Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

Release Date: October 23rd, 2012 (London premiere)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, Judi Dench

B23 Ltd., Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 143 Minutes

Review:

“What is this if not betrayal? She sent you off to me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you’re likely die. Mommy was very bad.” – Raoul Silva

Everyone seems to think that Casino Royale is the best of the lot when it comes to Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Well, those people are wrong, as Skyfall is pretty close to perfection with a lot more action and meat than the mostly boring Casino Royale.

While the plot of this movie borrows a lot from the plot of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I don’t really care, as it all works well within the film’s story and the payoff at the end is one of the best in James Bond movie history.

This film, at the sake of spoiling some plot details, brings a character arc to an end. That character is Judi Dench’s incarnation of M. It gives her a fitting and truly memorable exit from the series while examining the wreckage and collateral damage that someone in her position could cause by making the toughest decisions. A ghost from her past comes back to haunt her and even though he ultimately succeeds, this isn’t a film consumed by nihilism, so much as it is a reflection of a person’s life and having to come to terms with past actions.

What really made this work for me was the performance by Javier Bardem as the villainous Raoul Silva. The guy was just creepy as hell and legitimately scary in a way that modern Bond villains aren’t. Honestly, other than Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Spectre, does anyone remember any of the other Craig era baddies? And honestly, Silva blows Blofeld right out of the f’n water!

The plot had lots of layers and a good three act structure that actually had a very different aesthetic from act to act. The big finale in this looked breathtaking and is one of the best shot James Bond sequences of all-time. Plus, it added in Albert Finney and had him trying to get M to safety while Bond took on a small army, a military helicopter and a madman starving for revenge.

I also like that the film finally fleshed out MI6 with the inclusion of Moneypenny, Q and a new M. I had hoped that this would mean more going forward but since 2012, we’ve only gotten one other Bond movie and this new team has sort of lost its momentum. But I hope they get their time to shine some more in the upcoming Bond film, which looks to be Craig’s last.

Anyway, Skyfall, as far as the Craig movies go, is the bees f’n knees. It’s not bogged down by a three hour poker game or a writers’ strike like the two before it. It’s just action packed, classic Bond but retrofitted for modern audiences that want less camp and more gunfire.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

Film Review: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt

Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.

Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.

Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.

First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.

The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.

No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.

Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.

At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Shanghai premiere)
Directed by: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written by: Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio
Based on: the Pirates of the Caribbean amusement park ride by Walt Disney, characters by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Music by: Geoff Zanelli
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Walt Disney, 142 Minutes

Review:

“Pirate’s life.” (raises glass of rum) – Captain Jack Sparrow

I went into Dead Men Tell No Tales expecting a very lackluster effort by Disney after their previous two Pirates of the Caribbean films. You see, I loved the first one and the second one was pretty good. However, the third was a convoluted mess and the fourth, despite the inclusion of the always great Ian McShane, was quite horrible.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a blend of all the things I love about these films and all the things I loathe. However, the balance does lean more towards the things I love.

The real question is, “Why do we see these movies?” The answer, “Because we want to have some fun.” Does this succeed at fun? Yes.

Johnny Depp is so natural as Captain Jack Sparrow that he can dial in his performance and still nail the role. Despite all the iconic parts he has ever played, Jack Sparrow is the quintessential Johnny Depp role, at this point. He is a man of great talent and skill, always takes a unique and strange path to fantastic results and always looks like he enjoys his craft. I’m talking about both Depp and Sparrow.

Of course, despite Depp’s greatness, the highlights of these films for me has always been Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa. He is a complex character that started out as the villain in the first picture but from film to film, always leaves you guessing as to which side he’s on. But he always comes out a hero, despite his love for piracy and treachery. Dead Men Tell No Tells, however, becomes Barbossa’s most important and personal story.

I have always loved Javier Bardem and seeing him in this as the villain Captain Armando Salazar was pretty cool. He was my favorite of the villains after Barbossa. His story was also really interesting, as he isn’t a pirate but more of a pirate hunter. After meeting his demise, thanks to a young Jack Sparrow, he existed in a place of darkness for decades, waiting for the moment where he and his ghostly looking crew could reenter our world and exact revenge against Sparrow.

The newcomers Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario were both very good. However, they didn’t have the presence and chemistry with the rest of the cast that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley did in the first three pictures. Out of the two, I thought Scodelario was the more interesting character.

Speaking of Bloom and Knightley, they both return, albeit very briefly, but it does setup their involvement in the next film which is to be the grand finale, or so Disney says. The third film was supposed to be the last and that was three films ago.

Having two directors, I was worried about how this film would turn out. Ultimately, it is a good effort by the directors, Disney and the actors. The new settings and the quest for the newest treasure where refreshing and exciting. Sure, some sequences are way too over the top but these films are really just fantasy epics with some swashbuckling added in. They aren’t supposed to be smart or captivating movies, they are supposed to be a wild adventure and that’s exactly what this is.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a popcorn flick. It doesn’t try to be more than that and it doesn’t need to be more than that. It doesn’t need to be the Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings of the ocean. And frankly, Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t a character I will ever grow tired of. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind revisiting him time and time again. I do like that Disney took a lengthier break between the last film and this one. The absence made the heart grow fonder but I didn’t come to that realization until I was sitting in the theater and saw a hungover Captain Jack wake up inside a bank vault he intended to steal.

Watching this film, I had the feeling that Depp’s Sparrow had now become this generation’s version of Charlie Chaplin’s the Tramp.