REVIEW: Jason Bourne

1 08 2016

As the Hollywood star machine continues to run on empty, feeding in no-name indie stars hungry for a career boost that can increase their international value to fund passion projects, we probably have to get used to a new cliché known as the “distinguished gray.” These films are third, fourth or maybe even fifth installments of long-running – primarily action – franchises which would rather turn the age of their leading men into a pivotal plot point than invest the energy to recast, reboot or otherwise retool the series. (And yes, I say men because seniority is generally a negative attribute for women over 40.)

Jason Bourne” ditches whatever the heck Jeremy Renner’s spinoff was and resurrects the titular character with Matt Damon, now pushing 46 and not attempting to hide those light streaks of hair near his ears. He’s in hardbody shape, though more out of necessity for the character and less out of an unspoken invocation to gawk at his figure. Bourne seems more tired and weary than his formerly spry, curious demeanor in the original trilogy.

In a sense, can anyone blame him? In this iteration of “Jason Bourne,” the world outside the frame seems to weigh heavier on the proceedings than ever before. The CIA must deal not only with the post-Snowden scrutiny of their surveillance behemoth but also with the whims of capricious Silicon Valley tech magnates, whose often radical views pushing for a more open society pose a threat to the agency’s very existence. No wonder Bourne seems content to bare-knuckle box in the sandy outskirts of Athens like Daniel Craig’s James Bond luxuriated in womanizing and heavy drinking in “Skyfall.”

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REVIEW: Captain Phillips

21 01 2014

From the outset of Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” there is a conscious attempt to mirror the film’s two leading men, the titular cargo ship commander played by Tom Hanks and the Somali pirate Muse humanized by Barkhad Abdi.  Where most films would try to draw attention to the gulf between them, Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray bring to light the comparisons few would ever make.

Phillips and Muse rally their troops in the same way, command authority similarly, and follow the scripted narratives their societies have written for them.  They’re explicitly paralleled in the structure of the script as well as in Greengrass’ visual language of “Captain Phillips.”  It leads to a provocative line of mental questioning, but the sort of political allegory for which they aim winds up slightly unfulfilled.

It feels like an appropriate cherry on what I view as an unofficial, non-consecutive trilogy for Greengrass.  This series of interrelated movies is composed of 2006’s “United 93,” 2009’s “Green Zone,” and 2013’s “Captain Phillips,” all of which are critiques of contemporary American power and its narrow-minded exercise.  It’s yet another outsider’s critique of the currently reigning global superpower, which you can choose to listen to or dismiss.

The least of the three, “Green Zone” is a rather obvious criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq under some rather dubious pretexts.  “United 93” might seem like a straightforward cinematic presentation of an important historical event, but it uses the ill-fated flight on 9/11 for the self-destructive ends of America’s myopic worldview.  In his treatment of that film, Greengrass described the hijacking as a “hermetically sealed world disrupted by a savage and violent act.”  The premise of his “Captain Phillips” sounds like a riff on the same thought, which makes the films interesting companions.

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Oscar Moment: Final 2013 Predictions! (Part 2)

15 01 2014

Last night, I had a very stressful dream that involved me missing the official announcement of the Academy Award nominations.  I then scrambled all day to try and watch a video of the presentation to no avail.  So needless to say, I am very ready to find out who’s really in the running for this year’s Oscars!  Now, it’s time to reveal my predictions for the top categories.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  1. American Hustle
  2. Her
  3. Nebraska
  4. Blue Jasmine
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis

_DSC2097.tifThis may be the most stacked that the original category has been in a long, long time.  Usually, it’s adapted that is an embarrassment of riches and original that has a dearth of contenders. Not so much in 2013.

“American Hustle,” being at the forefront of the Oscar race, is probably the one to beat here.  “Her,” however, could steal it in the end.  Jonze’s incredibly original work took the Golden Globe, and it will likely find fans in the writers’ branch.  Then again, they didn’t embrace “The Master” last year … the moment you think you have the Academy pegged, they change.

“Nebraska” seems highly likely as well.  Even though the script was not written by Alexander Payne himself, the 2-time winner of Best Adapted Screenplay, the film still has his fingerprints all over it.  A nomination would still be likely even if the film wasn’t in Best Picture contention.

Blue JasmineAfter there, the race could go a number of ways.  I’m thinking writers’ branch stalwart Woody Allen will show up here for “Blue Jasmine.”  It’s one of his more acclaimed films in years, and Blanchett’s front-runner status in Best Actress has kept the film’s profile high.  Only twice has Allen’s script missed a nomination here when the movie features an Oscar-nominated performance.  He’s been nominated a whopping 15 times, so betting against him seems foolish.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is riding high off praise for its performances and may sail to a Best Picture nomination.  Even without a nod in the top category, I could see it popping up here, like last year when “Flight” displaced “The Master.”  (If you can’t tell, I’m still slightly bitter.)

There’s always a chance for a really left-field choice here, so who knows what could land a nomination?  Could it be Jeff Nichols’ “Mud?”  Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said?”  Oscar contenders likely to be on the outside looking in such as “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Fruitvale Station,” “The Butler,” or maybe even … Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity?”

I’m leaning towards the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” another fantastic showcase of their talents and potentially one of the few chances the film has at recognition.  Though it’s been absent from the guilds, the Coens have always had fans in the Academy.  The writers branch has nominated their work five times, and residual respect ought to bring them through.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  1. 12 Years a Slave
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Philomena
  4. Before Midnight
  5. The Wolf of Wall Street

Before MidnightBest Picture nominees generally tend to dominate the field in Adapted, so “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips,” and “Philomena” have pretty much already punched their ticket.

The category usually recognizes a few more unique adaptations, like a “Borat,” “Children of Men,” or “In the Loop.”  This year, I think that slot goes to “Before Midnight.”  The previous installment in the most unlikely trilogy also received a nomination in Best Adapted Screenplay, and there’s no reason why I don’t think its sequel will repeat.  It’s debatable how “adapted” the story really is as it takes its basis from pre-existing characters, but that won’t work against it.  The unique collaboration between director Richard Linklater and actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is worth rewarding in and of itself too for its uniqueness.

As for the last spot, I think “The Wolf of Wall Street” takes it even if the film misses out on a Best Picture nomination.  The only other competition is “August: Osage County,” which has proved divisive and controversial.  It’s also more of an actors’ movie, which works against the film when only writers determine its chances at a nomination here.

BEST DIRECTOR

  1. Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
  2. Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
  3. David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
  4. Paul Greengrass, “Captain Phillips”
  5. Spike Jonze, “Her”

GravityLast year, the director’s branch threw everyone for a curve by excluding two former winners (Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper) and omitting the director of the eventual Best Picture winner (Ben Affleck) to include a first-time filmmaker (Benh Zeitlin) and a director working in a foreign language (Michael Haneke).  I don’t think Best Director will have quite as many surprise this year, though.

Alfonso Cuarón seems likely for a nomination, if not the win at this point.  His “Gravity” is an undeniable testament to the skill and expertise of his direction.  Even if the Academy doesn’t want to give their top prize to a science-fiction movie, Cuarón could still take home this prize.  The man has been nominated as an editor and a writer previously, so respect runs deep through the organization.

Steve McQueen and David O. Russell, directors of the respective Best Picture shoo-ins “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle,” should also be safe.  Russell even managed a nomination in Best Director last year for “Silver Linings Playbook” despite being snubbed by the DGA.  He got the guild’s support this year, so he’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Paul Greengrass scored a lone Best Director nomination back in 2006 for “United 93” (perhaps the film would have been nominated in a field of more than 5) and seems likely to score another nod with “Captain Phillips.”  His steady direction is crucial to the film’s success, and though it’s out of the hunt for a win, I’d be shocked to see it passed over given the respect for Greengrass and the film.

ScorseseAs for the fifth and final spot in the category, the directors branch could nominate Alexander Payne for “Nebraska,” whose work was recognized by the Golden Globes.  Or they could give DGA nominee Martin Scorsese his first Best Director nomination since finally winning in 2006 for “The Departed.”  I really can’t tell which of these wildly different pieces will strike a chord with the eclectic directors.  My sense is that Payne, twice nominated here for “Sideways” and “The Descendants,” is more likely than Scorsese as “The Wolf of Wall Street” definitely has its detractors.

I’m inclined to think, though, that the directors will opt to give the final spot to Spike Jonze for “Her.”  It’s a film that represents a clear directorial vision and creation.  The movie is quirky and may not play well across the board to the Academy, but I think it should resonate with the directors.  They gave him a Best Director nomination back in 1999 for his directorial debut “Being John Malkovich,” so there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t be feted again.

BEST PICTURE

  1. American Hustle
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Gravity
  4. Captain Phillips
  5. Nebraska
  6. Her
  7. Dallas Buyers Club
  8. The Wolf of Wall Street
  9. Philomena
  10. Inside Llewyn Davis

NebraskaWell, here, we are.  My final Best Picture predictions.  It’s down to “American Hustle” vs. “12 Years a Slave” vs. “Gravity” for the win; everybody else should just be happy to put “__ Oscar nominations including BEST PICTURE” on their DVD case.  I think “American Hustle” has the edge at the moment, but the upcoming guilds should provide a clearer picture of who is really on top.  After all, it’s those people whose opinions line up most with Academy voters.

“Captain Phillips” and “Nebraska” are also pretty much shoo-ins, collecting pretty much every major nomination necessary to secure a spot here.  (“Nebraska” missed with the DGA, but that’s not the end of the world in an expanded field.)  Again, neither looks like a threat to win here.

Aside from those five, however, it’s anyone’s guess as to how those other spots play out.  Several films have popped up with a blip on the radar, such as “The Butler” (SAG), “August: Osage County” (SAG), “Blue Jasmine” (PGA), “Fruitvale Station” (AFI), and “Rush” (HFPA).  Of these, I think only “Blue Jasmine” has the chance to surprise.  The Producers Guild is a significant voting body, and their nod of support should not be taken lightly.  But “Blue Jasmine” has been so quiet on the circuit otherwise compared to “Midnight in Paris.”  Woody Allen’s respect in the Academy is deep, too, so there’s always an outside chance for one of his movies.

For SAG ensemble nominees “The Butler” and “August: Osage County,” I don’t think their critical shortcomings can be overcome with this nomination.  While the actors may be the biggest component of the Academy, we’ve learned they are not large enough to power otherwise poorly-received films to Best Picture nominations in the era of the expanded field.  SAG ensemble nominees Nine” and “The Best Exotic Margiold Hotel” both faltered in their quest to be recognized in the industry’s top category, and the two aforementioned 2013 nominees will likely fare the same.

“Fruitvale Station” and “Rush” just never really caught fire in awards season, and I doubt that either can gin up the passion to gain the requisite votes for a nomination.

PhilomenaThat leaves us with several repeat offenders.  “Her” was a Golden Globe, BFCA, PGA, WGA, and AFI nominee.  Thought its quirkiness and boldness might not find favor with all Academy voters, it definitely has enough passionate supporters to at least gain a nomination.

“Dallas Buyers Club” was nominated for SAG ensemble along with BFCA, PGA, and WGA nominations.  The film seems to have a broad enough base of support, but there’s always a chance that the supporters aren’t very fervent.  I think it ought to be fine, though.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is very controversial, as I’ve said nearly any time I’ve written about it, but the film seems to have hit its stride just when it counts.  Though it missed entirely with SAG, it’s been nominated by the DGA, PGA, WGA, BFCA, and HFPA.  I think all that support means a nomination is extremely likely, but anything could happen.

I think the Academy might end up with just those eight, which would be a shame given how incredible this year has been for film.  But if they nominate nine, I think “Philomena” would take the next spot.  It’s a sentimental crowd-pleaser right up the Academy’s alley, and it’s British.  There’s a sizable contingency of industry professionals from across the pond that vote for the Oscars, and they’ve been a crucial voting bloc that can often make a contender.  “Philomena” has wide support from BAFTA, HFPA, PGA, and WGA, which I expect means it has the capability of scoring a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

Inside Llewyn DavisAnd if they were to nominate ten, the smart money would probably be on PGA, BFCA, and AFI nominee “Saving Mr. Banks.”  The fact that it was not nominated by the Golden Globes and SAG, though, strikes me as odd.  Tom Hanks’ lack of traction in Best Supporting Actor, too, seems a sign of the film’s weakness.  “Philomena” seems to have the market cornered on the heartwarming movie of the year.  Maybe the industry is done with the self-congratulatory streak that powered “The Artist” and “Argo” to Best Picture wins.

Even though it was shockingly snubbed by the PGA and WGA, “Inside Llewyn Davis” was directed by the Coen Brothers.  Their status as Academy darlings simply cannot be understated, particularly after their wins in 2007 for “No Country for Old Men.”  In 2009, their “A Serious Man” managed to sneak into the Best Picture category with relatively little heat.  The next year, their “True Grit” wound up with a whopping 10 nominations, and the Coens displaced Christopher Nolan in Best Director.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” hasn’t been completely dead on the circuit, picking up nominations from HFPA, BFCA, and AFI.  It’s definitely a long shot, but don’t write the film off.  I think if any movie stands poised to stealthily crack the field, it’s this one.

Check back tomorrow morning when the nominees are announced to see how I did in predicting them, along with further commentary on the announcement!





REVIEW: The Bourne Legacy

10 08 2012

No Damon, no problem, right?

Jeremy Renner is a capable action star, so there shouldn’t be any hiccups.  Plus he’s a great actor as evinced by his Oscar nominations for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.”  And Rachel Weisz is a perfectly capable actress to match him; after all, she has the Oscar win (for her riveting work in “The Constant Gardener“) that has eluded Renner’s grasp.

Not to mention, the franchise is in the capable hands of Tony Gilroy.  He wrote the first three installments in the “Bourne” universe, which were all awesome.  And once those were done, he moved onto direct the taut, immaculately constructed “Michael Clayton” (earning him Oscar nominations for writing and directing) and the twisty thriller “Duplicity” (which does not get nearly enough credit).

Yet for all these reasons that “The Bourne Legacy” should work, it absolutely flops.  The expression the higher the pedestal, the harder the fall has more to do with the expectations surround the film than an evaluation of quality; however, a spin-off, sequel, or whatever the heck this movie “Legacy” claims to be cannot escape being measured against its predecessors.  And while the Greengrass/Damon films had a palpable sense of forward momentum that propelled the franchise, Renner and Gilroy’s take on the “Bourne” universe  is dead on arrival and drags for 135 long minutes.

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REVIEW: Green Zone

30 06 2010

Let’s just clear up the misconceptions from the get-go: I won’t be reviewing “Green Zone” as if it were the fourth installment of the Bourne series. Just because it’s a reunion of Matt Damon with director Paul Greengrass does not mean that they are going to keep making shades of the same movie. Assuming so would mean that you see no difference between “Taxi Driver” and “Goodfellas” – both were directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert DeNiro.

The only similarity you might see between Damon and Greengrass’ latest collaboration and the Bourne trilogy is the shaky camera action. Directors usually shoot their movies in a similar style save that it fits, so there’s really no grounds for a comparison. Unless, of course, you like to relate potentially nauseating experiences.

Call it “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” for the Iraq Era, if you must find some movie to compare it to. Instead of having its heart rooted in the wholesome simplicity of small-town values, though, “Green Zone” is rooted in CNN cynicism. Damon’s Roy Miller is a captain leading the unit searching for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) who sees his duties as very black and white. Either the WMDs are at the site or they aren’t. But he is operating in a decidedly gray moral atmosphere, where war wages between the CIA and the Pentagon once the Iraqis are defeated.

The debate rages on how to incorporate the native people into the new regime in post-“Mission Accomplished” Iraq, yet Miller can’t stop thinking about the past. Questioning American motives at a time when the country is still trying to justify their invasion doesn’t make Miller very popular, and he is forced to wander slightly outside his boundaries to get the answers he wants. He doesn’t so much as go Sarah Palin-style rogue as he tracks down the truth, but he’s hunted as such.

Or maybe you should call it the anti-“The Kingdom,” Peter Berg’s 2007 film that presented a fictionalized version of the Riyadh compound bombing in Saudi Arabia. As Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman work to hunt down the terrorists who took innocent lives, you can’t help but feel a surge of confidence that our country is doing whatever is necessary to prevent the monstrosities of 9/11 from ever happening again. Unlike “The Kingdom,” we are meant to feel ashamed of our country in “Green Zone” for doing what it thought was the right thing, even if it might not have been for all the right reasons. All politics aside, it never feels good to be ashamed of your country. B- /





What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

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What To Look Forward To: “Green Zone”

4 11 2009

A scant five days after the best movies of 2009 are crowned at the Academy Awards, a movie will be released that could have been among those.  “Green Zone” was slated for release this year, but the decision was made to push it back to 2010.  This was probably for financial reasons as so many great movies get lost in the heap during the month of December, and this year has taught us that a movie can make a nice chunk of change in the early months of the year.

“Green Zone” reunites the versatile Matt Damon, who at the time of release could be fresh off an Oscar win or nomination for either “The Informant!” or “Invictus,” with Paul Greengrass, director of the final two installments of the Bourne trilogy.  But Greengrass is capable of making something other than an epic action movie; he was nominated for Best Director at the Academy awards in 2006 for his work on “United 93.”  Damon’s character Roy Miller is a U.S. Army officer in the volatile Green Zone region, the center of international presence in Baghdad, who discovers that the CIA is working directly in opposition to his efforts to remove terrorist leaders.  In order to do what he feels is the greater good, he goes rogue.  Featuring an ensemble cast including Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, and Oscar nominees Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan, “Green Zone” can hopefully provide awards-level entertainment in the fairly barren winter months.

However, the movie being set in Iraq could hamper the film’s receipts.  There has yet to be any bonanza made off a movie set in the Middle East, and only recently has their been a movie, “The Hurt Locker,” that has opened to widespread critical acclaim (although I loved “The Kingdom” … never have I felt so patriotic).  That movie focused more on characters and not on action, and if the same applies to “Green Zone,” it should do fine.  Universal put out two trailers for the movie this week.  The domestic trailer makes it look more like the “Bourne” movies with plenty of action, while the international trailer focuses more on the plot.  I embedded the international trailer here because if you have read this blog at all, you know my main concern is story.  A side note/quick pondering, does this mean that Universal thinks that Americans only want action and no plot?  Whatever the case may be for “Green Zone,” I’m sold.