The Great Wall

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Andy Lau
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”)
Written by: Carlo Bernard (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”), Doug Miro (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”)

For those prematurely concerned with another Hollywood whitewashing of Asian culture when “The Great Wall” was announced with star Matt Damon, rest assured: this is most definitely a Chinese movie with Americans along for the ride. With most of the dialogue in Mandarin (with English subtitles) and some of the Chinese film industry’s biggest stars in actor Andy Lau and acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, “The Great Wall” doesn’t feel culturally compromised (at least to this ugly American), but it doesn’t ever fully embrace its potential for mash-up weirdness either.

When a pair of European men, William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), narrowly escape a monstrous creature while on the hunt for black powder in China during the Song dynasty, they stumble across the Great Wall as the color-coded soldiers prepare for an attack by the Tao Tie. The Chinese army, made of up archers, wall-walking infantrymen, and rope-assisted crane fighting women, are defending the capital from the creatures (essentially telepathic monster dogs who came to earth in a meteor and represent greed!). When William proves himself to be an effective warrior, he earns the trust of Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and devises a plan alongside the Chinese soldiers to defeat the dog-monsters once and for all.

While “The Great Wall” isn’t a bad movie, it is mostly a boring one—and one that leaves what could be epic multicultural weirdness on the table. Damon is fine, if not totally committed, to the role of a semi-scoundrel looking for honor, but the trio of screenwriters (including frequent Damon collaborator Tony Gilroy) fail to drum up much internal conflict for William—or anyone else for that matter. “The Great Wall” presents its conflict (the fight against the telepathic dog-monsters from space), the threat they pose (the dog-monsters have breached the Great Wall) and the unlikely secret weapon Damon introduces (a magnet!) that can help take the Tao Tie down and save the planet in the process. If that sounds potentially bananas, especially in the hands of Zhang, you’d be right. But “The Great Wall” never lives up to its batshit crazy potential.

Ep. 85 – Jason Bourne, Batman: The Killing Joke, and Cody broke his lil’ baby toe!

August 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod talk Jason Bourne, Batman: The Killing Joke, recap the Bridesmaids champagne party, and figure out just how Cody managed to break his toe.

[00:00-17:25] Intro/Bridesmaids recap/Cody’s toe

[17:25-30:02] Jason Bourne

[30:02-43:27] Batman: The Killing Joke

[43:27-48:08] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Jason Bourne

July 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by: Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Captain Phillips”)
Written by: Paul Greengrass (“United 93”) and Christopher Rouse (debut)

When we last saw Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) nine years ago, he had finally found himself. It turns out his real name was David Webb, and he was a good soldier who signed up for the Treadstone program run by the CIA that created brutal, badass, and brainwashed assassins. After spending three films on the run, dodging surveillance and special agents unleashed upon him from various corrupt men and women in computer-filled rooms across the globe, Bourne was free—so to speak. So much so that you could be forgiven for thinking his story was over. After all, Damon and director Paul Greengrass had seemingly hung things up and Universal had moved on, crafting the unsatisfying side-quel “The Bourne Legacy” with Jeremy Renner as a Bourne-adjacent character named Aaron Cross.

In my review of that film from 2012, I accused the studio of pulling “a ‘Teen Wolf Too'” and making “a movie where everyone knows who Jason Bourne is, but since he’s not around they just made the story about this other guy who’s just like him instead and called it ‘The Bourne Legacy.’” Eager to get the eternally-bland taste of Renner out of everyone’s mouth, Damon and Greengrass returned to retake the franchise, and the result is…well, the pretty bland “Jason Bourne.”

Bourne foil-turned-associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) opens the film hacking into the CIA to steal classified files for the movie’s proxy Edward Snowden (the real-life Snowden and the rise of social inform this universe more than the original trilogy’s post-Cold War paranoia). When she’s made by agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) figures Bourne can’t be far behind. An assassin with ties to Bourne (Vincent Cassel) is dispatched to kill the pair. When Bourne slips through their fingers and is put on the trail of his dead father, Lee and Dewey work to stop Bourne from exposing the agency’s secrets. You know…again.

The problem with “Jason Bourne” is that it never finds a sense of purpose—much like the character himself. The first three films in the series were about Bourne finding out how he became who he is now—and those questions were answered. Nearly a decade later, “Jason Bourne” asks “what about Bourne’s dad?” And really, the answer is about what you’d expect. Stir in yet another corrupt CIA official, a half-hearted stab at social media privacy, and some frankly dolt-ish faux consumer electronics gear, and you might wish Bourne had stayed in hiding instead of going through the motions one more time.

The Martian

October 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)

In recent years, director Ridley Scott has gone from Oscar-nominated visionary director, to that guy who made that movie where Cameron Diaz copulates with a car windshield, among other recent cinematic atrocities. It’s a cold streak that, save for the unfairly over-criticized but still average “Promethus,” has firmly moved Scott out of the list of prestige directors. “The Martian,” which is adapted from one of the best received novels of the last few years, tests the theory that perhaps Scott still has the talent and just needed some help tapping into it again.

During a storm on a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and separated from the rest of his crew. Presumed dead, the crew takes off and heads back to Earth. Hours later, Watney wakes up realizing he has been stranded on Mars. With no communication, no clear way to let people know he is alive, and limited supplies, Watney is forced to find a way to stay alive and get in touch with Earth before he runs out of resources.

The sprawling cast of “The Martian” is impressive, with strong supporting turns from actors like Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejoifor. The film, however, belongs to Damon. Displaying why he is the movie star that he is, Damon devours every second of screen time he gets. Watney is a character that, despite his situation, stays in relatively good spirits, which is a testament not only to the character design, but to the nuances of Damon’s performance as the sarcastic botanist.

The other star of the film besides Damon is the screenplay by Drew Goddard. Filled with tension and artfully told through the use of video logs, Goddard is able to bring life and humanity out of isolation. Perhaps the greatest quality of Goddard’s fantastic script is its use of humor. “The Martian” is legitimately funny, largely thanks to the way Damon’s smart-ass, witty character is written, but is even successful with a few sight gags. It adds a level of levity to an otherwise serious situation, keeping the film engaging, thoroughly entertaining and striking a tonal balance between drama and humor that few movies are able to accomplish. It also helps bring out the best in Damon, who delivers his dialogue with comedic ease. He radiates charisma.

Another great quality of the screenplay is how time is split between Damon on Mars and NASA back on Earth. There are little pockets of parallel storylines that unfold and keep things engaging, primarily between Watney’s ingenuity and NASA trying to avoid a PR catastrophe. It’s edited well enough that neither story goes untold for too long and each is fascinating in its own light.

“The Martian” is the total cinematic package. It’s humorous, gripping, intelligent and extremely entertaining. It could have possibly use a touch more of an emotional pull, especially in terms of what is at stake and relationship building, but that feels like a nitpick considering everything else that “The Martian” masterfully accomplishes. Welcome back, Ridley Scott. Perhaps next time you should make sure you bring Goddard along with you.

Monuments Men

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”)
Written by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”) and Grant Heslov (“The Ides of March”)

Historically speaking, “Monuments Men,” a film about a platoon of art appreciators who put their lives on the line to rescue priceless works of art from the Nazis during World War II, is a fascinating story and one that everyone should definitely be aware of. Cinematically speaking, however, director George Clooney’s latest isn’t the film they should trust to make it a lasting experience. As much as it would like to be considered more of a heist movie than an actual war movie, “Monuments Men” comes up extremely short on both fronts.

Sent on a mission by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reclaim thousands of famous artworks stolen by the Germans across Europe, art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together his ragtag team of curators and museum directors to save what they can before Hitler puts it in his own museum or burns it. The team includes art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman). Other actors joining the bumpy ride are Billy Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas and Bob Balaban. Somewhere along the way, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett are used sparingly, although their story is probably the most compelling part of the entire narrative. Simply put: there are just not enough pages in the script to make them fully-realized characters. There isn’t even enough content for the men on the frontlines themselves, who basically mill around until it’s time for them to uncover the next trove of art.

Despite the impressive cast, Clooney’s cheeky “Ocean’s 11”-style approach to the film wasn’t in the best interest of the narrative in the least bit. The tone is playful throughout, which takes away from the seriousness of the subject at hand. Even when Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov want to break away from the silliness, they fail to give the men any motivation so the characters can pull us in emotionally. Whether it’s during a scene where the men find a burnt frame belonging to a painting of Pablo Picasso, thus confirming the importance of their mission, or a scene where Murray breaks down because he misses his family, none of it rings true.

So far in his directorial career, Clooney has done some impressive work when the subject feels mature. Films like “The Ideas of March” and especially “Good Night, and Good Luck” are proof of that. But here, Clooney attempts to mix and match what he did with those films and what he did with his more lighthearted football-themed comedy “Leatherheads.” The outcome is a mess and one that, we’re sure, Clooney probably won’t be making during his next project.

Elysium

August 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Directed by: Neil Blomkamp (“District 9”)
Written by: Neil Blomkamp (“District 9”)

For someone who created such an intriguing docu-style sci-fi film in 2009’s Apartheid-inspired “District 9,” director/writer Neil Blomkamp sure had a lot to live up to with his much-anticipated follow-up “Elysium.” It’s a level Blomkamp might’ve been able to reach again had it not been for his extremely heavy-handed treatment of the political themes he juggles throughout. From immigration reform to affordable healthcare to the vanishing middle class in America, Blomkamp bundles it all up and slams viewers over the head with it. It’s a surefire way to get an audience’s attention, but taking a more subtle approach would’ve meant more in the long run.

Set in 2154, “Elysium,” stars Matt Damon (“Promised Land”) as Max De Costa, a factory worker on a derelict planet Earth who is staring death in the face after an accident exposes him to a fatal dose of radiation. The only way Max can survive is if he illegally travels to Elysium, a man-made space station hovering over the globe, where only the wealthy live (think “one-percenters”) and where they are afforded the use of healing pods that can cure anyone of any ailment or injury.

With no realistic way to get to Elysium, however, Max is forced to earn a ticket there by letting an underground smuggler fit him into a brain-utilizing contraption, which will allow him to steal government files from a high profile official (William Fichtner). Overseeing everything that happens on Elysium is Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster hamming it up badly with an absurd accent to match), who sends out a sleeper agent (Sharlto Copely) to track Max before he gets a whiff of Elysian air. Max’s life isn’t the only one hanging in the balance. The daughter of a lifelong friend of his (Alicia Braga) is also desperate to get to Elysium and jump into a healing pod.

While the problem and solution is set up without much of a hitch, it’s the ridiculously obvious ways Blomkamp moves the story forward that make “Elysium” feel preachy and melodramatic. “District 9” was far more metaphorical in its political agenda. “Elysium,” however, wants to spoon feed audiences ideas about why the current U.S. class system (and other topical issues) is leading us down a path to a dystopian future. We get it, Blomkamp! If America doesn’t change its ways, Earth is bound to end up a bigger wasteland than Detroit. Now, gimme my welfare check!

To his credit, Blomkamp has an incredible eye for sci-fi and the imagination to roll out some interesting set pieces and environments that make “Elysium” look beautifully bleak. It’s unfortunate, however, that he couldn’t just step off the soapbox for a few minutes and remind us there’s more to the story than what a silly little fable can offer.

Contagion

September 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law
Directed by:  Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”)
Written by:  Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”)

Once a year or so, a national news program will trot out one of those gross-out ratings-grabber stories about just how dirty and germ-filled your workplace is. The reporter will take cotton swabs and run them across objects officemates unconsciously touch like doorknobs, copy machines and keyboards. Back at the laboratory, the Petri dishes invariably explode into a horror show of nasty germs that make you shudder at the thought of opening a door and eating a sandwich without dousing your hands in gallons of sanitizer. Who wants to catch Scarlet fever from simply grabbing the handle on the break room fridge?

In “Contagion,” the new film from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”), the ickiness of passing germs around willy-nilly by touch turns deadly when a new virus emerges causing international pandemonium. Before anyone knows what’s going on, the virus has already gone global by way of carriers like the coughing man on the bus who grabs every pole and handrail before he comes to his stop, the sick kid leaving a snot smear on the door as he leaves school, and “patient zero” playing poker at the casino and passing infected chips around the table.

Here, “patient zero” is Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), an American businesswoman who brings the virus to the U.S. from Hong Kong. Returning home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and her young son, Beth kicks off a chain reaction of infection in her hometown of Minneapolis (as well as Chicago, by way of a quickie extra-marital fling on the way home). The outbreak attracts the attention of the Centers for Disease Control, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) as well as that of inflammatory blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law). Cheever dispatches Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to track down everyone exposed to the virus in the states while Krumwiede pokes and prods and generally cries “government/pharmaceutical conspiracy!” at every turn.  The globe-trotting narrative works well in the character-heavy plot, which includes a World Health Organization doctor (Marion Cotillard) sent to trace the origin of the virus and scientists (Jennifer Ehle, Elliot Gould, Demetri Martin) charged with developing a vaccine. Mitch and his desire to protect his daughter as society crumbles around them stays at the center of the chilling story.

Soderbergh’s deft direction of a sprawling cast peppered with Oscar winners and nominees feels breezy and effortless, even when the story spirals into the darkness and questions what an event like this would bring to the real world. The only element that rings false is Law’s provocative celebrity blogger character, which is a clear attempt to modernize the old “intrepid reporter” archetype the rise of internet journalism has rendered obsolete. Fortunately, the rest of the film is rooted firmly enough in reality to make you thoroughly wash your hands afterward, and maybe turn your head in mild panic when someone coughs in a crowded room.

True Grit

December 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Directed by: Joel Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Written by: Joel Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)

While the Coen brothers have dabbled with western themes in a few of their past films including “The Big Lebowski” and “No Country for Old Men,” the duo has finally tightened up their boot straps and given us their own dusty, old-fashioned take on the genre with such craftsmanship you would think they’ve been doing it for years. Without comparing the film to John Wayne’s original of 1969, the Coen’s version stands on its own with noteworthy performances by Jeff Bridges as a marshall out to get his man and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who steals just about every scene she is in.

Inside Job

November 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon (narrator)
Directed by: Charles Ferguson (“No End in Sight”)

A documentary turns out to be a more intimate story when it can put a human face to a problem or situation. But what if the face it presents is one you’d like to punch square in the jaw? “Inside Job” is the kind of film that should light a fire inside anyone who understands the current financial crisis in the U.S. even at its most basic level.

It probably depends on your politics, however, whether to believe the elaborate information director Charles Ferguson spoon feeds audiences through a heap of talking-head interviews and statistics. For an economist, it can’t get much more interesting than this.

For everyone else, “Inside Job” wants you to know at least one thing when you step out of the theater: No one has been held accountable for the economic downturn the country has experienced over the last three years. In fact, the individuals who should be taking responsibility for the ever-growing debt are actually getting richer, while the average, middle-class American citizen is struggling to pay rent, put food on the table, and find a decent job.

At least Ferguson unapologetically points the finger at the major players who need to answer for their actions. Whether they’re the right people is up to every moviegoer, but Ferguson is surprisingly more bipartisan than most conservatives would like to think. When your last film was a critical analysis of the George W. Bush administration and the war in Iraq (“No End in Sight”) you tend to have people think of you as more of a liberal.

But Ferguson finds fault everywhere. Like with any documentary film, it’s up to the viewer to take the information offered and let it process in their own way. The stats, graphs, charts and economic jargon might be a bit overwhelming for some, but Ferguson packages it as tightly as possible to spur at least some anger even from viewers who couldn’t tell you the different between a subprime lender and a sub sandwich.

Hereafter

October 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Ceclie de France, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Invictus”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”)

Filmmaker Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven”) has such a gentle way of telling a story, even when the narrative experiments with darker themes Eastwood rarely strays from his comfort zone. But in his new film “Hereafter,” the two-time Academy Award-winning director shows he can’t always create affecting scenes through subtle storytelling. Beneath its restrained tone, the supernatural drama actually becomes lethargic.

In “Hereafter,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) collaborates with Eastwood to tell the story of George, a former psychic who can communicate with the dead but no longer practices because of the emotional toll it has taken on his life.

“It’s not a gift, it’s a curse,” George repeats as if he were some kind of comic book superhero questioning his newfound abilities to spin webs or become hulky and green when he gets angry.

George is drawn back into his work as a psychic when he meets a French TV reporter (Ceclie de France) whose near-death experience in a tsunami has changed her overall outlook on things. George is also moved by a young British schoolboy who is persistent about contacting his twin brother in the afterlife. The question on everyone’s mind: what happens after we die?

It’s a familiar theme we’ve all seen before on the big screen, but the way Eastwood confronts it is unoriginal and hokey. The same grim style Eastwood used in past films like “Gran Torino” and “Million Dollar Baby” has become his calling card, but without providing a true connection to the characters involved, we’re left with profound questions lingering in a screenplay that merely skims the surface.

What we know midway through “Hereafter” is that these separate stories will intersect and somehow make a type of philosophical statement about life and death. Nothing, however, comes as close to being as powerful as the impressive computer-generated tsunami that hits a village in the film’s opening scene. You know you’re in trouble when the best parts of an Eastwood movie are the special effects.

Green Zone

March 13, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs
Directed by: Paul Greengrass (“United 93”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River”)

While there are plenty of thrilling moments in this political war game, director Paul Greengrass does something he didn’t come close to doing in his masterpiece that was “United 93” – he preaches up a storm. It’s unfortunate that Greengrass can’t play the film down the middle. With a pulse-pounding performance by Matt Damon, “Green Zone” could have been so much more than just some time behind the political pulpit.

Invictus

December 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Gran Torino”)
Written by: Anthony Peckham (“Don’t Say a Word”)

Rather than give us a straightforward biopic about Nelson Mandela, two-time Oscar winning director Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”) takes the spirit of the former President of South Africa and captures the essence of his political achievement and activism in the affecting film “Invictus.” More than an inspiring story, it enhances the definition of “inspirational sports drama.”

Starring Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) as Mandela, “Invictus,” which is based on the John Carlin book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation,” tells the story of how the former President used the sport of rugby to help unite a nation split by anger and resentment.

The film begins with the release of Mandela from prison in 1990. Mandela, who had been incarcerated for 28 years for crimes committed as an anti-apartheid activist, returned to the political spotlight soon after his release and was elected the country’s first black President four years later. After 46 years of apartheid, South Africa was at a turning point and Mandela was at the forefront of managing civil unrest.

To impede the racial power struggle in his homeland, Mandela, who recognized the passion his fellow countrymen had for rugby, recruits rugby captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to lead the national team to victory. Mandela’s theory was that their success on the field would bring a sense of pride to South Africa everyone could share together as a unified country.

Mandela, however, didn’t want the team, which was known at the Springbok, to simply improve. He wanted them to win the 1995 World Cup. Doing this would not only pose a challenge for the fairly average rugby team. Mandela would have to sell his idea to black South Africans, who preferred soccer and viewed the almos all-white Springbok as a sad reminder of their segregated past.

In a classic and low-key performance, Freeman encapsulates Mandela with conviction although screenwriter Anthony Peckham doesn’t explore multiple layers that make up the iconic leader. Instead, “Invictus” plays more symbolically especially when Freeman’s Mandela uses respect and kindheartedness in attempt to realize to his political aspirations.

There might be a bit of an emotional disconnection since Eastwood and Peckham don’t explain much of anything when it comes to apartheid (study up before you come to the theater to understand the historical significance), but overall “Invictus” is all about precision and heart both on and off the rugby field.

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