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skyfall review

Now that Daniel Craig is three films into his career as James Bond, I can safely say that he’s my favorite incarnation of the character… And by that I mean he’s the only incarnation of the character I’ve been really able to connect with.

Casino Royale was a great, if not boring, introduction to this universe and Quantum of Solace was a really solid followup, but it was generally forgettable–it felt like a half-assed attempt at a revenge film where the sole focus was on the exotic locations, the women, and showing us for the first time how far this new James Bond is willing to go to enact his plan. It was a great experiment but it was also a Sophomore slump.

Since he’s the Bond of my generation, he’s also built on the successful model of the dark hero trying to deal with the moral stresses of his job while still trying to catch a bad guy seeking perhaps exactly the same thing as James Bond: revenge.

Developing the character in this nouveau fashion has honestly paid dividends in expanding the Bond mythology. He’s no longer untouchable. He bleeds (this is probably the bloodiest Bond film I’ve seen). He leaves people to die in favor of the mission. If I were as cynical as I once was, I’d say that this new direction was entirely dictated by the idea that this was the only way Bond was ever gonna make money again.

But that’s how its always worked for this character. Since he’s an ever-changing face behind the 007 brand, he more than any other superhero, has been able to morph and change to reflect the times.

Though perhaps more than Bond, the villains have also reflected the things we fear the most. Javier Bardem’s turn as Silva points directly to the cyberterror threats we face every day on a massive scale. There’s a part of the film where he goes through the list of all the chaos he can enact with a computer, from blowing up a building with a mouse click, to changing an entire population’s opinions.

Against that, you have Ben Whishaw’s Q who merely gives Bond a gun and a radio transmitter instead of all the gaudy gadgets and odd inventions he used to have–like exploding toothpaste and tensile floss. But what good is a gun against a man with a computer? He’ll just kill you from halfway around the world before you can even get on the plane to come get him.

Director Sam Mendes, who’s experimented with action before with Road to Perdition and Jarhead, brings his ability to draw out nuanced performances from the actors on top of his usual ability for visual flare (he also directed American Beauty… and all those rose petals). In working with Roger Deakins, one of the great cinematographers of our time, he was able to construct an spy film with clean action sequences that were neither disorienting nor simply pots and pans and cars and trains smashed together (like Quantum of Solace), and incredible acting.

Also, Chicken Little thought the sky was falling too.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

I know this movie has been out for a good, long, while–I could tell by the scratches on the print that I saw that it was already played at some other theater. But here, behind the Redwood Curtain where I reside, it just came out last weekend.

So you know the story already by now, right? Vicky and Christina are in Barcelona and other Spanish cities with Javier Bardem.

I don’t know how to talk about this movie without giving things away. It’s a very cyclical film–the characters end where things began: listless and searching or filled with contempt for their lives.

But in between is a whirlwind of emotions that all seemed to have been fulfilled by Bardem’s character. And all those emotions get fucked up when crazy Penelope Cruz shows up after trying to kill herself. She’s always at Bardem’s throat and it’s only when she and Bardem are living with Scarlett Johannssen (Christina) that they can actually get along. For a good portion of the film, the three have a little relationship together that is strange and erotic and, well, Woody Allen.

Vicky, on the other hand, slept with him only once and, immediately, was thrown off from her perfect life she had planned. She’s married a guy who is, more than anything, amiable and career-driven. But he’s also a bit of a dick. You know the archetype: business boy who talks her ear off about inane shit, probably was in a frat, etcetera. Think of the guy that Rachel McAdams’s character was engaged to in Wedding Crashers, but written better.

So, okay. You know what’s going on. What I really want to discuss is Woody Allen’s direction and writing. What really blows my mind is that he has the ability to write something that could be a funny film with a seriousness one wouldn’t expect from him if they had only seen, say, Annie Hall or any of his funnier movies.

He directs the film with a sense of sureness, he knows exactly what he wants and he knows exactly how to extract it from the actors. Bardem did such a good job that it was only in the first portion of his performance was I thinking of him in No Country for Old Men.  Not just him, but all the characters, draw you into their fucked up little lives for the entirety of the film.

I sincerely think that Allen has come into another renaissance as a director. His recent films have revived his career, and I think it’s because he’s turned away from comedy. It seemed like, around the time of Small Time Crooks or the Curse of the Jade Scorpion, he had lost his comedic touch because he’d already released a million films by that time. So, now, he’s tapped into the creatively dramatic portion of his brain.

Which makes me hope that he doesn’t stop making films–that he falls over dead on set.