Saturday, 27 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

Rating: 12a
Duration: 143 min

There are several reasons why you can't not know about the release of the new Bond flick. Firstly, it coincides with the 50th anniversary since Connery wooed us with his suaveness in Dr. No, thus prompting the 'Bond 50' Blu-ray release. Secondly, you must be living in a batcave to have avoided the unbearable amount of tie-in advertising and promo; from watches, to beer, to cars, to computers, to aftershave, to... well, anything imaginable. Oh, I forgot Coke. And thirdly, because Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty; Jarhead) is taking control of the franchise for the first, and supposed, only time.

You'll have noticed a Batman reference within the first paragraph, and with just cause, because Skyfall boasts a story that attempt to express darker, similarly toned material, including character exposition, as Nolan's superhero epic. In truth, it's difficult to ignore the success of The Dark Knight, but it by no means encumbers or defines the film in question.

In construction alone, Mendes opts for a stripped down, simplistic plot in keeping with Daniel Craig's other notable depiction of the lothario spy in 2006's Casino Royale. Its goals remain focused and clearly plotted with occasional exposition, yet masses of subtext to feast on. Side characters offer what's required, and don't overexert or outstay their welcome. As per usual, the focus is Craig's mysteriously brooding 007. However, the sublime Dame Judi Dench's M is at the forefront of the story, along with newcomer Ralph Fiennes as MI6 operative Gareth Mallory. 

Javier Bardem assumes the role as rogue terrorist Silva, and offers up a most flamboyant turn that will remind Bondaphiles of villains gone by, yet situates himself in a starkly modern period. Not only is Bardem's reminiscent of characters of yesteryear, but the film, as a whole, teases and amuses with nods to the franchise in various subtle and not so subtle ways. What could easily turn into well matured Stilton is surprisingly the opposite: early Moore-era locales blend wonderfully with nostalgic touches that feel faithfully traditional to the franchise, yet mesh seamlessly with a consistent reminder of its edgy modernity.

Of course, it isn't all completely perfect. Craig asserts himself in typically awkward fashion that is both fitting to his character's persona, but also exposes a particular woodenness in his ability (noticeably when he runs/walks). It's not enough to dampen proceedings, because everything else sets the bar extremely high; set pieces are tense and utterly gripping, yet never overplayed: think the high-octane nature of Casino Royale's opening chase, and you'll have an idea of Skyfall's quality in both intro and subsequent action sequence.

To go with the raw nature of rebooted Bond is a brave poignancy Mendes generates thanks to specific plot devices. Using London as the centre of terrorism risks upsetting a lot of people, especially the unforgiving manner it expresses itself in. However, layered with an overwhelming sense of compassion and sentiment, it works both in the context of the film and as a fitting tribute to the atrocities of 7/7.

And all this is achieved with a sublime beauty courtesy of Roger Deakins, whose framing and sepia-toned lighting transforms each scene into a mouth-watering spectacle. Whether that Oscar will finally be delivered is anyone's guess, but there's surely no better platform to showcase his skills.

Skyfall is a welcomed return for the franchise. Far superior to Quantum of Solace, yet not quite on par with the superb Casino Royale for its subtlety and gritty nature, Mendes's effort compensates with juicer exposition, greater thematic passion, and a focused simplicity rarely seen in billion-dollar franchise blockbusters.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Review: Frankenweenie

Rating: PG
Duration: 87 mins  

There are two types of people in the world: those who loyally adore the works of kooky visionary Tim Burton, and those who detest the life out of the wacky-haired maestro.

The Marmite director returns after the lukewarm reception of his other 2012 film Dark Shadows, as Frankenweenie looks to be somewhat of an anomaly from his safe zone; boasting the possibility of emulating Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not only that, but there's also no sign of cohorts Johnny Depp or (shockingly) the missus, even though they've featured relentlessly in recent years.

Frankenweenie follows suit with the kooky, quirky nature synonymous with the Sleepy Hollow director. And it's with good reason, because aesthetically the entire set up is beautifully unique and oozes charm, but it takes far more than striking visuals to make a great film (see Corpse Bride).

After loosing his beloved dog Sparky, schoolboy Victor decides to take the initiative from his science class teachings and set up an experiment to reanimate his pooch. As the pair begin to re-bond, the secret resurrection becomes know to fellow pupils, which results in some darkly comic moments, as it elevates to levels of mild horror that's perhaps unsuitable for the little'uns.

Morally, the story attempts to place its ideas on a pedestal, claiming to have a message regarding coping and coming to terms with loss, as well as obvious themes of life and death. However, this entire ethos is dispelled, leaving a warm but unfulfilled aftertaste in its preachings.

The story works on a stripped down, basic level, and only really steps up a notch as it approaches its climax. Certainly quaint in its stylistic manner, it possesses a black and white nostalgic quality that works surprisingly well.

3D is incorporated as a prominent feature, and one must admit that it actually strengthens the film as a whole. Devoid of misconceptions of 'jump out the screen' and instead serves its true purpose of creating a rich, vibrant and pleasing depth of field that adds needed weight to what is a flimsy, filler-heavy script.

But it's not all completely at fault. Carefully woven into the script are numerous nods to classic cinema from (the obvious) Frankenstein to Godzilla, with nuances the more observant viewers will pick up on. Background subtleties feel Aardman-inspired, which likeably generate laughs, but are sadly much too infrequent.

Frankenweenie turns out to be conformist Burton territory after all; it rarely strays from the by the numbers formula. It has a wonderful attention to detail in its design, but with a complete lack of meat in story, wit and entertainment, it falls short when evaluating as a complete package.