It’s Not Time to Die, Because It’s Time for a Review of ‘No Time to Die’

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Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Rory Kinnear, Billy Magnussen, Christoph Waltz

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Running Time: 163 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Spy Violence with the Bloodiest Moments Artfully Obscured

Release Date: October 8, 2021 (Theaters)

The Daniel Craig version of James Bond carries the weight of his previous chapters: the physical scars, the emotional scars, all the expectations of the world. Ergo, the conclusive entry No Time to Die really goes out of its way to tie everything together and put a nice little bow on the whole affair. That was also actually kind of the case six years ago with Spectre, but that earlier film had a lot of viewers going, “Wait-wait-wait, hold on, you don’t have to tie ALL of these seemingly disparate threads together.” But now that I’ve seen No Time to Die pull it off, I appreciate the effort, and I can confidently say that the Craig Era is fully synthesized with a satisfying emotional resolution.

As we check back in with Bond, he’s hanging out with Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann in Italy, and they appear to be a full-fledged item. I preferred him with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, but she’s dead now. She’s not forgotten, though, as James makes sure to set aside some of his time in Italy to visit her tomb. At this point in his life, he’s really trying his damnedest to get out of the spy game once and for all, and Madeleine can be a chance for him to do that, but he doesn’t fully trust her. Besides, go-to evil organization SPECTRE is still causing plenty of chaos, and new foe Safin (Rami Malek) has dangerous world-altering plans that James and Madeleine eventually get caught up in. There are a bunch of motivations working at cross-purposes here.

The most satisfying element of No Time to Die is the bonhomie. Everyone at MI6 respects each other as colleagues. Some of them would even go so far as to call each other friends. James is given the space he needs to be retired, but when it’s time for him to spring back into action, everyone is happy to have him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Q, Moneypenny, and Felix Leiter more pleased and honored to be in the company of their fellow agent. Even Lashana Lynch as the newly designated 007 has nothing but mutual respect to offer James. Ralph Fiennes as M, meanwhile, just looks eternally stressed out. He obviously has to answer to a multitude of masters, but I’m sure he appreciates his agents in his own way.

Anyway, Safin has this whole plan involving poison that’s going to usher in a new world order or something like that. I’m not entirely sure how the mechanics of it work, but I’m happy that it underscores (instead of getting in the way) the emotional resonance. James Bond is no longer just the uber-cool guy with the tuxedos and the gadgets and the martinis. Now he’s also a true part of our parasocial family.

No Time to Die is Recommended If You Like: The emphasis on character and continuity in this Bond era

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Missiles

Just a Bit About Venom Letting There Be Carnage

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Venom: Let There Be Carnage (CREDIT: Sony Pictures Entertainment/Screenshot)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu

Director: Andy Serkis

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: October 1, 2021 (Theaters)

How much carnage did Venom: Let There Be Carnage let there be? Henceforth, “carnage” will refer to “stuff that I liked” (except when I need it to mean something different). Let me count the ways:

-That scene when Venom gives a heartfelt speech at a rave. That’s what it’s all about!
-The turmoil on Tom Hardy’s face as Eddie Brock tries to be happy for his ex’s engagement. That’s a lot of carnage in one man’s psyche!
-Dan (Reid Scott) gets to be heroic. That’s considerate chaos!
-Naomie Harris got the memo. A LOT of carnage in those eyes and that hair.
-Mrs. Chen gets in on the fun. Good call having her be in on Eddie/Venom’s secret.
-Michelle Williams really looks like she’s in a good place.
-Now onto the more literal aspects of carnage. When the subtitular symbiote makes his way into Woody H., it really starts pushing the limits of PG-13. A bunch of people caught in the mayhem get crushed or ripped apart. An entire truck is suddenly thrown off a bridge! What happened to the people in that truck? There’s no time to find out! All we know is the detective telling us that people keep saying they’re seeing monsters.

In conclusion: not as revelatory as the first one, but more heartwarming.

Grade: A Mostly Good Match

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Rampage’ is Big, Big, Big, Very Big

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello

Director: Brad Peyton

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Pummeling and Devouring by Mutated Animals, Frighteningly Evocative Urban Destruction, and Crude Gorilla Hand Gestures

Release Date: April 13, 2018

If you subscribe to the belief that bigger is better in cinema, then you ought to head straight to Rampage. Its entire premise is: what if three already fairly large animals became gigantic? The main focus is on our good buddy George, an albino silverback gorilla who knows sign language. He hooks up with a grey wolf that “weirdos on the Internet” have dubbed “Ralph,” as well as a crocodile who goes by Lizzie. The three of them have been mutated by a mysterious gas that fell from the sky. In addition to blowing them up, it has given them abilities typical of other species. It is a bit like the hybridization in Annihilation, but much less nightmarish and internally disruptive.

There is a lot of time devoted to explaining that the mutations are the result of developments in CRISPR genetic editing technology. Some cursory research on my part reveals that early research into CRISPR was happening in the mid-’80s, coincidentally around the same time that the first entry in the Rampage video game series (on which the film is based) was released. It can sometimes be helpful to ground a creature feature with real science, but in this case it is beside the point. We’re just here to see George, Ralph, and Lizzie let loose, and what is appreciated is that there are only three of them, because if the mutations had gotten even more out of hand, this could have all just been a cacophonous mess.

Tasked with wrangling these huge creatures are some actors both literally and metaphorically big. Who else could be the human star of Rampage besides Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is reliably big when it comes to muscles, charisma, and box office results? Lending him a hand is a government agent played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who, though a tall man himself, is certainly not quite as large as Johnson. But as the “asshole looking out for other assholes,” he knows just how big and vibrant a supporting performance in this type of film needs to be. And rounding out the cast’s bigness are Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy as a sniveling brother-sister villainous duo. Their experience in comedy has trained them well for just how to calibrate their broadness. Lacy especially, constantly with a sandwich or Pop-Tart in hand, is bound to get you chuckling with his pouty face.

The climax, in which the mutant trio tears apart Chicago, is filled with stunningly big and bold decisions. The onscreen deaths are somewhat alarmingly violent, though not unexpectedly so. But when we get to a skyscraper collapse that evokes the Twin Towers falling on 9/11, the film scrambles through about 100 different tones. These outsize decisions are consistent with Rampage’s entire approach, but they are liable to leave you unable to process quite what is happening. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes you need to take a step back and ask yourself if a certain choice is really a good decision, but Rampage never lets its foot off the gas.

Rampage is Recommended If You Like: Godzilla, King Kong, Godzilla vs. King Kong, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Gorilla Middle Fingers

This Is a Movie Review: Moonlight

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What sticks with me from Moonlight? Mostly, it is the small, intimate moments: Juan (Mahershala Ali) holding Little (Alex Hibbert) in the water – an image that has already become iconic. Teresa (Janelle Monáe) setting the table and doing all the talking for her and Chiron (Ashton Sanders). Black (Trevante Rhodes) admitting to Kevin (André Holland) that he’s the only man who’s ever touched him. And I can’t go this whole review without singling out Naomie Harris (miles away from Moneypenny) for giving her all as Chiron’s mom Paula. Moonlight deserves plenty of credit for allowing black and gay voices to be heard, but more than that, the storytelling is right on as well.

I give Moonlight 18 Gold Grills out of 20 Evasive Facial Expressions.