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Review The Northman (2022): Braveheart of this decade? Live action The Lion King? Conan the Barbarian remake? Unfortunately no! (mild spoilers)

genre: action, adventure, drama

The Northman is a blend of many films. It's a little Braveheart, a little The Lion King, apparently quite a lot of Conan the Barbarian covered in a Shakespearean jacket that while having certain fantastic elements also tries to be as historically corrects as possible. If I had read what I just typed and hadn't heard about The Northman yet, I wouldn't waste a single second into watching this film. Because it sounds awesome.

Unfortunately, writer / director Robert Eggers fails to make all these different story elements work. There is no coherency or even substantial plot that makes you accept the events that transpire in this film. There is no character development to speak of. And the supposed spectacle and adventure elements are presented to you like you are watching a stage play. Yes, there is some blood. Yes, there is some gore. And yes, some violence. But none of that truly has an impact. It could have been, but it never does. What is really puzzling is the fact that none of the fights are choreographed well. If you only have a few of them, then you better make sure they count. Maybe one scene came close, but it was over before you knew it. More time was wasted on showing the aftermath of battle. By now, we all have a pretty good idea what horny and hungry Vikings do. And before I get attacked on being shallow and wanting my action fix. I honestly wasn't expecting it. I had counted on a more plot based and substantial tale of betrayal and love. That kind of drama never gets old, and I would have embraced it. But it's not there. Or at least not of a level that is acceptable.

And as much as I like Alexander Skarsgård and his remarkable transformation into a super ripped Viking, he is quite boring as the lead. It's not his fault. But for whatever reason, Eggers didn't show us how the incredibly happy child, Amleth,  (see Eggers doesn't even hide being inspired by Hamlet) grew into an angry Viking. If Amleth had a real tough time after the assassination of his father, it only would have made you root for him more. And perhaps even explain why he takes his sweet time acting out his vengeance on the person who matter the most. Without it, you won't care that much. You are expected to go with it, and I was. But it becomes hard if you are made to wait for real dramatic things to happen. There is a scene where young Amleth is reciting what he is going to do once he grows up. I am aware that this is intended as a memorable sequence that ties into a later scene. And yes, at that moment you do feel something. Still, this scene would have been far more powerful and impactful had they opted for a better child actor. They way he performs makes his scenes like a parody. 

Speaking of parody. At one point, awful murders have occurred. But Fjölnir and co are clueless of what is going on. There aren't that many people around. Just by sheer deduction, you could have figured out who it was. But OK, let's for argument’s sake say that it is difficult. Wouldn't you at least make sure you keep an eye on the slaves, or even make it impossible for them to run around free while you are sleeping? Also, why does Amleth wait so long to carry out his vengeance? I get that sometimes you want people to suffer a little. But in this film Amleth had a dozen opportunities to get it over with but simply refuses to do so. One could argue that he was waiting for the perfect moment to rescue his mother and kill Fjölnir quickly right after. I call that weak sauce. The delay only makes sense if Fjölnir had a large army. Amleth would not be able to do anything without them noticing. Thing is that there is no army. The mother played by Nicole Kidman is also a hilarious affair. Her face is so fake that it looks like a mask, In a very important scene you can't take her seriously because of that. 

I loved The Witch. It was an immensely creepy and effective horror film. So once I read that Eggers was attached to this project, I was sure he wouldn't let me down. But he did. The Northman is a surprisingly empty and boring tale with no redeeming factors whatsoever. Don't watch this, it's a giant waste of your time!

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Review The Batman (2022): Awful!

genre: comic book adaptation, action, crime, adventure

Honestly, I don't even know where to start with this one. How come this film gets so many good reviews? I mean, there is nothing, I repeat, there is absolutely nothing good in this film. Sure, at times it's close to being adequate. But so was, Batman and Robin, which was better than this crap. Yes, I said it. Let that sink in, people!

Say what you want about Batman and Robin, it at least offered fun. Not that films always need to light and comedic. I can sure appreciate darkness and doom, when done right. I read that writer / director Matt Reeves was inspired by Seven and other classic films. I don't even want to know which one because it doesn't really matter. I know it's been long that I have seen Seven. But I do remember that film being tense and suspenseful right from the start. It was dark and gritty, but almost everything about that film clicked. It was a thrill ride with a very dramatic ending that had real impact on you. The Batman is nothing like Seven. Everyone who said so most likely have never seen it or have completely forgotten about it. The only thing that resembles Seven are the visuals. The Batman is literally too dark for words. 

And yes, I am aware that is part of Batman. However, you can make things look dark and beautiful at the same time. Tim Burton was a master in doing that. Even Zack Snyder managed to bring grittiness and majestic eye candy at the same time. Both Burton and Snyder also knew how to deliver spectacle! Surprise, there is no spectacle to behold in The Batman. The few action sequences, including the finale, are supposed to be dramatic and grand yet are nothing of the sort. The way everything is shot and how events play out are just a slight level above what you would see in a bad B movie. And I am being very generous here. Also, why doesn't this Batman capitalize on the fear. None of the thugs are spooked. At least Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton understood this. The whole idea of a man in batsuit is to create the illusion he is not human. Here he walks up to the thugs and basically reveals he is just a man in a suit.

And no, I don't need action and spectacle. When I heard that The Batman was going to be more like a film noir and detective film, I was pretty ecstatic. Batman is the world's greatest detective, after all. One of the coolest mechanics in the Batman video games is to hunt for clues and deduce events. It's the element I have always loved in crime shows and thrillers. Just browse through my reviews and see for yourself which genre I watch the most. So yes, I was super ready to be wowed by Batman and his detective skills. But apart from a few times, all the (puzzle)solving is done by Alfred. Say what? Yes. Even Adam West's Batman was able to solve every riddle thrown at him. Andy Serkis was great for the time he was in the film. Two, three minutes? The dynamics between them were all wrong. Bruce Wayne would never ever have been disrespectful towards him. But apparently, emo Batman has real trouble dealing with his emotions. I did dig the hospital scene. It was a hint of the relationship they should have. And to be honest, I did like the dynamics between Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Batman (Robert Pattinson). Although I couldn't help but feel that he resembled Jordan Peele doing a parody of Lt. James Gordon. Especially at the moments when Gordon was surprised and shocked about the things that get revealed. 

When I was watching Kimi, I thought, you know, if Zoë Kravitz keeps this up she might do wonders as Catwoman. But, wow, just wow. Never seen such a bad version of Catwoman in my life. Yes, even Halle Berry is better. She is nothing like what she is supposed to be. What was the point of her mask? You can clearly she who she is underneath. Also, where has the sexiness gone? It is one of her best weapons. Catwoman is a femme fatale. She plays along while at the same time manipulates everyone who serves her needs. She is conniving, intelligent and immensely dangerous. Why? Because people keep underestimating her. She doesn't have the same inhibitions Batman has. But Kravitz's version? She is a weak, timid and bisexual woman who thinks she is all that but still needs Batman's help. The real Catwoman on the other hand never truly needs help. She is smart enough to avoid getting into trouble, but when needed she can kick ass. Here she is useless! I wouldn't be surprised they made her bisexual because of Kravitz being one. 

Paul Dano is awful as The Riddler. Let's say that I want to go with the Jokeresque take on him. I don't. But let's go there anyway. Why would that be interesting? The whole point of The Riddler is that he is obsessed by proving his intellect. Or rather, that he is more intelligent than detective Batman. It's what he lives for. He is far more methodical and precise than The Joker. The Riddler is definitely not as bloodthirsty as The Joker. I did like Colin Farrel as The Penguin. If they hadn't revealed that he was playing him, I wouldn't have known. From all the characters, he easily was the best. He elevates the scenes he is in and makes The Batman tolerable.

I am not the biggest Batman fan. I am not familiar with all the versions that exist. At least the ones from the comics. However, I do know what he is about. And only a few directors get him. Reeves is not one of them. Apparently, neither do all the people who love this awful film. Even Mrs P. who has zero interest in Batman and who looked at this film as a casual viewer found zero enjoyment in this film. She had no bias whatsoever. But like me, she was bored out of her mind. Well, my commentary made her laugh. Because not a second could pass without me getting frustrated or angry. 

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Review Octopussy (1983): Odd one in the franchise!

genre: action, adventure, espionage

Octupussy is an odd one in the franchise. It's one I had different opinions about throughout the years. I recall not liking it the first time I watched it. But subsequently I began to regard it as one of the better ones. Now after many years I think it's in-between. There are some good moments in the film, but also very questionable ones. 

The main issue with Octopussy is the sense of urgency. In most Bond films, there usually are huge things at stake. While plot wise this is the case, it never feels like something grave is to happen. In large part, one can blame the tone. Everything is played out tongue-in-cheek. Combine that with Roger Moore basically being too old and many silly moments, it's real hard to take matters seriously. Don't get me wrong. The lighter comedic moments certainly are welcome, but if only there would have been more serious scenes to balance it out somewhat.

Then there is the stereotypical portrayal of India. I can only tolerate this since this is an older film, and it's not directly offensive. So I won't go into that. However, there are some issues concerning the casting. Octopussy and her ladies for the most part should have been portrayed by Indian women. There are a few, but apparently the casting director only could find two actresses who fit the description. Of course, this is preposterous. Bollywood was at its best in the Eighties. So many actors and actresses to choose from who could have been in the film. But they didn't even try. Sneh Gupta who plays the Indian hotel guide very easily could have portrayed Octopussy. I mean not that I have anything against Maud Adams. However, Gupta definitely is more beautiful and would have been more authentic even if she is Kenian born. 

And let us be real, Maud Adams didn't do that much in the film. She was more someone whose character is pivotal and mentioned constantly. But when she finally appears, doesn't really make that much of an impact. Vijay Amritraj does bring a charm to the film, but he was a tennis player and not an actor. And he only was picked because he met Cubby Broccoli at the Championships in Wimbledon. Kabir Bedi as the henchman is great. I do wonder though why he hadn't been picked to play the big baddie. I thought the actor playing Kamal Khan was not compelling in the slightest. Bedi in that regard is a scene stealer and has more presence and grace and arguably more acting chops.

I did enjoy the action. Like the train sequence and the manhunt. Although, it never feels like Bond is in real danger. This would have been the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that events should be taken seriously. Thing is that if you would put all the action in one montage the action will look decent, only it's not particular memorable in the way it's cut. With one exception. The assault on Kamal's palace. It's here where we get to witness the very special qualities of Octupussy and her ladies. But the real iconic moments are not present. If they were, I surely would have been full of praise and would make all kinds of excuses for the flaws this film has. 

Overall Octopussy is a bit disappointing especially compared to say A View to a Kill which to me is far more consistent and enjoyable.

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My thoughts on Kimi 2022, No Exit (2022) and X (2022)

genre: crime, thriller, drama

Steven Soderbergh directs Zoë Kravitz in this thriller that is very serviceable. And I think it is the first film where I saw some potential in Kravitz as a leading woman. I don't know if she has what it takes to play Catwoman. But who knows, maybe she will surprise me. 

From the trailer, you might get the impression this is all about this high-tech gadget called Kimi, which is very similar to Siri. But, supposedly, is more human because of people like Angela Childs (Kravitz) checking the data and recordings being tracked. Unfortunately, Kimi is not that bold.

Kimi basically is a Hitchcockian affair. The film slowly builds up tension and suspense, where the thrills are genuine and intense at times. But it's not one that will stick with you for long, since it doesn't go far enough. A real shame since it did have the potential to be more. 

That being said, I found myself to be entertained throughout, and that does count for something.

Like Kimi, No Exit, also feels like an old school thriller where the thrills and tension are mostly derived from the setting and creepy characters. 

It does a good job of setting the mood and some characters. Only the main character is a little more stupid than in Kimi. Havana Rose Liu as Darby is likeable for sure. But you can't help but feel had she approached her predicament more intelligently, the outcome would have been different. One could argue that she didn't know who to trust. Then again, she never did that one thing most people would do and would have definitely saved herself a lot of trouble. 

This film does point out the never ending charisma of actor Dennis Haysbert. I can't emphasize enough how underrated he is. His presence alone elevates this film more than it deserves. Director Damien Power might be inexperienced, but that still doesn't excuse the fact that Haysbert has not been allowed to do more. Since Power also was the writer, he easily could have made it happen. 

Still, while I was expecting something more supernatural and darker, I was surprised how entertained I was. The short runtime and fast pacing definitely helps.

X is one that seems to be a throwback to seventies horror like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But actually is far more disturbing since it confronts you with a truth every person will face one day. Old age and what that could mean for someone. 

In this film, certain desires will lead to mutilation and death. And yes X is exactly what you think it means. A group of people are on some rural location to shoot an adult film. Naturally, this premise sounds exciting it merely exists as an excuse for them to be subjected to terror. X looks and feels like an art house film trying to convey deeper thoughts and emotions. In hindsight, though, it's an empty film with just a hint of substance. 

In many reviews, it is stated that the film is quite slow and boring. While I understand that sentiment, I don't agree with it. Sure, it takes some time for events to happen. Yet, there is a reason why that is the case. There is a level of uneasiness and creepiness to the location and the characters that reside in this location. It is one of the questions that was lingering in my mind. Was it really necessary for Martin Henderson's character to go so far from his actual home to shoot his adult film? Perhaps this was a play on the horror conventions in general. 

In any case, I enjoyed the film since it did do what horror films are supposed to do.

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Review No Time to Die (2021): One of the better Bond films featuring Daniel Craig!

genre: action, adventure, espionage

Since Goldeneye I have been able to watch each part that came after except No Time to Die (2021). I wanted to, but because of COVID and the hassle surrounding the measures, I really didn't feel like going to the cinema at all. Another huge factor why I didn't feel the need is my Home Cinema setup. A 100 inch projection screen combined with a 4K projector provides me an excellent cinematic experience. So when the 4K version got released as a premium rental, you can understand I was overjoyed to watch it in the comforts of my own home.

And compared to Spectre, No Time to Die, certainly is an improvement overall. Almost all the issues I had with that one have been addressed. Sort of. I mean, I didn't really expect them to be able to fix everything. At least it was nice to see some effort was put into this project. Like in Spectre, Craig as Bond is at his best. A real joy to watch! Most surprising was Léa Seydoux as Madeleine. In Spectre, I didn't feel anything for her character. In this one, I was rooting for her all the way. Even calling out Bond for being such an idiot for his actions at one point. This time they really took the time to set up Madeleine the right way. The strong opening helps enormously to give you the much-needed insight and background that was missing. The horror touch works well, even when it does raise certain questions which barely get answered.

The one fear I and many other fans had been the introduction of Nomi as 007. Naturally, in an age where political correctness and feminism has destroyed many properties already, it's understandable that people were concerned. Not that I am against a female agent. To be honest, as far as I am concerned, I would have been perfectly fine with her being an important agent and having prominence now and in the future. However, as THE replacement for Bond, doesn't make much sense. It would have been different has she been part of the franchise longer and then just stepped in since Bond retired.  But even then it wouldn't be the same. James Bond is such an iconic figure, you can't just change up things about the character because times have changed. A large part of the appeal are the trademark elements attached to the character. If you change them, the character will lose that appeal. In any case, Nomi is a fine addition and I am looking forward to seeing what they are going to do with her. 

There is another character who had a brief but strong appearance. Ana de Armas as Paloma. Together with Bond, the Cuba scenes were probably the most Bondesque moments of the film or even the franchise. These are the scenes I have replayed many times already and never get tired of. In large part because of her. She showcases quite a lot in such a short time. So much so that I was a bit sad to see her go. In hindsight, though, she might have taken away from Madeleine's story, so it does make sense for her not to appear in the rest of the film. 

No Time to Die has a few surprises in store, some good and some real bad ones. Don't worry, I won't spoil anything. But one in particular is something I still have trouble processing. It's one of the reasons why I was unable to write this review earlier. Just because it's one that has huge consequences. I will say that it's something I don't really like, even if I kind of understand why they have done it. For Craig, it makes sense. For everything else, it certainly doesn't. Especially since the writers and producers have backed themselves in a corner. We'll see what the future brings. But if you ask me, they shouldn't have gone this route in the first place.

Overall, No Time to Die is one of the better Bond films featuring Daniel Craig, but I am sure it will also be the one that will upset the fans the most. For people who normally don't watch films like these, it's entertaining. Mrs. P. absolutely gets bored out of her mind watching espionage action flicks. However, she managed to stay awake and even admit that she had fun watching. In that regard, No Time to Die might be the most accessible Bond films to non fans.

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My thoughts on Moonfall (2022), The Contractor (2022) and Death on the Nile (2022)

genre: action, adventure, science fiction

Ronald Emmerich is a master of making big and dramatic blockbuster films. High on adventure and spectacle and the same time giving you characters you want to root for through and through. So in a way, it makes sense that a film like Moonfall exists. However, while Moonfall could have easily reached the levels of Independence Day, 2012 and more recently Midway, it lacks that special something those film did have.

Don't get me wrong, if you ignore reality and go with the fantasy that is displayed on your screen, you will be entertained while the films lasts. Patrick Wilson and John Bradley portray very likeable characters. Halle Berry was adequate, but clearly was on automatic pilot. You do want them to achieve their goals. And while the stakes certainly are high, it never really feels like it does. For some reason, the dramatic impact is not really there. In a film where it is asked of you to suspend disbelief continuously, that is a real must.

Overall, Moonfall is a very predictable and forgettable film. Visually and spectacle wise, top-notch. But everything else that helps enhance the viewing experience is missing.

genre: action, thriller

The Contractor is one of those films that pretends to have substance, but is nothing but a low budget action film that takes far too long to get to the point.

It starts out as a social criticism regarding loyal soldiers and how they are being treated by the government when the job is done. Unfortunately, it doesn't go deep enough. It's clear that James Harper (played by Chris Pine) needs money to pay his debts and bills. Especially after he gets discharged due to a technicality. The only job available for him is to work as a contractor, hired gun, since it pays a lot and is something he is excellent at. There are many agencies who try to recruit him, but since he does have a conscious, he only wants to join one he can trust. Enter Mike (played by Ben Foster), his best friend. He himself is part of a contracting organization that is exactly what he is looking for.

You won't be surprised that this obviously isn't the case. I honestly had hope that this film at least would try to give a twist or two just to keep you guessing. But no, it can't be bothered. Ok, then what about the action? I think the action was decent. Although I had expected more and longer sequences. With the lack of real depth and impact, the action needs to be stellar and plentiful. 

The Contractor is not bad, but is not one I can recommend because it's quite generic and empty.

genre: crime, drama, mystery

Murder on the Orient Express did not wow me as I would have liked, but it showed potential. Branagh probably was aware of the criticism and made a much better Agatha Christie film this time around. 

Everything looks superb. I really dug the cinematography and style. It helped liven the events quite a lot. Let's face it, in these times you can't get away with an old school approach to film classical tales like has been done for so long. You do have to enhance the murder mystery in some way. Fortunately for me, it has been many years ago that I watched the Peter Ustinov, so I had forgotten about the mystery itself. That resulted into feeling and experience tension and suspense of an acceptable level. Still far removed from the older versions, but I don't think you can blame Branagh for that. There are only so many ways to tell the same story without changing vital parts too much. 

I also have to applaud Branagh for playing a more serious Poirot. He is fleshed out a little more and much less a caricature. He really had some great chemistry with Tom Bateman as Bouq. A lot more memorable and impactful than in the previous film. But to be fair, Poirot had some amusing interactions with other characters as well. Unfortunately, there are some minor flaws or issues that I have to mention. Gal Gadot. Why was she in this film? The way she makes her entrance is cringy as hell. It's too on the nose and far from enticing. But also how she reacts to Jacqueline de Bellefort. It never felt like she was truly frightened. BTW Emma Mackey who plays Jacqueline could and should have played Linnet Ridgeway. She is enchanting and scary. A real femme fatale. The other big flaw is the pacing. It really takes forever for the film to get going. If you truly got to know all the characters a little better, than perhaps it would not have been an issue.  Some scenes to take up precious space and feel like they have been put there to make things spicier. I am not entirely sure people would have danced like that in public. However, one could argue that these scenes do depict something important and to be honest, blatantly obvious if you think about it.

Overall, I had a good time watching this and if Kenneth Branagh keeps this upward trend, he has my blessing to make more of these.

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