Archive for the ‘007’ Category

Killers and Liars

Spectre

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Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Jesper Christensen

British director Sam Mendes follows up his 2012 blockbuster Skyfall, with the 24th installment of the 007 franchise aptly named Spectre, which serves as a pastiche of all previous Bond films, but particularly referencing Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.

With a truly spectacular opening sequence shot during the Day of the Dead festival in the sprawling and crowded central plaza of Mexico City, Spectre promises better and bigger cinematic moments. On all accounts, Spectre delivers although at times, the Bond film could have been more tightly edited.

The action sequences in Mexico City, Rome and Tangier are gripping and the production design and cinematography are quite startling, shading the film between sequences of extreme illumination and murky darkness in keeping with the sinister undertone pervading the entire narrative.

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Mexico City and Tangier are beautifully done, with gorgeous colours contrasting against the monochromatic elegance of the Roman streets at midnight or the snow covered Austrian Alps during ski season.

The Tangier scenes are clearly influenced by Bernardo Bertolucci’s classic film, The Sheltering Sky, especially when Bond and Dr Swann disembark from the Moroccan train into a sweltering Saharan desert, while the previous action on board mirrors that of The Spy Who Loves Me. Audiences should watch out for Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the Spectre henchman Mr Hinx who has a penchant for popping a man’s eyes out with his thumb nails.

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Daniel Craig returns as James Bond looking slightly weary and a tad less nimble but nevertheless maintaining a smirk on his face along with those dazzling blue eyes. In a stroke of genius casting, French actress Lea Seydoux is brilliant as Dr Madeleine Swann, daughter of the Pale King, whilst the villain is suitably menacing and at times slightly camp, Franz Oberholzer better known as the evil mastermind with a penchant for white Persian cats, last seen in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever.

Naturally, Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained) is fabulous as Bond’s crazed arch enemy, but somehow does not make as brilliant an impression as Javier Bardem did as Raoul Silva in Skyfall.

With the absence of Judi Dench as M, Ralph Fiennes, appears craggy and irritable as the new M, reminiscent of the original M in the 1960’s Bond films. Refreshingly, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as the technically gifted Q have bigger roles in Spectre, acting always as Bond’s necessary sidekicks. Watch out for a brief but glamourous cameo by Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra and Jesper Christensen as the ubiquitous Mr White, last seen in Quantum of Solace.

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Spectre, which stands for the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion is subtly portrayed as a pervasive and dangerous shadow organisation responsible for all sorts of international atrocities, which in the 21st century is particularly apt. As the visual references abound throughout Mendes’s Spectre, it will only be the serious Bond fans that will spot all those cinematic clues. In this respect, Spectre pays tribute to the success of the longest running film franchise ever, without undermining its inherent and enduring appeal.

Spectre is highly recommended viewing for ardent Bond fans, although some might find this film slightly long and the narrative muddled, but then again, one has to identify all the past 007 signifiers, for Spectre to be truly appreciated.

The question remains, much like the creepy opening sequence, is there life after Spectre?

 

 

 

Gambling with Ellipsis

Casino Royale

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Director: Martin Campbell

Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelson, Judi Dench, Jesper Christensen, Jeffrey Wright

After a four year hiatus with the Lee Tamahori directed Die Another Day, (2002) the hugely successful Bond franchise returns with a glossy and brilliant cinematic adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale originally published in 1953.

Director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye) updates Fleming’s novel to the 21st century and the Bond franchise controversially introduces the new blond Bond, a blue eyed hunk named Daniel Craig whose film credits include Love is the Devil and Sylvia.

Judi Dench reprises her role as M while Jeffrey Wright takes on the role of Felix Leiter. Bond girl and femme fatale, Vesper Lynd is coolly played by the French actress Eva Green (The Dreamers) and the villain, a swindler, money launderer and compulsive gambler the infamous Le Chiffre is wonderfully played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.

With a gritty opening sequence in Prague followed by a spectacular stunt and action sequence in Madagascar, viewers are reintroduced to Bond as a tough, rebellious British secret agent who is after the elusive source of Ellipsis, codename for an international terrorist money laundering ring with ties to Le Chiffre and his overseer the mysterious Mr White played by Jesper Christiansen, first seen in the Ugandan jungle.

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As the action moves swiftly around the world from The Bahamas to Montenegro to Venice, Casino Royale is a superb and ambitious adaptation of the 007 novel, as all the central characters gamble with each other’s lives and motives, with Bond even getting caught in a horrendous torture sequence nearly breaks his British patriotism as well as his manhood. Bond’s love for Vesper Lynd is consecrated in a Hotel room in Montenegro while he is in between playing in an international high stakes poker, superbly teased out and the onscreen chemistry between Craig and Mikkelsen as Bond and Villain is palpable and nefarious.

Complimenting this classic hero/villain tension is the intense partnering of Bond and Lynd, with a matching chemistry between Green and Craig, showing that both actors are consummate performers and expertly cast together.

Besides the awesome stunts, the superb action and the intense gambling, Casino Royale belongs to Daniel Craig who makes the role of Bond his own and really proves his weight as the new Bond for the 21st century, as demonstrated recently with two more Bond films Quantum of Solace (2008) and the hugely popular Skyfall (2012).

Retrospectively Casino Royale pays homage to all the elegant Bond films of the 1960s especially Dr No and Goldfinger as well as the Pierce Brosnan films of the late 1990s such as Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. Gone are the spectacular sets and outlandish plots of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker which characterised the Bond films of the 1970’s, even though those films were the most popular of the Roger Moore series.

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Casino Royale is glossy film noir with a great supporting cast, exotic locations and some jaw dropping sequences including the iconic shot of Daniel Craig emerging out of the Caribbean surf in nothing but swimming trunks, oddly enough paying homage to Dr No and Die Another Day.

Casino Royale is 142 minutes long and by far one of the best Bond films made in the expanding 007 filmography, memorable, thrilling and unsuspectingly heart wrenching. This is definitely a vintage Bond film and one to keep for all the ardent franchise collectors. Absolutely Brilliant.

Ideally Casino Royale should be watched before Quantum of Solace as the two films complement each other stylistically and the plot follows on chronologically.

 

Razor Sharp 007 is Back

Skyfall

Super Suave Spy Back on his Home Turf

From Shanghai to Scotland, Skyfall, the 23rd film in the James Bond franchise is both an intriguing espionage thriller closer to a John le Carre novel, yet beautifully retaining all the quintessential 007 traits which have made all the Bond films the most successful franchise in cinema history from fast cars, exotic locations, dangerous animals and naturally nubile Bond girls leading the smartly suited spy to the evil villain who is always masterminding destruction, mayhem or in this case, revenge.

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There was much anticipation leading up to Skyfall as it also marked 50 years of James Bond, when the first Bond film burst on the screen in 1962 introducing Sean Connery as Bond in the exotic Dr No. Whilst a lot has changed in 50 years, the essence of Bond as a suave, international spy chasing after megalomaniac villains in far corners of the globe has always been the same. In Skyfall, whilst there is more angst explored in the relationship between Bond and M, there is an equal share for the hideously brilliant villain, Raoul Silva, played with psychotic panache by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem who is hell bent on revenging M, head of Mi6 for allowing him to be captured by the Chinese as the British relinquished Hong Kong in 1997.

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Skyfall also marks a departure from other Bond films in that there is less exotic locations outside the UK but more British based action which is equally thrilling especially the Tennyson quoting assassination sequence in Westminster or the brilliant explosive climax at Bond’s long forgotten Scottish family estate Skyfall in rural Scotland.

What really raises the level Skyfall is the brilliant direction by Sam Mendes of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road fame, who not being an action director brings more dysfunctional characterization and interpersonal twists to the Skyfall narrative complimented by the brilliant acting talents of Bardem apparently handpicked by Daniel Craig to play the villain and of course Dame Judi Dench as M, Bond’s shadowy, yet tough mother figure. All Bond’s mother issues are resolved in Skyfall along with coming to terms with a tragic childhood in the remote Scottish highlands.

50 Years of 007: The Actors Might Change but the Characters Remaining Intriguing…

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Skyfall is superb yet not conventional multi-layered Bond film crisply shot by Roger Deakins’s excellent photography especially noticeable in the Shanghai Skyscraper sequence, and while the action sequences are not as outlandish as some of the previous more bizarre Bond films such as Moonraker or The Spy Who Loved Me, this is the threadbare, recession hit 21st century and not the lavish late 1970’s.

Daniel Craig holds his own in his third portrayal as Bond and is more comfortable in this iconic role as a razor-sharp, still sexy and slightly jaded spy always ready for action. From a fabulous attention-grabbing chase scene in Istanbul to the wonderful opening sequence which is both lethal and seductive, choreographed to British singer Adele’s gorgeous rendition of the themesong: Skyfall, viewers are promised a seductive, slick and emotionally engaging Bond film.

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Of particular note is the engaging encounter between Bond and the ruthless suggestive villain Silva, an expert internet hacker in an abandoned island outside the Special Administrative Region of Macau. The scene between Craig and Bardem is absolutely superb with Javier Bardem using the full range of deviancy as the enemy of Mi6 and a ruthless hypnotic villain. Skyfall is razor sharp cinema, occasionally funny and essentially British and promises not the end of a franchise but an elegant re-alignment of the Bond universe for the Second Decade of the 21st century living up to the charming Bond family motto, The World is Not Enough….

Bond Exotically Reinvented…

 Quantum of Solace

A Novella about Playboys in the Bahamas

Ian Fleming’s short story of the Quantum of Solace is a far cry from its cinematic reinvention with only the thematic strain of revenge being retained. In the novella, James Bond hears a story whilst dining at the Governors mansion in the Bahamas of a man who marries an air hostess on a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to London and takes his new bride to Nassau where he is posted as a colonial official of the Caribbean island. Remember the story was written in the 1950’s when Britain’s colonial influence stretched far and wide. In the Bahamas the colonial civil servants new wife proceeds to have an affair with the wealthy local golf pro at the Country Club and when the seemingly mild husband finds out about his wife’s indiscretion, he takes revenge not only on his wife but also on her lover.

The strange term of a quantum of solace is as Fleming explains it when a man single handedly takes revenge for something or someone that has wronged him. So naturally whilst an idle gossip at a lavish dinner party would not really make an engaging Bond film, the theme of revenge certainly would. A 21st century Bond, the recognizable character of the most successful film franchise ever, who in every film has to reflect not only the decade but the popular tastes of a new generation of film goers?

The first Bond film was in 1962 and its now 2008, that is a lifetime in entertainment history. So as with Casino Royale, the newly cast Daniel Craig, a blond Bond continues the iconic role of superspy, hell bent on revenge for the mysterious organization responsible for the death of his first love, Vesper Lind who perished in the murky waters in Venice…

Quantum of Solace opens spectacularly with an intensive car chase, Italy and then after the retro opening credits (not designed this time by Maurice Binder), continues with a high-octane fight sequence in a Cathedral in Sienna culminating in a discovery that there was a breach in security in Mi6. Further technological investigation tracks down that the informant who Bond quite intently dispatches in Italy was working for the mysterious Quantum organization and was receiving funds from a front man in Haiti. As in all Bond films, James tracks the spy trial to another exotic location to find out who his real enemy is.

The Spy Trial continues

In a warehouse in Port-au-Prince, a Bolivian girl Camille played with a lethal panache by Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who if anyone managed to catch the film version of the PC game Hit man, would know that Olga is not shy when it comes to taking on gritty action roles. Camille is on her own personal quest for revenge and Bond soon meets the mild but manical villain Dominic Greene, a French-born environmentalist who has sinister plans for Bolivia. As with all Bond films, he follows the villain to a spectacular meeting in Berlenz, Austria, while during a stunningly contemporary production of Puccini’s Tosca, Greene reveals his sinister plans for Bolivia and South America as a whole. Interestingly it is the evil plans of every Bond villain that has always accurately reflected the time in which the films are made. If it was Moonraker, (1979) it was Drax’s conquest of space. If it was The World is Not Enough (1999)’s it was Renard’s control of the world’s supply of oil from Azerbaijan. In 2008, in a world very concerned about climate change and ecological transformation, in Quantum of Solace, it is Dominic Greene’s desire to control a continent’s water supply, that precious resource that like oil is also slowly dwindling away.

With Marc Foster, director of such captivating films as Finding Neverland, Monsters Ball and The Kite Runner, at the helm of Quantum, he brings a certain distinct aesthetic to the 22nd James Bond, Quantum of Solace, while retaining the dark undertones of blind revenge at all costs as much as solving the mystery of Vesper Lind’s death in Casino Royale. Quantum is a direct continuation of Casino Royale; the first time this sequential dedication has been used in the Bond franchise, so clearly those viewers who followed Casino Royale closely will enjoy Quantum of Solace.

Quite different from the usual Bond fare

A note of warning, this Bond film is more in the style of the Jason Bourne Trilogy and a far cry from those cavalier Bonds films of the Roger Moore era with his effortlessly wit and charm. Here Daniel Craig portrays a man set on revenge, taking no prisoners and not inclined to follow orders, while displaying a physicality and brutality quite brazen and skillfully managing to reinvent one of the longest running and suave filmic characters ever created. Ian Fleming would be proud were he alive today. In Quantum of Solace, the producers were truly appealing to a new 21st century generation of viewers making Bond much more physical, less charming and equally deadly. That was always the key to the success of all 22 Bond films was their ability to reinvent the formula to reflect the tastes of the cinema going audience of whichever decade was current. Obviously the stable ingredients of nasty villains, gorgeous Bond girls, exotic locations and loads of amazing action sequences were always part of that lucratively and wildly successful Bond franchise.

See Quantum for the car-chase sequence in Sienna, the Austrian opera scene and of course the final showdown at the gorgeous Dunes of Sands Hotel in central Bolivia, which is actually shot in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

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Don’t expect charm, but a degree of panache and watch out for some references to Goldfinger and some of the earlier 1960’s bond films, so popular with generation that adored Sean Connery as 007. In 2008, Quantum of Solace is no doubt, James Bond exotically reinvented for a new cinematic generation and in that respect the film achieves its aim, and has already grossed more money than Casino Royale

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