FSR's Weekly Report Card

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Studio: Columbia/MGM

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.

Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton and Jeffrey Wright

Directed by: Mark Forster

What it’s about: In Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bond, the British super-spy is tracking down the people responsible for the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd. He’s motivated by revenge, which is why M (Judi Dench) doesn’t want him working the case. After discovering a high-level traitor, Bond sets out on his own to overthrow the evil multinational Quantum organization and, in particular, the maniacal villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who is posing as an environmentalist.

What I liked: As a follow-up to Casino Royale, this James Bond film lives up to the standards set by that first film. While relatively short for a Bond film, this movie delivers on most of what you’d expect from this series. There’s plenty of action, and while some is helped along by computers, it still has that real-life practical effect look. In the tradition of other Bond films, there’s plenty of high speed chases, involving everything from speed boats to an old prop plane.

Craig continues to make a fantastic Bond. He’s the closest we’ve ever come to Sean Connery and, while I did enjoy the pretty-boy Bond we saw with Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, Craig is more rugged and edgy. Hopefully he sticks with this for a while.

Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with Olga Kurylenko, and she’s a real treat in this film. They’ve got her working the Bond girl angle in the modern term. She’s sexy and smart, but she’s not a damsel in distress. Plus, with her sultry Eastern European charm, she’s perfect for the role, ultimately beating the pants off of someone like Denise Richards. (Although, it was pointed out to me earlier today that it would be really hot to literally watch Olga Kurylenko beat the pants off of Denise Richards.)

Other elements that rocked in this film was the fact that it was a direct extension of Casino Royale. In fact, you might just want to check out the first film before watching this one. The writers and director present the story in such a way that they expect you to remember everything from Bond 21.

What I didn’t: There was a slight disconnection in the story in that there are two main focuses in this film. On one hand, Bond is motivated almost entirely by revenge. He’s out to get the people responsible for Vesper’s death, and he only stumbles into the global conspiracy. Sure, there’s the maniacal Bond villain with a plan to rule part of the world, but I got the feeling that Bond wasn’t too concerned with this.

Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) is always fun to throw in the film, but his much too brooding in this installment. I’d rather take his bumbling poker player from Casino Royale, or any of the other well structured characters from the previous films. Maybe Wright’s trying to build a meatier resume.

And finally, as a die-hard Bond fan, I do regret to see certain traditional Bond elements disappear. I’m okay with Daniel Craig sipping Vespers rather than martinis (shaken, not stirred), but would it be too much to ask to throw the gun barrel sequence in the beginning, or allowing Craig to say, “Bond, James Bond.” And why not bring Moneypenny and Q back. Flirting and cool gadgets never go out of style.

Who is gonna like this movie: Action fans and most Bond fanatics (although the changes will annoy some of these folks).

Grade: A

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Rated: R for language and some sexual content/nudity.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Sadie Goldstein, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Hope Davis

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

What it’s about: Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a pretentious theatre director in Schenectady, New York. After putting on a well-received production of Death of a Salesman, Caden receives a fellowship to develop a new play. As he watches his life unravel around him, Caden becomes obsessed with his new play about the minutia of his life. As he becomes more and more disconnected with his family, relationships and health, Caden’s play spirals out of control and eventually fills and entire warehouse.

What I liked: It’s a Charlie Kaufman movie, and that gives me a certain affinity towards it. Kaufman is one of the most innovative writers (now a director) working in Hollywood. Like Kubrick, his work can be labeled pretentious, but I find an honesty of thought in it. (Also, like Kubrick, if someone were to imitate him, it would be very pretentious.)

A movie like Synecdoche, New York is deliberately structured not to make sense, much like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. This surreal nature is fascinating, and this is one of those few movies that I really wanted to think hard about. It’s a puzzle, and I think I got the message… or at least I hope I did. What I took from the film were some good thoughts, mixed in with the weight and depression you usually find in a Charlie Kaufman flick.

On the acting side, performances were great all around. Hoffman played a character similar to what he’s done in the past, as has Catherine Keener. Tom Noonan was particularly bizarre and powerful. But it was Samantha Morton, of whom I’ve never been much of a fan, who really knocks it out of the part with her frumpy-yet-sexy assistant to the director.

What I didn’t: Admittedly, this film can be a bit hard to follow. I think it’s excusable, but it’s still a bit of a chore to watch. It’s also not Kaufman’s best piece. Perhaps this comes from the fact that he directed it himself. Things are that much more depressing in this film than something like Being John Malkovich or the depressingly hilarious Adaptation.

Maybe Kaufman’s work is best presented by someone else’s hand. Spike Jonze, who was originally set to direct this film, seems to have a real knack for bringing Kaufman’s work to life. I would have loved to see what he would have done with this film.

Who is gonna like this movie: Die-hard fans of Charlie Kaufman and people who just might be on the verge of killing themselves.

Grade: B+


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