Sunday, November 18, 2012

Two at the Cinema

Saw two flicks out that the movie theaters lately...both of interest to this blog...

Sinister was rather unexpected. True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family into a new house as part of his research into a new book. His family is blissfully unaware that he's moved them into a house where a gruesome quadruple murder had taken place: an entire family had been hanged from a tree in the back yard, and one child had disappeared. It's assumed that the killer abducted the child, but nobody knows why or where the child is...or if she's still alive. Then, Ellison investigates some odd noises in the attic, and finds films of other murders in which entire families are killed. How did they get there? Who is responsible?

I walked into Sinister figuring it to be a serial-killer plot, and the macabre murders captured in the films were memorable. But I was surprised to discover that it was actually supernatural in nature; there's ancient demons and a bizarre cult involved. Ghosts appear...what is their purpose? To warn against evil...or to cause it?

What's really cool about it is how it keeps unfolding, and so much of the menace is kept vague until the end. Of course, sharp viewers will figure out some of the plot twists ahead of time, but they still do it with style. It's also got some good characterization and a good acting job from Ethan Hawke; his Oswalt is torn between caring for his family and being a good father, and his ambition to repeat his earlier success in true crime and become a celebrity again. He's not particularly likable, but he is human.

It's got good reviews, surprisingly for a horror film, and has done well at the box office, costing $3 million to make and raking in over $47 million so far.

And then, being the avowed James Bond fan that I am, I went to see Skyfall on opening night.

James Bond is accidentally shot by field agent Eve while on a mission in Istanbul, to recover a stolen hard drive that contains the names of NATO agents embedded in terrorist networks. Presumed dead, he lays low in the tropics for a while, still thirsting for danger and recovering from his injuries. However, he returns to England when he sees that M is under fire; it turns out the names of the agents on the hard drive are being leaked on YouTube, and Bond must go from Shanghai to Macao to London to Scotland to find and stop the man responsible.

Is it good? I enjoyed it, far far more than the last entry, Quantum of Solace, which I disliked intensely. But I didn't find it as good as Casino Royale, which was pretty darn close to my idea of the perfect Bond film. I had serious misgivings about Sam Mendes directing; I find his films problematic, with a tendency to focus on men who hate their jobs, and a VERY bad habit of looking at people coping with miserable lives and situations, without ever really exploring the decisions and experiences that got them into those situations in the first place. (Which is why I consider Revolutionary Road to be hugely overrated.) But I have to admit, he did a good job with this; it lacked the listlessness that doomed Jarhead, that's for sure. Roger Deakins' cinematography made it very easy on the eyes, and some scenes are very, very memorable.

And I'm going be very spoiler-y from here on out, so please skip the rest of this post if you're wary of those things. The film is really equally about M (Judi Dench) as it is about Bond (Daniel Craig, very dishy this time), and the motherly bond she builds with the agents she chooses, and how that bond can go wrong. That's very obvious with villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former field agent with an almost Oedipal loathing of her but who ends up being as self-destructive as he is destructive. Naomie Harris is good as Eve Moneypenny, and Berenice Marlohe is memorable as Silva's mistress Severine. Ben Whishaw is fabulous as a young hipster Q. There was some real tension in the film as it shows Bond not at the top of his game but slowly getting back there, and some real emotion as M dies at the end.

A few things I didn't like included Eve suddenly turning out to be Moneypenny, which annoyed me a bit as she had denied the rumor months ago. Also, an Aston-Martin DBV that was supposed to be Bond's private property turns out to be loaded with Goldfinger-era gadgets; how did they get there? And the dialogue seemed clunky at times, and the last act (at Bond's crumbling family estate in Scotland) seems a little drawn out. Something very minor that still bugged me a tiny bit was the gunbarrel scene which again was at the end; I'm ready for it to be back at the beginning, thank you.

Still, at the end, Bond trades banter with Moneypenny, and then goes into the office of the new M (Ralph Fiennes) which is almost a dead ringer for the traditional office of the Connery films. The viewer is left feeling ready for more action. Reportedly they're planning to do Bond films every two years from now on, and screenwriter John Logan is on board for two more films. It's said that Mendes might stick around (he might as well, he's had a string of box-office disappointments and Skyfall will be his first unqualified success since Road to Perdition). And now we have a new M, Q, and Moneypenny, and I hope in the future they manage a balance between action and cerebral intrigue. And put the damned gunbarrel at the beginning again!

So yeah, go check 'em out if you have an evening to spare...

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