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Skyfall (2012)

by Craig Thomas

For me, my favourite Bond film is Goldeneye. I think it is by far and away the best of the bunch. That may be due to it being released when I was at a formative age and it containing all sorts of things I was interested in. It had revenge, exploding pens, computer terrorism and sexy Russian ladies who could kill you with her thighs. In short, it had everything 13 year old me could desire. After that, I could take it or leave it. The older films seemed overly camp whilst the ones that followed just propelled the series further into the ridiculous at every opportunity (invisible cars, anyone?)

Then they decided as is the fashion these days, to do a reboot, a new origins story and a new Bond for a new millennium. The reason in the 40-odd years since Bond first graced our screens in Dr. No, was that the world had changed. No longer were the Russians the main threat. No longer was there a bipolar world with the obvious dynamic of good and evil. No. Now the world was much more complicated and it was time for a more modern, more relevant, more human Bond. One that reflected the uncertainties and complexities of living in the post-9/11 world. There was also the small matter of the Bourne films having a massive impact on the genre, by being “the opposite of Bond”. He went on to say, “The Bond character will always be anchored in the 1960s and the values of the ‘60s. Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it and drinks Martinis and cracks jokes.”

And so they remade Casino Royale and everyone hailed it as a return to form (even Quentin Tarantino, though he still insisted it was his idea), a great achievement and one that showed Bond still had a place in the world. It transformed him into a 3-dimensional, flawed and emotionally-scarred character, with feelings and emotions and all that stuff that people seem to want nowadays. Then they made the follow-up, Quantum of Solace which carried on the Bond revolution, though in such a way that after the film no-one could understand what the hell had happened.

So when Skyfall was announced, people were clearly nervous. Obviously, it would make a ton of money and loads of people would go to see it (it was after all, still Bond), but would it be any good? In a word, yes. It is better than QoS and probably Casino Royale. It is certainly my second favourite Bond film, but the difference between Skyfall and Goldeneye in my eyes is still immense.

I believe it is important to present your biases upfront, so that people can try to compensate for that. So, as you might have guessed by now, I don’t really like Bond. It just isn’t my cup of tea. I had high hopes for the reboot and, whilst they were certainly better than the rest of them, it still contained the fundamentals of why I dislike Bond. All of these problems are still in the new film, so it was inevitable that by the end I would be punching myself in the face, which I very literally was. But that’s just me.

The plot is fine. It is a simple story of revenge. The gadgets (if you can call them that) are pretty basic. There aren’t any sexy Russian thigh-killers, but then you can’t have everything. In short, it’s a relatively stripped-back Bond and carries on the feel of the last two outings.

In case you missed it, Bond is 50 years old now and the film revolves around this idea. It asks the question “can Bond still cut it?” and the answer is obviously going to be “yes!” For anyone even slightly versed in Bond folklore, this makes the first 40 or so minutes of the film pretty redundant as we all know what is going to happen, but I suppose that is part of what makes Bond so appealing (I guess, I don’t really understand it). Anyway, this idea flows through the movie. Bond is broken, M is hung out to dry and the whole idea of human espionage in general, and the 00 program in particular are questioned, in a very public manner. Throughout, MI6 struggles to cope with the very 21st century phenomenon of cyber-terrorism and the reaction to this is to relocate MI6 into the underground bunkers used during World War Two by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Oh yes, and to emphasize the point that Bond might be getting too old for this shit, the new Q is about 12 years old.

There has been a lot of buzz about there possibly being an Oscar-buzz about this film, but that is clearly all studio hype. There is nothing particularly special about this film in any regard, with the possible exception of the official song by Adele, which is actually really good.

On the acting front, Dame Judy Dench is great as always, but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that Daniel Craig is not a good actor, or at least not good for Bond. Perhaps I am being unfair so I will try to address that point in a moment. First, I would like to mention that all the supporting-cast, with the exception of the main bad guy had very little time for any kind of character development and were just kind of there out of necessity.

Now that’s out of the way, I would like to take a moment to say that Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem) is possibly my favourite (male) Bond villain of all time. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, Bardem is a really great actor and once again gives a brilliant performance as someone supremely creep (see No Country for Old Men for a further example of his ability to be wonderfully evil). Secondly, he has all the best lines and thirdly, I don’t really like any of the other (male) Bond villains.

This brings me to the point both about Silva and Bond, their strengths and their weaknesses. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Daniel Craig in a good film so I can’t really assess how he would do with a good script and I didn’t found out from this. The script could have been almost entirely written by pumping the plot into an online auto Bond dialogue generator. It has all the sophistication of a Marx Brothers film, with none of the humour. Every time someone speaks to Bond it is only to set up another pun or dry comment. They aren’t funny, they aren’t smooth and if you paused the film every time someone said something to Bond and wrote down what you expected him to say in reply, you would be right every time. In short, it is very tiresome and explains why everyone wants Bond dead! I think this also explains why Silva is so much better; he is actually given dialogue! True, it isn’t Shakespeare, but at least it’s something more sophisticated than smart-arse tourettes.

As you would expect, the explosions are great and the action sequences look great, when they are physically done. There is quite a lot of CGI in this film and it’s not difficult to see where this is, but that’s the deal with every big film that comes out nowadays. It is still awful that a visual medium often sacrifices the visuals first, but that is for another time.

Coming to the end, I think there are only two more areas of this film I want to touch upon. The first is the nostalgia. Being the half-centenary of Bond, they also took the opportunity to make a whole bunch of not-at-all-subtle references to a whole host of Bond films which even I noticed. If you’re a fan you could probably play Bond bingo. Some people in the audience were laughing, but I found them as grating as the self-referencing jokes in The Dark Knight Rises.

The second is the product placement. The good news is, it isn’t quite as blatant and in your face as in the first two movies, but it is still there and it is still in your face. From what I noticed, there was the beer, the glasses, the watch, the computers, the cars, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of things I’m missing. But what I didn’t miss was that literally half of the adverts before the trailers were for Bond products. There was the watch, obviously. And the beer. And a Bond-specific movie channel. And the 007 cologne. And a host of other things. All of those are real. Yes, even the 007 cologne.

Personally, I think advertising in general, and product placement in particular, are evil. But I also understand that is a reality of the world in which we live. However, having had such prominent placement in the previous films and a big in-your-face one in the opening scenes I find it hard not to keep searching them out. So when there was a big emotional scene, I was thinking “yep, make sure the watch is in a prominent position out front”. Cynical? Yes. Wrong? Unfortunately, probably not.

One final thing, I found the narrative to lack any real sort of drive. Each particular bit was pretty good, but the driving force seemed to be the need to drive the film forward, rather than being driven by the characters. That’s why Bond is left for dead about half-a-dozen times and no-one seems to learn their lesson. There was very much a sense, in my mind at least, of the creators sitting down and saying “we need to get to x, so we’ll make this guy do y even though it doesn’t make sense either logically, or to the essence of the character.”

So, you can probably tell that I didn’t like it. But I should stress the reason I didn’t like it was that there were a thousand tiny things that irritated me all the way through, and the stupid reveal right at the end really had me boiling with rage, particularly as I’m vaguely aware of it conflicting with something from Casino Royale.

I saw it with a friend who isn’t particularly fussed about Bond and he really enjoyed it. Saying that, he really enjoyed Prometheus and I was sent on a similar trip of movie-rage about the flaws in that film. So, if you just want to see a stupid action movie then you’ll have a really good time. If you’re a fan of the Bond films, and the last two in particular, you will absolutely love this . I am in no doubt about that. And at the end of the day, despite all my vitriol and irritation at the thing, that is all that matters.

Grade: (Bond fans and people who don’t hate Bond) A

Grade: (people who really don’t like Bond for the exact reasons I don’t like Bond) D

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

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by Charles Beall

2011 was the year of vintage Spielberg.  Along with J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” we were treated to the first animated feature film by this legendary filmmaker; these two films, for me at least, reminded me why I fell in love with the films of Steven Spielberg in the first place.

So we have “The Adventures of Tintin,” and boy is this a great film.  I will admit that when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I aired on the side of caution.  I had been familiar with the name Tintin, but had no idea as what to expect, and in a way, Spielberg knew this.  Both he and Peter Jackson had a great challenge ahead of them, adapting a uniquely European comic for a worldwide audience.  As someone who has no idea about the source material, and who thoroughly enjoyed the film, I can say their gamble was a success.

To delve into the plot of “Tintin” would be a disservice to the reader.  But I will tell you this: this movie is a grand adventure in the style of the movies we grew up with.  There is an underlying mystery, a legend, and it is up to Tintin and his sidekick Snowy to solve it.  And I’ll tell you this, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, consumed in a child-like giddiness that I rarely experience while watching a film.

Spielberg, like Scorsese with “Hugo” (a magnificent masterpiece), uses 3D technology to add, well, another dimension to the story; it is a tool, not a gimmick.  We are literally immersed in Spielberg’s world of Tintin and we see shots that no live action film could accomplish.  There are chase scenes that come out of the imagination of an eight year-old, and it is obvious that the filmmaker is having a blast.  The detail in every scene is impeccable, from the distorted reflection in a bottle to the consistency of the pores on a face.  The love of film and serials past is evident; there is an homage to “Jaws” that made me want to go up to the screen and give it a big ol’ kiss.Image

But, most important, what we have in “The Adventures of Tintin” is a filmmaker who is constantly challenging himself and whom is willing to revisit the films of his childhood, and ultimately, the films that made him the artist he is today.  Tintin will be, hopefully, a character that kids will embrace on this side of the pond.  He is a smart character, who uses his intellect and imagination, not an iPhone and Google to solve mysteries or to have an adventure.  I for one cannot wait to have kids, mainly because I want to see them discover movies, and “The Adventures of Tintin” will definitely be in the “Spielberg section” that I will indoctrinate them with.

Mr. Spielberg, bravo.  (And I love you, please give me a job.)

Grade: A

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

by Steve Habrat

American fans of Stieg Larsson’s webbed murder mystery novels now have a reason to celebrate with the arrival of David Fincher’s fiercely loyal The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an frigid film that proudly embraces graphic rape scenes, torture, and fits of bright red gore on white tile. Fincher promised the film would earn its hard R rating and he sure as hell made good on that promise. Being someone who read the novel and was left underwhelmed by it considering all the hype that surrounds the books, the movie clipped the drier moments and kept the pace swift and forthright, even if it did sometimes feel like the Cliff Notes version of the book. As far as this film being the follow-up to Fincher’s praised The Social Network, it is a worthy follow up, if a bit of an epic one at that. But this isn’t The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Social Network Fincher. Oh no, this is Fincher in the vein of Zodiac with a touch of Seven and the camera flips of Fight Club. This is down and dirty Fincher. His choice for his punk rock hacker heroine, Lisbeth Salander, who is tackled here by the immersive Rooney Mara was a wise one and she gives one of the finest performances of the year.

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Played by Daniel Craig) is hired by the retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Played by Christopher Plummer) of Vanger Industries to help him solve the mysterious disappearance of his great-niece Harriet Vanger. Henrik promises Mikael that if he discovers anything at all about Harriet, he will give him information on Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, the businessman who brought the libel charge against Mikael and ruined his career. As Mikael digs deeper and deeper into the history of the Vanger family (You practically need a family tree to keep up with who all of them are), sinister secrets start to emerge that some of them want to keep quiet. Mikael also finds himself in need of a secretary and he gets more than he bargained for when he is brought Lisbeth Salander (Played by Mara), an anti-social computer hacker and punk rocker who is a wizard at research and has been doing some digging on her own.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes with a lot of baggage. It is a psychological scorcher, equipped with a heavy plotline and more characters than you can shake a piece of IKEA furniture at. It also has some fits of black humor that will lighten the tension that is caused by not one, but two stationary rape sequences. Yet the film is fearless, tackling issues of trust, solitude, and the drive to prove oneself. Both Mikael and Lisbeth have been disgraced and they both are eager to bring honor to their name. It should be noted that they go about drastically different ways of doing it. Fincher edits the action together with quick, precise cuts that cause a few scenes at the beginning to feel a little too brief. He is very anxious to get to Hedeby Island and focused on igniting the web that is the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. At two hours and forty minutes, Fincher could have slowed it down a bit, but I also understand that he has a lot  of material to tackle to satisfy fans. I’m fairly convinced done right by them.

If the length and strong subject matter turns you off, the performances will surely wet your appetite. Rooney Mara, who had a bit part as Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in The Social Network, looses herself in the role of Salander. She apparently took up smoking for the role, got everything from her eyebrow to her nipples pierced, and bleached her eyebrows. She has a slight alien look to her but it is also beautiful in bizarre way. She can be devastating (Just watch her at the hands of guardian Nils Bjurman, who tortures her mentally as well as sexually), resilient, haunted by her past, and in the blink of an eye, stare daggers right through you. For a film this fearless, it needs a heroine just as fearless and it is without question one of the most confident starring roles I have seen all year. Craig is overshadowed by Mara but she does deserve the attention she is getting for her work. Craig’s character is altered from the book, less a womanizer and a not quiet as confident. He has a sense of humor, sometimes at himself, and it appears as if he gives himself some room to have fun with the role at times. This isn’t clean cut Craig, but a coarse “detective” roaming a snowy film noir. Fincher couldn’t resist making another one (Seven, anyone?) and he even gives us a femme fatale. Plummer is also award-worthy in his own way, a fatigued old man just looking for the truth. He has the second greatest line of the movie. Everyone else is background performance good, no one being the weak link in the chain. Stellan Skarsgard gets the chance to play a slippery part, the mysterious current CEO of Vanger Industries.

Fincher applies some chilling artistry to the film, mostly in the creepy, alien-like biblical readings from Harriet that slink in every now and then. These will make your arm hair stand on end, I promise you. Fincher goes on to paint an uninviting portrait with a craggy background and spitting snow. Everything has a slight decayed and dusty look, more in the vein of Zodiac and Seven. He trades his trademark amber glow and rich colors for cool, faded tans, whites, and shocking blues. Fincher puts the mystery right out in the open and tells us to have at it. The twinkling score from Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is sometimes dreamy and sometimes keenly aware of the pulsating evil and doom coursing through the film’s vein. Fincher must have wanted to emulate his own success, the score never being as ear grabbing as The Social Network, but it adds a foreign sound to a film that takes place in a foreign land.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best mainstream films to come out in 2011. A hearty crime thriller that isn’t afraid to leave the audience rubbed the wrong way and a performance that will join the ranks of great movie performances. The film was released during head-scratching time and I wonder if releasing it at Christmas was the smartest move by the studio. I know it tried to embrace and poke fun at the season it has been released in, but the studio has to understand that this isn’t everyone’s cup of Wayne’s Coffee. The film, just like the book, many demand a few views for all the action to really sink in and to give the audience the opportunity to learn who all these characters are. In a way, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is decently timed by the studio, a chilly film to compliment and enhance the chilly weather. And trust me, this one will chill you to the bone marrow.

Grade: A-

Must-See Holiday Season Movie…GO!

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