Thursday, November 12, 2015

Spectre and Suffragette

                          Those Bloody Brits
                                                      Reviews by Ken Burke
 After waxing eloquent (well, I’m not so sure about that last word but there was plenty of wax—or at least something that seemed to be dripping off the computer screen) in the last couple of weeks over a batch of 4-star-films (Steve Jobs [Danny Boyle; review in our October 30, 2015 posting]; Beasts of No Nation [Cary Fukunaga], Room [Lenny Abrahamson], Truth [James Vanderbilt]; reviews of these 3 in our November 5, 2015 posting) I’m going to try even harder to conserve my time and energy this go-round (yours too, if you’re among my readers with enough stamina to have plowed through these most recent Web bricks) by more concisely exploring a couple of narratives housed in England, with the one getting the most space being the contemporary action story of government agents of the former British Empire desperately attempting to make the world safe for democracy while the other one concerns desperate measures about a century ago to enhance democracy for British women denied the vote in that still-connected-Empire, robbed of one of the most basic rights in any self-governing-society.  Of course, you could say that I’m being sexist myself in putting my emphasis on a hard-drinking, womanizing assassin with my focus in these current reviews but I’ll remain neither shaken nor stirred over such complains (that is, until my feminist-warrior-wife, Nina, sees this posting, after which I may need to join Daniel Craig in recovering from knee surgery, but more about my mobility-defying-rationale is explained below when you get close to the end of the Suffragette analysis).
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                              Spectre (Sam Mendes)
James Bond is back, in a direct continuation of the previous 3 movies with Daniel Craig in the lead, where a chain of mysterious events (and constant destruction) allows Bond to find the source of his most recent troubles, the clandestine-but-far-reaching-international-criminal-organization, Spectre, which holds more surprises and danger than 007’s yet faced.
What Happens: After the wonderfully-nostalgic-rush of seeing MGM’s lion-logo (along with Columbia’s torch lady because of Sony as a distribution partner) we find Bond—James Bond (Daniel Craig)—on an unauthorized mission to Mexico City during the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration (making the 11/6/2015 worldwide-opening of this movie even more timely) where the previous occupant of the M role (Commander of the Double-0 spies within Britain’s MI6 international-security-branch, played then by Judi Dench) has sent Bond (via a video order prior to her death in the last movie, Skyfall [Mendes, 2012]) to kill deadly criminal Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona).  Bond attempts this before Marco and his thugs blow up a crowded stadium, but as Bond shoots a couple of them through their hotel windows from an adjacent rooftop (after a spectacular traveling shot as he zips along ledges to get to his destination) he also sets off the bomb, which collapses part of their building as well as the one where Bond’s standing so he goes through some elaborate acrobatics before his final landing, after which he still has to pursue Sciarra who almost gets away in a helicopter before Bond jumps on, eventually kicking out both Marco and the pilot, then getting the ‘copter to a safe landing before anyone else is hurt.  Bond’s landing back in London isn’t so smooth, though, because the current M (Ralph Fiennes) is furious, puts 007 on inactive status, and prepares for a merger he opposes, of MI6 and the domestically-focused-MI5; meanwhile, Bond visits gadget-master Q (Ben Whishaw), gets a bomb-loaded-watch, then steals the flashy auto intended for 009 so he can drive (against orders) to Rome for Sciarra‘s funeral, as also ordered by Dench’s M (Q injects him with a sort of microchip-locator-device—“smart blood“—but agrees to turn off the tracker for the next 48 hours).  At the funeral, Bond meets Sciarra‘s widow, Lucia (Monica Belluci), saves her from some killers, has quick sex with her, gets info about a strange ring he took off her husband that allows him to infiltrate a meeting of a secret society but he’s recognized by its leader, the supposedly-dead Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz)—shown in ominous shadows—leading to a quick escape with Hinx (Dave Bautista), a vicious assassin, in pursuit until Bond finally ditches his expensive car in a river.

 James also finds that the assassin’s other target, the Pale King, is Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), an adversary from the earlier Craig-as-Bond-movies, Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) and Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008), so now 007’s off to Austria to find White, who asks Bond to protect his daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), from this sinister group intent on killing them both because of his betrayal to the icy-leader; then White shoots himself with Bond’s gun.

 Our intrepid secret agent soon locates Madeleine but she wants nothing to do with him; she changes her mind after killers, including Hinx, take her away in a 3-car-caravan, forcing Bond to rescue her after doing battle with her captors, them in their vans, him in a light plane.  With their adversaries vanquished, Madeleine leads Bond to Tangier, Morocco where a favorite location of her father’s has a hidden room with needed info to reach the headquarters of this deadly organization, Spectre, in the desert of North Africa.  James and Madeleine travel by train to their intended location—after being attacked on board by Hinx, who’s finally pushed out of an open doorway, once again presumed dead (until a sequel?).  Upon arrival at Spectre headquarters, we get a lot of back story on both Bond and Oberhauser, whose faked-disaster long ago allowed him the covert activities needed to build his international criminal empire (which includes the Joint Intelligence Service head, Max Denbigh [Andrew Scott], also known as C, back in London, who’s been able to convince 8 other nations to enter into a mutual-global-surveillance-program, but it’s really intended only to benefit Spectre) under his new name of Ernst Stavro Blofeld; but there’s more—when Bond was orphaned at an early age, Blofeld’s father took him in, then seemed—to his son—to favor the stepson, leading to the arranged death of the father, the son’s own disappearance, and a lifelong mission of dastardly deeds against Bond (seen in the previous 3 movies), with the intention of now killing him.  Despite being restrained in a demonic chair, 007 gets the watch-bomb to Madeleine, she detonates it, they escape (after killing several pursuers and blowing up the entire facility), then return to London to prevent C’s surveillance protocol from going online, yet Blofeld’s still alive with plans to finish his vendetta against James.  The Double-0 squad’s been disbanded but M works with Bond (also Q and Eve Moneypenny [Naomi Harris]) to stop the collapse of life as we know it (with Spectre's rationalization that our democracy-nations are too weak to bring needed order to the world).

 This all finishes with C dying accidently after being thwarted by M (just after Q manages to keep the spy program from activating), Madeleine being captured by Blofeld and hidden in the ruins of the old MI6 building set to implode shortly, Bond rescuing her so they can once again escape in the nick of time, then the 2 of them on a speedboat down the Thames chasing Blofeld’s helicopter which Bond manages to incapacitate with pistol fire, so it crashes onto Westminster Bridge (right by Parliament and Big Ben).  Despite now being able to use his "license to kill" Blofeld, Bond declines leaving his adversary for M's arrest while 007 departs with Madeleine with the understanding that she wouldn’t be able to be with him if he continued in his constant-kill-or-be-killed-profession.

So What? Although this is the 24th official-canon-Bond-movie (from the Eon Productions/ Harry Saltzman-Albert Broccoli heritage, not counting the “heretical” first version of Casino Royale [way too many directors to cite, 1967] nor the Thunderball [Terence Young, 1965]-remake, Never Say Never Again [Irvin Kershner, 1983]—featuring the last appearance of Sean Connery as Bond), I’ll paraphrase the title of the 19th one, The World Is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999) to say that even Spectre’s major opening weekend take of $191 million worldwide ($73 million domestically, the rest internationally)—still growing, of course—just means “the gross is not (yet) enough” to match the $650 million in ticket sales needed to offset the respective $250 million in production costs (some say as high as $300 million), $100 in marketing, and income-splits with the theaters, yet even that much cash wouldn’t come close to the total take of over $1 billion for the previous chapter, Skyfall, critically well-respected as well (Rotten Tomatoes 93% positive reviews, Metacritic 81%) which sets up another standard for Spectre to either match or exceed which it’s generally not doing (Tomatoes 62%, Metacritic 60%).  Add to this the current assumption that Daniel Craig’s about done with this role (his interview with CNN in which he said, in reference to starring in another Bond story: “Now? I'd rather break this glass and slash my wrists. No, not at the moment. Not at all. That's fine. I'm over it at the moment. We're done. All I want to do is move on," although in this 4:00 video interview he comes off as much more positive about the character and his investment in the series)—not to mention Spectre’s finale in which Bond drives away with Madeleine, clearly implying that he’s no longer on Her Majesty’s Secret Service (to cite another long-ago-Bond title, from 1969 [directed by Peter Hunt], when George Lazenby took on the role just once between Connery appearances—an entry in the canon beloved by some, despised by others).

 So, you have to wonder if the character—not just the actor portraying him—is headed for the same retirement-implication that we got for another superhero at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012; review in our August 5, 2012 posting), although some explanation must be coming for Batman, given the very-much-anticipated-rollout of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder) in 2016, just as these strong-ongoing-box-office-receipts will likely keep the Bond franchise in business for the foreseeable future, with or without Craig (after all, his version of the character’s been ready to bail out of the Double-0 squad from the beginning: he almost resigned in favor of a less-dangerous-life with Vesper Lynd [Eva Green] in Casino Royale, he’s assumed dead so he stays under the radar for quite awhile in Skyfall).  The real question, though, is how can the producers and whomever they hire to direct (Mendes says he’s out for sure, but given the “never say never” aspect of this Ian Fleming-inspired-narrative-tradition I doubt that anyone ever associated with these tales is truly done, as long as age of the actors, amount of contract offers, and attitudes of encouragement from the production team don’t prevent tempting-reconsideration from former players in this movie-series-longevity-record-holder ... hmm, just how old is Lazenby by now, anyway?) continue keeping this franchise lively for more decades to come.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Of course, what would probably bring about the actual demise of the Bond franchise will be audience disinterest in the character as long as whomever is in charge of continuation isn’t able to re-energize this honored-enterprise, as was done successfully with casting Craig in the lead role back in 2006 with the “official” version of Casino Royale (although Craig wasn’t universally accepted, being seen by some as too short, blond, and/or stern for the role) at a time when viewer-investment was beginning to wane as the plots were perceived as too familiar, the characters as too shallow, the desired-spectacular-chase-scenes getting harder to conceive of in terms of the “Wow!” factor after the 20th go-round.  That doesn’t mean that this series reboot is in trouble, but it does take continuing effort to keep it fresh.  (Don’t forget, when Casino Royale begins Bond’s not even a Double-0-agent yet, so it’s definite that we’re starting over there—as J.J. Abrams did with the current Star Trek movies, although he used the time-warp-ploy to essentially erase all that had previously occurred in the Trek treks so that his younger version of the characters wouldn’t necessarily have to go through/ account for those events again, whereas the last 4 Bond stories just start with a new beginning [made confusing, though, if you don’t assume that Judi Dench was always M rather than being a carryover from a few earlier Bond movies where she seemed to be a replacement official in the role rather than just another actor continuing what had begun with Bernard Lee in 1962, even as other actors merely continued what Connery started, with an understanding by Bond fans that it was all part of an ongoing-continuity even if the faces looked a bit different from time to time so that the characters never had to age as the various actors did], leaving us to wonder if we’ll ever get official remakes of the events of Dr. No [Young, 1962], etc. or whether those just belong to another collection of Bond tales, told from a different perspective around a different cinematic-campfire.)  

 Therefore, in the existing Craig-led-007-movies—whether or not they’ll ever have anything to do with guys such as Goldfinger, Jaws, etc.—we do have a clear sense of continuity, all tied together neatly with the backstory of both James and his step-brother, Blofeld, the true power behind all of the chaos that Bond’s encountered since first tangling with Le Chiffre back in Casino Royale.  Now, the challenge comes for the audience to reconsider what we know of Blofeld and SPECTRE (original spelling of the group, back in the Connery days), the motivations of our now-revealed-semi-siblings as they create contradictory adulthoods in the fields of crime and punishment, the future we might have with their new conflicts if jail proves to be an ineffective finish for Blofeld, pulling Bond back into action even as he tries to put his Double-O-life behind him and Madeleine.

 Well, for a couple of my loyal readers—2 to be exact (Google keeps telling me that I’ve got a few thousand unique hits per month but, based on feedback, I can identify only a handful individually so when even 2 agree on something I’d better pay attention)Spectre’s not accomplishing all that much (my film critic buddy, Barry Caine—but not a regular reader because I ramble on too much for his tastes [see for yourself at his emerging new blog, the total antithesis of my long-winded-approach]—seemed a bit bored with it as well) beyond the doldrums of the more-recent-pre-Craig-days.  To wit (from Richard J. Parker of San Antonio, TX, who’ll probably say more in the Comments section far below after this gets posted): Oddly the cinematography seemed low contrast, poorly executed and muddy.  Lots of overcast days and low light shots, I was thinking HBO and FX do a better job with their film making for TV than this high dollar James Bond. […] Besides that the story was weak (bad guys getting access to all governments' information gathering), the villain, Christoph Waltz wasn't even in the film most of the time and when he was, he and all the others seemed to be phoning it in.  Add bad script, dialog, PG rating ("oh shoot" when guy is about to be yanked off the train to his death) and not even a good Bond girl or a decent trick car.”  These words reflect what I’ve read from several critics, indicative of a reasonably-sized-consensus, so I’ll start my response by saying that I don’t agree with much of this because overall I was quite satisfied with the flow and finale of Spectre (The cinematography seemed fine in my theater but Richard was seeing it in exquisite [or should I say “expensive”?] 4K projection so maybe the 35mm original [increasingly rare for feature films these days, with most shot on digital video] doesn’t mesh with 4K as well as we’d assume [or maybe I was subconsciously-interpreting such images as appropriate to the murky-content-tone of these newer 007 movies, even if the visuals could have been rendered in better fashion—or maybe Mendes did want it to look this way, who knows?]; also, Seydoux is acceptable “Bond girl” material for me—yes, Nina, from a distance of course [some say we’re dealing with “Bond women” in these Craig episodes, more substantial characters to match the darker look and tone of the reconceived-stories, as noted just above].)

 However, I will accept that I’d also have preferred to see more of Waltz (but maybe he is being primed for a reappearance in future plots); likewise, the specially-built Aston Martin DB10 that Bond steals, then abandons in Rome doesn’t fully operate as intended, but those misfires (or non-fires, as no ammunition had yet been loaded into the car's rear guns) provide both some of the humor that the earlier Bond movies traded on so well (plus reminding me of the amusing repetition of the hyperdrive failures on the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back [Kershner, 1980]) and preserve Dave Bautista for us so that we get to have that 1-on-1 battle on the train (then 2 on 1, when Madeleine helps before getting pulverized a bit herself by Hinx) that brought back marvelous memories of 007’s hand-to-hand-combat with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) on another train in From Russia with Love (Young, 1963), still one of my all-time-favorites from the Bond catalogue.

 But beyond my decision to not completely accept this dismissal from my friend and loyal reader (while respecting its honesty), I found a lot of Spectre to be a lot of fun in that it's successfully engaging, well-planned (especially when that wall in Mexico City starts falling toward Bond, forcing some serious choreography on his part), occasionally quite funny (as when Bond lands on a convenient couch when falling through that ruined Mexican building), and appropriately tense at the end when James is on the verge of killing Blofeld (even being urged by Ernst to do so) but then throws away his gun, leaving this monstrous criminal to be arrested by M, finally allowing the system of justice to work as it ideally should rather than depending upon the vigilante-operations of a clandestine-killer (with a hell of an aim, given how many of Blofeld’s men he was able to take out with a single shot each when escaping the desert compound, even as none of their bullets could connect with him—of course, if they ever did then [just like with the equally-lucky Batman, although his newly-imagineered (to steal a phrase from Disney)-suit is made of some type of light armor in order to deflect some of that firepower] this franchise would be over, as I just don’t think that we’d ever find the same fascination with 008—then again, we've never meet any of Bond’s fellow-licensed-killers so we have no idea how interesting they may be).  Further, I like the more serious tone of these Craig-as-Bond-movies, allowing me to better appreciate the sort of inner-turmoil that drives anyone to devote their life to such a constant catalogue of danger; the determination of this new M to operate within the narrow boundaries of established protocol when such decisions seem appropriate (suspending Bond after his rogue actions in Mexico) but abandoning those limits when different circumstances arise (going against C when he learns of his new boss’ criminal connections, encouraging Q and Moneypenny to join him in the field to prevent Blofeld’s nefarious scheme from coming to fruition); and still finding ridiculous, rewarding creativity in the combat/chase scenes which include the collapsing buildings in Mexico City, Bond in a helicopter fighting 2 antagonists while still contributing to the chopper not plowing into the crowd below, Bond in a plane dueling with 3 cars of thugs attempting to capture-then-kill Madeleine with him triumphing even after his wings are sheared off; Bond in a boat on the Thames disabling Blofeld’s helicopter with precise shooting from a mere handgun.

 I’ll rarely find occasion to praise a Bond movie as significant cinema (although I did give 4 stars to Skyfall [review in our November 16, 2012 posting]), Spectre included because—except for the rare, somber turns taken in Skyfall (MI6 headquarters blown up, M killed by the villain even though Bond was there to protect her)—these movies aren’t intended to be much more than thrilling entertainment, although they, again, including Spectre, do become cluttered with decades of familiar-formula, making it difficult for the various filmmaking teams recruited to keep this franchise actively-alive, to find strategies for transcending the weight of their own created-timeline (just as the folks at Batman’s home base, DC Comics, periodically get overwhelmed with their plethora of characters and plot-intricacies so they just find some fabulous justification to reboot the entire universe [like Abrams did with the Star Trek galaxy] in order to clear the slate and start over again).  Maybe this darker Bond world (with a lighter-appearing-guy in the main role,at least for now) isn’t what Bond-traditionalists (including me, until Craig won me over) want to see, with memories of the Connery-Moore-heritage challenging every new episode, but for me this new one—while not as successful as Skyfall—still delivers the satisfaction that I want from this series, with one major exception, which I’ll burden you with as well as my Musical Metaphor for Spectre: the title sequence song, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall” (at com/watchv=8jzDnsjYv9A&list=PLEEyQEShYtdWDmQrodJB2nHtjFaYVUCi8, intercut with scenes from the movie but not the actual opening credits version featuring some spectacular shattered-glass-and-octopus-imagery), which for me becomes jarringly-screechy at times; however, this link is part of a cluster of all 24 official-Bond-theme-songs (be prepared for occasional commercial interruptions, though) with all but 2 of them being from the opening titles of their movies (and those 2 use scenes from their respective sources) so you can wallow in all of them to see if you prefer something else beyond my top 3all better than Smith'sfrom Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1965; sung by Shirley Bassey), Live and Let Die (Hamilton, 1973; sung by Paul McCartney and Wings), and The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977; “Nobody Does It Better,” sung by Carly Simon).
Short(er) Takes
                                       Suffragette (Sarah Gavron)
Based in the history of the struggle for British women’s access to the vote, this film focuses on how a downtrodden worker comes to understand that her rights and dignity, even in a democratic society, are being denied to her and all other women in her era so that civil disobedience action becomes necessary to demand better participation in their government.

What Happens: In 1912 London 24-year-old Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) are trapped in grueling jobs (with unequal pay, based on gender) at the Glass House laundry where Maud’s mother labored until her death when the child was just 4 (Maud then started working part-time at 7, full-time at 12).  Through co-worker Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), Maud becomes aware of how the secret suffragette movement, led by rebel-in-hiding Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in a very small role), has turned to civil disobedience (smashing store windows, blowing up mailboxes, cutting telegraph wires) because their socially-proper-efforts have led nowhere.  Maud even accompanies Violet to testimony in Parliament before David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) asking for the vote (because Violet’s beat up by a crowd before they arrive, Maud ends up giving an impromptu speech) but later when nothing comes of it the police turn on the crowd of angry women, resulting in Maud’s arrest, which further alienates her from Sonny and her neighbors; brings her closer to another agitator, pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter); but puts her under surveillance from Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson).  As Maud is further energized by the movement she finds herself thrown out of her home (with the added tragedy of Sonny putting their young son Georgie [Adam Michael Dodd] up for adoption; previously you get a sense of the husband’s values when he tells the boy to say goodnight to the king’s picture on their wall), fired (although she manages to slam a hot iron onto the hand of her cruel, groping boss, Mr. Taylor [Geoff Bell]), then arrested again for her part in exploding a bomb in Lloyd George’s unoccupied-under-construction-home; this time she attempts a hunger strike but is viciously-force-fed via a tube up her nose.  Upon release, she, Edith, and Emily Davison (Natalie Press) plan to display pro-suffrage-banners at the Epsom Derby horserace where they’ll be seen by the press covering King George V, but Edith’s husband keeps her from attending (worried that another jailing will rupture her weakened heart; Violet’s previously backed off due to her pregnancy) while the other 2 are prevented from getting close enough to the king.

 Emily then goes onto the racetrack where she dies from being stampeded, although this does result in massive coverage of her June 4, 2013 death and subsequent funeral (which we see partially in newsreel footage from that era—in Suffragette her action appears as martyrdom, although further research implies that she was just trying to attach her banner to the king’s horse, although there’s nothing conclusive on this vs. an intentional suicide which also would have brought the same huge press response; here’s a short [7:14] documentary about her) which draws great attention to the suffrage cause (previously ignored by the media, due to government pressure), years later leading to ballot-access for all British women (as concluding graphics inform us).

So What? Nina and I saw Suffragette at the Livermore, CA Vine Cinema where you can enjoy beyond-popcorn-food, beer, and wine in the auditorium (a pint of stout gave the proper tone for the film’s setting, but, as usual, I get nothing for this plug except the pleasure of encouraging locals to attend the theater) where we found good-sized-crowds for our screening as well as the ones prior and after ours on a rainy Sunday afternoon, giving me hope that this fine film will have a life not just in art-house-centers such as Berkeley but also in the suburbs where the cinema of political-import is far-too-often-assumed to not have attraction for escapees from the high cost of urban living (Truth [James Vanderbilt], the subject of my November 5, 2015 extensive ramble about President G.W. Bush’s military career [or possible-shortcomings-thereof] is playing on the Vine’s other screen, further encouraging me to now head east instead of west for some of my cinematic pleasures).  Buzz among the crowds showed that these folks were impressed and touched by what they saw, which includes a short list at the end of the film of the countries that have granted (or promised, in the case of Saudi Arabia) the vote to women since the start of the 20th century (you can get an extensive account of this situation if you like).  Sadly, despite the international attention given to Davison’s sacrifice, it took until 1918 in Great Britain for women age 30 or older to gain this right (even then they had to be properly owners or university graduates), 1928 to gain full access, one reason why Suffragette’s story can’t end on a triumphant note within its scenes because with the time needed to present these 1912-13 events we’d have been at mini-series length to finally get to the actual state of closure.  Further, most of the characters that we see in this film (except Pankhurst, Davison, and Lloyd George) are fictional constructs (although based on real people and events of the times) so continued extensions of non-existent-variations on actual history would dilute the impact of what’s being presented here.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Assuming that Nina’s read this far before banishing me to the garage for the rest of the month, I’ll now divulge why I put Suffragette under Short Takes while giving more space to Spectre (I pre-determined that one of them would get the briefer treatment so as to help me stay more concise in this posting than I’ve been able to manage for the previous couple of weeks).  The simple truth is that I think this excellent account of a powerful episode in the ongoing battle for women’s rights will stand on its merits for anyone who sees it (maybe not those who just read about it, as my critical colleagues overall have been rather stingy with praise [Rotten Tomatoes, 72% positive, Metacritic 67%, just a bit better than for Spectre in both cases; more details in the links below]), while I felt my favorable reaction to Bond’s latest episode (Nina joins me in that opinion, as she certainly does about Suffragette) needed more space to elaborate (not that 007 needs any help from me at the box-office)Suffragette tells a terrible story in a marvelous manner, making clear not only the abuses that these particular working-class-women suffered in this past time of needed change but also the rigid resistance of their society as a whole (including many women willing to tolerate the status quo) to meet their reasonable demands (not that getting the vote on an almost-worldwide-basis today has solved all of the problems of the vast number of ongoing victims of misogyny, as illustrated by the Sisters Uncut peaceful demonstration of young women at the red-carpet-premiere of Suffragette in London, calling attention to domestic violence by blocking the carpet, chanting “Dead Women Can’t Vote”).  Mulligan’s been cited by Entertainment Weekly (in print in the November 13, 2015 issue, p. 48) as a “Serious Threat” for a 2015 Best Actress Oscar nomination, while for me her surrounding cast is just as impactful, particularly Duff and Carter, so I do hope you’ll join those many Livermore attendees in adding to this film’s income (sadly, only about $1.13 million after 3 weeks out but just now going into wider release) as it well-illustrates an episode in the long-standing-struggle for gender-equality that needs much more attention and support.*

(*Relative to this issue, just before I was set to “go to press” [so to speak], I came across articles from Variety where Sandra Bullock testifies about Hollywood’s ongoing sexism and pay-disparity [just as Jennifer Lawrence had earlier done regarding American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013; review in our December 27, 2013 posting)—or was she truly underpaid?; you'll find lots of other interesting commentary in this link also] but there’s a bit of hope concerning Scarlett Johansson who’s noted as receiving equal pay for The Avengers [Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting], at least compared to Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth if not Robert Downey Jr., as part of Disney’s attempt to balance the gender scales in their projects.  There’s much more on this topic in a recent Variety cover story; also see the 3rd link below for Suffragette regarding Meryl Streep’s complaints against Rotten Tomatoes for their lack of surveyed female film critics.)

 I’ll end this with a Musical Metaphor taken from Suffragette’s trailer, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” (from the 1975 band-named-album) at, a live version featuring just the song’s author, Stevie Nicks, and its subject, Lindsey Buckingham (the version with the trailer’s sung at a much slower tempo but I don’t know by whom; my apologies for being so unhip but you can enlighten me if you like); the overt content of this song is about a strained-romantic-relationship, but lines such as “I’ve been afraid of changing ‘Cause I’ve built my life around you But time makes you bolder Even children get older And I’m getting older too” easily speak to Maud and Sonny’s specific relationship, just as the question of “Will the landslide bring you down” addresses their patriarchal society as a whole where many male politicians and their supporters continued their resistance against women voting as long as they could enforce it. 
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Spectre: (Top 10 Spectre Movie Facts)

Here’s more information about Suffragette: (36:07 press conference from the 2015 London Film Festival with director Sarah Gavron, screenwriter Abi Morgan, and actors Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, who probably gets as much screen time here as she does in the film; she also makes the point that Rotten Tomatoes draws reviews from 760 men but just 168 women, thereby pushing films with primarily women's interests to the margins if the male critics don't understand and promote them [although not all 928 critics are surveyed on each film, but I see evidence in favor of Streep's argument where Suffragette is concerned as my own count shows that there are 80 of the RT reviews written by men, 43 by women with the men giving 28 of the 34 negative reviews, the women only 6 so that 35% of the rejections came from the males vs. only 14% from the females])

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I can always count on Ken to make a convoluted story like Spectre comprehensible. While I was an early James Bond print and film fan, I lost interest in the Roger Moore era and was not impressed again until Daniel Craig's 007 in Skyfall. I will admit I am not a big fan of high dollar, low intelligence action film sequels and this one fits that category perfectly. I also believe exceptional stories make classic film, regardless of budget or production techniques.

    As Ken noted above I was not impressed by the screenwriting in Spectre, much of the acting, or the use dark, grainy and sometimes out of focus photography. Perhaps the look was by design (see link below), and the soft, low contrast, and pastel backgrounds may have helped the massive special effects used throughout the movie. The old school 35mm film was then digitized for distribution to our almost universally equipped digital projection theaters. However, it was interesting that the impressive Thames River chase and London skyline scenes at the end of the film were captured in "Alexa" digital to achieve superior low light nighttime renditions and to my eye, a more natural look.

    Regardless of the cinematography, there was short supply of smart screenwriting and dialog. All of which makes me wonder if the result was not the real reason why Daniel Craig and Director Sam Mendes have suggested this was their last 007.

    Director Sam Mendes on Going Back to 35mm for 'Spectre'
    Some of the Comments to the above link are also interesting.

  2. Hi rj, Excellent to have you in the Comments section as well as in the actual review for a change (you're always welcome in both venues, with whatever you've got to contribute). Thanks for your further enhancement of what's happening (or not) with Spectre, especially this marvelous link about the retro use of 35mm for the latest episode of the Bond saga. We'll just have to disagree about the merits of this movie (although we're in sync on the superior qualities of Skyfall) even though, like you, I was a fan of the early films, which inspired me to read all of Ian Fleming's Bond novels in the summer before my senior year in high school (the constant departure of the movie plots from the books as the series went on, along with the departure of Connery in the lead role, made the ongoing continuation of the series harder to stay connected to, I admit).

    Who knows where this long-term franchise is headed next, but if Mendes and Craig can be coerced for one more appearance (with huge paydays, I'd assume) I do hope they go out in exceedingly fine fashion. If it's up to a new team to carry the torch, may they find strategies to keep us involved as I'd hate for this charismatic character to finally wear out his welcome (although as the decades roll on, such a result is likely to be inevitable). Ken