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Non-Review Review: Stillwater

Stillwater is effectively three different movies bundled together. Each of those three movies have their own merits and their own weaknesses, but none of them really work when bundled together.

Stillwater stars Matt Damon as Bill Baker, a demolition worker from the eponymous town in Oklahoma. His daughter Allison is five years into a nine-year sentence in Marseilles, having been found guilty of a sensational crime involving the death of her roommate. Even half a decade later, Allison still protests her innocence and Bill tries to maintain some connection with his previously estranged daughter. However, the past is pulled into the present when a potential new lead opens up.

Damon’s demons.

Stillwater is directed by Tom McCarthy, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar (and was nominated for the Best Director Oscar) for his work on Spotlight. McCarthy has kept relatively busy since winning the award, collaborating on the script for Christopher Robin and doing uncredited rewrites on The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. However, Stillwater still feels likes something of a long-awaited return from McCarthy as a prestige filmmaker. Stillwater is built around a central movie star, deals with weighty issues, and even (faintly) echoes the very public spectacle of the Amanda Knox trial.

However, the film never coheres into a compelling narrative. It is disjointed and uneven, bouncing clumsily between tones and struggling to anchor itself as it switches freely between genres. Stillwater doesn’t run quite as deep as it needs to.

An American in Marseilles.

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208. The Departed – Summer of Scorsese (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Aoife Martin, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, Age of Innocence, KundunThe Aviator, Shutter Island, Hugo. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Boston gangster Frank Costello believes that boundaries are fungible: sinner/saint, hero/villain, cop/criminal. Sending one of his young followers to infiltrate the local police department, Costello quickly discovers that something similar is happening to him. As the stakes escalate, the boundaries between policemen and gangsters blur, as Colin Sullivan and Billy Costigan straddle the gulf.

At time of recording, it was ranked 44th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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157. Ford v. Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) – This Just In (#156)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, James Mangold’s Ford v. Ferrari.

In response to the worst sales slump in American history, the Ford Motor Company embraces a radical idea: it will build a car to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, in order to do that, it needs to recruit and work with two radicals who have their own unique approach to engineering and racing, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. These two mavericks soon discover that their allies in Ford might be as dangerous as their enemies at Ferrari.

At time of recording, it was ranked 156th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: The Martian

The beauty of The Martian lies in its relative simplicity. Although it runs a solid two-hours-and-twenty-minutes, the film seems a lot faster than many of its contemporaries because it keeps its eyes on a very simply central dynamic. Within the opening five minutes, the movie’s status quo is established with breathless efficiency; astronaut Mark Whatney is left for dead on the surface of Mars, and must struggle to survive as the entire planet figures out how to get him back alive.

The premise is very straightforward, and seldom gets more complicated than that. Mark tries to figure out how to stay alive as the greatest minds back home work on daring plans to establish communication and possible retrieve the lost astronaut. Along the way, both Mark and NASA suffer setbacks and reversals; complications abound and dilemmas present themselves. However, The Martian is always anchored in that very basic struggle against overwhelming odds and an indifferent universe.

Is there life on Mars?

Is there life on Mars?

The Martian is something of a genre cocktail. The movie’s tone and plot is perhaps best evoked by reference to Byron Haskin’s 1964 cult classic “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” Mark’s plight is not too dissimilar to that of the Robert Lewis Stevenson protagonist, nor to that of Chuck Noland in Cast Away or the anonymous protagonist of All is Lost. However, the movie’s stellar setting serves as a gateway to a broader commentary on human codependency and association. Nobody gets there on their own; nobody gets back alone.

The Martian is a surprisingly heartwarming and life-affirming adventure, anchored in a charming central performance from Matt Damon and a very deep ensemble. Despite the massive sense of scale involved, Ridley Scott’s direction and Drew Goddard’s script work hard to keep it all personal. The Martian is a triumph.

Matt Damon was very excited about the film's release...

Matt Damon was very excited about the film’s release…

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Non-Review Review: Elysium

Elysium is good old-fashioned high-concept science-fiction. With production design alternately evoking the seventies (the upper class satellite that gives the movie its name) and eighties (the apocalyptic wasteland of future Los Angeles), Elysium feels like a conscious attempt to evoke classic genre films. Blomkamp builds in a healthy amount of social commentary, and there’s something quite satisfying in seeing a large-scale science-fiction film that isn’t afraid of big bold ideas.

However, the execution feels just a little bit muddled. The plotting is a little convoluted, and the third act becomes incredibly messy. The characters inhabiting the world never seem organic, with their motivations and behaviour prone to change rapidly to meet the rapidly-changing demands of a very messy script.

In a bit of a fix...

In a bit of a fix…

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Watch! Extended Elysium Trailer!

I really liked District 9, even if my love for the film wasn’t quite unreserved. Director Neil Blomkamp is one to watch, and the latest trailer for his upcoming science-fiction film, Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, has arrived. It’s out in the States on August 9th. The release date is – unfortunately – being staggered, so European audiences will have to wait two weeks to see the film. Hopefully it’s worth waiting for.

 

Non-Review Review: Behind the Candelabra

It’s a shame that Behind the Candelabra didn’t receive a theatrical release in the United States. It’s a shame for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s a shame that the studios think so little of American audiences that they’d refuse a relatively meagre $5m budget for a Liberace biopic which was “too gay.” It’s a shame that Steven Soderbergh’s last film will not be shown in American cinemas, given his recent discussions about the state of the medium. It’s a shame that none of the talented people involved in the film (from Michael Douglas through to make-up artists Todd Kleitsch and Christine Beveridge) will never garner the awards attention they so sorely deserve.

It’s also a shame because Behind the Candelabra is just a damn fine piece of cinema, and one which deserves a little time on the big screen.

Cloaked in mystery...

Cloaked in mystery…

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Watch! Trailer for Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land!

Universal Pictures Ireland just sent over this trailer for the upcoming reunion of Matt Damon and Gus Van Sant, Promised Land. The actor and director famously worked together on the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, so it’ll be interesting to see if their latest collaboration can match that Oscar-winning gem. Much like Good Will Hunting, Van Sant has surrounded Damon with a powerhouse cast including veterans like Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook, younger developing talents like John Krasinski and Scoot McNairy, and even familiar faces like Titus Welliver. It’s certainly worth a look.

Non-Review Review: The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy is the kind of trick you only get to pull once. It’s an interesting narrative experiment, but it doesn’t really work as its own movie. It almost feels, at times, like a deleted subplot from the second two films in the trilogy, removed and expanded to fill two-hours-and-a-half. It’s certainly an interesting idea, and it’s a clever way of skirting the issues created by Matt Damon’s refusal to return, but the problem is that The Bourne Legacy never feels like it is entirely its own film. While it features two characters who have their own arc, the overall plot plays out according to storybeats that are happening off screen – in another story with another agent. It’s a fascinating take on the summer blockbuster, but I’m not convinced it’s an entirely successful one.

Bourne again?

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Bourne Legacy: A Look Inside the Story…

Have to admit, I’m quite curious to see how The Bourne Legacy plays out. It’s being released in the States on Friday and here next Monday. I’ve written before about how the structure of the film intrigues me, and Universal Pictures Ireland just sent over this behind-the-scenes look at the film. Enjoy. And if any international readers get a chance to see this before I do, let me know what you thought. (No spoilers, please!)

You can also win some Bourne-related goodies here, with thanks to Universal.