Just the Spectre of a Bond Movie

Well, I finally got to see the new Bond movie, Spectre.

Spectre

Spectre (2015) – Rated PG-13

A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.”

I really like Daniel Craig’s Bond. He comes across as a muscle-bound thug, a blunt instrument of policy. Connery is my favorite but Craig’s ruthlessness makes him a close second. The Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras verged on parody with their outlandish gadgets and grandiose villains.

Casino Royale was a wonderful reboot of the franchise, bringing Bond back to the basics and packing a real emotional punch. They even included a scene from the book that I doubted would be filmed (ow!). Sadly, they followed this up with a rather lazy cash grab in Quantum of Solace.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) was hired to bring Skyfall to the screen. In spite of, or perhaps because of, not being an action director, he knocked it out of the park. Skyfall was not only a wonderful action picture but also a love letter to Connery’s Bond.

The success of Skyfall meant that I had seriously high hopes for the reteaming of Mendes and Craig in Spectre. Toss in one of my favorite character actors (Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds) in the villain role and I was all set.

Daniel Craig as a ruthless James Bond – check!

Attractive ladies for Bond to bed but never wed – check!

Callbacks to the Connery era (not just Spectre itself) – check!

Ridiculously dangerous-looking stunts – check!

Really evil villain – check!

Character who dies immediately after giving crucial information – check!

Requisite fancy car chase through exotic locale – check!

So why was I left underwhelmed? Well, in part it was because much of the movie seemed to be developed from the checklist.

Christoph Waltz is a fantastic actor and was absolutely chilling as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately, he isn’t given as much to do here. He is physically unimposing so they felt they had to have an imposing opponent as well. Enter Mr. Hinx (though I don’t remember him being called that) played by WWE giant, Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy).

There is one laughably bad action scene that I would swear was lifted from an Austin Powers movie. A dozen armed villains stand around and shoot everywhere but at Bond while he picks them off one by one.

It is explained that Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) hates guns but she shows she is quite capable with them. One would think, in the interests of self preservation, that she would pick one up off the ground when people are shooting at her but she prefers to hold hands with Bond instead.

There is a fantastic train face-off that is worth the price of admission. Yet, after destroying four train cars, Bond and Madeleine simply go back to their train car and have sex. Huh? For every wonderful scene, there is a head-scratching one.

Bottom line is that Spectre is no Skyfall or Casino Royale but neither is it Quantum of Solace. It is fun but not particularly good. It will also make plenty of money so there will be another one in a few years.

Django Unchained – Wife vs. Hubby

My wife and I went to see Django Unchained yesterday. This is part of an exchange deal where I take her to see Les Miserables on our next date.

My wife’s take on Django:

“This is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent.  Long, long-winded, poorly paced.  I went in knowing that it would be enormously offensive (it wasn’t nearly as offensive or difficult to watch at Killing Them Softly) and was surprised to find that it was instead mostly just … dull.  Any editor with sense could have cut at least an hour from this film and made it better.  Instead we have long, lingering shots of plantations, mountains, guns, snowmen, and more that don’t propel the story forward in anyway.  And then, two thirds of the way through the movie, it goes from buddy-flick (two wacky bounty hunters on the road to fame and fortune) to sadistic revenge flick (they enslaved him, and took his woman, now they’ll pay) without much transition.  And finally – this is the very first Tarantino flick I’ve ever watched and not thought I MUST GO BUY THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHT NOW.  There wasn’t a single song in this one that worked for the film (or for me).

So very disappointed.  I hope next week’s viewing of Les Mis is more satisfying.  If only I can keep people from spoiling it (further) for me between now and then…”

My take: Were we even watching the same film? Django was an utter delight. Tarantino has an amazing talent for mashing up and updating genres. To borrow from Kellogg, his dialogue snaps, crackles and pops. The violence was done in an amusingly over-the-top spaghetti western style and the cameo from the original Django, Franco Nero, was a hoot.

The acting ranged from good to amazing. Jaime Foxx carried the film quite well, channeling the quiet reserve of an early Eastwood. Christoph Waltz was fantastic as the bounty hunter as were Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. Less good but still a lot of fun were Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, and Don Johnson. In addition to Franco Nero, other cameos include Quentin Tarantino, Jonah Hill, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, James Remar, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, and Robert Carradine.

Having extolled Django’s virtues (and there are many delights to be had here), I have to agree with my wife on a few points. The music appears to have been haphazardly chosen. There wasn’t a single spot on tune. Can you hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without imagining the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs? All of the songs in Pulp Fiction make me think of their individual scenes yet none of Django’s songs made an impression.

The editing is clearly the sore point. Django runs over two and a half hours. Sally Menke, who expertly edited all of Tarantino’s films passed away in 2010. Sally was nominated for Academy Awards for Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds (losing to Forrest Gump and The Hurt Locker, sheesh). That loss is clearly felt here as almost every scene ran on too long. I love an epic but Django desperately needs to lose about an hour of running time. Some of the dialogue becomes repetitious and establishing shots linger past their expiration date.

Tone is all over the map. The first two-thirds of the film turn Django from a slave into a bounty hunter and then the movie screeches to a halt as we reach Candyland, the plantation DiCaprio reigns over. None of the women make a strong impression – not that the actresses aren’t good, the roles are simply underwritten.

Django is weak Tarantino but weak Tarantino is better than most filmmakers on their best day. It is a lot of fun but it could have been a lot better.