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Entries in James Bond (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

Monday
Jan182010

The Spy Next Door

Remember when Jackie Chan was still cool? I do. I remember watching him as I grew up. I loved how agile he seemed to be, effortlessly flying through the air performing some of the most amazing acrobatic martial arts I had ever seen. I loved his charm and his sense of humor about things. He was a guy I wanted to hang out with. Sure, his most recent American films have suffered from poor scripts and unfunny one-liners, most notably Shanghai Knights, The Tuxedo and the third Rush Hour, but I still find myself rooting for the guy. His 2008 outing, The Forbidden Kingdom, proved that he was still more than capable of delivering the trademark action and humor he is known for. But then he follows it up with this year's wretched The Spy Next Door, a kid's comedy with one genuine laugh and about 50 irritated groans.

The Spy Next Door follows a fairly routine plot used in a number of other movies about a secret spy who is forced to babysit a handful of little brats that hate him. You'll forgive me if I haven't seen any of them. When I sit down for a Vin Diesel movie, my first inkling isn't to reach for The Pacifier. Anyway, this film plays off that formula, this time starring Jackie Chan as Bob Ho, a Chinese operative on loan to the CIA. He is dating his next door neighbor, Gillian, played by Amber Valletta, but her kids loathe him. He's too "uncool." They think he is a pen importer, but they aren't aware of his secret. After capturing his arch-nemesis early in the movie, he retires so he can spend more time with Gillian and warm up to her kids. Well, Gillian's father is in the hospital and she has to leave town for a few days. Bob thinks this is the perfect opportunity and volunteers to watch over the children, to which she reluctantly agrees. Unfortunately, his nemesis has escaped and is on his way to find Bob.

As you can imagine, the following scenes consist of tired slapstick, constant back talk from the snotty children, and Jackie Chan trying to act hip, doing things that would be embarrassing for even the lowliest of actors, much less a martial artist of his stature. If the mostly silent child audience I watched this with is any indication, this film is a complete failure.

This is due to many reasons, but one is the utter lack of laughs thanks to a piss poor script and Chan's inability to break the language barrier, stumbling over his English like a first time speaker teaching phonetics. You could readily tell a few of his lines were re-recorded in post-production, probably due to this problem.

In romance movies, one tends to talk about chemistry between the two lead actors, but it seems a bit frivolous here as that really isn't the main draw of the movie. Still, each scene between Chan and Valletta was awkward to the point where I felt bad for the actors onscreen. Watching them try to act together and seeing Chan plant his mid-fifty year old lips on a pretty woman 20 years younger than him gave me an unsettling chill down my spine that cannot easily be explained.

The one thing I took a mild liking to was the cheeky James Bond-ish vibe, complete with an enemy with a scar under his eye and his seductive Russian sidekick. The only problem is that they merely exist. There isn't much of a parody here other than that, so the only minor enjoyment this film has going for it becomes moot by the 30 minute mark.

I haven't spent too much time focusing on putting my thoughts together in an articulate way because I don't feel it's necessary to grant this film more effort than it took to put the thing together. No care was put into any of this, aiming only to cheaply exploit the emotions of easily amused children. It's only fair that I care as little. This isn't as bad as the horrific Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, but "bad" takes on many levels. The Spy Next Door is still unwatchable.

The Spy Next Door receives 1/5