Skyfall: The last rat standing

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The 23rd installment of the Bond franchise, Skyfall, is perhaps the smartest, slickest, most sensational Bond outing yet, with the lord of the spies grappling with changing times, the limitations of his own battered body, and a super-villain who spreads cyber-terror through a digitized network of global computer hackery.

After an audaciously thrilling pre-credit sequence (that reportedly took three months to film) in which Bond pursues a bad guy across the sprawling rooftops of Istanbul on motorcycle before finally coming to blows atop a speeding train, the movie settles into its groove. Someone has stolen a computer drive with information that could compromise the entire British Secret Service, and M (Judi Dench), Bond’s boss, becomes the target of a mysterious psychopath (Javier Bardem) with chillingly personal reasons for his mad rampage.

On a tropical hiatus due to his presumed death, Bond returns to Her Majesty’s service after hearing that M is in danger. But circumstances dictate that he has to reapply to get his old job back. That includes re-passing the fitness test – a harder task than expected, leaving Bond huffing and puffing and nursing his recently banged-up shoulder.

“It’s a young man’s game,” Bond’s reminded by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the bureaucrat in charge of hauling the British espionage division into the 21st century.

Seeing if 007 is up for the job will keep you glued to your seat as the plot shifts from London to Shanghai and finally to the moors of Scotland for an emotionally charged stand-off where Bond must not only defend the empire, but also confront his own past.

Director Sam Mendes integrates sweeping action, solid characters and spectacular scenery to the long line of Bond pop-culture mythology while Craig manages to unearth facets of the Bond character that other actors have simply never found before.

Bad-guy Bardem, so memorable as the creepy killer in No Country For No Men, also works well in his role as soft-spoken sadist Silva – a swishy, blonde-haired demon who taunts Bond with the prospect of England’s old cloak-and-dagger crumbling underneath his new world order of servers and software.

Skyfall manages the hard task of striking a respectful balance with the movies that have gone before, while also taking the character and the franchise into new and exciting territory.

If the next Bond movie is going to be as good as this, then lets just hope we don’t have to wait another four years to see it.

http://youtu.be/6kw1UVovByw

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Lawless: bootlegging brilliance

Every once in a while, you’ll see a movie that shines despite having a subpar plot. Lawless is that type of movie.

Set in Franklin, Va. during Prohibition era, this tale of three bootlegging brothers is so beautifully shot and well acted that you can forgive a plot that drunkenly weaves from one act to the next.

Lawless is the story of the three Bondurant brothers – Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf).

Together, these three brothers embody traits that Americans find admirable: grit, determination, and loyalty. That’s why you’ll find yourself rooting for Hardy’s lumbering family patriarch Forrest as he knocks some fool’s teeth down his throat. The Bondurant boys just want to make a living, Prohibition be damned.

When the authorities storm into Franklin and demand a cut of Forrest’s profits, the man who was Bane uses the same tactic that brought Gotham to its knees: fear. Forrest tells Jack, “We’re survivors, we control the fear. And without the fear, we’re all as good as dead.”

That’s part of what makes Lawless such a rewarding watch. To see three brothers control a moonshine empire with nothing but fear and their fists is incredible.

More than that, it’s is a coming-of-age tale. Youngest brother Jack, long left out of the family trade, yearns to expand the Bondurant brand outside of Franklin. He makes mistakes along the way that any younger sibling can relate to, giving the audience a great connection to what they’re seeing onscreen.

LaBeouf, always so manic and one-dimensional in the Transformers movies, conveys Jack’s wide range of emotion quite nicely. He goes from frustrated to hopeful to elated to devastated throughout Lawless, and his journey provides the movie’s emotional heft.

While Hardy’s definitely invested in the role, Forrest is little more than a living, breathing Terminator who’s (sometimes inexplicably) used a lot of times for laughs. The movie opens with a voiceover from Jack about how Forrest is indestructible, an assertion you see tested several times during the movie’s 116-minute run time.

Clarke does a nice job as Howard, the perpetually drunk version of Forrest who’s also adept at cracking skulls but the movie’s real star is Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes, a Chicago lawman brought in to help curb Franklin’s booming booze trade. With his slicked back hair and leather gloves, Rakes is a psychopath parading behind a badge. He sets himself up on a collision course with the Bondurant brothers, and you’ll be counting down the minutes until his rail-thin face meets Forrest’s brass knuckles.

Those expecting a blood-soaked romp through the Virginia hills will be disappointed to learn that this movie isn’t gratuitously violent. Yes, there’s bloodshed, but Lawless is a character study first and foremost, and it’s that decision that makes the movie stronger.

Though it’s not as tightly constructed as it could have been, this period piece definitely has enough punch to make it worth seeing.

The Amazing Spider-man: Webb not strong enough

Hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest superhero flick to hit cinema screens is The Amazing Spider-man starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) and Emma Stone (Zombieland).

A mere ten years after the Toby Maguire/Kirsten Dunst/Sam Raimi Spider-man, director Marc Webb, disappointingly, opts to keep the plot simplistic and run-of-the-mill. While both Garfield and Stone are leaps and bounds ahead of the irritatingly dismal acting abilities of Maguire and Dunst, the plot simply isn’t interesting enough to make this movie anything other than mediocre.

Like most teenagers, Peter Parker (Garfield) is trying to figure out who he is. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. When Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr Curt Connors, his father’s former partner. The rest of the movie can be summed up in a few words: Spider bite, sense of duty, girlfriends bedroom, giant lizard.

While there was nothing particularly amazing about The Amazing Spider-man, it was an enjoyable film with good acting and great direction. It was both visually and artistically stunning, and got straight into the romance and action with no hanging about.

While Webb has successfully addressed the new demand for superhero movies to be deeper and more human, he is not a director adept at providing big-budget action to an audience in the same way as Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan.

Most viewers will no doubt be satisfied by this the newest Spidey flick, but anyone expecting a remake as successful as The Dark Knight will be sorely disappointed.

The Dark Knight Rises: Stunning,intellectual and deep but not without fault.

Film Jam

By Kelly O’Brien

The third instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is a stunning and intellectual conclusion to what has become a cultural phenomenon. Currently showing in cinemas across the globe, The Dark Knight Rises is not to be missed.

Beginning with a fantastic opening sequence, a CIA manned plane is hijacked. Liberated by the manoeuvre is Bane (Tom Hardy), a muscular menace with a muzzle: a modern day mix of Darth Vader and Hannibal Lector.
In no time at all, Bane has control of Gotham’s underground and seeks to destroy the city from the bottom up. Assaulting the Stock Exchange and stealing a nuclear bomb, Bane sees himself as Gotham’s liberator, delivering the city back into the hands of its people.

While Bane gathers strength for Gothams “reckoning”, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) hides himself away in Wayne manor, seeing no one but his butler Alfred…

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The Avengers: an absolute Marvel

the avengers

With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman still to hit cinemas, it’s looking like a definitive year for superhero movies as The Avengers storms the big screen and wins over critics across the globe.

The premise of the movie is simplistic – bad guy Loki hatches world-domination scheme, petulant but kind-heated good guys swoop in to save the day, Scarlett Johansson in leather looks damn hot. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it becomes a lot more than that.

Six gifted and special people, Iron Man (Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), have to come together despite their differences to stand against Loki, a Norse deity hell-bent on ruling the earth with an iron fist.

Usually, movies that feature an abundance of big name stars are not to my taste. Take, for example, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day – lots of stars, not a lot of substance. The Avengers, I’m happy to report, is nothing like either of those films.

The cast, which features Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, meld fantastically with each other and with the storyline.

Prior to The Avengers, we saw Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each of these films, while not to be seen as prequels, did indeed do the job they were created to do – they gave the main Avengers depth, backstory, and character while being box office success stories in their own right. Granted, Black Widow and Hawkeye were left out of this process and, as such, weren’t developed as much as they could have been, but I see that as an unfortunate casualty of an otherwise fantastic development process.

Though I do genuinely love this new method, I have to note that some of the previous Marvel Movies weren’t quite up to scratch. It seemed as if the Captain America installment was not as thought out as either Iron Man or The Hulk and that it was only there to fill the gap until the 2012 release of The Avengers. I also thought that Thor, though it was a joy to behold 114 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, was a bit of a let down in places.

But whether it’s down to the previous films, the stellar cast, or Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting prowess, The Avengers itself is clearly the best
Marvel Movie to date. The acting is near impeccable, the action is raw and the jokes are hilarious. Stark is his usual cheeky self, Bruce Banner is broodingly deep and Thor is just as beautiful as he ever was. There’s also something disturbingly attractive about terrifically entertaining Asguard bad boy Loki played by the fantastic Tom Hiddleson who, according to many critics ‘steals the show’.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was also a breath of fresh air in this sneakily unique heavy hitter. He gives his character more depth than either Eric Bana OR Edward Norton (something I never thought I’d admit) and is both endearing and heart-wrenching in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. Instead of going for the “woe is me, I get angry and smash things” angle, his manner and acting style hint towards a deeper, more depressing self-loathing.

What I like about the film, is that it deviates from the traditional ‘Good vs Evil’ trend just the right amount. There’s the bad guy, obviously, and the quest to save humanity… but there’s also some interesting in-fighting and tension between avengers. It’s clear that they all come from different moral standpoints, and I think Joss Whedon did a great job using that to his advantage.

I also like the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s a Marvel Movie for people who like action movies, for people who like Marvel Comics, for people who always played the “Who would win in a fight…” game and, of course, for people who want to drool over Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

If you see nothing else this month, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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