Monday, November 12, 2012

*No Country for Old Bond

Skyfall (2012) - Mendes
Ever since 007 franchise decided to 'go back to its roots' with Daniel Craig as a no-nonsense, cold blooded MI6 killing machine, the makers were left with fewer and fewer options. The world is changing: the machismo, sexism and patriotism all sound as unattractive and outdated as the word 'computer'. It's been harder and harder to differentiate this blunt instrument from any other Bourne action hero types. So it has to be and only can be a character study even if it means sacrificing sex appeal and glitz. Because its breakneck speed though, to keep up with other actioners, the character arc and whatnot can't be stretched out long enough for them to keep Craig as Bond. And as much as I'm excited about the rumor that Idris Elba as the next Secret Agent, I am very sad to see Craig go. In my humble opinion, Craig has been the best Bond ever.

Mendes and the team sets out what maybe the last Craig 007 the same way as Rocky 4. Hardly any older than his counterparts in their primes (I remember one 80s Sean Connery Bond movie where they make incessant jokes about his age), Skyfall starts with picturesque Istanbul setting where he gets shot off of the moving train. Hard to believe Daniel Craig as an aging, failing Bond, considering Roger Moore's never athletic flabby Brit-twit JB. It's all about honor and code and stuff. Monstrous Silva (scene chewing Javier Badem), an ex-secret serviceman, has it out for M (Judi Dench, playing mother of all mothers). In order to protect her, 007 first has to go off the grid and do Driving Miss Daisy routine to Scotland, then do an OK Corral style shotgun battle. I was half expecting either Eye of the Tiger or Hank Williams to kick in.

But it's no less fun than the previous two. OK maybe a little less. It's also the first time anyone notices the cinematography (shot by Roger Deakins) in a Bond movie. Shanghai and Macao never looked better. The final showdown in misty Scotland, backlit by burning mansion is perhaps second best this year, losing only to another Scottish movie, Wuthering Heights.

*the title courtesy of Robbie Bruens.

Colors and Shadows

Tren de Sombras (1997) - Guerin
tren de sombras
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Gerard Fleury, a Parisian attorney and amateur filmmaker, disappeared while vacationing in Normandy with his extended family in 1930. He left countless disintegrating home movie reels. José Luis Guerin, using some of Fleury footages and reenacting scenes with actors, makes an utterly captivating film. The film starts with a prolonged b&w home movie- the family on vacation in their big country estate. Sound of projector running is audible. Then it's the present- rustling of the wind, fallen leaves, the empty, decaying opulent estate, shadow play on decorative walls, rain. The long sequence is just as beautiful as any later JLG films. Tren de Sombras doesn't catch fire 'til half way in, when it becomes a reconstruction of the Fleury family through the home movie reels. Guerin playfully edits- using jump cuts, juxtapositions and split screen, suggesting the scenario of illicit affair between a maid and the elder son. This voyeuristic process is not unlike Antonioni's Blow Up or Zapruder reenactment. But the film is much more than that. It is obvious that Guerin is playing with the genre and form. The films works on many levels. With elegant and poetic images, the film never feels sordid or trivial. There is no dialog- as in In the City of Sylvia, he utilizes sound of the street and nature. And there is a glorious, Brakhage-like experimental element to the whole thing. Tren de Sombras hits all the right notes in what I'm looking for in movies right now.