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Skyfall is Daniel Craig’s best outing as James Bond, the best James Bond film in years and an outstanding commemoration of Ian Fleming’s iconic British agent on his 50th anniversary. Like a lot of Bond films, Skyfall is a little on the long side, but it’s also long on the fun side.

Officially the 23rd  film in the long-running series (discounting the comedic Casino Royale and the Sean Connery comeback Never Say Never Again), Skyfall gets off to a rip-roaring start with a dazzling pre-credit sequence in which the seemingly invulnerable Bond meets an untimely end after doing considerable — and considerably exciting — damage to the Turkish landscape. Just another day on the job for 007.

Of course, Bond is well known to be indestructible, and although Craig seems to endure more bashings and beatings here than Roger Moore did in his entire stint as 007, it’s not long before he’s back in action, trying to thwart a nefarious scheme, not so much for world domination, but to disgrace and destroy Britain’s Secret Service.

Naturally, there are beautiful women, including Berenice Marlowe (femme fatale) and Naomie Harris (fellow agent), but Craig’s principal leading lady turns out to be Judi Dench, reprising her role as his flinty but faithful boss, M. Under pressure from her superiors (particularly Ralph Fiennes) to retire, she and Bond must first contend with the sadistic Silva (Javier Bardem), himself a former British agent (and M protege) bent on revenge.

Bond films depend on their baddies as much as their Bonds, and Bardem is deliriously wicked as the fey antagonist, parrying and battling with 007 while also expressing a certain (ahem) fondness for him, too. Moore’s Bond was more at home with oneliners than the tough, muscular Craig, but the latter gets off his share of witticisms and snappy comebacks, especially in his scenes with Bardem.

Director Sam Mendes, the first Oscar winner to helm a Bond film, certainly keeps the action percolating throughout, with its obligatory exotic locations (Shanghai, Istanbul) but much of the story centered just where it should be: London. Grammy winner Adele contributes a good theme song, and Thomas Newman’s fine score incorporates some familiar themes that will undoubtedly please long-time Bond buffs. (If you’ve missed Monty Norman’s original theme in the last few films, it will be particularly welcome.)

Although the action sequences in Skyfall are marvelously and spectacularly realized, they don’t overwhelm the characters, who have a bit more to do than just stand around looking cool or being blown to pieces — although, to be sure, there’s much of that. Ben Whishaw (the new Q), Rory Kinnear and the always welcome Albert Finney round out what is one of the better Bond casts in memory.

The series has long left behind the original Ian Fleming novels, yet the original spirit of Fleming’s immortal character is palpable. There’s an underlying message about getting back to basics, a message Skyfall delivers in smashing fashion.

Performance takes precedence in The Sessions , which opens Friday, an effective but episodic tearjerker based on an incident in the life of Mark O’Brien, a writer whose childhood bout with polio left him essentially quadriplegic, unable to move anything except his head and dependent on an iron lung for survival.

Mark views his situation with good humor and an abiding faith, but he would like to divest himself of his virginity. He’s able to physically feel things, and, let’s face it, he’d like to feel what it’s like to have sex with a woman.

To this end, he procures the services of Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate. It is this relationship, which could easily have been sensationalized but is instead treated in a rather matter-of-fact way, that lies at the heart of The Sessions.

There will undoubtedly be award consideration for the versatile Hawkes (a far cry from his work in Martha Marcy May Marlene and his Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, yet just as impressive) and Hunt, both of whom are in very good — and frequently undraped — form here, as well as the everreliable William H. Macy as Mark’s easygoing but slightly befuddled priest, who unhesitatingly gives his “blessing” upon Mark’s task.

To its credit, the film doesn’t belabor its point nor wallow in unnecessary sentiment, yet there’s the air of glibness to the proceedings. Everything’s just a little too pat, including the dialogue between Hawkes and Macy, which frequently veers into one-liner territory. What’s more (or less, depending on your point of view), the score by Marco Beltrami is a little too pushy for its own good.

Nevertheless, The Sessions succeeds because of the conviction which the actors bring to it. They’re all good company, even in smaller roles: Adam Arkin (as Cheryl’s husband), Moon Bloodgood (Mark’s nurse), Robin Weigert, Annika Marks, W. Earl Brown, Ming Lo, Rhea Perlman and Jennifer Kumiyama, who is actually handicapped and who makes a winning screen debut here. LOG ONTO YesWeekly.com — click on the “Flicks” section. Then go to “What’s Showing”



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