Friday, November 30, 2012

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Mystery, Thriller, 174 minutes (extended cut)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, and Alfred Molina

Did you see The Hunger Games and read the books because everyone was talking about it this year? How about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo three years ago? We live in a world in which hype can have a huge effect on people's behavior. It drove the Harry Potter franchise a decade ago, and I'm sure you can list other examples dating back to Jaws, The Exorcist, or even Psycho, if you are old enough. Well, in 2006, The Da Vinci Code was the must-read book and the must-see movie of the moment.

Did the reality match the buzz?

Despite grossing $758 million, it's surprising that The Da Vinci Code is regarded as a failure by so many people. One common complaint is that Tom Hanks' hair looked silly. I guess it says something about the movie if you are focusing on that aspect? I've read the book, seen the movie, bought it on DVD twice, upgraded to Blu-ray, and I have never understood all the negativity surrounding Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's novel. By the way, the novel also received a lot of negative comments claiming that the writing was terrible.

I have come to the conclusion that many of the negative comments are due to the perception that the movie is attacking religion. There is a long sequence in which we are shown an alternative interpretation of Da Vinci's The Last Supper. I won't reveal the details, but I would imagine that scene is the source of the trouble for most of the viewers who objected to the subject matter. I find it a little disturbing that people who supposedly believe completely in something can feel threatened by a story which contradicts those beliefs.

Would you avoid seeing Alien because you don't believe such creatures exist? They are stories, intended to entertain, not documentaries claiming to depict actual events. The Harry Potter franchise is not evil or damaging to children. I'm also disappointed that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was abandoned after The Golden Compass. Again, it's probably because of the perceived religious stance. We lost what could have been an incredible trilogy, but you can still read the books.

Anyway, enough of that, while I still have a few readers left.

The Da Vinci Code is a mystery and something of a treasure hunt. Robert Langdon (Hanks) is a professor who is promoting his latest book. The book deals with symbology, and explains the origin of some of the symbols and clothing that we may have encountered during our lives. Hanks is convincing in the role and we see him delivering a lecture, in Paris, at the start of the story. Before he can finish signing books for the crowd, he's approached by the French police; they claim to need his help in explaining an unusual murder, so he accompanies them to the crime scene inside the Louvre.

The murdered man is Louvre curator, Jacques Saunière. He's naked and has apparently arranged himself in the same position as Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. He's also left other messages, and one mentions Langdon. It's here that Langdon encounters Sophie Neveu (Tautou), who is a police cryptologist. But unlike the other police, she appears to have an agenda of her own. She teams up with Langdon and they attempt to solve the riddles left in Saunière's message.

Although the running time in the extended version is just short of three hours, the pacing makes the movie feel much shorter. The revelations are frequent and make the viewer feel as if they are involved in the story. It would be wrong to reveal any more of the movie's secrets because it's better if you experience them for yourself.

The story won't work if you analyze what's happening too closely. After all, it contains an albino monk (Bettany), a priest who is more concerned with money and power than religion (Molina), and a historian (McKellen) who is obsessed with the Holy Grail. When you look at the movie in that light, it's clearly nonsense, but so is the Indiana Jones franchise, and that's held in high regard by both critics and moviegoers.

The Da Vinci Code also introduced a lot of people to Audrey Tautou. She has produced some incredible work, starring in Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, and Coco Avant Chanel, but American audiences finally had the chance to see her appear in an English-language movie. If you are a fan, I urge you to give Amelie a try. However, I may be biased as I think she's the most beautiful actress since Irene Jacob graced our screens in The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors Red.

The movie has a little action, but it will work better for fans of mysteries. The conclusion does leave us with a few questions, but it's quite satisfying nonetheless.

Tom Hanks had some incredible roles in the 90s, and was arguably the best actor in that decade, but we haven't seen any memorable performances from him since Cast Away (2001) and Road to Perdition (2002). His biggest successes in the last decade came as a voice actor for Pixar. Although The Da Vinci Code is far from perfect, I always find it enjoyable, and would rate it as Hanks' best role in the past ten years. Angels & Demons also features the Robert Langdon character, played by Hanks. It wasn't a box office success, so it's unclear whether The Lost Symbol will ever be made.

If you are open to preposterous stories, you might find that The Da Vinci Code is a lot better than people would have you believe. It's certainly better than National Treasure. Fans of Hanks and mysteries should take a look. Ignore the negative comments and make up your own mind.

Overall score 4/5

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Star Trek Next Generation - Season 1 Blu-ray

Star Trek Next Generation - Season 1 (1987-88)
Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn. Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton and Denise Crosby

I'm not going to give an exhaustive guide featuring a synopsis of every episode in this set. Instead, I'll be focusing on the audio and visual presentation, and the overall quality of this first season.

For those of you who might not know, Star Trek Next Generation (STNG) ran for seven seasons, spawning 176 (mainly) 45-minute episodes, and five movies featuring the crew. This first season made its debut with a 92-minute episode, Encounter at Far Point, which introduced the new crew, and gave audiences a glimpse of a new entity named Q (John de Lancie).

Before I talk about the merits of the show, there's an important piece of information that you need to be aware of if you are considering a purchase. The initial pressings contained several audio issues on three of the discs. Paramount offers free replacements without the need to send in the defective copies. In order to avoid having to do that, look carefully at the set before you buy it. Corrected copies have a yellow bar code on the back and the red Star Trek symbol on the spine.

Let's talk about the show.

I believe STNG to be the strongest of the five live action series set in the Star Trek universe, and it's not close. The original Star Trek has a certain nostalgic value and it was the first of it's kind. Voyager is enjoyable, and ranks second in my list. Enterprise is watchable, but without the same level of interest. Deep Space Nine is a show that I could never get into, despite multiple efforts.

STNG holds the top spot in my rankings because it has the best acting, the most convincing relationships, the strongest characterization, and a large number of well-written stories. However, my memory of the show proved to be imperfect. I know what STNG eventually becomes, but this first season is quite weak for the most part. I can imagine many fans of the original series giving up on this crew before STNG developed into the wonderful series it became.

What's wrong with it? The acting in the early episodes is nowhere near as good as in later seasons. People rarely refer to each other by their first name, and it's odd to hear Troi refer to Riker as Bill rather than Will. Data uses contractions when he is not supposed to be capable of that, but such oddities become less frequent as the season progresses. Denise Crosby is totally wrong for the tone of the show and stands around grinning in early episodes. Riker spends most of his time striking a pose, rather than acting in a believable manner.

The first good episode is the fifth one in the season, Where No One Has Gone Before. It was directed by Rob Bowman, who had a hand in 13 episodes during the show's first four seasons. Bowman was also involved as producer and/or director in 92 episodes of The X Files, so I am not surprised that he was responsible for the first standout episode.

Other good entries in this inaugural season include The Battle (Bowman), Hide and Q, Datalore (Bowman again), 11001001, When the Bough Breaks, Home Soil, We'll Always Have Paris, Conspiracy, and The Neutral Zone.

Despite the faults I have mentioned, Season 1 is a must-own for fans of the series. It gives important background information about the characters, such as Picard's attitude toward children, and we see the crew gradually becoming used to each other. I mean that both in terms of the scenario on the ship, and the type of chemistry that the actors developed.

Most of you are reading this because you want to know whether the Blu-ray is worth the upgrade. My answer is a resounding yes. The show is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and it looks spectacular in 1080p. If you thought that Star Trek looked good, this will blow you away. As with the original series, Paramount has given STNG the DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio treatment, and the audio matches the excellence of the visuals.

With more than three hours of special features, STNG shines on Blu-ray. I never expected to see shows this old looking so good. You probably won't even notice the two seconds of footage that could only be presented in standard definition.

Video presentation 4.5/5
Audio presentation 5/5

Overall score 4/5

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Theatrical Review)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Drama, Romance, 102 minutes
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller

When the trailer proudly stated that The Perks of Being a Wallflower was from the producers of Juno, I found myself wishing that it had the same writer and director too. But after seeing the movie, I'm more than happy with what I was given. Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed, and he has captured the same feeling that some of the best teen movies of the 80s (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, Heathers) had, and has probably improved upon them.

Perks feels more like a combination of Dead Poets Society and Stand By Me than some of the pure comedies from that era, but it has an abundance of funny scenes mixed in with the more serious and reflective observations. In short, it's a mature look at what teens have to go through. Everybody who has lived through their teen years will identify with this movie.

We see the world through the eyes of 15-year-old Charlie (Lerman). He's about to start high school and he's terrified that he won't be able to make any friends. His nightmares appear to be confirmed until he joins two students at their table during lunch. They are a little older than him, but seem sympathetic to his plight.

Minor spoilers follow, but nothing that isn't revealed in the opening minutes of the movie:

His two lunch companions are Sam (Watson), who is an outgoing girl and seems very sure of herself, and Patrick (Miller), who has already caught Charlie's eye by playing pranks in class. Charlie thinks they are a couple, but Sam is in fact Patrick's half-sister. Charlie likes both immediately and quickly becomes smitten with Sam. Patrick is flamboyant and we learn that he's gay. The friendship between the three is the very heart of the film.

The themes are not exactly original, but definitely a part of growing up. You'll see the agony of young love, drunken parties, experiments with drugs, and deeper emotional problems that most young people face at one time or another.

Another major theme is the importance of music. One scene involving the three friends features a drive through a tunnel in which they discover an unknown song on the radio. It's one of the key scenes in the movie. Not only does it capture a feeling associated with youth, it also highlights the difference between Sam and Charlie. He's shy and reserved, while she has a free spirit. We see Charlie develop throughout the movie and try to recapture that feeling. I did feel old for a moment when I realized that younger people might not know the music of David Bowie, or would consider the music of the Cocteau Twins old.

The movie touches on deeper themes that would not belong in a pure comedy, but they just add to the richness of this wonderful story. Fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be pleased that a couple of the scenes touch on the influence of that movie and play a part in the overall story.

One thing that I was interested to see was the performance of Emma Watson. I did catch her small role in My Week with Marilyn, but this was the first time I had seen her in a major role since the Harry Potter movies. When you know an actor for one role in particular, it can be difficult to imagine them as anyone else, but I was impressed with Watson's performance. Although I still recognized some familiar gestures and expressions, she wasn't Hermione Granger. She's very believable as Sam.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower surprised me considerably. My teen years seem like a lifetime ago, but the movie took me right back to those formative years. I was on the verge of tears several times and laughed often. What more could you want from a movie?

One of my close friends will love this movie. Especially a scene in which someone claims that music sounds better on vinyl.

Overall score 5/5

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lincoln (Theatrical Review)

Lincoln (2012)
Biography, Drama, History, 149 minutes
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Bruce McGill and Hal Holbrook

I knew that I would have to see Lincoln because it stars Daniel Day-Lewis, but I was wary of the subject matter. Most historical epics leave me cold, and I find that I have little interest in politics of any kind. The prospect of watching two-and-a-half hours of (mostly) men dressed in 1860s garb, and depictions of the Civil War, did not exactly appeal. I had similar misgivings about The Iron Lady (a far inferior film), but wanted to watch the best actress of her generation, Meryl Streep.

Fortunately for me, with the exception of the opening battle scene, Spielberg chose to do something rather different.

I remember a conversation with Quentin Tarantino, in which he was asked the question whether he would ever direct the biography of someone like Elvis Presley. Tarantino replied that he couldn't imagine covering Presley's whole life, but it might be interesting to write a story depicting the day he signed with Sun Records. Spielberg has chosen a similar strategy for Lincoln. Instead of being shown Lincoln's entire life, Spielberg focuses on the vote to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, to abolish slavery.

This sharp focus worked well in another political drama, Frost/Nixon, in which David Frost tries to extract an apology from Nixon for the crimes he committed while in power.

Lincoln believes in the Thirteenth Amendment, and that the Civil War might be ended if he can get the bill passed. The film shows the methods Lincoln and his subordinates use to secure the required number of votes. He calculates that, in addition to the Republican votes, he will need 20 from other sources. We see what motivates some of the men who might be persuaded to vote in favor of the bill.

On a deeper level, the film is inevitably a character study. We see how Lincoln listens to men from every walk of life and makes them feel valued. He earns their respect, loyalty, and even their love. On a more personal level, he has problems within his own family. Lincoln has to face his wife, Mary (Field), as she questions some of his actions. One of the biggest dilemmas is whether Lincoln should allow his son, Robert (Gordon-Levitt), to fight in the Civil War.

Other key characters include Thaddeus Stevens (Jones), who has motivations of his own regarding the bill, and William Seward (Strathairn), Lincoln's Secretary of State.

This is an all-star cast, and the acting is superb across the board. Day-Lewis is arguably the finest male actor of the current century, and this performance only adds to his legend. As always, he inhabits the character, never sounding just like himself. Compare this latest performance to his Oscar-winning role in There Will Be Blood, and you'll see what I mean. Lincoln speaks softly for the most part, but he captivates his audience. He tells a number of amusing anecdotes and the audience in my theater loved most of them.

Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones could also receive nominations in the supporting categories. If you remove those three actors, the cast would still be stronger than that seen in most movies.

While Lincoln isn't the ideal type of film for me, I respect what it achieves. The technical work matches the excellent acting. If I had a greater interest in history, or politics, I would probably have liked Lincoln even more. I could imagine American audiences being fascinated by the subject. This will be one of the leading contenders for Oscar nominations.

Possible glitch in the matrix: D-Day from Animal House (McGill) appears alongside D. Day-Lewis.

Overall score 4/5

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Fitzroy (Supporting independent film)

The Fitzroy (2013)
Written and directed by Andrew Harmer
Produced by Liam Garvo and James Heath

Are you tired of Hollywood remakes and sequels to questionable movies? I know I am. That's why I decided to devote some of my time to promoting a fundraiser for The Fitzroy. The aim is to generate £60,000 to enable the film to be made.


The Fitzroy is a surreal black comedy set in a post-apocalyptic 1950’s. The world is covered in a poisonous gas and the last few remains of society live out the end of the world in the last refuge for a traditional summer holiday: The Fitzroy Hotel, a rusty submarine beached just off Margate.

Our story focuses on Bernard, the hotel’s bellboy, cook, maintenance man and general dogsbody. Overworked by the hotel’s greedy owners and underappreciated by the selfish guests, Bernard faces a constant battle to keep the decaying hotel afloat and ship shape.

That is until he falls in love with Sonya, a lounge singer and murderous femme fatale. Under her spell, Bernard becomes convinced it is he who should be running the hotel. But when Sonya kills the hotel’s owner, Bernard’s world is thrown upside down as he struggles to hide the murder from the other guests and the ever-suspicious council inspector.

As the murder’s consequences ripple through the hotel, they threaten to rip Bernard’s world apart and he stands to lose everything he loves. With a hotel full of guests hungry for blood and justice, Bernard must choose between the woman he thinks he loves and the hotel submarine that is keeping them all alive.

That sparks my imagination. The first thing I thought of when I read the synopsis was Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Delicatessen. The filmmakers describe The Fitzroy as feeling like a cross between Monty Python, Spike Milligan, and Jeunet, so I'm even more interested as that's my kind of humor.


Andrew Harmer (writer/director) is an award-winning director. He has worked in on air promotions for the past six years. He has made a number of successful short films. A selection of Andrew’s work can be seen at

Dresden Pictures (production company/producers) was established by award-winning producing partners Liam Garvo and James Heath after several years of collaborating on a wide variety of film projects.

They are currently in development on a number of independent feature films

Other talent includes:

Ciro Candia - Director of Photography
Natalie O'Connor - Production Designer
The Green Rock River Band - Original Music and Soundtrack

Here's what the filmmakers have to say about the fundraising project:

The shooting production budget for The Fitzroy is £50,000. We are looking to raise £60,000 through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which, once Kickstarter’s fee and the reward costs are removed, should leave us with £50,000. Opportunely, Kickstarter UK launched on the 31st October just in time for The Fitzroy campaign.

Kickstarter is the best-recognized and most respected crowdfunding website. It’s full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others. Since their launch in 2009, over $350 million has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people, funding more than 30,000 creative projects.

We set up a page on the Kickstarter platform, providing a clear overview of the project, the target amount of money sought and exactly what it will be used for (the production budget of The Fitzroy). We offer incentives and rewards to supporters at different levels. We then reach out to our friends, family, social networks, the film community and anyone else we think will be interested in seeing The Fitzroy to support the project and to spread the word to their networks.


At a basic level, the incentives will be pre-sales in the film, so backers are rewarded with an HD Download or DVD of the film, not to mention our overwhelming thanks. Plus, every backer will receive a personalized digital postcard. We will be announcing some exciting surprise rewards throughout the campaign.

Other incentives include:

Beach survival kit

Ever tried having a holiday in a post-apocalyptic world? It’s not easy. Luckily the government has issued these ‘Beach Survival Kits’. Each kit is handmade and personalized by the director. The kit includes rations (Fitzroy Rock), a jar of fresh air (good for one last breath), survival pamphlet, emergency messaging chalkboard, and, of course, some entertainment to while away your last few hours; The Fitzroy DVD and soundtrack. If you are going on holiday, remember - stay safe!


An exclusive premium printed signed poster just for Kickstarter, from one of the five poster designers we have on board. These will be strictly limited to the number of backers who request this reward, and backers will have the choice of which poster they would like. Posters will be revealed throughout the campaign.

So why don't we give these guys a chance? Imagine if you were trying to reach your own dream. The fund has already reached £5,000. You can find out more, and how to donate, by visiting the film's Kickstarter page:

If you can't afford to donate, you can still help by following the crew on Twitter and giving the film a boost with a mention or a retweet.

Thanks for listening. Let's help make this happen.


General: @the_fitzroy 
Producer James Heath: @jamesjheath
Producer Liam Garvo: @lgarvo
Director Andrew Harmer: @andrewharm
Head of press Rebecca Wilson: @BecsGW 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cloud Atlas (Theatrical Review)

Cloud Atlas (2012)
Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, 164 minutes
Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski  
Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant

How do you even begin to write a review for Cloud Atlas? I saw it two days ago, and woke up at 4:15 this morning, thinking about how to organize my thoughts into a coherent assessment. 

I will probably fail.

If I were to attempt to sum up the movie in a single paragraph, I would say that it deals with how souls change over time. We are shown six distinct time periods. Several actors appear as six different characters across these six moments in time. Oh, the time periods all feature different genres too. I would imagine the movie is attempting to make us question the meaning of life itself, and how it might be represented on some sort of eternal scale. It's like watching the offspring of Mulholland Dr. and Inception playing on a holodeck, featuring six worlds across 500 years, using a Memento-style narrative.

In order to make sense of the movie and give it an accurate grade, I would have to read the book (unlikely), and watch it at least one more time (very likely when the Blu-ray is released). For now, I'll document my thoughts to see whether subsequent viewings change my opinion.

The movie is based on the book by David Mitchell, who reportedly wrote stories for the six different time periods, utilizing six different genres, and then drew them together as the story progressed. That structure reminds me of Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, although I doubt it matches Hyperion in terms of quality. I highly recommend Hyperion to anyone who appreciates Cloud Atlas. In terms of subject matter, I'm reminded of the Deverry series, written by Katharine Kerr. It also jumps around in time, across centuries, and uses the theme of souls being continually drawn to one another. I wonder whether Mitchell is a fan?

The six time periods used in the movie are 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144, and the twenty-fourth century.

Through these six stories, we learn that the souls of some of the characters involved also travel through time. However, they may change from male to female, and change race, or sexual orientation. Some souls are evil in every setting, while others switch from evil, or neutral, to good. I won't reveal any of that information because it's better to discover it for yourself.

The biggest problem with the movie is the way the story keeps switching from one time period to another. Instead of showing each story arc from beginning to end, we are often shown two or three minutes in one time period before jumping to another. This has the effect of making it clear that the characters (or souls) exist in several or (in some cases) all of the time periods, and that's a good thing. But it also prevented me from becoming too emotionally attached to any of the characters. I found that I didn't really care about their struggles.

The earliest story takes place on a ship (South Pacific), and moves through a hotel in the 1930s (Scotland), to San Francisco in 1973, a party set in an English hotel in the present day, before visiting the future (Neo Seoul) and far future. So you'll see two period pieces, a sequence that reminded me of The Streets of San Francisco, a story set in our current time, a science fiction segment that looks like Blade Runner, The Matrix and The Fifth Element, and a post-apocalyptic tale set more than 300 years in the future.

Technology ranges from primitive to futuristic, with the final segment being a curious blend of both.

The strongest of the stories are the final three chronologically. In 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) is a book publisher who desperately needs money. This segment features a lot of humor and had the audience laughing throughout. The Neo Seoul story features Sonmi-451 (Bae), who is aided in her quest by Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess). Here we see plenty of futuristic shots and an elaborate chase scene which would fit well in any science fiction movie. The final segment sees Zachry (Hanks) meet Meronym (Berry). Although the two are from vastly different backgrounds, they form a bond. It's here that the biggest struggle between good and evil takes place, and it shows how Zachry's soul evolves from what it once was.

None of the stories are straightforward. Most are not properly resolved. I think the point is not the quests themselves, but the overall passage of the souls of the recurring characters.

I'm probably not making much sense.

Cloud Atlas is something you need to experience for yourself, but only if you are the kind of person open to analysis and repeat viewings. This is not a coherent story with a linear structure. If you do decide it's for you, try to enjoy the individual scenes for what they are. If you are anything like me, you'll reflect on what you have seen over the next few days and things will start to take on some kind of meaning. It's certainly one of the most ambitious cinematic undertakings I have ever witnessed.

Overall provisional score 3.5/5

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Skyfall (Theatrical Review)

Skyfall (2012)
Action, Adventure, Crime, 143 minutes
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes

The first thing I noticed about Skyfall was the vast amount of talent involved. With apologies to Sean Connery, Daniel Craig gives the best acting performances of any Bond. It's not that he's a better actor than Connery, but he's asked to play the role with a lot more realism, and that works well for me.

Other actors of note are even better than Craig: Judi Dench is wonderful as M, Javier Bardem is over the top and hilarious as Silva, and Ralph Fiennes appears as Gareth Mallory. It's rare that Oscar winners and nominees have so many key roles in an action movie.

In addition to the acting talent, Sam Mendes (American Beauty) directs, Thomas Newman (10 Oscar nominations) is responsible for the score, and Roger Deakins (9 Oscar nominations) does his usual excellent job with the cinematography.

While I enjoyed Quantum of Solace, it was definitely flawed. It was too short, so everything felt rushed. It was also rather unbalanced, with five major chase scenes in the first 30 minutes, and an abundance of quick cuts and shaky-cam. Skyfall has a couple of major chase scenes, but the action never eclipses the overall story.

The plot is pretty simple. A computer hard drive has been stolen, and it contains the identities and missions of MI6 agents. M's computer is hacked and she is informed that the identities of five agents will be released each week. It becomes clear that the knowledge originated from MI6, or from someone with intimate knowledge of the organization.

Bond is injured and believed to be dead after an accident early in the movie, but he turns up alive when he feels that his services are needed. However, he's clearly not completely healthy. Is he fit for duty? Is age catching up with him? Would it be dangerous to allow him to resume duty while he is recovering? I like that Bond is portrayed as vulnerable. He can be hurt, and he can make mistakes.

Craig's Bond is a different beast from any that have come before. He's colder and tougher, and the campy humor is gone. That's not to say that the humor is completely absent, it's just smarter and funnier. Many of the best lines are possible because of the relationship between Bond and M. Check out the word association scene for an example.

Most of the expected elements are present. The movie visits China, Turkey, England and Scotland. There's obviously a new Bond girl, but she's in fewer scenes than you might expect. The music, action sequences and humor all add to the familiar feel. There's even a few references to previous Bond movies, and fans will love the inspired inclusion of an old piece of machinery.

The movie also continues to establish characters that we have come to know and love from previous entries in the franchise, but I'll let you make those discoveries for yourself.

After 23 movies and 50 years, the Bond franchise is alive and well. Many critics are suggesting that Skyfall is the best Bond movie to date. They may be right, but I can't decide between Skyfall and Casino Royale. Skyfall wouldn't work as well without the relationships and story arc established in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. The three Craig movies don't quite have the depth of the Bourne movies, but the gap is miniscule.

Skyfall will appeal to fans of Bond, spy movies, and action movies. I only hope that Craig's next two appearances as Bond are up to this standard.

Overall score 4.5/5

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Flight (Theatrical Review)

Flight (2012)
Drama, 138 minutes
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo

***This review contains spoilers, but nothing that isn't shown in the trailer. If you want to go in knowing nothing, stop reading now.***

Denzel Washington rarely disappoints, and his role in Flight is one of his most interesting performances in years. Unlike many of his roles, this one casts doubts about whether Washington's character is a hero or a villain.

If you haven't seen any reviews of the film, you might think that Flight is going to feature a lot of action, but the action is over once we experience the crash sequence. This is very much a drama.

The opening scenes show Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington) in bed with a flight attendant. He's been awake all night and he's drunk and high on cocaine. That's not exactly the best preparation for work when you are going to be entrusted with the lives of everyone on board a plane. Would you be happy if you knew that your pilot was in such a state?

Whitaker feels the need for another drink before the plane takes off, and drinks vodka without anyone noticing. When he takes his seat next to the co-pilot, Ken, his behavior appears a little odd. Whitaker orders coffee and Aspirin and takes off as though nothing is wrong. Ken's suspicions heighten when Whitaker exceeds the recommended speed while climbing to escape bad weather.

If you remember the crash in Cast Away, you'll know that Robert Zemeckis knows how to portray such an event effectively. In Flight, the crash is even more terrifying. If you are nervous about flying, this won't help you overcome it. The plane starts to fall apart at 30,000 feet, but Whitaker remains calm, although everyone else is panicking. In one of the best scenes in the film, he takes the aircraft into a controlled roll and flies upside down to recover from an uncontrolled dive, before landing it in a field. Six of the 102 people on board are killed.

That all happens during the first 30 minutes of the film. Whitaker is apparently a hero, and we later learn that what he did was something that other pilots were unable to duplicate in simulated tests. So why isn't that the end of the story?

Someone has to be blamed for the crash.

A parallel story shows Nicole (Reilly), who is addicted to drugs. She meets Whitaker in the corridor of a hospital, when both sneak out to smoke a cigarette. Addiction is a key theme in the film and the two develop a kind of bond, recognizing similar character traits in each other.

The remainder of the story is a character study, and shows how Whitaker deals with life after the crash. Addictions to drugs and alcohol have affected some of the most important relationships in his life. We see him struggle to face that fact and the impact of the decisions he makes.

Whitaker isn't completely free to confront his personal demons as he is being investigated to determine whether he was at fault during the crash. We see him prepare for a hearing, which is not a trial in court, but could lead to him being found responsible for the six deaths, and ultimately result in him serving a life sentence. His preparation is aided by Charlie (Greenwood), a former pilot and colleague, and Hugh (Don Cheadle), who is a lawyer. Both give strong performances in small supporting roles. The most colorful character in the film is Whitaker's friend, Harling Mays (Goodman). If Goodman had played The Dude in The Big Lebowski, he would have looked something like this.

Melissa Leo does a good job as Ellen Block, who leads the investigation into Whitaker's performance. Although I would like to talk about that sequence, I have already given away more than enough details about the plot.

Flight contains elements that make it a little hard to categorize. It's certainly not an action movie, but the crash scene will have you on the edge of your seat. It's more about addiction and what drives people to do what they do. It also makes the viewer question what is right and what is wrong.

If you have seen the film, is Whitaker a hero? What about the airline itself? Is the outcome fair, or would you have liked to have seen a different resolution?

Whatever your opinion of the events on the screen, it's hard to argue about the quality of the film itself. Washington gives one of his best performances, and Zemeckis treats the audience with respect and raises a lot of questions.

Flight is one of the best films I have seen in 2012.

Overall score 4/5

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