“007: SPECTRE” movie review

SpectreA brilliant Bond film and excellent followup to the wildly popular Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes pulls out all the stops in MGM and Columbia’s Spectre the 24th official title in the Bond 007 franchise. After the soaring success of the previous chapter in the Bond anthology, who would have known that this final appearance of Daniel Craig as the heartthrob MI6 “paid assassin” would be just as thrilling! Just the opening sequence of the movie will have you on the edge of your seat, and the many throwbacks to past Bond film plots or characters will capture your attention for the two and a half-hour runtime. Even Blofeld, the original Bond villain, and his fluffy white cat appear in this epic Bond story. The jaw-dropping action will satisfy even the most ardent and long-time James Bond fans. Whether you’re an old-school or new 007 fan, you are definitely in for a treat. Some of the most refreshing and getting-back-to-authentic Bond elements, of the Craig chapters in the series, is the lack of over-the-top and at times absurd gadgetry, and a return to the very essence of what makes this franchise stand the test of time.

After the tragic events at Skyfall and the destruction of MI6’s massive facility on the Thames, James Bond 007 (Craig) is following a lead in Mexico City thanks to a cryptic posthumous message from the former Agent M (Judi Dench). When the actions in Mexico City draw the attention of the UK’s new head of security and Agent M (Ralph Fiennes), 007 is both grounded and puts the very existence of MI6 in jeopardy. After an unauthorized mission to northern Africa, 007 learns of the sinister crime syndicate known as SPECTRE. Coming face-to-face with the leader of Spectre, 007 learns of a chilling connection between the leader and himself. From northern Africa to the Austrian Alps, 007 must race against the clock to stop a big surveillance data collection organization from being the eyes of the world, and take out the leader of Spectre before he has his hands in the security pockets of several countries around the world.

This final chapter in the Craig Bond series has it all: action, romance, espionage, intrigue, and car chases. But probably the best elements of the movie are connected to  getting back to the very core of what has kept this franchise alive for over 50 years and 24 official titles. Despite the success and popularity of the 90s Brosnan 007 movies, they tended to place a lot of significance on the futuristic and ultimately impossible gadgets. Understandable, because the 90s were a time of massive personal electronic device innovation and the dot com boom. However, this emphasis on the gadgets took away from the plot and character development. Still, those era of Bond movies were exciting and still popular today amongst mostly the newer Bond fans. Returning to the very essence of what make Bond the 007 that fans adore is what makes the Craig films unique and exciting–especially in Skyfall and Spectre where 007 truly comes into his own. We still get some gadgets and the famous Bond film cars, but there is a degree of believability and realism that exists in these films that did not exist in the 90s Bonds. Even though these are still high concept films that have over-the-top action packed sequences, these movies still have a sense of old-school espionage class about them. An interesting side note: there is definitely a hint of the plot from Tomorrow Never Dies in this current installment.

No 007 movie would be complete without an original song that is eerie, romantic, and mysterious all at the same time. The title song from Skyfall performed by the incomparable Adele was an outstanding work of music and lyrics. It truly embodied the film itself and cemented her career as a master of soul/jazz. I cannot say the same for Sam Smith’s performance of “The Writing’s on the Wall.” I was not all that impressed with his performance and I thought the song itself paled in comparison to 2012’s “Skyfall.” Despite the fact that I didn’t personally care for Sam Smith performance or the song, it definitely still had that Bond theme flare about it. Between the graphics and editing, you still knew that you were watching a 007 movie without needing to see the poster or title. Looking to the next vocal artist, I’d like to see Elle King perform the next Bond theme song after her very Bond-ish sounding “Under the Influence.” Regarding the film score, Thomas Newman shines as he so often does with his remarkable talent for capturing the soul of a film in the score that accompanies it.

Facing the popularity of Skyfall, it was definitely a monumental task for Mendes to direct this Bond film. And although I do not feel that Spectre is better than Skyfall and at times I felt that I enjoyed the previous one more, I still thoroughly enjoyed this present installment of the anthology. And to my pleasant surprise, Dame Judi Dench makes a small cameo appearance as the M we’ve had for nearly 20 years. In respect to the characters in and of themselves and their personal/interpersonal relationships with one another, I really felt that the chemistry between M, Q, 007, Money Penny, and Blofeld was right on the ‘money.’ There really isn’t much in the way of traditional or conventional character development but that is commonplace in high-concept films. However, the glimmer of development in both M and 007 was enough to show that these characters and actors were almost made for each other. It was never awkward or boring to watch their interactions with one another.

Ready for an actual spy movie filled with assassins, intrigue, espionage and romance–especially after having sat through Bridge of Spies??? Then definitely watch the next chapter in the Bond, James Bond 007 anthology SPECTRE! Prepare yourself for over two hours of excitement, explosions, and dynamic car chases. Return to old school Bond! Watch as many plot elements through the years and even the villain who started it all make it full-circle.

Big Eyes

Big EyesOver the decades, there are movies produced that act as commentary on the state of politics, socio-economics, and sometimes humanity itself. And that is exactly what visionary director Tim Burton has done with the artful film Big Eyes. If you have ever had your creative work stolen by someone else, or taken part in or perpetuated a lie for so long that you begin to believe it yourself, then this is a movie for you! Although not blatantly “Burton” production style, the subtleties of his genius are meticulously woven throughout the film. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are brilliant together and genuinely sell their respective characters. For fans of Don’t Trust the B!&@h in Apartment 23, Krysten Ritter makes several cameo appearances that are reminiscent of Chloe. Not a deep story, but this is a narrative that is extremely well executed, funny, and is a testament to authenticity and honesty. For those who have ever felt vulnerable or helpless, then you will likely find inspiration in this film.

Based on a true story, the movie Big Eyes depicts the the evolution of one of the most popular art empires during the mid 20th century. “In the late 1950s and early ’60s, artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) achieves unbelievable fame and success with portraits of saucer-eyed waifs. However, no one realizes that his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), is the real painter behind the brush” (IMDb). A double-edged sword, Walter’s discovery of Margaret’s works would be both a blessing and a curse. Although Margaret is first horrified to learn that Walter is passing off her work as his own, she is too meek to protest too loudly; but she actually helps to perpetuate the lie and even begins to believe it herself. It isn’t until the the Keanes’ marriage comes to an end and a lawsuit follows that the truth finally comes to light. Follow Margaret on a journey that takes her from vulnerable single-mother to protective mother and finally proud artist.

When coming to the theatre to watch a Tim Burton film entitled Big Eyes, one might expect that there would be crazy big eyes throughout the film and the production design would reek of abstract impressionism. But, that is definitely not the case with this movie. There is only one scene that reeks of the classic Tim Burton style we have all come to expect most of the time from such a visionary. The overall production design is quite simple and typifies what middle and upper class life was like in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. Everything from the Edward Scissorhands neighborhood in the opening to the retro A-frame house design later on in the film is reminiscent of architecture in the mid 20th century. The use of vibrant colors in the production design helps to set the artistic mood of the narrative. The colors also assist the visual storytelling of the film by matching the mood of various scenes.

Probably the best parts of the film are the casting and acting. Adams and Waltz are absolutely perfect for their respective roles. The degree to which Waltz sells his charming, manipulative, manic, psychopathic character is outstanding. There is even a moment in the movie where he totally goes “Jack Torrence” on his wife and step-daughter. This moment is right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But, my favorite scene has to be the one in which he is both the defendant and attorney in the court-case that is the center of the movie’s showdown. His antics are crazy, funny, and extremely entertaining. Adams plays her mousy, meek, vulnerable, motherly role with excellence. Although her character lacks the charisma of Walter, she plays her character so convincingly. She possesses the skill to both communicate her acceptance and reluctance to perpetuate the lie that is the crux of the film. Krysten Ritter shines as Margaret Keane’s best friend DeeAnn. She really was the perfect choice for the role that harkens back to her character of Chloe in Apartment 23. All the characters have amazing chemistry on screen, and it truly supports the creative narrative.

The movie is also a strong depiction of commentary on humanity in and of itself. It shows the audience how a small and innocent lie can snowball into a lie so large that it is eventually the undoing of an entire empire. Often times, a lie has to be told to cover up a previous lie, and if one does this long enough, one can very well begin to believe the lie to be true and lose sight of reality or the truth. Interestingly though, it is easy to see and understand why Walter does what he does in the film. It can be argued that if he hadn’t stepped in to sell Margaret’s artwork, that she would still be an undiscovered artist underselling her art on the sidewalk. At one point in the movie, it is quite apparent that even with celebrity, Margaret still cannot sell her artwork and is dependent on Walter’s smile, charisma, and brilliant sales mind. I still find myself thinking about character backstories, rationale, and decisions long after the movie is over.

Perfect for art lovers and anyone who loves to create, sell, or critique. This movie is a wonderful addition to the list of movies you may want to see this holiday season.