Friday, May 21, 2010

Book To Movie Comparison: Casino Royale

One of my all time FAVORITE movie franchise's is the James Bond film series.  I have always enjoyed the adventures he finds himself in, the exotic locations he travels to, and how simply cool the man is.  I thought I would delve a little farther into the character and find out who he truly was - or, at least, who he was created to be.  This idea came to me while standing in the middle of The Library Center in Springfield, MO, so I immediately ran to the Fiction section and looked for books by Ian Fleming, the creator of the character.  And there it was:  Casino Royale.  The very first James Bond novel; the one that changed the world forever.  I had heard that Fleming had been in British intelligence or the army or something, so I wanted to see how he truly created the character before Bond was commercialized and made a star.  And I must say, to date, that the books have been amazing and an incredible adventure to read.  So let's compare the first book with one of the last movies of the same name, and we'll see which one ends up holding all the cards.

The first James Bond book is set in the early 1960s after Bond has finished fighting with the army in the Cold War and has settled into his new routine as a spy for British Intelligence.  We learn in the second chapter that he has already been given "Double 0" status, and that he has had to kill two men in order to achieve that title.  The movie Casino Royale, which stars newcomer to the franchise Daniel Craig, takes the liberty of showing us those two kills in the opening sequence.  I was happy to see that, as it drove home the point that Bond could kill and not think twice about it.  Bond is then given his first "Double 0" mission; defeat Le Chiffre, the treasurer of a Soviet-backed trade union in France, at baccarat.  The Secret Service hopes this will bankrupt Le Chiffre, causing Soviet espionage agency SMERSH to kill him.  Little does MI6 know that this interaction with SMERSH will be the first of many...  In the movie, Bond is sent to enter a poker tournament that Le Chiffre is hosting in the exquisite Casino Royale, and the expert gambler accepts.  I enjoyed reading about baccarat in the novel, and for those, like me, who had no idea how to play the game, a brief tutorial was included by Fleming.  The movie opted for the most popular gambling game in the world:  Texas Hold' Em
Along the way Bond is introduced to Vesper Lynd, a beautiful but emotionally unavailable woman assigned to help him.  Played by Eva Green in the film, Vesper is written as a hard-headed tease, and Bond falls head over heels for her in both book and film.  Together they uncover several layers to Le Chiffre's money problems, but when Bond ends up broke at the baccarat table it is CIA agent Felix Leiter who steps in with enough American money to save the day.  Bond reenters the game, wins it all, and sends Le Chiffre on the run.  Or so he thinks...  The poker tournament portrayed in the movie is fascinating to watch.  What could easily bore the audience is made into a kind of action sequence; you are captivated by the two men and their showdown of cards and chips.  The game of Texas Hold 'Em is explained in the movie just as baccarat is in the novel, so even a complete stranger can easily follow along.  Jeffrey Wright plays Leiter in the film; an interesting choice for a character who makes an appearance in over half of the 22 Bond movies.  Wright's Leiter is quiet, but forceful.  Not the bumbling, resourceful hick he was made out to be in the preceding Bond films.

Bond's adventures with Le Chiffre take a new twist when he kidnaps Vesper and uses her as bait.  After an extreme amount of torture, which the book hints at subtly and the movie portrays vividly, an unknown assassin burts in, killing Le Chiffre but leaving Vesper and Bond alive.  Bond is sent to a hospital to recover for over three weeks, where he and Vesper fall in love and commit to one another.  I love this part of the movie, as it opens Bond up to see a completely human and vulnerable person.  Bond vows to quit the Secret Service only to learn that Vesper is not who she seems to be.  From this point the book and the film take completely different paths.  The book shows us the fearful side of Vesper who is constantly looking over her shoulder at a man with an eye patch who appears to be following them.  She is convinced he is after her, and after she commits suicide by pill swallowing Bond learns that she was a double agent for the Soviet Union who was sent to make sure Bond did not escape Le Chiffre.  In the film, however, Vesper is still followed by a man with an eye patch, but she meets up with him to pay him off.  Bond learns later that she was paying him for the life of her boyfriend who was captured and being held prisoner.  After an enormous fight scene in a flooded building, Bond tries to rescue Vesper, but she pulls back, drowning herself.  Both endings have Vesper saving Bond's life while hiding a terrible secret, and both end with Bond's famous words to M, the head of MI6:  "The bitch is dead."

An amazing story, plenty of action, a gorgeous leading man, and an amazing spy story:  Casino Royale, either version, has it all.  Overall I think the movie wins out here.  It really gives us a better outlook on who Bond was before he was given a "license to kill," and before his emotions were shut down completely.  I highly suggest reading the novel, and if you haven't seen the movie you are missing out!

You can purchase Casino Royale (2-Disc Full Screen Edition) or Casino Royale (Collector's Edition + BD Live) [Blu-ray] from  Also, make sure you pick up a copy of Casino Royale (James Bond Novels) so you can compare them yourself!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Join Tina Fey and Steve Carell for a "Date Night"!

Catch Steve Carell and Tina Fey in roles you've seen them in at least 100 times... but it still adds up to a great night of comedy and an excuse for a Date Night!

Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a very normal, very boring couple who live just outside New York City. Their's is a comfortable life - two kids, a nice house, solid careers. But when two of their best friends announce they are getting divorced because their marriage is in a rut, Phil and Claire take action to prevent their marriage from ending up the same. What is supposed to be an exciting dinner at a new restaurant turns into a case of mistaken identities, grand larsony, and highly entertaining comedy.

Written by Josh Klausner (writer of Shrek The Third and Shrek Forever After) and directed by Shawn Levy of Night At The Museum fame, Date Night offers a little something for every type of comedic taste. Those that appreciate Steve Carell's face contortions and signature verbal... blatherings will love watching his character attempt to deal with situations far beyond his comfort zone. And the classic dead pan that Tina Fey brings to her delivery brings a nice balance to the two actors. Mark Wahlberg appears several times throughout the film, and does what he does best - looking hot with his shirt off. Don't get me wrong, there are times when he can actually act, but his main purpose for this film was, in fact, to be shirtless. No arguments here.

Although the movie is rated PG-13 I didn't find anything in it to be offensive or lude, so letting your teenager watch it shouldn't be a problem. The film is only 88 minutes long, which took me back to the days of the 80s when movies were short and the comedy was quick. The action begins relatively quickly in this film, which is a nice change. The opening scenes merely set the stage for who the Fosters are, and who they don't want to become, which leads quickly and easily into their completely screwed up evening. My recommendation: IF YOU LIKE STEVE CARELL AND TINA FEY YOU WON'T WANT TO MISS THIS FILM! If you don't, at least catch it on DVD. It's short enough - you won't mind.

Date Night on DVD and Date Night [Blu-ray] are now available at

Monday, May 10, 2010

This isn't your parents Christian music...

Brace yourselves for the next great local band to come roaring through, and one of Missouri’s own shall lead them…

The Christian rock band Human Anyway is celebrating the release of their first album, “Yet To Be Determined.” Their music is driving, and the message they offer through their songs is one of hope, forgiveness, and the right to be, well, human.

The Springfield, MO band is led by Zac Rantz, whose lead vocals are crisp and fun. Brothers Jeremy and Chris Anglen play lead guitar and bass respectively, and Jeremy’s powerful backing vocals are heard in many of the band’s rock numbers. John Van Gordon’s rhythm guitar and Matt Petry’s drumming round out the band’s full sound, and although these guys have only played together a few years, they work tightly together and compliment each other well. I enjoyed listening to the “Yet To Be Determined” demo, not just because I know a few of these guys, but also because their songs are progressive. This is not an album where every song sounds the same and covers the same topic. Each track is unique, having it’s own sound and message. From “Humble Me,” which jumps out and lets you know this isn’t your parent’s Christian music that you’re hearing, to the slower ballad “Dear Child” and the catchy groove of “Beautiful Disaster” (as a side note – are there any Christian rock bands in the last ten years who haven’t had a song called “Beautiful Disaster”?), the album keeps you entertained, tapping your feet, and, in some cases, banging your head. Like most bands starting out the guys have written all their own songs, which once again proves how diverse they are in style and talent. Probably the best compliment I can give the band on their first recording is this – it doesn’t sound like a homegrown recording. This record actually sounds like an accomplished band.

I’ve also seen the band live, and was really impressed with their stage presence. They have fun together and play off each other well, and their loyal following proves it. There is nothing quite like seeing a good band in concert and feeling the beat vibrate all the way down to your shoes… I highly suggest seeing them live if you get the chance.

Human Anyway’s debut CD was released in March and is available in limited release and on iTunes.. You can also purchase the song What You Get Is What You See from  For more information visit the band’s website.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A... different kind of comedy

The previews were funny. The early reviews were good. And the movie itself was… different.

Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre in the dark comedy The Informant! Damon gained nearly 30 pounds to play this role for no other purpose than to look more like a soft, settled company executive, which he did. As the VP of an agri-business giant, Whitacre is exposed to all kinds of illegal executive activity and has finally decided he’s had enough. He turns over his knowledge to FBI Agent Brian Shepherd, beautifully played by Scott Bakula, and the government decides to make Whitacre an informant in order to take the company down. Damon does a superb job of playing the overly brilliant goof, who causes his own twists and turns in the film. Every scene turns up new evidence and information, and the twists just keep on coming. While the audience is made to like Whitacre, he is definitely not what he seems, and that is part of his charm and a big part of the movies plot. The script, written by Scott Z. Burns, was based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald, and wasn’t supposed to be a comedy. It’s very dry, very dark in some places, and is only salvaged as humorous because of the massive amounts of comics who were cast in the film. Tom Smothers, Bob Zany, Tom Papa, Melanie Lynskey, Joel McHale, and Patton Oswalt are just the tip of the comic iceberg, and each delivers their own brand of sarcasm and wit that makes even the most serious line something that draws a snicker.

The movie gets off to a slow and somewhat confusing start, with Damon narrating about things that have nothing to do with his character or his actions. In the end you realize these are the thoughts going through Whitacre’s brain as they occur, but it takes a while to put that together. Unfortunately by the time the action really got moving and you realized the truth about Whitacre, there was only 10 minutes left in the film. And supposedly this movie is set in the early 90s, but the costumes and most set pieces suggest a late 70s flair, which confused me early on. All in all the movie is worth seeing, but I would definitely wait until it hits the second-run theaters so you can pay less and still be just as confused as the folks who saw it the first time around.

The Informant! is rated R for language and has a running time of 108 minutes. You can purchase The Informant! on DVD or The Informant! [Blu-ray] from

Live from Branson... The Rankin Brothers!

Take a trip back with some of the best music from the 50s through the 90s with one of Branson’s hottest shows – The Rankin Brothers!

This show is comprised of two singing and guitar playing brothers, Matt and Mark Rankin, three female vocalists, and five amazing musicians. Every impressive note heard in the theater is live, and at intermission it is noted that they are one of the few shows in town to still uphold that fact.

Inspired by early duet groups of the 50s and 60s, the Rankins take you on a musical journey through the decades as they sing and dance their way through The Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Sonny & Cher, and more. Both brothers have very unique voices in that Matt can hit almost every classic high note in “Unchained Melody” and Mark can imitate the vocal stylings of everyone from Neil Diamond to Elvis Presley. The female vocalists, “The Rankinettes,” get their share of the spotlight when they are featured in famous chick-songs like “Its My Party,” “Mr. Postman,” and “One Fine Day.” All in all the music selections were fun, although expected and overplayed by many shows in Branson, and the show maintained a great energy that kept the entire audience clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

The brothers offer their own unique comedy style in the show as well. The ongoing joke about how embarrassed the family is by Mark’s obsession with impersonating Elvis is well played, and the brothers banter towards each other, as well as their competition with each other is always fun to watch.

After the show both Rankin brothers stay in the lobby to greet each person who attended, sign autographs, and take pictures. This is a great way for them to connect with their audience, and to let everyone in on a secret I have known about the brothers for over a year – they truly are the nicest people in Branson! I have met both brothers on numerous occasions and can personally tell you I have never met more genuine and polite entertainers. They truly love what they do, and they are outwardly grateful for their fans and show patrons. Let me tell you, it is refreshing to be around!

If you love rock and roll through any decade, you will love this show. There is something for everyone, so take the kids and take your parents and enjoy a fun night with The Rankin Brothers! Held at The Caravelle Theatre on Highway 76, the show runs every Tuesday – Saturday at 8 p.m. Be sure and check out the brothers on their website.

"The Proposal" has something for everyone!

One of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time, The Proposal has something for everyone!

While the premise may lead you to believe this is a chick flick – think again. This movie touches every style of humor, and does it in ways that are actually, well, funny. From Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, who play Margaret, the corporate witch that every employee loves to hate, and Andrew, the corporate doormat that everyone can relate with, all the way down to Betty White as the 90-year-old grandmother who calls it like she sees it in every way, the casting was perfect. Director Anne Fletcher leads you through an engaging story so that every look, every word, and every scene means something to the audience, and she keeps you laughing from beginning to closing credits. The cast has great chemistry; and the scenery in the film is amazing. This film has inspired me to take a trip to Alaska, where it is set, just from seeing the beautiful landscape.

The story is based around Margaret’s ploy to stay in the country after finding out she will be deported back to Canada due to some issues with her working visa. In a moment of pressure she comes up with the plan to marry Andrew, her assistant who will do anything to keep his job and move up in the company. They are questioned by every person in their lives as to the validity of this sudden news; his parents, the Immigration office, and their co-workers all have trouble believing it could ever happen. But in their quest to commit fraud, they find out the truth about each other, and a lot about themselves. It really is a feel-good story, but a lot of that is based on the fact that you never go more than about three full minutes without a solid belly laugh. Seriously, few movies have made me laugh as much and as often as this film did.

Another notable performance was given by Oscar Nunez as Ramone, shop-keeper by day, out-of-shape exotic dancer by night. His dance moves are on display for all to see in one hilarious scene with Margaret looking mortified and the women of the town laughing hysterically.

The Proposal is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, brief nudity, and language, and is probably best suited for late teens and older. Don't hold your breath for amazing DVD extras - there are NONE! Pretty disappointing, as I would love to see Bullock and Reynolds talk about working together. All in all, grab a date, a friend, or your mom, and you are guaranteed to enjoy a great summer comedy.

Purchase The Proposal today from by clicking on the following links: 
The Proposal (Single Disc Widescreen)
The Proposal (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition + Digital Copy)
The Proposal [Blu-ray]