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Category Archive for 'Another Podcast About Movies'

Review by LJ

Daniel Craig is James Bond, but his Bond doesn’t seem quite as comfortable with the rules of Bond as some of his predecessors.  I’m not the first to say it, but it’s the elegance of Bond that’s gone missing.  You can put Daniel Craig in a tux but you can’t make him wear it, if you catch my meaning.  This is not a criticism, it’s an observation.  Craig’s Bond plays the part of the mythic MI6 agent we knew.  He doesn’t inhabit him.  Which in itself is an interesting commentary on the rolls Bond has to play in order to get the job done.  So it begs the question, if the results are the same, do the ends justify the trope bending means?

While Skyfall plays with the ingredients of what makes a Bond film, the only part that seems additive to the Bond recipe is the location and action of the final showdown.  But the elements that make the finale interesting are simultaneously so overblown with psychological metaphor that it becomes almost comical.

Craig does a fine job as Bond, but Javier Bardem’s turn as the literally tortured Raoul Silva is worth a mention as well.  His portrayal of a man that is in every way formidable to both Bond and MI6 is simultaneously histrionic and nuanced.  Not an easy combination.  Unfortunately he turns into a bit of a cartoon by the end, but that’s more of a critique of the writing than the performance.

So, as I earlier asked, do the ends justify the means?  Skyfall doesn’t really answer that question.  It’s an enjoyable action film.  All the individual Lego pieces of the prototypical Bond film are there, for the most part.  But it doesn’t so much feel like a Bond film as remind you of them.  B+

Review by Courtney

Let me preface everything I’m about to say with this: I really enjoyed Skyfall.  It’s far from perfect, but it’s a fun film, with more brains than most bond films, and a healthy dose of both style and sentiment.  Now keep that in mind, because I’ve got a bone to pick.  Skyfall is essentially a Bond movie having an existential crisis.

Skyfall seems to be asking the question, “what place does Double-O-Seven have in the modern world of espionage?”  For instance, it pits Daniel Craig’s Bond against a cyber-terrorist Mr. Silva, played by Javier Bardem.  This is a distinctly modern villain, who is frankly a bit mundane.  But then they spice him up with a little classic Bond-esque surreal creepification.  Still, this match up begs the question, where does James Bond fit in a world where wars are waged by nerds behind computer screens?

The filmmakers spend half the film mocking everything that has historically defined Bond, having the young hipster Q basically call him an out of touch dinosaur.  Then they metaphorically wink at the audience and embrace the old school Bond in a handful of other ways, while throwing in a bit of A-team ingenuity.  The message seems clear, that Double-O-Seven will find relevance in the modern world by sheer force of will, but he’s not your father’s Bond any more.  As evidence, I might point out that my own father–a life-long Bond fan who grew up reading the Ian Flemming novels–in fact hated Skyfall.

None of this is unforgivable, however I don’t agree with many of their choices about what to keep and what to shed.  They mock the gadgets but keep Bond’s misogyny.  They won’t let Daniel Craig say “shaken, not stirred,” but they will let the villain be comical, even silly.  These seem like odd choices to me, and they don’t always sit well.

Regardless, I will reiterate that Skyfall is an enjoyable movie.  It manages a tricky balancing act between hard-core action and interesting character development.  And it marks a return to a more witty Bond, of whom we haven’t seen much in recent years, while also being more thought-provoking than most action films.  Ultimately, there’s a lot to enjoy, just don’t think too hard about it.  B+


Indie Game: The Movie is essentially a documentary about tortured genius.  It follows the journeys of three different groups of indie game makers at different stages of their process.  The bulk of the docu follows the two makers of Super Meatboy, one of the most successful XBLA releases of all time, as they approach their release date.  It also follows the journey of the auteur game designer behind Fez, a highly anticipated and much delayed game which eventually came out to critical acclaim but mixed results among gamers.  Finally, the filmmakers intersperse tidbits from interviews with the maker of Braid, one of the first breakthrough hits on Xbox Live, as he explains much of his emotional experience from design to release and ultimate success.

Each of the film’s subjects has unique quirks and issues, hopes and goals, but they share a few key features.  They wield many double edged swords: independence and isolation; sacrifice and potential success; the need for self-expression and the fear of rejection.  These are experiences that most artists can relate to, because art is largely a solitary pursuit, often driven by a desire to connect and communicate with people.  Most art comes from a deeply personal place and it takes great courage to share that with the world.  The results aren’t always what we might hope.

Indie Game is a compelling study of the independent game designer as artist.  It manages to gracefully convey what drives and motivates them, what they hope and fear, how they see themselves and their place in the world of modern gaming.  The film becomes a rich portrait of these artists and I find them tremendously relatable.  Theirs isn’t a circumstance with which I’m personally acquainted but I rejoice with them in the good moments and feel their anxiety in the bad.  I recognize in them my own longing for human connection and validation.  And I applaud the filmmakers for capturing these men’s experiences in such an intimate way.  A


My first thought about The Grey went something like this: “Wow… I had no idea this would be so… emo.”  The overly emotional scenes, monologues and voiceovers were wholly unexpected.  I had thought I was about to watch an action packed man vs. animal grudge match in the Alaskan wilds.  While there was a decent amount of that, I wasn’t prepared for the sentimentality, for the generally sensitive treatment of death, albeit usually gruesome.  The combination of these two story elements makes for an incongruous and, to me, not very successful film.

The filmmakers seem intent on delving into emotional truths about life, death and human motivation.  While the emotions are exaggerated by the circumstances of the story, and the dialogue is often heavy-handed, the filmmakers deliver these scenes with a respectable amount of subtlety.  In other words, I can accept and even sometimes appreciate these elements of the film, but these moments are crammed inside what is essentially a very silly and unbelievable action horror flick.  For instance, the behavior of the pack of wolves is so far from realistic that I lost all sense of suspense. Rather than being menacing, these animals became almost comic relief. Yes, some will argue that, like the rest of the film, the wolves are intentionally exaggerated to heighten the experience.  One might even point out that the filmmakers draw repeated parallels between the group dynamics of the wolves and the humans.  But none of this changes the result for me.

I believe this film ultimately fails because it’s trying to accomplish too much.  The emotional elements are left flaccid by the silly action, and the action is chopped up by the emo story telling. The one shining element is Liam Neeson’s performance.  He is completely captivating as the broody, world-weary leader of the pack. It is his performance that compels you to keep watching to the bitter end, and it’s his performance that makes this film almost worth watching.  Almost.  C


With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the eastern seaboard, I went out yesterday afternoon to acquire provisions.  The grocery store was a horrifying alternative hell dimension, with bare shelves and soulless long-suffering patrons standing in endless queues, clinging to their meager armloads of bottled beverages and second rate snack foods.  Fortunately, I was seeking a different type of supplies: entertainment, my good friends.  I passed the grocery store and strolled onward toward the pharmacy for popcorn and movies.  Unfortunately, the pharmacy was out of popcorn.  But they had beer, and the Blockbuster kiosk was relatively un-plundered!  Having recently discussed Intolerable Cruelty on the podcast, I was pleased to find this film on offer.

I said in the podcast that I hadn’t seen Intolerable Cruelty.  That was only half true; I had, in fact, seen the second half before.  Once I realized my error and brought my fuzzy recollections into sharper relief, I was free to enjoy the film, and I did just that.  I enjoyed George Clooney’s hamminess.  I enjoyed the bold stylization and absurd writing.  I found I particularly enjoyed the first half of the film.  I can’t be certain that my preference wasn’t due entirely to novelty, but I suspect the first half is simply stronger.  I was practically in ecstasy during the courtroom scene for Rex and Marilyn’s divorce.  That scene is complete brilliance! The camera angles are designed to exaggerate.  The acting is over the top by miles.  The writing is perfectly ludicrous.  It all adds up to complete and utter absurdity, and I love it!

The film starts falling apart for me when it asks you to buy into the genuine love of the two main characters.  Not that any of the film is particularly believable… but their love story is also not particularly compelling.  I can’t really root for either of these characters.  I believe this is why the second half of the film doesn’t really work for me, though it’s hard not to adore the scenes with Wheezy Joe.  Still… the second half falls flat and the ending is a bit of a non-event.  Nevertheless, it’s good fun and totally worth the watch.  B


Review by L.J.

Watching Looper is like visiting Madame Tussaud’s if Madame Tussaud’s lost the mold for Bruce Willis, and, as a bold cost cutting measure, just grabbed one of the myriad Joseph Gordon-Levitt figures they have clogging the basement, recolored his eyes, slapped a couple extra chunks of wax on his face, and set him up in their new Die Hard exhibit.  It’s like that…if Madam Tussaud’s also sported interesting characters, strong writing, and an intriguing time travel plot…and was a movie instead of a wax museum.

I can tell this metaphor has already lost some of you.

The point is this — the film works; as a drama, as an action flick, as a sci-fi story.  Just don’t ever expect to get over how not Bruce Willis Joseph Gordon-Levitt is.  Frankly, all the work they did trying to make us believe these two actors were the same person only made it harder to accept.  It’s like a comb over.  The more you try to cover up your baldness the more we notice how bald you are.  This movie is better than a comb over.  It just needed to believe in itself and cut its hair.

Now I think the metaphor lost even me.  B+

Review by Courtney

Time travel is a hard sell.  I feel like most Americans avoid it because of the inevitable paradoxes.  They will ensue.  And abound.  It’s unavoidable.  The best you can hope for is consistency within the established rules of the universe.  In other words, you hope that the film, book, show, or what-have-you will establish the way time travel works in their own universe and then stick to those rules so that it is internally consistent.

Too often filmmakers ignore the necessity of internal consistency, which is what, by contrast, makes Looper so successful as a film.  Yes, there are still paradoxes, but you can ignore them because everything follows the established rules of the Looper universe.  Hallelujah!

Of course, there’s more to it than internal consistency.  Looper succeeds on many levels.  On the surface, it’s a stylish, often beautiful sci-fi action flick, with solid performances from all the key cast members.  At its heart, Looper is also a compelling character driven story about the events and people that shape our lives.  To all this, add intelligent storytelling, great editing, cool effects and impressive cinematography.  The sum total is a film that is real and fantastical, grandiose and intimate, thought-provoking and fun.  It’s the whole package.  A-


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