Archive for Sam Mendes

Skyfall

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by alexlarman

The first thing to say about Sam Mendes’ tremendous Skyfall is that it makes its predecessor in the James Bond series, Quantum Of Solace, look even worse. Whereas the first film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, Casino Royale, was one of the very best Bond films, Quantum was dull, uninspired and gave every indication that Marc Forster didn’t have the first idea how to direct an action sequence or co-ordinate an interesting plot. With further havoc caused by the temporary cessation of MGM, who own the Bond rights, it looked for a while as if Craig’s excellent, engaged interpretation of Bond would, like Timothy Dalton’s, be left at two films, one good and one poor.

Thankfully, all was made right, and the resulting picture is an exhilaratingly brilliant romp that simultaneously furthers everything Casino Royale did right and cleverly redefines James Bond for the 21st century. The plot – a revenge saga, mainly set in London – is beautifully simple, containing no spaceships, world domination or plots to take over oil franchises. Instead, it contains a near laundry list of good things, from one of the best baddies in the series in the shape of Javier Bardem’s blonde, insinuating psychopath with a very personal grudge against Judi Dench’s stalwart but also fragile M, to Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography which makes this not just the best-looking Bond film ever, but also one of his finest works.

A fantastic cast, including everyone from MI6 mandarin Ralph Fiennes to gutsy field agent Naomi Harris, is given a very strong script to work with, which judges the fine line between seriousness and playfulness just right – it’s a good deal less intimidatingly sober than Craig’s previous two films. It isn’t perfect – the climax is somewhat underwhelming after the brilliance of many of the other set-pieces (including an Istanbul set-to and explosive destruction on the London Underground) and a scene in Macau casino involving giant lizards feels like it’s come out of another film – but it proves, inter alia, that a cerebral director like Mendes can make this sort of pulpy fun both serious and seriously entertaining. Expect it to be a massive, massive hit, and don’t bet against many of the same team returning for the next one.

 

The Tempest

Posted in Theatre with tags , , on July 8, 2010 by alexlarman

The second year of Sam Mendes’ hugely ambitious Bridge Project sees him return to the Old Vic with stagings of As You Like It and The Tempest, following last year’s highly successful productions of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale, which perfectly attuned themselves to Mendes’ dynamic, intelligent and hugely innovative style of direction.

If The Tempest, by contrast, does not threaten to become as armrest-grippingly essential, then this is partly because of the diffuse nature of what must be one of Shakespeare’s strangest plays and partly because Mendes abandons the bombast of some productions in favour of an atmosphere of gentle regret and quiet hope. Stephen Dillane, one of Britain’s greatest yet least known classical actors, makes a quiet, introspective Prospero, regarding the various situations that he is faced with under a veneer of diffident, bookish urbanity, as if to hide the man and his magic underneath.

Sometimes his diction is so softly-spoken that it verges on the inaudible, yet there is a tenderness to his performance that sets his Prospero against the sturm-und-drang of most other actors, forever beating their staff against the ground and crying out blank verse as if their fortunes depended on it. By the final reconciliation scenes, his performance as a character who is part-sage, part-director is both very affecting and a wry tribute to everyone who has ever been interested in theatre.

The supporting cast (made up, as per the ‘Bridge’ concept, of both British and American actors) are very strong, with Juliet Rylance as a radiant, yet confident Miranda and the great classical actor Alvin Epstein (who famously played The Fool to Orson Welles’ King Lear) is a touching Gonzalo. Mendes, as ever, throws in some breathtaking coups de theatre – the first appearance of Ron Cephas Jones’ Caliban from out of a sandpit, like some primal monster is one and an unexpected, but affecting video projection of Miranda as a young girl towards the end is another.

If this isn’t quite up to the exemplary standard of some of Mendes’ other productions, such as his quite brilliant farewell plays at the Donmar Warehouse, Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya, this is only because he has set himself such high standards before that it is unrealistic to expect him to reach them with every play that he produces. As London theatre goes, this is high-class stuff.

Until 21st August, Old Vic SE1