In "Casino Royale" James Bond (Daniel Craig) pursues an assortment of enemies of the crown around the globe until the trail leads him to Le Chiffre, a banker to terrorists whose distinguishing feature is to cry an occasional tear of blood. Eventually, hero and villain square off at a high stakes poker game in Montenegro. From a plot point of view, many things don't make much sense in the film. And too much is built around the poker game which, for me, is a tad more exciting than watching paint dry. Craig is a solid Bond. He's more rugged than his predecessor, despite a tendency to pout like an aspiring supermodel. Still, he's more believable as the steely agent with a cold heart than he is as the vulnerable lover who gives his heart away to love interest Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). The opening action sequence which has Bond pursuing a jackrabbit-agile mark through a construction site is excellent. Then there's the top rate torture sequence with Le Chiffre. But there's not much else very memorable here. "Casino Royale" is like many James Bond films: a pleasant enough ride but not a particularly good movie.
1/2( Sherwin Das )
"Casino Royale" is probably the best Bond film of the lot thanks to the inspired casting of Daniel Craig as 007. I've long admired Craig and he does an impressive job of turning the longest-running caricature in cinema history into something resembling a human. But a sense of perspective is still needed amid all the hype. "Casino Royale" is outstanding for a Bond film, but it is still a Bond film. Like "Batman Begins," this installment takes us back to the hero's beginning. Bond kills people by crudely strangling them and actually falls in love with one of the impossibly beautiful women he routinely meets. In this case she's Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a Treasury accountant who wants to carefully watch how Bond will play his cards in a high-stakes poker game against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a terrorism financier. The relationship between Bond and Lynd is actually quite touching and mercifully free of quips. Yes, Bond actually speaks now as opposed to spurting out one-liners. This is hardly reason to call "Casino Royale" a masterpiece, but it's a welcome step in the right direction. For once, I'm actually looking forward to the next Bond film.
1/2( Tim Ochser )
I knew nothing about "Harsh Times" before seeing it. The oblique title and macho youths pictured on the poster suggested a forgettable teen horror flick. Boy, was I wrong. "Harsh Times" is an impressive film, revolving around a young white soldier from the L.A. hood, Jim (Christian Bale), who has just returned from serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Jim spends his days cruising with his best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), who coaxes him into getting wasted, and distracts him from getting a job. But despite their appearances, neither of these guys are ordinary losers. Jim is determined to marry his Mexican girlfriend and start a career in the LAPD, while an unemployed Mike has promised his girlfriend he will find a job. Both find themselves straying off course and Jim's war traumas begin to surface. "Harsh Times" explores friendship, manhood, and the effect of war on the ordinary men who end up fighting them. Bale is just mesmerizing as the white kid able to be down with his Hispanic and black homies in the hood, but morph into the obedient soldier when he begins interviewing for a federal agency job. David Ayer's script and direction are riveting and don't distract from the sheer force of Bale's performance. It's been a while since I saw a young actor this good.
( Sherwin Das )
There is something strangely captivating about "Harsh Times" despite the fact that it's not an especially good film. The only explanation I can offer is that the two lead performances are so strong they simply draw you in and pull you along, right up to the inevitably horrendous climax. Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is a war veteran trying to get a job in one of the numerous U.S. law enforcement agencies. Mostly he hangs out with his best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), who's also trying to find a job so his girlfriend doesn't have to keep supporting him. Bale's performance is extraordinary. He oozes menace at every turn as a man living on the edge: of society, of reason, of language. Rodriguez is equally impressive as the faithful friend with divided loyalties. "Harsh Times" offers a compelling look at life in South Central L.A. and how it simmers with the threat of violence at every turn. But the most touching thing about the film is the friendship between Bale and Rodriguez. They're basically two overgrown boys desperately struggling to be happy when everything is against them. "Harsh Times" is far from original but it tells a powerful and moving story.
( Tim Ochser )