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Review: ‘Spectre’ (Not Skyfall) Is James Bond At His Best

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Spectre poster twoI took a second look at the new James Bond feature Spectre on Monday night to make sure what I had experienced in my first viewing was correct. It turns out that I was right. The new Bond film is the best in the series, going all the way back to 1962, when the franchise started with the smart, impeccably dressed Sean Connery, who remains to this day the unbeatable Bond.

Certainly, much of the reason that Spectre with Daniel Craig in the lead role has bested the super-spy’s best days from the 1960s has to do with the benefits of modern production standards. Some of Bond’s dry wit from Dr. No, Goldfinger and other gems doesn’t always hold up very well, either. Nevertheless, it has not been since Thunderball (1965), From Russia With Love (1964) and Goldfinger (1964) that Bond has has had such a grand, sweeping story line to attend to.

Let’s get real: Skyfall probably should not have been a Bond film in the first place. It was about stopping a disgruntled former employee who was going postal. In the end, a huge stone house blows up. The explosion is huge, but whoever heard of a stone house blowing up – with, what, five minutes of gas leaking to set it off?

Bond is supposed to be a spy, not a cop or a vigilante and in Skyfall the mystery just wasn’t there. In Skyfall, the villain Silva, played by Javiar Bardem, was found in about 15 minutes. After that, it was just police work. Yes, Silva is the most memorable Bond villain in decades, but I still haven’t figured out how he went from being a captured and tortured British agent to having an army of minions, given his grand scheme is simply to get back at his old boss.

Suffice it to say, one of the requirements of being a Bond villain is you have to be seeking world dominance. Getting back at your old boss just doesn’t cut it.

In contrast, Spectre is epic espionage right up to the point that British intelligence has been infiltrated up to the highest level. Yes, it’s beyond hokey to have Franz Oberhauser (aka Ernst Stavro Blofeld), the head of Spectre, played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, turn out to be the son of the man who took in young James Bond, when his parents died. But that does portray Blofeld as someone with a lifelong grudge, given he faked his own death as a teenager. (That’s pretty much when masterminds of mayhem go bad, I guess. If you don’t start young, it’s hard to rise to the ranks of evil genius until you’re too old to enjoy it.)

Skyfall established Bond as an orphan, so now we’re stuck with making sure every move he makes fits in with someone with a shattered childhood. Too bad. I just liked him as an impeccably

Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1965)

Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1965)

dressed spy. Now he’s billed as an assassin and an alcoholic with anti-social tendencies. He’s vulnerable now for psycho-social reasons, but I liked him better when he was simply invisible.

Spectre, for the most part, overcomes Daniel Craig‘s shortcomings as the current Bond. Just for a start, Craig is not particularly dashing or elegant and Bond’s famous wit with Craig just comes across like an acerbic teenager. He’s supposed to outsmart the bad guys, but Craig just seems like he’s biggest asset is his determination. Sean Connery was detached, where Craig takes things personally. He also seems to grope and slobber on his many female conquests, rather than caress and please them. He’s supposed to be worldly, not a freshman who feels lucky he’s about to get laid.

It is Spectre’s plot, the ever-changing scenery and the rest of the cast that are truly magnificent. Dr. Madeleine Swann played by Lea Seydoux is the best Bond babe ever. She’s smart, modern, level-headed and wonderfully coquettish when she needs to be. Ralph Fiennes does well replacing Judi Dench as M (I always thought she was wrong for the part, anyway; you wouldn’t cast Angela Lansbury as the head of the CIA, would you?) Ben Whishaw is terrific as quartermaster Q and Naomie Harris is outstanding as Eve Moneypenny.

Spectre might be what David Lean would have done with a Bond assignment. It’s tense, sweeping, grand and does Ian Flemming proud. I give it four stars plus. And, just to say so, Rotten Tomatoes has it all wrong. Time, I guarantee it, will be very kind to this film.

Rating: 5 Stars

Contributor: Anthony Hall

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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