Author Archives: thecinemacritic

The Ice Road (2021) Review

THE ICE ROAD

The Ice Road

Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Liam Neeson as Mike McCann
Laurence Fishburne as Jim Goldenrod
Benjamin Walker as Tom Varnay
Amber Midthunder as Tantoo
Marcus Thomas as Gurty
Holt McCallany as René Lampard
Martin Sensmeier as Miner Cody
Matt McCoy as General Manager Sickle
Matt Salinger as CEO Thomason
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh

After a remote diamond mine collapses in the far northern regions of Canada, an ice driver (Liam Neeson) leads an implausible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the lives of trapped miners despite thawing waters and a threat they never see coming.

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I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from The Ice Road, from the looks of the trailer, it was going to be yet another Liam Neeson action flick, this time being set on the ice. That’s pretty much what we got with this movie, and I thought that it was entertaining enough for what it was.

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The premise seemed somewhat original, the plot started off interesting enough with it being about ice truckers travelling over a giant ice road to deliver equipment to save a bunch of miners. Unfortunately, it eventually adds this corporate conspiracy and espionage aspect which really cheapens the whole thing and makes the movie worse. It makes the plot more complicated and makes everything more cliched and by the numbers. It really would’ve worked much better if it was just about the truckers trying to save the people stuck in the mine incident and ditched the corporate aspect. The writing itself is very formulaic and offers very few surprises, even if you haven’t seen it in this exact form before, you have seen this type of story many times before. It’s very forgettable, bland and cliched. The dialogue itself is very expositional, and mostly just ends up stating the obvious. The Ice Road to a degree feels like it harkens back to cheesy 90s action movies, unfortunately it doesn’t really have the self awareness that those movies have, so it makes the dud reveals and plot points harder to look past. The movie is also overlong and overstays its welcome a bit, it doesn’t help that much of the second half gets quite repetitive. However I can’t deny that I still had fun with the movie. If you ignore the conspiracy aspect (which is a big part), the plot is otherwise straightforward enough that you can still be entertained by.

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The acting for the most part is okay. Liam Neeson plays the same sort of character as expected, but he’s good in this kind of role. There are two interesting things about this variation of this archetype though. For one, instead of being an ex-cop, CIA agent or hitman, his special skills relate to him being really good as an ice trucker, so that’s a new spin on it. The second thing is that he does get more opportunities to showcase emotion compared to the other Neeson action roles, with him trying to balance a relationship with his brother who has PTSD throughout this whole mission. I do admire the attempts at character development between them, and some of it works. However this relationship isn’t explored all that much, and even the PTSD aspect doesn’t really add a whole lot. In fact, not much is explored outside of the lead character, especially when it comes to every other character. The human villains are all completely forgettable and boring except for one henchman character, and the rest of the supporting cast is underutilised, even Laurence Fishburne doesn’t get to do as much as you might hope he would.

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from director Jonathan Hensleigh, and I thought his work here is rather mixed. On one hand I really liked the icy setting the movie takes place in throughout, there are some good truck chase scenes, and some action scenes have some tension to them. It was also quite good when it came to the tension of the main characters driving very heavy trucks over ice which could easily crack. On the other hand, there isn’t any particular set piece that I can point to as a standout (they all blur together), the fight scenes are very by the numbers, and despite some good stunts, the film somehow feels quite cheap. The CGI is some of the worst I’ve seen from a recent action movie, at best looking like it is coming from the 90s. Despite the issues, the action is good enough that it makes for an enjoyable experience when watching it for the first time.

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The Ice Road is another forgettable but passable action flick starring Liam Neeson. While there’s issues with the writing, characters and directing, the action and mostly straightforward plot makes it entertaining enough. If you like some of Neeson’s other action movies, you’ll probably enjoy watching this one too.

Chungking Express (1994) Review

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Chungking Express

Time: 98 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Brigitte Lin as woman in blonde wig
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Cop 663
Faye Wong as Faye
Takeshi Kaneshiro as He Qiwu
Director: Wong Kar-wai

Every day, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) buys a can of pineapple with an expiration date of May 1, symbolizing the day he’ll get over his lost love. He’s also got his eye on a mysterious woman in a blond wig (Brigitte Lin), oblivious of the fact she’s a drug dealer. Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is distraught with heartbreak over a breakup. But when his ex drops a spare set of his keys at a local cafe, a waitress (Faye Wong) lets herself into his apartment and spruces up his life.

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I watched Fallen Angels after hearing so much about it and I loved it, so I was interested in watching more movies from director Wong Kar-wai. Like with Fallen Angels, I also heard a lot about Chungking Express, there have been particularly a lot of comparisons between the two movies. I went in fairly blind aside from knowing that it was another WKW romance film set in Hong Kong, and it was also great.

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From everything from the story, to the characters, the settings, and the themes, Chungking Express is a beautiful film. Like with Fallen Angels, it is an unconventional romance story, and is what some would call a ‘vibe movie’. It’s fairly plotless and mostly just follows the lead characters of the movie. The movie works best when you allow yourself to go with the flow, and while there’s a number of vibe movies I just can’t get into as much as other people, I was really into this movie. The script is incredibly written, with some particularly great dialogue.  Also like with Fallen Angels, Chungking Express is made up of two stories each of which are different and disconnected, yet parallel stories of people who want to connect with others. The first of these stories is about a man trying to forget his ex-girlfriend, the second is about a cop after going through a breakup. Both of these are interesting, and these characters felt like real people that you can relate to. One way it does differ from Fallen Angels is that Chungking Express is a considerably lighter movie, in fact it was more light-hearted than I imagined it would be. Something clear from both movies alone though is that Wong Kar-wai really knows how to capture love. It’s delightful and charming without falling into cliches and conventions, and is just really honest in depicting the ups and downs of love. It’s equal parts melancholic and happy, and I loved the dreamy atmosphere throughout the film.

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The movie is made even better with the poignant and memorable characters, and the wonderful performances for them. Brigitte Line, Tony Leung, Faye Wong and Takeshi Kaneshiro are the main actors in the movies, and each of them are excellent in their respective roles.

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Wong Kar-wai is a fantastic filmmaker just looking at Chungking Express and Fallen Angels alone. His directing style is so messy, yet so inventive and creative. The cinematography is beautiful and the whole movie is a visual feast. Much of the movie is shot in a handheld way and it really fitted the movie. WKW also really portrays the setting of the movie greatly, it’s incredibly well lit and vibrant, every frame dripping with warmth. The use of music was also great, from the score to the memorable soundtrack. California Dreamin is particularly a song that is used so many times in this one movie, it should get annoying but it actually works for the story (although it will be stuck in your head for a while afterwards).

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Chungking Express is another heartfelt romance movie from Wong Kar-wai. The cast are amazing in their parts, both main stories were engaging, and the direction and handling made it a visual delight and a dream-like experience that you can get caught up in. I can’t tell for sure if I like this or Fallen Angels more, but whatever the case, if you haven’t seen them, check them out.

Fallen Angels (1995) Review

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Fallen Angels

Time:  96 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Leon Lai as Wong Chi-ming/Killer
Michelle Reis as Killer’s agent
Takeshi Kaneshiro as Ho Chi-mo/He Zhiwu
Charlie Yeung as Charlie/Cherry
Karen Mok as Punkie/Blondie/Baby
Director: Wong Kar-wai

An assassin, his boss, an entrepreneur and two women cross paths in Hong Kong as their professional and love lives collide and influence each other, mostly without their knowledge.

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I had heard of Fallen Angels, I was seeing images from the movie floating around online, and kept hearing that it’s a really good movie. I really didn’t know much about it going in, I just knew that it was a crime romance movie, it was set in Hong Kong, and the director also made plenty of other movies that focus on relationships. So I went in fairly blind and I was quite surprised by what I saw, it really did live up to all the love.

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Fallen Angels has a unique narrative structure, with the two stories in the forefront being loosely connected in some way. The plot is also bit loose, it is definitely more character centric, but that works strongly and thankfully the characters themselves are interesting and fleshed out. They have their own struggles, ambitions and ways to live. They are lonely, relatable and you get invested in their stories. Along with the movie following these characters, the movie really contemplates and meditates on loneliness, relationships, love and the search for partnership through these stories. The setting these stories exist in have this seedy and dark vibe, and the stories are fully of despair, hopeless romanticism and emotion. From beginning to end, the movie has this constant feeling of melancholy. At the same time, the movie can be also eccentric and surprisingly funny. I found myself being quite engaged with the characters and their stories, and seeing where they would go next.

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The acting is another strong point in the movie, the cast are all great, especially Leon Lai, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Michelle Reis. Each actor gives such a strong and powerful performance, and each character is so quirky and memorable, the way they each interact and the world they live in is just so human yet so surreal. They really portray their characters perfectly.

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The direction from Wong Kar-wai is great, this is the first of his movies I’ve seen but I love his style even from this one movie alone. What’s immediately noticeable is the visual style, which is unique and nothing like any other movie I’ve seen. The movie is really atmospheric, being dream-like and detached, while having moments of tension and brutal violence. The cinematography from Christopher Doyle is unique; this movie is bursting with colour, and the use of neon and artificial lights and the setting of scenes at night gives the movie a gritty, harsh, dirty, and noir-esque feeling. Additionally, there’s a lot of kinetic and energetic large sweeping motions through, corridors, stairways, tunnels and more to deliver a dizzying experience (in a good way). The handheld shakiness brings a really exciting element to the film, especially during the scenes involving action. There isn’t a whole lot of action, but those scenes are filmed excellently. The stylish editing with seamless cuts really suits the overall vibe of the rest of the movie. I also loved the soundtrack, and the music choices were great, often having this soft jazzy vibe to it and it only added to the atmosphere.

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Fallen Angels is a visually gorgeous and energetic experience of a movie. The stylised direction is outstanding, and the storylines are engaging, with some interesting and memorable characters. It’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already. I do want to come back to this movie sometime, even just to experience the atmosphere and general vibe of the movie again.

The Courier (2021) Review

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The Courier

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne
Merab Ninidze as Colonel Oleg Penkovsky
Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan
Jessie Buckley as Sheila Wynne
Angus Wright as Dickie Franks
Director: Dominic Cooke

The true story of a British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Forming an unlikely partnership with a Soviet officer (Merab Ninidze) hoping to prevent a nuclear confrontation, the two men work together to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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I heard some good things about The Courier. It was a cold war spy thriller that had a good cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the movie, and it looked goo from the trailer, so I was interested in checking it out. The Courier was a conventional but solid true story spy thriller that is well worth a watch.

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The Courier is the true story of a salesman turned spy during the Cold War in the early 1960s, and while I know that some people might not be interested in the movie by that description alone, I think the movie is quite accessible on the whole. It keeps things simple, by not getting bogged down by all the details and spy jargon, it makes the movie more streamlined and enjoyable to watch. Along with that, the pacing works quite well. It’s not fast paced by any means; it is on the slower side but done in a thoughtful way that slowly builds up the tension. However, it is also faster than expected considering movies of this specific genre, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, at a runtime of an hour and 50 minutes long. I found the story to be quite interesting, and the script itself was well written. It was clever, witty, it has the right amount of humour and seriousness throughout to make it entertaining to watch, and the dramatic beats worked for me. It does seem to repeating itself to a degree for most of the movie, until it changes into being something different in the third act, which I thought was strong. The friendship between the lead character (played by Cumberbatch) and the Russian spy, two people on the opposite side of the political divide, was particularly compelling to watch. Definitely one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The Courier is a cold war thriller, and as that doesn’t really do anything special to break the mould. It is conventional and similar to other movies about wartime unsung heroes that are intended snag Oscar nominations. However, I was still invested the entire time, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

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The acting is a shining point in the movie. First of all, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role as the salesman who becomes a spy. This is his best performance since the Imitation Game, and for the most part, he is quite understated. His performance doesn’t just fall back into his bag of snarky tricks as in Sherlock Holmes or many of his other roles. His performance is nuanced and believable, and he particularly shines in the final act. Another great and heartfelt performance is from Merab Ninidze as the Russian spy, working at the same level as Cumberbatch. Some of the acting elevated a lot of their material, both Jessie Buckley and Rachel Brosnahan are in rather thankless roles but do a lot to make up for it. Buckley particularly plays the stock role of “wife who worries about husband” in this sort of movie, however gives a lot in her scenes.

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Dominic Cooke’s direction is pretty solid. It is very well shot and has a nice sharp look to it, with some excellent lighting. The costumes and production designs work for the time period as expected, and there’s a great and suspenseful score from Abel Korzeniowski. If there are any flaws in terms of the technical level, it’s the editing, especially in the first half. Occasionally it feels like its cutting short some of the scenes.

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As far as “based on a real story” Oscar Bait movies set in the Cold War era goes, The Courier is on the more exciting end. Clearly a lot of the movie was handled with care, the story is familiar and conventional but compelling and interesting nonetheless, it’s well shot, and the performances are great, particularly from Cumberbatch, Ninidze and Buckley. I think it’s worth checking out.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Review

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains violence
Cast:
Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary
François Truffaut as Claude Lacombe
Teri Garr as Ronnie Neary
Melinda Dillon as Jillian Guiler
Director: Steven Spielberg

Although aliens begin to make their presence felt to humans, the government denies their existence. However, when Roy (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrical lineman, encounters a UFO, he is drawn to the Wyoming wilderness.

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I have heard of Close Encounters of the Third Kind for a while. I knew that it was one of Steven Spielberg’s first movies, it’s about aliens coming to Earth, and it is known as a sci-fi classic. So, I’ve been wanting to check it out for some time. Eventually I did, and unfortunately it just didn’t work for me like it did for many other people. There were some things I liked but I couldn’t get into it overall.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind actually started off quite well, I do like how Spielberg decided to focus on how people would realistically react to first contact from alien life forms rather than the aliens and the visual spectacle of it. However, after the first 20 minutes the movie really fell off for me. Although the movie is sort of about aliens coming to Earth, most of the movie focuses on main character Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, and what happens as a result of his close encounter with aliens. That sounds interesting on paper, but it basically just boils down to him going crazy and having a breakdown, begins throwing garbage into his house, stealing from his neighbours, and all around just driving his wife and kids away from him. The movie went from fun, creepy, eerie alien scenes to Richard Dreyfuss heaving dirt through a window and losing his mind. The story didn’t suck me in at all, if you remove Richard Dreyfuss’s storyline, the movie is mostly just constant scenes of people just discussing UFOs and aren’t particularly engaging. None of the characters are interesting or likable so it’s pretty hard to follow along with them, and unfortunately we are stuck mainly focusing on the worst character of them all. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is also known for its special effects and the majority of these big moments are in the third act, which is when stuff actually starts happening. While it was nice seeing these effects, it didn’t feel satisfying. What happens in the climax didn’t really make sense, and it leaves many questions unresolved. I’m all for ambiguity for the end of a movie, but after sitting through 2 hours’ worth of vague science fiction stuff and the protagonist going crazy, I was hoping for more of a payoff beyond a pretty light show. The movie is very slowly paced, and it came across as rather drab and uneventful, probably because not much actually happens in the movie. It’s not helped by the movie being way too long, well over 2 hours. There are a few engaging scenes, but it feels like much of the movie has a lot of filler.

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There’s not a lot to say about with the acting, it’s generally fine albeit forgettable and one note. Richard Dreyfuss is alright in the lead role, again the character he plays is rather annoying and unlikable, but that’s more to do with the writing than him.

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As I said previously, Steven Spielberg directed this movie, and in all fairness, the technical aspects are definitely the most impressive part of the movie. The visual effects are impressive, especially for the late 70s. It certainly would’ve been a spectacle to watch in 1977 and considering the time it was probably the best that cinema had to offer visually. The effects throughout the whole climax were particularly standout. There are also a few eerie and thrilling scenes that were actually directed quite well. The score from John Williams is good as to be expected from him.

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Unfortunately, I’m just couldn’t get into Close Encounters of the Third Kind at all. Despite some great visuals especially for the time, the story was rather dull and the characters were bland or annoying, both of which were trying my patience throughout. It was one of my least favourite movies from Spielberg. With that being said, with it being considered a classic I do think it is probably worth watching at some point, and I’m aware I’m in the minority of people who didn’t really like the movie.

Duel (1971) Review

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Duel (1971)

Time: 90 minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Dennis Weaver as David Mann
Director: Steven Spielberg

David (Dennis Weaver), a businessman, passes by an old tanker truck in a dessert while travelling for a meeting. The driver of the truck is a psychopath who finds David’s overtaking offensive and decides to kill him.

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I knew of Duel as being an early Steven Spielberg movie where a man is chased by a truck, and it turns out to actually be his debut film. Honestly I wasn’t really expecting much from it despite the director attached, given that it is a TV movie and seemed low budget. It actually turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be, simple, yet very tense and effective.

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The plot is rather simple, a business commuter is tailed and terrorized by a psychotic truck driver for no specified reason, typical cat and mouse plot. Really its strength lies in its simplicity, its minimalistic but also so tight, effective and suspenseful, and is all around a well crafted thriller. The story is mostly told visually and makes minimal use of dialogue throughout. There is an eerie atmosphere and horror overtones that it retains throughout its runtime, which works as you really get caught up easily in the protagonist’s paranoia and anxiety. In much of the plot, logic is thrown out the window for pure emotion, and this actually works in favour to the movie because it really does feel like a nightmare that never ends. The movie isn’t particularly deep, and there’s not really any themes to delve into here, but that’s really not an issue at all. In terms of issues, even at 90 minutes, the movie can get repetitive regarding the scenarios at times. The pacing is mostly perfect, except for a diner sequence that drags on a bit too long. That’s really it though.

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Dennis Weaver delivers a very good performance as the terrified motorist being chased by the mysterious tanker truck, whose driver remains mostly unseen throughout the film. You really see Weaver slowly losing his mind as the film progresses. As said earlier, there isn’t much dialogue, so often times he has to just convey his character’s feelings all by himself, and he definitely succeeds at this.

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As said earlier, this is Steven Spielberg’s first movie, and it’s quite impressive considering that there was a lot of pressure on him while he was making it. It had multiple limitations too, it was made for TV production, it had a budget of about $450,000, and the filming was completed in 13 days. Despite all that, the end result is quite good, and quite a strong debut film overall. Spielberg manages to successfully let his creativity and flair run wild despite those limitations. It’s not necessarily identifiable as a film of his when you look at the rest of his filmography, but it’s still remarkable seeing what he was able to achieve, especially when taking into account that it is his first movie. The cinematography is incredible here, the use of camera angles and wide angle shots are clever. That paired with the masterful editing creates this strong atmosphere that only gets more tense as the film progresses. The chase scenes are particularly tense and shot incredibly well. Something that also needs to be talked about is the truck. The truck in this movie is a menacing and unstoppable character in itself, and what Spielberg manages to accomplish here with such limited resources is nothing short of impressive. You never learn what his motive is, and you don’t even see the truck driver or his face, adding a sense of mystery to him, and putting the audience in the same view as the protagonist. In some ways you can see the DNA of Jaws being laid here, especially with the role of the truck in this movie. Jaws may have been his big breakout film, but in some ways without Duel, Jaws may never have existed. The one technical aspect I wasn’t so keen on was the use of voiceover, mainly in the aforementioned diner scene. Out of nowhere this voiceover comes to explain what the lead character is thinking in that moment, and it’s not needed given that Dennis Weaver does enough to convey that.

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Duel is a really good debut from Steven Spielberg. It’s not one of his best movies by any means, but it is an incredibly straightforward yet thrilling movie, with a solid lead performance from Dennis Weaver, and a direction that elevates the movie to a much higher level. It may be hard to find, but check it out if you can, especially if you are a fan of Spielberg.

Censor (2021) Review

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Censor

Time: 84  Minutes
Cast:
Niamh Algar as Enid Baines
Nicholas Burns as Sanderson
Vincent Franklin as Fraser
Sophia La Porta as Alice Lee
Adrian Schiller as Frederick North
Michael Smiley as Doug Smart
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond

After viewing a strangely familiar video nasty, Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor, sets out to solve the past mystery of her sister’s disappearance, embarking on a quest that dissolves the line between fiction and reality.

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I heard about Censor earlier this year, all I knew about it was that it was a British psychological horror film involving censors, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and some people liked it. I really didn’t know what to expect beyond that and so I went into the movie mostly blind. I’m glad I did, going in with no expectations, I found myself really on board with where the movie went.

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Censor’s plot is definitely set against a retro backdrop, so it is worth noting the setting. The setting is the mid-80s during the era of the video nasties, in which low-budget exploitation movies were deemed a danger to society and the cause of murder, violence and the like. Censor applies this concept, connecting it to an intriguing character study, in which it focuses on the life and struggles of a film censor. This film censor finds uncanny similarities between the videos she watches, and her childhood experiences and trauma, and she begins going down a trippy rabbit hole. I will say that the movie didn’t have many twists and turns with its plot development, but it didn’t really need to. I was intrigued enough by the story and where it went. As you would expect with a movie having censorship as one of the key aspects, Censor touches on the question about whether watching violence on video or film would make people prone to commit violence themselves. I thought tha and the commentary on censorship was quite interesting. Despite this, the focus is more with the protagonist and her story for the most part, which was probably for the best. Even though it does take a slow pacing through the story, I was invested going along this journey with protagonist Enid. Unfortunately I do think the movie struggles to combine the two strongest parts, the setting with the video nasty era, and the character study. When it’s focusing on one at a time it really works, not so much when the film tries to combine them. In the end the censorship and video nasties aspect take a back seat later on in the movie anyway, and I felt the two elements could’ve been integrated better. Also the movie really feels like two halves, each of which almost feel like different movies. The first half is a slow but intriguing mystery, the second half picks up the pace but probably a little too much, with the change in pace being a little too quick. While I do enjoy the third act and the ending, it does go off the rails here, for better and for worse. Looking back at the story and themes, it doesn’t quite come together. It really needed a longer runtime to bring everything together. Speaking of which, the movie is only 80 minutes long. For some it will feel longer because of the pacing but I was invested in this atmospheric ride, and I think it would’ve been better if it was at least 10-15 minutes longer.

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This movie is essentially anchored by the nuanced and strong performance from lead actor Niamh Algar. As Enid she’s hypnotising and a great strong on-screen presence. She is playing a character who slowly unravels as the memories of her long missing sister resurface and intertwine with the movies she watches every day. Most of the movie is just following her, and she carries the movie incredibly well. Although Algar is definitely the highlight, the rest of the cast are all doing great in their roles as well.

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Censor is the directorial debut of Prano Bailey-Bond, and it was quite a good first film from her. Immediately you can tell from the style that its paying tribute and taking influence from a lot of great horror auteurs from the 80s, including Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, and David Cronenberg. At times it does become a little too fond of its influences, but for the most part Bailey-Bond’s direction is its own thing. It is very effective from an aesthetic standpoint, for one it has a throwback look to it, with the production design and use of 35mm film at points. If you also really like neon bathed cinematography, Censor has a lot of that. The editing is great, and the sound effects and score add a lot to the atmosphere that the movie slowly builds. There is gore in this movie, but don’t expect a lot of it.

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Censor will be divisive among many people (even those who like horror) but it was a good ode to the video nasty era and a solid psychological horror thriller. Though it doesn’t feel complete by the end with regard to the plot and themes, and I had some issues with the way the story is structured and turns out, I was intrigued all the way through, the direction was great, and Niamh Algar was fantastic in the lead role. If you like horror, I think Censor is worth a watch, especially if you like the video nasty era that the movie is paying tribute to.

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (2005) Review

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Kingdom of Heaven

Time:
144 Minutes (Theatrical Cut)
194 Minutes (Director’s Cut)
Age Rating: 860949[1] 
Cast:
Orlando Bloom as Balian of Ibelin
Eva Green as Sibylla of Jerusalem
Jeremy Irons as Raymond III of Tripoli (“Tiberias”)
David Thewlis as The Hospitaller
Brendan Gleeson as Raynald of Châtillon (“Reynald”)
Marton Csokas as Guy de Lusignan
Edward Norton as King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem
Michael Sheen as Priest
Liam Neeson as Barisan of Ibelin (“Godfrey”)
Director: Ridley Scott

In the twelfth century, blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) travels to Jerusalem, a city seething with religious wars. He transforms into a defending warrior who saves the city and its people.

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I have heard about Kingdom of Heaven for a while, mainly about it being another historical epic from director Ridley Scott. I also heard that it’s one of the most infamous instances where the director’s cut is far better than the theatrical cut, with the latter reportedly removing so many important parts from the film. So I sought out the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven and I’m prepared to say that it’s one of my all time favourite films from Ridley Scott, which is quite something considering his filmography.

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Kingdom of Heaven was a very well-crafted historical epic, it does have fictionalised events but that’s to be expected from most big budget Hollywood historical epics (especially those directed by Ridley Scott). The large scale of this movie is impressive, and the story is grippingly told with high stakes very apparent throughout. It has a complex plot with many well thought out characters and plotlines and with the director’s cut at least, I think it was put together well. On one hand the film is a classic tale about an individual who rises to become something great, but it’s also a movie about the Crusades. I don’t know much about the subject matter but the Crusades sound like a fascinating historical period, so that was interesting to watch. One of the most surprising parts of the movie is that it does a great job at depicting both sides of the fight equally, with Islam and Christianity being represented fairly. It would have been easy to pick one side over the other, but it’s a well balanced telling of both religious sides. It is particularly powerful when you consider this holy war conflict is framed against a post 9/11 backdrop with the film being released 2 years into the Iraq War. And thinking about it, this is probably one of the many reasons why Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t liked by some when it came out. There’s a lot to this movie thematically, especially about hope and redemption, and it has a very humanist view on religion and life in general. The director’s cut includes 45 minutes of extra footage compared to the theatrical cut. I can’t speak for myself about how much the differences matter since I never watched the theatrical cut, but I heard the extended scenes flesh out many of the supporting characters and storylines. As I said before it is a complex and long movie, making it 3 hours long. However I think the runtime was worth it to tell a story of this magnitude. The movie takes its time, it has many subplots it juggles but takes time to develop them and the characters and it really pays off.

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Kingdom of Heaven has one of the best casts I’ve seen in a movie and overall there are some strong performances playing well realised characters. The cast includes Michael Sheen, Brendan Gleeson, Eva Green, Marton Csokas and many more. For me the standouts were Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Edward Norton (as a character whose face is never seen yet gives a scene stealing performance), and Ghassan Massoud. The one cast member I hadn’t mentioned yet is the actor who plays the lead character, Orlando Bloom. His performance has been criticised by many, potentially partly due to his cut scenes. He definitely pales when put alongside the other actors in the movie and better actors could’ve been cast in his part. However I do think Bloom gives a really good performance, definitely the best I’ve seen from him.

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Ridley Scott’s movies are generally impressive on a technical level and Kingdom of Heaven is no exception. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, it’s possibly one of the best looking movies that Scott has made. You really feel the sense of scale with this movie, the production design and costumes are top notch, and get you completely immersed within this time period. As a spectacle it doesn’t disappoint, with some intense battle and action sequences which hold up well today, including the CGI. Finally there’s the great score from Harry Gregson-Williams, which could very well be the best I’ve heard from him.

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The Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven is a fantastic historical epic that’s worthy of being placed among the best. The stellar cast are fantastic in their parts, Ridley Scott’s direction is top notch, and the story is complex and with compelling characters. Of course if you are going to watch it, make sure to watch the director’s cut, it’s pretty much universally accepted by everyone who’s watched it as the definitive version of the film.

Black Rain (1989) Review

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Black Rain

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Michael Douglas as Nick Conklin
Andy García as Charlie Vincent
Ken Takakura as Masahiro Matsumoto
Kate Capshaw as Joyce
Yūsaku Matsuda as Koji Sato
Director: Ridley Scott

Nick (Michael Douglas) and his partner, Charlie (Andy Garcia), are New York City policemen who must track down Sato (Yusaku Matsuda), a Japanese gangster, who gives them the slip while being transported to Osaka for his murder trial.

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I came across Black Rain at some point, I initially heard that it was a decent crime thriller starring Michael Douglas. Then I found out that Ridley Scott directed it so that got me interested in checking it out. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Black Rain, it is actually one of Ridley Scott’s more underrated movies, and it’s one worth checking out.

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The plot of Black Rain is nothing too special despite some interesting turns here and there. Basically the main two characters must escort the dangerous Yakuza gangster to Osaka, Japan, they are dragged into the Japanese underworld where things are done much differently. Don’t go in expecting a whole lot other than that really. The dialogue is occasionally cliched for this genre, and the plot occasionally relies too much on the expected tropes of the genre. This is as 80s cheese as it could be, it can get silly and over the top at times. However Scott’s take on the “tough cop” action movies that were more than prominent throughout the 80s was a step above other cop thrillers in that period. It is probably worth knowing going in that Black Rain more of a straight thriller than a pure action flick, so don’t expect a massive amount of action. It is also paced on the slower side, and the movie is a tad too long. However it is a well structured movie with a great atmosphere, and that atmosphere goes a long way towards getting you invested.

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There are some strong performances throughout. First of all there is Michael Douglas as the lead character of Nick Conklin, and this is the closest that Michael Douglas has been to leading an action movie. He plays a NYPD officer who plays by his own rules and the character is in many ways unlikeable and corrupt. However it works because the movie doesn’t try to make him more likable, Douglas adds a level of charm to the character (while not overdoing it), and he brings an intensity to the role. Andy Garcia is also good as his partner Charlie, offsetting Nick’s chaotic nature by being comparatively soft spoken and the voice of reason, and the two of them are quite believable as partners. Ken Takakura is also great as a sympathetic Japanese policeman who joins with the two to track down the Yakuza gangster. He has a great screen presence, and he shines from the moment he first appears till the end of the movie. The relationship between Douglas and Takakura is the heart of the movie and it was quite interesting see these two very different characters try to work towards the same goal. Yusaku Matsuda plays a yakuza boss, the scene chewing villain of the movie, and he is also great in every scene he is in.

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Ridley Scott directs this, and his work here as a director is one of the main reasons why this movie works as well as it does. Strangely enough, it is so stylised that you might actually mistake this as a film from Tony Scott instead of one from Ridley. There’s an art to the cheesy 80s action flick, and Ridley seems to know it quite well. It is visually stunning, the cinematography from Jan De Bont is amazing. It particularly shines when it takes place at night. Ridley shoots much of the movie in the same way he did Blade Runner with the heavy focus on streets with fog and neon lights, and contains some of the dark cityscapes and industrial looks that film has as well. Black Rain isn’t loaded with non stop action, again it is more of a crime thriller than an action thriller. The few action sequences aren’t absolutely bonkers, but they are well executed, and you feel the thrills and suspense. Its use of slow motion is corny at times, but this actually works in the movie’s favour. The sound design is great, and the electronic and orchestral score by Hans Zimmer is top notch, really adding to the movie.

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Black Rain is not one of Ridley Scott’s best movies, but it is one of his most underrated. The plot isn’t anything special, but it is elevated by the strong cast who give good performances here, and of course Scott’s stylish direction. So if you like 80s crime thrillers, you’ll definitely be on board with this movie.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021) Review

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The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Ryan Reynolds as Michael Bryce
Samuel L. Jackson as Darius Kincaid
Salma Hayek as Sonia Kincaid
Frank Grillo as Bobby O’Neill
Antonio Banderas as Aristotle Papadopoulos
Morgan Freeman as Michael Bryce Sr.
Director: Patrick Hughes

The world’s most lethal odd couple — bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and hit man Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) — are back for another life-threatening mission. Still unlicensed and under scrutiny, Bryce is forced into action by Darius’s even more volatile wife (Salma Hayek). Soon, all three are in over their heads when a madman’s (Antonio Banderas) sinister plot threatens to leave Europe in total chaos.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a relatively okay action comedy which I only checked out when its sequel, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, was coming soon. Going into the sequel I wasn’t expecting a different movie, just more of the same. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson would be fun to watch, there would be some mixed action, and a generic plot. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard was that, but just a little bit sillier, for better and for worse.

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I remember one of the main issues of the first movie was that it didn’t seem to know what kind of tone it was aiming for. It was either too serious and dark, or it was too silly and goofy, and it could’ve helped by leaning towards one or the other. So one thing that the sequel does well is that it sticks to one side, that being the silly side. It’s on a larger scale, with a rich Bond-esque villain with a plan for large scale destruction using some machine. That aside, for the most part it does seem to be going through the same motions as the first movie, more of the same but even messier. One disadvantage of this decision to go in this direction however is that the plot is just so over the top silly. As soon as I picked up on the what it was going for, I stopped paying attention to the plot at all. The plot of the first movie wasn’t that good, but having it be a simple “get the hitman to the court alive” plot worked well enough. With Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, it really just falls apart if you even think about it, and it is definitely less well constructed. The dumb plot is hard to ignore, packed with every dumb trope, including a weapon to blow up stuff on a large scale, flashbacks explaining characters’ backstories, you name it. Even the plot is surprisingly convoluted and barely comprehensible looking back at it, all the while still feeling like a plot is barely there. It’s clear that it’s the jokes that are the real focus. The characters are even more cartoonish too, it feels like literally every character is angry and screaming at each other at times, it really is such a loud movie. So while I’m not really the type of person to say to turn your brain off when watching a movie, I’d say try to not think too hard about what’s happening while watching. With that being said, I think the movie is deliberately parodying itself, and looking at the movie from that perspective does help. There is particularly a backstory for Ryan Reynolds which is so ridiculous that it’s actually quite funny, and I’m assuming that this was intentional. The humour is about the same level, mildly funny, however probably even more over the top and juvenile. Not all the jokes work out, but on the whole I was satisfied with the humour here. One of the best moments is actually the final moment of the movie, so if you’re two thirds into the movie and aren’t finding it funny, it’s worth sticking to the end at least.

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As usual the leading pair of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson return, and while not everyone likes their on screen chemistry, I do enjoy it and think it works. I will say that it does feel a little contrived that their characters are bickering so much in this movie, considering that in that both of them grew to like each other over the course of the first movie. However this time it’s not a leading pair, but rather a trio. Salma Hayek returns from the previous movie as Jackson’s wife, this time being upgraded to a co-leading role, and she definitely stands out among the movie. Her wackiness can get on the nerves at times but in all fairness, out of all of the cast she has the most energy and gives the most to the movie. There is a pretty strong chemistry between the three actors and once again this is the highlight of the movie. Antonio Banderas is the film’s villain, and he is committed to being intense, however a bit too serious in a movie this cartoonish. However character-wise, he does seem to work better in this movie as a D-level Bond villain compared to Gary Oldman’s dictator villain in the first movie.

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Patrick Hughes returns to direct this one, and the direction is at about the same level as the first movie. The action is mostly competent and gory, if too heavily edited and chaotic. It does go for more over the top comedy action, physics basically have no meaning in this movie. It is departing from some of the more grounded and serious action from the first movie, which even had some surprising tension. I remember that the first movie lingered on the grimness of some of the violence, which initially seemed out of place in a movie with that much comedy, however I think I still prefer the action of the first Hitman’s Bodyguard movie more. The CGI is quite bad, especially when it comes to the explosions. Still, I had some fun with the action in this movie.

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The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is another mixed bag really, better and worse than the first movie. It is more self-aware and silly, but sort of at the expense as itself. The chemistry between Reynolds, Jackson and Hayek was fun, and some of the action was enjoyable but that’s it. The ending of this indicates seems like there’s going to be a third movie, and I’m not really sure what they can really do with it. If you disliked the first movie, I don’t really see a situation where you’ll like the sequel. However, if you enjoyed the first movie and are interested in a sequel on the same level, albeit much sillier, then maybe check it out.