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SPECT-ACULAR TIMES – SPECTRE (2015) A FILM REVIEW

SPECT-ACULAR TIMES – SPECTRE (2015) A FILM REVIEW

 We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. .  . It becomes a substitute for experience.  (Larry Law, Images and Everyday Life)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

Life is all about managing expectations. I mean we don’t why we’re here on this planet and we don’t know why we’re alive. Is there a point to life? Perhaps there is no point? If that’s the case then why carry on living? Why not kill yourself or go berserk and do what the hell you want and be damned to the consequences. Well, it doesn’t really bear thinking about does it? Thus, generally, we block out such existential questions – well I do – by filling our life and times with things we enjoy doing, seeing, feeling, and eating, hearing and experiencing.

One of the major things I use to distract me from the inquisitions of life is going to the cinema. I am obsessed with films. I could perhaps, rather than watch films, raise a people’s army and seize control of the state?  But what system would I put into place instead of the necessary evil of capitalism? I could eschew society and live off the land growing my own vegetables; but whose land?  All land is now owned by some person, persons or shadowy corporations. I could become a criminal and finagle the law in order to avoid the punch-clock drudgery of life; but I’d like to sleep guilt-free at night and hurting others does not sit well with me. I could train a pack of ants to perform tricks for money in an Ant Circus; but that would just be silly. I could go on…

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What I am saying is films and television are helpful in drawing a big thick line between the sane and insane shit in life. They are a big deal for me. Not as bigger deal as my loved ones but pretty close. So, when a new series of a current show I love such as Doctor Who or South Park or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Game of Thrones is released I am very happy. Life is good. That thing called hope rear its head and says, “Hi, it’s me again!” The same goes with film releases from my favourite directors or movie franchises or series. It happened at the fag-end of the 90s with the new Star Wars trilogy and also when the new Indiana Jones film was released; hope came a knocking and expectations were raised. Unfortunately the Lucas’ space opera prequels were pretty bad and least said about Indiana Clones and The Kingdom of Crystal Dulls the better!

So, what I am saying is, AND I realise this is a sad thing to admit, A JAMES BOND FILM IS A BIG DEAL TO ME!  I know Karl Marx, Guy Debord and Edward Bernays are all correct in that the media is corrupting the proletariat, BUT WHO CARES – IT IS JAMES BOND and CHRISTOPH WALTZ IS THE BAD GUY!   I got my hopes up! I was really looking forward to it! It stopped me from thinking about reality! I failed to lower my expectations. So, what I am saying is I liked Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond but not as much as I’d hoped. I shall explain why.

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I have seen Spectre twice now and it is very entertaining. Was it was good film?  Yes – it was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Yes and no I would say.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film in its own right; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically it was very strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing a fulcrum to the narrative. Skyfall was also lusciously shot with fantastic set-pieces and direction but it wasn’t necessarily a great Bond espionage adventure like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987) or a combustible boy’s own adventure like Casino Royale (2006). It was an Oedipal soap opera with explosions and the past destroying the present. Spectre is very similar in fact although the destruction is much larger in scale.

I would also compare Spectre to Quantum of Solace (2008) in the context that it is a kind of sequel to the previous outing and links back to Bond’s past. The main difference is Spectre is over fifty minutes longer than Quantum of Solace and certainly feels slow in places. I’m aware that Quantum of Solace is not rated highly in the Bond canon. However, I feel there are some incredible action sequences in there; notably the Opera shootout, great Plane chase and explosive desert hotel/hide-out denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace succeeded for me as a spectacle and by tying up the loose ends from Casino Royale.

Similarly, Spectre has some breathtakingly cinematic moments. Indeed, the first hour was sensational in terms of pace, action, mood and atmosphere. It’s a film about death and the past and opening at the massive Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City was a masterstroke in symbolism. Bond is an assassin; a hired killer used by the British government to take out the bad guys and where better to do it at a carnival celebrating those that have kicked the bucket. The opening chase, building demolition and helicopter fight is classic Bond and really kicks the film off in style. A spurious plot twist then gets Bond to Rome where he then meets – in the shadows – his nemesis, and the childhood ‘friend’ he thought dead, Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. Waltz is one of my favourite actors but is criminally underused in Spectre. Aside from one particularly brilliant torture scene he is not allowed to express that wicked wit and devilish smile witnessed so adroitly in Django Unchained (2012) and Inglourious Basterds (2009).

The Oberhauser backstory does offer an interesting subplot to the main action and a very fun Bond revelation; however, it is similar to the Skyfall revenge-plot with touches of Cain and Abel thrown in.  Arguably too it doesn’t quite gel alongside other aspects of the script such as the global “Big Brother” programme to connect ALL the security and CCTV systems across the world which would make the 007 programme obsolete. So, with Bond under threat physically, emotionally AND politically we have an ambitious story with a thin plot that gets soggy at times.  Thematically Spectre is strong but Bond feels very reactive in some respects and not always making the decisions. Indeed, there is a scene where a RAT assists him; not torture or cunning or sheer violence but an actual rodent.  This moment and the anorexic characterisation of Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) were very much weaknesses in the script.

Sam Mendes and his production team have produced much for Bond fans to revel in. The opening credit sequence is stunning and I loved the Octopus imagery and motifs throughout. It also manages to mask the soporific non-entity which is Sam Smith’s theme song Writing on the Wall. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is a brute of a henchmen and his Rome car chase, Austrian snow pursuit and train punch-up were all brilliant action set-plays. Q (Ben Wishaw), M (Ralph Fiennes) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) all brought fine dramatic and comedic qualities to the film although, again, with SO many characters involved it took away screen time from Christoph Waltz. Finally, the “ticking-time” bomb denouement was well-executed but the film had run out of steam a bit by then.

Spectre is a technical tour-de-force and in Daniel Craig we have an actor who absolutely nails the role. He rocks the action, driving, shooting, running, falling, crashing with a coolness, toughness and insouciance which will be a hard act to follow. Indeed, the way they tied in the strands from previous films tells me this is probably his final Bond. Overall, the first hour-and-a-half of Spectre writes a spectacular cheque the final act cannot quite cash.  The big-bad-wolf reveal is not as surprising as I would have hoped and the Orwellian supporting story didn’t feel that deadly to me. And while our villain’s revenge on James was believable I didn’t quite buy the fact that Oberhauser was the architect of ALL Bond’s woes in the previous three films.

I realise it is a very big responsibility to maintain quality in a big movie franchise and Spectre does so but the long running time does it no favours. Paradoxically too by trying to give it more depth in respect of the familial backstory it again lost the espionage stuff I love.  We do indeed live in the Society of the Spectacle and this film offered up some solace away from the daily grind. But I must learn to manage expectations and perhaps stop living my life by proxy through fictitious cinematic spies and face the spectre of existence a bit more realistically.   (Mark: 008 out of 11)

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LICENSED TO THRILL: SOME MEMORABLE 007 MOMENTS

LICENSED TO THRILL: SOME MEMORABLE 007 MOMENTS

With SPECTRE (2015) looming on the horizon I’ve picked out some memorable Bond bits which make this one of, if not the best, genre franchises ever. I knocked this up during my lunchtime so it’s by no means definitive but there’s a mix of deadly, funny and sad moments. If you have your own please do nominate.

**THERE BE SPOILERS!**

THE GUN BARREL OPENING

As the classic music kicks in and the Agent points his gun and fires, literally “killing” the audience, you’re immediately hooked!

DR NO (1962) – “BOND, JAMES BOND”

With the suave delivery of one simple line Connery’s Bond eases into cinematic folklore. Much imitated but never bettered.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) – FIGHT SCENE ON THE TRAIN

Henchmen/women have played a massive part in the series and peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a worthy adversary for Bond. This is a great fight: dirty, realistic, confined, brutal and full of suspense.

GOLDFINGER (1964) – THE THEME TUNE

The GREATEST Bond theme song EVER! Probably!

GOLDFINGER (1964) – “NO, MR BOND – I EXPECT YOU TO DIE”

Love the cat-and-mouse plot of Goldfinger as Bond hunts the megalomaniac while getting into a number of scrapes and close calls; the laser set-piece being one of the most memorable.

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) – THAT ENDING

George Lazenby was the David Moyes of Bonds inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. But O.H.M.S.S is a really good spy/action film with all the elements of a great Bond movie. Lazenby is wooden as hell but the brave ending is a dramatic humdinger! Bond cries! Bond cries!

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) – THE UNDERWATER CAR

Wow! Just wow! Watching this as a kid you think Bond is done for during this pursuit – but NO! Have some of that baddies – this car can swim!

MOONRAKER (1979) – “JAWS” FALLS IN LOVE

I’m not a big Roger Moore fan as his legacy was besmirched by some dodgy later films plus they became TOO jokey for my liking. However, in his films he had some great gadgets, humour and henchmen to face. None more so that “Jaws” – the metallic-teethed giant who proved impossible to kill. I loved the moment when the writers gave “Jaws” a romance. It’s very silly but just hilarious.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1983) – THE CITROEN CV2 CAR CHASE

After the comic-book-sci-fi-over-the-top-ness of Moonraker the franchise was brought back to Earth with a grittier and more realistic treatment in For Your Eyes Only. Despite the 80s hair and dodgy score the Yellow Citroen car chase is executed with much wit and suspense by the impressive stunt-team.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – THE PLOT

Dalton was a great Bond and this is one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases held together by a flimsy plot. Blonde cellists/assassins, Soviet defections, KGB villains, triple agents and the general air of espionage and boys’ own spy stuff make this one of the best plots in the series in my humble opinion.

GOLDENEYE (1995) – BUNGEE-JUMP OPENING

Bond was back with a bang AND a new face. Pierce Brosnan was a very charismatic Bond and this is his best film. The makers needed to make their mark and did so with an incredible bungee-jumping stunt, followed by explosive shoot-out with the bad-guys! Damned perfection!! Sorry.

GOLDENEYE (1995) – “THAT’S MY LUNCH!”

Q and Bond’s scenes were always a treat like a Headmaster showing a schoolboy the ropes. Bond’s insouciance was always a treat and the zinger in this is terrific.

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – THE PARKOURING

So Bond was back with a real proper actor in Daniel Craig and while he lacked the suave look and cheeky humour of Brosnan he made up for it with steely toughness and physical force. This was ably demonstrated in a brilliant opening scene which popularized the “Parkour” phenomenon of the time.

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – “I’M THE MONEY”

Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Played brilliantly by the enigmatic Eva Green her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she steals and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship not often witnessed in other Bond adventures.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – THE OPERA SCENE

Stylistically speaking Quantum of Solace is a cracking film filled with tremendous set-pieces. While it lacks a decent story/villain it works pretty well as a kind of sequel to Casino Royale. The Opera scene is stunningly shot and edited; the form bleeding into the action to create pure cinema at its finest.

SKYFALL (2012) – THE TWO FACES OF RAUL SILVA

Javier Bardem really brought a wonderful performance to the Bond table in Skyfall. Initially he plays and flirts with Bond revealing a technological brilliance and homo-erotic slant; THEN he switches to full on monster mode displaying horror at M’s lack of “maternal” instinct when he was captured in the field.