Thursday, November 26, 2015


It’s Thanksgiving and there is quite a lot to be thankful for from this year’s films. In fact, appropriate for today, here are 26 of them:

1.) The Best Actress race this year is plentiful. With esteemed names like Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, Charlotte Rampling, Charlize Theron, Carey Mulligan and Maggie Smith are all in the mix, as it's clearly been a banner year for female leads.

2.) Alicia Vikander should be on that short list for “Ex Machina”, but no matter, she was a virtual unknown a year ago, and now she’s one of Hollywood’s breakout stars of 2015. And she's considered the supporting actress frontrunner for her role in "The Danish Girl" which opens wide this weekend.

3.) Speaking of “Ex Machina”, writer/director Alex Garland’s sci-fi three-hander garnered great reviews and box office.

4.) So did “The Martian”, and it proves audiences will line up at the Cineplex for sci-fi, even if there are no drooling aliens or toy chains come to life in it.

5.) Jennifer Lawrence was picked by Entertainment Weekly as their “2015 Entertainer of the Year” and she truly is the biggest, most reliable and endlessly exhilarating talent onscreen these days. And she’s pretty darn hilarious off-screen with her candor, self-deprecation, and friendship with Amy Schumer.

6.) And speaking of Amy Schumer, the brilliant comic became a big movie star this year with her funny and touching turn as both actress and writer of “Trainwreck.”

7.) “Inside Out” was one of Pixar/Disney’s best ever animated features. And to think it’s about what goes on in the brain of a young girl borders on the miraculous from sexist Hollywood.

Original caricature of Johnny Depp in BLACK MASS. (copyright 2015)
8.) Johnny Depp returned to greatness with his villainous turn in “Black Mass.”

9.) George Miller aced the reboot of “Mad Max.”

10.) The ubiquitous Tom Hardy shone bright four times this year, in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “The Revenant” and twice, playing the notorious Kray twins in “Legend.”

11.) Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa was the best action hero this year.

12.) Truth is stranger than fiction and often more dramatic too. Look at all the heralded films based on true stories – “Spotlight”, “Trumbo”, “The Danish Girl”, “The Big Short” …and those are films that just opened in November!

13.) James Bond may be 50 but with the success of “Spectre”, we’ll be seeing a lot more of 007. (And likely, Daniel Craig too, despite rumblings of retirement.)

14.) The Academy’s Governor Awards went to the legendary Debbie Reynolds, Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee. Bravo! (Next year, how about honoring Catherine Deneuve, Donald Sutherland and Kurt Russell?)

Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee
15.) And Spike Lee and Gena Rowlands gave great speeches too. Too bad Reynolds was sick. She would’ve been something accepting her lifetime Oscar for sure.

16.) Chris Pratt lived up to all his hype after last year's "Guardians of the Galaxy." He was the best thing in "Jurassic World."

17.) The horror genre shone bright with the excellent “It Follows”, “The Gift” and “The Green Inferno.”

18.) Joel Edgerton wrote, directed and starred in the aforementioned "The Gift" and excelled in "Black Mass" too. What a year he had!

19.) The ever-versatile Rose Byrne made even her wigs funny in this summer’s hit comedy “Spy.”

20.) Despite being a box office bust, the brilliant summer film “Love & Mercy” is likely to make Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks strong contenders for supporting acting awards this season.

21.) Eddie Redmayne broke the sophomore curse after winning the Oscar for “The Theory of Everything” last year with a sure-to-be-nominated performance this year for “The Danish Girl.”

22.) And composer Alexandre Desplat finally won gold, after eight nominations, with his whimsical, yet haunting score for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

23.) “Bridge of Spies” was brilliant. So was “Steve Jobs”, even if the former is making money and the latter isn’t. And there was so much brilliance in the effects in “The Walk”, it literally took your breath away.

24.) John Williams was finally chosen as an AFI Lifetime Achievement recipient and is the first below-the-line talent ever to be named. Bravo, maestro!

25.) Oscar Isaac’s star continues to rise this year on film (“Ex Machina”) and TV (“Show Me a Hero” on HBO), and it’s only going to be more prominent with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

26.) And indeed, the return of “Star Wars” is a big Christmas gift for film fans everywhere. It’s already breaking early box office receipts. Now, let’s hope it’s more “Empire Strikes Back” than any of Anakin’s backstory.

The force has really been with movies this year in a lot of significant ways, both critically and financially. Hopefully, Tinsel Town will keep up the terrific output, especially in making smaller and more adult-focused films that give us more and more reasons to go to the Cineplex, and not just stay home and binge-watch Netflix. Thankful indeed, all movie fans should be this Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Original caricature by Jeff York of Daniel Craig as James Bond 007. (copyright 2011)
SPECTRE, the new James Bond movie that opened November 6 in the United States, is on track to make $74 million this weekend. Despite star Daniel Craig’s stated desire to not do another Bond, he’s probably apt to return to the series after another big success such as this. Still, his secret agent does rather definitively drive off into the sunset at the end of the picture, in an Aston Martin db5 no less, so perhaps his days as 007 are indeed over. So where does the franchise go from here? Is it as simple as finding a new lead?

There are a number of talents being bandied about as potentially the next super agent man. Popular actors from the UK like Idris Elba, Tom Hardy and Damian Lewis are getting a lot of chatter online for being in the running. Australian Hugh Jackman has expressed interest in taking a crack at the British spy role. And some fans even feel that it’s time for a Jane Bond with someone like superstar Angelina Jolie filling the role. But is there a larger change that could truly give the series a whole new lease on life?

What if the Bond franchise went back to its origins - the Ian Fleming books from the 1950’s? That’s right, give it a true reboot, a start over, a 2.0 that’s actually more like a prototype. It could be just what the series needs for a plethora of good reasons. Here are five of them:

Most of the original stories haven’t been dramatized

Early on, the Bond movies were adapted from their source material. However, when Roger Moore took over the role, the films were often quite different from what Fleming penned. A few used a book’s name and little else. A VIEW TO A KILL  has little to do with the Bond tale From A View To A Kill except for its title. The original story there is about a motorcycle dispatch-rider, not pirating Silicon Valley. If STAR TREK and SPIDER-MAN can completely start over from scratch with their origins story, why can’t Bond? He already did in CASINO ROYALE with Craig's Bond earning his Double O status. So if there are so many original Fleming stories that really haven't been put on the big screen, how hard would it be to start over there? 

It would distinguish Bond from other franchises

Over the years, a number of film franchises have not only imitated Bond, but they’ve trumped him in many ways. The Jason Bourne films, the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies, the FAST AND FURIOUS sagas – they all owe a lot to the man with a license to kill. And in many ways they equal if not surpass the action that Bond laid the groundwork for in the early 60’s. And there are lots of TV series dabbling in the spy game too and giving it much more heft than Bond. Shows like HOMELAND immediately spring to mind, and this year, the new series BLINDSPOT and QUANTICO are venturing into such territory too. 

And let’s face it, when SPECTRE starts paying homage to James Bond’s greatest bits from other movies, the blurring of lines and franchises has become all too cannibalizing. When Christoph Waltz’s bad guy in SPECTRE shows up with a nasty scar slice across his face it gets a few unintentional laughs from the audience because it’s all too reminiscent of the comical Dr. Evil character from the AUSTIN POWERS series that lampooned Blofeld. Perhaps it's time for Bond to move away from the modern mimics.

The Cold War has come back

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has become a big threat to the world and America seems to be inching towards another Cold War with his country with every new day. Wouldn’t Bond’s battles during the original Cold War in the 50’s and 60’s be perfect to revisit, not only because they're his origins but because they'd be relevant to today? And since every period piece is always a commentary on our modern world anyway, it would be perfect to go back to the future with Bond.

He'd be the gentleman spy once again

Compared to most of the other Bonds, Daniel Craig’s take was much more brutal, even thuggish. There’s not a lot of the gentleman spy informing his performance the way it did those of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. If the producers wanted to move away from Craig’s take on the role, and have the next Bond truly feel different, they could go back to the Cold War around the mid-20th century when a more gentlemanly Bond would have been in vogue. Tom Hiddleston is one actor who could do that version of the spy, don't you think?

It would simplify things

With every new film, and there have been 24 official Bond films in the franchise now, the demand for bigger stunts, more gadgets and pricier locations has come close to taking over the stories. Product placement doesn’t help either as it too is a major distraction. The original Bond stories didn’t have all the electronics and modern world accoutrement obviously, and that would probably be a good thing for the series which often feels bloated. Bond needs to be more of a spy anyway, and that means more espionage and less humongous set pieces. It's great to see him take down buildings and such with his theatrics but what if his work was more secretive? Isn't that what a spy is supposed to be? It was in those Cold War days.

If the franchise stays modern, Bond will likely thrive. And if the producers pick the right actor, then most of the worry is over. But frankly, for all the exquisite brilliance of CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL, the other two Craig movies didn’t live up to them. QUANTUM OF SOLACE is considered a low water mark in the franchise, and it’s too early to tell how SPECTRE will live in the pantheon, but with some like Fortune magazine calling it "the worst Bond in 30 years", it would seem that Bond is still very hit or miss aesthetically, even though it reaps in millions and millions at the box office. That alone suggests that narratively, Bond needs to be on firmer ground. The original Fleming books would be a marvelous way to keep the character planted firmly. And the myriad of existing stories not tapped would give the producers films for a least another decade.

Such a bold, but frankly obvious move, would be a no-brainer for Bond. The X-Men franchise's success in going back in time with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST should encourage the Bond franchise to follow suit. And the franchise should never just be about recasting anyway. Even with all the expectations we all have for the series, good stories are paramount, but that hasn't always been the case. 

And Bond needs really good enemies to make the stories have resonance too. We know he's going to survive so there has to be something significant at stake. Wouldn't the fate of the world during the atomic age in the mid-20th century be a perfect place to land? Audiences have seen Bond tussle with plenty of megalomaniacs over the past few decades. Going back to post-WWII, when the West didn’t know for sure who are friends were, even if they were our allies, would give the films a great jolt of energy and some real edge. In fact, such tropes would likely leave movie audiences much more shaken and very well stirred.