Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: Skyfall

After some budgetary issues at MGM Studios and a few scheduling snafus, we finally have another horse in the James Bond stable with Skyfall.  Daniel Craig returns as Agent 007 in his third film, teamed with acclaimed British director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead) and a variety of supporting characters including Javier Bardem and Brits Judy Dench (M) and Ralph Fiennes (finally joining the franchise he should have been a part of a long time ago).  The synergy of the cast and crew helps make this 25th Bond offering a very entertaining film.

The plot of the movie is centered around MI6 and a security breach by Raoul Silva (Bardem as an extremely creepy and disgruntled ex-MI6 operative) that puts the entire roster of special agents in danger.  Bond must recover from an early near-death experience to track down Silva and avoid losing M in the process.  There are references throughout the film to the history of Bond including classic cars, failed gadget ideas and even the age and relevance of 007 himself.  A new batch of MI6 personnel (including a younger tech-savvy Q) help usher the franchise into a new era.  There is definitely a sense of Bond: Reloaded in this movie.

Overall Craig does another bang-up job as Bond and Bardem builds on his quirky bad-guy resume (No Country For Old Men).  Mendes is in total control of the pacing and scenery and his cinematographer-collaborator Roger Deakins shoots some very beautiful scenes across the globe.  Dench is amazing in this movie and gives a performance that one could argue deserves Oscar consideration.  Unfortunately, this movie seems to be a little tame in scope and we just don't have the memorable scenes and raw gritty Bond moments that were littered throughout Casino Royale (by-far Craig's best Bond movie to-date).

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Skyfall.  I really did.  It was far better than Quantam of Solace.  I just think it's a little overrated right now.  Craig and Mendes are a great pair and Bardem is game as a memorable villain   As far as Bond movies go this is a pretty standard effort.  We get a sprinkling of Bond Girls, neither of them very memorable.  There are little to no new gadgets or technology to add to the overall story.  The action is great though and Craig is right below Connery as one of the better Bonds to take on the role.  I'm looking forward to the next Bond offering and hopefully Mendes is back to direct it.  I just wanted a little more with this effort.  Casino Royale remains as the best Bond film  in my mind (mostly because of the spectacular and tense poker sequence) and I can only give 3.5 out of 5 JRs for Skyfall, a showcase for Dame Judy Dench and a solid reboot that sets up a slew of potential follow-on films.  It's still worth seeing in theaters for sure but just don't expect the end-all be-all of James Bond movies.

Review: Flight

Man that Denzel Washington sure knows how to act.  He's probably going to go places in this industry.  There are only a few actors working today that will give you a solid performance every time they take on a role.  I think these four D's are probably at the top of the list:  DiCaprio.  Day-Lewis.  Damon. and Denzel.  In Flight, Robert Zemeckis' return to live-action directing, Washington gets the Tom-Hanks-Cast-Away treatment in a story that revolves around a pilot's struggle to battle alcoholism.

When Zemeckis commits to a character as he's done with Hanks (Cast Away and Forrest Gump), Jodie Foster (Contact) and Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future) it's usually done with a lot of thought and depth. Throughout the duration of Flight we are treated to a case study on personal battles, happenstance-heroics and the struggle to admit a problem.  Washington is thrust into the limelight (where he is so very comfortable) as Whip Whitaker, a pilot for a fictional airline that uses heavy binge-drinking as a crutch to forget about a failed marriage and a failed fatherhood.  Whitaker is totally hammered the night before he takes the fatal flight we've all seen in the excellent preview for this film.

While the plane crash itself is amazing to watch and brilliantly filmed by Zemeckis and crew, the real meat of this movie is watching Washington cope with the repercussions of realizing he's turned into a hopeless drunk. John Goodman (as a Lebowski-esque stoner friend), Don Cheadle (as a calculating lawyer) and Kelly Reilly (as a fellow drug addict and love interest for Washington) all help lift up Washington's performance by making it more realistic.  This is without a doubt the Denzel Show though and Washington is amazing once again in conveying addiction and delusional behavior.  By the end of the movie we all feel the weight of the lies he has spun through the entire film and the realistic ending helps ground the characters in an inevitable reality.

Zemeckis has delivered one of the best gritty looks into the world of addiction and it's great to see him back behind the camera and away from the computer (Polar Express).  Washington will be up for Oscar once again and just may take home his third career award for this performance.  Flight is one of the best movies of the year and marks Robert Zemeckis' most gritty and edgy movie to-date.  A pleasant 4.5 out of 5 JRs for this one.  Go out and see Flight right away.