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.

Thanksgiving 2011

Norman Rockwell's vision of America
Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell

On Wednesday, 23 November 2011, Janice and I drove down to my parents’ home in Virginia. We passed through heavy rain, but the traffic wasn’t too bad. We stopped for lunch at Boston Market, and my mother had a good dinner waiting for us. We watched Jeopardy and talked about politics, history, and travel.

On Thanksgiving, my brother Peter, his wife Kelly, their two daughters, and his mother-in-law Maureen joined us for the traditional holiday feast. I’ll to spend the weeks before Christmas trying to work off the turkey, potatoes, and desserts.

In response to one of my nieces, I’m thankful to live in a country where there is still freedom and opportunity, despite political squabbles and economic stress, and to be able to spend time with family and good food.

The weather was warm and pleasant, so we got to play badminton and horseshoes with my energetic nieces. The next day, Peter returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we did some yard work, played volleyball in shirtsleeves, and of course, ate some more.

On Saturday, Janice and I visited her grandmother in Pennsylvania. We ate another all-American meal at Saville’s Diner before returning to the road. Even with heavy traffic, a detour, and stopping for dinner at Cracker Barrel, we made better time than in many other years.

Since then, I’ve been catching up on reading (R.I.P. “Pern” author Anne McCaffrey), genre TV (including the end of the fun Batman and the Brave and the Bold, as well as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movie marathons on cable), and role-playing games (updates and reviews to come).

30 November 2009: Thanksgiving and animation

Friends, I hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving. Janice and I enjoyed the holiday, despite the long drive from Massachusetts to her grandmother in Pennsylvania and my parents in Virginia, worries about sick nieces, and news of marital strife among our circles of acquaintances. We ate well, caught up on sleep and reading, and managed to avoid the worst traffic. The weather was also pleasant.

Janice and I also screened The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion animated fantasy loosely based on the Roald Dahl book. Director Wes Anderson uses many familiar actors for the voice cast, including Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Bill Murray, and Michael Gambon.

Clooney plays the titular character, a snazzily dressed vulpine who retires from stealing chickens before the birth of his son but is tempted back into a life of misadventure by three farms owned by grotesque humans. I thought The Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s script and dialogue were clever, and the two-dimensional flow of the action wasn’t as annoying as some trailers and reviews suggested.

The self-aware hero, use of an Anglo-American cast, and allusions to folklore and caper films were all well-done. The offbeat humor, adult themes, and cheerful soundtrack reminded me of the recent live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.

As with Coraline and Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death, the stop-motion world again demonstrated that there are good alternatives to the current glut of computer-animated 3-D flicks. I’d give The Fantastic Mr. Fox three stars, an 8/10, or a B+. It’s rated PG for cartoony violence. The next animated movie I’ll probably catch in theaters is Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

Speaking of cartoons, I have to note that recent television episodes of Star Wars: Clone Wars have been particularly strong, showing the grit and chaos of battle, as well as the moral erosion of an extended conflict that’s timely as the U.S. reconsiders its
military involvement in the Middle East.

Spectacular Spider-Man has also upped the ante, as Peter Parker’s personal life and numerous foes collided. Unfortunately, the Silver Age-style superhero show may be a casualty of the Marvel/Disney merger. Iron Man: Armored Avengers has been entertaining, despite stiff computer animation and making Tony Stark and
company into teenagers. Marvel’s Super Hero Squad skipped a week for the holiday.

Wolverine and the X-Men also concluded its current season, combining the “Days of Future Past,” “Phoenix Saga,” and “Rise of Apocalypse” storylines from the comics with
mixed results in terms of pacing and character development. The charmingly campy Batman and the Brave and the Bold has been on hiatus. DC/Warner Brothers’ release
of boxed sets of DVDs for Batman: the Animated Series, Superman: the Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited are reminders of the best superhero cartoons of the past decade.

Coming soon: Live-action superheroes and remake reviews!

24 November 2009: Super MegaFest report

Brian, Gene, and Ken

On Saturday, 21 November 2009, I met former co-workers Ken G. and Brian F. at the Super MegaFest at the Framingham Sheraton (photos courtesy of Ken). I’ve attended this genre entertainment convention several times over the past decade, and it’s usually a good value for a $20 weekend ticket.

There were fewer panels than at the previous weekend’s New England Fan Experience (NEFX), but the celebrity guests were more accessible. Autographs were still expensive at about $40 apiece. I met Brent Spiner, who played the Asimovian android “Data” on Star Trek: the Next Generation, as well as The Bionic Woman‘s Lindsay Wagner.

Although I had seen them before, Ken waited in line for signatures from Jame  Marsters, members of The Monkees, and Ray Park. There were also pinup models,
professional wrestlers, and some people in costume. Spiner proved to be sarcastically funny during his question-and-answer session, teasing me for not following him on Twitter and being teased by Ken for his robot-like recall of people’s names.

The vendors sold comic books, DVDs, toys, and other nostalgia items to a crowd that was almost as diverse as the one at the NEFX and Star Wars in Concert. Brian was disappointed that there weren’t more dealers in superhero-related statuettes, and I agree that there were fewer vendors than in past years. Overall, I had fun, and I look forward to more fan events, such as the “Harry Potter” exhibit at the Boston Museum of
Science and the just-announced New England Comic-Con.

In the coming weeks, in between work, gaming, and holiday shopping, I hope to blog about the recent wave of animation, the midseason turnover in genre television, and the nature of steampunk. If there’s anything you’d like to see here, let me know!

Janice and I will be driving down to Pennsylvania to see her grandmother before
spending Thanksgiving with my parents in western Virginia. Unfortunately, I probably won’t have time to visit family and friends near Washington, D.C., or New
York City, and I hope that traffic and the weather are cooperative. I hope that you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!