Blue Bayou Review

Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou has a compelling message about a touchy political issue. In its final moments, it serves as an angry takedown on the country’s immigration policies. This is spliced with moments of melodrama and a generous heaping of subplots. The mix is often just a little off in this overflowing gumbo of storylines though it occasionally has the recipe right for an emotional payoff.

The director serves as star and writer here. Chon is Antonio LeBlanc and he’s lived just outside of New Orleans for his cognizant life. A tattoo artist with a criminal past, Antonio is on the right track with his pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and precious stepdaughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). He remembers little (or so he says) about his first years in South Korea before becoming a foster child stateside, which too is off limits for discussion.

Kathy’s ex (Mark O’Brien) is a police officer who wants more face time with Jessie. That domestic dynamic puts Antonio in jeopardy when an encounter calls his naturalization status into question. Facing deportation, Bayou shifts to showing the impossibly jumbled procedural morass to remain in the only home that Antonio has truly known.

Speaking of shifting and jumbling, there’s a lot of it in this screenplay. In addition to the looming court date, our protagonist strikes up a friendship with a cancer stricken Vietnamese woman (Lanh Dan Pham). Their interactions touchingly show Antonio a life of family and fellowship that’s often escaped him.

Regarding his past criminal offenses involving stolen motorcycles, Antonio’s quick need for cash has him pondering a return to that life. This causes major tension between him and Kathy. Vikander is quite good in the role. She’s not your typical suffering spouse. One gets the impression that she’s the one holding it all together for her small but growing family. The actress gets a lovely moment in which she croons the track serving as the title.

We delve into Antonio’s abusive past – both in Louisiana and overseas. He also happens to be good buds with an ICE agent (a hulking Tony Vitrano) who might be escorting him onto a plane at some point. There’s Kathy’s disapproving mother. In the film’s worst characterization, there’s the partner of Kathy’s former boyfriend. He’s played by Emory Cohen as an exaggerated coconut drink sipping buffoon who’s either being the main reason for Antonio’s troubles or talking about andouille sausage. Cohen’s role has about as much subtlety as J.W. Pepper, the loud and crude Bayou sheriff from Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun (Roger Moore’s first two James Bond features).

The heart of Blue Bayou is certainly well-placed and its urgent call for reform is best felt in the epilogue displaying real cases of injustice and the legal loopholes that caused them. In the midst of all the subplots and busy work of the script, Antonio’s connection with Jessie is the one that may get you misty eyed. Chon is passionate about his subject matter. Yet it frequently feels like the passion could have been harnessed into a more cohesive structure and not this unwieldy result.

**1/2 (out of four)

James Bond: An Oscar History

Of the six actors to have played the most famous spy in cinematic history, only one of them has ever been nominated for an Oscar. That would be, of course, Sean Connery and he was victorious in 1987 for his supporting work in The Untouchables. It is worth noting that the last two Bonds (Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig) have Golden Globes nods in the Musical/Comedy category for The Matador and Knives Out, respectively.

With the recent death of Sir Connery, this got me thinking… how many actors from the nearly 60 year old franchise have been recognized by the Academy? And how much Oscar attention has the series itself received? For the first question, it was rather limited until Craig took over the role. For the second question, 9 out of the 24 official 007 entries have managed to get on awards voters radar screens. So let’s break it down, shall we?

Goldfinger (1964) was the third feature in the franchise and it marked the first nomination and win for the Bond catalogue. The pic took the Best Sound Effects trophy. One year later, Thunderball won for its Visual Effects. Connery’s final official appearance in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever resulted in a nod for its sound.

When Roger Moore took over the part, his debut saw the first theme song nominated courtesy of Paul McCartney’s title track to 1973’s Live and Let Die. There would also be song nods for both The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only in 1981. Spy would mark the first Bond flick to score multiple mentions with its score and art direction. And Moore’s 1979 space opus Moonraker was nominated for its visual effects.

George Lazenby’s one-off appearance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Timothy Dalton’s two 1980s pictures, and the 1990s-early 2000s four film Pierce Brosnan run yielded zero Oscar mentions. Same goes for Craig’s first two outings Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. 

So it had been over 30 years since a Bond adventure had been recognized on Oscar night when 2012’s Skyfall landed a franchise record 5 nominations. It won two with Adele’s theme song and its sound editing. The other nods were Score, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography. The song love would continue with 2015’s Spectre when Sam Smith won for his tune.

Add that up and we have 15 total nominations for the series and 5 wins.

We move to the thespians and their fortune at the big show. As mentioned, before the recent run of Craig titles, it was a bit limited. In fact, the number of actors who are Oscar nominees from the Craig run nearly equals everything that came before it. Giancarlo Giannini appeared in Casino and Quantum and he was a Best Actor nominee in 1975 for Seven Beauties. Ralph Fiennes (otherwise known as M) is a double nominee for Schindler’s List and The English Patient. Naomie Harris (or Moneypenny) achieved a Supporting Actress mention for 2016’s Moonlight. Albert Finney showed up in Skyfall and he was nominated five times in his long career. Craig’s original “M” was Judi Dench and she dates back to the Brosnan era. She’s a one-time winner with 6 other nominations.

That’s just the good guys. In the Craig era, the villains come with serious awards cred. Javier Bardem from Skyfall had taken Supporting Actor five years earlier in No Country for Old Men and is a two-time Best Actor nominee for Before Nights Falls and Biutiful. Christoph Waltz (Spectre) is a double Supporting Actor winner with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. And the next pic – the oft delayed No Time to Die – has Rami Malek as its main baddie. In 2018, he gave his acceptance speech for Bohemian Rhapsody. 

Going back to the beginning, From Russia with Love featured Lotte Lenye (a 1961 nominee for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) and Robert Shaw (nominated three years after Russia for A Man for All Seasons). And that’s actually the extent of performers from the Connery era nominated for Oscars… sort of. The legend did return to the role in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, though it is not considered part of the “official” catalogue. It does boast three Academy players with Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out of Africa), Max Von Sydow (Pelle the Conquerer and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and Kim Basinger (Supporting Actress recipient for 1997’s L.A. Confidential).

Telly Savalas costarred with Lazenby in Secret Service and he was nominated seven years earlier for his work in Birdman of Alcatraz. In the Moore era, there’s just Topol. He’s best known his nominated work in Fiddler on the Roof and he costarred in For Your Eyes Only. In the Dalton double feature, we have Benicio del Toro as he was a henchman in Licence to Kill. Over a decade later, he would win Supporting Actor for Traffic and get another nod for 21 Grams. Things picked up a bit with Brosnan. In addition to Dench, a trio of actresses were on their way or had already achieved nominations. Halle Berry co-headlined Die Another Day one year after winning Actress for Monster’s Ball. Minnie Driver had a small role in Goldeneye and would have her breakout part (along with Supporting Actress inclusion) two years later with Good Will Hunting. And Rosamund Pike was also in Die Another Day a decade plus before her Actress nod for Gone Girl. 

A final word. Not one of the 24 released 007 features has achieved any acting, directing, writing, or picture nominations of its own. Skyfall probably came the closest as some prognosticators wondered whether it could be the first to nab a Picture nod. It didn’t materialize, but its five nominations indicate it might have come the closest. Indeed, Daniel Craig’s time as Bond has seen him costar with the most Academy friendly costars. Let’s see if the next performer to play the iconic spy gets to act alongside that same kind of pedigree.

James Bond and the U.S. Presidency: A History

A fascinating factoid is out now that the U.S. Presidential Election of 2020 is in the rearview. As fans of the James Bond franchise are aware, we are now approaching the 60th anniversary of the series in 2022. The release of No Time to Die will mark the 25th official feature in the 007 canon when it (hopefully) debuts in 2021. As you are likely aware, the fifth and final Daniel Craig appearance as the British super spy was originally slated for April 2020 before its COVID-19 related delay.

Why am I saying all of this as it relates to the election that just happened? Well, it turns out that the Trump presidency will be the first since the series began in which no James Bond picture was released. That means there have been 10 U.S. Presidencies in a row where 007 appeared on the silver screen… from Kennedy to Obama. Until now. This will clearly resume when No Time is released in plenty of time for when Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office.

Based on this interesting little nugget of trivia info, I thought it might be fun to run through the movies that were released under each former POTUS and take stock with how their administrations matched up with Bond’s adventures onscreen:

The Presidency of John F. Kennedy

The Bond Pictures: Dr. No (1962)

It seems more than appropriate that this franchise started under JFK’s tenure. President Kennedy was a self-professed fan of the Ian Fleming novels. The producers of Bond actually chose From Russia with Love to be the second in the series because JFK singled it out as a favorite book. Sadly, the last movie the President ever watched at the White House was From Russia (months before its actual US release, though it was out in the UK). That was on November 20. Two days later is when Kennedy took the fateful trip to Dallas.

The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson

The Bond Pictures: From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967)

I would say it’s hard to argue that Johnson’s time in the White House isn’t the most impressive when it comes to the 007 catalogue. This was, of course, the heyday of Sean Connery’s time in the role which turned him into an international superstar. The first two titles on the board are often cited as the greatest of the bunch (my personal favorite is Russia).

The Presidency of Richard Nixon

The Bond Pictures: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973)

Nixon wins having the most Bonds during his time in office. There were three as his Presidency marked George Lazenby’s one off in Service, Connery’s return in Diamonds, and Roger Moore’s first outing with Live. I would also say the trio is all somewhat underwhelming to a degree (though I know the Service diehards will not appreciate that statement).

The Presidency of Gerald Ford

The Bond Pictures: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Pretty slim picking for Mr. Ford with Moore’s second go-round as 007. This is deservedly considered one of the weakest in the franchise.

The Presidency of Jimmy Carter

The Bond Pictures: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979)

The best of times and worst of times for Roger Moore matched with the Carter Administration. I would easily call Spy the finest Moore pic in his run while Moonraker is the low point.

The Presidency of Ronald Reagan

The Bond Pictures: For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), The Living Daylights (1987)

It’s appropriate that some of the titles here incorporate the Cold War activities happening in Reagan’s 1980s era. The list here includes two solid Moore outings (yes, I think Octopussy is quite good) and the middling finale of View. It also marks Timothy Dalton’s fairly pleasing debut in Daylights. As a side note, while not considered an official Bond pic in the canon sense, Sean Connery returned to his signature part with 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

The Presidency of George H.W. Bush

The Bond Pictures: Licence to Kill (1989)

The last one term President until now had just one 007 flick. I maintain that Licence may be just the most underrated one of the whole series. It was Dalton’s swan song for his brief tenure.

The Presidency of Bill Clinton

The Bond Pictures: Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The Clinton Era matches with the Pierce Brosnan era as the franchise was revitalized financially with these three blockbusters which were all decent in quality.

The Presidency of George W. Bush

The Bond Pictures: Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008)

A mixed bag. I consider Brosnan’s finale of Day to be the worst James Bond adventure of all time. On the other hand, Daniel Craig’s emergence in Royale is second only to From Russia with Love in my opinion. Quantum was just OK and the weakest of the Craig pics.

The Presidency of Barack Obama

The Bond Pictures: Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015)

Bond reached a billion dollars in the Obama era with Skyfall, rightfully considered one of the strongest of the two dozen pictures. Spectre didn’t match its quality, but was still pretty good.

The Presidency of Donald Trump

As I said… nada. No Time to Die would have been the one Trump time release if not for the pandemic. It will instead be unveiled when President Biden is in office and there could be even be a new 007 under his Presidency depending on how quickly the studio casts a new spy.