Tag Archives: James Bond

Random Thoughts on Force Friday, Idris Elba as Bond, Other News of the Week

Some random, movie-related thoughts on the entertainment news of the week:

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Fans, savor Force Friday

Midnight marks the arrival of “Force Friday,” the official beginning of the merchandising bonanza leading up to the Dec. 18 release of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

If you’re one of the fans staying up late and venturing out to your local Target or other stores for the unveiling of toys, collectibles, and other tie-ins to “The Force Awakens,” I salute you. As the parent of a toddler, I value my sleep too much to join you, but I’ll be with you in spirit.

At the risk of sounding like a nostalgic grandpa — “When I was a boy, we used to walk to school in 7-foot snow drifts …” — I remember a time when there was virtually no Star Wars merchandise to be found on shelves.

I was introduced to George Lucas’ space opera at the relatively late age of 12. It was the end of the ’80s and though people remembered “Star Wars” fondly, everybody was kind of over it.

The only option for watching the trilogy was renting the movies on VHS. Few people owned VHS players or video tapes back then, so you’d most likely have to rent them.

As a passionate, young convert to the “Star Wars” universe, I would scavenge for memorabilia wherever I could. There was no Internet, no eBay, no easy way to connect with fellow collectors. My prized possessions were a “Star Wars” poster, a spiral notebook from the dollar store, and a color still of Princess Leia chained to Jabba the Hutt, discovered at a creepy Hollywood souvenir shop. That was it.

It wasn’t until the release of those infamous prequels in the late ’90s that “Star Wars” merch became readily available again. Now, of course, you can find items everywhere, from T-shirts to toys, but it wasn’t always this way.

So remember that, Star Wars fans, while you’re doing your Force Friday shopping. Savor this moment.

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A cure for dismal Labor Day viewing

Speaking of the weekend, if you’re planning to see a movie over the Labor Day holiday, there aren’t many options. We’re in the thick of the end-of-summer doldrums and it’s looking pretty depressing out there.

Unless you want to sit through yet another mediocre video game movie reboot (“The Transporter Refueled,” coming on the heels of “Hitman: Agent 47”), there aren’t many cinematic choices to get excited about.

My advice? Skip what’s playing at the cineplex and take this opportunity to catch up on your documentary viewing.

BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster is playing two intriguing docs this weekend: “Meru,” about climbers tackling formidable challenges in the Himalayas, and “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” from Alex Gibney, director of the provocative “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”

If you’d rather stay home, some recent, critically successful titles include “Red Army,” “Citizenfour,” “Art and Craft,” “Last Days of Vietnam,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “National Gallery,” “Yves Saint Laurent,” “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” and “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.”

When it comes to movies, fact is often more entertaining than fiction.

Wes Craven’s ‘Nightmare’ lives on

I was sad to hear of the passing of director Wes Craven, who died Sunday at the age of 76.

I’m a lightweight when it comes to horror flicks and though I was too much of a scaredy-cat to watch many of Craven’s movies, the filmmaker made a strong impression on me.

When I was a kid, my family often walked past the neighborhood video store, where a cardboard stand-up of Freddy Krueger peered menacingly from one of the windows. I had no idea at the time who Freddy was, but I was mesmerized by his shredded face, razor claws, and Christmas-colored sweater. I’d never seen “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and already he was haunting my dreams.

Since then, Freddy Krueger has taken his gruesome place as one of the most terrifying villains of all time. Craven also directed several other seminal and, for the time, transgressive horror films, including “The Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”

In the mid-’90s, he laid the foundation for a 21st-century rebirth of horror with the “Scream” franchise, wittily deconstructing genre cliches and paying tongue-in-cheek homage to the classics. His influence can still be felt in recent horror films, like “Cabin in the Woods” and “It Follows.”

It seems Craven had ambitions to move beyond the horror genre, which despite being extremely lucrative, never earns a director much respect.

He helmed the drama “Music of the Heart,” helping star Meryl Streep to an Oscar. Though he never really moved past his role as a horror meister, his approach to his career was admirable.

“I come from a blue-collar family, and I’m just glad for the work,” Craven said in an interview quoted by the Hollywood Reporter.

“I think it is an extraordinary opportunity and gift to be able to make films in general, and to have done it for almost 40 years now is remarkable. If I have to do the rest of the films in the genre, no problem. If I’m going to be a caged bird, I’ll sing the best song I can.”

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Idris Elba as Bond? Hell, yes!

The Internet has been all riled up since Anthony Horowitz, author of the latest James Bond novel, declared that British actor Idris Elba should not play 007 in a future film.

Elba’s name has long been bandied about as an ideal replacement for Daniel Craig, who is a wonderful Bond but can’t very well portray the secret agent forever. In an unfortunate turn of phrase, Horowitz said Elba was “too street” to be a convincing Bond.

Elba’s fans were outraged by the author’s statement and the insinuation that the star of “Luther” and “The Wire” isn’t suave enough to slip into Bond’s tuxedo.

I have only one question for Horowitz: Have you seen Elba?

And, more importantly, have you seen Elba act? The man is the embodiment of cool, British charm and self-possession. He oozes sex appeal, experience and the ability to inflict violence on over-the-top baddies threatening to blow up the world. And he’s a brilliant, underrated performer who deserves to finally be a leading man.

Maybe when Horowitz said Elba was “too street,” he meant that if you ask any woman — or man, for that matter — on the street who should be the next James Bond, the answer would be “yes.” (Sigh. Only in an ideal world perhaps, but still … .)

By the way, Elba’s perfectly composed Twitter response to the kerfuffle offers further proof that he is the best man for the job.

“Always keep smiling,” he said. “It takes no energy and never hurts! Learned that from The Street!”

Photos: sundance.org; o.canada.com; bbcamerica.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission: Impossible Smoothly Delivers Spectacle, Spy Movie Cliches

Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation
Three stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sequences of action and violence, brief partial nudity)
131 minutes

Few movie franchises make it to a fifth installment without showing signs of weariness, age or impending death.

When it comes to cinematic longevity, “Mission: Impossible” is that spry, old guy you keep running into at the gym. Still going strong. Doesn’t look a day over 45. Will probably outlive us all.

Powered by the unflagging energy of Tom Cruise, this unstoppable machine of a franchise debuted nearly 20 years ago, inspired by the classic 1960s TV series. It remains serviceable and stylish, as evidenced by its latest chapter, “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”

The film is directed by one of Cruise’s go-to writers, Christopher McQuarrie, who also helmed “Jack Reacher,” but acquits himself much better here. “Jack Reacher” was a mess, but “Rogue Nation” delivers spectacle and spy movie cliches with panache. It is everything we’ve come to expect from a brand built almost entirely on Cruise’s intensity, daring, self-performed stunts, and patented “action run.”

So what if it feels as if we’ve seen a lot of what we see here in other spy movies, namely of the Bond and Bourne variety?

“Rogue Nation” once again finds Cruise’s secret agent, Ethan Hunt, in his natural state: disavowed by the U.S. government, despite the fact that he and his IMF team are the only thing standing between the world and epic disaster.

After an operation involving a Russian cargo plane goes awry, the IMF is disbanded by CIA chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, whose addition to the “M:I” cast is a no-brainer), despite the fact that Hunt is still in the field, tracking the terrorist activities of a nefarious group known as “The Syndicate.” (What would Hollywood’s super spies do if they didn’t have these shadowy international organizations to foil?)

While government liaison William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) dodges red tape back home, loyal techie Benji (Simon Pegg) is unwittingly lured into the field to assist Hunt in outsmarting the mouse-like, seemingly un-out-smartable supervillain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). (I wish Lane was a more colorful baddie. I expect more from McQuarrie. After all, he created Keyser Soze, one of the greatest movie villains of all time.)

As Hunt dashes from London, to Vienna, to exotic Casablanca, he becomes entangled with mystery woman Ilsa Faust, a double — or is that triple or quadruple? — agent who presumably works for Lane but has a soft spot for her American rival.

Ilsa is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who resembles classic movie star Ingrid Bergman, best remembered for her role in the film “Casablanca.” Just as Bergman’s Ilsa was torn between Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Paul Henreid’s Victor, Ferguson’s Ilsa is caught between her weaselly employer and a heroic spy. Or something like that.

McQuarrie is obviously drawing parallels between the two films but the “Casablanca” references don’t make a whole lot of sense. (“Mission: Impossible II” was basically a rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” and “To Catch a Thief,” so what the heck.)

Ferguson — who should immediately be cast in any and every film requiring the services of a bad-ass lady — is quite simply amazing as Ilsa. She’s voluptuous. She’s lethal. Her martial arts prowess is rivaled only by her taste in shoes, and yet somehow this doesn’t come off as stereotypical.

More importantly, Ferguson’s Ilsa is 10 times more interesting than the other characters who round out the “Rogue Nation” boys club, including Hunt, who has nothing terribly personal at stake in this installment.

Is it me, or does Hunt actually become less compelling with each “Mission: Impossible” film, despite Cruise’s vigorous commitment and flair for hair-raising stunt work? At times, the film even seems to be aware of this. At one point, Baldwin delivers a monologue with a description of Hunt that borders on parody.

Renner, meanwhile, languishes in a bureaucratic role that doesn’t afford him a shred of action. Maybe Cruise didn’t want the competition? Or is it that Hollywood just can’t figure out what to do with this guy?

Pegg, on the other hand, enjoys a beefed up part as the film’s main provider of comic relief, while Ving Rhames returns to collect another paycheck.

McQuarrie puts the cast through their paces in a labyrinth of plot twists that stretches on for a good 20 minute too long.

All the action sequences are stunning, from an opening scene that has Cruise dangling from a plane to a Vienna opera house sequence that is almost comical in its revolving chain of assassins, shimmying up the rigging, armed with guns disguised as musical instruments.

“Rogue Nation” hits a high note in a moment we expect to unfold with the usual cloak and dagger business of “Mission: Impossible” — fingerprint scanners, uncrackable safes, and impossibly detailed disguises.

Instead, we’re treated to an elaborate set piece reminiscent of the first film’s now legendary laser maze scene. It’s perfectly executed, ridiculously suspenseful and makes it impossible to begrudge the inevitability of an “M:I6.”

Photo: www.trondheimkino.no

 

Melissa McCarthy: The ‘Spy’ Who Loved (To Make) Me (Laugh)

Spy
Two and a half stars (out of four)
R (language, violence, sexual content, brief graphic nudity)
120 minutes

In just five years, writer-director Paul Feig and leading lady Melissa McCarthy have become an unstoppable force in the world of R-rated comedy, conspiring to create sly, ribald girl-power laugh fests audiences can’t resist.

In 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” they blissfully upended the tired tradition of the wedding rom-com. Two years later, they put a fresh, feminist twist on the buddy-cop comedy with “The Heat.”
Their latest joint effort, “Spy,” tackles another male-dominated genre, the ripe-for-mockery field made famous by James Bond and Jason Bourne, not to mention the Pink Panther and Austin Powers.

“Spy” doesn’t achieve the gut-busting excellence of Feig and McCarthy’s hilariously sublime first outing but it’s almost certainly funnier than “The Heat” and it blossoms into an entertaining approximation of the very espionage flicks it parodies.

This is Feig’s most complicated project so far. “Spy” has a large cast, a goofily convoluted plot, exotic locations and stunts that could pass in a straight-up action blockbuster.
However, the main attraction, as always, is McCarthy, whose appeal mingles shameless self-deprecation with a strange and admirable dignity. Melissa may be taking most of the pratfalls, but she’s never the butt of the joke.

In “Spy,” she plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who has never set foot out from behind a desk, content instead to function as the reliable voice in the ear of flashy agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law, spoofing Bondian buffoonery with suavely silly style).

In the movie’s fantastic opening sequence, we see Susan expertly guide the preening Agent Fine through one perilous scenario after another as he infiltrates a fancy dinner party at the lakeside home of notorious arms dealer Boyanov (Raad Rawi).

Fine has been sent to retrieve an alarmingly compact nuclear bomb, but ends up bungling the assignment at the last minute. Susan may be blind in her sweet, decidedly-more-than-just-professional devotion to Fine, but she’s not stupid and, as we later discover, isn’t necessarily as meek or inexperienced as everyone assumes.

When Fine’s mission takes a lethal turn and the identities of the Agency’s top operatives are compromised, Susan volunteers to finish what her partner started, following Boyanov’s daughter, Rayna (McCarthy’s “Bridesmaids” star, Rose Byrne), to Paris on an assignment that’s strictly “track and report.”

Susan’s illusions of cool spy names, sexy gadgets and slinky disguises are shattered when her boss (Allison Janney) forces her to embody a series of frumpy, new identities — housewives, cat ladies and Mary Kay saleswomen, instead of vixens with enigmatic names like Amber Valentine.

It takes awhile for mild-mannered Susan to hit her stride as a spy, and it takes the movie awhile to find its comedic stride as well. If I have one complaint about Feig’s films, it’s that they always seem to last a good half-hour too long, the humor decreasing in proportion to the running time.

I also wish there weren’t so many gags in “Spy” that revolve around McCarthy or other women being groped. And is it just me or are the obligatory projectile vomiting and penis jokes getting stale?

McCarthy is always right on target, though. Few comedians bother to work this hard, and manage to make it look this fun. She’s especially entertaining when one of the script’s more outrageous plot twists gives her the opportunity to trade quick-witted, foul-mouthed barbs with Byrne’s pampered villainess, who has the hair of a Disney princess and the vocabulary of a bitter, old hag.

When it comes to parodying Bond and other cloak-and-dagger classics, Feig goes all out, from a cheesy 007-style animated opening credits sequence that could almost be the real thing, to a moped chase through the streets of Budapest, to an impressively choreographed kitchen knife fight. McCarthy gets to do all the things James Bond does, albeit with a lot less grace.

The director contrives to pair her with many unlikely but amusing co-stars, including Peter Serafinowicz as a lecherous Italian contact, and Jason Statham, sending up his tough-guy reputation as a grizzled veteran agent who’s a bit off his rocker.

Best of all is a generous appearance by cheery, inhumanly tall British comedian Miranda Hart (she plays Chummy on the BBC’s “Call the Midwife”).

In her American film debut, Hart cheekily steals scenes as Susan’s awkward but loyal office mate. Here’s hoping we see more of her on the big screen.

Perhaps in “Spy 2”?

Photo: uk.yahoo.com

Oblivious Sexism of ‘The Gunman’ One of Many Misfires

The Gunman
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (strong violence, language, some sexuality)
115 minutes

I suppose we have “Taken” to thank for reigniting interest in testosterone-laden action flicks in which women are little more than objects to be rescued.

A “Taken” wannabe that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be serious or over the top, “The Gunman” raises this antiquated cinematic trope to troubling new levels of obliviousness.

Sean Penn plays an assassin, posing as a security contractor, who falls in love with an impossibly beautiful aid worker in the Congo (Jasmine Trinca). Annie — even her name implies childlike helplessness — speaks with an alluring Italian accent. Her hair is perfectly tousled, even when she’s pulling an all-nighter at the local medical clinic.

She and Penn’s character, Jim, appear to have little in common — “He’s a hard man,” she tells a friend who questions her taste in boyfriends — but she spends her free time waiting around for him anyway, ready to hop into bed at a moment’s notice. Afterward, she gazes pensively out the window, clad only in a white button-down shirt that highlights her glorious legs.

There are a lot of other things going on in “The Gunman.” Too many things, actually. But director Pierre Morel, the French filmmaker who not-so-coincidentally helmed “Taken,” is inordinately preoccupied with Annie’s suffering and humiliation.

Despite Jim’s professed passion, he is responsible for the increasingly preposterous catastrophes that befall her. During the course of the film, Annie is abandoned, manhandled or worse, passed back and forth like a trophy between Jim and a colleague/rival (Javier Bardem), relentlessly pursued, captured, drugged and in constant need of rescue. The camera lingers on her, trussed like a chicken on the floor, blouse slipping off her shoulders.

Annie’s primary reaction to these circumstances is to fall apart at every turn. The only decisive, independent action she takes is a sexual one and, though she plays a part in the villain’s demise at the end of the film, it is almost entirely accidental. This woman is the insulting epitome of the mindless, passive damsel in distress who has no place in modern cinema.

Penn apparently helped screenwriters Don MacPherson and Pete Travis pen the script for “The Gunman” — working from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette — so he is at least partially to blame for this antiquated character. Would someone please introduce him to the concept of the Bechdel Test?

The irony is that “The Gunman” could function decently — indeed, it would be a better film — without the presence of Annie.

The premise is promising, if unoriginal: Ex-Special Forces sniper Jim participates in the assassination of a government minister, whose death plunges the Congo into chaos. Guilt-ridden, he disappears for eight years, before trading wet work for aid work and returning to the Congo, where he becomes the target of heavily armed mercenaries.

To find out who wants him dead, Jim must globe trot to London and Barcelona, confronting his former partners in crime, including point man Felix, played by Bardem, still oozing the scenery-chewing hamminess he exhibited to greater effect in “The Counselor” and “Skyfall.”

Like Liam Neeson in Morel’s aforementioned film, Jim possesses a particular set of skills, resulting in several brutal set pieces, including scenes at an aquarium and a bull ring that should be more thrilling than they ultimately are. In the latter sequence, Morel gracelessly juxtaposes images of Penn and the slaughter of a great, horned beast.

Jim has an Achilles heel, a disorienting mental affliction that makes his vengeful mission all the more grueling. So “The Gunman” is basically “The Bourne Identity” with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of the “Taken” franchise.

At the film’s halfway mark, Jim jets to Spain, where Bardem sulks drunkenly in an opulent luxury mansion and a lipstick red vintage getaway car conveniently waits in a nearby barn. That’s about the time the movie begins to feel like a James Bondian vanity project.

Penn obviously took this role seriously, a little too seriously perhaps. Buffed up to proportions that would elicit the envy of men decades younger, he’s all desperation and intensity, but this attempt at action stardom is a strange fit. Neeson doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Morel surrounds Penn with a pedigreed ensemble, including Ray Winstone and celebrated British stage actor Mark Rylance, but they’re mostly wasted or miscast.

You know something is off when the excellent Idris Elba shows up in a single scene and all he gets to do is monologue about tree houses.

Photos: http://www.openroadfilms.com