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Review – Spectre (12a) [2015]

Spectre - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Sam Mendes – American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall

Cast:

  • Daniel Craig – The Trench, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Defiance, Skyfall
  • Ben Whishaw – The International, Cloud Atlas, Skyfall, Suffragette, The Danish Girl
  • Naomi Harris – Trauma, Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, The First Grader, Skyfall, Our Kind of Traitor
  • Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter IV-VII(i) & VII(ii), Coriolanus, Wrath of the Titans, Skyfall, Hail, Caesar!
  • Léa Seydoux – Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Mission: Impossible IV, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Gambit
  • Monica Bellucci – The Matrix II-III, The Passion of the Christ, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, On The Milky Road
  • Christoph Waltz – Inglorious Basterds, Carnage, Django Unchained, Big Eyes, Tarzan
  • Dave Bautista – WWE Smackdown, WWF Raw, Guardians of the Galaxy, Warrior’s Gate
  • Andrew Scott – The Scapegoat, Pride, Alice In Wonderland II, Denial
  • Rory Kinnear – Quantum of Solace, Broken, Skyfall, Penny Dreadful, Trespass Against Us
  • Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, The Debt, The King’s Choice
  • Judi Dench – Bond 17-23, Shakespeare In Love, Notes On A Scandal, My Week With Marilyn, Philomena, Tulip Fever

Music Composer:

What is the role of secret agents, and in particular, James Bond in the current era? Sir Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, wrote Casino Royale in 1952. That was at the height of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, when espionage involving personnel was at its zenith. But in 2015, the USSR no longer exists and espionage involving personnel has been downgraded due to technology. So, again, what is the role secret agents/James Bond nowadays? Spectre, Bond’s 24th outing, deals with this question in typical Bond fashion.

James Bond (Daniel Craig), looking worn and tired after an eventful trip to Mexico, gets a dressing down from M (Ralph Fiennes) upon his return to London.

James Bond (Daniel Craig), looking worn and tired after an eventful trip to Mexico, gets a dressing down from M (Ralph Fiennes) upon his return to London.

  Spectre opens up in Mexico City, wherein James Bond (Daniel Craig) acquires a ring bearing an octopus insignia. Upon returning to London, M (Ralph) demands that Bond explain what he was doing in Mexico. Bond refuses to explain, which leads to M indefinitely taking him off duty as a secret agent. Upon returning home, Bond re-watches a recording from his former superior, reminding him about a mysterious organisation called ‘Spectre.’ Despite having been removed from duty, Bond leaves London to unearth more about this shadowy organisation.

Meanwhile, in London, M:I-6 has a new intelligence officer, C (Andrew Scott). C has his own plans to take M:I-6 forward; one of which is to dismantle the ‘00’ programme, putting him on a collision course with M.

Spectre, in many ways, is an archetypal Bond movie. Does it have a spectacular opening sequence? Yes. Is there a trademark song afterward it? Yes. Does Spectre have some witty (touché) dialogue? Yes. Does the film have a glamorous-looking cast along with breath-taking locations? Yes. Does the movie have some brilliant stunts, action sequences, and cool explosions? Yes. Does it have a weak storyline in which viewers have to suspend their disbelief to go through with it, without laughing at it? Absolutely! Therefore, Spectre delivers on its (formulaic) expectations for a Bond movie.

Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), looking glamorous, joins Bond for dinner.

Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), looking glamorous, joins Bond for dinner.

However, in two ways, Spectre differs from most other Bond films. One, it makes enough references to other Bond films for it to be an homage to the Bond franchise; particularly, to those of the Craig era. And, two, Spectre is conspicuously slow-burning. Bond films tend to be fast-paced and filled with action to keep viewers interested during the supposedly less interesting parts of the film i.e. when Bond travels from one dazzling place to another, to find out information for the mission. Yet, at 150-minutes, Spectre has so much (often pointless) travelling that even the action sequences cannot keep viewers interested. In short, the movie needed to be cut by 30-45 minutes, especially during the middle hour where little happens. But because it has not been edited sufficiently, Spectre borders on boring at times, which is very unlike a Bond film.

Nevertheless, during these ‘boring’ parts, one gets to explore a different (vulnerable?) side of Bond’s character; notably, whether James Bond actually enjoys being James Bond. Not only is this elucidated adeptly, but due to Daniel Craig’s aging appearance it seems entirely apt to have these questions raised. Indeed, Craig looks old and worn in Spectre, as if the strain of being Bond has taken its toll on him. Still, he is marvellous, tough and wryly humorous as Bond; probably more so than in Skyfall.

Likewise, Ben Whishaw is a joy to watch as the funny and smart Q, as is Christolph Waltz as the mysterious, villainous Oberhauser; and as is Ralph Fiennes as the serious M. Léa Seydoux plays quite well, too, as Bond’s temperamental love-interest, Dr Madeleine Swann. Surprisingly, she has been given considerable character depth for a Bond Girl. Seydoux may lack chemistry with Craig on screen, but her character often drives Bond and the plot forward in interesting ways.

Bond's cunning nemesis, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the shadowy figure at the head of a clandestine organisation, known as 'Spectre.'

Bond’s cunning nemesis, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the shadowy figure at the head of a clandestine organisation, known as ‘Spectre.’

Between her and Bond, and M and C), Spectre tries to intellectually tackle important questions that have become extremely relevant to Western politics since 9/11. Fascinatingly, the movie discusses the role of secret agents and technology, hinting at how times have changed since the Cold War; and how much power spy organisations should be given regarding the surveillance of ordinary citizens. Granted, Spectre only tackles these questions on superficial levels (and with answers that one could have guessed from a Bond film). But at least the movie brings up these questions. They also add a layer of depth to the storyline, which is always welcome.

Over-all, Spectre is an all right James Bond movie. It is quite long, but fun and entertaining in ways that are reminiscent of so many other, previous films in the franchise. Nonetheless, Spectre differentiates itself from other Bond films by winking at fans with self-reference; by giving Bond and the other characters some depth; and, most notably, by trying to address complex issues that have plagued Western governments since the turn of the 21st-century. Spectre makes some valid arguments on the role of spies, technology, and the extent to which security organisations should be permitted to use surveillance in the current era. All of which enrich the Bond experience and will leave audiences thinking about them after the film has ended.

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Review – Big Eyes (15) [2014]

Big Eyes - title banner3

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Tim Burton – Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks!, Corpse Bride, Alice In Wonderland I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Danny Elfman – The Simpson’s, Spiderman I & II, Corpse Bride, The Next Three Days, Fifty Shades of Grey

When it comes to predatory animals, one knows to stay well away. Yet, when it comes to predatory people, for one reason or another, one does not always act with the same haste or caution. The consequences of this lack of haste or caution can be damaging to the predator’s prey. Tim Burton, back to his best with Big Eyes, shows what can happen to an individual who falls prey to a person with a predatory nature.

Walter (Christoph Waltz) standing over Margaret (Amy Adams) and admiring her work.

Walter (Christoph Waltz) standing over Margaret (Amy Adams) and admiring her work.

Big Eyes is a true story based on what happened to the artist Margaret Keane in America, in the 1950s and early-1960s. Margaret (Amy Adams), is a single mother to Jane (when small played by Delaney Raye; when older played by Madeleine Arthur), who draws children with unusually large eyes as a hobby to earn a bit of money.

At an art fair one day, Margaret meets the smooth-talking Walter (Christoph Waltz), another artist who claims that she has talent and that she could make fortunes from her work. Margaret becomes enchanted by Walter. Soon, they are married and work together to make serious amounts of money. But the more time Margaret spends with Walter, the more it becomes apparent that Walter is not all that he seems. Eventually, this leads to a courtroom battle over royalty fees for the drawings.

Big Eyes is a really enjoyable film. It has a well written script that is surprisingly humorous, and the two lead actors play their parts brilliantly. Amy Adams (as ever) plays her role convincingly; this time as a callow woman with low self-esteem, who is pressured into a situation whereby she allows herself to be downtrodden by her husband. Similarly, Christoph Waltz (as ever) is a joy to watch, despite being a domineering husband who takes advantage of a vulnerable woman for the sake of making a waterfall of money. The leering, Cheshire cat-like grin never leaves his face and the words that roll off his silver-tongue underlie why predatory people are as dangerous as their beastly cousins in the wild. (Both devour their prey, just in different ways.)

An example of the sort of drawings Margaret draws.

An example of the sort of pictures Margaret draws.

Nevertheless, it is not just the two lead actors that make Big Eyes so watchable. The film has the feel of a director who loved creating it. The topic of the movie is the perfect fit for Tim Burton. Several of his films, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks!, James And The Giant Peach, Corpse Bride and Alice In Wonderland, all consist of characters with unusually (and creepily) big eyes. Consequently, Burton’s passion radiates from the screen, elevating Big Eyes to make it a more pleasurable.

One may feel Burton’s passion throughout the film, but that does not mean it is flawless, sadly. First, Burton uses the (jarringly) antiquated technique of a narrator at the beginning of the movie and at random points throughout it, to put forward information to the viewers. (If these pieces of information said by the voiceover are so critical to the story, why couldn’t they have been incorporated into the dialogue like everything else?) Second, certain elements of Walter’s life are never properly explored and are dropped as quickly as they are brought up. This is brow-raising to say the least.

Margaret, who by this point has drawn so many pictures with abnormally big eyes that she is beginning to them (maddeningly) in her own reflection.

Margaret, who by this point has drawn so many pictures with abnormally big eyes that she is beginning to them (maddeningly) in her own reflection.

And, third, although Big Eyes is based on a true story, there is no way that the scenes in the courtroom are what truly happened. The courtroom scenes are too ludicrous and too camp to have been true. But, in fairness to Burton, they are absolutely hilarious. And while one cannot ignore the unreality of the scenes, one must applaud Burton for his alterations as they enhance the scenes and the film’s enjoyment factor.

All-in-all, Big Eyes is a very entertaining and satisfying film. The movie is funny, has a good script, an even better cast, and a director who is in love with the subject-matter at the heart of the tale. Burton could have neatened Big Eyes further by using some more modern techniques to convey information, by tying up some of the movie’s loose ends, and by not making the film camp enough to slot into the 1980s.

But to focus on these matters too much is to do the film a disservice. Instead, one should focus on the primary moral of the story: notably, to stay away from predatory people because they can only have a detrimental impact on one’s confidence, one one’s self-esteem, and on one’s life in general, as Margaret Keane found.

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