I'll admit I was skeptical. I'd been burned by this whole Casino Royale thing before. The first Ian Fleming novel, and the worst Bond film ever made, (starring the painffully mis-cast David Niven) the original Casino Royale held the dubious honor of being the only utter failure of the entire James Bond franchise. (Though, that horrid re-make of Thunderball they called Never Say Never Again came awfully close.) Still and all, I'd read Casino Royale, and though it's one of Fleming's weakest novels, it's still brief enough and actiony enough to hold a film together. Hell, with the right scriptwriter Judith Krantz's Dazzle could be a decent movie. (No, not really. Pick your jaws up off the floor.)
This new Bond flick had me from the opening credits. It starts with a brief introductory piece just as they all do, except this time we get to see our man James qualifying for his 00 status, and it's an edge of your seat roller-coaster ride from there. Casino Royale boasts the best on foot chase sequence I've ever seen in any movie, and huge kudos to Daniel Craig for even being able to keep up with the stuntman who played his quarry.
Craig plays Bond like an experienced field agent who is just coming in to the next level of his spycraft. He's temperamental and brilliant, a bit impulsive and absolutely self assured. Craig layers it all on, creating the best and certainly most human James Bond ever. At its core though, the story of James Bond is the story of a superhero, and as believable as Craig makes his Bond, he never seems to loose sight of the fact that he's playing a super secret agent, and he's more than equal to the physical challenge that role demands.
That's the thing about Craig. He's not classically handsome like Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, or Timothy Dalton, and he's not cute like Roger Moore. Craig is a man who blends in fine in a crowd, and like the excellent actor he is, Craig plays James Bond as equally at home in the back streets of a third world country as he is in the power casinos of Montenegro. He's in superior shape (plenty of rippling abs for the ladies to be sure) and he moves like a hyperactive cat on amphetamines. You will believe this man is a secret agent.
The direction on this movie is stellar. Martin Campbell, who got superb mileage out of Brosnan in Goldeneye and had the good sense to cast Hallie Berry as the Bond girl, returns with a new cast. He proves unequivocally that he was the best choice to re-start the Bond franchise. Playing off of a letter perfect action script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Campbell shows us that he's become a superb cook, by serving up the tastiest Bond Film since Dr. No. The elements from the cinematography to the acting blend perfectly. This is a seamless action movie that gives us a Bond for the new millenium, while still working in all the classic bits that the franchise fans know and love.
The supporting cast is excellent as Dame Judi Dench reprises her letter perfect M. Jeffrey Wright is cast well as Felix Leiter, though he doesn't have much in the way of screen time, he does make the most of what he's given. Eva Green is spectactular as Vesper Lynd, and she proves she's every bit Bond's match, even up through her inevitable betrayal. Special props go to Mads Mikkelsen who gives us the best Bond villian since Joseph Wiseman first threatened Sean Connery. The absence of jump suited goons, a secret underground volcano lair and even orbital laser beam death traps is not missed. Mikkelson plays Le Chiffre as a walking time bomb, seething with rage and desperation. He's the perfect counterpart to Craig's ice cold Bond.
Ultimately Casino Royale succeeds as both a Bond film and as an action movie, and that's twice what I expected with this franchise re-start. If you go see this movie at the theater you will not be disappointed. When it comes out on DVD you might as well buy it, because you will want to watch it again and again. See this movie, you will not be disappointed.
I don't care what anybody says, even if the rest of the movie isn't a tenth this cool, it still rates a must see.
In order to balance out my Karma a bit for that last post, I thought I'd put up a list of my favorite female role models. They are an eclectic mix to be sure.
Gail Simone - Arguably the best writer working in the field of comics today, Gail maintains a consistently excellent body of work. She uses humor to fuel solid action scripts that are packed full of modern pop culture references and snappy, intelligent dialogue. Unlike many of her peers, Gail takes great pains to maintain an active voice on the internet with her blog and by frequently contributing to relevant discussion boards. I also have it on good authority that in her free time she enjoys feeding live kittens and uppity internet journalists to her pet Sasquatch. Currently she is writing The All New Atom and Birds of Prey for DC.
Camille Paglia - A teacher, author and social critic, Camille is the advocate for rational feminism, and one hell of a lunch date. Since her breakout novel, Sexual Personae in 1990, Camille has written for Salon.com and is a managing editor for Interview magazine. Though she is most certainly a feminist, Camille has always been an outspoken advocate of fetishism, pornography, prostitution, and male homosexuality, which tends to get her in hot water with just about every conservative advocacy group on the planet. The author of two books of essays on the subject of modern feminism, she is currently working on her third.
J.K. Rowling - Recently voted the greatest living British writer by the readers of The Book Magazine, Rowling is the first author to become a Billionare by writing books. She earned 75 million dollars in 2005 just off the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and there's no end in sight with her upcoming release of the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows projected to top the 100 million mark by year's end. With all this fame and fortune, Rowling remains grounded by keeping up solid communication with her fan base via the internet, and numerous public appearances. She's an amazing writer that will hopefully continue to enjoy many years of continued success even after the Harry Potter craze has long since run its course.
Colleen Doran - Colleen has been a professional comics artist since she was a teenager. To date she has completed hundreds of graphic novels and monthly comics, with no signs of slowing down. Colleen has always been an outspoken defender of artists rights and an advocate for women in the comics industry. She has worked with superstar writers from Warren Ellis to Neil Gaiman, the later of whom even based one of the characters in his Sandman series on her. Colleen was one of the first American artists to appreciate the Manga artists coming from Japan, and has been instrumental in opening up the American comics market for Manga, and a host of talented Japanese creators. Currently, Colleen continues work on her creator owned project A Distant Soil, as well as providing the stunning artwork for J. Michael Straczynski's Book of Lost Souls project for Marvel Comics.
Ann Marie Lipinski - Anne Marie is currently the Senior Vice President and Editor of The Chicago Tribune, one of the world's most powerful daily newspapers. In 1988 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for her series of articles detailing corruption in the Chicago City Council. She has since served on the Pulitzer jury twice. Currently, in addition to her day job, she is also serving on the board of visitors for the Poynter institute, the University of Michigan Journalism Fellows program, and the Stanford University Journalism Fellows program. She is a really busy person.
Dame Julie Andrews - What's not to love? During her career she's won the Emmy, The Grammy, and The Academy Award. She made the role of Eliza Doolittle famous enough on Broadway to get it optioned as a movie, only to get snubbed for the movie role by Warner Brothers. She gave us iconic performances as Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp, she's been knighted as a Dame Commander of the British Empire, and she has a 5 octave singing voice. Say what you will about Dame Julie's typecasting as sugary sweet bits of fluff, but you're not looking at her entire career, nor are you appreciating the subtlety that this master thespian brings to every role she plays. She's a wonderful actress and a true class act.
Gale Anne Hurd - Gale has done more singlehandedly to popularize science fiction and comics than just about anyone. As a motion picture producer, with her own Production company Pacific Western Productions, she's made a string of super films, including; The Terminator, Aliens, The Hulk, The Punisher, Aeon Flux, Armageddon, the list goes on. She has excellent taste in subject matter, even if the execution sometimes falls flat, and she's one of the most successful producers in Hollywood. She is also one of the most patient and understanding people on the planet, having been married to director James Cameron for four years. Currently, Gale is producing a new project for Howie Mandel, as well as the sequal to The Incredible Hulk.
Jane Pauley - From 1976 to 1979, the Today show was not to be missed. There was one reason for this and one reason only. It was the same reason, in fact, that put Dateline NBC on the map as well. Jane Pauley has been a Journalist and News Reporter in some capacity for most of my life, and she will always hold a special place in my heart. She has retired from television now, preferring to live the quiet life with her husband, cartoonist Gary Trudeau, but you never know. As modern television becomes less and less ageist (unless of course you're Barbara Walters), perhaps one of these days we'll see Jane Pauley taking over for Barbara Walters on The View, much as she did years ago with the Today show.
Dr. Sally Ride - This one's a no-brainer for any 10 coolest people list, but there's a good reason for that. Astrophysicist, Dr. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was also the first female astronaut to complete two space missions. When the training for what was to be her third space mission was disrupted by the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Dr. Ride was asked to serve on the board of inquiry. She would also serve later as an investigator for the board, in the wake of the Shuttle Columbia disaster. Dr. Ride is currently the founder and CEO of of Sally Ride Science, her company creates science programs written with an eye towards entertainment, as well as other science based publications for upper elementary and middle school students.
USAF Major Nicole Malachowski - Callsign "Fifi" tops my current list of the coolest, and she'd definitely the most badass. Major Malachowski cut her piloting teeth on the F-15 Eagle, clocking more than 1000 hours of flight time with it, including a combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In March of 2006 she switched to the smaller, more manuverable F-16 when she was selected as the newest member of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Thunderbirds. To date she is the only female to ever serve as part of any armed forces air demonstration team, though The Navy's Blue Angels squadron has had females fly several solo missions in support of the main show. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend that will see more female pilots in these high profile military roles.
***Note*** Yes, I know the picture says she's a Captain. She got promoted, it happens.