“Quantum Solace” (2008)

November 24, 2008

Something was certainly shaken, but I'm not talking about the martinis.

 

I remember the time when I, like many others, eagerly awaited the opening of Casino Royale. Not only was there a new Bond to carry on the 007 legacy, but the entire franchise was moving in a new, more realistic direction. It was very successful, too. It may have been a change of pace, but it brought a great deal of seriousness to the James Bond characters while retaining the intense action sequences. While the new Bond was alien to us, it was clear that in time he would grow into the smirking British spy we have all come to know and love.

Quantum of Solace (2008) was supposed to be the bridge between Bond the heart broken and Bond the badass.  I excitedly awaited this movie just as I did when Casino Royale came out, even though I saw it a week after its initial release. Unfortunately, the twenty-second entry in the 007 franchise was not what I thought it would be.

The plot is pretty similar to the classic Bond movies. MI-6 finds out that the villians are part of a huge global secret organization, and they don’t know much about them other than the organization is evil. Bond is constantly chastized for being too reckless (and rightly so), but nonetheless goes in to check things out.  If anything, he is still eager to get revenge for the murder of Vespa, his lover from Casino Royale. Of course, he picks up one or two other chicks along the way, one of them being another spy. Throughout the movie M is constantly panicing from her little safe haven, falling easily for the villians’ misinformation. After confronting a series of loathsome baddies, Bond is able to find out more about the organization and comes closer to finding Vespa’s killer. The extra element of revenge gives the plot a little more dimension, especially since Bond is still a bit young and inexperienced.

While the storyline might be normal for a Bond flick, the cinematography and editing are very different from the traditional 007 movies. This is particularly true for the action sequences. Director Marc Forster and his production team went with the dirty, intense cinetographic style as the Bourne franchise. Although this look might be getting popular with action films, it usually doesn’t work, and Quantum of Solace features several chase scenes that can be more disorienting than entertaining. Many shots throughout the film are so quick and sloppy that it hurts the film more than helps, which is sad because some of the visuals are truly creative and interesting. Most people would rather see a Bond film for the action and excitement, and unfortunately they are going to be disappointed. The action itself is often lame and nonsensical, even for a Bond movie. We’ve seen far better boat chases in many other Bond flicks, all of them with proper composition. Sure, these movies often are cheesy and over the top, but why is a villian taking refuge in a hotel with exploding walls, and why the Hell is it in the middle of a desert?

Once again, Daniel Craig pulls off the intense and convincing performance we saw in Casino Royale. Pyshically, he is also the most impressive actor to ever play Bond. Craig performs many of his own stunts. Towards the end, he injured his hand during a fight scene. You don’t get many actors that are that hardcore.

However, the things the spy does in this film are very erratic, even for a reckless 007. He acts more like a murderous thug than a spy. Everytime he encounters a suspicious character he instinctively kills them, without bothering to investigate. he a special agent, or an assasin? He was never this inept at spywork, even when he started out in Casino Royale. I’m guessing that these rampages are the result of Bond’s thirst for revenge, but he seems awfully cool and detacted for that to be the case. The concept might be there, but the execution is off. Meanwhile, M is on the other end of the spectrum, and never seems to calm down. Bond’s CIA friend, felix, simply drinks himself silly. My, what a cheery little group of people! For once I’m starting to miss the charming campiness of Thunderball (1965).

Yet, this flick isn’t all doom and gloom. While Bond might be a little crazy, he still manages to seduce beautiful women and pull off an amusing pun every once in a while. Everyone’s favorite swanky Brit undergoes a great deal of character growth, and eventually evovles into the womanizing do-gooder we recognize, but up until then he is an entirely different creature. The film was always supposed to be dark, but there is so much anxiety built up in this film that it becomes too dark and nihilistic. The negativity is obvious, but the character development is not.

5.0 out of 10

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Although it has been more than a decade since its theatrical release, there are still ads on television for the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). As the name implies, its about the monsters of Halloween. Their leader, Jack Skellington, tries to hijack Santa’s holiday. Naturally, chaos ensues. It is an animated dark fantasy/musical film known thoughout the world for its radical and striking appearance, and a sound track that is both haunting and enchanting. It was also a stop-motion claymation movie, which is always fun. Unfortunately, it seems that its unique qualities scared off some viewers, particularly parents. Is it still worth watching any more? Is it outdated?

Well, we cannot off-handedly dismiss it as outdated, because Corpse Bride (2005) was so successful. The Nightmare Before Christmas was also re-released a couple years ago in theaters, so surely at least someone thinks it is worth seeing. And why not? The fimmakers behind it managed to integrate german expressionism, claymation, and the musical genre and got it to sell. There’s something to be said for presenting something new and different, even if its really just a combination of things that have been around a while.

Although this movie is a musical, I believe that few would deny that the visuals are its strongest asset. Tim Burton has an artist touch to his movies that viewers either love or hate. His setting and characters tend to look like they came from a gloomy children’s book (mind you, Tim Burton didn’t actually direct this film, but he did produce it).

 This film was also HEAVILY influenced by the 1920’s European art movement called German Expressionism. The creatures and objects are all distorted and have skewed, nightmarish angles. The mayor and Jack even looks like Dr. Calgari and Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari (1920), a prominent film of that trend. Nothing is made to look realistic, and why should it? Seriously, we’re talking about a cartoon. The stop-motion animation also remininscent of the older Christmas movies like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), but with a strange otherworldly twist. Being inspired by other movies is always a good thing, but I was a little turned off when I noticed how alike Jack Skellington was to Jack Pumkinhead from Return to Oz. In fact, he wears a Pumkinhead costume in the opening sequence.

The drawback to stop-motion is that by the 1993, it was a bit archaic and primitive (keep in mind that Jurrassic Park came out the same year).  Every once in a while there is a distracting flaw, such as visible wires and such. Regardless, the cinematographer and the crew clearly were masters of the visual language. Every transition is flawless or damn close, and the characters are beautifully photographed. This is the only musical I have ever seen where the viewer can turn off the volume, and still know what’s going on. That is truly a sign of great filmmaking, as film is a primarily visual medium. Of course, as a musical, it would be nothing without great music, wouldn’t it?

Who could be a more appropiate choice for this film’s music than Danny Elfman? The man has produced some of the best movie music for decades, and the music for the the Nightmare Before Christmas may be his best work. He even sang some parts. All of the songs are memorable- perhaps excessively so. I had the saddest song stuck in my head for days.

The plot isn’t as impressive, however. Jack decides to take a break from Halloween and try Christmas, but does so carelessly and without asking Santa Claus. His admirer knows its a bad idea, but Jack is oblivious. He has Santa captured, and takes over the fat man’s job, and obviously discovers he isn’t too great at it. There is also a boogieman with a gambling addiction that tries to eat Santa. Its a simple, predictable story. The magic of the actual storytelling compensates for this wonderfully, but the boogieman villian could have been fleshed out much more. He is interesting, but his role is so small it is almost unneccessary.

Overall the movie is very gloomy, and it’s easy to see why the emo and goth crowds identify with it so much. The freaky monsters fail to find their place in the outside world. Jack’s admirer and romantic interest, Sally, feels perpetually overlooked (guess who sang that depressing song). It is easy to see the film as a tragedy, promoting conformity within one’s own group. In this case, the monsters would stay with Halloween. I would challenge that. In the end, Jack and his admirer get what they really wanted in the end. Even so, the movie is still pretty dark. Some of the characters might creep out kids too, but then again some kids were scared of the California Raisins.

This is a must see for Tim Burton fans and Halloween fanatics. That’s a given. For everyone else, it depends on where you stand with musicals, or strange characters. Just don’t dismiss this as a mere children’s film, because young adults tend to be most attracted to this film. I recommend it, especially if you have Netflix.

8.5 out 10.0