No Time To Die – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek, Christoph Waltz, Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge Length:163mins

 Finally – the long awaited 25th instalment of Ian Flemings well loved British agent, 007, has hit our big screens. After having it’s release postponed several times throughout the Covid:19 pandemic, the world seemed to hold it’s breath as thousands returned to the cinema. With all eyes on it’s release, No Time To Die not only wanted to end the ‘Daniel Craig as James Bond’ era with a bang; but shouldered the pressure of enticing customers back to the cinemas.

In No Time To Die Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace and quiet is short-lived when his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology. 

While this film has been criticised for not being ‘Bond enough’, I would have to disagree. The writers have done a good job in creating a story that is fleshed out with action, relationship, humour and, of course, gadgets. There are some lovely nods to past Bond films through the use of its score, one liners and the familiar location of a private island which calls to mind 1962 release, Dr. No. It was a wise move to bring the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge into the writers room, you can certainly see her influence around the strong female characters and wit, as well as being mindful of keeping the essence of James Bond in a post #MeToo society. 

No Time To Die gives it’s audiences the chance to experience the deeper relationship between James and Madeleine, showing a more emotional side of 007, a side that we don’t usually get to see. The chemistry between the two, in my opinion, was better than it was in Spectre which made the whole relationship feel more authentic. Due to the deeper relationship and their history, it presented an opportunity for another two strong women to enter the story without being love interests. Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas didn’t disappoint. Both brought flair and humour to characters who were fiercely capable and complimentary to moving the story forward. As far as Bond villains go, this film hits the jackpot. While having two different villains does take away from the impact of one sole threat, you can’t really complain when the characters are manned by the cool, controlled calm of Christoph Waltz and countered with the somewhat wired, yet considered, Rami Malek. 

Visually this film doesn’t disappoint and is full of action. As Daniel Craig’s final Bond film it does have loose ends to tie up so the franchise can move forward. Unfortunately the length is a slight sticking point, at 2hrs43 it is quite a commitment and there are certainly moments that could have been cut, as they serve no purpose in moving the plot forward. No Time To Die is absolutely worth a watch, and on a big screen. There’s something wonderful about returning to a packed cinema to watch a film from long running franchise, with multigenerational audiences all enjoying and connecting to a character that has graced Cinema and TV screens for years. 

Last Letter From Your Lover – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Shailene Woodley, Joe Alwyn, Felicity Jones, Nabhaan Rizwan and Callum Turner. Directed by Augustine Frizzell Written by Nick Payne, Esta Spalding and Jojo Moyes (based on the book by) Length: 110mins

Last Letter From Your Lover, a 2021 release based on the book of the same name, promises a good old fashioned romance switching between two timelines which focusses on two different couples. Boasting an array of established young talent, it’s bound to attract the attention of any romance fans. 

The film begins in 1965 in London, as socialite Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) returns home from the hospital. It’s clear that there has been some sort of accident and that Jennifer has no memory from before. Her best friend informs her that she has ‘the perfect life’, but upon discovering a love letter from another man that she had hidden in a book, Jennifer sets about discovering the truth and searching for a love that she’s forgotten. Meanwhile, in the present time, Ellie (Jones) is introduced as a less than interested thirty-something, emerging from a one-night stand with a clear desire to avoid any sort of meaningful relationship. She’s a journalist working on a profile, who upon discovering a letter in the paper’s archive, begging “J” to run away with him, is absolutely determined to learn the romantic story of the mysterious ‘pen pals’ from the past. With the help of an eager archivist, Rory (Rizwan), Ellie begins to piece together the romance, presented to the audience through flashbacks, between Jennifer and Anthony O’Hare (Turner).

 The Last Letter from Your Lover is  definitely watchable. It’s an entertaining enough story which, while relatively predictable, holds the attention of it’s audience. The writing has moments that are beautifully poetic, particularly in the letters, which I assume are taken directly from the book. It helps the establish the differences between the two timelines and adds to the romance at the core of the story.  Having said this, it’s not quite the sweeping romance it feels like it should be. I can only attribute that to the lack of on screen passion, particularly in the flashback timeline. We aren’t given the opportunity to watch the relationship actually develop, we are presented with a hint of their true passion through the letters, but in the action we’re given limited dialogue, some nice montages and no real exploration of the story of their falling for each other.

The story gives us four characters who have had or are having unhappy experiences of relationships which creates drama. It immediately presents conflict which makes a romance more interesting, but the lack of exploration into three of the four backstories leaves its audience wanting. I quite enjoyed the modern day story; they didn’t push it too much or over romanticise a situation that was clearly just starting which makes it a little bit more authentic. The flashbacks are definitely romanticised but it fits the essence and world that is created in the flashbacks. You can see moments where the filmmakers clearly try to mirror the two stories. This works quite nicely as a link and to highlight the differences between the two times, but it feels like it could have been used to a greater level; to really show similarities in heart, frustration or hurt, particularly between the two female leads who had plenty of differences. 

While this review has been somewhat critical, I would still recommend watching it. It’s entertaining, has moments of romance and is led by a solid cast. My frustrations stem from a story that has so much potential. It just feels that the end result is lacking, and if we had been given more backstory and character development I think it could have been great. 

Pieces of a Woman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia Labeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger and Benny Safdie
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Written by Kata Wéber
Length: 127mins

Now that Netflix is most likely a lot of people’s first call when it comes to watching new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ seems to have been released at the perfect time. A film filled with incredible performances and an emotionally-charged story like this may before have been seen by some people as simply another Oscar-bait release, but now that there is a lot fewer choices when it comes to new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman’ will hopefully get the wider reception it deserves.

After a traumatic home birth, Vanessa Kirby’s character Martha Weiss is left to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of what she has experienced as a mother. Friends and mainly family come and go throughout the film, but for a large part it’s the experiences of Martha and her partner Sean (Shia Labeouf) that the film focuses on. For anyone who feels hesitant about the drama of the film, and worries that it might be too slow for them, I would simply encourage you to just watch the first five minutes. The story grabs you immediately and I would struggle to picture anyone turning the film off during its opening scenes. The main title card doesn’t appear until nearly half an hour into the film, and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath the entire time. What director Kornél Mundruczó manages to achieve in almost one continuous take during this time is not only gripping, but also establishes key character traits that will develop and unravel throughout the rest of the film. 

‘Pieces of a Woman’ has been widely praised for the performances that litter the film, and for good reason. Vanessa Kirby’s expressions of guilt, fear and anxiety remain consistently believable and impressive throughout. Shia Labeouf plays the broken father figure brilliantly too, but in a way that feels fresh compared to previously similar roles that he is taken up before, such as his performance in 2018’s ‘Honey Boy.’ Ellen Burstyn remains one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures, playing a role that I imagine will earn her a lot of attention throughout awards season, even with her character having fairly limited screen time. More than anything ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ feels like a showcase for great acting, and everything else in the film seems as if it’s focussing on allowing these performances to shine through. 

The problem with opening a film in such a strong way like ‘Pieces of a Woman’ does, is that you have to keep the momentum going for the rest of the runtime. The fallout of the film’s opening event is essentially what carries the story for the next hour and a half, and whilst this is a necessary element of the story to tell, there are definitely some parts which feel slightly unnecessary. It’s difficult to walk the line between realism and a narrative that will provide a satisfying or poignant end to the story, and whilst one character in particular does receive a satisfying conclusion, there are definitely some ]who seem to have a large influence on the film in the first and middle act, but simply fade out by the end. 

One of the key reasons why ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is an important story in some regards, is because it allows for discussion around the topics that play out on screen. Whilst intense and gut-wrenching at times, everything that occurs is human, and has a chance of affecting any of us in our lifetime. By creating films that cover these topics, a greater understanding and willingness to talk about these things will develop, and may provide some small relief to anyone who has experienced anything similar to what happens in the film.

It might not be the most light-hearted film in the world, but I would highly recommend giving ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ a watch. There are some great things to take away if you have a keen interest in performance, and it definitely has one of the most gripping opening acts I’ve seen in a long time.