Casino Royale (2006)

Of the three Daniel Craig Bond films, two have been received with applause from audiences and critics alike. One of the two is Casino Royale, Craig’s debut as 007. Royale has changed the game as far Bond films go. No more (completely) preposterous gadgets or (literally) impossible feats are featured in this film. No more corny lines and no more maniacal, manacle-wearing, super-genius super-villains. Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is rooted in reality. Of course, there is some stuff that might seem somewhat far-fetched, but you just don’t have yourself a Bond film without at least a splash of absurdity.

Daniel Craig is stupendous in this film. He fully embodies the perhaps overly confident, womanizing alcoholic who, at the same time, wears a badge of courage and integrity at (almost) all times. Craig portrays the smoothest Bond I have ever seen. I know what you’re thinking…probably screaming, actually. Connery will always be Bond, no one is saying otherwise. At the same time, Craig, in my most humble opinion, one ups him in the “I’m the coolest dude on planet Earth” department. It’s everything from the way he carries himself to the timing and delivery of his lines (every one of which hits perfectly). What is most notable, though, is the dark side that Craig brings to the timeless character. His orphanage is addressed in the film, the emotion behind his first kill is evident, and Bond drinks with a purpose throughout Royale. Craig makes it all work so well, from the stern look in his eyes as he races through the Miami Airport to the sarcastic smirks he makes at Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from across the poker table.

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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Coen Brothers’ filmography seems to alternate between “beloved” and “pretty much unknown.” For every Fargo and Big Lebowski there’s a Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man. Nonetheless, it’s this writer’s opinion that each one of their movies is carefully crafted to near-perfection. (Okay, the jury’s still out on Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. ) Of course, if I hold all their movies in such high esteem, what’s the point of a review? Well, because first of all I want you to know that The Hudsucker Proxy exists. And secondly because it deserves as much analysis as any of their other films.

In a hyper-Art Deco 1930s Manhattan, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), president of Hudsucker Industries, has flung himself off the top floor of the downtown headquarters. With company stocks about to go public, the board of directors, led by Sydney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), plots to depress stock prices by hiring an incompetent president as a scapegoat and then buying back the company. That incompetent proxy turns out to be oblivious business student Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins). But that’s only the beginning of the Coens’ madcap screwball parody that satirizes every rung of the workforce ladder, from the mailroom grunt to the head honcho. Continue reading The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Better Call Saul 1.9 – “Pimento”

Sometimes we don’t get to dive into each individual episode of Better Call Saul as deeply as we’d like. We have busy lives! Important things to do! Climb that mountain! Finish that novel! Make that bed! Drink that beer! Eat those chips! If there’s anything to knock routine by the wayside and demand our full attention, though, it’s Saul‘s ninth hour “Pimento”, the penultimate episode of the first season. The mountain and the novel and the unmade bed will have to wait (the beer and chips are right here, because multitasking); in this review we aim to pick apart the incredibly dense “Pimento” and put it all back together again.

First up: some self-congratulatory horn-tooting for kinda sorta predicting the big reveal of “Pimento” in our review of the previous episode “RICO“. We’ll save our discussion of that until after the jump for the sake of spoilers, but for now let it be sufficient to state that our reputation precedes us, that we have no equal on this earth, that the tales and songs fall utterly short of our enormity. Gaze upon our magnificence. We are fire. We are death.

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Westworld (1973)

Though known primarily for his novels, Michael Crichton made a name for himself in Hollywood not only through popular adaptations of his novels such as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain but also by directing films himself for more than a decade. Westworld was both Crichton’s feature directorial debut (barring the ABC made-for-TV film Pursuit) and one of his earliest original screenplays. Plagued with production woes from the start, Westworld is largely renowned today as a major landmark in science-fiction cinema and an important advancement in film technology.

As David A. Price writes in this New Yorker piece, computer-generated imagery is commonplace at the movies these days. Star Wars gets a lot of the credit for sparking the technological revolution in Hollywood (although there have been a few technological advances since then), and it’s certainly true that the effects team behind that space saga deserves most of the commendation in which they bask. But if the question is where did all of this start?Star Wars and Avatar and every other CGI-laden movie of the past thirty years — then the answer is almost certainly Westworld.

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Desperado (1995)

As an avid guitarist, there’s a special place in my cold and shriveled little heart for the opening credits scene of Desperado. There are hundreds of popular movies about guitarists, some of which are really great (like Sweet and Lowdown and School of Rock) and some of which are really not (like Rock Star and Crossroads…wait, that’s the Britney Spears one). In the pantheon of Guitar Flicks — which, by the way, should totally be a genre on its own — Desperado might be close to the top, but it certainly isn’t the best movie available. Still, there’s something unique about the way Robert Rodriguez treats the guitar, and something especially mystical about that credit sequence.

Rodriguez’s entire Mexico Trilogy follows the same guitar-playing assassin, and there are probably arguments to be made for Desperado not even being the greatest entry in its own trilogy. While 1992’s El Mariachi was definitely improved upon in subsequent entries with the recasting of Antonio Banderas as El, Rodriguez’s debut feature still plays well as a standalone opener and a part of the larger trilogy. It’s without a doubt the most “realistic” depiction of a guitarist (at least at the beginning), and El’s attempt at finding a gig in the local saloon is probably one of the most gratifying scenes for any musician who’s spent time attempting the same.

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Bloodline – Season 1

Bloodline is one of the latest original series produced by the ever-strengthening Netflix (it’s alive!), and by all accounts it’s a unique outing for the media giant. Set in and around the sweltering Florida Keys, the first season is less like fellow Netflix pal House of Cards and more like Showtime’s The Affair, another drama that zeroes in on family dynamics and household hostility. At best, though, comparisons aside, Bloodline is a true family drama with well-drawn characters and a driving central premise.

The family in question is the Rayburns, an island institution known and respected for operating the beachfront resort Rayburn House for decades. Father (Sam Shepard) and Mother (Sissy Spacek) are vitally influential in the lives of their four children and, as a bonus, are supportive of any conspiracy theories related to casting actors with alliterative fore- and surnames as husband and wife. They’re pillars of their community, and snippets of conversation and glances at newspaper headlines clue us in to the fact that the Rayburns are the public face of their little stretch of Key West. But Bloodline starts early in the slow uncovering of the real ways in which good ol’ Mum and Dad molded their children.

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Film & TV News: April 6

News

  • Daniel Craig has sustained an injury on the set of the new Bond film Spectre, prompting surgery and much nail-biting over whether the filming schedule will be delayed or compressed. Eon has denied that rumor. And besides, judging by last week’s trailer, we’ve no reason not to trust that Craig and Sam Mendes will deliver.
  • Tom Hardy has let slip that he’s signed on for three more Mad Max films following Fury Road, which hits theaters next month. Bring on the Tina Turner cameo!
  • Netflix has renewed House of Cards for a fourth season (surprise!) and their newest series Bloodline for a second season.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 starts filming early next year in…Atlanta. The plot will presumably see Groot and Co. honing their Deep South sensibilities. Karen Gillan’s Nebula is set to return, too, hopefully for a much larger role this time around.

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Better Call Saul 1.8 – “RICO”

I’m such a huge fan of Michael McKean’s Chuck, brother to Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul, and “RICO” really underscored why. His casting was great based on looks alone, but soon it was clear that the character had a heck of a lot more to him than “looking like Bob Odenkirk”. The fifth episode “Alpine Shepherd Boy” delved into Chuck’s condition — a strange aversion to electromagnetism — and yet delved even deeper into the relationship between Chuck and Jimmy. Coincidentally, we also recently wrote about shots like the mailbox one above in our discussion of Michael Mann’s The Insider, so, yeah. There’s that.

First, though, before talking about Chuck’s medical/mental affliction, it’s worth recounting “RICO”s mini-flashback. Since “Uno” reached forward into Jimmy/Saul’s post-Breaking Bad life, each succeeding flashback has contributed to a portrait of who Jimmy used to be. As we discussed in last week’s review of “Bingo“, the answer to that question is really multiple answers: Jimmy’s a chameleon of sorts, shifting from street-level con-man to remorseful convict and now to mailboy at HHM, and there’s a sense that the “present-day” events are a continuation of this constant reinvention.

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It Follows (2015)

It’s cool that It Follows is getting the hype it’s getting. A lot of it is overboard, of course, as tends to happen sometimes when one good review snowballs until such claims as “It Follows is the best American horror film in decades” become commonplace. I’m all for lionizing good indie flicks, but it’s also important to let the thing stand alone for a while too, right? Anyway, that said, yes: It Follows is damn fine cinema. Technically a 2014 release, the film is just now gaining traction through an extended cinematic run.

Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell has a premise that nearly defies explanation because of its simplicity: there is this thing, slow-moving but not dumb, and if it’s “passed” to you then it will follow you. It can look like anyone, even someone you know. If it catches you it will kill you. Respite only comes from passing it along to someone else, and even then you’re still only next in line. That’s simultaneously an awesome premise — elementally terrifying in how simple it is — and yet one that’s been done a thousand times before. “Slow-moving thing inexplicably stalks people” is a staple of the horror genre, from Halloween (which we’ll discuss in a moment) to Alien (which we’ll discuss in another moment). Most “horror” flicks nowadays are really just slasher flicks with that premise mixed in. Thankfully, though, even though the premise of It Follows has been done before, it’s never been done quite like this.

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The Red Road 2.1 – “Gifts”

There was no small degree of uncertainty with regards to the direction The Red Road could take after a successful first season. Jason Momoa’s Phillip Kopus, the heart and soul of the show, seemed headed for prison; Martin Henderson’s Harold Jensen somehow came out in front of both Kopus and the ongoing familial strife that had plagued his wife Jean and their household for the past few months. But with a few major storylines seemingly reaching their conclusions — particularly one about the years-ago death of Jean’s twin brother and one about Kopus’s manipulation of Harold —where would season two go? “Gifts” starts by picking up right where the first season finale “Snaring of the Sun” left off, with Kopus being his usual menacing self and Harold showing he’s learned how to lie pretty damn effectively.

But that first scene is more of a coda to season one than it is a prelude to season two, as we’re soon treated to the ONE YEAR LATER tag that introduces the world of season two. And calling it a “world” is intentional, because although many of the same players are here the second season of The Red Road is already very different than the first (there are some new faces too [Wes Studi!]). We spoke a little about the setting of Road and the way in which it relates to the characters in our review of “Snaring”, so it was nice to see “Gifts” really run with that idea.

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