by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Man With the Golden Franchise. The folks at EON Productions, who've controlled the rights to James Bond since the early '60s, call Casino Royale a reboot, but it's really a prequel. A reboot is like last year's Batman Begins, which restarted the Batman franchise from scratch. Though it has a new actor playing Bond (Daniel Craig) and though it takes place prior, chronologically, to the first film, Casino Royale (opening on Nov. 17) is intended to exist in the same universe as the other 20 films, making it a prequel.
That's not to say there won't be some significant changes, the biggest of which isn't that Mr. Craig has blonde hair, despite what the horrified, incensed British media would have you believe. The biggest difference is a plot based around character development and intrigue rather than explosions and gadgetry. This is a huge gamble because, historically, character development in a Bond film means box office failure. Character-based Bond doesn't make any money. In both On Her Majesty's Secret Service and License to Kill, there's plenty of action, but there's also a Bond given to fits of emotion and humanity. And though they're -- in our estimation -- two of the most satisfying Bond films, they represent the two least profitable. For film's second most profitable franchise (behind Star Wars), that's a huge problem.
In navigating those profit-less waters, though, the producers seem to be running in the wake of a third Bond film that was both heavy on character development and commercially successful. From Russia with Love succeeded for one reason: continuity. License to Kill didn't have a recurring villain, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service didn't have a familiar Bond (George Lazenby quit after his first go-round), but From Russia With Love had both.
The villain in Casino Royale is the henchman (who Bond bankrupts in a game of Texas Hold 'Em) of a dude named Mr. White, who is rumored to be taking the place of Blofeld, James' nemesis during the Connery/Lazenby films. So there's continuity on that front and on the blonde Bond front as well, as the braying and neighing of the British press has fallen on deaf ears at EON -- for the time being. Craig is scheduled to remain for at least one more film.
A recurring villain, though, means a more or less concurrent timeline, so that may mean subsequent Bond films will take place between Casino Royale and Dr. No (the 1962 original). If they continue to stay in pre-Dr. No land, it's likely that neither John Cleese nor the character of Q, who doesn't appear in the latest film, will be returning.
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
FELLOW AGENTS | CIA agent and frequent Bond ally Felix Leiter is back, and Rene Mathis (French secret service), common in Fleming's novels, makes his first film appearance. While it's important that they've elected to make the usually WASPy Leiter character black (a first, we think), it's more important that they cast Jeffrey Wright, one of the best character actors in a generation. EON fired Jack Lord after he played Leiter in Dr. No, fearing he'd upstage Connery. They should be worried about that here, too.
SMERSH OPERATIVE | Sort of. SMERSH was the Soviet counterintelligence agency in Fleming's novels, but was usually conflated with SPECTRE (an organization unaffiliated with any country) in the films. The main villain of Casino Royale, Le Chiffre, was affiliated tangentially with SMERSH, but here is the flack of a Mr. White, who may become a recurring villain. Bond's struggle with Ernst Stavro Blofeld gave much of the Connery/Lazenby films their continuity, something that has been severely wanting in 30 ambling, digressive years since. It'd be nice to see Bond have a nemesis again.
BOND GIRL | One of the few remaining double-oh-constants in the Bond universe besides James himself is a girl or two for him to bed. Used to be, becoming a Bond girl made a young actress' career (looking at you, Dr. Quinn), but with Brosnan, EON often tried out well-established actresses like Halle Berry. This time Bond goes unknown again, casting the young Parisian Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, a Treasury agent sent to make sure James doesn't spend too much of the queen's cheddar.
WHAT YOU won't see
Q | When the beloved Desmond Llewellyn died in 1999, the producers made a rare choice for the franchise. Perhaps as a tribute, rather than merely recasting the Q character, they killed him off, replacing him with R (John Cleese). That means that, since they want Casino Royale to fit with the original Bond canon as a prequel, they couldn't have used Cleese even if they wanted to. This marks only the third time Q or R has been missing from action.
MS. MONEYPENNY | For 44 years, Moneypenny has been the love that dare not speak Bond's name. Appearing in every film, official and unofficial, including the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale (starring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles), she, M and James are the only characters to appear in all 20 authorized and both unofficial films. Until now. It may be a function of chronology, or simply that they didn't find a suitable replacement for actress Samantha Bond, who said she felt her Moneypenny was inextricably tied to Brosnan's Bond.
GADGETS | Bond's got his Aston Martin, his impeccably tailored suits, his rapier (phallic connotations intentional) wit, but at the beginning of Casino Royale, not his license to kill. Which means he's also deficient in the gadgets department, we'd guess, because Her Majesty doesn't want to hand over some multi-million-dollar roadster fitted with machine guns to some novice who's just gonna get offed. It also forces the focus on character and tension, not whizbangery.
by Joel Smith & r & & r & James' Faces. Sean Connery (1962-1967, 1971)
Connery set the bar pretty high as the first onscreen Bond. An able fighter, a schmoozy sophisticate, a mellifluous talker and an incurable Lothario, Connery's Bond was -- if not the most manly -- the most nuanced and certainly the most human. His face reflects real pain in the fight scenes and real panic when Auric Goldfinger's laser is trained on his crotch. Later, in the same movie, he has to consciously discipline himself when compelled to follow a hot blonde in a fast car. The first 007's inner struggles were every bit as compelling as his international ones.
George Lazenby (1969)
Appearing in only one film (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Lazenby was both the bulkiest and the softest of the Bonds. A big chisel-faced specimen with a manly swagger, he wooed the ladies not with arched eyebrows and a forked tongue, but with cheesy lines and an earnest smile. That romanticism led him into a serious relationship with a contessa, whom he later marries -- marking the only time we ever see Bond actually fall in love. The only time we ever see him really grieve, too -- when Tracy is shot dead just minutes after their wedding.
Roger Moore (1973-1985)
Moore's films haven't aged well -- in part because Moore himself didn't age well (he was a rickety 58 in his last Bond film, A View to a Kill) and in part because the films opted to ditch classic themes for contemporary fads -- Live and Let Die's roots in the blaxploitation films of the time makes it utterly cringe-worthy. Moore's uninspired acting didn't help. Charming but vacuous, he was a laughable lover and an even less exciting stuntman.
Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)
Dalton's Bond is hard to judge, as he only appeared in two films (The Living Daylights and License To Kill). He's not particularly witty in either. And in neither can he muster even a hint of that big, masculine sex appeal so prevalent in earlier films. But his un-Bond-ness becomes a plus in License, in which he steers the character quite far afield, delving into an angry, revenge-crazed Bond -- the likes of which fans had not yet seen.
Pierce Brosnan (1995-2002)
Though he gets the tar beaten out of him more than any of his predecessors (14 months of torture in a North Korean prison, for example), Brosnan's Bond is the coolest of the five 007s seen so far. Ever armed with pithy puns and increasingly explicit double entendres (they didn't call him a "cunning linguist" for nothing), he's the most sarcastic of the bunch -- but not the most nuanced. Still, he played well the hand of worsening films dealt to him.
by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & etween the Christmas marketing machine and all the pre-pre-Oscar hype, autumn always starts out looking like a polarized season for film. The big, schlocky holiday flicks sit at one end of the spectrum, with the indie, quasi-indie and big-studio-looking-for-Oscar-nomination flicks on the other. By and by, the dissonance seems less jarring. As the weeks tick off, though, the same thing always happens: Most of those "Oscar contenders" end up being overwrought pretentious odes to existential angst, and some of that family fare turns out to be surprising, endearing and engrossing. Too soon to tell which is which, but here's a preview of how they look and when they'll hit theaters.
by Luke Baumgarten, Marty Demarest, Michael Bowen, and Joel Smith & r & & r &
A Good Year
The director and star of the bloody and violent Gladiator team up to bring you a nice, romantic, unconvincing comedy. A slow-down-and-enjoy-life fable for hard-charging yuppies, A Good Year has Russell Crowe making the transition from aggressive London bond trader to relaxed rustic landlord. Unfortunately, he attempts a lot of physical comedy along the way. At least director Ridley Scott lets his camera linger on the Provencal vineyards near where he himself owns a few grapes. (Michael Bowen)
Stranger Than Fiction
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) hears voices. And not just the kind we all hear. The lonely IRS agent hears a British woman's voice narrating his every move. Strange. Even stranger is that the voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a struggling author with terrible writer's block, who can't figure out how to kill her main character -- one Harold Crick. As Crick slowly realizes that he's a puppet overhearing his own death foretold -- and as Eiffel discovers that she has the strings -- Stranger becomes some kind of trippy pop philosophical treatise on Will and Pre-destination. Or something. (Joel Smith)
Taking its mythological cue from the Tower of Babel, which so offended God that he made humans speak many different languages where before we'd spoken only one, Babel is about culture clash. The film centers on Susan (Cate Blanchett), who's shot while vacationing in Morocco, along with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt), the boy who accidentally shoots her, the gun's original owner and some other people -- including a couple of Asian schoolgirls -- who undoubtedly fit in somehow. While we may speak different languages, says Babel, there are threads that unite us. Here's hoping they're more than rifles and schoolgirls. (LB)
After Dark's Horror Fest
Who says Spokane only gets movies that play everywhere else? "8 Films To Die For" is a festival of some of the cheapest, grodiest and most imaginative horror films around, and it's only going to be playing in Washington state at our AMC during the weekend of Nov. 17-19. The fest's features range from high-profile (The Abandoned, released nationally a few weeks later) to the obscure (Dark Ride, a psycho-killer-builds-theme-park-ride story that will probably jump straight to video). The best thing about indie horror? When it goes bad, it gets funny; when it's good, it's truly disturbing. (Marty Demarest)
The '67 version was a spoof with Peter Sellers and Woody Allen, so somebody thought the first Bond novel needed to be honored with a serious treatment. Somebody was wrong. Why is it that a damsel in distress tied to railroad tracks is hokey, but a Bond heroine lying in the middle of a darkened highway while dapper Daniel Craig's car speeds toward her is supposed to be thrilling? Watch tanker trucks run into jumbo jets while our hero dangles from a drawbridge! Watch him emerge from the surf with nothing on but the cutest little short shorts! Judi Dench should be ashamed of herself. (MB)
Robin Williams is so much funnier when you can't see his face. Here he plays several different penguins in a whatever of the flightless birds who choose mates by their ability to sing. Tough luck for Mumble (Elijah Wood), who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket but sure can tap a mean game. Each of Williams' voices sounds like a half-assed variation on Hank Azaria's gay Latino housekeeper character from The Birdcage, meaning that Happy Feet might well be the first gay animated musical that's a simultaneous adaptation of Wild Kingdom, Tap Dogs and West Side Story. Keep breaking ground, Robin. (LB)
Fast Food Nation
I went to see Super Size Me in 2004 with a stomach full of McDonald's beef. I don't know what I was thinking; I barely made it through without retching. I don't think I'll take the same chances with Fast Food Nation, a fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's 2004 nonfiction book on the dirty little secrets of the fast food industry. The book exposed readers to filthy kitchens, on-the-job sexual harassment, the plight of undocumented workers and the deplorable conditions of meat-packing plants and abattoirs. Whether director Richard Linklater's large ensemble cast can more widely broadcast that message without sacrificing grit remains to be seen. (JS)
D & eacute;j & agrave; Vu
When a curious psychological phenomenon like d & eacute;j & agrave; vu is treated by a sensitive indie director, it comes across as something like Memento -- a nuanced, head-scratching mind-bender. When it's made by Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott, it's a flimsy pretext for car chases and huge explosions. Apparently the American government has figured out how to "fold space back onto itself." What this has to do with a ferry getting blown to bits in New Orleans is up to Denzel Washington to figure out. Preferably in a very sexy, action-packed kind of way. (JS)
Lest we head into fall with a lack of pretension, Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) delivers this self-written, self-directed and self-indulgent sci-fi-ish meditation on love. It stars Hugh Jackman, who has not yet been able to muster onscreen chemistry with any costars other than his jeans in X-Men, and Rachel Weisz, who lights up much more in active fluff like The Mummy than in witheringly subtle fare like The Constant Gardener. The screenplay for The Fountain -- which, tellingly, has been around for years, unmade -- attempts to link three time periods. If it isn't confusing, maybe it'll be brilliant. (MD)
After being elected president in 1968, Bobby Kennedy ended the Vietnam War and was re-elected in '72: no Nixon, no Watergate. Didn't happen, of course. But RFK's campaign inspired a lot of idealism. So the question is: By focusing on Bobby's final day and relegating him to archival footage, will director Emilio Estevez miss the full range of that idealism? And will he be able to manage a Nashville-size cast? Bobby presents (among many others) Anthony Hopkins as a retired doorman, Christian Slater as a racist restaurant manager, Demi Moore as an alcoholic lounge singer in a bouffant, and Ashton Kutcher as a hippie drug dealer. (MB)
Director Nacho Cerda is known (if he is known at all) for making a very good movie about a very nasty subject (Aftermath, necrophilia). The Abandoned attempts to contain his pathological vision within the confines of a haunted house story centered on a woman looking to revisit her past. While some "horror" films use this as an excuse for ghost-driven sentimentality, Cerda is more likely to use it to mess with the audience's expectations. Just when you're most uncertain, he'll dissect reality for you. Just you watch. (MD)
The Nativity Story
This one's hoping to be The Parturition of the Christ. Screenwriter Mike Rich, who's devout, has remained Gospel-faithful while envisioning a Nativity sequence less event-driven than character-driven. We see Mary and Joseph as human beings caught up in the extraordinary: their arranged betrothal, the Annunciation, Joseph's dream, the sand-blown journey to Bethlehem, the three Magi, and one very paranoid Herod. (Thankfully, director Catherine Hardwicke didn't ask Mel Gibson to help film the Massacre of the Innocents.) The cast includes Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Mary, Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) as Elizabeth, and Alexander Siddig (Deep Space Nine) as the archangel Gabriel. (MB)
We all know how religiously tolerant Mel Gibson is. Now he's decided to film the end of the world from the perspective of the classical Mayans. Surprisingly, he doesn't blame the Jews, instead attributing the Mayans' collapse to decadence and fear-mongering. Aside from bigotry, Gibson has a flair for grand, primal conflict (Braveheart) and has successfully pursued the theme of spiritual diligence in the midst of historic change (The Passion of the Christ). Maybe being on familiar territory will help him figure out how to say something thoughtful. (MD)
DOA: Dead or Alive
The DOA videogames are all about breasts and young girls they belong to kickboxing each other (and the occasional epic dude). That's not an exaggeration or a dismissal -- it's just the aesthetic. There has always been a plotline woven among the fights, however -- usually one involving a world championship title fought for among an elite gang of well-endowed international fighters. Nothing suggests the movie will be any different, except that in a movie theater you have both hands free. (MD)
Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a South African mercenary with a tortured past. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a fisherman from Sierra Leone torn from his family to toil in the diamond mines. The two Africans from opposite sides of society band together (along with hot, hot journalist Jennifer Connelly) to recover a rare pink diamond in a film meant to expose the evils of "conflict diamonds" -- gems dug up in war-torn countries and sold to finance civil wars and insurgencies. Good to see African issues getting their time on the big screen (see also: Catch a Fire), even if Leo's lousy Afrikaans accent lessens audiences' desire to watch them. (JS)
Not Yet Rated
Since Peter Jackson has no fantasies in the works, filmgoers will have to content themselves the same way that book-readers did after rereading Lord of the Rings and lamenting Tolkien's death: Eragon. This fantasy story with a plot that could have come from a videogame stars an unknown newcomer (Edward Speleers) opposite Jeremy Irons. The last time Irons was in a fantasy, it was called Dungeons & amp; Dragons and it was embarrassing. They are joined by John Malkovich, who is really only famous for being himself, and Djimon Hounsou, who is heroic enough to forego the presence of the others. (MD)
The best-selling paperback children's book of all time gets live-action treatment, with a dozen well-known actors contributing their voice-over talents, including Steve Buscemi as Templeton the rat, Oprah as Gussy the goose and Julia Roberts as Charlotte the spider. But is there some kind of rule that every available little-girl role has to played by Dakota Fanning? (MB)
The Good Shepherd
Besides tag-teaming the lackluster The Score with Frank Oz, The Good Shepherd is Robert De Niro's first directing gig since A Bronx Tale, like, 13 years ago. Matt Damon is Edward Wilson, one of the fathers of American intelligence. Recruited out of Yale in World War II to the Office of Strategic Services, Wilson sees the office transformed into the CIA, and as the cold war looms (for 30 frickin' years) he sees his idealism slowly eroded away. (LB)
Night at the Museum
Remember that movie Mannequin where Andrew McCarthy built a mannequin and she came to life after the store closed and they fell in love and everyone thought he was crazy? This is kind of like that, except at a museum, where Ben Stiller's night gig as a security guard turns into a constant carnival of exhibits come to life. The T-Rex skeleton stomps around; all the Mayans, cowboys, gladiators and Huns from the dioramas go at each other, and Stiller runs around like an idiot for an hour and a half. (JS)
When I was a kid, my family owned exactly three movies: Jaws II, Rambo II and Rocky IV. While Jaws made me fear sailboats and Rambo gave me a fetish-like love of Vietnamese women with Kalashnikovs, Rocky IV taught me the importance of the foregone conclusion. Rocky would avenge Apollo Creed's death -- there was no question. Now that he's like 60, it's a foregone conclusion that Sylvester Stallone would make a sixth Rocky. An ESPN simulation suggesting that Rocky in his prime would have beaten the current world champion makes Rock want to fight, which he does. (LB)
We Are Marshall
Not Yet Rated
If movies like Rudy, Friday Night Lights and Remember the Titans have taught us anything, it's that football solves everything. And if such fine films as, like, Failure To Launch and The Wedding Planner have left us with anything, it's that nobody can resist Matthew McConaughey's boyish good looks and aw-shucks Southern accent. Thus, We Are Marshall, based on the true story of Marshall University and Huntington, W.Va., which -- distraught over losing the entire football team in a tragic plane crash -- can only be made whole again by the boyish good looks and aw-shucks Southern accent of new coach Matthew McConaughey. It's frickin' beautiful. (JS)
Dreamgirls tells the story of the Supremes without the Supremes' music. It has Jamie Foxx as the girls' unscrupulous manager and Eddie Murphy as a womanizing singer, but it also has Beyonce attempting Diana Ross. (Diana's grumpy about the prospect. Are the rest of us any happier?) Chicago brought stage-based musicals back to Oscar prominence, but will there be an Academy blacklash against a musical with a nearly all-black cast? Director Bill Condon sure hopes so: He wrote the screenplays for both films and knows how controversy stokes pre-release buzz. (MB)
Not Yet Rated
Sororities are exactly what psychotic murderers want. Just look at the DVD-store shelf-space devoted to horror films that take place in sororities. It's clear they're unsafe. One more movie will soon be added to that shelf: a remake of the old screamin' girls classic Black Christmas. It stars Michelle Trachtenberg, who's been slumming it by showing up as the little sister on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now she has the chance to grow up and confront evil on her own. (MD)
Schedule: Uncertain & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & scar season means a flood of films that get limited and/or staggered release dates. Spokane's on the upper-middle end of film-going cities, so we get a fair share of smaller films, but we get them at odd times and with no real warning. Here's a preview of some of the more promising flicks, with our best guess as to when they'll hit the 'Kane. -Like Baumgerten
For Your Consideration * Rated PG-13
Centered around a ragtag crew of aspiring (and aging -- holy God, are they aging) filmmakers, For Your Consideration is yet another wacky mockumentary from the cutups who brought you Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap), best known for playing a 6-foot hot dog, is convinced to star in a film called Home for Purim (about being Jewish in the '40s Deep South) which, as you might guess, has a hard time getting off the ground. (The Office creator Ricky Gervais suggests "All I'm saying is that you should tone down the Jewish-ness, so that everyone can enjoy it.") (LB) Nov. 22 or Dec. 1
Volver * Rated R
All the deep, meaningful things that can be said about director Pedro Almodovar have been said, so I won't busy you with my own serpentine recasting of what has been the critical consensus since the mid-'80s. He's the crown prince of Spanish cinema and he's a freak. He takes transvestites, pedophilic priests, drug addicts and necrophiliacs and humanizes them in a way that's profound in its simplicity. He presents them as they are and lets the humanity come as it will. His new film's about a murderous housewife, which seems a bit on the tame side of bonkers for him. Penelope Cruz is hotter in Spanish. (LB) Mid-December, or spring after Oscar noms
Children of Men * Rated R
Though it takes place in a future totalitarian hell of our own making, Children of Men is something of a nativity story. It's the year 2027, and humanity has been unsuccessfully trying to get baby-makin' busy for 18 years. Faced with wars, nuclear terrorism, the inability to have children and eventual extinction, the world (London in particular) descends into anarchy. When a young girl turns up preggers, though, it's up to Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Michael Caine to figure out how to get her to the safety of something called "the human project." (LB) Within three weeks of Dec. 25
Pan's Labyrinth * Rated R
Francisco Franco was a mean dude, and his version of fascism lived well beyond that of Hitler or Mussolini. Franco's Spain probably isn't the first place you'd think, then, to place a children's fantasy (the first place would be Candyland), but that's what Guillermo Del Toro (Devil's Backbone, Hellboy) has done. Young Ofelia's stepfather is in charge of crushing what remains of the left-wing rebellion against Franco's regime. Besides being a murderer, then, he's hella mean to her. The terror of the life she's found herself leading pushes her deep into a fantasy world of fauns and whatnot. (LB) By Jan. 15 or not at all
The Good German * Rated R
If Solaris was Steven Soderberg in Hella Pretentious Space (and it was), then The Good German is Soderberg in Noirish Postwar Berlin. While the potential to get all wanky with that setting exists, Soderberg is at his best when he's directing other people's screenplays (Traffic), so that bodes well for this story of murder and lost loves at the Potsdam negotiations. George Clooney is hot right now, and so, unfortunately, is black and white. Annoying, but how else are you going to do noir? (LB) Between Dec. 25 and Jan. 19
Notes on a Scandal * Rated R
The last time Dame Judi Dench and Sir Richard Eyre teamed up (in Iris), Oscar acting noms came calling. Here's the setup: Cate Blanchett -- bohemian, blonde, wife and mother -- starts as an art teacher at a London school. Dench -- elder faculty member, repressed lesbian -- makes goo-goo eyes at the beautiful Blanchett, who meanwhile is making the mistake of starting an affair with one of her male teenage students. Here's what ensues: accusations, marital fireworks, blackmail, and a whole lot of shoving and shouting. Yet the musical score is by Philip Glass. (MB) Between Dec. 25 and Jan. 26
Miss Potter * Not Yet Rated
A biopic about the creator of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and the Flopsy Bunnies, Miss Potter recounts the Tale of Beatrix (Renee Zellweger), who was born into wealth, raised by nannies and compelled to become a housekeeper. Distant parents and Victorian sexism stifled her scientific endeavors. After struggling to get "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" published, she was secretly engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne (played by Ewan McGregor with mustache and slicked-back hair). Director Chris Noonan (Babe) should bring cutesiness to the story of sheep-farming, nature-loving, bunny-sketching Beatrix. (MB) Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 12
Breaking and Entering * Rated R
Jude Law is once again typecast as a philanderer (see Alfie, Closer, etc.) -- this time, as an architect who cheats on his wife with the mother of the kid who breaks into (and enters) his house. At some point he probably casts longing looks and maybe even pouts a little. Wouldn't be surprised. (JS) Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 19