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They use this threat as an excuse to retreat to some of the most outdated aspects of the character.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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Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 2

19 05 2012

Ok, just got out of the 8:30 A.M. showing of “Lawless” … how I got in is another story entirely. But anyways, here’s my account of day 2 in beautiful Cannes (which was two days ago).

Day 2 – Thursday, May 17

My afternoon began with a fantastic Lumiere screening of “Rust and Bone” at 3:00 P.M. I had to sit in the very back row in the balcony, but the image and the sound were still impeccable, so it was all fine by me. Hopefully my review will come down the pipes later.

Then, with only a quick window to grab something to eat before my next screening, I made the idiotic mistake of trying to order from a McDonald’s … and from one of their outside ordering kiosks, no less. The concept is basically a walk-up drive-through window; however, they did a really poor job of communicating it, so I was looking for my order with all the scrubs inside at the counter. Turns out, there was just a window near the ordering kiosk that would open when an order was ready. By that point, I was so frustrated that when my one bite of Royale Bacon tasted gross, I just threw out the entire tray. (I later got a panini from a streetside café. Stupid me for ever thinking of choosing McDonald’s.)

I was quickly whisked away to the Olympia Theater, a multiplex used for regular year-round film screenings in Cannes, for a “secret screening” held by the Weinstein Company. I don’t think I am allowed to say what I saw, but I am almost positive I wouldn’t be able to say what I thought. The rest of the screening attendees were buyers and international distributors – AKA no press (or bloggers). So perhaps one of these days, my virtual embargo will be lifted. But until then, my lips are sealed.

I can tell you one thing – er, person – I did see though: Harvey Weinstein himself. I almost didn’t recognize him since he was dressed so casually in an untucked white-button down, but as soon as he walked down the staircase where I was waiting, I knew exactly who he was. You could just hear the whispers going around the room: “Oh my god, that’s Harvey Weinstein!” Think the scene in “Elf” where Miles Finch walks down the hallway and everyone is saying his name. Harvey, much like Miles Finch, was totally unphased by taking the air out of the room.

It was totally surreal to see such a mythological figure of the film world in the flesh. And now that I have real experience to complement all the countless journalistic pieces and editorials, if I could describe him in a word, it would be: driven. He looked like a man on a mission walking through that theater lobby, and I think it would take a nuclear weapon to deter him. (No, I did not get a picture … did you think I was going to be the one to take a cell phone picture? Not subtle.)

And then, after grabbing some delectable tiramisu gelato, I was off to a beach screening of “Dr. No” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Bond. I had never seen the movie in its entirety, so it was probably nice education to finally sit down and watch it. (Plus, now the “Austin Powers” movies make even more sense and will probably be even funnier.) The setting was beautiful, I was happily curled up under a Stella Artois fleece blanket, and then … fireworks. It was truly one of the most amazing pyrotechnic displays I have ever seen, and it just seemed unceasing as well.

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The perfect ending to an excellent day. Try watching James Bond with that going on. I dare you.





Random Factoid #167

11 01 2010

People talk about life-changing movies all the time, but a movie that truly inspired me to go out and alter my life was “Casino Royale.”

No, I didn’t leave the theater, go buy an Aston Martin, pick up gorgeous European women, and start firing my large arsenal of weapons.

Per se, it wasn’t actually the movie itself that inspired the change; rather, it was something that happened while I watched the movie.

I had gone with a friend, and my parents had so generously lent me their credit card to pay for the movie because I was plum broke and out of cash.  Even in November, I was wearing mesh shorts (that’s Houston for you).  These shorts did not have pockets, so I stuffed the card into the elastic waistline.

At some point during the movie, I felt my shorts and noticed that the card was gone.  I began to panic but remained calm and focused on the movie, knowing that I didn’t stand a chance of finding it in the dimly lit theater.

When the lights came on, I scoured the floors for the card.  The search became fruitful after about a minute or so when I began looking in the row below us.

The next day, my mom and I got in the car and headed to the Sports Authority where we bought five pairs of mesh shorts with pockets so nothing like this would ever happen again.