It’s that time of year again, when there are so many interesting films playing that I just can’t keep up with them all.

And considering the pile of extra writing projects I’m dealing with right now, I’m farther behind than usual.

I did, however, manage to see three impressive films this week. While I won’t have time to write full reviews anytime soon, here are some quick recommendations…

Casino Royale:
I am not a James Bond fan. I’ve found the past Bond films to be amusing, occasionally entertaining, often mind-bogglingly silly. As for the debate over “Which Bond is the best?”, well, I couldn’t care less. They’ve all had strengths and weaknesses. But I’ve found the character to be so annoyingly pompous and reckless and super-humanly bland that I just don’t care to recommend any of them…

… except this one.

Sure, some Bond fans are saying it’s sacrilige to “humanize” Bond, to let him make mistakes, to give him a heart. But I say that the rough edges, the flaws, and the humanity that Casino Royale allows Bond to expose make him ten times more interesting. And as an actor, I think Daniel Craig is the most intriguing, watchable, and compelling of any that have come before. That’s my opinion, anyway, and that’s why I found Casino Royale to be so much fun.

It’s an odd film. When it was over, I agreed with my friend Danny Walter: The film feels like a backwards action movie. The big, big action scenes are at the beginning, and the film slows down as it goes, so that the last half hour unfolds at a surprisingly casual rate. But even as this took place, I could feel the character coming to life more and more, so that at the end I was no longer looking at an action figure, but at a human being; not a cocky, womanizing jackass who’s good with a gun, but a guy with history, heartbreak, and, well… the potential to become a cocky, womanizing jackass.

While most of the action takes place at the beginning, the action scenes are some of the most exciting I’ve seen since the Indiana Jones films. And I don’t mean to suggest that the later chapters of the film are boring… the action going on as Bond spars with the intellects of his enemies is quite exciting in its own way.

Eva Green is my favorite Bond girl ever, and I know that’s going to earn me some heckling, but what can I say? She was smart and beautiful. Green is developing an impressive body of work, having scorched the earth in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and made an impression in Kingdom of Heaven as well. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

And speaking of futures, I hope Daniel Craig plays Bond for many sequels, so long as they’re written as well as this one.

The Double Life of Veronique, The Criterion Collection DVD:
Watched it today. Remembered why this is in my all-time top ten favorite films. It’s my idea of a perfect film. Absoutely divine. Poetry in motion and color. Gloriously musical. Ablaze with Irene Jacob’s beauty and talent. Shining with spiritual mysteries. Full of new revelations every time I watch it. Anne and I watched it together, silent and still, eyes wide and hearts full, deeply moved, our senses of awe and wonder rejuvenated.

The Criterion Collection’s version delivers the film so vividly, with such pristine color and light, such resonant sound, that it was like I was seeing the film for the first time. I noticed all kinds of things I had never noticed before. And I’ve only scratched the surface of all that this volume has to offer. Accept no substitutes!

Sometimes I wonder if I might actually like this film better than Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. But then I watch Blue again, and the cycle continues…

Catch a Fire:
Phillip Noyce’s latest is an absorbing, compelling drama, and Derek Luke makes an impressive leading man. It’s also great to see Tim Robbins again, playing a character that you can imagine might be a character he played once before, Bob Roberts, but many years later and many shades darker.

It’s a powerful film, but I think it moved along too fast for me to come to understand and care about the characters as much as I wanted to.

Still, there are many strengths to the film, from the performances to the cinematography to the music. See it if you can.

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