Tag Archives: james bond

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 – Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) [2015]

Kingsman - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Writer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman make an awesome screen-writing couple. Together, they wrote the hilarious Kick-Ass and the first-rate reboot of the X-Men franchise. Now, they are back in comical fashion with the secret service spoof, Kingsman: The Secret Service.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

Kingsman is based on the comic-book by Mark Millar. It is about a young man from South London called Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who is descending into a life of violence, drink, drugs and crime when secret agent Harry (Colin Firth) pays him an unexpected visit. Harry offers him the chance, which Eggsy accepts, to train and become a secret agent/Kingsman to stop Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) from making the world anew with his new invention.

Kingsman is a stylish and entertaining film. At its core, the movie is a satire on the spy thriller genre and James Bond in particular (which, itself, was a satire on the world of espionage until Daniel Craig’s Bond hijacked the franchise). Yet, Kingsman has a (charming) stick-two-fingers-up attitude that most spy thrillers and James Bond films would never dare employ. This attitude has a strangely endearing quality and hints at why Vaughn turned down directing X-Men: Days of Future Past in favour of making Kingsman. This attitude not only makes the film worthwhile-viewing, it reminds audiences of why they loved Kick-Ass so much back in 2010.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

It also helps that Kingsman is ludicrously funny. Vaughn and Goldman have an impeccable understanding of the most essential ingredient for comedy: timing. As a result, the numerous jokes, touché lines, exaggerated action sequences, and amusing special effects all work throughout the film’s 129-minute running time. Indeed, one is likely to be so amused by the ridiculousness of the movie that one is unlikely to care that the plot is cliché and overblown, or that the actors take themselves as disingenuously as their counterparts did in Knight and Day, Mission: Impossible IV and This Means War.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

No-one epitomises the preposterous nature of the storyline and the acting as much as Samuel L Jackson (SLJ), as the camp, 1980s-dressed, lisp-impaired villain of the film (named Valentine to cap it all). When one is used to watching SLJ as the stern and authoritative Coach Carter and Nick Fury, one has to blink repeatedly (and with disbelief) to remember that Valentine is the same man. But credit to SLJ: he performs insincerely admirably as Valentine without disgracing himself. The same can be said for Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson, even if their roles are far less humiliating than SLJ’s.

Over-all, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an enjoyable film, provided it is taken with a handful of salt. The movie is absurd and over-the-top in all departments. But it is a very funny and entertaining spoof on James Bond and the spy genre in general. Thus, like with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class before, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have scored again with Kingsman, and long may they keep scoring.

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Review – Skyfall (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Sam Mendes – American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Revolutionary RoadSpectre

Cast:

Music Composer:

The 1990s was a pretty decent era for James Bond. Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough were all very acceptable Bond films. But then, in 2002, Die Another Die ruined it all. Subsequently, MGM, the owners of the 007 franchise, completely changed the direction of Bond to make it more original, as Casino Royale (2006) and The Quantum of Solace demonstrate. Skyfall cleverly continues this trend, but not without hitches.

The stunning and enigmatic Sévérine (Bérénice Malohe). Her style and dangerous background make her an apt fit for Bond’s affections.

Skyfall begins with M (Judi Dench) coming under intense pressure to resign, following a failed mission in Turkey. After meeting with Gareth Mellory (Ralph Fiennes), the British Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman, M discovers that the computer in her office in MI6 has been hacked and a bomb explodes in MI6 headquarters. M subsequently turns to her secret agents, Eve (Naomi Harris) and James Bond (Daniel Craig), who is suffering from psychological problems following events in Turkey, to find out who was behind the attack.

There is much to admire about Skyfall. That a significant proportion of it is filmed in Britain is bold; it gives us a hint at how MI6 might work in the event of war on British soil; and the last scene of the movie is very clever. Also, for the first 100 minutes or so, the plot is logical and intelligent. Cyber-terrorism is a very current issue, and director Sam Mendes conveys the threat well.

It is just a shame that the last 44 minutes drag and has only a tenuous link to the first part of the film. Indeed, it renders the purpose of going to exotic Shanghai pointless (not that that was ever more than a cynical attempt to tap into the Chinese market) and, worse, it throws up plagiarism issues with the exceptionally magnificent Batman Begins.

Eve (Naomi Harris) dressed classily, while in the midst of an MI6 operation.

Moreover, Skyfall appears to be torn in several directions. Sir Ian Fleming wrote James Bond as a satire on the British secret service. Yet, because MGM now want Bond to be more grounded (and even bleed), the fundamental element of 007 has been lost. Additionally, if MGM truly want to make Bond plausible, they should look toward Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Shadow Dancer, and remove the Expendables-/Mission: Impossible-style stunts and action scenes. Those always look ridiculous and undermine all attempts at realism. (Besides, those scenes have become so clichéd that one is unlikely to miss them.)

The change of direction for 007 movies has also greatly impacted upon the appearance and character of James Bond, himself. Nevertheless, it is not Craig’s blond hair and lighter features that differentiate him from his predecessors, Roger Moore and Pearce Brosnan. Rather, it is his black humour, as well as his lack of suave and touché lines. That is not to say that Craig performs badly as the Bond he’s been asked to perform; actually, he’s rather good. But that doesn’t make him seem any more like the James Bond of old.

Yet, it is not just Craig’s Bond that has been given a new lease of life; the villains have too. Silva, embraced whole-heartedly and delightfully by the Oscar-winning Javier Bardem, is by far the most flamboyant and hilarious Bond baddie. However, it is blatantly obvious that Sam Mendes drew his inspiration from the villains in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (and he didn’t need to spell it out in an interview either). Mendes should have been aware that stepping onto the haloed territory of the Joker and, to a lesser extent, Two-Face is like trying to win a game of ice-hockey while skating on thin ice. Can anyone really say with conviction that Bardem’s Silva was on a par with Heath Ledger’s Joker?

The blond-haired villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), teases Bond, while the latter is tied up. Haven’t we seen such a scenario before?

Craig and Bardem aside, the performances from Ralph Fiennes and Judi Dench are typically strong and down to earth. The same can be said for Ben Whishaw, who plays the young, new Q with much spirit and humour to make himself, potentially, the long-term successor to the late Desmond Llewelyn.

Conversely, Naomi Harris, as Eve, never convinces that she’s a secret agent, unlike Jessica Chastain in The Debt or Julia Roberts in Duplicity. Harris’ Eve also lacks chemistry with Craig’s Bond. Maybe both of those things are deliberate, but if that is true then MI6 would never have sent her into the field, thereby revealing another flaw in the movie’s attempt at realism.

All-in-all, Skyfall is not a bad film and continues the interesting trend of Casino Royale and The Quantum of Solace. Skyfall has intelligence and a cast that does justice to the more credible, if unconventional direction that MGM have taken Bond toward. This does not mean that the film is problem-free, aside from being too long and recycling parts of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. No, if MGM truly wish for 007 to depart from the approach of the 1990s Bond films, they must not stand half-way as they have here: they must make James Bond chillingly realistic.

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Review – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

The Bourne series, 24 and Munich, in their different ways, show audiences that the world of the secret services is a murky one, where mistrust and paranoia are rife. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) may not be a standard catch-and-shoot the bad guy thriller. Nevertheless, with a star-studded cast, TTSS is an excellent, if puzzling, portrayal of the nature of the top echelons of the secret services.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman), adopting his standard pose, explains a few things to his assistant, Peter Guillam, in one of the secret places where they do their work.

TTSS is based on the novel by John Le Carré, who worked for the best part of 20 years in MI5 and MI6; the movie is also a shortened remake of the 1979 TV series. TTSS is set in early-1970s Britain, during the Cold War. There is a mole in the ‘Circus’, the MI6 internal nickname for the highest levels of the British intelligence services. Someone is giving classified information to a Soviet agent called Polyakov (Konstantin Khabenskiy – Wanted). But who is it?

Control (John Hurt – V For Vendetta, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii), Immortals) brings back his former colleague, George Smiley (Gary Oldman – Air Force One, Harry Potter III-V & VII(ii), The Dark Knight Rises), from retirement in order to discover who is behind the leak. But Smiley and his personal assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch – Atonemment, Star Trek II, The Hobbit II), must do their work in secret. This is to make sure that the other members of the ‘Circus’ – Percy Alleline (Toby Jones – Frost/Nixon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Snow White and the Huntsman), Bill Hayden (Colin Firth – The Importance of Being Earnest, The King’s Speech, Before I Go To Sleep), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds – Munich, Harry Potter VII(ii), The Debt) and Toby Esterhase (David Denick – War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – don’t find out what they’re up to. Any one of them could be the traitor.

The plot for TTSS may sound straight forward, but it is not. Rather, it is slow and very confusing. The movie is also hard to follow because it does not follow a linear timeframe. Viewers are rarely certain if they’re watching the past or the present. Moreover, the director, Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In), does not give the complete context of the story; for example, there is no hint of the five Cambridge pro-Soviet traitors that riddles the book.

Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) looking through files to find information on the mole.

This is not to say that Alfredson has made a bad film. On the contrary, the slowness of TTSS is, arguably, a reflection of the world of espionage, which Le Carré, who assisted in the movie’s production, understands so well. Seen in this light, even the many seemingly pointless short, silent scenes of Smiley going into a room or a house on his own have a purpose, since they give TTSS a greater feel for the workings of MI6.

In addition, the brilliant acting throughout the movie aids our understanding of the type of people that tend to be at the top echelons of the secret services. A lecturer of mine at university told me that Hilter’s military intelligence chief (and double-agent), Wilhelm Canaris, upheld a persona to make it seem to others that he was not on the ball. In a similar vein, all the men in the ‘Circus’ in TTSS have their manufactured character guises. No-one in the film has this more than Smiley. In the lead role, the ever-sound Gary Oldman plays Smiley exceptionally well. Whilst no James Bond, Oldman never loses his concentration as Smiley; he always remains head-down, calm and monotonous, yet perspicacious, even when there is emotion stirring within him. It is a shame for Oldman that many subtleties of Smiley’s character, from the book and the TV series, have been taken out by Alfredson.

All of the supporting cast suffer from the same problems. Everyone plays very well, but since the film is only 127 minutes (and may seem longer to those not enjoying it), there is not enough time for all of the nine main characters, including Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong – Kick-Ass, The Eagle, Zero Dark Thirty) and Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy – Layer Cake, Inception, Warrior), to have real depth. To the cast’s credit, none of them appear shallow on screen, and some of them are given the time to express themselves to a degree.

Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) as the active secret agent on the streets to help find people who may be connected to the mole.

The impressive acting is matched by the settings throughout TTSS. From the clothes; to the hairstyles; to the cars; to the fax machines (and lack of mobile phones); to the smoking, everything has the appearance of the late-1960s/early-1970s. Remarkably, nothing is out of place.

The music used throughout the film is, perhaps, the exception to this. While the music is not of its era, its strangeness, more often than not, enhances the confounding plot and the tension in some of the scenes.

TTSS is not a conventional spy/secret-agent thriller. The film moves at a measured pace and is very confusing to the extent that one may go home without having completely understood the movie. One may even need to be a fan of this niche genre to truly appreciate it. Yet, with fantastic acting – particularly from Gary Oldman – TTSS depicts its era and the underhandedness of the inner workings of the top levels of the secret services down to a tee.

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