Mike Peros’ movie reviews of “No Time to Die” and “The Many Saints of Newark.” So this week, we have an “origin” story and a valedictory of sorts.
“No Time to Die”
I’ll begin with the one I would happily see again: Daniel Craig’s farewell to Bond in “No Time to Die.” Directed by Cory Joji Fukunaga (who also had a hand in the script, along with three others), It’s a little too long (clocking in at nearly 165 minutes) but it’s good, occasionally exhilarating entertainment for much of its running time with some of the action set pieces among the best in the Bond canon, and a surprisingly emotional (and effective) finish. And this is from someone who was not all that keen on Craig to begin with. (For the record, in some of the previous Bond films I found him sullen, a bit too emotionally delicate, and lacking in charisma.) Here he seems energized (yeah, he’s still got that “vulnerability thing” going, but there is a better balance), both engaged and engaging—maybe his lively, eccentric turn in “Knives Out” loosened him up. In any case, Craig and just about everyone involved (with one notable exception) seem to be in top form.
For those not in the know, “No Time to Die” is a direct sequel to “Spectre,” as Bond is both retired and happy (with Lea Seydoux excellent as the loving but secretive Madeline). However, quicker than you can say “We have all the time in the world” (which is one of many nods/homages to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”), Bond’s idyllic existence is shattered as he finds himself reluctantly drawn into another plot for world domination (in the form of a new type of chemical weapon) and an unresolved rivalry between two archvillains. Bond’s efforts to save the world take him on a spirited interlude to Cuba (where there is a welcome reunion with his co-star Ana De Armas from “Knives Out”), then to London and Norway, and finally a secret base between Japan and Russia where the fate of the world will be decided once and for all—or at least for now.
If there is an occasional sense of déjà vu about some aspects of this final entry, it might be by design, as “No Time to Die” makes no pretense about its desire to provide a satisfactory conclusion by bringing in as many references and allusions to previous Bond films. These come the form of unresolved relationships (professional and personal), murky moral waters, and Bond’s place in an evolving world landscape. So there is the weapon that may have come about because of supreme neglect from British Intelligence; there is Bond’s willful retirement followed by being pushed to the margins (especially since there are capable female agents ready to literally take his place); there is his subsequent re-emergence, spurred on by lifelong friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright); there is Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) on the sidelines—but is he; there is the true love (Seydoux) whose past may affect the future; and there is a new, rather scarred archvillain (Rami Malek). It’s here, both in conception and performance, that the film falters. Malek brings very little to the role besides the equivalent of an arrested adolescent’s brooding, and some of the choices made by him (and Bond in relation to him) seem a little hollow.
And yet, in spite of its longeurs, “No Time to Die” remains an exciting and even moving climax to the series. The pre-credit sequence culminates in a lengthy, bruising chase; the Cuba sequence has humor, style and excitement to spare; the Norwegian forest sequence, with Bond inventively dispatching many henchmen in the darkened woods; all these (and the final race against time) are impressively staged and even (somewhat) plausible. So what if the movie’s a little long, so what if the villain talks too much at the end; so what if the ending isn’t entirely surprising—the movie is a well-executed, extremely satisfying entertainment that packs an emotional wallop.
And now to “The Many Saints of Newark,” a crime drama from the folks that brought you “The Sopranos,” and a film that purports to convey how Tony Soprano became the way he is (or was, depending on how you feel about the last image from the iconic series). Contrary to expectations, the film doesn’t focus on young Tony (he’s there, and played in part by James Gandolfini’s son, Michael). Nor is he seen through other series mainstays like his monster mom Livia (played here by Vera Farmiga) or a younger Uncle Junior (an able Corey Stoll). Instead, the story relates Tony’s hero worship of Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who is the uncle of Christopher Molosanti (Michael Imperioli, who is here as a narrator). Dickie’s got problems of his own including trying to maintain his crime “empire” (it doesn’t really seem so big, truth be told) and holding off challenges from the changing times and a particularly dangerous adversary (Leslie Odom Jr.). He, like Tony, has father issues, as Poppa Ray Liotta brings back a new young bride (Michaela De Rossi)—whom he subsequently mistreats, which leads to a fateful reckoning with son Dickie.
As scripted by David Chase and Lawrence Konner, “The Many Saints of Newark” is a tidy blend of dark humor, startling bursts of violence, and betrayals of all shapes and sizes. It also has some fine performances, especially from Nivola, who makes Dickie a credible antihero (though one plot development puts a strain on that), Odom, Farmiga (one wishes there were more of her) and Liotta, who does a fine job representing various strains of Moltisanti morality (you’ll see what I mean). Is the film successful at providing the definitive back story…and would I want to spend more time with the other characters of the Soprano universe as presented here? That I’m not so sure about, but as a stand-alone, the film works fairly well. Just don’t expect to go home learning what made Tony Soprano tick.