Superspy Vs. Spheniscidae

his Year’s Bond and Dancing Penguin go toe-to-toe.
— I know everybody’s gushing about it right now, but once the adrenaline subsides (two weeks, tops), most will see that it is obscenely underwritten, with nary a memorable line to be found.

Casino Royale (’06)
Entertainment Value: 4/13
Style: 6/13
Philosophical Insight: N/A
In A Word: Lame


www.ubercine.com/DoubleBills

Superspy Vs. Spheniscidae

This Year’s Bond and Dancing Penguin go toe-to-toe.

By Gregory Weinkauf
24 November, 2006

Two heroes. Two missions. Two cold and dangerous
milieux. One wandering protagonist is a sadistic human
who gets
off on hurting people. The other is a dewy Emperor
Penguin who can’t stop tap-dancing…

Welcome to this ÜberCiné Double Bill™: Casino Royale (’
06) and Happy Feet.

On the “adult” side we have a very dependable and
lucrative franchise, “rebooted” (as everyone loves
saying — “Dude,
it’s a total reboot!”) in exactly the same way that the
Batman franchise was rebooted last year, i.e.: Rendered
“dark,”
brutal and joyless.

On the “child” side we have original new material from
a very dependable and really quite brilliant director
(that’d be
George Miller) who not only knows his way around a
cuddly fable (Babe), but almost single-handedly
reinvented the
Handsome Pugnacious Hero mythos, about a quarter
century ago, with the Mad Max franchise.

Let the comparative analysis begin!

First, it should be understood that both Casino Royale
and Happy Feet are origin stories — noting, of course,
that Happy
Feet begins with the hero cracking his way out of his
one-pound egg, whereas Casino Royale begins with the
hero
cracking a scumbag’s skull through a breakaway urinal.
Kinda different. At least…on the surface.

Our penguin hero is Mumble (voiced by Elizabeth Daily,
then Elijah Wood) — so named (?) by his future
girlfriend, Gloria
(Brittany Murphy), with whom he shares a bond (tee-
hee) from birth. Although Mumble’s parents (Nicole
Kidman and
Hugh Jackman) play by their peculiar society’s rules —
involving the harmonising of personal Heart Songs,
which inspire
mating rituals to strains of Prince’s “Kiss” (if ever an
entertainer could be defined as “a dropped egg”…)
intermingled
with Elvis Presley and gawd knows what else — their
son is born…different. An Outsider. A Rebel. A Reluctant
Hero.

Mumble cannot sing (he sounds remarkably like Chris
Cornell), so instead he tap-dances his passion across
the ice.

Our human hero is James Bond (Daniel Craig, shrug) —
who in this version of Casino Royale (which varies
significantly
from the 1954 Climax! TV version with Peter Lorre, the
1969 spoof and even Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel
itself)
arrives to us as a sort of rabid tabula rasa; he’s an adult
(about as much as I am) but knows virtually nothing
about
himself or his destiny (no comment). In fact, even his
backstory (sidestepping the crop of “Young Bond”
novels) is semi-
rewritten aboard a train by his shapely associate,
Vesper Lynd (Eva Green — who pretty much gave up
everything in
Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, but does not here), who
paints Bond as a confused orphan (he isn’t) then causes
him to fall
instantly and madly in love with her simply by telling
him that she finds his gluteal tissue attractive. Deep.
Bond also
struggles somewhat with his Royal Secret Service
mother figure, M (Judi Dench again), who is maternal in
that she
threatens to have him killed for his constant insolence,
but not so maternal in that she might actually do it.
Thus, Bond
too is an Outsider. A Rebel. A Reluctant Hero.

Bond cannot forge meaningful relationships with people
(he behaves remarkably like Kevin Federline), so
instead he goes
around slaughtering mostly black people in extremely
unpleasant ways.

Despite many surface distinctions, Happy Feet and
Casino Royale actually share much in common. For
example, both
involve outrageous stunts, with our respective heroes
and others bounding through physically impossible
obstacle
courses, the penguins’ made largely of ice and water
plus the odd buoy (directed with astounding brio) and
the humans’
made of towering girders, construction cranes and lifts,
and — eventually — one of those gradually sinking old
buildings
along the canals of Venice (defnintely this Bond movie’s
most imaginative sequence — which, alas, ain’t sayin’
much).

Yes, since these are both arguably action films, a few
words about the direction. Although the Bond movie
goes in for
some of that already-weary ‘90s shaky-cam’n’grainy-
stock tomfoolery, director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye
and, like
Miller, an antipodean) generally keeps the action clean
and comprehensible — if also very, very violent (this
Bond movie is
definitely not for kids). I lodge a personal complaint
that Campbell totally rips off the Adversaries Fighting In
A Speeding
Truck stylee popularised in the ‘80s in films as diverse
as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Brazil — with a bow to
Miller’s
The Road Warrior, of course — but my audience didn’t
seem to mind the hack-like redundancy (I yawned at
that damned
truck, big-time). Being kind, I’ll give Campbell a point
for Bond’s car flipout, which is nifty. Meanwhile, Miller
takes
Happy Feet — a deceptively “cute” (and mostly
computer-generated) movie — to truly ecstatic heights
of action and
excitement. If the guy sucked, I’d say so, but instead he
and his many, many, many animators create a gorgeous
icy
wonderland — then populate it with creatures noble,
goofy and vicious, rendered via angles and “camera”-
moves that
constantly astound the eye. Bravo there.

As a side note, Happy Feet is the first CG feature I have
adored.

Other similarities between the two projects include
problems of greed and scarcity (in Casino Royale,
money; in Happy
Feet, fish); weird opening titles (Casino Royale with a
bunch of appropriate but unsexy card crap; Happy Feet
apparently on Mars?); sequences of capture and torture
(relative torture in Happy Feet anyway; whereas I have
no idea
how the Bond movie, with its seatless-rattan-chair-
scrotum-whipping scene, squeaked through without a
hard ‘R’); plus
both movies feature ardent — if largely implied —
sexuality (briefly, in Happy Feet, the young Mumble and
Gloria engage
in playful Soixante-neuf, Doggie and Missionary — and
no, I am not kidding).

The plots, however, these vary somewhat. The Bond
movie is mostly concerned with showing off a range of
Sony
products — I don’t know what people are talking about
when they say that this one doesn’t feature “gadgets,”
because
virtually every scene includes either a VAIO or an
Ericsson as a pivotal tool, usually held up to the camera
as if featured
as a prize on The Price Is Right. Meanwhile, the subplot
of the Bond movie is that a totally mean guy named Le
Chiffre
(Mads Mikkelsen) goes around crying tears of blood out
of his grody left eye and using an asthma inhaler (Ooh!
An
Asthma Inhaler!) when he’s not money-laundering for
the world’s terrorists. Once Bond beds (or, rather,
floors – he’s a
rogue, y’know) his first babe (Caterina Murino and her
delightful bosom; I like that she has wasted her chances
for
happiness on retarded “bad boys”), and he saves Miami’
s fleet of ostentatiously-placed Virgin Atlantic
aeroplanes from
being near big-new-plane-almost-go-boom (see: Boring
Speeding Truck Sequence), he is sent to Montenegro, to
play
brief segments of cards against Le Chiffre and a
Benetton spectrum of racially diverse counterparts (the
Asian fellow is
named “Mr. Fuckyoutoo”?), in between which they keep
taking “short, one-hour breaks” so that people staying
at the
luxury hotel can attempt to kill each other. The
objective, apart from showing off Sony products
(ATTENTION
PRODUCERS: WHY NOT JUST CHANGE HIS NAME TO
“JAMES SONY”?), is for Bond to win all of Le Chiffre’s
money and really piss him off bad, so that we can enjoy
that lovely scrotum-whipping scene in Act Three.

As for Happy Feet (which also features a scrotal
moment — albeit a vastly cuter one), its plot mainly
concerns The
Selling Of The Soundtrack Album, which doubtless
contains a Moulin Rouge-like mélange of Pop Classics,
Original and
Covered (most of which I really liked, although I don’t
enjoy other people attempting to sing “Somebody to
Love” — we
already dealt with that in Ella Enchanted — plus Jason
Mraz totally sucks covering “The Joker,” banished to the
end of
the credits like a shamed child — and no, I’m not an
obsessive Steve Miller fan). Meanwhile, the subplot of
Happy Feet
involves The Many Ordeals of Mumble. Foremost among
these is being befriended by not one but two Robin
Williamses
— both spouting obnoxious ethnic caricatures that
would get you sued if you used them in a restaurant.
(This would be a
problem if Williams weren’t so blasted funny: I did not
for one moment think, “Oh, Cheech and that Big Momma
guy
could do this better.”) Cast from his flock by the
wizened Scotch-Puritanical leader, Noah (Hugo
Weaving, along with
“V” making two excellent voice-portrayals in one year),
Mumble bumbles with Ramon (Williams) and his
shorter-
penguin-species Latino Amigos (your demographic-
research dollars at work), then he takes a sky-high dive
Bond
couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams to confront the
“Aliens” (us) who are (typically) overfishing the region
(and, in
metaphor, the entire planet).

You know, with its effervescent blend of rich
characterisation, grooves, hilarity, thrills, (literal) chills
and Planetary
Message, I have just decided that Happy Feet is a
wonder, a true classic, one of the greatest motion
pictures of all time.
There aren’t enough good words for it.

Happy Feet even gets a bunch of physiological realities
right — whereas the Bond movie mainly focuses on
pornographic
grunting in the midst of rampant sadism, its “keepin’ it
real” ethos (whatever; it’s James Bond) occasionally
shattered by
ridiculous displays of superhuman skill.

As for the stuff of which movies are made, I found the
supporting cast of Happy Feet (the aforementioned, plus
Johnny
Sanchez, Miriam Margolyes, even the late Steve Irwin as
an amusingly yucky elephant seal) far superior to that
of Casino
Royale (Jeffrey Wright being the primary highlight —
and he doesn’t really get to do anything). The music of
this Bond is
acceptable — even though mostly it’s a retread of Eric
Serra’s trademark chilly synthwork — whereas Happy
Feet’s
seamless and imaginative blend of lyrically incongruous
pop songs (Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Dancehall, you
name it)
and lush orchestration, frankly, blows it away. And
design? Well, the Bond is good — a little chilly Prague
(curiously, in
black and white, so you know it’s in the misty past of,
what, 2005?), a little sweaty Madagascar, a little
(natch) opulent
casino — but Happy Feet, while in terms of setting
stealing liberally from the Ice Age movies (and,
ironically, not the
Madagascar movies!), achieves its own dreamy state of
consciousness (from the opening storm and
hallucinatory vision
of “The Great Guin” to the rousing marching-band-like
climax) that somehow takes cold CG visuals and infuses
them all
— from eyeballs to icebergs — with an artful and vital
spirit.

As for the dialogue, it’s no contest. I don’t care about
Paul Haggis, but if indeed it was he who put lines like “I
can’t
resist waking you. Every time you look at me it’s as if
you haven’t seen me in years. It makes me feel reborn,”
into the
mouth of Vesper Lynd, I’d at least like to thank him for
causing me to snicker quite loudly at the screen. See,
that’s the
thing about this Bond outing — I know everybody’s
gushing about it right now, but once the adrenaline
subsides (two
weeks, tops), most will see that it is obscenely
underwritten, with nary a memorable line to be found.
On Her Majesty’s
Secret Service is the best of the Bond films — featuring
an astute balance of action, adventure, intrigue,
romance and wit.
But I prefer even cheesy Bond (Roger Moore with
Tarzan yell) to this almost entirely witless Bond.

In this regard also, Happy Feet kicks tail. From Mumble’
s father Memphis’ chagrin over his son’s zany dancing
(“It just
ain’t penguin, okay?”) to Williams-Ramon’s constant
commentary (“What he’s trying to do now is push her
away; let’s
watch the fun”), this is a script. It is written. It knows
what it’s doing.

Big applause for Miller and his co-scribes, Warren
Coleman, John Collee and Judy Morris.

Thematically, as well, Happy Feet trounces Casino
Royale. Mumble, lone penguin, does indeed push away
his luscious
lady-love — that he may triumph as an individual, even
save his people. Bond, meanwhile, as aforementioned,
instantly
loses his heart to a kind of pudgy-faced, moley girl with
a low neckline — just because she’s kind of nice to him
for a
couple of days — and then he proceeds to be a cruel
hater of all humanity just because she dies because she’
s stupid.
Folks, I love a tragedy as much as anyone, but where
exactly is the pleasure in this dry nothingness?

As for flaws, I only spotted one in Happy Feet: During
Mumble’s first encounter with the hawks, his little grey
“bow-
tie” marking is curiously absent in one of the shots. But
this is nothing compared to Bond’s countless facial
lacerations
healing, repeatedly, within seconds. Anyway, the main
flaw of the Bond movie lies in its overall obviousness
and
kowtowing to trends — which sinks it. Happy Feet may
not be entirely original — call it Moulin Rudolph or
Tundra
Footloose — but its reworking of familiar elements
certainly qualifies as Fresh. Whereas “Bond 21” (or
whatever — I say
the fun Never Say Never Again counts) is merely trading
on a franchise that hasn’t made sense in decades.
Without
actually involving risk, it’s a Junk Bond.

Obviously it is a bit absurd to liken these two movies,
but these opinions derive not at all from a personal
taste for life-
affirming entertainment over show-offy nihilism (I
enjoyed, for instance, The Crow). It’s just that this Bond
movie —
apart from perhaps one minor character twist — is
thuddingly predictable and insultingly formulaic: I can
almost hear the
Broccolis sitting around their hangar full of Brosnan-
money, intoning, “We gotta go dark, we gotta go hard.”
Bo-ring. On
the other hand, this other hero’s story, Happy Feet, sets
tried-and-true themes to an irresistible beat, drops a
dozen
surprises per minute and gives corporate entertainment
a soul. To that, I can groove.

Casino Royale (’06)
Entertainment Value: 4/13
Style: 6/13
Philosophical Insight: N/A
In A Word: Lame.

Happy Feet
Entertainment Value: 13/13
Style: 13/13
Philosophical Insight: 13/13
In A Word: Yowza!

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