Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ad Astra (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises and Plan B

Ad Astra – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Director: James Gray

Synopsis: After the Earth experiences deadly power surges, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is recruited for a top secret space mission, in the belief that the events may be connected to his father’s own space mission that blasted off several years prior…

Review: Ever since humanity first blasted off into space back in 1961, there’s always been something of a fascination with what’s out there in the great chasm that is space, and the solar system. Indeed it is a subject that has inspired many filmmakers to try and approach this fascinating, and at the same time, terrifying void of eternal emptiness. Through all the space films that have graced the big screen over the years, one thing is crystal clear: being an astronaut takes some very serious guts.

Like his father before him, Roy McBride is an astronaut, and a damn good one at that too. When some unnatural power surges start to cause some problems back on Earth, a top secret briefing leads Roy back to the mission that his father Clifford (Jones) departed for several decades ago. Believing that said mission could pose some extremely serious risks to the survival of humanity, Roy must venture deep into the unforgiving world of space in the pursuit of his seemingly long lost father, and the answers to some essential questions that NASA believe Clifford possesses, that could be integral to humanity’s survival.

Given that the majority of the film features his character’s crucial mission, the entire movie is resting on Brad Pitt’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility he carries faultlessly as he turns in a very subdued, sombre, but yet extremely powerful performance. Though regrettably, the fact that Roy’s main mission is the focus for the majority of the film, it means that pretty much every other member of this cast is severely underutilised. None of them have enough screen time to make you care about their plight, which is frustrating as there definitely was potential for a further exploration of some of the other characters’s stories. This is especially frustrating when considering the talent of some of these actors and this is best exemplified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her performance from Roy’s distant wife, played by Liv Tyler.

After going on an interstellar journey with Christopher Nolan, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film a rich visual majesty that perfectly captures the beauty and the terror that is space in equal measure. The production design and visual effects are so meticulously crafted, it makes it feel like the cast and crew actually went to the Moon and to the other planets beyond to film. James Gray’s screenplay, co-written with Ethan Gross, is cognitive and thoughtful. There are one or two action set pieces to get the pulses racing, but the film’s pacing is patient and methodical. There’s been no shortage of space films that have had awe-inspiring, heart-pounding intense scores, but Max Richter’s haunting, powerful score is right up there with the very best of them.

Though the film is not, and was never intending to be, an enthralling action spectacle set in the deepest depths of space. The film’s deliberately slowed-down pacing may begin to test the patience of the audience, particularly once the third act has come into view. Though not bereft of drama, the screenplay has some thought-provoking and bold ideas behind it. However. it doesn’t come nearly as close as other recent films of this genre in crafting something that has resonated as strongly as previous space films. Though if anyone was scared of space beforehand, after watching this, it will only reinforce their perspective that space is absolutely, completely terrifying.

Like astronauts themselves, the story’s extremely ambitious. However, even with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, and some striking visuals, this thought-provoking adventure aims for the stars, but only just falls short.  

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

No Country For Old Men (2007)

no-country
Image is property of Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage

No Country For Old Men – Film Review

Cast:  Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: When a man stumbles across a drug deal that has gone sour and finds a suitcase with a large amount of cash, he finds himself being pursued by a relentless hit-man who will stop at nothing to reclaim the cash…

Review: What would you do if you happened to come across a substantial amount of cash that you found in the desert? Chances are you’d probably take the loot and run as fast as you could for the hills. Yet what if you knew (somehow) that the money was the subject of a drug deal that had gone just a bit awry? Would you think twice? You might well do if you knew that there was a psychopathic man after you, who will stop at nothing to recover the loot from said drug deal.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, at the centre of this thriller is Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) who upon finding the aforementioned loot does decide to bag the cash and make a run for it, along with his wife Carla Jean (MacDonald). However his pursuer Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is the crazy mofo who is after the cash, and possess machine like determination in order to hunt Moss down and reclaim the cash. Thus this gives the audience a game of cat and mouse, that is brilliantly written and expertly brought to the screen by the Coen brothers. Right from the moment the chase begins, the tension begins and never abates until the credits role. The dialogue is minimal in some scenes but the tension remains high throughout the two hour run time as you watch this chase unfold.

The film is bolstered immeasurably by the performances of its three main actors, all of whom give excellent performances, Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as the gruff Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who becomes involved in the chase between Moss and Chigurh, all the while becoming horrified with what the world has become. Brolin, as the mouse in the chase, is also excellent determined to do whatever it takes to survive, mainly due to the strong love of his wife . Yet, it is undoubtedly Bardem who gives the most impressive performance. Here’s a man who could make the most innocuous conversation sound utterly terrifying, such as a conversation about the toss of a coin. He hunts his prey with Terminator like efficiency with even a terrifying haircut! He will spare no one in his quest to reclaim the cash, and is certainly remains one of the finest psychopathic, menacing villains that has ever been put to the big screen.

chigurh

The Coens masterful writing, lifting McCarthy’s novel from page to screen excellently, and their exquisite direction is aided by the usually flawless cinematography from Roger Deakins, marking his incredible 8th collaboration with the Coens. Both were recipients of Oscar nods for their incredible work, and in the case of the Coens, it was three times a charm as took home the prizes for directing, writing for an Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, as well as a well earned triumph for Bardem for Supporting Actor. Sadly Deakins did not take home the gong for cinematography, but the sheer quality of his work remains crystal clear. What also remains clear is that this is one of, if not, the finest pieces of work from the Coens. The ending leaves much open to interpretation, as such, it may jar with some, but when you sit down and assess everything you have witnessed, it is absolutely perfect, a word that could be used to describe just about every aspect of this extraordinary film.

Anchored by three outstanding performances by its leads, with brilliant dark humour thrown in for good measure, this is the Coen brothers’s masterpiece, without any question of a doubt.

a

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.

b

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

First avenger
Image rights belong to Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures

Captain America: The First Avenger – Film Review

Cast: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper

Director: Joe Johnston

Synopsis: A frail young man with aspirations of serving his country during World War II is given a chance to become the superhero Captain America via a super secret programme.

Review: When the world erupted in war back in 1939, countries the world over were all looking for able and strong men to sign up for their respective armies to take on and bring down the evil Nazi regime.  In the case of one frail sickly young man, who was absolutely determined to sign up and fight for his country, yet his aspirations were forever getting trampled on due to his poor health. This is until, through a top secret programme, he has his chance to become a super soldier. This man is of course Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America.

the first avenger

Back when the all powerful Marvel machine was still in its first warming up phase, director Joe Johnston with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, provide an interesting take on the back story of one of the most popular heroes of the MCU. His journey from a weak young man, to a near invincible badass though was far from an easy one, but it is very interesting to watch. Beaten up by what seems like every kid in his neighbourhood as a child, the early scenes of the film show just how down on his luck he is, with everyone including his best friend, Sergeant James Barnes AKA Bucky (Sebastian Stan), going off to war without him.

Chris Evans in his second stint as a superhero, after two ill fated spells as the Human Torch in 2005 and 2007, is tremendous in the lead role. His humanity and compassion shines through, and it’s this along with his dogged determination, combined with some convincing CGI that makes him look very frail indeed. that brings him to the attention of Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) the creator of the super soldier programme who fast-tracks Rogers for the programme, and for battle.

Yet despite this very intriguing opening, the film suffers from pacing issues, as Cap instead of being thrown immediately into battle, is made to wait. All the while the war rages on, and the dastardly Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) AKA The Red Skull of HYDRA is preparing to unleash chaos on the world in the form of a very rare off world artefact. The pacing issues persist throughout though as while there are some great action scenes for us to enjoy, a lot of scenes are put together in a montage that almost feels like the studio had blown their production budget on certain effects and were forced to cut back on the action. That being said, there are some action scenes that are just flat out awesome, including taking a zip wire onto a moving train. These scenes do make for some spectacular viewing but a bit more action, and not montaging through considerable portions of it would have been great.

There are plenty of some very big names on display here, and all give great performances. Tommy Lee Jones is on fine form as a gruff US General, Hayley Atwell as the fierce but compassionate Agent Peggy Carter who has something of a soft spot for Cap, and she proved to be such a popular character that she got her own spin off series, and Cap’s best buddy, Bucky. Flying the HYDRA flag along with Herr Schmidt and Dr Arnim Zola (Toby Jones.) While both give solid performances, their accents are somewhat questionable. Yet Johnston managed to create a very gritty Superhero war movie that looks superb with great attention to detail, and he gives a character who has proved to become one of the MCU’s most popular heroes a solid introduction to the Marvel Universe and help build Marvel’s Phase 1 to an exciting climax.

Cap gets his stars and stripes good and proper, with some solid acting and directing, but more action set pieces wouldn’t have gone astray. 

b

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Lincoln (2012)

Image is property of Walt Disney, Dreamworks, Reliance Entertainment and the Kennedy/Marshall Company

Lincoln – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Straithairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: With the American Civil War raging on, President of the United States of America Abraham Lincoln attempts to bring peace to the country and also seeks to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, despite opposition within his own party.

Review: A very real and powerful account of arguably the greatest president that the United States of America has ever had. This film brings us the final months of the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Within it he must fight his battle to end the Civil War and bring about the emancipation of the slavery. The war must have reached its conclusion before the amendment goes through and a failure to achieve these goals would have had dire consequences for the USA.

The collaboration of Spielberg along with Producers Kathy Kennedy and Tony Kushner gives us the battle and ultimate achievement of Abraham Lincoln, the successful passing of the emancipation of slavery. An initial plan developed by Kushner proposed the film focused on Lincoln’s political life as a whole. Yet Spielberg chose instead to focus in on the final two months of Lincoln’s presidency. The film brilliantly depicts the difficult path that lay before Lincoln in getting the amendment passed and how the brilliant Lincoln dealt with these obstacles. His great speeches and political charisma are on show in abundance, and his determination to pass through the legislation that made Lincoln one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States.

In spite of the fact that the main role was initially offered to Liam Neeson while the film was in early development, Daniel Day Lewis in the role was quite simply President Lincoln personified. His accent and look was absolutely excellent. When Lincoln spoke, the whole room stopped whatever what they were doing and they listened to a great man speak.  His stories and speeches were wonderful to listen to.  Equally impressive in his supporting role was Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens. An argumentative Republican Congressman and strongly believes in the equality of all and vehemently backs the passage of the amendment. Sally Field is also superb in the role of the First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.  All three were fully deserving of Oscar nominations and Day Lewis scooped the award for Best Actor, becoming the first man to win this award on three occasions. The rest of the supporting cast were all excellent in their roles.

While it is in no doubt that this film is very well done, there is a tremendous amount of talking throughout. While this dialogue is very interesting and offers great insight into a fascinating piece of history, it can at times feel a little tedious. For Americans, this film would be of great importance to them as it represents one of the most important chapters in their history. For non-Americans, it may not appeal to them as much. Nevertheless Spielberg has produced another personal and wonderfully directed film that was acted perfectly. It ensured Daniel Day Lewis made Academy Award History and reminded everyone of the reason why Abraham Lincoln is revered as one of, if not the greatest president that the United States has ever had.

Day-Lewis is on incredible form as Lincoln, and Spielberg is also on superb form as he delivers a very compelling account of a very important era in the history of the United States.

a