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Bond 26 Will Be Nothing Like Craig’s Movies – And That’s A Good Thing

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As James Bond looks toward the future, it must move away from the successes of the Daniel Craig era, to avoid accusations of relying on past glories.

Bond 26 will need to be a massive departure from Daniel Craig’s James Bond era, which will be a good thing for the franchise. Daniel Craig bowed out as James Bond in 2021’s long-delayed No Time to Die, wrapping up a narrative arc that had begun with 2006’s Casino Royale. The Daniel Craig era was defined by a more grounded style, reflecting the more brutal aspects of Ian Fleming’s blunt instrument of a British Intelligence agent. In a post-9/11 era of Jason Bourne-style figures, it was the reinvention that the franchise needed after the excesses of the later Pierce Brosnan movies.

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Despite the character being shockingly killed off in its climax,  No Time to Die promised: “James Bond will return“. As the franchise celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2022, audiences are pondering who will resurrect the 007 code name. Producer Barbara Brocolli, whose family has been involved with the franchise since its inception, has stated that the search for a new Bond has not yet begun. This is because they plan to “reinvent” the Bond franchise and haven’t yet decided on a decision in which to take the character. This is a promising sign for the franchise that hints at a long life for James Bond beyond his shocking death in No Time to Die.


Daniel Craig’s bold reinvention of the James Bond character was what the franchise needed in the early 2000s. Many aspects of the previous movie Die Another Day didn’t work due to its outlandish invisible car, reliance on CGI, and planet-slicing laser beam. Casino Royale reflected a back-to-basics approach that went back to the roots of Ian Fleming’s character. While that grittiness didn’t always gel with some of the more outlandish aspects of James Bond’s world, it was a fresh take on the character that resonated with audiences in a way that Timothy Dalton’s similar approach never quite achieved. As the franchise looks toward the future with James Bond 26, it needs to move away from the successes of the Daniel Craig era, to avoid accusations of relying on past glories.


Why James Bond 26 Needs A Reinvention After Daniel Craig’s Movies

The cinema landscape and the spy genre have changed considerably since production began on Casino Royale. In the interim period between Die Another Day and Casino Royale, the Matt Damon-fronted Bourne franchise set high standards for Bond movies to compete with. The more visceral action of Jason Bourne’s fight sequences clearly informed a similar tone to the action in Daniel Craig’s debut outing as James Bond. Gone was the glamour of previous Bond movies, replaced by bare-knuckle fights in grimy, crumbling apartment blocks. It was what the franchise needed at the time in order to remain relevant, but spy thrillers have moved on since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies.


The Bourne movies also had a more psychological bent, exploring the personal impact of working in the intelligence services, and this also inspired the Craig movies. In the novels, James Bond is an orphan, a womanizer, and a violent man who does his duty for Queen and country. This informs Daniel Craig’s characterization of Bond, playing him as a stoic orphan with commitment issues – commitment issues that are frequently exacerbated by the betrayals of James Bond’s love interests. The tragic arc of Craig’s James Bond comes with how he finally learns to trust someone and make a family for himself – a family that his life of violence dooms him to never fully embrace. This was a unique arc for the franchise, especially given how they’d previously side-stepped the aftermath of the death of Bond’s wife Tracy following George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The uniqueness of Craig’s era would be lost if Bond 26 attempted to follow a similar template, trapping them in a similar rut to the one that generated Die Another Day‘s more outlandish excesses.


What Direction Should James Bond 26 Go In After Daniel Craig’s Movies?

If Jason Bourne was James Bond’s biggest threat in the 2000s, then Ethan Hunt is surely the big threat to Bond in the 2020s. The Mission: Impossible movies have become a huge blockbuster success due in no small part to Tom Cruise’s commitment to doing his own life-threatening stunts. James Bond could learn from Mission: Impossible and its healthy dose of comedy, showstopping stunts, and breathtaking action sequences. James Bond movies used to be famous for their occasionally tongue-in-cheek action sequences and stunts, like Roger Moore’s Bond deploying a Union Jack parachute during a ski chase in The Spy Who Loved Me, or Timothy Dalton engaging in a bobsled chase on a cello in The Living Daylights. The increased focus on characterization and Bond’s psychological scars in the Daniel Craig movies shifted the focus from this grand tradition, and the Mission: Impossible movies enthusiastically filled the gap.

Ethan Hunt is also a man who cannot commit to a family in the Mission: Impossible movies, showing that it’s still possible to balance humor, action, and strong characterization to deliver a thrilling box office success. It’s what the James Bond franchise has mostly been doing since 1962, even injecting charm and humor into the bleaker tone of the Daniel Craig era. As the franchise looks toward the next six decades, it would do well to take the competition of the Tom Cruise franchise onboard as they build on the successes of both the Daniel Craig era and the history of James Bond to deliver a fresh take on the character and their world in Bond 26.





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Slap or No Slap — ‘Emancipation’ Is an Oscar Contender for Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua

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Will Smith is between a Chris Rock and a hard place.

The speculation surrounding Apple Original Films’ “Emancipation” and Smith, its star and producer, has been the watercooler talk of awards season and the bane of awards prognosticators tracking their charts. Will voters embrace the epic? Can they or should they?

Following his slapping of the comedian at the 94th Oscars, Smith resigned from AMPAS and was banned from attending the ceremony or other Academy-sponsored events for 10 years. However, that doesn’t preclude the “King Richard” best actor winner from being nominated or even winning another statuette during that period. Nor should it prevent Antoine Fuqua’s film from being considered for accolades.

If you removed “the slap” from the equation, this awards season’s directing race narrative would probably have been trending toward Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”) versus Fuqua (and it still can). Indeed, this is Fuqua’s “Schindler’s List” (for which Spielberg won his first Oscar): “Emancipation’s” piercing honesty and careful craftsmanship are the crowning achievement of Fuqua’s long career, which is marked by populist favorites such as “Training Day” (2001), which won Denzel Washington his lead statuette.

Will Smith in “Emancipation”
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The film tells the story of Peter (Smith), a runaway slave who sets out through the swamps of Louisiana on a grueling escape from the plantation owners who nearly killed him. Smith’s performance is not only soulful but commanding. His bearing as he traverses the rigorous terrain is reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning work in “The Revenant” (2015). Smith’s performance as Peter is more impressive than his Richard Williams in “King Richard” — and I thought he was fantastic in “King Richard.”

As for Smith’s chances of being nominated, the industry and cultural divide between supporters and naysayers will be far more complicated to navigate this time around. In conversations with members of the actors branch, they have expressed a range of feelings about Smith’s actions at the last ceremony, his punishment, and how he might be perceived in the eyes of industry voters.

I see an eerie parallel between the behavior of Academy voters and the quiet support of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. To be clear, I’m not comparing the two men’s actions or personal traits in the slightest, but rather the way Trump’s supporters, especially independent swing voters, weren’t particularly vocal about their intentions. Nevertheless, when it came time to put the pen to the pad and vote, they checked off his name. That could be the narrative for Smith, although if he does manage a nom, the media and public won’t have the same devastating reaction they had to Trump’s win.

Remember that the actors branch has 1,303 voting members, and a contender needs 217 votes to be nominated. There will undoubtedly be detractors of Smith, which is why I suspect that even if he were to beat the odds and land in the top five of lead actor when the nearly 10,000-strong Academy membership votes, his chances of winning may be slim to none. However, as one member shares with Variety: “Mel Gibson keeps coming back, and we know where he stands on people of color and Jews. Will got his beating. Everybody took swings at him in the media. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it. But now, we can move on. If he’s good, then he’s good.”

Apple

Smith’s prospects aside, will voters embrace “Emancipation’s” other accomplishments?

Typically, films tackling slavery face an uphill battle with voters who can’t stomach the grotesque depictions of inhumane treatment and the challenging subject matter. However, there might be a morbid curiosity to see “Emancipation,” if only to watch what Smith brings to the role.

As the villainous Fassel, who relentlessly chases Peter, Ben Foster may portray an abhorrent person who is an amalgamation of slave catchers throughout history. Still, the layer of fear he weaves into the character is an awards-caliber performance that calls to mind Oscar-nominated supporting turns such as Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave” and Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List.”

Demonstrating how to make the most of limited screen time, Charmaine Bingwa is unflinching as the film’s emotional pillar, Dodienne, Peter’s wife and mother to his children, to whom he’s desperately trying to return. There are elements that feel similar to Jessica Chastain’s work in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (2011), which isn’t overtly “loud” but still incredibly moving. In a wide-open supporting actress race, I hope the Academy won’t overlook such a breakout talent because of misgivings about the film’s star and producer.

The artisan team Fuqua assembled is full of some of cinema’s most gifted and respected. Notable among them is three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“JFK,” “The Aviator” and “Hugo”), who very well might have delivered his magnum opus with his framework blends of sepia tones and black-and-white imagery, particularly impressive considering the destruction caused by Hurricane Ida during production — no easy feat even for such a master.

If “Emancipation” is recognized for best picture, the Academy could face a complex public-relations dilemma. Smith is a credited producer and would be among the film nominees, along with Todd Black, Joey McFarland and Jon Mone. To have such an essential movie be nominated and the only Black producer (and possibly only Black actor) not be permitted to attend the ceremony will not sit well in the public square. That’s not to say the Academy should rescind its ban. Still, given the optics of Smith becoming the most nominated Black producer in history (he would tie with Jordan Peele at two each), the organization will have to rehash its verdict on Smith’s past actions and continue to highlight its diversity wins over the past few years. Or, it can pray to the Oscar gods that Smith doesn’t get nominated.

To see the current rankings for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub. The first set of SAG Awards predictions for film has also been revealed.

BEST PICTURE | DIRECTOR | ACTOR | ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING | SOUND | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | INTERNATIONAL FEATURE 



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Darby & The Dead Review: Downs & Cravalho Carry Tepid But Entertaining Dramedy

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An outcast girl, Darby Harper (Riele Downs) can commune with ghosts after a freak accident as a child. Due to her severe lack of socializing with the living, she retreats from the high school social scene. Enter Capri (Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho), the popular girl who was formally Darby’s best friend and now the queen bee cheerleader. At the cusp of turning 17, the self-centered cheerleader suffers an accident that actually kills her. Now, Capri has to handle her unfinished business before moving on to heaven, and who so happens to be the nearest medium to help her do so? Darby, the teenage ghost whisperer. To help the cheerleader pass on, the outcast must become popular and host the epic Sweet 17 party Capri has been planning for months. A deal is struck between the two, but the cost will be much less trivial than a party.

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If one thinks the summary for Darby and the Dead sounds awfully familiar, that’s because it most certainly is. Darby and the Dead may have different plot beats, but it fits neatly into the living-ghost-bond-over-death dramedy of recent years, most notably the Lana Condor-led Netflix series Boo, Bitch and the Victoria Justice-led Netflix film Afterlife of the Party. Or, if one is of a particular generation, they may recall the 2011 ABC Family (now Freeform) movie Teen Spirit, where a teen cheerleader is tasked with making the unpopular girl prom queen to pass on to heaven. Needless to say, this concept is not new, but what Darby and the Dead illuminates is how easy it is to fall into clichéd traps despite being a charming little romp.

Auli’i Cravalho and Riele Downs in Darby and the Dead

Within the opening segment, it is obvious how Darby and the Dead’s story will go beat for beat. However, Riele Downs is a magnetic lead, and Auli’i Cravalho is just as dynamic. The two have incredible chemistry and make the best of a tepid rehash of familiar tropes and story arcs. There is a desire to see the two actresses play around with wittier dialogue, but beggars can’t be choosers. Becca Greene’s script (from a story by Wenonah Wilms) is not without charm, but the conventions that suppress this fun premise are hard to overlook.

Again, Downs and Cravalho rise above it all and are consistently engaging. Tony Danza and Wayne Knight are fun surprises, with Danza being effortlessly endearing. That man has perfected the art of charm! Nicole Maines, who previously starred as Dreamer in The CW’s Supergirl, is… present, but heavily underutilized; Suffice it to say Maines could have been given more to do. Chosen Jacobs is also underused, but he has the benefit of playing the romantic lead with decent development. His chemistry with Downs is palpable, so his limited screen time is hardly a problem.

darby and the dead Chosen Jacobs Riele Downs
Chosen Jacobs and Riele Downs in Darby and the Dead

With its endlessly predictable nature, Darby and the Dead has the potential to be welcomed and embraced by fans of teen comedies. Silas Howard’s directing is not as flashy as it could be, but good enough for a basic teen dramedy. There is room for innovation and creativity with how the premise if showcased, but luckily there is enough flare, most notably in the production and costume design, to keep viewers engaged. But like so many projects that coming to streaming under the Disney banner, this perfectly fine movie will be buried on Hulu with little fanfare upon its arrival. The flick from 20th Century Studios is also poorly timed, as this is very much a Halloween-type release that is being released during the first week of December. So much of the success of a film relies on factors outside the actual story; a well-polished release strategy can make the mediocre more than it actually is.

What makes Darby and the Dead even more unfortunate is the fact that it is actually entertaining. It can easily capture audiences’ attention if it had a fraction of what it needs in the promotion arena. An abrupt release on Hulu is way less than it deserves. Darby and the Dead is far from a dud. Sure, it could be witter, funnier, darker, and a tad more innovative, but the film is solid overall. Instead of going the route of making an original story, the filmmaking team might have been better off adapting Meg Cabot’s underrated YA series The Mediator. However, with a stellar leading pair who make the most of the screenplay, Darby and the Dead has enough to keep audiences moved and laughing on occasion, though it is unclear whether it can bring viewers back for a rewatch. The only certainty is that Downs and Cravalho are great together and should have the privilege of leading more projects.

Darby and the Dead begins streaming on Hulu Friday, December 2. It is 100 minutes long and rated PG-13 for strong language, suggestive material and some teen partying.

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Amanda Seyfried Reunites With Lindsay Lohan and Asks: ‘Mean Girls 2‘ Is ’Never Going to Happen, Is It?’

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Amanda Seyfried has a question for Lindsay Lohan: Will “Mean Girls 2” ever happen? The two “Mean Girls” stars recently reunited for Interview Magazine, where Emmy winner Seyfried got to ask Lohan some questions as part of the latter’s press tour for her Netflix movie “Falling for Christmas.” It’s been 18 years since “Mean Girls” made its debut, and both actors are eager to return to the world of fetch and plastics.

“I would kill just to do one week, all of us playing our own roles on ‘Mean Girls’ on Broadway,” Seyfried said.

Lohan said “that would be really fun,” to which Seyfried asked: “Because a ‘Mean Girls 2’ is never going to happen, is it?

“I don’t know,” Lohan responded. “I heard something about it being a movie musical and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ We can’t do that. It has to be the same tone…Anyway, Tina [Fey] is busy. She’ll get around to it. Listen, we’re all part of each other’s worlds whether we like it or not, and it is really nice to be in contact as adults…everyone’s still the same. It’s fun to have certain memories that we can’t share with anyone else.

Fey, screenwriter of the original “Mean Girls” movie, adapted the film into a Broadway musical, which opened in April 2018 and earned 10 Tony nominations. As Variety reported last year, Fey is planning a film adaption of the Broadway musical. Arturo Perez Jr. and Samantha Jayne have been tapped to direct the project for Paramount. The original “Mean Girls” cast is not involved in the musical, but that’s not to say they don’t want to come back for a traditional film sequel to the 2004 classic.

“Oh, absolutely! I think it would be so much fun to see where these women are now,” co-star Lacy Chabert said on “The Tonight Show” earlier this month when asked about a “Mean Girls” sequel. “And if their kids are the new mean girls? I would love to know what they’re doing. Let’s do it!”

Seyfried told Lohan that her appreciation for “Mean Girls” has grown over time, adding, “Ten years ago I used to be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I was Karen in “Mean Girls,” for fuck’s sake.’ Now I’m like, ‘I was Karen in “Mean Girls” and I’m very proud of it!’ You had a lot to do with where it went and what it was. I don’t know if you know that. I’m sure you felt the pressure but it didn’t seem like you did. You were working really young, and you were really good, but you were still a kid.”

Read Seyfried and Lohan’s full conversation on Interview Magazine’s website. Lohan’s “Falling for Christmas” is now streaming on Netflix.



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