Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Sunday Scene: The Most Bond non-Bond intro

With the imminent release of Skyfall, and thinking about Bond things, I was reminded of the amazing credits from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; or to give it it's full title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for people too stupid and lazy to read Subtitles (2011).  Actually it's a good film, and the opening credits are simply amazing.

Like I say, the most Bond non-Bond credits. Generally I dislike covers (almost as much as I usually hate remakes), but Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' cover of Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song is very good, and fits the ambience of the film perfectly.

We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow...

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Quantum of Solace (2008)

A last and a first. The last 007 film that we already knew before Blogalongabond started, and the first ever true Bond sequel. Starting immediately after the events of Casino Royale, we see a battered and bruised Mr White stuffed in the boot of Bond’s car, as 007 tries to track down the organisation responsible for the death of Vespa. Overall QOS is a very fun film; brooding Daniel Craig, tremendous action and enough intrigue to hold your attention. I feel where it falls down is the lack of tangible villain. Of course the bad guy is actually Quantum; essentially SPECTRE for the 21st century. The trouble is, Mr Greene is no LeChiffre.

The very beginning has some lovely touches: slowly zooming into the mountain, intercut with glimpses of chrome, Aston Martin and Bond’s eyes before BANG we’re into a frenetic car chase. Actually this chase sets the tempo for a lot of the set pieces in the film; all of them are very energetic and tremendously exciting. The chase through Sienna, climaxing on the scaffolding is amazing and really brutal. Though further along the line, I can’t decide whether I like the way that the crescendo of the opera is cut with 007 taking out Quantum stooges in Zurich. No doubt it’s stylish, but I’m not sure it really works.

007 is perhaps even more bullish and arrogant than in Casino Royale, and he has no compunction about executing ex-coworkers, special forces or Bolivian Police. Daniel Craig continues to suit this hard-nose character perfectly. Though Jesper Christensen’s role as Mr White is very brief, I thought he was completely brilliant; superbly maniacal as he laughs that “You don’t know anything about us at all!” If only he’d been the main antagonist rather than a wishy washy Mr Greene.

The women are a bit rubbish. Camille isn’t really much of a bond girl (she only gets a kiss right at the end); instead she has her own revenge story to mirror Bond’s, which is a nice twist to a Bond girl’s character. Fields is even more pointless, her only function seems to be so that a nod can be made to Jill Masterson’s demise in Goldfinger. The trouble is, it’s not worth it! All that results is that M has even more contempt for Bond’s style, but I hardly think this is the pinnacle of Quantum’s machinations! The only woman worth her salt is Judi Dench; M is still a hard-ass with some great lines: “When someone says "We've got people everywhere", you expect it to be hyperbole! Lots of people say that. Florists use that expression. It doesn't mean that they've got somebody working for them inside the bloody room! “

The title song is cool, but the credit sequence is far too involved; there is so much going on it’s hard to make out any kind of narrative or symbolism. Worst of all there is no gun barrel anywhere near the beginning, it’s tacked on the end as if it was forgotten about and then suddenly discovered on the cutting room floor. Just in time for some lift music over the closing credits! In fact, I felt that David Arnold’s score was mostly invisible (or inaudible?) throughout the film.

Not as spectacular as the previous film, but still maintaining the gritty, brutal themes of Daniel Craig’s 007; Quantum of Solace continues the quality of the “reboot”. At least for one more film the self-parody is still absent and the realism is still there (unshielded hydrogen cells in every hotel room notwithstanding!). I can just see the brochure for the hotel: Come and visit the Perla des las Dunas. En suite bathrooms, minibar, free wifi, and a serious explosion risk in every room!

Order of Preference so far:

Dog Soldiers (2002)

We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch!

Six squaddies are on a training exercise in Scotland, but a group of special forces plan to use the soldiers as bait for a rumoured lupine predator. Of course it goes horribly wrong and our group of soldiers become besieged by werewolves in a remote cottage.  The first act of the film is easily the best; the introduction of the 6 main soldiers is certainly on a par with Predator, probably better because of the British humour; the atmosphere created by Neil Marshall and DOP Sam McCurdy is very sinister, spooky and adds real tension to the unfolding story.  The chase through the woods is really well done; lots of sinister back lit trees, werewolves flitting in and out of view, desperation of the soldiers, and all mixed up with a wolf view point adding a different dimension.

By the time the guys are holed up in a deserted cottage we are into the familiar territory of any number of siege films; not least Zulu, Tremors or a "Living Dead" film.  In fact Zulu is explicitly mentioned once and there are a few other nods to the classic film, but not the only film that is referenced.  However, though they are stuck in a cottage the film doesn't stagnate; a smart story and the British sense of humour wins out, and everything clips along at just the right tempo.  Sean Pertwee is magnificent as Sergeant Wells, and Kevin McKidd is very good as Private Cooper, but there is also a very clever understated performance from Liam Cunningham as Captain Ryan.

Overall Dog Soldiers is a really cool film, not amazing, not even that scary, but really good fun.  The characters are all well written and introduced in a way that allows a lot of fun to be had with them.  The effects are good (given what presumably is a modest budget) and the werewolves look like nothing seen before.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Great Expections (1946)

Recounting the tale of an orphan, apprentice to a blacksmith, who becomes the recipient of great wealth from a mysterious benefactor, this version of Great Expectations is a classic re-telling of the Dickens novel. David Lean's interpretation is subtle yet dynamic, at the heart of which are great performances from John Mills as Pip (the orphan), Valerie Hobson as Estella and of course Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket. Actually Alec Guinness looks so young that it took me a while to figure out who it was! 

A thoroughly engrossing film, a classic in every sense of the word. My only issue was the age of Pip. Seen as a boy of 16 at the blacksmith's, it is only 4 years later that the mysterious benefactor leaves him a fortune, yet when he then moves to the city he looks about 40! David Mills is excellent in the role, but could they not have found someone closer to the right age? It doesn't take long to get past this issue though, and you can sit back and really enjoy the film.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Looper (2012)

Time travel films are always fun. Whether it's Marty McFly trying to get back to the future, Colter Stevens trying to prevent a bomb going off on a train, or Bruce Willis collecting insects in 12 Monkeys. Looper does something different again. Joseph Gordon Levitt is Joe, a "Looper"; a hired gun in the present who's job it is to kill the mafia's unwanted from the future. Sounds simple enough; but of course it gets more complicated, especially when Joe's older self (Bruce Willis) is sent back from the future and present-day Joe is meant to kill him, so-called closing the loop.

The main story then revolves around the idea that old Joe has come back to kill a man (known only as the Rainmaker) who in the future is hunting down and killing all the retired Loopers; it just turns out that he's a kid right now. JGL is starting to demonstrate that he's a very versatile actor, though for a while I wasn't entirely convinced that it was him as he has been made to look like a convincing younger Bruce Willis. That aside, he manages to imbue his character with the right blend of suave, confidence and intelligence befitting someone in his profession. Emily Blunt is fine as Cid's Mum (the kid who'll grow up to be the Rainmaker), and Bruce Willis is effortlessly cool. The real surprise was an excellent performance from Jeff Daniels as Abe, the guy who runs the Looper operation in present day.

There are many nice subtle details made possible by the time travel in the film, mix this with some moments of excellent violence and beautiful cinematography and Looper becomes a very entertaining and worthwhile movie.