Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Wright’

The Cunning Art of Thievery

The Goldfinch

Director: John Crowley

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Willa Fitzgerald, Anuerin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Kleintank, Denis O’Hare

Irish director John Crowley (Brooklyn) brings to cinematic life Donna Tart’s immersive and poignant Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch in a sprawling and beautifully acted film version featuring an international cast including Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) as Mrs Barbour, a wealthy Park Avenue woman who graciously takes in the young Theo Decker brilliantly played by Oakes Fegley, after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack at New York’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Theo having survived a thoroughly traumatic event, is introduced to the extremely wealthy Barbour family who he stays with while he awaits to hear from his wayward con-artist father Larry played by Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Concussion, 3:10 to Yuma). Larry eventually swoops in with his hard as nails girlfriend Xandra expertly played by Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story) to whisk Theo off to the brilliant shiny desert of Nevada away from the old world charm of New York City.

As The Goldfinch expertly weaves multiple story lines into a dazzling picaresque tale, it is more essentially about Theo’s friendship with the mysterious antique dealer Hobie beautifully played by Jeffrey Wright (Skyfall).

The Goldfinch is gorgeously photographed in all its blinding contrasts by Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner: 2049) who adds lustre to a fascinating tale of a boy who inadvertently steals a priceless Dutch painting by 17th century portrait painter Carel Fabritius a budding young student of Rembrandt.

As the actions flits between, New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, The Goldfinch is a gripping, fascinating tale of art theft, addiction and loss as the film examines the effects of parental loss on a young boy. Utterly superb viewing. Audiences should watch out for a rather energetic performance by Dunkirk star Anuerin Barnard as the older version of Ukrainian Gothic friend Boris who plays an integral part in achieving his destiny which is inevitably entwined with a rare painting by an early Dutch master. The older version of Theo Decker is adequately played by rising star Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, Billionaire Boys Club).

Elegant and absorbing, with stunning performances, The Goldfinch is a sophisticated drama about the conflicts between the old and new world and the shadows that lie in between. Those that have read Donna Tartt’s brilliant novel will appreciate this gorgeous film adaptation.

Highly recommended viewing, The Goldfinch gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10.

Flipping the Coin

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey Wright, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Paula Malcolmson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Sarita Choudhury, Patina Miller, Mahershala Ali, Willow Shields, Michelle Forbes

Consistency of vision is always imperative when converting a trilogy of bestselling novels into films and certainly The Hunger Games trilogy based upon the allegorical novels by Suzanne Collins have maintained that consistency in terms of casting, production design and overall cinematic appeal.

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Whether parent company Lionsgate’s decision to split the final installment of The Hunger Games, Mockingjay was a wise one remains debatable. Nevertheless director Francis Lawrence returns with the second part of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay picking up exactly where the first part finished.

Peeta Mellark has been returned to the rebels from the capitol, although slightly deranged and brainwashed. Our sturdy heroine Katniss Everdeen, beautifully played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) is unsure of Peeta’s complete rehabilitation and loyalty.

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In a brutal war, which takes Katniss and her team first to District 2 and then onto a treacherous mission of penetrating the devastated capitol, where images of the aging President Snow, still wonderfully played by Donald Sutherland, are flashed across random TV screens at interim moments during a savage battle between the rebels and peacekeepers. Urged on by the charismatic District 13 President Coin, played by Oscar winner (Still Alice) Julianne Moore, Katniss and her unit are implored to take the capitol and assassinate President Snow.

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As the love triangle which was initiated in The Hunger Games, between Katniss, Peeta and the hunky Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth is teased out to its logical conclusion, Katniss has to stay true to her own convictions, despite the brutal toll it takes on herself and her family. Katniss realizes in Mockingjay Part 2 that she is a symbolic pawn between Presidents Snow and Coin, while always struggling to retain her own autonomy and individuality.

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Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks reprise their roles as Haymitch and Effie Trinket respectively, although audiences should be warned that Mockingjay Part 2 is considerably darker in tone and texture than the lurid The Hunger Games or the visually gripping Catching Fire.

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A dark mood of warfare and finality hangs over the film, even with the cast giving a sense that this violent action trilogy has exhausted all options. Considering the recently high level of violence in the contemporary world, especially as shown on international news broadcast, suffice is to say that American author Suzanne Collins has made her point about millennials becoming immune to violence both on screen and in real life.

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Despite an all-star cast including the last screen appearance of Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as Plutarch Heavensbee, Mockingjay Part 2, belongs to Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as their characters come to terms with their dramatic destiny in the face of a manipulative conflict between the Rebels and the Capitol.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is recommended viewing for fans of the entire trilogy although the 3-D technology was not used effectively, making the second part of Mockingjay too long and aimless. Inevitably, Katniss Everdeen triumphs but at great personal cost to herself.

 

 

 

War is a Constructed Image

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Dormer, Donald Sutherland, Robert Knepper, Paula Malcolmson, Sam Claflin

The final book of the Hunger Games Trilogy, Mockingjay comes to the big screen in two parts, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a monochromatic diatribe about notions of war as a constructed image, and intelligently explores the concept of rebellion.

Katniss Everdeen, superbly played by Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) has survived the Quarter Quell and plunged Panem into civil war between the Capital and the Districts, with her own District 12 being obliterated by the ruthless Capitol bombers.

Director Francis Lawrence creates a superb dichotomy between a more vicious Capital and the newly discovered District 13, a haven for the rebels built entirely below ground so as to escape the Capital’s firepower. Utilitarian District 13 ruler Madame President Coin, wonderfully played by Oscar Nominee Julianne Moore has plans of using Katniss as the much beloved symbol of resistance, the Mockingjay.

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However in the Capital, President Snow, played by veteran star Donald Sutherland has captured Peeta Mellark, the tribute who didn’t escape the Quarter Quell and like Coin is using Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in a vicious game of propaganda and deceit to lure Katniss and her supporters into attacking the Capital.

In this manipulated game of propaganda, both Katniss and Mellark are used as constructs by a ruthless war machine intent on destroying humanity in this allegorical society. With Katniss being filmed against the ruins of one of the Districts after a hospital is destroyed, the viewer would think they are watching scenes of the recent conflict in the Syrian Civil War or the Crisis in the Ukraine.

Director Lawrence obviously working with a far bigger budget, has a clearer vision of this dystopian world post Hunger Games, after the lavish excess of the Capitol and the vicious expandability of the children fighting each other in a death match which made the first two films The Hunger Games and Catching Fire that much more riveting.

Whilst in the first two, the children or tributes as they were known in Suzanne Collins novels were the centre of attention, in Mockingjay it is clearly an adult world, with war a primary signifier in moving the brutal narrative along, ably assisted by a brilliant supporting cast.

This cast includes Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who incidentally died of a drug overdose during the filming of Mockingjay) in one of his last screen performances as Plutarch Heavensbee, Elizabeth Banks in a wonderful cameo as the downtrodden Prisoner of War yet still irrepressible Effie Trinket, along with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee who all bring a gravity to Katniss’s predicament as her decision to become the symbol of the rebellion is thwarted by President Snow’s twisted methods especially using Mellark as a pawn.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire was clearly aimed at the mature teenage market, but Mockingjay Part One is definitely aimed at a more mature audience whose has become used to seeing violent images of global conflicts flash across their TV screens. Even though it’s an allegorical tale Mockingjay Part 1 undoubtedly reflects a contemporary 21st century immunity to violent onscreen images of war, highlighting that along with all the propaganda and the rhetoric, the constant bloodshed seen has become engrained in a future society which appears to be emotionally resistant to such global strife, despite its constant coverage on all the international news broadcasts.

Mockingjay Part 1, although the storyline purposefully is left hanging at the end, still remains an impressively dark cinematic vision, gripping and unrelenting. Audience naturally hope that Part 2 will be equally brilliant and impressive. This is recommended viewing for those that have read the books and have followed the massive success of this ferocious and fascinating film franchise.

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.

 

Dark and Lurid Victory Tour

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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 Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcolmson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

The Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins was inspired to write the largely allegorical tale of an alternative version of contemporary American society by flicking through channels on TV with alternating images of award shows, reality Series and brutal wars occurring in distant countries over the last decade from Afghanistan to Syria.

The sequel to the hugely successful Hunger Games film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directed by Austrian Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) follows the Victory Tour of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, victors of the Hunger Games which for those that don’t know is a brutal invented arena in which teenagers fight to the death to claim spoils for their respective district, each of which owes enforced allegiance to The Capitol, for which the Hunger Games becomes a televised Bloodsport.

Each Tribute, teenage sacrifices as they are known are paraded in a lurid fashion at the outrageously lavish Art Deco inspired Capitol while the brutal games are televised live. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes this vicious propaganda spectacle of the victory tour a step further in the gladiator like parade of the Quarter Quell a quarterly sequel to the annual Hunger Games, a fantastic and dazzling scene out of a contemporary Ben Hur.

The victorious tributes and the heroes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Katniss Everdeen, beautifully played by Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson (The Kids are Alright) hold their own along with Katniss’s other love interest the hunky Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemworth.

The ever versatile Lawrence really makes The Hunger Games and Catching Fire her own as her feisty and resilient Katniss is the central force in a bizarre world of brutality, repression and becoming the symbol of hope and defiance against a vicious ruler, the sinister President Snow, wonderfully played by screen veteran Donald Sutherland, who views the Hunger Games as a way of keeping the twelve districts of Panem entrapped in a terrifyingly civil obedience to the decadent Capital with its outrageous fashions, increasingly lavish spectacles and bizarre cosmetic trends.

Remember this is allegory and in this form of narrative, the story line can be as outlandish and brutal as possible, as removed from reality, but mirroring a recognizable world that is to close for comfort. Think of modern day America with reality TV series including the rise of the Kardashians, The Amazing Race and Survivor along with a plethora of increasingly lavish Hollywood Award Shows with the infamous red carpet. So perhaps The Hunger Games trilogy although allegorical is more close in commenting the dichotomies of an increasingly digital 21st century American culture where alternating images of brutality and glamour are available at the flick of a switch.

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

For The Hunger Games viewers and its more stylized and lurid sequel Catching Fire, its best to read the novels first otherwise the unfamiliar world of Panem would seem too bizarre to comprehend and the fortunes of its heroes Katniss and Peeta would not be plausible, whether it’s their fight for survival or their covert acts of defiance.

Watch out for a particularly menacing performance by Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as the mysterious game maker Plutarch Heavensbee  along with another over the top performance by Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shows humanity’s depth for cruelty and spectacle much like the gladiator games were meant to placate the salivating audiences of ancient Rome, except this film takes the images much further, to a darker more lurid and unexpected act of defiance.

The cast also includes  Woody Harrelson as the heavy drinking Haymitch Abernathy, Lenny Kravitz as the flamboyant fashion designer Cinna along with Jeffrey Wright as tech savy victor Beetee and Amanda Plummer as Wireless.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an innovative piece of cinema, recommended for the dazzling sets, the lurid costumes and crisp sound editing and the captivating if not truly bizarre storyline, see it at a cinema soon and be transported into Panem, a world unlike anything imaginable…

 

Dead Man’s Dilemma

Source Code

Fragments of Reality Exploding

Director Duncan Jones and son of Eighties Rock Icon David Bowie has expanded his horizon from his debut film Moon, a sci-fi thriller starring Sam Rockwell as multiple versions of himself, stranded on a remote space ship controlled by a omniscient computer, voiced with enviable calm by Kevin Spacey to Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga, a parallel universe thriller set in the 21st century heart of America, ever threatened by eminent terrorist attacks.

Unlike Moon, Source Code is grounded in reality, contemporary Chicago where a passenger train bound for the city centre is about to explode. Gyllenhaal plays US Army Helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens who is transported into another man’s body with only 8 minutes left to live and he must find a way of discovering the identity of the bomber who is on board and gets off at the station prior to the blast.

Using the framework of parallel universes, quantum physics and covert government departments, Source Code is an ingenious thriller about the effects of transporting an unwilling hero into the mind of a man eight minutes before he dies, not once but several time, opening up several different versions of a similar, yet slightly different reality. Like in Moon, the central character Colter is disconnected from the outside world not only physically but also psychologically and is being controlled by a force far greater than his own willpower.

Vera Farmiga last seen in Up in the Air makes a welcome appearance on screen as the controller Goodwin, who is faced not only with the ethics of the military experiment but the impact it will have on altering the course of the future using the deeply confused anti-hero. Colter, played by a wide eyed Gyllenhaal is predictably brilliant drawing on his previous role in Jarhead, while it is the ever surprising Jeffrey Wright as Dr Rutledge who is elegant, insidious and morally blunted by the ethical consequences of his own experiment, who only recognizes the source code’s true potential.

See Source Code not only for its varied scenarios of the same terrorist situation reminiscent of the hideous and very real Madrid train bombs that occurred in March 2003 but for the film’s ingenuous probing of the  core dilemma of using a dying man’s functioning brain in the last moments of his conscious life.

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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