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Monthly Archives: December 2013

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The James Bond Codename Theory was Always in the Script

The codename theory of James Bond, if you’re not familiar with it, is that James Bond isn’t a name, but a codename. It’s often passed off as a fan idea, but it was in the original darker Ben Hecht script for Casino Royale.

The 40 pages of the draft dated February 20 1964 elaborated on many of the scenes and ideas in these pages, but add an unusual gimmick. Bond is precisely the same character as he was in the other drafts: suave, laconic, ruthless and predatory. But he is not James Bond. Instead, he is an unnamed American agent called in by M who is given the name James Bond. M says that “since Bond’s death” MI6 has put several agents into operation using his name: “It not only perpetuates his memory, but confuses the opposition.”

After this scene this agent is indistinguishable from Bond, and doesn’t seem American at all. It may be that Feldman was also considering how to make the film with an actor other than Sean Connery. There are very few logical inconsistencies in Hecht’s material – this gimmick sticks out like a sore thumb.

The producers flirted with an American James Bond and Ben Hecht’s solution for preserving continuity and canon was the codename theory.

The fan idea had already been thought up long beforehand by the writer behind Underworld, Scarface, The Front Page, The Thing and Gone With the Wind.

 

Saints Row 4 Game Review

Saints Row 4 is an unusual beast. It’s an AAA game about gaming. It’s a top of the line meta game that goes meta on the meta with lines like “This is just like playing a game. Wink.” With the wink pronounced out loud.

SR4 begins with a Call of Duty parody and is based around a Mass Effect parody. And there are send ups of everything from Metal Gear “that lightbulb had a family” to the whole Saints Row series. Adding to that there’s a built in text adventure game, a mission that turns you into a character in a side-scroller beat-em-up and a whole bunch of jumping and racing games that are 3D versions of the games you might play on the phone to pass the time.

All that makes Saints Row 4 a lot cleverer than the GTA series thinks it is with its latest take on Organized Crime = The American Dream. An idea that was stale a few years after the Godfather and imitation mob movies finished beating into the ground. But that doesn’t mean that SR4 is good.

Saints Row 3 was a polished machine full of gags, missions that transformed into something more hilariously insane and a territory to explore. Saints Row 4 dumps you into the same city with a few small things switched around and alien gear everywhere. It also overlays the old drive and shoot gameplay with a whole bunch of superpowers so that the cars don’t matter.

SR4 feels like the DLC that it started life as. Its missions feel less polished and while a few match the brilliant insanity of SR3, there are so many filler missions that its own DLC, Enter the Dominatrix, jokes about them.

With everything from lightsabers to terminators to Roddy Piper showing up in the game, Saints Row 4 is trying hard to distract you with shiny things. Superpowers, moddable guns that can be turned into the weapons from Firefly, Star Trek and multiple other franchises. Jumping games, racing games, lots of unlockables. But what it’s trying to distract you from is the lack of gameplay.

Integrating superpowers into a drive and shoot game doesn’t go well either. The superpowers are neat, but the system for deploying and choosing them is awkward. The alien enemies are diverse, but few of them have superpowers. The Wardens who do are the worst thing about the game cutting the player off at a top notoriety level and forcing an annoying battle that ends with a notoriety reset.

That makes the whole superpowers thing feel like a played mod that wasn’t well thought out instead of the center of the game.

Once you’re dumped into the simulation, most of the game consists of going into the other simulations where the other characters are trapped to rescue them. And then fulfilling their loyalty missions. Some of these are surprisingly well written and well acted. SR4 does more with its ridiculous characters and goes deeper than Grand Theft Auto 4 ever did. Others are just filler.

SR4 balances out serious backstory and ridiculous gags. It wraps up its own narrative. But it feels unfinished. There aren’t enough missions and the ending is abrupt and awkward. And too many of the missions feel like pointless fetch quests to stretch out the time.

Saints Row 4 has plenty of great moments, but not enough of them and the closer you get to the ending, the more unfinished it feels until you’re looking at a credits sequence composed of concept art for what the Saints are doing in the real ending.

Man of Steel – Movie Review

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Despite its pedigree, Man of Steel has little in common with the Dark Knight movies. It’s really a Marvel movie wrapped in the pretentious seriousness of its Dark Knight cousin.

Man of Steel isn’t really Superman. The first hint of that comes from the title which carefully avoids the S Word. But it isn’t a Dark Knight realistic reworking either. Superman as we know him barely appears here. But in his place is a character who could just as easily be Marvel’s Superman. Swap out Superman for Thor and with a few minor modifications you could have exactly the same movie. And, Man of Steel even bears a suspicious resemblance to Marvel’s first Thor movie.

There’s hardly any Clark Kent here. Just the story of an itinerant superhero, a classier version of Will Smith’s Hancock, who occasionally saves people while fleeing his past and searching for his purpose. That’s a story alright. But it isn’t Superman.

And it’s barely a story.

Man of Steel avoids origin story drag by telling everything through a set of flashbacks. That only adds to the feeling that the entire movie is a set of montages. You could watch Man of Steel with the sound off and miss absolutely nothing because there is no plot development.

Clark Kent tours the world and punches aliens. Then he punches them some more. That’s the movie.

Man of Steel isn’t bad. It just lacks content. There’s nothing here you remember after walking out of the theater. And that makes it no different than most of the other 200 and 300 million dollar summer blockbusters. There are gorgeous scenes. Superman’s first flight is absolutely spectacular and the rendering of Krypton’s history in animated art deco chrome is amazingly beautiful and moving.

But that’s it.

From the first minutes of the extended opening sequence where Russell Crowe as Jor El does all the usual action hero stuff, somehow beating General Zod and his men in hand to hand combat despite being a scientist, you know exactly the kind of movie that Man of Steel will be. And it doesn’t disappoint by not disappointing.

Even the closest thing to a dramatic arc, Clark Kent learning to trust human beings, is barely there. His pivotal struggle consists of walking into a church and then answering his own question. Even Marvel movies have more plot content than that.

Zack Snyder can shoot beautiful scenes, but he has never learned to connect them into a movie. That worked in 300, but brought him down when he tried to tackle the complex interwoven narrative of Watchmen. And he doesn’t even try in Man of Steel. It’s Superman 300 without the Superman or the 300.

Henry Cavill makes a passable Superman because he doesn’t ever have to do anything except look determined. The movie brings in Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner to play Clark’s parents and both men turn in great performances. Meanwhile the pivotal role of General Zod is left to an actor with all the subtlety of a hammer.

If General Zod had been played by a better actor, Men of Steel might have been more watchable. Instead Michael Shannon’s Zod is demented, but lacks presence. He gets beaten up by Jor El in the beginning and then gets captured and he never seems like he has anything going for him except advanced technology.

The actual fights are the same generic things you see in every movie these days complete with useless military attacks and product placement brand names being smacked around. There are moments of potential, such as when Superman smashes into a fast food joint managed by a former classmate, but then it’s just as quickly brushed away reminding you that while Man of Steel may owe something to Superman II, it’s a much worse version of even that butchered movie.

Snyder and the Dark Knight gang try to inject gravitas into a video game movie. And all it does is make for some pretty and well acted cut scenes that amount to nothing. There is no conflict that matters. Pa Kent’s warnings are nothing but another flashback that is quickly disregarded. There is no evolution here, only forcible points in the script that follow a dramatic formula without ever caring about it.

Man of Steel might have been a great movie, but its only aspiration was to do a DC version of a Marvel action movie. And it barely succeeded at that.

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