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Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Time Event
3:01p
Spectre
On December 1st, we went to see “Spectre,” the latest installment of the ongoing James Bond franchise.

As Daniel Craig’s reputed last outing as 007, “Spectre” seemed to be both overtly and covertly a recap of James Bond’s filmic career. The film plot explicitly refers back to Craig’s movies, “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” and “Skyfall,” tying together events of those films as part of an underlying plot by Spectre head Blofeld/Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) to destroy Bond as a hobby while pursuing his world-domination plot.

More subtly, the film contains numerous references to past Bond films. The opening sequence in Mexico City on The Day of the Dead harked back to the voodoo elements in “Live and Let Die;” the ensuing fight scene inside the helicopter echoes an incident from an earlier Craig Bond film. At Q’s shop, the classic Aston Martin DB-5 from “Goldfinger” and “Skyfall” is being rebuilt.

The train journey, and the fight with the brutish assassin therein, harks back to the fight scenes with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in “From Russia With Love,” Jaws (Richard Kiel) in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and Tee Hee (Julius Harris) from “Live and Let Die.” The 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith limousine that Blofeld sends to fetch Bond and Dr. Swann (Lea Sedoux) is not the same model as that owned by Goldfinger (a 1936-39 Phantom III limo) but reads much the same and is, I am sure a reference. The mountaintop clinic where Dr. Swann works recalls “Piz Gloria,” Blofeld’s medical facility in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Blofeld’s headquarters in the North African desert have the classic high-tech look of Bond villain strongholds. Apparently, the explosion when the works blow up beats some kind of world record, although it’s totally illogical. Bond triggers a chain-reaction with a few luckily-placed rifle shots that sends the entire facility up in smoke, which makes no sense whatever. Blofeld doesn’t seem to have stinted himself on amenities, but having every room plumbed with hot and cold running gasoline seems to be a peculiar, not to say, hazardous, taste.

There are numerous other references and harkbacks to past Bond films and writings. (Having reviewed extensive lists at IMDB.com and The Daily Telegraph, I seem to be one of the few who recognized that the safe house location, “Hildebrand Printing,” is a reference to “The Hildebrand Rarity,” one of the as-yet unadapted Bond short stories. )

Following posthumous instructions from the late “M” (Dame Judi Dench) Bond tracks down and kills a criminal, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), and then disobeys orders in order to attend his funeral, which leads him to a meeting of Spectre, where plans for world domination are in full swing, and Bond makes a shocking discovery of the true identity of “Blofeld”—a man Bond had believed long dead.

Recent criticism of Daniel Craig has been that he is too stone-faced in the Bond role, and it did appear that way at times, particularly in the first action sequence. When the helicopter you are fighting in is careening across the sky, one might think a bit of expression would show up, due to g-forces if nothing else. Craig’s Bond does loosen up a bit as the movie progresses, particularly in the scenes with Dr. Swann, but overall, we never forget that Bond is first and foremost an avenging force.

Lea Sedoux as Madeline Swann is one of the best Bond movie women to date. (Not using the term “Bond girl” for her, see below--.) She is intelligent, tough, competent, capable, and overall makes an excellent match for Bond—including being equally sexually forward when the situation calls for it. Her character’s attempts to analyze Bond, who is shown to be deliberately non-introspective, are both amusing and revealing.

Christoph Waltz does a good job with the role he is given as Oberhauser/Blofeld, being genially creepy, but the character is a curious one, as though you had cast Steve Jobs or Bill Gates to be Hannibal Lecter. In the scene where Blofeld is torturing Bond, I was irresistibly reminded of “The Pit of Despair” from The Princess Bride, and would not have been at all surprised if Blofeld had asked Bond to describe how he is feeling.

Monica Bellucci has the classic “Bond Girl” role: the woman whom Bond encounters in the early part of the film, who is usually associated with the bad guys, falls for Bond, and supplies him with information, whereupon she is killed. Besides being more mature than previous women in these roles, Bellucci’s character seems to avoid the “Bond curse” being still alive, at least when we see her last.

Dave Bautista, as “Mr. Hinx,” joins the lengthy line of hulking brutes Bond has fought, including Red Grant, Oddjob, and Jaws. While he’s certainly huge and frightening, unfortunately, the character isn’t given any development. (Bautista, who also plays “Drax” in The Guardians of the Galaxy, can be quite engaging if given the chance--.)

The main title theme, “The Writing’s on the Wall, “ written and performed by Sam Smith, was effective while it lasted, but was forgotten immediately, unlike the theme from “Skyfall,” which I can still recall years after having heard it. Somehow, I don’t find Mr. Smith’s trademark falsetto, however good it is, to be evocative of James Bond.

Cinematography in this film was the most stylish since Casino Royale, although subtle: there are recurring uses of mirrors, mist and smoke, and pulled focus shots reflecting how Bond is seldom seeing the whole picture clearly at any one time.

As Bond and Dr. Swann ride off into the sunset in the DB-5, it seems quite clear that this is a series-ender, at least for the Daniel Craig Bond*. However, the end titles did announce “James Bond Will Return.” IMBD says there will be a “Bond 25,” but no title or other information as yet.

Recommended for fans of the franchise, and action-adventure fans generally. I agree with some critics, not quite as good as "Skyfall," but still good.

*I, and other people, I expect, have proposed that “James Bond” (and perhaps, by extension, the identities of the other 00-agents) are shell personas like “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” intended to protect the real names and families of the 00 agents due the extreme danger of that assignment. From time to time, MI-6 has gone outside the “regular” intelligence services to recruit.

The Many Faces of 007:

007.1 Commander James Bond, R.N., seconded MI-6. Retired. Replaced by:
007.2 (real name unknown) Killed in action, along with “Tracy Bond” by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Replaced by:
007.1.5 Commander James Bond, briefly out of retirement. Replaced by:
007.3 Simon Templar, a.k.a., “The Saint.” Successful agent, but too flamboyant for many tastes. Retired, replaced by:
007.4 (real name unknown) Cashiered after “going rogue” in the Sanchez affair. Replaced by:
007.5 “Remington Steele” (real name unknown) Medically retired. Replaced by:
007.6 (real name unknown, but evidently recruited from Special Air Service or similar group) Resigned. Replaced by:
007.7 (?)

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/281846.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
3:06p
Skylight Music Theater, “My Fair Lady”
On Sunday, December 6th, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center and saw a delightful production of Lerner and Loewe’s musical “My Fair Lady,” as presented by Skylight Music Theatre.

Natalie Ford as Eliza Doolittle was just excellent. Singing fine, dancing perfectly adequate to the rather simple choreography required of the character, but her real strength was in her acting. She is an eloquent physical actor, and her expressive face, combined with her vocal range, gave her Eliza a spirit and fire that I associate more with Judy Garland in her prime than with the frequently more subdued Audrey Hepburn.

Ms. Ford’s force wonderfully crashed against Norman Moses’ immovable object. As Henry Higgins, Moses’ default expression of a slight self-satisfied smile made the Professor an even greater monster of egotism than the classic Rex Harrison grouch version. That Moses’ Higgins seems to think he is above it all makes the disruptions Eliza causes in his comfortable life all the more effective.

Rick Richter as Colonel Pickering was all that the role required: upright, honest, kind, generous, and courteous. He cannot be faulted if he is not as charming as the late Wilfrid Hyde-White—no one could be.

Joel Kopishke had a lot of heavy lifting to do in the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, and handled the part of cheerful reprobate well. I disagree with whomever made the choice to give the character a thick beard, which I think hindered Mr. Kopishke’s ability to mug; Alfred P. Doolittle is a great mugging role, and we missed some of that behind the facial foliage.

The principals were very well supported by Carol Greif as Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, and David Flores as the “hairy hound from Budapest,” Zoltan Karpathy. Diane Lane as Mrs. Higgins was marvelously kind, calm, and gracious—in a word everything her son is not. (Which makes me wonder, not for the first time, how Henry grew up to be such a pill. It must have been due to his father’s influence--.)

This also had to be one of the hardest working ensembles in theatre. When we’ve seen London street people, Ascot spectators, Embassy ball attendees, and Higgins’ household staff, it’s rather shocking to see only nine people in addition to the others taking a curtain call.

Stage business, as managed by Director Dorothy Danner was lively and clever, supplemented by enjoyable dancing choreographed by Pam Kreiger. The orchestra, directed by Shari Rhoades, supported the singers well and had excellent tone.

Costume design by Chris March was a major area of interest, in particular the Ascot scene, for which Mr. March provided some amazing outfits, in particular the hats, which nevertheless did not overwhelm the action. That bit of fantasy aside, I was equally impressed by how well the everyday outfits of the street people and servants looked. The Embassy Ball sequence was costumed with grandeur and elegance that was period-appropriate and wisely did not attempt to match the Ascot scene for excess.

The reconfigurable set pieces, especially when decorated with Higgins’ fine furniture, looked very well, and again gave the actors all they needed.

This was my first experience seeing “My Fair Lady” live and I was very glad I went. It is truly one of the classics of musical theatre, and the Skylight did it justice.

Highly recommended. "My Fair Lady" runs through December 27th.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/282069.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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