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.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.
Frenchie Davis, the American Idol semifinalist whose unconventional style but full-voiced performances were a popular addition to the show, has been removed from competition, USA Today reports, because she has acknowledged to the producers that she worked for a porn website four years ago. Fox says she'll be replaced during the Feb. 25 episode.
In a City News Service report, the prosecutor in the case against actor Paul Reubens said the comedian did indeed own a collection of child pornography. Deputy City Attorney Richard Kraft filed court documents Wednesday in response to a defense motion to dismiss the case against Reubens, who was arrested last November for possessing child pornography after authorities searched his home. Kraft states the actor had "an enormous quantity of pornography [including] a collection of child pornography magazines, photographs and movies of nude children, variously involved in sexual acts.'' Reubens has pleaded innocent to the charges and his attorney maintains Reubens' rights have been violated in the case.
State officials postponed a hearing today to determine if rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight should be sent back to prison for violating his parole by allegedly associating with gang members, according to City News Service. The hearing on whether to revoke parole was delayed because the California Board of Prison Terms "wanted to review our decision about whether he could have legal representation at the hearing," said Bill Sessa, the panel's liaison.
Phil Spector is claiming the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson at his $1.1 million mansion last week was accidental, according to the Associated Press. Marvin Mitchelson, a prominent divorce attorney and Spector's good friend, told AP, "I believe his defense will be that this was a tragic accident…I've spoken with various individuals connected with the case, and I'm 100 percent certain it's not a homicide." Spector's lawyer, Robert Shapiro, has not made a public announcement about the case as yet.
Tough guy Steven Seagal testified against members of the Gambino crime family Tuesday, claiming they have been threatening him and trying to extort money after he fell out with his former business partner, Julius Nasso. Reuters reports the actor said in a statement outside the courthouse, "In the movies, I play a tough action hero, but I have feelings. I have been a victim twice: once, the victim of the crimes which are now on trial, once again as the victim of a vicious smear campaign aimed at discrediting me."
Yeah, baby! Mike Myers will receive the Jack Benny Award for Comedy Achievement Wednesday at the University of California, Los Angeles campus, City News Service reports. Past recipients include Johnny Carson, Steve Martin, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg.
Variety reports Robert Redford will join Jennifer Lopez in the drama An Unfinished Life to be directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat). The film centers on a single mother (Lopez) who is forced to live with her estranged father-in-law when she hits financial hardship. Of course, the two eventually find a peace between them.
According to Reuters, the Advertising Standards Authority, a British ad watchdog, chastised 20th Century Fox for sending out "menacing" mobile phone ads for the DVD release of the film Minority Report. The organization received several complaints from people who found the DVD message "offensive." In the ad message, Tom Cruise's voice is heard saying lines from the film but does not identify itself as a promotion until the end. A studio home entertainment division spokesperson told Reuters the message was sent only to people who registered to receive information about upcoming DVD releases.
Variety reports Fox paid well over $2 million in a deal with Michael Jackson to air the pop singer's own cut from the video footage of his recent controversial interview with British journalist Martin Bashir. Called Michael Jackson Take 2: The Interview They Wouldn't Show You will air Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. Can't wait.
Pepsi will pay several million dollars to urban charities to stave off a threatened boycott after the soft drink company yanked an ad campaign with controversial black rapper Ludacris, Reuters reports. Orchestrated by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, the agreement was made to give money to grassroots nonprofit organizations targeting disadvantaged youths.