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Review: Casino Royale and more …

Casino Royale posterIt’s said that each generation gets the Bond that they deserve. If that’s the case, then the class of 1979 who got Moonraker must have been very naughty indeed, while the gods of karma have delivered us a Bond for the ages in Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale. Outrageously blue-eyed Daniel Craig is the new Bond and, like last year’s Batman Begins, Casino Royale is a genesis story – the birth of a Bond.

Newly-minted at double-O level, but untrusted by crusty senior management (Judi Dench, the only holdover from a previous Bond universe), special agent James Bond joins a high-stakes poker game, using Her Majesty’s money to flush out a banker to the world’s terrorists. As we know from last week’s cover story poker is the new lawn bowls, and the game itself is pretty exciting, but we don’t go to Bond movies to watch him play cards. We want action and we get it. The hand-to-hand fighting is thrilling, the chases (mostly on foot) are stupendous, particularly the African building site at the beginning – whooah!

Why is this Bond so essential? Because, for the first time in the movies he is a truly three dimensional character. In Casino Royale we see Bond himself trying on elements of his persona: the clothes, the drinks, the cheesy lines – Bond learning to be Bond. We get some illuminating back-story which helps Craig deliver a nuanced and sensitive performance – Bond as orphaned, bullied, scholarship public school boy, developing the hard emotional shell and the masochism that serves him so well in a job with zero life-expectancy. Craig is brilliant and he’s welcome back any time. I can’t wait.

China Blue posterThis reviewer was slightly disappointed to find that China Blue wasn’t the example of adult entertainment from the People’s Republic that I had been expecting but a documentary about sweatshop seamstresses slaving in factories so that we can buy cheap jeans. The villains are not the factory owners, who we see bullied by the international buyers to keep prices down, but the forces of international capitalism that exploit the weak for no better reason than that is what they do.

Flushed Away poster2006 has been the year of toilets in film: from the delightful (Kenny) to the repulsive (Jackass 2) via the unnecessary (Borat) we have spent a lot of time in cinemas being confronted by number ones and twos. It’s back to the bathroom in Aardman’s computer-animated Flushed Away but there’s nothing in it to offend anyone. In fact, it’s one of the most entertaining films of the year – a great delight.

The Tiger and the Snow posterAll the voice-work is brilliant, including a hilarious Ian McKellen and droll Bill Nighy but the film is stolen for me by Jean Reno as Le Frog. In fact there’s almost no film that couldn’t be improved by the addition of Jean Reno, a fact that Roberto Benigni uses to his advantage in The Tiger and the Snow. Reno plays Iraqi poet Fuad who is compelled to return to Baghdad at the start of Gulf War II. Benigni himself plays love-lorn Italian poet Attilio who rushes to Iraq when he hears that the woman he loves has been injured and is dying. He and Fuad try and save her despite the war and insurgency all around. Your appreciation of this film will entirely depend on whether you think of Benigni as an irritating self-indulgent ass or not. I thought it was sweet.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 13 December. This is what I sent them and I hope to God they’ve tidied up my somewhat rushed prose. You are not so lucky – you get the original, tortured version.

Nature of conflict: Tiger and the Snow is playing at Auckland’s Academy Cinemas, lovely people for whom I supply some web services.

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