Casino Royale starts at the beginning as James Bond (Craig) takes his first baby steps as a Double O agent. His first assignment is to track down a terrorist cell in Madagascar but he’s a bit of a loose cannon and things quickly go awry. Bond’s superior M (Judi Dench) is soon regretting giving the arrogant Bond the promotion. Nonetheless Agent 007 takes it upon himself to follow a lead to the Bahamas and discovers that all nefarious dealings point to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) a nasty fellow who has money ties to terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game at the Le Casino Royale in Montenegro—and Bond gets in to beat him at his own game. Along with a hefty bankroll M also sends the beguiling accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to keep Bond in check. They are skeptical of each other at first but as the danger escalates it becomes apparent there is a growing attraction—and affection—between them. Natch. Can these two crazy kids make it work immersed in the cutthroat world of international intrigue? Well this is Bond after all—and we know how he ends up. Craig absolutely gets it. Whatever doubts people may have had when Craig was first announced as the new Bond are washed away in the first few minutes of the film. Sure if Casino Royale was anything like the last few Bond movies then maybe the understated Craig wouldn’t have fit in as well. But this is a different Bond. The British actor plays him not as the icon we’ve come to know but as a flawed man warts and all who flies by the seat of his pants isn’t necessarily refined and yes can even fall in love. Craig also raises the acting bar. His brief scenes with the impeccable Dench for example simmer and pop unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Bond film. Danish film star Mikkelsen (Pusher) is quite effective as the main baddie with a particularly gruesome physical malady while the always good Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) shows up as CIA Agent Felix Leiter. The one weak link unfortunately is Green (The Dreamers). She certainly looks the part of a “Bond girl ” but her Vesper is supposed to be whip-smart able to engage in witty banter with 007 and the French actress can’t quite pull it off. Craig needs more of a challenge. Too bad Judi Dench isn’t 30 years younger; she would have been perfect. Casino Royale the first book in the Ian Fleming series is basic Bond 101. Director Martin Campbell--who helmed Goldeneye Pierce Brosnan’s first and probably best foray into the franchise--strips it of all the far-fetched gadgets (save for a few new-fangled PDAs) and over-the-top action sequences leaving just good clean action devoid of any invisible cars armored Russian tanks and the such. Oh wait Bond does use a bulldozer at one point but that comes briefly in the middle of a rather extensive and hair-raising foot chase. It just proves action can be just as riveting without having to completely suspend your disbelief. Casino Royale is also rare in that it shows how Bond became THE James Bond the one we’ve seen in countless movies over the years in the stylish tuxes drinking the martinis driving the Aston-Martins and bedding all the beautiful women. Casino Royale breathes new life into the franchise and one can only hope they can keep up the good work without once again lapsing into the ridiculous.
Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.
Top Story: Dunst, Kutcher Join Crowe's Elizabethtown
Spider-Man star Kirsten Dunst and prankster Ashton Kutcher are set to star in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, which DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures are in final talks to co-finance. To star in the film, Dunst reportedly dropped out of her role in M. Night Shyamalan's The Woods, which also stars Kutcher (who did not drop out) and Joaquin Phoenix. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Crowe wrote the script and will produce the pic under his Vinyl Films and Tom Cruise's C/W Prods. Elizabethtown is described as a story of an unexpected romance that develops against the backdrop of a Southern patriarch's hilariously elaborate memorial. The project is slated to begin production in October before resuming in the New Year in Oregon and Kentucky.
Osbournes Sign for Third Season
The Osbourne clan is returning to MTV for a third season. According to Reuters, the family has signed on for 20 more episodes set to begin airing early next year with the Emmy-winning reality show's production set to resume in the fall. The Osbournes, now in its second season, follows the daily exploits of heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne in his offstage role as an aging father fiddling around his Beverly Hills mansion. His wife, Sharon Osbourne, said in a statement, "How lucky am I to have MTV with us for another year filming home movies of my family--and pay us for it?"
Scorsese To Produce Sci Fi Miniseries
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese has signed on to executive produce the Sci Fi Channel miniseries The Twelve targeted to premiere in 2005. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series chronicles an FBI agent's confrontation with a bizarre series of events he suspects to be signs of an impending apocalypse timed for the Twelfth Day of Christmas. The Twelve will run at least six hours, but the exact scheduling has not yet been determined.
Concert Attendance Up in 2003
Acts such as the Dixie Chicks, Cher, Elton John, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Chessney, Tim McGraw and the Rolling Stones helped reverse a two-year slide in concert ticket sales as concert attendance jumped 24 percent in the first half of 2003, The Associated Press reports. According to the industry trade magazine Pollstar, fans bought 13.1 million concert tickets to the top 50 concert tours from January to June, compared to 10.6 million sold during the same period last year. Celine Dion's Las Vegas stage show also made the Top 10 highest grossing tour list without ever going on tour. The singer has grossed $33.2 million since her show opened in March.
Role Call: Keira Knightley in "Tulip Fever," Latifah and Pinkett Smith Reunite
Keira Knightley, who stars in the swashbuckling tale Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, is in talks to join Jude Law in Tulip Fever for director John Madden. Set in the mid-1600s in Amsterdam, the DreamWorks and Miramax project centers on a young woman who weds a wealthy merchant to escape poverty. Shooting is set to begin in April ... Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith, who starred together in the 1996 urban heist pic Set It Off, will reunite to play police detectives in an untitled action-comedy for Paramount Pictures. Pinkett Smith's husband, Will Smith, will produce the pic through his Overbrook Entertainment banner.