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Jeff Simon: The books-to-movie carousel keeps spinning for 'Dexter,' 'Passing' and Bond – James Bond

Jeff Simon: The books-to-movie carousel keeps spinning for 'Dexter,' 'Passing' and Bond – James Bond

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NO TIME TO DIE (copy)

 James Bond (Daniel Craig) prepares to shoot in "No Time to Die."

Amazing things happen on social media. There are, for instance, people claiming they cried at the end of "No Time To Die," the current megabuck James Bond blockbuster.

Far be it from me to ever make sport of others' sentimentality at movie climax time. My own would probably fill a volume the size of the Sunday paper. And, too, the film has, thus far, grossed $700 million – $518 million outside the U. S.

The whole world cares about James Bond, which made it a matter of no small concern for many months when the release of "No Time to Die" had to be continually delayed by Covid-19's threat to the world's movie houses.

That they still stand, at the moment, is grand news. But then the Daniel Craig Bond movies have always been good news.

Craig brought much needed maturity and adulthood to the role of Bond. More a beer-quaffing everyday bloke than a tuxedoed window manikin, Craig's accurate simulation of mature male emotion was a bit of a godsend.

Which is why the first hour of "No Time to Die" hit me as, quite possibly, the best Bond-in-the-making ever. This is the retired James, thoroughly domesticated. He's a fellow whose live-in "Bond girl" threatens to become a life partner.

I was also a perversely merry fan of the Roger Moore James Bonds, which had become post-teen kid movies for those just discovering the tee-hee pleasures of double-entendre. (The very title of "Octopussy" gave the whole game away.)

Whatever transient feelings of superiority I might have attempted toward Bond changed when I discovered that a smart colleague carried around a lighter, even though he didn't smoke, because it was the kind of lighter James Bond carried. The sweeping power of movie fantasy over nascent identity should never be underestimated.

Craig's successful simulation of adult male emotion was a grand bit of movie history. No one will ever exceed the once-novel panache of Sean Connery's Bond, but Craig, after his sharp left turn in the role, wins a solid second place.

I'll never be dissuaded from enjoying Moore's icily contemptuous Bond films because underneath their adolescent movie nonsense, they captured a regal First World superiority right in tune with that of Bond's inventor, Ian Fleming.

Most people these days don't know this stuff, so let's get our stories straight. It was John F. Kennedy who put Fleming and his books on the sub-literary map. When the author and the future president first met on the streets of Georgetown, the Brit was gobsmacked that the handsome young pol knew his books. He had read "Casino Royale" when his back laid him up for a long siege.

This was an era when the very idea of a would-be president reading sex-stuffed lifestyle and action fantasies was somewhat revolutionary. In the Truman and Eisenhower years, presidential aspirants didn't do such things.

But then, in 1962, two years past Kennedy's election, came "Dr. No," with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress' bikini in Jamaica, to bring movie imagery to Kennedy's daydreams. The incredible fight scene in the next Bond film, "From Russia With Love," aimed the franchise directly at its biggest initial smash, "Goldfinger."

The Bond franchise at the movies hasn't needed a Fleming source book in years. It's been open skies for a while. And the Craig films have responded splendidly. I would nominate "Skyfall" as the best Bond ever, if you're judging it strictly as a movie and not a piece of testosterone mythography.

But despite the attempted power of its ending, that's why I think the conclusion of "No Time to Die" is disappointing. There was an opening to turn him into a mature Transatlantic male. But no. As it is writ in the book of the Broccoli family of filmmakers, you have to end them all on an island or a submarine something large and isolated where there will be a lot of bad guys and running around before the big bang and James either makes it out of the mess or he doesn't.

And then you got James on some godforsaken life raft with a "Bond girl" waiting for the rescuers of Mi5 or 6 to glide him back to the verbal hugs of M and Miss Moneypenny.

Cue the stuttering guitar Bond theme and billboard the next in the franchise. There will be one, says "No Time to Die," even though it won't star Craig. (Briefly, "No Time to Die" has fun with the idea of a new 007 as a Black woman.)

But hey, there's a movie villain's isolated digs to be blown to kingdom come, so let's not get annoyingly creative here. Same old, same old, is how it ends, despite the drama. The siren song of money has been heard, and answered to the tune of $700 million.

Ian Fleming and Bond aren't the only pop-pulp inspired franchise flourishing. On Showtime, in a much-lesser way, you've got a new "Dexter," completely outside Jeff Lindsay's novel series. This Dexter Morgan fantasy begins a decade after the show ended with Dexter hightailing it out of Miami.

He was a serial killer whose peculiar charm was that he worked in a crime lab and killed other serial killers. Lindsay's last Dexter novel was bluntly titled "Dexter Is Dead." At book's end, Dexter is indeed dead.

Not on Showtime in 2021, he ain't. He's now in Iron Lake, N.Y. surviving isolation and bone-freezing weather.

These days, Dexter was called back to the fun of serially murdering awful people by the death of an excruciatingly beautiful white deer at the hands of a murderous bloodthirsty yutz with no respect for either propriety or life, animal or human.

Dexter's sister – dead from the series' first go-round – is back in constant nagging hallucinations. What's grand about that is that she's played still by Jennifer Carpenter, the marvelously eruptive actress who, at one time, was married to Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter.

Backstage at "Dexter" continues to be as interesting as the bloodier doings in the snow-covered burg of Iron Lake. In his new attempt at passing as normal, he has to balance the "dark passenger" he continues to ferry into the blood-waves of Murder Lake with the "normal" landlocked life with his teenage son Harrison, who doesn't seem to know yet what Dad likes to do in his spare time. Nor does he suspect what may be lurking in the DNA of his own blood.

An entirely different case of book-into movie is "Passing" on Netlfix, a superbly elegant and haunting black and white tale directed in a debut by terrific actress Rebecca Hall who tells us in the lavish publicity book for the series that she herself is of mixed race parentage, while usually assumed to be white.

Her film is based on a 1929 novel by Nella Larsen often thought to be one of the cardinal novels of the Harlem Renaissance of the '20s. So endemic of the time is the story that one character in it is clearly based directly on the white critic and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who combined visionary acuity with tone-deaf condescension.

The subject of a Black woman "passing" as white had growing currency after Larsen's primal 1929 novel. Most famously, it occupied Fannie Hurst's novel "Imitation of Life" and the two film versions of it, the last a 1959 box office bell ringer.

Hall's slim, graceful and exquisitely restrained "Passing" is in another movie universe from the big, dumb, late-'50s smash hit tearjerker in which Susan Kohner was the woman who "passed" as something she was not.

The idea that "pure" white American males might be socially and spiritually compromised by inadvertent conjugal life with a differently colored partner is one of the more rotten and detestable notions in the pantry of bygone Americana.

The subtleties of "Passing" consist of everyone "passing" as something they aren't in every direction. They also consist of the basic question of who decides who "passes" and who doesn't.

This is a quiet film, beautifully made and marvelously acted by two actresses, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, who reunite in Harlem as old childhood friends.

My guess, frankly, is that I'll remember its walloping, ambiguous ending long, long after I've forgotten everything about the ending of "No Time to Die."

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Semi-Retired Columnist and Critic

Jeff Simon began working at The News as a copyboy 57 years ago. Since that time, he has been closely involved in all aspects of The News' cultural coverage – as critic, columnist and Arts and Books editor for 25 years.

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