Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick Takes: "Dr. No", "Dark Shadows", "Journey 2", "Boardwalk Empire"

"Dr. No" (***)
Directed by Terence Young

James Bond is a rather stereotypical choice for Father's Day, but as somebody whose total Bond knowledge amounts to incomplete memories of "Goldfinger" and long past viewings of "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace", revisiting the beginnings of the property served more of a purpose. From the first moments, the trademarks of the Bond series, from the pre-credits prologue to the music video essence of it, all were stripped away. Though "stripped" may be an inadequate phrase, since they hadn't been in place yet. This was a film working on the assumption that this will be a simple cinematic series, when eventually it would grow to be anything but.

The plot is very simply, with Bond heading out to track down evil scientist Dr. No and stop him from destroying the world or something tantamount to that. We don't get so up close to Bond, the action, the chaos, or the emotions. Simple treasuries are all it seeks, and those simple treasuries prove absolutely fine for what they are. Ursula Andress only serves as visual treat for Honey Ryder, whose singing and speaking voices are offered to different actresses, though that's really all we need or ask for from her, and she fulfills that duty proudly. But let's not dally over the real attraction, which is Sean Connery in his prime. Illusions of where he would end up physically wash away the moment he's given time to speak. Bond is, quite simply, the coolest character on film, and Connery so perfectly embodies and acknowledges that.

"Dark Shadows" (*1/2)
Directed by Tim Burton

I think I'll put a coin into the "Tim Burton and Johnny Depp need to take a break" jar, because the collaboration is long dead, and still dragging its heels. It had already grown to lunacy with "Alice in Wonderland", but "Dark Shadows" simply has nowhere new to go. That's not to say that Burton doesn't add a slight sense of fun to things, but it is barely there. What remains around it is quirky and idiotic indulgences, surrounding characters so disgustingly off the wall to make one puke. Every second Chloe Moretz is on the screen drives the bullet further into my skull. Every move is a total mess, nothing at all believable, and proceedings just barely funny at all. You continue only as a point of curiosity.

"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (**)
Directed by Brad Peyton

"Journey 2" is a much different kind of horrible movie. I believe I'm justified in qualifying it alongside "Battle: Los Angeles" as terrible filmmaking that you can't help but have fun making fun of. The whole joy of this mashed together sequel is that you know what's going to happen just before it happens, and it's damn hilarious to see these characters say the predictable dialogue you've know they were going to say ten minutes ago. There is decisive split between the cast, with Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson, and Vanessa Hudgens placed to meet family appeal. In the mean time, Michael Caine and even more especially Luis Guzman are having the time of their lives with some ridiculous and stupid dialogue. This film has less artistic value than a rotting turd, but it's just regrettable fun while it lasts. Afterwards, you vow never to see it again.

"Boardwalk Empire" (***1/2)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

I've taken my sweet time avoiding this widely acclaimed HBO series, though I can't truly say why I've been so adamant. Within a single episode, "Boardwalk Empire" packs so many important character arcs in without slighting a single one of them. There are shows that struggle packing this much activity into a single season. "Game of Thrones" certainly comes to mind in that respect. What maintains a show like this is keeping an active level of shock and flux, as characters don't sit on themselves throughout the entire season. It's a show of good fortune that Martin Scorsese gets this series off the ground with flair and panache.

What works best is a surprisingly all-star cast which makes communication with the not as cinematically engaged viewer so much easier. Never again will I have to struggle to name off films that Kelly MacDonald, Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, or Michael Stuhlbarg are in. They're all here, with MacDonald really laying a fragile groundwork for further growth to come, Shannon snarling into his motivations, and Stuhlbarg simply dazzling as a bolt from the blue performer. Buscemi, obviously, is front and center, and it's fantastic to finally see him given a meaty and expansive role to sink his teeth into, and not being lobbed to second base. So rarely does a pilot capture me hook, line, and sinker. This is one such case.

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