Bond is back in Spectre

by Mark Burger

Bond. James Bond.

Coming on the heels three years after Skyfall, which celebrated the 50 th anniversary of James Bond by grossing more money and earning critical acclaim that surpassed the others, Spectre has its work cut out for it.

Skyfall is a tough act to follow, but Spectre does a good job of it – and certainly enough to please the legion of Bond fans the world over. With Oscar winner Sam Mendes back at the helm and Daniel Craig back in fine, steely form as 007, the new film is very much in the tradition of the Bond franchise.

There are gadgets and gizmos, exotic locations, delectable damsels (Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci), and, lest we forget one of the most important components of the series, a ruthless villain – in this case Christoph Waltz (sporting a Nehru jacket!) dispensing taunts and threats with relish. Even the Aston-Martin DB5 gets revved up a time or two.

There is, however, an abundance of exposition in the screenplay (credited to John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) – and it’s a good hour before Waltz’s character is even introduced. Despite the sheer professionalism with which the film has been assembled, there’s a vague sense that the story was somehow being made up as it went along.

SPECTRE – an acronym for “Special Executive Counter-Intelligence, Terror, Revenge and Extortion” (per Ian Fleming), which is never spelled out here – is of course the shadowy agency dedicated to all things bad and evil. Since assuming the mantle (and the license to kill) in Casino Royale in 2006, Craig’s Bond has been on the trail of this insidious operation.

Ralph Fiennes (M), Ben Whishaw (Q) and Naomie Harris (Miss Moneypenny) participate more than usual this time, and it’s hardly a surprise that the new stuffedshirt British bureaucrat “C” (Andrew Scott), who wants to close down the department (shades of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), is actually in cahoots with the baddies.

Spectre certainly delivers the action goods, even if it’s amusing to note how little traffic there is during the car chases, and Craig reinforces his grip on the role. He’s made Bond his own, yet very much rooted in Fleming’s original literary creation. And, make no mistake, whatever Craig may say about abdicating the role (he’s signed for one more), James Bond will return. !

Nasty in New York

The provocatively titled Nasty Baby is certainly something different – which counts for something. The latest film from writer/director Sebastian Silva, who also stars, it doesn’t fall into a specific genre and, indeed, specificity is not particularly high on its agenda.

Freddy (Silva) and his friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) want to have a baby, for reasons that seem more aesthetic than emotional. Freddy, an avant-garde artist, perhaps sees this as an inspiration for his work. Polly is so desperate to become a mother, for reasons equally undefined, that she’s even willing to have Freddy’s lover Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) contribute to the cause, so to speak.

Silva displays a nice feel for the New York neighborhoods (mostly Brooklyn) where the film was shot, and the dialogue, which is hardly precious, feels off-the-cuff and naturalistic. Yet one is left waiting – and wanting – for something to spark, to set events into motion.

It’s a long wait, but it finally occurs when Freddy has an altercation with “The Bishop” (scene-stealer Reg E. Cathey), a local eccentric who rambles through the neighborhood in a state of aggravated confusion much of the time – and much to Freddy’s increasing disgust.

This third-act detour into thriller territory definitely jump-starts Nasty Baby, although it comes so late in the game that it can’t save the overall film. The actors, including veteran Mark Margolis as another eccentric neighbor, inhabit their roles in credible fashion, and there’s a little ironic sting in the tail, but it’s not quite enough. Nasty Baby is a nice try that misses. !

Girl Power

The self-explanatory documentary A Ballerina’s Life tells the story of Misty Copeland, who earlier this year became the first black principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre’s almost eight-decade history. Thus, there’s an inescapable “spoiler alert” regarding this film’s denouement.

Copeland’s ultimate achievement, certainly a triumph in itself was equally so on a physical level. At 13, Copeland was a latecomer to ballet, and unlike entire generations of dancers who appeared almost skeletal, this girl’s got curves. This too was a prejudice she had to contend with.

Like professional athletes, dancers can dance only so long and only so much.

Copeland’s literally dancing against the clock, trying to make her mark while also enduring potentially career-ending injuries.

Ballet buffs clearly have a head start here, but producer/ director Nelson George keeps things moving along, and Copeland (also an executive producer) has an appealing and open presence. A Ballerina’s Life may be something of a prototypical underdog story, but it hardly disappoints on that level.

Sometimes, with a little luck and hard work, dreams do come true. !

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