Satoshi Kon Collection Review

Preface

I get asked a lot why I chose the name The Student Film Review. For me it was a simple choice; I was a student and I was reviewing films, it was a perfect fit. I wasn’t reviewing films from a student perspective, it was just the period of time in my life when I was reviewing movies. But this collection, I’m reviewing films which are very much tied in with my studies, these are the films that I’m researching for my dissertation.

Satoshi Kon was a visionary director. Over ten years he made four films, each unique and outstanding in their own rights. He pushed animation and anime in new directions, focussing on much more adult and mature stories than his contemporaries. If Hayao Miyazaki (the head of Studio Ghibli) is the Walt Disney of anime, Satoshi Kon would be the Alfred Hitchcock or Terry Gilliam. His films became some of my favourites, so I chose him to focus on for my final university work. And now onto reviews.

  • Perfect Blue
  • Millennium Actress
  • Tokyo Godfathers
  • Paprika

Review

Perfect Blue

The first of Kon’s four films, the story focuses on pop singer Mima who takes a drastic career turn to become a risqué actress. She starts to receive death threats from a fanatical fan/stalker and hallucinates monstrous visions and nightmares.

This was both my first Kon film and my introduction to anime, which was an odd experience to say the least. The animation is a bit low budget, with some definition on large sections of crowds missing, but it holds up enough for the film. And while the English dub was a bit jarring at the beginning, it actually added to the weirdness of the film. What got me hooked was the clever and mind-bending story. We go from dream sequences to rooftop chases, song and dance numbers to viscous and bloody murder with a screwdriver, before landing on not one but two rape sequences. It was definitely a jarring film to be introduced to, but a memorable one. Fans of Darren Aronofsky, this is a film to check out. The latter director bought the rights just to restage a number of scenes in his film Requiem For A Dream, and the whole film is the basis for Black Swan. For anyone thinking that anime or animation is for children, this is one to change your mind.

Score: 9/10 Dark, twisted and baffling, but entertaining.

Millennium Actress

This was Kon’s second film and it shows how versatile a director he was. While Perfect Blue focused on dark and warped versions of celebrity, Millennium Actress is much more light-hearted, with a love for Japanese history, both real and cinematic. The film follows a documentary filmmaker and his assistant, who are interviewing a famous actress from the Golden Age of Cinema. As she tells them the story of her life, the group are transported back through time and relive the important moments of her life.

The time-travel gimmick can sometimes make this film even harder to follow than Perfect Blue with its dream-within-visions sequences. We’ll be in a train in the 1930s, but the characters will get off and the film will be back in the 1500s, without even a mention that we are in a new time period. The story though isn’t as interesting as Kon’s first film. The film is about a woman trying to find her first love amid all the time travel, but it isn’t that compelling. We don’t get any time to know with the man that she is chasing, which is kind of the point, but it leaves the film with nothing to aspire to. He’s an empty vessel, purely there to move the story on. And after the first couple of time swaps, the story potters about for a while until the big reveals start happening near the end.

Score: 7/10 One of the history buffs and romance fans, but not one of the best.

Tokyo Godfathers

Probably Kon’s most accessible film, as it features none of the trippy mind-bending weirdness or the adult themes of his larger body of work. The story follows three homeless people in the middle of Tokyo, who find a baby dumped in the street on Christmas Eve. The three band together to go find the child’s parents just in time for Christmas.

While the film is the most “normal” of Kon’s, it’s still deals with big ideas. The main theme is family; our three leads have each been thrown out or left their families for different reasons, and over the course of the film they seek to resolve and contact their families. The most interesting of the three is Hana, a transgender nightclub singer, whose desire to be female leads her to running away with the baby so that she can feel “motherly”.

The film is the most comedic of Kon’s four, but the humour can sometimes come off as forced. Take in the meandering story and very contrived plot (people meeting over and over again in one of the largest cities in Japan), it requires you to leave plausibility at the door. Kon’s fantastic camerawork and editing though make it still enjoyable to watch from a technical aspect. And it’s a Christmas film, so why not watch it next year rather than Die Hard for your alternative Christmas movie night?

Score: 6/10 Probably the weakest of the bunch, but still a good watch.

Paprika

Kons’ last film before he died in 2010, Paprika is his most well-received film. The story is about a machine called the DC Mini, which allows people to enter other people’s dreams. Its purpose is for psychotherapy, but a group of criminals steal it for nefarious ends. A group of scientists have to band together to find the DC Mini and save the world from total destruction.

The set-up of Paprika might seem familiar. That’s because, just like how Perfect Blue was remade into Black Swan, Paprika was remade into Inception. It’s not just in the vague story beats either; the rotating hallway, the shattering glass wall, the dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams idea (Inception went three dreams deep, Paprika goes five deep), it’s been lifted from Kon’s magnum opus.

The film is ten years old, but the animation is superb. Crystal clear and meticulously detailed, Madhouse, the studio behind it, outdid many similar animation at the time and works being done today. The crazy dream sequences and editing quirks (such as jumping through paintings and billboards and into another scene) are feats to be admired. It’s a film that is also in love with filmmaking as an art, with sections detailing Filmmaking 101 such as the “180 Line” and recreating famous films within characters dreams. With the addition of the darker themes and intriguing story of Perfect Blue but the brighter colours and cheery aspect of Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, this is the culmination of Kon’s work and is surely his best.

Score: 10/10 Will blow you away with its fantastical approach.

The YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting did a fascinating breakdown of Kon’s editing and visual style. It’s a great watch, even if you don’t know his work.

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Top Ten Best Films Of 2016

It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, the festive period is over, and every film critic is creating their best and worst list of the year. And here is mine.

Quick note, scores aren’t a factor on this list. These were just my personal favourites. Before we get going a few honourable mentions:

Love And Friendship

War On Everyone

Everybody Wants Some!!

And now…

10.

Ten is a tie because I couldn’t pick between them, Room and The Hateful Eight. I had no clue what I was expecting with Room, but I never though I would get a emotive family drama, focussing on the interactions of a mother and young son, with an Oscar-worthy performance by newcomer Jacob Tremblay. The shot when he first see’s the sky is still one that I think about regularly even after all this time. The Hateful Eight is a return to the old-fashioned QT, focussing on colourful dialogue with an array of interesting characters in a secluded location rather than the weird genre stylings of his last few films. Fantastic performances from Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason-Leigh, with a perfect accompanying score by Ennio Morricone.

9.

I’m not a romance film person, but The Light Between Oceans lands itself on my Top-Ten List. Stunning performances by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander (two of my favourite actors) and exquisite cinematography by Adam Arkapaw save the sometimes clichéd story and dragging second half.

8.

A Wild Western reset in the modern day, Hell or High Water was a pleasant surprise at the tail end of the summer. An actor defining performance by Chris Pine, backed up by powerful supports such as Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. The story may seem like one you’ve seen before, but the modern trappings add a refreshing touch that separates it from similar films with much bigger budgets (I’m looking at you, Magnificent Seven).

7.

Nobody thought Eye In The Sky was going to be good. Even I saw the trailer and thought it looked pretty hackneyed. But the tense arguments, the shocking ideas of collateral damage in war and powerful performances by Helen Mirren, Barkhad Abdi and the late Alan Rickman really make this one stand tall. Here’s hoping for a posthumous Supporting Actor nomination for the latter actor.

6.

At number six, the Master Of Ultra-Violence, Nicolas Winding-Refn, is back with The Neon Demon. An odd mash-up of fairytale and the modelling business in Los Angeles, this is one you don’t want spoiled for you. Just go watch it, but be prepared for some jaw-dropping moments that you’ll be replaying long after the film is done.

5.

Modern horror usually doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t like being jump scared, I don’t seek it out for entertainment. But then The Witch came along, a film of no jump scares or silly noises, and it freaked the heck out of me. The endless tension building, the moody and ominous score by Mark Karven and the debut of lead Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch may not be for everybody, but for horror fans it’s a must-see. A great directorial debut by Robert Eggers.

4.

It took over forty years to make, but High-Rise is worth the wait. A wide selection of great actors including Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss and Luke Evans converge in an entertaining and slightly frightening orgy of sex, drugs and violence. High-Rise is the height of decadence and it’s a blast.

3.

Hell Or High Water was a Western through the lens of modern day. Our number three is a Western through the lens of horror. Bone Tomahawk was a sprawling 132 minute exercise in bloody torture and gruesome death and it was one of the my top picks for this year. Another one you don’t want spoiled for you, it’s a remarkable debut by writer, musician, cinematographer and director S. Craig Zahler.

2.

2016 has been a very good year for animation. With soon-to-be classics from Disney with Moana and Zootropolis, and Japanese efforts of When Marnie Was There and Your Name, animation buffs have been spoiled his year. But two films beat them all. Our number two is Laika’s Kubo And The Two Strings is an impressive stop-motion film with inflections of Eastern mythology and settings and a heart of gold underneath. Excellent performances by Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron, along with some near-perfect shot compositions, Kubo will be winning awards left, right and centre at this year’s Oscars.

1.

I saw this all the way back in March, and since then it’ been at the top of my list of 2016. And still, nine months later, Anomalisa has stayed on top. An awe-inspiring dream of a film, written by Eternal Sunshine writer Charlie Kaufman and directed by Duke Johnson, I consider Anomalisa to be a perfect film. Mesmerising stop-motion, beautiful portrayals by David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason-Leigh and a story that is heartfelt and crushing, this will be one for the ages.

That’s been 2016, happy new year and may 2017 be a great one!

Why not read my look back at the bad stuff, The Worst Of 2016?

Arrival Review

After Prisoners back in 2013, and last year’s hit Sicario, Denis Villeneuve became a director to follow closely. And just in time for Oscar season, he’s managed to conjure up another film. Does his new film sit with Sicario on a Best-Of list, or does only one year leave enough room for it?

Arrival stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker and Tzi Ma and is directed by Denis Villeneuve. Based on the short story by Ted Chaing, the film follows linguist Louise (Adams) and scientist Ian (Renner) as they are called in by the US military to study a UFO landing in Montana, with the duo leading the charge to create formal contact between the species.

After her lacklustre acting in BvS, Amy Adams is back on form. The film starts with an almost silent five minute backstory, flashing at different moments in her life, filling us in on the important details. It reminded me a little of the opening from Up, an entirely visual way of learning who the character is without any need for exposition or dialogue. Jeremy Renner is also good as the other side of the research team. While it is a little funny to see a nerdy scientist have the body of Hawkeye, his interactions with Adams, as they decipher the alien’s language is interesting and intriguing to watch.

The cinematography is a great part of the film, easily standing up with the rest of Villeneuve’s work. The first time we see the alien spaceship, it’s a wide landscape shot. The film is set in Montana, so it’s open fields, mountains and immense clouds of fog rolling in. The helicopter comes out of the mist surrounding the UFO, the music swells and we have an excellent long take, with the helicopter moving in slow and steady. It’s easily one of the best shots of the year and will certainly nab a nomination.

The aliens are hardly seen in the film, and in my opinion that is a good thing. Most films would want to throw the aliens at the screen (Independence Day 2), but here it’s much more restrained. Again, just like the first time we see the spaceship, the first time we see the aliens is a long, tense shot. When they hove out of the mist, long spidery legs tapping on the floor, it’s breathtaking and unnerving. It’s a brilliant attempt at show-don’t-tell, with only vague silhouettes moving about in the distance.

Lastly, the music is a fantastic addition to the film. Johann Johannsson, who worked with Villeneuve before on Sicario, again brings a stellar accompaniment to the film. Using a mix of traditional instruments such as piano and strings, then mixing them with drones, loops and electronic beeps, the film has a weird mash-up of a grand, sweeping scale with undercurrents of technology and the future.

The one thing I had a problem with is the story. It’s not a problem in the usual sense, more of a caution if you are thinking of going to see the film. Arrival is a narrative-heavy story and I think it’s one of the best this year. It’s a film that has many revelations, some of them making you look at the first half of the film in a completely different light. It takes a while to get there though, the film is nearly two hours long but didn’t become the epic odyssey until the final twenty minutes. To get the most enjoyment out of it, you have to pay attention, I just wanted to make sure you knew that before you decide to go on a whim.

In the end, Arrival was a near-mind blowing experience. From the superb visuals and the hidden story elements throughout, it’s one that will be remembered in years to come.

Score: 9/10 Will have you wracking your brain for days after you watch it.

The Light Between Oceans Review

I saw the trailer for The Light Between Oceans several months ago, and I wasn’t too interested. Romance films have never been my thing, but after hearing that Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were starring, and Derek Cianfrance (director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines) was behind the film, my interest piqued up. Let’s see if these three can bring me into the genre.

The Light Between Oceans stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz and Jack Thompson and is directed by Derek Cianfrance. The story follows lighthouse keeper Tom (Fassbender) and wife Isabel (Vikander), who are constantly trying for a baby with little success. One day a baby washes up on shore and they raise it as their own. A few years later the real mother comes looking for her baby.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention due to the leads being two of my favourite actors, and neither of them disappoint. Fassbender is a man haunted by his role in World War One, which is conveyed through incredibly expressive eyes, empty and vacated, wanting to get away from the world. Vikander is the complete opposite, young and starry-eyed, with hopeful ideas of romance and having children. Their blossoming romance and chemistry is enrapturing and believable, making the first hour a joy to watch. But that joy is shattered when the film goes through not only one, but two miscarriage scenes, and both Vikander and Fassbender give heartbreaking performances during the same opening act. That dissonance should be something no film would be able to come back from, a tonal whiplash that would kill off any audience enjoyment, but the arrival of the baby in the dinghy both gives Isabel and the film a new lease on life, with the romance film now becoming something much more mature and harrowing to go through.

The cinematography is a highlight of the film. Adam Arkapaw, (another favourite creator of mine), the cinematographer of Macbeth and the first season of True Detective, creates some excellent compositions. Due to the film being about a lighthouse keeper, the surrounding landscapes are sand dunes and open ocean, easy work for a DP as accomplished as Arkapaw. It’s a film that revels in the wilderness of the island and seas, with Fassbender or Vikander standing small in the frame, just to show the expanse of nature in comparison to them and their lives. The music adds to the sense of loneliness. Created by Alexsandre Desplat, the score is simple but memorable, with either a lone piano or a few strings moving in and out of key scenes. It elevates several moments and really brings out the emotion by the end of the film.

There were a few moments I was a bit at odds with. The start of the film is chopped together rather quickly, with Tom’s initial three months on the island and courtship of Isabel being no more than fifteen minutes. It would have been nice to extend this out, instead of just the two leads falling in love with each other at the outset of the film. Another reason was the story. While the film has long extended sections of excellent drama, sometimes it would drop into Nicholas Sparks levels of melodrama and clichés. It was rather annoying that the film would build up and have emotional resonance, but then would fall because of a scene that we’ve seen a million times before. I know that it’s based off an original book (written by M.L. Stedman), but it could have been handled better.

All throughout 2016, I’ve been complaining that this has been a terrible year for films, full of unnecessary sequels and movies not quite living up to hype. But I think with The Light Between Oceans, I think I find myself coming round to the idea that 2016 has gotten better as we’ve gone through.

Score: 8/10 Striking, haunting and wonderfully performed.

Doctor Strange Review

Damn it, I thought I had finished with these back in the summer. But no, now that Marvel and DC are releasing several movies per year, they have to stretch them out well past the usual release days. Marvel started their Phase Three earlier this year with Civil War, and now the second in the series is out in cinemas.

Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen and is directed by Scott Derrickson. The film follows Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon. After a car accident leaves him without the use of his hands, he trains in the mystic arts to try and heal himself.

The acting and cast range from being passable to looking incredibly bored. I wasn’t a fan of Cumberbatch’s casting as Strange, but he was fine , nothing too terrible about him. Tilda Swinton looks uninterested most of the time, not displaying any emotion throughout the film. Mads Mikkelsen is woefully underused, and is reduced to spouting nonsense in his scenes. Like most Marvel villains, he isn’t as interesting as he could have been. The best character is probably Rachel McAdams as Strange’s half-love interest. While it’s generic to see the only lady Strange interacts with reduced to the love interest, she manages to rise above the typecasting.

The special effects featured heavily in the promotion, and if you’re just wanting to go to the cinema for some pretty visuals, then Doctor Strange is a good choice. Due to the mystic arts, the world starts to fold in on itself and creates kaleidoscopic patterns across the screen. It’s very much like the city sequences in Inception or Paprika, but on a much larger scale. There is even a homage to Inception later on during a fight in a hallway, where the world keeps rotating, making the characters continually fall over and slide around.

The action scenes though leave a lot to be desired. Throughout the film we see students at the monastery that Strange visits practising kung fu, and even Strange starts fight training later on, but when it actually gets to the fisticuffs, it’s less Crouching Tiger and more Taken 3. The camera shakes around and cuts to odd angles, before showing us a pile of bodies on the floor. It gets even worse when the characters start using their powers. While they look good (the film does use CGI well), most of them are just a maelstrom of particle effects. They clog up the screen with so much visual pizzazz that we miss all the interesting parts. The final action scene though, when Strange and his teammates start using a more complex series of spells (and some ones that I won’t say here for the sake of spoilers), they do make the finale a visual delight.

Apart from the visuals though, there is not much going on underneath. The story is the same bog-standard origin that they’ve been recycling since the original Iron Man all the way back in 2008.You can pretty much guess how most of the film is going to play out, until the final third when things start to get a little meta. The third act seems to get going before the second act is even over, which signals a problem with how the film has been edited. The film doesn’t telegraph how much time has passed, it almost looks like Strange has become a master magician within the space of a week. The jokes as well are rather poor. Cumberbatch is the main deliverer of them, but they really don’t fit with his character. It would have been better to keep Strange as the stoic, mystery man that the trailers made him appear to be rather than popping out jokes now and again.

In the end, apart from some of the trippy visuals and the new character, Doctor Strange really has nothing new to show for itself. I guess if you’re heavily invested in the series you’ll have already seen it or be making plans, but for others, just leave it be.

Score: 6/10 Some cool visuals now and again don’t carry an entire film.

Café Society Review

Woody Allen is one of the most celebrated directors on the 20th century. With hits like Annie Hall and Manhattan, he’s loved for his quirky, almost self-loathing humour and existential crises. His last film, Irrational Man, released in 2015, was met with mixed response, so let’s see if his new film can do any better.

Café Society stars Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carrell, Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively and is written and directed by Woody Allen. The film follows Bobby Dorman (Eisenberg) who engages in the high society of both Hollywood and New York during the 1930s.

As the film is set during the early 1930s, the golden age of Hollywood, Café Society is in love with its time period, similar to The Coen Brother’s Hail, Caesar! earlier this year. Many references are made to Hollywood actors, actresses and directors, so if you’re not clued up on your Busby Berkeley’s and Greta Garbo’s you might not get as much enjoyment as I did from it. It’s not like Allen’s Midnight In Paris, with actors taking the place of the Era’s stars, most of them are just name-dropped, a shallow attempt for the characters to boast how many famous people they are friends with.

The 30s setting though gives us two great things, the music and the costumes. Our main character Bobby is a huge fan of jazz, constantly playing records while he potters around his house. Through the story he becomes owner of a club, with smooth jazz being played every night. The many parties he goes to show off the latter, with classic suits and elegant dresses. Everyone is wearing double-breasted jackets with wide lapels, bow ties, suspenders, it at least deserves a nomination for the both at when Oscar season rolls around.

The film is shot mainly in long takes. It isn’t the pretentious long takes of The Revenant, it’s more controlled, used when it fits the mood. In that fact, it feels more like a play rather than a film, with focus squarely on the actors, rather than lavish sets. The sets are subdued, mainly people’s back gardens and small parties, not the sprawling excess of films of the era.

After his mincing, over-the-top portrayal of Lex Luthor in Batman Vs Superman, Jesse Eisenberg seems to be redeeming himself by turning around from comic books to indie darlings. He is good as Bobby, moving from adorably geeky at the start to a high-flying socialite by the end. Kristen Stewart is perfect as Vonnie, the 30s version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that Bobby is infatuated with. Sure, it was easy to ridicule her during her Twilight days with her wooden acting, but she’s really grown as an actress since then. The show is stolen though by Corey Stoll in a small role as Bobby’s big brother Ben. A kingpin in the NYC underworld, his technique of getting rid of competition by giving them “cranial ventilation” (in his words) before burying them in concrete drew many laughs from the audience and fits into Allen’s recurring theme about the ethics of murder. Many other Allen motifs turn up, the eternally anxious main character, love and relationships (usually forbidden), classic cinema and of course, lots of Jewish-based humour.

The points that I didn’t really like were mainly story-based. The story is pretty predictable, nothing really new or different on-screen. The mood shifts wildly from light comedy to melancholy and back again, leaving me wondering whether I was meant to be laughing or feeling sympathetic for the characters. And even being a 96 minute film, it feels rather slow. The film dallies about, with events happening but no real story to speak of. It doesn’t build too much, ending rather abruptly.

In the end, Café Society will suit those who enjoy the vibe of the 30s with small dashes of comedy and melancholy. It will be more one for the indie crowd, but you should have a good time with it.

Score: 7/10 Brief fun and glamour in Classic Hollywood.

The Legend Of Tarzan Review

After a slew of uneventful, boring and drab summer blockbusters, (all three sum up Independence Day 2), we have to wait a few more weeks until we get some actually great movies (Jason Bourne and Finding Dory respectively). So let’s review a film from last week that I finally got round to watching, The Legend of Tarzan.

The Legend Of Tarzan stars Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson and is directed by David Yates. Based of the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film follows Tarzan (Skarsgård) who after living in London for several years is lured back to The Congo by a conspiracy been orchestrated by Captain Leon Rom (Waltz).

The Legend Of Tarzan is the perfect example of a B movie. Nobody was really asking for a new Tarzan film, he had his time from the silent era all the way into the 1960s. But there is just something about it, it has a little bit of Indiana Jones sense of adventure, of exotic locations and scheming villains that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

The acting is a rather mixed bag. While physically Skarsgård is a perfect Tarzan (the guy is huge, you totally believe he could be swinging around on vines) he doesn’t display too much emotion. He hasn’t much chemistry with Margot Robbie (this movie’s Jane) who is a charisma machine in whatever role she plays. Samuel L. Jackson is doing a less foul-mouthed version of one of his Tarantino characters, while Christoph Waltz’s Leon Rom is like a live-action version of Dick Dastardly. All of them are sadly let down by a weak script and some bizarre moments of comedy. A running joke by Jackson about monkey testicles seems really odd since it’s delivered in a scene where Tarzan is being beaten down by gorillas. It’s just an odd placement and destroys the tense mood.

The film tries to tie the mythical story of Tarzan to the true events in the Congo at the time, which also seems jarring. Jackson and Waltz’s characters are actual people, so it’s odd to see them mixing with the superhero acrobatics of Tarzan. Add in the real-life atrocities that Waltz’s character committed and it gets really quite uncomfortable.

Tarzan’s mythic quality could have explained away any other combatant. Tarzan is the books fought dinosaurs and Nazis. Who wouldn’t pay to see that, Ape Man fights Nazis? Waltz is already is costume as Belloq from Raiders Of the Lost Ark and there are several scenes where he seems to just replicating that character. Who cares if it’s historically inaccurate, this is a film about a man who climbs on trees and swings on vines, were pretty far from anything realistic at this point.

And since Tarzan is a man of the jungle, he also is able to talk to the animals. Sadly, the CGI is rather low quality. At a time where you have Andy Serkis’ Apes movies and this year’s other jungle-dwelling feral story, The Jungle Book, you really need to step up your game up when it comes to animation.

Don’t be fooled though, there is some greatness to be found in The Legend Of Tarzan. For one, it looks great. While a lot of the film was shot on sound stages, some photography was done in Gabon, allowing for endless sweeping shots of the plains and mountains. And while done on stages, the sets are well designed and realised. Opar, the fabled diamond mine where Djimon Hounsou’s Mbonga and the leopard men live is a stunning set and contains two great action scenes, both at the beginning and end of the film. Costumes as well are on point. Hounsou’s previously mentioned Mbonga, who wears leopard print, claws and bones, as well as Waltz’s all white linen suit fit into that adventure story mould.

In the end, I enjoyed The Legend of Tarzan on purely a anachronistic level. It’s not mind-blowing or transcendent and a little bit long, but it’s a good popcorn flick.

Score: 7/10 B Movie adventure ridiculousness.

Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

Love And Friendship Review

Jane Austen is a landmark of literature, with her books selling millions and being adapted over thirty times throughout their time. I sadly missed the newest (unofficial) adaptation earlier this year, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, but here comes another Austen adaptation, Love And Friendship.

 Love And Friendship stars Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel and Stephen Fry and is written and directed by Whit Stillman. Based on the short story Lady Susan by Jane Austen, the film follows Lady Susan (Beckinsale) as she tries to find a husband for herself and her daughter Frederica.

It’s rare that a film makes me smile from the very start. The opening of the film is just a credits roll, but just the way it was presented, with classical music playing in the background, it reminded me of the old English films from the 1940-50s, where they would present all of the cast before the film started. Love And Friendship is obviously tapping into that old style of filmmaking with its presentation.

However, the film has some wonderful post-modern additions, which supply a lot of the laughs in this romantic-comedy. Since the story is all about families and how they relate to each other, we get a family portrait of the characters, with their name and their role in the story, such as, Reginald De Courcy: A Young and Handsome Man. It’s almost a bit like Deadpool’s opening, where it cuts down the characters down to their stock types. The post modern influences keep coming, such as an extended sequence of reading a letter, punctuation and all, appearing on screen as text. Most of the jokes are these farcical moments, which have led the film to achieve a U certificate, since there is nothing rude, but it’s still bitingly funny.

Most of that comes down to the actors, who know how ridiculous the set up is and are relishing being able to chew the scenery with over-the-top performances. Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan shows off her ability as a comic performer, helming most of the jokes with perfect comedic timing.

The film feels almost like a play in many respects. There are only a few sets, the film containing the story to one manor house and then a few London streets. The original story was written in the form of letters, so it’s a big jump to move from that to a fully fleshed out story. It does take a while for the story to get going and understand what everyone’s role is, but it feels just like a classic Jane Austen work, with the themes, character and of course, ending with not one, but two weddings.

I did have a problem with the character drop at the beginning though. We are introduced to around four different families at the beginning, each with around four to five people in them and all intricately entwined with each other through marriages and siblings. I was confused for a good twenty minutes afterwards trying to figure out who is connected to who. It’s also a bit annoying that some characters, such as Stephen Fry’s Mr. Johnson are mentioned in the character drop but have about ninety seconds of screen time despite being mentioned as a main character.

The script might also be something that might throw off audiences. In the style of Austen, it’s all flowery dialogue, the type that uses forty words where ten would do fine. That’s part of the aesthetic, but some audiences members won’t get the jokes hidden beneath the heaps of “thou’s”, “thee’s” and “thy’s.”

In summary, Love And Friendship is an old school period piece that despite being over 200 years old is still incredibly funny. If you are a fan of Jane Austen you will love it, and if you’re everyone else, it’s a good recommendation.

Score: 7/10 Great performances and a witty script.

Creed Review

Rocky is one of the most recognisable film franchises in the world. It’s the film that was one of Sylvester Stallone’s first major roles and arguably his best-known role (with Rambo being his second). But now a new film steps away from the Rocky title, ready to make its own legacy using new characters from the Rocky world. That film is Creed.

Creed stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad and is written and directed by Ryan Coogler. The film follows Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, who decides he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlists Rocky (Stallone) to train him.

Ryan Coogler was the director of one of my Top 10 favourite films, Fruitvale Station and for a first film it’s a solid entry. Now with Creed, he’s showing that he will be soon be one of the most sought-after director’s working today. Coogler is already an expert at crafting a story and has a very good eye for composition and camera work.

Michael B. Jordan (who worked with Coogler before on Fruitvale Station) shines as Adonis Creed. The actor obviously bulked up and trained hard for the role and it pays off, he looks every part the fighter Creed would be. Sylvester Stallone is just Rocky again (you get what you pay for) but manages to add a lot more complexity to the role, with small scenes like him visiting the graves of loved ones or the little mementos of his family around his house adding to the character. Tessa Thompson (who was here last year in Dear White People) as Adonis’ love interest Bianca is a good addition, even if sometimes I didn’t quite think there was a lot of chemistry between her and Jordan.

The boxing fights, while not the main focus of the film, are punishing and bloodied. While there are only two full matches, Coogler and his cinematographer Maryse Alberti capture the gladiatorial bouts perfectly. The first fight, which looks like it was shot in one take, is breathtaking. The camera dances around the ring with our fighters, and it still manages to be engaging despite not having any noticeable edits in it. Edits help keep the pace up in a fight sequence, but all we have here is a very well choreographed scene with two actors who can sell the hell out of beating each other up. The final fight scene, while more traditionally edited than its earlier counterpart, is still very enjoyable, even if it has a weird edit where rounds are cut down to ten second montages.

The sound design in the fights is what sells it though. We hear every punch and every block, with some of the more heavy blows making me wince at the sound of it. It’s a film where you feel as if you are in the middle of the fight, almost to the point where you are about to start shouting along with the crowd. It’s hard not to get a contact high from it. It got to the point where I thought that the guys on screen facing Jordan weren’t actors but full-blown boxers they just got for the film (and then I went and looked it up for the review and found that is opponents were actually boxers).

I’d already addressed the main problem I had, that of the chemistry between Thompson and Jordan, but I’ll broaden it out a bit more. While they have some good scenes together, including a “first date which isn’t an actual date”, their blossoming relationship isn’t really expanded upon to any great length, which is a shame. It would have been nice to see these two together in more scenes and break away from the usual classical Hollywood tropes of romance subplots.

In summary, Creed is a breath of fresh air in a series that should have been dead a long time ago. To paraphrase what the old man said, “It’s not about how many films you make, it’s about how many you can make and still make them fun.”

Score: 8/10 Good, solid entertainment.