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Skyfall: James Bond comes back from the dead to help MI6 – and justify his existence – during the agency’s darkest hour. The story is easily one of the strongest in the franchise, split in to three well-defined acts, and even at 2.5 hours it never feels like it over-stays its welcome, as most scenes reveal something about at least one of the central characters.

Javier Bardem‘s villain perfectly mangles the theatricality and campiness of the Bond classic villains (Scaramanga / Blofeld) with a dark, maniacal and twisted persona that’s among the best modern cinematic antagonists (The Joker / Detective Stansfield). It’s also a testament to Daniel Craig that he never gets out-performed – some previous Bond’s would have struggled. As for the under-discussed Bond Girls Sévérine perfectly plays the vulnerable and dangerous seductress; on the other hand, Bond’s field agent colleague Eve was pretty rubbish, lacking any believability, conviction or presence – she looked like she was on daytime TV.

The film’s well-paced, directed, and looks fantastic, with plenty full-frame/wide shot of landscapes & sets and – as you expect from the travelogue element of every Bond film – there’s a ton of stunning locations to take in; Turkey, Shanghai, the abandoned Hashima Island, Glencoe, and an eerily beautiful shot of a misty Glen Etive.

This film also continues to keep Daniel Craig’s outings firmly rooted in the ‘reality’ of the post-Bourne action film, steering well clear of the fantasy / ridiculous / gadgetry elements. Although this is the current style of most action movies, it would be good to see some gadgets and stunts that brought a bit of the classic Bond magic, although the line between magic and cheese is very grey.

The most interesting aspect of Skyfall is that it focuses on James Bond more than any other outing: not just through questioning his relevance in the modern world, or whether he’s still physically / mentally capable, but it also goes back to his pre-spy roots, fleshing out his childhood & backstory, giving the audience an insight into how he became the fearless, suave and dangerous 007.

You couldn’t ask for much more in a 50th Anniversary Bond film; most of the classic elements are there, even if they’re hinted at, or – like the famous ‘gun barrel sequence’ – simply tagged on to the end again. The story, characters and direction are all well above the average for a Bond film; however, more mentions of the previous 22 movies would have been the cherry on the cake, and added a truly celebratory vibe to the longest-running cinema franchise in history.

Score: 8.5/10

TOP TRUMPS

Villain: Raoul Silva – camp, cunning, crazy, deformed… just not in enough screen time 9
Henchmen: Patrice, the capable and silent assassin, + a few dozen mercenaries. 6
Babes: 50% classic beautiful siren, 50% awkward and rubbish. 7
Action: Opening mission / MI6 Bombing / Shanghai / Casino / Underground / Skyfall Shootout. 8

For reviews of every other James Bond film, click HERE

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PFR is marking the 500th post by putting up a bunch of DVD extras this week. This guest paragraph review is from Edinburgh-based Rebecca at The Thrifty Chick; a site about  books, travel, music, movies – and everything else.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: finds Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and a host of others playing a group of fed up retirees whose desire to avoid becoming invisibly old in the UK leads them to Jaipur in India.  The plan is to age with grace amid the splendour of a luxury campus for “the elderly and beautiful”.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, life among the marigolds is not quite the haven of tranquility our intrepid travellers had been expecting.  The hotel is crumbling to the ground, and despite his best efforts the erratic management style of owner Sonny (Dev Patel) is in all likelihood making matters worse.  Given time, however, this hilariously shambolic building and its colourful surroundings find their way into the hearts of (most of) the residents.  The film is a little predictable in plot and at times a touch too reliant on harvesting comedy kicks from a field of well-worn “are we really still doing this” stereotypes.  It did, however, do what I thought was a stellar job of highlighting some of the more emotional aspects of growing old, and it has to be applauded for putting the spotlight on an age demographic that we see so little of in the cinema.  In terms of performance, Dench and Smith stood out as did Penelope Wilton, whose portrayal of Nighy’s jealous, uptight spouse was brilliantly grating.  Nighy himself turned in one of those goofily endearing performances that are fast becoming his trademark.  He does it well, but it would have been good to see him play one of the other strings on his bow this time.  Overall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is lighthearted and fun, spirited and colourful.  It’s laugh out loud funny but it also manages to punch above its weight in emotional terms.  More than anything, it left me with a real hankering to visit India.  And on that note, it’s off to Trip Advisor…

Score: 7/10

My Week With Marilyn: on his very first feature film a rookie third assistant director ends up spending a remarkable week with the world’s biggest star, Marilyn Monroe. There’s an interesting story parabola: it starts and finishes on an uplifting soft-comedy notes but has a major tone dip in the middle as it delves in to Marilyn’s off-screen life. For someone who doesn’t know much about her, it was a bit of an eye-opener – sheeeeeet, I didn’t even know she married Arthur Miller, let alone the rest. Branagh is a blast as a bombastic Laurence and Williams shines as Mrs Monroe; however the lead (Redmayne) is a bit flat and ‘Forrest Gumpy’ – and seems a strange choice given the other, high profile, names involved. The period setting is fantastic, every detail is there. Overall, this is a whimsical, dreamy, slightly hammy, rose-tinted and soft-focused TV biopic; but between Branagh, Williams and the time-setting it’s entertaining and interesting enough to hold your attention.

Score: 6/10

 

Quantum Of Solace: we join Bond about ten minutes after Casino Royale, trying to bring his main lead – Mr White – to M for questioning. After the culprit is busted out of custody by double agents in MI6, 007 has to find out how deep the terrorist group Quantum has compromised their operations. Back to back viewings definitely aids QoS as it’s definitely not a stand-alone film.

... and here's the government worrying about texting and driving!

The movie expands and reinforces what we previously learned about 007. As before, he remains a violent (yet arguably successful) instrument, with no self constraint or controllability, and a tendency to leave a trail of destruction wherever he goes – killing off almost every potential lead. Sadly, because 007’s riding solo for much of the story, and his Russian pal is a lady of few words we don’t get much new information, other than an emphasis on his insatiable desire to avenge Vespa. Revenge hasn’t looked this good since Bittersweet Life – Bond looks very sharp; wearing stylish suits, jackets and the very best of London high-fashion!

Making sure hit kills go out with style!

The action set-pieces in this film are shockingly handed. The cuts are so short, editing so rapid, and camera movement so shaky that trying to establish what’s happening and where the people are in relation to each other – and their surroundings – is impossible. Definitely the most poorly constructed action of all the movies.

Someone's falling? Running? Rooftop? Behind the other guy? In front? WTF?!?!

The single biggest thing that Quantum of Solace has going for it is the story, carrying on from the previous film, it follows Bond’s quest for revenge, coupled with his Carmille’s similar story. These stories are tied in with the great, and scarily realistic, idea of a secret society – similar to SPECTRE but with more humble, profit-driven plans – that permeates every institution from the British secret service to the CIA and some rotten dictatorships in Latin America. Not content with slating the easy political targets, it also casts a cynical eye over the UK and US governments for the first time – with both countries stating that they’ll work with anyone that has oil, or any other desirable resources.

Corrupt businessman and corrupt politician... I miss the megalomaniacs

As with the past few movies this one harks back to some of the older adventures, although I’m not sure if these are smug and subtle self-referencial nods, or just a side-effect of the franchise having to recycle old ideas because after 22 films, there ain’t a whole lot left to work with. QoS has the classic suffocation scene from Goldfinger re-done with oil, two people one parachute and the good ol Citroen – among others.

Strawberry Fields - Bond's wondering if the carpet matches the curtains...

The lack of gadgets is also starting to get pretty uncool. I realise that the re-boot is firmly rooted in reality – and we definitely don’t need another battle suit or invisible car – but it doesn’t have to be this boring. The only remotely technological things are a normal phone and a few Minority Report style computers.

"Folks, how do we compensate for no gadgets? Ah, explosions"

Other reasons this film stands out: sandy credits (that stuff goes everywhere!), gunbarrel sequence appearing at the very end (insane!), and someone in photography having a hard-on for contemporary architecture with the Opera house, Bolivian Hotel and Desert Hotel given lots of attention. Most insulting, is the ridiculous collection of stereotypical fonts used to represent different countries. Serious London font. Stylish Italian font. Quirky Latin American fonts. ЯúSSIдN font! How dumb do they think new-age Bond fans are?!?!


As the follow up to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is just not handled near as well, and while it’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it would be somewhat unfortunate to end a 22-film legacy with this. It it’s well photographed, has a villain, some Bond girls, a henchman and a nasty plot, but they’re all just so boring.

Score: 6/10

Felix looking like a mean-ass mo-fo!!

TOP TRUMPS
Villain: European, cool, short, hunched and limping, no talents. Booo! 3
Henchmen: Elvis – literally a secretary with a gun. Booo! 2
Babe: Sunburnt Russian girl. Ms Fields – a tasty toff. 7
Action: Car chase / Footchase / Boat chase / Aerial dogfight / Hotel fight at end (+ lift fight / bar escape). 5

With Bond 23 being kicked in to production James Bond January has done its job!

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Note: this was the very first ‘film review‘ I posted back in summer ’09!