Thursday, 20 December 2012

BlogalongaBond

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.

For the sake of posterity, I have collected our BlogalongaBond blogs here. To be honest, they're probably some of the best bits of film criticism on this site, which isn't saying much. But they were fun to write. And who doesn't love making one's significant other watch movies they don't want to watch? No one, that's who.

Click the poster to choose your Bond.


























Thursday, 22 November 2012

BlogalongaBond: Skyfall

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Me: Congratulations! You've made it the end of BlogalongaBond!

Her: Whoopee.

Me: Thanks for watching every Bond film with me.

Her: Thanks for nothing.

Me: Oh, come now, grumpy. Surely it hasn't been that bad?

Her: To be honest, they all tend to bleed together a bit. There were stand-outs, obviously, and memorable moments... but don't ask me to name the best ones because I can't remember the names. They're all "Tomorrow Is Never Enough" and "You Only Live Another Day" and "Golden Thunderlove". Having said that, Skyfall is a good one to wrap up this painful project because it's probably the best one.

Me: Really?

Her: Sure. And if it's not the best, it's certainly well up there.

Me: What makes you say that?

Her: Well, it's got a great villain, who's actually really freakin' scary. He's not trying to do something stupid like start wars to sell newspapers or bite people with his metal teeth. He's just a psycho who likes to kill people. And he's got a weird face. And mummy issues. It's a perfect recipe for a bad guy.

Bond had let himself go a bit though.

Me: Silva is certainly memorable and disturbing. And Bardem does an outstanding job in walking that fine line of the over-the-top villain, balancing between chewing the scenery and underplaying things too much. What else did you like about Skyfall?

Her: Nah, that's it really?

Me: What? How can you say it's one of the best....

Her: I'm kidding. Jeez, relax.

Me: Sorry.

Her: I liked the new Q. And Judi Dench's M is always great, but especially in this one.

Me: What else?

Her: I dunno. I guess I just liked the fact it wasn't stupid. And that it wasn't seemingly edited by a blind toddler with epilepsy, like Quantum Of Solace.

Me: Yes, well, the less said about Quantum Of Solace the better. Casino Royale was far from stupid - is Skyfall better?

Her: Maybe. This one had a better villain.

Me: You didn't rate Le Chiffre?

Her: Who?

Me: The villain in Casino Royale. He wept blood. And pummelled Bond's nuts.

Her. Meh. He played cards - ooh, scary.

Me: But the nut-pummelling!

Her: Look, Silva's better. Skyfall wins.

Me: Ok.

Her: Are you agreeing?

Me: Not really, I still think Casino Royale is better than Skyfall. But this one is certainly more Bond-ish, which was one of your criticisms of Casino Royale. And I did enjoy that.

Her: So what are the downsides of Skyfall?

Me: I'm a bit torn over that. I liked that it took it's time, but it also felt a little slow in places. And it was nice to see a Bond movie with an actual narrative theme - old versus new - but it felt a bit overused.

Her: You're just being picky.

Me: Maybe. I have to say Skyfall looked stunning though. We've never seen a Bond fight that looks as good as the one staged in silhouette among neon signs, plus the whole last act in Scotland - probably the most unglamourous Bond locale we've seen - looks great.

"Remind me again as to why we're not filming in the Bahamas."


Her: Speaking of the last act, that pretty much blows up your theory about each Bond being a different guy who just assumes the mantle of "James Bond".

Me: Maybe. It could just be a coincidence that they found an orphan called James Bond to become James Bond.

Her: Oh come on!

Me: Whatever. Look, thanks for watching all those movies with me. I know you didn't enjoy them all, but I've enjoyed our little chats.

Her: Yeah, well, it wasn't a total waste of time.

Me: Agreed. So, now that you've seen all the Bond films... will you marry me?

Her: Are you serious?

Me: Yeah. Will you make me the happiest man alive and agree to marry me?

Her: Because I've seen all the Bond films?

Me: Well, no. But now that that's all out of the way, I just thought I'd propose.

Her: Hmmm. Sure.

Me: Really?

Her: Yeah ok.

Me: Cool.

(PS. Ok, so it didn't quite happen like that - there was a ring, a restaurant, and I got down on one knee - but we really did get engaged after seeing Skyfall and wrapping up our BlogalongaBond conversation. It was a few hours after, but you get the point, which is "how can you ask someone to marry you if they haven't seen every 007 movie?".)


That's the end of BlogalongaBond, but you can read my review of Spectre here.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

BlogalongaBond: Quantum Of Solace

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.




Her: Thank god it's all over and I never have to watch a Bond film again.

Me: Well, actually, Skyfall comes out next month....

Her: I said, "Thank god it's all over and I never have to watch a Bond film again!".

Me: Umm... okay. So, you didn't enjoy Quantum Of Solace?

Her: I was actually bored. You couldn't see what was going on in any of the cool bits and frankly I didn't care.

Me: I know what you mean. I don't think I've ever seen a film so destroyed in the editing room. Why bother doing all these amazing stunts and setting up great shots if you're going to edit into an incomprehensible mess where you can't see anything? It's a pretty huge slap in the face to the amazing stuntwork and cinematography that's obviously going on in there.

"Bond's about to do something cool - quick, throw in some random editing!"

Her: Agreed. There were car chases and plane chases and fights and none of them made any sense. I couldn't tell who was shooting at who.

Me: Were you really bored?

Her: Yeah. What the hell was it all about? Water?

Me: Yeah.

Her: Big whoop. Is that what the series has come to? Out with the bonkers supervillains with giant lasers, in with the not-terribly-scary businessmen building large underground dams?

Me: I liked that there was an environmentally aware plot - I think it was another attempt to make Bond timely and relevant.

Her: Meh. Even with the watery plot, I still felt like I'd seen most of this before. The girl covered in oil on the bed - that's copying Goldfinger, right? Why bother doing that? It's been done.

Me: Homage?

Her: And the Bond girl, out for revenge 'cos someone killed her family? We've seen that before, too haven't we?

Me: Yeah, but I thought Olga Kurylenko did a good job. As did Gemma Arterton.

Her: Well, at least Bond got a random shag this time.

Me: And with a nicely obtuse pickup line too: "I can't find the stationery".

Her: That was a pickup line?

 Me: It worked, didn't it?

Her: I guess. Did you like the movie?

Me: Not really. After Casino Royale being so damned good, Quantum Of Solace is a bitter disappointment. There's a good film in there potentially, but the most terrible editing job of all time prevents the audience from settling in to enjoy any of the action sequences. It puts the rhythm of the entire film out of whack, and doesn't give its set pieces time to breathe. It always like it was rushing to get somewhere. The film should have been 10 minutes longer.

"It's okay, it's a rental."


Her: Is that enough to ruin the film?

Me: In this case, yes. It's a shame really. Craig is good again, I think the plot had potential, and I liked the scene set during the performance of Tosca.

Her: Don't you think the people sitting next to the all bad guys would have told them to shut up? Holding a meeting at the opera is not a good idea.

Me: I liked the idea. There were some good ideas in there, but poorly executed, I think.

Her: What about the Bond theme? That was Jack White, yeah?

Me: Yeah, and Alicia Keys. I don't mind it - it's adventurous at least, although it does sound more like The Raconteurs than a Bond theme.

Her: So is that it then? Are we done? Is the hellish nightmare of BlogalongaBond over?

Me: Oh come on, you're being a tad dramatic. I know you liked some of them.

Her: Maybe. I just feel a little beaten into submission by them all now.

Me: Well, there's only one more to go and then I promise I'll never make you watch a Bond film ever again. And the last one you'll get to see on the big screen!

Her: I can hardly wait.

BlogalongaBond will return in Skyfall.


Friday, 28 September 2012

Pitch Perfect

(M) ★★★★

Director: Jason Moore.

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, Brittany Snow.

The Human Centipede: The Musical was much better than expected.


IF you'd dismissed this college comedy about rival vocal groups as some kind of lame Glee cash-in, think again.

Pitch Perfect is actually one of the funniest movies of 2012. It's a wild blend of often surprising comedy, some pretty cool a cappella arrangements, and a great ensemble cast.

Best of all, thanks to a smart script, it dodges the majority of mawkish moments that would have led to this being a typical college-based rom-com with a musical backdrop.

Kendrick stars as Beca, the music-loving freshman who is only attending college to appease her father and is more interested in making DJ mixes and mashups.

Despite no desire to fit in to life on campus, she's eventually convinced to join the all-girl a cappella group The Bellas (after being overheard singing in the shower), who are desperate for revenge in the national a cappella championships against the highly acclaimed all-boy group The Treblemakers.


On paper, this all looks oh-so High School Musical: The College Years, but the beauty of Pitch Perfect is they way it turns its formulaic moments into unexpected hilarity. There is a welcome edginess to its humour, so the potentially silly shower-singing scene suddenly becomes awkwardly amusing, while characters such as Fat Amy (a never funnier Rebel Wilson) and the almost-inaudible Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) drop in with excellent non-sequiturs, put-downs and wisecracks.

Even token characters - the bitchy lead Bella, the douchebag head Treblemaker, the nerdy magician - feel more than tokenistic thanks to an overall attitude that puts an alternative spin on some mainstream ideas. The film even borrows the "wacky commentator" schtick from the likes of Dodgeball, Best In Show or Baseketball, and does it really well.

Beca is a great character and Kendrick nails the role. She's social but only to a point, independent but often frustratingly so, and restrained despite her determined attitude. It all makes for an engaging and well-rounded female lead - a refreshing relief amid so many films led by cliched manic pixie dream girls, tightly wound workaholics, or the damaged party girl.

Kendrick has good chemistry with Astin, who plays a Treblemaker with a crush on Beca, while the blend and bounce within the Bellas makes for good entertainment.

One of the few downsides is it's a little too "pitch perfect" - ie. some of the "spur of the moment" sing-offs are unbelievably over-produced and miraculously arranged, occasionally giving the movie the feel of a proper musical, rather than just a musically inclined comedy. This also pulls you out of the moment and reality of the film somewhat.

The film also can't help but do the expected when it comes to the crunch, but the laughs along the way make this well worth it, and you'll find yourself craving the satisfying ending after such an enjoyable journey.

Along with The Muppets, Pitch Perfect is one of the best and most surprising comedies of 2012.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

BlogalongaBond: Casino Royale

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Her: That wasn't a Bond film.

Me: I assure you it was. I mean, the main guy's name was James Bond....

Her: Yes, but it wasn't Bond enough, if you know what I mean. Where were Q and Moneypenny? Where were the gadgets? Where were the cheesy one-liners and lame double entendres? Where were the diabolical plans of world domination? Where were the endless sexual conquests?

Me: I guess this is a more modern Bond for the new millenium - a more realistic one in tune with the films of the time. And I think that in trimming some of the fat off what was becoming an increasingly bloated franchise during the Brosnan years, it allowed the series to get back to the bits of Bond that really matter.

Her: But that's not Bond! How does this have 'the bits of Bond that really matter'?

Me: Well, without a surplus of gadgets, he has to rely on his wits, his strengths and his gun. That makes him a better, more believable spy. And I could do without the cheesy one-liners and the poorly written romances and flings, and the daft caricature villains and the invisible cars. And besides, weren't those a lot of the things you complained about in the other movies?

Her: Yeah, but those things are Bond! And, on top of that, this guy's not Bond.

Me: You didn't like Daniel Craig?

Her: Oh no, he was great. But his 007 is a new guy who's only just gotten is 00 licence. Bond isn't a new guy!

Me: I've told you before about the theory that James Bond is just a position or identity taken on by a different spy each few years....

Her: Don't start that again....

Me: But this movie backs up that theory nicely.

Her: Look, I don't see how this is a proper Bond film. It's not like the others.

Just sitting here waiting for a proper Bond film.

Me: It is in lots of ways. Bond is still a debonair ladies' man who gambles, drinks and fights for Queen and country, stopping idiosyncratic baddies from their evil plans using his brains and brawn. In fact, you could argue that this is the best Bond film ever.

Her: Go on....

Me: Well, it doesn't make any of the mistakes that hamper so many of the other films. There are no serious flaws and everything it does, it does well. It handles its relationships well, particularly that of Vesper and Bond, as well as the dynamic between M and Bond. Its villain isn't ludicrous and is actually scary. Nor is the film brainless. The dialogue is sharp, the set pieces are brilliant and there's not a dud performance to be seen. Also it's dark and messed up, which is something that's been hinted at before but never so fully embraced.

Her: You mean the scene where Bond gets tortured....

Me: Yes. My balls are still aching in sympathy. But sore nuts aside, I think Casino Royale takes everything great about Bond, discards the rest, and gives us something that is not slavish about the series' history, yet is still very much 007 in spirit. It's learnt from the mistakes of the past, embraced the trends of the time by realising that 007 looked anachronistic compared to Jason Bourne or even Ethan Hunt, yet never lost sight of what Bond represents - the epitome of cool, clever, and kick-arse.

Her: You're right.

Me: Sorry... what?

Her: I said 'you're right'?

Me: Really?

Her: Yes. No need to go on about it.

Me: Yeah, but this is a rare moment in history....

Her: Can we just get back to the movie?

Me: Just say it one more time.

Her: Sigh. You're right.

Me: Thank you. Ok. So did you enjoy Casino Royale, despite its unBondyness?

Her: Sure. It's not crap. The parkour sequence is absolutely incredible.

Me: Agreed. That has to be one of the best set pieces the franchise has ever seen.

Her: Yeah. And the card game was enjoyable. Although its a serious step down in spectacle compared to, oh I don't know, para-surfing a tidal wave caused by a giant sun laser.

"Fuck this, let's go para-surf some tidal waves."

Me: But what if there was no Bond in Casino Royale and it was just a regular movie? Do you think you'd rate it higher than 'it's not crap'?

Her: I don't know. That's a difficult question. But I do know that Eva Green is excellent and Craig is great. And buff. Although I don't know that Bond should be that buff.

Me: What about the song and opening credit sequence?

Her: Both were great.

Me: Agreed.

Her: Who sang the song?

Me: Chris Cornell.

Her: Who's that? I know the name....

Me: Ha. Nice one.

Her: What?

Me: 'I know the name'. You made a funny.

Her: What?

Me: The song's called You Know My Name. Sorry, I thought you made a clever joke there.

Her: I really wish I did now. Can you just write it in your blog to make it so I actually did make that joke on purpose?

Me: No.

Her: Then I take back saying you were right.

Me: Damn.


BlogalongaBond will return in Quantum Of Solace.


Monday, 20 August 2012

BlogalongaBond: Die Another Day

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Her: Do we really have to do this again?

Me: We're almost done, honey. Just a couple more movies to go.

Her: But what is there new to say? Blah blah Brosnan's good, over-the-top plot, the Bond girls are okay, the theme song sucked, the whole thing was pretty lame....

Me: Yes, well, we probably should put a bit more effort into it than that.

Her: Fine. Start working then, film-boy.

Me: Okay... umm... Die Another Day is actually better than I remember. It's still stupidly over-the-top, but there are elements that work well, as with most of the bad Bond films.

Her: Such as?

Me: As is typical of some of these movies, they start well and then go off the rails in a big way. The opening scenes in North Korea, Bond's torture as part of the credit sequence, his eventual release, and his journey to Cuba were solid, but it went a bit skewiff after that. The gene therapy, solar energy laser beams, palaces made of ice, the invisible car, wind-surfing a tidal wave, a fight in a room full of lasers, a final showdown on a burning plane... they just piled the crazy upon the insane. It's almost as if this Bond film is set in some kind of parellel universe - most of the other movies have at least tried to keep one foot in reality.

Her: It felt to me like I was watching a sci-fi film sometimes. I mean, the bad guy was wearing half a Robocop outfit at one point... for no apparent reason either.

"Since when does one need a reason to wear half a Robocop outfit?"

Me: And sci-fi never goes well for Bond. Remember Moonraker?

Her: No. Should I?

Me: Probably not.

Her: But I have to ask - is this really that much more over-the-top and bonkers than anything else we've seen? The invisible car is obviously ridiculous but still kinda cool....

Me: Actually, the military is working on such a cloaking device, so that's less far-fetched than some of the other things in the film. I think the real issue is that Die Another Day just piles on one thing after another and it becomes too much. The film slowly gets louder and more annoying until it feels like you're being yelled at by a crazy person who likes blowing things up.

Her: I think there were more explosions in that film than any we've seen previously. I don't know that that's a good thing.

Me: Did you have any good things to say about Die Another Day?

Her: Hmmm... Brosnan is always good to watch. And the Bond girls were pretty good.

Me: Jinx was going to get her own spin-off film at one stage.

Her: Let me guess - Halle Berry went and did Catwoman first and everyone went cold on the idea?

Me: Something like that.

"Oh, that's where I left that book."

Her: I know she doesn't quite count as a Bond girl, but I have to say Madonna wasn't totally terrible.

Me: Her song was.

Her: Agreed. But her acting didn't totally suck. Although why was she dressed as a dominatrix?

Me: I have no idea.

Her: As for the rest of the film... meh. Whatever. How many is that we've watched now?

Me: Twenty. That one apparently has a reference to every previous Bond movie in it, and I thought that having watched them all in the past year and a half we would have been able to spot them all, but I only picked up a couple.

Her: Halle Berry's entrance was obviously a reference to the first one. And there was the jetpack from one of the Connery ones.

Me: Yep. The fake crocodile was in the background in Q's lab as well, and the Union Jack parachute got another run. The laser beams reference Goldfinger, the shoe with a blade is out of From Russia With Love....

Her: Yes, yes... is it possible they just put that little "spot the references" game in there to distract you from how bad the movie was?

Me: It's definitely possible.

BlogalongaBond will return in Casino Royale.



Friday, 20 July 2012

BlogalongaBond: The World Is Not Enough

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Her: So... Denise Richards.

Me: Ah... yeah.

Her: And she's a nuclear physicist.

Me: Ah... yeah.

Her: In tiny shorts. And a singlet.

Me: Well, I guess somewhere out there, in the world of nuclear physicists, there has to be one that dresses and looks like her... right?

Her: That may be the case, but it doesn't take away from the fact that she stands out like the proverbial dog's bollocks. And she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag.

Me: True.

Her: And she's the worst thing in a mostly boring Bond film.

Me: Yeah. The only good thing that comes out of her presence in the movie is that Brosnan seems to be trying extra hard to compensate for her deficiencies.

Her: Well, yes, he's very good in this. But Denise Richards? Really? As a nuclear physicist? Really?

Me: Look, I'm not going to defend her at all. She may well be the worst Bond girl of all time. She's certainly the worst aspect of The World Is Not Enough.

Her: Which is saying something. It's not very good.

Me: Agreed. I mean, it has its strong points but overall it's fairly flat and lifeless.

Her: What are its strong points?

Me: Well, I think the plot is reasonably good. Oil pipelines were a big deal in the post-Soviet era, and the terrorist plot that goes along with that is okay, and I think Elektra King is an interesting Bond girl who comes with some intriguing twists.

Her: I don't have any issue with the plot, generally. And Elektra King was a good character. I'm not sure if I agree with Bond's thing of stroking her hair after he shot her. I mean, be a man about it. She nearly killed him with some weird... chair. Sorry... I'm going to say that again: "She nearly killed him with some weird chair". That's a strange thing to have to say... although not as strange as saying "Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist".

"I got it from Ikea actually."


Me: Yeah, good point... but back to what you said about Bond's feelings for Elektra - I didn't mind his attitude in the wake of shooting her. We got Bond, the spy, having to shoot a woman he's bedded because his job says he has too, and we also got Bond, the man, feeling remorse for having to shoot a woman he's bedded. It's part of the dichotomy of Bond that makes him an interesting character yet it's not something we get to see in every movie. And Brosnan played it well.

Her: Whatever. Bond needs to harden up. That was weak. She tried to kill him with a weird chair!

Me: Fair enough. Is there anything you did like about the movie?

Her: I dunno. Renard was an interesting character. And the song was good. I like Garbage. But so much of The World Is Not Enough bugged me. Especially Denise Richards.

Me: Yes, we've been through that. You know what bugged me? The fact that Bond and Denise Richards just rolled off the back of some weird hoversled thing at high speed in a tunnel and it didn't kill them or at least mess them up severely.

Her: That bothered you?

Me: For some reason, yes.

Her: But what about all the other crazy stunts in the previous films? How is that any worse?

Me: Most of those stunts were performed by stuntmen - someone actually did those things. The pipeline stunt is the first sequence we've seen in a Bond film that uses large amounts of CG and I think that took it to a new level of preposterousness I wasn't willing to go to. That broke my suspension of disbelief. I can understand the filmmakers would want to use the available technology to take the series to new limits, but somehow it seemed a step too far. This Bond film and the next one got criticised for taking 007 way over the top, and I think that pipeline scene is the moment that did it for me.

Her: But he's done some insane things prior to that. You were willing to buy into all of those, but not rolling off the back of some weird pipe sled at high speed?

Me: I guess not. That just annoyed me. Not as much as Denise Richards, but quite a lot.

Definitely cast for her acting ability.

Her: So what did you like about the film?

Me: Well... the theme song was good. And that boat chase at the start was pretty cool until it got silly and involved a hot air balloon and the Millenium Dome, although it did seem to go on forever...

Her: Yeah, that's when the boredom started sinking in for me.

Me: ...but I'm not sure about your assessment of Renard. I really like Robert Carlyle, and the character was... interesting, I guess, but I just felt a bit underwhelmed by him. Maybe I just expected more.

Her: Fair enough. Any parting words?

Me: Q's last moments were very sad.

Her: What do you mean "last moments"?

Me: Oh... nothing. Nevermind.

Her: Are you saying Q's gone? No more Q?

Me: I'm not saying anything further about Q. Except that I was sad.

Her: Right....

Me: Anyway, my other final word is on Judi Dench. She's easily the best M, because she's awesome, but I just like seeing M more involved. And getting kidnapped is about as involved as M has ever gotten. And it's a plus for the movie. The more Dench, the better.

Her: It is a plus. But the movie's still bad. Please tell me we're almost done.

Me: We're almost done. One more Brosnan, two Craigs, and then Skyfall.

Her: And then I get some awesome jewellery for taking part in this bizarre form of torture, right?

Me: Bizarre form of torture?

Her: Watching Denise Richards play a nuclear physicist is a bizarre form of torture.


BlogalongaBond will return in Die Another Day.



Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

(M) ★★★

Director: Christopher Nolan.

Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman.

"Why do you sound like you've been gargling gravel?"
"Why do you sound like Sean Connery talking into a coffee mug?"
"HOW many good third movies in a franchise can people name?" Christopher Nolan asked rhetorically during interviews in the lead-up to making The Dark Knight Rises.

There are a few, of course, (Toy Story 3, Back To The Future 3, The Last Crusade and The Bourne Ultimatum to unnecessarily answer a rhetorical question), but Nolan was painfully aware of the difficulties in following up two incredibly strong movies.

The Dark Knight Rises is certainly no dud, but it's something of a disappointment compared to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Now, before you start the death threats (critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes had to suspend comments on the film after reviewers who gave negative critiques were the targets of disturbing levels of vitriol from aggrieved Batfans) know that TDKR is good but flawed.

It's hard to review this without giving up spoilers, so we'll keep the plot talk to a minimum. Basically, Batman takes on Bane, a character from the comics who is not only a match for Batman physically but also mentally.


And that's all we'll say about the plot.

It's great to see Bane on the screen and Hardy does well with the difficult job of giving a nuanced performance with half his face covered by a strange kind of breathing apparatus.

The other addition is Selena Kyle (Hathaway) aka Catwoman (although no one says it) who is great and brings some much-needed spark to the film, even if her character does seem slightly shoe-horned in there. Likewise for Gordon-Levitt as young "hot head" cop John Blake. In previous Batman films, Nolan has juggled his cast and characters well, but here, it's not so effective. Selena Kyle and John Blake feel like they could have been removed from the story and it would have detracted little.

Such a move might have created a succinct story, with TDKR's biggest flaw being the sprawl of its story. A second viewing might be necessary but it feels like there are plotholes aplenty and that Nolan and his scripting sibling Jonathan Nolan may have outsmarted themselves. I'll reserve the right to stand corrected after multiple viewings, but after one screening, it seems like TDKR doesn't totally make sense.

This is particularly apparent in the first and final acts, where character motivations are cloudy, the passage of time is displayed unevenly, and the film's themes of rich-and-poor and rising above adversity get a little muddied.

Having said all that, there are still some great thrills and a lot to like.

Bale takes Bruce Wayne/Batman to new levels of vulnerability and the rest of the cast are top-notch, particularly Caine, who has long been the heart of the series.

Seeing Batman versus Bane is awesome, watching Batman and Catwoman in action together is a giddy comic-book thrill, and a set-piece involving the destruction of a football field is out of this world.

The opening scene involving a plane hijacking is also impressive in a 007 kind of way, even if it makes no sense what-so-ever from a plotting point of view.

In terms of bringing closure to the series - given that Nolan has said "no more" - TDKR works, even if it infuriatingly leaves a door open for the franchise to continue. It's not the ideal note to end on, but it's still in tune.

Maybe it was just watching TDKR immediately after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, or maybe it's a film that needs repeat viewings, but I can't shake the feeling that it doesn't live up to its predecessors or its hype while still being mildly interesting and enjoyable.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

BlogalongaBond: Tomorrow Never Dies

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Me: I didn't mind that one.

Her: Me neither. It was alright.

Me: Thank the gods for that. I thought you were gonna flip out after Goldeneye and stab me in the throat with the shards of a smashed DVD if I asked you to watch another Bond film.

Her: Well, you're safe... for now. Tomorrow Never Dies was reasonably good. I'll probably save the stabbing for after the next bad one if it sucks.

Me: Gulp.

Her: But given that we both seemed to like this one, it's probably going to make for a pretty boring blog.

Me: Probably. Although if I remember correctly, it's not a terribly highly regarded Bond film, so we might be being a bit controversial by saying it's good.

Her: But it is good. Great action sequences, a so-so story, and Bond girls that aren't simpering flakes who practically trip over themselves in an effort to get their knickers off for 007.

Me: Well put. Yes, the Bond girls are a major improvement here. They get rid of much of the cheesy romance and the mistaking of lust for love that hampers so many of the other films in the series. In fact, I would go so far as to say Michelle Yeoh's Wai Lin is probably the best Bond girl ever.

"Really?"
Her: Big call.

Me: She's a true equal to Bond, physically and intellectually, and that creates a new dynamic we haven't really seen in the series before. And it's an exciting dynamic because it adds an element to the action sequences that is fresh. You get Bond kicking butt, and you get the Bond girl matching him. And there was no one better for doing that than Michelle Yeoh - the greatest female action star who ever lived.

Her: I appreciated that Wai Lin didn't just throw herself on Bond - rather she waited until the pair had built up a believable relationship. That was refreshing. And even Teri Hatcher's Paris had a good-enough backstory that made her hook-up with Bond believable.

Me: What else did you like?

Her: Well, the action sequences were pretty cool. The remote-controlled car chase was silly but good fun, and the motorbike chase was a ripper.

Me: Yeah, that was very impressive, especially jumping a bike over a helicopter. I couldn't help but feel the bike chase and a lot of the fights were a reaction to the increasing popularity of Hong Kong action films at the time, which isn't a bad thing.

Pictured: shit getting real.

Her: The plot was a bit of a reaction to the time as well wasn't it? Media domination, journalists are evil... all that stuff.

Me: I remember reading that the big baddie Elliot Carver was based on Rupert Murdoch. Jonathan Pryce is a good actor and kind of fun in the role, but Carver has to be one of the worst Bond villains ever.

Her: I found him entertaining. Why is he one of the worst?

Me: He commits the two worst supervillain fails, not just once, but on numerous occasions - he doesn't kill Bond when he has the opportunity... several times, and he monologues incessantly. That was frustratingly stupid.

Her: He was kind of crazy though. That makes for an alright villain. Although starting a war to sell a few newspapers is a bit of a silly plot. Entertaining but silly.

Me: True. I think James Bond even points that out at one stage, calling it absurd. But it's at the still-believable end of the 007 Plot Scale. I bought it.

Her: I did too. For all it's silliness.

Me: The amount of explosions and '90s-style excess is getting alarming though. You can feel it heading into the ridiculous.

Her: Yes, but still staying on the right side of the line.

Me: For now.

Her: For now.

Me: Alright, what else can we say about Tomorrow Never Dies to pad out this blog?

Her: Well, it was funny, Brosnan is a really comfortable and likeable Bond, the song was good, the credit sequence looked cool... am I missing anything?

Me: Hmmm... it was well paced, there was a nice satirical element among the "media magnates are evil" thing, and M got some pearlers. Is too early to call Judi Dench the best M ever? She brings a real personality and connection to M that goes beyond the traditional "plot set-up" character that M has been.

Her: Agreed. So are we done yet?

Me: Almost. Two more Brosnans, three Craigs and you never have to watch a James Bond film again.

Her: I better be getting a really cool present for doing this.

Me: You probably should have negotiated that before we started.


BlogalongaBond will return in The World Is Not Enough.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Brave

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman.

Cast: (voices of) Kelly McDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters.


Hair as Film Symbolism 101

IT'S generally accepted that all the Pixar movies are great... except Cars 2.

With a strike rate of 11-1, there is a huge amount of pressure on each subsequent release - will it live up to that gold-class Pixar standard or will it be another Cars 2?

The good news is Brave is a success. It's not of the same calibre as Wall-E, Up or The Incredibles - bona fide classics that will be watched for generations to come - but it's a stellar piece of family entertainment that harks back to the classic Disney fairytales, while adding some interesting twists along the way.

Brave is the tale of Merida (McDonald), a Scottish princess more at home with a bow and arrow in her hand than strapped into a corset and learning how to curtsey.

But as her pushy mother (Thompson) and tradition dictate, Merida is to be married to the first-born son of one of three other clans that share an uneasy alliance with her family.

Determined to pursue her own destiny, the fiery-haired princess flees the castle and discovers some powerful magic in the forest that may change her future forever.


Amid the awesomeness of the previous Pixar films (except Cars 2), strong female characters have been scarce - only Mrs Incredible and Violet, Dory the fish, and Jessie the cowgirl stand out. But here, Pixar are making amends, and it's girl power all the way, perhaps even going too far in the other direction, with the male characters in Brave a gallery of weird-looking buffoons - the nose of King Fergus (Connolly) is particularly distractingly abnormal.

One of the key themes is the mother-daughter relationship between Queen Elinor and Merida, which is wonderfully scripted. The Queen is a well-rounded character, a woman all too aware of the pressures Merida will face in the future, but unable to balance them against putting too much expectation on her daughter in the here-and-now. It makes for a realistic relationship that's bound to strike chords.

Merida is a stunning piece of work too. As free-flowing and unruly as her painstakingly animated red locks, she's the Disney anti-thesis - the young girl that doesn't want to be a princess and who is most certainly not searching for her Prince Charming. Merida is a refreshing character in a cinematic landscape where interesting female characters seem few and far between.

Self-determination, fate and destiny, the tyranny of tradition, and the pressure of expectation are among the themes that make this a rich film for all ages, while the Scottish setting adds some interesting spice to the mix.

Brave is not as dazzling or as unique as many of their previous films, but it's good enough, funny enough and smart enough to bump Pixar's strike rate up to 12-1.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

BlogalongaBond: Goldeneye

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.



Her: That's it! I've had enough! I don't want to watch any more!

Me: Aww, come on, we're so close to the end....

Her: No! This is getting ridiculous! It's the same film again and again!

Me: Well, there is obviously a formula that was established reasonably early in the series....

Her: I know, but why do they keep making the same stupid mistakes? If it's an established formula, then why do they keep being so stupid?

Me: I'm guessing you didn't like this one.

Her: No I didn't! I hated it! I'm sick of these damned movies!

Me: And what stupid mistakes do they keep making?

Her: The Bond girls for starters. I really like Natalya, but they still made her a pushover. Ditto for the psychiatrist at the start of the film. And what the hell was the go with the other chick who was orgasming every time she killed someone? It was like something out of an Austin Powers film.

"Yes, Onatopp. Like 'on the top'. Do you get it or would you like me to demonstrate?"

Me: Fair point about Xenia Onatopp. A henchwoman who kills people by squeezing them with her thighs is as equally ridiculous as a man who throws lethal hats. But I thought she wasn't a terrible character. Certainly Famke Janssen played the role well. It was nice to see some Bond girls who could actually act for a change too. She certainly beat Alan Cumming and Robbie Coltrane in the Russian accent stakes. They were some of the most Scottish-sounding Ruskies ever.

Her: Yeah totally. Wait - who and who?

Me: Boris the hacker - that's Cumming - and Valentin was played by Coltrane. You know - Hagrid. From Harry Potter.

Her: Hagrid wasn't in that film.

Me: The guy who played him was.

Her: No he wasn't.

Me: Yes he was.

*The ensuing five minute "discussion" about whether Robbie Coltrane was in the movie has been omitted. PS. He was.*

Her: And was that Minnie Driver as his mistress?

Me: Yeah I think so. What the hell was she doing there?

Her: It was a small role - wasn't she already famous by then?

Me: Was she ever really famous?

Her: Anyway, back to the important stuff - like how much this movie sucked.

Me: You mentioned repeated stupid mistakes - what in particular?

Her: Well, aside from the film-makers having no idea about women, what about how Bond never gets shot despite being sprayed with machine gun fire? Would it kill him to get shot in the arm every now and then? Jeez.

Me: I think that's more of a fault of most action movies, not just Bond films.

Her: And the villains giving away every detail of their plan and talking themselves into trouble.

Me: Ok, that trope may have started with Bond films, but it's pretty common as well. Why are these things bothering you so much now after 17 films and not, say, 12 films ago? Are you hungry? Sleepy? Gassy? Gassy? Is it gas? It's gas, isn't it?

Her: Shut up with your inane Simpsons quotes.

Me: Sorry. Maybe you're suffering from Bond fatigue - there must have been something you liked about Goldeneye. What about the theme song?

Her: Yeah that was pretty good.

Me: I reckon it's a great one. I had no idea that Bono and The Edge wrote that, or that Tina Turner sang it. For some reason I'd always thought it was Shirley Bassey.

Her: And the title sequence was one of the better ones in a long time.

Me: True. What about Brosnan?

Her: Yeah, he was good. Certainly the most handsome Bond so far. You just instantly accept him as Bond too.

Me: Agreed. What about the plot?

Her: The plot was pretty good. That personal edge that made Licence To Kill so interesting is retained by the involvement of 006...

Me: ...who was nicely played by Sean Bean.

Her: And some of the stunts were pretty good. I loved the tank chase.

"This tank needs more guns."
Me: My favourite was the punch-on at the end of the film. We haven't seen a set of fisticuffs like that since From Russia With Love. And that opening bungee jump was pretty awesome. You know, it sounds like you didn't totally hate the movie after all.

Her: Maybe. Maybe I am just gassy. What did you think?

Me: Goldeneye is great. I think it was the first Bond film I saw - it came out at the movies around my 15th birthday - and I loved it so much. Looking back at it now, it has some rough edges, but it was another important update. Much like the Dalton films brought Bond into the '80s, Goldeneye acknowledges that 007 can't operate as he always has and must adapt to the world of the '90s, where women have top jobs, sexual harrassment is a thing, computers run the world and the Cold War is over. The film has enough self-awareness to cope with these developments while stepping up to the plate as a competitor to the style of action movies of the era, such as Die Hard With A Vengeance and Bad Boys. Goldeneye manages to be progressive and respectful at the same time, and while it does fall into some of the same traps, such as the mis-handled romantic sub-plots, it's a successful debut for Brosnan, who looks like he was born to brandish a Walther PPK. Also, it reminds me of the greatest Nintendo 64 game ever.

Her: Ok ok, but how many more of these damned films do I have to watch?

Me: Only five more. And then the new one, Skyfall.

Her: Nooooooooooo!


BlogalongaBond will return in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Friday, 20 April 2012

BlogalongaBond: Licence To Kill

Way back in 2011, my favourite film critic The Incredible Suit figured out there were exactly the same amount of months preceding the release of Skyfall as there were Bond films. And thus BlogalongaBond was born, in which international film critics from around the world (hence the international bit) reviewed one Bond film a month until Skyfall dropped.

Being the top bloke that I am, I convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to take part in BlogalongaBond with me, seeing as how she hadn't seen a Bond film before, or couldn't remember having done so.




Me: I know you hated Dalton and The Living Daylights... I'm almost afraid to ask what you thought of Licence To Kill.

Her: I actually liked it. It's quite good.

Me: Wow. So are you on the Dalton bandwagon now?

Her: Oh god no. He still looks like a child about to throw a tantrum whenever he gets angry and I question his acting credentials, but the film itself is really strong.

Me: It's the plot, isn't it? Bond going renegade to seek revenge for his friend, hunting down a drug lord as opposed to a "take over the world" villian.

Her: Absolutely. It's a solid plot, and I'm very grateful that at no point does he say "this time it's personal". And all those things you said previously about The Living Daylights being darker and Dalton being an edgier, steelier Bond are actually true about Licence To Kill. Bond is far more ruthless this time. You were talking out your arse regarding The Living Daylights.

Me: Hey, who gets paid to be a movie critic here? The reason Licence To Kill is so dark is because they built upon the foundations laid by the previous film....

Her: Whatever. Look, my point is this one actually feels tougher. Bond really tells M to shove it... then shoves him... and the violence is more graphic. And I guess Dalton does actually have an edge to performance this time around. Instead of winning plush toys for floozies at carnivals.

Me: I'm sensing a "but" on the horizon....

Her: Well, there are some flaws, obviously.

Me: Can I have a guess at what one of them is, because it stood out like the dog's proverbials to me?

Her: Go right ahead.

Me: The film was travelling really well until about the 50 minute mark when it seemed like the scriptwriters suddenly realised they hadn't introduced a proper Bond girl yet as a love interest. So then they had 007 meet Pam Bouvier at a bar, hint at a past connection and wham, they're making out in a boat in a matter of minutes. It comes out of nowhere and it's not convincing.

Her: Got it in one. If ever there was a Bond film let down by the performances and use of its Bond girls, it's this one. Both Lupe and Bouvier go from being passable to atrocious in their acting, but what's even worse is how the script has them both seem totally head-over-heels for Bond with little build-up.

Me: Lupe's "I love him!" proclamation is the worst. I reckon she'd met him for a matter of minutes - spread out across the film - before she said it. And as good as I think Dalton is, he never projects the kind of love-at-first-sight swoon factor that Connery had.

Her: So it's agreed - the Bond girls are rubbish.

Me: Well, Carey Lowell didn't look half-bad when she came in with that short haircut. So it's not a total loss.

Pictured: not a total loss.

Her: Shame about the outfits. The '80s had no idea, did they?

Me: Wardrobe inadequacies aside, what about the rest of the film?

Her: The villain was good - he was the right mix of being the kind of guy you'd want to hook up with but know you shouldn't because he'd probably end up feeding you to his sharks. All good drug dealers should have that mix.

Me: Umm... ok....

Her: And the stunts were really good.

Me: Hell yeah. The opening scene where they catch a plane in mid-air with a helicopter is stunning, as is the final chase involving a fleet of petrol tankers and a rocket launcher.

Her: That's a good mix.

Me: What did you think of Benicio Del Toro?

Her: Who?

Me: He was Sanchez's sidekick.

Her: The young guy? He was forgettable.

Me: What about those evil looks he had all the time? He was a cool henchman.

"Evil looks are my speciality, Bond."

Her: I think you're just saying that because it's Benicio Del Toro.

Me: No, I genuinely believe he was good.

Her: Sure you do.

Me: Well, anyway, aside from the few negatives we've mentioned, and the theme song being lame aside from the start and end, I think we're agreed that Licence To Kill is a pretty good Bond outing. It's darker, it's tougher, and no one says "this time it's personal". That's a win.

Her: Agreed.

Me: Are you disappointed there's no more Dalton?

Her: No way. Bring on Brosnan. Now that's my idea of a Bond.

Me: How can say that when you haven't seen any of his films as 007?

Her: Whatever. He's hot.

BlogalongaBond will return in Goldeneye.