Monday, 30 May 2016

Die Another Day (4 Stars)

"Die another day" is the 20th James Bond film, made in 2002. It's the fourth and last film to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. It's also the last of the classic James Bond films before the reboot of the franchise in 2006.

The villain in this film has a relatively small goal. He doesn't want to rule the world or become the world's richest man, he merely wants to reunite Korea under the control of the North Korean government. This was a topical subject in 2002, because Kim Jong-il was seen as a dangerous leader. Today it would be even more relevant with Kim Jong-un as the deranged leader of North Korea, expecting all the men in his country to make their hair look as ugly as his.

After the critical acclaim of Michelle Yeoh in "Tomorrow never dies" another action hero has been chosen as the good Bond girl. Halle Berry stars as Jinx Johnson, a CIA agent sent to do the same job as James Bond. There's evidently no communication between the CIA and MI6, but at least the two agents decide to work together when they meet one another in the field. Halle Berry's role is an obvious attempt to combine the fighting skills of Michelle Yeoh with the sultry sex appeal of the other Bond girls, in particular Ursula Andress.

While the plot and the acting is good, the film is spoilt by over-the-top special effects. The invisible car is ridiculous. The scene with the escape from the disintegrating plane is so implausible that it made me laugh to myself. There hasn't been such exaggerated action in a Bond film since "Moonraker".

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Money Monster (4 Stars)

This film is so exciting and enthralling from beginning to end that it's easy to overlook the real message. It's a film about corruption by rich executives and the normal poor people -- you and me -- who suffer as a result.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a flamboyant financial adviser who hosts a weekly investment advice show, "Money Monster". In one of his episodes he recommends IBIS, a mining company, as "safer than a bank savings book". A few weeks later the company's stock unexpectedly crashes . It's blamed on a glitch in an automated stock trading program, but Lee invites the CEO of IBIS, Walt Camby, as a guest on his show to talk about the crash.

A man bursts into the TV studio with a gun and a bomb during the live broadcast. He's Kyle Ludwell, a delivery man who lost his life savings investing in IBIS. He demands to talk to Lee and Walt live on air. Unfortunately, Walt Camby isn't in the studio because he's flown to Geneva at short notice. Kyle holds Lee hostage while Lee tries to find out what happened to IBIS. As the clock ticks Lee begins to suspect that it wasn't a glitch, it was some sort of corrupt activity. All the time the show's director Patty Fenn is speaking to Lee over an ear piece, advising him what to say next; advice that he doesn't always take.

This is a well written film with first class performances by all the main actors.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The world is not enough (4½ Stars)

"The world is not enough" is the 19th James Bond film, made in 1999. It's the third film to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Film critics have formed a consensus that this is the worst Bond film ever. I'm so glad that I'm a fan, not a critic. I find the film highly enjoyable, not least because Pierce Brosnan is excellent in the main role, almost up to the standard of Sean Connery.

Of course, if I deny this is the worst Bond film the question will be immediately thrown back at me which one I think is the worst. That's a difficult question to answer because I like them all. If I had to pick my least favourite film it would probably be "Live and let die". I've never really given it any thought.

As far as the Bond girls go, this film treads new ground. The good Bond girl is Dr. Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. What separates her from previous Bond girls is that she isn't an air-headed rich girl, she's a highly intelligent nuclear scientist. Of course, her intelligence isn't enough to prevent her falling helplessly into James Bond's arms in the final scene. However, the biggest departure from previous Bond girls is the bad Bond girl, Elektra King, played by Sophie Marceau. All of the Bond films have either two or three Bond girls as well as a power-mad villain. This is the only film in which the villain is the Bond girl herself. Elektra King has inherited an oil company after murdering her father, and she intends to detonate an atomic bomb to ensure that her own pipeline is the sole supply of oil from the Middle East. She might not be the scariest of Bond's adversaries, but she's certainly the most seductive. After all, we never saw Ernst Blofeld writhing on James Bond's lap while strangling him to death.

"Do you know what happens when a man is strangled?"

It's a well known but little understood fact that when a man is being strangled he has an erection and sometimes even an orgasm. There is uncertainty about whether this is caused by the blocking of the air tunnel, the restriction of the flow of blood to the brain or a combination of the two. Whatever may be the case, the effect is to relax the muscles in the groin area and facilitate the flow of blood into the penis. This phenomenon has been most commonly observed in American style hanging. In English style hanging, practised in England until the 1960's, the hanged man falls rapidly and breaks his neck, dying almost immediately. In American style hanging there is no rapid fall, so the hanged man is gradually choked to death over a period of minutes. The erection during his struggles adds to his humiliation during the execution.

Women react to strangling in the same way as men, but the effect is less visible, for obvious reasons.

Some couples use this as a form of sexual play. They take turns in suffocating one another to sexually arouse one another. This is usually done merely by restricting oxygen, not by hindering blood flow, so it's called "erotic asphyxiation". Whether the sexual arousal is caused by the lack of air alone is unclear, because these games are played in a sexual context where the participants are already sexually excited. Apart from this, there is often additional sexual stimulus from one person sitting on the other. We see that when Elektra King sits on James Bond's lap while strangling him.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Tomorrow Never Dies (4½ Stars)

"Tomorrow never dies" is the 18th James Bond film, made in 1997. It's the second film to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. I was particularly excited when it was made because it starred Michelle Yeoh as the film's Bond girl, Wai Lin. Actually there are two Bond girls. In the photo above Teri Hatcher is shown on the left as Paris Carver, while Michelle Yeoh is shown on the right. There are frequently two good Bond girls, of whom one is killed early in the film. That's Paris Carver in "Tomorrow never dies". Wai Lin is the girl who survives to the end so that the film can close with her lying in Bond's arms.

So what's so exciting about Michelle Yeoh? From the first time I heard she would appear I knew she would be different to all the Bond girls before her. The Bond girls are eye candy for the viewer and sex toys for James Bond. Their sole purpose is to act as damsels in distress for the mighty hero to save, so that they can jump into his arms and his bed. That's not Michelle Yeoh. Ever since her early films, such as "Magnificent Warriors" and "The Heroic Trio", she was an action hero. It was expected that as a Bond girl she would be a martial artist on a par with Bond himself. This was the case. In the film it isn't just about James Bond saving her; they fight side by side and take turns saving one another.

In "Tomorrow Never Dies" there's a power-mad villain, as always, but in this film he isn't attempting to conquer the world. The villain is only the head of an international news corporation. He wants his newspapers to be the most read and his television stations to be the most watched, so he resorts to underhand tricks. He creates an international incident between China and Britain, threatening to make the two countries go to war. He does this so that he can be the first one to report the news. Step by step he causes the situation to escalate, always standing on the front line with his news report planned before the events have even occurred.

This is where Wai Lin fits in. The British secret service sends James Bond to investigate, and the Chinese secret service sends Wai Lin. The two agents each want to protect their own countries, but to do this they have to unite against their common enemy.

The public loved Michelle Yeoh. They were tired of James Bond's sexist attitudes and wanted a woman who could stand up to him. After the film there was talk of Michelle returning, making her the first Bond girl to return in a second film. I had mixed feelings. about it. On the one hand Michelle Yeoh was a fantastic actress that I wanted to see again. On the other hand, one of the key elements of the Bond formula was the appearance of a new girl in every film, showing that he had no interest in romance. As it was, the film studio decided not to bring her back. The next film returned to the usual damsel in distress girl. Almost. The next girl was actually a highly intelligent and independent scientist, but that's a topic for my next review.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Ex Machina (4½ Stars)

I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

A Hologram For The King (4 Stars)

Tom Hanks gets lost in translation.

He plays Alan Clay, a salesman attempting to sell a high-tech holographic conference system to the King of Saudi Arabia. When he arrives in the city where the king is supposed to live he finds that only one building has been completed, and the king hasn't visited for over 18 months. His frustration turns to rage as he realises that he can't find anyone to help him.

This is an excellent film about a man visiting a country so foreign that it could be another planet. The justaposition of middle eastern and western cultures often seems absurd, especially Alan's journey through Mecca. Friends of mine who have worked in Saudi Arabia have verified that the attitude towards alcohol is accurate. If you ask for alcohol you're told it's forbidden, but if you don't ask you find that it's offered to you when you least expect it.

I almost gave the film a five star rating, but I found the scenes with the cancerous lump on Alan's back distasteful. If that doesn't bother you you'll love the film.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Never Been Kissed (4 Stars)

"There is a big world out there, bigger than proms, bigger than high school, and it won't matter if you were the prom queen or the quarterback of the football team or the biggest nerd in school. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it".

This is the sixth film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1999 when she was still 15. Interestingly, she plays a character who is 17 years old. As you can see in the photo above, she looked older than 15. She had already reached her full height of 5'10" and towered above Drew Barrymore, who is only 5'3".

When Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) was 17 she was the ugly girl in school. She didn't fit in. She'd never had a boyfriend, and she didn't even have a date for the prom. Now she's 25 and works as a journalist. She doesn't look ugly any more, but she's plain and forgettable. And she still hasn't had a boyfriend. She dreams of her magical first kiss, but her expectancies are so high that it looks like it will never happen.

Josie is given an assignment to return to high school posing as a 17-year-old to write a story about schools today. She's not as ugly as she used to be. Her face isn't as spotty and she's lost weight, but she still doesn't fit in. She's still an outsider. The only friend she makes is Aldys (Leelee Sobieski), the president of the school's Mathematics club, the Denominators.

Josie might not fit in with her classmates, but there's still a romance. She develops a crush on her English literature teacher. He also feels attracted to her, but he keeps his distance because he thinks she's only 17. It's an awkward relationship.

This is beautiful little high school comedy. I enjoyed it, even though Leelee doesn't play the main role.

A newspaper is shown in the film. It isn't completely legible, but it's clear enough to see that the same blocks of text are used as in "A Horse for Danny" and "Basic Instinct". The paragraph beginning with the words "Future plans" is repeated in the second, third and fourth columns. Sloppy.