Monday Morning Critic – James Bond & Skyfall (Review, Spoilers, Pontifications), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) DVD Review

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

I’ve been a Bond fan ever since I was a kid; one of the things my father and I shared was a love of both the books and the films. When I was a kid I enjoyed the books because James Bond was this ass-kicker who didn’t take it from anyone. Now as an adult it reads more like he’s a borderline sociopath who has no qualms killing or screwing anything that breathes for Queen and country more than anything else, honestly, but there’s an innocence to things as a child that you lack as an adult. I loved the films too because Bond was this awesome guy; he kicked ass for his country and got whatever insanely hot woman he wanted.

That counted a lot less as a child, of course, but it was always the persona of James Bond over the years that I adored. He was the plucky hero trying to save the day before Bruce Willis brought the overly muscled hero to an end in Die Hard. Bond may have gotten dirty but he was a cut from a higher cloth than the rest of the action hero nation. True Lies was just Arnold trying to be Bond, among other imitators, and the tuxedo and Walter PPK never sat right on anyone but the guy who played James Bond. Years after being the character we still identify actors by that motto.

My cousin Ivan runs a kayak touring business in Hawaii and occasionally celebrities take a tour with my formerly Grateful Dead following cousin. Years ago a wealthy British gentleman took a tour and apparently he was a celebrity. Ivan doesn’t own a television, thus he didn’t recognize him, and he told him to tell us who he was. Ivan’s a bit of a strange cat, even for my family, but this gentleman wasn’t the first (or last) famous person Ivan had been around because of his business. He just doesn’t know who anyone famous is because he’s kind of tuned out to that sort of stuff, lucky bastard. That man happened to be Pierce Brosnan, awesomely enough, and the one thing we all said was this.

“You met James Bond?”

In a way it was the more refined version of the action heroes I enjoyed. Bond may not have had the muscle of Arnold, or the speech impediment of Stallone, but he could beat people up and outsmart them too. It didn’t hurt that the British accent just made him feel classier than the rest; Bond was being British John McClane years before it became en vogue and deep inside I’ll admit that every one man army was just underwhelming by comparison.

Bond was always the man when it cinematic heroes.

It’s why I loved the Austin Powers trilogy as well; it was such a spot on spoof of Bond that it became fun to watch as well. And after Pierce Brosnan didn’t come back, and the franchise was being rebooted again, my ears perked up. I was due to actually attend a press screening of it three weeks before release but nearly died because of Viral Meningitis instead. Sounded a lot more fun, he said facetiously, but I did manage to see it and was blown away with the new direction. Before I write further, time for the brass tacks and get some general pimping out of the way.

You can read Travis’s review here and mine here of Skyfall. I reviewed Quantum of Solace here, too, for those inclined. Travis nailed Casino Royale perfectly, too, back in the day.

What I’ve found so remarkable so far about the films as a whole is the larger narrative they’re painting. They’re not crafting the films like typical Bond fare; there’s a larger cohesive narrative to be found so far. Bond in the first film is a flawed man but one that still has something inside him worth exploring. He still has a heart and compassion on a certain level; he’s a disaffected orphan recruited into MI6 from a career in the military (probably SAS) and has no family. His loyalties lie to his country on an almost pathological level it seems; Bond’s a lunatic but he works for the good guys. It’s why he becomes so fascinating to the villains he fights; they see him as one of them, as someone who should be using his talents for other things than doing the right thing.

Essentially at this point we have a Bond who has survived a three film arc to step into the shoes of the Bond we know. He met the love of his life and discovered how heartless and cruel it can take on your life. He may have avenged her by bringing in the man who set her into motion but there’s genuine heartbreak in how he feels. The trilogy is a hardening of his heart; the one thing we never got with the prior incarnations of Bond I’ve always thought is that we don’t get a real feeling for Bond. He’s a secret agent, and a bad dude, but there was no back story to him.

In a way he’s a very flawed character from a story-telling perspective in terms of cinema. No matter who plays Bond, or what he does, there’s not a lot on his background we really get to immerse ourselves in. Bond is always unavailable on a certain level to really explore. What I’ve dug so far in the new trilogy is just how we’re delving into it, slowly but surely. We’re seeing a grand origin of Bond and as Skyfall ends we get Bond to the point where he’d have been before the grand adventures start.

I like to think of the first three films of the Daniel Craig version of James Bond not as a reinvention of Bond but as the beginning of a story with a fully fleshed out Bond. Sean Connery was the best Bond because he was the best actor to play the man but Daniel Craig is the interesting one to me. Bond wasn’t always a dashing agent who loved Strange Tang and cared only about serving Crown and Country. How he gets to be that guy is something we never really had in terms of his cinematic exploits, I think, and Skyfall is a neat bit of story-telling in that regard.

It’s the one thing I never could really love about Bond; yeah there was a certain level of quality that always followed it, and the different Bonds over the years reflected the actors who played him, but he was always this mystery. I realize that he is a secret agent and whatnot but every great hero has a background to explore. That’s what I’m digging; we’re not getting just another Bond film with beautiful women, gadgets and a villain using some sort of MacGuffin to try and do something evil to the world.

After a while it’s repetitive and needs refreshing; it’s why after so many James Bonds and so many films that something new was needed. Casino Royale was a shock to the system and it’s spear-headed a great story-telling trilogy for a character that usually only had one story to tell: save the world from a character actor chewing so much scenery the second act was lodged in his lower intestine. No one important ever died, unlike Judi Dench in Skyfall, and the sequels just replaced random supporting characters as needed. This isn’t just another Bond franchise.

The crazy thing is that the film is going to pull a massive box office this weekend, probably close to $90 million, and it won’t even be a big deal because the film’s already in the black because internationally it’s crossed $400 million without needing American money. It’s crazy, of course, but it means we’re going to continue on this path instead of going in a different direction. We’re getting a nuanced hero … and I can dig it.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The Thing

Some films need to be owned by a person to really call oneself a film buff. But sometimes it’s a matter of costs; there are some films I’d like to own but I refuse to spend over a certain amount for them. If I was a millionaire it’d be something different but there’s a reason why I wouldn’t spend like $60 on a copy of the Laurence Olivier version of Sleuth because it’s out of print. The Thing was always one of them; some films deserve to be seen but you have to be practical about it.

It’s a recession, after all, right?

One film I had been waiting to come into my price range was The Thing. And while killing time in a Target I found it on sale for $5; I’m not a John Carpenter fanatic but I do enjoy a good chunk of his ‘80s films. This was one of the few that was missing out of the library that I had been meaning to pick up. It just never had been priced right until now; I wanted just the bare bones release and could never find it at what I’d think would be reasonable. A bare bones to me should be under 10$ when it’s just the movie; anything more is robbery. For anything more I want solid features outside of just a theatrical trailer, you know?

It’s a fairly simple plot. Kurt Russell, Keith David, a bunch of people who are essentially cannon fodder and the guy from the Diabetes commercials (Wilfred Brimley) are on an outpost base in the middle of Norway. When a helicopter trying to kill a dog comes crashing in their laps, and it brings with it some really messed up stuff, the crew of the base have an alien creature that can imitate whatever it kills.

From there it’s a task to figure out what happened on the base that helicopter came from, et al, and they wander into an alien invasion of things they just killed. When they go exploring things turn out much worse than they ever expected as slowly but surely the people at the station start getting killed off by whatever it is they unearthed from underneath the ice.

I’m not a Carpenter completist but I think there’s a handful of films that can be studied as a fan of cinema, and of genre films, but from the films of his I enjoy I can say that he did a couple of things brilliantly once upon a time. The biggest two were atmosphere and tone; when he was on, especially in the ‘80s, Carpenter was a master at setting everything up perfectly. And I think if you’re looking to make a genre film this is one you ought to study thoroughly to see a master at work.

Carpenter is layering a thriller over a slasher film in an exotic location; it’s claustrophobic as the paranoia sets in. Who’s human and who isn’t? And how can you prove you are as well? It becomes so fascinating, especially with the element of the weather kicking in, that it becomes engrossing because of it. The natural human element of paranoia kicks in, as well, and it makes for a film that has been often duplicated but never repeated. Even the prequel that bears the same name couldn’t quite hit it out of the ballpark like this film did.

Strongly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 – More sparkly vampires. Yawn.

Skip It – Fans are going to see it en masse. At least high tides do have the effect of raising all ships.

Anna Karenina (In Limited Release) – The latest adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel.

Skip It – Kyle Smith from the New York Post torched this and he’s usually spot-on when it comes to this type of fare. It’s also been getting rancid buzz all over the place, as well, and that doesn’t bode well.

Silver Linings Playbook (Sneak Peek) – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are emotionally damaged people who find each other. And they love the Eagles, too.

See It – It’s got a great cast and has been getting sneaky good reviews so far.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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