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SPECTRE (2015)

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After delivering one of the best entries of the series, the 2012 Skyfall, Daniel Craig returns as James Bond and Sam Mendes returns to direct, with 007’s latest adventure, Spectre. While it doesn’t live up to the previous installment, it is far better than Quantum Of Solace and returns to the Bond franchise one of his most famous adversaries, the evil organization Spectre.

The film opens with 007 (Daniel Craig) in Mexico City on one last personal mission for an old friend. The mission leads to disciplinary action and the discovery of a secret organization headed by a man named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who shares a past with Bond. Now as the shutting down of the “00” division looms due to an intelligence merger, Bond must disobey orders and track down this organization whose goal is global terrorism and world domination.

To get the negatives out of the way, one of the things that holds Spectre back a bit is that the script, credited to four people, could have been a bit tighter. As a result there are some uncharacteristic lapses in logic with this generally clever series and the film, even by Bond standards, is about 10-15 minutes too long. The film also lacks a sense of urgency as there seems to be no real pressure for Bond to track down Oberhauser and his organization. It’s only in the last act where the clock is ticking. We also get some obvious conveniences to help Bond along…like a net showing up out of nowhere…where he had to work a little harder in previous films. The good stuff far outweighs the bad, though and when the action comes it is fast and furious and Daniel Craig is as lean and mean as ever as Bond. There are some great chases and fight scenes, especially when Bond tangles with assassin Mr. Hinx (Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Dave Bautista). There are the usual exotic locations as Bond goes from Mexico to Austria to Tangiers to Morocco and once we finally get inside Spectre itself, there is some welcome nostalgia of the secret lair and a very familiar white cat. There are some of the usual Bond beauties, this time represented by an assassin’s beautiful widow (Monica Bellucci) and the daughter (Léa Seydoux) of an adversary turned ally. Sam Mendes once again creates a marvelous looking movie with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and there is a solid score by Thomas Newman. As for the traditional Bond song, Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall is serviceable, but nowhere near as memorable as Adele’s Skyfall, though it fits well in the opening credits sequence. A solid Bond film, if not slightly flawed.

As said before, Daniel Craig is once again in top form as Bond. He’s got an intensity to him that really drives the action…and love scenes. He keeps us interested, as here and in Quantum, even when the script could be better. Christoph Waltz is a delightfully out-of-his-mind villain as Oberhauser and it is sad the script doesn’t get he and Craig together sooner, as they work well together and Waltz had the potential to be a really impressionable villain. Léa Seydoux is pretty and a bit feisty as the Bond girl of the moment, but she doesn’t get all that much to do and obviously falls for Bond far too quickly to be convincing…don’t they all. Dave Bautista makes a lethal and fun villain as the assassin Mr. Hinx. His character has only one word of dialog, but why speak when you can poke out someone’s eyes with metal tipped thumbnails. Returning cast members are all fine. Naomie Harris is sexy and smart as Moneypenny, who is constantly dodging Bond’s advances, as is the tradition. Ben Wishaw is very likable as the computer nerd version of Bond gadget maker “Q” and Ray Fiennes actually gets to step out from behind his desk and see action as the stern “M”.

I liked Spectre a lot. It is certainly no Skyfall, but it was still very entertaining, there was some intense action and I really liked the nostalgic return of one of Bond’s most infamous adversaries. The script could have used another pass or two, the film could have used a bit more of a trim and the plot needed to put a bit more pressure on Bond to achieve his objective…adding suspense for the audience. Overall, it is still a solid enough entry in the series and one that makes us hope Craig returns at least one more time to explore the possibilities this flick sets up with the return of Spectre.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 Aston Martins.

skyfall rating


REVIEW: HER (2013)


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HER (2013)

Finally caught up with this interesting, involving and slightly whimsical Spike Jonze flick and found it a very enjoyable, offbeat and heartfelt movie. The story takes place in a not too distant future and focuses on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes letters for others for a living and has just suffered a heartbreaking separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theodore, in his loneliness, buys a computer operating system with an artificial intelligence made to learn and adapt to their owner’s wants and needs. Theodore chooses a female voice and the OS chooses the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). But, the more time Theodore spends with Samantha, the more their relationship grows and the more Theodore thinks she’s all he needs and starts to fall in love with her. And Samantha feels likewise but, as Samantha grows and evolves and begins to experience new emotions and desires, will Theodore be all she needs?

Writer/director Spike Jonze delivers a rarity, an intriguing and very original romantic-comedy, a sub-genre that is one of the least adventurous genres and one that rarely steps outside the stale formula. He presents the idea of a computerized operating system that becomes such a perfect fit for it’s owner that it creates an emotional attachment, becoming a friend and a lover. Especially poignant, as it does so at a time where Theodore is wounded and afraid to connect with others of flesh and blood including his cute best friend Amy (Amy Adams) who has also recently gotten a divorce. Of course Jonze is making a comment on the increasing reliability on personal computers and cellphones, which almost seem to be a more important part of our lives then our friends and loved ones. We seem to spend more time communicating with and through our computerized devices and less and less actual time socially interacting with those around us. Why commit to the emotional investment of talking to someone face to face when we can text or E-mail and be done with it. Jonze gives his cautionary tale of loving our gadgets too much a very subtle and sly sense of humor and filmed his romance in the city of Shanghai to give it that futuristic look. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema accents Jonze’s colorful but slightly sterile future and there is a very effecting score by the band Arcade Fire that really embellishes the atmosphere and mood set by Jonze’s deft direction and clever story.

The cast is wonderful with Phoenix creating a very strong character in his Theodore, a man with his own intimacy issues who is wounded by the collapse of his marriage and afraid to start looking again and thus finding the perfect mate for his current emotional condition in the artificial intelligence that grows to suit his every need, Samantha. As the voice of Samantha, Scarlett Johansson gives a wonderful performance as an intelligence that is learning new emotions and experiences and who falls in love with the man who teaches them to her. She has only her voice to convey her feelings and does a simply amazing job of portraying the wonder of discovering new emotions and the joy of love for the first time. She and Phoenix make this work. If either of their performances were off, the film would simply have not come together and so well. We also get another strong performance by Amy Adams as the nerdy Amy, Theodore’s best friend and a person he cares for more then he wants to admit. The actress has become quite the chameleon. Rooney Mara is fine as the estranged wife who still haunts Theodore in his thoughts and has a really nice scene with Phoenix as they hesitate when the moment to finally sign the divorce papers comes. A very effecting and real sequence as they both must face the fact that it is indeed over. There are also some eccentric supporting performances by Chris Pratt as the quirky receptionist at Theodore’s job, Olivia Wilde as a pretty blind date that Theodore wasn’t quite ready for and Portia Doubleday as Isabella, a beautiful young woman who wants to act as the surrogate for the bodiless Samantha. A very eclectic and strong cast that really make Jonze’s vision work very well.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s a heartfelt romantic comedy as it is an original one. It is also a cautionary tale about becoming too close to our computerized gadgets and letting our flesh and blood relationships fall to the side. It is well directed, intelligently written and has some wonderful and understated performances by all the cast. A very unique indie film and a real treat. Highly recommended! Also features vocal cameos by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.

MonsterZero NJ extra trivia: Pretty actress Portia Doubleday who plays the surrogate Isabella is the daughter of actor Frank Doubleday who played the creepy Romero in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York!

3 and 1/2 Scarlett’s.

her rating