Friday, May 27, 2016

Opinion: ...and the next Bond is?

Where in the world would Hollywood movies be without proper casting?! Although it would have been interesting to see Shirley Temple as Dorothy, Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones or even Kate Jackson as Joanna Kramer (one can always wonder), the character of James Bond is a different beast because multiple actors have (and most likely will) portrayed the recurring, iconic role. Of course for me, there is only one true Bond and he is Sean Connery, the actor that originated the role and quite frankly, perhaps the best actor to portray of the nuances of Bond... ever!
Sean Connery originated Ian Fleming's master spy in "Dr. No".
Even the dastardly remake of "Thunderball", entitled "Never Say Never Again", was an earnest attempt to woo Connery back to the franchise despite his age and despite his saying, in real life, 'never again'. In my opinion, Connery set a very high standard with his interpretation of Bond, one that has been often duplicated, but never one that can be compared. Roger Moore's "Bond", on the contrary (and aside from "Live and Let Die"), seemed almost the polar opposite of the Bond who Connery portrayed. Moore's Bond was bit comical at time, mundane at others, and definitely a few notches removed from the intensity and realism of prior Bond films. 
Roger Moore jumped from television to the big screen in "Live and Let Die". 
In perhaps the only "hiccup" (meaning one-timer) of the franchise, the producers looked to George Lazenby (after Connery wanted out of the role) to succeed in the franchise with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Lazenby had never acted in a movie prior to this one (he and producer Albert Broccoli met while at at barbershop) and was an Australian transplant to London for modeling work. I liked Lazenby in the role of Bond as I thought he was believable and effective, given the screenplay (which included one of my favorite British actresses of the time, Diana Rigg), but comparisons to Connery were expected; I'd like to think they interpreted the role differently. 

George Lazenby portrayed Bond only once and went up against Telly Savalas as the evil played 
Blofeld in that film. 
Oddly enough, there was a "Charlie's Angels" episode that featured Timothy Dalton as a master jewel thief who had, as Charlie described, "almost James Bond-ian" and who, unlike Bond, was impervious to feminine charms (except for Farrah's 'Jill'). Turns out Dalton played Bond twice -"The Living Daylights" and "Licence to Kill"  - to some good reviews. I thought Dalton's intensity (especially in his eyes) as Bond captured a different side of the character and made the tension in the role very palpable and therefore believable in both films. I enjoyed his performance as Bond and, if we're still counting, rank him behind Connery and Craig. 
Timothy  Dalton's Bond was the "victim" of the AIDS crises in that the writers felt that showing a more traditionally promiscuous Bond would not be in the best taste of the worldwide health epidemic.  

Before he was Bond, he was Remington Steele (a series I actually enjoyed). When Pierce Brosnan inherited the role, I thought the "over-the-top" effects would be less and that there would be a return to a more traditional mano-a-mano type of Bond (like Connery's films) that uses both his wits and his hands to get out of jams. To some degree, this is the case with Brosnan's films but there's also that "sun ray" film (Die Another Day) which had a LOT of CGI, etc. I didn't believe Brosnan's Bond because I never quite felt that he had a solid interpretation or understanding of the role and because I did not think there was uniform level of intensity to his acting. The screenplays were interesting but sometimes the 'villain' and ergo the villainy is quite flushed out (for example, I enjoyed "Tomorrow Never Dies", especially the action sequences with Michelle Yeogh, but I didn't understand the motivation of Jonathan Pryce's evil Elliot Carver). 
Pirece Brosnan as Bond put me to sleep. 
Thank goodness for Daniel Craig - and for the story arch that crosses all four of his Bond films. I appreciated his interpretation and portrayal of Bond because it echoes back to Connery's. Craig is all business in the films (how could you NOT take your eyes off the opening parkour sequence in Casino Royale?) and there's an intensity there that isn't written into the scripts. Skyfall by far was superlatively and unexpectedly intense which was a welcomed film from some of the former weaker ones. But with Craig now bowing out of the role, it's interesting who is now being considered for the iconic role. 

Daniel Craig...seriously intense and surgically efficient as Bond. Masterfully acted with impetuousness, contempt, devil may care bravado and just the right amount of ego.  

Among the actors being considered....

I think he's an exceptional actor who hasn't yet deserved a lot of recognition for his non-"Loki" roles. His portrayal of "Coriolanus" in that Shakespeare tragedy was one of the best performances on stage I have seen and his work on "The Night Manager" is getting some critical reviews. I think he'd be an interesting Bond - I've never seen him in a that particular kind of genre or in that particular kind of role. 


I think Hardy is this generation's "de Niro". He would completely kill (no pun intended) as Bond; but it wouldn't be the Bond that the producers would want. Hardy's Bond wouldn't be dapper or even 'civil' and, I think, would be much rawer and looser, feelings deeply hidden but ideas and actions on a perennial 5th gear. 


 A phenomenal choice for Bond and I'm sure one that would give an entirely new meaning and depth to the role. Elba could distinctly and definitively play Bond - intensely, instinctively and intelligently. 


I just saw "The Lobster" and was absolutely fascinated by Farrell's portrayal of the title character. He's done a handful of action flicks (very believable in them) and I have no doubt he would be a solid Bond; dutifully different (perhaps in an edgier way) but still solid. 


Henry is probably one of the top choices to play Bond and he's created a very successful resume of movies and roles - which actually may work against him; he's much too identified to the role of Superman that perhaps the producers might think THAT role would overshadow his turn as  Bond. And, I also think Henry needs to be a bit more brooding and introspective as Bond, which I'm not sure he's displayed in other roles. Don't get me wrong; he'd make a terrific Bond but I'm not sure it's the kind of Bond that the producers want, particularly after Daniel Craig's high bar-setting performance. 


Wow! Never thought they'd consider Michael Fassbender for 007. Now HE would make an intense Bond, particularly because of his superlative performance in "Macbeth" last year. Fassbender is also tied to Magneto in the X-MEN franchise but unlike Cavill, Michael has done work in so many obscure yet worthwhile films (Slow West, The Counselor, Centurion, etc.) that show the breadth of his versatility. I think he'd make an intriguing Bond because you'd never know what he'd be bringing to the table. 


Yes, I did see "Fifty Shades of Grey" and yes, I will never get those minutes of my life back. And most particularly, yes, I did think Dornan's performance was cheesy and lackluster [hey, with lines like, "I like to fuck...I like to fuck hard!", can you blame him 100%?!] and I'm not sure he has the necessary acting chops to carry Bond to believability. 

JACK REYNOR Jack could make an interesting day. 


The right temperament, the right amount of brooding and the right amount of cockiness...Luke Evans would make an extremely, extremely interesting Bond and I could imagine him in the role. Unfortunately, I don't think the producers are as open to having an openly gay actor play the role ONLY because of the credibility he would need to establish with relation to the Bond women....I'm just sayin'! 


These are all fine actors who have done work in mostly television shows, not so much on the big screen. But, I do have confidence that can each lay Bond solidly albeit differently. I would also say that it wouldn't be a surprise if the producers selected a complete unknown, as well. That's really never happened before!!! Hahahahaha. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Film: "Sing Street"

For me, the 80’s WAS my coming-of-age decade. My spirit, my soul, my body, my mind, my art, my craft, my career, my thought, my life….ALL came alive [some died; some died and then became alive again!] during that frantic, frenetic, fun-loving, free-love time. High school was done; innocence lost. College held promises and promiscuities and experimentation and heartbreak and check-ins with reality. But the one glorious aspect of that splendidly decadent, defining, disastrously delicious decade: THE MUSIC….and in particular, what was then referred to as the Second British Invasion.

Born out of the end of disco and as a fusion of pop/rock and soul, New Wave music was ushered in on radio waves by British groups like Duran Duran, Culture Club, the Cure,

Depeche Mode, Wham!, the Thompson Twins, the Police, Bananarama, the Eurythmics,
U2, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the Human League, the Smiths, New Order, the Pet Shop Boys, Tears for Fears, Bronski Beat, Blancmange, ABC, the Art of Noise, Spandau Ballet, Big Country, Flock of Seagulls, the Blow Monkeys, the Fixx, Bow Wow Wow, Yaz, Adam and the Ants, Madness, Naked Eyes, Wang Chung, Go West, Cee Farrow as well as singers like Rick Astley, Lisa Stansfield, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Sheena Easton, Kylie Minogue, Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading, and the list goes on and on. In a nutshell, their music helped define a generation and was part of the soundtrack to my life.


“Sing Street”, the newest movie from director John Carney, is an homage to that wondrous and defining decade. 

It’s Dublin in 1985. Amidst an economic recession, Conor’s family – parents (who are headed straight for divorce court), an older, gadabout brother Brendan and an older collegiate sister Ann- must give up a high brown life which means Conor must transfer to a private, Catholic, all boys high school to finish his secondary education. And of course, fitting in comes with its standard fun-poking, up-beating, "isolationistic" behavior exhibited toward “the new kid” on the block.

Director John Carney

So, what better way to escape this stark and moreso bitter reality than by recruiting members to form a band!
And recruit, Conor does!
And write some nifty songs, Conor does!
And shoot some music videos, Conor and crew do
[Reminder: MTV ruled the television airwaves in the mid-80’s]!
And begins to wear eyeliner to copy Duran Duran, do they!
And fall in love with a girl, Conor does!
And runs away to find destiny, Conor does!

And….gosh….what a joyful journey and what a joyful movie!

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and Eamon (Mark McKenna) write music together and surprisingly, it's toe-tappingly, finger-snappingly, head-boppingly really good! 
The entire cast is rather well put together, starting with Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, the young 16 year old who plays the lead Conor. Now HE looks like could have been in ANY of those 80's bands way back when and, moreover, he CAN ACTUALLY play music and sing!

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor

 But it's his demeanor as Conor that is quite affecting; he can be tough when he wants to be, scared, eager, sincere, shy, all the mixed feelings of becoming a teen. Conor also has courage and hutzpah and Walsh-Peelo does an excellent job of conveying those deep-seated emotions too. 

"Sing Street" is the name of the band this quirky but lovable bunch of teen misfits creates. Their outfits for this video?...whatever Cosmo can find and whatever everyone can fit!  
But the two relationships highlighted in this film belong to Conor and Raphina, the young wanna-be model (played luminously by Lucy Boynton)  and Conor and his elder brother Brendan (a wonderful, supporting role and performance by Jack Reynor). 

Lucy Boynton as Raphina
who becomes Conor's muse.
With Raphina, Conor begins to find focus and (somewhat) "meaning" in doing what he's doing - making music and the subsequent music videos. She really becomes his muse, in a way, inspiring him to write song after song from the times they sneak away to share. He wants to be her savior, her protector, her lover and the ending, which I will not divulge, is quite fitting. 

But it's with his brother Brendan - an out-of-work, former guitarist - that Conor becomes confident in his pursuit of music. The care and meaning in which Brendan schools Conor in the fine art of music [I guess back in the 1980's, I would have deemed 'playing music on my turntable' as one method of 'learning' music!] it's created, how it's shaped, what it means and how it is played. The key moment in their relationship is when Brendan unleashes an ocean of regret, jealousy and hope in a cathartic tirade that both terrifies and empower Conor. Jack Reynor's performance of a brother living vicariously through the actions of his younger sibling is quite poignant, especially given the last few moments in the film.  

Jack Reynor as Brendan, Conor's big brother, 
mentor and ultimately, his wings. 

I would call "Sing Street" the undiscovered gem (as of yet) in film for 2016. Yes, it's a slight throwback to a period that for someone like me, wasn't too long ago but meant a whole heck of a great deal. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Film: "The Huntsman: Winter's War"

A long, long time ago….wait…that’s the beginning to a much, much, very much better film!

To my chagrin and quite Intriguingly, Universal Pictures found a premise for the excuse that is “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”, a prequel to its original (and much better) “Snow White and the Huntsman”. And because it boasts such a stellar cast (including the baritone narration of Liam Neeson), I was expecting the movie would be much more worthy of my time than its predecessor.  Alas, I was proven wrong and I shall never get that 1 hour and 51 minutes of my life back. 

Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt collide in 

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" from Universal Studios. 
Let’s begin with the plot. The ruthless Ravenna (Charlize Theron reprising her prior role from “Snow White…”) has a younger sister named Freya (Emily Blunt) who bears a child with a dashing soldier.  When the child is killed, Freya’s hidden latent power – which in this case is the inherent ability to create/destroy using ice – is unleashed and she exiles herself to the lands north of Ravenna’s dominion.  
The ubiquitous Emily Blunt plays Freya, the sister to Charlize Theron's Ravenna, whose ice power are unleashed with the death of her baby daughter. 
In capturing the kingdoms that stand in her path, she kidnaps all of the children and trains them to become her army. “There is one rule in my kingdom,” Freya commands, “…there can be no love.” Yup, well, they don’t call her the Ice Queen for nothing! And so it goes until Sara and Eric – two of Freya's captured - grow up together in Freya’s army and realize they have fallen in love (uh oh….no, no, no!).  But their plans to escape go awry, and they are separated. 

Several years later, and Freya has become frantic in search of Ravenna's all-powerful, all-knowing Mirror Mirror, a prized possession which should have been left in a place that would have quelled its evil power had it not been stolen by some goblins. Eric and Sara - who have now grown into Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain – have since reunited and must now join forces (with some very wise-cracking dwarves) in order to prevent Freya from finding the Mirror…and yet again, predictably as always, they fail and everything comes down to one final, epic, winner-take-all battle….blah, blah, blah…..

Chris Hemsworth as "Eric" and Jessica Chastain as "Sara". 

One could argue that Sara was a feminist of her generation. 

.....and oh, BTW...Ravenna was not killed or "died" per se....nope, she BECAME part of the Mirror and is unwittingly released from its capture by Freya herself (you know...."Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...Who's the Fairest of them All...?) you can cue the final battle....

The Sisters will battle their enemies first before battling each other for the final prize!
Charlize Theron as, what a byatch! 
I am unsure why this particular prequel was created unless it was supposedly an obscure homage to Disney’s “Frozen”.  The actors do their best with the flimsy lines and muted action sequences. Ravenna is just one, huge bitch and Theron is perfectly fine in doling out the wickedness both in word and in 'action'. Blunt, who for the most part carries almost all of the 'evilness' in the movie, is on point with her iciness and trepidation. Hemsworth carries the same laissez-faire towards Eric which he did not do in the prequel and Chastain, I guess, was just added simply in response to the lack of a Snow White as another character.  The final scene between the two queens left me wanting a bit…no, a LOT….more than what was given. And the predictable ending was as lackadaisical as a camel taking a stroll in the desert. There's even a 'hint' - be it ever so slight - that there might be yet another entry into this overworked franchise looming down the forest path! 

Perhaps the only element, er elements, of this movie that made it absolutely bearable for this watcher was the banter and hilarity of the dwarves - Rob Brydon (Gryff), Nick Frost (Nion), Sheridan Smith (Bromwyn) and Alexandra Roach (Doreena) - who displayed an awesomeness of bravery as well as a lot of compassion. Plus, they had some very funny and witty lines!  

I say ditch the Queens, keep the dwarves, shatter the Mirror and keep Hansel and, I mean....Eric and Sara...maybe THEY could possibly be a better movie! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Film: "Money Monster"

Wall Street apparently isn't immune to Hollywood's continuing depiction of its multi-faceted life. Akin to comedy/tragedy, the financial institutions' fragility/volatility has stories on both sides of its coin. Last year's "The Big Short", which I found completely fascinating, told interwoven stories of investors who foresaw the inevitable collapse of the housing market and even when some of those courageous enough to sound the alarm did so, few, if any, heeded the warning.  Which brings me to Jodie Foster's "Money Monster", a pastiche of hostage taking, revenge, collusion and truth-searching that does, somehow, fit all of the pieces together through a ninety-minute screenplay. 

Falling shy (in a big way) of the ambition and breadth of "The Big Short", "Money Monster" stars George Clooney as Lee Gates, a sort of "Richard Simmons" (not in THAT way) of Wall Street whose weekly live 'MONEY MONSTER' show gives financial/investor advice to hapless Wall Street 
investors much like a Pez dispenser dishes out pellets of candy to kids on Halloween. He's a showman, a master manipulator of his three ring circus who's "wham, bang, thank you ma'am" approach to investments in the stock market has yet to go of yet. 

Lee's long-suffering producer/director Patti Fenn (Julia Roberts, with a pinpoint performance)is a no-nonsense, experienced director whose kinda sorta "had it" with Lee and who has accepted another job across the street. 

Julia Roberts as "Money Monster" director Patti Fenn. 

On Patti's last episode with Lee, the station and the broadcast is jarringly interrupted by Kyle Budwell, a downtrodden gun-toting stranger who straps Lee to a homemade vest (complete with incendiary device) and compels Lee to provide or seek an answer as to why IBIS CLEAR CAPITAL - a company whose stock Lee has been touting for months - lost him and his fellow investors some $800 million dollars through a computer glitch. "It was my entire savings!" shouts Budwell. 

George Clooney as Lee Gates, host of reality show  "Money Monster".

"Lee Gates" entertaining the investors on 'Money Monster'.
While Lee does his best to keep Kyle from blowing up the station, Patti and her crew work diligently behind the scenes to connect the dots between people who may (or may not) have been responsible for the glitch and in the end, uncover more than they hoped. 

Jack O'Connell plays the troubled and revenge seeking Kyle Budwell who takes George Clooney's Lee Gates hostage  

Because all of this is airing on live television, Kyle becomes somewhat of a celebrity "hero" as his full 15 minutes of fame pass by with every move and counter-move this screenplay takes. 

As tension builds, Budwell insisits on meeting
the head of IBIS CAPITAL in order to extract
an apology or even a recognition that what Wall Street
is not about the 'little guy'. 

Jodie Foster has, of course, very capable hands as a director; this movie is as solid as it can be. Clooney, for example, has the tougher role as he needs to change from complete, self-absorbed asshole to empowered, caring, truth-seeker within the confines of the screenplay and he does so adequately. Roberts stays at the same controlled 'note' the entire movie as Patti - a seasoned professional who knows what to do and how to do it well - a character who is needed to ground the tension in the film and even diffuses it now and then with some humor....("Sacagawea Lee!" she screams, their code for ShutUp!).

Her character has a second wind in the latter half of the film as the climax to Kyle's standoff occurs. 

O'Connell (with a slightly overdone New Yawk accent) is effective, nonetheless, as he can be in the role of Budwell. It would have been nice to see even more tension and conflict come from his character earlier in the film, although when all hell breaks loose towards the latter half of the film, O'Connell is spot on. 

But, being solid limits the scope of possibilities and I would have liked to have seen a bit more from the screenplay in terms of plot, meaning, depth and tension. The denouement of the film is exactly how I left the theater...unaffected and uninterested. In a word, it's was what I expected and what I did NOT expect... at the same time.