Bond-ed for Life – Skyfall

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost

Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Helen McCrory, Ola Rapace, Tonia Sotiropoulou

Director: Sam Mendes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  The release of the 23rd Bond feature film inspired me to take a look back at the 22 films that have come before it.  Starting with the 1962 of release of Dr. No and continuing on through the 2012’s Skyfall, audiences around the world have come to know, trust, and count on James Bond to show up on Her Majesty’s secret service to get the job done.  Though the faces of Bond have changed over the years and the man himself has gone through some character development, one thing remains true…this is a gentleman who loves his country, his women, and his martini’s shaken not stirred.

Now, as the franchise celebrates its 50th Anniversary, a Bond adventure has been crafted that surpasses every expectation one could have and reaches levels I’m not sure anyone involved could have ever imagined or hoped to reach.  It’s as close to a perfectly made action film as I’ve seen in my years of going to the movies, one that will hold appeal to those well acquainted with 007 and those that are just starting out.  Skyfall is, in my opinion, the best James Bond movie ever produced.

Bold statement, right?  Well…let me try to explain it the best way I can – and know that this review is going to be spoiler free so as not to ruin the experience for you.  The less said about the scope of the picture the better because one of the key ingredients to its success is the not knowing what’s lurking around the corner for Bond, M, and his colleagues at MI6.

I can’t go further into this review without mentioning a few new faces behind the camera for Skyfall.  New director Mendes draws on his theatrical background to help his cast dig deeper than ever before in service to the dynamite story/script provided by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and exceptional screenwriter John Logan.  In his first true action film (let’s not mention 2005’s Jarhead), Mendes works like a master to create the most fully formed Bond experience one could hope for. 

Mendes brings along Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, another artist not readily known for his work in the action genre.  Deakins keeps the camera moving in such a way that though the action is fast, furious, and delirious, we never lose track of what we’re watching and where it’s going.  Production designer Dennis Gassner returns to Bond after Quantum of Solace to create a bar-raising world of exotic locales, abandoned islands, and misty moors.  It’s all set to Thomas Newman’s hat-tipping score that’s quite thrilling.  When Monty Norman’s original Bond theme starts to play at a key point in the movie, I had chills from horn to hoof.

Now this all would make for a very pretty picture…but if you didn’t have the right people to stick in front of the camera you’d be up the creek.  Thankfully, Mendes has populated his film with intriguing cast additions and welcome return visitors.

Craig should now be considered the fully formed embodiment of Bond.  No disrespect to the the other actors that have come before him but Craig is as close to the James Bond found in the novels of Ian Fleming as anyone yet to suit up for the part.  A reckless Bond in Casino Royale and a vengeful Bond in Quantum of Solace, in Skyfall Bond has become someone that is genuinely afraid to feel anything that he can’t control.  It’s a brilliant move for the film to give the actor (and us) the opportunity to see under the skin and it’s Craig’s best performance on screen in any film.

Is there anything bad one could say about Dame Dench at this point in her career?  Her involvement with the Bond films since GoldenEye have been nothing short of excellent but it’s with Skyfall that M becomes a leading character along with Bond.  She sits atop a plot that hinges on how much we really want to know about her…had M stayed on the sidelines during her tenure this film couldn’t have happened in the way it did.  M has always been illustrative of a surrogate mother to Bond and that relationship comes into play several times.

In a series that is famous for its outlandish villains, you’d be hard pressed to find one as genuinely menacing as Silva.  Bardem takes a huge risk with his character that could have crashed and burned but winds up making him even more terrifying.  Even without the bleached hair and eyebrows, it’s the actor’s eyes that tell the biggest story with thinly veiled rage boiling deep down.  His personal vendetta against M and MI6 takes the place of any kind of global domination, allowing the film to hit close to home.  It’s a terrifying performance that doesn’t merely replicate his Oscar winning role in No Country for Old Men from the man my friend (let’s call him R for Bond-time sake) calls the Spanish Meryl Streep for the way he totally immerses himself in a role.

Supporting players are nothing to snuff at either.  Fiennes has a nifty role as one of M’s colleagues and Whishaw is a wonderfully nebbish Q.  Bond Girls are a dime a dozen but Mendes has found two shiny silver dollars in Harris and Marlohe.  Harris is a spunky field agent that helps set into motion the action of the film in the breathless prologue and Marlohe may have one of the single best meet and greets with Bond in memory.  Both actresses are splendid but aren’t featured as prominently as the ladies of the past.  Still…Mendes and co. are smart enough to see that this story is ultimately about Bond and M.

Adele’s powerful theme song is a real winner as both a throwback to the Shirley Bassey Bond themes and a mysterious clue to what the film has in store for us.  Playing over a gorgeously designed credits sequence by Daniel Kleinman, the haunting melody is nicely incorporated by Newman in several music cues along the way.  And what of the mysterious Skyfall of the title?  I’m not going to give that secret up but it acts as yet another way the film opens up to audiences the mystery that is Bond. 

Everyone has their favorite Bond and reasons why they lean towards one or the other.  Having reached the end of my Bond journey, Skyfall just happens to be the best of the bunch.  It’s a fantastically entertaining, surprisingly emotional, and stupendously produced action film that once again redefines the spy genre.  James Bond will return…this much we know from the closing credits.  How he’ll top himself after Skyfall is the next big mystery to figure out.

Want more Bond?  Check out my reviews of the previous 22 James Bond Films:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

Live and Let Die

The Man with the Golden Gun

The Spy Who Loved Me

Moonraker

For Your Eyes Only

Octopussy

A View to a Kill

The Living Daylights

Licence to Kill

GoldenEye

Tomorrow Never Dies

The World is Not Enough

Die Another Day

Casino Royale (2006)

Quantum of Solace

Bond-ed for Life ~ Quantum of Solace

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The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: Seeking revenge for the death of his love, secret agent James Bond sets out to stop an environmentalist from taking control of a country’s valuable resource.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton

Director: Marc Forster

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  Into every franchise a little rain must fall and though Quantum of Solace isn’t a fully fledged thunderstorm, it still leaves you feeling a little sad after the blue skies of Casino Royale.  It’s not as if the players entered into the 22nd Bond film with anything other than noble intentions – there’s a lot of good stuff to be found in the movie but seeing that it’s really a direct sequel to Casino Royale there is a sense of feeling cheated out of the opportunity for a totally new adventure.  Though Diamonds Are Forever also carried on a small piece of the story that ended On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, that film at least wrapped things up in its pre-credit prologue.

Without spoiling some of the later events that happen in Casino Royale and spill over into this film, Quantum of Solace opens with Bond seeking vengeance with no less passion than he did in Licence to Kill.  Determined to find the group responsible for a betrayal that’s hit too close to home, the opening moments of the film are a mountaintop chase delivered with breakneck speed and quick cut editing.  The first thing I noticed about this entry was its different filming style that favors the herky jerky hand held camera and flash cuts to its predecessors slow burn sweeping panoramas.  Under the direction of Forster (lensing his first true action film) the film enters the race at 99% so there’s not much room for the rest of the movie to keep pace.  The opening credits and title song are also slightly disappointing with graphic design studio MK12 taking over for Daniel Kleinman  with a mish mash of sand and sun and Jack White’s duet with Alicia Keys sounding slightly off key at time. 

Off key is maybe the best way to describe the movie because everything just seems slightly askew or off the mark…something that grows more frustrating as the film goes on.  At 106 minutes, it’s the shortest Bond film which is probably a good thing considering that it may also be its slowest.  Yes, there are some dynamic action sequences on land and sea but nothing ever takes flight like I think it could have with a better script and stronger direction. 

It’s no fault of the actors on board that the movie drags and I was more sympathetic to Craig in this film than I was in the previous entry.  Here he’s a haunted man that masks his pain with his determined hunt for retribution.  If he was a loose cannon in Casino Royale here he’s as wild animal as he goes above and beyond his call of duty to get the answers he’s looking for.

More depth is given to Dench in this film as well as she achieves duality in her role as Bond’s superior and also an unwitting mother.  Craig and Dench take the roles deeper than one would normally feel is required but the end result are stronger performances because of it.  Dench may be the biggest Bond girl of them all when you really think about it.

The real Bond girl here is Kurylenko that gives off a Catherine Zeta-Jones vibe and not much more.  A character with motivations that I feel we’ve seen before (in For Your Eyes Only, for example), she’s also out for vengeance that may align with Bond’s.  Frenchman Amalric is one of the slighter villains in these films but what he lacks in his physical presence he makes up for in his maniacal plans to steal a valuable natural resource.

I’ve seen the film four times now and I should freely admit that I’ve fallen asleep each time at some point.  I’m usually a pretty alert moviegoer and it’s not that the film lacks for loud action scenes…but around the 60 minute mark my eyelids get droopy.  That being said, watching the film back-to-back with Casino Royale is probably the way to go as both films are really all part of the same story.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Casino Royale (2006)

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: In his first mission, James Bond must stop Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament at Casino Royale in Montenegro.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright

Director: Martin Campbell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 144 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:

After Die Another Day, the Bond series would go through another long hibernation until its producers and studio settled a few legal issues that had been slow burning for several years.  When the 21st James Bond film was ready to move into production it was time for a new actor to take on the role of 007 – after a lot of rumor and speculation it was blonde, blue-eyed Brit Craig that won the role.  At first, hardcore fans were agog that their dark horse agent created by Ian Fleming would now be sporting a new look…but most changed their tune when Casino Royale was released in the fall of 2006.

Marking the first time the franchise had gone back to an original Fleming full source novel since Moonraker, Casino Royale had been given the film treatment a few times before…in a television movie and a spoof film from the late 60’s.  This Casino Royale, however, would adhere more closely to the original novel and act not only as an introduction to the Bond of Craig but also as a way for the series to get a fresh start.

From the opening moments we can tell that this will not be your typical Bond film.  Leaving out the traditional gun barrel opening was risky but winds up fitting in perfectly to the prologue’s origin story aspirations.  This pre-credit sequence is raw knuckle but restrained energy filmed in black and white that leads to an explosion of color during Daniel Kleinman’s gorgeous animated credit sequence.  Paired with Chris Cornell’s rock theme song, it’s clear that this is not your granddad’s James Bond.

The longest Bond film to date, Casino Royale is a white hot film that keeps the grand villains trying to take over the world at bay and instead focuses on a more personal and one on one approach as Bond matches wits and poker hands with evil banker Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen) at the titular casino.  There’s about an hour of lead up until the games begin and it’s here we see that Bond is a loose cannon that has just achieved his double O status.  Operating as a shoot first and ask questions later sort of agent, Bond’s first scene after the strong opening is a breathless chase over rooftops, construction cranes, and through an embassy before he finally gets what he’s after. 

Craig’s brute force physicality is exactly what Bond has needed for quite some time.  The previous actors playing the role all came across as intelligent agents but I never fully bought into the fact they could knock someone’s lights out with a single punch.  In the guise of Craig, Bond is an agent not to be messed with lest you want to pick your teeth up off the ground.

Appearing late in the game is Vesper Lynd (Green) who represents the financial institution bankrolling Bond’s admittance to the high stakes poker game that occupies a good portion of the second act.  From the moment she plops down and proclaims “I’m the money.” both Bond and the audiences know that we’ve met a woman that might just be his equal.  It helps that Green is excellently cagey in her portrayal of Lynd…we’ve seen enough Bond films to know that he’s been double crossed before…so how much can we trust her? 

Craig and Green’s screen chemistry goes on for days and could fuel a small island – both actors really understand the roles they are playing and how they relate to each other.  The complexities are great and it’s a credit to both that you don’t see them working as hard as we come to realize they are.  Green is so perfect…I’d be hard pressed to offer up a better Bond girl.

Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre cries blood and has a torture method sure to make any male viewer wince…Craig is particularly good in these torture scenes in conveying real pain and conflict.  The way the film is structured it’s never clear if Le Chiffre is the main villain or the shadow for someone behind the scenes…there’s a few twists to be had but sometimes the stakes don’t feel as high as they could be.

Dench is back as M and while chronologically it doesn’t make sense that she’s present, I can’t imagine the role without her.  With each film the writers are smart to beef up her contribution and she maximizes every zinger for all its worth. 

The last Bond film to be this long was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and like that film Casino Royale has a deeper story to tell.  It’s refreshing that the producers and director Campbell (returning after GoldenEye) take the time to let the film have its moments that don’t involve big chases and fiery explosions.  It doesn’t feel as long as it is and all production values work in harmony to provide great entertainment for longtime Bond fans or those that are new to the world of 007.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Die Another Day

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond is sent to investigate the connection between a North Korean terrorist and a diamond mogul who is funding the development of an international space weapon.

Stars:  Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, John Cleese

Director: Lee Tamahori

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  With three films under his belt, Brosnan’s next venture into Bond territory was delayed slightly to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bond films and the 50th anniversary of the publication of author Ian Fleming’s work.  Going into the release day, there was a lot of hype around the movie concerning the far-out premise and the casting of an Oscar winner as a sort of female Bond.

I remember seeing Die Another Day the morning it was released in Dublin, Ohio while I was on tour with a show and how much I was looking forward to it.  At the time, I found the film to be overblown, overlong, and finally tipping the scales to gimmickry after avoiding it for so long.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen it again until recently when I was surprised to find myself enjoying what would be Brosnan’s last time onscreen as James Bond.

After a prolonged prologue set in Korea, for the first time we see Daniel Kleinman’s opening credits incorporating film elements into his design and accompanied by Madonna’s admittedly one-note but fitting theme song.  (Madonna herself also becomes the first theme artist to cameo in a Bond film in a small role that nevertheless sticks out like a sore thumb).  Changing up the credits was a benefit as it had to show some passage of time in a creative way.

There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo in the way of a plot concerning cloning, diamonds, and a very large ice palace owned by wealthy magnate Gustav Graves (Stephens, son of Maggie Smith, who obviously inherited his mom’s way with a clipped one-liner) but it’s best not to get too involved with the more silly details happening in the film.  It’s best to enjoy what the gigantic budget bought for us in the way of impressive special effects and well maneuvered stunt sequences.

Brosnan is his usual dapper self, not letting a 14 month stay in a Korean prison hold his superspy back for long.  Dench is tart per usual but she must have had other work at the time because her role is noticeably shorter than it was in The World is Not Enough.  Pike is nicely ensconced as chilly Bond girl/MI6 agent Miranda Frost and Yune makes the most out of his underdeveloped diamond acne-d villain.  If someone can explain to me why Michael Madsen shows up I’d be interested to hear!

That leads us to Berry who is introduced ala Ursula Andress in the first Bond film, Dr. No.  When I first saw the film I wasn’t impressed with her but over time the role has grown on me and it’s easy to see why there was buzz about her character Jinx getting her own spin-off but, alas, like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies it was not meant to be.

Bringing on yet another new director, the producers went with an Australian and Tamahori brings a smart sensibility to the film.  He keeps the light stuff light and the full throttle action on high alert so even if the film is a little too long for its own good it still doesn’t feel like its overstaying its welcome.

Some feel that Die Another Day is a lesser title in the world of 007 and even if it is…there’s a lot to like in it that would keep even the casual action moviegoer interested.  Brosnan’s four Bond films are the most consistent of any of the previous Bonds so some credit should go to him for taking good care of Bond in his tenure.