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.