From Russia with Love (1963) James Bond Sundays got thrown for a loop when a disc malfunction caused a six-day intermission, which led me to try to provide a comprehensible reminder recap of the film’s first half for my daughter. Have you ever tried to recap the first half of From Russia with Love? It can’t be done, not even if you’re the ghost of Ian Fleming. I trailed off around the part when I said “You remember him, he had the gypsy friends,” and then my daughter started laughing about the catfight scene, and we figured we were close enough. Great movie, one of the finest in the series (indeed, one of the finest action flicks ever made; the train sequence alone is the sort of perfection that justifies a lifetime of loving movies), but that plot is a doozy.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) A go-to film for when I’m in need of a quick pick-me-up on a lazy evening. Still brilliant.
Memorial Day (2012) Memorial Day is the sort of film I enjoy on two separate fronts. First, it’s a low budget wonder whose ambitions are, frankly, insane. Set a movie in both the Second World War and the Second Iraq War, all with limited funding? Whaddya, nuts? And yet they pull it off, the seams never showing. But indie impressiveness never matters as much as story, which brings me to: Second, it’s simply a well-told story with great emotional impact – not an easy task considering the war movie themes tempt shmaltz and the screenplay’s disjointed structure (which features flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, leaving multiple point-of-view changes) means the filmmakers have to tread carefully to keep the story from collapsing. The film avoids both hazards nicely, if not perfectly (the stray piece of cheesy dialogue still surfaces), leading to an overwhelming finale it genuinely earns. James Cromwell obviously steals the show with a quiet performance of a grandfather haunted by war, but the rest of the main cast hold their own and then some, delivering some of the film’s finest and most heartfelt moments.
The Unsuspected (1947) Michael Curtiz made seven thousand movies in the 1940s, so I can’t fault myself too much for never knowing about The Unsuspected until this week. (Hat tip to the wonderful Twitter feed Next on TCM for bringing it to my attention.) It’s a nutty hodgepodge of thriller ideas, with Claude Rains playing the writer/host of a mystery radio program with connections to real life murders, including one in his own home, while a woman thought killed in a shipwreck returns fully alive, but without any memory of her newlywed husband, and… well, it just gets more tangled from there. Curtiz creates a deliciously sinister mood, and the cast is game for some twisted fun, but the script can’t quite match that quality. It tries to do too many things at once and repeatedly loses focus. This leaves the film an enjoyable but overly bumpy ride.
Skyfall (2012) My fourth viewing was a comfortable affair, settling in with a story I now know almost by heart yet which still thrills and crackles with the energy of a first look. This time, I found myself focusing on the editing (Baird’s work is a master class, but not just in cutting the action; watch how he withholds the occasional shot, allowing for some visual surprises) and script (equally worthy of study by aspiring writers; it works in all that exposition – and there’s a mountain of it – without killing the pace and without giving the impression of dumbing down). And as always, little things popped, too: nuances in the performances, details in the visual and sound effects work, the lightness of the comic relief, Q’s Scrabble mug. And then there’s The Fighting Temeraire – is it a metaphor for Bond, as I originally assumed, or M, as I now believe*? These are the things that fill your head during the fourth pass of a film this rich in both style and substance.