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November 17, 2006

Casino Royale


Martin Campbell - 2006
MGM/Columbia Pictures 35mm Film

I've been in Chiang Mai, Thailand since Monday afternoon. As it turned out, my first real opportunity to see a film meant seeing the movie that has taken over most of the screens here. Thursday evening, I went to Chiang Mai's major mall where I could see James Bond in English with Thai subtitles.

It's been over forty years since I've read Ian Fleming's novel, so I'm in no position to comment on how much more faithful this version is to its literary source. It has been almost as long since I saw the previous film of the same name, memorable for Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond and Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love". I've seen almost every Bond film in a theater except for a couple with Roger Moore, and read every Bond book by Fleming. That plus a laptop and a blog are my particular qualifications for weighing in on a film everyone will be writing about.

There is a scene where Daniel Craig looks as if he's hoping he can fill Sean Connery's tuxedo. He can't. Nobody can. But this new Casino Royale does have a couple of good set pieces in the beginning.

The stark black and white opening is riveting. It’s not a great stylistic innovation as much as a suggestion that James Bond franchise, as many have argued, would be a lot more interesting had the producers been willing to concede the formula to a strong visual stylist such as Quentin Tarantino who has openly begged for a crack at Bond, or someone like Martin Scorsese or John Woo. For several moments, Martin Campbell gets things right before losing control, with a really good two hour film becoming a sloggish two and a half hours.

The opening sequence with Daniel Craig chasing after a bad guy through a construction zone in Uganda is also eye-popping for the constant motion and complex action. Running and jumping through stairs, girders and traffic, this second set piece is a reminder of why we loved watching James Bond films in the first place. This is the kind of sequence that blows away such Bond wannabes as Mission Impossible III. Having Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter is a nice contemporary touch, and I hope he becomes a regular part of the film series as he was in the novels.

As for Craig being the embodiment of Agent 007, I will only say that I like him better than Roger Moore or George Lazenby. I am one of the few people who thinks Timothy Dalton wasn’t given a fair shake. I did like Pierce Brosnan, but "Remington Steele" gave him years of practice. I like the idea of a rougher James Bond, heavier on the action, lighter on the quips. My favorite Bond is From Russia with Love. I also like the idea of re-filming Ian Fleming’s novels - the better films were the more faithful to the books. As far as who plays James Bond, Craig will do fine after this first run. But I am one of those many people who prefers the Connery Bond films. Nobody does it better.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 17, 2006 08:45 AM


My favorite Bond, book and film, would be Goldfinger. Anthony Burgess did choose it for his 99 Novels--his 99 important novels of the 20th century, while Robert Bresson is reputed to admire the movie.

Well, that wasn't why I like Goldfinger--liked it years before I ever heard of eitehr Burgess or Bresson--but there's some kind of admittedly snotty satisfaction in citing impeccable credentials.

Anyway, I have a new blog. Hope you can update your links.

Posted by: Noel Vera at November 18, 2006 03:16 AM

I hope you're enjoying the town I called "home-base" (if not quite "home") for a year and a half. I saw a Bond film while I was there, too: the World is Not Enough (my personal favorite Brosnan entry in the series; faint praise I suppose but true regardless).

Is the biggest mall in town still Central? Or is has a larger monstrosity taken its place in the past six years?

I have to say I didn't find Chiang Mai to be a very good moviegoing town, but it certainly was a pleasant place to hang my hat for a little while. Check in on a place called the Irish Pub, where for a while host a weekly trivia night, if you have the time.

Posted by: Brian at November 19, 2006 05:17 AM

I really need to proofread my comments to your blog better, Peter. What I meant to say here about the Irish Pub was that I used to host a trivia night there. Well, I was the quizmaster for a while anyway.

Posted by: Brian at November 27, 2006 06:26 PM