Saturday, March 24, 2007

Two new films are featured in the week's DVD column.

Casino Royale

Toss out nearly all of the sex. Delete the double entendres. Leave the gadgets at home.

The producers of the latest James Bond film are asking audiences to forget almost everything they know about the venerable spy character. In "Casino Royale" we all start from scratch.

Their new approach to the material is a fast moving highly entertainment action picture.

Bond (Daniel Craig) is a headstrong brutish British agent who has just earned his "license to kill." He has little respect for his boss "M" (Dame Judi Dench) who, in turn, has little respect for him.

The pair finds they do need each other as Bond tries to track down a financier of international terrorism. To trap Le Chiffre, (Mads Mikkelsen) Bond intends to bankrupt him by beating him at a high stakes poker game. Le Chiffre's terrorist clients won't let him live if he loses the money they've given him to invest.

Accompanying Bond to the game Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) a British treasury official who is essentially Bond's banker. Since Bond is playing with $10 million of government money, Lynd is supposed to keep her eye on him.

"Casino Royale" is an origin film for the Bond character and it is clearly designed to set the tone for future Bond films with Craig.

In many ways, the filmmakers have taken a page out of Hong Kong action movies to revitalize the series. Many American action films rely upon guns and cars to drive the thrills. Hong Kong films have used athleticism of their stars (and stunt doubles) as their base.

Although there are guns and cars in this film, the shift has been away from technology and to what Bond can do all by himself. The opening sequence, in which Bond pursues a suspected terrorist bomber through a construction site, is breath taking. The sequences can boast of great stunt work, exhilarating editing and a conclusion that speaks volumes of Bond's character.

There is also a welcomed departure from the classic "Bond girl," the alluring heroine, supporting character or villain whose main purpose was to add sex appeal to the picture. Eva Green's character, while providing some romance and sex appeal, is not there merely as scenery.

The two-disc set includes a couple of great extras including a documentary on "Bond girls," and an analysis on how key action sequences in the film were realized.

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The Holiday

Normally, I wouldn't waste the limited time I have on this Earth watching a film that I suspect from the trailer would be formulaic, but "The Holiday" hooked me with the prospect of seeing Jack Black as a romantic leading man.

Most comics are seldom satisfied with simply making people laugh. They want to be taken "seriously." So we have Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey the latest in a long line of funnymen tackling dramatic roles to show their range as performers.

Granted I think successful comedies are among the most difficult films to produce and people in the business would agree. The British actor Donald Wolfit once said, "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."

That does not stop folks from trying and in "The Holiday," Black is pretty successful making us believe Kate Winslet's character could fall in love with him. Dressed in black and looking slimmer, Black has very of his characteristic manic mannerisms.

The movie is about two women trying to distance themselves from the pain of a bad relationship by exchanging houses over the Christmas vacation. Winslet swaps her English country house for Cameron Diaz's Los Angeles mansion. Naturally, both women meet men who heal their hurts and love and hilarity ensues.


Well, director and writer Nancy Myers doesn't understand how the element of surprise can be used to make a film entertaining. Instead she is quite content trotting out standard romantic comedy elements that we have seen a million times.

The fast-forward button comes in quite handy with this film.

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© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

1 comment:

SRBissette said...

Interesting to note, it finally took the emergence of semi-franchises like THE BOURNE IDENTITY/SUPREMACY et al to prompt the Bond producers to at last jettison the formula of the series codified in the mid-'60s and calcified in the '70s (Roger Moore remains my least-favorite cinematic Bond). CASINO ROYALE was a great return to the Ian Fleming novels, at last, and let's hope it establishes the rhythm for those to follow.

Sigh. Marge like THE HOLIDAY. We saw REIGN OVER ME last night, and Marge liked that, too. It's a great relief to me she wouldn't even see NUMBER 23 -- so, it's not comedians being unfunny she loves, it's weepies. That, I can live with!