Dr. No ★★★

dr. no

Dr. No is the first James Bond movie, an introduction of the highly successful spy thriller parody.

Usually a spy thriller is about espionage, violence, and not sex appeal. But in these movies, all are exaggerated and handled with tongue-in-cheek. In other words, they’re lots of fun.

This is due to the main character, a classy British spy. In one scene, his priorities are laid out on a Casino table – a deck of cards, an alcoholic beverage, and a beautiful woman across him. This is man of vice, a man who would rather seduce than fight. He is all about class and introducing himself to the lady, he goes ”Bond, James Bond”. After a few words that secure her a bedroom invitation, he is interrupted for a mission.

Bond is asked to investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent in Jamaica named Strangways (Although from the opening sequence we know he was assassinated). Bond travels there and visits all of Strangways affiliates. These include a CIA operative, a scientist, and a boat man. The evidence shows that Strangways was murdered for uncovering information about a secret island operation; one that involves radio transmissions interfering with the launching of American rockets in Florida.

As expected this is all true and after some sneaking around, Bond travels on a small boat to a beautiful island to discover: a secret factory, dangerous chemicals, a fire breathing “dragon”, a nefarious villain who owns a breathtaking aquarium, and a beautiful woman to fall in love with. The fundamentals of James Bond movies to come.

But because this is the first movie, everything is lower -tech and old fashion. He doesn’t go to a secret laboratory for new gadgets;  a specialist approaches and just gives him a new pistol. He also doesn’t drive an Aston Martin. He rents a convertible in one scene and on another takes a taxi whose suspicious driver he gets to demonstrate some judo skills on. This is Bond in basic, bare, and primal form.

Dr. No is the villain, all dressed in white uniform and wearing black rubber gloves. He possesses unnatural strength and is able to crush metal with his grip. The man is narcissistic and vengeful against East and Western parts of the world. Then Bond cheekily tells him “We have many in our asylums that think they are Napoleon or God”. Naturally the two will end up in a fight. But this doesn’t happen hundreds of feet up while dangling from a high rise, the way modern actioners would have it. Bond and Dr. No engage in a clumsy struggle, a couple of metres over smoking radio-active water.

The film, directed by Terence Young and based on a novel by Ian Feming, is not really dependent on action sequences. It is about a young Sean Connery portraying James Bond. He delivers the dialogue with style, relish, and enjoyment, almost inviting viewers to mimic. He suits the character who in essence is a womanizer that fights powerful villains. Now how can that not sound enjoyable?

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel ★★★1/2

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As I sat in the theater watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, I heard loud and annoyed comments in the audience: “this is ridiculous!” and “next time, I’m letting you choose the movie!” one said to another. I have been a frequent movie goer for over 30 years and cannot recall ever hearing such disappointed comments. That being the case, everyone is entitled to an opinion.

But as one who always welcomes story telling in all forms-movies, literature, and even paintings, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a remarkable accomplishment. It is an evolved approach to story telling, a transcending style that subliminally combines movies, literature, and paintings.  

To briefly sum what is otherwise a complicated story, it is about the flashbacks of a hotel owner named Zero. He narrates how he first started as a lobby boy during the hotels more extravagant times. He recounts of his servile days and the pedantic masterful concierge he reported to. Their relationship was to be more of a teacher and apprentice but in an underlying way, it seemed more like master and servant. Together they travel on an adventure, after they flee with a painting that they are accused of not owning.

The film is primarily attractive to look at. The hotel itself is an art work of vintage and classic design that was characteristic of the remembered times (1932). Each scene is framed carefully not only to capture conversations but to emphasize the color and detail in the background, just like a painting would. This is common in director Wes Andersons films.

The dialogue is constant and rapid at times, often poetic-like, care of the lead character who is given so much to say. As a pedantic concierge his verbal observations are sharp, funny, but frequently offensive. It is almost as if he can’t help himself. With that said, he is unlikeable. Ralph Fiennes gives a delightful portrayal.

The young Zero is played by a new face, Tommy Revolori, who naturally looks submissive and of a few words. The rest of the cast includes Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, and Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s romance partner. Willem Dafoe is a frightening but stiff assassin who is instructed to retrieve the painting at all costs.

The screenplay takes the story to unpredictable directions and with unpredictable momentum. This is not a film for everyone or anyone seeking spoon fed stories. There are surprises, some of which are perhaps too vulgar. And it doesn’t carry the emotions to be conventionally affecting. This is something different, a welcomed difference.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ★★★

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is able to balance an intriguing plot with heavy action.

In this story, Steve Rogers(Chris Evans) is asked to do two things-  to hide a memory card and to trust no one in the agency S.H.I.E.L.D. This is due to a conspiracy that is amazing in the size and longevity of its operations. It is best left for the film to reveal. The intel comes directly from Nick Fury(Samuel Jackson), Rogers boss,  which makes the situation  all the more alarming. It’s also a sign that things are out of control when Roger goes home to find Fury physically injured in the living room.

This injury is the doing of a fearless masked assassin – the Winter Soldier. In his introduction, he stands at the middle of the road very calmly watching an SUV driving towards him. He points a weapon and fires a magnetic exploding disc. It attaches itself under the SUV and detonates causing the SUV to tumble forward into the air. This joins the vehicle stumbling stunts already demonstrated in Ronin, Mission Impossible 2, Matrix Reloaded, and more memorably the Dark Knight.

The film should thoroughly satisfy fans of the comic book or those who want to see sensational action. There is a huge market for that. But outsiders will probably find themselves at a certain distance due to lack of an interesting character.

This lacking is probably not attributed to the comic books but rather the screenplay, which is given the weighty task of portraying humans with inhuman powers. But Superman 2, for example, is a great sequel because the material emphasized on how the character struggled with his human side. It makes him more interesting, relatable, and draws us into the movie. We aren’t just watching caricatures and action.

But the action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is handled with brisk, skillful, and inspired choreography. There is an observance for the armed and unarmed martial arts. Viewers who seek varied combat methods in superhero films will get their fix in two doses. The sound effects are impactful.

The film also has appealing relationships. Rogers friendship with fellow agent Wilson feels natural partially because they happen to go jogging at the same time. His interaction with another agent Natasha(Scarlett Johansson) is flirtatious in a clean manner. She constantly tells him to go out on dates with other women, when in fact it is her who wants him. And Rogers and the villain have a lot more in common than their fighting skills.

The movie is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. They prove an ability to design a comprehensible, energetic, and loud movie. Now maybe in the third chapter, they will give us characters with more color than what’s on their outfits.

Blade Runner ★★★

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Blade Runner begins with promise and excitement. As words appear on the screen, it tells of a world where human replicants have been created for purposes of efficient labor in off-planet colonies. They are robots and are much stronger and smarter. But a small group starts an insurrection. There are human casualties. And to capture these anomalies an enforcer is hired, a Blade Runner (Harrison Ford).

The film creates an amazing futuristic setting. Mostly seen through night, it is a rainy metropolis that is overlooked by flying automobiles and modern skyscrapers. The streets are foggy, congested with traffic, and flanked by shops and food stalls. It’s the vision of a gritty economy that is going through technological change.

The director is Ridley Scott and he fashions the film under the Noir category, a movie genre that is based on pessimistic moods. Atmospheres are dimly lit. Characters are depressed and convey meaningless lives. Even the toy maker, who tries to help one of the Replicants, lives in an apartment filled with wondrous walking inventions and yet seems incredibly morose.

The film is darker and more intelligent than many Sci-Fi films that depend on action and special effects. Momentum is sacrificed for perhaps too much contemplation. It tends to get boring at times. There are poignant moments like one when the Blade Runner questions a female replicant on her memories and saddens her with the truth behind them. Another is at the ending when the lead replicant, played by a wicked looking Rutger Hauer, brings so much meaning to his brief words. The replicants give and seek affection as humans do.  And therefore raises the question on how much different they are. The film questions the essence of humanity. 

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★

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2001: A Space Odyssey is a strange, intelligent, and majestic film; Strange due to its lack of a clear meaning,  intelligent in portraying the faults of human nature, and majestic in cinematography. 

The film has four parts. The first is about the beginning of man. The second is the discovery of a mysterious object on the moon. And the third and fourth involve a journey to Jupiter.

The beginning of man is a hypothesis on our evolution. The approach is scientific and we see a group of apes wandering about a desert seeking food and water.  Upon finding this, they grow emotional. They grow selfish and fear losing their food and water to other apes. At the final sequence, one ape kills another.This could be the beginning of sin-greed out of fear. 

The film craftily changes to the next story taking place thousands of years later. A Doctor(played by William Sylvester) is onboard a space ship. He is being taken to the moon to meet with ambassadors from other nations. Their discussion reveals the finding of an unknown object, an object that is stirring a lot of unrest and anxiety. The doctor along with other Astronauts visit the object, a large black monolith. They approach and stand before it spellbound and in eerie silence. Like in the beginning of man, fear is present again. 

The third part is where the film becomes most entertaining. Five astronauts  are sent on a mission to Jupiter in a huge vessel. Two(played by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood) are in charge of piloting the ship while the other three less experienced members are in hibernation. But there is a sixth presence. It’s name is Hal(voice by Douglas Rain), an inbuilt artificial operating system that speaks English and controls the ship upon instruction. It is part of the mainframe and is only shown on the control dashboard as a red light. Invented with its own personality, it speaks with a lot of confidence and certainty. But it also has pride, and this is where the story’s central problem begins.

The perplexing finale opens itself to interpretation. It is a strange and profound moment whereby one of the Astronauts travels in a small ship through a space portal. He goes through a series of psychedelic lights and flashes. Incorporated with this are scenery of landscapes from an unknown planet tinted in different colors. Finally his destination is a bedroom of a classical age. He sits there, an old man eating in silence. Later he lays on the bed and  dies. Afterwards, A baby is shown in a bubble, floating  in outerspace.

The special effects of the film are superbly inventive. There are ships of magnificent design. One looks like a pair of giant wheels bound together. Another looks like a microphone. And the smaller space crafts are shaped like orbs with extending arms. Also observe how the stewardess makes her way into a ships cockpit by walking up and around the ceiling. The cinematography films all this with style, patience, and observance for the viewer to relish. Classical music accompanies the scenes.

Directed by the highly regarded Stanley Kubrick, the film stands on its own. There is none other like it. It is a sensational experience of profundity.  Shrouded in mystery it is, but with an undeniable exhilarating effect.

Noah ★★★

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“Noah” gathers from several inspirations. It joins Biblical history, fantasy, medieval action, and melodrama . And although they don’t all fit together seamlessly, the film is still curiously entertaining.

The story can be divided into two chapters. The first is about Noah’s dream and construction of the ark. The other is about his inner conflict onboard the vessel and the extent to which he interprets his dreams.

The Earth is growing barren and populated by roaming scavengers. Noah and his family struggle to survive. Bothered by recurring dreams, he decides that they visit his mysterious Grandfather for words of wisdom. Upon speaking with him, he realizes the dreams to be a prophecy- that all mankind shall perish by an unstoppable flood and only his family and a certain number of animals should survive. So the construction of the Ark begins,  and during which time, Barbaric tribes attempt to interfere.

As the prophecy comes true, and rains fall while floods rise, Noah and his family with hundreds of animals board the vessel. His family includes a girl whom he adopted at a very young age. She is now pregnant in their ship and Noah grows very anxious. This is the more dramatic and gripping half of the film.

Russell Crowe plays Noah and it’s good to see him again in an impressive performance. He didn’t give one in Les Miserables. He is an actor with a heavy screen presence, and here he effectively portrays a toughened man who carries great physical and psychological burden. Crowe has that look and demeanor.

Jennifer Connelly is Noah’s wife, and gives a performance in one scene demonstrating that old dialogue can be rejuvenated with the right actress. It could be among her best work. Their children are performed by Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Douglas Booth who give passable performances. Watson is given the most material to work with.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose other films involve characters with troubled dreams, he assembles the film with the expected grandeur but also an artistic touch.  He conveys Noah’s visions through split second but impactful images.  A brief history in the creation of the earth is also envisioned in another scene.

The story does offer itself to sensitive argument- Religious Faith verses human compassion. Viewers decide for themselves on where to side. This is a Hollywood picture whose primary goal is to entertain, and so this must be considered prior to entering the theater.

Gone with the Wind ★★★★

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Gone with the Wind is able to convey the sentiments of an era while being about a passionate love story.

The plot chronicles the lives of the O’Hara family at a place in Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War.  They’re Aristocrats that reside at their cotton plantation estate, in a large mansion with many servants, some of whom have been there for decades.

There are three daughters of the family but the main character is Scarlett (Vivian Leigh) who is the eldest. She is feisty but most evidently selfish. As she grows older she becomes a schemer, someone who views others as stepping stones. Yet when urgency calls, she reveals affection, strong will, and a sense of priority. She’s very interesting and attractive.

Her problem though is that the man she persists to love is married to another woman. When the war moves further South, she is devastated that he leaves and enlists to fight. Out of grief, she marries other men, one out of loneliness and the other for money.  But on the side, there is a gentleman named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

She is repulsed by Rhett’s confidence. But he doesn’t care. That’s because he believes with inexorable certainty that they belong to one other. Rhett is against fighting the War and carries an optimism about himself that alienates him from others eager to join the War. He has a calm cheerfulness that affects those around him, and that Scarlett can’t seem to stand. Throughout the epic narrative, they constantly run into one another. From their chance encounter at a party, dances and fund raisers, and urgent events like the residents evacuation, they meet.

But to proceed further into story without delving into production and cinematography would not be right. The film has an enormity about it and dramatic atmosphere. Fields are beautifully lined with cotton plantations. Towns cluttered with human traffic and horse carriages. And in one striking overhead shot, hundreds of wounded soldiers lay on railway grounds due to lack of hospital space. At sunset, shadows of trees and people are set against red orange clouds. Costumes and set designs are ornate and beautiful. It’s an astounding production.

Directed by Viktor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood, the film is also about nostalgia. It remembers the Southern country, its homely feel, the rich farmlands, and pervading cheer from its inhabitants, and Scarlett and Rhett and how their characters endured with a strong spirit through the difficult times.