Film Review: Casino Royale (2006)

Also known as: 007: Casino Royale (alternative international title), Bond 21, Bond XXI, Bond Begins, James Bond 21 (working titles)
Release Date: November 14th, 2006 (London premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Based on: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic, Jesper Christensen, Richard Branson (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Eon Productions, Casino Royale Productions, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[tied to a wooden chair as he is being tortured] I’ve got a little itch, down there. Would you mind?” – James Bond

As much as I loved this movie in 2006, I think I forgot just how damn good it was. It’s also aged exceptionally well while possibly being the greatest movie in the Daniel Craig James Bond era. I really like Skyfall a lot but this is in the same ballpark and my brain will probably debate which one is actually superior until the day I die. But I’m allowed to love them both, equally.

The film starts off with a bang and this really is a Year One type of story for the James Bond character, as it starts with him becoming a Double-O agent and then follows him on his first big mission.

The story is well crafted and one of the best in the entire franchise. This movie also sort of reboots the series and the character in a more serious tone after the Pierce Brosnan era films became cheesy, goofy, hokey and mostly terrible following his initial outing in 1995’s GoldenEye.

Speaking of which, Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye, returned to direct Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond, as well. He also showed that he could do a much more serious and realistic Bond film in the wake of other directors ruining what he started with the first Brosnan era picture.

Getting back to the tone, this character and these films desperately needed a change, if they were going to survive for future generations. While I know that some James Bond traditionalists didn’t like the gritty realism, most people did and that’s why this was such a hit after the deplorable Die Another Day.

While I’m still not sure if Daniel Craig was the best casting choice at the time, I do like him as Bond. My only real issue with him is that he lacks that suaveness that other had before him. Sure, he’s tough, he’s badass and he looks great in a suit but he does lack a certain charm. That’s also not to say that he’s charmless, it’s just really damn hard to follow Pierce Brosnan, who was stupendous in that department and maybe the best Bond in that regard.

That being said, Craig was great for what this picture needed but I don’t know if his seriousness was best for the franchise over multiple films, as he never really seems to be too comfortable or natural in being a real charmer. Although, his chemistry with Eva Green in this film is really good but I also think that’s because both of them are damn good actors.

Not known at the time, this film’s story sets up the return of SPECTRE, the massive, worldwide terrorist organization that was front and center as the antagonists of the Sean Connery era. There had been legal issues surrounding the use of SPECTRE and I’m not sure that they were resolved when this film was made but this did lay the foundation for their return and the return of top Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The only thing that hurts this film a bit is the long, drawn out poker sequences. While those probably worked for most people and they exist in the novel, they took away from more energetic storytelling. But on the flip side of that, the action sequences in this film certainly make up for the duller moments.

While there really isn’t a perfect James Bond film, this is one of the few to get pretty damn close to it. Plus, it’s one of the best looking movies in the long film series.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bond films of the Daniel Craig era.

Film Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (Pantages Theatre Premiere)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 133 Minutes

rogue-oneReview:

“I have a bad feeling about th…” – K-2SO

I would never say something like this carelessly; I may have a new favorite Star Wars film. Time will tell if it holds up for me but it is the closest thing to the Original Trilogy that we have seen since it ended in 1983. Also, Rogue One really just magnifies how flawed last year’s The Force Awakens is.

Rogue One is its own film. It is not a rehash of anything you’ve seen before in the Star Wars cinematic universe. It is also darker and a lot more realistic. It is the grittiest Star Wars film but it is also full of optimism, more than any of the previous pictures.

When it comes to the art of filmmaking, I would have to say that Rogue One takes the cake out of all the movies in the franchise. It’s the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made. It is also the best written and the best acted. The cinematography is beyond majestic. The score, even though it isn’t done by John Williams, is pretty fantastic. While Empire Strikes Back will probably still reign as champion, as far as the majority’s favorite movie, Rogue One is a better film. And to be completely honest, I didn’t think that was possible.

Sure, this film isn’t perfection. It has some flaws. But it has less flaws than any Star Wars film before it. And compared to The Force Awakens, this picture has some really big balls. It isn’t built with the blueprints to an old house. Also, it isn’t afraid to draw from the Prequel Trilogy, as it brings in some characters and vehicles from those films. It was actually really cool to see Disney acknowledge the prequels, as I thought they were trying to ignore them.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen Rogue One yet but there are several familiar faces that pop in and out of this movie. Great characters from the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. Some of these are very iconic characters.

Before this movie, the world probably assumed that a Star Wars movie devoid of Jedi would be a boring ride. Rogue One proves that to be completely false. While the Force is mentioned heavily, there is only one actual Force user in the movie but he doesn’t even do anything until the end and it happens very quickly.

The big final battle in Rogue One is breathtaking. It reminds me a lot of some of the great battles you could have in the old Rogue Squadron games. They feature classic Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire warships, X-wings and TIE Fighters. There are even some cool new vehicles mixed in. The planet is a pretty sight with its pristine beaches and the AT-ACT is a really cool alternate version of the iconic AT-AT from the Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back.

When I wrote my review of The Force Awakens, last year, it was really long because there was so much to pick apart. I just can’t find anything to really criticize this film for. Everything about it just felt right. It gave me the experience I have craved since being disappointed with The Phantom Menace in 1999. And being that it is the best looking movie in the franchise, it gets extra kudos for that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Film Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

Release Date: October 13th, 2016 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Based on: Doctor Strange by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 115 Minutes

doctor-strangeReview:

I kind of lost faith in Marvel Studios awhile ago. It has been some time since I’ve truly enjoyed a Marvel picture from the Disney side of things. Although, growing up, Doctor Strange was one of my favorite comic books because it was so different than the other Marvel titles. So there was a part of me that was somewhat excited to finally see Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme on the big screen.

I’m just going to put it out there, this was my favorite Marvel film after Guardians of the Galaxy. I guess the main reason was because it was so different, like Guardians, and it wasn’t a cookie cutter origin story like all the other Avengers’ first movies. Sure, it is an origin story but it isn’t bogged down in that and it moves past it pretty quickly. I think the film benefits from the passage of time being fairly ambiguous.

This is also one of the most visually stunning motion pictures I have ever seen on the big screen. It doesn’t have the enormous scale of Guardians of the Galaxy but the magical realms are just so interesting and vivid. Doctor Strange is definitely a movie that should be seen on the big screen.

Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty much perfect for the role of Dr. Stephen Strange. And since Strange was originally modeled after the great Vincent Price, maybe Cumberbatch could start a side gig of playing Price’s roles in remakes of some of his classics. Just a thought.

Mads Mikkelsen is an actor I always enjoy to see but I do feel like he was somewhat wasted in the film. And really, this is my only gripe with Doctor Strange. His character, the main villain of the story, just feels thin and should have been developed much more. He’s essentially just an evil force of nature who was a great student of the light that was tempted by the dark side. Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is pretty much any Sith from Star Wars but a lot less interesting.

Some people have a problem with Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who in the comics is an old Asian dude. I didn’t take issue with it and I thought she did a good job with the role. Was it accurate to the comics? No. But Baron Mordo also isn’t black but no one seems to care about that. Why? It really isn’t that important. The next thing these “purists” will do is start complaining that the new Ghostbusters are all ladies. Oh, wait…

Speaking of Mordo, Chiwetel Ejiofor served the role well. Although, I thought his slip into villainy was almost too quick and easy. He was the Ancient One’s second-in-command and he turned his back on the order because of stubbornness that he should have probably been able to get past if he was a master sorcerer with extreme discipline. He didn’t even take a second to process it or talk about it, he just walked away, offended and sad, ignoring his own advice throughout the entire film: “forget everything you think you know.”

In the end though, no one was as awesome as Wong.

Doctor Strange also boasts one of the most impressive and interesting scores in the Marvel film franchise.

The film also isn’t drawn out to eye-rolling lengths and is thankfully, just under two-hours. I swear, Captain America: Civil War felt like a four-part miniseries I was forced to watch in one sitting.

And there are a few other things I could talk about but I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, even though film reviews by their very nature are spoilers.

Doctor Strange is a well-acted and well-directed comic book movie. It flows really well and it is great eye candy. It is one of the best Marvel outings, ever. I hope the future films in the franchise take their cues from this film and from Guardians of the Galaxy because Marvel tends to give us their best when they aren’t following a specific formula.

Rating: 7.5/10