No Time to Die (007)

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

It’s been about a year and a half since No Time to Die was originally intended to bow into theaters. Cary Joji Fukanaga of True Detective fame, publicly picked up the fallen pieces of Boyle’s failed attempt to make Bond 25 back in 2018. Leading to what was described as rushed production. After viewing the finished product it’s hard to believe those reports were wrong. Fukanaga is mostly known for his HBO critical hit season 1 of the aforementioned True Detective, alongside later entries in his filmography with the likes of Netflix Limited Series Maniac, and a handful of films that have garnered critical acclaim. Most notable among then and also a Netflix Original Beasts of No Nation(which he also served as cinematographer for) from 2015. Fukanaga has been quietly accumulating one of the strongest and most singular voices in cinema since the late aughts. With excitement building around budding Global Starlet Ana de Armas coming off Blade Runner 2049 and the critical and audience success Knives Out alongside Craig as a heavily marketed new type of “Bond Girl”. And of course the fact that this is to serve as Craig’s last turn as Bond, James Bond. It seemed like everything was lining up for a brilliant rendition of everyone’s favorite British spy with a license to kill.

All this preamble serves not just as a historical assessment of how the film is hitting us now a year and a half after it was intended, but to frame the very real tangible expectations that it fails to live up to. No Time to Die is tasked with juggling multiple things, the end of Craig as Bond, storyline continuity (which Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been charged with 1999’s The World is Not Enough), a continuing romance, 4 writers(excluding Flemming’s “characters by” credit.), and a rushed production. Four writers as a rule of thumb is two to three too many. And on a ballooning franchise with so many interests, Nokia product placement deals and various other things to keep in order this finished product feels distinctly like multiple disjointed voices and parts Frankensteined together with so much production money that you can almost overlook perhaps the most underwhelming part of it, Rami Malek’s villain Safin.

Fukanaga’s best known for his visual cinematic prowess, which continues here, with exceptional extended sequences, meticulously crafted motion shots, effortless focus pulling… I could go on and on. But all that prowess in service of what? Some witty eyerolling jokes? Stakes that don’t ever become personal? A score of Indiana Jones references? It’s at once a self serious and self critical screenplay that fails to hone in on an actual narrative voice that lets us get a sense of what this Bond “wants”. Instead it shows what all Bond films always have, what he’s willing to die for. With more self reflexivity then we’ve seen recently, but not the interesting or good kind.

Overwrought with nonsensical symbolism, those big cinematic moments from the trailers play as well as you’d expect. The hallway and stairwell fight scenes are fun. de Armas despite her very very very brief time in the film is as charming as she is memorable. Once her sequence in Cuba ends I the rest of the runtime trying to drum up a reason in the plot for her to reappear. She doesn’t. She contrasts heavily against Seydoux’s generally eyerolling, uninteresting, and unfun Swann. I hate repeating myself within a review, but occasionally it’s necessary. The lack of emotionality to the various plot devices at work on screen is without question No Time to Die’s most glaring issue and likely what the film will be known for. Instead of a celebration Craig leaves Bond in an overlong stylized whimper.

No Time to Die Trailer

No Time to Die will be available via wide theatrical release on October 8th.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 81st Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire 

Best Director: Danny Boyle; Slumdog Millionaire

In these retrospectives, Alexander will be going through the Best Picture and Best Director winners for the Academy Awards, discussing the history, the films as a whole, and adding some hindsight to the (almost always) outdated Academy.

We’ve all imagined being on those afternoon game shows where people win massive amounts of money. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire explores what would happen if we won , while also being a surprise in the director’s filmography, given his past films at the time included Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and The Beach. A feel-good movie about someone from the slums who finds success in the unlikeliest of places didn’t seem like a logical next step for Boyle.

The Academy expanded to up to 10 Best Picture nominees, which many including myself have theorized was because of The Dark Knight being snubbed from the Best Picture lineup. This forever changed The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Expanding from what had been the standard for the past 81 years of Oscars. This change was one that was near-universally praised, The Dark Knight being snubbed when it was generally considered to be the best film of 2008 was a shock to everyone and proved a rumor that had been floating around for a while. There is a stigma against comic books & superhero films. I say “is” because while superhero films have taken the populace by storm, there are those who still critique them and can’t find any enjoyment with them. Only in the past 3 years have these popular films broken through to The Academy, with nominations for Black Panther and Joker.

Slumdog Millionaire’s competition was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Reader. All of these films are traditional Oscar fare. Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Reader are all historical dramas that deal with politics in some shape or form. Something that The Academy has a history of loving (All the President’s Men, The Insider, among a slew of others). The enigma here is Benjamin Button, while it is an epic film, with grand scale, The Academy had been moving away from that genre of film, add in the unusual aspect of the film, and David Fincher’s style (which has proven to be a hit or miss with The Academy), and you have the biggest enigma of the lineup.

First, a bit of history. In 2008 the world had been taken by storm by films like Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, and Gran Torino. With The Dark Knight seeming to be a frontrunner for a Best Picture and Best Director nomination. But come Oscar nomination day, the only film of the three to receive a nomination was the eventual winner, Slumdog Millionaire. When looking at the plot, you really can’t be surprised. An underdog story is something The Academy has constantly gone for in entries like Forrest Gump, Driving Miss Daisy, Gandhi, and Rocky to name a few. What sets this apart is its location, Mumbai, India, at this point we were four years removed from the tsunami that hit India. This tragedy was a truly brief glimpse at India, filtered through the American media. It was another step towards the Academy honoring international features with Best Picture and Best Director. This would culminate at the 92nd Academy Awards with Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite taking home Best Picture and Director. Even though it is a British production, much of the film is in Mumbai’s native language.

Like its narrative, the journey for Slumdog Millionaire’s night at the Oscars was a long and arduous one. Beginning at the 2008 Telluride and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, to the initiated). It premiered at TIFF where it became known as a TIFF classic and won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This was the jumping-off point for excitement for the film and its Oscar campaign. There was no doubt in its merit for Oscar chances, where it began to snowball and garner universal acclaim. The underdog of Oscar season. Battling it out with heavy favorites The Dark Knight and Gran Torino.

We first meet Jamal (Dev Patel) as he is about to win 20 million rupees. His nervousness and fear are conveyed brilliantly by the future The Last Airbender actor. Patel was a very new voice in acting, with his previous credit being the British soap opera Skins. As he is close to answering the final question, he flashbacks to show us how he got this far in the game, and in life. Unfortunately, all intrigue is lost after this brilliant opening. Everything after this intense opening is seemingly inconsequential to the rest of the film.

The film as a whole was underwhelming. Compared to its numerous stellar reviews. I had expected an exquisite film that has stood the test of time since its release. I found no emotional connection to any of the characters, which in my estimation is due entirely to a poor script by Simon Beaufoy. Characters are frequently introduced, especially in the first act, and we are expected to care about them just because they are children. For example, Latika as a toddler and a teenager, there is no emotional connection other than the fact that she is a child. That is a very cloying move by the writer to add emotional complexity to the story.  While they can be a trope and set up for guilt-tripping, there is a way to do it with class, such as Sunny Pawar in Lion. He conveys the fear and despair of a child having lost their parents and siblings, but does so that it never feels oversentimental and desperate, thanks to the brilliant writing, direction, cinematography, film editing, and music. Here, instead of all of these departments firing on all cylinders, the cinematography and score are intrusive, the writing is poor, and the child actors or doing base emotions at best. And at worst the kids appear as they are reading cards right behind the camera. Having child characters in a film does not mean that we will immediately care about them, and I never did. The scenes with Dev Patel show the promise that’s come to be delivered in his career but do not show off his talent. Instead, Patel looks like he is in a constant state of confusion, during the interrogation scenes, the game show scenes, even in the dance finale, he looks like he does not know what is going on. Which made me feel frustrated throughout, not only about the film but also for Patel as he could have elevated the material if the script was not as bare-bones around its central character. There was more character development for Anil Kapoor’s character “Prem”.

With a crew filled with future first-time Oscar nominees (Film Editor Chris Dickens, Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and Composer A.R. Rahman) and 2 previous nominees, Danny Boyle (Best Adapted Screenplay for Trainspotting) and Simon Beaufoy (Best Original Screenplay for The Full Monty), you would expect a much higher production value and final product.

By the end of the film, my feelings that had been marinating for the previous 110 minutes had still not changed. When looking back at what was nominated the only nominee that I would even be ok with winning would be David Fincher winning Best Director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as for Best Picture. However, of all the films of 2008, the 2 Best Pictures were not even nominated, Gran Torino and The Dark Knight. If Gran Torino and The Dark Knight were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, like they were predicted to be, then Gran Torino for Best Picture and Christopher Nolan for Best Director for The Dark Knight. After the ceremony, The Academy expanded to up to 10 Best Picture nominees, which many including myself have theorized was because of The Dark Knight being snubbed from the Best Picture lineup. After 13 years Slumdog Millionaire did not hold up to the expectations set up and  Sometimes history looks favorably on the underdogs, unfortunately, this is not one of those times.

Slumdog Millionaire Trailer

Slumdog Millionaire is currently available to stream on Hulu and Paramount+ or to rent on purchase on most VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.