Bond-ed For Life ~ No Time to Die

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The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading the former MI6 agent onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 163 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: So…here we are.  After a long, very long, extremely long, wait…the new 007 film has arrived.  It’s also the last time Daniel Craig will don the James Bond suits, drive the fancy cars, and play with the cool gadgets, so it’s understandable why the producers and studio behind No Time to Die kept firm with their decision to push back the release date over and over again so audiences could only experience this important chapter in theaters.  This, after the movie was initially delayed on its way to the screen because of a departing director (Oscar-winner Danny Boyle left after disagreements on how the story should go), cast injuries, and damage to the filming studio.  For a time, it looked like James Bond would NOT return, to riff on the famous last words at the end of each previous films’ closing credits.  A release date was finally locked in but then…pandemic.

All that is behind us because the movie is arriving and now the question for the viewer will likely be two-fold.  1) was it worth the wait and 2) is it a fulfilling sequel?  For me, as a life-long Bond fan and with a certain affinity for most of this last cycle of Bond movies with Craig as the star I will tell you what I responded when both the studio and my friend asked me what I thought.  To me, when the 163-minute No Time to Die was over I felt like I had eaten a nine-course meal of my favorite dishes and then topped it off with an extra dessert.  After something so huge, you need time to digest so I was happy to have over a week to think more about it.  Craig’s tenure as Bond has had its highs (Skyfall, Casino Royale) and lows (Quantum of Solace, Spectre) and I would place No Time to Die smack dab in the center of them all, leaning strongly toward high praise for the elegant way it manages to close this part of what has already been a long adventure.

For the first time, a James Bond opening begins in the past and doesn’t even feature Bond at all.  This intro becomes a key piece in action and location later in the movie and is but the beginning of the longest pre-credit sequence in any Bond film yet.  By the time Daniel Kleinman’s haunting opening credit sequence pays over Billie Eilish’s spine-tingling title track (I originally found this song to be slow and boring but, in the context of the movie, the tone and purpose make it near perfect), retired 00-agent Bond and his love Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, The Grand Budapest Hotel) have faced down a vicious attack in Southern Italy and in the process revealed certain secrets from the past that have come back to snap at both of their hearts.  Five years later, Bond is alone in Jamaica when he is visited by both his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, The Good Dinosaur) from the CIA and an MI6 agent (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel) who has been assigned his 007 number in the field.  Both are interested in Bond getting involved with Project Heracles, a chemical weapon that has been stolen by a rogue villain.  The CIA wants Bond’s help, 007 wants him to stay out of her way.

Bond can’t help but be curious and when he travels to Cuba to investigate, he’s teamed with new CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas, reuniting with her Knives Out co-star Craig) to infiltrate a secret SPECTRE party where they find an old friend has been keeping a watchful eye over them all.  The deeper Bond seeks the truth, the more he finds that Project Heracles has ties not just to his old foe Ernst Blofeld but to a new enemy, Safin (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody), as well as Madeleine.  And all three are about to re-enter his life in a big way…with a number of surprises yet to come.

As is usually the case, there are a stable of screenwriters credited for this 25th Bond film but it doesn’t feel slap-a-dash or story by committee.  Aside from usual suspects Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) contributed to the final script, and it’s widely known that Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to punch up some of the dialogue and give the film some humor.  Hold that wince if you are thinking there’s an extra dose of comedy that’s been shaken and stirred…yes there is more of a sense of humor to the proceedings, but they are small touches here and there which result in the characters feeling more fleshed out than anything. 

It’s great to see the players back in action, from Ben Whishaw’s (Cloud Atlas) tech-guy Q to Naomie Harris’s (Rampage) Moneypenny.  I’m glad the writers gave Ralph Fiennes (Dolittle) as M a bit more depth this time around because in Spectre there seemed to be a bit of stunted growth after being introduced so nicely in Skyfall.  (Note, make sure to keep your eyes open for a scene where M is sitting in a portrait gallery and observe the paintings – it’s just one of several nice touches that callback not just to other Craig films, but all the way back to the beginning.) Waltz (Big Eyes) had his chance in the previous film to make an impression and he was sort of just…Waltz.  There’s little more to elaborate on than that.  Of the new crop, Lynch has the best success in a role that feels like a good step forward for the series but, like Halle Berry’s Jinx who played opposite Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, the character becomes a second thought once Bond decides to get back in on the action.  Per usual, I’m not entirely sure what Malek is up to in performance or accent but it’s one of the weaker villains in the Bond franchise…yet he has one of the deadliest lairs.  The appeal of Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods) is totally lost on me.  So, there’s that.

Fans have been waiting eons for Bond to return and he’s come back with a high-wire epic that delivers maximum bang for your buck.  It’s a hefty movie with a generous run time so be prepared to settle in and I’d advise skipping any/all bathroom breaks so you don’t miss any action.  Things change on a dime in the life of a secret agent and despite the constant aural reminder of another title tune from an older Bond film, you do not have all the time in the world to take it in.  When the stakes are this high, there’s no time to wait for No Time to Die.

The Silver Bullet ~ No Time to Die

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Synopsis: Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Release Date:  April 8, 2020

Thoughts: Fans of James Bond have had to wait a little longer than usual for the 25th adventure of the international spy…but at this point we should be counting our blessings No Time to Die is arriving at all.  Star Daniel Craig (Skyfall) famously had become a bit grumpy with playing the role and it took some convincing for him to return to finish off his contract and it’s now been confirmed this will be his last outing as Bond.  When Craig finally signed on, the film went through several directors, which further pushed back its release date.  Script problems, onset injuries, and other maladies surrounding the production continued to delay Bond’s return.

Thankfully, this first look at No Time to Die appears to find Bond back in fighting form with the five-year gap between Spectre and this film hopefully worth the wait.  Plot details are thin but we know recent Oscar-winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) is the villain and Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out) have been added to the cast as strong females Bond has to contend with.  Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who was behind season 1 of HBO’s True Detective and with a script punched up by Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Solo: A Star Wars Story), my excitement for this one was already brewing but now the heat is definitely starting to rise.

Now…who is singing the theme song??

Movie Review ~ Solo: A Star Wars Story


The Facts
:

Synopsis: During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Michael K. Williams, Ian Kenny, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 135 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I was one of the few people that didn’t latch on to 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Most thought it was one of the best (!!) entries in the Star Wars universe but I found it to be a cash-grabbing, gap-filling, problematic undertaking that brought to lax life characters and situations we had heard about in the original trilogy of films. It just didn’t go anywhere for me because it had nowhere to go. We knew what was going to happen so, like Titanic, audiences were waiting around for a couple of hours for the ship to sink.

Like Rogue One, Solo: A Star Wars Story reaches back into galactic history to the origins of Han Solo, the character first portrayed by Harrison Ford. Unfortunately, the same problems of storytelling and purpose existed for me while watching Solo, which, though a marked improvement in pace and plot over Rogue One, still had me struggling with the question of “Why?” Even for a slightly-more-than-casual-fan of the Star Wars series like myself, I kept wondering when the story would take a surprising turn or stake its claim as the original tale it claims to be. Despite some stray sparks of ingenuity, Solo winds up being another strange miss by Lucasfilm that finds itself yet again playing it safe with its cash cow franchise.

Bursting into action before the title is even on the screen, the problems I had with Solo also started pretty early on. For one thing, the cinematography by Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year) is so dark that I half-believed something to be wrong with the projection. Large stretches of the movie are so dim that facial features are fuzzy and action sequences feel like they were filmed inside a dank warehouse that forgot to pay their electric bill. Introduced to wannabe pilot Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures) as he wriggles out of a sticky situation with his band of criminals on Corellia, taking his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, Terminator Genisys) along with him. In the first of several well-staged space chases, Han and Qi’ra attempt to evade capture with Han’s flying skills put to the test. Though Han escapes the planet, Qi’ra isn’t so lucky. Pledging to return to save her, Han joins the Imperial flight academy and gains his last name in the process. Flash forward three years to find Han has been kicked out of the academy and is now a grunt on the ground doing battle.

It’s in the wages of war that the resourceful Han buddies up with a cadre of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me 2) and Val (Thandie Newton) but not before almost being torn apart by a muddy Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Befriending the hairy beast, Han and Chewie join Tobias and Val on a mission that sets the stage for a whole new world of trouble and adventure. Along the way Han plays cards with the charming Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, The Martian) in the hopes of winning his prized ship the Millennium Falcon, avoids a band of mysterious space pirates, and runs afoul of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, Avengers: Infinity War) who has a familiar face from Han’s past in his employ. Then there’s Han’s first experience with the Kessel Run, a hyperspace route known for its treacherous tendencies that plays a factor in Han’s later years.

It’s well known that Solo had a bumpy go of it during its production. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired when filming was nearly complete and producers brought in Oscar winner Ron Howard (Splash!) to oversee the rest of the process and film additional scenes. There were also rumors certain stars had to work with an acting coach to beef up their likability factor. Strangely, this isn’t unusual for this franchise; in several of the recent Star Wars films (and Rogue One), the director was replaced at some point during filming or just prior to getting underway. Lord/Miller are known for their comedies (21 Jump Street) and Howard couldn’t be any different in style as a director – it’s a credit to the film that you can’t always tell where the Lord/Miller material ended and the Howard contributions began.

Where the film falls flat is in the dull script by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. Lawrence has a long history with this series, dating back to writing The Empire Strikes Back while Jon is the newbie yet neither bring the type of history or fresh voice that feels necessary. It’s the same dusty triple cross heist tale we’ve seen done before and far better. Only Glover’s memorable Lando and especially Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Goodbye Christopher Robin) as Lando’s wry droid L3 create any real excitement. Both Glover and Waller-Bridge are known for their writing so one wonders what this film could have been had producers colored outside the lines a bit more.

As he has shown in previous roles and especially in Hail, Caesar!, Ehrenreich is an easy-going presence and it’s not hard to see why he was sought out for the role. Strangely, it’s Ehrenreich that was supposed to have needed additional help to increase his matinee-idol appeal and I’m also guessing Clarke benefited greatly from Howard’s more nuanced work with actors. Harrelson is doing his usual grizzled shtick while Bettany feels like he’s played this role multiple times before. The less said about Jon Favreau (Iron Man) voicing a CGI member of Beckett’s group, the better. Bonus points if you spot other key figures from the Star Wars universe who aren’t always playing the characters they are most known for.

I’m sure hardcore fans will find a lot to enjoy here as there are many tidbits discussed in later films that are introduced (yes, you’ll find out how Han gets his blaster) and which likely will cause a ripple of knowing laugher in well-versed crowds. There is a strange abundance of annoying periphery players and it says something when the star of the movie isn’t even one of the Top 3 interesting characters of the film. Personally, I wish the film had reached a bit farther back in Han’s tale instead of starting so late in his game but that would likely be a whole movie unto itself. Aside from a scant few twists and one major head-scratching appearance near the end there’s little here in his first real adventure that hasn’t been seen before.

Movie Review ~ Goodbye Christopher Robin

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alex Lawther, Richard McCabe, Nico Mirallegro, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Lord, do I love Winnie the Pooh. A longtime fan of that honey-loving bear, I admit that I first came to the Hundred-Acre wood via the now-frightening live-action television series that first aired on the Disney Channel. Remember that one? The one with the puppets that rarely blinked and sometimes talked without moving their mouths? I watched a few minutes of an episode recently and was aghast at how scary it was to me as an adult, obviously I was much less critical (and less easily terrified) when I was six or seven. Anyway, I digress. What I mean to say is that it was only as I became an adult that I went back to the works of A.A. Milne and read the source material that served as a jumping off point for Disney animators and Imagineers.

So that’s all a preface to say that I had high hopes for Goodbye Christopher Robin, a look into the life of the famous author and his family and how he created the world of a hungry bear and his forest dwelling friends. While the early previews promised a heart-tugging drama (don’t worry, hearts are tugged are tears are shed) it didn’t hint that the film winds up to be pretty boring in its heavy first half before finally finding its footing nearly an hour into its runtime.

Coming back from the first World War, playwright Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time) struggles to adjust back to civilian life. His socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) not so much longs for a child but thinks that it will do her marriage good. The arrival of Christopher Robin Milne (first played by Will Tilston, then by Alex Lawther) is a rough one, mostly because it’s hinted that Daphne wasn’t aware exactly where babies come from…literally. Quickly hiring a nanny nicknamed Nou (Kelly MacDonald, Brave), the parents resume their showbiz lifestyle, often leaving their son for weeks on end as they travel.

It’s only when Milne grows tired of “making people life” and after he moves his family to a beautiful estate in the English countryside that the father is forced to get to know his son. With his wife flying the coop back to London after becoming exasperated at his sluggish ways and Nou off to care for her ailing mother, Milne starts to explore the woods and that’s when the stories are born. First as a play-game and then put to paper and illustrated, the tales of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends become a sensation, blurring the lines between the real boy and the boy featured in his father’s books. This creates a growing resentment from Christopher Robin that permeates his entire childhood, a childhood that may have been stolen away by a limelight he didn’t ask for.

Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) along with screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan front load the movie with too much Milne moping. A.A. and Daphne are painted as such neglectful ninnies that your heart goes out to their son that can’t find a way into their social circle. Raised to be caring and compassionate by his adored nanny, his life is ultimately sheltered which makes the instant celebrity he achieves so difficult to deal with. Excellently played by young Tilston, the movie takes off when he’s center stage and the same goes for anytime MacDonald is onscreen (why people aren’t mentioning her for an Oscar nom is beyond me) as the sole voice of reason.

I’m not sure if it’s because Robbie is so painfully miscast that her character comes off so horribly but it’s got to factor into the equation. Robbie is a bit of a puzzle actress, she’s never great but seems to be given the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood more often than she should. She’s certainly terrible here, botching her accent and aging too gracefully as the years pass by. When Gleeson ditches his eternal scowl he becomes a tolerable presence but both A.A. and Daphne were so clueless to the pain they were causing their son that it’s a hard thing for an actor to overcome without some blowback.

Goodbye Christopher Robin’s middle section that explains how these fondly remembered characters were created is the best part while it’s poor opening and rushed closing provide an imbalance that the movie can’t recover from. Truth be told it has some emotional heft as it nears the conclusion, but it doesn’t feel totally earned and the tears are delivered via a fairly manipulative plot device that might put some audience members off. I for one was a little miffed at the game that was being played, I just wanted to know more about why the characters were playing it to begin with.