Like the Aston Martin DB9 so famously associated with the brand, the James Bond franchise in 2015 is a delicately tuned, carefully considered machine.
It doesn’t surprise like it once did, but riding shotgun with Bond is as close to a guaranteed thrill as there is in cinema.
In Spectre we catch up with Bond (Daniel Craig) in colorful Mexico City just in time to watch him foil a stadium bombing plot. The trademark opening action sequence features a harrowing in-helicopter brawl, and Bond pulls g's that left me, if not 007, sweating.
On the outs at MI-6, Bond sets out on his own to unmask the man behind a string of apparently unrelated terror incidents, and perhaps Bond's own misery. Craig plays to his strengths, delivering the physical, occasionally haggard performance he perfected in 2006's Casino Royale.
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Our time spent with 007 is as fast-paced and sexually charged as the best moments of the Craig era, but the film's B story is less convincing.
While Bond is miraculously avoiding death in Tunisia, Austria and Rome (all stunningly photographed), life back in London is a drag.
There are somber-faced meetings, stern talking-to's and, oh yes, a very important international intelligence conference.
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M, played by the sturdy Ralph Fiennes, is fighting a war of words to keep the increasingly obsolete double-0 program from being shuttered in an all too familiar world of drones and digital surveillance.
It’s important to look men in the eyes before you kill them, M tells the deadpan government bureaucrat C during a particularly grim confab. Played by the enthralling Andrew Scott (BBC Sherlock's Moriarty), C is in charge of dismantling MI-6, and his talent for snappy debate is not to be underestimated.
It is the very soul of British intelligence they're struggling for, and the topical notes all ring out, but the stakes couldn't feel lower.
It's Bond we want to be with.
Joined in the second act by Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of an old enemy he is now sworn to protect (but who can pretty much take care of herself), Bond finds his way back to London just in time to save us from another walk-and-talk.
Speaking of Seydoux, she's no mere Bond girl (and that phrase is now a misnomer anyway). Yes, she's beautiful, but she is given plenty to do, and the only thing certain about her plight is that she will end up in Bond's arms at some point.
The talented Parisian supplies grace and mettle, and wears the weight of tragedy on her face throughout. Raise a martini to the hope that the Bond/Swann pairing endures.
Left back in London to Google things for Bond, Moneypenny (played Naomie Harris) is one of the film's disappointments. Harris showed plenty of promise in 2012's Skyfall, and it's a shame she is squeezed out here. Maybe next time.
At the heart of the mysterious international criminal organization Bond is sussing out is Oberhauser, played like a demonic accountant by the always interesting Christoph Waltz. Soft-spoken and diminutive, Waltz's apparent meekness belies cruelty and the temperament of a psychopath.
Oberhauser, who has a reason to kill Bond that goes beyond the cops and robbers dynamic of past Bond films, delivers a classic 007 torture sequence that will leave you squirming.
Credit director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) for holding this array of villains, administrators and peripheral pencil pushers together. A tale of international espionage with this many characters could easily become unwieldy and confusing, but Mendes manages it well, and his instinct for action is top shelf.
If this is Craig's last film behind the wheel, it was a good one.
Yes, the stuff in London is a tad dreary, but when the credits roll, it is all forgotten.
Spectre is all about James Bond, and when it's over he's all that will be on your mind.
Thoughts on Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (known around my house as The Five People You Meet Backstage at Product Launches) has floundered at the box office, to the surprise of many who assumed word-of-mouth and critical buzz would draw moviegoers.
An electric Aaron Sorkin-penned script and an energetic performance by Michael Fassbender were not enough to compete with the equally impressive The Martian.
Why is Steve Jobs such a flop?
Some blame the Sony leaks, which revealed just how deep into production hell Steve Jobs had actually sunk before the film moved to Universal and Danny Boyle signed on as director. Were people really poring over studio co-chair Amy Pascal's emails in great enough numbers to make a difference? Unlikely.
The mediocre 2013 film Jobs is the most likely culprit. Starring the dead-ringer Ashton Kutcher, Jobs was a snooze fest, mired in biography.
Steve Jobs avoids those mistakes, but the stench of failure evidently lingered.
Or it could be that word-of-mouth, the lifeblood of a high-brow picture, was poor. A hero to many, Jobs gets kicked around for two acts (and most of the third). Maybe people simply didn't want to see the Apple founder at his worst.
Once the awards nominations start rolling in — and they will — expect to see Steve Jobs make a return to the box office standings. And if you haven't seen it, well, what are you waiting for?
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