Daniel Craig


I don’t always need to be “sold” on a movie to see it. Even if the film seems questionable, if a favorite auteur is attached then they’ve probably built up enough cachet for me to patronize the film in spite of a mediocre trailer or tepid reviews. Mind you, this logic only applies if a movie looks at least ok, or average – I’m not willfully seeing a stinker. I’m a self-proclaimed Bond enthusiast, so I’ll pretty much see the latest edition in the franchise, even if it looks rather underwhelming. Spectre looked promising, but I may have just been distracted by the initial excitement of another Bond movie; and while I mostly enjoyed the film, I don’t think it’ll be remembered as one of the better Bond movies.

The 24th installment of the venerable franchise opens with a nail-biting sequence in Mexico City as Bond hotly pursues a man on foot, darting across rooftops before commandeering a chopper. This is what we’ve come to know and love: an action-packed beginning to set the tone, followed by an iconic backdrop of womanly silhouettes as the opening credits spill across the screen. Daniel Craig (Skyfall) was suave as ever, and if there’s a man who looks better in a suit – I haven’t seen him. Bond has always been a bit tongue in cheek in terms of action and relative invincibility, but the casting of Craig seemed to usher in a less campy, grittier approach to the franchise. In Spectre, there were a few times when the action sequences were comical in their implausibility.

Never afraid to defy authority or venture off the beaten path, in Spectre Bond is unsurprisingly on the outs with his superiors at MI6, and his antics in Mexico City don’t win him any favors. The “double 0” program is in jeopardy, and there’s been a new addition to MI6 in the form of C, an official who wants to end the program by merging various intelligence agencies, thereby eliminating the need for agents in the field like James. However, Bond proves his usefulness after following the trail he picked up in Mexico City, which leads him to Spectre. Spectre is a conglomerate of international criminals responsible for various global atrocities and assorted crimes. It’s helmed by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Horrible Bosses 2), a shadowy figure affiliated with other notorious villains from Bond’s past like Le Chiffre, featured in 2006’s Casino Royale. Oberhauser is very familiar with James, and the true nature of their relationship isn’t readily apparent.

The film follows James Bond as he tries to dismantle Spectre by thwarting Oberhauser, who has strategically engineered terror attacks in key places across the globe in an effort to persuade foreign governments to invest in anti-terrorism measures from which he can profit. Certain plot elements bore similarity to the last Mission: Impossible movie, and while I appreciated the overall simplicity, I found the plot ironically nonsensical. I won’t elaborate by revealing any spoilers, but suffice it to say the movie didn’t coalesce in a satisfying way. The supporting players were capable, but Bond movies are a vehicle for Daniel Craig primarily – and it seemed like maybe his heart wasn’t in it at all times. Upon exiting the theater I overheard some moviegoers discussing Craig’s disdain for the franchise now, and I thought how unfortunate it is that he’s ready to move on from the iconic role. He was a refreshing departure from previous archetypes, but if he’s “over it,” perhaps it is time to move on. That Bond magic was noticeably absent. Grade: B-


I’m no expert, but I do consider myself a 007 enthusiast.  During one particularly nasty winter several years ago, I was trapped indoors by a blizzard.  Since I couldn’t go anywhere, I pretty much watched TV the whole time.  It turns out that every James Bond movie ever made up to that point was available On Demand.  I watched easily about 10 movies, give or take. That means I saw all of the ones with Sean Connery and most of the ones with Roger Moore.  I’d seen the more recent entries at that point, which would have included those with Pierce Brosnan.  I’ve bored you with that anecdote so you know where I’m coming from when I say that Sean Connery remains the best to have ever ordered a martini shaken, not stirred.

Although I think Connery was the best, Daniel Craig (Dream House) has pleasantly surprised me, and I’d actually rank him in the top 3 to ever take on the iconic role.  The franchise got a reboot in 2006 when he stepped in for Casino Royale, the first book in Ian Fleming’s series.  Craig has grown on me.  He’s not traditionally handsome, and I couldn’t imagine him in the part until I saw for myself just how capable he was.  He kept momentum with Quantum of Solace, and I expected Skyfall to be nothing short of amazing.  It was pretty good, but not exactly great (to me).

There are certain things that I like about this franchise; I guess it’s my inner geek that enjoys these little hallmarks.   I like the theme, with its typically slow-motioned graphics and scantily clad silhouettes.  I also like Bond’s penchant for harrowing chases and narrow escapes.  All of that was present, but the actual storyline left a little to be desired.  When we catch up to Bond this time, he is in the midst of a hot pursuit.  The movie opened up with immediate action, and as usual Daniel Craig delivered.  Suave yet rugged, he personifies the embodiment of danger and refinement.  When Bond inadvertently gets in the crosshairs of another agent (Naomie Harris, Ninja Assassin), M (Judi Dench, J. Edgar) authorizes her to take the risky shot anyway.  She narrowly misses her intended target, wounding Bond instead.  Believing that Bond is dead, M tries to regroup.

Their grief is short-lived, as Bond resurfaces just as the Boss of the same villain he previously pursued carries out a terrorist attack on MI6.  The nefarious mastermind in question is Silva (Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), a former agent with a vendetta against M.  To further foul things up, Silva also engineers the release of every active agent’s true identity.  Here we reach my primary criticism of Skyfall: the lack of originality.  A very similar plot was already featured in last summer’s The Bourne Legacy.  The first time I saw a movie where the identity of every secret agent was leaked, I was impressed.  But once something becomes trite or hackneyed, I’m no longer impressed by it.  Although I always appreciate a clear storyline, I thought the writers could have done more.   

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) conveyed the excitement of the franchise and captured the chemistry between Daniel Craig and well…everybody.  Javier Bardem is a fine actor and made a great villain, but really – will any bad guy he portrays ever rival his turn in No Country For Old Men?  Impossible.  From a visual perspective, the movie was sleek and polished, with some really cool cinematography at certain points.  I didn’t find much fault with the film, but there have been better entrants in the series.  Overall, Skyfall won’t disappoint you Bond fans out there.  Those with a less forgiving eye may be underwhelmed, but by all accounts most people enjoyed it.   I think it’s worth checking out.  Grade: B+

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

When it comes to words, I’ll admit that I have a flair for the dramatic.  When I love something, the superlatives flow. Not too long ago I watched a movie on Netflix streaming and proclaimed it one of the best movies I’d ever seen in my life.  That’s that flair for the dramatic I was talking about.  But this time I meant it.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a slice of noveau noir that any Hitchcock fan would love.  Even the Swedish dialogue and English subtitles didn’t bother me, and that’s saying a lot.

Based on the popular Millennium series’ book of the same name by author Steig Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the harrowing tale of Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with a disturbing psychological and criminal history.  Out on some sort of parole, she augments her legit income by moonlighting as a free-lance hacker.  In this capacity she encounters journalist Mikael Blomkvist, while performing a background check on behalf of a wealthy financier named Henrik Vanger.  Vanger wants the journalist to find his long lost niece but must ensure that Blomkvist is fit for the job, given some recent legal troubles.  Lisbeth is hacking Blomkvist, so when he begins to investigate the Vanger disappearance, she does too.  Eventually they team up for what proves to be a mysterious journey into the depths of human depravity.  Lisbeth is dark and brooding on the surface, but her exterior belies a compassion and fortitude that most of the world doesn’t see.  Fiercely resilient and protective, she is a survivor in every sense of the word.  Her physical appearance is a study in contrasts: a thin seemingly fragile frame juxtaposed with harsh piercings and a jagged Mohawk.  Jet-black hair and alabaster skin complete the shocking picture.  In turn, Blomkvist becomes an ally, friend, lover and protector.  His warmth and her initial icy disposition eventually meld together in a natural way, and their chemistry is palpable.

I apologize for rambling on like that, but I needed to convey all of these things about the original version so you’d understand why the updated version from David Fincher (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) just doesn’t measure up.  The Swedish version was released in 2009.  Are we really remaking 2 year old movies now?  Why, because arrogant Americans can’t bear to read subtitles?  The Swedish version was amazing, and I can understand a phenomenal filmmaker like Fincher wanting to introduce the story to new audiences.  However, when something is fantastic, you have to stay true to it because it’s inherently difficult to improve something that’s already great.  There is source material to work with here.  I have not read the books in the Millennium series, but everyone says that they are fantastic.  Great literary material and a great original cinematic interpretation.  Yet I feel that Fincher found a way to come up short, by comparison.  I saw the movie with two friends who had both read the books but not seen the Swedish version.  One really liked Fincher’s take (I think b/c she had nothing to compare it to) and the other didn’t think it stayed true to the books.  That, my friends spells disappointment.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the movie itself, I want to be clear that I thought the casting and the performances were excellent.  Rooney Mara (The Social Network) and Daniel Craig (Dream House) were great in their roles.  I attribute any lack of chemistry between the two to Fincher, not to their acting.  The original movie did a better job of fleshing out each character’s background and motivation.  We understood why they were drawn to each other and why Lisbeth was so broken after all that she’d endured.  She was a tormented character, and that was not conveyed as ably in the remake.

Perhaps if I hadn’t seen the original version I could let this one stand on its own merits, but I just can’t.  Some things are better left untouched.  When I watched the original I felt like I was watching something special; it was enthralling.  This 2011 version was just another day at the movies: good, but not great.  Try to see the Swedish version first, if you haven’t read the book.  2009 version: A+ 2011 version: B