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Because you just have to see it.

Be back on Monday with some of my favorite movies from 2009!


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The Last ‘Least Favorite’ List of 2009

Lists are funny things because once you get started making them, it’s really tough to stop. My goal with this site isn’t to lay down the law on what movie is definitively better than some other one. That’s impossible, and kind of dumb. Can anyone really hold up Aliens and say, yes, no doubt, this film is better than Terminator 2? Better by what standard? Is it even a fair comparison? I can say that Aliens is better than Ghosts of the Abyss, right? Or is that even comparing the same thing anymore? Apples to Volvos.

My real goal with this site has always been to patch holes in my own film knowledge by critically thinking about individual batches of films, and to hopefully start a conversation or encourage someone to check out a director or a film they might not have given a second thought to before. But, really, it’s all horse hockey. As I keep saying: what we do here is make lists and lists are meaningless.

But then you get to the end of a calendar year and people start throwing out their “best of” lists. How, exactly? Did you see every single movie released last year? Of course not and neither did I, not even close, and I’m sorry but neither did most of these critics. They got way, way closer than I did, true, but they didn’t see everything, so how can they know for sure which was the best? They can assume, sure, but they can’t know, but that doesn’t stop the lists from pouring in. It’s tradition.

Since I’m a sucker for tradition and since (meaningless) lists are what we do here, I’m going to give in and join the noise. I’m very late in the game, true, but I wanted to see a few of the films I missed at the end of the year before I put my final stamp on it. I’m not going to say these movies are the best or the worst, but I will say which are my favorites and my least favorites. Take them for what they are, which isn’t much.

Today’s list is brief. These are my least favorite viewing experiences of 2009, and I honestly just didn’t have too many of them. With the invention of the internet and instant access to the streaming, undulating cultural conversation, how is it even possible to see a load of bad movies in a single year anymore? Word of mouth used to take days to make the rounds, but now Twitterers are revolutionizing all the ways you can use 140 characters to say “sucked!” before they’ve even left the theatre.

Still, these somehow sneaked through my gate.

5.) The Fourth Kind

This movie is a tax on the gullible. A twist on “found footage” films like The Blair Witch Project, pretending to be (wink, wink) based on facts, this half-cooked alien abduction thriller actually cuts grainy video into the movie purporting to be the “real life” incidents that inspired the film. This might have been a nice idea on paper, but the final “real” footage is choked with suspension shattering moments, such as levitation, terrible acting, and a giant flying saucer. Instead of giving audiences the creeps, it just gives them two bad movies for the price of one, which at least provides some value in today’s tough economy. Special no-prize goes to the citizens of Nome, Alaska, whose real life tragic disappearances became just another symptom of alien activity for the film, right alongside (no shit) crop circles.

4.) Friday the 13th

If you believe that remakes don’t have to suck, avoid this one or risk losing all hope. The original Friday the 13th isn’t a sacred cow; it’s not even the best film in its own cheapie franchise. A remake could have brought new life to the series, but for a remake to succeed, it’s customary to actually, you know, remake the film. Instead, the entire movie is a generic bag of teenagers getting wiped out at a lake house party. Period. That’s it. The end. This one could have fit in snugly anywhere between parts 3 and 7 and you’d never know the difference, except for a few bizarre changes to Jason Vorhees seemingly designed to alienate what fan base the series still had. A confusing misfire, strangely fixated on pot as literally everyone’s motivation. I think the writers were trying to tell us something.

3.) Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

This collection of poorly constructed fight scenes and awkward dialogue barely hangs together as a movie, but it will live forever. This movie will last longer than the average cheap-video-game-knock-off-meets-lukewarm-kung-fu-action-film-by-way-of-stereotypical-renegade-cop-film because of its unrelenting, unmerciful hilarity. This is a midnight movie, an exercise in “can you believe this?” filmmaking that will be beloved by stoners and connoisseurs of bad movies for years to come. Chris Klein as Charlie Nash must be seen to be believed. Weeks after this movie hit theatres, fan videos of Nashisms were making the round on YouTube, but the studio quickly pulled them all, I guess to keep the street cred alive for this turkey? Huge mistake. If the movie ever embraces its true awfulness, this could be the next Showgirls. You heard it here first.

2.) Gamer

If you can stomach Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s “epilepsy as a visual style” method of directing… or if you didn’t mind the misguided and self-defeating potshots at gamers and gaming culture… or if you’re not offended by the cutesy references to Blade Runner that dare to suggest this movie’s message is anywhere in the same stratosphere as that film’s examination of free will… can we all at least agree that the abuse of women in Neveldine/Taylor films has got to stop? The presence of a character named Rick Rape (with appetites to match) only brought back painful memories of Neveldine/Taylor’s action “masterpiece” Crank, and its message that if you just rape a woman enough, she’ll think it’s hot.

F these guys. It’s rare that I hate a movie this much.

1.) The Unborn

Yes, I’ve seen The Exorcist, too. Saying “but this time it’s Jewish” doesn’t mean you’re done. You still have to write a script.

Actually, there’s a good idea at the heart of this thing, but you’ll struggle to locate it beneath the layers of unnecessary jump scares, nonsense editing, and silly violence. A movie this bad has no business exploiting the Holocaust just to fill out the backstory. Gary Oldman looked embarrassed to be on set, and he was in TipToes.

The Unborn was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had watching a movie in a long, long time.

Thankfully, there were so many better movies on my 2009 list. Next time, some of my favorites!

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Final Thoughts – The James Bond Project

So that didn’t work out as planned.

I’m not talking about the vesper martini, although that’s totally on my fail list. When the James Bond Project launched, I promised that the final post (hint: this one) would feature my first run-in with Bond’s official drink, but then the skies dumped a blanket of snow and tauntauns on North Carolina this last weekend, and my plan fell apart.

Now, I’ve lived in Canada. Yes, a temperate, wet corner of Canada, but Canada nonetheless. I’m not afraid to brave a snow storm, especially not when booze is on the line, but the people serving that booze were not so hardcore. When I finally found an open bar, the “I wish I was home right now” server wasn’t about to let me go off menu, especially not in search of a drink made with now-fictional ingredients like Kina Lillet. I settled for a chocolate martini, which, judging by the look on my girlfriend’s face, might as well have been concentrated estrogen.

Bond would not approve.

By the following night, even that place had barred the doors, leaving a Mexican grill and its menu full of margaritas as my only option. Oh, I drank, but I never found the drink. When the ice thaws, I’ll be tripping over vespers, but not this weekend, not today, and not in time for this post.

In other words, insert that old cliché about best laid plans, because it also applies to my journey through this project. As a lifelong Bond fan, I thought it would be a breeze to talk about all the great Bond films the franchise had produced in its nearly five decades of life. I figured I’d hit “the good stuff” fairly early. Imagine my surprise when I was still swimming in mediocrity halfway through. There are less decent movies than I’d thought, and only about five or six that I could recommend as films without hesitation. I still love Bond, but it turns out that I don’t really love a lot of his movies.

So what’s the big deal, then? Why the fan following and the 20+ years of continuity for a series with so many sinkholes? Superman and Batman faced reboots after four movies. Spider-Man only made it to three. Jason Bourne got one well-received trilogy and now faces the threat of a prequel (a reset by another name.) Harry Potter’s story will end with the final book. Dirty Harry, John McClane, Rocky, and Rambo are all retired or nearly so. Why has James Bond alone endured all these years, virtually unchanged?

The answer begins in the long parade of actors playing Bond, interchangeable enough to make Eli Whitney proud. OK, we love this Bond or that Bond more than this other Bond over here, but let’s be honest; the character is larger than any single actor. The producers can throw a new face on the franchise every decade like a fresh coat of paint and the public will still show up. There’s no need to perpetually reboot and revamp as long as Britain produces a suitably dark and charming hunk at least once a generation.

This Dial-a-Bond approach gave the franchise room to grow into its roots, allowing a canon of characters and gimmicks to establish itself. The series may be as shallow as a tide pool, but good luck finding another franchise with this level of reverence for its history. The death of Tracy Bond still scored a reference in Tomorrow Never Dies, nearly 30 years after the character was shot. Lois Maxwell remained as Moneypenny, even as her Bonds grew younger. An entire film (Die Another Day) was assembled from scratch using only in-jokes and references.

So what does 40 years of hero continuity leave you with? Plenty of time to explore the villains, which may be the real key to the franchise’s success. Longtime producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli demanded that each Bond film feature a villain more dastardly than the last, and he wasn’t shy about chasing trends. If nuclear fears were on the rise, Bond would go after a rogue warhead. Energy problems in the 70s? Bond thwarts a plot to hoard limitless free energy from the world. Bond has taken a tour through our changing landscape, from the Cold War to the digital age, from distrust of the media to the planet’s dwindling oil and water supplies. Is there even a precedent for such a hero, willing to stand up, put his life on the line, and sock our collective fears square in the jaw?

Oh, right.

Call it a ten-cent diagnosis, but somewhere in the back of our lizard brains we like to feel that we’re in charge of things when, of course, we rarely are. Cartoons like James Bond are laughable in their perfection, but they empower people to feel like their place in the world isn’t as fragile as it sometimes seems. These characters reflect our own natures, and stand in for us when tragedy and crisis keep the world from making sense.

And as long as James Bond continues to fill that role, the character’s popularity could last for another 50 years. Or more.

So where does Bond go from here? I don’t think anyone is exactly sure. The new Daniel Craig films are still struggling to find their sweet spot between new-style action and nostalgia. Casino Royale got it right, Quantum of Solace not so much. The third film will set the pace. Personally, I fear that the less Bond-like the character becomes, the larger the risk of permanent damage or a fall into irrelevancy. Although, to put it mildly, nobody ever made a fortune betting against the series. (Poor George Lazenby even lost one.) The only thing I can safely predict is that James Bond will return. And I’ll toast my martini to that, chocolate or otherwise.

The James Bond Project (Final List)

1. Goldfinger

2. From Russia with Love

3. Casino Royale

4. Goldeneye

5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

6. Tomorrow Never Dies

7. Octopussy

8. The Spy Who Loved Me

9. Thunderball

10. Dr. No

11. For Your Eyes Only

12. The World is Not Enough

13. Live and Let Die

14. Licence to Kill

15. The Living Daylights

16. You Only Live Twice

17. Quantum of Solace

18. Die Another Day

19. The Man with the Golden Gun

20. Diamonds are Forever

21. A View to a Kill

22. Moonraker

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Specks on a Glass Slide

There is an illness in my house. The upstairs is closed to me, taken completely by the disease. A grim silence hangs the air, broken sporadically and suddenly by unholy wails or the screaming of children. Darkness creeps down the stairs like a fog, laying siege to the line I’ve sworn to defend.

The Thing that was once my girlfriend reaches its trembling hand from beneath a burrow of blankets to take what meager tea and ice water offerings I can muster, but I don’t dare linger. I spent last night on the couch, huddled against the cold, praying that I wouldn’t show… signs, while begging the Almighty to let me see another dawn.

In other words, Bond is delayed.

If only there was genetic research that could eliminate disease…

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Happy New Year to everyone who visits this little window into my madness. There’s lots of content coming in the next couple of weeks (“year end” and “decade end” lists, the final 5 in the James Bond Project, plus more.) In the meantime, enjoy this video that I think captures the true spirit of the holiday.

2010 is going to be a great year.

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Bond #7 – Tomorrow Never Dies

Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond film is nearly his best, a movie that perfects the late 90s Bond action fantasy formula that brought the series back to life.

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Pierce Brosnan

SETUP: The HMS Devonshire sinks, seemingly brought down by the Chinese as it accidentally crossed their territorial waters. Tensions explode, but M (Judi Dench) suspects foul play. Specifically, she’s got her eye on Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a global media baron whose conglomerate stands to make billions off the scandal. Bond gets the call to investigate Carver, starting with the mogul’s wife (and Bond’s jilted ex), Paris.

BUT IN REALITY: It was totally Carver. The mogul sent a scrambled signal to push the Devonshire off course and used a stealth ship to ensure it sank. The goal? It’s complicated, but it ends with a Chinese coup and exclusive broadcast rights to the communist nation for Carver’s company. Bond and Paris team up, but they only succeed in getting Paris killed. Thankfully, Chinese superagent Wai Lin arrives and the spies attack Carver, destroy his stealth ship, and stop a shooting war before it begins.

Mostly by shooting.

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Carver has no physical deformity, unless you count a shameful Susan Powter haircut. Aside from the usual megalomania, Carver’s real tic seems to be narcissism, as his scowling face is stamped all over his company billboards, logos, and banners. He’s made the news an entertainment show, starring him.

THE MUSCLE: Carver has a stable of henchman that includes bad-ass magician Ricky Jay as a cyber-terrorist and the awesome Vincent Schiavelli as a German pain specialist, but he instead relies on an expressionless lunkhead named Stamper (Gotz Otto) as his right hand. Stamper gets a few decent moments, but never really cuts loose. Forgettable.

He’s like Diet Dolph Lundgren.

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Paris (Teri Hatcher) is an old flame of Bond’s, now married to Carver. She could help Bond by providing key information, but refuses, tragically accepting her choices and sticking with her unhappy marriage.

Yeah, right. That lasts for about a scene before Paris is knocking on Bond’s door and begging to be rescued from Carver’s clutches. Unfortunately for Paris, her disloyalty gets her killed and puts Bond on the run. It’s then that Bond meets up with Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese agent working to prevent the undermining of her government by Carver’s yellow journalism. Lin is, of course, a martial arts specialist and an all-around ass-kicker, and her performance turns into one of the film’s many highlights.

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Q, disguised as an Avis employee, equips Bond with a remote-controlled BMW, a very sweet ride and centerpiece of the film’s best action scene. Bond outmaneuvers a small army of thugs while hiding in his back seat and messing with what looks like a proto-PSP, firing missiles, dropping caltrops, and generally having the time of his life. Great car.

Proving that video games lead to violence. Awesome violence.

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: I love Jonathan Pryce. I really do. Brazil, Glengarry Glen Ross, Infiniti commercials. Usually he’s such a great actor to watch, but he hams it up so hard in this movie, spoofing everyone from William Randolph Hearst to Rupert Murdoch to Bill Gates, and devouring any and all scenery that gets within his gravity. All he’s missing is a big twirly moustache and a bunch of rolled ‘R’s to complete his epic villainy. The movie survives, but his campy performance nearly derails the show.

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: The villains get all the best lines in this movie, but Bond does all right with his send-off for Carver. As a drill closes in for the kill: “You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot! Give the people what they want!”

Which, in this case, is much less Elliot.

WORTH MENTIONING: The stealth ship is based on an actual Lockheed design, built in the 80’s, but officially turned down by the US government. . . The film’s original title was Tomorrow Never Lies. A typo on a script title page stuck and the film was renamed. . . A planned scene would have featured Ricky Jay flinging his trademark playing cards at Bond, but Jay claims that the scene was cut when he actually nicked Pierce Brosnan in rehearsal.

OVERALL: Pierce Brosnan’s first film as James Bond (which we’ll see on this project shortly) was a strange, iconoclastic blend of revision and self-loathing, a movie that looked to forge a new future while apologizing for its past. It was unusual and different, and it made a hell of a lot of money. Sensing the public’s acceptance of Brosnan, the Bond producers dumped all that messy guilt and decided to return to basics by making an unapologetic, ludicrous action movie.

This film is pure formula, a marriage of the classic Bond fantasyland nonsense with the bam whiz effects-driven style of late 90s blockbusters, and it works effortlessly. There’s no pretension or secret shame on display. It’s James Bond saving the world from a madman, armed only with a gun, a smirk, a one-liner, and a remote-controlled car.

This just in: the formula works.

The only real difference between this film and classic Bond is the choice of Carver and his media empire as the villain, a surrender to the digital age we all knew Bond had to face some day. Computers had been the enemy before (Oh, Zorin and his wicked microchips!), but this film correctly nails that the real threat of the internet age isn’t in the weapons, but in the words. When news is consumed and discarded at the speed of Twitter, well played misinformation can topple the best laid plans of even the world’s strongest government. Two words for the doubters: Death Panels.

The film’s plot is fanciful and far-fetched, but it retains credibility by hitting just a few inches from the bullseye. Someone like Carver could exist, and today headlines from major American news channels are ground to pulp within moments as bloggers search them for bias. We’ve lost our faith in the media, and it comforts us to think an agent like James Bond might be out there keeping the news as fair and balanced as possible.

Today, this guy. Tomorrow, Glenn Beck.

The Brosnan films went downhill after this, moving first to the uneven The World is Not Enough before cranking out the awful Die Another Day. Brosnan would never again see a Bond movie this good, a near-perfect example of pop action and big entertainment that would make Ian Fleming proud.

The James Bond Project

6. ???

7. Tomorrow Never Dies

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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My Ass and the State of It

James Bond will return….


There was no way to post a Bond movie yesterday, or really anything at all, unless I wanted to do it standing up. I just spent the weekend sitting in a folding chair with little back support, no neck support, and only Rachel’s moral support. And I’m thankful for the experience.

I attended the legendary Butt-Numb-a-Thon 1138 (or BNAT) in Austin, Texas, this weekend, and had my world soundly rocked.

The annual event is for Harry Knowles, self-proclaimed Headgeek of the internet and the founder of Aint It Cool News. I’ve been lurking on that site since the dark ages, so when this year’s BNAT application went up, Rachel and I gave it a shot and miraculously got in.

BNAT is a 24-hour film festival with no breaks between the films, a mix of obscure vintage films and world premieres. It’s Movie Geek Christmas. It’s sweet, sweet torture. It obliterated my ass.

In (basically) one sitting, we saw:

1. Faust (1926) – Not as great as Murnau’s Nosferatu, but an awesome achievement in mood, atmosphere, and nightmarish expressionism. A beautiful print combined with a live organ score. Fucking insane.

2. The Lovely Bones – This isn’t really Peter Jackson’s best work, although there are some big money performances from Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan.

3. Girl Crazy – Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in a slight comedy that clips along nicely thanks to some well-designed musical numbers and a big Busby Berkeley finale.

4. The Red Shoes – One of my absolute favorite movies of all time. Seriously. It also happens to be Martin Scorsese’s favorite movie, which foreshadowed our next film…

5. Shutter Island – A predictable script made better by Scorsese’s confidence and DiCaprio’s performance. The scenes with Jackie Earle Haley and Ted Levine steal the show.

6. Le Magnifique – Starts as an early 70s James Bond spoof, then turns into a more personal comedy about a struggling author trying to woo Jacqueline Bisset. The switch makes it a classic.

7. Micmacs – Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first film since A Very Long Engagement. Babelfish tells me this translates to “Intrigues,” which is a sly joke of a title for a story about a “family” of discarded people who decide to use a junk pile and their talents to bring down two arms dealers. Very funny and quirky.

8. Frozen – A neo-Lifeboat from horror director Adam Green. Three friends on a ski trip get stranded in a lift chair with no hope of rescue and a storm closing in. Sent me out of the room and literally caused one attendee to faint.

9. Centipede Horror – No fucking way I was going to watch a Shaw Brothers gore movie about centipedes, sexual orifices, and all the possible combinations at 3 or 4 in the morning. Sat this one out in the lobby.

9 1/2. Iron Man 2 trailer premiere – Looks great, but it was just a teaser. Not sure yet if Favreau has topped his accidental classic.

10. The Candy Snatchers – A bizarre exploitation flick about three sleazeballs who decide to kidnap a teenage girl and do awful things to her while angling for a diamond ransom. Not enough soap in the world to feel clean after watching this.

11. Kick-Ass – The film doesn’t release until April 2010, it was a total surprise that we saw it, and yes, it blew the lid off the place. I’m not sure how this movie will play in front of a mixed audience, but my crowd of superfans ate up every bite. Two signs that this movie ruled. 1.) A speaker malfunction killed the screening for almost half an hour, letting the audience cool down… and it didn’t make a difference. When the film started back up, it’s possible that we liked it even more. 2.) During that half-hour cooldown, I didn’t hear one single conversation about Iron Man 2. I’m not saying IM2 failed to impress. I’m saying that Kick-Ass simply held its own and then some. Hit Girl is going to explode… and cause a shitstorm of controversy.

12. Avatar – Obviously I was interested to see what James Cameron had here, but I think we saw it at the wrong moment. The crowd was sleep deprived and nothing could have followed Kick-Ass and lived. I will say that I liked it, it actually had tolerable 3D, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. (I won’t add it to the James Cameron project until it’s out on DVD.)

In the midst of all of these screenings, I had the fortune to meet several great writers, directors, and actors, and I met a ton of really great film nerds from all around the world. It was a hell of an event.

Oh, and Rachel chugged a beer with the guys from Broken Lizard.

And there was no way I was sitting in front of a computer to make a post yesterday, so that’s that. Thursday is our next Bond movie, and it’s a good one (a Roger Moore one, if you’d like a hint.)

See ya then.


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