Film Review: No Time To Die (2021)

Spoiler-free territory as Daniel Craig steps into 007’s shoes for the last time in the lengthy and long-delayed No Time To Die

“You know, history isn’t kind to men who play God”

If anything has characterised Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond, then it has been a marked inconsistency in the quality of those films. The heights of Casino Royale were followed by the disappointments of Quantum of Solace, the game-changing Skyfall chased by an underwhelming Spectre. So the hope was certainly that No Time To Die, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
would follow the pattern of soaring to a high peak to round off this era.

And whilst it certainly climbs somewhat out of the valley, it is by no means an all-time classic Bond movie, despite the raft of rave reviews. It could safely be an hour shorter, it has one of those villains whose plan you’re never really quite sure about and much as I like Léa Seydoux, her Madeleine Swann being the Bond woman who gets to have a second film is a real heard-scratcher as the chemistry with Craig just isn’t there. Continue reading “Film Review: No Time To Die (2021)”

Film Review: Spectre (2015)

After the emotional triumph of Skyfall, the lethargic pacing of Spectre can’t help but feel a letdown

“Why, given every other possible option, does a man choose the life of a paid assassin?”

After the rip-roaring success of Skyfall, it seems little surprise that director Sam Mendes and lead scribe John Logan would return for the next instalment of the Bond series. But Spectre ends up as part of the yoyo-ing trend of Daniel Craig’s tenure which had previously seen the excellence of Casino Royale followed up by the not-excellence of Quantum of Solace. Delving deep back in Bond folklore, its overlong running time and stultifying pace sadly makes it a bit of a challenge.

This time round, surveillance networks are the villain as Bond investigates global conglomerate Spectre and their nefarious plans under Blofeld, whilst M and co do battle with the enemy within in the form of Andrew Scott’s smarmy C. Despite his class, Ralph Fiennes is a much less impactful M than Dame Judi but Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear are all settling well into their MI6 roles, popping in and out as needed. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld is vividly effective but the problem lies in an ineffectual plot that doesn’t grip anywhere near as much as Skyfall did. Continue reading “Film Review: Spectre (2015)”

Film Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

There’s not much solace to be found in Quantum of Solace, something of a disappointment following the revolutionary Casino Royale

“Bond, if you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated”

After Casino Royale did so much properly reboot the Bond franchise with the arrival of Daniel Craig, it is hard not to feel a little disappointed with its follow-up Quantum of Solace, which is almost a direct sequel, following through on some key plot points as it does. We catch up with Bond deep in the throes of grief and betrayal after the Vesper Lynd of it all, as he winds up in the middle of a plot to steal the water in Bolivia.

Marc Foster’s direction pushes the gritty realism of Craig’s special agent but in the midst of breathlessly edited action sequences, there’s really very little comprehensible story-telling going on which ends making the film rather dull. Mathieu Amalric’s Greene is sadly a washout of a villain but we do see the move to pushing Judi Dench’s M to the fore which allows her and Craig to flesh out the one true relationship that matters now, and which will pay off brilliantly next time around. Continue reading “Film Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)”

Film Review: Casino Royale (2006)

Eva Green! Daniel Craig in his trunks! Casino Royale has something for everyone, not least a brilliant reboot of the Bond franchise

“MI6 looks for maladjusted young men, who give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect Queen and country”

The Bond franchise turned to director Martin Campbell to launch Pierce Brosnan’s turn in the hot seat in Goldeneye so there’s some logic in them asking him back to introduce Daniel Craig as 007 in 2006’s Casino Royale. But I don’t think anyone was expecting this successful and comprehensive (a reboot.

By taking Bond back to the beginning – we see him earning his 00 agent status -the chance to see the character being built up layer by layer is irresistibly good, a rare chance to delve beneath the impassive demeanour we usually see. Craig rises to this occasion really rather well, hinting at realms of emotion even whilst developing into a coldly brutal assassin.

And by objectifying him just as much as any of his female counterparts have previously been submitted to, there’s a real nod to the decades of cinematic misogyny in which the franchise has indulged. Stripping away Q and his gadgetry also works well at realigning the focus of a slightly too long but ultimately very good film. Continue reading “Film Review: Casino Royale (2006)”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

“Why would the devil be interested in you?”

And so the penny drops, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It’s taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1

“The cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail”

The focus may be elsewhere with regards to returning cult TV shows this spring but to my mind, there’s something more satisfying about the Victorian Gothic psychodrama of John Logan’s Penny Dreadful than we’ve had recently in Westeros. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a turn on the Game of Thrones as much as the next Lannister child but the greater focus and emotional intensity of Penny Dreadful’s supernatural solemnity has kept me gripped over the last two seasons (Season 1 review; Season 2 review) and had me keenly anticipating the third, showing on Showtime (USA) and Sky Atlantic (UK).

The catastrophic climax of Season 2 saw our cast of characters fleeing the gaslit darkness of London and scattering across the globe, each ruminating over their lot. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler is extradited back to New Mexico under Douglas Hodge’s wonderfully taciturn supervision as Inspector Rusk, Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm finds himself in Zanzibar after burying the unfortunately deceased Sembene, Rory Kinnear’s John Clare aka Caliban aka The Creature is stuck on an ice-bound ship in the Arctic, and in a London caught in mourning for Alfred Lord Tennyson (the episode is called “The Day Tennyson Died”), Eva Green’s Vanessa and Harry Treadaway’s Frankenstein are each trapped in their own emotional paralysis. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1”

6th Critics’ Choice Television Awards nominees

Best Series
Best Comedy Series
Black-ish (ABC)
Catastrophe (Amazon Video)
Jane the Virgin (The CW)
Master of None (Netflix)
The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
Transparent (Amazon Video)
You’re the Worst (FX)

Best Drama Series
Empire (Fox)
The Knick (Cinemax)
The Leftovers (HBO)
Mr. Robot (USA)
Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
Rectify (Sundance)
UnREAL (Lifetime) Continue reading “6th Critics’ Choice Television Awards nominees”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”