The Gray Man

Release: Friday, July 15, 2022 (limited) 

👀 Netflix

Written by: Joe Russo; Christopher Markus; Stephen McFeely

Directed by: Anthony Russo; Joe Russo

Starring: Ryan Gosling; Chris Evans; Ana de Armas; Regé-Jean Page; Julia Butters; Billy Bob Thornton; Alfre Woodard; Jessica Henwick

 

 

***/*****

Thinking is a hazard to your health in the modern action movie. The good news is when something moves as stylishly and as quickly as The Gray Man you don’t have a lot of time to do that. Distractions are in abundance in the Russo brothers’ star-studded and action-packed extravaganza based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Mark Greaney.

Featuring the ensemble cast of an Ocean’s Eleven and the globetrotting scale of a James Bond installment, The Gray Man is one of Netflix’s most expensive and ambitious undertakings to date, costing the streamer a whopping $200 million — and that’s just for this first episode, with plans for a sequel and a spin-off announced immediately. Sadly the foundation (the first movie, that is) isn’t very strong to begin with, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what quality franchise we’ll get out of translating more of the thriller novelist’s work.

In the meantime, what will likely be most remembered from this near-breathless first installment is Chris Evans hamming it up big-time as the main antagonist, the sadistic Lloyd Hansen. I’m prioritizing the villain because the pleasure he takes in making others uncomfortable is something that makes him stand out in a movie that doesn’t have much to offer personality-wise. It’s a showy if overcompensating depiction of sociopathy that suggests Evans wants to be as far removed from Cap’s shield as Daniel Radcliffe wants to be from Hogwarts. If there’s something The Gray Man does well, it’s providing a bad guy you can’t wait to see brought to his knees.

Ironically the “good” guy is less compelling, even if he is played by the enigmatic Ryan Gosling. In 2003 Court Gentry, a convicted killer, is visited in prison by a CIA official named Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) who tells him his sentence will be commuted in exchange for his cooperation with the agency in bringing down a national security threat. Court is to join the CIA’s clandestine Sierra program, where he will assume the code name ‘Six,’ because “007 was taken.” Years later, after a botched mission in Bangkok, Six comes into possession of a thumb drive which contains some secrets the CIA, namely the ambitious Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), would rather not let loose. So he goes rogue, sending the file to Prague where a trusted source (Alfre Woodard) will be able to decrypt it, while coming into the crosshairs of a rampaging Lloyd Hansen who will do anything to get a job done.

This includes kidnapping Fitzroy’s teenage daughter Claire (Julia Butters) for leverage in forcing her father to give the go-ahead to eliminate Six, leading to one of The Gray Man‘s stand-out action scenes aboard a cargo plane. Though fully aware of his disposability, he discovers that maybe not everyone is out to get him when he crosses paths with Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), a CIA agent who, along with Carmichael’s underling Suzanna Brewer (Jessica Henwick), is scrambling to salvage her career thanks to the trail of destruction that has followed Hansen and his willfully unethical methods.

Piling up casualties as quickly as Thanos can snap his fingers, The Gray Man is hardly ever dull. The plot is simple and the direction propulsive but because we don’t really get to know the characters beyond their skill sets and job titles it is also a fairly impersonal affair, feeling more like a series of things that happen rather than things you care about. Attempts to humanize Gosling’s emotionally frigid Court come in the form of perfunctory flashbacks to a bad childhood and an underdeveloped dynamic with Claire, to whom he is entrusted to protect. On that note, Butters is even less fortunate, her character bearing few attributes beyond the heart condition that makes her vulnerable and serves as a plot device.

If the action genre is defined now by cold indifference, The Gray Man should be viewed as a success. The Russos have put together an adrenaline-pumping ride that doesn’t demand anything from the viewer other than a Netflix subscription and a family-sized bucket of popcorn. It may not feature any extraterrestrial threat or super-powered beings, but this is a spectacle involving some balloons, a lot of bullets, and colored smoke for some reason. The Gray Man looks every bit the money that was spent on it, but huge sums of cash don’t directly translate into strong characters and intriguing moral situations. I’m probably thinking too much about it, but this cat-and-mouse game could have — should have — been better.

For the second review in a row, we have strong Mustache representation.

Moral of the Story: I’m giving this otherwise pretty bland action thriller a 3 instead of a 2 out of 5 stars simply because Chris Evans chews the scenery so much he enlivens the entire thing. Gosling is okay; he’s not doing anything radically different, and even though there is a lot of action — the Russos definitely deliver quantity — I’m not sure if any of the big set pieces have staying power. Honestly, it’s just another Saturday night action escape. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Normally at this point in the night, I wouldn’t be sticking around. With the house lights about to come on, I’d find a desperate, ugly chick to lick my wounds and split. But you have been a pebble in my shoe since the very beginning, and now I just don’t think I can walk away. Guess what I’m thinking right now . . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

No Time to Die

Release: Friday, October 8, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Neal Purvis; Robert Wade; Phoebe Waller-Bridge; Cary Joji Fukanaga

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukanaga

Starring: Daniel Craig; Léa Seydoux; Rami Malek; Christoph Waltz; Ralph Fiennes; Lashana Lynch; Ana de Armas; Ben Whishaw; Naomie Harris; Jeffrey Wright; Billy Magnussen; Rory Kinnear

Distributor: Universal 

 

***/*****

The time has come for James Bond to move on to greener pastures. In an unlikely turn of events, arguably the world’s most ineligible bachelor is looking to settle down and bid cheerio to his obligation to protect Queen and country at all costs, even especially ones of a personal nature. All good things must come to an end and with endings we look for closure. Ah, but is closure always satisfying?

We saw him get close before. Tantalizingly, torturously close to leading a normal life. The departed Vesper Lynd still haunts him. In No Time to Die, we see him pay his respects at her tomb in the scenic Matera, Italy, which might feel like a deleted scene from Casino Royale if not for the staggering mark of maturity in “I miss you” — a line Daniel Craig delivers in such a way you really feel the weight of those 15 years. James Bond is all grown up now. You feel it most in the dialogue, which allows Craig to serve up his best performance yet as the iconic super-spy, the actor going beyond his era’s stiff upper lip stoicism and confessing to things you’ve never heard his or any Bond say before: “I love you;” “I’m truly sorry.”

No Time to Die is such a weird experience. Watching Bond soften like a Walls vanilla ice cream cone on a hot summer day is weird. It’s also wonderful. But for whatever reason, I just could not get into the action. Partly due to the buzz-killing aroma of Greek tragedy. Partly due to the fact that no stunt here really blows the roof off. And that ending really bothers me, so we may as well get it out of the way now. If packing Kleenexes in anticipation of the soap opera ending is what the people want in all their big franchise arcs, fine. Personally I feel there’s a way to be dramatic without going scorched earth. Is this perhaps why people lament The Dark Knight Rises so — that needling incongruity of the brooding vigilante suffering all only, ultimately, to be done a kindness?

You say tonally inconsistent; I say it’s compassionate.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukanaga, clearly a talented director capable of steering a massive ship, the overly dour, overly long story details Bond’s tango with foes both old and new as he is yanked out of retirement to save the world for one last time. There is a ton of moving parts in this movie and a daunting number of relationships to stay Onatopp of, though not all are worth the effort. The backbone of the film concerns tension between Bond and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux, reprising her role from Spectre), specifically the former’s shifting perception of the latter’s innocence/complicity. When the two are ambushed in Italy by Spectre assassins it’s déjà vu all over again with Bond unable to see Madeleine as anything but Traitor #2. More shaken than stirred, Bond buggers off to Jamaica where he is soon contacted by an old friend from the CIA in Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who’s desperate for his help in tracking down a kidnapped scientist (David Dencik). 

For all that gets shortchanged and is made unnecessarily cluttered, the conflict presented in No Time to Die offers more bang for your buck, presenting not one but two evil forces with which Bond and MI6 must contend. The inimitable Christoph Waltz returns as arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, here regrettably confined to a portable holding cell as if a Hannibal Lecter knock-off and doing most of his limited damage via a removable bionic eye that enables him to call the shots from a safe distance, this time with comically epic failing results.

When it comes to new threats, No Time to Die offers an expected bit of double-agent treachery with Billy Magnussen’s disturbingly smile-happy Logan Ash, and goes old-school with Rami Malek’s soft-spoken rage: “My family got wiped out by one man, now the entire world will pay!” On the one hand, you kinda have to love the Scaramanga-like excessiveness, yet that crazy leap in logic feels regressive, underscoring how good we had it with Le Chiffre’s far more nuanced, relatable desperation. And Bond, never one to mince words, is dead right: All his opponent is is another angry man in a long line of angry men, coming up a little short in terms of the gravitas required of a figure framed as the ultimate reckoning for 007.

Where No Time to Die truly frustrates however is in its handling of internal conflict within MI6. M (Ralph Fiennes)’s judgment is called into question with the revelation of Project Heracles, code for a dangerous bioweapon that targets victims’ DNA so anyone related to them is at risk as well. Supposedly there was a morally upstanding justification for its deployment, but in the wrong hands (i.e. Safin’s) it’s going to wipe out millions, including the entirety of Spectre. Bond and M are at loggerheads, which is fun to watch, especially with Fiennes getting to go a little bigger with the role than he has before, but it’s the flippant treatment of Nomi (Lashana Lynch) as Bond’s ostensible replacement that baffles. A fun, strong performance from Lynch is severely undermined by the decision to have her character fall back in line with SOPs, her agency the equivalent of borrowing the keys to the DB-5 for a quick joy ride.

Added all up, it really sounds like I hated this movie. At first, I think I did. Like Roger Ebert after watching the movie North. But Fukanaga and his writing team don’t deserve childish vitriol. No Time to Die is a messy dish but the meat and potatoes are there at the bottom. After all, the Craig era has always been infused with pain and coldness. His final outing is an odd blend of the past and the present, where throwbacks to classic lairs and bad-skinned baddies are welcomed while the mimicking of Tony Stark martyrdom feels off-brand and, yeah, unsatisfying. 

They’re bringing Knives Out at a gunfight

Moral of the Story: I’m extremely wary of my own reaction here. I had a similarly negative response to Quantum of Solace, the direct follow-up to Casino Royale. I have since gone back and watched that movie at least twice, and despite it bearing the worst title of any Bond film — of any movie really that has nothing to do with physics — I’ve appreciated it a bit more. It’s closer to a pure action movie. So it’s certainly more simplistic than something like No Time to Die. It’s possible I warm up to what Fukanaga and his writing team have done here but as of this moment it remains a big disappointment.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 163 mins.

Quoted: “It’ll be great! I’ve had three weeks training!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Foreigner

Release: Friday, October 13, 2017

→Theater 

Written by: David Marconi

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Martin Campbell has been behind two of my all-time favorite Bond movies, Casino Royale and Goldeneye (incidentally two films that also saw a changing of the guard amongst the ranks of the 00 elite), and now he’s responsible for one of my favorite Jackie Chan movies ever. The Legend is back, and as The Foreigner he’s kicking ass and taking names in ways we haven’t seen before.

Before going any further, before my bias toward the Kiwi’s new movie renders me a totally unreliable resource, I should point out that this is the same director who made Vertical Limit, the face-palming result of woefully apparent and inadequate research that turned the rock climbing community into the laughingstock of audiences everywhere. The critical and commercial failure that was Green Lantern in 2011 further sullied the good Campbell name. Fortunately those are stains that have come out in the wash. The Foreigner is his first theatrical release since then, and it’s one of his best.

The New Zealand-born filmmaker is arguably an entertainer first and a director second, as not even his lesser output — Vertical frikkin’ Limit included — fail to provide at least some degree of escapism. The Foreigner offers something a little different in that regard. Though the movie does at some point become farcical, the viewer can’t afford to completely detach, much less get comfortable, for it is the gnarly landscape of our present reality over which the narrative cautiously treads. Steeped in the world of dastardly complex politics in an age of global terrorism, the story tells of a retired Vietnam War special forces op named Quan (Chan) who seeks justice for his daughter who is killed in a London department store bombing.

Hong Kong’s biggest action star subverts roughly 30 years of expectation by portraying a father pushed to the brink of sanity, a man who tiptoes the line of morality in his quest to expose the identities of the culprits — a group who call themselves “The Authentic IRA.” In The Foreigner, Chan goes full-on Liam Neeson, a brute force awakened from slumber whose very particular set of skills, shaped by his survival of Vietnamese internment camps as well as a life overflowing with personal tragedy, are called upon when he finally loses everything. So, yeah. Rush Hour this ain’t. Reportedly Campbell had to make two separate trips to China in order to convince Chan this is a role he should take.

Not everything is unfamiliar. At 63, and in post-Lifetime Achievement Award territory, Chan is still risking life and limb for the sake of bona fide performance art. The stunts aren’t as spectacular as they once were, that’s true, but I’ll run that number by you again. He’s 63 and still jumping out of second-floor windows, narrowly avoiding death like a parkour expert in their early 20s. It’s as if death wishes are part of some non-negotiable clause in Chan’s career contract. Separating this role from most, however, is that added edge of emotion that sees that mischievous grin of his traded in for a face twisted in grief and pain.

Chan’s not the only one turning in a surprisingly impactful performance. Quan’s queries, which in the language of these familiar action movies become obsessions, eventually lead him into the office of Irish deputy minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). He’s an intimidating man with a dark history to match, one made public by his own admission but the true extent to which it remains relevant becomes a mystery only Quan seems prepared (or desperate enough) to investigate. Aging suits Brosnan well, particularly in a more complex role like this where he appears to be bad at keeping the peace — let all The Troubles be forgot — but better at playing the sadistic puppeteer.

As the story unfolds it relies increasingly on these performances. Throughout we become bombarded with subplots detailing the total lack of trust between the Irish and the British, where acts of terrorism are perpetrated in the name of government favors and special interests. There’s a lot of orchestration going on behind the scenes, most memorably highlighted in an intensely heated exchange between Hennessy and a rogue IRA member played by Dermot Crowley. In the end, it’s the cat-and-mouse game between the film’s two stars that gives us reason to invest. The politics may become a bit silly, but these guys really aren’t fucking around. I enjoyed The Foreigner probably more than I should have, for that reason alone.

Recommendation: Fans of The Legend and the James Bond that M once lovingly called “a relic of the Cold War” should have a lot of time for a movie like The Foreigner. As a story it’s familiar, but Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan challenge the assertion that a cliché movie is a bad movie.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Politicians and terrorists, they are just two ends of the same snake. What’s the difference?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Kevin Hart: What Now?

kevin-hart-what-now-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 14, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Kevin Hart; Joey Wells; Harry Ratchford; Brian Buccellato

Directed by: Leslie Small; Tim Story

Kevin Hart: What Now? isn’t quite as groundbreaking as the marketing may have you believe, but if you’re a fan of his stand-up it remains a must-see event. While the venue itself suggests the next phase in the evolution of this hyperkinetic ball of energy — imagine, just for a second, this guy on a world stage (LaughAid?) — What Now? is actually the third such concert film, following up Let Me Explain (2013) and Laugh at My Pain (2011), and it is the fifth instance in which a camera crew has accompanied him on stage, fixated upon his every spastic move.

In Leslie Small’s film Kevin Hart finds himself stepping out onto the biggest stage of the biggest tour of his career at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, where he’s set to perform in front of a crowd 53,000 strong. Ordinarily this cavernous space is reserved for the rituals of diehard Eagles fans — not of the band but rather of the city’s NFL franchise. But on one night in August, this sacred ground would belong to a comedian. The What Now? film that audiences get to see in theaters represents the culmination of a historic tour, not just for this performer but for any comedian who has ever aspired to promoting their brand in the arena setting.

Hart was born and bred in the city of brotherly love. He struggled in the early part of his career to earn the laughs, frequently being booed off stage and enduring endless ridicule. At one show he had a piece of chicken hurled at him. For awhile he scrounged around in Philly under the alias Lil Kev, attempting to duplicate the brilliance of those who had come before him, like Chris Tucker. His humble beginnings in some ways make his homecoming magical. It’s as if he had never gone Hollywood in the first place. Though he’s never projected the image of someone who’d rather sacrifice their soul for the allure of Tinseltown than stay true to themselves, he’s certainly found success there. He has starred in a number of action-comedy vehicles and his performances in front of thousands of live audiences from the sun-kissed beaches of California to the more distant provinces of Europe and even Cape Town, South Africa has earned him a global reputation.

In the hour-and-some-change that we get to spend with Hart on stage — the show is prefaced by an amusing sketch that implicates Hart’s swaggering shortie as James Bond negotiating the poker table in Montenegro — we learn a few things about the guy, but not as much as one might expect out of someone who never seems to hide who he is. Not that his set is intentionally distant or impersonal — he throws members of his family under the bus on a number of occasions, which is pretty funny in and of itself — but there’s a certain genericness about the material he runs with here. Nevertheless, Hart is seemingly able to pull wildly entertaining anecdotes out of his pocket at random and the bulk of his act is spent regaling us over ultimately harmless familial tensions, his insecurities over being vertically challenged, and his experiences as a black male in modern America.

Have you ever gone to a movie — perhaps something just like What Now?  where you start off chuckling at a few things but then there’s that person behind you who finds everything so amusing that some of their energy starts rubbing off on you? Laughter is contagious and the people with whom I was sharing this small theater were having a riot. I found myself committed to what can only reasonably be described as a cackling contest with this unidentified patron, laughing far harder at stuff I should not be. After the movie I wanted to scold myself for allowing external forces to influence me. I didn’t want to go back and write a review of an experience that was largely amplified by what I was experiencing in person. Manufactured, even.

I have to say, other than the running raccoon-as-gangster gag and his trademark manic energy that constantly threatens to break into full-blown Tasmanian devil mode at any moment, I don’t remember much of this set. But I will always remember the first time I was in a movie where it sounded like the guy behind me seriously soiled his jockeys.

kevin-hart-what-now

Recommendation: Fans of Kevin Hart’s stand-up need apply. For obvious reasons. I will always maintain that there is a major distinction between his live performance and his film roles, and take them or leave them as you so please, but I find his on-screen performances entertaining as well. So I’m an apologist. And don’t ask me whether or not you should see this if you are anything close to sitting on the fence. You already know the answer. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 96 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon – Casino Royale (2006)

 

Ruth from Flixchatter stopped by to give us her thoughts on 2006’s Casino Royale, the epitome of James Bond. Head on over to Three Rows Back and have a read!

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20162006It’s week two of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and I’m thrilled to welcome the one and only Ruth from FlixChatter. I’m sure many of you will know of Ruth’s brilliant site and for our little event she is reviewing Daniel Craig’s first foray into the world of Bond with 2006’s Casino Royale.

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Casino Royale came out. I just rewatched it this weekend to refresh my memory, though I had probably rewatched it a few times in the last 10 years. It’s still as good as the first time I saw it, and I still would…

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Spectre

Spectre movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: John Logan; Neal Purvis; Robert Wade; Jez Butterworth

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Spectre, a proposition with so much weight and symbolism behind it it required four writers to collaborate on the story. Four writers means four times the quality, right?

Right . . . ?

After three years James Bond comes flying back into action in Sam Mendes’ parting gift to fans of a franchise that’s by now half a century old. The literal sense of ‘flying’ is certainly more applicable as Mendes spends precious little time setting up his first action spectacle involving a helicopter, a stepping-stone of a henchman and a backdrop of Mexico engulfed in the Day of the Dead festivities where everyone looks like skeletons. A none too subtle reference to the fact Bond is now literally up to his neck in death. It’s an inescapable entity.

Metaphorically speaking? Well, if we’re talking big picture — and why not, this is a pretty big picture after all . . . arguably second only to that movie about wars amongst the stars coming up in December — Bond doesn’t so much come flying back as he does carefully, calmly touch back down with parachute attached, in the vein of one of his many improbable escapes in this movie.

Spectre had one hell of a steep mountain to climb if it was interested in besting its visually spectacular, emotionally hard-hitting predecessor, though it’s going to have much less issue summoning the spectators who are curious as to where Bond’s threshold for enduring misery and pain comes, if it comes at all. Invoking the sinister organization that gave Sean Connery a bit of grief back in the ’60s is one way to attract the masses (not to mention, something to build an aggressive marketing campaign around). Budgeted at an almost incomprehensible $250(ish) million, it’ll go down as one of the most expensive productions of all time.

Recouping that may not be as much of a challenge as I’m thinking it might be right now. When word gets out that Spectre is merely decent and not great — and it will soon enough — it will be interesting to see what happens. Will a lack of ambition deprive it the opportunity to become a major contender for top grossers this year? I suppose I better hold my tongue because anything can and does happen.

Ignoring its business potential, and for all of its shortcomings, of which there are disappointingly many, Spectre is still good old-fashioned James Bond, emerging a stylistically superior product — sleek and ultra-sexy, bathed in shadow and whipping slithery, shiny tentacles with menace in another memorable opening title sequence. Yet for all the familiarity this is the least Daniel Craig-y Bond we’ve seen. It’s a bizarre mix of some of the heaviest themes the franchise has yet visited with a comical edge reminiscent of the Pierce Brosnan era. (I won’t go as far as to bring up Roger Moore’s name . . . whoops.)

In some ways it makes sense; Mendes probably felt he needn’t overdo the dourness this time as we’ve been thoroughly bruised by what 007’s sacrificed in Casino Royale and now Skyfall. These aren’t DC Comic film adaptations; they shouldn’t be all punishment. The film should have some balance, and while the humor’s less punny as Brosnan’s brand, the way it’s introduced draws attention to itself in often jarring ways. Something doesn’t quite feel organic.

Spectre‘s concerned with shaking Bond to his core, as a man and as a professional assassin with a British accent and impossibly high-class taste in women. He’s going to get rattled even more so than he was in the last outing, where he basically lost everything. Mendes finds ways to make it more personal as we move beyond M and start digging into Bond’s familial history. Bond stumbles upon a mysterious ring that has an octopus symbol on it and sets out learning about its origins and who else might be wearing one. There’s also an old photograph, with parts of it burned away so you can’t make out one of the faces in it.

This hunt, unapproved by MI6, leads him on another exotic globetrotting mission — these transitions feel considerably less inspired than in times past — that takes him from Mexico to Austria, Tangiers to a desolate meteorite crater in Morocco and ultimately back to MI6 headquarters in London. On the way he comes into contact with friends both new and old — top of the list is the daughter of a rapidly ailing Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, who is somehow even sexier than before), whom he must protect even when she insists she can protect herself thank you very much. But she doesn’t factor in Dave Bautista’s brute of a hitman, Hinx.

Madeleine turns out to be a handy traveling companion as she helps Bond get closer to finding out what the octopus ring represents. She, with a dark past she would rather soon forget than get into another gun fight, is reluctant to join Bond in seeking out the lair of one Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). She does anyway because the script is that insistent. (So no, to answer the question: four writers does not necessarily equate to four times the quality.)

As Bond is off galavanting about, the situation on the home front is turning rather dire as MI6 has become absorbed by a larger network of secret service agencies, the CNS, spearheaded by Andrew Scott’s sneering and highly enjoyable Max Denbigh. His rhetoric is not as newsworthy as the filmmakers would like us to believe it is. He wants to shut down the 00 sector and replace human field agents with drones and computers, arguing one man in the field is no match for technological upgrades. He’s right.

But it doesn’t matter because with Bond being Bond, especially now with Craig taking the role in a direction that’s ever more hinting towards the muscularity of a Jason Bourne and away from the debonair of Sean Connery, there’s little they can do to prevent him using his License to Kill. I don’t care how threatening you may appear in front of Ralph Fiennes, you can’t take scissors to a card and denounce Bond’s status as an agent. You can scrub him from the official files, I suppose. Alas, the old argument: the instincts and emotional judgment of man versus the unfeeling, calculated efficiency of A.I. Sigh. This is, unfortunately, where we go in Spectre. And as for the family matters, the less said about it the better (take that as both a good and bad thing).

Mendes’ last entry is a good film on its own terms but it shrugs off its responsibility to be the most compelling entry in the franchise thus far, at certain points seeming so disinterested in upping the ante and instead revisiting many classic Bond moments in a pastiche that feels both unnecessary and awkward. Save for the aforementioned supervillian, who is by turns thoroughly disturbing and darkly funny — here’s where the humor would be a bit too sophisticated for the Brosnan era — Spectre introduces precious little new information. It’s a painful thing to say, but perhaps this sector is indeed obsolete at this point.

Recommendation: While not vintage James Bond, Spectre offers enough to fans of this long-standing franchise to keep some momentum going, even if quite a lot is lost. A good film with more than the usual number of flaws, is this film yet another victim of the hype machine? What do you think?

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 148 mins.

Quoted: “It was me, James. The author of all your pain.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.tinypic.com; http://www.imdb.com

Kingsman: The Secret Service

kingsman-poster

Release: Friday, February 13, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Matthew Vaughn; Jane Goldman

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Thuffering thuccotash, itth Thamuel L. Jackthon! Again!

For those bothering to thtick with me through this review, be advised that one of the most prolific black actors of all time is the height of the appeal of Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s also a thymptom of a dithappointing outing.

I know, I know. I’m pushing it a little bit here, but I don’t think I’m being any more offensive than Jackson. The man — and give him credit, he does work hard (so does his agent!) — is difficult to get over when he’s the only one trying to stand out in this mildly-amusing riff on the irreverent James Bond franchise. It’s a film with bigger plans, even, attempting to capitalize on the silliness that the casual observer associates with the spy genre, but in an ironic twist the fun devolves into a farcical spoof of itself in the final half hour. However, that’s not the issue at large.

It’s not that Colin Firth (that’s actually not a lisp, thank you very much) tries too hard playing Sean Connery-lite, clean-shaven and with a swagger perhaps more consistent than Jackson’s butchered pronunciations of the letter ’s.’ Firth is good here, his own amusement apparent in the way he parades across the screen, umbrella in hand, treading a tricky line between sophistication and aloofness. As Harry Hart, code-named something hilarious — oh, I don’t know, say ‘Galahad’ — Firth is cool and confident, even especially under pressure. He’s a spy who’s experienced his fair share of whoopsie-daisies working for a boutique secret service agency tucked away in the back of a posh clothing store. One downfall of being in this profession is seen at the film’s open when a fellow agent is killed by a grenade, or something.

It’s not that the emotional heft of the film strays into sentimentality so far that the overriding story makes little sense. Harry/Galahad finds it his duty to help a wayward youth named Gary (a.k.a. ‘Eggsy’), the son of the fallen Kingsman, avoid a life of crime and hardship on the streets (the upturned ball cap and padded jacket pegs Taron Egerton as a rude-boy in-the-making) by drafting him into the secret service. It’s better to walk into the path of a stray bullet as a youngster than die an old and miserable sad-sack, amiright?

It’s not that Jackson parodies the speaking-impaired until the bitter end, nor the fact that Gazelle (Sofia Boutella)’s legs are an odd choice for villainous material. It is refreshing seeing someone not play up a lack of legs as a disability, though. I don’t take the racism, fear-mongering and general hatred towards all of mankind as a sign either. Kingsman suffers from tonal shifts — one moment it’s all fun and games; the next we hear racist/homophobic slurs delivered with no other purpose than to inject some shock value, as if we need to have any more reason to cheer on Harry/Galahad — but these are aspects one can get over in a hurry if they’re intent on switching off their brain and enjoying a good showdown (or ten).

No, what’s most offensive about Kingsman is that despite its few quirks and charms — the chemistry between Firth and Egerton is undeniable, while Big Macs make for an exquisite, product-placement-friendly dinner with the villain — is the genericness. As a send-up of the spy genre, this mostly falls into disarray. To reiterate, the only thing the movie manages to send-up is the Q-branch and maybe Thamuel L. Jackthon.

In between extended moments of interminable blandness, Matthew Vaughn’s wannabe-James Bond occasionally finds moments of inspired lunacy and Jackson is admittedly hilarious. This was the most fun I’ve had in a movie that seems to like stealing ideas from others. Maybe the ultimate issue is that the most vivid memory I have of this film is a speech impediment. Either way, there’s a lot here that blows Kingsman‘s cover, but I believe Matthew Vaughn really was on to something here.

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2-5Recommendation: Can I call this movie boring? No. Can I call it dumb? Yes. Can I call it inspired? Mehhhhhhyesss . . . ? It’s an amalgam of James Bond with soft-core thriller material. It doesn’t have enough going for it to be that memorable yet this movie has proven to be very popular. Who knows. I’m probably off on this one. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re likely better off by not listening to me and seeing it for yourself. Wouldn’t be the first time on this blog that that’s happened! 😉

Rated: R

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “This whisky is amazing. You will shit.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Casino Royale (2006)

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. . .as if it was going to be anything else! Or maybe the choice isn’t as obvious as I think it is. Despite the fact that 2006 doesn’t seem like much of a ‘throwback,’ per se, and that I just sent in a Guest List for the 007 Best Moments in this very film to The Cinema Monster, this still feels like one of the ultimate James Bond films.  . . a natural and perfect way to cap off a month of James Bond Throwbacks. Disagree? Well then you can do what the Puritans did: get the eff out! 😀 😀

In the spirit of getting out, indeed that is what happens today: out with the old and in with the new; a brand-spanking new style and tone to a franchise long since in decay with the advent of simply over-the-top technological devices and crummier and crummier stories. Much as I don’t want to call Brosnan one of the worst, he certainly had the unfortunate luck of being surrounded by some of the poorest material to date. 

Today’s food for thought: Casino Royale

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Status Active: November 17, 2006

[Theater]

Mission Briefing: Fresh off an assignment in which he must eliminate two targets in order to achieve double-0 status, Bond is now faced with the prospect of tracking down Le Chiffre, a cunning and merciless terrorist financier whose grip on the black market grows more powerful with each passing second. A high-stakes poker game set up in Montenegro will be Bond’s best chance of outwitting the dangerous man.

Mission Support: 

  • Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) — fiercely intelligent and every bit as poetically disdainful as the young, trigger-happy 007; represents the British treasury and keeps a watchful eye over Bond in the poker game; a close friend of 007 but whose true identity may not be entirely trusted
  • René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) — 007’s Montenegro contact and a shady fellow, also not to be entirely trusted; approach with caution
  • Solange (Caterina Murino) — girlfriend of Le Chiffre henchman Alex Dimitrios; possible distraction who could be in possession of some useful information; interrogate using any means necessary
  • Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) — American agent on behalf of the CIA
  • Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) — sinister second-tier threat to operations leaders, but is a known associate of Le Chiffre; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) — financier to several of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and a mathematical genius who likes to prove it playing his hand at cards; cold and emotionless, he is an excellent calculator of human behavior and persistent at getting what he wants; must be stopped at all costs
  • Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) — liaison for third-party organization whose identity is not yet identified; at this time MI6 holds Le Chiffre in higher priority than Mr. White, but he is nonetheless a figure of significance; approach with extreme prejudice

Q Branch: [ERROR – file missing]

Performance Evaluation: As if to give the Bond of old a mercy kill with this necessary re-booting of Britain’s most dangerous spy, director Martin Campbell set his sights on recapturing the cold steely pain of James Bond, bastard child and loyal protector of England. His selection of Daniel Craig and decision to dispense with much of the cheese that was beginning to bog the films down, were key in distinguishing Casino Royale as a truly compelling recounting of how Bond was born.

Not only does he wear the single-breasted Brioni dinner jacket — as noted by a certain perceptive British treasurer — with a level of disdain we aren’t used to witnessing before, but Craig’s willingness to sacrifice his body effects determination and aggression more in line with what readers of the beloved novels have consistently expected and even more consistently been denied. Not to mention, screenwriters smartly take advantage of contemporary issues such as post-September 11 paranoias and use them to champion relevance and gravitas that’s more convincing than Bond’s previous scuffles with the Soviets.

As Bond takes it upon himself to insert himself into the Bahamas and other exotic locales in an effort to track down MI6’s latest target, the man known as Le Chiffre, a brilliant and determined banker who earns his riches by funding global terrorism. Because he’s fresh on the job, M (played by Judi Dench in one of the film’s more frustrating yet ultimately understandable moves) finds herself with her hands full as she attempts to keep tabs on her fledgling 00 agent. Packed with spectacular action sequences — the opening parkour scene is particularly memorable — perhaps never more exotic locations, and possessing a refreshing level of vitality for both the character and the franchise, Casino Royale has managed to overcome the wave of skepticism initially facing it by delivering one of the sexiest and most thrilling installments yet.

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5-0Recommendation: It’s funny thinking back on the controversy surrounding the casting of Daniel Craig now, as he has continued to make the role his own ever since, following up this solid performance with equally convincing turns in Quantum of Solace and of course, most recently in Skyfall. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea; he’s certainly more callous than Brosnan and more physical and possibly more brutal than Connery, but it’s difficult to imagine the series persisting had it not been for Craig’s introduction. This first outing for him finds the spy at his most vulnerable. Anyone a fan of the books is sure to find great enjoyment in watching him develop here. Not to mention, this film suits fans of solid action films. They don’t get much better than this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 144 mins.

Quoted:  “All right. . .by the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, my guess is you didn’t come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means that you were at that school by the grace of someone else’s charity: hence that chip on your shoulder. And since your first thought about me ran to orphan, that’s what I’d say you are. Oh, you are? I like this poker thing. And that makes perfect sense! Since MI6 looks for maladjusted young men, who give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect queen and country. You know. . .former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches.”

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Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: From Russia with Love (1964)

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Yes, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is going on. This much is true. Somewhere out there amongst the trees and suffocating humidity of Brazil some folks are kicking funny-colored balls around and trying to get them into little rectangular nets at opposing ends of a long, intensely well-groomed patch of grass. No, I like the sport of feet-ball, I really do. Or at least I appreciate it from a safe, respectable distance. I’m not so into it that I’ve gotten the scarf yet or painted my face into crazy distorted shapes that would have a good chance of scaring kids on Halloween but the quadrennial event effectively manages to capture my attention each time. (This time I guess the joke’s on Spain?) The ultimate joke, though, is really on me I think, for letting this classic slip through the cracks for so long. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned romp throughout Russia with Sean Connery and a hot babe hanging off his arm. This was also quite the struggle as far as prioritizing between this or Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond. Good as Connery is in the role — appearance-wise, he suits it best — the stories around Connery, I’m finding, are just not quite as involving as the modern stories have become. There is, however, delicious nostalgic appeal to films like 

Today’s food for thought: From Russia with Love

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Status Active: May 27, 1964

[Netflix]

Mission Briefing: After killing one of Spectre’s top agents in the form of Dr. No, James Bond finds himself targeted by the global terrorist network as he partners up with Russian beauty Tatiana Romanova in order to retrieve a sensitive war device known mysteriously as ‘The Machine.’ A Russian decoding device, referred to as The Machine, represents heightening tensions between Soviet and American politics as the Cold War continues, with the British Secret Service attempting to intervene and prevent further incident. James Bond will have to overcome his weakness for women in order to recover the device and succeed in his mission.

Mission Support: 

  • Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) — supportive of anything 007 will ever do; approach with caution
  • Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) — holds critical information about Spectre and its members; a valuable although still more expendable resource
  • Rosa Klebb, a.k.a. ‘Number Three’ (Lotte Lenya) — hostile Soviet member of Spectre; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Kronsteen a.k.a. ‘Number Five’ (Vladek Sheybal) — master chess player who likes to use his skills for predicting Bond’s every next move; it is possible to stay one step ahead of his game, though, if careful
  • Grant (Robert Shaw) — Spectre’s hunk of muscle equally skilled in hand-to-hand combat who is sent to deal with any complications that arise in the theft of The Machine; approach with extreme prejudice
  • ‘Number One’ (Eric Pohlman, voice; Anthony Dawson, body) — one of the prime targets of MI6 is also very cat-friendly but his affection for death and destruction should not be ignored; perhaps one day 007 will get to meet the man face-to-face, but for now, maintain distance
  • Sylvia (Eunice Grayson) — additional eye candy. . .because, you know. Reasons.

Q Branch: Oh, ho-ho, boy-oh-boy do I have a treat for you, 007! This mission will require the use of this one very specific briefcase I have for you. But. . be careful not to open it the wrong way, old chap. Wouldn’t want you to be blown away by what you see, would we?

Performance Evaluation: Sean Connery’s second time around as England’s most dangerous/sexy spy courts even greater danger as his antics in Dr. No just two years prior have incurred the wrath of Spectre, a terrorist organization that will stop at nothing to eliminate this threat to the Soviet’s attempts to win the Cold War. From Russia with Love is the next logically progressive step for James Bond as he operates on Her Majesty’s wishes to keep crown and country above all else. Unfortunately this incredibly misogynistic production is lightyears away from being anything close to being a politically correct film. But I guess we don’t care about those kinds of things when we sign up for the new James Bond movie, do we?

In fairness, we’ve returned almost to the source of Ian Fleming’s rumination on the terrifying dominance of the Soviet Union in this day in age. The character of James Bond was a way of explaining a rational path through the fear and paranoia the world had been plunged into for years on end. It may be a stretch to imagine that Fleming’s apparent hatred and distrust of women (see any number of female leads in these early films getting slapped around as if they were Bond’s personal punching bags) was a simple manifestation of the author’s frustrations of the time into which he was born, but it wouldn’t be the craziest jump to conclusions one could make. There’s plenty verbal and physical mistreatment to be found here, as Bond finds himself unwittingly (but not reluctantly) in the arms of a beautiful Russian spy whose loyalty to her own country absolutely must be questioned.

Along with her shady motives, Bond must also be looking over his shoulder for the treacherous and physically stout Red Grant, Russia’s pride and joy and perhaps Bond’s equal in hand-to-hand combat. Amounting to little more than a thug sent by the sinister Klebb, Grant is on a collision course with Bond in a last-ditch effort by Spectre to eliminate Britain’s involvement in a gradually escalating crisis.

From Russia with Love sports acceptable action sequences, though its colorful imagery, exoticism and period detail has been slightly damaged in the constant comparisons to over 40 years’ worth of James Bond cinema. The novel’s sense of adventure and political tension is recovered, though. And there’s no doubt there are particularly heart-racing moments that nearly stand toe-to-toe to scenes of the modern versions. In the end, though, this particular entry shows its colors on a few too many occasions in terms of its position in mainstream Hollywood and by continuing to perpetuate the ideals of the 60s and 70s that it’s very much a man’s world out there. Guess we need to get used to that, though, for there’s far more of it to come.

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3-5Recommendation: For Bond fanatics, the second Bond film from Terence Young ought to be one of the first of the films viewed, especially if one is to get a sense of continuity and a real perspective on who this near-legendary secret agent is and how he operates. Barring clunky, horrendously cheesy dialogue (par for the course, I’m afraid), over-the-top sound effects and the abysmal attitude held about women in this period, From Russia with Love is a mostly successful action adventure. Connery also has the added benefit of being the first actor to take on the iconic role, and although opinions will always vary on who the best Hollywood fit really is, there can be very little arguing that this man did it with a degree of style unmatched by any other since. Now, if there was only something fans could do to shake an older Connery out of his slurred-speech phase. . .

Rated: PG (okay. . .this is really quite ridiculous, 1960s. . .I mean, the sexual innuendo alone. . .ah forget it)

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Moonraker (1979)

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James Bond June continues! I’ll just come right out and say it: we are moving to a distinctly different time period, to a time where Bond’s chauvinist tendencies were left even less in check than they’ve been recently. A world where the action may not have been so beautifully rendered, but boy did it kick just as much ass as today’s often headache-inducing action sequences. This Thursday’s TBT appeals because the story is so radically over-the-top. This is, aside from a select few Brosnan outings, one of Bond’s least plausible adventures. But it’s a true classic. 

Today’s food for thought: Moonraker. 

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Status Active: June 29, 1979

[TV]

Mission Briefing: When a space shuttle is stolen mid-flight, Bond suspects the clever, conniving and enviously wealthy Hugo Drax to be behind it, and must form a plan to stop him from wiping out millions of innocent civilians. Drax’s ultimate goal is to start afresh on Earth with an entirely new populace, one the deranged man intends to begin cultivating in his own space station. There’s only one thing standing between Bond and the radical industrialist: Drax’ sizable bodyguard, Jaws.

Mission Support: 

  • Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) — considerable “technical experience”
  • Corinne Defour (Corinne Cléry) — loyalty may not be her strong suit, but being supportive of MI:6’s mission apparently is
  • Manuela (Emily Bolton) — 007’s Brazilian contact in Rio de Janeiro
  • Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) — chief target of MI:6, believed to be responsible for hijacking of the Moonraker; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Chang (Toshiro Suga) — Drax’s original bodyguard; highly expendable
  • ‘Jaws’ (Richard Kiel) — physicality outmatches speed and determination; Drax’s new right-hand man; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Dolly (Blanche Ravalec) — girlfriend of ‘Jaws;’ not proven to be particularly supportive of Her Majesty’s interests in the Moonraker

Q Branch: I don’t know what to tell you, 007. The technology is all on your enemy’s side on this one. What, between his cache of expensive little lasers, the fleet of Moonrakers (because one isn’t bloody enough!), and the cloaking device preventing any of us on Earth from seeing the orbiting space station, I have to say all the cards are in Drax’s favor here. There’s not much you can do, really, other than rely on those wits of yours. And in your ripe old age, I wouldn’t even trust those entirely too much. Best of luck out there Bond.

Performance Evaluation: While Roger Moore is unlikely to win the popular vote as to who the best/most memorable James Bond was, he certainly scores points by starring in this highly memorable and action-packed espionage film with a sci-fi twist. Moore as Bond establishes an ease of comfort in his assigned duties, a physical manifestation of cold-blooded killer perhaps no other actor has really shown. Squaring up against the likes of the 7′-2″ metal-mouthed, cable-chewing Jaws and the dastardly brain behind the entire operation in Hugo Drax, Bond must be prepared for supreme hostility in supremely hostile environments. As opinion will often vary greatly on who handles the pressure of the 007 status the best, it’s unlikely that many consider this particular performance from Moore to be among the most frequently mentioned, but Moore does enough to be memorable and amiable.

Moonraker is undeniably all about the novelty of the scenes. The adventure jettisons audiences out of the steamy outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and, later, into outer space for a fun and climactic battle, with the filming taking place in locations as varied as London, Paris, Venice, California, Florida, and of course, the second largest city in Brazil. Bond explores Drax’s shuttle launching facility, where he possesses multiple Moonraker shuttles. While we experience the requisite quips about saving the world, romantic proposals and/or whether or not martinis are best served shaken and not stirred, the world floats by the tiny windows of the villain’s space station. It’s just one extra layer of coolness applied to an already stylish and sexy franchise.

Yet the film certainly falls prey to the tropes of the late 70’s/early 80’s action films. Misogynistic themes skyrocket (Bond’s partner is named Holly Goodhead — not as bad as some in the past, but not exactly a flattering name by any means), and so too does the cheese factor. Bond’s inability to make the lamest puns at the most opportune times continues in Moonraker, yet the majority are not memorable. If you’re looking to evaluate Lewis Gilbert’s third (and final) directorial effort from a technical standpoint, the film’s age is often painfully obvious. But as it relates to the world of James Bond, this outer space exploration is somewhat difficult to top.

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3-5Recommendation: James Bond’s canon appeals to a consistent target audience, one that’s decidedly more male than female, but there’s also no use trying to deny this divide in opinion when it comes to talking “old school” James Bond versus modern versions. Moonraker may not be an awfully intelligent picture but it’s a film that stays relatively true to the novel and always remains a fun time. The last factor in determining if this film is for you is how Roger Moore appeals to your senses. Neither overly aggressive nor excessively mild-mannered, Moore strikes a safe middle-ground. While failing to be as memorable as either Connery or even Daniel Craig, he succeeds in delivering this material with plenty of tongue-in-cheek.

Rated: PG (how the. . .what the. . . really?!!)

Running Time: 126 mins.

Quoted: “My God. . .what’s Bond doing?!”

“I believe he’s attempting re-entry, sir. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.screenmusings.org