Concise Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

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Bridge of Spies captures the Cold War in all its murky and paranoid detail. Throughout its running time, it paints a striking and often accurate picture of life under this tense and morally gray period in history. The film commendably shows the audience vastly different points of view of the conflict. In one of the picture’s most harrowing scenes, Speilberg shows stock footage of the devastation of Hiroshima to a class of young children.

The scene is indicative of two things. Firstly, Speilberg can encapsulate the mood of a period in mere seconds and thus remind the viewer why he is still one of our most interesting and relevant filmmakers. Secondly, the scene shows that propaganda, no matter how illogical or foolhardy can even affect the most innocent in society. This latter idea is most strikingly represented in a later scene where James Donavon (Tom Hanks) is listening to his son expound upon his understanding of nuclear bombs and the Soviet Union.

The conflict is articulated in other subtle and interesting ways. In the exchange scene near the end, Donavon observes Soviet Snipers, which he seems surprised to see. His commanding officer points out that the American have snipers too. At that moment, Speilberg showcases that the Cold War can simply be summarised as a series of presumptions on the part of two powerful nations.

The film is visually at its finest in its third act when it takes place within the ruined and decaying East Berlin. Speilberg in a tracking shot shows us the building of the Berlin wall and the devastation that it caused for so many people in such a potent manner. However, Bridge of Spies is best in its dramatic moments, where conversations carry the weight of nations.

Concise Review: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

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For Your Eyes Only is a strange beast. On the one hand, it valiantly attempts to tell a down to earth, no-nonsense spy story in the vein of the Ian Flemming’s novels. The story is about the hunt for the ATAC device that controls Britain’s Nuclear Weapon System. Additionally, it has the theme of revenge as the primary Bond girl- Melina Havelock seeks it throughout the picture for the murder of her parents. However, on the other hand, it strives to deliver the thrilling, albeit outlandish fare that one expects from a James Bond picture.

This interplay is fascinating as the serious and small moments particularly stand out. For Your Eyes Only is at its best when little moments of tension are established, and the wry smile-inducing action sequences that emerged out of these. Through the use of point of view shots, subtle foreground and background establishing shots and close-ups, director John Glenn delivers a fun and tense experience.

Finally, the film marks Roger Moore’s best performance as 007. If you wanted an encapsulation of the appeal of Moore’s Bond, then this film tells you. Sharp, smooth, gentlemanly, fiercely paternal and terribly cold-blooded, Moore’s Bond is a cocktail of captivating contradictions.

Concise Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

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You Only Live Twice is Sean Connery’s most expansive and entertaining James Bond adventure. It also has an interesting subtle tweaking of the Bond formula that makes it an eminently exciting film. One of these aspects is evident in the opening pre-title sequence as the film depicts the sudden on-screen death of the famous spy.

With this in place, the film takes on an exciting new dimension as Bond feels further entrenched in his undercover work as the rest of the known world thinks he is dead. The film also utilises its primary foreign location in an extremely effective way other than just being mere travelogue fare. We learn about Japan’s customs, its lifestyle and its secret service.

This last aspect gives the film a fun and smirking interplay between Japan’s top agent, Tiger Tanaka and James Bond as they compare gadgets and methodology. In fact, one can almost feel that Tanaka’s comments on Bond’s conduct are an amusing commentary on the Bond formula as well as the character.

Lewis Gilbert’s direction is also commendable. Whether it is the fascinating rooftop fight, that looks like it was shot using a camera from a helicopter or the way he captures the majesty of Blofield’s volcano lair. Gilbert truly delivers one of the best spectacle-driven Bond films with a brisk pace and a commendable sense of ease.

However, the most problematic aspect of the picture is Connery’s performance. It is inconsistent at best. There are moments where he provides some of his best moments as the famous agent. One of these is an aftermath of a fight that resulted in the death of his attacker. Bond looks shaken by the experience as he pours himself a drink before commenting on its taste with a joke. Connery convincingly portraits this rare moment of vulnerability and the one-liner to follow.

However, at other times, Connery either looks fed up or bored and his line deliveries thud with a lack of passion or enthusiasm. This is a true shame as the film surrounding Connery is brimming with the adventurous spirit that has always been indicative of the best Bond pictures.

Concise Review: Crimson Peak (2015)

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Guillermo del Toro’s last few films have been warm and affectionate love letters to specific genre fare. Pacific Rim neatly positions itself as a monster film with an inherently positive humanism shining through. With Crimson Peak, Del Toro creates a perfect harmony between Gothic horror and the exuberant, surreal style of Italian horror cinema.

Many times, one can recall Mario Baba, Dario Argento, and even Lucio Fulci during the picture. Baba’s strong sense of color pervades the film. Argento’s headbanging surrealism elevates the film’s smaller moments. And Del Toro seems like he had Fulci’s Zombie on a loop when crafting the gore related scenes. Above all, Del Toro commendably understands the careful creation of a Gothic horror film. In this sub-genre, the horror comes from lingering mysterious, a potent sense of melancholia and a deeply ingrained sense of passion and longing. At the same time, Del Toro also injects a sense of modernity into proceedings. The sole love scene primarily has male nudity. Usually, it would be the opposite, particularly in horror cinema.

Additionally, the film’s side male character Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) is set up as a hero that is going to save Edith Cushing. (Mia Wasikowska) However, this proves to be a red herring as the film’s climax pits Cushing against Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) in a confrontation that strangely evokes the original Friday the 13th. It is in these scenes where Chastain’s prior powerful and understated frailty are unraveled into mad capped hysterics and murderous intent. Chastain’s performance is the true secret weapon of the film.

However, for all these bright virtues, at the centre of the film is an elephantine problem. Compared to Del Toro’s other films, the film lacks substance. Even within the context of his American work, Crimson Peak is the weakest regarding sub-text and intelligence. There is an interesting thread of Edith being a horror writer and by extension the film being an advocation of the power of Gothic Horror, which is briefly expounded upon in the final speech that Edith delivers. However, these are all merely presumptions on the part of the viewer as opposed to thematic clarity that is ingrained within the fabric of the film.

 

Concise Review: It Follows (2015)

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It Follows is a fascinating loving embrace of the slasher genre. One way in which it evokes this sub-genre of horror cinema is in its camerawork. The picture has these long takes, which manifest themselves in languid 360 degree panning shots of the environment. Centrally, it is a reminder of those drawn out shots in Friday the 13th and other post Halloween pictures. However, while the use of them in those films induced an odd sense of audience button pushing. In It Follows, they are used to create a terrifying feeling of paranoia as our perspective becomes Jade’s inherent fear of everyone. The power of the film comes from its lingering premise that conceptualities death in a frightening new way. Additionally, the picture has this apparent stillness and melancholic edge. In many ways, it transcends the slasher genre because of its central theme of acknowledging adulthood. It is murky, complicated and scary because one finds themselves closer to death than they were when much younger and ignorant.

Concise Review: Spectre (2015)

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Spectre is a maddening mix of franchise pleasing and potent thematic showcasing. The former of the two is overstuffed, to say the least. The film takes inspiration from several Bond films of yore even when it means stretching the bounds of reality. The latter is surprising in its presentation of death. It pervades the film in a Bergman esque way as many characters are affected by it. Whether it was Mr White expecting it or Blofeld speaking about it in the past tense, the exploration of this concept was interesting territory for a James Bond film.