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New release movie reviews - 23 November
SKYFALL ****1/2 (143 minutes) M
Worlds collide in this near-brilliant, meticulously refined 21st-century redefinition of James Bond. In a rapidly changing world where enemies are no longer large, loud targets that are easy to spot, Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Judi Dench) confront the big, brutal post-9/11 reality that the biggest threat to national security is as likely to come from within as anywhere else. The impressive MI6 edifice, once the impregnable centre of control, sent Bond out on missions to bring order to a chaotic world. Now it is as rich and juicy a target as any bank vault or nuclear arsenal was in the Bond films of yore. Under the sure-footed direction of Sam Mendes (American Beauty; Jarhead; Road to Perdition), this dramatic table turning effectively keeps everything on edge as M's competence comes under fire. As Bond, Craig is at his furrowed best, playing 007 as an old-school spy facing down the unavoidable realities of new-school rules, omnipresent digital technology and a new Q (Ben Whishaw), a bespectacled know-all who resembles a refugee from a Revenge of the Nerds movie. The focus on character and story is as strong here as it was in Craig's first Bond outing Casino Royale (2006), the finely engineered tensions between vintage Bond and the need for a newly minted Bond making this one of the five best of the 23 Bond films thus far. The stunt work and chases are as proficiently mounted as ever, and Javier Bardem gives us a truly memorable Bond villain, something we frankly haven't had since Sean Bean in GoldenEye. But it's when the frippery - the gadgets, gags and gaudiness that have too often stuck to Bond like cinematic barnacles - is stripped away that the film really comes into its own. In Skyfall we see something that has been too often denied us, which is Bond at his essence. In one of the best examples of having your cake and eating it, Skyfall is cleverly designed to keep everyone happy. It really delivers to traditionalists and long-time fans who will relish the respectful steps the film takes in the evolution to a better Bond, while those just wanting escapism have plenty of story to chew on in between the action sequences. In terms of quality, there is an erratic hit-miss pattern across the Bond catalogue, so it's heartening that Skyfall makes it three hits in a row. (See 3AW's special five-part film-by-film survey of every James Bond film.)
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK *** (92 minutes; part-subtitled) MA
It's crazy family comedy time as French-flavoured New Yorker Marion (Julie Delpy, who wrote and directed) has the wackier members of her family crashing in the cramped apartment she shares with her new squeeze Mingus (Chris Rock) and their son. A vast improvement on Delpy's unlikeable 2007 rom-com 2 Days in Paris (starring Adam Goldberg), this amiable, adult-oriented scribble of a film has fun with the pressure cooker environment and the inevitable problems it produces. Rock tries playing it straight, but can't help himself; Delpy is lovably daffy; the film has a breezy, honest air, especially when the hard decisions have to be made about who should stay and who must go.
DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL ** (86 minutes) G
An otherwise fine profile of American fashion magazine doyen Diana Vreeland is let down by pedestrian production. A vivacious personality who clearly loved being interviewed (she died in 1989), her friends and associates paint a colorful portrait of her relentless working life as she sculpted careers at Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hardcore cineastes will enjoy the brief glimpses from the wonderful 1964 satire Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, in which Vreeland was affectionately parodied. Otherwise wait for it on DVD, the format this doco was clearly designed for.