FlixChatter Review: Casino Royale (2006)

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This review was part of Mark & Tom’s Decades Blogathon that was published back in mid May. But since July 6 is Eva Green’s birthday, I decided to post it here this week.


I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Casino Royale came out. I just re-watched it this weekend to refresh my memory for the blogathon, though I had probably re-watched it a few times in the last 10 years. It’s still as good as the first time I saw it, and I still would regard it as one of my favorite Bond films… ever. I’ve mentioned Casino Royale so many times here on my blog, in fact it’s one of my fave films of 2000s and one of the 8 films I’d take with me if I were stuck on a desert island.

Like many Bond fans, I too had trepidation about Daniel Craig casting (too blond, too short, etc.) but of course we’re all proven wrong the second he appeared on the pre-credit scene. Craig might not be the most good looking Bond actor (and he is the shortest), but he more than made up for it in charisma AND swagger. Apart from Craig’s brilliant casting, it’s the story that makes this film so re-watchable. It’s not only a great Bond film, it’s a great film, period. An origin story of sort, James Bond goes on his first ever mission as 007, and he didn’t get off on the right foot with M right away. The scene when M berated Bond when he broke into her flat was intense but humorous, a perfect balancing act the film continuously play throughout. It’s not the first time we see the venerable Dame Judi Dench as M, but I must say I LOVE the banter between her and Craig even more.

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A great Bond film has to have an effective adversary and we find that in Mads Mikkelsen‘s Le Chiffre, a cold-looking Scandinavian with a bleeding eye. It would’ve been a silly gimmick if not played carefully, but here Le Chiffre is a cool and ominous villain. The fact that he’s really not a mastermind in the likes of Blofeld or Drax, but the fact that he’s not hellbent in ruling or destroying the entire world is frankly refreshing. He is a banker to the world’s terrorists, and so his only motive is money, like most of real world villains are. And a great Bond film also needs a memorable Bond girl. Well, Eva Green‘s Vesper Lynd is perhaps the hottest cinematic accountant ever. “I’m the money,” she quips the first time she enters the screen and into Bond’s heart. To this day I’m still enamored by the train scene to Montenegro, the way Bond & Vesper banter each other with wit and sexual undercurrents is what Bond movies are all about. Vesper is no Bimbo and that automatically made her a bazillion times more intriguing than bombshells in lesser Bond movies.

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Casino Royale isn’t big on gadgetry, and as a longtime Bond fan, I actually didn’t mind it. It’s got everything else one would expect in a Bond movie – the cars, the exotic locations, the suspense, action and quick wit – it’s all there. Compared to Craig Bond movies, the Roger Moore versions feel more like a drama given how relentless and vigorous all the action sequences are. The opening parkour/free running scene apparently took six weeks to shoot and my goodness, I’m out of breath just watching it! This is one sprightly Bond and Craig did most of his own stunts, so it looks believable that he was the one doing the action in the movie. He reportedly has the injuries to prove it too! The car chase wasn’t overlong, but dayum was it memorable. The scene where Aston Martin missed Vesper by a hair and rolled over multiple times still took my breath away every time I saw it.

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But all of that action stuff wouldn’t have mattered much without a grounding story. I think the last time Bond was genuinely romantic and emotional was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was when Bond fell in love. The scene of Bond tenderly comforting Vesper in the shower is one of my favorite scenes in all of the Bond films. There is nothing erotic or sexual in this scene, instead it packs an emotional wallop that makes Bond/Vesper relationship one of the best and most convincing romances in a Bond movie. The love story in Casino Royale is core to the plot and it was woven perfectly into all the espionage intrigue.

Vesper: You’re not going to let me in there, are you? You’ve got your armour back on. That’s that.

Bond: I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever is left of me – whatever I am – I’m yours.

Bond films are known for being an eye and ear candy, and this probably ranks as one of the most beautifully-shot. The scenery in Venice as Bond stroll in the Grand Canal is especially striking, topped off by the intense fight scene in a crumbling house (shot at Pinewood Studios modeled after Venice’s Hotel Danieli). The soundtrack also ranks as one of the best, done by David Arnold with an homage to the legendary composer John Barry. I can’t get over how much I love the track City of Lovers, which I’ve highlighted for my Music Break here. The theme song You Know My Name by Chris Cornell is also one of my favorite Bond songs, and the cards-themed opening sequence is spectacularly-done.

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Per IMDb, this was the first James Bond movie to be based on a full-length Ian Fleming novel since Moonraker 27 years prior. Goldeneye‘s director Martin Campbell helmed the film from a screenplay from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. I wish Campbell would be back in the director seat again as his previous two Bond films rate as one of my all time favorites. There’s so much style & sophistication in abundance here, but never at the expense of story & character. What I also love is that the quieter moments in the movie is still just as intriguing as the high-octane action scenes. That poker game in Montenegro is brimming with elegance as well as suspense, whilst showcasing the film’s excellent production design and costume design. Vesper’s plunging purple dress is a real head-turner and I don’t think Craig has looked more suave than in his tuxedo that Vesper tailor-made for him.

I really can go on and on about this movie as it’s really a masterpiece in the 50 years of James Bond films we’ve got so far. It also made me even more dismayed that the recent film in which the plot directly followed this one was such a downgrade. Looking back at Casino Royale‘s fantastic finale with Bond introducing himself to Mr. White, I expected SO much more than what they gave us with Spectre.

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What are your thoughts about ‘Casino Royale’? Does it rank amongst your favorite Bond films?

Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films – In the Valley of Ellah, The Ides of March & Margin Call

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Greetings all and sundry!

Between bouts of less than strenuous snow shoveling. I’ve taken refuge within the recent fare of The Sundance and Sony Channels. To acclimate myself with some interesting contemporary offerings. And maintain a sense of loyalty to Julian of Dirty With Class. And his suggestion that I sometime stray from my comfort zone of earlier Classic Films.

To that end, I have plunged deep into titles that tickled my interest as their trailers and ads when first unleashed on the populous. Either for their visuals, tightly compressed and less than two minute story lines. Or their casts. Which, surprisingly in hindsight appeared and delivered far beyond the parameters of their assigned tales.

Allow me to introduce …

Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films

Chronologically first in line is this odd little offering from Paul Haggis and “Based on actual events” of the early Iraq War.

In The Valley of Elah: (2007) – Sundance Channel

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Whose central plot device focuses upon returning G.I. Specialist Mike “Doc” Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker). And his strange and grisly death after suddenly going AWOL after a few weeks stateside.

Enter Mike parents, Army veteran and retired Army Intel Sergeant, Hank (Tommy Lee Jones). And his stoic wife, Joan (Susan Sarandon), who has already lost one son to a helicopter crash during a Ranger training exercise..

Being the concerned father, Hank travels to his son’s home station. Starts asking questions while hitting the first defensive line of an Army stonewall. And doesn’t buy the less than orderly goings on of the Army investigation for a minute. In retribution, hank takes a look at his son’s barracks room and finds Mike’s smart phone. Hoping it may have something hidden within its high tech innards.

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Frustrated, Hank has a discussion with Joan, who channels her inner June Lockhart from the 1960’s CBS fci-fi series, Lost In Space. And sends Hank out to find some help from the local police. On the way, Hank drops Mike’s phone at a local computer shop and asks the resident nerd or geek to run a complete diagnostic and dredge up what he can.

At the police station, Hank sees Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) deep in discussion with the distraught wife of a returned G.I.. Who had drowned the family’s pet dog in the bathtub while her husband had his son watch. Detective Sanders takes the report, but there is nothing she or the police can do. And there’s even less Sanders and the cops can do regarding an AWOL soldier. Not her problem. Not her jurisdiction.

Until a few days later and a crime scene pops up with a burned and dismembered body in the middle of nowhere. The local P.D. is more than happy to lateral the scene and crime over to the Army. Since the scene is on the outskirts if the military reservation, Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

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Hank wants to stick his nose in, but the Military Police have little time and no use for a long retired brother in arms. Angered, Hank starts playing with his son’s phone. Which had suffered heat and fire damage. And its stored videos are garbled, but show images of G.I. interrogating and later, torturing Iraqi soldiers.

Hank get a call from the base and an officer takes Hank out to the crime scene. And later the morgue. Where Jason Patric‘s Lt. Kirklander starts asking questions about Mike’s possible involvement in drugs. Nudging the possibility that a cross border gang may be responsible. Since a glass pipe was found under Mike’s mattress.

Hank and Sanders return to the crime scene and determine that Mike was brutally killed and immolated elsewhere and deliberately dumped between battling civilian and military jurisdictions…

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers’ sake.

Overall Consensus:

Paul Haggis is a well respected, revered and feted screenwriter. Attached to many award winning films. And that said. He should stick to what he knows and does best!

His direction of this first of a small number of “Anti-War” films is parochial at best. He knows how to set and stage scenes. And arranges and choreographs whatever action scenes there are in a copy book or primer fashion. No scene leaps out memorably. Though, Mr. Haggis claims credit for the film’s adaptation and screenplay.Even when Tommy Lee Jones’ Hank near weepingly informs his wife that their youngest son is dead.

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Susan Sarandon does anger and the sudden bereaved mother well. But Carol Burnett did it better in the made for TV movie, Friendly Fire in 1979. Cinematography by Roger Deakins is serviceable. And a bit clever with New Mexico outlands and Morocco substituting for Arizona and Iraq, respectively. And polished by editing by Jo Francis.

Also not a fan of the heavy-handed, Boogeyman treatment ladled onto Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Something that little is known about, but quickly becomes the catch all for any tense or erratic behavior beyond what is considered the “norm”.

Which takes into the sometimes murky world of politics. In an adaptation of the play, Farragut North. Originally written by Beau Willmon, who shares screenwriting credit with the film’s director, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The Ides of March: (2011) – Sony Channel

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Which boasts Ryan Gosling as junior political campaign manager, Stephen Meyers. Attached to the Presidential campaign of Pennsylvania Governor, Mike Morris (D), (George Clooney. Who’s not afraid to occasionally throw his weight around). Tied up in a slowly tightening race against fellow Democrat and Arkansas Governor, Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell).

Both candidates have connections and money to burn. But need the endorsement of North Carolina Governor, Franklin Thompson (Slippery Jeffrey Wright), who controls 356 convention delegates.

Now that the primary characters have been noted. The meat of this tale hangs mostly upon and is brought to the fore by secondary players. Specifically, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, in fine form!) as Tom Pullman’s manager, front man and perhaps, bag man? Who meets with Meyers in private and delivers Meyers to a sit down with Duffy’s boss. Media and message specialist, Paul Zaza, (Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Laconically used to his power and rarely raises his voice.). Who is intrigued by Meyers and is in search for a new Padawan to mentor and teach the ropes and ins and outs to.

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Meyers and Duffy talk. And Duffy offers Meyers a position on the Pullman campaign. Which Meyers turns down in an effort to curry favor with his new girlfriend, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood). Young. Idealistic. And utterly naive and out of her depth in her desire to be part of “An honest campaign, where integrity matters”.

Molly is an intern with the Morris campaign and is also the daughter of former Senator Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin) and Chairman of the Democrat National Committee.

Meyers is bounced around as offers of Sec State are made to Morris by Duffy through Pullman. Counter offers are made in return by Zaza. Just to the the juggled balls even and airborne and Thompkins’ delegates in the mix as major leverage.

No one is playing well with the other. All anxious to hold onto whatever favorable numbers are in the polls. Meyers tries calling Molly to no avail. So Meyers begins poking around where he shouldn’t. Back to Iowa and a stopover shared by Molly and Morris. Molly is pregnant by Morris. Meyers pays bag man and delivers money to Molly for an abortion. Meyers fires Molly from the campaign with orders for her to keep quiet.

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A New York Times reporter, Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) braces Meyers with what she knows about Meyers’ meeting with Duffy. And wants more. Threatening to publish what she knows unless Meyers wants to help himself. Confronted with a leak. And Molly’s sudden overdosing. Meyers decides to take on Morris. Who has just enough information and gossip to implicate Meyers in Molly’s death. And cuts Meyers off at the knees while being handed his walking papers.

Seeking revenge, Meyers talks to Duffy, who wants nothing to do with Meyers’ rogue, duplicitous activities. Paul Zaza is even less friendly. Filling Meyers in on his personal beliefs in loyalty. And Meyers coming up far short. Admitting to Meyers that he leak that sent The New York Times after him. And not really caring. Because Meyers doesn’t have what it takes for full contact politics.

I’ll not violate the Prime Directive regarding Spoilers and pull over right now.

Overall Consensus:

Having followed the rough and tumble of politics inside and just outside Washington, DC for forty plus years. And crediting everything I know about how Democrats play the game to the late, great political novelist, Ross Thomas. I just didn’t buy the premise of the entire film.

Never doubting for a moment that Mr. Clooney’s Mike Morris would win the nomination. Basically due to his hair and good looks. I also expect something more imaginative than long telegraphed twists and standard plot devices.

That said, the battle is fought exceptionally well in the trenches by Mr.Giamatti’s and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And their characters who exude worldly weariness over the daily give and take. Addicted to the give and take of power, while doing everything they can to protect their candidates. To these men, it’s a job. Which becomes a career over time. With wins and losses. As long as the wins outnumber the losses. To Ryan Gosling‘s Stephen Meyers. It’s an adrenaline charged rush. That requires, and later demands recognition.

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It might also help to use locations in Pennsylvania to help tell and sell the tale of a Pennsylvania Governor’s desires to rise in political ascension. Instead of major and outlying cities in Ohio and Michigan!

Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is noteworthy in using these sometimes cramped and uncredited locales to add a touch of damp, dour, cold, dingy winter weather to buttress a rather tame, pedestrian.story.

Which glides us to the final installment in independent story telling. Orbiting slowly and re entering in stock market crash of 2007 and its near fatal effect on Goldman~Sachs and other Wall Street firms.

Margin Call: (2011) – Sundance Channel

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Which opens to the noise, clamor, hustle and bustle of another day’s trading on the floor. Though, something new is added. Expensively suited supervisors taking busy traders aside and handing them their pink slips. With whispers to not clear their desks or offices. Just leave!

Watched in slack jawed and stunned awe by Junior risk assessment analyst, Seth Bergman (Penn Badgley). Senior Trader, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Trading Desk Supervisor, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany). Something foul is afoot as traders are escorted out. Amongst them, Peter and Seth’s boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Master numbers cruncher. Head of risk management on the trading floor. And nearly unrecognizable in a few days’ stubble.

The three subordinates watch as Dale is led towards an elevator. Peter steps close and Dale manages to pass a USB Memory Stick. With the waning “Be Careful” as the elevator doors close, Peter plugs in the stick and starts stripping the mathematical algorithms. Discovering a whole submerged iceberg of useless and junk stocks, bonds and mortgage backed securities. Far exceeding projections from any time in the past. Or present.

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The exchange house is hemorrhaging money. And drastic measures are needed as department heads decide to burn the midnight oil. each wondering if their heads will be on the block. As Senior Risk Management Officer, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) starts going over the “Formula”‘s numbers and projections. Seth and peter call in Will Emerson. Who calls his higher up, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey solidly in touch with his inner Jack Lemmon).

The players make their entrances in whispered asides and brief encounters. As Will, Seth and Peter go to the skyscraper’s roof for a smoke or last bit of fresh air before the dawn. With Will trying to allay fears while not really knowing much of anything, himself. As a helicopter makes itself known before circling and landing on the upper, night lit helipad.

The first of several meetings is called. With Division head, Jared Cohen (Simon Baker, from L.A. Confidential and The Mentalist. Radiating smooth confidence in expensive attire) and Corporate CEO, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons. A veteran of past “hiccups” and anxious to find the limits of immediate damage). His opening soliloquy is equal parts familiarity with what may occur. And a desire for ideas. Any ideas which might help allay or soften the inevitable.

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Ms. Robertson adds to the discussion with the news that “The Formula” is real and a worst case scenario will soon be at hand. While Sam responds to Tuld’s wanting a plan of action with a dawn to dusk sale of anything and everything. At least 40% sales on stocks and shares at 85 cents on the dollar by 11 o’clock. With recalls to brokerage houses throughout the day. Starting at 65 cents on the dollar afterward and continuously whittling down as excess ballast is dumped, But to what end?

Survival, of course. Creating what is sure to be a long, hard and full day ahead. As lower tier traders go seek privacy to cry or panic. And their bosses sweat out what can be retrieved or gained.

As the man with the plan, Eric Dale is sought out for whatever other input he might be able to add in regards to sales and options. Eric is at home. In his recently purchased and refurbished house in Brooklyn. And Will and Peter have their breakfasts interrupted. And are dispatched to find whatever the can. or bring him back.

In the interim, Ms. Robertson has a tete a tete with Jared over whom is going to be asked to fall on their sword and be a sacrificial lamb. Sarah is having no part of it. While Jared knows that she is. And will be. While Sam takes the just arrived floor traders asides and delivers not exactly a pep talk, but more of a plan of strategy.
Mentioning bonuses to individual and team of traders for achieving or exceeding their assigned quotas.

The morning bell clangs and the air is alive with calls out and the sales feeding frenzy begins. With Will laying on all his charms while giving away whacking great chunks of toxic stocks at slightly better than minimum loss. That will surely approaching maximum before the day is out.

Overall Consensus:

Here we have an instance of an A-List cast being used to less than their absolute potential. In a film whose dialogue could use one or two scenes of unbridled and angry scenery chewing. We have utter, serene, near glacial calm as the bottom is falling out of a touch stone brokerage house.

The cast does what it can to add suspense with inflection and decades of experience with the spoken word. Especially Kevin Spacey’s Sam. Who has too many years in. Wants out badly, but the present opportunity offers little in return. Sam does what he does, because he needs the money.

While Jeremy Irons knows the present situation is terrible. But survivable. The only real “third wheel” is Demi Moore‘s Sarah Robertson. Who approaches the requisite anger level for such a situation. Railing against the men over her coveted position, while being brushed aside at nearly every turn.

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Surprisingly, it’s Stanley Tucci who calmly, quietly underplays and subtly manages to steal then own every scene he’s in. His talk with Will on the steps of his Brooklyn home is a wonder to follow as explains hours and days of travel saved with a bridge he’s helped design between Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Direction by J.C. Chandor is adequate and mostly shot in one of Goldman’s deserted office towers. Though his screenplay could have stood a second review and possible re-write.

Personal Notes:

I don’t mind “Bad Cinema”. Some offerings are my favorite Guilty Pleasures. What I do mind are producers (And these films’ list of producers are all excessively long) putting their money on the line to assemble A-List and ‘Dream Team’ actors saddled with less-than-satisfactory projects under the reins of less than proven directors.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Your comments are welcome!

FlixChatter Review: The Next Three Days

I got a free screening tickets to see this Tuesday night. Though I wasn’t totally sold on the trailer, I figure ‘hey, it’s free and it’s got Russell Crowe in it, how bad can it be?’ Well, turns out it’s not bad at all, in fact, it’s a pretty solid movie that’s intelligent and well-crafted. Directed by writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale), The Next Three Days is a remake of the French film Anything for Her (Pour Elle).

Crowe plays John Brennan, an ordinary family man whose life takes an unexpected turn when his wife Laura is sent to prison for murder she claimed she didn’t commit. The trailer makes it look like it’s about some ferocious vengeance thriller, but it really doesn’t do this movie justice as it’s much smarter than that. I’d say it’s more of a crime drama as it focuses on the years John struggles to raise his young son without his wife by his side, and how he’s plagued by his strong belief that his wife is innocent, which leads to the drastic measures he takes in the name of love.

Now, if you’re expecting a fast-paced type of action movie in the vein of Bourne or Bond movies, this might not be a movie for you. This is what I’d say a thinking man’s thriller that takes its time for the audience to get into the head of the character. Yes, it might feel tedious at times, and people with short attention span probably wish there were more action. But as my hubby pointed out after the movie, the unhurried, quiet scenes help you identify with what John is feeling… his desperation the longer his wife stays in prison that his daily routine life becomes increasingly unbearable. The pace makes it believable for John to devise an elaborate escape plan, I mean, he doesn’t suddenly become an action hero a la Die Hard‘s John McClane where everything he sets out to do works out as planned.

The last half hour packs on the thrill, and by this time we are ready to see the payoff of all of John’s meticulous efforts. We’ve become so invested in this Brennan family that regardless whether Laura is guilty or not, we sympathize with them (especially John) so much that we want them to survive. The getaway though downtown Pittsburgh and the subway/airport chase are exciting and keep you on the edge of your seat, but never gratuitous or overdone.

Now, the performances. Elizabeth Banks turns in a pretty convincing dramatic performance as Laura, though she hardly looks dowdy enough for having been in prison for a few years. Liam Neeson makes a brief but memorable cameo as a prison-related book author that John consults with. He warns John what he must become in order to pull off such a massive undertaking, somehow his dialog reminds me a bit of his Batman Begins role as Henri Ducard as he advises Bruce Wayne to become the legendary caped crusader. Olivia Wilde (massively popular with the fan-boys due to all those TRON Legacy promos) also has a small supporting role, though she doesn’t seem that crucial to the story.

The best part about this movie is without a doubt, Crowe’s performance. He’s equally believable alternating between a gentle, dotting dad and an unrelenting man-on-a-mission. Some people say this isn’t a ‘typical Russell Crowe movie.’ I’m not sure what that exactly means… I never thought of the Aussie thespian being pigeonholed into a single type of movie. Sure he’s famous for playing a bad-ass tough guy, but he’s done plenty of ‘every man’ roles as well. If he’s suddenly starring in a musical where he sings every single line and starts dancing like Fred Astaire, then fine, you could say it isn’t something you normally see him in (though I won’t rule out he WON’T be doing a role like that). In any case, I dare say this is one of his best roles even in such a staggering resume and further solidifies why he’s one the greatest actors working today.

Anyone interested in seeing this? If you’re on the fence whether to see it or not, I’d say give it a shot and don’t judge this movie by its trailer.