Friday, January 30, 2015

The Bond Films - 1962 - 2012

Having shotgunned all 23 of Eon's Bond movies over the past month I thought I should do a round up  of how I viewed them and rated them. I can't do a 1 - 23 ranking and I think in some ways that's a little unfair to the individual films and those involved with them, besides anything like that is fraught with disaster, because it's highly subjective and personal. I have a friend who rates some higher than I do and rates others much lower. My wife likes some I can't stand. I'll break them up into four categories: The 00's (the best of the best), Shaken Not Stirred (good, but not great), The Felix Leiters (mostly bad, some good) and The Blofelds (all bad).

Because they're grouped I don't do specific order, but I'll list them in order of release date.

The 00's:

Goldfinger: this is where the Bond that most people identify with really started. It was the franchise's 3rd film and had a number of things associated with it that recurred and that are still associated with the character. It featured the first big hit song sung by Shirley Bassey, it had the first genuine pre credit sequence that was like a mini movie on it's own, it was the second appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, but the first time we saw him cultivate the grumpy old inventor character that became the hallmark of MI6's gadget master, Goldfinger was a larger than life villain, with an equally interesting henchman in the mute Korean manservant with the razor edged top hat, it was the first appearance of the DB5, which although it isn't used often since is still one of the agent's most memorable vehicles. Pussy Galore remains one of the best known Bond girls, largely because of her silly and risqué name. It has some great lines: 'I never joke about my work, 007.' 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!' Connery played the role to perfection. Guy Hamilton's over the top directing really set a standard that others strove to match.

The Spy Who Loved Me: in Roger Moore's 3rd outing he and the character clicked. The plot was insane, but it worked. Lewis Gilbert was a welcome change from Guy Hamilton's directing which had spiralled out of control to the extent that he didn't seem to care about the acting, just the stunts. Russia's Agent XXXAnya Amasova is the closest that they had come at that point to getting a female equivalent to Bond. Some don't like Barbara Bach's performance, but I thought she did quite a good job. Two elements: the submersible Lotus and the Union Jack parachute have forever been associated with Bond since and are always remembered from the film. Jaws was the most memorable henchman since Oddjob and became one of the most loved. After a departure from what people felt of as genuine Bond films in Roger Moore's first two outings as the character it got back to that feel and storyline, and Stromberg was Blofeld in everything, but name.

Goldeneye: two words that immediately make this a superior film: Martin Campbell. With Campbell as director and Pierce Brosnan in the role he was born to play, Goldeneye rejuvenated the franchise and brought it back triumphantly after a 6 year hiatus. Brosnan was surrounded by a fantastic cast: Judi Dench as the best M ever (a role she would repeat in 6 other films), Robbie Coltrane playing Valentin ZukovskySean Bean as the two faced Alec Trevelyan also known as Janus and the over the top Xenia Onatopp played by Dutch model Famke Jannsen. It would become the measuring stick for the Bond films, and unfortunately none of Brosnan's other Bond films lived up to it. It does lose some points for the naff Tina TurnerU2 written song, though.

Casino Royale: when you need to rejuvenate something call on Martin Campbell. That's what they did here to reboot Bond. There's almost nothing about this film that does not work. It's dark, brutal and brilliant. This feels like a spy movie. This is Bond for the 21st century. New Bond Daniel Craig is ably supported by Judi Dench, the surprising Eva Green in the role of Vesper Lynd and Mads Mikkelson as Le Chiffre. I've said it before that this is about as close to perfect as a Bond film can get.

Shaken Not Stirred:

From Russia With Love: the second Bond film and the producers and director had found their feet a little now they'd worked out exactly what type of film they wanted to make. The story is solid and has a good Cold War feel about it. Tatiana Romonova as played by Daniella Bianchi still makes one of the most stunningly beautiful women that has ever appeared in the films, even 50 years later. The other co-stars in Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya play their roles to perfection and lift the film as a whole. Connery was still growing into the role. The casual sexism which is amped up from Dr. No drops it down a notch or two, this was something that seemed more prevalent in the Terence Young directed Bonds than in those he didn't helm. There's some very dodgy green screen work that also lets the film down.

You Only Live Twice: I'd always remembered this as a fairly uninspiring entry, but my mind changed on this most recent rewatch. Again the story has a bit more to it than some of the others, that may be due to Roald Dahl's scriptwriting. The beefing up of the Aki role, which while accidental, works very well. Lewis Gilbert's artistic direction was a welcome change and fitted the times. Donald Pleasance in the Blofeld role remains the best version of the character. It's let down by a few things: one is Nancy Sinatra's clearly nervous rendition of the song, the addition of the ninjas was really too over the top, Mie Hama's atrocious acting and the very unconvincing disguise of Sean Connery as a Japanese fisherman.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: I'd let the poor performance of George Lazenby as Bond colour my view of this. I went into it expecting it to be a Blofeld or maybe a Felix Leiter, but the more I watched it and thought about it wound up in Shaken Not Stirred. It's not perfect by a long shot, but it has one of the best stories in the entire franchise, it's certainly one of the best Fleming ones. Diana Rigg as Tracy Vincenzo, the woman Bond marries, proved that Bond girls weren't just pretty scenery, they could act as well. The setting and the stunts are wonderful to look at. However it's hard to get past the minuses in this one. Lazenby's total and complete lack of acting ability are chief among them and related to that is absolutely no chemistry between he and Diana Rigg. The decision to replace Donald Pleasance with Telly Savalas, who aside from being bald bears no resemblance to the other man, as Blofeld is mystifying and then there's Peter Hunt's horrible directing.

For Your Eyes Only: this really should have been filmed after The Spy Who Loved Me as intended. There are still elements of the script that indicate this, the pre credit scene with Bond visiting Tracy's grave and then his encounter with 'Blofeld' are evidence of it. It's a good solid revenge story, with some lovely settings and a better than expected performance from former model Carole Bouquet as the vengeful, crossbow wielding Melina Havelock. It was John Glen's first outing as director and he did a good job, it's probably the best of his films. Julian Glover and Topol have a great time chewing up the scenery as the villain Aris Kristatos and the roguish smuggler Columbo respectively. Sheena Easton's theme song remains my favourite of the entire series. James Villier's performance as a highly critical Bill Tanner was badly judged though and I still think Bond should have punched him in the face. Moore is already starting to look a little old.

Licence To Kill: surely this is in the wrong place people are thinking. It's not. I've never quite understood the level of hate for this one. Dalton does a better job in Licence To Kill than he did in The Living Daylights and he was starting to get a feel for the character and how he should play it. He's got a great co-star in Carey Lowell as the feisty Pam Bouvier and seeing Q in the field was a heap of fun. Part of why fans don't like it can be attributed to the storyline, which isn't a spy story, it's a straight action revenge story with drugs at the heart of it. As a spy story it's a failure, as an action film it holds up pretty well. The side story with the Chinese DEA agents could have been done away with, it's unnecessary and really doesn't add anything to the plot. There is an air of ticking off the boxes for what makes a successful action film which can be a bit tedious at times and makes the film more pedestrian than it should be.

The World Is Not Enough: another film that I think gets a bad rap, mostly for Denise Richards as Christmas Jones, who I also don't think is as bad as she's been painted out to be. It's a rollicking story, although it makes no sense on a number of levels. Pierce Brosnan gives his usual polished performance as does Judi Dench, although I think this is her worst outing as MSophie Marceau is always welcome and Robbie Coltrane's Zukovksky lightens things up a little. The pre credit sequence is one of the best they've ever done and I think it still holds the record as the longest (Skyfall may challenge it). What really drags it down is Michael Apted's by the book directing job and it displays why he was the wrong director for a Bond.

Skyfall: now how did this not end up in The 00's? It's a great film, it really is and the highlights are Javier Bardem as SilvaJudi Dench as M and Naomie Harris as Eve MoneypennySam Mendes' direction with it's highly artistic flair is also something wonderful. It may elevate itself on a few more watchings, but at present it just doesn't quite get there for me. I have a hard time explaining why, it's just a feel, it could be the unnecessary inclusion of Severine and the feeling that the entire Macau incident doesn't quite fit with the rest of the film as well as the questions I keep asking about how Silva got from where he was to where he is and how he planned the entire thing and the lengths he went to.

The Felix Leiters

Dr. No: there are some good things about this. It was the first James Bond film and that can't possibly be bad, but due to the time it was made and the minuscule budget it has a very amateurish look to it. It's also dated very badly. None of the acting really hits a high note. The scenery is nice. There's the iconic appearance of Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, but the character is unnecessary and the actress can't act. There's also things like the clear appearance of the glass as the tarantula crawls along it in the scene in the hotel room. Admittedly it could have been a lot worse and it did do enough to bring audiences back for the next instalment and they improved on it.

Thunderball: whereas On Her Majesty's Secret Service gets hammered I think this one gets off too easily. I actually thought it was a Shaken Not Stirred before I rewatched it, but in the intervening years between watches the suck fairy visited it. The pre credit sequence is fantastic with the jetpack, but after what Guy Hamilton did in GoldfingerTerence Young's direction in Thunderball does not sit comfortably, the sexism and misogyny plumbed new depths (I refer of course to the scene at the spa in which the very classy James Bond blackmails a nurse into having sex with him. Who thought it was a good idea to include that in the film, I do not know). There's the whole way throughout it Bond behaves like a bumbling detective, possibly an indication that Connery was already beginning to tire of the role, of course back then they made a film a year, which is quite a punishing schedule for anyone.

Diamonds Are Forever: this came very close to being a Blofeld. There's a lot more wrong than there is right, which is a shame because Guy Hamilton directed.  Connery returned to the Bond role. The setting of Las Vegas works and I liked the small comic cameo from Q, as well as the line with Plenty O'Toole (some of Connery's best work with a quip) but that's about it. The song gets better the more you hear it, but it is not Shirley Bassey's best work. A lot of people hate Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, but I kind of like them, they're an unusual thing in films back then and the actors give the impression that they know the sole thing is a giant piss take and they approach it that way. Tiffany Case is a stupid name and as an actress Jill St John makes a good bikini model. Willard Whyte is one of the worst characters they ever dreamt up and Cubby Broccoli's dreams about his friend Howard Hughes had no business making it into the script, but they did. Then there's the chase with the moon buggy, the inexplicable casting of Charles Gray as Blofeld (maybe this film really does belong in the Blofelds?). It really did show that it was time for a change.

Live And Let Die: I didn't like putting this film here, because it was my first one and for that reason alone I liked it. It brought Bond into the 70's, it did away with the hat and until Geoffrey WrightDavid Hedison made the best FelixJane Seymour was one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever as SolitairePaul McCartney's opening theme was, and still is up there with the very best of the songs. Moore makes a good start as the new Bond and sets the tone for the jokier, campier Bond he would be. The drugs storyline and clear attempts to exploit the blaxploitation theme aren't really Bond things. Some of it is downright stupid and so over the top that it makes the audience groan.

A View To A Kill: this is another film that nearly became a Blofeld. The only things that saved it were Christopher Walken's performance as Max ZorinGrace Jones as MayDay and Patrick McNee's Tibbet, and Duran Duran's excellent piece of pop fun as the song. The rest of it is really silly and trivial, the stunt sequences seem much like the format and the star; tired and over used. Tanya Roberts spends most of her time screaming for James to save her and is very needy. Sequences like the one with Pola Ivonova just seem to be inserted because. The climax on the Golden Gate Bridge looks badly faked and I think by that stage audiences were just hoping the damn thing would be over.

Tomorrow Never Dies: after Goldeneye great things were expected of the new Bond and unfortunately this film didn't deliver them. The idea about a mad megalomaniac media magnate should have worked, but it didn't. I always felt Carver just wasn't threatening enough to be a good Bond villain. The casting of Michelle Yeoh as the ass kicking Bond equal Wai Lin worked (this is what they wanted Jinx to be, but she just wasn't) and is the best thing about the film. It was pretty poor after Goldeneye and that may have been the problem.

The Blofelds

The Man With The Golden Gun: there was no way this wasn't going to end up here. There is only one saving grace about this film and that's Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga. The rest of it is Awful with a capital A. It really should have been given a rating of A for Avoid. It hardly gets anything right. Audiences were offended enough by the presence of Sheriff J.W Pepper in Live And Let Die, but at least then he was at home, placing him in Thailand as a tourist when he can offend all and sundry with his racial taunts was a major mistake and if it was as rumours suggest director Guy Hamilton's idea, then its just as well this was his last Bond film. It took them 35 years to come up with a song to top Lulu's The Man With The Golden Gun for awfulness. Midget Herve Villechaize was meant to be amusing as Nick Nack, but he just came across as annoying. Britt Ekland is next to Mie Hama the worst actress to ever play a Bond girl, at least Mie Hama's dialog was dubbed. Christopher Lee aside this is a train wreck of a film.

Moonraker: weirdly enough this made an absolute killing at the box office. I can only presume that was due to it coming after The Spy Who Loved Me. It was written in a hurry to cash in on the science fiction craze started by Star Wars and it shows. It's a shame that Lewis Gilbert, who was a damn good director, had this piece of crap as his swan song. Even star Roger Moore made fun of it later on. I understood the return of Jaws, but what they did with him, playing him for laughs because kids who wrote to Lewis Gilbert wanted him to be the good guy was just wrong. Bernard Lee also sadly bid the world of Bond farewell with this substandard film (he passed away before For Your Eyes Only could be filmed). They tried to make lightning strike twice in the one place by creating the character of Holly Goodhead and making her a CIA agent, but Lois Chiles' lifeless performance killed that idea stone dead. They didn't even have an actor of Christopher Lee's stature to try and salvage some respect out of it.

Octopussy: the idea of setting a Bond film in India isn't a bad idea, but that's about where it ends. Moore was even then too old, into his mid 50's and should have been pensioned off after For Your Eyes OnlyMaud Adams actually did a decent job as Andrea Landers in The Man With The Golden Gun, but she was totally out of her depth here and even she didn't like the fact that her character didn't have a real name and was only ever referred to as Octopussy. The casting of the French former matinee idol Louis Jordan as Afghani prince Kamal Khan was interesting to say the least. The actor made a lovely meal out of the scenery, but I doubt if he hadn't been a good friend of the Broccolis that he ever would have been given the job. Vijay Armitraj as an Indian based MI6 agent was laughable and not in a good way. Things like the fake crocodile, Bond dressed as a clown, the whole thing was silly beyond belief and how they even got it made in the first place is a real head scratcher.

The Living Daylights: it's rather unfortunate that a real stinker introduced Timothy Dalton as Bond because it cast a pall over his tenure in the role. There's very little good about the film. Dalton is unsure of how to play the role and it shows, he tries to channel Connery and looks uncomfortable. Maryam D'Abo was woeful as Kara Milovy and they didn't help by giving her an even worse, stupider character than Stacey Sutton to play. There's some nonsense about drugs in Afghanistan combined with a plot to pin everything on a Russian general and it all became rather tedious. They also managed to shoehorn Felix in there for reasons that are never properly explained.

Die Another Day: there were high hopes for this being the 20th Eon film and the 40th anniversary film, and that may have been the problem. It's not like the films don't have nods to what went before over the years, so why try and cram as many as possible into the one film because of the number it is and the year it was released. The entire idea of Moon/Graves is ridiculous and stretches belief to breaking point and beyond. Halle Berry as Jinx is a massive failure when you consider the way the character was built up, even the actress herself seemed to be more in love with the character because of her fashion choices and the way she dressed than anything she did in her capacity as a NSA agent, and they were going to make a spinoff based around her? Then there was the invisible car, it was just too stupid for words. Brosnan said he wanted to go on, but he sleep walked his way through Die Another DayMadonna's song is up there with Lulu's. Very disappointing and it almost killed the franchise.

Quantum Of Solace: it did have a hard act following Casino Royale, but it failed spectacularly. One was the directing, something over which star Daniel Craig had far too much influence. Then there was the script, most of which was rushed due to the writers strike and then got producer Michael Wilson (who isn't a half bad script doctor) and director Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig involved and that all spelled disaster. Olga Kurylenko was still finding her feet as an actress and had no chemistry with Daniel Craig. The villain was not believable or particularly threatening. The story moved away from where it had been going for most of the time and only returned in an after thought at the end. The theme was hands down the worst of the entire franchise's history and that took some doing. The word abomination springs to mind and only the success of Casino Royale and a belief that they couldn't possibly do a worse job is what kept audiences there for Skyfall.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

SPECTRE (speculation) - November 2015

Background: seeing as how I accomplished my original goal in watching all of Eon's Bond films from Dr. No to Skyfall, and that the publicity machine is ramping up for their 24th adventure due to hit screens in November of this year I should share my thoughts with how I feel about what I've heard so far and give a little background to clarify it all.

The organisation of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) was James Bond's opponent in 6 of the first 7 Bond films, although it wasn't as big a part of Ian Fleming's books (Bond was generally pitted agains SMERSH in the books), the organisation's leader Blofeld was Bond's opponent in 3 consecutive films, beginning with You Only Live Twice and concluding with Diamonds Are Forever, a wheelchair bound villain with a bald head (Blofeld was generally bald, except for in Diamonds Are Forever when he was portrayed by Charles Gray) and a penchant for fluffy white cat, appeared in the pre credit sequence of For Your Eyes Only and attempted to kill Bond, before having the tables turned and being dropped down a chimney. The character was never named and the face never revealed, but it is widely believed to be Blofeld and Cubby Broccoli's way of sending a message to Kevin McClory, who claimed ownership of the character at the time. It was also driven by McClory blocking the use of SPECTRE and Blofeld with The Spy Who Loved Me, and another clear sign that For Your Eyes Only was meant to be filmed after The Spy Who Loved Me, before being shunted out of the way by the hastily put together Moonraker so that Eon could cash in on the late 70's science fiction film phenomenon.

SPECTRE first appeared in the novel Thunderball along with the organisation's villainous leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The cat fetish is something the movies invented, it's not a quirk of the character in the novels.

Thunderball was the novel that Ian Fleming initially developed as a script with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, then after leaving that project released it as a novel. This prompted legal action from McClory, in which McClory was awarded the film rights to Thunderball, but Fleming retained the literary rights. McClory also claimed the film rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld. Official Bond author Raymond Benson was still able to write and release Bond novels featuring SPECTRE and Blofeld and one of them; For Special Services, features Nena Bismaquer, Blofeld's daughter.

Eon did manage to use SPECTRE and Blofeld in 3 films during the 60's and early 70's, but copyright issues prevented them from being the central villains in The Spy Who Loved Me (there's very little doubt that Stromberg is Blofeld with another name).

MGM/UA took legal action in 1998 against Sony and McClory to prevent them from making something called Warhead 2000 AD (I believe it was another remake of Thunderball, in which McClory intended to have Timothy Dalton reprise his Bond role and feature Sean Connery as Largo). McClory had the rights to film Thunderball at least 10 years after the first film and he was allowed to make Never Say Never Again, but enough was enough. MGM/UA settled with Sony and abandoned the claim, however McClory's rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld were unaffected.

The Bond films continued to use standalone villains until Casino Royale when they invented Quantum, which is really SPECTRE with another name. Then in 2013, following the release of Skyfall, MGM and the McClory estate (Kevin McClory passed away in 2006) formally settled the issue with Danjaq (Bond's parent company), LLC and MGM acquiring the full rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld.

Not all that long after it was announced that Bond 24 would be titled SPECTRE. There has been a lot of speculation that Quantum was really SPECTRE under another name, and while it is mentioned in early releases about SPECTRE the film, I think Quantum will morph into SPECTRE.

Story: clearly as it has not yet been released, and filming only started late 2014 I don't know anything about the story other than what has been made public. Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan are in charge of the script again. That makes SPECTRE the 6th consecutive Bond film for Purvis and Wade and Logan's 2nd after coming on board for Skyfall.

The story seems to continue on from where Skyfall left off, with the new M Gareth Mallory still fighting off attacks from those within the government questioning the need for MI6 in general. A cryptic message from an unlikely source sets Bond off on the trail of a shadowy organisation using the name of SPECTRE, the closer Bond draws to a hidden truth, the more likely it is that everything he's fought to protect is in jeopardy.

At some point in the film I believe it will be revealed that Quantum was really a front for SPECTRE and I'd be surprised if Blofeld didn't make an appearance in some way, shape or form. As Raymond Benson already floated the idea that Blofeld has offspring, they could also be involved or take the place of their evil father. This continued exploration of Bond's past, started in Skyfall, really puts paid to the theories that the name and number are really just a rotating alias.


Director: in another winning move the franchise retained Sam Mendes as director. He initially said that he wouldn't direct the 24th film in the franchise, but after seeing some of the script changed his mind as he found both that and the plans for the long-term future of the franchise appealing. That decision makes Mendes the first director since Martin Campbell to do two Bond films and the first since John Glen in the 80's to direct films consecutively. After Skyfall he's only behind Campbell for mine as a Bond director and I'm very confident that he'll do a great job with SPECTRE, he's also going to be backed by a top notch cast.

James Bond: even though Craig has a contract for this film and possibly even another one beyond it, there's always speculation about who will play Bond in the next film. The names of Hugh Jackman and Idris Elba were thrown out again (I don't know why people keep putting them up there, they're not going to get the role and I don't even know if the actors actually want them). The actor I personally feel could replace Daniel Craig is a guy called Philip Winchester. He's 33, so even if Craig does another film after SPECTRE (highly likely) then Winchester would still be young enough to take the role on. He's quite tall and although he's blonde, Craig has shown that this is no longer a deal breaker. He currently plays the rather Bondian Michael Stonebridge in the TV series Strike Back, and it's not a stretch to see him go from that role to Bond, he can act as well. It's currently a moot point, though because I can't see Daniel Craig even considering stepping down from the role until after he's finished the 25th Bond film.

Franz Oberhauser: I don't know anything about Oberhauser as a character, but the casting of Christophe Waltz has done nothing to end speculation that the name is really just a Blofeld alias. If Waltz has been cast as the new Blofeld it's a master stroke, he doesn't have any of the physical facial quirks associated with the character, but he is a brilliant actor as his two Academy Awards (Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained) attest. Interestingly he made his name in Quentin Tarantino films (I wonder if he threw another tantrum when he heard about the casting) and his villain from Inglourious Bastards was particularly chilling. It is going to be an absolute treat to see he and Craig acting together.

Madeline Swann: I kind of hope Swann isn't another Severine, just cast for looks and having little to no influence as a character on the plot. French actress Lea Seydoux is a very attractive young woman, but she is importantly more of an actress than a model and has a rising profile both in and out of her native France. She has appeared in Tarantino's Inglourious Bastards and also had the role of Isabella of Angouleme in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. It's a promising start.

Lucia Sciarra: now this is the casting that has everyone buzzing. The beautiful Monica Bellucci landed this. At 50, Bellucci, while still stunning, is the oldest Bond girl, unless you consider Judi Dench to have been the Bond girl in Skyfall. Lea Seydoux's character has been acknowledged as the Bond girl, but people may feel differently depending on how large Bellucci's role is and how much influence it has. This is the second time she's been associated with a Bond film (she was a strong contender for the role of Paris Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies). There's been speculation that she may be Blofeld's daughter or even Blofeld, and could be the person who heads SPECTRE, although that's more likely to be Waltz's Oberhauser. Again the prospect of seeing her on screen with Craig and Waltz is mouth watering.

Denbigh: the character of Denbigh (only the one name) is listed as working for Whitehall and that means he's probably a minor character, possibly a politician or bureaucrat, but the casting of Andrew Scott, best known as Moriarty in the Sherlock TV series has me wondering if there's something else to the character.

Mr Hinx: this is listed as a bodyguard/henchman role, it's being filled by Dave Bautista. Dave Bautista is best known as simply Batista; a highly successful WWE wrestler (won the Heavyweight title and the Tag Team title on more than one occasion), he moved into acting a few years ago with guest roles in TV shows and films concentrating on his impressive physique. He's been most recently seen as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. His sheer size and physicality makes me think he's going to be a Jaws style henchperson and a handful for Bond.

M: Ralph Fiennes will reprise the role he took on at the end of Skyfall as M, replacing Judi Dench, and what is known about the storyline indicates that he's facing the same battle she was in justifying his position and the existence of MI6. The return of SPECTRE won't make that any easier. The youth of Ralph Fiennes when compared to his predecessors: Bernard Lee, Robert Brown and Judi Dench, may see him take a more hands on role than before.

Miss Moneypenny: Naomie Harris has stepped back into the role of M's frighteningly efficient assistant. Her previous field experience as well as how good she was at that may also see her be her bosses' bodyguard as well. I hope she isn't just stuck behind the desk flirting hopefully with Bond.

Q: Ben Whishaw acquitted himself wonderfully as the old man in a young person's body playing the humourless (I never joke about my work) Q alongside Craig in Skyfall. He'll do the same in SPECTRE and may unveil a few more gadgets.

Mr White: Jesper Christensen confirmed that he was back, presumably with a limp, as one of the main people in Quantum, although I'm willing to bet he and Quantum both dance to the tune called by Blofeld and SPECTRE.

Bill Tanner: Rory Kinnear is back as Tanner, now that his assistant role and probably bodyguard one to M has been usurped by Moneypenny and his technical knowhow superseded by Q, it's hard to see exactly what he'll bring to the table or where he fits in, he may transition into the Chief of Staff role that the character originally held before being hip and shouldered out by Colin Salmon's Charles Robinson.

Not possible to do the Curse of the Bond Girl, Pre credit sequence or Gadgets section here.

Music: it's mostly still a mystery. Thomas Newman will be the composer ageing. Ben Whishaw said that he knows who will perform the theme, but understandably was not allowed to reveal the identity. Adele actually wouldn't be a bad choice to do a Shirley Bassey and become the second artist to do more than one Bond theme, and the only person to ever perform consecutive themes. Other than that I'm coming up blank.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Skyfall - 2012

BackgroundSkyfall was an important movie for the Bond franchise and it was one that all concerned (myself included) fans and people connected directly with the film wondered if they would ever see.

Why was it important, more so in my opinion at least, than other films? It came after a relatively disappointing entry in Quantum Of Solace, after a wonderful start to the reign of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. It was also being released in 2012, which made it the 50th anniversary film. I think fans expected a few nods to the history, without it being overdone, something that ruined Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary film. For some reason actors seem to be very strongly identified with the role once they've done 3 Bond films. Maybe this is just me, but you don't really seem to be Bond in my mind until you've completed 3 films. Let's face it no one connects George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton with the role as much as they do Sean ConneryRoger MoorePierce Brosnan and now Daniel Craig. In Lazenby's case he was an epic failure as an actor and it wasn't really his thing, in Dalton's he never really fitted the role comfortably and not being identified strongly with it has enabled him to continue his career as an actor in many and varied roles (Connery also did this, as will Craig, that's got to do with all 3 men being good actors with versatility).

The hold up with it (4 years between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall) was financial more than anything, if that had not happened, they may have been able to release Skyfall in 2010 and SPECTRE in 2012, which would have made 2012 the release of the 24th, not the 23rd Bond film, although they may have also wound up releasing Skyfall in 2011 and missed a film in the year of the 50th anniversary which is a bit tragic. MGM hit huge financial problems which meant they had to drop a number of projects and put others on hold, this also affected the first of The Hobbit films, it was a very real possibility that Skyfall may not have been made at all, or if it was, not by MGM. To his credit once the new director had been chosen (Forster only did the one film thank goodness) he committed to the project and even turned down other work while the financial angle was sorted out.

Other than that things to seemed to run smoothly. Neil Purvis and Robert Wade wrote their 5th James Bond script, this time with assistance from John Logan, no writers strike, so the likes of Michael Wilson, the director and the star didn't have to get involved in that side of things, no rush job this time, although they did lose the original screenwriter (Peter Morgan) during the suspension.

I have to admit I approached the film with trepidation after Quantum Of Solace, wondering if Casino Royale had been a flash in the pan. I have to admit that the team involved with Skyfall brought their A game. Maybe in an acknowledgement that they had managed to get Bond to a point in his career that fans were more comfortable with and because it was the 50th anniversary some things once lost returned: Moneypenny (although the reveal was left to almost the last minute) and Q. They were very different Moneypenny's and Q's than we were used to, but they still referenced things that were familiar to the audiences about their characters. We also for the first time saw two M's in the one film, unless of course you count Robert Brown's appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me as Admiral Hargreaves alongside Bernard Lee's M.

Story: they took a different approach with the story. The part of it concerning Quantum was over, that story ended in some ways with Quantum Of Solace, although Barbara Broccoli did say that although Skyfall doesn't involve them, it doesn't mean that they're done with them just yet. In a few ways Skyfall has a bit in common with Goldfinger. It was the 3rd Bond film and it was the 3rd film to star Sean Connery and the first one not to involve the shadowy organisation of SPECTRE in any way, shape or form. Casino Royale kind of started Bond all over again, so that means that Skyfall is the 3rd 'new' Bond film and the 3rd to star Daniel Craig, it is also the first of the 'new' Bond's not to involve the shadowy organisation of Quantum at all. That's largely when the comparisons end, but I think they are important to note.

Bond is believed to be dead at the start, this echoes You Only Live Twice, where he was 'killed' in the pre credit sequence to the extent of having an obituary written, which also happens here. The agent himself is living, existing would probably be a better word, on an unspecified tropical island, where he spends his time having joyless sex with a local girl/s, engaging in dangerous and bizarre gambling practices involving alcohol and live highly venomous scorpions (it does rather remind one of Marion Ravenwood's introduction in Raiders Of The Lost Ark), and drinking himself senseless. It's during one of these drinking sessions that he sees a news report about the bombing of MI6 and decides that it's time to insert himself back into the game.

MI6 has moved from their flash new offices into a massive underground bunker that was originally used by Churchill during WW II in case his regular headquarters got bombed to bits by the Nazis. It's an interesting fusion of old and new and quite arresting to see on screen. Bond's time 'dead' has left him physically and mentally scarred and although he fails the psychological and physical tests, M tells him that he passed and says he's fit for active duty, probably because she doesn't trust anyone else to run whoever is behind the attacks down. At the same time her fitness for command is being questioned and she's being actively pressed to retire by Gareth Mallory, the former lieutenant colonel who is now heading up the Intelligence and Security Committee that is investigating her running of MI6 and recent developments.

The chase takes Bond to first Shanghai, where after confronting and killing his target, he notices a bewitching Eurasian lady in the building across from him, watching the whole incident with interest and a knowing smile. He follows the trail using a clue from his dead target to Macau and a local gambling den. While he never says shaken not stirred, there is a scene at the bar where the bartender is seen shaking his drink before pouring it and after he sips he pronounces it excellent, so he clearly asked for it to be shaken not stirred, even if the audience never heard him, a nice little subverting of the expected phrase. He's also backed by Eve, a young MI6 agent he's worked with before, they flirt, but never really take it beyond that, which is important. When undercover in the casino he does caution her to not touch her ear while they're using the earpiece microphones to communicate, which is a call back to Casino Royale, where doing that blew an agent's cover in Madagascar and got him killed.

Bond meets and flirts with Severine, the lady from Shanghai, and after taking out opposition in the casino, and managing to lose the Walther PPK that Q gave him (he will be annoyed) ends up with Severine on a boat to where he does not know, but he hopes will take him to whoever is behind the attacks on MI6.

That turns out to be Raoul Silva. Silva was a former agent, who was left for dead by M and still wants revenge, hence the attacks. There's a nice bit of byplay during the interrogation with some homo eroticism thrown in where Silva attempts to seduce Bond and tells him that he may enjoy it the first time, Bond spoils the moment by asking 'What makes you think it's my first time.' (it's quite possibly the line of the film) Silva releases him and invites him outside where they can play a game by shooting at Severine, she's bound and has a shot glass of Scotch on her head. What Silva probably knows is that Bond isn't the shot he once was, and they're using old fashioned duelling pistols which are harder to use than modern pistols. Bond misses, then Silva quite deliberately shoots Severine in the head, killing her. Bond says it's a waste of good Scotch, frees himself by shooting Silva's guards, but leaving the killer alive. Silva thinks he's home free, but Bond has used the miniature radio transmitter Q gave him to call in the cavalry.

We go back to London and MI6's new headquarters where Silva is held in a glass cell. The whole sad story comes out. How M betrayed him and left him for dead while the Chinese took him and the cyanide capsule in his teeth didn't actually kill him, but did scar him horribly internally (the scene where he removes his oral insert and his face collapses is both disgusting and a tribute to the art of the CGI people working on the film). M appears to be unmoved, but does tell Bond, Silva's real name and confesses that he was brilliant, but also breaking the rules about which he had been warned and they had little option other than to let the Chinese have him.

M goes to the hearing to determine whether or not she's fit to run MI6, and in fact questions the need for the existence of the entire organisation. There's some wonderful acting from Helen McCrory as the acid tongued MP Clair Dowar (more on that in Casting) and while she's being grilled and out of the building Silva puts his plan of taking down MI6's computer network and getting out so he can kill M.

As soon as the attack starts and Q subverts it to an extent, and is shown up not be quite as clever as he thought he was, Bond goes to Silva's cell, but finds the guards dead and Silva gone. He gives chase. They used a Tube train for some of the chase, this was done wonderfully and was very tense. Silva tries to take Bond out using explosives and an empty runaway commuter train. He fails, they always do.

His men attack the hearing that M is in, but thanks to Bill Tanner, Eve and even Gareth Mallory they don't get M, Mallory is wounded, though. Once Tanner bundles M into a waiting government car it takes off with her inside and him not and it's Bond driving. M asks if she's being kidnapped and Bond says no, but he is going to 'go back in time' to protect her. He ditches the government car and reveals that his private car is a DB5, it's the same one he used in Goldfinger, has to be, it's still got the ejector seat and the machine guns under the headlights. It's an affectionate and amusing reference to the past, this is the sort of classy call back that they should have done in Die Another Day rather than trying to cram as many references as they could into the script in places where they didn't belong and occasionally referencing films *cough* Octopussy *cough* that we'd rather forget. Some fans do refer to Skyfall as the anniversary/milestone film that Die Another Day should have been.

Skyfall is one of the few Bond films to reference his origins as written by Ian Fleming. The only other one that springs readily to mind is On Her Majesty's Secret Service which has the Bond family coat of arms and the motto of 'The World Is Not Enough'. A couple of others, You Only Live Twice is one, do also mention that he attended Cambridge, although Brosnan's version tends to promote the idea that he may have been an Oxford old fellow, as that is where he is studying Danish with the attractive professor early on in Tomorrow Never Dies. They created the fictional ancestral estate of Skyfall located in the Scottish highlands, but got his father's name of Andrew right and that of his Swiss mother Monique Delacroix, they also mentioned that he was orphaned young, but don't reveal at what age, although Fleming said he was 11 when they were killed in a climbing accident.

Bond takes M to Skyfall a desolate place dominated by a monstrous gothic edifice that was his boyhood home. Bond expects to find the house deserted, but is greeted by Kincade, the crusty old gamekeeper/caretaker, who appears to have been some sort of uncle figure to the young James, even before his often absent parents were killed. James greets him with the words: 'You're still alive?' They are clearly very close. Kincade expresses great surprise when James turns out to be a crack shot and asks him: 'What exactly is it you do for a living, again?' He also insists on calling M, Emma, because Bond introduces her as M, and he naturally mistakenly hears it as 'Em', the accepted shortening of the first name of Emma. As she's still officially running MI6, her real name is a state secret (we also find out that her husband has passed, she mentions her late husband at one point).

Once Kincade has been worded up what is coming the three go to work both protecting the house (boarding the windows, etc...) and leaving little surprises in the form of explosives and shrapnel bombs in the lights that will turn the house into a deathtrap for anyone unwise enough to try and force entry.

Silva does come with an army of gunmen and a large attack helicopter, which is blaring a version of John Lee Hooker's 'Boom Boom' as it flies in. It wasn't Hooker singing it, (it's The Animals cover, which with them being a British band does suit Bond) but I wish it had been his voice just suits the song so perfectly that any cover sounds like a pale imitation of the original.

There is a huge fight with things getting blown up, sadly the DB5 does not survive, rather less sadly Bonds' parents house is also obliterated and shots flying around. M proves to be a dreadful shot and also though she claims to be not hurt she sustains a fatal wound to the stomach. 

Kincade and M take refuge in another old building on the property, I think it may have been a church and Silva sees the torchlight and goes after them. Silva actually wants M to shoot herself in the head and take himself at the same time. He places the pistol to her head and puts his own next to hers claiming that the one bullet will kill the both of them. He once again made the fatal mistake of thinking Bond was dead when he crashed through the ice over the property's lake with his last remaining man. Bond always has the upper edge in water, even freezing ones like that and he broke his opponent's neck by using his legs. He stabs Silva in the back, using the knife that was his one remaining weapon and he dies. Then Bond is left to hold M, while she too dies from the wound in her stomach.

Eve finds Bond on the roof of the building MI6 are now using and hands him a box that M willed to him. It contains a China doll of a British bulldog. Bond had never liked it. After the bombing her remarked that the building was bombed, yet that bloody thing survived. She always did like a joke. Eve tells him that she had decided field work wasn't for her and took a desk job as the secretary to the new M, that's when he asks her surname and she tells him that it's Moneypenny, she actually introduces herself similarly to him: 'Eve...Eve Moneypenny', he calls her Miss Moneypenny for the first time and goes to meet M (I actually knew before seeing it that Eve would turn out to be Moneypenny, the actress had denied it, I try not to spoil myself. I didn't know M died or that someone new stepped into the role, but I had heard that Moneypenny was returning, it turned out to be Eve by process of elimination really, still loved hearing her say it and Bond's reaction). The new M is Gareth Mallory and judging by the decor we've come full circle. Mallory's office is almost a mirror image of the one once occupied by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, right down to the leather panelled door and the picture of a ship on the wall. Bond is going back to the future.

The iconic eyeball shot appears just before the end credits as it did in Quantum Of Solace.

Skyfall is a great response to the disappointing Quantum Of Solace, and a great celebration of 50 years of Bond.


Director: there were a number of names thrown around before Sam Mendes was signed in 2010. Marc Forster apparently was not judged suitable. Kathryn Bigelow was rumoured after her success with The Hurt Locker in 2008, so was Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, fuelling rumours that the Bond girl would be Indian and that some of the film would be filmed there, but Mendes was the man they went after. He had previously worked with Daniel Craig in Road To Perdition and signed once he'd read some of the script. To his credit he remained loyal to the project during the suspension, reportedly turning down the offer of directing the first Hunger Games film, due to having committed to Skyfall (probably known as Bond 23 at the time). He brought his previous experience as an artistic director to the role filming in a highly artistic style probably the most since Lewis Gilbert in You Only Live Twice, but at the same time not letting it spoil the action the way Forster's artistic touches had in Quantum Of Solace. The cinematography from go to whoa is of the highest standard and uses the surroundings wonderfully whether it's the desolation of the Scottish highlands or the glittering lights and towering buildings of Shanghai, in fact one of the highlights is the fight between Bond and Patrice, where you cannot see either man during the fight, but just their silhouettes illuminated in the bright neon from the buildings outside in Shanghai. He also got the best out of his cast even the inexperienced and clearly nervous Berenice Marlohe as Severine.

James Bond: maybe Craig got the itch to write and have influence over the production beyond just acting in it out of his system after Quantum Of Solace, because that's what he does here, he acts. Sometimes it takes a few films before a Bond actor really clicks. It did with Connery and Moore, although Brosnan's best outing was his first. In Casino Royale Craig was evolving as a character and an actor, in Quantum Of Solace the character was largely a humourless killing machine, in Skyfall he puts it all together and presents a rounded and developed character, one that audiences can really be on the side of. His chemistry with Naomie Harris is spot on and he even develops some with Berenice Marlohe. Despite Craig's contract having been extended beyond Casino Royale to about 4 or 5 films before the first one had even hit the screens after a couple of films they always want to discuss new actors in the role. This time around before Craig's involvement was confirmed when they started shooting, the names Clive Owen (maybe once, but that time was past), Hugh Jackman (they keep throwing this one up, but I have no idea why, he just isn't right for the role on any level, and I really don't think he's at all interested) and Idris Elba (there's a big push to get Elba into the role and it's often thrown up that he ticks all the boxes, it's one that those who believe Bond is a name assigned to an agent rather than a name with a person or a history - I think Skyfall explodes that theory once and for all, at least until they decide reboot again - like to think about. I just don't think Elba has the look or the manner for Bond, although he's a fine actor).

Raoul Silva: he is a villain for the ages. I don't know who suggested casting Oscar winner Javier Bardem in this role, but they should be recognised for it (I think it may have been Sam Mendes), because he is brilliant. It is a crying shame that he wasn't nominated for best supporting actor in the Academy Awards, it also shows the Academy's bias against action and/or genre films when it comes to the 'big' awards. Bardem's a freaky looking kind of person anyway, but when you combine it with the dreadful peroxided blonde hair and a permanently insane look in his eyes he's very believable. I found it hard to work out how the character went from being disgraced, believed dead agent to a cyber terrorist with worldwide influence and that his plan to kill M and take revenge was far too complicated and long ranging for anyone to actually execute, but the way he played Silva was perfect. One of the best villains ever.

M: now I know I normally make M a peripheral role, but she's not in this. Judi Dench finally gets the chance to sink her teeth into the role and appear for more than a few minutes at a time. She's left big shoes to fill, although they have got another star casting to replace her. I was shocked that they let her die, gave her a great death scene though and a chance to say a proper goodbye to audiences, but it makes sense, because her M wasn't going to retire quietly. The other thing was Dench's age (she was in her late 70's in 2012) and her health, her eyesight has begun to fail, although she's still making films (reprising her role in the surprise 2012 hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). She has forever left her mark on the role of M. There's actually a good argument to be made that she is in fact the Bond girl in Skyfall.

Eve Moneypenny: at last I can give her a first name! Again this is something I normally put in the peripheral roles, but she gets more screen time than the actual Bond girl, she could actually be regarded as the Bond girl along with Judi Dench's M, both are more important to the story than the character of Severine. Naomie Harris got the role and had to answer plenty of questions about whether or not she was Moneypenny, she handled it by saying that Eve is not remotely office bound and that is true. The Eve persona is a field agent and she can match it with the best of them, but her Moneypenny persona is an office girl, although I doubt she can be kept out of the field. The flirting with Bond is handled expertly, it goes further than it ever has before, but it never goes too far. She's a strong actress who I hope we see more of both in and out of the Bond films.

Peripheral roles: at least two of these will recur and they're quite important to the franchise so I'll get them out of the way first. It's hard to say who is more important. I guess it's Gareth Mallory, he's a former army man, turned politician and because he's after M, he and Bond have a less than ideal introduction, Eve takes a shine to him, though. He's been wounded in the service of his country, once being captured by the IRA, and he is wounded again trying to protect people from Silva's men, he's still wearing the sling at the end of the film. He takes over from M, so from now on his name will be M, not Mallory or Gareth. Again once he had been cast Ralph Fiennes also had to fend off questions about what role he was playing. He's a good actor with a high profile and he has the presence to play the role and not be overwhelmed by his supporting cast. As with Moneypenny, making her a kick ass field agent, they subverted expectations with Q by casting Ben Whishaw. While Whishaw was 32 when the film came out, he was a very young looking 32, prompting Bond to say that he had 'spots'. Despite being a great deal younger than Desmond Llewelyn ever was as Q, he plays the cranky old man in a young person's body very well, and I can almost picture Q being exactly like him when he was younger. He'll appear again. The recurring character was Bill Tanner, once again played by Rory Kinnear and he appeared to have turned more into a bodyguard than an assistant this time. 

Kincade: the gruff old Scottish gamekeeper who knew Bond before he was Bond, is a wonderful addition. The casting of veteran actor Albert Finney is another winner. He was around when Bond was first brought to the screen in 1962 and may have even been under consideration for the role, so it's nice to see him here, plus he's a class actor. I do wonder if thought was given to Sean Connery, or if he was actually offered the role, it would have been a nice touch, but probably would have overshadowed the film too much.

Clair Dowar: she's only very briefly in this, but Helen McCrory is superb as this MP on a crusade. Helen McCrory is a veteran of the Harry Potter films and she channels her former cast mate Imelda Staunton as Dolore Umbridge wonderfully, determined to nail M to the wall, skin her and proudly display the pelt for all to see.

Severine: occasionally you get a Bond girl that makes you wonder exactly why they're in the film and why they were THE Bond girl. Severine is only in the film briefly (both M and Eve get far more screen time and are more important to the story) and while she does have an interesting backstory and introduces Bond to Silva, she's really only there to sleep with Bond and be 'fridged' to show how amoral and brutal Silva really is, I think we'd figured out before he shot her. They cast French actress Berenice Marlohe in the role, her heritage (her father is of Chinese and Cambodian descent and her mother is French) gave her exotic look they wanted for the character, she hadn't done a lot of work before, mostly French TV, and while she does her best with the role, she's another example of casting for looks, it's a stilted performance and she's clearly nervous and not comfortable with it at any point.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: it's really too early to tell with Berenice Marlohe as to whether this will hit her or not. She's done 4 films since. Two are in post production and have not yet been released. The other two were a short indie film and a French rom com due for release early 2015, in which she had the second listed role. She's unlikely to do a lot of Hollywood work, as she lives in France, and seems to prefer to work in her native country.

Pre credit sequence: this is an absolute cracker. It takes place in the bustling streets of Istanbul, with Eve doing some pretty major driving, until Bond takes off on a stolen motorcycle and chases their quarry across the roofs of the city, ending up on a cargo train. He uses an industrial vehicle; a bulldozer, to prove that he is a crazy person who will stop at nothing to get his man, there's a lovely moment, where the dozer rips the back off a train carriage and Bond jumps down amongst the shocked passengers, pausing to shoot his cuffs (that's Craig's signature move) before going after who he wants on the roof. It's later on when M insists Eve take the shot and she's off, hitting Bond, instead of their target and enabling MI6 to 'kill' Bond briefly. It links into the film as their quarry has information about undercover agents that Silva later uses against MI6.

Gadgets: like with the previous two Craig films there aren't many, but as this film does have a Q there are some. One is a Walther PPK that is coded to Bond's palm print, less of a gun and more of a personal statement, this later saves Bond's life when an attacker in Macau tries to turn the gun on him and it won't fire. He also gets a small radio that can broadcast his location. He does express dismay with being provided with so little and Q asks if he expected an exploding pen, because they don't really go in for those anymore (that's got to be a direct reference to the exploding pen in Goldeneye). Bond's DB5 is another gadget, still equipped with the ejector seat and machine guns.

Music: it took them three films, but the finally got another winner. Adele was an excellent choice, she has a fantastic voice and it suits Bond films. The artist wrote it with her regular songwriting partner Paul Epworth. It just sounds so great, and it complements the opening credits, which if you look at them closely enough give you hints about the film itself. It's rather like a Joey HiFi Chuck Wendig cover which give you an idea of what's between the covers, but subtly blended with the main image. Unsurprisingly the song Skyfall (they went back to using the title) was showered with praise, including winning the Academy Award, it was the first Bond song to win, although the 4th to be nominated. I don't know who's doing the song for SPECTRE, but they're going to find this a hard act to follow, I wonder if Adele could become the new Shirley Bassey.

James Bond will return is confidently emblazoned across the screen at the start of the final credits, you bet he will after this!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quantum Of Solace - 2008

Background: as so often seems to happen with Bond when an instalment sets the bar high, elements come together to conspire to make the followup a disappointment, and I think that happened with Quantum Of Solace.

Michael G. Wilson began developing the plot while Casino Royale was being made and then regular Bond writers Robert Wade and Neil Purvis along with Paul Haggis became involved. The script was rushed so that the production could avoid the writers strike, this meant that Wilson had to be more involved than he wanted to and in a recipe for disaster director Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig also had significant input into it.

Martin Campbell must have stuck to his guns about not doing two Bonds in a row, because German Marc Forster was appointed as the director for Quantum Of Solace (more on that in Casting).

The title was another thing I never really liked. It is actually the title of an Ian Fleming short story, although the story is vastly different, and probably only uses Fleming's title. I still want Risico, that's short, sharp, punchy, exotic sounding and has an international flavour, it also means risk, which is what Bond takes a lot of. Quantum Of Solace always sounded rather pretentious, kind of an art house title, which isn't Bond, however much certain people involved with it may want it to be. Daniel Craig pushed very strongly for the title, although I think his experiences with Quantum Of Solace and the reactions to it may have cured him of any aspirations with the Bond films beyond playing the title character.

There were also troubles shooting the film. I believe at least one stuntman was killed while performing a driving scene. There seemed to be a bit of a curse hanging over it. 

There didn't really need to be a rush and there was. I think fans would have waited a year or two for the film if it meant that they got a better end product. After the tour de force that was Casino Royale I found Quantum Of Solace an enormous let down.

Story: it's basically about revenge. Bond is upset about Vesper and he will make everyone pay the price for what happened to her. To him that means taking down Quantum, the organisation that Mr White is apparently highly placed in and that has tentacles everywhere, to the extent that M's trusted bodyguard of a number of years was in their pocket and tried to kill her.

While Bond isn't rogue as such, he is working independently of MI6 for much of the film and at times they're actively trying to hamstring him and restrict his operations. Quantum as an organisation turn out to be pretty stupid. Bond infiltrates one of their meetings with ridiculous ease at an opera in Austria, and then when he lets them know he's listening in, a whole bunch of them walk out, which clearly identifies them to him and allows him to film them and send the pictures to MI6 for identification. Tellingly Mr White is one who keeps his seat, which indicates that he is not only smarter than most of the others, but is possibly running the show or if he's not is very close to whoever is. I suspect they're actually SPECTRE, but with another name. I think negotiations with the estate and family of Kevin McClory for Eon to regain control of the name and the concept were still ongoing at the time.

Bond winds up in South America with the odious Camille Montes (commonly known as simply Camille). I know I described her as odious, and for me that was true. I simply didn't like the character. The acting or lack of it from former model Olga Kurylenko didn't help (again more in Casting). Camille is also seeking revenge. She's doing it for her family and the target is not Quantum or any of it's members, although she wouldn't be heartbroken if Dominic Greene (honestly that was the villain's name. What sort of name is that for a Bond villain? He sounds like a furniture salesmen from the suburbs) got caught in the crossfire. Her target is the evil general that Greene wants to put in control of Bolivia.

There's some work going on in the shadows involving the CIA (that's how they manage to shoehorn Felix Leiter into the plot) and MI6 are trying to rein in Bond, who has turned into an emotionless killing machine. That's where Agent Fields comes into play. She's a desk jockey assigned to make sure Bond doesn't get out of control again. She falls for him and his lifestyle and that gets her killed. I think they may have been trying to do a bit of a callback to Goldfinger with Fields' death. She's covered in oil and left on the bed. The method of murder and the posture made me think of Jill Masterson from Goldfinger. The point I think that was trying to be made is that innocents like Field and Solange get involved with Bond and wind up dead, M all but says that, she doesn't mention Solange's name. However come to think of it Jill Masterson had that in common with Fields.

Greene eventually shows his true colours to the general and exactly why he's gotten into bed with the guy in the first place. He wants to rule the country for Quantum through Medrano and having control of 60% of the water accomplishes that. The party is crashed by Bond and Camille who proceed to destroy the general's desert hotel complex (exactly why he had a hotel in the middle of the desert is never actually explained, like a lot of the plot). Camille saves a girl working at the hotel from being raped by the general and manages to have her revenge. Surprisingly Bond has trouble with the diminutive Greene and doesn't kill him, but does manage to cripple him. He later catches him in the desert and dumps him in the middle of nowhere with a can of motor oil. We later discover that Greene was found in the desert with two bullet wounds to the head and motor oil in his stomach. The oil was a bit of tit for tat for what Greene did to Fields.

Somewhere along the line Mathis got involved and wound up dead. I was a bit annoyed about that. I liked Mathis and he didn't even bear much of a grudge over being accused by Bond and tortured, although as his much younger partner pointed out MI6 did buy him a villa on the Italian coast over that misunderstanding, so in some ways Bond may have done him a favour.

There's a little coda, which seemed tacked on as an afterthought, but really should have played a much larger part in the film, especially given it's theme of revenge. Bond goes to Russia and finds a female Canadian agent in the company of a handsome Algierian. The Algierian was Vesper's boyfriend, the one she betrayed Bond for and largely the reason she died. The Canadian is wearing a pendant like Vesper's. Bond tells her what her 'boyfriends' game is and tells her to leave, he then kills the Algierian, which I presume closes the page on the Vesper chapter of his life.

It's a dirty violent film which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I understand that Bond films often don't, but usually they have some sort of story that gives all the violence and action a reason. This one doesn't, it basically seems like an excuse for a bunch of poorly directed action sequences, that quite frankly, with one exception (the pre credit sequence) are tedious and only serve to wake the audience up in between explosions. I believe a study was done on it and it came in as the most violent film in the entire 22 to that point.

Despite the possible Goldfinger reference there seemed to be a determination to move away from what people recognised as Bond pre Daniel Craig. I can't remember hearing him use the 'Bond...James Bond' line or ask for a martini to be shaken not stirred. The shooting of the eyeball also came at the end of the film, whereas before it had always been at the start or on one occasion after the pre credit sequence. 


Director: the reason Martin Campbell didn't also direct Tomorrow Never Dies back in the '90's after the success of Goldeneye was that he didn't want to direct two Bond films in a row. I assume he still has the personal rule after Casino Royale, because a new director was appointed for Quantum Of Solace. Campbell did Green Lantern in 2011, which was a monumental flop and hasn't done a lot since, although he's in his 70's so the slowdown may be voluntary. German Marc Forster was an odd choice. His breakout was Monsters Ball (the film that won former Bond girl Halle Berry her Oscar) and he'd also done Finding Neverland, the thriller Stay and The Kite Runner, nothing that really says I want to direct a Bond film. Daniel Craig was also involved in the decision on the director and I think he liked the idea of working with an art house director. He didn't even like the films when he was contacted, but did some research by watching them. He was involved in the script, which I think was a mistake. He didn't really seem to know how to direct an action film. He intercut some of the chase scenes (under the streets in Siena and at the opera) with scenes of the crowd at the medieval race reenactment in Siena and of the opera onstage, which didn't add to the sequences and just made them confusing, he seems to try for artistic shots that aren't there and aren't needed. His idea of an action film seemed to be to throw as many explosions and stunts at the screen as he could and just hope that no one noticed that there wasn't really any explainable story to hold it all together. Since Quantum Of Solace he's done Machine Gun Preacher and World War Z, both action oriented films, so maybe he thinks he's found his niche, although I don't think either film was as successful as might have been hoped.

James Bond: more than any previous actor, Daniel Craig had involvement in this picture. By necessity he had something to do with the script and unless the actor has a track record or is in part financing the film or directing it I think that's a mistake, especially with something like Bond, which has such a history behind it. He was involved with the decision on the director and he also helped select the title. I don't have an issue with Craig's portrayal, it has less humour than in Casino Royale and at times he's almost too surly, but I can see why. This is his revenge for Vesper and in the past I feel other actors have shown too little remorse for their lovers and moved on far too quickly. Bond was deeply in love with Tracy, but almost as soon as he's 'killed' Blofeld in retaliation he's starting things up with girls like Plenty and Tiffany (admittedly the Bond in those two films was played by different actors), but it's on show again in The World Is Not Enough where Bond is in bed with Christmas almost before Elektra's body has cooled. Once the film is done and he's killed Vesper's Algierian lover he gives hints that he can move on. Audiences also have to bear in mind that Quantum Of Solace begins literally days after Vesper has died.

Dominic Greene: firstly the name. What sort of name for a Bond villain is Dominic Greene? It's just ordinary and mundane. What happened to names like Dr. Julius No, Auric Goldfinger, Emilio Largo, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Francisco Scaramanga, Hugo Drax, Aris Kristatos, Kamal Khan, Max Zorin, Alex Trevelyan, Elektra King and even Le Chiffre? You don't to give the villain a jokey nick name, but it should be something exotic. Dominic Greene sounds like they weren't even trying. Mathieu Amalric tried his hardest, he even wanted to wear makeup to give the character that Bond villain look, but was dissuaded by Forster. He's not at all physically imposing though and he simply isn't menacing or scary, it makes the scene when he gives Bond trouble in a fight rather silly. They could have at least given him a henchman. I could see keeping someone like Jaws, TeeHee or Oddjob on hand as making sense for the likes of Greene. Despite the name he does have a scheme worthy of any good Bond villain in trying to take control of Bolivia's water supply. Blofeld would have been proud of it.

Strawberry Fields: the first name isn't mentioned in the film, it is in the credits and everyone knew that was her real name when the film was released. I can understand the character's reluctance to let it slip, especially as she does want Bond to take her seriously and that name combined with her youth and prettiness wouldn't do the trick. The role went to model and actress Gemma Arterton and she's really good in it. I would have preferred that Arterton get the main Bond girl role. She was already an experienced actress by the time she did Quantum Of Solace. She had attended drama school and performed Shakespeare onstage, and had done comedy (St Trinians and Lost In Austen) and drama (RocknRolla) on screen both large and small. Since Quantum Of Solace she's kind of made herself a name for rather silly action roles in films like The Prince Of Persia, Clash Of Titans and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (although I kind of liked the last one and think it's been sold a little short as a concept at the very least). She modelled her performance on Diana Rigg and connects more with the audience in her small and brief part than actual Bond girl Olga Kurylenko manages with her part of Camille. I think they made a mistake by not using the name really. Strawberry Fields carries on a long and proud tradition of stupid Bond female character names: Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore, Domino, Kissy Suzuki, Tiffany Case, Plenty O'Toole, Solitaire, Mary Goodnight, Holly Goodhead, Octopussy, Xenia Onatopp, Christmas Jones and Jinx, own it, celebrate it!

Peripheral roles: Judi Dench returns for her 6th film as M and once again outacts whoever is on screen with her at the time. Giancarlo Giannni reprised his role as Rene Mathis and as the European spy was unfortunately killed (for no real reason than I could see, other than give Bond something else to be pissed off about) we won't see him again. Once again they added Felix Leiter into the story, and unlike the previous Bond films where the character was nearly always played by a different actor every time he appeared (David Hedison did it twice, 16 years apart!) Geoffrey Wright reprises his role as the CIA agent. He doesn't do a lot other than be silent and no doubt dream of killing his loud obnoxious moustachioed section chief Gregg Beam, played by David Harbour with scenery chewing relish. Bill Tanner returned, this time played by Rory Kinnear (most recently seen as Frankenstein's monster in Penny Dreadful) and has a bigger role than I've ever seen since he filled in for M in For Your Eyes Only, he appears to have replaced Villiers as M's assistant/gofer (I do understand, poor old Villiers went through a lot in Casino Royale and I don't think he ever slept. Possibly Tobias Menzies also wasn't available to reprise his role, either). Jesper Christensen also returned as Mr White and was every bit as mysterious and dangerous as he was in Casino Royale, if he's highly placed in Quantum and if Quantum is SPECTRE then that won't be the last time we see the character or the actor.

General Medrano: the character that Greene wants to install as the puppet leader of Bolivia (interesting that they used a real country, not just a made up banana republic like in Licence To Kill). He's very stereotypical: large, swarthy, moustachioed, rude and loud, seems to have murder and rape as hobbies. Mexican actor Joaquin Cosio doesn't add anything new or surprising to the interpretation. I wonder if Pedro Armendariz Jr. was available? That would have been a nice touch.

There are a few other peripherals, but the only one I really want to add is the receptionist at Medrano's middle of nowhere hotel, and that's largely because she's played by Oona Chaplin, the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and she recently made a big splash as the ill fated Talisa in Game of Thrones.

Camille Montes: she's generally referred to as simply Camille (again, what sort of name is that for a Bond girl?). She's a Bolivian agent who has a vendetta against Medrano as he murdered her parents, she's also not on good terms with Greene. She's described as agent for Bolivia, but she seems to be freelancing on her mission of revenge, I guess Bond is kind of doing the same thing, so it doesn't really matter that much. Apparently former supermodel Olga Kurylenko beat out 400 other girls for the role because Marc Forster found her the least nervous. I personally think that as they often do Eon cast for looks and hoped to get lucky. They didn't. Kurylenko had some small success in France (where she lived most of her life, although she's Ukranian by birth and parentage), but was awful in this role. She took the role seriously doing some fighting training and watching the films on DVD because she hadn't encountered them before. Camille is very one note as played by Kurylenko and there's is no chemistry at all between her and Craig, which although they don't sleep together, does hurt because he's meant to risk his life for this woman.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: if anything it's been the opposite for Olga Kurylenko. The role hasn't spring boarded her into the top echelon of actresses, but she has worked. She seems to be determined to make a success of being an actress. I've seen her in a couple of things since Quantum Of Solace. She was very good as Vera Evans, wife of club owner Ike Evans in TV's Magic City and she had a lot of fun playing the headmistress in Vampire Academy. It's a bit of a shame that she didn't have this experience when she played Camille, of course it could have also helped if the character she played wasn't completely two dimensional which gave her little to work with.

Pre credit sequence: this is the best directed action sequence in the whole thing. It takes place immediately after Bond has shot Mr White. He's bundled him up in the back of his car and is desperately trying to convey him to an MI6 holding place in Siena. It's a wonderful car chase, plenty of crashes and bangs, with lots of tension and wrecked cars. I've seen better, but it could have also been a lot worse, judging by the rest of the film.

Gadgets: no Q again, so light on the gadgets. Bond's Ericsson phone has a built in identification imager (pretty sure that's not standard, no matter what plan you're on), and it's linked directly to MI6's computer network. Seeing the tech they now use makes me laugh when I think of how they trumpeted their old disc driven imager in For Your Eyes Only, and that was just under 30 years ago. Quantum had an earpiece that they used to talk and conduct their meeting during the opera that was also rather nifty.

Music: it took them a long time, but I think they finally managed to top the awfulness that was Lulu's The Man With The Golden Gun in Quantum Of Solace. The song again doesn't use the title. It's a piece of horribleness called Another Way To Die. Despite having been written by Jack White of the White Stripes and featuring his vocals and those of Alicia Keys it is simply horrendous. They both sound out of tune and their voices do not work at all well together, it's vaguely reminiscent of cats mating. It peaked at 9 on the UK singles chart, but only lasted one week in the US not making it any higher than 81. It doesn't help that the opening credits are quite uninspiring, because even they don't distract from the song the way that Casino Royale's clever and eye-catching credits did.

James Bond will return. I hope so, because I wouldn't want my last image of him to be Quantum Of Solace, which the more I think about it, the lower on my list it drops.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Casino Royale - 2006

Background: I'll begin this with some personal stuff. Casino Royale was the first Bond film I saw after my father passed away in 2005. The Bond films were something that we shared, always had since he first took me to see Live And Let Die at the drive-in when I was still quite young. Even if we didn't actually see the film together we both saw it at some point and discussed it afterwards. For that reason, and others which I'll probably go into as we go through it, I was very worried about Casino Royale and what I was hearing about the film. Oh, I was still always going to see it. I think some friends and I already had tickets booked. On the day it premiered one of those friends (equally as a big a fan as I am) rang me and asked if I had plans. He had scored a couple of corporate freebies to a premiere screening and one of the other guys he worked with couldn't make it, did I want to take his place? Did I what? Even if I had plans, I would have cancelled them. You don't get this sort of opportunity with a Bond film very often, so when you do, you take it with both hands!

I think once the 20th film was in the bag Eon underwent a shift in thinking. They'd honoured Cubby Broccoli's legacy and it was time for Bond to go back to where it all started and grow up a little. Despite Pierce Brosnan's brilliant portrayal of the character (and I still regard him as the best Bond when it comes to superficial things like look and voice) it was time for something new and different. The world of action films had changed since Pierce Brosnan first strode onto the screen in Goldeneye in 1995 and uttered the immortal words: 'Bond...James Bond.' The antihero was king now, over the years Bond had morphed from being a hard edged anti hero to something softer, a sort of untouchable superhero who saw things in an unrealistic black and white, rather than the shades of grey they often are.

Maybe none of that was really behind their thinking and they sat on their hands as far as Bond was concerned and concentrated more on the never to be Jinx spinoff they were planning. Certainly not much happened prior to 2003 when MGM cancelled the plans for the spin off and instead concentrated more on what was at the time known as Bond 21, then a lot began to happen.

Casino Royale was Ian Fleming's first James Bond book and it was the book that I'm sure Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted to film when they first entered into their partnership, but it was the one Ian Fleming property that Saltzman did not have the rights to. Eon did not get the rights to the book until 1999 when Sony Pictures exchanged them to MGM for the rights to Spider-Man. Although they went back to Sony before Casino Royale came out as they led a consortium that purchased MGM in 2005.

Neil Purvis and Robert Wade began writing a Bond script for Pierce Brosnan as Bond in Casino Royale in 2004, the idea was to strip Bond back to his beginnings. Quentin Tarantino had made noises about wanting to direct Casino Royale, however he never followed it up with Eon. He did claim that he had discussions with the Fleming family about it and wanted to film it entirely in black and white and starring Brosnan. He threw quite a tantrum when news came out that Eon were making Casino Royale and that they had a director and a star and they weren't Quentin Tarantino and Pierce Brosnan, nor would it be filmed entirely in black and white.

Everything that came out about the project, the loss of Brosnan as Bond, casting a very different actor (more on that in Casting), changing the cast, of the originals and regulars from the Brosnan era only Judi Dench's M would be left standing, indicated that this wasn't just another Bond film, this was a reboot.

It had to be really. Casino Royale is Fleming's first book about the character, it introduces audiences to him. The 20 previous films when changing actors had retained continuity. Lazenby's Bond is after Blofeld, a storyline that started in Connery's previous film You Only Live Twice, when Connery returned to the role in Diamonds Are Forever he's still after Blofeld. When Roger Moore put on the tuxedo he's dealing with the same M and Moneypenny and knows Felix Leiter. Dalton has the same M as Moore did for his last few outings as well as good old Q, and is also friends with Felix. Pierce Brosnan got a new everything else, except for Q, and his CIA contact was Jack Wade, they couldn't use Felix again as most of him was eaten by a shark in Licence To Kill. The stories coming out about Casino Royale said that audiences would see how Bond first became a 00 agent and that Felix Leiter was in it, but a totally different character as before in that he was being played by a black actor. I think this is where the theory that the name James Bond and the number 007 are actually different people first came about, people apply a similar logic to Felix, which explains his ever changing appearance. One thing that did remain the same was that Bond still favoured an Omega watch.

It was very revolutionary and this is why fans like me worried. You've had the same formula for over 40 years, it's been highly successful and now you want to mess with it. Why?

Having said all that and my misgivings that night in the cinema watching the new Bond my view of the films was forever transformed. I have 4 films that I rate higher than any of the other 23 Eon productions, Casino Royale is one of them. If pushed to select THE best Bond film (in my humble opinion of course) I would have say it's Casino Royale. It's as close to perfect as I have ever seen one of the films get.

Story: filming Casino Royale means taking the character back to the beginning. It's also not the easiest thing to film. Most of the action centres around a high stakes game of banco between Bond and the villain Le Chiffre. While Fleming loved the game and he knew the dark smoke filled world he was writing about it wouldn't have made the greatest viewing experience if it was filmed as it was written. About an hour of it would have been spent watching Bond get drunk in his hotel room.

In the end what they kept from the novel was the character names of Bond and Vesper as well as Le Chiffre, the banco game, although in deference to the time and for the audience's understanding the game was changed to poker (even in the 50's when they filmed Casino Royale for TV, there was an introduction to explain banco to the audience as it was not a well known game in the US, and it had not gained in popularity since) and the torture scene between Bond and Le Chiffre also survived largely intact, although this Le Chiffre preferred a heavy knotted rope to a carpet beater as his weapon of choice.

The story can be broken into a number of separate parts. Firstly Bond pursues a suspect connected to an international crime and terror ring in Madagascar. This chase sequence is one of the best ever filmed and it introduced a much wider audience to the sport of free running or parkour. The suspect was played by Sebastien Foucan, who was, and still is, one of the world's greatest free runners. There's quite a contrast as the bomber (Foucan) desperately tries to get away from Bond, he jumps over and through things, around them and bounces from side to side he seems to float in the air at times as he flows from movement to movement using what's around him to drive his forward momentum. I don't know who Craig's stunt double was, but unlike Foucan he simply barges through things rather than go over or around them, most notably a not quite completed drywall. It's a stunning scene that you simply can't take your eyes off and so inventively filmed. No crappy green screen here.

Bond then breaks into M's apartment (we later see that she's married, I assume the bloke next to her in bed is her husband unless she's got a tomboy, although he looked to be roughly the same age as her) and there's a wonderful exchange between Judi Dench and Daniel Craig, where they both act their pants off. M has an interesting relationship with this Bond. At times she doesn't much like him or his methods and has no qualms about letting him know it, she sees him as a blunt instrument, a thug, a gun for hire, which at this stage of his career, he is. There's a brief amusing exchange (some say that the Craig Bond's have no humour, they're wrong, they do have humour, it's just subtle and not in your face or desperately trying for the laugh the way earlier films often did) about M's real name. Bond said he assumed that it was a randomly assigned number he never thought it stood for, before he can finish it M tells him that she'll have him shot if he completes the sentence. I always wondered what her real name was and if it was some sort of state secret or very embarrassing. Apparently it's Barbara Mawdsley, and while that does sound rather like a frumpy old woman, it's not anything to be embarrassed or secretive about.

He winds up in Nassau. There's what I feel are a couple of callbacks to the earlier films here, not surprising given that most of Thunderball was also set in the Bahamas. The shot where Bond rises up out of the water wearing a pair of white/blue swim trunks and displays off his chiselled upper body is very reminiscent of Honey's introduction in Dr. No. The shot apparently came about by accident, they were doing locational shots when they noticed the reaction of female beach goers to Daniel Craig and shot the footage. The card game in the hotel casino between Dimitrios and Bond and then the fast drive he takes Solange on are straight out of Thunderball, although in that film it was Fiona Volpe who did the driving and it wasn't the DB5, which in this film he wins from Dimitrios (that could cause a continuity problem later on, but I'll get to that when the film pops up).

From Nassau, after seducing Solange and finding out she knows very little about her husband's business, he follows Dimitrios to Miami and after another electrifying and tense chase at an airport manages to prevent an aircraft from blowing up.

Back in Nassau Solange has been tortured and murdered due to her brief association with 007 and M tells Bond that the aeroplane was a new one and had it gone kaboom the company's stock would have fallen through the floor, because it didn't Le Chiffre took a bath and it was over $100,000,000 of someone else's money, it belonged to an African warlord, and he'll want it back. To that end the villain has set up a huge winner takes all poker match in which the pot will be over a hundred million. According to M's assistant Villiers (he basically replaces Moneypenny) Bond is the best poker player in the service (she wishes he weren't, she still sees him as a dangerous loose cannon) and so they're putting him in the game against Le Chiffre.

That's when the action crosses to Montenegro, the scenery is stunning. Bond meets MI6's accountant, a beautiful young lady with sparkling eyes, Vesper Lynd. There's a veiled Moneypenny reference when Vesper introduces herself as 'the money' and after looking her up and down Bond replies; 'and worth every penny of it'. Little touches like that made the script. There's a crackling energy between Craig and Eva Green, too, it sizzles every time they're on screen together.

During the game a lot happens. Some people have seen it as overlong and rather boring. Maybe it's because I like stories about capers and heists and they often include gambling, but I don't see it that way at all. The silent game of bluff and courage that happens as the players risk everything on the fall of a card is full of tension. Besides there are at least two attempts on Bond's life during the game. One comes during a break when Bond encounters two of the Africans who are pressuring Le Chiffre for their money and the other when Le Chiffre poisons Bond. The line about the last hand nearly killing him from Bond after he's narrowly avoided going into cardiac arrest is another example of the dry humour in the film.

After he wins Bond suggests that he and Vesper celebrate with a meal. It's at that meal that Bond names the martini he created during the poker game, and calls it a Vesper, it's also then that he speaks about the pendant she wears and identifies it as an Algierian love knot. Vesper takes a call from Mathis; their contact in Montenegro and leaves briefly.

That's when Bond realises that Mathis was betraying him (it was actually Vesper, but as he had fallen in love with her he refused to believe it) and runs out to see Vesper being dragged into a car by Le Chiffre's people. He gives chase in his own car, a new Aston Martin and winds up rolling it (the stunt set a record for complete car rolls at the time) and being taken by Le Chiffre.

To access the money Bond won Le Chiffre needs two things. The number which he can force Vesper into giving him and the password from Bond. Now this is why I had issues with the condition of Bond after 14 months of torture at the hands of the North Koreans in Die Another Day. In about 5 minutes with the assistance of a knotted rope Le Chiffre has Bond in intense pain, admittedly he's not going to give up the password, but he's not in great condition, even though someone from another organisation shoots Le Chiffre dead before he can get really creative, Bond still needs to be hospitalised for a period to recover from what Le Chiffre did to him. He also delivers Mathis into the hands of MI6, because he's still convinced he was the betrayer.

The film then enters it's 3rd and final part. Bond and Vesper decide to leave their respective jobs and float until one of them needs to get an honest job, which Bond says will need to be Vesper, because he doesn't think he knows how to do an honest job. They go to Venice. While cruising along the Grand Canal, Vesper spots a man wearing glasses with one blacked out lens and the sight of him bothers her.

After a passionate night or two of love making Vesper says they need to be away, she'll get the money, he gets the supplies. Just after she leaves Bond receives a call from M, yes she does want to discuss his resignation, but more pressing is the presence of the treasury representative who wants to know when he'll be depositing the money he won from Le Chiffre. That's when the penny drops for Bond and a quick call to the Swiss banker who dealt with the money from the poker game confirms it, Vesper has just withdrawn it all from the branch in St Mark's Square.

Bond chases her desperately through the confused rabbit warren that is Venice and finally tracks her down to an abandoned building that is undergoing work to prevent it from simply collapsing into the lagoon. There's a fight and Vesper is trapped in the elevator. The building starts to sink and it takes Vesper with it. Bond tries to save her, but she lets herself drown before he can get the elevator open and retrieve her body. M explains later that she had an Algierian boyfriend who they used to put pressure on her to get the money for Le Chiffre. Bond says he doesn't care, but both he and M know that's a lie.

One thing that had bothered me was the lack of certain hallmarks of the series, even though it was new Bond almost has to say the line and he hadn't yet he'd had opportunities. They referenced the shaken not stirred thing when a bad tempered Bond asks for a martini during the game and the bartender asks him if he wants it shaken or stirred and Bond snaps 'Do I look like I give a damn?' 

An expensive car pulls up to an even more expensive house set on a cliff top overlooking crystal blue waters somewhere in Europe. A well dressed man with grey hair steps out of the car and looks out. We've seen him before with Le Chiffre. His mobile phone rings and he answers, then a shot rings out and part of one of his lower legs explodes in a shower of blood. He painfully claws himself to the steps where a man stands, and looks up with the question in his eyes, the answer comes from a gun toting Bond: 'The name is Bond...James Bond.'

The perfect ending to a near perfect film.


Director: Eon clearly ignored Tarantino, and while I love some of his films I think he'd be the wrong director for Bond. His love of black and white film doesn't help. He's also very American and Bond is still very British. Knowing that they had to make a statement they turned to Martin Campbell and in this film Campbell established that not only is he the best director Bond has ever had, he's one of the best directors of an action film in the history of the medium. While he again had a great cast he still got the best out of them.

James Bond: as far as Brosnan and everyone else knew he was going to be James Bond in the 21st film. Judi Dench came out and publicly stated that Bond would return and so would Pierce at one point when fans were getting restless in between Die Another Day and Casino Royale. Both Brosnan and Eon had concerns about Brosnan's age, he was nearly 50 when Die Another Day came out and no one wanted a repeat of the Moore situation where Roger looked old enough to be M's boss rather than the other way around. I don't believe Pierce Brosnan was ever told that he wasn't required, he kind of worked it out some time in 2004 and walked away. There was no shortage of candidates. Names like Daniel Day Lewis and Clive Owen were bandied about, Brosnan even suggested Colin Salmon. Karl Urban had filming commitments that prevented him from making the screen test. Martin Campbell liked Henry Cavill, but at 22 years of age he was too young for the role. Sam Worthington was also considered, but this was pre Avatar and he didn't have that high a profile. Goran Visnjic auditioned for the role on the same day as Daniel Craig, but couldn't do a believable British accent. Daniel Craig's casting came as a shock to many, myself included, he wasn't unknown, but he didn't fit the profile that the other actors since Lazenby did. He's 5'10" which Cubby Broccoli would have considered too short, he's fair haired (that shouldn't be a deal breaker, at one point Roger Moore's hair was lighter brown than it was dark), but he just didn't look right (I still don't think he is) and he's never got the voice right for me, but he is however the best actor that's ever played the role. You can argue that's Connery, but he learned on the job, Craig came to it as a damn good actor. He plays the role as if he is a new 00 and you can actually see him evolve as the film progresses. That's brilliant acting, he's also totally believable and contrary to popular opinion has a way with a line that's underrated. There were a few fan groups set up in opposition to his casting. I came around, but many never will. It's really their loss.

Le Chiffre: I'm not sure who tried out for this role. It had been played in the past by screen legends Peter Lorre for the US TV version and Orson Welles in Woody Allen's 1967 spoof. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen was well cast. He looks rather evil and is very believable being an utter bastard, he plays them well. The odd physical quirk that Le Chiffre had of crying blood from one eye gave the character a real Bondian feel as well as made him more sinister.

Rene Mathis: the character appears in a number of Fleming Bond's and is a French agent and long term friend of Bond's. He was also in the 1967 Casino Royale. In this film he's an MI6 agent based in Europe and played with a suitable amount of European suaveness by Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini.

Peripheral roles: only one regular cast member from the previous films made the transition to the new ones and that was Judi Dench's M. New regulars would be established, but this was their first appearance.

Villiers: this is M's assistant, he kind of replaces Moneypenny who does not appear in Casino Royale, her role and character do not appear to exist. I wonder if the character's name is a reference to actor James Villiers, who played Bill Tanner in For Your Eyes Only, in the books and some of the films Tanner is M's 2IC and actually filled in for him in For Your Eyes Only. He's played by Tobias Menzies, who is also known for his roles as Brutus in HBO's Rome and Edmure Tully in Game of Thrones

Felix Leiter: he returned! He's much more of a field operative this time and he first encounters Bond during the poker game and offers to stake him as long as they get Le Chiffre if he wins. He's played by Geoffrey Wright and there was controversy around the casting as Wright is a black actor and the character had previously been white.

Alex Dimitrios: an associate of Le Chiffre's who tries to blow up a plane for his boss and loses a car in a game to Bond. An unsavoury individual played with suitable sleaze by Simon Abkarian.

Mr White: he's never named beyond that rather Tarantinoesque alias. He's a shadowy individual connected to an international criminal network that pops in and out and is pulling the strings behind everything. Bond shoots him at the end of the film. Like Mads Mikkelsen, Jesper Christensen is a Danish actor, and he becomes a semi regular character in the new Bonds.

Mendel: I don't know if everyone would include the genial Swiss banker as a peripheral character, but he's so at odds with everyone else in the film that he makes me laugh. Played with nerdy joviality by German actor Ludger Pistor.

Mollaka: we don't really know much about the character of Mollaka, other than he's a bomber and has terrible burn scars on his face. I include him because he's played by free runner Sebastien Foucan and does such great work in that chase scene early in the film.

Solange: Dimitrios' ill fated girlfriend. She's sexy, wants the good things in life and likes riding horses along the beach, that's about all we learn before she's murdered. For some reason she's rated as a Bond girl, possibly because she sleeps with James. Italian actress Caterina Murino portrayed her and was suitably attractive while not having to display a lot of acting talent.

There's a very brief cameo by Richard Branson being processed through customs at Miami airport. I wonder if that's an acknowledgement that they made fun of him with the character of Gustav Graves in Die Another Day?

Vesper Lynd: Vesper is beautiful, playful, hurt, conflicted, a contradiction. She's the woman who captures Bond's heart. Probably the first one to really do that in the films since Tracy, although Elektra had a good go at it. She's very well written. She's believably written. I've always found it odd that these Bond girls from sheltered backgrounds take the killing in their stride. Vesper doesn't, she loses it the first time she sees Bond kill someone and he finds her sitting almost catatonic, fully dressed in the shower. Both Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron were strongly considered for the role, Belgian actress Cecile de France auditioned, but her English wasn't good enough to carry the role. Audrey Tatou wasn't chosen due to her involvement with The Da Vinci Code, thank goodness, I think she would have been totally wrong. French actress and model Eva Green was cast as Vesper.  She had done some film work, but was probably more recognised as a model at the time. She's another example of them casting for looks and getting lucky. Her eyes are positively bewitching, she had great chemistry with Craig which really sold the role and their relationship.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: Eva Green hasn't suffered from this at all. She may die in the film (the second Bond girl since Elektra in The World Is Not Enough to do so), but her career has flourished. Most recently as the mysterious Vanessa Ives in the TV show Penny Dreadful, where she acts alongside another former Bond in Timothy Dalton. She also worked with Daniel Craig again in The Golden Compass.

Pre credit sequence: in a change from most pre credit sequences and from Campbell's previous outing as director in Goldeneye, this one is almost action free. To give it that dark spy world feel it's also shot in black and white (I would have given anything to see Quentin Tarantino's expression when he watched the start of Casino Royale), and it shows how Bond earned his 00 status. He kills a corrupt MI6 station chief and flashes back to his first kill which was someone that chief sent to kill Bond. Like many of the fights in the film it's brutal and realistic. That's a hallmark of this film and the new Bond's. Fighting isn't pretty and choreographed, it's brutal and dirty, kill or be killed. It's also worth noting that the shot of Bond shooting through the eyeball comes at the end of the pre credit sequence not before as it always had.

Gadgets: there was a concerted effort to strip this back, the way the early Connery's were, and for that reason gadgets are almost as non existent as they were in Dr. No. The only things that really qualify are the portable defibrillator kit that is built into the dash of Bond's Aston Martin and another slide out panel that contains a gun and silencer in the car. There's no Q in Casino Royale, he seems to have gone the same way as Moneypenny. While I miss Q I think including him in this film would have spoiled the flow and feel of it, same with Moneypenny.

Music: this is about the only thing they got wrong for me. The music is actually fine, but the lyrics of You Know My Name (another film where the title wasn't used as the theme name) written and sung by former lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave Chris Cornell is fairly forgettable. Cornell was a big name, but I've never liked his singing and this didn't endear me to him at all. The credits with their card/gambling motifs and lack of naked women were excellent.  The theme reverted back to the original for the first time in years, and that was greatly appreciated.

James Bond is promised to return, but honestly if he didn't Casino Royale would have been a great swan song.