Review: Victoria‘s Long Take (and Title) Triumphs on Multiple Levels

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Garnering the most attention and accolades for this extraordinary German film (including the 2015 Deutscher Filmpreis for Best Feature Film) has been the technical and artistic feat of pulling off a compelling, multi-character/location narrative in a single, 138-minute-long  sequence shot, in which the shot’s real-equals-reel-time aspect is more than the stylistic tour de force Alfred Hitchcock (limited by ten-minute film reels) came close to achieving in 1947’s Rope and Alexander Sokulov (thanks to a digital camera) finally accomplished in 2002’s Russian Ark, but adds immeasurably to the film’s cumulative emotional impact, enabling the attentive viewer, prodded by the steadicam’s nonstop stalking of the titular heroine, to experience, far more intensely than in the standard 1000-2000-cut film, the young Spanish immigrant’s late-night Mephisto Waltz (strains of which she herself plays in the film*) through deserted Berlin streets Continue reading

Postscript: Spectre (2015)

Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015) is where the postmodern reinvention of James Bond intersects, and arguably collides, with the traditional formula of the franchise. It is an attempt to reboot history by making Daniel Craig’s melancholic, hard-edged interpretation of the character resonate with the artistic iterations that carried the series through the twentieth century. Spectre accordingly displays an opening title card stating ‘The dead are alive,’ a varied epitaph that foreshadows both the film’s actual narrative and meta-narrative. This is a sensible strategy from a franchise perspective as it follows through with the goal to breathe new life into the Bond series by providing more character depth, story, and motivation. At the same time, it is a stylistic balancing act which ultimately results in an ambitious, yet largely inconsistent film that looks back even as it moves forward. On paper, Spectre is the logical conclusion of the Craig era. On film, it plays less assured and convincing. Continue reading

Blog 025: Spectre (2015)

After marathoning all twenty-three previous official James Bond films, I was so excited to see Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015). I’m not disappointed either; in fact, I think that having watched the earlier movies so recently actually increased my enjoyment of this one because of all the callbacks it has.

Since the three Daniel Craig-starring films featured Bond “becoming Bond,” the iconic gun-barrel sequence was placed at different points. Its appearance at the beginning of Spectre signals a return to “classic” Bond. Sure, the film kind of shares its predecessors’ concerns with themes, character development, and realism, but it also emphasizes some lighthearted aspects of the pre-reboot era that had ended with Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002). Continue reading

Postscript: Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) continues the search for more depth in the James Bond franchise, adding yet another layer to the iconic character. ‘Back in time’ is the film’s narrative logic as it links the story about a former MI6 agent turned cyber supervillain into an intimate exploration of childhood trauma. The core of the film is Bond’s relationship with M (the inimitable Dame Judi Dench, in her last outing). Craig gives his best performance as he bravely exposes Bond’s physical and emotional vulnerability in his battle with Silva, played with maniacal farce by Javier Bardem. While Skyfall never quite reaches the high points of Casino Royale, it still ranks as one of the best Bond films in the history of the franchise.

It certainly is the best looking James Bond film due to the awe-inspiring cinematography of veteran Roger Deakins. Every single frame looks like a painting in its own right. Deeply saturated colors, combined with expressive framings and high-contrast lighting, set a tangible mood of urgency and tension that drives the narrative forward. The editing all the while is crisp and seamless, creating an immersive experience for the audience that is cemented by impressive performances and set pieces. Continue reading

Blog 024: Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) is tied with Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) as my favorite James Bond film.

Released during the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, Skyfall celebrates what makes the series so great. Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002), which debuted during the fortieth anniversary, likewise served as a form of celebration. But where Die Another Day stuffed callbacks to past films at every conceivable moment in a tired, formulaic story, Skyfall’s references are more subtle and are situated within a story that draws more from The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) than the 007 franchise formula. Continue reading

Postscript: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008) is the first sequel in the series, building on the narrative of Casino Royale. While it shares the former’s stylistic aspirations, the film’s execution ranks among the lesser entries in the franchise. Quantum of Solace is chaos. The plot is convoluted and confusing, the style is overwrought and overwhelming. The pre-credits sequence makes clear that the filmmakers take inspiration from contemporary successes like The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007) rather than pursuing the logic of Casino Royale. As a result, the film feels disjunctive, never assured and focused.

Overall, Quantum of Solace may be described as an overindulgent film. Its insistence on artsy framing and heavy-handed cross-cutting is not in servive of plot or character, but visual excess. While there are some impressive shots, especially Bond’s walk through the desert, much of the film feels like loosely connected vignettes. Craig’s performance is more on edge, showing more anger and aggressiveness which lends the film a serious tone the visuals and the languid plot are unable to sustain. Continue reading