I reviewed latest Bond adventure SPECTRE for Estonian weekly newspaper Eesti Ekspress a little while back. As everyone may know, I am a bit of Bond fan ....
Below is the review in English.
Spectres of the Past
If Skyfall proved anything it was how the cinematic version of James Bond seems to be stuck in a strange limbo world in which nostalgia clashes with modernity. One of the most successful entries in to the Bond franchise in many years, the film struck a chord thanks to the relatively strong character development that was placed amongst the numerous well-staged set pieces. But people also yearned for the past – the old style of Bond films with the numerous silly gadgets and the bad puns and the outrageously monikered villains. Spectre is an exercise in trying to stylistically marry the past and future of the franchise that – while not always successful – shows the Bond formula will continue to work for many years to come.
Narratively the film treads a relatively simplistic path: Bond finds himself on the trail of a mysterious criminal organisation. It soon becomes clear that its ties to him are much more personal than at first glance. As 007 investigates the organisation and his own past, the UK sees the possibility of the ‘00’ section being shut down with the creation of a global network of surveillance making them obsolete. Can Bond and MI6 make it in a new world?
Director Sam Mendes has certainly delivered a film of technical bravura. The opening section – set during the Day Of The Dead in Mexico – is a masterclass in creating action cinema while other sequences (such as a cleverly staged fight scene on a train) are also used to celebrate Bond films of the past by echoing the likes of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love.
As good as the action is when it’s presented, the film’s pacing is a little off. While it’s fun to see Bond actually doing his job (using his intelligence to uncover the plans of the bad guys) there are long swathes of plot development before a climax that almost seems to come out of nowhere. Similarly, the constant reminder of Bond’s relationship to the villain (as well as the connection of the film to Craig’s previous three efforts as 007) feel much too contrived (even for a Bond film). It would have been more effective just to have Bond battle bad guys simply because they are bad, rather than having to add an extra grudge to raise the personal stakes.
That said, the film’s comment of surveillance and the powers of the government are somewhat interesting – especially as we live in the times of Edward Snowden – and there is some nice investigation of Bond’s role in the modern world.
The performances are good. Craig has slightly lightened up his Bond (at least managing to give a nod to a few more Roger Moore-esque jokes) and Lea Seydoux is vulnerable yet tough as Dr Madeline Swann. Christoph Waltz clearly enjoys playing the main villain of the piece flitting between been calm menace and gleeful lunacy and Dave Bautista deserves praise as Hinx, a throwback to the hulking yet silent henchmen of old.
Spectre is flawed as it feels as if it tries to do much at once and it clearly shows in the narrative and pacing. Yet there are a number of great moments that do make it a worthy and memorable edition to the Bond canon – and to blockbuster cinema in general. But with an ending that could work very well as a farewell to Craig, it will be interesting to see where Bond’s travels take him and whether the franchise embraces its past or heads to a different future
Steve Jobs (Dir Danny Boyle, 2015 - Seen on 29.11.2015 at Black Nights Film Festival)
*Interesting choice to take three launches of Jobs’ products to tell the story of the man behind the success of Apple. It provides a certain focus but it means the dialogue has to sometimes flit into the realms of tortuous exposition.
*Nice opening with archive footage of Arthur C Clarke explaining how computers will soon be in every home
*There’s a moment when Jobs washes his feet: the religious allegory seems plain. While the film never outright goes for him having a God complex, when someone says to him “Things don’t become so because you say so,” indicates some of the feelings towards him
*Very insular and stagey. This could almost be a stage play but Boyle tries to imbue it with cinematic life. But the literal stage settings bring forth the idea of jobs being a cultural icon as much as he was a technical one
*Fassbender very dialled back. His Jobs is a quiet egomaniac. Winslet as Mac head of marketing Johanna Hoffman is actually the stand out here.
*Moments are specifically designed to remind us we are watching a film and only getting one side of a story. Links in well with everything regarding Jobs’ own self-mythologizing and ability to manipulate the press.
*It’s been said before but is there any modern director with such a lack of distinctive ‘style’ than Danny Boyle. Steven Soderbergh perhaps?
*Nice line: “Hollywood: they made computers scary things”