Casino Royale (2006) – Film Review

Much like the sci-fi television series; Doctor Who, or any franchise that reboots itself after a certain amount of time. The biggest hurdle the 007 franchise has to overcome with every incarnation is getting die-hard fans of the long-established espionage franchise on board. Luckily, the 2006 reboot of the series; Casino Royale, succeeded in this regard, with Daniel Craig taking on the iconic role of James Bond in a slick and thrilling mission. Doing away with much of the absurdity present in previous instalments, in exchange for pulse-pounding action sequences and an unexpectedly engaging romantic subplot.

Plot Summary: After receiving his license to kill, British Secret Service agent, James Bond, sets out on his first mission as 007, travelling to Madagascar, where he uncovers a link to Le Chiffre, a private banker financing terrorist organisations. Learning that Le Chiffre plans to raise funds through a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale, Montenegro, Bond is instructed to play against him and thwart his plans…

Holding familiarity with the franchise after directing the Pierce Brosnan-era instalment; GoldenEye, in 1995. Director Martin Campbell (The Mask of ZorroVertical LimitThe Foreigner), along with the series’ producers, decided to take the franchise in a more grounded direction following the bombastic action sequences of the later Brosnan entries. So, there are no high-tech gadgets or tumultuous helicopter chases in Casino Royale. Instead, the poker game at the centre of the story is what holds most of the film’s suspense, occupying the majority of the second act and harbouring some of Bond’s best lines. Moreover, Casino Royale is one of the most faithful adaptations of the 007 source material, adapted from the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming, the first piece of media to feature the character of James Bond.

Despite the casting of Daniel Craig initially sparking outrage amongst the 007 fanbase due to Craig’s blue eyes and blonde hair, the online annoyance didn’t last long as once Casino Royale was released, critics and fans alike instantly fell for Craig’s rendition of the character. This was partially because unlike the other cinematic portrayals of James Bond, whose kills held no more weight than the cheeky one-liners that accompanied them, Craig’s tussles tend to be intimate, bloody and devoid of glamour. Craig’s brooding persona, dry humour and excellent line delivery also find a close match in Eva Green’s take on ‘The Bond Girl,’ Vesper Lynd, whose intelligence and assertive attitude puts aside any negative traits associated with the supporting role. And while Mads Mikkelsen is merely serviceable as the antagonist, Le Chiffre, with his menacing performance leaving little impact, Judi Dench makes the most of her brief screen-time as M, the head of MI6, exuding both confidence and power.

In terms of visuals, Casino Royale makes one subtle change that results in the instalment looking quite different from the ones that precede it. For most of the 007 entries before Casino Royale, the visuals almost seem to have been an afterthought as the lighting is flat, the composition is dull, and the cinematography never does anything to advance the characters or the story. Yet, with Casino Royale, it’s evident that the main principle that guides the camerawork is to always keep the camera moving. Thus, the cinematography by Phil Meheux repeatedly makes effective use of hand-held close-ups and mid-shots. Furthermore, when it comes to filmmaking, the first ten minutes of screen-time are crucial in establishing the tone, mood and style of a project. Casino Royale clearly understands this, as the opening scene employs canted camera angles and intercuts between past and present, all dosed in a fierce, greyscale colour palette for a striking introduction.

Surprisingly, the classic 007 theme, composed by Monty Norman, appears very rarely in the film’s original score. Supposedly, this is because the filmmakers wanted to emphasise Bond’s inexperience, essentially having 007 earn the theme by the time the end credits roll. However, that’s not to say that the rest of the score is terrible, as composer David Arnold steers the soundtrack away from over-the-top action cues and towards more nuanced tracks like Vesper and Blunt Instrument. And, of course, no 007 entry would be complete without a memorable song to pair with the stylish opening title sequence. In this case, it’s You Know My Name, by Chris Cornell, an alternative rock piece that fits the tone of Casino Royale flawlessly.

The action sequences are where Casino Royale delivers some of its most jaw-dropping moments. Almost every set piece could easily be the climactic action sequence of any typical action flick, which truly demonstrates the impressive stunt work and remarkable fight choreography on display throughout Casino Royale. The action-heavy first act, in particular, boasts one of the finest parkour sequences seen in this franchise to date, as Bond chases a terrorist through the streets of a Madagascan town, culminating in an exhilarating hand-to-hand scuffle atop a towering construction crane.

In summary, Casino Royale disposes of the goofiness and gadgetry that plagued older James Bond outings as Daniel Craig delivers what critics and fans have been waiting for; a brutal, haunted and intense reinvention of 007. With rousing action sequences, a compelling narrative and a conclusion filled with plenty of potential. Casino Royale functions as a terrific example of how to reboot a well-known franchise, even if it isn’t particularly distinct when placed alongside other espionage flicks. Rating: high 7/10.

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Children of Men (2006) – Film Review

An intelligent, dark, and grounded sci-fi film, with ‘Children of Men’ director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity, Roma) crafts a truly memorable experience. As the film’s fresh take on the science fiction genre combines some great performances, alongside decent writing and some absolutely incredible cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, all alongside many scenes throughout the film being done completely within one single take.

Plot Summary: In a world in which women have somehow become infertile, former activist: ‘Theo Faron,’ agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman across a war-ridden country out to a sanctuary at sea in order to save the human race…

Based on the acclaimed novel: ‘The Children of Men’ by P. D. James, the film adaptation begins its narrative in a similar fashion to its source material, as the story kicks off with a quick peek into the grim world of the film, as our protagonist ‘Theo’ makes his way into a small café to grab a coffee. This soon leading onto a very shocking moment, which instantly establishes the tone of the film, and really helps give the audience a clear understanding of how these characters are coping with this reality. This soon leads onto the opening becoming very iconic in its own right (as well as my personal favourite scene of the film) and still feels very effective even today.

When it comes to the characters, all the performances throughout the film are pretty great, as every actor is really giving their all here regardless of the importance of their roles within the story. As Clive Owen, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Caine are all terrific. Julianne Moore as ‘Julian’ in particular, was a stand-out for me, however, having some very memorable moments within only a short amount of screen-time. This is also one of the few films where I must really praise the extras, as many of the continuous takes are done using enormous amounts of extras, and from the foreground through to the background, there isn’t one out-of-place extra.

Every piece of the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki throughout the film is nothing short of phenomenal, using hand-held shots to the best of their advantage. Many scenes are filmed from the perspective of the characters, placing the audience in their own tense scenarios. The dark grey colour palette of the film also lends itself well to the war-ridden country setting, as every location always feels rustic, dirty, and lived-in. The original score by John Tavener is also effective, despite being used very sparingly throughout the film to further add to the bleak atmosphere.

My only real criticisms with the film are related to the lack of character depth and the film’s overall pacing, as the pacing throughout the film is extremely slow, leading to many scenes feeling a little drawn-out at points. Despite this slow-pace sometimes adding to the building of tension, it feels mostly unnecessary for most of the film’s runtime. The lack of characterisation throughout the film is also a problem, as although a few characters do get some development, it’s usually few and far between, as I found myself finding more information about the characters online than within the film itself, luckily, however, the decent writing does save this from being a huge issue.

To conclude, ‘Children of Men’ is an exceptional piece of the sci-fi genre. Coming off as a very different approach than what you’d usually expect from a film such as this one, the film almost feels like more of an apocalyptic drama at points. But with a thought-provoking narrative, some amazing cinematography, and a fantastic cast, ‘Children of Men’ truly is a very captivating (if not a very bleak) piece of entertainment, which never fails to impress me every-time I revisit it. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Monster House (2006) – Film Review

A personal childhood classic for me, ‘Monster House’ is one of those rare kids films that isn’t afraid to explore darker themes of death and grief. Whilst still managing to be a solid piece of entertainment for any family urging for a creepy adventure, as producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg jump on-board alongside Gil Kenan director of the ‘Poltergeist’ remake from 2015 in his directorial debut, this animated adventure is always a joy to return to for me.

Plot Summary: After their creepy old neighbour who lives across the street suffers from a heart attack and is taken to hospital, three teenagers discover that their neighbour’s house is really a living, breathing monster. Eventually leading them to devise a plan to destroy it and save their neighbourhood.

This simple, yet extremely strange plot is one of the best aspects of the film, as the director makes as much use out of this concept as possible. Usually getting extremely creative and even catching the audience by surprise at a few points, no matter their age. Having a great blend of both comedy and tame-horror, the film has a mostly light-hearted tone, aside from the occasional dark scene of course, which actually works quite well for the film’s story. The jokes throughout the film are also pretty decent, as despite some gags being a little too cheesy or immature at points. For the most part, the comedy throughout the film can get a laugh out of me.

The three main characters within the film are portrayed by Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke, who all provide likeable and varied personalities to each of their respective characters, while Steve Buscemi lends his voice to the creepy: ‘Old Man Nebbercracker,’ who actually turns out to a very interesting and even sympathetic character by the end of the film’s runtime.

The animated cinematography is overall nothing outstanding, but does lend itself well to creating some attractive shots and eerie visuals throughout the film. I also personally enjoyed how the film utilized more hand-held like camera movements during the more chaotic scenes of action or terror throughout the story. The film even blends its bright animation colour palette with a more dark/pale horror-esque palette, only a little detail, but I appreciated it regardless. The original score by Douglas Pipes is also another wonderful element of the film, combing the feel of a classic animated film with undertones of horror.

Although the animation can sometimes range in quality, the visual look of the almost stop-motion-like animation does give the film an overall creepy appeal. However, due to the film’s age, the film has definitely begun to show some cracks here and there, as various points in the narrative characters can begin to look a little clunky or unnatural with their movements. This is mostly due to the motion capture technology that was used very heavily throughout the film, long before films such as: ‘Avatar’ or ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ truly tested the limits of it.

Many of the character designs throughout the film are also quite memorable, especially with the character: ‘Bones’ in particular, who always comes to mind for me when thinking of this film. I also personally adore the design of the ‘Monster House’ itself, as the design is incredibly menacing and really feels like a true horror antagonist.

‘Monster House’ never fails to be entertaining for me, every-time I revisit it. As the film truly provides a creepy experience which most other family/animated films simply can’t, as films such as: ‘Hotel Transylvania’ or ‘Goosebumps’ always try to capture this tone, but usually fall short. It’s here ‘Monster House’ succeeds, as despite some clunky animation and cheesy dialogue at points, the film succeeds in being an eerie adventure with a fantastic cast, and effective original score that the entire family could enjoy. Maybe it’s nostalgia for me, but I personally believe the film is honestly a great choice when it comes to a Halloween night, or maybe just a rainy day. Final Rating: 7/10.

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