Sacrificing little by way of straight forwardness, Edward Zwick's… MoreSacrificing little by way of straight forwardness, Edward Zwick's slick looking and faithful but unimaginative interpretation of real events merely makes filmgoers a pawn in a story that needed to be told. Chess is not necessarily a game in which to play it safe. It's a game that needs to be played smart and creatively. A battle of attrition, it mentally wears you down move by move. Adversely, Pawn Sacrifice asks little of the audience mentally. It tells you everything, even illustrating the period with '60s and '70s tunes and footage whenever another chapter rears its heavy head. The fascinating story of mentally ill Bobby Fischer plays out almost like a slide show, trying to be the Miracle of chess films...only the 1980 ice hockey team didn't come shouldered with a preponderance of psychological issues and chess isn't the most fist-pumpingly active of games. Still, the true story gets documented even if said story doesn't delve very much into the inner workings of Fischer's noggin. Granted, no one truly knows what went on in his gray matter but the flawed but beautiful A Beautiful Mind at least took a Golden Book approach. Pawn Sacrifice even uses the term "pop psychology" as an almost warning against, well, pop psychology. Still, a look into his brilliant mind deserves more than just a SnapChat. Searching for Bobby Fischer never amounts to Finding Bobby Fischer but the trappings definitely educate and entertain.
In this PG-13-rated true story set during the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Maguire) finds himself caught between two superpowers and his own struggles as he challenges the Soviet Empire in the form of number one-ranked chess master Boris Spassky (Schreiber).
Zwick always delivers when it comes to on-the-nose historic dramatizations (Glory, The Last Samurai). Hell, he even tries some armchair psychology by elevating Fischer's paranoia. This is the man who set mental illness back 50 years by helping to compartmentalize the entirety of St. Elsewhere's run into a snow globe shook by a boy with Autism, so a game of safety understandably results...and works. The facts unfurl, the performances wow, and the footage juxtaposed over the epilogue grounds the material. Maguire, Schreiber, and Stellan Skaarsgard (playing Fischer's only friend and confidante, a priest) provide wonderfully layered takes on some instrumental chess pieces.
Bottom line: Chess Master
Killing audiences like its Spanish namesake, tightly coiled thriller… MoreKilling audiences like its Spanish namesake, tightly coiled thriller Sicario might be topical by proxy but boasts a white hot Who-Done-What at its red hot center. If Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock made a Mexican terrorism actioner, it would look a lot like this. Call it Crosstown Traffic, Steven Soderbergh's already timely drug drama made even timelier by an escalating narcotics war down south and framed with direction that's every bit as knowing and edgy. Though the set pieces stop your heart, your mind can't help but keep going at a feverish pace, always on the lookout for the next double cross or stray bullet. It constricts you from the get-go for a long con but Sicario's serpentine scheme never disappoints.
In this R-rated thriller from director, an idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) gets enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs along the U.S. and Mexico borders.
Through the eyes of the sometimes naive but rarely helpless agent Kate (an ace and award-worthy performance by Emily Blunt), Taylor Sheridan's script pits filmgoers in the midst of a deadly war that oftentimes seems pointless but the drive of the characters keeps you fully bullet-proof vested. Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro likewise give powerhouse performances, though the latter is inarguably the showier of the two. Denis Villenueve's taut atmospheric direction takes center stage, however. The Prisoners' helmer makes a Hitchcockian thriller without a Hitch. It's his own baby, killer turns and all.
Bottom line: Wonder Drug
Sciencing the sh*t out of space exploration films, The Martian… MoreSciencing the sh*t out of space exploration films, The Martian possesses more narrative gravity than well, Gravity, and presents a more stellar case for the continued funding of NASA than, well, Interstellar. Indeed, if Bill Nye took Creatine and went to Mars, it might look a lot like this. Rather than drift aimlessly in a dark vacuum, the film finds excitement and intrigue in MacGyver-esque problem-solving...if MacGyver got launched into space...and had an advanced botany degree. Regardless, minus Alien activity, The Martian ends up to be more exciting than director Ridley Scott's own Prometheus. Every bit as visually stunning, The Martian features truly organic thrills ratcheted up to a level 10.
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi actioner based on Andy Weir's bestselling novel, astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and gets left behind by his crew (Chastain, Michael Pena, Donald Glover) during a manned mission to Mars, so he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
Fact based and heavily researched, the science behind our astronaut's survival can't help but draw in even the least geeky filmgoer. Of course, this is what made the source material - Andy Weir's best selling novel - such an intergalactic smash. What the book took blows for, however, was a lack of development in regards to supporting characters. Here, screenwriter Drew Goddard rectifies this without ever pulling focus from the titular character. With a powerhouse lead performance like the one given by Matt Damon though, it's doubtless that any character could steal The Martian's red thunder. And this proves quite a claim given the A-List cast. Damon may have been last seen in a similar (albeit villainous) spacesuited role in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar but make no doubt about it: The Martian emerges as a far more entertaining and assured piece of filmmaking.
Bottom line: My Favorite, well, You Know
A crowning jewel in the franchise, Secret Service sees Connery clone… MoreA crowning jewel in the franchise, Secret Service sees Connery clone George Lazenby works hard to emerge from his forebear's shadow but - with such a powerful well-directed script - his more serious side of Bond easily sits among Her Majesty's best of the bunch. The sixth 007 adventure frustratingly gets a horribly undeserved rap. Honestly, it's doubtful that anybody who badmouths On Her Majesty's Secret Service has actually seen it. Sure, Connery sits this one out and the producers put a lookalike in his place but it is a whipsmart move. The film smartly breaks the fourth wall once early on to let the audience know that we're all (filmgoers, actor, producers) in the unknown possibly rocky waters, but then holsters much of the cheekiness for much of the story. It proves a welcome respite from the increasing cheekiness and gimmickry of the franchise, even giving Bond a true love as a crutch and true equal as a nemesis.
In this classic spy caper, James Bond (Lazenby) woos a mob boss's daughter (Rigg) and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld's (Telly Savalas) allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.
Non-actor Lazenby does a ridiculously excellent job in this, his solo outing. He's no Connery but that's what's amazing: He got hired to approximate the Bond-ed actor but ends up doing his slightly own thing. He commits to the action, womanizing, and espionage in spades and his dedication shows. Indeed, as producer "Cubby" Broccoli himself once reportedly said, Lazenby probably would've made the best 007 if he was allowed to go on. Unfortunately, when the film failed to gross as much as expected, he got wrongly blamed. It's a shame, really, as On Her Majesty's Secret Service delivers on all fronts. Promoted from series editor, Peter Hunt presents some of the franchise's highlight action sequences, many of them on snow and ice. In sombering up the tone and losing much of the gadgetry, his Bond exhibits the best of all worlds-the suave sophistication and unflappable air of Connery's tenure with the deathly stakes of Daniel Craig's later run. Also, Diana Rigg makes for the most captivating Bond girl yet...simply because she plays it not as a girl, but as a woman. She convincingly captures the hearts of 007 and audiences. Then, there's that ending. It's Bond's best and the franchise's most heartfelt scene.
Bottom line: Mr. Majestic
Sean Connery's fifth 007 adventure becomes shaky - though not stirred… MoreSean Connery's fifth 007 adventure becomes shaky - though not stirred - thanks to some unwieldy impossible plot points, but the awe-striking stunts and eye-catching Asian backdrop frame an overall spectacular adventure. Really, this exciting chapter only stumbles when it trips over the tongue in its cheek. Between the volcano lair, mustache twirling villainy (minus an actual mustache), and too many go-go gadgets, it's hard to see where You Only Live Twice ends and the deserved spoofs begin. The Austin Powers series smartly apes much of the film's spectacle, but - then again - that's an amazing compliment to the film's iconography. Still, silliness of the now-classic genre tropes and over-reliance on top gear aside, You Only Live Twice is a briskly paced spy game.
In this classic spy caper, Agent 007 (Connery) and the Japanese secret service ninja force must find and stop the true culprit of a series of spacejackings before nuclear war is provoked.
Even though he would relinquish the part in the follow-up, Connery never once phones in his performance of Bond. He throws himself into the derring-do even when the script throws too many props at him. With this chapter, the series' increasing cheekiness and deviation into formula comes near - but doesn't completely overtake - the suspense and intrigue. The action, however, rarely disappoints and Donald Pleasence gives a deliciously arch performance as Bond nemesis Dr. Evil, er, Ersnt Blofeld. Harold and the Purple Crayon and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl provides the script, but this overblown adventure shows all the earmarks of show-boating producers "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pulling out all of the stops.
Bottom line: Or So It Seems
Rolling with eager audiences like a Ball of, well, y'know, Bond's… MoreRolling with eager audiences like a Ball of, well, y'know, Bond's Thunder-ous A-Level spy game carries on. Indeed, the Midas Touch of Goldfinger continues - though doesn't quite reach the same heights - with this, a rousing adventure that runs a bit too long. Spectacularly big budget, Thunderball works best when it features its amazing set pieces, especially some underwater action that only gets waterlogged when the gulf battles start to feel repetitive. Regardless, it thunders on without becoming silly which can't be said for Connery's last two 007 entries.
In this classic spy caper, James Bond (Connery) heads to The Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Celi) in an international extortion scheme.
Ever Bond player proves on top form in Thunderball. Oozing charm in bullets, Connery's fourth go-round as 007 makes battling flag-smashing terrorism seem almost effortless. At his most cocksure and making the role seem more like a charm than chore, this film marks the actor's best Bond performance. Returning to the director's chair after Guy Hamilton helmed Goldfinger, Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia with Love) stages and captures some of the biggest and most explosive action sequences in cinema - let alone Bond - history with great flourish. Without Peter Hunt's quick cutting edits, however, the excitement wouldn't reach such a feverish pitch. If only the producers had him leave out 10 minutes of footage, this only occasionally redundant actioner might've ranked as the series' best.
Bottom line: Lightning Strikes
The gold-plated edition of early Bond, this perfectly shaken martini… MoreThe gold-plated edition of early Bond, this perfectly shaken martini of devastating wit, action, and intrigue also introduces some lasting finishing touches to the franchise all of its own. Ironically, it bares noting from the get-go that this was the first 007 flick to use the line "A martini...shaken, not stirred" as a calling card for the suavest and deadliest of superspies. Dr. No and From Russia with Love established the brand but Goldfinger put all of the elements to their most brilliant effect and gives all future 4-Star Bond chapters a run for their Moneypenny.
In this, the quintessential 007 film, James Bond (Connery) uncovers a plot to contaminate the Fort Knox gold reserve while investigating a gold magnate's (Gert Frobe) smuggling empire.
Though his spyware started a slippery slope into camp from this film on (inflating dart in Live and Let Die; the invisible car in Die Another Day), the geeky gadgets keep up the cheeky cheer in this outing, Bond's seagull-hat disguise, Oddjob's (himself, one of the great series henchmen) steel-rimmed hat, and Goldfinger's laser among the best. Also, Q's laboratory first gets walked through, the Aston Martin first gets driven, and a pre-title action sequence first kicks off a new spy adventure (Robert Shaw choking out a foot solider wearing a Bond mask in From Russia with Love just doesn't count). Of all of the early films and their lasting effect on pop culture, Goldfinger uses all of the tricks in Bond's exploding briefcase to the most well-rounded heights. The tone, humor, casting, and action sequences fire on all cylinders in a perfect full circle of crazy cool entertainment. Future Bond movies would boast better examples of each of these elements but the 3rd film uses them consistently well and its riff-worthiness in the Internet age only speaks volumes as to its longevity and ability to kill audiences.
Bottom line: Midas Touche
A Love letter to 60s espionage in a franchise that was already off and… MoreA Love letter to 60s espionage in a franchise that was already off and running, the 2nd 007 adventure takes audiences From Russia and offers the only early Bond film that could also stand on its own as a standalone Cold War spy flick besting even John Le Carre. With the persona and tone already brilliantly established with Dr. No, From Russia with Love one-ups its predecessor and sees Bond further earmark globetrotting adventure and many other motifs as franchise stalwarts. Now with Q and a menacing villain worthy of Bond's time and energy added into the mix (Robert Shaw), filmgoers witness one of the hottest and the most Nuclear Age-related of stories that the series ever produced (indeed, Broccoli felt that this was Fleming's best adventure).
In this spy caper set largely in Istanbul, James Bond (Connery) willingly falls into an assassination ploy involving a naive Russian beauty (Daniela Bianchi) in order to retrieve a Soviet encryption device that was stolen by SPECTRE.
From the train dust-up to the knife shoe fight to the speedboat chase, the Bond franchise also solidifies its place as an action lover's actioner series with this entry...the regrettable Gypsy girl fight notwithstanding. Though cheeky, From Russia with Love also marks the last time that Bond's spyware receives semi-serious handling before slowly descending into sometimes camptastic waters. Also, though SPECTRE received a mention from Dr. No, this thinking man's actioner gives us the first full-fledged glance into the evil syndicate (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) that will reign terror right up until and including, well, 2015's Spectre.
Bottom line: Love Comes Quickly
Don't dare say No to this character-defining, hard hitting, and hugely… MoreDon't dare say No to this character-defining, hard hitting, and hugely suspenseful franchise starter, in which the Dr. puts the first and arguably best James Bond through some winningly soon-to-be familiar paces only to birth a legend. Though not the first (CBS's Casino Royale in 1954 starting Barry Nelson) or only (Never Say Never Again in 1982 starring, gulp, Sean Connery) to usurp the franchise, this Dr. amazingly establishes the tone, wit, persona, and action-packed panache that made 007 a legend right from the get-go despite a slimmed down budget. Between the music, star charisma, and one-liners, you would assume that producers "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew what they were doing from the outset. The risks they took, however, historically paid off. It could've all ended up a double goose egg with no lucky seven were it not for their casting acumen.
In the spy caper that started it all, a resourceful British government agent (Connery) seeks answers in a case involving the disappearance of a colleague and the disruption of the American space program.
It's not just the charm of Connery, however, but the direction (Terence Young), writing, and editing that established a billion dollar brand right from the familiar gun-scope view of Bond right as he shoots you at the outset. Despite a stripped down budget in comparison with what would follow, Dr. No organically gets everything nearly right, particularly Ursula Andress's bikini entrance and the introduction of M, Moneypenny, and the Vesper Martini, as well as Bond trading in his Smith and Wesson for a Walther PPK and getting his 00-status (remember, Bond has to kill to get this, which gives the belies the series' tragic undertones). Casting a New York stage actor (Joseph Wiseman) as a Chinese-born terrorist, however, still raises eyebrows.
Bottom line: On the Moneypenny
Fun for whole family - but only if it's the Manson Family - Eli Roth's… MoreFun for whole family - but only if it's the Manson Family - Eli Roth's gross but oftentimes scary exercise in cannibal horror runs the movie gamut from B to Z. You have to hand it to Roth, the brain dead, er, brain child behind gray area, er, gray matter splattering flicks like Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel Part II. At least he's consistent. He ratchets up the nausea factor from 0 to Hero like none other. Vomit, blood, semen, entrails, and excrement fly around the screen so fast and often that it makes medical school autopsy videos look like High School Musical. Oh, he presents much of the carnage with a smile but that doesn't make his style of bloodletting any less sophomoric.
In this R-rated horror flick, group of student activists (Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, et al) travels to the Amazon to save the rain forest and soon discover that they are not alone, and that no good deed goes unpunished.
Not only do the Eco-unfriendlies on screen lose their brains, but audiences do a bit by proxy. The cast bleed, scream, and remember their lines on cue but this all matters little under such devoted direction. Still, so far as gross-out horror goes, Roth excels at this sub-genre and earns a dubious crown for somehow keeping the nearly X-rated bedlam below an NC-17 rating for MPAA, ahem, standards.
Bottom line: Hostel Enviornment