Series Review: The Looming Tower (2018)

I don’t have anything clever to say here. Usually I do, but there’s nothing I can think of here. This show deals with some sensitive stuff, so it’s hard to make up an intro that is fun. So let’s just get into it, I guess.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a show… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gentlemen… “The Looming Tower”.

Set in the late 90s, we follow people from both the FBI and the CIA as they both try to stop the rising threat that is the Al-Qaeda. But their inability to cooperate makes the process a lot more troublesome than it could be. So now we have our historical counter-terrorism drama. And let’s make it clear right now, this isn’t counter-terrorism in the Jack Ryan sense where there’s a bunch of thrilling action scenes. This is a slow burning drama all about investigating and bureaucracy and arguing and such. And I found it all utterly compelling, thanks to calculated writing that prefers to take the realistic and relatively mundane path to its goal, compared to so many counter-terrorism stories, which tend to go for the thrilling sensationalist route. But yeah, I really liked the plot here.

The characters in this are flawed, nuanced, interesting, and fairly realistic. First up we have Jeff Daniels as John O’Neill, an FBI agent keen on stopping Al-Qaeda the right way (arrest, court, all that jazz). And while he generally tries to be a good guy, he does have some skeletons in his closet shown throughout that make him quite compelling. And Daniels is fantastic in the role. Next we have Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan, a new agent within the FBI who gets assigned to work with O’Neill in finding and stopping the various Al-Qaeda members who may exist. And he has some god development throughout that makes him quite interesting. And Rahim is great in the role. And we get supporting performances from people like Wrenn Schmidt, Bill Camp, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alec Baldwin, Ella Rae Peck, Jamie Neumann, Louis Cancelmi, and many more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

The score for the show was composed by Will Bates, who I think did a damn solid job. It goes for a relatively downplayed and somber style. You won’t hear big, tense brass in this to highten the tension of a scene, instead the pieces are smaller, more intimate, almost droning at times to sort of help capture that realistic/slow burning counter-terrorism style that the show’s going for. There are also a few licensed tracks used throughout that work in their respective scenes. So yeah, this show has good music.

Based on a book by Lawrence Wright, the show was created by Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, and Lawrence Wright himself, with writing and directing by a whole bunch of people. And the craft here is really tight, giving us close and intimate examinations of all the various situations while also giving us the sweeping storytelling of everything leading up to 9/11. The directing gets in close with the characters and really made me feel like a fly on the wall in these situations, I was fully immersed thanks to the tight work of the crew. And the way the show occasionally splices in real life news footage is pretty damn good.

This show has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 88% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 74/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 8,0/10.

“The Looming Tower” is a compelling counter-terrorism drama. It has a really good plot, good characters, great performances, really good music, and great writing/directing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Looming Tower” is a 9,62/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “The Looming Tower” is now completed.

You know what’s a little funny? I made a comment about this not being Jack Ryan-esque in style, but Alec Baldwin (who once played Jack Ryan) is in the show.

Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Remakes and reboots. Attempting to make such a thing of a beloved movie/show is qutie a gambit. Often they are hated by people because people don’t like things changing. Reboots and remakes will happen, we have to accept that. That said, you can still silently curse the people making them.

Ladies and gentlemen… “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”!

Welcome to the 1960s. American CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Soviet KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to team up to stop a mysterious and villainous organization from proliferating nuclear weapons. So now we have our cold war spy plot. The idea in itself works fine, problem is that this plot in itself is executed pretty mediocrely. I was never really invested in the plot. Look, I don’t need a spy-action movie to have a deep and symbolic plot, but if it aims to have a plot, then maybe try to make it engaging on some level. And I never felt fully engaged here. Overall it is an entertaining and well paced journey that I would just call… fine.

What this movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in characters. The characters in this movie are pretty interesting and really entertaining. Napoleon Solo as a character is supposed to be this lovable rogue with a snarky attitude and tons of charm, and Henry Cavill portrays these things very well. Basically he’s James Bond if James Bond was American and more likable. Illya Kuryakin is the more serious of the two, he’s a big dude with a twitch and a fairly serious attitude. And while his accent can be a little on and off at times, I think Armie Hammer overall worked really well in the role. I also have to mention that these two main guys work very well together, they got great chemistry. Alicia Vikander plays a woman that our two heroes work with to find and stop the bad guys, and she was really good in the role. Elizabeth Debicki plays the villain of the movie and she’s good in the role. Yeah, this movie is filled with good/entertaining performances.

The score for the movie was composed by Daniel Pemberton and it was quite good. It was energetic, fun, exciting, and just overall worked very well for the movie. It even includes the classic “Guy Ritchie movie flute” as I call it. I first heard it making a very notable appearance in the score/soundtrack from “Snatch”. And it made a very triumphant return in this movie. Not complaining, just thought it would be worth pointing out. Ritchie seems to love his crazy flute.

As you probably understood from the previous paragraph, this movie was directed by Guy Ritchie, and I think he did a good job here. Like with most of his movies, he brings a lot of energy which makes scenes a lot more fun and interesting to watch. And the action scenes in this movie, they’re good. Not great, but definitely entertaining. There’s of course also a good amount of humor in this movie, and I thought it was funny… for the most part. There was one or two jokes that didn’t really entertain me here, but for the most part I thought the comedy in this movie was funny.

This movie has been decently well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 67% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 56/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,3/10.

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a really fun spy-action-comedy movie. It has an okay plot, good characters, really good performances, great music, really good directing, and good comedy. The only thing that brings it down was the plot not being that great. Time for my final score. *Bang*. My final score for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is an 8,88/10. While flawed, I’d still say that it’s worth buying.

My review of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is now completed.

This was fun.

Movie Review: Burn After Reading (2008)

Spies. Romanticized in movies to the point of it being kind of ridiculous. And sure, we have some of the more low-key spy thrillers out there that aren’t all “Look at me, I’m James Bonding all over Europe, motherfucker”. But sometimes you just need someone or something to take the piss out of the general genre.

Ladies and gents… “Burn After Reading”.

The plot is about a whole bunch of things. But the main one is basically that two gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) get hold of the memoirs of CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). And they then plan to try to sell this intel and soon we have a twisty-turny plot that was pretty good. The plot had a lot of interesting and entertaining moments, but I was never really into it. Now, I know that this is meant to mainly be a comedy taking the piss out of the spy genre, and it does that pretty well, but my heart was never truly into it. I don’t know how to exactly put it, but to try to summarize it… The plot itself was decently interesting and entertaining, but I was never truly into it. I guess it just didn’t invest me as much as other satires have.

The characters in this movie are all very entertaining and memorable. John Malkovich was fantastic as Osborne Cox, this kind of alcoholic CIA agent who’s prone to anger. George Clooney plays US Marshal Harry Pfarrer and he was great in the role. His character was a very twitchy and suspicious/paranoid and a bit ADHD and Clooney did all of that very well. Frances McDormand plaus one of the two gym employees who gets hold of Cox’s memoirs and she’s simply terrific in the role. Brad Pitt played the other gym employee and his character was just kind of an idiot… and he was so fun to watch. The character was very entertaining and Pitt was great in the role. And then we also have Tilda Swinton playing Cox’s wife who also happens to be having an affair with Pfarrer and she was great in the role. She was probably the most serious of the characters in the movie and Swinton gave a great performance. Every actor in the movie does a great job.

The score for the movie was composed by Carter Burwell and it was pretty great. Not only was it well composed, but i would also say that it was a joke in itself. Let me explain. This movie is a comedy, but the music is incredibly serious. We see the stuff happening and we laugh, but the music sounds like something we’d hear in a serious spy movie, and I honestly think it was a deliberate choice by Burwell and the directors. So yeah… it was really good and it worked very well for the movie.

This movie was written and directed by the Coen brothers, and they of course did a great job. The shots look great and the writing is on point as always. Sure, not every line is a punchline, but the dialogue is snappy and fun enough to keep a person entertained. And there’s of course violence in the movie. Sure, it doesn’t happen all the time… in fact, it rarely happens in the movie. But when it happens, it hits hard.

This movie has been pretty well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 78% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 63/100. Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,0/10.

“Burn After Reading” is a fun satire of the spy genre. It has a good plot, great characters, great performances, great music, great directing, and great writing. However, I am bringing it down a bit because of the plot never truly hooking me into it. Time for my final score. *Grabs envelope*. My final score for “Burn After Reading” is an 8,88/10. So even though it’s flawed, I’d say that it’s worth buying.

My review of “Burn After Reading” is now completed.

*Burns envelope*.

 

Movie Review: The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

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Hello and welcome to the second part in my series of reviews leading up to “Jason Bourne” this July. For those who might be wondering, I have seen all of these movies before, this review series is just more of a recap of all the movies leading up to the new one. Alright… onwards!

Ladies and gentlemen… “The Bourne Supremacy”.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been in hiding for a while with his love, Marie (Franka Potente). But then he gets pulled into the world of murdersassinating after a CIA operation led by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) goes to shit. And now Bourne has to figure out what the hell is going on while trying to survive both being hunted by the CIA and a mysterious assassin (Karl Urban) who has something to do with all of this. Not gonna lie, the plot in the movie was actually very investing and very well done… but that was more in spades rather than being a consistently great plot. There were times where I felt that it maybe wasn’t that interesting, that it felt like the few middle episodes of a TV-show. You know those episodes that end up near the middle of a season, those episodes that kind of aren’t as great as the previous/later episodes. The “filler”. Don’t get me wrong, this movie has some well thought out story stuff and even a few really good dramatic bits, but I never felt as interested as when I saw “Bourne Identity”. I don’t know, I guess I’m just weird like that… not being as interested in the plot as some others, wasn’t that great I suppose.

The characters are all intriguing, interesting and fit into the movie very well. Matt Damon was once again great as Jason Bourne, maybe even giving a slightly better performance in this movie than in the first. Franka Potente (despite limited screentime) is really good. Brian Cox returns as Ward Abbott and he is great in his role. Then we also have the return of Julia Stiles as Nicky, a relatively minor character from the first movie. She does a good job. Then we have some new additions too. Let’s start with Joan Allen who plays this sort of CIA big-shot who is going after Bourne. And I will say that she is great in her role, not much else to say there. Finally we have Karl Urban as the mysterious hitman who goes after Bourne… holy shit, he is badass. Let me remind you that this is five years before “Star Trek” and eight years before “Dredd”, so this is an early example of him existing and being badass. Yeah, he’s great.

Just like in the first movie, the score was composed by John Powell. And once again he nailed it. But it isn’t just the same spy-movie stuff as in the first, there are a lot of dramatic and even tense tracks that helps elevate the movie a lot. Seriously, the score is great. And of course, the inclusion of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” is always appreciated.

This movie was directed by Paul Greengrass instead of Doug Liman who did the first movie. And while Greengrass has a much shakier style than Liman, I still don’t hate it. In fact, I kind of really like it, I feel like it really works to the movie’s benefit. While I usually want to hang myself when watching something with shaky-cam, this is a movie where it works. I feel like it makes everything a bit more intense. Speaking of intensity, the action in the movie is really intense and also really badass. There are some good fights, some good shootin’, some good chases… the action is really good.

This movie has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 81% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 73/100. Roger Ebert gave the movie 3/4 stars. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,8/10.

“The Bourne Supremacy” is a good movie. It has a good (not great, maybe a little unfocused) plot, really good acting, great music, really good directing and great action. Time for my final score. *Clears throat*. My final score for “The Bourne Supremacy” is a 9,35/10. While flawed, I still think that it’s worth buying.
Worth buying

My review of “The Bourne Supremacy” is now done.

Look forward to the third part in the review series, coming this May.

Documentary Review: Citizenfour (2014)

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You ever have the feeling that you are being watched? As in, whenever. Well those fears have in recent years been justified. Whether you’ve been on your computer or on your cellphone, you’re always watched. So have great respect for those who stand up to these types of stiuations. These so called “whistleblowers”.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Citizenfour”.

In “Citizenfour” we follow a documentarian and a reporter who travel to Hong Kong to meet with former NSA-employee Edward Snowden. If you didn’t know, NSA is a government-funded orgainzation that spies on basically every person in the U.S. (and probably a lot of other countries. And Snowden is the man who got sick of that shit and decided to leak out the fact that people were being spied on to the public. And I’m not gonna lie, I have a lot of respect for the guy. He risked life, limb and family to let people know that their own government were spying on them. And while this movie really is on the side of Snowden, it never feels like it straight up says “Snowden good, government bad”. It’s more like “The government did this shitty thing and Snowden was brave enough to expose it”. It also manages to somehow portray the events and story in a pretty tense way. So it not only feels like a documentary but also feels a little bit like a tense drama. And a lot of that comes from not doing the typical “Sit in a chair and talk to the camera” style, but rather be there as an observer and watch all of these events/interviews unfold. And that is what I love with how they portrayed the story aspects of “Citizenfour”. It feels like a real and unique movie thanks to the excellent way all of this is presented. I mean, I was rivited the whole way through and loved every minute of it.

The funny part about the soundtrack is that they really only use portions of songs. And those portions come from the Nine Inch Nails album “Ghosts I – IV”. And not only do they actually fit when used, but they manage to add something to the movie that I can’t really explain properly. I also appreciate that they chose to limit the use of music. If they had used music all the time/too much in the movie it would’ve ruined it. But luckily they had the perfect amount in this movie.

This is a movie that looks terrific. Sure, it isn’t always steady if we put it like that, but I have no problem with it since it’s simply handheld, not shaky-cam. Also, they don’t overdo it, it all looks great. It almost has a Michael Mann quality to it. But when they do use steady shots it looks fantastic. Also, “Citizenfour” is apparently part of some kind of trilogy that takes a look at the U.S. post 9/11. So maybe I should check the other ones in the trilogy at some point?

“Citizenfour” was released to almost universal acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 98% (100% is you go by “Top Critics” only) positive rating with a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 88/100. And on good ol’ imdb.com it has a score of 8,2/10. The movie also won 1 Oscar in the category of Best Documentary. 

“Citizenfour” goes beyond being a normal documentary, in a way it manages to actually become a really tense drama about a man on the run(ish). It presents the story of Edward Snowden and the NSA in a way that keeps it interesting from beginning to end. It also benefits from not being your standard “Sit in a chair and talk to the camera” documentary. The soundtrack’s pretty great too. Time for my final score which I stole from the NSA before running. My final score for “Citizenfour” is a 9,87/10. It most definitely deserves the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.
Seal of Approval

Review of “Citizenfour” is completed.

Question of the day: Are you on the side of Snowden? Or are you against him and his actions?