Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Marc Forster
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Joaquin Cosio
(PG-13, 105 min.)
"Which if not victory is yet revenge…" John Milton
You will probably enjoy this latest Bond venture if you can accept 007 being deconstructed into a Brit version of the Jason Bourne franchise, sans the excessive character development and nuance of the latter. In fact, you’ll probably eat up the nonstop thrills, though I suspect the experience will be rather like gorging oneself on an entire box of chocolates and ending up sated instead of satisfied.
In case you missed it in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is not merely a reinvention of Bond but almost a repudiation of him, at least the cinematic one. Gone are the mythic overtones, the epic excess, the larger than life villains, the suggestive double ententes, the technical wizardry, the ubiquitous sexual conquests, and even the doe-eyed Miss Moneypenny. Even the “shaken not stirred” vodka martini is sloshed rather gracelessly in our faces – in this case Bond drinks himself into a stupor with six of them in order to forget a lost love, her betrayal, and death. This is certainly not the urbane Bond who could identify cognac by the year of the wine from which it was distilled.
But while the 2006 release of Casino Royale was a gritty no nonsense film that saw the real world dangerous enough without having to fluff it up with science fiction fantasy, the newer Bond vehicle propels itself forward with such a pace of bloody deeds and breathless chases it resembles a mindless and hyper violent video game.
A dramatic convention carved out of human psychology is to bookend the action with moments of suspense, comic relief, and yes, even character development in order for the audience to experience anew each added distress. Kind of like the slow, flat, clackety clack turn of the roller coaster just before it plummets to a terrifying abyss. However, Bond, ever intent on following the scent of his prey, never lets up for a minute, hurling himself from balconies, airplanes, boats, and automobiles, as well as a few unplanned exits from exploding buildings and such. In fact, he doesn’t even pause long enough to change out of his more and more bedraggled tuxedo - truly bad form, I’d venture to say.
While one might have accepted that the “blunt instrument,” as M (Judi Dench) referred to Bond in the 2006 release, could eventually evolve into the urbane yet ruthless 007 that Sean Connery captured so well, this Bond seems more a Changeling than Angelina Jolie’s faux son in that recent film. It’s not that the rather dour and humorless Bond that Craig portrays here is not riveting; Craig is too good an actor and he has too much presence for that to be the case. It is just that we would have liked to see more than the cunning and relentless physical force that scripts him in a box here.
On the positive side, this Bond is less chauvinistic that earlier ones. He doesn’t even seduce his latest Bond girl, Camille, the lovely Ukrainian Olga Durylenko, who is on a revenge quest of her own and is not just ungrateful but downright livid when he rescues her from a boatload of Bolivian thugs. She has actually worked quite hard to get herself into their clutches, it turns out.
And it is his relationship with M – the grand Judi Dench making that marginal role into something much more – that supplants the ritualized flirtations with a smitten Moneypenny. Though Bond flippantly remarks that M sees herself as a sort of mother to him, alternately scolding and worrying, grounding and unleashing him, I rather see her as a queenly huntress, setting forth a not quite finished hound and hoping it doesn’t come to ill among the thundering hooves of the foxhunt.
Enjoy each choreographed car chase and explosion to your heart’s content, but let’s hope that in his next cinematic outing 007 recovers his sense of humor, keeps his tux clean, and at least pauses to drop a bon mot or two.
One scene of bold artistic beauty occurs in the square of Siena, Italy. Bond has arrived at the rendezvous point in the grim underground of that fine city with his hostage if not his Aston Martin DBS in tact. The setting is not unlike the damp catacombs of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” another tale of audacious vengeance.
While Bond, M, and a few assorted MI6 types engage in some interrogation techniques probably outside the Geneva Convention, something just as dangerous but exquisitely beautiful is taking place in the square above them.
It is the twice annual Palio Horse Race of Siena in honor of a holy apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1656. With all the color and fanfare of its medieval roots, the race is run in the “Piazza del Campo,” the main square of the city, which is covered with a layer of earth to make it safe, though the helter skelter bareback competition around a teaming throng of onlookers in the center seems anything but.
As the subterranean questioning breaks out in unexpected violence, the scene cuts back and forth to the thundering hooves above.
Too bad for our hero that he has to pursue a surprise villain instead of partaking of the exquisite Italian hospitality and cuisine. Here is a delightful dish emblematic of beautiful Siena: Caprese Mushroom Melts.
Caprese Mushroom Melts
I was browsing through a local gourmet food store that sells mouth watering prepared foods for hefty prices when I spied these mushroom caps. I thought, what a quick and easy appetizer they would be, so a couple of days later I bought the ingredients and made my own. This is a great recipe to prepare ahead, as the entire dish can be cooked up to the stage where the cheese is added so it would be a wonderful choice for entertaining. Either as an appetizer, or as an addition to an antipasti platter, I will certainly make these tasty mushrooms again. You can use any melting cheese, although fontina or mozzarella seem to work best. —Deborah Mele
4 Large (3 to 4 Inches Across) Portobello Mushroom Caps Of Similar Size
1 Large Ripe Beefsteak Tomato Of Similar Size To The Mushrooms
4 Slices Of Fontina or Mozzarella Cheese
2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil Pesto
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Fresh Basil Sprigs As Garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut off the stems of each mushroom and set aside for another use. Wipe the mushroom caps with a wet paper towel. Mix together the pesto and olive oil. Place the caps on a lightly oiled baking sheet and brush each cap lightly with some of the pesto oil. Bake the caps for about 20 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Slice the tomato into 4 equal slices and place one on each mushroom cap. Brush with a little more of the oil, and bake an additional 10 minutes. Place a slice of cheese on each mushroom stack and bake until melted. Garnish with the fresh basil leaves and serve either warm or at room temperature.
Deborah Mele 2008
Recipe Source: italianfoodforever.com