Tag: Ralph Fiennes

Movie Review: Skyfall

“Everybody needs a hobby.”

“What’s yours?”

“Resurrection.”

Skyfall is the 23rd Bond movie. 23, spread out over 50 years. It’s got legs and even when it gets knocked down it gets back up again. The potential for a good Bond movie is always there, we have a proven formula which works across half a century of filmmaking. But there is just as much potential for failure. The formula is hard to actually get right. How silly can you make Bond? He’s an inherently silly character, a bit on the nose and hard to buy if not written carefully. The gadgets can range from a radio transmitter to an invisible car, and either could be wrong for the type of Bond movie you’re making. And the bad guy can range from over the top to completely non-threatening. We’ve seen all kinds of Bond movies with all kinds of success. Each new one is an experiment, stretching the formula, testing the variables. Sometimes you get a hit, sometimes you don’t. Daniel Craig‘s Bond had, until now, a .500 batting average. So, is Skyfall a worthy entry into the series? Does the formula still work?

The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. It’s been four years since the disappointing Quantum of Solace and the team behind this film have taken that time to make Skyfall into the best of the series. It’s a proof of concept movie. You can make a Bond film that has actual thematic depth in it. You can make a Bond movie with Q and M and tricked out cars and a crazy villain and sometimes ridiculous action scenes and still have it be great. This is in my top 3 of the year so far. It’s got fun one-liners, one of the best Bond girls ever, and a plausible threat to Bond, not only physically but psychologically as well. It is also absolutely gorgeous, thanks to the pairing of director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Let’s break it down a bit. Firstly, a return to the Bond of old. Casino Royale, Craig’s first outing, was a departure for the series. As much a romance as it was a Bond film, Craig’s Bond was not yet fully formed. He was rough around the edges, more brute strength than suave cunning. Quantum of Solace began a transition back to the formula as we know it. Skyfall takes a big leap back to basics in more ways that one. Bond gets his gadgets back, complete with a new Quartermaster, played wonderfully by Ben Whishaw. These aren’t the crazy laser watches or anything like that. Just a personalized gun and a radio transmitter, but still, Q’s back and it’s nice to see more of the supporting cast fill out around the previously loner Bond.

Perhaps most importantly, this Bond has a villain that tests Bond’s abilities in a number of ways. Played perfectly by Javier Bardem, Silva is a guy with a grudge against M who uses his many talents to poke and prod at her and, by extension, Bond. He ties in with the theme of decay and resurrection brilliantly. Those themes are the key to Skyfall’s success. We’ve seen Bond fail over and over again when something in that formula goes wrong and you can count the legitimately good Bond films on a few fingers. He, like everybody, has moments of weakness. The lines I quoted at the top of this review aren’t just witty banter between equally matched opponents, they’re a mission statement. This movie is about reviving the franchise, something that we thought the excellent Casino Royale was about. But that film wasn’t really Bond. It used a different formula, albeit one that worked spectacularly. In Skyfall, we see the death of that Bond (quite literally) and the rebirth of the Bond we all know so well. And that’d make for a fine film, but Skyfall goes a few steps further. The first half or so of the film is about the art of decay. What happens when things are left to die: people, places, ideas? Is Bond even relevant anymore? Can his work continue in the era of transparency?

This film answers in a resounding fashion with one of the best scenes which takes place at a court hearing. M responds to questions and attacks from political enemies in a deft and stirring manner. She (played by the always awesome Judi Dench) gets the most screen time we’ve seen the character get in the entire series. She’s basically the Bond girl this go-round, and she fulfills her duties with the presence that Dench was hired for. It’s a great character movie where the triangle of Bond, M, and Silva get to play off each other in interesting and fun ways. Rounding out the cast is Ralph Fiennes as the new civilian overseer of MI-6. His motivations are unclear and that makes for some intriguing interactions between him and M and Bond.

This film is a complete success. Rousing action scenes, a fun script that moves along nicely despite its 2 and a half hour length, beautiful camerawork by a true master of lighting, some nice directorial flourishes, great performances, and one hell of a story. It’s great fun and food for thought. What else does a Bond film need? I’ll gladly wait another four years to see the next film if they use the formula to such good effect.

The movies of 2012 so far

Instead of presenting only a top 5 like I did with music last week, I’m going to list all the movies I’ve seen this year with a little bit of commentary for each of them. This list will start with the worst and end with the best as all lists should be.

23. The Devil Inside

One of the numerous exorcism movies of late, and the worst of them. It’s mostly boring, but when it gets interesting it also gets yell-y and annoying. D.

22. Safe House

Basically the only good thing to come out of this movie is Doug Benson’s tagline “No one is safe, no one is house.” It’s kinda dull for an action movie. And can we save Denzel Washington from being in these movies? Maybe Zemeckis and his upside-down plane movie will do it. D.

21. The Raid: Redemption

It’s all action. There are a few talking scenes that are poorly acted and uninteresting. The stunts and choreography are impressive but there’s only so much punching and kicking I can take. The new Judge Dredd movie seems to follow a similar plot, hopefully that will be better. D+.

20. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Well, it’s crazier than the first one. We finally learn what it looks like when Nic Cage pees while he’s in his demon form. There’s some fun action but the story is dumb and only Idris Elba is doing anything interesting. C+.

19. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

The first film was surprisingly competent, this one lacks the surprise element. It’s ok. Just watch the “pec pop of love” scene on youtube and move on with your life. C+.

18. Friends with Kids

Almost like a Bridesmaids reunion but with less funny. Adam Scott is good as always and Jon Hamm gets to do some good dramatic stuff. Mostly, though, it’s kinda blah. C+.

17. Lockout

Should have been called SPACE PRISON! or maybe ESCAPE FROM SPACE PRISON! because it is the same story as Escape from New York. Guy Pierce does a pretty solid Snake Plisskin, so that’s worth something. C+.

16. Wrath of the Titans

Kind of the opposite of the Journey series, this sequel was surprisingly competent. Sam Worthington is still boring as hell but you get a bit of Bill Nighy to liven up your day. The action is better this time around and the CGI is spectacular. B-.

15. The Woman in Black

The first big post-Harry Potter role for Daniel Radcliffe is this nice little horror film. I’m a pretty easy scare so horror films tend to work on me. This one gets some help from Ciarán Hinds, always a welcome sight. A nice little gothic horror film. B.

14. The Hunger Games

Read my full review here. A (too?) faithful adaptation of the bestselling book had a lot of hype and was entertaining enough to back it up. I was left hoping they’d venture beyond the book a little more than they did. The best scene (a certain death and its ramifications outside the game) is at least part invention. B.

13. Chronicle

A charming little found footage movie. We’ve started to move past using this style in only horror films with this superhero-esque story getting the treatment. They do some interesting things with it as the kids develop their telekinetic powers and start floating the cameras around. The ending was surprisingly effective as well. B+.

12. Jeff, Who Lives at Home

The super-realistic style doesn’t always match the story here, but some solid performances and writing save the day. Also, this movie is kind of obsessed with the underrated Shyamalan movie Signs, which is pretty awesome. B+.

11. John Carter

Good old-fashioned sci-fi epic. This story is the grandfather of science fiction as we know it and as such is sometimes a little familiar but the execution of those story elements are great, even if the script is a bit of a mess. I’d rather watch this than any of the Star Wars movies. B+.

10. Brave

It’s not an amazing movie like a lot of other Pixar films but it is really good. I loved the look of the film and the swooping camera really gets that fantastic feel. It feels rote and new at the same time, and I can’t really get at why that is. A-.

9. Haywire

Listen up, The Raid: Redemption, this is how you do an action movie. Gina Carano isn’t an actor by trade but her MMA background shines in the action scenes. This is a Steven Soderbergh film and as such it has style for miles. And I can’t resist a Michael Fassbender. A-.

8. 21 Jump Street

Maybe the surprise of the year. How did this movie based on a crappy tv show from the eighties turn into such a funny and subversive movie? Being from the same guys that did Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs helps, as does a surprisingly great performance from Channing Tatum. This movie is very funny. A-.

7. The Amazing Spider-Man

It’s too bad this movie came out after the (bad) Raimi versions because half of the discussion has revolved around whether or not its existence is “necessary.” Well, no movie is necessary, and this film is better than all the ones that came before it. Garfield and Stone do a great job and (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb moves the story along with style and grace. A-.

6. Coriolanus

Read my full review here. Ralph Fiennes does double duty as actor and director and accomplishes both admirably. A modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, the action scenes are good enough but it really shines in the dialogue. Vanessa Redgrave is really good in a supporting role as the mother of the proud military leader. A-.

5. Prometheus

Read my full review here. This movie doesn’t get a whole lot of love on the internet and it has problems to be sure. It remains, however, a fantastic film. I’d rather a movie reached for something interesting and fail than stay comfortably within the bounds of what we’ve come to expect from films. There are plot holes and some irrational decisions, but I’d challenge you to find a sci-fi movie where a character doesn’t act irrationally at one point or another. It’s a big, smart, ambitious movie and I will applaud that any day of the week. A-.

4. The Cabin in the Woods

If only this movie was actually scary, it’d have a good shot at making my top 100 list. As is, it’s a fun, clever movie about genre conventions and the role of movie-makers and their audience. And there’s even more evidence that Chris Hemsworth can act.

3. The Avengers

Funny that this and The Cabin in the Woods would end up next to each other with the elements they share (Joss Whedon and Chris Hemsworth). This is the culmination of all the Marvel movies that came before it and it’s better than all of them. The chemistry between all of the characters is fantastic and it moves quite well for a 2 and a half hour film. The big setpiece at the end of the movie is spectacular carnage. A.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin

A movie about a mother and her son. Is the son evil, or is the mother coloring her memories with the crayons of regret and hindsight? Tilda Swinton gives such a phenomenal performance as the film cuts back and forth between the child’s development and the repercussions of a heinous act. It’s a mood movie, skillfully directed by Lynne Ramsay. A.

1. Moonrise Kingdom

Read my review here. I just posted it yesterday, so there’s not much to say about it. I’ll take this time to point you towards a fun little video encouraging you to see the film. It stars Jason Schwartzman and gives a little more of his hilarious character from the film proper. A.

What movies have I missed? What movies am I wrong about? Let me know your favorite movies of the year in the comment section.

Movie Review: Coriolanus

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate

As reek o’the rotten fens, whose loves I prize

As the dead carcases of unburied men

That do corrupt my air.

I’m going to do my Shakespeare on film marathon one of these days. It’s going to be the greatest thing ever done, rivaling the Bards work itself. It will be epic and humanistic at the same time. Grand and personal. Anyways, this movie will have to be in it because it is the only theatrical version of the play. Coriolanus is a history, probably the least popular of the three genres that Shakes wrote in but it is equally rich ground as the comedies and tragedies. It tells the rise and fall and re-rise and then whatever of a military general who is elevated to the highest level of public office because of his war record and scars but cares little for the people he is supposed to be governing. The dynamic is set up early and often, he’s a proud man but feels he’s above nearly everybody else on the planet including his rival, an insurgency leader who is clearly not the equal of the mighty Coriolanus.

Watching this movie, which transposes the action to a modern-day version of Rome (kinda, it’s got a few minor issues here but the modernization mostly works), I got a strong feeling of deja vu, though I had never even heard of this play before seeing the trailer. It’s all political dealing and manuvering outside of one action scene for the whole first hour. What it felt like was Game of Thrones. The big players are big and bombastic (Fiennes spits a lot, which is gross but fun) but there are also these side characters that plot and scheme to keep the people they don’t like out of power. In this film it’s Brian Cox trying to put Ralph Fiennes into the seat of power and James Nesbit trying to keep him out. It’s a fun dynamic. They both manipulate the populace into thinking one way and then the other, rabble rousing the poor starving people. A lot is made of literally and metaphorically showing Fiennes’ battle scars and there seems to be a custom of going out into the people and asking them to endorse a candidate and it’s fun to see that play out, even if it doesn’t quite make sense with the scope of the film (the 40 or so people don’t quite make for a majority, do they?) So Fiennes rises and falls and is exiled on national tv. That’s fun. You know, Shakespeare is pretty damned good at this whole writing thing. Coriolanus gets mad very quickly and its fun to watch Fiennes bluster at everybody. Then he’s offscreen for five minutes and has gone from bald to scruffy seemingly overnight. Time compression!

Shakespeare has been studied endlessly and his depiction of women probably takes up half of the papers written about him. Here we have Jessica Chastain (of course) playing Coriolanus’ faithful but worried wife and Vanessa Redgrave as his fierce and powerful mother. Chastain is fine, but doesn’t get a whole ton to do. Redgrave, on the other hand, is awesome. You can very clearly see how Coriolanus came from her. Everything he is is because of her. She propels him, emboldens him. Chastises him, defends him, and, ultimately, defeats him. Not with a knife, of course, even Gerard Butler, Mr. 300 himself, couldn’t beat Coriolanus with a knife. No, she beats him with words, first groveling then shaming him and his decisions. She’s brokering for peace between him and his former country but it is only through their personal connection that she gets through to him. There’s gotta be a paper in there somewhere, right?

This is one of those movies that follows the play pretty closely (I assume). No lines of dialogue are spoken that aren’t in the play and anything depicting an invented scene lacks words. This is a convention that I get, I understand, but I don’t really know if I care about it. Are his words that revered that nobody can deign to change them? The Lion King works just fine as an adaption of Hamlet without all of the silly conventions that these filmmakers put upon themselves. It doesn’t hurt the film, I just don’t know if it helps. I wouldn’t want to get rid of the dialogue or remove its olde tyme flavor, because it works pretty well, but don’t feel beholden to some dead guy.

Ok, that sidetrack is over now. Finally, I just want to comment on the shaky cam that Fiennes (wearing his director hat) uses. It feels immediate without making me nauseous, which is good. It doesn’t detract from the few action scenes nor the more intimate moments. It gives great power to Coriolanus’ monologue right after he is banished from Rome. It’s shot in one take but he moves around and addresses the crowd and the camera follows him, not quite sure where he’s going to go next nor what he is going to do when he gets there. Often these adaptations end up feeling very stiff, with the actors struggling to get out the words and the camera not complicating matters with anything beyond kinda boring setups. Fiennes imbues the camera with an immediacy, a modern aesthetic that makes the movie come alive. It’s nothing groundbreaking or unusual, just look at half the action movies and a quarter of the drama films today, but it is nice to see him do something unexpected with Shakes. Take chances, make mistakes. Do whatever you want with his stuff. It worked out for him and I’m glad, but I’m even more glad he tried.

B+.

30 Day Film Challenge Day 8 – The Film You Can Quote Best

Day 8 – The Film You Can Quote Best
When the only thing I knew about this movie was the trailer I thought it would be dumb. There was a part that showed Colin Farrell say “Why Bruges?” in what seemed to be the silliest way possible. My friends and I began to mock it by greeting each other with our bastardized version: “I BRUUUUUUUSE”. And then I saw it and realized it was one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. There’s a bit of heart, too, but the overwhelming dark comedy is what makes this movie so special. I have since read some of McDonagh’s plays and they too are full of hilarious and mean lines. The chemistry between Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (and later Ralph Fiennes) is perfect and their repartee is top notch throughout. How could you not like a movie that swears so gleefully?(WARNING: SWEARING AHEAD) “I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now, and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.”
Notes: McDonagh’s got a new film coming next year called Seven Psychopaths. The cast looks awesome.
Here’s a trailer for In Bruges. It’s not the tv commercial which had the “Why Bruges” in it but it’s still awesome: