QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, and some Sexual Content

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Directed by: Marc Forster

Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade

Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench & Anatole Taubman

2006’s CASINO ROYALE made a huge splash at the time of its release. This was Bond for a whole new generation and seemed to be turn the iconic 007 into a more human hero. Anyone penning the sequel to ROYALE was guaranteed have their work cut out for them. Two years later, QUANTUM OF SOLACE hit theaters to an apathetic “meh.” Though this follow-up to the Bond reboot held a lot of promise in its premise, it simply doesn’t do anything remarkable with it. Daniel Craig remains top-notch as 007, but he’s the stand-out in a sequel that’s a disappointing step-down from its predecessor.

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QUANTUM picks up where CASINO ROYALE left off. Seeking revenge for the death of his lover, Bond has tracked down the mysterious Mr. White (a member of the organization that killed both Vesper and La Chiffre). However, James soon discovers that Mr. White is merely one brick in a much larger, more intimidating wall. A secret organization, known as Quantum, has it out for Bond and they have members everywhere. 007 soon finds himself wooing more women and trying to take down the head of Quantum, Dominic Greene.

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Unlike previous Bond disappointments, where main actors seemed bored, Daniel Craig is still in full force as 007. He’s made the character into a heartbroken man who merely wants to satisfy his aching vengeance for Vesper. Unfortunately, his performance is the one shining moment in an otherwise mediocre film. Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton fill the roles of Bond girls and both seem kind of bland. Arterton simply isn’t given enough time to develop, while Kurylenko’s character is pretty one-note. What makes this even more confusing is that Kurylenko has played better “Bond girls” in non-Bond films (e.g. THE NOVEMBER MAN, and even 2007’s HITMAN). Mathieu Almaric comes off woefully miscast as the villainous Greene. Though his character is a violent businessman, I couldn’t fully buy him as a baddie deserving of Bond. Other nebbishy bad guys have appeared in the series (Jonathan Pryce’s Carver in the underrated TOMORROW NEVER DIES), but Almaric’s Greene comes off as bland and unintentionally hilarious. The latter arrives in a fiery fight scene in which Greene keeps letting out high-pitched squeals as he battles Bond with an axe. The scene was supposed to be intense and I was just trying not to laugh. Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini also reprise their roles from CASINO ROYALE, but merely serve as two plot devices instead of returning characters.

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Besides every character who isn’t James Bond being underwritten, QUANTUM’s action doesn’t fare much better. There are a couple of intense moments, but most of the action is made up of chaotic BOURNE-like scenes. In the opening car chase there is a headache-inducing amount a quick editing. Shaky-cam is also frequent throughout the entire film. For my money, the best scene in the whole movie is a stalking scene at an opera in which Bond tries to capture the identities of Quantum members. Unfortunately, this suspenseful moment is then compromised by an incoherently edited action scene that follows. Unconvincing fights aside, the Quantum organization comes off as a low-rent form of SPECTRE (which might actually link to it in the upcoming film). Instead of getting me excited to watch Bond take down a villainous organization that has people everywhere, I was more bored by everything that followed. This seems like a major step backwards for the franchise.

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CASINO ROYALE’s high momentum sinks to a lackluster crawl in QUANTUM OF SOLACE. The premise holds a lot of potential and none of it is fully utilized to the extent that it should have been. Daniel Craig still stands as my favorite Bond and he’s easily the best part of this whole film. However, the follow-up to the rebirth of the franchise comes off like a combination of a lesser Roger Moore flick (in which Bond is trying too hard to emulate other films, like the BOURNE series) and a disappointing Dalton installment (becoming far too grim to be fully enjoyed as a Bond film). Overall, I would just skip this middle entry and go directly from CASINO ROYALE to SKYFALL. Just pretend that QUANTUM doesn’t exist.

Grade: C-

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Frightening Zombie Sequences, Violence and Disturbing Images

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Directed by: Marc Forster

Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof

(based on the novel WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale & David Morse

WORLD WAR Z received a lot of hate and negativity before it even hit its eventual long-awaited release. Plagued with production problems and a tame PG-13 rating, this was almost guaranteed to be a massive flop and a slap in the face to zombie fanatics everywhere. Then the reviews came In and they were largely positive. Then the fans began hailing the movie as solid summer entertainment. I put my reservations aside and gave the film a chance. While others are saying it’s really damn good, I was left feeling completely indifferent. If there’s anything a zombie movie should never do, it’s leave the viewer feeling apathetic. WORLD WAR Z may have not been the disaster everyone was expecting, but I found the film to be painfully mediocre. In other words, this movie took the title of one of the biggest critically acclaimed horror novels of the new millennium and stripped pretty much everything cool or original away from it.

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Gerry Lane is a former UN employee. When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, Gerry and his family must be resourceful to stay alive. After a friend rescues him and provides shelter for his wife and two daughter, Gerry is called back into action to investigate the origins of this zombie virus and find a possible cure or defense against the undead menace. This mission takes him to multiple countries and puts him in different degrees of peril.

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The first red flag about WORLD WAR Z comes with the fact that it’s a PG-13 zombie film. Now, I am not one of those people who advocates an R rating on every single horror movie. I think PG-13 horror films can be great, if the rating comes naturally and the film isn’t potentially scaled back from what it could have been. WORLD WAR Z should have been violent. It should have been gory. It wasn’t and I was surprised how much it suffered for that. We hardly see any zombies biting people and we get some violence that is just out of frame of the camera. By just out of frame, I mean you could have literally moved the camera down an inch and would have seen gore. This is more distracting than I ever could have imagined.

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Then there’s the zombies themselves, which are CGI creations that look really cartoonish. There are a couple of moments involving real people in make-up, but there are far more using silly-looking CGI hordes of zombies. It probably cost more for all these CGI effects than it would just to slather some fake gore and blood on somebody, but then again it’s PG-13 (see the paragraph above).

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All of this wouldn’t matter if the script was on a solid foundation, but it’s not. This is pretty much one big set-piece after another and they are loosely linked together with this flimsy excuse for a story. The best zombie movies take place in confined spaces with fleshed-out characters, but WORLD WAR Z has hollow cardboard cut-outs in place of actual people. I didn’t care if Brad Pitt lived or died. I didn’t care if his family became the undead. The side characters are forgotten in the blink of an eye, because they come and go so quickly.

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If the movie wasn’t so concerned with playing it safe (characters are explicitly told in one scene not to kill the zombies) to appeal to a wider audience and were not focused more on big special effects than an actual story, then it could have been great! This could have been a zombie epic for the ages, but it’s PG-13 CGI-loaded lame blockbuster crap. It represents everything wrong with Hollywood horror movies this year. The only wide-released horror movie that I actually really dug this year was YOU’RE NEXT (which was an indie film) and that’s a sad comment on the state of big budget horror.

There is an obvious set-up for a sequel in the final minutes (oh, Hollywood, you rascal) and I’m sure that will bank. I felt like WORLD WAR Z was the equivalent of a TRANSFORMERS movie, but with zombies. Enough said.

Grade: C-

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