Skyfall (2012) a (right on time) review

So, the new James Bond film Skyfall:  Good or bad?

Would you believe…both?

Usually when I settle down in my theater seat and watch a film, I tend to soak in what’s going on before me.  I try not to be too terribly judgmental of the things going on…unless, of course, there’s just no way to avoid critiquing them.

In the case of Skyfall, it is a credit to director Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig, and all those in front of and behind the cameras who delivered a movie that it moved as well as it did.  In fact, so well did it move that with one exception, it wasn’t until after the movie was over that I realize the screenwriters delivered a truly underwhelming, ultimately silly story.

How silly?

Well, to get to that I do have to go into…

SPOILERS!!!

Still here?

All right, here goes:

The entire plot of the villain of Skyfall, Javier Bardem’s Silva, is to kill Judi Dench’s M.

That’s it.

That’s all.

OK, if you want, you can add to the fact that Silva also wanted to destroy her career as well.  But that secondary goal was achieved fairly early on.  No, she wasn’t completely repudiated in the MI6 circles, but she was already being pushed into retirement as a kindness by her superiors.  Her career was effectively done.

Thus, when Bond shows up unannounced in her flat (so much for security!), it could just as easily been Silva there to kill her.  Had he been there instead of Bond, the film would have been over close to two hours earlier!

Still, at that point we as viewers weren’t aware of Silva’s endgame.  Instead, we get some great scenery as Bond gets back into the service after being thought dead (death and rebirth are a big subtext within this film).  He follows an assassin and winds up meeting the beautiful Severine (Bernice Marlohe) who eventually gets Bond to Silva.

Severine’s story winds up being the one truly sour element of the film to me while first watching it and before realizing what the whole story entailed.  Her total screen time runs to little more (perhaps even less!) than ten minutes and Bond’s flippant comment following her death was needlessly cold (he showed more emotion to the loss of his Goldfinger Aston Martin car than to her!).  Yet in that brief time with her I felt she should have had far more to do than be a tragic messenger delivering Bond to Silva.

What a missed opportunity!

But getting back to the film in general:  Yes, the plot/story ultimately is so small scale and full of logic flaws that I can’t blame some for hating the film outright.  Yet I can also sympathize with those who love the film because the fact of the matter is that this film moves like lightning and entertained me to the point where I only considered most of its defects after the fact.

In the end, I recommend Skyfall.  It may not be among the all time best of the Bond films and the villain’s goal may be underwhelming, it is nonetheless a pretty good ride.

Best and Worst of James Bond

With the release today of Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, there have been plenty of internet bandwidth devoted to exploring the best and worst of the James Bond films.  Some of the sites include:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment2/55220222-223/bond-brosnan-connery-debut.html.csp

http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2012/10/23/the-best-of-bond-ranking-the-james-bond-movies-from-worst-to-best/

and…

http://www.eonline.com/photos/5837/22-best-and-worst-james-bond-movies/208602

I find the lists intriguing as I’m a bit of a contrarian regarding at least on of the Bond films many view as a disappointment:  Diamonds Are Forever.  This film, which was the last “official” outing by Sean Connery as James Bond, also seemed to set the template for much of the Roger Moore films that followed:  Campy, jokey (at times), while delivering some good action and wild scenery.

But many others, it seems, aren’t as taken in by that film as I am.  I happen to love the lighter tone and found the entire work a fun film.  No, it certainly wasn’t one of the “serious” Bond films…not by a long shot, but I enjoyed it for what it was.

For what its worth, my all time favorite Bond film is probably From Russia With Love, the second Bond film made.  However, Goldfinger, the film which followed this film and is considered by many as THE best Bond film of the lot, is also extremely high on my list.

Of the Roger Moore films, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only are my two favorites but I also really enjoyed the wild stunt-work (and tongue in cheek attitude) present in Live and Let Die.

As for the others, I like Timothy Dalton’s first foray into Bondian territory, The Living Daylights and felt Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film, Goldeneye, was likewise his best.  Similarly, Daniel Craig was damn good in Casino Royale and, while I was disappointed with the follow up film, am curious to see him in Skyfall.

Which leaves us with the one oddball (IMHO) Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  There are those who consider this, George Lazenby’s only outing as James Bond, one of the best Bond movies of them all.  I’m not one of them.  Yes, there are some good action sequences, but overall the film doesn’t do it for me.  George Lazenby is not that bad, but on the other hand he doesn’t quite project the charisma needed for a James Bond.  Again, IMHO.  Further, the plot I always found confusing.  Why doesn’t Blofeld (Telly Savalas) recognize James Bond -and vice versa- right away when they meet in this film?  After all, in the previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, they confront each other in that film’s climactic conclusion yet in the follow up act as if they don’t know who each other is.

Very strange, continuity wise.

As for the worst Bond films?  Of the Connery ones, I’d have to go with the already mentioned You Only Live Twice.  It was a little too much gadgetry and not enough humanity, despite some interesting elements which would be reused in the far superior Spy Who Loved Me (that film was essentially a remake of You Only Live Twice!).  Of the Bond films, the worst include The Man With The Golden Gun (perhaps the greatest potential wasted…having the great Christopher Lee as the villain should have alone made the film a knockout.  Instead, the film moves around lifelessly), A View To A Kill (Roger Moore was really looking waaay too old for the role by then), and my least favorite, despite a pretty good opening act, Moonraker.  Too much silliness.

Ah well, let’s see if Skyfall lives up to the hype and proves to be one of the better ones!

Death Bed Confession…

I like weird stories, and they don’t come much weirder than this story from HuffingtonPost.com involving one James Washington, who while in prison suffered a heart attack, thought he was going to die, and made a “death bed” confession to a murder he committed…only to not be quite as near death as he thought he was:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/james-washington-death-bed-confession_n_2076932.html

After surviving the heart attack, the man tried to recant his confession, but was ultimately convicted for the crime.

If the details of his crime weren’t so damn gruesome -beating a woman to death- one might be inclined to laugh at the macabre nature of the story.

At least the family of the victim gets some justice.

Bond…James Bond. In song

A few years back, the James Bond franchise hit a wall.  The current actor playing the James Bond role had obviously played himself out, it appeared, to both audiences and the producers of the films.  Realizing they needed to make a change, the producers of the films decided to go in another direction and bring us a more “serious” Bond.  They wanted to make the stakes higher and minimize the “camp”.

The result, 1987’s The Living Daylights introduced audiences to Timothy Dalton’s James Bond.

Alas, box office history wasn’t made there nor, especially, in the second and last (and, IMHO, pretty terrible) Timothy Dalton Bond film, 1989’s Licence to Kill.  Though its hard to judge and I may well be “mind-reading” here, I nonetheless had the feeling Timothy Dalton knew this second Bond film was a dud.  His performance throughout was pretty dull and he looks to be having a terrible time before the cameras.  It hardly came as a surprise, therefore, that he didn’t return for thirds.

Strangely enough, history essentially repeated itself afterwards.  The next Bond, Pierce Brosnan, certainly looked great in the role of James Bond.  However, I found his films to be…mediocre.  Though I saw all of them, I’d be hard pressed to give you details of any of his films…other than the first, Goldeneye, which I consider the best of the lot.

So when Pierce Brosnan was let go, the producers of the Bond films once again decided to “go serious” and brought in Daniel Craig. Unlike the Timothy Dalton experiment, their fortunes were rewarded this time around even as history repeated itself in other ways.  Like Timothy Dalton, the first Daniel Craig Bond film, 2006’s Casino Royale, was pretty damn great.  The follow-up, 2008’s Quantum of Solace…wasn’t.  In fact, I think I enjoyed Licence to Kill a little more than Quantum…though at least Daniel Craig remained more interested in his role here versus Timothy Dalton.

Which is my very long winded way of saying that I’m curious to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall.

But am I the only one who thinks Adele’s theme song for the movie is…pretty terrible?  Don’t get me wrong:  Her singing voice remains a pure joy to hear and, on the surface, getting her to sing the theme song to a Bond film seemed a total no-brainer.

The problem, in my humble opinion -and, no, I’ve haven’t sold quite as many of my own albums as Adele has! ;-)- is that they put “Skyfall” and words that rhyme with it a little too much into the song.  It’s just a little too much, IMHO.

What are my favorite Bond theme songs?  Three immediately spring to mind:

Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey.  Perhaps what Adele was striving for?

Then there’s the rockin’ Paul McCartney “Live and Let Die”:

Finally, loved Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better”.  Really liked the way she subtly threw in the movie title, “The Spy Who Loved Me” within the context of the song.  Pretty much the opposite of the way Adele has Skyfall a little too pronounced in the song’s lyrics.

So….election day

Good to see so many people in these parts participating in voting, though there have been controversies.

What else is new…for Florida?

The early voting hours were cut down despite the fact that there were long lines of people willing, able, and patient enough to brave the lines.

As for me, for the first time I applied for an absentee ballot for myself and my wife.  Mine arrived in time to be sent out for this election.  My wife’s?  Still waiting for it.  A website for absentee ballot information lists her ballot as being sent to our (correct!) address on Halloween, October 31st…needless to say, it should have arrived by now.  Perhaps it got lost in the mail or perhaps it was delivered to another household by accident.  Regardless, my intrepid wife will have to brave lines later in the evening when she gets out of work…unless the absentee ballot arrives today and we can simply deliver it to a place that accepts absentee ballots.

My prediction?  I’ll have to go with the majority of pundits and say President Obama gets re-elected.  A couple of months ago I made a similar prediction and felt on far firmer ground at that time.  Today, the margins are smaller and Romney has certainly made some inroads (though he seemed to have primarily been helped by Obama’s non-appearance at the first presidential debate).

We’ll see soon enough…

London After Midnight (1927) a (mind-boggingly) belated review

First off, the 1927 Todd Browning/Lon Chaney feature London After Midnight is perhaps one of the more famous “lost” films of the silent era.  Perhaps even THE most well known of them all, given the talents involved.  (lists of famous Lost Films can be found here and here and here)

According to IMDB: (London After Midnight) is believed that this film existed until 1967. Inventory records indicated that the only remaining print was being stored in MGM’s vault #7 which was destroyed by fire in 1967. By that time, all other elements had been destroyed or were missing.

On TCM the other night, however, they aired a slightly under one hour “reconstruction” of the film.  Since there is no actual footage remaining of the film, they used still and creative zooming/panning along with title cards to give viewers a sense of what this lost film was.

Visually, I have to say the film (or rather the still) sure deliver the goods.  Lon Chaney’s vampire character is certainly memorable, as is Edna Tichenor as Luna the Bat Girl, the vampire’s assistant.

But the story…well

Look, its silly.  Perhaps even beyond silly.  London After Midnight is, at its heart, a murder mystery.  Five years before the patriarch of a family dies in what the detective in charge (Chaney) rules a suicide.  But he clearly doesn’t believe this to be the case.  Five years later, the house beside the deceased man’s estate is rented to what appear to be a pair of vampires (Chaney and Tichenor) who creep out the neighbors…one of whom may be a murderer.

Again, what follows is rather silly, storywise.  If you must know, much of the vampire subplot is nothing more than a way for the detective to push the people next door into thinking that the suicide (actually murder) victim may be brought back to life…and therefore expose his murderer.

I am, however, pleased with the presentation, limited though it was to static stills.  The people behind this “reconstruction” did a pretty good job of giving us what we needed to know so that we could at least visualize the lost film.

One remains hopeful, however, that sometime in the future a print of the actual movie will be found.  Silly plot aside, I’d love to see the great Lon Chaney’s every scene as the vampire!

The coming election…

Don’t know if everyone out there in the United States is aware of this, but I heard a rumor that sometime next week we’re going to have a Presidential election.

Here in Florida, a “swing state”, that means a deluge of calls originating from strange numbers (thank you, caller ID…soooo much easier to ignore these annoying robo-calls!).

Now, not to get too political, but I made my decision a while back and find it hard to believe that many polls shows the race as “tight” as it is.  Sorry, but there is simply no way in the world I can support a candidate who switches core philosophies depending on what he thinks his audience at that moment wants to hear.  Voting for Mitt Romney, thus, is like voting for the unknown.  Which Mitt Romney will you get?  That’s not to say, however, that I’m completely enamored of Barack Obama, but at least he’s managed to (slowly, granted) bring this country out of the outright disaster left behind by his predecessor, who I consider the worst President to have graced the White House in my lifetime.

But enough of my politics.

The question on many people’s mind is: Who’s going to win?

While you can look in on any number of predictions (I happen to like the mathematical geekiness offered at fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/), Cracked.com offers the following 6 Bizarre Factors That Predict Every Presidential Election:

http://www.cracked.com/article_20139_6-bizarre-factors-that-predict-every-presidential-election.html

Fringe Season Five…so far

Yesterday I caught the latest episode of Fringe, “The Bullet That Saved the Earth,” the fourth episode of the show’s fifth, and last, season.

It occurred to me a while back that while I generally enjoy the show, one of its biggest problems is that the writers behind the series tend to make things up on the fly.  At least this is my suspicion given the way the show started, progressed, and is now winding down.

The show has shifted abruptly since the last season to a bleak future where the mysterious Observers, a race of aliens originally presented as beings who could be in any time of their choosing and are extremely difficult if not impossible to kill but who are now much easier to pick off, have taken over Earth and are grinding humanity down.

But not if our intrepid Fringe division heroes can thwart them.

In this episode, what should have been a gargantuan story point was told in the waning minutes of the episode and, yes, to discuss it I should warn you…

SPOILERS FOLLOW!

Still here?

You’ve been warned!

In this episode, the now grown daughter of Peter Bishop and Olivia Dunham, Henrietta Bishop (Georgina Haig) dies at the hands of the “chief” Observer.  The sequence should have been emotionally engaging and, at the very least, shocking.  However, and this is one of the big problems I’ve been having with the show this season, things are happening at such a breakneck pace that, as a viewer, I haven’t been able to attach myself emotionally with any of these characters.  Even the ones who have been around since the series started.

Not to sound too anaI, but did anyone notice how many minutes passed before our protagonist, Olivia Dunham, uttered a meaningful line of dialogue in this episode?  I mean, she was around, but it seemed like we were in the show’s second segment before she had anything worth saying at all…and it feels like this is the way the season has so far gone.

The show’s producers are so busy trying to show us this new world/reality but have short shifted us on the characters.  When Henrietta dies, we should have been floored by such an audacious and stunning plot development.

Instead, I felt…almost nothing.

You see, I barely knew the character.  She hadn’t been given enough screen time on the show for me to develop any feelings for her.  And her death, something that should have been shocking and emotional, instead felt like a cold, calculated plot device to make me feel something I simply didn’t.  Her character hadn’t earned those type of feelings…at least not yet.

Worse, I suspect her death will only be temporary and lead to the show’s ultimate conclusion/happy ending:  Somehow, Walter Bishop will undo the damage wrought by the Observers and “reset” time.  Thus, that day in the park that Peter, Olivia, and the infant Henrietta will play out once again in the closing minutes of the show’s final episode, only without the Observers’ invasion.

And we’ll see Henrietta grown once again, thinking back to that childhood, perhaps along with the older Peter and Olivia as they bury Walter and think back to the beautiful life they had together.

Just a thought.

Anyway, despite these complaints, I’m one to complain.

I’ll be there to the end, despite it all.

Eye of the Hurricane

My thoughts go out to everyone who experienced hurricane Sandy over the past few days.

Living in South Florida, one gets to see (and fear) the paths of hurricanes and tropical storms all too much.  August, in particular, seems to be the “nail biter” month.  That seems to be the month to watch out.

Though I’ve experienced my share of storm systems (including the devastating Andrew in 1992), one of the more memorable hurricane experiences I faced was back in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina.

Ironically enough, I was in New Orleans on a business trip about two weeks before Katrina devastated the city.  The trip done, I returned to my native South Florida and then watched as the weather reports indicated a tropical wave might become something greater.  Of course, it was August.

While many recall the devastation inflicted on New Orleans, Biloxi, and other areas in Katrina’s path, few recall that South Florida actually felt the first hit from Katrina.  Of course, at that time the storm was “only” a Category 1 Hurricane.

The thing that I most recall about Katrina was experiencing the so-called “Eye” of this particular storm.  I suspect most people are familiar with the term, but for those who aren’t, many well defined hurricanes have what is called an “eye” in their center.  This eye is often a circular tranquil zone where there are no winds or storms.  The eye wall around the eye itself, however, usually has the most severe weather attached to the storm.

Experiencing Katrina’s eye was an eerie experience.  Katrina, if memory serves, struck us during the day.  The weather rapidly grew worse with each passing minute.  Winds blew heavy and the trees around my house were shedding leaves (and branches) by the second.  Things got worse and worse.  The electricity was knocked out and rain splattered against the window like ball bearings.

And then, all of a sudden, everything was calm.

We knew the storm wasn’t done.  We knew we were experiencing its eye.  I recall going outside the house and feeling not even the slightest breeze.

I went back inside, knowing that this wouldn’t last.  Sure enough, the winds suddenly picked up and the storm’s fury was right back.  Maybe an hour or so later the winds started dying down and the bulk of the storm was passed.

It would go on, of course, across South Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico where it would strengthen into a devastating Category 5 Hurricane before eventually hitting land near New Orleans.

As inconvenienced as I was by Katrina and, later in that same year the more devastating (to us) Hurricane Wilma, it was obvious we were lucky compared to those in the Mississippi area.

Now with Sandy, I can’t help but feel for those who faced that beast.  Any hurricane, regardless of category, is something one must take very, very seriously.

 

The Blog of E. R. Torre

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