Spectre

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Sam Mendes

Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth


I’ve been a fan of Bond since I was a kid and for me Daniel Craig’s tenure as the MI6 agent has been the most consistent in terms of overall quality (although Sean Connery still remains my favourite Bond). Casino Royale is a fantastic thriller that did a terrific job of updating and rebooting the franchise and I think stands as the strongest of the Craig Bond films. The (slightly) underrated Quantum of Solace is easily the weakest of these films but I think that some of the criticism it gets is undeserved. It certainly isn’t a great film but I still think it has enough action and style to be worthy of the Bond name. The (slightly) overrated Skyfall on the other hand is a strong film but I’m not convinced that it is the masterpiece everyone says it is. I think that most of its praise was drawn from the hype surrounding the film than it was from the film itself, although the brilliant villain and the use of Judi Dench’s M certainly helped. Now Bond is back in Spectre which I think stands as the third strongest outing in this series only slightly behind Skyfall.

In the aftermath of the events in Skyfall James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a cryptic message that sends him on a rogue mission. The trail he finds eventually leads him to the mysterious criminal organisation SPECTRE, led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a figure from Bond’s past. Meanwhile in London M (Ralph Fiennes) is having his authority challenged when Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new Head of National Security, seeks to shut down what he perceives to be a costly and redundant 00 programme. Along the way both Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are enlisted to help combat these threats. As Bond is drawn deeper into SPECTRE’s intricate web he falls into the company of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a former enemy who might hold the keys to SPECTRE’s secrets.

After the first three films which distinguished themselves from the classics with their post-9/11 fast-paced Bourne style of action, Spectre marks a return to the basics. All of the elements of a classic Bond film are here including the sinister villain, the beautiful and proficient Bond girl, the high-tech car and gadgets, the silent and intimidating henchman, the exotic locations, the secret lair and the stylised action. In fairness some of these elements are not executed as well as they could have been but I still thought it was a nice change of pace to have a Bond film that harkens back to the originals. Spectre still has the grit and intensity that has made the newer films so thrilling to watch but the inclusion of the tropes that made Bond iconic in the first place was very welcome.

The film’s greatest weakness however is its story. While the plot has never been the greatest strength of any of the Bond films, Spectre is nevertheless placing a clear emphasis on its narrative in an attempt to tie all four films together which is why the story’s shortcomings are more notable. This is perhaps a symptom of the impact television has had in recent years with audiences becoming more receptive to longer and more substantial narratives. This story however is very rushed and unpolished and lacks the necessary development required to make the kind of impact it is trying to make. Throughout the four films Bond has evolved as a character and this film marks a point where he has been emotionally wearied and damaged and is seriously considering the prospect of leaving this world of death and destruction behind. Elements of his past return to haunt him during his encounters with SPECTRE and threaten to be his undoing. I do admire the big-picture long-form narrative that this film is trying to tie together, the trouble is that it all seems too last minute at this stage.

At the end of the day however, I came to Spectre looking for a Bond film and that is exactly what I got. The action is as intense and stylish as ever, the biggest highlight being the opening tracking shot where Bond navigates his way through a Mexican carnival in pursuit of a lead. The villain was unfortunately quite a let-down with the film failing to take full advantage of Waltz’s ability to convey his uniquely charming form of intimidation. Seydoux however is on top-form as a smart and fully capable Bond girl who is second only to Vesper Lynd in her ability to challenge and serve as a foil to Bond. There are imperfections with this film, as there always are in the James Bond franchise, but I was on board from beginning to end and got almost everything that I wanted from this film. The thrills, the style and the charm are all classic Bond and its great to have him back.

★★★★

The Lobster

Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz,  Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writers: Efthimis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos


Relationships can be weird, harsh and confusing as can be seen in Lanthimos’ surrealist satire. The agonies of being alone, the pressures of finding a perfect partner and the apathies of coupledom are all given a dark and bizarre turn in this absurdist comedy. The Lobster tackles these themes by depicting a dystopian future where the very concept of love and romance is non-existent. Instead the ritual of finding a mate has been desensitised into an unfeeling process of cruel methods and ludicrous regulations as these forlorn souls attempt to find suitable mates who match their singular defining characteristics. The subjects of this film are a stilted, deadpan people who exhibit absolutely no capacity for imagination or passion. It depicts a dark and bleak image of the future where love has become an unfeeling, mechanical process robbed of all feeling and purpose.

David (Colin Farrell), upon being left by his wife, is required by law to stay at a resort so that he might find himself a new partner. The Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) informs him that he will have 45 days to find a match or else he will be transformed into an animal of his choice. David decides that should he fail then he would like to become a lobster, an animal that lives for over a century, is blue-blooded (like aristocrats) and gets to live in the sea. Amongst his fellow residents are the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and the Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), unhappy daters who have all defined themselves by a single characteristic by which they hope to form a bond with a potential partner. When David proves unsuccessful in his efforts he escapes the resort and falls into the company of the Loners, those who have rejected the custom of enforced coupledom, led by the Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux). It is here that David meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) whose defining characteristic is one that he shares.

The first half of this film is superb. The hotel in which the dating convention takes place is hilariously dreary and oppressive in the way it forces its miserable occupants into coupledom. The residents must partake in ridiculous exercises such as going about their daily activities with an arm tied behind their backs as a reminder of how two is always better than one. The candidness of everyone’s speech and the deadpan way in which they compose themselves serves to reinforce the simultaneous absurdity and misery that these characters are forced to undergo and does so to a uniquely droll effect. I was astonished at how oddly funny and unsettlingly cruel this film could be in its portrayal of these contrived romances and the pressures and fears that drive these characters to suffer them. A particular highlight for me was when one character became so desperate for companionship that he continuously forced his own nose to bleed as a way of attracting a woman who was prone to nosebleeds.

The second half of this film, when David escapes into the woods to join the loners, is when the film lost me. I think the problem was that the film tried to take its idea too far and ended up getting lost. What had started off as being strange and baffling (in the best way possible) soon became inane and confusing to me. I understood that the Loners were supposed to serve as a foil to the Hotel with their equally oppressive anti-coupledom laws, but beyond that I just didn’t understand where the film was trying to go or what it wanted me to take away. It didn’t help that the woods and its inhabitants were not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as the wonderfully preposterous hotel. I found the film’s latter half to be little more than consecutive sequences of aimless wandering until it suddenly all comes to an abrupt end. Maybe there is a point to be taken away from all that but in the end my thoughts were left more confused than stimulated.

Through its peculiar and inventive concept The Lobster is able to provide a strange yet reflective commentary on the practices of dating, marriage and relationships, along with the customs and pressures that they carry, that I wish had been more fully realised. The film’s understated direction, odd characters and uncomfortable atmosphere allowed for a fascinating and engrossing film to start with, but as the film’s course strayed more and more my interest waned. I enjoyed the film for its quirkiness and style, but those can only take you so far if the story itself fails to be engaging. When it was all over I found myself at a loss over what the film was trying to say or what it wanted me to take away. While there is much to enjoy in this dark, eccentric comedy, especially in its tremendous first half, I think that overall The Lobster is an example of how tiring that Wes-Anderson-esque quirkiness can get when the film loses track of itself.

★★★

Crimson Peak

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunman, Jim Beaver

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins


When the film’s protagonist shows the manuscript of a novel she has written to a would-be publisher, he expresses his confusion over what he labels as a ghost story. She replies that it is not a ghost story but a story with a ghost in it. Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to the depiction of supernatural beings in his films but to label them, along with other films of this type, as ‘ghost stories’ does not do them justice. The ghosts of these stories often come in figurative forms as well as literal and are not simply there to provide scares. Ghosts often appear in a certain place because of an emotional attachment they have and, while scary, are not manifestations of evil. Instead they can appear as manifestations of fear, loss, grief, pain and other themes we associate with death. True evil instead lies in the hearts of men, the ones who create these ghosts. The ghosts are not the focus of these stories but are instead there to reinforce and enhance the emotional journey or conflict taking place. This is the type of story that Crimson Peak is trying to tell.

The story is that of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who as a young girl was visited by her mother’s ghost and was warned to “beware of Crimson Peak”. Now a young woman, Edith is an aspiring author very much in the vein of Mary Shelley. She is also at the age when she must start thinking of marriage and catches the eye of the alluring English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver) senses something awry about Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and so tries to prevent any sort of a union between him and his daughter. When Carter dies under mysterious circumstances a grieving Edith weds Thomas and goes to live with him and his sister in the rotting, decaying estate of Allerdale Hall. Edith however learns that this estate is haunted by ghosts both literal and metaphorical and starts to suspect that this forbidding place might be connected to the warning she received all those years ago.

One thing that Guillermo del Toro has stressed while promoting this film is that it is not a gothic horror, but a gothic romance. The film certainly has elements of horror such as the haunting atmosphere, the sinister characters and elements of the supernatural. However the focus of the film is not on them but on the romance between Edith and Thomas and on the terrible secret that he and his sister share. In any case I cannot think of any director working today who is better at depicting gothic settings and themes than del Toro. The production and style of this film harkens back to such classics as The Innocents, Black Sunday and the works of Roger Corman. The antiquated sets, costumes and visuals are all wonderfully dark and mystifying. The film makes gorgeous use of colour with an ominous emphasis on red, reminiscent of the Hammer Horror films. The atmosphere del Toro creates, complete with the looming shadows, eerie environment and melancholy music, is thoroughly absorbing and is a refined homage to the fine line-up of gothic cinema that has preceded this film. I really wish I could say that the story and characters were worthy of them.

The central romance of this film just didn’t do it for me. I thought it felt quite melodramatic and flat and that neither character had much going for them despite the great talent behind them. Mia Wasikowska is a formidable actress and has done great work in the past but she keeps making the mistake of starring in films that require her to look impassive and disinterested at all the action around her. Her lack of personality made her journey less compelling and her motives less identifiable. Tom Hiddleston has shown that he knows how to do creepy and charming well and while that does come across with this character it just never felt to like there was any life beneath it all. I never felt any of the passion or fire between these two that is clearly supposed to be there. Jessica Chastain delivers a campy, over-the-top performance but at least she looks like she’s having fun doing it. Once you have a clear idea of who each person is the story itself becomes fairly predictable and steals much away from the film’s mysteriousness.

This is a film that I admired more than I enjoyed. I admire del Toro as a director whose inventive imagination, meticulous attention to detail and uncanny command of mood and tone has been employed to spellbinding effect in such films as Pan’s Labyrinth. The atmosphere he evokes in Crimson Peak is haunting and beautiful, just like gothic cinema should be. The characters however seem lifeless in comparison and the story less engaging. What results is a film that is moody and atmospheric on the outside but dispassionate and hollow within. Audiences might enjoy this film for the visual spectacle but the romance and the mystery left me feeling overall underwhelmed.

★★★

The Last Witch Hunter

Cast: Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine

Director: Breck Eisner

Writers: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless


This is a boy-pandering fantasy-action film if I’ve ever seen one. The Last Witch Hunter is one of those typical fantasy-action films we see every year targeted towards 12-year-old boys, much like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing and more recently I, Frankenstein (a film so generic and forgettable I had to google it just now to remember that it existed). These are the films that pander to boys by offering them monsters, explosions, swords, guns and gritty PG-13 violence as substitutes for character and plot. Full disclosure: I’m saying this as someone who was 12 and 13 when LXG and Van Helsing came out respectively and thought they were both bloody awesome. I know better now. All I’m saying is that, while I personally found this film to be generic, predictable and stupid, I can still completely understand why teenage boys might enjoy it.

The titular witch hunter is Kaulder (Vin Diesel) who 800 years ago was cursed with eternal life by the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) before vanquishing her. Today there is a truce between the witches and the humans and so Kaulder’s job is basically to police them if they ever step out of line. When his keeper, the priest Dolan (36th of that name) (Michael Caine) dies under mysterious circumstances, Kaulder and the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood) suspect that he was murdered by witches and find traces of dark magic that Kaulder hasn’t seen since his encounter with the Witch Queen. Believing the Witch Queen’s return to be imminent Kaulder sets out to prevent this impending doom with the aid of Dolan and a rogue witch called Chloe (Rose Leslie).

This film is silly and nonsensical but, for its target audience, it’s the good kind of silly and nonsensical. The story doesn’t have to make sense if all you’re looking for is some action and badassery and The Last Witch Hunter has plenty of both. Vin Diesel plays his typical physically-imposing, gruff, badass action hero and carries the film well enough as he wanders between action scenes. The fight scenes themselves are pretty fun and even sometimes creative given the use of magic and whatnot but nothing particularly new. One thing I can say about this film though is that it was short. I really do mean that as a compliment. When I realised what kind of film I was in store for I thought I would have to endure at least two hours (if not more) of its absurdities and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was over after a merciful hour and forty minutes. Another thing I liked is that it never took itself too seriously. It tries to have fun with its rather daft concept and even manages to score a couple of laughs here and there. Whatever its (many) faults may be, I can still admire it for embracing its own absurdity (to a mild extent at least) and letting itself have a bit of fun with it.

However anyone who is looking for something more than mindless action and some silly, ridiculous fun will not find it in this film. The story is a jumbled mess, the characters are forgettable, the mythology seems like it was being made up as the production went along and the climax is a magnificent let-down (assuming you were invested enough to have actually been built-up). The plot for the most part is fairly predictable and is thus lacking in tension, something that was already lacking given that the immortal Kaulder is unable to die. It was a story that was so positively overwhelmed by such a sheer amount of plot-holes and lapses in logic that I was pretty close to giving up until the third act swooped in to let me know that it was nearly over. So rushed was the film’s third act that the film even felt the need to include a plot twist that comes completely out of nowhere, does not make any semblance of sense if you think about everything that came before and serves absolutely no purpose except to extend the fight for another five minutes. Once that’s done it builds up to an ending so convoluted that they might as well have written the words ‘please give us a sequel’ on the screen in giant neon letters. Honestly I was actually quite entertained by how clumsy the film’s ending was.

All in all, The Last Witch Hunter is a really bad film. What amuses me though is that if I were ten years younger I probably would have loved it. It has all the nonsensical action, age-appropriate violence and silly visuals that I was into at that age. It even has the impossibly badass Vin Diesel doing what he does. If there are any boys out there who are also into that kind of stuff, then The Last Witch Hunter is the film for them. It is a film that panders to everything they love at that age when they are young enough to fall for those kinds of tricks. I’ve given this film my lowest possible rating because there is simply nothing redeeming about it to justify anything higher. It is a bad, stupid, ridiculous film and young boys will love it.