Monday, December 1, 2008

Bond 22

I was a huge Clive Owen proponent -- what, three years ago, now? -- to replace Pierce Brosnan as 007. I ignorantly thought they made a colossal mistake by casting Daniel Craig, an actor I had never seen in anything prior to his Bond debut. Then I actually saw Casino Royale. Wow. What a stunning reboot of the character and film franchise.

We saw Quantum of Solace this weekend, the second Craig Bond film, and enjoyed it immensely. Where Casino Royale has striking main titles and an utterly forgettable song, Quantum of Solace has some pretty dull main titles and an amazing song by comparison. (Although neither a Jack White nor Alicia Keys fan, I love this theme song. It blends some great throwback horns and classic themes with new millennial sensibilities.) The location graphics, on the other hand, are fantastic in Quantum of Solace, stylized based on the location it's referencing and beautifully integrated into the beginning of the scene to orient the viewer.

We watched Casino Royale on the home theater the night before going to see Quantum of Solace, and we were glad we did. Quantum of Solace picks up, literally, right where Casino Royale ends, becoming more of a second act to the first film. The movie leverages many of the same characters across both films, including Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter, Giancarlo Giannini's René Mathis, and Jesper Christensen's Mr. White. Also, because of the direct ties to the first film, there are many references to Eva Green's Vesper Lynd and Mads Mikkelson's Le Chiffre.

The Bond Girl, Olga Kurylenko's Camille Montes, isn't nearly as strong a character as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. In fact, I found Gemma Arterton's brief role as a cleverly named British consulate (Strawberry Fields) more interesting a character than the female lead here. That aside, they have really gone to lengths to build Judi Dench's M in the Daniel Craig Bond movies, and with winning results. Building off of her start in the Brosnan films, Dench may have finally surpassed Bernard Lee's role-defining turn as the character.

No complaints about Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene, head of Quantum and an engaging Bond villain. I'd love to see the next film continue to explore and use the Quantum organization as an ongoing MI6 antagonist in the same way SPECTRE was used in the earlier films and novels.

In all, we had a great time on this fun ride. Marc Foster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland), who takes over the director's chair from Casino Royale's Martin Campbell (Goldeneye), does a fine job with Quantum of Solace. He and Craig keep Bond moving forward and on par with the 21st century sensibilities of movies like Matt Damon's Bourne franchise.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Open Season

We've been going to the annual Lock 3 tree lighting in downtown Akron since it started five years ago. At that time we lived just around the corner on Merriman in Highland Square. Since our flight to the suburbs a couple years ago, the trip to downtown has gone from a five minute drive to a 15 or 20 minute drive, but it's worth it, because this is what Akron is all about.

This year was the best yet. As usual, the Cleveland NBC affiliate simulcast the festivities and Santa arrived by train, sang, and lit up the Akron U. Polsky Building and the Christmas Tree by shooting sparks across downtown, then started the fireworks display the same way!

The fireworks launched from the art deco YMCA building were spectacular this year, lighting up the sky with reds and greens and whites. It's this feeling of small town mixed with city that keeps us here in Akron -- a part of the community.

We wandered the Chriskindl Market, our senses assaulted by the smells of fresh waffles, roasted almonds, hot chocolate, brightly colored ornaments and finely detailed clocks and carvings, and holiday music in the air. And we watched the ice rink fill up with skaters and families crowd into the heated German food tent. Across the street, the Peanut Shoppe, an Akron landmark, was jammed with holiday revelers and had a line out the door.

And as we were walking from our car to Main Street when we arrived, they were playing "Deck the Halls" in what my wife and I swear was the version played over the opening credits of A Christmas Story. Another perfect day after Thanksgiving in northeast Ohio.