A primer on James Bond that I co-wrote with Walt Opie is now up on GreenCine. Some (well, many) would say I got stuck with the bum half of the franchise's history - writing about the more recent films - but it was still a kick to, for the first time, revisit those in an analytical frame of mind.
Meanwhile, seeing the latest incarnation of James Bond, Casino Royale, on the heels of watching all these other recent 007 films made it easier to see clearly how superior it is to most of them.
I do hope that any of those who carped ad nauseum about the casting of Daniel Craig - "he's a blonde!" (gasp!) - are quieted within ten minutes into the film. Craig's a fine actor - Layer Cake in particular must have put him in the sights of the Bond casting agents - and here he manages to give Bond both humanity, vulnerability and prone to paroxysms of violence. With his imperfect but appealing features (and also a chiseled physique that the filmmakers show off several occasions), Craig holds sway in every moment he's on screen.
The film starts with an incredible - in both senses of the word - chase sequence that reveal Craig's Bond as one capable of making the occasional tactical error, and also as one who can keep up with a ridiculously agile criminal (they both manage to jump, run and climb impossibly). It's an unforgettable scene and the film offers quite a few other spasms of violent action, but unlike many of the other Bond films in which the quiet moments - either romantic or character-revealing - make us want to cringe or head to the snack bar, in Casino Royale these scenes, too, hold our attention. Judi Dench, returning as M, finally has a great actor to play off of and her scenes with Craig have a dramatic zing rare for the series, and striking actress Eva Green (with mesmerizing eyes that match her name), takes a "Bond girl" to near tragic levels and her scenes, too, with Craig have sparkle. Some credit should go to the script, above average for a Bond film, by Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, as it deftly takes the franchise in new directions while also referencing with sly one-liners the franchise's previous history. Mads Mikkelsen, a highly regarded actor in his native Denmark (check him out in the Pusher
trilogy), makes for a creepy enough villain (his glassy eye and its
tears of blood are a memorable touch); the torture scene between he and
Bond is a memorable, even funny, bit of sadistic interplay.
If the film suffers from the same overlength tendency and complicatted plotting that characterizes most of the more recent era Bonds, and if it seems a little laughable that Bond would so swiftly declare his love for Eva Green's Vesper, the film overall is hard to rag on. The pacing is better than most recent Bond efforts, and the very ending is perfect.
All in all, Casino Royale admirably earns its way as a great action film - not just as another Bond.
Not enough people saw the latter here in the States to care, but I've been thinking how much there's an eerie similarity between the new Prime Suspect series starring Helen Mirren and the new French film La Petit Lieutenantstarring Nathalie Baye, not the least of which is the subplot in which both protagonists' struggle to come to terms with their alcoholism. I saw the "Gallic Prime Suspect" at the SFIFF this year and thought it quite well done, even if I found myself missing Helen Mirren, and now after watching the new PS, it's hard not to think back to the French film. Both takes on a familar genre story have their place, make it seem fresh, and both lull you before they shock you, utterly.
In the front of the Faber and Faber published script for Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, before the screenplay itself, there is a series of fascinating letters from and to Powell about the film. Most of the letters are about the struggles to get it made, and in particular their battles with the British War Office; surprisingly to me, the film was quite controversial to many in the government as it was taken to be an affront or criticism of British morals (and morale?) during wartime.
At any rate, I highly recommend reading through this correspondence, which includes letters to and from Laurence Olivier - who was Powell's original choice for the protagonist who would ultimately be played wonderfully by Roger Livesey - and to actress Wendy Hiller. I found in particular the note to the latter to be quite amusing - and still inspiring and relevant.
"I must first of all, because we still don't know each other well, reaffirm our responsibility as independent film makers.
One, we owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and to them the sole responsibility of ensuring a profit, not a loss. Two, every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by influence but our own judgement. Three, when we start work on a new work we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more. [Or in my case, 12 - ed.] Four, no artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see truth, for other reasons than her nakedness. Five, at any time, and particularly at the present, the self-respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on. They will fight or intrigue to work ona subject they feel is urgent and contemporary, and fight equally hard to avoid working on a trivial or pointless subject. And we agree with them and want the best workmen with us; and get them. These are the main things we believe in. "
I don't know how else to say it, but no matter where you are in the United States, if you don't vote, you suck.
I always tell any friend who complains about all the convoluted ballot measures - "I don't know how to vote on any of these!" - if research isn't going to happen, and you're really not sure, leave them blank. Vote for what and who you can. But vote.
And remember how important checks and balances are in this country when you go to the polls. Without them... well, just look at where we are now.
If you live in a state with an incompetent or suspicious voting machine system (I'm talking to you Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri, for starters), or have experienced any difficulties at all casting your ballot today, you should immediately report it to 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
So many of us are blogging about, or commenting on other blogs about, the tragic death of actress (and director) Adrienne Shelly.
Plenty of good linkage and commentary is provided via David at GreenCine Daily.
Now, just when this story couldn't get any sadder or more tragic, comes this from the Gothamist. Sickening, awful, sad, no word is really good enough to describe any of this. Of course, people get murdered brutally in this country every day, most of them obscure, anonymous, forgotten. Shelly was known to many in the indie film world and obviously well-liked, so many of us are hit hard by this news. Maybe this should be a moment of silence for both her and anyone so pointlessly taken from their loved ones.