Friday, April 27, 2012

Film Review: The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 20 December 1974
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Guy Hamilton
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz

The Girls: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland). One of the worst leading-role Bond Girls, for reasons such as her habit of accidentally making life difficult for 007. In her first scene, she comes in by blocking a taxi with Bond in it, while he's trying to tail another car. Her low point has to be near the end, when she leans back on a console and her bum pushes the switch to turn on the solar collector - with Bond inside it. And she has no idea how to turn it off - ya think she could've felt the switch pushing against her skin and tried flipping it back!? 1 out of 5.

Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga's mistress, is a much more sympathetic character, seeing as how she wants out of her relationship and is willing to betray him of her own accord. Shame she gets shot by Scaramanga for her efforts. 5 out of 5.

Other Allies: Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Tek Oh). Bond's contact in Hong Kong, not given much to do.

J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). Hoo boy, if you hated him in Live and Let Die, you'll hate him ten times more this time around. Annyoing, crass, and foul-mouthed (relatively speaking, for a PG-rated Bond film), you'll be thankful for the elephant who pushes him in the river in one scene. 1 out of 5.

The Villain: Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). A freelance assassin who uses the titular Golden Gun and charges US$1 million for each hit. Now this is a quality performance: think Bond, but with his own warped set of morals. Fun Fact: Christopher Lee was Ian Fleming's cousin. Shot by Bond during their duel. 5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize). Scaramga's servant. To Goldeneye 007 fans: he's the midget in the Bond universe, not Oddjob. But, why did he have to be a midget in the first place?  Because... funny?  Hung out to dry by Bond, presumably left alive. 3 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Bond doesn't use much of his own gadgets, apart from a fake third nipple to pass as Scaramanga. On the other hand, Scaramanga steals the show with the eponymous Golden Gun, assembled from a pen, lighter, and cigarette case. And he owns a car with an airplane attachment. And he had a laser gun installed in his home. Awesome! Evil, but awesome. 5 out of 5.

The Locations: Lebanon, Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Fun Fact: The island from the final act, filmed at Khao Phing Kan off the western coast of Thailand, garnered enough fame from its use to take on the nickname "James Bond Island".

The Theme Song: Performed by Lulu. Another crunchy, classic-rock joint, but prone to moments of camp, like the movie itself, and not as memorable as the one from the previous film. Fun Fact: Alice Cooper recorded his own theme song for the film, which he claims was to be used at one point. It ended up on his album Muscle of Love2 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: While also a little boring, this is the first opening credits scene I can think of that used shots of nude women in full light (as opposed to silhouettes), strategically covered by things like rippling water, lotus pads, or the Golden Gun itself. Funny where you can find innovation these days. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: The book sharing this film's name was published in 1965, months after Ian Fleming's death. Continuing the plotline from You Only Live Twice, it shows promise: After suffering amnesia and being re-programmed by the Soviets, 007 re-joins MI6 only to attempt an assassination on M - and fail. He is then given a low-key assignment in order to prove his loyalty - investigate Francisco Scaramanga, this time an uncouth American gangster with a simple golden revolver. The plot from this point on is considerably weaker than the film's, concerning a real-estate deal between gangsters and KGB agents. Maibaum and Mankiewicz were right to give it an overhaul for the silver screen - and it wouldn't be the last time, either.

The Plot: The film starts by establishing the character of Francisco Scaramanga, living well on his island off the coast of China, and holding a duel with an anonymous gangster -- which he wins. Cue opening credits. At MI6, the delivery of one of Scaramanga's golden bullets -- with 007's number on it -- convinces M to take Bond off his current assigmnent, lest he take a golden bullet of his own. Recalling another 00 agent to befall that fate, Bond travels to Beirut and takes a clue - the bullet that killed him - from the property of a belly dancer. With Q's help, he traces the bullet to its Macau-based manufacturer, Lazar. Lazar confesses that he has another shipment of bullets ready, so Bond tracks the delivery to a Miss Anders, Scaramanga's mistress. Interrogating her, she informs him of Scaramanga's plans for that night.

These plans involve a meeting with a Mr. Gibson, the subject of 007's previous assignment, at the Bottoms Up topless bar. As Gibson walks out, he is shot by Scaramanga, and Bond, waiting outside, is detained by the police. While being ferried around Hong Kong Harbour, he makes a break for it and finds himself at MI6's base in the half-sunken Queen Elizabeth ship. There, M berates 007 for failing to retrieve Gibson's project -- the Solex Agitator, a device used to convert sunlight into electricity -- but 007 brings up another lead: Hai Fat, an industrialist, may have hired Scaramanga to kill Gibson. Thus, Bond heads to Hai Fat's estate near Bangkok, posing as Scaramanga, and makes a suggestion to put out another hit on 007, to draw out the real Scaramanga. Bond is invited back to the villa for dinner, but is instead knocked out by Nick Nack and finds himself next in a martial arts school.

After getting pulled in for a few sparring matches, Bond makes a break for it and escapes via a motorboat chase. Meanwhile, Scaramanga takes over Hai Fat's position... the hard way. That night, Miss Anders makes a visit to Bond's hotel room and makes him a deal: she will sneak him the Solex in exchange for killing Scaramanga. He meets her at a kickboxing match the next day, only to find her dead. Bond manages to sneak the Solex over to Goodnight, but she gets locked in the trunk of Scaramanga's car. A car chase ensues, ending with Scaramanga putting a plane attachment on his car and flying off. 007 follows the signal from Goodnight's homer to Scaramanga's home, on an island in the South China Sea. Scaramanga is on hand to provide him with a tour of his new solar power plant, and together they discuss his plan to gain a monopoly on the solar energy market.

After exchanging pleasantries over lunch, the two hold a duel. Scaramanga disappears into his funhouse maze, with Bond in pursuit. Inevitably, 007 gains the upper hand. Meanwhile, Goodnight manages to knock out her captor... by dropping him into a vat of liquid helium. Before this distruption can cause a chain reaction, destroying the plant, the two race to steal back the Solex and flee the island. Their R&R is interrupted by Nick Nack, but Bond leaves him out to dry. You are now free to turn off your TV.

I'm tempted to put The Man with the Golden Gun on record as the worst James Bond film, or at least, the James Bond film I hate the most. So many elements go wrong, from lame characters like Goodnight and the returning J.W. Pepper, to the corkscrew car jump -- the slide-whistle sound effect they put in for some odd reason makes it a Crowning Moment of Awesome and a Dethroning Moment of Suck at the same time. (P.S. Hope you like TVTropes lingo.) If there's anything that saves this movie, it's the presence of Christopher Lee as Scaramanga. As for the plot, the two components (Gibson and the Solex, and hunting down Scaramanga) seem incongruous, and could've been better-served by each being the focus of separate films, but you'd be surprised how they make it work. 3 out of 5.

The Call: 45% (D-)

IchigoRyu will return in
The Spy Who Loved Me

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Film Review: Live And Let Die

Live And Let Die
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 27 June 1973
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Guy Hamilton
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writer: Tom Mankiewicz

The Bond: Roger Moore, previously of the TV series The Saint. Two things that define this portrayal of Bond are 1) his encyclopedic knowledge, useful for giving extra exposition at a moment's notice, and 2) his tendency for scumbag actions.  Not the most endearing character traits.  3 out of 5.

The Girl: Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Dr. Kananga's private fortune-teller. Unusally for the reality-based 007 franchise, Solitaire's tarot-reading powers appear to be real until Bond beds her and she loses them. This may seem to many as a chauvinistic jerk move on Bond's part, but who knows, maybe Kananga was a lousy boss or even a lousy lover. 3 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (David Hedison), a CIA agent making his 5th appearance in the Bond films. 3 out of 5.

Harold Strutter (Lon Satton), an African-American CIA agent. Missing, presumed dead. 2 out of 5.

Rosie Carter (Gloria Hendry), another CIA agent really a double-agent for Kananga. Killed by Kananga to silence her. 4 out of 5.

Quarrel Junior (Roy Stewart), an identical son of Quarrel from Dr. No.  Despite the audience never having been introduced to him before, he's apparently really tight with Bond.  There's a reason for this, which I'll explain in the Novel section.  2 out of 5

The Villain: Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), prime minister of the Carribean nation of San Monique. Mr. Big, African-American crime boss, is really Kananga in disguise. A wonderful concept, and the man's got a wonderful plan, but it's a shame Mr. Big didn't get much of a chance to establish his character as opposed to Kananga.  Blown up with a compressed-air bullet by Bond.  5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder), supposed Voodoo god of death who always comes back after being "killed", but not nearly given enough to do given his potential. Trapped in a coffin full of snakes by Bond, but apparently survives.  4 out of 5.

Tee-Hee Johnson (Julius Harris), Mr. Big's henchman with a metal pincer for an arm. One of the more personable and enjoyable henchmen.  Thrown out of a train by Bond.  5 out of 5.

Sherrif J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), a Louisiana sheriff chasing after Bond and Big's men alike for traffic violations. 1 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A wristwatch with a magnet and a buzz-saw. Q is absent in this film, so Bond instead describes the magnet function of the watch to M. Yet he leaves out any mention of the buzz-saw which, out of nowhere, is used in the finale. Still, they did one thing I liked: at the alligator farm, Bond tries to use the watch to attract a metal canoe, but it's tethered, forcing him to escape another way. 2 out of 5.

The Locations: The United States (New York, Louisiana), and San Monique, a fictional island nation in the Caribbean (filmed in Jamaica). There's also a scene in Bond's home at the beginning. As for the use of New Orleans, I have to give the writers a tip of the hat for not involving Mardi Gras.

The Theme Song: Performed by Paul McCartney and Wings. Remember in Goldfinger when Bond said that drinking warm wine was "as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs"? I bet he felt a little silly after this movie came out. Especially given that, with this being the first rock-genre Bond theme, it's got some decent bite. Fun Fact: George Martin, the Beatles' producer, composed the music for this movie. Second Fun Fact: He also produced Shirley Bassey's theme from Goldfinger5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Motifs include fire, skulls, and a whole bunch of black women. Visually unimpressive, maybe, but a cohesive theme that fits the film's subject matter. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: Live and Let Die shares its name with Ian Fleming's second James Bond novel, published in 1954. Solitaire is featured in a similar form and function, but Kananga does not exist, whist Mr. Big, the sole villain, is an agent of the Soviet SMERSH, selling pirate-era gold to finance his operations. Also, the final act takes place in the real Jamaica instead of a fictional island. This book marks the first appearance of Quarrel, Bond's Caribbean contact. Quarrel was killed off in Dr. No, which was made into a movie before LLD, so what did they do? Replace him with the identical Quarrel Junior. ...Should've thought of that ahead of time, guys. Fun fact: some scenes were used for later films, like For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill.

The Plot: The film starts with the murder of three British agents: one at the United Nations in New York City, one in New Orleans, and one in the island nation of San Monique. Cue opening credits. M drops by Bond's London flat to inform him of the situation, and dispatch him to New York. On the taxi ride out of the airport, Bond survives an assassination attempt by a passing pimpmobile. With Leiter's help, Bond traces the car to a restaurant in Harlem, the Fillet of Soul, where he gets tricked into meeting Mr. Big and tarot reader Solitaire. Mr. Big dismisses Bond and has some of his men kill him, but Bond overpowers them and is picked up by CIA agent Harold Strutter.

Bond then travels to San Monique to investigate Kananga, the island's prime minister. In his hotel room he meets Rosie Carter, who claims to be another CIA agent. On their way to Kananga's home, Bond deduces her to be a double agent and tries to make her talk, but she is silenced by Kananga's security system before leaking any info. Bond makes a second journey up to meet Solitaire and tricks her into sleeping with him. This causes Soltaire to lose her fortune-telling powers, but she agrees to work with Bond. In the morning they venture deeper into the island, discover some camouflaged poppy fields, and flee the place.

They end up in New Orleans, where Solitaire is retaken and Bond faces a skydiving session -- the hard way! -- but he gets away and reunites with Leiter. Together they investigate another Fillet of Soul restaurant in the French Quarter. Once again, a trapdoor leads Bond into the hands of Mr. Big, who reveals himself as Kananga in disguise, and together they work out his plan: Manufacture heroin from the poppy plantation Bond discovered, distribute it for free, drive out the competition, and extort his customers with a monopoly on drugs. He then gives Solitaire a test to see if her powers are still active; she appears to pass, and Bond is freed, only to be knocked out and drug off by Tee-Hee. It turns out she really did lose her powers, and is to be executed for the infraction she and Bond committed.

Meanwhile, Bond is taken to an alligator farm-stroke-heroin processing plant. Left stranded for the alligators, Bond escapes, disables the plant, and leaves via motorboat. A boat chase ensues. Once that's over with, Bond heads back to San Monique, blowing up the poppy fields, rescuing Solitaire, and dueling Baron Samedi. They end up in Kananga's underground base, where he ties them up as shark bait. Bond frees them and kills Kananga by force-feeding him a compressed-air bullet. With all said and done, Bond and Solitare take a train ride together, fending off one final assault by Tee-Hee. You are now free to turn off your TV.

One pattern we will be noticing with James Bond in the 1970s is that these films tended to latch onto a certain trend. In the case of Live and Let Die, that would be the blaxploitation genre. Despite the obvious cross-marketing and the tendencies toward slapstick gimmicks, it's nice to know that Live and Let Die has a decent plot holding it all up. It's a shame the next film could not maintain that same balance of style and substance. 5 out of 5.

The Call: 70% (C+)

IchigoRyu will return in
The Man With The Golden Gun

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Top 10: Worst Pitbull Lyrics

Enter Armando Christian Perez, the Miami-born Cuban-American who in 2004 became known as the rapper Pitbull.  I used to have a slight interest in his early works for some reason.  Maybe it was the way he complemented acts like the Ying-Yang Twins and Lil' Jon, or maybe it was he was hovering just below the mainstream.  (That's right: I'm a hipster.)  As the turn of the decade came and went, Pit's star kept rising, culminating in his first number 1 hit, "Give Me Everything".  ...And it sucked.  By this time, I had taken notice of three personal touches of his: gratuitous Spanish, references to other (better) rap songs, and laughing at his own punchlines.  Seriously dude, quit it, you're not Jimmy Fallon.  In retrospect, I can see that Pitbull has always sucked... but some moments stand out worse than others.  They are:

10) "Spring Break" w/ Jump Smokers (2012)
"Don't you know some of the best entrepreneurs... are dropouts"

On its own, this introductory line doesn't sound so awful.  It's true that some of our best and brightest billionaires aborted their college careers, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and presumably Kanye West.  But this song is about having a drunk party during Spring Break; I very much doubt that the boys from Jump Smokers, a poor man's 3OH!3, whom Pit's hanging out with have a sound business plan to fall back on.

9) "We Run The Night" w/ Havana Brown (2012)
"As my money gets older, let's get younger
They sell their soul but the Devil knows I have no number"

The way I see it, "older" money (meaning greater in number) plus "younger" people (meaning lesser in maturity) equals a fiscal disaster.  Have fun with that.  Also, it's funny you say you wouldn't sell your soul for anything... just hang onto that idea.

8) "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love" w/ Usher (2010)
"Yabba-dabba-doo, make her bed rock"

OMG, he just used the Forbidden Pick-up Line!  No, it's not forbidden as in it's so potent that it could have disastrous side effects for its user, although if one were to count STDs then that could be true.  Actually, it's forbidden because referencing The Flintstones in some capacity, followed by the promise that you can "make her bed rock" with mind-meltingly good sex is just so lame!

7) "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)" (2009)
"Label flop but Pit won't stop
Got her in the cockpit playin' with his (como?)
Now watch him make a movie like Alfred Hitchcock"

Two things wrong here: first, you seem to have cut out a word at the end of one of those lines... except there's no version of the song that leaves it in.  Now, you can probably guess what word was supposed to go there, and if I'm right, then he would've rhymed it with itself in the next line, so forget about it.  Which brings me to my next point: Alfred Hitchcock did not, despite his name, direct pornography films.  (And no, that one line from "Bad Romance" does not count.)  Good thing, too, or else I'd never look at Psycho or Rear Window the same way again.

6) "I Like It" w/ Enrique Iglesias (2010)
"Tiger Woods times Jesse James equals Pitbull all night long"

For those who don't remember 2009 or early 2010, Tiger Woods and Jesse James, ex-husband of Sandra Bullock, were both caught cheating on their wives.  Ya know, I have no idea why rappers these days boast about their ability to make members of the opposite sex tack on a third wheel to their relationships.  To me, all it does is make them look like scumbags.

5)"Give Me Everything" w/ Ne-Yo, Nayer, & Afrojack (2011)
"Me not working hard?  Yeah, right, picture that with a Kodak
And better yet, go to times square, take a picture of me with a Kodak"

And here's where entry #9 pays off.  If you couldn't tell by this line, Pitbull's gone loco with product placement in recent days, with endorsed products including Kodak, Dr. Pepper, and Voli vodka.  And yet, Kodak declared bankruptcy in February 2012.  Serves ya right for trying to rhyme their name with itself, pally!

4) "Give Me Everything" w/ Ne-Yo, Nayer, & Afrojack (2011)
"I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan"

By this line, I assume you're talking about Lohan's February 2011 theft arrest.  The funny thing about that is, she served that time under house arrest because her scheduled jail was overcrowded.  Also, Lohan herself sued Pitbull (a case she lost) for use of her name without compensation, and for defamation of character.  And to that I say... what character?

3) "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)" (2009)
"Mami got an ass like a donkey with a monkey, look like King Kong"

That was a free-association train wreck right there.  Okay, so free-association in and of itself is not a bad thing, but taking any one of these images on its own is not pretty.  Actually, I'd gladly take this over the next line which starts out the same...

2) "Boomerang" w/ DJ Felli Fel, Akon, & Jermaine Dupri (2011)
"Mommy got a boom bang bing bang ding dang
No digga dee, no doubt, Imma hit that"

How can one say so much and not say anything at all?  You know what Pit sounds like here?  He sounds like a sexually-awakened seven-year-old who just saw his first slice of booty.  ...Pray you never witness that image in real life.

Our final line comes from a guest verse on T-Pain's "It's Not You (It's Me)".  Now, this song has the potential to deconstruct the "in da club" mentality every mainstream rapper these days seems to have.  See, T-Pain's still willfully doing his thing, but he's conscious of the fact that it could preclude him from maintaining a monogamous relationship.  It was so thought-provoking, in fact, that I almost did a review on the song, but couldn't quite build up enough material for the concept.  It does have one other moment I still wish to pour my heart out over, however...

1) "It's Not You (It's Me)" w/ T-Pain (2011)
"More Voli, pour it like water
Fo sho, flood the club like New Orleans"


Really?  A Hurricane Katrina reference!?  People died from Katrina, you know.  Billions of dollars' worth of property was damaged, and President Bush suffered (yet another) blow to his reputation from which he would never recover.  And you think it's okay to joke about that!?  That's it, I condemn every rapper who's ever referred to Hurricane Katrina within the context of simple materialism to have their mansions broken into by angry mobs.  That includes Pitbull, Yung Joc, and... those are the only ones that've been so far.

So in conclusion, what do I think of Pitbull?  As the man himself says in "Back In Time", "I don't really give a number twooo~o!"  And neither should you.