Movie Review: Skyfall [2012]

Skyfall [2012]

Skyfall [2012]
Director: Sam Mendes
Genre: Action/Adventure/Crime
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
Running Time: 143 minutes

I feel as if every Skyfall review should come with a preface stating the writer’s level of James Bond fandom. I am a novice to the series, a “rook” if you will, as I have only seen a grand total of three Bond films — the very first two with Sean Connery (Dr. No and From Russia With Love) and Daniel Craig’s first outing (Casino Royale). I enjoyed all to some degree, but I wouldn’t quite call myself a fan — yet. With Skyfall, I feel myself being drawn back into the universe, one that seems more exciting now than ever.

In this dark and rather bleak entry in the series, Bond is not quite as invincible as one might expect. Played to perfection by Craig, 007 is now old, broken down and even vulnerable. When MI6’s headquarters are blown up by the despicable villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), the British agency and its head, M (Judi Dench), are forced to rely on the rickety frame of Mr. Bond to save the day.

Silva presents a great challenge for them, as he always seems one step ahead with every move he makes. He is an excellent villain — he has superior hacking skills, a seemingly endless group of goons at his disposal, and he has an entire bombed-out island all to himself. Javier Bardem, mildly ludicrous blonde hair and all, excels in the role, making for a dangerously strong adversary despite his physical deformities.

Skyfall [2012]

When it comes to Bond films, I am always most fascinated by the exotic locations, and Skyfall does not disappoint. From the thrilling opening car chase scene through the streets of Turkey to a brutal hand-to-hand combat sequence in a Shanghai skyscraper, there is no shortage of eye candy. The Shanghai scene, in particular, is visually stunning with its black silhouettes and flashing blue lights. A later visit to the gorgeous Scottish countryside also shows off the talents of cinematographer Roger Deakins (who also worked with director Sam Mendes on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road).

The action set-pieces are flashy and loud, and for the most part this is a white-knuckled ride that rarely lets up. Since this is the 50th anniversary of Bond, there are nods and homages to every single film in the series. As a newcomer to the series, I obviously missed many of these, but I got a kick out of hearing the audience cheer in delight when some of the more obvious throwbacks were shown. Diehard Bond fans — most of whom likely saw this opening weekend — will certainly appreciate these tributes, subtle or otherwise.

Skyfall [2012]

In many ways, Skyfall is similar to The Dark Knight Rises. Both films are centered around a hero who has seen better days, one who has hit rock bottom and has to work his way back up to help save the day. Both delve a bit into their backstories; in Skyfall, we learn a little about Bond’s origin, something that I greatly appreciated. There’s even a wink at the end of both films in which a familiar character is revealed in an ode to the future. It’s an interesting thought — Skyfall simply wouldn’t be the same if it were not for The Dark Knight trilogy.

The bottom line here is that Skyfall is one of this year’s best action films, and being a Bond fan is not a prerequisite in really enjoying this. There are a few moments that could have probably been omitted — and surely a few of the groan-worthy one-liners could have been improved — but I can’t recall many trips to the theater this year that were quite as exciting. Count me in for the next one, Mr. Bond.

8/10

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Movie Project #49 and #50: The Seventh Seal [1957] and Schindler’s List [1993]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Seventh Seal [1957, Ingmar Bergman]
The Seventh Seal [1957, Ingmar Bergman]
Starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand and Bengt Ekerot.

Before watching this, I was slightly apprehensive that I would not like The Seventh Seal. I had heard remarks from others that it was “boring”, “pretentious” and “too slow”. I shouldn’t have listened to these criticisms, especially since I rather enjoyed Wild Strawberries, an earlier Bergman film in my project. The Seventh Seal digs deep into religious and philosophical themes, but this is accomplished in a way that is also thoroughly entertaining.

The basic concept is that a medievil knight (von Sydow) plays a game of chess against Death (Ekerot) in order to save his life. While they play, the knight and his squire Jöns (Björnstrand) travel across the land as the Black Death causes thousands to die around them. Along the way, they meet a fun-loving acting troupe (who bring some much-welcomed comic relief), and this newfound group sets off to find their way to safety. The knight struggles with the impending death all around him, including his own life, and begins to ask questions regarding faith, religion and the existence of God. The subject matter is heavy, and this is easily one of the more thought-provoking films I have seen recently. I feel I am only scratching the surface of this film’s true value, as subsequent viewings should bring new meaning to some of the discussions presented. Don’t let the modern criticisms deter you from seeing The Seventh Seal — it is still a rewarding film today, even if it is a tad slow. 8.5/10

Schindler's List [1992, Steven Spielberg]
Schindler’s List [1993, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley.

There was a reason this was the last movie I watched for this project. As much as I knew I *needed* to see Schindler’s List, I wasn’t exactly eager to because of the horrific subject matter. It still blows my mind that the Holocaust happened just seventy years ago, and it’s hard to fathom that something like that could even happen. Schindler’s List shows the atrocities of all of this, never batting an eye to the random acts of murder and disgusting violence. This film is very hard to watch for this reason, even though it is superbly made.

I loved Spielberg’s decision to make this black & white, as it feels more natural to the time period. This move also gave him the ability to masterfully use the color red twice during the film to signify a deeper meaning, and to show color scenes at the very beginning and end. The trio of Neeson, Fiennes and Kingsley are all imminently rewarding in their roles, with Fiennes playing one of the most despicable men in all of history to perfection. It is impossible not to hate this man and his disgusting behavior. The three hour runtime is never a burden, and the movie certainly did not feel anywhere near that long. While Schindler’s List is not something I would ever want to watch again, it is an exceptionally well-made film that documents one of the worst time periods in history. 9/10

This completes the project! It has been a wild ride, and I will be doing an extended wrap-up of the project next week. Happy New Year!