Tag Archives: spy

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2

SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2

**MINIMAL SPOILERS**

I’m a tad tardy on my cinema reviews for last month mainly because I have been writing a couple of short script projects to be filmed. One is a sharp little horror story called Flatmates and I’m looking to shoot in November. The casting has been going well, after which I will rehearse and film on HD video. The other is a follow-up to our Star Trek fan film Chance Encounter (2017) released earlier this year online, which has now has over 40,000 views on YouTube!!  Not quite Gangnam Style or dancing cats on a piano but pretty good nonetheless to have one’s work viewed that much.

Anyway, enough of the filmmaking hobby momentarily to switch back to the film reviewing pastime. Below are reviews of three excellent genre films, plus a little reprise of my opinions on Aronofsky’s two hours of hell that was Mother (2017). As usual they are marked out of eleven in tribute to This is Spinal Tap!

IT (2017)

Stephen King is clearly a genius. To be able to maintain creativity and longevity as a writer, plus give birth, as it were, to any number of iconic narratives, characters and events is a testament to his massive energy and talent. When I was young one of the scariest things I ever saw on TV was the horror serial Salem’s Lot (1979), which was about vampires taking over a small town. His book Carrie (1976) was also adapted into one of the best horror films of the seventies too. Moreover, the ‘80s TV and cinema screens were peppered with King’s work notably: The Shining (1980), Stand by Me (1986) and the under-rated Pet Semetary (1989).  In 1990, Tommy Lee Wallace directed a mini-series of IT, with the terrifying Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. IT proved to be an excellent horror story until the – faithfully sticking to the novel of course – ridiculously silly ending.

Stephen King's It Trailer screen grab

Flash forward twenty-seven years and Pennywise is back to haunt the dreams, drains and sewer pipes of Derry, Maine, using manipulation and fear to lure teenagers to their death. Developed by, among others Cary Fukunaga, the film was eventually directed by Andy Muschietti and has deservedly become a big box office hit. I say deservedly because, while it is not a particularly amazing cinema offering, it is a highly entertaining genre horror film. As an experienced Stephen King cinema and TV viewer all the staples are there such as: geeky-small-town-outsider-kids; abusive tough-guy-bully types; negligent parents or appropriate adult; monstrous beings hidden in the shadows; plus coming-of-age teenage friendship and love.

PW-1

The clown in this case is portrayed with fiendish joy by Bill Skarsgard and there are some fantastic stand-out scares. My only criticism is, and this is my fault being over-familiar with King’s work, is that with the recent Super 8 (2011) and over-hyped Stranger Things (2016), I felt as if I had seen it all this before. I also felt they crammed too much into the two hours and some of the character emotion was lost at times. However, the cast of kids are excellent in their respective roles, the horror set-pieces are brilliantly staged and King’s iconic bad guy Pennywise makes it well worth the cinema admission fee alone.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)

The first Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) film was one of my favourite genre films of the past couple of years. It showed a clean pair of spy heels to the, occasionally brilliant but overlong Bond disappointment Spectre (2015); while at the same time confirming Taron Egerton as an actor with great star potential. Having done the business at the box office then Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan have once again written and directed an explosive, funny, pacey and adrenaline-filled spy spoof sequel.

kings2

In this story, Eggsy / Galahad is back with Merlin (Mark Strong), battling with the United States counterparts The Statesmen, against Julianne Moore’s perky, yet deranged, Americana obsessed drug baroness. The Statesmen are represented by such heavyweight acting talent in Jeff Bridges and a cracking turn from Pedro Pascal as the hilariously named Jack Daniels. Channing Tatum pops up too but he is lightweight compared to the effervescent Pascal. Poppy’s fiendish plot is actually quite a decent motivation for the story and the subplot involving a Lazarus-type-return from a major character from the first film is well developed.

Kingsman-The-Golden-Circle-1st-Day-Box-Office-Collection

To be honest the story is just the bare bones to hang a series of fantastic set-pieces, car chases, shoot-outs and fights, as Eggsy and his kick-ass team once again attempt to thwart the end-of-civilisation as we know it. My main criticism is the film is probably too long with an unnecessary gratuitous sex-driven sequence set in the Glastonbury Festival. It also lacks that sense of characterisation from the first film which had the working class underdog Eggsy battling the upper-class sneers of the over-privileged. Nonetheless, Matthew Vaughan is a great gag-heavy-action-director and the plot has some decent twists and turns throughout making it well worth a watch.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

MOTHER (2017)

While Darren Aronofsky is a cinematic artist of the highest level, I connected badly with this two-hours-of-hell-excuse-for-entertainment. My full review can be found here but, in a nutshell, this is what I thought of it:

“It was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.”

Mark: 3 out of 11 (for the film)
Mark: 9.5 out of 11 (for Darren Aronofsky)

Mother-920x584

WIND RIVER (2017)

Taylor Sheridan has carved himself a fine reputation for writing very solid character driven genre films such as Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). Wind River (2017) is his first writer-director effort and it is a fascinating study of: grief, murder, racial tension and dark humanity. Sheridan is adept at choosing specific areas of America with which to place his stories. Sicario reflected on the war on drugs, located betwixt the violent border of Mexico and the U.S.A. Hell and High Water illustrated the financial ruin of the sub-prime mortgage crash and its effect on West Texas. In his latest screenplay Sheridan focusses on the Indian Reservation territories of Wyoming and the people who inhabit the stark wintry landscapes.

wind_river2

The quietly impressive Jeremy Renner, as Cory Lambert, takes most of the acting plaudits as the respected, expert tracker and estranged family man. He is an individual who, while in perpetual control on the external Reservations and snowy terrain, finds himself crumbling internally due a horrific event from his past. Renner is ably supported by his Avengers co-star, Elizabeth Olsen, who imbues the rookie FBI agent with a steely determination, despite her lack of experience and confidence. The portrayal of the Native Americans I feel was sensitively presented as their lives are further marginalized by corporate America as its venal greed destroys the environment and humanity within the area. While this is a beautifully looking film there is a dark murderous heart within the stunning vistas and natural beauty.

windriv

Sheridan again confirms he is adept at combining social commentary with an impressive crime plot.  Moreover, throughout the film he also bleeds in a compelling study of grief as well as a subtle critique of patriarchal capitalism and its’ destruction of the Native American’s land and people. Yet, the message could arguably have gone further in its criticism; however, as he proved with his prior screenplays Sheridan prefers subtext and a rising tension rather than polemics. Quietly, Sheridan is building an impressive filmic body of work and Wind River manages to be a thrilling police procedural drama, empathetic character study and socio-political examination of American corruption; all amidst the cold, harsh and white-washed landscapes of Wyoming.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

 

Advertisements

SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2016 – PART TWO – FILM REVIEWS

SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2016 – PART TWO – FILM REVIEWS

Following my Part-One-TV-reviews for September – here’s Part Two with the movie reviews. I had a week off work so I managed to watch loads. Here’s a run through with the usual marks out of eleven. Enjoy.

FILMS OF THE MONTH

 

A SINGLE MAN (2009) – NETFLIX

Tom Ford’s brilliant character drama starring the exceptional Colin Firth in the lead is an amazingly assured directorial debut. Firth portrays, George Falconer, grieving Professor in 1960s America and we follow him over one day as he meets various characters and muses over past events. It is a beautiful study of grief; exquisitely acted by the ensemble cast and incredibly moving too.  (9 out of 11)

FOLLOWING (1998) – NETFLIX

Christopher Nolan’s debut no-budget feature shot at weekends with friends on 16mm black-and-white is a brilliant noir story. Making progressive use of natural light and locations it’s a stylish affair with a twisty plot concerning a loner who pursues a thief only to have the tables turned on him unexpectedly. (8 out of 11)

JUNO (2007) – SKY CINEMA

Ellen Page’s sparky teenage outsider gets pregnant by mistake and faces a critical life dilemma. Diablo Cody’s witty script is the star with all manner of cracking one-liners peppered throughout. Page, Michael Cera, JK Simmons, Allison Janney and Jason Bateman are hilarious too in a very funny offbeat comedy. (8.5 out of 11)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) – CINEMA

A group of heroes’ band together to protect a community against evil foes: how many times can they tell THAT story? Well, you’ve got: The Seven Samurai (1954), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), A Bugs Life (1998), Avengers Assemble (2012) and now The Magnificent Seven again.  The latter movie from Antoine Fuqua stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio plus another fun turn from Chris Pratt. Having established the cowboys and villains it sets about delivering a cracking piece of entertainment. The last hour stands out as a scintillating series of set-pieces, shootouts and explosions and I just had loads of fun with it despite the generic narrative.(9 out of 11)

SPY (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Funny person Melissa McCarthy was hilarious in Bridesmaids (2011) and subsequently has been in some hit-and-miss comedies including: Tammy (2014) and Identity Thief (2013). However, in Spy she perfectly captures her downtrodden-underdog-meets-loud-sweary-women-persona in a slick, knowing and very funny espionage parody. The whole cast including: gut-cracking Jason Statham, Peter Serafanowicz, Jude Law and McCarthy herself excel in a joke-a-second-action-fest which had me in stitches. (8 out of 11)

STEVE JOBS (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Writer Aaron Sorkin is obviously a genius because once again he takes a potentially dry subject matter – as he did with The Social Network (2010) – and creates a fascinating character study of a complex man. Jobs is an irascible marketing “god” surrounded by mere mortals struggling to meet his product launch demands. With Michael Fassbender brilliant as the Apple head honcho, Sorkin proves it is THE character and not the tech which sells drama. As usual Danny Boyle directs with aplomb too in a brilliantly structured and written story. (9 out of 11)

UNDER THE SHADOW (2016) – CINEMA

Set in Tehran during 1980s at the height of Iran-Iraq conflict, a mother and young daughter are haunted by a Djinn spirit as war spirals violently outside. Overall it is an excellent Iranian low-budget horror film – while similar in theme and story to Dark Water (2002) and The Babadook (2014) – that delivers some fine supernatural scares and socio-political subtext within the suspenseful action. (8 out of 11)

BEST OF THE REST

 

11 MINUTES (2015) – NETFLIX

Intriguing ensemble drama which begins slowly and full of mystery as various character lives come to entwine in a very watchable Polish thriller with a twist.  (7 out of 11)

ABC’s OF DEATH (2012) – NETFLIX

This is a gruesome, horrific, nasty, heartless and sickening anthology of horror stories. Many of the twenty-six short films are excellent but others are so poor they are virtually unwatchable. Lots of gore, humour and sicko stuff for horror fans to get their jaws into though! (Mark: 6 out of 11)

BAD NEIGHBOURS 2 (2016) – BA INFLIGHT

Sequel to the hilarious sleeper hit comedy starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne. This time the married thirtysomethings battle a sorority house instead in a hit-and-miss film that recycles its’ best gags from the first film. (6 out of 11)

bad-neighbours-2

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) – BA INFLIGHT

The visuals and action are brilliant as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor face-off in a chaotic superhero trifle. Zach Snyder’s vision is impressive but his storytelling is way off as dream sequences, narrative strands and subplots all collide in an unsatisfactory whole. Looks good – shame about the lack of a coherent story! (6 out of 11)

 

FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975) – SKY CINEMA

A decent Marseilles-set sequel to the stunning French Connection (1971) as “fish-out-of-water” cop Popeye Doyle hunts down heroin trafficker Fernando Rey. This is gritty, grainy and dark as Gene Hackman tears up the screen with a brutish and brilliant performance. (7 out of 11 for the film/10 out of 11 – for Gene!)

I SAW THE LIGHT (2015) – BA INFLIGHT

So-so biopic of the legendary country singer Hank Williams features a fine performance from Tom Hiddleston and some classic country music; but in terms of structure and scope is an above-average TV movie at best. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

tom-hiddleston-i-saw-the-light-filmloverss

PARADOX (2016) – NETFLIX

Not-too-bad-time-travel-thriller inspired by And Then There Were None with a TV-movie cast but plenty of twists to keep the interest. (6 out of 11)

PRIMER (2004) – NETFLIX

Shane Carruth’s mind-swirling no-budget time-travel tale has two friends who invent a time machine and then. . . I’m not sure what happened after that as the narrative was too confusing for me. Either a work of genius or pretentious mess; one has to admire his intellectual vision even if it lacks real drama or emotion. (7 out of 11)

TIME-LAPSE (2014)

A fun, tricksy and paradoxical time-travel film which centres around the intriguing premise of a camera which can take a photo of events 24 hours into the future. The Shallow Grave (1994) plot finds around three friends who try to exploit the camera to their own gain only for it to bite them on the arse!  (7.5 out of 11)

TRAINWRECK (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Amy Schumer’s starring debut directed by Judd Apatow is funny in places with a fizzy lead performance from the comedian. She portrays a thirtysomething who sleeps around and gets drunk while avoiding commitment; until her free spirit, is recuperated by Bill Hader’s likeable surgeon.  Decent cameos and some great one-liners make it watchable but ultimately it’s a conventional rom-com which runs out of steam before the cringe-inducing ending. (7 out of 11)

trainwreck-2015-movie-review-new-york-knicks-cheerleaders-uptown-girl-amy-schumer-dancing

TRIPLE 9 (2015) – BA INFLIGHT

John Hillcoat’s contemporary cop thriller has a cracking ensemble cast, testosterone dripping from the screen and powerful action throughout. Covering similar ground to Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010) – but without the romance – it pits dirty cops against kind-of-good-cops and throws Kate Winslet’s bouffant-haired-gangster into the mix. Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson and Winslet make this genre movie very watchable and worth a butchers. (7.5 out of 11) 

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

While it’s not a terrible film in terms of action, theme song and the villainous Christopher Walken, Roger Moore’s final outing as James Bond, A View To A Kill (1985), is on the whole a kitschy let-down. A geriatric Moore planks woodenly through the dramatic scenes and the joins between him and his wiggy stunt-doubles are plain to see. Even Roger Moore admitted, in an interview, he was “400 years too old to play Bond.”

While Moore is my least favourite Bond there were some highlights during his tenure, notably: Live and Let Die (1973) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), plus his battles with arch-henchmen Jaws (Richard Kiel) and some fine gadgets were always memorable. However, I found his performances too cheesy and his Bond lacked the charisma and steel of the inimitable Sean Connery. Eventually, his performances and films overall slipped into parody and Moore’s 007 was rightly retired.

After A View to a Kill, Pierce Brosnan was all set to take over. But due to a last-ditch contract renewal of TV show Remington Steele – which ironically benefited from the publicity of Brosnan’s Bond casting – the role was taken by an actor of some standing, namely Timothy Dalton. Moore’s blonde, safari-suited playboy would be replaced by a brooding, angry, dark-haired Welshmen who had trod the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company and played iconic roles such as Heathcliff and Mr Rochester in film and television.

Dalton’s debut Bond was The Living Daylights (1987) and having watched most of the Bond films a few years ago – when they were replayed on Sky in 2012 – this one stood out as a right cracking espionage thriller. It was annoying because in the past I had wrongly dismissed it due to Dalton’s short career as Bond. But the Prince Charles Cinema in London began a 007 retrospective this year, screening the entire Bond series, thus I decided to experience it on the big screen for the first time.

After years of fun but hollow and almost satirical spy performances from Moore, Dalton gave a darker more nuanced tone in The Living Daylights. The film opens with a thrilling skydive and chase involving a training exercise gone wrong and culminates in Bond battling an unknown assassin on top of an exploding truck. As Bond parachutes to safety atop a passing yacht you soon realise we’re in safe hands with Dalton as he’s tough, athletic and very realistic. In fact, from research I gather he did many of his own, less dangerous, stunts in order to assure authenticity.

The plot of The Living Daylights is one of its major strengths. There’s no one single pussy-stroking-scarred-megalomaniac threatening to take over the world but more of a corporation of villains, from Joe Don Baker’s over-the-top-military-nut-with-a-Napoleon-complex, Whitaker, to Jeroen Krabbe’s Georgi Koskov; a devious Russian triple-agent attempting to reignite Cold War tensions between the KGB and British Secret Service.  There’s also a formidable henchman called Necros played with physical prowess and Aryan superiority by Andreas Wisniewski.

Bond enters the fray when he is sent to take down a sniper sent to kill Koskov. In a plot twist, very much faithful to the energy of Ian Fleming’s original short story, he spares the baited “assassin”, a cellist named Kara Milovy portrayed with naive charm by Maryam d’Abo.  During the “assassination” attempt on Koskov Bond senses something is wrong and spares Kara’s life. This sets in motion some wonderful cat-and-mouse espionage set-pieces and chases through the streets of Vienna and on the ski-slopes of Austria. Indeed, the relationship between Kara and Bond, while starting from a deadly position, provides a key romance and subplot but never feels forced. I especially enjoyed the integration into the story of Kara’s cello which is used throughout as a means to bring the two together; notably during the early “sniper” scene; plus when they trick KGB agents in Vienna; and when it’s employed as a makeshift snowboard while escaping capture.

The “cello ski-slope” stunt is just one of the brilliant action sequences in the film. Other great action scenes are the gadget-heavy car chase featuring the Aston Martin which precedes it plus a heart-stopping stunt at the end involving the huge cargo plane. Bearing in mind this is before any kind of computer-generated imagery was used in cinema, the feat of the stuntmen hanging out of the plane on a net while fighting just took my breath away when witnessed on the big screen. Within the action there’s a lovely pay-off too as Bond eventually uses the ticking time-bomb he set to blow up an Afghan bridge to defeat the Soviets.

Of course, while Bond is ultimately a cartoon-action-spy-thriller there are some interesting socio-political points made. Whitaker, Koskin and Necros’ nefarious plans involve using Soviet funds to pay for a huge opium purchase from the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and in turn use the profit to buy more weapons and further the Cold War conflict.  The film suggests certain Governments, Military and Secret Services often manufacture wars and assassinations for their own political and economic needs and Bond himself is the “Lone Ranger” policing the world against these crazed, avaricious warmongers. While I really like the Daniel Craig Bond era, on the main, his films do lack a certain political depth in regard to current topical events; desiring to avoid accusations of political incorrectness no doubt.

Compared to the Moore films it could be argued there’s a lack of humour in the Living Daylights. I think this is incorrect though as there’s some nifty laughs and fine one-liners throughout; it’s just Dalton plays it dark and deadpan. Yet there is also playful invention in the film, for example, I loved the way Koskin defects by being shot down a huge pipeline. Furthermore, Necros has a cheeky line in unlikely disguises and accents, while Dalton himself has some cracking puns, especially when Necros is literally given “the boot” during the final aerial punch-up. Right at the end during Cara’s cello recital we get the most risqué joke of the film as the Mujahedeen turn up adorned in full “terrorist” garb saying they “got held up at the airport.” In today’s po-faced, politically correct climate we probably wouldn’t get satire like that because it is arguably xenophobic and proffering certain derogatory Middle Eastern stereotypes. However, it gained a massive laugh while I was watching.

dalton1-1600x720

The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller.

SPECT-ACULAR TIMES – SPECTRE (2015) A FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

SPECT-ACULAR TIMES – SPECTRE (2015) A FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

 We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. .  . It becomes a substitute for experience.  (Larry Law, Images and Everyday Life)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

Life is all about managing expectations. I mean we don’t why we’re here on this planet and we don’t know why we’re alive. Is there a point to life? Perhaps there is no point? If that’s the case then why carry on living? Why not kill yourself or go berserk and do what the hell you want and be damned to the consequences. Well, it doesn’t really bear thinking about does it? Thus, generally, we block out such existential questions – well I do – by filling our life and times with things we enjoy doing, seeing, feeling, and eating, hearing and experiencing.

One of the major things I use to distract me from the inquisitions of life is going to the cinema. I am obsessed with films. I could perhaps, rather than watch films, raise a people’s army and seize control of the state?  But what system would I put into place instead of the necessary evil of capitalism? I could eschew society and live off the land growing my own vegetables; but whose land?  All land is now owned by some person, persons or shadowy corporations. I could become a criminal and finagle the law in order to avoid the punch-clock drudgery of life; but I’d like to sleep guilt-free at night and hurting others does not sit well with me. I could train a pack of ants to perform tricks for money in an Ant Circus; but that would just be silly. I could go on…

spectre_3

What I am saying is films and television are helpful in drawing a big thick line between the sane and insane shit in life. They are a big deal for me. Not as bigger deal as my loved ones but pretty close. So, when a new series of a current show I love such as Doctor Who or South Park or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Game of Thrones is released I am very happy. Life is good. That thing called hope rear its head and says, “Hi, it’s me again!” The same goes with film releases from my favourite directors or movie franchises or series. It happened at the fag-end of the 90s with the new Star Wars trilogy and also when the new Indiana Jones film was released; hope came a knocking and expectations were raised. Unfortunately the Lucas’ space opera prequels were pretty bad and least said about Indiana Clones and The Kingdom of Crystal Dulls the better!
SPECTRE_2
So, what I am saying is, AND I realise this is a sad thing to admit, A JAMES BOND FILM IS A BIG DEAL TO ME!  I know Karl Marx, Guy Debord and Edward Bernays are all correct in that the media is corrupting the proletariat, BUT WHO CARES – IT IS JAMES BOND and CHRISTOPH WALTZ IS THE BAD GUY!   I got my hopes up! I was really looking forward to it! It stopped me from thinking about reality! I failed to lower my expectations. So, what I am saying is I liked Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond but not as much as I’d hoped. I shall explain why.

spectre_7

I have seen Spectre twice now and it is very entertaining. Was it was good film?  Yes – it was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Yes and no I would say.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film in its own right; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically it was very strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing a fulcrum to the narrative. Skyfall was also lusciously shot with fantastic set-pieces and direction but it wasn’t necessarily a great Bond espionage adventure like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987) or a combustible boy’s own adventure like Casino Royale (2006). It was an Oedipal soap opera with explosions and the past destroying the present. Spectre is very similar in fact although the destruction is much larger in scale.

spectre_4

I would also compare Spectre to Quantum of Solace (2008) in the context that it is a kind of sequel to the previous outing and links back to Bond’s past. The main difference is Spectre is over fifty minutes longer than Quantum of Solace and certainly feels slow in places. I’m aware that Quantum of Solace is not rated highly in the Bond canon. However, I feel there are some incredible action sequences in there; notably the Opera shootout, great Plane chase and explosive desert hotel/hide-out denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace succeeded for me as a spectacle and by tying up the loose ends from Casino Royale.

Similarly, Spectre has some breathtakingly cinematic moments. Indeed, the first hour was sensational in terms of pace, action, mood and atmosphere. It’s a film about death and the past and opening at the massive Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City was a masterstroke in symbolism. Bond is an assassin; a hired killer used by the British government to take out the bad guys and where better to do it at a carnival celebrating those that have kicked the bucket. The opening chase, building demolition and helicopter fight is classic Bond and really kicks the film off in style. A spurious plot twist then gets Bond to Rome where he then meets – in the shadows – his nemesis, and the childhood ‘friend’ he thought dead, Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. Waltz is one of my favourite actors but is criminally underused in Spectre. Aside from one particularly brilliant torture scene he is not allowed to express that wicked wit and devilish smile witnessed so adroitly in Django Unchained (2012) and Inglourious Basterds (2009).

The Oberhauser backstory does offer an interesting subplot to the main action and a very fun Bond revelation; however, it is similar to the Skyfall revenge-plot with touches of Cain and Abel thrown in.  Arguably too it doesn’t quite gel alongside other aspects of the script such as the global “Big Brother” programme to connect ALL the security and CCTV systems across the world which would make the 007 programme obsolete. So, with Bond under threat physically, emotionally AND politically we have an ambitious story with a thin plot that gets soggy at times.  Thematically Spectre is strong but Bond feels very reactive in some respects and not always making the decisions. Indeed, there is a scene where a RAT assists him; not torture or cunning or sheer violence but an actual rodent.  This moment and the anorexic characterisation of Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) were very much weaknesses in the script.

Sam Mendes and his production team have produced much for Bond fans to revel in. The opening credit sequence is stunning and I loved the Octopus imagery and motifs throughout. It also manages to mask the soporific non-entity which is Sam Smith’s theme song Writing on the Wall. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is a brute of a henchmen and his Rome car chase, Austrian snow pursuit and train punch-up were all brilliant action set-plays. Q (Ben Wishaw), M (Ralph Fiennes) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) all brought fine dramatic and comedic qualities to the film although, again, with SO many characters involved it took away screen time from Christoph Waltz. Finally, the “ticking-time” bomb denouement was well-executed but the film had run out of steam a bit by then.

Spectre is a technical tour-de-force and in Daniel Craig we have an actor who absolutely nails the role. He rocks the action, driving, shooting, running, falling, crashing with a coolness, toughness and insouciance which will be a hard act to follow. Indeed, the way they tied in the strands from previous films tells me this is probably his final Bond. Overall, the first hour-and-a-half of Spectre writes a spectacular cheque the final act cannot quite cash.  The big-bad-wolf reveal is not as surprising as I would have hoped and the Orwellian supporting story didn’t feel that deadly to me. And while our villain’s revenge on James was believable I didn’t quite buy the fact that Oberhauser was the architect of ALL Bond’s woes in the previous three films.

I realise it is a very big responsibility to maintain quality in a big movie franchise and Spectre does so but the long running time does it no favours. Paradoxically too by trying to give it more depth in respect of the familial backstory it again lost the espionage stuff I love.  We do indeed live in the Society of the Spectacle and this film offered up some solace away from the daily grind. But I must learn to manage expectations and perhaps stop living my life by proxy through fictitious cinematic spies and face the spectre of existence a bit more realistically.   (Mark: 008 out of 11)

SPECTRE_5

LICENSED TO THRILL: SOME MEMORABLE 007 MOMENTS by PAUL LAIGHT

LICENSED TO THRILL: SOME MEMORABLE 007 MOMENTS by PAUL LAIGHT

With SPECTRE (2015) looming on the horizon I’ve picked out some memorable Bond bits which make this one of, if not the best, genre franchises ever. I knocked this up during my lunchtime so it’s by no means definitive but there’s a mix of deadly, funny and sad moments. If you have your own please do nominate.

**THERE BE SPOILERS!**

THE GUN BARREL OPENING

As the classic music kicks in and the Agent points his gun and fires, literally “killing” the audience, you’re immediately hooked!

DR NO (1962) – “BOND, JAMES BOND”

With the suave delivery of one simple line Connery’s Bond eases into cinematic folklore. Much imitated but never bettered.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) – FIGHT SCENE ON THE TRAIN

Henchmen/women have played a massive part in the series and peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a worthy adversary for Bond. This is a great fight: dirty, realistic, confined, brutal and full of suspense.

GOLDFINGER (1964) – THE THEME TUNE

The GREATEST Bond theme song EVER! Probably!

GOLDFINGER (1964) – “NO, MR BOND – I EXPECT YOU TO DIE”

Love the cat-and-mouse plot of Goldfinger as Bond hunts the megalomaniac while getting into a number of scrapes and close calls; the laser set-piece being one of the most memorable.

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) – THAT ENDING

George Lazenby was the David Moyes of Bonds inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. But O.H.M.S.S is a really good spy/action film with all the elements of a great Bond movie. Lazenby is wooden as hell but the brave ending is a dramatic humdinger! Bond cries! Bond cries!

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) – THE UNDERWATER CAR

Wow! Just wow! Watching this as a kid you think Bond is done for during this pursuit – but NO! Have some of that baddies – this car can swim!

MOONRAKER (1979) – “JAWS” FALLS IN LOVE

I’m not a big Roger Moore fan as his legacy was besmirched by some dodgy later films plus they became TOO jokey for my liking. However, in his films he had some great gadgets, humour and henchmen to face. None more so that “Jaws” – the metallic-teethed giant who proved impossible to kill. I loved the moment when the writers gave “Jaws” a romance. It’s very silly but just hilarious.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1983) – THE CITROEN CV2 CAR CHASE

After the comic-book-sci-fi-over-the-top-ness of Moonraker the franchise was brought back to Earth with a grittier and more realistic treatment in For Your Eyes Only. Despite the 80s hair and dodgy score the Yellow Citroen car chase is executed with much wit and suspense by the impressive stunt-team.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – THE PLOT

Dalton was a great Bond and this is one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases held together by a flimsy plot. Blonde cellists/assassins, Soviet defections, KGB villains, triple agents and the general air of espionage and boys’ own spy stuff make this one of the best plots in the series in my humble opinion.

GOLDENEYE (1995) – BUNGEE-JUMP OPENING

Bond was back with a bang AND a new face. Pierce Brosnan was a very charismatic Bond and this is his best film. The makers needed to make their mark and did so with an incredible bungee-jumping stunt, followed by explosive shoot-out with the bad-guys! Damned perfection!! Sorry.

GOLDENEYE (1995) – “THAT’S MY LUNCH!”

Q and Bond’s scenes were always a treat like a Headmaster showing a schoolboy the ropes. Bond’s insouciance was always a treat and the zinger in this is terrific.

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – THE PARKOURING

So Bond was back with a real proper actor in Daniel Craig and while he lacked the suave look and cheeky humour of Brosnan he made up for it with steely toughness and physical force. This was ably demonstrated in a brilliant opening scene which popularized the “Parkour” phenomenon of the time.

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – “I’M THE MONEY”

Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Played brilliantly by the enigmatic Eva Green her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she steals and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship not often witnessed in other Bond adventures.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – THE OPERA SCENE

Stylistically speaking Quantum of Solace is a cracking film filled with tremendous set-pieces. While it lacks a decent story/villain it works pretty well as a kind of sequel to Casino Royale. The Opera scene is stunningly shot and edited; the form bleeding into the action to create pure cinema at its finest.

SKYFALL (2012) – THE TWO FACES OF RAUL SILVA

Javier Bardem really brought a wonderful performance to the Bond table in Skyfall. Initially he plays and flirts with Bond revealing a technological brilliance and homo-erotic slant; THEN he switches to full on monster mode displaying horror at M’s lack of “maternal” instinct when he was captured in the field.