Casino Royale

November 28, 2012

Double-ovember: Casino Royale (Matt’s Take)

Casino Royale – Classy

If it wasn’t for my co-reviewer, DJ Valentine, I might not have posted another Bond review for the rest of the month.  As I briefly touched on in my “Skyfall” review, I’m not the biggest James Bond fan.  Not saying he hasn’t gotten into some great adventures in exotic locales, with sexy Bond Girls, but the spy-espionage-adventure genre isn’t one of my favorites.  But when you get the perfect storm of directing, writing, and acting, that’s something that I can appreciate and enjoy, and calling “Casino Royale” classy would be an understatement.

First, all the people calling for Daniel Craig to call it quits when it comes to Bond; quiet, please.  Unless you just woke up yesterday Craig had shown his acting chops before playing the newly-promoted 00 Agent. Please check out “Layer Cake” and you will see what I mean.  He had charm, charisma, and was still a dick to women, all common traits of our favorite secret agent.

Second, Martin Campbell knows how to shoot action scenes.  “Goldeneye” is my favorite Bond film from the modern era.* It had great action in which you can easily suspend disbelief, a very likable Bond, and interesting villains.  Plus, the movie moves swiftly and exposition didn’t weigh it down too heavily.

Last, and most importantly, the writing.  Cheesy writing will put anyone in a tift, but if it’s done correctly with the right actors doing the talking, it can be easily forgivable.  Paul Haggis, from “Crash” fame, does wonderfully as the third wheel of the screenplay which includes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (the screenwriting duo from “Goldeneye” to “Skyfall”).  You can tell who wrote the best dialogue in this film.

All this praise and I’ve forgotten to say anything about “Casino Royale.”  Don’t get this Bond re-boot confused with the 1960s “Casino Royale” there is nothing really in common outside of the name and the fact that there are about five different James Bonds, oh, and Orson Welles, but I digress.  The film follows a younger, sprier, more naive Bond, who is out to stop a network of terrorists and their mysterious accountant, Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen (in my opinion he should have used his real name in the film, it sounds a lot more bad ass then Le Chiffre).  Unlike “Skyfall,” “Casino Royale” gives me what I want in an action movie.  Sure, there are some scenes in the movie that are over the top, but I never really thought anything was too out of bounds, even the incredible free-running opening action set piece that takes place in Madagascar didn’t make me suspend too much disbelief.  There are your typical double-crosses, moments of danger for Bond and his fellow Bond Girl Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, and globe-trotting from Miami, Montenegro, and everywhere in-between.  The supporting cast is strong with Judi Dench and Giancarlo Giannini leading the way, but I would liked to have seen a little more Jeffrey Wright, even though he does take a larger role in “Quantum of Solace,” the continuation to “Royale.”

The stripped down style of this new Bond is welcome respite from the over-the-top Pierce Brosnan films (namely “The World is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day”) and there are rarely any moments that I would take away from “Casino Royale.” It brings the class back to the 007 Universe where its short on the one-liners and long on the witty dialogue.  You could argue that this Bond hasn’t developed his signature one-liners yet, and I can’t say I really missed them (I am partial to “No more foreplay” however).

Bottom line, I think the reason I like “Royale” so much is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a Bond film, just a great action movie with stunning set pieces in a world where Batman might reside.  It’s dark, gritty, brooding, and did I mention classy as hell.  There was no need to make it artsy and harken back to the Bond days of yore.  Sure you get the Aston Martin, but no fetishizing a car and playing a sprawling soundtrack as it leaves a garage…..cough….cough….Skyfall.  Stick to the basics; hot women, action that doesn’t make me roll my eyes (too much) and a good story with some dialogue I can sink my teeth into.  You get all this and more with “Casino Royale.”

Fun Fact:  Mikkelsen, who will be playing a young Dr. Hannibal Lecter for NBC in 2013, had Giannini in his pocket in “Royale.”  Oddly enough, Giannini was one of Lecter’s victims in 2001’s “Hannibal.”

*I count the Modern Bond era from 1995-Current.    

November 24, 2012

Double-ovember: Casino Royale (DJ’s Take)

REAL

Lets face it.  Die Another Day sucked.  I haven’t reviewed it yet, but in case I don’t get a chance to, let me save you the suspense.  Die Another Day sucked.  James Bond deserved better than that.  At the time, 007 was hit by a perfect storm.  Pierce Brosnan was getting too old for the role, producers thought Bond should compete with and emulate the extreme sports sci-fi spy film xXx, while they underestimated the the rise of Jason Bourne.  It didn’t take them long to rectify those mistakes.  Eon Productions decided to not only recast Bond, but reboot the series with a more gritty and REALISTIC feel.  Bond’s beginnings is Casino Royale.  And it is f*#king awesome.  Wait, that isn’t a very professional review of it.  So, let me just say that Casino Royale reinvents the James Bond formula and world with an amazing flourish that extends the franchise’s cinematic life for decades to come.  But honestly, it is f*#king awesome.

So, who do you recast Bond with?  You have to give it to the producers of the franchise.  They are not afraid to shake things up a bit.  Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are as similar to each other as members of The Muppets.  But no other Bond in history has been criticized and scrutinized more than Daniel Craig.  Even to this day.  People lost their minds over his hair, his thin acting resume, and his rugged looks.  So much so, there were online petitions to have him removed.  In retrospect, these critics of Craig were not understanding the central point of Casino Royale.  Casino Royale is essentially the origin story of James Bond.  He isn’t suave yet.  He isn’t debonair.  He isn’t the man who always has a plan.  He is just a cold-blooded killing machine.  If I can’t capture my target, I’ll kill him instead.  I might beat you in a fight, but not without receiving my fair share of damage.  I’d rather just skip the secret identity crap and get right to the bad guy confrontation.  Craig fits that role to a tee, in my opinion.  Craig is what a REAL secret agent would probably look like.  Not some pretty boy underwear model who uses as much skin moisturizer as he does bullets.  A man who has been in a few scrapes and survived.  A man who has just qualified to be a double-0, but not a seasoned one.  Oh, and despite his, then, thin resume, Daniel Craig had acting chops that were on par with or better than any other Bond before him.  He has plenty of range, and shows it off in this film.

Director Martin Campbell knocked GoldenEye out of the park.  But the odds were in his favor.  Craig casting controversy made this film an underdog from the start.  On top of that, Casino Royale did not have as many action beats as his previous outing.  So, it would have been easy for the film to feel flat and tedious.  However, Campbell makes Royale anything but.  A scene where six guys are sitting around a table feels as compelling as a car chase or a shootout.  He directs the Paul Haggis script with perfection and gives the movie the ‘Almost Bond’ feel it needs.  I just love how we start to get hints of a typical Bond feel in scenes, but are suddenly pulled back because we aren’t there yet.  You see, James isn’t James until the last five minutes.  Campbell, Craig, Haggis and even composer David Arnold all knew that.  Critics didn’t grasp it until now.

In every Bond review I’ve done so far, I have talked about the validity of the Bond girls in each film.   I’ve differentiated them by how weak they are as characters.  How much of a pawn they are for the villain or Bond or both.  I’ve said that the stronger the Bond girl, the brighter 007 shines.  And, for me, there is no stronger Bond girl in the entire series than Vesper Lynd.  She is my ultimate Bond girl, hands down.  She is beautiful, she is smart, she is witty, and most importantly, she is the one Bond girl 007 can’t read, can’t play, can’t impress.  At every point where you think Bond has figured her out, Vesper throws him for a loop.  And SPOILER ALERT…this is probably the only instance where the Bond girl makes Bond a pawn in the plot of the story.  She is not the typical, “I just met you five minutes ago, but I love you James” weakling most Bond girls are.  James and Vesper’s relationship feels REAL.  It feels earned.  Eva Green is amazing in this film.  Her chemistry with Craig is perfect and the range of emotions she displays throughout this film always floors me.  You can actually see her fall in love with James and instantly regret it.

If there is a weakness Casino Royale has, it is the villain.  Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre isn’t bad by any means.  The plot just doesn’t allow for a satisfying final confrontation between Bond and Le Chiffre.  Casino Royale is thinking bigger than that.  It is setting up a more dangerous organization along the lines of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. during Connery’s run.  And because the reveal of this mysterious organization has not been immediate, Royale’s set up for it feels unfulfilled.  Again, this is a small weakness seeing as the main focus of Casino Royale is Bond.  Everything else falls to the wayside.

Casino Royale is not just a successful reboot of a franchise.  It is a well made, well acted, Bond film that set the bar high for every Bond film to come.  I’m especially thankful to it because it completely washed the taste of Die Another Day out of my mouth.  Seriously, that movie sucks.  Sing along with Chris Cornellstop touching your ear…go all in…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

November 9, 2012

Double-ovember: The Living Daylights

WORTHY

Do yourself a favor.   If you haven’t seen The Living Daylights before or if you haven’t in a while, watch it again…and if you come away thinking it isn’t one of the most well made, WORTHY Bond films in the series…Please…PLEASE…tell me how on earth I’m wrong.  I usually save my signature catchphrase for the end.  However, after being recently blown away by this fifteenth installment of Bond, I wanted to put proper emphasis on how good it still is.  For me, there is only one small flaw that I can find in it.  And that flaw is Timothy Dalton.

Now, that is not to say Timothy Dalton is bad.  He is actually quite good here.  However, I just don’t look at him as James Bond.  Dalton is considered to be the roughest of the seven Bonds. (Including David Niven)  He was Daniel Craig before Daniel Craig.  The difference between the two is that Craig, though rough and tumble as well, comes to us at Bond’s beginnings.  Dalton’s Bond comes to us as an already established agent.  Craig’s Bond is built up before our eyes, whereas Dalton is forced upon us.  For two actors who were such big departures from their predecessors, Craig’s transition into the role is much smoother.  Dalton, to me, always seemed like another agent aiding the real 007.  Still, this is merely my personal preference.  A digressive critique of the well constructed film surrounding him.

The plot of The Living Daylights is right in the wheelhouse for Bond.  Russian defectors, megalomaniac arms dealers, governmental power plays, political assassinations, double-crosses, triple-crosses, CIA, MI6, KGB.  All there.  The first thing that really impressed me though, was the quality of the action.  Everything from the set pieces to the execution.  For a film made 25 years ago, the action is still WORTHY by today’s standards.  Any fan of the franchise will be in heaven during the terrific, gadget filled Bond car chase sequence.

It can be argued that The Living Daylights is a tad light in the Bond girl department.  The film revolves around the character of Kara Milovy, played by Maryam d’Abo.  Her naiveté and easy manipulation by Bond and others does weaken her as a whole.  And I do wish they would have played up her KGB sniper angle more.  However, I do give her props for actually taking action to help Bond during the film’s climax.  With a little more filling out of her character, she could have really been a great foil for Bond.

There is a character named Sgt. Hatred on the amazing television show The Venture Brothers.  And I am about 99% certain he was inspired by Joe Don Baker’s character Brad Whitaker.  Whitaker steals every scene that he is in and has a great showdown with Bond at the end.  He completely outshines Jeroen Krabbe’s General Georgi Koskov and even the great John Rhys-Davies.

The Living Daylights should be held up higher in the Bond lexicon than it is.  It seems like it has almost been lost in time.  I recommend you find it…Sing along with A-ha…watch it…and for consistency’s sake…tell me I’m wrong.  
July 22, 2012

Quantum Of Solace

MISUNDERSTOOD

Now I think Dark Knight Rises is a good film.  But the real highlight for me when I saw it was the IMAX Special Skyfall trailer that played right before it.  Now I love James Bond films.  I especially love ‘Daniel Craig as James Bond’ films.  His stint as Bond, Skyfall seemingly included, shares a particular theme as Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  They are both exercises in the tearing down and rebuilding of iconic characters in a different form than the preconceived notions of the mass fan base.  Much like Dark Knight Rises will be panned in the coming days by critics who didn’t see it as a satisfying display of their expectations, Quantum was panned for that very reason.

Casino Royale is amazing.  Stupendous.  Terrific.  Adjective after adjective synonymous with good.  I loved how Craig portrayed Bond.  His attitude.  His wit.  His determination.  He really got to the meat of the character.  A good man.  A man who wants to do whats right.  A man who will not accept defeat.  And a man who’s feelings about resorting to extreme violence to accomplish his goals rival that of even Dexter himself.  The film gave you everything.  Great action.  Great acting.  Great villains.  Great set pieces.  Bond girls.  Mystery.  I could go on.  The film, however, ends on a cliffhanger.  An acceptable one, but a cliffhanger none the less.  That fact is where Quantum of Solace comes in.  That fact is why I think Quantum of Solace is MISUNDERSTOOD.

Dark Knight Rises is not a stand alone film.  It is the culmination of an arc.  Its a cog in a giant machine.  Accept it for that and any negative opinion you have may sway a bit.  That said, Rises takes place YEARS after The Dark Knight.  It at least has that bit of a buffer between stories to start fresh as a film.  Quantum gets similar criticism because people say it doesn’t feel like a complete story.  And I don’t blame people for thinking that.  They are right.  Quantum of Solace is not a stand alone film either.  It is just the very long final act of Casino Royale.  Quantum is a direct sequel.  Its the ONLY direct sequel in the Bond franchise.  And the damn thing takes place mere MINUTES….MINUTES after Casino Royale.  If you view it in that light, it makes more sense as to why it is the way it is.

I wish they would do a version where they stick Quantum at the end of Casino and play it out, much like what Quentin did with Kill Bill.  The movie would be Lord Of The Rings long but it would be one grand arc of Bond’s origin story.  Quantum is about Bond’s rage.  Its the result of what happened to Vesper at the end of Casino.  That is not a stand alone theme for a movie.  It is a great theme for a final act.  I watch it with that in mind and always enjoy the hell out of it.  I mean, its not like it has horrible acting…its still Craig as Bond…and he’s perfect.  Its still Dame Judy Dench as M.  Still Jeffrey Wright as Felix.  The cinematography is beautiful.  The action is still crazy good.  And I love the lurking idea of some evil organization controlling everything.

For as good as Skyfall looks, it owes whatever ease of making it and success it has to Quantum Of Solace.  Quantum did the dirty work of finishing off a storyline that Skyfall can choose or not choose to hint back to.  By the end of Quantum, Bond is finally a complete character.  He is finally the Bond we remember.  Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace just showed us how that transformation happened.  Watch it again…then tell me I’m wrong.  

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