New Bond is the best Bond
I was relieved when I discovered that Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman ranked "Casino Royale" in his 2006 Top 10 films list. I thought maybe I had gone too far out on that critical limb. But with the exception of best picture winner "The Departed," I had no better time at the movies this year than with this smart, savvy reboot of the James Bond franchise.
Daniel Craig reminded us of what 007 really was; not a technophile or bon vivant with a tuxedo pocket full of bon mots, but a trained assassin for his country's secret service, with all the psychic baggage the job carries.
"Casino Royale" is now released as a two-disc "Special Edition" in full-screen or wide-screen (4 stars, $28.96); as a film-only single-disc ($28.96); in BluRay ($38.96, on which I will almost certainly and happily spend my own money) , and in a double-pack coupled with Craig's fine and little-seen 2004 crime thriller "Layer Cake" (3 stars, $43.95).
"Casino" was adapted from Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, and this is fairly true to the original tale, though it is has been updated from 1952 to the present.
It sends Bond -- having just completed his first kill under the new 007 license issued him by M -- to Uganda, where he makes a botch of his first secret mission, rendering it decidedly un-secret.
From there it's off to the Bahamas and an unofficial hunt for a terrorist cell, and then to Montenegro, where he will take on -- under the watchful eye of a beauteous bean-counter (Eva Green) assigned to keep him and the budget in line -- the terror ring's money launderer La Chiffre. Their battleground? A casino table, playing Hold ` Em poker.
It's a welcome back-to-earth for the franchise. For my chips, there's never been an actor more suited to the role of Bond than Craig, even with Sean Connery's irresistible charmer legend looming large.
He's slightly haunted, morally compromised, realistically romantic and, especially in those retro swim trunks, should have little problem regaining the female fandom that eroded over the last two decades.
"The Holiday" (3 stars, Columbia-TriStar, $28.95) with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet trading homes and finding new loves.
The intense streets-of-L.A. drama "Harsh Times" (3 stars, MGM, $28.95) stars Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez.
TV on DVD:
The final installment in the "I Love Lucy" reissues is titled "The Complete Series 7-9" (4 stars, Paramount, $38.99), but this extremely welcome four-disc set will be best remembered to baby boomers as "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour," the title that was later given to the one-hour specials.
The series was extended to hour-length so the Ricardos and the Mertzes, now ensconced in Westport, Conn., could travel (episodes are set in Mexico, Alaska and Japan) or to showcase big-name guest stars. (One show is a cross over with Danny Thomas and the cast of "Make Room for Daddy.")
The big news for fans here is the complete version of the "I Love Lucy" feature film intended for theaters, then shelved in favor of "The Long, Long Trailer." Even the extras are special; there's a few minutes of color footage that was secretly taped by a member of the live audience.
A new, adult version of the Robin Hood legend is due to show up soon on the tube, but the BBC got there first in the 1980s: "Robin of Sherwood Set 1" (3 stars, Acorn, $59.99) collects the 13 episodes that made up Seasons 1 and 2 of this well-acted, often mystical drama with Michael Praed as Robin and the great Ray Winstone as a crazed Scarlet.
"Bosom Buddies -- The First Season" (Paramount, $31.99), the sitcom that unleashed a cross-dressing Tom Hanks on the world.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- Original Series Season 4" (Lionsgate, $39.98), a five-disc set of the animated series.
"The Pretender 2001/The Pretender -- Island of the Haunted" (Fox, $29.98), the two made-for TV movies intended to wrap up the story lines after the series was canceled in 2000.
Family film of the week:
The BluRay must-have of the week is, for once, not an action movie. It's the best sports movie ever made, "Hoosiers" (4 stars, MGM, $39.98), looking better on your high-def TV than it ever did in theaters, and released right in time for March Madness.
Gene Hackman plays the college coach who takes a last-chance job at a small-town Indiana high school in the 1950s, and proceeds to turn a rag-tag high school team into winners.
Dennis Hopper is the alcoholic parent who volunteers to be his assistant.
The understated yet sweeping heartland cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith's emotion-tugging score are greatly enhanced by BluRay, and all the extras that were included on the still-available two-disc Collector's Edition ($29.98) are here as well. A regular single disc version ($14.98) is available.
One version belongs in every family library.