Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In anticipation of the release of Skyfall, CRN continues its survey of Bond movies with The Man With the Golden Gun. Now broadcasting from Thailand!
 What I found to be the most interesting thing about The Man With the Golden Gun is how the facts surrounding 007's reputation in the story coincide the facts surrounding James Bond's reputation to audiences. In other words, just as Bond does quite little within this movie to justify his being the world's top secret agent and seems to be riding the waves from his past, so does Roger Moore's popularity ride on the coattails of the legend created by Sean Connery. And Bond's being the best is quite central to the story, as this is the very reason Francisco Scaramanga wants to kill him; that is, to prove that he himself is the best. What is woefully missing from the movie is any demonstration of how either of these two men of action is the best at what they do. There are three examples of Scaramanga performing his occupation. The first is during the opening sequence in which his small butler, Nick Nack, pays an assassin to kill Scaramanga. The fact that Scaramanga is able to defeat his would-be assassin seems to rely more on rigged trickery rather than elite skills. The second is a short-range sniper shot. The third is a point blank shooting in cold blood. None of these killings is very impressive. As for Bond (and this seems to be a theme among the Moore era), it seems that his ability to survive rests more upon luck and the incompetence of his adversaries than anything else. Though it is necessary and proper that Scaramanga intentionally spares Bond until he can face him in a duel, the case in which Bond gets captured and not killed fits the stereotype that Bond should be dead but for villains wanting him to die in over-the-top traps. He cannot even credit Q Branch with this escape. (It is curious that though Q is in multiple scenes in this film, he doesn't provide Bond with any gadgets that I can recall.) Also interesting to me is when Bond is confronted with the nature of his work by Scaramanga: "You work for peanuts, a hearty 'Well done!' from her Majesty, the Queen, and a pittance of a pension. After that, we are the same." Though the story about compensation seems to conflict with Bond's taste in wine and choice of automobiles, it is the case that he assassinates with the blessing of the State. Does such a blessing change the moral nature of his acts? Clearly, there are situations in which Bond justly kills in self-defense or to prevent mass murders. But there are also times in which if he had not had his license to kill, he would be considered criminal. Bond seems somewhat defensive when called out regarding this. This subject will be explored in more detail as we continue with this review series. In sum, what is memorable about The Man with the Golden Gun is the dwarf, the three nipples, the Stuntman-reminiscent corkscrew jump, and that silly golden one-shooter. Not much else.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

PS2 Review: Winback 2: Project Poseidon (2006)

What a misleading title; this mess has nothing in common with the fantastic, retro-cheese classic, Winback: Covert Operations. Whereas the original Winback had solid gameplay and an abundance of charm, Winback 2: Project Poseidon is dismally average, and oh-so-cheap. It should have no claim to the Winback brand, and yet, here we are. This time there's no Jean-Luc, no S.C.A.T. headquarters, and no Crying Lions to thwart. Instead, it's generic soldiers Craig Contrell, Mia Cabrera, and Nick Bruno to the rescue. They're tasked with finding a mysterious, and mysteriously powerful, weapon of some sort. You alternate between the three of them in any given mission, playing from each perspective and solving puzzles, covering each other, opening doors, and so on. It may sound interesting in theory, but in praxis, it becomes immensely tedious. Evidently these three operatives are incapable of working simultaneously towards an objective. For example, you may start out as Craig first, slog through some dismal areas, shoot some idiots one bullet at a time (even with automatic weaponry, you can only jump out of cover, squeeze off a single shot, and then duck back to compose yourself, I suppose, and this is far more agonizing than it sounds), and then stumble upon a jammed door. That means it's time for Nick, who's been patiently waiting for you to buzz him with your radio, to earn his keep and blast that stubborn door open. Elsewhere, I'm sure Mia is doing a Sudoku puzzle to keep herself occupied, or sending out tweets (#Sarocozia). You still can't run and shoot at the same time, which is the only thing Project Poseidon gets right about the Winback experience, and oh, what a thing to get right. Animation is amazingly unnatural, especially when you have to crouch into cover, and this only exacerbates the problems generated by the loose controls; you feel more like you're ice skating than moving into cover. There's a multiplayer mode if you feel like subjecting your friends to this experience, complete with AI bots. It's certainly not some new kind of group therapy. In fact, it's still the same bland game, single- or multiplayer. I wouldn't recommend this one, even for curious Winback veterans. It'll scare the hell out of you, Jean-Luc.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Finest Fights: Rumble in the [Vancouver] Bronx (1995)

Still bringing you the best fight scenes available on YouTube, only now, we bring 'em intermittently.

We have some classic Jackie Chan for you today. Witness his skill in fighting off a bunch of punks and pinball machines.

You also have to love this kid:

"BLEEP, BLORP! I make my own fun! Oh, to be poor!"
Jackie gave him a Sega Game Gear, but no games. Still, like a real trooper, he played with it anyway. "The best games come from your own imagination," Jackie probably meant to say. "Besides, those things eat batteries for breakfast."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: Live and Let Die (1973)

Yours truly is glad to be back with you for our survey of 007 films. Today we explore the transition to Roger Moore, which may have not been the low point of the series, but on its way to it.
Roger Moore's first Bond movie is definitely one of the more politically incorrect ones, with seemingly the entire African-American community of Harlem, as well as New Orleans, conspiring against him. As I understand it, this follows in the tradition of Fleming's novel, and I'm glad that the filmmakers had the courage to do this. However, a closer following to the original plot might have been a bit of an improvement. In the novel, the crime boss, Mr. Big, has connections to Soviet intelligence and is smuggling 17th century gold coins from English territories in the Caribbean. In the film, Mr. Big is simply planning to give away two tons of heroin in the U.S. in order to put his competitors out of business, creating a monopoly for himself, and increase the number of addicts. The problems with the latter are two-fold. One is that it gives no justification for MI6 presence in the U.S. Why would British intelligence care about drug trafficking in America? Secondly, as one who studies economics, I am offended that the screenwriters would think that this plan might ever work. It suffers from the fallacy of "predatory pricing" in which one firm will attempt to lower the price of its good in order to force other firms out of the market, and once this occurs will be able to increase prices due to having no competition. However, a firm attempting this strategy will lose money if it is selling at a price under the cost of production. Giving your product away would definitely qualify and it's not as if giving it away is cheap. The reason prohibited drugs are so expensive is because of the risks associated with production and distribution. Dealers will not work for free, so Mr. Big has to have the cash to pay his employees without getting any revenue from their labor. And even if he is able to put his competition out of business (which is not likely to be the case since the monetary revenues are so much higher than the monetary costs in this industry due to prohibition), it doesn't mean that new competitors won't establish themselves after he raises his prices. So not only is it not the case that he will have anything more than a very short-lived monopoly, it is likely that it would be so short that he won't even recoup the costs of giving heroin away in the first place! (And this isn't the only time a Bond villain will attempt to use such a bonehead strategy: Max Zorin tries to do something similar in A View to a Kill).

Ok, so the plot makes no sense, but what about the rest of it? I will say that the characters are much more interesting and colorful than many others in Bond films. Baron Samedi has attained legend status in the Bond canon, partially both for his mystical black magic persona and apparent immortality. Not only does Bond have to deal with him, but the very scary Tee Hee who sports a prosthetic limb with a two-pronged claw at the end. (It's too bad that their boss, Mr. Big, has an idiotic business plan.) Solitaire is not just a Bond girl that happens to be present and female, with few distinguishing characteristics. She is a tarot card reader and presented as somewhat of a quasi-virgin. They all interact with Bond in what some might see to be his most dangerous environment yet: being a "honky" in predominantly black parts of town. So these elements (villains, Bond girl, "exotic" location) are accounted for and satisfactory. How about the new Bond? He seems suave enough and even charming in a certain way. He also has the Bond-ish characteristic of unashamedly enjoying bourgeois luxuries. And yet the Moore-Bond disease rears its ugly head: he is a dirty man (he tricks the quasi-virgin to get her into bed), he is captured but not killed multiple times (one wonders why such sadistic sociopaths would not want to enjoy watching Bond's demise, consequently allowing him to make escape), he doesn't bring the toughness to the character that Sir Connery does (how many fights can you imagine Moore winning?), and he embodies my least favorite thing about Bond: the corny puns. All that being said, this is a fast-paced Bond film, with every scene pushing into the next and no long breaks in the action so that the evil plot can be revealed. Live and Let Die is above the average Moore movie, but not the best of what 007 has to offer.

Friday, August 17, 2012

License to Kill and Die Another Day (!) in 007 Legends

Well, this is a small surprise.

Guess I was right about License to Kill and OHMSS. As for Die Another Day, quite frankly I'm shocked at that choice. They might be able to get some fun out of it, and maybe I'm only sceptical because I've never been a fan of that one, but it seems like an odd pick. And what's going on with the whitewashed Halle Berry? Like I told Chicken Man, they should've just redone Nightfire, since that was a better movie anyway. It was even released at the same time, and it has multiplayer and Skyrail (Nightfire fans know what's up).

007 Legends is supposed to feature five classic Bond missions, in addition to an unspecified amount of Skyfall material. Keeping this latest announcement in mind, we now have four films confirmed for the game: Moonraker, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, License to Kill, and Die Another Day. Will my original prognostication come true, that being Dr. No as the fifth and final classic Bond? Stay tuned.

Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

The Expendables 2 does what a sequel should; shoots up with what worked before, and curtails its more distracting vices. There was way too much plot, and way too much pathos, in The Expendables. For the most part, that's pretty much gone here. Our titular gang of mercs are out and about, doing what they do best, when a job is botched and one of their brightest, and youngest, recruits is murdered by a gang of thieves lead by the scenery-chomping Jean-Claude Van Damme. It's a simple revenge plot, and it works, because it's simple and because it always has. After the pre-credits shootout there's a middle portion that gets a bit too dialogue-y, veering off into corny, poorly-acted sentiment, but soon enough the explosions return and they never really stop. Expendables 2 knows its core audience far better than it did before, and its brand of nostalgia is acutely knowledgeable of the expectations it needs to meet. Everyone, all those bolded text, above-the-title actors, does what they can to really ham it up. Smartly, each player gets time to do what he (and even she!, that being relative newcomer Nan Yu) does best; Stallone gets to throw those left hooks like Rocky Balboa, Statham headbutts some poor fools and throws knives, Jet Li finds the time to get down with some well-choreographed martial arts before disappearing from the film early on, and the inimitable Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to say idiotic things and fire comically big guns. It's like an 80s/90s action movie all-you-can-eat buffet; mix and match what you like from what's advertised, and you're likely to be satisfied with your meal.

Nobody Reviews It Better: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Once again, Thrasher returns with a review, this time of Diamonds Are Forever, the last official Sean Connery vehicle. Expect Chicken to return from his extended leave of absence in our next installment.

It seems like Sean Connery's Bond would like to forget about On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He acts like he never left the series, only taking a short "holiday," as one of his superiors calls it, to refresh himself before returning to duty. Even when he chases down Blofeld in the pre-credits sequence, presumably to revenge to death of his wife in the previous film, he does so with a wry humor, like a man smiling through a dull chore. Indeed, there isn't even a single mention of his personal tragedy (strangely enough, that would come later, with Roger Moore). In the world of Diamonds Are Forever, George Lazenby was an unpleasant diversion, and Diamonds puts the series back on the path to outlandish comedy and self-parody, something which began in earnest with Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, and would prepare us for the often unmitigated cheese of Moore. Through a fairly obscure plot involving diamond smuggling and extortion, Bond is cast into a series of strange locations, such as funeral parlors and moon landing simulations, and the incongruity of seeing his well-tailored dinner suit walking alongside the business casual clientele of Las Vegas is very kitsch indeed. Diamonds Are Forever is fun for exactly this reason, but I'm not sure the filmmakers, or the rapidly aging Connery, were in on the joke as much as they'd like to believe, hence the schizophrenic shifts in tone. Still, there's plenty of action spectacle to recommend in this one, especially the French Connection-lite car chase through the streets of Vegas, and Bond's fight with Peter Franks in an elevator, something which brings to mind the similarly enclosed brawl between Bond and Red Grant in From Russia With Love. But that's the problem with Diamonds; even at its best moments, it can only remind us of earlier, better films. Bond's transition, from Connery to Moore, begins here, and consequently this one suffers for it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

A drastic change, indeed. Today Thrasher looks at On Her Majesty's Secret Service, of the most unusual, and one of the most interesting, Bond films to date.

More than any other Bond film, certainly before and arguably since, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a strange one. It's weird. It's different. It's also immensely interesting, for Bond fans especially, because of these differences. Many consider this the most faithful Ian Fleming adaptation, but for me that's an insight of minimal critical value. No, what matters here is how George Lazenby develops such a strikingly different character from his filmic predecessor. Gone is the dry cruelty of Sean Connery, and in its place is a softer, more humored, more human Bond that directly confesses his shortcomings to the spectator, plays at being disinterested in young women, and silently sobs before the end credits. Oh yes, it's truly difficult to imagine Connery playing this role. OHMSS is quite daring compared to the others, it's practically an art film with substantial financial backer. Much like Casino Royale, this one takes what we know and inverts it, but not for the sake of criticism; it's like a knowing wink, flipping things around a bit to keep us interested, to keep the Bond formula fresh, and indeed we'll see that most of the generic gambles this film takes are immediately withdrawn by the next film.

And what do we make of that odd pre-credits sequence, where Bond trails an unidentified woman to a beach at dawn, saves her from drowning, is attacked by thugs, and, when the woman sneaks off without so much as a "Gee, thanks," turns to the camera and remarks, "This never happened to that other fellow." I believe it's an open admission of guilt, a concession to the spectator, essentially telling us upfront that, Hey, Connery may not be here, but don't blame us, and let's have some fun anyway. Not only that, but it also sets up the kind of Bond that Lazenby will be. In a way, these uncharacteristically modest words prep us for a Bond not as self-assured, not as rugged, and certainly not as boorish as the Connery iteration, even though the stylistics of the fight scenes in OHMSS might tell us that 007 is more brutal than ever. In that sense, the kind of baroque camera work on display here seems quite at odds with the rest of the film, and would absolutely be a better fit in the previous five films. Nevertheless, the non-hand-to-hand action set pieces in the film are fantastic, well-choreographed affairs, especially the ski chase, and the bobsleigh beatdown between Bond and Blofeld. OHMSS should also be commended for its most radical challenge to the series' grammar, something which had already become staid and subject to parody, and that's the infamous tragic ending. It's never really been done since, although I suspect it may return sometime during Daniel Craig's tenure as 007. Too bad Connery had to return so quickly to the series, only to take Bond's true tragedy and spin it into another one-liner.

Mr. T vs. Jason Statham, Part 2

Now, the thrilling climax to our once-in-a-lifetime showdown!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Following an unexpectedly lengthy hiatus, due to unforeseen, international business, our series continues with Thrasher's thoughts on the fifth entry in the 007 cycle, You Only Live Twice.

Watching You Only Live Twice today, it’s hard not to think about Austin Powers; though Mike Myers’ films broadly parodied the conventions of all things spy, and obviously its most notable cinematic agent has always been James Bond, You Only Live Twice seems to bear the burden of Powers’ mockery (its love, really). It’s also hard to not see why this one is so easily sent-up. Continuing the trend started by Goldfinger, each successive Bond has been bolder, more salacious and more strange, and its only mission, seemingly, to top the spectacle of the previous film. In many ways, Twice has them all beat, at least when it comes to fireworks. There’s even a pre-credits sequence, in which Bond is “killed” while “on the job,” that brings us back to the gimmicky surprise of From Russia With Love’s opening number. This time, however, MI6 has staged Bond’s death to swerve SPECTRE (a plot device the upcoming Skyfall seems likely to borrow, if the most recent trailers aren’t misleading us). Liberated by his “death,” 007 is sent to Tokyo to investigate the origins of a secret rocket launched into space, which has stolen (or is it swallowed?) American and Russian spacecraft in orbit, setting the two nations at even greater odds than before. Of course, Britain is positioned by this film as the benevolent arbitrator, trying to cool the tensions between two trigger-happy superpowers. The Brits’ efforts are mostly ineffectual, however, and soon war is imminent.

No troubles, though, because Bond’s on the scene, and he has an arsenal of hokey gadgets to help him succeed. “Little Nelly” is the most prominent of these toys, a quick-assemble helicopter he uses to locate the requisite secret volcano lair (“Is it a hollow dead volcano like I asked for?”). Bond is, inevitably, attacked by enemy aircraft, and he engages in one of the sloppiest action sequences in the series. Though green screens are inevitable, and forgivable, in these early Bonds, this time around they are lazily used, incongruous close-up shots inserted into the dogfight, and the effect is unanimously silly, and are in no way pleasing because of their silliness. Same goes for most of the shots involving the launch or recovery of spacecraft. You Only Live Twice is quite often a film stretched beyond the capabilities of its craftsmen. And even though the Japanese locales look lovely and the culture is rendered in a relatively fair manner otherwise, it’s hard to explain, much less excuse, Sean Connery’s yellowface disguise as Japanese peasantry. Is it one of those things you just chalk up to “the times,” shrug, and move on? This is an old film, culturally, aesthetically, stylistically, and socially, so what are the effects of such racism? How much less virulent is the offense when this much time has gone by? Sure, the film has a strictly narrative explanation for his portrayal, and he doesn’t even speak in stereotype, but exactly how much better is this than, say, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Should I, we, still be offended? It’s tough to say. Twice is more obviously offensive than most Bonds, but I suspect there’s always a bit of sublimation going on for modern audiences watching these old Bond movies; they’re so old-fashioned (there’s a fairly typical bit in Twice when Tiger Tanaka, an ally, tells Bond, “In Japan, men come first and women come second,” and Bond responds, not at all sarcastically, “I just might retire to here.”) that to enjoy them you have to ignore the deeper meanings, or at least resolve not to fight against them, or openly laugh at them, or else the politics might make you want to put a brick through your TV.

Following a rather dull middle portion, things do pick up by the end, and the ensuing ninja-henchmen-Bond-Blofeld firefight is an enjoyably excessive affair. Still, I can’t help but notice the general weariness, not just on the visage of Connery, but on the series as a whole. A change, and a particularly drastic one, was certainly necessary to let the series breathe a bit, even if it was only a temporary, fleeting fix. That reprieve would come swiftly.

Mr. T vs. Jason Statham, Part 1

Chicken Man and I used to spend many hours on our grade school's primitive PCs reading about Mr. T's fictive battles with the celebrities and characters of popular culture. He always threw suckas helluva far and told the kids to drink their milk. Remember, this was a time before the Internet went crazy with broadband connections, and the ensuing streaming music and video revolution, and we had to be content with poorly rendered, MS Paint "comics" like the Mr. T vs. X series. Unfortunately, many of the links in that Yahoo! directory are now broken, but a few still work, and they're charming as hell, and that was inspiration enough for me to finally make a comic of my own. Naturally, the first person I thought of for this fantasy brawl with T was another Code Redd Net favorite, Jason Statham. I know; we've advertised Mr. T vs. A Helluva Lot of Chickens for years now, which sounds intriguing in the abstract, but I believe Statham makes for a much better opponent. So, without further adieu, I present to you the first installment in this titanic conflict between two cultural icons.

(I'd like to thank the fine fellow who wrote Mr. T vs. Pokemon for the laughs, inspiration, and rubric which I have tried to follow here, as well as the boys at Film Drunk for inspiring my admittedly baroque, blatantly ripped-off version of "Statham-speak." Only the errors and bad jokes have been mine.)

Check back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

Or you can just click here to continue on to Mr. T vs. Jason Statham, Part 2.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Self-Styled: The Graphic Arts of Code Redd Net

Code Redd Net has never had a budget, or an office, or an art department. Everything we've done, Chicken Man and I, we've done ourselves, on our own time, with our own skills. Some of our attempts were, shall we say, a trifle amateurish. This has resulted in some rather humorous graphics floating around in our archives, from the (g)olden days of Geocities. I've tried to utilize these old files whenever possible on the blog, but there's some that, stubbornly, just don't have a place around here. Here's a collection of these dated, perhaps unused, images.

As you can see, for a time we liked to have banners at the top of each page. I remember when we had a Beats page, even if nobody else does. Also, we really dug Rush Hour 2. And I don't know about you, but my favorite is certainly the News banner. Mr. T, Bill O'Reilly, and is that Peekaboo Jones from TimeSplitters? Goodness, yes it is.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Chicken Man nameplate collection. Obviously, we tried out a few different styles over the years, but none, I wager, were as aesthetically unappealing as that second one.

Man, I miss my Tour Bus, like Chicken Man misses his Lair, I'm sure. Anyway, we had some interesting ideas for pages. Grillz existed primarily as a means to making fun of X-Play and other things we disliked at the time, and I'm only guessing when I tell you that I think Toasts was its opposite, though we never wrote any that I know of.

What you see here is are a few makeshift logos for games and movies that, at the time, had not been released yet. Incidentally, both Spy Hunter 2 and Rush Hour 3 were decidedly mediocre. You can see it in Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker's faces below; Jackie looks off into the distance, horrified, while Chris seems concerned, but stoically determined to meet his fate, that being the end of his relevance in pop culture.

Oh, and thank the good Lord these redesigned logos were never used. I couldn't live with myself knowing that I changed our name from "Code Redd Net" to the infinitely grotesque "The Code."

Finally, here's some random pictures I found in the archives. Not sure what they are doing in there, but perhaps they'll help to cleanse the palate. A sorbet, if you will.

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