Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Casino Royale - A Movie Club Column

Hey... is the All Star Game over yet?

If only I was the Commissioner of baseball.... Besides giving the Mets the World Series each year, I would first get rid of the silly rule that the All Star Game "counts". Its the All "Star" game and people want to see the stars they vote for... not the backups that played the last several innings of that 15 inning marathon. I would make a rule that each manager needs to have 6 pitchers (including 3 starters) on the bench going into the 8th inning... and 4 pitchers (including at least 2 starters) going to the 9th. Then, if the game goes extra innings. allow free substitutions so the players voted in can come back into the game, but once you run out of pitchers, everybody gets together, sings kumbaya, shakes hands and goes home. And if its a tie... who cares? Its about the "all-stars", not the "game". Last week's Costas HBO show with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays showed you those players played competitively in a game that didn't "count", when the legends rattled off their All Star won lost records, and Hank bragged about winning all but one of those games.

Today we review our final James Bond movie picked by new papa Steve - Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.

Personally, I would have preferred that the producers kept Pierce Brosnan as James Bond... that way he would have been too busy when they were casting Mamma Mia and we would not have been subjected to his horrific singing! I saw a Mamma Mia matinee during the recent heat wave and lets say right off the bat - I hate musicals... (except for The Sound of Music). but I love Abba. I liked Mamma Mia on Broadway (see February 2, 2007 in the archives), so there is some bias when I went to this movie, I agree with the Star Ledger critic who says that Meryl Streep is way too old for this role, and that Brosnan as an American is a horrible singer, but I thought the movie deserved more than the one star he gave it. It is also not a good idea to see the movie too soon after seeing the musical... for me, a year a half was enough time so that the movie didn't disappoint. As a matter of fact all of the non Batman fans at the Friday afternoon screening stayed through the closing credits since it included a nice little treat that was similar to the post finale portion of the stage musical.

This movie shows how hard it is to put a stage musical on film, since some of the numbers in the show do not translate as well on screen, especially a dance featuring the guys on the island dancing with scuba flippers that just comes together a lot better when you see it unfold on the stage. The story is about the 19 year old daughter of a single mom who invites 3 suspected dads to her Greek Island home for her wedding - pre DNA it's the Daniellyn Nicole Smith Story. However, even though she looks younger, Meryl Streep at 59 is a fine actress, but for her to play the mother of a 19 year old who was the result of a "young indiscretion", just doesn't make sense - this role should have been played by a 40- 45 year old actress.... And even though Christine Baranski turns in yet another excellent performance as Streep's friend, her role and Brosnans might have worked better if they had been played by the less famous actors I had seen in the Broadway show - Judy McLane and David McDonald.

Besides Pierce Brosnan's unfortunate availability there is another link between Casino Royale and Mamma Mia. I saw on IMDB that Mamma Mia was the first movie to use the famed Bond movie Pinewood Studios after a fire broke out there after Casino Royale wrapped up shooting.

Casino Royale takes Bond into the new millenium.... by making it "the first movie" in the series taking place right after Bond is promoted to 00 status making it a bit of a time bender. It's not a prequel per se... just a mulligan on the prior back story... sort of like the first Christian Bale Batman compared to the Michael Keaton era. Casino Royale is based on the first Bond book of the same name, but legal maneuverings prevented the producers from putting this movie together until 2006. Because of that, the movie has no established history with some of the popular regulars so there are none of Moneypenny's flirty wisecracks, nor Q's gadgets and the cranky gadget training sessions.... Neither character appears in this movie. Bond doesn't even know yet that he prefers his martini shaken not stirred.

Casino Royale starts off in black and white! and doesn't use the traditional pre credit action sequence. I thought my dvd player wasnt working when I saw it was in b and w! This is the scene where Bond earns his stripes to warrant the promotion to 00 status. Bond earns it by showing off his cleverness... a far cry from the somewhat bumbling womanizer he will evolve into when Sean Connery becomes Bond. Bond might be too smart for his own good when he not only figures out "M"s real name (as predicted in the movie's opening credits - "You Know My Name") but breaks into her apartment and figures out how to hack into her computer. Bond doesn't get off on the right foot with "M" and goes off on his own for his adventure evoking memories of 24 when CTU is abuzz when Jack Bauer goes off one of his little unapproved side tangent terrorist hunts.

The plot revolves around a multi million dollar poker tournament where Bond is expected to beat out a terrorist named Le Chiffre who plans to win the contest in order to fund his terrorist operations. Even though this movie doesn't have the exciting pre credit action sequence... things pick up almost immediately after those opening credits. Bond's pursuit of a terrorist, starts with a bomb maker who he pursues in a wild and crazy foot chase through Madagascar that invovles people jumping off buildings and climbing walls and all kinds of other gravity defying hijinks. Bond also gets involved in a crazy airport chase with one of Le Chiffre's henchmen... that ends up in the parking lot with a surprise for the henchman. There are other memorable action scenes here too including Bond having to rely on his own wits and some luck to save his life after he is poisoned.... and a touching affair with a woman whose post poker tournament make out scene doesn't trigger the closing credits which makes you realize that this way too long movie is still not over yet.... and based on the Lanzeby movie, this chickie might not have such a happy ending.

I usually mentally write my reviews and then as I start to type I meander over to see what the Great Roger Ebert has to say. Incredibly he gave it 4 stars and loooooved it... but I was not quite that impressed. Bond loses a ton o' money on one hand when he thinks he sees terrorist Le Chiffre's "tell"... but even Cheers had its classic Harry Anderson poker cheating episode where Coach admitted that his "cheat" of scratching his nose only happened because his nose actually itched. And during the hand he asked several times if people saw him scratch his nose because it itched. Of course they played the hand.... lost... and then discovered that Coach's nose was really itching. But the whole idea of a terrorist fundraiser through a poker game strikes me as a bit nutty, especially in an era where we are over innundated with TV Texas hold 'em tournaments that are aired on virtually every tv channel. Maybe Gabe Kaplan providing commentary might have been more interesting, although there was one exciting hand where 4 people went all-in - I wasn't sure how realisitic that was, but one of my poker playing buddies told me that scenario actually does happen once in a blue moon...... kind of like my Royal Flush in Double Down Stud last Christmas! Personally, I like Omaha HI-Lo better than Texas Hold 'Em.

The Craig Bond is also a lot more serious - the movie is rarely funny compared to the other ones, and Bond only gets off one really good wisecrack when a potential suitor, the oddly named Vesper Lynd (no relation to Danielynn or Paul Lynde) responds to his "You're not my type" with "Because Im smart?" To which Bond retorts..."no, because you're single.:. " . You also know something is up when Bond gets his poker winnings from a banker who asks him for his password so the money can be wired to his account. As soon as we see him share his password with his Bond girl du jour (and it was not Bosco), you could see that something bad was gonna happen.

There is also a character in the movie who risks her life to save the life of a mysterious loved one who is never shown. That woman meets her end in a rather incredible Indiana Jones-esque building malfunction that will make you very nervous next time you enter a waterfront house! The "loved one", is never shown in the movie, but he is slated to appear in the next Bond movie coming out in 2009, and that character's appearance along with another character who may or may not have been a "bad guy" has already generated a lot of buzz - since the next Bond movie takes place just a few hours after Casino Royale ends,....... Its almost like when the first Bale Batman Movie's ending teased the arrival of The Joker.

I think in retrospect, maybe I should have watched these Bond movies backwards - starting with Craig and ending with Roger Moore and Sean Connery, because as the movies progressed, the Bond quality never lived up to the bar set up Connery and Moore. Not that I take particular issue with Craig per se, but he has tough shoes to fill in this movie, and this 21st century movie audience apparently likes its heroes to be more brooding and serious which makes you miss the old tongue in cheek humor of the Bonds of the earlier movies.

Overall, the story is interesting - the action is compelling and the music is okay. We don't hear the Bond theme as often as usual, but that could be the movie producer's attempts to distance this Bond from the other Bonds. Its too bad we didnt have Money Penny... but its a downright shame we didn't have Q and his gadgets... although Bond's computer hacking skills seemed to be quite impressive. On a scale of 1 to 4 Bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom - Casino Royale gets 2 and a half bladders.... And Mamma Mia - it also gets 2 and a half bladders. Casino Royale might have been better with Pierce Brosnan, and Mamma Mia might have been better without Pierce Brosnan.

Here is the list of the prior Bond reviews:

October 19, 2007 - Sean Connery's Goldfinger
December 7, 2007 - George Lazenby's On Her Majesty's Secret Service
January 18, 2008 - Roger Moore's Octopussy
March 23, 2008 - Timothy Dalton's The Living Daylights
June 16, 2008 - Pre Mamma Mia Pierce Brosnan's Tomorrow Never Dies

Now time to announce our next movie series - Christian Bale had that notorious role in American Psycho playing the incredibly bizarre Patrick Bateman...which is why we will do.... "From Bateman to Batman - the Christian Bale 4 pack!"


Lemme tell you a little Clip Story. When I first started posting audio and video files online I used a company called Streamload. They were bought out by Media Max which is when everything went downhill. Due to Media Max's unreliability, I started uploading my files elsewhere, posting videos on You Tube and my Mortgage Podcast on Clickcaster. A few months ago, I got an email breathlessly announcing that Media Max was bought by The Link Up and TLU was going to migrate all files to its new site! Yippee - they emailed me a link to a manual file mover if I chose to do the move myself. I decided that to do the job right, I might as well do it myself, but alas - the link didn't work so I was at their mercy along with thousands of other customers. Well, the old Clickcaster became inaccesible and NONE of my files were moved to TLU - except one. Now, TLU just announced - they are closing in a couple of weeks and all the non migrated Media Max files are - gone permanently! For me, it was just a bunch of podcasts and videos that are saved on any of our 3 computers, but many of these other customers used that service for work, and they were billed every month for this (lack of) service and now they have... nothing. If any lawyers are doing a class action suit against the owners of Streamload/MediaMax/TheLinkUp, count me in!

Now the only file still on TLU - get it while it lasts - Jersey Dreamin' - The Jim McGreevey Song - by McG and DJ Fine Freddy. Please see the archives from June 4th for the liner notes how this song is about how Jim McGreevey used his homosexuality as a smokescreen for the real reason he stepped down.

See you later in the summer.

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