5 – 5.5

Die Another Day (2002)

James Bond film #20 (Pierce Brosnan Bond)

Die Another Day (2002)

After GoldenEye (17) rebooted the James Bond series in 1995, its two successors more or less spent their time adding explosions and computers to old Bond plotlines. This isn’t quite the case with Die Another Day (20), the 20th Bond film (!!), which tries to reframe in the series in the new cinematic landscape of 2002. It deserves some recognition for thinking outside the box, but most of what it tries ends up failing, and the film ultimately collapses under the weight of all its gadgets and one-liners.

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The Living Daylights (1987)

James Bond film #15 (Timothy Dalton Bond)

The Living Daylights (1987)

The Living Daylights is the first Bond film with Timothy Dalton, a man who would certainly be the most forgotten Bond if it weren’t for Mr. George Lazenby. While Roger Moore altered Bond to make him more comical and suave, Dalton dials back the self-awareness and plays the role more like a serious spy. It’s not a bad idea, and we’ll see that approach work well when we get to Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, but there’s very obvious tension on display in this film between Dalton’s new take and the material’s inability to adapt alongside him.

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A View to a Kill (1985)

James Bond film #14 (Roger Moore Bond)

A View to a Kill (1985)

A View to a Kill marks the 7th and final appearance of Roger Moore as James Bond, Agent 007. It’s been a fun ride that’s lasted 12 years, but as anyone who watches this film could tell you, Moore is 57 years old and looking it. It’s time for some new blood, but not before Moore takes down Christopher Walken, co-starring as the rich and insane Max Zorin. Despite the promise that an unhinged Walken might suggest, A View to a Kill is as worn-out and tired as its leading man.

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Octopussy (1983)

James Bond film #13 (Roger Moore Bond)

Octopussy (1983)

The Bond series becomes a baker’s dozen with 1983’s Octopussy (13), a movie which may very well win the “Worst Title Ever” award. The film itself isn’t so great either, excelling only in setting and severely lacking in story. A Soviet general who’s something like a mix between Dr. Strangelove and Buck Turgidson is attempting to expand the USSR’s borders into Europe through a convoluted disarmament plan. Somehow, an Afghan prince and his unfortunately named business associate get involved, and Bond ends up dressing like a clown. If it weren’t for the absurd name, this subpar Bond film would be long-forgotten by now.

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The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

James Bond film #09 (Roger Moore Bond)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Roger Moore returns as James Bond in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun to uncover a devious plot by an assassin with a third nipple. It was  a year in which the effects of the energy crisis were still at the forefront of Britain’s collective consciousness, so Francisco Scaramanga’s plot involves using newly-developed solar energy to take control of the world. Though Moore made an impressive entrance to the series with Live and Let Die, Golden Gun plays like an attempt to emulate the Connery films. The resulting film is a disappointing follow-up and the worst Bond film in the series so far.

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Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

James Bond film #07 (Sean Connery Bond)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

After George Lazenby’s solo run as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were told to get Connery back in the suit at any cost – and that cost ended up being 1.25 million pounds, an amount that equals out to about $32 million in today’s dollars. Having spent so much on their lead actor (in fact, the highest salary to an actor for a role ever at the time), the pair of producers aimed to recreate the commercial success of 1964’s Goldfinger, hiring that film’s director (Guy Hamilton), using Shirley Bassey to sing the title song again, and originally centering the story around Auric Goldfinger’s twin. After Broccoli dreamt of recluse Howard Hughes getting replaced by an imposter, however, the plot was changed to that fantastical idea, creating the character of Willard Whyte and setting most of the story in Las Vegas.

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Stay (2005)

Film #13: Stay (2005)

In the mood for a mystery, I consulted my film library and randomly chose one. I had never heard of 2005’s Stay, written by David Benioff and directed by Marc Forster, but its attractive cast made the case for a spontaneous viewing. The film begins with a rollicking POV shot of a car accident on a bridge. Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), a 20-year-old survivor of the wreck, goes to see his usual psychiatrist, only to find a “substitute shrink” in the form of Dr. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor). After Henry tells Sam that he plans to kill himself in a few days’ time, Sam is distressed enough to confide in his girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), herself a suicide survivor. Sam starts to investigate Henry’s background more in-depth, and as he does, his reality begins to unfold, leaving him unsure of who, exactly, is the crazy one in all of this.

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Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Film #3: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Two years ago when the first Paranormal Activity came out and had everyone shitting their pants, I saw it and did a webcam review for the now-defunct Rotten Tomatoes Show. I didn’t bother to keep up with the series as the sequels rolled off the line, but since PA2 was on Netflix, I decided to hit it up, remembering the fond feeling I felt toward the original. Paranormal Activity 2 is a “parallel prequel” to the first, taking place before and a little bit after its predecessor. Instead of following a couple, the sequel gives us a full-fledged family – newborn baby, dog and all. Adding to the camcorder shots is footage from security cameras that the Rey family installs after they come home to find their house in disarray (but with nothing stolen). Over the next couple of weeks, wife Kristi and daughter Ali start to suspect a supernatural presence in the house, though father Dan remains obstinate.

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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice in Wonderland marks the 7th collaboration between director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, but it also marks the first foray into 3D for Burton. The film itself has been anticipated for quite some time now, understandable considering its near-150 year old source material. Lewis Carroll’s story has of course been adapted to the big screen many times over, the most famous being the 1951 animated feature by Walt Disney. Burton’s film is not a remake or retelling of that film; instead, like 1991’s Hook, it fashions itself as a sort of grown-up sequel.

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Bruno (2009)

I remember watching Borat a few years ago and utterly disdaining it. To be fair, I had been at a disadvantage in experiencing it: This was quite a few months after it had been popular, so it seemed like there wasn’t a single line in the movie that I hadn’t heard a thousand times before. Even worse, I normally don’t find people being purposefully rude or irritating funny, only obnoxious. Because of this, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and follow-up, Bruno, start off at a personal disadvantage for me.

I still wanted to give Bruno a chance, though. Cohen’s titular character is a flamboyantly gay Austrian who comes to America looking to get famous. It’s no secret that parts of America are rife with homophobia, so I was hoping for Cohen to help expose and mock a lot of that, perhaps even making some social statements along the way. Unfortunately, Cohen lends no help to the gay community with this film. When people get mad at Cohen in this movie, half of the time I don’t think it’s because he’s gay at all, but rather because he’s wasting their time and being annoying in the process.

I say “half the time” with purpose. Bruno ended up being about half enjoyable and half obnoxious. There are some instances where Bruno captures people at their most delightfully embarrassing. Paula Abdul claims that her experience filmed here was “scarring”, and I’ll at least grant her that it scarred her reputation. Only a fool would agree to discuss human rights while sitting on a man acting as furniture.

One of the most enlightening sequences is also one where Cohen thankfully doesn’t have to make an ass for himself – the people he’s playing off of take over that role. Cohen holds a casting session for a photo shoot for babies, and the parents of the auditioning children are horrendously exploitative. In a culture where beauty pageant contestants are still in diapers and featured on reality TV shows instead of being taken away from their parents, Cohen’s interviews show the absurd extremes to which parents agree to go. It’s horrifying to watch parents agree to their children being strung up on baby crucifixes, and Cohen makes sure to record them agreeing to every last outlandish request.

I was actually pretty impressed by the way some of Cohen’s victims reacted to him. I was horrified when the Ron Paul sequence began, fearing that the elderly politician would say career-shattering homophobic remarks. While Paul did end up calling Cohen “queer”, his reaction was much more tempered then I had expected, especially in light of the uncomfortable position Cohen put him in. In another instance, a “spiritualist” sits patiently, if disapprovingly, by as Cohen entertains himself with a lengthy and humorless blowjob charade bit.

Some parts of the movie are unbelievable. Cohen goes to the Middle East, which I personally find to be one of the ballsiest moves he’s done yet. Another bit that starts off pretty funny, wherein Cohen fools a focus group, ends up going over-the-top in a shameless assault of onscreen male genitalia.

All of the parts with Cohen playing off of people’s reactions are framed by the fictional narrative featuring Bruno and his assistant’s assistant falling in and out of love. Many of these scenes are childish and poorly written, and bring down the film and its already questionable candid footage. One early scene with cartoonish sex acts stands out as exceptionally awful. I definitely would have appreciated a better framing device for Cohen’s antics.

I reiterate that the film was a 50/50 affair for me. The fake narrative scenes were almost all bad, and out of the leftover candid bits, I found only half of them to be comical, with the other half either offensive or just plain stupid. I had problems before seeing the movie with Cohen running around reinforcing stereotypes about homosexuals, but after watching it I may have a bigger problem with the resulting unfunny footage. There are plenty of moments where you will gasp or be in shock, but audacity alone does not make a movie good by any means. Cohen had an opportunity to make an interesting mockumentary that explored social currents in America and around the world. Instead, he opted for some fart jokes and being a jackass in public.

Final rating: 5/10

–James A. Janisse