Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, dir. Martin Campbell)
I am far from what you'd call a dedicated James Bond fan (before this I had seen exactly one Bond movie - Tomorrow Never Dies, with Pierce Brosnan), so I went into this hoping for nothing more than a good action movie, and for a while I got it. The first action sequence is outstanding - exciting and dangerous and quite violent, and for a while the momentum continues well from there. But the plot is so insubstantial and the much-hyped "humanizing" of the Bond character so superficial that the movie is a complete drag whenever there isn't running and punching, and the pacing is way off by the time they get to the odd, drawn-out romantic interlude past the two-hour mark. I still don't know why all these big action blockbusters insist on being two and a half hours long, and this is another that runs that long seemingly out of obligation. Although reviews have praised the way that Craig and Campbell bring a grittier, more realistic feel to the franchise, I sort of missed the gadgets and the snappy one-liners (although there are a few of those) and the villains with the silly names, because as someone with only a cursory interest in the franchise, that's what I think of when I think of Bond. Without the cheeky, campy element, it's just another loud action movie.
But even if you buy into it as gritty and real, it's still totally ridiculous, and the producers can't bring themselves to entirely let go of the puns and in-jokes and sexism and most of the familiar elements of the franchise, and the result is a movie that looks like it wants to have it both ways, and ends up with neither. I suspect that people must have hated the last few Bond movies so much that any hint of change is being welcomed with open arms, but for me Bond has always been about self-conscious pomo irony, and a grim-faced superspy is something I can get from other movies. Also, poor Eva Green is devastatingly beautiful, but since her searing turn in The Dreamers has done nothing but play romantic accessories in big-budget male power fantasies, and that's a sad, sad thing. Wide release
Fast Food Nation (Greg Kinnear, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama, Ashley Johnson, dir. Richard Linklater)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really like Richard Linklater, and one of his greatest strengths is his versatility, but sometimes that means that he's frustratingly inconsistent. His other movie of 2006, A Scanner Darkly, is one of my favorites of the whole year, but this is a giant failure, a narrative non-starter with big, poorly delivered chunks of exposition. I haven't read Eric Schlosser's book, but I was a regular Rolling Stone reader when they serialized much of it in an early form, and even though I love fast food and don't care how they treat animals or workers or the environment, I still found what he wrote engrossing. This movie is the opposite of engrossing - it could probably even make people who are eager to learn about the evils of fast food tune out quickly. Wide-ish release