Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jame's Solace Is Not Bonding

Quantum of Solace

Literally picking up five minutes after Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace finds our beloved secret agent, James Bond, looking to avenge the death of his love. While interrogating the mysterious Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), Bond quickly learns that something far bigger than he expected is at play. A powerful organization, named Quantum, appears to have been operating in secret for a long time. While following a series of thin leads, Bond stumbles onto Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an environmentalist who has an unusual interest in acquiring a large patch of desert. Greene also seems interested in permanently breaking up with his girlfriend, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), through rather illegal methods. Bond must not only race to uncover Greene’s real plans; but also figure out how Quantum can operate without being detected by the worlds top intelligence agencies.

There has been a lot of critical backlash towards Quantum of Solace leading up to the film’s release, and not all of it is unwarranted. This film really tries hard to convert many of the fans of the Bourne trilogy who never cared for James Bond. Yet in doing so, it loses a lot of what made the revamping of James Bond in Casino Royale so special. Casino Royale did such a great job of balancing a well structured plot and heart-pumping action. The first half of Quantum of Solace suffers from a case of style over substance. It felt like the film did not officially start until the midway point (i.e. the Tosca segment); then it was over before you could blink. The first half of the film was non-stop action without any real subtext. The open car chase was not as suspenseful as director Marc Foster intended it to be. Mainly because all the quick edits did not allow the audience to really soak in the tension of the scene. After that, it was pretty much action sequence after action sequence. It also did not help that people died before they even utter a single word. Which made the introduction, and evolution, of both Camille and Dominic Greene very stunted.

Yes, this Quantum does feel more like a buffer to the next film, but there was still much to enjoy. The plot driven second half saves the film completely in my opinion. There are still several big actions sequences, but the added context makes them far more exciting than anything in the first half of the film. I loved the fact that Bond finally has an organization (a la SPECTRE) to do battle with again. I thought the whole segment at the opera was the highlight of the film, with the airplane sequence a close second. Also I really liked Kurylenko as a Bond girl, I just wish her storyline was pieced together better. Amalric was good but they needed to give him a menacing henchmen; it was a little hard to believe that Dominic could go hand to hand Bond. Quantum of Solace is very flawed, yet it is not the horrendous train-wreck that some try to make it out to be. While not great a film, it still ranks somewhere in the middle of the lengthy Bond canon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rachel's Getting Married And We're All Invited

Rachel Getting Married

Someone once told me that funerals and weddings bring out the worst in families. The latter is especially true in Jonathan Demme’s latest film, “Rachel Getting Married”. Fresh off a lengthy stint in rehab, Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home for her sister’s, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), wedding. Despite the initial pleasantries, the presence of Kym clearly causes tension amongst the family. Despite her father’s (Bill Irwin) best efforts to maintain the peace, Kym’s unstable nature only helps to fan the flames that have been simmering for a longtime. As the hours get closer to the big event, the emotional scars of the past become more pertinent. Forcing the family, including Kym’s remarried mother (Debra Winger), to confront several important issues left unspoken.

The way that emotional baggage of the past unfolds is what made “Rachel Getting Married” really standout for me. Picture watching someone slowly peeling off a band aid and then picking at the scab underneath until bleeds and you get a sense of what this film is like. There are several wonderfully cringe inducing moments due to the realness, and emotional rawness, of the characters. Examples of this include: Kym’s speech at the rehearsal dinner, the scene at the substance abuser meeting, Kym’s encounter with her mother, the dishwasher competition, etc. In regards to the dishwasher scene, this also reminds me of something else that I loved about the film; the way in which humour and music were used throughout. The humour and music perfectly accentuated the joyful togetherness that comes from wedding related festivities. Yet Demme, like a skilled boxer he leads you left and hits you right, also uses those two devices to distract you just enough to set up some truly heartbreaking moments.

While both Demme and writer Jenny Lumet are to be praised for skillfully keeping “Rachel Getting Married” from becoming another clichéd film about dysfunctional families; the actors also deserve much of the credit as well. Anne Hathaway delivers a wonderful performance as Kym. She is never a character that you completely like, yet you cannot help but care for her. I guess that can also be said about several of the characters in the film, which is a testament to Lumet’s layering. Two of the best understated performances, in my opinion, came from Bill Irwin and Debra Winger. As the patriarch, Paul, Irwin must run through a course of emotions all while trying to keep the rope that is holding his family together from breaking. What I loved about Winger’s character, Abby, is that she says so much with her body language. At first you think that she is just cold and a tad flighty, yet as the film progresses you realize that she is just as damage, if not more, as everyone else. Although “Rachel Getting Married” may not be the feel good film of the year, I definitely think it is worth seeing.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Race That May Bore You To Death

Death Race

When does a “B-movie” stop being a “B-movie”? When is it just a bad film? What about the ones that are so bad they are good? These questions have crossed my mind a lot in the last few years. Most recently with Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest video game opus…err cult remake, “Death Race”. Based on the Roger Corman produced cult classic, “Death Race 2000”, this version is set in the dystopian future of 2012 were economic crisis has ravaged the world. The only form of entertainment comes from Death Race, a car race where prisoners race around a track and try to blow each other up. The races are so popular that each of the three stages are sold separately on pay per view sites across the web. Apparently in four years the world will forget that they can just download the video game “Mario Kart”…but I digress.

As luck would have it, Jensen (Jason Statham) is framed for murdering his wife and sent to the same prison where Death Race occurs. With the celebrated masked racer, Frankenstein, still recovering from injuries from the last race; Hennessey (Joan Allen), the prison warden and creator of Death Race, is in need of someone to take his place before the next pay per view. Frankenstein is one win away from his fifth victory and, as the rules state, with one more win he earns a get out of jail free pass. Seeing that no one knows what Frankenstein really looks like, and the fact that Jensen happens to be a former racing legend…wait…did I forget to mention that? Well that nugget of knowledge, like pretty much everything else, is divulged in one of the random throwaway scenes near the beginning. Anyways, Jensen is coerced into taking the driving job with the promise of freedom. Yet not only must Jensen inherit Frankenstein’s mask, but his archrival Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) as well. Can Jensen figure out who really killed his wife in time? Will the race prove far more difficult than he expected? Should you skip “Death Race” and just play “Mario Kart” instead? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.

To be fair, you really cannot go into a film called “Death Race” with any real expectations. The movie pretty much delivers on its promise of outlandish deaths and crazy looking cars. Plus, “Death Race” practically begs you to turn your brain off your brain by revealing the entire plot in the trailer…twist and all. Still, you cannot help feeling a little cheated after watching the picture. The major problem with "Death Race" is that it is a big budget production trying to sell itself as a “B-movie.” Yet the movie never really wants to commit to the “B-movie” aesthetics. It really aims to be more of a mindless summer blockbuster. Well at least it got the mindless part so much. What makes a lot of “B-movies” special is the fact that they seem to do so much with so little. Sure the production is poor and the camp value is high; but the movies usually appeal to our most primal urges. This is not to say that big budget fare cannot achieve the same effect. Movies such as “Grindhouse”, “Snakes on a Plane”, ”Cloverfield” (to a certain extent), and several others have proven this. Yet when you have production value as slick as “Death Race;” it is tough to pawn off the movie as something that is supposed to be intentionally bad. Especially when you have scenes clearly designed for the technically savvy video game generation (i.e. driving over weapon power-ups, etc). While is not the worst thing to come out this year, the movie does get boring fast. The action is redundant and the humour is practically non-existent. If anything, the only thing “Death Race” really succeeds at is making you wish you were actually watching the original “Death Race 2000.” At least that movie knew how to let loose and have fun like a true “B-movie.”

Warning: “Red Ban” Trailer (i.e. strong language and violence)