CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violent Action, a scene of Torture, Sexual Content and Nudity

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Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis

(based on the novel CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini & Simon Abkarian

The original James Bond series ran four decades and twenty films. Like any other movie franchise, it had definite ups and downs. 007 may have started off as a trend-setter in the cinematic world, but the franchise constantly found itself cashing in on other popular genres (e.g. kung-fu in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, cop dramas in LICENCE TO KILL, etc.). When DIE ANOTHER DAY (the fourth and final Brosnan entry) turned out to be an embarrassment, it became apparent that Bond was in desperate need of a reboot. Most reboots are seen as useless cash-ins or lame-brained attempts to reinvigorate doomed franchises. 2006’s CASINO ROYALE manages to surpass any and all preconceived notions about reboots as well as 007 films. This is one of the very best Bond movies we’ve ever received!

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James Bond is an MI6 agent who has recently received his 00-status. Armed with a license to kill, Bond draws some attention when he kills a terrorist at an embassy. As much as the strict M (Bond’s boss) doesn’t care for his radical tactics and hot-headed ego, she recognizes that he’s the best card-player in MI6. This skill will come in handy as Bond is assigned to enter a high-stakes poker tournament run by Le Chiffre, a nefarious banker who funds international terrorism. Aided by an HM Treasury agent, Bond finds himself sucked into an intense mental battle between himself and La Chiffre that gets more dangerous with each passing second.

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Out of all the actors to don the tux, I do believe that Daniel Craig might be my favorite Bond. Part of this stems from him being so unlike any of the other actors who have played the character before him. The rest of this comes from the iconic secret agent being written as a vulnerable, flawed human being. As fun as the original Bond is, you can’t deny that he’s one-note in his sexist treatment towards women and smart-ass attitude (complete with bad puns). Craig’s Bond is still a suave ladies’ man and action hero, but has a sensitive appeal as well. The script develops him as an emerging secret agent and serves as a compelling origin story. As Bond girl Vesper Lynd, Eva Green does a damn fine job and serves as a strong character in her own right. Much like Craig, Green is far different from any other Bond girl previously glimpsed in the series. Serving on the side are Jeffrey Wright (as CIA operative Felix), Giancarlo Giannini (as an aid to Bond) and Judi Dench (reprising her role as M).

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Besides the protagonist serving as a welcome change of pace in the series, Mads Mikkelsen also serves as a phenomenal antagonist. Mads has proven through NBC’s HANNIBAL that he’s very good at being bad. CASINO ROYALE sees him the role of a well-developed villain. He’s not just a cookie-cutter madman with a nuke. Instead, there are scenes that humanize him and make him that much more intimidating for it. We see how desperate La Chiffre’s situation is. We know how far he’ll go to keep his money from getting into Bond’s hands and why he’ll resort to such violent lengths. The tone of CASINO ROYALE is far more intense and brutal than any of the previous Bonds, but doesn’t ever go too dark. The visuals are well-shot and there is plenty of crazy action to be had, though the movie also takes time to dramatically develop the proceedings. What results is a beautifully constructed film in which scenes of people playing poker become just as intense as gun fights or car chases. The screenplay does a wonderful job of keeping the viewer on their toes and (unless you’ve read the book) you never really know where things are heading next.

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CASINO ROYALE is my favorite Bond movie thus far (though I haven’t seen SKYFALL yet). Opening with one of the catchiest tunes in the franchise, this secret agent reboot weaves together a fantastic origin story. Craig delivers a 007 that’s far different from anyone else in the series and is made all the better for it. The action is harshly realistic, but never crosses the line into being unnecessarily gratuitous. Mads’s villain is also fleshed out far more than other Bond baddies in the franchise. Simply put, CASINO ROYALE is not only one of the most spectacular Bond films yet, but it’s also one of the best reboots to ever hit the big screen!

Grade: A+

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a number of sequences of Action/Violence, and for some Sexuality

Goldeneye poster

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Gottfried John, Robbie Coltrane & Alan Cumming

The seventeenth Bond film in the series and the eighth in my 007 retrospective, GOLDENEYE brings a fresh-faced, modern take on Bond. It turns out that through studio disputes and (possibly) poor reception to Timothy Dalton’s previous outing (which is my pick for the worst Bond film I’ve seen thus far) was enough to sort of “reboot” the franchise. This 90’s Bond takes off with material that’s in line with the rest of the franchise and does so with an even more action-packed style. GOLDENEYE brought Pierce Brosnan to the screen as 007 and managed to be a big hit, both financially and critically. After watching it, there’s no surprise as to why that is.

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In the mid-80’s, oo7 and 006 (Bond’s partner and best friend) undertook a mission to destroy a Soviet biological weapon facility. The mission was an overall success, but 006 was killed in the process. Nearly a decade later, Bond finds himself on the trail of a super weapon that has fallen into very dangerous hands. This weapon is able to detonate locations from outer space and only one person has survived its power. The sole survivor is Natalya Simonova and Bond is forced to partner up with her. The search for the weapon will lead Bond to a sadistic murderer as well as a familiar face from the past (take a guess as to who that could possibly be).

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First things first, how’s Pierce Brosnan as Bond? Some people I’ve spoken with really don’t like him as the iconic secret agent, but I actually dig Brosnan’s 007 quite a lot. He seems to be taking the old-school Connery approach. By this, I mean that he balances a charismatic ladies man attitude with a likable action hero persona. I totally bought him as the character. However, certain Bond films are only as good as their villains and the baddie here is amazing. It’s not a spoiler (considering that most plot descriptions give more away than I will) to say that Sean Bean is impressive as a rogue agent. Seeing as Bean’s character was a former MI6 agent, it makes him a far more intimidating foe because he knows all of Bond’s tricks intimately. This also leads to tense confrontations and damn near impossible life-or-death situations that Bond finds himself trying to escape. Bean isn’t the only impressive baddie though as Famke Janssen plays a henchwoman who literally gets off on the violence she inflicts. Her scenes are both frightening and darkly hilarious in a really sick way.

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The Bond girl this time around comes in the form of Izabella Scorupco. I really enjoyed her performance as Natalya and she asks a question that few Bond girls have ever dared ask. She gets frustrated at the violence Bond inflicts and asks him why he must kill his enemy as opposed to merely thwarting and capturing them. This verbal bombshell gives her character far more development than most of the Bond girls from previous films. However, Natalya’s complaints fall on deaf ears as GOLDENEYE is pretty much constant action that moves a rip-roaring pace. The plot may resemble Bond movies of the past, but it’s executed in a bigger, better and smarter way. The Bond girl is a survivor of a horrific attack. The villain is a former friend of 007’s and not simply a cat-stroking, eye-patch-wearing madman. The weapon isn’t simply a nuclear bomb, but a threat that can hit from space. The sense of humor works with Alan Cummings playing an “invincible” hacker whose punchline is well worth a potentially annoying running joke. There’s also a fantastic chase scene in which Bond pursues the baddies through the city streets in a friggin’ tank (yes, you read that right!).

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The best part about GOLDENEYE is that it feels like a Bond movie that’s seen the rest of the Bond series. It’s not simply repeating well-worn clichés and staples in the series. Instead, it’s using the previous films to its advantage in keeping the viewer on their toes. The villain is well-aware of MI6 protocols and Bond’s personality, which makes him a more intimidating presence. There’s a Bond girl who actually is frightened and upset by the bloodshed around her, instead of merely shrugging it off as part of the battle. The whole plot is smart and thwarts expectations set by the series. Overall, GOLDENEYE stands as a fantastic example of why James Bond can survive various actors, over 20 films, and decades of pop culture. In the right hands, this material provides some of the best spy entertainment ever brought to the screen!

Grade: A

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