Saturday, November 7, 2015

Spectre review

I have often complained that the last three James Bond films were kind of glum. They looked to be pushed to a harsh realism by the Bourne spy movies. Don't get me wrong. Daniel Craig is a great Bond and his 007 films are all good. What was missing is the fun of the Bond franchise particularly the Connery Bond movies. Yeah, it would be a mistake to go to the campy goofiness of the sixties' Bond but could we have some fun here? So with the 24th Bond movie, Spectre, I was pleasantly surprised. From the classic gun barrel prologue to the end of the movie my concern was answered with a resounding "yes."

Could we start all Bond movies with this?

Spectre opens up with an epic tracking shot following James Bond (Daniel Craig) and a date going up to their hotel room during the Mexican festival, "Day of the Dead." It's the type of shot reminiscent of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" (1958) and would kill a director like Michael Bay. (Armageddon) But this movie's director, Sam Mendes, is confident in his artistry and the story to keep the audience engaged rather than resorting to the fast cutting of modern cinema. Okay, there is some slick editing later but it's all logical.

Anyway, Bond is there to kill an assassin who's about ready to make a deal to bomb a stadium. As he he is about to snipe the participants, he overhears a reference to a Mr. White. After he kills all the bad guys, he's called back to London to answer for what we learn is an unsanctioned hit. Meanwhile, Bond is informed by M (Ralph Fiennes) that MI6 is about to be disbanded and absorbed by a worldwide intelligence network led by Moriarty... er... "C". (Andrew Scott) I watch a little too much "Sherlock." C argues that the "00" program is no longer relevant and obsolete in the age of digital intelligence gathering.

Bond goes rogue to follow up the Mr. White lead. He enlists Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to help. While in Italy, Bond gets a recipe for chicken marsala from Lucia Sciarra. (Monica Belluci) Okay the chicken marsala recipe didn't happen. She happens to be the widow of the assassin that Bond killed and just happens not to love her dead husband. Nice plot detail since that makes it easier for Bond to um.. persuade her to give him some leads. She talks of a meeting of a mysterious group called "Spectre" that is going to meet in Rome.

Bond infiltrates the meeting and finds out there is a plan to kill Mr. White. But before Bond escapes, he finds out who is the leader of Spectre. It's Franz Oberhauser. (Christoph Waltz) Well, Bond sets out to question White who turns out to be Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale. He also gets to do some more "persuasion" with White's daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydeux) and gets to have his hair permed by his gay stylist, Mr. Hinx. (Dave Bautista) Okay, the hair permed part and gay stylist stuff is not in the movie. With a name like "Mr. Hinx", take a guess what he does. Yeah, he's Hinx the Henchman. Anyway, Bond must find out what Soectre is up to before the third act or else the movie is going be three hours long.

All the performances are excellent. Cheers to Bond's supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes makes a great M, every bit as good as Judi Dench was. He's old school, professional and a man of action. Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is not a glorified secretary but the loyal assistant of M and MI6. And in a welcome turn, Ben Whishow as Q is given some time in the field and thankfully more of the humor he had in the past. Both Monica Belluci and Lea Seydoux are beautiful and sexy Bond girls. Seydoux in her blue evening gown rocks the movie. And Kudos to the producers for casting fifty year old Belluci. Yep, she's still got it. Hear that Donald Trump? Daniel Craig is still good as Bond. He's still cold but suave. Perhaps next time he'll be given a witticism to utter. As for Christoph Waltz, you knew he would get a part like this. And he knows it. He plays this villain with a glint of mischief in his eye. Did I say villain? Okay, if you can't figure out who Oberhauser is while watching Spectre than you have not seen any Bond movies particularly the ones from the sixties and one I won't name since it would give it away. Oh, all right, I'll tell you. Waltz plays Khan. Just kidding Star Trek fans.

As you can tell it took me a while to summarize the plot. That's because the screenplay is bloated with too many ideas. I do appreciate the theme of the evils of "Big Brother" snooping on us. Its just that the multiple endings of this movie should have been condensed. What happens is that the film leaves out details which causes plot holes. Buildings explode without reason. Bond finds a miraculous escape a collapsing building. But these weaknesses don't wreck the movie.

The screenplay by John Logan (Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis), Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth has some wonderful humor and dedicates much to the Bond of the past. There are gorgeous women. Exciting action set pieces. A huge menacing henchman. There's even a freaking villain's lair! Okay, it's not a hollowed out volcano but it is a base of operations and a place to entertain Bond before the villain attempts to kill him. While this seems derivative, it all meshes harmoniously. And get this? Q's great gadgets make a roaring comeback. If you recall the last Bond movie, Skyfall (2012) had almost no gadgets. There's even a line from Q to Bond regarding gadgets, "We don't really go into that anymore." (Video below.) Thank you Q for changing your tune in Spectre or should I give thanks to director Sam Mendes? Regardless, the gadgets in this movie are a blast and they do save Bond on more than one occasion. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

You were saying Q?

Spectre is a fun, entertaining Bond movie. It's unafraid of the past while acknowledging the present. I left the theater with a big smile on my face. The grade is A.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Star Trek returns to TV

In what must be marked as good news, Star Trek returns to TV. CBS has announced that Star Trek will return in 2017 with an initial network broadcast then the rest of the series will be available on CBS All Access.

As a Trekker, I'm very happy. 2016 is the fiftieth anniversary of the show. The science fiction franchise has been around that long. And we've been waiting for a TV series since Enterprise left the air in 2005. I am concerned about the pay per view concept. I would like it to be available to everyone and that includes those who are poor who can only watch TV over the air. The show belongs to everyone because of its optimistic view of humanity. Star Trek is a rich franchise that is entertaining and also smart. Perhaps, CBS could syndicate the show like it did before then have the complete series available on its streaming site free of commercials. Regardless, Star Trek belongs on TV where more complex, in depth, smart stories can be told. That was creator Gene Roddenberry's vision.

Here's the news from the official Star Trek website.

Boldly going again...

Bengals make history

Let's face it Cincinnati Bengals fans. You thought when quarterback Andy Dalton threw that interception in the end zone with a little over nine minutes left in the game that this would be the Bengals first loss. But great teams overcome their mistakes and find ways to win. And the Bengals have all the markings of being a great team. Because the Bengals' defense held. They picked off Steeler quarterback Benji... er Ben Rothelisberger. twice in the quarter to stop drives. That gave the Bengals the opportunity to put together two drives to score ten points. The result was the Bengals won, 16-10.

With the victory, the Bengals climb to 7-0. No Bengals team has won its first seven games. It's a first for the franchise. Let's hope there's more winning to come. Maybe even a Super Bowl victory. Here are the highlights.