James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part IV: Spectre) (Spoilers)

After the series’ high success that was Skyfall, news that the majority of the major cast and pretty much all the behind the scenes crew would be returning for Spectre had a lot of people very, very, very excited. And with the revelation that frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator, the immensely talented German thespian and actor Christoph Waltz would be playing the film’s main antagonist, with a secondary antagonist role played by Sherlock villain Andrew Scott, the hype and intrigue for this movie grew even more.

When the teaser trailer for the film released in early 2015, we were promised a mystery, a personal story, a conclusion to the events that began almost a decade earlier in 2006 with Casino Royale. The teaser played everything out just right, and kept every solid plot detail quite close to the chest while still getting the audience invested and intrigued. It really is a great trailer.

With a script once again written by the people behind Skyfall, John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, it seemed unlikely that anything could go wrong. Skyfall succeeded in nearly every area, especially exploring the roots and emotions of the Bond character and exploring the franchise on a much deeper thematic level. In order to be a success, Spectre simply had to continue this trend, combining these aforementioned elements with brilliantly produced and shot action sequences.

Skyfall cinematographer Roger Deakins was unavailable to return for Spectre, most likely due to his work on the brilliant Sicario, so the immensely talented and regaled cinematographer handed the reigns off to his Swedish counterpart Hoyte van Hoytema, who is just as talented, if not more so, than Deakins himself. Van Hoytema is known for acting as director of photography for such beautifully shot films as the award-winning 2010 sports drama The Fighter, the critically acclaimed 2011 Le Carre adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the Academy Award winning, Spike Jonze-helmed 2013 science-fiction romance comedy-drama Her, and 2014’s Interstellar, for which van Hoytema was nominated for a BAFTA award. Spectre was shaping up to be a film that could easily match, or even surpass, Skyfall.

Spectre begins with what I and many others consider to be the best cold open to a James Bond film yet. The Day of the Dead sequence begins with a four-minute long single take tracking shot, followed by a pulse-pounding escape and eventual fist fight in an airborne helicopter.

From then on, the film starts to go downhill. Adele’s Skyfall was an excellent combination of previous classic themes, and was combined with an excellent, creative, trippy, and engaging sequence that delved deep into Bond’s fractured psyche. Sam Smith’s Writing On the Wall and its accompanying credits sequence, though well-performed and well-designed, lacks any sort of investment the previous film provided. Smith has no emotion or true enthusiasm in his vocals, and the opening credits sequence, filled with what I can only describe as weird tentacle stuff, does nothing except confuse me.

Bond is reprimanded for his conduct in Mexico, which was an off-the-books assassination assigned by Dench’s M posthumously. Bond heads to the funeral of the man he killed and porks his widow, played by Monica Bellucci, only after killing two men who break into her apartment. Yes, even for a James Bond film, the scene is about uncomfortable, nonsensical, and creepy as it sounds. Bellucci tells him about a meeting of the mysterious SPECTRE organization, revealed to be the mastermind beind the Quantum suborganization. It is at this meeting that Bond meets Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. Bond escapes with a SPECTRE ring and is able to track down Mr. White, now a fugitive in hiding dying from radiation poisoning. He kills himself with Bond’s Whalter before making 007 promise to protect his daughter, played by the beautiful Lea Sydoux.Bond is then sent on a rather forced and trite journey to take down Oberhauser, revealed to be the son of Bond’s surrogate father; the Oberhausers were a wealthy family and friends of the Bonds who took James in after his parents’ death. Franz killed his parents, making it look like an accident, and inheiriting their wealth. He also changes his name: Ernst Stavro Blofield. This twist is entirely predictable with no mystery surrounding it whatsoever, and the reveal isn’t treated as shocking or relavatory in the slightest. With the film’s title a reference to the organization headed by Blofield, everybody knew off the bat that Waltz’ character was Blofield, but his connection to James could have been something shocking; a twist. There is no twist in here and the plot is entirely predictable and uninspired. In Skyfall, though there were no “twists” perse, it wasn’t predictable. It was fresh and exhilarating. Except for the widow thing, I was able to call every single point of plot progression before it occured.

This time around, the script does not even touch on any deep meanings, nor does it progress Bond as a character. Blofield’s role as “the author of all your pain” barely effects Bond and provides him with little to no overriding motovation or even emotional intensity. The plot, which should have been a shocking, emotionally charged hunt for the man who ruined Bond’s life at every turn, is instead a formulaic, by-the-numbers, rather episodic-feeling, and boring affair. Considering this is by the same team as Skyfall, and that Spectre was marketed as a culmination of the events of Bond’s past in this continuity, I cannot begin to imagine why the writing team did such a disappointing job, especially considering the brilliance of their previous effort.

For some very odd and rather disheartening reason, it is clear that no one’s heart was in this. Aside from the admittedly epic opening, all the action is rather standard; the direction is technically efficent, though not very creative. Van Hoytema does give us some brilliant shots, although the notable ones are few and far between. Craig used to view the role of Bond with great enthusiasm, but has gone on to state that he’d rather “slit his wrists” than reprise the role again, along with some other striking comments. He phones it in as Bond here. Lea Sydoux is given nothing to do but stand there and be pretty. Christoph Waltz could be a great Blofeld, if the writers gave him anything interesting to work with. Everything about Spectre is, frankly, a little boring, which is actually hugely disappointing to me, given it had so much potential if people had just given a crap.

Spectre was in production during the infamous Sony hacks of 2014/2015, and a copy of the script and critiques of it were obtained. It would not suprise me if this greatly hindered production and had something to do with the failure to reach its potential. Upon the news that Spectre is the most expensive movie in the Bond franchise thus far, and one of the most expensive movies ever made in general, I am a little worried that the Bond franchise as a whole might end up going out on a low note. It’s been almost 54 years, and all good things must come to an end, but not like this, I plead.

Spectre is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It is a very well-done film from a technical, exclusively filmmaking standpoint, and is entirely worth your time if you need a movie to watch. It is, however, a rather gigantic disappointment given the talent involved and the legacy of what came before, much like Quantum of Solace, only much worse, in my opinion. I am aware that, oftentimes, expectations do not match reality, but Spectre did not only not reach my expectations, it managed to be totally overshadowed by other films that year, including Mission Impossible: Rouge Nationa series who’s high octane, impressive stunts were no doubt inspired by the long-running Bond franchise. I hope that the series will once again pick itself back up, because the grandaddy of spies being outshone by a series inspired by it and a movie that satirically praises it is not a good sign.

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James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part III: Skyfall) (Spoilers)

After the disappointment that was 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the 23rd film in the long-running franchise wisely, yet surprisingly, decided to eschew all overarching events of the preceding films, choosing instead to focus on an entirely new narrative. Directed by Sam Mendes, director of American Beauty and Jarhead, and with a screenplay by longtime franchise veterans Neal Purvis, John Logan, and Robert Wade, Skyfall is a “soft reboot” of the franchise, once again recreating major elements of the franchise while still keeping some of the major elements established in Casino Royale; the Bond featured in Skyfall is still very much the same Bond we were introduced to in 2006, but it isn’t the same world.

There are several elements that are inherent to the Bond franchise: outrageous and impressive stunts, hot girls, good-looking cars, good-looking girls, an eccentric villain, and gadgets. Bond films were originally intended to be the ultimate escapist male power fantasy. This is something that the franchise mostly excelled at doing. As I mentioned in my Casino Royale review, after Pierce Brosnan’s lackluster run as the character, it was decided that it was time to reinvent the franchise. Casino Royale excelled in doing so, but it was felt necessary to jettison the more outlandish factors that made up Bond in order to modernize the franchise in a more grounded, post-9/11 environment. With Skyfall, it was decided that there was, in fact, a way to have their cake and eat it, too, as it were.

Skyfall premiered in 2012, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise. Skyfall is, both on the surface and on a deeper thematic level, a love letter to the franchise that has been a cultural touchstone for many a generation. Skyfall’s brilliant opening evokes memories of great franchise moments. Octopussy’s train sequence came to my mind, specifically. These outlandish and intense sequences of pulse-pounding escapist action continue throughout the film. All of the aforementioned elements of old school Bond return in Skyfall.

The theme tune to a Bond film has always been an important aspect. I have found that a Bond film is quite literally only as good as its theme song. The best Bond movies have the best theme songs and the worst Bond movies have garbage theme songs. (Pun intended) Bond themes are known for big, brass heavy orchestral arrangements with soulful lyrics. Iconic theme songs include 1964’s Goldfinger sung by Shirley Bassey, which is said to have started the tradition of Bond theme tunes being sung by popular artists of the time, and 1965’s Thunderball sung by Tom Jones. 1973’s Live and Let Die sung by Paul McCartney and Wings is iconic for it’s hard rock elements infused with the more traditional Bond fare, and due to it being a pretty great hard rock ballad in its own right, led to the song becoming the first Bond theme to permeate pop culture and move on past the film itself. I am personally also a fan of Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name performed for Casino Royale, which ditched all elements of previous theme’s in favor of an edgier direction, much like the film itself did.

Adele’s Skyfall is a culmination of the greatest Bond tunes, calling on the spirit of Bassey and Jones for inspiration. With Adele’s powerful vocal range, a large orchestral backing, and an appropriately trippy yet uncharacteristically and engaging credits sequence designed by Daniel Klienman, Skyfall ranks as one of the best themes of the franchise.

Skyfall sees the long-awaited reintroduction of gadgeteer Q to the franchise after Desmond Llewelyn’s death in 1999. Llewelyn began his career as Q in 1963’s From Russia With Love.  He was 49 at the time, and continued to play the character up until his death at 85 from an unfortunate car accident. Here, Q is played by the much younger Ben Whishaw. Whishaw is a talented actor most known for his stage work, notably in a 2005 production as the title character in Hamlet. He had somewhat of a major film breakthrough in 2006 playing the main character in Perfume: The Story of A Murderer. The young Whishaw, wisely realizing it wouldn’t make much sense to portray the character in the same vein as the much older Llewelyn, adds a sense of arrogance to the character you would expect to find in a 31-year-old computer genius in 2012. Interestingly enough, Whishaw’s father is an IT specialist. The gruff and veteran killer Bond treats the young Q with an equal modicum of contempt, disbelief, and begrudging respect, and Q, though commenting at length concerning Bond’s inefficiency, does the same. Whishaw, I feel, goes under the radar in Skyfall, and his performance as Q is a surprisingly bright spot in one of the best films in the franchise.

Skyfall sees the last of Judi Dench’s role as M, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, in part, I suspect, because of Dench’s unfortunate development of macular degeneration. It is fitting that she gives it her all in Skyfall. M is the role that Dame Judi Dench is most known for, making her impressive debut in 1995’s Goldeneye. Dench portrays the character as one with a brash, blunt, aggressive personality. She is a veteran of the spy game and she knows exactly how it’s played. Her overriding duty is to her country above anything else, including her dignity. Dench conveys her character’s values and personality with such force and will that Dench and her character are nearly inseparable beings.

M has always been set up as a surrogate maternal figure for Craig’s Bond, and Skyfall carries that arc to a very logical and satisfying conclusion while also featuring as a very important plot point that is explored throughout the film.

The standout in Skyfall is Javier Bardem’s performance as Silva. The veteran Spanish actor is the single most intimidating villain the franchise has ever had. There are certain points where Bardem channels his role as Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Menbut for the most part, this is an entirely different monster. Instead of relying on physicality, emotionless brutality, or weaponry, the character of Silva is an eccentric genius who operates out of sheer force of will and an insatiable lust for vengeance. Most Bond villains are forgettable tools used to drive the escapist action that the franchise is known for, but thanks to Bardem’s performance, Silva is so much more, and is assured to stay in the memories of hardcore Bond fans and the general audience alike for being a very creepy and memorable villain, thanks in part to one particularly uncomfortable scene.

It is clear that Silva will stop at nothing to get his revenge. Unlike Chigurh, he is an emotional being who operates off of a deep, impassioned feeling of hatred and betrayal, which almost makes him more intimidating.

Skyfall is a masterful work of directing by Sam Mendes.The acclaimmed and experienced director handles the franchise with ease. Masterful stunt coordination makes Skyfall one of the most exhilarating films in the franchise. This masterful direction is bolstered by some rather epic assistance from cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins creates a beautiful, vibrant world to contrast with the darkness that is the film’s main narrative. Deakins makes diverse use of colors to draw the audience’s attention. This is especially noticeable during the sequences taking place in Shanghai. Deakins and Mendes are, in fact, able to create a beautifully shot and well choreographed fight scene that is, for me, the standout stunt piece of the film. Despite the fight being relatively brief, it is intense, raw, beautiful, and captivating.

Deakins has always created beautiful establishing shots for his films as well. The long take featured in the Macau Casino does not feature any action, but is an impressive feat nonetheless; the tracking shot features no rapid cuts or edits and seamlessly shows Bond investigating and perusing the casino.

Skyfall is also elevated by an unusually deep and thematic script by Neal Purvis, John Logan, and Robert Wade. There have been 24 movies in the Bond franchise so far; there have been highs and lows. In 2012, with the 50th anniversary of the first film, Dr. No, in 1962, Skyfall is an appraisal of wether or not Bond films have been “played out.” Purvis, Wade, and Logan accomplish this by bringing the consequences of modernization to the forefront. Q boasts to Bind upon their first meeting:

“I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.”

“Oh. So why do you need me?”

“Every now and again, a trigger has to be pulled.”

Bond, Mallory, and even M herself call into question whether or not this is “their fight” any longer, considering that they may be too old-fashioned for the game.

Silva is the main antagonist of the film, but Skyfall is also a story about what was once new and exciting now being old, inefficent, and antiquated. Silva preys on Bond’s insecurities concerning these very ideas throughout the film, and does so in very effective and downright meanacing ways.

At the climax of the film, M, called to testify before a governement committee concerning her failures, solidifies this theme and insists that there is a need for agents like 007 (and thus, a need for 007 films), reading a poem by Alfred Tennyson.

Skyfall provides answers and resolution to that conflict in and of itself. If the coming James Bond films keep up with the immeasurable quality of Skyfall, then this franchise is by no means played out or antiquated, and is, in fact, reinvigorated in an immense way. The 23rd film in the franchise is undeniably one of its best, featuring brilliant acting, action, direction, cinematography, and even a great script, it will also undeniably be a very tough act to follow…

Westworld: Full Trailer

Westworld is an upcoming HBO television series based upon the 1973 film of the same name written and directed by Michael Crichton. Crichton was an acclaimed writer, director, film producer, science-fiction novelist and physician best known for authoring the 1990 novel Jurassic Parkupon which the 1997 film was based. Crichton was also the creator of the hit medical drama ER, and served as the show’s executive producer. The works of the diversely talented and extremely intelligent Dr. Crichton usually dealt with humanity’s obsession with technology and tampering with the natural order, showing what happens when humanity’s potential with technology exceeds what it is able to firmly grasp.

Crichton’s 1973 film directorial debut, Westworld told the story of a theme park in the near future called Delos. Delos is populated by lifelike, high-tech androids. There are three worlds in this park, West World, styled as the American Old West, Medieval World, and Roman World. The lifelike environment and the countless androids that populate the parks exist to allow visitors to role-play as whatever they would like. James Brolin and Richard Benjamin starred as two visitors to West World. One of the attractions, The Gunslinger, is meant to instigate duels for the visitors to participate in. The weapons issued to the guests have temperature sensors to prevent them from shooting other humans, but permit them to “kill” the androids. The Gunfighter is programmed to let the humans win and kill him, and return back the next day for new guests.

The technicians at Delos begin to notice systemic failures and malfunctions in the androids accross all three parks, spreading like an infectious disease: a robotic snake bites Benjamin’s character, an android refuses sexual advances in Medieval World and a knight kills a guest in a swordfight. This goes against the androids’ programming The frantic tehnicians are told by the Chief Supervisor:

“We aren’t dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they’ve been designed by other computers. We don’t know exactly how they work.”

Eventually, the androids begin to run amok and the Gunslinger kills nearly every patron in West World and lock the engineers out of the system. The movie follows Brolin’s character’s desperate attempt to evade The Gunslinger and escape with his life.

The film recieved critical acclaim and is considered by many to be a cult classsic film; it was the first film in history to use digital image processing to pixilate film to show an android’s point of view. The film recieved praise for its storytelling, with Variety calling the film excellent, explaining that it “combines solid entertainment, chilling topicality, and superbly intelligent serio-comic story values.”

Westworld was followed by a failed sequel and a failed television series, neither of which had any involvement with Crichton, who passed away in 2008 at 66. In 2013, HBO announced plans to revive Westworld as a television series. Despite having yet to see the original 1973 film, Westworld immediately grabbed my attention due to the very interesting ideas presented.

Westworld is brimming with potential. The idea was pitched by none other than Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan is the younger brother of acclaimmed filmmaker Christopher Nolan. He has co-written several of the screenplays for his brother’s films, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar. Jonathan wrote a short story inspired by his general psychology class at Georgetown University entitled Momento Mori. Jonathan pitched the story to his older brother on a cross-country road trip. Though the final screenplay was drastically different than Johnathan’s original story, the basic premise served as inspiration for Christopher’s critically acclaimed debut, the mind-bending psychological thriller MomentoThe original story was published by Esquire Magazine in 2001. In addition to assisting his brother, Johnathon has also been noted for serving as the creator, executive producer, and head showrunner of the CBS technothriller series Person of InterestHe directed and co-wrote several individual episodes of the critically acclaimmed series. Though it started out as a crime procedural with a very interesting premise, the series eventually evolved into a more serialized show around its third season, and broadened it’s exploration of deeper themes and the nature of artifical intelligence, which is when audiences and critics truly began to take note. Nolan is serving as head showrunner alongside Lisa Joy, his wife and former head writer for USA Network’s critically acclaimmed and well-known spy series Burn Notice.  Also serving as showrunner is the Prince of Nerds himself, J.J. Abrams. I am very doubtful his name needs any sort of introduction.

The 88-minute film managed to pack in a lot of philosophical discussion about the nature of technology and servitude in a relatively short amount of time, but that will understandably pale in comparison to what the right crew can do with a 10-hour serial. Indeed, it already seems as though the Westworld series will go much deeper than the film ever could. Headed up by Nolan, who’s entire previous project revolved around the nature of A.I, self-sentience resulting from that A.I, and humanity’s responsibilities when it comes to use of technology, and J.J. Abrams, Westworld very much so has the potential to become one of the best, if not the best, science-fiction television series.

The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.

The series will star an ensemble cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Luke Hemsworth, and Clifton Collins, Jr. With so much talent and star power evident on this project, I would be suprised and a little disappointed if Westworld doesn’t end up being another HBO staple that no one can shut up about.

The pilot episode of Westworld, which was written and directed by Jonathan Nolan, will premiere on HBO Sunday October 2nd at 9PM.

Film Review – Green Room (2015) — Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Title – Green Room (2015) Director – Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) Cast – Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner Plot – Struggling hard-core band The Ain’t Rights find themselves in a battle of life and death after a member of the band witnesses a murder scene after […]

via Film Review – Green Room (2015) — Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Prisoners

Prisoners is a 2013 American thriller drama film directed by Denis Villeneuve with a script by Aaron Guzikowski. Prisoners stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard, and Melissa Leo. Prisoners follows the lengths at which one father will go following the abduction of his daughter and her best friend on Thanksgiving Day.

Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a father of two with deep personal and religious convictions. Keller runs a carpentry business with his best friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch. On Thanksgiving Day, while playing in the streets, Anna Dover and Joy Birch are approached by an R/V and suddenly abducted. Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is assigned the case. Suspicion is immediately cast on Alex Jones, played by Paul Dano, the owner of the R/V. Jones is a mentally and emotionally stunted young man with the IQ level of a 10-year-old. The interrogation of Jones yields no fruitful leads, infuriating the distraught Keller. Keller violently confronts Jones outside the police station. The horrified and confused Jones frantically whispers to Keller: “They didn’t cry until I left them.” Keller then proceeds to abduct Jones, now convinced of his involvement, and torture him at Keller’s deceased father’s dilapidated and abandoned home. The film follows Keller and Loki desperately searching for the truth through drastically different means.

Prisoners is a decidedly dark and violent film. Though not horrific, it is certainly disturbing. Before editing, the content of the film was so graphic and violent that the MPAA gave the original cut the rating of NC-17.Prisoners is by no means a slasher flick with mountains of gore; the violence serves a purpose separate from making the viewer uncomfortable. In fact, I think the whole reason this film is genuinely disturbing isn’t the violence itself, but who is doing it and who he is doing it to. Keller Dover is a man, a man who the audience relates to. He isn’t the best at what he does and he doesn’t do it with adamantium claws. He is an honest human being with a family and ideals, ideals which he does his best to cling to. For all intents and purposes, he is us. He has been driven to violence and near madness by desperation that would plague any sane man. I believe what Villeneuve and Guzikowski are answering the question that many films of this nature ask and fail to answer: “How far would you go?” Prisoners does its best to answer this question to the fullest, depicting such raw violence to the extent that surprises and disturbs the audience.

The scene depicted above does not do any justice to just how raw Prisoners gets. Aaron Guzikowski constructs such a narrative that requires such unflinching depiction of brutality and violence, or else risk compromising the film’s central theme: “Would you do the same thing?” Guzikowski’s script is tight and delves deep into the darkness that is the human condition when faced with a combination of both hope (in the form of Alex Jones and his knowledge of what happened to the two little girls) and desperation: You will do everything and anything in your power to get what you want, even if it haunts you. Guzikowski’s script is a disturbing one, indeed, both on the surface and thematically. It is as disturbing as it is entirely engrossing.

Guzikowski’s script, of course, would fall flat if it was not backed up by near flawless performances by Dano, Gyllenhaal, and especially Jackman. Hugh Jackman ditches James Logan for a much more grounded performance, though he undoubtedly uses some of the anger he consistantly channels for Wolverine when need be, painting the portrait of a desperate, relatable, yet unhinged and unstable character that will do whatever is necessary. It is his performance that steals the show in this category; Prisoners is worth a watch for the performances alone.

 

Prisoners should also be noted for its cinematography. Roger Deakins is known as the man behind the camera for films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, No Country For Old Men, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and countless other films. With Prisoners, Deakins continues to make it known why exactly he is considered the best cinematographer in the business. Prisoners is full of excellent and intriguing camera work that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013.

Prisoners was the English-language debut of French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, coming to the attention of Hollywood after Incendies (French: Fires) was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2010. With Prisoners, Villenueve shows that he has a knack and an outright propensity for intensity and grounded, realistic, disturbing, yet somehow captivating violence, as well as unflinching explorations of the darkness of humanity and society at large. This has served him very well; Villeneuve has certainly made a name for himself since, directing Enemy in 2013, and more recently directing the excellent and equally violent and disturbing drug cartel thriller Sicario this past year. With a perfect track record thus far, Villeneuve is quickly becoming my favorite director, with the quickly approaching science-fiction film Arrival and the as of yet untitled sequel to Blade Runner being my most anticipated upcoming films.

James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part II: Quantum of Solace) (Spoilers)

2008’s Quantum of Solace was the long-awaited sequel to Daniel Craig’s excellent first outing. The film was directed by Marc Forester with a screenplay by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. Quantum of Solace picks up immediately after the end of Casino Royale, with Bond having captured the mysterious Mr. White in the closing moments of the film. Opening with a riveting car chase and a decent hard rock theme performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, it all goes downhill from there.

What made Casino Royale stand out for many among the previous films in the franchise is the fact that it actually cared about Bond, M, Vesper, and even Le Chiffre, as people. Following Vesper’s death, it feels as though Quantum of Solace should be a continuation and escalation of that. It isn’t, and that is where the major disappointment lies. Casino Royale set up 007 as a human being, with thoughts and emotions apart from his service to Queen and Country. James fell in love, and despite whatever he says to the contrary, he should want revenge for Vesper’s death. The plotline to Quantum of Solace, however, does away with the emotions and raw intensity properly established in Casino Royale and, as a result, doesn’t go anywhere.

The conflict presented in Quantum of Solace begins after Mr. White escapes from MI-6 custody as fast as he was placed into it. He does so with the help of M’s corrupt bodyguard Mitchell, who was in Mr. White’s pocket from the word go. Bond chases Mitchell around Sienna and is ultimately forced to kill him. That makes M suspicious of Bond’s ability to remain professional, which is established by an interesting interaction between Bond and M earlier in the film.

“I need to know that I can trust you.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, it’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved.”

The thesis that M puts forth is actually a very reasonable one, one that the film fails entirely to follow through on. Throughout the film, M expresses disdain and disgust for Bond’s actions throughout the film, as he appears to be racking up quite the body count for no apparent reason. She eventually has Bond arrested and detained, seeing him as a liability. The very stupid part about all this, from my perspective, is that Bond does not allow his emotions to affect his judgement in the slightest, and the people Bond kills throughout the course of the movie were necessary to complete his objectives. M’s distaste and distrust comes from nowhere but an (admittedly logical) assumption with no real evidence to back it up. That is extremely out of character for her, and seems only to manufacture conflict for a film that doesn’t really have anything interesting going on.

MI-6 tracks a marked bill that was inserted into one of Le Chiffre’s money laundering accounts to a geologist connected to a billionaire environmentalist named Dominic Greene. Greene is a member of Quantum, the organization headed by Mr. White. Greene’s plan is to initiate a coup in Bolivia to gain control of the country’s water supply. Bond meets a former intelligence officer named Camille Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko. Montes has a personal vendetta against the general behind the upcoming coup. He killed Camille’s father, and then raped her mother and sister before beating the two of them to death. Her character is the only one who presents any kind of emotional development whatsoever. Bond nor M, the two major players in this saga, show any kind of character development from where they left off during the end of Casino Royale. Bond shows no clear emotional drive for revenge, and except for escaping MI-6 custody to stop Greene’s scheme, remains entirely loyal to M and the British Government. Greene’s scheme is neither connected to White or Vesper aside from being a member of Quantum, nor does it seem particularly evil or threatening. As a sidenote, there is also a vauge hint of a sideplot involving the corrupt C.I.A. section chief of South America, and Felix Leiter’s boss, agreeing to work with Greene in exchange for oil. The chief only appears for a singular scene, Leiter for two, and nothing of consequence comes from their involvement.

Quantum of Solace, for what it’s worth, does have some very well-done action. The opening car chase is great and so is Bond’s hunt for Mitchell throughout Sienna. The film’s potential as a continuation of the new environment and new character dynamics established in Casino Royale is squandered by ignoring any and all emotion that would be expected in such a sequel, instead opting for a generic plotline that provides little to no investment for the audience, not providing any kind of closure or emotional reaction of any kind for Bond excluding the end scene.

Not only does this scene feel entirely out-of-place, forced, and somewhat random considering that the only setup we are given is ten seconds of exposition at the beginning of the film, but it also seems eerily similar to the scenes from the end of The Bourne Supremacy and the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum, the latter of which came out just one year prior to Quantum of Solace’s release, with the only difference being Bond’s intent for revenge, which was not at all established until this point, and Jason Bourne’s quest for forgiveness.

Quantum of Solace is by no means the worst Bond film. It is perhaps the most disappointing given its potential, however. It is a watchable, adequate, serviceable, yet extremely forgettable film that wasted nearly all of its potential. The surprisingly creative action sequences are still all too brief, and unlike films like John Wick or Mad Max, are not nearly creative enough, entertaining enough, or groundbreaking enough for the film to rise above the surprisingly generic and average screenplay. This waste of potential was certainly reflected in the mixed critical reception of the film and lower than expected box office returns. The relative failure of this film is undoubtedly what led to MGM facing another bout of serious financial struggles that took them a long four years to resolve.

James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part I) (Spoilers)

James Bond is a fictional character first introduced by novelist and ex-military intelligence officer Ian Fleming in 1953’s Casino Royale. The literary character was quite popular, with popularity in the United States being boosted by the fact that John F. Kennedy took a liking to the series after being introduced to the novels by a good friend and mutual acquaintance of Fleming’s. The novels and the film series that followed focus on the eponymous James Bond/007, an agent of the MI-6 (Foreign Intelligence). In the novels, Bond is described as one of the best 00 operatives currently active. The 00 designation indicates a “license to kill.” (discretionary use of lethal force if necessary in the course of their duties) The success of Fleming’s novels led film company Eon Productions and film distributor United Artists to commission a film based upon the character. The James Bond/007 film series originated with 1962’s Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. Since the momentous success of Dr. No, which arguably introduced what we now know as the modern blockbuster, there have been 23 more films. The 24th entry in the franchise, Spectre, released in October 2015. Over the course of 53 years, six actors have portrayed the role of 007: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

By the time the 20th film in the franchise was released in 2002, Die Another Day, it was clear that the series needed a complete overhaul if it was to continue on. Pierce Brosnan’s run as 007 is what I, as a die-hard fan of the series, like to refer to as “The Dark Ages.” 1995’s Goldeneye was a very entertaining film and, to this day, is known as a quintessential Bond film, with most ranking it up with classics like Goldfinger and Live and Let Die. The subsequent entries in Brosnan’s era… sucked. The plot of a James Bond film is usually ridiculous and fantastical. Goldfinger was about a German billionaire and gold tycoon’s plan to nuke Fort Knox, rendering the gold there useless, thus increasing the value of his gold. Goldeneye was about the robbery of the Bank of England and the use of a Russian spy satellite  to erase all financial information, thus crippling England’s economy. The plot of these movies are always stupid, because it’s the right kind of stupid… fun stupid. James Bond foils these plots with equally fantastical spy gadgets and cool cars with spy gadgets in them. It was a winning formula, until it wasn’t. Following Goldeneye, the plot’s that 007 foiled went from being stupid to being straight up nonsense. Tomorrow Never Dies follows a media mogul’s plan to start World War III to boost his coverage and sales. That’s boring and stupid… this time the wrong kind. The World is Not Enough follows Bond acting as bodyguard for an oil tycoon’s daughter after he is assassinated by a terrorist. It is revealed that the daughter and the terrorist were in cahoots (the terrorist held the daughter captive before the events of the film began, and she developed Stockholm Syndrome), and they’re planning to cause a nuclear meltdown to… I don’t even know, the Wikipedia summary is even stupid.

Die Another Day was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Also jokingly called Buy Another Day, Die Another Day featured a sickening amount of product placement, and unlike some other reviewers, I am usually never bothered by product placement, even if it is rather shameless. Here, it was literally shoved down your throat. It was staggering, even for a universally loved and known franchise such as this. It also featured Halle Berry as 007’s love interest, a North Korean albino military commander, another North Korean colonel (and the film’s main villain) who uses gene therapy to change his appearance, assume the identity of a  wealthy British socialite named Gustav Graves, who plans to use a satellite that can harness solar energy to cut a path through the DMZ so North Korea can invade South Korea. Also this…

Die Another Day was a disaster of a movie but a box office success, as all 007 films have been. It was clear that someone at MGM/Eon Productions knew the franchise was in need of a reboot. MGM was plagued by severe financial troubles and the Bond franchise went radio silent. In 2004, after MGM was rescued by Sony Pictures, (that is extremely ironic if you know the current state of Sony Pictures right now) the search was on for the next 007. As is typical, many big stars like Clive Owen were rumored to pick up the mantle. On October 14th, 2005, it was announced that the blond-haired. blue-eyed Daniel Craig would become the sixth actor to play James Bond in an adaptation of Fleming’s original novel, Casino Royale. People were furious. In Fleming’s novels, Bond, facially, is described as resembling Hoagy Carmichael. In terms of physical description, generally it is said that Bond has a “slim build; a three-inch long, thin vertical scar on his right cheek; blue-grey eyes; a ‘cruel’ mouth; short, black hair, a comma of which falls on his forehead. Physically he is described as 183 centimetres (6 feet) in height and 76 kilograms (168 lb) in weight.” (From Wikipedia)

 

Fleming007impression

An original sketch by Fleming

Craig looks nothing like literary Bond, but neither did Roger Moore. People threatened to boycott the film, with websites popping up protesting Craig, bondisnotblond.com being one of them. Boy, they look really stupid now.

***

Casino Royale was the reboot the franchise desperately needed. It was the first film to stray from the formula, and it was awesome. Directed by Martin Campbell with a screenplay by series veterans Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, the film does away with gadgets and plots for world domination or destruction, instead being a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel, which I have read.

In the film, James Bond is a newly minted 00 operative who is on the hunt for Le Chiffre, played by the brilliant Swedish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Le Chiffre is a mathematical genius and banker who handles money belonging to several terrorist organizations on behalf of a mysterious shadow organization represented by Mr. White. Le Chiffre plays the stock market with his clients’ money and looses. In order to recoup that loss and avoid the wrath of his murderous clients, he enters a high stakes poker tournament at the fictional Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond, the best poker player in the Secret Intelligence Service, is assigned to enter the tournament, beat Le Chiffre, and then offer him sanctuary in exchange for everything he knows. While certainly a complicated and expensive operation, in comparison to Moonraker, this is as down-to-earth (pun intended) as the franchise has ever gotten.

The best thing about Craig’s Bond is that he is (in this film, at least) an actual character. Previous incarnations of Bond have all been flat and static characters. He never changed at all as a person. He got a mission to save the world, met a hot chick, and saved the world. That was it. He didn’t need to do anything else because the charm and stunt work carried it through. He honestly wasn’t too interesting of a character in the films up until this point. After Die Another Day, Purvis and Wade must have realized they needed to have a solid narrative background in case the action ended up like before. Lucky for them, the literary character of James Bond as created by Fleming is actually very interesting.

According to a fictional dossier developed as viral marketing for the film, James was born to Andrew and Monique Bond in 1968. They were tragically killed in a climbing accident in the Swiss Alps when he was eleven. (Depending on the author writing the story, sometimes Bond’s parents are revealed to be MI-6 operatives, although due to the countless number of authors to pick up the torch after Fleming, this has been contradicted. The Bond series, both literary and film, doesn’t adhere to a fixed canon.) After their death, he is raised by his Aunt Charmain and educated at Eton School for one year until being expelled for “repeated curfew violations and trouble with one of the maids.” Later, he boxed competitively at Fettes and formed the first judo team for the public school circuit. After school, Bond joins the Royal Navy, excelling in his training in every way. He was first an intelligence officer aboard a vessel. He did not feel challenged by his duties and transferred to the Special Boat Service. He excelled at the grueling training once again, equaling or exceeding the skills of his superior officers after very little experience. His extraordinary skill in all areas led to his placement in the 030 Special Forces Group. While in the 030, he served with distinction, performing covert action in Iraq, Iran, Serbia, and Libya, as well as active service in Bosnia, where he is credited with saving the lives of 100 men from a Serbian militia in a small village. Due to his exemplary service, Bond was awarded the rank of Commander and transferred to the Defense Intelligence Group. Afterwards, he retires from the Royal Navy at the age of 30 and joins MI-6. While at the DI, Bond once again impressed his superiors, undertaking hazardous and valorous missions and providing valuable intelligence. His superiors did take issue with Bond’s casual and cavalier attitude towards the chain of command and borderline insubordination. Indeed, Bond’s psychological profile shows troubling issues stemming from the death of his parents, including abandonment issues, lack of any significant close personal relationships of any kind, pathological distrust of authority, and emotional immaturity.

The 2006 dossier developed for Bond is almost entirely consistent with the backstory Fleming created, with only minor details being changed to fit the modern timeline.(originally a World War II combatant, Germany instead of Afghanistan, etc.) I am unsure as to why those in charge of the previous films did not use this backstory to spice things up. Probably because they didn’t need to. Here, though, the backstory comes in handy. Craig’s Bond is not a sociopath, but just doesn’t give a crap about emotions… or murder… or people… or anything, really. And that fits with a character with that kind of backstory (in the novels, Bond actually lied about his age to join the military, so combat experience at such a young age probably further hardened him and messed him up psychologically). “Kind of a sociopath” is actually exactly how Fleming wrote the character. People seem to be under the impression that Bond is nice. Bond is not, nor has he ever been a nice guy. Yes, Roger Moore couldn’t help but be nice, but Connery, Dalton, Brosnan, and Lazenby weren’t all that nice. From the opening scene  onwards, it is clear that, physical appearance notwithstanding, Ctaig is literary Bond to a T.

Casino Royale may forgo the crazy gadgets and ridiculous megalomania, but it certainly didn’t lose the action. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, viewers are presented with an extensive parkour chase sequence that, in my opinion, is possibly the best action sequence in the franchise.

The sequence ends with Bond basically blowing up an embassy, leading to M’s (played by longtime series veteran Judi Dench) reintroduction into the franchise.

It is clear that Judi Dench’s M is meant to be a very important character in this new timeline. Like the previous Bonds, M was a tool to provide exposition and a central conflict, and was not seen again until the end of the film. In Casino Royale, like Craig’s Bond, we now know what M is thinking, we know her emotions, and we know her feelings. Casino Royale is the first movie in the long-running franchise to provide real character development, leading to emotional investment, leading the audience to remember more than hot girls and set pieces as they leave the theater.

The film does not skip out on hot girls, though. This time, instead of a throwaway we never learn anything about or ever see again, we have Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green. Lynd, in both the novels and the film, is the first person Bond has fallen in love with. Much like the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, the fact that Vesper is an intelligent woman who is too smart to fall for his boyish charm is the reason Bond falls for her.

Lynd is the Treasury agent who is in charge of the money and also a part of his cover, that being the role of a loving couple. Throughout the film, Vesper takes none of the crap Bond tries to sell her, but ends up melting his heart. In the climax of the film, both are captured and tortured by Le Chiffre in what I consider possibly the single most perilous scene in the entire series.

After being rescued, both recuperate with an excursion to Rome. The lovestruck Bond retires from MI-6. It is, rather unceremoniously, uncovered that Vesper is working for Mr. White, the man seemingly behind everything.

I feel as though Casino Royale‘s major flaw is the speed at which it takes Vesper’s betrayal. There is little to no emotional impact for the viewer. I would personally liked to have seen such a major event in the character’s history be handled much more delicately. Nevertheless, Casino Royale handles Bond’s transition from the young and cocky agent to the battle hardened veteran with grace and ease, Vesper’s all-to-swift betrayal and death notwithstanding. Casino Royale is a brilliant first outing for Daniel Craig, a more than serviceable adaptation of the 1953 novel, and does an admirable job updating the character for modern audience. After the high-point that was this film, people were very hopeful that the sequel would reach the same heights, and maybe even raise the bar. We’ll talk about that in Part II, though.