There’s a film out this week. Let’s not get bogged down with what it’s called. Suffice to say it’s the fifth and final chapter in a saga that, had all ten hours of it been cut down to two, might have made a half-decent movie. No matter what I might say about it, if you loved the earlier instalments, you’re going to see this last one. And if you hated it, congratulations, feel free to avoid it, as I did. A more bloodless, drawn out and dreary franchise would be hard to find. So I’m going to repeat my reviews of Argo and Skyfall instead, because those movies I really loved, and then let’s all meet back here next week, at which time, I promise, normal service will resume.
Oh, and if you haven’t done it yet, please take the time to download our brand new monthly Blockbuster Magazine, as it’s fun and interesting and free, and always will be.
To download BLOCKBUSTER MAGAZINE on your iPad, click HERE.
To download BLOCKBUSTER MAGAZINE on your Android Tablet, click HERE.
To download BLOCKBUSTER MAGAZINE on your Kindle Fire, click HERE.
From the retro stylings of its opening credits and the laudable variety of the film’s bygone ‘tache fashions to its faintly grainy visuals and immersive, scene-setting score, Argo makes me want to run up a hill with a megaphone, singing Hooray for Hollywood till my throat is hoarse. For my money, there’s not a single significant flaw in this captivating true tale. No detail’s too small. No character too minor. It’s a pleasure to watch that stimulates the old grey matter, gets your pulse up so high it’s almost dangerous, and entertains so completely, it feels like films are hugging you.
A period film set in 1980 that looks as rich, plays as smart and beguiles as completely as the best of Seventies cinema, this is fiercely intelligent filmmaking from a director, Ben Affleck, whose love for movies is so wildly contagious, infection is guaranteed. Though complex, Argo is never confusing. Though suspenseful to a degree that borders on discomfort, it is often savagely funny with real humanity and deep affection for its larger-than-life characters.
A story so outrageous, so flat-out unlikely, that it must have actually happened, and certainly in Affleck’s hands, Argo is never less than entirely authentic, the movie kicks off at the tail-end of 1979 with furious revolutionaries seizing the American Embassy in Iran, kicking off a hostage crisis that lasted an epic 444 days.
Focusing on six American employees who fled the Embassy before it was taken, only to end up cowering at the Canadian Embassy, Argo details the inspired formation and agonisingly tense execution of the CIA’s ingenious, borderline-crackpot rescue attempt. Masterminded by CIA legend Tony Mendez, here played by Affleck with the cool charisma and understated smarts of a thirtysomething Robert Redford, the plan was to create a fake sci fi film project looking to shoot in Iran and then sneak the six stressed Yanks out of the country by having them pose as its production crew.
An endeavour that had to fool the world in order to properly pull the wool over the eyes of the Iranians, it involved Mendez, in true caper style, hooking up in Hollywood with legendary make up wiz John Chambers (John Goodman) and fast-talking, veteran producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). There the three labour to create a compelling cover story before Tony flies to Iran with plans to turn six scared civil servants into the capable crew of a Star Wars knock off.
From the sheer giddy fun of fooling film types to the unbearable tension of a life-or-death escape, Argo is a film you must go and see now. Phenomenally well-written with so many memorable lines you’ll be quoting it for months, full of vital performances from a stunning cast and crowned by show-stopping direction that juggles for two hours straight without dropping a single ball, Argo is simply perfect.
I predict a heap of Oscar noms, with well-deserved wins for Chris Terrio (Best Adapted Screenplay), Alexandre Desplat (Best Score), Alan Arkin (Best Supporting Actor) and Ben Affleck (Best Director). At the very least. Hell, at this point in my review, with my blood up and all, I’d give it everything.
Regarding the Bond, James Bond films, I consider myself almost impossibly difficult to please. The first 007 adventure that I saw at the cinema was The Spy Who Loved Me, a film that to my 8 year-old mind back in 1977, and my 43 year-old mind today, represents the apex of Bond goodness, together with likewise awe-inspiring outings Goldfinger, Live and Let Die and Diamonds Are Forever. Everything else I’ve enjoyed, even loved in parts, but never with the devotion I reserve for my holy quartet.
The first two Craigs I consider the weakest of the official series, the problem I had with those being they were more like Bournes than Bonds. Ignoring all their other issues, they just didn’t feel right. Modern to a fault and empty inside.
When news reached me that Sam Mendes had signed to direct Daniel Craig’s third attempt, I thought that maybe he had the skills to turn things around. That he was a director of uncommon ability and style, really the most celebrated the series has ever affiliated itself with, and beyond that, as a British fortysomething male, he might equally love all those classic Bond elements that once made the series so special, and somehow actively restore them to the series, albeit in updated form.
When I finally sat down to watch Skyfall, following months of trying not to think about it too much, I whispered a silent prayer to the stocky, cigar-smoking ghost of Cubby Broccoli that Mendes, who has never made a bad movie I think, continue his quality run with a film that would at least represent a step back in the right direction.
Turns out Skyfall is the best Bond in 35 years. The first in the series since The Spy Who Loved Me that I love with such a passion, I will literally fight anyone who dares speak ill of it. Not counting Adele’s dreary theme song, of course. That I got tired of half-way through my first listen. Lack of Shirley Bassey aside, however, this film is the absolute business. The king of all it surveys. And it makes me prouder to be British than the Olympics, Winston Churchill and 1966 smashed together.
Thank you, Sam Mendes, for making a film that feels bang-up-to-date yet seasoned by the past. One that’s smart rather than complicated. Suspenseful and intense, but with a lightness to it, and affection behind it, that makes it so much fun, you’ll feel the way you did back when you first fell in love with Bond. Impossibly cool and impeccably stylish, from Craig’s Tom Ford threads to cinematographer Roger Deakins crisp, epic visuals, this is up there with the very best of Bond. Top five for sure.
The plot is perfectly simple, a tale driven by vengeance that sees Bond hunting a stolen hard drive containing the secret identities of every undercover MI6 agent in the field. Quite a prize for a soft-spoken terrorist (Javier Bardem) with an old school sort of charm and a burning desire to see M (Judi Dench) suffer for a lifetime of hard-nosed decisions. More than that I won’t reveal as there are so many wonderful surprises in store for a virgin viewer, I’d hate to rob you of any of them.
Sporting a screenplay so sharp that delivering it must have cut the cast’s tongues, strong, charismatic performances from the impudent danger of Craig’s Bond to the cold authority of Dench’s M, and great chemistry between all involved, this movie has a life and a pace to it that’s second to none.
Skyfall’s an eyeful too, thanks to Mendes’ decision to set the lion’s share of the action against such homegrown locations as the City of London, which has never looked better on screen, and the wilds of Glencoe, Scotland, so misty, magnificent and vast, it’s like something out of the minds of Kubrick or Lean. Though he flirts with such exotic locations as Shanghai and Istanbul, Mendes delivers a largely local experience unlike anything seen before in a Bond film. I loved that about it.
Bond’s back on track, and a standard has been set that won’t be easy for future instalments to live up to. But having seen Skyfall, it’s evident to me the franchise has a future now that will see it endure a further 50 years or more. What was missing is now restored, with bells on.
Consider me not shaken, but stirred.