Friday, November 17, 2006

Casino Royale***

It is difficult to explain the charm the iconic James Bond has held on me. Thankfully, I am in a company of a lot more buffoons out there, unlike a few of my other idiosyncrasies which I tend to relish more privately.
The entire James Bong franchise is my answer to all those who say Bollywood cinema can never conquer the world because of its escapist nature. Well, all the jokers around the world who watched Pierce Brosnan dismantle an alternate North Korea-created Sun in Die Another Day, better start enjoying the chemical lochas of Munnabhai.
My first exposure to James Bond happened quite late in the day, a year short of sixteen when I watched the only Bond movie ever to be based in India, Octopussy. I liked the film immensely, and it was quite similar to most of our potboilers of the time, just on a much bigger scale. The good thing about Octopussy was by then the formula for Bond had been set up - fantastic opening sequences, scantily clad girls (usually in a group of two, one baddie & one disturbed/conned/smart, one of them does tend to wear a bikini in some shot), psychopathic megalomaniac villains (like Mogambo), powerful sidekicks, the evil Soviet empire conspiring, nuclear threat, Q's gadgets, and thrilling action (Bond drives a Merc on the railway tracks in this one).
I was immediately enamored, and then as I am prone to doing, read up more on the franchise. I had really liked Moore as Bond, with his super wit shining through. However, I was to figure out that unanimously, Connery was considered the original Bond. There had been two other actors (Lazenby and Dalton) who had tried their hands at the role, with zero success. Also, the franchise was on hold after the relative failure of the last movie (Licence to Kill), on some copyright issues. Basically, Ian Fleming's novels were trash (have just read Thunderball, and it was quite boring). Hence he had collaborated with a lot of different parties to make money out of the character, producing short stories, collaborating with other writers to make it into a TV show, and so on (why not, he had apparently modelled Bond on himself, hence the narcissist wanted himself to be somehow alive on screen). Thus, there were a lot of claimants for some of his stories - for instance, Thunderball has been made twice (once officially and once unofficially ?! as Never Say Never Again), and Casino Royale itself thrice in different formats (with no official version).
In the meantime, there was competition from different sort of action movies. Bruce Willis' Die Hard portrayed the action more realistically, while James Cameron of Titanic fame created a familial Bond in True Lies.
The franchise was resurrected just before I was to pass out of school, when Brosnan (whom I had loved as Remington Steele; similarities with SRK there? TV background, personality) played 007 in Goldeneye. I re-discovered my infatuation for the series, and as my then discussions made me realise, so did most of my school chums. I can imagine why Bond holds sway with guys. After all, who will not like to kill, fly, dive, drive, and ride (no pun intended) like Bond does, all over the world with different types of people and things. Most important, he is a flesh-and-blood person doing superhero stuff, supposedly in a real world.
Why women love him is more difficult to establish, as his manners and his girls are usually the stereotypes which most smart women tend to loathe (maybe, I interact too much with smart people). I think in spite of his philandering ways, there is an emotional side to Bond, which comes across mainly when he goes back to rescue his damsel in the climax. The setting is usually stupidly hazardous, yet Bond risks his all (and enhances his image further) by going into the jaws of death, just for the girl. So what if he repeats the same trick with a different girl in each movie.
I have had my difficulties in deciding on my favourite Bond, I cannot choose between Connery, Moore and Brosnan (I disregard Lazenby, and have not seen a single Dalton). The literary Bond was actually quite a drab figure, not the cool spy he became in his cinematic version. From an objective perspective, Moore with his dapper looks and humorous dialogue-delivery fitted the cinematic part perfectly. Connery somehow for me was never good-looking enough to bed any girl he wanted to (anyway who says looks are needed to do that), but he fitted the part of the action hero much better. In fact, Moore was actually a couple of years older than Connery, and in his last three movies, looked a huge misfit doing the action sequences.
Brosnan updated the Moore charisma and wit for a new generation. He was good in the fight scenes too, although in the beginning looked a bit too thin to be convincing. Most importantly, he brought forth the human aspect of Bond's personality- in Goldeneye, his girl Natalya asks him about his coldness (just before he shows her all the heat within), or in Die Another Day, he is tortured and has to re-establish his credentials. I guess that's why Brosnan is supposed to be the next best after Connery.
Immediately after school, I managed to check out the first three Connery movies - Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. My personal favourite was From Russia.., whose Bond girl - the then Miss World Daniela Bianchi - is possibly the most beautiful (and bimbettish) of all. I managed to watch more Moore movies like The Man with the Golden Gun and For Your Eyes Only later, and by then the movies had fallen into the super-fantasy and formula trap. In The... Golden Gun, the villain had three nipples and the girl Ms. Goodnight was dressed in a bikini in the entire climax. (In the books, Goodnight is Bond's secretary).
The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy are possibly the best Moore movies (have not seen Moonraker and A View to a Kill yet). The Spy.. had Moore's hottest girl, Barbara Bach as a Soviet agent. The movie also shows Bond's sensitivity at being a widower, when Bach grills him about it. His wife Tracy/Teresa was killed just after his wedding in On Her Majesty's Secret Service by his arch-nemesis Blofeld (played by different actors with different hair-dos in different movies). I did not like On Her Majesty's.. too much, but the idea of Bond crying over his dead wife's body does have merit (the fact he kept sleeping with other females in the movie when he was engaged is conveniently ignored).
Lazenby was never forgiven for mucking up a potentially good movie, and his seven-movie deal was annulled for Connery to return to have a last official fling as Bond in Diamonds are Forever. Connery had started hating the character as he believed it had totally stereotyped him. In fact, unlike the other Bonds (with the somewhat exception of Brosnan), Connery went on to have a mainstream career in Hollywood. He later returned to reprise the role in the unofficial (and terrible) Never Say Never Again for a huge some of money, and in spite of his balding frame, almost matched the returns of the official Octopussy.
The first two movies of Brosnan were terrific - Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The former marked a great comeback (arguably Brosnan's best), the latter had my preferred theme of the power of mass media, being used by a Rupert Murdoch-like character (the talented Jonathan Pryce) to create another World War. Most importantly, Bond had been sufficiently adapted and updated for a new modern, post-Cold War environment - the new enemies were renegades (if not the Al Qaeda types), the girls were relatively smarter in their fields (if still sexy enough), the new M was a female, the gadgets hipper, and he does not smoke in the conscious 90s (though the taboo is later broken in Cuba for cigars).
In Brosnan's next two, The World is not Enough and Die Another Day, the focus shifted from action & drama to gadgets & technology. They had great girls - a stunning Sophie Marceau and an Oscar-winning Halle Berry - yet somehow the simplicity of the earlier Connery movies was missing.
In the meantime, there were two developments which ensured that the producers - the Brocolli family - had to re-invent the franchise. In the late 90s, the gizmo and effect-ridden Batman and Robin, in spite of the presence of stars like Clooney, Schwarzeneger and Thurman, had sank the Batman series. More importantly, in the new century, Sam Raimi had given the entire super-hero character a new twist, with his critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful Spiderman series. I especially liked Spiderman2, with its entire drama of Peter's internal trials and tribulations, quite a lot (we had our own Bhagavad Gita on the same lines a few centuries back).
Hollywood follows successful formula just like any other industry. Hence, Spiderman started off a wave of back-to-the-basics spinoffs. Batman Begins was a cracking movie, Superman Returns in a more normal avatar, and so on. The effects and the technology were left to be mastered by Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and the Mission Impossible trilogy.
The Bond producers now wanted to take him back to his very roots, when James Bond had just become 007, by finally filming the only Fleming novel not be done so officially. Pierce Brosnan had kept running into trouble with his producers over his remuneration after his very first flick. Lots of actors kept turning down the role, so finally the recent trend of going to an unknown 'actor' to play an iconic figure was taken forward. Daniel Craig was announced as the new Bond even when the discussions with Brosnan were still on.
Craig is a fine actor (check him out in Munich), but he got a lot of bad press (& Internet) for his looks, blond hair and height. The thing going for him is that he is arguably closer to Fleming's Bond, a much more blander figure than his cinematic version has been.
Judi Dench's M has always had a more antagonistic relationship with Bond than Bernard Lee's, with whom 007 was relatively subservient. Casino Royale apparently sticks to the book quite closely (cannot ratify that as have no intentions of reading the book). Most importantly, Q and Moneypenny are missing, so it becomes the most business-like Bond flick. There is great action - the two chase-sequences involving a building and an airport are breathtaking. Craig has the physique and the build of a spy 'licensed to kill', more than a Casanova charming girls. Most importantly, when he gets hurt, he has real cuts and bruises to show.
The faceoff with the villain (Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre) is over a game of poker, to stop the funding of global terrorism. There is a torture scene which almost borders on Tarantino (apparently at some point he wanted to make this movie with Brosnan).
Finally, the most important bit - James Bond has the beautifully enchanting Vesper Lynd (played by a French actress Eva Green) to keep an eye on his money-laundering activities. Vesper, by her own admission, is a complicated woman - more realtime than any other Bond girl, still gorgeous. Easily the prettiest since Bianchi and then Marceau, and a whole lot smarter. The scene below in particular is very tender, unlike any other interaction Bond has had with any of his girls.
At its very core, Casino Royale is what On Her Majesty's Secret Service was supposed to be, a Bond love story (even James Bond can fall in love twice). The chemistry between Craig and Green is electric, and their encounters - mutual suspicion, sizing up, thawing, bonding, and then deep love - follow the usual cinematic, if not necessarily the Bond formula. The weakest stage remains the love bit, by when Bond has falled head-over-heels for Vesper (even resigning from his duty for his lady love). It happens too suddenly, and so easily, but I guess they could not have elongated the longest Bond flick ever any further.
I have my crib about the movie, the single biggest being the use of the legendary theme by Barry Norman only when the end-credit is shown, after Daniel Craig announces himself as 'Bond, James Bond' (Can anything beat the first time Connery had used that in Dr. No, or even Goldfinger?). Otherwise, throughout the movie, a different track is used, which as someone pointed out, is uncannily similar to the Khalnayak theme.
Does Daniel Craig make a convincing James Bond? Yes, he is a very fine actor, and I think he has it in him to claw back Bond from the clutches of being an Ethan Hunt (why compete with Cruise?). But I will wait and watch how the franchise goes from here now. In fact, it will not be a bad idea to maybe even remake a few of the older classics using the new Bond. After all, if SRK could risk being AB, why not Craig.
Till then, I await Bond22, and miss Brosnan!


svety said...

U just keep proving what I've known all along...u're in the wrong profession sweetheart...i'm sending this in somewhere...if its taken u owe me BIIIIG...

Abhigyan said...

Yep I understand..I guess like most of my chums wanted, I should have tried for the 00 licence...

Amit Bajaj said...

you can still go for it..write to, saki and bhow have just applied..apparently bhow has some jugaad as well

let me wait for your next post for a more literary/critical/appreciative comment. btw, my favourite bond is srk

svety said...

me too me too bajju
he kills and how

Abhigyan said...

bhau is an expert in shifting spite of my best struggle...bajaj happens to be gud only in planning moves...

and why forget jeetu, mithun da, and hemant birje (?) too....

satya said...

hrithik roshan?

Abhigyan said...

hritik roshan never actually played a james bond on indian screens, unless you count D:II where he plays a Bond like baddie.
Interestingly, I think he was actually one of the list of 200 considered to play the new 007, before Craig was chosen. In my opinion, it would have been a terrible miscasting, Hritik's talent not withstanding.

Sanjukta said...

hey... i'll tell you why intelligent women still like the philandering Bond, because we like perfection and he's good at it!
personally i think, craig is hot, actually hotter than the swarthy brosnan... swarthy by those standards...not ours.

svety said...

i think hrithik wouldn't be so miscast...hes an actor who seems to work at acting...he would have gotten it right....we're just so used to seeing him that it seems too within reach for someone like Bond....

Abhigyan said...

I think Hritik is a bit too young to play Bond. Remember the legacy has been set by bald Connery and grey Moore, and even Craig is touching forty.
I liked Brosnan quite a bit, though am not in a position to comment on whatever the swarthy standards are supposed to be.

Adfreak said...

Would you like to elaborate on the non typical romantic half hour or more (cant quite recall) in the movie... none of the bond lose the crescendo of action and more action once it is built. This movie is different because of that half hour or more where it is not a bond movie... it becomes a romantic tear jerker... or whatever you say.. swety would say SRK tear jerkers like DDLJ....

satya said...

I saw the movie yesterday. The last Bond movie I was in 1996 in Chanakya Cinema, a re run of Moonraker after my 12th exams. We were in a gang and we got into three fights in the 90 mins James Bond chased his villains, found his chick and killed them, it was awful, ok make that AWFUL.

Anyway, so I saw my first Bond film in 10 years. I watched it not to see James Bond but to see Daniel Craig. I had some clue about the challenges the character and the franchise's money making abilities was making, and thanks to your very informative background here, I know much more now.

But it was high time they changed from a sophisticated and urbane Bond to a more raw and yet vulnerable one and I think Craig fits perfectly.

Well if your summary is correct of how Bond movies goes....all of them follow the same formula? I thought the opening sequence was fantastic, fantastic, as was the airport one but in that I only enjoyed the thrill of the airplane not landing.

I dont think that poker crap was a good idea....and yeah Bond being spanked was awe-some...

Sorry, there was no mutual suspicion between the girl and Bond in this movie or I didnt see any. What I saw was a cockiness..akin to seizing each other ass repartee (the debating/quizing type crap)....similar to the kind you see with conceited people.

The plot is well quiet flimsy....and Venice was awesome. The Villain was so dissapointing considering the earlier villains i vaguely remember. Le Chifree might have been voted the sexiest man in Amsterdam but I bet I wasnt there when the voting took place so the girls didnt have a choice and he is well so boring.

I think the other competing Bond like franchise are Jason Bourne and XXX (though part 2 was horrible, part 1 was supereb). This is what I liked about Craig and Bond, that he could be Bond and even tough, else Brosnon (never saw any) appears pretty ridiculous to me.

Abhigyan said...

Well dude i could not figure out what half an hour emotional stuff you didn't like (or did you)..The idea is the romance was relatively unusual for a Bond movie, but something we have seen lots of time in other cinema.

The repartees between Bond & Vesper I guess are more typical...And poker, to be precise gambling, as been a Bond trait since times immemorial, so difficult to get away from it.

The movie is good, and so is Craig. But I saw Goldeneye again, and there was potential in Brosnan. The sort of emtional humanising he had given to Bond was quite commendable. Even in his last outing, it was the first time 007 had been ditched, and had to prove his worth all over again.

Abhigyan said...

By the way check out a link below on Bond.