Franchise Frenzy with Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne

It wouldn’t be the summer movie season without franchise entries galore, and although I proudly shirk most, two series I have always enjoyed are Star Trek and Jason Bourne. The latest episodes opened on back to back weekends and both are entertaining, serviceable entries providing escapism that hit all their required marks. But it was interesting to see how one was almost undone by its director’s ambition with action sequences, while the other was so taut and perfectly executed in its action as to take the film to another level. If Justin Lin’s smash-and-grab acrobatic incoherence is the perfect example of what not to do with action sequences, then Paul Greengrass’ intense hand-held location shooting is the masterclass of modern action direction.

Star Trek Beyond Damnit Jim Its Bright In Here

Being with the same cast for the third time around gives Star Trek Beyond a nice lived-in feel. We know the characters so well, as these actors have come into their own doing great jobs with Simon Pegg’s scripted witty and goofy banter that harkens back to classic Treks, especially Karl Urban as Bones. The plot is pretty basic. And since it seems like The Enterprise needs to get destroyed every time now, they wisely dispense with this in the beginning when the crew crash lands on an uncharted planet after having fallen into a giant space booby-trap. On hand as the villain, is a growling Idris Elba who seems to be the go-to guy for villains with crazy accents these days. The flick is fun and quick paced, and the special effects (especially the giant space station/city Yorktown) are colorful, bright and dazzling.

I was happy to see J.J. Abrams move on from the franchise, but Justin Lin was not the right choice to replace him. Lin made quite a name for himself orchestrating some of the most gleefully over-the-top car/truck/tank/plane/whatever smash-em-ups in the otherwise brain-dead Fast & Furious franchise. Sadly, his flair for the outlandish stunt doesn’t translate as well into space.   Continue reading

Contagion

Some people would do anything for their blog...

 
“Blogging is graffiti with punctuation.”
 
In Steven Soderbergh’s timely new viral thriller, Jude Law (always unlikable) is a blogger who gives the government a huge headache while they attempt to control an epidemic of bat-pig flu (holy crap!)  It’s never made clear whether this character really was trying to disseminate the truth (or at least a valid alternative take on the facts) or was just preaching fear so he could cash in and blackmail the CDC, but ultimately Soderbergh is pretty dismissive of the blogosphere.
 
There are some other more applicable and timeless messages to take away from the film:  women who sleep around spread viruses, women married to powerful men are incapable of keeping secrets, and no one really cares when a step-kid dies.  Seriously though – there’s also some “bigger picture” commentary about big corporations causing big problems and overly complex bureaucracies crippling the pace of solving the problems.  Sometimes this results in minor inconveniences…and sometimes it results in 27 million people dying.  C’est la vie.

True Grit

Hailee Steinfeld is Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges is Rooster Cogburn in The Coen Brothers' rehash of TRUE GRIT.

True Grit has just about gotta be the most un-ironic thing the Coen Brothers have ever conjured.  The Coens have explored the landscapes (No Country for Old Men) and themes (law and order in Fargo and the “man on the run” in Raising Arizona) of Westerns before, but this is their first stone-cold stab at the genre.  They’ve done remakes before, too, lest we forget the travesty of The Ladykillers.  Yet it is here where they play it completely straight and deliver a polished, hard to dislike, feature film liquored-up with top shelf quality right down the line. Continue reading

A Review of Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum”

Bourne Again Fan, 7 August 2007
8/10

Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

“The Bourne Ultimatum” begins recklessly mid-chase and in pulse-pounding fashion explodes from there as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, absolutely superb) tracks down the masterminds behind the CIA black-ops that turned him into the perfect killer in a final attempt to learn his true identity. A devastatingly icy David Strathairn as the “man behind the curtain” is added to the returning cast of regulars including Joan Allen (excellent) and Julia Stiles (non-existent).

Like the second entry in the series, I wished Paul Greengrass’ shaky hand-held camera would go static at least for the few minutes of downtime. However, that being said, it’s a perfect way to capture the tense, claustrophobic feel of the intimate hand-to-hand-combat scenes and works equally well in the chase scenes which are mostly on foot and across rooftops with the occasional big car pile-up. Part of the fun of the Bourne series is the constant globe-hopping and manipulation of technology and communications that seem to defy the laws of physics and current capabilities. The Bourne films seem to exist in some sort of gritty hyper-reality that is full of technological-based magic. It makes no sense that everyone seems to be just in the right place at the right time, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a blast to watch them get there.

With the absence of the emotive and involving Franka Potente, the writers attempt to create some emotional connection between Damon and Stiles, but she is so blank-faced an actress it never really leads to anything. Still, this can be forgiven, for unlike the “Identity” and the “Supremacy”, this “Ultimatum” reveals all and we finally learn the truth about Bourne’s past. It’s an entertaining and satisfying conclusion to the series, and if they have any good sense, and Damon gets his wish, this will be the perfect end to it.

The Jason Bourne films are based on Robert Ludlum’s popular series of books. 

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0440963/usercomments-174

A Review of Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”

In honor of the Golden Globe nominations and the race for Oscar, here is a rebroadcast of my review of The Departed from when it originally opened in October of 2006.  This is the only film from this year to receive 10/10 stars from me.  Comparatively, last year, I bestowed two 10 star reviews to The Constant Gardener and Crash (which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture).  In 2004, I bestowed only one 10 star review to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The Renaissance, 9 October 2006
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Martin Scorsese has reached a point in his career where he has free reign to do whatever he wishes as a director. It’s hallowed ground for an auteur, and as such, every actor worth his salt would kill to work for him knowing full well that whatever Scorsese chooses to do will be an uncompromising work of art. With “The Departed” he has quite possibly one of the greatest casts ever assembled. The deliciously convoluted plot based on the recent Asian flick “Infernal Affairs” showcases Jack Nicholson as an Irish mob boss; Leonardo DiCaprio as an undercover cop infiltrating the crime ring; Matt Damon as the crime ring’s inside man with the police unit assigned to bring them down; Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg as the cops working above Damon and DiCaprio; and a breakthrough role for Vera Farmiga as a police psychiatrist in a love triangle with Damon and DiCaprio. This brief but confusing rundown is merely the tip of the iceberg and reveals nothing of the plot twists and tension riddling every aspect of the film like bullet holes from a machine gun massacre.

By now, Scorsese is to crime dramas what Hitchcock was to psychological thrillers. Comparatively, he’s at the same point in his long career Hitchcock was when he gave us “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” and “Vertigo.” Scorsese could’ve directed this blindfolded and it would’ve still been first rate. What’s so thrilling about Scorsese as a filmmaker is that he’s always directing full throttle with his eyes wide open. “The Departed” is so ridiculously good it left me with chills afterward. After a brief departure to big budget Oscar pushes with “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator,” Scorsese returns to the familiar ground of his most revered projects like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” Goodfellas,” and “Casino.” All his hallmarks are here: fantastic use of music, brilliantly choreographed bouts of violence, heart-pounding editing, deep and meaningful camera shots and movement, religious iconography, an epic and detailed sense of place (in this case, Boston), and highly quotable dialogue that is dramatic and funny and full of pathos in all the right places.

With its rising tension and cat-and-mouse theatrics, “The Departed” is easily the most viscerally thrilling studio film to come down the pike in many moons. Scorsese doesn’t just treat us to his usual bag of tricks, he re-imagines them, and in exorcising perfectly balanced performances from an amazingly talented cast that in the hands of lesser director may have gone over-the-top, he delivers a modern day tragedy on par with greatest works of Shakespeare. For Scorsese, the big screen is his canvas, the camera his paint brush, and the blood splattered across the screen his awe-inspiring brush strokes. He’s a veteran, he’s a master, and “The Departed” is his Renaissance.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0407887/usercomments-359