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 »
There’s a couple of things that puzzle me about Marvel’s latest cinematic blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy: why it’s been quite so phenomenally popular, and why I didn’t personally like it more than I did when I finally got around to watching the Blu-ray over Christmas.
Although Marvel’s famous comic book superhero franchises have proved to be a license to print money in recent years thanks to the studio’s canny strategy of weaving the tales of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and co. around periodic tent pole Avengers gatherings by using S.H.I.E.L.D. as TV crazy glue to keep all the parts stuck together, this new film is a very different beast indeed. Remaining outside the current established Marvel Cinema Universe continuity for the time being at least, there are no superheroes in the traditional comic book sense; indeed many comic book fans – even avid ones – won’t have been familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy before this. I confess, I’d never heard of them until the movie came along, while all the other Marvel films to date have been based on comic books that were a big part of my childhood reading when I was growing up (admittedly a very long time ago!)
Instead of superheroes in masks and lycra, what Guardians of the Galaxy gives us is big old classic pulpy space opera on the grandest of scales. That sounds like it should be no problem, given that Hollywood has been pumping out science fiction films for decades now, surely? But such films have been remarkably narrow in scope, tending either towards the aforementioned superhero fantasies, or earthbound dystopias like The Hunger Games, or films in which aliens and monsters make their way to modern day Earth to trash New York City, or else films in which we tag along with explorers from Earth as they boldly go exploring into deep space while retaining some baseline point of human audience identification. Films which do away entirely with that baseline and go full space opera – David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune for example, or Andrew Stanton’s earnest but fatally flawed take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series with John Carter of Mars, or David Twohy’s trilogy of original Riddick films – tend to flop badly at the box office unless they’re basically old school horror films decked out in SF attire such as the Alien franchise. Even there, things can quickly run off the rails as Ridley Scott found when he dared try something a little more fully SF with Prometheus. Of course, the reason why everyone keeps trying to pull off the full space opera gambit all the same is that the one film to successfully buck the trend – Star Wars in 1977 – did so with rather spectacular and industry-changing results. However such films usually fall into a morass of silly-sounding character, place and planet names and various science fiction high concepts that either explode your brain or set your eyes rolling with the inanity of it all. Even Joss Whedon couldn’t pull it off when he tried this sort of thing on TV as the shortlived Firefly space western (it’s surely no coincidence that the show’s star Nathan Fillion has a vocal cameo in Guardians?) Read the rest of this entry »