Hey, it is currently 6 minutes past the hour here on our mega James Bond super secret agent weekend!  If you’re just tuning in, thanks for making us a part of your day.  It is a brisk 11 degrees this morning.  If you’re doing that last-minute Christmas shopping, be sure to bundle up!  Let us help you on your way today as you go about the hustle and bustle by playing some of your light favorites.  Here’s Peaches & Herb with “Reunited” and it does feel so good! 

Ah, my dream to be a DJ…it was so long ago.  Anyway, what were we talking about?  Oh yes! James Bond movies!  As we approach the best Bond movies, please realize that most of the contradictory points that I bring up are just nitpicky gripes that don’t ruin the movie as a whole.  Sometimes I have to stretch the criticism on certain things so I don’t appear to be the total fanboy that I really am.  Even with that being said, the bottom 7 or 8 movies are a royal slog to get through at times.

2002’s Die Another Day was a huge grossing movie for reasons today that seem incomprehensible.  Yes, Pierce was a good Bond but the movie that surrounded him was a loud overblown CGI extravaganza that was designed to sell 78 oz. sodas and popcorn buckets you could lose a German shepherd in.  (Why German sheep would even be in your theater in the first place is a question best asked another day.)  The plot sucked harder than an army of lampreys feeding on a sour sperm whale in the middle of a tornado.

Brosnan’s contract was up with the completion of Die Another Day and the Bond producers chose to go a different route instead of thinking about bringing Pierce back. Granted, Pierce was 50 at the time, but he certainly wasn’t a Roger Moore 50 and still looked like he could perform the role.  However, instead of taking the time to write a good script for Brosnan to go out on, a new Bond was sought out instead. 

The first script concept was unique, you have to give it that.

Out of list of names that included Karl Urban and Henry Cavill, the producers decided to go with Daniel Craig as the new 007 which means that Dr. McCoy and Superman just weren’t good enough.  Craig had starred in the crime action movie Layer Cake and definitely looked like he could handle himself as Bond. (Of course Layer Cake’s ending is a bit of a touch of the stupid with Craig’s character being killed right at the end of the movie despite the character living in the original novel.  But I digress.)  Craig also starred in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider as well as Road to Perdition in which he was neither Lara Croft nor the road in question.

Some fans of the 007 series were outraged at Craig’s casting, so it would take a rather good story in order for this rebooted Bond to earn his spurs.  Craig went the Timothy Dalton route in preparing for Bond by going back to the Fleming roots of the character. The influence shows. Fortunately when the producers decided on a reboot, they went with the very first Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royale. By the way, Roger Moore himself was a mensch and stood up for Craig’s casting as Bond. (See, I like Roger, I really do! I just hate slide whistles.)

Let’s just say Craig didn’t do the shaving razor endorsement people any good at first.

The legal rights to film Casino Royale aren’t as mired as Thunderball so I can spare you the fine print.  Let’s just say the rights were purchased to film the novel as a live TV show back in 1954.  After that, the rights were then purchased by Charles K. Feldman. Feldman actually wanted to work with EON productions for a movie version of the novel.  Rebuffed by EON, Feldman went ahead with his own comedic version in 1967, which starred approximately 14 different James Bonds, a flying roulette wheel, Orson Welles, and had a wonderful soundtrack.  The rights were finally purchased back and EON could now go ahead with their version. 

So with the very first Bond novel in hand and a new James Bond in tow, the production moved forward.  As a reminder, the original novel consists of Bond bankrupting a Soviet money handler at a game of baccarat, Bond gets captured, the Soviets kill the money handler, and the girl that was helping Bond turns out to be a double agent and she kills herself.  And that’s your novel. All of it. Oh and the nauseating smell of a casino in the wee hours is mentioned too. Yep. That’s it.

The bottom line is that this story really isn’t enough to fill over two hours of movie.  Not that any of that stopped the producers from putting in a chase at an airport or having Venice essentially collapse into the sea for the sake of padding the story a smidge.  But that’s for later, let’s meet our cast! 

Vesper Lynd is an Ian Fleming character that has truly left her mark on Bond’s approach to the job at hand.  He falls for her, he rescues her, she kills herself, she worked for the other side.  Bond’s line at the end of the book is rather hard, but fits: “The bitch is dead now.”  Eva Green as Vesper manages this complex role rather well.

And Eva Green had some other quality as a Bond girl that I just can’t place right now…

Bond is helped in the story by René Mathis, his MI6 contact, played by Giancarlo Giannini.  Giannini is a wonderful actor and certainly brings charm to the part as well.  The other Bond ally in this film is the reintroduced Felix Leiter, Jeffrey Wright.  Wright is perfectly cast as Leiter and I do hope that Wright is used more in 2032’s or whenever’s No Time to Die since he wasn’t onscreen enough in Royale’s follow-up Quantum of Solace whatsoever.

Judi Dench is back as M, the only bridge between Brosnan’s Bond movies and the Daniel Craig ones.  She plays the character more martinet-like, seemingly regretting that she promoted Bond to be a 00.  While this gets stale in following movies, it is a rather refreshing take considering the rapport she shared with Brosnan’s Bond.

This brings us to our villain, Le Chiffre.  Le Chiffre has had the pleasure of being portrayed onscreen by two very good actors in previous installments. First, there was Peter Lorre in the 1954 TV version and then Orson Welles in the 1967 film.  Fortuitously that trend continued when Mads Mikkelsen was brought onboard.  Mikkelsen has a wonderful light evil touch and can be rather intimidating; his qualities can be readily seen on the Hannibal series.  However in this movie he is quite wonderfully desperate as he tortures the captive Bond.  Casino Royale does have some great casting all around.

(As a side note that is way off topic, if you’re a comic book fan, you have been sick and tired of how the Fantastic Four has been treated on film.  You would think a story this simple would be able to be executed right at least once, but sadly no, not really or even worse than that.  One unforgivable sin is the constant use of Doctor Doom as a lead villain.  Now Doom is a great character, one of the best in comic book history, but they keep on hiring weenies to play this mystical ruler of Latveria.  This is why I submit to you, the reader of this post, that Mads Mikkelsen would be the greatest choice for Doom.  His accents, his skills, his ability to play larger than life characters with tremendous egos… C’mon faceless Disney studio wonks, cast him now and at least get something right for Marvel’s first family for once!)

Can’t you just see Mads in that armor?  Time’s a wastin’…

Now there’s a left turn for you!  Anyway, the producers decided to bring back a director that knows how to introduce a new Bond to the world: GoldenEye’s Martin Campbell.  His choice to have a pre-credits teaser in black and white was inspired and his direction solid throughout.  An impressive debut for a new 007 was made by Campbell at the till. Again. 

And yet one cannot escape the feeling that there was just too much filler added at times to this otherwise simple debut.  It was the same problem the 1967 production had as well.  They solved this back then by doing the obvious choice in having a roaming Frankenstein monster and filming the casino being attacked by a tribe of paratrooper Indians.  In 2006, this would have been too far off of the beaten path.  (Although Woody Allen was approached to bring back his character of Dr. Noah.  Just kidding, I just wanted to see if you were reading this far.)  Sure, you’ve got a Fleming James Bond novel, but Casino Royale is an incredibly short book that concentrates more on the ins and outs of baccarat and shares a martini recipe rather than focusing on scenes of incredible adventure and in-depth espionage.  This does not make for bombastic film fodder.

So there’s an amazing parkour foot chase across construction sites in Madagascar that results in Bond blasting an embassy a tad.  There’s also a chase across Miami’s international airport where Bond stops an act of terrorism.  And there’s the aforementioned sinking of Venetian buildings which is where Vesper ultimately allows herself to die by drowning right in front of Bond. Um…spoiler alert? Am I too late again?

All these scenes mentioned in the above paragraph are entertaining and, believe it or not, not in the Fleming book.  Even more interesting is that despite the fact that the producers stretched the original story to the breaking point in this movie, they decided to stretch it even further to include the immediate sequel, Quantum of Solace as well.  This is why Quantum ultimately fails in the long run, because there just wasn’t enough story to fill two movies. 

Hello Dan, we’re here to let you know that you don’t have to do so much running.

Also the producers wanted to be a bit more up to date and sadly changed the game from baccarat to Texas Hold ‘em poker.  Now baccarat is a stupid game to be sure. However, it has more of an exotic taste given the amount of times the game shows up in elite casinos in the Bond canon. Remember, baccarat is the game being played during Bond’s first scene in 1962’s Dr. No.  Yes, I understand that audiences today have no clue how to even play baccarat or how to even come within three attempts on how to spell it correctly. But by changing it to Texas Hold ‘em, I just think of unsmiling wankers in cowboy hats with mirrored sunglasses at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to win a measly pot from some second-rate version of a third tier celebrity. It’s just depressing.

Despite all of this, Craig acquits himself well and he gets to run around at length which turns out to be his favorite activity when playing Bond. He also shows great range with 007 and is particularly excellent in the scene where Le Chiffre is torturing him.  Oh and lest I forget, David Arnold puts out yet another great score and co-wrote the wonderful theme song with the late, great Chris Cornell.  

Casino Royale was ultimately a success, rebooted the 007 franchise, and brought about a new Bond.  To date, it is Craig’s best Bond outing.  Then 2015’s Spectre tried to lump even this movie into its retroactive tying together of plot threads into an ugly sweater of contrivance. Argh… (Deep breaths…deep breaths…I am in control of my emotions…I am in control of my emotions…) 

But Casino Royale is a very solid Bond entry indeed and somehow even manages to get along without the charm and presence of David Niven. This is remarkable considering that even the 1967 version couldn’t do that!

Published by benjaminawink

Being at best a lackadaisical procrastinator, this is purely an exercise in maintaining a writing habit for yours truly. This will obviously lead to the lucrative and inevitable book/movie/infomercial deal. I promise to never engage in hyperbole about my blog, which will be the greatest blog mankind has ever known since blogs started back in 1543. I won't promise anything other than a few laughs, a few tears, and maybe, just maybe, a few lessons about how to make smokehouse barbecue in your backyard.

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