Skyfall (2012)

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Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by:  Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw

The latest Bond flick is the type of well-executed entertainment that will likely be played and replayed on Saturday afternoon programming for years to come, and I’m okay with that.  The 23rd installment of the Bond franchise is sleek, cinematic, action-packed, touching and updated in fun ways that didn’t seem to offend Bond purists.

What I liked: Mendes does a superb job developing a visual sense of character rather than relying on the trite Bond-speak.  For those who still haven’t seen it, suffice it to say, there is a sense of meaning in each visually charged landscape that offers us a glimpse into the character for who it is designed or meaningful, and which explains the Oscar nod for cinematography.  The performances are strong across the board with Judi Dench and Javier Bardem edging out the rest.  The story rushes forward loaded with energy and grace despite the daunting 143min running time. Finally, as one who loves origination stories, I have appreciated that the latest Bond films continue to reinvent and rediscover well-known characters and characteristics that might have all been jammed into Craig’s first film.

What I didn’t like: You can’t exactly fault an action flick for being…well, an action flick, so despite the fact that the story and characters are slotted in to fit the visual highlights I think Mendes did a credible job of mining the details.  Though an interesting story might have been rushed and some more character development would have interested me, there really isn’t much room for improving a movie jam-packed with so many qualities, only to say that there are so many.

My rating:  Looking forward to watching it again.

IMDB: 7.9

Rotten Tomatoes:  92%

Note on the trailer:  I prefer the subtler trailers that don’t offer an abridged version of the entire film but I think it’s safe to assume that I was one of the last people to see this movie so enjoy the highlights.

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Broken City (2013)

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Directed by: Allen Hughes
Written by: Brian Tucker
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler, James Ransone and Griffin Dunne

Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post summed it up perfectly when she called this movie, about an ex-cop turned private eye who finds himself in the middle of a political face-off, “deeply mediocre”.

She’s right, it’s not that Broken City is bad because it’s executed well and the cast is enough to keep it moving; but the story is unoriginal and vague; the characters are, to a man, underdeveloped; and the action is lacking.  Had certain scenes been drawn out and others been cut altogether this might have been a decent movie.

What I liked:  Mark Wahlberg is convincing as his staple salt of the earth action hero.  Russell Crowe is credible as the elusive mayor but, again, Hughes failed to get the most out of his all-star cast.  Overall, there isn’t much to recommend this movie other than that it’s watchable.   Props to Alona Tal (who plays Wahlberg’s dedicated assistant) for bringing some form of a connection and levity to the movie and Barry Pepper for adding a little complexity to his character.

What I didn’t like:  There is absolutely zero depth to the story and its characters, and while I could watch and be entertained by it, I ultimately walked away from it with a “meh”.  Hughes relies too much on the celebrity of his cast and does little to evoke any real emotion out of them.  A little more attention to character and detail might have made for a powerful character drama.

My rating:  Mindless entertainment at its most banal.

IMDB: 6.2

Rotten Tomatoes:  26%

End of Watch (2012)

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Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo, David Harbour and America Ferrera

I’m happy to see that filmmakers are branching out to do their own thing. Finding something a little off the beaten path has been the best part about watching movies in 2012. The trailer for David Ayer’s cop drama doesn’t do the movie justice.  More than an action drama this is a character study of two cops playing the hero and a glimpse into the crimes and troubled lives of their community.

What I liked:  I almost wanted to check the press junkets to see if Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña spent any time together to build the brotherly bond between them.  Their performances are perfection and they feed off each other so naturally that their characters added significantly to the film’s realist aesthetic.  The camera work also engages with a constant shift in point of view as the characters ‘film’ the majority of what we see with handheld devices.

What I didn’t like:  I could really feel Hollywood’s hand in the ending and while I was engaged by the constant camera shifts, Ayer isn’t consistent enough with his message to make it worthy of discussion after it’s over.

My rating:  Can’t fathom why Silver Linings Playbook was nominated for an Oscar and this wasn’t.

IMDB: 7.7

Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

Oscars 2013

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A final note on the 2013 Academy Awards since this was the first year where I made a real effort to watch as many contenders as I could possibly fit into my schedule and I somehow felt invested in the outcome (well, I always do but usually because of my sentimentality for the actor rather than their performance).  As always, the show offered some surprises, some givens and some shockers.  Daniel Day-Lewis and Christoph Walz both had my vote for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.  Jennifer Lawrence, for Best Actress, however did not.  Not even close.  But she is Hollywood’s it girl and she can’t be blamed for that, can she?

I was also happy to see Ang Lee rewarded as Best Director for his artistic vision in Life of Pi; but was disappointed to see Argo win Best Film as it didn’t come close to some of the other nominees that might have made it a tight race.  The Academy’s sentimentality for Ben and George got in the way of this one.

I will not delve into the ‘Seth Macfarlane’ controversy but suffice it to say that I was rooting for him and thought he was witty and irreverent and no apologies should be necessary.

With the Oscars still in my thoughts, my post-Academy coverage starts with a film that I felt was overlooked in the Best Picture and Acting categories.  Enjoy!