Friday, November 17, 2006

Movies: 'Casino Royale'/'Stranger Than Fiction'

Two days off and a chance to see decent movies now that decent ones are finally coming out.

Casino Royale’ was Ian Fleming’s first book noel. It reads so differently from the rest with actual emotions from the lead character. He’s still a ruthless in his killing and priggish in his specificity, but there is dome depth to him. More than fifty years later the movie is much the same.

Producer Barbara Broccoli could be coming into her own, out from under the shadow of her father the original Bond producer. Things are dirty this time around. The fights aren’t clean, pro wrestling fights. They hurt to watch. It’s not Roger Moore stifling a grin as he gets pummeled by Jaws. It’s a guy taking it to the bollocks. Death takes an emotional impact and, no, it can’t be, Bond actually shows a lighter side with the ladies. The humor is mostly gone, this is serious stuff.

The gritty, black and white intro takes us into a men’s restroom where Bond and an unknown bad guy duke it out between toilet stalls and overflowing sinks. The inglorious killing Daniel Craig did in ‘Munich’ seems to have followed him to the new character.

As always, the globe-trotting script adds on some frequent flyer miles for a stop in Madagascar. An acrobatic bomb-maker jumps up and down a construction site like a cross between Jackie Chan and an X-Man. The Biarritz casino setting from the book is moved to Montenegro, but filmed in Lake Como and the Czech Republic. Apparently, Montenegro isn’t scenic enough. The movie still revolves around a high stakes card game, Bond’s first assignment as a ’00.’ The anarchists are still here. SMERSH is now a broker for terrorists

The ad placements are fun here. They usually are in the never ending Bond saga, but especially so here. The bad guy drives the ’64 Aston Martin while Bond drives a Ford, but he wins it in a card game. Virgin Atlantic paid for a spot and you see their planes in the airport backgrounds and, wait, was that Richard Branson at the metal detector?

The reality of Will Ferrell’s life in “Stranger Than Fiction” is that it is being made for him, or rather, it is being narrated to him as he does.

Ferrell is an IRS guy who has limited social skills but can do math even better than Rain Man. Emma Thompson has all the life drained out her to play a novelist who can’t kill her protagonist and stubs her cigarettes out in spittle fed tissues. Maggie Gylenhaal again plays the ingénue who sleeps with the older guy, this time Ferrell. Dustin Hoffmann repeats his existentialism mentor role from ‘I Heart Huckabees’ with a lifeguard whistle to replace Lillie Tomlin.

Yes, it’s a pretty good story, but it’s the design that’s cool here. The best way I can put it is that it’s architectural. The buildings each character lives in reflect who they are as people. Bland post-modern apartment for numbers-driven Ferrell, futuristic ‘pod’ for the colleague who wants to go to Space Camp, lived in brownstone with dark wood and beads for social activist-cum-brownie baker Gylenhaal, and a furniture-less, bright white space with one potted plant for the author who hasn’t published a book in ten years. The buildings in movie and the way they are shown play a huge part of the look of the movie. The rest is in the counting steps, measuring vectors, and marking time that animate ‘Harold Crick’s point of view as he takes in Chicago, one measured step at a time.

The music is pretty good too, with a lot of songs by Spoon but, according to reviews I’ve read, the soundtrack available for purchase isn’t nearly as accommodating.


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