Licence to Kill (1989) Review

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Licence to Kill

Time: 133 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Timothy Dalton as James Bond
Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier
Robert Davi as Franz Sanchez
Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora
Anthony Zerbe as Milton Krest
Director: John Glen

After his friend, Felix Leiter, is gravely injured by a drug lord, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) seeks revenge. With the MI6 refusing to back him, Bond takes matters into his own hands.

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Of the James Bond movies I had yet to revisit, Licence to Kill was the one I was most looking forward to the most. Timothy Dalton’s second and final entry is now seen as being ahead of its time, doubling down on the serious and gritty take on the character and series from The Living Daylights to deliver a darker movie. It was not received exactly favourably by audiences at the time. Today it’s much better appreciated and I can say that it’s for good reason.

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Licence to Kill felt like a very different Bond than its predecessors, because it really was. Essentially the premise is that James Bond goes searching for revenge after his friend Felix Leiter is gravely injured and his wife is murdered on their wedding day. As such it drops the entire spy espionage aspect and goes straight for a revenge action route, ditching the formulaic plot structure of the franchise. There isn’t even a mission, Bond in the first half has his licence to kill revoked and goes on his own without help from MI6. It is a smaller and more personal story, straying from an espionage plot typical for a Bond film, which is probably why people in the late 80s weren’t feeling it. However it does give the story and Bond an emotional core, as all of his actions are personally motivated by him alone. The film continues with the darker, more serious and grounded tone from The Living Daylights and turns it up. The movie definitely pushed the limits to what PG-13 was at the time, it’s really violent for the Bond film, and cuts down on the wisecracks. That’s not to say that the film is overly self-serious, there’s a lot of fun to be had with it. It retains some of the familiar Bond conventions, including some gadgets surprisingly. However it chooses the right conventions to retain, while remaining true to itself and not forcing in classic Bond aspects. In terms of issues, I do think the ending is the weakest aspect and resolves the plot and characters a bit too neatly for my liking, with more of a typical lighthearted Bond ending.

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Timothy Dalton is once again great as James Bond although this time we see a different side to him, and overall delivers a better performance than in The Living Daylights. Here he is driven by rage and revenge and while we still get to see his humorous side through some one-liners and interactions, he usually doesn’t have much time for the charm or wit, for the better. The Living Daylights occasionally had moments that felt out of place for Dalton to deliver as no doubt carryover from the Moore era, Licence to Kill thankfully strips all that away. Dalton’s Bond also has depth, layers, and felt like an actual person with weaknesses. Also he really benefits from having the plot driven by him. Carey Lowell is the main Bond Girl named Pam Bouvier, and she was a very likeable and prominent presence in the movie. She is established as an equal to Bond, even saving him in their first encounter. Also like in The Living Daylights, there’s legitimate romance explored as the film progresses, and the two are very believable together. Q as played by Desmond Llewyn has a more prominent role in the movie compared to some of the other Bond instalments, as he decides to assist Bond with his vendetta by providing some gadgets. It adds depth to Q and Bond’s unique friendship, and I liked their interactions together. Another way that Licence to Kill is distinct as a Bond movie is the villain. The villain this time is Franz Sanchez, a drug lord played by Robert Davi, and seems to be one of the most grounded and realistic Bond villains. Sanchez doesn’t have any world ending plans, he’s just wanting to become more powerful as a drug lord and isn’t pushing any global plan by the time Bond comes hunting for him. He’s simple yet incredibly effective. First of all he feels like a real threat and is very intimidating in both character and performance. He’s also surprisingly human and isn’t cartoonishly evil, for example it is established that loyalty is very important to him. This goes to make Sanchez an interesting and unique Bond villain, and it’s helped by a strong performance from Davi. Another performance worth highlighting is that of Benicio del Toro in an early role as a henchman, who is very memorable in his screentime.

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Director John Glen does a very good job at directing this film. First of all, I really liked the deliberate grounding of the movie. The action is strong, well shot, and has some impressive stunts. As I said earlier, the film is more violent including people being eaten by sharks, people being lit on fire, and a man literally being exploded in a pressure chamber. All of this is fitting for the much darker tone of the movie. The third act is also very satisfying with its climax.

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Licence to Kill is a fresh movie in the Bond franchise, a stripped down and more personal film for the lead character with a darker tone and grounded take, while also being very entertaining to watch. The action is entertaining, the cast of characters are all memorable and solid, and I was invested throughout. Honestly it is my favourite Bond film outside of the Daniel Craig era. It’s a shame that Timothy Dalton didn’t get to do more Bond movies because both this and The Living Daylights rank among my favourite Bond films. If you like the Bond movies but haven’t watched Dalton’s movies, I highly recommend checking them out, an underappreciated set of movies in the franchise.

The Living Daylights (1987) Review

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The Living Daylights

Time: 130 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Timothy Dalton as James Bond
Maryam d’Abo as Kara Milovy
Joe Don Baker as Brad Whitaker
Art Malik as Kamran Shah
John Rhys-Davies as General Leonid Pushkin
Jeroen Krabbé as General Georgi Koskov
Director: John Glen

James Bond (Timothy Dalton) must cross several continents to confront and defeat an arms dealer who is conspiring with a Soviet general to start another world war for profit.

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After watching Daniel Craig’s final film as James Bond in No Time to Die, I wanted to revisit the older Bond movies. The Bond era I was particularly interested in rewatching was the Timothy Dalton era, especially as it was said to be the blueprint for Craig’s Bond. While it’s been a while since I watched the pre-Craig movies, I knew that the Dalton movies were a shift after the campy Roger Moore movies. Having forgotten pretty much everything about the movie since the last time I saw it, I actually really liked it.

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The Living Daylights starts off with a thrilling and exciting opening scene and only continues to excite from there. It’s pretty clear early on that the story is more grounded and realistic, doing away with a lot of the camp and over the top style from the Connery and Moore movies. Admittedly, the story is a bit complicated, and the plot does suffer from some unnecessary convolutions. However, it is still an entertaining globetrotting adventure. The story is constantly engaging and well written, and it helps that it moves at a fast pace. I appreciate the realistic plot concerning socio-political issues, even if it adds some somewhat unnecessary complexity to it. It still has Bond aspects which you would expect. There’s still gadgets, henchmen, cars, and chases. There’s also a surprising amount of humour, some of it works, but other moments feel a little out of place like they’re still carrying it over from the Roger Moore Bond films. The Living Daylights has crazy and over the top moments, it’s just that the movie also remains comparatively grounded with stakes and emotional weight. It does have some out of place gags like the car driving on ice and hitting into barns, but it wasn’t enough to take me out of it. In terms of issues, the third act can be a bit overwhelming with too much going on, and it can be weirdly paced. However even then I was able to just enjoy what I was watching.

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This is the first of only two appearances from Timothy Dalton as James Bond. He really redefined the character in a confident debut performance, and he really was ahead of its time. Notably, Dalton’s version of Bond is refreshingly gruff, cynical and ruthless compared to most other versions of Bond. This cold, dark and serious demeanour fits perfectly with the tone of the film. At the same time, Dalton plays with the role with such elegance, charming with a dry sense of humour, and overall very human with moments of displayed emotion (along with having moments of brutality of course). Maryam d’Abo is solid as the Bond girl, Kara Milovy. I enjoyed her character, she was given a decent backstory and some character development, and she does feel like an actual human being. Dalton and her have good chemistry and the romance actually felt believable, helped by the fact that the story gives Bond and Kara more time to develop as a couple. Most of the supporting cast were solid, especially John Rhys-Davies. I liked the villains, they aren’t great, but the over the top arms dealer played by Joe Don Baker is enjoyable and fun to watch.

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John Glen directs this movie very well, with great editing and camerawork, and makes really good use of its locations in Vienna, Morocco and Afghanistan. The action is also quite strong, staying relatively grounded but having its fair share of over the top moments. Dalton’s action particularly benefits from him doing a lot of his stunts. It always feels like Bond is always in danger, he doesn’t feel invincible. The music from John Barry is really good too and adds a lot to the movie, particularly the scenes of action.

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I was surprised by how much I liked The Living Daylights. Timothy Dalton’s fresh take on Bond along with a relatively grounded yet entertaining story, and some well-directed action, makes it among my favourite Bond films, top 10 at least. This is very likely one of the more underrated movies in the Bond franchise, and it’s well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) Review

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Venom Let There Be Carnage

Time: 97 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom
Michelle Williams as Anne Weying
Naomie Harris as Frances Barrison/Shriek
Reid Scott as Dan Lewis
Stephen Graham as Patrick Mulligan
Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady/Carnage
Director: Andy Serkis

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is still struggling to coexist with the shape-shifting extraterrestrial Venom. When deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) also becomes host to an alien symbiote, Brock and Venom must put aside their differences to stop his reign of terror.

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After waiting for just under 2 months longer than most countries, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is finally here in cinemas. I’ve actually been very looking forward to it. I enjoyed the Venom movie released back in 2018, however it definitely had some issues, especially on my more recent rewatch. With the addition of actors like Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris and Andy Serkis as the director, I was interested to see how it would turn out. I was at least hoping that it would learn its lessons from the previous film and work to its strengths, and I’m happy to say that it does.

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The story isn’t anything special, its surface level and simplistic but its functional. Had it been more complicated it might’ve ended up being a detriment to the rest of the film.  One element of the first Venom that could’ve been improved on is the tone. A big surprise is that it had a lot of campy elements which were some of the stronger stuff, unfortunately it felt like it couldn’t decide whether to be campy or to be serious, and jumps between the two. Venom: Let There Be Carnage fixes this issue. It doesn’t take itself seriously, its darkly comic and silly and it knows what it is. I was thoroughly enjoying the movie from beginning to end. Another strong element of the first film was the dynamic between Eddie Brock and Venom, which was entertaining but felt rushed. This again is utilised to its fullest potential in the sequel, in fact Let There Be Carnage is essentially a romantic comedy between the two. The relationship between them is handled with confidence, each of them felt like individual beings with a connection, and it felt believable. In the movie they have relationship issues and friction between them, with Eddie wanting to have a normal life, while Venom wanting to be the hero along with eating people. Its strangely wholesome and heartfelt at times, I could watch 10 movies of just Eddie and Venom interacting. Another way it noticeably improves is in the runtime considerably less than Venom’s 1 hours 50 minute runtime, instead at under 100 minutes in length. As I said, it’s a pretty tight plot, there’s not an ounce of fat and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All I’ll say about the mid-credits scenes is that its worth sticking around for.

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Tom Hardy is back as Eddie Brock/Venom and is wonderfully bonkers and fun to watch. These movies wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining without Hardy’s commitment to the role. Eddie and Venom are likable and fun to watch, especially when they are interacting with each other. A disappointing area with the first Venom was the villain, but it improves on it here with Carnage, one of Spider-Man/Venom’s most famous villains in the comics. Woody Harrelson plays Cletus Kasady, a serial killer who acquires a symbiote from Venom and is even more dangerous than Venom. While Kassidy is not much more complex than Carlton Drake in the first Venom, Harrelson’s gleefully maniacal performance makes him fun to watch and a highlight of the sequel. Naomie Harris is also here as a villain named Shriek. Like everyone else in the movie, Harris knows what kind of film she’s in, and hams it up effectively. To a degree she was underused, but she was entertaining in her screentime. Stephen Graham is in this movie as a detective investigating Cletus Kasady, while it’s a stock detective part, Graham is quite good in his part. Michelle Williams is back from the first movie as Eddie’s ex-fiancée Anne, it’s a thankless role and she’s probably given the worst material out of anyone in the movie but she plays it well.

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Andy Serkis is here as a director and that had me very interested. I like him as an actor and I liked his previously directed movie Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, but its his understanding and experience with CG characters which had me most interested in him directing. He put that to great use, and on a technical level its also better than the first movie. The cinematography is from Robert Richardson of all people, and this movie certainly looked really good, a cool aesthetic with great lighting and colour grading. There’s particularly a scene in a cathedral which caught me off guard. The CGI was a lot better compared to the first movie, it could still be a mess at times but its more comprehendible here. Venom looks good as always but the highlight with the effects is when it comes to Carnage. First of all the design while somewhat similar to Venom is different beyond being a different colour. He’s shown to be distinctly different in terms of powers and is shown to be a real threat, and the film conveys that greatly. The moment when you see Carnage on screen for the first time, it was a great introduction. The action scenes are enjoyable and are easier to comprehend. While you don’t see Venom and Carnage fight for much of the film, when they do it was satisfying and enjoyable to watch, certainly helping that this time they are identifiable and you can see what is going on with them. I was hesitant with the movie having a PG-13/M rating considering how violent Carnage is in the comics (he is a serial killer after all). However Serkis pulls it off quite well, it definitely borders on the R rating but does just enough.

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Venom: Let There Be Carnage was much better than I was expecting. It learns the lessons from the first film and made the follow up way better. It leans into the campiness and is enjoyable for that, it has a stronger focus on the Eddie/Venom dynamic, and its visually stunning and the action is enjoyable. I’m looking forward to Venom’s next on screen appearance, whenever that will be.

Red Notice (2021) Review

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Red Notice

Time: 118 minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Dwayne Johnson as John Hartley
Ryan Reynolds as Nolan Booth
Gal Gadot as The Bishop
Chris Diamantopoulos as Sotto Voce
Ritu Arya as Urvashi Das
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

When an Interpol-issued Red Notice the highest level warrant to hunt and capture the world’s most wanted goes out, the FBI’s top profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) is on the case. His global pursuit finds him smack dab in the middle of a daring heist where he’s forced to partner with the world’s greatest art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) in order to catch the world’s most wanted art thief, “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot). The high-flying adventure that ensues takes the trio around the world, across the dance floor, trapped in a secluded prison, into the jungle and, worst of all for them, constantly into each other’s company.

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I heard of Red Notice leading up to its release, a Netflix action comedy starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. I wasn’t expecting much from it, the trailers certainly made it look generic but I was hoping that it would be somewhat entertaining. While I wouldn’t say it’s outright bad it’s not good either.

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Red Notice has a very weak script. It has a very thin plot about artefact chasing that the movie or characters don’t seem to care about. It’s a heist and adventure film, a very generic one at that, which takes a lot from far better movies but does nothing with them. The film definitely tries to have a lot of comedy but fails most of the time. The quippy banter got repetitive, probably because it’s really the only thing going for the movie. It’s fully of cliches and has very few actual surprises. With that said there are some twists especially one near the end, but it’s the kind of twist where it would likely fall apart in logic if you thought about it in depth. Red Notice isn’t even memorably bad, its lacking in creativity and feels rather low effort. Honestly I think if it was closer to 90 minutes in length I might’ve enjoyed it a little more, but it is 2 hours long and so it drags in parts.

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The first thing you’ll probably know about this movie is that Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot are in it. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite enough to carry the movie. Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds are the main leads of this movie, and both of them are basically on autopilot, playing variations of themselves yet again. While Johnson has been basically playing himself for the past years, there’s something about him that’s especially lazy here. As for Reynolds, you get the feeling that his character was written with Ryan Reynolds as the sole personality trait. Not that his snark never works but it works better in a movie like Deadpool than here. One aspect that’s strange is that his character is shown as being capable, can fight and does parkour in some scenes but in other scenes he’s conveniently a klutz who gets beat up a lot whenever the movie wants Reynolds to be funny. I wouldn’t say that Johnson and Reynolds have no chemistry, but the writing really underserved them. Strangely Gal Gadot fared a lot better, probably partly because she seemed to be enjoying playing the part, especially as it’s more of an antagonist sort of role. Still, all three feel more like celebrities appearing for late night comedy skits than actually playing characters in a movie. In terms of other actors, there is an Interpol agent who hunts the main characters played by Ritu Arya, and there’s an arms dealer played by Chris Diamantopoulos who has a ridiculous voice which reminded me of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending.

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Rawson Marshall Thurber is the director for Red Notice, and he has done some decent work. He had previously collaborated with Dwayne Johnson, Central Intelligence was a fun comedy, and Skyscraper is an entertaining if derivative Die Hard knock off. Red Notice is easily their worst collaboration however. It has a $200 million budget and the movie looks certainly expensive, however I’m sure that most of it went towards the main three actors. After sitting through it all, the movie really could’ve been made a decade ago with less than half the budget. The action scenes are a bit lifeless and forgettable but for what it’s worth they are one of the more entertaining parts of the film. The visual effects could be rather poor at times, there are so many noticeable CGI backdrops and green screen, the prime example being a scene involving a bull.

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If we are just looking at Red Notice by itself, it’s functional. It’s a generic action comedy that had some entertaining moments, and the main actors aren’t good but at least go through the motions. Still, there was something disappointing about watching the movie despite not expecting much, so much with the acting, writing and directing just felt so autopilot and low effort. I wouldn’t recommend Red Notice but if you really wanted to see its main three actors in a movie together, then you’ll certainly get that here.

Candyman (2021) Review

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Candyman (2021)

Time: 91 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, horror, suicide & content that may disturb
Cast:
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy
Teyonah Parris as Brianna “Bri” Cartwrigh
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Troy Cartwright
Colman Domingo as William “Billy” Burke
Vanessa Williams as Anne-Marie McCoy
Director: Nia DaCosta

For decades, the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green were terrorized by a ghost story about a supernatural, hook-handed killer. In present day, an artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) begins to explore the macabre history of Candyman, not knowing it would unravel his sanity and unleash a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.

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I was looking forward to the new Candyman movie, the original film was a horror classic and for very good reason. The 2021 film had some very talented people involved from Jordan Peele as one of the writers, to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the lead actor, and I really liked the looks from the trailers. I went into it not really knowing what to expect, and while I definitely have issues, I do like it on the whole.

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Before watching Candyman (2021) I highly recommend watching the original Candyman released in 1992, because there’s callbacks and references which won’t hit the same way if you haven’t seen it. This latest Candyman is very much a sequel set decades later, and you’ll get more out of it if you’ve seen the first film (on top of it being a really good film that’s well worth seeing). Plotwise the premise is initially similar as the protagonist is trying to uncover the local legend of the Candyman. It starts off well with a good setup, so I had a good feeling about it initially. I liked the horror elements, and I particularly liked how it made an effort to build upon the mythology of the Candyman as established in the original. However I have to say that overall the script has a lot of issues and is easily the thing that holds the film back from being great. First of all, the actual writing is mixed with some wonky dialogue, out of place humour and generally dull characters. Storywise it is a bit of a mess too, I wouldn’t say I was bored but there were some dull moments. The film introduces a lot of subplots but they don’t go anywhere and most of them aren’t concluded properly. The same goes for the character arcs, its almost like the film is a bit rushed or cut down. By the end much of the story felt underdeveloped and the conclusion was rushed, and so I felt unsatisfied. Candyman 2021 is way too short at 90 minutes long, it should’ve been much longer to flesh things out.

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Another aspect of the writing worth talking about is the themes. Like the original film there’s a lot of social and political commentary, and I was interested how the movie would handle them. The 2021 film has  some particularly timely and relevant themes its working with, including gentrification and police brutality. Unfortunately the way they handled the themes was a bit messy to say the least. It’s very blunt and on the nose, and it’s not inherently bad to be less subtle about it. However it’s to the degree where the film tells the audience about the themes. Candyman (2021) is definitely more into telling over showing. Instead of allowing the audience to interpret the themes of the film, it has characters literally talk about them. Not only that but they try to cram so many ideas into this one movie (a particularly short movie at that) and while that is certainly bold and ambitious, it doesn’t really succeed. By the end it touches on a lot of topics but doesn’t really explore them or end up saying much by the end, which was disappointing.

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There’s some good acting in this film. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is in the lead role here, and he’s great as to be expected. Teyonah Parris was good in her part, Colman Domingo was also good, although his character’s arc felt cut short. Outside of those three however, there’s some bad supporting roles and weak side performances.

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from Nia DaCosta, but she’s definitely shown herself to be a great filmmaker here. The film is visually striking and stunning with beautiful cinematography and camerawork. Some of the best scenes of the movie were sequences that made use of cutout puppetry animation, often used for exposition, I loved the presentation of them. It does a fairly decent job at building up its atmosphere and tension. The horror is great with some well staged death scenes, although the use of CGI is a little distracting. Finally the score is eerie and haunting, really setting an effective mood throughout.

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Candyman (2021) is in some ways rather disappointing. It had some good ideas but with its script it felt both overstuffed and undercooked, and it is holding back much of the film. With that said I still think it’s good, from the main performances to Nia DaCosta’s impressive direction. If you watched the original Candyman and liked it, I do think this new film is worth checking out.

The Lost Daughter (2021) Review

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The Lost Daughter

Time: 121 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language & content that may disturb
Cast:
Olivia Colman as Leda Caruso
Jessie Buckley as Young Leda Caruso
Dakota Johnson as Nina
Peter Sarsgaard as Professor Hardy
Ed Harris as Lyle
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

A college professor (Olivia Colman) confronts her unsettling past after meeting a woman (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter while on vacation in Italy. Her obsession with the woman and her daughter prompts memories of her early motherhood.

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The Lost Daughter is the third of the three movie tickets I secured as part of the NZIFF, and it’s one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. This would be Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut and would consist of a great cast including Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, and Ed Harris. I went in only really knowing the main premise, seeing a trailer, and hearing that some people had split reactions to it. I’m glad to say that I’m one of the people who really liked The Lost Daughter.

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The Lost Daughter is a bit of an unconventional movie, at least with its narrative. Essentially it follows Olivia Colman on a holiday in Greece, she meets a woman with a difficult child (played by Dakota Johnson) and that brings up her own motherhood with her two young girls portrayed in flashbacks (with the younger Colman played by Jessie Buckley). The film then jumps between past and present, revealing the regrets and reflections that Colman has. The plot definitely unravels in an unusual way but very much moves to its own rhythm and pace. It could’ve been a mess of a structure, but Maggie Gyllenhaal pulls it off, I was invested enough in the story and character to want to see and learn more. The Lost Daughter is essentially an unflinching character study following a woman thinking back on her life, and it’s also a look at motherhood which touches on the struggles of parenthood and the toll it takes on the parent. Additionally, it delves into themes like femininity and motherhood, and the feelings and regrets that come from being a mother. It’s not an easy movie to watch, I know that many viewers will struggle to stay following this protagonist with some of the things she does, and it’s a hard topic to cover (and one that a lot of people don’t like to think about). However Gyllenhaal pulls it off by remaining empathetic, not judging its characters, and handles its challenging views on motherhood with a lot of nuance. Its very honest, meditative and human as certain truths are revealed about different characters. In terms of issues with the film, the constant flashbacks can take away from the depth of character work in the present sections, and they are jarring in the first act. Also at the end, some things weren’t as tied up as greatly as I would’ve like, there was particularly one conclusion towards the end which felt a little bit of a let down.

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The acting is phenomenal and one of the best parts of the film. First of all is the lead character Leda, who is a complex character that is full of contradictions. She is selfish and unlikable at times, a very difficult character to play. However both actresses do a superb job at portraying her. The present day Leda is played by Olivia Colman, she is a quiet presence. D plays her with a lot of nuance and in a way that makes you understand her. One of her best performances, and that’s saying a lot considering a lot of her recent work. Jessie Buckley plays the younger Leda, and she was a perfect casting choice as a younger Colman. She’s more showy than Colman’s comparatively subtle performance, but she effectively portrayed her desire for an escape out of her motherly life and really plays up her humanity. Another fantastic performance from Buckley. Both Colman and Buckley are believable as the same person, while avoiding feeling like they’re trying to imitate each other. The two performances are full of empathy and fleshed out versions of the same character. Dakota Johnson is used sparingly in this film but this is very likely one of the best performances I’ve seen from her. She’s able to tell a lot without saying much, even just with her facial expressions, body language and subtle glances. Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are comparatively short on screentime but all do well to make their presences felt and are good in their parts.

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As I said earlier, this is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film as a director and she’s done a great job here. It does feel like a debut movie with some aspects with the camerawork and editing, but it’s a strong debut nonetheless. The eerie atmosphere helped the movie to dive deeper into Leda’s headspace throughout. The cinematography is also great, with making use of the locations in Greece in the present day, but are particularly effective with the close ups of the characters.

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The Lost Daughter is not an easy movie to watch and isn’t for everyone. However I thought it was great. A slowly paced yet engaging and compelling character drama, we’ll directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and with phenomenal performances, especially from Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson. The movie will be on Netflix in December, and I think it’s worth checking out at the very least.

The Green Knight (2021) Review

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The Green Knight

Time: 130 Minutes
Cast:
Dev Patel as Sir Gawain
Alicia Vikander as Essel and the Lady
Joel Edgerton as the Lord
Sarita Choudhury as Morgan le Fay
Sean Harris as King Arthur
Ralph Ineson as the Green Knight
Barry Keoghan as the Scavenger
Erin Kellyman as Winifred
Kate Dickie as Queen Guinevere
Director: David Lowery

King Arthur’s headstrong nephew (Dev Patel) embarks on a daring quest to confront the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a mysterious giant who appears at Camelot. Risking his head, he sets off on an epic adventure to prove himself before his family and court.

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I was greatly anticipating The Green Knight. I was a fan of David Lowery, director of A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and it had a good cast that included Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander. From the descriptions it was a medieval fantasy based off an Arthurian legend and I was interested to see how Lowery would do with that. The Green Knight isn’t for everyone by any means, but I found watching it to be a phenomenal experience.

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Try to go into the movie blind, the less you know about the movie, the better. The Green Knight is based on a 14th Century poem (called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) which I’m unfamiliar with. Essentially (and without spoiling anything) the movie is about the protagonist Sir Gawain going on an epic journey to seek honour and fulfil his destiny. It sounds simple and familiar, but its not a conventional (or easily accessible) movie by any means. It certainly wasn’t the type of movie I was expecting. This is definitely not like most fantasy films or tv like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. The story has such a grand scope, but its also blended with this deeply intimate emotional journey, a journey which I found thoroughly compelling. Much of the movie is Gawain wandering different lands and encountering other individuals on his spiritual journey. This movie very much subverts the familiar ‘hero’s journey’ trope, and deconstructs it, and thematically there is so much here to unpack. It is a very contemplative and meditative film, and as such is very much a slow burn. It takes its time to establish its themes, tone, and the development of the main character. However I was personally never bored, I was drawn into this dreamlike world especially with its surrealistic atmosphere. I was surprised at how effectively unsettling it was considering what the movie is based on, there is this constant sense of impending doom which kept me riveted all the way to the end. The last 20 minutes was truly spectacular, with the movie ending with one of the most visually stunning sequences I’ve seen.

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There are a lot of great actors in this movie, and they are all really good in their parts. First of all, you have Dev Patel as the lead character of Gawain and this has to be the best performance I’ve seen from him. He’s perfectly cast in this role, the whole film follows him, and he does well carrying it. It’s a very subtle performance, you feel the weight and gravity of what’s happening and you see his state of mind just from his expressions alone. The supporting cast were all fantastic too. Alicia Vikander is really good and memorable in dual roles, definitely a standout in the cast. Sean Harris and Joel Edgerton are great. Barry Keoghan is only in one scene but makes a strong impression, and Ralph Ineson is great as the Green Knight in his few appearances.

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David Lowery has directed some great movies, but The Green Knight is on a whole other level compared to what he’s done before, his work here is practically flawless. It is lower budget at around $15 million, but everything on a technical level from the sound design, camera work, visuals and set designs are stellar. I imagine that it would’ve been amazing to watch this on the big screen. The cinematography is truly phenomenal and dreamlike, it just felt so epic and magical. It really is one of the most visually mesmerising films I’ve seen in recent years. The film does use CGI, but it is minimal and subtle, and the fact that they shot on location goes a long way. The sets and costumes are very well detailed too. The score from Daniel Hart is great, a mix of epic and folk music, really helping to set the tone of the film.

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The Green Knight lingers in the mind long after I watched it, and it is a movie I want to revisit in the future. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but I loved it. The performances are outstanding led by a career best Dev Patel, the story is compelling with a unique take on the hero’s journey, and the visuals and David Lowery’s direction was amazing to watch. One of my favourite movies of 2021 thus far.

SAS: Red Notice (2021) Review

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SAS Red Notice

Time: 124 minutes
Cast:
Sam Heughan as Tom Buckingham
Ruby Rose as Grace Lewis
Andy Serkis as George Clements
Hannah John-Kamen as Dr Sophie Hart
Tom Hopper as Declan Smith
Noel Clarke as Major Bisset
Owain Yeoman as Oliver Lewis
Jing Lusi as Zada
Ray Panthaki as Prime Minister Atwood
Richard McCabe as Callum
Douglas Reith as Sir Charles Whiteside
Anne Reid as Charlotte
Tom Wilkinson as William Lewis
Director: Magnus Martens

A groom’s (Sam Heughan) wedding plans are disrupted when a small army of well-trained criminals hijack the Eurostar deep beneath the English Channel.

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I saw SAS: Red Notice (also known as SAS: Rise of the Black Swan) widely advertised all over Netflix’s front page. I was very sceptical about it, despite the actors involved. It looked like yet another disposable Netflix action thriller. I went in with fairly low expectations and on the whole it mostly met those expectations. I wouldn’t say I dislike the movie, but I wouldn’t call it good by any means.

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SAS: Red Notice does have a familiar setup, pretty much Die Hard on a train, however it isn’t nearly as interesting or fun as it should be. I put that up to the mediocre at best screenplay. The story is unoriginal, and the plot is full of cliches but that’s not enough to sink the movie. However, it is pretty much impossible to care about what is happening. I wouldn’t say it’s boring, but it isn’t all that interesting either, and the plot is rather forgettable. I think the aspect that annoys me most about the writing is the tone. Some of the bad elements of the script are bad cheesy B-movie action flick way, which could potentially allow for some enjoyment. However, this movie actually tries to be intelligent and thoughtful, and somehow ends up worse as a result. For example, the movie opens with Tom Wilkinson going on this long monologue about psychopaths. It does seem to think highly of itself and thinks its clever, and as such play the movie very seriously. This makes the movie hard to enjoy even in a cheesy kind of way. The ending is pretty ridiculous in the way it seems to try to set up a sequel. Even the final scene is rather laughable, containing quite possibly the most boring use of drone footage I’ve seen in a movie. SAS also runs for far too long at 2 hours long, and if it was 90 minutes long, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. However there are so many scenes which seem to drag on, with tired and run-down dialogue that don’t add to the plot, characters or entertainment, and it just becomes tedious to watch at times.

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There are some good actors involved with this movie, unfortunately they are generally all wasted with the very lacklustre writing. Sam Heughan is in the lead role as an aristocratic SAS guy named Thomas Buckingham the Third (not making this up) who ends up in a hostage situation and has to Die Hard his way out of it. I’ve heard it said that this is essentially Heughan’s audition for James Bond, if that’s true, then that’s very unfortunate. He does try his best here, but the role is incredibly boring and bland, and the character is rather difficult to like (and not in an intentional way either). I haven’t seen Sam Heughan in much. but I assume he has charisma in his other roles, however he has none here. There is virtually no chemistry between him or his love interest played by Hannah John-Kamen. She tries her best as well, but also suffers greatly from the writing. The main villain of the movie is played by Ruby Rose as the leader of a group of mercenaries. She did work very effectively as a supporting villain in John Wick Chapter 2, but unfortunately doesn’t quite work in here in SAS, and isn’t that convincing in her part. It doesn’t help that the character is just evil for the sake of it, not that this can’t work, but in this movie it just came across as lazy more than anything. Besides, Rose just doesn’t have the screen presence necessary to make that archetype work outside of the action scenes. The only actor I really liked in this movie is Andy Serkis, who at least looks like he’s having a lot of fun chewing the scenery in his part. Like the other actors, he’s given some really silly lines and moments to deliver, but somehow manages them better than the rest of the cast.

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The movie is directed by Magnus Martens, and it really does have a feeling of a straight to streaming action flick, specifically one from Netflix. While the direction isn’t bad, it doesn’t seem to have any style at all, almost like it was directed by a bot instead of a person. There are some decent set pieces that are generally shot, but at times some of the action is shot in underlit hallways where you can’t tell what’s going on. Despite the serious tone the movie goes for and the attempts at making the violence ‘shocking’, it just lacks all the impact that it needed. The fight scenes are weightless, and the shootouts and explosions have some really bad CGI. With that said, the action is watchable and hardly my main issue with the movie.

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SAS: Red Notice is a watchable but forgettable movie, which gets worse the more I think about it. The cast are wasted in underwritten roles delivering mostly average performances, the action is generic albeit mostly competent, and the script is borderline bad, if not bad. I can’t say I really dislike the movie that much, but it’s not worth checking out.

Riders of Justice (2021) Review

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Riders of Justice

Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language and sexual material
Cast:
Mads Mikkelsen as Markus
Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Otto
Andrea Heick Gadeberg as Mathilde
Lars Brygmann as Lennart
Nicolas Bro as Emmenthaler
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) returns home to care for his daughter when his wife dies in a tragic train accident. However, when a survivor of the wreck surfaces and claims foul play, Markus suspects his wife was murdered and embarks on a mission to find those responsible.

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Riders of Justice was the second of the three NZIFF movies I got tickets to watch in cinemas. I didn’t really know much about it going in, just that it was a Danish thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen, and I heard that the film was really good. Riders of Justice was one of the most surprising movies I’ve seen from 2021, entertaining and funny while also being poignant and sensitive.

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Looking at the premise for Riders of Justice, it seems like a standard revenge movie starring Mads Mikkelsen. The posters certainly give off that vibe, only just missing the tagline “Mads is Mad”. Yes, Mads Mikkelsen plays a soldier who is out for revenge and shoots and kills a lot of people. However, you eventually realise that the film is much more than just that. There were two surprises I found when watching the movie. First of all is the amount of humour here, Riders of Justice is a dark comedy and it’s hilarious and entertaining to watch. The second surprise is that Riders of Justice is also heartfelt and sad. The surprisingly sensitive script addresses grief, trauma and loss with an emotional honesty and depth I was not expecting. There’s even a concept presented front and centre about coincidences, small chances and what ifs, particularly with why bad things and tragedies happen. Although it sets itself up as a revenge movie, it is really an anti-revenge movie, with the path of vengeance being motivated by feelings of guilt and regret. The script is smartly written, with great dialogue and juggling multiple different tones and genres with ease. While it sounds like a mess, it actually works quite well. In terms of flaws, I think there are some character arcs which don’t get fully resolved by the end in retrospect. Sometimes the pacing could be inconsistent, but I was entertained and invested from beginning to end.

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The cast are one of the main reasons the film works as well as it does. The most recognisable actor in this cast is Mads Mikkelsen as Markus, the protagonist. He does play the typical anti-hero who seeks justice after a tragedy (specifically his wife dying), but there’s layers and depth to this complex character which here which we don’t see in most films that follow this archetype. There is believable chemistry between Mikkelsen and his daughter played by Andrea Heick Gadeberg, effectively conveying the strained relationship they have, especially when it comes to responding to the tragedy affecting them both. This is one of Mikkelsen’s best performances, and that’s saying a lot. Despite Mads Mikkelsen playing the main character however, the supporting cast really make the movie. It is truly an ensemble piece. The other three men that Markus teams up with are played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann and Nicolas Bro, and they are also great. All these characters here are fleshed out and feels important in the group, with each person dealing with something different that comes to light, but all sharing a common tragedy that brought them together. Their back and forth and awkward chemistry is one of the best parts of the movie and was really enjoyable to watch. While much of their quirks are on full display, it actually feels like each scene focusing on their traits have a purpose that goes beyond just delivering a funny joke.

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I haven’t seen Anders Thomas Jensen’s other films but his direction here is really good. While I would not really call this an action movie, there are some action scenes (mainly involving Mads Mikkelsen) which are very well filmed and brutal as you would expect them to be.

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Riders of Justice was one of the most unexpected films I’ve seen this year. A smartly written revenge thriller which balances dark comedy and entertainment with its heartfelt and sensitive moments, which is helped by an ensemble of great performances led by Mads Mikkelsen. I highly recommend checking it out when you get a chance, very likely one of my favourite films of the year.

The Power of the Dog (2021) Review

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The Power of the Dog

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Animal cruelty & content that may disturb
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank
Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon
Jesse Plemons as George Burbank
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon
Thomasin McKenzie as Lola
Genevieve Lemon as Mrs. Lewis
Keith Carradine as Governor Edward
Frances Conroy as Old Lady
Director: Jane Campion

A domineering rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) responds with mocking cruelty when his brother (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), until the unexpected comes to pass.

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I was lucky enough to catch The Power of the Dog in cinemas. I hadn’t seen any movies from director Jane Campion beforehand, but I knew of some of her work like with The Piano and Top of the Lake, and this would be her return to making movies. It also has a great cast with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons so that was enough to get me interested. I watched a teaser of the film, otherwise I went in fairly blind. It had a lot of anticipation leading up to its release, and having seen it I can say that its well-earned.

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The first thing you need to know going into The Power of the Dog is that it is a slow burn, and I can see that really turning people off. In fact, when it does premiere on Netflix, I can easily see people turning it off after the first 20 minutes. The film does take a while to really reveal what the story really is about. I think it earns its over 2 hours runtime and pacing however, everything flows naturally and there’s a lot of attention to detail. Campion is less interested in plot than layered character dynamics, it is definitely more of a character study than a western. It is deeply complex in its characters and themes, with toxic masculinity and repressed desire being very much the leading themes, especially with the lead character. It has an effectively dreadful, unnerving and haunting atmosphere throughout, and only builds up tension even more as the film progresses. It comes together by the end in a very rewarding way with its ending.

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The acting from this talented cast is fantastic as expected. First of all, this is basically Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie, and very likely his best performance yet. In the complex lead role of Phil Burbank, despite initially coming across as one note, Cumberbatch pulls off the subtle nuances of this character. This is the darkest that Cumberbatch has acted in a role, but its more than that, the journey his character goes on is unexpected. While at first it feels like he overshadows the other actors, the rest of the cast are great too. Kirsten Dunst gives a very subtle and internalised performance, playing a woman who is pushed to high levels of distress. One of her best performances. Jesse Plemons as usual is reliably good, though he does sort of disappear into the background after the first act. Kodi Smit-McPhee is great here, probably the best performance I’ve seen from him. He gets a lot of screentime in the second half, and you really see his progression over the course of the movie. His quiet and reserved character of Peter takes an interest in Cumberbatch’s Phil, and the scenes between the two are captivating. There are other brief appearances from other actors like Thomasin McKenzie too, who are also good in their scenes.

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Jane Campion directs this film excellently. There is some beautiful cinematography from Ari Wegner, taking advantage of the gorgeous location and landscapes they are filming at. At the same time, it does well at capturing the intimacy and tension of certain scenes, especially with the close ups. Jonny Greenwood’s score is amazing and practically its own character, it really adds to the tension and unsettling feeling, helping to draw you into the film.

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The Power of the Dog is a steadily paced, visually gorgeous, complex and gripping character drama. It’s excellently directed and has great performances from its ensemble cast, especially from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. After watching this, I really want to check out more of Jane Campion’s work. The Power of the Dog is one of the best movies of the year thus far.