November 13th, 2012



In the not too distant future, the mega corporations own everything. They create a new kind of gladiatorial combat game inspired by an ancient Japanese form of battle. The companies show the fights on TV and make a bunch of money. But during the final match, the American competitor Falchion (Paul Coufos) refuses to fight. By doing so, he could forfeit his corporate sponsors’ investment. Lochaber (Robert Z’Dar), Falchion’s opponent, is goaded into finishing him off, but he goes nuts and starts killing civilians. This finally prompts Falchion to get back into the fight.

I don’t remember what movie it was, but there was an episode of Mystery Science Theater where Joel said, “This movie is just sitting on my head and crushing it”. That pretty much sums up my feelings on Dragonfight. The premise could’ve worked, but Dragonfight’s plot is so muddled and the budget is so cheap that none of it works. I mean if the big fight is televised worldwide, then where are the cameras? And how come the fights supposedly take place in the middle of nowhere, but there’s always some dumb tourist that stumbles upon Z’Dar so he can kill them?

And what the heck was with that mystic sorceress chick in the desert? Apparently she could heal the contestants by using voodoo or something. She did have some rather amazing cleavage though, so I guess I could give her a pass.

The biggest sin Dragonfight commits is that it wastes an awesome cast. We have Michael Pare as the corporate stooge who creates Dragonfight. Even though he’s second billed and has his face on the video box, all he really does is sit around watching TV while frowning a lot. The (usually) great James Hong basically does the same thing as the head of the corporation. The flick also features Charles Napier, but never really gives him anything to do. Plus, it’s a bit odd that George “Buck” Flower’s character just sits around and drinks, but he’s still qualified enough to serve as our narrator!

The only thing saving this atrocious movie from a ½ * rating is the fact that a good deal of it revolves around Robert Z’Dar running around in a chain mail suit of armor. Seeing Maniac Cop dressed as Ivanhoe is one of those sights most bad movie lovers will love. It’s still not nearly enough to save the flick.

Next week’s movie: Snake Eater 3… His Law.

SKYFALL (2012) ***

People have been on the internet lately proclaiming Skyfall to be the best Bond movie ever or some such nonsense. Well, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. Like a lot of the lesser Bonds, it suffers from a bloated running time. At 143 minutes, it’s the second longest Bond outing and there are stretches where you certainly feel it. I have my reservations about it, but if anything; Skyfall proves for the 23rd time (or 24th if you count Never Say Never Again) that there is no such thing as a bad Bond movie. The film makes its share of missteps, but there are a number of moments that will make any Bond fan cheer.

Skyfall is probably the best LOOKING Bond ever. The Shanghai sequence in particular is breathtaking. The scene where Bond fights a sniper while the colorful cityscape bristles in the background will probably be used as a test reel for many a HDTV in the coming years.

I’ll get to the other stuff I liked about Skyfall a bit later in my review. First, I have to get some things off my chest. The big beef I have with this movie is the way the filmmakers try to “humanize” the character of Bond. I bet that by giving him a debilitating injury and making him addicted to pain pills, the screenwriters thought they were giving Bond a “character arc”. Well, the only character arc we want Bond to have is bang as many hot women as possible while saving the world and saying funny shit. Bond is a sleek, sophisticated action hero who is above being humanized. Remember when they tried that shit in the Pierce Brosnan movies (like when Bond got captured and tortured in Die Another Day)? It didn’t work then and it didn’t work now. I have nothing against Daniel Craig. I like that he is rough around the edges. So was Sean Connery if you remember. But for God’s sake, please keep him the invincible ladies’ man badass we paid our $12 to see.

And after three gritty, down to Earth Bond films, I think the time has come for some good old-fashioned Roger Moore inspired lunacy. The recent crop of Bond films are sorely lacking in the fantasy elements that made the earlier films so memorable. Seriously, would it kill anyone to put a little escapism in these Craig era movies? I’m not saying you have to bring back the invisible car or put the word “Pussy” in the title. Just give us something.

If the final scene is any indication, it looks as though the series will finally be going in the direction I’m talking about. I won’t spoil it because it’s probably the best scene in the movie (if only because it harkens back to the Golden Age of Bond). Plus, Ralph Fiennes is prominently featured in it, which is awesome because it further strengthens the Bond/Avengers connection that’s been a staple of the series since Honor Blackman appeared in Goldfinger.

One change to the formula I did like was the new Q (Ben Whishaw). As much as I love Desmond Llewelyn, I liked the fact that Q is now a young computer nerd. I mean think about it. It seems kind of weird to have an old man being your technology expert. Most old timers can’t even figure out how their Jitterbugs work, let alone come up with cool gadgets.

Look. Star Wars is my first love. Then horror movies. Then James Bond. I pick these films apart more than I have to because they’re fun to dissect. If it sounds like I’m pissy, I don’t mean to be. I just love the franchise so I’m a bit more critical here than usual. But even the lesser Bond entries have enough moments of awesomeness to get a free pass from me. And Skyfall is no exception.

So enough with the preliminaries. Here’s the true Bond review:

The Pre-Opening Title Action Sequence. It’s pretty sweet. Bond is pursuing a bad guy who jumps on top of a moving train. Bond hops into a CAT and rips the back of the caboose off. His daring leap onto the train and while effortlessly fixing his cufflinks is a quintessential Bond moment. However, the inclusion of Eve (Naomie Harris), Bond’s clumsy female partner ruins a lot of the fun as she basically Jar Jars up the whole sequence. ***

The Opening Title Sequence. Things start off rather well with some cool old school visuals (Bond floating in water while hot chicks point guns at the camera), but it gets junked up with a lot of lame effects (paper dragons, graveyards, etc.) near the end. ***

The Title Song. Having Adele sing a James Bond song must’ve seemed like a great idea. However the idea of an Adele sung Bond tune is better than the actual thing. I’m not saying that her song, “Skyfall” is bad. In fact, parts are quite catchy; it’s just that it’s a bit on the bland side. ***

Bond. Daniel Craig once again kicks all kinds of ass as James Bond. His performance is easily the best thing Skyfall has going for it. While I enjoy Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the character, I wish the screenwriters came up with some better one-liners for him. (“It’s the circle of life!”) ****

Gadgets. Man, even Bond is kinda pissed off about the lack of gadgets in this movie. (“It’s hardly Christmas!”) Bond gets a gun that only he can use (Q must be a Judge Dredd fan) and a tiny radio transmitter. Normally, Bond films don’t live or die by their gadgets, but I have to say I didn’t like Q’s dis of exploding pens. Shit like that saved Bond’s bacon more than a couple of times. And besides, an exploding pen is a lot cooler than that little radio thing he invented. Bond does get to bring his old Aston Martin out of storage, although he doesn’t do a heck of a lot with it. ** ½

Bond Girls. You already know I wasn’t a fan of Naomie Harris’ Bond girl Eve. But in the end, there’s a revelation about her character that I will not spoil that I guess I’m ambivalent about. My feeling is if they keep her behind a desk (where she belongs) for the rest of the series, it won’t be so bad. The other gal that Bond banged on a boat was smoking hot, so that made up for Harris’ idiocy. ** ½

Action. Sadly, the action is mostly weighted towards the beginning and the end of the film. The opening is solid and the climax is decent. I particularly liked how James Bond pulled a Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street by rigging his house full of booby traps to fight the bad guys. The stuff in the middle of the movie was mostly fisticuffs and chase scenes. However, the Komodo dragon scene was pretty epic, so I’m willing to give them a mulligan. And besides any movie that concludes with Albert Finney brandishing a sawed off shotgun and blowing people away can’t be all bad. ***

M. Judi Dench gets more screen time than ever, which I guess is a good thing. I only wish the whole plot didn’t hinge so much on her. You never saw Bernard Lee doing shit like this. Plus (BIG Spoiler) I have mixed feelings about the way they killed her off at the end. When I was watching the film, I wasn’t crazy about it, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s not a bad way to give Dench a send-off. It actually works because of Bond’s history of letting the women in his life (Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Vesper in Casino Royale) die. (Not to mention the countless one night stands that wind up dead.) I will say that her replacement is as good as they come and I cannot wait to see him take up the reigns in the next picture. (End Spoiler) And I do have to say that the scene where Bond and M are driving around in the Aston Martin and he threatened to use the ejector seat on her was the comedic highpoint of the movie. ***

Villains. Sheesh, I like Javier Bardem as much as the next guy, but I think director Sam Mendes could’ve reeled him in a bit. He camped it up a bit too much and sometimes veered into Nicolas Cage territory, which is a territory in which only Nicolas Cage should be allowed to go. He still had some good moments (like when he took his dentures out), but not nearly as many as I was hoping for. ** ½

Villain’s Plot. Bardem’s big plan basically boiled down to killing M. Frankly, it felt a bit been there; done that. (The World is Not Enough, anyone?) If you’re going to recycle plot elements from other Bonds, why can’t you recycle the billionaire-industrialist-planning-to-repopulate-the-world-with-supermodels plots? **

Villain’s Lair. This was kind of cool. Bardem lived on a deserted island. The place used to be a paradise until he convinced everyone they were going to die so they left and he got the island for a song. ***

Martinis. Bond drinks one at the bar in Shanghai. ***

Bond Movies Ripped Off: You Only Live Twice (James Bond is “killed” in the opening pre-title sequence), Never Say Never Again (Bond has to go through a series of physical fitness exams to determine if he’s fit for active duty), The World is Not Enough (Bond suffers from a debilitating shoulder injury in the pre-title sequence), Live and Let Die (Bond runs atop of a deadly reptile), and The World is Not Enough AGAIN (the plot to kill M).

Skyfall is the 20th best Bond movie, right in between The World is Not Enough and Tomorrow Never Dies.