*NEW* SPECTRE REVIEW *NEW*

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Bond is back but bigger and better?

Well done, Mr Craig. You have finally won me over. To be honest, I loved his first outing in Casino Royale (my favourite in the Craig era). He had the charm, the one liners and the look. Ticking all the boxes. BUT Quantum of Solace delivered a much darker and angrier Bond. It was far too intense and serious for me. This had been attempted before with Timothy Dalton in A License To Kill to mixed results.

I didn’t have a problem with a darker Bond. Pierce Brosnan’s efforts (my second rated Bond) was bordering on cartoony CGI and Roger Moore territory. The Saint may have got away with it in the 70s BUT Die Another Day nearly ended it all. A game changer was needed. I respected the change BUT not the direction. It felt like they were trying to turn Bond into Jason Bourne.

However, it was the first series of Bond films that featured an ongoing story arc. Skyfall was very disappointing. For an entry that marked 50 years for the franchise, I expected something a little more. It was over hyped, overlong and if not for a surprising closing act, I would have rated this as one of the weaker offerings.

The one thing I could commend Skyfall for was the little things. The humour, Moneypenny, Q, the Aston Martin DB5. All the things that drew me to Bond in the first place. It gave me hope. Now here we are. The 24th entry of a super spy series. And boy,what a film.

The opening sequence for SPECTRE was fantastic. Slow burning, tense but action packed with a high octane helicopter sequence. As soon as Craig made his introduction, I was sold. The very pinnacle of the iconic spy. Cool, calm and slick. Casually adjusting his cuffs while donning a rifle.

Even Sam Smith’s opening theme delivered. At first listening, it sounded like a bland Eurovision track. BUT I have to say it has grown on me and really fitted the film.

It was great watching Craig enjoy the 007 status. The charisma. The debonair style. Very much in the vein of Sean Connery (My favourite Bond). Old school. Perfect. It brought something that had been lacking in the others. Humour.

I don’t want to say too much about SPECTRE as I want people to see this. BUT for the die hard fans, like yours truly, we witness the return of one of Bond’s most iconic villains. And I couldn’t think of anybody better to take on this prestigious role than Christoph Walz. He was superb. Slimy, sinister and on scene stealing form. My only gripe with his performance was that there wasn’t enough of it.

Dave Bautista was a unit. After his impressive turn in Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn’t surprised that the former WWE star was offered the role of a Bond henchman. It was a shame that they chose to make him silent. He delivered his best impression of the Mountain from Game of Thrones. His scrap with Craig was one of the best villain fight sequences I’ve seen. You felt every punch.

For all the hype around Monica Bellucci’s role as a Bond girl (Or woman, should I say?), I was left wanting. Steady now. If anything her character was completely unnecessary. She certainly looked stunning and proved all those critics wrong griping about her age BUT her “love scene” with Craig came off unintentionally comical. Kissing while trying to talk chunky bits of dialogue didn’t work and killed the chemistry.

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However, Bond finally met his match with the feisty and resourceful Lea Seydoux. The pair’s chemistry and friction certainly kept things watchable when the pace seemed to drop.

The action sequences were brilliant. The plane chase sequence in Austria was mental. The car chase around Rome was fantastic with the new Aston Martin DB10. It was fast, frantic and hilarious as Bond battled to work out the prototype while dealing with henchmen and Italian pensioners fancying a late night drive.

What I also loved about this was how Logan brought in the rest of the team. It was great to see Ben Whishaw getting more screen time as Q. He had a much better rapport with Craig and was even brought out on location like Desmond Llewelyn used to with Connery. BUT at the expense of Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny.

She still made a made a memorable impression. Especially during a phone call with Bond mid car chase. Ralph Fiennes had a tough act to follow after Dench’s brilliant turn as M. BUT it was good to see him bring something new to the role and get in on the action.

It might help to have seen the other Craig entries BUT you won’t be too lost as Logan and Mendes briefly recap the story arc. As much as SPECTRE ticked the boxes, it wasn’t all perfect.

BEST BOND FILM EVER? Certainly not. The middle act lumbered the pace and when the action scenes had subsided and the couple were travelling, I could feel myself fidgeting after the 90 minute marker. Thankfully, things picked up when Walz was properly brought into the mix with his Dr No-esque lair.

This could have been cut by 30 minutes and been stronger for it. It was good to see a little more cheese and fun with this installment but for some it might be seen as a step down. And after 24 films, there are only so many different twists and turns that you can do with the Bond films. You can’t help BUT retread through old ground. There are only so many homages you can do before it gets repetitive.

The closing finale was fantastic and certainly left a satisfying if cryptic ending. Will Bond die another day? Especially when Tomorrow Never Dies? With the box office booming, is the world not enough?

Slick, stylish if a little overdone, Bond is back and on form. BUT better? Not quite, 007 but good enough.

3.5/5

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MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM REVIEW

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That was a looooong . . . film to watch. At a whopping 2 hours 26 minutes, you might say that this tends to stagger on and skim through crucial events of one of the most inspirational figures of our time, Nelson Mandela. But where it might miss the mark, it is quickly redeemed by sheer emotion and acting gravitas. Idris Elba (or ol’ Luther) is a powerhouse actor and it’s great to see him given a meatier role which he delivers brilliantly.

Now, I know little about Mandela. I will say that now. I know the basics which is disgusting considering he is an historical figure, whether people agreed with him or not. I was unaware of his incredible height, forever questioning why the likes of Dennis Haysbert and Idris Elba were playing such a man and why there was such a controversy about hiring “short” actors during it’s filming. But this does not undermine the man, which is what this film tries to capture. The life of one man who tried to bring change . . . and after a long tested struggle, made history in the process. Hardly a spoiler. I was ignorant but not that ignorant.

This film is good, but I couldn’t help feel that something was missing. It hits hard at home and delivers emotion, but also frustrates and leads to one looking at one’s own watch. This film deals with and effectively covers the crucial points of Mandela’s life. However, there were opportunities and moments that could have been explored if the research is correct. For one thing, it was interesting to see Mandela’s tribal roots and his initiation into becoming a man. But this is quickly rushed through and we barely get an understanding of his relationship with his mother before it goes forward 20 years to Mandela as a fully qualified lawyer. Another fact I was not aware of.

However, the court hearings and proceedings demonstrate Mandela’s hunger for justice and respect. It also unearths the rising racial tensions in the country. The tension is brilliantly executed and this soon spurs Mandela into peaceful protests. The film delicately deals with the issue of race. It is shocking to see how Mandela desperately and continued to be peaceful when the resisting forces relentlessly came down on them quite unnecessarily. Long Walk to Freedom is beautiful shot, bringing out the luscious natural African landscape while also capturing the gritty, dilapidated slums well. It also doesn’t paint Mandela as a complete saint, in which during his rising reputation, he was a little Luther-io (see what I did there, TV fans), sleeping around and hating his first wive’s interrogative questions.

The chemistry between Elba and Naomie Harris as his second wife, Winnie Madikizela was fantastic and it’s great to see two underrated actors get given a bigger platform. The Sharpeville protests scene was violent and incredibly harrowing. It was also seen as the crucial turning point in which Mandela reluctantly went from peaceful means to violence, joining the freedom fighters. The film’s overall reception is down to how you feel about Mandela’s actions and whether he feel his bombings were acts of terrorism or protest. He targeted factories and closed offices. The film lays it out there but leans more towards the fact that Mandela did what he did for the people, which I feel is true.

It took twenty years for Mandela’s cause to be noticed properly and then he was imprisoned for life for it. The scenes at Robben Island were brilliantly delivered and emotional to see the conditions and brutality the man and his fellow prisoners had to endure. At first, engaging and intriguing with Mandela attempting to gain respect in the prison and fighting against the wardens who tried to break him down, refusing to give him trousers and redacting his letters so he can barely read them. It was sad and brilliantly acted by Elba when Mandela received the news about his son’s death.

The film doesn’t just focus on Mandela, it does show the plight that Winnie had to suffer through while Mandela was incarcerated. She was constantly plagued by authorities and was even put in solitary confinement for 16 months after being savagely beaten during interrogation. A truly haunting scene. The problem is Mandela, although shocking, spent years in prison and house arrest, as a film, it does push the clock a little bit. It is a great marker to delve into Mandela’s history but this could have been the complete package that I didn’t have to check on Google to make sure the events were correct as they skimmed through them.

A brilliantly acted and well shot biopic that could have been much more, despite still being a fitting and engaging, if a little overlong, tribute to a great man. 3.5/5

#Currently ranks at 33 out of 127.