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??

The Silver Bullet ~ Spectre

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Synopsis: 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

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Thoughts: First things first…if you haven’t seen 2012’s Skyfall yet I’d suggest not watching this teaser for the next installment in the James Bond franchise. Not that it gives a lot away, but I found more than a few references to the previous film that may spoil a few of the more intriguing wrinkles the 23rd 007 introduced. For Bond’s 24th outing, director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) are hoping to capture that same lightning in a bottle that made Skyfall so very, very entertaining. From the looks of it, they’re headed down a similar path to success…because this is a wonderful tease at what audiences can expect come November. As a huge Bond fan (check out Bond-ed for Life), I’m anxiously awaiting this one.

Movie Review ~ The Imitation Game

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The Facts:

Synopsis: English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Allen Leech, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Matthew Beard, Rory Kinnear

Director: Morten Tyldum

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  As I said in my review of the trailer for The Imitation Game, I worry that star Benedict Cumberbatch is getting ever so slightly overexposed.  From his on the spectrum performance in the BBC television series Sherlock to his sinewy performances in August: Osage County, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and 12 Years a Slave all the way to his sinister voice work in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies the actor seems to be everywhere nowadays.

With the arrival of The Imitation Game, we should all brace ourselves for more Cumberbatch in the years to come because it’s his performance here that should really put him on the map, not to mention guarantee his first trip to the Academy Awards.  Though the character could be a distant cousin to his Sherlock, Cumberbatch’s performance as mathematician turned code-breaker Alan Turing is a fully realized flesh and blood wonder, one not afraid to take aloof to the next level yet still managing to keep an audience engaged.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of the film because it’s so multi-layered that you’re better served letting the well-scripted film do the telling for you.  Adapted from the Andrew Hodges novel by young screenwriter Graham Moore, The Imitation Game benefits from Moore’s youth in its execution.  While the material is never dumbed down, it’s related to us through dialogue from someone that clearly has an ear for how to convey complex code talk and wartime business to the masses.

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (who helmed the bloody good Headhunters) keeps everything moving at a nice clip from the get-go.  We meet a post-war Turing being investigated by the police who look back into his life for clues to a current crime.  Through these passages we learn of Turings involvement with cracking the Enigma code during WWII along with a group of carefully selected scholars (including Stoker’s Matthew Goode and Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech).  From this group a love interest appears (Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina) and instead of feeling shoehorned in, Moore creates a dynamic relationship between Turing and this woman…a relationship that opens up another set of secrets Turing is trying to hide.

Straddling the past and present and multiple covert secrets (both kept and uncovered) is no easy game but all involved score high points for its unqualified success.  While maybe not an edge-of-your-seat thriller, it’s absolutely one that will command you to lean forward and look harder at what’s underneath it all.  An assured film, to be sure.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Imitation Game

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Synopsis: English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

Release Date: November 21, 2014

Thoughts:  If you’ve had your ear to the awards circuit ground you’d be hearing lots of rumblings about The Imitation Game, a twisty true life thriller that winds through the shadows of code breaking during World War II. I’m a bit worried that star Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, August: Osage County) is reaching a level of overexposure that could backfire against him in the years to come but for now I’ll give him a pass as he has a way of choosing roles that play to his strengths. Joined by Keira Knightley (having a good year in Begin Again and Laggies) and Matthew Goode (Stoker), it’s apparently a film with the kind of good buzz that needs no code breaker to decipher.

The Silver Bullet ~ Cuban Fury

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Synopsis: A former salsa prodigy attempts a comeback years after his career was ruined.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts:  Reminding me of a movie I may have seen in the mid 90’s when Euro comedy imports were all the rage, Cuban Fury looks as harmless as all of those other films…and just as skippable.  Though stars Nick Frost (The World’s End) and Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) will probably make this a few notches better than the rest, overall I can’t see this picture becoming the kind of sleeper hit like Strictly Ballroom or The Full Monty were back in the day.  On the other hand, never underestimate the power of a feel good picture of the underdog getting its day…if the release is timed right Cuban Fury could be the very thing audiences will respond kindly to after a season of heavy Oscar material.

Down From The Shelf ~ We Need to Talk About Kevin

The Facts:

Synopsis: Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.

Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Siobhan Fallon

Director: Lynn Ramsay

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Genny Op – William Hines

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Though it’s not an outright horror film, We Need to Talk About Kevin could easily have earned a place in my upcoming 31 Days to Scare reviews for October.  It’s a downright creepy film that made for an unnerving and uncomfortable watch.  Now that’s not a bad thing because I feel that film should move us in some way…push our buttons…challenge us.  And challenge us it does.  It’s a skillfully made, beautifully acted adaptation of an equally riveting book.

Focusing on the aftermath of a Columbine-esque school rampage, we follow the mother of the young man responsible for a brutal school massacre.  Her life is very different now…gone are some creature comforts; the beautiful home, the fancy car, the high paying job, the security.  She’s now driving a beater of a car made worse by it being vandalized (along with her house) with blood red paint by families/friends of victims who haven’t forgotten her involvement-by-proxy to the killings.

By following a non-linear plot structure the film is able to play with our perception of events, allowing surprises to actually surprise and shocks to actually shock.  There are several key moments where I felt the cinematic rug was pulled out from under me and it’s this constant state of imbalance that should keep you as glued to the film as I was.

Lionel Shriver’s source novel is a disquieting dissection of parenthood that asks questions about the bonds between mother and child.  As written, the novel simply could not have been made into a movie.  In adapting Shirver’s novel for the screen, director Ramsay wisely abandons the narrative told in letter form for one that still keeps Eva (Swinton) at the center of the action.  For a film that takes place at many different points, it’s easy to spot where we are by the little things Ramsay sets up…hairstyles, living situations, work environments, etc.  Though it jumps around a lot it’s never hard to follow or see how it fits in with what we’ve seen so far.  As the film opens we are in the present but soon we shift to the past and then back again and back again still.  Each jump gives us another piece of the puzzle without making any sacrifice of forward momentum.

Swinton herself is all forward momentum.  It’s really a crime she was overlooked (probably in favor of Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) for an Oscar because her performance here is one of fierce commitment.  Swinton has never shied away from a challenging role and here she plays the conflicted mother with equal parts apathy and empathy.  It’s a fine line that she treads and I’m not sure if another actress could have balanced this ying and yang as well.  From the outset we get the feeling that she probably never wanted to be a mom in the first place, so when her son starts to exhibit sociopathic behavior she wonders if maybe she deserves everything that happens next.

The nature vs. nurture question is a big theme of the film as it examines this mother-son relationship and all its complexities.  Did Kevin pick up at an early age Eva’s indifference to being a mother and punishes her for it?  Or was he simply born bad?  As Kevin grows older, the behavior only worsens until the entire family is on a collision course with Kevin’s master plan.

At first, I wasn’t sure how well Reilly fit into this film.  Not really a match with Swinton, his houndog features and overall rose-colored glasses mentality eventually make sense as we see that how Kevin acts around his dad stands in stark contrast to the hell he puts his mom through.  Miller makes a strong first impression as a truly twisted teen – making him one bad seed but never showing his hand at just how far he’ll go.  Jasper Newell plays the young Kevin with more than a few scenes that gave me the willies.

There have been films made about evil children in the past, The Bad Seed, Orphan, Joshua, The Omen…the lists goes on.  With the exception of the underrated Joshua, most of these films lacked a true sense of reality that kept them safely in the “scary but not really” category.  Where Kevin hits so hard is in its grounded approach to a horrifying subject.  It’s genuinely scary and, while I didn’t lose much sleep over it, it stayed on my mind in the days and weeks that have followed.

As the film starts to spiral toward its conclusion, a sense of real hopelessness starts to take over.  Though it starts as a film with a critical eye on familial structure, it leaves you with a feeling of sadness that may be hard to shake.  Have your favorite “cheer-up” movie on standby or be ready to call your mom to apologize for some of your own bad behavior — though you can be assured that no matter how many curfews you broke or white lies you told nothing could compare to exploits of Kevin.