Friday, October 26, 2012

Skyfall (2012): Memorable Story and Characters

Our hope that 2012's Skyfall could make a good change in the James Bond series once more came true. Every Bond movie with Daniel Craig's participation brought a big alteration to the previously established course of the franchise. 2006's Casino Royale was the first big surprise, which rebooted the famous secret agent's story timeline and offered a non-conventional treatment of the character who was not capable anymore of saving the world effortlessly. 2008's Quantum of Solace was almost a U-turn again reinstating Bond as an omnipotent hero and lacking a good story. Finally, Skyfall accomplished another drastic reversal bringing the competent characterization and the good storytelling of Casino Royale back at the expense of Bond's invincibility.

After an unsuccessful mission to secure an important computer drive containing the names of British secret agents back from a man who has stolen it, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is considered to be dead, incidentally shot by his partner Eve (Naomie Harris). Months later the British government's upset with MI6 and particularly with M (Judi Dench) has reached the point to offer her a retirement due to the inability of MI6 to recover the drive. M prefers to stay until the issue is resolved. But it appears the government is not the only one wanting M's head as there is an explosion in MI6's headquarters. After the explosion Bond decides to return despite his unstable condition and possibly woolly attitude after being shot by his own colleague in consequence of M's instruction. Once he becomes a secret agent anew it appears the man having the drive (Javier Bardem) is not so unknown. His name is Silva and he has his own agenda for dealing with M.

As it becomes clear since the very beginning of Skyfall this time James Bond is not a powerful and invulnerable hero. This leads to a more interesting story, which the characters of Javier Bardem and Judi Dench also contribute a lot to. Javier Bardem is easily acceptable as a villain and he has already demonstrated in former movies he is quite capable of portraying bad guys. Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney also have memorable roles and they show good acting skills as usual. Having seen them in two previous Bond films, Judi Dench and Daniel Craig are what you would expect from them (which means good). And Ben Whishaw makes a decent appearance as Q. As a whole, the introduction of more personal sides of the characters furthers Skyfall's quality.

The cinematography is left in the hands of Roger Deakins and this makes Skyfall one of the most beautifully shot films in the James Bond franchise. There are plenty of lovely places presented in the movie (Istanbul, Macau, Shanghai, the Scottish Highlands and of course, London), which give you enough opportunities to appreciate Deakin's mastery more than once. The soundtrack is better than Quantum of Solace's score and this includes Adele's opening song. The direction of Sam Mendes is also great, which is of course easier when a good script is on hand.

To conclude, Skyfall is definitely a huge improvement over the former James Bond installment. It is probably not so surprisingly strong and pleasantly different as Casino Royale but it is a solid effort and deserves attention.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Looper (2012): A Good Sci-Fi Movie with Familiar Time Travel Flaws

Looper offers an interesting and fairly unpredictable narrative, good acting and some unavoidable for a time travel sci-fi movie flaws. Independently of the flaws though Looper is one of the better sci-fi films of 2012.

Looper's action is set in 2 different years, both in the not so distant future. In 2074, when the mob wants to kill someone and get rid of the body, the best possible way is to send the victim into the past. In 2044 a group of assassins called "Loopers" waits for the victims sent from the future and eliminates them the very moment they "land" on a specific place. Sometimes the older self of a particular killer is sent back from the future to be killed by his younger self. This is called "closing of the loop". If the man from the future escapes for whatever reason problems arise for the unsuccessful killer. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the 2044's assassins, which gets into real danger when Old Joe (Bruce Willis) "arrives" in the past with more than a simple view of defenceless dying.

Looper is a well directed movie based on potent ideas. Except for the younger-older self connection there a few other themes incorporated into the movie like a love story, preventing the loss of a cherished person or a complicated mother and son relationship. The story is competently constructed and there aren't almost any redundant episodes. The film rarely feels boring and you do not know until the very end how Looper is going to wind up although a few possibilities may have crossed your mind.

The cast has done a fine job too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are good in their impersonations of a same character. Actually this is probably the best movie starring Bruce Willis in recent years. Emily Blunt and Paul Dano have also notable performances in Looper. And Jeff Daniels has a few episodic but memorable appearances as the mob's representative in the "past".

Despite all of the praises above Looper has also a few flaws, some of which inevitable. As with every other time travel film each transfer of a man into the past (or into the future) immediately brings forth common problems related to the existence of more than a single timeline and its manipulation. This is very similar to the chicken-or-egg problem and of course, Looper is not a movie that avoids it. The film reveals some other less excusable issues too, e.g., the impossibility of the mob in 2074 to get rid of people in their own time seems ridiculous especially when simultaneously men are so advanced they can use time machines. Another not so clear point is why a looper should kill his own older self instead of assigning this tricky task to a colleague.

Regardless of the few issues, Looper tells a sound science fiction story. The plot is solid, entertaining and keeps you involved throughout the whole movie. The film is mandatory for lovers of the sci-fi genre but most casual moviegoers will also have a good time watching it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Quantum of Solace (2008): Old-Fashioned and Predictable

Quantum of Solace
It does not happen often a James Bond movie to rely heavily on its predecessor and this is exactly the case with 2008's Quantum of Solace. The previous installment in the series, 2006's Casino Royale, was the first Bond film starring Daniel Craig and it was a big success among both critics and broad audience. Probably this has been the reason inciting Quantum of Solace's filmmakers to include so many references in the movie to the former one but unfortunately, the end result is not even close to the quality of Casino Royale.

In Quantum of Solace secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) has to stop a famous environmentalist (Mathieu Amalric) from gaining control of a sterile land in South America in exchange of helping a local military leader to take the rule of the country. Simultaneously, Bond is hoping to inflict vengeance upon the people involved in the death of his love interest from Casino Royale Vesper Lynd. Of course, there is a new girl here, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who is also seeking revenge for past events. The CIA is completely lost in this film and Bond's most powerful weapon is his strong will to avenge for Vesper's death.

Quantum of Solace is interesting in its contradictions. It is the first Bond Movie referring so heavily on a previous installment and in the same time it is very different from Casino Royale. The character development and the absorbing story of the first film with Daniel Craig are missing and the movie is closer to the usual stereotype of the franchise offering an invincible and almighty James Bond. Naturally, this does not make the film really memorable but the worse is the movie lacks a good plot and interesting twists. The aforementioned references to Casino Royale are also more obstructive to the story perception instead of being helpful in any way.

As a good old-fashioned James Bond movie Quantum offers lots of intense action, special effects and unscrupulous villains. Its biggest problem is that many of the previous films in the Bond series are just better. We've seen better plots, more efficient villains and we've listened to better scores. Even the opening song here is quite weak and in my opinion unsuitable. At the same time many of the franchise's past opening songs have become huge hits. Finally, the movie does not surprise with anything and is completely predictable.

So, if you want to see a traditional James Bond film you have plenty of options among the vast collection of pre-Daniel Craig Bond episodes. If you want to see something different Casino Royale is the obvious choice. These make the second Daniel Craig's reincarnation as James Bond actually expendable. If you are a fan of the James Bond franchise, you can see Quantum once for completeness but except for this purpose there are not many reasons to choose it. There is still hope though that the upcoming release of Skyfall is going to change the notion of a Bond movie for good once more and we will have the chance to experience a high-grade entertainment with Daniel Craig in the cinema again.