Spectre – A Review

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Daniel Craig deserved a better 007 send-off.

If the rumors are true and Spectre was in fact the last film that will feature Craig as James Bond, that is something of a disappointment. I’ve really enjoyed Craig’s tenure as the iconic British secret agent and though I didn’t see Quantum of Solace, I thought Casino Royale and Skyfall reinvigorated the franchise. For his final film to be the lackluster Spectre just doesn’t seem quite fair.

Now Spectre is not a bad movie, but it is a step down in the quality of some of the recent Bond films. There are some exciting action sequences in Spectre but the majority of the film moves at a very languid pace. There clearly has to be some downtime in-between frenetic burst of excitement, but the pacing of Spectre was just too herky-jerky; the film would go from zero to sixty and then back down to zero. Slowing things down would perhaps not have been as jarring if there had been more to the story that Spectre was trying to tell, but unfortunately that was not the case. The plot of Spectre is a weird mishmash – paying tribute to the formula of the James Bond franchise, the more personal and introspective Bond that Craig has created and a narrative that is both overly complicated and too simplistic all at the same time. It’s a testament to the people involved with Spectre that this issues don’t completely derail the film; I walked out of the theater slightly disappointed, but still mildly entertained.

Spectre starts off very promisingly, with a beautifully shot opening sequence where Daniel Craig takes down a terrorist in Mexico City amidst the Day of the Dead celebration. It feels like one long continuous tracking shot that weaves through the festivities to the confrontation that culminates in a disorienting and thrilling fight in a helicopter; it’s both visually stunning and immediately draws you in to the film. I don’t think anything that follows in the film grabs you quite like the opening scene. The rest of the film has a little everything that you’d want as a Bond fan – which I think is part of the problem. With the multiple villains (Christoph Waltz and David Bautista), multiple threats (new surveillance, the 007 program possibly be phased out, personal history), multiple locales (Mexico, England, Rome, Austria, Morocco) and multiple women (Monica Belluci (briefly) and Léa Seydoux), it’s hard not to think that they are distracting the viewer that this is all stuff that we’ve seen before. With so many previous installments in the Bond franchise, it’s not surprising that this is beginning to feel a bit like old hat.

I think the biggest problem with Spectre is that it has the unfortunate timing to follow Skyfall. Skyfall was easily the most introspective and personal of the franchise and that depth elevated the film to one of the highlights of all the Bond movies. Spectre is closer to an old-school Bond film, but suffers in comparison to the film that proceeded it. Once you see what a Bond film can be with Skyfall, it’s hard to not have heightened expectations for Spectre. I know that I am guilty of this as I had very high hopes for Spectre. I still think that Craig is my favorite all-time Bond and he is a large reason that Spectre worked for me as well as it did, but the film was trying to do too much to make too many different people happy and the result is a film that is occasionally thrilling, but mostly feels like long interludes of slogging along and checking the necessary boxes of Bond nostalgia.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was the use of Christoph Waltz, who on paper seems like he would be the absolutely perfect foil for Bond. If anyone was born to be a Bond villain, I’d say it’s Waltz, but his character was a lot of buildup without much payoff. His motivations for his revenge on Bond were just really silly once revealed. I know Bond villains have become something of a caricature – “I will kill you, Bond, but first let me reveal my entire evil plan to you and then leave you alone with some henchmen” – but when you have an actor like Waltz, the writers could have done so much more with him. Spectre only tapped in to the minimal amount of his potential.

Some other random thoughts:

  • Daniel Craig had way more chemistry with Monica Belluci than with Léa Seydoux, so it was unfortunate that the former gets minimal screen time and the latter is the main love interest. I didn’t believe for a second that Bond would risk everything to save Seydoux.
  • The gadgets were a bit on the light side in this outing, but there certainly were some sleek looking cards.
  • I’m adding go to Mexico City of the Day of the Dead celebration to my bucket list. If it’s anything like depicted on screen, that’s got to be a fabulous time.
  • There are plenty of nods to the Bond movies during Craig’s tenure as well as earlier films from the franchise like To Russia With Love, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
  • I may be in the minority here, but I don’t dig Sam Smith’s “Writing on the Wall” as the Spectre theme song. Just ain’t my bag and I’m deducting points for not using the name of the movie in the lyrics. That’s like Bond 101.
  • Daniel Craig can wear the hell out of a suit. Just sayin’.

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  • It’s probably not a great sign that having seen the movie I’d be hard pressed to explain to you what exactly Spectre is and what they want. But hats off to them for allowing a guy to pop out another guy’s eyes during a board meeting. Our board meetings would be a hell of a lot more interesting if that was permitted.

I really am not sure where the Bond franchise goes from here. Personally I think they should blow the whole thing up and come at it from a completely different angle in the future; this is a franchise in desperate need of some shaking (not stirring) up. I’m fine with some references to previous films and I’m not asking them to create a new Bond completely out of wholecloth. Craig’s movies managed to breathe some new life into the Bond character, but with his departure presumed to be eminent this is a perfect opportunity to try something different. It’s no surprise that I’m a big booster for the Idris Elba as James Bond movement, but I’d only want him to take the reins if there was a willingness to take Bond in a new direction. I’ve probably been too hard on Spectre; if you like Bond movies, this is a perfectly serviceable entry in the franchise. But Skyfall showed me that Bond can be different and still pay tribute to its roots. Now that I’ve seen what is possible, I’m having a hard time going back to the same old same old. Spectre is a gorgeous film that turns out to be a little too much style over substance.

 

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Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Thanksgiving Eve Edition

Today is the night before Thanksgiving, which in the old days used to mean going out to catch up with all your friends that were home from college but now means hopefully getting to leave work a little early to go catch a movie. I like Thanksgiving because it is a holiday that anyone of any religion or nationality can celebrate. All it requires is taking a moment to pause and reflect on all that you have to be thankful for. I know that I have a ton to be thankful for this year – health insurance, supportive friends and family, the fact that I got to see Hamilton with the original Broadway cast – and the fact that we get to chow down on some turkey tomorrow is an added bonus. I do love me some turkey.

Of course, the holiday also means spending time with family, which is not the most relaxing thing for a lot of people. Sharing DNA does not automatically translate into sharing a lot of interests and this year there are a lot of conversational landmines to be avoided; politics and Thanksgiving are not a good mix. But pop culture is a universal language so I’ve created an extra long round up this week to give you plenty of conversation starters when you are sitting around the dinner table. If your drunk uncle brings up Syrian refugees, you can counter with “did anyone see the new Captain America trailer?” It might not totally diffuse the situation, but it will at least provide a momentary distraction. So while you get ready for your Thanksgiving preparations, take a moment to get yourself caught up on all the pop culture that you might have missed.

  • Adele just shattered NSYNC’s one week sales record.
  • Adele joined Jimmy Fallon and the Roots in performing “Hello” on classroom instruments:

 

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  • Here’s Adele’s reaction to watching that skit:

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So many trailers……

  • Captain America: Civil War:

 

  • The Big Short:

 

  • Central Intelligence:

 

  • How To Be Single:

 

  • Season 2 of Marvel’s Agent Carter:

 

  • 11.22.63:

 

  • Now You See Me 2:

 

  • The Boss:

 

  • A new trailer for Sisters:

 

  • A first look at DC’s Legends of Tomorrow on The CW:

 

  • A teaser for the new Luther special

 

  • Barbershop 3: The Next Cut:

 

  • A red band trailer for Dirty Grandpa:

 

  • Netflix’s Degrassi: Next Class:

 

  • A red band trailer for The Bronze:

 

  • Carol:

 

  • Full Frontal with Samantha Bee:

 

  • Exposed:

 

  • Mariah Carey’s Christmas movie for Hallmark has a trailer:

 

  • A Monster Calls:

 

  • Night Owls:

 

  • IFC’s Todd Margaret:

 

  • Midnight Special:

 

  • Fifty Shades of Black:

 

 

 

 

 

As always, we end with the supercuts and mashups:

  • A Tom Hardy supercut:

 

  • There is a lot of dancing in this Ant-Man blooper reel:

 

  • Iron & Wine cover GWAR:

 

  • A jazz cover of the Pokemon theme:

 

  • James Corden and Ellie Goulding perform “Love Me Like You Do” in several different styles:

 

  • A Katniss and Hermione rap battle:

 

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  • LEGO Captain America battles Nazis:

 

  • This Game of Thrones map made out of gingerbread is impressive:

 

  • And finally, The Muppets do a little Eminem:

 

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving! As always, I am thankful for all of you for reading my little blog.

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Arlo Guthrie “Alice’s Restaurant” 50th Anniversary Special

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So, it turns out that Arlo Guthrie isn’t dead.

This might not come as a surprise to you, but it certainly came as a surprise to me when a few months ago a colleague invited me to go to the taping of a special for PBS that commemorates the 50th anniversary of Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant.” The very first words out of my mouth were “I thought that he was dead.”

The next words out of my mouth were “What’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant’?” We were not off to a good start.

Clearly my folk music game needs a little work, since it turns out that the song “Alice’s Restaurant” is a very big deal to a large segment of the population. I was secretly hoping that the tune has something to do with the 70s TV show Alice, but sadly it did not. That would have been amazing.

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My co-workers explained it a little bit to me, but mostly all I got out of those conversations was that the song was played every year at Thanksgiving. I started reading the Wikipedia entry for the song, but that started to make it sound too complicated. I wasn’t sure why a song about littering connected with so many people. But despite my ignorance, I decided to go to the taping to expand my horizons and because it would have been kind of rude of me to say no. Everyone else was so excited about this that I had to swallow my ambivalence about the whole thing and just go along for the ride. At least the tickets were free and other people offered to drive, so I wasn’t giving up much more than a free night to go. Perhaps I’d learn something in the process. People who were in the know about such things seemed to think that this was a pretty big deal, as the taping was taking place in the Berkshires where the incident that inspired the song occurred. So if I was going to learn about this piece of pop culture that I somehow missed out on, this seemed like as good an opportunity as any.

When we rolled up to the theater, it became clear pretty quickly that I was going to be one of the youngest people there by at least a few decades. That’s not necessarily a new phenomenon for me; I’m routinely either the youngest or the oldest person at a show. Our seats weren’t together, so I was not sitting with my co-workers. I was seated next to a lovely older woman who took one look at me and said “Honey, do you even know who Arlo Guthrie is?” So clearly I was not blending in. As the taping began, they kicked off the show with a trippy video for a song that had something to do with a pickle and a motorcycle:

 

I didn’t know that dropping some acid was a prerequisite to this event. After watching that, I was a little concerned that I wasn’t going to get very much out of this concert.

Thankfully, it was a lot less weird after Arlo took the stage. While I don’t know a ton about folk music in general, I really enjoyed the tunes that he played. I may not be familiar with “Alice’s Restaurant,” but I did recognize “The City of New Orleans” and some of his covers of his father Woody Gutherie’s songs. I pretty sure everyone was forced at some point in elementary school to sing “This Land is Your Land.” Arlo is a natural storyteller and he gave the background on a lot of the songs that he sang or spun some yarn related to what he was about to play. Since I was such a novice, I found this all very interesting and informative. Folk music in general is relaxing to me, and paired with his stories it was a pretty soothing evening.

The moment of truth was finally upon us and I was going to hear “Alice Restaurant” for the first time. Arlo spent a lot of time giving the background of this song and the movie that was made about the song, though for the life of me I still don’t understand why this story resonated with so many people. Like, you dumped a bunch of litter where you weren’t supposed to; of course you got in trouble. I’m not sure why this was such an act of civil disobedience or why this freaking thing necessitated an 16 minute (!) song about it.

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Clips from the Alice’s Restaurant movie played behind Arlo as he sang the song and if I didn’t understand how this was a song, I certainly didn’t understand how they made a whole movie about this foolishness. The song was OK, I guess, but I guess its fandom was just kind of lost on me. It didn’t necessarily help that Arlo lost his place halfway through the song and had to take it again from the top so it would be right for the special. 27 minutes of “Alice’s Restaurant” was more than enough. Plus, the song isn’t even about a restaurant; I kept waiting for the part where we heard about this titular restaurant and it never came. If they threw in some lyrics about waffles or something, I might have been won over.

The irony of the evening was that though this was a special focused on “Alice’s Restaurant,” that was easily my least favorite part of the evening. The song was fine I guess – too long – but the hoopla around it escapes me. It made so little of an impression on me that I subconsciously mash it up with Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” Still, even if I didn’t dig the song all that much, I at least know what it is now. It’s a pop culture blind spot that I didn’t even know that I had. I may even eventually be curious enough to watch the Alice’s Restaurant movie (available on YouTube) just to see how they managed to turn a 16 minute song into a nearly two hour movie. That’s either some real creative license or a lot of padding. But the fact that so many of the actual real life participants are part of the film has at least minimally piqued my interest. Something to keep in my back pocket until I have some time to kill. I did download more of Arlo Guthrie’s music after the show, so something else good came out of it. My knowledge of folk music has slightly increased.

The “Alice’s Restaurant” 50th anniversary concert with Arlo Guthrie will air on Thanksgiving Day and throughout December on PBS. Check your local listings for times.