Category Archives: Action

No Time to Die (2021) Review

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No Time to Die

Time: 163 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Daniel Craig as James Bond
Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin
Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann
Lashana Lynch as Nomi
Ben Whishaw as Q
Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny
Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter
Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory/M
Billy Magnussen as Logan Ash
Ana de Armas as Paloma
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica after leaving active service. However, his peace is short-lived as his old CIA friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), shows up and asks for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond on the trail of a mysterious villain (Rami Malek) who’s armed with a dangerous new technology.

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After years of delays, No Time to Die has finally arrived. It’s not only the latest James Bond movie (25th of the official movies in fact), but it’s also Daniel Craig’s last James Bond movie. I have been really anticipating this movie, I really liked this version of Bond, and I was interested to see how it would conclude everything. It was a great experience, especially in the cinema, and overall I’m prepared to say that I’m satisfied with it.

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No Time to Die is really a movie that’s worth going into not knowing too much beforehand. The trailers and advertising avoided giving too many plot details for good reason. What’s immediately noticeable is that there’s an interesting blend of tones in this movie. It is bombastic and over the top while also being emotional. First of all, it leans into more the classic Bond aspects than the previous Craig films. The plot has massive global stakes caused by a ludicrous villain, there are gadgets throughout, there are plenty of one liners, and overall everything is more over the top. This is also the funniest Bond movie of Craig’s run, with a good amount of well-executed humour which I enjoyed. At the same time there is an emotional core to the film, and it wraps up all the storylines and character journeys for this version of James Bond. If you haven’t seen the previous Craig James Bond movies and are thinking about jumping in here, I would highly recommend watching them (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre) before No Time to Die because it references events from those films. It is very much a follow on from Spectre (the movie), from Madeleine Swann, to Blofeld and Spectre (the organisation). While I’m aware not everyone will be on board with this given that plenty of people weren’t fans of the last movie, I actually thought it worked quite well. In some ways it retroactively made me like some of those aspects from Spectre a lot more. Tonally it sounds like a mess, however it somehow all comes together in the end. Without getting into spoilers, I thought the finale was ultimately emotionally satisfying, and a great sendoff to this version of James Bond. While it does embrace some of the more classic elements of Bond, it’s also a unique entry for a Bond movie. I can’t speak to any issues immediately because there was a lot to take in with this movie. There’s a lot that happens, with plenty of characters, storylines, and parts to wrap up. Speaking of which, the runtime is at around 2 hours 45 minutes long, making this by far the longest movie in the franchise. At times I could feel the length, but I was always invested in what was happening, so that was never a problem for me.

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This movie really felt like a real ensemble piece more so than the previous Bond movies. First and foremost is Daniel Craig, who delivers his best performance as James Bond. He gets to have a lot of fun moments, from the one liners and humour, to the action. Craig’s Bond is the most human and given the most emotions compared to the past versions of the character, and it goes all in with that in this movie. While there are world ending stakes throughout the film, there is no mistake that Bond’s story is the main focus, and Craig delivers all of this so greatly. He plays the character in a way we haven’t seen from him before, and the movie really gives him the opportunity to give a finale for Bond. Lea Seydoux is one of the only Bond girls to actually return from a previous Bond movie, here she’s reprising her role of Madeleine Swann. I liked Seydoux in Spectre but there was something missing with that character in the movie, and I didn’t quite buy the Swann/Bond romance at the end. No Time to Die however makes this relationship really work, and I thought that Seydoux was great here, getting to do a lot more. We also get returning supporting Bond players with Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as M, and even Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, all of them reliable as always. Christoph Waltz also returns as Ernst Stravo Blofeld from Spectre, and while he’s not in the movie much, I actually liked him more in this movie, he’s great in his scenes and really leaves an impression. There are some new additions who are great in their parts too. There’s Lashana Lynch who is great as the new 007 (after James Bond had retired at the end of Spectre), and there’s also Billy Magnussen who is good in his role. Ana de Armas is a scene stealer, delivering a really fun and entertaining performance but unfortunately doesn’t get a massive amount of screentime. Nonetheless, she makes a strong impression. There’s also the new Bond villain as played by Rami Malek. He doesn’t quite reach the heights of Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale or Javier Bardem in Skyfall, but I think he’s a solid enough villain for this movie, especially as he’s the biggest adversary to Craig’s Bond yet. Malek’s character is definitely over the top, as you would expect for someone named Lyutisfier Safin. He is a strong and creepy screen presence, and absolutely nails the scenes that he’s in. There’s nothing really wrong with him writing or acting-wise, however he’s not in the movie as much as I would’ve liked.

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The newest director to helm a Bond film is Cary Fukunaga, and while I haven’t seen all of his other work, I can say that his work on Sin Nombre and Maniac is great. As expected, his direction for No Time to Die is fantastic and feels fresh and distinct in the franchise. There is this constant energy felt throughout, making even the more slower paced sections felt energised. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is great, really giving this movie a very vibrant look, and it helps that the film takes advantage of the memorable locations it takes place at. The action is truly stellar, starting with an early action set piece with Bond in a motorcycle and then in a car, and only continuing to be great from there. The action is often filmed with long takes, with particularly one of the standout action scenes involving a stairway later in the movie. All the action is great and rivals the best action sequences from Craig’s past 4 Bond films. Hans Zimmer composes the score and while it doesn’t rank amongst the best work from him or one of the best Bond soundtracks, it is solid and works well for the movie. I also think that Billie Eilish’s main song for the movie was great.

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No Time to Die ranks alongside Skyfall and Casino Royale as my favourite James Bond movies. It is very long and there’s a lot to take in, but I loved what I saw from my first viewing of it. Cary Fukunaga delivered a visually stunning and enthralling movie, with great action, an ensemble cast of reliable and solid performances, and a script that’s bombastic and witty yet also appropriately emotional and given enough depth. However, above all else, it served as a great finale for Daniel Craig’s James Bond, and it definitely achieved what it set out to do. I’m not really sure what they will do for the next version of James Bond, from the actor to the interpretation of the character. Nonetheless, Craig remains my all-time favourite version of the character’s nearly 50 year run, and I’m happy with the sendoff they gave him with No Time to Die.

Kate (2021) Review

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Kate

Time: 106 Minutes
Cast:
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate
Miku Martineau as Ani
Woody Harrelson as Varrick
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Slipped a fatal poison on her final job, a ruthless Tokyo assassin (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has less than 24 hours to find out who ordered the hit and exact revenge.

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I heard about Kate leading up to its release. I knew that it was going to be an action thriller starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead which was going to be released on Netflix. Despite being sceptical of action movies with known actors put on streaming services, I was somewhat interested in this one, I thought it looked pretty good from the trailers. Kate is yet another serviceable assassin centred action thriller which has its issues, but was better than expected.

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As expected, the writing is the worst part of the movie. The story is by the numbers, and it is very familiar and formulaic. It has its fair share of tropes and plot devices you’ve seen countless times. It’s also quite predictable, even some of the main reveals are easy to see coming. With that being said, it is thankfully paced fast enough and with enough urgency, especially given that the premise is about the main character only having a day left to live. The dialogue isn’t the best and it can be awkward, especially whenever the movie tries to throw in the odd moment of humour. The story to a degree had some depth, the main characters have backstories to them, and it feels like some effort was put into them. Unfortunately, the drama and emotion aren’t quite as well executed as they could’ve been. Some plot beats that should resonate feel undercooked. A big part of the movie is a relationship between Kate and a girl she’s trying to protect named Ani. This is meant to be the heart of the film, but their relationship isn’t given enough time or development. The third act gets even more formulaic and feels a little rushed as it races towards a climax, despite being entertaining for what it was. I enjoyed Kate for its 1 hour and 46-minute runtime, but I think it could’ve been a bit better if it was around 90 minutes long.

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If you need only one reason to check out Kate, it is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. In the lead role, she pretty much carries the whole movie. The writing for the character is pretty thin, but MEW makes the part great, delivering a commanding central performance and being such an on screen presence. She even gave more than the character needed, conveying a certain vulnerability, urgency and sadness I didn’t expect. And of course, there’s the action scenes where she is particularly impressive, she uses pretty much anything as a weapon and the stunts are very convincing. At the same time, she is also shown to be vulnerable, she doesn’t come out of these fight scenes and gun battles unscathed. The rest of the supporting cast are a bit of a mixed bag. One notable character is that of Ani, the child that Kate has to protect throughout much of the movie, played by Miku Martineau. I mentioned that the relationship between the two doesn’t work well enough, but there’s issues even on her as a character alone. Ani is grating and annoying to watch, and while I get that she’s intentionally annoying, her character doesn’t seem to learn or change at all. It’s a shame considering that her character is what ultimately gives Kate a significant purpose, so it’s unfortunate that this key character wasn’t exactly handled the best. There are also some solid supporting turns from Woody Harrelson and Jun Kunimura. Speaking of Harrelson, he is good here, but his character feels very much like a copy of others seen before. He gets very little screentime and the role could’ve been played by any character actor.

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Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is the director, and for the most part I liked his work here. Much of the visuals and action are taken from the likes of John Wick and Atomic Blonde, but I still liked what was here. I really enjoyed the style and the visuals, especially the use of colour and neon. The cinematography and lighting also added a lot to the fight scenes. Speaking of which, the action scenes are part of the reason why the movie works. The action is striking and intense, it’s brutal and gory and doesn’t hold back at all. The choreography is solid, and some scenes are genuinely impressive. The only action scene that wasn’t that good was a bad looking CGI car sequence early on, aside from that I was quite entertained by the action set pieces.

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Kate isn’t anything special and it has its issues. The story and writing are very familiar and derivative, and some of its drama and emotional aspects are a bit undercooked and needed more work for it to resonate. With that said, it was visually stunning, the action is intense and great to watch, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fantastic in the lead role, making this movie worth checking out. I really enjoyed it.

The Protégé (2021) Review

Maggie Q stars as Anna in the new film, T Protégé.

The Protege

Time: 104 Minutes
Cast:
Maggie Q as Anna Dutton
Samuel L. Jackson as Moody Dutton
Michael Keaton as Michael Rembrandt
Director: Martin Campbell

Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), Anna (Maggie Q) is the world’s most skilled contract killer. However, when Moody is brutally killed, she vows revenge for the man who taught her everything she knows. As Anna becomes entangled with an enigmatic killer (Michael Keaton), their confrontation turns deadly, and the loose ends of a life spent killing weave themselves ever tighter.

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I was interested in The Protégé. Along with it having a main cast consisting of Maggie Q, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson, it is directed by Martin Campbell, who made Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro. The premise on paper looked very familiar, but I was hoping for a decent action movie at the very least. For the most part, The Protégé was indeed an enjoyable action flick, but does have some flaws holding it back from being better.

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The writing is the worst part of the movie, and the script really is at odds with Martin Campbell’s strengths. The story is not very original, it’s generic and we’ve seen many of these plots in plenty of other better spy and revenge thrillers. The story and characters aren’t that interesting, there aren’t any stakes or emotional payoffs, and the few twists it has are rather predictable. Not only that but the plot could get unnecessarily complicated at times. It was incoherent, and by the end I was still wondering what it was even about. It is also very tonally inconsistent, mainly with the attempts at humour which never really landed for me. The dialogue is to blame for this, it is honestly terrible at times. By the time it reaches the last third of the film, it starts to lose steam. Not only that but it starts to try to be about something, and if anything that brought the movie down for me. Up to that point it was just a B-level schlocky action flick that I was having fun with. The ending itself was quite abrupt and it felt like something was missing. The story felt unfinished, there’s lots of loose ends and I didn’t understand why certain things happened, or why certain characters chose to make certain choices. I still enjoyed the movie, but the ending left me feeling cold, and not in a good way. The movie is just under 2 hours at 109 minutes, I think it could’ve been a little shorter than that.

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The characters aren’t that interesting and are rather one note. However, the main three actors at the centre make up for it at least. Maggie Q is solid in the lead role as the assassin seeking revenge, both in her performance and the action scenes. Michael Keaton is great too as the bodyguard and right-hand man of the main villain, very entertaining to watch. He even gets some action scenes of his own, and it looks like he actually does take part in some of the stunts. While I did like Keaton here, I do feel like his role was supposed to be played by a younger actor, making some of his scenes with Maggie Q feel very out of place. I especially wasn’t really sure what was going on with the relationship with those two characters, it kept going back and forth, and not in the way where it keeps you guessing. Its more like the writers couldn’t make up their minds about where it was going. Samuel L. Jackson isn’t in the movie a ton and it is definitely a role that he can play in his sleep, but as expected he delivers on his part.

The Protégé
Michael Keaton as Rembrandt

Martin Campbell is a good director of action, and his work here definitely elevates the movie. The action scenes are really good, its shot in a mostly clear fashion, the fights are well choreographed, and it was satisfying to watch. It is surprisingly graphic and gory at points, plenty of people get damaged and killed over the course of the movie. The action isn’t as memorable as some of Campbell’s other action work such as Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro or Goldeneye, but nonetheless it makes the movie more entertaining to watch.

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The Protege feels like an action movie that would’ve come out decades ago, for better and for worse. The writing really is its worst aspect, the dialogue and plotting are very lacklustre, and it’s hard to really care about what’s going on with the story and characters. It’s the strong direction, action and the solid cast that elevate the movie, making it entertaining for the most part. If you are up for a decent but forgettable action thriller, then The Protégé is an entertaining enough 2-hour watch.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) Review

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Simu Liu as Xu Shang-Chi/Shaun
Awkwafina as Katy
Meng’er Zhang as Xu Xialing
Fala Chen as Ying Li
Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist
Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan
Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery
Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Martial-arts master Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) confronts the past he thought he left behind when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

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I was interested in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For the first time in a while, it would be a new movie in the MCU following a character I’m not familiar with, and I liked the trailers and the look of the movie. I was expecting to enjoy it, as I enjoy most MCU movies. However I actually ended up liking it even more than I expected to.

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One of the refreshing aspects about this movie is how self-contained it is as an origin story, it doesn’t feel like a stepping stone to set up more movies. It doesn’t even tie into the multiverse event that some of the recent MCU projects have been moving towards. It’s very much its own thing, and which already has me on board. Another refreshing part is that is feels like a very different entry into the MCU, even to the point where it doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie at times. Once it started with the incredible opening sequence, I knew that I would really like it. In a way the plot is formulaic (not just to other movies in the series, but other action, fantasy, and martial arts films), however it was way more nuanced than I thought it would be. At its core the movie is focussing on a complex family dynamic, and with that there as a lot of thought put into the character work and history of this family. As the emotional core, it exceeds. In terms of the writing for the characters, it’s definitely some of the best in the MCU. In a way this movie is flashback heavy, that doesn’t sound good on paper, but each flashback feels purposeful and is done to flesh out this family story. The humour was generally alright, a lot of it really didn’t land but this is honestly the first MCU movie in a while where it didn’t feel like the humour took away from serious moments or stop the flow of the movie. The third act does feel a bit overstuffed with too many things, and it does have a formulaic CGI filled climax, which was a bit of a shame considering it pivots away from what is essentially a fantasy martial arts movie. However, it does have some incredible moments and it works well enough, it just felt like it came out of left field. There is a mid credits scene and a post credit scene, both setting up follow ups to this movie and the MCU, and they are worth sticking around for.

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The performances from the cast were generally great. Simu Liu played the lead role of Shang-Chi quite well from his grounded family life to the actual fighting. Initially Liu was just alright in the part, but by the end I thought that he was a great fit for the character. Awkwafina is also here in one of the main roles as Shang-Chi’s friend, who goes along with him on his adventure. She does act in the way that you’d expect her to if you’ve seen her other performances (especially with the humour). It doesn’t always work, but it wasn’t as distracting as it could’ve been, and the chemistry between her and Liu was believable. Meng’er Zhang was also really good as Shang-Chi’s sister, and Michelle Yeoh was a really good addition. However, by far the highlight performer is that of Tony Leung as Wenwu (the real Mandarin in the comics), the main villain of the movie and the father of Shang-Chi. He had such a strong onscreen presence, and you end up sympathising with the character, both through the performance and the motivation. Definitely one of the best Marvel villains, and honestly its worth checking out the movie for him alone.

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Destin Daniel Cretton is the director of Shang-Chi, I know him from his work on Just Mercy, and his first action movie was quite good. The cinematography here by Bill Pope made this one of the most visually stunning MCU movies. Aside from some washed out visuals at times, mainly in the third act, it looks very good, especially with the sets and environments. The action is also a highlight, with some top notch, fantastically choreographed and energised fight sequences that rank among the best in the MCU. A lot of the action set pieces are well thought out and put together. The CGI could be a bit of a mess at times in the third act, but I still enjoyed those scenes. The music was solid too, particularly the score from Joel P. West.

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Maybe it’s just because I’ve been finding most of the recent movies in the MCU to range from okay to just good, but there was something about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings I loved. I enjoyed the visuals and the very entertaining action scenes, the acting was really good, with Tony Leung being the standout. However, I even really liked the story and characters, and the way everything progressed. I will definitely need to see it again to see if it still holds up beyond the first viewing. However, from the initial viewing I really liked it, and it ranks amongst the best of the series. Honestly, while it does tie into the MCU for sure, it is standalone enough that you can go into it having not seen the prior movies. It is worth checking out for sure.

Infinite (2021) Review

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Infinite

Time: 106 minutes
Cast:
Mark Wahlberg as Evan McCauley (Treadway 2020)
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Bathurst 2020
Sophie Cookson as Nora Brightman
Jason Mantzoukas as the Artisan
Rupert Friend as Bathurst 1985
Toby Jones as Bryan Porter
Dylan O’Brien as Heinrich Treadway
Director: Antoine Fuqua

Haunted by memories of places he’s never visited, a man (Mark Wahlberg) joins forces with a group of reborn warriors to stop a madman from destroying the endless cycle of life and reincarnation.

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I hadn’t heard about Infinite until the day it was released on Neon (a New Zealand streaming service)). It was quite surprising really, considering it is directed by Antoine Fuqua (whose work I like) and stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. As it turns out, Infinite was going to have a theatrical release, but it was dumped onto Paramount+ at the last second. I usually have a different opinion on situations like this, but after seeing Infinite, I actually feel like they made the right decision. It really does feel like another average and forgettable action movie with big stars dumped onto a streaming service. Even as someone who didn’t have any expectations going (in aside from the people involved), I was still disappointed with what I saw.

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To get this out of the way, Infinite is very derivative of other similar sci-fi action movies, definitely taking a lot from The Matrix and Wanted at the very least. Being derivative isn’t inherently bad though, in fact I thought the movie had an interesting premise. It’s essentially about a war between 2 groups of people, believers and nihilists, who both reincarnate endlessly while retaining memories of their past lives. When it begins, it’s not great by any means but it seems promising. However it’s not too long before the movie manages to take its somewhat interesting premise, and execute it in the most boring and forgettable way. Despite everything, the movie is very uneventful. Much of it is Mark Wahlberg going on a mission to discover himself and realise that his dreams are memories, not dreams. He begins to remember his past lives, and this organisation of believers is trying to help him remember so that they can find a particular important item. It really does feel generic and uninspiring throughout, even shockingly boring. The script feels like a first draft at best, and the movie does a lot of telling rather than showing. There is so much exposition dumped on you, explaining characters, the world, etc. The dialogue itself is very awkward and tonally confused as well. It’s impossible to get invested in what’s going on. The worldbuilding isn’t anything to ride home about either, you’ve seen these types of stories done many times before, and done a lot better. The movie feels longer beyond its 106 minute runtime, and for much of it, it’s rather dull. Towards the end, my interest picked up slightly for the climactic action, but that was it.

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There are some talented actors involved but the characters and writing doesn’t allow any of them to give good performances. This has to be one of the most uninterested performances I’ve seen from Mark Wahlberg. In all fairness, he feels very miscast, from the voiceover narration, to the attempts at humour, to the attempts at drama. In the movie, Wahlberg’s previous life is played by Dylan O’Brien, who has 5 minutes of screentime. He doesn’t get to do a lot outside of some action, but I wish he played the role throughout the whole movie, because he already seemed more fitting. Sophie Cookson was good in the Kingsman movies, but here she’s basically reduced to some passable action sequences and delivering a ton of exposition dumps. There’s really only two performances here that I liked, both of them play their parts in an energetic and silly way that it genuinely made the movie more enjoyable to watch. Jason Mantzoukas hams it up in a supporting role, and Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a very passionate and scene chewing performance as the villain. It is commendable that Chiwetel commits to this role considering how silly the character it is. The villain’s big scheme to end the world is just dumb and not well put together, but the performance made him enjoyable to watch.

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I like Antoine Fuqua as a director, and him helming this movie is what got me interested in it. However this is by far his worst work, at least of the films I’ve seen from him. The visuals are very drab and grey, right out of a straight to DVD or streaming movie. There are some action sequences, and I will say that they aren’t bad. Some of them are well put together, however they do feel quite stale and the editing can be clunky. It is strange considering that Fuqua is pretty reliable when it comes to action. The only action scene that really stood out to me was in the third act involving a plane, which was genuinely quite fun to watch.

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Infinite is currently the worst movie from 2021 I’ve seen, and unfortunately by far the worst I’ve seen from Antoine Fuqua thus far. Even as someone who went into this movie literally the same day I knew of its existence, I was quite disappointed by the end result. It’s not memorable enough for me to really dislike it, it very much is a forgettable straight to streaming action flick. A couple of the performances are enjoyable and some the action is fun, but otherwise it doesn’t really get anything right.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003) Review

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The Matrix Reloaded

Time: 138 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence & sex scenes
Cast:
Keanu Reeves as Neo
Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity
Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe
Harold Perrineau as Link
Randall Duk Kim as Keymaker
Gloria Foster as The Oracle
Director: Lilly Wachowski and Lana Wachowski

At the Oracle’s (Gloria Foster) behest, Neo (Keanu Reeves) attempts to rescue the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) and realises that to save Zion within 72 hours, he must confront the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis). Meanwhile, Zion prepares for war against the machines.

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The Matrix sequels aren’t the most beloved of movies, but I remember being one of the people who enjoyed them. I was familiar enough with the first Matrix movie, however I hadn’t watched the sequels more than once each. So I thought I should check them out again, especially as the fourth film would be coming in 2021. Overall, I do like The Matrix Reloaded even though it definitely has a lot of very visible issues.

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The Matrix Reloaded really does feel like The Wachowskis letting loose and in some ways it was nice to see them go all out on everything. However, it also resulted in the movie being quite overindulgent and bloated, and in some ways it made the movie work against itself. The script at many points was a bit unfocused, not helped by the weird pacing. While there were some interesting parts, I found much of the movie to be boring and bland at points. Reloaded couldn’t find the balance between exposition and action like the first one did, doing away with the careful structure, and replacing it with a fairly complex but messy and convoluted plot with nonsensical philosophical overtones. The film throws so much information at you, and a lot of the time, I was not able to follow what was going on. Even thinking back on it after a more recent viewing, it’s hard to remember the key plot points. The first Matrix movie had a lot of people talking and having very serious conversations about high concepts. In Reloaded, it takes things to a ridiculous extent with even more preachy philosophical stuff, and it comes across as rather forced. The dialogue driven elements of the film felt overly complex and bloated, and it really bogged down the movie when it got to these moments. The heavy handed dialogue does mostly tone down in the second half of the movie, with the exception of the infamous ‘Architect scene’. Without getting into that too much, while I understand the context of the scene and why the dialogue is written like that, it just borders on self-parody. It’s really no surprise why this scene has been parodied so much. Reloaded also has a rather unsatisfying cliffhanger ending, and although it’s the second part of a trilogy, it really feels like part 1 of 2 of a Matrix sequel (with part 2 being Matrix Revolutions). Despite everything, there were some interesting aspects. Some story aspects and interactions were interesting and I liked some of the ideas presented. I wouldn’t even say that I disliked the story. However, even as someone who doesn’t exactly love the first Matrix, that movie handles things a lot better than Reloaded.

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The acting generally remains the same as in the previous movie, pretty generic and not all that great. Some actors are better than others, for example I enjoyed Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus (like in the first movie). However I still don’t think Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss are that good in their roles of Neo and Trinity. Their performances are rather bland and stiff and while I feel like that was part of their given direction, it hinders the performance greatly. It only feels worse given that it’s the sequels and they are still acting the same. Something I didn’t buy in the first movie at all was the sudden mention of Neo and Trinity being in love with each other despite nothing prior in the movie indicating that at all. Well it’s certainly not sudden in Reloaded as the film constantly pushes this relationship and it feels really forced. There’s still no chemistry between the two leads and it’s not made any more believable here. Even the new additions to the cast don’t really bring much new to talk about. I will say that Hugo Weaving made such a big impression in the first movie as Agent Smith, that despite his fate at the end of the last movie, they found a way to bring him back and he’s entertaining whenever he’s on screen as always.

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Once again, the Wachowski Sisters direct this, and props to them for pushing the boundaries even though the technology wasn’t quite there yet. The first Matrix seemed to embrace looking cool over functionality, I kind of respect that and it adds something to their aesthetic. The second movie is no exception. This movie has so many goofy moments which somehow adds to the movie’s entertainment. Neo flying for Superman for example is silly but fun. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the action scenes are generally quite good. In fact, Reloaded has some of the most memorable action scenes of the whole trilogy. It goes for more over the top action, more so than the first movie, and that is actually quite welcome. The choreography ranges from ridiculous to kind of awesome. There is a fight scene between Neo and many Agent Smiths, it was absolutely insane and only gets sillier as it progresses along, but it’s quite entertaining. There’s also a long extensive action sequence taking place on a freeway, and it’s one of my favourite scenes in the whole film, being both thrilling and entertaining. One flaw in the action scenes of the Matrix sequels however is that now that Neo is basically a superhero, it removes any tension from any action scene he’s in. Not to say that his action scenes aren’t good though, they are still fun. The CGI is impressive at times but overall, it is a bit dated for today. The 3D models can be good in one moment, and then extremely fake in another (the Neo vs Smiths fight being a strong example of this). Finally, there’s the amazing score from Don Davis, and the score is even better than the score in the first movie.

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The Matrix Reloaded is a very frustrating movie. To a degree I respect the ambition and scope of it, as well as the refusal to just repeat the first movie again. This does also lead to some of its worse aspects though, with the overindulgence (especially with the writing), heavy exposition, an overly complicated plot and script and more. By the end I didn’t have a clear idea of what I watched, and not in a good way. With that said, I do enjoy the movie. Some moments and ideas were well done, and the movie is worth watching for the action alone, even if some of the effects haven’t held up well. I’ll need to rewatch The Matrix Revolutions to see if it’s that much better than Reloaded, but I’m not expecting much.

Yojimbo (1961) Review

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Yojimbo

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Toshiro Mifune as Kuwabatake Sanjuro
Tatsuya Nakadai as Unosuke
Yoko Tsukasa as Nui
Isuzu Yamada as Orin
Daisuke Katō as Inokichi
Takashi Shimura as Tokuemon
Kamatari Fujiwara as Tazaemo
Atsushi Watanabe as the town’s Coffin Maker
Director: Akira Kurosawa

A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master (Toshiro Mifune), enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival businessmen are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both silk merchant Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara) and sake merchant Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) to hire him as a personal bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two ambitious and unscrupulous men.

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After watching Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I wanted to check out more of his movies, I could already tell that he was a fantastic filmmaker. While there was a wide selection of popular and acclaimed movies of his that I could’ve decided to check out next, I ultimately decided on Yojimbo, an action samurai movie starring longtime Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune. While it’s not quite as great as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo was great and well worth the watch.

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Something that Yojimbo is known for is that A Fistful of Dollars, the first movie in Sergio Leone’s “The Man with No Name” Western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, was unofficially based on it. If you’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars, you’ve more or less seen Yojimbo as they mostly have the same storyline, characters and climax. In all fairness, in one way or another, Yojimbo has been copied across nearly every form of media, and you can tell its very influential. The story is fairly simple: a mysterious man arrives to a town and plays two warring rival gangs against each other. It’s quite entertaining, and there’s hardly ever a dull moment. The blending of tones is fantastic, managing to be funny, dark and thrilling all at once. The first half is rather playful, whereas the tone darkens in the second half. The humour is particularly well timed, Yojimbo is a lot funnier than you would expect it to be, making it a pretty easy watch. There wasn’t really an emotional impact from watching this movie, it’s mainly just simple fun from start to finish, I enjoyed it for that. The movie also fleshes out some of its characters that could’ve ended up as flat caricatures, which really does add to the movie. Yojimbo is a slow burn, and the plot itself isn’t unpredictable (exact same plot to A Fistful of Dollars aside) but is still tense and entertains throughout.

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The cast are all good, but the standout is Toshiro Mifune, who gives yet another fantastic performance. He plays a ronin that happens onto the small town with two warring gangs, who decides to play them against each other while profiting from it, and of course by the end he becomes a reluctant hero. He’s calm and quiet, suave, and very clever. He really was the original “Man with No Name” character, being able to blend stoic toughness with humour, and playing rough and ruthless while deep down being a good person with a heart. As said earlier, many of the people the film focuses on could’ve been flat caricatures but instead they’re complex, well-defined, fully fleshed out characters. The comedic side characters also keep the movie from getting too serious.

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Having seen Seven Samurai, I already knew that Akira Kurosawa is a fantastic filmmaker, and he doesn’t disappoint here either with his top notch directing. First of all, the cinematography is incredible, framed and composed perfectly, and often times telling the story visually. The action itself is superb, and still holds up to this day. It’s very easy to see why and how many of Kurosawa’s films have managed to greatly influence the modern action genre. It was actually more violent than you would think it would be, especially for a movie released back then. Additionally, it is accompanied by a great score by Masaru Sato.

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Yojimbo is a great samurai action movie, with a familiar and simple yet entertaining story, directed with such skill by Akira Kurosawa, and with a strong and memorable lead performance from Toshiro Mifune. If you hadn’t watched anything from Kurosawa before, Yojimbo isn’t a bad place to start his filmography.

The Ice Road (2021) Review

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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.

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.

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.