Posted on November 8, 2012 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended spy-style peril and violence with many characters injured or killed and some graphic images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, strong women
Date Released to Theaters: November 9, 2012
Date Released to DVD: February 11, 2013 ASIN: B007REV4YI

James Bond goes home in every sense in this ravishingly entertaining entry in the series.  Five decades later, it all of a sudden feels fresh, fun, and utterly engaging.  This is the best Bond in decades.We are in the middle of the action almost before the lights go down in the theater.  Two quick but unmistakable notes on the soundtrack as Bond (Daniel Craig in his third outing) enters a room with dead and dying agents.  He looks like a million bucks.  Or, I should say, a million pounds.  Sterling.

A quick communication and then a chase, and what a chase. Not since “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has a movie begun with such a knowing shot of adrenaline. It’s action as ontology recapitulating phylogeny.  On one level, it’s a world-class heart-thumper, brilliantly staged and paced. But it’s also a witty meta-take on chase scenes in general and Bond in particular, with everything from an exotic open market to a shootout and a motorcycle and hopping on a train.  And by that I mean hopping ON a train.  And a pretty girl.  With a gun.  And a missing hard drive.  He also stops to adjust his cuffs.

So, we’re good to go, and it just keeps getting better.

Things are not going so well back at MI-6, where M (Dame Judi Dench) is in a meeting with a rather stiff government official (Ralph Feinnes)  who is displeased about the way things are going.  “Are we to call this civilian oversight?” she asks with asperity.  “No, we’re calling this retirement planning,” he responds.  MI-6 itself is attacked and this time, as they say, it’s personal.

Bond has had a tough time of it lately.  The heightened stylization of the “Austin Powers” parodies made it more difficult to take Bond’s glossiness and the over-the-top total world domination-style bad guys seriously and the grittiness of the “Bourne” movies made the sophistication and brio of the series and its lead character seem superficial.  The series was in danger of becoming a parody of itself, with its over-the-top plot twists and villains.  And it was choking on product placement.  “Skyfall” is forthright in confronting the challenges of our time, with both spies and bureaucrats well aware that our enemies are harder to identify than they were in the Cold War era, and more damage can be done with a laptop than a bomb.

“Skyfall” kicks it old school, with more heart, meaning, and character — and a more deliciously twisted villain (Javier Bardem) than the last dozen in the series combined.  This is much more than the usual girl and a gun and a villain and only seconds to save the world from various exotic locations.  The locations are fabulously chosen, however, from MI-6’s transplanted underground lair to a deserted island city with a toppled Ozymandias-style statue, a motorcycle chase along Istanbul rooftops, and an estate in Scotland.  And Ben Wishaw (“Cloud Atlas”) makes a lovely young Q with mad computer skillz and madder hair.

Adele provides the best Bond theme song since the 60’s, her husky voice reminiscent of the Shirley Bassey era.  Director Sam Mendes is not known for action or genre but he has a great eye and he is totally up to the task here, delivering a story that gives depth to the characters and moral complexity to the storyline.  Mendes deftly explores variations on the themes of compromise, consequences, context, and choice, while never letting up on the action and glamour.  It wouldn’t be a Bond movie without some reason for our hero to don black tie for a visit to a swanky gambling den that happens to have a pit with Komodo dragons, any more than it would without some doomed beauty with time for one last romantic encounter.  “Skyfall” has tremendous understanding and affection for the legacy of Bond, but, more important, it makes us excited about the next 50 years.

Parents should know that this film has spy-type action and peril with chases, explosions, and guns, many characters injured and killed, sexual references and situations,some strong language,drinking, and smoking.

Family discussion: Characters in this film have to make some very tough choices that risk or sacrifice the lives of their colleagues. What factors do they consider? What are the consequences? How does what we learn about Bond and M change the way you think about them?  Why does MI-6 like orphans?

If you like this, try: the 23 other Bond films, especially “Goldfinger,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “Goldeneye”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Series/Sequel Spies

Eat, Pray, Love

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Here’s a word I never thought I would use about Ryan Murphy: safe. The guy behind the twisted pleasures of the television series “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee” has made sensationally entertaining comedy-dramas about ambition, competition, beauty, and self-expression. He has specialized in creating larger-than-life but still very relatable characters and making us care about them. He has taken big risks and made them work. And now, as co-writer and director of a big-budget movie based on an international best-seller and Oprah-certified sensation, he has decided to play it safe. Instead of a story of anguish and struggle and triumph through pain and work, he has made “Eat Pray Love” into an upbeat tale of self-actualization. This is a movie about a self-obsessed woman who seems to learn that the wisdom of the ancients is that she should be even more self-obsessed. Murphy has taken what was messy and heartfelt and made it neat and cute. And dull. And long.

A movie called “Eat Pray Love” about a woman’s spiritual journey of healing through Italy, India, and Bali should get us started on that journey by the time the opening credits have ended. Instead, we get a half hour of unnecessary and distracting backstory that makes our heroine so self-absorbed and annoying that only the unstoppable appeal of Julia Roberts keeps us from reaching for the remote and then remembering this isn’t the Lifetime Movie Channel.

Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert, a writer (in the movie, a playwright, in real life, a journalist), and a woman who has so little sense of who she is and what she wants that she loses herself in relationships and then panics and leaps into another passionate romance. She thinks that makes her feel more alive but in reality it makes her feel — less of everything. She leaves her husband (Billy Crudup) even though he wants to stay married. And then she leaves the boyfriend she found as her marriage was ending (James Franco). And then, finally, she leaves the country.

She begins in Italy, where she studies the language and has raptures over the food. Then she goes to India, for a spiritual retreat at an ashram. And then she goes to Bali, where a shaman once told her that she would have two marriages, one long and one short, that she would lose all of her money, and that she should come back to help him learn English and learn from him about his secrets.

But all of this relies on our being on her side and we have lost some of our enthusiasm for her journey during that first half hour. It would have made much more sense to start with the trip and then give us brief illuminating flashbacks as necessary, as the book did. Instead, incidents that are intended to make us sympathetic backfire, making her come across as selfish, superficial, and disloyal. The flashbacks we do get only muddle things more. We’re asked to believe that her new relationships are healthier than the old ones, but none of them are especially credible or appealing.

Even Roberts’ dazzling smile can’t prevent Gilbert from coming across as an insensitive American dilettante, expecting everything to happen when and where she wants it. When the shaman tells her she must hand copy his books, the woman who is supposed to thoroughly understand meditation practice does not realize that the experience of putting in that work is what he wants her to do; she thinks it is fine to run off to the local photocopier. She also thinks it is fine to abandon her commitment to meet with him every day for a two-week frolic. The entire notion of discipline and mindfulness and responsibility never seems to come through to her. Events from the book occur but without any sense of the meaning or context. One of the incidents is unforgivably distorted to make what was in real life a learning experience for Gilbert about the limits of understanding and control into yet another American-saves-the-day story.

And it lurches from safe to soporific with over-used and predictable music choices. How did the man who created a mash-up for “Glee” of “Smile” songs from Charlie Chaplin and Lily Allen think that the moment our heroine starts to feel comfortable on her own should be underscored with the all-but-inevitable “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” from Sly and the Family Stone? And “Heart of Gold,” really? Really? Kool and the Gang and “Celebration?” This is greeting card commercial stuff. And then something that makes no sense at all. You’re in Italy, you want to play some opera, I get it. But why a German opera? You’re in Italy!

Elizabeth (the character) accuses one of the characters of speaking in bumper stickers but that is pretty much what this whole movie is, completely undermining the notion of the real work involved in what she is attempting. The emphasis on forgiving oneself instead of repairing the damage is cringe-inducing. The book allowed Gilbert (the author) to come to grips with failure and ambiguity, but the movie resorts to easy answers and convenient resolutions. At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker myself, convenient resolutions on screen are inconvenient and unsatisfying for the audience because they don’t ring true.

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Based on a book Based on a true story Date movie Drama Romance

No Country for Old Men

Posted on March 11, 2008 at 8:00 am

“I’m fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I’m goin anyways. If I don’t come back tell Mother I love her.”
“Your mother’s dead Llewelyn.”
“Well I’ll tell her myself then.”
For the Coen brothers’ first-ever adaptation of another writer’s work, they found an author whose terse, wry, gritty dialogue is a perfect match. Cormac McCarthy’s book about a man who finds a case full of money at the scene of a drug deal gone very, very wrong is ideally suited for the Coen brother’s understated talk and striking visuals.


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Crime Drama
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