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‘Casino Royale’ at 15: How Daniel Craig’s Debut Bond Outing Reloaded the Franchise

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‘Casino Royale’ at 15: How Daniel Craig’s Debut Bond Outing Reloaded the Franchise

It’s October 14th, 2005. We’re in London.

A blonde-haired, blue-eyed actor rocks up aboard HMS Belfast facing the world’s press. It’s Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, soon to prove wrong the naysayers and that vocal minority who will pooh-pooh his legitimacy as the sixth actor to take on 007 in the Eon series.

15 years later, Craig’s debut outing, Casino Royale, is cemented as a modern classic with emotional and physical punches galore. Not to mention that it’s also a standalone exemplar of filmmaking and a victorious addition to Eon’s rich 007 canon — quite a considerable achievement for a franchise of 25 entries approaching its 60th anniversary faster than a Roger Moore eyebrow raise.

Yet the road to Casino Royale was far from smooth. Columbia’s acquisition of the story’s rights in the 1950s prevented the first Bond adventure from being adapted by Eon. CBS’s 1954 TV play following Barry Nelson’s Americanised ‘Jimmy Bond’ and David Niven’s kooky 1967 psychedelic spoof were both wanting as faithful adaptations to “the spy story to end all spy stories” until a 1999 court settlement granted the rights to Eon Productions.

By that time, Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond, spearheading a tenure that favored the fantastical. This was especially true for the series’ ruby entry Die Another Day, infamous for its CGI tsunami kite-surfing and invisible Aston Martin. Needless to say, the overall flippancy of the series seemed at odds with a world seismically changed after 9/11. To Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, it was clear that 007 needed more than his martinis to be shaken, not stirred. A reboot was needed — a chance for the franchise to return to its roots, to the original gritty imagination of author Ian Fleming, who had worked on covert operations during WW2.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

Like the novel, Casino Royale would act as an origin for the world’s most famous super spy, but not quite as we had ever seen him before. Here is a younger, more brutish Bond, a blunt instrument who throughout the film will be sharpened by tragedy and woe. No traditional gun barrel is present in the opening shot (pun most definitely intended). Instead, we enter a rather moody, monochromatic world angled at Dutch tilts, redolent of the dirty, crooked game of espionage. For the first time, we witness Bond attain double-0 status through the murder of two double agents: one is battered, drowned, and shot at, and the other silenced by a silencer, the latter killing promising that the savage we have witnessed is indeed a stealthy sophisticate in the making. Cue Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”, a rock anthem drenched in adrenaline. As we head bob, we wonder if the name “Bond. James Bond” is all we’ve ever known about cinema’s icon.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

Director Martin Campbell affirms that there is more to Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang than this swinging ‘60s epithet. Like his stellar entry directing Goldeneye — when Bond was dismissed as “a relic of the Cold War” and initially seen to be at a loss without his regular international nemesis — Campbell turbocharges 007 into the 21st century, this time facing the threat of modern terrorism.

In Casino Royale, Bond must beat Mads Mikkelsen’s slimy Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorists, in a game of poker at Casino Royale Montenegro. Should Bond lose, MI5 will have directly financed terrorist organisations and orchestrated millions of deaths.

Here is certainly a resonant threat for our times, as well as for Fleming’s. The author, who lived in a post-war era shadowed by the atomic bomb, asserted in an interview that “we have a lot of dangers that some lunatic might get hold of weapons and start threatening the world.” Fleming’s fear of non-state extremists is the same fear we share today. Campbell did not need to reinvent Bond; he needed to return to Fleming’s prescience.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

Such dangers are translated through the langue of action, with Campbell crafting set-pieces that are just as characterful as they are exciting. Bond’s foilings of two bomb-makers are staged on such a scale that they would be the grand crescendos to any nominal blockbuster. In the first sequence, a kinetic camera keeps up with a thrilling foot-chase through a Madagascan construction site, with Sébastien Foucan’s (the very founder of freerunning) Mollaka diving and darting with balletic energy, displaying the slipperiness of such modern dangers. Craig’s Bond smashes and crashes after him, evoking the reckless but persistent force that this younger, more inexperienced man possesses. In another scene, while defending an airport, Bond himself is bruised and bloodied, but throughout the film, he proves to be a reassuring presence for our times, having terrorized the terrorists that invade our own reality. Here, 007 excels in encouraging a wounded West to feel that we are not so entirely at the mercy of such pestiferous evils.

Whereas most directors would fail at the tremendous challenge of making a card game exciting for the big screen, Campbell understands that the film’s poker match is more than just a gamble. What we see on screen is a spectacular war between freedom and terror, a clash of ideologies — the fate of the modern world up for grabs. Close-up shots of Craig’s piercing blue eyes and Mikkelsen’s weeping tear duct affirm the adage that we learn most about characters when they are under pressure: revealed are each man’s determination to best the other and the fear each has if they don’t. As Bond quips, “you play the man,” not the hand he has. We see Bond’s resourcefulness, followed by a tempest of tension and angst that imbues the shifting of casino chips on the table, making them feel like armadas being sent along a green baize sea by their admirals. Indeed, these quiet moments ring the loudest.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

Such scenes of introspection make Casino Royale so special. If you manage to avoid a cardiac arrest at what can only be described as a blood-curdling stairwell fight with a nasty sword-swinging rogue, you will remember how the film then dares to slow down, nestling comfortably with the anomie of murder. Bond heads back to his room, reflecting on his near-death experience. Despite being a double-0, every kill is a dirty job. He washes the blood off his crisp white shirt and looks in the mirror, knowing he can’t do the same for his stained soul. Again, we see Craig’s blue eyes, piercing one second, pools of self-loathing the next. Throughout the film, the gaze of our hero fluctuates, expressing an internal dialogue: is this path of an assassin the one for him? And in this mirror scene, the camera holds, beat after beat, refusing to be any generic action movie that will skip to the next explosion. We stay with Bond and feel his pain, never more so than when he comforts Eva Green’s Vesper in the shower in one of the most touching and real scenes in the series, devoid of lascivious subtext and aided by David Arnold’s gentle orchestral score, brassy and bold in the style of John Barry but able to offer a softer, tender delicacy at times like this.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

Green is bewitching as Vesper Lynd. Beneath a steely exterior, she’s just as witty as she is fallible; there has been no greater match for Bond since Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Her tragic end gives this entry emotional depth like never before as we smart and cry from what could have been. She is the harbinger of this film’s theme — trust — and complements an impressive-looking Bond stepping out of the Bahaman surf, his marble-like exterior acting as hard armour around the cold heart that is set to be broken before it is betrayed.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

Indeed, Bond is challenged — physically and spiritually — like never before in this film, particularly in the horrendous testicular torture scene that comes straight from the novel and which is surely the most wince-inducing moment ever committed to celluloid.

It is a test of Bond’s faith, which has always been incorruptible — a key ingredient that has forever been a huge part of the character’s success. But in this film, our hero is the most human he has ever been, and a body, no matter how chiselled, can be broken. Bond’s trust in his cause, however, prevails after surviving a hero’s journey for the first time in the series.

Eon/MGM/Sony Pictures

That is not to say that Casino Royale forgets to be — to steal a phrase from Octopussy’s theme “All Time High” — “a sweet distraction for an hour or two”.

Cinematographer Phil Meheux does a stellar job of setting a standard of visual excellence before the much- and rightly lauded Roger Deakins in Skyfall. That precedent is set in Craig’s first film, with an outing that has had no greater vacation vibe since Thunderball. The white sand and blue water of the Bahamas, the Caribbean sunshine, the return of the Aston Martin DB5, and a return to Fleming’s hungry hedonism, including the Vesper Martini — it is all enough to make you grin. The ordering of Champagne Bollinger and caviar makes any 007 fan fist-pump as our hero relishes a true Bondian lifestyle, forever reminding us that life is short and dangerous and one should savour the finer things just as Fleming, who stimulated the reader “even to his taste buds,” did.

Indeed, in every aspect, this is the most visceral Bond film. Every punch and kick counts. Every bead of sweat is seen. We feel the pain of death and the pleasure of living life to its fullest. Casino Royale filled our cup and we drained it dry. It was as tasty as a Vesper.

For some of us, it’s all we want to drink…

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Emily Ratajowski, Nicholas Braun & More Appear In Halloween Talk Show Sketch On ‘SNL’ With Jason Sudeikis

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Emily Ratajowski, Nicholas Braun & More Appear In Halloween Talk Show Sketch On ‘SNL’ With Jason Sudeikis

Kenan Thompson’s ‘D’Andre’ hosted the ‘SNL’ talk show sketch, which included a few familiar faces — including cousin Greg from ‘Succession’!

You never know who might pop up on Saturday Night Live — and October 23rd was no exception! While Jason Sudeikis, 45, hosted the episode, the former SNL cast member had a supporting role in this sketch which was all Kenan Thompson. As a BET logo flashed on the screen, Kenan introduced the spoof talk show called, “What’s Up With That — Halloween Edition” that included some major guests like Emily Ratajkowski, Oscar Issac and Succession’s Nicholas Braun.

Nicholas Braun, Emily Ratajkowski and Oscar Issac appeared as guest stars on Oct. 23. (SNL)

“We’re taking on the issues of the day with soul,” Kenan declared, rocking a longer hair ‘do and a ’70s inspired burgundy suit. He went on to introduce his guests — Oscar, who was dressed as a pirate, Emily, as a cat in tiger ears, and Succession actor Nicholas Braun — who appeared to come as just himself.

Jason Sudekis
Jason Sudeikis was a back up dancer on ‘What’s Up With That?’. (SNL)

Kenan didn’t let the gang do much talking, however, as he continued on with his rather repetitive song. “I woke up this morning and I got out of bed…hid from a ghost and a scary black cat….ooh wee. What’s up with that, what’s up with that?” Kenan’s D’Andre crooned with a little help from another guest star: Fred Armisen as Giuseppe the saxophone player and Jason Sudeikis, who appeared to be channeling The Royal Tenenbaums in a red Adidas suit while doing his doing as a back-up dancer.

“Well thank you very much for joining us. We’re excited about Halloween! It might get a little creepy. It might get a little stinky!” Kenan then told the group, as Chris Redd busted a move in the audience before turning his attention to Fred’s Giuseppe.

“I hope your wife is feeling better,” Kenan said to a chuckling Fred, rocking a long wig just like Kenny G (who is one of the most successful artists of all time). “That wasn’t a joke, Giuseppe,” Kenan clarified. After brief chatter with his guests, D’Andre appeared to be confused about Nicholas — confusing him with Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac.

“He has been on every show that we have ever had for the last 12 years — Lindsey Buckingham,” D’Andre announced, seemingly thinking the legendary rocker was dressed up as Cousin Greg from Succession. “The best cousin Greg from Succession I have ever seen,” he noted to a confused Nicholas.

“I’m Nicholas Braun,” the Succession star corrected multiple times throughout the sketch. The guests — including Oscar — didn’t get the chance to do much talking, though, as Kenan went right back into his song.

“Well, we outta time — but I wanna thank Oscar Issac for being here,” D’Andre said at the end, with Oscar noting, “That’s how I thought it would go.”

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Jason Sudeikis Hilariously Spoofs Ellen DeGeneres On ‘SNL’ With ‘Mellen’ — Watch

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Jason Sudeikis

Move over Ellen — Mellen has arrived in the form of Jason Sudeikis! The actor brought his spin on the talk show host to ‘SNL.’

Jason Sudeikis, 45, brought all the laughs on Saturday Night Live — including in this Ellen DeGeneres spoof! The Ted Lasso star played spoofed male version Mellen who dressed just like the talk show host, and had a show in a very similar looking set as a voice over explained the difference between the two.

“Mellen’s a man man! You never know what Mellen might do next! He won’t just hi-five the audience, he’ll fist pump them too,” they explained, noting there were some similarities — including sneak up surprises!

Jason Sudeikis spoofs talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. (NBC)

“Just like Ellen, Mellen has sneak up surprises,” the voice over said, as Mellen interviewed Chris Redd‘s character who appeared to be against the COVID-19 vaccine. As Chris was speaking, a nurse pupped up from behind and stuck a syringe right into his neck for a Gotcha! moment. “You just got vaxxed, Mellen style!” Jason’s Mellen quipped.

The actor’s journey to his long-time role at SNL — which gave him the platform for a successful film career — came after he wanted to become a member of the Blue Man Group. “They flew me out to New York…That was August of 2001, right before 9/11. And I got to see myself bald and blue,” he hilariously said to GQ last year. Shortly after, he was asked to audition for Lorne and the Saturday Night Live team — which he wasn’t keen on.

“I didn’t want to work on SNL,” he confssed. “At a certain point in your comedy journey, you have to look at it as like McDonald’s…You have to be like: ‘No. Never’,” he reasoned, eventually, of course, saying yes. “It was like having a crush on the prettiest girl at school and being like, ‘She seems like a jerk.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, really? ‘Cause she said she liked you.’ ‘She what?!” he went on, drawing a parallel to his actual feelings.

Jason has been in the headlines in recent months for changes in his personal life: the actor’s longtime relationship with Olivia Wilde, 37, came to an end in Nov. 2020. The exes are parents to Otis, 7, and Daisy, 4, who they continue to co-parent. “I’ll have a better understanding of why in a year…and an even better one in two, and an even greater one in five, and it’ll go from being, you know, a book of my life to becoming a chapter to a paragraph to a line to a word to a doodle,” he said in the same interview. “That’s an experience that you either learn from or make excuses about. You take some responsibility for it, hold yourself accountable for what you do, but then also endeavor to learn something beyond the obvious from it,” he also said.

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Jason Sudeikis Reprises His ‘Joe Biden’ Alongside James Austin Johnson & Alex Moffat’s On ‘SNL’

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Jason Sudeikis Reprises His ‘Joe Biden’ Alongside James Austin Johnson & Alex Moffat’s On ‘SNL’

Jason Sudeikis made his first ‘SNL’ appearance in years! The actor was a long-running cast member on the series before departing in 2013.

Jason Sudeikis, 45, is back! The actor appeared on  Saturday Night Live for his first-ever hosting gig on Saturday, Oct. 23 — and reprised his role as Joe Biden! New comer James Austin Johnson opened with his new take on the current president in an Oval Office set. Seemingly exhausted, he pondered — what happened to his old self?

In come Jason’s Biden, who he hasn’t portrayed since 2013! “I’m you! I’m you from 8 years ago. The ghost from Biden’s past — boo!” Jason hilariously quipped, visibly casual in a bomber jacket and baseball hat (Johnson’s Biden, however, was in a full suit and tie).

Jason Sudeikis reprises his Joe Biden, left, alongside James Austin Johnson’s Joe, right. (NBC)

“Yeah, partner, where I’m from — we’re still VP. Easiest job in the world. We’re like America’s wacky neighbor…we pop in with ice cream, shake a few hands, rub a few shoulders,” Jason’s Biden explained to his future self, played by James’ version, who tried to fill his past self in on the last eight years (including Donald Trump).

“The last president ruined everything! Ordering McDonald’s to the White House, hanging out with strippers,” he began, as Jason’s Biden quipped the “only mansion I care about is the Playboy Mansion — that’s classic 2K-13 Biden!”

SNL cast member Alex Moffatt — who played Biden once in 2013 — also joined the fun. “Who the hell are you?” Jason’s Biden asked. “I’m Joe Biden?” Alex’s Biden replied to a confused Jason and James were clearly confused. “From When?” Jason’s Biden then inquired. “March 2021?” Alex replied, as the two dismissed him.

“I should just mosey back on 2013, I just got tickets to a concert,” Jason suggested, before giving James some advice. “We may be from different eras — at the end of the day, we’re both Joe-freaking-Biden.”

Jason’s career has exploded since his long-running tenure at SNL, which began as a writer before becoming a cast member in 2005 (he left in 2013 after a decade). Most recently, the actor has starred in arguably the biggest hit on Apple TV+, Ted Lasso. The Fairfax, Virginia native plays the title character in the series, which follows the story an American college football coach who led the Wichita State Shockers to a Division II NCAA championship.

The popular show even led to Jason’s first-ever Emmy in Sept. 2021, where SNL showrunner Lorne Michaels teased the former cast member’s return. “Jason Sudeikis will be coming back soon,” the Canadian-born producer said to press, declining to offer more details. Jason was later confirmed alongside Owen Wilson, Kim Kardashian and Rami Malek as one of the first four hosts to kick off season 47.

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