Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore

Like any hopeful reader, I have boxes of books just waiting to be read in my garage and even a fair number waiting in the digital realm. There’s not much rhyme or reason to which ones I choose or why they take me so long to read, but I figured I’d put a few thoughts down about these four books I’ve finished in the relatively recent past including books by Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey and Roger Moore. Continue reading Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore

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Rad Lady Trade Post: Velvet, Gotham Academy & Hellcat

Velvet_Vol1-1I was on a pretty bad streak when it came to trades from the library. Unfortunately, a lot of them just weren’t my cup of comic tea and then I got the first two Velvet trades by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, the team that launched the iconic and fantastic Captain America.

This Image series follows the title character, a spy-turned secretary-turned fugitive named Velvet who gets framed for the murder of a secret agent she had a history with. As the two volumes progress, we find out more and more about Velvet, the people chasing her and what happened in the past to lead to all this chaos. Continue reading Rad Lady Trade Post: Velvet, Gotham Academy & Hellcat

Digging Double Oh Seven: Die Another Day (2002)

die another day

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been thinking about James Bond a lot and going back through the movies again. I’ve watched from Dr. No through Diamonds Are Forever, skipping Goldfinger in the process because I’ve seen in so many times. I was still jonesing for more Bond, though and asked my wife which one she wanted to see. I tried pushing for some Daniel Craig action, but instead she wanted to go with Pierce Brosnan’s final entry in the franchise, Die Another Day.

This was an interesting choice not just because it’s the last pre-Craig film I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet, but also because I had recently listened to the episode of James Bonding where they savaged this film. So, I was already kind of primed to dislike this movie, or at least look at it with a more comedic take, but I’ve got to say, once I just let all of that go, I was actually able to enjoy myself. Well, most of the time. Halle Berry is terrible here. It boggles the mind that she has an Oscar.

The basic story this time around is that, after getting marked while undercover and imprisoned, Bond wants revenge on his captors so he goes rogue to track them down. Along the way he meets a US NSA agent named Jinx (Berry) and discovers that some kind of gene replacement therapy is being used to change peoples’ identities on a fundamental level. There’s also an invisible car and an ice hotel which are both silly and kind of awesome when you just let yourself sit back and enjoy the film (which can be really difficult when you’re dealing with invisible cars and diamond faced bad guys, just saying).

While watching the movie, I made the claim that Berry is probably the worst Bond Girl around. My wife laughed and pointed out Denise Richards’ Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. To that I say, you basically know what you’re getting when you see Richards on screen (or were getting back when that was a thing that happened). But with Berry, you’re talking about an Oscar winner! She can barely deliver her lines in a way that tells me she’s a human being and not a robot trying to decode what feelings are. At the end of the day, I can buy into the invisible car and even the ridiculous gene therapy, but I can’t abide such a bad Bond actress. Honestly, Madonna’s better actress in this than Berry.

Anyway, this wound up being Brosnan’s last outing as 007. I liked what he did with the character and while he wasn’t my favorite he was the version that gave me my first Bond experiences in the movie theater which is a nice memory. I don’t know if he’ll be considered a classic Bond, but it was certainly a memorable time for me heading to the movies with my high school and college friends to check out 007’s latest exploits.

Digging Double Oh Seven: The Master List

50ansde007I’ve had Bond on the brain lately. First there was the news that all things Bond were back under one umbrella legally speaking which means SPECTRE and Blofeld can return to the series. Then I discovered a relatively new podcast called James Bonding. Plus, this year does mark the 50th anniversary of the film franchise, so I’ve been going back and putting my James Bond DVD box set to good use (which of course kind of makes me want to get the Blu-rays).

Over the past few years I’ve done a good number of Digging Double Oh Seven posts, but figured it would be somewhat useful to create a list of all the films and original Ian Fleming books with links to my reviews. For what it’s worth I have seen Die Another Day and Skyfall, but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews for them. In addition to the Fleming books, most of which I have in one form or another, I also have the Fleming-written, John McClusky-drawn comic strips collected in The James Bond Omnibus Volume 1 which I’m slowly making my way through.

THE MOVIES

Casino Royale (1954) – CBS TV movie
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball (1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Casino Royale (1967) – non-canonical David Niven comedy
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live And Let Die (1973)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Octopussy (1983)
Never Say Never Again (1983) – non-canonical Sean Connery film
A View To A Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
License To Kill (1989)
GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow New Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Skyfall (2012)

THE IAN FLEMING BOOKS

Casino Royale (1953)
Live and Let Die (1954)
Moonraker (1955)
Diamonds are Forever (1956)
From Russia, With Love (1957)
Dr. No (1958)
Goldfinger (1959)
For Your Eyes Only (1960) – short story collection featuring “From a View to a Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Risico” and “The Hildebrand Rarity”
Thunderball (1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1964)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965)
Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966) – short story collection featuring “Octopussy,” “The Property of a Lady,” “The Living Daylights” and “007 in New York”

Digging Double Oh Seven: Casino Royale (2006) & Quantum Of Solace (2008)

After watching Skyfall, I wanted to look back and see what I had to say about Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. As it turns out, I wrote my reviews back in March of 2011 and never posted them for some reason. I gave the posts a read-through and made a few changes, but I kept it “of its time,” which means I foolishly thought I’d be watching Skyfall in the theaters instead of on Blu-ray a year after it came out. Silly Past TJ!

As I mentioned when I kicked off these Digging Double Oh Seven posts with a review of the novel version of Casino Royale, I didn’t have very fond memories of the 2006 film version because it never seemed to end with scene after scene in the 144 minute movie’s last act that kept seeming like it should be the final one. Bond is saved by a mysterious killer? Good stopping point. Bond’s in love? Good stopping point. Of course, I didn’t know when I first saw the movie that SPOILER the girl he fell for would turn out to be a bad guy and that was as important to the story as the game of Texas Hold Em or the testicular trauma he endures.

All that is a pretty long way around of saying that I really liked Casino Royale the second time around and, in fact, there was only one bit that bugged me, but I’ll get to that. There’s that awesome black and white scene in the beginning where Bond earns his Double Oh status, which I understood a lot more having read the book. Then there’s the sick animated opening credits followed by a bonkers parkour chase scene between Bond and a bomber through an old construction site. Unlike most of the other Bond movies, this one is a lot more physical with Bond being exactly as much of a badass as I’ve always wanted him to be and that counts for a lot. Plus, the action itself feels real. It reminded me of a Thai martial arts flick where everything looks painful and real. A lot of people compare these two new Bond movies to the Bourne flicks which I’m sure is fair. I’m not as familiar with those movies, but one thing I do remember is that the fight scenes are very jump cutty whereas it seems like the camera doesn’t move from Bond very much when he’s throwing down. I love, love, LOVE the part where he’s chasing the bomber and just bursts through a wall.

Story-wise the movie follows along with the book pretty well, adding plenty of new stuff. One of the newer aspects to the franchise is that this film acts as a bit of a reboot. I’m torn on this. On one hand, I’m sad to know that the Bond series I’ve come to know and love is no more. That version of Bond ended with Pierce Brosnon. On the other hand, it makes sense to reboot things and set Bond in a more modern world because dude would be pretty damn old by this point. So, I guess I’m okay with it. Speaking of changes, I also really dug Daniel Craig as Bond. I’m not one to get bent out of shape because he’s blonde. Who cares? He embodies the intensity and physicality of the character to a T. The only problem I have with this new version (no fault of Craig’s) is that he isn’t the suave, lover of fine things that our hero is when he’s first introduced in the book. We can see him grow into that a bit (as well as the theme song and some of the catchphrases, which were nice touches) but I really appreciate that aspect of the character from the books and the pre-Dalton flicks.

This time around, I knew what to expect with the story, so it wasn’t so jarring for me. Even though it’s the longest Bond movie in the series, it didn’t feel like that this time and I’m happy to say that this is one of the few movies my opinion has been switched on. I feel so mature!

Everything I had read or heard about Quantum Of Solace said that it was important to watch Casino Royale right before. Man, were they right. The missus and I watched the movies back-to-back the other night and it was super helpful. Quantum isn’t just the next adventure of James Bond like all of the other flicks in the franchise, it’s a direct continuation of the story. Casino ends with Bond trying to figure out who was pulling his lady’s strings which leads to a manhunt this time around. I’ll just get this out of the way right now: I really liked this movie too.

Craig’s equally as awesome as Bond, even getting a little sophisticated, but still retaining some of his “blunt weaponess” as M called him in the previous movie. The flick has great action set pieces from a sick chase to a run through a burning building. All great, all around. I was also impressed with how very traditional the main villain’s plan was as far as Bond movies go. This guy redirected all the water in Bolivia so that he could then sell it back to the new regime. That’s vintage Bond.

Another aspect of the movie that I appreciate is that it actually does one better than the novel series in my opinion. With the books, Casino Royale ends very much like the movie does (with Bond betrayed and trying to figure out who is after him) which leads him into Live And Let Die. The promise at the end of the book version of Casino states that Bond is driven to find the members of that organization, but by Live he’s hunting down thieves in America and beautiful islands. Quantum takes the premise and really runs with it. I’m not 100% clear on how everything played out (we were working on baby stuff while watching the flick) but I appreciate that the filmmakers actually went after it and got Bond his revenge. Now he can move on. Actually, now that I think about it, it actually makes more sense for a young inexperienced Bond to fall for a woman as opposed to the more experienced version in the book. Well played. I hope Sam Mendes gets his cast together soon because now I’m itching to see a Bond on the big screen again for the first time since Die Another Day (I missed the most recent pair, shamefully).

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 2

league of extraordinary gentlemen volume 1The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1 & Volume 2 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neill

Back in 1999, Alan Moore threw in with WildStorm, then still part of Image, and launched his own imprint called America’s Best Comics. His first three books were Top 10, Tom Strong, Promethea and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The line took various other genres like pulp fiction, Victorian literature and crime drama and looked at them through Moore’s probably-snake-god-shaped-superhero-loving prism. At the time, this was a big deal because Moore had been doing a lot of random Image and WildStorm books just a few years before.

I don’t quite remember when or where I picked up the first LOEG trade, but I think it was in college. I do know that I wrote an extensive paper comparing Moore’s versions of these characters to their literary originals. I found the document and might upload a PDF along with my notes if its not too too embarrassing. Anyway, I believe the second volume was already out by the time I got into the series, but after getting caught up I had to wait like everyone else for Black Dossier, which, as I mentioned previously, spawned my re-reading of this whole franchise.

As I mentioned in that post, I wanted to see how the book’s two main stars Mina Murray (Dracula) and R. Rider Haggard’s adventurer character Alan Quartermain started their relationship, but I was also excited to see the book’s other stars Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (well, really Mr. Hyde) and the Invisible Man (not really, but I’ll get to that). You could say that this book does not actually revolve around the burgeoning romance between Murray and Quartermain that the book’s latter installments focus on, but in addition to introducing us to the characters and pitting them against a nefarious Doctor, you still get to see how these two first met and hints at what attracts them to one another. This becomes much more the focus in the second volume, but the seeds are here.

That being said, it wasn’t the romance that made me fall for this series in the first place, it was Moore’s very simple concept of gathering together several characters from fiction and putting them together on a team to battle other characters from books. I love a good crossover/mash-up and this is a superb one. So, you’ve got me on one level just because I like the idea, but upon re-reading the series, I was impressed with how Moore made me care about dusty old characters whose books can by quite boring to read through. There are some really cool moments between characters that some writers would have gotten rid of in favor of more action scenes, but Moore balances these things well.

I will say that I had a bit of the problem with this first volume that I had when re-reading Moore’s Top 10 a while back: the journey isn’t quite as fun when you know the twists and turns. For Top 10, a lot of the stories revolved around “Whoa” Moments (when a detail is revealed to the reader and he or she does their most sincere Keanu impression), but those moments aren’t quite as interesting the second or third time around. For LOEG Volume 1, I had some of the boredom when the team was being put together in the first few issues. I’ve read these before (and seen the cover) so I know they get Jekyll/Hyde to join;, seeing it again feels a bit been-there-done-that. But, even those teambuilding scenes get peppered with some of those personal inter-character moments that I really like. For instance, when on a mission that winds up bringing the Invisible Man into their ranks, there’s a really cool moment between temporary roommates Nemo and Quartermain where they acknowledge they’re participating in this wild experiment because they both love adventuring even though they’re gaining in age.

loeg vol. 2

The second volume of League stories follows the same team on adventure that takes many of its cues from War of the Worlds. I wrote about this a while back when comparing it to the original novel, the radio play and the movies, but there’s a lot more going on here than just a take off on the heat gun-using walking milkstands first described in H.G. Wells’ novel. Again, it’s the character moments that I not only liked most but also remembered better. Mina and Alan in the woods sticks out, as does Hyde’s encounter with the Invisible Man, which happens to be one of the most disturbing and creepy sequences in fiction that I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s an interesting look into my own psychology and how I approached this first two volumes the first time around. As I said, I was in from the first description I heard of these characters. I hadn’t read most of their stories, but I also immediately liked them. But, these are not all very likeable characters, especially the Invisible Man. An interesting combination of my own misguided bias and Moore’s ability to make even monsters charming made me almost forget about some of the terrible things these characters have done. That’s an interesting trick.

Another interesting thing I realized on this second reading is that, by populating these stories with characters from existing fiction — including people seen in crowd shots — Moore and O’Neill actually make me think about every single character in every single panel. “Oh, I wonder if that guy’s somebody? What’s her story?” These are things I don’t normally think when reading a normal character because they’re “just normal people.” But if I’m under the impression that even a background character might have an existing literary history, I’m more intrigued. This also makes me worry about extras in dangerous scenes more than I normal would.

One of the interesting things that I noticed having read these books in the unconventional order that I did — Black Dossier, the Century books, Volume 1 and Volume 2 — is that certain things seemed to become more important. When Mina starts writing a letter to Campion Bond in the second issue of the first volume it wasn’t just a literary device used to convey exposition and remind readers what had happened, but also an actual document that was probably sitting in a folder somewhere. This along with the above comment about the book’s population add an extra layer that makes me want to dive in all the more.

I could probably go on and on about these book and how much I enjoy them or how many things I noticed in this reading that I hadn’t noticed before — like Mina being “treated” at the same hospital they found the Invisible Man in — but I want to bring it back around to one last element that I’ve kind of hinted at and danced around in both of these posts: Mina is a fantastic character. She’s so strong it’s ridiculous. Terrible things have happened to her in her life, not the least of which was getting attacked by Count Dracula and yet she perseveres and strives to utilize the opportunities given to her in an effort to make her life better and move on. She was a school teacher who would otherwise have no business working for the government, let alone leading a secret tactical group of freaks and ne’re-do-wells, but as Hyde points out in volume two, she’s seen worse than most of them can offer. Instead of letting her past destroy her, she’s embracing it and using it not only to her own advantage, but to the advantage of her country and the world. These are qualities that her teammates can sense in her and lead to them accepting her as their leader. She’s the human lynchpin that holds the monsters together, but also offers the example that allows them to have human moments of their own. She’s literally the key to the whole series which is why she’s not only the first character we’re introduced to, but also the focus of the rest of the volumes.

With all that being said, I’m really looking forward to whatever else Moore and O’Neill have in store for this universe. I remember reading they’ve got something with Nemo’s daughter in the works. I’d love to learn more about that family and what they’ve done over the years. Frankly, I’d love to read about anything set in this world. I’m hooked, keep the juice coming.

80s Odyssey: Dead Heat (1988) & Order Of The Black Eagle (1987)

dead heatDead Heat is the kind of movie I should have already seen. On one hand, it’s exactly the kind of movie that sounds right up my alley: a buddy cop movie involving zombies. It was also, as my buddy Sean Collins wrote about years ago, an entry in one of the many Manly Movie Mamajamas I missed (they watched this and the excellent Tango & Cash and Point Break). I’ve also heard a bunch of my friends — many of the guys that attended that MMM — talk about how crazy it is. It wasn’t until Rickey Purdin’s latest VHS Diary post that the bug finally got in my ear deep enough to get me to watch the flick on Netflix Instant. And, man, they were right, this is one wacky, kind of awesome movie.

I write a lot on UM about how I like peanut butter and chocolate movies, you know two great tastes that taste great together. I’ve got a lot of subgenres I like, but I’m an even bigger fan of movies that combine those genres successfully. For the most part, Dead Heat does just that, though it’s a little more goofy and sloppy than some of my favorite movies of the original genres.

The film follows cops Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as they get involved with some crimes that lead them to a strange discovery: some of the perps had already been dead. This brings them to a company that has developed a way to resurrect the dead. In the process, Williams winds up dying but Piscopo and their pal the medical examiner toss him on the machine and turn him into the undead. He’s not your typical zombie right away  but as we eventually find out, he will deteriorate like his fellow formerly dead folks.

For the first half or so, it’s your basic buddy cop flick with a sci-fi/horror kick off, but then it turns into a full-on, bonkers zombie action movie. There’s this scene at a butcher shop in Chinatown that reminded me of movies like Re-Animator, Evil Dead and Dead Alive. It was insane. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen, just do yourself a favor and check it out if the idea of reanimated dead chickens attacking two cops sounds like your cup of tea.

But the movie’s not perfect. When I first turned it on I remember thinking, “Hey, Joe Piscopo, what happened to that guy? He was supposed to be the next big thing from Saturday Night Live in the 80s.” I know part of the explanation there is that his co-star Eddie Murphy blew up as the next big thing. He starred in Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours, the kinds of buddy cop flicks that I love and inspired the making of this one, clearly. But, I also didn’t get the sense that Piscopo was comfortable in the film. It wasn’t just that his character was freaked out by the fact that his pal and partner was a zombie, but that the man himself just wasn’t used to being on a film set. There’s one scene where the ME is explaining how they’re going to bring Treat back and Piscopo is just staring directly at the camera which is a general no-no.

As far as I’m concerned, though that’s a minor quibble. I still had a great time watching this movie today. It’s not like one of the best buddy cops of all time has horror elements in it, but it’s a fun attempt that I really wish I could have watched with my buddies.

order of the Black EagleI think the MMM gang would also get a kick out of Order Of The Black Eagle, a weird, wacky take on the James Bond spy flicks of the 70s and 80s. Our super spy in question this time around is Duncan Jax, played by a guy who only ever appeared in this movie and its sequel which I couldn’t find on Netflix at all. He does his best super-smooth routine, which you almost buy and then the next thing you know, he’s talking to his baboon while on a mission. The monkey is kind of a partner/valet/special friend, though he gets left behind for most of the action at the end.

The plot’s not super important to the movie aside from the fact that some Nazis were able to put Hitler in cryo freeze and they’re planning on thawing him out. Oh, there’s also something about a space age weapon, too. Jax gets sent to put a stop to this group, the titular Order of the Black Eagle, but he’s not the only one. There’s an American as well as a rag tag group of mercenaries that you can see in the trailer. I personally love how each of their specialties are put right on front street by way of their names (ie Spike throws knives!).

I didn’t give this movie as much attention as I should have, but I got the feeling that this one was more tongue in cheek than “trying to be clever and coming off as silly.” Some of the action stuff actually looked alright and I thought the scene of what wound up happening to Hitler was pretty interesting for this kind of movie.

I enjoyed this movie for its goofiness mixed with a pretty solid ending action scene. It’s the kind of thing you put on while doing stuff around the house or with a bunch of friends just looking to goof off, drink some beers and joke around about a movie. Man, if nothing else, watching these movies made me want to set up another MMM!