No Time To Die – A Movie Review

I’ve seen most of the James Bond movies, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan. In fact, when I talk to true James Bond aficionados and tell them that Sir Roger Moore has always been my favorite Bond, the look on their faces confirms my belief that James Bond isn’t really for me.

That being said, I do like Daniel Craig as the super spy. In fact, I’d say he’s my second favorite Bond. I also deeply enjoyed Casino Royale, Craig’s first outing as Bond.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I much favored Craig’s subsequent Bond movies. If I’m being honest, I remember being confused through much of them, never quite understanding what was going on.

Sadly, No Time To Die continues this tradition.

At two hours and forty-three minutes, No Time To Die appears to cover a lot of ground. Yet, in the end, even with such a long runtime, they didn’t invest enough of it in the emotional foundation that was to serve as the gut punch during the final act. More on that in a moment.

My problem with the Craig era is that while they do seem to continue a running storyline, they don’t always remind the audience of what came before, and I’m not sure they always even conform to what was previously established. For me, this results in a lot of confusion.

This could be considered a spoiler, so consider yourself warned. At the beginning of No Time To Die, Bond is on a trip with his wife. Yes, you read that right. Now, as I’m watching the beginning of this movie, I’m thinking to myself, “Did Bond marry this woman in the previous film?” He then suspects her of being a secret agent, puts her on a train, and tells her he’ll never see her again. Flashforward ten years, five of which Bond has spent in retirement, and she’s reentered his life. He spends a lot of time saving her life, protecting her, and running around. By movie’s end, he tells her that she was the only happiness he’d ever known. What?! He’d spent more time talking to Q in the movie, yet we’re supposed to believe that?

There was also a plot about poison being delivered through DNA and M having something to do with it … I don’t know. Craig’s Bond movies, to me, seem so overly complicated that they get boiled down to nothing more than action. Or maybe they’re not overly complicated; maybe they’re just nonsensical and the action is what drives the movie.

In my heart of hearts, I do believe Bond movies can be simple, full of action, and under two hours. They used to be that way. They can be again. But they tried with No Time To Die. They really did try to shake it up a little.

You may have heard that there’s a female 007 in No Time To Die. Again, this is a slight spoiler, but there is. She’s played by Lashana Lynch and she’s great. Handles the action very well. You also perhaps heard about Ana de Armas being in it as well–after all, her name is on all the posters. She is indeed in the movie, has a great moment, but that moment regrettably ends after about twenty minutes. I don’t know if they were setting her up for a spinoff or what, but she seemed very shoehorned into the film (while stealing every scene).

Léa Seydoux plays Bond’s former wife, Madeleine, and does so just fine. I personally felt no chemistry between Craig and Seydoux nor did I believe they ever actually loved each other. I certainly didn’t believe that the brief time we saw them as husband and wife were the happiest moments of Bond’s life. At movie’s end, they desperately need us to believe this in order to hit an emotional payoff, but for me … not so much.

And that’s where No Time To Die got itself in a bit of trouble. Beyond the typically overly complicated “bad guy” plot, it also tried to walk an emotionally complex tightrope in the hopes of grabbing us by the heartstrings at story’s end.

Furthermore, I don’t mind a funny Bond, after all, Moore is my guy. Craig seemed a little out of character, though, when he would toss in a wisecrack or two. I don’t remember that side of Craig’s Bond, not to such an extent, and it struck me as awkward.

Finally–the action. At least with a Bond movie, no matter what, you’re going to get some killer action. I found myself underwhelmed on this front as well. There were exciting moments, to be sure, but nothing that amazed me. I think the Mission Impossible movies have spoiled us a bit in that regard.

Even with all of that being said, Daniel Craig is STILL my second favorite James Bond, and I’ll continue watching James Bond movies even if I don’t ever particularly love them. I think the attempt they made at modernizing him a bit in No Time To Die was well-intended, they just hit the wrong notes at the wrong times. James Bond can still thrive as a movie franchise, but I think it’s time to take him back to basics on one hand, and on the other hand, I think it’s time to rethink his entire mythology. That’s a topic for another day, though.

In the end, No Time To Die is fine. It’s Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond, so that alone makes it worth watching.

The Last Duel – A Movie Review

On paper, The Last Duel had a lot going for it. Obviously, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Adam Driver are major draws due to their established talent.

Jodie Comer, if you’re not familiar with her, is brilliant in Killing Eve, and I’m very happy to see her transitioning into major motion pictures.

And, of course, The Last Duel was helmed by the legendary director, Ridley Scott. You know Ridley Scott as the genius behind Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Martian, and many, many others.

That being said, as you would expect, The Last Duel looks amazing. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time to medieval France. The architecture, the armor, the clothing, the landscapes, the weaponry, the messiness of the era–it all looks grounded in absolute reality. This isn’t surprising considering that it’s a piece of historical fiction.

Damon, Driver, and Comer nail their roles. Damon is hugely unlikable, Driver is both charming and horrible, and Comer is potently restrained.

But in the end, I found the entire premise of the movie distasteful and the tone uncomfortable. Yes, the movie is based on actual events, yet that alone did not dictate the direction and artistic choices made by the creatives. After all, The Last Duel is not a documentary.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Damon’s character marries Comer’s character in order to amass more land and to produce an heir. His friend, played by Driver, finds himself favored by royalty and continues gaining advantage after advantage, which enrages Damon’s character. Comer’s character eventually accuses Driver’s character of raping her. It is then decreed that Damon’s character will battle Driver’s character in a duel to the death. The winner will supposedly be chosen by God, and that will determine whether an actual rape occurred or not.

The premise is troubling enough as it is, but the execution of the film is where it truly lost me. The film is broken into three components–first from the perspective of Damon’s character, then Driver’s, and then Comer’s. The script seems to want the audience to believe that Comer’s character was in love with Driver’s character and set him up, which ultimately was not the case at all. I found that manipulation alarming. In this day and age, blaming the victim is simply reprehensible. They also chose to depict the rape of Comer’s character three separate times, a little differently each time, which stuck me as gratuitous and unseemly.

I hoped that at some point, there would be a message in this movie. There would be something we could learn about the human condition. There would be something that reinforced the fact that human rights and individual dignity must take precedence no matter when or where a story takes place.

That did not happen. Perhaps the filmmakers intended a deeper meaning. Maybe they wanted to convey a criticism of the horrors women have endured throughout history. However, in my opinion, the film simply seemed to relish in its disturbing plotline.

As I said before, it’s not a documentary. The filmmakers may argue that they simply reconstructed actual events. I would counter by saying that the actors playing Frenchmen in this film did not even use a French accent, so I’m not sure how beholden they were to authenticity. In other words, they made choices, and I disagree with many of those choices.

I do not recommend The Last Duel.

The French Dispatch – A Movie Review

I truly wanted to see The French Dispatch when it was in theaters but simply couldn’t find the opportunity. Fortunately, it found its way to Blu-ray in record time. Thanks to my local library, I was able to watch it the other night.

The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson’s latest film. You know Wes Anderson as the director of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you enjoy Wes Anderson’s general style, you’ll love The French Dispatch as well. Although, I have to admit, it is slightly edgier than his normal work. More on that in a moment.

The French Dispatch is about an American man who started a branch of his father’s newspaper in a French town. The film delivers five separate vignettes depicting local stories in the newspaper’s final edition. Why is the newspaper coming to an end? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

As usual, Wes Anderson manages to deliver something new with each of his works. The French Dispatch utilizes some fascinating angles, lighting, use of black and white, and even animation. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Furthermore, in my opinion, The French Dispatch is a touch more adult than previous works. There is quite a bit of full frontal nudity, which is completely related to a particular story within the movie, as well as a bit of violence that I found unusual for him as well. In fact, those five vignettes are thematically linked but fairly unique from one another, which is perhaps why we see some atypical offerings from Anderson. Of course, as you would expect, each story within the movie is all at once whimsical, revealing, thought-provoking, irreverent, and bold.

Anderson brings back his old favorites as well as some new faces for The French Dispatch. You’ll recognize Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Tony Revolori, and even Henry Winkler.

I happen to love Anderson’s approach to film. I’m not sure a casual movie-goer would find The French Dispatch all that enticing, but for fans of the filmmaker, it’s a noteworthy addition to his body of work.

Finch – A Movie Review

If you like any combination of dogs, robots, or Tom Hanks, Finch is perfect for you.

Found on Apple TV+, Finch is an Apple Original Film starring Tom Hanks and … well, mostly just Tom Hanks. He’s an engineer who survived a massive solar flare that ultimately wiped out most of civilization. He happened to be at work when it occurred, a robotics firm, and pretty much just stayed there. He mostly wants to survive in order to care for his dog, Goodyear, and has devised many ingenious ways to use robotics to help him scavenge for food, tools, and general supplies. However, St. Louis–his city–is about to undergo a cataclysmic storm that even his bunker won’t survive. Furthermore, the brutality of a depleted ozone has taken its toll on him–he knows he doesn’t have long to live. His goal? Build a caregiver for Goodyear, get Goodyear out of the city, and then leave Goodyear somewhere safe in the caregiver’s capable hands. That caregiver? Jeff.

Jeff is a robot that Finch builds to care for Goodyear, and this is when the movie really starts to shine. Voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, Jeff starts out very childlike and provides much of the film’s levity, but as time goes on, Jeff begins to understand both Finch and Goodyear, as well as the very special bond the two share.

Because Finch essentially only shows one human being–Tom Hanks–it’s very easy to get strong Cast Away vibes. There are parallels, to be sure. However, that’s really where the similarities end. After all, Finch isn’t about a man trying to save himself at all–it’s all about that dog.

The real achievement of Finch, however, is the special effects. Jeff the robot looks completely grounded in each and every scene. Hanks truly appears to be interacting with Jeff at the actual scale of the robot. I haven’t watched any “making of” specials on Finch, so I don’t know where practical effects end and CGI begins, but I never caught myself noticing the special effects as anything other than part of the film’s reality. That’s meant as a sincere compliment.

Finch is a mostly lighthearted film with touches of suspense, violence, and sadness, but overall it’s an exploration of what exactly it means to be “human.” Is it our capacity to care for others that makes us special, and, if so, are blood, bone, and flesh required?

Werewolves Within – A Movie Review

I honestly had no idea this movie was based on a video game, nor did I really know anything about it. I wanted to see it for one simple reason, and one reason only–Sam Richardson.

In my opinion, Sam Richardson is one of the funniest guys out there. I first discovered him on VEEP, and that’s where he won me over for life. Apparently, I’m not the only one. His IMDB page suggests he’s getting plenty of work!

Werewolves Within is about a very nice–maybe too nice–forest ranger (Richardson) sent to a small town called Beaverfield. This tiny town is warring with itself due to a proposed gas line that wants to run right through the middle of it. Half the town wants the money, half the town wants to preserve the envrionment.

Richardson’s character, Finn Wheeler, quickly befriends a new postal worker named Cecily Moore, played by Milana Vayntrub (the former AT&T lady). Richardson and Vayntrub have superb chemistry with each other, and Vayntrub proved far funnier than I ever suspected.

Besides the pipeline controversy, the town soon appears to suffer from a violent creature picking off residents, pets, and generators. That creature? A werewolf!

Before long, Richardson, Vayntrub, and a host of hilarious actors are trapped in a bed and breakfast as the werewolf prowls outside. Personally, I got major Clue vibes at this point, and that’s a total compliment. Of course, as you expect, they quickly begin to suspect one another as the actual werewolf. At that point the film quickly reaches a climax and draws to a close.

I have to say that I found Werewolves Within highly entertaining with some truly funny moments. However, be warned, at times it’s surprisingly violent and even a little scary. Furthermore, I actually became invested in the mystery concerning the werewolf’s true identity. Not to worry, it is revealed by movie’s end.

If you like horror and comedy, and you want a quick, 90-minute film, I recommend Werewolves Within. Richardson is great, as always, and Vayntrub proves she’s got comedy chops as well. (And after researching her IMDB page, I feel stupid for writing that last bit about her. She’s been on fire for years and years.)