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Skyfall: 007 Returns Up Close and Personal
Marking the fiftieth anniversary, Skyfall, the twenty third addition to the 007's hall of fame is not, as some have suggested, the Best bond instalment ever made – but it sure comes close.
Without too much delay, Sam Mendes takes us straight onto a transformative and lengthy vehicular chase in Istanbul, Turkey. Bond (Craig), along with his fellow colleague Eve (Harris), are on a hot pursuit of a stolen hard-drive which holds the identities of every undercover agent around the globe. Not before long, after an error in judgment, the injured Bond falls into the hands of mortality; the superspy loses the battle and as it appears, his life. Bond, now missing and presumed dead, licks his wounds and drinks his pain away in an undisclosed paradise-like location.
Following the bombing of MI6's headquarters in London and the anonymous internet leaks of highly classified information involving MI6's undercover agents. M (Dench) is led to believe that this is more of a personal assault rather than an arbitrary terrorist attack, and seeks help from her only devoted and trusting agent; the slightly off his game, Bond.
In true Bond style, the cat-and-mouse chase led by the cyber-villain Raoul Silva (Bardem) takes 007 around the globe finally ending at Skyfall, Bond's ancestral home in Scotland's Highlands.
Mendes' traditional take on Bond is handled with a good deal of joy and respect. He settles on the more personal approach, allowing the characters to develop the relationships more intriguingly than usual. What's more, the success of this film also lies in the hands of the cinematographer Roger Deakins. From the skyscrapers of Shanghai and all of its twinkling lights to London's underground and eagle-view night shots, Bond has never looked this good.
The mind-blowing titles sequence, featuring Adele's melancholic theme song, manages to submerse the audience into an unfathomable sense of nostalgia, letting them know that things are a little bit different this time.
Craig, leaving the disappointment of Quantum Solace behind, is charming, witty and vulnerable all rolled into one. Bardem, with his personal fixation and obsession with M, but doesn't make his first appearance until the film's half-way mark, does an ok job.
A surprise turn is taken with the casting of Bond's right-hand man 'Q' and the role of the 'Bond girl', played by the voluptuous French actress Bérénice Marlohe, which felt rushed and completely irrelevant. The most notable performance reward goes to Dench, who is the troubled heart of this drama. Stoically portrayed, M is without a doubt Skyfall's real 'Bond girl'.
Rare is there a James Bond film that makes perfect sense, and Skyfall, despite its brilliant story and over-competent cast, does have a few potholes. Overall though, it is a stirring addition to the James Bond franchise. Happy Birthday Bond!
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.