Following their hugely successful collaboration on Skyfall, director Sam Mendes and actor Daniel Craig reunite for their second and possibly final mission with ‘Spectre’. Taking place shortly after the aforementioned predecessor, a merger between MI5 and MI6 and the introduction of a surveillance agreement could cause the 00 section of intelligence to be surplus to requirements, much to the dismay of M (Ralph Fiennes). Against orders, Bond goes on a rogue assignment given to him from beyond the grave to track down and kill a man called Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). In doing so, he discovers the global criminal organisation which gives the film its name led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and meets Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) along the way.
Most James Bond films begin in spectacular fashion with an action-packed pre-credits sequence, and this is no different. The opening scene unfolds at the Day of the Dead festival parade in Mexico City, featuring a superb long tracking shot which culminates in an intense helicopter fight. The bar is set high early on, and unfortunately what comes after fails to live up to expectations. The plot plays out a little like a wild-goose chase, with Bond travelling from location to location ticking off franchise clichés as he goes, outwitting his foes on the usual planes, trains and automobiles. The ‘bond girl’ storyline is as cheesy as they come, reverting back to tacky Roger Moore style dialogue, and where Skyfall included playful nods to series nostalgia, Spectre completely overindulges in it. This distracts from the overarching theme of the technological transformation of modern espionage, which had the potential to be very interesting.
Daniel Craig remains a powerful screen presence, and despite the material letting him down on this occasion, he is still my personal favourite 007. He’s as dark and brooding as ever, and carries the grief suffered by the character with aplomb. Waltz brings the same nuanced menace to the villainous role of Oberhauser as he did as the evil Colonel Landa in Tarantino’s WWII movie Inglourious Basterds. He is underused for the most part but effective and entertaining in the limited screen time he is given. Léa Seydoux has her moments as the strong-willed and feisty love interest, but her strength of character is undermined by flimsy writing which sees her opinion of Bond alter at the drop of a hat, which stereotypically results in the dropping of another item of clothing. WWE wrestler turned movie star Dave Bautista essentially plays a modern-day version of the classic Bond villain Jaws, turning up every so often for another showdown. His appearances never feel short of ridiculous and seem out of place in the Daniel Craig era, which up to now has largely avoided comic effect bad guys.
Spectre is by no-means a bad film, and succeeds in offering up solid entertainment with cool landscape cinematography, sharply edited chases and gadgets galore. It is back-to-basics Bond, replacing the gritty seriousness of the past few instalments with much lighter fare, and for franchise enthusiasts it is not to be missed. However, after the originality and invention of the Daniel Craig era to date, with the exception of Quantum of Solace, this is an average effort, and definitely a misfire.
Of all the films released in 2013, perhaps none were shunned in as much controversy and adulation in equal measures. French romantic drama ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ has received criticism for its explicit sexual content but despite this went on to pick up the illustrious Palme d’Or award at Cannes Film Festival. It is based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, which is evident in its interesting use of colour, and follows teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she embarks on a journey of personal discovery and meets art student Emma (Lèa Seydoux) before coming of age. It is ambitiously shot, and the resulting outcome shares the same attributes as its protagonist; outspoken, flawed but beautiful to watch.
The film opens in muted fashion, patiently tracking Adèle on her day-to-day routine but in an unusually unflattering manner. The lens studies her, close-up and explorative, as she sleeps open mouthed, runs clumsily for the schoolbus and attacks the bowls of spaghetti bolognese served up from her mother. This style is continuous throughout and as we find out more about the character, and as she finds out more of herself, we see more of her, the camera acting in parallel with her arc. Later when Emma paints Adèle, she describes her as her inspiration and her muse and it seems the same rules apply for the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, which raises one of the topics of controversy in the way he presents the girls on screen. The sex scenes which are introduced in the second third are overlong, the longest lasting around seven minutes, but they don’t add an awful lot to the narrative and in fact make for slightly uncomfortable viewing after a while, resembling a gruelling rally of women’s tennis as the girls exchange deep, intense stares and grunt back and forth. I found their conversations away from the bedroom a lot more worthy and key to the development of the story as their relationship blossomed. In one scene, they share a tender moment which is filmed masterfully with the sun beaming in the background, and this captures a turning point for Adèle perfectly.
The colour blue features heavily and significantly throughout, even used in the English title, though the original French title is La Vie D’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, translating as The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. I felt that the script struggled to translate, particularly the early school playground dialogue, coming across as incredibly basic. It improves vastly as the plot develops and offers some very funny one liners in the ‘meet the parents’ scenes which occur almost in turn. What never fails to translate is the use of the colour, and as Adèle’s inner battle with her sexuality builds we see a wash of blue coming across in nail art, plastic jewellery, clothing and most noticeably in Emma’s wacky hairdo. Art is consistently seen or talked about with several references made to the works of Pablo Picasso and it seems Adèle, or maybe Kechiche, goes through their own twisted interpretation of his famous ‘blue period’ replacing the depressive connotations with those of sexual awakening. The performances from both leads are as striking as the cinematography, especially from Exarchopoulos who conveys a range of emotions through subtle expressions, from wide-eyed naivety to confident assurance as she takes us through Adèle’s metamorphosis.
‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ has achieved what independent films aspire to in that for good reasons or bad it has been discussed heavily and in its publicity has been recognised accordingly, which it fully deserves to. It tackles its subject matter head on and refuses to hold back leading to its issues in pacing but although it runs for just over three hours it represents a period of around five years, providing a solid structure and a fitting resolution. It is brave filmmaking and very visually impressive, and though it occasionally verges on becoming unrealistically Skins-y in its quest for artiness, the characters ring true, aided by the powerful portrayals, offering an unflinching depiction of young passion and sexual discovery.