And the year’s off! Here are some other films I watched in January, in alphabetical order.
No Time to Die (2021)
written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge
from a story by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Cary Joji Fukunaga
based on the character of James Bond by Ian Fleming
directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
In my review of Spectre (2015) I wondered if it would be the last film in the newest James Bond series with Daniel Craig as the titular British superspy. Sadly, I was wrong. No Time to Die makes some of the same mistakes as previous movies in this cycle, such as Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012): A lackluster villain (Rami Malek), overblown plotting, and a somber sense of self-importance (I thought maybe with Phoebe Waller-Bridge as co-writer we’d get some Fleabag-style fun, but nope). But the biggest issue is that No Time to Die has a heavier load to lift as the final chapter of this particular set, saddling the character with a young daughter (really?) and a climax that aims for the heartstrings – yes, Bond dies – but comes across as forced. I’m ready for the reboot.
Shadow in the Cloud (2020)
written by Max Landis and Roseanne Liang
from a story by Max Landis
directed by Roseanne Liang
Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), a WWII flight officer on a secret mission, boards a B-17 bomber in New Zealand and is immediately leered at and insulted by the all-male crew. Separated from the men inside the plane’s ball turret, she soon discovers they are not alone in the sky: Japanese aircraft are hiding close by… and so is a gremlin clinging to the bomber’s wing. The first half of the movie, with Maude trapped in a tight space as she simultaneously defends herself from sexism, enemy aircraft, and a hideous monster, is worth the price of admission. Once Maude finds her way outside in impossibly over-the-top fashion, things get decidedly sillier… yet still a lot of fun. Shadow in the Cloud‘s mash-up of horror, action, and girl power doesn’t mix perfectly, but it’s a pretty original ride.
Shot Caller (2017)
written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh
In Shot Caller, regular guy Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) accidentally kills a friend while driving drunk and is sentenced to a year and change at Chino prison. Soon after arriving, he realizes he won’t be able to survive a week without getting raped or killed. Jacob agrees to smuggle drugs and kill a snitch in exchange for protection from a white supremacist gang, and eventually rises in the ranks and becomes the second-in-command for the Aryan Brotherhood. Shot Caller feels pretty authentic for a low-budget flick, especially in the scenes that depict Jacob’s tragic transformation into a hardened criminal. And while a subplot in which he oversees a weapons deal on the street is more formulaic, Coster-Waldau sells it as an average dude who has no option but to turn into a monster.
Small Soldiers (1998)
written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Gavin Scott, and Adam Rifkin
directed by Joe Dante
In Small Soldiers, a bunch of toys outfitted with military technology come alive and start fighting each other in a suburban neighborhood. Cool premise. But while director Joe Dante has successfully combined genre cinema with anarchic humor in films such as Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984), and The ‘Burbs (1989), he fails to find the right tone here. I found the humor flat, the action not inventive enough, and the final confrontation interminable. Maybe if Small Soldiers had something to say about war and conflict besides just blowing everything to pieces, I would’ve dug it more. Instead, it just made me want to watch Toy Story (1995) again.
written by Graham Yost
directed by Jan de Bont
Back in 1994, Speed was a “high-concept” film of the first order: Terrorist rigs a mass transit bus with an explosive; if the bus goes below fifty miles per hour, it’ll explode. It’s up to LAPD cop Jack (Keanu Reeves) to save everyone, with the help of a spunky passenger (Sandra Bullock) who’s tasked with driving the traveling bomb. It’s utterly ridiculous, yet Speed constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat. The script (by Graham Yost and an uncredited Joss Whedon) balances the tension with clever banter (“I’ve heard relationships based on tense experiences never work / We’ll have to base it on sex then“), the five-note motif from Mark Mancina’s score is unforgettable, and the stunts are staged in believable fashion… even when the bus defies gravity. If you need a dose of Keanu, skip John Wick (2014) and watch this rollicking thriller instead.
Carlos I. Cuevas