Skyfall is the perfect film to accompany the 50th Anniversary of the first big screen Bond movie Dr. No. The movie is a crossroads for 007; the spy is an old soul with unconventional archaic methods struggling to exist in a high-tech world with enemies who swap laser beams and nukes for Internet viruses and data infiltration. This conflict is the core of Skyfall — perfect for director Sam Mendes (American Beauty Revolutionary Road) — and the human drama gives every moment of the espionage thriller additional weight. Sure there are the grandiose set pieces we've come to expect from the series. But like the older films Mendes keeps most of the action contained the focus always on star Daniel Craig as he evades and confronts danger. He even pushes further allowing the evildoers into MI-6's home and through the magic of performance the audience into the mind of Bond.
After a botched mission sends him off the grid James Bond returns to his homebase in London to discover the MI-6 in disarray. The target of system attacks seemingly designed to screw with M (Judi Dench) MI-6 calls upon a noticeably shaken (not stirred) Bond to get back on his feet and track down the nefarious face behind the online terrorism. While politico Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) would prefer to use the magic of computers and drones to dig up the bad guy M knows even Bond at 50% is unlike any machine in the world. A few training sessions and a weapon upgrade from Q (Ben Whishaw) later Bond hits the road.
In pure Bond fashion Skyfall traverses some beautiful landscapes. From China's glowing waterside gambling epicenter Macau to the remains of a South Pacific isle to the foggy country side of Scotland. Departing from action movie aesthetics and embracing shadows atmosphere and imperfection Bond's journey feels even more tangible than the "realistic" approach of Casino Royale. The haunting locations reflect his deeply personal mission. It helps too that Bond is faced by one of his best villains yet: Javier Bardem as the charming psychopathic Raul Silva. Silva acts as another mirror for Bond albeit a version completely off the rails. Like a mix of Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight Silva is determined to burn his opponents in any fashion possible. Bardem plays it all with a sinister smirk — a twist on the maniacally-laughing Bond villains of yesteryear.
Skyfall's concentration is on the dramatic but continuously delivers in the action department. Mendes finds innovative new ways to stage classic Bond moments; a one-shot fist fight in the windows of skyscraper bubbles over with intensity while another in the Chinese casino tips its hat to the campier side of the franchise. And the movie goes big with an opening sequence on par with any of Bond's past outings and a foot chase through London's Tube that tests Craig's limits as a physical performer. He never misses a beat.
Impressively Skyfall is a movie pulled from this moment in history while encompassing everything that made James Bond a long-lasting character. It's one of the best Bond entries of all time a heart-pounding action flick from start to finish (with a rousing conclusion evoking everything from Terence Young to Sam Peckinpah) and one of the best movies of the year.
It's rare that a sequel trumps the original but The Expendables 2 manages to do just that with a steady stream of one-liners and welcome weathered faces as well as a few new ingredients. E2 seems even more self-aware of its own silliness especially with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain (named Vilain of course) and Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger popping up in smaller roles alongside previous Expendables Sylvester Stallone Jason Statham Jet Li Dolph Lundgren Bruce Willis Terry Crews and Randy Couture.
Then again The Expendables wasn't any sort of action classic; it was like writer/director/star Stallone threw a whole bunch of ideas at the wall to see which would stick then added massive amounts of weapons and the occasional hand-to-hand combat. It was popular but it definitely not the kind of awesome actioner that the stars were able to make 10 or 20 years ago. There's the rub actually; like women actors who have written or directed their own projects because nothing else was available or satisfactory Stallone created The Expendables because Hollywood didn't seem to know what to do with him and his fellow action stars as they got older. It's easy to criticize Stallone et al for not doing the same amount of stunt work or hand-to-hand fighting that for example Statham is capable of but the whole thrust of the movie is that they're expendable -- to themselves to the world and until Stallone kickstarted these movies to Hollywood.
E2 is still clumsy but it's a little more adventurous and a little more introspective. Two new additions to the crew seem to throw everyone for a loop in one way or another. Liam Hemsworth shows up as Bill the Kid a sniper who left the military after a raid in Afghanistan went horribly wrong; his age and hopefulness not to mention physical prowess is a foil the Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross and one that Barney is well aware of. Nan Yu joins the team as Maggie who is apparently the only person who can disarm the safe that holds whatever secret thing Church (Willis) has sent them to retrieve. And if the Expendables don't get her back alive Church will make them pay because even though Maggie is some sort of multilingual computer genius with a vicious roundhouse she's a lady. On one hand perhaps we're supposed to gather that this group of old dogs is learning new tricks by having to deal with a smart capable woman in their midst; the attempts Gunner (Lundgren) makes to flirt with her are clunky and goofy and she's obviously way too smart for fall for that claptrap. On the other when she whips out some instruments of torture Barney cracks "What are you going to do give them a pedicure?" And of course her role also devolves into an incredibly stilted and unbelievable romantic interest for Barney. One point for trying but two points deducted for falling into the romantic interest trap.
At times it's hard to tell whether or not we're laughing with the crew or at them. Plus because of how jam-packed the cast is some actors get the short end of the stick. Statham is the most charismatic of the bunch and he also has the most impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes but the emphasis in E2 is sheer firepower so he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Couture is fairly forgettable while Lundgren plays the lunkiest of lunkheads; the running joke is that he has a chemical engineering degree from MIT and was a Fulbright Scholar which is supposed to be funny... except it's also true. (We're to assume he's mended his evil ways between the first Expendables and the second.) Is Lundgren agreeably poking fun at himself the same way Schwarzenegger hams it up at every turn? Or does E2 have shades of JCVD which stars Van Damme was a washed-up action star? Are the emotional moments supposed to fall so hilariously flat on purpose? For some reason it seems important to tease out which parts of these movies are earnest and which are tongue-in-cheek.
There's a weird melancholy about watching this group of aging action stars that has the same tang as watching someone you love grow older especially as they try so very hard to fight the ravages of time. If you dig a little deeper maybe deeper than E2 warrants you could find a well of sadness below the back-slapping antics. The world has changed and even though Stallone and his crew have muscles so hard and juicy they could pop out of their skin like grapes they can't compete with Bill the Kid and Maggie and others like them. They know it and we know it and while it's good fun to see old friends or onscreen enemies kill scores of bad guys (led by JCVD sporting a truly horrible fake Baphomet-style neck tattoo) there are better smarter more exciting and more interesting action films on the horizon.
And there's also The Expendables 3.
For a series slated for another season of confusing plots that will allow all of the New Directions’ graduates to arbitrarily pop back into our lives, Glee sure did make its third season finale feel like a series finale. It was practically a character solution sandwich made with sweet slices of Season 1 bread.
We open with Will walking into the choir room where the original New Directions members (Rachel, Kurt, Merdedes, Tina, and Artie) are resurrecting their first ever “ghetto” performance: “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat.” And while this recapper resisted the urge to shout “Sit down, you’re freaking out, Will Schuester” all of the Schue’s Season 3 sadness finally made a little more sense. These graduating seniors were the kids who resurrected the show choir, and that’s why they mean so much to him. Okay, I get it. I’ll stop going on infantile-themed tirades. However, I will hang on to the notion that moving your wedding to better fit the glee club’s schedule instead of your future wife’s was a moment of temporary insanity. Schue seals up his goodbye for the season with a sappy song that seems to be making even his costars a little uncomfortable. Let’s hope departing seniors does not spell more heartfelt droopy solos from Will.
Kurt’s farewell comes courtesy of his two rocks, Blaine and Burt. Burt’s goodbye is significantly less moving than anything the character has done on three seasons of the series, but it still slightly worked because Mike O’Malley has magical properties that make him feel like he’s our television dad. After Burt bops around in a cutesy attempt at recreating the first time he caught Kurt dancing to “Single Ladies” with Tina and Brittany, Kurt has to make his peace with leaving Blaine behind because clearly, as soon as you graduate high school, the principal drags you out by your hair, kicks you in the keister and says, “Y’all don’t come back now, ya hear?” Is summer not a thing in Ohio? If so, please remind me to never move to the land of eternal fall and show choirs. Anyway, Blaine and Kurt decide they’ll figure it out and Kurt says something about becoming the couple from The Notebook, minus that pesky dementia problem. And again, I ask: Is this a season finale or a series finale? Why all the riding-off-into-the-sunset speeches?
Of course, the series also has to get the rest of the glee club’s fates out of the way and Santana is our guide, walking us through the hall of everyone's accomplishments: Mercedes is a back-up singer studying at a UCLA extension, Mike got a scholarship to a Chicago dance school, and Brittany is failing and she’s going to be a Super Senior. (Which is treated pretty mildly considering that the girl just flunked her senior year of high school. Hilarious.) Santana is disappointed that everyone is off to some big city while she’s headed to be a cheerleader in Kentucky. Her mom, the also magical Gloria Estefan is the fairy godmother counterpart to Santana’s homophobic grandmother. EsteMom says she always knew Santana was a lesbian and she eventually parlays that into her blessing for Santana to skip out on college and move to New York to seek fame. So, there’s one Season 4 connection down. It’s a good thing Santana and Rachel became friends so they can completely unravel that and fight with only each other and not the other millions of desperate wannabe actresses in New York next season.
Quinn sews up Puck’s story and makes us all a little confused about her own when she very clearly sits on Joe’s lap during a choir room performance and then winds up kissing Puck during a last minute study session for his make-up geography test. Joe is left staring into space in the choir room while Quinn’s magic kiss helps Puck pass his test and Rachel’s starry-eyed hormone-infused words (“You and Puck are meant to be”) resonate through Quinn’s pretty little head. Is this a cliffhanger? It doesn’t feel like one. It just seems like the final word on Quinn is that she still hasn’t learned how to stop kissing all of the boys.
Next: We play the "Who's Not a Graduating Senior?"game.And in a fairly succinct clever little motion, the seniors sing “You Get What You Give” and by process of “These people are standing and those people are sitting” we learn that Blaine, Sam, Joe, Tina, Artie, Brittany, Sugar, and Rory are sticking around for the rebuilding phase of the now first-place New Directions. No one seems to notice the elephant in the room: Sam clearly looks like some 21 Jump Street twentysomething who’s gone undercover at a high school. He’s a junior? Right.
But what about Finn? ...is the question that doesn’t seem to have as much weight as it should. In a brief cameo, James Lipton officiates Finn’s acting audition for the Actor’s Studio in New York and when we weren’t shown the precious footage of Finn royally botching Antony’s mutiny monologue from Julius Caesar, we knew he wasn’t getting in. His disjointed “solution time” continues when he asks Will to write “some son-I-never had or little-brother something” in his yearbook and instead, Will confesses that he planted pot on Finn in order to blackmail him into joining the glee club. And that’s when it becomes official: Finn is the human version of an elderly golden retriever. He’s just happy Schue is talking to him and they have a play fight because that’s what high school graduates do, of course. Like the perfect trusty pup, Finn leaves, telling Schue “You’re so much cooler than I ever thought.” Stockholm Syndrome says what?
After graduation and the disappointment of finding out that both Kurt and Finn were rejected and only Rachel got into NYADA, it’s time for this dreaded wedding. (The one we hoped would just disappear by graduation like a pesky pimple that totally ruined my grad party pictures.) Luckily, Finn kidnaps Rachel and takes her to the train station, where he promptly breaks up with her, says he’s joining the army and shoves her on a train to New York. Sure, he says something sweet about how she deserves to be a star and he loves her enough to let her go do that, but let’s be honest: This was a good old fashioned heist. And now, Rachel is on a train halfway to the Big Apple, see. The episode ends with the entire glee club and Wemma waving at the train as Rachel sing-cries all the way to New York, where she arrives, dressed like some Doris Day reincarnate as she roams the streets of the big city with no particular direction.
We get it. Three years of hard work have led little Rachel Berry to Broad-way (pronounced with the same affected accent as cam-er-ah), but did we have to jump back in time to 1962? Glee has spent so much time practically screaming at us “We’re modern, we are, we are!” that reverting back to this old-timey conclusion is cute and perhaps somewhat optimistic and glossy for a series finale, but totally out of sync with a series that promises to keep churning out seasons for the next couple of years.
The final scenes also present a perplexing promise for next year: Either Glee is acknowledging that the series is in fact The Rachel Berry Show and they may as well stop fighting it, or it’s the series’ sunset moment for Rachel and next year will focus more heavily on the remaining New Directions. All of the chatter coming from the actors and Ryan Murphy seems to indicate that Lea Michele and Chris Colfer’s star power shall not be wasted come Season 4, and if we’re being frank, the other glee club members never broke out like Santana and Brittany because they don’t have the star quality of their seniors. I had hoped the season finale would wipe the Glee slate clean so the series could start anew upon its return, and in a way, that’s true. But the cleaners simply came through with a dusty old broom and scattered the pieces of the series to the edges of the room and under the rug. It’s still a bit of a mess. It’s almost impossible to fathom how the continued journey of the McKinley set will manage to squeeze its way into our television sets come fall. But no matter how it all shakes out, the show we’ve been watching for three years (however reluctantly post-Super-Bowl episode) is over. Say goodbye.
But as always, before we say goodbye, we’ve got to get out our wiggles in the form of questions and stray observations:
--Brittany refers to Joe as “she.”
--Schuester sings a sappy song and as much as I hate his rapping, I agree with Quinn’s quip: I really wish he was rapping instead too.
--Burt doesn't know who Elaine Stritch is. (She’s a Broadway legend, Papa Hummel.)
--Kurt and Blaine both sawThe Notebook, which means they can handle long distance relationships.
--Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” is actually a terrible graduation song. It’s about people whose best days were in high school: “Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture/ A little of the glory of, well times slips away/ And leaves you with nothing, mister, but/ Boring stories of glory days.” What is it about Springsteen songs that seem to perplex people so?
--Rachel goes to New York dressed like a crackerjack flight attendant and no one is scrambling to capture it with their smartphone cameras.
--Nene Leakes wants to take down Figgins, for some unfounded reason, but no one really cares because we’re too busy trying to figure out how we got from minute one to the end of the episode.
--Graduation is a New Directions concert with some faceless losers in the background. When did they suddenly become the stars of the school? Nationals does not a cool kid make.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
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