When it comes to straight-ahead likeable action stars, few have done it better than Jackie Chan. He built up an incredible body of work before breaking through in the U.S. which meant that, for many of us, we could start off with something like Rumble In The Bronx and then go on to discover the Armor of God or Police Story movies. He’s even carried his unique brand of humor and still-impressive action into more recent films like the incredible Chinese Zodiac. However, thanks to a review Blu-ray of The Foreigner, I now see him in a very different light.
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
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.
I’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.
Casino Royale (1954) – CBS TV movie
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
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)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Never Say Never Again (1983) – non-canonical Sean Connery film
A View To A Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
License To Kill (1989)
Tomorrow New Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum Of Solace (2008)
THE IAN FLEMING BOOKS
Casino Royale (1953)
Live and Let Die (1954)
Diamonds are Forever (1956)
From Russia, With Love (1957)
Dr. No (1958)
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”
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”
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.
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.
Dead 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.
I 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!
Any time we go away for more than a few days, I like to give myself what I call a project comic. This is where I grab a bunch of issues or trades of one series or a particular creator and dive in. For Christmas, we went to visit my wife’s parents in New Hampshire and after a lot of thinking (more than I like to admit, really), I settled on giving League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a read from Black Dossier through the last Century book, which I hadn’t read yet. After finishing Century 2009 I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of the series, so I went back and gave the first two volumes a read and had a delightful time with the whole series.I’m going to start off with this post focusing mainly on Black Dossier and the Century trilogy and then come back for the second part which will talk about the books and concepts in broader terms.
If you’re not familiar with the general concept behind League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it started out as a Victorian superhero team of sorts that brought together Mina Murray from Dracula, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought together by the British government to help them defeat extranormal threats. The bigger idea is that Alan Moore created a world inhabited by many of the characters we’ve read about it books for as long as the written word has been around. While introducing his versions of these characters and the kind of world that can hold them all, Moore also hinted at a much deeper and richer history to this world.
Black Dossier completely revolves around that history. The book works on two levels. First, it’s your average comic book showing the latest adventures of Mina Murray and Quartermain in 1958 as they steal the document you’re reading in an attempt to figure out what the government knows of their exploits since they severed ties. It’s also the aforementioned collection of documents all pertaining to the history of the League as if it were put together by someone in that universe. So, while you get your comic story, you’re also, essentially, looking at papers that are not for your eyes only, making it kind of fun and sneaky.
I’m impressed with how dedicated Moore was to the idea of this book. The documents he created range from forgotten Shakespeare plays and weird mod tales to journal entries and MI6 correspondences. From my limited experience with the types of writing Moore pays homage to in these stories, he does a solid job of matching them and utilizing them to convey information accurately in the style of the respective eras.
To be honest, though, reading through all those text pieces can be a slog. While I appreciate Moore’s attention to detail and ability to switch styles with the flip of a page, I wonder if the whole thing is a little more, “Hey, I bet I can do this,” than, “Hey this will serve the story really well.” I’m still on the fence with this point but think I’m leaning towards the latter. I like the idea of the format and maybe just wish there had been more image-oriented tales instead of page after page of dense text. I admit, I tend to have a problem getting interested in all-text pages in comics, so that doesn’t help. Still, I stuck with this one and read almost every single bit, skipping some paragraphs here and there to get to the point a bit quicker.
As far as the references this series is known for, I liked seeing James Bond’s involvement. I mean, he’s not treated particularly well and seems more based on the movie version of the character than the one I’ve read about in the first few Ian Flemming novels (to my poor memory, at least), but it was neat to see Campion’s relative involved in the proceedings. I know there was a lot of problems getting this book published, I believe because Moore wanted to incorporate more overt references to pop culture characters but DC was worried about a legal backlash. I’d love to hear what those were, if anyone knows of a good interview on the subject — or LOEG in general — please drop me a link in the comments.
While I’m not 100% in agreement with the presentation of all the information conveyed to the reader in this book, I do really appreciate the lengths Moore went to to not only stick with his vision, but also give the reader a mountain of information and history to comb through and absorb. I forgot most of what was in the text sections after only reading this book one time previously, but it’s still amazing the way he weaves together all kinds of existing fictional elements into a brand new tapestry that has its own history. It does raise a few questions like how come no one seems to believe in weird stuff in this world that not only survived a Martian invasion but at one time had an England ruled by a faerie queen? But overall, I like the information, I like the intent and above all else I loved getting to see Mina and Alan together again doing their thing. I’m a sucker for that thing in fiction where you allow your characters to cheat death and be together, it’s the hopeless romantic in me I guess. Oh, minor SPOILER, but Mina and Alan found a fountain of youth in Africa which is why they’re neither decrepit nor dead.
Things were a lot less romantic in the Century volumes, at least as they progress. These three books were presented in prestige format with mostly comic pages and a few text pages in the back. I admit, after going through Black Dossier, I skipped all the other supplementary materials moving forward. Anyway, Century 1910 gives us a look at what the British government has dubbed The Mina Group, consisting of mostly new members, trying to stop the birth of an apocalyptic individual called the mooonchild.
The plot mainly revolves around that, allowing the reader to get their first real look at the team that now includes Quartermain Jr., Carnacki, A.J. Raffles and Orlando who becomes a major part of the next two books. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the giddy thrill of reading these new characters just because I’m nowhere near as familiar with them as the members of the first team, but it was still an enjoyable read with an intriguing story. We’re also shown what happens to Captain Nemo and the brutal, unfortunate tale that finds his daughter becoming the captain of the Nautilus.
Let’s call the next paragraph SPOILERVILLE. The most interesting part of this story is that, thanks to the soothsaying visions of team member Carnacki and the ensuing investigation by the team, they actually plant the ideas necessary to bring about the apocalypse in the villain’s mind. I thought that was kind of a brilliant and tragic kick off to a three part story. My only complaint about the book is that it seems a little bit preachy at the end. Actually, preachy’s probably not the right word, but the reason Nemo’s daughter decides to become the new Captain Nemo is because a bunch of drunks at the bar she works at rape her one night. She decides to bring down the thunder of the Nautilus on these people as revenge and then continue her father’s work. The very end of the book features a murderer and a barmaid sing a song about how terrible the world is and that the basic needs of the people need to be met if the higher classes expect things to get better. This is actually an opinion I agree with, but a part of me saw the brutality of Neo Nemo’s situation exploited to make this point. I know it holds with the history of the time and this is a fictional character, but that feeling still nags at me.
This second volume of Century, set in 1969, follows the adventures of Mina, Alan and Orlando who have become an adventuring trio who no long work for the British government. Much has happened in the 59 years since the previous volume (and the 11 years since Black Dossier), but like all the other installments of this franchise, most of them are hinted at or further explored in the text pieces that remain half- or un-read by yours truly. I’m particularly interested in Mina’s superhero team, but will get to that eventually.
Anyway, it’s the swinging 60s in London and our heroes are reminded of the old case revolving around the moonchild and the apocalypse. This time, the nefarious plot revolves around the bad guy who hops from body to body and intends to take over the lead singer of a Rolling Stones-esque band.
Since I’ve already fallen hard for these characters, I think I’d enjoy seeing them in just about any situation, but I’m also fascinated by this era in history and love the way it lends itself to a visual medium like comics. I also really enjoyed seeing how this trio had progressed over the years and how they deal with their immortality in different ways, especially how Mina adopts the language of the times in order to not feel like a dinosaur.
I also like how I got a lot more of the references in this volume. I mean, the Ruttles are a big band in this world, which is hilarious and awesome. There’s still a lot that went over my head, but I’m used to that from every other volume. Speaking of references, this volume is basically one giant nod to Empire Strikes Back. You’ve got the heroes learning more about the villains, a battle between the main hero and the main villain and a super-downer ending that makes you salivate for the next installment. For what it’s worth, I don’t usually get emotionally worked up when it comes to comics, but I got pretty upset with what happened to Mina at the end of this book. I was even more upset when I read 2009, though.
Seriously, when I realized what had happened between 1969 and 2009 with these three characters I was heartbroken, or at least as heartbroken as I can get from fictional characters. It’s just so sad. Forget about losing a a hand and realizing your dad’s a galactic-level jerk, Mina, Orlando and Alan had it ROUGH.
This volume finally brings the promise of the first to a head as the apocalypse and moonchild are both confirmed unless our incredibly damaged heroes can stop them. This part of the story is not only about defeating what seems undefeatable in an external sense, but also getting over even the worst possible things done to you by others or yourself. It’s about triumph over adversity and for that it’s a positive and exciting tale, one that features a SPOILER Harry Potter analog fighting Mary Poppins…or god, or something, I’m not quite sure, but I liked it better than that weirdness at the London Olympic Opening Ceremony.
As you’d expect, I got WAY more of Moore’s references this time around, which always adds to the enjoyment of these books. The more you’re in on the joke, the funnier it is and all that. I also like how the mythology of this series kind of came to a head with several characters from other books, including Dossier, making appearances and playing important parts in the story.
Getting back to SPOILERVILLE, beware. Still, it’s not the happiest of endings, is it? While Orlando and Mina seem to get through the final battle relatively unscathed, poor Alan looks to have died. We see that he was taken back to their fountain of youth, but doesn’t seem to have made it. Here’s the thing though, we know that Alan’s faked his death before and it’s possible that Mina and Orlando don’t trust their new former government friends as much as they’re letting on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of him. I hope we do, I’ve grown quite fond of these characters of the years.
I’ll get into this in more detail in the next post, but one of the reasons I went back to read the first two LOEG volumes was because I wanted to see how Mina and Alan’s relationship started out. It’s much different than what we see in BD and the Century books. I like who Moore developed them both as individual characters and their relationship as its own kind of entity, not to mention how the inclusion of Orlando altered and augmented that union. At the end of the day, beneath all the literary characters and all the references and all the magic and sci-fi and fantasy, League is actually the story of two very extraordinary people not only teaming up but finding love in a world that never fails to surprise and accost them. That simple nugget in the center of this much larger thing is what readers can grab onto while being exposed to the strange, wonderful and horrible.