A very short review of “Spectre” (2015)

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM.]  “Spectre” (2015) was an impressive James Bond film, if not an unforgettable one.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  It’s got style, terrific action sequences and absolutely gorgeous shooting locations.  Daniel Craig is still a decent Bond, too, even if I always find him a little understated in the role. And Dave Bautista makes a sufficiently intimidating henchman.  (The man looks gigantic, too.)

It brings little new to the franchise, however, and it doesn’t rise above being a standard action film in the same manner as its predecessor, 2012’s nuanced and surprisingly emotional “Skyfall.” (I’ve gained a greater appreciation for that movie after having watched it a second time.)

It occurs to me, too, that “Spectre” seems a little easy to nitpick — at least to someone who’s enjoyed a lot of spy films and novels that are intended as procedural thrillers.  We watch Bond gain easy access to a super-secret meeting of the titular cabal, for instance — he just kinda bluffs his way in.  Then the organization’s Big Bad calls him out, after apparently feeling his presence, as Darth Vader felt the presence of Luke on a passing ship in “Return of the Jedi” (1983).  Later, we watch Bond employ incredibly risky and haphazard tactics to rescue a kidnap victim — it seems to me that the consequent random vehicle crashes, explosions and gunshots could just as easily kill her as they might free her.

Still, this was a fun movie.  I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an enjoyable action flick.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Topps’ “Return of the Jedi” trading cards

I was going to save this blog post for the summer — I remember trading Topps’ “Return of the Jedi” cards and stickers with my best friend Shawn Degnan at the end of my driveway on hot July afternoons in 1983.  (It was also where we traded baseball cards, stickers, and … even rocks, when we were both tots.  We were both quite the childhood collectors.)  I’m running this today, of course, following Carrie Fisher’s passing.

“Return of the Jedi” cards were huge.  I was 10 when they went on sale at the local family “drugstore” — which was a couple of miles away; seriously, a lot of New York is quite rural.  I seem to remember a couple of “Star Wars” cards floating around at the bottom of my childhood toybox, too — but those were released when I was a tot, and too young to collect anything in an organized fashion.

These came in bright red wrappers, with a hard, occasionally brittle stick of truly cheap pink gum.  (I am a little confused by a Google image search that shows yellow packaging.)  The dust from the gum would sometimes pepper the cards and make them smell like the gum.  I relished that scent as a kid — it meant the cards were new.  There was also one sticker per pack, but you never peeled it off, as then you could not trade it.  I think I had all the cards pictured below.

The Holy Grail of these cards was one that Shawn had and I did not — it had an image of Han Solo being unfrozen from carbonite in Jabba the Hutt’s palace during his rescue by Princess Leia.  (I’m confused again by the fact that I can’t seem to locate an image of that card.

 

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“You see, I’m Irish — but I’m not a leprechaun!”

“You wanna fight?  Then step up and we’ll get it on!”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

And Happy Throwback Thursday, too.  House of Pain’s “Top O’ The Mornin’ To Ya” dates from 1992.  It actually has a pretty nifty “Return of the Jedi” reference, for you Star Wars fans who currently rule this little thing called the Internet.

And the song is memorable to this comic book fan for being a great intro track for Colin Farrell’s Bullseye in 2003’s “Daredevil.”  I actually am the rare (or possibly unique) individual who really likes that movie.  I bought it on DVD, and I’ve seen it more times than I care to publicly admit, given its ignominy.

 

Throwback Thursday: “Star Wars” Playsets

The Internet is utterly resplendent with Star Wars toys websites.  Good Lord.  If you are not part of that subculture, you’d be surprised at the research and exactitude displayed by these collectors in cataloging their wish lists.  These people track the obscure variations of 70’s and 80’s action figures with the same precision as a linguist researching ancient Etruscan dialects.  If you don’t believe me, just google “double-telescoping lightsaber.”

I have no comparable expertise.  But I can tell you what I loved as a boy.  These two playsets were my favorites, and both might strike someone as odd choices.

The first was the Jawas’ “Droid Factory.”  I call it an odd choice because I have never heard another child speak of it.  (And the kids absolutely did talk about their Star Wars toys if they were especially prized products.  If you received The “Millennium Falcon” or the “Slave-I” for Christmas, you proclaimed that news gleefully at the bus stop immediately after  vacation.)  I certainly never had heard of it or placed it on my list for Santa.

But the “Droid Factory” was fun as hell.  It combined the magic of the Star Wars universe with some of the creativity of Tinker Toys.  Look at the pieces below.  You could make R2-D2 (or his evil twin) or other droids, including a four-legged bot that could carry a Jawa.  You could kinda make something that looked like the Mars Rover.  That black thingamajiggy could give you a satellite or a radar droid.  And they all had their own specific placement in the factory, to nourish the obsessive compulsive disorder in all of us.

Some other kids somewhere must have liked it, however.  After the arrival of “Return of the Jedi” in 1983, the very same toy was released again — only this time it was colored gray, and was marketed as “The Jabba the Hutt Dungeon.”

My second favorite set was the far more recognizable “Jabba the Hutt Action Playset.”  That WAS a well known toy and I absolutely BEGGED for it when I was in the fourth grade.

It might seem like an odd choice, though, because … it was a pretty static toy.  Neither Jabba the Hutt or Salacious Crumb (yes, that actually was the smaller character’s name) actually moved around much in the movie, having been controlled only by contemporary animatronics or puppetry.  Their toys didn’t move much either — only Jabba’s arms could be manipulated, and those only a inch or so up and down.  There wasn’t much that you could do with them.

Jabba’s shallow plastic throne could be opened up to double as … the rancor pit, if memory serves.  And that didn’t make much sense, because that awful trapdoor in the movie was located in front of him.  He didn’t wiggle away his massive heft, invite the wayward to try his throne out, and then spring a booby trap on them, right?  Whatever.

But any 80’s kid who owned Jabba could tell you that the real fun was consigning all of your other action figures to be marshaled forth before Jabba, in his “court.”  There, they could be questioned, sentenced, whatever.  (The good guys always got away.)  It was so much fun that all sorts of waylaid action figures found themselves before Jabba — even those from other universes.  My “Raiders of the Lost Ark” action figures occasionally wound up in Jabba’s court, for example.  (For reasons I can’t remember, Indiana Jones and the “Arab Swordsman” formed a temporary alliance from time to time.)

These were fun toys.  If I ever have the wealth and time enough to pursue toy collecting, I’m going to find these again.

 

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Ye olde Nolan

I’m becoming concerned …  I keep seeing more troubling signs that I am getting older.

I can’t eat pizza and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream all day without feeling yucky.  And I have gone shopping and DELIBERATELY looked for vegetables.

I bitch inwardly about the quality of America’s public education system all the time.  (Don’t even get me started.)  I actually begin some of my (admittedly peculiar) inner monologues with the words, “There was a time in this country when …”  I have also lamented that “things were different 20 years ago.”

It recently dawned on me that my longstanding idolization of Kevin Smith may be waning …  last year’s “Tusk” just didn’t do it for me, and his recent appearance on “The Talking Dead” just seemed to feature too much childish sex humor.  I cringed.  (Lengthy analogies about oral sex aren’t THAT hilarious, people.  I suggest they have a 10-second half life.)  I still think that Smith is brilliant; I just think maybe his particular style of humor might better appeal to a guy in his 20’s.

In the Marvel movies’ upcoming “Civil War” storyline entries, I’m firmly on the side of Captain America, and not Iron Man.  Yeah, Tony Stark has the wit and the charm and the girls and the cash.  But Cap has character and good American values, with an emphasis on civil liberties.  Cap would never subject black people to an unreasonable search and seizure.  He wouldn’t enter a private home without a warrant.  And he would uphold a legal wall of separation between church and state.  Dunno about Tony.

Tori Amos is still cool, but she sounds NUTS in her interviews.

I played with a friend’s little girl on the swings the other day … and I actually got DIZZY after donning a swing myself, and trying to swing as high as her.  THAT was disconcerting.

My doctor told me to knock off all the sugar, and I am totally taking her seriously.

My buddy shared a picture today of the original Star Wars cast in 1977.  When I was a tot, I looked up to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.  When I was in fifth grade, “Return of the Jedi” Leia was my heart’s desire.  (I need not even mention in which outfit.)  Today, 1977 Carrie Fisher looks like a sweet girl who could be my college sophomore daughter.  (Seriously, she looks YOUNG, people.)  Harrison Ford looks like that older kid in our hometown with the camaro, who I need to keep away from her.  Mark Hamill looks like that sweet kid down the block who wants a date with her, but won’t get one.

My friends from Longwood High School are now teachers at Longwood High School.  The cognitive dissonance connected with that is significant.

And tonight it has dawned on me that (I can’t believe I am saying this) Depeche Mode is getting maybe a little played out for me.  Oh God, I can’t believe I just typed that.  I still love MODE, I swear it!  I just think that after “Violator” has been in my playlist for two decades, it’s maybe time to retire the lesser songs like “World In My Eyes” and find some more new music.

But not “Policy of Truth.”  THAT SONG WILL LIVE FOREVER.  (And never again is what you swore the time before.)

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“The Joy of Horror Novelizations,” by Grady Hendrix, Litreactor

Here’s a fun article over at Litreactor — thanks to Dagda Publishing for the link:

http://litreactor.com/columns/the-joy-of-horror-novelizations

I actually DO remember reading the novelization of “ET” The Extra-Terrestrial” as a pre-teen … and it DID have a lot of sexual content. The book for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” as I recall, was quite good.

“Videodrome,” starring that guy who looks like me, NEEDED a novelization so that at least 10 percent of it could be made intelligible.

I almost commented on Dagda’s Facebook wall yesterday that I loved the novelization of “Jaws,” because I am an idjit — of course it was the original Peter Benchley novel.

This is a good article, but it does neglect to mention comic book adaptations of movies — I remember going NUTS for both Marvel Comics’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Return of the Jedi” in comic book format.  “Raiders” was a nice, thick one-shot — about as long as a DC Comics “Sgt. Rock” annual.  Receiving that from my parents at the age of 12 was like Christmas morning.  “Jedi” was less memorable, and was broken up into four parts — I had more fun with the trading cards.

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