Skyfall – Review

Skyfall (2012) 

Director: Sam Mendes. Cast: Daniel CraigRalph FiennesJudi DenchJavier BardemBen Whishaw.

Heralded as the Best Bond film in over a decade, or possibly even the best Bond film ever, accompanied by a series of positive feedback and reviews from early screenings and a marketing campaign that only a 007 film can have (before my screening I counted at least 7 different Bond-theme adverts!), Skyfall finally opens to the public.

Right from the word go, you can tell you’re in for something special: as we’ve now become accustomed, the opening sequence is absolutely spectacular. A never-ending chase, through the streets of Istanbul, along the labyrinthine corridors and over the rooftops of the Grand Bazar, and finally on a moving train, ending with a bang, literally! Bond gets shot from the distance and falls off from the moving train, over a bridge down to some deep waters below… How on earth can he have survived the fall is never really explain, but hey, who cares, it’s Bond, James Bond. Logic and plausibility should have been left outside the theatre, before coming to see the film. Later on there will be another impossible escape from a prison, which once again, will not be explained. But then again, the film moves so fast, that it almost doesn’t matter.

However the film never really reaches the heights of that first sequence in terms of action (almost as if the budget had been all blown on that). The other set-pieces throughout are pretty standard fights, shootouts and simpler chases. However what really makes this Bond quite special is its mood, its splendid cinematography (including an ingenious one-take-wonder-fight in silhouette against the backdrop of some flashing neon lights from some advert on a building in Shanghai), but above all, the central relationship between Daniel Craig and Judy Dench. It’s ironic that across all the 23 films, the 77 years old Judy Dench could possibly be my favourite Bond Girl. Ruthless, ice-cold, incredibly charismatic and this time vulnerable too. I will not spoil the ending (though you can see all the various twists coming miles away), but by the time the credits roll, she will be the real star of the movie.

Skyfall (Incidentally, for some reason I had missed the name of the house in Scotland and I cound’t quite work out the reason behind this title) also sees the return of Q (though as Bond rightly says it’s not really Xmas as far as gadgets go), this time as the new geeky young techy genius played impeccably by Ben Whishaw. It all makes me really hopeful for the next future instalments (apparently two more movies are already in the pipeline after this one, with the next one already in production ready for a 2014 release).

And of course no Bond is complete without its baddie and Javier Bardem is one of the best we’ve had in a while. Over-the-top as only he can be, Bardem shares a classic intimate scene with Bond which will be remembered forever: a brave scene, considering Bond’s history, but also brilliantly funny!

Despite the above mentioned sequences in Istanbul and Shanghai, British director Sam Menders decides to play most of the film at home and London is where most of the film takes place. It’s the London we all recognise, with its rain, its Millemiun Wheel, its Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, its Gerking skyscraper standing above the city-line and its iconic “tube” at rush hour which plays as the setting for another chase, though this one rather unremarkable (I must confess, the only fun for me this time was to try to recognise all the various stops).

The film gets more and more intimate, the more it unravels, something which is quite unlike any other Bond movie before, where usually the third act is reserved for the big reveal of a massive lair, or some secret base somewhere in some hidden location. This time  we end up in rural Scotland. Nothing wrong with that, of course. This is a more intimate 007 film, one that focuses more on personal relationship and people rather than dastardly plan from some evil master of crime. Having said that , there is something slightly under-whealming about this last 30 minutes and in the end I couldn’t help feeling a bit let down (especially given the fact that it ended in exactly the way I thought it would… Including the twist).However, we even get given a little bit of a hint into James Bond’s background, something which has escaped us for 23 film, and though it was all just a fleeting moment, it was also a nice welcome novelty into a character who we think we know much too well.

And of course, to complete the mix, we’ve got a shaken Martini, a splendid Aston Martin (with its music cue right from the 60s), the classic “Bond, James Bond” line and a couple of cold jokes (though we are still quite far from the Roger Moore fun-fest).

Daniel Craig, now on his 3rd outing (4th if you count his appearance with the Queen at the Olympics), inhabits Bond to perfection, whether he wears his tuxedo or not. The blink-if-you-miss-it moment where he adjusts his cufflinks right after landing on a smashed train is played to perfection both in terms of timing and tone. Never for moment I regretted I didn’t have Connery, or Moore, or Brosnam (I’m not even going to mention the other two…).Daniel Craig is James Bond!

Slightly shortchanged are the actual Bond Girls this time. Sévérine, played by Bérénice Marlohe is of course beautiful, but ultimately rather forgettable. Eve (Naomie Harris) is a much stronger character (I bet any Bond fan will be able to guess the twist much before it will actually be revealed), but I couldn’t help having a certain detatchment towards her and to be honest I could not care less whether she had lived or die.

In the end, this is one of the stronger Bond movies we’ve ever seen, though certainly not as Oscar worthy as the hype wants us to believe it is (though Judy Dench might get nominated and probably some technical nods will come its way too). It is enjoyable, tense, thrilling, always intriguing,  but I must say, it won’t be one of those I will watch over and over again (aside from that amazing opening).

7.5/10

Rabbit Hole – Review

RABBIT HOLE  (6.5/10)

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Starring Nicole KidmanAaron EckhartSandra OhDianne Wiest

Let me just start by saying that this is not a bad film. It is very well handled, both in terms of direction and the general tone (A surprising change from Shortbus director John Cameron Mitchell). The acting is absolutely impeccable, the photography simple and understated, yet perfectly controlled an absolutely right for a film like this. Even the music, by TV composer Anton Sanko,in its gentle form is carefully used and never falls into the cheap emotion stirring mode.
So why did I just give it a 6.5 then, when everything about it seems ever so perfect?

I supposed my argument against it comes down to not the subject matter itself but the way the story is handled. I am probably alone on this one, since the play from which the film has been adapted has won the  Tony Award in 2007. Obviously somebody must have seen a lot more in it than I did. Somebody must have liked it a lot!

It is essentially a film about grieving: a couple has lost their 4 years old boy in an accident and 8 months later they are struggling to cope with it. This is essentially the film. This is how much I knew about it before going into the theatre and this is exactly how much I still know about it after the screening.

Despite the fact that the film is an incredible emotional experience (I pretty much cried non-stop from half way though right till the end), to me the film just went nowhere. I knew exactly what was going to happen before it happened… and probably because nothing really happened. It’s all played by numbers and there was really nothing surprising about it.

Of course it’ll make you cry. If I tell you a story for 2 hours about my 4 years old boy who died run over by a car, I’m sure I can make you cry too. You certainly can’t judge a film on whether it’ll make you cry or not. Of course, this film will stay with me for a while, but once again, this isn’t certainly a mark of a good film either (I remember a lot of very bad films too).

I can probably understand that this is exactly the point of the movie: when something like this happens, it’s as if you fall in a state of trance and nothing really seems to happen anymore. Life stops and it doesn’t matter how much you try to shake off the emptiness, life will never be the same again. I get it. And yet I hated it. Maybe I just resented it for being put in a condition where I had to watch people having to live this tragedy for 2 hours.

This is one of the most depressing film I’ve seen in quite a while. In a way it reminded me a lot of “Revolutionary Road“. But where that film had some sort of character development and skillfully managed to balance moments of comedy (however dark) to moments of high drama (thus elevating them and giving them more impact), “Rabbit Hole” is constantly depressing. It only seems to have one gear, travelling at constant speed to a place which is pretty obvious right from the start. It’s a film with the same level of voice all the way through and after 2 hours of being told something pretty obvious, it does get all a bit tiring.

Aaron Eckhart is really good, of course he is. This the typical Oscar worthy part, but I have to say, it’s so much easier to play a character like this. I am not an actor and yet if somebody put me on a stage and told me “your 4 years old boy has died” I would be able to cry and shout and look the same way Aaron Eckhart did. The same goes for Nicole Kidman. I am not trying to take anything away from them, I am not saying they were not absolutely perfect in this film, I am just saying that the part of a grieving parent has got Oscar bait written all over it. Also, I must confess I was a little distracted by Nicole’s lips too. All the way though the film I kept on asking myself ” What the hell has she done to those lips…”. Please Nicole, leave them alone! Have the courage to grow old, like any other human being. You are so good, even without Botox and surgery!!

6.5/10

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