Spectre — Review

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25Star

Spectre has big exciting setpieces, further doused with wit, iconography, and the type of pedigree that only this particular series can achieve, but it’s not the plateau coming off of a recent rise.”

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The World is Not Enough – Review

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2Star

by Ken B.

The World is not Enough almost feels like a slew of ideas for action scenes and one-liners were thrown together, and then a connecting plot was picked out of a hat. We expect the James Bond movies to be better than other action films, and when it’s not, that’s all the more of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Due to the excessive action sequences, it would be a crime if the special effects weren’t amazing, which they are, and the performances are very good for an action movie, ranging from the straight-edged M (JUDI DENCH) to the comic relief, “R” (JOHN CLEESE, who is one of the few people you can say to be hired to do comic relief in a movie and could pull it off every time, regardless of the surrounding script), who works with “Q” (the final performance of DESMOND LLEWELYN), and of course, Bond (PIERCE BROSNAN) himself.

The plot here concerns the assassination of Sir Robert King (DAVID CALDER), a tycoon whose money was just retrieved from a Swiss bank. The trail of clues leads to a series of Russian terrorists, including Renard (ROBERT CARLYLE), who literally can’t feel pain. The plan here is to create a nuclear meltdown to ruffle the petroleum prices.

Interesting, right? Kind of? Sort of? Well, the plot did not seem of upright concern for this one, which is kind of disappointing, considering that this is a 007 movie. I can’t reiterate this enough, it appears that the ratio of action scenes to plot was somewhere around 9 to 1. It starts all well and good. The speedboat chase at the beginning of the movie is wonderful to look at. And then, things slowly descend into a confusing mess.  Around the climax of the film, which contains so many gun flashes, sparks, and downright old fashioned gasoline powered explosions I had to shield my eyes a couple of times. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that before. But oh – when you can see the explosions and flashes, they are truly magnificent.

I found the title song by the band Garbage to be oddly mesmerizing, accompanied by the title sequence which does not disappoint in looking like a David Lynch fever dream, as modern Bond sequences happen to do. Speaking of Lynch, the song sometimes did sort of have a dream pop undertone, kind of like Julee Cruise could in her work for Twin Peaks. Never mind. Making comparisons between these two sides of cinema is a futile effort. (I couldn’t keep going, anyway – Twin Peaks is as far as my personal knowledge of Lynch’s filmography goes after stumbling across it on Netflix.)

When compared to the lexicon of the James Bond franchise, The World is Not Enough just doesn’t stand up. It’s like a just-above-mediocre general action movie was ported into this series, established for longevity and quality. It has all the classic elements; exotic locations, Bond girls sure to intrigue half of the population, and a lot of explosions. The problem is, when The World is not Enough combines these things together, it doesn’t work nearly as well as we know the series can. In the middle, this 128 minute movie strays towards boring (except when a giant helicopter with steel jigsaw blades cuts buildings and bridges in half. Otherwise, the action becomes kind of repetitive). What I’m getting to is saying that The World is Not Enough is not a very welcome addition into the James Bond family. This is a completely passive, largely unsatisfying event.

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Live and Let Die – Review

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25Star

by Ken B.

The James Bond films have been around since 1962, and as time progresses, so do filmmaking trends. 1973 was the era of a popular subdivision featuring an urban black setting and aimed at a similar audience. Live and Let Die features some of the clichés of 1970s action filmmaking in general, and could have been a clever timestamp of the period – and sometimes it is – but this eighth installment has this weird tendency to feel like some kind of parody of the series instead of a legit Eon installment. Is this because of a changing of the lead role? Was this done just to show the absurdity of a character being played by a different actor all of the sudden? I don’t know. People liked Sean Connery, and then Roger Moore shows up all of the sudden. I’m not sure whether this merited a reformation of the series, but it’s clear that the moods of the films were different between the two eras.

Following the murders of three British agents within the space of 24 hours, Bond is called in to investigate whether these events are related, and they sure appear to be, as the missions of the deceased individuals were all related to the head of a small island called San Monique, Dr. Kananga (YAPHET KOTTO). As evidenced by the opening sequence, accompanied by a song written by Paul & Linda McCartney, there’s a certain type of supernatural undertone to the supporting characters. A Bond girl, Solitaire (JANE SEYMOUR) is a tarot card reader. Chunks of the movie take place in New Orleans, home of the “Louisiana Voodoo”. It’s certainly a noticeable factor of the film.

This isn’t my favorite 007 movie, far from it. There’s just something missing from it. The whole parody current that jolts through several times in Live and Let Die’s 121 minutes. This in itself poses the question of whether I, reviewing this 40 years post release, in a filmmaking period where send-ups to movie are commonplace, may have hurt my impressions. It also doesn’t help that 75 percent of parody movies are hopelessly inept. Maybe Live and Let Die doesn’t work for me because of how incredibly dated it seems. Most Bond movies are relatively timeless, but this one, with hairstyles, expressions, and clothes that are very of the time period encircling the neutrally dressed and spoken James Bond inserts another bizarre component.

Despite being by no means a solid installment, Live and Let Die is an important part of the 007 history. Introducing Moore, who would spend the next twelve years in the part of the eternal agent, this movie should still be viewed by those with an interest in the series. Besides, there are redeemable parts, like the speedboat chase at the end and Clifton James giving a great comedic performance by the odd and somewhat bigoted sheriff J.W. Pepper. At two hours, it’s not too long and doesn’t feel too long. By saying Live and Let Die wasn’t my favorite James Bond movie didn’t mean it was a bad movie – it’s simply mediocre as a whole with occasional moments of good entertainment.

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Now, please tell me why jazz funerals haven’t caught on worldwide yet.

Thunderball – Review

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Sean Connery as James Bond explains thunderstorms to everyone that passes by… wait… that’s not what the movie is about?

by Ken B.

It was of vital importance that the 007 films of the 1960s be consistent and engaging, as the franchise was still in its infancy and needed to get it right every time to keep audiences coming back. Thunderball achieves just that. While a little on the long side, Thunderball makes up for most of its shortcomings by having sweeping visual effects, including excellently shot underwater footage and action scenes as well as a neatly polished screenplay, based on the 1961 Ian Fleming novel.

Sean Connery (my personal favorite Bond, possibly because he’s the first) plays the beloved agent in this fourth installment. Bond is sent to Nassau, to track down Largo (ADOLFO CELI), who is threatening to detonate two large nuclear weapons unless a large sum is paid. (Hmm… Right now I don’t think many Americans care much for plots where large weapons are suspect to be launched. This review was poor timing for the topically sensitive reader. Thankfully, I’m not.)

Thunderball really doesn’t diverge much from the classic Bond formula. As I mentioned before, it really shouldn’t have. The purpose of this movie was to present an entry in the series that satisfied audiences and had them wanting to see the next installment (which would be You Only Live Twice two years later), and this achieved that. Maybe looking back on it nearly fifty years later has it lose some of the initial awe, but it’s still mostly riveting. Yes, mostly. At 130 minutes, this movie does stumble a little on pacing issues, but there are nicely timed segments, even the somewhat lengthy climactic fight, which has a moment in it that caused me to scribble in my notebook “Pre-Jaws!”

That climactic fight takes place underwater. Easily the most technologically innovate part of Thunderball, the underwater cinematography supervised by Ricou Browning is incredible to watch. Looking on the iMDB now, I see the visual effects as a whole garnered this movie an Academy Award in 1966.

As with most movies of the action genre, it’s pointless to point out any scientific inaccuracies that occur. So I won’t. Ha.

But anyway, when looking for a sturdy James Bond film, you could do worse than Thunderball. Its only real noticeable stumbling block is its moderately inconsistent pacing, so with the addition of exotic cinematography, well choreographed fight scenes, no less than 4 Bond girls (which as rumor says, had dialogue dubbed over by the same person. The truth of this tidbit I cannot confirm or deny with my limited information available), and plenty of explosions, it’s a worthy entry in the lauded series.

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Skyfall – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

Skyfall is a superb movie; entertaining, witty, and spectacular visually. It’s the twenty-third installment in the James Bond series, marking the film franchise’s 50th anniversary when it was released in the UK on October 26, 2012.

It’s widely agreed that the 007 franchise officially rebooted itself for the 21st century with 2006’s Casino Royale, the first featuring current Bond Daniel Craig. Fans of earlier Bond installments felt it alienated them – there was nothing classic about it. However, this edition contains plenty for newcomers to the series, and longtime devoted fans.

Following a wonderfully shot motorcycle chase eventually accumulating atop a train, James Bond (Craig) is assumed dead, but is revealed to be, well, alive just in time for M (JUDI DENCH) to assign him to track down the source of a hacked hard drive from MI6, the contents of which contained the classified names of all employed agents.

It’s then linked all back to Silva (JAVIER BARDEM), a quick and clever Bond villain who has power and the henchmen to match it, ready to destroy MI6 at any moment.

Also in this series is a new Q (BEN WHISHAW), a mysterious field agent, Eve (NAOMIE HARRIS), an elusive Bond girl named Severine (BERENICE LIM MARLOHE), and a supervisor whom Bond dismisses as a bureaucrat, Gareth Malloy (RALPH FIENNES).

If you skip some off pacing at the beginning of the last third of the film, it’s well paced, keeping your attention at various degrees, but mostly strong, for all 142 minutes.

The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stylish, using up every bit of the 2.35 frame. Thomas Newman finds ways to throw the iconic classic 007 Theme into his musical score, Sam Mendes’ direction creates a proper mood, and the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan is cleverly written. Craig, Dench, and Bardem especially shine in their roles, with everyone else somewhere on the road between good and very good.

However, few of those things would matter as much without the extremely well done visual effects placed throughout this movie. Every well and good on and offscreen work here works together to create a wonderful cinematic experience.

Definitely one of the strongest installments in the series of the 21st Century, Skyfall is a perfect way to introduce the James Bond series. This concretes Daniel Craig as a solid actor within the series, and shows the 007 franchise still has a few tricks up its sleeve in this love letter to fifty years of shaken martinis.

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