Judi Dench

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 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.   

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