Tag Archives: James Bond

Movie Review: Skyfall

I have to say that Bond is not my favorite franchise.  It’s obviously quite different from Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, which is the sort of stuff I love.  But, I have now seen four James Bond movies, so I feel okay reviewing this one. I am, by no means, a James Bond aficionado considering I’ve never seen one of the Sean Connery films, so please don’t write me angry emails if I make some mistake about the franchise as a whole.

In case you’re wondering, the four Bond films I have seen are the latest three with Daniel Craig–Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and now Skyfall, plus one Pierce Brosnan film, for which I would like my two hours back.

And now, in looking up the name of that terrible movie, I realize I have seen five Bond films.  I saw both Die Another Day and The World is Not Enough. So, I would like my 4 hours back. Those were some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Junior.

I saw the three Daniel Craig movies mostly due to my boyfriend–I suspect this accounts for approximately 80% of female Bond movie-going.  Correct me if I’m wrong about that.  Anyway, I was actually pleasantly surprised because no one was jumping out of a plane and onto a motorcycle and then onto a different plane that then blew up an aircraft carrier before becoming a submarine.  Now, there were still moments of ridiculousness in each of the movies, and they are, none of them, my cup of tea.  But, the Daniel Craig versions are much more realistic, gritty, believable, and have a modicum of character behind all the explosions. To combat this, they seem to be making the explosions bigger, but whatever you have to do to sell tickets, I guess.

Skyfall is a really unusual Bond film, in my limited experience.  It starts out with your typical Bond fare. There are car/motorcycle chase scenes, a should-be-fatal injury, several exotic locales, some sex with a nameless woman (who actually has no dialogue). There is flirting on the job, a casino, villains with eccentric pets.  Everything Mike Myers mocked in Austin Powers.

But then it saves itself from the pattern. How?

First of all, there are some actual characters that reveal themselves to have true complexity. Bond is seen as old and out of shape (as out of shape as Daniel Craig can believably portray) in parts of this film, and there is the general sense that the MI-6 program is coming under attack in a world that sees it as outdated.  M (Judi Dench) is particularly great at portraying a commanding woman of the old order, struggling to maintain control in a world that doesn’t understand the need for her.

Second of all, the villain! Javier Bardem is truly terrifying in this. He is sort of your typical Bond villain in that he is unhinged, very smart and capable, and eccentric bordering on crazy.  And he wears crazy outfits and has ridiculous hair.

He subverts villain expectations by being attracted to Bond.  And, to Bond’s credit, he does not fall into the typical alpha male response of being horrified and grossed out, as an American action hero might be.  Picture this scene with Bruce Willis in Craig’s place and you get a very different outcome.

His motivations are comprehensible, without a ridiculous ‘I’m going to kill you so I will now explain my big plans to you’ moment.  He uses computers to accomplish most of his evil tasks, and his criminal enterprise is a really well-oiled machine.

He toes the line between functionally evil and psychologically unstable, which is just about the most terrifying combination of personality types.

We also see aspects of Bond that make him more believable and more human. I suspect some purists wont like this, and I’ve already seen internet mutterings about the movie veering away from Ian Fleming’s books. Like it or not, making Bond more of a person made the movie better.  We see his family home, we see him tired, we see him drunk.  We see him struggle, and we see him break down with emotion.

I think it was a huge step up for a Bond film, and miles away from the shite of the Brosnan era. I must ask, though, was I the only one who was having Home Alone flashbacks in the scenes at Skyfall? All the booby traps to get the invaders? Significantly more violent booby traps, but I started to see the baddies as Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, bumbling in and around the house until they were all injured or dead.  But the ending brought me around again, and I find I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed the film!

Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I actually watched this movie on the plane ride home from London, which was perhaps not the greatest idea. Any movie taking place in India, should probably be seen on a screen larger than 5-7 inches. After all, much of what is attractive and overwhelming about India are the colors, the sights (good and bad) and the noise. I think I should probably have seen it in the theatre, but hey, I’m not a millionaire.

Despite the fact that I think my enjoyment of it was somewhat lessened by the small screen and bad audio, I did like the movie.  For one thing, the cast is ridiculous. Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy (love him), Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, the list goes on.  Oh yeah, and Maggie Smith! It’s just a ridiculous list of actors and actresses.  I do enjoy the fact that the British don’t mind having movies that feature people older than 50 (gasp!).  The last US movie I can remember with older people as the main actors was probably Cocoon. But all of these actors and actresses are older (besides Dev Patel, obviously) and they are all very busy in movies and shows like Downton Abbey, the Harry Potter series, Love Actually, the Bond movies, Calendar Girls (another great British movie featuring people older than 50.

The British seem to like this sort of big ensemble cast with little vignettes and snippets of people who are interconnected but not always connected enough to hold the movie together. I felt the same way after Love Actually, that sometimes things seemed a bit thrown together, and not everyone got enough time on screen to really get their identity across with the audience. It feels a bit like when I write a paper, or a story, and realize 75% through that I’ve taken on too much. You can’t do everything justice when you bite off more than you can chew, especially when it comes to storytelling. It was one of those movies where you realize after you’ve seen it that you had no idea what the character’s names were.  Everything just moved a bit too fast from one to the next in order to get a good grip on it.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The basic plot is that for different reasons (Maggie Smith’s character needs a hip replacement and there is a waiting list at English hospitals, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Penelope Wilton all have money concerns, and Tom Wilkinson is on a personal quest), all of these elderly English people end up in a retirement ‘hotel’ in India, run by Dev Patel’s character. In order to get guests for the hotel, he pays for their tickets from London to India. Once they arrive, they realize that the brochure they saw does not match the reality of this hotel, which is much shabbier and lacking doors on some of the rooms. But most of them don’t have the money to pay for airfare back to the UK, so they are literally stuck.

The movie seems to be mainly about assimilation. And what a challenge! I don’t think I’d last more than a few days in India without wanting to leave, and I’m sure each character wanted to leave at some point.  The person who just can’t assimilate, can’t even see anything worth loving about the place, is Penelope Wilton’s character. She spends her days reading in the garden, never leaves the confines of the hotel, and takes a plane back at her earliest convenience.  While she’s stuck there, she disparages the place incessantly and stomps on anyone else’s enthusiasm for India, its people, or its culture. She’s not xenophobic or cruel, but she’s out of her depth and cannot find her feet in this foreign land.  I think everyone can relate to that, and it makes her sympathetic even when she’s horrible. I wonder if it would be harder or easier to assimilate into a new culture at that age.  I think, both.  I just saw my Dad in the UK, and he is definitely homesick. There shouldn’t be any associated culture shock with moving to the UK, but he’s set in his ways and places comfort as a major priority in life.  With age, that does happen (I already feel it happening to me).  On the other hand, with age comes the knowledge that life is so fleeting and so ridiculous and horrible and wonderful and overwhelming, that the only thing the sensible person can do is let go and enjoy it.  At least, the wisest of us can talk ourselves into letting go of the semblance of control and allowing the world to sweep us out where it’s going to take us regardless.  The rest of the characters are much better at embracing that sense of change, of challenge, of enjoyment in whatever comes.

Judi Dench’s character narrates much of the movie, and she does mention the challenges and the rewards of moving to this completely separate culture. We see the most of her inner thoughts and feelings. Bill Nighy is fantastic, tall and besuited, and has that snort of a laugh that I adore. He is the most charming of all the actors onscreen.

Maggie Smith’s character sort of stunned me, because she’s blatantly racist! From her very first line, she is unpardonably racist.  Not that there really is a pardonable level of racism, but you see my point. It’s not an accidental bias, it’s not uninformed prejudice, it’s pure bile.  But she undergoes a transformation through the movie, and …well I’m not going to say she starts to be color blind, because I’m certain that’s not true, but she changes and opens up and becomes a much more sympathetic character. And, being Maggie Smith, it’s all done really very well.  She’s fabulous.

Tom Wilkinson’s character has the most desperately sad story, and I think his is the most compelling character.  I don’t want to give away more, so I won’t say more.

But there are two characters, played by Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup, that seem very similar. They both want to date younger/richer people, or marry them, or whatever. They seem to mostly want sex, love, to be …not lonely anymore. Understandable, but there’s very little to their characters. I wonder if they had more scenes originally and they were cut at some point, because it just doesn’t feel full or complete. They don’t seem to add much to the movie, except some comic relief. The movie was based on a book, These Foolish Things, which I suspect might contain more on these two that makes them integral to the group or to the action in some way. But in the movie it seems they just didn’t have time.

All in all, the movie was pretty good, but it could have been a bit better. I wonder how much I would enjoy the book, as I suspect I would get to know the characters more in that format. But the main thing that made the movie better than average was the incredible actors. With so many of them in one place, it’s almost to the point where you don’t notice how great they are, because they are all great.

Requisite Olympic Post

I’m not normally a person that gets super excited about the Olympics. One one hand, I like the multinational aspect of it, but on the other hand, it’s about sport. For the most part, I give it a pass.  Obviously, this time is different.  Every single event could feature scenes from my favorite city in the world. I watched over of bicycle road racing at the gym yesterday. I could not care less about cycling, but when they’re traveling through the English countryside and the race ends in front of Buckingham Palace, I’m happy to watch the whole thing just to watch the background go by.

So, let’s start with the Opening Ceremony.  Even in the past when I have watched Olympic events, I have never cared enough to watch the Opening Ceremony. That parade of nations thing is sooo boring, it negates any excitement you could get out of the rest of the ceremony.  This one was obviously a little different, though I still was bored to tears by the 2 hours of people walking by.

So my first pet peeve is the intro to the ceremony.  Here in the US, we got some rubbish with Ewan MacGregor and some unknown (to me) woman) doing voice-overs of footage of US athletes.  In the UK, however, they got this opening with Benedict Cumberbatch:


Which I thought was much better.
But lets ignore that for the moment. The video was created by the BBC, so the US networks didn’t have a legal option for airing it.  I will forgive them for now.  I cannot, however, forgive NBC for involving Meredith Viera in the thing. She is dumb as a post and seems to think her ignorance is something to be proud of.
Every time she talked, I just wanted her to shut up.

Okay, done with my complaining. What did I think of the ceremony itself?  Well…I think the idea behind it is really smart–instead of the biggest ceremony, you do a ceremony that focuses on something that is thrilling for the people in the stands, but is also choreographed specifically to be good for the cameras. I think you need that expertise in filmmaking, and I think Danny Boyle did a good job.  On the other hand, it definitely had its flaws. I liked the Agrarian start and the quick journey through the history of England, which according to Meredith Viera would teach people who didn’t know what the Industrial Revolution was.  So…people who haven’t yet reached 6th grade maybe?

But after the Agrarian start, it got a little too overly-conceptual.  The NHS tribute and the giant baby were especially weird and disturbing, and in many ways not relevant to an international audience. I haven’t had health insurance for two years, so I would love an NHS here in the states, but that doesn’t mean it was the best venue for that statement. I also think that the section with the boy and girl traveling through the last thirty years of British culture was a bit weird. I love British music, obviously, and enjoyed the cultural references within. At the same time, the digital world idea and the thanking of Tim Berners-Lee was a bit odd. Or maybe it was just due to the awkward and moronic commentary provided on NBC. Well…Bob Costas wasn’t bad, and Matt Lauer mocking Kim Jong-Il was pretty hilarious.

I think it’s very smart and very relevant to make a big part of the ceremony in reference to the cultural influences of Britain, because though they have very much declined as an imperial power, they have continued to be a cultural leviathan.  From the Beatles to Mr. Bean to reality TV, a lot of what has defined the last 40 years of life in America has come from Britain. Literature, in particular, is a huge part of that tradition of cultural exports.  Of course, I was thrilled beyond measure (though not entirely surprised) to see JK Rowling out in the thick of it. There are so many things about British culture that are beloved and respected, and between Paul McCartney, JKR, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Rowan Atkinson, and James Bond, they covered most of them. Also, who else wants a trampoline bed?!

And the torch ceremony itself I really liked. It seems very American to have the biggest name celeb you can lighting the torch, but I liked this more egalitarian approach to the idea. Plus, the actual mechanism whereby it is lit seems very cool to me and was really beautiful. And the fireworks!

Really beautiful!

The parade of nations…what can you say about watching thousands of athletes walk around a circle? It went quicker than normal? All I can say is that the US outfits are the most heinous things in the world. Are we headed to private school in 1994? What’s with the Berets?  Ralph Lauren should be deported.

All in all, I enjoyed it, but it definitely had its flaws.

Also, can I just point out that now that the Olympics are underway, no one seems to be saying that the UK is unprepared. Everything seems to be going pretty smoothly, from my albeit incredibly limited knowledge. I can imagine the traffic and disruption to the lives of residents is pretty massive, but that is what happens when you try to host a 2-week long incredibly huge event of any kind. I think people underestimated two things in the run-up to these games: the organizational power of a society that loves to queue, and the cynicism of the same society. All you have to do is watch Bridge over the River Kwai and you will see how much they excel at getting the job done. Also, Brits love to complain about their own inadequacies, but that doesn’t mean those complaints are based on truth, relatively speaking.  And god help the non-Brit who tries to complain with them (looking at you, Romney).

On a final note, there has been a lot of Boris Johnson on TV lately, and can I just say I’m for it? I love him! He has definitely earned his place on my list of Conservatives that I Like.  It’s a hard list to get on.  There’s only one other person on there,  and he is a fictional character from Family Ties.