Off The Cuff: The Suicide Squad (2021)

Preamble

Welcome to Off the Cuff, a series of posts where I will be writing about my raw impressions to a film that I’ve just seen. Rather than a review that acts as an overview for many aspects of a movie, Off the Cuff will focus in on an aspect or two. These posts are inspired by the “30 Minutes On” series of writings on Roger Ebert.com, whereby the critic in question would spend half an hour writing about a particular film. Alas, I will not be timing myself with these posts. With that in mind, what did you think of The Suicide Squad? Let me know in the comments below.

Off The Cuff

If there’s one director’s work who I’ve spilled a mighty amount of virtual ink on, then it’s James Gunn. His films have equally fascinated and puzzled me. His Marvel efforts (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 and 2) have interesting virtues but have kept me at arms length because of their awkward mix of irreverence and sentimentality. But his first feature- Slither worked for me, due to being a thematically on point homage to vintage monster movies. And the less said about Super, the better… However, The Suicide Squad truly surprised me.

Throughout the existence of the comic book movie genre, many filmmakers have feigned about making their movie faithful to the medium they’re adapting from. There have been movies where this intention is effortlessly achieved (i.e Sin City and Into The Spider-Verse). But for every one of these gems, there’s a horrendous misfire of intention (Batman and Robin) etc.

At a fundamental level, The Suicide Squad profoundly understands comic books and their appeal. It has a deep-seated love for the medium. Narratively, it’s constructed like a series of single issues that have been stapled together. There’s many vignettes that are launched by a titles, which signal what that section is going to be about. These creative transitions evoke a feeling of watching a single issue play out for a period of time. Gunn’s screenplay is also not afraid to embrace the absurdity of the medium, whether it’s the sheer existence of King Shark or Polka-Dot Man.

By the same token, Gunn understands how the fantastical nature of the medium can be metaphorical. The main antagonist- (Starro) is a giant star fish that keeps growing via taking over the bodies of the local population. The entity is purely adapted silver age glory that becomes a metaphor for how governments cannot hope to contain opposition, be it political or journalistic in nature. The creature also feels thematically aligned with the idea of the collective in Slither, which represented the horrifying gossiping nature of a small town populace.

Gunn punctuates these aspects with many shots that feel like giant splash pages. The most striking being a rain soaked slow motion shot of the central team walking in unison. The Suicide Squad also becomes a fun playground for Gunn’s pendulum swing between classic and modern filmmaking. In the tail end, there’s one moment where he uses Sergio Leone’s cowboy shot and then proceeds to depict a tense gunfight as though its a scene right out of a post Matrix film (with the use of bullet time).

As for the seesaw between irreverence and sentimentality, I found Gunn’s balance here quite well done. Part of this comes from the premise that has an aspect of nihilism, with many of the characters being lambs to the slaughter. As a result, the sentimentality feels earned as opposed to forced like many moments in the Galaxy pictures.

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One Great Shot: Hellraiser (1987)

Preamble

Happy Halloween everyone. I could not let this spooky time of year pass by without a post. Hellraiser is one of my favourite horror movies, due to how it combines elements of Gothic, sexual and Lovecraftian horror. Hellraiser’s portrait of evil is also interesting, which is encapsulated in the film’s one great shot. What’s your favourite shot from Clive Barker’s film? Let me know in the comments below. And if you like this post or any of my other horror-related posts, then you can find more at my second home- Horror Obsessive: https://horrorobsessive.com/author/sartaj-singh/

One Great Shot

Despite Pinhead being on the primary poster and many of the home media covers that grace Hellraiser, he’s not actually the villain of the film. Instead, Hellraiser’s one great shot cements Julia Cotton as the film’s true antagonist. In fact, her transition from a morose woman who does not feel sexually satisfied in her marriage to a murderous complicator in a taboo relationship is arguably the film’s real horror.

At this moment, Clare Higgins plays Julia as though she’s a stony empress who just executed someone. There’s a cold-blooded quality along with a precise and still physicality that makes the character stand out. This is a far cry from the woman who previously felt distraught at having to commit murder. Clive Barker’s choice to include this shot amid a murder montage is excellent for illustrating Julia’s increasing nonchalant relationship with killing, and a general sense of dehumanisation.

At the same time, the shot also sets up the larger than life quality that Julia has in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. In that film, the character comes across as a mythic embodiment of the evil stepmother to the protagonist- Kirsty Cotton. Retrospectively, it feels as though Clive Barker is visually sowing the seeds for this portrait of Julia. With this in mind, the bait and switch between the perception of the film’s true baddie become even more fascinating.

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Review: Dune (2021)

Preamble

Briefly put, Dune is as close to fever pitch excitement that I’ve had for a movie since the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Part of this comes from my relationship with the property. The David Lynch adaptation got me hooked on his movies and ambient music. And Frank Herbert’s novels provided me great comfort and distraction during the peak of the pandemic last year. Silly fanboy confessions aside, did you see Dune over the weekend? What did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

Perhaps more than Lord of the Rings and Heart of Darkness, Dune has felt like the impossible book adaptation to slay. Originally conceived as an oddly long epic that was going to star Salvador Dali, and represent a life-changing experience (akin to LSD) for its audience; Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune is a testament to madcap vision and an interesting alternative reality for science fiction cinema. On the other hand, David Lynch’s eighties adaptation was an overexplanatory cliff notes version of Frank Herbert’s novel, which still managed to retain some of Lynch’s indelible surreal style. Visually beguiling and smartly written, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune proves to be an excellent adaptation that distils many of the themes that graced Herbert’s 1965 novel.

Roughly covering the first part of the novel (fittingly entitled Dune) the 2021 adaptation is about the Atreides family, who are tasked with mining spice on a planet called Arrakis. The substance in question provides the user with a heightened state of consciousness that can achieve interstellar travel and longer life. However, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his concubine, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) soon find more than meets the eye, when it comes to their newfound gifted responsibility from the Emperor, and former controllers of the planet’s spice production- House Harkonnen.

On the page, Dune is filled to the brim with many elements that harmonise to create a fascinating science-fiction epic. And this is without even mentioning the world-building that can veer into overwhelming territory at times. The screenplay, co-written by director, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth, and Jon Spaihts firmly plants its feet on two larger aspects of the novel. The first is a sense of fatalism that underpins the Atreides’ time on Dune. There’s a persistent sense of danger from larger forces at work that seek to crush the family’s political prominence. At the same time, there’s a clear ethos of Paul’s hero’s journey being akin to an inherited poisoned chalice. There are various visions the character has. They speak to the widespread turmoil and ruin his rule could bring. These moments coupled with a sense of one of the factions spreading a myth of a chosen one truly cements the screenwriters’ understanding of Herbert’s text.

If Dune is about anything then it’s about the interplay between how an environment defines someone and how various people attempt to imprint their will on said environment. This sense of myth clashing with political will is so clearly coursing through the veins of Villeneuve’s 2021 adaptation.

However, despite these virtues, the screenplay does occasionally indulge in trite pseudo-intellectual lines that do feel jarring. Some ideas are also repeated in case the people at the back of the cinema did not hear them the first time. And a few adaptation choices do lessen the impact of some tertiary characters who had more vivid life in Lynch’s 1984 film.

Visually, Dune’s first part is a marvel. In spirit, it has the grand vintage epics in mind with some of the tall and imposing set design that injects its science-fiction world with an authentic sense of place. The film’s visuals standout in quite subtle ways too. There’s a scene on a fog engulfed landing platform that with its use of close-ups feels like a homage to Ingmar Bergman’s existential films. The use of shadow to partially obscure Paul’s profile also feels thematically resonating in illustrating the uncertainty of the character’s future.

Likewise, the introduction of the Bene Gesserit with minimal (almost heavenly) lighting is painterly and stunning. It put me in mind of the William Turner painting- “Peace- Burial at Sea”, which used light to illuminate the age and beauty of its central ship. The same can be said of the Gesserit shot in illustrating the almost centuries-old existence of the female group. But some of my most favourite visual moments from Dune came from the shots that attempted to harmonise Dust Bowl era imagery and Middle Eastern exoticism.

Despite being saddled with the label of a naive boy throughout the film, Timothée Chalamet displays an impressive sense of authority and determinism in his performance as Paul. Stellan Skarsgård cuts an imposing and grotesque figure as a reinterpreted Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, who exists somewhere between Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars films. However, Rebecca Ferguson steals the show in an impressive near-silent performance that walks a fine line between fragile and strong.

In a year that’s seen Hans Zimmer work on big movies such as Wonder Woman 1984 and No Time to Die, it’s quite something that his best score proves to be Dune. It’s an interesting inversion of his usual percussive work that’s employed to imbue tension, much like some of Ennio Morricone’s music did in Sergio Leone’s Western films. However, the German composer outdoes himself with an experimental, sharp, piercing, and ominous theme for the Bene Gesserit, which illustrates their uniformity and power as individuals.

Overall, Dune is an astounding singular work. It’s a film that embraces the convictions of the source material and trusts the audience to keep up with its vision. Long gone are the days of two-page glossaries being handed out at screenings for fear of audience comprehension. Instead, Dune believes in the cinema to weave Herbert’s complex source material.

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Review: Halloween Kills (2021)

Preamble

If there’s one type of movie that people are always game for around October, then it’s a scary movie. And after many delays, Halloween Kills finally swoops in to enliven the spooky period. Does it provide one good scare? What did you think of the sequel to the 2018 film? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

At best, Halloween (2018) was a mixed blessing that I’ve grown to appreciate. Despite indulging in trends that made some of the sequels a far cry from the original 1978 film, it interestingly used homage to illustrate how Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had in some senses morphed into Michael Myers in the years since her traumatic incident. By comparison, Halloween Kills proves to be an unrelenting exercise in nostalgia.

Taking place mere moments after the 2018 film, Halloween Kills sees the injured Strode women, Laurie, Karen (Judy Greer) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) recover in hospital after their encounter with Michael Myers (a combination of Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney). Unbeknownst to the family, the white-masked slasher escaped from fiery captivity after a group of firefighters attend to the scene of the incident. Meanwhile across town, survivors Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards) attempt to drum up support for a mob to take down the rampaging Myers.

Nostalgia is no stranger to the Halloween franchise. H20 (1998) was practically a post Scream movie, which featured self-referential moments that alluded to John Carpenter’s film and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). However, Kills uses nostalgia as the be-all and end-all to its characters. Many of the new players are plucked because of their relationship to the original but are not developed beyond their nostalgic evoking. And in a particularly bad example, a female character from the 1978 film feels as though she’s just there to repeat the same sentiment and die in a manner that evokes her scare scene from the original. There’s never a sense that the screenwriters are interested in what time or the intervening years have done to the characters who were kids in Carpenter’s Halloween.

Instead, most of them exist to be an awkward greek chorus for the hammered and crowbarred theme of how fear spreads across Haddonfield. Conceptually, this theme plays on the fear of mobs. But the execution feels contrived and oddly mixed in illustrating the terrifying chaos of the mob mentality, and how they can be empowering in getting over trauma. This problem leaves Kills exposed as a placeholder film that uses its new characters as sacrificial pawns in a game of chess between Laurie and Michael.

Despite the problematic nature of the writing, Halloween Kills does somewhat coast on being a violent and at times shocking slasher film. This is due in part to the huge body count and some of the sequences. There’s one that feels the closest the franchise has come to generating the terror from the home invasion sub-genre; via minimalist sound design and great back and forth between its characters in building up tension.

And one kill scene plays likes a missing link between a brutal Rob Zombie Halloween sequence and the original’s demented sense of play with its staging of bodies. This scene depicts a dying woman looking at her husband getting stabbed multiple times (via a hazy and out of focus protracted point of view shot) and is something that will be lingering in my memory for a long time to come. On this score, Kills earns its title and will be a talking point for many hungry horror hounds.

John Carpenter in collaboration with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies returns to score Halloween Kills. The result is music that illustrates the intensity of Myers’s slaughter of the denizens of the small midwestern town. However, the trio’s best work comes with what they do with established themes. In particular, the rendition of the main theme is haunting and melancholic with its use of choral music that feels like a lament for the town of Haddonfield.

Finally, some small moments do strike a chord. One scene has Laurie confesses how she saw a character when she was younger. Curtis’s performance is touching at this moment and displays some great humanity despite the Halloween II esque situation she finds herself in. I honestly wish there were more moments like this. But Halloween Kills attempts to paper over the cracks of its thinly conceived screenplay with bloody carnage. In some moments, this may be enough for a certain stripe of horror fan. But for me, it was a distraction from the true horror of what the best Halloween movies have been all about.

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Review: No-One (2021)

Preamble

Straight up, this is my 300th blog post. I’ve had several ideas to celebrate this milestone, including a review of 300 (gimmicky I know) and the cringe-worthy equivalent to a clip show episode of a sitcom (in the form of top-five reviews etc). However, I could not think of a better commemoration than this review.

I had the rare privilege of being invited to attend a screening of No-One at the Soho Hotel in London. The trip represented my first time going into the heart of London since February 2020. The turnout was huge, and it was a genuine joy to attend a full screening again after so long. More than that, the experience was a testament to the enduring power of movies and their knack for being a genuine cultural touchstone. Long may the medium continue to persist. No-One has been making the rounds on the festival circuit. Have you had a chance to see it? If so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

No-One is an interesting piece of work. It’s the sort of film that lingers and stews in the mind long after the credits have rolled. Combining historical intrigue and underhanded romantic sparring, No-One flickers between historical satire and grand Shakespearean tragedy. Crucially, this quality is embodied in a sentence that comes in the film’s opening text- “This a depiction of those days and not events.”

Set during the last months of the Soviet Union, No-One is about the conflict between an ageing KGB general- Oleg Sergeyevich (Slava Jolobov) and his nephew- Vlad (George Marchenko). Sergeyevich is married to a famous actress Tamara (Natalia Vdovina) and suspects that Vlad is making the moves on her. Over several days at a resort, Sergeyevich attempts to get to the bottom of his wife’s suspected infidelities.

No-One is directed with the patience of a bird on the wall who is watching the characters interact in real-time. The film’s opening section that depicts a long conversation between Oleg and Vlad whilst walking to work typifies this quality. It’s in these long stretches where the audience is confronted with a slow tension of threat, which makes No-One an engaging experience.

At the same time, the film’s minimalist use of score (mostly relegated to the films Vlad watches and directs) imbues proceedings with a chilly and clinical atmosphere that keeps the audience on their toes. The performances are also impressive for their pendulum swing between melodrama and naturalism.

Jolobov is a force of nature as Sergeyevich. He mixes a magnetic screen presence with subtle emotion that comes out in key scenes. One comes towards the tail end where he’s talking to a lifeguard. It proves to be as darkly comic as tense and upsetting. At first, Marchenko is impressive for his stillness in the opening sequence. However, as the film goes on, the young actor is akin to a scorpion who strikes with his vicious words and arrogance. These qualities come to the fore in a scene where he imagines he’s talking to his uncle. And Vdovina mixes movie star sheen and humanity as the actress that both men are fighting over.

At its core, No-One has a quality that appeals to me. Its characters are not just figures that exist within the context of a scripted narrative. They’re also people who stand in for larger points about Russia. In particular, Sergeyvich’s and Vlad’s struggles become an intergenerational conflict about the future of the country. Vdovina exists in the middle as an illustration of how Russia wants to appear culturally in the future.

Does it want to be considered artful in its cinema? Or does it want to continue to pursue trashy exploitation fare? The quandary of depiction in cinema is a theme that appealed to me. Sergeyevich takes issue with his nephew’s depiction of his wife in one of his films. He likens it to rape as he concludes that Tamara is a free spirit that can’t be controlled etc. This point reminded me of the way Brain DePalma depicts women in his films. At once, they’re larger than life and at the same time all too human. In this way, No-One becomes a tight rope about the spaces in between cinematic representation and how someone is in real life.

For this reason, and the inherent tragedy of Sergeyevich losing grip on all he loves, due to the qualities that made him a ruthless general of the KGB, No-One is a potent cocktail of meaning.

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Review: No Time to Die (2021)

Preamble

If there’s one film that’s encapsulated the frustration with the pandemic, then it’s No Time to Die. It was the first movie to be delayed when COVID-19 swept the world last March. This is ironic given the production history of the film. Initially, under the helm of Danny Boyle, the film has seen many changing hands (including screenwriters and directors) that it was seen by some as rushed. After several delays, the film has finally come out. Was it worth the wait? Let’s find out… What did you think of No Time to Die? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

No Time to Die is a true ending to Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond (in every sense of the phrase). His films have attempted to provide the character with some humanity that’s rooted in Ian Fleming’s conception of the character. But the films have not been perfect. At worst, some of them have taken the bite of the apple of Hollywood trends to stay relevant, and provide some level of increased dramatic stakes. No Time to Die is a messy, ambitious, pretentious and occasionally poignant curtain call to the Craig era.

After letting go of Madeline Swan (Léa Seydoux), due to feeling betrayed, James Bond has retired in Jamaica. However, trouble comes knocking when his old friend, Felix Leiter (Jefferey Wright) request his help to track down a missing scientist. The mission sees him in direct opposition to capable agent- Nomi (Lashana Lynch). And things get personal as the former secret agent finds direct ties between the master of the operation- Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) and Swann.

For a franchise that’s been thin on the ground when it comes to narrative, No Time to Die certainly feels filled to the brim with plot. At points, the screenplay comes across as a labyrinth of the proverbial phrase- “and then this happened” Consequently, some of the film’s dramatic moments and character motivation get lost in the flurry of information dumping. One example is the film’s main baddie- Safin. He’s initially set up as a foil to Madeline but is awkwardly set up as a dark mirror to Bond. When the character exclaims in the third act “We’re in a tragedy of our own making”, I was rolling my eyes and fondly remembering the elegant simplicity of Silvia’s (Javier Bardem) and Bond’s dynamic in Skyfall.

While not as ruinous as the awkward attempt to make Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) the architect of all of Bond’s pain in Spectre; the dynamic between Bond and Safin is an encapsulation of Craig’s era straining attempts at drama. This is somewhat offset by the film’s humour (courtesy of Phoebe Waller Bridge’s contribution to the script). In particular, there are two side characters who bring a sense of giddiness that greatly juxtaposes with Bond’s seasoned status as an agent. In fact, much of Die’s humour comes from moments that acknowledge the hallmarks of the series and real-world implications of being a secret agent.

With the film’s humour in mind, Craig’s Bond is a lot looser and playful in his portrait in No Time to Die. His performance particularly stands out in his confrontation with Blofeld, where he’s like a sugar rushed boy attempting to slow down to tell a funny story. Craig’s Bond in Die makes his previous portrayals seem monosyllabic by comparison. Rami Malek also casts a strong formidable presence in his screen time, particularly in his initial scene with Madaline where he attempts to be poetic.

Visually, the film is very theatrical insofar as lighting is concerned. There are many scenes where characters are illuminated by a spotlight as though they’re on stage about to make a speech. One moment that comes to mind is the introduction to Blofeld, which is done in a series of lights that go on in sequence. The scene plays like a cross between Silence of the Lambs and the play- “To Be Straight with You” with its warping lighting effect.

But some of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s best direction comes in the action sequences. There’s one early on that’s filmed in a wide-angle that calls to mind North by Northwest’s plane sequence filtered through the lens of a Western standoff. Also, the choice to use a ringing in ears sound after Bond gets caught in an explosion creates some much-needed vulnerability for the character. And Hans Zimmer’s first foray into the Bond franchise is indelible with a luscious and atmospheric score that harkens back to past music with grace.

Despite having a lot of appealing qualities, the sum of the parts proves to be better than the whole when it comes to Craig’s last Bond film. With Covid subtext, intergenerational interplay, and its various threads, No Time to Die has a lot on its mind. I just wish it said those things more elegantly, as opposed to a compromised and awkward way. This is one of those few times where I was wishing for some of the franchise’s knack for simplicity.

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One Great Shot: Spectre (2015)

Preamble

Truth be told, choosing Spectre’s one great shot took a while. That’s not a slight on the film, but an illustration of how tricky choosing one image to talk about is. But much like the shots from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace spoke to one another, so does the shots from Skyfall and Spectre. What’s your favourite shot from Spectre? Let me know in the comments below.

One Great Shot: Spectre

Despite being underwhelming in many regards, Spectre does at least visually interest in a way that’s distinct from Skyfall. In keeping with the themes of the movie, there’s something ghostly and chilling about Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography. To this end, the same applies to the above shot from the film.

At the point in which Bond infiltrates Spectre’s meeting, Oberhauser is much like a ghost to the secret agent. This lends the character with a unique and startling presence. Having the character obscured also feels like a homage to Blofeld’s appearances in the early Connery films where the character’s face was always covered up.

Much like Skyfall, director Sam Mendes in collaboration with his cinematographer seeks to imbue his Bond films with moments that harken back to cinematic history. To this end, the shot of Oberhauser’s face covered at the Spectre meeting feels in keeping with the shadowy and smoke-filled Film Noirs. It splits the difference between cinematic homage, an allusion to an aspect of the Bond franchise and thematic resonance.

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One Great Shot: Skyfall (2012)

Preamble

To quote Gandalf from The Return of the King, “We come to it at last.” Skyfall is my favourite James Bond film for many reasons. One of them has to do with the shot under discussion. So, without further ado, let’s get into it. What’s your favourite shot from Skyfall? Let me know in the comments below.

One Great Shot: Skyfall

Aside from the four years that it took to come to the big screen, Skyfall would also mean a lot to audiences because it came out just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise. Rather than being a bludgeoning nostalgia-fest like Die Another Day, Skyfall tastefully celebrates the movie series.

One of the subtle ways in which it does this comes from a recurring form of imagery. Starting from the first shot that sees Bond’s silhouette come into frame, Skyfall plays with silhouettes in a number of contexts. In conception, they feel like a homage to the iconic gun barrel sequence that has graced nearly every entry in the series.

Crucially, the shot of Silva (Javier Bardem) in silhouette amid the backdrop of Bond’s burning childhood home is striking. At the same time, it marries up with one of the themes of the film. At this point in his career as 007, Silva is contrasted with the British Agent as a mirror of what he could have become. Both men are highly capable agents who in some way have been spurned by their boss- M (Judi Dench), who represents a maternal figure for the pair. In fact, Silva has some quite pointed dialogue about this notion throughout the film.

Roger Deakins’s stunning cinematography (particularly in the use of silhouette) is a means for Bond to be cast in a larger than life manner. It’s almost as though they cement the iconic status of the character after the first two films depicted his beginning. By the same token, Silva is given a similar treatment, existing as a shadow version of Bond, who is responsible for stripping away part of the character’s identity, by burning his childhood home (Skyfall). In this way, the shot is akin to something from a feverish and apocalyptic dream.

Much like the film itself, the shot is a distillation for Skyfall’s knack for providing iconic shading for a character that’s existed in our collective cinematic consciousness for over fifty years.

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One Great Shot: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Preamble

Is there a good shot in Quantum of Solace? Based on its reputation, you’d be inclined to say no. However, setting aside the mixed reception, odd title and the writer’s strike crippling the screenplay, there’s a shot worth discussing. What’s your favourite shot from Quantum of Solace? Let me know in the comments below.

One Great Shot: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace represents the first sequel in the Bond franchise. With that in mind, there’s a potential for expanding on 007’s character. This shot (and by extension the short scene) of the secret agent drinking with Mathis realises that promise. At first blush, the shot illustrates how Daniel Craig embodies a particular quality of Ian Fleming’s novel portrait of the character. He comes across as a disgruntled government employee, who has a heavy penchant for drinking etc.

But the more I look at the shot, the more I realise that Craig’s Bond at this moment is trying to mask a deep-seated pain. There’s also a sense of emptiness that pervades the character too. The power of this shot (much like the scene itself) is in how much Bond is trying not to say. But the near stony silence throughout his conversation with Mathis does speak volumes. Crucially, he nonchalantly asks the bartender to list the ingredients in his drink to Mathis.

By itself, this is not a huge deal. But in Casino Royale, Bond dubs his signature drink (Vodka Martini- “shaken, not stirred”), Vesper. By not even acknowledging this, Bond shows that’s he’s not comfortable with referring to Vesper by name. There’s a recurring dialogue in Casino Royale about whether or not Bond has his armour on. This shot and scene plays to the idea that in private (relatively), he’s prepared to reflect and mourn the loss of Vesper. However, in company, he has his armour on, which he slyly attempts to mask with the consumption of alcohol. In this way, the shot becomes one of those few times where the franchise melds with Fleming’s flawed but all too human literary creation.

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One Great Shot: Casino Royale (2006)

Preamble

With the release of No Time to Die around the corner, I thought it would be a great idea to revive One Great Shot. As an excuse to build-up to Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond (aka 007), it will be interesting to view his previous films through the lens of a single shot. So, join me on this brief but exciting journey through the Craig era. What’s your favourite shot from Casino Royale? Let me know in the comments below.

One Great Shot: Casino Royale

Suave, cool and deadly are just some of the words that have become synonymous with James Bond. In fact, there are very few times within the franchise’s near 25 movie history where the character is truly human. For the most part, they’ve existed as incidental moments that may appear as odd record scratch moments to audiences.

But with Casino Royale, this dynamic is entirely reversed. It’s no longer about making a heightened and exotic lifestyle with 007 existing as an avatar that audiences can live vicariously through. Instead, it’s about trying to make you feel like Bond insofar as the tougher aspects of his occupation.

The above shot of Bond comforting a traumatised Vesper (Eva Green) is a statement shot that proudly proclaims this ethos of Casino Royale. It’s also postmodern, with Vesper’s reaction illustrating a collective terror that we have at seeing Bond kill someone in cold blood.

Sure there’s been moments sprinkled throughout the franchise of Bond committing cold murderous acts. But it’s now seen through the eyes of someone who has no exposure to those acts. This fundamental change in perspective is what grounds Royale in the realm of genuine pathos and empathy. The atypical “Licence to Kill” is no longer a cutesy phrase.

At the same time, the shot is a subversion of our expectation of Bond himself. Usually, he would either be flirting, bedding or just being generally smarmy towards the female characters he encounters. But beyond duty and hedonistic desire, this is a genuine instance where he cares about his female counterpart. In turn, this shot cements Bond’s budding relationship with Vesper. It’s a touchstone moment for the character. Between this shot and the subsequent betrayal, we fully understand why Bond is someone who does not open up to the women in his life.

Finally, the shot in question is a testament to Daniel Craig’s and Eva Green’s tremendous acting. In particular, the shot illustrates Green’s knack for portraying fragility with touching authenticity. This particular quality would lead to some of her best work in the Showtime series- Penny Dreadful.

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