double-ovember

November 28, 2012

Double-ovember: License To Kill

LACKLUSTER

What is it about James Bond films that set them apart from other action/adventure films?  That question could be debated for years.  Personally, I think they transcend the norm by adding an air of mythos & magic.  Creating a universe where a governmental operative can exist alongside a metal toothed giant, a homicidal imp and a woman named Pussy.  There are bigger stakes to deal with usually, or at least bigger antagonists.  License To Kill forgets that formula and subjects us to a 007 film that just feels false. 
In License To Kill, James Bond goes rogue due to his quest for vengeance.  And though this is a similar set up to films like Quantum Of Solace and…(GROAN)…Die Another Day, Craig was at least battling a mysterious organization while Brosnan was tracking a Diamond Faced baddy bent on global destruction.  Dalton is fighting a drug dealer named Franz Sanchez.  That’s it.  A LACKLUSTER adversary for the world’s greatest secret agent to put it lightly.  Even Kananga in Live And Let Die was more interesting than Sanchez.  With as many megalomaniac, eccentric, psychopaths Bond has defeated before, a drug dealer who harmed his friend seems like a lame reason to quit MI6.  And seeing that the friend is fellow government agent Felix Leiter, I don’t see how things could logically escalate to that.  The CIA and MI6 could eradicate this poor Scarface rip-off from the face of the planet in less than two seconds.  Now, I don’t want to reenact my Brave review and rewrite the entire story.  But, if they had a more scary, untouchable threat and had Bond and Leiter teaming up to get him while both on the run from their respective governments, that would be a film I’d want to see.  We don’t really get that here.  Leiter has been a walking talking missed opportunity of a character for the entire franchise’s run.  You finally set him up with some semblance of a story, but then sideline him for a majority of the film.  Even head henchman Dario’s most interesting quality is that he’s played by Benicio Del Toro.  He sits out a majority of the film as well.  These aren’t big stakes or big antagonists.

The only character that positively stands out is Pam Bouvier, played by Carey Lowell.  She is strong willed, able to handle herself, and serves a purpose to the story.  She has very good chemistry with Dalton, and even though her character’s affinity for Bond feels rushed, the payoff for their romance isn’t.  I can’t say any of those things for her Bond girl co-star Talisa Soto.  Lupa Lamora is easily my least favorite Bond girl of all time.  She is just a put upon, abused, weakling of a character.  Does Bond try and rescue her from Sanchez’s clutches?  No, not really.  Does Bond try and rescue at all?  No, not really.  So, why does she love Bond?  Um…because.  Does she have a defining moment in the film?  Lying to cover Bond’s ass.  Well, does she ever stand up to Sanchez and get revenge for his earlier beatings of her?  If you don’t count the lying then…um..HEY, LOOK OVER THERE!

License To Kill is one of the most LACKLUSTER Bond films ever made.  It is a shame that this would be Dalton’s final Bond.  To go out on this note sullies all the great work he put in with the character.  Sing along with Gladysor even Patti…and if you watch it…and disagree…please tell me where the hell I’m wrong.

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 24, 2012

Double-ovember: GoldenEye

QUALITY
GoldenEye is the third gold titled Bond film I’ve reviewed as well as my third recast Bond debut film.  And of those three, it is easily my favorite.  It hits on all the Bond tropes I look for.  Great action, great villains, great wit, and great style.  Most remember Bond 17 because of the epically popular Nintendo 64 game.  Hell, I was practically raised on it.  However, GoldenEye should be heralded as possibly the most well received relaunch of the franchise ever.  And that includes Casino Royale.
In hindsight, Casino Royale is way more successful than GoldenEye.  However, Craig’s casting as Bond was not lauded as a good choice at all.  Even after starring in three films, all being the three highest grossing Bond films in history, Craig is still criticized.  Pierce Brosnan was not.  Bond fans, along with the producers wanted Brosnan years before.  However, he was unable to put on the tux due to his commitments to the television series Remington Steele.  When Brosnan was finally free to play Bond, the anticipation was at a fever pitch. 
I’ve stated before that I have a soft spot for Roger Moore, seeing as he was the first actor I saw play James Bond.  After GoldenEye, however, Brosnan became my favorite Bond of all time.  Not the best Bond.  (Connery.  I know!  Sheesh!)  Just my personal favorite.  I measure my Bonds on two and only two things.  Tactical believability and social charm.  Some Bonds are better at the action like Dalton, Lazenby and Craig.  And some are better with the charm like Connery and Moore.  Brosnan, in my opinion, displays the best balance of those two traits.  He nails every single action beat he does and can charms the pants off of anyone.  You see Brosnan straighten his tie casually while driving a tank through Russian streets and say, “That’s James Bond.”  He’s someone who you would love to have a drink with, but someone who you would never want to fight.  Daniel Craig (My second favorite Bond) is what I imagine 007 to be like if he existed in my world, but Brosnan possess more of the mystique and romantic super spy aura, while still feeling believable. 
GoldenEye’s QUALITY carries on from the revamped Bond to his fearsome foes.  An S & M henchwoman that receives orgasmic pleasure watching people suffer, and an (17 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT!!!) evil former double-0 with a grudge.  They are great Bond villains.  Not in the sense that they have metal teeth or golden guns.  They are great because they are a great challenge for James Bond.  Logic suggests that MI6 ranks their double-0s in descending order by skill.  That said, Alec Trevelyan, 006, is supposed to be a better Bond than Bond.  Better at combat.  Better with the ladies.  Better all around.  To pull that off, they had to get an actor who could believably outclass James Bond.  I personally think they did that with the casting of Sean Bean.  Bean has been stealing scenes for years.  From Lord Of The Rings to Game Of Thrones.  You can’t help but like his characters, no matter their faults.  Trevelyan is no different.  Many Bond villains tend to be less cool than Bond.  Trevelyan more than holds his own with Bond stylistically and even physically.  When he says the line, “I was always better James” you believe it.  Xena Onatopp is a much sexier version of View To A Kill’s May Day.  You can tell Famke Janssen is enjoying the hell out of the character.  Her chemistry with Bond is great.  Especially in the baccarat scene, that pays tribute to Dr. No.  Alan Cumming also injects some really fun stuff with the hacker Boris. 
Natalya Simonova is less of a Bond girl pawn and more of a victim of circumstance.  It can be argued that she is a forgettable character compared to her predecessors and successors.  However, she does bring something more to the table than, say, Honey Ryder in Dr. No.  Though her chemistry with Brosnan isn’t very palpable, Natalya’s story is interwoven with Boris.  Their rivalry at least gives her a satisfying arc.  This is also Judi Dench’s first go as M.  What can I say about the famous Dame that I haven’t already said in my Skyfall review?  She is outstanding.  Right off the bat, she puts Bond in his place faster than any other M I have ever seen.  Proving she has what it takes to control MI6 and him. 
GoldenEye is a QUALITY classic in the Bond series.  It is easily Brosnan’s best outing in the role.  Director Martin Campbell did such a great job with it, EON Productions picked him to relaunch Bond again with Casino Royale.  Which begs the question…WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO HIM WITH GREEN LANTERN?!?  Sing along with Tina…play the old 64 game…but not against me.  I’ll kick your ass…Watch it…keep your eyes open for a strange Minnie Driver cameo….then tell me I’m wrong.  

November 17, 2012

Double-ovember: Goldfinger

ICONIC

If you looked in the spy movie encyclopedia and searched for James Bond, the first film it would reference would be Goldfinger.  It is an ICONIC example of the world Ian Fleming created all those years ago on the beaches of Jamaica.  It is the starting point for all the other spy movies in this encyclopedia I just made up.  It stars the most ICONIC Bond in Sean Connery.  It has one of the most ICONIC villains in Goldfinger.  It has one of the most ICONIC henchmen in Odd Job.  It has the most ICONIC Bond girl in Pussy Galore.  The car, the kills, the gadgets, the catchphrases, the song…all ICONIC.  There have been many great Bond films since, but in my eyes, none have surpassed the notability of Goldfinger.
I have stressed before my belief that the best kinds of Bond girls are not just beautiful.  They are not just a pawn for which Bond can casually move around for his own benefit.  They are women who can hold their own with Bond physically or mentally or both.  The larger the challenge they give James, the brighter he shines.  Bond girls in the beginning were victims of the time.  Female empowerment was rarely seen in cinema in the 60s.  Goldfinger, however, manages to have two girls that bucked that trend.  Jill Masterson, who has probably the most ICONIC fate in Bond history, does fall into the pawn category.  However, her vengeful sister Tilly does not.  She makes it her life’s mission to find and kill the man responsible for her sister’s demise.  Even if that means shooting through 007 to do it.  She still  pales in comparison to Pussy Galore.  Pussy is beautiful, a pilot, proficient with firearms, and a judo master.  The first time Bond meets her, she pushes him around at gunpoint.  The next time they meet, Pussy knocks Bond on his ass and recaptures him.  The next time, they both have a Judo showdown in a barn.  Pussy Galore is the opposite of a pushover.  Even her relationship with Goldfinger seems more like one of competitive equals than employee/employer.  Pussy Galore was the benchmark Bond girl for me until Vesper Lynd came along.  But that is a conversation for another day.
Goldfinger and Odd Job shouldn’t work as villains on paper.  A British born, Dutch sounding, gold obsessed, spoiled sport teamed with an Asian chauffeur who likes playing ring toss on people’s heads with a lethal, metal brimmed bowler.  However, they are two of the Bond franchise’s most referenced villains.  You’ve never seen a Bond retrospective without seeing THIS…or THIS.  But other than ICONOGRAPHY, how do they stack up as villains?  Goldfinger’s plan is surprisingly sound, even for today’s standard.  Hell, a version of it was used in Die Hard With A Vengeance.  He should also get props for making Sean Connery’s Bond appear actually desperate.  That laser scene always reminds me of this amazing scene in Mission Impossible 3.  Goldfinger’s obsession with gold falls short only to his obsession with winning.  If Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure grew up to be a Bond villain he’d be Auric Goldfinger.  
A henchman’s scariness and effectiveness usually depends on their commitment to their boss’s cause.  Suffice to say, Odd Job is committed.  So much so, when the authorities begin to close in to stop a bomb he’s transporting, Odd Job locks himself inside a vault with the bomb and kills a nearby henchman to make sure he won’t diffuse it.  He’s more than a match for Bond physically and uses a weapon so implausible that it would make Q scoff.  That is a great henchman.
Goldfinger is literally James Bond 101.  If you ever need a refresher course on what exactly a Bond film should feel like, I advise you to …sing along with Dame Shirley Bassey…buy back all your gold from this guy…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 

November 13, 2012

Double-ovember: Skyfall (DJ’s Take)

STIRRING
See what I did there?  But no, my above one word review of Skyfall is not a joke.  Well, maybe a little bit.  Bond 23 is easily the most dramatic Bond film of the franchise.  It finishes an origin trilogy of Bond, M, MI6, Q branch and many other elements of Ian Fleming’s universe.  Yes, a nutshell synopsis of Skyfall has fairly been labeled, “What If Bond, Not Batman, Had To Stop The Joker?”  I personally think that concept is an interesting one.  The events of The Dark Knight and Skyfall are similar.  However, the two heroes in it are not.  Bruce Wayne is not James Bond.  Bruce is a bit of a softer character than Bond.  That doesn’t make Bruce weak by any means.  That just shows you how hardened Bond actually is.  Where Bruce’s childhood trauma made him somewhat bipolar, Bond’s made him somewhat sociopathic.  He is way closer to the line than Bruce.  So much so, that his constant defiance is the only thing that keeps him from crossing it.  That dynamic is what differentiates the two films. 
It is a pleasure to see such an accomplished director like Sam Mendes and a living legend cinematographer like Roger Deakins take on James Bond.  This is a franchise that thrives on creativity and style.  Something that is totally brought to the table here.  Both men show off how excellent action scenes and films can be when they are put in capable hands.  Deakins displays such a mastery of composition, color, and shadows, you’ll want to gorge yourself on each well painted frame.  That is a little too technical for a film review, so let me just say your eyes experience is all the better for having this duo at the helm. 
I sort of guessed beforehand as to the ultimate role of Naomie Harris in Skyfall.  However, she still makes her part feel surprising and memorable.  Her chemistry with Craig is great and provides some of the lighter moments of the film.  The other buxom Bond girl, Sévérine, does not make that great an impact unfortunately.  Her story, though interesting, is rushed.  This was assuredly done to make room for the biggest Bond girl narrative of Skyfall.  That is the M, played by Dame Judi Dench.  I may just be showing my bias toward the franchise here, but I wish people could recognize the absolutely perfect performances Dench has been delivering as M since Goldeneye for crying out loud.  This is the heaviest lifting she’s had since her arrival and she does not disappoint.  I would bet green money there was a hesitation at first to focus a large part of the film around M.  A hesitation quickly followed by the chuckling realization that M wasn’t being played by some minor character actor, but Dame Judi f*#king Dench!  Casting  a women as M was unheard of back when Goldeneye came out.  Now her presence is as comforting as a warm blanket.  
This brings me to the Joker of this picture, Raoul Silva.  Javier Bardem needs to do another comedy immediately.  If he continues to convincingly play these raving psychotics, he’ll be typecast forever.  Silva is easily the best villain Craig’s Bond has faced and possibly one of the creepiest Bond has ever faced.  His path, his plan, his will is frighteningly focused.  Bardem’s choice to make Silva always appear friendly on the outside while hinting at the extensive damage underneath is terrific.  Unpredictability is the ultimate foil for any hero.  
Some critics have also been wary of the new Q, played by Ben Whishaw.  Mainly, because he is younger than Bond.  However, I think it represents the new generational dichotomy of modern technology.  In the 60s and 70s technology was stereotypically run by the old and lost on the young.  Nowadays it is the complete opposite.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your parents to input their name and number into your smart phone.  As long as Bond has zero respect for the effort Q puts into his work, the age swap doesn’t matter.  And besides, Whishaw is great in the role.  His lecturing of Bond feels just as natural as when Desmond Llewelyn did it. 
Skyfall will critically be a victim of its own hype.  It will be harshly judged because of its 300 commercials a day, its 10 beer related contests, and bold claim to be the best Bond ever.  Resentment towards hype should not influence what you see in Skyfall.  It is action packed, surprisingly moving, franchise faithful, and most of all, fun.  Renew your license to kill…sing along with Adele the song that is a lock for a Best Original Song Oscar nod…take the bloody shot….watch it….then tell me I’m wrong.   

November 13, 2012

Double-ovember, Skyfall (Justin’s Take)

Skyfall: Beautiful
(143mins, 2012, Action)

Beautiful both visually and story.

Lets just get this out and say, Skyfall is the most beautiful looking film I’ve seen this year and I might even say within a few years. Roger Deakins has made a stunning looking film that wowed me at the theater. Thanks Roger you made the best looking Bond film in years.

Skyfall might not be the best Bond film ever like a lot of people are saying, I believe From Russia With Love holds that title, but Skyfall is in the top 10.

Why? Because it is a different side of Bond. To make films that span 50 years and each one touches a fan in its own way is a remarkable thing. You might remember the first Bond film you saw. You might have a favorite film and maybe you have a film that touches your life. Each Bond film has one of these toward a person who views a Bond film. But when you do the formula like what Bond has used so many times it will at one point get a bit tougher for new ideas. We can all pick a point where Bond films got weak but believe it or not there isn’t a bad Bond film. They’re all good in their own way.

Skyfall takes a completely different approach to the formula and I stand up and applaud it. Yet, it never goes off the formula that we all have come to love.

Spoilers

The star of Skyfall is M. I didn’t mind M being the star. I enjoyed it, but we also got Bond’s backstory. I always wanted to touch on Bonds family in a film, but I felt it was slightly wasted for Skyfall. But then again it was nice to see that finally. Daniel Craig gives his best performance as Bond. Q works well and I can see an awesome future with him. M shines and it was great to see that. Silva is Craig’s best Bond villain. That might of been the one weakest part of Craig’s Bond films. Sure CR and QOS had okay villains but we really got a great, classic Bond villain for Craig this time. We also have a new composer which was refreshing. Sam Mendes did a great job and I hope he comes back for another one. And I look forward to having Ralph Fiennes in the future Bond films. Always loved the guys acting.

I liked Skyfall’s Bond girls but for Sévérine I thought she was underused. I would of like to have seen more of her instead of making her a throwaway. Eve was good and I’m curious to see her evolve in the next few films.

When I reviewed The Dark Knight Rises I said this was made for Batman fans, well Skyfall was made for Bond fans. There are a ton of Bond references in this film that came off really badass.

A older couple was sitting to the right of me and they just kept telling me how they have seen all the Bond films at the theater since the start. They said Skyfall remind them of that early time period and they liked that about it.

Speaking of the ending as a fan, this is the ending we needed. We are now back to the classic formula. Moneypenny, a new M and Q is finally back. That scene at the end in the office gave me chills because we haven’t had that in such a long time. Even the set design with the dark wood and coat hanger just got me excited. I even kept hoping that Bond would throw a hat onto that hanger.

It felt so awesome.

Skyfall is a wonderful film. It’s fantastic film with a few issues, but hey almost all films have some nitpicks.

I didn’t like how the story of the film was about the lost drive and Bond was trying to track it down. Then half way into the film after making so much fuss about it not a word comes up on it again and it becomes protecting M. I understand why, but I just would of like a better transfer of the two parts.

I felt the komodo dragon scene was okay on till the eating. I know they went for that classic Bond death but it came off a bit odd.

And the last thing was all about Bond being old…Might be my most hated thing about this great film. Two films before it, it was the rage that he was all young and new. Now he just too damn old. And I like the old storyline but maybe in a few years when Craig is ready to say goodbye. Not now. Sorry I felt that was out of place and it got to me.

The Skyfall scene was fantastic. It felt so different but yet so Bond-ish. And I just can’t get over the beautiful look of this film. Really beautiful lighting and composition. The song by Adele was great, felt like the great classic Bond themes we all love!

All in all I thought it was a great film. It looks amazing in IMAX even taught it didn’t use IMAX cameras and even the Sony 4k viewing I saw in the small theater looked fantastic. (even though their audio sucked. Theater’s fault not the film.)

Go see Skyfall its a good time and a damn good Bond film.

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