Quantum of Solace

One of the best aspects of the James Bond franchise is its adaptability.  Using Ian Fleming’s famous creation as a base the enduring series has been able to move with current trends.  Heralding a fresh start Casino Royale found in Daniel Craig’s Bond a natural successor to Connery’s sexy machismo.  Transforming to this era’s appetite for grittier stories, this 22nd entry continues Royale’s unresolved strands with the defiant agent using any methods in serving Queen and country.
Seeking vengeance after the death of girlfriend Vesper, James Bond (Daniel Craig) determines to find her killers.  Discovering her links to the mysterious Quantum organisation he uncovers a new hoard of nefarious villains.  Chief among these is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a ruthless businessman unhesitant in killing his enemies.  Joined by Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman with her own agenda, Bond and his allies including Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and M (Judi Dench) do their utmost to destroy the new threat in their own unique manner.
Roaring through the compact running time at breakneck speed, Quantum of Solace proves that aggressive action can be attained with a modicum of sophistication.  Craig’s tuxedo clad bruiser perfectly encapsulates someone with enough energy for one last mission.  In certain respects this film and Casino Royale have vindicated Timothy Dalton’s much maligned portrayal, with a harder edge doing justice to Fleming’s works.  Whilst not quite as engrossing as the previous entry, ‘Quantum’ still succeeds due to an excellent cast and eye-popping stunts.
Marc Forster’s razor sharp direction ensures no frame is wasted.  Updating the classic series staples without any hint of a self referential parody, Forster brings a keen sense of place amongst the visuals.  Credit also goes to the production team who ensure their fine expertise is heightened by the lavish sets and general opulence.  Slightly concerning is the sometimes harsh editing which undercuts some much needed character moments.  Although the series has hardly rivalled Shakespeare, it has traded the action with some well written baddies who seem slightly diluted here.  This is the only minor point in an otherwise enjoyable romp firmly returning its hero to the trans-atlantic adventurer of earlier outings.
If any proof were needed that the series has moved into the 21st Century, Quantum of Solace provides the answer in spades.  Graced with a fine actor in Craig and an intricate plot, its general freshness hides the age of a franchise now in its 46th year.  The intelligent escapism and mature humour shows that the evergreen 007 still has what it takes to excite in an era of electronic ingenuity.
Rating out of 10:  8

American Teen

Documentaries have had a strange metamorphosis.  Once bastions of insightful examinations into everyday living they have now seemingly become fodder for cheap TV entertainment.  The emergence of the ‘reality TV’ genre has seen the art of observational film-making diluted to its singular level.  Occasionally some attempt to return to its’ roots like American Teen, although they seem to suffer at the hands of audiences and the makers themselves who have grown up with the ‘fast food documentary mentality’ of recent times.
Chronicling the lives of four teenagers in their senior high school year, American Teen looks at their emerging ambitions versus their parents dreams.  Split into four ‘normal’ groups, Director Nanette Burstein focuses on free spirited Hannah, bitchy achiever Megan, nerdy loner Jake and basketball jock Colin.  Filming their lives over the year it exposes the enormous pressure each student is under to achieve their best whilst still trying to find their own direction in life. 
This somewhat odd hybrid of factual documentation with reality TV leanings works in spite of itself.  Whilst the main quartet’s teenage dramas are of the usual dating/school dilemma variety what’s interesting is their use of technology in furthering their status.  From Megan’s mean hearted email pranks to Hannah’s break up via text messaging it appears modern life has found a new spin in extending ancient adolescent angst.  Colin’s plight is perhaps the most effectively conveyed as the almost relentless weight of his parents expectations nearly cast his abilities asunder.
Offering a sketchy youthful portrait, Burstein’s directorial flourishes unfortunately highlights numerous narrative errors.  Rather than unobtrusively recording their lives she seems unable to resist the temptation to partake in events thereby giving them a knowing feel.  Everyone seems very aware of the probing camera with some using situations to portray them in a better light.  The use of animation and music further drives the film into semi-fictional territory, with a simplistic style happy in placing its subjects in black and white social stereotypes.  Despite this their personalities and outlooks manage to come through in a relatable way.
Apparently afraid at presenting a questioning analysis of their lives, this slick production seems determined to create a story.  Although entertaining American Teen feels too conscious of its power in manipulating its celluloid frames in order to tell its tale.  Teenage life may be tougher these days but crafting a fact based documentary seems an impossibility in this age of instant reality fame.
Rating out of 10: 5