“Spectre” — The 24th James Bond adventure delivers what might be the franchise’s most exhilarating opening sequence. It’s a slow, steady slog from there. Daniel Craig’s fourth and likely final turn as 007 gets lost in an attempt to tie those films into one neat, binge-worthy bow.
The film begins with Bond going rogue to honor the dying request of his late boss, M (Judi Dench). His digging reveals a sinister group responsible for a series of terrorist attacks, led by a foe played poorly by Christoph Waltz. Along the way, we get clumsy lectures about the perils of government eavesdropping, and two Bond girls who lack the crackling chemistry Craig had with previous co-stars.
The misuse of Waltz, a double Oscar winner, could be “Spectre’s” fatal flaw. The film keeps Waltz off screen for a good two-thirds of its bloated running time. When he finally appears, he’s given a crush of generic Bond villain rants far beneath the actor’s dignity. His ties to Craig’s 007 are almost laughable, the kind of storytelling the series discarded with the end of the Roger Moore era. And yes, it’ll take more than a few nods to past Bond adventures to paper over the film’s serious flaws.
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Craig remains a stoic, solid Bond. He still needs a capable story and a villain worthy of his spy skills. “Spectre,” while occasionally thrilling thanks to first-rate stunt work, fails him on both fronts.
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“The Peanuts Movie” — Get ready for some “lump in your throat” moments, mom and dad. The CGI “Peanuts” update plays our nostalgia buttons like Shroeder rocking a Christmas party piano.
The new film offers a near-perfect homage to Charles M. Schulz’s cartoon, recreating its signature humor without resorting to crass gags or modern flourishes. The story itself, though, is hopelessly thin. Good ol’ Charlie Brown wants to impress the new girl in school, but isn’t quite sure how. That’s more or less it. No wonder the movie includes so many Snoopy sequences hearkening back to his battles with the Red Baron.
That still leaves more than enough room to reunite with the charming Peanuts gang, reminding us why we cared about them in the first place. “Peanuts” also delivers some gentle, affirmative messages about love, friendship and common decency. Parents will cheer along while choking back a sentimental tear or two.
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“Suffragette” — We take women’s right to vote for granted today, but this new drama chronicles the battle that made that choice a reality in England. Carey Mulligan stars as a poor laundry worker in 1912 who has had enough with unequal pay, cruel bosses and little hope of changing her country’s direction.
She becomes an unlikely “suffragette,” a woman battling to gain voting rights for her and her peers. That puts her in the culture’s cross hairs, a target for more than just angry words. Meryl Streep appears briefly as a fellow warrior in the fight, while “Spectre’s” Ben Whishaw plays her wary spouse.
The film’s end credits list the years when countries around the world began letting women vote, a postscript that ties into the film’s class observations and social media meme #HopeForOurDaughters.
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