Skyfall

“Skyfall” is the best of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig and one of the better Bond films of the entire 50-year series. The action, the locations and the characters are engaging from the first frame to the last.

It starts with an incredible chase scene that involves motorbikes on Istanbul rooftops and hand-to-hand combat atop a moving train. Bond is trying to grab a computer drive that contains the identities of several agents who have infiltrated terrorist gangs. He fails.

He goes to Shanghai—which looks gorgeous in an establishing shot—to get the drive and gets into more hand-to-hand combat. In a stylistic shot from director Sam Mendes, part of the battle is fought in the upper stories of a high rise, in silhouette against the night sky.

Next on the Bond “Skyfall” tour is Macau, in coastal China, near Hong Kong. Here he meets a mysterious woman who takes him to meet Raoul Silver, played with panache by a blonde-haired Javier Bardim. Silver may be the first gay Bond villain. Turns out he’s a former British agent who was captured by the Chinese and has now become a cyber terrorist.

Bond returns Silva to London but, dang it, he escapes and more bad things happen. Bond retreats to his boyhood home in Scotland. He purposely leaves a trail to lure Silva for their ultimate face off.

Among the film’s other characters and actors: The great Judi Dench as M; a new Q, a young geek of a guy, played by Ben Whishaw; Albert Finney as the gamekeeper of the Scottish estate; Ralph Fiennes as a British government official with authority over the spy agency.

There are a couple of nods to the Bond of days gone by, including the use of a classic sports car with special weaponry. And, Miss Moneypenny is back. And while we don’t hear Bond proscribe his preferred technique, we do hear him tell the bartender, “Perfect,” when his drink is poured from… a shaker.

“Skyfall” lacks a classic Bond babe but introduces an attractive, flirty woman we can hope to see in future 007 films.

Despite being a tad too long, “Skyfall” will thrill you and entertain you. If you are a Bond fan to any degree, this is a “must-see.”

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”—(A Piercing Performance)

It’s not necessary to have read the book to appreciate this movie and this compelling character, Lisbeth Salander.

The acting, the story and the story telling are good. But it is the title character that dominates this film. Her look, her attitude, her intelligence, her sexuality all combine to demand your attention when she is on screen. When she is not on screen, you wonder what her next scene will reveal.

Sure, most of the credit for the character goes to the novelist, but let’s stand up and applaud actress Rooney Mara for bringing life to Lisbeth. This character is a woman who has serious emotional baggage. She takes computer hacking to a new level. She has multiple piercings. She has a stoic, almost blank, disposition. She rides a fast motorcycle. She is a complex individual.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist in Sweden who is hired to solve a decades-old family mystery. Mikael himself has been the subject of a background check by Lisbeth. He is impressed that she knows “more about me than my best friends” and brings her aboard to help figure out what happened on that day in 1966 when 16-year-old Harriet vanished.

Christopher Plummer is the family patriarch who gives Mikael the job. Native Swede Stellan Skarsgard plays Harriet’s brother, a key figure in the story. As the pieces of the puzzle are put together, Mikael and Lisbeth learn about other family members and their sometimes peculiar back stories.

The movie has a grit and meanness that can be unnerving. Sex is one thing; violence is another. When the two are combined here, the brutality is disturbing. Be warned: a couple of the scenes are intense.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of a trilogy. Thanks to director David Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian for not leaving a cliffhanger to set up the second film. It’s not necessary, because the character of Lisbeth and the incredible performance by Rooney Mara that will bring you (and me) back for more in 2013.