Friday, June 08, 2007

Casino Royale (2006)

(Movie Review)

I was a big James Bond fan back in my middle school days. (And I know that's not saying anything special. Every middle school boy is a James Bond fan).

After the last two Pierce Brosnan films though, I told myself I had lost my patience with the franchise, and I would never again see a new James Bond film again. ("The World is not Enough" was particularly awful. "Die Another Day" may have been just so-so awful, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back for me).

And yet, here I am, reviewing the latest film. (Never say never again, I suppose.) Most of this is due to boredom, laziness, and the fact that I had already rented everything else at the video store rather than a true forgiveness of Pierce Brosnan. However one does need to be slightly forgiving of the James Bond franchise. After all there were plenty of awful James Bond movies that were made before I was even born, and that didn't stop me from being a fan in my middle school days.

(Although there is a different emotional investment when you're watching an awful Roger Moore movie as part of the TBS Wednesday night James Bond marathon, as compared to when you wait months for the new Bond movie to come out, sit through all the hype and TV commercials, pay your $8 at the theater, and only then find out it's a real stinker).

Several people had recommended this movie to me, and I do have to admit it is one of the best James Bond films in years, and goes a long way to washing away the bitter aftertaste of "The World is not Enough."

Still, there's a reason everyone says Sean Connery is the best James Bond, and it's not just nostalgia. It's because Sean Connery was the one who originally defined the character in the popular imagination, and every other actor since has just been trying to imitate that.
James Bond is the quintessential cold war spy, and he never really feels at home in the post cold war era. You can't blame Hollywood for wanting to make more money out of the franchise, but I don't think James Bond has had any cultural relevance since the 60s. Everytime he gets picked up, dusted off, and reimagined again for the next film, he gets more and more diluted. Do people really want to see James Bond in the post 9-11 world, or should we just give up the ghost and create a new hero for a new generation? (I'm not suggesting we forget about James Bond mind you. We would still have all the old DVDs.)

There is also the question of whether the Bond cliche's have been worn a little to thin. I mean, after 21 movies, I think we all get it by now. He's a suave secret agent who drives slick cars and sleeps with beautiful women. How many times do we have to be reminded?

On the other hand, I guess someone turns 13 every day...

I guess I'll have to leave the question hanging for the moment as I move on to the review of this film itself.

As any film buff knows, this is actually the first Ian Fleming James Bond novel ever written, but for some bizarre complicated copyright reason, they couldn't get the rights to make a serious film about it until now.

(There was, however, a spoof version in 1967 staring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Orson Welles, which I did watch in my youth and have since re-watched it several times. It does get pretty weird at points, but it also has enough moments of genius to make up for all the self indulgent eccentricities. As a Woody Allen fan, I especially enjoyed the parts with Woody Allen as James Bond's nephew.)

With this film they decided to reboot the whole Bond franchise, which was probably a good idea given how lousy it got under Pierce Brosnan. But then for some reason they replaced all the actors except the actress Judi Dench as "M", which is slightly confusing.

A lot of friends have told me they liked this film because it got back to the roots of James Bond as being a cold brutal killer.

The James Bond franchise is similar to Batman in the sense that there is a subset of fans who are always complaining that the character isn't dark enough, and needs to return to his dark brooding roots and away from all his cartoonish gadgets. But, like Batman, the character can just as easily get ridiculous in either direction. As in: "you know he has a darkside, but you don't know it enough until you see this movie".

I don't think Bond's cold side has ever really been neglected. In most of his films it shows up in some form or another.Even in films like "The World is not Enough" there was that scene where Bond remorselessly shot the woman he had slept with.

"Casino Royale" boarders on over-emphasizing Bond's psychopathic nature (I'm thinking primarily of the scenes in the beginning). But on the whole I think it walks the line pretty well, and does faithfully reproduce Ian Fleming's classic line: "The bitch is dead."

The extended poker scenes also emphasize Bond's cunning side, and give the film a bit of high class Casino glitz. And the action scenes are well done, I'll give this film that.

Link of the Day
We've been having a few earthquakes here in Oita Prefecture the past couple days, as Inertbat writes on his blog.

Also G8: Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

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