November 7, 2015


 Weakest of the four Daniel Craig Bond films, SPECTRE takes a terrific premise and goes nowhere with it.

Spoilers Ahead

SPECTRE opens with the classic James Bond "gunbarrel" sequence, then proceeds with a spectacular opening sequence as Bond follows a SPECTRE agent through a Mexico City Day of the Dead parade, then into a hotel, up an elevator, out the window, and across rooftops...and it's all one continuous shot. In a series of films that must top themselves with stunts and spectacle, nothing like this has ever been attempted. A jaw-dropping cinematic feat.
Thanks to some reverse engineering, the mysterious and sinister organization QUANTUM (see all the bad guys in the first three Craig adventures) is revealed to actually be SPECTRE, the classic cadre of bad guys from the Ian Fleming novels (and introduced in the early Connery Bond films), led by the iconic, mysterious Ernst Stravro Blofeld. Made silly by Mike Myers parody as Dr Evil, Blofeld wears the grey tunic, strokes his kitten, and seeks to extort, corrupt, and control the whole world.
Christoph Waltz's bad guy is certainly mad and evil, but he's not that mysterious; his introduction in a shadowy and gothic SPECTRE conference tingles with mystery and suspense, but in the third act he's completely revealed, and even a little silly as he tortures Bond. It's annoying that the writers masked Waltz' identity as Blofeld until the third act. The plot makes excuses why Waltz' character is known as "Oberhauser" through most of the movie until the "Blofeld" reveal near the end, but this is pure "fan service" - the writers are trying to surprise the audience with a twist, but there's no reason why Blofeld could not be called Blofeld throughout the film. By calling him by an fake name, and constructing an excuse for why he changes his name, the screenplay simply makes the story less clear when it's already mysterious. This petty trick was also pointless because Waltz appears in the trailers as Bond's antagonist, wearing the same tunic as the classic Blofeld, in a movie named SPECTRE? Even a casual Bond fan could put together that Waltz is Blofeld, so what's the point of the misdirection? Star Trek Into Darkness [2013] pulled this same annoying trick, calling Khan "John Harrison" for no good reason until late in the movie.
Once again the Bond film is all about Bond- how did he end up like this? Why does everyone around him die? Why is he alone? What is his purpose? I feel like this ground has all been covered in Craig's first three Bond films. I was ready to move on, but SPECTRE continues to ponder these eternal questions, going to great lengths to tie Bond's childhood history (previously unexplored in the entire Bond film series) together with the genesis of SPECTRE...but it's strangely not explored with much depth or meaning. Either the filmmakers weren't sure what point they wanted to make, or the movie was botched between the page and the screen. I don't think tying Bond and Blofeld together is necessary, but if you're going to do it, really make it resonate!

Bond Girls

I have a movie crush on Monica Belluci, and her seduction scene was very exciting and powerful. Hubba hubba! Ironically her character was completely extraneous in the longest Bond film of all time. She shares information with Bond that moves the plot along, but there's no reason why her character would know what she told him. As much as I love Bellucci, and their seduction scene is very steamy, I might not have included it in the film. (This may be a Bond first - Bellucci is 6 months older than Craig!)
Léa Seydoux is beautiful and competent, but she falls in love with Bond for no reason and so quickly it's just bad writing. She actually successfully defends herself from the bad guys twice, so on the spectrum of capable Bond girls, she's up near the top with Michelle Leoh and Honor Blackman. Her silky grey dress on the train in Morocco is spectacular. (She's only 17 years younger than Bond)
I was sad to see the new Moneypenny squandered. In Skyfall she shoots Bond off the top of that train in the opening sequence, and later assists Bond in the field (remember the shaving scene?) but all she does in SPECTRE is deliver a package and Google some bad guys for him. I was hoping she'd participate in his adventures again - what was the point in developing her character in Skyfall if she isn't used well in SPECTRE?

Bond References

SPECTRE has a bunch of overt reference to the history of Bond movies...
  • Hat on a Bed - it's bad luck to put your hat on a bed, and a Bond girl is spooked by a hat on his hotel bed in Live and Let Die. During the opening shot, Bond tosses his hat on the hotel bed- this cannot be a coincidence. Bond also tosses his hat onto his hotel bed in From Russia With Love.
  • Snowy Mountaintop Spa - Just like in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is also admitted to a spa in Thunderball. But when chasing the bad guys down the mountain, he steals a plane - did they feel that skiing sequences were too played out for a Bond film? Bond has such a rich history with winter chase scenes, it seemed odd to eschew skiing or sledding...although it was neat to watch Bond try and steer an airplane sliding on its belly down a snowy hill. The ridiculous mountaintop airport (it is impossible to build a runway atop a mountain) reminded me of the opening sequence in Goldeneye.
  • Daughter Of A Villain - Bond romances, and allies himself with the daughter of one of the villains. Bond has made an uneasy alliance like this before, most notably in Thunderball (although technically Largo is not Domino's father). 
  • Gadgets - The Craig-era Bond films have been light on the gadgetry, and SPECTRE is no different. A classic Bond trope is the gadget Q gives him at the beginning of the movie that is precisely what he needs by the end of the movie- the screenwriters underplay the moment when Q gives it to him; in the old days, Q used to explain in complete detail how each gadget works, but in this film Q only says "it tells time...and the alarm is quite loud, if you catch my meaning."
  • Goldfinger - When Oberhauser says to Bond "I thought you came here to die" I was reminded of Auric Goldfinger's famous line, "No Mister Bond, I expect you to die."
  • Silly Foreigners Are Poor Drivers - I could hardly believe this sequence was even shot: Bond is racing across Rome in his Aston Martin when a Fiat 500 driven by an elderly Italian blocks his progress. Bond tailgates and honks while the Italian slowly creeps along, fussing and gesturing, until eventually Bond rams the Fiat out of the way. The Fiat taps its bumper on a railing and the airbags activate. The airbag joke has been hackneyed for ten years? Twenty? The whole scene felt like it was lifted whole from a Roger Moore Bond film.

Fun (and sad) Connections: You might not think much about that guy Tanner at MI6 who works with "M" and Moneypenny. Tanner is played by Rory Kinnear, whose dad was also in some iconic British movies - Roy Kinnear played a bumbling scientist in The Beatles' HELP! and Veruca Salt's dad in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Kinnear Sr. died in a tragic horse riding accident while filming a Three Musketeers movie when Rory was just a kid.
(AMC Burlington with Adam)


November 1, 2015

Hollow Man (2000)

Feels very similar to The Fly, but Hollow Man is only success for its effects:
"Lone wolf scientist develops breakthrough invention, but tests it on himself to disastrous results. The experiment drives him mad. A love triangle acts as a catalyst for his anger, and he goes on a murderous rampage."
The special effects in Hollow Man still look great, after 15 years of technology improvements. The effects of shapes draped over the invisible form, but also the effects of the human (and gorilla) bodies appearing and disappearing one layer at a time look incredible. By the end of movie, they've shown off the invisibility effects in every way possible- the invisible man has been draped in cloth, covered in liquid latex, walked though steam, drenched in sprinkler water, drenched in blood, immersed in a swimming pool, walked through smoke - he's done everything except smothered in chocolate sauce.
The rest of the movie is not so great. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a real prick from the very beginning of the movie, so the audience is not rooting for him, and when he evolves from a jerk to a creep to a rapist to a murderer, he doesn't change that much. Whether he's the antagonist or the protagonist, the movie cannot succeed when we can't see the guy's face for most of the film.
Directed by regressive libertine Paul Verhoeven, the movie presents a workplace where the scientists continually bicker, argue, and compete with each other, and scientist Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) ended an affair with Caine, but now she's taken up with their colleague Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin). Caine continually harasses McKay, who never says "no" to Caine, and sends definite mixed messages to his former lover. It's a real mess from a modern feminist standpoint. It technically passes the Bechdel Test, but when the two women who talk to each other have both been groped by their boss in the previous 24 hours, it hardly feels like a victory for women in film.
Nineties Test: Hollow Man flunks the timelessness test immediately. Not only does it have a long opening title sequence, which were already passe in 2000, the title sequence uses all lower-case letters, which were very trendy, combined with letters floating through space - it was supposed to look like molecules fusing together, but I was reminded of alphabet soup. Some of the costumes are okay, but the late 90s affection for tan, brown, taupe, and grey is everywhere. Joey Slotnick wears an all-brown costume at one point. There are plenty of computers and phony user interfaces, but the invisibility is the star of the movie, so the computers are kept in the background. (On Demand)

The Fly (1986)

Still creepy and disgusting. The Fly feels almost like a three-person play, or a Twilight Zone episode. The Fly is a brisk 96 minutes, and could have been even shorter without the love-triangle machinations which aren't totally necessary.
The cast list includes only 10 speaking parts: Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), Ronnie (Geena Davis), the "other man" Stathis Borans (John Getz), a bar tramp that Brundle tries to trick into teleporting (Joy Boushel), and six bit parts.
Real life couple Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum have terrific chemistry, and they both exude an egghead intellect that powers the movie.
Of course the science behind the telepods is nonsense, but The Fly stands as a cautionary tale for what can go wrong when a single person designs software and conducts experiments with no oversight or testing. If only he'd programmed his computer to NOT fuse two organisms together! The makeup effects are mostly solid, it's the idea of the fly emerging from Brundle that makes this movie a success.
I laughed out loud when I saw this outfit, even though Davis was delivering
the trademark line "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid."
Note: Where did they get these bizarre character names? Seth Brundle, Veronica Quaife, and Stathis Borans?
Eighties Test: The Fly mostly passes the timelessness test- the telepods still look great; the computer is housed in a giant casing like a supercomputer, and the UI looks terrific. One of Ronnie's costumes - the one she's wearing when she says "Be afraid. Be very afraid" is so Eighties I almost laughed out loud. Besides her hilarious lapels, the festive scarf does not fit the occasion. (On Demand)

Bridge Of Spies

There's a lot to admire in Bridge of Spies. Spielberg is a master craftsman, and Hanks delivers a strong, distinctive performance, but this isn't really a thriller,  and I was never worried about the outcome of the story. It's more interesting and moving and less exciting and thrilling.

This photo does not show how BRIGHT the outside glow was!
There's a surprising amount of skepticism and paranoia of our secretive government in the films of Steven Spielberg. As a child of the Cold War and as a post-Watergate filmmaker, Close Encounters is not just a wondrous Watch The Skies effects showcase, it's also a government coverup conspiracy thriller. E.T. is full of children and wonder, but also the unnamed spooks who chase E.T. through the woods, then surveil and invade the family home. The warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (and the beginning of Crystal Skull) in Area 51! And of course Minority Report's view of government oversight into our lives reaches nightmare levels.
Bridge of Spies is a Cold War movie and a Red Scare movie. It would have been easy to wander around the era. That movie would have become a panoramic History of The Cold War, but instead we learn about this complicated chapter of American patriotism, politics, and diplomacy while keeping a tight focus on one story in that era.
It's not novel to say Tom Hanks is a good actor, but he's really terrific in this movie. From the opening scene where we learn what a strong negotiator and persuasive speaker he is, to his saavy assessment of his counterparts, to his relentless stubborness, this is Hanks' most distinctive character in a long time.
Spielberg is a master filmmaker, but three items distacted me. Three items which are clearly intended by Spielberg:

  • Heavenly Glow: many scenes include Janusz Kaminski's trademark overpowering sunlight "blowing out" the windows. The gazy, heavenly style has pervaded Spielberg films since Minority Report - I feel he verged into self-parody in Catch Me If You Can - but it's simply distracting now. The prison interview scenes between Donovan and Abel look like a humidifier is running full blast, misting the characters every minute.
  • Wide Screen Lenses - I am not a camera expert, but when camera lenses are especially "wide", you can view an entire room from wall to wall without turning the camera. In Bridge Of Spies, I repeatedly noticed the lenses were so wide, the entire room was in frame, AND the vertical lines at the edges of the screen were curved with a "fisheye" effect. I should not be thinking about the cinematography!
  • Telling Not Showing - this one is minor, but Spielberg communicates so well with images, I get annoyed when he drives points home with words. Francis Gary Powers and his fellow airmen are briefed by a CIA spook in a motel room. When the spook leaves, the camera pans past the motel's neon sign which fills the whole screen MOTEL. We saw the MOTEL sign through the window earlier, why are you rubbing our faces in it now?
Several times Spielberg uses title cards: BROOKLYN, BERLIN, and so on, that are marginally necessary. If the audience can't tell where we are without a title card, AND they have to know where they are to understand the movie, you're not doing your job!
My Stub Hubby grade: B minus.
(Somerville Theater)

October 30, 2015

House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Randomly watched the 1959 William Castle screamer House on Haunted Hill with Vincent Price for Halloween. There are some legitimate scares in this movie, but I bet it's much better on a movie screen, the medium it was designed for. It was also a brisk 75 minutes! Worth checking out if watched in the dark with friends, or on a movie theater screen.
(Amazon Instant Video)

October 10, 2015

Guys Movie Night: The Martian

I thoroughly enjoyed The Martian. A great "hard" science fiction movie with an extremely light touch. Also the first funny Ridley Scott movie? I am a big fan of Scott- Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator are among my favorite movies - but his movies tend to the epic length, and solemn tone. I would never have guessed he helmed this breezy, brisk, and fun movie.
This XKCD comic made the observation that The Martian is the "fix the air filter" puzzle from Apollo 13 expanded into a whole movie, and that's true, but what's also true is that Ridley Scott has managed to make a easy breezy movie that makes Apollo 13 look like a grim, terrifying Holocaust film by comparison.

Matt Damon deserves at least equal credit for setting the tone of the film- he is alone for 99% of the film, so Damon the actor is the key to the tone of the film. His video diary entries charmed the whole audience. (The trailers imply he talks to NASA via video-conference call, but that never happens.)
My Stub Hubby Grade: A!
(Landmark Embassy Cinemas Waltham, with Adam, George, and Jon Moran)
Stub Hubby Reviews Ridley Scott

September 23, 2015

Black Mass

Solid crime drama, the Boston locations were top-notch, and Depp was scary and compelling as the sociopath / serial murderer Whitey Bulger. All the Boston accents were good, but Benedict Cumberbatch delivered an amazing Boston accent. Depp is very talented, but that doesn't make him a pale Irish-American with blue eyes and white hair: Depp's heavy makeup and contact lenses were distracting and weird. (AMC Burlington with Adam; I never got the new deluxe seat adjusted quite right this time.)

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival

August 31, 2015

153 Froghorn

"What's tall and green and loud and hops?"
  1. "The Electric Co." I finally saw U2 for the first time in July (see photo) and this was their opening song. I subsequently listened to Boy all the way through. I appreciate their early mix of punk energy and New Wave romanticism.
  2. "A-Punk" Vampire Weekend more fast-paced guitar rock.
  3. "Lovers Jamboree" Nick Lowe I'm going to put a Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds song on every playlist until my head explodes.
  4. "Hey Hey" [unplugged] Eric Clapton I think I listened to this CD every day in 1993.
  5. "Budapest" George Ezra I am fascinated by this song- it's half folk/blues mellowness, but also the singing has a Roy Orbison/Elvis Presley vibe. I carefully picked the songs before and after "Budapest" in order to best frame that dichotomy.
  6. "(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame" Elvis Presley this Top Ten hit single, with its strident acoustic guitar riff, seemed a good fit.
  7. "My Love Will Not Let You Down" This Bruce Springsteen tune from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions is prominently featured in the film Rikki & The Flash. (From the 1972-1992 Tracks box set, )
  8. "There Goes Another Love Song" The Outlaws I've been going heavy on the 1970s rock lately, especially focusing on bands who I have overlooked in the past.
  9. "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)" Blue Ash: a one-hit Power Pop wonder.
  10. "Ruby" Kaiser Chiefs yes I am being too clever with these three songs...
  11. "Ruby Baby" The Drifters (I almost picked the Donald Fagen cover for track 11)
  12. "Baby" Brandy ...but it isn't too clever if it still works!
  13. "I Love You" Climax Blues Band another 70s band I never noticed when I was becoming a rock and roll fan.
  14. "Find Your Way Back" Jefferson Starship a tremendously uncool song. Another song from this LP was played at a Sox game this summer, which inspired me to track this one down.
  15. "Feeling That Way" A good Journey song that didn't make it onto the Greatest Hits CD.
  16. "Bargain" The Who I think I listened to the Who's Next cassette (that I stole from a stranger's house party) every day in 1990.
  17. "Impossible Germany" I just bought the Wilco tour documentary DVD Ashes of American Flags; with my purchase I was granted a license to download the MP3s of the concert performances. A sweet bonus!
  18. "Here Comes My Girl" [Live] Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from the Tom Petty Live Anthology
  19. "How Does It Feel To Be Back" I am getting into the Daryl Hall & John Oates deep album cuts, including this track with John Oates on lead vocals.
  20. "Don't Dream It's Over" Crowded House I love this song, but I didn't quite stick the landing on this playlist.
  21. "Jamaican Rock" Monty Norman; one of the Jamaican songs from the soundtrack album to the James Bond movie Dr. No.

August 13, 2015

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Truly awful. Peter Jackson has lost sight of what made his Lord of the Rings movies so magical, and has become bogged down in battles for their own sake with no emotional dimension...and no connection with the Tolkien stories.
Smaug the dragon dies 12 minutes into this three-hour beast.  The remainder of the movie is devoted to the five armies of the title crashing into each other in a CGI mishmash. Jackson has invented all of the villains and monster characters in this movie, and scores of Laketown humans, and the Tauriel love triangle. The 'return of Sauron' arc which stretches across all three Hobbit movies has also been invented in an attempt to more fully prequel-ize these films. Yes, the novel has a battle for the elf mountain at the end of the book, but this is like taking a child's tee shirt, ripping open the seams, and sewing in massive panels of new fabric to fit a 300 pound man. The tag may still say "3T" but it's not for a toddler anymore. Much more than Hobbit 1 and Hobbit 2, Battle of the Five Armies has been bloated to justify a third feature film, when a very pleasant family adventure could have been produced for the entire novel in three hours or less.
As a devout fan of the Lord of the Rings movies - I own all three theatrical and extended editions on DVD - I was shocked to find myself fingering the Stop button halfway through this movie. There's only so many ways you can battle Orcs before I've seen it all. On this blog I called An Unexpected Journey "Very good but flabby" and when reviewing Desolation of Smaug, conceded I was ready for the movie to be over after two hours, but this third installment never had me in the first place.

August 12, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

I watched a five-quel and a six-quel this week:
Rogue Nation is another quality thriller from the Tom Cruise Consistency Machine. Jack Reacher was a little bit fascist, Oblivion was derivative, and Knight & Day didn't make a lick of sense, but the word I'd use to describe his average action thriller is dependable. The action scenes are airtight, if sometimes too unbelievable (no one can hold their breath that long.) The riverside cafe confrontation, and the final chase/battle across the streets of London were the cleverest part of the movie.
  • Rebecca Ferguson is terrific as a double agent...or is she a triple agent? She's practically the co-lead of the movie - she has much more to do than Jeremy Renner - and thankfully, her romance with Tom Cruise is kept to a minimum.
  • Simon Pegg has been promoted to third banana, and his character has a dramatic arc!
  • Jeremy Renner has nothing to do in this movie except let the plot points pivot around him. He has no action scenes, he's turned into a boring boss!
  • Ving Rhames is also only in half the movie, but he looks damn fine in his caramel brown jacket + hat...
  • Alec Baldwin is the director of the CIA, which is a nice touch for the original Jack Ryan. I wish his character were slightly more clever and slightly less a political animal. It would be possible to make his character as clever as Ethan Hunt, but always two steps behind. As it is, I was disappointed watching his character slowly connect the dots.
My two major gripes- the villain was creepy looking but his plans were boring, and Ethan Hunt's motivations for his impossible plans seem more reckless and illogical than ever. I have to agree with the Senate panel at the beginning of the movie that believes most of the IMFs success is due more to luck than talent.