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Cinéologist

Swing Kids


Swing Kids (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★

After wanting to cry so badly for about an hour, the ending was done in such an over-the-top way to the point where I really wanted to laugh. That said, I really liked this picture not because it’s particularly accurate or even about an important group of people that changed the tide of World War II, but because I truly felt the emotions it wanted to convey. It’s about three friends and their love for swing music. As Nazism grew, their friendship is challenged in a meaningful way: one did not compromise his beliefs and remained a civilian opposing Hitler (Frank Whaley), while the other two joined in a training facility for Hitler’s army (Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale). I thought it was interesting how Leonard and Bale were being corrupted for a while; at some point one of them managed to wake up but the other one did not. There’s so much drama involving Leonard’s character but the one I found to be most involving was his relationship with his family. It was painful for me to watch the family implode because they are essentially good people caught in circumstances where they have to make the tough decisions in order to survive. But the one jarring thing that made me almost give up from even giving the movie a good review is for about forty to fifty minutes, no one voiced out that by joining Hitler’s army, despite one’s belief that it’s wrong or one is only using it for the perks, it’s basically supporting something evil. For me, that was the most obvious fact and when no one was saying it out loud, especially by characters who are questioning their identities and what they stand for, it’s a big misstep. Thankfully, at some point someone finally said it and that’s when the core of the picture started to show. If the director, Thomas Carter, has established the core sooner and made room for a more subtle ending, this film would’ve been more powerful. Instead, “Swing Kids” becomes a movie that has a powerful middle but a weak beginning and ending. Still, I’m giving it a three out of four stars because it made me care about what would happen to the characters even though they were one-dimensional in the beginning: kids who oppose Nazism and love swing music. I would also recommend it for the fans of Leonard and Bale who want to see them look really young. It made me wonder how big of a star Leonard would’ve become if he didn’t star in “House, M.D.” because he can outshine Bale in many scenes.

The Band’s Visit


The Band’s Visit
★★★ / ★★★★

This movie put a smile on my face from beginnning to end because the characters find something magical in awkward situations. An Egyptian police force (who is also a band) visits Israel to perform at a ceremony in an Arab arts center but their transportation did not pick them up. They have no choice but to spend the night in a middle of nowhere desert town where they meet kind Israelis (led by the strangely alluring Ronit Elkabetz). The leader of the police force is played with quiet power by Sasson Gabai. From the moment the film started, he is established as a serious person who is deeply conflicted. Later on, we find out why he keeps people at an arm’s length. Through his interactions with Elkabetz, we see chinks in Gabai’s armor; it is touching in just the right amount and it was done in a natural way. Elkabetz impressed me in so many ways because reminded me of Sonia Braga’s acting style: she can be tender and seductive while at the same time standing up for something she believes to be right. Last but not least, Saleh Bakri as the playboy member of the force manages to provide warmth in the picture. Even though he gets distracted too easily by women, he knows how to treat them right. His relationship with Gabai is interesting but it wasn’t fully developed. When the film ended, I felt like the filmmakers were just about to explore that relationship. But that’s what I love about slice of life pictures: not every problem or conflict has to be solved in a span of two hours. Even though this film barely runs for an hour and thirty minutes, it accomplished a lot. One of the best themes of the movie is finding similarities between two very different cultures, whether it comes to music, relationships, and being wounded by the past. The three main characters share a certain loneliness and I could identify with each of them equally. I also find this film commendable because it did not result to being political. It’s about people being themselves and why that should be enough to be able to relate to one another in a meaningful way.

The Promotion


The Promotion (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

This indie comedy had the power to be something more but it held back so it didn’t quite have that extra punch. I understand why people think that this is a slow-moving movie because it takes its time developing the two main characters (played by Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly) via showing us how they deal with certain situations–basically what makes them a qualified person vs. deserving for the promotion they are applying for. The interesting thing is that they don’t quite compete in front of each other. For the sake of appearances, Scott and Reilly smile and converse with each other but when they’re alone with their thoughts, they start feeling the pressure and they think of ways to sabotage one another, which interestingly enough, often backfires. They then have to clean up the mess they’ve created but half of the time they dig themselves into a deeper hole. I think that rings true to most individuals so I was instantly hooked. Even though these characters are miserable, it’s amusing to us because we feel like if we were them, we could’ve handled the situation better. I think what most moviegoers will have trouble getting is the deadpan, dry comedy of each character and situation. It’s a different kind of comedy and sometimes I don’t get it either. Even though Scott and Reilly find ways to torture each other, they are not bad people. They do the things they do because they simply want to lead a better life for their families. The one quote that sums up the film is “We’re all just out here trying to get some food… Sometimes, we bump into each other.” That’s integral to the story because it’s a connection that we have with the characters. The film begs the question between who is more qualified for the promotion and who really deserves and/or need the promotion. I love that the answer lies in the gray area so it really depends on the justifications of the person who is watching the film. Aside from Scott and Reilly, this picture has a nice supporting role played by Jenna Fischer, not to mention small but really funny appearances by Jason Bateman and Masi Oka. This may seem silly on the outside but the implications it has about the nature of competition, I think, reflects American thinking. Most people will not describe this film as subtle, but it will reward those who try to see below the surface.

Man on Wire


Man on Wire (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

This is a beautifully crafted documentary–full of thrills and the use of reenactments are amusing–but I think it’s been getting way too much praise. Yes, it’s important to recognize Philippe Petit’s amazing feat in 1974 but I couldn’t help but get tired of the film’s slow and saggy middle portion. I love the beginning because the soundtrack is rousing and it instantly grabbed my interest. It was like being dropped in a first-rate heist movie. I love the ending because it deals with issues like friendship, what it means to accomplish one’s dreams, and the fact that it didn’t result to discussing the 9/11 attacks. (Although it’s related because of the landmark being featured, it would’ve been unfocused because the core of the film is Petit’s infamous wirewalk between the Twin Towers.) I had my reservations prior to watching this documentary because I thought it would just be about wirewalking from one tower to another. As it turns out, it’s so much more than that. It’s about careful planning with friends and strangers who want to see a person reach his goals, transgressing the law to achieve one’s dreams, and to make art that no one can ever take away. Still, I would’ve loved to see more actual footages of the wirewalk, not to mention what Petit’s life is like before and after the event. Since I didn’t fully know his background, Petit seemed selfish to me especially toward the end when someone came up to him and said she’s willing to go with him “wherever his destination” may be. Granted, this is a documentary and no one is perfect but it would’ve been nice if I knew something else about Petit that is not about the wirewalking. I feel that James Marsh, the director, could’ve taken the film’s title to another level instead of just making it so literal. I wouldn’t say this is one of the best documentaries of 2008 but it is one of the most fascinating.

Die Another Day


Die Another Day (2002)
★★ / ★★★★

Most people consider this installment as one of the worst in the James Bond franchise (along with “Moonraker”) because they claim that it got too ridiculous with its gadgets (such as the invisible car). For me, I quite liked the invisible car but I didn’t appreciate the fact that it had too many mindless action scenes involving technology. What’s so great about the action scenes in the past 007 installments is that they have some sort of believability. This film involves a satellite that can harness the energy from the sun and focus it in a laser beam and destroy anything in its path. In my opinion, it would’ve worked if that aspect had been in the “Austin Powers” franchise because it’s a spoof; it failed here because it’s supposed to be serious but it’s hard to consider it as such. This is Pierce Brosnan’s final appearance as Bond and it’s understandable because I felt like he was becoming too bored with the role. He didn’t have that spicy swagger he originally had in “GoldenEye” that made me want to invest more in his character. Two actors that stood out to me in this picture are Halle Berry as Jinx and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. I love watching Halle Berry not only because she’s beautiful on the outside but because of the way she delivered certain comebacks whenever she’d converse with Brosnan. I also loved that her character is someone that can kick butt but feminine enough to have chemistry with the lead character. Stephens is great as the villain because he has this certain arrogance about him that I found interesting (to say the least) but at the same time, I wanted Bond to pound him to a pulp so he’ll be put on his place. Another positive is that Stephen’s character is young and can actually have hand-to-hand (or sword-to-sword) combat with Bond. The best scenes in the movie involve Stephen and Brosnan exchanging verbal daggers and actually piercing each other with sharp objects. As for the rest of the film, I didn’t care about it that much because the story lacks an extra punch that the best Bond films have. If one is a die-hard Bond fan, one has got to see this for the mere that it’s a part of the entire series. It’s a shame because I remember loving this picture when I was about thirteen years old, back when I haven’t seen many movies. Coming back to watch it, it’s lame in its efforts to entertain because it relied too much on special and visual effects without establishing the film’s emotional core first.

The Insider


The Insider (1999)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This film is so intense from the moment it started and the plot only got more complex (not to mention more interesting) from there. This is based on a true story of a man who was interviewed on “60 Minutes” (played by Russell Crowe as Dr. Jeffrey Wigand) to expose the lies of a tabacco corporation, especifically Brown & Williamson, when they claimed that nicotine is not at all addictive and harmful to one’s well-being. Complexity ensues when the tabacco corporation threatens CBS with a lawsuit; CBS then decides not to show the public the interview because they thought that they would lose, which is truly heartbreaking because Dr. Wigand has sacrificed both his professional and personal life for that one (compelling) interview. Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) approaches Dr. Wigand for a story and he shows the audiences what it means to have journalistic integrity. I find it very difficult to summarize the plot of the film because there are many layers to it. The only way to fully understand the picture is to watch it closely because each detail comments on how the media functions, how far corporations are willing to go to protect their money and those unfortunate people that get caught in the giant maelstrom of lies, confusion, and deceit (not to mention death threats and restraining orders). Yes, it’s a wordy film and it will definitely repel those that are not into watching pictures that are all about the technicalities in bureaucracies, but that’s what makes “The Insider” so rewarding: it’s not a common motion picture. There are a lot of highlights in the film but some of my favorites include: Bruce McGill’s anger during Dr. Wigand’s deposition, Pacino’s speech involving a “cat” being “out of the bag,” and Crowe’s scenes when he was alone as he reflects upon his past actions–questioning himself whether or not what everything he’s done is worth it. I felt so much for Crowe’s character because the blood-sucking Brown & Williamson fired him for no reason and then later took everything from him to the point where I felt like Crowe’s character was on the verge of suicide. I highly recommend this film, directed with such visual flair by Michael Mann, because it is able to tackle the idea of character assassination in a very scary but very realistic manner. I will remember this film for a very long time because pretty much everything about it works, especially the intense acting from all the actors involved.

The Transporter


The Transporter (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

I have to give it to Jason Statham for always impressing me in his movies even though the movie itself is pretty average. I guess it’s because I find him so charismatic to the point where I am able to watch him in any movie and maybe even convince myself that I like it even though I really don’t. Thankfully, I don’t need any convincing here. Sure, the action is over-the-top, there isn’t much story, and somehow pretty much all characters know martial arts but I didn’t care about its flaws at the end of the day because I was really entertained (not to mention it was over in just about an hour and twenty-five minutes). Statham is all over the place (in a good way): one minute he’s being shot from under a truck, the next minute he’s diving off a plane. He is so convincing as Frank Martin, the transporter who likes to adhere to his rules of business but one day decides to break the rules because he sees something in Lai (played by Qi Shu). Statham expertly balances quiet intensity and vulnerability and that’s what separates him from other action stars. Matt Schulze (as Wall Street) and Ric Young (as Mr. Kwai) are pretty good (but average) villains because they can look mean and shoot guns. I wish the two would’ve had two separate goals, which could’ve been a better movie because that would mean that the story wouldn’t be as predictable. “The Transporter” is harmless fun with one outstanding scene (the grease fight). It’s definitely more for the boys because it’s hyperkinetic, there’s a lot of bodies getting shot and bones being broken. However, there’s also eye candy for the girls.

The Exorcist


The Exorcist (1973)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When I was younger, whenever I’d pretend to be an archeologist in the backyard, my mom would warn me about potentially digging up evil spirits. Knowing that dead people are buried in the Earth, of course I’d get scared and immediately stop digging holes in the ground and watch television or read a book instead. It recently occured to me that she referenced this film to invoke that fear of “evil spirits” (most Filipinos are superstitious). In any case, even though I don’t believe in God or the Devil (though I don’t reject the possibility of their existence; if I were to believe in a sort of “God” it wouldn’t be Jesus/Christ, it’ll be a general “higher power” in the universe), this film really got to me because it is so well-told and it is difficult for me to dispel the horrific images from my head after watching it. I’ve seen this movie about four times and it never fails to give me the creeps. I always find something new in it: whether it’s a demonic face popping up during the most intense scenes when a character would enter a dark room or something in the script that would hint that what we are watching is not a supernatural story but a hyperbole of a psychological disorder told through a medium who believes in demonic possessions.

This film has stood the test of time because science and faith (generally two opposing ideas) are fused so well, that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference because we’re so invested in the characters and our own questions of what’s really going on or what’s going to happen next. Ellen Burstyn is heartbreaking as the mother/actress who really loves her daughter (Linda Blair) but doesn’t know what to do when her daughter starts behaving strangely. One minute she’s strong and the next she’s vulnerable; some of her best scenes are her interactions with the priest/psychiatrist (Jason Miller) because she’s able to express what she’s really thinking and feeling. Linda Blair did a tremendous job as the possessed daughter. I still don’t know how she found it in herself to act like a demon. Most people say that the make-up did most of the work but if one were to look closely, it has nothing to do with the make-up. If one were to compare her early scenes where she was sweet and friendly to her later scenes where she was cussing and grimacing at other people’s misery, one should be able to conclude that she’s bringing something from within.

William Friedkin, the director, neatly (and organically) converged three stories: Burstyn’s plight to find a cure for her daughter’s illness, Miller’s relationship with his terminally ill mother, and Max von Sydow who is both a priest and an archeologist (who happens to dig up an ancient relic with the help of some locals in the first scene). The director is smart enough to highlight the duality of these characters: mother/actress, priest/psychiatrist, priest/archeologist, daughter/demon. And not just the duality in the characters but also the duality of “the” explanation: science/religion. Moreover, I have to say that this picture has the best use of lighting and use of color in any horror movie I have ever seen. I noticed that in the first third of the film, warm colors are often used like red, orange, and yellow. As the film’s subject matter got darker and more manacing (granted, the movie started off pretty dark), we get to see colder colors more often like blue and purple. As for the lighting, I love the scenes in the house when a character would be in self-denial (or lying to someone else) and how their faces, or parts of their faces, would be covered in darkness. Also, in the most intense scenes, it feels like something is always looming in the corner because of the way a certain object would project its shadows on the wall. Small things like that makes this film so special, worth discussing, and rewatching.

When people put “The Exorcist” at the top of their scariest horror films list, for me, it’s not a case of jumping on the bandwagon. It really is that scary due to its subject matter and its craft. There are a plethora of memorable scenes such as the spider walk sequence down the stairs, when the demon/Captain Howdy would try to find and take advantage of the priests’ weaknesses, Blair’s 360-degree head turns, Burstyn’s intense experiences when she enters dark rooms–all of it are effective because of both its shock value and (arguably) sense of realism. Despite one’s theology (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to dismiss this film because faith is not the only factor that drives it forward. If people are to stand back and look at the overall product, it’s really about our fears of the unknown–things of which that both religion and science combined are not enough to answer.

Shelter


Shelter (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I have a weakness for characters who desperately try to keep their families together, especially when they go as far as to sacrifice their own hopes and dreams. Zach, played expertly by Trevor Wright, is that kind of character and I loved him the minute he appeared on screen. Wright plays Zach with such charisma and complexity. I felt like Zach could indeed be a real person: a surfer who genuinely loves his dysfunctional family and wants to pursue his talent for the arts but can’t quite do so because of pecuniary issues… who happens to be gay, instead of the other way around (which what separates this from most LGBT films). There are many memorable scenes but I’m not going to mention them all. But I do want to express how much some scenes affected me. The one scene when Jackson Wurth (who plays Zach’s cute little nephew) revealed that he sees Wright as his father instead of his uncle says a lot about how much Wright acts a parental figure in Wurth’s life. As much as Wright tries to clarify Wurth’s thinking, it’s all for naught because his actions speak louder than his words. Another stand-out scene was when Wright was driving back home in the morning after he and Brad Rowe finally got together. In the car, when Wright finally smiled (he’s so good at playing depressed, I didn’t know he knew how to smile), the camera caught glimpses of light penetrating through the clouds as they hit Wright’s face. That scene, with a little bit of luck, was done so perfectly, it defined the whole film: little pockets of light amidst a Sahara of sorrow.

All of the side characters are very memorable because they contribute to the main character’s already simmering inner conflict. Rowe, who added a much-needed warmth to the story, wants to be with Wright but Wright is not out of the closet. When Rowe tries to kiss him or even merely touch him in a public area, Wright would be so beyond scared/irked. Wright and Rowe’s chemistry is undeniably sexy. On the other hand, I wanted to punch Tina Holmes’ character in the face because she puts herself and other potential husbands in front of her son. But Holmes is a smart actress for putting subtleties in her performance so her character is not viewed as a complete monster. I loved her interactions with Wright because even though their characters are siblings, there’s this awkwardness to the whole thing because all she ever does is ask favors and keep her brother from spreading his wings. Katie Walder as Wright’s girlfriend sometimes breaks my heart because he’s so miserable around her even though all she wants to do is keep him happy. But sometimes it’s just plain hilarious because Wright has this look annoyed/disgusted look on his face whenever Walder tries to kiss him. Ross Thomas as Wright’s best friend is probably the only (deceptively) one-dimensional character because, in pretty much every scene, all he does is either drink beer or surf. I would’ve liked him to have had a bigger role because he is, after all, the best friend.

This is one of the best gay-themed movies I’ve seen in a while because every element worked. If one was to watch this closely, I’d say take notice of the use of color and symbolism to reach a deeper understanding of Wright’s character. It’s so refreshing to see a lead gay character who is not into fashion or going clubbing or money/shopping at all (not to mention no one died of AIDS, no cross-dressing, no suicide attempts). I can relate to Zach because he really is a serious person; I wanted to scream for him because Zach is so trapped due to the expectations of his family and of himself. He endures each hardship with such composure, and when he finally breaks I seriously wanted to cry. If this does become a cult film amongst the LGBT community, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Flow: For Love of Water


Flow: For Love of Water (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When I turn on the faucet, I expect water to come out and never really think about where the water comes from or what’s in it. I just assume it’s safe to use in a variety of ways because there’s a group of people in the government that regulates the purity of the water. This film warns us that that kind of thinking cannot be any more wrong (there’s actually rocket fuel in our water sources).

But this documentary, directed by Irena Salina, goes beyond that issue. It manages to talk about drought in developing nations and what people do to fight such a crisis, the role of corporations in damaging not only the environment but also when it comes to their active deprivation of water from people who live near their factories, and the chemicals that are in our water supply that contribute to record number of birth defects and deaths of children under five years old. The film has a certain energy–a certain anger–that made me think about what I do (including my friends and family) to help out such corporations that literally rob others from leading healthy lives. It made me rethink about my years in elementary school when we learned about the roles of dams in our science textbooks. In such texts, they highlight the positive impacts of dams (like rerouting water to areas where people do not get water) but fail to address factors like displacing people that used to live in those areas prior the establishment of the dams; how the water becomes stagnant and eventually creates methane gas which then contributes to global warming; how the use of dams can help privatize water so corporations can make profit from something transient. There’s a wise person in the film that talks about how something transient–like the air and sunlight–cannot be owned (and therefore sold) because it belongs to everyone. Why, then, do corporations still sell bottled water if water is a basic necessity to live?

The film also shows an experiment where people cannot tell the difference regarding the taste between tap water and bottled water. When, in fact, there has been a great number of support that bottled water is much less regulated than tap water. I don’t believe that tap water is less healthy than bottled water but most of my friends and family do. I guess it’s the way water is presented and sold: water being in a “clean” plastic bottle (that has an image of a mountain and stream wrapped around it) looks better than water coming from tap. Yes, it can be argued that this picture appeals to emotion more than it should, but the images of rivers of blood (because factories just dump biohazards into the rivers without any attempt to neutralize them) more than speak for themselves. If you know of someone that’s still stuck in this idea that water is an endless resource, go show him or her this film. Even though that person may not change his or her mind completely (though I doubt it), at least he or she will be more aware of what’s going on in the world–why people go to war against their governments just so they can have pure water to drink. (To sign the petition for Right to Water, visit: http://article31.org)

Wassup Rockers


Wassup Rockers (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

Larry Clark makes interesting movies because most of them feel grimy and raw. People either love or hate them but everyone has an opinion by the end of each film–which I find to be a great thing. That’s what great filmmaking is all about: getting an emotional reaction from the viewers. In “Wassup Rockers,” even though I can’t relate to the kids’ lives on the surface (such as skating and living in the “ghetto”), there are scenes that really got to me: when the cop in Beverly Hills tried to get the kids’ names and addresses because they “can’t skate” in the area (which is really more about the cop’s bigotry and his stereotypes toward people who are not caucasian) and the one scene in the bedroom when one of the skaters really connected with one of the “white girls,” as they were so labeled. Even though a lot of skin is shown, especially in the beginning of the picture (which made me feel somewhat uncomfortable), this film is human at its core. My main problem with it, though, is that it tried to contradict some of the elements it is fighting against. I’m talking about the last few scenes with the kids visited different mansions in Beverly Hills. Each one they visit, the residents either get hurt or they end up dead. I’m not entirely sure what Clark is trying to tell his audiences but I ended up being confused because of the contradiction. Whether it’s supposed to be comedic, that’s an entirely different issue, but it did not work well with the rest of the film’s thesis. I was surprised when Jeremy Scott and Janice Dickinson, a former guest judge and a former regular judge in “America’s Next Top Model,” respectively. I thought it was hilarious when they made references to the fashion and modeling industry. But then again, as funny as those scenes were, they were so out of place to the point where the momentum is slowed down a bit. I can’t recommend this to casual audiences because they may think it’s pointless due to the lack of a climax (for me, each scene is as important as the next). But I do recommend this for the fans of Clark’s other film called “Kids.”

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!


Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Even though this animated flick is more geared toward children, I still had a good time watching it because of its vibrant energy. Jim Carrey as the voice of Horton and Steve Carell as the Mayor of Whoville are a great duo; every fluctuation in their voices reflected on their animated character’s face. Not to mention that both of them have a good timing for comedy, especially when they play with the words to provide a double (if not more adult) meaning to the jokes. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with the works of Dr. Seuss so I don’t know how much this film stayed with the original material. However, this is definitely a movie that a babysitter can show the children while he or she prepares their dinner. It has lessons about determination to accomplish something especially when no one believes in you, taking into consideration creatures that are so small or the ones we cannot see with an unaided eye, and when to question authority. But to me, I saw this as a message about how people turn a blind eye when it comes to taking care of the environment: Horton is the environmentalist (protecting a world that, at first glance, seems merely as a speck) and the rest of the jungle, including the non-believer Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) and the opportunistic Vlad the vulture (Will Arnett), are people that don’t believe in taking care of the environment–they want to destroy the speck because it brings up a lot of questions about the possibility of the existence of Others outside of what they think is the norm, which is the jungle. So, in a way, it’s also about accepting people that are different than you. One can say I’m reading too much into this animated film but that’s my interpretation and that’s why I think this film packs some sort of power. If one doesn’t want to think too much about its underlying messages, one can simply appreciate the artistry of the animation. It really is first-rate and the voice talent makes it that much better. Definitely check this one out for the kids.

The Spy Who Loved Me


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This is one of the strongest Bond films to date because it was able to highlight the franchise’s best elements after the uncharacteristically mediocre “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.” While it’s full of memorable action scenes, the film would’ve been something else if it wasn’t for the intelligent script and Lewis Gilbert’s snappy direction. Instead of focusing on the side-quests like the previous two installments (which greatly slows the pacing), this one is purely about the main villain’s (Curd Jürgens) goal of eliminating New York and Moscow using nuclear weapons. He is an effective villain because he’s not the type of criminal that one can stop using bribery. He’s perfectly happy with where he is; the only change he wants to make is to create underwater cities. Jürgens has a henchman named Jaws (Richard Kiel), who definitely gives James Bond (Roger Moore) and Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) a lot of trouble. Whenever Kiel was on screen, I couldn’t help but pay attention because he exudes menace in every frame (he could bite off chains, for heaven’s sake!). I did admire the underwater scenes near the end of the picture and the scenes in Egypt near the beginning. “The Spy Who Loved Me” was able to use those places not just as a backdrop but also places where a unique adventure would happen. In this sequel, I found it strange that I could stand Moore a bit more. I think he was at a point where he was finally comfortable playing Bond (either that or he grew on me). It was also nice to have Bach as Agent XXX–she was sexy, strong, and smart–and quickly became one of my favorite Bond girls. I also have to give Carly Simon credit for the opening theme song. Not only does it fit the film but it stands on its own; I couldn’t get it out of my head because she sang the lyrics with such sensuality. Even though this Bond picture is far from perfect, I did love its back to basics swagger. With a little more darkness and kinetic hand-to-hand combat scenes, this would’ve been one of my top five Bond movies.

The Man with the Golden Gun


The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
★★ / ★★★★

It’s a shame that this film is just barely mediocre because it started off really well. It managed to introduce the three-nippled main villain named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and establish how dangerous he is within the first three minutes in a convincing manner. It got me really excited because I wanted to see him face off with James Bond (Roger Moore). If I were to make cuts and edits to this Bond installment, only about forty minutes will make it to the final product. The rest of the movie is junk and I find it unforgivable, especially when the movie takes place in exotic places like China and Thailand. Instead of taking advantage of the beautiful locales by telling an exciting and astute story, the filmmakers injected lackadaisical chase scenes one after another. Not to mention the fact that they brought back an incredibly useless and annoying redneck character from “Live and Let Die.” Rooger Moore is not my favorite 007 because he’s just so dull to look at and I just want to fall asleep when he speaks. He has no authority like Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. His charisma doesn’t do it for me either. The only stand-out scenes that saved this film are found in the last twenty minutes. Lee and Moore’s interactions are interesting not only because they constantly measure each other up, they also make the film spicy because their characters reach some sort of admiration and understanding for each other. I wish they met somewhere near the beginning of the picture and made them chase each other until the final scene. Instead, Bond gets into all kinds of side-quests that have absolutely nothing to do with the big picture. Unless you’re a die-hard Bond fan, skip this one because it has nothing special to offer.