TBT: Casino Royale (2006)

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. . .as if it was going to be anything else! Or maybe the choice isn’t as obvious as I think it is. Despite the fact that 2006 doesn’t seem like much of a ‘throwback,’ per se, and that I just sent in a Guest List for the 007 Best Moments in this very film to The Cinema Monster, this still feels like one of the ultimate James Bond films.  . . a natural and perfect way to cap off a month of James Bond Throwbacks. Disagree? Well then you can do what the Puritans did: get the eff out! 😀 😀

In the spirit of getting out, indeed that is what happens today: out with the old and in with the new; a brand-spanking new style and tone to a franchise long since in decay with the advent of simply over-the-top technological devices and crummier and crummier stories. Much as I don’t want to call Brosnan one of the worst, he certainly had the unfortunate luck of being surrounded by some of the poorest material to date. 

Today’s food for thought: Casino Royale

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Status Active: November 17, 2006

[Theater]

Mission Briefing: Fresh off an assignment in which he must eliminate two targets in order to achieve double-0 status, Bond is now faced with the prospect of tracking down Le Chiffre, a cunning and merciless terrorist financier whose grip on the black market grows more powerful with each passing second. A high-stakes poker game set up in Montenegro will be Bond’s best chance of outwitting the dangerous man.

Mission Support: 

  • Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) — fiercely intelligent and every bit as poetically disdainful as the young, trigger-happy 007; represents the British treasury and keeps a watchful eye over Bond in the poker game; a close friend of 007 but whose true identity may not be entirely trusted
  • René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) — 007’s Montenegro contact and a shady fellow, also not to be entirely trusted; approach with caution
  • Solange (Caterina Murino) — girlfriend of Le Chiffre henchman Alex Dimitrios; possible distraction who could be in possession of some useful information; interrogate using any means necessary
  • Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) — American agent on behalf of the CIA
  • Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) — sinister second-tier threat to operations leaders, but is a known associate of Le Chiffre; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) — financier to several of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and a mathematical genius who likes to prove it playing his hand at cards; cold and emotionless, he is an excellent calculator of human behavior and persistent at getting what he wants; must be stopped at all costs
  • Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) — liaison for third-party organization whose identity is not yet identified; at this time MI6 holds Le Chiffre in higher priority than Mr. White, but he is nonetheless a figure of significance; approach with extreme prejudice

Q Branch: [ERROR – file missing]

Performance Evaluation: As if to give the Bond of old a mercy kill with this necessary re-booting of Britain’s most dangerous spy, director Martin Campbell set his sights on recapturing the cold steely pain of James Bond, bastard child and loyal protector of England. His selection of Daniel Craig and decision to dispense with much of the cheese that was beginning to bog the films down, were key in distinguishing Casino Royale as a truly compelling recounting of how Bond was born.

Not only does he wear the single-breasted Brioni dinner jacket — as noted by a certain perceptive British treasurer — with a level of disdain we aren’t used to witnessing before, but Craig’s willingness to sacrifice his body effects determination and aggression more in line with what readers of the beloved novels have consistently expected and even more consistently been denied. Not to mention, screenwriters smartly take advantage of contemporary issues such as post-September 11 paranoias and use them to champion relevance and gravitas that’s more convincing than Bond’s previous scuffles with the Soviets.

As Bond takes it upon himself to insert himself into the Bahamas and other exotic locales in an effort to track down MI6’s latest target, the man known as Le Chiffre, a brilliant and determined banker who earns his riches by funding global terrorism. Because he’s fresh on the job, M (played by Judi Dench in one of the film’s more frustrating yet ultimately understandable moves) finds herself with her hands full as she attempts to keep tabs on her fledgling 00 agent. Packed with spectacular action sequences — the opening parkour scene is particularly memorable — perhaps never more exotic locations, and possessing a refreshing level of vitality for both the character and the franchise, Casino Royale has managed to overcome the wave of skepticism initially facing it by delivering one of the sexiest and most thrilling installments yet.

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5-0Recommendation: It’s funny thinking back on the controversy surrounding the casting of Daniel Craig now, as he has continued to make the role his own ever since, following up this solid performance with equally convincing turns in Quantum of Solace and of course, most recently in Skyfall. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea; he’s certainly more callous than Brosnan and more physical and possibly more brutal than Connery, but it’s difficult to imagine the series persisting had it not been for Craig’s introduction. This first outing for him finds the spy at his most vulnerable. Anyone a fan of the books is sure to find great enjoyment in watching him develop here. Not to mention, this film suits fans of solid action films. They don’t get much better than this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 144 mins.

Quoted:  “All right. . .by the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, my guess is you didn’t come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means that you were at that school by the grace of someone else’s charity: hence that chip on your shoulder. And since your first thought about me ran to orphan, that’s what I’d say you are. Oh, you are? I like this poker thing. And that makes perfect sense! Since MI6 looks for maladjusted young men, who give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect queen and country. You know. . .former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches.”

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TBT: From Russia with Love (1964)

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Yes, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is going on. This much is true. Somewhere out there amongst the trees and suffocating humidity of Brazil some folks are kicking funny-colored balls around and trying to get them into little rectangular nets at opposing ends of a long, intensely well-groomed patch of grass. No, I like the sport of feet-ball, I really do. Or at least I appreciate it from a safe, respectable distance. I’m not so into it that I’ve gotten the scarf yet or painted my face into crazy distorted shapes that would have a good chance of scaring kids on Halloween but the quadrennial event effectively manages to capture my attention each time. (This time I guess the joke’s on Spain?) The ultimate joke, though, is really on me I think, for letting this classic slip through the cracks for so long. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned romp throughout Russia with Sean Connery and a hot babe hanging off his arm. This was also quite the struggle as far as prioritizing between this or Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond. Good as Connery is in the role — appearance-wise, he suits it best — the stories around Connery, I’m finding, are just not quite as involving as the modern stories have become. There is, however, delicious nostalgic appeal to films like 

Today’s food for thought: From Russia with Love

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Status Active: May 27, 1964

[Netflix]

Mission Briefing: After killing one of Spectre’s top agents in the form of Dr. No, James Bond finds himself targeted by the global terrorist network as he partners up with Russian beauty Tatiana Romanova in order to retrieve a sensitive war device known mysteriously as ‘The Machine.’ A Russian decoding device, referred to as The Machine, represents heightening tensions between Soviet and American politics as the Cold War continues, with the British Secret Service attempting to intervene and prevent further incident. James Bond will have to overcome his weakness for women in order to recover the device and succeed in his mission.

Mission Support: 

  • Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) — supportive of anything 007 will ever do; approach with caution
  • Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) — holds critical information about Spectre and its members; a valuable although still more expendable resource
  • Rosa Klebb, a.k.a. ‘Number Three’ (Lotte Lenya) — hostile Soviet member of Spectre; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Kronsteen a.k.a. ‘Number Five’ (Vladek Sheybal) — master chess player who likes to use his skills for predicting Bond’s every next move; it is possible to stay one step ahead of his game, though, if careful
  • Grant (Robert Shaw) — Spectre’s hunk of muscle equally skilled in hand-to-hand combat who is sent to deal with any complications that arise in the theft of The Machine; approach with extreme prejudice
  • ‘Number One’ (Eric Pohlman, voice; Anthony Dawson, body) — one of the prime targets of MI6 is also very cat-friendly but his affection for death and destruction should not be ignored; perhaps one day 007 will get to meet the man face-to-face, but for now, maintain distance
  • Sylvia (Eunice Grayson) — additional eye candy. . .because, you know. Reasons.

Q Branch: Oh, ho-ho, boy-oh-boy do I have a treat for you, 007! This mission will require the use of this one very specific briefcase I have for you. But. . be careful not to open it the wrong way, old chap. Wouldn’t want you to be blown away by what you see, would we?

Performance Evaluation: Sean Connery’s second time around as England’s most dangerous/sexy spy courts even greater danger as his antics in Dr. No just two years prior have incurred the wrath of Spectre, a terrorist organization that will stop at nothing to eliminate this threat to the Soviet’s attempts to win the Cold War. From Russia with Love is the next logically progressive step for James Bond as he operates on Her Majesty’s wishes to keep crown and country above all else. Unfortunately this incredibly misogynistic production is lightyears away from being anything close to being a politically correct film. But I guess we don’t care about those kinds of things when we sign up for the new James Bond movie, do we?

In fairness, we’ve returned almost to the source of Ian Fleming’s rumination on the terrifying dominance of the Soviet Union in this day in age. The character of James Bond was a way of explaining a rational path through the fear and paranoia the world had been plunged into for years on end. It may be a stretch to imagine that Fleming’s apparent hatred and distrust of women (see any number of female leads in these early films getting slapped around as if they were Bond’s personal punching bags) was a simple manifestation of the author’s frustrations of the time into which he was born, but it wouldn’t be the craziest jump to conclusions one could make. There’s plenty verbal and physical mistreatment to be found here, as Bond finds himself unwittingly (but not reluctantly) in the arms of a beautiful Russian spy whose loyalty to her own country absolutely must be questioned.

Along with her shady motives, Bond must also be looking over his shoulder for the treacherous and physically stout Red Grant, Russia’s pride and joy and perhaps Bond’s equal in hand-to-hand combat. Amounting to little more than a thug sent by the sinister Klebb, Grant is on a collision course with Bond in a last-ditch effort by Spectre to eliminate Britain’s involvement in a gradually escalating crisis.

From Russia with Love sports acceptable action sequences, though its colorful imagery, exoticism and period detail has been slightly damaged in the constant comparisons to over 40 years’ worth of James Bond cinema. The novel’s sense of adventure and political tension is recovered, though. And there’s no doubt there are particularly heart-racing moments that nearly stand toe-to-toe to scenes of the modern versions. In the end, though, this particular entry shows its colors on a few too many occasions in terms of its position in mainstream Hollywood and by continuing to perpetuate the ideals of the 60s and 70s that it’s very much a man’s world out there. Guess we need to get used to that, though, for there’s far more of it to come.

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3-5Recommendation: For Bond fanatics, the second Bond film from Terence Young ought to be one of the first of the films viewed, especially if one is to get a sense of continuity and a real perspective on who this near-legendary secret agent is and how he operates. Barring clunky, horrendously cheesy dialogue (par for the course, I’m afraid), over-the-top sound effects and the abysmal attitude held about women in this period, From Russia with Love is a mostly successful action adventure. Connery also has the added benefit of being the first actor to take on the iconic role, and although opinions will always vary on who the best Hollywood fit really is, there can be very little arguing that this man did it with a degree of style unmatched by any other since. Now, if there was only something fans could do to shake an older Connery out of his slurred-speech phase. . .

Rated: PG (okay. . .this is really quite ridiculous, 1960s. . .I mean, the sexual innuendo alone. . .ah forget it)

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Goldeneye (1995)

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It’s a brand new month and once again time for a whole new way to dork out on Throwback Thursday. After taking the week off last week I am back and feeling refreshed after sifting through a month of Adam Sandler films. (Speculation is probably going to run high about whether I threw in the towel on that theme or if I just simply got lazy and didn’t do a fifth TBT for the month. . .either way, I ain’t tellin’!) But we’re back and better than ever, and it’s time to look back on some classic action films, and I wish now that this month had more Thursdays because pairing down the canon of James Bond films to just four is going to be some task. But I’m willing to do it, as long as you’re willing to trust me that I know what I’m doing (I don’t). I’m really just going to be making this up as I go along — because how can I honestly up and declare that these four that I select for the month are ‘the best?’ What I will do though, is call these four my favorites, and that they best represent the series based on the actor playing 007 at the time. So let the espionage, back-stabbery and misogyny commence!

Today’s food for thought: Goldeneye

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Status Activate: November 17, 1995

[VHS]

Mission Briefing: 007 is tasked with preventing a nuclear space weapon from firing on London. In order to do this he has no choice but to expose the identity of the terrorist, believed to be a former MI6 agent, confront him and stop him at all costs.

Mission Support: 

  • Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) — to be quite frank, purely emotional support
  • Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) — can be kind of flaky but will show support if necessary
  • Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) — not the kind of support any agent wants or needs; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) — technical back-up
  • Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) — loyalty unquestioned, though a man with serious trust issues
  • General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov (Gottfried John) — a man supportive of his own ambitions, and considered a traitor to his country; MI6’s top suspect in the attack on Severnaya; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Russian Defense Minister Dmitri Mishkin (Tchéky Karyo) — slightly ambiguous motives; approach with caution

Q Branch: Q (Desmond Llewelyn) strongly advocates the use of several small devices that might help you out of a tight spot, particularly if you have any interest in pursuing this slippery Ourumov fella. A quick rig of your belt buckle and a simple exploding pen should do the trick. Best of luck out there Bond.

Performance Evaluation: Rico Suave, a.k.a. Pierce Brosnan in his first outing gets betrayed by fellow agent — though apparently his inferior, based on his 006 status — Alec Trevelyan when a botched mission in an underground laboratory in Arkhangelsk, Russia leads to the two forming starkly different views on loyalty. . .to the mission, to the Crown, and ultimately to one another. Goldeneye is a rather emotionally charged action adventure that’s inarguably Brosnan’s finest hour in the tux.

Leaping from one ultra-classic action set piece to the next, Goldeneye tries not to slow down and almost forgets to breathe in its own gorgeous scenery though occasional slow moments are injected to ground the drama if only temporarily.

Characters are not only memorable but effective. Look no further than Jack Wade for some nice comic relief in addition to the requisite Q branch scenes, and at the heart of the drama lies the decay of a once sturdy friendship, which has gravity thanks to chemistry between Brosnan and Bean. Villains Ourumov and particularly Onatopp prove to be worthy opponents, and nerdy programmer Boris Grishinko provides yet another comedic thread, whose own fate may be the most suitable and uncanny of them all.

Perhaps it helps that the film was backed up by a quality (and classic, if you ask me) video game — Goldeneye is a serious magnet for nostalgia. Considering that Brosnan turned out to be not among the greatest portrayals, it’s an even more impressive feat that this turns out to leave quite the impression on the cinematic landscape. Ian Fleming would be proud of this one. And even though it’s not Martin Campbell’s best (such a distinction is reserved for his unforgettable Casino Royale), it gives his latest a serious run for it’s money in terms of being memorable.

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Sean Bean about to be set adrift on memory bliss . . .

4-0Recommendation: Anyone who is a fan of the franchise has a soft spot for this gem. Like the Walther PPK or Bond’s signature martini, it’s simply a classic, for lack of a better word. Swift, sexy and (un)subtle, this film is a great load of fun and a definitive staple of the 1990s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “I AM INVINCIBLE!”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com