Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Favorites - Daniel Craig and Judi Dench

Until recently I wasn't a big James Bond fan.  I liked Sean Connery, but I was kind of meh about action movies in particular.  Roger Moore, in my book, is The Saint.  The only thing I did come to really like were the opening credit sequences.  And the Bond theme.  And I think my favorite Bond flick was the 1967 satire of Casino Royale.

By the time Peirce Brosnan came along, I was more into action movies, and so Bond was on the list of "Fun Movies Where a Lot of Stuff Blows Up."

But it all changed with Daniel Craig and the Casino Royale reboot of the series.  Suddenly it was a picture to sit up and pay attention to.  It had a resonance that I never felt in any of the other Bond movies.  And that resonance carried on for me into Quantum of Solace (for all that everybody else seemed to hate it).

What happened is that Bond got personal.  Sure, this Bond was still impervious to the inevitable fate of the various Bond Girls, but he wasn't impervious to us. We were inside his wall.

I credit the casting of Judi Dench as M.  The relationship between those two -- M and Bond -- is what this trilogy of movies is about.

They are two well-walled, impervious characters who can trust each other.

And the reason they can trust each other is ironic: they both fully acknowledge that they can't trust each other.  Particularly for Bond, who is the sacrificial lamb in the relationship: if duty calls on him to sacrifice his life, he will.  And if duty calls on M to sacrifice him... she will.  Because they both know that, and because they both know more about each other than they should, they can let each other inside the wall a little.

Skyfall is the third picture in the trilogy about this relationship, and this movie lets us more deeply in behind those walls than before.

At the same time, Skyfall also pulls the series back toward the whiz-bang Bond of yore.  The larger and overt theme of this story is whether the world needs a James Bond any more.  He's aging and out of date and the threats are quite different.  The movie has a lot of fun with this, from Bond's slower recovery from injury to the introduction of a hip young Q, and plenty of jokes about out of date exploding pens and such.

In some ways, this picture feels like a blend -- the introspective new Bond and the old flashy Bond.  It also blends elements of other action styles and cliches. It feels a little like a Die Hard movie sometimes, sometimes a little like 24.  And that sort of matches the "is Bond out of date?" theme.

Skyfall is more fun than the last two pictures. And though this is partly due to non-Bond elements, the real fun side here is that we get a firm set up for future Bond flicks to be more... Bond-y.  They reintroduce more of the old Bond formula.  In some ways, that's the answer to the question of whether Bond is out of date: Nope.  He's back.  I am looking forward to what they'll do next.

In the meantime, a small confession about Casino Royale (2006):

I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to begin my cozy mystery The Man Who Did Too Much.  I had tried all sorts of things, and I most liked the scene where George dutifully attends his girlfriend's therapy session for her.  But I could never get a handle on making it work...

...Until I thought of making it a covert homage to the opening of Casino Royale.  The psychiatrist walks into her office and finds a lurking spy-like figure.  And like the guy at the opening of Casino Royale, she knows exactly who it is and why he is there.  "She sent you," she says.

Who George is, and his reasons for being there, are very different from Bond, of course, so I don't know that anyone would recognize the reference without having it pointed out to them. I wrote that pastiche for me.  That opening of Casino Royale has resonance, and that's one small place it resounded for me.

See you in the funny papers.

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