Film #265: Any Day Now (2012)

anydaynowdirector: Travis Fine
language: English
length: 98 minutes
watched on: 3 Feb 2017

My favourite anecdote about this film is that back in 2014, when the movie was released in Japan, one of my middle-aged students recommended this movie to me (and the others in the group). I don’t generally talk about my sexuality or relationships with my students (have to draw a line somewhere), so I have to wonder whether she’d sussed me out and was trying to wheedle it out of me, or whether she’d just thought it was good and worth sharing. Aw, I kinda miss them.

Anyway, the movie is about a gay couple in the late 1970s / early 80s who take a disabled kid under their wing (he has Down syndrome) when his mother ends up in prison, and eventually go to court to try and get legal custody of him. One is a lawyer who’s summarily kicked out of his job by a homophobic employer. The other is a drag queen and singer played by Alan Cumming. Spoilers ahead, watch out!

The movie has all the hallmarks of something based on a true story, but digging a little into the background after watching it, I found that only the beginning part – a gay man taking care of his neighbour’s disabled kid – was based in reality. The second half of the film, where they have the legal battle to try and get the kid, is realistic based on the period, and researched very well, but entirely speculative and fictional. It might be an amalgamation of a few real court cases.

To be honest, I felt kind of cheated that it wasn’t. I don’t know which part of the story it was that felt like it couldn’t be fake – perhaps the court case itself, or the personalities of the characters, or the particularly speedy start to the two men’s relationship (it blossoms cutely and naturally, but very quickly), or the fact that it ends on a really massive downer. I mean, I’ve watched plenty of other period drama recently (Sing Street, High-Rise, Stranger Things, etc), and it’s not like I believed they were real. I think it’s just the nature of the bold leaps of faith in storytelling – or perhaps I had a preconceived notion that it was based in reality.

On the other hand, perhaps all that is just testament to the realism of the film (although it is a bit kitschy at times). I believed every second of it, and I thought the characters were smartly portrayed by all the actors – of course Alan Cumming was great in his role, and I loved the young actor playing the kid. I thought I recognized the other man, but I saw other pictures of him online and I don’t think I know the actor.

So it’s a smart film, I thought. I’d like to hear from others who’ve seen it – what did you think?

Book #127: Catch-22 (1961)

catch22author: Joseph Heller
language: English with some Italian
length: 984 minutes (16 hours, 24 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 Feb 2017

It looks like my other trend at the moment is going through classic twentieth century literature (following 1984), with the help of Audible, which pushes such books on me.

Catch 22 is such a ubiquitous phrase in English, it’s hard to go into this without a preconceived notion of what it means – plus the inevitable question “What’s Catch 21?”, to which I think the answer is, there isn’t one. Joseph Heller pulled the phrase from nowhere, it seems. But I don’t have a very clear idea after reading the book, as it seems to apply to a lot of situations, and may not even exist. Essentially it’s about men trying to get out of the military by exploiting the rules.

I think if I’d read this in high school, as so many others have, I probably would have hated it. I mentioned this a couple of years ago when I listened to a recorded version of Hamlet – I think the intervening ten or eleven years’ maturing have made a big impact on my ability to enjoy these books. I also enjoyed the delivery of the audiobook narrator in this case. Choosing to read a book and being forced will also have a different impact on me.

It’s hard to summarize everything that happens in the book, as it does drag on a bit toward the end. It’s set during the second world war, and is a satirical look at military incompetence. Every other line is something else comedic, people taking their orders too literally, or a dilemma of some kind. It’s quite relentless, and it’s very frustrating to hear the conversations playing out. But I found it very funny too.

I was reminded strongly of Full Metal Jacket (which I’ve seen only the first half of) with the depiction of the military officers. I wonder where this depiction came from originally. Is it real? I have a hard time seriously believing that.

There are also so many characters in the book it can be hard to keep track of – but they all have some kind of backstory or joke attached to them, and the book tries to jump around the different characters. In the first part it does this a lot more and also jumps around time too, making it difficult to follow what happens – in the later parts it starts following a more linear narrative, and near the end more characters start dying, once we’ve become emotionally attached to some of them, and the book takes on a more serious tone.

I liked Yossarian as a character, and I sympathized a lot with his ever-more-futile attempts to get discharged. I liked the weird mid-book section where he follows Milo around a bunch of other countries, who turns out to be hailed as a leader in half the places they visit. I liked the chaplain’s constant internal debates. I liked the commander constantly increasing the required missions for frivolous reasons. I liked the bits (despite the obvious and rampant misogyny) where they go to Rome and interact with the “whores”, but can’t understand each other’s language. I think there were a lot of good moments – if not always tied together very well.

But I’m sure others have made a more coherent summary of this book than I could ever. I’m not really here for that. I want to recommend this book – for the main part, on the strength of its wordplay and characterization. I also liked that the book would call back on a throwaway joke it made earlier – I think this shows a mastery of literary style on Heller’s part, along with his obviously high command of the English language.

What do you think? I’d be interested to hear from anyone who had to read this in school. Is it true that these books are better appreciated once you have a bit more life experience under your belt?

Film #264: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

secretlifedirector: Chris Renaud
language: English
length: 87 minutes
watched on: 2 Feb 2017

After Sing Street, this was the second of three DVDs I borrowed from Tsutaya. (The third was another Xavier Dolan film, but it turned out to be in a very thick Quebec dialect and had no English subtitles, so I gave up on it … for now anyway.)

I wasn’t so hotly anticipating this film, but it was out last year too, and I hadn’t seen it in the cinema. It’s a kids’ film, or something that’s marketed as “family”. It’s by the same people as Despicable Me and the Minions films, which I’ve tried to avoid. Despicable Me was intelligent and funny, but the minions have blown up to something much larger than they have the right to be… and I’m tired of seeing them. I was a little worried when I saw a minion on screen in the first few seconds of the movie, but it was just the company’s logo.

The story of the movie is the same as Toy Story, but with animals instead of toys – the idea being that animals have their own conversations and go on adventures when their humans are out at work or whatever. Louis C.K. plays the main character Max, who loves his owner – but one day she comes home with a new, much bigger dog, who tries to impose himself. But through a series of unlikely events they get separated from their dogwalker in the park, and get lost. They’re found by a group of homeless pets that hate humans. Shenanigans ensue.

To sum up the movie, unlike Pixar, it doesn’t have as much aimed at adults. It has a definite kiddy atmosphere about it. I’m certainly not the target audience. But it has enough for adults to laugh at if they take their kids to it – there’s a joke from Some Like It Hot, for example, that had me in stitches. There is enough physical and slapstick humour in it that I found funny, but there’s also a definite divide between the kids’ jokes and the adults’ jokes, and I think the best of this kind of movie just has one kind of joke that everyone can laugh at.

The animal characters are really well-observed, too – except for parts where they’re talking and so on, they generally act like real animals. The way of moving and reacting is spot-on. I noticed when watching a couple of the DVD extras that many of the actors and producers said their main motivation for wanting to make the movie was because they were pet owners themselves, which I can’t quite relate to, but I have interacted with enough animals in my life to know it’s accurate. But if I compare this to something like Finding Nemo or its sequel, the latter is much more effortlessly comedic. Just to spoil something a bit, though – Finding Dory and this movie both have scenes where animals drive trucks, and I kind of want to know where that trope came from. That’s a part where I generally stop suspending my disbelief.

I must admit, too, that I didn’t feel much emotion from the movie. It’s a shame, but again I think that Pixar can do that better. And there’s one other thing that bothered me – of the two “villain” characters I can think of, one had a British accent, and the other was an African-American actor (the bunny in the picture above). Seems fishy to me…

Given all the above, though, I was suitably impressed by the movie. I wasn’t expecting much, I must admit, and I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic, but the movie managed to deliver on my expectations and much more. It’s pretty funny in spite of its flaws.

Anyone else seen it?

Film #263: Sing Street (2016)

singstreetdirector: John Carney
language: English
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 1 Feb 2017

Following a bit of a theme at the moment, I’m currently making my way through several movies I missed in the cinema last year (this follows The Jungle Book, Your Name, and a few others). I had a cold, and since Japan still has DVD rental stores, I went there instead of doing exercise, and Sing Street was plastered gaudily across the entrance as the latest release of that week. I also finally put my sofa to good use (I’ve had it for a few months, maybe since November), and the new wireless headphones my dad bought me for Christmas, and made a mini cinema setup in my room.

The movie is set in the 1980s (another theme I’ve noticed recently alongside things like Stranger Things is this 80s revival that seems to be happening), in Ireland. The economy is in freefall, and everyone is trying to get out – characters are constantly talking about going to London. The main character Conor’s parents are just realizing that they don’t want to be together anymore, and they have to take him out of private school and send him to the local public school. Then he starts a band to try and impress a girl, and the movie takes it from there. Basically all I knew before watching it was it’s an Irish musical film.

So first of all, the music in this movie is excellent, and I actually bought the soundtrack after watching the movie and still having the songs in my head for the next few days. The songs perfectly complement the story and the journey of the characters, and the kids who play the music are all very talented (a few of them are very much background characters of course). The visual style is equally important, as it’s the story of the pursuit of the perfect music video.

It’s a real old-fashioned feel-good movie – despite the rough situation economically and despite the homophobic and racist attitudes that are rife in the film, it’s still a very optimistic film. It blurs the line a lot between reality and the main character’s dreams and aspirations, never more obvious in the big setpiece scene where his imagination of what the music video should look like takes over, only to crash back to reality.

Like Departure, the scenes showing the parents’ divorce hit close to the bone, too. The movie has real heart but could be very raw with the emotion. Like Your Name, I was worried that the romance would be trite and hokey, but I was cheering them on by about halfway through when the romance kick starts properly.

It’s also a very funny movie – it produces laughs very easily. I was giggling at a lot of the lines, but not just that – as I mentioned, the movie in general has a good visual sense, and the director knows how to pull off a good visual or slapstick gag. I’m thinking in particular of the “cool” boyfriend having trouble driving his car, or the cut to the kids smoking in the shed moments after telling their mum that they never did such things.

It’s a small thing, but one thing I liked a lot was the teenagers in this movie are really teenagers. Especially the ginger kid who does all the filming – he looks really young, as do the main characters. When I was growing up, there was a strong tendency to put 20 year olds in teenage roles, especially in American movies, and I’m glad to see that movies have by and large moved away from that.

Another comedic moment was the disclaimer in the end credits – beyond the usual “this is fiction” disclaimer, there’s a note that says the real Synge Street school, where the film is mostly set, is, 30 years later, much more multicultural and a really accepting environment. The intolerant attitudes from the teachers and pupils in the film don’t make it come across well, of course.

I’m just sitting here writing it trying to think of a way to fault the movie. Too much homophobia, perhaps, but as in the disclaimer above, this is accurate to the era in which the movie is set. Perhaps I find it unrealistic that they get so good at music so quickly, but again, this is part of the whole thing the director is doing where it’s unclear where the music ends and where Conor’s imagination takes over. Everything seems to just… fit.

So yeah, I liked it. I think everyone should see it. What did you think?

Book #126: Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)

80daysaka: Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours
author: Jules Verne
language: English, translated from French
length: 163 virtual pages
finished reading on: 30 Jan 2017

Recently I got a Kindle again, for my birthday. As long term readers may know, I used to have a Kindle, but my last one broke in early 2014, while I was reading Jumper. I also used to read free out-of-copyright stuff from Amazon and Project Gutenberg – my first was A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes’ first novel with a weird anti-Mormon second half), followed by Gulliver’s Travels, which I didn’t like much. But having a Kindle is still a good opportunity to read all that stuff from previous centuries that I never got around to before, at little or no cost – and that’s what I did here.

This novel is now considered a classic, and it’s often lumped in with early science fiction, despite not really having much in common with it apart from being speculative. In it, the Englishman Phileas Fogg sets out around the world on a wager, after noticing that he should be able to do it in 80 days. This is due to the opening of the Suez canal around the same time, and finally connecting the west and east of India by rail. He’s followed by his servant Passepartout (what a name…), and a detective who wants to arrest him for supposedly stealing money in London before he left.

The book is interesting for a few reasons – it provides an account (although probably not first-hand, as I don’t think Verne actually travelled this route himself) of how the various societies were at the time, such as India and Japan, which have definitely changed a great deal since then. It’s rife with colonial attitudes, since Britain literally owned a lot of the countries they travelled to, but it’s also the perspective of a Frenchman looking in at English people, and Fogg is in many ways a caricature of English people (obsessed with timekeeping and propriety, for one thing).

It gets a bit ludicrous at times, such as the way they end up crossing the Atlantic near the end, but it does keep up the excitement – most countries they arrive in have some kind of danger to overcome. Like the Sherlock Holmes novel above, Verne doesn’t miss the chance to take a swipe at Mormons when the characters pass through Utah, which I found amusing – they must have been a talking point at the time.

This may be something to do with copyright, but one thing I would have preferred would be a modern translation. A lot of the words and structures the translator of the time used wouldn’t be used in modern English, and that just distracted me a bit much (although it contributed to the atmosphere of the time). Thinking about it, a modern translation wouldn’t be available for free on Amazon, though.

And just as a spoiler, I could see the final twist (Fogg arrives back a day early in London because he didn’t take into account that he would gain a day by circumnavigating to the east) a mile off. And I didn’t believe it for a second – Fogg was shown to be much more fastidious than that, and he would have noticed when he arrived in America, not when he arrived in London. I felt like I already knew it was coming, though – perhaps some kind of cultural osmosis?

Anyway, I liked it. I’d like to read more of Verne’s works now. Also, I’m just wondering what to read next on the Kindle… any suggestions? And if you’ve read this book, what did you think?

Film #262: Departure (2015)

departure-2015director: Andrew Steggall
language: English and French
length: 104 minutes
watched on: 20 Jan 2017

I heard about this movie last year, and like a lot of the other movies I’ve reviewed recently, it was one of my eagerly anticipated movies of the last year or two. I’d been waiting for the DVD price to go down a bit – eventually, I bought it when I went back home for New Year this time. As usual, good luck getting it released over here (it can be delivered internationally, though!).

Heaven knows I’ve watched enough gay coming-of-age stories in my life already, but I still fall for it very easily. But watching the trailer I could see a hint of something special there, and I liked the folk music accompaniment. Inadvertently, I’ve also completed a kind of trilogy of gay coming-of-age movies set in the rural south of France, this one following Being 17 and Summertime. In fact, the opening shots of this movie reminded me a lot of the latter film, and the imagery and composition was reminiscent of the former. Seasons are again very important to this film, and it provides the autumn counterpart to winter, spring and summer of the other two movies.

The story is about a mother and son, who go to their creaky old holiday home in the south of France to get ready to sell it. They have to pack up their old life, but neither really wants to. Then the son (Elliot) comes across a French guy (Clément), in that time-honored gay coming-of-age story way by seeing him naked from afar, followed by quickly approaching him and inducting him into the family’s life. Clément also awakens something in the mother, triggering a tense competition between mother and son. Such animosity was already developing between them, but it gets worse over the course of the movie.

Elliot is played by the very cute but very young-looking Alex Lawther, who’s already picked up a couple of accolades for his other work. His character is fundamentally bored, and he’s on the cusp of adulthood – a big theme of the movie is endings, with the autumn setting and the sale of the house, which ties into him leaving behind childhood. He’s got a poetic mind, and already seems to know his sexuality – he proudly announces at one point that all the French writers he knows are gay. He occasionally has fantasies that are reflected in strange magical realism or imaginary moments in the film – one of him as St Sebastian, and another later on with falling leaves indoors.

The mother, Beatrice, is superbly performed by Juliet Stevenson, and perfectly captures the feeling of a woman who feels abandoned by her husband and son, but is trying to put a very middle class brave face on it. She gets upset very easily and is obviously in emotional turmoil. I think she hit me closer to the bone than the other characters, as she reminded me a lot of my own mother in many ways, desperate to rekindle the childhood relationship she had with her son, yet very isolated and going through a lot of emotions all at once.

Ultimately the boy that they end up fighting over is window-dressing – the central conflict is between Elliot and her, him trying to be aloof and not so keen to be treated like a child, and her trying desperately to reconnect with him. Or he’s embarrassed by her in a typical teenager way and shocked that she’s trying to flirt with the French guy too. But we’re reminded at key moments that the French guy has real feelings too – too often they’re ignored by the main characters, causing upset and argument.

The sexual content in the movie weirded me out a bit – while it’s nothing explicit, of course, it’s showing Elliot masturbating off camera, and later finding a carrot as a conveniently-sized vegetable to … use on himself in bed (followed by one of the movie’s more comedic moments when his mother almost catches him and makes an inadvertent innuendo). I couldn’t quite take the movie seriously at these points. They’re important to the movie and its repressed atmosphere, but I just started laughing. I think it’s just because Elliot is still obviously a child, by the way he acts otherwise.

The movie is a lot of melodrama, overall, and there are a lot of overwrought images in it. Sometimes the themes can be shoved in viewers’ faces a little too forcefully – especially the whole theme of endings, constantly reinforced by the autumn imagery. The movie was treading the line between pretension and fine art for quite a lot of the runtime.

So I don’t think it’s a perfect movie by any means, but I was deeply moved by parts of it, I loved the imagery and cinematography, and I’m definitely going to be watching out for those actors again. And I couldn’t get the movie out of my head for a few days. Highly recommended.

Anyone else seen it?

Film #261: Tickled (2016)

tickleddirectors: David Farrier & Dylan Reeve
language: English
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 8 Jan 2017

I had a lot of trouble finding a suitably safe-for-work thumbnail picture for this movie. I hope this one works well enough…

I caught this movie almost by accident when I was browsing through gay-themed stuff online, and I was so amused and slightly intrigued by the concept that I just had to watch it. It’s a documentary by a journalist from New Zealand who’s famous (we’re told in an opening montage of his previous work) for doing documentaries on slightly weird topics. He comes across the sport of “Competitive endurance tickling” online and decides that should be his next topic. First he meets resistance from the company that makes the videos because he’s also well-known in New Zealand for being gay, and that the company doesn’t want to associate itself with gay people (despite the videos being very gay themselves), which only makes him want to keep digging. He ends up going over to America and digging up a web of exploitation over at least twenty years. It’s really quite fascinating. Of course the makers are being sued for it.

The whole thing is a bit televisual, especially to begin with, but every few minutes they uncover something more outrageous than before, and the whole thing gets more and more fascinating. Basically the guy behind the whole thing, who takes on false identities, harrasses the young men who don’t want their videos to be online, or exploits the young men until to do whatever he wants. And later it’s not even just tickling, it’s also mixed martial arts. It seems it’s just this hideously rich guy playing with his money.

I was probably most surprised that one of the listed crimes was email-bombing the White House in the name of one of these young men… basically this had been a big deal, and all the way back in the 90s. They actually interview several journalists who had been investigating it at the time, and they’re all a bit surprised to find out it’s been going on again since the guy got out of prison.

It’s just such a ridiculous story it’s almost hard to believe it’s true… but truth is stranger than fiction, as they say. I think it was a fascinating journey, and an incredibly creepy underbelly of society that’s being exposed. Perhaps a little dry at times, and it dragged on a bit towards the second half.

What’s actually more interesting is when I dug into the behind-the-scenes on the web a bit, I found some interviews and articles written by people close to the movie. The guy behind the whole thing, David D’Amato, and one of his lackeys, actually showed up to a film festival somewhere in America, and to Sundance, essentially to protest the film. That’s pretty rare, so they’re definitely taking it seriously… but they seem to miss the point of the movie, which is calling them out for exploiting countless young men. They keep screaming at the filmmakers, and they seem to be trying to get the film banned on technicalities: they didn’t get permission to film this or that, or something like that.

So it’s something that I don’t think anyone else will have heard of, and it was well worth my time. I recommend it if you can come across it!

Film #260: The Jungle Book (2016)

the-jungle-bookdirector: Jon Favreau
language: English
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 6 Jan 2017 (plane 3/3)

It’s partially by coincidence that I only read the original Jungle Book a few months ago. I bought it a few years ago, actually, and like a lot of books in my room, it’s been sitting there for a while. But I think the release of this movie last year spurred me unconsciously into reading the book. And like the other two movies I watched before this one on the plane, it was one of my anticipated releases of last year that I didn’t get around to seeing in the cinema.

It’s a pseudo-live action adaptation, and it differs quite a lot from the 1960s Disney movie that everyone knows. I last watched that as an adult, but it was quite a few years ago nonetheless, so I can’t remember in great detail what happens. It’s supposed to be closer to the book – my thoughts here are that this sounds accurate, as it’s much clearer that Shere Khan is out to get Mowgli. It’s certainly more brutal than the earlier movie – in fact, this surprised me.

It still contains the two most famous songs from the original Disney movie, though (Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You), so it’s not completely abandoning its roots. I’d say they should perhaps use the songs from the book, but then I remember when Tim Burton tried to do this with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I’m glad they stuck with the Disney songs.

One thing I noticed was that there was observational comedy in the same vein as Finding Dory, with animal married couples squabbling, and so on. Bill Murray as Baloo continues in this vein, being very sarcastic.

Mowgli in this movie is played by the young Neel Sethi, who lends a very expressive face and a dynamism to his character, in an exceptionally physical role. He narrowly avoids overacting at times, but I was very pleased with his performance. Apparently he was even younger than the filmmakers had intended to hire, but I’m glad they went with him.

There are some pretty weird decisions at times – in general, the movie has realistic-looking animals, so (this might be a spoiler, not sure) when we meet King Louie in the scene with the monkeys, he’s the size of King Kong, a true giant, and it’s incongruous with the rest of the film. He’s also played in a typical monotone by Christopher Walken. It’s a star-studded cast indeed (and multi-ethnic to boot).

One of the main things I didn’t like was the episodic nature of the film. Mowgli is sort of propelled from danger to danger. I think this is the fault of the book, at the end of the day, but I didn’t feel like the story was tied together enough, and some characters disappear as soon as they appear. I could have sworn Kaa played a much bigger part in the 1960s film, for instance.

But it was a nice, funny film, and it had a solid message of accepting people’s differences. I think it’s definitely worth it just for the lead actor.

Anyone else seen it? What do you think?

Film #259: Your Name (2016)

kiminonawaaka: 君の名は。(Kimi no na wa)
director: Makoto Shinkai
language: Japanese
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 6 Jan 2017 (plane 2/3)

This movie has now become the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time, I heard. I actually missed it last year when it came out because it was still sold out when we tried to go. It’s still on in cinemas now, even. I heard the English-subtitled version is now on in Shinjuku (finally). I finally watched it on the plane, after Jason Bourne, and while I’d been looking forward to that film too, this was the one I really wanted to watch.

I’m kind of glad I managed to watch it with subtitles. I watched When Marnie Was There without them a couple of years back, and while I was able to understand most of the story, there were a few important details I missed out on. So this time I could understand everything.

The basic story is an unexplained body-swap that happens between two teenagers on opposite sides of the country – one boy in Tokyo (Taki) and a girl in the countryside somewhere (Mitsuha). The beginning of the film shows the two of them working out what’s happening and then rolling with it as if it’s normal. Body-swapping is nothing new, of course. This movie plays it for comedy a bit – initially Taki as a girl grabs her breasts and then acts very aggressively at school, while Mitsuha as a boy can’t work out which pronoun to use (a joke that is very hard to translate).

What people have been quite good at hiding is that there’s a twist about halfway through when we suddenly realize that (spoilers!) there’s also a time-travel element to the story, and the second act is very different from the first as a result. The plot takes on a much more layered and nuanced element from that point. I think to truly appreciate the many strands I’d have to rewatch it.

Recently when I watch movies, I’ve been scribbling notes about them (on a pad or on the notes app on my phone) as they go, kind of like liveblogging. For the last two movies it was mainly because I like to categorize the location, and Snowden and Bourne loved to travel constantly, and for a lot of the others, it’s to make the transition to this review smoother. But when I watched this film, I was so entranced I forgot to do it entirely, and as an afterthought, just wrote “wow” as my single note for the film. I think that fairly sums up my thoughts about the film.

Just to flesh out that opinion, though, I think the main thing I loved was the animation, especially the art design. It’s a lush film, to put it bluntly. The backgrounds are so detailed and colourful, and they’re incredibly realistic, too. The scenes in Tokyo are mostly set around Shinanomachi and Yotsuya, and I kept having that eery familiar feeling when I recognized the locations. I think the only other animation I know that’s been able to do that is Ghibli – I think it’s Only Yesterday (Edit: it’s actually Ocean Waves) that opens on the platform in Kichijoji station, where I lived for three years, which gave me a similar shock.

I’m quite glad I went with the crowd on this one. I was half-expecting some kind of hokey romance, especially when I first heard about it. So often the crowd in Japan just does what it’s told, and so much of the movies produced for the local market here are terrible, so to see something genuinely great is annoyingly rare. I’m trying to think of things I didn’t like about this film, actually, and coming up short. I guess the soundtrack is fairly uninspiring J-Rock… but I still liked the songs and want to try them at karaoke.

But anyway, this film is good and those who haven’t seen it yet should go out and see it. And if you have seen it… what did you think? Anything you’d like to add?

Film #258: Jason Bourne (2016)

jason-bournedirector: Paul Greengrass
language: English, and a bit of Greek and other European languages in the background
length: 123 minutes
watched on: 6 Jan 2017 (plane 1/3)

The Bourne series, with the notable exception of a certain sequel from a couple of years ago, was always one of my favourites growing up. For some reason I could never get into James Bond, but I found this series exciting. Of course, James Bond became more like Jason Bourne later, but I digress. I was looking forward to this movie, as Matt Damon was in it again and it was supposed to be pretty good, but I missed it in the cinema, and decided to watch it on my recent flight back to Japan after New Year.

A lot of themes tie in to Snowden pretty well – indeed, Snowden is name-checked at least once or twice by the film. The makers are trying to keep the series up to date with current affairs, it seems. Perhaps a couple of years out-of-date, though – the other major event is the Athens protests, featured in the opening act, which I think were in 2014 or 2015. Things are moving so fast recently!

Jason Bourne in this movie is trying to work out who his father is and why he died, still trying to work through the fog of amnesia, still gradually gaining his memory back. A lot of the film follows a similar plot to the first movie – he’s also followed from afar by a girl in the CIA, and he’s still seen as a major threat, but also someone they want to reintroduce into the fold. It still ends with that Moby song on the soundtrack. It still has a grumpy old man giving out the orders – this time it was Tommy Lee Jones (who I still have trouble telling apart from Robert DeNiro, for shame!), instead of Brian Cox in the first movie.

But like Snowden, it’s lost something of the spark of the first movie. The motives of the characters aren’t so interesting, for one thing, but I also found that the music was overused to try and ramp up dramatic tension. Even in scenes that should have been a breather between action setpieces (mainly the motorbike chase in Athens and a big car chase in Vegas later), the music is still beating on at machine-gun pace. I watched some characters walking up an escalator in an airport to that kind of music, as if something terrible was about to happen right then (it wasn’t). I found this very literally tiring, and started dozing off later on in the movie. I want to hearken back to Mad Max, actually: while I found that a very intense action movie, I never found it boring, and it also knew when to give its audience a brief breather. It also didn’t rely on trite CGI like Jason Bourne (and Snowden).

It’s a fun movie to an extent, but it’s not the return to form that I’d hoped it would be. I’m tempted to go back to The Bourne Identity to remind myself how these movies should be – with more of an element of surprise or tension throughout the movie because of the setup of Bourne’s amnesia, not desperately trying to cling to what tension they have left with mere musical cues. It’s a much better movie. This is just attempting to be nostalgia and not hitting the mark.