I think it might be something to do with it being Year End, but I’m struggling to find much to say about the new Bond movie Skyfall. Of course, I’ll not have a word spoken against Daniel Craig (who seems to have shrunk) – plus Naomie Harris as the capable new Moneypenny is just delightful. It does open quite brilliantly – the high-octane scenes in Istanbul are some of the best adrenalin-pumped, Craig-era Bond yet….

But after that it all becomes a bit silly. There are no grand ideas, there’s no dastardly genius out to destroy the world, there aren’t even gadgets. Aside from Istanbul, even the locations look more like studio sets than real places. I felt I’d seen everything before – even Javier Bardem just looked like Anton Chigurh with dyed hair. (And let’s not get into the decision to play gay-as-camp.) Given the amount of time the film takes to set up the new characters that’ll populate the franchise in future, it felt a bit like the second part of a trilogy – interesting enough but no resolution. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it or anything. I was just a bit disappointed.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

So here’s what I understood from Fincher’s English-language re-telling of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: James Bond (great titles by the way) has retired from the secret service and is now living and working in Sweden where he’s surrounded by perfectly cast Europeans with great accents. He is hired by a wealthy industrialist to find out who murdered his niece over thirty years ago. Now James Bond isn’t a sleuth, he’s a spy for god’s sake, so he doesn’t do a very good job of it until he hires a computer hacker who everyone seems to be fond of, in spite of her lack of eyebrows. Together, quicksticks, they solve a completely different set of crimes, and we never, ever again, hear the thumpingly good music of the opening sequence.

So: Great cast, did I mention? Great sound track. Great story, obviously. Let down somewhat by spotty pacing. But the Swedish locations completely rock; unlike just about everything else in the film, the filming locations look better and are more lovingly painted than in the original. I want to go there, though Swedes’re patently all quite nuts.

Cowboys and Aliens

In Cowboys and Aliens, it’s 1873 and a skinny, craggy Daniel Craig awakes in the Arizona desert with no recollection of who he is nor how he got there, and with a strange, beeping, modern metal bangle strapped to his wrist. When he arrives at the nearest town, it’s attacked by aliens with vastly superior fire power, and Daniel joins a posse alongside a surly rancher (Harrison Ford) to track them down and rescue the girl.

That’s it in a nutshell. It’s not a deep plot, all things considered. The Western part of the mash-up is very well done though – everything from the horses to the dust to the costumes feels stylish and authentic. (It also filmed in Plaza Bianca just outside Santa Fe in New Mexico, where we hosted Cineposium a few years back). The aliens bit of the mash-up is less well done however, which is a bit disappointing really. The best thing about Cowboys and Aliens – apart from Daniel Craig in chaps, of course – is that the movie is played completely straight. Not a witty quip from a mouthy African-American side-kick in sight.

The Invasion

OK. So whose bright idea was it to cast Nicole Kidman as the lead of The Invasion?? I mean, for goodness sake, she plays a character who has to act wooden to remain undetected by aliens. Act wooden? Oh come on, now! Wooden is pretty much what we’ve grown to expect from Ms. Kidman these days, so surely no one (no one sane, at least) was expecting a breakthrough performance.

The Invasion is a strange remake of not one but two earlier films, including the scary – and much, much better – 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This version has echoes of earlier storylines; people are indeed changing, taken over by an aggressive alien intelligence. This time though, they change for the better. There’s no more war, no aggression – there’s not so much as a bitch-slap or a momentary lapse into rudeness – except of course if you don’t comply. And so Nicole and her ghastly kid set out to make sure that the human race remains smug, brutal, bloody and cantankerous. Ah well.

The movie shot in Baltimore, Maryland. At least it did at first. Unhappy with the results, parts of the film were re-written and extra scenes were shot in LA. Frankly, it shows. The film feels like it was mangled together absent-mindedly (the debate at the Czech embassy seems to have been cut and paste from an entirely different genred film altogether.) They even changed the title a few times. So it’s all a bit schizophrenic really, Nicole is the same as always, and I found I missed the pod people quite a lot, on the whole.

I should also add that someone should probably be criminally charged for the woeful under-use of Daniel Craig; his role could have been written out entirely and it would have changed nothing of any import (except perhaps the resultant loss of eye candy.)

Quantum of Solace

Strangely enough, I wasn’t really looking forward to Quantum of Solace, the 22nd Bond offering. In South Africa, movie critics roundly labelled the movie as dull, muttering that the artsy German director couldn’t “do” action, and they hinted darkly that the demise in standards marked the end of the Bond franchise globally. 

So to be honest, I was really pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s not an outstanding film, and some of the more talkative moments feel awkward and they’re poorly lit. But it’s still got a enough of the old Bond legacy (cars, girls, glamorous locations) to make it striking, whilst moving ahead with the newer, grittier, brawlier Bond of the Daniel Craig era.

Taking up the story immediately after the death of Vesper in the previous film, Bond starts hunting down the people responsible for her death. The journey takes him from Siena to Haiti (with Panama playing grubby stand-in), then to Austria and finally to the deserts of Bolivia, where the criminal mastermind – weedy, nasty Dominic Greene – is undertaking a cunning plan to monopolise scarce water supplies.

So it’s got Bond islands, and Bond car chases along mountain roads and it’s got Bond hotel rooms and Bond girls at champagne-swigging parties. The most striking location is perhaps Greene’s eco-hotel in the desert – which is actually the space-age workers’ quarters at the Paranal Observatory, high in the Atacama Desert, Chile. There’s more at The Times on how to travel like Bond, and Nubricks goes a step further with ideas on how to buy property in the various locations. No gadgets in this movie though.