September was a mixed month, with some good films and some not so good.
First up, American Ultra is an over-the-top comedy about a guy who is activated as a mind-altered CIA assassin, but whose stoner tendencies have messed up all but the most reactionary programming. Eisenberg nails the role, as he does most of the time, switching effortlessly between burnt out and hyper deadly. The comedy is stock, but the action is quite energetic. Darkly funny, well-paced, and enjoyable. Fun, but not essential. (See my American Ultra Twitter review).
Gangster films often have a gritty edge, an underlying tension that everything will go wrong. Legend has no edge, no grit, and very little to recommend it. Unnecessary narration starts us off on the wrong foot, and continues on throughout the film. It’s meanderingly paced, save for a few obligatory scenes of the Kray Twins getting into fights with their enemies (and each other). The only real standout is Tom Hardy, excellent as both the superficially charming Reggie and the deranged Ronnie. It’s an excellent performance in an otherwise dull film. (See my Legend Twitter review).
The D Train is an indie film about a desperate high school reunion organiser trying to get the popular kid (now an actor) to attend the next big reunion. This involves him farcically lying and cheating, and getting further and further into trouble while wooing his target. The humour is timid and seldom, but often enough that it makes for decent viewing. The film is reasonably well made, with some neat framing choices. Okay. (See my The D Train Twitter review).
A biopic should be more interesting than Life, a boring look at the life of Hollywood icon, James Dean. It shouldn’t be entirely written off: the performances are good, if understated, with some decent dialogue. For a film told from the perspective of a photographer, it also looks the part, with a number of great shots. However, it is also turgidly dull. Glacial pace and lack of any real dramatic conflict mean every scene is utterly flat. Writing this review 2-3 months after seeing the film, I had to use IMDB to remind me the film to which “Life” was referring; it is that forgettable. Avoid unless you’ve had trouble sleeping. (See my Life Twitter review).
Finally, The Martian is the story of an astronaut left for dead on Mars, his crew who feel guilty, and the NASA staff back on Earth trying to rescue him. It tries to stay grounded in its fiction, but isn’t above having a big dramatic/action scene if it helps. Matt Damon is very likeable as the lead: you want to see him survive and be rescued, no matter how hopeless his plight seems. Pacing is great, one overlong sequence aside, as there’s always another crisis, some way in which the plan crumples and needs reevaluated. The stakes are always clear and the danger palpable. As blockbusters go, this is of the highest quality. Must see. (See my The Martian Twitter review).
The winner for September is The Martian, as one of the best big films of the year.