Skyfall

I have to guess that Daniel Craig’s James Bond doesn’t like his job much.  He continues his profession to fill a void with another void.  After all the hammy fun of previous actors playing the role, Craig’s interpretation is probably the most realistic because he approaches the character as an actual human being with a scarred soul, rather than an immortal playboy hero. Yet, I still wonder if Craig is ever going to have any fun.

Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, the latest of the 007 franchise, attempts to humanize the infamous covert British agent by tearing away at Bond’s wounds, wounds we never knew he had as far as the films are concerned.

Could it be more ironic that Craig feels a bit of disdain for the role?  Especially since Skyfall has the character about to walk away from his profession following the series’ most explosive opening sequence in which he is accidentally shot by his own agency.  Bond survives the bullet and attempts to leave behind the hired gun by drinking himself into the night with scorpions resting on his arm.  Once danger strikes London, he reconsiders early retirement.

He returns home with a problematic shoulder and in desperate need of a shave.  M, or Mom (Judi Dench), is about to lose MI6 after a bombing on the agency’s headquarters, as well as the hacking of her own confidential files including the identities of the agents on her payroll.  As soon as these spies begin turning up as corpses, M only trusts Bond to seek out the individual responsible.  This leads Bond to Shanghai where he reunites with his former partner (Naomie Harris).  He also finds himself introduced to Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), a woman under the threatening grip of a mad villain, Silva (Javier Bardem).  I call Silva mad, but really as played by Bardem, he is the most terrifying of all Bond villains, kind of like a blending of the Joker and Bane in terms of insanity, genius, intimidation, and character backstory.  How fitting it is then that Bond takes on the persona of Bruce Wayne throughout the film.

Silva is interested in the destruction of MI6 and has stolen the computer files necessary to track down its agents and kill them.  Bond and a few others may be the last hope to save the organization.  Mendes, the very capable director here, gives Bond, M, and Silva plenty of dimension and texture with this film.  Why do we actually care about Bond?  Why do we root for him after 50 years?  Why is Silva so evil?  Why is M so attached to Bond?  Mendes actually answers some important questions all the while dazzling our senses.  In fact, the more I reflect on Skyfall, the more I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more than I did a week ago.

This is by-and-large the most visually stunning and entrancing James Bond adventure we will ever get.  The exotic locales of Instabul, Shanghai, and even London look absolutely gorgeous.  The action is filmed in a much-appreciated, non-contemporary style—meaning you can actually see what’s happening.  Try making any sense of the action in Quantum of SolaceSkyfall also boasts terrific performances from the entire cast.  Attempt to pin down a disappointment in this bunch… I dare you.

While Craig has never been my favorite Bond, he fills the role perfectly for this particular film.  I’ve never appreciated the grit and glum of his interpretation.  But this generation is all about the dark and grim.  And given the backstory Mendes presents for the character, we begin to understand why this Bond resembles a tattered Bruce Wayne, or a thankless Jason Bourne.  In fact, this film really marks a turning point for the character and for the franchise.

Before the film fizzles into a tense-thriller version of Home Alone, Skyfall centers on Bond looking at himself, literally reflecting in mirrors, and making sense of his past.  MI6 also does the same as the government attempts to shut them down.  With changing times and new threats afoot, are 007 and his cohorts necessary?  Is it time for a new agency?

But Skyfall reminds us of Bond’s brand of justice, and the immortality of rogue action-taking.  Perhaps that’s the immortality of this franchise.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The final bout between good and evil in J.K. Rowling’s majestic universe comes to a close after eight films.  With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 there isn’t much need for an in-depth criticism on the final movie (or half-movie).  Rather I am provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on the series as one of the most impressive accomplishments committed to film.

Few literary adaptations could translate so well into eight thrilling motion pictures.  Rowling’s pages have not only given youngsters a hunger for reading, but cinematic magic has also applied sight and sound to that text over the course of 10 years—and to universal acclaim.  Audiences love these books and they love these movies.

As a capper to Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is of course bittersweet.  Harry, Ron and Hermione continue their search for the remaining horcruxes that contain pieces of the dark Lord Voldemort’s soul, pieces that make him immortal.  Hogwarts is under the iron fist of betrayer Severus Snape until Harry returns to defend Hogwarts and prepare for his final confrontation with Voldemort.  Secrets are revealed.  Lives are lost.  A looming doubt about Harry’s fate (for those who haven’t read the novel) hangs over two hours.

The last entry falls under the direction of David Yates once again.  Having helmed half of the installments of the series, he has proven ever-capable.  Chris Columbus brought the innocence and sense of discovery to The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.  Alfonso Cuaron brought a refreshing angst and eccentricity to The Prisoner of Azkaban.  Mike Newell allowed for a sharp transition to the gloom of the series with The Goblet of Fire.  Yates has since handled the darkest corners of the Harry Potter universe as the fun and games have been exchanged for Harry’s personal endeavor to save both the world of magic and the world of humans.

Since 2001, the films have remained remarkably consistent even as the actors have aged a great deal and the tone of the story has evolved.  Deathly Hallows Part 2 continues the tradition of solid craftsmanship.  Sure, it hurts the film that it is really only half of a film.  In fact, I made the mistake of not revisiting Deathly Hallows Part 1 before jumping into Part 2.  For those on the fence about needing a refresher beforehand, I strongly recommend it.  Yates has split one 4-hour-plus movie into two parts and he doesn’t leave us any footnotes along the way.  As a standalone installment, Part 2 really hurts without watching Part 1 along with it.  The tension and rising action have to be brought in the pockets of audiences and applied from the get-go.  While that may not be a fair criticism of the movie as it is intended as part of a larger story arc, it is worth noting.

In terms of ending the saga, the film does a perfectly satisfactory job.  The actors are on their game.  The special effects and action sequences are grandiose, and yet interestingly punctuated by several extended moments of quiet.  I may have expected more of a thrilling showdown between Harry and Voldemort, but the buildup has been over seven previous films so I can understand that anticipation may have gotten the best of me.  What I enjoyed most about this final entry were the surprises along the way and the tender moments among the notable characters of the series that earn their last minutes in the spotlight.

I would say I’ve enjoyed other chapters from this saga more than Deathly Hallows Part 2, but as a sendoff to the Harry Potter universe, the film is again very well-made and audiences are going to love it and will likely still be hungry for more.  The hint of future installments of J.K. Rowling’s world have been set.  Even if they never come to fruition, at least her accomplished works are ready and available to young readers.  As for the future of Harry Potter, I’m willing to bet on a return of sorts for a new generation ready for magic.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.7/5 (7 votes cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

The Hurt Locker

Here is the sharp, intelligent action-thriller audiences have been craving and probably missed.  Why the studio opted to keep this one in limited release is beyond me.  “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days), could’ve broken the stigma on Iraq-war films and, with some solid marketing behind it, may have easily performed to the tune of at least $60 million, or a total similar to 2005′s “Jarhead.” Oh well, so much for living in the past.  The intensity of the film can still be taken on its own terms, and luckily “The Hurt Locker” has been making the rounds in most critics’ top-ten lists for the year, receiving a lot of Best Picture buzz and wins around awards’ circles.  And the credit is most certainly due.  This film is razor-sharp.

Jeremy Renner (28 Weeks Later) shows off some acting chops as Sgt. William James, the new team leader of a group of bomb diffusers operating in Iraq.  He has two other soldiers working with him to provide his cover fire as he dresses himself in a protective bombsuit to disarm the weapons.  His rogue-like ways soon test the other members’ trust in their squad-leader, and the risk of their already-dangerous job increases.

This film has a superior director in Kathryn Bigelow, whose amazing talent and feel for the material makes for a truly ambitious film.  Her movie captures much of the action ‘pow’ while keeping it in a realistic, intense, and intelligent environment.  The actors help, especially Jeremy Renner whose performance has received a good deal of attention.  While the film caught critics’ attention last year at film festivals, it is finally earning its keep this year.  Granted, the film didn’t get enough exposure or box office performance to find a Best Picture Oscar, but the Academy nominations are certain, and Bigelow might walk away with a much-deserved “Best Director” statue if she can fend off former hubby Jim Cameron and his “Avatar” opus.  “The Hurt Locker” is easily one of the best war films of the last decade, and I’m glad to see it finding the recognition it’s received this year. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 2.8/5 (4 votes cast)
1 COMMENT

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-1-800x600The best installment of the franchise so far, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is a dark and visceral film full of spectacle, action and strong storytelling.

Harry and friends must now do battle with the new evil Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts (it seems there’s always a new one), Professor Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). She takes over Hogwarts and abuses her authority under Ministry rule to rid the school of any performing of magic. No one believes Harry that Lord Voldemort has returned, and since the school can no longer prepare the kids for the dark times to come, Harry takes it upon himself to secretly train his fellow classmates, under the title ‘Dumbledor’s Army,’ to prepare for battle.

This installment of the franchise is brilliant from beginning to end. The story here is most involving. David Yates comes on board for this fifth film adaptation and works wonders. The events in the film truly take the series to new realms and darker corners, but these characters are just great to watch. Imdela Staunton as Professor Umbridge is an evil delight, and a strong addition to the film.  With the impending battle between Hogwarts and Voldemort drawing closer, ‘Order of the Phoenix’ has the opportunity to have a much more plot-driven film, a suspenseful action-adventure that sees further drama bridging to the final events to come. This is a great film.

-MJV & the Movies

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)
1 COMMENT

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

gobletJ.K. Rowling’s universe furthers its limitless boundaries, and with ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, the series’ translation to film continues to impress.  Harry’s world represents endless possibilities, part of the series’ undeniable fun and excitement.

This time, the schools of magic are apparently international, spanning other nations and bringing these different institutions together for one slam-bang tournament known as the ‘Triwizard’, in which three 17-year-0ld students are chosen by the Goblet of Fire (much like the magic hat that selects students’ housing) to compete in a Battle Royale of Magic sort-to-speak; not battling each other, but against tumultuous threats, a competition I can’t wrap my brain around. These kids are put in life-and-death situations that test every ounce of their capabilities in the world of magic. With this knowledge, the school has an uproar when Harry Potter’s name spits out of the Goblet as an illegal fourteen-year-old fourth contestant.  He is shunned by his classmates, especially his best friend Ron, which really made no sense to me. Hermione tries to reach out to him, but Harry keeps his distance. His nightmares of the Dark Lord are getting to him again, and whoever or whatever rigged his name into the goblet seems to spell doom for Harry.  It doesn’t help that the Yule Ball is approaching for the youngsters either, forcing the kids to learn to dance and for the boys to ask out at a date. This could prove more complicating for Harry than anything he faces in the Triwizard Tournament.

goblet 2

This installment finally reaches a pivotal point in this remarkably rich saga. The story in particular finally revolving around the character of Lord Voldemort, which was briskly touched on in ‘The Sorcerer’s Stone’, gets into the thick of the encompassing story.  With the Triwizard tournament, and another new director in the british Mike Newell, the movie has a lot more action than the previous films, lending this particular film a much swifter pace, and more exciting and scary threats for Harry. I could’ve done without the snotty Ron Weasley all up-in-arms over his suspicion of Harry somehow sneaking his own name into the cup. So what if he did? I also can’t quite comprehend how these competing international schools would allow such a tournament to go on. I suppose a lot of the magic performed at Hogwarts, including the fast-paced games of Quidditch, could prove about as dangerous. But Harry has to take on giant dragons, save his own classmates from an underwater obstacle course filled with evil creatures, and then has to wander through an endless, isolated maze that apparently can drive its occupants completely mad. This school takes the threats in the previous films quite seriously, so I guess I can’t understand why they would promote such a dangerous tournament where students could easily be killed.  I also wondered what would happen to the students placed at the bottom of the lake in the second challenge. Harry finds Ron and Hermione among others down there, and wants to save more than one student when his task is to save only the sole selected. Would the remaining student(s) die if left there? Such questions puzzled me, but sort of became a bit irrelevant amidst the film’s excitement and proceedings.

The action here is a doozy. And the darker tone and return of Voldemort (played by a deliciously serpentine Ralph Fiennes) really help the series take a great leap forward. The cast again, redundant as it may sound, continue to take the reigns of their characters, though at times I felt a bit annoyed with Rupert Grint this time around. I think that’s solely because of how whiny his character is in this particular film.  Otherwise, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson continue to impress.  Brendan Gleeson is a welcome new addition to Hogwarts as a Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman (my favorite supporting character) may be getting a bit shortchanged, but that is to be expected.  All in all, the film is a marvelously fun accomplishment.  ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is a dazzler, an action-packed installment that continues a thrilling series that miraculously dodges audience fatigue with endless surprise and invention.


-MJV & the Movies

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT