Daniel Craig in 'Spectre' (photo -- Sony Pictures)

Movie reviews: ‘Spectre,’ ‘The Peanuts Movie’

Daniel Craig in 'Spectre' (photo -- Sony Pictures)

“Spectre” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

James Bond has tumbled from the greatness of “Skyfall” back into familiar territory with “Spectre,” an underwhelming follow-up to the phenomenal 007 blockbuster in 2012. Diehard fans of the famed British superspy will still likely be satisfied with the film, but those looking for something new and fresh from the character will be disappointed.

The plot feels familiar, and in some ways it should since the film reboots a classic character and underground criminal organization. Bond (Daniel Craig), acting on a posthumous message from M (Judi Dench), is told to hunt down and kill a member of a nefarious organization (which plays out in a spectacular opening sequence), which will lead him to a much bigger conspiracy. The organization is SPECTRE, led by the mysterious villain Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who, through global surveillance, is about to put a chokehold on the world. As the plot unfolds, a familiar name in Bond lore emerges, a move that actually hearkens “Austin Powers” more than 007.

Clocking in at nearly 2 1/2 hours, “Spectre” works from an action standpoint, as director Sam Mendes creatively finds way to keep the film moving as the plot unfurls. The acting, naturally, is solid, led by the edgy Craig in his fourth turn as 007, joined by Ralph Fiennes as the new M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Wishaw as Q. New to the cast is Lea Seydoux, who is alluring as Madeleine Swann, the daughter of a SPECTRE defector who knows her way inside the organization; and Dave Bautista has a big presence as Hinx, an Oddjob-like henchman who, sadly, is only given one word of dialogue throughout the whole film.

Unlike “Skyfall,” which concentrated more on the mystery behind Bond the man, “Spectre” retreats back to the sort of procedural plots that has plagued so many 007 movies. In fact, the movie is so by-the-numbers – Bond is an insubordinate and the 00 program is threatened; Bond meets and seduces women; the bad guy plans world domination, etc. – that you can’t help but wonder how much longer the 007 franchise can last. Bond’s world needs to be shaken up (not stirred) — and fast.

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In brief …

“The Peanuts Movie” (G) 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

The late, great Charles M. Schulz’s comic-strip-turned-hand drawn animation characters vibrantly come to life in computer-animated form in “The Peanuts Movie,” a wonderfully warm reintroduction to Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Snoopy and the entire Peanuts gang.

The premise is fairly simple – Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp), troubled by insecurity and perceived failures, vies for the attention of a new girl in class, all while learning to cope with positive attention when he pulls off a remarkable score on a test. Meanwhile, Snoopy’s nemesis the Red Baron is back, and the intuitive beagle takes chase while typing out his thoughts atop his dog house in Charlie Brown’s yard.

“The Peanuts Movie” has everything you love about Peanuts and Charlie Brown – the music, vibe, humor, heart and overall spirit of the characters as the voices sound exactly like the voices of the classic TV specials. It’s a perfect film for kids and parents – especially those who grew up with the Peanuts holiday specials. The big difference is the 3D, which is terrific. Don’t be late, as a pre-movie segment by the cast features some 3D visuals that jump off of the screen.

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