Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – review

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Cruise on motorcycle posterI don’t know whether you know this or not, but Tom Cruise is the most awesome guy on the planet. Not having met Cruise personally, I know this only because that’s what the plots of all his movies are about. This plot comes in two variations. The first one is straight-forward: Tom Cruise is totally awesome! The second variation is a little less direct: People don’t appreciate how awesome Tom Cruise is! (Think of Jerry Maguire, in which his girlfriend dumps him and he loses his job, just to prove that even though he’s totally awesome, we should still sympathize with him because the world treats him so unfairly.) The interesting thing about Cruise’s latest effort, insofar as there is anything interesting about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, is that it conflates these two strains into a single if somewhat uncomfortable hybrid.
In Phase One of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Cruise plays the super-awesome Ethan Hunt once again, who hangs off airplanes when he’s not out-fighting, out-running, and out-maneuvering everyone else in the film. In Phase Two of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the CIA (in the person of Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin) wants to kill Hunt because, in a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Hunley doesn’t  like the Impossible Mission Force’s carte blanche to engage in unsupervised covert ops. Consequently, while Hunt is busy trying to save the world yet again, his own ungrateful country is trying to terminate him with extreme prejudice.
It’s really not fair for such an awesome dude to be treated this way, but the plot plays well for viewers who think that America should kick-ass on the rest of the world, and that any sort of restraint is the result of scheming forces that want to undermine the good guys.
Unfortunately, this amalgam, instead of being more than the sum of its parts, turns out to be somewhat less, because the two phases, like musical notes out of phase with each other, tend to cancel out rather than combine. The filmmakers can’t spend half the movie showing us how awesome Cruise is and then expect the audience to worry that the CIA might actually catch and execute him. Likewise, when the filmmakers spend the other half of the movie showing Cruise easily evading the entire CIA, they can’t expect us to have any doubts that he will have any trouble defeating the villain du jour.
Which is rather unfortunate, because Phase One of the film is supposedly built around the concept that Hunt may have finally met his match, which would have been interesting if we had believed it. Of course, we don’t – the two-phase approach makes it impossible to even pretend to believe it, and it certainly doesn’t help that the fiendish mastermind is too blind to notice (or at least do anything about) the rather obvious double-agent he is employing. But at the end of the day, none of this really matters, because the movie’s only message is: even when Hunt meets his match, he still wins, because no one can match Cruise’s awesomeness!
Before I forget, let me mention that the plot mechanics are constructed around a MacGuffin that Hunt must steal from a super-duper high-security facility. There is an explanation for what this MacGuffin is and how it got into the facility, which makes a kind of movie sense at least; however, the MacGuffin actually turns out to be something completely different from what we were told (you need twists in this kind of spy thriller),. This raises a question the film never bothers to address: if the explanation of the MacGuffin’s identify was false, does the explanation for how it got into the facility make sense anymore?
I suppose one could dismiss all of this as mere pretext, the necessary plot elements to justify exciting set-piece, of which there are several. Unfortunately, the best one comes up front, with Cruise hanging off the side of a plane taking off from the runway. It’s a bold, can-we-top-this? gambit that overshadows the rest of the film; the following fight scenes, suspense scenes, and chase scenes (including a pretty nifty one on a motorcycle) are all good – but not that good.
With Cruise’s awesomeness blazing throughout the film, there is not much room for anyone else to shine. It’s nice to see Ving Rhames again, but I’ve already forgotten what if anything he contributed. Jeremy Renner cements his position as Hollywood’s top also-ran, treading water while waiting for the producers to spin him off into a Bourne-like sequel. Rebecca Ferguson is supposed to be amazing, but she’s just okay – good enough to play second fiddle, but no threat to the star. Alec Baldwin somehow manages to make his CIA prick fun to watch even before his change of heart (he’s basically Ralph Fiennes from SKYFALL).
In spite of my qualms I did find Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation reasonably diverting, and the ending even managed to build up a fair share of tension (though why I should have doubted that Cruise’s awesomeness would prevail, I don’t know). Maybe my expectations were too high. Its predecessor,  Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, supplied some actual thrills (for once, the danger seemed real rather than pretend), and I was expecting more of the same – an expectation seemingly confirmed by wildly enthusiastic reviews (93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).
Sadly, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation winds up seeming a bit like someone who tells you he’s funny instead of telling you a joke. The film insistently harps on Cruise’s awesomeness, without fully achieving awesomeness itself.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (July 31, 2015). Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, from a story by McQuarrie and Drew Pearce, based on the television series by Bruce Geller. With: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jingchu Zhang, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Alec Bladwin.  In IMAX 3D. PG-13. 131 mins.

Bond 23 is 'Skyfall'

Via the Press Release:skyfall_announcement

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli today presented the cast of the 23rd James Bond adventure, entitled SKYFALL.
The film, from Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is directed by Academy Award® winner Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig, who returns for his third film as James Bond 007.
The screenplay is written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. SKYFALL, which goes into production on Monday, November 7th, will begin its worldwide roll-out in the UK and Ireland on October 26th 2012 and in North America on November 9th 2012.
Joining Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Director Sam Mendes were members of the cast of SKYFALL, including: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe. The filmmakers also announced Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw.
In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
“We’re so delighted to have Sam Mendes direct SKYFALL and be working once again with Daniel Craig. We’ve a great script, an extraordinary cast and an incredibly talented creative team for this latest James Bond adventure,” said Wilson and Broccoli.
The Director of Photography is Roger Deakins, a nine-time Oscar® nominee who previously shot the films Jarhead and Revolutionary Road for Mendes. The Production Designer is Oscar® winner Dennis Gassner, who previously designed Quantum of Solace and collaborated with Mendes on the films Road to Perdition and Jarhead.
The Editor is Stuart Baird, A.C.E., whose many credits include Casino Royale.
Jany Temime, whose many credits include the Harry Potter series, In Bruges, and Children of Men, is the Costume Designer. Action specialist Alexander Witt is the 2nd Unit Director.
Gary Powell is Stunt Co-ordinator, Chris Corbould is SFX Supervisor and Steve Begg is Visual Effects Supervisor, all of whom have worked on previous Bond films.
 
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The CW's 'Secret Circle'

The CW announced its Fall schedule, with just one new genre show, the “teenage witch” drama THE SECRET CIRCLE.
THE SECRET CIRCLE will join THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on THURSDAYS, while spy-fi series NIKITA will take the departed SMALLVILLE’s Friday 8:00 PM slot, before the returning SUPERNATURAL.
SecretCircle

THE SECRET CIRCLE – “Cassie Blake was a happy, normal teenage girl – until her mother Amelia dies in what appears to be a tragic accidental fire. Orphaned and deeply saddened, Cassie moves in with her warm and loving grandmother Jane in the beautiful small town of Chance Harbor, Washington — the town her mother left so many years before—where the residents seem to know more about Cassie than she does about herself.
As Cassie gets to know her high school classmates, including sweet-natured Diana and her handsome boyfriend Adam, brooding loner Nick, mean-girl Faye and her sidekick Melissa, strange and frightening things begin to happen. When her new friends explain that they are all descended from powerful witches, and they’ve been waiting for Cassie to join them and complete a new generation of the Secret Circle, Cassie refuses to believe them—until Adam shows her how to unlock her incredible magical powers. But it’s not until Cassie discovers a message from her mother in an old leather-bound book of spells hidden in her mother’s childhood bedroom, that she understands her true and dangerous destiny.
What Cassie and the others don’t yet know is that darker powers are at play, powers that might be linked to the adults in the town, including Diana’s father and Faye’s mother—and that Cassie’s mother’s death might not have been an accident.
The series stars Britt Robertson as Cassie Blake, Thomas Dekker as Adam Conant, Gale Harold as Charles Meade, Phoebe Tonkin as Fay Chamberlain, Jessica Parker Kennedy as Melissa, Shelley Hennig as Diana Meade, Louis Hunter as Nick, Ashley Crow as Jane Blake and Natasha Henstridge as Dawn Chamberlain.
Based upon the book series by L.J. Smith (author of The Vampire Diaries book series), THE SECRET CIRCLE is from Outerbanks Entertainment and Alloy Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television and CBS Television Studios with executive producers Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Scream, Dawson’s Creek), Andrew Miller (Imaginary Bitches), Leslie Morgenstein (The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl) and Gina Girolamo. Elizabeth Craft (The Vampire Diaries, Lie to Me) & Sarah Fain (The Vampire Diaries, Lie to Me) were executive producers on the pilot which was directed by Liz Friedlander (The Vampire Diaries, 90210).”

NBC's 'Chuck' Gets Reprieve

Chuck_NBC_CastAccording to Deadline.com, NBC is going to give borderline SF/spy action-comedy CHUCK a 13-episode committment for next season. The show has been regarded a “bubble” series, meaning it’s survival is always in question, for the past two years.
The article also speculates that the peacock network’s sci-fi tinged drama THE EVENT will NOT be renewed. Never seen it, haven’t met anyone who watches regularly, and nothing about the promos ever made me included to tune in, so I’m not surprised.
Then again quite a number of genre shows I have no interest in seeing thrive, so what do I know?

'The Event' Premieres Tonight -Teaser

From NBC. COM:

“THE EVENT is an emotional, high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, “The Class”), an everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his would-be fiancée Leila (Sarah Roemer, “Disturbia”), and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history.
Sean’s quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including newly elected U.S. President Elias Martinez (Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, “In Treatment”); Sophia Maguire (Emmy Award nominee Laura Innes, “ER”), who is the leader of a mysterious group of detainees; and Leila’s shadowy father (Scott Patterson, “Gilmore Girls”). Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind.
Ian Anthony Dale (“Daybreak”), Clifton Collins, Jr. (“Star Trek”), Taylor Cole (“The Violent Kind”), Lisa Vidal (“The Division”), Bill Smitrovich (“The Practice”), and Emmy winner Željko Ivanek (“Damages”) also star in the ensemble drama.
THE EVENT is a production of Universal Media Studios and Steve Stark Productions. Evan Katz (“24”) serves as executive producer/showrunner; Steve Stark (“Medium,” “Facing Kate”) serves as executive producer; Jeffrey Reiner (NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” “Trauma”) is director/executive producer; and Nick Wauters (“The 4400,” “Eureka”) is creator/co-executive producer.”

Science Fiction or not? Probably, but in a mininal way.

THE EVENT - Cast
THE EVENT - Cast

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CHUCK Season 4 Premiere – Trailer

CHUCK returns with it’s season 4 premiere “Chuck vs. The Anniversary” TONIGHT at 8/7c on NBC.
“Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Morgan (Joshua Gomez) go on a rogue globe-spanning mission to find Chuck’s mom (Linda Hamilton).
Meanwhile, Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and Casey (Adam Baldwin) follow a trail to Russia as they investigate the mysterious Volkoff Industries and its operative, Marco (Dolph Lundgren).
Back at home, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) delivers big news to her family.”

Linda Hamilton on CHUCK
Click for Larger

It’s nice to see Linda Hamilton (THE TERMINATOR,  BEAUTY & THE BEAST) back on television.
CHUCK airs Mondays at 8:00 pm/7 Central on NBC.

Never Say Never Again (1983) – Blu-ray Review

Much was made in 1983 of the return of Sean Connery to the role of James Bond, in spite of the fact that Roger Moore’s most recent outings had been spectacular financial successes. But the outer space extravagance of Moonraker in 1979 had set many Bond fans pining for the simpler days of the Connery era, and television showings of the older films proved increasingly popular. Eon (the official Bond production company) responded, and the next film, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, was a noticeably scaled-back effort; even so, the nostalgia for Connery’s films continued to grow. The demand was there – but not just anyone can make a James Bond film, right?
In the late ’50s (before the Bond films were even a gleam in Eon’s eyes), producer Kevin McClory and writer Jack Whittingham worked with Ian Fleming on a series of story treatments for a proposed film series based on the Bond charcter but not on the Bond books. The films never materialzed, but Fleming later published as Thunderball. The problem was that the author apparently used numerous story elements (including Blofeld and Spectre) from the treatments developed with McClory-Whittingham, who were understandably peeved. Years of legal battles followed with the end result not only that the aggrieved parties received their due credit on future editions of the book (“based on a screen treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham and the author”), but also that McClory held onto theatrical rights to the story – which is why McClory is credited as producer of 1964’s THUNDERBALL, which is “presented by” the usual Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry J. Saltzman. Almost two decades later, American producer Jack Schwartzman acquired those rights and made Connery – in the midst of a pre-Untouchables career slump – a handsome offer, and a new title was taken from a remark made by Connery’s wife after he pledged never to play Bond again.
The biggest problem with NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN proved to be a tough hurdle – the fact that it had already been made. Even though Thunderball is lauded as part of the ‘classic Connery package’, it’s always been one of the more problematic Bond films. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAINdoesn’t so much fix them as swap them out – the ridiculous plastic surgery gambit is replaced by the equally silly ‘implant a duplicate of the President’s cornea’ routine, and underwater action is just as dull as it had been 20 years ago. Fortunately, the remake manages to come through with an absolutely first rate supporting cast, including Klaus Maria Brandauer as Largo, Max von Sydow as Blofeld, Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, and the Jackal himself, Edward Fox as ‘M’. On the feminine side, a fabulously young Kim Basinger makes an early appearance alongside one of our favorite ’80s vixens, Barbara Carrera (still looking great in the accompanying featurette).
This cast would be a treat in any film, but they brighten up the Bond universe considerably. Austrian-born Brandauer was fresh from his art house triumph in Mephisto and contributes what is likely the most deeply layered performance in the entire Bond series and presents more than a match for Connery, then in his early 50s and in enviable physical shape. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAINis solidly directed by Irvin Kershner – a hot ticket after The Empire Strikes Back, though best remembered by this reviewer for his superb 1977 television docudrama Raid on Entebbe. He allows the cast room to breathe and inhabit their roles (something that many “official” Bond films have forgotten) but also has a tendency towards flat lighting and stiff staging that can occasionally feel like an expensive TV film (the SPECTRE board meeting is a particularly haphazard affair, almost as if the set hadn’t been finished in time and they were forced to make do at the last minute). Kershner also manages to unobtrusively cater the film to Connery’s advanced age, keeping the actor’s action sequences grounded in the realm of the physically conceivable. Other aspects, however, like the grating disco-jazz Michel Legrand score and some regrettable fashion choices have dated the film badly. We remember the way films in the Eon series used Ken Adam’s sets and Derek Meddings’ miniatures to create a sense of the spectacular, while NSNA is content to be Remo Williams in a tuxedo.
The vagaries of corporate library acquisition have brought the home video rights for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAINback to MGM (the longtime home of Eon Productions) who are releasing the title on Blu-Ray in a cross promotion with Quantum of Solace , and the 3rd volume of “official series” HD releases. The image itself is quite nice after a shaky opening credit sequence (likely because of the opticals used to add the titles to the screen). The picture looks good, with Douglas Slocombe’s unaffected lighting turning out rather crisply and without any obvious filtering.
We were also surprised by the number of extras present, including “The Big Gamble,” a refreshingly honest documentary on the film’s difficult production history. In this regard, it’s a pleasant respite from the docus on the “official” Bond films that only feature stories that utilize keywords like “honored”, “thrilled”, and “professional”. The late producer Jack Schwartzman (father of Jason and husband of Talia Shire) was really just an attorney who spotted the legal loophole that allowed for a remake of Thunderball outside of Eon’s auspices, and was unprepared for the complexities of shooting a film on this scale. We especially enjoyed listening to the un-credited writers bemoan the addition of the execrable theme song to the otherwise well done opening gag.
There is also a commentary track featuring Kershner and Bond expert (and former Cinefantastique contributor) Steven Jay Rubin who has his hands full keeping the director from lapsing into describe-what’s-onscreen mode. Other featurettes include “Bond is Back,” focusing on Connery’s return to the role and “The Girls of Never Say Never Again, “which is self-explanatory. But our favorite extra has got to be the theatrical trailer – it’s a howler, reeking of Cannon Films ballyhoo at best and high-rent early ’80s porn at worst.

Quantum of Solace – Blu-Ray Review

At a scant 106min, QUANTUM OF SOLACE is the shortest Bond film of the official Eon Production line, and the shortest in history after the made-for-television Casino Royale in 1954. Not that length matters (!), but it is a testament to the extent that series producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are willing to go to offer the public a suitably stripped-down and streamlined Bond experience.
In fact, QUANTUM removes so many of the historic bells and whistles of the character that there’s little left but a re-cast 4th entry in the Jason Bourne franchise (even the clever titles that spell out the location in various fonts are done in the same style as The Bourne Ultimatum). That’s not meant as an insult, just an expression of personal preference. We grew up in the 70s and our Bond was Roger Moore; his cocked eyebrow and knowing wink went down perfectly for younger viewers who never knew that the movies needed to be taken so deadly seriously. Moore knew the source of his appeal, and never worked quite as hard as Sean Connery to sell the increasingly outsized productions that surrounded the character from Thunderball onward. In fact, Moore’s patented performance style hadn’t changed much since his tenure as Simon Templar in The Saint – the role which initially brought him to the attention of the Bond producers – and this child of the “me decade” still hotly disputes any pejorative remarks about Moore’s interpretation of the character (interestingly, television commitments kept him out of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in much the same way it prevented Pierce Brosnan’s Bond debut in The Living Daylights).
After Brosnan left the series (if that’s the story you believe) we were not at all thrilled with talk of the need to “re-imagine” Bond for the 21st Century – taking away the gadgets, the women, the drinking, and making James Bond into something more closely resembling an MI6 agent existing in the real world. Advance word that Daniel Craig (effective, if a bit miscast in the superb Munich) had a personal abhorrence for guns didn’t bode well, either, but like almost everyone else we were gobsmacked by 2006’s Casino Royale, a risky reboot for the series that jettisoned many beloved artifacts in favor of a more serious tone (Casino Royale is actually the third adaptation of Fleming’s story, after the aforementioned, and forgettable, television version, and the 1967 psychedelic hootenanny that must been seen to be believed). Realizing that all but the most ludicrous high-tech gadgetry elicit scarcely more than a yawn from contemporary audiences, the producers eliminated Q branch altogether, forcing Bond to use his wits and fists (and the ubiquitous GPS tracker) and making Craig easily the most physically agile Bond in history. Though digital assists abound, they are well hidden; gone are too-obvious stunt doubles of yore, replaced by an actor who seems genuinely capable of performing the demanding stunts on display. Villains were retooled as well, no longer dwelling in undersea superstructures or hollowed-out volcanoes and plotting the extinction of the human race; they now sold realistic weapons to realistic terrorists. All in all, it was a staggering transformation, not unlike walking into your grandfather’s garage expecting to see a Rolls Royce only to be greeted by a BMW concept car.
2008’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE picks up just a few moments after Casino ended, with the enigmatic Mr. White in custody and about to be rigorously questioned by Bond (Craig) and M (the suddenly indispensable Judi Dench), when a traitor reveals himself and allows White to escape. Records found in the traitor’s flat lead Bond to Haiti where he finds Dominic Greene (Craig’s Munich co-star, the very Polanski-looking Mathieu Amalric), who is chairman of an ecological group, Greene Planet – which is, of course, a front for a global organization called Quantum, specializing in terror, assassination, blackmail, and even the toppling of governments. It’s a deal for the latter that Greene is currently negotiating – aiding a Bolivian general’s proposed junta in exchange for a seemingly worthless patch of land in the middle of the Bolivian desert. While spying on Greene, Bond also eyes his mistress, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), whose family had been murdered by the general years earlier. Greene attempts to give Camille to the general as part of their deal, but she is rescued by Bond, who then follows Greene to Austria for a clandestine meeting of the Quantum group held during a performance of Tosca, where Bond learns that its membership reaches high into his own government.
This above plot sketch only really covers the film’s first half and even then I’ve omitted the return of Bond confidants Felix Leiter (again played by the great Jeffrey Wright, who really ought to be given more to do), Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini, always welcome), and this installment’s “disposable” Bond girl, Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), whose name and ultimate fate nicely bookend with an earlier film in the series. A major complaint from critics was that the film was difficult to follow, owing to its short running time and overstuffed plot, though we found no such difficulty.
However, it is true that at 106 minutes the film feels ‘paired down to essentials’ to the point that it almost stops feeling like a Bond film at all. Casino Royale ran nearly a half hour longer, yet actually felt shorter as the story had room to breathe. By comparison, viewing QUANTUM can feel like watching a film with the remote control in the hands of an impatient male teen who fast-forwards through all the “slow bits”. The first 20 minutes alone feature more choreographed fights, major stuntwork and effects than comparable action films fit in by the halfway mark.

Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko

Anyone seeking a replay of the unusually touching relationship between Bond and Vesper Lynd won’t find it here, as we found Kurylenko a significantly less interesting presence than Eva Green (as, it would appear, does Craig). Fortunately, the action sequences are spectacular – particularly a brutal chase and shootout in the opening section – and several of the locations (including the staging of the Quantum shareholders meeting and the spectacular eco-hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert used for the film’s climax) are truly memorable. We don’t know what in director Marc Forster’s resume (which runs a narrow gamut from Monster’s Ball to Stranger Than Fiction) made him seem ideal for an action-heavy Bond picture, particularly one where the emotional content has been so greatly reduced from its predecessor It could be said that the director’s chair on a Bond film is the most sought-after second unit job in all the world, but that might sound crass, so we won’t. The show works just fine, and Forster deserves the credit.
The apparent measure of success for QUANTUM OF SOLACE is to have the character of James Bond work in the new millennium – to turn him from an outdated avatar of the martini & Playboy era into a living, breathing, and marketable commodity for today, and there’s no question that this has been accomplished. The viewer is left to decide for themselves how much of the series’ essence can be paired away before all that remains is just one more expensive– albeit effective – action picture.
The MGM/UA Blu-Ray is as sharp and detailed as we’ve come to expect from a major release. We saw the film at NYC’s greatest standing movie palace, the Ziegfeld Theater, and the disc faithfully reproduces that immersive experience. The image has retained some grain, which matches the Bourne-ish shooting style, and should please the DNR watchdogs out there. The DTS HD Master Audio is a nicely aggressive mix, the type that had this reviewer flipping through Crutchfield catalogs and wondering if it might be time to upgrade the sound system – it is one of the best sounding discs we have ever heard. The extras are of the EPK variety; interesting, but anyone who watched any of the making-of featurettes on television prior to the film’s release will notice a feeling of déjà-vu. All are, rather thoughtfully, presented in HD:

  • “Another Way to Die” Music Video
  • Bond on Location featurette
  • Start of Shooting featurette
  • On Location featurette
  • Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase’ featurette
  • Director Marc Forster’ featurette
  • The Music’ featurette
  • Theatrical and Teaser trailers

No crystal ball is required to tell that a more deluxe edition will arrive in time to promote the 23rd Bond film, but the previous Blu-Ray versions of Casino Royale seemed virtually identical to this reviewer, so don’t get caught unnecessarily double dipping.

World is Not Enough (1999) – Film & DVD Review

The James Bond films have not been `films` since FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Or, to put it more precisely, they have become `James Bond films,` a sort of genre unto itself with a well-established formula and a level of audience expectation that cannot be ignored without peril. Elements like credibility and drama take a back seat to exotic locations, beautiful women, clever quips, fast-paced action, exciting stunts, lavish sets, and elaborate effects. While movie audiences eat this up with each new entry in the series, the Bond purists, those who remember the character as he appeared in Ian Fleming`s novels, yearn for a return to a more serious Bond. Not that the novels were without their outrageous elements (come on, 007 fought a giant squid in the novel of DR. NO), but Fleming captured a sense of gritty reality amidst all the glamour. In fact, it was this sense of continual danger that was at the core of the books. As Timothy Dalton was fond of pointing out, Bond`s vices (smoking, drinking, women) were an oasis from his everyday reality. This was a man who could die any day, at any moment, so he took his pleasures where he found them.
In the films, these elements, which had been for Bond a mere respite, became instead the true focus of attention. Especially during the Roger Moore era, Bond became a fantasy of what a secret agent would be: an infallible, good-looking superhero who never got his hair mussed, always won the fights, and never seemed in real danger (although Moore did perfect a comic grimace he used whenever faced with a supposedly imposing enemy, such as Richard Kiel`s Jaws).
Of course, Sean Connery had shown that it was possible to play this character as if it were the real thing. Maybe the actor wasn`t exactly what Fleming had in mind, but he did sell the character to the audience. Although he was ever ready with a quip, his sense of humor somehow never attacked the integrity of the film itself: while you were watching, you were in that world, and your suspension of disbelief remained in place.
With Dalton, fans got a return to a hard-edged, serious Bond. Unfortunately, the actor was ill-served by his films, especially LICENCE TO KILL, which was, theoretically, designed as a showcase for his interpretation of the character. What emerged from that debacle, however, was an abject lesson in how resistant the series had become to change. While we were supposed to take the film seriously, the same outrageous stunts and action intruded at regular intervals (in the film`s low point, the incredibility of Bond`s actions actually becomes a plot point, making the villain distrust the henchman relating the events). While we are supposed to be thrilled by the personal vendetta between Bond and Sanchez (an excellent Robert Davi), that element is all but eclipsed by a closing chase scene that replaces the actors with stunt men and abandons drama for action.
Sadly, Dalton never got another chance to make the role his own. Instead, after a six year gap, we got Pierce Brosnan as a new Bond for the `90s. What immediately became apparent in GOLDENEYE was that Brosnan, despite his REMINGTON STEELE background, was not going to play the lethal secret agent like a walking self-parody. Unlike Dalton, he imbued his Bond with humor, but unlike Moore, he wasn`t reluctant to explore the serious side of the character. In effect, he tried to combine the best elements of Moore and Dalton, creating a new version of 007 that in some ways harkened back to Connery.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES was a considerable improvement over GOLDENEYE. Somehow, the Bond elements clicked into place: great villain, great women, great action, great Bond. Yet somehow, in the build up to the release of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, the previous film has become the whipping boy-dismissed as all action and no story-and WORLD has been presented as the antidote, a film that alters the traditional Bond formula by infusing it with greater drama and characterization.
Well, I`m here to tell you that it just ain`t so. The film tries very hard, and sometimes the effort pays off, but overall this is a compromised effort that recalls LICENCE TO KILL in the wrong way: it`s a film that tries to be different but lapses back into the same old, obligatory set pieces. This is really too bad. After all, both Connery and Moore hit their stride with their third outing as Bond (GOLDFINGER and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, respectively), and we had every reason to hope that the same would be true of Brosnan. As he has aged with each subsequent appearance, he has grown into the role: he has lost some of that boyish charm that threatened to make his Bond appear lightweight, and replaced it with a more seasoned sense of experience; in short, he`s starting to project the image of a man who`s been around the block a few times and knows where the bodies are buried.
Alas, this was not to be. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH begins with an excellent pre-credits sequence that works because it undermines our comfortable expectations. After an initial adventure and narrow escape, the film doesn`t cut to the credits but goes to the headquarters of MI6, which are violated with a deadly explosion that precipitates an exciting boat chase down the Thames. The assault on a setting we are used to seeing used only as a means for exposition (to set up the plot) creates a genuine surprise, and the boat chase works with only a few gimmicks, instead opting for visceral impact. The whole sequence is over-the-top in the best Bond manner: thrilling in a fun kind of way but not so absurd as to render its hero in cartoon superhero terms.
Things proceed well with the opening credits and theme song–a fine tune composed by David Arnold and performed by Garbage that recalls the classic Bond themes like `Goldfinger.` But then the movie proper starts, and the plot kicks in. The big mistake that follows is that the filmmakers obviously want to render a film with more dramatic impact, but they are afraid to sacrifice the traditional elements in order to achieve this. The result alternates between slow dialogue scenes and intrusive action scenes; worse, the two elements are often not well integrated. The worst example of this is the helicopter attack on the caviar factory. At a time when the films should be barreling headlong toward the rescue of M (Judi Dench), instead it stops for a set piece that in no way advances the story. Far more damning, it`s not such a great scene that it justifies its own existence. There are lots of shots of damage being inflicted, lots of shots of people running, but no sense of danger or suspense, no sense of narrative–of people gaining or losing the upper hand, or turning the tide against their attackers. The sequence might have been just tolerable if it had ended when Bond`s car launches a rocket that explodes the copter, but no–there is a second helicopter, allowing the sequence to drag on even further, to no real advantage.
The problem, clearly, is that Michael Apted is no action director, so he apparently lavished his attention on the character scenes and left the second-unit people to do what they wanted, whether or not it meshed with his work. What was really needed was an approach like that of James Cameron or John Woo, who know that action is character-how a character behaves under duress or in danger is as much a part of storytelling as what he says when alone with another person.
With the attempt at drama thus undercut, the film`s pace drags woefully in the middle. The attempt to play Electra King (Sophie Marceau) as a believable love interest (rather than just a sex object) is partially successful, but it never generates as much heat at Teri Hatcher`s role in TOMORROW NEVER DIES-and she had much less screen time, to boot. The film`s twist, that Electra is the real villain of the story, does work fairly well (at least it`s not obviously telegraphed), but we never understand her conviction that Bond won`t have the nerve to kill her. Certainly, we in the audience never believe he will hesitate, and when the big moment finally comes, Apted throws it away with a reaction shot to M, instead of focusing his camera in on the faces we want to see in this critical moment of life and death: Bond and Electra.
At least, Marceau is more than just beautiful; her accent and European looks are appropriately exotic for a Bond movie. The same cannot be said for Denise Richards. Sure, she is gorgeous enough to be a Bond woman, but in the middle of a film striving for greater characterization, her Dr. Christmas Jones is an underwritten tag-along character with little to distinguish her. Worse, she is saddled with unspeakable techno-babbble dialogue that recalls a bad episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. The result, sadly, provokes laughter in all the wrong places. Again, using TOMORROW NEVER DIES as a point of comparison, Michelle Yeoh managed to present herself as a worthy colleague to Bond, and her martial arts skills gave an added punch to the film. With Dr. Jones, we wonder why Bond is even dragging her along. (Yeah, I know, she`s supposed to diffuse the atomic bomb, but Bond knows how to do that himself-or at least, he had learned by the time of OCTOPUSSY.)
Robert Carlyle pulls a few worthwhile moments of unexpected vulnerability out of the villainous Renard, but the character does not rank among Bond`s most memorable foes. Carlyle projects far more danger as the volatile barroom brawler in TRAINSPOTTING. Here, is almost subdued. This supposedly more realistic opponent simply lacks the larger-than-life flare that Jonathan Pryce brought to TOMORROW NEVER DIES.
The script has some good points. The dialogue is often witty, but for every clever line, there is at least one howler (like the film`s closing pun about Christmas coming more than once a year). At least Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese make the most of the traditional gadget scene. Llewelyn is in fine form, finally with someone else to play off of rather than just Bond; in fact, it`s fun to see Q and 007 have a third party as the target for jibes so that at last they can stop sparring with each other. The hints of surrogate father-son loyalty actually fill the screen with some genuine warmth. And Cleese, of course, is a scream as Q`s apprentice. He gets more laughs in a few minutes than are to be had in the rest of the film.
Okay, so THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH aims to achieve something more than its predecessor and trips up on its own ambition. Does that make it a bad Bond movie? No, despite the lags in pacing, the film does deliver the goods. There are delightful moments, some good set pieces, occasionally surprising plot twists; Maria Grazia Cucinotta is so good as the lethal lady in the opening sequence that we miss her presence throughout the rest of the film, and Brosnan giving a more mature performance as Bond. There is even an effective torture sequence that recalls the grueling sense of pain and fear that Fleming put into his books. But in every way, the film is inferior to its immediate predecessor. It may be good p.r. to present the new Bond film as a dramatic antidote to the all-action formula of previous Bonds, but the truth is that some of those action packed movies (including TOMORROW NEVER DIES) did generate genuine emotional responses, often much more effectively than the current film. More than anything, a Bond film should be fun, movie-going entertainment. This film indeed delivers the goods; it`s just bogged down in an attempt to do more that ultimately delivers less.

DVD DETAILS

The special edition DVD presents the film with a beautiful picture and great sound, complimented by excellent computer graphics animation for the menus, but the audio commentaries and supplemental material represent a big too much self-congratulatory back-patting for those of us who found the film unbalanced and occasionally frustrating, despite its many fine sequences.

Besides the film itself, you get the film’s trailer, a music video featuring Garbage performing the title tune, and a souvenir booklet featuring some interesting facts, such as the tidbit that the title (the Bond family motto) originated in Ian Fleming’s novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There are also two audio commentaries, several behind-the scenes clips, and a “making of” documentary that is a fairly typical promo piece, featuring brief interviews with Pierce Brosnan and Desmond Llewelyn.
The audio commentaries and the behind-the-scenes clips, called the “Secrets of 007,” can be accessed through “special features” in the menu. The DVD offers the option of having the “Secrets” interrupt the film. During key sequences, a 007 logo flashes on the screen; pressing “Enter” on your remote control takes you to the extra footage, which is presented without narration or explanation. Sequences covered include the boat chase, the opening titles, the hologram, the missile silo, and the submarine finale. Basically, what you get is images from the film intercut with shots of cameras filming the action, plus occasional storyboards and even, in the helicopter sequence, earl CGI renderings superimposed onto the live action plates. Perhaps the most interesting vignette shows how Bond’s X-Ray glasses were achieved: actors were filmed first with regular costumes, then again with special costumes revealing the shapes of guns beneath translucent clothing; then the two were matted together.
If you’ve already seen the movie and don’t mind having it interrupted, these sequences are fairly entertaining if not all the informative; certainly, no secrets are revealed, unless you’re someone who knows nothing about how films are made. If you don’t want to interrupt the film, you can access these clips by clicking on them in special features. This is especially useful if you’ve already watched the film twice (once for each audio commentary) and don’t want to sit through it again just for the behind the scenes footage. Actually, I had both the second audio commentary and the behind-the-scenes function running simultaneously on my second viewing, which worked out fine, as often the commentary provided helpful behind the scenes information that was then illustrated by the extra film clips. The only real downside of this approach is that the last “Secret” is followed by credits for the behind-the-scenes footage—the one time that sitting through the extra scenes really impede the flow of watching the film.
The first audio track features director Michael Apted; the second one includes production designer Peter Lamont, action unit director Vic Armstrong, and composer David Arnold. Both tracks are filled with information that should be of interest to Bond fans, but they are not as lively and entertaining as they could have been, perhaps because everyone is too busy praising the film’s virtues. Sure, there’s a lot to be proud of on view, but would it hurt here and there to admit that maybe—just maybe—things could have turned out a little better? (The closest we get is Arnold’s admission that he felt dubious about the script attempts to generate sympathy for Renard, who—after all—is planning to blow up 8 million people.)
Michael Apted, in particular, is guilty of still talking about Denise Richards as if her casting were a real coup, and no one is willing to acknowledge that killing off Maria Grazia Cucinotta before the opening credits leaves the film with a gaping hole that neither Richards nor Sophie Marceau is able to fill. Apted also re-roasts the old chestnut about wanting the Bond girls to be more than merely decorative; apparently, he is unaware that this is said by almost every director and actress who has worked on the franchise, almost from its inception. Overall, this is definitely an instance when an interviewer might have improved things considerably by asking a few pertinent questions; as it is, David Arnold never even gets around to explaining why there’s a song on the soundtrack album that’s not in the film itself (“Only Myself to Blame”).
Okay, not to be too harsh, here’s a quick sampler of some of the good tidbits you’ll discover (and this only a sampler; there are many more to be gleaned from the disc itself): Maria Grazia originally auditioned for the role of Electra King, but when Michael Apted didn’t think her English was up to the demands of the role, she accepted the smaller role of the Cigar Girl assassin just for a chance to work in a Bond movie. During Bond’s fall down the dome after dropping off the balloon, in several takes the stunt man missed the rope he was supposed to grab; the film’s editor suggested leaving in one of the misses before cutting to a shot of the successful grab. Producer Michael G. Wilson makes his obligatory cameo during the casino scene. Arnold took advantage of the same sequence to compose what he calls “John Barry” type music, thinking that the location lent itself to the loungy jazz approach. Pierce Brosnan’s twitching head, just before he kills Renard, visually echoes Robert Carlyle’s own mannerism as the villain, who tends to shake just before perpetrating each new atrocity.
And most interesting of all, the boat chase down the Thames that gets the film off to such a great start was originally not intended to be part of the pre-credits sequence. After preview audiences found the original opening (Bond’s descent down a rope to escape an office) unspectacular in the action department, the credits were pushed back until after the attack on MI6 headquarters (including the explosion that kills Electra’s father); with so much material pushed up front, the chase had to be shorted to prevent the sequence from running too long.
In short if you loved this movie, then this disc is the way to own it; or, if you’re a hard-core Bond fan who must have every film in his personal collection, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re a casual viewer or one who was disappointed in the film itself, a rental of the disc will prove rewarding, but you won’t be disappointed when you have to return the DVD to the store.
One last complaint: Apparently, the audio commentaries were recorded before the death of the actor who has played Q since almost the beginning of the series, which goes almost totally unmentioned. Only at the very end, after the final credits have run, is there a suitable acknowledgment of his passing: “In Loving Memory of Desmond Llewelyn.” Certainly after such a long contribution to the films, his passing warranted more of a tribute than that.
NOTE: The original special edition DVD is now out of print. The title was re-issued, with new cover art, as part of one of the many James Bond box sets that have been released (usually to cash in on interest created by the release of a new film). At this time, the film was also released on DVD in a Two-Disc Ultimate Edition. You can find other DVD releases of the title in the Cinefantastique Online Store.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999). Directed by Michael Apted. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein, story by Purvis & Wade, based on the character created by Ian Fleming. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise RIchards, Robie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, John CLeese, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Samantha Bond.

Copyright 1999 Steve Biodrowski

Get Smart (2008) – Film Review

By Steve Biodrowski

This comedy does not need to “Get Smart;” it issmart. The screenplay takes the familiar gags from the ’60s sci-fi spoof (the cone of silence, the shoe phone, Hymie, etc.) but instead of trotting them out and expecting us to laugh merely because we recognize them (think THE FLINTSTONES), writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember update and re-imagine the old jokes in a way that is fresh and new, creating an updated version of the material that stands on its own as a hip, contemporary comedy, not a lifeless museum piece recreation. (One of the film’s more sly gags is that CONTROL is now located behind the facade of a museum.)
Equally important, director Peter Segal – along with an assist from the cast and crew, of course – understands that the word “comedy” is a license to laugh, not a license to slack off. Unlike the recent genre of spoof movies (SUPERHERO MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE, etc), Read More