James Bond: Skyfall ★★★

James Bond: Skyfall is the 23rd film in a series that has spanned 50 years. My ticket to the preview at the ODEON in Leicester Square. Images © Hollie Borland

With a series of 23 films, spanning half a century, featuring around 85 Bond girls and six different Bonds, how does one create something fresh? One doesn’t. One merely starts with the familiar and twists it and turns it and manipulates it in a way that makes an audience believe it is unfamiliar. Thus Skyfall is created.

‘New’ is not something fans have always craved – Bond is traditional: he went to Eton, he drinks a Martini and he has a love for Queen and country to rival none. After all, we did display him as a national treasure in the Olympic Opening ceremony. No, we don’t want anything new, we want a show. And boy don’t we get one.

Director Sam Mendes has taken the challenge and blown it right out of the sky. A pre-credits chase scene puts you right back where you belong – accepting the stupidly impossible, yet desirably cool moves that can only be described as ‘Bond’. Even when all seems lost, the full four-minutes-plus of Adele seems so right. From scenes in Shanghai messing with your head, to a one to one on an isolated island off of Macoa, to straightforward shooting scenes in Scotland, I found myself trying to stay one step ahead of a game I couldn’t quite fathom.

With a wikileaks-esque storyline, Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to recover a hard drive stolen by cyber-terrorists, which holds a list of names of Nato operatives, which are leaked gradually over the Internet. As well as being pressured to quit her job as head of MI6, M (Judi Dench) faces a dilemma when her Head Quarters are blown up.

The central theme is old and new, highlighted by the number of times the word “transition” is mentioned. Dench looks noticeably old and Craig’s rough, aging look is emphasised when the young new Q (Ben Whishaw) tells Bond that “We don’t go in for exploding pens any more.” In some scenes this theme is in danger of becoming too sentimental. The secret to 007 is that we think we know him, but as M says, he’s a creature of the shadows and is better off left there. Thankfully, the storyline delves little deeper than his relationship with M– any more and Bond would become simple James.

There are moments in Skyfall where Bond appears almost to have given up, lost his flare, and you find yourself watching with desperation, hoping against hope that he will find it again. Craig’s moody, brazen Bond is pleasantly balanced by Javier Bardem’s delectable villain, Silva. The camp, sensual, playfulness lacking in Bond, Silva more than makes up for. Almost suspiciously relishing in being caught, Silva is playing a game that may just be too big for agent 007.

Even with minimal gadgets and an unexpected Bond girl, I found myself laughing out loud, gasping, biting my nails. From the 007 theme music to the Aston Martin DB5, previously seen in Gold Finger, I got that familiar feeling falling through unknown waters. Skyfall is tense, funny, tantalisingly good, and so very, very Bond.

Skyfall is released in the UK on 26th October 2012. Watch the trailer below.

Down south to Condom

Cité de Condom. Direct translation: City of Condom. Now, if I was immature, this article could be riddled with innuendos and double entendres about phallic shaped buildings or rubber merchandise. But, like a condom, I will endeavour to protect you from such silliness. Although I can’t guarantee 100% efficiency, a few jokes may slip through. After all, accidents do happen.

To read the rest of the review, click the link to head over to Yuppee.com.

Condom horses Down south to Condom

The residents of Condom celebrate their links to the character d’Artagnan from the ‘Three Musketeers’. Images © Hollie Borland

An appetite for the Hunger Games

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is set in a future North America, where the land and the people have been split into thirteen districts led by the Capitol. Every year, one girl and one boy aged between 12 and 18 from each District are selected to compete in the compulsory Hunger Games: a game of survival. When Katniss Everdeen volunteers in the place of her sister Prim, she embarks on a brutal journey that takes her  further than she could have ever imagined.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen in the film adaptation of the Hunger Games. Katniss is skilled with a bow.

District 13 is a deserted nuclear wasteland, an example to the other Districts by the Capitol of what happens when a District revolts.  But for those living in Districts 1 to 12, Katniss unintentionally becomes a beacon of hope.

It’s deep. Teenagers are pitted against each other on live television to kill; the winner being the survivor. But not only that, Katniss is one big ball of twisted emotion. Her mother’s prolonged grief for the death of Katniss’ father left Katniss to take responsibility for the family: hunting for food, trading on the black market and entering herself into the Hunger Games reaping more than once in exchange for tesserae. Katniss hates her mother for this, she misses her father and her fierce protectiveness of her twelve-year-old sister leads her into the games.

Despite the controversy that the books are very similar to Koushun Takami’s Japanese novel, ‘Battle Royale’, Collins claims the idea came from “channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage”. It’s a brilliant concept and very thought provoking.

Of course there is a romance sub-plot – after all, what’s teen fiction without a bit of romance? Normally, I find the romances dull and predictable in teen fiction, i.e.  Twilight, but this keeps you hanging right until the very end. Each lover represents the different side of Katniss. Will she choose her childhood friend, hunting partner, her past, Gale, or will she fall for her fellow tribute, competitor, her future, Peeta?

The world Collins has created is brilliant. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s a clash of the Robin Hood days and futuristic sci-fi. The concept that each District produces different things for the Capitol, such as District 12 mines coal and District 11 focus on agriculture means that the tributes are dressed in representational costumes when presented to the Capitol. I’ve got to say, the resemblance between this scene and the athletes being lead out at the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, was uncanny and a little unnerving. Like I said, the story is thought provoking.

Spain's costume at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. The procession resembled the tribute's entrance in the Hunger Games

Spain’s costume at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. The procession resembled the tribute’s entrance in the Hunger Games

I don’t believe the books are written as strongly as they could be, but in Collins’ defence, her ability to leave every single chapter on a cliff-hanger meant I found the books impossible to put down. I read the three books in four days. I think the strongest is the first book, ‘The Hunger Games’. The second book, ‘Catching Fire’ is a bit repetitive, and the third, ‘Mockingjay’ is a tad weak also. Nevertheless, the ending gives you that unsatisfactory, unnerving feeling that happiness is lost. You experience Katniss’ numbness and are at a loss of what to do next. Collins leaves you staring at an empty bowl after licking it clean. You ‘re searching for more when there is nothing left. Overall, a brilliant read. 8/10.

Fifty Shades of Monotone

The ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy by E L James is what everyone has been talking/tweeting/banging on about. The first book, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has sold over 534,000 copies and has been claimed to have improved sex lives and even ‘saved marriages’. But does it live up to the hype? I think not.

The 'Fifty Shades' trilogy

The ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy by British novelist, E L James, appears to be the nation’s desire

The ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy is an erotic novel told through the mouth of Anastasia Rose Steele, a virgin, as she falls madly in love with multi-billionaire, Christian Grey. There is just one kink in her knight’s metallic armour: his need for sexual domination.

When Ana is first propositioned by the gorgeous CEO, admittedly, the thought of having to sign a contract in order for him to fulfil her sexual desire is, as Ana would put it herself, ‘hot’.  Finding out Grey’s dirty sexual secret is enticing. Why doesn’t he like being touched? And visiting the ’Red Room of Pain’ makes you squirm with awkwardness and horror. But you can’t stop until you find out. Reading the words James dared to put on paper feels wrong, embarrassing, naughty… yet intriguing and compelling. Ana even shatters ‘into a thousand pieces’ during her first sexual encounter, vanilla style (sex without any ‘kinky fuckery’). Nicely done Mr Grey.

However, the storyline swiftly becomes a sex diary. That is all they do. Sex. All the time. On the piano, on the billiard table, in bed, in the elevators, in the Red Room of Pain, in public… Sex and orgasms. All the time. The plot hardly thickens. Even when Ana leaves Christian, you have no doubt the couple will rekindle their love.

Sure enough, book two, ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ sees an almost immediate reconciliation. Barely four days have passed and they are back together. Screwing each other. Christian continues to have no limits to the amounts of money he spends. Oh sorry, I must give credit to the slight change. The book is now littered with “I love you”. There is a vague plot dipping in and out of another sexual drama about Ana being sexually harassed by her boss, Jack Hyde… but there is very little excitement there. Christian uses his money to save Ana, the have make up sex blah blah blah.

Development of the storyline appears in book three, ‘Fifty Shades Freed’, where Ana marries Christian. “Husband”, “wife”, “Mr Grey”, “Mrs Grey” now make up a large number of the literature. It’s sappy, dull and unrealistic.

Quite frankly, the whole story line that stretches across the three books is grey. The lack of realism is a real let down. Initially Ana is faced with a challenge: the love of her life is “fifty shades of fucked up”, he likes bondage, he doesn’t like being touched, he doesn’t know how to love.  However, Ana gets the gorgeous hunk, gets the money, gets her dream job, orgasms during every sexual encounter (which is more like fifty times a day and less like fifty shades of grey) and her happily ever after is practically given to her with no real struggle or threat.

However, what is alarming is the popularity of a story, which depicts an older man seducing a younger woman with violence and money.

Unfortunately, the trilogy feels like teen-fiction with an overload of graphic sex and no real adventure. The storyline is monotonous, metallic and greatly lacking in colour. After all, no matter what shade, grey is grey. Lets hope the movie

doesn’t disappoint as much as the books.  3 out of 10.

The Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

Tuesday 3 January 2012 at 2pm,

Main Stage, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

If one is going to see the ballet, one must do it properly – the Royal Ballet Company at the Royal Opera House. The reds, the golds, the grandeur create an atmosphere of a royal outing.

As a venue, the Royal Opera House never ceases to amaze. The performance takes place on multiple levels, filling the stage with movement. The ‘magic’ screen creates the impression of multiple stages – one minute, there are servants bustling outside an opaque backdrop of a grand house, and the next it fades to reveal the dancing guests inside.

The performance oozes tradition. At any other time of year, an audience demands new ideas and fresh stories, but at Christmas, family values become the core of society – depicted overwhelmingly so in the Nutcracker. It is a dance of girls and their dolls, and boys and their toys, seeing Clara’s jealous brother, Fritz (Sean Flanagan), snap her precious Nutcracker in an elegant rage of leaps and turns across the stage.

That Christmas magic that both children and adults seek is sprinkled throughout the show. Herr Drosselmeyer (William Tuckett) is seen to make a handkerchief into a wand and a series of them shoot united out of a satchel. There is no time to ponder on how the sorcery is created, for the story has danced on to the Nutcracker, who is dressed formally in that red that cries royalty, tradition and Christmas.

Emma Maguire and Alex Campbell, who play Clara and the Nutcracker, couru effortlessly and romantically together, but it is the Sugar Plumb Fairy (Roberta Marquez) and the Prince (Steven McRae) who should be envied. With headdresses of diamonds, the pair melt into each other with every move, creating perfect control and harmony, something that Maguire and Campbell lack. There are no sugary delicacies to be seen in the Kingdom of Sweets, but the sickly sweet pink of the Sugar Plumb Fairy’s tutu more than makes up for it.

Tchaikovsky’s score is performed to perfection by the BBC Concert Orchestra, and accompanied by London Oratory Junior Choir. The famous melodies played in Act II set a warm, familiar feeling in the pit of the stomach. Peter Wright’s adaptation of Lev Ivanov’s choreography is also to be commended for not producing a dull moment.

In spite of three cast changes due to illnesses, the Nutcracker performed by the Royal Ballet remains the epitome of Christmas. A definite must see.