My Name’s Not Bond

Casino-Royale-BondI really like the new James Bond film. I think what Daniel Craig has done with the role is excellent. I prefer the back-to-basic approach over the movies that relied on gadgets and digital effects. It’s more Jason Bourne and, for me, that can only be a good thing. This, however, isn’t a review as I am certain you can find plenty of decent ones if you Google.

I saw Casino Royale last Saturday. On the way home I mentioned – in passing – that I had always wanted to be a secret agent. I have always assumed that every kid wanted to be a secret agent at some point. Isn’t this is a perfectly normal thing to say? PY, however, couldn’t stop laughing. It was the kind of amusment that was induced as soon as he set eyes on me. His mouth would curl up and his shoulders start that laughter quiver; he had to look away. I was a little dumstruck. I take it for granted that I don’t look like a spy but isn’t that what being undercover is all about?

Sadly, however, I have to agree that I am not very spy-like. For starters I am not sure I could, Bourne-like, blow a house up with a toaster and a rolled up newspaper. I couldn’t leap building cranes with anything approaching a Bond-like skill. The final proof that I couldn’t cut the MI6 mustard is that I’m useless in foreign restaurants.

You may have gathered from Monday’s post that I am in Finland. I am on business but I am not with any colleagues. Sometimes I must eat on my own in a foreign city. I paced Helsinki the other night looking for a restaurant. I had forgotten my book which, as any solo traveller will tell you is the key to eating alone in restaurants. Have a good book and hide behind it. You eat slower that way and can hide from the local’s stares as they wonder why you have no friends and must resort to dining alone.

Had I been a Bond/Bourne spy I would have walked into the finest dining room in the city, ordered drink in fluent Finnish, had the maître d’ find me a decent table and have struck up an interesting conversation before they put the olive on the stick. Whereas I sulked in a corner and tried to not to lose my scarf.

You hear that travel broadens the mind (it’s like an exercise for the brain, apparently) but I don’t agree. I am sure a certain type of travel expands horizons but my kind only serves to expand the waistline (dining alone you comfort eat for a party of five). I’ve done the airport-taxi-hotel-office-taxi-airport run enough times to make almost every European city appear identical. This week’s arrival in Finland reinforced the feeling that I want to be here on holiday but not on business; I want to see something new.

The day was damp and cold when we landed and it was already getting dark at 3.30pm. I had hoped for snow but there wasn’t any so I got taken straight to my hotel. We passed the outdoor ice-hokey game which, I guess, must be everywhere in winter. I wanted to watch but I have no idea how to get to them. I worked in my hotel room. I didn’t sleep on the first night (I never sleep well on the first night in a hotel). I went to meetings. I drank too much coffee (do secret agents rely on caffeine too?).

It is a perfectly normal business trip. Sure, I hear you. Go out, mix with the locals, live a little. That, though, is a little too Bond-like for me. I guess Bond would have had a hidden revolver to get himself out of any local difficulties. I wouldn’t have made it through the airport with one and so, I comfort myself, that I don’t look good in black and, truthfully, Judi Dench scares me a little.

Film: Daredevil

I really can’t be sure what made this film fail for me. Maybe it was too dark for a super-hero flick or maybe that the story was not compelling. Maybe it was the fact that at least one villain survived for a sequel in a far too obvious fashion.

I was very surprised that I did not enjoy Daredevil more. It’s darker and more disturbing than many a super-hero flick and while this, for some, may be the appeal, it just didn’t do it for me. It’s also oddly constructed. We first meet the superhero as he collapses on the floor of a church. Why? Well, he’s half way through a battle with one of the villains – Bullseye (an Irish hitman capable of killing talkative old ladies on planes with nothing more than his finger and a peanut).

And so the film lurches backwards as we are told Matt Murdoch/Daredevil’s story. He grew up with his father -a boxer – and singled out for the bully treatment when he was a kid. Blinded in a dockside accident by a hazardous chemical, Daredevil’s face remains remarkably unmarked as he matures in the talented pro-bono lawyer played by Ben Affleck.

Once the Flashback sequence is over we return to our hero in mid-Organ scaling (as in church organ) battle. Who considered the middle of the narrative a sensible place for us to join? I guess it has worked before, but not here. In true super-hero style, our almost dead star rises and battles to the end. Of course, as in all such movies one wonders why the world hasn’t worked out that Matt Murdoch and Daredevil are the same. They are Ben Affleck in red leather.

Ah, dear Ben. I appear to be in the minority who were not convinced by his portrayal of a super-hero. He was too “leading man in a romantic comedy” for me, despite the tight leather gear which didn’t seem to turn him into the sex-hunk that I thought it might – Chris O’Donnell looks better in tight leather in Batman and Robin. Colin Farrell tries hard to be brutish with sex-appeal and he almost pulls it off, especially considering the target on his forehead isn’t really that great to look at.

I really can’t be sure what made this film fail for me. Maybe it was too dark for a super-hero flick or maybe that the story was not compelling. Maybe it was the fact that at least one villain survived for a sequel in a far too obvious fashion. Daredevil may be a comic hero but you don’t have a super-hero “thing” to latch on to (Superman flies, Spideman has a web and Batman has a utility belt). Daredevil’s other senses are enhanced. Big wow. Maybe it was the violence that felt too real and not comic-book enough or maybe it was that the supporting characters never really moved from being one-dimensional support.

I guess, in the end, I would have been disappointed if this crime-fighter had come to my rescue. I’d have been happy with Batman, thrilled if it was Superman and delighted if Spiderman liberated me. If Ben turned up in red leather I just might have laughed.

Film: 8 Mile

I have no idea if this in any way reflects real life in downtown Detroit. I have no clue if rap culture is, in any way, well served by his film but it is a great movie which I thoroughly recommend.

I walked out of the Odeon loving Eminem’s 8 Mile. On reflection, I still think this is a great movie. Who cares if it’s Saturday Night Fever or Karate Kid for a new generation? Does Eminem’s apparent turn around about all things gay worry me? Not at all. This is an excellent film. I do, however, have one question, where are all the guns?

I have never visited Detroit nor any of its downtown neighbourhoods. Fortunately, I’ve never been in the middle of any kind of big gang culture. But in this movie, there were two guns (three if you count the paint-ball). One is pulled on Jimmy (Eminem) and one is waved around by Cheddar Bob, who promptly shoots himself while those involved in the gang fight around him look on like they’d never seen a gun. If I were to believe the news media, this place would have been crawling with weapons and Jimmy would have probably pulled several on his attackers. A movie for nice liberal sensibilities? It just struck me as odd. Perhaps it’s real, but it seemed wrong.

That is, however, but a small gripe. Like yesterday’s film, The Good Girl, we have a central character with an apparently dead-end life but dreams of something better. This time, the lead is surrounded by people who believe in him although he doesn’t believe in himself. The final battle, where Jimmy – or Rabbit – proves himself to be great, is a freestyle rap event that is so far removed from anything in my life or frame of reference that I have no idea if it’s believable, amusing or insulting. Having said that, it is a great conclusion to the movie and had me hooked.

Surprisingly, Eminem’s music doesn’t dominate the movie. I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t more. We first hear his musical talents when he sings a lullaby to his sister. A repositioning of man whose music has been the centre of controversy for years? So, if we don’t get to hear much of his music, how does he stand up as an actor? Pretty well, I would have said. His baseball-cap (and hood) mask much of him revealing only a cool, moody, brooding man writing rap lyrics on scraps of paper to music pumped into his head through headphones. As the movies is apparently based on some of his own life, I suspect this wasn’t a great leap for him to play. He does pull it off with conviction and you can take the journey into Jimmy’s world and lose sight of Eminem. I’d be interested to see if he acts again and with the huge box office takings predicted, most will bet he will.

I have no idea if this in any way reflects real life in downtown Detroit. I have no clue if rap culture is, in any way, well served by this film but it is a great movie which I thoroughly recommend even if you are asked to believe that, when life hits rock bottom, you’ll win on the bingo.

Film: The Good Girl

Good. But not good enough. While Aniston is good, she is not great. It seems much of the praise is due to the fact that she is playing against the Friends Rachel-type. She an actress for goodness sake, if she only has that one role she has no career. This role proves she can play against type and, I guess, that means she is an actress.

What has surprised me about Miguel Arteta’s The Good Girl, starring Jennifer Aniston, are the generally positive (if not glowing glowing) reviews for this film.

Admittedly this is not quite the Jennifer Aniston vehicle that you would expect from Hollywood right now. It’s no romantic comedy, rather a drama following Justine (Aniston), a woman in a dead-end job in a dead end town, who falls for Jake ‘Donnie Darko’ Gyllenhaal’s Holden Worther. Not much to it so far and certainly not enough reason for the praise.

So, to the plot. Problem one for our lead, Justine is married to a full time stoner (part time painter) played with conviction by John C. Reilly. Problem two, Holden seems to think he is Holden Caulfield, the central character in Catcher in The Rye. If I was to say he was “unhinged” I’d be playing it down. So, cue a crisis of conscience for her and a serious infatuation/breakdown for him.

While Aniston is good, she is not great. It seems much of the praise is due to the fact that she is playing against the Friends Rachel-type. She an actress for goodness sake, if she only has that one role she has no career. This role proves she can play against type and, I guess, that means she is an actress. Her narration is okay but somewhat draining to listen to. Gyllenhaal’s good but, given the characters are odd-balls not a million miles apart, he is not as engaging as he was in Donnie Darko.

I guess it hangs on the believability of the adulterous relationship and, for me, it was not that credible. Perhaps it hangs on the ability for Aniston and Reilly to be a couple at the end, but it’s not convincing. There were words unspoken which should have been spoken. Where are the sparks? Where was the fire and the passion between any of the characters?

Sadly, it lacked the ability to engage me for the one and three-quarter hours. Which meant I started to feel the cinema seat beneath me. At that point, I knew this wasn’t going to be added to my “greatest films” list. Which is a shame. Good. But not good enough.

Donnie Darko

The Guardian said, Is it a horror film? A black comic parable of Generation X angst? A teen drama with a psycho edge? If not, what the hell is it?

Possibly the strangest and most compelling film I have seen all year and it’s not had a great deal of coverage. Donnie Darko’s website is very wierd and I am not sure you’ll get much from that. Tom, on the other hand, raves about it. You can read more reviews here or at The Guardian. I can’t explain it. Go see it.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was something of a hit and miss film. You learned much about the Greek (lead) character, Toula, and her inter-family relationships. But you learned very little about her love interest, Ian. If the point of the film was to show the development of Toula from the shy woman living life for her father by waiting tables (“seating hostess”) in his restaurant to the confident, beautiful self-styled woman that Ian Miller falls in love with, then, I guess, it succeeded. Sadly, because you know so little about him and his one-dimensional parents, this film feels empty and fails to pull you in.

Reviews will tell how My Big Fat Greek Wedding makes you laugh, cry and feel. I, however, was left wanting more. The large Greek family, played with love and humour, finally come to accept non-Greek Ian into the family. Ian, however, never challenges that their acceptance requires him to turn into them. Far from celebrating diversity, the film fails to show both sides of the tale and we are forced to believe that Ian will do anything, unquestioningly for Toula. I suspect that I am trying to read too much into, what should be, a light Saturday night romantic comedy but as the film played out its story I found myself less and less engaged.

Having said all this, there were some laugh-out-loud moments and some top-class performances. Andrea Martin (Aunt Voula), Michael Constantine (Gus) and Lainie Kazan (Maria) all stood out. The performance of Nia Vardalos (Toula), who also wrote the story, is also worth mentioning as she certainly conveyed Toula’s side of the story. Unfortunately, that’s all I felt I got (Toula’s side) and it could have been so much more.

Half-Hearted Bollywood

You know when you don’t go to the cinema for, what seems like, an age and then you suddenly go quite a lot? No, well, I do this on-off thing with cinema quite a lot. Yesterday, following on from my Men In Black II experience, I went to see The Guru at The Clapham Picture House (which, if you live in this part of the world, probably ranks as one of the better cinemas and it’s not part of an overly large chain – although there are more of them then you would imagine).

The people I was with, loved it. They laughed (a lot). Many people in the cinema was laughing too. I smiled occasionally and there was the odd laugh but on the whole I was pretty quiet. So, to validate my lack of enthusiasm for the film (which seems to be generally well received) I got as far as The Guardian’s film site (which, I am sure was Film Unlimited at one point). Peter Bradshaw reassures me with,

There’s no bite or edge to this movie, though; it’s goofy, soft-centred romcom slush, with some very half-hearted Bollywood pastiche


… these moments don’t really justify the admission price [Full Review].

Now, I am using the web to reinforce my own opinions. This can’t be a good thing.

Not Hilarious or Surprising

Strange, zany, generally amusing and very likeable without actually being all that hilarious or surprising, Men In Black II relies heavily on familiarity with and affection for the original. Fans of that film, who are simply content with more of the same, should’n’t be dismayed or too seriously disappointed by a pleasantly insane bit of nonsense. [Empire Online]

This review tells almost all about my night last night. I went to UCI Sutton to see Men In Black II. I had enjoyed the first in a wash-over-me kind of way. Interest wanes at twenty minutes.