BLACK ADAM

By Marc S. Sanders

Black Adam has to be the first superhero movie that apologizes for the mind numbingly stupid two hours you just endured, by offering up an enticing ninety second end credits scene.  That’s all that this headache inducing piece of noise has going for it; the end credit scene.  The film is so headache inducing that I’d rather be serenaded with a duet performance of a car alarm and a leaf blower singing a rendition of a song I’ve always despised, like Red, Red Wine.

About twenty minutes into Dwayne Johnson’s debut into the DC Cinematic Universe, as the title character, I reflected on Raiders Of The Lost Ark from 1981.  Remember when the government suits ask Indiana Jones about the significance of the Ark Of The Covenant?  It took three minutes to sum up what was at stake, what the hero was going after and who he was expected to be up against.  That’s it.  After that, the piece was constructed to offer up one kind of stunt or action sequence or visual effect after another.  The difference is that everything you saw served its story and thus carried on the pursuit. How I long for the days of intelligent writing.

Black Adam tries at least three times over the course of two hours to explain brainless conjecture about an ancient city where its inhabitants dig for some powerful element, called Eternium, at the behest of their harsh ruler.  Then there’s something about a crown and a slave boy who comes into play.  Later, I think his father is mentioned, but I was nodding off by then.  I’m only mad at myself for focusing more on inhaling the contents of my popcorn bucket rather than getting invested in a movie.  My mission was no longer to maintain an interest in this big budget comic book tripe.  Now, I was destined to get to the bottom of my overly priced snack food container.  This is not why I go to the movies, people!

When the movie is not talking (which hardly ever happens), it is pounding at my cranium with horrible CGI dust clouds and lightning bolts that offer up blindingly, irritating sights and bombastic sounds.  My eyes hurt.  My ears hurt.  Light a firecracker, drop it in a tuba and blow.  It’s likely more soothing to the senses.  For surround sound, turn on your garbage disposal with your car keys in it.  It’ll all be much more harmonious and pleasant. 

What little I know of Black Adam is limited to a scant few comic book images.  Long before I knew of Dwayne Johnson, it seemed inevitable that only this guy could play the part.  It’s an uncanny resemblance.  No one else can play this role.  The supporting cast is promising, especially a sophisticated and well-aged Pierce Brosnan as the one with sorcerer like powers.  His Dr. Fate is maybe DC’s equivalent to Marvel’s Dr. Strange.  Aldis Hodge is Hawkman, and he looks absolutely confident in the guise with outspread bird wings and a kick ass helmet and spiked ball on a staff for a personal weapon.  A guy named Noah Centineo is the Atom Smasher.  He’s cute enough to fill the void for Ezra Miller when he eventually gets fired from his cushy gig as the Flash.

So, I don’t get it.  Warner Bros and DC assemble a terrifically talented cast who not only look good in the costumes, but can act with timing as well. Yet, they give them nothing to do but be digitized in terrible CGI that makes the Hanna Barbera Superfriends cartoons look like breakthrough technology.  Everything looks terribly animated in Black Adam, and therefore it’s as boring as a church sermon that won’t end because the minister is overindulging in chastising you for cheating on your diet.  Johnson on the big screen flying up to the top of a towering monument looks ridiculous, like an ¾ inch action figure next to a life size kitchen refrigerator.  I’m supposed to believe that’s Dwayne Johnson up there?  Probably because Johnson was not in the image, or if he was there, he had no concept what he was supposed to be looking at.  Captions like this happen multiple times here, but they are all devoid of emotion or depth.  The statue itself looks unfinished by the effects wizards.  There’s hardly any detail to it. What’s it supposed to signify?  I completely bought it when Christopher Reeve flew against the skyscrapers of Metropolis way back when.  In today’s age of films, this movie takes about a hundred steps back in progress.  Everything looks artificial.  Nothing looks convincing.

Black Adam is also unsure of a well contained story.  I’ll take no issue with the movie being episodic if that’s what its intention was meant to be.  First the main character is fighting a military that stems from I don’t know what organization or country.  They fire rockets and machine guns at him.  Does nothing.  So, what do I care?  Then he’s fighting the other super heroes in the picture.  They pound each other into the desert streets and dust clouds heighten into the earth.  What’s to be gained from any of that? Black Adam then fights a gang that looks no more threatening than a lame motorcycle posse.  Eventually, he’s battling some kind of CGI devil monster who needs a cough drop.  This guy mustn’t sit on the throne located at the top peak over the city.  If he does, all hell breaks loose and blah, blah, blah.  This is like watching a lame CW TV series crammed into two long tortuous hours.  How does this movie go from here to there and then over there and end up wherever?  I gave up trying to string it all together.

It’s ridiculous how dumb Black Adam is, especially when you consider how much thought went into a ninety second epilogue teaser before you leave the theatre.  I’m sorry but I expect these filmmakers and studios who harbor these big budgets and hype to work on the same level of imagination and craft as a Steven Spielberg or a Christopher Nolan.  Nolan reinvented the Batman franchise.  He took his time to flesh out character motivation while painting a scenery for his own flavor of Gotham City.  Marvel did this as well when Jon Favreau was wise enough to follow a Spielbergian trajectory with the original Iron Man.  Kevin Feige often has not broken the formula since, because it succeeds.  Black Adam neglects all of these techniques.  Its lack of any quality is traitorous towards its consumers.

I don’t recall a conversation among the characters that lasts longer than four sentences.  By the end of the film, I’m not sure if Black Adam is a bad guy or a good guy.  I don’t know what was resolved to tie up the picture.  I don’t know when the turning point occurred, and Black Adam got an upper hand over anyone he does battle with.  Actually, he’s never challenged or weakened.  So, where’s the suspense?  What stakes are at play?

Black Adam functions as an eight-year-old kid in his room with his toy action figures.  They crash into another and the child makes a “pshoosh!” sound with his duck face lips.  I expect eight-year-olds to just enjoy their play things.  They don’t have to focus on exposition for themselves or anyone else.  Let them escape.  However, I didn’t pay to watch an eight-year-old play on the floor with his toys. 

The failure of this movie is inexcusable.  It angers me that filmmakers with unlimited resources and a wealth of source material are not trying harder like some of their industry peers.  It’s unfair to movie goers to pay for junk primarily assembled on a Dell computer with a wireless mouse.  Coloring books have more texture than this finished product.

Black Adam is a treachery in any context of the word, filmmaking.  It’s not art.  It’s not fun.  It’s nothing more than shit turned white.  It’s not fresh shit.  It’s worse.  It’s rotten shit.

DIE ANOTHER DAY

By Marc S. Sanders

Once the 2nd half of Die Another Day arrived, Pierce Brosnan’s interim as James Bond was all but wrapped up. This was gonna be his last film after this misfire, and the craftspeople at EON Productions knew something had to change.

What happened here? Director Lee Tamahori was on the right path from the get go with some real world parallels and surprising elements for the long lasting franchise. Then, the film goes sci fi gonzo with some kind of robotic armor for the villain, a space satellite that harnesses the power of the sun, a palace literally held together by ice, an invisible car, DNA switcheroos, and James Bond kite surfing to avoid a solar laser beam.

This movie got ridiculous really, really fast.

Early on, 007 covertly surfs his way onto the coast of North Korea to intercept an arms trade in exchange for diamonds. He’s captured and held for the following 14 months. When the British make a trade for Bond with a North Korean prisoner with a bad case of facial diamond acne, Bond is no longer trusted by M (Judi Dench) and he must become resourceful on his own in stopping whoever betrayed him before his capture. He also needs to figure out what a wealthy industrialist named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) is conjuring up in Iceland, with a literal ice palace hosted to Bond as well as a slew of investors and dignitaries.

Die Another Day began with a grounded intent. However, the stunts and gadgets that are introduced later in the film fly way off the rails, even for a James Bond film. Bond has always completed his mission by ridiculous measure. However, when your hero and villain are on an out-of-control airplane that is being torn apart by a solar beam from space, ala hammy CGI, well, reader how does 007 even survive that?

Another ridiculous plot element involves DNA transfers. So Gustav Graves, a man who claims he never sleeps, may not be who he claims to be. Graves is the villain here and Stephens plays him like a spoiled brat. I didn’t like him and the best Bond films are primarily weighted by the bad guy. For some reason he has to wear this bionic suit of some kind to control the satellite. A keyboard and mouse weren’t as efficient, I guess. It’s also capable of electrocuting Bond; lots of zig zaggy tesla/lightning bolts surround Bond and so on. You really don’t have to see it to believe it.

The Bond girl is Halle Berry and she’s pretty good as an American agent who goes by the name of Jinx. Yes, there’s time made for the two agents to have some flirtations together, but like Michelle Yeoh before her, Berry gets in on the action.

Man oh man! WOW!!!! Die Another Day started so good and then it fell apart. While I don’t think it is the worst of the series, it borders towards the bottom of the list. It’s a shame really. If only it stayed a little more grounded, maybe it wouldn’t have died on any day.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

By Marc S. Sanders

The 19th installment in the James Bond series is The World Is Not Enough from 1999. By now Pierce Brosnan is comfortably established in the role and an expert at pun delivery and suave debonair swagger.

Michael Apted more or less delivers a standard fare. Nothing new here, really, with the exception of John Cleese (perhaps playing the role of R) as the would be successor to exiting mainstay Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the gadget specialist. I wish Cleese could have lasted longer than just his two film internship. He’s hilarious and well suited for the super spy’s tongue in cheek universe.

The story is similar to other Bond films. The one who we eventually realize to be the main villain wants to wipe out oil pipelines so that only their pipe is the only one exclusive to the region in the European west of the world. Auric Goldfinger had a similar idea with his affection for gold. A View To Kill aimed for this with Silicon Valley. Gold, silicone and now, here the commodity is oil.

The World Is Not Enough has a lot of crazy stunts and gadgets that we are always eager to see, such as a boat chase along the Thames River, snow ski escapes from parachuting snow mobiles (a fun sequence), deactivating bombs within underground mines and pipelines, underwater heroics in and out of a submarine and another buzz saw device, only this is a big one connected to a helicopter that is not just for cutting down forestry. BMW also makes its 3rd appearance in the franchise with a spiffy convertible.

The Bond gals are also up to the task. Sophie Marceau is Electra King. A one time kidnapping victim, she has taken over her father’s oil business following his assassination, which Bond is investigating. Marceau is beautiful as expected, but she’s got a great, mysterious way about her.

Denise Richards is fine (QUIET, you haters!) as a geologist swept up in assisting Bond. Her name, Dr. Christmas Jones, is deliberately laughable but she’s works well with Brosnan because there’s hardly any approach at seduction. They’re partners more than anything else. At least, they are until the end of the picture.

I do wish there was more to do for Robert Carlyle, though, as the bad guy Renard. He is impervious to pain thanks to a bullet resting in his brain. He is rapidly heading to death without any sensory feeling, but he gradually gets stronger with each passing day. I don’t know how you diagnose that, but in a James Bond picture, you take it at face value. Carlyle looks perfectly dastardly but he’s hardly on screen and has barely any exchanges with Brosnan’s Bond. When the real villain is finally revealed, Renard doesn’t serve much purpose any longer.

Judi Dench is back again as M. She is positively one of the best casting choices in the entire franchise. Bond remains a chauvinist (early on seducing his gorgeous doctor during an examination), but Dench as M counterpoints that stance and it is more than welcome. She is given more material here as well.

The World Is Not Enough didn’t reinvent the passenger ejector seat or the exploding pen per the nature of 007 films. Yet, it has a neat twist midway. Yeah, you might see it coming, but still it’s appreciated to keep the story developments ongoing. As well, the action plays well with a very good cast.

Brosnan was 3-0 by this point with the franchise.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES

By Marc S. Sanders

Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond is Tomorrow Never Dies and it is his best appearance in the series.

Bond faces off against Elliot Carver (a gleefully bloodthirsty Jonathan Pryce), a global media mogul who enjoys creating worldwide conflict for the best news headlines in print, television and the newfound medium of something called the internet. His pawns are Great Britain and China, and just like any worldwide media mogul he has his own stealth war ship for apprehending missiles and using them against the nations. This ship also has a massive drill that can penetrate a ship’s hull. Oh yeah, Carver also has the means to redirect a sea vessel into enemy territory. Bet Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch could never do any of these things. Carver also has a big, blond bruiser of a guy called Mr. Stamper (Gotz Otto) – another in a long line of big, blond bruiser guys to face off against 007. Stamper is nothing compared to Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, though.

Dame Judi Dench is back as M. I like how she holds her own too. As an actor, Dench has such command of any role she plays. If she is in a scene, everyone listens to her primarily. Even in a goofy Bond movie, Dench puts these films above the standard fare.

Teri Hatcher is also good in a small role as Carver’s wife Paris, and a former flame of Bond’s. M encourages Bond to “pump her for information.” Ahem!

With the Brosnan entries from the 90s, the series was updating itself for a more mainstream feel. So the female stand-in is Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese agent named Wai Lin. Yeoh plays one of the best sidekicks/Bond girls of the series. This agent can hold her own while firing off two machine guns, one on each arm and offering up a great display of karate moves. Yeoh works well with Brosnan especially when handcuffed together while riding a BMW motorcycle and evading machine gun toting cars and a massive helicopter terrorizing a bustling Vietnam village. A fantastic sequence.

Before that, Bond pilots his BMW 700 series from his backseat on his cell phone pad, within a parking garage. Bazookas, guns, crowbars, sledgehammers and missiles can’t stop this luxury car though. After all, the Germans do make some of the best automobiles. Another really entertaining action scene.

I think this is a better film than GoldenEye. Brosnan appears more comfortable with the role and his humor is funnier. He rides the motorcycle through a laundry clothesline and Wai Lin tells him to go faster. Bond’s response: “Alright. Keep your shirt on!” I liked it. I was having a good time with the film.

Roger Spottiswoode was the director this time and he does a fine job. All of the action scenes are well orchestrated and edited.

I’ll also give props to Sheryl Crow for her alluringly sexy and haunting title track. I have never forgotten the song since I saw the film.

Tomorrow Never Dies is a great action film worth checking out whether you’re a James Bond fan or not.

I really like this entry.

GOLDENEYE

By Marc S. Sanders

Over six years went by following Timothy Dalton’s last appearance as James Bond. He wasn’t likely to come back and the big question, besides if we’d ever see another film, was who would carry the Walther PPK pistol next as 007. Pierce Brosnan was not a likely choice as I recall, having missed out on the opportunity before with a flimsy Remington Steele contract commitment with NBC. Yet, one day my brother called me at work to share with me the news that Brosnan had signed on. His first film in the everlasting series was Goldeneye directed by Martin Campbell (eventual director of Casino Royale and Green Lantern). It was a welcome debut for the former odds-on favorite contender.

Bond goes up against the Russians in a post-Cold War 1990’s era, with Sean Bean as his adversary, also once known as Bond’s ally, Agent 006-Alec Trevalyen.

With Famke Jannsen as sidekick Xenia Onatopp (holding on to the sexual innuendo tradition), Alec steals a super helicopter that allows him to take possession of the Russian Goldeneye disc. Dame Judi Dench, making her first appearance as M, assigns Bond to locate the disc and find out what Alec intends to do with it. Forget about what the disc is for; you don’t uncover that until the end of the film.

Brosnan is a good physical Bond and he does the tongue in cheek well, sounding much like his Remington Steele character. Screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Fierstein provide a wealth of signature puns for Bond to deliver. Onatopp can masterfully kill someone by squeezing a victim between her thighs. Bond’s observation: “She always liked a tight squeeze.”

The film has an outstanding but unrealistic opening scene with a motorcycle trying to catch up to a descending airplane. There’s also a fun tank/car chase in Red Square, and a great action-packed ending in Cuba where a satellite is hidden to aid Alec in his plot.

Bean’s role, like most of those on his resume, makes for a great villain – a real equal to Brosnan in physicality and wit. A great match up.

The Bond girl is also very good. Beautiful but not exuding too much sexiness. More so, actor Izabella Scorupco as Natalya, the Russian computer analyst, is an intelligent addition to the story. Alan Cumming is fun as a nerdy analyst as well. I love when he consistently boasts “I AM INVINCIBLE!!”

Goldeneye was well celebrated upon its release. James Bond was back and updated for the modern action film. The first scene of the film cemented Brosnan as the super spy with a true to life stunt where 007 bungee jumps off of a high-altitude water dam, with just enough time to take out his cable pistol. As soon as the scene graced the screen, fans sat up with attention.

This was a James Bond everyone could love.

MAMMA MIA!

By Marc S. Sanders

So at the urging of a close friend of mine, Alicia Spiegel, we all jumped in to watch the Dancing Queens, from the celebrated musical, Mamma Mia!

It’s a fun family film full of gorgeous, eye popping colors.  REALLY EYE POPPING!!!!!  Stay for the closing credits.  Wow Pierce Brosnan! You sure took a huge leap from James Bond here, that’s for sure.  Liberace, and maybe Elton John, would even blush at having to wear some of the costumes on display.  Naturally there are the big musical numbers as well, and big, I mean HUGELY ASTRONOMICAL MOMENTS OF JOY AND CHEERFULNESS!!!!  Jeez, the excitement of Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski and company make happiness look like an incurable disease. 

The sugar coated, dipped in maple syrup, and showered in Jolt Cola corniness of Mamma Mia! is so sweet, you’ll have a fresh cavity by the time the film reaches its halfway point.  Still, during these challenging times,  it’s not so bad I guess, and likely just what we all need.  

The film concerns itself more with having fun than anything else amid a simple story of a young bride secretly inviting three likely candidates (Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard), one of which is potentially her biological father, to her upcoming nuptials, which will take place on the Greek Islands.  This welcomes awkward moments for the gentlemen when they each reunite with Streep.  It’s all very sitcomy.

The soundtrack uses the disco book of ABBA, complete with WaterlooTake A Chance On Me and of course Mamma Mia!.  Though I appreciate the music of ABBA, my main issue is that other than two numbers (Slipping Through My Fingers and my favorite The Winner Takes It All), I could not see how any of the remaining music meshes with the story.   How do the lyrics of these songs drive the story of the musical?  I could not make a connection, and so I found myself asking why are they suddenly breaking out into Dancing Queen, for example.  What does this show stopping number have to do with the structure of the story?  The cast could have just as easily broken into We Will Rock You or Walk Like An Egyptian, and the lyrical relevance to the plot would have been just as separated.  No character sings a song that identifies with their respective purpose to the story.

Meryl Streep always challenges herself.  No two characters of hers are really ever the same, and thus she’s able to pull off a musical lead effectively.  I heard people frowned on Pierce Brosnan’s vocals, but I didn’t take issue.  I liked his duet with Streep.  Seyfried is a good compliment to Streep in a mother/daughter relationship as well.  Christine Baranski as Streep’s best friend is welcome and over the top silly escapism.

It won’t ever be my favorite film musical, but if I’m at a friend’s house and the majority wanna turn this on, then I’ll watch and enjoy the whole gang getting swept up in the Greek Isle setting of Utopian celebration and happiness.  I just won’t need to snack on my Mike & Ike’s or sip on my extra large Coke.  There’s already enough sugar emanating from the screen.