Tuesday, December 23, 2008

HitFix Is Live!


I meant to have this post up yesterday but... exhaustion prevented it. Or something to that effect.

I posted a couple weeks ago with the basics about HitFix and have been mentioning it ever since. If you don't remember the background, read this handy Variety story...

In any case, HitFix is now live! You can check it out at HitFix.com. As it says in the upper left corner, we're live, but we're still in beta, so we know about various bugs and we're working to fix everything as fast as possible.

But what's there, we're mighty proud of. I'm especially happy with the logo for my HitFix blog, which I think is mighty snazzy. So go check out the site and lemme know what you think.

A couple recent posts to get you started:

My review of "Gran Torino"
My review of "Frost/Nixon"
And some thoughts on current state of The CW

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Friday, December 19, 2008

SAG nominations don't go out on a 'Wire'


SAG TV 2009 nomination analysis

[For those of you looking, the launch of HitFix has obviously been very slightly delayed. I'm not going to make a promise to you about a specific date, but we're gonna have the site up as soon as we're ready to be proud of it. We very nearly are. VERY. Does "early next week" count as a promise? HitFix is coming. It looks and works better every day.

This blog post will obviously be at HitFix.com when the site goes live....]

Thursday morning's SAG Awards nominations marked the end of an era. It's an epoch I've dubbed The Era of Mainstream Award Shows Ignoring Possibly the Best Series in TV History. By my calculations, the 2009 SAG Awards are the last kudosfest able to ignore "The Wire." The Emmys had their last chance to ignore "The Wire" in September and mostly succeeded admirably. The Golden Globes had their last chance to ignore "The Wire" last week and succeeded admirably.

Continued, as we say, after the bump...

Click through...

That's why I have to take this last chance to roll my eyes at SAG and ponder what it means that the Actors think that "House" is a better dramatic ensemble than "The Wire." You'd think actors would be able to tell the difference between a true ensemble and a remarkable (and SAG-nominated) star turn buttressed by a couple decent supporting performances. "House" is "The Hugh Laurie Show: Also Featuring Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps and Robert Sean Leonard." It isn't an ensemble.

But who am I kidding? The SAG membership had never honored "The Wire" before and, like the Golden Globes, they weren't about to start now.

So maybe Thursday actually marks the end of another era: The Era of TV Critics Whining About the Lack of Award Nominations For 'The Wire.'

I'm sure you're all relieved.

In general, the SAG TV nods are about as boring and middle-of-the-road as you'd expect.

On the drama side, the nominations are nearly identical to last year's. "The Sopranos" dropped off the rolls because the series ended and "Damages" didn't air a new episode in 2007, so it wasn't eligible. The only series or actor to lose a nomination while still being eligible was "Grey's Anatomy."

Given that little bit of extra wiggle room, the SAG voters replaced James Gandolfini with William Shatner, a former nominee in the comedy category. And with the space left by Edie Falco and Glenn Close, SAG nominated former nominee Mariska Hargitay and Elisabeth Moss, from "Mad Men."

The entrenchment in the SAG comedy is, in general, both laughable and a reflection, I guess, on the state of TV comedy. Four of the five actor and actress nominees are repeats of last year's nominees, while Piven, Carell, Shalhoub and Baldwin have been nominated three straight years. And on the series side, "Desperate Housewives," "The Office," "Weeds," "30 Rock" and "Entourage" have all been nominated at least twice in the last three years.

The only nominated actor never to have received an individual SAG nomination previously was the well-deserving Moss. Moss, David Duchovny and Tracey Ullman were the only actors without prior SAG nods for their current roles, though both Duchovny and Ullman had multiple past nods.

That's nothing if not monotonous.

It's not like there weren't alternatives. The Emmys and Golden Globes both found multiple places for HBO's "In Treatment." Bryan Cranston was a worthy Emmy winner for "Breaking Bad," SAG voters only had time for one AMC show (admittedly the one I prefer). Neil Patrick Harris has now received Emmy and Globe nominations for "How I Met Your Mother" and, as comedy supporting players go, he's far more deserving than Jeremy "The Thermometer" Piven. No awards group has yet to discover Jim Parsons of "Big Bang Theory," but he'll eventually get his due as one of TV's funniest men.

Once SAG left "Pushing Daisies" out last year, I guess it didn't have much hope this year, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't have been fresher than what they picked. If the Emmys could think outside of the box and honor Amy Poehler for "Saturday Night Live," why are is SAG so rigid? "Lost" has been off of SAG's radar for a couple years now, but it remains a truer ensemble than "House" and the failure to recognize that show's fourth season bounce-back is a pity.

Heck, as awful as I think HBO's "True Blood" is, nominating Anna Paquin would have given some new blood to the SAG Awards.

This is why, when the SAG Awards air on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 25, I'll be watching the movie categories with interest and using the TV categories for bathroom and burrito breaks.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fien Print Neologism: Ducking the Shoe



[This post, like the past few, will be following me over to my new online home at HitFix.com... Keep an eye out, kids, because HitFix is launching on Friday. Or at least we're hoping it will be! To whet your appetite, go check out Drew McWeeny talking HitFix on G4's "Attack of the Show." ]

Because the English language is a living breathing creature, it's necessary to come up with new words and parts of speech...

New Phrase: Ducking the Shoe (or Duck the Shoe)

Part of Speech: Either a verb or a gerundive of some sort

Definition: Escaping even the most minor of punishments for extended errors or catastrophic misdeeds.

Used in a Sentence: Despite dwindling ratings at NBC, Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman have been ducking the shoe for years.

Origin and Linguistic Evolution: Last week, a certain president of a Western Superpower with rather dramatically low approval ratings in his native land had a shoe whipped at him by a reporter from a country he supposedly liberated. Said lame duck president successfully evaded said shoe, just as he also evaded an electoral challenge four years earlier, an ill-ingested preztel and any sort of censure from the legal bodies in his home nation. This blog isn't a place to get political, so I won't. Y'all know about the shoe.

In any case, as jokes about the incident were spreading the Internet like pregnancies in an Eastern Massachusetts high school, Alan Sepinwall and I determined that "Ducking the Shoe" needed to become a catch phrase. The venerable "Jumping the Shark" became so meaninglessly mainstreamed that nobody using it knows what they're referring to anymore, while its media-annointed replacement, "Nuking the Fridge," fell flat when people realized that using the expression would force us all to remember sitting through "Indiana Jones and the Quest for Profit."

Hence... "Ducking the Shoe," the perfect phrase for a moment in history where avoiding accountability isn't just a way of life, it's an art form which, if handled properly, can cause the government to provide you with billions of dollars in compensation for your ineptitude. Ducking the Shoe isn't an insult, so much as a reflection on the renewable resilience of the American Spirit. At our finest, we're a nation of shoe duckers. What, you'd rather be hit by the shoe? Go back to CANADA.

I spent several days running "Ducking the Shoe" into the ground on Twitter, attempting to work the phrase into the vernacular.

Examples:

The "Heroes" fall finale stunk, but don't expect any heads to role, as it was written by the already scapegoated Jeph Loeb. Tim Kring, meanwhile, continues to duck the shoe.

Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus was unable to duck the shoe and was fired for his team's slow start. Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson, though, is ducking the shoe due to the mistaken impression that when Montae Ellis returns from injury, the team will cease to stink.

For an example of the myriad possible uses of the phrase, check out Medialoper's 2008 Ducking the Shoe Awards.

Medialoper's very thorough list inspired me to codify Ducking the Shoe in blog-post form. Take the phrase. Work it around in your mouth a little bit and hear how it sounds. Lace it up and walk around the store for a while to see if it fits. Sprinkle it on your food to taste -- It's fat-free!

It's not too late for 2008 to go down at The Year of Ducking the Shoe.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TV Review: NBC's "Momma's Boys"


[Targeted launch date for HitFix.com is now Friday, Dec. 19. Mark your calendars. Tell your friends. Etc. This review is being posted in The Fien Print blog at HitFix, but since it won't be live until Friday, might as well give it a place to live until then...]

NBC's reality show "Momma's Boys" is being dumped into a mid-December wasteland of repeats and holiday specials. Clearly the network is hoping the tiresomely generic series will score big with viewers who can't distinguish between "previous unaired" and "actually original."

The rest of the review after the bump...

Click through...

Produced by Ryan Seacrest, but bearing much more of the mark of fellow producer Andrew Glassman ("Average Joe"), "Momma's Boys" is a dating show with only the tiniest of twists. Three perfectly amiable himbos -- real estate broker Rob, firefighter Michael and college hockey player JoJo -- are cloistered in a luxury abode on the Santa Barbara coast, where they have to vie for the affections of 32 single women, whose occupations range from doctor to Penthouse Pet (Pet of the Year, no less!). I guess the sheer volume of the hormones could probably be construed as a variation on the theme, though that does less to amp up the tension than to confirm any ongoing suspicions that the women who apply for reality dating shows all look mighty similar.

No, the twist is that the three men are all self-described "Momma's Boys." So Michael may have abs of steel, but he still lives with his mother Lorraine, who also still makes his bed. And Rob's mom Esther describes herself as a stereotypical Jewish mother, an assessment she repeatedly reaffirms with every iteration of the Native Tongue she picked up from a book titled "How to Emasculate Your Son with Yiddish." Lorraine and Esther are clingy and there's something plenty Oedipal about the way they kiss and caress their boys, but they're absolute angels compared to JoJo's mother.

Every good reality show needs a villain and Khalood Bojanowski may be the only reason to tune in to "Momma's Boys." Immediately, without any sign of shame of self-consciousness, she declares that her JoJo can't be with a Jewish girl, a black girl, a child of divorced parents or a tall girl. Without prompting, she notes that she isn't prejudiced, because she has black friends. Khalood also makes the point that she doesn't want any woman going after JoJo for his money, which got an audible guffaw out of me, since JoJo is the show's only bachelor without a career. She's straight out of Central Casting.

Here's the thing: There are plenty of mothers out there whose feelings about embracing difference are identical to those espoused by Khalood, but they know better than to tell it to the camera. They'd be insidious and underhanded and wicked. In short, they'd be subtle. The "Momma's Boys" casting directors, though, went the opposite way. JoJo's mother is such a caricature that she can be easily dismissed, though her absence of guile is nearly refreshing. She and her version of segregation are so virulent that even the perky blonde girls in the house are repulsed when they watch Khalood's hate-spewing sizzle reel.

Because of the way "Momma's Boys" is edited, the premiere episode offers almost no insight into the eponymous boys, nor into the impact their mothers are going to have on this social experiment. Michael, Rob and JoJo are blandly unapologetic about their co-dependent core relationships and outside interests are minimal. All three seem young, callow and generally unworthy of the cream of the dating crop.

An opening voiceover explains that some of the women were selected as dreams-come-true for the mothers, while others were picked as nightmares. But I have a hard time imagining Michael, Rob or JoJo successfully winning the hearts of the more worthy candidates, like assertive Vita, a critical care nurse in the military, or grad student Callie, much less Megan, who looks like Kirsten Dunst, cares for animals and is oddly eager to pick up after the boozing girls. They're more instantly attracted to women like Cara, a singer with the voice of a manatee, whose greatest aspiration is a closet for her lingerie. And while the girls look down their nose at the former Playboy model (back in the Stone Age of 1999) and the Pet hides in shame, you get the sense that the men won't be nearly so offended.

"Momma's Boys" couldn't possibly be entertaining or believable as a vehicle for finding romance, but it may deliver perverse pleasures as we watch the various minority women -- and the cast is admirably diverse -- try to win JoJo's heart just to spite his mother. Ultimately, we suspect that Khalood is going to learn an important lesson about embracing difference, though a nervous breakdown would make for better TV.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

2009 Golden Globe Nominations: 10 Thoughts on the TV Nods


[Note: With HitFix still revving up for launch, I don't have an immediately place for this sort of rambling analysis. This post will migrate over to my HitFix blog as soon as it becomes active and available.]

My Ten Thoughts about the 2009 Golden Globe nominations in TV after the bump.

Click through...

  • I just didn't have the time to commit to "In Treatment." Sorry, HBO, but you didn't send me screeners. The Globe voters had no such problems.

  • There's a tendency to over-sentimentalize the last seasons of shows at award season, to given exiting series a couple token nominations and wins. In that regard, you almost have to respect the HFP for their ongoing ignoring of "The Wire." This was its last chance at Globes recognition and, once again, TV's best drama was whitewashed. Also snubbed for its final episodes was "The Shield." I'd have thought Michael Chiklis a three-time nominee and former winner, might have snuck back in, but nope.

  • The Globes don't get sentimental. Just because they loved you when you were young and your breasts were perky doesn't mean they'll still recognize you in the street two or three years later. Remember back when "24" and "Lost" and "Heroes" and "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives" were Golden Globe favorites? Seems so long ago. The latest show to wane in the eyes of the HFP is "Pushing Daisies," which had a trio of nods last year and none now.

  • At least the love for "Mad Men" didn't fade. In addition to having the chance to repeat for drama series and star Jon Hamm, "Mad Men" added a well-deserved nomination for January Jones. Yes, I'd have liked to see Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss pop up in the supporting category, too.

  • Once upon a time, being picked as the lead actress in a J.J. Abrams series was a guaranteed invite to Golden Globes night. Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner both won Globes for the first seasons of "Felicity" and "Alias," while Evangeline Lilly was nominated for the initial season of "Lost." The streak is broken with Anna Torv, not that anybody was really surprised to see her missing for "Fringe."

  • Tom Wilkinson's role in "Recount" was unquestionably a supporting role. I know he got the same lead nomination at the Emmys, but that doesn't make it right. On the other hand, I don't get the confusion over Kevin Connelly's lead actor in a comedy nod. Are we confused at the nomination entirely? Yeah, I'm right there with you. It isn't that Connelly's bad, but he hasn't exactly been especially good this season, nor has E been especially central to the "Entourage" storylines. But if the confusion is about his being the lead, the guy's been top-billed on the show since it began.

  • I'm going to ignore the series nomination for "True Blood." The Globes do silly things and if they can't distinguish between "so bad it's funny" and "good," that's their predictable prerogative. Oh and if I'm putting money on any single potential winner come January, it's Anna Paquin for lead actress in a drama. She's an iron-clad lock. That's just how the Globes go.

  • Still more proof of how poorly the networks developed last season post strike. Am I missing something or was there not a single nomination for any new network show in any category? That's telling. There weren't really that many options, I guess, though a nod for Simon Baker for "The Mentalist" wouldn't have been even slightly surprising.

  • I've had a while to digest it, but the nod for Kiefer Sutherland in "24: Redemption" still makes me laugh.

  • Good for Neil Patrick Harris. Globe rules make the TV supporting categories a tough field to break, but even as "How I Met Your Mother" goes up and down, Harris is always a hoot.

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  • 2009 Golden Globe Nominations: 10 Thoughts on the Movie Nods



    [Note: With HitFix still revving up for launch, I don't have an immediately place for this sort of rambling analysis. This post will migrate over to my HitFix blog as soon as it becomes active and available.]

    My Ten Thoughts about the 2009 Golden Globe nominations in Movies after the bump.

    Click through...

  • Because the Globes oddly choose to split up best picture into drama and comedy, but consolidate original and adapted screenplay and director into single categories, it's rare to see extensive lining up. But this year, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "The Reader," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Revolutionary Road" are up for best picture and those are the films up for best director and best screenplay as well, with the exception of "Rev Road" scribe Justin Haythe, replaced by John Patrick Shanley, adapting his own play for "Doubt." That's a weird lack of variation. I'm surprised not to see, say, Woody Allen sneak in with a script nomination for the apparently much-loved "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," or Mike Leigh for "Happy-Go-Lucky" or Jenny Lumet for "Rachel at the Wedding."

  • Got "Milk"? No. One of the major players in the early critics awards, the Gus Van Sant biopic received a lone nomination, for Sean Penn. I'd expect the Academy to be more welcoming to the film's politics, so I wouldn't read too much into its overall absence.

  • The gambit to position "W" as a comedy appears not to have worked, with even Josh Brolin getting shut out. The HFP has proven to be interestingly and atypically immune to Josh Brolin's charms, snubbing him last year for "No Country For Old Men" and also for "Milk" this year.

  • Speaking of snubs, "The Dark Knight" deserved more than its lone nomination for Heath Ledger. I said many a moon ago that if "The Dark Knight" reached $500 million, it would get a best picture Oscar nod and I still think that. Funny factoid, though: "The Dark Knight" composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, disqualified and requalified for Oscar contention, were both nominated for Globes, but separately for "Frost/Nixon" and "Defiance."

  • The nominations for "In Bruges" are both a pleasant surprise -- the movie was one of the quirky joys of the spring, despite lacking any sort of real emotional impact -- but they may be more interesting for what didn't make the cut in their place. "In Bruges" taking a best picture comedy nod meant no room for "Tropic Thunder," "Pineapple Express" or something like "Hamlet 2," while Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson's exclusions meant that the Globes somehow weren't able to honor George Clooney for "Burn After Reading."

  • Clooney, a seven-time nominee and two-time winner, was one of several Globe favorites left scratching their heads. Sarah Jessica Parker won four Globes for "Sex and the City" and even got a nomination for "Family Stone," but despite the blockbuster status for "Sex and the City: The IMAX Experience," she was ignored. Scarlett Johnasson got four nominations in a two-year period, including oddball nods for "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "A Love Song for Bobby Long," but the lead actress nomination for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" went to Rebecca Hall. And would a nomination for Jim Carrey for "Yes Man" have been ridiculous? Sure, but the HFP gave Carrey nominations for "The Mask," "Liar Liar" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and gave him wins for "The Truman Show" and "Man on the Moon."

  • And Carrey missed out in a year when the Globes were loving the quirky and broad comedies. James Franco was absolutely a hoot in "Pineapple Express," as were Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder." The myriad nods for "Burn After Reading" are mostly a sign of "No Country For Old Men" afterglow. Oh and add Brad Pitt from "Burn" to that list of Globe favorites who got left out, though he has his "Benjamin Button" nomination to keep him warm.

  • Interesting sign of the times: Clint Eastwood gets two nominations and they're both for music, the score of "The Changeling" and the title song from "Gran Torino." But neither film got a best picture nod, nor did Eastwood get a directing nomination for either film. He also didn't get a lead actor nomination for "Gran Torino," which is a pretty big surprise.

  • Congratulations to Miley Cyrus, now a Golden Globe nominated songwriter. Meanwhile, "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" got screwed in that category.

  • Interesting to see a film as clearly loved as "Benjamin Button" and yet to have the always nominated Cate Blanchett left out.
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    Friday, November 28, 2008

    A Personal and Professional Update

    While I probably should be writing my reviews of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," I interrupt this semi-fallow blog not-quite-in-progress for a wee bit of a personal announcement...

    As some of you already know, Friday (Nov. 28) was my last day at Zap2it.com.

    I started at Zap2it in February of 2003 and will remain friends and allies with my former colleagues from Zap2it. I think we've made a pretty great site.

    Beginning Monday, Dec. 1, I'll be starting a new gig as Executive Editor (putting it in caps makes me feel special) and All Around TV Guy at a new online entertainment site called HitFix.com.

    After six years at Zap2it, it was time for a change, but I wouldn't have made the change for just for any startup or just for any group of people and I believe that HitFix has all of the components necessary to become a destination site for entertainment news and information and analysis. We also have plenty of special features that will set HitFix apart, but part of the joy of getting hype in motion is that you don't want to burn out the buzz too fast! Stay tuned!

    We're aiming for a soft-launch of Dec. 15, so join me in knocking on wood. After that point, much of the content that's usually been posted in *this* blog and posted in the myriad Zap2it blogs will become a part of HitFix. That will include reviews, industry commentary and, heaven help me, "American Idol" recaps.

    As I said, the HitFix editorial team is a stellar group, including MSN Movies guru Gregory Ellwood, Ain't It Cool legend Drew McWeeny and music insider Melinda Newman. And we have some damned smart people working on the tech, design and business end of things. We're going to be smart, funny, well-informed and timely.

    I'm excited and I look forward to sharing more information soon...

    [I also look forward to eventually writing those late movie reviews. Knock on wood there as well.]

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    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    MovieWatch: "Quantum of Solace"


    "Quantum of Solace"
    Director: Marc Forster
    Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 68
    In a Nutshell: [Yup. I've been a bad blogger. I have a half-finished review of "Changeling," a couple stray paragraphs of a review of "Synecdoche, NY," an a chunk of writing on "Waltz with Bashir" that I may still get to use at some point. I've also funneled a few things into various Zap2it blogs. And, probably much more than I should, I've left potentially fertile ideas go half-baked on my Zap2it Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/Zap2itDaniel). My apologies. I have other excuses as well, but I may get into those later.]

    A thought (or maybe a meditation): When "The Bourne Identity" came out in 2002, an impressive number of the positive reviews shared a similar sentiment, one that said that this was a James Bond movie done right. Interesting how many reviews of "Quantum of Solace" already seem to be complaining that the new James Bond movie isn't a James Bond movie at all, but a Jason Bourne movie. But if a Bourne movie was a good Bond movie, when did a Bond movie being a Bourne movie necessarily become a bad thing?

    Full review after the bump...

    Click through
    ...

    I'm not going to try to argue that "Quantum of Solace" *isn't* more Bourne than Bond, at least if your idea of Bond is limited the Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore versions of the Ian Fleming Franchise. The things that many people love in Bond movies are absolutely absent in "Quantum of Solace."

    This version of James Bond isn't spectacularly suave like Sean Connery or witty like Roger Moore. He doesn't have the endless string of gadgets and gizmos that the Brosnan Bond had instead of a personality. The movie's over-the-top, but it isn't cartoonish or outlandish. The villain is malicious and power-hungry, but he isn't colorful or terrifying and he doesn't have any bizarre sidekicks.

    And you know what? I'm not going to get too annoyed with certain Bond fans turning on "Quantum of Solace" because it isn't popcorn-y fun in the way that the franchise generally has been.

    Daniel Craig's first jaunt as 007, "Casino Royale," is viewed through rose-colored glasses for three reasons: The first is that it followed in the aftermath of the Brosnan films, which started off so-so with "GoldenEye" and eventually became unbearable. The second is that thanks to its endless loops on pay cable and DVD, you can tune in for the awesome sequences an ignore that the movie is a minimum of a half-hour too long. And the third is that Daniel Craig is the epitome of Ian Fleming's Bond and should be revered, at least a little.

    But the overrating of "Casino Royale" (a film that I admit was No. 10 on my Top 10 for 2006), both at the time and in retrospect, has led to an underrating of "Quantum of Solace."

    "Quantum of Solace" isn't a Bond movie with a mission so much an personal agenda. Yeah, there's the baddie (Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene) with an agenda involving world domination (something about water and oil in Bolivia), but his master plans are decidedly secondary. Yeah, it'd be bad if Dominic Greene and his company started taking over the governments in various countries, but there's no imminent threat that requires the attention of James Bond. No, Bond is out for revenge, or at the very least, answers. I'm not sure if he's upset that a woman he loved died at the end of the last movie, or if he's pissed off that he was duped and misled at the end of the last movie. Either way, he needs clarification before he can move forward.

    Throughout his nearly two-dozen movies, James Bond has often been fooled by double-agents, often witnessed the death of women he'd bedded and often had friends killed in the line of duty. As a rule, the character has been able to get closure by the end of the movie, starting essentially fresh the next time. "Quantum of Solace" is such a pure sequel that it makes almost no sense without memory of the events of "Casino Royale," so while it may not actually be the first Bond movie to follow directly after the events of a previous movie as some have suggested, it's the first Bond movie to be this totally dependent on what came before.

    This is really the most Bond franchise has let Bond deal with 007 deal with the consequences of what came before, which makes Bond even more of the "blunt instrument" Fleming (and M) described him as. The character is driven and resolute and he doesn't have time for gags or caring how his martinis are prepared.

    This is tailored well toward Craig's strengths, which emphasize the coarseness of Bond's personality. As one character observes, he's efficient and Craig's physical performance amplifies that aspect of the character. His fighting style is brutal, he's quick to kill and if he wants to have sex with the first attractive girl who shows interest, he doesn't need to play games.

    Forster is similarly efficient as a director. Much has been made of how the "Kite Runner" and "Monster's Ball" director were somehow an atypical choice for the franchise, as if Michael Apted and Roger Spottiswoode were action veterans when the helmed (badly) "The World Is Not Enough" and "Tomorrow Never Dies."

    Only adding to those Bourne comparison, Forster is clearly trying to channel Paul Greengrass, with the hard, jarring cuts and intentional sense of disorientation in which action scenes. He isn't a natural at it, lacking Greengrass' ability to confuse while also maintaining a certain measure of visual continuity. Forster and editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson often lose track of their characters and render the more tightly cut action scenes just a mish-mash of stuntmen and Steadicams.

    The film's most memorable set piece is actually its least violent, with Bond infiltrating an Austrian production of "Tosca" to uncover pieces of a vast conspiracy. The sequence is mostly a marvel of cross-cutting and sound design. I also liked the early chase scene across the roofs of Sienna, as well as a fine speed boat sequence. There isn't anything quite on the level of the parkour opening of "Casino Royale" or that film's Venice climax, but Martin Campbell simply a better action director than Forster and so it goes. The ending "Quantum of Solace" is plenty explosive, but it feels abrupt.

    It feels abrupt because the script by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, with occasional nuance from Paul Haggis, has been stripped to its bare bones. There are only a few quiet and expositional scenes, which you'd expect Forster's indie pedigree would have helped him in. But the quiet scenes are very stagnant, sometimes inappropriately so.

    Part of the problem with the quieter scenes is with the Bond girls, I guess. Olga Kurylenko most certainly looks the part, but I was distracted by the fact that she only has a single expression (pouty) and she seemed to be playing the part (half-Latina/half-Russian) in brown-face. Kurylenko's character, like Bond's, has a revenge mission and, as such, she probably had a clearer arc than many/most Bond Girls usually do, but she's resolutely unfun and she and Craig aren't really supposed to have any chemistry. Gemma Arterton is sadly unused as an agent with the unlikely name of Strawberry Fields. She instantly lit up the movie.

    The real Bond Girl in "Quantum of Solace" is Judi Dench's M. Dench had really only a cameo in "Casino Royale," but she's quite important to this new movie. You won't ever hear me complain about too much Judi Dench.

    Amalric has all the right stuff to be a great Bond villain, but the script doesn't give him much depth. Of course, he's positively over-used compared to Jeffrey Wright, whose Felix Leiter continues to wait for the chance to actually be a viable character.

    As I've been writing this review, I've slowly been lowing my rating with each thing I've thought of that didn't quite work. I think my Bottom Line is going to be that I like what "Quantum of Solace" is in context. It raises the stakes for the James Bond franchise, not the global stakes, but the personal stakes. It shows that Bond is a character capable of change and evolution, rather than that well-dressed British guy who pops up in a movie every two or three years. The execution? It's a bit spottier, outside of Craig, who is absolutely my favorite Bond at this point. Forster and cinematographer Robert Schaefer handle all of the location shooting well and the movie has more visual depth than Campbell's colorful-yet-flat "Casino Royale." But is it memorable? Is it awesome? Dunno...

    Sigh. These always get long, don't they?


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