Close Encounters of the Third Kind Special Edition (1977/1980)

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No film is made by one person. Paul Schrader, David Giler, Hal Barwood, John Hill, Jerry Belson and Matthew Robbins all contributed to the screenplay in one way or another but it had one originating sensibility and intelligence – that of Steven Spielberg. He twisted and turned their various interpretations of his story to something that was and remains ineluctably his:  sceptical but imaginative and wondrous. It starts in a desert where planes that disappeared in WW2 are discovered. Then a little boy Barry (Cary Guffey) runs after a spaceship in Muncie, Indiana where there’s a power outage and electric lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) gets major sunburn from a flying saucer at a railroad stop. The witnesses to the ice cream-shaped vehicles zipping along the rural highway think they’re going crazy. Roy starts sculpting mashed potato at table, leading his children to cry and his wife (Teri Garr) to leave. He then takes garden soil into the living room and starts to build. Meanwhile, Barry’s mom (Melinda Dillon) sketches a mountain, repeatedly… The Devil’s Tower is where the alien encounter is planned by French scientist Lacombe (director Francois Truffaut) along with the US Army and other government agencies.The film was released before Spielberg believed  it was finished – Columbia was under pressure for a hit and they got it.The additions (some new scenes on top of deleted scenes) entirely expand the premise and the later Director’s Cut still retains the arc but is somewhat darker. Even if you believe (as I do) that most of the essential films were made between 1955 and 1965, this is monumental filmmaking. Once seen, never forgotten.

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Mission: Impossible (1996)

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How much do we love Tom Cruise? So few actors (or actresses) that are truly likeable have come up in the last … twenty years? Likeability can’t really be manufactured or they’d all be at it. It’s depressing to see how many cookie-cutter performers are out there and while I’m aware studio generic fare and bad writing are contributing to the problem, who can truly say that anyone can match Cruise, Depp, Downey or Hanks? When he turned to producing and wanted to take the old TV show to the big screen, everyone thought he was mad. Until The Fugitive had the tills pinging. So he assembled a crack team: Brian De Palma to direct, and Steven Zaillian, David Koepp and Robert Towne on writing duties. Stephen Burum DPing, U2 reworking the theme as an electronic Top 10 hit. Cruise is Ethan Hunt, prime suspect in the apparent murders of his own IMF team while on assignment in Prague where the first two stunning set-pieces are staged. He teams up with two other disavowed agents, Ving Rhames and Jean Reno and they infiltrate CIA HQ in Langley in a sequence that had me breathless the first time I saw it. The film’s climax on the top of a Chunnel train is stunning. It’s an expertly plotted thriller, all bone and sinew, nothing extraneous. Nobody puts a foot wrong in the first of what has become an incredibly satisfying franchise with Cruise having the smarts to hire directors who have a kinetic, fizzy visual sense. After 20 years, it’s still brilliant. I write about it in my book about legendary Hollywood screenwriter Robert Towne: https://www.amazon.co.uk/ChinaTowne-Elaine-Lennon-ebook/dp/B01KCL3YXQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1471307491&sr=8-2&keywords=elaine+lennon

Jason Bourne (2016)

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It’s surely a sign of an unhealthy cinema summer when the audience is going in droves to an exceedingly mediocre action movie.Tony Gilroy’s writing smarts (he knew what to do with Ludlum’s brilliantly tricksy emblematic character) are gone. In their stead is a cobbled together action-chase sequence from returning director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse that trades on an Oedipal-type scenario with Bourne’s dad linked to the original Treadstone, uncovered by a very odd looking Julia Stiles who’s in league with a kind of brutal Julian Assange skinhead character. A Facebook company run by the twisty Aaron Kalloor (Jewish … Indian?!) that appears to have done a deal with the CIA for client info is repeatedly juxtaposed with faded images of Pop’s cryptic comments before he was blown up.Cyber memories are made of this. Ho hum. So 2010. We commence with bare-knuckle fighting, protests in Greece and fetch up in Las Vegas with a major street scene starring ugly baddie sniper Vincent Cassel while a bloodless performance by Alicia Vikander as right hand woman to the CIA’s Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is enough to make your teeth itch. Political correctness is just plain irritating and to make everything even worse is the horrendous cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. It’s like Jeremy Corbyn’s wet dream. Free non-existent houses and jobs for everyone! Yawn. Bring back Tom Cruise. Or Pierce Brosnan! For a real ReBourne.Please.

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

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What a pleasure it is to watch actors at the top of their game performing a humdinger of a screenplay  (by Aaron Sorkin) directed by a man who knows how to handle material (the late Mike Nichols). George Crile’s titular book documented the unknown team behind a covert op in Afghanistan in the 1980s to help the mujahideen against the Soviet invaders. Hanks is brilliant as the party-hard Texan Congressman with a team of hotties (including Amy Adams), Seymour Hoffman is the hilariously touchy CIA undercover guy keen to go in and Julia Roberts is fantastic as the multimillionaire bankrolling them to assist the locals. It’s a serious-minded, highly enjoyable film about a subject that history has judged … To quote Wilson, ‘we fucked up the end game.’ No shit, Sherlock.

Hanna (2011)

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This begins like a rattle of machine gun fire and never lets up, from the white on red title to the sensational series of action sequences that emboss a very modern fairytale. Hanna (the extravagantly gifted Saoirse Ronan) is being trained as a killer by her dad, incognito agent (the fantastic Eric Bana) when people come looking for them in their Nordic hideout. She goes on the run after escaping her captors led by Cate Blanchett. The trans-Europe chase takes place in spectacular fashion, hiding with an English family on holiday, having regular teenage experiences, then the chickens coming home to a grisly roost in Grimm’s playground in Berlin …This came from the brain of Seth Lochhead who did the screenplay with David Farr. It’s about breeding children in labs, family, friendship, squaring accounts, training the military and nightmarish reality versus storytelling. Ronan asked her Atonement director Joe Wright to take it on. It is spectacular from start to finish with an amazing soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. One of my favourite films of the last decade. Really something. (Maybe you shouldn’t watch if you’re the product of IVF. Just saying).