Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench
Directed By: Marc Forster
Written By: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
MGM, 2008
PG-13; 106 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


Let me begin by saying that the first James Bond movie I ever saw was The Living Daylights. And I liked it, at the time, and the following License to Kill. I realize that these were not considered some of the better Bond films--and aren't even now--but these were my introduction to the genre as a whole. And I never could find it in me to enjoy the Sean Connery or Roger Moore movies. Blasphemy, I know. But I couldn't make it past the production values and the obvious age of those films.

And then Timmy Dalton gave way to Pierce Brosnan, whom I had known as Remington Steele. Which was perfect, to my way of thinking, at least until I saw the movies, most of which were awful (though I sort of liked the one with Michelle Yeoh).

So then Daniel Craig arrives on the scene. And he doesn't look at all like the suave James Bond everyone knows and loves; he's not slick, he's not glib in the face of danger. He's gritty and earthy and HE'S PERFECT AS BOND.

Or, at least, he's perfect as the early Bond, the one getting his start in Casino Royale. Here's a man who makes mistakes. And he has to live and deal with the fact that others often pay the ultimate price for those mistakes. And it's not something he just takes in stride; it's a real weight on him.

Quantum of Solace picks up not long after Casino Royale left off, and so we're watching Craig's Bond deal with the immediate aftermath of those events, and we're watching the character being shaped into what he's destined to become: that polished agent who will one day know that he wants his martini shaken, not stirred. But in the meantime, he's still just tasting his options.

My husband has an interesting theory that this new take on Bond wouldn't have been possible or attempted if the Jason Bourne movies (The Bourne Identity et al.) hadn't been so hugely successful. He may be right on that.

Now while I really loved Casino Royale, it meant that QoS had a lot to live up to . . . which it didn't. It simply wasn't as good, though I concede that would have been truly difficult to manage. But the character trajectory is headed in the right direction, and this Bond's relationship with M (Dench) is also a joy to watch--those tidbits of the movie melt in your mouth, they're written so well.

Overall, QoS appeared to be a means to an end, a way to put Bond on the path and continue to establish his character. It also came across as a series of action sequences, during which I could only think, And to think they have to set all that up again for another take after this one . . . That alone must take all day! Which is to say, while many of the actions sequences in Casino Royale were riveting, many of those in QoS were not so much, therefore my mind wandered. And yet QoS is far shorter in length than Casino Royale!

In the end, a recommended movie--but don't watch it too late or when you're too tired, because it's not SO great that you might not nod off from time to time.

Movie Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Billy Connolly, Amanda Peet
Directed By: Chris Carter
Written By: Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter
20th Century Fox, 2008
PG-13; 104 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


I was as big an X-Files fan as any when the drama first began airing on FOX back in the early 1990s. And, oh, I had the biggest crush on David Duchovny.

Okay, so that was my disclaimer. Let's begin by looking at it this way: I Want to Believe is way better than that Fight the Future movie was. In that IWTB at least made sense from start to finish.

Still, the movie left me with that feeling of a class reunion. It was like, Awww, look, they're all grown up now. Duchovny's Fox Mulder and Anderson's Dana Scully are in a steady relationship--well, as steady as can be considering Mulder has become a kind of hermit while Scully works at a Catholic hospital . . . Which reminds me that I had a hermit crab named Mulder, but that's something else again.

So here is how the story plays out: Mulder is underground for fear of prosecution from the FBI for . . . something. Probably had to do with the television show, but I quit watching after about the fifth season because it had ceased to be coherent. And then Duchovny left, so it was like, what was the point? Anyway, the FBI come to Scully--who evidently is not in any trouble of the sort that requires her to hide--asking her to contact Mulder on their behalf because they need his help with something, er, spooky.

Turns out there's a convicted pedophile priest (Connolly) who has psychic visions that may or may not help the FBI locate an abducted agent. The FBI has promised to drop all charges against Mulder if he'll help. He's not interested, but he finally agrees after Scully encourages him to quit being so isolated already.

Well, like any addict, once Mulder's back in, he's in all the way. And Scully quickly begins to regret and resent it. Their relationship begins to crumble.

And here's where I had a small problem: because the movie had only just introduced me to this relationship between Mulder and Scully--that would be the grown-up, living-together relationship--it kind of didn't matter to me that it was now close to being pulled apart. After all, back when I knew them, they weren't "together" in that way anyway. Also, while the tension between Mulder and Scully back on the show used to be HOT, it didn't seem so now. The actors only seemed to be going through the familiar paces, without the investment required to make it all seem real and true. Maybe we were supposed to feel like they were just that comfortable with each other after being together so long, but they didn't even seem to be connecting in any meaningful way on that level.

The story itself, along with a subplot involving a patient of Scully's at the hospital where she works, is only moderately interesting. Connolly, however, does a fine job of commanding the scenes he is in, particularly when playing off Anderson's skeptical Scully. It's weird to think I used to know Connolly only as a comedian, and then as the guy who took over on Head of the Class when Johnny Fever--or Howard Hesseman if you prefer--left. In IWTB, he shows an ability to take on dramatic material.

In the end, the movie didn't show any quality that required a theatrical release; it came across as something that might have made a good episode, or maybe just a special two-hour television event.

Movie Review: Pineapple Express

Starring: Seth Rogan, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Written By: Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg [story by Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg]
R; 111 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


I can't say I'm any fan of the kind of comedy that Rogan and Apatow are best known for; I liked Knocked Up but didn't see in it the kind of masterpiece so many others touted it as being. I didn't bother with Superbad, didn't find Walk Hard funny in the least, and turned off You Don't Mess with the Zohan after about 20 minutes of waiting for it to find some kind of direction.

So my expectations for Pineapple Express weren't particularly high. Which may be exactly why I liked it--simply because I didn't much expect to. But after the rather hilarious skit on Oscar night, I felt like I should see it.

The plot is rote and mundane, but that's not the important part of this movie. It's the characters and their interactions . . . And, yes, the fact that they're high while crazy things are happening does add a certain something. James Franco in particular is the bright spot here; his role as drug-dealer (and habitually high user) Saul steals every scene he's in. And he has good chemistry with Rogan's straight-man character Dale.

Here are the bare bones of the plot: Dale's job is to serve subpoenas, and in the meantime he enjoys getting high. Saul is his dealer. But while out to serve papers one night, Dale witnesses a murder (and a cop is involved with the killing), and with no one else to run to, he goes to Saul. The two of them then light out on a series of capers as they attempt to avoid being cornered by either murderous hitmen or the police. Hilarity ensues.

Secondary to all this is that Dale has a high school girlfriend whose parents he's supposed to meet for the first time at a dinner at her house, etc. This was weak at best, seemingly thrown in only because they felt the need for some love story and/or female role--aside from Rosie Perez, who plays the crooked cop.

Gary Cole (who will always be Satan to me) does an interesting turn as the kingpin behind the murder. I almost wish we'd seen more of his character, and maybe a bit more of Ed Begley, Jr., who plays Girlfriend's Dad to strong comic results.

I give Pineapple Express four stars NOT for originality--it plays out like something that could have come out in the late 80s or any time in the 90s maybe--but for the entertainment factor brought in by good interplay between actors.


Book Review: Courting Trouble

Deeanne Gist
Bethany House, 2007
330 pages
trade paperback


I failed to notice when I picked this up off the library shelf that it was a Bethany House book. I have no problem with that, but I do think it's interesting how the style of writing in "Christian" books is (to me, at least) very distinct. I started reading this one, and not more than a couple pages in I looked to see who the publisher was. Bingo! Courting Trouble is a Christian period romance.

It's not hard, mind you, to keep things chaste in period pieces, since the mores of those past eras were strict to begin with. In this case, Courting Trouble is set in Corsicana, Texas, in 1894. Being from that area of Texas myself, I enjoyed reading a fictional take on its past--though author Gist actually does use a great amount of factual information to shore up her story.

The story itself is of Essie Spreckelmeyer, farouche daughter of the town judge, who has turned 30 and has no marriage prospects. Therefore she takes it upon herself to find a husband. The makings of your typical fluff piece of romantic fiction, yes, but the tale becomes heavy-handed about halfway through. While early on there are the sort of name-dropping indicators that the book is Christian in nature--i.e., Essie wondering what denomination the new man in town is--later in the book there is more hit-you-over-the-head moments of people telling Essie to have faith in Jesus that He has the right plan for her life and so on. Again, I don't have a problem with this really, but I did feel it was all laid on a bit thick. Though, too, since this book is from a Christian publisher, I suppose at the core they desire the kinds of manuscripts that have some "teachable" material in them, whether they be fiction or no.

All in all, Courting Trouble is a well-written and nicely plotted story. I wouldn't say no to reading more such ones (and according to a note in the back of the book, Essie will be featured in another upcoming book this year), though I'd certainly put some other books between them. Otherwise I might feel suffocated by the underlying agenda.


Movie Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena
Directed By: Peter Sollett
Written By: Lorne Scafaria (from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan)
Sony/Columbia, 2008
PG-13; 90 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


Those who miss those 80s teen life films by John Hughes, and those who enjoy Cameron Crowe--especially when he's dealing with music--will surely love Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which is as endearing as any of the aforementioned sorts of movies without trying to be "retro" or nostalgic.

The story is simple: Cera plays Nick, a would-be musician, if only his gay bandmates would settle on a name for their band. Norah (Dennings) is the reluctant daughter of a recording studio exec. They meet while out searching for Where's Fluffy?--an elusive band rumored to be playing somewhere in the city that night. In the midst of all this is (a) Nick's ex-girlfriend for whom he's been pining and moping, (b) Norah's friend Caroline who is drunk and lost in the city, (c) a pseudo-boyfriend of Norah's who is evidently mostly enjoying her company for the perks her big wig father can extend, including free meals and a potential recording contract.

The movie is set and filmed in New York, and unlike in some movies in which NYC = generic city setting, here the city is a character in its own right, and people familiar with New York will admire its role as the group of teens maneuvers through the streets and in and out of clubs, diners and other sites. The actors, too, were pitch perfect in their portrayals; it would have been easy for several to go over the top, but clearly the direction was key and spot on. (As an aside, however, I would like to say that as much as I like Michael Cera, and as perfect as he was here, I'd like to see him stretch himself a bit in the future. I feel as if I've seen him do the same kind of thing many times over.)

One warning about this film: if you have a delicate gag reflex (which I do), you'll want to cover your eyes or leave the room when Caroline goes into the bus terminal bathroom. And you'll be fervently wishing someone would throw that gum away.


Music: "Her Diamonds"

Just heard a VERY short advance clip of Rob Thomas' first single from Cradlesong--the entire song and accompanying video is due out mid-April. Still, it sounds promising, very groovy. The entire album is slated to drop at the end of June.

And no, none of this is an April Fools joke.