Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

Up here in the good old North of England we were promised a snow storm to end all snow storms. Okay, nothing that dramatic but if Ned Stark had been here he would have forever been saying “Winter is coming”. It was getting so bad that everyone I work with was starting to panic about how they would get to work. Except me, obviously. It’s just a bit of snow. The other night, as I was putting the bins out after work, I stepped I felt super Christmassy as the snow fell gently around me. Snow is too magical to be a pain in the arse. I love the way British people react so strongly to changes in weather. Our weather is hardly extreme but suddenly, at the mere mention of a blizzard, society starts to collapse. Imagine if we did start experiencing the kind of freak weather that other countries face so often? It’d be like Lord of the Flies or some shit. Take public transport, for example: you get a slight snow fall and suddenly the trains are all running super late. It’s not like we’re dealing with The Day After Tomorrow levels of snowfall here. I mean, we don’t need to be start sending Gerard Butler into space anytime soon. Other countries manage to get by with more snow than we do. How is it so hard here? It makes me laugh every time we get to December. People start treating the word “snow” like it’s Macbeth and they’re all about to go onstage. We should just get it over with and start calling it “the white weather”.

Weekly Blog Posts

  • TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I’ve wanted to see the sequel to Kingsman for bloody ages but it never happened. Cinema trips with friends got cancelled and then we missed it at out local cinema. Urgh. So I finally managed to see it this week but would it live up to my expectations? Find out here.

  • BOOK POST – Review of The Underground Railroad

It feels nice to finally be able to review a book again. Find out what I thought after finally finishing this book here.

  • FBF – Spectre (2015)

You watch one spy film and suddenly you start to crave all the spy films. I decided it was finally time to watch Spectre after it kept popping up on my Netflix feed. Find out what I thought here.

Currently Reading
  • Autumn by Ali Smith
Not even going to pretend I read anything this week. I’ve not picked this book up since I returned from London. I’m a failure. I know. I’m going to get better. I have Christmassy things to read goddammit!

Recently Purchased 
  • The Grip of Film by Richard Ayoade – Okay, I’ll level with you. I didn’t actually buy this book this week but I forgot to put in last week’s rundown. I’ve not actually bought a single book this week. I’m feeling pretty smug. I’m concentrating more on Christmas presents cause I’m so fucking selfless. Nah, just kidding, I’ve just been super busy all week. Book shopping has taken a back seat to everything I’ve had to do.
Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Friends from CollegeThe Good Place, QI
I’ve watched quite a few new shows this week. It’s a new thing for me. I’d been drawn to Friends from College for ages because it had a great cast. Now I’ve watched it I’m not sure what to think. It wasn’t bad but I don’t think it was good either. Maybe I need a rewatch? However, The Good Place was fucking amazing. I managed to be genuinely shocked by the revelation in the season 1 finale and it made everything so much better. I can’t wait for more episodes. I ate these ones up too quickly.
FBF – Spectre (2015)

FBF – Spectre (2015)

So, you may have noticed that this week’s Throwback Thursday post has actually become a Frowback Friday post. Last night was my work’s Christmas party so I was a little too busy to be posting. It also means, considering I started work at 7 am this morning, that I had no fucking sleep so I’m totally exhausted. So, I imagine this is going to be a pretty dire review of Spectre. I meant to write it as soon as I got home but, because I’m such a pathetic individual, I fell asleep instead. I’m not even 30 yet and I can longer cope with a night of shenanigans without every muscle in my body aching. It’s not as if I was even hungover. At least that would make sense. I’m just pathetic. Anyway, I’m here to review Spectre, which I watched for the first time this week. I loved Skyfall so was really interested in seeing how the follow up would work out. There was a time when it was believed to be Daniel Craig’s final time in the role so it was kind of bittersweet. I wasn’t entirely convinced that Craig would make a good Bond but he’s really grown on me. I think he’s perfect so it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. I love T Hiddle but really don’t think he should get it. Equally, I think Tom Hardy is amazing in every way but I have my doubts. My top choice? Idris Elba. Do I think it’s likely? Well, he’s getting on in age a bit so who knows. Anyway, Spectre has a lot to live up to for many fans. Skyfall had done so many wonderful things and we all felt Craig deserved a decent farewell. Plus, it was the first film for ages without Judy Dench. I bloody love that woman and everything she did within this franchise. I know The Grand Budapest Hotel really turned me around on Ralph Fiennes but I still wasn’t sure he could live up to the Dench. I mean she doesn’t give a shit about the CIA. Her role as M was phenomenal. But I digress and I really do need to get to bed asap.

Spectre takes us to just after the events that ended Skyfall. The old MI5 building is in a state of disrepair and the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is having to cope with a potential takeover from the Joint Intelligence Service. In light of recent events it looks like the JIS will scrap the 00 programme all together; something that becomes all the more likely after Bond causes utter devastation whilst in Mexcio. It turns out 007 got a posthumous message from the Judy Dench M and James is now on the hunt for a secret villain who could threaten everyone’s safety. However, after his actions, Bond is given a suspension from field work so must work in secret with the help of Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). As James finds out more information, it becomes clear that the present case has a strong link with his past. But who is the mysterious figure at the centre of everything?

I didn’t really know what to think about Spectre going in. I was excited but I’d heard mixed things about it when it came out. Obviously there was a chance this was just post-Skyfall fallout where anything the film did would have been seen as not good enough. However, it could just be a fairly underwhelming film. At the very least, the opening song by Sam Smith was the worst Bond song since Carly Simon’s effort. I mean I didn’t like Skyfall but this made that seem fucking amazing. It’s even more of a shame considering the opening title sequence is visually stunning. I’d say it’s one of the best ones ever made. A bloody great start to this film.

Just as the pre-credits sequence is perhaps the best thing we’ve seen in the Daniel Craig era of Bond. We see James in Mexico during the Day of the Dead, wearing a skull mask and walking through the carnival with a beautiful lady. He then leaves his companion and casually strolls over rooftops to spy on his target. It’s such a brilliant and understated piece that just works so well. It’s the kind of gripping sequence that should be saved for the end of a movie not the beginning. It’ll have you hooked.

Which is good because the rest of the film is a little less solid. The storyline follows up from Skyfall’s link with Bond’s past and makes 007’s vendetta with the big bad personal. Apparently, it’s not enough just to want to stop people endangering lives anymore; you have to want to stop them because they’re wronged you personally. There is a lot to this film that just makes it seem like they aren’t even trying any more. It’s a pain by number Bond that you could, genuinely, play 007 Bingo watching. We have the insane gadget that only becomes useful in the final seconds before Bond’s potential death; the two women who get very little development but are lucky enough to shag Britain’s horniest agent; there are enough car chases in weirdly quite cities to satisfy anyone who loves everything Jeremy Clarkson says; and there is the return of a villain who has had more comebacks than the Rolling Stones. This is the perfect Bond film for any fan of the franchise as a whole.

It’s not a bad film though and I really enjoyed it. Daniel Craig’s time as Bond has brought the grit back to the series and, in the past 2 films, we have seen a slight return in the camp comedy of Roger Moore’s era. However, story is becoming a problem. There is so much potential, especially with Ralph Fienne’s M (who deserves his own franchise by the way), that I kind of wish had been used more. This film would have been seen as exceptional after Quantum of Solace but we’re in a post-Skyfall era. This just isn’t quite good enough.

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall (2012)

Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond has certainly had its ups and downs since the announcement that he would take over from previous incarnation Pierce Brosnan. Although, I think it’s safe to say that, despite what you may have thought about Quantum, Craig has shown that he has more than enough skill to take on the challenge of such a renowned figure. This was a Bond for the modern age; a Bond who takes on the physical challenges expected of a super spy whilst still looking every part the traditional English gent. That was the greatest thing about Casino Royale, we had a film that took a character rooted in the British tradition of stiff upper lipped patriotism and turned him into a gritty action hero with just enough heart. Casino Royale changed the rules for 007 and remains the best film of the series. This has, of course, meant that all future films will be compared to it. Something that didn’t go well for the disappointing and much criticised Quantum of Solace and something that will mean that Skyfall won’t get the full appreciation that it deserves. It is no Casino Royale but the latest offering is the perfect celebration of 50 years of Ian Fleming’s literary construction.

For this is the ultimate purpose of Skyfall; respecting the past whilst accepting that times have changed and Mr Bond has had to move with them. The film makes several key nods to the Bonds of the past whilst maintaining that he is still the same, dark, moody and damaged super spy that we are used to nowadays. In keeping with the current craze of Nolanesque sensitive and broody heroes, Bond has a certain amount soul searching to do in between the Jason Bourne style stunts. Forget Connery, Moore and co., this is the James Bond for the 21st century. The storyline itself shows a deeper awareness of current events as it leads us through strands based around cyber-terrorism, the theft of sensitive data and government inquires. Providing the perfect opportunity to introduce the 007 to his new quartermaster and techno wizkid, played by the always brilliant Ben Whisaw. Gone are the amazing but nevertheless rather quaint gadgets of old; no more exploding pens, jet packs and submarine cars for our slick, modern spy. No, we find ourselves in a simpler, more realistic world where it is computer hacking, a personalised gun and a radio that will save the day.

Despite this focus on a more stately, up-to-date action man, Mendes goes through the motions and offers the audience all of the traits that we have come to expect from a half-decent Bond film. The director obediently ensures that the credits sequence, the sexy ladies, the cars, the exotic locations, the gadgets and the ruthless villain all get their moment. Unfortunately a lot of it is done rather half-heartedly and simply to keep the fans  happy. Particularly in regards to the token Bond girls, namely Eve (Naomie Harris) Bond’s flirty MI6 colleague and femme fatale Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), who come across as underwhelming and pretty unnecessary. I don’t want to find myself in a feminist anti-Bond girl rant because, frankly, I feel like a Bond film without at least one sexy foil slightly misses the point of Fleming’s original creation. However, in this film it seems that there should only have been one leading lady in Bond’s adventure. For the past seven Bond films, Judi Dench’s M has been standing on the outskirts disapproving of the eponymous spy’s trigger-happy behaviour and his eye for the ladies. It was about time that she got her moment in the spotlight and given the chance to show what she could be. Forget the scantily clad ladies that have graced our screens and James’ bed for the past 50 years, it is M who is the quintessential Bond girl. She is the feisty, strong and ruthless matriarch with a string of men eager to lay down their lives at her say so. Quite simply, M is the Queen of the Bond girls.

Once the necessities are out of the way the film is able to really get going. Skyfall is the first Bond film to really make use of home soil and the set pieces in London and the Scottish highlands are a wonder. It is all very familiar and shows the real concerns for 007. In Silva’s plot for revenge it is the innocent London commuters that get caught up in the action. Bond must save the country he has spent 50 years serving whilst his boss must justify the department she heads up. Writers Neal Purvic, Robert Wade and John Logan provide us with all of the in-jokes and references that you would expect from this celebratory production but present us with a fresh and engrossing story that shows us the franchise still has something to offer its fans.

Although, there is a sense that the film has been too influenced by the new breed of superhero and the latest Hollywood trend of exploring the emotional damage at the heart of every half decent struggle with evil. I must admit that my heart sank when there was mention of the tragedy surrounding Bond’s parents as I was sure a Nolanesque tale of a damaged orphan dealing with his loneliness was looming. Thankfully these references are short-lived and don’t distract from the most important feature. Skyfall flirts with a more introspective and emotional attitude but there is no doubt that this is an all action flick. Sam Mendes was brought in to bring back a certain amount of credibility to the franchise after the much criticised Quantum of Solace and in the pre-credits sequence he certainly proves that when you place a train-top fist-fight in his lap he can deal with it. Mendes plays down the Bourne style action that created such disappointment in Quantum but still provides us with several memorable sequences of high-octane drama. I’m sure that pretty much every review you may have read about Skyfall will have made at least a passing reference to the amazingly talented cinematographer, Roger Deakins. After their previous collaborations on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, Mendes and Deakins join forces once more and offer the audience some of the best visuals of the entire series. Skyfall is, quite simply, a feast for the eyes. You need only take another look at the moments in China to see how good these two are; scenes such as the one that takes place in an office building where a gorgeous light show accompanies an assassination, show us that action films can also be beautiful films.

Of course, the film isn’t just a success thanks to the two key figures behind the scenes. It is thanks to the awesome trio that lead the plot and their great interactions that really make Skyfall such a triumph. We are presented with an obviously older and more careworn 007 who has clearly been through quite a lot since his double 0 debut in Casino Royale. Craig’s Bond is as harried, stern and deadly as ever and he leads us through Bond’s beardy, physically and emotionally damaged period better than Bronhom ever did in Die Another Day. He has something to prove to himself and, most importantly, to his superiors. He not only has to save everyone but show that his boss’ continued faith in his skills isn’t as ill-advised at it may seem. It was about time that more weight was given to the turbulent relationship between Bond and M and Judi Dench and Daniel Craig have such a great chemistry that it’s a shame that they couldn’t have shared even more screen time. The relationship has been one of respect, loyalty, subtextual (and fairly oedipal) eroticism, and, to steal a phrase from Peter Bradshaw, “smouldering resentment”. M demands everything from her agents but is more than happy to risk their safety and their lives to succeed. It is something that Bond has, so far, not questioned and has enabled him to enjoy pushing their bond to its limits. That is until a rather terrifying face from M’s past returns to force her into atoning for her sins.

That face belongs to a blonde and creepily eccentric Javier Bardem who presents us with one of the most dangerous yet enigmatic Bond villains of all time. In line with the rest of the film’s visuals, Silva is a sight to behold. I have seen comparisons with Julian Assange, Larry Grayson and Jimmy Saville. Whatever you’re view, there is no denying that Silva looks unsettling thanks to his intensely blond appearance. Silva is the Mr Hyde to Bond’s Dr Jekyl; they both share the skills of a super spy and share a rollercoaster relationship with M. Bardem’s villain is sensational. From his utterly captivating entrance, spouting his parable about rats in a barrel, onwards he gets under Bond’s skin and forces him to question the foundations of his whole life. Even his love of women thanks to an eerily flirty encounter whilst Bond is tied to a chair. It is the interactions of these three figures and an excellent supporting cast that drive the action and intense storyline of the 23rd outing of Fleming’s hero.

There is little doubt that Skyfall is a great Bond film; it more than makes up for the previous film and allows both old and new fans to see how, important, enjoyable and exciting the last 50 years have been. It is not perfect but Mendes does a remarkable job to mix the old with the new and make a bloody good film at the same time. His turn is sombre, thoughtful and incredibly brash all at the same time. It takes some time to get going but once the obligatory Bond guidelines have been adhered to the film really opens up. We are taken on a wild adventure through Turkey, China and London and end up in an explosive finale in the remote Scottish Highlands. The lead actors and their supporting cast (with a vital but short appearance from the outstanding Albert Finney) we have a Bond film worthy of the character and the fans. With its slight emotional core adding to, and not distracting from, the action, Skyfall just goes to show there is still a place for the likes of James Bond in our society.