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Entries in daniel craig (3)

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

Wednesday
Dec212011

The Adventures of Tintin

Motion capture animation is a tough thing to pull off. Even when it’s done well, the result in the past has been weird and even kind of frightening. From The Polar Express to Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol, people have complained that the animation creates an eerie effect, at that odd stage where you can tell it’s fake, but it’s close to looking real. Well, never has this method been put to better use than Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. It’s the most realistic (and least creepy) use of the technology yet. Its visuals are stunning and they only compliment an already imaginative and very fun story. War Horse may be Spielberg’s attempt at Oscar glory, but this is the one worth seeing.

The story follows a young investigative journalist named Tintin (Jamie Bell) who one days buys a sculpture of a boat for cheap. As it turns out, that boat has a hidden scroll in it with directions to a hidden treasure. However, that scroll is only one of three and the evil Ivanovich (Daniel Craig) is planning on getting them all. Although he’s not searching for a story, Tintin has just been thrust into one and he’s the main subject.

The Adventures of Tintin is certainly not a great movie, but it’s a great experience. It’s something that you’ll have lots of fun watching even though you’ll still acknowledge its flaws. There’s a kindred spirit to the film, one that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. If even a smidgen of your childhood is still left in your body, you’ll feel a joyful exuberance, that tiny puerile part of your sensibilities blossoming. It’s not an easy feeling to explain, but it’s one I wish I could share with those around me. Of course, if you’re being critical, the film’s imagination only goes so far. Its story and the various locales it visits along the way are more akin to a video game with a very loose narrative, which is probably appropriate given its look, but it’s a fun watch nonetheless.

In a sense, it’s an animated Indiana Jones, unsurprising given the director. Its story is over-the-top and most certainly not plausible, but its humor is affecting and its action is unbelievable. The characters aren’t always tied to Earthbound physics, which allows for high flying fun, the type of action that wouldn’t be possible in a similar, more traditional movie. It takes its film noir-ish premise and escalates it to fit its video game-esque world, but it’s never violent or scary. It’s perfect for families.

That is if you can disregard the way alcohol is treated. In the film, it’s used as a joke, which is a dangerous thing considering its PG rating, Nickelodeon affiliation and target audience. But more offensive than that, however, is the obligatory, and once again useless, use of 3D. Very few people can make the format work (Martin Scorsese being the only recent example with Hugo) and Spielberg simply fails here. There’s no sense of space to make the 3D pop and, as is to be expected at this point, much of the movie can be watched even without the glasses, the effect not even utilized in many of its shots.

Still, in 3D or not, The Adventures of Tintin is worth seeing. As is often the case, the B story, this time involving a pickpocket and two bumbling cops, isn’t as interesting as the main adventure and most of the time spent with it is little more than mildly pleasant filler, but even that mildly pleasant side story manages to do more than many full length movies this year. Though not an amazing film and probably not worthy of any awards, The Adventures of Tintin is pretty darn fantastic all the same.

The Adventures of Tintin receives 4/5

Friday
Jul292011

Cowboys & Aliens

The western and sci-fi genres are at odds with each other. Out of all the possibilities movies give us, such a mixture seems strange. One tells its stories entirely in the past while the other relies on futuristic elements. It’s a mash up that is rarely seen, but when it is, it usually breeds interesting and unique results (like Joss Whedon’s wonderful short lived television show, Firefly). This week’s Cowboys & Aliens attempts to do the same, taking familiar western elements and fusing them with conventional sci-fi fare, but it feels half-hearted and, oddly, all too familiar.

The story is simple enough: a race of aliens have descended on a small town in the 1800’s and begun abducting its inhabitants, while the remaining few head off to save them. Where Cowboys & Aliens stumbles is not in its simplistic story, but its simplistic characters. Despite its talented stars, most never rise above traditional western archetypes. Daniel Craig is the tough, hardened outlaw who talks tough but actually has a heart of gold and Harrison Ford is, well, Harrison Ford. Both give great performances, but it means little in a movie that doesn’t take the time to build its characters.

I suspect this may have been intentional, given its succinct title that suggests nothing more than a good popcorn summer blockbuster, but director Jon Favreau is too good a filmmaker to limit himself like that. It’s almost as if his initial intentions were to make a dumb fun movie, but he realized while shooting that such a thing was beneath him, so he tried, unsuccessfully, to flesh out the thin characters he had neglected up to that point. Bad drama is forced into the film where it doesn’t belong and extraneous side characters spout heartwarming monologues that are supposed to instantly change our perception of certain characters, but it doesn’t work because nothing has been leading to these moments.

Perhaps that is because the film’s dialogue is overburdened with exposition, spending far too much time explaining what is happening. When you’re watching a movie called Cowboys & Aliens, the title says it all. What more do you need to know? But it goes on anyway, saying a lot without really saying much of anything at all, attempting to fill in plot holes the screenplay has amateurishly overlooked. One character in the film, it is revealed partway through, is not human and lives “beyond the stars,” but where precisely did this person come from? What is his or her purpose? What does he or she hope to accomplish? Such cryptic language should be fleshed out, giving more narrative weight and emotional meaning to the proceedings, but, aside from a few supplementary lines of dialogue, it is left alone, an insufficient explanation for what should have been a major plot turn.

The screenplay too is packed to the brim with conveniences, disrupting whatever human danger the characters may find themselves in with the impeccably timed arrival of alien spaceships, but take away all its baffling story problems and Cowboys & Aliens still only works for those willing to dumb themselves down for it. It's hard to ignore the fact that these aliens have mastered interplanetary travel and have futuristic weapons technology that far surpasses what we have even today, yet insist on rushing head first and unarmed into battle. Again, their reasoning is briefly explained with throwaway dialogue and again it’s insufficient.

But at least the scene I’ve discussed above is bright enough to see. At times, Cowboys & Aliens is far too dark, like it was shot through tinted windows. Like many cases these days, it could be that the theater I saw it in had previously shown a 3D movie and the projector had not been properly prepared for 2D, but I saw no indications of that. It simply appeared to be an oversight from the filmmakers.

Even with all that in consideration, Cowboys & Aliens still should have been a great, or at least fun, movie. It’s the most interesting use of the classic western setting since developer Rockstar’s great Undead Nightmare video game, but it does little more than prove that an idea is not enough. That idea must become something greater, something that doesn’t rely solely on its title to get audiences in the theater.

Cowboys & Aliens receives 2/5