Friday, November 13, 2015

Reviews: Spectre & Crimson Peak


If you read the press lately you'll hear how Daniel Craig is growing tired of putting on the tailored suit and asking for his drinks to be shaken and not stirred.  Unfortunately for us, the end is near for his reign as one of the better James Bonds in movie history.  In Spectre, the latest effort from Skyfall director Sam Mendes, Craig once again plays Bond as a bad-ass that shows little emotion. The rest of the cast play along well and we get another satisfying addition to the legendary spy series.

The plot of Spectre is a bit convoluted as the key adversary Franz Oberhauser (played with villainous glee by the always great Christoph Waltz) seems to be linked to the various villains of Bond's past (the past three Craig/Bond films).  Oberhauser heads up the sinister titular organization of Spectre, a group that Bond attempts to infiltrate through many locations around the globe. The opening scene in particular (shot in Mexico during the Day of the Dead) is quick-paced and intense and sets the tone for the film.  During his travels he meets at least two women he tries to seduce including 51-year-old Monica Belluci who still looks stunning at her age.  Lea Sedouyx plays the main bond girl of the film, Madeleine Swann, who is connected to Bond's past through her father.  She is a relative newcomer and makes a very compelling Bond girl with a classic silver-screen beauty that accompanies her quick wit.  Joining Bond on his adventures once again are M (Ralph Fiennes - who took over for Judi Dench's character), Q (Ben Whishaw), the nefarious C (Sherlock's Andrew Scott) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).  The best new addition to this rendition of Bond is the evil henchman Hinx, played with nearly no dialogue and a ton of kick-ass physical prowess by Guardian of the Galaxy's (and WWE's) Dave Bautista.  That Bautista really does have a future in movies and he might be able to play second fiddle to The Rock's post-WWE film career.

The biggest problem I had with this movie is the story. There are so many plot threads that reference previous films that it's hard to make sense of what's going on.  It probably didn't help that four screenwriters combined to white the screenplay. Thankfully, what makes everything tick and helps overpower the plot holes is the deft visual eye of Mendes.  He is able to take these larger than life set pieces and make them live and breathe as characters on their own in the film.  He loves shooting Craig as an ultimate tough guy and we get lots of scenes that show him in his iconic suit striking a "don't-fuck-with-me" pose. At first I didn't think the director of American Beauty and Road to Perdition was the right filmmaker for this franchise, but Mendes has certainly found his sweet spot with this spy series of movies.  The rumor is he will be helming Bond 25 in a few years.

I was entertained by Craig in what may very well be his last time in this role.  He certainly has taken the Bond reigns with solid performances from the get-go in Casino Royale and this would be a fitting conclusion to his four-film arc as Bond.  3.5 out of 5 JRs for a big-budget thrilling (if somewhat misguided) trek across the globe.  It'll be interesting to see if Craig does return for Bond 25 or if we get Idris Elba to don the tuxedo as the first black James Bond.  If Mendes is in charge, I'm sure we'll get a quality film regardless.



The mood of Crimson Peak, Guillermo Del Toro's latest horror/drama effort is cold and creepy for sure. Set at the turn of the 20th century, the story follows a young girl named Edith (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) who marries into a strange family at a young age and ends up moving to a totally haunting English manor that sits atop a red clay mine.  Ghosts and demons end up roaming through the house with no escape due to the blizzard-like conditions outside.

Similar to my previous review, the visuals are all on point here and Del Toro puts his unique ghastly spin on everything, but again we're lacking in the script department. There's not much intrigue here and you really don't end up becoming emotionally invested in the characters.  Del Toro can only blame himself here, as he co-wrote the script with two other collaborators. All of the acting is really well done though, especially Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston as the creepiest brother and sister pairing since Jaime and Cersei Lannister.  

The real draw here is Del Toro's knack for making beautiful cinema. The English manor is shot brilliantly with creaks and cobwebs lining the walls and antique furniture that adds to the timeless atmosphere.  The stark contrast of blood (there is a lot of it) mixed with the pure white Winter snow is the perfect thematic tone for this type of movie.  You can tell that Del Toro is at the top of his game and one can only hope that he gets to keep making these personal passion projects as his eye for film-making is something that shouldn't be kept from the big screen.

This film has a definite gothic creepy vibe and the early 1900's setting helps define it as a standalone entry in the horror genre. The acting is great throughout and Chastain especially shines in playing against type. As with Spectre, I am giving 3.5 out of 5 JRs for Crimson Peak, a slightly spooky visual feast with a sort of wonky plot. It's totally worth seeing in the theater (it's not playing in many anymore unfortunately) to fully realize Del Toro's vision. Let's hope he comes up with a better story to match his visual prowess next time around.