Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Ford V Ferrari (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Ford V Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone

Director: James Mangold

Synopsis: Telling the true story of how a team of engineers, employed by Ford, set out to build a car capable of usurping Ferrarri’s dominance at the 24 hour race at Le Mans in 1966…

Review: When certain sports events come around every once in a while, it seems like the whole world just stops and watches with interest. For instance, events like the Olympics, the Football World Cup or the Superbowl capture the hearts and minds of viewers all across the world. Meanwhile, events though they might be just as compelling to some, events like the 24 Hour race at Le Mans do not nearly have the same level of global coverage. However, this is certainly no barrier for director James Mangold to craft an utterly captivating spectacle of one particular year’s version of this sporting showdown.

With Ferrari consistently bettering Ford in the 24 Hours of Le Mans over a number of years, Ford head honcho Henry Ford II is determined to usurp Ferrari’s dominance. To achieve that end, he commissions engineer Carroll Shelby (Damon) to use whatever resources he needs to build a car that would have the capabilities and the endurance to not only survive the 24 hour race, but to pip Ferrari to the post. Believing him to be the best in the business, Shelby recruits the extremely talented driver, and uber intense petrol-head Ken Miles (Bale) to be Ford’s driver for the race. A decision that, due to Miles’s brash personality, causes friction in the higher echelons of the company.

And the award for looking menacing in a pair of shades goes to….

As was with the case with Ron Howard’s Rush, you most assuredly do not need to be the most devout follower of the 24 hour race at Le Mans, or indeed any particular racing event for that matter, to be completely invested in this story. Whilst Rush‘s focal point was the rivalry between two legendary F1 drivers, Ford v Ferrari‘s central premise is on the friendship between Damon’s Shelby and Bales’s Miles, and the build up to this hugely important race. It’s this friendship, and the high stakes that both of them are facing in the build up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, that drives the film forwards.

Given that their friendship is at the centre of the film, Matt Damon and Christian Bale are absolutely outstanding in their roles. Their friendship might not be the most seamless, but there’s a solid respect for one another as they both appreciate the role that the other plays in this team. You can have the best car in the world, but the perfect car is just one half of the equation. This is because without the best driver, you do not stand a chance of winning a race that requires a multitude of factors to ensure that your car comes out on top. Tracy Letts leads the way in an effective ensemble cast as the commanding Henry Ford II, closely followed by Jon Bernthal’s polished Ford Executive, who contrasts quite brilliantly opposite Josh Lucas’s Ford Executive, the latter of whom is considerably more slimy, and openly distrustful of Shelby’s methods.

Having dabbled in the world of superheroes, and more specifically ones with claws, for his last two films, James Mangold switches from the superhero gear to this one effortlessly. With some excellent cinematography, camerawork, and the brilliant work of the sound team, the audience is put very firmly in the driver’s seat, as if they were the ones at the wheel of these remarkable machines. Whether you couldn’t care less about cars, or if you’re the biggest petrol-head going, there’s an intensity to the racing scenes that make them extremely exhilarating to watch. However, the foot is not on the accelerate pedal the entire time. The screenplay balances these high octane, adrenaline-fuelled scenes with some more personal moments.

Through Mangold’s excellent steering, he makes the two and a half hours fly by, in a similar vein to how a super-fast car would whizz by the audience in a flash. Though the ending is a little bit rushed, there’s never any severely problematic pacing issues that could have caused the entire film to crash and burn. With a stirring, emotional score from Marco Beltrami, the film roars past that finishing line with flying colours.

Magnificently crafted racing scenes, combined with a fascinating story about two men and their respective search for greatness. Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seat-belts, you’re in for an adrenaline-fuelled, enthralling ride.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Jason Bourne (2016)

bourne]
Image is property of Universal Pictures, Pearl Street Pictures and Perfect World Pictures

Jason Bourne – Film Review

Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmad

Director: Paul Greengrass

Synopsis: Ten years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne is now laying low and living a relatively peaceful life, until an old acquaintance resurfaces with some new information on Bourne’s past.

Review: When it comes to near invincible badasses who dabble in the world of spies and espionage, then there are a handful of individuals that have established their reputations as the best of the best. The likes of a certain Mr James Bond, or Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne are ones that are more than likely will jump to mind. While the likes of Bond carry themselves with class and elegance, and usually kicking ass whilst wearing a tuxedo, the likes of Bourne do not carry such sophistication, but he will still kick your head in regardless if you dare to cross his path, and after spending years living his life free from any CIA entanglements, he’s back in the game.

The events of The Bourne Ultimatum saw Bourne finally get some closure about his past and how he got involved with this predicament and that appeared to be that. However one of his former associates now has some new information that could potentially lead to some new answers concerning Bourne’s past and so, somewhat reluctantly, Bourne is back on the grid. Of course, it isn’t long before the CIA have him back in their cross-hairs, under the new leadership of Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who will do anything they can to either capture Bourne or kill him, and so begins another enthralling chase across several continents and some very intense action scenes.

This is a role that Matt Damon has made his own, and is the role that the majority of people will associate with him the most. Although it is not his best performance as the character by any means, he is once again tremendous in the role bringing that grit and incredible fighting ability he possess to the fore. Out of the new recruits to this franchise, it is the work of Vikander, Jones and a ruthless assassin known only as The Asset played by Vincent Cassel that produce the best performances. Vikander, fresh from her Oscar triumph, shows great determination to lead the op against Bourne, all the while, trying to get him back on board. Cassel is usually bad news whenever he’s on screen, and here yes he’s very bad news indeed.

After coming on board to the franchise after The Bourne Identity, to direct the Supremacy and Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass has certainly cemented a reputation as an accomplished director of action. He is perhaps one of very few directors working today who takes shaky cam action and uses it, for the most part to great effect. By doing this the action scenes carry a lot of grit and realism to them, all the while making them utterly compelling to watch. This certainly applies here as the action scenes are once again tremendous, whether it be a chase in the middle of a riot or a high speed chase in Las Vegas, Greengrass knows how to get the viewer gripping their seat with excitement.

There is a sub-plot connected to a social media launch, and with several references to Snowden and the privacy controversy that that particular issues raised, thrown in there. Yet these do feel somewhat tacked on to the main story, which is that of Jason Bourne and his quest for the answers about his past. As such, you would have liked to have had a bit more on that story and less about Snowden and social media etc. The dialogue in places is a bit iffy too, and while it could have been better, you are here for the action. Nevertheless, Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse have given us an exciting fifth entry to this franchise, and one will certainly hope that there will be more adventures with Mr Jason Bourne to come.

Bourne is back in business and while the action remains as gripping and as intense as ever with Damon once excellent, the story could have been much more streamlined to focus more on our titular character.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

True Grit (2010)

True-Grit
Image rights belong to Skydance Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Scott Rudin Productions and Paramount Pictures

True Grit – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A young woman (Steinfeld) seeks revenge for the murder of her father and enlists the help of a US Marshal (Bridges) to help track down her father’s killer.

Review: Remakes and retelling of stories we have seen before tend to have something of a curse upon them. Audiences may tend to moan and whine and say that the new effort to tell a story that has already been told is not worth telling. Well Messrs Joel and Ethan Coen might just have something to say about that, as their retelling of the novel of the same name by Charles Portis, which was first adapted for the big screen in 1969, is well, a remarkable triumph.

The story focuses on young Mattie Ross, a girl of 14 years of age, who after her father is murdered by an outlaw, seeks vengeance on her father’s killer. To do this however, she must enlist the help of the law in the shape of US Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and so begins a manhunt. The Coens certainly showed that they understood the Western genre with the thrilling No Country for Old Men, albeit that was a Western set in modern times. Here however, it’s a traditional western tale fused with good ol’ fashioned revenge, and the Coen brothers absolutely nail it once again with a terrific story and a wonderful screenplay, that is aided in no small part by the phenomenal performances of its actors, and the quality of the source material.

In the lead role of Rooster Cogburn, a role that won John Wayne an Academy Award, Jeff Bridges is excellent as he re teams with the directors that brought to life one of the most iconic film characters of all time, that’s the Dude man! His accent is very thick and a little bit hard to understand in places, and while he may have been a bit hostile towards her in the early stages, his relationship with Ross is ultimately what drives the story forward and their chemistry is excellent. Speaking of which, Steinfeld as Ross is also fantastic, in what was an incredible breakthrough performance after she beat well over 15,000 people for the role. Matt Damon also puts in a superb performance as the Texas Ranger but it is the work of Bridges and especially Steinfeld that steal the show, as the two of them ensured Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively came their way, and well deserved ones too.

As usual with the Coens, the film making here is of a very high quality,  the cinematography by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins is as usual glorious. Night time scenes feel realistic and one can almost feel the cold of winter as the Marshal and his employer set off and encounter some of that pesky snow. Deakins certainly knows how to set up a good shot and there are plenty of these packed throughout the movie, with the Coens once again showing they certainly know how to direct remarkable action sequences that are sure to leave the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The Coens certainly know how to leave their unmistakeable stamp on a project, as they did so in emphatic fashion with No Country for Old Men, and here they do so again. As well as the acting nominations, the film secured eight other nominations, and while it failed to secure any, make no mistake, this adaptation, likes its characters certainly is full of true grit, and of a very high calibre to rank itself as one of the finest films the Coens have ever put to the big screen.

Anchored by two tremendous performances from Bridges and Steinfeld, with a great story stamped with that distinctive Coen brothers seal, top drawer film making. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Martian (2015)

the martian
Image rights belong to Scott Free Productions, Kinberg Genre and 20th Century Fox

The Martian – Film Review

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kata Mara, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: An astronaut is presumed dead after a deadly storm separates him from the rest of his crew. Yet after surviving the storm, he is alone on Mars and must use all the resources he can find to get back to Earth.

Review: The thought of being the only person on an alien world, with seemingly no means of getting off, and being one hundred and forty million miles from home, is one that would probably send most people in that situation absolutely bonkers, and give them a complete sense of hopelessness with very little chance of survival, and result in them frittering away the remainder of their days on the Red Planet. However, this is not applicable in the case of Mark Watney, who instead of that aforementioned feeling of impending doom, after he has been abandoned by his crew as he is presumed dead during a deadly storm, opts for one of upbeat and positive. In turn providing an extremely entertaining space adventure that fuses comedy and some intense moments brilliantly.

With his fourth entry into the science fiction genre, director Ridley Scott has produced a much needed return to form somewhat after his most recent run of films have been met with a less than positive response, namely Prometheus, Exodus and The Counselor.  The likes of Alien and Blade Runner showed that Scott knows the genre and knows how to pull it off in some style, and in what is almost a blend of Gravity and Interstellar produces a third another enthralling space adventure in as many years. Interestingly enough (spoiler alert for Interstellar!) Matt Damon who had a surprise cameo in the aforementioned film is back in a very similar situation to the one he found himself in Interstellar, but this time he is the man we’re rooting for, and he brings charisma and great humour to this role, so much so that you cannot help but want him to succeed and find his way home. With his situation looking increasingly bleak, he has to use his intelligence and his botanist skills to ensure his survival.

While The Martian battles to stay alive on the Red Planet, the focus alternates between the team at NASA who are working to try and bring him home alive, whilst dealing with the PR disaster that a man was left behind on a hostile world. Whilst at the same time, going back and forth with his crew mates who are solemnly making their way back to Earth, contemplating their supposedly fallen friend’s fate. The cast is quite extensive and filled with some big Hollywood names, with the likes of Jessica Chastain as the captain of the Mars mission, Jeff Daniels as NASA’s CEO, Chiwetel Ejiofor with his expert knowledge of the Red Planet and Sean Bean as a flight director. It’s a big scramble for these guys to get the materials they need to ensure that whatever they can do to get Mark Watney home, they will do it, but not without some bickering and disagreement along the way.

It takes some bravery to take a story like this in which one man is almost certainly staring death in the face and make it uniquely entertaining, but this film managed to do it and do it perfectly, thus props must go to screen writer Drew Goddard for that. Matt Damon effortlessly brings his unique brand of humour and charisma to the role, whilst using his ingenuity and remarkable intelligence to try and survive. Yet it is far from sunshine and rainbows all the time, as there are more than a few intense moments where our leading man is put in some more than perilous, potentially fatal situations.

The Mars scenery is beautifully recreated and the direction, as is more often than not the case with Scott, is excellent. The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is tremendous and adds plenty of suspense and drama along the way. The film does drag in places and could have maybe been cut down in parts, but nevertheless, it is a pleasure to see Scott truly back on top form and for Damon to once again remind us of his remarkable talent.

With a terrific (and large) ensemble cast, filled with the cream of the Hollywood crop, with a superb and humorous lead performance from Damon, to go along with a very witty screenplay, this is Scott’s best picture in some years.

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