Shedding many of those trappings that make a James Bond movie well a James Bond movie Quantum of Solace is really the first sequel ever in the long-running series. While it’s always exciting something gets seriously shaken and stirred in the translation. Picking up exactly where the brilliant Casino Royale left off we see Bond (Daniel Craig) trying to get to the bottom of why his love Vesper Lynd had to die jumping right into the first of many MANY chases as he traverses six countries. Still on rogue patrol Bond then inadvertently meets the crafty and gorgeous Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who introduces Bond to the evil Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric) the head of an eco-phony stealth operation angling for some prime desert land while financing a crooked Bolivian general’s planned coup. With the ever resourceful M (Judi Dench) trying to keep him in line at all times Bond must put his revenge plans on hold as he crosses paths not only with Greene and his fake pro-environment front but also the intriguing and mysterious group known as Quantum. In this outing Daniel Craig -- leaner and meaner than any previous Bond -- really becomes a man of single-minded determination and grit. He’s less like the James Bond we know and love and more a humorless killing machine like Jason Bourne (those two should really get together). Still Craig is such a compelling actor that we are with him all the way even if he doesn’t go for the suave Bond moves. Olga Kurylenko is a great foil but not totally in the tradition of a Bond girl. A later encounter with Gemma Arterton as a British agent in Bolivia does however briefly recall the heyday of Goldfinger. Judi Dench has taken the perfunctory role of M and turned it into a full-blown supporting role. Her dry wit and take-no-prisoners attitude is welcomed every time she shows up on screen. French star Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) doesn’t really pull off his villainous alter-ego ecologist while Jeffrey Wright is pretty much wasted as U.S. agent Felix Leiter. At least Giancarlo Giannini returns for some nice moments with his Craig. Although they usually leave the challenging job of steering the Bond ship to an English director oddly this time the baton was handed to Marc Forster known more for his intimate dramas such as Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball. His grip on the action sequences is secure but he never really seems to have a handle on what distinguishes this legendary movie spy from everyone else. There’s a reason Bond has survived as a screen icon for almost half a century but the sort of workman-like filmmaking Forster displays here does not represent 007’s finest hour. It’s almost like the producers had a checklist: car chase on winding roads; boat chase; airplane chase; rooftop chase -- all check. Quantum of Solace is definitely worth checking out however. I mean it IS Bond and we wait for these movies on bated breath. Just maybe next time a little less Bourne please.
As with Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy delve into an another world seldom seen--in this case it's the world of folk singing. No not the folk music of Bob Dylan or Joan Baez but the countrified sappy kind whose popularity was at its height in the 1960s. The film starts when folk promoter Irving Steinbloom passes away leaving behind a legacy of music and a family of performers. His son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) decides the most fitting way to honor his father's memory is to organize a reunion concert with some of Steinbloom's best-loved musicians including: Musical genius Mitch (Levy) and his muse Mickey (Catherine O'Hara) the star-crossed duo whose music epitomized young love until circumstances tear them apart; the classic trio The Folksmen (Guest Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) whose records such as Hitchin' and Pickin' were endlessly entertaining for anyone able to punch a hole in the center to play them; and The New Main Street Singers lead by marrieds Terry (John Michael Higgins) and Laurie (Jane Lynch) Bohner a regrouping of the classic '60s group who became the most meticulously color-coordinated "neuftet" to hit the scene. Now for one night only in New York City's Town Hall these three groups will reunite and gather together to celebrate the music that almost made them famous.
The old gang is back and everyone is in fine form. Guest McKean and Shearer turn 360 degrees from their Spinal Tap personas as the insipid Folksmen but it's obvious these old friends know how to work the mostly-improvised material. As do Higgins and Lynch who get to do something completely different from their roles in Best in Show. As Terry and Laurie they certainly have a skewed view towards life living by the doctrines of W.I.N.C. (Witches in Nature's Colors) and Higgins and Lynch play it for all its worth. As the sensitive reclusive--and completely insane--Mitch Levy offers up a performance almost completely devoid of his usual funny mannerisms that is perfectly complimented by O'Hara as the second half of the estranged Mitch and Mickey. The best-performance award however goes to usual straight man Balaban who turns in the funniest bits as neurotic obsessive-compulsive Jonathan. The only sour note is Fred Willard whose portrayal of The New Main Street Singers' obnoxious manager Mike LaFontaine is unfortunately just obnoxious and not up to par with the rest of the cast.
Director Christopher Guest has certainly defined and cemented the mockumentary genre and with A Mighty Wind he adds to his already impressive canon. The film uses the same structure as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show in that the story is centered around and culminates in a single public event. Yet Wind lacks the emotional fireworks the previous films possessed. Primarily most of the characters seem on the same note without much arc in their development rather than being wildly diverse. When they come together in the end it's almost anticlimactic. In that respect Wind is closer to a true documentary rather than a satirized version of one and it makes for a less fulfilling comedic experience. Sure there are plenty laugh-out-loud moments but it's not sustained. It also seems that some aspects of the movie never made it out of the editing room such as the whole back story regarding the original and current Main Street Singers that goes largely unexplored and unexplained. Perhaps the DVD release of Wind will give us a glimpse at what we missed.