The most important thing you should know about the latest James Bond film is that it's better than Quantum of Solace. (Granted, that's grading on a serious curve, but still.) That said, it's less about Bond (Daniel Craig) than it is about M (Judi Dench), who finds herself targeted by a former asset turned enemy of the state. As her antagonist, Javier Bardem is convincingly conflicted in his attitude toward M: The reason he wants to exact revenge against her is that he feels she abandoned him, and is lashing out like a child having subjecting his mother to a temper tantrum — admittedly, one in which a bunch of people get violently murdered along the way.
Though the movie is longer than any action movie needs to be, it is fun to watch, particularly if you don't think about it too hard; by the time Albert Finney shows up for the Home Alone homage, you kind of have to give up on coherence. The additions of Ben Whishaw (as Q) and Ralph Fiennes (as an M antagonist within the government who isn't killing her assets willy-nilly) are good signs for the longevity of the franchise. My biggest complaint is that the film introduces the suggestion that the Big Bad is going to try some gay stuff on Bond, but that nothing comes of it. Aren't we, as a society, ready for a Bond who neutralizes his male foes through sexual conquest as much as he has female ones?! I just feel like once we accepted that James Bond could be blond, pretty much anything goes.
This holiday weekend in sunny Los Angeles, no one fought over the cranberry sauce, no one overcooked the turkey, nobody's uncle got drunk and groped everybody, and [insert other cliches suggesting a soothingly peaceful Thanksgiving]. That's because Hollywood just had its best! Thanksgiving weekend box office haul! Ever! With the latest and last Twilight leading the way, this weekend's movies topped out at $290 million on Wednesday through Sunday, crushing the previous best for the same stretch, 2009's $270.5 million. Congratulations, Hollywood!
This week on the pod, Andy and I spent some more time with a recent favorite topic, James Bond. Do the creeping Nolanisms, gorgeous cinematography (Roger Deakin!), and Oscar-caliber performances (Bardem!) make Skyfall (1:11) anything more than a shaken, not stirred, spy thriller? Do we feel any differently about the character now that we know where he grew up? And what did Andy's college semester abroad in Scotland teach him about the British Empire?
We then moved on to the most pressing cultural issue of our time: Are we in or out on the Dana plot in Homeland (16:30)? All will be revealed in our discussion of this past weekend's hotly debated episode, "The Clearing."
The back nine of this week's pod focused on the question of whether or not The Walking Dead (26:55) is too limited in its scope, whether Last Resort is too wide. We wrapped with another question: If Big Boi is putting out music as good as "Lines," (39:45) should Outkast even bother getting back together? Native ATLien Rembert Browne helps us look at Outkast's unimpeachable legacy and uncertain future.
Last weekend, Skyfall had yet to open in America, and had already pulled in around $287 million. This weekend, while cruising past the $300 million mark internationally, the latest Bond flick finally dropped into Stateside theaters, where it also did large, large numbers: $87.8 million, to be exact, good for the biggest Bond opening. Ever!
It’s Election Day in America, and Chris and I are feeling shaken and stirred. So of course we turned our minds to the only logical subject: James Bond. To celebrate this Friday’s release of Skyfall — a movie neither of us has seen — we did a deep dive into a bucket of martinis, discussing our favorite flicks out of the almost two dozen 007 adventures (1:30). (Turns out some of the early ones might have been just a teensy bit racist!) With the Aston Martin purring in the garage, we then took leave of Her Majesty’s secret service and headed instead to Georgia’s most savage prison. This week’s The Walking Dead (20:09) gave us what may have been its most horrific death yet, and unsurprisingly, gore aficianado Chris was more into it than I was. Finally, it was time to strap on our exploding vests and examine a slower episode of Homeland (30:45), albeit one that still featured jackbooted thugs and a gunfight in rural Pennsylvania. As citizens of the Hollywood Prospectus Republic, there are only two things we ask of you: to vote and to reject deep-dish pizza in all its sinister forms. Salute!
Stateside, the top dogs at the box office were kids' movie Wreck-It Ralph, Denzel Washington's drunk-Sully drama Flight, and Ben Affleck's deathless prestige hit Argo, in that order. As EW reports, Ralph's $49.1 million haul makes it "the strongest debut ever for a Walt Disney Animation production (i.e., not including Pixar titles)." Flight managed $25 million at 1,884 theaters, meaning, at $13,275 per, it had the strongest per-theater average in the top 20. Most important: Argo, which pulled in another $10.2 million for $75.9 million overall, is on pace to break $100 million, and therefore is on pace to become the biggest Affleck movie since yep, Daredevil (that one crashed out at $102 million). This dude Affleck is just exorcising any and all demons right now, huh?
Meanwhile, across the oceans, James Bond crushed. After opening internationally 10 days ago, Skyfall has already pulled in $287 million, off the back of $156 million — spread over 81 countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Austria, India, Taiwan, and Mexico — this weekend. And that's just the beginning: It's now tracking at an $80 million opening for America. And so wait a minute — what is going on? Why can't we defeat 81 other countries — including Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Austria, India, Taiwan, and Mexico — in showing our financial appreciation for a British secret agent? What ever happened to American exceptionalism?!
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — Trailer no. 2 (December 14)
Silver: My geekdom regarding the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit films was quite well-documented when I gratuitously picked apart the first trailer back in December, so stating my overwhelming excitement for An Unexpected Journey is unnecessary. I will say this, though: My one concern about The Hobbit now seems to be dissipating. In the first three LOTR films, Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the rest of The Fellowship were battling to save their world, but The Hobbit, as written, doesn't contain the same lofty stakes. Although it takes place in Middle Earth and contains some of the same characters of LOTR, The Hobbit is a much simpler and more straightforward adventure tale. So my unease with The Hobbit was, put simply: How was Peter Jackson going to transfer the dramatic weight from LOTR to The Hobbit? His solution was hinted at in December’s teaser trailer, but is established much more clearly here. By sprinkling in Tolkien’s appendices, The Hobbit will act as a direct lead-up to the events of LOTR. It’ll be a ... dare I say ... prequel trilogy (gulp). I have faith in Peter Jackson that his prequel will be something more than the toy commercial George Lucas put together. And if all else fails, at least we get Ian McKellen as Gandalf for three more films.
Silver: Brad Pitt should just forget about mass-appeal fare like Moneyball and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He’s so perfectly suited for characters that exist on the fringes — 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, Inglourious Basterds, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Even if they’re expansive thematically and visually, Pitt is a performer who shines when he’s more understated, so smaller, more intimate narratives like Killing Them Softly play to his strengths. With KTS, Pitt reunites with Jesse James writer/director Andrew Dominick, and looks at ease playing a sleazy enforcer called in to “clean up” after a gangster’s card game gets held up. Although this film feels a little cheekier, it definitely exudes a Drive vibe. Like Nicolas Winding Refn, Softly director Dominick appears to have infused his offshore sensibilities and visuals into this inherently American story (Dominick is from New Zealand). I’m also looking forward to seeing Pitt and James Gandolfini onscreen together again. The two of them had terrific chemistry in Gore Verbinski’s underrated The Mexican.
When last we saw James Bond, uh, well, we have literally no recollection of where the franchise left him after Quantum of Solace, because we had to erase that installment from our memories before it tainted the greatness of Casino Royale. But this new international trailer for Skyfall, MGM's upcoming attempt to atone for the Quantum debacle, informs us that everyone's favorite Double-O has been chilling out somewhere off the grid, his presumed death — ordered by M because the Mi6 Geek Squad lost a hard drive? — providing all the cover he needs to spend his evenings at the local blown-expat-superspy pub, throwing down shots of Scorpionschläger while waiting for a crisis big enough to require a tuxedo fitting.
[Note: If you can't see the videos, please try another browser. We put the trailers in this post, we promise.]
Silver: Let’s start with a tweet by Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur. On May 22, he tweeted, “Just watched the Great Gatsby trailer. It looks like some of Scorsese's and Vinny Chase's best work.” In just 40 characters Schur succinctly and accurately summed up both the grandeur and ludicrousness of Baz Luhrmann’s latest visual assault. No way can I do better (Rem, maybe. Me, no).
There have been precious few reasons to expect much from Skyfall, the upcoming, 23rd James Bond movie. And those few reasons are: Daniel Craig is back, he's teamed up with director Sam Mendes, and Javier Bardem is onboard playing a blond villain. Everything else, though, has pretty much been a train wreck. The biggest harbinger of doom was the fact that the movie had to halt production altogether when its studio, MGM, went bankrupt, but there's other causes for concern, like the $45 million in cash money that Heineken is kicking into production to force Bond into fandom of imported Dutch brews.