SPECTRE review – by a lifelong James Bond fan

Well, almost life-long; I first watched a James Bond movie back when I was about 8 years old. With parents and two older siblings all fans of 007, it’s no surprise I started watching Bond that early. Bond movies were always my favourite – simple storyline, great gadgets, an unruffled hero, crazy evil mastermind, exotic locations…

I don’t write reviews usually but after having watched Bond’s latest outing, SPECTRE, I felt the need to, well, vent.

It hard to know where to start with this great action, but poor Bond movie…

SPOILER ALERT!

Let’s start with what works. The plot. The evil mastermind hell-bent on world domination, Bond be damned! The whole world domination bit’s gotten old, no argument there. In SPECTRE we dip into the post-Snowden-revelation scenario, where governments want to spy on their citizens, and everyone else besides, in the name of national security. Ok, that’s a valid issue. The plot of the movie is that Blofeld’s inside man in the corridors of Whitehall is the architect of the merger of MI5 (the domestic security service) and MI6 (the foreign intelligence service) and he wants to get rid of all human assets, including MI6’s ’00’ section, so that the government will buy the super-snooper computerised intelligence-gathering system being pawned by Blofeld, as a legitimate enterprise of course. The plot thickens with SPECTRE coordinating terrorist attacks in countries around the world to convince their governments to sign up to the same system, effectively putting all the world’s data in the hands of SPECTRE – All good, as this is exactly what SPECTRE, the criminal enterprise, is about.

Now then…

All Bond fans know and love 007’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, that crazy cat-stroking criminal mastermind, the creator of the world’s premier criminal organisation, SPECTRE.
Blofeld features quite prominently in Ian Fleming’s Bond novels and in past movies, more so than any other criminal in fact, so Bond fans will be able to reel off by heart what SPECTRE stands for.

Yep, that’s right folks, something you’ll never pick up watching the so-titled movie is that SPECTRE is an acronym for the pretty kick-ass name of Blofeld’s criminal organisation: the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. That is kick-ass. Read it again. That acronym encapsulates everything a global criminal enterprise should aspire to be. Yet, no mention of what it means! Thunderball, when we first hear of SPECTRE, Blofeld, the hierarchical numbering system of it’s members to maintain security of identities – all this serves up an idea of a very well managed criminal organisation, slick from A to Z. This movie barely presents the viewer with any such organisation.

So, that’s the first issue I had with this movie – not enough respect paid to Fleming for creating ‘SPECTRE’.

Next, let’s tackle that huge bombshell SPECTRE drops on us – Bond has a brother! And the name of the brother? Blofeld of course! (By the way, Bollywood fans will see have seen this coming a mile off, this being the premise of many, oh so many, Bollywood movies.)

Now, Fleming never wrote that Blofeld and Bond are related. No sir, this, quite lazy, plot-line was created especially for SPECTRE. Whether you’re a hardcore Bond fan or not this is heavy stuff – Bond was adopted by Blofeld’s parents (when he lost his parents in a car accident) and because the father spent all his time with Bond, Blofeld got all ratty and decided to off his father in a hiking ‘accident’ where he too was presumed dead. So he disappears and re-invents himself as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Years later he becomes ‘the author of Bond’s pain’, killing off any woman Bond has had a relationship with whenever Bond gets too close to his criminal operations. Yawn.

Ok, all well and good – not the brightest of plots but serviceable. However, so little is made of this when Bond makes the connection; of course this could be down to Daniel Craig’s somewhat wooden performance this time around but this is big-deal stuff, especially for Bond fans. But no, very little is made of it. Another opportunity to impress lost.

So, my second issue with SPECTRE – Bond’s arch-nemesis is his brother through adoption and nobody makes a fuss. Even Bollywood handles this better.

Whenever a new Bond movie is announced I cannot wait to see what gadget-goodness Q Branch is going to put in Bond’s hands. True, the latest reboot of the franchise with Daniel Craig has resisted gadgetry, a decision I respect.
James_Bond-Aston_Martin_DB10-SPECTREHowever, to hint at gadgetry and then not deliver is unforgivable! In SPECTRE, all Bond’s Omega does is explode. The latest Aston Martin DB10 has a couple of features, and some that are hinted at but we never see in action! The two features the DB10 sports are a rear flame thrower and a driver side ejector seat. Yep, cause you just know that rear flame thrower is so naff you’re going to have to get yourself out of trouble by ejecting away. So then, quite disappointing on the gadgetry front.

My gripe #3 – the lack of kick-ass gadgets. No laser watch, no car with front-mounted machine guns, side-emerging missiles, rear-bulletproof plate, rear oil-dispensers, or that turns into a submarine – nope, that’s been done so let’s not even try this time round. What does Q Branch do now?

Action. C’mon, do you remember the opening sequence of Casino Royale where Bond chases down a free-runner (parkour to you fancy types)? That was brilliant. Then the fight scene in the hotel stairway? The Aston Martin flip-over when Bond is chasing Le Chiffre? That was all in one movie. Let’s just say it, it’s all gone a bit soft since Casino Royale.
MI3-Bridge_attack-Tom_CruiseThere’s barely a fraction of that action in SPECTRE. Sure the opening sequence in Mexico City is good but not edge-of-your-seat stuff. There are other franchises doing it so much better at the moment – practically any of the Mission:Impossible movies outmatch the post Casino Royale productions. The bridge attack scene in M:I3, for example, is spectacular.

The close-quarter fighting between Bond and the forgettable baddie henchman is basic at best. In an era where we have Jason Bourne doing some seriously breathtaking close-quarters-combat, Bond needs to up his game. In the books, Ian Fleming writes Bond as being an expert at the martial art Jiu Jitsu but there’s no ‘Eastern’ ass-kicking in SPECTRE (I seem to recall some martial arts in earlier Craig-as-Bond movies but not much). Could Bond take on Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt if they met in a dark alley/casino/ski slope?

Rant number 4 – Is Bond an action-man? Not any more it seems.

James_Bond-and-MThe loss of Judi Dench as ‘M’. I think this has had quite a negative effect on the overall tone of the movie. Not that Ralph Fiennes as the new ‘M’ isn’t good, he just hasn’t been given anything to work with really. He made much more of an impact in Skyfall than in SPECTRE. The strained relationship Bond has always had with ‘M’ has always been entertaining, but never more so with Judi Dench in the role. She brought something of depth to that character, something Ralph Fiennes should have been given the opportunity to do in SPECTRE. Getting a sense of the sheer number of missed opportunities?

James_Bond-M-Ralph_FiennesAs a whole, SPECTRE suffers terribly from poor character development. Not one character, not even Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld, is memorable. Heck, Blofeld’s trademark white cat only makes it in one super-fast scene, and not even being creepily stroked by Blofeld. Perhaps Christoph Waltz is cat-shy?

Another character that suffers from poor development is the primary henchman (I apologise reader, I’m just not interested enough in this character to even do some basic research). In the movie this baddie distinguishes himself by gouging out his opponent’s eyes with his thumbs. So, nothing exciting yet. Then in his one fight scene with Bond he doesn’t even get a chance to try and gouge out 007’s eyes! What the hell! How am I ever going to remember this character; that’s right I won’t. I barely remember what he looks like as I write this. Now picture Jaws (steel teeth). Rosa Klebb (poisoned dagger in shoe)? Oddjob (decapitating flying hat)? These are memorable henchmen. Not an eye-gouging thug who doesn’t eye-gouge.

Likewise the interaction between Bond and Moneypenny, between Bond and ‘Q’ – nothing to write about.

So, issue #5 – poor(lazy?) character development in SPECTRE.

A diabolical plan to end 007. That’s what we expect from our Bond villains. Laser cutters, solar rays, death by space shuttle take off. So what does SPECTRE have to offer?

Blofeld has a scary (nope) drilling machine that is able to erase memories. And he plans on using it on Bond to wipe his mind clean of any memory of his new love (oh yeah, he falls in love. More on that later – it’s a doozy) before killing him. Erm, so he’s going to make Bond forget the woman of his dreams before killing him. This is not looking diabolical, is it? Surely a more evil plan would be for Blofeld to kill 007 whilst keeping his memories intact so he can regret not having had more time with aforementioned love interest?

No. 6 – This criminal mastermind, not so clever.

You’ve probably gotten the sense that the overall plot of SPECTRE is quite complicated. And as with any complicated plot comes plotholes. Here’s a big one:

Bond visits a dying Mr. White in the remote cabin. He notices a security camera, before finding White in a hidden room. White talks to 007 about ‘Americain’ and where his daughter is hiding before popping himself. Baddie then arrives on site, after Bond has left, takes note of the same camera and uses that to discern the daughter’s location and apparent importance re ‘Americain’. A few logical questions:

  1. Why did Bond not destroy that cabin and everything in it including any saved security camera footage on leaving the cabin?
  2. Why did Mr White not just tell Bond about ‘Americain’? If he wanted to protect his daughter why even bring her into it?
  3. White’s daughter knew nothing about the secret room at ‘Americain’ that Bond could not have gotten directly from Mr White – Bond found the hidden room without the assistance of the daughter. She played no useful role in this plot. Well, maybe that’s harsh. She does become Bond’s new love interest. See that? The whole set up just to get Bond all romantic. Sheesh.

(00)7 – This plot hole is unforgivable – it illogically sets the stage for the second half of the movie. Very, very poor writing.

So there you have it, my rant after watching a much anticipated and ultimately disappointing movie. In the final analysis, it’s clear that after Casino Royale it all went downhill. It’s no coincidence that Casino Royale, a Fleming creation, was amazing especially because the movie stayed largely true to the story. But thereon each story was scripted for a movie, and obviously not written by Fleming. Each movie has gotten progressively worse.

Time for new blood? A complete reboot maybe?

Javascript query string manipulation & a direwolf Game of Thrones t-shirt!

Some front-end development today using Javascript to manipulate query strings for a WordPress template. Good fun all round!

A lovely Father’s Day gift from my sons – a t-shirt depicting the sigil of my favourite family in Game of Thrones: The direwolf head of the Stark family.

Find me on Instagram here

Minecraft, Dishoom in Covent Garden and that Matrix cat!

My son, an ardent fan of Minecraft posted this Father’s Day message to me in the game! I’m very proud of his burgeoning coding capabilities.

Had a lovely dinner with friends, old and new, at Dishoom in London’s Covent Garden. The two people at the far right and far left are actually a couple we met in the hour-long line to get into this very popular Indian restaurant. we struck up conversation and so new friendships were born!

A stylistic (so I think anyway!) shot of the Dishoom menu.

The June issue of How It Works magazine had a small feature on deja vu … with a picture of a black cat as a homage to the cat scene in the first Matrix movie, where Neo and his pals realise there’s trouble on the way when the black cat appears to walk past the doorway twice – deja vu?

Find me on Instagram here

The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn

I began reading the Tintin comics when I was probably about 9 years old – my elder brother used to buy them second-hand from a local bookshop in Nairobi – I’ve read every one and still own 3 I think.

When I first heard about Steven Spielberg doing the 3D version of the first of the comics, that too with a start studded VoiceOver cast, I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled. None of the 3D movies I’ve watched, bar Avatar, wowed me enough to think that all 3D movies were worth watching.
The other issue I had about this was just a subjective one; I love the comics so much that I just couldn’t see Hollywood keeping true to the ‘specialness’ of the pulp version. So when the movie first released in the UK in 2011 I didn’t watch it.

However, it came to KidsAM at Vue cinemas this weekend and my 5 year old wanted to watch it so off we went. Well, I was pleasantly surprised – although I feel that specialness wasn’t captured on screen the movie is still very good and highly enjoyable. I find myself awaiting the sequels.

The Cabin In The Woods

I’m not a slasher movie fan but this one caught my eye, primarily due to the hype around its writer, Joss Whedon. Of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ & ‘Angel’ fame I’ve always enjoyed his work and he supposedly wants to change the horror genre with this movie so I thought I’d give it a shot.

[pullquote_right]You think you know the story. Think again.[/pullquote_right]

So it’s supposed to be some incredible, riddle-type movie where you don’t really know what’s going on – all well and good, I like puzzles but to be honest [spoiler alert] the game is at least half given away in the opening credits; Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention in their high school history classes will recognise the scenes of ritual sacrifice from different ancient civilisations depicted.

The next few scenes of a seemingly high-tech control room gives away the other half of the plot.

Now if just these two pieces of information don’t make a whole plot for you GO WATCH THIS because it is really good if you haven’t pieced it together. The friend I went with happened to be taking a great deal of interest in his packet of chocolate when the opening credits ran and having missed the depictions of sacrifice he loved the movie.

“Game changer”, as much of the popular media has tagged this film? Not for me, but certainly fun and worth a watch.

More about the movie here…

Crush It! Why Gary Vaynerchuk wrote his new book

Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book Crush It! is already available from retailers all over and I’ve already ordered my copy – if you’re not sure if this is for you check out this video montage from Gary about why he wrote the book…

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Gary Vaynerchuk interview

Raj Kotecha of Creative Content Agency interviews Gary Vaynerchuk on how to leverage social media and build a brand. This 30 minute interview is one of the best I’ve watched in quite some time with many gems of wisdom from Gary. He also talks a little about his new new book on social media, Crush It!

Joomla 1.0x Developers Manual

Although Joomla is a very popular open source application for building content-rich web sites, the available documentation for version 1.0x leaves a lot to be desired.

Currently working on a pretty big, and complicated, project involving multiple Joomla sites, I went off in search of relevant material that would help me design and build custom components and modules for version 1.015.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any single document that provided me with the information I needed, that is until I happened on a post on the Joomla Forum where someone had helpfully posted a link to a PDF of the Joomla Developers Manual.

Now, this guide for version 1.0x is incomplete, and will remain ever so since the Joomla Documentation Team are concentrating on getting a comprehensive Joomla 1.5 guide ready, however it does offer a lot of important information that you’ll only otherwise get by spending hours on the Joomla Forum and on other sites trying out tutorials.

So, if you’re looking for a ,somewhat, single document in PDF format that can help you understand the Joomla CMS engine a little better and help in building your own components and modules, look no further – click here to download the Joomla Developers Manual.

The Photoshop Anthology book – Get it completely FREE from Sitepoint

The Photoshop AnthologyIt’s not often a great book like The Photoshop Anthology is given away free but Sitepoint have teamed up with 99Designs to do just that!

The Photoshop Anthology: 101 Web Design Tips, Tricks and Techniques is being given away free as a downloadable PDF from the Sitepoint web site, but only until Thursday 12th June so get clicking here to download it now!

Taken from the offer page on the Sitepoint site:

It’s brimming with tried and tested real-world Photoshop solutions that will add impact to your next web design project. If you’ve ever been stuck for inspiration, have puzzled over just how to create a shiny aqua-style button, or wanted to create that seamlessly tiling background image you saw on a site recently, you need download this book.

99Designs is sponsoring this giveaway to promote their service which “…connects passionate designers from around the globe with savvy clients who need design projects completed in a timely fashion without the usual risk or cost associated with professional design.

Also on the 99Designs site is the opportunity to win a MacBook and a money prize of $55,147. Go there now to check out how to win…