19 November 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: "Casino Royale" Bond Begins!

November 19, 2006 04:02 PM EST
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

Filled with trepidation the audience entered the packed screening room to see the new 21st century James Bond. Capturing this larger-than-life character on film after the quintessential Bond, Sean Connery, aged out of his gig in 1971 was close to impossible for the owners of the Bond franchise, the Broccoli family company Danjaq, LLC. Pierce Brosnan gave it his best shot, Roger Moore sleepwalked his campy and faux-sophisticated way through his Bond, and George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton are better left forgotten.

Casino Royale could have been called Bond Begins as it is also a re-imagining of a beloved character and closely resembles the re-imagining of the beloved Super Hero journey in Christopher Nolan's excellent Batman Begins with a similarly new dark and intense leading man, Christian Bale, in the title role. Bond is recreated here in the same image of a deep and dark man of the people hero.

Hiring Daniel Craig to play the newest Bond had legions of fans and critics up in arms, some threatened boycotts of the film, blogs were written in and new websites were set up in protest - even this reviewer was mighty concerned. Everyone rushed to worry before all the facts were in. Now the new Bond film is out and now the new James Bond should be crowned! This reviewer is thrilled to report that Daniel Craig IS Bond!

Craig's Bond is full of charisma; he is grittier, sexier, deeper, tougher, more intense, more thoughtful, more human, less needy of special cars and gadgets, and just about the most perfect Bond since Sean Connery. Craig's work in this outing should be hailed as one of the best acting jobs of this season, especially after seeing his performance as serial killer Perry Smith in Infamous.

Only a true actor can take a role so closely defined by one man, Connery, and make it his own. Craig has done this in spades. His body is a blinding allure that women will be dreaming about, and his icy blue-eyed stare hints at the cold, haunted depth of a real man. Craig's Bond takes us back to the true roots of Bond as writer Ian Fleming imagined him, with a grittier update for our 21st century world.

Casino Royale was first filmed back in 1967 as a spy spoof with David Niven and Peter Sellers as Bond. It was loosely based on Fleming's first Bond novel of the same name, published in 1953. After Sean Connery's defining performance as Bond, no actor that played Bond even came close. The Bond films always had a big audience due to the popularity of the Fleming books, the Bond character, and the great SpFx and stunt set pieces, but no actor who played this role even came close to the intensity of Connery until now.

The film opens with Bond making his first kill as a 00 agent and after that he is sent to Madagascar to spy on a terrorist involved with the evil money-laundering expert Le Chiffre. The film proceeds at an astonishingly fast pace in an incredible action set piece that recalls the opening of many Hong Kong martial arts films starring any number of greats like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. Bond races after a terrorist and in the process destroys an entire ship-building yard.

The terrorist he chases is the creator of the free running and jumping aerobatic Le Parkour, Sebastien Foucan. The physical art form he created, Le Parkour, is heavily influenced by Asian philosophy, as Foucan says "The art of moving from one place to another with fluidity allows you to see your environment differently. The quest's goal is to become a part of the environment in order to develop your mind and body." Le Parkour is best demonstrated by closely watching the opening free running chase scene, try to keep your eyes on Foucan during the chase. Even though wires were clearly used in some of the chase scene shots, most moves were pure Parkour, and it is a delight to behold. One could not imagine any Bond other than Craig's – even Sean Connery's - able to keep up with Foucan. This is a brilliant chase scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Another appropriate title for this film could have been Run Bond, Run.

Bond is next sent on a mission to infiltrate a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro to compete with Le Chiffre and other gazillionaires. Le Chiffre provides a global money-laundering service to the world's terrorist organizations, and he must win this game to pay back all the despots he has laundered money for before they kill him for it.

Bond girl, Vesper Lynd (played by the inexperienced Eva Green, who looks like she still belongs in high school, not traipsing around Europe with Bond) is sent along as the representative of Her Majesty's Treasury to keep tabs on Bonds' bids. No Bond film would be complete without the girl, but in this Bond film the girl never takes her clothes off. In this film it is Bond who keeps taking his shirt off - to the audiences great enjoyment.

During the poker game one hour breaks are taken and it is during these times that Bond's life is continuously threatened by Le Chiffre's minions by poison and stairwell gun battles. When Bond loses his stake in the game, and Lynd refuses to up his ante, he is staked by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who has also been playing in the game but knows he cannot win. Bond eventually squeaks out a win in the game and Le Chiffre repays him in a horrific torture scene that belies the fairness of the MPAA's PG-13 rating.

Vesper Lynd finally falls for Bond and the two begin a romantic waterside idle ending with Bond emailing his resignation to M as they sail into Venice in a breathtakingly beautiful scene. Of course the plot twists once again and Bond is betrayed and the audience is treated to a thrilling finale as we watch an old Venetian building collapse into the water below while Lynd, Bond, and an army of terrorists fight for their lives.

A film that could have had many titles: Bond Begins, Run Bond, Run, Hard Body, Back to the Roots… This reimagined and updated 21st century Bond has redefined the archetypal spy genre… and it's all for the good.


Digital Dogs rating: A! A brilliant new Bond for the 21st century.

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity. (The torture scene alone deserves an R rating).

Running Time: 144 minutes

Producers Barbara Broccoli, David Minkowski, Matthew Sullivan, Michael G. Wilson, Charlie Woebcken, Director Martin Campbell, Screenplay Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis from the book by Ian Fleming, Editor Stuart Baird, DP Phil Meheux, Actors Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Sebastien Foucan, Jeffrey Wright

© Digital Dogs


11 November 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Fountain"

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Fountain"
November 11, 2006 06:07 PM EST
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

Completely annoying and impossible to understand, The Fountain is a pretentious and cryptic musing on immortality that fails miserably in comparison to the ultimate musing on the same fascinating topic, Highlander, and it's many offshoots (Highlander II: The Quickening, Highlander III: The Sorcerer, Highlander: Endgame, TV's outstanding Highlander: The Series, and Highlander: The Raven). How this film ever got the money it needed to be made is beyond reason, other than to suppose the studio had a deal with Rachel Weisz and gave money to this film so she would star in another 2oth Century Fox (international distribution) or Warner Bros. Pictures (domestic distribution) vehicle.

This reviewer has heard director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Pi) compare this film with classics like The Matrix, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and could barely constrain their laughter in the packed screening room. Aronofsky was asked why he made The Fountain, his answer: "Why? Because it's fun to watch conquistadors fight Mayans, and it's fun to shoot guys into outer space floating around, so I wanted to do a little bit of everything." This is where the trouble begins. It seems as if Aronofsky tossed together whatever odd unconnected ideas he got from watching sicfi channel marathons resulting in a troubled and confusing mélange that blends these ideas with metaphysical mythology into a confusing mess with some interesting SpEfx, incredibly beautiful close-ups of Weisz, and a boring and repetitive new-agey score.

Aronofsky hoped to make a film about one man's eternal struggle to save the woman he loves, and after forty five minutes you will begin to grok that plot point, but at that point you probably won't care anymore. The always interesting Hugh Jackman (Tomas, Tommy Creo) does his best to make you care about his character, and the gorgeous Rachel Weisz (Izzi, Isabel Creo) is featured in some of the most beautiful close-ups of any film star in recent history – but she does little acting. Their efforts aren't enough to save this confusing time-traveling, star-traveling, conquistador and Queen Isabella of Spain, Tree-of-Life, Tree-of-Knowledge, and Fountain of Youth seeking Tai Chi-practicing Vedic-leaning story. The blame falls directly to the feet of the director, as his hand is not seen at all in the actors work. It seems that mega-stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette have good advisors as they both backed out of the film while in pre-pro.

Weisz said she prepared for the film by reading "lots of books about people who had been terminally ill." She goes on to say, "I spoke to people in hospice, it's wonderful, I had never heard of hospice before, have you?" And then she went on to explain it. The audience snickered, as the hospice care movement was founded in the UK before Weisz was born, and Brit Dr. Cicely Saunders is widely regarded as the founder of the hospice movement. In 2005 there were close to 1700 hospice services. How could someone who graduated from Trinity Hall, Cambridge not have heard of the hospice movement made famous by her own country? Actors legacy admission anyone?

The film begins in 16th century Guatemala where conquistador Tomas is searching for something we later find out is the Tree of Life. He and two scared comrades face an army of pointy-teethed Mayan warriors out for their blood. Then we meet Tomas as he is sitting in lotus position in a bubble of light – which Weisz describes as a spaceship from the future, though it looked like a huge clear balloon filled with extreme close-ups of undersea life. About fifty percent of Tomas' and Izzi's dialog is whispered one liners like, "Finish," "I'm coming," and "I love you." Vague whispers that mean nothing to the audience except to let us know we're in for a pretentious 96 minutes. At some point someone says "Death is the path to awe" and you will have visions of suicide bombers being brainwashed to think this. Death is not the path to awe, death is the path to the end of life. Thankfully this film is under two hours.

We finally realize that Izzi is dying of brain cancer and Tomas is a scientist experimenting on animals to find a cure for her disease. He uses an untested herb from South America and the monkey he experiments on recovers from his human-induced brain cancer… but it is too late to save Izzi. By that time you probably won't care any more. Izzi is also writing a book – in longhand, with no errors (so how bad could her brain cancer really be?) – about the Mayan connection to a nebula in space called something like "Mohamma," and she gives the book to Tommy with the last chapter, Chapter Twelve, for him to finish.

The film ends with Tomas drinking a thick white liquid (that looks just like cum) from the Tree of Life which turns him into a tree, leaving us to assume he is joining Izzi in their death-heaven of Trees of Life and Knowledge. This convoluted mess might look beautiful, but it will bore you to tears.


Digital Dogs rating: D, An incomplete. Don't waste your hard-earned bucks to rent, wait for cable.

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language. Originally rated R for "some violence."

Producers Darren Aronofsky, Arnon Milchan, Iain Smith, Eric Watson, Director Darren Aronofsky, Screenplay Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Music Clint Mansell, Editor Jay Rabinowitz, DP Matthew Libatique, Actors Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Patrick Thomas,

Running Time: 96 minutes

© Digital Dogs