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.

Away We Go

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Dave Eggers (debut) and Vendela Vida (debut)

It’s definitely a different type of relationship dynamic from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes whose last film was the underappreciated “Revolutionary Road” of last year. In “Away We Go,” Mendes rediscovers his dark comedy pedigree that made him so successful with 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty,” to tell the story of a young, directionless couple trying to find their place in the world.

When the grandparents of their first child decide to move to Belgium, unmarried parents-to-be Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) realize there’s nothing holding them back from packing up and relocating anywhere they’d like to go. Although they “don’t have the basic stuff figured out” in their lives, Burt and Verona see the spontaneous adventure as a way to start on a clean slate.

Making stops in a few cities where they know people (somehow they can afford a cross-country tour by plane but sulk over a cardboard window in their house), Burt and Verona are interested in seeing how well they might fit in places like Phoenix, Arizona, Madison, Wisconsin, and Montreal, Canada. They meet up with a former co-worker (Allison Janney plays a vulgar mother who accuses her pre-teen daughter of being lesbian) and a long-time hippy friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is offended by strollers (“Why would I want to push my baby away from me?”) and believes it is normal to have sex in front of their children.

Needless to say, Burt and Verona have a difficult time connecting to anyone on their trip, especially since first-time screenwriters and real-life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida write the duo like a pair of self-important hipsters who know they’re more intelligent and witty that everyone else on the face of the planet. It’s an interesting characterization because the two are the sanest of the bunch, but there’s always an underlying feeling that if you were to meet the couple socially they’re mellow oddness would wear thin.

That’s what happens in “Away We Go,” but not before a few tender moments and subtle quirkiness. It’s when the eccentricities of the characters become excessively heavy for the screen when Eggers, Vida, and Mendes lose control. The film doesn’t have a lot of unnatural dialogue like “Juno,” which was generally a very likeable movie, but thematically it’s burdened with an overall artificial ambiance that comes off far too cartoonish despite the occasional charm.

Revolutionary Road

December 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“The Clearing”)

Married with a house and a mortgage and 2.5 kids. It might sound like the standard version of the American Dream for any conventional couple, but for the characters of Richard Yates’s best-selling novel, it is their prison.

In “Revolutionary Road,” directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (their first film together since 1997’s “Titanic”) give life and discontentment to Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly happy husband and wife living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s.

It’s a peaceful facade from the outside, but like Mendes’s “Beauty,” there are unseen thorns under this bed of roses. Although they seem like the perfect couple to their friends, Frank and April are miserable. Frank is stuck in a job in office sales and having an empty affair with a naïve young girl at the company, while April, who once dreamed to become an actress, is trapped at home caring for her two children and making the best of a life she finds unfulfilling.

Despite the Wheeler’s marriage coming to an obvious end, April believes it can be saved if they just had a change in scenery. One night, she spontaneously proposes to Frank that they pack up and move to Paris to start over. She sweetens the deal by telling him that she will be the one to work and provide for the family while he discovers what it is he wants out of life. The plan sounds illogical, but Frank and April know that if it doesn’t work out their marriage won’t survive by simply “playing house” and accepting their apathy for each other as natural relationship wear-and-tear.

Through emotionally draining and depressing scenes, DiCaprio and Winslet scrape away at each other until both become fragile and feel worthless. Both are astonishing in their roles. The X-factor in this devastating story comes from supporting actor Michael Shannon, who plays “certified lunatic” John Givings, the manic son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors who cuts the couple down to size and expresses opinions to them as if he was reading their minds. He talks to the Wheelers unlike anyone has ever dared to before. At first, the his candidness is appreciated, but when John finds his way into the heart of their problems, the confrontations become frightening.

Just as Frank and April keep each other on the brink of madness so will “Revolutionary Road” do to the audience as they watch the couple refuse to resign from life. Scored by “American Beauty” composer Thomas Newman and shot by “No Country for Old Men” cinematographer Roger Deakins (both should get Oscar nods), small town suburbia becomes a story of psychological survival between two self-delusional lovers backed into a corner.