Review: Skyfall

Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Sean Connery’s Aston Martin in Skyfall.

Bond without the Bond Girl, Cool Gadgets and Some Other Essentials

Rating: ***

Skyfall is an action film infused with dark elements that we’ve tirelessly seen in Christopher Nolan’s creations. Skyfall is also an homage to Sean Connery’s Bond films. I wrote in my review of Casino Royale that Daniel Craig physically resembles Connery. Both are lean fighting machines. However, Craig is more hardcore and in Skyfall, he has a sculpted torso, which none of the earlier Bonds possessed.

Knowing Sam Mendes, I expected Skyfall to be a dialogue-oriented film, and it plays along with dialogues coming from every end. The sad part is that Skyfall goes nowhere close to a Bond film. Countless Bond elements go missing and if you plan on seeing them later, you’ll be in for a wee bit of disappointment. This includes:

– The infamous Bond Girl

– Bond’s double entendre

– The cool gadgets from Q branch

– Q’s sense of humor – Ben Whishaw is nowhere close to the legendary Desmond Llewellyn or John Cleese

– The cool new car – Of course you get to see a cool old car

– The gun barrel sequence which is absent at the beginning of every Daniel Craig film

– The soon-to-die seductress who in this film fails to seduce (bad job Berenice Marlohe)

– “Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred” – What’s an homage without this line!

I was among the hundreds to cheer when the classic Sean Connery Aston Martin made its presence. That scene defined Bond’s love for his cars. There’s however a certain weakness in the screenplay, especially in the film’s third act. The film moves from one place to another, showing characters reveal their new identities with a lack of vigor. Sadly, there’s no better way to show the transition that Skyfall sets to its successors.

Javier Bardem’s antagonist is a mixture of Bane and Joker. The actor does his job, but you’ll be reminded of Batman’s two torturous antagonists now and then. And why are we portraying a hint of bisexuality in a James Bond film? Bond is a legendary chick magnet. Don’t ruin him for today’s youngsters. A similar thing happened in the comic book world and now, Green Lantern is gay (bad news Ryan Reynolds).

Naomie Harris portrays a field agent who we initially think will be the Bond Girl, but, the epilogue shows us who she really is. Ralph Fiennes plays Gareth Mallory, a man high up in the Intelligence and Security Committee, who along with Harris will fill in for another infamous  character in the Bond universe.

If you thought Bond was young and suave, you’ll be shocked to see him greying. Skyfall pretends to be the last Bond film much like every other film, where he has to overcome the antagonist’s large army. But, Bond has become an invincible Charles Bronson character and he never fails to deliver. For Craig, Casino Royale was his defining film. Quantum of Solace was a power-packed action film, but failed to meet the expectations of a Bond film. Skyfall lies somewhere between these two films.

Skyfall creates a new platform for Bond 24, which I hope should release in 2014-15. I can’t wait 4 more years for the next Bond film.

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Review: My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Every goddess has a human side. This is Marilyn’s.

Rating: **

Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn has a twenty-something British fellow named Colin Clark (played by the smile-free Eddie Redmayne) spending quality time with Marilyn Monroe on the sets of The Prince and The Showgirl. Initial thoughts are generated on whether Curtis’ film is just another Notting Hill set in 1956 for it involves an ordinary man and an extraordinary star. But, the film doesn’t follow up on it and Monroe becomes more human in this film. Curtis doesn’t make use of the cast ensemble either. He ensures that Michelle Williams alone touches base. This being done, screenwriter Adrian Hodges weaves scenes around her. It’s sad that actors such as Judi Dench and Toby Jones have been underused. Kenneth Branagh plays Sir Laurence Olivier, a hothead who claims to be the greatest actor ever.

This assessment of Olivier cemented by Kenneth Branagh is intermittently amusing. Those familiar with the 1957 film know that Olivier was still strikingly handsome. Yet, the physical differences between Olivier and Branagh may seem alien. Branagh’s soft face becomes a blur when compared to Olivier’s sculptured masculinity.

Olivier’s then wife, Vivian Leigh (played by Julia Ormond) succumbs to Marilyn’s beauty onscreen and feels that her husband will be no match to that. Olivier confirms that he will never be, as he strongly feels that Marilyn is a true actress. When confronted by Colin to reveal this piece of truth to Marilyn, he holds back his tongue with a retort “what I said now doesn’t leave this room.”

Of course, he never thought Colin Clark would write a memoir which would contain those forbidden words.

The tragic Monroe is obviously dramatic, but the intimations of disaster don’t fit a movie that works so hard to be easily likable. Everything onscreen looks good and period-appropriate, if also too manicured, as if the past had been digitally spruced up. Curtis enlivens the movie with Zoe Wanamaker’s darkly comic turn as Monroe’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg while Emma Watson has a thankless part as Lucy, the girl from the costume department.

Lucy and Colin go out on a date and when Colin unbuttons her blouse, she holds back. When asked why, she says she’s not ready. Women back then held back their virginity. Men however are still the same. Message received Mr. Curtis!

My Week With Marilyn is a period piece that fails to stand near to 2010’s Oscar winner, The King’s Speech. The film is a platform for Michelle Williams to showcase her skills and she does it well. That’s it! Show’s over folks! 

Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Cary Fukunaga's 2011 version of Jane Eyre.

Darkly Fascinating Retelling of Bronte’s Novel

Rating: ***

I’ve seen two versions of Jane Eyre before I chanced upon this. The 1943 version was a classic which starred Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. The 1996 version, despite its high production value wasn’t satisfactory when it came to performances. William Hurt was miscast as Rochester and so was Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane. There is another adaptation, released in 1970 which starred Susannah York and George C. Scott.

This 2011 retelling is directed by Cary Fukunaga. Dark elements have been added to the screenplay and while a few contents from the novel have been snipped, screenwriter Moira Buffini brings to life a darkly fascinating Jane Eyre. Presented in In Media Res mode, Jane’s life flashes back and forth through the years of visual torture she experienced at her aunt’s home and at Lowood School. While the earlier versions didn’t reveal much about her torture, Fukunaga takes his time in exposing what harsh realities Jane has been subjected to.

Mia Wasikowska is bang on as Jane Eyre. Her simplistic portrayal of the governess is ardently conservative. The film promotes proto-feminism which was first introduced in the novel. 22-year old Ms. Wasikowska puts up a ravenous show in the scenes where she confronts Rochester’s freewill. Michael Fassbender easily trots into shoes of the Byronic Hero, Edward Rochester. Once he descends his cold eyes on Jane, he’s hooked on to her simplicity. But, he takes his own time in explaining his love of her. Nevertheless, Fassbender has the spirit of the character.

While Judi Dench’s Mrs. Fairfax doesn’t appear as jovial as the character does in the novel, there are moments where she relegates her co-stars into mere puppets. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman hops from one place to another, filling the screen with luscious English architecture.

The references to the earlier versions are just a syllable to what Fukunaga’s version transpires to be. The film redeems itself of the novel’s gothic allusion and is pertinent to Bronte’s vision of the troubled damsel who wanted nothing but a full life. Apparently, quite a few scenes have been excluded. But, I hear Fukunaga is planning to release a Director’s Cut which will have 30 minutes of extra footage.

While Jane Eyre isn’t shot in the Kubrickian way, it doesn’t slog either. It is an indication that this tale of passion hasn’t died out. But, I’m in doubts about the future adaptations of the novel as today’s fantasy readers are thriving about vampires and magic.