by Philip Price
The first thing that took me by surprise concerning “Victor Frankenstein” was its soundtrack. Of course, it could have been any number of things-the artificial environments of the early 1800s or the horribly arrogant narration dialogue Daniel Radcliffe was given that makes his Igor more irritating than endearing. But of course, as opposed to those last two things the soundtrack made me optimistic we might actually be in for something of a treat here. Chris Morgan's score, while traditionally orchestral, has a distinctive flavor to it at least in the early scenes. There is something almost wholly fantastical to it that suggests it may bring the darkness of this story a new layer of marvel and fun that has always been interpreted more along the lines of dark and grimly serious. Even the arrival of James McAvoy's titular character elicits something of a magical moment and whether or not this is due purely to the recognition factor or not, Morgan's score elevates this instant to something that instinctively elicits actual excitement. These optimistic thoughts could only prevail for so long though as “Victor Frankenstein” quickly devolves into a by the numbers retelling of the Frankenstein story that we've seen numerous times before. There are hints here and there of the script wanting to pull out more caveats of our core character’s origin stories as it does in the beginning, but given we all know how things end up it seems screenwriter Max Landis felt he had nowhere else to go and thus ultimately delivers exactly what we expect rather than subverting those expectations and giving us something new to chew on and ponder. We've heard it all before and despite a hugely credible cast as well as Landis spearheading the project there ultimately seems no need for it. With each incarnation of this story the question will always be what new or original aspect can be brought to the table and if there is nothing new to bring then why tell it again at all?
Told from the perspective of Radcliffe's Igor we initially meet the hunchback as he performs at a circus on the outskirts of 18th century London. Largely known only as a freak with no actual name to be referred to the hunchback takes a beating from the clowns every night for a laugh while studying the human anatomy in his spare time. It is a hobby he takes up for no other reason than he needs something to take his mind off his miserable life. He becomes quite familiar with the inner-workings of the body and the medicine used to treat ailments and broken bones which comes in handy one night when trapeze artist, Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), falls during her performance. The freak immediately rushes in and resets Lorelei's collar bone allowing her to breathe again essentially saving her life. Impressed by his skill and quick evaluation of the situation Frankenstein, who was attending the circus to see about deceased animal parts for his experiments, tells the freak he is wasting his life at the circus and offers to help him escape. Naturally, the circus owners don't like the sounds of this and even punish the freak by burning all of his medical books leading to a balls-out action sequence where Victor Frankenstein more or less becomes something of an action hero-battling a plethora of circus freaks with his cane and cool karate skills. Again, this hints at the somewhat fantastical alternate universe in which Landis was attempting to take this origin story, but not until the inevitable climax where Frankenstein faces off against the monster of his own creation do we see these skills become relevant again. While Frankenstein reinvents the stock character by giving the freak the name of Igor and draining the fluid from the abscess that has been mistaken for a hunchback all of his eighteen years while also strapping him into a back brace so that he may stand up straight the rest of the film plays as the two nobly going where no man has gone before with their research into immortality and ultimately paying for the consequences of their meddling.
What might be most disappointing about “Victor Frankenstein” is that Landis simplifies much of the original text to make the dynamics of the characters less complicated and the story more streamlined which, of course, makes all of this much less interesting. The idea of telling the story from Igor's perspective (who's not even a character in the original) does nothing for the story as a whole other than give us another outside looking in narrative on the struggles of Victor Frankenstein as the book did with its frame story technique. If Landis were to have taken the meat of the novel where Frankenstein himself recounts his story we might have had something more enthralling to latch onto. Something that might have taken us inside the mind of this crazed scientist who is at first intrigued by the thought of creating life from the dead due to the death of his mother, but here we have only a surrogate for ourselves in Igor who has the same internal conflicts about Frankenstein's experiments as we do. There is a throwaway line about the origin of Frankenstein's obsession being credited to the death of his brother late in the film (which also happens in the book, but plays a far more crucial role in the progression of the story), but little more. The main issue with the film being that given the way the story is presented we never come to know who the titular character is outside of McAvoy's enthusiastic performance that, while entertaining in spots, doesn't gives us enough reason to care as to why this man is so driven to bring things back from the dead. It's a fascinating idea, sure, it always has been. Given the cultural differences between when Shelley originally wrote the book and now though there has to be something more to the story, something as radical as Frankenstein himself if it's going to stand out and unfortunately “Victor Frankenstein” only shows glimpses of what it could have been were the "artists" behind it truly committed to bringing something as world-altering to life as their main character.
Those are harsh words, admittedly, but the slightly arrogant tone in which Landis prances out these well-worn ideas make them ripe for such criticism. It is only the disposition of his character and the tone conveyed in Radcliffe's rather becoming performance that doesn't immediately radiate the egocentric vibe given off by the writing. Attempting to state the obvious with flowery language simply doesn't work and in this case we can see right through the many thesaurus checks and catch that Landis was more or less scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came time to deliver the final two acts to 20th Century Fox. The overall goal seems to have been to give origins to some of the stories most famous aspects. Given that Igor was never a part of the original text, but is more a staple of the myth born from the 1931 film where the character was named Fritz, Landis could have essentially come up with anything around Igor and his origin stories that would allow the now stock character to feel fresh. Maybe this is why the early scenes in which Radcliffe is dressed as a hunchback clown with dreary face paint and a secret obsession with anatomy are the most interesting. Maybe this is also why the fact Igor finds something of a love interest in Findlay's Lorelei is striking, but this is also why the single scene in which Charles Dance appears as Frankenstein's father feels shoehorned in. It's as if they were attempting to set up a connection between the universe of this and last year's equally abysmal “Dracula Untold” (remember Dance as the Master Vampire?) as if this were a part of Universal's planned Monster Universe. Rather than taking the original story and giving it a unique perspective though, this film somewhat sidelines the conflicting moralities over Frankenstein's experiments in favor of Andrew Scott's police inspector pursuing the duo. This attempt at creating an antagonist to up the urgency of the pacing fails though, as large portions of the film are outright boring and we all know Frankenstein's greatest enemy was always himself. I haven't even mentioned director Paul McGuigan, but that's mostly because this feels like a director for hire gig where the look of the film is as dingy as the sets they seemed to borrow from whatever was laying around on the back lot. In fact, I'm sure McGuigan would like to forget he made this as quickly as I'd like to forget I saw it.
by Philip Price
There was a time when something like “Secret in Their Eyes” would have reigned supreme at the box office and likely been heralded as something of a dramatic force of nature that was brought to its emotional edge by three daring lead performances. There was a time when both Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman could have played these same roles in this same movie and it would have been a lot buzzier a film with bigger box office returns based off their names alone (more, of course, for Roberts as Kidman has never been much of a big money movie star). Unfortunately for Roberts this is not the world we live in anymore. Instead, we live in a world where the best hope you have of becoming something even resembling a cultural phenomenon is if you're based off a comic book, young adult literary series, or have any other type of brand recognition/nostalgia factor you can tap into. When it comes to purely adult dramas like “Secret in Their Eyes” though, chances are slim of anything greater coming of your efforts unless you have David Fincher behind the camera. All of that said, this is a movie that is just fine. There are moments of potential greatness, of truly riveting material and the three leading performances, including a heartbreaking psychological exploration of the struggle for atonement in Chiwetel Ejiofor's character, that more than deliver, but there is nothing about the film that feels exceptional by the time the credits begin to roll. Instead, writer/director Billy Ray has taken director Juan José Campanella's 2009 Argentinian film of the same title that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (which I have not seen) and has adapted it for American audiences in a way that makes it feel more procedural than it should be given the emotional resonance of the situation at hand while never feeling as urgent or compelling as the original must have been to garner such praise.
We begin in present day Los Angeles as Ray Kastan (Ejiofor) returns to his old stomping grounds to meet with old friend and now District Attorney Claire (Kidman) to ask a favor of her. Once upon a time, 13 years before, Ray and Claire were newly acquainted associates working for the anti-terrorism task force that was established in the wake of 9/11. Claire was new to the city and Ray worked up an immediate affinity for the stunning lawyer. His best friend and cohort on the task force, Jess (Roberts), naturally nagged him about his crush while encouraging him to work up the nerve to ask her out. Claire was engaged though, halting any plans of Ray's to pursue his interest. Despite this unrequited love (is it? Maybe not...) the three formed something of a tight-knit team of up and coming investigators. It is when they received a call one day that a dead body had been found outside the biggest mosque in Los Angeles that things changed forever. Ray discovered that it was Jess’ teenage daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham), who had been brutally and inexplicably murdered. The film shifts back and forth between the present and the case that followed the horrific discovery 13 years earlier. In the present day Ray has returned to Los Angeles given he'd left the task force shortly after Carolyn's murder because he believes he's found her killer. Over those 13 years Ray became obsessive about the case, searching every day, through thousands of mugshots for the elusive murderer. With this new lead, Ray pulls in Claire, Jess as well as old friends Bumpy (Dean Norris) and Siefert (Michael Kelly) to help him track down the suspect and permanently resolve this case. Jess is pessimistic given she's already seen her daughter's killer walk away once under the provision of a lack of sufficient evidence against the perp, but Ray is so confident in his findings that the team can't help but to grant him the opportunity to help each of them find closure.
I tend to love movies like this. They, of course, become more appealing as I get older, but as a high-schooler even I appreciated the thrill of something like “A Time To Kill,” “Seven” and “Mystic River.” “Secret in Their Eyes” holds that very ‘90s-like quality close to its heart. It feels like something of that era and the fact half of the film takes place only a few years after that decade came to an end only helps it retain this aesthetic; putting the viewer in this certain frame of mind. Whereas these types of movies typically thrive on the strength of not only their story, but their mystery this film never feels like it earns any of the twists or revelations our detectives discover along the way. This is due largely to the fact the film simply hits the beats one after another without really telling us anything. Sure, we know that Ray is regretful, Jess has never recovered and Claire has settled into the life she planned just as she always expected, but beyond the initial, heart-wrenching scene where Roberts sees her daughter's body in the dumpster for the first time we rarely feel anything substantial for these characters. This shouldn't be the case as Roberts really commits (and not just physically, but emotionally as well) to the role of grieving mother, but the script makes Ray and Claire's forbidden love more of a priority than the audience really coming to know Jess and how she's dealt with this tragedy. Instead, the love story is made something of an equal to that of the core mystery. While both Kidman and Ejiofor are more than effective in their roles we never recognize a genuine spark between them that would seem to justify their love hanging over Claire's marriage for the past decade. Denzel Washington was originally offered the role of Ray when Warner Bros. began developing the project in 2010. With the idea of he and Kidman one can imagine the type of back and forth they might share with one another, making this subplot feel as integral to the story as the script makes it, but without this connection the love angle ends up feeling unnecessary and more than anything takes away from the more riveting dynamics at play.
In the broad sense, “Secret in Their Eyes” is about a few haunted souls who can't decide how to operate in life after a single event defined everything that came before and after it. No matter what their plans might have been before the death of Carolyn everything changed and/or was thrown out of whack afterwards. Claire has done the best at dealing with this as she more or less went on with her life as planned given she was the one least affected personally, but her co-workers are less sure of what to do or where to go. Clearly, there is some interesting ground to cover here, but the combination of Ray's static direction and hodgepodge script that never even assures the audience our protagonists actually caught the right guy in the first place makes the execution feel sloppy with its only redeemer being that it's also largely forgettable. It's a shame, really, given the star power attached that also includes Alfred Molina, but alas, that's not enough. We come to the end of the film and the presentation of not one, but two twists that, while I was only able to guess them in the minutes leading up to their reveal, never feel earned. There is even an editing technique used where we are reminded of all the subtle hints that were dropped along the way, but this feels more like a last minute decision rather than something that was meticulously planned from the beginning. And so, while “Secret in Their Eyes” might have once been the biggest release on any given weekend in 1996 it is now more akin to something people will pick up from a Redbox on a boring Friday night or come across late one night on TBS after watching an episode of “48 Hours” and craving something more along the same lines. There is no rhyme or reason as to why we find such entertainment value in these stories of murder, but they have strangely become something of a comfort food in the realm of television and movies. “Secret in Their Eyes” is perfectly fine sustenance that will hold audiences over and give them a few things to consider, but it will in no way satisfy a hunger or quench a thirst in the way something truly satisfying would. Unlike its characters who work outside the law, it operates strictly inside the box of countless movies we've seen many times before.
by Philip Price
Sitting down for a Seth Rogen comedy now means one of two things 1) we're either going to get a stoner comedy extravaganza with over the top comedic bits or 2) we'll still get those things, but they will be balanced out by some type of life lesson that typically holds real dramatic weight. Which Seth Rogen movie we end up getting usually depends on who he's collaborating with and lucky for us, with “The Night Before,” Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have reunited with their “50/50” director Jonathan Levine. “50/50” was one of my favorite films from 2011, but I haven't felt the need to re-visit it as often as I'd initially imagined. While “The Night Before” isn't as impactful simply by virtue of not dealing with as serious a subject as cancer it is a film I could see myself returning to more often than not, especially during the holiday season, due to the fact it's solid, raunchy fun. While the gist of the film is just that, to be a dirty, filthy, drug-fueled and foul language-filled R-rated Christmas comedy, there is clearly something more at play here and we can sense that from the opening sequence in which Tracy Morgan narrates as if reading a classic Christmas storybook. The film is framed and presented as something of a spoof on the traditional Christmas movie where everything is softly lit as if every viewer is cuddled up next to a fireplace watching and finding solace in the thought that things will never change and traditions will hold up for decades upon decades, but that is the exact theme in which “The Night Before” hopes to tackle. One has to wonder how long Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (who is credited as a screenwriter here along with Levine and two other writers) were going to continue to harp on the themes of boys becoming men and growing up even if it's something you don't necessarily want to accept. They have more or less been harping on these ideas for 10 years now as here Rogen is playing the opposite of his “Knocked Up” character and the movie overall is something of a “Superbad” eight years down the road. The catch is, it works, and it puts a kind of kibosh on the theme as each character either comes to realize these truths or is able to get over the hump of revealing them to the ones they care about most.
Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents when a drunk driver hit them right before the holiday season some 14 years ago and every Christmas Eve since his best friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have joined him for a holiday tradition that has now seemed to have run its course. Naturally, Ethan is the only one who is still stunted by the loss of his parents. He allows the tragedy to navigate his life by giving him this fear change, but in the process it is also tending to ruin his life. It seems Ethan had a steady girlfriend in Diana (Lizzy Caplan), but couldn't commit and so things fell apart. Ethan is also working as an elf at a Christmas party at the beginning of the film if that tells you anything of his career prospects. There are conversations and numerous examples of Ethan wanting to be a musician, but it seems he's unable to commit to any one project or idea long enough to even make that a viable option-he scoffs at the idea of doing gigs because everyone's just on their phones anyway so all that matters is the social media game (which feels insanely true at the moment unless you're already a name). Any way you paint it, Ethan is something of a mess and while he along with Isaac and Chris have all agreed to make this their last Christmas Eve together, Isaac and Chris seem to have checked out a few years prior. Isaac is a lawyer and married to Betsy (Jillian Bell) who is pregnant with the couple's first child. The always hilarious Bell and Rogen demonstrate a solid and genuinely charming relationship while Chris is a professional athlete who has recently found fame after having a spectacular season. Finally deciding they need to approach Ethan with the fact he's not really moving on with his life the three friends embark on their annual night of debauchery and hilarity with the hope of making it the most memorable one of all by finally being able to attend the Holy Grail of Christmas parties- the Nutcracker Ball.
It is easy to say that the Seth Rogen bro-mance brand of comedy has more than run its course, but as long as Rogen and his contemporaries continue to grow and have new life experiences and continue to write about those experiences in funny and interesting ways I tend to think these guys could go on making comedies for a long time to come. There is always something new to learn or some new facet of life that was once undiscovered and is now fascinating at a new stage in life and to be able to parlay those experiences into ones you share with moviegoers is a formula that may not always prove to be original, but is at least one that will attempt to offer some kind of fresh insight or perspective on whatever subject they decide to take on. This is what Rogen and his crew (and as much as I like Mackie and Gordon-Levitt I would have loved for this to have been some variation of Rogen, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Martin Starr, or James Franco-though the latter does make his obligatory cameo) have come to be revered for as much as they are almost reviled for at the same time. Revered for being able to bring such weight and substance to what would otherwise be pointless stoner comedies about people who really are wasting their lives away while more lately being reviled for continually relying on jokes about pot, mushrooms and any other kind of drug you can throw in there (Cocaine? I don't think I've done cocaine for like, 11 years!?!?! Yeah, no one has I don't think) as well as the constant profanities that seem unnatural and little more than a desperate attempt to make the teenager's chuckle despite the acknowledgement that the characters they're playing need to grow up. And like most Rogen comedies, “The Night Before” goes a little too over the top and gets a little too strange for its own good, but with the steady hand of Levine (who made “Warm Bodies” in between this and “50/50” and really found a groove with that film) this film never strays too far from its intended arc and, more importantly, the character arcs that keep us invested.
The biggest problems with the film are that, despite the fact it clearly wants to pay homage while at the same time sending up movies of Christmas past, it shoehorns in too many movie-like story archetypes that are unnecessary while the character journeys are more than enough to justify our interest. The overarching goal of finding this mythical Nutcracker Ball is set-up early and is the clear objective for the narrative, but it becomes such a side hassle throughout the course of the film with our three protagonists each working through their personal struggles that it becomes more obvious the film should have simply focused on these aspects. While Mackie's Chris gets the least meaty of the personal material to play off even stranger is his fling with a little hipster Grinch (Ilana Glazer) that, while it amounts to him learning his necessary lesson when it comes to the difference in his real friends and his famous teammates that he's trying to impress, doesn't go much further. I understand the Dickens-esque allusion of it all, but I definitely feel like they could have taken this bit further. For as much as “The Night Before” can be baffling at points there are also plenty of things that work really well and are genuinely funny. The inclusion of a drug dealer played by Michael Shannon is both another homage to the magical tone of many Christmas movies (as well as “The Great Gatsby”) while also just proving to be consistently hilarious as Shannon keeps his standard facade of quiet but intense intact while speaking lines that consist of a ridiculous combination of words. Early on in the night, after our boys hit up a karaoke bar and perform Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" (or the unofficial theme song of the film) they run into Kaplan's Diana as well as her best friend Sarah (Mindy Kaling). This sets up both a Miley Cyrus obsession as well as a fun dynamic between Kaling and Rogen that results in a phone mix-up and a text message conversation for the ages that is pure Rogen/Goldberg humor. The film is good about setting things up and paying them off in really funny ways. The script feels symmetrical without being predictable. This all leading to the revelation that it's hard to stay friends with people when you're older and thus why I'm still excited to see where Rogen and Co. go from here.
by Philip Price
Ultimately, ‘The Hunger Games’ films, as well as the books, are about sacrifice and that this final installment of the film franchise encapsulates this theme to its fullest while still maintaining a clear narrative drive that is moved along by several exhilarating action sequences allows it to be nothing short of wholly fulfilling. In all honesty, as a reader of the books, I don't know that one could have asked for a better interpretation of the novels. Even in retrospect, the splitting of ‘Mockingjay’ into two parts now seems a genuine decision rather than a financial one as it allowed more time to fully grasp the multiple changes and conflicts our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (the ever-steady Jennifer Lawrence), would experience while also allowing plenty of space to develop the idea that both sides of a war use the same kind of propaganda to strike fear into their follower’s hearts. This development, as well as the fact both parts of the ‘Mockingjay’ films were not shackled by the narrative constraints of the actual games, make for a much more involving and complex set of moral decisions and real world repercussions that don't typically apply to young adult literary stories. Whether it be through the casting of the terrific Donald Sutherland as President Snow who makes the overriding threat seem all the more vile as he eloquently executes his intentions of power over the classes of Panem through his politics or the unexpectedly layered Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) that brings about not only an epiphany in Katniss concerning the vicious circle that human beings naturally put themselves in when systems inevitably become corrupted, but also in realizing the necessary differences in the two men in her life that will finally bring about a peaceful decision. As much as ‘The Hunger Games’ series is about sacrifice it is also about holding true to ideals no matter the sacrifice it takes to keep such principles relevant. Some may counter Katniss with the argument that there is no need to fight for ideals if there will be no one left to carry them on and if that is to be the result it seems Katniss thinks we might not deserve to exist at all. It's a bold statement, one that the film’s could have easily smoothed over with a toothless and sentimental final act, but instead they embraced the complexities and let them play out in an honest sense only making it all the more interesting to watch come to an end.
Boldly, and like the previous installment, ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ opens in media’s res to show Katniss still recovering from Peeta's (Josh Hutcherson) attack. The toll the Capitol experiments have taken on Peeta are clearly beginning to also take a toll on Katniss as Snow has more or less allowed the rebels to have Peeta back so that, if he doesn't kill Katniss, he will at least break down their symbol of hope to where even she has none. Per the character development we've seen prior in these films this attempt only has the opposite effect on Katniss pushing her to do whatever it might take to exact revenge on Snow for what he's done to the boy she's come to care deeply for. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is ever present as he is now a major player in District 13's military strategies against the Capitol. Finnick (Sam Claflin) has married his sweet love, Annie (Stef Dawson), and both Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Haymitch (Woody Harreslon) are still advisers to Coin while Effie (Elizabeth Banks) more or less serves as the symbolic shift in the Capitol perspective of plush, spoiled lifestyles to the acknowledgement of the real plight of the unfairly treated outer districts. Both Prim (Willow Shields) and Katniss's mother (Paula Malcomson) now serve as medics for District 13, putting them on the front lines of the war as they rush in after battle to aid the injured. Managing a handful of other supporting characters including Jeffrey Wright's Beetee, Jena Malone's Johanna Mason, Mahershala Ali's Boggs and Natalie Dormer's Cressida among others the film skillfully guides Katniss and her team to the Capitol in order to allow Katniss to fulfill her destiny. All of these performers do their jobs well, but Hutcherson is particularly effective in the tough arc that Peeta has had to face while real standouts include Claflin's ever-charming Finnick with Harrelson again bringing a natural chemistry and authenticity to the relationships he's developed with Peeta and Katniss and it simply being a treat to see Hoffman on the big screen one last time. This brings us to another major theme in ‘The Hunger Games’ saga that is discussed at some length in this final film and that is not only the predestined fate of Katniss Everdeen, but the actual woman this character has become over the course of four films and the myth those around her have made her out to be.
The trope of "the chosen one" is nothing new and the changing of that rule to an adolescent young woman in the recent wave of young adult novels does little to make us forget that. What allows the story of Katniss to stand apart is not that she never desired to be this "chosen one" (most don't), but that she never changes who she is in order to fit that mold. In this regard, Lawrence's cultural image, as well as her acting ability, lend themselves well to this defiant, but ultimately responsible provider that the character was forced to be at a young age after the death of her father (much like Lawrence was given the weight of a potentially massive franchise at the age of 21). Katniss has always had a burden of sorts on her shoulders and volunteering for her sister at the initial reaping ceremony in the first film was just another way of her exercising that responsibility she felt was hers. It is a decision that snowballed into a hundred other decisions that would eventually place her as the default symbol of defiance against a system that had been in place for decades. For much of the series Katniss is positioned as an object of sorts whether it be as "The Girl on Fire," "The Mockingjay" or the object of darling Peeta's affection. This is something Katniss detests in many ways and Lawrence, who has a penchant for playing things with an air of contempt, makes it clear she is not a fan of the circus it takes to pull off the manipulation that seemingly allows the Hunger Games to feel justified. In this final installment we see the fruits of Katniss's labor finally come to something of a fruition, but even these are not without sacrifice still. As Coin and her team learned in ‘Part 1’ it is best for their cause to simply allow Katniss to be herself and while there is still some hesitation on Coin's behalf in ‘Part 2,’ things more or less go the way Katniss desires them to. For the first time, we see Katniss with the ability to be herself and outspokenly stand for what she truly believes without anyone trying to coach or contain her and that alone is enough for a finale to feel victorious. Layer in the still lingering conflictions of her love for both Gale and the damaged Peeta and there is plenty of meat left for Lawrence to chew on after three films. As she does, and as Hemsworth and Hutcherson share moments of unbridled honesty about their circumstances, this love triangle is brought to an end in not a sappy or even agonizing way, but more a poignant and logical one.
There is much to like about ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ as the overall objective of the narrative is a clear "kill President Snow" mission, but the anticipation of seeing multiple character arcs come to a close, as well as the skillfully executed action scenes moving the pace along at breakneck speed, make for both an epic and satisfying conclusion. Director Francis Lawrence took over this dystopian world from Gary Ross with the second film and has only elevated every element of it since. The production design is clearly meticulous and the scope is as big as ever despite some of the film again taking place in the underground bunker that is District 13. The aforementioned action scenes double as something of a Hunger Games-esque competition as Katniss and her team make their way through a minefield of traps in the Capitol in order to reach Snow. As director Lawrence has to more or less get his characters from one point to another, while including vital character beats in between, he is able to infuse much of the action with a tension and purpose that grants it legitimate weight rather than feeling like obligatory spectacle. One scene in particular in which the team from District 13 that includes Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Finnick, Creesida's documentary team, and Lieutenant Jackson (Michelle Forbes) as they make their way through the sewers beneath the Capitol streets and are chased down by mutations is especially thrilling in an edge-of-your-seat fashion. That it provides something of a large emotional wallop at the end only tends to reinforce just how high the stakes are this time around and that no one is safe. This rule also applies to the general expectations we have of franchise finales in that there must be a large action set-piece that pits the hero against their biggest antagonist in a fight to the finish. This expectation is subverted in ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ by instead delivering a very dour final confrontation between Katniss and Snow that only confirms further the convoluted mind games both sides played to achieve their own agenda. This isn't the clean cut finale where Katniss wins and the bad guys go home and everyone is happy, but because it's not and because it's honest with itself and it's now mature audience it ends up delivering a closure we both deserve and need in this type of blockbuster film.
by Philip Price
I feel like I can make a fair assessment of the movie I'm about to watch simply by the quality and inventiveness of its title card. There is just something about the way this opportunity can be executed that seems to somehow connect with how far the director was willing to go to make every ounce of his film thrive. This is all to say that “Creed” has a pretty great one and from the moment the title and namesake of our lead character rises on to the screen with an epic and bombastic score behind it the movie just rolls. What I truly appreciate about the suggested epic-ness that director Ryan Coogler implies with this title sequence-that is set up perfectly by giving us an epilogue of sorts that shows a young Adonis Johnson on the fast track to nowhere in 1998 as just another kid in juvy who likes to fight-is that it recognizes the legacy of what the film is taking on and in this moment sets a tone that encapsulates everything the rest of the movie will attempt to demonstrate through its actions. In essence, Coogler sets the stage in such a manner that lets us know this movie means business and that, while it will operate in the world of ‘Rocky,’ is a fresh perspective on an age old tale for a new generation of underdogs. The script by Coogler and Aaron Covington hits all of the expected beats of a film such as this, but they are executed with such authenticity and weight that finds real credence in the source material that it's genuinely effective. That's what makes a ‘Rocky’ movie a ‘Rocky’ movie, right? The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, of overcoming insurmountable odds. As we've more or less seen Rocky grow from an ambitious 30 year old with nothing to lose to a nearly 70 year old man who's come down on the other side of life battered and broken, but never beaten there is little left to say. This isn't a movie about Rocky though, and so the real question moving forward was going to be if Adonis Johnson could resonate in a way that we'd feel the need to stand up and cheer. In summation, round one goes to “Creed.”
Coming to visit the young Adonis, dubbed "Donnie" by his friends, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), or the late wife of Apollo (Carl Weathers), offers to take in the young juvenile despite him being the product of an affair her husband had before he died. It seems Adonis has also lost his mother and given he never knew his father he has nowhere left to go. Fast forward 17 years to the present day and we are presented with an Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) who has had a steady upbringing from Mary Anne and attended what is no doubt the best schools Los Angeles has to offer and is now being promoted at his corporate job that he finds no passion in. Given what happened to her husband, Mary Anne has kept Adonis as far from the boxing world as she possibly could, but being his father's son Adonis is drawn to the ring. Unbeknownst to Mary Anne, Adonis has been making his way to Tijuana from time to time in order to participate in underground boxing bouts where he proudly reps a record of 15-0. As the known youngest son of Apollo in L.A. no one will take on the young fighter as Wood Harris plays the owner of a local gym who tells Adonis he can't hang with his fighters. That the fighters he trains have had to work for everything they have their entire lives leading the chip on Adonis' shoulder to only grow bigger. With this atmosphere being anything but conducive to his aspirations Adonis takes off for Philadelphia in hopes of coaxing the former World Heavyweight Champion and late friend and former rival of his father, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), into being his trainer and mentor.
While it is agreed upon by most that the ‘Rocky’ sequels grew increasingly cartoonish as time went on don't forget that the original 1976 film was something of a scrappy street tale that overcame its own set of odds by beating out the likes of “All the President's Men” for the 1977 Best Picture trophy. To that effect, “Creed” is set in the same tone and style of the original. Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti give the film a cold, gray palette that captures the chilling Philly winters and the toughness Adonis will need to make it through Balboa's training and into the ring where the colors can explode, complementing the climax of the film and making the audience feel as if we've truly been on a journey. Coogler keeps things at street level, paying homage to the first film, but never allowing his film to become little more than a mimic of what we've seen before. There are no less than three montages, sure, but none of them ever use any of the famous ‘Rocky’ music and each are more rousing than the last. Coogler walks this fine line by embracing the culture of today in his film and exposing what a boxer who came from the opposite end of the spectrum as Rocky would do in this environment. While he may not use any of the familiar music, we feel the weight of the multi-generational story just under the surface. Adonis is looking for nothing more than to prove himself on his own merit and in this regard the film is something of a metaphor for the film industry as a whole at the moment. Everything in Hollywood right now thrives on brand recognition and that is how Adonis' career comes to fruition, by the recognition of his name, but like Adonis the movie and Coogler are out to prove it's worth the attention it's getting not just for its credentials, but for its own take on the boxing genre. Were “Creed” just another boxing movie it would essentially be looked at as another in a long line of boxing movies inspired by Rocky, but by embracing that legacy, as Adonis eventually does with his father's name, the film is able to gain from that advantage while establishing itself as something fresh and new with more to offer than simply being a “Rocky” re-do.
Beyond the bigger themes and objectives that “Creed” is looking to accomplish in order to cement itself as the new guy in town it would be a whole bunch of effort for nothing if the guy himself wasn't worth paying attention to. As the titular Creed, Michael B. Jordan truly owns the role as he takes the deserted, young kid we meet in the beginning to a successful, well-mannered college graduate that is willing to throw it all away and work hard enough to do what he really wants to do with his life. It would be false if Adonis didn't butt heads with the stubborn and somewhat shy Rocky every once in a while, but while there was even a point in the film where I was pleading that an exchange between the two not go the way I expected it to (while not expecting that wish to be granted) Coogler and Jordan allow the character to move forward with a level head thus foregoing much of the melodrama we might typically be subjected to in this type of movie. That isn't too say Adonis isn't still a young man or doesn't have flashes of his showy father in him as the film sees Jordan's Adonis going out to clubs, making eyes at his new neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and getting into fights with guys outside of the ring, but it all coincides with the multi-faceted performance that Jordan delivers. The relationship that does develop between Bianca and Adonis is one that could have felt forced or even shoe-horned in, but Jordan and Thompson have such a natural ease to their chemistry that we enjoy seeing the two build something mature and stable together without ever introducing any clichéd factors that might threaten their happiness. The only thing that's going to get in the way of these two is themselves and given they recognize this it makes our perception of what makes these characters tick all the more interesting. As for Stallone, it's simply elating to see him take on the character at this stage in life and rather heart-warming in the relationship he develops with Adonis. Together, each of these aspects form a film that has nearly perfect pacing, gives us boxing matches that keeps our palms sweaty and our hearts racing, with enough tension, laughs and downright dramatic heft to signal that Coogler is the real deal and that this likely won't be the last we see of Adonis Creed.
by Philip Price
“Suffragette” is a movie that survives solely on the strength of its true story. Beyond the compelling and oftentimes unfathomable way that men treat women in this film, there isn't much to grab a hold of or really sink your teeth into. It's disheartening given all the film clearly has going for it, but thus is the way things seem to go when a writer makes interesting and even somewhat daring if not completely agreeable choices in their screenplay. For instance, our lead character is a fictional invention in order to convey a certain perspective on these historical events, but given the way the film comes to a swift and unexpected conclusion based on the actions of a different character whose actor didn't even make the poster the film as a whole can't help but feel slightly impromptu whereas the obvious, in my opinion, choice for the narrative direction would have been more straightforward. We are talking about an incident that concerned militant suffragette Emily Davison (played in the film by Natalie Press) that effectively serves as the climax of the film, but given we've seen Davison in less than a handful of scenes prior the impact of her actions is not nearly as gut-wrenching as they could've been. I realize that writer Abi Morgan is giving audiences more of a relatable character arc by delivering the typically passive Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who is more or less pulled into her life of activism, but given that Davison was jailed on nine different occasions and had to be force fed no less than 49 times I'd say that not only does Davison deserve a movie about her life, but that it generally sounds more complimentary to the cinematic landscape than that of the everywoman Morgan has made with Maud. That isn't to say Mulligan or her character are ineffective as they work up to a certain point, but unfortunately that is as much as can be said about the film as well. With this subject matter and these events that clearly deserve to be recognized not to mention the talent on hand it's strange how uninspiring the film can sometimes feel. It has its moments, sure, but for a fight that's unforgettable I likely won't remember much about the movie past next week.
We are introduced to Mulligan's Maud, a 24 year old laundress, who has worked at the same place and under the same skeevy boss since she was a young girl. Shortly after Maud witnesses a suffragette rally the women from the laundry are encouraged to speak out to Parliament and give testimony in hopes of building a case for why they deserve the right to vote. A co-worker of Maud's, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), offers to testify and given Maud is more or less intrigued by the thought of making strides she offers to accompany Violet. However, on the morning Violet is to testify she shows up having been beaten by her abusive husband. As she cannot go in front of Parliament in this state, Maud is forced to be the one who testifies. Initially hesitant, the Parliament official presents a welcoming facade that coaxes Maud's story out of her, revealing the unhealthy working conditions and lower pay that she and her fellow female co-workers are subject to versus the male employees (not to mention the advances of their boss that they can do nothing about unless they prefer to be out of work). Maud seems to be given a fresh energy and hope about obtaining the right to vote after her testimony, but when attending the announcement of Parliament's ruling that they did not in fact get the vote a riot breaks out turning the police officers on the women. The women are beaten and Maud, who gets caught up in the crowd as she tries to escape, is struck and arrested for a week along with Violet, pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and Davison who it reveals is a confidant of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Outside of all of this, Maud's husband Sonny (a terrific Ben Whishaw) and son George (Adam Michael Dodd) are left to fend for themselves, something Sonny is unable to deal with given the looks he begins receiving at work and the social stigma that comes with having a wife who won't stand in line with their husband's wishes.
It is in these extraneous relationships in relation to the driving force of the plot that the film finds its most interesting territory to explore. These caveats of Sonny and Maud and of Maud and George, not to mention the inclusion of Irish inspector Steed (the always reliable Brendan Gleeson) are where the film finds its groove. Steed develops something of a relationship with Maud that sees the two consoling in one another their hopes and desperations while somehow managing to keep the exchanges strictly professional. Steed offers that he may be sympathetic to Maud and the Women's Social and Political Union's (WSPU) plight as a whole, but that he has been tasked with a job to do and finds his current place in the hierarchy of society comfortable enough that it's not worth risking. It is in these scenes where Gleeson and Mulligan go back and forth about the choices in what is right and what is easy that really begin to convey the passion behind the need to act violently. "War is the only language men understand," is a line spoke multiple times by the suffragette women. While these intermittent interactions with Steed give the overarching objective more heft it is the dynamic between Maud and her son that brings in the emotional weight. It is in these two aspects that we find the only real places the film gives us closure as well, given the understanding that is rendered between Steed and Maude and the emotionally devastating final scene between Maud and George. I won't go into spoiler territory with what happens as a result of Maud's commitment to her new found cause, but it is a moment that takes us to a peak realization of what such an involvement in a cause like women's rights could cost a person at the time and instead of harboring this momentum the third act that follows is more a deflation of energy that ends just as the charge really feels as if it's beginning to pick up.
What's worse is the film's tendency to ignore the other areas in which it seemingly has a large amount of opportunity to flourish. We are treated to multiple scenes with Carter's Edith Ellyn where she teaches her fellow suffragette's how to defend themselves or how to make a bomb, but despite the fact she and her husband, Hugh (Finbar Lynch), have an advanced and understood relationship for this point in time we never feel the pull of the clear bombasity this character should possess. Whether this is due to Carter playing it too subtly or there simply not being enough on the page there is clearly something missing here. Even Streep, whose presence is being marketed as a major player, is only present for a single scene which amounts to little more than a glorified cameo. The dynamic between Maud and Sonny is also one that feels underdeveloped. We are quickly given their traditional setting and rather impoverished lifestyle, but more interesting is the structure by which Sonny seems to be raising young George and the looks of concern that Maud gives him even before she becomes wrapped up with the suffragette fight. There is a tension between the two that lays flaccid because of Maud's instinct to stay quite. When she finally decides to display some initiative Sonny is nothing short of bewildered. Unfortunately, this dynamic is on display less than Davison. To that effect, the pacing is all sorts of off, but again this feels due largely to the script not knowing how to divide up its several characters and their individual narratives much less knowing how to bring them together. Director Sarah Gavron has made something of a kind of intentionally ugly film so as to display just how ugly society was at that point in time. Even Alexandre Desplat's score feels stale and recycled (hints of last year's “Imitation Game” soundtrack are abnormally apparent). Nothing glistens, nothing shines-as if to show just how little hope there was-how dim the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be sometimes-too bad the experience of watching this film feels the same way.
by Julian Spivey
Something peculiar happened on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Victor Franzen was watching “Modern Times” on Turner Classic Movies from his home in Austin, Texas and all of a sudden his television went black. His service returned 10 minutes later, but “Modern Times” did not – instead it was replaced by Buster Keaton’s 1927 silent film classic “The General.” The same thing happened to Wanda Harris in Orlando, Fla. and to George Kannapolis in Montpelier, Vt. and Josh Jenson in Tacoma, Wash. They were enjoying the Charlie Chaplin classic and all of a sudden “poof” and minutes later Keaton took The Tramp’s place.
What’s even stranger is Michael Petty’s vast collection of classic films on DVD is all of a sudden three movies less than it was the day before. Missing are “City Lights,” “The Gold Rush” and “The Great Dictator” – three of Chaplin’s finest pieces of work.
A simple Google search for ‘Charlie Chaplin’ online reveals nothing – it seems Charles Spencer Chaplin never actually existed. Or at least he never amounted to much of anything.
The 2015 fight for the Republican presidential nomination has been a weird one, especially with a billionaire reality television show host and a famed neurosurgeon turned professional autobiographer leading the way. Among the extremely strange aspects of the political season has been the phenomenon over what the candidates would do if they could go back in time to late 1889 or early 1890 to when a baby Adolf Hitler was rolling around in his crib. Would the candidates kill Baby Hitler to save a future World War II and attempted extermination of an entire group of people? Killing Baby Hitler could potentially save numerous lives, but it would also mean murdering an infant that could have turned out to be something entirely different.
It’s a conundrum. Or at least it should be, but the Republican candidates have seemingly all made the decision to murder Baby Hitler. Jeb Bush was even incredibly gleeful in his answer, “Hell Yeah,” he’d kill Baby Hitler, which makes one wonder if the candidate actually gets off on infanticide. Ben Carson, one of the GOP front-runners, didn’t outright say whether or not he would kill Baby Hitler, but he did say he wouldn’t abort Baby Hitler – after all fetuses are incredibly more important than actual born babies.
The fourth Republican debate was on Tuesday night and apparently there was a secret mission after the debate finished airing on the Fox Business Channel. The CIA, according to an anonymous source fearing for his life, ran an operation code named “Kill Baby Hitler” and sought out the over-enthusiastic Bush to do so. The plan would be rather simple – use the CIA’s high tech time machine that some have previously argued its existence, travel back to 1889 Austria and eliminate Baby Hitler. The method for killing Baby Hitler would be up to Bush, but the CIA gave three options: smothering with pillow, lethal injection cocktail or AK-47. Being a Republican candidate, and not wanting to leave a chance of survival for Baby Hitler, Bush obviously decided on the AK-47.
The date set for the time machine was April 20, 1889. The place was set for Austria. It was little Adolf Hitler’s birthday and Jeb Bush had his orders and was ready to pull the trigger. Killing Baby Hitler would make him an American hero and front-runner for the presidency upon his return. Everybody would quickly forget about the issues that both his father and brother faced during their presidencies, as well.
Bush entered the time machine. And within moments was transported back in time 126 years. The CIA’s technology was so good that he arrived right on the Hitler’s doorstep. He entered the home, found Baby Hitler fast asleep in his crib and unleashed a furious hell upon the napping infant’s body with his assault weapon. In a matter of seconds there was nothing left. Bush rushed back to the time machine and entered a date for 2015. Had he been a Clinton he probably would’ve entered his inauguration date in 2017, but alas he’s a Bush and doesn’t have the brain capacity for such thoughts.
The time machine returned to the exact location of the Republican debate in Milwaukee, Wis. Bush jumped out of the time machine with a gigantic smile upon his face and yelled, “Hell Yeah, that was awesome. Let’s Kill Baby Osama next!”
It wasn’t long before the CIA notified Bush that his mission, like every other Bush mission before it, had failed. The time machine malfunctioned, as things operated by American agencies are wont to do, and instead of April 20, 1889 Austria the machine had actually landed four days prior to Hitler’s birth on April 16, 1889 in London. Bush had instead landed on the doorstep of the Chaplin family – and blew away the infant body of what would become the greatest movie comedy actor the world had ever seen.
Baby Chaplin was merely collateral damage in the hunt for Baby Hitler, the CIA would try again – Donald Trump was the next to be approached on their list.
by Aprille Hanson
There is great risk involved when trying to modernize and bring beloved characters brewing over with nostalgia to the big screen for a new generation. If you do it wrong, especially when it’s Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the Peanuts gang, all I can say is … good grief.
Luckily, the fifth theatrical Peanuts film “The Peanuts Movie,” in theaters now, is just good … adorable, fun, warm, heartfelt and any other sweet adjective you can insert.
Based off of the 1950 cartoon strip by the genius that is Charles M. Schulz (who died in 2000), this is the first Peanuts film to be released on the big screen in 35 years, according to IMDB.com.
My hopes for the movie were higher than all those kites stuck in the trees that Charlie Brown was never able to reach. The only way to successfully pay honor to Peanuts and its creator is to have a team that truly loved both -- which is what made Craig Schulz (Charles Schulz’s son) and Bryan Schulz (his grandson) the only ones able to pull it off so beautifully.
The film centers around Charlie Brown’s (voiced by Noah Schnapp) love for the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) and his ongoing struggle to impress her -- not to mention just talk to her.
But in his normal Charlie Brown fashion, he fails again and again. He practices hard for the winter dance to show off his moves, only to ultimately set off the sprinklers and ruin the party. Then there’s the talent show -- he prepares his magic tricks only to abandon his routine to help his sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) who is bombing on stage with her cowgirl roping routine. He winds up looking like a fool in the process. For a little while, the school thinks he’s a genius, scoring 100 percent on a standardized test, only to realize in front of the whole school it was the wrong test and to admit it right then and there. Finally, he’s partnered up with ‘Red’ for a book report and while she’s out of town, he decides to finish the report for the both of them, picking the incredibly thick “War and Peace.” He spends all weekend reading it and producing literary insight that’s unmatched, according to Linus (Alexander Garfin). However, you guessed it, it turns into a disaster, shredded apart by the low flying Red Baron … but you’ll just have to watch the film to find out how that happens.
Charlie Brown is at his wits end, but he never gives up. That’s the point and the message for every kid (and adult for that matter) in the audience -- when life knocks you down, you take a page in the book of Charlie Brown and keep trying to fly that kite and eventually that Little Red-Haired Girl will love you for it.
Intertwined with Charlie Brown’s storyline was his best friend and trusty beagle Snoopy up to his old antics, writing his novel that portrays the World War I Flying Ace trying to take down the Red Baron, this time for the love of a poodle named Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth -- how perfect is that) with Woodstock by his side. One of the greatest things about the film was how the noises from Snoopy and Woodstock were used from Bill Melendez recordings, meaning these two sound the same as they always have, a real treat for fans. The Peanuts gang were voiced by child actors, making it that much more authentic.
I saw one review for this film describe it as a “love letter” to Charles Schulz and the fans of Peanuts and that sentiment is so spot-on, I’m hard-pressed to think of another way to characterize it. Most of the film included scenes from the comic strips and lines that any fan of the comic strip will know -- “Ugh I've been kissed by a dog! I’ve got dog germs! Get some disinfectant! Get some iodine!” ah good old Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller). We saw Charlie Brown at the pitcher’s mound; at the park trying to get his kite to fly; on the skating rink with the rest of the gang; the characters dancing exactly how they did in the Christmas special; Snoopy tearing off with Linus’ blanket; no adults were seen but that “WaWa” sound of course was heard; Lucy counseling Charlie Brown at her “5 Cents” psychiatrist stand; and so many more moments that made it so special. The comic strip drawings themselves even made an appearance onscreen -- when Charlie Brown was thinking, the cartoons would appear in his thought bubble.
What is perhaps the greatest achievement, though, is the creator’s willingness to only modernize Peanuts with CGI and nothing else. Audiences saw Charlie Brown writing with a liquid ink pen on a piece of paper, no computers in sight. He answered a phone with a cord and got tangled up as he always does, no cell phones or texting. I doubt any of this even occurred to the little ones in the audience, who were likely mesmerized by the colors, 3D images and Snoopy being a goof.
Most refreshing too was the fact that there was no need for innuendos to make the movie enjoyable for adults -- no hidden bits of humor, just pure joy and G-ratedness that was perfectly entertaining.
As the movie was nearing its end, I had one complaint -- how had they made a Peanuts movie without Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football and Lucy pulling it away?! Then, after the credits began, there was one more surprise -- they were halted to play out that most memorable scene.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy and all their friends are timeless. More than anything, this film proved that “Happiness is … ‘The Peanuts Movie.’”
by Philip Price
I saw my first James Bond film at age 15. What I saw, some say, is the worst Bond picture of all time. 2002's “Die Another Day” featuring the last go-around for Pierce Brosnan as the famous British super spy was goofy fun at the time, especially for someone keenly unaware of any of the traditional elements and archetypes included in a Bond film, but four years later and one year after the revolutionary origin story that was “Batman Begins” made it OK to make something campy into something more grounded and serious we received a new kind of Bond, a more grounded in reality Bond with a seriously serious streak about him. That isn't to say that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli overcompensated as “Casino Royale” still sits as my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond films. For what it's worth, I don't necessarily have a great affinity for the Bond movies. They have never done much to excite me, but I look forward to them because I more or less know what I'm getting, but on a grand scale. And I like epic. Moreover, Craig is the Bond of my generation and if I were to have any type of fondness for any of these films it would be his rough and rugged incarnation of the typically suave MI6 agent. All of this is to say that while I appreciate what the producers and director Sam Mendes have done for the series in being bold and essentially wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch it can't help but feel as if they ran out of tricks with the latest installment, “Spectre.” While there is much to like in this new film-the set pieces are consistent, the familiar elements more present than ever since Craig took over as well as the gorgeous cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema capturing it all-and yet there is something missing from the story. There is a lack of substance while still holding an unbelievable amount of aspiration. “Spectre” feels like a film that wants and has the intention to do so many things and fulfill so much fan service that it actually ends up doing very little. To say “Spectre” is a waste of time or even a bad movie is too harsh as there is clear craft that has been put into the final product, but what the film is and what it wanted to be are clearly two very different entities.
We pick back up with Mr. Bond shortly after the events of “Skyfall” as he is on "vacation" in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. The celebrations are raging and the world's most famous spy is not letting the festivities pass him by without getting in on the fun as well. Obviously, Bond has more of an agenda than to just escape and it becomes apparent that he is after another of what is apparently a long line of foes that have been part of a larger criminal organization. Once Bond returns to London to reconnect with M (Ralph Fiennes) and receive his penance for stepping out of line in Mexico City we learn that he has received a cryptic message from the past that has motivated him to seek out these infamous criminals. While M more or less grounds Bond from any further activity for the foreseeable future M is also dealing with C (Andrew Scott) who is a rising star at MI6 that wants to put together a sort of United Nations of intel gathering, linking together several nations worth of secret service agencies essentially subjecting everyone and everything to 24/7 surveillance. As M and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are busy dealing with C's attempts to dismantle the double-O program Bond doesn't help matters by enlisting Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to assist him on his rogue mission. Eventually landing in Rome, Bond meets Lucia (Monica Bellucci), the widow of the man Bond killed in Mexico City who helps him infiltrate a secret meeting that unveils the secret evil syndicate known as Spectre. At the head of this syndicate sits Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who is yet another villain in a long line of villains that has been making elaborate plans his entire life to exact revenge on Bond for something that doesn't seem like that big of a deal. After narrowly escaping Oberhauser's clutches and a chase through Rome with Hinx (Dave Bautista) Bond again comes face to face with Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who promises to expose Spectre's secrets if Bond promises to protect his daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), in exchange.
With just under half an hour left in the film Craig's Bond mutters the line, "it's not over yet!" and all I could think was, "why not?" “Spectre” is an unnecessary two and a half hours. It is a movie of building momentum that never achieves any kind of satisfactory reveals. Even worse is the disparaging way in which the script treats the majority of its supporting characters, sans Seydoux's Swann, nevermind the lackluster narrative that attempts to pull together its own connected universe. Harris' Moneypenny is more or less a moot point after clearly demonstrating her skill and efficiency in the field in “Skyfall.” One would have thought Mendes and his four-man writing team might have found a way to bring Moneypenny into this new era by making her more than a pretty face behind a desk, but we never see Harris do anything more than run a few errands for the higher-ranking Bond. Whishaw's Q is a little more influential this time around as he's even given the slightest of chase scenes, but the main henchmen of the picture, Bautista's Hinx, is only present for a handful of scenes that reveal a unique skill thanks to his thumbnails, but instead of becoming a trademark we never see these weapons again. As for the big bad of the film, much has been made of what role Waltz is playing, but the truth is it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that you've recruited what is essentially the greatest villainous actor of our time and underutilized him. Waltz has the ability to make any line of dialogue seem effortlessly diabolical and yet supremely intelligent. It's not hard to imagine the guy as the leader of a large criminal organization, but when Waltz doesn't show up until an hour in and is kept in the shadows for the majority of his screen time up until the third act the intended threat doesn't feel nearly as menacing. As for Seydoux's Swann, her contributions are one of the few aspects that keep Craig's iteration of Bond in line with his previous installments as his affections for the women he encounters are rarely brief sexual flings, but encounters that elicit some genuine emotional response.
In essence, “Spectre” should be the culmination of everything Craig's Bond films have been building toward in crafting the famous persona the character has established over the last half century. Instead, the film sees Bond going through the motions without anything bigger or even interesting to say no matter how much it wants to bring 007 into the modern era. What “Skyfall” did so well, and likely why “Spectre” feels largely uninteresting, is because it was able to include all the staples the Bond films have employed over the years, but did so in a way that it took these archetypes not as a burden but as an opportunity to develop them further. With “Spectre,” it seems to take these homages and callbacks as something it has to construct its narrative around rather than implementing in a pre-existing narrative. Done in a manner that makes these elements feel forced, the tone never gels as we become stuck between the real-world tone of Craig's Bond and the outlandishness of earlier entries. “Spectre” makes these references to past Bond films feel unnecessary to a franchise that is always ongoing and always looking for fresh ground to cover. Keep moving forward, there is no need to come full circle when everyone knows these films will be made for as long as anyone can foresee. The goal, at this point, has to always be to create a fully realized film that honors why this character is still around and why people still go to these movies while at the same time finding this new life that will engage the uninitiated as ‘Casino’ did with me. If “Spectre” were the first Bond film I were to experience I probably would still acknowledge how well Thomas Newman's score compliments the unsubstantial action scenes and how well it keeps things moving even when the story feels stilted. In terms of the film as a whole though, Mendes never seems to find his footing this time around committing the cardinal sin of making a Bond film that is rather boring. In the end, Craig's Bond could return or he couldn't. It feels inevitable that he will at least return one more time so as to once fully embody the quintessential Bond that pop culture has come to expect, the one he wanted to play in “Spectre,” but the one “Spectre” wouldn't let him have just yet.
by Julian Spivey
I have never seen a Quentin Tarantino movie. There’s a fairly good chance I will never see a Tarantino film as long as I live. I’m not a fan of graphic and gratuitous violence in movies and there’s pretty much never been a movie director who filmed as much graphic violence outside of the horror genre than Tarantino. He’s just not the movie director for me.
I say all of this, so as what I’m about to say doesn’t come off as being a fan taking offense to what’s happening to Tarantino at the moment.
Despite never seeing a Tarantino film I’m on his side in his little media war between himself and the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union.
Tarantino took part in an anti-police brutality protest in late October in New York City, as he has every right to do as an American citizen. The police union took his participation in the anti-police brutality event to be a sign of disrespect and hatred toward all police officers.
The union, which represents over 330,000 officers, has called for protests of Tarantino movies, specifically his newest release “Hateful Eight,” which is set to hit theaters in late December.
On Thursday, Nov. 5, Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, made a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that comes off sounding like a threat toward the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director.
Pasco said: “We’ll be opportunistic. Tarantino has made a good living out of violence and surprise. Our officers make a living trying to stop violence, but surprise is not out of the question. Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element. Something could happen anytime between now and [the premiere of ‘Hateful Eight’]. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable.”
Pasco obviously wouldn’t give specifics, but it sounds as if the union is going to try to disrupt showings and premieres of “Hateful Eight” in big cities throughout the country. He did mention they’d try to hurt Tarantino where it mattered the most – economically.
It’s to be seen how Tarantino’s taking part in an anti-police brutality protest in October will impact his box office numbers in December, but a lot of people, primarily conservatives, in this country weren’t pleased by his participation in the event.
It’s important to note, although it shouldn’t be necessary, that Tarantino’s participation was merely to voice his opinion on the recent spate of police brutality in this country and it wasn’t a message about police in general. Too often people seem to confuse voicing opinions on police brutality or bad cops with a complete hatred of police altogether.
Tarantino said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Wednesday, Nov. 4: “Just because I’m at an anti-police brutality rally doesn’t mean I am anti-police … stop shooting unarmed people. We want justice. Stop shooting unarmed people. But they don’t want to deal with that, they would rather start arguments with celebrities. I was under the impression that I was an American and I had First Amendment rights.”
Yes, Tarantino, you are an American and you have every right to both voice your opinions and participate in peaceful protest thanks to the First Amendment. But, the Fraternal Order of Police apparently don’t give a damn about the First Amendment. Because you voiced your opinion they want to treat you like the bad guys they should be far more concerned in catching and arresting than taking shots and making plans at hurting a movie director’s box office numbers.
Pasco and the Fraternal Order of Police would rather worry about someone’s opinions than doing everything in their power to end the corruption within their own system. They may succeed in hurting Tarantino’s box office numbers, but they’ve also succeeded in making themselves look like complete clowns who can’t take a little criticism.