Friday, November 9, 2012

Worth Mentioning - (Inter)National Hero

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody gives some preliminary thoughts on the new James Bond film, Skyfall.

I'm sort of in a tough spot with this week's Worth Mentioning article. My free time in the last week has been all about just two things.

The beginning of the week was entirely dedicated to the U.S. Presidential election, following poll results pre-election, fulfilling my civic duty and voting on election day, and then spending that evening following the results and hoping enough of my fellow Americans had voted for the same person as I did that my candidate of choice would be the winner.

Still, the article's opener is correct, I did watch several movies this week, and I will be writing about most of them on the blog at some point, but to write about them now would be sort of redundant. When I wasn't participating in selecting the leader of the United States of America, I was watching the adventures of a hero from another country, England's James Bond 007, in anticipation of this weekend's release of the latest film in the Bond series. And so, all the movies I watched this week that I want to write about were James Bond movies, which are already being covered in the in-depth 50 Years of 007 series.

But I can't just let the new film's opening weekend pass without acknowledging it in some way, so I decided to write down some thoughts following my first viewing(s) of the movie.

SKYFALL (2012)

Skyfall was set to open on theatrical screens of all sizes in the U.S. on Friday, but like last year's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the bigger screens in the country - IMAX, Cinemark XD, Rave Xtreme size screens - would get a one day headstart, with showings beginning on Thursday. In both cases, this release tactic has gotten me to travel a long distance just to see the movies one day early. For M:I 4, I travelled about 3 hours round trip to see the film on a Cinemark XD screen. But for Bond, I decided to go for the full IMAX experience, travelling in a different direction and adding about 10 minutes to the round trip total. I didn't regret it.

In the 23rd Bond film from Eon Productions, James Bond's pursuit of a MacGuffin in the form of a stolen computer drive containing state secrets soon gives way to a deeper, darker, more personal story. As the official synopsis says, this movie deals with Bond's boss M's past coming back to haunt her, and her past is back in the form of a deranged and flamboyant villain named Silva. Unlike some of his evil predecessors, Silva isn't out to destroy a country or dominate the world, this guy is obsessively focused on bringing about the ruination of M.

Every bit of news that comes out about a new Bond movie seems to cause some kind of internet kerfuffle, it's a series where even the most casual viewers seem to have an opinion to voice on how things are going, so something as simple as the title announcement can spark pages of debate. The title Skyfall stirred up its share of naysayers, but in the end it turns out to be a very apt title. Not only is Skyfall the name of something within the film, but it also accurately describes the situation that its British Secret Service employed characters find themselves in. For some of our leads, the sky is falling.

Daniel Craig's previous Bond films had taken the character back to the beginning of his career as a 00, in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace he was still learning the ropes, but this time around he's a seasoned veteran who's been in the spy business for years. Craig now gets to play the fully developed Bond, while bringing his own more flawed and real world approach to the character. This is such a return to the experienced Bond as we've always known him that, if not for a subplot involving one character, this could easily be slotted in as following Die Another Day in the timeline of the first twenty films preceding the 2006 "reboot". I hear some viewers are still counting it as coming after Die Another Day even with that character aspect.

The films of the Craig era have been more character focused and Skyfall follows suit. Given his previous work on films like American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Revolutionary Road, it's no surprise that director Sam Mendes proves quite capable in handling the character work, but on this film he also gets to show off the fact that he can handle action as well.

Mendes brought on his regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, also a favorite of the Coen brothers and one of the best cinematographers working today, to shoot the movie. Shooting in HD, Deakins has delivered a picture that is absolutely gorgeous to look at.

Released at the time of the 50th anniversary of the film franchise, this is a movie that is very reverent of the series' history, giving nods to the past and reintroducing some traditional elements, while also staying on course to tell its own story in its own style. It wasn't originally meant to be a 50th anniversary film, though. If things had gone according to plan, it would've been in theatres last year, but MGM's bankruptcy caused pre-production to shut down for nine months. It was a pain to have to wait an extra year for another Bond fix, but that nine month shutdown did allow writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan a lot of added time to get the script into shape, and it turned out great.

I thought Daniel Craig was an inspired choice when he was cast as Bond and he's turned out to be fantastic in the role, I very much enjoyed seeing him play the character again after the too-long 4 year gap between movies. In her seventh film as M, Judi Dench does some very fine work, delivering perhaps her best performance yet in the series, in a film that gives her more to do than usual. Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw are notable in supporting roles, Berenice Marlohe is beautiful and delicate as the troubled Severine, Bond has some entertaining interactions with Naomie Harris as Eve, and in the role of Silva, a scenery-chewing Javier Bardem is a delight to watch.

Seeing the movie for the first time on a giant screen with a sound system that would at moments rattle my guts was a fun experience. I enjoyed the movie so much that, when it opened in a closer theatre today, I went and took in two more viewings. At every viewing I've attended, the reactions I've overheard from the audiences have proven to me that the movie is a real crowd pleaser. The film's humor has gotten a good response each time, laughter in all the right places, and I've enjoyed listening to fellow viewers' audible reactions to character beats and action moments throughout. It's also very amusing to see that some members of the audience at each showing jump at the explosions.

There's a lot of "best Bond movie ever" quotes going around about Skyfall. I won't go that far, it's too early to make the call on where I would personally rank it, but I do think it is a great entry in the series, beyond that a flat-out great film, period, and it's highly entertaining.

I will be talking more about Skyfall in an upcoming 50 Years of 007 article.

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