Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:


Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Hank Scorpio: "By the way, Homer: what's your least favorite country, Italy or France?"
Homer: "France."
Hank Scorpio: "Heh heh, nobody ever says Italy."
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Zoidbergs out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: 

Tagline: None, but I think this interview Daniel Craig did with Timeout London sums it up:
TimeOut London: "Can you imagine doing another Bond movie?"
Craig: "‘Now?' I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists."
Better Tagline: "Don't slash your wrists, everybody."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The former M may have died at the end of Skyfall, but she still has her favorite blunt instrument (Daniel Craig) doing her dirty work. This time, it's an off-book assassination in Mexico City, which leads to clues regarding past enemies and a greater threat than either she or Bond imagined. Unfortunately, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with a drastically shifting bureaucratic landscape, including a new intelligence chief (Andrew Scott) determined to mothball the '00' program for good. Bond is forced to enlist  Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) and the daughter of an old enemy (Léa Seydoux) to bring down SPECTRE and its mysterious mastermind, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

"Critical" Analysis: Spectre, the 24th movie in Eon's venerable 007 series and the fourth to star Craig in the title role, is a dusty movie. Dust piles up in an abandoned (or is it?) chalet in Austria and long-disused hidey holes in Tangiers. It dances in sunbeams in Rome and is kicked up by Humvees and trains in North Africa. A not so subtle dig at the hoariness of the franchise? Or a self-conscious nod by director Sam Mendes and his flotilla of screenwriters to the tropes unearthed in their film? Whatever the case, when it comes to Bond, some tidying up is probably in order.

Like Skyfall before it, Spectre starts with a fantastic opening set piece. Set in Mexico City during Day of the Dead and kicking of with an extended single take sequence, it's one of the most beautifully shot scenes in the whole series, and then we get to the unfortunately ... tentacular main titles.

[That reminds me, did I once call Adele's theme song "lackluster?" I did, but I'm reconsidering, because compared to "Writing's on the Wall," Sam Smith's keening abomination, "Skyfall" is Beethoven's 9th and Mozart's "Requiem" combined.]

Seeing as how this is a continuation (and, quite possibly, a conclusion) of the events kicked off in Casino Royale, it makes sense that Spectre owes so much to previous films. But while Mendes in Skyfall was almost cripplingly self-absorbed and desperately eager to pay homage to the past, here he gives greater attention to the more classic elements we've come to associate with Bond, or the 'Three Bs' as I like to call them: Bond girls, the Big Bad, and — uh — batshit action sequences.

You can probably add "Baggage" to that list, as well. Specifically, those other things you associate with James Bond movies, like inscrutable evil schemes (I understand why Oberhauser's secret base is in uncharted desert, but I never figured out what purpose it served other than exploding) and predatory sex. First, Bond shtupps the widow of the man he kills in Mexico (Monica Bellucci). At least with Madeleine (Seydoux) he has the decency to rescue her from Hinx (an underused Dave Bautista) before taking advantage of her grief over daddy.

Sorry, I can't let this go: Bellucci is arguably the most beautiful woman ever to appear in one of these movies and she gets a pathetic ten minutes on screen. This is, nonetheless, plenty of time for Bond to bed her before unceremoniously calling Felix Leiter to spirit her out of Italy. Maybe safe passage to America is the double-0 version of the Derek Jeter post-coital gift basket.

It ties up a little too neatly as well. In case we forgot the QUANTUM connection (or didn't spend last weekend binge watching Bond movies, *cough*), Mendes via Q shows us the org chart from Le Chiffre on up. It's frankly a little disappointing to reintroduce SPECTRE when QUANTUM seemed perfectly formidable on its own, and there's only a brief glimpse into the breadth of the operation, so ... subtly conveyed by those octopi in the musical intro. 

Meanwhile, the plot is essentially that of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Even if you didn't pick it up initially, casting known Moriarty Andrew Scott as "C" should be a dead giveaway.

We're almost ten years into the Daniel Craig era, which is long enough to assert that he's a very good Bond. But the movies — Casino Royale aside — have been uneven affairs. And then there's the mileage, which is clearly starting to take its toll on him. I'm probably in the minority in that I haven't flat out disliked any of the Craig movies (even Quantum of Solace improves upon rewatching), but if he bowed out after this, it'd make sense. There's an undeniable sense of finality in Spectre, with no clear path forward and an uncharacteristically (for the latest movies) upbeat ending (it's also wholly out of character, for reasons I won't go into because [SPOILERS]). 

Then again, there's also a distinct On Her Majesty's Secret Service vibe as well. Hell if I know, ask me in two years.

Spectre is in theaters today. Seriously, nobody ever says Italy.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar