Friday, December 29, 2006
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The Ultimates is one of the centerpiece titles in Marvel’s Ultimate line of books, which re-boot classic comic books in an effort to make them more appealing to The Kids. The Ultimates is sort of like a comic book adaptation of a live-action PG-13 Avengers movie, if that makes any sense. It’s packed with big-budget widescreen action, excellent character design, realistic art, mature situations (sex & violence), and lots of property damage. All this is good.
It’s the one thing that mars the book for me. At the risk of over-simplifying an entire genre, I want the protagonists of my colorful morality tales to have some redeeming qualities. I want to want them to win – not just because they are the main characters in the story and my sympathies lie with them by default. I want them to win because they are heroes, the good guys. I am a child.
The Ultimates, a super-team assembled by Samuel L Jackson, consists of Captain America (uptight right-winger), The Hulk (in rapey kill-kill mode), The Wasp (shallow and vain), Hank Pym (cowardly wife-beater), Iron Man (drunk), and Thor (sanctimonious lunatic). In the first volume, they battle evil aliens and each other and just generally tear shit up. Each issue features more collateral damage than Independence Day, and The Ultimates #5 is no exception.
The set-up is simple: Hulk is on a rampage, insanely jealous that the object of his affection Betty is dating heart throb Freddie Prinze Jr. The Ultimates have to stop him before he destroys Betty, Freddie Prinze, and most of Manhattan. Have I mentioned that Ultimate Betty is an asshole too? Well, she is.
Minor complaints aside, The Ultimates delivers in terms of action. Hitch clearly invests a lot of energy in every panel - there are no art shortcuts or cop-outs in this book. The amount of time it must have taken to draw the page below... man, I get carpal tunnel syndrome just looking at that thing.
There isn't a ton of plot going on in Ultimates #5 which is pretty much a cover-to-cover fight scene, but it does touch on the theme of superhero-as-celebrity that runs throughout the first volume of the book.
I have to give writer Mark Millar credit; all the characters are well-written and possess distinct personalities and all sound different from each other. The Ultimates take on The Hulk one at a time, so each little vignette allows us a glimpse at the heroes and what they're all about. Tactically, this doesn't make a lot of sense - don't those guys read X-Men? They've got to work as a team, damn it! - but it makes for a satisfying story as each character takes a turn in the spotlight.
Here's Captain America using some good ol' fashion American butt-kicking on the grey behemoth:
The socialite Wasp also engages The Hulk, but in a different way. This is the first comic book I have read where a heroine flashes her tits at the bad guy to distract him. North American male comic book readers have waited for decades for the art to reach this point, when boob-flashing is OK.
Iron Man takes his turn with the rampaging libidinous monster as well, blasting The Hulk through Grand Central Station. I love the long shot of the station, below, with the shiny marble effect on the floor. Pretty.
In the end, The Wasp manages to subdue The Hulk not with her bosom, but by shrinking down and zapping his brain. The Hulk plummets from the aircraft he's clinging to and lands like a meteor in New York City, where he reverts back to Puny Banner. Captain America approaches, and Banner begs Cap not to hit him any more...
Monday, December 25, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The storyline in Justice League America #38-40 was the apex of the legendary Giffen -DeMatteis era that ruled the late-Eighties. Drawn by Adam Hughes, this three-parter was the last truly gripping storyline for me – before this we had Booster and Beetle Goin’ Coconuts and after this we get General Glory, or General Boring as I like to call him. Ho! Zinger! Where do I get this stuff? I kill me.
Maybe that was what made these three issues work so well: after several lightweight sitcom issues, Despero shows up and just starts killing people.
So Despero comes back intending to avenge himself upon the League for some prior indignity, it doesn’t matter what, so he starts with Gypsy, the young chameleon illusionist girl with the bangle earrings that used to be on the League during the derided/beloved “Justice League Detroit” era. Despero kills Gypsy’s parents and then comes after her, but J’onn J’onnz intercedes… and it is on like the Viet Cong baby.
J’onn is also one of those godlike DC characters with a million powers (super strength, invisibility, shape-changing, flight, turbo donkey kick, heat vision, etc) so he puts up a good fight, but Despero is so powerful that the entire League pretty much has to dogpile on him to put him down. The Martian Manhunter ends up on the receiving end of the aforementioned Despero Mindfuck and he hits the floor, drooling.
The pink bastard turns to Gypsy and is about to fry her when –
Monday, December 18, 2006
Such is the power of Thor.
So let’s wrap up this James Bond stuff. I appreciate everyone’s patience with me recently as I deviated from the usual Dave’s Long Box format. I think I’ve got the Bond thing worked out of my system now and we can return to mocking stupid comics and occasionally exalting good comics.
…let’s finish up the Most Bondian Moment posts by looking at the coolest moments from the least cool Bond movies, IMHO.
This movie does not make the bottom of my list, despite the invisible car and the blasphemous iceberg tidal wave surfing scene near the end of the film. No, I don’t love this movie, but it has a few nice moments.
There’s a great scene at the beginning where Bond and a couple other agents infiltrate North Korea by surfing in on some monster waves at night. As I understand it, they filmed the scene at the famous surfing spot “Jaws” on Maui, home of some huge-ass waves. The agents sneak on to the beach and Bond opens up a hatch in his surfboard to reveal some gadgets. It’s an atmospheric, well-shot scene that sets the tone of the opening sequence and feels very Bondian. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to the promise of those first moments…
The other scene I enjoyed was Bond’s sword fight with at the gentleman’s fencing club, Blades, which was the name of a gambling club in Fleming's novel Moonraker. In this scene Bond shows up and basically picks a fight with Gustav Graves, the diamond mogul and villain of the film. What starts out as a fencing match turns into a full-on sword fight/brawl with the two combatants tearing up the club in the process.
After this scene, the movie goes straight into the proverbial toilet and clogs it up and it overflows and stinks up the whole bathroom and there is poo everywhere. Proverbially speaking of course.
I mentioned previously that the scene where Dobermans hunt down Drax's unlucky assistant is probably the most Bondian part of Moonraker.
In the interest of not repeating myself, I will declare the boat chase on the Brazilian river as 85% Bondian. It's briefer and more exciting than the overrated boat chase in Live and Let Die. Bond's tricked out boat has a hang glider that unfolds from the roof, which comes in handy when the river tumbles over a huge waterfall. It's as if the engineers in Q Branch knew that some day, this boat may have to go over a waterfall - it could happen - so they threw in the hang glider. And they were right, weren't they? These were the same Q Branch guys who make Bond go skiing with a parachute on his back.
19. The Man with the Golden Gun
I'm at a loss. I guess I like Bond's seaplane at the end. Does that count?
Man, I do not like this movie. There is a cool scene where Sean Connery walks out on to the top of an exterior elevator and casually rides up the side of a high rise in Vegas. I liked that part. Alas, I don't have an image of that scene, so let's move on.
21. A View to a Kill
While this movie has to be acknowledged as the most embarassing James Bond movie. An aging Roger Moore gives it one last go, bedding both Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones and generally looking winded. I don't need to see a sixty-something year old dude in the shower with Tanya Roberts; there are websites for things like that.
The meandering, yawning plot involves Max Zorin, a maniacal Nazi industrialist (Christopher Walken) who flies around in a blimp and tries to destroy Silicon Valley in order to corner the market on silicon chips. Oh and he produces horse steroids, the cad. As you might imagine, Walken is the best part of the movie - he's cheerfully demented and his line delivery is quirky gold.
Here's the set up for the film's most Bondian moment, supplied by Walken. In order to wipe out Silicon Valley - and let me see if I get this right - Zorin intends to pump sea water into a fault line and trigger a huge earthquake. He plants a huge bomb in his own mine that will trigger the flood. Zorin and some henchmen stand above the flooding mine on a walkway as the miners try to escape, scrambling up ladders. Zorin has brought along some machine guns for the occasion, and he laughs as they spray his own employees below with bullets. He just looks so damn happy as he shoots them. It's the highlight of the film for me, and one of the more psychotic things a Bond villain has ever done.
Thus ends our look at the most Bondian moments in the franchise's history. As is usually the case, this theme ran longer than intended, thanks in part to that damn storm, and I thank everyone for their indulgence.
We now return to our regular comics-related content, and forge onwards to excellence!
To the future!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
You have to admit that Octopussy is an insanely bad title for a film. Or a book. Or a football team. Octopussy is pretty much a bad name for anything but a spunky all-girl neo-punk band.
The most Bondian moment in Octopussy is the pre-credit sequence in Cuba, where a disguised 007 escapes from the commies in an Acrostar, the smallest jet in the world. Bond evades a heat-seeking missile by flying the jet into a huge warehouse. At the far end, bad guys struggle to push the hangar doors close, but Bond busts a Han Solo move and flies sideways through the narrowing gap. The missile on his tail destroys the whole damn warehouse and everybody inside. D’oh!
15. Licence to Kill
The two Dalton movies each have my favorite stunt sequences in the entire franchise: the battle between Necros and Bond on a bucking cargo net hanging off the back of a plane in The Living Daylights, and the barefoot waterskiing gag in Licence to Kill.
This film, much-maligned by Bond purists, was a rarity in the franchise: a box office dud. Licence to Kill is a more personal and street-level story than most Bond films. Audiences were underwhelmed by Bond’s quest for vengeance against a drug lord and many people were critical of the film’s violence. Plus, Bond orders a Budweiser in this movie. A fucking Budweiser. Not okay.
There are a couple of nuggets of Bondian gold hidden in the film. There’s an absolutely huge gas tanker explosion at the end of the film that is particularly impressive to fans of absolutely huge explosions. I read an interview with Dalton where he claims that during the filming of the scene, he was running from the pyrotechnic charge towards the camera when he felt a huge wave of heat and saw all the camera crew running away in terror from the rapidly expanding fireball. When the camera guys run, you know you’ve got a big frickin’ explosion.
The other moment of Bondian radness is the waterski sequence. In short, Bond wreaks havoc on a drug smuggling yacht, then goes underwater with SCUBA gear to sabotage a drone submarine that shuttles drugs beneath the surface from the yacht to a nearby sea plane full of money. Bond gets jumped by speargun wielding frogmen who don’t take kindly to the British agent screwing up their drug/money exchange.
Bond grabs a speargun during the struggle and shoots up at one of the departing sea plane’s pontoons. A thin cable unspools from the spear and the plane yanks him to the surface and away from the enemy divers.
The plane is building up speed, trying to take off. Bond pops to his feet and begins barefoot waterskiing behind the plane. He swings out wide until he’s skiing nearly parallel with the sea plane. Cue that theme music.
Bond yanks hard and shoots himself toward the plane, slamming into one of the pontoons. He hooks a support strut and just like that he’s on the plane, which is now airborne. Bond defenestrates the pilot and co-pilot and commandeers the plane – which is loaded with a fortune in drug money. Score.
I love that scene. The rest of the movie plays like a Miami Vice episode with British accent, but man, that scene kicks all kinds of ass.
16. The World is Not Enough
Okay, so this 1997 nuke-on-the-loose movie starring George Clooney, who bobs his head like a sparrow, and Nicole Kidman, who has an unflattering dye job, does not take place entirely in Europe, but it mostly does so I can categorize it as a Eurotravel Thriller. If Rick Steves has visited most of the locations in your film, you have a Eurotravel Thriller.
There are two scenes of Clooney Kun Do in The Peacemaker: one is a bitchin’ fight on a bridge where Clooney’s character fast ropes from a helicopter into a truck to kick some ass, and the other is a car chase that turns into a demolition derby.
Clooney plays a brash military intelligence officer who thinks that money is everyone’s key motivation. He and Kidman are searching for two missing nuclear warheads with the help of Armin Mueller-Stahl. When the Mercedes the three of them are riding in is stopped by a bunch of goons in cars, Clooney thinks it’s just a shakedown and they want money. But when Armin steps out to talk with them, the goons gun him down.
Clooney hops in the driver’s seat and races away, but stops. His friend’s senseless death has pissed him off. He waits in a big town square for the other cars. They appear, and it’s go-time.
The next few minutes are a symphony of destruction as Clooney rams his Mercedes into the bad guy cars. I think this scene is brilliant, because you’re totally expecting a big car chase, and the scene turns into something else. Something Bondian.
At the very end, Clooney pulls his gun and walks over to a disabled bad guy car which is crumpled and hissing under a shower of water from a nearby fire hydrant. The goons inside seem hurt bad. Clooney walks up and without saying a word, shoots the goons who killed his friend. Then he turns around and walks away while Nicole Kidman freaks out.
Monday, December 11, 2006
With a cigarette dangling casually from his mouth, Bond shoots him.
Bond says, "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six."
I understand when Dr. No came out in 1962 it was considered a bit racy and violent; I can kinda see why.
Little Nellie, the mini-helicopter that Bond takes on a recon flight, is so bad-ass that it must be mentioned here. The scene where Bond takes on a pack of SPECTRE helicopters fearlessly treads the line between kick-ass and kitsch. It's a combination of great aerial stunt work and the most banal blue screen special effects this side of The Greatest American Hero. I have to cut the film makers a little slack - it was 1967.
Little Nellie: totally Airwolf.
11. The Living Daylights
The Living Daylights suffers from weak villains, a lack of libido, and a theme song by a-Ha that is so awful it is dangerous to fish. Seriously, that song will kill your tetras.
However, the movie does have its Bondian moments. My favorite element of The Living Daylights is the assassin Necros, a sleek blond killer who meets his demise during a fantastic fight with Bond on a cargo net dangling from the back of a plane at the end of the movie.
My choice for the most Bondian scene in the movie is this brilliant sequence when Necros infiltrates a safehouse in England dressed as a milkman in order to abduct General Koskov (who is really his boss). He is the most hardcore milkman ever. Necros uses the headphone chord of his Walkman as a garrotte and has clever milk bottle bombs. He kills a British agent in a savage fight in the kitchen. Inside the house Necros radios in a report of a major gas leak and in the confusion he “kidnaps” Koskov by switching his disguise from milkman to medic and carting the General away in an ambulance.
The desperate kitchen fight is particularly effective; it’s a lethal clash between two professionals and Necros comes out on top. Bond isn’t in this scene, of course, but it is undeniably Bondian.
12. Tomorrow Never Dies
In Tomorrow Never Dies, psychotic media mogul Elliot Carver tasks the eccentric Dr. Kaufman with killing his wife Paris and James Bond, then staging the scene to make it look like a murder/suicide. Kaufman is a ridiculously well-mannered German professional played by the late, great Vincent Schiavelli. In his one and only scene in the movie, Kaufman has already killed Bond’s old flame Paris. She lies dead in Bond’s Hamburg hotel room while Kaufman holds Bond at gunpoint.
Before Kaufman can kill Bond, he receives a call from Stamper, Carver’s henchman. He’s in a nearby parking garage with his men, trying to get into Bond’s BMW, and wants Kaufman to ask Bond how to get in. Kaufman apologizes to Bond for the inconvenience (“I feel like an idiot. I don’t know what to say.”) and asks how to open the car. Bond tosses Kaufman his cell phone and tells him the code to enter – but of course it activates a taser, shocking Kaufman.
Bond aims a gun at Kaufman.
“Wait,” Kaufman pleads. “I’m just a professional, doing a job.”
“So am I,” Bond says, and shoots his ass.
Bond allows himself a nanosecond of sorrow as he quickly kisses Paris’ head then escapes out the window.
I love that scene, it’s a droll combination of Professor Dent’s murder and the scene between Red Grant and Bond on the Orient Express. Schiavelli’s performance is sinister and comic, but not too over the top. I almost wish he hadn’t died and became a recurring henchman like Jaws.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Ken Watanabe should totally be a Bond villain.
I've only seen him in Batman Begins and The Last Samurai, which could have been called Dances with Samurai or Ken Watanabe Rules. I liked The Last Samurai a lot more than most people, apparently. That may make me an imperialist dog, culturally speaking, but I enjoyed it. What's not to like? It had samurai and ninja and Ken Watanabe totally steals the movie from Tom Cruise.
In The Last Samurai, Watanabe plays doomed samurai warlord Katsumoto, who has mastered the ancient Japanese art of looking like an utter bad ass. In Batman Begins, he played a convincing "R'as al Ghul" and maintained his dignity despite the facial hair he had to sport. The presence of ninja in both movies may have biased me slightly, but I think Ken Watanabe has the presence and vibe of a Bond villain.
I vote Ken Watanabe as the main villain in Bond 23. Go Ken or Go Home.
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The kooky snowball fight at Piz Gloria at the end is crazy funny. They speed up the film and have dwarfs come out and throw snowballs and there's a spunky dog that catches the snowballs and it is hilariously hilarious. Put this wacky movie on your NetFlix list now!
* I had this wrong, originally. I wrote that the Bondian moment in question took place in Russia in the middle of the movie, when it clearly took place in Cuba at the end of the movie. My thanks to DLB readers Patrick and 1em for pointing this out and humiliating me.****
** Aside from the film Ffolkes aka North Sea Hijack with Tony Perkins. Awesome.
***I mean that in the best possible way.
Friday, December 08, 2006
The sequence before the credits in Goldfinger established an enduring tradition for Bond films. From this point on, each movie began with an action-packed vignette that was often only superficially related to the film’s plot. Other action films followed suit, and these days it’s common to see a pre-credit action sequence in films. Such is the power of Goldfinger. In the beginning of the movie Bond swims in a wetsuit into an oil refinery and plants explosive charges inside a secret drug laboratory. He peels away his wetsuit to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo with a red carnation – a perfect moment that visually describes James Bond. The moment is spoiled when he walks into a casino and roars, “Who let the dogs out?!” in his Sean Connery voice, which seems really out of character.
2. Casino Royale
4. From Russia With Love
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Sweet, it came out this week! Do your pal Dave and yourself a favor and buy a copy, won't you? It's chock full of Invincible goodness! Get it for the Bi-Plane entry alone!
I wrote about 5 of the entries in this issue, and a crazy amount of entries for the second and final issue, which should be on sale soon.
Now, let's return to our James Bond Week, already in progress...
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
For my money, the thing that raises Hard Target from mediocrity into awesomeness are the performances by Lance Fucking Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo as the main villains. They run a service that provides wealthy thrillseekers with armed manhunts – Henriksen’s motorcycle-riding MP5-wielding “dogs” harass and hunt a homeless person and the client administers the kill shot – for a price. A dangerous mulleted drifter named Chance Boudreaux is hired to look for a missing homeless man by the guy’s sister, and he stumbles across their plan. Cue the slow-mo explosions.
It goes without saying that Lance Henriksen is awesome in this movie, but Vosloo steals the show as Lance’s sadistic right-hand man, Pik. Vosloo understands that he is in a John Woo movie and he does a lot of vogueing and scowling and gun cocking and striding in slow-motion. Pik is a professional who really digs his job, and his interaction with Lance is the most interesting relationship in Hard Target.
Plus, Pik is an evil bad-ass. He and Lance need to clean up some loose ends before they leave New Orleans, so they kill this guy who has been helping them. Pik knocks on the door, and when the guy looks through the peephole…
Pik enters and looks down at the dead guy. He says to Lance, “What a funny little man, eh?” Sure, the whole gun-in-the-peephole gag has been in a thousand movies, but damn it, Hard Target did it best!
Vosloo’s best bit in the movie comes when he is cleaning up still more loose ends in the French Quarter. He puts a shotgun to the ear of a shady “recruiter” who has been getting them homeless veterans to hunt. The guy was going to skip town, but now Pik has him…
Pik blows the guy’s head off with his shotgun and the car’s windows explode in a bloody mess. Then – this is the best part – Vosloo peers down into the car at his messy handiwork and kind of laughs. It’s as if he’s saying, “Fuck, dude, I totally blew that guy’s head off.” Here’s what it looks like: