Tag Archives: James Bond

“CASINO ROYALE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

A new Bond for a new age.

With over 40 years of cinema behind him, James Bond is one of the oldest — and most timeless — action heroes to persevere throughout film history. Why don’t we know more about him? We know all about Dr. Jones and his early crusades that led to him becoming Indiana Jones. We all know the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, the tragic beginnings of Batman, and Luke Skywalker’s parentage that literally spans the galaxy. But for some reason despite 20 films dedicated to his name, James Bond is a character whose history has always eluded us. Why is that?

I think it’s for several reasons. One may be because it adds to his mystery and intrigue, and keeping his backstory in the dark maybe contributes to the elusiveness of his character. Another may be to allow for multiple interpretations of James Bond. Since we’ve had six actors play the part now, it makes sense to keep his story loose and flexible to allow for overlapping storylines and not convolute different films’ timelines. But the most rational explanation may be that his backstory simply doesn’t matter. James Bond exists in the here and now: in the mission, the objective, the target, the drink, the beautiful women, the pleasures of the instant because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Whatever the case may be, Casino Royale is the newest reboot of MI6’s favorite secret agent. It is also arguably the most raw and personal James Bond film to date, something I never expected to say about any James Bond movie ever.

In this modern retelling of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale introduces a younger, less robust Bond in Daniel Craig, shortly before he even achieves his double-0 status. All of the usual James Bond elements are here. The fast-paced and exciting action. The high-stakes shoot-em-outs and intensive fight choreography. The sleek vehicles, weapons, and spy gadgets. The over-the-top chase sequences that take you over streets, bridges, buildings, hallways, and skyscrapers. The drop-dead gorgeous Bond girl in Eva Green. The chilling and unsettling villain in Mads Mikkelsen. The twists, the turns, the conspiracies that drive the plot forward. Everything that makes James Bond James Bond is in here and dialed up to pristine shaken-not-stirred detail.

But it’s not the usual Bond elements that impress me: what really impresses me with Casino Royale is the ruggedness, the roughness, the gritty realism that makes this film move and breathe with the authenticity of a top-secret SIS mission report. There are so many nuances to the film that you learn to appreciate and value that I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ll start with the film’s star Daniel Craig, who carries his part with the confidence and collectiveness of a Sean Connery and with the dispassion and coldness of Timothy Dalton. In previous films, James Bond has been portrayed with the suave coolness of a master infiltrator — a man who knows how to get out of every slippery situation, regardless of whether they’re in a secret base or a woman’s chambers. Here, the younger, more inexperienced James Bond is prone to more mistakes and is a lot less calm under pressure. That makes him surprisingly more vulnerable and the action feel a lot more immediate and real.

When he finishes making his first kill, his hand quivers and he breathes sporadically as he processes what he has done. When he makes a startling realization, his eyes pop and he spurs into action, knowing that something horrible will happen if he does not stop a particular outcome from happening. When someone close to him feels a particular pain that he’s familiar with, you feel his empathy as he consoles them and processes their grief with them. When he’s captured and being tortured, he doesn’t experience it like a hardened agent who fears nothing, but as a rookie experiencing this for the first time and is very, very afraid, even if he refuses to break. That level of emotion is a rare quality in a James Bond performance, and it will easily be Craig’s greatest asset the more he establishes his own 007 identity going forward.

But Craig is only half the puzzle. The other half comes in the film’s clever and crafty screenplay, which combines the typical Bond troupes delivered by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with the style and swagger of a real-world espionage thriller from Academy Award-winning writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). In previous Bond movies, the screenplay may have been given second focus to over-the-top gizmos, gadgets, and camp so silly and obnoxious that it would have made Adam West blush. Not here. In Casino Royale, the larger-than-life spy movie spectacle is traded out for a dense and layered plot that perfectly establishes James Bond and his beginnings as a double-0. Oh, and the dialogue is so sweet and snappy and so perfectly understands James Bond. One of my favorite lines is where Bond comments how the love interest isn’t his type. “Smart?” she asks. He responds “Single.”

Side note: The subversion of the classic “shaken, not stirred” line is also worthy runner-up.

All of these elements are masterfully brought together by director Martin Campbell, who returns to the director’s chair after bringing us Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of the character in GoldenEye 10 years ago. Whatever your opinions of the previous entries in the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale breathes new life and fresh blood into this everlasting series. The action choreography is so fast, brutal, and impactful that it leaves you dizzy while watching it. David Arnold’s mesmerizing score is so exciting and enthralling, with the snazzy horns and emotional orchestra throwing you back to the classic days of James Bond. And the editing by Stuart Baird is so smart, gradual, and all-encompassing that it allows you to follow all of the threads that are unraveling while never losing track of everything that’s going on. I find it fascinating that one of the most engaging scenes in the entire movie isn’t a fight or a chase scene, but rather a card game between Bond and the movie’s villain. That’s because the film’s astronomically high stakes are set up very well, and you know what will happen if Bond pulls a bad hand.

It’s hard to say which is the best Bond movie, or even who is the best Bond actor, because of how many stories, movies, and portrayals are out there of the double-0 agent. But even amongst the sea of James Bond retellings and reinterpretations, Casino Royale stands out, as does its star. That’s because they both understand that James Bond is more than a gun, a bullet, a bow tie, a license to kill. James Bond is an action. He’s a statement. He’s a man that will do what needs to be done even when the world is collapsing all around him. That’s why when he says his name is James Bond at the end of the movie, we believe him.

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“SPECTRE” Review (✫✫✫)

Back to Bond, baby.

The opening tracking shot in Spectre is masterfully filmed and beautifully consistent, following our subjects smoothly through the chaos of a celebratory crowd like an artist’s hand running down his sculpture. What follows after that is a film less consistent, less smooth, and less artistic, but to hell with being artistic. This is a fun movie.

Following up a few months after Skyfall, Spectre places our hero, James Bond, a.k.a. 007 (Once again portrayed by Daniel Craig) in the middle of a hidden conspiracy of overthrowing the world government and taking over the planet. We can’t go a few decades without Bond dealing with one of those every once in a while, now can’t we?

This time, Bond is after the villainous organization called S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which we’re never told what it stands for in the film (Although in Dr. No, it stood for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). At first, Bond doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, only having a clue by the deceased M (Judi Dench) to go by. But as he continues to investigate the organization further and further, he finds deeper connections to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in his enemies from the past, until finally, he finds the deepest connection to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of all: himself.

What do you think of when you think of James Bond? When I think of Bond, I think of a movie icon who is the penultimate vision of masculinity. He’s physically astute and sexually appealing. He’s smooth, suave, and has a way with words that is both comforting and edgy. He drinks a lot, but he can hold his liquor. He can fire a gun better than any marksman, a punch better than most fighters. He dresses up in nice suits and bow ties, although he does a great job at mucking them up on missions. When I think of Bond, I think of a character that men secretly idolize and women not-so-secretly desire. If he were any more larger than life, he would be a superhero.

Spectre continues the trend of Bond being a stylish action hero, and it continues the trend well. I mentioned in my lead that the film isn’t very artistic. That’s because it doesn’t need to be. After the impressive tracking shot at the beginning, Bond gets into a firefight, dodges a falling building, chases a suspect through the streets, gets into a fist fight, then highjacks a helicopter after it flips over on its axis in the air. And it’s not even the first 15 minutes.

This is something I’m impressed by in a lot of Bond movies, which is the action sequences. Minus the mediocrity of Quantum of Solace, the most recent Bond films have always found new ways to make old conventions interesting. For instance, how many times have you seen Bond take a sip of a martini? How many times have we seen him charm a young woman into the bedroom? How many times have we seen him get into chase, fighting, and action sequences involving all sorts of weaponry and vehicular manslaughter? You think we’d get sick of it by now, and yet, the series has lasted past 24 films. The series is doing something right.

I think part of it is because of how well Craig inherits the role of of James Bond. Sean Connery is always going to be regarded as the most significant Bond actor, because he was the first to take on the role and the one to exemplify most of Bond’s characteristics. Yet, Craig is nearly equal in iconic status because he too portrays Bond with multiple layers, and he does all of those layers well. He’s charming and sincere when he needs to be, manipulative and deceptive when otherwise.

Most impressive to me is that, even in the action sequences, the biggest thing I notice is Craig’s mannerisms. Not the explosions. Not the gunfire. Not the people he’s punching in the face. I’m noticing Craig. Why? Because I’m buying him as a character, not as an actor. I see the anger in his face when someone hits him and he’s getting ready to hit back. I see the cold calculation in his eyes as he’s deciding which targets to shoot first. I’m noticing the surprise on his face as his eyes widen, the panic that sets in when he’s discovered, and the fear piercing through his body when someone he loves is in danger. It’s hard to notice someone’s performance in the middle of an action sequence. Craig makes it seem like a cakewalk.

Of course, director Sam Mendes is also credited for the style of the film as well, with the action and the incredible set pieces making up for most of the excitement of the film. Yet, I’m a little disappointed that, after making one of the most definitive Bond films ever in Skyfall, Mendes reverted to a few conventions of the franchise that worked against it.

Take the characters as a primary example. Who do we have here? A secretive baddie hiding in the shadows, a big, burly baddie that walks and fights like a tank, a mentor figure of Bond’s that ushers him a profound warning, and the Bond girl, who is as beautiful and visually striking as ever. Their actors deliver just what is expected of them and what has been delivered before. The secretive baddie hides in the shadows, the big, burly baddie beats up Bond before he is killed, the mentor dies, and the girl hooks up with Bond. Not very original, now is it?

And this isn’t a criticism so much as it is a notice. Casino Royale and Skyfall were significant entries to the series because they saw Bond not as an action hero, but as a human being, dealing with his own hurts and pains by taking it out on the mission and his enemies. Here, Bond goes back to hero mode while we just tag along for the ride. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re used to seeing one thing, it’s a little bit of a let down to see the franchise take a step back on itself.

In the end, Spectre is like Bond’s rebuilt Ashton Martin after it blew up in Skyfall. It may have the same frame, but it doesn’t have the same ride.

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“SKYFALL” Review (✫✫✫✫)

United Artists Corporation/PA Wire

Old dog: new tricks.  

You’re not gonna see this one coming.  No matter what you expect to get from Skyfall, I promise you it isn’t what you expect it to be.  Yeah, its a high-adrenaline action film featuring Daniel Craig, yet again, as the double-daring, martini-sipping secret agent known as James Bond. I think we all pretty much understood that from the film’s trailer.  But oh, is the experience much more than just being a simple action film.  Much more.

Skyfall takes place a few years after the events of Quantum of Solace.  After a bomb threat has been declared on the headquarters of MI6, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to find and apprehend the ex-MI6 operative known as Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyberterrorist who has some deepening grudges with Bond’s superior officer.  As Bond begins to follow the trail and find out who Silva really is, he uncovers a secret in his past so haunting that it will impact the entire nation of Britain and shake the foundations of MI6 forever.

Here is a Bond movie lived to the fullest potential, an action movie that begins with a sensational chase sequence and refuses to let up on the excitement as the movie progresses.  Written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai) and directed by Sam Mendes (Jarhead, 1999 best picture winner American Beauty), Skyfall is a full-blooded action film, a spy movie that completely embodies everything great about Bond, from the lively, exotic locations to the pulse-pounding action that overflows you by the minute.

But this film doesn’t just succeed as another action movie: it also brilliantly serves its purpose as a drama piece.  Being one of the more personal and more deeper Bond films to date, Skyfall is a profoundly mature film that has a deeper introspective into Bond than what we were expecting.  Unlike other Bond movies (including the dreary Quantam Of Solace), where Bond is just an emotionless action hero that goes through the motions, Bond actually has an arc in this movie when compared to other ones.  In the film, Bond struggles with both his morality and past, and both of these conflicts come into full circle in ways nobody expects nearing the end of the film.

The film remembers something important that Quantum Of Solace has forgotten: that James Bond isn’t just an action hero.  He’s a movie character that holds a popularity entirely in his own bracket, a character who holds an iconic presence similar to how Indiana Jones does in his own series.  Daniel Craig inhabits the role well in Skyfall, and shows us the truth about James Bond: that he’s at a level of character fascination entirely in his own caliber.

At the same time though, it isn’t just the hero that makes the film what it is: the villain must be equally as motivated, and interesting, as the main character is.

Enter Javier Bardem as Silva, a villain who is as imposing and daunting as the action itself is.  Bardem is brilliant and chilling as Silva, a man whose past and pains haunt him, M, and Bond through the history that he remembers.  This shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  He did, after all, portray Felix in 2002’s Collateral and Anton Chigurh in his Oscar-winning performance for No Country For Old Men.  Here, he’s just as chilling as ever as a villain who is as deceitful, conniving, and crafty as Silva.  He’s one of the more memorable Bond villains to date, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the top five for IGN’s top 25 Bond Villains list.

This is a great movie.  The cast is great, the plot is fresh, the action is refined and thrilling, and the story is told through the lens of cinema master Roger Deakins as he flows from one beautiful shot to another.  There is much to love about this movie.

The only weakness, if there is one, is that the film doesn’t go deep enough.  The idea of Skyfall is great, the idea being that Bond is mortal and vulnerable and, like all of the other characters and villains in the Bond series, has a history where his issues have not been resolved.  Writer John Logan was brilliant for making this idea, and Mendes was smart in heading into this great direction.

The problem is that he doesn’t go deep enough.  The film dominates as an action movie, and granted, its a great action movie.  Still though.  Hasn’t there been other action movies that have been as deep and profound as they were exciting and fun?  Inception, for instance.  The Dark Knight.  The Terminator.  The Bourne Identity.  Movies like these succeed not only as action movies, but as compelling dramas.  Skyfall has a tint of that “drama” category, but it could have gone deeper.  It might seem like a small thing, but that’s all it takes.  One small thing would have turned Skyfall from just another great action movie into an instant classic.

This is a weakness on the film’s part, but am I really going to hold it against Bond?  No.  I am not.  Despite the supposed weaknesses, Skyfall is a fantastic thriller.  It revives Bond in ways similar to how Batman was revived in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and it assures us that not only will Bond survive throughout the years as cinema progresses: it will also thrive on its success and its legacy.

P.S.: You will never guess what Skyfall actually is in the movie.  Seriously.  You will never guess.

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