The 2008 film Quantum of Solace is probably my least-watched entry in the James Bond franchise. The earliest films – Connery and Moore – I must have seen dozens of times each, but with Quantum it’s possible that I haven’t viewed it since I was profoundly disappointed seeing it at the cinema at the time of its original release. I’ve felt no need to revisit it, because it had been such a disappointing experience first time around.
But this week I did finally get around to watching the film again. And I’m going to do something I rarely have cause to do here on Taking The Short View, which is: to change my mind quite radically, with an apology to the film for more than ten years of ill feelings that it turns out – much to my amazement – it didn’t altogether deserve. Read the rest of this entry »
They really don’t make films like this anymore. And I mean that quite literally. Once upon a time cinema was full of crime stories, film noirs, paranoid suspense thrillers, police procedurals and whodunnits. But those days are long past and today such fare has been consigned to the small screen, replaced by explosive blockbusters, bombastic superhero films and dazzling science fiction franchises. When stalwarts such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot do venture back into cinemas it’s invariably as radically amped-up versions of their old selves possessed of near-superhuman mental and physical prowess.
Knives Out is testament to writer-director Rian Johnson’s current standing in Hollywood, that he was able to get this relatively small scale passion project off the ground and to bring such an impressive Hollywood A-list cast along for the ride. And you can see why something so comfortingly familiar, small-scale and old-fashioned would appeal to Johnson as a way of recovering from the critical bruising he took from his work on the divisive Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi.
The film is firmly and knowingly located in Agatha Christie territory, harking back not just to the Finney/Ustinov Poirot films of the 70s and 80s but also the likes of the socially biting Sleuth and the playful Deathtrap. and more recently with Downton Abbey forebear Gosford Park. Each of these films delivered a murder mystery with a healthy side serving of comedy, and it was indeed in the comedy category that Knives Out won a handful of Golden Globe Awards in 2019. But here the humour is generally subtle and wry (one scene has a suspect in back of shot trying to throw away a key piece of evidence, only for a friendly guard dog to see it as a game of fetch and dutifully return it to the crime scene) and not nearly as broad as, for example, Neil Simon’s Murder By Death which comprehensively parodied and skewered every known detective archetype then in existence. Read the rest of this entry »
As far as titles for movies go, Spectre could hardly be better named. Right from the start it’s clear that this is a film full of ghosts: past, present and future, dead or alive, benign or threatening – this latest James Bond movie is a conspicuously haunted affair.
You can’t say that they don’t warn you. Even before the film starts, there’s an on-screen caption declaring “the dead are alive” and then we open in Mexico City on the Day of Dead where by tradition the deceased are said to walk the streets once more. And to really hammer the point home, Bond is there at the posthumous direction of the late, lamented M to carry out a clinical low key hit on a terrorist planning an atrocity. Unfortunately things don’t go quite according to plan and end up being rather messily high-profile, imperilling the very existence of MI6 as a result.
Despite all the spectral signs and portents in the opening minutes, it still didn’t prepare me for the jolting glimpses we get of the late M (Judi Dench), Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) and Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in the opening credits sequence. Nor are these just grace notes: along with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), their presence is keenly felt throughout the film from the very start and exorcising these ghosts becomes Bond’s main preoccupation during the entire endeavour. Read the rest of this entry »
A bit of an oddity, this feels rather more like it should be an extended meta-extra to the Bond Blu-Ray boxset or else a special made-for-TV anniversary documentary, rather than a stand-alone film that made it into cinemas in its own right and which now receives a very barebones DVD release ahead of next month’s issue of Skyfall to home entertainment channels.
That’s not to say that this isn’t very well put together – it is, very polished and stylish, and it never lets the pace flag so there’s always something interesting happening with lots of clips and music from the movies and behind-the-scenes. In the end, it’s perhaps a little bit too fast-moving at just over 90 minutes and feels a little shallow as a result, telling a well-trodden story with familiar faces that we’ve seen and heard from many, many times before. There are nonetheless still gems that are new (at least to me) along the way, and all the new interviews (done talking head style and also used as voiceover rather than using a traditional narrator) are well worth the price of admission.
The story of the Albert R. Broccoli/Harry Saltzman partnership is the core, together of course with the lengthy legal and financial wrangles that have enveloped the film over the course of five decades, but in the end the highlights come from the new interviews with the various Bonds. Lazenby’s story of how he got (and lost) the role is pure comedy-tragedy, and Moore’s obviously warm and tender father-son relationship with Broccoli is a delight. Dalton is remarkably open and candid about his own time in the role, and Brosnan terrific about his own heartbreaking miss first time around. Inevitably Connery is a truculent no-show and perhaps as a result he comes out of this the worst – portrayed as a total arse, basically – but ultimately there is a lovely anecdote related by Barbara Broccoli about the last time that the actor and her father spoke on the phone.
In the end this is a film that will appeal to anyone with an interest in Bond and the Bond series, and having President Clinton as one of the glowing interviewees is a real coup that echoes the public endorsement of the original Ian Fleming book series by President Kennedy in 1962 that was one of the principle sparks for the phenomenon that followed.
Now available on DVD, and also showing on Sky Movies from February 16 2013.
Even for a creative team that includes some of the best talent working in cinema today such as Oscar-winning director Sam Mandes and cinematographer Roger Deakins, the prospect of taking on Skyfall must have been a daunting one. No one wants to be the person who fumbles the ball and mortally wounds one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, after all. Quite apart from the whole 50th anniversary hooplah surrounding the latest instalment of the Bond series, there is the worrisome matter of having to follow on from a previous film widely regarded as a disappointment, and after a too-long hiatus caused by the latest financial strife at MGM/UA.
But even the best creative team has to start the process by asking itself: what sort of Bond movie do we want to make? Everyone has their own image of what a ‘true’ Bond film should look like and the elements it should contain but in fact the series has been consistent only in how much it has varied through the five decades, from the style-setting early Connery thrillers to the light-hearted family entertainment Moore outings. Where the series once created a whole new spy thriller genre, it later fell behind and seemed perpetually scrambling to keep up with the competition: hence the blaxploitation and science fiction outings in the 70s, or the quintessential mid-80s drug war/vendetta instalment, or more recently the feeling that the series needed to get back to realism and basics while assimilating the parkour DNA of the Bourne franchise. At times, the series seemed so busy dodging around copycats and wannabes, finding a new raison d’être for Bond after the end of the Cold War and adapting to the latest cinematic trends that it arguably lost the heart and soul of what it meant to be a Bond film altogether. For me, the successful recent run of entries in the Bond series was under Brosnan, which managed to reinvent the character and make it relevant for the end of the millennium, combined the serious thrillers with the spectacular and absurd, and did it all with a sleek new modern style that was both old-time Bond and wholly fresh.
What, then, should Mendes and his team do for a 50th anniversary film? What film in 2012 could possibly adequately pay homage to the entire history of such a multi-faceted storied franchise? Read the rest of this entry »
With Skyfall launching into cinemas today, I thought I’d mark the occasion with a special “one post, 25 reviews” bumper instalment on all cinematic things Bond. One brief paragraph for each, plus the Radio Times Film Guide rating out of five stars as a benchmark and my own counter-bid alongside it. I look forward to hearing which you agree with and which provoke violent dissent in the ranks! Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve seen an article that reports that when Steven Spielberg was on the press tour in Europe for the Indiana Jones movies, a reporter put it to him that Jones was really just his grown-up version of Hergé’s Tintin, much like Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander was that author’s updating of Pippi Longstocking. Spielberg denied this on the perfectly reasonable grounds that he had no idea who Tintin was; but the comment made him go look, and a brand new Tintinologist was soon formed.
Many years later, and seemingly in a mood to get back to his Indiana Jones-era roots but now equipped with the best CGI and motion-capture rendering technology ever seen, Spielberg has teamed up with The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (here serving as producer) to finally deliver his take on the teenage Belgian hero. Jackson needed no persuading: his Tintin fanboi credentials are firm and fast right back to his Kiwi childhood.
And since we’re presenting credentials, I should confess that I was never a Tintin fan as a kid; my only real exposure to them was the 1960s cartoon serial version, whose perpetually rerun five-minute instalments seemed to pop up anytime I was watching children’s TV during the school summer holidays and which was prefaced by the stentorian clarion call announcing “Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin!” But I never seemed to catch any two consecutive episodes, and I never tracked down the books – until a few weeks before the Spielberg/Jackson movie opened, at which point I felt that I should give one or two of them a whirl and found that yes, actually, they were really rather good. (So good, I bought more.) Read the rest of this entry »
Given that this film was given a very public dressing down by the head of the studio that produced it, I’d oddly had high hopes of riding to its defence. Said Ron Meyers, President of Universal Studios about Cowboys and Aliens:
Wasn’t good enough. Forget all the smart people involved in it, it wasn’t good enough. All those little creatures bouncing around were crappy. I think it was a mediocre movie. We misfired. We were wrong. We did it badly, and I think we’re all guilty of it.
Surely that’s harsh? Given a great premise (cowboys coming face to face to alien monsters!) and a wonderful cast to die for (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown) could it really be that much of a letdown? Well unfortunately, it turns out that Mr Meyers was pretty much spot on with his assessment: this is simply a very mediocre film.
Sometimes you stir in two unusual ingredients (in this case, blending western and science fiction genres) and you end up with something extra-special. But sometimes you just find those ingredients actively turn against each other and you end up instead with something significantly less than the sum of the parts. This sadly is very much the latter.
So what exactly goes wrong? For one thing, the aliens are little more than undercooked “impact players”: for most of the movie they appear out of no where with no warning, attack, and then disappear again. Director Jon Favreau (who did so well with Iron Man) apparently does not intend to try and induce tension or excitement in these scenes at all, and so while they’re loud and startling and well executed, they’re also brief and jarring rather than thrilling and suspenseful.
But what these scenes definitely do manage to do is to make the rest of the film – the western/cowboy sequences – seem flat and dull by comparison. You’re waiting for the next appearance by the aliens instead of being allowed to immerse yourself in these sequences, which seem like just so much time-filling artificial scene-setting before the main event but are in fact the vast majority of the film. It doesn’t help that these scenes are slow paced and seek to breath life into characters that are achingly crude stereotypes. Where character arcs and plots are set up, it’s painfully obvious; the pay-offs for each when they come are therefore thuddingly dull and awkwardly delivered when they finally arrive late in the film. It feels like a box-ticking exercise: story strand for the sheriff’s grandson? One scene set-up, one scene fulfilment. Check. Next.
It’s as if the writers know that they need to have interesting and rounded characters and emotional stories to carry the film, but simply have no idea how to do it except by applying the most exceedingly obvious western clichés plucked from every cowboy film they’ve ever seen. Crusty, bad-tempered land owners with a wastrel son and a noble but despised half-American Indian “adopted son,” cowardly bar owner, mysterious stranger with no name – you get the idea. It’s all the more odd how amateurish all this clunking script construction feels when you see that the script is written by Star Trek reboot writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (although the warning sign is that they were also guilty of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen!) along with another longtime JJ Abrams collaborator Damon Lindelof of Lost fame. Maybe the clue lies in that the trio are among seven who share the story credits – too many chefs is usually the sign of a kitchen in crisis.
All this means that even when things hot up in the final reel with some half-decent action sequences, the whole thing still feels trite and airless. It’s as if having taken the studio’s money, everyone suddenly realised they were obliged to follow through and deliver it – competently enough – even though their hearts were no longer in it. At least Daniel Craig gives a solid performance at the centre; Harrison Ford simply looks old and embarrassed to be working with such wavering, inconsistent material while Sam Rockwell is oddly anonymous. Two of the most promising characters – those played by Keith Carradine and Paul Dano – exit far too early in proceedings. Olivia Wilde is the obligatory female presence, here playing a role seemingly fashioned after Gandalf but significantly less believable in an underwritten and developed part.
A protracted epilogue delivers nothing of any importance, and then the credits roll. It hasn’t been a particularly bad film; you can’t get exercised about how dreadful it is. There’s just a deep sigh as you reach for the off button, an inescapable feeling of melancholy and disappointment – of millions of studio dollars and two hours of one’s viewing life that could have been spent on something far more deserving than this display of rote filmmaking by numbers.
On the Blu-ray: a perfunctory number of extras underscores how much everyone wanted to be done with this project and not spend too much more time on it if they could help it. Picture-wise, the exterior desert scenes look wonderful: sharp and bright and detailed and a pleasure to look at, with the CGI effects well integrated into them. Less successful on my set-up were the night time sequences (and there are several) which appeared murky, dusty, soft and undistinguished, with less than solid blacks and too many details bleeding into the general gloom.
I guess it’s a two-star film. Rent it if you will, but don’t hope for anything too much and maybe that way it will surpass your expectations and give you a half-decent night’s viewing. You won’t miss it when you’re done and you hand it back, though.