Here’s The Teaser for Mother!


Here’s the teaser for Mother!  The full trailer drops on the 8th.

No one seems to be really sure what Mother! is about.  It appears to be a horror/thriller sort of thing but, with Darren Aronofsky directing, it’s safe to assume that there will be all sorts of layers of meaning.  Along with starring Jennifer Lawrence (who, after Joy and Passengers, could really use a movie that’s worthy of her talents), Mother! also features Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris.  Judging by how the majority of this teaser goes out of it’s way to portray Jennifer Lawrence as being isolated in a big house, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Bardem, Pfieffer, and Harris all plays figments of Lawrence’s imagination.

Who knows?  We’ll find out on September 15th!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #107: No Country For Old Men (dir by the Coen Brothers)


No_Country_for_Old_Men_posterI love my home state of Texas and I love movies. Therefore, it has always upset me that most movies set in Texas get the state totally wrong.  That’s not exactly shocking.  Unlike the rest of the states, there’s actually a lot of variety to Texas.  We’re a big state and we’re home to a lot of people.  Unlike some place like Vermont, Texas is a world all its own and it’s not surprising that most outsiders are incapable of getting their mind around that and instead find themselves embracing simple-minded clichés and stereotypes.  That’s perhaps why the best films about Texas tend to be ones that were actually made by Texans.  If you want to see the real Texas — flaws and all — than I suggest watching the films of Richard Linklater or perhaps Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.

And yet, it took two outsiders to write, produce, and direct one of the best films ever made about Texas.  The 2007 best picture winner No Country For Old Men was largely the work of two brothers from Minnesota, Joel and Ethan Coen.  It’s not only one of the best films about my home state but it’s also one of the best films of the past decade.

Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men tells the story of three determined men in South Texas whose lives are interconnected despite the fact that three of them spend almost the entire movie one step behind each other.  In fact, despite a few brief encounters where their paths meet, it can be argued that, at no point, do any of them truly interact with each other face-to-face.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is the type of person that anyone who has ever lived in Texas will have met.  He’s a hard-working, plain-spoken man, the type who drives a pickup, owns a gun, and likes to begin and end the day with a beer.  He lives in a trailer with his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald, who may be Scottish but speaks here with an almost flawless Texas accent).  Llewelyn’s not a bad guy but he’s not as smart as he thinks and, like a lot of folks down here, he doesn’t like the idea of being told what to do.  In fact, he’d almost rather die for his trouble than admit to making a mistake.  When Llewleyn comes across the aftermath of a drug deal turned violent, he takes off with a suitcase that contains $2,000,000.  After barely escaping the remaining drug dealers (and the scene where Llewelyn is chased by a pit bull is a classic), Llewelyn sends Carla Jeans to stay with her sick mother and then he grabs the suitcase and heads over to the next county.  It quickly becomes apparent, to the viewers at least, that Llewelyn has absolutely no idea how to get out of the mess that he’s found himself in.

And it’s quite a mess because Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) has been hired to track down the money.  Perhaps one of the greatest movie villains of all time, Chigurh is an almost unstoppable force of death and destruction.  Chigurh pursues Llewelyn across Texas, killing almost everyone who he meets along the way.  Interestingly enough, just as Llewelyn continually makes excuses for his own greed, Chigurh also makes excuses for his murderous activities, seeming to obsess over the role of fate and chance.  Whereas Llewelyn refuses to give up the suitcase, even though it means that he’s putting his own wife in danger, because he insists that he can figure out a way to keep the money, Chigurh occasionally dodges responsibility for his own actions by flipping a coin and putting the blame on fate.

And finally, there’s Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is both the most decent and the most ineffectual male character to be found in the film.  He’s an old-fashioned lawman, the type who, had this film been made in the 50s or the 60s, would have been played by Gary Cooper and would have both vanquished Chigurh and given Llewelyn and Carla Jean marriage advice as well.  In the world of No Country For Old Men, however, Ed is almost always one step behind both Chigurh and Llewelyn.  Instead of saving the day, Ed spends most of the movie shocked and saddened by the violence around him.  As the film draws to its conclusion, he’s left to wonder whether any one man can make a difference.  He’s left to literally wonder whether his area of South Texas has truly become no country for old men.

I recently rewatched No Country For Old Men on TCM and I was surprised to discover just how well this film holds up, even after repeat viewings.  If anything, the film actually improves on repeat viewings.  Once you know how the story is going to end (and, in a fashion typical of both the Coens and Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men does not have a traditional ending), it’s easier to see all of the things that you may have been too overwhelmed to appreciate the first time, like Kelley McDonald’s performance as Carla Jean and Stephen Root’s cameo as Chigurh’s shady employer.

However, for me, the main reason that I appreciate No Country For Old Men is because it is one of the few films that actually manages to get South Texas right.  My mom was born and grew up in South Texas, in the town of Benavides to be exact.  I’ve spent a lot of time down there.  The portrait that No Country For Old Man paints of South Texas is not always flattering but it is largely accurate.  No County For Old Men captures both the region’s terrifying violence and its natural beauty.  It’s honest about the fact that there are men like Anton Chigurh but, at the same time, you occasionally meet an Ed Tom Bell as well.  And, of course, there’s a Llewelyn Moss in every town.  He’s the one who you meet and you hope — often against your better instincts — that he won’t get in over his head.

The Academy named No Country For Old Men the best film of 2007.  For once, the Academy was right.

6 Other Films That I Saw in 2014: The Best Offer, Borgman, Illiterate, In Secret, Scorpion in Love, and Tercera Llamada


The Best Offer (dir by Guiseppe Tornatore)

Virgil (Geoffrey Rush, giving a very Geoffrey Rush type of performance) is the owner of a prestigious auction house.  He’s hired by the mysterious Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) to auction off all of her dead parent’s possessions.  Virgil finds himself growing obsessed with Claire and, with the help of his assistant Robert (Jim Sturgess), finally manages to strike up a tentative relationship with her.  However, it quickly turns out that there’s more to Claire and Robert than Virgil originally assumed.

The Best Offer is a disappointing film.  It’s not terrible but it moves far too slowly for its own good and most of the cast seems to be going through the motions.  The one exception is Donald Sutherland, who is a lot of fun as a sleazy con artist.  Sutherland managed to partially redeem Fierce People, another bad film that I recently reviewed, and he comes close to doing the same for The Best Offer.

Borgman (dir by Alex van Warmerdam)

Borgman is a disturbing and dark film from the Netherlands that was released over here in U.S. by Drafthouse Films.  This summer, Jeff and I saw it at our local Alamo Drafthouse with the usual group of self-styled cinema experts. Nobody quite knew what they were about to see and, after the film ended, an uneasy air descended over the theater as we all wondered what we had just watched.

Jan Bijvoet plays Camiel Borgman, a homeless man who is first seen living in the woods, hidden away in an underground cavern.  When he’s chased out of the woods by a priest and two men, Borgman eventually finds himself at the home of the arrogant and wealthy Richard (Jeroen Perceval).  Richard refuses Borgman’s request to enter the home for a bath and then physically attacks him.  When Borgman returns to the house the next day, Richard’s wife, Marina (Hadewych Minis), allows him to stay in the garage.  Though Borgman originally says he’s only going to stay a day, he is soon living in the garage.  Everyone — Marina, her children, and the nanny — is aware that Borgman is now a part of their household.  Everyone, except for Richard who remains blissfully unaware.  Soon, Marina is having violent nightmares while Borgman crouches over her and more and more of Borgman’s followers are showing up at the house…

Borgman is a horrific fable with a dark sense of humor.  (As frightening as Borgman is, it’s impossible not to be amused by just how clueless Richard turned out to be.)  In the best tradition of Michael Haneke, it all leads to an inevitable and unsettling conclusion.

Illiterate (dir by Moisés Sepúlveda)

Now this is a special film.

In this Chilean film, Ximena (Paulina Garcia) is an angry and sarcastic woman who is secretly ashamed to be illiterate.  When Jackeline (Valentina Muhr) volunteers to teach Ximena how to read, she has to deal with both Ximena’s stubborn nature and her own anger over the years that she’s lost, imprisoned by her inability to understand the written word.  And while this may sound like the basis of a typical Lifetime movie, the story takes on a special significance if you know something about the history of Chile and you understand that Ximena is a part of the generation that was previously held prisoner by a military dictatorship.  Ximena’s attempt to learn how to read mirror the attempt of a country to learn how to be free.

Garcia and Muhr both give excellent performances.  The film is a bit stagey but ultimately, it’s very touching.

In Secret (dir by Charlie Stratton)

How do you not enjoy a film like In Secret?  Taking place in 19th century Paris, In Secret tells the story of Therese (Elizabeth Olsen), who is forced by her haughty aunt (Jessica Lange) to marry her sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton).  However, Therese does not love Camille and, bored with life in general, she ends up having an affair with Camille’s friend, the libertine Laurent (Oscar Isaac).  Soon, Camille has been murdered, Theresa and Laurent are married, and how can you not love all of this melodrama?

In Secret is over-the-top but enjoyable, like a Lifetime movie with explicit sex and costumes to die for.  It’s just a lot of fun.

Scorpion In Love (dir by Santiago Zannou)

In this Spanish film, Julian (Alex Gonzalez) is a young Neo Nazi who attempts to achieve redemption through boxing but who fears that his violent past will catch up with him.  It’s not, by any means, a bad film.  It’s just an extremely predictable one.  Javier Bardem shows up playing a Nazi leader and he’s just as dangerously charismatic as you might expect but, otherwise, the film doesn’t offer much insight into what exactly would lead someone like Julian to become a Nazi in the first place.

Tercera Llamada (dir by Francisco Franco Alba)

This comedy from Mexico tells the story of an attempt by a theater company to put on a production of Albert Camus’s Caligula.  The film is full of the usual types — the dedicated director, the craven producer, the innocent ingenue, and the difficult diva.  It’s predictable but likable.  If you’ve ever been involved in a community theater production that you just knew was going to probably be a disaster, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in Tercera Llamada.

Defending the Counselor


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(Spoilers Below)

The Counselor was one of the most anticipated films of 2013.  After all, it was based on a screenplay by the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy and it was directed by Ridley Scott.  Its cast included such stars as Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt.  The film’s two trailers promised a return to the thematic territory that the Coen Brothers explored in their Oscar-winning adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men.

And yet, when The Counselor was released in October, the reviews were scathing and audience response was reportedly terrible.  Writing for Salon, film “critic” Andrew O’Hehir suggested that The Counselor was not only the worst film of 2013 but the worst film of all time.

And you know what?

For not the first time, Andrew O’Hehir was wrong.  The Counselor is not the worst film of 2013.  Instead, it’s one of the best.  It’s a film that will be studied long after more acclaimed films have been forgotten.

Why is The Counselor so hated?

It’s not an easy film to love.  In fact, the film is rather brave about alienating its audience and refusing to allow for the crowd-pleasing moments that viewers have come to expect from even the most prestigious of films.

In order to truly defend the Counselor, it’s necessary to know the plot of The Counselor.  Needless to say, everything that follows constitutes a huge spoiler so, if you’re one of those types, feel free to stop reading now.

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Okay, still here?  Here’s a condensed version of what happens in The Counselor:

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is an honest lawyer in El Paso who has never broken the law and is engaged to marry the beautiful and saintly Laura (Penelope Cruz).  For reasons that are never explicitly stated (but, as I’ll explain below, are obvious to anyone who is willing to look for the clues), The Counselor agrees to help his clients Westray (Brad Pitt) and Reiner (Javier Bardem) smuggle a huge shipment of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico.  However, Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) steals the drugs and frames the Counselor for the theft.  As a result, Reiner ends up getting executed by the Mexican cartel, Westray is beheaded on the streets of London, and the Counselor ends up hiding out in Juarez, Mexico, sobbing as he looks at a DVD copy of a cartel-produced snuff film that features Laura being murdered.  The end.

Yeah, it’s not exactly a happy film.  And yet, it’s a film that sticks with you, a portrait of a shadowy underworld that is fueled solely by greed, paranoia, and masculine posturing.  Ridley Scott makes good use of the South Texas landscape and the talented cast creates a memorable gallery of rouges.

And yet, The Counselor is getting some of the worst reviews of the year.  What’s especially interesting is that the things that so many critic cite as flaws are actually the film’s greatest strengths.

The Counselor

Consider the following common criticisms:

1) The film features some of the most overly articulate drug deals of all time.

This is the most frequent complaint that I’ve come across concerning The Counselor and there is some validity to it.  The Counselor is a very talky film.  The film’s first hour is pretty much made up of The Counselor having three conversations, all about the same thing and all reaching the same conclusion.  Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue is, perhaps not surprisingly, rather portentous and florid.  The Counselor does ask the audience to accept a world where even the head of Mexico’s most powerful cartel is given to going off on long philosophical digressions.  The Counselor is one of those films where nearly every line seems to have a double meaning.

That said, I think that those who attacking the film’s dialogue are missing the point.  This is not meant to be a naturalistic film.  Instead, it’s a heavily stylized B-film that uses its sordid story as a metaphor for dealing with deeper issues of greed, masculinity, and the changing mores of American culture.  Much as every line of dialogue has a deeper meaning, so does every pulpy plot twist.  It takes a while to adjust to McCarthy’s dialogue but, ultimately, that dialogue serves to remind us that the film has a lot more on its mind than just telling the story about a drug deal gone bad.  The combination of overly articulate dialogue with primitive violence and desires encourages us to look under the film’s surface.

2) The film’s plot is predictable.

This may be true but I think that’s actually McCarthy’s point.  From the start of the film, the Counselor is continually warned that things could potentially go very wrong.  Despite these warnings, the Counselor still gets involved in Reiner’s drug and, through a combination of hubris and fate, he loses everything that he loved.

The Counselor’s downfall is not meant to be a surprise.  Instead, McCarthy’s point is that the consequences of our actions are usually obvious but we, as human beings, chose to live in denial about just how little control we actually have over our own fate.

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3) Ridley Scott’s direction is stylish but ultimately empty.

This argument goes that, while Scott manages to capture some gorgeous images of the Texas/Mexico border, those images ultimately don’t add up to much.  The idea goes back to a charge that is frequently leveled against Ridley Scott as a director, that he’s all style and technique with little substance.  (Interestingly enough, this is the same charge that is often made against the Coen Brothers.)

In the past, I’ve been critical of Ridley Scott.  (For proof, check out my reviews of Robin Hood and Gladiator.)  However, that being said, I think that, with The Counselor, Scott does a good job of visually interpreting the concepts at the heart of McCarthy’s script.  My mom was from South Texas and I’ve spent enough time down there to understand just how perfectly Ridley Scott manages to capture the combination of beauty and harshness that one finds along the border between Texas and Mexico.  In Scott’s hands, the emptiness of the Texas landscape serves as a perfect parallel for the emptiness of the lives of the majority of the film’s characters.

Speaking of which…

4) The motivations of the Counselor remain a mystery.

Why does the Counselor get involved in the drug deal in the first place?  Many of the film’s critics have complained that the Counselor’s motivations remains a mystery and therefore make it impossible for audiences to sympathize with the character.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What these critics are failing to realize is that the Counselor’s motives are obvious every time that he appears on-screen.  The audience has to be willing to look for them.  The audience has to be willing to think and that, of course, is asking quite a bit of some viewers.

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While the Counselor hints that his reason for getting involved with the drug deal is so that he can make enough money to provide a good life for Laura, his actual motivations are far more selfish.  One need only see the Counselor in his perfectly pressed suits or in his sleek but sterile home to understand exactly who the Counselor is.  He is a character who has made his living by defending those who break the law but who has never had the courage to actually flaunt the rules himself.   He is a man who lives in a self-constructed prison of ennui and associating with Reiner and Westray gives him a chance to escape from his conventional existence.   He is a character who spends his day profiting from the crimes of others but, because he can go home to his beautiful home and his beautiful fiancee, assumes that he’s somehow detached from the consequences of the actions of his associates.

The Counselor starts the film as an unemotional, blank-faced cipher, a man whose entire identity is based on his job title.  (Indeed, we never learn once learn or hear the character’s actual name.)  The only time that he shows even a hint of human depth or emotion is when he’s with Laura.  He’s a man who, in many ways, is dead on the inside.  It’s only after he gets involved with Reiner and Westray that the Counselor starts to show any signs of life until, by the end of the film, he literally cannot control his emotions.   The Counselor frees himself from his stifling and conventional existence at the cost of everything and everybody that he loves.  In his pursuit of freedom, he simply moves from one self-imposed prison to another.

5) Particularly in its portrayal of Malkina, there is a strong streak of misogyny running through the film.

This is a point that I’ve seen made by several critics and it’s one that bothers me as both a feminist and as a female who happens to love genre films.  Just because a film features a misogynistic character does that therefore make the film itself misogynistic?

The majority of those who claim that The Counselor is anti-female often point to the character of Malkina.  As played by Cameron Diaz, Malkina is a hyper sexual sociopath who manipulates and destroys everyone else in the film.  Even though he’s obsessed with her, Reiner also claims to fear her and he has several conversations with the Counselor in which he cites her as proof that women cannot be trusted.

However, just because Reiner says this, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the film agrees.  In fact, as should be obvious to anyone who is actually willing to pay attention to the film, Reiner is portrayed as being a fool who, ultimately, is just as delusional as the Counselor.  Reiner, Wainstray, and the Counselor all exist in a hyper masculine environment.  For all of their posturing and macho talk, it’s also obvious that none of them are capable of truly dealing with women.  Wainstray can only bring himself to acknowledge them as potential sexual partners while the Counselor both idealizes Laura and uses her happiness as an excuse to pursue his own criminal enterprises.  Reiner, meanwhile, is both attracted to and terrified of Malkina.

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In perhaps the film’s most infamous scene, Malkina removes her panties and then grinds against the windshield of a Ferrari while Reiner watches from inside the car.  Some have argued that, with this scene, the filmmakers are equating Malkina’s sexuality with evil.  I, however, would argue that this scene shows that Malkina — alone of all the film’s major characters — understands the fact that all of the men in her life are essentially boys who are either incapable of or unwilling to grow up.  Malkina uses her sexuality not because she’s evil but because she’s intelligent enough to use every weapon at her disposal to make sure that she will be one of the few characters to survive to the movie’s conclusion.  By the end of the film, it’s obvious that Malkina is both the strongest and the most intelligent character in the film.

There’s an interesting scene towards the end of the film in which the Counselor, who is hiding out in Juarez, stumbles across a group of protesters who are holding pictures of young women who have either been killed on or vanished from the streets of Juarez.  Since 1993, over 4000 women have been murdered in Juarez.  The majority of those murders are still unsolved, with many blaming the Spanish tradition of machismo.  The feeling of many is that “good” girls stay home while “bad” girls get jobs in the city and are often  murdered as a result.  And, since the victims shouldn’t have been pursuing a life outside of domestic servitude in the first place, why waste the time trying to win them any sort of justice?  For the past decade, brave activists have put themselves in danger by daring to demand justice for the dead of Juarez.  When the Counselor stumbles across their rally, it’s a brief moment in which the real world and the cinematic landscape come together.

It’s also a scene that serves to remind us that the film’s characters are living in a hyper masculine world, one that embraces the concept of machismo without understanding or caring about the consequences of that destructive  culture.  The Counselor’s horrified reaction to the rally is the reaction of a man who has finally been forced to confront the evil of which he is now a permanent part.

6) The film’s ending is depressing.

Complaining about Cormac McCarthy writing a depressing ending is a bit like getting upset at a cat for purring.  It’s what McCarthy does and anyone with any knowledge of his work has no right to be shocked that the film ends on a note of hopelessness.  Much as with No Country For Old Men, The Counselor ends the only way that it can.  It may not be a happy ending but it is, at least, an honest ending.

The Counselor may not be an easy film to like but it’s definitely a film that deserves better than to be dismissed as the worst of 2013.

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By the way, here are the Satellite Award Nominations…


In even more Oscar season news, the International Press Association announced their nominations for the Satellite Awards yesterday.  Les Miserables led with 10 nominations.

If you’re like most people who don’t obsess over film awards then chances are that you’ve never heard of the International Press Association.  And that’s okay.  The main thing to know is that it’s Oscar season and that means that everyone’s giving out an award.  The Satellites are a lot like the Golden Globes, just with less credibility.  As far as serving as a precursor is concerned, a Satellite win can help a film maintain momentum but a loss doesn’t really hurt.

That said, for the past few years, I’ve always ended up agreeing more with the Satellite Nominations than with either the Oscars or the Golden Globes.  For instance, back in 2010, the Satellites nominated Noomi Rapace for her performance in the original (and the best) version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

BEST PICTURE
“Argo”
“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
“Life Of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Les Misérables”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“The Sessions”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Skyfall”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, “Argo”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Kim Ki-duk, “Pieta“
Ben Lewin, “The Sessions”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ACTRESS
Laura Birn, “Purge”
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Emilie Dequenne, “Our Children”
Keira Knightley, “Anna Karenina”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Laura Linney, “Hyde Park On Hudson”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Omar Sy, “The Intouchables”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Samantha Barks, “Les Miserables“
Judi Dench, “Skyfall”
Helene Florent, “Café De Flore”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
John Goodman, “Flight”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Eddie Redmayne, “Les Misérables”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
John Gatins, “Flight”
Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, “The Intouchables”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”
Kim Ki-duk, “Pieta”
Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Tom Stoppard, “Anna Karenina”
Chris Terrio, “Argo”
David Magee, “Life Of Pi”
Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
Ben Lewin, “The Sessions”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“Amour” (Austria)
“Beyond The Hills” (Romania)
“Caesar Must Die” (Italy)
“The Intouchables” (France)
“Kon-Tiki” (Norway)
“Our Children” (Belgium)
“Pieta” (South Korea)
“A Royal Affair” (Denmark)
“War Witch” (Canada)

BEST ANIMATED OR MIXED-MEDIA FILM
“Brave”
“Frankenweenie”
“Ice Age 4: Continental Drift”
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
“Paranorman”
“Rise Of The Guardians”
“Wreck-It Ralph”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”
“The Central Park Five”
“Chasing Ice”
“The Gatekeepers”
“Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present”
“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”
“Searching For Sugar Man”
“West Of Memphis”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Seamus McGarvey, “Anna Karenina”
Ben Richardson, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
Claudio Miranda, “Life Of Pi”
Janusz Kaminski, “Lincoln”
Mihai Malaimare, Jr., “The Master”
Roger Deakins, “Skyfall”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Sarah Greenwood, Niall Moroney, Thomas Brown, Nick Gottschalk and Tom Still, “Anna Karenina”
Nathan Crowley, Kevin Kavanaugh, James Hambidge and Naaman Marshall, “The Dark Knight Rises”
Rick Carter, Curt Beech, David Crank and Leslie McDonald, “Lincoln”
David Crank and Jack Fisk, “The Master”
Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson, “Les Misérables”
Niels Sejer, “A Royal Affair”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Jacqueline Durran, “Anna Karenina”
Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud, “Cloud Atlas”
Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux, “Farewell, My Queen”
Paco Delgado, “Les Misérables”
Manon Rasmussen, “A Royal Affair”
Colleen Atwood, “Snow White And The Huntsman”

BEST FILM EDITING
Alexander Berner, “Cloud Atlas”
Jeremiah O’Driscoll, “Flight”
Chris Dickens, “Les Misérables”
Lisa Bromwell, “The Sessions”
Jay Cassidy, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Dylan Tichenor, “Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Dario Marianelli, “Anna Karenina”
Alexandre Desplat, “Argo”
Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
John Williams, “Lincoln”
Jonny Greenwood, “The Master”
Thomas Newman, “Skyfall”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Learn Me Right,” “Brave”
“Fire In The Blood/Snake Song” “Lawless”
“Love Always Comes As A Surprise,” “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
“Suddenly,” “Les Misérables”
“Still Alive,” “Paul Williams: Still Alive”
“Skyfall,” “Skyfall”

BEST SOUND (EDITING AND MIXING)
“Flight”
“Les Misérables”
“Snow White And The Huntsman”
“Kon-Tiki”
“Life Of Pi”
“Prometheus”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
“Cloud Atlas”
“The Dark Knight Rises”
“Flight”
“Life Of Pi”
“Prometheus”
“Skyfall”

James Bond Review: Skyfall (dir. by Sam Mendes)


For almost a month, starting in mid-October and almost two weeks into November, we here at Through the Shattered Lens have watched and shared our reviews and thoughts on the 25 James Bond films (22 official EON productions with 3 non-official ones) which preceded this week’s release of the latest James Bond entry with Skyfall. We’ve shared which were our personal favorites of the series. Some preferred the Connery-era of the Bond franchise while some were in the Moore-era. What we here have all come to realize is just how timeless this franchise has become despite it having celebrated it’s 50th anniversary just last month.

The James Bond film franchise has gone beyond what Ian Fleming had imagined when he first came up with a literary character that would become a global pop icon and remain one of cinemas most successful franchises in history. There have been low points in the franchise (usually when the actor whohas been performing the role has outlived their stay) but then there have been some great highs. In the end, there’s always been one constant and that’s the character of James Bond — British secret agent 007 with a license to kill.

A franchise which began with on Sean Connery in the title role has now seen a return to prominence with the role now in the care of British actor Daniel Craig. The Craig-era began with the critically-acclaimed Casino Royalewhich also became popular with the mass audience. The sequel to this reboot would set the franchise back a step or two, but still became the second highest grossing Bond film in the franchise. We now come to the third Bond film in the Craig-era with 2012’s Skyfall and the question of whether the James Bond franchise can still remain relevant in this age of hyper-kinetic and ultra-violent action films remain to be answered.

Skyfall begins with Bond already in the middle of a mission to recover a computer hard-drive which stores the names of hundreds of NATO agents deep undercover within the many terrorist organizations around the world. Things are not going well for Bond and his fellow MI6 agents. He finds many of them already dead or dying and it’s up to him and another agent named Eve (played by Naomie Harris) to chase after the mercenary who has taken off with the hard-drive.

One thing we’ve come to expect with the more recent James Bond films (especially the Daniel Craig ones) are the action sequences which make up the opening section of the film. Even before we get to the recognizable Bond opening credit sequence this opening of the film using a very thrilling and elaborate action sequence tend to set the tone for the rest of the film. Skyfall was no different as Bond chases the mercenary Patrice through the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar right up to a one-on-one fight on top of a moving train. Through an unfortunate stroke of luck and a command decision by “M” back in MI6 headquarters in London we segue ito the always popular opening credits sequence with Bond having been shot by accident and left for dead.

The plot of Skyfall was somewhat similar to Goldeneye which saw Pierce Brosnan introduced as the new James Bond. James Bond finds himself racing against time and a former MI6 agent who feels betrayed not just by the country and organization he loyally served but by “M” herself. Raoul Silva (played with a sociopathic flair and panache by Javier Bardem) knows the in’s and out’s of MI6 and this allows him to penetrate both their physical and cyber defenses which puts the entire national security of Great Britain and the Commonwealth in extreme peril. It also puts “M” on the proverbial political hot seat as civilian oversight committees look to find a scapegoat for dead MI6 agents and Silva’s continuing assault on Britain’s intelligence apparatus.

To say anymore about the plot of Skyfall would ruin the biggest joy about this film. Mendes would’ve been one of the last people I saw being picked to direct a James Bond film, but he proves himself more than just capable, but also brings his own character-driven narrative sensibilities to raise the bar for future James Bond film. His handling of the quieter moments during the film shows that particular skill of his that has made him an Academy Award-winning filmmaker. It was on the action scenes that Mendes’ skill as a filmmaker would remain in doubt, but with the help of second unit director Alexander Witt, Skyfall manages to create action scenes that weren’t created for the sake of putting action on the screen but to move the story forward.

In the past, James Bond films rarely moved into introspection on it’s main character’s personal and professional motivations. This began to change when Daniel Craig was picked to help reboot the franchise. The first two films with Craig as Bond showed a much grittier and emotionally complex 007 than in years past. We also got a Bond who was still new to the role of being a 00-agent so we saw the character grow into the role. With Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace we got a Bond who moved from newly minted secret agent then to an agent going off the reservation and following his emotions to finish a mission (both official and personal). The one thing those two films didn’t do was give us a Bond that was fully capable and confident in his abilities to get the job done through the biggest odds. But before we finally get that Bond in Skyfall we see him go through personal doubts about whether he still has the skill to be 007 in a world that sees him and his kind of espionage a relic of the Cold War. By the time the film finishes to a close we find ourselves seeing this new modern, complex Bond finally meeting the old-school traditional Bond who delighted our parents and grandparents in the past.

There’s so much more to be said about this film which brings to the table the best of 50 years this franchise has been on the silver screen. The film pays homage to it’s cinematic history, but not so much that the film becomes a “Can you spot a past Bond reference” exercise. Each and every reference seemed to flow naturally into every scene it showed up in and some even got a nice ovation and reaction (classic Aston Martin DB for example). We even got to see the film poke a bit of cheeky fun at some of the franchises more over-the-top plot devices and all of it in good fun.

Then even with a strong story, great performances from the film’s principal cast members there’s still the question that always get asked whenever a new Bond film hits the screen. That question being how were the latest new Bond Girls.

While Naomie Harris’ Eve was a nice partner to Craig’s Bond their chemistry just didn’t flare up like most of the classic pairings in the franchise. That honor goes to Bond’s short, brief time with the character Severine (played by the ridiculously beautiful Bérénice Lim Marlohe). The scenes the two share in the Macau gambling house was one of the highlights of the film with Marlohe conveying both the femme fatale and damsel in distress in the same scene with the most subtle of acting touches. There’s a good chance that whenever “best of…” lists about Bond girls get made each and every year Marlohe as Severine would be on the top of most lists.

It took two films and six years of exploring, deconstructing and analyzing the character of James Bond through the performance of Daniel Craig. Through that time we’ve gotten to see a new side to James Bond without dismissing and forgetting about the character’s suave and deadly efficiency of past Bond films. While I still lean towards Sean Connery as the gold standard of all James Bond performances after seeing Craig as Bond for the third time in Skyfall the gap has shrunk considerably and I wouldn’t argue if some have Craig matching and/or surpassing Connery in the role. It’s a title that would be well-earned and with how the film ends a chance to see how Craig moves forward as Bond not just in the updated modern sense but the traditional that has made the character one of the most iconic figures in cinema history.

A last note, we get a return to old-school James Bond songs with Adele performing the film’s song which actually has the film’s title in it. The song also harkens back to the days of Shirley Bassey and If I had a choice in the matter I would just let Adele sing all future Bond songs for as long as she wants to.

Thus end Through the Shattered Lens’ retrospective on the James Bond franchise both past and present. It’s been a great ride and all thanks to the drive and organization of co-founder Lisa Marie Bowman who styles herself as the site’s resident Bond Girl.