Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – A Movie Review

(No major spoilers, but some story beats must be addressed to critique the film.)

I had the pleasure of watching Black Panther: Wakanda Forever with my daughter Thursday evening, opening night. The film instantly established that they were not going to gloss over Chadwick Boseman’s unfortunate passing. In fact, his death, obviously along with T’Challa’s, drove the heart and soul of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

That’s not to say the movie only focused on T’Challa’s death, but the plot’s circumstances arose both due to his absence and because of his actions during life. Serious character evolution occurred because of his death as well. This is the greatest compliment I can give Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It did not try to pretend like nothing happened; it instead leaned into the tragic reality and told a story rooted in heartache.

And the film was indeed somber. It would have felt inappropriate otherwise. There were some light moments, to be sure, and I wouldn’t describe the film as dark–not at all. But there was palpable grief throughout the film, as there should be. However, thankfully, the film processed that grief, which ultimately allowed the audience to process it as well.

So, the movie did indeed hit all of the appropriate emotional notes and served as a potent requiem for Chadwick Boseman. But with that being said, was it any good?

Yes, it was good, but it was not great. Perhaps my opinion will change as time goes on and I see it a few more times, but while they nailed the story tackling grief, I do not feel they delivered on the full potential of Namor and his people. Furthermore, several characters forced into the storyline felt superfluous and slowed the movie down. I love Riri Williams’ character and I believe she has a radiant future in the MCU, but she literally did not need to be in the film. The same honestly goes for Everett Ross. The plot easily could have expelled those two with no problems. There’s a third character connected to Ross that, while I love, absolutely did nothing relevant, either.

I do want to once more commend their direction with Namor. Again, while I think they took a routine path with him, they did it with great panache. The creative team clearly understood the Aquaman comparisons were unavoidable, and so they made his underwater scenes look radically different, far more organic, and a lot more textured. I found his backstory fascinating as well. I just wish they had taken a different approach for his conflict with Wakanda.

In the end, that’s my only real complaint about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Though a beautiful film with complex emotional moments, it didn’t surprise me. It did everything you expected it to do. I can imagine they were under immense stress to deliver a film that both honored Boseman and propelled the franchise and larger MCU forward, but that stress seems to have resulted in choosing a safe, conventional course. If you asked me to outline a plot for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that would please everyone while upsetting no one, what they in fact made would have been my direction as well. (Or maybe I’m being petty because I liked my treatment better? Perhaps both can be true.)

I absolutely recommend Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I would consider it a must-see in the theater if you enjoyed the first film. Just don’t expect the wonder, majesty, and charm of the first.

Black Adam – A Movie Review

(Warning: the tiniest of spoilers ahead, mostly concerning what is NOT in Black Adam)

As you know, I am a unapologetic DC apologist. I’ve loved Super Friends since my childhood and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Donner, Burton, Nolan, Snyder, Jenkins–whomever. Put them on the screen and I will watch them.

I won’t claim to be a big Black Adam fan, though I did thoroughly enjoy Geoff Johns’ JSA run, which heavily featured Black Adam, Hawkman, Captain Marvel (Shazam), Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher (among many, many others).

I’m also not a huge Dwyane Johnson follower. I like him in movies, certainly, but I don’t consider his films a “must-see” experience. There’s no denying his charisma, however, and so when I heard he was almost maniacally dedicated to getting Black Adam onto the big screen, I thought the exposure would be good for DC, good for the character, and good for Dwayne Johnson. Furthermore, once I learned the film would also feature Hawkman and Dr. Fate, I found myself getting very excited. Black Adam, Dr. Fate, and Hawkman have been linked for centuries in the comic books and I assumed they would lean heavily into that rich history.

I just left the theater a few hours ago and here’s my one-sentence review: Good … not great.

Black Adam has tremendous action, special effects that sometimes look amazing, superb costumes, elaborate sets, and a pace almost as fast as the Flash.

Also, there are some real twists in the story that I did not see coming.

But let’s talk about that–story. The story? It’s fine. They do a good job firmly establishing Black Adam’s past and current status. They manage to introduce the JSA and its members while providing the audience a baseline understanding of each member’s motivations, histories, and dynamics. Additionally, they address the necessity of the gray area in which Black Adam exists. They call into question the morality of good and evil as it pertains to perspective. I frankly found it admirable that they did not shy away from such complexity at all.

But the dialogue? Woof. It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad. It’s the typical giant studio beating a dead horse with cliches, one-liners, catch phrases, and lazy talk. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.

Some bright spots? Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate. Brosnan brought the wisdom, regality, and wit needed for this version of the character. And the costume? The Dr. Fate effects? Wowzers. Fantastic. Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone brought a vitality and freshness to the film that it sorely needed. Her bright colors and interesting visual impact delivered a much needed contrast to some otherwise dreary visuals (excluding Dr. Fate, of course). Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher gave us the levity we craved, and boy-oh-boy did they deliver on his powers. You want to talk about nailing a comic book look and power set! Aldis Hodge played Hawkman, and while I loved the look, I didn’t love the angle they made Hodge take with the character. He was a little too much like Black Adam himself, which could work, and did (at times), but his hard-stance approach seemed to register in all the wrong ways. I look forward to more of Hodge as Hawkman, though, because he absolutely looked the part! Finally, we had some really, really fun cameos. I’m not going to spoil them, of course, but they are there, and they give me great hope.

I know the DCEU gets knocked for being too serious, and I get that. I do. It’s never bothered me, because Batman is rooted in some pretty tragic stuff. Joker is the pinnacle of psychosis. When the public’s modern perception of DC are primarily the Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder movies–yeah, they’re on the dark side. But don’t forget that Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam are also DC movies, and I would not define them as overly serious.

All that being said, Black Adam is too damn serious. Notice I didn’t italicize Black Adam there. I mean the character, not the movie. I understand Black Adam is a very, very serious character in the books, but Dwayne Johnson is a megawatt superstar known for unyielding charisma. He’s playing Black Adam about as straight as it gets, so much so that the attempts at humor are misfires because they are in such contrast to his general demeanor.

I’m also SORELY disappointed they did not dig into the connective tissue binding Dr. Fate, Hawkman, and Black Adam. Didn’t even scratch the surface. Maybe at one point, early in the writing, they tried. This could be the reasoning for Hawkman and Dr. Fate’s inclusion. The final version, though, left it all out.

Finally, Black Adam keeps the unrelenting comic book trope going, the one only She-Hulk dared defy. I won’t spoil it other than to say we have our prerequisite CGI monster at the end. <sigh>

If you’re a DC fan in general, I think you’ll enjoy quite a bit of Black Adam. Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher alone are pretty fun to watch. If you’re a casual movie goer, you may enjoy the unrelenting action and eye-popping special effects. No one can deny that Black Adam and Dwyane Johnson took a big, big swing. They definitely made contact, but I wouldn’t call it a homerun.

Like I said earlier: Good … not great.

Thor: Love and Thunder – A Movie Review

Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment, but Thor: Love and Thunder is absolutely one of my favorite Marvel movies.

First of all, even though the special effects are completely epic, the storyline itself is fairly straightforward and each character’s motivations are clear. This goes a long way with a mainstream crowd. On the one hand, I’ve seen every MCU movie and witnessed Thor’s evolution in real time. On the other hand, my wife has barely seen any of the Marvel movies, yet, thanks to flashbacks and addendums, she completely understood Love and Thunder and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. That’s quite a feat for a fourth installment to achieve!

Secondly, even though this is comic book movie full of larger-than-life events, the acting really is superb thanks to incredible actors. Let me throw some names at you: Natalie Portman. Christian Bale. Russel Crowe. Tessa Thompson. Bradley Cooper. These are big names with real acting credentials. Let’s toss in sheer star power as well with Chris Hemsworth (obviously), Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, and Vin Diesel. Furthermore, there are some very big cameos that I won’t spoil for you. And the person who helped write the story, directed the movie, and even acted in it as well? Taika Waititi.

Third, it’s just plain fun. The tone, the costumes, the jokes–it’s all a blast. Screaming goats, people! Screaming goats!

However, that brings me to my fourth and final point. Even though the jokes are fast and furious, I’ll also admit to you that this is one of the few MCU movies that truly gave me the feels. I teared up on several occasions. Is that the quality of the story, the acting, or the combination of the two? I’m not sure, but I was definitely invested in these characters, particularly Thor and Jane Foster.

Speaking of whom, I was thrilled to see Natalie Portman back as Jane Foster/Mighty Thor. I was also so relieved that they treated both Jane and Mighty Thor with the utmost respect. They nailed her story, they got the costume exactly right, and they let Natalie Portman have a little fun even as she also had to do a lot of the emotional heavy lifting.

Finally, I never would have guessed they could keep Thor interesting, but they keep finding ways. Chris Hemsworth has truly captured something magical in this character, merging the buffoonery of the Norse myth with the heroism of the Marvel comic’s character, and Taika Waititi has found a way to let Hemsworth walk that very fine line.

Obviously, I highly recommend Thor: Love and Thunder. It’s an entertaining two hours that brings both the laughs and the emotions while closing plotlines from the past and opening more for the future.

Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness – A Movie Review

No pun intended, but it’s very strange to me that Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen have, in many ways, become the heart and soul of the MCU. I happen to really like both of them as actors, but I never dreamed Cumberbatch would play such a significant role across many MCU films after his initial Dr. Strange movie, nor did I expect Olsen’s character, Wanda, to undergo so much growth after first appearing in Age of Ultron.

Furthermore, Multiverse Of Madness seemed to be the crux of several previous MCU storylines. WandaVision, Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home and more all seemingly led to this film, which, obviously, created high expectations.

Finally, adding Sam Raimi to the mix elevated the excitement even more. In many ways, Raimi is the unofficial grandfather of the MCU thanks to his Spider-Man movies, and, if you check out his IMDB page, is no stranger to making weird horror films. He felt like the perfect fit for Dr. Strange.

So what did I think of Multiverse Of Madness?

No spoilers, I promise.

In the end, I liked it.

In the beginning, I didn’t.

I felt that Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness started off maddingly slow. Additionally, the special effects were … not good. Almost laughably bad, in fact. But, the good news is that the movie soon picked up speed and maintained a quicker pace, and the special effects got much, much better. I’d also like to say that some of those slow beats in the beginning paid off in the end. I was surprised that, for a film spanning multiple realities, a coherent, connected storyline eventually emerged.

Dr. Strange is a ridiculous looking character. Benedict Cumberbatch, at first glance, looks ridiculous as Dr. Strange. Yet, somehow, someway, Cumberbatch infuses a strange mixture of arrogance, charm, regality, intelligence, and even heroism into his performance in such a way that the audience quickly accepts all of the visual silliness and commits to the story. There were moments in this movie when I felt that Cumberbatch appeared as though he stepped right out of a comic book panel–and I mean that as a compliment. Cumberbatch plays very similar characters–he’s been typecast to a degree–yet there’s something different about him as Dr. Strange. Even apart from the hair and goatee, his entire appearance and demeanor just seems … different from his real life persona. A transformation occurs.

Of course, who knew Elizabeth Olsen would take an initially paper-thin character like Wanda from Age of Ultron and eventually turn her into perhaps the most sympathetic, relatable, and horrifying character in the MCU’s entirety? Again, no spoilers, but Multiverse Of Madness zigged when I definitely thought it was going to zag. I appreciate the fact that it proved unpredictable, and much of the film’s originality hinged on Olsen’s performance. No matter what, I’m Team Wanda, and I think most people are. That’s absolutely due to Olsen’s portrayal.

As stated earlier, Sam Raimi fit this movie perfectly. On the one hand, there were some obvious Sam Raimi choices. Overlays, fade-outs, audible cues–you’ll easily identify his fingerprints. On the other hand, his experience with horror and super heroes truly paid off. Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness had some genuinely scary moments. This is not the typical MCU kid gloves. Characters look scary, frightening things happen, and the gore, given it’s the MCU, shocked me on some occasions. I’m not sure we got full Raimi, but we got way more Raimi than I expected! I’m not convinced Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness was perfect for him, but he was certainly perfect for it.

Let’s quickly touch on some other performances. I loved Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez. Her character’s arc drove the film’s plot, which meant Gomez had to do a lot of work. She had to win over the audience, be both vulnerable and capable, and strike the right chemistry with her co-stars. No easy feat for a first appearance! Chavez pulled it off and I look forward to seeing America again.

Of course, Benedict Wong always steals the scenes. I love that his Wong has somehow become an MCU touchstone.

I’m also so glad that they finally gave Rachel McAdams something to do as Dr. Christine Palmer. The MCU was not especially gracious to its female “love interests” in the beginning, but they seem to be course correcting now. McAdams is an exceptional actor who is finally getting to show her skill to the MCU audience.

I guess we should address the anticipated cameos, right? Wrong. I’m telling you nothing. I’ll just say they made me so, so happy. Yet, like everything else about this movie, things did not go as expected. I’ll just leave it at that.

Credit scenes? Yep. The mid-credit scene is vital and has me SO excited for future possibilities. The post-credit scene is not must-see, but I loved it. It’s the perfect Raimi send-off.

Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness will prove polarizing among fans and critics alike. It dared to go against the grain, which will surely create some controversy. Another pain point for audiences could be that it does not have any interest in catching people up. It assumes you’ve seen all the Marvel shows and movies, and if you haven’t? Try to keep up. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but Raimi’s direction, the performances, the utter weirdness of it all, and the titillating cameos made for an entertaining experience.

The Batman – A Movie Review (No Spoilers)

I’ll admit that I initially didn’t get too excited by the prospect of yet another new Batman. I happened to like Ben Affleck as Batman and wasn’t quite ready to accept the guy from Twilight as his would-be replacement. To go along with that, I was fully invested in the Snyderverse and didn’t want to switch directions from that, either. Furthermore, it wasn’t the idea of a parallel Earth that bothered me. I’ve been enjoying DC comics since 1980 and am therefore very comfortable with the multiverse plot device. I am fine with a few different Batmans running around in my movies. I just didn’t think I wanted this Batman because it looked as though it would simply be a retread of Nolan’s films.

Let me say this clearly and in all caps: I WAS WRONG.

The Batman depicted the comic book character we know and love more closely than any other version I’ve seen on screen. Also, the film was dark, gritty, street level, violent, rainy, and seething with noir.

Robert Pattinson, the aforementioned Twilight guy–fantastic. His Batman was physical, cerebral, brooding, and emotionally damaged. Best of all? He wore the costume for 90% of the movie. (It had to be absolute hell for Pattinson to film this thing, by the way. I read somewhere the costume weighed 60 pounds.) This Batman truly seemed detached from his emotions. He didn’t strike me as a rich guy with fancy gizmos. He honestly depicted a man unable to overcome his emotional devastation while seeking solace by beating criminals to a pulp. Yet there was an emotional vulnerability to his Batman as well. Watch closely for his reactions when kids are being impacted by crime. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and also laid the psychological groundwork for how a “Robin” could even be possible in Batman’s world. Speaking of subtle, Pattinson is definitely the strong, silent type. The camera made a point to zero in on Batman’s face often. There Pattinson did his best acting. A flutter of the eyelids. The setting of the jaw. The dead stare daring someone to challenge him. It was remarkable.

Of course, I must give credit to Pattinson’s costars as well. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon proved a force. I never thought anyone could challenge Gary Oldman’s hold on the character, but Wright most definitely has. He and Pattinson delivered an unspoken, unbreakable trust between Gordon and Batman. However, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a more compromised Jim Gordon. Gordon is constantly vouching for Batman, squirming as he’s questioned for bringing a vigilante to a crime scene, yet totally confident in the masked man’s help and moral center. Again, it’s a complicated balance to accomplish, but they managed to pull it off. It mirrored what we’ve seen in the comics for decades. Have you ever seen Batman investigating a crime scene while surrounded by the police in any other Batman movie? No, but it’s common in the comic books. It was stunning to see Batman, Gordon, and a crowd of police officers crowded in a room studying evidence together.

Speaking of stunning, Zoe Kravitz is phenomenal. She’s charming, physical, and magnetic as Catwoman. She and Pattinson have real chemistry, which is quite a feat considering Pattinson had a mask on for all of their interactions. I do think they could have done a lot more with Kravitz, but here’s hoping a spinoff will further showcase her talents.

Paul Dano was creepy as could be. Disturbing. I don’t want to reveal too much, but they definitely tapped into the Joaquin Phoenix “this could be your neighbor down the street” kind of vibe. His intelligence seemed atypical, but his emotional scarring, his need to lash out, and his misguided social affiliations did not.

John Turturro played Carmen Falcone, a character I have never–ever–cared about … until now. Turturro made him strangely human–even likable–as his character helped with heinous actions.

Finally, though, I must give my MVP award to Colin Farrell. Farrell played the Penguin. This ain’t your previously established Penguin, though. Farrell was completely unrecognizable, and with that came a side of the actor that I’ve never seen. I still have trouble believing it was actually Colin Farrell. This man was boisterous, ugly, loud, and decidedly uncool. The opposite of Farrell in every way. He definitely squeezed every ounce from his character that he possibly could.

Matt Reeves wrote and directed The Batman. Yes, you can certainly trace moments of the film to comic book inspirations, but it also felt uniquely different. On one hand, Batman was in virtually every scene and in costume. That struck a chord with me because I remember in my younger days always wanting more Batman, less Bruce Wayne. It also felt far more grounded and realistic, even compared to Nolan’s films. Furthermore, between the rain, the action, the crowded sets, and the many, many close-ups, The Batman appeared to be a very difficult film to shoot. No angle looked easy; no scene took the simple way out.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, I highly recommend The Batman. Believe it or not, it’s different from any other Batman you’ve seen before. And while I can’t believe I’m saying it, Robert Pattinson’s performance while wearing a mask and Colin Farrell’s performance while wearing copious amounts of makeup proved to be what I enjoyed most. It’s largely a performance driven film, which sounds ridiculous, but is true. I consider The Batman a victory in every facet.

By the way, my sincere apologies to the 1989 Batmobile, but you’ve been put on alert. The 2022 Batmobile is somehow even cooler and looks like something that could actually function on the roads as intended. I’m not saying it’s replacing the 1989 Batmobile as my favorite … but it is in contention.

Nightmare Alley – A Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. I try to make it to the theater for any of his work. Unfortunately, Nightmare Alley was in and out of the theaters so quickly that I couldn’t free up the two and a half hours necessary to take it in. Luckily, it’s already available on HBO Max.

Here’s what I’d like to say up front: I loved the acting, the costumes, the cinematography, and even the story itself. Conversely–I didn’t care for the movie as a whole.

Let me quickly summarize this 1947 remake … without spoilers, of course. Set in the days before WWII, Nightmare Alley follows Cooper’s character, Stanton Carlisle, as he finds himself adrift and working at a carnival after Clem Hoatley, played by William Dafoe, offers him a position. He falls in with Toni Collette’s character, Zeena the Seer, whose husband teaches Stan little tips and tricks which make people think he can read their minds or communicate with those beyond. Stan develops a relationship with Molly Cahill, played by Rooney Mara, who can seemingly endure electrical jolts. Among many duties, Stan finds himself helping Clem with the carnival “geek,” a nomad they drug, treat like an animal, and then present as a freakshow. Stan hones his mentalist skills to such a degree that he leaves the carnival with Molly in tow and starts his own act. Stan achieves success he never expected, but soon crosses paths with Dr. Lilith Ritter, played by Cate Blanchett. At that point a series of selfish deceits, deceptions, and cons take place, which ultimately seem to convey the message that no one can escape their destiny.

This is a beautiful movie to behold. The texture is so rich, you feel as though you can reach out and touch what you’re seeing on screen. Furthermore, the costumes are gorgeous, the scenery is exquisite, and the cinematography is fantastic. As you can tell by the names above, the acting is topnotch. (There are even more excellent actors in this movie that I didn’t mention.) The story itself is really, really good and the ending, in my mind, is perfect.

Yet, even with all of that being said, I can’t say I like the movie as a whole. In the end, I think it was simply too long with too slow of a pace. Though I loved the conclusion it reached, I think it unnecessarily took too much time getting there.

Though exciting at times, I wouldn’t call it a thriller. Though creepy, it’s not a supernatural tale. Though mysterious, I wouldn’t even call it a mystery. Though accurate to it’s era, it’s not a traditional period piece. In the end, I find the film to be an exceptional example of irony. However, I’m not sure that’s what they primarily intended.

Of course, I encourage you to draw your own conclusions. There’s a lot to like about Nightmare Alley, and you may appreciate the films as whole more than I did.

Last Night In Soho – A Movie Review

Last Night In Soho featured some of my favorite talent. Edgar Wright–who directed Shaun Of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Baby Driver–directed this film starring Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy. Many were saying Last Night In Soho was Wright’s foray into true horror, but I found that hard to believe. All of his previous films had a certain level of humor that I felt would make out-and-out horror unlikely.

In the end, Last Night In Soho did indeed achieve horror, but not that of the supernatural kind. It instead explored the horrors that can unfold as one chases the allure of stardom.

Before I continue, let me briefly summarize the film’s premise. Thomasin McKenzie played Eloise, a young woman who was able to see her dead mother in mirrors and who loved the 1960s as well as fashion. In fact, she’d been accepted into fashion school in London. After arriving she soon realized dorm life was not for her and promptly moved into a flat. During her first sleep in the flat, she was somehow transported back in time and saw through the eyes of Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Sandie was trying to become a singer, and in doing so, crossed paths with Jack, played by Matt Smith. Jack was said to be a talent manager. At first, Eloise fell in love with the chemistry shared between Jack and Sandie. They encapsulated everything admirable about the 1960s. That initial sheen quickly wore off, however, as Jack proved to be something unexpected and Sandie followed him in a downward spiral. Eloise became obsessed with them, as well as what happened to them, to the point that she could no longer differentiate between past and present … or perhaps it was the other way around?

As I said, while there are supernatural elements in Last Night In Soho, it was the depravity of people that truly horrified me during this film. Both Sandie and Eloise were pushed to their limits, and you’ll be surprised by the actions taken by both.

Of course, Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy are presently movie stars in every sense of the word. I appreciated the dark journeys they portrayed, but when their characters were initially introduced and all was well … I could have watched them for hours. They both simply oozed charisma, especially when they were at their most charming.

Of course, as you would expect, Edgar Wright flourished when it came to direction. The manner in which he depicted Eloise seeing through Sandie’s eyes was mesmerizing, especially with mirrors and reflections. The music obviously triumphed. Like James Gunn, Wright seems especially talented at choosing just the right songs at just the right moments.

However, the film failed me somewhat in terms of tone. It seemed as though it couldn’t quite settle on whether it was a horror film, a crime drama, or a supernatural mystery. As a result, it didn’t achieve the tonal consistency necessary. Furthermore, I became distracted by the fact that the supernatural “rules” established early in the film were ignored by film’s end. Again, that lack of consistency detracted from my experience.

I must admit, though, that I appreciate Edgar Wright for trying something different. It would be very easy for him to keep making the same movie over and over again, but with Baby Driver and now Last Night In Soho, he continues to push himself. I find that admirable.

I think Last Night In Soho will prove a different kind of experience for each viewer. The supernatural element wasn’t particularly scary, but the very realistic vagaries certain characters endured struck me as quite disturbing. Even with that said, the costumes, the cars, the music, the scenery, and the megawatt movie stars were truly something to behold.

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.