Richard’s Review:  4 1/2 stars

Just when it seems like everything that could possibly be written about James Bond and the 23 official movies chronicling his super spy exploits, along comes “Skyfall” -- a movie that pays homage to the past while redefining the future of the franchise.

After a mission in Turkey goes awry, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed lost. His boss and mentor M (Judy Dench) declares him deceased. However, when a terrorist hacker leads a deadly cyber-attack on MI6 headquarters 007 returns to his post, tired, haggard and injured but eager to get back into the spy business.

Bond is sent back into the field to track down the villain behind the attack. His investigation leads him to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a psychotic criminal mastermind in the best Ian Fleming tradition.

Silva isn’t interested in a huge ransom or aiding Soviet missile development. No, he wants something more personal and deadly -- revenge.

The movie’s tone is established in the opening moments of “Skyfall’s” opening sequence. It’s a stylized, psychedelic montage in the traditional Bond style, set to a new Adele song that evokes the Bond themes of old -- before they started hiring Duran Duran and A-ha to warble the opening numbers. Despite the nod to the history of the series, it feels fresh. A blend of old and new, it shapes the understanding of Bond as an old dog in new times, who, by the end of the film will literally and figuratively blow up the past to ensure the future.

“Skyfall” is the most thematically mature Bond movie yet. Even the action sequences are a comment on old versus new, pitting Bond’s street smarts and savvy against Silva’s high-tech machines of destruction. A new Q (played by Ben Whishaw) spends more time behind a computer keyboard than devising gadgets.

Of course, most of us don’t go to Bond movies looking for subtext. We want a Bond girl, a fight scene or three, at last one cool gadget and a cackling villain.

“Skyfall” delivers on most of that. Bérénice Marlohe and Naomie Harris split Bond girl duties, while Craig battles bad guys, feeding one to a hungry reptile. As for gadgets, director Sam Mendes seems to understand that less is more. “Exploding pens?,” Q asks at one point. “We don’t really go in for that anymore.” 

As for the villain, Bardem makes a quiet but spectacular entrance with a speech worthy of the best Bond villains. With wild blond hair and an uncharacteristically understated demeanour Bardem oozes Oedipal menace on screen. He is a Bond bad guy for a new generation and his presence is one of the great pleasures of the movie. 

The connection between Bond and M lies at the heart of the film. For the first time their relationship is explored, revealing a deeper connection than has been hinted at in the past. Dench’s performance adds dimension to a relationship that has been taken for granted in previous entries.  

A near perfect blend of old and new, “Skyfall” is a heady mix of action and intellect that will leave moviegoers shaken and stirred.


Richard’s Review:  4 1/2 stars

Seen as a pair “Lincoln” and “War Horse” appear to usher in a new phase in Steven Spielberg's career. No longer the Young Turk who made "Jaws," “Indiana Jones” or “ET,” Spielberg is now entering his golden age, or at least his homage to the golden age of Hollywood and the movies of his old-school heroes.

Despite a running time of two-and-a-half hours, “Lincoln” focuses on a short period in the president’s career. Spielberg and “Angel’s in America” writer Tony Kushner have zeroed in on the months surrounding the backroom politics that allowed the passage of the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Several stories run parallel, but the thrust of the narrative focuses on the passage of this historic document. 

The first glimpse of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, feels like watching a Yankee five-dollar bill come to life. Day-Lewis takes a familiar character, seen on money and enshrined in marble at the National Mall in Washington and brings him to vivid life.

It’s a remarkable performance that blends familiar historical details with personality to create a real flesh and blood character complete with quirkier qualities, including Lincoln’s habit of telling long anecdotes and his occasional prickliness. It falls in line with history’s attempts to bestow sainthood on Honest Abe, but doesn’t ignore the president’s human side.

Day-Lewis brings the myth of the man to life in a film filled with remarkable acting. Despite the worst wig in cinema history, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican who wanted to give voting rights to freed slaves, makes the speeches in legislature sparkle with life and righteous indignation.

Sally Field sheds light on the misunderstood Mary Todd Lincoln. "All anyone will remember of me is that I was crazy and ruined your happiness," she says.

James Spader also provides a much-needed light touch as a proto lobbyist.

The glimpse of 19th-century backroom politics is fascinating, although restless viewers may find some of the colourful dialogue daunting. Many of the speeches sounds like Conrad Black on a bender, so bring a dictionary if words like pulchritude throw you for a loop.

Spielberg's treatment of the story is respectful, but nuanced. He doesn’t shy away from showing Abe and Mary arguing, for instance. But the well-crafted film feels old-fashioned, like a throwback to another era when epic filmmaking didn’t necessarily mean showing planets exploding but showcasing epic ideas. 

“Chasing Ice”  

Richard’s Review: 4  stars

If the pie charts and slide shows of “An Inconvenient Truth” got you thinking about climate change, then “Chasing Ice” should make you a believer.

The documentary (directed and photographed by Jeff Orlowski) follows the efforts of photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey Project as they travel to Greenland, Iceland and Alaska to create a wide-ranging photographic study of the world's glaciers.

The story begins in 2005 when Balog documented the changing climate in the Arctic for National Geographic. He went in a skeptic, but was soon convinced that the ice contained the incontrovertible truth about global warming. Expanding his project from a magazine assignment to an elaborate 25 camera shoot –- snapping pictures every hour as long as there was daylight -- he created an eye-opening, time-lapse account of a world in flux.

If nothing else “Chasing Ice” captures the power of Mother Nature. Balog’s images are starkly beautiful, showing these ancient glaciers bowing to the pressures of a modern world as they disappear at a shocking rate. Along with that strange beauty comes an uncomfortable feeling that these images are signaling something with huge repercussions. They are awe inspiring in a way that “An Inconvenient Truth’s” graphs and statistics were not.

Climate change is a hot-button subject in modern politics. Even if you don’t agree the earth is changing as a result of humankind’s reliance on fossil fuels, “Chasing Ice” provides powerful and thought-provoking fodder for discussion.