Review: Borg vs McEnroe

The greatest game of tennis ever played becomes another boring day at the office in this underachieving film

The 1980 Wimbledon Final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe is arguably the greatest game of tennis ever played. Therefore the decision to hinge all the drama on the notion the viewer won’t know the outcome of said match is bewildering and director Janus Metz’ film suffers greatly as a result.

How the tennis is presented was always going to be an inescapable issue for the film as BBC’s Wimbledon coverage has such a distinctive style. Wide court and crowd shots are juxtaposed with close ups of players and fans. When the rallies begin the camera sits behind the players capturing play in its entirety from start to finish. Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason through no fault of their own cannot reproduce the same level of tennis of Borg and McEnroe and the method of capturing the footage has to be different.

One singular, glossy shot of each point turns into a sea of rapid cuts and barely any of the action is seen. The tension that should have built up throughout the match, especially during the nail-biting 20 minute tiebreaker, is non-existent. A potential solution to this problem is to weave the actual footage from the game into the film but that too has its own stumbling blocks.

Away from the court writer Ronnie Sandahl tried to challenge the general perception of the two players being polar opposites. Borg, disciplined and collected and McEnroe, unpredictable and volatile. He uses an array of flashbacks to show how they are instead two sides of the same coin, that Borg as a child was equally as volatile but learnt to hold it in. This story arc takes up the majority of the non-tennis runtime but gets lost deeper and deeper within itself, he is perpetually a ‘volcano ready to erupt’.

With Metz constantly looking forward towards the final to generate tension, he fails to find ways to make it in the present, every scene is overly-dramatic regardless of its real meaning. Even moments as simple as a small talk conversation feature a grandiose score that swells as the conversation reaches a mild climax. That climax is always a question destined to remain unanswered for eternity.

The orchestral soundtrack as an individual collection of music is undoubtedly fantastic. Drawn from four different composers it would not look out of place in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. One scene in particular as Borg finally defeats McEnroe in the fifth set tiebreakers features marvellous strings that would evoke great emotion had the film created it. Likewise the cinematography Niels Thastum deserves plaudits for his work in making each scene visually resplendent.

The core vision was to produce a film that would stand shoulder to shoulder with not just great sports films like Moneyball but great films in general. Sadly the failure to presume the viewer already knew about the iconic match, the over reliance on flashbacks and the weak plot arc about them being the same on the inside created a disparity in quality between the expected and realised films.

Review: American Assassin

A preposterous and humourless crime thriller

After a string of well received films by director Michael Cuesta, the Hollywood call for another risk-less, humourless franchise was just too strong to ignore. Thankfully American Assassin will lay to rest with the other bare minimum attempts by Lionsgate to create a cash-cow replacement to the Hunger Games and the other 15 and counting novels in the same series will remain just that.

The biggest red flag is the four billed writers who produced three separate rewrites of the book adaptation. Four different people who wanted to leave their personal stamp, skewing the plot and tonality in their separate directions. The result is an incredibly self-serious film with a ludicrous storyline.

Dylan O’Brien, whose performance is only restricted by the material he has to work with, plays the main character of Mitch Rapp. On an idyllic beach in Ibiza he proposes to his girlfriend before heading to the bar for celebratory drinks. From the overly-saturated shooting style it is obvious that violence is incoming and sure enough multiple terrorists slaughter holiday-goers in an horrendously explicit sequence. Rapp gets shot several times but makes it over to his now-finacee just in time to see her become his ex-fiancee.

From here on in American Assassin becomes a vengeance-obsessed thriller and Rapp dedicates the next several months to become a MMA and gun-trained killer whilst simultaneously infiltrating a terrorist cell. When he travels to meet them, the CIA, who have allegedly been ‘monitoring him for some time’, charge in and take them all out.

Rapp in frustration stabs the dead body of one of them repeatedly before being dragged away. CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy, a role that wastes the talents of Sanaa Lathan, decides to hire Rapp rather than put him into prison, as any rational person would do.

A further step down into madness and Rapp’s character gets a quick-fire training by former Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to be one of his ‘Orion’ operatives. His first task is to stop World War III. A person who two years prior was just an average joe now holds the peace of the world on his shoulders. Throw in Taylor Kitsch as ‘generic villain 001’, a nudity scene for the sake of the nudity scene and a finale with worse CGI than the James Bond glacial-surfing scene in Die Another Day and you have the makings of yet another 2017 flop film.

Although it isn’t addressed we can assume that many American people died in the climax to the film. None of that matters though because the main protagonist survives and the deceased aren’t introduced or developed as characters, going against the supposed main theme of the film that the death of innocent people is needless.

Through all the preposterousness you can kind of see what Cuesta intends, to find the gap between the young adult and crime genre’s hopefully attracting both demographics. The final scene is purposefully left open-ended to hint at a sequel but anyone who enjoyed this film may find themselves waiting a very long time.

Review: Jungle Fever

Jungle Fever is as powerful as it was 26 years ago

“Jungle Fever” was Spike Lee’s sixth feature, first shown in cinemas in 1991. Recently shown at Home Mcr, the film was followed by a panel discussion with Akua Gyamfi (The British Blacklist), where we delved into some of the many layers of the film, such as the glass ceiling in the workplace, black women’s thoughts about black men, and of course how Spike Lee approaches what “jungle fever” actually is.

The movie begins one morning in Harlem, taking a look into the harmonious life of Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes), a successful architect who is happily married and is a wonderful father. On this particular morning, Flipper’s bosses introduce him to his new temp worker, Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), a young and alluring Italian-American woman from Bensonhurst.

Their first interaction is not pleasant, as Flipper almost immediately strides back to his bosses’ office, angrily protesting he asked for an African-American to be hired, on the basis that he is the only person of colour in the entire office. “This sounds dangerously like reverse discrimination” one of the two bosses points out. The issue Spike Lee is tackling here is that the modern American workplace needs to normalize hiring people from all backgrounds, especially African-Americans.

When talking to his wife Drew (Lonette McKee) about his long overdue promotion to partner of the architectural firm, as much as she agrees he deserves it, she carefully warns him to be prepared. “Prepared for what?” Flipper asks. “In case they say no.” Flipper throws that statement to the wind, to him it’s all very straightforward, “Most of the money they make in the company, it’s because of me”.

This glass ceiling is still hugely present in the workplace today, as many of the people confirmed during the discussion panel – one woman recounted her experience of deciding to leave her job to start her own business due to the very same problem Flipper faced almost 30 years ago.

Angie and Flipper grow increasingly drawn to each-other, creating a routine of working late and eating Chinese takeout together, one night finally giving in to temptation. It is quite obvious that the pair share more of a physical attraction than a romantic one, and the backlash their liaison causes quickly outweighs the fascination they held for one another.

It is this unhealthy sexual attraction that Spike Lee evokes as “jungle fever”, or the fetishization of different skin colours or ethnicities than one’s own. Both ruin the relationships they were in, Angie receives a vicious beating from her father when word gets out she is seeing a black man. Her boyfriend Paulie (John Turturro, also known for the role of Pino in Do the Right Thing) is a “nice guy”, their break-up scene is so well played that it is genuinely upsetting to watch.

Paulie’s friends or closer to what you could call entourage are quite intensely racist and attempt to push him to be angry not so much about the adultery, but more about the fact the man in question is black. Thankfully Paulie does not share this point of view, and quite soon asks a regular client out on a date. Contrasting with Angie and Flipper’s relationship, this was a nice addition to the story as Paulie is infatuated with her not only because he finds her beautiful, but also for her intelligence – He does not have “the fever”.

It is interesting how the pair’s different skin colours are recurrently seen as a larger issue than the adultery itself. Angie’s father is ashamed of her actions, throwing her out of his home because the man she is seeing is not white or Italian. Flipper’s wife Drew has struggled all her life being mixed-race, and for this reason feels all the more hurt upon discovering the other woman is white.

This opens up a discussion she and her friends have that evening. She is now convinced Flipper has always fantasized about white women, wondering aloud if it’s for her light-coloured skin that he married her. They criticise that men’s ideal of beauty is far too often the white woman. Growing up, the black girl is constantly surrounded with media and advertisements that push that stereotype.

Lee and the actresses improvised this whole scene over the course of two days, and is one of the realest scenes of the entire film. It evokes what women of colour felt and experienced then, and as women during the discussion panel confirmed, reflects what women of colour feel and talk about now.

Many of the people at the screening confessed that the film didn’t ring as true as when they first saw it in 1991, but we all agreed that Spike Lee had once again brought together an incredibly talented cast and a realistic grasp of the tensions on the streets of Harlem and Bensonhurst that must be watched, shared and talked about continually.

Review: American Made

Tom Cruise’s smile and a breakneck pace do little to disguise the lack of real substance

Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman reunite in an adrenaline-fueled tale of former Trans World Airline Pilot Barry Seal. Had this been a work of pure fiction writer Gary Spinelli would be slammed for the unrealistic twists and turns the plot takes, but it is surprisingly grounded in truth. From smuggling drugs for Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel to running guns for the CIA to Central America Seal’s story was destined for a big screen portrayal.

His initial descent into smuggling was to add excitement into an otherwise humdrum life whilst also earning some extra money for his family. As so many true story rise-fall films before this, the protagonist begins chasing the American dream and their inevitable greed for greater leads to their downfall. After a few years Seal has so much money the local bank dedicates a vault purely for him yet this does not stop him from continuing. The question as to why is left perpetually unanswered, is it more money, notoriety, thrills? Even his passion seems to slowly die as time progresses.

Eventually he is arrested in a ludicrous scene where every law enforcement agency in America raids his hanger at exactly the same moment, with one member from each helping to take him. The events that follow include a Presidential intervention, Harley Davidson Motorcycles and the charity Salvation Army but  any attempt at an explanation would be fruitless in a bizarre climax to the film. One that leaves both Seal and I questioning our sanity.

Very quickly the repetitive formula of the film became monotonous and tiresome. He’ll get caught in an act red handed but miraculously escape every time with a smile while simultaneously digging himself a little deeper into the crime world. Equally frustrating was the incredible wealth Seal accrued without spending it on anything more lavish than putting in a pool. Part of the thrill of similar films such as The Wolf of Wall Street was seeing Belfort’s drug fuelled escapades. The craziest moment during Seal’s free time comes when he takes a shot of Tequila at a garden party.

American Made offers up little to show the consequences of his actions, fuelling both a drug war in Miami and a rebellion in Central America. His pivotal role in the rise of the Medellín Cartel will have indirectly cost the lives of thousands but this isn’t mentioned. Alternatively Liman could have made a critical political commentary of Reagan’s reign or the CIA but opts not to. Instead he relies on the charm of Cruise and a breakneck narrative pace to disguise the lack of any real underlying meaning. The journey is undoubtably an entertaining one but this, like Liman’s last project The Wall, is destined to be forgotten.

Peculiarly director Liman has a personal involvement with the resulting Iran-Contra scandal. His father Arthur L. Liman was chief counsel for the Senate investigation into the events and questioned Colonel Oliver North in the public hearings, a man who appears late on in the film.