The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Political journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just been released from prison, wherein he was serving a short time for making falsely proven claims against successful businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg). With his reputation in tatters, Blomkvist accepts an offer to lay low for a while, looking into the family history of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), specifically the disappearance of Vanger’s granddaughter Harriet from their remote family island 40 years ago. Meanwhile Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the young, socially isolated hacker Vanger hired to research into Blomkvist’s background, has to deal with her own personal issues – a new, abusive, government-appointed guardian for one – before she too becomes an integral part of Blomkvist’s case. Continue reading

Skyfall

A hard drive containing the identities of MI6 undercover agents is at risk of going missing, so James Bond (Daniel Craig) is trying to catch the thief in Istanbul, with the assistance of field agent Eve (Naomie Harris). When Bond is shot and presumed dead, his superior, M (Judi Dench), takes the blame, but when Bond returns from the grave, he must track down the files to save not only his country, but his boss.
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Top 5 Bond Actors

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the first Bond film, Dr. No. Also, I reviewed Casino Royale earlier this week (undeservedly voted the 56th greatest film of all time by Empire readers in 2008), and Skyfall, the 23rd official Bond film, is released soon, so this seemed to be the perfect time to do a Top 5 list related to Bond in some way. As much as I would have liked to have done a comprehensive list of my five favourite Bond films, villains, girls, gadgets, cars, locations, henchmen, lairs, guns and kills, I’m afraid I don’t know nearly enough about the series to do that, seeing as I’ve seen quite a few of the films only once, and many of them I can’t remember. I do know that my favourite film is Goldfinger, which also features my favourite henchman, Oddjob. Scaramanga is probably the best villain I can remember, or perhaps Max Zorin, but that’s mainly for the actors playing them. So instead of any of those lists, I’ve compiled my top 5 of the actors who have portrayed Bond onscreen in the main series (I’ve not seen the 1967 David Niven-starring Casino Royale). Seeing as there’s only six actors currently in the series, this was a pretty straightforward list to compile.

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Casino Royale

With the imminent release of Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (UK release October 26th), it seems like the perfect time to cross the film ranked 56th greatest film of all time by Empire readers a few years ago, Craig’s first Bond outing, Casino Royale.

Now, if you ask me, #56 is pretty high up, especially when you consider that Goldfinger, my favourite Bond movie, is 110 places lower at #166, and no other Bond movies made it onto that list (You Only Live Twice appears in the Empire 5-star 500). Even if you take into account Casino Royale’s proximity to the release of the list, made just two years later, it’s still pretty damn high. Apparently, it’s better than Lawrence of Arabia, Annie Hall, 12 Angry Men, The Great Escape and literally hundreds of other films that, in my opinion, are far superior. But then I didn’t compile the list (though I did vote on it, and not for this film), so who am I to voice the opinions of others?

Before I continue my now-trademark tirade of negative comments, I should probably point out that this is a very good film. It served as a much needed shot in the arm for a franchise left face down and drowning on a CGI-wave of Pierce Brosnan’s swarm and Madonna’s atrocious Die Another Day theme song. In a post-Bourne world it established itself as a gritty reboot, taking Bond away from the ludicrous gadgets and back to the basics of hand-to-hand scrapping in a public bathroom, whilst still retaining the sheer spectacle of fighting on top of not one crane but two. Every aspect of classic Bond is present, from the impossibly slinky and easily-bedded women to a nefarious villain with a silly name and mild physical deformity (Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, with a scarred eye that weeps bloody, and asthma to boot). Yet everything feels a bit more real, a bit dirtier and scuffed around the edges. And this description is none more fitting than of Craig’s Bond himself. Yes, he looks impeccable whether wearing an immaculately tailored dinner jacket or a pair of swimming trunks that apparently make my girlfriend’s mother go all weak at every possible joint, and he’s always got a quip ready in his back pocket, but this is a Bond with flaws and imperfections, all to aware that the men he is up against may be more than his match.

Take the early scene in Uganda, for example. Here, Bond must chase down and apprehend a suspect to obtain the passcode on his mobile phone, yet unfortunately said miscreant (Sebastien Foucan) is rather adept at long-distance sprinting, free-running and jumping off things that are ridiculously high up. Whilst he bounds around without a care in the world, remaining relatively scratch free, Bond is always a fair way behind, getting progressively beaten up and always opting for the easier route – hopping into a JCB digger or shoulder-barging through a wall rather than leaping through an uncomfortably small window. Here is a Bond who doesn’t need to show off when no-one is looking, he just wants to get the job done, and at whatever cost.

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with Bond films. I’ll gladly watch any of them, even Quantum of Solace if there’s nothing else on, but the plots are usually a bit labyrinthine for me, which is only to be expected if they want to make each film different. I’m not quite sure of the main motivations in Casino Royale, but I’m fairly sure it’s got something to do with the stock market, although the basic point is that Bond infiltrates an extremely high stakes poker game with a $150,000,000 pot, in order to prevent Le Chiffre from winning it and doing something bad with the proceeds. Everything else is fairly superfluous. I’ve read elsewhere that setting most of a Bond film around a poker table is nothing short of sacrilege, but I found those parts to be fraught with tension and often interspersed with enough action to suffice, even if the film made poker out to be a game that only deals in the most improbable card hands ever. There’s a nice running commentary provided by Bond’s accomplices, Vesper Lynd and Mathis (Eva Green & Giancarlo Giannini), but I didn’t think it was that necessary to have so much exposition, considering how dumbed-down the game was.

There were some very memorable set pieces, with the cold open of Bond achieving his double-0 status and the parkour escapade being particular high-lights, though I also enjoyed the stairway scuffle later in the film, showing how Bond had improved his jumping-and-punching skills from earlier. The testicular-torture scene may have gone a little too far, but it was well-handled and didn’t make me feel as squeamish as it could have done, and it’s more than compensated for by the various little moments of humour, and the record number of car rolls a little earlier. 

I approved of the expansion upon the relationship between Bond and M (Judi Dench), whose involvement in this franchise has cemented her presence as something of a British icon, and the rumours that this repartee has been increased ever further in Skyfall excites me no end. Bond is always at his best when bouncing off a superior – best seen with Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, and his utter, barefaced cheek clashes perfectly with Dench’s no-nonsense style. 

Though the last act may drag a little – the film clocks in at 138 minutes – the pace is fairly consistent throughout. There’s a lot here for Bond fans – more in-jokes than I remembered – and plenty for newcomers too. It may not be my favourite Bond film, but it definitely breaks the top 10, and maybe even the top 5.

Choose film 7/10

A Kid in King Arthur’s Court

It seems I didn’t quite think through the strategy of watching the entire careers of various prestigious film-makers. Who’d have thought that, before they became renowned and laden with numerous awards, actors would take any roles going to pay the rent, regardless of the claptrap they may be. And so it is with A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, the family-friendly second entry on Kate Winslet’s CV, and what I hope will be the worst, although seeing as I’ve still got The Holiday to watch at some point, this may not be the case.
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Cowboys and Aliens

Apologies again for the lack of recent posts. I’ve been in hospital again for the past few days (where I managed to watch this film but do little else). All being well my extended medical excursions are now complete, and I can get back to watching films and writing posts. Hopefully there’ll be a steady slew of posts over the next week or so, as there’s about twenty from the List that I’ve watched recently and haven’t reviewed yet. Right, back to today’s feature:

With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, a certain level of expectation is accrued before watching. Along with approximately equal parts ranch hands and space travellers; their respective genres of horse opera and sci-fi melded neatly together, there surely must be a hefty dollop of fun, because the premise is more than a little ridiculous. Yes, it’s just as plausible as any other alien invasion flick, for why necessarily would beings from another planet arrive in present day, but the very notion of cowboys on horseback, with lassos and pistols, taking on intergalactic creatures capable of space travel and ray guns is just insane. So whilst I’d heard mediocre reviews elsewhere of this film, I at least expected to be entertained and amused throughout.

Chances are, this would have had a better chance of happening with a different cast. Though the film’s marketing and other reviewers have revelled in the idea of Bond and Indy together again (The Last Crusade famously saw Sean Connery, the one true Bond, playing Indiana Jones’ father) what director Jon Favreau doesn’t seem to realise is that an older, eye-twinkle-free Harrison Ford and a stoic, seldom talking Daniel Craig just aren’t funny, and have next to no chemistry together.

Craig’s Jake Lonergan awakes in the desert with nought but a photograph of a lady, a strange wound on his side and an even stranger chunky bracelet clamped to his arm. He can’t remember his name or anything else, so after seeing to a trio of miscreants, he heads into the nearby town of Absolution, terrorised by Ford’s bitter cattle baron Dolarhyde. The first half hour or so is easily the best in the film, setting up what looks like an interesting traditional western – albeit significantly more polished and brighter than others made recently, and even once the aliens attack, in a gripping sky-lasso sequence, it stays on the rails. Afterwards however, once every named character has either been snatched by the creatures or sets out after them, it loses it’s way.

Lonergan and Dolarhyde’s posse – for it is they that lead the hunt – is made up of some nameless alien-fodder, and is joined by a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk, including Sam Rockwell’s meek doctor-come-bartender and Olivia Wilde’s mysterious stranger. Wilde and Craig look entirely out of place in the Old West, their piercing eyes, clear skin and complete lack of cragginess juxtaposing with the entirety of the rest of the cast, including the likes of Ford, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown, who appear to have been born to wear a stetson and chaps.

The best characters are easily Rockwell’s doc and Paul Dano’s Percy, Dolarhyde’s obnoxious son, so it’s puzzling just why they were sidelined quite so much. Had they been the central pairing, this could have been a far greater, more entertaining and interesting picture. The aliens, too, were disappointing. Their design isn’t anything overly creative – other than a chest cavity that opens up to reveal two small arms for delicate work – and they had a confusing blend of advanced weaponry and primitive pounce-and-flail combat techniques. They also had absolutely no characterisation, and quite frankly the notion that they invaded to steal gold is beyond ridiculous, and was the point at which I gave up on the film.

It’s my own fault for going in with high hopes after reading middling reviews, but I feel this is a great concept that was floundered on the wrong cast. Favreau as a director seemed a perfect choice, but he forgot to bring the funny. Yes, Craig’s impassiveness did cause humour at times, mainly when he caused people pain, but all-in-all this was a missed opportunity for a great film.

Choose life 5/10