Martin Campbell

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.

September 23, 2012

Simplistic TV: Last Resort

SHORT

I’m a big fan of submarine movies.  Das Boot.  The Hunt For Red October.  Crimson Tide.  Hell, even U-571 has it’s moments.  There is something about the claustrophobia of a sub.  Something about the danger you can only hear and not see.  Something about the strange terminology.  Down Bubble.  Up Periscope.  Level the planes.  Prepare the firing solution.  It just appeals to me.  So when I heard that ABC had a television show based on a submarine premiering this month, I was interested.  When I heard later it came from the mind of The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, I was psyched.  And when I heard it had the great Andre Braugher as the captain, I was in.  But after watching Last Resort, I felt the show falls just a bit SHORT.

I’m only basing this review on the pilot, directed by Martin “Yes, I did Green Lantern.  But Also GoldenEye & Casino Royale, So Back Off” Campbell.  Shows sometimes use criticism they receive from a pilot and make changes for the better.  My hope is that Last Resort is one of these shows.  As the pilot starts, it seems that all the pieces are in the right place.   We open on the sub and briefly meet the crew through the rounds of XO Sam Kendal, played by Scott Speedman.  Yes, I thought he went missing too.  We meet the crew chief played by an old T-1000.  And finally, we meet Braugher.  And boy, is he quintessential Braugher.  No nonsense.  Fiery.  Super serious as though he was performing Macbeth for he Queen of England.  He’s great.  I’m in the groove of the show and I’m enjoying it.  But, when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, the show makes it’s biggest mistake in my eyes.  It takes us off the ship back to Washington D.C. and then over to some Dharma Initiative looking island.  Why?  To introduce the other players of the show.  I understand that.  However, submarine stories, in my opinion, benefit greatly when they stick to the perspective of the crew at all times.  When they follow their perspective.  When they let the audience discover things when the crew discovers them.  In doing so, you heighten the tension and the mystery.  You really start to feel the danger and begin questioning everything and everyone.  When you leave the people you actually have been led to care about and essentially restart the narrative just to see Autumn Reeser jump the bones of some congressman, you release the all the built up tension of the show faster than cracking open a bottle of champagne.  When you come back to the crew, you have to start all over again in building up that tension.  Imagine if in Wrath of Khan after the Enterprise’s first exchange with the Reliant we decided to shoot over to Starfleet for a few minutes to meet some hot Starfleet lab tech who designed the Reliant.  The entire time her scene was going on, all you’d be screaming is “GO BACK TO THE ENTERPRISE DAMN IT!” and miss any information the scene would be giving you anyway.

There is a good show inside Last Resort.  The potential it has is high.  It just has to brush away some of the fluff and stick to it’s great premise of physical and psychological pressure put on sailors who are now without a country.  It may take time.  Time Shawn Ryan’s previously well done but low rated show Chicago Code didn’t have on Fox.  Let’s hope ABC is willing to give it.  Watch it…And after you come up for air….tell me I’m wrong.

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