Skyfall review — Bond is back!

I hope that those of you in the U.S. had a happy Thanksgiving. I visited my in-laws in Upstate New York, where I fought a bad cold, ate too much good food, and watched my nephews play lots of video games.

Taking a step back, on Tuesday, 20 November 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for dinner at Erewan of Siam on Waltham’s Moody Street. We then joined Beruk A. at the Embassy Cinema for Skyfall, the latest James Bond film. We all liked the British superspy’s latest adventures.

The latest James Bond flick
James Bond has returned

After a four-year wait, the movie launches right into action, with 007 pursuing a stolen hard drive in Istanbul. Bond fights an enemy agent atop a train and is shot, then Adele’s retro theme song plays amid the usual psychedelic images of gambling, guns, and dames. Skyfall reintroduces some of the franchise’s gadgetry and humor, paying tribute to its 50 years of cloak-and-dagger fantasies.

Blond and beefy Daniel Craig is still believable as the resilient man with a license to kill. Even if he wasn’t my first choice to inherit the role, in Skyfall, Craig properly shows the physical and emotional toll of being Ian Fleming’s master assassin (it’s hard to believe that he’s my age).

In Skyfall, Craig carefully balances the grit of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton with the slickness of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, coming close to George Lazenby’s short-lived portrayal. Craig is still closer to Connery, but given current moviegoer sensibilities, that’s for the best.

Director Sam Mendes adds a good amount of character development while including exotic locales, one fight in silhouette and another with menacing komodo dragons, and even a glimpse of Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland, the titular Skyfall. (I find it interesting that, like Sherlock Holmes, another quintessentially English hero, Bond is actually part French.)

Skyfall‘s cast is a mix of old and new, young and old. Among the relative newcomers is Ben Whishaw as the new “Q” or quartermaster, now an impudent hacker. Naomie Harris is the winsome agent Eve, and Berenice Marlohe and Tonia Sotiropoulou are Bond’s stunning lovers.

By contrast, Craig gets seasoned support from Judi Dench as his boss “M,” Ralph Fiennes as ambitious bureaucrat Gareth Mallory, and Albert Finney as Skyfall groundskeeper Kincade. Javier Bardem, no stranger to weird haircuts and homicidal characters, chews the scenery gleefully as villain Silva. As with the best bad guys, Silva’s motivations are a dark mirror of Bond’s own.

I’m a longtime Bond fan, so I won’t give away any “spoilers.” Of the recent run, I’d put Skyfall slightly above Quantum of Solace, if a bit below 2006’s Casino Royale, which tautly and successfully rebooted the series in the post-Austin Powers and Jason Bourne era.

Overall, I’d give Skyfall, which is rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality, a B+, three to four out of five stars, or an 8 out of 10. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of James Bond and action movies.

Of the trailers we saw, I’m most interested in Quentin Tarantino’s over-the-top western Django, Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, and of course, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit [Part 1 of 3]: An Unexpected Journey. I also plan to screen some remastered Season 2 episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation and the unconventional Rise of the Guardians soon.

Nov. 21, 2006 — mice, cheese, cons, Casino Royale, and preholiday heroes

Friends, it’s hard to believe that autumn is passing so quickly! As expected, on Saturday, 11 November 2006, Janice and I raked leaves before the unseasonably pleasant weather ended. On that Sunday, we caught Flushed Away — the Aardman/Dreamworks computer-animated comedy, featuring Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet as mice and rats, was better than we had expected.

We also had dinner with Thomas K.Y. at Acapulco’s, a nearby Mexican restaurant, for the first time since his family vacation in Japan. We’ve been going to Newbury Comics quite a bit lately, partly because with the demise of Tower Records and Virgin MegaStores, it’s the last good (and local) chain for discounted music CDs, movies on DVD, and pop culture trinkets.

On Monday, Nov. 15, Janice and I met with former co-worker and fellow genre fan Jacqui M.D. We chatted about our competing employers, Heroes, and the careers of actors who have worked with Joss Whedon. After dinner at Bertucci’s, she stopped by our place for the first time before heading back to her hotel.

This past Saturday, Nov. 18, Janice and I visited the shops in Harvard, Central, and Porter squares in Cambridge, Mass., including Pandemonium Books and Games. We also ate lunch at one of my favorite places near Harvard University: Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, where I usually get the “Viagra burger,” which contains blue cheese. As Wallace & Gromit might say, “How about some cheese!”

There has been no cheese to speak of in recent strong episodes of Veronica Mars, Heroes, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and Doctor Who, IMHO (in my humble opinion, for those who are netspeak-impaired). With the revisionist Battlestar Galactica moving to Sunday nights and the Stargates coming off of hiatus, my television viewing schedule will change yet again.

On Sunday, I went to Super MegaFest at the Sheraton in Framingham. The genre entertainment convention was a bit of a bust, with fewer vendors and several last-minute cancellations by guests such as professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer‘s Juliet Landau, and Firefly/Serenity and Justice League Unlimited/Stargate SG-1‘s Morena Baccarin.

However, it was still a decent show, with “Elvira, mistress of the dark” (nee Cassandra Peterson), Star Trek and Batman‘s Yvonne Craig, and Happy Days‘ Erin Moran, as well as wrestler “Captain” Lou Albano. Since relatively few of these cons have been successful in the Boston area, I try to patronize those I can get to. The more literary (and pricey) speculative fiction gatherings of Arisia, VeriCon, Boskone, and Noreascon tend to be in the winter/early spring.

That afternoon, I met Thomas and Greg D.C. at the AMC Framingham 16 to screen Casino Royale. We had tried to get together to see The Prestige a few weeks ago, but those plans fell through. Greg and I mostly liked the latest James Bond flick, which marked a return to a more serious tone than the Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore versions.

A new James Bond
The new James Bond

Casino Royale (based on the first Ian Fleming novel, and not to be confused with the David Niven spoof of the same name), opens with an impressive free-running stunt sequence and tries to explain Bond’s attitudes toward women, his superiors, and his lethal occupation.

Thomas felt the film was too predictable, and Dexter V.H. preferred the more glamorous espionage/action movies of the past. However, I’d give newcomer Daniel Craig and the franchise relaunch (not unlike Batman Begins) about an 8 out of 10.

Here’s my list of Bond movies and ratings:

  • Doctor No (Sean Connery, 1963) ****
  • From Russia With Love (Connery, 1964) ***
  • Goldfinger (Connery, 1964) ****
  • Thunderball (Connery, 1965) ****
  • You Only Live Twice (Connery, 1967) ***
  • Casino Royale (spoof with David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen) **
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (George Lazenby, 1969) ****
  • Diamonds are Forever (Sean Connery, 1971) **
  • Live and Let Die (Roger Moore, 1973) ***
  • The Man With the Golden Gun (Moore, 1974) ***
  • The Spy Who Loved Me (Moore, 1977) ***
  • Moonraker (Moore, 1979) **
  • For Your Eyes Only (Moore, 1981) ***
  • Octopussy (Moore, 1983) **
  • Never Say Never Again (Connery, 1983) **
  • A View to a Kill (Moore, 1985) *
  • The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton, 1987) ***
  • License to Kill (Dalton, 1989) **
  • GoldenEye (Pierce Brosnan, 1995) ***
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (Brosnan, 1997) ****
  • The World Is Not Enough (Brosnan, 1999) **
  • Die Another Day (Brosnan, 2002) ***
  • Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, 2006) ***

Before last autumn’s basement floods, I owned some first printings of Fleming’s novels, but I still have several reference books on James Bond. As you can tell from the list above, I prefer the Sean Connery/George Lazenby portrayals of the cinematic superspy, as well as stories rooted in the Cold War. However, I don’t mind updating the archetypal series, as long as the cool hero, daring stunts, exotic locations, beautiful women, and dastardly villains are left intact.

After the movie, Thomas and I had dinner at the Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse. The D&D3.5 “Vanished Lands: Halmed Desert” fantasy game is going well, but we’ll have a few breaks in the coming weeks due to the holidays and weekend one-shots. Dan A. will be running a D20 Call of Cthulhu on Tuesday, Nov. 28, and Byron V.O. and Dexter V.H. are still working on plans to visit the Boston area in early December.

The City of Heroes virtual superhero party has been meeting more regularly, although Steve M.R. had to drop out (hopefully only briefly) due to the same kind of technical problems that have afflicted David I.S. and Kim M.E.A.G. We’re still working on tactics but are proceeding in level.

This coming weekend, Janice and I will be visiting her immediate family in Upstate New York. It’s likely that I’ll be watching some of my nieces and nephews while Janice, her sisters, and their mother go shopping on “Black Friday.” Wish me luck! Fortunately, I look forward to hanging out with them and with my brother in law Gary T.L. May all of you and your families have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!