten and stabbed? I feel like this movie betrayed my expectation of entertainment.

Look, I’m going to try to move on from this. Let’s talk about the action scenes, which are tense and well-executed. There’s one scene where Robert is driving his car and has to fend off a guy in the back seat who is trying to stab him. That was exciting and inventive. The movie’s final showdown is also quite excellent. It takes place in a town that has been evacuated due to an approaching hurricane, and the weather grows worse as the scene progresses, which escalates the tension as Robert eliminates his pursuers in various grisly ways. He even kills a guy with what I’m pretty sure was a harpoon gun.

The movie is well-made and the acting is solid across the board, but the plot is lazy and predictable, the pacing uneven with too many extraneous sublots that go nowhere (one in particular involving an elderly Holocaust survivor feels like it should have been left on the cutting-room floor) and if I’m being honest the scene in which Susan is killed singlehandedly killed the movie for me. I’d watch the final confrontation again and there are a handful of other quality action scenes, as well as a great moment where Robert tells the bad guys that he’s going to kill all of them, and his only regret is that he only gets to do it once.

But overall the movie left a bad taste in my mouth and I have no desire to see it again. Things will improve next week when we take a look at Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which the early reviews have said is perhaps one of the best action movies ever made and looks like it could be this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m a big fan of the Mission Impossible series and I couldn’t be more excited, so look for that next week.

The Abominable Snowman

The Snowman should have been a good movie. It had all the right ingredients. Top-notch cast? Check. Talented director whose last two films (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In) were critically acclaimed? Check. Based on a best-selling novel? Check.

And yet, the movie is terrible. One of the worst films I’ve seen all year.

What happened?

In order to answer that question, let’s start with the film’s plot. The Snowman is based on the novel of the same name by Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo. I haven’t read any of Nesbo’s books, so anything I say about the plot and characters of The Snowman will be based entirely on the film’s portrayal of them.


Image: Universal

The main character is named Harry Hole. While this sounds like a horrible name for a main character, it’s worth mentioning that I read an interview with Nesbo where he said that the last name is pronounced “HO-leh”, and apparently it’s a common Norwegian name. But in the movie, everyone pronounces it like the word hole. You know, like something your dog would dig in the backyard.

And that dog-dug hole in the backyard is where this film belongs, because it sucks. The plot is ostensibly about Harry Hole’s search for a killer nicknamed The Snowman whose calling card is leaving snowmen at the scenes of his crimes. He also cuts off one victim’s head and uses it as the head of a snowman, which is thoroughly grisly.

But the movie never explores the killer’s psychology, and his motives are frustratingly thin. The movie never gets into his head and the viewer is left wondering why he does the things he does. Half the movie involves a bunch of boring subplots that, after thinking it over, seemed completely irrelevant to me. I didn’t see how half of it had anything to do with the killer. The movie completely fails as a psychological exploration of the mind of a madman. It also fails as a detective movie. There’s no compelling detective work, there’s no list of suspects, the entire thing just feels rushed. And apparently it was, since the director, Tomas Alfredson, has stated in interviews that 10-15% of the screenplay wasn’t even filmed. No wonder the film feels so incomplete. The subplots are pointless and the motivations of the characters either don’t make sense or are utterly nonexistent.

Think of other serial-killer movies. Specifically, the films of the brilliant David Fincher, like Se7en, Zodiac, and his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In these films, the villain is kept offscreen for most of the movie, but the viewer can always feel the treat of him lurking on the edge of the screen, like he could emerge at any moment. That’s called atmosphere, and is another thing at which The Snowman utterly fails. The only thing atmospheric about The Snowman is the admittedly excellent cinematography, but the movie’s beautiful scenery can’t disguise its sheer emptiness.

And let’s talk about the main characters. Harry Hole is a detective played by Michael Fassbender, and his sidekick is a new recruit named Katrine Bratt, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Both actors are very talented, but their characters are poorly written and they have almost no chemistry. They don’t even have a compelling reason for joining forces. Hole bums a ride off her, and since he’s bored he starts reading her files while she’s out of the car.

Really? That’s it? God, this movie is so half-assed. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, this one feels incomplete. It just feels rushed and unfinished. For example, Val Kilmer is in the movie for a couple of scenes, and he looks awful. What the hell happened to Val Kilmer, he looks like The Ghost That Ate Val Kilmer. He doesn’t even sound like Val Kilmer. His dialogue doesn’t even match up very well with his lip movements, which makes me think that his dialogue was hastily and sloppily dubbed over by another actor. Really? Just…really?

I don’t even know what to say about this movie, it’s just terrible. Michael Fassbender is a great actor, but he’s completely wasted in this movie. The movie portrays Hole as an alcoholic detective and there’s nothing to him beyond that. Anyone could have played the role in this movie. The Snowman is Jo Nesbo’s seventh Harry Hole book, and the movie implies that he’s been hunting down bad guys for quite some time. Katrine tells him that his cases are studied at the police academy, but it’s not enough to establish him as the brilliant detective everyone says he is. If you’re a fan of Jo Nesbo’s books and you think I’m not being fair to the character, keep in mind that everything I’m saying is based off the movie’s piss-poor portrayal of him. I have no doubt that Hole is a more compelling character on the page, because in this film he’s not compelling at all, and neither is anyone or anything else.

The movie desperately wants to be the next Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s not going to with such awful execution. The movie has an abysmal 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and scraped together an equally-abysmal $3.4 million over its opening weekend. It’s one of the biggest cinematic failures of the year, a shockingly inept piece of hackwork that had a ton of potential but managed to squander every last bit of it. It’s really a shame. I’ll have to read Nesbo’s book at some point, because I have a feeling that this half-baked adaptation of his work doesn’t do it any form of justice. The movie ends abruptly without any sense of resolution, and leaves the viewer feeling cold.

If you want to see a good movie based on a Jo Nesbo novel, you should see the Norwegian film Headhunters. Or, you can tune in next week, since I’ll be writing about it then. It’s a terrific movie that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and I figure with no major new releases hitting this week, next week will be the perfect time to talk about it. See you then!

Transformers: The Last Knight is a Tale Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Transformers: The Last Knight is the worst film I have seen all year. After King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Mummy, I didn’t think I would be seeing a film that sucked more than either of those two, but Michael Bay’s latest Transformers atrocity is worse than King Arthur and The Mummy combined. I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this movie was so full of dumb crap that I have to talk about it, so be aware that there will be spoilers ahead.

I generally don’t think that the Transformers movies are as bad as they are made out to be. I genuinely like the first one, and despite the many problems the sequels have, they’re still good for some mindless fun (aside from the second one, that is. Revenge of the Fallen is even worse than The Last Knight). But there is almost nothing good about The Last Knight, which is the fifth movie in the franchise. I would give this movie a grade of D-, and the only thing preventing it from getting an F is that the special effects are good, and there is a three-headed robot dragon. But everything else sucks.

Where to even begin? Let’s start with the story. But wait, there isn’t one. This is a two-and-a-half-hour movie with a plot thinner than a daytime soap opera. It took well over an hour into the movie before anything remotely resembling a plot began to come together. Nothing that happens in this movie has any emotional impact or any reason for happening at all.

Image: Paramount

And here is where we get in to the spoilers. The trailers for the movie made it look like Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, aka the good robots, was the film’s villain.

This is a lie.

Optimus is barely in the movie. He has a couple scenes near the beginning, and then there’s maybe an hour and a half with no Optimus whatsoever. He then shows up, fights one of the other good robots, sees the error of his ways, and becomes good Optimus again. Optimus has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time, which is a generous estimate. The trailers made it look like this big emotional thing, with Optimus turning on his former allies, but this turns out to be a huge bait-and-switch. A trailer for a movie hasn’t lied this blatantly since the trailers for Suicide Squad made it look like the Joker was actually an important part of the movie. Hell, Optimus has barely more screen time than the Joker did in that movie.

And for a movie about robots fighting, there is remarkably little robot-on-robot action. Not only is Optimus barely in the movie, other robots are barely in the movie either. Remember the samurai robot and the T-rex robot from the fourth movie? They don’t get to do anything here, except provide a few moments of comic relief. The Transformers feel like an afterthought, like after five movies even Michael Bay doesn’t give a shit about them anymore.

Instead, we get meaningless scene after meaningless scene, and none of it means anything. It’s all fluff. It’s soulless. The lights are on, but no one’s home. We get a crap-ton of ridiculous backstory and mythology about how the robots have been a part of human history for thousands of years, and how they hung out with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and fought Nazis, and Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci and tons of other historical figures were pals with the robots, and all of this is told to us by Anthony Hopkins, and the girl in the movie is the last descendant of Merlin and only she can wield the power of Merlin’s staff and oh my God they’re not even trying anymore.

Image: Paramount

The dialogue is atrocious too. Sample line: “Oh my God, look at that. It’s a big alien ship.” Seriously? This train wreck cost 260 million dollars to make, and that garbage is the best you can come up with? Or how about this one: “Sir, you know that strange thing we’ve been waiting 1600 years for? I think it’s finally happening!” I hate this movie.

There is nothing to hold on to with this movie. Trying to write about it is like trying to catch smoke with your hands. You can see that it’s there, but you can’t grasp it. Remember Bilbo’s line in Lord of the Rings where he tells Gandalf that he feels thin, like butter scraped over too much bread? That’s what Transformers: The Last Knight is. Someone had a germ of a good idea (“Let’s make Optimus the bad guy”) but had no idea how to build the rest of the plot around that, so what we’re left with is a movie that is 95% filler. We get scene after scene of the filmmakers trying to convince us that the movie is about something, but it isn’t. There’s nothing there.

It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s just bad, period. I’m not a Michael Bay hater. He may be a scumbag, but he’s made some fun movies (not that that’s an excuse for being a scumbag). I like the first Transformers movie. I like The Rock, The Island, 13 Hours, and the second half of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (the third movie). But with The Last Knight it seems like he doesn’t care anymore. It’s made with all the care for characterization and story coherence that an overcaffeinated 12-year-old might display. It’s just awful. I don’t usually bash movies like this when I write about them, generally I think people are way too hard on movies. But in this case, I agree with the haters. This movie is terrible, and it makes me sad. Moviegoers deserve better. Heck, Michael Bay can do better. He’s said that this is his last Transformers movie (although he’s said that before), so maybe his next movie will have more spark to it than this rote nonsense.

My next post will be about Edgar Wright’s new film Baby Driver, which, if the reviews are to be believed, should be more than good enough to wash away the bad taste left by the latest Transformers atrocity, so look for that soon.

Some More Really Bad Movies

One year ago, on my 25th birthday, I wrote about bad movies. It was a fun post to write, and so I decided to make it a birthday tradition to write about bad movies every year. There were seven really bad movies on that first list, and today, on my 26th birthday, here are seven more.

The Avengers (the other one)

Before you get angry, I am not referring to the movie with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk. No, no. That movie was awesome. I am referring to this one:

bad movies2 avengers

This movie was bad. Really, really bad. I am unable to recount many details about this one, since the memory of it has (mercifully) faded over the years, but it always stands out in my memory as one of the absolute worst films I have ever seen. Bad acting, bad special effects, bad plot, bad directing, bad everything. It’s made even worse by the fact that I watched the original British TV show of the Avengers from the 60’s on VHS with my family when I was a kid. And the show was great, sure it was goofy and campy in that very 60’s kind of way, but it was a lot of fun.

And those of you who know Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones might be surprised to learn that she used to look like this…

emmapeel

She’s also the only woman to ever marry James Bond. So yeah, she’s awesome, and The Avengers in the 60’s were awesome, but the 1998 Avengers movie was not.

Diamonds are Forever

bad movies2 bond

Despite how great that poster is, this movie sucked. I love James Bond, but fortunately I am still able to recognize a bad movie when I see one, and this one is in my opinion the worst Bond film ever made. The plot is incomprehensible, the acting is bad, the special effects are crappy, it just sucks. If it weren’t part of one of the longest-running and most successful film franchises of all time, it would have been instantly forgotten. Sure, Roger Moore made some stinkers (A View to a Kill, anyone?), but this one beats them all. Just utter crap.

xXx: State of the Union

bad movies2 xxx

I’ll admit: I liked the original movie xXx, starring Vin Diesel. Sure it’s dumb, but I always kind of enjoyed it. Call it a guilty pleasure. This sequel, however, is just plain bad. They replaced Diesel with rapper Ice Cube, who has all the charisma of his namesake. And speaking of bad James Bond movies, this movie was directed by Lee Tamahori, who, as the above poster reminds us, directed another really bad Bond movie, Die Another Day, which you will recall was the Bond movie with the invisible car and the sun laser and the ice palace, among other nonsense.

State of the Union is chock-full of nonsense as well, and not even Samuel L. Jackson and Willem Dafoe as the villain could save this one from crashing and burning. The producers wanted to make kind of an American James Bond series, with different stars taking the role of xXx, but this movie was so bad it stopped the franchise dead in its tracks.

For the record, Lee Tamahori may have made two really bad action movies, but he has made at least one genuinely good film called The Devil’s Double, about Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. Watch that instead of this.

Made Of Honor

bad movies2 made of honor

I think this might be a first for my blog: a romantic comedy! Unfortunately, it is also not a first for my blog, because it’s awful. I watched this with my mom (or at least we attempted to) and we were both shocked at how bad it was. The premise is contrived (guy and gal are best friends, she gets engaged to someone else and asks him to be her maid of honor, he has to contend with jealous bridesmaids and of course it takes an excruciatingly long time for guy and gal to realize they’re made for each other) and the movie wastes the chemistry of Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan as the leads.

I forget if I’ve mentioned this before, but I really like Michelle Monaghan as an actress (go watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang if you haven’t already, I’m pretty sure I’ve recommended it before; Monaghan was also really good in HBO’s True Detective) but this movie utterly wasted her. The jokes aren’t funny, the appealing leads are wasted in a terrible script that doesn’t know what to do with them, and the whole movie just feels like it goes on forever. I can’t really recommend any good romantic comedies, but at least I can recommend that you don’t watch this one.

Pride and Glory

bad movies2 pride and glory

I saw this one in the theater, and it was so bad I almost walked out, which is something I never do. I sat through all 165 minutes of Transformers: Age of Extinction (IN 3D, no less) but even that was a more pleasant viewing experience that this clichéd mess. Unpleasant, overlong, and just plain bad. The plot was hard to follow, all of the characters were jerks, and the language was horrendous (nearly 300 f-bombs). And it contains one of the most atrociously misguided and upsetting scenes I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing, in which Colin Farrell’s character threatens a clearly-upset infant with a hot laundry iron. It’s an appalling scene, and it would be enough to sink the whole movie by itself, but it doesn’t have to because everything else about the movie sucks too.

The Spirit

bad movies2 the spirit

I watched this movie for free on Hulu one night and it was so awful I wanted to ask someone for my money back. Frank Miller has written and drawn some great graphic novels, and he co-directed two Sin City movies (I haven’t seen the new one but the original is really good), but as a solo director…yikes. The Spirit is a mess. The acting is terrible (Samuel L. Jackson’s scenery-chewing is particularly cringe-worthy), the plot is absolute nonsense, and Miller’s attempts to emulate the visual style of the Sin City movies (black and white with splashes of color) fall utterly flat. For example, when a guy gets shot and falls to the ground, his chest is covered with white splotches that are meant to be bloody gunshot wounds, but you can’t help thinking that the poor sod just got divebombed by a flock of incontinent seagulls. There are plenty of beautiful women in the movie, but Miller has absolutely no idea what to do with them aside from simply offering them up as eye candy. The Spirit is one of the worst comic-book adaptations of all time, which is really saying something in a world where Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin exists.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

bad movies 2 pirates

The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie gets a lot of flack, much of it deserved, but I still find some things to like about it (mostly the Kraken. I do love me a good sea monster). The third Pirates movie, however, has almost nothing to recommend it. None of the cliffhangers from the second movie are resolved satisfyingly, the plot is impossible to keep track of, and the whole damn thing is nearly three hours long. How did a movie series based on an amusement-park ride get to be so freaking complicated? I love the first Pirates movie as much as the next person, but the franchise just went completely downhill after the first one. I never saw the fourth one (aside from bits and pieces on TV here and there) and I never felt like I was missing anything.

So there you have it, seven more really bad movies. Join me next September 23 for seven more! My birthday present to myself is once again that I don’t have to watch any of these.

Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap: Part Two

Welcome to part two of Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap. If you haven’t read the first part, please start there. Now, on to part two!

Priest is a marginally better movie than Legion, but that’s not really saying much. It’s based on a Korean comic and takes place is an alternate universe where man was at war with vampires for centuries. The world is now controlled by the Church, who used vampire-killing warriors called Priests to kill most of the vampires and place the rest in reservations. Mankind lives in giant walled-off cities to protect them, and the Priests have since been disbanded.

One Priest, played by Paul Bettany, learns that his niece Lucy was kidnapped and his brother and his brother’s wife were killed by vampires. Priest (he doesn’t have a name in the movie, in the credits he’s listed simply as “Priest”) tries to get his authority reinstated by the Clergy, but they don’t believe his vampire story and refuse. Priest leaves the city anyway to rescue Lucy (who later SPOILER ALERT turns out to actually be his daughter) and the Clergy sends out three other Priests and a Priestess to bring him back.

That’s the movie in a nutshell. Priest soon discovers a vampire plot to attack the cities and fights to save mankind again and we all know how that goes. The movie ends with the implication of a sequel that will probably never happen, but I guess that’s okay.

It’s a pretty scattershot movie, but it’s certainly less pretentious and a hell of a lot more entertaining than Legion. And it’s only 87 minutes long, so at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There are also some pretty good action scenes, and the special effects are really not bad.

The creature designs in the movie aren’t terribly original, but at least they look pretty good and the creatures move pretty well. The special effects are pretty smooth and the creatures’ movements aren’t really jerky or anything, which is good.

priest vampire

And speaking of originality, this movie is VERY derivative. It borrows from at least half a dozen other movies. There’s some Blade Runner, some Indiana Jones, some Blade, and a LOT of Mad Max, just to name a few. It’s hard not to be reminded of all these other movies when watching Priest, which is never a good thing. Still, I thought it was still fairly entertaining and Paul Bettany once again makes the whole outlandish thing easier to swallow, despite looking like this:

priest_poster

The movie does have some interesting ideas, though. The city people live in really does look like something straight out of Blade Runner, but it still looks pretty cool. It’s portrayed as being completely under the control of the Church, although it is of course careful not to mention any specific denominations.

Another one of the movie’s big influences comes from stories like 1984 and V For Vendetta, because the city in Priest (called Cathedral City) is very Big Brother-ish. The leader of the Clergy (played by Christopher Plummer of all people) appears everywhere on giant billboards and video monitors, constantly reminding people that the Church protects them, and that “To go against the Church is to go against God.”

There are even automated confessional booths, where people go into a booth and speak into a microphone, and an image of the Clergy leader’s face appears on a screen. When Bettany’s character attempts to use one, he gets what sounds like a very robotic instruction to “say three Hail Marys and four Our Fathers.” These confessional booths turn what should be an intimate and meaningful act into something impersonal and essentially meaningless, with commands for prayers issued like a doctor prescribing a drug.

Vampires have always had a religious connection. Crosses have always been a big part of the imagery and lore of vampire stories, and the movie Priest does have an interesting take on what a world run by a totalitarian church could be like. I guess? Maybe I didn’t say that quite right.

Ultimately, the movie suffers from the same problem Legion does: germ of an interesting concept marred by lackluster execution. Still, Priest works marginally better than Legion does, and at least has a firmer grasp of what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s certainly scattershot and it wears its influences on its sleeve, but it is at least more consistent than Legion and I found it to be quite a bit more enjoyable.

As a mostly-unrelated side note, Priest is probably the goriest PG-13 rated movie I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this movie is gruesome. I have no earthly idea how a movie with this scene…

priest gore

…could possibly be rated PG-13, but a harmless movie like The King’s Speech gets an R rating because of three or four F-words. Incomprehensible.

Anyway, there you have it. The two-part introduction to Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap. There are actually quite a few movies that could fall into this category, so maybe some of them will show up sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap: Part One

In the 2007 Nicolas Cage film “Ghost Rider”, there is a scene where somebody says to Nicolas Cage’s character, “I’m worried about you because you’re filling your head with all this comparative exponential religiosity crap!” or something of that nature. One would imagine that Nicolas Cage hears this sort of thing a lot in day-to-day life, but that’s beside the point. It is easily the best line in an otherwise profoundly forgettable movie, and I guess you could say it served as something of an inspiration to me (kind of).

Today I am starting a series that is an idea that I have been kicking around for a while now, and with no movies that I’m really excited about coming to theaters in the near future, I decided now would be as good a time as any to tackle it.

In this series, which shall be titled “Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap”, I will be examining some movies that deal, however obliquely, with the concepts of faith and religion.

A word of warning: this series will not be to everyone’s tastes. The subjects of faith and religion are always controversial. It is not my intention to anger anyone, what I want to do with this series is take a look at some different modern movies to see what they make me think about these concepts, basically. Please do not assume from the title of this series that I think all religion is crap, because I don’t. It’s just a silly quote from a bad movie that I thought would make a good title. Who knows, maybe Ghost Rider will show up in this series at some point down the road.

Now that all of the introductory stuff is out of the way, let’s move on to the movies, shall we?

And yes, I wrote “movies” as plural intentionally, because for the first installment of this series we’ve got a double feature: 2010’s “Legion” and 2011’s “Priest”, both directed by Scott Stewart and starring Paul Bettany.

legion poster

priest poster

Let’s start with Legion, because everything has to start somewhere.

In Legion, Paul Bettany plays the archangel Michael, who has come to Earth to save mankind from…uh…angels possessing people.

Wait, what? Well, it seems that the big guy upstairs has lost faith in humanity, and has decided to send his army of angels to exterminate us. Michael was one of those ordered to destroy the humans, but he didn’t want to so he decided to protect us instead.

In the first scene of the movie, Michael falls to Earth and proceeds to slice off his angel wings with a big knife. He then pulls a classic Kyle Reese and mugs some dude, steals his trench coat and somehow finds a whole bunch of machine guns, which he takes with him. All of this is admittedly pretty badass, but what happens next is exemplary of the problems with the movie as a whole.

And what happens after this pretty badass opening scene, you ask? Well, the answer is: 20 MINUTES OF FRICKING NOTHING. After the opening scene, the movie shifts to some diner in the middle of nowhere, where we meet a whole bunch of annoying characters: there’s the guy who owns the diner, Bob (played by Dennis Quaid), his son Jeep (I hope that’s a nickname) who is in love with the diner’s waitress Charlie (what is up with these names?) even though she’s eight months pregnant with some other guy’s baby, the cook who is a big black guy with a prosthetic arm named Percy (again with the names), three rich douchebags (a mom, a dad, and their daughter) stuck at the diner because their BMW broke down, and a black dude (Tyrese Gibson, playing the exact same character he always plays in every single movie he’s ever been in) who got lost on the way to a custody hearing for his son, or something.

Whew. The movie crams all this into 20 incredibly boring minutes. The boredom is broken up when a sweet-looking little old lady comes into the diner, and promptly starts spewing profanity and telling everyone in the diner they’re going to burn, and then bites the rich dad on the neck, starts crawling around on the ceiling, and gets shot by Tyrese Gibson, who is of course packing heat (has Tyrese Gibson ever played a character who isn’t packing heat?).

Uh…what? Evil Grandmothers? Yup. In the immortal words of the great Dave Barry, I Am Not Making This Up.

legion evil grandmother

See?

So after all that, Michael FINALLY shows up again (after being gone from the movie for 20+ minutes after the opening scene), hands out the machine guns, and tells everyone to get ready.

He then tells everyone that God has lost faith in humanity and sent His angels to destroy us, and that he, Michael, still believes in us and is here to protect us. Oh, and the baby that Charlie the waitress is carrying is somehow the key to the survival of mankind. Why? I dunno. Because the movie had a low budget and could only afford to film at this diner in the middle of the desert, and the writers had to find some plot reason for Michael to come there, would be my guess.

But here’s the kicker: despite what the film’s trailer might lead you to believe, God does not just send his angels to destroy us. He, um, has them possess people (like the grandma) and turn them into zombie-like murderers, complete with shark teeth and black eyes (again, like the grandma).

I have many problems with this.

Okay, I get that this movie probably had a limited special-effects budget, and probably couldn’t afford to show Michael duking it out with legions of angels in midair (although that would have been cool), and so the filmmakers had to find some other way to convey this. And that’s fine. Not every movie has a Michael Bay budget.

But the solution they came up with just flat-out doesn’t make any sense. Angels are supposed to be, you know, good, right? I simply cannot fathom why being possessed by one would turn a person into a foul-mouthed zombie-like murderer. Seriously, if the grandma is possessed by a freaking angel, then why in pluperfect hell does she start spewing profanity??? Are all angels secretly potty-mouthed or something? Did God just say to His legions, “Eh, go nuts”? Why would the symptoms of being possessed by an angel so closely mimic the symptoms of being possessed by a demon, like in The Exorcist??? “Possessed by an Angel” sounds like either a Hallmark channel movie or the name of a Nicholas Sparks “novel” (I hate you, Nicholas Sparks) for crying out loud!!!

And wouldn’t it be more efficient to send actual angels rather than using them to possess people? Michael even says at one point that the possessed people are just vessels and that weak-willed people are easier to possess. I can buy that if we’re talking about demonic possession, but we’re not! Why is the whole possession thing even necessary at all?

But even setting aside all of the movie’s profound theological issues, Legion is a film that simply cannot decide what it wants to be. Is it a horror movie? Is it an action movie? Is it an examination of what it means to have faith despite the odds? Is it a family drama? It wants to be all of these things, but it ends up being none of them because it doesn’t do any of them very well.

Compounding this problem is the movie’s wildly jarring tonal shifts. It has a cool, action-y opening scene, followed by 20 minutes of talking, then the grandma shows up, then Michael shows up, then ACTION SCENE, then exposition, then ACTION SCENE, then more talking, then another action scene, some more talking and then it’s pretty much over. Nothing in the movie flows well at all and it sometimes feels like three or four different movies stitched together haphazardly.

The action scenes are actually pretty decent, and there’s a good fight scene between Michael and Gabriel, the other archangel, who still has his angel wings and a pretty cool mace thing.

legion-bettany-and-gabriel

So yeah, the action scenes aren’t half bad, but they’re not woven into the rest of the movie well at all, and they make up a very small portion of the movie’s running time. Between action scenes, we get to learn all about the various boring backstories of literally every single character in the freaking diner, all of which are just about as boring and clichéd as you could imagine. The movie is like 90% TALKING, and all of the talking is BORING.

Let’s do some math. Legion is 100 minutes long, which makes it easy. It’s basically 10 minutes of action and 90 minutes of boring backstory and speechifying by every single boring supporting character.

The only thing in the movie that works consistently is Paul Bettany. He’s a really good actor, and he brings an air of credibility and gravitas to every scene he’s in. He singlehandedly makes the movie far more credible than it deserves, and without him it would be entirely unwatchable.

At one point he gives Jeep (the guy who’s in love with the waitress) a long speech about how he (Jeep) is the reason he (Michael) still has faith in humanity, and Bettany makes the whole speech very believable and even comes close to being effecting, and you get a glimpse of what the movie might have been. This is especially impressive considering that Jeep is a guy who looks (and sounds) a hell of a lot like Ellis from Left 4 Dead 2.

legion jeeplegion ellis

On the left: Jeep. On the right: Ellis. Or is it the other way around?

The sad thing is that there is a decent germ of an idea to be found buried deep within the movie’s concept, and there’s maybe even a decent movie to be made from this concept, but Legion is not that movie.

In one of the special features on the DVD (NO I DON’T HAVE THIS MOVIE ON DVD SHUT UP) director Scott Stewart talks very seriously about how he believes that the suspense leading up to a scare is almost as important as the scare itself. Okay, sure. The problem is that the “scare” Mr. Stewart is referring to is the evil grandma (I forgot to mention that there’s also an evil ice cream man later), and that evil grandmas (in this movie at least) are not scary. I get the idea that you can take things that are usually good and turn them evil, and that can be scary (Stephen King is good at this), but in Legion, evil grandmas and evil ice cream men aren’t scary, they’re just chuckle-inducing.

Legion is a movie that wants to be many things, and it ends up being none of them. It really has nothing interesting to say, and comes off as being pretentious more often than not.

Wow, that ended up being really long. I was originally going to cover both movies in one post, but for ease of readability I think I will split it into two parts.

Please join me for part two, which will be up soon (hopefully no later than tomorrow).