The British Are Coming! The Irish Are Coming!
By Johnny Pomatto
There’s been a lot of notice taken recently of Daniel Craig’s highly publicized press tour, where he has appeared to suggest that he has grown tired of playing the iconic character of James Bond. But his occasional disdain only solidifies his place as one of the greatest Bonds to ever hold the PPK, as you may need reminding that Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and George Lazenby were also frequently vocal about their bored hatred of playing the character as well. (The only one who ever loved playing him was Pierce Brosnan, who in my opinion is responsible for some of the worst entries in the series.) But Craig’s indifference seems to be being punished, (not monetarily), by an audience and critic base that is determined to declare SPECTRE, the 24th film in the endless franchise, a sub-par effort, which couldn’t be further from the truth. But don’t listen to me. I’m obviously a James Bond fanatic who sometimes believes that the very best Bond movie is whichever one I’m watching at the moment. Still, while SPECTRE is not representative of the best or worst of the series (or even just of Craig’s personal canon), it is full of enough fun to recommend to even the most casual of Bond fans.
Daniel Craig’s films, which have been some of the most beloved and successful in the franchise, took Bond into a much darker and more human place. This Bond was known to be indifferent to the preparation of a martini and have a more sensitive and enlightened attitude about his sexual conquests. So people seem a little upset that Craig is now starring in a film that embraces the traditions of classic Bond films, and while much of SPECTRE seems to be winking and nodding to specific films of Connery’s, Moore’s, and Lazenby’s, I actually feel that they might not have gone far enough in returning to those classic tropes. At the end of 2012’s “Skyfall,” Bond was passing Moneypenny at the desk to go into the office of a new M, who was waiting for him with a dossier containing details of an upcoming mission. Finally Craig’s Bond was finished with being the rogue, reckless agent, and was ready to take on a mission and serve his queen and country. But it’s not long at all before Craig is once again defying orders and going rogue in this new film, but at least it’s in an effort to battle the mysterious, evil, and titular organization, Spectre, which has been absent from the films since 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” due to rights issues and petty lawsuits. Perhaps Bond battling wits with a good old fashioned evil genius is too silly for modern movie-goers, who didn’t get to know this character until he was rebooted in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” although if they want to see just how silly the saga can get, I would direct them to any of Roger Moore’s later installments. In truth, the string-pullers behind the franchise have been building to a story like this for quite some time, even going so far as to create “Quantum” in Craig’s second film, a Spectre stand-in that never quite took off due to a script dampened by the writer’s strike and uninspired direction from Marc Forster. But here we have “Skyfall’s” Sam Mendes again, who if nothing else, makes this film look absolutely gorgeous from its spectacular cold open in Mexico City to its final shot.
Spectre is controlled by none other than Christoph Waltz, who at this point can play a scenery-chewing villain in his sleep. He doesn’t phone in his performance by any means, but I would have liked to see more of him. Much of Waltz’s character is saved for the film’s third act, for somewhat understandable reasons. It’s possible that Waltz’s late introduction is only a tease for a larger role in subsequent installments, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Accompanying Bond on his globetrotting adventure is the stunning Lea Seydoux, who wears her “Bond girl” role well, and is even given a more complex and conflicting character to play than some of her earlier counterparts, even if some of her later developments seem a bit hurried. Backing Bond up further is the more active than usual M, Q, and Moneypenny, (Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris), though much of MI:6’s burrocracy seems like a retread of similar storylines in “Skyfall.” To describe any more of the story would be getting into unsubtle spoiler territory, but the entire film contains thrilling action set pieces and chases, and even if the connection between those dots occasionally toyed with my expectations, I was always eager to see what would happen next. If I have one major complaint about the film’s action though, it’s that one should never stage a chase sequence down a snow-covered mountain without someone, ANYONE, picking up a damn pair of skis! Depriving me of the first decent ski chase in almost thirty years felt like a cruel tease and left me longing for this once proud tradition of the series. In fact, I was almost never disappointed by what was included in this film, but I only blame myself for expecting certain events that ended up not happening. At one point I was certain that what I was watching was actually a thinly veiled remake of one of my very favorite Bond films (I won’t say which one), but when I found I was misdirected, I realized that perhaps I was too clever for the film’s plot, which was equally trying to appeal to new fans of the saga, as well as those raised on it.
I know I’ve spent the majority of this review picking apart the things that came up short for me when I vowed to defend this film at the start, but this only demonstrates my true love for Ian Fleming’s character and the high standards I look for when a new installment comes along. But even with my few quibbles, I must say I had the time of my life watching SPECTRE and expect to revisit it many times in the future. There’s not a single James Bond film that doesn’t have a few clunky, odd moments that threaten to derail it. “Live and Let Die” for instance, is a ridiculous mess, though I love every minute of it. Can you imagine the horrible world we’d be living in if we only saw and endorsed the GREAT Bond movies? That’s not a world I want to live in. I had just as much fun picking SPECTRE apart as I did relishing in its most enjoyable sequences. This places the bar just where it needs to be for Daniel Craig to deliver a final chapter to his arc that will make us all stand up and cheer. I’ll be first in line to see it.
A few weeks ago, when the legendary Maureen O’Hara died, I was compelled to revisit one of my all time favorite films, “How Green Was My Valley.” As I watched it, I might have said to myself “They just don’t make them like this anymore,” but upon seeing John Crowley’s BROOKLYN tonight, I was happy to discover the rare occurrence when that statement is incorrect. Beautifully adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Toibin’s novel, BROOKLYN depicts a life in 1952 New York that is unapologetically nostalgic and romantic. Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, a young Irish girl who leaves her home and family to start a new life in America. She has the advantage of securing a job and a room at a boarding house, but aside from that she’s on her own and terribly homesick. However, BROOKLYN is not like last year’s film “The Immigrant,” where predators and danger lurked behind every corner, ready to exploit young Marion Cotillard. BROOKLYN is more about wonder and discovery. There are no villains in the film, (the closest we come to that is the odd snobby girl or busybody), and even what little prejudice Eilis encounters is presented as charming and cute. So we can relax in knowing that Eilis is perfectly safe and the only thing threatening her are her own doubts and emotions.
Before long, Eilis falls in love with a familiar but sincere Italian boy named Tony, (Emory Cohen) who is absolutely smitten by her. Tony opens up the magic of Brooklyn to Eilis, taking her to dances, Coney Island, and home to meet his colorful family, and soon she is no longer pining for what she has left behind. When circumstances call Eilis back home to Ireland, we’re confident that her love for Tony will be enough to ensure her trip will be temporary, but the comforts of the familiar and an encounter with a charming Irish boy, (Domhnall Gleeson) tempt Eilis more than she expects. The movie doesn’t insult us with the kind of love triangle we would find in a film like “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games.” In fact, the individual people vying for Eilis’ affections aren’t nearly as persuasive as the emotions inside her heart, and to say this film is emotional is an understatement. Whether witnessing a spotless, bright, and colorful New York City, or the green hills and sandy beaches of Ireland, BROOKLYN is a gorgeous film and it sets a charming tone that is impossible to resist. I was overjoyed by this story and the only times I stopped smiling, was to wipe away the occasional tear. Even when sadness enters this tale it is devised to pull on the heartstrings rather than devastate you. Director John Crowley blew me away with his debut film, “Intermission,” but didn’t make much of an impact in the decade or so that followed, until now. The color palate of the film is instantly reminiscent of the films of John Ford and Douglas Sirk, and it’s a world that you can’t wait to spend more time in. Crowley frames the streets of Brooklyn like paintings, yet when he pushes in, he provides some of the most memorable and lovely close-ups I’ve seen in recent memory. Of course, those close-ups are helped when you have such a lovely actress as Saoirse Ronan anchoring your picture, who delivers a transcendent performance that Maureen O’Hara herself would be proud of. She is also supported nicely by the perfectly cast company of actors, which includes Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent in scene-stealing roles. In case you can’t tell, I was completely and utterly enchanted by BROOKLYN and it’s one of my very favorite films of the year. I would not be at all surprised if it became as beloved and classic a film as the ones it’s trying to emulate.
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes