Tag Archives: Daniel Craig

Shaken and Stirred

No Time to Die

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Daniel Craig’s had a good run. As Bond, he delivered a much needed transformation for the Brit spy series, shouldered the best film in the entire franchise (2012’s Skyfall), and allowed considerable nuance to seep in to the characterization.

Bravo.

He needed a bold and fitting final film to cap his time with MI6, and 2015’s disappointing return to the old guard Spectre wasn’t it. A global plague pushed his finale back nearly two years. Luckily, No Time to Die was worth the wait.

Craig’s retired agent is lured back to the game (of course he is) by a global threat (of course it is) involving an old nemesis (natch), a new rival (sure) and the beauty who broke his heart.

Yes, but wait, because co-writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) takes these familiar elements in new directions, thanks mostly to Craig’s wearily vulnerable performance.

Bond is a tough gig for an actor because there has generally been so little actual acting required – or allowed. And while Craig shows us a wizened soul with humor, longing and vulnerability to spare, Fukunaga surrounds that performance with a story worthy of his send off.

Since the Craig era began, his Bond has always seemed more determined to exist in a more relatable world with more universal stakes. Here, Craig’s final outing speaks often of love, legacy, sacrifice, and precious time, against the threat of human contact itself becoming fatal. And while there are still plenty of moments to suspend disbelief, this film again benefits from the move away from the parody-ready version of 007 that reigned for decades (cheekily emphasized here by Bond’s brief adventure with Ana de Armas’s rookie agent, Paloma).

Mysterious new villain Safin (Rami Malek) shares a tragic past with Bond’s love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), while the legendary Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still able to pull deadly strings from inside maximum security.

Bond’s old friend Luther (Jeffrey Wright) and an over-eager newbie (Billy Magnussen) recruit Bond for the CIA, seemingly pitting him against M”s (Ralph Fiennes) MI6 team and its new 007 agent, Nomi (Captain Marvel‘s Lashana Lynch). Can Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) sit this one out and remain neutral?

Not bloody likely.

Opening with a tense and expansive 26-minute prologue, Fukunaga unveils thrilling set-pieces and gorgeous visuals that beg for a big-screen experience. Aided mightily by a soaring, throwback score from Hans Zimmer, Fukunaga infuses NTTD with a respectful sense of history while it marches unafraid into the future.

The one-liners, callbacks and gags (like Q’s multi-piece tea set) are well-placed and restrained, never undercutting the nearly three-hour mission Fukunaga clearly approached with reverence.

Where does James Bond go from here? Hard to say, but this 007 doesn’t care. Five films in 15 years have changed the character and the franchise for the better, and No Time to Die closes this chapter with requisite spectacle and fitting emotion.

Hillbilly Heist

Logan Lucky

by George Wolf

You’re not long into director Steven Soderbergh’s latest before you expect to see Brad Pitt standing around eating something.

Why?

Because Logan Lucky is essentially Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 with hillbillies, which had to intrigue Soderbergh when he first read the script from Rebecca Blunt. If that is her real name.

No, seriously, Blunt is rumored to be a pseudonym for the actual writer, who should just ‘fess up and take credit for this hoot of a heist homage.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets laid off from his job fixing sinkholes underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway, so he puts together a 10-point plan for his next career move. Two of those points are labeled “shit happens.”

The rest is simple.

Jimmy, his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), will bust redneck robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail to help them rob the speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, and then have Joe back in the slam before anyone is the wiser.

Soderbergh structures everything to parallel his Ocean‘s films so closely that when he finally addresses that elephant outright, the only surprise is how often the rubes draw a better hand than the Vegas pretty boys.

Logan serves up indelible characters, fun suspense, finely tuned plotting and solid humor, including a hilarious bit with a prison warden (Dwight Yoakam) explaining to some rioting inmates why the next Games of Thrones novel isn’t available yet.

As Bang, Craig is a flat out riot, doing fine justice to the best character name since Chest Rockwell, and standing out in an ensemble (also including Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank and Sebastian Stan) that shines from top to toe.

Assembled as precisely as a letter-perfect grift, Logan Lucky has smarts, charm and some downright weirdness. It’s a late August blast with more than enough fun to beat our summertime blues.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





The Spy Who Fell Short

Spectre

by Hope Madden

Three years ago, director Sam Mendes took the reins of the Bond franchise, pitting cyber terrorism against old fashioned knuckle and grit, employing the most talented international actors working, and crafting the single best 007 film of its then 50-year legacy, Skyfall. Hell, it even had the best song. That’s a big martini glass to fill with a follow up, and his Spectre can’t quite live up.

In what’s rumored to be Daniel Craig’s last go-round as Bond, cybercrime and the possible end of the Double 0 program are again the causes of conflict. M (Ralph Feinnes) has a new boss who’s more interested in a global surveillance than man-on-the-ground spying, but Bond can’t be worried about that right now. He has a secret mission and an old adversary to deal with.

Christoph Waltz, an ideal candidate as a Bond villain, is the puppet master, and through him Mendes gets to toss in scores of nods and winks to the entire span of 007 films. There are gadgets, familiar names, enormous henchmen, Bond girls, elaborately staged chases, cheeky one-liners, and cocktails being “shaken, not stirred.” There’s even a board meeting of evil worthy of an Austin Powers film or a Simpsons send-up.

There’s too little else, though.

The film starts off gloriously enough with a brilliantly filmed action piece set in Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade, but Mendes and crew soon settle into a muddled, anti-climactic mishmash of old tropes and familiar ideas. Spectre offers dozens of gorgeously framed, eerily lit, elegant images, but the drama and style of the previous effort are missing.

Shallow writing full of ludicrous sequencing and convenient decisions rob the film of the resonance Skyfall offered. Lined up against most Bond efforts, Spectre is a fun, lively bit of entertainment. It just so badly misses the high water mark left by Skyfall that it can’t help but feel like a let-down.

Verdict-2-5-Stars