A Year In Movies
Ok, so I’ve been slacking on my goal of keeping track of and reviewing every film I see this year. It’s not the only project I’ve been working on this summer. I repainted the dining room and more recently rehabbed my front porch(more on that in a later post). But I thought I should catch up a little on the films I have seen recently.
A Whole Lot of Bond
#48 Dr. No (1962)
The first entry into the James Bond series is a relatively low budget affair, but clearly showed promise. Sean Connery went from minor actor to moderately known with this film. It took the second entry in the series, From Russia With Love, to truly make him an international star. However, teenage boys already wanted to be Bond for one reason, Ursula Andress.
#49 From Russia With Love (1963)
Where Dr. No skated by on the not inconsiderable charm of Sean Connery, From Russia With Love, put in place all the hallmarks of future Bond films. There was the amazing car, the attache case, poison-tipped shoe knife, and the wire-garotte watch. This film also had one of the more realistic fight scenes between Bond and the main villain, Grant, played with real menace by Robert Shaw. Robert Shaw is perhaps best known as the grizzled sea dog Quint from Jaws. From Russia With Love is the best entry in the Bond series for some time to come.
#50 Goldfinger (1964)
Other than the iconic theme song Goldfinger is doesn’t really cover any new ground for Bond. The one highlight is perhaps Odd Job, Goldfinger’s henchman. However, the steel-rimmed hat thing is pretty silly. For some the silliness is perfectly acceptable, but for my taste it wanders a bit far afield.
#51 Thunderball (1965)
One of the weakest entries, Thunderball seems to wander around. It feels like a film in search of a plot. The underwater fight sequences are quite nice, however. But unless you have a couple hours to throw away… pass on this one.
#52 You Only Live Twice (1967)
Until Moonraker this film would stand as the worst of the series. Sure, there’s a great battle action sequence in the third act, and the primary villain causes a chuckle when we first see him(he’s the inspiration for Dr. Evil). However, attempting to make a toupee-wearing Scott look Japanese is simply ludicrous. Sean Connery is not japanese and no amount of makeup will make him passable. Surely MI6 has some Japanese agents on staff. Avoid if at all possible.
#53 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
I’ll be honest this is one of my favorite Bond movies. It’s got action, which is mostly realistic with new Bond, George Lazenby, doing most of his own stunts. It’s got a very attractive female lead in Diana Rigg. Rigg’s Tracy is an intelligent and capable pairing for Bond. Some of the lines in this film are horribly dated, “She needs a man to dominate her! And make love to her enough times until she loves him!” It has some spectacular ski sequences, but after performing below expectations(but making piles for the studio) Lazenby was out as Bond after just one picture. Sad, too, he could have been good.
Everything other than Bond
#54 Man of Steel (2013)
The problem with superhero films is that you know the hero is going to win/survive. The trick is to make that success interesting enough to keep the audience engaged. Man of Steel has a dual nature. On one hand it is a standard superhero action film with huge set pieces and lots of fights and explosions. The 12-year-old in me was happy! On the other hand it is an emotional drama about a son growing up and trying to find his way in the world without his father. My 37-year-old self liked this. These brief flashbacks gave depth and gravitas to the film which otherwise would have been about as satisfying as cotton candy.
#55 Yanks (1979)
A treacle-soaked film with three love stories, Yanks is a WWII film with no battle scenes. Yanks blunders about ham-fistedly in search of emotional depth but is completely lacking. This film is only notable for an early appearance of Richard Gere. Avoid.
#56 The First Grader (2010)
Time to brush up on your history. Kenya was once a British colony. Following WWII many of the native Kenyans wanted independence. Some were willing to go to war against Great Britian to get it. These rebels were called Mau Mau by the British and between 1952 and 1960 a civil war raged in Kenya. The main character of The First Grader was a Mau Mau rebel. He was captured and tortured by the British and served many years in prison. However, many years later he is an old man in his 80s and the government makes education free for all. Suddenly this old man wants to learn to read. It’s a film about memory, regret, and honor. Seek this one out and learn a little African history.
#57 Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)
This uneven film is stacked with quality acting, but feels pinched…as if the director ran out of time or film to tell this story of the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapon in WWII. Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, Bonnie Bedelia, John Cusack and Laura Dern top a fine cast. Perhaps history this big deserves a miniseries rather than a 127 minute film.
#58 When the Last Sword Is Drawn (2003)
I find that when watching foreign films I have to be patient and meet them on their own terms. The artistic sensibilities of filmmakers around the world are not the same as those in Hollywood. That’s part of the pleasure of watching foreign films! Mibu gishi den, as it is titled in the original Japanese, is a sad film. A father does everything he can to feed his starving family, but as a low-ranking country samurai he his essentially “dime a dozen.” If you are willing to be patient, this tragic and poignant film is a gem.
#59 The Iceman
Michael Shannon has burst onto the scene thanks to his outstanding performance in Boardwalk Empire. Here he is playing a contract killer for the mob who is also a devoted family man. It’s Oscar-bait and worth viewing.
#60 The Wolverine
This is the second entry into the Wolverine/Logan saga separate from the rest of the X-Men. While it is better than Origins on the whole, it is ultimately predictable and adds only a little depth to Logan. A good popcorn movie, but you’ll forget it about an hour after.
I’m a big science fiction fan, so I was quite interested to see Oblivion. This slick Tom Cruise sci-fi film has several strong moments and some truly stunning visuals. It’s clear that they threw some serious money at this film. However, even the twists are predictable in this one. It felt like eating stale candy…looks good, but leaves a sickly taste in your mouth.