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You Only Live Twice

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**½

Rule number two: in Japan, men come first, women come second.

If you found Live and Let Die to be too politically correct for you, then this is your movie. Sure, the above could be mistaken for mere male chauvinism, but that would not do this movie credit. In this Bond goes to “ninja training” and has his chest waxed, eyes slantied, and skin darkened to appear “more Japanese.” Does it work? I would guess that if I had not told you that, but instead showed you a clip of Sean Connery in disguise that you would have thought it were James Bond staring into the sun.

As with any Bond film, there are pluses. Two of the villains, Osato-Teru Shimada-and the busty Helga Brandt—played well by Karin Dor—are interesting and thoughtful. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Tetsuro Tamba as Tiger Tanaka, does the best he can with lines like the tosh above. And the villain’s lair is mighty impressive—it is in a volcano and looks like it too.

Unfortunately, the Japanese Bond girls are pretty, but interchangeable. When Bond is told that he has to get married as part of his cover, his contact, Aki gets excited and moves closer towards him. How does Sean Connery, the original James Bond react? He smiles warmly and seems to have his excitement grow. Bond? The marrying type? Because this young agent gives a crappy massage and is willing to sleep with him? Instead he is to marry someone else. That night, Aki gets killed in a failed attempt on Bond’s life. That must have devastated him, since he wanted to “marry” Aki. If so, he keeps such emotion to himself and goes about trying to sleep with his new fake wife. Yuck.

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Best Trilogies, or Film Series, of All-time

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I decided that film series do not need to be taken as a whole. For instance, I only looked at Police Academies 1, 2 and 4. That is a lie, despite my young love of Mahoney, Jones and Hightower, those movies do not hold up, so I did not consider them. I did consider the Naked Gun movies, but the original is the only classic among them. Thus, literally every single movie that I put on my list is at least a good movie as part of a great trilogy, and yes that includes The Godfather Part III.

In my selection process I tried to be as expansive as possible, including thematic trilogies as well as numerical ones. Movies that exist in the same universe counted. Not even all of the trilogies had the same directors or actors. Yet the films had to be taken together. Did the third/final chapter wrap things up? Was it something that could be watched on loop? Did it have a lasting impact on cinema? Weighty questions, to be sure, now, here are my ten:

10. The Jackass Trilogy (Jackass the Movie, Jackass 2, Jackass 3-D). I hesitated to do my list in reverse order because the Jackass movies are incredibly polarizing. They are not traditional fictional films. But neither are they traditional documentaries either. They are a series of stunts, pranks, and skits. They are bound together and packaged for as many laughs and shudders as possible. Based on a tv show, the first movie tried to rekindle the magic of a league of less than professional daredevils looking to put 90 minutes of material together. By the third movie, these haggard men were no longer as young, spry or dumb as they once were. It is with a sense of reunion and nostalgia that they team up for one last go at that magic. They know that this is probably their last public appearances that will not be both pathetic and depressing. They make the most of their team and show how far they have come. And there are a lot of penis gags.

9. The moody films of Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, In The Mood For Love, 2046). For those of you familiar with his films, it is easy to look at Chungking Express and Fallen Angels as a pair and In The Mood For Love and its “sequel” 2046 as one as well, but I think that they all fit together under the umbrella of his films ruminating on people “in the mood for love.” When I say “mood,” I mean the situations tend to interfere with anything more than that mood. I find that to be an interesting distinction that he has drawn from general romance films.

From Chungking Express

8. The original James Bond trilogy (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger). These three movies are: the first three of the entire set, the best starting three, and the best three in a row. These films birthed an extremely successful, long running franchise that has alternately led the way for or reflected contemporary cinema. Sean Connery’s James Bond made spies cool. He helped make gadgets cool, so who knows what Jason Bourne and Batman would look like in a world without James Bond.

Goldfinger

7. Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance). Oldboy was the first Korean film I ever saw. I listed it as the best film of 2003, yet I have seen X2 and Return of the King many more times than Oldboy. So Oldboy made me want to see the rest of the trilogy, but it took me six years to watch the other two. That is because these are challenging, disturbing films that generally have a powerful warning—be careful seeking vengeance. If you think that you have nothing left to lose, or that you are back in control of your life, be grateful and take what you can get. If you want to see people try to get the perfect revenge, these realistic “horror” movies are must views. It is worth noting that these films have different ground rules, which differentiate these from most trilogies.

Oldboy

6. The Man With No Name Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). These are the seminal spaghetti westerns. They featured the talents of Sergio Leone’s direction, Clint Eastwood and Gian Maria Volonté’s acting, and Ennio Morricone’s music. My favorite of these is For a Few Dollars More. Most people seem to like The Good etc… most and I can see why. It has a grandeur that the others lack as well as the dynamic addition of Eli Wallach as the Ugly. And I cannot think of three better film endings than these showdowns. Each one raising the stakes and the tension from the previous.

Tuco in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

5. The Godfather Trilogy (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III). Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are great actors and their best performances are in these films. Everyone accepts the first two, but likes to trash on the third. Maybe it has Andy Garcia’s best performance, I do not remember. As a positive, you can learn what happened to the Corleone family after Part II, about how the family adapted over time. People are watching Dallas now because they are curious what happened after that soap opera. Francis Ford Coppola made two of the best operatic dramas ever, so finding out what happens is a bonus, despite its alleged failure to live up to the name Godfather.

THE Godfather

4. Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises). I think that this version of Batman has received such a positive reaction for the same reason this works as a trilogy—Christopher Nolan’s singular vision. None of the characters are original, but he certainly makes them all his. By having that vision and those takes on characters the last chapter tied it all up and added greater meaning to the earlier films, as well as the trilogy as a whole. Of the already mentioned series, only Lady Vengeance, and to a lesser extent Jackass 3-D, can make the same claim.

Batman Begins

3. Bourne (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy). The best way to discuss the Bourne Saga—in one sentence—is by starting with the development to its booming crescendo and then addressing its downfall. Identity broke the mold allowing the even greater Supremacy to pave the way for the high stakes Ultimatum, before the okay Legacy kind of undermined the importance and permanence of the trilogy. This series has had  Doug Liman direct Identity, Paul Greengrass direct the Supremacy and Ultimatum, and Tony Gilroy direct Legacy. The key to their continuity was Gilroy, but Greengrass took Identity, a film that changed action/spy movies, and forced audiences to deal with a more uncomfortable action. It was not until Casino Royale and Dark Knight that audiences caught up to his documentary style of “shaky cam.” The last thing that helped distinguish these films were the scores, combining traditional orchestral music with electronica, for which John Powell deserves credit.

Clive Owen in The Bourne Identity

2. The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King). I could watch this trilogy probably six times a year. And when I say this trilogy, I mean The Lord of the Rings in its full extended edition format. I love the style, the music, the costumes, the quests, the characters, the dialogue, the actors, the fights and the melancholy.  I could write a post as long as this one with all the problems in the series—particularly with the theatrical release of The Two Towers—but this is the second best film trilogy of all-time and that is because there is so much to analyze, to critique. I find it interesting that like The Dark Knight Trilogy, one man, Peter Jackson, directed them all, but unlike it, two women wrote the screenplays. So there was a unity in each department, but not of one vision. Interesting particularly in light of the best trilogy of all-time…

1. The Original Star Wars Trilogy (Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi). This trilogy had three different directors, with George Lucas only directing Star Wars. Yet it was his vision that permeates this unlikely best trilogy. It might seem obvious now, but look at all the trouble he had in 1977 with a cast of one known—Alec Guinness, who asked for Lucas to kill off his character—no special effects help, three different directors, changing villains, and a love of little people dressed up in fuzzy costumes. I would like to add that my favorite version of this trilogy was my THX remastered VHS set. So in spite of Lucas’s insistence on futzing and messing with this saga, it endures with both its original trilogy and its lasting impact. Cue the John Williams score!

Tada!

Thunderball

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As I said in 50 Years of Bond, I love Bond movies. Even the bad ones are enjoyable. I usually think of this one as one of those, but watching it for my blog I think it deserves more credit. Not the A- that Entertainment Weekly gave it, but it is at least a third tier Bond.

The Good: Sean Connery had Bond down pat by this point. The Bond girls—Molly Peters, Claudine Auger, Luciana Polizzi—are more active and all stunning. In fact, Polizzi’s Fiona gets the best line, “But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue…but not this one.” Adolfo Cell’s Largo makes for a great villain too, but more than that, he makes a great Bond villain with the appropriate cadences, vices and strengths. Best of all has to be Tom Jones’s theme song.

The Bad: While this has all of the hallmarks of a good Bond movie with fancy gadgets, exciting locales, beautiful women, Sean Connery, the MI6 team, Felix Leiter, it also has a certain sloppiness. I still do not know who was higher ranking in SPECTRE, Largo, aka Number Two, or Fiona, who is from SPECTRE’s execution division. I do not understand why the four goons who have Bond surrounded flee once their superior gets shot. SPECTRE seems to kill their employees for failure, so maybe sticking it out and trying to kill an unarmed James Bond makes more sense than running away. Conceivably, some of those same henchmen were on the ship trying to take on a flotilla from the US Navy and firing away like they would rather die than get captured. While that happens some sped up footage is meant to convince us that a boat is going really, really fast. So, to be fair, there is a lot of bad too.

The Ugly: Those orange wetsuits with shorts. The fight scene is less impressive now than it would have been in 1965, which is just a fact.

I think that adds up to a ***½ movie, Bond movie.

Into the Wind

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**½

Many people have run or walked across Canada.

Steve Nash is a hall-of-fame caliber point guard. In this documentary on Terry Fox’s attempt to run across Canada, Nash teams up with Ezra Holland to tell Terry’s story. Or to tell Canada’s story. Did I mention that Terry Fox lost his leg to cancer and then decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

All I knew of Terry’s attempt came from an anniversary report on Sportscenter and how important it was to Canada, even 15 to 20 years later. To get a fuller picture seemed like the fulfillment of 30 for 30’s promise. Now I know more of the story, and I would recommend learning of it, but this was not an excellent documentary on it.

The Campaign

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***

Cam Brady, the North Carolina Congressional candidate who punched a baby, is back at it again.

The Campaign is not a crappy movie. It has too many laughs and brings up too many legitimate points regarding our political system to fit that moniker. That said, what the hell was going on here?

It was a pleasure to get to see the funny people in this movie being funny. That list, in no particular order, includes Will Ferrell, Zack Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Sarah Baker, and Brian Cox. Notice how that does not include John Lithgow or Dan Aykroyd. I do not know why they were so pedestrian, but their inclusion in this movie was kind of meh. Also disappointing is how Katherine LaNasa was cast as a highbrow Mrs. Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights. In a vacuum, she was probably fine, but when Will Ferrell’s Cam Brady has about 10% Ricky Bobby in him to begin with, it was an unfortunate choice that detracted from Ferrell’s character and from the story in general.

The movie really let’s you choose to vote for, by having two flawed, funny, but ultimately difficult to like characters. That much is realistic. The same is for their win at all costs mentalities, which Galifianakis’s Marty Huggins quickly becomes. I suppose the message is that redemption and nobility can only come from sin and evil, because living an unchallenged life is easy and there is little to be gleaned from such an existence. More than that, though, is that drunk Will Ferrell saying his thoughts aloud while stealing a police car, or punching a baby, makes me laugh. In his style, he likes to take jokes deeper and deeper, by not cutting on the traditional punchline and it works great. I just wish that this story had been more consistent, but as a means to discuss politics within the mainstream, the laughter makes this horse pill go down easy.

Analyze This

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***½

Okay, I was gonna whack you. But I was real conflicted about it.

Ah the good old days of 1999. I remember when Robert De Niro was justifiably recognized as an excellent actor. Having yet to cash in on his gangster persona, he plays it mostly straight in this self-parody. Opposite of him is Billy Crystal, as the nebbish psychiatrist. I love Billy Crystal and wish that he had gotten more opportunities to showcase his prodigious comedic talent. Neither actor really went on to do much after this film, although they are both still alive and could conceivably do something else of merit. But why bother? Each has had a great deal of success and earned enough to retire comfortably. That is true for the director as well. I do not know Harold Ramis’s financial status, but with Caddyshack and Ghostbusters on his résumé he does not need to direct anything else.

Moving past the stars—which is not fair of me since Lisa Ludrow, Chazz Palminteri and Joe Viterelli are all very good—to something more important: the fashion choices of the late 1990’s mafia. For some reason they seemed to be shopping at the same stores that the guys in Goodfellas frequented, but only selecting shinier suits. While Billy Crystal looks funny in his ill-fitting double-breasted suit at the mobster summit, he was already wearing a nice suit when he got in the car.
Copyright not mine
Why bother having him change?

Why did they all wear such oddly collared button down shirts, also from that time period?

Clearly from Analyze This

Yes, that is De Niro, who showcased shirts theretofore never seen on human beings, mafiosos and Florida retirees included.
Still not owned by me

The outfits did not really take me out of the movie, but they did seem to be noteworthy. I wish that I had this on DVD AND a computer that could take screenshots. Hopefully the above pictures do the job. So let’s toast to the last good movie that Crystal and/or De Niro made. Well, unless you count the sequel Analyze That

Lady Vengeance

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****

Big Atonement for big sins. Small Atonement for small sins.

Park Chan Wook or Chan-wook Park. Whatever you want to call him, he is the master of the revenge genre. He is also a Korean filmmaker who presents an affluent, but non-western society. For instance, it caught me off guard when someone asked, “Why did [a kidnapper] need all that money if [that kidnapper] had no child?” The importance of sacrifice for one’s children is even more important in Korea than it is here. So a film that touches upon kidnapping would have added meaning that might not have fully appreciated if not for lines like that.

Park starts his film outside of a women’s prison with Christian santa clauses singing. This comes after 13 ½ years in prison. That was the sentence for the crime committed against Won-mo, a 5 year old, kidnapped and murdered. The inmate getting released is named Lee Geum-ja–played by Yeong-ae Lee. She has a face that glows and is called “kind-hearted.”  Perhaps her face glows because this is a mystical film. Or at least it believes in something mystical.

The second star is Min-sik Choi, who plays Mr. Baek in a role that falls between his characters in Oldboy and I Saw the Devil. Simply put, he is one of the best actors I have ever seen. He can inhabit any role, with, or without crazy hair. The rest of the film is populated with good actors and interesting characters. All connected in some way to that prison and Lee Geum-ja. Geum-ja has a Korean beauty that strikes some as angelic. I, on the other hand, found her just to be a a fascinating character in a film as powerful as Sympathy for Mr. Vegeance, but more pleasant. That is if any Korean revenge film can be considered pleasant—the violence was less graphic than most other Korean revenge films I have seen.

I compare it to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance since that opened Chan-wook Park’s trilogy, and this, Lady Vengeance, is the close. This story requires some coincidences that struck me as less perfect than those in Oldboy. Still, now I will have to consider where this ranks amongst best trilogies/series all-time.

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