Cinema Movie Review: SPECTRE (2015)

FIRST-LOOK_postSo Poor, Even Colin Took Real Exception (SPECTRE)

Warning: There may be huge and unannounced spoilers in this review.

What a complete donkey of a Bond film this was. It’s like there’s going to be a thing in future movie lore that suggests every even-numbered Craig Bond is going to be absolute toilet. If Craig has the cojones to make a fifth, it had better be fucking phenomenal. Casino Royale (2006): a splendid return to Bond form, Quantum of Solace (2008): James went on about it but it wasn’t, on reflection, very good at all. Skyfall (2012): Woohoo! It had the lot. SPECTRE (2015): just a bit shy of being utterly unwatchable. Honestly, your friendly reviewer here was enjoying the hospitality provided at the premiere and it may have been the low lighting, the heat, or the two (OK, five) really good glasses of Bollinger I had but I shut down for a little snooze about half an hour in. Seriously, James had to hit my arm to make me wake up. I’m now sorry I may have missed the best 10 minutes of the film.

Let’s start with the credits, shall we? They look like they were done on a tight budget, which we all know isn’t true because the film cost around a squillion pounds to make, or thereabouts. Dreadful kaleidoscopey images with seemingly random faces from Bond’s past popping up for reasons only the ad agency could work out. Unimaginative, uninspiring and dull. One thing that wasn’t dull was the theme tune. Not only is it the worst Bond them ever, topping anything done by anyone else, it’s also a piss-poor attempt in its own right. I admit I had to look it up on the internet. It turns out it’s done by some caterwauling no-talent called Sam Smith and is called The Writing’s on the Wall. The writing on the wall was evidently “you suck”. Pathetic, weedy vocals squeak out a tune that manages to be both forgettable and grating at the same time. Just dreadful.

Where were we? Oh yes, there was a film going on. Sam Mendes (for it was he at the helm of this particular disaster) can knock out a decent film or two, as he has before but this time even his usually deft hands had trouble with a story and script so knowing, self referential and, quite frankly, dull that I stopped caring about it very early on. I watched the rest objectively, looking for the good and yes, there were a few top-drawer jokes, some clinically executed set pieces and a few pretty faces (male and female) to gawp at, depending on your preference. Let’s take these faces and play a little game called “what the hell were they thinking if it wasn’t about the massive pay cheque?” Starting with the most well-known (in my house) Daniel Craig: Looked like he couldn’t be bothered half the time. The words ‘contractual’ and ‘obligation’ sprung to mind. Christoph Waltz: managed an amazing coup by playing exactly the same villain he played in Inglourious Basterds (2009) but slightly less convincingly. His softly-spoken-with-a-big-stick schtick (try saying that fast) is wearing a little thin. Ralph ‘Raif’ Fiennes: couldn’t be more gangly and awkward as M if he tried. Practically invisible. Monica Bellucci: super sexy, all over Bond like a rash, made me think “hello, things are looking up”. She was in it for what seemed like five minutes, tops. Never saw her again. Ben Whishaw: Q never gets going and plays a rather wimpy role in this outing. Not Whishaw’s fault but you can’t polish a turd. Naomie Harris: sexy, funny, more than a match for Bond as we know, hardly appears at all. She’s a supporting actor at best, which sucks something fierce when you consider how she kicked it in Skyfall. Léa Seydoux: who cares? Really. She’s a doctor – just, I suspect to ‘prove’ that the Bond tits-and-teeth can be intelligent too. I bet feminists across the world are wondering if they’ll be out of business tomorrow. She looked well enough, which was at least half her job but again (and through no fault of her own) a weak script and some terribly executed character development made her almost an accessory after the fact. If the fact was ‘sexy doctor loves the taste of a man’s tonsils’.

Overall, you see, there were no characters to invest in, let alone to have ‘an arc’, as they say these days. ‘Facts’ about Bond, Oberhauser (Waltz) the old M, the new ‘C’ (Andrew Scott) and even SPECTRE itself were tossed into the script with a gay abandon that suggests you should either already know them, or that they were inconsequential and not really worth bigging up too much. When you figure out the how and why of one particular snippet, and the ramifications for all future Bond movies, you’ll be wishing there was a pause button in the cinema so you could hit it and go “hang on, what did he just say?”

Now then, you may have thought I’d forgotten to do a plot synopsis. I hadn’t, I was saving the best ’til near the end. Only joking, the story was paper-thin and had more holes than something with lots of holes in it. We kick off in Mexico City on the party day of the year, La dia de los muertos. Bond interrupts whatever he’s doing to go for a rooftop stroll in what I’ll grudgingly admit was a quite awesome piece of camerawork, in a five-minute tracking shot to ice some villain or other in a convoluted fashion to eat into some 15 minutes of the film’s total running time of what seemed like six hours. This made Bond a very naughty spy and he got a telling off for his refusal to stick to the playbook.

Also angry at his maverick attitude was the new boy, C. C is a Centre for National Security big cheese looking to consolidate spying services for Her Majesty’s government plc. Or is he? Yes. Or is he? No idea. Anyway, he takes Bond’s gun and badge, metaphorically, so Bond is forced to go under-undercover and enlist the help of Q and Moneypenny, both of whose time he wasted, really. Other things happen that lead him to SPECTRE HQ and there’s some snow and Oberhhauser is really that guy from Inglourious Basterds and there are some mischievously placed drills and a laughable monologuing scene and there’s a bit where things will blow up in three minutes – or will they? Again, I couldn’t really give a toss.

My final issue was with the colourization of the thing. Every new scene seemed to start in what appeared to be a washed-out pastel shade of some colour or other and, while reasonably easy on the eye, served no purpose, unless some of the film-studies groups out there can tell me why? The CGI in the opening scene was so obvious it hurt and the camera merely served to document rather than to bring anything much else to the party. That could also be due to the boredom factor a lot of the time. Not much really happens, and it takes a bloody ice age to happen when it does, save for the times the writers decided they wanted to introduce a potentially earth-shattering piece of information, when it was tossed into the script like bread to ducks. The ducks had long since lost interest.

Disjointed, messy, over-long and painfully obvious that Craig has had enough of being adored by millions of women worldwide and decided to back-pedal through the whole thing. Here’s the bit when the reviewer ties it all up with an elegant and witty quote and everyone thinks he’s cool. Except I leave you genuinely heavy-hearted in the knowledge that Bond will never be the same again and that complacency made it so. I really wanted to enjoy SPECTRE but I got so little to work with it felt like a labour of love where it should have been spontaneous. A real pity.

Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) (2008)

Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) (2008)Summer’s wine

Gerald Loftus offers his view on an Italian treat…

A sort of Big Night (1996) for homebodies longing for a memorable midday meal, Pranzo di ferragosto won best film at the 2008 Venice Film Festival and other festival awards.  If I told you the film features four lovely Italian ladies, you are going to start thinking (1) Monica Bellucci; (2)…  If I told you that the actresses – who all appear to be first-timers in film – are at least over 80 years old, your interest might waver.  But don’t succumb to ageism, for this film is, among many other things, an ode to youth, or at least remaining young at heart.

Gianni Di Gregorio’s film has another inspired casting choice: the director as the lead actor, playing Gianni, a fifty-something soft-alcoholic bachelor who takes good care of his mother, played by Valeria De Francisis, who either has a steel-reinforced blond permanent, or goes to bed in her platinum wig.  Guffaws would be out of place in this comedy, but there is plenty of material for wry chuckles.

Take the storyline of this 76 minute film – Gianni and Mamma live in a pleasant old apartment block in downtown Rome, but have fallen behind – way behind – in their condo fees; they have had their keys to the elevator taken from them.  “Who needs an elevator, anyway?” rationalizes Gianni to the understanding building manager, who has a plan to help the dutiful son and his mother.  It involves ‘Mamma sitting’ for his octogenarian mother for the weekend of Assumption.  And that’s just the beginning of Gianni’s special weekend.

Note for readers unfamiliar with European observance (especially in the nominally Catholic countries) of Assumption Day, which always falls on 15 August: in a month already known for its city-emptying tradition of mass exodus to the beach, those left behind on 15 August have to fend for themselves.  Especially true when you have to prepare an impromptu feast for four (yes, the octogenarian count has risen) hungry ladies.

Di Gregario has, in a light-hearted but not silly or condescending way, combined in this short gem two bases of Italian society: the filial devotion of sons for their mothers (we are not told what the daughters-in-law think), and the unending quest to eat well – even when sharpers make the most of their mid-August monopoly on the wine supply.

See Pranzo di ferragosto for a midsummer Italian treat whenever it comes to your cinema or DVD distributor.  We saw it, appropriately enough, in provincial France on Assumption Day weekend.

75 mins. In Italian.