Archive for October, 2012

Skyfall

Posted: October 29, 2012 in Film reviews
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Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem and Judi Dench.

 

First off an important point, I’m trying to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you really want to remain spoiler free it might be worth seeing the film before reading the review…

And so, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film, Dr No, and four years since the last Bond film (the longest gap in the franchise’s history without a change in actor) Skyfall is finally here. As a big Bond fan, to say I was a little bit excited as I waited to see it Friday might be a bit of understatement….

 

The film opens in Turkey, where Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) pursue a mercenary known as Patrice who’s stolen a hard drive containing the names of all NATO agents embedded in terrorist cells around the world. After a breath-taking chase encompassing cars, motorbikes, trains and a mechanical digger, Bond is shot and takes a plunge from a very high bridge into the raging water below…

Three months later and M finds herself in increasing hot water over the loss of the hard drive, which is being laid solely at her door, and Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes—excellent as always) chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee advises her that it’s time to retire, something M rails against.

When MI6 headquarters is bombed the pressure on M mounts, which is when 007—who’d been missing, presumed dead—decides to return, because MI6, and more specifically M, is under attack.

After proving his fitness and collecting some not very gadget’y gadgets from the new Q (a nice turn from Ben Whishaw) Bond flies out to Shanghai where he encounters Patrice once more. He also meets Severine, an enigmatic woman who agrees to introduce Bond to a man named Raul Silva, the man behind the attack on MI6…

 

Ok I’ll be honest here, I’m one of the five people in the world who liked Quantum of Solace, and I’m also one of the twenty people in the world who don’t think Casino Royale is the greatest Bond film ever (not that I don’t like it). I do, however, think Daniel Craig is a great Bond, despite some early reservations which proved very unfounded, and my first comment about Skyfall is this; it’s nice to see Daniel Craig playing Bond in a proper Bond film, and make no mistake, however good Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were, they never quite felt like proper Bond films.

That’s not to say Skyfall sees the return of the more ludicrous elements of Bond’s past, there’s no secret volcano lairs, no space shuttle jaunts into space or invisible cars, but there is a more relaxed attitude. This is a Bond film that isn’t embarrassed to be a Bond film, a film that never seems uncomfortable in its own skin in the way that Craig’s previous outings did.

At two and a half hours long it’s one of the longer Bond films (up there with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale) but the pacing is spot on, so whereas Casino Royale does tend to drag a bit in the final third, Skyfall mostly keeps its momentum going. It’s a film that doesn’t shy away from being dark and gritty in places, but it lets the humour that’s been sorely missed back into the frame, though it’s a drier humour more suited to Daniel Craig’s delivery rather than the quips of Moore/Brosnan (although there are a couple of lines which almost qualify) and M gets almost as many witticisms as Bond.

Skyfall is a rare beast, a film that’s comfortable with its heritage yet strives to be something new as well. It makes plenty of nods to that heritage with a slew of references to the Bond pantheon, much in the way Die Another Day (the 40th anniversary film) did, though it’s a little more subtle this time around. Despite nods to the past, this is also a film not afraid to shake it up a little, and in many ways it’s an atypical Bond film, with large portions set in the UK, and a plot that revolves in part around a Commons’ Select Committee meeting! It’s also the Bond film that gives M most to do, even more than The World is Not Enough. The film is a near seamless merging of the old and new, both seemingly happy to sit side by side.

A Bond film can rise or fall based on its villain, and in this respect I do have an issue with Javier Bardem’s Silva…he isn’t in it enough! As was expected, he does a great job in creating a strong villain, one that, in some respects, we can sympathise with. Certainly he’s the best nemesis Craig’s 007 has faced, and he might well be the best villain since Sean Bean’s 006. He manages to be creepy, scary, camp and—almost—empathetic, and his entrance is great…trust me, Bond’s never faced an implied threat like this before!!

The film’s punchiness is down to great direction, plus a good script and editing, and excellent cinematography. The cast is perhaps one of the best assembled for a James Bond film; Craig, Bardem, Dench, Finnes etc, plus Albert Finney!

I do have issues with it, Silva’s plan is ridiculously convoluted and seems to rely on almost supernatural timing, the lack of a true Bond girl (unless M counts!) feels a trifle odd, Albert Finney’s character seems to only exist to drive the plot, and though the final third is good, the film does lose a little momentum here, although it has to be said that the inversion of the classic Bond finale where 007 attacks the villain’s base is an interesting idea.

I’m being unduly picky however because the film kept me riveted throughout, and whilst repeat viewings will be required in order to ascertain whether this is a truly all-time high of a film, all I can say is, James Bond will return, let’s just hope it’s in a film as good as this one!

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Looper

Posted: October 25, 2012 in Film reviews
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Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt.

Time travel films are a bit like horror films and comedies, it’s really easy to make a terrible one, a lot harder to make a good one, and so whilst I was eager to see Looper, I also went with some trepidation.

Question is; do I now want to travel back in time to kill all those involved before they can make the film, or do I just want to nip back so I can see it again?

In 2074 time travel was invented, and though immediately banned, this didn’t stop criminals utilising the technology as a way of safely eliminating their enemies without leaving a body. Killing someone in 2074 is nigh on impossible, so instead they send them back 30 years, where an assassin known as a Looper kills them off and disposes of the body, leaving no trace. Of course there is still a loose end, the Looper themselves, and so, in the future, the older Looper is kidnapped and then sent back to where their younger self finishes them off, thus closing the loop. The younger Looper gets a big pay off and is released from their contract, to live out the last thirty years of their lives in luxury…until the day they’re sent back again to die at their own hands.

Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a Looper living in 2044. An ice cold killer, being a Looper has given him a life he could only dream of before; booze, drugs, beautiful women, fast cars and cool clothes, and all he has to do is shoot a succession of victims sent back from the future, always aware that his next victim might be himself. As Joe puts it in his narration, the job doesn’t attract the most forward thinking of men.

Everything’s going swimmingly until his older self (Willis) appears in front of him one day, and before young Joe can kill old Joe, his older self gets the drop on him and makes his escape, leaving young Joe in a whole heap of trouble, because the boss of the Loopers in 2044 (played by Jeff Daniels) can’t have a man from the future running around loose, so he sends his goons, the ‘Gat Men’ after both Joes.

Young Joe has to fight off the Gat Men whilst he hunts his older self. Joe from the future however has an altogether different agenda, one that relates to the future underworld boss of 2074, the diabolical Rainmaker. Caught in the middle of all this is a woman (Blunt) and her young son…

It may be apocryphal, but I read something attributed to the director Len Wiseman, who explained that he signed on to do the Total Recall remake because Hollywood wouldn’t options an original science fiction film he’d suggested. If Looper proves anything, it’s that producers and studios will actually take a chance of something that isn’t a remake/reboot or copycat of another film. One can only imagine Wiseman’s idea was either too expensive or just plain rubbish!

This isn’t to say Looper is wholly original, but as is oft said; there are no truly original ideas left in the world, and it’s easy to see Looper’s ancestry encoded into its DNA. What marks it out from the Total Recalls of this world is that it chooses to be subtle about this, and chooses to try and do something different with its less than original elements, unlike Total Recall which was just trying to be the original Arnie film merged with Blade Runner, yet without having much thought for what it was that made those films so great.

The other strength of Looper is the range of films it cherry picks from; taking tropes and ideas not only from science fiction but also thrillers, westerns, horror films…even a certain episode of the Twilight Zone (no, not the one with William Shatner and the gremlin on the wing of a plane!)

What results is a film that feels original, feels like a breath of fresh air in a world of remakes. Looper isn’t perfect, and for a film that relies so heavily on the notion of a closed loop, there are plot holes, but it tries, and most succeeds, to be that rarest of things, an intelligent yet exciting science fiction film, rattling along at a great pace, yet still slowing down enough at times, and having the confidence in its story, to give us lots of quiet moments, lots of characterisation.

It’s a surprising film as well, one that never quite seems to go in the direction you expect it too, and whilst this kind of deviation from the narrative can fall down sometimes, it never does with Looper, it just makes it a whole more interesting.

I’m not going to go into too much detail, because I think it’s best to see Looper without knowing the kinds of turns the story takes, but all I’ll say is this, it’s a very different film from the one the trailer makes it out to be, or even the descriptions I gave above, a film that respects its audience, and its audience’s ability to keep up, without ever resorting to longwinded explanations of what’s going on, and it delves into some interesting territory, the nature of determinism, about how the choices we make can affect our whole future.

Proving yet again that he can do effortlessly cool… well, effortlessly; Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb, imbuing a cold hearted killer with humanity and pathos that make us like him, make us root for him, although you may find the prosthetics used to make him look like a young Bruce Willis odd at first, personally it didn’t bother me.

English rose Emily Blunt slips under the skin of the all American farm girl almost as effortlessly, and the young boy playing her son does a fantastic job. There are a couple of moments where he doesn’t quite convince, but on the whole it’s a great performance from one so young.

The film has flaws, though oddly they’re not really tied into the time travel elements, which work quite well and consistently. The fate of one escaped Looper victim is wonderfully grisly, but you do wonder why they went to so much trouble when they could just kill his younger self, and given we’re told murder is so tricky in 2074, the fact that the story hinges on a murder then feels odd. And while Bruce Willis does the best he can, his future Joe never quite feels as real or as well rounded as Gordon-Levitt’s younger version, but in part this is down to him having less screen time, and the nature of his single minded quest.

As time travel films go Looper isn’t quite a classic. This is no Twelve Monkeys or Terminator, but that’s no great slight, because Looper is still head and shoulders above 95% of what pass for time travel films, hell science fiction films in general,these days and a film I highly recommend, and so, no, I won’t be showing up at anyone’s door with an Uzi 9mm anytime soon…

Warning. This review will contain spoilers, and you’ll still see them, even if you blink…

And so we come to the last episode of Doctor Who for a while, and the long heralded departure of Rory and Amy.  In truth, much as I’ve loved both of them as companions, they’ve probably stuck around a smidgen too long, and in many ways they got a perfect departure last year. That they’ve been bought back for one final hurrah has seen them hanging around somewhat like spare parts this year. As I say, I love em, but even the best companions have a finite shelf life.

The episode opens in a stylish recreation of 1930’s New York, and a PI, hired by a fellow named Grayle, investigating moving statues, upon visiting a mysterious hotel called the Winter Quay he finds an old man in one room, an old man who’s him…

Meanwhile the Doctor, Amy and Rory are enjoying some R&R in present day Central Park, for the Doctor this means reading a pulp novel about a female private eye called Melody Malone, only all of a sudden it seems less like fiction when the book mentions Rory going off for coffee (which he’s just done.) The Doctor and Amy race after him, but it’s too late, Rory’s been zapped by a weeping angel back to 1938 where he and Melody Malone (Who’s River, obviously) become the prisoners of Grayle. All too quickly River’s in the grip of a damaged Angel and Rory’s been zapped again, this time to the Winter Quay hotel, where there’s a room with his name on it…

I’ll be honest, when I heard the Angels were going to feature in Amy and Rory’s last episode, I kinda guessed how things were going to end. I’m not bragging, I think it was just fairly obvious given the Angels’ MO (i.e. they zap you back in time and let you live to death) that this was how Rory and Amy would become separated from the Doctor, and in many ways this is reminiscent of Sally’s friend, and the cop in Blink, it also brings to mind the Girl in the Fireplace.

Obviously both those stories were penned by Steven Moffat as well, and it does seem he’s plundered his own play list to come up with this story.

Although that really doesn’t do this justice. This is a damn fine episode in spite of any similarities it has to his other work, and it’s also a damn fine episode in spite of some rather cumbersome plot holes, chief amongst them being why no one (in the City than never sleeps) happens to notice the statue of Liberty going walkabout! That said, as ridiculous as it is, the first time you see the giant Angel looming over the rooftop is a stunning visual.

As befits her finale, Karen Gillan’s Amy has a stormer, showing all the feistiness that certainly made me love her over the years, tempered with maturity and confidence, and an utterly believable certainty that wherever Rory goes, she goes too. She’s matched by Smith, in fact it’s Smith’s performance that makes the final separation work, he plays heartbroken so very well, and it is truly amazing how many facial expressions the man has, and how any one man of his age can look like a matinee idol one moment, and a crotchety old man the next, and the pain in his face as he sees Amy vanish to join Rory is palpable.

Alex Kingston plays River as flirty as always, but there’s some genuine pathos in her performance this time around, especially when she remarks to Amy that she shouldn’t let the Doctor see her age, because he doesn’t like endings. One can’t help but wonder how close she is to setting off for the library and her first/last meeting with the Doctor.

If anyone is short-changed it’s Arthur Darvill, and Rory does seem to get the thin end of the wedge. When Rory and Amy go over the edge of the rooftop, it’s only Amy’s name the Doctor screams, and he does seem to spend most of his time in the dark being menaced by tiny angels. That said he gets to have a moment of self-sacrifice, gets some great scenes with Karen, and also manages to make a gag about the fact that even though he’s died before he always comes back. Plus he’s never quite been hyped as the Doctor’s companion as much as Amy has.

The 30’s noir setting for much of the episode, and the Angels themselves give this a wonderfully gothic feel, and the introduction of the baby Angels is downright creepy, in many ways the cherubs are scarier than their elder brethren. The Angels still aren’t quite the terror they were in Blink, but somehow I doubt they’ll ever be that good again, they do at least make for a better foe this time around than in their last outing back in series 5, when their MO seemed to have changed too much, and they were short-changed in the second part of that story. Here they’re back to something close to their best, even if their presence suggests Amy and Rory will survive the encounter…well will survive it but be zapped back in time to die before they were born…which is better than just dying at least!

The fact that the Doctor can never see them again might not be explained well enough to seem a completely overwhelming obstacle, but even so Moffat tugged at my heart three times here. My spine tingled as Amy and Rory fell from the hotel roof, I had a sniff when Amy said goodbye to the raggedy man, but the final nail in the coffin was the beautiful final line.

“This is the story of Amelia Pond. And this is how it ends.”

I only hope that both Moffat and Gillain have the courage to stick to this as the end of Amy’s story…after all, I remember when Rose was trapped in another universe and would never EVER see the Doctor again…until she did.

Don’t let me down Moff…