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.
Adapted from John Boyne’s award winning novel Pajamas presents a different view of the Holocaust told as a fable primarily through the eyes of an 8-year-old German boy Bruno (Asa Butterfield) whose father a Nazi officer (David Thewlis) is transferred from Berlin to a desolate outpost. Bruno finds nothing much to do and no new friends to play with. His older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) pretty much ignores him preferring to spend time playing with dolls or talking to Lieutenant Kolter (Rupert Friend) an eerie young man working for her father. What the father knows and doesn’t tell his family is that his new assignment is running a concentration camp. Despite the warnings from his mother (Vera Farmiga) to stay away from the huge backyard Bruno heads to a “farm” he sees in the clearing where he meets and befriends a Jewish boy Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) on the opposite side of a barbed wire fence. As the frequency of his visits with this boy in the striped pajamas increases Bruno learns more about intolerance in the world and the fences that divide them. As his “education” continues the story takes a surprising turn. Although the film has typically fine performances from an impressive roster of actors -- including Thewlis Farmiga and Friend as well as veteran Richard Johnson as Grandpa -- it’s the remarkable young stars who make the most vivid impression. Butterfield is especially impressive showing the emerging curiosity of a young child caught up in a new environment and circumstances he can’t quite grasp. His outgoing friendly nature and his discovery of a human connection despite the barrier of a barbed wire fence is well-played and carries the entire film. This is perhaps the first time the tragedy of the Holocaust has been portrayed in such a manner and it’s all on Butterfield’s able shoulders. Equally fine is Scanlon playing the title role with haunting sunken eyes but who like Bruno shows us a better way through an uncorrupted innocent perspective. Their scenes together are touching and quietly intense and both are easily up to the task. Smartly adapted for the screen by director Mark Herman this delicate fable about the effects of hatred senseless violence and unimaginable prejudice as filtered through the eyes of children has become far more dramatic and complex in its trip to the big screen. The novel is essentially FOR children an attempt to show the Holocaust in terms they could more easily understand. The film uses the children at the center of the story to express a more universal and tragic view of war and the Holocaust. Herman has still captured the surreal fable at the heart of Boyne’s book but it’s pointedly real and effective in its devastating impact when seen on film. Shot on location in Budapest Herman expertly captures the lone note of youthful hope and power of friendship embodied in his two remarkable young leads who seem immune to the reality of death and hate surrounds them. This is a daringly different and gut-wrenching movie that stays with you long after the theatre lights have gone up.