Tuesday, July 22, 2014

1989: The Worst

When the films this year were good, they were very good.  When they were bad... Ugh!

While the first two movies were entertaining, genuinely good films, the third Karate Kid film is just inexplicably bad.  A dumb plot sees Daniel (Ralph Macchio) taken in by a cheesy, over the top bad guy played by Thomas Ian Griffith and turning against Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita).  The plot is nonsensical, the performances are arbitrary and the entire thing is just needless.

Speaking of pointless, it seems the fifth Police Academy film did well enough to warrant a sixth and it's... Whoo boy, it;s even sillier and more flat than the fifth.  The city is under siege and the good guys have to find out what's going on.  Michael Winslow is the best thing about the film which means that cheesy sound effects done entirely by one man's mouth are all this film has going for it. 
And yet, five years after this one, a seventh one came out.

For me, few things are worse than a film with a good cast and an interesting premise that proceeds to absolutely stink out the point.  Family Business is a horribly underwhelming caper film starring Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery and Matthew Broderick as three generations of thieves.  Actually, given that Hoffman and Connery are fairly close in age, it's probably closer to two and a half.  Connery's character must have been hell in junior high.  I think Hoffman's age in The Graduate wasn't this much of a leap.  Either way, the three leads are wasted on a bad story with an needlessly tragic ending, which is a shock given that director Sidney Lumet usually does better films.

Robert Englund's directorial debut is this awful supernatural teen revenge flick about a put upon kid who gets access to Satan through one of those 976 numbers that used to be prevalent in the 80's.  Acting is horrible (Sandy Dennis proves with her turn as an overly religious mom that even Oscar winners can stink up the joint), the plot is predictable and poorly paced, really the f/x and the fascinating badness of Dennis' performance are the only things the film has going for it.  Still, you have to say that it's a rare film that has an Oscar winning actress praising the lord while wearing a huge fright wig and a nightgown while fish rain from the sky.

That's probably a good thing.

The fifth Nightmare on Elm Street film is a far cry from the over the top madness of the fou4rth.  Freddy is back again, this time trying to be reborn through the unborn child of the girl who defeated him in the previous film.  Some good f/x are really all there is to recommend here as the film has a rushed, unfinished quality to it that makes you wonder what the point of it was. 

Coming Soon: The Worst of 1989 Part 2

Monday, July 21, 2014

1989: Leftovers

A helping of leftovers from 1989.

With a little more quality or a little more cheese, this might have made either my honorable mentions list or the guilty pleasures one.  As it stands, Fright Night Part 2 is more or less a retread of the original with William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowell returning in their roles from the first film.  Like Phantasm II, the lead has been undergoing psychiatric treatment and now believes the entire first movie never happened.  Naturally, he comes around to feeling otherwise after a sexy woman played by Julie Carmen shows up, looking for Charlie (Ragsdale).  Said lady is the sister of the Chris Sarandon character from the first film and she is hell bent on revenge.  The end result is that we get some nice f/x work but not really much else worth mentioning.  It's a pretty blah sequel.

As tends to happen in Hollywood, every now and then there will be two or three similarly themed films released over the course of a year.  In 1998, we had two movies about Earth being potentially obliterated by a huge asteroid/comet with Armageddon and Deep Impact.  Hell, last year we had two films that could be describes as "Die Hard in the White House" with White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen.  In 1989, there were two instances of this...

First off, 1989 saw two buddy cop films where a human officer was teamed up with a dog.  In the case of Turner & Hooch, Tom Hanks is a neat-freak cop who has to solve the murder of the aforementioned dog's owner.  The dog is Hooch and... well as much of a dog lover as I am, this is one ugly ass mutt.  Cute though, in a way.  The film goes about the way one would expect except for the twist at the end where the dog gets killed saving Hanks.  Not often a film is going badly and then decides "Let's just sink this completely, nobody is gonna hate it less!"

Shockingly enough, of the two buddy cop films featuring a dog, the one with James frigging Belushi ends up being the better of the two.  I'll say that again, the kid brother of John Belushi made a movie that was better than one starring Tom Hanks that shared more or less the same plot.  Belushi is the cop and his partner in this case is Jerry Lee, a German Shepherd on the K-9 squad.  The film ends up being better simply because number one, when you see Tom Hanks doing this sort of thing you sort of feel bad for the guy.  The material is right up Belushi's alley though, so you end up not giving a damn.  Second, the dog lives at the end which I certainly prefer.  Having said that, both films are pretty lousy.

The only reason this isn't on my worst of the year or guilty pleasures list is that Terry Kiser does a rather stunning job as Bernie and honestly, it saves the film.  The film is as high concept as it gets: two guys who discover their boss is embezzling money and has ordered they be killed... unless he's around.  They're invited to his beach house where they find him dead and of course, hilarity and wackiness ensues as they try to convince everybody Bernie is still alive.  Kiser aside, the film is pretty awful but not so much that I ended up hating it.  It's really, stupid though.

Back to the similarly themed films motif for this year, we now come to two out of the three underwater science fiction/monster movies.  The third will be in a later post.

First off is Deep Star Six, arguably the worst of the lot. A bunch of character actors plays the members of a deep sea colonization experiment that runs afoul of a rather nasty beast from the depths.  Miguel Ferrer has a fun supporting role but for the most part, the rest of the cast is rather nondescript.  The creature is also a bit of a letdown as while the design by Mark Shostrom is pretty neat, we don't see nearly enough of it.

Better, but still a disappointment is Leviathan which sees an undersea mining crew menaced by something nasty.  Boasting an impressive cast (Peter Weller and Daniel Stern are quite enjoyable in their roles) and a great Stan Winston creature, this one is actually pretty damn good for the first half.  Unfortunately, the second the creature shows up is the second the film just goes on auto pilot.  It's a damn shame as the build is pretty terrific.

Richard Dreyfuss is a joy to watch in this comedy about a compulsive gambler who only wants to have the best day of his life at the horse races.  He gets his wish and the film tracks him as he wins and wins while his wife (Teri Garr who once again manages to annoy the hell out of me) is off to the side.  Dreyfuss carries the rather thin plot quite well and this one is worth a look.

We end with the first of two Sylvester Stallone films from this year.  Lock Up is a rather formulaic, yet enjoyable (in a very, very stupid way) prison film starring Sly as an ex-con thrown back in by a vindictive warden played by Donald Sutherland in one of his more restrained villainous roles.  It's too long, not really that well acted and not one of Stallone's better movies but if you enjoy cheesy, formulaic crap it's one to consider.

Coming Soon: The worst of 1989

Sunday, July 20, 2014

1989: Honorable Mentions

1989 was a fully loaded, but somewhat superficial end to the decade.  Good selection of movies, some duds and a few classics and plenty of stuff in between.  Let's get started with a quick look at the honorable mentions.

Note: Not mentioned here are Field of Dreams, Glory, Driving Miss Daisy and some others.  Not because they're not good, but because I have truly nothing at all to say about them.

Disney's animation department came back in a big way with this delightful film about a mermaid who wants to be human.  Great animation, great songs, this one is just an awesome family film.

I've written at length about this one to the point where I really have noting much more to say.  It's a solid yet somewhat flawed entry in the James Bond series.  Good action, good acting, a perfectly acceptable action film.

Really, really good obscure horror film about a young girl who while home sick, takes to drawing to fill her time.  Said drawings, one of a house particularly, end up being linked to some disturbing dreams she's been having and the film does a really solid job of making the dreams work.  The cast is solid, director Bernard Rose does a nice job keeping things moving and the end result is something quite effective.

Gleefully downbeat dark comedy from Danny DeVito which stars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a couple that falls in love and gradually out of it in the nastiest way imaginable.  Douglas and Turner are good as always and DeVito has a nice supporting turn as a lawyer friend of Douglas who narrates the film.  DeVito does fine in the director's chair as well, though two hours is probably a little more than the film really needed.  The film is pretty much the textbook definition of a dark comedy.

I'm a pretty big Shakespeare fan and this adaptation of Henry V is pretty damn good.  Kenneth Branagh is good in the lead and he also does a fine job of directing things.

Terrific baseball comedy that has a solid cast playing the hapless Cleveland Indians (back when the team was in the middle of a nearly fifty year streak of failure) as they manage to overcome the odds and start winning.  Charlie Sheen is quite funny here as is Bob Uecker as the announcer and the film in general is one of the best baseball films ever made.

TV gets spoofed to hell and back in Weird Al Yankovic's only starring role.  Under appreciated when it came out, this is actually one of the better comedies of the decade, chock full of silly gags and memorable lines.

From laughs, we go to full on screaming with the best Stephen King adaptation since Creepshow.  Mary Lambert directs this utterly creepy tale about a family torn apart by the terrible secret behind a nearby pet cemetery in the small Maine town they move to.  Fred Gwynne is good as a kindly old man who tries to help and there are some bits throughout that are utterly horrifying.  It's a real winner from an era where King adaptations tended to be guilty pleasures at best for the most part.  Good song by The Ramones at the end too.

I've always enjoyed Joe Dante's twisted little suburban comedy with Tom Hanks as an average family man in an average neighborhood who finds out his new neighbors are serial killers.  Fun cast, some very funny lines and a fun turn from Hanks make this one quite enjoyable.

Surprisingly solid sequel to the David Cronenberg original. Eric Stoltz plays the son of Jeff Goldblum's character from the first movie and as bad luck would have it, he ends up going through the same sort of transformation as his pop did.  Great f/x with a nice creature design and a gooey exploding head and some nice work from Stoltz make this a fun creature feature to look at.  It's nowhere near as good as the first one but it's fun.

Last but not least is this enjoyably cheesy martial arts flick starring Jean-Claude van Damme.  A pick-up by Cannon, this stars van Damme as a young man whose brother is crippled in a bout with a nasty piece of work named Tong Po.  The plot is more or less your standard martial arts film plot but the fight scenes are energetic and fun, especially the finale.  Good stuff.

Coming soon: The Leftovers of 1989

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

1981: The Best

Finishing off 1981 with a massive top ten.

10. Dead and Buried


This underrated little gem of a zombie movie is a nicely shot, relatively low key affair about a small town that has a terrible secret.  James Farentino is good as the local Sheriff who discovers the secret which revolves around the brutal murder of a man in the opening of the film as well as several other killings.  Jack Albertson is superb as the creepy local mortician who has the ability to restore the dead in more ways than one and the Stan Winston f/x are quite effective.  What's great about this one is that it moves away from the Romero sort of zombie and instead goes for something a little closer to the old time movies from the 40's with a sort of black magic angle that is left refreshingly ambiguous.

9. Stripes


Apart from Groundhog Day, this is Bill Murray's best solo comedy film.  Actually, that's not a really fair assessment as he's joined by a nice batch of comic performers like Harold Ramis and John Candy but the truth is, this is Bill's movie first and foremost.  Stripes is your basic service comedy with Murray and Ramis as two guys who decide to join the army on a whim and of course, the requisite hijinks ensue.  Warren Oates is funny as the drill instructor, Sean Young and P.J. Soles are fun as two MPs the guys romance and I get an especially huge kick out of John Larroquette as a blustery, incompetent platoon leader.  It's a real gem of a comedy.

8. Body Heat


Kathleen Turner is just beyond hot in this engrossing neo-noir film that is more or less a loose remake of the 1944 classic Double Indemnity, at least in terms of the overall criminal plot. Turner plays a seductive temptress who targets lawyer William Hurt and lures him into a plot to kill her rich husband, played by Richard Crenna.  The cast is pitch perfect, especially Turner who delivers one of the most frankly sexual performances I have ever seen.  It's a hell of a debut for her and the film as a whole is just awesome.

7. The Howling/An American Werewolf in London


To be honest, I cant really make a choice between these two so they get to share a space on the list.


First off is Joe Dante's clever, slyly funny werewolf epic about a reporter who goes to a forest retreat to regain her mental bearings after an attack, only to find it is a colony of neurotic werewolves.  Dee Wallace is terrific as the reporter, Robert Picardo is fine as the psycho bad guy and the Rob Bottin f/x, while slightly overused are still top notch.

Equally top notch are the Rick Baker werewolf and zombie f/x for this John Landis classic.  Like The Howling, An American Werewolf in London is in touch with the spirit of the Universal classic horror films, skillfully telling its tale of a young man cursed to stalk London as a bloodthirsty beast with a nice balance between humor and gut-churning horror.

6. Scanners


Scanners is probably the most accessible of David Cronenberg's films, though granted that isn't saying a hell of a lot.  Cronenberg spins an intriguing yarn about a group of troubled telepaths who can kill with a thought.  Dick Smith's gruesome f/x work and Michael Ironside's powerhouse performance as the bad guy really make the film soar, as does the lean pacing and storytelling.  It's not my favorite Cronenberg flick but it's up there.

5. The Beyond


I've written at length about this elsewhere on the site so I won't belabor the point.  This is the best thing Lucio Fulci ever made.  It's tense, silly, gory, creepy and quite simply a work of mad art.

4. The Evil Dead


San Raimi made a hell of a debut with this enjoyably gory flick.  The story is pretty well known: five friends go to a cabin and unwittingly awake something evil in the woods which proceeds to make a gory mess out of everything.  Bruce Campbell is fun as always as the put-upon hero and the film makes every bit of its low budget count.  I kind if like the sequels better, but the original is still pretty damn effective.  The recent reboot is pretty solid as well.


3. The Road Warrior


It hit theaters in the U.S. the following year but given how loaded 1982 was, I decided to give it a prime slot in the 1981 best of the year list. The Road Warrior is a pure and simple, balls to the wall action movie. Mel Gibson is good once again as Max and the action is simply extraordinary.  It just plain works.

2. Escape from New York


In 1981, two pretty important post-apocalyptic action films were released.  The aforementioned Road Warrior and John Carpenter's Escape From New York.  Kurt Russell is great as anti-hero Snake who is tasked with rescuing President Donald Pleasence from the hellhole that is New York.  Carpenter directs everything well as well as contributing a nice music score, the cast is great and the action, while low key is solid.  It's a real classic.


1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

You can put him in a overly dark second film, toss him into a rather underwhelming fourth one, but the first Indiana Jones film still holds up as an all time classic.  Great acting from all concerned, Steven Spielberg does maybe his best directing job, John Williams contributes an iconic score and the action scenes are still some of the best ever captured on film.

Whew, what a great year!  1981 was truly a landmark year for cinema.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

1981: Guilty Pleasures

Of course, there is a little guilt.  Okay, make that a lot.

Pretty big batch of slasher movies this year.  They sort of run together so let's just get them out of the way here.

Interesting slasher flick from Wes Craven with a ludicrously over the top plot about a bunch of super-Amish being stalked by a shadowy killer while a trio of impossibly hot women, including Sharon Stone in an early role, are also threatened.  Craven has one or two elements here that would be used better in A Nightmare on Elm Street but this one is just a hoot for all the wrong reasons.  Plus, you get Ernest Borgnine with an epic beard whose character may as well be called Red Herring.

Tom Savini had a banner year in 1981 with some amazing gore f/x for this fairly standard, yet enjoyable summer camp slasher about a horribly disfigured maniac with a huge grudge against campers.  Savini really delivers here.

Some good Tom Burman f/x keep this somewhat overly long slasher going as Little House on the Prairie's Melissa Sue Anderson plays a young woman whose friends, all part of an elite clique at school, are being picked off one by one.  The plot is nicely twisty and while the grue isn't quite as plentiful as some other slashers, the finale more than makes up for it by being batshit insane.


Tom Savini's other 1981 slasher is a rather well crafted little number with a bunch of the usual teens being picked off gruesomely by a maniac in military fatigues.  The f/x are really the star of the show here as good old Tom finds new ways to thoroughly butcher the cast.  Good times.

Solid Canadian slasher that was mangled by the MPAA about a sleepy little mining town that sees some horrible murders by a deranged miner when the Valentine's Day dance is pout back on after not being held after a tragedy.  The Tom Burman f/x in the uncut version really sell this, as do the nice interior mine sets.

This is probably my favorite of all the sequels with a good Final Girl in Amy Steel, a nice makeup design for Jason and a grimy, gritty look that draws me in.  Is it logical?  No, not even a little.  Is it fun?  Hell yeah!

Okay, enough with the slashers for now.

A great cast stars in this gloriously tasteless, gleefully gory and oddly well thought out (sort of) science fiction/horror flick about a bunch of space explorers who find a planet that can make you face your greatest fear.  We get ripped off limbs, a rather infamous scene of a woman being raped to death by a giant maggot, some nice f/x work and production design from James Cameron and Erin Moran from Happy Days getting her head exploded.  It's quite the ride.

The first of three ninja films with Sho Kosugi from Cannon.  This time, he's the bad guy going up against white ninja (in more ways than one) Franco Nero in a pretty straightforward tale of a good guy protecting a friend from some bad guys.  Cheesy acting and action, some hilarious moments... both intentional and otherwise and Christopher George as one of the dumbest bad guys you will ever see.  It's a real treat.

It really should go in the slasher group but this one is so amazingly bad in the most hilarious way that it simply has to given a spotlight of its own. No real plot, no real characters, just 80 minutes or so of idiotic hikers being picked off in gruesome ways by a deranged mountain man.  It's quite the endurance test as the film is badly shot, lit, acted, composed and written.  The only reason this isn't on the worst of the year list is that for some reason, and this may be me and me alone, but I find it absolutely frigging hilarious.

 
And finally, it didn't hit theaters stateside until 1984 (it was released in Spain in 1980 and in Italy in 1981) but this Italian zombie movie is a good choice for the guilty pleasure list for any year.  Directed by notable bad movie auteur Bruno Mattei (credited here as Vincent Dawn), Night of the Zombies (also known as Hell of the Living Dead, along with about a dozen other titles) is a rather brazen cash-in on Dawn of the Dead (to the point where they recycle music from that film) and Lucio Fulci's Zombie which is pretty funny when you realize what the Fulci film was cashing in on.  The plot... might be stretching the term a little but nevertheless, revolves around a zombie outbreak centered on a top secret chemical factory on a remote island.  A team of impressively stupid soldiers are hunting down some terrorists and get involved in the melee with the expected gory results.

What really makes this one fun is just how stupid it is both in story and execution.  Even for an Italian horror movie it's dumb with characters more or less inviting a horrific death (I especially like the soldier who dresses up in a tutu and dances around while being attacked by zombies), the usual head shot to kill a zombie is forgotten quickly, tons of nature footage to pad things out when it suddenly turns into a jungle movie (thankfully without the usual animal killing you tend to get) and pretty much zero character building.  It's fun if you're in the mood for a really bad movie.  Otherwise, ugh.

Well that went a little longer than I expected!  Stay tuned for the best of the year list.

Blasts From the Past: Live and Let Die (1973)

Live and Let Die (1973)


8/10

Roger Moore's debut as 007 is interesting for many reasons.  Not only debuting a new actor, but also building on the lighter tone adopted by the previous film Diamonds are ForeverLive and Let Die is a wild, funky, cheerfully over the top action movie with tons of action, some great moments and overall it stands as one of the underrated entries in the series.  Let's take a closer look.
  •  The film brings the funk right from the start with a new arrangement of the gunbarrel logo, done by Beatle George Martin.
  • The thing I really love about this film is how it is essentially your typical 70's blaxploitation film only with James Bond.  Seriously, replace Roger Moore with Jim Brown or Pam Grier and you get the best film of all time from that particular sub-genre.
  •  I like how the pre-title sequence simply sets up the movie with a series of assassinations, holding off on giving the audience a look at Moore as Bond.  Of the three, I personally like the New Orleans jazz funeral one the best.  It's well-staged and nicely over the top, though not as much the last killing which sees a guy get bitten by a snake in an apparent voodoo ritual.  The sequence also serves as a great lead-in to the awesome Paul McCartney/Wings theme song.
  • Another cool thing about the opening sequence is how it essentially tells you everywhere Bond will go over the course of the film.  Granted, some of the fun in a Bond film is wondering where the hell he's gonna go this time but a little something different never killed any movies that I know of.
  • The theme song is just plain awesome, as is the rest of the soundtrack.  The Bond Theme is a beefy, funky number and the action scenes have a really nice theme to them.
  • Great intro for Moore as we find 007 at his apartment, in bed with a lovely Italian agent, played by Hammer Horror vet Madeline Smith.  Having M (Bernard Lee) turn up along with Moneypenny to brief him on his mission is also a nice little change of pace.
  • Love the Rube Goldberg nightmare that is Bond's coffee maker.  I wonder if it was an actual product on the market or if it was specially made for the film.
  • Back to Moore, the producers took an interesting strategy with him as Bond.  They have him play the role fairly straightforward (Moore would really make the character his own in his third film), but removing the established “Connery trademarks”-martini order, joking with Q, etc.  Roger Moore does just fine in his debut as Bond.  He tries to avoid any of Connery’s mannerisms and trademarks but doesn’t quite put his own personal stamp on the character.  That wouldn’t happen till his third outing as 007.  He plays a certain amount of toughness, something he would carry into the next film and refine into a rather casual detachment by the third film, but for the most part plays it light and relaxed.  It’s a very confident, assured performance.
  • A thing I always thought was cool is how Bond basically goes without gadgets here.  All he has it a watch with a magnet and a cutting blade (the reveal of which comes at the exact moment it's needed) and whatever gun happens to be nearby.
  • Bond's entrance into New York is quite nice with shots of his plane taking off and landing while Solitaire (Jane Seymour) turns over some Tarot cards, expositing to an unknown person.  It's nicely atmospheric and helps set up the subtle supernatural element that permeates the film.
  • The best thing about the film is just how great the villain is.  Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) poses as master criminal Mr. Big in New York and has an intricate, smoothly efficient operation in Harlem with contacts all over the place (though to be fair, the cab driver is a little bit over the top).  It sets the man up as effortlessly competent and cool.  His tape recorder ruse to throw off CIA surveillance is also a nice touch.  Kotto plays the role with characteristic style and charm, giving us a casually ruthless man who is also likable in a way.
  • Bond's first meeting with Mr. Big and Solitaire is quite entertaining as Moore plays things in about as cocky a manner as humanly possible.  He takes the threats made during the scene in stride and it really sets Moore apart from Connery.
  • The lighter touch works well here, as it did for the most part in the previous film and that is due in part to the script by Tom Mankiewicz.  
  • Jane Seymour is pretty good as Solitaire, though she doesn't really have a hell of a lot to do.
  • Julius Harris is also fun as main henchman Tee-Hee.  He's got a great personality and the mechanical claw for a hand is a nice addition.  Harris was always a pretty solid character actor and he, like the other bad guys in the film for the most part, plays his role with casual menace.  Moore’s reaction to the claw is also very amusing.
  • To the filmmakers credit they don’t try to make Moore exactly like Connery, though there is a bit more edge to him here and the second outing that isn’t as pronounced in the following five. 
  • The New York segment flows nicely into the San Monique sequence.  Like the rest of the film it plays out at a nice brisk pace, much like Dr. No which it resembles in a few other ways.  Both films are a little more subdued; the tropical settings, it's a rather neat bit of cohesion and is handles quite well.
  • Not handled quite as well is the character of Rosie Carver, Gloria Hendry is certainly a gorgeous woman but the character is a bit too obviously not what she seems.  Still, Moore and Hendry play their scenes well and the bit where Bond reveals that he knows she’s with Kananga is a nice moment, Moore shows Bond’s callous side quite well here.  Telling a woman he's considering shooting that he wouldn't have done it before sleeping with her?  Damn!
  • Equally effective is Bond’s seduction of Solitaire, only Moore’s Bond could get away with the loaded deck of cards ploy.  The callousness is offset rather nicely by the following bedroom scene.  Moore shows a relatively good amount of tenderness with her and his facial expression before he reveals the ruse is quite amusing.
  • Geoffrey Holder is fantastic as Baron Samedi who may or may not be supernatural.  He's first introduced as just a stage performer but later on, it turns out he's in with Kananga and presides over a voodoo ceremony as the end.  Him turning up as the end credits roll, after apparently being tossed into a coffin full of poisonous snake to boot, laughing like The Joker makes me think that by the time the film is over, we have just gotten about as close to the horror genre as any 007 film ever will be.
  • Once the film gets to New Orleans, it does lose a little steam as Bond is met at the airport by Kananga's guys after escaping the island with Solitaire.  There is a nice stunt sequence with a plane but it is marred by the appearance of a flight school student in the plane Bond steals.  Generally, I greatly dislike civilians getting pulled into my action scenes like this, mainly because the idea is never as good in execution as it is on paper.
  • I do like Felix Leiter (David Hedison) trying to smooth things over with the flight school instructor afterwards.  All we see is Leiter while Bond does things in the background and the result is a rather nice Bob Newhart-esque routine.
  • The escape from the island is pretty damn good, though.  The bus chase is quite impressive as well.
  • At about seventy minutes in, the film hits its high point.  The span from Bond’s capture to the end of the boat chase is maybe my favorite stretch of the entire series.  Virtually everything is done exceptionally well.  Yaphet Kotto really comes into his own in this scene.  I especially love the reveal that Mr. Big and Kananga are the same person, though the makeup job is hardly convincing and Kotto has a rather distinctive voice.  It actually builds nicely with Kananga getting angrier and angrier  as he removes the disguise before finally tearing off the wig and slamming it to the floor with as much fury as one could possibly do that particular action.  It’s really a funny moment, maybe unintentional but it certainly is memorable.  Happily though, this is as over the top as Kotto goes in his performance, for the rest of the scene he exudes quiet menace, something Kotto is brilliant at.
  • The most interesting part of his performance, however, comes after Bond is taken out.  His confrontation with Solitaire is remarkably subtle for what is essentially a summer action film.  Kotto displays a mixture of anger and genuine hurt when he discovers her betrayal.  It’s not what you generally see in any action movie, Bond or otherwise.
  • Another aspect of this scene that I like (and the film in general), is the rather low key scheme the villain has.  It’s nice to have something low key and mundane like drug smuggling as opposed to Kananga having an orbiting death ray placed in the latest spy satellite.
  • The quality continues with the gator farm sequence.  I love the tour, Julius Harris makes his character nicely menacing, though given that he has a huge metal arm with a pair of pliers on it it’s not really too hard to convey menace.  Still, a good job nonetheless.  The gator jump ends the scene perfectly. Having the watch magnet fail is also a nice touch, as is the reaction Moore has to the watch failing.
  • The ensuing boat chase is equally impressive.  The stunts are superb as usual and unlike the film that would follow, having a redneck sheriff appear actually makes sense and adds to the story.  Clifton James is fairly funny as Pepper here and though his shtick is quite politically incorrect, it works for the film.  Not much, mind you but at least the character's presence can be explained logically.  In the bayous of New Orleans?  Well, chances are fairly good that there is at least one fat ass redneck sheriff with a less than enlightened view on race relations lurking about.
  • Bond’s return to the island to rescue Solitaire is nicely done with good use of Baron Samedi. The final confrontation with Kananga is also good as we get a nifty little death trap and a decent enough fight between Bond and Kananga.  The only real problem the fight has is the ending.  I have two problems with it:  First off, having a very cool villain super-inflated till he blows up is really not the best sendoff they could have used.  Second, and this ties in with my first problem, any time you have a shark in your finale and it doesn’t eat somebody, you’ve just wasted money on a shark.  Still, it doesn’t hurt the movie too much and the fight on the train with Tee Hee more than makes up for it and the final shot of Samedi on the front of the train is very cool. 
In the end, Live and Let Die is a good entry in the series and a solid summer action movie that serves as a good entry point into the franchise.  Not the best, but also not the worst by a long shot.

1981: The Worst

Only three quick ones here as there are a ton of guilty pleasures to get through.

This might be the dullest slasher movie I've ever witnessed.  Tobe Hooper has a good concept here with a bunch of kids trapped at a carnival fun house after hours where they are stalked by a mutant freak, but it's just so drawn out an plodding that after a while you stop giving a crap.  It's a damn shame, really, as the cast is game and the creature design is pretty gnarly.

Part of me wants to put this in the guilty pleasure category but to be honest, this is just sheer unfiltered ego on the part of Burt Reynolds and the end result is a plotless, unfunny bore.  Tons of stars and really, the only bright spot is Roger Moore having some fun at his own expense.

If I had seen this when I was ten or so, it probably would have been one of my all time favorites.  As it stands, I didn't and despite being nicely animated and sporting a neat zombie sequence, this adaptation of the adult comic book is only fitfully entertaining with a plodding pace, so much nudity that it becomes dull and an utter lack of coherency in its stories.  A good voice cast with guys like John Candy is wasted.  Damn shame as they're good as is the soundtrack.

Coming Soon: The Guilty Pleasures of 1981

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.