By Marc S. Sanders

Another year at the movies, means another trip to see Batman on the big screen.  I think we are close to a dozen iterations, no?  Fortunately, the latest reinvention for March 2022, The Batman, is a refreshing interpretation that focuses on the detective skills of the masked vigilante hero who prowls from the rooftops of Gotham City.  Matt Reeves has written and directed a gripping and engaging film that doesn’t rely on simple paint by numbers.  He’s capitalized on using the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano) as the main villain here, and Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) brains get more exercise than his brawn.   

It is the second year since Batman has introduced himself to the crime ridden city.  The man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, keeps a journal of his exploits and observations, and through voiceover he questions if his actions have benefitted since it appears that crime has only increased since his first appearance.  A serial killer is taking responsibility for the grisly deaths of important people within the city and he’s leaving greeting cards for “The Batman” with a common scribble of “No More Lies,” along with a “?,” and a riddle for The Batman to solve.  Thanks to a strong partnership with Police Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Batman is given easy access to the crime scenes so he can attempt to reveal the mysterious villain and determine exactly what his endgame is. The Riddler doesn’t make it easy, though.

Mobsters like the Penguin (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) have a grip on the city, as well.  There’s also a possible lead from a woman (Zoe Kravitz) who’s managed to infiltrate the gangsters’ underground headquarters.  She also has the fighting skills and agility that’s comparable to the caped crusader, and maybe she’s a cat burglar as well.  Still, is she pertinent to Batman’s investigation or not?

It’s better not to spoil anything that occurs in Reeves’ film.  The mysteries that are uncovered are part of the fun, and it does take some time and exposition to get there, but I found it worth it.  Barring a few ingredients within the film that I recognized from the Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton films, the picture is worth seeing for a new formula on a character, that although is a favorite of mine, I feel has also been done to death on the big and small screens.  This is a Batman film where I appreciate the thinking approach of its craft, over the action.  When Batman is playing detective with Jim Gordon, it is much more enticing than just another Batmobile chase or another ham-handed fist fight.  This film is a test of Batman’s mental capacity and ability for analysis.

Reeves direction is also appreciated, though I’m expecting the naysayers.  The Batman is a very dark motion picture.  When it’s not dark, the photography is dim and blurred.  There’s lots of rain and dimly lit streets and garages.  There are strobe lit nightclubs.  Windows are blurred, so sometimes you can’t make out the image in front of you.  He makes the viewer work for the focus and that kept me alert.  I believe Matt Reeves was attempting to give the viewer the literal point of view of the characters.  It will not be a surprise, however, to find some movie watchers lose patience with the technique. 

The Riddler especially is most mysterious with a twisted and inspired Zodiac killer approach.  Often, Matt Reeves’ film feels especially reminiscent of David Fincher’s Seven.  I would not be surprised if Reeves wrote his script as a cop/detective story, and then added the Batman flavor to make his final draft.  This is not a picture of grand special effects or superpowers and gadgets. 

It’s definitely not the Batman film that everyone wants.  I foresee the response being very divisive.  Nonetheless, if you’re a Batman devotee like me who grew up on the character in the macabre storied comics (as well as the hammy tongue in cheek material), you’re going to be thankful for this “at last” interpretation.  I’ll definitely be seeing it again.

NOTE: The Batman is not a film for children under age 13. I truly believe that. There are disturbing images and threats within the story, and the violence depicted or left to the imagination is not for celebratory effect and amusement. This is definitely a film for mature audiences. Do not presume it’s meant for all ages based on its misleading marketing approach with companies like Legos and Little Caesars pizza.


By Marc S. Sanders

Casino Royale from 2006 is the one film in the entire James Bond series that gives the MI6 agent a complete character arc, and for that reason alone, it is also the best film to date in the franchise, and another of my most favorite movies.

Bond becomes a different person, and a different agent by the end of this film. It’s a pleasing and unexpected surprise.

Following the misfire of Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day, the franchise was wisely reinvented, going back to the origins of 007 and how he earned his well-known license to kill. Fans immediately protested the casting of a blonde-haired Bond with relatively unknown Daniel Craig. Yet, as soon as the film was released, tensions were overall subdued.

Martin Campbell (Goldeneye) returns to direct the EON Production’s adaptation of Ian Fleming’s very first Bond novel. The super spy quickly completes the necessary requirement of two kills to earn his 007 status and is assigned by M (Judi Dench, still so good in her role) to pursue LeChiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a mathematic genius and money launderer for high priced terrorists. Bond engages in a high stakes’ poker game at the renowned Casino Royale where he must beat LeChiffre’s bluff or monies from his Majesty’s government will have directly funded terrorism. Along the way, Bond falls in love with the treasury agent, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who is assigned to fund his poker buy in.

This film offers a James Bond with faults and mistakes to learn from. He’s never completely perfect and he is subject to losing a bluff in more ways than one, albeit at the poker table or in the face of love. As well, Bond doesn’t necessarily think far enough ahead, as his kill ratio continues to rack up. To M’s displeasure, she wishes he’d have some reservations so that they can question who he comes in contact with. Bond doesn’t seem to consider that.

Daniel Craig gives a brilliant performance of a man who believes he is even wiser than the reputation moviegoers have been accustomed to for over 40 years prior. By the time the film reaches its climax in an action paced shootout within a floating building along an Italian strait, Bond’s steely armor is donned against affection or distraction. James Bond becomes humbled by personal betrayal. I never would have imagined. Death will never affect him again. Love won’t either. This James Bond makes mistakes, but never will he make the same mistake twice.

Mikkelsen is a great villain as the bad guy who gets in over his head. He is not trying to dominate the world. He’s only interested in a profitable return from his dealings with terrorists. James Bond can’t interfere. LeChiffre is a new brand of villain, but still written with a trademark deformity of weeping blood uncontrollably, plus a case of asthma. A far cry from metal teeth and hooks for hands. Mikkelsen plays LeChiffre as cold and terrifying, almost like a vampire with a winning hand.

Eva Green is the best Bond girl of the series. There’s a mystery and a dimension to her performance. Something is driving her and it may play against Bond ever succeeding. Green portrays Vesper as lovely, graceful and suave like her partner, but she is incredibly smart too. She is evenly matched with Craig’s Bond. A great moment occurs when James & Vesper first meet for dinner on a train and size each other up. Eva Green is precise in monologue delivery. She is assured and confident. This woman is able to read Bond before Bond is given the opportunity to seduce her.

Campbell puts together real looking and tangible action sequences where 007 pursues a bomber specializing in parkour, a sport of climbing and leaping on and off of objects within a construction area. There’s also a well choreographed fight scene in a hotel staircase.

The best moments are reserved for the poker match however. Campbell amps up the tension with these ridiculous hands the players have in a fierce match of Texas hold ‘em. Bond gets sidetracked with sword wielding killers and poisonous drinks, but still manages to return to the table time and again with his tuxedo neatly pressed. The interplay at the table with or without dialogue is mesmerizing.

Daniel Craig went entirely different with his James Bond. The wit is there, but the tongue in cheek is not missed. This James Bond doesn’t give a damn if his vodka martini is shaken or stirred. Most of the prior Bond films had the super-agent without any scruples or demons in his closet. World domination, death and casual sex were just all in a day’s work. This 007, however, comes with a heavy background. Craig is great with his silent, seemingly guilty regard for killing someone whether it be by drowning a thug in a flooded bathroom sink or stabbing another one to death amid a museum crowd.

Screenwriters Paul Haggis with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade write a dramatically induced James Bond story. A tale not easily forgotten. It was time to reinvigorate the franchise that was going off into the absurdity of invisible cars and over the top gadgets. The puns are still here, but they serve more as a cover of a necessary internal pain for Bond, rather than disregard for his actions.

Casino Royale is one of the best films ever made. No qualms about me saying that. It’s hard to find great relationships among characters with huge risks at play, and magnificent chemistry for one another, as well as the story that serves them.

Casino Royale is an absolute winning hand at any table.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judy Dench, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour
My Rating: 5/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 65%

PLOT: Super-spy James Bond investigates a mysterious organization that seems intent on cornering Bolivia’s water supply.  Yes, you read that right.

The trivia on IMDb for Quantum of Solace (Bond #22, for those keeping track) contains this revealing nugget:  “Editing this movie was so stressful that co-editor Richard Pearson was brought in to assist Matt Chesse, to speed up editing. Director Marc Forster only had five weeks to edit the entire movie. In his previous movies, Forster would take an average of fourteen weeks to edit.”

Right there.  That’s the biggest problem with Quantum of Solace, the reason it’s ranked among my least favorite Bond films.  The stunts are there, the wordplay is there, the Bond girls are there…I was going to add “good villain” to the list, but more on him later.

Anyway, most of the important elements are there, but the movie never really makes us CARE about what’s going on.  We do get the barest bones of a connection to Casino Royale from two years earlier, but that’s still not enough to bring this up to the level I’ve grown accustomed to with Bond films.  This film feels more like one of Vin Diesel’s old XxX movies.

One of the biggest problems is the aforementioned editing issue.  In Casino Royale, the fight scenes were clearly defined and visually exciting.  (Remember that fight in the stairwell?  BRILLIANT.)  In Quantum of Solace, the fight scenes are cut so rapidly I’d swear they were from a Michael Bay movie.  Rather than make the scenes more exciting, this had the effect of making the scenes feel like the trailer for the movie, rather than the movie itself.  It was distracting, and lessened the tension for me.

Another problem that kept me from caring what happened is the plot.  Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is the villain this time around, and I’m sorry, but he does not exactly come across as a dangerous fellow.  He’s a little on the shorter side, he doesn’t dress impeccably (except when attending the opera), and his hair looks…greasy.  This is not a villain; this is a sidekick looking for a villain.

And his evil plot?  Using an environmental advocate organization as a front to…corner the Bolivian water supply.

The water.  In Bolivia.  After decades of James Bond stopping villains who wanted to do everything from steal nuclear submarines to kill literally every human on Earth, it seems to me this particular mission could have been left to the varsity squad.

There are other elements that were distracting.  David Harbour makes an appearance as a CIA agent whose character serves no real purpose other than to be the stereotypically obnoxious American.  One scene takes place during a beautifully staged outdoor production of Tosca that looked so amazing, I almost wished I could have left the movie just to finish watching the opera.  Gemma Arterton plays Agent Fields (first name Strawberry…get it?), another in a very long line of female characters in Bond films whose sole purpose is to sleep with Bond and/or get killed…or both.  Usually both.  (In an interesting first for the franchise, Bond actually does NOT sleep with the main Bond girl…go figure.)

The movie’s showdown takes place in a location that looked very real, but was ALSO distracting.  What is a four-star hotel doing in the very middle of the Bolivian desert?  We get a clumsy exposition line about the hotel running on “fuel cells” that are apparently poorly protected indeed, given the building’s incendiary tendencies during the climax.

I’m making the movie sound like a BAD movie.  It’s not truly BAD, but it just feels so slipshod in comparison to its predecessor, Casino Royale.

So what happened here?  Well, another tidbit on IMDb quotes Daniel Craig as saying this is the last time he’d work on a Bond movie without a finished script.  I guess THAT’S what happened here.  Shooting a movie without a finished script can sometimes end well, but not usually.  It’s like building a 30-story skyscraper using plans that only go up to the 15th floor, with couriers bringing new blueprints for the floors already under construction as well as the unbuilt floors.

But…BUT.  There is one overwhelmingly bright spot in the film: the THEME SONG.  Performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, it marked the first (and, so far, only) Bond song to be performed by a duet.  It’s called “Another Way to Die”, and it is a SCORCHER.  Words fail me.  It’s down, dirty, mean, and growling, complete with the occasional staccato brass flourishes so evocative of John Barry’s score from earlier Bond films.

Too bad the rest of the movie is unable to live up to the promise of its title song.  Alas.


By Marc S. Sanders

Any die-hard James Bond fan should absolutely love Daniel Craig’s final outing in No Time To Die.  Not only does the film work as a salute to the more serious aspects of past Bond films (not just Craig’s installments), but it is working with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek.  That is not to say that I still did take issue with a few narrative choices the film steers into.

Years have gone by for Craig’s interpretation of the famed secret agent.  He’s comfortably in love with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) from the prior film Spectre, and known daughter of Mr. White, one of Bond’s prior adversaries.  Suddenly though, Spectre seems to be back with a vengeance.  The imprisoned Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) somehow seems to be involved and 007 puts his guard back on opting not to trust Madeleine or anyone ever again.  The story jumps to five years later and Bond’s CIA friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) has convinced him to come out of seclusion and assist with recovering a kidnapped scientist who holds the formula to a deadly nanobot virus manufactured through plant life.  Bond travels to Jamaica to complete the mission.  From there, the story gets more complicated and more interesting.  Though I dare not spoil what comes next.  This film has a lot to tell in the near three hour running time.

Daniel Craig always had some sort of challenge with the general public while playing James Bond.  First, how dare he be blond?  James Bond is not blond.  He survived that ordeal to continue to make more films.  His second film suffered in storytelling due to a writer’s strike.  During press junkets for his fourth film, Craig was quoted out of context noting that he’d rather “slit his wrists” than play the character again.  As well, his films broke convention in the long running EON Production series, as each film served as a continuing story with much more serious, dramatic and sorrowful undertones than was ever presented before.  None of these challenges seemed fair to me.  After 25 films, you gotta stir the pot a little bit on a character that has been on screen for nearly 60 years.  It’s not enough that his gadgets change with the times of technology. 

I divert into this observation because No Time To Die offers some shocking developments for the Bond character, but when you return back to Craig’s first film, Casino Royale, you really start to understand why this latest picture goes in this wildly off direction.  In other words, the four films Craig performed in prior to this 2021 installment seemingly spell out the inevitable conclusion of his tenure as James Bond.  So, reader, when you go to see this last film from arguably the most controversial actor to play 007 to date, give some thought to what has already been covered before and maybe you’ll agree it beautifully makes a lot of sense.

As an action film, No Time To Die works solidly.  There’s amazing stunts and vehicles with car chases galore and nail biting shootouts.  I think this film has the longest pre-credit sequence of all the films and it’s amazing where one of the feature attractions is the famed Aston Martin DB5 against a slew of Range Rovers and motorcycles.

Rami Malek fills in as the lead villain eerily known as Safin, complete with the signature facial deformity, a shattered kabuki mask and a hell bent determination to destroy the world by means of turning people’s DNA against themselves.  Just go with it.  There’s not much weight to this dastardly mission.  It’s Malek’s performance that works. 

A new agent is also in the works and what’s this?  She is identified as 007????  Again, the newer films bravely go against convention to keep it interesting. Lashana Lynch plays Nomi.  This character was angled extensively in trailers and press junkets but honestly doesn’t live up to the hype enough.  The actor is fine.  She’s just not given much to make any kind of impact.  Ana de Armas is the actor who really makes a splash in a brief moment dressed in a gorgeous evening gown while giving high kicks to bad guys and armed with an adorable naivety about her and a killer machine gun.  Her character is reminiscent of the Bond girls who elevated the tongue and cheek elements of the series.  In a three hour film, more room should have been left for de Armas to play.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw), Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and M (Ralph Fiennes) all return making for a solid support team for Bond.  It needs to be noted how well cast the Craig films always remained. During the five film series, each one of the characters had their memorable moments for sure.

The regrettable ingredients in No Time To Die lie in the lacking treatments of Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas for sure.  Forgivable for the most part however.  Still, the story steers into one angle that I wish it didn’t when a young child is brought into the fold.  Children in serious peril was never part of the Bond formula.  So, while this is another new convention for the long running series, I think it was a poor choice.  I see the necessity of the young character to the story, but was it ever really necessary to put a child amid massive gun play, car wrecks and explosions.  There was something a little unsettling about that aspect of the film and the imminent danger to the girl really isn’t needed to heighten any kind of suspense.  Rather than play dramatically, it moves a little too disturbing.  Early on in the film, another child is placed in disturbing peril as well.  The story options here just don’t seem altogether appropriate.

No Time To Die is an appreciated conclusion to Daniel Craig’s version of the character.  There are great puns for Bond to deliver.  His interactions with Q and M are biting and fun.  His love story portrayal with Madeleine works more solidly here than in the last film they shared together, and his tete a tete with the villains, Blofeld and Safin, are equally strong.  These different relationships broaden the dimensions of Bond.  He’s no longer a cookie cutter character.  There’s a motivation to the guy. 

Having seen the film twice, I have an even further appreciation for this new film.  Hans Zimmer comes in to do the original score and particularly salutes the unexpected favorite among fans, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with select notes and rhythms from that film.  Granted the script for No Time To Die makes obvious references as well.  I also appreciated the wink and nods to Bond’s very first adventure, Dr. No.  There was just a lot of smart, subtle honors presented here. 

Still, the best reference is left for one of the best lines in the film.  When Bond meets Felix’ partner ahead of a mission, Daniel Craig as 007 has to ask “Who’s the popular blond?”  After five hugely successful films, over a fifteen-year span, any one of us better know that the only blond that matters is “Bond.  James Bond.”

QUICK TAKE: Syriana (2005)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 72%

PLOT: A politically charged epic about the state of the oil industry in the hands of those personally involved and affected by it.

Syriana reminds me of one of those puzzles made out of twisted nails, where the challenge is to untangle them, even though it appears to be impossible.  The difference is, with Syriana, I don’t get tired of trying.  At least, not yet.

The movie is a pleasure to watch, but hard to explain.  It’s a convoluted tale that starts with an impending merger between two oil companies, detours into political and legal intrigue, and sprinkles in some religious fanaticism by the time we get to the end.  I’ve watched it five times, and I still have questions about the plot.  I JUST watched it, and I’m still not entirely sure who Christopher Plummer’s character is and why he matters at all to the story.

Normally, a movie this confusing would turn me off.  (Examples: Full Frontal [2002], The Fountain [2006], The Counselor [2013])  But when I watch Syriana, I get the sense that, underneath the twisty plot and maddeningly oblique dialogue, there lurks a great truth.  Maybe the plot is confusing because, really, the situation it’s describing is so confusing in real life.  Maybe any attempt to parse the complexities of U.S. relations with oil-producing countries is a fool’s gambit to begin with.  So the movie just jumps in with both feet and separates the watchers from the listeners.  You’ve really got to ACTIVELY listen for two hours to make ANY sense of the movie.

Maybe that’s not your thing.  Fair enough.  This is the kind of movie that I can’t defend on objective grounds.  You’re either gonna like it or not.  For myself, I get sucked into it every time I watch, even if I don’t understand it all 100%.  So.  There you go.