Spectre (2015)

2015 #168
Sam Mendes | 148 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 12A / PG-13

Regular readers will remember I shared my spoiler-free thoughts on Spectre when it came out. Consequently, this review contains major spoilers, of the “if you read this you will know every twist that happens in the movie” variety.

The 24th official James Bond movie had a funny old ride on its cinema release a few months ago. It started well, with near-universal praise from UK critics; audience reaction was more mixed but erred towards the positive; then US critics tore into it, and US audiences (as usual) followed suit. The latter seems to have become the more accepted view, with the consensus seemingly that it’s decent enough, but a definite step down from the high of Skyfall and a middle-of-the-road instalment in the context of the entire series.

Spectre sees Bond (Daniel Craig) charged by dead-M (a Judi Dench cameo) with tracking down an assassin, as a way in to a secretive organisation that Bond’s other recent nemeses seem to have been a part of. While new-M (Ralph Fiennes) is distracted in London dealing with MI5 upstart Denbigh (Andrew Scott) and his dubious information-sharing plan that will make MI6 obsolete, Bond follows a trail of breadcrumbs to Rome, Austria, and Africa as he attempts to track down the organisation’s leader (Christoph Waltz).

That’s the foreshortened version of the plot, because much of Spectre plays like a detective movie: Bond uncovers clues that send him in new directions moving closer and closer to his goal. Where this falls down is there’s no mystery for him to unearth, at least not to the audience. We (and he) know this secret organisation exists, and we also know who’s in charge — it’s pretty hard to have not heard that Christoph Waltz is playing a Bond villain. So what twist does the film wheel out to keep this worthwhile? Is Waltz actually a front for the real villain? No. Perhaps there will be an incredible reveal about who Waltz’s character really is? Well…

Spectre, to put it bluntly, pulls a Star Trek Into Darkness — and considering writer Damon Lindelof recently admitted they’d messed up the reveal that (spoiler!) Benedict Cumberbatch was actually Khan (and J.J. Abrams admitted they’d messed up the film more generally, but that’s another issue), it’s a shame Spectre tried to repeat the same trick. So yes, as everyone predicted since the day he was cast, Waltz is playing Blofeld. The problem is, the film plays this as a twist/reveal, but it’s not a revelation to the characters, only to the viewer. In this interview with Empire magazine, director Sam Mendes says that not revealing Blofeld’s identity to the viewing public in advance was important because it’s a detective story and Bond doesn’t know the identity of the ‘murderer’, and we shouldn’t know before Bond. Which is poppycock, frankly, because the name Blofeld means nothing to Bond — the revelation for him is that his deceased childhood acquaintance is, a) alive, b) has become a super-villain, and c) has spent the last few years deliberately toying with Bond because of some childhood grudge. That’s why it’s just like the Khan ‘twist’: it means absolutely bugger all to the characters, but it does mean something to the audience. I’m certain there were ways to handle it in-film to make it work both ways — to make it a twist that Oberhauser is also Blofeld — but they don’t pursue that option even a little bit. And of course we all knew anyway, so it feels even sillier. If they’d played the “someone else we’re keeping secret might be Blofeld” game — if there’d been some misdirection to make us thing Denbigh would be unmasked as the big man behind it all — maybe it would’ve worked. But they didn’t.

For me, this is the point where the whole film went off the boil. It occurs at the start of a torture scene, which I thought was an over-complicated wannabe-Casino Royale sequence that consequently doesn’t work, and provides the gateway to an underwhelming final section in London. It seems the film’s third act was always a problem — if you read about what was revealed by the Sony leaks (in this coverage, for example), it’s clear the film entered production with the climax still not nailed down, because no one could quite agree on it. From that article, it indeed sounds like most of the film remained the same (or at least near enough), but the third act has definitely been re-worked, albeit retaining the same general thrust. I still don’t think it works. There’s too much of M, Q and Moneypenny sat in an office trying to stop a man typing something into a computer (more on this in a minute), while Bond is busy running around a building and shooting at a helicopter. Personally, I’d’ve thrown it out and started again, but I guess they’d run out of time, and maybe it was better than the alternative.

The leaked draft also ended with Bond executing Blofeld, shooting him in the head at point blank range. The studio thought this callous. In the finished film, he spares him, the movie justifying this as Bond rejecting his former life as a government assassin to go off and be with the woman he’s fallen completely in love with in the last three days. Was it Sony’s note that changed Blofeld’s fate, or a desire to keep Bond’s Moriarty in play for future instalments? I guess we’ll find out once Bond 25 starts ramping up. I wouldn’t mind seeing a good deal more of Waltz in the role. In Spectre he’s almost entirely constrained to the third act, thanks to that attempt at a twist; now he’s been established, surely next time they can let him loose across the entire movie? Reports indicate the return or otherwise of Waltz will hinge on Craig’s decision about returning (despite ‘news’ to the contrary last week, this seems to still be up in the air), so we’ll have to wait and see on both fronts.

Back to the issue of M, Q and Moneypenny. I’ve seen critics of the film assert that it was a mistake to cast actors of the calibre of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw only to give them so little to do. This tickles me a little, because if anything I thought they played too large a role. All three have their place within a Bond narrative, and that place may have changed somewhat over the years (particularly with regards to Moneypenny), but it feels like we spend as much time with them saving the day as with Bond. This isn’t Mission: Impossible — it isn’t a team effort. Is it realistic that a lone agent goes around saving the world? No, of course it isn’t, and it never was; but the point of Bond has never been realism. And besides, the reason you cast quality actors in minor roles is so they can pop in for a day or two and make their one scene exceptionally good. Bulk their part up if you’ve got a story to tell, by all means, but don’t shoehorn them in just because you’ve got them. For my money, Spectre is too much doing the latter.

I could go on and on about a Bond movie (as anyone who’s read my 5,000 words on Skyfall will know), and obviously there are whole swathes of the film I’ve not touched on (the girls, the gadgets, the titles, that bloody song, the action sequences, the emptiness of Rome’s streets), but for now I’ll finish off with some more thoughts on that Mendes interview. (If you’re interested in “why we did that” behind-the-scenes stuff, do read the whole thing — there’s more interesting stuff there than I’m going to mention.) For starters, he reveals that the memorable opening “single take” is actually four shots stitched together, and challenges you to spot the cuts. It’s a fantastic opener, but, to be frank, I don’t think the transitions are that hard to ascertain. (From memory: there’s definitely one as they enter the building, another before they enter the hotel room, and the third is somewhere around when Bond climbs out the window onto the rooftops).

Despite the Sony leaks, Mendes thinks Bond killing Blofeld was never an option. He says it’s “sewn into the fabric of the film” that the story takes a man who kills for a living (and states as much at one point) to a position where he chooses not to kill. See too: M saying a licence to kill is also a licence not to kill; and the idea that, to Blofeld, being exposed and incarcerated is worse than being killed. This is a thematic thread the film arguably gets right, though sending Bond off to a “happy ending” seems a risky strategy when it comes to luring back a leading man they hope to retain but who may prefer to leave. Or perhaps they’re just planning to go On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on us. Mendes also says the ending was deliberately written as a way for Craig to leave, intending it to be an in-film conclusion that would serve as an exit if he chose not to come back, but which was also open enough that he could return without it being implausible. Time will tell which it will be.

As I mentioned in my ‘initial thoughts’ piece, it takes time and repeated viewings to settle a film into a ranking among the Bond pantheon… but it’s no fun just waiting, so let’s have a crack now. The broadest way of categorising that is, “is Spectre top ten material?” As a widely divisive Bond film, everyone’s going to have a very different opinion (when don’t they?), but when I tried to list my top ten Bond films for the sake of comparison, I got easily into double digits before I began to consider Spectre. Maybe I’m being too harsh now — I did fundamentally like it for most of the running time, but there are niggles throughout and the last couple of reels left a sour taste. For a film that should build on the excellence of Casino Royale and Skyfall, as well as finally fulfil a decade-long promise to restore more “classic Bond” elements to the franchise, it wasn’t all it could’ve been.

4 out of 5

Spectre is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on Monday.

Merry Christmas, Internet

I was going to post my review of The Force Awakens today, but I’ve had a grotty cold and haven’t felt like writing it.

Er, I mean — Merry Christmas! Glad tidings to all! It’s the most wondrous time of the year!

100 Films HQ, today.

100 Films HQ, today.

This is what happens when you meet all the family, then all the other family, then go shopping, then to a crowded cinema (i.e. spending time in confined spaces with lots of strangers and their germs), and then stand around in the cold and rain at Longleat for two hours.

Longleat was good, though.

Longleat was good, though.

Anyway, I hope you’re having a nice day. I’m off to debate whether to bother making Christmas lunch or just leave it for tomorrow (because it’s just the two of us and the dog, and precisely none of those people are bothered whether we have The Big Meal today or on another day when I’m feeling more like it).

Marty McFly, in the TARDIS, under our tree, yesterday.

Marty McFly, in the TARDIS, under our tree, yesterday.

Oh, and if you’ve not heard it already, don’t bother with Radiohead’s Spectre theme, it’s rubbish. (But because I know I’d want to hear it even after someone gave me that advice, here’s a link).

Merry Christmas!

The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Monthly Update for October 2015

It was inevitable that the sheer size of September’s accomplishment would overshadow whatever I watched in October. After all, it was my highest-viewing month for over eight years — how long would it be before I could say that again?

Turns out: one month.

Though, actually, October 2015 isn’t my highest month for eight years — it’s my highest month ever.

(Alright, I promise to never use memes again.)


In a conversation in last month’s comment section, Tom of Digital Shortbread observed that my monthly updates had “lots and lots of stuff to take in”. As I responded, “I think I may have overloaded these monthly posts,” and I think I was right.

So this month I’ve slightly pared back, simplified, and rearranged (you can now find the Arbies right at the end, here) to focus in on what these are meant to be about: a progress report on my eponymous goal. Exorcised categories may resurface in other forms later, and things will be even more streamlined from December when my archive reposts are complete — and when I haven’t watched the most number of films ever, of course — but this is fundamentally it for the new new-look monthly updates.

The first thing I’ve done away with is the contents list, so it’s straight in to:


#142 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
#143 The Wrestler (2008)
#144 The Fifth Estate (2013)
#145 Twilight (2008)
#146 Ender’s Game (2013)
#147 sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
#148 Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
#149 Supermen of Malegaon (2008)
#149a The Crying of Lot 49 (2007)
#150 Parabellum (2015)
#151 Dreams of a Life (2011)
#152 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
#153 Wings (1927)
#154 Jurassic World (2015)
#155 The Decoy Bride (2011)
#156 Coherence (2013)
#157 Circle (2015)
#158 Europa Report (2013)
#159 Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
#160 The Grandmaster (2013), aka Yi dai zong shi
#161 Back in Time (2015)
#162 Stoker (2013)
#163 The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920), aka Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam
#164 Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
#165 Mr. Holmes (2015)
#166 Life Itself (2014)
#167 The Machine (2013)
#168 Spectre (2015)
#169 Jupiter Ascending (2015)
#170 The Babadook (2014)
#171 Blue Ruin (2013)
#172 You’re Next (2011)


  • One more What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen film this month: Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. I’ve got four left to get through in the next two months, now.
  • As I mentioned in my review, I was going to review the entire Twilight Saga for Halloween, but a free month of Netflix (which I had to take now lest it expire (oh the hardship)) saw to that.
  • Relatedly, a point about director Bill Condon: if the Twilight plan had gone ahead, he’d’ve gone from “never seen one of his films” to one of my top twenty-something most-reviewed directors in just one month. But I didn’t, so he doesn’t… for now.
  • After last month’s awesomely wide decade spread, this month I watched two films from the ’20s, one each from the ’70s and ’80s, four from the 2000s… and 24 from the 2010s. Business as normal, then.
  • I don’t think I watch a great many documentaries (though I have no stats to back that up), but this month I watched five. However many I watch normally, that’s certainly high for one month.
  • I also watched ten sci-fi films this month. That’s less surprising, but it’s still a relatively large amount.
  • Finally: thanks to all those films, the header image took me a couple of hours to put together. I mean that literally — it took the best part of two hours.


After discussing last month the uncertainty of how many films I watched in August 2007, which makes it hard to know whether it’s been surpassed or not… well, this month I soundly, definitively, unquestionably overtook it: that long, long list above adds up to 31 new feature films.

Now I just need to do it twice more and the August 2007 issue can be put to bed forever. I can tell you for nothing, it won’t happen this year (but we’ll come to that).

So what else is there to say about those 31 films? Well, obviously it maintains my ten-per-month goal, for the 17th month in a row now. It’s also the second month in a row with over 20 films, the first time that’s ever happened… which is unsurprising when you remember that before 2015 I’d only ever had one month with over 20 films. It also surpasses last October’s tally, because, obviously. That’s a full 12 consecutive months besting the previous year’s counterpart. And it goes without saying that it’s the best October ever (by 17) and the best month of 2015 (by eight).

For most of 2015 the rolling monthly average has been 15 films per month. September dragged it up to 15.67, the first time it had been closer to 16 since January was 16. October’s tally is pretty much double that, in the process single-handedly dragging the average all the way up to 17.2! It has even more of an effect on the all-time October monthly average, which goes from 10.0 to 12.6.

And all other year-to-date and entire-year records have already been smashed in previous months, so that’ll next be worth discussing after December.

So what about predictions for the remaining two months of 2015? Well, in January I laughed at the ridiculous suggestion that I could make it to 192 by the end of the year. That’s now just 20 films away, meaning I only need to watch my ‘minimum’ 10 films per month to pass it. And 192… well, that’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from 200. 200! 200! Two frickin’ hundred!

Now, let’s calm back down, because there are challenges in the way of such a bold target: later in November I’m away for most of a week, and there are a couple of time-filling TV series on the way (more on that in a bit), which will likely roll over into December, and before you know it it’ll be Christmas and all the travelling and spending time with family will hamper proceedings somewhat. Damn family.

Away from the real world and in the realm of numbers and statistics, though, we can conjure up the following array of possibilities. If I only reach my historical average viewing levels for November and December, I’ll make it to 190 — and thereby miss the aforementioned ten-per-month target, so I’ll be thoroughly upset with myself if that happens. As mentioned, achieving that target for two more months places me at 192. If I continue my other on-going streak — of surpassing the same month last year — than I’ll wind up at 202. If I manage the monthly average that I maintained for most of the year, that also puts me at 202. If I can hold up the new average of 17.2, though, I’ll get all the way to 206.

206! 206! Two hundred and frickin’ six!

Well, we’ll see.



This month’s flood of reposts takes us all the way through my recaps of 2008 to 2011, leaving the way clear for next month to be all about the year-end summary posts.

The pictures are all a bit samey, so let me guide you though them in clumps. The month began with a week-long rush through all of 2008, 2009, and the start of 2010:

Then it was on to the first ever monthly updates, which cover the bulk of 2010:

Finally, the entirety of 2011, across twelve monthly updates:

Now, 2011’s summaries are already online — you can peruse the full list and all the exciting statistics here, and learn about my top ten and bottom five here. Next month, as I mentioned, I’ll be reposting the summaries for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, one year per weekend.



The 5th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
In a month with so many films, there’s a fair chance a lot of them will be good — indeed, 15 of October’s films are on the long-list for my year-end top ten (I’m quite liberal with what goes on that list, but still). Pushing aside mind-boggling done-for-real action, hugely successful reboots of childhood favourites, atmospheric Gothic thrillers, and thoroughly terrifying horrors, is a little documentary that was shown in the middle of the night on Channel 4 about a bunch of amateur filmmakers in India. The only one of those 15 to have definitely reserved a place on my top ten is the life-enhancing Supermen of Malegaon.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Similarly, in a month with so many films there’s a fair chance a few of them will be bad. There would indeed be a few contenders for the October wooden spoon, but they were all saved the dishonour by a rare single-star film: dull arthouse SF Parabellum.

Film You Have to Be Most Careful How You Talk About In Case Someone Thinks You’re a Paedophile or Something
One minute it’s Arya Stark having a sexual awakening about her brother, the next it’s Alice in Wonderland having an orgasm when she plays the piano. I think October’s pair of erotically-charged movies starring schoolgirls, The Falling and Stoker, can share this one.

Biggest Nostalgia Hit of the Month
It was pretty special to relive some of my childhood favourites through the documentaries Turtle Power (I had so many of the toys they showed!) and Back in Time (I really need to re-watch the BTTF trilogy), but this honour goes to the hair-raising thrill elicited when John Williams’ memorable theme swells under the unveiling of a place full of wonder in Jurassic World.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
This crown was claimed and re-claimed several times during the month, but the final victor may not be that surprising: my moderately-speedy spoiler-free first thoughts on that always-popular topic, a new James Bond film: Spectre.


Jessica Jones comes to Netflix and The Man in the High Castle comes to Amazon Prime — on the same day, frustratingly. I won’t be reviewing either, but they’ll ultimately eat up around 23 hours of my potential film-viewing time, so let’s expect a smaller-scale month than I’ve achieved of late.

In amongst all that, hopefully I’ll finally find time to bloody well re-watch the Veronica Mars movie and bloody well get bloody 2014 bloody finished.

Also, when we meet again for one of these round-ups it’ll be December (already?!) and I’ll be launching my 2015 advent calendar, too. What larks!

I saw Spectre days after the eager-beavers but still before some people, so here are my spoiler-free thoughts

It’s been quite the year for spies on the big screen: mega-success for Kingsman, high praise for Mission: Impossible 5, comedy from Spy, the TV-ish thrills of Spooks, and you may’ve missed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — based on its box office, most people did. But now we come to the biggest of them all: Bond. James Bond.

Chances are, if you’re interested in a review of the 24th Bond movie you’ve already read one. Several, probably. Nonetheless, as both a blogger and a Bond fan who saw the series’ latest instalment this afternoon, I’m compelled to throw some of my initial spoiler-free thoughts out there. Plus, in places, commentary on those other reviews.

For starters, if you have read any other reviews, you’ll know it begins with a helluva pre-titles sequence; perhaps the only part of the film to have attracted unqualified universal praise. A big opening action scene has become one of the series’ most iconic elements, and Spectre contends (against stiff competition) to be considered the best yet. Too stiff, in my view. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic opener, with one of the entire series’ best shots, but the very best of them all? That’s just hyperbole because it’s the newest.

It leads into the title sequence — another of the series’ most famed elements, of course. No details, because I know that I wouldn’t want anyone to spoil it for me, but I thought it had some strong imagery without being amongst Daniel Kleinman’s very best work (GoldenEye, Casino Royale, Skyfall). Sam Smith’s insipid song is slightly less irritating in context.

Most reviews will also contain a version of one of these two comments: either, “they’ve finally brought back the classic Bond formula, but integrated into the Craig-era style — how wonderful”; or, “they’ve merely brought back the classic Bond formula, albeit in the Craig-era style — what a regression”. You only have to look at the Rotten Tomatoes pull quotes (at the time of writing — these will surely change once US critics oust UK ones from the front page) to see this played out. It’s true that Spectre is much more like one’s idea of a “classic Bond film” than any of Craig’s previous films were, but it didn’t strike me quite so much as it clearly struck others. As to whether that’s a deliberate filmmaking choice which has succeeded beautifully, or a case of lazily falling back on (or being unable to escape) the series’ tropes… well, your mileage — and appreciation — will vary. Considering both Craig and Mendes have mentioned in multiple interviews that they were deliberately bringing back more of the familiar Bond elements (something Craig had been hoping to do gradually ever since Casino Royale jettisoned most of them; indeed, I believe he’s mentioned it regularly since that time, too), I think we must conclude it was a deliberate decision. So the question becomes: do you approve of that decision? If you didn’t like Bond pre-Craig, or think the time for such things has passed, then probably not; if you’re a fan of the series as a whole, however, it may be a welcome return for some recently-absent familiarities.

For all its modernism, there’s one aspect which the Craig era has always had in keeping with earlier Bonds: the casting of the villain. After the Brosnan era gave us Brit Sean Bean, Brit Jonathan Pryce, Brit Robert Carlyle, and Brit Toby Stephens (even if some of them were playing foreigners), Craig’s films have stuck to the older formula of casting a respected/famous European: Dane Mads Mikkelsen, Frenchman Mathieu Amalric, Spaniard Javier Bardem, and now German “European actor du jour” Christoph Waltz. The double Oscar winner is on fine form at times, but there aren’t quite enough of those times. Again, without aiming to spoil anything, I’d say he’s not so much underused as misused.

Action sequences are naturally fantastic, the best coming in the alps. Thomas Newman’s score is as bland and unmemorable as his work last time, while Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is strong, but not quite as striking as Roger Deakins’ in Skyfall. According to most reviews, M has the best line and biggest laugh. I have to say, I’m forced to guess which that line is, because neither of the two contenders I’d put forward provoked much response in my screening.

The real downside comes in a muddled third act, which suggests the Sony leaks were right: either this is the one they criticised for not being good enough, or it’s the written-during-production replacement. Either way, it feels off the ball. Further discussion next time…

I must also mention that Madeleine Swann’s name is a reference to Proust, because I believe it’s beholden on every reviewer to point this out to make sure you know they got the reference. Well, I did too. Now I want a cake. And if you’d like to watch someone eat a Madeleine, check out Blue is the Warmest Colour. (Too far?)

Oh, and I must get in a pun along the lines of, “what were you exSpectreing?”, or “we’ve been exSpectreing you, Mr Bond”. I guess mine should be, “I exSpectred something more.”

My spoilersome full review of Spectre is available here.