Ranking the Bond Films: Special Birthday Post!

For my birthday, I thought I’d just put up something for fun. I’ve got a bunch of reviews in the pipeline: Whiplash, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, Beyond the Lights, and hopefully Force Majeure, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I, Rosewater, St. Vincent…and after that, we’ll just see. But I’m taking today off and thought I’d do something special beforehand.

I love the Bond films. I first saw Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, and Diamonds are Forever in the early 2000s. And around the time Casino Royale dropped, my dad got the boxed sets of the first 20 films and I watched all of them avidly, then saw Royale when it came out on DVD. And when Quantum of Solace debuted in 2008, I was there for the midnight premiere–and I was there for the midnight premiere of Skyfall four years later.

There was a long period where I would, before bed, just put these films on and watch my favorite scenes over and over. During the summer of 2012, I watched all of the films to date in preparation for seeing Skyfall. And the following year, my friend (and future roommate) suggested we watch the whole series together. I didn’t object. And then we jointly ranked them. And while the next time I watch my way through the series my rankings may change yet again, And there will be a next time.

And not just because my name is James.

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THE SKELETON TWINS Review – ***

"Family is a cruel joke"--but sometimes, family is precisely what you need. ()

“Family is a cruel joke”–but sometimes, family is precisely what you need. (Source)

The Skeleton Twins is the kind of film which suffers because I cannot totally judge it in a vacuum. On its own, it would still be a flawed film, but in the greater context of modern cinema, it stands as yet another indie comedy-drama about dysfunctional middle-class characters, played by hitherto largely comedic actors, who go through their quotidian crises before something like a happy ending. Here, though, the dysfunctions are poorly explored, the crises seem contrived, and the sort-of-happy ending leaves more than a few story threads dangling. The acting (and, to my surprise, the direction) is good enough to make it a *** film, but the script lets it down.

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Catching Up Reviews: FURY (***½), JOHN WICK (***½), STRETCH (***) and MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (**½)

So let's begin with Keanu and a puppy. ()

So let’s begin with Keanu and a puppy. (Source)

All right, let’s just get down to business (to defeat the Hun). Here are four films that I’ve seen in the past month and never got around to writing up. Two are good, one is fair, and one is a pretty massive disappointment–and I’m not the only one who felt that way.

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BIG HERO 6 Review – ***½

The poster is more distinctive than the film.

The poster is more distinctive than the film.

When Frozen came out last year, I was mostly charmed by it (a hamfisted villain-turn in the third act aside), but as the raves continued, as “Let It Go”, which wasn’t even my favorite song in the film, became tiresomely ubiquitous, as it became hailed as a masterpiece when, all things considered, I felt it was a solid notch below Brave (which I still contend was the better girl-power fantasy)…I began to weary of it, and when it went toe-to-toe with the markedly superior The Wind Rises for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, I rooted for Miyazaki to pull an upset. It wasn’t to be.

Then, when the trailers for Big Hero 6 started dropping, I got excited–here, it seemed, was a film more up my alley. The material and aesthetic were compelling, and Baymax was primed to be a grand scene-stealer. And so he was. And the film looked good and had a lot of potential. It was lighthearted, colorful entertainment, that kept me engaged. And yet a thin plot, a drab villain, and an underdeveloped supporting cast keep from being a great or truly memorable film.

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BIRDMAN, or THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE Review – ****

"You're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter! And you know what? You're right. You don't." ()

“You’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter! And you know what? You’re right. You don’t.” (Source)

To what degree can a few seconds impact an entire film? In his review of Thelma and Louise, Roger Ebert argues that the climactic shot ends a few seconds too soon, and as such robs the film as a whole of just enough power that it doesn’t get **** from him. And in the case of Birdman, there are a few moments, which add up to less than a minute of the film’s two hours, which haunt me enough that I cannot rank it higher (as of this writing, I put it at #8 for the year). (Addendum: after further meditation, I’ve decided that these elements are not quite as damaging as I first surmised, so I’m bumping my score up a point, and the film up to #6.)

But at the same time, so much of the film is so good–so well directed and so richly acted–that even considering those troubling moments, I cannot rank it less than ****. One could fairly dispute whether it says anything truly new about the nature of acting and about role-playing in general, but it whatever it says, it says it in a tremendously entertaining fashion.

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