*NEW* SPECTRE REVIEW *NEW*

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Bond is back but bigger and better?

Well done, Mr Craig. You have finally won me over. To be honest, I loved his first outing in Casino Royale (my favourite in the Craig era). He had the charm, the one liners and the look. Ticking all the boxes. BUT Quantum of Solace delivered a much darker and angrier Bond. It was far too intense and serious for me. This had been attempted before with Timothy Dalton in A License To Kill to mixed results.

I didn’t have a problem with a darker Bond. Pierce Brosnan’s efforts (my second rated Bond) was bordering on cartoony CGI and Roger Moore territory. The Saint may have got away with it in the 70s BUT Die Another Day nearly ended it all. A game changer was needed. I respected the change BUT not the direction. It felt like they were trying to turn Bond into Jason Bourne.

However, it was the first series of Bond films that featured an ongoing story arc. Skyfall was very disappointing. For an entry that marked 50 years for the franchise, I expected something a little more. It was over hyped, overlong and if not for a surprising closing act, I would have rated this as one of the weaker offerings.

The one thing I could commend Skyfall for was the little things. The humour, Moneypenny, Q, the Aston Martin DB5. All the things that drew me to Bond in the first place. It gave me hope. Now here we are. The 24th entry of a super spy series. And boy,what a film.

The opening sequence for SPECTRE was fantastic. Slow burning, tense but action packed with a high octane helicopter sequence. As soon as Craig made his introduction, I was sold. The very pinnacle of the iconic spy. Cool, calm and slick. Casually adjusting his cuffs while donning a rifle.

Even Sam Smith’s opening theme delivered. At first listening, it sounded like a bland Eurovision track. BUT I have to say it has grown on me and really fitted the film.

It was great watching Craig enjoy the 007 status. The charisma. The debonair style. Very much in the vein of Sean Connery (My favourite Bond). Old school. Perfect. It brought something that had been lacking in the others. Humour.

I don’t want to say too much about SPECTRE as I want people to see this. BUT for the die hard fans, like yours truly, we witness the return of one of Bond’s most iconic villains. And I couldn’t think of anybody better to take on this prestigious role than Christoph Walz. He was superb. Slimy, sinister and on scene stealing form. My only gripe with his performance was that there wasn’t enough of it.

Dave Bautista was a unit. After his impressive turn in Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn’t surprised that the former WWE star was offered the role of a Bond henchman. It was a shame that they chose to make him silent. He delivered his best impression of the Mountain from Game of Thrones. His scrap with Craig was one of the best villain fight sequences I’ve seen. You felt every punch.

For all the hype around Monica Bellucci’s role as a Bond girl (Or woman, should I say?), I was left wanting. Steady now. If anything her character was completely unnecessary. She certainly looked stunning and proved all those critics wrong griping about her age BUT her “love scene” with Craig came off unintentionally comical. Kissing while trying to talk chunky bits of dialogue didn’t work and killed the chemistry.

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However, Bond finally met his match with the feisty and resourceful Lea Seydoux. The pair’s chemistry and friction certainly kept things watchable when the pace seemed to drop.

The action sequences were brilliant. The plane chase sequence in Austria was mental. The car chase around Rome was fantastic with the new Aston Martin DB10. It was fast, frantic and hilarious as Bond battled to work out the prototype while dealing with henchmen and Italian pensioners fancying a late night drive.

What I also loved about this was how Logan brought in the rest of the team. It was great to see Ben Whishaw getting more screen time as Q. He had a much better rapport with Craig and was even brought out on location like Desmond Llewelyn used to with Connery. BUT at the expense of Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny.

She still made a made a memorable impression. Especially during a phone call with Bond mid car chase. Ralph Fiennes had a tough act to follow after Dench’s brilliant turn as M. BUT it was good to see him bring something new to the role and get in on the action.

It might help to have seen the other Craig entries BUT you won’t be too lost as Logan and Mendes briefly recap the story arc. As much as SPECTRE ticked the boxes, it wasn’t all perfect.

BEST BOND FILM EVER? Certainly not. The middle act lumbered the pace and when the action scenes had subsided and the couple were travelling, I could feel myself fidgeting after the 90 minute marker. Thankfully, things picked up when Walz was properly brought into the mix with his Dr No-esque lair.

This could have been cut by 30 minutes and been stronger for it. It was good to see a little more cheese and fun with this installment but for some it might be seen as a step down. And after 24 films, there are only so many different twists and turns that you can do with the Bond films. You can’t help BUT retread through old ground. There are only so many homages you can do before it gets repetitive.

The closing finale was fantastic and certainly left a satisfying if cryptic ending. Will Bond die another day? Especially when Tomorrow Never Dies? With the box office booming, is the world not enough?

Slick, stylish if a little overdone, Bond is back and on form. BUT better? Not quite, 007 but good enough.

3.5/5

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The Grand Budapest Hotel Review

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Grand . . . to look at but beneath it’s eye catching decor, it doesn’t quite match your expectation and leaves a little to be desired. Hardly a film I would revisit but not bad for a weekend break, if you get my drift.

Right enough wordplay. This is really down to how much of a Wes Anderson fan, you are. Obviously, not as much as I thought. Wes Anderson already has an extensive collection attached to his name; The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom to name a few. I personally didn’t mind Tenenbaums and Zissou but felt they were patchy and a little overhyped. Great to look at, with the occasional laugh but missing something. The film that delivered for me was the underrated stop motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It was eccentric, rapid, zany and hilarious. From the trailers, I hoped the Grand Budapest would follow a similar vein, but alas darlings, it falls short. It’s not all ghastly, however. I may pick at Anderson but one thing I’ve always loved with his films is his ambition and the ability to tell stories in such a different manner.

As soon as the film begins, all the Anderson traits are there (Watch out! It’s going to be a bit film academic-y here); the handmade aesthetic, signature curios and saturated colours. The hotel really is grand, bold, with it’s lavish decor and endless Shining-esque hallways. A feast for the eyes, bright, colourful. Every frame rammed with concierge, people and if not that, crazy props. It’s a little mad to start, but sets up what to expect from an Anderson film. From the get go, we’re presented with a complex narrative within a narrative within a narrative, as we follow several different people (A strange girl in a cemetery, to a renowned author (Tom Wilkinson), to a 20 year flashback of said author in the form of Jude Law in a rendez-vu with a recluse and owner of a failing hotel, named Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham – Homeland) in the middle of nowhere)

The gist, and more importantly, the main story flashes back to the 1930s, focusing on the adventures of the legendary GBH concierge, Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) and his loyal lobby boy, a young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) as they must deal with the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting, as well as battle for an enormous family fortune, all against the backdrop of a dramatically changing Continent impacted by war.

The talented ensemble that Anderson has at his disposal makes for some surprising roles, and expected ones. The main man that stands out is the eccentric, charismatic and flamboyant Monsieur Gustave played with aplomb by ol’ Voldy himself, Ralph Fiennes. His delivery and witticisms are fantastic. There is great chemistry and camaraderie between him and Revolori, who makes an impressive debut performance. They are a great duo to watch. It all starts off quite light, easygoing with Zero being mentored by Gustave, which with the material and extensive cast, Anderson is allowed to wonder off at random tangents. However, it does have the tendency to drag and some parts come off a little hit and miss. As well as there being a checklist for Anderson traits, there has got to be one for the number of regulars he manages to grab to appear in this.

The film kicks off when Gustave is accused of killing the frail Madame D (Tilda Swinton) for her fortune. Kudos to the make up team for turning Swinton into the overanxious, love smitten pensioner. Once the chase is on and backstabbing begins, it all makes for a mad old ride. Anderson excels in his set pieces, which makes up for the more comical moments; most notably in the unintended hotel shoot out, the ski slope chase (which is in a similar vein to that of Mr. Fox). The elongated sequence in which Gustave must meet up with a secret contact in a monastery was a particular highlight and was almost Pythonesque. The elongated sequence with the numerous referrals to numerous concierge members just to get faces in, not so much.

The tone of the film is a little messy. It goes from whimsical, slapstick to dark and macabre. A bizarre and rather intimidating encounter between Madame D’s scorned son, (played superbly by Adrien Broody. If anyone can play a creep, it would be him), his relentlessly grim knuckle dust wearing henchman (gruesomely played to perfection by Willem Dafoe) and the oblivious lawyer (Jeff Goldblum) veers off from darkly comical to a suspenseful cat and mouse sequence with a feeble escape attempt that wasn’t very handy, shall I say? Anderson delicately attempts to balance the tone but at times, it’s unexpected and for a minute, you think, “Am I watching the same film?”. The prison sequence is brilliantly executed and funny to boot, if a little dark with a surprise cameo role. It’s a bit all over the place. Fiennes’ finesse and comic delivery is the much needed carrier and catalyst of this movie. When it’s funny, it brings out the odd chuckle, most notably with a funeral punch up and mad race across the Continent from a crazy collection of coppers under the leadership of the always talented Edward Norton.

I didn’t expect the darker elements, which made up for a meandering pace. However, it felt a little Midsummer Murder-ish to me. A bit OTT. But then this is Anderson. If you can accept that for some of the film’s more crazier and stranger elements and are an avid lover of his previous works, this one will go straight into your collection but if you’re still on the fence, this one might not help in pushing you for or against him. I felt the romance between Revolori and Saoirse Ronan got pushed back to the fold, which questioned its existence to begin with, which is a shame because the pair had good chemistry. There are so many faces and characters that others you want to see more of, disappear or don’t get enough of the screen, while others you can’t help but wonder why they’re there in the first place. The little things are what make it for me with Anderson. I really wanted a live animation of Mr Fox, with its eccentric fast paced zippy chaotic madness. Although I got that at parts, it just fell short for me and what was the point of the opening with the first narrator? It’s Anderson. Somehow not a good enough answer for me.

For the Anderson addicts, right up your street. For everybody else . . . well, it’s different. 3/5.

 Currently ranks #52 out of 152!