31 Days to Scare ~ The House on Sorority Row

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After a seemingly innocent prank goes horribly wrong, a group of sorority sisters are stalked and murdered one by one in their sorority house while throwing a party to celebrate their graduation.

Stars: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Harley Jane Kozak, Robin Meloy, Jodi Draigie, Ellen Dorsher, Lois Kelso Hunt, Janis Ward

Director: Mark Rosman

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: They say it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover…and the same goes for movie posters in the 1980’s.  Low-budget films were often sold to major studios based solely on their advertising, advertising that would then be used by the studio to promote the movie.  Such is the case with The House on Sorority Row, a rather well-done little slasher film that probably gets skipped over by more discerning audiences because of its tawdry art and deceiving tagline.  Let’s be clear, there’s no one remotely resembling the woman on the poster in this movie and you don’t exactly need to gird your loins when the heroine of our story “fights back”.

By now, this is familiar territory: A group of young women get stalked and spiked by a mysterious killer out for revenge.  It’s what writer/director Mark Rosman does with the recycled material where the true beauty of the film lies and why it’s a film I’d recommend to the uninitiated.  What could have been a movie that simply focused on boobs and blood (don’t worry, there’s a little bit of both) turns into a suspenseful yarn that isn’t as easy to predict as you might think.

On the eve of their college graduation, a handful of sorority sisters stage a prank that goes too far and someone winds up dead.  They naively decide to hide the body because, duh, they have a party to throw and they can’t let all that beer and food go to waste.  When girls and guests start meeting the business end of a variety of sharp objects, the remaining co-eds have to discover who’s knocking them off…is it their victim who wasn’t quite dead or someone else making them pay for their crime?

Unfairly lost in the flood of copycat slice and dice films that poured out of every studio big and small in the ‘80s, The House on Sorority Row is much better than you’d think.  It’s well-crafted even with its small budget and competently performed by a cast that featured future stars Harley Jane Kozak (Parenthood) and Eileen Davidson (a soap star and Real Housewife of Beverly Hills).  Though it was remade as Sorority Row in 2009 as a catty but rather fun retread, if you can find the original on disc or catch it playing on late-night TV, pledge with confidence.

31 Days to Scare ~ Body Snatchers (1993)

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tumblr_l4pdcgklxb1qc8b0ao1_540The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenage girl and her father discover alien clones are replacing humans on a remote U.S. military base in Alabama.

Stars: Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly, Forest Whitaker, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth, R. Lee Ermey

Director: Abel Ferrara

Rated: R

Running Length: 87

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, The Body Snatchers had already made it to the screen twice before.  The original 1956 version is a certified classic and, though some may say otherwise, so was its 1978 remake.  Both films managed to be timely and seemed to have a reasonable justification for existing.  In 1993, yet another take on the story was brought to the screen and while the results aren’t totally at the level of its two previous incarnations, there are a few memorable moments to keep this one apart from other retooling’s of sacred material.

To start off with, Body Snatchers had a director famous for his controversial independent features.  Abel Ferrara was hot off of Bad Lieutenant and King of New York when he signed up for this far more commercial endeavor.  Aided by a script from no less than 5 contributors, the action is moved from the small town of the original and the swinging ‘70s setting of the first remake to a military base where Steve Malone (Terry Kinney, Promised Land) has moved his family.  Stepmom Carol (Meg Tilly, The Big Chill, Psycho II) is still adjusting as the new member of the Malone tribe and isn’t helped much by Steve’s daughter Marti (Gabrielle Anwar).

Marti in particular has it out for Carol and being uprooted from her previous life is, understandably, causing the teen to be quite the rebellious hellion.  Though Marti makes fast friends on the base, her half-brother Andy (Reilly Murphy) has a rougher go of it.  When he runs way, Marti meets cute helicopter pilot Tim (Billy Wirth, The Lost Boys) and proceeds in making goo-goo eyes at him.  All is not all well, though, and the Malone’s aren’t even there a fortnight when Marti stumbles across a plot involving mysterious pods and a possible alien conspiracy.

Fans of the previous films may recoil at this horror flick aimed squarely at teenagers but in all honesty it works better than it should.  At a trim 87 minutes, it feels like it suffered some major studio edits after the fact but I’ve a feeling it was for the best.  Ferrara is remarkably restrained here, only letting loose during the finale and building up some solid unease for the first 2/3 of the film.  The cast also makes a good impression with Tilly in particular delivering memorably in one dynamite scene.

Yet another remake (The Invasion) was released in 2007 starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig but even that star wattage couldn’t salvage what turned into an incoherent mess.  If anything, it cemented the law of diminishing returns where these pod people pics were concerned.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Brides of Dracula

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young teacher on her way to a position in Transylvania helps a young man escape the shackles his mother has put on him. In doing so, she innocently unleashes the horrors of the undead once again on the populace, including those at her school for ladies.

Stars: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel, Miles Malleson

Director: Terence Fisher

Rated: NR

Running Length: 85 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: With the success of Horror of Dracula in 1958, British film studio Hammer Pictures realized they had a property with franchise potential and started plotting out a sequel.  Two years later, director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster collaborated again and walked The Brides of Dracula down the aisle at cinemas to another round of bloody good box office returns. The first of eight Dracula sequels filmed between 1960 and 1974, this is truly representative of a sequel that’s equal to its predecessor.

Lovely French teacher Marianne (the, um, lovely and French Yvonne Monlaur) is bound for her new position at a girls school on the outskirts of Transylvania.  With her carriage driver going full tilt to make it through the forest before nightfall, it’s a rocky road to travel especially when a stowaway hitches a ride after the carriage stops to clear a log blocking their path.  Arriving at a small village inn, as she dines the coachman takes off without her, stranding her in town for the night. She’s not put out for long though as the inn is visited by a Baroness (Martita Hunt, grandly ghoulish) that bids her to dine in her castle and stay the night, an offer the townspeople advise her not to take.  Before you know it, Marianne has freed the son (David Peel, arguably the most movie-star handsome of the Hammer vampires) of the Baroness from his shackles and he has taken flight (as a bat!) on the hunt for blood.  Thankfully, Dr. Van Helsing (the always excellent Peter Cushing) happens to be traveling in the area and knows the mark of a vampire when he sees one.  Will he be able to save Marianne from the Baron before he sinks his fangs into her?

This is a very fun, entertaining film and one that I’d miraculously not seen before.  The Dracula films featuring Christopher Lee always felt very intense with melodramatic acting that seems to pay special attention to the heaving bosoms of the women Dracula has the hots for.  How interesting that in the first sequel to their blockbuster, Hammer only brought back Cushing to reprise his role and focused on an entirely new (albeit descended from the big D himself) bloodsucker.  While Lee was an excellent Count his presence isn’t missed here, mostly because Sangster and Fisher have filled the film with appealing characters and splendid dialogue.

Sure, there are some holes here and there and some characters introduced as important are never heard from again.  I also wished more time was spent at the boarding school for girls, seems like there was missed potential there to add a few more brides to the mix.  As is typical of all Hammer creations, this one oozes opulence in every frame with gorgeous costumes and rich production values.  The acting is strong and cinematographer Jack Asher films the action with a Technicolor flourish.  While the action of the finale takes place in a well-designed windmill, it comes up ever so short by rushing through the dénouement to get to the credits.

If you wore out your copy of Horror of Dracula like I did or just would like a new old classic to keep your attention, The Brides of Dracula is one you can commit to without any fears of getting cold feet.

Bond-ed for Life (Bonus!) ~ Never Say Never Again

The Facts:

Synopsis: A SPECTRE agent has stolen two American nuclear warheads, and James Bond must find their targets before they are detonated.

Stars: Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow

Director: Irvin Kershner

Rated: PG

Running Length: 134 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Before the release (and boffo success) of Skyfall, I took the time to go through the previous 22 James Bond films that had come before it.  What I didn’t do in my initial marathon was look at two of the ‘rogue’ Bond films that exist outside of the production company responsible for the 007 films over the last 50 years.  1967’s Casino Royale was a spoof of spy films in general albeit one that featured James Bond and took its title from an Ian Fleming novel.  The second outlier Bond adventure is 1983’s Never Say Never Again and its storied history and journey to the big screen are interesting Hollywood tidbits.

A script was fashioned with writers Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming, and Jack Whittingham that would have laid the basis for Bond’s first adventure.  It eventually was scrapped but Fleming went on to use large parts of it to create the novel of Thunderball.  While the movie of Thunderball was closer to the book, original writer McClory took Fleming to court over his contributions used without his permission and eventually  was granted the remake rights to his script.

As the producers of the MGM Bond films were gearing up to film the 13th Bond film Octopussy  in 1983, they had a big shock when they found out not only would McClory’s script be produced as a big budget summer film from Warner Brothers, but that Warner Brothers had lured none other than original Bond Connery to come back to the role.  The media had a field day with this and while both movies were released four months apart and did respectable business, Never Say Never Again could never fully get out from under the shadow of the big daddy franchise.

It doesn’t help that the movie isn’t that great to begin with.  Even with Connery on board and Moore on unsteady ground in his Bond tenure, Never Say Never Again comes off as a jokey excuse for a James Bond film.   Legally, Warner Brothers couldn’t have many of the Bond trademarks so what’s left is a second rate spy film with several above average action sequences, extremely dated technology,  and a heckuva lot of farcical moments that leave a real bad aftertaste.

Right from the beginning, director Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) doesn’t do Connery any favors by showing the actor goofily going through the motions of a rescue attempt in some unnamed jungle climate.  Connery looks tentative and, while still a trim gent, seems a bit out of sorts.  Like in Diamonds are Forever, it takes Connery a fair amount of time to find his inner Bond and even then it’s a pale imitation of what it used to be. 

Casting for the film is iffy to say the least.  As Domino, Basinger makes for a dull main squeeze of Mr. Bond and is burdened with two dance routines (one in aerobic gear and one all dolled up with Connery) that are laughably awkward.  Brandauer and von Sydow may have been nice villains in the established Bond franchise but here they are saddled with feelings of déjà vu thanks to more memorable actors that have played bad guys Largo and Blofeld in previous films.  Only Carrera as wicked Fatima Blush seems to understand that she’s in a farce and plays it as an early precursor to Grace Jones in A View to a Kill and Famke Janssen in GoldenEye.  Her final scenes are pretty ridiculous but up until that point she’s over-the-top enough to keep your eyes locked on her.

Special mention needs to go to Edward Fox and Rowan Atkinson as M and Nigel Small-Fawcett, respectively.  With accents that would make Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins look like the epitome of diction, they are absolutely awful and capsize every scene they’re in.  How Kershner and Connery allowed these performances to happen are beyond me.

What Never Say Never Again has to recommend it are several exciting action sequences…thankfully all of them are underwater so you are spared the eye-rolling dialogue.  I’m not sure how the filmmakers created an underwater chase with Bond being pursued by sharks (from what I can tell there weren’t extensive uses of animatronics) but this scene creates the few nifty thrills the film has to offer.

For Bond fans, this is one that may be of interest to you…especially if you are familiar with Thunderball you’ll get a kick out of how similar the movie is but how different it diverges at the same time.  Thunderball wasn’t my favorite Bond film but had it had some of the more exciting moments (and Fatima Blush) from Never Say Never Again, it may have been up there with the more fun Bond flicks.

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.

Bond-ed for Life ~ The World is Not Enough

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 uncovers a nuclear plot when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who can’t feel pain.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Sophie Marceau, Denise Richards, Robert Carlyle

Director: Michael Apted

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Like Sean Connery and Roger Moore before him, it would take Brosnan three attempts to get into the true groove of James Bond.  Moving easily through two entertaining films (GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies), Brosnan would be given his best material in The World is Not Enough and even with the presence of the worst actress in the history of the series, it’s a film that is a nice return to form for our top British agent.

Director Apted makes a wise choice to open the film with not one but two of the most thrilling chase sequences that Bond has been presented with as he escapes from an assassin’s bullet in Spain and then pursues another assassin through the waterways of London.  It’s twenty minutes of spectacular action capped by another strong opening credits courtesy of designer Danny Kleinman and rock group Garbage.

Bond is sent by M to protect the daughter of a recently deceased oil tycoon that M has a complicated history with.  Elektra (Marceau) is a headstrong heiress that escaped a kidnapping plot by a terrorist (Carlyle) that may have returned to collect the money he lost out on.  It’s not long before Bond has taken extra good care of Elektra all through the night and deeper secrets are revealed that will put Bond, M, Elektra, and the world in whole lot of danger.

Sounds pretty good, right?  And it is good up until the point when Bond makes a detour and meets up with Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear scientist played by Richards in one of the most ridiculous examples of bad casting you’re likely to see in a Bond movie or any other film.  Everything about the actress is wrong from her costuming to her delivery of basic dialogue.  The feeling comes across that Richards had never seen a Bond film so isn’t in on any of the jokes happening around her.

Though she threatens to sink the whole movie, even she can’t crash land this ship that stays admirably on course thanks to Apted’s skilled direction and another strong performance by Brosnan.  He’s a no fuss no muss kind of actor and that works well when playing the dapper and cooly confident 007.  What’s nice about this entry is a beefed up role for Dench that allows the actress to get in on the action and out of her stuffy office.  She also gets to deliver a swell face slap to a deserving party.

Marceau does well in the surprisingly complex role of Elektra…a character that comes more mysterious as the film progresses to entertaining results.  Though Carlyle’s murderous thug is oblivious to pain courtesy of a lingering bullet in his brain, I wish the script allowed for more ways to exploit this condition when he goes head to head with Bond.  I think the film could have dialed back on a few extraneous characters that seem to be there only for bad guys to use them as target practice.

This was the final film of Desmond Llewelyn, the actor who played gadget man Q for nearly four decades.  Killed in an auto-accident shortly after the film was released, he nevertheless gets an eerily perfect sendoff as he passes the reins to Q 2.0 Cleese.

The nineteenth Bond film could have easily tipped the scales into gimmicky territory but it wisely comes forth with a well developed story featuring characters that don’t feel like familiar retreads of other films.  It’s more than enough to entertain Bond purists and new fans alike.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Tomorrow Never Dies

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 heads to stop a media mogul’s plan to induce war between China and the UK in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Götz Otto, Teri Hatcher, Judi Dench

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in GoldenEye made a strong case that the James Bond series still had life left in its bones so was anyone really shocked when MGM fast tracked another entry in the franchise?  After taking a six year break before GoldenEye, the studio was eager to get their cash cow back up and running so Tomorrow Never Dies was moved into production on a fast clip.

Surprisingly, the film that resulted was a competent entry that didn’t have the look or feel of a movie that had little thought put into it.  In fact, when I revisited it again recently I was surprised that I liked it more now than I did when it was released in 1997.  Maybe coming off of GoldenEye I had too high expectations for the 18th (!) Bond film but I wasn’t a fan of the picture when I first saw it.

Time has been kind to Tomorrow Never Dies, especially considering that so much of it depends on media and technology that has been left in the dust by newer forms of communication and culture.  This adventure finds Bond squaring off against a mad media tycoon that happens to be married to an old flame of our spy.  Teaming up with a Chinese mercenary (Yeoh), Bond must avert war between the US and China as time hangs in the balance.

Though produced with the same breakneck speed of GoldenEye, it can’t quite match the previous entry with its plot that feels a little also-ran.  The same kind of evil genius is present, the same Bond babe works her magic on trying to soften him, the same second henchman lives long enough to battle 007 in a well-staged final battle…so it’s easy to feel like we’ve seen it all before and know where it’s heading.

That’s not to say the film isn’t an enjoyable ride with its top of the line production values and strong direction by Spoittswoode.  Spoittswoode stages some of the most impressively delirious action sequences seen so far in the series with Brosnan and Yeoh’s motorcycle chase through the city streets an unforgettable blast.

Yeoh’s martial arts strengths are also capitalized on without making it obvious that the stunts were designed with her in mind.  As the first ally to hold her own against Bond since Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loves Me, it’s no surprise that for a while a spin off series with Yeoh was considered.  As Bond’s previous lover, Hatcher is adequately sultry but I find it hard to believe she’d ever marry someone like the character Pryce plays.  I’ve always found Pryce to be overrated as a go-to actor and as a last minute replacement for Anthony Hopkins, he can’t help but be overshadowed by everything going on around him.

Returning credits designer Daniel Kleinman has produced another impressive opening sequence…though I think k.d. lang’s closing song should have swapped places with Sheryl Crow’s bland title track.  David Arnold comes on board as composer and works in some nice music cues that look to the future while making several nice references to the past.

Though it may feel a bit familiar, Tomorrow Never Dies functions well as a sophomore effort for Brosnan and company…producing an exciting film that provides the kind of entertainment audiences have come to expect from Mr. Bond.