"Skyfall" (2012)

 
 
 
 
 
 
skyfall-poster
Skyfall (2012)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Running time: 143 minutes

Now Showing this week is the latest outing of legendary MI6 agent James Bond which is entitled Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes. Heralded as the greatest Bond film of all time (if my Facebook news feed is to be believed), Skyfall revolves around MI6 losing a top secret list of undercover NATO agents to an unknown enemy, and a recently wounded Bond (Daniel Craig) must A. recover the list before all the agents on it are put in danger and B. find the person responsible.

I find myself having to disagree with all the manic praise that has been surfacing all over my Facebook feed, and from film critics across the world; Skyfall is not the best Bond film ever. For me personally, I give that award to Casino Royale because I loved how Royale stepped away from the cheesiness of the classic Bond films and went for a more grounded and gritty approach. And as for Daniel Craig as the man himself, his portrayal of the character was a refreshing move away from the sexy, womanising Bond and to a Bond who actually looked like he could be doing all the things he is doing. He looks like he has been in a fight or two! Craig achieved this, while still having some charm about him so that the womanising wouldn’t go completely out the window and this I found to be the best iteration of the character I had seen! And in Skyfall, this is all still present so I commend Craig on his performance once again.

Now, I liked Skyfall. If I have to put it simply, I did enjoy it. For starters, I haven’t seen an action movie like this in a long time. Bond films have always been good with their action by having it be real action (for the most part) and not CGI. There is just something about a real explosion that a CGI one can never hope to match, and there is a particular one in Skyfall towards the finale that actually shook the cinema. If anything, that is an experience one cannot pass up! In fact, one should not pass up the first three quarters of Skyfall. The script is punchy and witty, the action is intense, the plot is gripping and the Bond girls are sexy; it is an excellent combination.

HOWEVER….

Once the film passes that three quarter mark, it starts to tread water a little. I won’t give away details, but suffice to say it seemed that the film’s genre shifted from a spy thriller into a “last stand” kind of action movie. And the shift occurs right after it felt like the film had peaked! The action had reached it’s peak, the story was  heading towards the finish (or at least it seemed like it) and then it slows down again, building up to a final stand that felt weirdly out of character. I don’t know, I was just bored through the final act (except for the explosion I mentioned before, obviously!). What’s more, the final act was when the film also made a blunder that I am finding very hard to forgive it for: self referencing. Skyfall becomes a Bond film that is making references to Bond films! It goes beyond little twists on the established conventions (ala “does it look like I give a damn?!” in Casino Royale) and just blatantly says “Oh look, here’s the classic Aston Martin car!”. The film also contains a groan worthy character reveal at the end to rival the “Robin” fiasco of The Dark Knight Rises; it was just unnecessary and came across as stupid. But this only really happened in the final quarter, the earlier sections were reference free so I have no idea what happened in the writers room!

Performance wise, the cast did very well. I already commended Craig on his Bond, but it was worth mentioning again. Judi Dench as M was enjoyable as always, especially with her changing it up by adding a little vulnerability into the mix. The supporting cast including Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris were good as well, they worked how they needed to. The one performance I was really looking forward to was that of Javier Bardem as the villain Silva. I did walk away a little disappointed, but not overly so. His villain was (for lack of a better term) very camp, and for a villain that can work. Bardem was always treading a very fine line between being intimidating and silly, and he spent most of his time on the former side but occasionally tripped into the latter, and those stumbles didn’t work. In a nutshell, he brought back some of that classic Bond cheese that I’m no overly fond of.

Skyfall is definitely a movie to go see, especially for Bond fans. My gripes aside, I had a lot of fun watching it and, as I said before, that one explosion is not to be missed! Skyfall definitely makes up for the forgettable experience that was the previous Quantum of Solace, and I look forward to the next Bond film so as it may be able to make up for the filmmakers decision to make Q a hipster!

See you next time!

Advertisements

"Seven Psychopaths" (2012)

Seven-Psychopaths-Poster

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Running time: 110 minutes

My fellow internetians (totally a word!), I come to you this week a wreck of a man. Well, not a wreck, but I can’t really think of a better word to use in the “of a man” context. I felt “bleak” didn’t sound right, but that’s the mood I find myself in when I think about the experience I had leaving the session of Seven Psychopaths that I saw. I left the theatre with this feeling of bleakness, like what I had just seen hadn’t quite hit me yet. And to be honest with you all, that was the last thing I expected to be feeling when I was walking in!

Now Showing this week is Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by Martin McDonagh. The film revolves around a struggling screenwriter named Martin (Colin Farrell) who is trying to write a film he has entitled “Seven Psychopaths”, but he is finding it hard to find A. the psychopaths and B. what to do with them when he has them. He is best friends with an oddball named Billy (Sam Rockwell) who is a professional dog-kidnapper along with Hans (Christopher Walken). Being a professional dog-kidnapper basically means they kidnap people’s dogs, wait for them to offer a reward and then bring it back to them to claim the money. But Billy recently kidnapped the dog of man named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who is the craziest gangster in the whole of Los Angeles and will stop at nothing until his beloved Shih Tzu is returned to him.

Now any of you who read my review of McDonagh’s previous film In Bruges, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of his work. I was extremely excited when I heard he was making a new film, and when I heard who had been cast in it I was even more excited. Following it’s release this week, I saw some positive review scores and some great recommendations from friends who had seen it, so last night I was primed for the latest venture from my favourite writer. And I came out of it…disappointed I suppose is the right word. I was disappointed with what I had just seen. Now I know a lot of you will simply say to me that it was too hyped up for me and that killed the experience because it could never have been as good as I had believed it would be, (and you will probably continue to think that regardless of what I say from this point) but it wasn’t my excited anticipation that rained on my experience. It was that Seven Psychopaths has nothing of the Martin McDonagh I know and love in it. At least, not all of it.

Looking back at my comments on In Bruges, I said that what I love about McDonagh’s work is that he has a wonderful blend of dark comedy woven into a real tragedy of a story. His stories contain such hilarity while also being so poignant and moving. His initial scenarios may be absurd (a one handed man searching for his severed appendage  two Irish hit-men forced to sight see in a random Belgian town etc.) but they link and transform into tales of anguish and tragedy and the transition is so seamless. Now Seven Psychopaths does something different; Seven Psychopaths is a transition for McDonagh to go from being “absurd” to being “absurdist”; and believe me, there is a huge difference!

The first half of Seven Psychopaths did seem to function like the previous works of Martin McDonagh, with a crazy scenario (finding psychopaths to inspire a screenplay and dag-napping the Shih Tzu of a deranged killer!) that introduces a serious side to each of the characters that weaves its way into the narrative. And in this regard, the character of Hans was a highlight and especially heartbreaking. But once the film enters the second half, the narrative begins to fall apart and the dog-napping/screen writing thing fades into the background to make way for Farrell, Walken and Rockwell to have an existential, nihilistic (read: “absurdist”) discussion about McDonagh himself as a writer, and the writing of action/gangster movies in general. Farrell’s character is McDonagh’s presence in the film (even going so far as the be named “Martin”), and many of the criticisms raised about his writing are the same as ones brought up against McDonagh’s work. The film becomes a forum for McDonagh to address (albeit comedically) his criticisms and respond to them in kind. This shift took me by surprise as it was as though the film had completely changed.

Now this shift into an absurdist theatre vibe is fine, it isn’t bad viewing by any stretch of the imagination. However, the original thing that drew me to McDonagh’s plays (and later to In Bruges) was that he wasn’t an absurdist writer. His plays have a cohesive narrative, any political or personal agenda comes out of the story and the characters, but above all his main goal (at least from my perspective) was to tell a great story. Stories that I engaged with, cared about and had me on the edge of my seat for the whole duration. But with Seven Psychopaths, I slowly became disconnected from it. The discussions between Farrell, Walken and Rockwell were quite interesting and very intelligent, but I was no longer engrossed in the fiction of the film. I was simply listening to Rockwell being funny, which was very entertaining, but it isn’t the same as that feeling of being completely enthralled by the story in front of you like McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” gave me.

But I will say this, the film is really funny. Really, really funny and often very, very dark. This is classic McDonagh! I mentioned Sam Rockwell’s humour before, and it is top notch. Him and Christopher Walken make an amazing comedic duo, and the film had me laughing for the duration. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this film and I would recommend it to others looking for a cleverer comedy at the cinemas. But Seven Psychopaths just wasn’t a Martin McDonagh film for me, at least not to the calibre that I usually see from him. I’m all for writers (and all creative people) to try out new things, but I’m sorry Martin, you’re earlier stuff was better.

See you next time!

"Argo" (2012)

 

argoArgo (2012)
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Running time: 120 minutes

For those of you who have complained that my reviews don’t contain a rating system or anything that can quickly state a movie’s worth so they can decide in a hurry what to go see at the cinemas tonight, allow me to grant you your wish just this once:

Go see Argo. I mean right now. Leave the computer where it is, just go. Come back when you’re done.

…RIGHT?!

Now Showing this week is Argo, directed by Ben Affleck. Argo is a film that chronicles a CIA operation to ex-filtrate six US embassy employees from Iran in 1979 that was “declassified” in 1997. While a large group of Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Iran and took its occupants hostage, the six employees in question escaped undetected and took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. As tension grows in Iran, the CIA have no viable means of getting these six people out of the country without them likely being caught and executed in front of the entire world. That is, until an ex-filtration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes along with a plan so crazy that it just might work: he flies in to Iran to meet them and they masquerade as a Canadian film crew doing a location scout in Iran for an upcoming science fiction movie titled “Argo”.

As I’m sure you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The acting was fantastic, particularly from the Hollywood executives (John Goodman and Alan Arkin) as well as the six embassy employees (Kerry Bishe, Christopher Denham, Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy, Clea DuVall and Tate Donovan). They all successfully carried the humour of the film as well as the seriousness of the stakes involved. The directing was fantastic, this is the first Ben Affleck directed film I have seen and I am very impressed! The way he juggled the two tones of the film was brilliantly handled, but more on that in a moment. Bottom line, Argo is everything it has been hyped up to be and is most certainly worth your attention. I would also be very surprised if it isn’t nominated for Best Picture at the next Oscars, but I also wouldn’t be upset to see it win it either.

As I mentioned before, it is the tone of the film that was a huge highlight for me. I would describe Argo as a political thriller hiding within a comedic con movie. The scenario of staging the making of a b-grade science fiction movie is incredibly humourous, with phony table readings, mocked up storyboards, and two Hollywood producers doing what they do best for the sake of national security: lying! Now, the premise of convincing the world that a movie is being made when in actual fact it isn’t is a very entertaining one from a comedic standpoint, but Argo also never forgets the true seriousness of its subject matter. That being that this whole ruse is to save six innocent people from torture and execution at the hands of the Iranian revolution. Affleck handles the balance between the two perfectly. He opens the film with a history lesson in the politics leading up to, and the event of, the Iranian people storming the US embassy. It is dark, it is brutal and it is a very powerful opening. Then that tone takes a backseat for the lunacy of the ex-filtration mission to kick in, but the film never lets you forget it; cutting back to the frightened employees, the hostages in the embassy and the horror taking place in the Iranian streets. The two tones just work together so well, and it makes for very powerful viewing.

As I said before: the bottom line is that Argo is definitely worth your attention. I would recommend that everyone go see it because it is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year. And to those readers who did read this far before seeing the film unlike those others I mentioned at the beginning, my suggestion still remains the same:

Go see Argo. Right now.

See you next time!