Out on Friday 29 July
Pixar introduces a seven-limbed secret weapon. Ethan Hawke is the fabulous Baker boy. The American author who fooled he world.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Jason Bourne, Finding Dory, Born to Be Blue, Barry Lyndon, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, The Intent, The Commune, and Traders.
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It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bourne trilogy redefined modern action thrillers. Taking Bond to town with a weaponised ballpoint pen, it was a relevant, intelligent and furiously intense reinvention of the espionage genre. The less said about black sheep spin-off The Bourne Legacy the better, because Bourne’s back: Matt Damon here reunites with Supremacy/Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass to show action cinema’s Johnny-come-latelies how it’s done. But while Bond adapted and thrived under the new world order, for better or worse Jason Bourne is a film that’s stranded in the past.
When we’re reacquainted with the former super-assassin for the first time since 2007 he’s bare-knuckle boxing to eke out a living near the Greek/Albanian border. Believing “all that matters is you get off the grid, survive”, he’s forced back into action by former Treadstone field operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) after she hacks into the CIA with the intention of leaking dirty secrets. Part of Nicky’s discovery: a secret from Bourne’s past that puts him on a collision course with Tommy Lee Jones’ shady CIA director Robert Dewey, Alicia Vikander’s idealistic agent Heather Lee and Vincent Cassel’s lethal Asset.
Wasting little time before its first adrenalised action sequence – a motorbike chase through the streets of Athens amid a city-wide riot – there’s a tangible sense of relief that Greengrass hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to Bourne’s trailblazing action. Zipping between burning cars as fireworks are launched like RPGs at riot shields, it’s a breath-snatching pursuit that proves that for all the times Greengrass’ ultra-intimate handheld camerawork and frenetic editing have been imitated, they’ve never been bettered. Few directors could craft such clarity out of absolute chaos.
Taking in detours to Berlin and London, the film’s action highlight is a Las Vegas destruction derby which boasts collateral damage that would make Zack Snyder wince, as a SWAT van twists metal on the Las Vegas strip. It’s a sequence that runs the risk of feeling too big for the series, but never shatters the carefully cultivated sense of heightened realism. Peculiarly, bone-crunching close quarters combat is thin on the ground, with just one noteworthy encounter that lives in the shadow of superior scraps from the first three films. And while JB’s action won’t disappoint on a kinetic level, it never pushes the series forward. It may be bigger, but it isn’t smarter, the film lacking a single moment of memorable über-cool to rival the rolled-up magazine for thrilling quick-thinking.
The Bourne films have always been blockbusters with their fingers on the political pulse, and here Greengrass turns his attention over to online privacy post-Wikileaks. Not only does Bourne have to contend with a CIA surveillance upgrade, but the story orbits Riz Ahmed’s Aaron Kalloor – a web genius who makes a deal with the CIA to snoop on his users. The world has changed significantly since Bourne was last on the scene, yet for all the assertions that now was the right time to bring the $100m weapon out of hiding, it never feels vital to the story.
The personal mission he’s given here has the whiff of an awkward retcon, never feeling like an organic continuation of Bourne’s quest for an identity, particularly when a contrived revelation ties events of the past to the concerns of the present. Worse, Bourne’s vulnerability, the psychological trauma of his 32 CIA kills and 12 years in the cold are never addressed or used to move the character forward.
There are new CIA suits to contend with, of course, chief among them Tommy Lee Jones’ ruthless director. Jones is reliably curmudgeonly, but Dewey verges on cartoonishly evil. Vikander’s Heather Lee makes a more compelling foil. Ambitious and idealistic, she’s keen to bring Bourne in, but just as keen to progress up the career ladder. Cassel’s lone killer meanwhile is the most fleshed-out orbits and remorseless Asset to date – the French firecracker doing a superb job of conveying murderous intent with little more than a menacing glare.
Annoyingly, it’s a film that also falls foul of blatant sequel baiting, teasing a list of Treadstone successor programmes and leaving characters hanging in a way that demands a follow up. Whether it warrants further entry is another question; any successor must stop delving into Bourne’s past and finally make good on his future.
THE VERDICT: Leagues ahead of Legacy but the weakest of the Matt Damon movies, Bourne still has the power to thrill. But it seems his story has run out of steam.
Director: Paul Greengrass; Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016
Pixar’s sequels to date have ranged from the sublime (Toy Storys 2 and 3) and the serviceable (Monsters University) to the unnecessary (Cars 2). The good news for Finding Dory, the animation powerhouse’s belated but welcome return to the underwater universe of 2003’s Finding Nemo, is that it firmly sits at the upper end of that quality spectrum.
The not-so-good news is that it’s still a few leagues beneath its Oscar-winning predecessor. Dory, you may recall, was the scatty blue tang fish whose defining characteristic – short-term memory loss – didn’t stop her helping clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks) reunite with his lost son Nemo 13 years ago.
Andrew Stanton’s follow-up, co-directed by Angus MacLane, starts ingeniously by revealing how the infant Dory came to terms with her disability with the help of Jenny and Charlie (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), adoring parents she inevitably forgot about the moment they separated.
Cut to the present: Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) decides that things would be a whole lot better if she tracked down mum and dad, the existence of whom she has been briefly reminded by a convenient thump to the head. So across the sea she journeys, with Marlin and Nemo in tow, convinced a tearful family reunion awaits her at the Marine Life Institute in California where she spent her formative days.
What actually awaits her is a cantankerous octopus (Ed O’Neill), a short-sighted whale shark and a disembodied Sigourney Weaver (continuing the Pixar/Stanton association that began in Wall-E) as the voice of the aquarium’s public address system. Cue some often literal fish-out-of-water exploits as Dory follows a trail of clues that whisks her through the facility’s various exhibition zones, from the idyllic environs of ‘Open Ocean’ to the terrifyingly child-friendly ‘Touch Pool’: a deceptively placid lagoon where malleable crustaceans cower in fear of kid hands plunging in their direction.
Restricting the action to a solitary location enables a number of new characters to make their mark, among them a pair of rock-coveting basking seals (Wire duo Dominic West and Idris Elba) and a bashful Beluga (Ty Burrell) whose echolocation abilities help Dory on her quest. Considering the first film had an entire ocean at its disposal, however, you can’t help feeling shortchanged by this one’s comparative non-expansiveness, even if it does provide O’Neill’s tentacled chameleon a host of opportunities to blend in with his backgrounds.
It’s fair to say that Hank is Dory’s seven-limbed secret weapon. His ability to slink, scamper and dangle, and assume virtually any form, brings out the very best in Pixar’s tireless army of animators. (He stretches his skill further in the movie’s climactic set-piece.) Again, though, your appreciation is tempered by the fact that Pixar is arriving late at this particular party, rival DreamWorks having already explored the possibilities of octopoid contortions in Penguins of Madagascar.
Having our heroes encounter a giant squid en route to the MLI also means we get two cephalopods in succession, introducing a repetitive element that’s hardly helped by the number of scenes set inside pipes. You’ll lose count too of the times that Kaitlin Olson’s myopic Destiny collides with walls, a running gag that quickly becomes as familiar as the “Off! Off!” refrain to which West and Elba resort whenever another seal encroaches on their territory.
Thankfully Finding Dory has enough moments of captivating beauty to ameliorate its flaws. One scene in which a nocturnal star-scape is reflected in its protagonist’s inky pupils conveys an abyss of yearning, while another involving a flurry of migrating manta rays will leave you gobsmacked.
A later scene where Dory’s selective amnesia returns is as heartrending as anything Pixar have given us since Up, while the use of ‘What A Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong at a pivotal moment in the narrative is hilarious and audacious. Elevating Dory from comic relief/sidekick to heroine, moreover, it sends out a positive message about not just surviving but thriving with an impairment – an overdue corrective, perhaps, in a genre with a rather patchy track record when it comes to depicting mental and physical disorders.
After the underperforming The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory could hardly be anything else but a partial return to form. For all its delights though, it remains something of a placeholder from an outfit that, as Inside Out proved, is capable of so much more.
THE VERDICT: For all its attempts to expand the original’s ensemble and embellish its themes, Dory is cod in batter beside Nemo’s smoked salmon. But still tasty.
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane; Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Diane Keaton, Idris Elba; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016
BORN TO BE BLUE
On the heels of Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead comes another unconventional jazz biopic – this time focusing on Miles Davis contemporary Chet Baker. Those seeking a potted history of the musician may be left disappointed or confused: writer/director Robert Budreau offers a meta-story that sees real and apocryphal events bounce off each other like notes from Baker’s trumpet.
But for those looking for something more daring, Born to Be Blue is an impressive, impressionistic rendering of Baker’s life. Embodied brilliantly by a rarely better Ethan Hawke, Baker’s rise and fall is never clear-cut or clichéd, even if events like his crippling heroin addiction and the loss of his front teeth in a mugging could easily send it that way.
Epitomised by the black-and-white scenes of Baker on the set of a movie of his own life (a project that in reality was proposed but never filmed), it’s certainly not to be taken as literal. Rather it encapsulates the spirit of Baker’s music, his bravery, his weaknesses and his do-or-die attitude to artistry. Playing a composite of the women in his life, Carmen Ejogo adds class, as do the smoky visuals – a perfect complement to Baker’s beautiful sound.
THE VERDICT: Boasting a fantastic turn from Ethan Hawke, this is bold indie filmmaking. Budreau and his stars deserve a fanfare.
Director: Robert Budreau; Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie; Theatrical release: July 25, 2016
Lifted from Thackeray’s 1844 satirical novel, Stanley Kubrick’s innovative, non-sentimental overhaul of lit-pic clichés transcends its remote reputation. Mapping an Irish rascal’s (Ryan O’Neal) lusty, scrappy route up in life, this 1975 epic moves, then mesmerises.
O’Neal is a blank slate among full-bodied casting, but that suits Kubrick’s bayonetsharp theme of lives shaped/shafted by cold fate, authority and ritual. And there’s nothing blank about the pioneering images: between the vast exteriors and candlelit interiors, the expressive authority of Kubrick’s direction is breathtaking.
Director: Stanley Kubrick; Starring: Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, Leon Vitali; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016
AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY
With his works of tortured Americana, wunderkind author JT LeRoy beguiled the 1990s literati, before ‘he’ was revealed to be the ‘avatar’ of writer Laura Albert. Like 2012’s The Imposter shorn of all subtlety, Jeff Feuerzeig’s doc intersperses Albert’s confessions with gushing endorsements from the celebrities she duped.
Most interesting is the effect LeRoy’s fame had on hangers-on such as Courtney Love and Billy Corgan (who refers to himself as “The Corgan-ator”). The result is so far-fetchedly entertaining it feels like a fantasist’s fevered imaginings. Which, in a way, it is…
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig; Starring: Laura Albert; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016
Set in South London, this Brit answer to US thrillers like In Too Deep, Juice and Paid in Full sees Gunz (Dylan Duffus) join a crew led by the ruthless Hoodz (grime artist Scorcher), their crimes rocketing from dealing weed to armed robberies. Suddenly neck-deep in cash and status, they attract the attention of a rival gang and the cops.
Robustly performed but full of second-hand plotting and tedious slo-mo, The Intent is most notable for its multiplatform release and a soundtrack boasting such artists as Ghetts, Rude Kid and Ms. Banks.
Directors: Femi Oyeniran, Kalvadour Peterson; Starring: Tayo Jarrett, Dylan Duffus, Shone Romulus, Femi Oyeniran, Ashley Chin, Nicky Walker, Sarah Akokhia; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016
Thomas Vinterberg (Far From the Madding Crowd) returns to his native Denmark with this ’70s-set tale of bohemian living. When academic Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits a large house, wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) suggests inviting friends to co-habit. But as idealism fades, tensions rise. The resulting drama offers a great showcase for Dyrholm, whose slide towards instability is the film’s core.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg; Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Julie Agnete Vang, Lars Ranthe, Helene Reingaard Neumann; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016
In an economically ruined Ireland, desperate bankers play a game called Traders, where individuals stake everything they own in a death match. As satire this is hardly subtle, but writers/ directors Rachael Moriarty/Peter Murphy flaunt a dark wit, as Harry (Killian Scott) discovers the rush of strangling estate agents. Takes a while to click, and there’s a clunky voiceover, but this is an eye-catching debut.
Directors: Rachael Moriarty, Peter Murphy; Killian Scott, John Bradley, Peter O'Meara; Theatrical release: July 29, 2016