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Entries in ben whishaw (2)

Friday
Nov092012

Skyfall

James Bond has graced our movie screens for 50 years. From the moment Dr. No was released in 1962, Bond was a hit, and with good reason. Although his appeal certainly reaches further than such a small demographic, he’s the type of suave, sophisticated, fearless ladies man that all guys want to emulate. Despite some sizable bumps along the way (the series is like a roller coaster ride in terms of quality), Bond has hung around for what is now 23 films and if Skyfall is any indication, he won’t be going away for some time. While it doesn’t quite reach the lofty grandeur that many are claiming it does—this is certainly not the best Bond movie ever made—it’s a step in the right direction.

What Skyfall does is take a franchise that has been known to go off the rails occasionally and grounds it in reality. It’s a darker, grittier and more realistic picture than many of its series brethren and it’s all the better for it. It doesn’t feel so much like a popcorn movie like some of the cheesier Bonds do. It instead feels like a drama driven action film with real meaning because the impending danger is more focused. No longer is there an evil entity ludicrously hell-bent on destroying the world. In Skyfall, the evil villain, Silva, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem, is destroying Bond’s world from the inside out rather than as a whole. A cyber terrorist, Silva is cool and calm and he has no intention to rule the world. His intentions are more personal and the consequences of his actions are felt. He happens to have a list of every MI6 agent and is releasing their identities to the world every five days, resulting in their deaths. For every day that goes by in the film, an agent is lost, so the stakes feel higher, despite the narrative reduction from world domination to personal vendetta.

The film, when inspected closely, reveals that it truly is a Bond film, never really deviating from the tried-and-true formula all that much. If you’ve ever seen a Bond film before, you know what to expect—conspiracy, espionage, double crosses and the like—but what matters is how well these aspects are carried out. Luckily, Skyfall contains some of the best executed and most thrilling action scenes this side of The Dark Knight Rises. It’s opening is outstanding, recalling the Casino Royale on foot chase (but this time on bikes) in all the best ways, failing to live up to its predecessor only due to obvious doubles and occasionally spotty CGI, but it’s stand-out moment comes in a Tokyo high rise where the walls are made of glass. As Bond sneaks up on an assassin readying for the kill, digital images dancing in the background, reflecting off the surfaces around them, a silhouetted fight breaks out in front of those very same images and it’s absolutely beautiful to watch. Framed by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the man behind True Grit and nearly every Coen brothers movie, Skyfall is perhaps the best looking Bond movie to date. Unfortunately, the visuals surpass its narrative ambition.

Relying on the same old Bond tropes we’ve come to expect really wouldn’t be a big deal (he’s been around for 50 years for a reason) were it not for the way the film sets up certain events, but then doesn’t follow through on them. An example of this comes most notably about halfway through the film. Silva has just escaped from MI6 and is on his way to a location holding many high profile targets, one of whom is vital to the Bond series. The film intercuts between the approaching Silva and the high profile target arguing over the safety of the nation and the necessity of MI6. The way this sequence is edited sets up a dramatic ending, one that could have shaken things up a bit and given the film an unexpected emotional weight, but the film seems to chicken out in doing it. Those aware of the way films are constructed will find this sequence baffling.

The ending is a disappointment as well. It builds and builds with scenes of intensity and excitement only to end with a poof rather than a bang. But on the whole, Skyfall is terrific. Daniel Craig has never been better in the famous role and the film’s willingness to bring the series back to a reasonable belief level is more than welcome (when Q, played by Ben Whishaw, hands Bond his new gadgets, they consist of nothing more than a radio tracker and a gun—they don’t “chip out for exploding pen” types of gadgets anymore, Q explains).

Despite some issues, this is the Bond movie Craig will be remembered for, due almost entirely to the fact that it nails who and what Bond is (and even highlights his vulnerability). Its stumbles are still there, however; they just come from elsewhere. Because of those stumbles, this is not the best Bond movie ever (Goldfinger still holds that spot), but when a movie is as stimulating as this, such hyperbole is to be expected.

Skyfall receives 4/5

Friday
Oct262012

Cloud Atlas

I can’t say I’ve read the book that Cloud Atlas is based on, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a thematically complex novel that most people think would be very difficult to adapt to the screen. After having seen the film, I understand why. There are six stories in this one movie that span across multiple time periods and locations involving characters who seem to have some type of connection to each other. It cuts back and forth between all six stories throughout its nearly three hour runtime and leaves it up to the viewer to connect the thematic dots. It’s an intriguing movie with narrative ambition akin to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and it suffers from the same problems. Its ideas don’t always fully come together, certain narrative threads aren’t entirely finished and it thinks it’s more spiritual than it really is. Indeed, the transition from book to movie must have been a tough one, but that in no way means it is bad. When those ideas do come together and meaning manages to sneak through its sometimes pretentious demeanor, Cloud Atlas is quite fascinating and thought provoking.

Cloud Atlas is at its best when it explores the meaning of life and death and the idea that we are all bound to each other, when it explores the idea that our actions, both good and bad, affect the world around us in ways we can’t even imagine. The film explores the idea of reincarnation and karma, that the choices we make now ripple throughout time. It’s about the spiritual connection we have to each other and the world, which dictate our behavior, our actions and who we ultimately fall in love with. It’s all that and more and when these ideas aren’t shrouded behind thick ambiguity or too obviously spelled out through sometimes unnecessary narration, the film is magical.

The problem is it rarely hits that middle ground and I sometimes felt like I was putting more effort into trying to make sense of the movie than it was itself. Keeping something intentionally vague does not make it profound, which is something that the directors, Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, must not have realized. Too often, particularly in the first 45 minutes or so, the film doesn’t bring its themes together. It takes so long to figure out what the hell is actually happening (unless you’ve read the book, I assume), that much of the meaning is lost. While there’s nothing wrong with making the audience work to discover the depth of the film they’re watching, there must be something that leads them in that direction. Cloud Atlas is too opaque for that to happen and it’s guaranteed to bring about wildly different analyses. It’s the type of film that film snobs will claim to love and pretend to understand.

The film further confuses its already convoluted narrative with actors playing multiple roles (most of them play six, if you didn’t guess), but each actor’s prominence differs depending on what story they’re in. One can’t help but wonder, if these characters in these different time periods are somehow connected in some way and may actually be the same people reincarnate, wouldn’t their importance to the story remain the same? Switching up which actor plays the larger role from story to story only brings about unnecessary confusion. When we learn that one character from each timeline has a shooting star in the shape of a birthmark, thus connecting their spirits on their journey through multiple lives, things begin to make more sense, but by then it’s a case of too little, too late (and too long). We’ve stopped caring, so although the narrative connection is made, the emotional connection remains missing.

Not all of its problem stem from its occasionally incoherent plot and sporadically explored themes, though. Questionable decisions continue to appear and reappear throughout the film, most notably in the timeline that takes place in what appears to be a mixture of the distant future and a long forgotten past. In this time, there is an interstellar being called a prescient who visits a primitive group of scavengers in the hopes of finding her way home. They talk in some strange half broken English dialect where they repeat certain words and phrases for no real apparent reason. Because of its assumedly futuristic setting, this was no doubt done to differentiate it from the past and present, but it simply doesn’t work. I’m sure it played better on the page, where readers could create their own appropriate context, but here, it’s ridiculous.

I’ve mostly avoided describing the story in Cloud Atlas because to do so would be a fruitless endeavor. There’s far too much going on and far too little space to discuss it, which makes me fear that my review may come off as too negative. Make no mistake, I am recommending this movie. It doesn’t suffer so much from a lack of focus as it does simply an overload of ambition, which isn’t always a bad thing. Cloud Atlas has many flaws that are all too apparent, but when it works, it’s beautiful, meditative and unique.

Cloud Atlas receives 3/5