Tag Archives: cia

RED (2010)

Red_Movie_Image _Bruce_Willis_Morgan_Freeman

 

What do you call a movie starring for elder actors who are not (aside from Bruce Willis) typically known for starring in action films? Lots of fun, that’s what!

RED introduces us to Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent who is actually quite lonely. He fixes this by ripping up his pension checks so that he has an excuse to call the pension office and talk to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who works in customer service. The two have never met, but a relationship forms between them, leading to Frank deciding to visit her city to meet her in person. However, circumstances change when a hit squad arrives at his house to kill him; he kills them all, finds Sarah, essentially kidnaps her, and goes on the run, along the way asking for help from old friends: Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and Victoria Winters (Helen Mirren). Current CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) is assigned the task of tracking Frank down, but he soon discovers that Frank may be old, but he still packs a punch – he’s Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED).

The best part about this film is seeing the older actors stepping into the types of roles usually reserved for younger actors. When we’re first introduced to Joe (Freeman), he’s sitting in a retirement home, but it’s not too long before he shoots someone in the face. Likewise with Victoria (Mirren), who, when we first meet her, is wearing a plain white dress, looking every bit the part of the elder grandmotherly figure, but we soon learn that she is quite adept with automatic weapons. Both of these actors do well stepping into these atypical roles, with the twist on their typical character choices bringing much humor to the film. Malkovich plays the probably-more-than-slightly insane Marvin with a palpable eccentricity that you can see in the craziness of his eyes. Willis, who is the one actor actually known for his action roles, brings a level of touching emotion to the table that he would later bring to Looper (my review), emotion that seems genuine and surprisingly not out of place among the countless flying bullets…he pulls it off well. Older actors aside, it was nice to see Karl Urban outside of Star Trek; he plays his role with an admirable resolve, adequately expressing his character’s desire to get the job done and alongside the deep love he feels for his family. I also liked Mary-Louise Parker, an actress who I’m not familiar with, as she brought plenty of laughs to the film despite the fact that her character was mostly the damsel in distress.

One thing that I noticed while watching is that the action is actually pretty minimal when you compare it to other films in the same genre, but all of the choreography here is very deliberate and purposed, making it easy to follow without dumbing it down too much. In fact, the minimal action fit in well with the idea that the characters were a bit too old for too much physical strain, making the reliance on strategy and gunfire the obvious alternative. However, the scene transitions when moving great distances were a bit weird, though the obvious intention was to emulate moving panels of a comic book, since this film is based on one. Thankfully, there was not too much done to make the look of the film feel too much like a comic book, even if the camera was occasionally a bit too dynamic for my tastes. Honestly, I liked most of the camera work in this film, with there being no apparent reliance on shaky-cam to “develop” action scenes or anything like that.

While watching the movie, I felt quite a bit like Mary-Louise Parker’s character: reluctant to be dragged in, but eventually awed by how much I liked it. This film plays off like a better version of Stallone’s The Expendables, another action film starring older actors, but the appeal of RED over Stallone’s film is that we are watching older actors step out of their box into something new and fresh, bringing a new spin on things and creating plenty of humorous situations. This wasn’t a film I expected to like, but I did, and, regarding the sequel, I can only echo Mary-Louise Parker’s character’s final line: “Can we go?!”

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language

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Dr. No (1962)

James Bond is a staple of British cinema, a fact that I acknowledge despite my lack of familiarity with the character. Aside from the recent reboot of the franchise starring Daniel Craig, I had only seen one Bond film, Connery’s You Only Live Twice, which I don’t remember much of at all. With the success of Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, I thought it appropriate to return to the character’s roots with the very first Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. Though this film just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past year, Sean Connery’s portrayal of the classic spy is just as entertaining as Daniel Craig’s…possibly even better, depending on your tastes.

Dr. No follows 007 as he investigates the disappearance of John Strangways, the Secret Intelligence Service Chief in Jamaica. He soon bumps into Felix Leiter of the Central Intelligence Agency, who had been working with Strangways on finding the source of some mysterious radio jams that  have been disturbing rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Bond’s sleuthing eventually leads him to Crab Key, a local island owned by a mysterious man known only as Dr. No, a man who may end up being more than Bond bargained for.

Unlike the modern films featuring the character, this one presents Bond as more of a man of words than of action; he relies on his intellect to gather information and survive, making him a sort of present-day Sherlock Holmes. He shows his intelligence in many ways: he powders the lock of his briefcase and places a hair over the crack of a door in order to know whether they have been tampered with,; he sets a trap by fooling an attacker with pillows placed under bed sheets; and he counts the bullets of the men he fights with so that he has the tactical advantage (this latter example made me quite happy, as many times the bullet count is ignored). That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t throw a few punches, shoot a few people, or participate in one or two car chases…he certainly does all of these things, but the only action present in the film is that which is necessary to further the story, rather than the films of today that use action scenes to show off a large budget or to add a few extra minutes to the total run time.

Connery’s Bond is also more suave than Craig’s. His initial introduction as the character with the now-classic “Bond, James Bond” appears to be more of a witty response to the woman who just introduced herself as “Trench, Sylvia Trench.” Dr. No is filled with quick quips and clever responses like this, including a joke to a woman he’s about to sleep with (who actually works for Dr. No) about how she “believe[s] in living dangerously…sitting around with wet hair, [she]’ll die of pneumonia” – which is funny because he had just overheard a phone call in which she promised to keep Bond from leaving her house, though she doesn’t know that. His humor certainly helps him with the ladies…of whom there are three in this film. He certainly gets around, doesn’t he?

Connery isn’t the only actor to brag about…Ursula Andress plays the very first “Bond girl,” Honey Ryder, with an air of innocence; instead of throwing herself at Bond as a love interest straightaway, she plays the character as someone who is wary of his charms before eventually falling in love with him after they’ve been through near-death experiences together. Andress’ performance is even more impressive when you consider that she is essentially a puppet; her voice was dubbed over by Nikki van der Zyl, which I only knew by reading – a true testament to the talents of Andress, Zyl, and to the sound crew for lining everything up so well. Of course, the title character, Dr. Julius No, played by Joseph Wiseman, is appropriately sinister in first his disembodied voice (we hear him before we see him) and later in his straight-faced, no-nonsense performance.

As much as I may rave about this film, I certainly had my qualms with it, most of which can be taken for a grain of salt. For starters, what happened to the “Three Blind Mice” murderers who kill two people in the beginning of the film and later try to kill Bond himself? They’re completely forgotten in the hunt for Dr. No. Also, while the idea of having a rumor of the existence of a “dragon” as a scare-away tactic for Crab Key makes sense, the way this rumor is presented is done poorly. Quarrel, a man helping Bond with his mission, identifies “dragon tracks” that are obviously tire tracks, and the “dragon” itself (a fire-spurting tank) looks nothing like something that could even be mistaken for a dragon. My last major complaint is over the ending…Bond is beat up and locked away, but within five minutes he has climbed through a vent, dressed as a worker, overloaded the nuclear reactor, and defeated Dr. No. It’s just a bit too easy for my tastes, and it certainly feels rushed.

Despite those small complaints, my first real experience with Connery’s James Bond is a pretty fantastic one. Sure, his abilities/luck might be a little over-the-top, but I think that M justifies this with a quote early on in the film: “If you carry a double-0 number, it means you’re licensed to kill, not get killed”…a theme that continues to stick with the character of Bond even today. This film introduces characters and concepts that remain prevalent in today’s installments to the franchise, such as Felix Leiter, Miss Moneypenny, M, the Aston Martin sports car, the Walther PPK gun, and SPECTRE as an organization. The musical score and main theme by Monty Norman are well-composed and appropriate to the scope of the story and character, and the classic feel of the film remains timeless. For a more intellectual, polished James Bond than Daniel Craig’s, you need look no further than Sean Connery’s wonderful performance here in Dr. No.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)