It’s hard to believe that fifty years have passed since we first met James Bond in his 1962 debut, Dr. No.
Accordingly, inheritors of the spymaster’s enduring cinematic legacy and global marketing empire understood that this anniversary chapter had be more innovative than the rest. This time, movie audiences had every right to expect a sequel that tied up some lose ends between past and present, answering lingering questions about how the young Bond came to be the old Bond. And given the first-rate director and stellar cast assembled for the 24th film treatment of the most famous spy of all-time, one might have even expected the serial to embark in an entirely new direction, enticing yet another generation of future film goers to cheer for the union jack and MI6, regardless of nationality.
Indeed, James Bond endears as the universal superhero. While there’s not much citizens of London, or Mumbai, or Tokyo, or Kuala Lumpur, or Los Angeles, or Sao Paolo might agree on politically or culturally speaking, everyone loves 007. Young and old, male and female, black and white, rich and poor — everyone wants James Bond to kick the bad guy’s ass, and do it with style.
And so, a stellar cast and an Oscar-winning director were tapped for what should have been a slam-dunk monster hit. From the early box office receipts and critics’ reviews, the franchise appears to have succeeded. But profitability aside, is the latest chapter in the Ian Fleming saga really worth seeing?
About a half hour into Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D my wife leaned over to me and blurted out, “Are you as bored with this as I am?”
Frankly, I wasn’t. By that point, my boredom had turned into annoyance.
Things went downhill from there.
Another scene or two passed and our mutual annoyance metastasized even further — into unconditional surrender. We had enough. But the cinematic Rubicon was passed.
In the final scenes towards the end of an overly-long 85-minute test of patience, I found myself talking back at the movie screen mocking the performers, oblivious to those within earshot around me. I didn’t mean to cause a disturbance, but no one else seemed to care. Needless to say, we departed the theater in a fit of rage and disappointment.
This movie should never have been made. It’s a testament to the old edict that if you’re going to do something, then do it right — or don’t attempt it at all.
How in the name of James Cameron — who produced this monumental mess (this one sinks faster than Titanic) — do you screw up something as spectacular as Cirque du Soleil? Who would have thought trivializing death-defying stunts was possible? It’s baffling to imagine a production blessed with many of the world’s most gifted performers, with such an impressive array of set designs and costumes, and some of the most innovative music ever recorded could induce a mass slumber.
How bad was it? For those who have visited the Las Vegas airport, recall the jumbo screen inside the baggage claim area. Think of the 45-second video clips from one show after another. Imagine that highlight reel repeated over and over and over again and then compiled into an full-length motion picture. Indeed, the comparison of waiting for bags at an airport might be appropriate here, except there’s actual suspense in waiting for one’s luggage. There’s no such drama in this montage of monotony.
Portraying historical figures on film is a daunting challenge. Such is particularly the case for beloved American icons with well-established identities.
The filmmaker’s challenge rests not so much in recreating history. Typically, plenty of credible narratives exist which provide multiple accounts of the icon’s role in history.
What’s toughest is striking the right balance between realism and art, melding history with entertainment, and doing what would seem impossible — satisfying academics, film critics, and the fickle ticket-buying, movie-going public.
This is where Lincoln, the new film by director Stephen Spielberg ultimately soars on at least one account, but fails in others.
Based in part on a book by noted presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the film concentrates on the final five months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Surprisingly, this is not a war movie as much as an intriguing political drama. The film’s primary focus is the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s the amendment which essentially outlaws slavery in America (Note: To be precise, the famed Emancipation Proclamation was a war directive. It took an actual amendment to the Constitution to obfuscate state laws on slavery).
The gauntlet is laid down in the U.S. House of Representatives, where a two-thirds voting majority is needed to change America forever. Remarkably, the movement to pass the 13th Amendment is exactly 20 votes short. Virtually all of Lincoln’s advisers, most notably Secretary of State William Seward (played to perfection by the consistently-excellent David Strathairn), pleads with the 16th President to abandon the fight and focus instead on ending the Civil War as quickly as possible.
Life of Pi is a difficult movie to review.
Certain to be one of the year’s most widely-discussed films, in part because it’s open to multiple interpretations, this is a bold cinematic achievement by a master craftsman — namely Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain).
Yet, it’s also fundamentally flawed, its most puzzling script gaps camouflaged by extraordinary special effects and first-rate performances by three actors who portray the lead character at different stages of his life. Indeed, the varied imagery and wide range of emotional demands upon the actors are so compelling that one might actually overlook the glaring contradiction within the film’s most intriguing question — which deals with the storyteller’s relationship with God. The film is such a powerful visual spectacle that the audience deserves an equally consistent storyline — and ultimately just as satisfying a payoff — which compliments the arduous endurance test of sitting through feels like an overly-long 2 hour and 20 minute epic journey across the world’s biggest ocean.
Imagine real-life hero pilot “Sulley” Sullenberger with a severe drug and alcohol problem and doing a few lines prior to taking controls in the cockpit, yet still managing to land his packed airplane with absolute precision on the Hudson River. Would he still be a hero? That’s the dilemma of the new film, “Flight,” which just hit theaters this week.
This is a difficult movie to sit through. Yet it’s tough to decide which is more gut-wrenching — watching a doomed airliner packed full of passengers buckled down in a nosedive headed for near-certain death, or the central character played by Denzel Washington, whose personal life is just as out of control.
While Washington’s character nicknamed “Whip” manages to miraculously maneuver the aircraft towards a crash landing that undoubtedly saves lives, the captain comes under increasing scrutiny once the post-crash investigation begins. Conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the investigation begins to reveal some troubling revelations about Whip and his conduct. Every second of the pilot and crew’s lives are scrutinized, which uncovers some ugly secrets about how Whip spends most of his free time. His best friends are bottles with names like Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, with a few lines of cocaine to add a little spice.
The hero-addict dichotomy is a marvelous dramatic device which helps to sustain a longer-than-average 2.5 hour movie. The audience faces a real conflict here. We don’t know whether to cheer for Whip to beat the rap and move on with his life (after all, he heroically saved lives), or be exposed as the fraud he is so the healing and recovery process can begin.