Let me add my voice to those quite happy with the 50th Anniversary James Bond film, SKYFALL. Director Sam Mendes admirably helms Daniel Craig’s third time at bat, as the iconic James Bond.
Mendes, who is not known as an Action Director, but rather a maker of intimate and off kilter little films (such as AMERICAN BEAUTY and AWAY WE GO) rises to the occasion here with a film filled with tension and at times literally jaw dropping action set pieces.
From cars to trains to helicopters to subways, Daniel Craig’s Bond gets everything thrown at him, sometimes literally. However the film is more than blowing things up, it’s a tighter script and a more coherent and identifiable motivation for Bond’s nemesis this time out than is usually the case in Bond’s menagerie of outlandish villains.
[POTENTIALLY MILD SPOILERS]
Played compellingly and hauntingly by Javier Bardem, Bond’s nemesis this time out seeks not Sattellite transmission rights, or orbital based weapons, nor voodoo mastery of the world… he seeks vengeance. And not long into the film, you’re not sure he doesn’t deserve it. Which is why I hesitate to call Javier Bardem’s Silva a villain. He is a dark mirror of a Bond who has given too much and too often to his country, and been left out in the cold one time too often and too deeply.
I found myself while not condoning Silva’s actions, understanding of the motivations that drive them. And distinctly aware of Silva as a cautionary tale to Bond; ‘there but for the grace of God’ as the saying goes.
[END OF SPOILERS]
And the complexity of character extends throughout the cast, from Daniel Craig’s always impressive turn as Bond, to Judi Dench celebrating her 17th year playing M (4 films with Pierce Brosnan and 3 films with Daniel Craig)by having one of her best written and most significant roles as the character; to impressive moments by Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw as Q.
While not a perfect film, the film manages to feel long in the tooth at times, but even in those moments it is never less than beautiful to look at. Filled with nods to the half century of Bond’s filmic history, unevenness and all, Mendes manages to merge winter blockbuster with intimate drama, to create a film that is ultimately memorable and re-watchable.
Is it the best Bond film? No. It doesn’t even sport a particularly memorable or imaginative title sequence, but it is a very good Bond film, arguably in the top ten, and is a film, I think people can revisit often and well.
Grade: B+. Strongly Recommended to see in theaters, and a must own on DVD or Bluray.
35 praised films that completely disappointed me
TRIANGLE- 1st 15 mins is intriguing, once they hit the ship, tedious does not begin to describe it. A 30 minute twilight zone episode stretched to feature length
TAKING OF PELHAM 123 2009- See the original instead
HOSTAGE- fantastic opening credit sequence but goes down hill from there
There Will Be Blood (2007)- despised it. See instead GIANT or NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
HURT LOCKER- overrated and ultimately empty. See instead GREEN ZONE.
Rogue- Insipid, boring and idiotic crocodile film.
Primevil- Crocodile movie. Mediocre
From Within (2008)- Intriguing beginning that unfortunately paints itself into a haphazard and unsatisfying conclusion. Suicide, religious fundamentalism, witchcraft, and mysterious deaths, intriguing build up that chokes on the ending. See instead THE CHILDREN
The Abandoned (2006)- looks great, but ultimately pointless and empty. See instead SAUNA
PREDATORS- Weak script, weak performances, Adrian Brody is miscast and offers a poor performance. See instead PREDATOR, PREDATOR II, or ENEMY MINE
DOG SOLDIERS- moronic characters, poor writing, uninteresting direction, see instead DESCENT
THE MIST- just overblown acting, and an ending that was drained of any impact. stick to the audio book, it’s far, FAR better. See instead IT.
REC 2- Awful sequel, that gets wrong everything that worked about the original. See instead REC or ROMANSANTA
Drag Me to Hell (2009)- I found it okay, to a little less than okay. Beginning was very good but It lost me somewhere in the middle and never got me back. The whole seance/possession thing I found completely idiotic. See instead EVIL DEAD 1, EVIL DEAD 2
DARKNESS and NAMELESS- not horrible, quite intense and effective in places, but undermined by too much cliches, stupid character actions and poor endings. In general just poor writing
DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT- This is a very compelling film through most of its run time, but just completely collapses at the end. “Let me show you my abs”? Really??? WTF? That’s your ending?! Made me mad and ruined an otherwise strong film.
KING OF THE HILL (Spanish)- Beautiful looking film, not bad, just not satisfying, and questionable plot contrivances, but not a bad film. But put here because not as great as it has been touted.
CREEP- brain-dead mutated Subway killer flick
SIN CITY- misogynistic, reductive tripe. Absolute garbage.
NATURAL BORN KILLERS- One of my most disliked films. Right up there with SIN CITY.
SHOOT EM UP- It just bored me
MR. BROOKS- Way underwhelming, bordering on mediocre “serial killer with a twist” flick. See instead the fantastic, but vitually unknown Jeff Goldblum flick, MISTER FROST.
DISTURBIA- A poor man’s REAR WINDOW, not horrible, just not good.
THE DEVIL’S REJECTS- Stylish and well made, just morally offensive and bankrupt. Zombie’s viewpoint is to sympathize and root for the serial killers rather than the victims or law enforcement. He even does this with HALLOWEEN… not something I buy into,,, ever
BATMAN BEGINS- Interesting beginning, tedious middle, stupid ending. See instead BATMAN (1989) or THE DARK KNIGHT(Only Nolan movie I like)
MACHINIST- Brad Anderson directs intriguing films, that tend to either spin wheels to a telegraphed conclusion (SOUNDS LIKE), or tread water to an empty forgettable conclusion(SESSION 9 and MACHINIST)
BUG- It tries for Cronenberg body horror, but marries that to just an annoying and tedious storyline
Dead Silence (2007)- average to bad, see instead MAGIC or DOLLS
INCEPTION- Don’t get me started, I’ve discussed Nolan and the emperor’s clothes enough
PUNISHER- Thomas Jane version— ugggh, see instead PUNISHER the Lundgren version, reviled by many it’s actually an impressive flick
10 derided films that I enjoy!
SKELETON KEY- hugely underrated New Orleans Gothic tinged horror film
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL- absolutely adore this movie. One of my favorites.
WAR OF THE WORLDS (Remake)- Yeah it’s a fad to bash Tom Cruise. But fads aside he’s a fantastic actor, and this is a strong flick.
HANCOCK- Horrible name for a movie, horrible posters, box art, horrible marketing. But under all this damaging comedy labeling, is actually quite a compelling and strong film, with a great third act. Rename this THE INSURANCE POLICY (OF THE GODS), use some serious marketing and posters, and you could re-release this to DVD and continue to clean up on this film (it made in theaters over 300 million domestically).
FF- I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it, it was nice goofy fun, and enjoyed it a lot more than the dire SIN CITY or BATMAN BEGINS
JUDGE DREDD- everyone agrees the comedy relief, courtesy of so-called comedian Rob Schneider was a horrendously bad idea, but there are some fantastic iconic scenes in this film, the best is Max Von Sydow’s walk into the Cursed Earth. Movie is worth it for that scene alone.
TRANSFORMERS 2- Not great, but definitely good and visually stunning.
PISTOL WHIPPED- I liked this Seagal straight to DVD flick the first time I saw it, but every single time I’ve seen it since, I like it more. Plus a fantastic opening credit sequence, and a solid ending. A lot of fun. “You cremated now MFer!”
THE EXPENDABLES- When I first heard about this idea, I thought it would be a nice, fun kooky throwback to the 80s film of yore. Nothing great but just a nice teaming of some 80s icon, a nice throwaway flick.
So what did I think?
To say EXPENDABLES does not disappoint is to perhaps practice understatement to an unacceptable degree. Quite frankly it is a great movie… full stop. Sylvester Stallone, once again, proving himself to be a creative force to be reckoned with, and a damn great director.
Stallone, much as he did in 2008’s RAMBO, takes the tropes of Hollywood’s current 80s infatuation phase, to craft on to that skeleton a film that is superior to its influences. A homage indicates a film that is a calling card to something greater, THE EXPENDABLES like the aforementioned RAMBO, is not a homage. It is better than its inspirations, as Stallone ratchets the action and adrenaline up to 100, and then takes it beyond.
And more than that THE EXPENDABLES is a far less one dimensional film than those of the 80s, where the bad guys were mustache twirling villains and right and wrong were clearly delineated paths (with the exception of the Somalian Piracy issue, that the film presents in just that one dimensional way. Eschewing the larger issues that the pirates may not be the ones seizing those boats, but may instead be the companies and nations, that are launching them, and are providing the money and weapons that allow a genocidal war to continue. This vilification of easy targets, akin, but less severe than DISTRICT 9’s Nigerian Bashing).
The Generalisimo is presented, thankfully, more adeptly. While a despot, he is one placed there by forces in the form of the always impressive Eric Roberts.
And to speak on Eric Roberts for a second: I’m glad to see in films like this and THE DARK KNIGHT that he is finally getting the due he didn’t in his youth. Eric Roberts long being one of the best actors Hollywood was ignoring.
And Stallone manages to grant all these stalwarts their moments. Peppering his 80s icons with relative new guys and real life tough guys Terry Crews (Retired NFL Football Player, and has appeared in several films including GET SMART and DELIVER US FROM EVA. He brings a distinct, calming and very affable energy to the mix), Randy Couture (Wrestler and retired MMA Champion. Has starred in REDBELT and SCORPION KING among others. Like all truly dangerous guys he brings an easy, laid back presence to the screen), Steve Austin (A former champion WWF Wrestler, and has starred in NASH BRIDGES and THE LONGEST YARD. Known as Stone Cold from wrestling, he brings that intimidating presence to the EXPENDABLES with impressive results).
And not to be outdone by the new guys Stallone, Statham, Li and Rourke (who delivers the film’s central theme of sacrifice in quite a moving scene) do the heavy lifting in terms of story beats.
Giselle Itie, the stunning 28 year old Mexican actress, makes her big screen debut as the worthy reason for the Expendables to expend themselves. She captivates and I see big things ahead for her.
And Charisma Carpenter stars as Statham’s love interest, I didn’t even equate her with BUFFY until checking IMDB in prep for this review. Always attractive, there is something new in her face. Something that is not quite unlike suffering, and not quite unlike grace. She’s one of those rare people whose face only grows more… compelling with time. She is on-screen just briefly, but manages to truly burn herself into those scenes.
And returning to Icon territory, Dolph Lundgren is an actor (like many Action heroes) who has fought long for respect. I’ve always felt he has earned it, being quite a fan of the much railed against first PUNISHER movie starring him and Louis Gossett Jr.
And by all accounts his Direct To Video films, which I intend to bring you an overview of, showcase his growing skills as both actor and director.
With THE EXPENDABLES he gets his first big screen showing in decades, and captivates with it. As a man who has endured and seen and been… too much.
To a certain extent the script by Stallone, in seeming throwaway one-liners addresses each man’s very public private issues, in a self effacing way that speaks of much courage to those who can listen. From Stallone’s marriage woes, to claims of substance abuse, to subtle lights shined on, not the 80s, but today.
The fact that their defacto hangout is Rourke’s tattoo parlor, has nothing to do with the 80s and everything to do with today. It speaks to the proliferation of body art in the 21st century, the need in an empty age to wear your allegiances on your skin because all other allegiances… have failed you. They are men shorn of an inner identity seeking to find in the identification of the flesh, a needle and ink that will pierce deep enough… to identify their souls.
You can get all this out of the movie (akin to how the French looked at our stylish Black and White crime films of the post war era, and saw in them existential commentaries on fatalism and the human dilemma and ultimately coined them… Film Noir), or you can see it as just a phenomenal action movie. Or if you’re like me, you can do both.
Either way, Stallone is really pushing the envelope in terms of on-screen brutality. It is not as clearly disturbing as RAMBO, which I think is a very subversive film, that works on levels of both exhilaration and castigation.
I think one thing it gives you, that you didn’t get from the films of the 80s,where everyone died pretty, is that death is a violent and violating thing, and you don’t ever want to be shot if you can avoid it.
Because flesh wounds in Stallone’s films, more often than not, take off limbs. I think it is a truth about violence that was often missing in the throwback video-game like films of the 80s. And here that violence, of the School of Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and since adopted in films as diverse as TAE GUK, RAMBO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, DISTRICT 9, is in full effect here. Death not as Pekinpah or Woo’s Blood Ballets, but death as meat grinder.
That aesthetic is in full effect here in THE EXPENDABLES, done in a manner somewhere between that aforementioned exhilaration and castigation.
I’m always a little conflicted by these action sequences, and I think that conflict, that sense of horror, is the point. However in films like DISTRICT 9 and to a certain extent here, I see that violence used less as something to horrify, something to remind you life has weight, and more as just something to entertain you.
And that’s an odd and uncomfortable line for me as I get older, this violence as entertainment. I like to hold fast to this idea, old-fashioned I agree, of violence as a last resort… to save maiden’s from dragons, and the weak from the wrong.
But if we are honest this querulous occupation/obsession with the deification of the gun and the men who wield it is ingrained into the early days of our cinema and beyond. Past the Penny-Dreadfuls of the wild-west, past the cobblestoned tales of Victorian England, past the campfire myths and warrior songs, past gunfire’s birth, past the forging of iron, or the wielding of a bow, past perhaps even fire’s spark. Always the glorification of those who live by war.
All to say that we are a caustic and tragic tribe, that at its heart believes, perhaps too fervently, in the efficacy of the blood of heroes.
And for moments fleeting Stallone’s picture touches, perhaps only haphazardly on this, dark dichotomy of our age. Warriors devoid of any clean or simple or justifiable war.
It could be laid against me that I am reading too much into a simple action flick/ DIRTY DOZEN take-off (down to even the setup of the Generalisimo’s fortress), giving Stallone too much credit as a writer (the original story/script being product of Dave Callaham) but I think not. Stallone has proven himself quite an adept and manipulative writer throughout his career, and a fixer of ‘untrue’ scripts, ROCKY and FIRST BLOOD sensations of their time because they exhibit a very deep understanding of what moves us, of what… galvanizes us on an almost instinctual level. I don’t think there’s a more insightful writer/director working. He understands the human heart in a way that very few people do, and he understands the oft querulous nature— of hero. And I see his later films as a questioning of what becomes the hero, in an age where we have all (nations, and nation-states)… to some extent… embraced villainy.
But my concerns about the depiction of violence to the side, THE EXPENDABLES is a film that beneath the wall to wall action, manages to let each character shine, never an easy thing to do with a large cast, and more imbues the characters and the film, with real heart. It is an inarguably well made film, that hits all the notes, and I believe, even all the conflict it hopes for. A great film that I look forward to the director’s commentary, and making-of-specials, and adding to my DVD shelf. As well as interest in the already under preparation sequel. Highly Recommended. B+/A-.
2007/2008 will go down in the books as a FANTASTIC YEAR for films, possibly the best year in a decade, with Hollywood cranking out intelligent, edgy and engrossing films; that entertain, and perhaps do a little bit more.
Hollywood has, reinvented themselves in the last couple of years from just a maker of popcorn eye-candy and summer action flicks, to a maker of films that resonate.
Even the supposed popcorn movies being so much more, I AM LEGEND being a genre defying flick, and one of the most impressive and engrossing Blockbusters I’ve seen in years. And 300 much to my surprise, being a visually and emotionally rousing film, fantastic work by relative unknown Zack Snyder.
And even RAMBO, dealing in gross extremes of war and violence, has something to say, something subtle, and profound to say (hearkening back to the first film) about its genre and its time.
So more than ever before we are getting films… willing to address through fiction, the disturbing factual times we live in.
And while Hollywood still has its share of turn off your brain Ridley Scott films, for every one of those you are now also getting, a CHILDREN OF MEN or a BABEL.
And this is due in large part to a daring new crop of directors, many of them South American, who bring a distinctive understanding of the edges of liberty… to their films. Guillermo Del Toro comes to mind. As does Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of BABEL, AMORES PERROS, and 21 GRAMS fame. And Alfonso Cuaron of the phenomenal CHILDREN OF MEN.
But not to be undone by the new kids on the block, there are American Directors aplenty with things to say… and wonders to show you.
Chief among them… Joel and Ethan Coen of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN fame.
I was able to catch this flick before it departed the big screen, and I’m glad I did.
Since their breakthrough on the cinematic stage, Joel and Ethan Coen have proven themselves highly stylized, highly original, and highly idiosyncratic filmmakers.
And all three traits are in fine display in their latest, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Ostensibly a thriller, with knuckled edge moments of true menace, of uncomfortable menace, that hearkens back to such Masterpieces as BLOOD SIMPLE.
But this is far less a straight thriller, and it plays at some point, fast and loose, becomes cold, and reflective and withdrawn from seemingly the very subject of the movie, a film that becomes ever more withdrawn from itself. The wheres and whens and whys become afterthoughts as everything begins falling away.
There’s a wonderful aloofness to the movie, that kicks in to high gear when what should have been the climax of the movie, happens completely off stage; it is a bold decision, one that I can’t say is completely successful. Basically severing the emotional heart of the movie, the character, who to this point, is the one the audience identifies with.
So it’s a jarring moment to lose the star of the movie in such an offhand way. It is not the choice any number of directors would make. The Coens strip us of a true climax to the film, instead the film simply winds down… like a clock, or old men, or like life.
Like life too harshly lived, and arguably… too poorly.
The film ends, and only in reflection do we realize, the climax, like our best years, as individuals and as a nation, have passed us by, while we were making other plans.
It’s a courageous if not entirely successful way to end a film, and while I understand it is in keeping with the book, pulling such a structure off in a book and a film, are two very different hurdles.
Other filmmakers would have chosen a more conventional path, but not the Coens. And they don’t hand you anything in this movie, the fact that the movie takes place in the 70s, culminating in one last murder in 1980. They leave it for you to piece together. Much of the movie is like this, the Coens setting you in the tail-end of the storm, and you have to find your own way home.
Joel and Ethan Coen, with this movie reaffirming that they are Filmmakers that are very much willing to challenge and experiment with the medium. This is not a crowd-rousing film, the Coens want something other than your adrenaline, they want your angst.
And with this film they get it.
There’s something gratifying in knowing that three decades after this film duo first burst onto the scene, that they remain, in dangerous times, still among our most insightful and dangerous filmmakers.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is accomplished film-making, that will stay with you long after you have left the theater; and will only grow in esteem, the more you watch it, and the more you succumb to its structure and its strengths. Highly recommended!
One neat side note: Long before the book was ever optioned for a movie, and of course before the Coens were attached, a reviewer wrote the following about Cormac McCarthy’s book:
“Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, “No Country for Old Men,” gets off to a riveting start as a sort of new wave, hard-boiled Western: Imagine the Coen brothers doing a self-conscious riff on Sam Peckinpah and filming a fast, violent story about a stone-cold killer, a small-town sheriff and an average Joe who stumbles across a leather case filled with more than $2 million in hot drug money.”-
-No Country For Old Men
Fiction. By Cormac McCarthy 309 pages. $24.95. Alfred A. Knopf.
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani
Published INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE -WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 2005
Wow Ms. Kakutani was evidently dead-on, or maybe her review got some producers thinking. :). Just thought that was nifty.