Thursday 5 November 2015

Review: Spectre

Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Synopsis is here:

The returning adventures of Bond are a mixed affair. Hoyte van Hoytema brings across some gorgeous warm visuals. The film’s opening sequence is one of pure spectacle and delivers that Bond style thrills that one would hope for (as does a particular explosion later on). These things and a few other things in Spectre helped distract me from the usual concerns I hold with other Bond films of the past which often involve our favourite drunken misogynist having to navigate tiringly convoluted plots.

Nods to previous alliterations and versions of Bond were understandable in previous films. Die another Day, for instance, was not only celebrating the 40 year anniversary of Bond on film, but was also the 20th official film in the franchise. Coming out two years after the turn of the millennium, with such a self-aware actor as Bond made sense at the time. All in spite the film’s weak execution.
Spectre’s wish to remind viewers of the Connery’s white Tux from Goldfinger (1964), over-elaborate villains’ lairs and Charles Bronson-esque henchmen are cute enough. Yet such elements now seem flimsy. Particularly as Daniel Craig’s stint as Bond has strived hard to incorporate a more modern view of the character, after the franchise found itself looking outmoded in comparison to the likes of Bourne.

The likes of Casino Royale and Goldeneye, melded the modern with tradition, and did so comfortably. However Mendes’ second undertaking of the Bond series, loses much of that dour retrospection that gives Skyfall (amongst much of Craig’s Bond entries) such an intriguing appeal. The film’s secondary plot, involving national surveillance, is actually quite appealing in its relevance. Unfortunately Spectre must make sure that Bond seduces a lady to advance the so called real story. No matter how little chemistry Craig has with Monica Bellucci. Does it matter that the sequences comes off as wildly forced? Or a waste of such a quality actress? Nope, Bond must get his end away at least twice. No matter how laboured it may feel.

Spectre (and perhaps much of the newer Bond’s) still struggles with some of the retrograde trappings of the character. Sometimes when the stars align, it doesn’t matter. Other times such as here, everything feels off. Craig’s performance sounds resigned and tired. We’re left to wonder if that’s the character or the actor coming through. After Craig’s recent comments, it’s hard not to think it’s the latter.

There’s still fun to be had with Spectre. Giving Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) more to do is a nice touch. Despite a well spoilt revelation (due to hunches, marketing hype and weak scripting), Spectre holds an excruciatingly painful torture sequence which works incredibly well in the grand scheme of things. Andrew Scott is a fine addition to the film and while, despite looking a little tired with it all, Craig is still an interesting figure as Bond.

Annoyingly, Spectre’s third act tries quite hard to dismantle the more alluring directions that Bond had been heading in. It's rushed A to B plotting hurriedly accumulates to an inelegant climax, which only frustrates, as it balances on a decision that rings quite false of the character. The toning down of Bond in his more unfavourable traits, may not appeal to everyone, but are understandable. The awkward compromise which goes against one of the key elements of Bond's complex dynamics, is uncomfortable. Even for a causal Bond fan.

Spectre will certainly have its fans, and is far from the worst Bond film ever made. Be that as it may, as the credits roll, it was hard not to think of one of my favourite Radiohead songs. No Surprises.

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Review: Crimson Peak

Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

Synopsis is here

Crimson Peak, Crimson Peak, where the women are strong and the men are weak. Guillermo Del Toro’s English language ode to his Spanish language gothic drama, is an opulent, female driven beast that leans more towards Jane Austin than Ju-on.  

Wonderfully carried by a spirited Mia Wasikowska performance, this gullet slicing melodrama is something that will likely frustrate those who fell for its dubious horror-only marketing guff. The approach from the studios has appeared to be so incorrect, that the director himself had to reinforce his intentions beforehand.

Such is the linear view of movies these days, I wouldn’t be surprised that people went into Crimson Peak expecting The Conjuring. I don’t believe many expected heavy references to the literature such as the likes of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (famously adapted by Hitchcock in 1940 and gloriously highlighted here by a deranged Jessica Chastian performance). Nor do I feel that the so called “average audience” was interested in the lighter references to the likes of Nosferatu (1922) or even the meta winks to English hammer horror (Our lead protagonists surname? Cushing). Touches like this would probably be deemed uninteresting to a crowd looking for Paranormal Activity jumps.

The feverish love for the gothic melodrama, as well as the exquisite visual design, is why this blogger adored much of Crimson Peak. It’s a film which delights itself in the mood, it creates over rigid obedience over narrative. The film gracefully defies logic. The murderous, over-elaborate plot dodges any typical rationale. Meanwhile pure white snow falls delicately over the blood red clay which Allerdale Hall resides on. A grand, decaying, English mansion seemingly miles from anywhere. 

Nowhere in England looks like this. It all feels like something out of a monstrous fairy tale.
This is what Del Toro wants. It is not a film about particulars, unless it involves references to literature. The visuals help pronounce the madness. The cast is dialled to eleven, while the setting provides the psychoanalysis with Allerdale's rotten walls and sickly green lighting. It’s a film that once again highlights Del Toro’s main interest. The monstrous designs that lie within humans and how it corrupts the environment around them.

There’s ghosts and things that go bump in the night within Crimson Peak. However Del Toro’s feature is far more infatuated in those small creepy inklings that tingle the spine, over cheaper shock tactics. It’s a ghost story that is told in the way that only Guillermo can tell them. In bold, broad and intense emotions.