REVIEW: Spectre

15 11 2015

Sam Mendes made a great Bond film with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade in “Skyfall” because they embraced a tricky opposition between the past and the future.  Could the unabashedly old-fashioned spy James Bond survive in a more gritty, grey world without sacrificing his core identity? They found that the answer was yes by striking a balance between these two forces vying for the soul of 007.

The band gets back together for “Spectre” (plus an additional writer in Jez Butterworth, architect of many a frustrating script in the past two years) and finds themselves preoccupied by the same kind of debate. This time, instead of the fear of age leading to obsolescence, the anxiety stems from post-Snowden malaise.

When a government has the ability to do its dirty work with drones and collect information on all its citizens through their devices, who needs human intelligence likes James Bond? This question is being seriously debated outside the world of the movie, and kudos to “Spectre” for not ignoring the elephant in the room. But the way Mendes and the writers choose to resolve the tension feels rather disappointing.

They use this threat as an excuse to retreat to some of the most outdated aspects of the character. Womanizing abounds as Bond pity romances a grieving widow to extract a key plot point. And Bond’s reward for neutralizing a key opponent? The “Bond girl,” Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, immediately feels the need to let him take her to bed. Simply put, there is a way to let James Bond be the ultimate man that does not require denying women agency. “Spectre” does not care to find that way as “Casino Royale” did, justifying lazy misogyny because of a rather facile challenge to Bond’s relevancy.

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REVIEW: Skyfall

22 11 2012

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s first appearance on screen, and while Sam Mendes’ “Skyfall” doesn’t explicitly make you aware of that fact until the ending credits roll, the landmark loomed large over the entire film for me.  Perhaps I’m an extreme case as my consciousness of the anniversary was no doubt raised tremendously by all the celebrations of the franchise on the beach at the Cannes Film Festival.  But it’s practically impossible not to notice the filmmakers’ awareness of the superspy’s legacy and how the very nature of the character is being precipitously torn in two drastically different directions.

Funny enough, the two previous iterations of James Bond with Daniel Craig inside the carefully tailored suit reflect the two competing forces for the future of 007.  2006’s smooth “Casino Royale” saw a return to an old-fashioned, suave Bond that harkened back to the glory days of Sean Connery.  You know, when a Bond film could bring in nearly $600 million (adjusted for ticket inflation).  And then, 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” took Her Majesty’s finest in a dirtier, muddier, grittier direction that resembled a Jason Bourne movie.

The makers of “Skyfall” were faced a choice: classic or contemporary, timely or timeless.  The decision was sure to be scrutinized by critics and semi-notable bloggers like myself who realized the importance of the film in the James Bond canon.  Thankfully, Mendes and writer John Logan (who seems to be the one garnering the most credit for the final product) realized that the concepts are not mutually exclusive and found the most intellectually rewarding experience came from examining the interplay between these binary oppositions.  The result is a remarkably contemplative movie of how the nature of James Bond has been determined by the time in which he serves whilst some essence of British class always remains.

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REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin

7 01 2012

You don’t need to know who Hergé’s Tintin is to enjoy the “The Adventures of Tintin,” all you need is to be primed for an exhilarating and fun adventure with the man who introduced many of us to adventure itself, Steven Spielberg.  Whether it was “Jurassic Park,” an “Indiana Jones” movie, or “E.T.,” the director – whose name has become synonymous with cinematic virtuosity – has once again vividly realized the power of technology to invoke an old-fashioned sense of wonder in movie watching.  With the motion-capture technology looking more real and life-like than ever, it makes for an interesting paradox that “Tintin” removes you so easily from reality while so seamlessly replicating it.

Thanks to Spielberg’s partnership with Peter Jackson and his visual effects team at WETA, the two filmmakers take leaps and bounds from the early Zemeckis films like “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” to fully capture the complexity of human anatomy and emotionality.  As a result, there’s nothing to distract you from getting fully engrossed in this old-fashioned Spielbergian adventure, no moment where you can think that a character looks fake or like an out-of-place animated replica.  It has been remarkable to watch this technology improve over my lifetime, and “Tintin,” along with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” makes 2011 a landmark year for its progression.

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REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

1 01 2012

Dragon TattooWhile on the path to triumphant Oscar glory last year, Aaron Sorkin made the wise observation that no matter what movie he chose to do next, it would always be seen as “the movie after ‘The Social Network.’” The same could be said for director David Fincher, snubbed of a much-deserved Oscar for a movie he clearly crafted with an intricate and delicate precision. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is no different as Fincher’s immaculate visual sensibilities dazzle the eye consistently for over two and a half hours; however, it suffers because of its placement in the director’s canon.

Had it preceded the masterpiece rather than succeeded it, there would probably be a river of praise flowing about his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller. But the specter of Mark Zuckerberg lurks insidiously like an elephant in the theater, making any viewer familiar with Fincher’s work consistently aware of the fact that something is keeping the movie from being truly great. Never is there that sense of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing state of total awe that the director has inspired so many times in his previous features. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” may be his first movie that fails to live up to the promise of its trailer. (To be fair, Fincher’s movies always seem to have the BEST trailers.)

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to marvel at in the movie. The story is incredibly engaging, and it gets a great visceral charge from Steven Zaillian’s faithful script and Fincher’s knack for palatable sadism. Taking a 700-page book and compressing into a single movie is no simple task, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is particularly dense on the page with its labyrinthine family structures, concurrent narrative arcs, and taut mystery. Whether it came from Zaillian in the writing or Fincher with editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall in the cutting room, the pacing is a marvel of control, never bloated or convoluted. The 158 minutes go by very quickly as the plot moves along at a nice, even clip.

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REVIEW: Cowboys & Aliens

27 07 2011

From the very beginning of Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens,” a very uneasy unevenness settles on the screen.  The movie feels torn between whether to be an alien invasion movie that happens to be set in 1870s New Mexico or a Western movie where the villains happen to be aliens.  Rather than make an executive decision and splice the genres, Favreau settles for an unhappy medium, vacillating back and forth between which of the two he’d rather use for the particular scene.  The resultant jumble is just that, a movie that haphazardly joins various elements from both genres to create a bitter hodgepodge that barely satisfies on basic entertainment levels.

The film basically glides by plotlessly for nearly two hours, floating on the very thin premise that feels like an infantile idea to begin.  Combining cowboys and aliens sounds like a game played by a five-year-old when his mom throws the “Star Wars” toys in the Lincoln Logs bin.  It might be fun for a little while as the two clash, but we eventually come to the realization that the novelty can’t sustain, much like that child probably would as well.

The kids-at-heart writing this story, otherwise known as the guys who gave you such wide-ranging projects as “Star Trek,” “Transformers,” the television show “Lost,” “Children of Men,” “Iron Man,” and the unforgettable classic “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist,” have the attention span of that five-year-old child.  They fail to take the movie anywhere worthwhile past the original jolt of imagination that inspired them to combine the two worlds in the first place.  Once they get the whole thing assembled and need to get the plot rolling, they abandon it to play with Legos and leave the movie going on autopilot.

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