April 28, 2012 2 Comments
Title: Casino Royale
Year: 2006. The 21st James Bond film jumped on two of the biggest trends of mid-aught’s with both feet, poker and the Hollywood reboot and after the disastrous Die Another Day (2002) the worlds biggest film franchise was ripe for latter. The first time I came across the concept of “the reboot” was in comic books in the 80’s. A reboot was a way to wipe the slate clean and begin anew with characters we already loved. They could be given new origin stories, both friends and foes alike could be brought back from the dead, and if we were lucky, maybe some of them would end up in snazzy new costumes. This is why, say Wolverine for instance, has four different origin stories and over half a dozen looks. Add the X-Men movies, cartoons, toys, and video games and it would take all the Mormons in Utah to untangle his family tree. But that is part of the point, by constantly reinventing the wheel, or Adamantium claw, Marvel can keep bringing in new fans who don’t need to be bogged down in decoding years worth of mythology. The first time I remember hearing the concept applied to film was with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), a reboot of the Batman films that started with Tim Burton, ended with Joel Shitmaker, and where themselves a reboot of the campy TV series. Different from a prequel, which suggests some kind of continuity, or a remake, which implies a classic we loved as kids but with more CGI, Tim Burton, and Johnny Deep, reboots have become the hottest Hollywood buzz word since adaptation and full frontal nudity. Recent years have seen everything from 21 Jump Street (2012) to Star Trek (2009) to The Pink Panther (2006) get the “modern spin.” Countless 80’s slasher flicks from Halloween (2007) to Friday the 13th (2009) to Nightmare on Elm St. (2010) have been ghoulishly brought back from the dead. Some reboots have launched franchise were there were none before (I hear rumors of a third The Hills Have Eyes picture) while some, like The Warriors (1979) in Los Angeles, have mercifully, never made it past pre-production. Some are strange hybrids like Rise of Planet of the Apes (2011) which was a prequel to Planet of the Apes (1968) but also a loose remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) while simultaneously acting as a reboot of the failed attempt at rebooting the franchise with the Tim Burton remake of Planet of the Apes (2001). This is quite a bit of monkey around but when it comes to rebooting at the drop of a hat, superheroes have proven to be the worst offenders. This summer we will have The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), a reboot of the less then five year old trilogy of two great, one terrible Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. That whole Superman Returns (2006) reboot thing didn’t work out so here comes Man of Steal (2013). (Zack Snyder??? Really guys?) The most egregious of these has to be the big green guy. When Eric Bana didn’t work in Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) Marvel simply turned around and made The Incredible Hulk (2008). But when star Edward Norton and the studio had a falling out they brought in Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner in this summers The Avengers (2012). Who cares who plays the mild manner doctor the thinking goes, the star is CGI anyway. All of this is a way of saying that the reboot has become a way to put a new quarter into the machine and start the game over. Studios love em because all past mistakes can be erased and the fashion of the day, be it snarky or dark or 3-D, can be grafted onto a character we as an audience what to watch. Take the three Hulks of the last decade. Lee’s “Thinking Man’s Hulk” was the dark, boarding, probing, questioning hero of post 9/11 America. Norton’s was much more action driven, a globe trotting man out to right wrongs and run over roof tops in Brazil during a chase that looked nothing at all like the roof top chase in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). (Just sayin’) If we are to believe the trailers (and that’s all we’ve got at this point) Ruffalo’s Banner looks to be the straight man to Downey’s sarcastic, quip happy Tony Stark. With that in mind, the James Bond character in Casino Royale is to Die Another Day as the Batman of Batman Begins is to Batman & Robin (1997). Another fantastic trick the Bond reboot pulls off is dropping Bond’s favorite card game, the now nearly forgotten Baccarat, and replacing it with the game of the moment, Texas Hold’ Em. In his 1978 book “Super System,” AKA The bible of poker, Doyle Brunson wrote that no limit Texas Hold’ Em was the purest form of poker even thought at the time it was little know outside of the American Southwest and Five Card draw was the preferred game of the day. Fast forward to 2003 when an accountant from Connecticut took a $40 buy-in and went onto win the bracelet and $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker playing Texas Hold Em. Poker exploded. Once a shady game played by hustlers and cutthroats in smoky back rooms now poker was played by celebrities on primetime television. From a TV standpoint it helped tremendously that the game of Hold Em was not only very easy to follow, it’s structured so that five of the seven cards a player is holding are exposed, making it the most visually appealing of poker games. So much so that an action film such as Bond could build an entire movie around the game, all be it with some machete attacks and a lethal poisoning throw in to keep everything interesting. Hey, it maybe a reboot, but it’s still Bond, James Bond.
Film Length: 2 hours 24 minutes.
Bond Actor: Daniel Craig. In October of 2004, Pierce Brosnan told the world he would not be returning to make a fifth James Bond picture and once again the search was on for the new Bond. Rampant press speculation and vocal public opinion about who should get to fill Bond’s shoes have always been a part of the casting process, but EON was not prepared for the tsunami of coverage that followed their quest for 007 number 6. Thanks to shows like “American Idol,” viewers and fans now felt as if they were part of the process and thought they could actually vote actors off the island by simply making enough noise. They also, for the first time, had the tool to make their shouts heard and the internet exploded as everyone with access to a keyboard saw fit to add their two cents. In something of a wag the dog scenario the “mainstream press” played along and by the summer of 2005 it seamed like any actor with an English accent was up for the role including Ioan Gruffudd, Hugh Grant, Gerard Butler, Heath Ledger and Eric Bana. By October, just days before EON was to announce the new Bond, the BBC website had taken to posting odds in real time. The dark horses were Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Colin Farrell at 12/1, Clive Own had an outside shot at 10/1, Julian McMahorn was right in the mix at 4/1 but the odds on favorite at 1/3 was Englishman Daniel Craig. While not as well known internationally as Jackman, Farrell or McGregor, Craig had been a staple of English TV in the 90’s and stared in the acclaimed show “Our Friends up North.” Craig gained wider fame as Alex West in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and as Conner Rooney in Road to Perdition (2002), “a big baby who doesn’t know his thumb from his d**k!” (Not my words.) He went on to prove he looked great carrying a gun in the strangely overrated Layer Cake (2004) and the criminal underrated Munich (2005). In what should have been a career highlight, Craig was introduced to the world as the new James Bond after arriving at a riverfront press conference on a Royal Marine gunboat. All the actor did that day was get off the boat, walk onto the dock, wave, and say a few words. However, if you were to hear the shriek of harsh, ugly and in some case threateningly negative bile that immediately followed you would have though he pushed the Queen into the Thames. It is no exaggeration to say the backlash was by far the worst EON had ever experienced. SOME FANS THINK NEW BOND SHOULD BE SELLING BONDS the Columbus Dispatch declared and went on to criticize the actor for wearing a life jacket whiles onboard the bouncing, speeding boat. (The article failed to mention that the dozen or so Marines that escorted the actor were also wearing the safety devices.) “He looks more like a banker than James Bond.” the article concluded. BOND GONE BLOND?” asked several U.S. papers including the St. Louis Dispatch. Over on the nets, some enterprising twit founded www.danielcraigisnotbond.com and called for a boycott of the new film. Thousands singed up in protest. Daniel Craig actually received hate mail and threats from “fans” that had yet to see a frame of film. Things were so bad Brosnan felt the need to make a statement on the actors behalf. Sir Sean chimed in saying “Craig’s a great choice, really interesting – different. He’s a good actor,” but none of it helped. By the summer of 2006, just months before the film’s release, the story shifted gears and became about the blowback. On July 31, 2006 the WENN website reported that “New James Bond star Daniel Craig has been stunned by the bitter backlash he has received since replacing Piece Brosnan as the secret agent last year. Craig …was disheartened when thousands of fans called on film-makers EON to ditch him and bring back Brosnan – claiming the Munich star was “too ugly” for the role. The 38-year-old star says, ‘I didn’t expect this backlash. You take it in, you can’t help it. I’ve been trying to give 110 per cent since the beginning but after all the fuss, maybe I started giving 115 per cent.’” Good on Craig for taking the right attitude and good on EON for not folding in the face a torch bearing mob, it couldn’t have been easy. Then, in November of 2006, something funny happened on the way to a theater near you. Mainly, people actually saw the film and Craig went from zero to hero quicker then the public changed their mind on Mel Gibson in the summer of 2010. Overnight he became the best Bond yet, better then Connery! Casino Royale was the best Bond picture ever! Q and Moneypenny and Moore and Brosnan were suddenly relics from a forgotten time. This is all fun to look at in retrospect but we have seen it again and again and again on the internet. The truth is, the public was 100% wrong when attacking an actor before seeing his performance and they were equally wrong to dismiss everything that came before him after enjoying his movie. A moment to editorialize, it’s very much this “with us or against” (thanks a lot W) mentality that has come to dominate discourse in the first decade of the 21st century from politics to pop culture. Adding to the ugliness is the speed at which this all happens. We as a public now feel the need to own a thing, chew it up and spit it out, and then once we’re done with it, it’s on to the next hot thing people want to take ownership of. Whatever happened to reflecting on a thing, seeing in the context of history and as a larger piece of work? The sad truth is the public as a whole has become utterly stupid and completely entitled at the same time, a deadly combination that makes consumers of pop-culture reactionary buffoons with no rudder to stay on course. This puts the creators of pop-culture products in a position where they simply can not gage the quality of their work based on public reaction or box office numbers and the work suffers. The only thing a creative person can do is give everything to their performance or screenplay or whatever job they may have on a project and once it’s out there, 100% forget about it. Sadly, fewer and fewer people take this attitude and that is why we get nothing but “sure things” like action sequels, remakes, and yes, reboots. This is the state of Hollywood people complain about while shelling out money for the next Transformers film.
Director: Martin Campbell. Die Another Day (2002) felt more like a 40th anniversary sizzle-reel then a film, playing like a bloated parody of a Bond picture as opposed to the real deal. Now, with the past completely strip mined, EON could finally let it rest in peace and start fresh. In order to reinvent James Bond, EON decided to; if I may paraphrase Doc. Emmett Brown, go forward to the past. Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were the first to bring Ian Fleming’s spy to the big screen, but not the screen. In 1954 a television show called “Climax!” aired a 53 minute teleplay staring Barry Nelson as CIA agent Jimmy Bond in “Casino Royale.”
A few years later Fleming was able to sell all his books to EON save his first since the rights were still held by “Climax!” producers. So Broccoli and Saltzman just ignored the first book and kicked everything off with Dr. No (1962). After Bond became a global sensation in the 60’s the producers who held the rights to the first novel “rebooted” their television show with the Casino Royale (1967) film, a movie with seven James Bonds and zero credibility. Fast forward to 1999 when as part of a settlement with Sony the keepers of the Bond flame, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, finally secured the rights to Fleming’s first book. After Die Another Day turned the smallest profit for a Bond film to date, EON decided to start fresh and not only reinvent Bond as a harder edged character, but for the first time tell his origin story. As he was called upon to do with GoldenEye (1995) director Martin Campbell was once again brought in to update and reboot James Bond. In watching the DVD extras it is strongly implied that Campbell, the man who directed Brosnan’s first Bond film, played a big part in getting Brosnan booted off this one. Once the decision was made to go back the beginning it made sense, the thinking went, to get a younger Bond as well as an actor not already associated with the role. Fair enough. Campbell, it must be said, has wonderful instincts. GoldenEye is the last gem in the Bond canon up to this point and let’s says right off the bat that Casino Royale is the best looking Bond film since the heydays of the 60’s. The colors just pop off the screen, the locations and sets are rich without going over the top, and everything has the hyper-reality look, from the cars to the women to the chips and cards on the table, that we want from a James Bond film. After the CGI melting planes and invisible cars of the last film this one feels rooted in the real. The fights are much more violent and we feel every punch. A torture scene features both actors dripped in sweet to the point where we smell the dankness of the room. A chase though a construction site and into an embassy leaves us out of breath. As he did with GoldenEye, Campbell once again gets to the core of what makes Bond Bond and the old agent is reborn in his camera lens. The first two thirds of the film move with the economy of a modern thriller but it’s never rushed. And the details, rich and correct, contribute a charm to this film is a huge way that I think was overlooked when the film was first released. Much was made of this being a “darker, no nonsense” Bond which is true in a way but this isn’t brooding hero like say Nolan’s Batman or the new Bond on the block, Jason Bourne. Dark is often meant to mean joyless but not here. In fact, the Bond of this film has just as much humor and I would argue more mischievous joy then any previous incarnation. Like a 16-year-old who just got a license to dive, Bond has earned his 00 and he can’t wait to flash it all over town.
Reported Budget: $150 million estimated, a nice round number and a mere $8 million more then the most expensive previous film four years previous. Bond films have always featured prominent product placement but since the three film deal with BMW for the first Brosnan pictures the corporate financing deals have become s favorite target for critics. In his film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), provocateur Morgan Spulock focuses in on close-up shots of Ericsson phones in both of Craig’s outings and holds a “special place in hell” for an exchange between 007 and the Bond girl where she asks about his watch. “Rolex?” “Omega” Bond replies. “The fact you are having a conversation about a watch is ridiculous,” hissed Spurlock. If products are arbitrarily thrown into a film or if a plot point is inserted simply to include a product and not as part of the story then yes, call everyone involved out. However, I think Spurlock has his panties in a bunch over a whole lot of nothing in this case. The cell phone is an integral part of the plot in this film and never once did I notice the name on the receiver, big HD flat screen and all. As for the Omega conversation, it’s organic and goes by without creating a bump. There are much worse offenders, like the Q Dollar Car Rental guy selling the BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Spurlock needs to relax and go have another Big Mac.
Reported Box-office: $167,445,000 US and $594,239,000 worldwide. That is a big time number in the U.S. alone but still only good for #9 on the year. Once “The Franchise” in town, now Bond has nothing but franchise to compete with including the X-Men: Last Stand (#4), Superman Returns (#6), Ice Age: Melt Down (#8) and Disney’s little theme park ride that could, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Chest (#1). A side note, I enjoyed the first Pirate film and I would watch Jonny Deep read the phone book but that second one? What the hell was that? I have not seen any of the subsequent films so perhaps it gets better but man, that movie makes the 1967 Casino Royale look like a Merchant and Ivory picture.
Theme Song: “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell, not to be confused with the Beatles novelty song “You Know My Name, Look Up the Number.” Cornell not only performs but also co-wrote the tune with a Bond theme vet. This song has the distinction of being the only Bond theme to not be included on the official sound track album. Cornell instead released it on his second solo effort, “Carry On.” A few things… first off, I’m old school when it comes to the Rock and/or Roll. I still feel that album covers should mean something. I remember being a kid and sitting on the living room floor to look at my dad’s record collection and just freaking out over Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell” covers. They were windows to a different world and completely influenced the way I heard the music on the record. The scene where the kid finds the albums under his bed in Almost Famous (2000) gives me chills and makes my throat swell up. So, all that said, check out this album cover.
Truth is, I’m not always right when it comes to music but I was onto this douche from day one. I’m a white kid from suburban New Jersey who graduated high school in 1992 with hair down to my mid back. When I wasn’t moping around the school’s halls I would watch crappy VHS copies of Clockwork Orange (1971) and Taxi Driver (1976) with my only two friends. In other words, I’m the poster child for Gen X alienation and grunge was targeted right at my soul. Thing was, I didn’t buy it. Of the “Big Four” the band I was most into at the time would have been the glam leaning Alice in Chains. I loved Layne Staley voice and you want to talk album covers; the “Facelift” jacket says it all. The band I did miss the mark on was Nirvana who I just lumped in with the rest as a joke until I saw them live in ’93 or ‘94. It was one of those deals where I literally ran out the next day to buy all their records. Again, I’m not always right. I haven’t thought about Alice In Chains for years and Nirvana is the only band out of that scene, other then Mudhoney, that I still listen to today. I could never stand the arena rock gods that were Pearl Jam, they always sounded like Jock Rock to me. And that leaves Soundgarden who I viewed as the bottom of the grunge barrel, floating around down there with the likes of Bush and STP. In the early 1990’s, Soundgarden was everywhere. You couldn’t walk through a parking lot without hearing Cornell’s ridiculously forced pipes belting out all his angst about a “Spoonman” or his Jesus Rock Star Pose. As a result, I actively rejected not only Pearl Jam and Soundgarden but there fans. My friend Mike and I took to calling any band labeled “alternative” by the name Stone Garden Pumpkin Jam. You know that Onion T-Shirt “Your favorite band sucks?” That was me pissing on Soundgarden fans ice cream whenever I had the chance. I was young and I was an asshole and it wasn’t a cool thing to do but I wasn’t wrong about the music. And did history not prove that Cornell is every bit the tool I always knew he was? Dose anyone on Gods green earth own an Audio Slave record? Did we really need a Cornell/Timberland project? Wouldn’t you happily give up six month at the end of your life if you were guarantied to never, ever hear “Hunger Strike” again? Well, just take a listen to this Bond theme.
Ummhummm. Can we please get the great Shirley Bassey back in the studio immediately?
Opening Titles: The best we’ve seen in ages. A perfect mix of traditional Bond titles injected with some much needed update serum. Just like the film, the vibe of the titles is looking back while going forward. The theme is playing cards, which fly around the screen like we are stuck inside a game of 52 pick up. Trim on the King of Heart’s robe extends off the card and curls around silhouettes of dudes in Man Men era suits. When the men get shot with heart shaped bullets they fall into a pile of diamonds. Cross-hair targets get spun into roulette wheels and a 7 of hearts gets two bullet holes blasted into it coming up luck 007. The art is in the distinct early 60’s style of say Dr. No’s titles or the Catch Me If You Can (2002) credits. At the end, one of the silhouettes comes into focus and staring out at us is the new blond haired, blue eyed Bond, unblinking and ready for action. Get your blinds in the middle and deal em up. Game on!
Opening Action Sequence: We open not with the familiar UA logo and gun barrel but a black and white MGM into Columbia logo. The B&W stock carries over into the film giving it an immediate back to basics, classical feel. The title card tells us we are in Prague, Czech Republic while the glass elevator and modern architecture of the building tell us we are in the present, despite the black and white. A man enters his office to be greeted by another sitting in the dark. “M really doesn’t mind you earning a little money on the side, Dryden. She’d just prefer it if it wasn’t selling secrets.” Dryden sits down, gets his gun ready, and explains the new world of Bond to us in a few short sentences. “Spare me the dramatics Bond. If M was so sure I was bent, she would have sent a double O. Your file shows no kills, it takes two.” Cut to a bathroom, a more saturated black and white, as we witness Bond drowning a man in a sink. This is a violent, hand to hand, close-up death. The look on Bonds face lets us know the kill means something. He is also a quick study. When Dryden pulls his piece and fires on Bond, the gun makes an anticlimactic click. Seeing in Bond’s eye that the first kill has been made, Dryden tries to impart some wisdom “Don’t worry, the second is…” bang! “Yes, considerably” the newly baptized 00 responds, establishing himself as the cold blooded bastard he will need to be. As the camera gives us our first good look at the new Bond, Craig’s face is closer to Connery’s then any other Bond. Pierce was pretty, Moore was stylishly handsome, Lazenby had a models face, and Dalton was a stuffed suit but Craig looks like a soccer hooligan, all be it a very good looking hooligan. He has the creases and rough and tumble face of a man whose been out in the world and raised a bit of hell. His fixed eyes tell you he’s not to be crossed. For his conformation, Bond turns to the camera and shoots down the black and white gun barrel as red blood drips down to fill the frame. Welcome aboard 007.
Bond’s Mission: Bond’s mission started with the fall of Paris in June of 1940. Just hours after the Germans marched down the Champs-Élysées, a young writer named Ian Fleming entered one of Paris finest restaurants and found it empty. The owner, facing the reality of living under Nazi occupation, broke out his finest wine and the two men sat, talked, and drank. A lot. Fleming later made his way to Lisbon and asked the locals where he could find the German officers. They sent him to the Casino Estoril where he watched as the men drank and threw their money around at the tables. “If only I could take them on” a young Fleming thought, “I could bankrupt the German army.” This proud patriot didn’t have the means or skill to do so that evening but he went on to create a character that could. “Casino Royale” is about a high stakes Baccarat game organized by a banker to the bad guys who needs to raise funds quickly and the spy who sits at the table with enough charm, smarts, and luck to take the banker’s lunch. For a franchise that has made it name on action oriented gadgets defeating world dominating villains, a card game may seem to be a rather dull affair. Enter another hip 2006 trend known as free running AKA Parkour. The newest 00 is in Madagascar tracking a bomb maker. You know the guy is badass, not because he crafts weapons of mass destruction, but because he spends his leisure time betting on mongoose vs. cobra fights. Take that Michael Vick. And speaking of mongooses, as a public service Blog James Blog offers this Chris Cornell palette cleanser, the Donovan ode to the most famous mongoose of all, Riki Tiki Tavi!
You’re welcome. Bond, being the rookie, has been saddled with a complete incompetent he calls Carter who not only blows their cover but falls into the cobra pit. Bomb guy runs and Bond gives chase first through the forest and then up, down and all around a high rise construction site. As the baddy moves, Parkour style, like a ballerina around objects Bond smash, crashes, stumbles and stammers ever forward like a drunk behind the wheel of a tank. He’s fast, he’s effective, but he is far from pretty. When the baddy jumps from a 25 story high crane arm to a 22 story high one below and then to a nearby roof (in one, glorious, continues shot) he does so with the grace of a gold medal gymnast. Bond jumps and makes it, but with the clammier and clanking of a bull in china shop. The chase, expertly shot and adrenaline pumping exciting also serves as a window into who this James Bond is. He is every bit the blunt instrument M calls him but is also full of those wonderfully youthful qualities, drive and ignorance. Our hero will never quit, even when he is clearly bested. How gratifying, after the gratuitous car chases and sunbeam races of the last film that here, a chase not only moves the plot forward but also develops character. In addition, there are great moments of humor, like when the baddy throws an empty gun at Bond’s head and gets it thrown back at him with double the force. Martin Campbell ladies and gentlemen. It’s also worth noting that Craig does in fact move incredibly well, and fast, and he is physical in a way Bond had never been. By the time the chases ends up in an embassy, Bond marches in like he has an appointment and gives anyone who gets in his way a good crack on the head. Craig reminded me of the Terminator in these scenes, his face showing no emotion, his eye focused and unblinking, as he marched forward leaving a wake of destruction in his path. For the coup de grace, Bond kills the bomb maker in the courtyard of his embassy, blows up the facade on the front of the embassy, and takes off with the bomb maker’s bag which contains a bomb and his cell phone. Killing a man while he is inside his embassy is like punching the mother of the bride in the face during a toast at the wedding reception, it’s simply not done and Bond just did it. All of a sudden the man we have spent all these years with and got to know so well is something he hasn’t been since Nixon was in office; dangerous. 007 quickly cements his unpredictably reckless streak when he breaks into M’s house. Before M shows up Bond hops on her computer to trace a text, the single word “Ellipsis,” he found on the bomb maker’s phone to a precise time and place, the Ocean Club in the Bahamas. When M returns home, none to happy to find Bond in her house after he appeared on the front pages for blowing up an embassy, the boss lady tells him to go bury his head in the sand. Guess what beach he chooses?
Villain’s Name: Le Chiffre. Republicans typically regard the French with a sneering scorn but I think they would find a kindred spirit in Le Chiffre. A fantastic villain, Le Chiffre is not your dad’s Bond baddy. He is not building a weapon to take over the world nor is he hell bent on distorting it. In fact, he can best be described as an opportunistic middle man with no morals or scruples. In real life we call them hedge fund mangers and like a true Wall St. scum bag when the going gets tough he squirms and twists and runs for the gutter like the rat he is. I loved him. He is also the appropriate villain for Bond to take on at this point in his career, Blofeld would wipe the floor with this green agent, he needs to work his way up and where better to start then with the banker to the world terrorists. We first see Le Chiffre being introduced to a Ugandan war lord by the shadowy Mr. White. These terrorist, by the by, look just like what I would think terrorist look like, not a jumpsuit clad guy carrying a clipboard among them. Le Cheffre, an Albanian chess prodigy and mathematical genius, provides a rate of return and promises access to the money at anytime, anywhere in the world. He also enjoys poker and high risk investments, both of which will prove to be his downfall.
Villain Actor: Mads Mikkelsen. He’s fantastically smarmy as the slimy, sweaty, atypical Bond villain. Bond baddies are always in 100% complete control, until Bond does that one thing to yank the carpet out from underneath them at the eleventh hour. Mikkelsen’s villain is in a pickle that Bond helps to put him in but also of his own making and in trying to escape he digs his hole deeper. Mikkelsen is also Danish.
Villain’s Plot: Our man has a plan and he wastes no time. The second he has the Ugandan war lords money in hand he is putting it to work, shorting a major airline known as Sky Fleet. His broker recommends against such action since in days time the company will be unveiling the jet of the future at Miami International. “No one expects the stock to go anywhere but up.” Indeed, but Le Chiffre has some insider knowledge, mainly that the plane is going to explode on the runway. His first choice to carry out the attack was shot dead in front of his embassy but not to worry, there is a backup ready to come off the bench. Meanwhile, Bond is in full on detective mode and in the most logical A to B to C manner, ends up at Miami Airport with the password, “Ellipsis,” to get him on to the runway. After a spectacular chase on the tarmac pretty much everything at the airport but the new super jet gets destroyed. Bond saves the day and Le Chiffre looses one hundred and one million, two hundred and six thousand dollars of terrorist money; news the villain greats with a pull off his inhaler. Since these are not the kind of guys who take IOUs, Le Chiffre does what rich guys do when the screw the pooch, quickly try to leverage another bet using highly moneyed connections. How else could he so quickly arrange a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale with 10 players, $10 million buy-in, $5 million re-buys, and winner take all for a possible $150 million? Needless to say, Le Chiffre doesn’t plan on loosing. Meanwhile, turns out Bond is the best card player at MI6 and gets the gig. His mission; take the table. For those who don’t play poker and are used to world melting lasers the steaks may seem quite low. On the contrary, this is a chance to de-finance God only knows how many terror attacks and if Le Chiffre doesn’t win, who knows what baddies will crawl out of the wood work to collect. I also can’t stress how well structured and paced the build up is to the big game is. There are zero leaps in logic and Bond learns what’s happening as we do. Leading up to the main event the film is constructed as tightly and precisely as an Omega wrist-watch.
Villain’s Lair: There are all kinds of poker players and when you sit down at a public table you never know what kind is sitting across from you. The first time we get a feel for what kind of a player Le Chiffre is he’s hosting two others on board his yacht. While another player is deciding how to bet, Le Chiffre does one of the more obnoxious things you can do at a table, tell the other guy what he’s looking at. “I have two pair and you have a 17.4% chance of making the straight.” This is the height of arrogance and while it may serve to put an inexperienced or hotheaded opponent on tilt, it is also a poor strategy against more experienced players who will see thought the trick and pick-up tells while doing so. It worked here however as Le Chiffre’s opponent folds. Le Chiffre also has access to an old smelting mill right out of the Saw franchise where he engages in some homoerotic torture. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The homoerotic part that is … no torture is wrong under any circumstance. To clarify, homoerotic fine, torture not, despite what the Republican Party has to say on both subjects. Right, so Le Chiffre cuts a hole out of the bottom of a chair, strips Bond naked, and tries him to said chair. The room is a rusty, filthy dungeon and both men are so sweaty you can smell their body odor through the screen. One of the many genius things Quentin Tarantino does as a writer is have characters explain the horrific things they are doing or going to do. So, when we see it happen, we know exactly what kind of pain/agony the character is going through. Daryl Hannah reading the effects of Black Mamba poison to Michael Madsen as he is experiencing it in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) or Eric Stoltz describing how the needle needs to be rammed through the breast bone in Pulp Fiction (1994) would be two easy examples. Here, Le Chiffre walks around swinging the rope and then gives a light tap to Bond’s under carriage. He screams and we all know what’s coming next and when it does, we feel it with Bond. This is the exact opposite of the North Korean torture scene from the last film. This is real. This is gross. This hurts. But boy oh boy dose Bond put up a heroic front. “I’ve got an itch, down there, do you mind?” Whack! “Ohhhhhhh, no no no, to the right, to the right!” Talk about quips! Eat your heart out Roger Moore.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: The man cries blood. It’s a wonderful touch. Watching Le Chiffre calmly blot his eye as others look on in horror is simply fantastic. Don’t think so? Picture sitting next to this guy on the subway. He also has a platinum plated asthma inhaler which serves to emphasize this is not a physical guy. He is an intellectual villain in the proud tradition of Bond baddies but unlike others of his stripe, he has no muscle, no Jaws or Oddjob, to step up when the going gets tough. This is an oversight he will regret.
Badassness of Villain: Forgetting the whole poisoning opponent’s drinks, which Le Chiffre does do, I still would never want to play with this bastard. Not because he is all that good (and in what we saw of his play, he is not) but because of how he plays. Indeed, the telling other people their odds is a prick move but he out does himself at the Royale in what maybe the most obnoxious move you can make at a table. In one of the earlier hands we see Le Chiffre bet out $50 thousand on a 9,8,5, all hearts flop. Bond calls and forth street comes the 9 of clubs. Le Chiffre bets out $100 thousand and Bond smooth calls, all the while pretending to be distracted by a lady. The 2 of hearts comes on the river and the aggressor bets $200 thousand and Bond calls. Le Chiffre then “slow rolls” to show he has the best possible hand; a boat, nines full of twos. Bond throws his flush into the muck. The thing is, Le Chiffre was behind the whole time, bluffing, and caught a huge break on both the turn and the river. As my buddy Johnny would say, runner, runner, nothing funner. He was out played but got lucky. When that happens one should be graceful in taking the chips, humbling accepting the gift, and move on. However, Le Chiffre not only acts like he out played Bond, he “slow rolls” his hand. That is to say, he exhales as if he has lost, holds his cards so others can’t see them, then slowly reviles just one card, again to make it look like he has lost, and then reveals the second card to show the winning hand while saying “oops.” Violence at the table is not normally condoned however in response to a move like that, for that much money; I don’t think anyone would be too pissed if Bond punched Le Chiffre in the nose. However, Bond takes it in stride, having picked up Le Chiffre’s tell and makes his way to the bar for a drink. Better man than I. Le Chiffre also over plays/ slow rolls later when after kidnapping Bond’s girl and capturing a nearly dead 007’s on the side of the road, the baddy brags about how he got to him. “I’m afraid your friend Mathis is really my friend Mathis.” Again, no need to rub it in dude and besides, you still don’t havz da money Lebowski! Truly a sadist, I think Le Chiffre enjoyed whacking Bond in the giblets, getting the password for the money was a fringe benefit. All this adds up to make him badass, just not in the traditional way.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: When Bond broke into M’s place, he found out the text the bomb maker received, “Ellipsis,” came from the Ocean Club in Bahamas. When Bond gets to the club he takes note of the security cameras, something he failed to do when he blew up the embassy. Our young spy is learning. He breaks into the security offices, pulls the surveillance tape with the date and time the text was received, and sees a man stepping out of an Aston Martin, sending a text. Next to reception where Bond tells the lady he is oh so sorry to report his door nicked an Aston Martin in the parking lot. Who owns it so he can make a personal apology? Why that would be Alex Dimitrios who lives right up the beach. This seamless flow from one piece of the puzzle to the next not only leads Bond to the baddy it also builds who Bond is to become. When Bond finally meets up with Dimitrios it is at a poker table where Dimitrios is loosing badly and behaving worse. When his beautiful lady comes over to give him a kiss he hisses “If that was for luck you are two hours late.” Nice, nothing better then taking your loosing out on your lady. So steaming is Dimitrios that he becomes blinded by his cowboys and ignores the ace that came on the flop. For reasons only EON can explain the betting goes backwards on the turn (a 7 of hearts) and Dimitrios puts out a $5 thousand dollar feeler. Bond bites as others clear out of the way and the river comes a K. With the whack-a-doodle hand once again proceeding clockwise Bond checks. Dimitrios, having made his set but short stacked can’t take full advantage and reaches into his wallet, another big no-no. “Table stakes only sir” the dealer scolds as Dimitrios breaks into a sweet. “Here, these were on the table” he says tossing forward the keys to his Aston Martin. “Sir” the dealer starts but Bond says he will allow it, “Give him a chance to win his money back.” Wouldn’t you know it, Bond’s got pocket rockets plus the A on the table and three aces is better then three kings every time and twice on Sunday. “The valet ticket please.” And just like that we watched Bond get his first Aston Martin, won in a card game. This character is beginning to take shape me thinks…
Bond Girl Actress: Eva Green. A show biz kid born in Paris, Green acted in several films before she became more involved in various other artistic pursuits. That’s all I got and for that reason alone I applaud EON for looking past southern California when it came to casting the Bond girl.
Bond Girl’s Name: Vesper Lynd. Ursula Andress’ Honey Rider will always be films first Bond girl but Vesper was the first to steal Bond’s heart, in the books at least. Long time readers will be familiar with Blog James Blog’s weakness for trains in film so the very fact that Bond meets Vesper on board a train is a promising start. Vesper is, as she introduces herself, “the money,” which is to say an accountant in charge of keeping an eye on the crowns $10 million buy-in and Bonds handling of it. She has also been authorized to give Bond the additional $5 million buy-in should he bust but it’s at her discretion. This, needless to say, becomes key. But for now back to that pleasant train ride. Bond and Vesper size each other up as only people in movies do, reading each other their resumes as a “get to know you” game of one-upmanship. It’s cute, I guess, but if it happened in real life it would be the most obnoxious business partner meeting in the history of business. This exchange also allows Vesper to play the role of audience members who may not be familiar with poker or are of the school that it’s “just a game of luck.” Because of this fundamental lack of home work on her part (would you not learn everything you could about where you’re investing your $10 million?) I found her to be a little cold. Bond however sees the nut as a hard one to crack and decides to push her buttons at every turn. In the car on the way to the game he informs her they will be in the same suite to keep up appearance as per their cover only to turn around and check into the hotel as James Bond promptly blowing that cover. To her credit she takes it and gives back just as good, particularly when the two pick out each others outfits for the big game. By the time they made their way down stairs I warmed to dear Vesper but Bond was already smitten; hook, line and sinker. By games end Bond realizes she is spoken for and being the true gent, pulls back a bit. A kidnapping, a ball beating, and an escape later and she’s all over him and he’s taking like a bad Hallmark card. “I have no more armor left” Bond confesses before making like the son of Jor-el in Superman II (1980). And it’s not just talk, Bond emails his one sentence MI6 resignation letter to M and from all I can tell seems 110% committed to becoming this woman’s house husband. And here is the rub, this is all just as clumsy as I just made it sound. I loved this movie but after my first viewing for this project I had a nagging issue, an uneasy feeling that something was seriously broken and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. With the second viewing all became clear; Vesper is this movies kryptonite. When Superman was willing to give up all his power for Lois Lane, I bought it. It was easy as pie to understand exactly why Superman would sacrifice everything he is for this woman. Why would Bond, who worked so hard to get his 00 and is just now having the larger world that his new status gains him opening up before him, give it all up? The problem is not that he would do so for a woman but for this woman. Lazenby’s Bond in love with Tracy? Hell and yes, who wouldn’t fall in love with her? Vesper, as presented here (I have not read the book), has been hot and cold and left and right and all over the place. But above all else she committed an unforgivable sin on both the professional and personal level that Bond, no matter how pulverized his manhood became in Le Chiffre’s dungeon, would never be able to overlook.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: From a recent entry on Roger Ebert’s blog:
Most movie orgasms are perfunctory. Often we start with an action movie, introduce a woman, and then it becomes semi-obligatory for the hero to have sex with the woman. Routine examples of this can be found in the Bond films. His sex must be devoid of emotional significance, or 007′s eyes would be deep, sunken pits after sleepless nights spent recalling the 30 or so women who have lost their lives after sleeping with him. Often a Bond movie will close with Bond and one of the women relaxing on an idyllic isle, but at the start of the next film these promising relationships have not survived. Possibly there’s something sexually flawed about James.
This film, being a new beginning, seems to want to change all of the above. They do so firstly by making Vesper the love of Bonds life, then making him truly feel her death, and finally by carrying her loss through to the end of this movie which implies that Bond 22 is going to be about 007 going on a kill crazy rampage to avenge his ladies death. All wonderful ideas, the only problem is it aint that easy to un-teach this new dog his old tricks. Everyone’s heart is in the right place but EON and Co. fumble play. To recover from the ball beating, Bond is resting in a wheelchair at some kind of hospice. This is a major departure in and of itself, I don’t think Roger Moore ever suffered as much as a hang nail. Vesper jumps at the chance to take advantage of this wounded man, first telling him you can have me whenever you want and then wiring the money to a false account. She showed no interest in bedding Bond until now when she needs to play him. Not understanding the bluff earlier in the film she now becomes the coldest heart at the table. Yes, she winces a little upon learning Bond used her name as the password, but not enough to say, “Hey, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and my own personal superhero, can we go rescue my boyfriend and that $150 million I just sent off to known terrorist? Thanks mate!” Yes, some boyfriend is why she sells our hero down the river. She only sleeps with Bond to deceive him into (a) loosing the money and (b) turning himself into an unemployed world traveling lay about. Vesper once again has an opportunity to correct her mistake when she herself withdraws the money. Again, she doesn’t make the play and coldly moves forward hesitating not a lick. We don’t learn she traded Bond’s life and the money in exchange for her kidnapped boyfriend until way later and the plot device is as thin as an inside straight draw. In explaining the boyfriend bit M says Vesper really did care for Bond which is bullshit because of her many chances to put things right. Maybe if we met this boyfriend at some point and he was just as fantastic as Bond but somehow I don’t think he is. This is a relationship where Vesper is willing to betray her county and Bond, the coolest guy in any room David Bowie is not, for some guy? And the true sticking point here is Bond. This is James Bond who despite all his boozing and skit chasing keeps the mission and his country as priory one. He blew up an embassy for Christ. Now, he is in love and willing to give up everything for a woman who hung him out to dry on his mission way before she stole the money? Back at the game, Bond busted out and lost his first $10 million thanks to a betrayal. He goes out onto a terrace to regroup and get his head together before going back in with his $5 million re-buy. Enter Vesper. Now ladies, the last thing you ought to do is lecture a man who just botched the biggest mission of his career when his full house got crushed by four Jacks. That goes double if you happen to be a co-worker who holds the purse strings for the re-buy. Shut up, give him the money, and let him save the world. But no, Vesper not only refuses to give him the cash, she patronizing to boot. Bond, correctly, snaps calling her a “bloody idiot.” And she is exactly that. She is willing to blow the whole thing and this is BEFORE the boyfriend is kidnapped! She shows no trust in Bond or the mission as laid out by her boss, M, before, during, and after the boyfriend kidnapping incident. Why on God’s green earth would Bond want to spend the rest of his unemployed life with this woman?
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “How’s your lamb?”
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Skewered. One sympathizes.”
Number of Woman 007 Beds: Two. Origin stories for characters, especially ones we already know, can be quite enjoyable. It’s a blast watching Tobey Maguire soar over the city streets learning the full extent of what is means to be Spider-Man. This is why the first Matrix (1999) succeeded and the next two failed. It’s a lot more fun and interesting to watch Keanu Reeves learn he is Jesus (whaaaooooh) then to watch him be Jesus (ooooooh). After winning Dimitrio’s Aston Martin, Bond pulls the car around to find Solange, Dimitrios wife, surprised but not shocked to find someone other then her husband behind the wheel. “That’s why he was in such a bad mood.” Bond invites her to his place for a drink. “It’s not far.” She hops in, they spin around the parking lot, and end up back at the valet for the Ocean Club. This whole thing is simply delightful, Bond learning on the spot how to take full advantage of his new 00 while developing what would become his modus operandi. This is his first baddy’s lady conquest and he opened the door with superior play at the poker table and an Aston Martin. This is the birth of Bond and Craig plays it, correctly, like he’s a kid in a candy store. Later, while rolling around on the floor of Dimitrios house with his wife Bond actually chuckles to himself. It’s as if he saying “this is my job!” He also pulls what would become a classic out of the Bond playbook. While engaging in liaisons with the lady he casually brings up the hubby, so where is Dimitrios now do you think? Solange, to her credit, knows Bond is using her to get to her husband but she is simply having to much fun to care and plays along. Learning Dimitrios is on the next flight to Miami, Bond hops up, tells the lady he is getting drinks, and out the door he goes, bound for Miami and one step closer to finding the mysterious money man. However, shit, as the kids say, gets real quick when your operating in the world of high intrigue. After thwarting the Miami bombing Bond returns to the Bahamas to find Solange has been killed; no doubt retribution for her betrayal. Bond takes the news that he’s become a black widow in stride and assures M the deceased knew nothing that could compromise his mission. When the next woman he beds, Vesper, also ends up dead he finds it not so easy to dismiss. In keeping up with the new improved modernized Bond, the ladies had much to cheer about in this movie as well. It was refreshing to see Bond, not the girl, have the emerging from the sea Ursula Andress moment. While the same reference severed to objectify Halle Berry in the last film, here it somehow has the opposite effects and humanizes Bond. It also made the wife quite happy as she sighed to herself and thanked the gods of cinema it was Craig, and not Moore, in the little baby blue briefs.
Number of People 007 Kills: Here’s the thing, before the sinking house, every one of these kills is felt and means something. As much as getting burned by his first love contributes to hardening Bond’s soul, these kills are violent, personal acts that do the same. Bond’s first kill, the drowning of a man in sink, was extremely violent and in Bond’s own words, did not go well. The second, the shooting of a corrupt MI6 agent, was easier, yes considerably, but killing one of your own isn’t a picnic. Now a full 00, Bond enjoys the rights of any Florida citizen under the “Stand Your Ground” statue; he can kill anyone at anytime for any reason. Except if the person you’re trying kill is seeking asylum with in the walls of their embassy in which case killing is strictly verboten. “Sod that” says Bond as he shoots the unarmed bomb maker/ Parkour expert in cold blood and blows the front wall of the embassy for good measure. If you’re going to break the rules, do so with some flair I always say. The next body Bond adds to the count is taken down at a Bodies exhibit for one of the more cinematically interesting kills in the Bond canon. Surrounded by a crowd of living people who are standing around looking at dead people engaged in various activity Bond ends up face to face with Dimitrios. The two silently push and a pull at a knife as passer-bys go about their business, failing to noticing the life and death struggle happening right before their eyes. Again there is a visceral, gut punch feeling to this kill, Bond is looking the man in his eyes, his face not two inches away, as he slowly jabs the knife in. The airplane bomber on the other hand falls to a perfect bluff. After the chase around the airport, Bond is cuffed and the baddy, from a safe distance, is about to blow up the plane, unaware that Bond clipped the bomb to his belt. As everything becomes clear a look of panic crosses the bombers face and we cut to Bond, face on the hood of a cop car, smiling to himself as we hear a satisfactory off camera cue, not kaboom as much as a pusffitt-poof; much more personal. It’s also funny. There is quite a bit of humor in this film, it’s just a darker humor, the kind of jokes homicide cops or emergency room doctors tell to keep the grim realities of their work at a distance. During a break in play at the Casino Royale, a few of Le Chiffre’s clients come calling, machete in hand, none to happy that he has lost there money. He assures them he has matters well in hand and will get them money to them at the games conclusion. Bond and Vesper happened upon two of these men in a stairwell and a hand to hand battle ensues. The combatants jump from flight to flight as the battle unfolds in such a basic yet revolutionary way its shocking no one has come up with this idea for a movie before. It all ends with two dead baddies at the bottom of the stairs, one of whom Bond strangles from behind while laying on the floor a la Anton Chigurh. Sadly, the rest of the kills are more standard action film fare. In Venice, Bond objects to being followed by a dude, a bullet to the head solves the problem. Then while battling in a sinking house, Bond shoots four dudes, push another under a falling elevator and takes out the head baddy with a nail gun bringing Bond’s kill total to 15. A quick note about that sinking building by the by, on the DVD extras the head special effects talks about a meeting he had with the EON brass before shooting began on Bond 21. He said they told him that there would be no Q, no gadgets, and no transforming cars. Well, this movies going to be easy he thought. Then, he was told he needed to come up with a set for a six story building that would sink into sea. He proceed to build the huge set on a gimble so it could pitch left or right and made it capable of moving up or down in the water up to 18 feet. He went on to say it was the most complex “gadget” he ever had to build for a Bond picture. The moral, even in a back-to-basic Bond, they can resist building a volcano lair.
Most Outrageous Death/s: The sinking building, in truth, does feel like another movie. It’s dramatic for sure and it’s not to say this film didn’t have outrageous stunts, but they were more nuts and bolts, the sinking house feels quite CGI and frankly, a little contrived. This all brings us to Vesper caught in the elevator. You know those ads for $19.95 gadgets you can by on TV that are products to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? “Don’t you just hate cutting vegetables” the VO asks as you see an actress handle a knife like she has five thumbs while struggling to slice carrots and you’re sitting there thinking “Just cut the carrots lady.” That’s how I felt watch Vesper in the elevator. She becomes a damsel in distress, someone who needs rescuing when all she needs to do is simply open the door. We know this because after the elevator cage plunges underwater, we see her lock the door and take the key so Bond can’t save her. I know this is meant to be a Jesus giving up her life for her sins moment and I know she saved Bond with the defibrillator and he giving her CPR, unable to save her, is meant to be a full circle moment but in a film that goes out of it’s way to make us feel every punch and make these people real why in hell come up with something so contrived. Again, I can’t stress this enough, all she had to do was open the damn door of the elevator! She proves to be, as Bond so accurately observed, a blood idiot. Anyway she drowns and Mr. White runs away with the money.
Miss. Moneypenny: No Moneypenny in this movie so let’s use this space to discuss Mathis. As Bond’s fixer for the poker game, Mathis earns his strips and then turns out to be playing for the other side, clueing Le Chiffre in on Bond’s read of his tell and therefore costing Bond his $10 million buy-in. Vesper for her part then refuses to give Bond the additional $5 million and its pretty much game over. Which got me to thinking, between Dryden’s selling secretes at the top and both Mathis and Vesper selling Bond out, how the hell does M vet these people? Maybe she could use an assistant…
M: Hey M, we were just talking about you. We first meet M as she is ready to kill her newest 00 in the wake of the embassy SNAFU. “In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he would have the good sense to defect, Christ I miss the cold war.” Again, this is really funny for a film that has the rep of “getting rid of all the humor.” Clearly Bond is different in this reboot and to Judi Dench’s credit, so is M, all be it in a more subtitle way. Here she takes on more of a mentor role then straight up supervisor. She feels a connection to her newest 00, partly because she took a chance on him and partly because Bond is willing to bend if not break the rules. She runs this ship but appreciates a little out of bounds play stating that even the PM has the good sense to let he do her thing as long as it stays out of the papers. This is the opposite of the 1970’s M, a boss who mostly just got in Bond’s way. I like this better, feels more like the way MI6 would be run. Even when she does fence with Bond, it’s for his good and the good of the mission. While he makes cracks about not expecting to live all that long, she makes sure he checks his emotions and keeps his eye on the ball. This leads to a very well done heart to heart about trust and how Bond needs to learn who he can and who he can’t rely on. By the end of the movie, so burned is Bond that he simply trusts no one and goes off solo, forever to follow the money. One gets the feeling perhaps he’s gone to far the other way… something for M to contend with the next go around. PS M does in fact have a home in which there is a bed in which there is a man. This is a nice touch, M can enjoy such comforts while Bond is getting burned seeking them.
Q: I’m surprised at what I’m about to say but I didn’t miss Q in this film. I think that’s perhaps because I know Desmond Llewelyn is gone, never to return, and I never had the chance to fall in love with John Cleese in the role. In the absents of Q and his gadgets we get a cell phone and a war room full of agents that act as support. Again, I really like this, feels real and it’s something we as an audience can relate to. We’ve all been on a business trip when we need to phone back to the office to get a contacts number or instructions on how to work the portable defibrillator.
List of Gadgets: Yes, the car has a portable defibrillator. Bond is poisoned during the poker game and as a result goes into cardiac arrest. He stumbles out to the car which is equipped with a secrete compartment for his gun and a portable defibrillator. As silly as this scene is on the surface I had no problems with it in the context of the film and it in fact works as an exciting Bond moment. It’s substantially much more realistic then what transpires at the poker table shortly after. Bond also has some kind of chip injected into his arm, a tracking device of sorts, so MI6 can always know his whereabouts. This is a useful thing until it’s pried loose from his arm by Le Chiffre’s knife. But the most important gadget Bond has in the film is the very same device that makes every single one of us a real life James Bond and Captain Kirk rolled into one; the iPhone.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: After a lifetime of watching car chases and crashes on the screen, from “CHiPs” and “Dukes of Hazzard” style pill-ups to artful pursuits in Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971) to silly but fun in Death Race 2000 (1975) and The Blues Brothers (1980) not to mention every other Bond film I thought nothing new could be brought to motorized vehicles following other motorized vehicles on film at any speed. Casino Royale delightful stomped on my seen-it-all cynic self with a stunt so basic it’s simply unbelievable no one thought of it before. It also happens to be the best single shot in a movie silly with great moments. It’s night; the baddies grab Vesper, pull her into a car, and take off down a country road. Bond jumps into his Aston Martin and gives chase. He is moving very fast over a poorly lit road with blind turns and rolling hills. As he comes flying around one corner we get a flash of Vesper, tied up, lying in the middle of the road. In desperation Bond yanks the wheel avoiding Vesper and sending the car careening off road where it proceeds to roll for what seems an eternity. As I always love pointing out the boys in shop did this one for real and sent an Aston Martin and driver flipping into the air at 70 MPH by shooting off an air cannon. The car flipped a world record breaking six times before coming to rest. It looks just absolutely spectacular on screen and I defy anyone, no matter how many times they’ve seen the film, to not give a winching “ohhhh” as the car cartwheels to a stop. This is just halftime of a brutal evening that has seen/will see Bond be poisoned, die, brought back to life, betrayed by Mathis, lose his girl, crash his car and end up naked and tied to chair getting his balls beat. But hey, at least he won the $150 million, hey? This is all a very long way of saying the car, he destroys the car. He also goes through a lovely tuxedo while playing the big game; ruined by machete and shower. The shower scene, happening shortly after his battle with machete, shows Bond holding Vesper with hands that have scratched up knuckles from the recent fight. Details, they make all the difference.
Other Property Destroyed: 007 may have started it all off with seven years of bad luck, smashing a bathroom mirror in carrying out his first kill. He takes a bulldozer to a construction site and runs through a few walls and knocks down a few girders for good measure. Then there was that incident at the embassy. In order to stop the bombing at Miami International he manages to take out a luggage truck, a flex-bus, a fuel truck, and the Bluth Family car.
All of these destructive chases are outrageous and over the top but proceed in a logical way and stick to their own physics. The sinking Vatican build is a little goofy as we discussed earlier but I think most fans are willing to forgive in this case. It is exciting, that’s for sure, and at the end of it Venice has one less landmark, thanks to 007. M doesn’t seem to pissed-off tough, just don’t blow up those building with diplomatic immunity and all will be fine.
Felix Leiter: Jeffrey Wright. Bond has just been told by his so called partner, Vesper, that she will not release the $5 million for him to continue playing in the tournament and therefore he has failed his mission. Half drunk and fully pissed-off Bond decides to take matters into his own hands when he sees Le Chiffre in the bar. Grabbing a dinner knife out of desperation Bond makes a B-line for the baddy only to be intercepted by one of the players at the table who identifies himself as “a brother from Langley.” Hey, the brother from Langley is a brother to which I say hell yah! Bond caught some racial flack for Live and Let Die (1973) which I didn’t entire agree with but the truth is, other then the Bond ladies who come from around the world, Bond has lived in a very white universe. Quite nice to bring in some color. (All that said, Vijay in Octopussy (1983) was one of my favorite Bond sidekicks.) Wright is probably most famous for playing the lead in the well received but I felt uneven Basquiat (1996). Since then he’s gone the character actor route and seen incredible success. Wright’s Felix, unlike Felix of the past, actually saves the day. Bond explains the witch with a B will not give him the money; money the American is willing to front Bond without a moment’s hesitation. Felix, being a good poker player, is smart enough to know tonight is not to be his and he saw Bond had Le Chiffre dead to rights. This is also an elder giving the young hot head a bit of good advice, don’t go off stabbing the cat, kill him with cards at the table instead. It all adds up to an amazing act of generosity and good faith and it 100% explains why these men would share a life long bond, even if Felix becomes, which is to say was, a complete imbecile in future/past missions. But hey, it’s a reboot so everyone gets a clean slate and after one film, Felix is aces in my book.
Best One Liners/Quips: Now the whole world’s going to know that you died scratching my balls!
Bond Cars: When Bond arrives in the Bahamas he is seen driving a Ford. A rental I assume. We’ve all got to start somewhere and the truth is its much nicer then my first car. He then wins the 1964 Aston Martin and decides his days of Fords are behind him. He contacts M who makes sure he has a brand spanking new Aston Martin DBS V12 for the big game. And boy how she purrs. It comes equipped not with life taking weapons but a live saving defibrillator in the glove box. Ohh Ok … and a hand gun.
Bond Timepiece: It’s an Omega, not a Rolex. Get over it Spulock.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Knowing nothing about guns I did notice that for the first time Bond seemed to be using silencers. After some research I found this to be true but the device is called a “suppressor” among those in the know. I also learned that the hand gun he uses throughout the film is not his trust Walther PPK (thought that is the model featured in the posters) but a “suppressed” Walther P99. As for the big guy that he shoots Mr. White in the leg at the end, that’s something called a Heckler & Koch UMP9 9mm, with suppresser natch. Hey man, they look cool and there is something more satisfying about the “Puuthump” of a suppressed fire arm as opposed the more traditional “Bang!” Bond started out the film a little more casually attired then we’re accustom to but he looks great in his suit sans tie when he touches down in the Bahamas. As for the tux during the game I will quote Vesper, “There are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets. That is the latter.” On this point she is correct.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: We here at Blog, James Blog would like to tip our caps and raise our glasses to one Mr. Craig who brings Bond and boozing to new glorious heights. Before sitting down at the table at the Ocean Club Bond gets a large Mount Gay with soda from the bar, I think … his order was mumbled so I’m not 100% sure. By the time he checks into his room at the Ocean Club Bond is quickly realizing everything is on the company’s dime so he orders a bottle of Bollinger…for himself! On the train he shares a bottle of red with Vesper and he has some champagne with Mathis as the two sit at a sidewalk café watching the chief of police get arrested. But Bond is only warming up. One of the rules most poker pros not named Scotty Nguyen stick to is “don’t drink at the table” to which Bond says stick it in your ear.
Feeling a little full of himself after winning a good size pot Bond decides to give the waiter a bit of the what for ordering a dry martini. “Wait” Bond says as the man turns to fill the order, “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Litllet, shake it over ice then add a thin slice of lemon peel.” An uptight gent at the table decides he’ll take one as well, as does another player and then finally Felix who asks that they “hold the fruit,” at which point Le Chiffre, being the kind of player he is, pulls yet another total dick move. After loosing a hand and seeing everyone is having fun he chides them for doing so, “Anyone want to play poker now?” When I’m at a table and some pulls that nonsense I typically shoot them a look and tell em they can switch tables anytime? “And who knows, maybe you’re luck will change” I like to add. That ether shuts em up, piss em off, or gets them to leave. Whatever the outcome, I’m happy. Anyway, this drink order opens the flood gates as Bond orders a second before the break. During the break the whole machete incident happens which prompts Bond to clean out his wounds and dull his pain with whisky. One for the cut – one for belly, two for the cut – one, two for the belly, and so on. Bond returns but quickly busts and makes his way to the bar. “Martini” “Shaken or stirred?” “Do I look like I give a damn!” Not getting the buy-in from your lady will do that to a man. His next drink is back at the table, thank you Felix, but this one has a little extra kick; the martini is in fact poisoned. Thinking quickly, 007 grabs a full water glass and pours in table salt inducing vomiting. None the less, he ends up dead only to be shocked back to life and despite now having two breaks in a row that are the equivalent of the trip to town in Wet Hot American Summer (2001) Bond once again returns to play poker and wins! How to celebrate? Why another shaken not stirred martini with dinner that now gets a name, The Vesper, because once you’ve tasted it, it’s all you want to drink. Despite my dumping on Vesper that’s a good line. L’Chaim dear Daniel, you’ve done your country proud with your poker prowess and incredible tolerance.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Muhammad Ali, in his day, would use every opportunity he had before a match to talk his opponents to death, saying anything and everything to get in their head so “I would win the fight before I even stepped in the ring.” Bond subscribes to the Ali school when it comes to poker and from the moment he enters the casino he’s playing the game. By checking in under his real name, Bond is not only putting his card on the table he’s also saying I’m not afraid to play aggressively. When we finally do get to the table, it goes without saying that in grand Bond tradition the room is beautiful, the people are gorgeous, and everyone has something to hide except for me and my monkey. So, the game is afoot and the hands are a dealt and things happen and things happen and then we get down to the final hand. If you don’t care about poker please skip down to the List of Locations because even though Bond has barrel rolled over rivers, been shot out of a torpedo tube, walking on alligator heads, brought himself back from the dead, and crash landed a space shuttle, nothing he has done up to this point is more far fetched, unrealistic, or out and out bat-shit crazy then this final hand of poker. By way of setting this thing up, whenever I sit at a table, I quickly name all the players in my head either based on their appearance or play. In other words, the guy with the Yankees cap is Jeter, a tight player is The Rock, and so on; I imagine everyone does something similar when they play. With this in mind, the last hand of the Le Chiffre invitational is down to four players; proceeding from the dealer we have Ponytail, a grey hair gent with a silver ponytail going down his back, Big Luv, a rotund man in a loud purple suit, Le Chiffre and then Bond. The blinds, I.E. the forced bet or the anti, are at ½ a million and a million. We as an audience join the action already in progress, $24 million in the pot and 8,6,4 all spades along with the ace of hearts are already dealt out on the table. Le Chiffre, first to act, checks as all other players follow suit. Cagey play and so far so good. On the river Lemmy’s favorite card falls, the Ace of Spade. Once again Le Chiffre and Bond check into Ponytail who goes all in for $6 million. Big Luv nearly jumps out of his seat to get his all in, $5 million, pushed forward into the pot. Now Le Chiffre, who Hollywood’s a bit, which is to say he pretends he’s thinking about it, playing with his cards and chips, before doubling the bet to $12 million. Now it’s Bond’s turn to act some and after staring Le Chiffre down a bit he pushes in all his chips, $14.5 million, forward. Le Chiffre looks like Sylvester the moment after he’s swallowed Tweety as he looks down at his house, Aces full of sixes. Le Chiffre lets go of a gasp of a laugh knowing he is about to bust the entire table in one hand, “Well I think I will call you on that one” he says while pushing in all his chips. $150 million in the pot Mathis points out. Showdown. Ponytail is quite pleased with his A high flush to the Q, a monster hand that would win most days in Vegas. However, he couldn’t have been pleased that his last spade came an Ace and indeed here comes Big Luv with a boat, eights full of aces. Le Chiffre, as we saw, has the bigger boat, aces full of six which of course he slow roles as is his custom. So, Ponytail had only four hands that could beat him, Big Luv only two and Le Chiffre is next to the nuts. $1 dollar American to anyone who can predict what Jimmy B is holding. Much has been made of Bond hitting the straight flush (5,7 of Spades) in this situation, rightfully so, and we will get to that, but many things need to be unpacked here. Firstly, we learned there was $24M in the pot on forth street which was checked around. Then on the final round of betting everyone is all in with $6M, $5M, $14.5M and $14.5 respectively. If my calculations are correct, and I’m certain they are, that would be $64 million in the middle. I don’t know what kind of operation they are running at the Casino Royale but most of the places I play, if $86 million walked away from the table, someone would notice. But that’s not even the strangest thing. Fifth street is Ponytail all in for $6, Big Luv all in for $5, and then Le Chiffres raises to $12. Why in heavens name would he do that here? It leaves him with only $2.50. Looking across at Bond, he had to see that Bond had $14.50. Why not put him all in here? Or, just call the $6. You would never, ever in this situation leave yourself with only $2.50. It’s like emptying your gun except for one bullet and then saying, OK you shoot all of your bullets at me. If you think you have the best hand, and Le Chiffre dose, pull the trigger or slow play but don’t do a half measure, especially when you see that you and your opponent are evenly stacked. Which brings us to another huge point, are you telling me, after that much time, money, and play in this tournament that Bond and Le Chiffre, the two big stacks at the table, have the exact same amount in chips? The chances of this happening are about the same as getting hit by lightning while driving a motorcycle on the frozen Hudson River. Bond then beating two house and a flush with a straight flush is about the same chance of getting hit by lightning while driving a motorcycle across the frozen Hudson River with Diana Rigg on the back and Bill Clinton in the sidecar while all three of you are harmonizing on the second verse of “Up on Cripple Creek.” No matter how fun it sounds, it will never, ever happen.
List of Locations: Much of the movie was shot in the Prague, the beautiful old world capital of the Czech Republic. The Madagascar slums and construction site chase scene were filmed is the Bahamas as was the Ocean Club and beach scene. Montenegro, the location of the Casino Royale, looks like a story book fantasy and is a place I would live the rest of my life if I had the means. The Bodies exhibit exteriors were Miami and the airport chase was also Miami as well as three other airports. Pinewood did some set work and the finale was shot in Venice. The coda where Bond confronts Mr. White was shot in George Clooney’s beloved Lake Como. I remember exactly noting from Quantum of Solis (2008), a bad sign right off the bat, but I hope to continue where we left off. Lake Como is simply breathtaking and I want to know who/ what Mr. White is up to. Maybe he works for Blofeld and SPECTURE? Maybe Bond’s quest for vengeance will once again pull him away from MI6? Maybe I’m wishing in vein because while I don’t remember the movie, I remember many did not enjoy it. Oh well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Not at first but 007 eventually gets a hold of this Parkour thing. At one point during the Miami fracases, he slides over the top cabin of a truck and flips over and into the cab via the hole where a windshield should have been. He also does some fancy bouncing in the stairwell during the machete fight. 007 has incredible quick draw abilities as displayed at the embassy. In all this time with Bond, I don’t think we’ve seen him do the quick draw thing; impressive. Bond also has a golden horseshoe firmly lodged into his ass as is evident anytime he sits down at a poker table. Then there is the typical list of vehicles, a jet fuel truck, a construction tractor, a sailboat while under power and a first, a wheelchair. See, still new stuff to explore.
Final Thoughts: The blurb on the back of my copy of Casino Royale comes from Josh Rothkopf of Time Out New York. “Daniel Craig is the best Bond in the franchise’s history.” I disagree but the line is also understandable. I find Rothkopf to be a very thoughtful critic who truly understand film history and I do not take his comment to be a tossed off platitude. I’m sure he meant it at the time. My question is, if I bumped in Rothkopf at Kettle of Fish tonight, would he still feel that way? I doubt it. Hailed as the future of Bond at the time, today Casino Royale fits quite nicely into the Bond cannon. Indeed, it is a step forward but no more so then other great Bond films of the past. Further, things like Parkour, the Bodies exhibit, the bombing of an airport, the shorting of stocks, the blink and you miss it Richard Branson cameo and even the central poker game are not necessarily dated but they do place this film in a time and place, just like every other Bond. And that’s as it should be. But I think at the time of the film release there was an over enthusiasm for everything about this movie, particularly the praise of Craig. I’m sure this was due in no small part to the pre-release backlash against the actor. Add the fact that it followed Die Another Day (2002), a bad movie that has aged worse then any Bond film not called Moonraker (1979), and I think people went a little nuts for Royale. All this is not to say it’s not a great film, the opposite in fact. 45-years-old when the film came out, the Bond movies didn’t get where they are without adapting and changing, sometimes going the right direction and other times not. This movie takes a leap into positive territory and ends up being one of the stronger entries. The number one reason for this, more important then Craig, is director Martin Campbell who with his two films has proven to be the best Bond director since Terence Young. Guided by his steady hand the film “gets real” and deconstructs one of film’s great heroes. Instead of going big and outrageous, things were boiled down and became a hyper realized reality. The story is a fantastic piece of writing that shows us new angles while reveling where some of James favorite moves come from. It’s back to basics for most of the stunts which are once again exciting and a blast to watch. The baddie is also brought back to earth but still a villain we love to hate as demonstrated in the torture scene. And Craig’s Bond is wonderful; he’s fun, smart, physical and handsome. Both he and Campbell give the character an arc going from wet behind the ears to arrogant and cocky to humbled and hardened. Yes, the poker is ridiculous but it’s also fun to watch. And isn’t that point? I’d bet my entire stack that 90% of the audience for this film wouldn’t know if a straight is better then two pair and that is fine. It really doesn’t matter. The game tonally fits in with the rest of the film in that its beautifully shot, it has significant tension, provides a tight storyline, and is above all fun and exciting. And that’s what it should do.
However, however…despite all the new inventions the rebooted Bond manages to fall into the same trap that has plagued 007 since he hit the big screen; the weak third act. Sadly, the lack of a satisfactory ending is enough to knock this film off the top shelf. Think back to Dr. No (1962), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Octopussy (1983), The Living Daylights (1987), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and most egregiously Moonraker, and you will see good or great films that fail to stick the landing. Casino Royale is a cracker-jack thriller that frankly should have climaxed with Mr. White killing Le Chiffre. The next scene could be as it was, Bond left recovering from his injuries, wondering why Mr. White let him and Vesper live. The banker comes and we see Vesper deposit the money, but right after she gets a phone call. “Excuses me James?” She walks away. “Yes?” On the other end a voice asks “Is it done?” “Yes Mr. White, the money is in your account.” “Good, we will be in touch.” Phone hangs up; she looks back at Bond, the camera pulls out to a wide shot, the score hits and credits. I understand the story demands we deal with Vesper and her betrayal but that doesn’t mean it fits in with the rest of the film, at least not as written and told here. I donno, maybe the Bond/Vesper relationship is an impossible sell but I simply can’t swallow it and the last bit of the film suffers as a result. When I mention this movie to people inevitably they give some variant on the comment “I liked it, but it was a little too long.” Indeed, the running time is well over two hours but what they mean to say is the movie “felt too long.” That is because the pacing in the last act makes it fell like the movie is being dragging across the finish line. Add the sinking house and the entire tone is inconsistent with the tight, fun adventure in the first two acts. It’s a shame because I can not over emphasize how significant an achievement it is to reinvent the most recognizable character in film history and do so in a way that succeeds so incredibly. We will hold out on ranking Craig against other 007’s until we have a larger sample size but I can say he was presented with a nearly impossible task, a task that most wanted him to fail. Craig met the character and his critics head on and to quote my favorite guru Paul Crik, he killed it.