Saturday, November 18, 2006

Film Review: James Bond Returns In A ROYALE Without Cheese?!

Every Bond fan has their ideal image of what 007 should be. The majority of fans hold true to the standard set by Sean Connery in classics such as Goldfinger and From Russia with Love. Others are partial to Pierce Brosnan’s slick and playful approach in the most recent additions. There is even a small collective who are loyal to the grim humorlessness of Timothy Dalton. Personally, I fall into the group that swears by the wonderfully light touch of Roger Moore.

I strongly believe that the Bond each fan embraces is the one in which they are initially exposed to. I vividly recall my introduction to the beloved franchise, at around 8 years old, when my parents showed me Roger Moore’s final entry, A View to a Kill. Whereas some fans were imprinted with classic moments such as the gold-painted woman in Goldfinger, or the volcano layer of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, my first introduction to Bond was witnessing him snowboard around a team of armed adversaries to the tune of the Beach Boys' California Girls. What can I say; I was a child of the eighties.

Now, while I consider Moore’s greatest entries like The Spy Who Loved Me or Live and Let Die to be my personal favorites, I have a great fondness for every film in the franchise. Even The Living Daylights.

So, with joyful anticipation, I took to my front row seat, opening night at the Park & Tilford Cineplex Odeon theatre, to witness James Bond's latest adventure, Casino Royale, unfold.

Casino Royale doesn’t just feature a new Bond, this time played by Liverpool actor Daniel Craig, but it is also a complete overhaul of the entire series. Gone are the days of diabolical millionaires attempting to start World War III, or create a new world order. Also, nowhere to be seen are the campy thrills or hokey humor which had become a staple of the franchise. Most importantly, this isn’t the Bond I recall meeting near twenty years ago! He’s arrogant, un-subtle, and vicious… Not to mention… Human?!

Royale tells the story of James Bond’s first case as an agent of M16. After a wonderful black-and-white introduction detailing Bond’s achievement of his double-O rank, we join him as he is investigating a series of seemingly related terrorist events. As usual, it’s not long before his surveillance attempts transform into all-out orgies of stylized violence. Soon, 007 is on the trail of a desperate and sadistic terrorist banker named Le Chiffre, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.

It seems Le Chiffre has been playing the stock market with his terrorist clients’ money and is in serious financial trouble. Aiming to regain his lost currency, he is planning on taking part in a high stakes game of poker at the titular Casino Royale. Bond, being the best player in the service, is sent to beat Le Chiffre and leave him bankrupt, allowing the British government to get their hands on him as a source of information.

Bond is accompanied on his mission by a treasury agent named Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who is on hand to approve and bankroll his efforts. What happens during and after the game I’ll leave for you to discover, but will say that it is like nothing you’ve seen in the previous twenty films of the series.

Viewing Casino Royale is like entering the Bond universe anew. Whereas, the earler films all followed a fairly rigid pattern, Royale is a confident step in a different direction.

A good part of the reason for this is in the casting of Daniel Craig. Craig lacks the polished demeanor of Moore, as well as the slyness of Sean Connery. Instead, he’s rough-edged and overly confident, a smart brawler who hasn’t yet realized the strength of playing it cool. We see him bleed and suffer on his way to becoming the man he will one day be. Namely, the sophisticated agent we first met in 1962’s Dr. No.

At first it’s strange seeing Bond behave this way, but due to Craig’s electric performance, it quickly becomes hypnotic. It’s quite apparent the he is likely the most versatile actor ever to throw on the famous tuxedo. Whether engaged in furious action scenes, or tackling the film’s quieter romantic moments, Craig never falters. His performance is almost fearless in his dedication to the role, and he inhabits it within seconds of his trial run. It’s important to remember that this is the first time that Bond has had a real character arc, and it’s thrilling to watch Bond played outside of the usual comfort zone. In one film alone, Craig ascends to the upper echelon of Bond actors.

Another first is in the treatment of the villain Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre is not a particularly powerful man, nor does the character’s potential success have any dire implications on the fate of the world. Rather, he’s in well over his head, and his escalating desperation makes him increasingly dangerous. Mads Mikkelsen (pictured), a big star back in his native Denmark, is brilliant at suggesting the character’s frustration and fear. Whether facing off against Bond across the card table, or brutally torturing him, the confrontation between Mikkelsen and Craig is explosive. Chemistry with the hero is everything in the success of a great villain, and Mikkelsen gives us one of Bond’s greatest adversaries

Speaking of having chemistry, Eva Green’s character doesn’t quite match the mold of any Bond girl who has come before her. She’s intelligent, beautiful and independent, and is Bond’s true equal. The verbal sparring between Craig and Green is a joy to behold, and bring a real underlying romance to the film. Her character is the key factor in causing Bond to become the man we all know, and Green (pictured) is the right actress make it believable. She’s able to communicate some of the film's most powerful moments wordlessly, and sets a new standard for all future Bond girls. By not being written as the proto-typical bombshell, she becomes a fascinating character in her own right.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Judi Dench, the only holdover from the previous films, is characteristically brilliant. Her portrayal of M is different this time, however. She’s irritated by Bond's ego and recklessness, but still senses serious potential in the inexperienced assassin. Dench’s scenes here are her best of the series.

Jeffrey Wright’s scenes as Bond regular CIA agent Felix Leiter are also very strong. His first meeting with Bond is perfect at setting up the relationship we know will follow. While his screen time is brief, it leaves us eager for his likely reappearance in Bond 22.

Also a great asset is Giancarlo Giannini as Bond’s contact Mathis. His world-weary spy is a vividly drawn character, and not simple window dressing. It’s great to see even the minor supporting characters so perfectly realized.

Director Martin Campbell has somehow managed to replicate the success he had with Brosnan’s inaugural 007 film, GoldenEye. He steers the film from a perfect opening to a crowd pleasing close, really underscoring the mythic elements of the character. It’s a true testament to his skill that the film’s poker showdowns are as absorbing as the action scenes, including the stunning chase scene between Bond and “freerunning” superstar Sebastien Foucan. Campbell has recreated an entire world here and I hope he sticks around for future installments.

Leaving the theatre, I was energized by what I had just seen. True, this isn’t the Bond who once deactivated a nuclear bomb in a clown suit, but with Craig we have a 007 who seems new and exciting. It’s rare that a long-running franchise is able to completely reinvent itself and remain true to its origins. With Casino Royale, however, we have a Bond that has us thrilled for the next twenty one films.

Nobody does it better, indeed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Hey folks! Sorry about the lack of updates! I've been swamped with school work... Okay, actually I've been in a hypnotic state, immersed in the just released James Bond Ultimate Edition DVD sets. But, I knew I had to get away from them. As fascinating as interviews with Maryam D'Abo about her character's motivation in The Living Daylights are, I felt the desire to write! But about what? I could only think Bond. I just didn't think y'all would appreciate my endless crowing about Roger Moore being my favorite Bond! But then, something appeared on the horizon... Something... Yellow!

I received attention that Sunday night would bring with it the world premier of the new Simpsons Movie trailer. It would air immediately after an all-new episode at 8pm. So what did I do? Skipped the whole damn thing and watched the trailer online the next day ( Cold, huh! But why the hostility? What led me to turn my back on a show that I once declared as the greatest show in history (Perhaps a tad over-enthusiastic...)? Well, old beans, lemme tell you.

It was a dark evening filled with foreboding. It was Sunday, January 5th, 1997 at around 8pm as I distinctly recall (Actually, I just looked it up! Google RULES!). My friend Mark and I were convened at his house to follow our near 8-year long ritual of watching The Simpsons when all hell broke loose. The episode was titled El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer (Google again...). It started pleasantly enough. We chuckled with great abandon at Homer's antics at a Springfield chili cook-off. Would that Homer ever learn? But then, things got weird. The episode turned into an orgy of bizarre images and a shape-shifting coyote with the voice of Johnny Cash appeared. It was frightening. After the grim conclusion of the episode something had changed. We had changed. Colors seemed dimmer, tastes seemed duller. I know now that a part of our childhood had slipped away. It was my first realization that all is not wonderful and pure in our world. If the Simpsons could fail me, anything could! Mark and I occasionally discuss this episode, in hushed tones, detailing everything horrendous about it and how it affected us.

Now, good, even great, episodes followed that ill-fated episode. Sadly, however, there was an inconsistency that hadn't been there before. I watched for a few more years before the show became mired in creative bankruptcy, relying on goofy jokes, stunt-casting and overly-cartoonish situations. The rough "reality" of the series slowly began to dissipate, allowing the show to flirt with the fantastical. It was pathetic. I stopped tuning in regularly, eventually only for a couple episodes per season. I officially gave up on the show after the season premiere last year, where, to dry to her wet hair, Marge stuck her finger in the cigarette lighter of a car to electrocute herself. It was a cheap, Looney Tunes-style gag that left me angry. It was the death of the Simpsons for me... And then they announced The Simpsons Movie!

We got our first glimpse last summer with that mildly amusing teaser featuring Homer in the Superman shirt. It was cute, I suppose, but hardly had me eager to jump back on the wagon. There was also the rough animatic teaser on the X-Men: The Last Stand DVD. Once again, cute, but hardly worthy of the name The Simpsons. Now, we have this new "trailer" that is really only a 3rd teaser.

While I like the whole cheesy CG bunny and dancing flowers bit, that won't be featured in the movie. What will be viewed is the scene of Homer being smashed between a rock and "A Hard Place" (What an inventive joke! Ha...HA...*Cough*...Ah, the hell with it!). That gag is everything that's wrong with the Simpsons now. Now, Homer has always been able to withstand great injury, but there were limits! He could never be smashed, full force, repeatedly, into a boulder with a wrecking ball... And then have said wrecking ball fall on top of him.

I had a glimmer of hope when I saw that they had brought back the series best writers from the earlier seasons to work on the script. The listing is a who's who of great comedy writers: Al Jean, Matt Groening, David Mirkin, James L. Brooks, George Meyer, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Jon Vitti and John Swartzwelder, along with Matt Selman and Ian Maxtone-Graham. These are all talented guys, but I'm skeptical how much inspiration is left. The plot apparently involves Homer getting fired from the power plant for poisoning the water supply. While not particularly inventive, great things could be done!

But will they? I'm not holding my breath. I'll go see The Simpsons Movie when it opens in July, but I'll be going in with low expectations. I hope, I really do, that Groening and Co. manages to pull a rabbit out of their collective hat and renew my faith in the once beloved show. I would love to see the franchise taken back to its earlier brilliance. Only time will tell, and I can only base my thoughts on the three teasers which have left me neither shaken nor stirred (Had to end on a Bond line, sorry!)
There's few actors I like more than Michael Madsen! Okay, Bruce Campbell maybe, but regardless, Madsen is one of the coolest actors out there. Whether slicing ears off as Mr. Blonde or being a good dad to an orphan in Free Willy, he's always highly watchable. Hence, why I'm choosing to ignore some other news stories to focus on this bit of fluff!

Years back, rumors were circulating that Tarantino was putting together a Pulp Fiction/Reservoir Dogs prequel called The Vega Brothers. The plot was designed to explore the backgrounds of Vic Vega (Madsen - Reservoir Dogs) & Vincent Vega (Travolta - Pulp Fiction) and how they ended up where they did (Dead, I assume). There's a story today at one of my most often referenced sites Rotten Tomatoes ( regarding the possibility that this film may one day happen.

How, you ask? Well, there is an "ingenious" way to get around the two actors advancing ages! I'll let you read it in the article. I'm not sold that it's "ingenious", though. But then, in Tarantino's hands, who knows. Either way, I just want to see Madsen back on the big screen. While I won't hold my breath for The Vega Brothers, I am desperate for Tarantino to get his WWII movie Inglorious Bastards going! Apparently Madsen would have played a big role, so I'd get my Madsen fix along with my WWII movie fix! Heaven, I tells ya! I just hope Flags Of Our Fathers' failure at the box-office doesn't put the kibosh on future war movies... Cuz this is one I've been waiting for for a loooooooong time. In the mean time, we'll have Madsen's return in Sin City 2 to look forward to, as well as Tarantino's half of Grind House in April.

Well that's all folks! I never thought I'd make a reference to Free Willy on this blog... Especially a highly complimentary one. Though it actually is a really good movie.

The posting frequency may be a bit slow in the next bit as my school work is about to collapse on top of me. I do promise to have a review of Casino Royale up lickety-split! And you can be sure that if any more Venom stuff comes out... BAM! So, I'm back to my Bond DVD's. Take care peeps!

P.S.: Keep sending questions to!

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Hey guys! This is a really brief update that you can tack on to my previous post regarding the Spider-Man 3 trailer... Well, some stuff leaked out tonight... Some Venom stuff. And I know that there are a few of you (Gabe, Janine & Spencer) desperate to see the slimy bugger in the the flesh so this one's for you!

Now, this looks a little funky, but I promise you it's the real deal. It's taken from the footage shown to San Diego Comicon audience. It's a real shot from the movie, though I'm sure they'll do some additional CG on it. It is, however, pretty much what you'll be seeing on the screen. Enjoy. I don't know how long I'll be able to keep this photo up...

I'll do a full update on something other that Spidey 3 in the next couple days. I just felt this was worth a quick entry!