Here’s a neat little short out of Argentina:
Why the #@!! am I not watching this right now?
Ignore the prats in the professional review media — this is a solid Bond movie. It’s not quite up to Casino Royale for quality, but it is better than Skyfall. Here’s why this is a superior outing to its predecessor, and probably deserves to be in the top five Bond movies.
While there is a long of bitching about the pacing and length of the movie — and the latter is certainly a valid complaint of nearly ever blockbuster movie of the last 15 years, the pacing of SPECTRE is quick, with the necessary breathers to let character and plot unfold, and the view to gain relief from the action. (This is something action movies have seemed to forget — release and rebuild…just like older men. Looking at you Mad Max: Fury Road…) The action sequences, from the superlative fight/’splosions/chase through the Dia de los Muertos parade in Mexico City, to the car chase in Rome (which the Jaguar should have handily given Bond’s DB10 it’s ass), to the snow chase (the entire piece is an open homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), to the other excellent action set pieces are well-aced, last just long enough to wind the viewer up…then they END.
The other complaint is that this is less emotional a story than Casino Royale or Skyfall…wrong. The piece weaves together all of the Craig movies into a single story: the introduction of Blofeld as someone that has been in and out of Bond’s life since childhood was well-done and provides Bond with a nemesis that is, in every way, his antithesis, as well as giving the villain a reason to have a personal beef with our anti-hero. It draws on the pains of Vesper and M’s losses, and how Bond has integrated those losses and moved on. The character has become blase and had found his humor, but it is still armor to protect him from the world. The female lead isn’t worthless. She’s smart, actively aids Bond, still judges him and tried to force him to be better than he is, as Vesper did. But most importantly, there is humor in this movie; this has been missing since Casino Royale. The movies are generally good (save Quantum of Solice), well-made, but they are serious. Not The Dark Knight serious, but they’re not campy Moore period Bond. This film is fun.
The acting is good, and my main complaint is that Monica Bellucci — who at 50 is still sexier than all of the Bond girls for the last 25 years combined — does not get near enough screen time. In fact, she could have easily taken the place of the still-good Lea Seydoux. All the background characters — M, Q, and Moneypenny get to do things and it works.
The main plot is pretty obvious, as all of the older Bond pics were, as well: there’s a big conspiracy behind all the events of the last three movies, and that group, SPECTRE, is planning to gain control of the world’s intelligence agencies. Realistic? Maybe not. But it’s good Bond fodder. It sure as shit beats the “I get captured to make my master plan work” plot device that Hollywood’s been using for about a decade…and guess what? It was a shit plan and gimmick the first time it was rolled out, but Skyfall did it at the same time as Star Trek: Into Darkness and The Avengers. There were plot holes the size of a helicarrier in Skyfall and the villain was, while amusing (I liked Silva, really!), he was never sinister. Christopher Waltz’s Blofeld is sinister (and doesn’t get enough screen time.)
So, SPECTRE on my scale is a firm “worth full price”. It’s a slick, well-made Bond film.
Cinefix gives us a nice three-part history of action movies and heroes from Douglas Fairbanks to Steve McQueen and Sean Connery…
From Bruce Lee to Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger…
John Mcclane, muthaf$%^er…Die Hard and the decade and a half of knockoff Die Hards, Bonds, and Bruce Lee wannabes, and onto the CGI-laden blockbusters.
I stumbled across a video analysis of Steven Spielberg’s underappreciated Artificial Intelligence the other day on Slashfilm.com. I remembered thinking that the initial reaction of movie-goers showed a lack of attention or understanding of the film’s ending, in particular. (They’re so obviously not aliens…they’re evolved robots.) There was a lot of BS pushed about how Spielberg had tacked on a fairy tale ending, when point of fact, this part was Stanley Kubrick’s — the moviemaker whose idea this project was.
Here’s the video analysis of the picture’s motifs and themes. It’s worth the time.
Now, for a bit more analysis — mine, this time. We’ll start a comment on the filming style of the film. Kubrick’s style was to present a “moving picture in a frame.” There are a lot of tracking shots in his films — usually following or preceding a character as they move through a set. The action happens on either side of the primary focus, or behind them. An example might be the interminable kid-on-Big-Wheel scenes in the hotel of The Shining, or watching Frank Poole jog through the carousel of Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I think the latter is much more effective for establishing the completeness of the carousel set.)
Spielberg turns this on its head. He follows characters through sets, but is rarely straight-on to their front or rear, and in the Flesh Faire set, he tracks with a worker through the set, but the character moves left to right, but always in the center of the action while the background setting unfolds. It is the same idea as Kubrick’s “moving picture in a frame”, but it is more kinetic and interesting to watch than Kubrick achieved in his films.
This blending of style, as well as the use of color palettes and the circular motifs mentioned in the video show an excellent melding of the two filmmakers’ styles
The relationship between Gigalo Joe and David is also intriguing in that joe is obviously not sentient…he doesn’t have true emotions, but emulates them well. He is a creature of instinct, programmed behavior, much like Teddy, the Super Toy bear, is. But he has a clarity of intellect that is on display in one of the more interesting scenes in the movie, when — after having gotten a hint as to where to find the blue Fairy from Dr. Know — Joe attempts to protect David, in my interpretation, from the reality of his existence…that David’s quest may lead to disillusionment.
It’s a wonderful moment of self-awareness. Joe is so close to being “real”, and his desire to protect his kind from humans shows the seeds of the altruism that the future robots show in the final act. He also foreshadows the final act with his observation “…in the end, al that will be left, is us.”
It’s a dark, fatalistic view of humanity, but also of existence in general, and it continues through the allegedly “sweet” ending. Found by the future robots, David is a link to not just understand the “why” of existence, but shows the desire to have a connection with their “parents.” They are altruistic, but they also show a certain lack of empathy for these long-dead humans when they, horrifically, resurrect David’s mother for his perfect day.
She is now the robot — an incomplete person created to salve the emotional needs of David, the same role he was to play for Monica. She is as much a slave as he was. And while he is able to achieve her love for that one perfect day, it is still ephemeral, still transitory — just as it was before Martin came home. When she dies, the implication of David “going to the place where dreams are made” implies his death, or at least a growth beyond the need for this obsessive, destructive love he carries through the movie.
This is not a happy ending. It is arguably even more awful that what David went through.
Lastly, let’s consider the sidekick character that I view as the real protagonist of the piece: Teddy. The Super Toy is introduced as a means to distract David from his fascination with Monica, and he becomes David’s constant companion and protector throughout the movie. He attempts to protect David when he is competing with Martin in the food eating “fight”; he provides guidance when the two boys are competing; he “saves” David from the flesh Faire by bringing attention to him; he is with him throughout the movie, even sitting through 2000 years of being trapped in the ice. An consistently throughout the film, like a good dog, he helps his “boy”…and is conveniently forgotten when David makes connections with Joe (Teddy is chasing after them at the flesh Faire as they effect their escape), he is left with Joe when David discovers the other versions of himself in Manhattan, he makes is possible for the future ‘bots to bring Monica back, he is an afterthought while David plays with Monica in the final act, and when David goes to the place where dreams are made (whatever you interpret that to be…), Teddy is left to sit on the foot of the bed, left behind.
It’s a terrible moment. Like Joe, Teddy is not sentient; he ‘s more of an animal — a very smart machine, but not a person. He is a slave with no choice but to serve his master. While he cannot love David, his devotion is love-like, and as for everyone in the movie, it is destructive, obsessive, and ultimately, unrequited.
1981 was a good year for movies. I was a young teen, and movies were increasingly my escape from the real world, if only for a few hours. That summer saw some of the best movies of their genres hit — Raiders of the Lost Ark brought me to the theater eight or nine times; For Your Eyes Only gave us the best of the Moore-era Bond movies (holy s#!tsnacks, he’s acting!), Excalibur hit the D&D spot but I found the movie overly stylized and not particularly engaging, Escape from New York and Outland were solid sci-fi fun. But there was one movie that crept in under the radar that summer and thrilled me — The Road Warrior.
At the time, I hadn’t seen Mad Max, and I only got to see The Road Warrior one time that summer, but the cars-in-the-desert theme became my go-to idea of the apocalypse. F@#k that pushing a shopping cart crap of The Road, the end of the world is deserts, highly modded hulks of cars, leather and PVC, and hair care products (there must be some — look at that damned mohawk!) Later, Beyond Thunderdome — while inventive — lost that essential, core trope of a Mad Max movie…cars! Director George Miller had first crafted the original film as an examination of the Australian car culture, and was a response to his work as a traveling trauma doctor who saw the numerous ways that people get dead in vehicles. Without the cars, the apocalypse just doesn’t work.
Thirty years and some dancing penguin movies later, Miller returns to his creation with Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a reboot, no matter what the director was claiming — the essentials are there: Max Rockitansky was a police officer who lost his family, and in this picture is frequently suffering PTSD flashbacks involving his daughter (not a son, this time) who he could not save. He’s blasting around the wasteland of maybe Australia/maybe someplace else in his Australian 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT so beloved from the first two movies. He’s a nomad looking for a reason to exist, and will, as in The Road Warrior, act more as a catalyst for the events.
The first act is curious — Max is captured about two minutes into the film and spends much of it caged or tied to the front of a warboy’s wagon. He’s a “blood bag” for the radiation sickness-suffering Nux, and is valuable only for his O+ blood. The world-builing is fast and crammed into the action well; a lot of action directors could learn from Miller on how to build characters and a world by showing, not telling. (For another superb example of this, see John Wick.)
There’s a grotto of green and water in the desert ruled by Immortan Joe, a horrific picture of ancient, radiation damaged man who is encased in clear plastic “armor” and wears a breath mask fashioned to give him a leering grin. He’s played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original 1979 Mad Max. He’s holding the survivors hostage by controlling access to water, and his army of warboys are a cult of sick and deluded young men who expect this “immortal” to bring them to Valhalla, if they are worthy. The subcultures Miller creates in this movie are inventive and believable — from the glory above all warboys, to the “we do what we have to” of the all-femael Vuvulan nomads we meet later. There’s load of grotesque character imagery — the Bullet Farmer who gets blinded in the movie and is randomly firing guns from his dune buggy while blindfolded; there’s the gas lord with his ornate metal nose replacement — Tycho Brahe would be jealous; Nux has ritual scarification on his chest and tumors he affectionately calls “his mates — Larry and Barry…they’ll kill me one day…”
The hero of the piece is not Max, and that seems to be a big point of contention for the reactionaries who don’t like seeing a woman displace their mighty Road Warrior…but even in that movie and Thunderdome he was a sidekick in many ways, the ronin that helps the Feral Kid and his tribe escape, or saves the kids from whateverthehell Tina Turner was playing. Here, it’s Impertor Furiosa, played brilliantly by Charlize Theron. Like the others, she has some level of disfigurement — she’s missing an arm and has a claw-handed prosthetic. She has kidnapped Immortan Joe’s prized “breeders” — a bevy of good-looking young girls that are his “wives” and whom he hopes will provide undamaged children — and is taking them to the home Furiosa was stolen from…”the green place.”
Queue two hours of cars chases and fight sequences. Miller never really lets up in these scenes, they’re well over the top, but in a world so grotesque and weird! as this, they never seem as ridiculous as they clearly are. The Road Warrior was a restrained piece, compared to this — the action sequences extreme, but well inside the realm of possible; some of the stunts (and Miller still did mostly practical stuntwork for this movie) should be laughable, but after a few minutes in, you’re in. One of the most defining images of the movie is Joe’s warband — a quartet of drummers on gigantic taiko drums on the back, and a blind guitarist in bright red jumpsuit bungee corded on the front, of a vehicle that is 90% a wall of speakers. The guitarist plays the beat of the action pieces on a double necked guitar that shoots f#$king flames ferchristsake!
There’s a lot of pixels being spilled about the feminist nature of the story, and it’s certainly got that in spades. Women are strong, capable characters that don’t need men like max to save them…just aid them. Furiosa and Max never get romantic; he’s also not in charge…it’s her journey, he’s just heling her get there. Women aren’t maternal, save the world characters. Furiosa and her tribe are violent, but they do it to save the breeders, who aren’t wilting flowers, themselves. Max and Nux represent masculinity in a way that is violent — it’s the end of the world and it’s a brutal setting; they have to be violent — but they do it in the service of defending people. Immortan Joe and his crew represent the acquisitive, coercive masculinity of bad guys, clergy, and politicians. But you can pack all that away for two hours and watch a great action pic, if you want to.
Visually, this movie is stunning in a way I haven’t seen since probably Avatar, and it’s better because this isn’t CGI. The action is occasionally ridiculous, but you’re unlikely to notice. The cars — they’re glorious mutants of metal. There’s one group where their vehicles are covered in porcupine-like quills…it’s bloody brilliant! The warband — you will leave wanting to have a big ass truck with your soundtrack, played by a lunatic shooting fire from his guitar, following you everywhere you go.
The worldbuilding is wondrously inventive.
The acting is generally very good from the leads. This is Theron’s movie and she owns it. Nicholas Hoult (the Beast in the retro X-Men movies) steals almost every scene he’s in. Tom Hardy is solid, if underused, as Max; they never really let him off the leash, and that is a good point of contention some have with the movie. Max is almost a spectator in his own film. The brides are all developed well in bits of dialogue and action that give them all simple, but recognizable, personalities.
Go see it. It’s everything we wanted Thunderdome to be in 1985. It’s a movie I saw for a matinee price, but I wouldn’t have felt gypped at full price.
Finally got around to seeing Avengers 2 (Finally..? It’s only been open a week!) last night with the wife. I have to admit, I’d seen a few of the trailers and something about them made me think I was going to be disappointed by this one. I’d watched Avengers a few times after the theater experience and the one thing that kept bothering me — other than the “I got captured as part of my master plan thing”, and really Hollywood…stop it — was the need for better editing. The final battle in New York is almost 40 minutes long! That’s waaaay too long for a final action sequence; there is a point where the audience has been amped up for so long that they actually get bored in very long action sequences.
So when the film finally started, I was actively trying to keep an open mind. The pacing this time was much better than Avengers — Whedon gave the audience down time for character development, the most of which was aimed at Hawkeye, Banner, and Black Widow. We learn some things about Hawkeye that make him the most human of the bunch, and even he is having troubles fitting himself into a team of “gods.” There’s the Banner/Romanov romance subplot that is pissing off the crazy wing of the interwebz, and I found I didn’t mind it…I just didn’t think it added anything to the film. The wife thought it was lazy — “Why can’t movie have a woman develop in a way that doesn’t involve romance or a baby?” Fair enough…but I didn’t find some of the criticism to be valid.
The first action scene is well done, have the Whedon humor to it, and has a nice Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in and carries that spy meets sci-fi tone that Cap 2 and the first movie hit. It seems the Avengers have been hitting Hydra since the events of Cap 2. We meet the new bad guys soon to turn good, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The former I found annoying, but thought the performance was quite good…especially since I started to like the character by the end. And this is a Whedon movie, so you know what happens to the second string character you start to like… Olsen’s accent is atrocious and fades in and out throughout the show, otherwise she’s passable. As for the rest of the cast, they’ve been living these characters (save Ruffalo) for a half dozen movies each — they’ve got the characters down. They also let War Machine, Don Cheadle’s character, in on the action, and there’s a cameo of Falcon.
The bad guy is not an AI created by Stark, but rather some kind of AI that was living in one of the Infinity Stones in Loki’s scepter (it’s a “mind stone”, we are told later.) It’s released, doesn’t adapt too well to the program they try to impose on it, and you get James Spader voicing Ultron, an angry, genocidal machine that wants to evolve. This apparently involves destroying Mankind. Ultron is both interesting for not being the stereotypical megalomaniacal baddie — he’s got a great “Oh, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you my master plan” moment…where he doesn’t. But he’s also not truly menacing, as he was in the trailers; if anything, he comes off as a petulant, confused child. It makes him interesting, but not frightening.
There’s some very nice spy movie action in this one — there’s the raid on a Hydra base in the start of the movie, some investigation stuff that leads to a South African arms dealer in beached ships (very cool) and rampaging through an unnamed town that looked like Johannesburg. (Just checked it…yup!) There’s more trying to stop Ultron’s master plan in Seoul, including some very cool vehicle chase sequences that feature the new Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle. It’s good stuff.
The final battle returns to the Hydra base of the beginning of the film and the heroes must battle hundreds of instantiations of Ultron, save the population of a ton, and ultimately stop Ultron from destroying all life on Earth. The battle sequence is most likely very close to half an hour long, but I didn’t think it lagged as much as the New York denouement. It might on later viewings. Notable was that while Thor got to kick a lot of ass, and got some of the good lines, he felt very flat and there was little real development for him, I thought.
The end has the team reforming with Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and War Machine as part of the team, and a few of the old guys bowing out…the end credits show Thanos busting out the Infinity Glove with a “Fine. I’ll do it myself…” So now we have the villain for Infinity War, I suspect.
Overall, it’s a good follow up to Avengers and in some ways it’s a superior film. It’s well paced and balanced, it has a solid tone, the characters all get time in the spotlight — even the B team — and the dialogue is up to Whedon standards. It’s definitely a “See it in the theater movie” and I didn’t feel gipped at full price with no 3D.