Spectre

November 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”)
Written by: John Logan (“Skyfall”), Neal Purvis (“Skyfall”), Robert Wade, (“Skyfall”) and Jez Butterworth (“Black Mass”)

After the events of “Skyfall,” James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself in trouble when causing damage on an unofficial assignment in Mexico. As he disobeys his suspension, Bond tracks down an organization called Spectre, which leads him to people from his past. From there, Bond is sent on a globe-spanning path to take down the leader of this evil organization. Meanwhile at MI6, M (Ralph Fiennes) must fight to keep the 00 program alive when an intelligence operation between multiple countries threatens its future.

After one of the best-received Bond films of all time, Craig dons the Bond suit without much energy this time around. It certainly isn’t a bad performance, but it also doesn’t appear like Craig is having much fun in the lead role. As a villain, Christoph Waltz is still chasing the kind of terror he was able to instill in “Inglorious Basterds.” Rather than develop any true sense of menace, Waltz merely delivers lame monologues as his form of evil. Of course, if the audience ever thought Bond would be in any real sense of danger, perhaps it would play better. The franchise is chugging along, though, and so words are not enough to feel any fear for his safety.

There’s a level of complacency that seems to be running throughout “Spectre,” especially in the sense that nearly everything feels obligatory. Yes, there are giant set pieces and a few scenes of great action, especially in the opening sequence. But there’s also a boring repetition of the same three things that always happen to Bond. He drinks, he beds beautiful women, and he kills people. In one scene of “Spectre,” Bond bangs a grieving widow whilst getting information out of her. That very well may be what diehard fans are looking for, but it makes for eye rolls and more importantly, completely absurd plot development. Frankly, if you take away all of the unnecessary plot contrivances, sex, women, fast cars and guns in “Spectre,” nothing remains.

There’s almost no sense of a ”spy” movie here either. Everything is out in the open and it’s extremely hard to care about what little mystery exists. It’s loud, messy, filled to the brim with pointless secondary characters and agonizingly long. It is also, admittedly, polished, sleek, and stylish. Bond fans should be pleased with yet another “Bond being Bond” film. But for those looking for something with more substance and narrative, there’s little to be found underneath the superficial sheen.

Skyfall

November 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”)
Written by: Neal Purvis (“Casino Royale”), Robert Wade (“Casino Royale”), John Logan (“Gladiator”)

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the first James Bond movie I properly saw was 1995’s “GoldenEye,” which was also the first Bond movie featuring Pierce Brosnan as 007. Though most people are probably more fond of the classic Nintendo 64 video game based on the film than the actual movie itself, “GoldenEye” marked the beginning of the end for the 50-year-old Bond brand as the world knew it. The excesses and mediocrity of Brosnan’s subsequent turns as 007 led to the 2006 ground-floor reboot “Casino Royale,” featuring Daniel Craig as a blonder, grittier, more realistic James Bond. As the “Batman Begins” of Bond films, if you will, it lit the fuse on a new series with the fresh creative vision and streamlined storytelling that the character desperately needed.

The latest entry in the series, “Skyfall,” kicks off with one of the series’ trademark action-packed cold opens featuring Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) tracking a mercenary with a stolen hard drive containing the names of NATO secret agents through Istanbul. A rooftop motorcycle chase and a fistfight atop a moving train give way to Bond being presumed dead after plummeting from a bridge after being shot. Months later, when an expert computer hacker triggers a gas explosion that destroys the MI6 office of M (Judi Dench), 007 returns to London. A former agent named Silva (Javier Bardem) is behind the attack, Bond learns, and is intent on releasing the names of the agents and exacting his revenge on M.

Perhaps best described as “The Dark Knight” of the 007 franchise, “Skyfall” is first and foremost a great movie, not to mention one of the greatest Bond movies ever. Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) builds on the stripped-down reboot stylings of “Casino Royale” and “Quantam of Solace,” doling out more pieces of Bond’s backstory than ever before and re-introducing classic 007 staples like geeky gadget master Q (Ben Whishaw) and an ejection seat-equipped Aston-Martin. Mendes also turns in the best-looking Bond film to date, from his focus on mirrors and reflections to hand-to-hand combat shot in silhouette against the dancing neon of the Shanghai skyline. Bardem’s Silva makes a fantastic foil to Craig’s broken Bond, each of them representing a different path taken after being abandoned in the field by their surrogate mother, Dench’s world-weary M. No diamond-skinned villains or hat-hurling sidekicks here; these are complex characters treated as such, plumbing depths never before visited in any Bond adventure.

Minor stumbles in the plot annoy more than anything, such as a barely-used femme fatale (Bérénice Marlohe), the millionth “missing hard drive filled with secret identities” in a spy movie, and an unforgivably goofy computer hacking plot thread (seriously, Hollywood: we all know how computers work now…knock it off with the stupid hacker tricks and fantastical graphics), none of which are enough to keep “Skyfall” from completing its mission with excitement, style, and a surprising amount of emotional resonance.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Social Network”)
Written by: Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

From the start of the opening credits two-time Academy Award-nominated director David Fincher (“The Social Network”) wants everyone to know the new adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” based on the first book of the widely-popular Stieg Larsson series, is a Fincher film. Borrowing from his music-video aesthetic, Fincher unleashes what can only be described as the melding of liquid metal and body parts. Trent Reznor and Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” pulsates behind the glossy and fleshly images. The stylish and head-trippy kick-start is perfect for those who were pleased with both the brutal nature of “Se7en” and the experienced craftsmanship of “Zodiac.” Call it the third and most mature movement of Fincher’s serial-killer symphony.

Never mind that Larsson’s entire “Millennium Trilogy” received the Swedish treatment in 2009 by director Niels Arden Oplev, who packed some incredibly suspenseful scenes in his version of “Tattoo.” The blood inside Fincher’s snow-white fantasy runs just a few degrees colder than its predecessor, which lends its unsympathetic Nordic setting to the English-language storyline. Fincher manages to match the seething temperament and sexuality of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace with an impressive Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”) as the anti-hero.

Said protagonist, Lisbeth Salander (Mara), an unsociable and troubled researcher and computer hacker, comes in a petite, punked-out package with short jet-black hair and pale features. She is directed to recently disgraced journalist-turned-investigator Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has taken leave from his magazine after losing a libel case, to help him solve the disappearance of a young girl named Harriet 40 years prior. Blomkvist is commissioned by Harriet’s uncle and retired industrialist Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) to revisit the cold case. With Salander on his side (and in his bed), Blomkvist begins to unearth clues that bring him closer to discovering the truth of Harriet’s whereabouts. Will secrets hidden by the enigmatic Vanger family lead to some type of closure for Vagner? Have Blomkvist and Salander found evidence that a serial killer is responsible for Harriet’s death?

Written for an American audience by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), the narrative linked to the new “Dragon Tattoo” is not much different from Oplev’s take. For the most part, all the pieces are present to hit the most important plot points. Also evident is the screenplay’s overall lack of sentiment, which complements the story’s cast of discomforting personalities. Getting too close to any of these emotional recluses wouldn’t bode well for anyone, especially Mara, who spends much of her screen time proving just how merciless and vengeful Salander really is. It’s a fearless turn for the actor, who pumps acid through Salander’s veins so she can maneuver her way through a lonely life behind a computer much like Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece “The Social Network.”

Despite the film’s many parallels to its foreign counterpart, Fincher’s fingerprints are all over this one. As a visual artist and director, not many can attain the muted look and distressing tone he serves up. A tangible threat is felt constantly throughout the film and Fincher is extremely conscious of the details he needs to exhibit to keep each isolated moment at a highly concentrated level, even when those moments aren’t meant to be seen. Fincher makes it all feel effortless. With “Dragon Tattoo,” he has set a standard for filmmakers who want to improve on projects that have already set their own lofty bar.

The Adventures of Tintin

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig
Written by: Steven Moffat (debut), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), Joe Cornish (”Attack the Block”)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)

If you mention “The Adventures of Tintin” in the confines of Europe, you won’t have to go far to find fans of the immensely popular comic book and TV show.  Mention it in America, and you’re just as likely to get confused looks and blank stares. Tintin is a national treasure in Europe, as evidenced by its $240 million international box office haul prior to its opening in the U.S. But for some reason, like man-purses and the metric system, it has never truly caught on in the United States. One person that did take to the comics just happens to be powerhouse director Steven Spielberg, who secured the rights to adapt it into a film series back in 1983.  Likening it to an “Indiana Jones for kids,” Spielberg has teamed with director Peter Jackson and the art of motion-capture animation to finally bring the whip-smart Tintin to life on the big screen.

When the young journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a model boat at an outdoor market, he is immediately confronted by Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) in efforts to buy the ship off him. After the ship is broken and a scroll falls out unbeknownst to Tintin, he is kidnapped by Sakharine and taken to the SS Karaboudjan. With the help of the chronically drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin and his dog Snowy escape. From there, they discover that there are at least two other model ships, each containing a scroll with a clue to a sunken, treasure-laden ship that Sakharine and Haddock’s ancestors were once aboard. Trying to beat Sakharine to the scrolls and the treasure, Tintin, Haddock and Snowy must travel through Europe by any means necessary.

The film wastes little time on introductions, as Tintin’s crime-solving prowess is only referenced in a series of press-clippings following an impressive silhouette-filled, spy-thriller inspired opening credits. Still, audiences young and old alike are able to grasp what it is Tintin does best.  There’s a strong sense of adventure and playful humor as we watch Tintin and Snowy try to keep Haddock under control, all whilst trying to evade Sakharine. Bell and Serkis are particularly good in their voice roles. Serkis, with a bold and boisterous Scottish accent, attacks the motion-capture role (as he does in all of his mo-cap work) with the intensity and effort of someone who is a leading actor. If there is one element of “The Adventures of Tintin” that does not work it is the Thomson twins voiced by British comedic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Playing bumbling detectives trying to solve the case of a local pickpocket, their humor mostly misses the mark and the B-story line of the pickpocket fails to live up to the excitement of Tintin’s adventure to retrieve the scrolls.

Using Peter Jackson’s digital effects company Weta, who was responsible for “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and “Avatar,” “Tintin” boasts some of the best motion-capture animation ever produced. While still keeping a cartoon-like sensibility, “Tintin” features incredibly photorealistic faces and settings. Even smaller details like mouth movements are precisely accurate, preventing any distraction from the masterful voice performances. Since Spielberg treated the film like it was live action, the camera movements add another layer of realism to the animation. One sequence in particular that demonstrates this approach is a “one-shot” multi-character chase through the streets of a Morrocan village. It is easily one of the most fun adventure sequences in a movie all year.

While Haddock’s constant state of drunkenness, including some serious enabling by the dog Snowy, might be seen as inappropriate for some parents, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a fun adventure film spanning air, land and sea. It remains to be seen if the film can be successful in America though. If it is, we have a Peter Jackson-directed sequel to look forward to, with Jackson and Spielberg teaming up to co-direct a possible third film.  Make sure to also opt out of the 3D if you have the chance. It doesn’t really accentuate the film and the impressive animation will look best with bright and deep colors, something that 3D technology neglects.

 

Cowboys & Aliens

July 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”)
Written by: Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Mark Fergus (“Iron Man”), Hawk Otsby (“Iron Man”), Damon Lindelof (debut)

Throughout movie theaters across the country, the trailer for “Cowboys and Aliens” was met with uproarious laughter when the title card was revealed. Although seemingly not any more preposterous of a plot than a teenager infused with spider DNA, audiences chuckled incredulously. With audiences laughing at the mere concept of the film, there was added pressure on director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) to keep a serious tone and to strike a convincing balance between the western and sci-fi genre. What we actually get is a film with no true identity.

The film opens with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of a desert not knowing where or who he is and with a strange device attached to his wrist. When he heads into the nearest town, Lonergan discovers that he is a wanted criminal and is set to be turned over to the feds. While Jake is intercepted by the begrudging Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), aliens attack the town of Absolution, taking many of its residents with it. Though confused and shocked by the events, Jake, Colonel, the mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), and others band together to go on a rescue mission to fight the alien race and recover their loved ones who have been abducted.

For a film starring two strong actors and a supporting cast to match, the acting in “Cowboys and Aliens” is incredibly flat. Both Craig and Ford seem to be going through the motions, giving plastic performances with only a few explosive moments. Not even the always-dependable Sam Rockwell (“Moon”) can muster a memorable performance.  However, the actors are not totally at fault here. With a cheesy, cliché-ridden script, the writers (five accredited ones to be exact) take a solid cast and give them nothing to do with their characters. No effort is made to give us a reason to root for these people other than the obvious “us vs. them” reasoning.

One of the biggest problems surrounding “Cowboys and Aliens” is that it attempts to combine two genres, and in the process fails on being a good version of either. The Western elements are not nearly compelling enough. While the familiar costumes and sets are there, the swagger and strong characters of true Westerns are sadly missing. The film incorporates its sci-fi elements with generic and predictable action beats, there for the sole purpose of showing the aliens and what they can do. It has the same tired and predictable sci-fi moments that you’ve seen a hundred times before.  You know when an alien is going to meet its end and you know when some unsuspecting human is going to get snatched.  It’s been done before, and in much more interesting ways. When coupled with some spotty CGI work, the end product is a film that turns out being a mediocre sci-fi movie set in the Old West.

But beyond all of its shortcomings at mashing genres and at a run time of about two hours, the biggest problem is that “Cowboys and Aliens” is unnecessarily long-winded and isn’t very much fun. It relies so heavily on mesmerizing you with its visuals that no care is given to the story.  And while the trailer provided audiences with laughs, the actual film is more likely to produce yawns.

Defiance

December 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jaime Bell
Directed by: Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond”)
Written by: Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai”) and Clayton Frohman (“The Delinquents”)

British comedian Ricky Gervais might have been only kidding around during this year’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony when he told actress Kate Winslet that critical acclaim will always come when an actor stars in a Holocaust movie, but with the onslaught of films on the topic released last year, one or two of them were bound to miss the mark on historical captivation.

While Holocaust films like “The Reader” and “Valkyrie” produced fine material in their respected genre, others like “The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas” and “Defiance” do not hold interest for their entire runtimes. Although a true story like “Defiance” is an amazing anecdote on the surface, director/co-writer Edward Zwick has trouble creating an interesting community for his characters to thrive, which is basically the entire premise.

Actors Daniel Craig (“Quantum of Solace”), Live Schreiber (“The Manchurian Candidate”), and Jaime Bell (“King Kong”), play the Bielski brothers – Tuvia, Zus, and Asael – three Jews who escape Poland and hide out in the Belarussian forest for two years during World War II. There, the men create a “forest camp,” a makeshift society of other exiled Jews who are trekking through the woods to flee the Nazis. As their numbers grow, the Jewish survivors begin to form not only a new community to live in, but also a rebellion to fight back.

Adapted from the book “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec, the idea that 1,200 Jews were able to evade death for two years is quite incredible and definitely a noteworthy chapter for any world history book. But as a film, Zwick and company horde the film’s characters into a tedious collection of one-dimensional throwaways in a talky and thematically unbalanced script. There’s no denying that “Defiance” is a film about bravery, but when the courageousness of an army is illustrated by how many soapbox speeches one can deliver, audiences can definitely count on an excessive waiting period before there is a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not until Zwick stops riding the break, however, when that actually happens.

Quantum of Solace

November 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Almaric
Directed by: Marc Forster (“The Kite Runner”)
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade (“Casino Royale”)

While Daniel Craig’s more intense James Bond character was an improvement when it replaced Pierce Brosnan’s pretty-boy image for the first time in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” there’s not much any 007 can do when a screenplay is as interesting as a watered-down martini. Craig is still the man who should be trekking the globe and seducing the ladies, but the franchise has hit a sizable speed bump in “Quantum of Solace.”

With a story that centers on Bolivian oil pipelines and water, the trio of screenwriters who penned “Royale” – Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade – seem less creative for their follow-up film. In “Solace,” Bond is on a new mission to find information on a secret organization not even British intelligence knows about. With femme fatale/Bond girl in hand (Olga Kurylenko), Bond may or may not be seeking revenge for the death of Vesper in the last film, but who’s really keeping a body count at this point?

Craig is all muscle while other Bonds have been all charm, which is a great revision, but in “Solace,” it feels like the writers have checked off a grocery list to make sure they’ve gotten all the secret-agent clichés in order. Foot chase? Check. Car chase? Check. Boat chase? Check. Plane chase? You’re kidding, right? Check. Unless you really had your heart set on an action sequence on horseback, even the most devoted Bond fans should know when something has run its course.