6 – 6.5

Quantum of Solace (2008)

James Bond film #22 (Daniel Craig Bond)

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in Quantum of Solace, the 22nd Bond adventure and the first to be a direct sequel to the prior Bond film. And when I say direct, I mean immediate. Quantum picks up mere moments after the conclusion of Casino Royale (21), Bond speeding down a seaside highway with the captive Mr. White in his trunk. It’s an interesting approach, giving us a chance to see exactly how Bond deals with Vesper Lynd’s death; and the revelation that there’s a SPECTRE-like organization called Quantum, with members in every major national government, is a great chance for the more personal story of Casino to bloom into a larger-scale affair. Unfortunately, Quantum was produced during the 2008 writer’s strike, a fact plainly evident in its scatterbrained script. Though it’s still slick and action-packed, Quantum of Solace (21) is a huge downgrade from the phenomenal Casino Royale (21), plagued by confusing storytelling and inferior direction.

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The World is Not Enough (1999)

James Bond film #19 (Pierce Brosnan Bond)

The World is Not Enough (1999)

 Pierce Brosnan returns as James Bond for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough (19), the last Bond of the 20th Century. The action is kicked into overdrive for the 19th Eon Production, the story shirked in favor of big action set pieces and double crossings. In it, Bond goes up against Renard, a Soviet terrorist who can’t feel pain because of a bullet slowly making its way through his brain. Don’t worry, if that’s not unrealistic enough for you, you still get to watch Denise Richards try to play a nuclear physicist. The World Is Not Enough (19) is a roller coaster ride of action scenes that moves so fast you might get lucky and not realize how inane it is until it’s all over.

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Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first three Paranormal Activity films, but I’ve avoided spoiling too much about Paranormal Activity 4 itself (until the Stray Observations – read those at your own risk!)

Back when it first received a wide release in 2009, the original Paranormal Activity was a breath of fresh air. Compared to the 5-year old Saw series, for instance, its thrills and scares were generated not by the amount of blood onscreen but by the unseen terrors that it set off in our imaginations. The found-footage genre wasn’t exactly new at that point (having already been used in, for instance, REC and Cloverfield), but it hadn’t reached the seemingly ubiquitous status that it has now. Audiences responded and the film grossed nearly $200 million worldwide. Because of that huge success, there’s been a new Paranormal Activity movie released every October since, and 2012 is no different, bringing us Paranormal Activity 4.

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Moonraker (1979)

James Bond film #11 (Roger Moore Bond)

Moonraker (1979)

After the success of Star Wars in 1977, Cubby Broccoli decided to jump in on the emerging science fiction craze and choose Moonraker as the next Eon Productions Bond movie. Roger Moore returns for his fourth Bond film, investigating a stolen space shuttle that leads him to Hugo Drax of Drax Industries. Drax’s plan is very similar to Stromberg’s from The Spy Who Loved Me (10) – he plans to destroy humanity and repopulate the Earth as he sees fit. There are a few slight differences – instead of nukes, he’s planning on using poison, and instead of hiding out underwater, he’s planning on chilling in space during the apocalypse – but this déjà vu is symptomatic of Moonraker‘s tendency to coast on the coattails of its spectacular predecessor.

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Live and Let Die (1973)

James Bond film #08 (Roger Moore Bond)

Live and Let Die (1973)

James Bond is dead. Long live James Bond.

Bond never really died, of course (the closest he ever came was when he faked it in You Only Live Twice), but with the conclusion of the Connery era, we begin a new chapter in the series with Roger Moore as our sexy super spy. While George Lazenby’s stint mostly stuck to the conventions of Connery’s Bond, Moore ushers in a radical departure with Live and Let Die, a 70s-tastic blaxpoitation film. In it, Bond uncovers a plot involving a Caribbean dictator and the heroin trade, taking him to such locations as Harlem and New Orleans and causing him run-ins with oracles and Voodoo Loas.

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

James Bond film #06 (George Lazenby Bond)

Film #23: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

All right. Back to Bond. Mostly, anyway -1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service marks the first time in the Eon Productions series that Mr. Bond is played by someone other than Sean Connery. This time around, newcomer George Lazenby fills the role for the longest Bond film that isn’t Casino Royale. It wasn’t until midway through production that Lazenby decided he’d only play Bond once, having been convinced by his agent that 007 would become irrelevant in the 70s. The film’s length and the fact that it features an isolated Bond actor puts it in a unique position amidst the Bond canon, and at times the film seems uncomfortable with itself as it struggles with the new Bond incarnation.

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War Horse (2011)

Film #21: War Horse (2011)

For the past half-decade, Steven Spielberg has been much busier producing films than directing them. Since 2005’s Munich, the only film he directed before 2011 was the regrettable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. Perhaps to make up for that dearth of direction, last year saw the release of two Spielberg-directed films: The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. While the former was released to much acclaim – even taking home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature – the latter had more of Spielberg’s ‘epic blockbuster’ feel to it. War Horse received plenty of accolades itself, nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, but its sentimental tale set during World War I didn’t quite win over everyone. After watching it myself, I’m not surprised.

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Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

Film #9: Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

Man, if it’s not a horror movie, it’s a documentary, right? I promise that eventually I’ll expand the scope of films that I review, but lately I seem to either want to scare myself or learn something. Casino Jack and the United States of Money gave me an opportunity to do the latter. This 2010 documentary by director Alex Gibney (who’s also made documentaries about Enron and Eliot Spitzer) focuses on super lobbyist and all-around scumbag Jack Abramoff. In 2006, Abramoff was convicted of fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, and his conviction brought down several other government officials, including Representative Bob Ney. Ney contributes interviews for the film, as do loads of other politicians and Washington insiders – pretty much everyone except for the man himself. The film covers the rise and fall of Abramoff in the Washington scene, and how he lobbied for various corporations by wooing members of Congress with trips to Scotland, VIP treatment at his restaurant, and of course, good ole fashioned cash.

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Insidious (2011)

Film #6: Insidious (2011)

Insidious is a horror film brought to us by James Wan, director of the original Saw film. While that movie was a slasher, this film is a quieter but equally effective stab at the supernatural subgenre. After moving into a new house, Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) face a familial crisis when their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) inexplicably slips into a coma. Three months later, Dalton, still comatose, is moved from the hospital back home, where Renai (and Dalton’s younger brother) begin to see things and fear that the house is haunted. The family moves to another new place, but when problems persist, Josh’s mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) brings in psychic-esque friend Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye). Despite Josh’s initial protests, Elise’s methods prove that Dalton’s soul is lost in a supernatural world called ‘the further’, and it’s up to Josh to go in and recover his son.

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Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

In 2006, Steve Pink made his directorial debut with Accepted. His sophomore effort is a high-concept comedy with a premise contained entirely within its title: Hot Tub Time Machine.

Hot Tub follows three middle-aged friends whose lives are all unfulfilling. John Cusack’s girlfriend has just moved away (leaving him with his geeky nephew played by Clark Duke), Craig Robinson is domineered by his controlling and unfaithful wife, and Rob Corddry is an alcoholic wreck. The latter three actors (and, to some extant, Cusack as well) have established characters that they are strong at playing, and nobody ventures outside their comfort zones here. Robinson is sarcastic and vulnerable, Duke is an acerbic nerd, and Corddry is vulgarity incarnate.

Despite his Daily Show roots, I’m not often a fan of Corddry’s shenanigans. I find him crude and loud, and he cranks that up to 11 for this time-traveling romp. He’s homophobic, bombastic, obscene, and pretty much the worst kind of person there is. Luckily, Hot Tub plays these characteristics properly. The movie doesn’t glorify his ridiculous behavior; instead, the other characters all feel a mutual disgust for their past-his-prime party animal friend who may have just attempted suicide.

To raise his spirits, the quartet go to an old ski lodge that they used to frequent in their glory days. It’s here, in the decrepit present of Kodiak Valley (there are literally burning trash cans on the streets), that they find their magical hot tub TARDIS.

The guys travel to 1986, the height of the worst decade in human history (one of them shares my opinion as to why – “Reagan and AIDS”). The movie’s humor could have been based entirely on anachronisms if they wanted to play it safe. But the movie’s various screenwriters go to other wells for laughs. Luckily, they get a principal cast with excellent comedic timing. The four main characters are excellent when hanging out together. Though the situations they find themselves in may be implausible or straight up silly, they still seem like old time pals. I especially enjoyed Duke, who helps dismantle the stereotype of nerds as weak and inept. Surrounded by childish adults, Duke takes charge and drives the effort to get back to their hometime.

Unfortunately, Hot Tub revels in the raunch as well. The movie actually opens with a poop joke, and proceeds to crank out humor based on piss, farts, semen, and vomit. A couple of instances of vomit, actually. The low brow jokes are frequent enough to be distracting, and they take away from an otherwise decent display of humor.

Since it’s mostly a vehicle for comic actors to mock and pay homage to the 80s, there’s nothing stellar about the story. The characters lazily move from one plan (“We have to relive everything exactly as it happened”) to another (“F*ck it, let’s do what we want and be candid about our time traveling”). Side characters are one-dimensional: Lizzy Caplan is the cute and quirky girl who challenges Cusack’s fatalistic viewpoint, Collette Wolfe is Duke’s future mom and a complete caricature of a party slut. A flatulent Chevy Chase pops up a few times, and Crispin Glover plays along like a great sport as a bellman who may be destined to lose his arm.

They weren’t trying anything new when they made this movie, and their elements were almost enough to form a good comedy. Somewhere along the way, though, gross-out humor got in and diluted the quality of the film. As it stands, it’s not a bad movie to throw on and laugh at, but it could have been better if it had held itself to a higher standard.

(Also, I have to give the movie props for having Bowie and the most appropriate use ever for The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”)

Final rating: 6/10

–James A. Janisse