J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for the ‘Spy Thriller’ Category

Dr. No

Posted by J on December 8, 2009

For all the lore that James Bond has surrounding him, he’s never been in a good movie.  That’s not just if you define good as “world classic” or “temporary classic,” but “well above average.”  This  starts with the first Bond movie, Dr. No.

In Dr. No you will see James Bond and friends, chased by a tank with teeth painted on it, moving at a crawl.  This tank’s weapon is a blowtorch, so it doesn’t take an Olympic sprinter to get out of harm’s way.  Of course Bond and his sidekick park themselves in the brush and shoot at the tank, hoping to blow it up.  When that doesn’t happen, and as the tank inches forward, Bond’s sidekick stays where he is.   Cut to the tank, blowing fire out it’s front.  Cut to Bond’s sidekick, who throws his gun down and screams for a few seconds.  Cut to tank, which approaches the camera and lets out a tremendous fireball.  Cut to James Bond, who looks away in pain and grief.

Those are the kinds of scenes you will be subjected to with Dr. No.  You will have a good time if you get your buddies together and ridicule the movie, MST3K style.

As for Bond, he’s a womanizing, booze-drinking, debonnair secret agent who looks cool and acts cool at all times.    If you’ve ever seen a government agent like this guy, you’ve seen the only one that ever exists.  Surely this guy has the world’s greatest collection of STDs, but you’d never know it — doesn’t even bother to scratch an itch once.   As Austin Powers says, women want him and men want to be him, which is probably why they’ve made twenty-five or so of these movies.  But every one of them is about style, not substance, so you can decide if  you want to spend two hours living vicariously through a fictional government agent and his fantasy of spycraft.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

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Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Spy Thriller, They Spent Millions on This? | Leave a Comment »

Vantage Point

Posted by J on July 26, 2009

Vantage Point is a wannabe clever movie with lots of B-list actors, all of vantage-pointwhom probably looked at the script and thought it was “thought-provoking.”  That’s because the movie tells its story by presenting six or seven different perspectives of the same 20-minute event, which is the President’s assassination in Spain.  Any halfway knowledgable moviegoer is going to look at this movie and say within five minutes “That’s just like Rashomon.”  Whereas Rashomon was a cinematic examination of the problem of truth as presented through different perspectives, Vantage Point is really just a cheap action thriller that tells its story through multiple perspectives for the sake of a gimmick.

That’s not to say that you won’t get something out of the movie.  Even the most mindnumbingly stupid cultural production tells us something.  In this case, the movie gives us a rather wimpy Hollywoodish stance on the “War on Terror.”  The President, for example, is conveniently assassinated in Spain, which makes it impossible to tell if the assassins are Spanish, North African, or Arab.    Working with the assassins is a turncoat Secret Service agent, whose one and only ideological line, uttered while dying, is, “This war will never end.”  Does that mean that those who disagree with a global war on an abstraction are turncoat traitors?

Ah, but of course not, for this is a Hollywood production, which aims to please all of the people all of the time.  While our white American traitor thinks the war will never end, the President is busy telling his aides that he will not — CANNOT! he says — retaliate against a possible terrorist base somewhere way far away.   The President’s aides, of course, are warhawks who desire to blow up anybody who isn’t them.  But the President is more magnanimous in uttering the campy line, “We don’t have to act brave, we have to BE brave.”  Here we have the movie’s ideology, a muddy middle ground wherein everyone is stuck between loving the power to wage war and talking like they don’t want to wage war.

Meanwhile, lots of needless chases with pointless characters occur.  The redeeming quality of this movie — like so many action thrillers — is that it can be readily mocked in company that is willing to mock dumb movies.  Apparently the writers of this movie think that everyone watching is like Alice’s White Queen, who believed six impossible things before breakfast.  More realistically, this movie will try to make you believe a thousand impossible things after dinner, which can be fun if you want a totally mindless sort of evening.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 0

Morality: —

Posted in Silly but Entertaining, Spy Thriller | Leave a Comment »

The 39 Steps

Posted by J on September 25, 2008

The 39 Steps has dropped down the cultural memory hole, forgotten among Alfred Hitchcock’s other well-regarded movies.  But pardon us for sacrilege.  We enjoyed this one far more than North by Northwest or Vertigo.

What are the reasons?  Among others, it passed the Treadmill Test.  The Treadmill Test is one in which we determine a movie’s watchability on our expensive, electricity-sucking gerbil wheel.  If we can run on the treadmill and ignore the time and distance we’ve gone because the movie is entertaining, the movie passes.  Few do.  Once our heartrates climb, everything else slows down.  At top 5k speed, Canary in a Coalmine by the Police sounds like a ballad, and all movies start to feel like they were directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.   But 39 Steps is intriguing until a few moments into the last act, when Hitchcock pauses to titillate us with a scene in which a man and woman are handcuffed together in a hotel bedroom.  But the pause is brief.

The 39 Steps deliberately foregrounds the problem of loyalty to one’s nation-state.  Its main character, Richard Hannay, is a man caught between a murder Scotland Yard thinks he committed and an elaborate spy-ring.  Hannay sneaks around the backcountry of Scotland, trying to preserve the security of his country, in an attempt to expose the spy-ring.  But his own government inadvertently seeks to prevent him from benefiting his country.  Hannay, a patriot, is a loner.  It is worthwhile to note that, in the end, the dominant hand of Hannay is still handcuffed.

Hannay is practically the only person worried about national loyalty.  The other spies, good and bad, have discarded national identity in favor of espionage games.  Meanwhile, the rest of England masses collect in theaters to watch low-grade entertainment.  Chief among that entertainment is Mr. Memory, a man well qualified for the TV gameshow Jeopardy, having stuffed his head with useless information.

The 39 Steps showcases Hitchcock’s skill of manipulating his audience, chiefly by constantly changing Hannay’s status as an escapee, a pursuer, and a captured criminal.   The film travels through the dark, foggy nights in Scotland’s backcountry.   This is, we think, more exciting that watching Jimmy Stewart sit in an apartment and observe his neighbors.  If you want to sample Hitchcock, start here.

Entertainment: 9

Intelligence: 6

Morality: 7

Posted in Great, Spy Thriller | 1 Comment »