Eva Green

July 1, 2014

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast (Ep. 26): June 2014

 FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY

The end of June brings another edition of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  This month the boys discuss Batman’s out of control property damage, play a game of Word Association, berate Chelsea Handler, swoon rather uncomfortably over Fargo, Godzilla’s tail and Eva Green, then promote the Patrick Dempsey 80s classic Loverboy.  Yes, we are using “classic” loosely.  All that and more on a dog days of Summer edition of the Simplistic Review Podcast.

Show Notes:
Loverboy
DJ’s Hidden Eli Wallach Reference
Mad Max Reboot
Pacific Rim 2 Announcement
Cloud Atlas Valleyspeak
Gary Oldman Apology
Jonah Hill Apology

Music Notes:
Birds & Brass By Sort Of Soul

March 16, 2014

300: Rise Of An Empire

OVERACHIEVING 

It’s hard for me to imagine now that the tales of Leonidas and Xerxes and Spartan warriors are old hat.  I remember when Zack Snyder’s 2006 film 300 was something that no one knew bubkiss about.  That changed when it slaughtered the box office through strong word of mouth, making it one of the highest grossing R rated films ever made.  Since then, Lena Headey is a household name, Michael Fassbender is an Oscar nominee, and Gerard Butler has gone on to star in every type of failed romantic comedy ever conceived.  (Being catapulted, whether that be into the air or stardom, isn’t an exact science.) The brave 300 became a pop culture staple, which I often gauge by a character’s appearance in one of those horrid spoof movies.  So, I was skeptical when I heard that a sequel graphic novel was being created by the “not so sane anymore” Frank Miller and being turned into a film.  Why tread on old, and in my opinion, already poetically ended ground?  After some coaxing from, again, strong word of mouth, I put my apprehension aside and gave it a chance.  I am happy and very surprised to say that 300: Rise Of An Empire not only holds its own with the original 300, but supercedes it in some facets.  It is an OVERACHIEVING underdog that acknowledges and builds off of its roots.

What’s it about?  Well, here is probably the most interesting and well done thing about this film.  300: Rise Of An Empire fills in the gaps left behind by its predecessor 300.  As much as I love 300, the film skirts past a lot of chances to build up depth in the world it inhabits.  Hell, without Lena Headey’s brief storyline as Queen Gorgo, the film is practically a gloriously action packed montage of sex and violence.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Rise Of An Empire tries to do something done sneakily by Bourne Ultimatum, done brashly by Bourne Legacy, and done incomprehensibly by X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  It weaves its story around the events before, during and after the original.  The creation and rise of Xerxes, the Persian campaign taking place away from the Hot Gates, the steps taken to unite all of Greece.   All of these things done to not only strengthen the original 300 as a film, but elevate Rise Of An Empire as its own sturdy branch of a grand story.  So, this film is not a sequel.  It is a sidequel with an actual purpose.

Now don’t think that because I said this story fills in gaps that it is boring.  NOTHING could be further from the truth.  I haven’t fully quantified this, but I dare say that Rise Of An Empire has more swords, and blood, and death, and sex and destruction than 300.  The most famous shot in the original 300, my favorite shot in the original 300, is the “Crazyhorse” shot of Leonidas.  The one where he practically rips through the Persian front line single handed like a damn superhero.  Rise Of An Empire has two of these scenes just as epic, and one using AN ACTUAL HORSE!  Director Noam Murro, who had only worked on the indie film Smart People before this, really does a terrific job with these action scenes.  Though, this may be praise that deserves to fall on the head of the visual effects department or cinematographer.  Either way, rest easy if you think that Rise Of An Empire might play it safe.  It surely does not.

When it comes to performances in films like this, 300, Sin City, Dredd and the like, it isn’t really about being a great actor.  Though it doesn’t hurt.  It’s really about an actor or actress trying to be bold, to be memorable, to stand out.  It is very easy to disappear in a film focused mainly on style.  Gerard Butler and Headey and Fassbender and Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro knew how to play into the genre.  They used the somewhat campy material to their advantage instead of being overwhelmed by it.  The returning players to Rise Of An Empire have not forgotten to do this.  Headey, Santoro and even David Wenham are just as entertaining in this as they were before.  The new players, unfortunately, don’t manage to completely accomplish my theory of standing out.  Sullivan Stapleton handles his action scenes well, but he just never gripped me as someone I should follow.  The speeches and screams of inspiration that felt so genuine and right coming out of Butler’s mouth, feel somewhat hollow coming out of his.  A similar father and son storyline is used in Rise Of An Empire that I really began to enjoy.  However, it didn’t get enough meat to it as I would have liked.  The one exception to the newcomer performances comes from the always amazing Eva Green.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend that I don’t already adore Eva Green.  I’m not gonna pretend that I haven’t already declared her my favorite Bond Girl.  But trust me, it is not my biased exaggeration that this film BELONGS TO HER.  Her performance as Artemisia is easily the strongest performance in this film and the one everyone will talk about.  I think Green was born to play strong women.  Watching her, you can easily see her complete and utter fearlessness as an actor in every glare, and smirk, and bare naked fight/sex scene she has. (Yeah.  That happens.)  She completely embodies this character and makes even Xerxes’ ambition seem tame in comparison to her’s.  Green’s work as Morgan on the short-lived Starz series Camelot is comparable here, but Artemisia is Morgan turned up to 11.  Green is gonna absolutely own as Ava Lord in the other Frank Miller adaptation this year, A Dame To Kill For.

300: Rise Of An Empire fulfills its job as an enjoyable companion piece to Zack Snyder’s Spartan epic.  Whenever it tries to be different than its predecessor, it surprisingly thrives.  Don’t just be a witness…board the boats…paint your face in a remarkably similar Frank Castle Punisher pattern…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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.

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