Skip to content

Review: Interstellar (2014)

December 21, 2014

Viewed 13 December 2014, Johnson Creek (WI) AMC

Trailers: Big Eyes, Selma, The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies, The Gambler, Chappie, Furious7

I didn’t know much about Interstellar before going to see it, but I did have the notion that it was going to explore some of the issues related to interstellar travel. When I found myself with a brief movie-viewing opportunity and realized that Interstellar was beginning to disappear from the smaller theaters, I decided I’d better make plans to see it on a big screen as soon as I could.

The big screen wasn’t as critical to the “feel” of the movie as you might think, but there were certainly some extremely cinematographic shots that got an extra boost from being seen in XXL.

Can I get a rain check? Oh... never mind.

Can I get a rain check? Oh… never mind.

This movie is indeed about the complexities of interstellar travel, but it takes a while to get there because it has to lay down the strong relationships that are necessary to pull the film forward to its technical conclusion. And the relationships that count the most in this film are the ones between fathers and daughters.

That’s a relief, because you could get the idea from some of the promo stills that this is going to be an out-of-this-world romance between Matthew McConaughey (Cooper: not a handsome playboy, but an unrepentant former pilot who seems to be carved out of rocks and stubble) and Anne Hathaway (Brand: not your “Princess Diaries” Anne Hathaway, but a tough, smart, practical, broken woman who is pretty darned interesting). Thank goodness it’s more complex than that.

"Let's get to work."

“Let’s get to work.”

Cooper is the heart of this movie, and it’s his grit and uniqueness that make everything possible. Without him, Brand’s father admits, plans would have proceeded but to a expected failure. Yet his character never does what the others assume he will do.

The earthly word of Interstellar is a post-Space Age Dust Bowl. The earth is dying, systems are collapsing, and crops are dying monoculture by monoculture. You don’t get all the facts right away in the slow-paced beginning, but if you pay attention in the first thirty minutes you will learn everything that you’ll need to know. And paying close attention is a good skill to use in the rest of the movie as well, since the characters’ educational asides bring you up to speed on things like, oh, relativity and the physical effects of the warping of space-time.

It’s time for an aside of my own. While I was at the Internet Movie Database checking my facts for this review, I read through the details of how the moviemakers tried to be as faithful as possible to real physics in order to depict interstellar travel.

To create the wormhole and black hole, Dr. Kip Thorne collaborated with VFX supervisor Paul J. Franklin and his team at Double Negative. Thorne provided pages of deeply sourced theoretical equations to the team, who then created new CGI software programs based on these equations to create accurate computer simulations of these phenomena. Some individual frames took up to 100 hours to render, and ultimately the whole CGI program reached to 800 terabytes of data. The resulting VFX provided Thorne with new insight into the effects of gravitational lensing and accretion disks surrounding black holes, and led to him writing two scientific papers: one for the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community.

Early in pre-production, Dr. Kip Thorne laid down two guidelines to strictly follow: nothing would violate established physical laws, and that all the wild speculations would spring from science and not from the creative mind of a screenwriter. Christopher Nolan accepted these terms as long as they did not get in the way of the making of the movie. That did not prevent clashes though: at one point Thorne spent two weeks talking Nolan out of an idea about travelling faster than light.

According to Dr. Kip Thorne, the largest degree of creative license in the film are the clouds of the ice planet, which are structures that probably go beyond the material strength which ice would be able to support.

The Back to the Future series made a similar attempt to adhere as carefully as possible to the known rules about time travel, and I believe that such rigorous attention to detail ends up making a much more credible film. These are difficult concepts, and depicting them carelessly because you don’t think your audience will care one way or another shows a lack of respect for the audience. I’m a fan of these topics but by no means do I understand the equations behind them. I felt that Interstellar was very careful about explaining the concepts and setting the parameters; by the time they were talking about fifth-dimensional space I was ready to accept it.

I'd like a book about scrambled eggs during the Renaissance, please.

I’d like a book about scrambled eggs during the Renaissance, please.

If I had been put off by the depictions of space travel, black holes, and warped space-time, I would not have been able to concentrate on the relationships that drive the film. Cooper’s daughter Murph(y), who we depicted at different ages in the film by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn, has the shoulders on which you can afford to rest the weight of the world. Topher Grace, who I hadn’t seen in anything since That 70’s Show, was a nice surprise as Murph’s adult-age colleague. But it is the relationship — no, the bond, the connection, between Cooper and Murph that makes everything possible.

If this scene doesn't work, the rest of the movie falls apart. This scene works.

If this scene doesn’t work, the rest of the movie falls apart.
This scene works.

This movie gave me a lot to think about and talk about with my 15-year-old son for days after we saw it. Not a lot of movies can do that — or even try.

The end of the movie leaves the door open for a sequel, but it’s not necessary. A movie that expects you to bring intelligence and attention to the theater can also trust you to have your own theories about what may have happened next.

Review: Ender’s Game (2013)

November 5, 2013

Viewed 2 November 2013, Johnson Creek (WI) AMC

(For this review, italicized titles refer to books, and unitalicized titles refer to movies.)

EndersGameNew

Before the Book

Before I ever read Ender’s Game, I knew someone who knew it very well — my dear friend and former husband Peter C. Hall, who was an English professor who specialized in teaching Freshman English, researching the New Woman in Victorian and Edwardian literature, and analyzing science fiction. I knew he had written and presented papers on elements of Ender’s Game in the late 1980s, but I didn’t read them because I had not yet read the source material. Over the years we were able to share and discuss several science fiction works, but the key works that received his critical attention — including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Blade Runner, and Ender’s Game — were ones I had not yet gotten around to reading or viewing, though I was looking forward to discussing them with Peter in great depth and detail.

Life is unpredictable, however, and just over two years ago he died accidentally and unexpectedly. Until recently, dealing with those un-experienced works would have been unthinkable for me. But a few movies ago, one of the trailers was for Ender’s Game and from my reaction I knew I was going to have to buck up, read the book, and prepare myself to see the movie without him.

In addition to performing acts of literary criticism on published works of science fiction, Peter also wrote book reviews while he was in graduate school. His sci-fi collection includes several pre-publication review manuscripts as well as trade paperbacks from the 80s dating back to the 60s, and features several series by Orson Scott Card. In June of this year I selected a very new paperback copy of Ender’s Game from Peter’s collection, and started reading it. Soon I was sharing the book with our son James, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

Before the Movie

Ender’s Game, the story, took less than a week for me to read in real life, but every time I opened the book I felt transported into another, immersive, world that I did not want to leave until I discovered how everything turned out. The last time I read a book this suspenseful and addictive was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. It’s the book you lay down reluctantly, then pick up again immediately and read as much as you can before your other responsibilities come to tear you away.

It was hard to read the book without having Peter around to discuss it with, but even harder was the fact that, since the 80s, I was no longer an innocent, unbiased reader. Now I was a mother of four children. My youngest son is the same age as Ender is when we first meet him at the Academy — brilliant, slight, and bullied. When Ender is promoted to Battle School, he’s the same age as my middle son, with his strategic mind coupled with lean muscle and less tolerance for being pushed around. By the end of the book, he’s just a bit younger than my oldest son. At every stage of Ender’s emotional, intellectual, and military development, I had in my own house an analogue to him. If you don’t have children of these ages in your life, you can read the book in an abstract way and talk about themes, and ethics, and all sorts of fine things. But if you’re a parent, or godparent, or aunt or uncle, your very soul cries out in italics, My God! He’s just six! or But he’s only nine! or It’s not right, he’s just twelve years old! At least, mine did from the moment I saw the movie trailer, my eyes welled with tears, and a voice inside me screamed, They’re just children!

Meanwhile, during production, author Orson Scott Card chose that time to make clear his various personal pro-Mormon and viciously anti-homosexual views, strongly enough that several groups proposed a boycott of the movie — even though those views had nothing to do with the movie’s theme or content. Card chose to use this temporary spotlight for his personal political purposes to the possible detriment of his box office figures, and some of the actors in Ender’s Game (notably Harrison Ford) went to great lengths to distinguish the movie and its viewpoint from its author and his.

On our way to the movie, James and I discussed the book. We wondered how they would depict the battle scenes, and how much of the story would be given to the philosophical half of the book, in which Ender’s battle-school “failure” brother Peter and sister Valentine adopt secret identities to publish their opposing political manifestos in what are essentially underground Internet newsgroups.

After the Movie

I found the movie vivid and riveting and very well done, but noticed that I seemed to be frowning at it. That was because so very much of the book simply never made it to the movie script at all. And ultimately, that was probably a good thing for both the book and the movie.

Screenshot-Enders-Game-trailer-615x345

The book is detailed, nuanced, and philosophical. Its characters are complex almost beyond belief; elder brother Peter is the bully shown in the movie, but he is also highly intelligent, politically ambitious, and a gifted writer. Ender fears him, opposes him, and hates himself for loving him. The book takes hundreds of pages to hold a character so complex; the movie shows Peter’s brutality towards Ender and leaves it at that. There simply isn’t time in two hours to do any justice to Peter’s character when it has to stick with Ender and move the plot along.

compliant

To steal and turn a phrase from S. Morgenstern, Ender’s Game the movie is the “battle scenes” version of Ender’s Game the book. The film editor did a great job of figuring out the true key elements and moving us from A to B to C to D without undue distractions, but if you enjoyed the complexity of the book you may be shocked and disappointed by the simplicity of the movie. What the movie does, it does do well, but there simply isn’t time or the demand for a five-hour movie that includes everything the book has.

The movie is particularly good at showing us the technology and the battle strategies. The iPad-like tablets used for education and entertainment were just right. (The depiction of the “mind game” was excellent.) Being able to watch a null-gravity battle was much easier than trying to imagine one based on a written description. And the climax of the film, Ender’s “graduation simulation,” was elegant and powerful via its use of virtual, kinesthetic commands. It certainly was clearer what Ender was trying to do with the battle formations in the final battle.

Download-Enders-Game-Movie-Wallpaper1

If you haven’t read the book, go ahead and watch the movie on the biggest screen you can find. It’s a treat, and there’s hardly any “bad” language, and no nudity. They didn’t even turn Petra into a love interest, thank the heavens (though they did eliminate the “salaam” kiss that Alai gives to Ender in the book). But know this — the book has twice as much to offer, if you’re interested in the thought behind the battles.

And if you have read the book? Well, if you’ve always wanted to know what the battle scenes looked like, do go and see the movie. But if you had no problem with visualizing multi-dimensional combat by teams of aggressive, smart children in null gravity… you’ve already seen the movie in your mind, and experienced a story that you’ll never forget. It would be perfectly understandable if you stayed home next Friday and enjoyed that book again.

Review: Elysium (2013)

August 20, 2013

Viewed 8/19/2013 at the Marcus Hillside Cinema, Delafield (WI)

Trailers: Insidious Part 2, Rush, Thor: The Dark World, The Monument’s Men, The Grandmaster, The World’s End

When I saw the first trailer for Elysium, I knew right away I wanted to watch see this movie. It seemed very sci-fi: the establishment of the carefree luxury-world by the haves, and its invasion by the have-nots. After I saw the trailer, I saw nothing else to convince me this wasn’t the case. (Actually, I didn’t see much in the way of promotion at all.)

Having seen it, however, I have to say that I was surprised at what I got. It’s not sci-fi but it does have high tech; it has the feel of post-apocalypse but without the steampunk style. It’s not a Mad Max world; I will have to go do a bit of research and see how it compares to Blade Runner.

What Elysium does have is an Earth that is poisoned, gritty, and poor. The rich have abandoned it and created a paradise in the sky that, as we see in the slightly heavy-handed captioned opening, is a fantasy escape for the downtrodden of the Earth (basically, everyone who isn’t already on Elysium). Whether they desire Elysium because of the life of ease it represents or because of its medical technology that cures all illnesses and keeps its citizens in perfect health, it’s the star in their sky. People are willing to risk their lives for a chance to touch it.

2013-08-09-elysium_external_space_station-533x219

Matt Damon’s character Max, shown first as a dreaming little boy born into an unjust world and then as a hard-working ex-con who soon has nothing left to lose, finally gets his ticket to Elysium under the poorest of circumstances. After we’ve seen him stripped of his health, his safety, and his reasons to continue to uphold his moral principles, he’s on this journey for his pure survival. He repeats throughout the movie, “This ain’t gonna kill me.” “I don’t want to die.” Soon his very presence threatens the life of his childhood friend Frey and her daughter, and they’re soon caught up in a mad scramble for power between the Secretary of Defense, big business, a disenfranchised madman-for-hire, and the rebel underground (a combination of a group of L.A. tuners/chop-shop surgeons, and chipheads with bodyguards).

At the center of the story, however, are the robots. They are the security guards, doctors, waiters, soldiers, and even probation officers. Defeat the robots, or figure out a way to control them, and you’re safe. Otherwise you’re at their mercy, as is Max. On his way to work at the robot factory, a security robot breaks his arm and creates orders for him to visit his robot probation officer. Who, in turn, extends his probation for eight months. The robots are only following their programming: on Earth, control the non-citizens of Elysium. On Elysium, serve the citizens. Human-to-human contact is recreational. If you want to get something done, you have to work with the robots.

NEKfSqCQWcgKOP_1_1

“I’d like a cheeseburger, a large fry, and an orange drink.”

The key to change in this system is the code that runs the systems that run Elysium. It can be manipulated to gain access to immense power, fantastic wealth, corporate monopoly, or social justice — depending on how it’s altered. Each faction works as hard as it possibly can to serve its own self-interest.

(Oddly enough, in this world, everyone seems capable of scanning hundreds of lines of fast-scrolling code they’ve never seen before and determining exactly what the program does. Maybe there was a line reading ’10 REM ELYSIUM REBOOT PROGRAM’ at the top that I missed, but I started finding this humorous after the third character recognized the program’s worth at a glance. Can your CEO write code this quickly that is so powerful yet so obvious? I shouldn’t complain too much. At least the whole program wasn’t stored in a flash drive that had to be located and stolen from each successive group.)

usb1

To achieve his goal, Max allows himself to become part robot through the installation of an exoskeleton. This reminded me of the first Iron Man movie. In subsequent battles, the bad guy (of course) obtains a bigger and better exoskeleton so they can fight. This reminded me of the second Iron Man movie. We’ve seen a lot of battlebot movies recently, but blood and dirt are always present here to remind us that this is a movie about human beings. What will prove to be their strongest motivation for survival?

Exoskeletons...FIGHT!

Exoskeletons…FIGHT!

I don’t know of a world exactly like this, but after a while I could think of a similar story. This movie plays like a Doctor Who episode without the Doctor (similar to “Garfield Without Garfield,” but with fangirls). The bad guys act with the purpose of henchmen whose überboss never shows up to check on them; the downtrodden Earthlings act as companions to a Doctor who’s otherwise occupied. There is loss, sacrifice, brotherhood, and a struggle for social justice. But there is neither God, nor savior, nor conquering hero at movie’s end.

The movie comes to a predictably satisfying conclusion, celebrated not with a victory party but with a release of tension. Not a great movie, nor one worthy of a sequel, but good enough.

Review: Star Trek (2009)

May 28, 2013

This weekend I finally watched my DVD copy of the Star Trek reboot. I had been wanting to see it for some time now, but the timing never seemed quite right. Then, Star Trek: Into Darkness was announced. Perfect, I thought, I will watch this one as a run-in to the sequel. And that is indeed what I did. I watched this movie on DVD on Friday night, then watched Into Darkness in the theater on Saturday night.

StarTrek2009Poster

Even though I wasn’t trying to get inside information or spoilers on this movie, they kind of leaked out into the atmosphere as the film was being made. There was a lot of drama concerning the casting; strangely enough, it didn’t concern the young actors filling the main roles. It was a sort of legacy drama that went back to decades-old tension between the main players in the original television series. To cut to the chase, Leonard Nimoy was in the film. William Shatner wasn’t invited to participate, even though he did wait by the phone for some time. And frankly, with all due respect to Mr. Shatner, I don’t see how they could have worked him in. Writing Nimoy’s character in the way that they did was tricky enough. Shatner’s couldn’t have been done in a similar fashion — it just wouldn’t have made much sense. Having him play anyone other than Captain James Tiberius Kirk wouldn’t have worked at all. It all seemed to work out in the end. When Christopher Pine was cast as young James T. Kirk, he wrote a letter to Shatner; Shatner wrote back with his approval.

Pine Kirk Shatner Kirk

While reading a bit about the production and editing work on this film, I ran across the statement that it was titled simply “Star Trek” to send the message that you didn’t have to have an exhaustive Star Trek background to watch this film. I’d have to say that’s correct. I would call myself more of a Star Trek fan than a Star Wars fan, but I haven’t seen every Star Trek movie myself, and the last one I was was probably 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection. In fact, there are Star Trek TV series I never watched at all (sorry, “Enterprise”). It’s an excellent entry point to the entire franchise, and this could truly be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. However, if you do have a solid geeky-Trekkie background, there will be plenty of verbal and visual in-jokes for you to appreciate. Just don’t make the newbies feel bad, okay?

I enjoyed this film immensely. The casting was superb, and it was a real treat to see the crew of the Enterprise come together for the first time. You get to meet them one by one, absorbing their character, their reactions, and their attitude towards Kirk. If you ever watched the original series and wondered why the crew didn’t smother Kirk in his sleep for being a womanizing, egotistical ass, this movie might go a long way towards showing you how all the crew members (eventually, not immediately) fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Everyone’s motivation and back story is squarely in place, if they’re the kind of person who has such a thing. If they’re inscrutable now, you’ll get more information in the next movie or the one after that, so don’t worry about it. If they don’t wear it on their sleeve, it’s the sort of thing that will emerge under pressure.

The new Sulu, Uhura, Spock, J.J. Abrams, Kirk, Chekov, and Bones.

The new Sulu, Uhura, Spock, J.J. Abrams, Kirk, Chekov, and Bones.

There is a small helping of time travel in this film — just enough to solve the crisis. The characters involved are well aware of the risks they take by talking to their past and future selves, but the stakes are high enough that you can tell they’re trying to keep the space-time continuum contamination to a bare minimum.

Director J. J. Abrams has done a wonderful job of creating an exciting and fresh movie from characters that date back to 1966. They are so much a part of American culture that you know who they are without ever having watched an episode — yet in this movie there is material for the new fan as well as for the breathtakingly annoying franchise fanboy. It has characters and character development, plot, and plenty of action and suspense.

When I was in college I had a dear friend named Curt Tatman. He was the biggest fan of Star Trek (and its creator Gene Roddenberry) I will ever know. Curt died from liver cancer in 1999 at the age of 32, having survived colon cancer that attacked him in about 1990. He knew every line of every episode of the original series, and probably knew every line of at least the first six movies. He was a computer programming genius, and would have loved living in this world of smartphones and Facebook; I think he would have been squarely behind this movie and would have had it memorized within a week of its release. I can’t give it more praise than that.

Review: Skyfall

December 31, 2012

Review: Skyfall (Columbia Pictures, 2012)
Viewed 30 December 2012, Johnson Creek (WI) AMC

Trailers: Zero Dark Thirty, Jack Reacher, The Last Stand, Django Unchained, A Good Day to Die Hard, Iron Man 3

Any thought of a James Bond canonical timeline is completely ruined with this entry in the Bond series. In 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Bond was a fresh agent trying to earn the trust and respect of his superiors at MI6. (He was also played by the youngest actor ever to play James Bond.) In this film, he’s denigrated as “old” and “broken” every time the camera is on him, and every effort is made to show Daniel Craig as white-haired and grizzled. He’s even referred to as an “old dog.” And for some reason, we’re rehashing the “spies are old-fashioned and unnecessary” theme that we saw in 1995’s GoldenEye, in which the new M, Judi Dench, attacked the new Bond, Pierce Brosnan, for being an anachronism every chance she got. Did everyone get mindwiped? Should I have been? Is this important anyway?

M: Unimpressed with Bond’s reputation since 1995.

Good versus evil becomes a matter for internal affairs in Skyfall. It’s not Bond who has a problem with revenge — it’s a rogue agent from years ago taking out his frustrations on the Boss Lady. It’s not even this baddie who takes a shot at Bond that pushes him to his near death — it’s another field agent acting on M’s orders. And it’s not a secret evil organization like QUANTUM trying to take down MI6 — it’s the British government. Within the agency itself, there is a conflict about leadership, respect, and who has earned the right to it: field agents or desk jockeys.

Careers begin and end in this movie. We finally have a new Q and a Moneypenny, and fresh blood means young blood. However, this Q is no longer just a liaison between the invention staff and the field agent, but an active (though mostly deskbound) participant in the mission. And Ms. Moneypenny is no longer just the desk decoration we’ve always believed her to be, but a former field agent who still has what it takes to be out there.

“Old man.” “Whippersnapper.”

All this makes for a long and complicated game of cat and mouse across the rooftops, on trains and the Underground, through several sets of mostly-forgotten tunnels, and in a frigid Scottish loch. In the end, old age and experience combine to take control of the situation just long enough to win. But there are losses along the way that will impact the Bond movies as a franchise. This is a movie about change, generational change. Torches are passed.

And, oh yes, this sequence was pretty cool, though I did wince every time a Beetle got crushed.

“It’s rather hard to describe, Mum.”

Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

December 30, 2012

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fan, not a scholar, of James Bond films. So do correct me if I’m in error here, but Quantum of Solace seems to be the first Bond film that is actually a sequel to the previous film of the series, rather than just a story of subsequent adventure. If that’s true, then the way I’m watching the movies, on consecutive nights, should be the best way to keep track of the continuity within the plot.

I’ve done a version of this before — when Back to the Future III was released in 1990, I watched a mini-marathon of BTTF I & II before I went to the theater to see the new release. I’m convinced that’s the best way to view the movies (although in the case of the BTTF franchise, the first and third movies stand well on their own if necessary). This doesn’t work for every movie franchise, though; in the case of Ocean’s 11-12-13 I’m not sure that anything can turn the middle film into a comprehensible or even watchable movie. It’s hard to be the middle child, even in Hollywood.

But I already digress. Quantum of Solace. Daniel Craig is back and he’s out to avenge the death of Vesper Lynd (even though he swears that he isn’t) and earn the trust of M (even though she swears that he has it, right up until the moment she takes away his credit cards). We also have a parallel revenge plot in which Camille (played by Olga Kurylenko) is out to avenge the deaths of her mother, father, and sister at the hands of General Medrano. By the time she and Bond untangle their backstories, they’re already a well-oiled machine dedicated to helping each other exact their personal revenge. I was pleasantly surprised that Camille was given the space to achieve this herself. She’s unafraid to pull the literal and figurative trigger when she has the opportunity. (I really wish her horrible reason for revenge wasn’t almost exactly what happened to Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride.” It was distracting.) She must still be rescued by the brave and dashing secret agent, who literally fights fire with fire to blaze a path to their safety, but the real trap he’s rescuing her from is psychological — mirroring his connection with Vesper in Casino Royale after she has a breakdown.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey in “Date Night.”

Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace really plays like it should be the last two reels of Casino Royale. Our malfaiteur du jour Dominic Greene is the classic young rich industrialist out to control the world’s supply of whatsis (this time it’s oil water) so he can keep living the high life and be rich, rich, rich. He’s an asshole and annoys everyone around him, and there’s no doubt that he’ll get what’s coming to him. He’s such an arrogant jerk that we have a moment’s pang of sorrow for poor, innocent General Medrano as he signs a contract agreeing to be extorted by Greene for Bolivia’s water rights. In fact, Greene’s karmic outcome is so certain that when he does meet his fate we don’t even need to see it on-screen, and his tortured death is played as a joke. He’s not that important in this film; he’s just a link between Camille and General Medrano, and between Bond and Mr. White. If he were more important, or offered any real threat to our dynamic duo, maybe the film would be more engrossing in its own right. But I’m checking the Trivia entries for this movie at imdb.com, and apparently that’s what the filmmakers settled for even if it wasn’t their original intention. You can’t take off points when people meet their goals, can you?

“You must be that Ukrainian brat I taught a lesson to all those years ago.”

We are still in Back to Basics mode with this movie. No Q, no Moneypenny. We are fighting with knives, not lasers. We are punching, slugging, wrestling. (How many scars can this man receive?) Chases are done on foot via parkour, on old motorcycles, and in prop planes (the man can dogfight in a C-47!). It’s back to basics only as far as Bond himself is concerned, though. MI6 suddenly has technology reminiscent of 2002’s “Minority Report” that links every top-secret database in the world with a wave of a flunky’s hand. (Okay, a high-level flunky.)

It was a fine second half of a movie, but I’m ready to move on now.

Review: Casino Royale (2006)

December 29, 2012

Who would have guessed that it would take me six years to watch Daniel Craig in a James Bond reboot? Certainly not the grown-up version of the girl who got so ticked off at NBC in 1986 when they thought their “Remington Steele” star Pierce Brosnan looked so Likely To Be Cast As Bond that they extended his television contract and killed his chances of actually being James Bond for another 11 years. I would never have imagined she’d still hold a grudge that Brosnan had been replaced as the world’s most famous spy-slash-womanizer.

Steele. Remington Steele.

The catalyst for finally viewing Casino Royale was the chance to have a Bond Weekend with my 13-year-old son, who had recently seen 2012’s “Skyfall,” which I had not. He was brimming with Bond-related trivia he wanted to unload on me, and the best course seemed to be to take him to see the movie again. But how, I ask, could I do that without seeing Craig as Bond in context?

It turns out that I couldn’t. After looking unsuccessfully for DVD copies of Casino Royale and Quantum Solace, we stopped by the local local library and rented them. (Hooray, local library!)

This turned out to be a very interesting movie, mostly for reasons separate from the plot of the film itself. It’s technically a franchise reboot starring Bond just after he’s attained 00 status, so he has yet to earn the trust of M (who is well played, somewhat incongruously, by Judi Dench, but we’ll ignore that because Judi Dench is awesome). Yet the action is not set in the 60s or 50s, but today. Cell phone technology plays a critical role in the action of the film, as it’s very important to know who texted what to whom, and when, and from where. And Bond is the man who knows how to figure this out.

The Sony Ericsson flip-phone is so handy to use while you’re driving.

This is a stripped-down, almost pre-Bond Bond movie. There is no Q. There is no Moneypenny. There is Bond and M and a bad guy and a good girl gone bad. And there is high-stakes poker, and a fussy martini, and a million bucks’ worth of Aston Martins. What more do you need? (Oh yes, you really should watch it with a 13-year-old boy who still turns away from the screen when things get sexy.)

This movie is about Bond becoming iconic Bond — earning his reputation at the poker table, in the bedroom, and mano a mano against the thugs. And this is also a movie about Daniel Craig becoming iconic Bond — earning his right to be a blue-eyed, blond-haired version of the spy we’ve known largely in the forms of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan. (You Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby fans can go sit in the corner. I’m sorry.) And he totally earns it. When this movie was released, much was made of Craig in his swim trunks and how he looked cut and fit and sexy. Okay, fine. But the Craig I watched in this movie portrayed a Bond who was Bond because he knew, well, everything. He chased down and executed the baddie at the embassy because he could scan a live construction site and know how to scale anything, leap to anywhere, and cut across to anyplace. And he knows drinks, and poker. And psychology. And how to draw all the security personnel out of a casino. And how to guess a password, trace your call history, and defibrillate himself. When Craig’s Bond scans the room and surveys the situation, look out. You are doomed.

THAT is Bond — not just the womanizer, but the latent Playboy Advisor every man’s man secretly wants to be. He wants to be able to do everything, do it well, and get the girl.

Ironically, this Bond doesn’t accomplish those goals. He’s poisoned. He’s stripped naked and tortured. He’s beaten so badly he wakes up (sort of) in a hospital. He’s duped. He’s tricked. He’s fooled. He’s taunted and humiliated. He’s double-crossed. He’s bluffed out of millions of dollars. He not only doesn’t get the girl, the girl double-crosses him and dies under his incapable hands. (The other girl is murdered.)

“Are you SURE you know what you’re doing?”

Craig manages to become Bond because his Bond, when knocked down, insists on getting up again and again and again. He gets the bad guy in the final scene. He already has M’s respect and trust — she sees him for what he is, and gives him just the rope he needs to hang someone else and not himself.

For everyone who watched this movie and saw only this,

I would say, this was the more important water scene — the one where Bond comforts a psychologically fractured Vesper Lynd with his very presence. According to imdb.com, this scene was shot in one take. It would have to have been, in order to be authentic.

This is part of James Bond, too.

Tomorrow night — Quantum of Solace.