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The Oscars have zero credibility for me, they never had and never will. It's Hollywood's chance to wank off for 10 hours on national television. Outside of bringing fame to lesser known films they are worthless and prove nothing. The end.
Critically acclaimed films that I highly dislike:
-Shadow of a Doubt
-Saving Private Ryan
-Zero Dark Thirty
-Anything by plagiarist extraordinaire tarantino (especially Pulp Fiction)
List of hottest actresses, singers, and models:
-Jennifer Love Hewitt
-Rainy Day Jordan
-Anna Sophia Berglund
-Australian model Sophie Turner
-Amy Lee Summers
A satisfying, though flawed, entry into the James Bond canon (SPOILERS)
The hype surrounding "Spectre" for me was something unseen since...well, Skyfall. I counted down the days and was ready to yell from the highest peak, "Spectre is spectacular!" Alas, it was not to be. After the first screening, I felt my expectations had not been met, especially considering how amazing CR and SF were. Upon subsequent viewings, I can confidently say that my initial disappointment was caused by all of my build up and excitement. "Spectre" is a solid Bond film that uses franchise tropes and expectations to great effect.
That's perhaps why a lot of viewers had a lukewarm response to the film--it's not as "dark, gritty or serious" as Craig's previous three films and is the actor's most "traditional" outing for the series yet. "It's all a matter of perspective". If the older films don't appeal to someone, then SP's embrace of genre conventions can be seen as old hat and as two steps backwards in comparison to the rest of the rebooted Craig era. However, anyone familiar with Bond history knows that Bond can only be serious for so long before resorting to a lighter tone. It's a cyclical thing because Bond is constantly evolving and not meant to only appeal to one audience or niche. I'm not advocating for a complete disregard of audience patience and goodwill ala DAD and thankfully SP is just entertaining enough that it all works.
The film opens with what is truly one of the best PTS in the entire series; after the glorious return of the gun barrel sequence at the start of the film (MIA since DAD), we find our dashing hero Bond (Craig) in the middle of a Day of the Dead Celebration in Mexico. This cold opening is the best part of the film and though nothing matches the intensity of this first ten minutes, the rest of the film offers an entertaining travelogue as Bond follows clue after clue in his quest to stop the latest nefarious scheme from everyone's favourite cult of shady and deranged criminals, led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Anyone even remotely familiar with Bond lore can likely guess the film's big twist. Even obliquely gesturing towards it is a huge spoiler. Along the way, Bond encounters Mr. White (an old foe from his past), seduces his alluring daughter (Lea Seydoux), and tackles the requisite Big Bad Hulking Henchman Who Never Speaks (Dave Bautista).
Anyone who complained about the darker tone of Craig's films in comparison to his predecessors should be pleased with the results here. A villainous base that blows up. Gadgets. More outright humour (though not camp in the least and that fits in perfectly with Craig's portrayal of the Bond character). Lots of action and a plot that doesn't quite hold up to closer scrutiny (which probably applies to 100% of the series anyway). The scripting has a few problems but none that are insurmountable and actually probably less than the critically lauded Skyfall. On the surface, the mass appeal execution of the film could definitely turn off those who had grown tired of the formulaic approach by the end of Brosnan's run.
But SP has a lot going for it. The photography is frequently splendid to behold. The long vista shots are great and every locale is also imbued with its own colour scheme and sense of composition (tighter in Morocco, more serene and unsettling in Rome, etc.). Craig continues to impress as Bond, giving the experienced, world weary, and aloof performance perfected by Moore and Connery in their best outings. Craig nails the comedic beats and is convincing as a killer (I liked the focus on Bond as assassin/smooth operative, like when he infiltrates a widow's property and stealthily disposes of two killers in order to gain some intelligence from said widow). The supporting cast is great, with Bautista being a formidable threat to Bond (they have a terrific fight on board a train) and Waltz doing the best with his limited screen time. Most seem to forget that Joseph Wiseman is only in Dr. No for about 15 minutes, so it's not imperative that the villain have lots to do. I loved how the MI6 cast was utilized (especially Q's very funny part) and Lea Seydoux positively sizzles in the role of a decently written Bond girl. The character was smart and independent and Seydoux pulls it off quite well.
The biggest disappointments of the film for me were the score by returning composer Thomas Newman and a major revelation in the third act. Gone are the beautifully sweeping and melodic scores of the Barry days or even the bombastic David Arnold scores that had some memorable cues. The score here is highly derivative of Skyfall and not memorable at all. Pretty lazy on Newman's part. Furthermore, after the absolutely breathtakingly paced first two acts (which really go by obscenely fast, outside of an odd car chase), the film stumbles in the last act. I can't quite put my finger on it but a familial connection doesn't sit well with me. I've also grown weary of all of the reference, homages, and winking moments that have seemingly populated every movie since DAD. We know Bond is iconic enough already and I don't need any more fan service.
Personally, I think SP is as good as GF and rate it about the same. For better or worse, it's a throwback to old school Bond conventions and announces that Craig, Mendes, and the producers still have enough faith in this character to branch out into territory that is different for Craig, through familiar for the series. I'm not sure what direction the series can possibly take (let's hope it's something along the lines of a mini-shake-up ala CR. To try to go bigger and more comedic than SP or to otherwise top it I feel would be a mistake), but will anticipate the next entry all the same 7.5/10
007 returns with a thrilling anniversary film (SPOILERS)
When "GoldenEye" was released in theatres in 1995, it was praised as having supposedly rejuvenated the Bond franchise with its bold new style. In fact, the film plays very much as a big homage to the older films and really changes nothing of the tried and tested formula. Fast-forward seven years to 2002 when "Die Another Day" is unleashed upon fans of the series. Intended to be a celebration film that evokes the past films within a goofy science fiction-inspired plot, the film actually ends up being more of an insult to the series. It is within this context that "Skyfall" arrives on the fiftieth anniversary of the film series. "Skyfall" is not so much a celebration film but a tribute film and in that regard is far more successful than either "GoldenEye" or "Die Another Day" in commemorating the character and the series as a whole.
The film begins with a crackling pre-title sequence that features James Bond (Daniel Craig) and fellow agent Eve (Naomi Harris) on a mission in Turkey to retrieve a hard drive containing the names of every undercover British agent around the globe. Unfortunately, the mission goes awry and Bond is accidentally shot by Eve and presumed dead. Months later, MI6 comes under attack and Bond returns to Britain, vulnerable and in less than stellar form. His search for the still missing hard drive and the terrorist behind the attacks brings him on a collision course with a madman from M's (Judi Dench) past.
The film is very much about the past and present, not only of the series itself but of the characters (principally Bond and M) as well. There are references to past Bond films, but they are not overwhelming like in "Die Another Day". More importantly, they don't detract from the narrative, which is set in the modern day word of computers and technological wizardry. Bond is a lone warrior, using supposedly old-fashioned methods to fight terrorism and initially represents everything that the new Chief of the Committee of Intelligence Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) deems archaic.
There are countless contrasts between traditional and modern and the film attempts to reconcile the past with the present to inform the future of the series. The references to how long Bond has been operating are perhaps too self-conscious (not to mention puzzling considering the series recently went through a reboot; then again, continuity was never a strong point in the series), but go a long way establishing the overall message of the film. Beloved characters such as Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny finally return and their appearances more than anything demonstrates how new blood is needed in this new modernity. In the end, it works; the last scene especially is an absolute treat to long-term Bond fans, bridging old and new. After 50 years, the series has truly come full circle and is still relevant.
The film is obviously theme and symbolism heavy, but it works just as well as a Bond film. It is also a very British film that portrays the empire in a troubling and intriguing way. The first half is classy while the second half is absolutely brilliant. While it has an unconventional narrative structure compared to most films in the series, the elements are all assembled: there is a casino scene that is sure to go down as one of the best in the series; fight choreography suits Craig's more hard-edged Bond and is well done; the film's cinematography is stunningly beautiful and varied and Roger Deakins manages to make even the most mundane scenes engaging to look at; Adele supplies a surprisingly haunting and beautiful song that perfectly compliments Daniel Kleinman's gorgeous title sequence; Sam Mendes' direction hits all the right notes and the film never really drags; finally, Thomas Newman's score, while not reaching the level of John Barry's contribution to the series, is serviceable and makes great use of the James Bond Theme after it was slightly underused in Craig's previous two entries. The action cues are respectable even though I felt the absence of David Arnold's bombastic scores.
The cast itself is quite good. Fiennes, Harris, Wishaw, and Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner are a joy to watch all fit quite nicely into the plot. Bardem as the villain is a cross between Christopher Walken's Max Zorin, Sean Bean's traitorous agent 006, and Heath Ledger's Joker. He has little screen time (perhaps too little) but creates a memorable and strangely sympathetic character. Judi Dench has an unusually integral connection to the plot and is once again good, even though she has gotten a bit too much screen time in the role of M. Last but not least, Daniel Craig has finally convinced me that he is James Bond. The film very much depends on how well Craig can portray Bond's emotional inner turmoil and he rises to the occasion with a top five (perhaps even top three) Bond performance. This Bond is dangerous, charming, enigmatic, confident, and yet also so very realistic and fallible. Whether he is toasting his would-be killers or adjusting cuff links after a dangerous stunt, Craig has endeared himself to me as a fantastic 007 after two films in which he grasped the essence of the character without necessarily always conveying it. The character is a symbol of conflicted righteousness and Craig plays the part flawlessly.
While the problems I have with the film are small, they are nevertheless still present. The story is incredibly ambitious for an overall small-scale plot and that causes there to be some minor unexplained plot holes that never completely pan out. Silva's plan also operates on a plot that in hindsight is too coincidental and creates inconsistencies. Finally, the lack of any real location shooting in some scenes (Macau, Shanghai) is slightly disconcerting considering the history of locations in the series. Overall though, Skyfall is a welcome addition to the series that is supremely entertaining and consistently exciting to watch. 8.5/10
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Not as good as "Casino Royale", but an entertaining action film nonetheless (SPOILERS)
Expectations for the 22nd James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace", were exceptionally high following the success of 2006's "Casino Royale". This comes to no surprise, as not only was "Casino Royale" a genuinely brilliant film, but it was a monumental success worldwide. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson pretty much cursed themselves by making CR so good; questions arose almost immediately how they could possibly follow-up such an amazing film. However, the potential to make a better film was still there and the entire crew gave it their all to make Daniel Craig's second outing just as good.
Unfortunately, the fact remains that "Quantum of Solace" simply can't top its predecessor. By choosing director Marc Forster to helm the production, the producers hoped to bring a realistic human element to the film in conjunction with the classic Bond elements such as humour, action, and romance. But Forster is not an action film director and even though he was an interesting and even daring choice, perhaps someone with experience in the field should've been chosen instead.
What really sets the film apart from the rest of the Bond series is that it is the first real sequel (a strong case can be made for "From Russia with Love" being a direct sequel to "Dr. No", however). As such, one would be well advised to have seen "Casino Royale" beforehand, at least to be aware of the general plot line shared between both films. "Quantum of Solace" picks up shortly after Bond's apprehension of Mr. White, one of the chief antagonists in the previous outing. One is immediately treated to a car chase in which the motivation of the villains isn't made too clear, but it is assumed that White's bodyguards are trying to retrieve their boss. From then on, the film moves at a lightning fast pace as Bond zips across the globe trying to uncover who is behind the mysterious organization known as Quantum (a modern day SPECTRE) and to avenge the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd.
The greatest detriment of the film is that it feels the need to rush things along when a little more contemplation would have been appreciated; at 106 minutes, QoS is the shortest film in the franchise. A lot of criticism was leveled against "Casino Royale" for being "too slow" or "too long", but the deliberate pace of the film is one of it's best assets. Its almost as if the producers reacted in response to this criticism and tried to make QoS as fast as possible and lost a little bit of coherence along the way. Granted, Forster does manage to adequately convey a lot of information and events into a short amount of time and if one is ever confused, it's because they weren't paying close enough attention. In reality, "Quantum of Solace" is one of the most plot dense and intelligent films in the series, but this can't hide the fact that Marc Forster's action scenes are almost incomprehensible.
In short, the editing in the film is frequently much too frantic for one to decipher what is going on. The opening car chase, the Siena rooftop chase, and the plane chase in particular suffer from the MTV-inspired editing that plagues most modern day action films and its obvious that this was done to disguise Forster's lack of experience in the genre. If the editing had been a little bit slower and focused, the action sequences in the film could've been amazing; as they are, they simply rank as average. The film is almost non-stop action and some tightening of these sequences in favour of perhaps fifteen more minutes of plot exposition would have benefited the film.
Other the sloppy editing and the rushed feel of the finished film, "Quantum of Solace" does have a lot of things going for it. The lack of any real gadgets so common in the previous films is similar to CR and it's refreshing to see Bond have to rely on his improvisational skills. The dry humour works especially well for Craig's Bond and the actor makes the comedic scenes work while the locations of the film are, for the most part, well chosen and beautifully filmed by Roberto Schaefer. My only real complaint is that the time constraints of the narrative demand that Bond only makes brief stops in Italy, Austria, and Russia.
David Arnold continues to show that he is a good successor to John Barry with a score that adapts to the ever-changing storyline (even if the Bond Theme could've been used more often). I also liked all of the subtle nods to the previous film and seeing familiar faces such as Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini return establishes nice continuity between CR and QoS. The entire cast performed very well, even though the character of Fields was completely unnecessary and underdeveloped while the villains of the film (except Mr. White) are forgettable and nonthreatening. The two leads, Daniel Craig as Bond and Olga Kurylenko as Camille are especially brilliant. Craig infuses Bond with both enthusiasm and grit while Kurylenko makes Camille a memorable Bond girl that would be a welcome return in any future film. Both of the actors participate actively in the film's stunts and this adds credibility to the action scenes, even if the romantic angle between these two could've been better developed.
In short, it was clear from the outset that "Quantum of Solace" wouldn't be able to top its predecessor, either commercially or critically, yet the expectations for the film were still unreasonably high. Choosing a more experienced director who could properly edit the action scenes and who could flesh the story out more would've helped tremendously. However, the finished film definitely grows on a person and it helps to watch "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace" together as they each tell one half of a two-part story. 7/10
Casino Royale (1967)
A jaw-dropping disaster (SPOILERS)
Before getting to the actual review of the film, a word of warning: 1967's "Casino Royale" has nothing to do with the superior 2006 adaptation of Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel. In fact, it's not part of Eon Productions "official" series of films because it was made without any input from the producers at the time, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Salzman. Unfortunately, that's not the only reason that it's largely been forgotten by mainstream audiences; it probably has more to do with the fact that the film (a term I use very loosely because the plot is so episodic) is almost unwatchable.
When asked to name a spy spoof, most people usually think of Mike Myers' "Austin Powers" series or "Die Another Day" (sorry, turns out that's an "official" entry in the Bond franchise). But predating Mr. Myers' and his "unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanisms" was this movie, produced by Charles K. Feldman and directed by no less than 5 people (that right there should be an indicator of the movie's quality). Since Feldman had little to no chance against the official series if he was to make a "straight" adaptation of the 1953 book, he decided to produce a film that was the exact opposite: a spoof that parodied the exaggerated ridiculousness of the Bond films. I can appreciate this--I enjoy the "Austin Powers" movies because they're clever and sometimes hysterical. The problem with "Casino Royale" isn't just that it's not in the least coherent, but that it's just not funny.
Surprisingly, the first ten minutes of exposition sets up a good situation. The real Sir James Bond (David Niven) is enjoying his retirement from the Secret Service when agents all over the world start dying. M (or McTarry, who knows?), played by John Huston, calls on Bond to find out what's going on. He refuses, and for some reason, his mansion is blown to smithereens and I believe M dies (since he's absent for the rest of the movie and I read somewhere that he does. I obviously couldn't have gotten this while watching the movie, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention). The remainder of the movie easily explains why marijuana is recommended while viewing, with scenes making little sense and everyone being codenamed 'James Bond' by the end.
Most of the film plays out like an extended, recent episode of "Saturday Night Live". The scenes in the McTarry Mansion are especially dreadful and tiresome, adding nothing to the plot except 15 minutes of unfunny padding, while the Casino Royale, which is where the movie gets it's title from, is shoehorned into the script and only seems like an excuse to have Orson Welles show up and play Le Chiffre in a less than interesting gambling scene. But nothing compares to one of the most bizarre and ludicrous endings I've ever seen. And you've guessed it, it's painfully unfunny and cringe-inducing.
Believe it or not, buried within this mess are three things that save the movie from getting a big fat zero. Half a star goes to the musical score by Burt Bacharach, which is a breezy soundtrack that fits the sporadic nature of what's unfolding on screen. The other half goes to the amazing cast, which includes Niven, Welles, Huston, Peter Sellers, George Raft, Jacqueline Bisset, Deborah Kerr, Woody Allen, a cameo by Peter O'Toole and (according to IMDb) an appearance by the then unknown David Prowse. On top of that, there's apparently 7 actors that could be found in an official Bond movie: Ursula Andress, Angela Scoular, Vladek Sheybal, John Hollis, Burt Kwouk, Caroline Munro, and Milton Reid. So it's too bad that everyone, especially Allen, seems to be doing what ever they want. Finally, the auction scenes are the best in the movie, not that they follow any logical narrative, but because they offered the only chuckles during the entire running time, which is 130 minutes too long. The only other times that I was laughing was at the ineptness of every other production value.
With a small army of writers and directors, it's hardly a surprise that the plot (or plots) is/are uneven, characters switch sides without reason, and every joke/gag falls flat on it's face because of poor timing. The point of a comedy is to make us laugh, which is what something like the "Scary Movie" films succeed in. I bring them up because while they have the same scatter-brained humor of "Casino Royale", at least you can actually follow what's going on! The troubles that plagued the production, including Peter Sellers being fired before he finished shooting and the budget going way out of control, prove how durable the Bond series is, because "Casino Royale" still managed to rake in some money. Just goes to show how such a misfire like this, along with every criminal mastermind, cannot kill our favorite spy. 1/10
A classic pure action movie (SPOILERS)
In the world of movies, there are some that are so bad they're good, meaning that no matter how stupid they seem, someone will manage to get some enjoyment out of them. 1985's "Commando", Arnold Schwarzenegger's first top billed film, is the single greatest example of that. The movie is so ridiculously over-the-top that I can't imagine anyone not having a smile on their face during every single scene.
Some films, like "Batman & Robin" should be seen just once to experience how bad they are, but "Commando" never falls into that trap, being as fun the first time as it is the 100th. Why? The combination of dead-on performances, quick direction and pace, great action/fight scenes, hilarious one-liners, and Arnie's presence make the movie so fun that as soon as it ends, you'll want to see it again.
No one coming to see these kind of movies expects a plot, and the filmmakers realize that, making it as simple as possible. Retired Colonel John Matrix (Arnie) just wants a simple life alone with his daughter Jenny (pronounced "Chenny"). Unfortunately, General Arius, an exiled dictator from Val Verde, wants control of the (fictional) country again. Helping him is Bennett, a former soldier of Matrix who "was thrown out of the unit". Together, they unwisely decide to kidnap Chenny and use her as a hostage to get Matrix to kill the new leader of Val Verde. Naturally, Arnie finds a way around this and eventually gets to Arius and Bennett.
While none of this is particularly complex, the way it all plays out is inventive and a blast to watch. Matrix is literally on his own and he has very little time to find Chenny, and this fact shows how tough and resourceful this guy is. Not to mention any bad guy that gets in his way, let it be Hendriques, Sully, Cooke or dozens of useless soldiers are easily disposed of with at least ten witty remarks. Arnie delivers his lines perfectly and his over exaggerated muscles lend to the image of Matrix or just about any character he's ever played.
Vernon Wells brings a manic energy to Bennett, and the fact that this guy is pudgy, out of shape, and wears a chain mail vest throughout the whole film makes it difficult for anyone to take him seriously, but that makes him all the more awesome. Every henchman is clearly defined and gets a memorable send-off, but none more so than David Patrick Kelly as Sully. Rae Dawn Chong is the typical female sidekick, but after an awkward (to say the least!) introduction, she becomes important to the plot, helping Ahnuld in trying to save Jenny, played by Alyssa Milano, who brings a sweet innocence to the role.
The musical score by James Horner is fantastic, giving the impression that our hero is lost in a kind of modern jungle. This is heightened by the fact that the music is heavily based on the rousing, raw-sounding main theme. The script is littered with instantly quotable lines, and to say any of them here would just ruin their effect in the finished film. Not only that, the movie is balanced nicely with light direction that calls for no morals to be addressed, just that we sit back and enjoy the fun of it all.
It must however be noted that "Commando" is definitely for a niche audience. There are some glaring continuity errors/general goofs and I get the feeling that the people involved behind the scenes didn't intend for the movie to be as hilarious as it actually is. Aside from that, it's a breezy 90 minutes that just flies by and requires no thinking on the behalf of the audience. Other action films come and go, but none can quite reach the level of camp and fun that "Commando" inherently possesses. In the end, anyone watching this movie would come out thinking that they spent their time well on an excellent action romp. 10/10
Climax!: Casino Royale (1954)
A respectable first attempt at James Bond (SPOILERS)
While 1962's "Dr. No" was the first time James Bond appeared on movie screens, it was actually this 1954 television adaptation that the character was first seen at all. Since this was on American television, though, Bond's nationality was changed so he became Jimmy Bond, a Yank. Besides this distracting update, the story is very close to Ian Fleming's novel and most of the scenes are lifted directly from their source.
A banker for SMERSH, Le Chiffre (played by Peter Lorre) has lost precious funds and has turned to a game of Baccarat to win it back. Bond is ordered to beat Le Chiffre so that his bosses would eliminate their own agent, causing great embarrassment to the organization. Helping Bond is Brit Clarence Leiter (another change from the novel) and Valerie Mathis, a former lover.
It's fairly obvious that this was a live made-for-TV movie, with some technical screw-ups showing up here and there and the lack of a lot of different sets. That being said, the hour long episode moves quickly, with Baccarat being explained for anyone who doesn't understand at the start. There are also some funny bits, such as when Leiter manages to keep money away from one of Le Chiffre's henchmen.
The small cast works well together, even though the acting gets appropriately too theatrical at times for my taste. Lorre is chilling as Le Chiffre, and fits Fleming's description quite nicely. Michael Pate as Leiter is pretty solid and a believable ally, while Linda Christian is the only weak link in the chain. So what's the verdict on Barry Nelson, the first James Bond? He's definitely no Sean Connery, but handles himself well before the image of the secret agent was created in the film series. His relaxed attitude helps to distract from the fact that Bond isn't British here.
So even though the ending is a bit too tame (Fleming's torture from the book would never have reached TV audiences from 1954), the mini-movie makes up for it with a tense battle at the card table, some good acting, and a great espionage feel throughout. Any Bond fan should at least try to find this and the average movie goer should do the same, just to see how James Bond's first mission played out. 7/10
A reason to stay up
In the current world of late night talk shows, 2 hosts are always compared: Jay Leno and David Letterman. Does it have to do with quality? No. Is it because they can make you laugh until your sides hurt? No. It's because of an earlier time slot. That's right, an hour makes a huge difference, even for people who aren't awake in the first place. With that in mind, I add a third name to that list: Conan O'Brien. Sure, Jay and Dave have their moments, but nothing comes close to the amount of laughs I get 5 out of 7 days of the week when I watch "Late Night". There's no point in going into great detail, but it's enough to say that Conan can make me smile even after a big fight, or a disappointment, or whatever. From the short (but off the wall) monologues, to the "improvised" conversations with band leader Max Weinberg, to the hilariously unique interviews, the show hits hight marks in all categories. Where else would you get characters like "The Interrupter", "Vomiting Kermit", "Sears Tower dressed in Sears clothing", and, of course, "The Masturbating Bear"? And while everyone from Johnny Carson to Leno have comedy skits, they usually aren't as funny (In my opinion, of course) as "Celebrity Survey", "If They Mated", or "The Walker Texas Ranger Lever". In conclusion, about the only bad things I can say about Conan and the show in general is that there are some things that are too randomly stupid to be funny and Carson Daly comes on right after. 10/10
Casino Royale (2006)
The nay-sayers are wrong, completely wrong (SPOILERS)
If you were a Bond fan in Febuary 2005 and you didn't know that, A) Pierce Brosnan was no longer playing 007 and B) The next film was going to be an adaption of Ian Fleming's 1953 novel "Casino Royale", then you were either living under a rock or would not accept that Brosnan wasn't Bond anymore. Unfortunately, some people optioned #2, and when it came to the casting of Daniel Craig as the sixth actor to play James Bond in the 21st movie in the 44 year old film franchise, they went berserk. These fan boys were and still are obviously insane, making countless postings on internet forums and going so far as to make crude "website" (I use this term very loosely) against poor Craig. The film was "debated" (Again, this couldn't be further from the truth) for over a year and a half, but finally, it opened in theaters on Friday, November 17. Even way before that, a few anonymous critics came forward, saying that they had seen the film and had loved it. But really, from all the coverage, would we expect anything less than a great film?
In the end, Craig and the producers had nothing to worry about. I have no problem saying that "Casino Royale" is the best Bond film since "Licence To Kill" and almost completely makes us forget the bland Brosnan era. What makes this film so good? After the dismal "Die Another Day", Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to go back to the basics, which meant doing a reboot and making the story somewhat plausible this time around. The film starts out with a stylized black and white pre-title sequence, showing Bond kill two targets, earning him a 00-licence to kill. His first mission takes him to Madagascar to spy on a terrorist named Mollaka. After a breath-taking chase, Bond kills the man and runs off with vital evidence that eventually leads him to terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). After thwarting an attack on a huge airliner (In another spectacular action set piece), 007 is forced to go to Montenegro, where Le Chiffre will try to recoup his lost funds in a high stakes poker game, otherwise he will be killed by his own organization.
While there, Bond meets treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and two allies, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). For anyone who's read the book it's based on, some of this is nothing new, but the last act is not only inspired, but the very end had me cheering. The gambling scenes are very tense, and even though a bit long, add character to Bond and Le Chiffre. The audience has to pay close attention to the plot, as it moves very quickly and it's extremely tight even at 144 minutes. The entire cast looks as if they're having fun, especially Mikkelsen. Le Chiffre is not only a menacing villain, but we come to feel sorry for him.
Other aspects, such as the title song "You Know My Name", production values, and action all score high points. One chase at the beginning is so brilliantly edited and choreographed that it stands up to multiple viewings and excites every time. Then there are the fights, which are well-staged and get fairly bloody. The story itself stays close to the plot and themes of Fleming's book and even improves on some parts. It's nice that many scenes that could've dragged, go by quickly, but gives the audience time to enjoy them. One example is the hiding of the Ugandan bodies in the truck of a bad guy's trunk. Plus the title sequence is refreshingly old-fashioned, being the best since the earlier efforts of the great Maurice Binder.
Then, there's of course the target of all those months of abuse: Daniel Craig. Watching the film, I got the sense that not only did he like what he was doing, but he tried to make the character relevant to our time. The James Bond of "Casino Royale" is raw and violent, but when we need humor, Craig is there, so we know that he has the capability of pulling off one-liners. One scene is made less painful because of the actor, but is still able make people wince. Probably my only complaints of this excellent film are that some things came and went far too fast (Bond's first two kills and the Aston Martin car chase, which are basically spoiled in the trailers) and the gun barrel was, well... completely different from what we're used to. (I have to admit, though, if this was a one time thing, I'd actually like it more). When all is said and done, it's obvious that James Bond is back with CR, and I wouldn't mind seeing something like this in Bond 22. 9.5/10
Hardly the classic it's been built up as (SPOILERS)
When Sean Connery left the role of James Bond after the release of "You Only Live Twice", most critics agreed that the spy would finally die. Connery was seen as the glue that held the series together and while he was a fantastic Bond, the actual quality of the films was what made them classics. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Salzman realized this and started looking for a new man for their next epic film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". After a lengthy auditioning process, they found Australian model George Lazenby, hoping that he would eventually sign a seven year contract. Unfortunately, this was not to be and Lazenby quit before the film was released.
In the ensuing years OHMSS was seen as a massive financial flop when the opposite is true. The film went on to become one of the top-grossing of 1970, but to this day the critical merits of the film are being debated. Some criticize Lazenby's performance and the love story; others go on to say that it's a masterpiece. I have overall come to appreciate it as a good entry into the series, even though it fails in some departments.
My main gripe with the movie is the plot line, which is faithful to Ian Fleming's (overrated) novel. From the beginning, there's already a setback: Bond saves a girl from suicide and then meets her again in a casino. The problem with this is that in the book's time line, it's the other way around. By not following this outline, the fight with the thugs makes no sense (a half-baked explanation is given, but it's barely enough to answer this jump in logic). We're presented with a similar situation when another heavy attacks Bond in a hotel room for seemingly no reason other than to throw in a fight scene. Both cases end up looking like ridiculous coincidences. Incosistencies like this are rampant throughout the first half.
On the subject of the fights, they're probably the most interesting in the series. Unfortunately, "interesting" in this case doesn't equal "comprehensible". Like "Quantum of Solace", the sped up editing in these scenes is bizarre and jarring. It's a shame too, because the choreography is great. Anyway, Bond is soon on the trail of his arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (this time played by Telly Savalas of "Kojak" fame) and travels to the gorgeous Swiss mountains to investigate, discovering that the madman is plotting biological warfare this time around.
As I said, the plot is taken directly from the Fleming work and is one of the least remarkable in the whole series. Blofeld's entire plan relies on whether or not a dozen naive girls can follow his exact instructions. While it provides a convenient cover for his alias, wouldn't some SPECTRE agents be able to carry it out? How would they distribute the poison? Would it spread? Why is Bond wearing a kilt? These questions (except maybe the last one) riddle the plot with so many holes that it becomes impossible to take the threat seriously. The film also features a love story with Tracy, played by Diana Rigg. The novel crowbars it into the narrative and we don't get a good idea of their relationship, but director Peter Hunt puts a large focus on it, even going so far as to include a montage with Louis Armstrong's "We Have All The Time In The World" playing over the images. This helps define the Tracy character as a strong-willed woman who's more than a match for 007, even though (and I realize that this is probably a controversial statement) I find Rigg to be uneven at times.
Besides the romantic sub plot, the other most mentioned aspects of OHMSS are the ski chases. Although they're no doubt great, they go on far too long and interrupt the "serious" tone of the movie. These scenes, along with the one where Bond breaks into a lawyer's office to find important information, could've been edited down for a more compact final cut. The latter, especially, while it contains one of John Barry's finest cues, might as well have been replaced completely with a shorter scene, where Bond gets the information he needs from the Heraldry, not that I mind the running length anyway.
The verdict on George Lazenby is unfairly negative. He did a good job considering the pressure on him, his lack of acting experience, and the supposed lack of support from Hunt. The final scene in the movie works partly because of his heartfelt performance and with time, he would have matured into a great Bond. His main failing (being dubbed over by another actor) isn't even his fault; Hunt sometimes went overboard by dubbing in someone's voice when the character's mouths didn't even move. Furthermore, Lazenby's vulnerability works perfectly for the film. Supporting players like Savalas (the best Blofeld), Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy's mob boss father Draco, and Ilse Steppat as the villainous Irma Bunt all hit the right notes, while John Barry composes one of his best film scores and Maurice Binder creates another mesmerizing title sequence.
The climactic final battle at Blofeld's lair is exciting, but the real climax is when Tracy is brutally gunned down. While James Bond obviously isn't going to settle down, the bleak nature of how her murder comes about is expertly handled by all (except when the James Bond theme plays immediately after), so it's a shame that it's completely ignored in the proceeding camp fest, "Diamonds Are Forever". So while the series' time line is thrown completely out of whack, the sense of realism coming off of the previous entries in the Bond canon is a refreshing return. My opinion towards the film has changed over time and while I still don't see it as a masterpiece, it's not as terrible as I once thought it was and I would definitely now recommend it. 8/10
The Village (2004)
Undoubtedly, Shyamalan's magic touch has worn off (SPOILERS)
*WARNING: This review contains spoilers that reveal the movie's "big" twist*
Was the twist for 1999's "The Sixth Sense" that much of a shocker that people would ignore the other problems with the film? Admittedly, "Unbreakable" and "Signs" were a lot better in comparison, but still weren't anywhere near classics. Then Shyamalan goes and makes "The Village", a movie so pointless and dull it makes me wonder if Ed Wood was really all that bad. At least his films are entertaining.
In my opinion, Shyamalan is an overrated hack whose reputation far exceeds his actual talents as a director. Sure, he clearly loves movies and has a knack of making his films appear more frightening than they really are through marketing, but he fails in creating an actual atmosphere for his individual projects. Even the standard "boo!" moments associated with horror films aren't effective; the set-up is there, but the pacing is off. Viewed a second time, these scenes come off worst because the audience can think about the plot holes. Two such scenes are when the monsters attack the village for the first time and the scene where the protagonist, Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) has a confrontation with a monster.
Regardless, the movie actually does have a decent premise: the citizens of a mysterious, late nineteenth-century village supposedly have a truce with demonic beings that live in the woods surrounding the town. As long as the townspeople stay away from the woods, the creatures would leave them alone. Unfortunately, some children venture into the forest, thereby breaking the truce and angering the monsters. Soon after the creatures attack the village as punishment, one of the villagers, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), is critically injured and Ivy has to go out in search of medicine that can save him. Her quest is impeded with the fact that she is blind and because of her attraction to Lucius.
All this unfolds at a ridiculously slow pace as Shyamalan sets up the characters and their situation. After developing this narrative for an hour and a half, Shyamalan, as expected, comes up with a twist: it's revealed that not only are there no monsters at all, but the villagers are in fact living in a present day park preserve. By this point, it is terribly obvious that Shyamalan is willing to do just about anything to catch the audience off guard, but this laughably absurd resolution is just too much. Why not just tell a straightforward drama about a few seniors fooling their offspring into living an Amish-like existence instead of trying to pawn the film off as a horror movie?
The answer to that question is actually quite simple: Shyamalan has the reputation of being a "thriller movie" director and he has to maintain this illusion; thus the pretext of "The Village" looking like a horror movie for most of the running length and it being marketed as such. Of course, this misguided approach destroys any chance of there being a rewatchability factor: why bother to see the movie again if we know that Noah (of all people), played by Adrien Brody, is the one who dresses up as a monster to keep the townspeople away from the woods? What is really the point of structuring an entire movie on one single plot twist?
Shyamalan also tries to build up tension in certain scenes, but he's no Hitchcock. His previous movies all had at least a couple of good scary moments, but everything here is just so dull it is hard for a viewer to get invested in the characters and their plight. Are we really supposed to care about some paper-thin villagers being chased down by anonymous monsters, especially when we know there are no monsters at all? The director simply cannot create enough suspense for the movie to work even the first time around. Shyamalan's best effort, "Unbreakable", doesn't try to fool the audience into thinking it's a horror movie; it works on it's own and not by playing on the audiences' expectations.
Of course, among the mess of a narrative, there are nonetheless a few bright spots. James Newton Howard delivers a haunting score that adjusts to whatever the movie is pretending to be at that moment. Roger Deakins' cinematography is wonderful and it at least gives us something to look at while we're being bored out of our skulls. Finally, while Shyamalan's reputation seems only to get worse with every proceeding film he makes, he still manages to attract a rather good cast, which includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Brendan Gleeson. All of these actors manage to rise above the material, but they cannot save the movie.
"The Village" is no doubt one of the most uneven and lifeless films of recent times. It was painfully clear in 2004 that Shyamalan was way past his "best by" date, yet he has gone on to make two more atrocities: 2006's "Lady in the Water" and 2008's "The Happening". These three films, taken together, confirm one thing: that M. Night Shyamalan has no business making movies and should seriously consider pursuing other ventures; anything to spare movie audiences from having to bear another one of his catastrophes. 1/10