27 November 2006

Casino Royale

Casino Royale, Best Bond Ever?

I am the self-proclaimed largest James Bond fan on Earth. I am only twenty-four years old. For me, Bond fever started with Goldeneye on pay-per-view in 1996. Since then, I have seen all the films a minimum of four or five times. I have collected all the books by all the authors. I have read almost all of them. I have read the book Casino Royale many times before the movie came out. When I saw the preview and heard the reviews coming in, I knew what the torture scene was. I knew the fate of the key characters. I knew who was good and who was bad. Or did I?

With a few slight changes and updates, the new 007 film did the original story justice. Some weird things went on during this film though. The first one was easy to see. Miss Moneypenny and Major “Q” Boothroyd were nowhere to be found. There were a few places that Moneypenny could have been used in lieu of the character that was in the film. It was odd to not see Q. Though, Desmond Llewelyn was not in Dr. No or Live and Let Die either. But, Major Boothroyd did appear in Dr. No played by Peter Burton. The card game of choice was Texas Hold ‘Em instead of baccarat. And finally, during the opening credits and song, the little “music video” did not have silhouettes of women or women at all. That is not to mention that the song lacked something, too.

But before the song, the opening gambit was very enlightening. It shows James Bond, played by newcomer Daniel Craig, not yet a double-o agent making his first two kills to achieve that status. It was done in black and white to kind of give the feel of flashback. It was refreshing. This film was the story about the first mission Bond has as 007. He makes mistakes. He is not the refined, suave hitman that we have grown accustomed to over the past forty years. This was where most people did not follow. This movie helped explain why Bond is the way he is.

Casino Royale started off with a look at Le Chiffre, portrayed by Mads Mikkelson, making promises to keep money for “bad guys.” We later fins out that Le Chiffre is banker for the world’s terrorists. He puts their money in accounts and allows them access all over the world. Then, there was a tremendous free-running action scene with Bond chasing a man on foot through a construction site. It ended with a mistake by Bond. M, with Judi Dench back in the seat, then slaps him on the wrist. But not before he is able to find the next step into unraveling the mystery of what is going on.

This leads him to the Bahamas. Here, he finds the next lead in his quest. He finds a guy named Demetrius, and proceeds to play him at Texas Hold ‘Em. Bond defeats him winning his Aston Martin DB-5, right out of Goldfinger and Thunderball. After a humorous misunderstanding, Bond ends up with Demetrius’s wife. After a little “pillow talk,” Bond is off the Miami. There he thwarts a plot against an airliner. He then discovers that prior to 9/11, many shares of airline stocks were lost. Le Chiffre shorts them in the stock market to make money for himself using his clients’ money. Because of the plot against the airliner backfiring, he loses over $100 million. This leads him to host a $10 million buy-in poker game. Poker was substituted for the classic baccarat, not that anyone understood baccarat to begin with. All I know is, it has something to do with the number 9.

So, Bond is entered due to the fact that he is the best player in the agency, and he is off Montenegro to Casino Royale. On the train, we are introduced to the lovely Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green. They have a playful banter, but the bottom line is that she is from the treasury and will be fronting the money.

At the game, Bond forces Le Chiffre to lose all his money. But not before Bond loses his entire stash first and gets help from Felix Lieter, an American CIA agent that later becomes a close ally of Bond in the lore. This put Le Chiffre on the run. His clients know that he has lost all their money and will come for him. A double agent is shown and Bond is trapped after a phenomenal car accident. He is the tortured by a means straight out of the original novel.

Bond awakes to find more deception and more betrayal. In the end, Bond becomes Bond. The human emotions from the beginning are lost through the events of the film. It shows how he became the way he is. The final scene proves it all.

Ultimately, Daniel Craig has me convinced that he is the best bond since possibly Sean Connery himself. He may even be better. But, before I can make such an outlandish claim, I will have to see where he takes the character in future films. Casino Royale could possibly be the best 007 film ever made. It is better than anything Brosnan turned out, and I loved Goldeneye. It is better than both of Dalton’s attempts at the franchise. It is better than every Moore entry except maybe For Your Eyes Only, which is my current favorite. Of course, Lazenby’s only outing as the suave secret agent doesn’t even enter the same arena. So now, we are back to Connery. The newest entry in the 40-year-old franchise rivals From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. It is by far, the best first film from any of the actors. As far as I am concerned, long live Bond, and let that Bond be Daniel Craig.

Verdict: See this at least once, I am currently planning my third trip to the cinema.

13 November 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell is Stranger than Fiction

This past weekend I went to see the new Will Ferrell flick Stranger than Fiction. I knew what I was getting into when I went. Obviously, the college crowd was not so informed. It reminded me of the crowd of people that went to see Punch Drunk Love or The Truman Show. It was fun to listen to them whisper amongst themselves as they slowly figure out that is not the slapstick comedy of Old School or Talladega Nights.

This was Ferrell’s foray into dramatic acting. This was his dramedy. He was completely unrecognizable. There has been a lot speculation that he will be nominated for a few awards. I hope he isn’t. That would be a travesty. If Jim Carrey cannot get nominated for any of his three great roles in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, or Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, then I do not think that it would be fair to nominate Ricky Bobby.

Now, on with my review.This was a very entertaining movie. Its great characters and their interaction with each other was the drving force in this film. The main character was an IRS auditor named Harold Crick. He has a very boring life that was timed to the second. It was about what happens to this man if he gets off his time schedule. Ferrell played Crick. He hears a voice that is narrating his life. Telling him how boring it was. Nobody else hears him or believes him until he met Prof. Jules Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman. This character had many nuances that made him a great character. Together, Hilbert and Crick try to figure out who's narrating his life so they can determine his fate, as the narrator has stated that he has an impending death. Hilbert devises many ways to determine if he is in a comedy or a drama. All were humorous.

Enter Kay Eifel. She's a writer struggling with writer’s block, played by Emma Thompson. Her publishers send over an assistant, Penny Escher, played by Queen Latifah. Together, they try and figure out the ending of her latest novel. Unfortunately for Mr. Crick, the end of the novel is his death.

Along the way, we meet Ana Pascal, Maggie Gyllenhaal. She's a baker that decided to only pay 78% of her taxes. Crick is sent to audit her. They have great chemistry on screen and create some of the best conflict.

The climax of movie occured when Eifel figures out how to kill Crick, but met him before she can finish. Then Hilbert read the novel to see if the end makes sense. Then Crick read it. A decision is made. And the end plays out.I have to say that this movie was a great feel-good movie.

Verdict: I spent the money, and so should you. Worth every dime.

09 November 2006

The Prestige

The Prestige Pleases

For those of you dreaming of a showdown between Wolverine and Batman, your time has come. This movie pits these two great actors against each other with the aid of Bruce Wayne’s Alfred. Ok, enough with the comic book references. Now, let us get on with the review.

This movie centers on the conflict between two rival magicians that used to be friends. It is told in a sort of flashback type writing. It opens with Borden on trial for the murder of Angier. But throughout the story, we find our characters feuding and fighting each other in the past.

The rivalry is started when Julia Angier, played by Piper Perabo, is killed during a trick. Her husband, Robert Angier, played by Hugh Jackman, accuses fellow audience plant Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale, of tying the wrong knot. Michael Caine is Cutter. He is the backstage hand for the act. They all separate and go their own ways.

Borden moves on and gets married and had a child. He then decides to get back in to the magic business. He decides that his big finale trick is to catch a bullet. Angier, who has no been able to move on past the death of his wife, shows up and ruins the trick and shoots off the fingers of Borden.

Cutter then confronts Angier about setting up shop as a magician. They decide their finale is going to be a different take on an old favorite. Borden shows up and ruins the trick and gets Angier fired.

This goes on for a while until Borden comes up with a trick called “The Transporting Man.” In this trick, he bounces a ball across the stage and enters one closet and comes out on the other side of the stage in a totally separate closet and catches the ball.

Angier develops his own take on it. Borden ruins Angier’s take on it only causing Angier to obsess over how he did it. This is where Scarlet Johansen comes in. She plays the stagehand for Angier. She is sent over to Borden to figure out his secret. More tricks are played on the feuding magicians. Finally, Angier travels to America to meet with Tesla to have him build a machine to transport him.

The climax of the film is the 2 revelations that occur. Each magician has his secret. I followed Angier’s no problem, and I thought you were meant to until the last scene when the spell it out for those that are slow. Yet, Borden’s twist, I never saw it coming. I should have, though. This movie will be great to watch again, knowing the end and seeing all the signs along the way. Thinking back on the movie, I am mad at myself for not figuring it all out.

Now, I am going to make a quick, obvious comparison done by most. The Illusionist is a completely different style of movie and story. It was about illusions. That is why I figured it out and was not surprised by the twist ending. I enjoyed the film a lot. You can read my review on it. The Prestige is a story about revenge. This one is set more in a fantasy type world. Where Norton’s movie is set in reality, for the most part. Bale and Jackman battle in a world that is historical, but fantastical as well. I like both movies, but, if forced to choose, I would pick………..THE PRESTIGE.

Verdict: See this at least twice. Take your pick on where. I advise once in the theater, then rent it or buy it. Well acted, well directed, fully enjoyed.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

HIGH FIVE

I saw this movie last night in a sold out crown at 7:45pm on a Wednesday. That was nuts! I have never been to a show that was sold out in the middle of the week unless the movie opened in the middle of the week.

I am going to keep this short and sweet. There really isn’t much to say about this film that you haven’t already heard. It is hilarious. It is offensive. It is great. It is ingenious. One thing you might not know, it is about a man’s quest to marry Pamela Anderson.

This movie makes you feel awkward. You almost are ashamed to be an American. Yet, you also have to give the people in the movie some credit. Most are put in a very weird, unnatural position. I laughed the whole time. Did I curl up in a ball crying it was so funny? No. I laughed harder at 40-Year-Old Virgin, Dodgeball, and Wedding Crashers. But then, they were scripted. Borat and his companion trek across America and have some fun doing it. From buying a car, learning to drive a car, to humor school and a meeting with a feminist group, Borat makes you laugh.

This movie is not for the easily offended. It is very offensive at parts. But if you can handle it, see it. I think that the industry help build this movie up to the status that it has. It was in less than a fourth of the theaters that Santa Clause 3 was in, but it did more business. I think that opening it in additional 2200 theaters this weekend will not post the numbers that they think it will.

Verdict: See this in theaters! It will have you saying “HIGH FIVE!!” in no time.

04 November 2006

Open Season

Well, I had the pleasure of seeing this movie in a theater before the theater opened. I work for an electrical contracting company and we recently finished a new Wehrenberg theater in Dardenne Prairie, MO. Since we worked on it, we got to go to the family and crew night for free. It is a nice theater with a lot of color. Any way, I went to Open Season with some co-workers due to it was the only movie that no one had seen.

First off, this story is nothing new. I know that it is a kids movie, but still, I was bored. I like animated movies (see my Over the Hedge review). I just thought this one was boring and over done. Martin Lawrence was a horrible voice actor. Yet, Ashton was not that bad. Martin is a better live actor than Ashton, but in this circumstance, Ashton was better.

The story centers around Boog, a bear that was rescued as a cub by a park ranger named Beth, voiced by Debra Messing. She raises him and trains him. They perform an act in town. After a performance, they stop at the sheriff office. This is where poor old Elliot. A deer that was hit by a car and broke off one of his antlers. He is strapped to the hood of the truck driven by the law-breaking hunter Shaw, voiced by Gary Sinise. Boog frees Elliiot and so begins the mayhem.

That night, Elliot "frees" Boog and they go downtown and tear up the town, literally. This is the first warning given by the sheriff to Beth about letting Boog go. Then the next day, Shaw is trying to catch/kill Elliot, and Elliot ends up ruining Beth and Boog's performance and making Beth free Boog. She drops them off via helicopter above the falls so that the hunters will not get them. Well, more mayhem ensues while Boog tries to find his way back to the city and Elliot faces his demons in the forest. They end up at the bottom of the falls and hunting season Opens. They then have to fight for their lives. At the end, Boog has to decide where he is going to live.

It was fairly funny, but nothing that had me laughing as I did at Over the Hedge. All in all, it was a decent family film, but not in the league of Finding Nemo, Toy Story, or Shrek.

Verdict: Worth the matinee prices for you and your little one.