James Bond, Agent 007, is back in form. After the flabby mess that was Quantum of Solace, Sam Mendes has brought Daniel Craig’s Bond raging back in a film that is almost as good as Casino Royale. This time the girl to watch is Dame Judi Dench as M, the formidable head of MI6, normally a cameo, but who this time plays front and center in a riveting tale of how this puppet master of the intelligence community finds her dark past catching up with her. She might not have the curves, but she has the dramatic chops to lift this action thriller to stratospheric heights, and there is always Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe, among others, to provide the eye candy. Mendes has not been afraid to play around with the franchise’s cliches, with some bold casting choices such as Ben Whishaw as Q, Bond’s quartermaster, and Javier Bardem, once again proving what a superlative performer he is as the story’s villain. Bond has rarely been this good.
This period film by German director Christian Petzold has picked up numerous awards on the festival circuit for its subtle exploration of the claustrophobia and paranoia created by the police state in East Germany during the 1980s. Starring Nina Hoss, a Petzold regular, the pace of the film about a nurse from Berlin exiled to a small, rural hospital as punishment for seeking an exit visa, is measured, even slow. Nevertheless, Petzold maintains the atmosphere of suffocating control, momentarily dispelled by moments of unexpected emotional release, with such assurance that Barbara never loses its grip on the audience. The film won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.
In 1991, director Jaco Van Dormael scored a major hit with Toto the Hero, and with Mr Nobody he has taken the device of multiple lives and, well, multiplied it, over and over, into a complicated mess of a film. The film starts in the year 2092, when 180-year-old Nemo recounts his life story to a reporter. He gets a little confused, and flits across various alternative life paths, in which he is with different women and in different circumstances, in the course of which the viewer is likely to become utterly confused. “So long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible,” one youthful version of Nemo tells the audience. Dormael seems happy to remain in this flux of unresolved potentiality through the 141 minutes of the film, but viewers might simply wish that they had chosen not to waste their time and money.
Chronicle of My Mother
Adapted from Japanese author Yasushi Inoue’s 1960s-set autobiographical novels about his relationship with his aging mom, Chronicle of My Mother is a thoughtful, though ultimately upbeat portrait of caring for an aged and increasingly senile woman. Director Masato Hamada splits the point-of-view between Inoue and his sister, weakening the intensity of the tale, but does not shy away from taking some risks with this difficult topic, allowing a degree of whimsy, even comedy, to creep in, using this to flesh out a back story and make Inoue’s mother much more than an object of pity.
Yet another bloody horror from the pen of Marcus Dunstan, the creative force being the interminable continuation of the Saw franchise well beyond its sell-by date. Arkin, (Josh Stewart) ventures into a house of horrors to pay off his debt to an ex-wife, only to be faced with a series of boobietraps set up by “The Collector,” whose greatest satisfaction is to watch people like Arkin die in horrible ways. This first episode is from 2009, and the sequel The Collection, which provides more of the same, is soon to be released.