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Skyfall

From the Vault #23: SKYFALL (2012)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one, timed as Sam Mendes’ 1917 arrives in cinemas, is from March 23rd, 2014…

For five decades of James Bond in cinema, arguably standing tall as the biggest and most successful film franchise of all time, there needed to be some kind of celebration. Not just fanfare, documentaries, look backs, ceremonies, interviews, but rather a celebration of what Bond is, what he means, why he remains relevant half a century on to a world immeasurably different from the one Ian Fleming created him in.

Skyfall turned out, perhaps beyond our expectations, to be all of those things – the clearest demonstrable examination of 007’s psyche we have ever seen, in which Sam Mendes continued the work began by Martin Campbell in Casino Royale (or I would argue GoldenEye infact) and not only gave us what we expect from a Bond movie–the glitz, glamour, action, suspense, wit–but equally delivered on meaningful drama, characterisation and subtext beyond the measure we usually get in this series. It’s been said by many – Skyfall isn’t just a Bond film, it’s a *film* and taking away the slightly derogatory context of that remark to a wonderful franchise, it remains true.

Skyfall is both a truly great Bond film and a great movie in its own right.

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ALIAS – ‘Trust Me’ (2×02 – Review)

Over the course of last year, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

On some level, Trust Me is really where Season Two of Alias begins.

The Enemy Walks In did everything required of a premiere episode of a new season, re-establishing the key characters and plot-lines while dealing with the dangling narrative threads from the previous season finale, but it also operated much like an epilogue to the climactic revelations and twists of Season One finale Almost Thirty Years. JJ Abrams had to remind audiences of the central mission statement of the show while getting the ensemble collection of characters back into their traditional roles but at the same time he added in new characters, new complications, and introduced the major new character of Irina Derevko who would drive the primary character arc for Sydney Bristow across the season.

Trust Me is more about establishing not just a sense of place but a central, driving theme that will permeate across the entire season: the titular trust. Immediately, in the previously discussed introductory segment reminding us of the series’ concept, Alias is keen to remind us that we may not be able to trust Irina, whose surrender to the CIA at the end of The Enemy Walks In tags onto the end of the introduction. “The true loyalty of Agent Bristow’s mother… remains unknown” Greg Grunberg ominously warns, as the word ‘UNKNOWN’ flashes on the screen across Irina’s moment of surrender. Alias is very much labouring the point that Season Two will be about answer this question – who is Irina and what does she want? Can she be trusted? And just how does that effect our main characters, particularly Syd?

Trust Me asks those questions right from the get go and packs a huge amount, from primarily a character perspective, into a short running time. We are left far more grounded concretely by the end in what Season Two is looking to achieve than we were at the end of the premiere.

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD – a violent, hope-free reflection of a vengeful America

Last Blood, ostensibly the final chapter of the Rambo saga, serves as a fitting portrait of America’s dark, lumbering national psyche.

In a film which starts predictable and just keeps getting more so, Last Blood gives us a growling, jaded old warrior in John Rambo. Having survived Vietnam (twice), Afghanistan and Burma’s killing fields, this veteran now fights entirely on home turf for the first time since the franchise began. Rambo ranches cattle, looks after his adopted Mexican immigrant family, and for fun appears to build an entire underground lair filled with weapons beneath his traditional American prairie homestead. This isn’t even a Rambo planning for the apocalypse. This is a Rambo living his *own* eternal apocalypse, trapped somewhere between a grizzled Rooster Cogburn and damaged Captain Willard, living only in the reveries of his tortured past and the hope of a young girl in which he sees a future. Which naturally gets snatched away, as it wouldn’t be a Rambo film if Stallone’s hero didn’t traverse a river of pain to attain some inner peace.

Last Blood, however, maybe unknowingly, doesn’t seem to know if Rambo is a hero at all anymore. As an audience we may appreciate Sly’s innate, snarling Italian-American nobility—in the same manner we consider his Austrian compatriot Arnold Schwarzenegger—but Adrian Grunberg’s film is at pains to remind us this guy isn’t Rocky Balboa. Rambo is psychologically haunted by Vietnam, even all these years later, literally replaying events from First Blood and the conflict in his mind. When Gabriela (Yvette Monreal), his naive ‘ward’, ends up the victim of lawless Mexican organised crime gangsters, Rambo unleashes one-man savagery on anyone even tangentially connected to them. He admits he just wants revenge, pure and simple. He is past healing. He will live in his anger for the rest of his days.

Rambo feels like the haunted reflection of a growling, aged, vicious and vengeful America at the end of a long road. It’s dreams and hopes are dead. Now all that’s left is monstrous.

Mission Impossible (1996)

Given the direction the Mission Impossible franchise has taken over the last twenty two years, all the way through to the most recent sixth outing Fallout, it is easy to forget Brian De Palma’s original but also to underestimate quite how well it launched one of Hollywood’s most impressively consistent franchises.

Mission Impossible happened just before cinema began to change. It happened just before the post-modernist transformation of Hollywood into a self-referential field of franchises that would go on to metaphorically eat themselves, in the wake of Wes Craven’s Scream and a thousand imitators. It happened in advance of the rise of the blockbuster which did not rely on the tentpole, marquee name to keep afloat, as The Matrix sequels gave way to the first flourish of the comic-book movie rise across the 2000’s. It happened in the midst of the trend of classic properties being revisited, updated and ‘reimagined’, which began dominating the landscape, coming in the wake of successes such as The Fugitive. Mission Impossible, quite remarkably for a picture which is now two decades old, feels as a result both uniquely rooted in the 1990’s and decidedly out of time. …

Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Given the stature and prowess of the Mission Impossible franchise, the sixth movie is not likely to bring the curtain down on this series, but were Fallout to be the swansong for Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, it would quite honestly be a perfect way to bow out.

Everything about Fallout has the sense of an ending. Christopher McQuarrie’s second film as writer/director does numerous things. It fully transforms Mission Impossible, in its twilight years, into his personal baby, on which he stamps his mark in a way not seen since Brian De Palma’s original 1996 adaptation of the 1960’s original TV show. Fallout is not just a direct sequel to Rogue Nation, despite being the first Mission Impossible film to pick up where the previous one left off, but it also works to tie together from a storytelling perspective every film from Mission Impossible III onwards, while thematically reaching back to John Woo’s derided Mission Impossible II. It teaches a film like James Bond movie Spectre, which retroactively attempted to link Daniel Craig’s 007 into a string of continuity, how it’s done.

Mission Impossible: Fallout might just also boast some of the most intense, robust and powerful sequences of the entire franchise. This is doubly surprising given just how much of it doesn’t even feel like a Mission Impossible film at all.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

If Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation confirms anything, it’s that the Tom Cruise-fronted franchise has spent almost two decades trying to work its way back to Brian De Palma and back to the roots of where the series began.

In some of my previous pieces on the earlier films in the Mission Impossible franchise, one fact that remains true is how the series consistently reinvents itself every few years in order to stay vibrant and relevant, but oddly enough Rogue Nation on reflection is not as bold a reinvention after 2011’s Ghost Protocol as you might remember. There is greater filmmaking skill involved, with Christopher McQuarrie imbuing more heft into his set pieces than Brad Bird managed in the previous film, while McQuarrie’s script (revised after efforts by Will Staples and before that Drew Pearce, with whom he shares a story credit) certainly has more depth to the storytelling. Beyond that, there is a consistency framing itself between this and Ghost Protocol, one which may well carry through into the next film, Fallout.

Rogue Nation is consistent in how it stylistically reaches back to the first film in the franchise while further mythologising Cruise and his character Ethan Hunt.

Nostalgia & Star Trek: Picard, Discovery and the Future

Nostalgia seems to be a double edged sword right now in Hollywood. What on the surface appears to be a comforting guaranteed winner in terms of audience satisfaction and cinematic box office is becoming something of a poisoned creative chalice. The lacklustre critical (if not box-office) responses to pictures such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Ocean’s Eight, sequels to long-standing, well-regarded franchises; or Lucasfilm’s decision to put a hold on more A Star Wars Story anthology movies after the tepid box office (by Star Wars terms) of Solo, seemingly putting immediately paid to rumoured Boba Fett & Obi-Wan Kenobi-centric films. There is a nostalgia blowback in progress, the ripple effect of which we are only beginning to understand.

Is this a ripple effect that, like the Nexus in Generations, threatens to engulf the future of the Star Trek franchise?

What if killing off Daniel Craig’s James Bond makes sense?

Another day, another James Bond rumour. Of all the great franchises out there, 007’s—perhaps appropriately—seems to play its cards the closest to its chest. Eon Productions always rations information about where their legendary character is going right up to the point they are ready to announce his destination, and for what looks to be Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing in the role, this time is no different. Yet this time the rumour mill, courtesy of a story in The Express, has thrown up an unusual possibility.

The as-yet-untitled Bond 25 will end, apparently, with the death of James Bond.

This got me thinking, because the typical reaction to this would be a shocked gasp, a firm shake of the head, and a stiff dry Martini. “James Bond can’t die!” You can almost hear the clamour of middle-aged men who have been following this franchise since Roger Moore bedded women half his age in a safari suit angrily huffing those words, shaking off another nonsense newspaper report with various rebukes. “Bond is the main character!” “Bond is the hero!” “Bond, in the end, wins the day, kills the bad guy, saves the world and shags the girl over a load of diamonds which were being used to power a gigantic laser in space!” (or something).

Here’s where I’m wondering… maybe Daniel Craig’s 007 *should* bite the bullet.

From Wars to Who: our favourite franchises are evolving – why can’t their fans evolve with them?

An unexpected comparison can be drawn this holiday season between two of the biggest science-fiction franchises – Doctor Who and Star Wars. In both Peter Capaldi’s final turn as the Doctor in ‘Twice Upon a Time’ and Rian Johnson’s sequel The Last Jedi, central characters openly advocate rejecting both their pasts, and indeed intertextually the pasts of their product’s own history. The Doctor, an old man on the verge of rejecting a new lifespan, ‘let’s go’ of his incarnation while The Last Jedi‘s ostensible villain, Kylo Ren, just about avoids fratricide as he advocates killing his own past, killing his own history and letting it die (and by default the known galaxy) to create something new.

In both examples, you have two long-standing, iconic storytelling franchises, both with powerful, ingrained and dedicated fanbases, actively attempting to jettison aspects which made them adored in the first place. And, indeed, in both cases, the fandom of both properties have lost their minds in desperately rejecting this rejection. I won’t rake over my earlier thoughts about the current state of fandom, but it gives birth to another question – why can’t fans let go of the past?

James Bond Will Return – Should Continuity Come With Him?

After quite some time in the shadows, the James Bond rumour mill has kicked into overdrive with the announcement this week that the 25th film in cinema’s longest running franchise will be arriving in November 2019 (or very late October if you’re in the UK). That’s a whole year later than most Bond fans were expecting, given the usual three-year cycle most of us have come to expect. An interesting debate has arisen around the usual questions, however, and it concerns continuity.

Before we get to that, here’s the current state of play. MGM have announced the release date, as studios are often wont to do with major franchises (look at how Marvel let us know what they’re up to years in advance), but since the release of Spectre in 2015 the producers of the franchise, EON, have been locked in a difficult financial back and forth over distribution. Last year, Sony’s distribution rights expired and it seems Bond stewards Barbara Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson have struggled to find a replacement. This no doubt accounts in no small part for why 2019 and not 2018 is when 007 is returning.

There is also the unresolved issue of Bond himself, Daniel Craig. A lot of misreporting has circled around the actor, especially since his clearly flippant comments about not wanting to play the role anymore were taken seriously by many, and while almost certainly Craig has made his choice by now, the MGM announcement wasn’t accompanied by confirmation Craig is coming back in the role that made him a household name. This could indicate negotiations are still ongoing, that maybe Craig wants extra time to finish other projects, or indeed that he’s not coming back at all. Right now, it’s uncertain.