November 18, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

the 23rd James Bond film is Sam Mendes’ 6th feature. In a career that started with American Beauty, it is hard to surpass oneself, especially with a Bond film. When you are tasked with directing something so near and dear to the fans’ hearts and to the studios' pockets, one wonders what kind of room for artistic creativity there is left, after going through the hoops of satisfying everyone. The plot is nothing new, having been written by the same guys that wrote the last 5 Bond movies. The script hits all the classic Bond points, including the opening theme sequence, gadgets, cars, bond girl and villain. Somewhat reminiscent of an evil Julian Assange, Bardem easily navigates through the role of the evil mastermind with a vengeance - a role he is well versed in as we’ve come to see in No Country for Old Men. Craig again brings his own brand of Bond to the franchise, with his characteristic rough, action-oriented take on spying.  Love him or hate him, he is signed to at least 2 more Bond films after this, so we are stuck with this blonde, blue-eyed, Heineken-drinking bond for a little while longer. I personally like Craig, and can safely say that I’m a bigger Craig fan than I am a Bond fan, so I do not mind, but like all Bonds, everyone has a favourite one and you can’t please everybody. Cinematography is very strong and I enjoyed the beautiful images in full IMAX glory, even though at times it slipped into ye olde blue-orange contrast territory, but for the most part I liked it, especially the Scotland scenes filmed at Glen Etive in the highlands of scotland. I can’t say that the plot was amazing, but then again, were Bond movies ever about plot? Mendes makes it much more about the constant fight between Craig and Bardem, reducing the film to the emotional struggle between the 2, with M stuck in the middle (with Judy Dench being as wonderful as always, in her 7th Bond film as M). Overall enjoyable, even if formulaic (but then again if you complain about Bond being formulaic, maybe you shouldn’t watch it all together). The computer ‘hacking’ parts could have been made slightly more realistic and less ‘3D representation of computer code’ à la Hackers, and a few other parts defy reality/physics to a good extent, but once you get past that, it’s definitely a fun 2 hours. 

November 14, 2012

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

This looks like something that came about when RZA thought to himself one day - hey, I like Kung-Fu movies and I got money and friends in the movie industry, so why couldn’t I pump out an awesome Kung-Fu flick of my own? It helps when those friends are Tarantino and Eli Roth and when you’re a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. I can’t say this is a good movie, not in the sense that things like Sukiyaki Western Django or Machete are any good. This is pure throwback to B-movie territory in the vein of Grindhouse, albeit playing with the classical Kung-Fu flick genre. It’s entertaining to a certain extent, especially considering the always wonderful Lucy Liu’s participation and Russel Crowe who seems to have put on a bit weight and was just having fun in this, wielding a steampunk-style gun-knife. RZA makes sure, like his alter-ego in Californication, Samurai Apocalypse, that he comes out on top, no matter what. From his tongue-in-cheek ‘blacksmith’ character (get it, his real name is Henry Smith, but he’s also black - hence: blacksmith), to the fact that he’s a freed slave (Henry Smith, curiously, is a famous lynching victim, not sure if related), to the fact that his mother in the flashbacks is Pam Grier, RZA works hard at establishing a link between african-american history and the world of Kung-Fu. Overall it’s a fun little movie, ultimately not excelling in neither comedy nor Kung-Fu or film-making, but what it lacks in technique it makes up in nostalgia and plain old silly fun. I couldn't have imagined anything else coming from the RZA, and in that sense, he delivers on exactly the expectations that fans of the Wu-Tang clan have come to expect, be it for better or worse.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

I absolutely love this film. I am a fan of In Bruges, so I was delighted to hear that McDonagh took a break from playwriting and wrote/directed yet another masterpiece. Adapting well to the Hollywood setting and America, he presents us with a colourful (and psychotic) cast of characters that are as hilarious as they are deranged. It’s always good to see Christopher Walken in a role that doesn't *completely* parody itself. Yes, his characteristic delivery is still there, but it somehow works, because it’s not any less crazy than the other roles. Woody Harrelson, when not busy promoting ‘Rampart’ is also great here, delivering a comical yet deadly version of a psycho. Not nearly as serious as in Natural Born Killers, but a lot more mature (if you can call it that) when considering his career over the years. Sam Rockwell gets another chance to shine, as he did in Moon and Hitchhiker's and Choke, proving again that he is a severely underused actor. I won’t spoil the plot but suffice it to say that if you enjoyed early Tarantino and Guy Ritchie multiple-narrative ensemble cast crime fare that those two were known for, you are bound to enjoy Seven Psychopaths even more, as it seems to go back to the genre’s roots. It is not yet another example of the genre, and is rather self-conscious (at times reminiscent of a film-within-a-film), but it does this with such ease and fun and joy that is refreshing considering most of everything that’s out there. Finally, as is usually the case, Tom Waits’ dark addition to the cast/plot is very welcome, adding a kind of mysticism and unease that fits right in within the whole feel of the movie. Great work overall, highly recommended.