Spectre (2015): Where Will the Story Go From Here?

Amazon.com: WMG Spectre - Movie Poster (24" x 36") Glossy Finish (Thick,  8mil): Daniel Craig, Monica Belluci, Lea Seydoux: Posters & Prints

“Spectre” is a film I did not see at release. I had heard criticism that it was convoluted and the worst of Craig Era so I had no desire. With the newest Bond film coming out though I thought I probably should to get some context at least…and it was better than expected. It never reaches the levels of great for me as it has some of the problems prior Bond films have that kept it from that, but it is still good. If you have enjoyed the prior films in this Franchise, chances are you will enjoy this one too. This film has an all star cast and that helps so much to carry the story.

The film was directed by Sam Mendes and written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth.

The story follows Bond (Daniel Craig) when a posthumous message from the last M (Judie Dench) leads Bond to an unauthorized mission in Mexico City to follow-up on a conspiracy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack -Thomas Newman is one of my favorite composers and it is fully on display here. He captures moods and elevates scenes where not much is going on with his ambiance. This is the kind of soundtrack that is so good it works without a film and it was smart to choose him for it.

The Action – This film has probably the best opening action sequence outside of “GoldenEye” as Bond stops a bombing in Mexico City during “Day of the Dead.” There are so many moving parts and we get action sequences in crowds, buildings and ending in a helicopter. It sets the stakes for the rest of the film extremely well and is done to look like one continuous shot at one point. The rest of film never reaches that height but we still get a fun action sequence in the snow and in London.

MI6 Drama – The B-Plot is C (Andrew Scott) trying to get the data from all the different spy agencies of the world and clashing with MI6 in the process. It is a lot of fun and well done except for C’s dream never being fully explained and why he’s a part of Spectre. Also seeing Rory Kinnear as the MI6 Chief of Staff was another perfect casting. That guy is an amazing actor who can carry any part.

Q – Ben Wishaw is just as isolated as Bond for most of this film but is still helping him as he fights C and his organization Nine Eyes. He goes out of his way to help Bond (like Moneypenny) and is really one of the few reasons Bond manages to survive. It was great seeing him get revenge against C when he outsmarts him at the end.

Moneypenny – Naomi Harris is my favorite actor to play Moneypenny and here we see her help Bond early on and remain an ally through the film. It is great seeing her put things together first (like Q) and realize what is happening before M does and I wish we had more scenes with her.

Dr. Madeleine Swann – Seydoux plays the daughter of an assassin who worked for Spectre and is the one to help Bond find where their plots are after she sees she can trust him. They are both traumatized by their pasts and loss of parents and it connects them. She was a good character and I’m glad she’ll be in the next film.

Okay:

Spectre – Spectre is back, which is fine but I feel like them having a giant boardroom isn’t needed now given technology and it putting them all at risk. They struck me as pulling off the appearance of brilliance without actually being so. This is fine but it doesn’t make them good.

C – Like the members of Spectre, acted really well but his idea of complete oversight of spy agencies and what he’d do is never fully explained as making any sense. He needed more material to be a plus.

Mr. Minx – Bautista falls into the same boat. This guy is a huge consistent threat like Jaws, but nothing is given to humanize him, unlike Jaws. He is good as a physical problem for Bond but he isn’t elevated to anything more, which is a shame because Bautista like Scott is a great actor.

The Cons:

The Bond Family and Blofeld – Blofeld is related to Bond as an adoptive brother who was jealous. There are elements here for something good but it is hard not to think of the Austin Powers and Doctor Evil reveal about how they are related. This wasn’t needed. I get the personal connection but the means of how he rose to power don’t make as much as sense. We needed more detail for this drama to truly work.

Overlong Action at the End – The action at the end really drags. We get a bomb going off, a boat chase and it kind of all flowed together for me as Q, M and Moneypenny dealt with C and Bond and Swann dealt with Blofeld. In the end I really only felt the soundtrack, which is a shame. This needed to be shorter.

Bond’s “Retirement” – It felt like Bond has retired and unretired so much in the Craig continuity. He keeps getting taken off and rejoining MI6 and at the end it even feels that way too when he throws away his gun to go to Swann, only to show up at the end to meet up with Q. If you keep doing this it loses the meaning and it won’t matter if Bond has retired or will retire.

This was a good film that I do recommend to fans of the Franchise. It has an all-star cast, beautiful visuals and soundtrack and the overall plot is compelling. If this film had been a bit tighter and gotten away from bringing in Blofeld I think it would have been stronger for it. Also the Craig Era should stop retiring Bond, they just bring him back.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Moonlight (2016): A Beautiful Exploration of Sexuality, Trauma and Healing

moonlight-poster

      “Moonlight” is a beautifully crafted character piece that explores the sexuality and identity as well as trauma and healing. I got a feeling this is going to make my Top 5 Films of 2016 as it hits all right notes and the only real issue I had with it is it could have ended a few times but kept on going.

     The film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins and produced by Adele Romanski, Dede Garnder and Jeremy Kleiner. The story was also by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

     The story involves Chiron (also called “Black”) and his growing up with abuse from his druggy mother and the bullies on the playground who think he’s gay. When Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes him under his wing he gets temporary peace until he learns that Juan is the drug lord who sells to his mom leaving him alone again in the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is the poor deep south (Florida and Georgia) and it is in it we see the lack of opportunities that lead to some becoming druggies or dealing in drugs. It is desolate and real and fits the world and characters and is the world of poverty here in the United States.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful with the only times where it was annoying was when there was shaky cam (thankfully this only happened once or twice). Besides that we get stark scenes that illustrate the isolation of so many of our characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and full of deep and harsh string instruments that heighten the tension and illustrate the pain of the characters. Nicholas Britell really did a fantastic job.

The Characters – This is a character focused drama and is powerful at that. I cared about all the characters who got explored and I wanted to see what choices they’d make and how they’d change.

Juan – Ali once again plays a memorable complex character! This guy is one of my favorite actors at this point and I love how he is one of the first who tells Chiron it is okay to be gay and to be himself. He is a father figure until he is unable to accept the fact that he’s helping to destroy Chiron’s mom with his drugs and after we never see him again.

Teresa – Teresa is Juan’s girlfriend and one of the most supportive characters in the film. She is Chiron’s safe place and we see her doing all she can to make sure he has somewhere to call home.

Paula – Paula is Chiron’s druggy mother who thankfully gets out of it when they move as gets checked into rehab and tries to convince Chiron to stop the cycle as she apologizes for how abusive she was and how unloving she was, though she loves him now. She’s complicated and not a good person but she has a really powerful arc.

Kevin – Kevin is Chiron’s first and only love who he falls out of touch with after the bullies egg Kevin on to punch Chiron. For 10 years they don’t see one another and then we see that Kevin has a kid and got out of drugs and is a cook now. He shows Chiron there is another way and admits in his action he never stopped caring and loving Chiron….as Chiron finally finds peace with his lover.

Chiron – Chiron doesn’t speak for the beginning of the film and it isn’t until Juan and Teresa help him feel safe that he opens up and learns from them to care for his abusive mother and also to care for himself. His next arc is becoming hardened as after the bullies egg Kevin on to beat him up he puts the head bully in the hospital and becomes a rich drug lord like Juan. It isn’t until Kevin calls out of the blue that he realizes there is another way and admits to Kevin that he never let anyone else touch him and that he still loves him.

Peace in Self and the Quest for Healing – From Chiron’s mother seeking drugs, Chiron and Kevin finding each other, Juan finding Chiron…all of them are seeking healing and find it in relationship or in the case of Chiron’s mother escape. All of them at the end of the day just want peace because of how the world has hardened them.

How Trauma Changes People – Trauma hardens people, from Chiron’s mother getting into drugs to escape and bringing out her desperation on her son, to Juan’s inability to stop doing the drug trade and making money even as he is trying to help Chiron heal, from Kevin going to prison. Trauma hardens all these characters at different points.  There is so much toxic masculinity are characters are dealing with where beating someone up makes others accept you and being soft and quiet is a death sentence. Thankfully at the end we see Chiron beginning to find a way out of that cycle of trauma and abuse.

The Cycles of Abuse – One of the things we witness in this is the cycle of abuse, Kevin goes to jail after the bullies force him to beat him best friend/lover Chiron and later he ends up in prison. After he gets out he finds that Chiron has changed as the abuse from his mother and the bullies has hardened him too and he hasn’t experienced love since their moment on the beach.

Okay: The Endings – I would have put this as a pro if they had just had the final scene at Kevin’s restaurant. There was no reason for Kevin to go home and to put them at risk given Kevin is married now. It extended the final scene of them finding peace with one another a bit too long and was the only thing that kept this film from being one of the perfect films this year.

    This is a film well worth your time. If you want to see what life is for so many who have to live in the closet because others feel threatened by their sexuality…this film does a fantastic job exploring that. As a bisexual man I found it powerful and loved how each of the characters was more complicated than what they appeared to be. None of them were stereotypes, each had multiple dimensions and contradictions and it made their struggles all the more compelling as all of them were really just looking for peace or love from another.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Ending could have happened on a few occasions so that is the only reason it isn’t a 10/10.