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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Superficial Bond Reviews --- #21: Casino Royale

* So I guess it's time for what may or may not qualify for being called a "re-imagining" of the Bond movie series - Casino Royale.
OK, I'm ready. Re-impress me.
The first thing we see, is some gritty black-and-white shots. Oooh. Gritty. Re-imaginy. There's some intense chatting between an older fellow, and a dude with a head like a potato. Then, an action scene, kinda intercut with the talking: Mr. Potato Head kills some big guy in a toilet.
Then it slowly dawns on me that the guy with the turnip face is the new Bond - Daniel Craig!
Holy macaroni - is this part of the re-imagining thing? Instead of finding a tall, attractive man with lots of charisma, who can sell the suave playboy image of 007, they find someone who looks like a Polish onion farmer instead? Hm. Interesting.

* The title sequence is certainly worth mentioning:
Elegant, excellent design - and Chris Cornell has understood that you have to scream when you're doing the Bond intro tune. "You know my name" is a good line - just the right amount of subtlety, so that when you're thinking "Bond. James Bond", you actually feel a bit clever, even though you're not.

* Another action scene soon follows, impressively showing off Craig's physical prowess. It can't be easy to run with the wind resistance from those Dumbo ears.
It all takes place in and around a construction site, and 007 and the dude he's chasing are doing some kickass freerunning that the movie audiences can marvel at, just like they've marveled at the presence of freerunning in every single action movie for the last five years.
At least, it's excellent running - and that partly compensates for the utter lack of originality.

* I laugh a lot whenever I see a scene where Daniel Craig talks to a woman or some chicks walk by him, and they instantly send him favorable looks and/or turn their heads and go "mm-MM!". It's not often I see the Sarah Jessica Parker Effect* used on a guy.
(*as I've mentioned before: the effect of repeating on screen that an unattractive person is attractive, to convince the viewer that the person really is attractive).
You know - I could easily believe in him as a womanizer, if they tried to build Craig's Bond up as someone with wit and charm, and who knows exactly what to say to women to make them give in to him - but trying to sell him as an instant head turner? Come on! How many girls do you think saw, say, Road to Perdition, and thought about Craig as someone they wanted to bang? If he weren't playing James Bond, none of you would even spit on his head if his face were on fire.

* Just notice that Craig is more often topless or naked in this movie than all the previous Bonds in all the earlier movies, combined. This is, of course, a way of compensating for his distinctly Neanderthal features and make him into a sex symbol (for those who dream of monkey sex, I guess).
What I notice about his body, though, is that it looks like a body that's generated by some personal trainer over a shorter period of time. He just looks big, not strong - and his squat frame doesn't communicate that pure athleticism you could find in Connery and Lazenby.
In a fight, both of those guys would beat the crap outta Craig - how could they not? He has a head the size and shape of a bean bag chair, and he's barely taller than my mom.

* But I'll give this to him: Craig's physical makeup is well suited for great action scenes, like the one at the airport. Props also to CR for letting Bond have cuts and bruises after going through one of his ordeals - having our hero come out of dicey situations with his hairdo intact and with no wrinkles on his suit, was always a bit on the silly side for my taste.
What I also believe, is that Bond can be a cold assassin. That icy lack of emotion that you could only see traces of in the other guys is ever-present in Craig. Maybe it's because he looks like a Serbian war criminal.

* To match 007, this year's Bond broad is Eva Green - playing someone called Vesper.
I'm being told that this Vespa is a beautiful woman, but I'm not sure. First of all, because she looks a bit like a girl, and not a woman. Secondly, because she looks like a girl who's raided her mom's makeup drawer, without quite knowing what to do with the content.
Seriously, this Green chick - does she have a special clause in all of her contracts, where it states that she has to look like a raccoon, or she won't play the part?
Anyway - this girl causes all kinds of crap in Casino Royale, mainly making 007 into a blubbering, lovestruck wimp. One minute, he's snarling that he doesn't give a shit how the bartender makes his martini - the next, he randomly invents some fruity drink with lemon peel in it, and names it after his wannabe girlfriend. Awww! Sorry, I thought I was watching a Bond movie, not Cocktail.
Later, there's a scene where Vespa cries in the shower with her clothes on after seeing some violence, because it, like, symbolizes that she feels dirty. So instead of telling her to get naked or get out of the damn shower, Bondetta gets in there and hugs her. It's like seeing a couple of emo kids in a music video.
Luckily, she eventually gets killed, so that 007 can start growing his testicles back and act like the douchebag he's supposed to be.

* A lot - and I mean a lot - of time in this movie is spent on 007 playing poker.
We all know how fantastically entertaining it is to watch other people play a game, right? Then let's try doing that for half an hour! Whee! I'd rather watch Connery play that moronic computer game in Never Say Never Again... uh... again.
OK, that half-hour is broken up into smaller pieces by inserting a couple of suspenseful sequences and action scenes in between... but to me, that actually just serves to extend the poker sequence, since the poker is the central element anyway. Jesus, "poker is the central element" - you'd think I was reviewing Maverick.
To make matters worse, there's nothing really at stake for Bond in this neverending card game. There's a lot of money, but so what? They're not his money. It's so lame, you actually have poor Felix Leiter explaining to Vespa (read: the audience) why this should be really be exciting. Why should I care? Simple: I do not.
And poker? Poker!? What the hell? Not that I hate poker per se - but that's not Bond's game - that's everybody's game now: rednecks, neo-yuppies, stay-at-home moms who play it on the Internet, rednecks... you name it. "So what's wrong with playing a popular game?" you may ask, before you instantly regret it, remembering that I'm going to call you an idiot. It's wrong because it's well-known and popular.
Baccarat is the perfect game for Bond, because nobody understands it: not me, not you, not anybody you know. And even though I've seen Bond play it several times, I've never even been curious to find out how it's played. This is perfect because it puts James Bond above us mortals, where he should be: he draws a card, looks smug, says something in French, his opponent looks pissed off, and we go "what? Did he win? He won? Awesome!" and we're happy to be ignorant as to what just happened, we just know that he's the best, and we will never be as cool as him.
Having him win at poker does nothing for me - it might as well be darts or pool, for all I care. Look out for next Bond installment, where he'll triumph at Whist and/or Bridge and win a cake for M.

* Oh, and I almost forgot about the bad guy here, played skillfully by Mads Mikkelsen, who manages to inject some life into a bland character who does nothing but play poker and cry.
Plus, and he gets to torture the naked (again) 007 by whipping his nutsack with some rope, but we know by now that Bond can take it - his nuts kinda vanished the minute he met Vespa anyway.
Then Mads gets shot by somebody who isn't Bond (boring!), and the rest of the movie kinda fades away from me.
There's this scene where some buildings tumble down by CGI while a shootout goes on inside, and then the raccoon drowns while Bond weeps like Miss Moneypenny... but I'm already out the door, mentally.

* Casino Royale has some good action, and it is well-made... but it's no more of a "re-imagining" or "reboot" than any other time they got a new actor to play 007.
There are still a lot of the old mistakes, a lot of new ones, and - for the first time in Bond history - a 007 with a head like an upside-down pear that's been used for a softball.


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