Archive for Ben Whishaw

Spectre: Messy, Long and Boring Cover Up the Fun.

Posted in 6, Action, Drama, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2015 by mducoing

Spectre - IMDBCinematic Law: long and anxiously awaited sequels typically disappoint. Often catastrophically. While not every sequel is a plunge into the abyss (T2, Aliens are just two superiors films), these are often exceptions that prove the rule.

Spectre, while technically the fourth installment of the Daniel Craig Bond franchise, is often considered as the sequel to the mega-hit Skyfall, the final act to director Sam Mendes’ Bond Oeuvre. Viewed in this light, our mentioned cinematic law remains firmly intact.

Premise: Bond is on a trail to uncover a sinister organization at the heart of all his woes. Result: Disappointing.

Spectre finds Bond (Daniel Craig) -some time after M’s (Judi Dench) death- in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, stalking a villain of some sort. A minor chase then ends with a thrilling helicopter battle above the crowded Zocalo resulting in the death of said villain.

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Skyfall: The Best Bond Film in Years!

Posted in 8, Action, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2012 by mducoing

Skyfall is likely the best Bond film that Daniel Craig has been involved with.  In fact, it is likely the best Bond film that anyone has been involved with for the past 30 years.  While it is certainly imperfect, director Sam Mendes  (Jarhead, American Beauty) finds a magical way of bringing the stinging, brutal modernity that has been the hallmark of the recent Bond films and meshing it masterfully with the lighter, even slight camp of the traditional films to generate one of the more fun, fascinating events of the genre.

Premise: As MI6 comes under attack, by a brutal enemy in the form of a ghost of M’s past, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter the cost. Result: A deeply entertaining film that delivers the best Bond villain in years!

Skyfall begins with scandal: the loss of a secret list of NATO agents currently infiltrating terrorist organizations.  Further, while attempting to apprehend the culprit Patrice (Ola Rapace), agentEve (Naomie Harris) happens to accidentally take out James Bond (Daniel Craig), adding insult to apocalyptic injury.  Of course, Bond is not dead but instead living out an anonymous retirement on sandy beaches with beautiful women and quaint taverns with scorpions (it’s a scene and very intense!) But just as not dead as bond is, the list is very, very missing and in the hands of an unknown nemesis.

Unfortunately for M (Judi Dench), who is already being pushed out as a result of the scandal as directed by her new boss Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the unknown who has the list isn’t interested in selling it.  Instead, he personally attacks M, tormenting her with his power, clearly signaling that his intention is not to simply reap financial reward for his acquisition, but to destroy her in the process.

And so after an attack on MI6, Bond resurfaces to support his lovely M, in a pattern that is both patriotic and somehow oedipal, a theme that runs throughout the film.  To help him on his way he is introduced to his new Quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw), who continues another theme of “out with the old and in with the new” that annoyingly only grows in prominence as the film progresses.

“Mommy’s Been Very Bad!”

After securing Patrice, he is led to Macau where he encounters Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe)where he is able to deal with some nasty bodyguards and even more frightening Komodo Dragons.  But it is here where the film skyrockets from good to fantastic, after we are introduced not only to the alluring Sévérine, but her master, Silva (Javier Bardem).  Silva, is for all intents and purposes, a true Bond villain.  He is terrifying and amusing, almost at the same moment, filled with camp and cruelty that make him more interesting than virtually anything else in the film.At every turn he proves more cunning then he lets on and both Bond and M seem shocked by each twist and turn.  This element ultimately heightens the tension and entertainment the film delivers and audiences will no doubt be consistently thrilled by his status as worthy adversary.

Ultimately, Silva, a former MI6 agent is out for revenge and will do anything to destroy his long-time nemesis, M, whom he feels betrayed him in a former life.  And his motives, to avoid cliché, are heightened by a moment in particular that displays his otherwise unapparent disfigurement, suffocating the scene with foreboding and horror but somehow managing to keep the realism.

Of course, not everything goes perfectly in a film that has so much going for it.  First, the film required some editing, at least 20 minutes.  While there aren’t any boring moments really, the film feels like it goes on too long.  Second, several of the plot elements feel borrowed, rather than original – Silva basically steals his plot twist from The Joker and if I am not mistaken, there is a Culkinless home invasion scene that smacks of the 90s film (of course, without the laughs).

And there is certainly an element of subtlety that Mendes misses on the signature theme of the film: the old ways vs. the new.  The man is liable to have casualties in his audiences he hits us over the head with that so much and so obviously.  At one point M quotes Tennyson! Good Heavens, people!

Nevertheless, Mendes consistently delivers impact with his story, creating exciting action scenes as well as effectively using character development to keep audiences engaged in every scene, explosion or otherwise. And it is this character element that ultimately makes this film memorable.  Craig, once again is fantastic as the gritty but gallant Bond, and Dame Judi epitomizes caustic wit with virtually every line.  Their chemistry on screen is undeniable.

Mendes, in a casting boon, has added characters to this film which somehow take attention from these two leads with impunity.  Fiennes, of course, is stellar and makes a perfect addition to the cast.  Marlohe is divine, managing a sex appeal and deliberate strength that frankly should have had more time in the film.  Harris and Wishaw are both wonderful in their respective roles, holding their own amidst an all-star cast and at times even elevating scenes single-handedly.

Of course, despite this casting cornucopia, the real star in this film is Bardem.  He delivers one of the more intriguing villains of all time in Silva.  His slithering nature on screen, his quips, his facial expressions and gestures come together masterfully – it is impossible, I contend, for anyone to take their eyes off this character and not be thrilled by his decadent evil.  The only thing missing would have been a white-haired feline and a prominent scar to remind us more of the past while also so effectively inhabiting the present.

In the end, Skyfall exceeds expectations for a fun, memorable time.  While as a film it is imperfect and only partially original, it is the best Bond film in decades, and a good sign of things to come.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

Cloud Atlas: A Powerful Film About Love and Loss That Is Memorable for More Than It’s Epic Length

Posted in 7, Drama, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2012 by mducoing

Cloud Atlas, the latest film from the Wachowski’s (Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski) in collaboration with Tom Tykwer firmly uses their signature cinematic eccentricities to produce an epic film about love and loss. However, while beautiful and ultimately engaging, the film is agonizingly long (3 hours!) without the value audiences might expect from such a film.  Additionally, while the overall concept of the film makes sense, the delivery is bogged down in often confusing or frankly esoteric plotlines that don’t always seem to fit in with the objective of the story.

Premise: A web of tales that depict how individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as murders are shaped into heroes, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. Result: A beautiful and meaningful story that will force audiences to survive its epic length, but will ultimately provide some good, emotional takeways.

Cloud Atlas is epic; this is largely undeniable, considering its story spans centuries and worlds and forces its actors to play multiple, often quite distinct roles. While it is very slow to get started (the first twenty minutes border on unintelligible) once it does begin to build its story, the plots actually become interesting.

The film follows six distinct stories across centuries, beautifully capturing nuances in time, culture and technology and ultimately following several key characters through multiple lives over this time. First, a story of a man, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) in a journey at sea where he is separated from his love Tilda (Doona Bae) while on slavery business for her father.  But he is slowly being poisoned by the villainous Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks), a man after his wealth and his health.  But a strange relationship -based on some life altering decisions- with a runaway slave Autua (David Gyasi) manages to complicate the villainous plot.

Years later, his journal and experience is being read by young Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), a cunning composer that writes to his love Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy ) about Ewing and his exploits with the eccentric composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent).  It is his letters and connection to Sixsmith that then link to clever reporter Luisa Rey (Halle Berry ) as she attempts to discover the secret of a nuclear facility.  Sixsmith is only one aspect of this plot, however, as Rey meets a young Dr. Isaac Sachs (Hanks) and feels a deep, sudden connection.  But that relationship is affected greatly by Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) and his assassin Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving).

In our own current time, the story of love continues to be written by Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) as his hilarious life lessons that leave him lamenting past love lost (Susan Sarandon). But in the far future, after the world has evolved (and in many ways devolved) we find ourselves in the dystopian realm of New Seoul, a city driven by consumption and the use of genetically engineered humans, one of which is the timid Somni-451 (Bae) whose life is focused simply on serving guests at a fast food restaurant.

But when “friend” Yoona-439 (Xun Zhou)compromises her, she is discovered by Hae-Joo Chang (Sturges) and their lives intertwine once more, this time for yet another evolution in the grand scheme of freedom and slavery that first began centuries earlier. Here, their plot intertwines with the Archivist (D’Arcy), bent on understanding her motivations, and ultimately revealing his own.

And this storyline is followed by yet another, now in such a distant future that the world is dying.  It is here that Zachry (Hanks) lives as a simple goat-herder in a savage world that has grown after “The Fall” where some humans appear to have devolved while others, like Meronym, live in an evolved society far off.  But once again, their lives intertwine as they set off to once again save the world.

The film is thoroughly complex and understanding the relationships completely is an impossible feat upon first viewing.  However, what starts out as utter confoundment does evolve over time, like the characters, to be a far deeper, agreeable sensation; it becomes a connection to something greater, a hope that perhaps in some way we are all connected, that our stories and our lives are greater than the sum of our singular experience, and that for each of us, there lives a truth and a love that transcends a single time or person.

To accomplish this feat, even in its minimal form, is an achievement worthy of praise, and in this vein, something that deserves consideration.  While the film takes too long to really reveal its true nature and further achieves this in a more circuitous and often less logical manner than would otherwise be desired, the overall sense is powerful, meaningful and memorable.

Weaving as Nurse Noakes. Scary.

The acting in the film is one of its greatest strengths.  By its nature, Cloud Atlas challenges all its actors to play multiple, often completely antithetical roles, and all rise to the occasion.  Actors most worthy of note are Wishaw and Bae, both of whom crystalize their main roles perfectly, delivering stellar, veteran turns despite the difficulty of their material.  D’Arcy, Sturgess and Gyasi reach similar heights, managing to elevate their stories and provide the depth of personality necessary to make the film impactful.The true veterans in this film all perform to expectations: Hanks is notable in each of his roles, all different, all interesting, and yet all pale in comparison to any number of roles he has played in the past.  Naturally, this is a criticism of the characters rather than of his performance, and it should be noted that in a film where there are so many characters, Hanks delivers each memorably.

Berry and Broadbent are both quite strong; Berry manages to deliver one of her more consistent and noteworthy performances in several years while Broadbent’s unmistakable brand of comedy is still spot on.  Weaving, on his end, amanges to play every villain ever, and pretty well. Sarandon, for her part, seems to be in every movie possible these days but in some form of extended cameo, rather than in any meaty, meaningful way.  Her presence and skills are still unmistakable, but for some reason, despite playing multiple characters, directors these days seem terrified to keep her on screen for anything more than a few minutes at a time.

Overall, Cloud Atlas might be a bigger film than most audiences will have patience for.  It is certainly worth watching and enjoying, but expectations must be managed, and so while its message becomes crystal clear and our connections to a stunning variety of characters real, audiences should take in stride a certain degree of self-indulgence at the heart of the film.  After all, it is a fictional account spun from a writer’s creativity, not the recounting of some heroic feat in reality.  Nevertheless, it has its beauty and taken in the right frame of mind, will stay with audiences for some time to come.

Rating: 7 – A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

 

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