Review Roundup

As foretold in my most recent progress report, June is off to a slow start here at 100 Films. Or a non-start, really, as I’ve yet to watch any films this month and this is my first post since the 1st. Hopefully it won’t stay that way all month (I’ve got my Blindspot and WDYMYHS tasks to get on with, if nothing else).

For the time being, here a handful of reviews of things I watched over a year ago but have only just written up:

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
  • Allied (2016)
  • American Made (2017)


    O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    (2000)

    2018 #106
    Joel Coen | 103 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | UK, France & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    O Brother, Where Art Thou?

    The eighth movie from the Coen brothers (eighth, and yet they still weren’t being allowed a shared directing credit! No wonder that stupid DGA rule pisses people off) is one of their movies that I found less objectionable. Oh, sure, most of their stuff that I’ve reviewed I’ve given four stars (as well as a couple of threes), but that’s more out of admiration than affection — for whatever reason, their style, so popular with many cineastes, just doesn’t quite work for me; even when I like one of their films there’s often still something about it I find faintly irritating.

    Anyway, for this one they decided to adapt Homer’s Odyssey, but set in the American Deep South during the Great Depression. Apparently neither of the brothers had ever actually read The Odyssey, instead knowing it through cultural osmosis and film adaptations, which is perhaps why the film bears strikingly minimal resemblance to its supposed source text. Rather, this is a story about songs, hitchhiking, and casual animal cruelty, in which the KKK is defeated by the power of old-timey music. Hurrah!

    It’s mostly fairly amusing. If it was all meant to signify something, I don’t know what — it just seemed a pretty fun romp. I thought some of the music was okay. (Other people liked the latter more. Considerably more: the “soundtrack became an unlikely blockbuster, even surpassing the success of the film. By early 2001, it had sold five million copies, spawned a documentary film, three follow-up albums (O Sister and O Sister 2), two concert tours, and won Country Music Awards for Album of the Year and Single of the Year. It also won five Grammys, including Album of the Year, and hit #1 on the Billboard album charts the week of March 15 2002, 63 weeks after its release and over a year after the release of the film.” Jesus…)

    Anyway, that’s why it gets 4 stars. I liked it. Didn’t love it. Laughed a bit. Not a lot. Some of the music was alright. Not all of it. Naturally it’s well made (Roger Deakins!) without being exceptionally anything. Harsher critics might say that amounts to a 3, but I’m a nice guy.

    4 out of 5

    Allied
    (2016)

    2018 #116
    Robert Zemeckis | 119 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA, UK & China / English & French | 15 / R

    Allied

    Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as a pair of intelligence agents who fall in love in Mr. & Mrs. Smith: WW2 Edition. Settling down together in England, all is lovely for them… until one comes under suspicion of working for the enemy…

    Overall Allied is a very decent spy thriller, let down somewhat by a middle section that’s lacking in the requisite tension and a twee monologue coda. But the first 40 minutes, set in Morocco and depicting the mission where the lovers first meet, are pretty great; there’s plenty of neat little tradecraft touches scattered throughout; and there are some pretty visuals too. There are also some moments that are marred by more CGI than should be necessary for a WW2 drama, but hey-ho, it’s a Robert Zemeckis film.

    That said, Brad Pitt’s performance is a bit… off. He never really seems connected with the material. Perhaps he was trying to play old-fashioned stoic, but too often it comes across as bored. It also constantly looked like he’d been digitally de-aged, but maybe that’s because I was watching a 720p stream; or maybe he had been, though goodness knows why they’d bother.

    Anyway, these are niggles, so how much they bother you will affect your personal enjoyment. I still liked the film a lot nonetheless.

    4 out of 5

    American Made
    (2017)

    2018 #124
    Doug Liman | 109 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Japan / English & Spanish | 15 / R

    American Made

    Described by director Doug Liman as “a fun lie based on a true story,” American Made is the obviously-not-that-truthful-then ‘true story’ of Barry Seal, a pilot who was recruited by the CIA to do some spying and ended up becoming a major cocaine smuggler in the ’80s.

    Starring ever-charismatic Tom Cruise as Seal, the film turns a potentially serious bit of history (as I understand it, the events underpinning this tale fed into the infamous Iran-Contra affair) into an entertaining romp. Indeed, the seriousness of the ending is a bit of a tonal jerk after all the lightness that came before, which I guess is the downside of having to stick to the facts.

    Still, it’s such a fun watch on the whole — a sliver long, perhaps, even though it’s comfortably under two hours, but it does have a lot of story to get through. Parts of that come via some spectacular montages, which convey chunks of story succinctly and are enjoyable in their own right. Liman doesn’t get a whole lot of attention nowadays, I think, but it seems he’s still got it where it counts.

    4 out of 5

  • The Bourne Identity (2002)

    100 Films’ 100 Favourites #15

    Danger is Bourne

    Country: USA, Germany & Czech Republic
    Language: English, French, German, Dutch & Italian
    Runtime: 119 minutes
    BBFC: 12A
    MPAA: PG-13

    Original Release: 14th June 2002
    UK Release: 6th September 2002
    First Seen: DVD, 2003

    Stars
    Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Martian)
    Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, Creep)
    Chris Cooper (Lone Star, Adaptation.)
    Clive Owen (Croupier, Children of Men)
    Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, The Omen)

    Director
    Doug Liman (Swingers, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

    Screenwriters
    Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, Michael Clayton)
    William Blake Herron (A Texas Funeral, Ripley Under Ground)

    Based on
    The Bourne Identity, a novel by Robert Ludlum.

    The Story
    Pulled wounded from the sea, Jason Bourne can’t remember anything about his life, but is a highly-trained combatant. That comes in handy when assassins begin to hunt him down, as he races across Europe with the aid of Marie, a German woman he bumped into, trying to establish the facts about his identity.

    Our Hero
    A man found floating in the ocean with two gunshot wounds in his back, who can’t remember his own name but can speak several languages and has knowledge of advanced combat skills. A laser projector implanted under his skin leads him to a safety deposit box in Zurich that contains thousands of dollars in cash, a gun, and an array of passports, from which he chooses a name: Jason Bourne.

    Our Villains
    The CIA’s Operation Treadstone, led by Alexander Conklin, who have an interest in Bourne — an interest that may primarily involve killing him.

    Best Supporting Character
    Marie, a German woman in the right place at the right time when a chap offers her $20,000 to drive him from Zurich to Paris… and in the wrong place at the wrong time when it turns out a bunch of people want to kill him, and she’s acceptable collateral damage.

    Memorable Quote
    Bourne: “Who has a safety deposit box full of money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.”
    Marie: “I see the exit sign, too. I’m not worried. I mean, you were shot. People do all kinds of weird and amazing stuff when they are scared.”
    Bourne: “I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215lbs and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

    Memorable Scene
    Bourne arrives at the US consulate in Zurich, unaware his presence has been flagged after visiting that safety deposit box. As security guards surround him, Bourne demonstrates just what he’s capable of…

    Making of
    One of the most fraught productions of recent times, the behind-the-scenes woes of The Bourne Identity are too numerous to recount here, but too interesting (if you’re interested in that kind of thing) to overlook. Check out #4 here for more, like this: “It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”

    Previously on…
    Adapted as a TV miniseries in 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain, which is reportedly much more faithful to the novel.

    Next time…
    Three sequels to date, with a fourth out this summer. 2008 video game The Bourne Conspiracy takes place in and around the first film, though doesn’t use Matt Damon’s likeness. The film series also revived interest in Ludlum’s books, and consequently nine continuation novels have been penned by Eric Van Lustbader since 2004, with a tenth planned.

    Awards
    1 Saturn nomination (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)
    1 World Stunt Award (Best Work with a Vehicle)

    What the Critics Said
    “With a two-year shooting schedule, a script that was redrafted more times than the cast care to remember, and Matt Damon making at least two movies (Ocean’s 11 and Spirit) in the middle of all that mess, this thriller comes to the cinemas as much a marked man as its central character. Some of the joins do show, especially towards the end of the film, when a couple of minor characters disappear completely, but by then it has been too much fun to start picking holes.” — Emma Cochrane, Empire

    Score: 83%

    What the Public Say
    “a point of departure from the action/spy genre, further making The Bourne Identity an anti-genre-genre film, is the cat like reflexes of Jason Bourne. Our first vision of him in action (remember, we’ve never seen Matt Damon like this before) is when he is laying on a park bench in Switzerland, approached by two policemen who are about to accuse him of loitering. Within the conversation, Bourne discovers he can effectively speak Swiss-German, and then as soon as one of the officers reaches to touch him, he responds with breathtaking speed and accuracy and before we know it, there is a little pile of police at his feet. […] nice guy Jason can’t really help it. Posit this against the casual cold blooded and calculated moves of the relaxed and suave Bond” — Lisa Thatcher

    Verdict

    The name’s Bourne, Jason Bourne… Maybe it was just me, but this Matt Damon action-thriller seemed to arrive under the radar back in the early ’00s (I don’t think I even heard of it until it was on DVD), but quickly established itself as the influential new kid on the block. Perhaps the Paul Greengrass-helmed sequels have been even more influential (they can be credited with bringing the much-derided ShakyCam style of filming action into the mainstream), but for me this first film is still the best of the bunch: an engaging mystery-thriller adrenalised by excellent action sequences.

    #16 will be… Bourne again.

    Go (1999)

    2015 #119
    Doug Liman | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

    When people call 1999’s Fight Club “the first film of the 21st Century”, it sounds a bit clever-clever. When you watch 1999’s Go, you see what they mean. Fincher forged forward; Liman encapsulated “just been” — indeed, it’s been called the most ’90s movie ever made.

    A darkly comic portmanteau of young adults embroiled in drugs and violence, Leonard Maltin accurately dubbed it “junior Pulp Fiction”. In ’99 it probably seemed one in a long line of Tarantino rip-offs; those still happen now, rendering Go an early-comer.

    Nonetheless, it has qualities that merit viewing, especially for 90 minutes of ’90s nostalgia.

    4 out of 5

    This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

    Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

    aka Live. Die. Repeat.

    2014 #102
    Doug Liman | 113 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & Australia / English | 12 / PG-13

    Edge of TomorrowOf late there seems to have been a glut of sci-fi films with highly generic, near-meaningless titles — Oblivion, Elysium, Source Code, even Gravity, and so on. The latest of these is Edge of Tomorrow, based on the novel All You Need is Kill (you can see why they wanted a change), which the distributor had so little confidence in that even during its theatrical ad campaign they tried to sell it as simply Edge, and for the home ent release have mounted a semi-successful campaign to rebrand it as Live. Die. Repeat. — ironically, the most memorable and appropriate title of the lot.

    Tom Cruise’s second sci-fi action film about alien invasion and a form of repetition in as many years (after 2013’s Oblivion, which I watched earlier this year), this one sees him cast as a coward in a multi-national defence force set up to combat an alien menace that has conquered mainland Europe. Following a hard-won victory against the aliens at Verdun, the force are planning a D-Day-style mass attack, and Cruise gets co-opted into fighting on the frontline against his will. During the assault, something happens that causes the day to ‘reboot’, and Cruise finds himself living the same day over and over again.

    Or, to put it another way, it’s Groundhog Day with shoot-the-aliens bits.

    It’s easy to be cynical about Edge of Tomorrow — it’s a mega-budgeted Tom Cruise actioner that sounds like a semi-rip-off of several other movies and was perceived as a flop (it wasn’t, at all) that no one knew how to sell. In fact, it’s a very entertaining movie — Cowardly Cruisesuitably exciting, surprisingly funny, and actually quite clever. It’s also boldly standalone. OK, so it’s an adaptation, but the book is hardly a Hunger Games-style huge literary hit. Producing the film surely isn’t an attempt to turn a print success into a cinematic one, nor is it trying to launch a new franchise — indeed, it’d have to really jump through hoops to even attempt a sequel. No, this is that quite-rare thing now: an original, one-off, blockbuster.

    That key ‘original’ element, the repetition (‘original’ in quotes because, yes, it’s from Groundhog Day), is used to good effect, playing variations on things we know but also keeping others secret so as to afford surprises later on. Then, just when you’re beginning to think, “oh God, here we go again”, it moves the story along — after all, just because a day’s repeating doesn’t mean you have to keep going to the same places during it. This leads to the filmmakers sort of playing a clever game with the viewers: just because we’re seeing something happen for the first time doesn’t mean the characters are. Neat.

    Are there logic holes? Undoubtedly — it’s a time travel movie. How fundamental are they? Depending on your level of sensitivity, you’ll be bothered by somewhere between “hardly any” and “none” during the film itself. It’s made as blockbuster entertainment, and it works as such. Hello.Reflect too heavily and some bits may begin to crumble more but, for me, not too severely.

    The weakest part, sadly, is the climax. It’s alright in itself, but (as Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes cover so eloquently), it doesn’t feel quite right. (Vague spoilers follow.) Abandoning your movie’s defining high concept in order to up the stakes for the finale is a cop-out. Instead, it needs a new twist on the concept that also ups the stakes. That’s harder to come up with, which is probably why they haven’t bothered, but what we do get reduces a clever and borderline-innovative movie to a rote race-against-time overwhelming-odds shoot-out.

    As for the post-climax ending, which some have complained isn’t dark or gritty enough… Were those people watching the same movie as me? “Dark and gritty” has its place, and there’s certainly a few ‘nasty’ bits earlier in the film, but the overall level of action and humour is more mass-market. That’s not a criticism, just an observation — this is not actually a dark-and-gritty movie that demands a dark-and-gritty ending. The final scenes fit tonally with the rest of the film. I liked that.

    Edge of... a fieldEdge of Tomorrow isn’t an unqualified success, but more than enough of it works to make for a well-above-average modern blockbuster. Excellent action sequences, plenty of amusing asides, and a couple of solid sci-fi concepts to chew on combine to render it quality entertainment. Bonus points for being a true original in a sea of remakes, sequels and spin-offs.

    4 out of 5

    This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.