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Film Review: Skyfall


To the manor Bond

There’s nostalgiaabout this film as it marks 50 years of Bond.  It also fulfils audience requirements in that since Casino Royale thrust Bond back into fashion audiences have been waiting for another action packed Bond Film (considering Quantum of Solace garnered less enthusiasm).  Plus, a Bond film is one of those films that you go to the cinema knowing you will like: you may be able to see its flaws, but on the whole you know you’re gonna like it.  It inspires and revisits the excitement of when the new Bond would be out (or even an old one on television) from childhood.  But…

…Don’t believe the hype: this is not the best Bond film ever made.

It is a Bond of two halves:

It’s definitely Casino Royale mk2 for the pre-title sequence: a pulsating chase through Istanbul that culminates in a reasonably edgy segue into the titles.  I liked the titles and the song is fittingly Bond-esque (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adele involved in further films).

The film continues apace punctuated with a couple of dull moments that are clearly there to show depth to Bond’s character, but feel clunky and ill-conceived in relation to the rest of the film.  It seems that in this “Bond universe”, contrary to the rookie Bond in the previous two Craig outings, Bond is a washed up (literally) drunk: battered and bruised and self-aware enough to know that espionage is fast becoming a young man’s game where technology outfights brawn.

But, with a list of secret agents being leaked by a disturbingly camp former agent Silva (Javier Bardem), Bond is soon found to be useful, particularly as this adventure becomes more personal.  Silva is potentially Bond of the future: as an agent he pushed the boundaries of his remit too far and M hung him out to dry.  Silva explains as much to Bond, but the similarities between them seem to pass him by and, unfortunately that theme does not get revisited.

There are some great set pieces and when the action does get going it grabs the film by the scruff of the neck and lifts it way beyond the shaky plot.

At some point the main plot, the secret agents list, is discarded and it becomes a film about Bond protecting M from all-out assault from Silva.  This second half of the film seriously loses its way for me and I began to lose interest.

Silva also inexplicably discards his clever scheming and terrorist tactics in favour of all out warfare.  Perhaps it was to show that the list was trivial to him and all that mattered was M, but this was not really represented in the film.

What this film does do is give M much more screen time than previous Bonds.  Judi Dench’s clipped and matronly interactions with, particularly Craig’s, Bond have always been well worked.  Unfortunately, in this film Judi Dench shows more of her “As Time Goes By”, rather than her Academy Award winning acting chops.

Although the “Straw Dogs” style siege at the end offers up impressive action again, the shine is taken off by the manner in which we got to this point.

At times it feels like fan fiction: revealing more of Bond’s past and knowing nods and winks to previous films (and Bonds).  That’s not to say that it doesn’t work, but it places Daniel Craig’s Bond in that uneasy area where previous Bonds are regarded as the same person: George Lazemby clearing his desk in OHMSS springs to mind. 

This might seem like a damning review, but I actually enjoyed the film.  You do have to suspend belief when watching Bond and I’m more than ready to do that.  I suspect the hype led me to believe that this really could be the best Bond of all.  It always helps when you like a Bond and, Brosnan aside; I’ve liked all Bonds (yes, some more than others).  I honestly think that Daniel Craig is a great choice and conveys Bond’s ruthlessness and charm extremely well.

The film redeems itself massively in the final 20mins and I also suspect that audience members leaving the film on a high and full of anticipation for the next film in the series will have also added to the rave reviews.  It sets up the next phase of the series really well and I will be relishing when…James Bond will Return…

My Rating 3/5


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Perhaps saturation point has been reached: I’ve read the book (and its sequels) and seen the Swedish movies (and its sequels) and I very much enjoyed them.  Although I did think the Swedish movies were a little inconsistent, perhaps I was more forgiving of them because they were low budget Swedish productions and not “Hollywood”.

It’s easy to become a bit snobbish about remakes and I’m certainly no exception.  It’s also easy and perhaps a little lazy to think that the only reason a remake is made is to somehow dumb down the original, particularly when the remake is one that turns a foreign language movie into an English speaking version: as if people really will not consider watching a film that has subtitles: perhaps they do?!

I had a lazily snobbish attitude when I heard that a US remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was going into production.  It was tempered by the attachment of David Fincher as Director and Daniel Craig as, in my mind, a much more suitable Blomkvist.  The stills showing Rooney Mara, in an unenviable position of trying to fill Noomi Rapace’s shoes, as Lisbeth Salander added intrigue.  And the excellent posters and the trailer (although almost showing the whole movie condensed into 2 raucous minutes) and the Trent Reznor/Karen O re-working of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song made me start to believe this could actually surpass the Swedish version.

I considered that although the film may not hold as much suspense for me, it was almost guaranteed to be a technically better made movie that would look all of its alleged $90 million budget.  Alas, although perhaps technically better the experience left me cold.

The first thing that struck me as a little odd was the opening titles which actually turned out to be the most energetic and adrenalin fuelled part of the whole movie.  Unfortunately, after that high-octane beginning the movie developed into a slow paced, uninvolving dirge with little to nothing going for it.

The movie remained set in Sweden, but the random use of accents by the actors became a massive distraction.  Some actors appeared to be attempting Scandinavian accents (some more successful than others) whilst others didn’t.  The “random acts of Swedish” even extended to written word whereby some newspapers were in Swedish, yet Blomkvist’s post-it notes weren’t and there were other inconsistencies.  I couldn’t help but think that had they relocated the whole story to the US and done away with this nonsense it might have held up better.

The lethargic pace is matched by a lethargic central performance from Daniel Craig.  Although, to me, he represents a truer vision of how I imagined Blomkvist to be in the books (one of the Swedish movie version major downfalls), he really phoned in this performance: unless his intention was to show Blomkvist as a bit bored by the whole thing.  It ruined any chemistry there may have been between Blomkvist and Salander and I really feel for Rooney Mara, as she seemed to be the only one immersed in her role and she deserved better than this.  Only Mara comes out with any credit and, unfortunately for her, Rapace is so identifiable with the role Mara may not get the credit she deserves (although I see now she has been nominated for a Golden Globe).

There was no suspense and no identification with the process of investigation that, even when already knowing the twists and turns, the Swedish version did so well.

Somehow Fincher, scriptwriter Steven Zaillian and a potentially impressive ensemble cast managed to turn one of the most successful and critically acclaimed novels in recent history into an overlong bore.

And, of course, there are two more yet to come…

My Rating: 1/5

Film Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

This is the final instalment in the Swedish film adaptations of the hugely successful Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy.

The story picks up straight from the end of the second film and continues to follow the uncovering of Lisbeth Salander’s life and Mikael Blomqvist’s determined pursuit of the story that will prove her innocent of any crime.

The familiarity that I now have with the characters ensured that I segued into the story with little need for reminders of how we had reached this point. However, reminders were there and were presented excellently as Salander’s nightmares, so it did not feel as though we were rehashing old ground unnecessarily.

Strangely, the misgivings I had about the second film; that Salander and Blomqvist spent too much of the film apart and I missed their on-screen chemistry; did not bother me this time even though they spend much of this film apart too. I think the difference is that in this film there is much more at stake and much more imminent danger: the government conspirators, the hulking giant Niedermann, Zalechenko and others all out to see to it that Salander does not get out of this one alive.

Although the basic essence of the film is a courtroom drama, there are so many set pieces and unravelling of the conspiracy and it’s protagonists that it feels like a political thriller.

Once again, although her screen time is significantly shorter than the other instalments Noomi Rapace excels in a part that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing (good luck Rooney Mara who is taking on the role in the US remake).

Michael Nyqvist carries the role of Blomqvist like a well worn coat and although he differs from my perception of him from the novels, he does have a screen presence that is the hub of the minor characters that enjoy much more of a key role in the plot progression.

It’s an excellent continuation of the Salander/Blomqvist story and the three films together do offer up a consistent vision of how the novels have been brought to life.

The ending is ambiguous enough to suggest there may be more to this and, considering it has been widely reported that book 4 was in development when Stieg Larsson passed away, it could mean that we have not seen the last of them. And that would be no bad thing.

David Fincher, Daniel Craig et al have a lot to live up to and I feel it will that people who have watched and liked the Swedish versions will also take some winning round. As long as the source novels are utilised fully, as they contain much more depth than has been shown in any of these films, there should be no issues or questions as to why an English speaking version is needed at all.

My Rating: 4/5