Welcome everyone to a very special episode of Podcasting Them Softly’s For Your Ears Only series. Today we are going to discuss Martin Campbell’s return to the Bond franchise with CASINO ROYALE. Released in 2006 this was Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond, based on Ian Flemings’s first Bond novel of the same name. Featuring an amazing cast coupled with Chris Cornell’s show-stopping title song, CASINO ROYALE had a worldwide box office total of 600 million and went on to win a bounty of BAFTA awards and Daniel Craig became the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA for portraying James Bond.
What makes this episode so very special, is that we are joined with returning guest and one of our favorite filmmakers Wayne Kramer and actress Ivana Milicevic who co-starred in both CASINO ROYALE as Valenka – Mads Mikkelson’s girlfriend, and Wayne’s neo-noir masterpiece, RUNNING SCARED.
So what did Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale do for the Bond franchise? Well, I’m not a huge aficionado or scholar of these films like some so I tend to look at each one on its own as an action adventure piece rather than observe how it fits into the jigsaw legacy of this mammoth series, but there’s no denying that this one kind of broke several moulds before it. After the garish 90’s heyday of Pierce Brosnan (I *love* all four of those films to bits) I feel like they just wanted to bring Bond down to earth a bit, distill the aesthetic into something that cleanses too many gadgets and what have you, cast someone darker and more dangerous and blast out a new trajectory for the character. Good plan.
Casino Royale is not only a splendidly exciting film on its own but the best, most impactful and unique 007 film since 1989’s ruthless and underrated License To Kill. Daniel Craig’s James Bond is an angry warrior who fucks up just like the rest of us and is fallible, not some invincible deity in a tux that can’t get hurt, deceived, betrayed or killed without tangible consequences. An early mission sees him tasked by Judi Dench’s then immortal M to infiltrate a high stakes poker game in some swanky French locale and gain information on dangerous arms dealer and terrorist Le Chiffre, played by vicious, predatory Mads Mikkelsen in one of my favourite Bond baddie portrayals. As if he isn’t in enough over his head, he meets the beautiful but equally dangerous Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the most unique Bond girl since… who knows when. I love that she’s a self aware human being who has her reasons for falling into bed with him instead of just being a pair of tits with a voice as seen in countless entries before. Green has sex appeal for days but what makes her special is that way her eyes smoulder with a fierce independence and unpredictability, making her one of the most fascinating characters the whole franchise has to offer. Also supporting them is the great Giancarlo Giannini as a mentor of sorts for Bond, Jeffrey Wright as CIA operative Felix, Catarina Murino, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Sebastian Foucan, Tobias Menzies, Richard Sammel, Tyrone the silly fat bastard from Snatch, Russian character actress Ivana Milicevic and Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson of all people, if you look real close.
In terms of scope and staging, this is a kind of unique 007 film because it shirks the standards and ducks expectations. It opens with a spectacular chase like any other in the franchise, which is a monumental sequence in terms of stunt work. But much of the film is spent in the ornate casinos of France and a lot of the action is the casual intimidation and cerebral mind games that go alongside the poker match. There’s nothing quite like Craig and Mikkelsen sat opposite one another in tuxes, Mads bleeding out of his sinister looking dead eye and Daniel smirking at him like he wants to rip his head off, while Green looks on and let’s her ulterior motives simmer on the back burner for later. Cinematographer Phil Meheux takes full advantage of these rich, lushly production designed interior shots as well as the gorgeous outdoor rim of the Mediterranean that we get to see quite a bit of. My only real complaint is a third act that feels like it barrels in from another film; that’s not to say it’s bad or doesn’t work, it’s just a tad unwieldy with the landing and threw me off in terms of tone or climax but I suppose that could have been the intention. I’ll just say that this thing ends in the last possible way you’d expect from a 007, feeling fresh, raw and off the rails in a beautiful fashion that doesn’t tread the beaten path of so many before, but blazes out its own tragic, violent conclusion that will claim a piece of Bond’s soul but add much needed spirit to this series as a whole. Great film, and my second favourite Bond of all time after Skyfall.
Martin Campbell’s The Mask Of Zorro still holds up today, thanks mostly to its sumptuous, sultry production design and three passionate, swashbuckling and delightfully self aware performances from Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas. This was one of the first more intense and violent adventure films I saw as a young’un, and while the PG13 heroics seem tame in comparison to other films, it still has that menacing edge for me. Hopkins is a scene stealer as Don Diego, the fearless rascal who takes up the mantle of Zorro and passes it along to haughty young thief Alejandro (Banderas) years after he’s betrayed by despicable nobleman Montero (Stuart Wilson, slimy and then some). The real eye catcher is drop dead gorgeous Zeta Jones as Diego’s daughter Elena, whose swordplay and roguish attitude both match and spar with that of Banderas, their chemistry onscreen is pure Latin fire in full flame. It gets quite lighthearted and theatrical at times but this is after all Zorro and not Batman we’re talking about here, he’s kind of like the Latin Lone Ranger and the flamboyant flourish is part of the charm. The supporting cast is fun too, but Matt Letscher is a bit vanilla to play the dastardly secondary villain who literally keeps heads in a jar, they would have been better off going the grizzled character actor route instead of a golden boy like him. All is well with Maury Chaykin as a testy prison warden and the late L.Q. Jones as a crusty outlaw who mentors young Banderas and has arguably the most memorable scene of the film. The star power of our three leads is where it’s at though, Banderas is smokin’ good in the charcoal black outfit waving the classic needle sword around in people’s faces, Hopkins exudes an amused nobility and Jones… man, you don’t find beauty and charisma like that every day. James Horner’s score is a trumpet blast of celebratory cues that fires up the action energetically, Cecilia Montiel’s production design lovingly brings the world and time period to life, while Campbell paints in broad, playful director’s strokes, all to bring us what has become an adventure classic. There is a sequel, but it’s kind of a listless, gaudy retread that loses the magic in cheesy set pieces, stick with this diamond instead .
Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of Aliens and The Terminator, headed the charge back in the early 90s toward the adaptation of a book written by Richard Herley titled, The Penal Colony.
Set in 1997, it tells the story of how the British Government runs island prison colonies as a means to stem the tide of an overflow in mainland jails. There are no guards, no cells, and the island is monitored via satellite surveillance.
We follow the a character named Anthony Routledge, who is brought to the island for a sex-crime that he did not commit. He soon discovers that under the guidance of a charismatic leader, a community on the island has evolved.
No Escape (1994)
Now if that’s not the ideal film to make here in Australia, (if your are aware that it is pretty much how our nation began) then I don’t know what is. The production would hire future Bond director Martin Campbell, along with stars Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson and Ernie Hudson.
Then a screenwriter named Michael Gaylin, a man who had slaved away in obscurity in Hollywood for more than a decade, would come into contact with a colleague of Hurd’s. He went for a meeting and, finally, after a career of false starts and forgotten promises, he was going to be writing on a film that would eventually, make it to the big screen.
After a long wait, I finally had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Michael about his career and his experiences during the making of No Escape or Escape from Absolom (as it was released over here). What I discovered, during our conversation, was not merely an insight into a film I heartily enjoy, but also the story of a resilient writer who finally had one script break through. A real life story very much akin to the journey of the hero of the film; who would take on all conflicts and eventually overcome them . . . and escape.
It is a great film in the grand tradition of Franklin J. Schaffner’s Papillon.
C. Courtney Joyner is a successful writer/director/novelist. He was a zombie in a Romero movie, he hangs out with L.Q. Jones and Tim Thomerson, he was once roommates with Renny Harlin and made the breakfasts while Harlin got the girls. It makes me think of Steve Coogan’s line from Ruby Sparks, “how do I go back in time and be him.”
Truth is we are the same in many instances. We’re just on different sides of the globe and one of us is in the big leagues while the other is at the scratch and sniff end of the business. But we both love movies and fantastic adventures. We both wrote to the filmmakers we loved long before the director became celebrity. We both longed for more info from behind the scenes – long before such material was in abundance.
He grew up in Pittsburgh, the son of a doctor and a reporter. He came of age in the glory days of monster movies and adventure fiction. Then he headed west and after college it wasn’t long before his writing caught the attention of producers and thus a career was spawned.
Spending those early years working with Charles Band and his company, Empire, Joyner was prolific, and soon the writer became a director. All the while he was working on a dream project, a work we all have in us, that he was fighting to bring into the light.
It was a love of Jules Verne and the “what if” type scenario that gave birth to the early version of the story that would become his current masterwork Nemo Rising; a long-awaited sequel, if you will, to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
His story would go through several incarnations before finally reaching the form into which it has now solidified. Swirling around him were big blockbuster versions which never quite surfaced. Names like Fincher and Singer and stars like Will Smith were linked to these big dollar deals.
Unfortunately even Joyner’s long-form TV version came close, but didn’t get handed a cigar. So at a friend’s insistence he wrote the book and his publisher, in spite of the property being linked at that time to a screen version that fell apart, agreed to still put the book out.
Thus Joyner’s Nemo has risen and at last we can, for now, revel in it’s existence. I believe it is only a matter of time before it shall acquire enough interest – and the new major playing field – the field of series television may yet be the staging ground for Courtney’s long-suffering tribute to the genius of Verne and the thrilling enigma of a character known as Captain Nemo.
Long have I waited to chat with him and it was well worth the wait. So, here now I present my interview with the man that director Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers, Robin and Marion, Superman II) once mistook for a girl that was eagerly interested in film.
Steve is a top bloke, he’s an Aussie, he’s a top Aussie bloke. He hails from Western Australia but after spending some years on the road and gathering valuable life experience, he found his way over to Sydney where he took up his apprenticeship studying performing arts – an apprenticeship, Steve will tell you, is still going on.
Early in an acting career, beggars can’t be choosers, so Steve took a stab at just about anything that came his way. One of his launching pads was a, determined after the fact, rather sacrilegious commercial in which The Last Supper had, or was depicted as having, a rather different outcome from that set down in the biblical text.
It, though removed from television, got him some notice and a part in the Australian cult hit Two Hands in which Steve starred and began a friendship with fellow Perth-born actor, the late Heath Ledger. It was radically different from the films being made locally at the time and also launched the career of Rose Byrne (Troy, X-Men: First Class).
He was disgruntled and ready to throw in the towel on his career when, unexpectedly, a big Hollywood movie came knocking at his door. The film was Vertical Limit, directed by Bond and Zorro director Martin Campbell and starring Scott Glenn and the late Bill Paxton among others. Steve was one half of a two man comedic relief package in the film alongside Ben Mendelsohn who would go on to international fame and appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and next year you’ll see him in Ernest Cline’s big screen version of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg.
From those high snowy mountains in New Zealand (where Vertical Limit was filmed), Steve has since enjoyed a long a fruitful career in film, television and his first stomping ground, the theatre. He remains a humble, salt-of -the-earth sort of fella who calls it like it is and won’t act in something that he himself wouldn’t be interesting in watching.
In an era when most of our country’s talent is swept across the pond with the promise of maximum exposure and ridiculous amounts of money, Steve has stayed, content to be an actor who is allowed the freedom to collaborate fully on the projects he chooses to be a part of.
He is a man of many parts, a teller of great and funny tales from a life and career spent being just what he is: A bloody good actor.
So, put your hands to together, for Steve Le Marquand…
David Argue is a brilliant, unpredictable talent. At his greatest when left to his own devices and instincts, he has graced Australian screens for the better part of five decades.
Gaining is equity card as an infant, he soon found his way to the National Institute of Dramatic Arts whose graduates include the likes of Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart), Judy Davis (Celebrity, Absolute Power) and Colin Friels (Dark City, Darkman) just to name a few. He has worked with our finest behind the camera as well, under the direction of Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society), Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man from Hong Kong, Turkey Shoot) and Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, The Shadow).
He has enjoyed a career of richly diverse roles. Playing everything from outback lunatics to bumbling criminals to budding cinema proprietors. Sharing the screen with the cream of both Australian and international talent from a then unknown Nicole Kidman to being the cellmate of Ray Liotta.
David has watched the industry thrive, shrink and change as well as having the distinction of seeing himself decapitated. (If anyone out there reads this and knows the whereabouts of David’s fake head from the film Blood Oath – he would like it back)
David sat down with me recently, in one of the most fun and certainly funniest conversations I’ve yet had, talking about his life of many parts, about his hours of strutting and fretting upon the stage, as well as his hopes for a BMX Bandits 2.
Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the irrepressible, the incomparable, the irresistible David Argue.
CASINO ROYALE created a new dawn in film. Not only was it a swift and needed step away from the loathsome DIE ANOTHER DAY, it also created a template on how to not only reboot a mainstay franchise, but do it with such gravitas and clarity that the franchise itself feels anew and reinvigorated.
Daniel Craig was more or less unknown to the masses. He had appeared in LAYER CAKE, Sam Mendes’ ROAD TO PERDITION, and a handful of small, independent European films. Craig quickly proved his naysayers wrong (including me, who was a staunch lobbyist for Clive Owen).
Craig’s blonde hair and blue eyes may not have been akin to what James Bond is supposed to look like, but his swagger, attitude, and brutish demeanor brought absolute justice to the biggest standing franchise in film history.
While the film was updated to the current digital age, and reflecting our current pop culture obsession with the addition of Texas Hold’em, the film remained grounded in it’s original source material. Validating every word that Ian Flemming wrote in his 1953 novel.
While now, the Texas Hold’em arc may seem silly considering the fad has long been removed from ESPN and the mainstream of American culture; essentially that’s what a Bond film is. It had always been a reflection of our present day culture.
Enter into the fold Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffery Wright, Eva Green, Giancarlo Giannini, and Jesper Christensen; the film stayed true to casting an exotic array of worldly cinematic actors, while retaining Judi Dench’s M, GoldenEye’s Martin Campbell and seminal Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – the film remained grounded within the cinematic world of James Bond whilst taking the franchise in a much needed and welcomed new direction.