Monthly Archives: February 2007

Up Next: Alien vs. Predator

Somehow this DVD ended up on my bookcase. I have no idea how I picked it up, but I managed to watch it last night.

I hope to post the full review by mid-week, but I can say that I was much more impressed than I thought I would be. I had heard horrible things about this movie.

Review: Thunderball

thunderball_cov.jpgYear: 1965
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 85

Plot
James Bond travels to Nassau to try to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE.

Quick Review
Overall I was surprised how much more I liked Thunderball than the previous Bond movies. Thunderball felt fresh, quick, and much more modern than the previous efforts. The action scenes, somewhat laughable in Dr. No, are now much more polished and entertaining. The uniqueness of the underwater scenes, the dramatic underwater footage, and the excellent choreography are timeless in their brilliance. There are problems with Thunderball, for sure: the choppy editing, the somewhat jumpy plot, and the weak script pull things down. Still, the positives in this movie greatly outweigh the negatives. Thunderball is the quickest, most entertaining Bond to date, and gives the series a shot of adrenaline. We happily present it with a Bronze Explosion Award for its phenomenal underwater action and overall quality.

Full Review
Thunderball strikes me as the first James Bond movie to truly fall into the action movie category. Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger relied heavily on drama, suspense, and intrigue to hold the viewer’s attention, whereas Thunderball takes a bold step forward with its frequent and daring action sequences. The differences from Goldfinger, its immediate predecessor, are startling. Although the two movies were released only a year apart, Thunderball feels as if were made years later: the pace is faster, the action is more violent, and the special effects are more modern.

thunderball1.jpgFor the most part, this emphasis on action works well. A lot of the action occurs underwater, and these scenes deserve special mention. I can’t think of another movie that delivers so much underwater action so well. The large underwater battle toward the end of the movie, in my mind, is a clear candidate for All-Time Best Action Scene, and is a visual treat to watch more than 40 years later. It is amazingly constructed, beautifully shot, and filled with brutal fighting. They even manage to add sharks to the fight! Sharks are like Godzilla: they make any movie better. This battle does run a bit long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Kudos all around in this regard.

The rest of the action in the movie is surprisingly vigorous. In fothunderball3.jpgur short years, the series has made significant strides from the dopey fighting and goofy “dragon battle” of Dr. No. In Thunderball, fights are better choreographed, more violent, and faster. One-punch knockouts are now rare. One exception would have to be the final fight aboard the Disco Volante, the main villain’s ship. The shots of the water and rocks outside the ship simply don’t match the action inside the boat, and the scene turns cheesy because of this. In a movie with so many good action scenes, this final scene seems rushed and sloppy.

The acting and characters in Thunderball are good all around. Sean Connery is as good here as he is in Goldfinger, although he seems to have dropped a notch in the looks department. As an aside, it’s interesting to note the progression of James Bond; he is more “larger than life” and more heroic in Thunderball than in previous movies. Adolfo Celi is strong and intelligent as the main villain. On the whole, the enemies in Thunderball are smarter and nastier, and this helps the action scenes a lot. claudine_auger.jpgClaudine Auger is dazzling as Domino, and Luciana Paluzzi brilliantly fits the role of the evil assistant to Emilio Largo. Speaking of these women, they rock the Babe rating of this movie! Claudine Auger is incredibly beautiful. Luciana Paluzzi is sexy as hell. Together they make the best Bond-women combination in the series so far.

There are other positives as well. Thunderball’s stunt rating is sky high, mainly thanks to the incredible work in the undersea battle. Special effects are better. The level of technology in Thunderball well surpasses that of Goldfinger, and leaves From Russia with Love in the dust. The climax of the film is dramatic and satisifying, with the noted exception of the fight aboard the Disco Volante.

While it might sound so far as if I think this movie is perfect, the reality is that there are some significant weak spots in Thunderball. While the plot is good enough, it is not as precise as the previous Bond films. The scene transitions in the first half of the movie feel especially choppy and jumpy. For a little while I was confused as to who was who, and was confused as to what was going on. There are also spots in the movie where you’re not really sure why Bond is doing what he is doing. Scenes pop up a bit too mysteriously and on the whole the plot seems to get somewhat lost in the middle of the movie. Lastly, the deadline to meet the extortion demands could have been used more effectively to build up pressure in the story.

luciana_paluzzi.jpgThe movie does a fair job of sticking to its premise, although in two places I felt that things broke down significantly. First, I’m not sure I see why Bond would travel to Nassau to investigate the sister of the dead pilot Bond saw at the rehabilitation facility. Seems to be contrived that the sister would somehow be connected to the plot to steal the nuclear warheads, but oh, well. Also, how does Bond find Domino so quickly before their first meeting? Things are a bit shaky here, to say the least.

The script in Thunderball seemed a notch below that of the previous efforts. Many of Bond’s one liners fall flat, not so much from Connery’s delivery, but from a genuine lack of quality writing. They could have done much better in this area.

Overall, however, I was surprised how much more I liked Thunderball than the previous Bond movies. Thunderball felt fresh, quick, and much more modern than the previous efforts. The action scenes, somewhat laughable in Dr. No, are now much more polished and entertaining. The uniqueness of the underwater scenes, the dramatic underwater footage, and the excellent choreography are timeless in their brilliance. There are problems with Thunderball, for sure: the choppy editing, the somewhat jumpy plot, and the weak script pull things down. Still, the positives in this movie greatly outweigh the negatives. Thunderball is the quickest, most entertaining Bond to date, and gives the series a shot of adrenaline. We happily present it with a Bronze Explosion Award for its phenomenal underwater action and overall quality.

Fun Fact
According to IMDB, this film was Sean Connery’s favorite performance as James Bond.

Purchasing Info
The newly released James Bond Ultimate Editions are a great way to purchase restored versions of the older Bond movies. I have noticed these movies on sale individually as well.

Score
Pace: 78
Plot: 55
Action: 83
Consistent Premise: 66
Script/Quotes: 28
Characters: 85
Acting: 78
Villain: 77
Body Count: 75
Time to First Dead Body: Fast
Babes: 86
Hunks: 93
Explosions: 38
Special Effects: 25
Stunts: 93
Ending: 85

Overall: 85 (Bronze Explosion Award Winner)

Carnival of Cinema, Episode XIX

Our Conan review is part of this week’s Carnival of Cinema, hosted on Nehring the Edge. The carnival is a great way to catch up on some recently published movie reviews and articles, with lots of links to good blogs about films and the film industry. Enjoy!

Speaking of good blogs, Nehring the Edge, which is the regular host of the Carnival of Cinema, is an excellent movie blog with an immense library of reviews. If you’re looking for information on a movie, that is a great place to find it.

Up Next: Thunderball

Once again I found myself in the mood for some James Bond. This evening I watched Thunderball, the fourth film in the series.

I hope to post the review later in the week.

Review: Conan the Barbarian

conan_cov.jpgYear: 1982
Director: John Milius
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman

Plot
Conan seeks revenge against Thulsa Doom, the slayer of his parents.

Comments
The first time I saw Conan the Barbarian—on opening night in 1982—I remember leaving the theater feeling as if I had been punched in the stomach. I was a huge fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels, and was looking for every reason to like the movie, but even I knew that Conan the Barbarian fell well short of expectations. I was hoping that more than two decades would give me a new perspective on the film, and it did: I liked it even less the second time around. There are a few redeeming features to this movie. The combat, for example, has some excellent moments. But the awful script, neolithic acting, stuttering pace, and weak direction are too much to overcome.

First, let’s talk about the script and acting, or rather, the lack of these features. Seriously, I think they forgot to to include a script and simply told the characters to act like gorillas. The movie is supposed to be set in the Hyporborian Age, not the Neolithic Age. Characters grunt, scowl, and crawl around as if they missed the evolutionary boat. To give you and example of the near total lack of script, according to a random fact on IMDB, Conan says a total of five words to Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), his lover and accomplice for much of the movie, and all of them occur the instant they meet. Even the little dialog that exists is often delivered with such barbaric exaggeration that it becomes comical. conan1.jpgCritically, despite visually fitting the mold, Arnold Schwarzenegger is abysmal as Conan; he says little, scowls deeply for much of the movie, and captures little of the intelligence, humor, and fire of the written Conan. James Earl Jones, as Thulsa Doom, is perhaps the sole exception acting-wise. He must say twice as much as any other character in the movie. Unfortunately, as bizarre as this may seem, he manages to drone on too long in many of his scenes. I often found myself wanting to shut him up. As one can imagine, the awful script and poor acting wreak havoc with the characterization in the movie; if you hadn’t read the Conan novels you’d likely be clueless as to who and what the characters are.

You could probably forgive these negatives somewhat if the pace of the movie were better, but Conan the Barbarian moves between scenes too slowly, drags many scenes too long, and throws in too many filler scenes that add little to the movie. With so little being said in the movie, I found myself wondering if I had somehow magically turned off the voice track and left the soundtrack on. To give you an example, I swore it took five minutes for Thulsa Doom to decide to kill Conan’s mother, during which time the two of them simply stare at each other, saying nothing. Flash to Thulsa Doom. Flash to Conan’s mother. Flash to little Conan. Back to Thulsa Doom. Repeat for five minutes. Argh! What is the point? I almost cheered when Thulsa finally chopped her head off. In all seriousness, this movie might best be viewed at double speed. You won’t miss any dialog, that’s for sure.

conan2.jpgThe saving grace is the action in Conan the Barbarian. The combat may well be the only reason to see the movie, but even this is a stretch, as there just didn’t seem to be much fighting for a movie that is over two hours long. On the whole, sword combat is bloody and well depicted, with the exception of a silly incident where Conan fights an evil serpent that looks every bit like the big toy rubber snake that it is. Even the good combat scenes, however, suffer from some premise-bending elements. Conan’s stand against Thulsa Doom’s forces, for example, has some solid hack and slash duels, but the enemy forces are extraordinarily dopey, which takes a lot of the luster off the graphic melee combat. At another point, Conan, Subotai, and Valeria sneak into Thulsa Doom’s temple with such ease that it’s a bit ridiculous, and later Conan uses the same route, which Thulsa Doom had discovered! Apparently the brilliant Thulsa Doom is a moron.

If we hunt around for other positives, the cinematography and musical score stand out well. Both are well above average, and pull the viewer in Conan’s world. I suppose we could say that the story is decent, but there really isn’t much of story to start with. Basically, Conan seeks revenge for the slaughter of his village when he was a boy. Yup, that’s the entire plot. And the conclusion does wrap up this story nicely, but again, that’s not too difficult when you consider its simplicity.

From a film-making perspective, 1982 sits on the doorstep of the digital effects age, and there are a couple of basic attempts at enhancing Conan the Barbarian with some evil spirits. For the most part they work, but they don’t add much to the movie.

valeria.jpgBabe-wise, Conan is a delicate subject. There is quite a bit of sex, with two rather explicit sex scenes and one controversial orgy. Normally this would help the babe rating, but females are often portrayed as chattel in the movie, which puts a damper on the whole situation. Furthermore, the babe factor is essentially supplied by Sandahl Bergman, who is one of those women who can look fine from one angle, then bland from the next. Most of the time they seem to have gotten her from the bland angle, however. The most provocative scene would have to be Conan’s night stop in a witch’s hut. The witch, Cassandra Gava, is rather hot, and the scene does a bit to boost the babe factor. From a male-viewing perspective, there is a beefed-up Arnold, James Earl Jones in a wig, and not much else. Arnold broods for most of the movie, so that doesn’t help.

All in all, it’s a shame that Conan the Barbarian doesn’t come close to its potential. The problems with the script, acting, and pace heavily outweigh the solid combat scenes, a great musical score, and some fine cinematography. With the right production, I’ve always felt that the Conan series could have become a sort of James Bond of the Sword and Sworcery world. But this movie crippled any such effort, and the subsequent Conan the Destroyer nailed the coffin shut.

Fun Fact
Corrie Jansen makes a 182-foot freefall from a cliff in this movie. It has remained the world record freefall stunt for a woman. The men’s record is 220 feet, set in Sharky’s Machine.

Purchasing Info
Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer are best purchased in the combination set, Conan the Complete Quest (This set is currently on sale at DeepDiscount.com for $6.28, shipping included).

Score
Pace: 30
Plot: 39
Action: 60
Consistent Premise: 63
Script/Quotes: 8
Characters: 43
Acting: 15
Villain: 37
Body Count: 63
Time to First Dead Body: About 7 minutes
Babes: 52
Hunks: 47
Explosions: 8
Special Effects: 17
Stunts: 59
Ending: 60

Overall: 32 (Disposable)