Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench), the celebrated British author, is writing her 26th, and ultimately last, novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, when she begins to experience the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, John Bayley (Jim Broadbent), always the less dominant half of the couple, struggles to cope with the situation and care for his wife. Meanwhile, we see the beginnings of their relationship, as their younger selves (Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville) meet as students at Oxford University whilst she attempts to get her first novel published.
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A hard drive containing the identities of MI6 undercover agents is at risk of going missing, so James Bond (Daniel Craig) is trying to catch the thief in Istanbul, with the assistance of field agent Eve (Naomie Harris). When Bond is shot and presumed dead, his superior, M (Judi Dench), takes the blame, but when Bond returns from the grave, he must track down the files to save not only his country, but his boss.
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There are some films on the List that I’ve no idea when I’ll get to them. These films fall into three categories – the ones I absolutely adore but have no clue how I’ll even start writing about them, the ones I desperately do not want to watch (but am too much of an anal completist to ignore) and the really long ones. This four-hour-plus cut of Hamlet obviously falls into the latter, but fortunately for me, my girlfriend opted for Kate Winslet as her Film-Maker of choice, and seeing as I’ve reached that point in Winslet’s career in which she appeared in Hamlet as Ophelia, I can cross off Kenneth Branagh’s opus from the Empire 5-Star 500. As for the unspeakable films I don’t want to see, whenever LoveFilm drop Salo through my letterbox it shall not be a good day, though I could pull an In The Realm Of The Senses and bottle it when I’ve taken as much as I can stand.
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Casino Royale

With the imminent release of Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (UK release October 26th), it seems like the perfect time to cross the film ranked 56th greatest film of all time by Empire readers a few years ago, Craig’s first Bond outing, Casino Royale.

Now, if you ask me, #56 is pretty high up, especially when you consider that Goldfinger, my favourite Bond movie, is 110 places lower at #166, and no other Bond movies made it onto that list (You Only Live Twice appears in the Empire 5-star 500). Even if you take into account Casino Royale’s proximity to the release of the list, made just two years later, it’s still pretty damn high. Apparently, it’s better than Lawrence of Arabia, Annie Hall, 12 Angry Men, The Great Escape and literally hundreds of other films that, in my opinion, are far superior. But then I didn’t compile the list (though I did vote on it, and not for this film), so who am I to voice the opinions of others?

Before I continue my now-trademark tirade of negative comments, I should probably point out that this is a very good film. It served as a much needed shot in the arm for a franchise left face down and drowning on a CGI-wave of Pierce Brosnan’s swarm and Madonna’s atrocious Die Another Day theme song. In a post-Bourne world it established itself as a gritty reboot, taking Bond away from the ludicrous gadgets and back to the basics of hand-to-hand scrapping in a public bathroom, whilst still retaining the sheer spectacle of fighting on top of not one crane but two. Every aspect of classic Bond is present, from the impossibly slinky and easily-bedded women to a nefarious villain with a silly name and mild physical deformity (Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, with a scarred eye that weeps bloody, and asthma to boot). Yet everything feels a bit more real, a bit dirtier and scuffed around the edges. And this description is none more fitting than of Craig’s Bond himself. Yes, he looks impeccable whether wearing an immaculately tailored dinner jacket or a pair of swimming trunks that apparently make my girlfriend’s mother go all weak at every possible joint, and he’s always got a quip ready in his back pocket, but this is a Bond with flaws and imperfections, all to aware that the men he is up against may be more than his match.

Take the early scene in Uganda, for example. Here, Bond must chase down and apprehend a suspect to obtain the passcode on his mobile phone, yet unfortunately said miscreant (Sebastien Foucan) is rather adept at long-distance sprinting, free-running and jumping off things that are ridiculously high up. Whilst he bounds around without a care in the world, remaining relatively scratch free, Bond is always a fair way behind, getting progressively beaten up and always opting for the easier route – hopping into a JCB digger or shoulder-barging through a wall rather than leaping through an uncomfortably small window. Here is a Bond who doesn’t need to show off when no-one is looking, he just wants to get the job done, and at whatever cost.

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with Bond films. I’ll gladly watch any of them, even Quantum of Solace if there’s nothing else on, but the plots are usually a bit labyrinthine for me, which is only to be expected if they want to make each film different. I’m not quite sure of the main motivations in Casino Royale, but I’m fairly sure it’s got something to do with the stock market, although the basic point is that Bond infiltrates an extremely high stakes poker game with a $150,000,000 pot, in order to prevent Le Chiffre from winning it and doing something bad with the proceeds. Everything else is fairly superfluous. I’ve read elsewhere that setting most of a Bond film around a poker table is nothing short of sacrilege, but I found those parts to be fraught with tension and often interspersed with enough action to suffice, even if the film made poker out to be a game that only deals in the most improbable card hands ever. There’s a nice running commentary provided by Bond’s accomplices, Vesper Lynd and Mathis (Eva Green & Giancarlo Giannini), but I didn’t think it was that necessary to have so much exposition, considering how dumbed-down the game was.

There were some very memorable set pieces, with the cold open of Bond achieving his double-0 status and the parkour escapade being particular high-lights, though I also enjoyed the stairway scuffle later in the film, showing how Bond had improved his jumping-and-punching skills from earlier. The testicular-torture scene may have gone a little too far, but it was well-handled and didn’t make me feel as squeamish as it could have done, and it’s more than compensated for by the various little moments of humour, and the record number of car rolls a little earlier. 

I approved of the expansion upon the relationship between Bond and M (Judi Dench), whose involvement in this franchise has cemented her presence as something of a British icon, and the rumours that this repartee has been increased ever further in Skyfall excites me no end. Bond is always at his best when bouncing off a superior – best seen with Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, and his utter, barefaced cheek clashes perfectly with Dench’s no-nonsense style. 

Though the last act may drag a little – the film clocks in at 138 minutes – the pace is fairly consistent throughout. There’s a lot here for Bond fans – more in-jokes than I remembered – and plenty for newcomers too. It may not be my favourite Bond film, but it definitely breaks the top 10, and maybe even the top 5.

Choose film 7/10

Unlisted: Chocolat

That’s right, some weeks I don’t go to the cinema or watch a new DVD release, I’ve got a fairly large and ever-increasing stack of non-List DVDs I either haven’t seen before or haven’t really watched properly (I have films on in the background a lot, especially when I was at university) and this regular feature gives me some motivation to get through them.
Just in time for Easter, and after a messy, sticky but god damn delicious bout of chocolate egg making, we sat down to watch Chocolat, a film that’s been on my radar ever since it was discussed with much vigour in the disappointing Paul Rudd vehicle I Love You, Man, as his character’s favourite film. Just like when I rushed out to watch Point Break on Danny Butterman’s recommendation (I’ve been known to enjoy Bad Boys 2) I was more than a little disappointed, as I went in with higher hopes than I probably should.
Chocolat sees Juliette Binoche’s master chocolatier opening up a cocoa boutique in a sleepy little French village, just at the start of lent. The villagers initially shun her temptations, before gradually growing to accept them and their delicious ways, assisted by her worldly knowledge, kind soul and the fact that some of her products act as an extreme aphrodisiac, an aspect that was severely underused, and could have led to a much more light hearted and entertaining piece, as at one point it seemed to be heading towards.
Overall, the tone was far too unbalanced; whimsical at times and overly serious at others, and the myriad of diversions – Alfred Molina’s stern mayor attempting to My Fair Lady Peter Stormare’s abusive barman, Binoche’s unfulfilling fling with sailing drifter Johnny Depp – leave the palate tempted but wanting for more depth. The outer shell is sweet and smooth, but alas where a rich praline centre should be there is nought but a hollow cavity. Everything looks delicious though, and I picked up a few tips for my own chocolate making.
Choose life 5/10

A Room with a View

Featuring an unexpected amount of penises for a period film (or any other for that matter), this tells the story of Helena Bonham Carter’s upper class Lucy Honeychurch, who finds herself having to choose between two suitors; her betrothed, oily, irritatingly snobbish Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis, over enunciating to grating effect) and Julian Sands’ playful, liberated yet of a lower social standing George. Obviously Lucy will choose the less pretentious and by all means friendlier George, overcoming the general repression of the times (a break-up is ended with a simple handshake), but the supporting cast makes this a worthwhile watch, from Maggie Smith’s unobtrusive Aunt Charlotte, Dame Judi Dench’s romance novelist, Simon Callow as the local vicar (and owner of one of the aforementioned phalluses) and Denholm Elliot as George’s forward thinking father. With so much talent surrounding them, it’s no wonder Bonham Carter and Sands struggle to shine, proving themselves to be merely audience ciphers.

Choose film 6/10