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A superspy to fall for

SKYFALL Action/Adventure. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney. Directed by Sam Mendes. Cert 12A

When it came to the making of the 23rd entry in cinema's longest-running franchise the James Bond producers were faced with several dilemmas. Given that it was 50 years ago to the month that Dr No first appeared there was clear pressure to maintain the highest standards of the past while still bringing something fresh to proceedings.

On top of that was the realisation that while Daniel Craig was a resounding success in the rebooted series with Casino Royale, its successor Quantum of Solace came as a terrible disappointment. Glad to report, all concerned have upped their game and come through with flying colours.



STRIKE

Part of the problem with Quantum was that shooting started without a finished script due to the looming writers' strike, a bit of a drawback given that it's good to know where you're going with a movie, particularly one with a budget somewhere north of $100m.

No such problems here, though, as Skyfall has a tight story which both offers the opportunity for great action set-pieces and allows pause for breath to offer more characterisation than we'd normally expect from a Bond movie. Best of both worlds, really, and it works.

We open with a spectacular chase sequence in Istanbul, with Bond in pursuit of an enemy agent who has eliminated an MI6 team and escaped with a list of spies embedded in various worldwide terror organisations.

It's a thrilling pre-title ride, involving motorbikes zooming across the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar (the same location as seen in the ludicrous Taken 2) before the action switches to the roof of a train and ends with Bond shot and apparently killed by rookie agent Eve (Naomie Harris).

Back in London, M (Judi Dench) is under pressure from Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the head of an intelligence committee, who wants to do away with the operational methods which have been used for decades.

In addition to that, the list which Bond was trying to acquire is now in the possession of former MI6 agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who has his own reasons for plotting M's demise.

Shake, stir and away we go.

Director Sam Mendes has a background in theatre and his cinema CV, which includes American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, wouldn't exactly have him at the top of a betting list to helm a Bond movie but he does an excellent job here.

He's aided greatly by a solid story and fine performances. Daniel Craig, craggy and quite rough-looking at times, is a perfect Bond, Judi Dench brings all her gravitas to the role of M while Ralph Fiennes exudes calm menace as the scheming Mallory.

And, of course, every good Bond needs a top villain and Javier Bardem has great fun as the foppish but deadly dangerous Silva.

Skyfall could perhaps have been a tad shorter, but that's a minor quibble as regards a film which nods to the series' past (gloriously so in one particular scene during which I had to restrain myself from actually cheering ... you'll know the one) but keeps things rooted in the present and gives us a peek into the future, courtesy of fresh characters like Eve and the new Q (Ben Whishaw).

It's a great achievement, far and away the best of the Craig era, and, dare I say it, the best Bond since On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Letters of complaint to the usual address.

HHHHI

STITCHES Horror/Comedy. Starring Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Eoghan McQuinn, Lorna Dempsey. Directed by Conor McMahon. Cert 16

Cheap, nasty and just downright horrible, this low-budget Irish effort might try to skate by on the 'yes it's a bad B-movie but we know we're making a bad B-movie' excuse but, frankly, I don't buy that line for one second.

The story, if you could call it that, centres around a misanthropic clown (Ross Noble) who meets his death at a six-year-old's birthday party and, for reasons not even the film's own wonky internal logic can satisfactorily explain, rises from the dead a decade later to wreak a bloody and gruesome revenge at a teenage party.

Truly abysmal.

HIIII

room 237 Documentary. Directed by Rodney Ascher. Cert 15A

With the extended American cut of The Shining due for release next week, fans of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece should get a kick out of Rodney Ascher's fascinating film in which five devotees, to put it mildly, of the movie get to air their theories about what it's really all about.

If you thought that the adaptation of the Stephen King novel was merely about an alcoholic writer losing the plot in an isolated hotel and trying to take an axe to his wife and son then think again, sonny Jim.

You can take your pick from it being about the Holocaust or the genocide of the North American Indians. Or how about Kubrick using the film to tell the world that he was involved in faking footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing? Better still, why not watch the film backwards and forwards simultaneously and see what happens?

Yes, the phrase 'should get out more often' will spring to mind on more than one occasion but there's still a lot of fun to be had as the theories get dafter and dafter and you will want to watch the movie again, surely the object of the exercise.

HHHII


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