Tag Archives: Daniel Craig

Spectre (2015) (IMAX)

spectre

Truth be told, I’ve never been that big a fan of the James Bond 007 franchise. It’s always kind of the same, no? A suave super spy who loves the sexy ladies and whom the sexy ladies love in return. Slick cars, cool gadgets, and a whole lot of style.

The reason Daniel Craig has been so loved as Bond is because he supposedly makes the character more vulnerable and more human. I really enjoyed Casino Royale, almost fell asleep during Quantum of Solace, and quite liked Skyfall (review here), though I still don’t think it lived up to the hype. Yeah, Sam Mendes made a very nice looking, very artistic film, but I didn’t think there was much substance behind the simple yet unnecessary convoluted plot.

The same can be said for, Spectre, which could very well be Craig’s final outing as James Bond (he’s signed on for one more, but the rights to the franchise are going up for auction and whoever wins it might decide to start afresh) — except it has more problems than just a lack of substance. I don’t want to say I disliked the movie — it was enjoyable on some levels — but it’s definitely weaker than both Skyfall and Casino Royale (can’t compare to Quantum of Solace because I can’t remember it). And for what is supposed to be the “climax” of the Daniel Craig franchise, that’s disappointing.

Spectre starts off with a bang in Mexico City, with Bond on pursuit of a mysterious criminal. I remember being blown away by the opening sequence of Skyfall on that moving train, and Spectre arguably tops that. I saw it in IMAX too, so it was even more spectacular.

The ensuing title sequence they have for all Bond films is also done very well through a catchy blend of artistic imagery and the soulful voice of Sam Smith. It also provides flashes of characters from the previous three films to jog our memories as Spectre ties it all together.

From there, however, the film struggles to keep up. Granted, there is more plot that Skyfall, and the surveillance technology premise is well-suited to the post-Snowden era. Further, the technical execution is still excellent. The action, from what I remember, is perhaps better than that from Skyfall, with a few explosive and eye-popping set pieces that keep the adrenaline pumping. A lot of guns and a lot of explosions, a few slick car chases and nicely choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes. And of course Sam Mendes ensures everything looks as pretty as ever and Craig remains as suave and unflustered — for the most part — as he possibly can be.

But amid all of this is a whole bunch of ham. Ham-fistedness, that is. The Bond cliches start pouring out, and they feel unnecessary and contrived. From the women and romances to the villains and their moronically elaborate tactics, so much of Spectre gravitates towards the tropes that Craig is supposed to be steering away from. I don’t want to divulge spoilers, of course, but ‘m not kidding when I say this film does the exact sort of things Austin Powers has made fun of.

I was disappointed in the female characters too. I absolutely love Monica Bellucci, but her role in this film is ridiculous and a complete waste of time. I also thought Naomi Harris, who didn’t get to do much in Skyfall, would play a bigger role this time. She does feature more prominently, though just barely, though her presence all but disappears in the second half of the movie. You almost forget about her. Of the Bond girls, only Lea Seydoux has a meaty role. She’s awesome and sassy, but if you think about it, her purpose is still quite conventional — to look sexy and to be rescued.

That brings me to the villain, played by dual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He’s supposed to be the baddie of all baddies. The ultimate nemesis. The guy who makes the villains from the previous three films look like pussies. He’s certainly built up to be that guy, and on paper Waltz is perfect for the role. And yet, he totally sucks. Every one of his appearances — every damn one — is preceded by a long, elaborate and over-the-top introduction. And it’s not like we don’t know who he is. Everyone knows it’s Christoph Waltz! And yet it seems he always feels the need to hide in the shadows for five minutes before unveiling his face. The amount of effort Mendes puts into setting Waltz up as the king of villains only ends up accentuating how inept he actually is.

I sound harsher than I mean to. Spectre is skilfully made, looks fantastic (especially in IMAX) and still has its moments, like the opening sequence and some of the scenes involving badass Dave Bautista. Ben Whishaw’s Q is also very likable and Ralph Fiennes does a solid job of stepping in for Judi Dench as M. It’s just that, after three films of making us feel that Daniel Craig represents a different and better kind of Bond, Spectre brings us right back to the formulaic version of the character and tropes that I never cared much for. There’s no other way to call it other than a step back.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Skyfall (2012) (IMAX)

The buzz surrounding Skyfall before I went to watch it was that it’s “the best Bond film ever.” I’ve never been a huge fan of the franchise, even though from memory Casino Royale, the first of the Daniel Craig era, was pretty darn good. Naturally, with 23 Bond films in the overall series, saying that it is the best ever is setting it up for unreasonably high expectations.

And I think it was my expectations for Skyfall that had me coming out of the cinema doubting the “best ever” claims. In fact, I don’t even know if it was better than Casino Royale.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Skyfall because I absolutely did. It had an amazing opening sequence — by far the best of any Bond film I’ve seen and probably the best of any film I’ve seen this year. The title sequence which followed was also sensational (I usually tune out during those opening credits but this one had me riveted) and the Adele-performed theme song might just be the best Bond song I’ve heard.

But after that blistering start, Skyfall slowed down and fell back down to earth a little for me. The plot is actually simple but feels overly and unnecessarily elaborate. A bad guy steals the list of the true identities of MI6 undercover operatives around the world. And he wants to make Bond’s handler, M (Judi Dench), suffer. Or kill her. Or whatever. Bond wants to stop him. People get shot and stuff gets blown up.

In other words, I didn’t think Skyfall had a very strong storyline or script. It was held together by the strong performances of Craig, Dench and Javier Bardem, the rugged realism of the action sequences and the confident direction of Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who infuses the film with many beautiful and memorable images (none of which I can or should spoil here). But to be honest I didn’t find the action or the drama to be particularly outstanding. Very good, occasionally exhilarating, but not outstanding.

The Bond girls this time around were underutilized in my opinion. Naomie Harris has little chemistry with Craig as a fellow agent and fades in and out of the storyline, never really finds her place. The sultry Berenice Marlohe excels during the splendid Macau casino sequence but her part of the story is never properly wrapped up.

One part of the film I did enjoy was its take on technology and Bond’s interactions with Q (Ben Whishaw). It asks the question of whether field agents like Bond are necessary anymore given the power of modern computers and the skills of hackers, and it also makes fun of those cool gadgets the Bond franchise is so well known for. It’s a sign that Bond is moving on with the times and may continue to evolve in the 24th and 25th films, which Craig is apparently signed on for.

Perhaps those who are more emotionally invested in the Bond franchise or character will have a different take, but unlike the critics who are heaping unqualified praise on the film, I personally foundSkyfall to simply be a very-well made film that impressed me more with its dazzling style than its substance.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: It used to be blasphemous to even suggest this, but apparently many now think Craig is the definitive Bond? I’m not sure, but I reckon he kills Pierce Brosnan.

PPS: I watched this film in IMAX. I don’t really get it. Bigger screen and louder sounds. Is that it?

Movie Review: Dream House (2011)

At first glance, Dream House appears like your run-of-the-mill haunted house movie.  A young couple moves into a new house, spooky stuff happens, yada yada yada, you know the rest.  But while Dream House is not a particularly good horror film (in some ways it’s not even a proper horror), I do have to say that it is different to what you would ordinarily expect from a movie of this kind.

Daniel Craig is Will Atenton, a successful book publisher who leaves his profession to move from New York to New England with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and his two little girls.  Everything is fine until weird stuff starts happening and Will starts to believe that their dream house has a past that will come back to haunt them.  Someone who knows more than they are letting on is their neighbour, played by Naomi Watts.

Up until this point it’s all pretty cookie-cutter stuff, but Dream House breaks away from the expected trajectory by throwing a curve ball midway through.  It’s not an unexpected twist, but the timing of the twist is curious as it’s usually reserved for the final act.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really do a whole lot for the film, which is, for the most part, plodding and lacking in both scares or thrills.  It takes the wind out of the sails too early and shifts the focus to melodrama, which simply doesn’t work without the character foundations required.  I guess the only benefit is that it keeps you interested in how they are going to fill up the remainder of the 92-minute running time.

I really wanted to like Dream House because I’m a fan of the genre and all three leads (in fact, it’s where Craig and Weisz fell in love and ended up getting married — which explains their solid chemistry), and despite not expecting very much out of it I still came away disappointed by the stale pace and dearth of scares.  The negatives could have been somewhat mitigated had the drama been more moving but it failed in that regard too.  Strangely, the film has a pretty awesome soundtrack, but when that’s the most redeeming thing about a film you know it can’t be good.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011) (2D)

I’m not ordinarily a big fan of animated films and I know almost next to nothing about the adventures of the titular character or the original comics on which they were based (apart from a short visit to the Tintin Museum/Shop in Brussels) — which is why it surprises me to declare that The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most exciting and enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.

Facts about the film I probably should have been aware of before the opening credits:

  • directed by Steven Spielberg;
  • produced by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg;
  • uses performance capture technology (made famous by The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and features the performance capture king, Andy Serkis; and
  • an all-star cast including Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) as the protagonist Tintin, Serkis as the hilarious Captain Haddock, Daniel Craig as the sinister Sakharine, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the duo from Shawn of the DeadPaul) as Thomson and Thompson, the bumbling detectives.

This film, hopefully the first of a trilogy, is based on three of the original comic books, and tells the story of how young journalist (and essentially detective) Tintin and his beloved dog Snowy become embroiled in a wild adventure involving model ships, secret riddles, pirates and sunken treasures.

Thanks to Spielberg’s masterful storytelling and the amazing visual effects (made possible by the performance capture technology), The Adventures of Tintin is an engrossing, clever, humorous, exciting and wonderfully spectacular animated film.  It is no coincidence that the film reminded me a lot of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies (especially the superior earlier ones), where the sense of adventure was genuine, fresh and thrilling.  It is the type of film both children and adults can enjoy.

The look of the film is fantastic — everything but the human characters look real, and my guess is that they held back a little so that the human characters can closer resemble their comic counterparts and avoid looking ‘spooky’ (like say Polar Express or Beowulf).  The combination of performance capture and ultra-realistic, high quality animation is spot on — it is impossible to imagine a traditionally animated film (or even a purely computer animated one) or a live action version of Tintin having the same atmosphere or effect.  It looks real but not too real, allowing the film to utilise techniques and storytelling methods that work well in animated films but not live action ones.

The performances were fantastic.  Rather than just providing voices, the subtleties of the actors’ body movements and expressions were also encapsulated in the characters they portrayed.  It made a difference.  Serkis’s Captain Haddock in particular was a standout, even if he might have come across as excessive at times.  Daniel Craig was practically unrecognisable, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s unmatched chemistry brought a certain harmony to Thomson and Thompson.

Although the 107-minute running time might have been 10-15 minutes over the ideal length of such a film, on the whole I was immensely impressed with The Adventures of Tintin.  This is coming from someone who had never read a Tintin comic book and previously had no interest in ever reading one.  Now I can’t wait for them to make the sequel, which will allegedly by directed by Peter Jackson (as soon as he is done with The Hobbit).

I don’t know if the film did justice to the original character or the comic books.  But to me it doesn’t matter.  A good film is a good film, and The Adventures of Tintin is just that.

4.5 out of 5 stars!

PS: I am continuing my stance of ‘no 3D’.  I don’t think 3D would have necessarily ruined this film, but I don’t think it would have helped.  2D was perfectly fine, and it was good enough for me.

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Han Solo/Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a western fused with nasty aliens, directed by John Favreau (Iron Man), with producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and executive producer Steven Spielberg.  In terms of expectations, they don’t get much higher than Cowboys and Aliens (adapted from the graphic novel of the same name), which could explain the lukewarm reception the film has received thus far.

But was it really that bad?  No.  I actually thought it was okay.  Big stars, freaky monsters, large-scale battle scenes and some well-executed action sequences.  But given what this film could have been, Cowboys and Aliens was ultimately somewhat of a disappointment.

The story is relatively simple — Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert with an alien bracelet on his wrist and no recollection of who he is or where he has been.  Stuff happens, and along with Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Clancy Brown (everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank), he goes on a mission to rescue some humans while trying to piece together his shattered memory.

All the requisite elements for an engaging motion picture are there.  Craig is excellent as the kick-ass, “don’t mess with me” protagonist, while the supporting roles are adequately filled by legend Ford and rising star Wilde.  The film has that dusty, gritty western feel, along with old fashioned bravado and gun fights — plus the strangeness and unknown feel you get from alien invasion films.  The special affects are fine by current standards.  The story is formulaic enough for a typical summer blockbuster but not to the extent that it becomes a distraction.  The character development and subplot boxes are also ticked.

And yet Cowboys and Aliens feels like an empty blockbuster — all style, (to be fair) a little substance, but no soul.  If I had to pinpoint what went wrong, I would probably say that the biggest problem lies with the aliens, who are menacing but that’s about it.  They’re just there to kill and be killed, monsters with no personality whatsoever, and as a result don’t invoke genuine suspense.

Another problem is that everybody in the film seems to play their roles too straight — there are some elements of humour but for the most part it’s all about being cool.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, though I feel with such a potentially fun premise they should have had more fun with it than they did.

(And I’m not sure if it was just the cinema I attended, but many of the night scenes in the film came across as incredibly dark, to the point where it became irritating.)

Having said all that, Cowboys and Aliens is better than a lot of the criticism suggests.  I was never disengaged during the 118-minute running time, and I almost wished they could have dedicated more time to certain plot points (especially those involving Ford).  As far as action blockbusters go, it’s certainly a lot better than say Transformers 3, but given the crew involved I should never have even considered comparing the two films.

3.25 stars out of 5

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out

I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

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