By Marc S. Sanders

William Shakespeare’s works will always remain timeless.  His accomplishments are simply magnetic.

If you have any love for live theater, you’ll likely have at least a fondness for John Madden’s Oscar winning film Shakespeare In Love.  I loved the movie.  Perhaps that is because as a moonlighting playwright, myself, I could relate to The Bard’s early dilemma in the film – writer’s block.  It’s a gnawing, aggravating experience to go through.  You have an urge to create.  You just don’t know where to begin.  Believe me Bill, I know what you’re going through.

This likely fictional telling of William Shakespeare’s process of conceiving Romeo & Juliet begins with two competing theaters who have purchased the rights to Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) newest play that he has titled Romeo & Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter, a comedy of course.  However, he has not yet written one page.  Not only does he suffer through his writer’s block, but William also has to endure the pressure of the theatre companies to stage and cast the play.  Geoffrey Rush and Martin Clunes are the scene stealing theatre owners who pester poor Bill for his script. 

My experiences in theatre allow me to also relate to the frustrations of staging a play.  Casting can be troubling if you don’t have the right selection of actors for the roles to be filled.  Huge egos can also be an annoyance.  Ben Affleck seems perfectly cast for that. (“What is the play, and what is my part?”)  In Shakespeare’s time, women are absolutely forbidden on the stage. As most theater presentations are intended to be comedic, men occupying the female roles only heightens the humor.  Still, as troubling as it is to cast the supporting roles with the available men of the company, including Ethel and her nurse, no one seems right for the role of Romeo. 

A fan of his, and a lover of theater, is Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), the daughter of a wealthy merchant.  She musters the courage to disguise herself as a man and attend an audition under the name of “Thomas Kent.”  William is immediately taken with Thomas’ stage presence and upon his pursuit of him, encounters Viola.  They are both immediately stricken with love for one another and soon the writer learns of Viola’s deceit and revels in trysts with her while they maintain the secret for the integrity of the play that he now has inspiration to continue writing to its grand conclusion.  Viola is the muse that William has been seeking.

One problem beyond the usual obstacles in producing a play for performance time comes in the form of Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), a snobby cash poor aristocrat, who claims Viola as his soon to be bride as a means of earning a stature of wealth through her family.  Wessex is a demanding and unreasonable fiend of course, and Firth delivers an effectively cruel villain against the heroism found in Fiennes’ Shakespeare.

As the play is rehearsed and the romance between Viola and William continues to blossom, the drama is not left only on the stage.  A grand scene bordering on slapstick occurs when the competing theaters engage in a swashbuckling dual.  Props are tossed, swords are swung and feathered pillows explode.  Later, adventure on the level of Errol Flynn occurs with swordplay between William and Wessex within the theater and its trappings.  Screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard inventively imply that theater, as we know it today, was simply inspired by what Shakespeare encounters in his own life.  When I conduct playwrighting workshops at my local community theater, I always tell the class that you have to “write what you know.”  Shakespeare In Love precisely demonstrates that mantra, even if it is elevated for the theatrics of cinema.  After all, this movie proudly boasts its silly comedy as much as it embraces its romance which thankfully never drowns in sap.

A wonderfully well edited centerpiece cuts between Viola and William’s passion for one another against their stage rehearsals with Viola in her guise as “Thomas Madden.”  In bed, they romance each other with recognizable dialogue, originally written by the real Shakespeare, that then makes its way into William’s pages for his script in progress.  This is where Gwyneth Paltrow really shines as she is momentarily depicted as the lovely Viola and then we see her in the guise of “Thomas,” the naturally gifted actor perfect for William’s Romeo character.  Paltrow’s range with the Oscar winning performance is done so well in this sequence alone.

The final act of the film is joyously assembled.  Behind the scenes, actor and writer William Shakespeare stresses over a stuttering actor who has entered the stage to begin the play.  Can he get through the scene?  What about the poor actor who is stricken with stage fright, and suddenly can’t go on as Juliet?  The audience is left in a rapturous trance with open mouths of silence and tears, following the suicides of the lovers on stage.  Yet, they don’t know if they should applaud at the end of the play.  The actors don’t know how to respond to the applause.  As well, are we given an opportunity to bear witness where the well-known phrase “The show must go on!” originated from?

It’s also necessary to point out one of the most favorite side characters to ever grace a film.  Judi Dench is the staunch and intimidating Queen Elizabeth I.  Arguably, this brief role, that I believe amounts to no more than five and half minutes on screen, carried Dench to not only Oscar glory but a celebrated favorite character actress for years to come.  Dench demonstrates how fun acting can be even if she is wrapped up in layers of 16th century wardrobe and caked on makeup.  Her first scene has her laughing at a poor actor performing with an uncooperative poodle.  Her last scene has her tearing down the romantic gesture of men laying down their coats for her to cross over a mud puddle.  It’s an unforgettable appearance in the film.

I take issue with one element of the picture, however.  Forgive me for going against the opinion of the Academy Awards, but Shakespeare In Love would have been an even grander experience for me had it not been for an overproduced and intrusive original score from Oscar winner Stephen Warbeck.  The music cuts into the film too much.  It borders on obnoxious.  Over and over, I was telling myself, these scenes hold together beautifully without any of the blaring horns and trumpets from Warbeck’s orchestra.  This film has an outstanding cast of actors and often I felt like they were being upstaged by the soundtrack of the film.  There are magnificent scenes with witty dialogue delivered by the likes of Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck, along with Dench, Firth, Paltrow, Fiennes and Rush.  I could literally envision these moments working based simply on their performances alone.  Imagine watching a live stage performance, only elevator music cuts in at the most inopportune times. 

Still, I refuse to end on a sour note for Shakespeare In Love.  It is worthy of a standing ovation.  John Madden’s film is a grand production in cast performance, art direction, costume and makeup.  The script by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard is brilliantly clever and witty as they weave inspired references from Shakespeare’s various sonnets, poems and plays into rich, everyday dialogue. 

Sustaining the value of performing arts can easily begin with a viewing of Shakespeare In Love in a school curriculum.  Even better would be to adapt this film into a stage play.  I think to watch Shakespeare In Love, live on stage, would be a wonderous experience.


By Marc S. Sanders

Why can’t Disney adapt a good book anymore? They massacred A Wrinkle In Time. Now they’ve taken a hatchet to Artemis Fowl, a Disney + byproduct that was shamelessly shelled out during the height of the pandemic.

There had to have been a more fleshed out, extended film here. Scenes are taped together with no bridge. All I can imagine is some suit insisted on cutting the guts out of director Kenneth Branagh’s film to ensure that its target kid audience would sit still, at least for 95 minutes. The same line of thinking had to have been applied to Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle In Time. Both films introduce characters that serve no purpose or make no sense. One character here shows up just to shout “Artemis!”

Speaking of the title character, what is he really? We are told by the narrator known as Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) that Artemis Jr (an uninteresting kid actor named Ferdia Shaw who must’ve gotten the part cuz he looks good with sunglasses) is one of the greatest twelve-year-old geniuses of all time. He literally has an answer for any question that comes his way. So we’re told! Fact is, all this kid does is shoot a laser gun and wear a black Tarantino suit and tie. Never once in this film did I see Artemis Fowl demonstrate any of his genius, mind bending abilities. He surfs in the ocean outside his Ireland mansion. Does that merit the aptitude of a genius?

Artemis Sr (Colin Farrell) is apparently believed to be a thief of rare, priceless collectibles. After telling his son about some tale involving fairies that live in an underworld, he is soon kidnapped. It is now up to Junior with his trusty butler (Nonso Anosi) to rescue him. This butler doesn’t measure up to Batman’s Alfred. All this butler does is introduce young Artemis to a basement he was never aware of. Mulch also explains that if you call him Butler, he’ll snap you in two. Too bad we never got to see that. (Why tell us, dammit????) Then….AND I AM GOING TO SPOIL THIS SURPRISE….he dies. Tears must flow of course, but all I ever thought of was that gee, I hardly knew this guy.

Artemis Jr must recover a MacGuffin called the “Auculus.” How many times must I hear the word Auculus in a span of an hour and a half? The Auculus. The Auculus. THE AUCULUS!!!!!! Enough already. The filmmakers must believe that the more you say it, well then the more important the Auculus must be. My question: WHAT IN THE HELL DOES THIS AUCULUS EVEN DO?????

Judi Dench is here but only for the purpose of wearing a green leather trench coat that appears to weigh her down and doing what I think is likely a terrible enunciation of an elderly Irish lady’s accent. She plays the General of the fairy army. Dench is awful in this role and appears as lost in the effects as I was. Half the time I didn’t know what was going on. All of the time Judi Dench didn’t know what was going on.

The one main fairy is Holly Short (Lara McDonald) sent on a mission to go to Artemis’ mansion. Once she gets there, I truly lost track of why she was there to begin with. However, she seemed to have more activities to do than the title character is ever given. Once again, the super genius Artemis just shoots a gun. Holly at least gets to fly around with her motorized wings; yes, this is a fairy with an engine to activate her wings.

Artemis Fowl is a gorgeous looking picture. The special CGI effects are truly dazzling to look at with incredible color, but only if I’m watching a fireworks display at Magic Kingdom. Within a story, I have no clue what purpose any of the visuals serve or what possible results could come of anything. Nothing is explained here; much like this Auculus I talked about earlier.

The culture of the film is a failure as well. We are shown that this story is rooted out of Ireland. Where’s the Irish inspiration though? There’s no sense of inspiring traditions to learn from or appreciate. The soundtrack is hardly Celtic. Truly criminal is casting a Jewish Josh Gad and an English Judi Dench. For authencity’s sake, couldn’t actual Irish talent have been used instead of terrible dialects from marquee names?

There had to be a better film here. I’m talking a 2 1/2 hour film with solid, interesting exposition with mystery and questions like the first Harry Potter film. Nothing is of any consequence or comprehension here. How could I be so lost with this film?

This is a pattern for Disney of late. They acquire the rights to some wonderful children’s stories and then just mix some kind of slop in a slow cooker. A Wrinkle In Time, John Carter, and now this dreck. I don’t understand though. If the studio is so committed to packing so much into Avengers and Star Wars movies then why can’t they do the same with its other properties? I promise that kids will sit engaged with a longer film if it’s constructed with care. I know it.

Artemis Fowl is a squandered opportunity. They had the beloved novel by Eoin Colfer to springboard off of, and I know, without even reading the book, that they disregarded almost everything that made this story so special. It couldn’t be more apparent.

Artemis Fowl is a textbook example of when Hollywood does a complete disservice to its author as well as its target audience. It’s a criminal adaptation. It’s a betrayal of the intelligence that kids really come equipped with. It’s a terrible violation of culture and it’s an awful, awful, awful film.


By Marc S. Sanders

Within the first three minutes of Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, there is impactful transition that goes reverse in time.  Van Morrison supplies the music to the film and it opens in bright color capturing glimpses of the thriving city.  There are well paved highways with ongoing traffic.  Fresh painted construction cranes stand in front of a blue sky with a warm sun.  Buildings have beautiful architecture.  There are pieces of eye-popping art within the city.  It looks like the most gorgeous vacation destination.  Even the opening credits are stenciled in nice gold font.  Then Branagh’s camera lifts up over a wall and the screen reverses back in time to August, 1969 where it’s depicted in black and white.  A sweet blond-haired boy named Buddy (Jude Hill) is holding a stick and a trash can lid as he slays an imaginary dragon, but then reality dawns upon him and violent riots erupt on the street he lives on. Cars are set on fire, windows are smashed, bricks are thrown, and Molotov cocktails burst into flames.  What we see as prosperity now, had a history at one time, and history is not always something to embrace.  Belfast reminds us that it was ugly before it got better.

Belfast, Ireland in the late 60s/early 70s is shown through the eyes of Buddy.  Branagh never has Buddy be forced to grow up so fast, despite the inflamed conflicts between Protestants and Catholics living in Ireland.  He plays in the park.  He watches Star Trek on TV.  He does his math homework with his Pop (Ciaran Hinds). He’s a little bit of a troublemaker as he pockets chocolate from the local candy store.  He also escorts his grandmother (Judi Dench) to the movies and live theater.  He’s a happy little kid, but he’s also wise to the new world thrust upon his doorstep.  It’s hard not to see the make shift barrier walls of junk at the end of the block and the sometimes-questioning policemen.

His Pa (Jamie Dornan) leaves for two-week trips for work, but when he’s home, Buddy eyes upon his Pa’s childhood friend intimidating him to join the cause to rid the area of Catholicism.  His Pa is put into an “either you’re for us or you’re against us” dilemma.  Pa does not sway so easily. 

His Ma (Catriona Balfe) tries to keep things as normal as possible.  A surprising moment occurs when Buddy gets swept up in looting a grocery store with the rioters.  He runs home with a box of laundry detergent.  Ma will not stand for that and escorts him back to the store to return the item.  Ma gets a full account at this moment of what’s become of their hometown when all she wants to do is properly discipline and raise her child.

As tensions rise over the coming months, Ma debates with Pa about whether to leave Belfast for a new life in the United Kingdom.  I think this becomes more traumatic for Buddy than the random violence he periodically witnesses.  He’d have to leave his grandparents and his school and his friends.  As well, he’s been working so hard to keep his grades up so that he can sit at the front of class, next to the young girl he pines for.  They are working on a science project that recounts the historic first trip to the moon.

Belfast is a rather short film, but Branagh’s script offers much.  It focuses on a piece of mid-twentieth century European history that I was never familiar with.  The film gives you the minimum details through conversations and sound bites from news broadcasts.  That’s fine, but my attention span was waning at times.  It’s not fair for me to criticize the picture this way.  I just couldn’t relate to the culture of the community, and so I just was not engaged on this one and only viewing.

It’s clearly well-made, and Branagh presents a convincing depiction primarily of this one residential block that this family lives on.  While Buddy’s exploits are endearing and there are especially good performances all around, the riot violence is scary with harsh sound editing of screams and shattering window panes.  The cinematography is strong, especially when it contrasts with color.  The choice is made to depict a live performance of A Christmas Carol in color while the seated audience with Buddy and his grandmother stays in black and white.  Branagh does a cool effect by having bright orange stage lights reflect in Dench’s eye glasses which remain in monochrome.  When the family goes to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the movie screen is in color like the film they are watching.  The characters of Belfast remain in black and white, though.  This family and others like them, remember these tumultuous times in a dull, gray perspective.  It was a non-celebratory and often harsh way to live.  The escapism they partake will always be preserved in promising and welcome colors, however.  This is a fantastic storytelling device.

As Kenneth Branagh wrote and directed the piece, it’s clear that he strove for his exact vision and he has a personal achievement he should be proud of.  There doesn’t appear to be any compromise to his picture.  It’s very well directed with its cast performances, the town extras and the technical choices made.  Yet, the film never grabbed me emotionally.  Belfast exists to simply to show how this family survived day to day with turmoil surrounding them.  If anything, at least I learned something new within the confines of Ireland from fifty years ago.


By Marc S. Sanders

Simon Curtis directs a glimpse into the life of Marilyn Monroe with an exquisitely cast Michelle Williams in the title role of My Week With Marilyn.

The film is told through the perspective of 23 year old Colin Clarke played under dream like naivety from Eddie Redmayne. Clarke embarks on joining the production crew of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (pompously over played by Kenneth Branagh) newest film that he is directing and starring in, opposite Monroe. When Marilyn’s new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, returns to the states, Colin is drawn into Marilyn’s seduction; protecting her from an intimidating Olivier and tolerating her drug and alcohol use.

This film features an outstanding cast of who’s who from Dame Judi Dench to Emma Watson to Dougray Scott, Julia Ormand (playing a past her prime Vivienne Leigh), Toby Jones and Dominic Cooper. An amazing cast and amazing performances all around.

Still, I just wasn’t wild about the film. With her life startlingly cut short, Marilyn Monroe is arguably one of the biggest enigmas to come out of Hollywood, and yet this tiny glimpse into her life just wasn’t interesting enough for me.

Fully aware of her impending doom to come, the sad foreshadowing of pills on her dresser, and her unfamiliar stupors didn’t drive anything for the character. It all becomes repetitious with nothing new to say. Colin’s virginal experience with this celebrity tryst never drives anywhere but back into Marilyn’s bed after he’s requested to appear at any given hour. This occurs again and again. The film just doesn’t progress past these moments. I found myself saying “I’ve seen this already!”

Did Marilyn learn anything from this fleeting moment in her lifetime? Did Colin? Maybe Colin got to witness the dichotomy of the privately ill Marilyn versus her ability to turn on the public charm with curvaceous ease and a wide lipstick smile. Yet, I have to wonder what came of it for Colin, thereafter.

Redmayne is quite good in his naive innocence. He inhabits nearly every scene since the story is told from Colin’s experience. Storywise though, what was the point of all this really?

Williams as Marilyn is astonishing. As good at playing a Hollywood legend as when Cate Blanchett deservedly won her Oscar for playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. My one wish is that Williams accepted the role with a much more dimensional and nuanced script.

Perhaps because of the mystery that always seemed to surround Marilyn, Williams will never get the chance at playing the bombshell in something better. Marilyn’s life was so dubious and questionable. What filmmakers would be brave enough to truly make claim of how the starlet lived and how she died?

I can wish for another Marilyn portrayal to come one day, with Michelle Williams in the role, but alas I won’t hold my breath.


By Marc S. Sanders

It’s fortunate that the success of Mike Myers’ Austin Powers franchise did not wash out the best features of the James Bond series. Had it done so, we wouldn’t have been treated to the outstanding production of Daniel Craig’s film, Spectre, with an opportunity to face off against a reinvented Ernst Stavro Blofeld played perfectly by Christoph Waltz. One of my few complaints however, is that we didn’t get enough material for the two-time Oscar winner.

Director Sam Mendes returns following Skyfall to reinvigorate the original traditions and blueprints that attracted audiences to 007 in 1962 with Dr. No. Blofeld lays in wait in his secret fortress of a lair housed within a desert crater (an upgrade from the volcano in You Only Live Twice), ready to offer exquisite hospitality to Bond and his love interest before providing an unrequested guided tour of his technology and hideous plots. No, he never had to show Bond anything. Yet Blofeld was never bashful, with or without his cat. Waltz is the right choice for this 21st century iteration of the staple villain. Gone is most of the camp presented in the character during the later Connery films. Most of the camp actually. He does still have the white cat after all.

Craig remains a great 007. The role is not a mimic of past Bonds. Craig is everything of the “blunt instrument” that author Ian Fleming described. Thanks to his physique and some great fight choreography, a marvelous fisticuffs scene occurs between him and brutish Dave Bautista aboard a moving train. Craig always looking great in the white dinner jacket tux, even while he’s getting pushed around.

Lea Seydoux is serviceable as the Bond girl, Madeline Swann, daughter of an old enemy of Bond with information necessary in the pursuit. Seydoux is not the best Bond girl. Others have offered more intellect beyond the beauty. Still, that might only be due to the limits of the script. She’s a good actor nonetheless.

Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are great as Q and Moneypenny. The roles have stepped up in frankness and skills that stretch out more than a traditional one scene cameo. Whishaw as Q is more of a know it all and Harris as Moneypenny reminds the audience that she has a life outside the office.

Ralph Fiennes is good too as M. Though I do wish his storyline was better here where he is dealing with an over abundant policy in complete government surveillance. The antagonist against Fiennes is nothing special and as quick as this storyline started, you knew how it was going to end. Still, I like watching Fiennes in the role.

Spectre has great scenes, most especially the signature opening taking place on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City that culminates in the destruction of a city block before Bond disables two bad guys aboard a spiraling helicopter. Steady cam and very clear edits make this a knockout.

I also appreciate the gag that not all things work accordingly for Bond. He orders his signature Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, and is denied as he is at a bar located in an isolated strict health retreat. As well, his Aston Martin is not as reliable thanks to empty hidden machine guns hidden behind the logo in the trunk. Not everything comes as easy for Craig’s Bond, and that allows for some tongue in cheek humor.

I liked Spectre more on a repeat viewing. Mendes shot a gorgeous looking globetrotting picture of Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangiers and clear evening London.

Considering the next installment is likely to be Craig’s last film is disheartening. With Spectre, a summation of all the prior Craig films is assembled leading to what has been a great miniseries within the storied franchise. I’ve liked following this James Bond. There are revelations about the character including his orphan history, his faults and his coldness that only serves to protect the Queen’s country. The Daniel Craig Bond is the best following the very different albeit wry interpretation of Sean Connery.

Still, I’ll take what I can get, and once again happily look down the target scope aimed right for 007 before the blood comes pouring down.


By Marc S. Sanders

Skyfall is a great James Bond film. One of the best. However, …it has one major shortcoming that always gnaws at me. Regrettably, it has a contrived middle section that steals some of the magic away from the film. Yes, for a moment, my suspension of disbelief is robbed from me.

Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007 has become a favorite among fans and movie goers. Craig is magnificent in a primarily dramatic turn in the part. Following a fantastic action packed opening where Bond pursues an assassin through the streets of Istanbul, Turkey (widely known as a favorite locale of Ian Fleming), the chase involves cars, motorcycles, rooftops, fruit stands and trains for well edited shootouts and fist fights. Alas, the assassin gets away and Bond is left for dead.

Following an attempt on the life of M (Judi Dench in her absolute best portrayal in the role), Bond returns for active duty. However, he’s not what he used to be. His aim is off and his body is worn. The question remains if Bond is ready to be back in the field.

The plot centers on a bitter former MI6 agent named Silva (Javier Bardem in a potentially Oscar worthy performance) out to seek revenge on M for the sins he believes she’s committed.

It’s funny. The Austin Powers films, and even film critic Roger Ebert, would always draw attention to the fact the villain would just longingly speechify when they have all the time in the world to just shoot Bond dead and move on with their devious plot. Silva is a response to that issue. He has a mutual respect for Bond, and you can see he’d rather keep him alive for the time being to allow the game to keep running. It’s not said outright, mind you. Yet that’s what I took away from the character. A superbly written monologue to introduce Silva at the midway point of the film compares him and Bond to the last of two rats surviving a trap. Which rat will win out?

It’s also quite special that Bardem shapes his villainous role with a homosexual tendency. Silva is fashionable and proudly dons a bleach blonde hairstyle. He gleefully rubs Bond’s legs and opens his shirt to examine his scarred chest, pronouncing that Bond must ponder his “training” at the moment. Silva is beyond the typical femme fatale. It’s different and it’s time the Bond franchise acknowledges the differences in people. A welcome trait for a major character.

The plot set up of Skyfall‘s devices are ingenious in simplicity with a basic revenge tale but also with broadening the legacy and responsibilities of the M character. What Casino Royale did for a story arc for James Bond, Skyfall does for M, and with Dench in the role it works beautifully. She must answer to superiors, like a very welcome Ralph Fiennes, for the death of several agents and a bombing of MI6 headquarters. She must resist the pressure of early retirement. This is the most that M has ever had to contend with personally, and it’s here at last.

My one reservation with the film occurs just after the midway point. Silva somehow arranged to get apprehended and then managed to escape, don a police uniform, travel through London’s tube, and time an explosion on a runaway train ready to crash into James Bond who is on his trail. Thereafter, he’s able to locate the interrogation session where M is making a public statement in her defense and try to kill her. There are way too many factors at play that work too conveniently to Silva’s advantage. It’s a tension filled sequence. It looks great. It has great action and effects, but it’s overly contrived. I wish the script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan made this middle section a little more believable.

Sam Mendes (American Beauty) directs a terrific, action-packed film filled with more drama and minimal tongue in cheek that the series is primarily known for. I was grateful for the more serious Bond. Like the other Craig installments as well as the Dalton films, Skyfall offers a different and fresher approach.

Granted the ending plays more like an Arnold Schwarzenegger action piece from the 1980/90s, but it’s highly entertaining, well edited and well shot, nonetheless.

I highly recommend Skyfall for its outstanding cast that also includes Ben Whishaw as a nerdy variation of Q, the gadget man, and Naomie Harris in a secret role that has a satisfying payoff. As well, the standard revenge story works quite well here when you have Bardem, Fiennes, Craig and most especially Dench doing some really top notch acting with terrific dialogue. Mendes is a stage director first, and it shows quite admirably here.

Again, Skyfall is not the best Bond film but it’s at least one of the best.


By Marc S. Sanders

A writer’s strike never bodes well for a film. So the 22nd installment in the James Bond franchise, Quantum Of Solace, suffered because of it. Daniel Craig returns in his second film as Bond which begins as a direct sequel to my favorite film in the series, Casino Royale. Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) directs, but not very well.

Much of the action scenes are very shaky and choppy. Forster seems to have adopted Paul Greengrass’ technique that works so effectively in the Jason Bourne films and United 93. However, Forster does not make clear what is occurring. You can’t recreate Picasso with crayons.

The opening is a rush job of a car chase as Bond races away from enemies in his Aston Martin. Machine guns and heavy traffic and construction sites make way for his car to gradually fall apart but it’s hard to really see how the car becomes damaged in the first place. Just when exactly did the driver’s side door come off? There’s lots of spinning out of control and dirt flying with bombastic gun fire and engine revving. It’s all sensory overload to hide the preciseness in the high speed chase.

Later, Bond is attempting to rescue the girl Camille (boring name, boring girl) played by Olga Kurylenko when she’s held captive on a boat. He jumps into a motor boat and the chase is on. Bond fends off the bad guy by tossing a rope with a hook on it. Just tossing it up. Suddenly the bad guy’s boat flips over. What exactly happened here? How did the rope take out that boat? I didn’t see the connection. Film is visual. So show me the fundamentals from A to Z, please.

The story involves Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) who appears to be an environmentalist with interest in a pipeline in Bolivia. (Bolivia????) At first Bond is under the impression this pipeline must be for oil. Later, it’s realized that Greene intends to charge the country enormous prices as he takes over the water supply. (Roman Polanski’s Chinatown did this all much, much better.). In exchange, Greene will assist a tyrannical Bolivian General in becoming President. This General raped and murdered Camille’s family. Naturally, she wants revenge. As Bond pursues Greene, he comes to learn that Greene is a member of a secret organization called Quantum. Hence the strange title.

Bond follows through with this assignment while trying to determine why his past love (Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale) was murdered, and after MI6 is infiltrated.

The story is kind of all over the place. It has a lot of interesting threads like Bond’s need for revenge, Camille’s need for revenge and a secret organization that MI6, nor the CIA, were ever aware of. Threads remain hanging as threads though if a writer’s strike interferes.

The story for Quantum Of Solace hardly gets fleshed out. We learn nothing of the organization, Quantum. When Bond finishes his mission with Camille, she just gets out of the car and walks away into the middle of nowhere. Where is she going exactly? The climactic battle takes place in a luxury hotel located in the middle of the desert. Unless this is Las Vegas, who goes to a hotel in the middle of the desert? I mean like ever?????

The film is a tremendous disappointment after the creatively artistic success of Casino Royale. Often sequels do not live up to their predecessors, but Quantum really goes off the rails. This film was a make-up as you go.

Craig is fine in the role of Bond; consistent with his first film. Almaric is okay as the villain, but never given much to do. A second woman comes into play, named Fields played by Gemma Arterton, assigned by M to bring Bond out of service. She seems to have a personality that the Camille character lacks, but she’s hardly given much screen time, save for a nightcap with Bond and later an image that harkens back to Goldfinger.

Jeffrey Wright (a great Felix Leighter, that I have not talked about yet) is belabored to share scenes with an obnoxious CIA partner played David Harbour. These two guys seem to be acting in a different movie.

Marc Forster was given a toolbox but didn’t know which end of the hammer to hold with Quantum Of Solace. There are too many things wrong with this film to justify any merits it may have.

Maybe the most interesting moment happens in the epilogue scene as we learn more about Vesper’s past. The scene has next to no relevance with much of the main story beforehand. Still, why couldn’t this film simply stay on this trajectory from the beginning? This is a thread worth pulling on and then tying off.

In other words, Vesper Lynd is far more interesting than the water supply in…ahem…Bolivia. 


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 Marc S. Sanders

Once the 2nd half of Die Another Day arrived, Pierce Brosnan’s interim as James Bond was all but wrapped up. This was gonna be his last film after this misfire, and the craftspeople at EON Productions knew something had to change.

What happened here? Director Lee Tamahori was on the right path from the get go with some real world parallels and surprising elements for the long lasting franchise. Then, the film goes sci fi gonzo with some kind of robotic armor for the villain, a space satellite that harnesses the power of the sun, a palace literally held together by ice, an invisible car, DNA switcheroos, and James Bond kite surfing to avoid a solar laser beam.

This movie got ridiculous really, really fast.

Early on, 007 covertly surfs his way onto the coast of North Korea to intercept an arms trade in exchange for diamonds. He’s captured and held for the following 14 months. When the British make a trade for Bond with a North Korean prisoner with a bad case of facial diamond acne, Bond is no longer trusted by M (Judi Dench) and he must become resourceful on his own in stopping whoever betrayed him before his capture. He also needs to figure out what a wealthy industrialist named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) is conjuring up in Iceland, with a literal ice palace hosted to Bond as well as a slew of investors and dignitaries.

Die Another Day began with a grounded intent. However, the stunts and gadgets that are introduced later in the film fly way off the rails, even for a James Bond film. Bond has always completed his mission by ridiculous measure. However, when your hero and villain are on an out-of-control airplane that is being torn apart by a solar beam from space, ala hammy CGI, well, reader how does 007 even survive that?

Another ridiculous plot element involves DNA transfers. So Gustav Graves, a man who claims he never sleeps, may not be who he claims to be. Graves is the villain here and Stephens plays him like a spoiled brat. I didn’t like him and the best Bond films are primarily weighted by the bad guy. For some reason he has to wear this bionic suit of some kind to control the satellite. A keyboard and mouse weren’t as efficient, I guess. It’s also capable of electrocuting Bond; lots of zig zaggy tesla/lightning bolts surround Bond and so on. You really don’t have to see it to believe it.

The Bond girl is Halle Berry and she’s pretty good as an American agent who goes by the name of Jinx. Yes, there’s time made for the two agents to have some flirtations together, but like Michelle Yeoh before her, Berry gets in on the action.

Man oh man! WOW!!!! Die Another Day started so good and then it fell apart. While I don’t think it is the worst of the series, it borders towards the bottom of the list. It’s a shame really. If only it stayed a little more grounded, maybe it wouldn’t have died on any day.


By Marc S. Sanders

The 19th installment in the James Bond series is The World Is Not Enough from 1999. By now Pierce Brosnan is comfortably established in the role and an expert at pun delivery and suave debonair swagger.

Michael Apted more or less delivers a standard fare. Nothing new here, really, with the exception of John Cleese (perhaps playing the role of R) as the would be successor to exiting mainstay Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the gadget specialist. I wish Cleese could have lasted longer than just his two film internship. He’s hilarious and well suited for the super spy’s tongue in cheek universe.

The story is similar to other Bond films. The one who we eventually realize to be the main villain wants to wipe out oil pipelines so that only their pipe is the only one exclusive to the region in the European west of the world. Auric Goldfinger had a similar idea with his affection for gold. A View To Kill aimed for this with Silicon Valley. Gold, silicone and now, here the commodity is oil.

The World Is Not Enough has a lot of crazy stunts and gadgets that we are always eager to see, such as a boat chase along the Thames River, snow ski escapes from parachuting snow mobiles (a fun sequence), deactivating bombs within underground mines and pipelines, underwater heroics in and out of a submarine and another buzz saw device, only this is a big one connected to a helicopter that is not just for cutting down forestry. BMW also makes its 3rd appearance in the franchise with a spiffy convertible.

The Bond gals are also up to the task. Sophie Marceau is Electra King. A one time kidnapping victim, she has taken over her father’s oil business following his assassination, which Bond is investigating. Marceau is beautiful as expected, but she’s got a great, mysterious way about her.

Denise Richards is fine (QUIET, you haters!) as a geologist swept up in assisting Bond. Her name, Dr. Christmas Jones, is deliberately laughable but she’s works well with Brosnan because there’s hardly any approach at seduction. They’re partners more than anything else. At least, they are until the end of the picture.

I do wish there was more to do for Robert Carlyle, though, as the bad guy Renard. He is impervious to pain thanks to a bullet resting in his brain. He is rapidly heading to death without any sensory feeling, but he gradually gets stronger with each passing day. I don’t know how you diagnose that, but in a James Bond picture, you take it at face value. Carlyle looks perfectly dastardly but he’s hardly on screen and has barely any exchanges with Brosnan’s Bond. When the real villain is finally revealed, Renard doesn’t serve much purpose any longer.

Judi Dench is back again as M. She is positively one of the best casting choices in the entire franchise. Bond remains a chauvinist (early on seducing his gorgeous doctor during an examination), but Dench as M counterpoints that stance and it is more than welcome. She is given more material here as well.

The World Is Not Enough didn’t reinvent the passenger ejector seat or the exploding pen per the nature of 007 films. Yet, it has a neat twist midway. Yeah, you might see it coming, but still it’s appreciated to keep the story developments ongoing. As well, the action plays well with a very good cast.

Brosnan was 3-0 by this point with the franchise.