Bourne uncovers more truths in ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’

Rating 4/5

This Bourne trilogy might be considered overrated. Some might say the story is inconceivable. Why do you need three films to discover one’s identity? I think the answer is that it really doesn’t matter. As I’ve said of the other two films before this installment, the film’s story and characters are engaging enough to buy in to this world that has been created. The audience is free to cheer on Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne character. It is clear now that Bourne (or whatever his true name really is) does not want to be a part of this secret government program any longer, and it is this inner conflict and the continuing pursuit of his “enemies” that make these compelling characters to watch.

Run, Jason, run. And run some more. The successful techniques and elements used in Identity and Supremacy are prevalent here in this film, which adds to the success of these films. Tony Gilroy returns with writers Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi to pen the script to create this thrilling world with truly living three-dimensional characters to entertain. Director Paul Greengrass helms this production and brings together the elements almost flawlessly for a well-coordinated piece of film. As with the other films, the camera movements, quick shots, music, cinematography, acting and dialogue come together with seeming ease.

I have said this in my previous review that it almost seems preposterous the kind of situations that arise and Bourne finds himself in. Because I don’t pretend to admit that I know everything there is to know about the government, CIA, and its secret programs and operations. I am aware they exist. But the sequences in these films are so well done that Greengrass skillfully weaves the story into the action of the film to provide enough excitement to again sustain that suspension of disbelief and be fully engaged in the film.

Everything comes together to complete this trilogy. However, it still leaves more. One might think what other circumstances and situations Bourne might find himself in? How do the government officials with all their resources bent on stopping Bourne and not be able to do it? Bourne is someone is has a remarkable set of skills and uses those skills skillfully in order to stay ahead of his enemies and to stay alive.

In respect of not sounding too repetitive, there is not much more to say about this film (or the other two in the trilogy) that hasn’t been said or mentioned. This character seems to go on and on. I read another reviewer that mentioned Bourne could feasibly go on for years to come, like James Bond, with other actors portraying this character. As I mentioned in my review of The Bourne Supremacy, Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. I can’t really see anyone else playing this role. But I suppose it could be done since it was done with Bond (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan to name a few). Time will tell what is in store for this character and these stories.

There must be a variety of stories that could be taken from the Robert Ludlum novels as it has spawned this trilogy, a fourth film (previously mentioned in another post) with a Bourne-like character and the story unfolding as the events of this third film are playing out. And a fifth film, released last year, in which the Bourne character is back in Jason Bourne. And guess who’s back to portray Bourne? That’s right. Matt Damon returns for a fourth time as Jason Bourne. But how much more of his story is there? We shall see. For now, we can sit back and get caught up in the action and excitement of this world with the Bourne trilogy.

 

 

 

Terror mounts at high altitudes in ‘Snakes on a Plane’

Rating 1.5/5

Well my title might be a little misleading. Because I don’t think the characters in the film were ever really terrified, just maybe slightly alarmed. The danger seemed almost laughable, and still slightly plausible. But the execution of the script never really made be feel for the characters to care what happened to them. Although the film did deliver one of my favorite lines in cinema as only Samuel L. Jackson can deliver it, Snakes on a Plane was filled with a smorgasbord of seemingly repetitive shock effects that the suspense and “terror” is drowned out and does not sustain the film for its nearly 105 minute run time.

The plot is simple and seemingly basic. Jackson plays FBI agent Neville Flynn. He is on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles transporting a witness (Nathan Phillips) to testify against a bad man. The bad man is so bad that he manages to load the cargo of the plane with crates of deadly, poisonous snakes. And that’s how the snakes get on the plane. The snakes get loose and begin creating havoc among the passengers of the plane killing several. The survivors then have to deal with the threat of the snakes for the remainder of the flight. The survivors include flight attendants Juliana Margulies, Rachel Blanchard, Lin Shaye and Bruce James; passengers Sunny Mabrey, Flex Alexander, Kenan Thompson, Keith Dallas, and pilot David Koechner (who later meets his demise, but more on that in a bit). There are a few others but they’re hardly worth mentioning. They either die early in the film or they have such a low impact on the story or outcome of the film that they don’t really deserve a mention.

While the survivors scramble to keep alive, Flynn is in contact with his FBI buddies on the ground and gets them to scramble around to find a snake expert to develop anti-venom to treat the ones who have been bit, but still stay alive long enough for the plane to miraculously land. It makes for some mindless entertainment but it is not thrilling enough to keep me totally involved in the story.

Some problems exist with the story. How does the villain of the story know for sure the snakes would get out? (I mean supposedly there is some kind of pheromone or something released which apparently gets the snakes agitated and that’s why they start attacking everyone, but if they don’t get out then what’s the point?) As I said, the pilot survives for a while, even after getting bit in the arm, but then later is killed late in the second act. Now there is no one to fly the plane. So Flynn asks if there is anyone with any kind of flight experience. And guess who has experience – Kenan Thompson. However, his experience comes from a flight simulator. The miraculous landing comes from Thompson taking the controls and Jackson delivering his line about getting these “motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane.” His plan is to shoot out a window and watch as the snakes get sucked out of the plane while holding on for dear life. The plane is safely landed in the hands of someone who is just good at a video game, which might be plausible in the world of this film but still seems a bit far-fetched.

What else can be said of Snakes on a Plane? Not much. With its flaws and low-key performances, it does have some credibility, just not much to write home about. Perhaps just enough to write a seemingly scathing review for a blog? Well here it is. This film might be another one of those movies that would be good for some mindless entertainment on a lazy afternoon, but nothing more than that. David R. Ellis’ direction was nothing great here. Maybe in the hands of a more prolific director it might have been something, but as it is it leaves something to be desired. The script, written by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, left a lot to be desired and seemed mediocre at best.

So if you’re in the mood for some great acting, a good story, compelling characters, then you might have to check out something else like a Scorsese picture. You won’t find much of that here. But if you want to kick back, have a few laughs, and let your mind wander in the presence of tedious storytelling and senseless action, then pop some popcorn and buckle in.

 

Bourne is back in ‘The Bourne Supremacy’

Rating 4/5

Director Paul Greengrass helmed the follow-up to 2002’s The Bourne Identity. Tony Gilroy returns as screenwriter, again adapting the script from Robert Ludlum’s novel. In this installment, there is more of the same from the first film but is taken to another level as we learn more about Bourne and his past as an event forces him out to again go on the run to face the ones who are after him.

The film begins with Bourne living happily with Marie (Franka Potente, from the first film) on a beach in India. Soon they are on the run after Bourne notices a man out of place. From there, things escalate and Bourne is thrust into another adventure with high stakes on the line. The film does not fail in delivering the fights, chases, and fast-paced character driven action that made the first film a success.

This installment brings together the usual thriller components and hurtles from location to location across the world, while never being bogged down with unnecessary action, dialogue, story and character development. Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne and still brings the energy and intensity he had in the first film. I think what makes these films stand out for me is partly because of Damon’s performance. He brings the right level of energy without being overbearing and still true to the character and story. He wasn’t a flashy, over-the-top character to just exist because he is a character written on a page. He brings life to the character and it is hard to imagine any other actor in this role. Matt Damon is Jason Bourne

Joan Allen joins the cast as Pamela Landy, a CIA agent charged with finding Bourne after evidence emerges that Bourne was involved in a murder of a CIA agent and his criminal contact in Berlin. Brian Cox returns as Ward Abbott, essentially Landy’s boss. And Julia Styles reprises her role from the previous film.

The plausibility of some of the events in the film from ever happening (or happening they way they were portrayed in the film) is borderline preposterous, like similar events in the Taken franchise, but Bourne just does it better. It makes Bourne look like a guy who knows what he’s doing and does it so well. This is in part due to the fact the source material seems to be more credible than the Liam Neeson franchise. What also sets these films apart, as in the first film, is the use of the various locations and music to underscore the developing story. I also like the quick camera cuts and close up shots during the fight scenes. It seems to put the audience in the middle of the frantic action taking place on screen. Some may not like that. I think it adds to the film.

Are these films perfect? Not really. But they are very effective in telling the story while keeping the audience entertained and enthralled and they have just the right amount of movie magic to maintain that suspension of disbelief. Greengrass and company have scored another hit with this franchise. Identity doubled its production costs while Supremacy took in more than half of its production costs as revenue. There doesn’t seem to be anything slowing down the momentum of this engaging trilogy.

Thrills and action prevail in ‘The Bourne Identity’

Rating 4/5

Say what you will about action movies. Say what you will about thrilling thrillers. Say what you will about Jason Bourne, a character portrayed by Matt Damon in the film adaptations of the Robert Ludlum novels. Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron took Ludlum’s world of the CIA and trained assassins and created a fast-paced, high-energy story about a man whose lost his memory and tries to escape the world in which he was in, all the while running to find a new life for himself.

The Bourne Identity could be considered a skillful action movie in that the action scenes (fights and chases) are done well. Director Doug Liman has put together a highly efficient film where all the film elements seamlessly move together to produce a quite entertaining, enjoyable, well-acted film.

In the film, Jason Bourne (Damon), a CIA operative in a secret program trained as an assassin, is found floating in the sea and awakens with no memory of who he is or his former life. As he fights his way to discover his identity, he realizes the path to his past is much more than he thought. As the story unfolds, pieces of his past are revealed but apparently not enough to fully infiltrate his true self because two more films were warranted for the scope of this character and his past. And not only two more films in this Bourne trilogy, but a separate film (based on a Ludlum novel) with a different character, similar to Bourne (because Bourne wasn’t the only one in the program), and most recently a fifth film entitled Jason Bourne. But I am swaying off the topic just a bit and those reviews will follow in future posts.

In his quest for his identity, he enlists the help of a woman Marie (Franka Potente) he met a bank and learning he has a particular set of skills he doesn’t seem to remember how he obtained those skills. He offers Marie $10,000 to drive him to Paris. Along the way, he discovers clues about his past while evading numerous agents out to kill him because the government officials heading up the secret program believe he is a rogue operative and needs to be stopped because he seems to be a threat to the government.

In most stories of good guys and bad guys, the good guy (hero) is someone the audience is supposed to feel for. They should be cheering him on and developing a connection with him (or her) so that when the hero triumphs there is a satisfaction and a relief felt by the audience. In a story such as this, the hero is a trained assassin who goes on missions in order to save American lives, but that may not always be the case because he may not always be told the whole truth (for the sake of the mission and to protect the government and have deniable plausibility. But there might be a connection here with this particular character because as he is learning who he was, and it becomes clear he doesn’t want to do that anymore. He wants to be left alone and live a different life away from the government. This is a character driven story in that Bourne drives the action. He runs. He fights. He rests. Confronts some of his enemy. Repeat. This is a standard formula in most action films of this genre.

The action sequences are well choreographed where Bourne seems to be a one-man army taking on several assailants at once and appearing to be thinking one step ahead of his enemy at all times, which include Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and Clive Owen. The performances were outstanding. Damon brings a sincere, energized look and feel to the character and all the actors brought something to their individual characters, which made them distinct, interesting, and entertaining and moved the story and action along. There were wonderful locations and the cinematography just added to the film and never seemed to lack in keeping it from being dull.

One might view The Bourne Identity as mindless entertainment. It might have some flaws, but I believe they would be miniscule compared to the story and action of the film. It was an entertaining, character-driven thrill ride, unlike the Taken films. Bourne just seems to do it better.

 

 

 

 

‘Going in Style’ needs just a little more style

Rating 2.5/5

The recent release of Going in Style was a remake of a 1979 film of the same name starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. It would be interesting and fun to see those actors in that film and I will have to check that out. So that will be on my list for a future post. Not having seen the prior film, I cannot comment on it so I’ll have to rely on what I saw as I viewed this 2017 version.

This 2017 remake stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, and was written by Theodore Melfi and Edward Cannon. At the helm of this production is director Zach Braff. The trailer leads us to believe the film is a laugh out comedy. I believe it was written as a comedy (or at least meant to be a comedy) but it is not what it appears. Of course there were comedic moments in the film, but they were few and far between and those moments did not sustain the film as a comedy. However, I believe this version seemed to be more of a social commentary on big corporations keeping the working-man down and the importance of family. But even those elements did not seem to hold up the film. With all that being said, the filmmakers were more than likely looking at the big names (Caine, Freeman, and Arkin) in the cast to really sell this movie. The film also starred Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, and Joey King.

Even with its flaws, the film was enjoyable. It was probably not as enjoyable as it could have been, but still watchable. One of the main problems with this film, though, is that it plays on and on, seemingly taking forever to really get going. The plot is pretty basic, as the three main characters have been screwed by big banks and a shady corporate deal that robs them of their pensions. So they decide to rob a bank (the same bank that holds the mortgage for one of them). All the planning, family issues, and social issues that are shown through half of the film come together for the actual event of the heist, which remarkably takes only a few minutes of the film. Most of the time for the film is spent looking into the lives of these characters and their reaction to the world around them.

The performances were adequate here for the film, but nearly bordered on low-key performances and almost seemed wasteful of the talents from these three film actors. There have been other films where it seems to have low energy or a lot of excitement infused in the action of the film and I mostly despise those films. I’ve compared those films to seeing a live theatrical play where the energy from the actors is low and the play just seems to drag. That’s almost how this film felt at times, but even so there was a quiet charm to the film. It had just enough to keep me into the film and engaged with the characters and story to see it through, despite its quiet, slow action and soft characters.

If you’re looking for a fun time, laugh out loud comedy, then this film is probably not for you. If you might be looking for stellar performances from three iconic actors, you might look somewhere else. But even with its slow-moving action, low-key performances, it might be good for some simple entertainment for a lazy afternoon. As it did with me, it might just keep your interest just enough to be watchable and enjoyable on some level.

 

Johnson flexes some muscle in ‘Hercules’ and fails to make a punch

Rating 2/5

There could be much to say about director Brett Ratner’s 2014 Hercules, but I don’t think there really is. I suppose, though, if you enjoy some action, fighting, a little humor, campy dialogue, and Dwayne Johnson flexing a little muscle while pushing over a large statue, then this might be for you. It’s like if you like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing you like. Writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos are credited for the script that boasted 98 minutes of the aforementioned campy dialogue (although not as campy as most of the Kevin Sorbo television series of the ‘90’s) and seemingly bland story.

Earlier in the same year, audiences were treated to The Legend of Hercules starring Kellan Lutz and directed by Renny Harlin. In that film, (which I have not seen yet, but probably will appear in a future post) a story surfaces, which supposedly is grounded more in the traditional Greek mythology of Hercules’ origin. Ratner’s version portrayed Hercules as sort of a mercenary for hire, which is apparently based on another story of the famed demigod, leading a small rag-tag team of “misfits” on quests to earn gold. It was like if the A-Team was set in the fantastical realm of Greek mythology. If you need to overthrow a king, and if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire Hercules.

The performances were nothing extraordinary here but basically cookie-cutter two-dimensional characters with no real distinguishable characteristics. They really had nothing that allowed me to have an interest to what happened to them. The film also starred Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann, and Rebecca Ferguson, and of course many others; but again there was nothing that made me feel for the characters or care about their activities and story arcs.

I will admit, though, some of the fight scenes and big battle scenes were decently choreographed and done to an almost precision point that served the film well for what it was. I just particularly didn’t care for the type of film it appeared to be. However, even with its faults, the film was somewhat enjoyable on some level. There was some entertainment in the characters but it didn’t have enough to sustain my interest through the duration of the film. Other films seem to do it better with a more engaging story and characters even though there might not necessarily be a lot of action in every scene with huge explosions and fights.

There are those that may find this particular kind of film more enjoyable. That’s not to say it wasn’t watchable, because it was. It’s just not something I would necessarily see again if I didn’t have to. It might serve a purpose to have something playing in the background while performing another activity or something to watch for some simple entertainment on a lazy afternoon.

 

 

Neeson uses his skills to run in ‘Taken 3’

Rating 2/5

After 2012’s follow up to Taken, we get a third (and supposedly final) installment to the Taken franchise. In this film, nobody’s really “taken,” except maybe for the audience. Released in 2014, Taken 3 brings back writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and director of the second film Olivier Megaton for a seemingly tiresome ploy to somehow capitalize on the moderate success of this particular action franchise.

This film also brings back the Mills family – Bryan (Liam Neeson), Lenore (Famke Janssen), and Kim (Maggie Grace) – and is set in Los Angeles. Bryan and Lenore are still divorced, but have a friendship going after the events of the other films and having Kim in common. This relationship puts a damper on Lenore’s current beau, Stuart (Dougray Scott), who simply asks Bryan to stop seeing her. After an opening sequence that doesn’t really get answered until much later (and is a weak plot point at best), Bryan goes to meet his ex at his place after receiving a text from her. He arrives and soon discovers she has been murdered. Of course, the police are alerted anonymously and Bryan has to fight his way out to go on the run.

That’s the premise. And that’s what moves the film into the second act and an unbelievable high-speed foot chase. Bryan leads the police through the streets to a house where he barges in on the unsuspecting couple, runs upstairs, then finally to a garage where he somehow knows there is a hole, covered with boards, underneath a car, that leads to the sewer. And I thought some of the sequences in the second film were a bit outlandish. I suppose, though, if you are an excellent former CIA operative with incredible skills, it could be slightly plausible you would have escape routes, weapons and gear hidden around the city like some great covert Easter Egg Hunt. But I digress. Bryan is on the run and his mission is to find out who murdered his wife and who framed him.

The film’s redemption is Neeson’s performance. Despite the obscure sequences, plot, and storylines, he still brings something to the character, but not at the level of his first outing. I’m sure he did what he could with the material he was given and Megaton’s direction. The addition of Forest Whitaker as Franck Dotzler, the police officer charged with bringing Mills in, but is always seemingly one step behind, offers a decent performance. However, it still lacks depth. For the most part, the performances were lackluster and 2-dimensional.

The cinematography is not as breathtaking in this film as the other two (France and Turkey) although it seems to utilize the locations well and serves the purpose of the film. But with that, the action and story doesn’t quite move along as well in this outing (not necessarily because of the cinematography, but story itself) because it is more drawn out (at nearly 20 minutes longer) than the first two installments. The camera movements made the fight scenes and chase scenes a little too fast-paced to easily follow to allow the audience to fully be aware of the surroundings and scope of the action.

Taken 3 is not about the characters being taken, it’s about the audience being taken, taken for a near 2-hour ride of quick-moving, incongruent scenes with a weak story. The characters, story and action of this film did not have enough substance for me to enjoy this film as sometimes that helps me retain interest. Maybe a better vision for this film would have helped. I don’t know. What I do know, there are other films, and even a television show, in this genre that do it better.