Is it just me or does Daniel Craig, with each passing Bond film, look more and more like the William Shatner mask worn by Michael Myers in Halloween? For me, the biggest problem with the Craig Bond Era has been Craig…he showed a promising range initially but was never quite right for the role. But I digress. He does fine here (I guess) in his fourth outing. So apart from Craig saddled with being Craig and a snooze-inducing Sam Smith Bond theme (man, what a step down from Adele who knocked it out of the park with Skyfall!), let’s inspect all the good stuff in Spectre…because, boy, there’s a lot of it. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Ahhh…shit…(SPOILER ALERT!) I gave away a major spoiler of Star Trek Into Darkness in the title of the post! Though, honestly, people, is it any surprise that Khan makes an appearance in part two of Abrams’ reboot series? Following the trend of comic book films, it seems as if Abrams’ Treks will only be as good as their villains…which means this sequel is a slight notch above its overrated predecessor but is still a mish-mash rehash with nary an original idea to be found and completely void of the political allegory and societal mirror-holding that made the original series so…original. I was a bit more invested in and entertained by this rehash as if you are going to rehash plots and villains, you might as well rehash the best. I mean I can’t even remember the villain in the first film.
Though the DUN DUN DUN previews made it clear things were going to get more serious this time around, the film is inexplicably sub-titled Into Darkness…as there’s nary a moment of literal or thematic darkness to be found in the shiny happy continuation of Abrams’ shiny happy series. Okay, okay, they do speak the words war and genocide, and alotta people die James Cameron-style when the ships get all blown up and stuff. But you gotta hand it to a guy who just doesn’t give a damn. If J.J. wants to do an opening nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a sci-fi film, well, by golly, he’s gonna jam that in there! And if he wants to have his set designers craft an entire starship to be made of interior reflective surfaces so that his signature lens flares can go whole hog and burn your retinas…then damn it, Jim, he’s gonna do it! And if he wants to stretch out certain emo-scenes Felicity style to the point of banality…then frick, he don’t need Keri Russell present to do that. You see, J.J. is like that smart dorky crafty kid who grew up to be geek chic. He’s completely hung up on the nostalgia Hollywood peddles, which has made him a golden boy in a town that loves to recycle all that is golden. This means that many will find what he does pretty cool, but if you want anything deeper than re-imagined childhood reveries, then you better look elsewhere.
And although all the lens flares and explosions render certain action scenes incomprehensible, there are still some wondrous set pieces and stupendous special effects to be found here. Continue reading
The third Daniel Craig headlining Bond flick, Skyfall, opens up like many Bond films of yore with a spectacular chase sequence that involves motorcycles atop Istanbul’s famous market and a fist-fight atop a moving train that ends with Bond getting accidentally shot by another agent trying to take out his combatant. And as he falls into the river below, the traditional Bond credit sequence begins with Adele’s superb theme song recalling Shirley Bassey’s iconic Goldfinger.
It seems we were in for more of the same, but did they just kill Bond…even if only symbolically? During the credits you are reminded of the masterstroke of hiring cinematographer Roger Deakins (arguably the best in the biz today) and his frequent cohort, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes as their names come up in that comfortably familiar Bond credit sequence font. Never before has a Bond film been given such behind-the-scenes pedigree, and armed with a sharper than normal script – the dynamic duo pay homage, deconstruct, and resurrect from one amazing set piece to the next the entire Bond oeuvre. Continue reading
Damn it, Jim, I’m a TV Producer not a Film Director!
Author: David H. Schleicher
TV guru extraordinaire J. J. Abrams beams up as producer and director of this zippy and serviceable relaunch of the moribund Star Trek film series, itself a spin-off Gene Roddenberry’s iconic 1960’s sci-fi drama. There’s plenty of circularity in concept and execution as Abrams does an adequate job of paying homage to the original TV series while giving everything a big epic, slick, modern film veneer. Abrams displays his usual flippant emo-sensibilities (lest we not forget his first claim to fame was the insufferable TV show “Felicity”) in creating a colorful back-story to familiar characters, but he wisely focuses on action for the better parts of the film and keeps the pacing at warp speed even though we really know he just wants to play with Trekkies’ emotions, much in the same way a swaggering Kirk antagonizes the desperately logical Spock.
Though Zachary Quinto is fairly lifeless as Spock, the rest of the cast is up to task doing fine impersonations of the senior Trek crew. Simon Pegg gets plenty of laughs as Scotty, and Karl Urban is mockingly masterful in his delivery of all the classic Doc McCoy witticisms. As the young Kirk, Chris Pine puts an entertaining spin on the role as he seems to be channeling both Christian Slater doing Jack Nicholson and, well, Chris Pine doing William Shatner. But it’s only the dashingly smart and sexy Zoe Saldana who takes things to a new level by giving Uhura a personality and vibrancy that was never apparent in the original film series.
Comparing the film to others in the series, it probably ranks somewhere in the middle. By far it displays the best production values and special effects of any Trek before it on the big or small screen. Always crucial to the film series, the villain in this one (a tattooed Romulan named Nero played by Eric Bana) is clearly no match for the mythic-sized Khan of said Wrath of… or the unstoppable Borg Queen of the Next Generation’s First Contact. And while the early years of Kirk, Spock and the U. S. S. Enterprise are fairly well played here, the main storyline is where the film really suffers as it mashes up a big old mess of a plot involving black holes, time travel and planetary annihilation.
While I grew up watching the “Next Generation” on TV and enjoyed the original film series, I’m by no means a Trek purist. I am, however, a stickler for good storytelling. By playing with all this time-travel mumbo-jumbo, the screenwriters have essentially wiped the slate clean and negated the entire original series. The same old characters are now free to roam outer space on brand new missions, which is a brilliant business building ploy but lazy writing and a big cop-out. By going backwards in the serial mythos instead of forging ahead further into the future, the filmmakers have backed themselves into a corner. Just how many of these new adventures can the old crew have? And will it all lead to the inevitable…Picard’s Academy Days or the origins of Data? While this new film was modestly entertaining and better than your average sci-fi flick, it didn’t really leave me clamoring for more. Will the filmmakers eventually “make it so?” Quite frankly, I’m indifferent, though Abrams probably “gave it all she’s got”.
CAPTION: Cate Blanchett tells Harrison Ford, “YOU MUST RELIVE YOUR CHILDHOOD.”
Where Were the Dinosaurs?, 25 May 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
Nineteen years after the alleged Last Crusade, producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and over-the-hill star Harrison Ford reunite for a fourth Indiana Jones film with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Only in our overly ironic post-modern world could a film like this exist where Spielberg attempts to recapture those magic movie moments he created back in 1981 with the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was an attempt to re-imagine the classic action-packed serial adventures from the 1930’s and 1940’s. But can those magic moments ever truly be recreated? Though it stumbles through nostalgia tinted frames, Indiana Jones and the Kindgom of the Crystal Skull is by no means the disaster that was Lucas’ Star Wars prequels or the mind-numbing exercise that was last year’s Transformers. Those were four dour commercial films coldly designed to evoke feelings of a lost childhood era that were saved only by amazing visual effects. Surely we hope to say more about this film.
Indy deserves to be cut a certain level of slack. Many of the complaints swirling around this long-awaited flick (i.e. the screwball dialog, the cornball stunts, and the cheesy effects) were present from the very beginning of the franchise. And lest we forget, a large portion of people were initially appalled by the heart-ripping Temple of Doom and mildly disappointed with the creaky Last Crusade. Even the holy grail that is Raiders of the Lost Ark ended with a lame special effects sequence (and one hell of a face melting). Those who love big set driven stunt action complete with one-liners and death defying tumbles will eat this stuff up just like they did the first three films. My major complaints with this fourth film are the cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, who hyper-lights everything to the point of images being washed out or made smeary, and the lazily lame screenplay from David Koepp, which borrows far too liberally from X-Files era rejected story lines.
The cast is hit or miss with Ford about as effective as you would expect at his age, Cate Blanchett acting the crap out of her villain role (and what great fun she has with that Ukrainian accent), Shia LaBeouf (he’s no River Phoenix) barely tolerable as a motor-head punk kid, and Karen Allen all fun and smiles, most likely from finally securing a big payday after all these years. The update to the 1950’s didn’t quite work for me as no amount of Cold War hullabaloo and Chariots of the Gods style mumbo-jumbo could replace the inherent kick-ass spookiness of Nazis hunting for religious relics. Storywise, Spielberg manages to fit in all of his recurrent child-like obsessions with divorce and aliens, and he playfully recycles his greatest hits not only from the first three films but also from other flicks he’s crafted over the years. When the adventure moved to the Amazon rainforest, I half expected a T-Rex to come traipsing through the jungle for a spell.
The beginning of this installment is a tepid mess, but once Karen Allen shows up about an hour into the film to reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood, the film picks up tremendous steam. For about thirty minutes or so, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a rollicking, old-fashioned white-knuckle adventure complete with car chases through a jungle and along the edges of a cliff, sword fights, waterfall drops, and giant killer ants. The kid in me couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when once character’s face is eaten by the little buggers. It was for these thirty minutes that I completely forgot about Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose scenes replayed in my mind for the remainder of this film’s run-time. Were those magic movie moments recaptured? No, but they were temporarily forgotten and clumsily intertwined with some mildly entertaining new ones. I guess that’s about the best we could’ve hoped for. Just think, this could’ve starred Tom Selleck or been directed by Michael Bay.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:
Good Old-Fashioned Shattered Glass Action Flick, 6 July 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
“Live Free or Die Hard” is quite a refreshing piece of entertainment this summer in the wake of so many effects-driven computer simulated action/fantasy films. With its silly title, smart-alleck lead character (Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis doing John McClane), and loads of old fashioned stunts involving cars, SUV’s, elevator shafts, big rigs, helicopters, fighter jets, and collapsing highway bridges, this flick is a great piece of shattered-glass entertainment–a throwback to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when movies like the original “Die Hard” changed the face of movie action.
There is some frustration to be had when you start to realize how much they toned down to achieve the friendly PG-13 rating. There’s far less profanity flying, and while the body count is astronomically high (the collateral damage in this film in terms of human life and damaged property is tres magnifique), there’s little blood and guts to be found. Still, die hard “Die Hard” action fans should rest assured knowing there will be plenty of funny one-liners, hot chicks (a wonderful Maggie Q as the bad-ass female villain and the scorchingly feisty and cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane), super smart bad guys (a very good Timothy Olyphant), and jaw-dropping death-defying stunts.
Director Len Wiseman orchestrates the complicated stunts very well like a masterful puppeteer, which is a shock considering how god-awful his “Underworld” films were. The hand-to-hand human match-ups still bear some of his annoying hallmarks, but he’s learned how to blow things up really well and has learned a thing or two about scope and editing in big action set-pieces. The excellent pacing and preposterousness of the stunts (especially the climax involving the fighter jet and the big rig) certainly put a smile on my face.
There’s a whole lot of computer hacking related mumbo-jumbo involved in the story, and there’s a lot of downtime for male bonding and “explanation” of the finer plot points that slows the film down some but is actually nice to see in a world now ruled by Michael Bay-style non-stop action. Plenty dumb, plenty thrilling, and plenty of fun, “Live Free or Die Hard” is a pleasant surprise considering how unnecessary this sequel seemed from conception.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database