Monday, February 20, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie


After the explosive success of the bright, hilarious and unexpectedly deep The Lego Movie, it's no surprise that the series was continued. This spin-off flick was given to for his brilliantly rendered serious goof of a Batman. No other character deserves the solo spotlight more, and it couldn't have been handled any better -- leaving me wondering whether it might have actually surpassed its mother film in hilarity and excellence.

Because... he's Lego Batman.

Right off the bat (Get it? It's a bat pun!) there's around twenty minutes of non-stop gut-busting comedy. Really smart stuff too. Jokes flew over the heads of the crumb-crunching, popcorn-barfing target audience at the same impressive speeds at which the plot moved along to keep them interested. I think I laughed more than they did. Will Arnett was already the comedy highlight of the last Lego Movie; here, the entire script was catered to that wonky, surprisingly highbrow style of comedy that works so well for the humorously serious, satirized character of Lego Batman and leaves me in stitches embarrassingly often... some might say.

The humor does tone down eventually, just enough so that the plot can be developed with the proper amount of importance. There's not much to the plot -- the threat of the movie being directly connected with Batman's character development, with just a few unusual elements, so everything fits together neatly and simply. Just as it should be. It leaves more time for the delightful wise-cracks and overly-dramatic parody, and you gotta pack it in with the kiddie run time.

The wit is strong with this one.

The theme is similarly connected and similarly simple. Granted, it didn't move me nearly as much as the theme of The Lego Movie, but it did have some nice things to say about unity and love that mean a lot it the world today -- but was presented more tactfully than most movies with a purposeful message these days, without placing blame or pointing fingers or encouraging the creation of bad guys at all. With help from a Michael Jackson song, it says to take a look at yourself first when there's a problem, and suggests that the people you're fighting against may actually be important in the big picture and not as evil as you might think.

The movie made me very happy with the amount of movie references it made, including many references to other Batman films, and also films outside of the universe. The supporting cast, made up of as Robin, as Alfred, and as Batgirl in the core group, to and , and spreading out into cameo after cameo including many returning cameos from The Lego Movie, as the Eye of Sauron and Siri as... a... computer... -- they were all great. I'm bad at the game of "Guess the Actor without Seeing Their Face" but I enjoyed playing nonetheless.

You might think the Joker is played as the main villain by now... which is perfect for this.

In direct comparison to The Lego Movie there are some wins and some losses. It's at least just as funny. I would argue funnier. The plot isn't as creative or original, but it's a Batman movie, and in spite of being Lego is somehow is relevant when held up against even the best live action portrayals of the character, which cannot be a small feat. The theme wasn't as personally effective and moving as the last Lego film, but I enjoyed it plenty, and (for whatever it's worth) approved of it equally.

One random comment: the medium of this film allows for something to be done with Batman that no other film has done -- make the Wayne mansion huge. It was really, truly, mindbogglingly, depressingly, no-way-even-James-Cameron-could-get-the-budget-for-live-action-scale-like-this massive. Almost as cool as that was how it was used not only for comedy, but for effortless dramatic effect too. For some reason all that impressed me.

But, mostly, it's just a whole bunch of goofy fun.

It was almost exactly what I expected, so color me a satisfied consumer. The biggest worry I had concerning this spin-off was that it might just ride the coattails of the original flick, but that apparently wasn't even a potential issue that was worked around. Hardly even worth being called a spin-off at all -- it is after all, Batman. Comedy or drama, fighting or dancing, saving the day or beat-boxing, Batman -- and especially Lego Batman -- flies on the merit of his own wings.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Second to The Lord of the Rings, I credit this adaptation of C. S. Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for being the movie that made me a movie fan. The Lord of the Rings was a party I was late to, but with Narnia, I was obsessed from seeing the trailer -- in fact, seeing this movie's trailer was the most memorable thing about seeing Revenge of the Sith in theaters. It was my first fandom, and has always been so personal to me that I never reviewed it, but after not watching it for a few years I came back to it, and found that I can view it now... if not without bias, at least with open eyes, so time to give it a review, I think!

It's not perfect by any means, but to me, it's still magical.

Along with not watching it for a long while I also haven't given the book a read in years either. When the film came out, I critiqued every single little change; with this most recent viewing I could hardly remember which things were changes at all. I also saw it in a less Christian light. I still of course appreciate the allegory and symbolism present, but before, I think I saw it almost religiously -- like the Christian meaning in it was the most important part. And since I've realized that in spite of all that, and how neat and thoughtful it is, it's fundamentally a story, and that's where I'm coming from now.

So, story-wise; The Chronicles of Narnia. I've done some serious picking on the changes this movie made in adapting, but truthfully this is an excellent adaptation of the book. It adds scenes of action to keep the pace going, but also takes great pains to preserve the heart of the story -- along with as many little details as possible. Like the bluebonnet in the window. Before I'd complain that the bug was supposed to be dead. Truthfully, the writers and director Andrew Adamson were obviously dedicated to the quality of the film, and I appreciate that so much.

It took a while for me to notice the difference between making changes for artistic reasons, and lazy ones.

The movie starts off beautifully with the raid and subsequent removal to the country -- still one of the most lovely film openings I can think of. They take their time to establish characters and mood, set to gorgeous music that has you drawn into the world of Narnia way before Lucy even steps foot there. Then once she does the world of Narnia is so rich and feels like it could be real. New Zealand's landscapes helped with that, as did Weta's prop and costume designs. This movie took notes from Lord of the Rings and applied it all well. Lord of the Rings has had a huge influence on so many films, but in the more recent years the borrowing has become lazier and lazier. Narnia used the influence to create and be its own thing.

Of course I still find the river crossing scene awkwardly fake. And the more I see it, the the more apparent the spotty acting gets. The four children were well cast as their characters, but the acting and line delivery is sometimes cringe-worthy. Lucy and Edmund -- and -- have a better excuse, being young kids, but they're actually the best of the four with that consideration. Peter and Susan -- and -- had moments of equal awkwardness in spite of being older. However, they look the parts and are perfectly capable of maintaining a character and character progression. After that, line delivery can fall flat and be covered up.

....with the assistance of more seasoned and dedicated actors.

Plus there's a top notch supporting cast to make up for it. 's iconic faun Mr Tumnus -- spot on. 's voicing of Aslan is as great as the lion's animation which is still holding up. And 's Jadis is ever-incredible. She makes a beautiful, deeply evil and deeply captivating villain. These three probably carry the movie more than the kids do. I also love 's Professor Diggory Kirke. He's a wonderfully charming bookend character for the story.

What with the iconic characters, the many roadblocks that probably came with creating the magical and mythical creatures of the world -- not to mention the detail of the world itself -- and the pressures that came with adapting such a story, one of the things I appreciate most now it how simply the story is told. It just is. Pacing is steady and natural and scenes themselves are unrushed, patient and involving. This movie came from and was put together a lot of different places, but there was a clear vision and that vision was maintained consistently. There are parts for me to wrinkle my nose at still, but I love how tidy and complete the movie is as a whole. It's simple, but there's artistry to it; its not just a prewritten story cranked out onto film.

And it kept loyal to the themes of the book too.

I have long known that Lewis's books themselves were permanently set in my affections, but I am pleased to find that this adaption has found it's way there too. With maybe a smidgen less adoration, but seemingly just as permanent. For a long time I was both afraid to see flaws in this film and smugly pointing out flaws where they really didn't exist, but finally the movie has settled to a place of happy contentment with me. So, long live Aslan -- and if you need me, I'll be daydreaming of adventure and checking the backs of wardrobes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - February

In January I accomplished my oh-so-ambitious plan of seeing one movie in the theaters! La La Land was excellent and worth the wait. Here's my gushy review. Of the TV shows I talked about last month, Sherlock was such a sad failure. (I'm not mad, I'm just... disappointed.) Here are my untempered thoughts on that. Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events was an absolute hit for me though -- everything that I hoped the new attempt at an adaptation would do was done every bit as excellently as I dreamed. I haven't reviewed it though, and I'm not sure I will. If you're interested to read a review of it from me, let me know! But just know that I highly recommend it! I've also been watching Emerald City on NBC. It's not great, but is good enough that we haven't quit yet. The promise of a definite end is definitely what's keeping me in. Anyone else watching this? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

February is back to normal with a nice wide spread of interesting releases -- most of which I'll be looking out for reviews on. There's no huge must-see, but I'll be very surprised if we don't go see The Lego Batman Movie!

What looks good to you this month?

The Space Between Us
Feb 3rd; PG-13
This one's based on a book, so of course now I'm more interesting in reading it than I am watching it... although I do like Asa Butterfield, and Britt Robertson isn't bad. The thing is, the most appealing side of this is the space/Mars stuff, but it looks like he's gonna spend most of his time (and therefore most of the movie's time) on Earth. And then it's in serious danger of being just another fish-out-of-water rom-com, which would be a waste of the premise in my opinion.

The Lego Batman Movie
Feb 10th; PG
Will Arnett's Batman gets his very own very well-deserved movie! There's been so many trailers that we've probably seen most of the movie already, and it's unlikely this one will have the same real-world connection as The Lego Movie did. But gosh, so far I've seen nothing that is short of hilarious with this film's advertising, and it seems to set up for a good amount of depth too. So even if it's not as exceptional as The Lego Movie, I'm excited for a fun time at the theater with the best Batman ever!

A United Kingdom
Feb 10th; PG-13
Looks like a decent romance, and probably a political drama too. Not at all my favorite genres, but I thought it was worth mentioning. There's been a lot of movies lately with themes focused on racism, so if this one wants to stand out it would need to be a worthwhile story, (and perhaps have something new to say on the subject too) and of that, it's hard to tell from the trailer. It is done by the director of Belle though, and that's a promising sign.

The Great Wall
Feb 17th; PG-13
Dear Matt Damon -- What are you doing, buddy? You were in The Martian, and now this? Okay, as far as action-centered lite fantasy films go, this one looks like it could be fun, and will probably be at least decently entertaining from the its visual alone. As far as all that goes. I don't get Matt Damon in this, though. What's the appeal -- for him and for us? There's so many other actors that could have played the part, probably do better on the action side, and not waste their acting chops... but hey, maybe I'm missing something. Or... maybe not.

A Cure for Wellness
Feb 17th; R
If it weren't for the too-hard-for-me rating this might've been the most interesting movie of the month. Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs are typically great, the plot is intriguingly crazy and mysterious, and it is visually both creepy and spectacular. If it turns out as good as it looks, I'll look forward to an opportunity to see it. However I'm not counting on it -- it could very well be one of those films that edits together a memorable trailer out of a lot of good-looking nonsense.

Feb 24th; PG-13
Nicholas Hoult. Felicity Jones. Action flick. I mean, even if it is otherwise the worst movie on the face of the Earth it's still gotta be worth watching just for that, right? Also Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins support. The appeal of the cast makes the any issue of the movies quality pretty much obsolete -- I'm gonna want to watch this no matter what. It doesn't look like it has the most original plot or ideas, but I seriously doubt it'll be the worst movie ever either. In fact, it looks quite fun and action-packed!

FX starting Feb 8th
Some crazy stuff is about to go down. This new Marvel TV series stars Dan Stevens as the X-Man Legion, and... the trailers don't make any sense and promise all kinds of crazy-cool mind-bending. I only know the basics about this character, but it wouldn't make a difference if I knew nothing at all. It's Marvel. It's Dan Stevens. It looks like this. What else do you need to know? Oh, Aubrey Plaza is in it too -- that's just icing. Definitely excited for this!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2016 Films I Saw

My number of 2016-movies seen in 2016 hits the same as last year -- 20. (Since I technically saw the last two on the list in 2017.) I only went to the theater 10 times this year though, compared to a whopping 17 times from 2015. Only seeing one movie twice helped a lot with that, but there also simply weren't many big releases that interested me enough, and to make up for it I wound up watching a whole bunch of (mainly) sub-par films at home. That resulted in my average rating of the year to be a 3.2 -- compared to 3.6 of 2015.

Still, right now I'm not feeling let down; 2016 gave me four 5-star movies, plus Star Wars which I adore in spite of not being able to swing giving it a perfect score. (And don't forget the TV series Stranger Things which may have been the highlight of the entire year!) I have two regrets: Arrival and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I'm sure I'll see them soon enough. I did wait to post this until I'd seen La La Land though, because I got the feeling that I would want it to be included, and I think I made the right choice; it was a perfect close for the year.

So here's the 22 I've seen to date, with brief summaries of thoughts and star-ratings. Click the links to read my full reviews! And drop by the comments section to leave your thoughts on the films of 2016! Were you satisfied with the movie year, or no?

* = the ones I went to the theater to see.
** = watched it using Vidangel. I really enjoyed using that service this year, even to watch films that didn't need anything edited out!

10 Cloverfield Lane* - My first of the year, and my favorite of the year! This is not the sort of movie that needs dozens of viewings, but it was immaculate and powerful and stunning, and I love it. 5 stars!

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice* - I had no plans to see it in theaters but went with a group of friends. I'm glad I saw it on the big screen, because its visual feast distracted nicely from its narrative stupidity. 3 stars.

Captain America: Civil War*- My love/hate relationship with this film is still going strong. On one hand, Bucky and Steve and Spider-Man and those action sequences! On the other, irritating political plot lines and "because you gotta" reasoning. 4 Stars.

Deadpool** - Stripped bear to its basic plot by my liberal application of Vidangel, this one wasn't able to shock me into believing it was actually original. A perverted shadow of the wacky comic character. 1.5 Stars.

The Boy** - As far as cheap horror films go, not complete waste of time. Rupert Evans's face and the ridiculous twist ending made things memorable. 2 stars.

Midnight Special - A special film indeed. A sci-fi genre film that I wish more sci-fi genre films would aspire to be like. Beautiful, heartfelt, imaginative, and excellently acted. 5 stars.

Star Trek Beyond* - A cheaper but fun space caper for the crew of the Enterprise. Decent attention to character. I wouldn't mind them continuing this way, but the franchise won't be the same without Chekov. 4 stars. Second viewing brought it down a bit.

Hail, Caesar!** - A very unusual movie, entertaining in unique and unexpected ways. Not the best from the Coens, not a waste of time either. 3.5 stars, settled to a 3 by now.

Warcraft** - Even worse than I thought possible. I was bored and too confused to bother trying to review it. My brothers understood it well enough though. They didn't like it either. 1.5 stars.

The Magnificent Seven* - Modern blockbuster meets classic cowboy flick. There's really nothing special about this one, but it was a fun ride. 3.5 stars.

X-Men: Apocalypse** - Not at all apocalyptic. But the younger versions of characters were well cast. But Oscar Isaac was completely wasted. But it's decent if you're a fan. 3 stars.

ARQ - A Netflix original that takes the Groundhog Day gimmick and runs around with it in an enclosed sci-fi setting. Small, but worthy. 3 stars.

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty - A low-budget creeper that utilizes smart technique to be an effective supernatural thriller... until the ending messed everything up. 2.5 stars.

Retreat - Fran Kanz joins a cult on Netflix. Weird, creepy, and not exactly rewarding in the end. 2 stars.

Doctor Strange* - An extremely satisfying step outside the box for Marvel. Entertaining, smart, compelling, and appropriately psychedelic. 5 stars! ...but I still haven't seen it twice.

Love & Friendship - Jane Austen's unfinished story get the lazy treatment. The words are sharp; everything else is dull and dry and uninspired. 2.5 stars.

Independence Day: Resurgence** - Pathetic and utterly useless. I'm only glad I didn't pay ticket prices for it. 2 stars. (Because I did enjoy making fun of it.)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them* - A surprisingly enjoyable spinoff adventure. I already like this series more than Harry Potter, although it's not entirely without flaws. 3.5 stars.

Jason Bourne** - It's not terrible, but it is bad enough that I regret seeing it for the previous ending it ruined. No real reason for it to exist. 2.5 stars.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story* - The only movie I saw twice in theaters. Beautiful story, lovable characters, fun and moving. It's not quite perfect, but it lives up to its potential better than seems possible. 4.5 stars!

Zootopia - I didn't expect I'd love it, but I was surprised at how little I enjoyed it. On the surface it looked cute and good enough for a kid's movie, but I may or may not have just offended it by calling it "cute." 2.5 stars.

La La Land - I'm so glad I waited for this one. Superbly moving and wonderfully enjoyable, deeply thoughtful, gorgeous, creative, and everything it should be. 5 stars!

Monday, January 23, 2017

La La Land


Oh my heart.

Mia, a struggling actress () and Sebastian, a cynical jazz pianist () help each other navigate their way through a turbulent sea of hopes and dreams in Los Angeles, California.

Some singing and dancing required.

Written and directed by the ever-stunning , this little film is most popularly notable as a classically-styled musical in a day when original musical films have all but been degraded into teenybopper TV movies on the Disney Channel. But La La Land is almost as far away from classics of the 50's as it is from Teen Beach Movie. "Almost," because it was obviously inspired to evoke that unattainable former glory from those oldies that are still so magical -- but that's not where it stops. It's also an indie film; it's a romance, and a comedy, and a drama; modern in many ways, old-fashioned in others; and it presents us with just as many moments that are achingly, heart-on-the-sleeve real as it does moments of whimsy and daydreaming.

Artistically, I have nothing to complain about. Artistically, I am having trouble finding the proper words of extolment. Chazelle is gifted with an incredible way of looking at the world and an equally incredible ability to make beautiful movies out of it all. His films are, I admit without shame, beyond me. He goes so deep and details so intricately that I watch his movies and feel as though I've only scratched the surface in understanding his full vision. In the case of this film, however far I was able to comprehend beneath the surface, floored me. It seemed to me, an open letter of encouragement and admiration to the Artist in the world. As an artist, and as a dreamer, it moved me deeply.

"Here's to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem..."

But, in relation to the movie, I am the barista. To the frustrated but working jazz pianists of the world, the film might mean something different, and to the successful movie star, something else entirely. Some people may simply find its whimsical charm entertaining. What the film is is what it means to Chazelle, but the beauty of it is that its language is practically universal, without having to simplify or cut corners in the storytelling. That is the common thing to do these days -- in order to relate and appeal to a wide crowd, make the story more shallow; more broad; more meaningless. La La Land does the opposite: it is so focused, and it digs so deep, unwavering and determined, that it touches upon a base desire that can resonate with anyone.

And then it's made up to look like this. My favorite thing about Chazelle's visual style is definitely his use of color, and here the color palette has been kicked up three or four notches from his last, Whiplash, but it all still feels just as intentional. I loved the very basic color scheme and the simplistic costumes made in it. Colorful lighting then adds another layer. The choreography for the dancing was lovely, and the fluid, heavily structured long-take style of the filming was as impressive as it was unique. As I said, an effort was made to recapture a magic thought to have died; it's alive and well in the dance scenes of this film. Most notably present in the sunset piece, and the planetarium.

I often find it hard to believe successful actors in roles of struggling artists... not so here. They were perfect for their roles.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling give it their all -- singing, dancing, playing the piano or acting their heart out, and were a big part of clinching the punch of the movie. Without their dedication to the performances, it probably would've been hard to accept all whimsy, and fantastic elements of the film. As it was, even the weird "randomly breaking out in song and dance" stuff didn't pull me out of the immersion one bit. It was also an unexpectedly neat touch to make Mia and Sebastian not be proficient singers. Besides adding realism, it enhanced the impact of their singing when they get into it beautifully. Gosling I have never liked or been more impressed with. "Impressive" doesn't quite cover it for Stone, though. She was more spell-binding, incredible, and heart-breaking than simply impressive. The audition scene was shredding -- in the most wonderful way possible. And she with Gosling, they oozed charm together, and achieved delightful comedy and realistic drama alike.

Leave it to Damien Chazelle to rearrange your brain and deftly shatter your heart into a thousand little pieces, yet leave you feeling nothing but unequivocal encouragement. Through his eyes, the promise of a bittersweet life seems like the best promise that can be made.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sherlock - Series 4


The dynamic duo, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and the notorious duo Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are back for a fourth and possibly final season. After being an adoring and happy fan of the series for a few lovely years, I gave favorable reviews to the third season in 2014, but lost my obsession. Two more years brought actual disappointment with a gimmicky and unmemorable Christmas special. Now another year has passed, and, a fourth season. This I went into willing, but not determined, to enjoy. And these are my resulting impressions:

This is the season cast? Lestrade barely got a cameo and Molly was a puppet. I miss Lestrade...

The Six Thatchers: Not a great start. What I wanted more than anything was to see the boys get back to their regular crime-solving ways; which they did, and which was portrayed on screen via screen text and montage giving us glimpses of wacky and intriguing cases, but never giving us enough information to actually understand what happened, or how it was solved. Things looked up as Sherlock takes up investigating a body found in an exploded car that had no right being there. This is the stuff I love and for a few minutes I felt the thrill that the first two seasons had in excess. Then Sherlock is distracted by the Six Thatchers case, and that turns promptly into drama for the rest of the episode.

The episode ends up having a ton of reveals, but none that satisfy the curiosity we had. It's less, "Oh that makes sense now!" and more, "Oh they tricked me." It's cheap misdirection instead of taking great pains to set up a hard problem with a clever solution and include enough clues to solve it. The villain was revealed out of nowhere, and then the necessary was done. Because it was necessary. But everything felt wrong; the whole episode felt like it was plodding through the motions, yet if it had actually been going through the motions, rehashing the formula, I probably would've enjoyed it more.

Three guesses as to who's gotten in the way of Sherlock's crime-solving. Hint: It's not the baby.

The Lying Detective: I had more hope for this episode, thinking that after the last one, the Case of the Week formula would be picked back up. Happily, I was right, mostly. This episode featured Toby Jones as a chilling villain who comes up against a washed-up Sherlock, who throws himself recklessly into the case. This one hit all the checkpoints; observations and deductions, Sherlock being an amusing sociopath, (on that note I loved Cumberbatch's performance in this ep, and the wide range of Sherlock's complexities displayed) and reveals that, if not as cleverly projected as the best have been, were also not insultingly impossible.

Actually, this episode had a truly great reveal at its end. Disguises so rarely work on me in shows and films, but this one I bought from the start and never questioned. It was all out in the open, undeniably possible to notice, yet I never did. Well done indeed. This episode even managed to pack a heftier emotional punch than the previous, simply because the drama and emotions were contained to their proper place as an enhancer of the plot instead of its driving force. It was used to increase urgency and reward in the end, and was welcome.

The Lying Detective was written by Moffat. The first ep was writ by Gatiss and the last was a combined effort. By that evidence it is clear that this isn't all Moffat's fault.

The Final Problem: Technically, I would say this episode is better than the first of the season, but personally it offended me so much more. It ignored established aspects of characters for the sake of The Mighty Moffat Twist; it established facts only to turn around and throw them in our faces later, and it put its characters through so much far-fetched mental torture in completely strange and unexplained ways and locations, that it all felt like fanfiction with a genre twist of demented sci-fi horror.

At this point it's not inaccurate to call it fanfiction, actually. Yes, Moffat and Gatiss created this show, but it was based on an existing character and existing stories. They were adapting; great, clever adapting too, with all those little twists and nods so well-calculated and fit into the plot. But the Sherlock stories have now veered away from the original Sherlock Holmes into this ignorantly pompous fabricated soap opera. It's their right as show-runners and writers, but this is not what I'm here for. I'm here for Sherlock Holmes; deductions, crime-solving, stunning intellect; fun! This episode was not fun. It was manipulative, brazen and haughty, smugly feeding its starved audience spam that's been grilled up like a steak, and basking in the contrived glory of how smart it is.

This show is in danger of having created some seriously sad irony with the episode title choice here. It could be the Last Mistake the show makes.

Maybe this will be the end of Sherlock. They end the season without the typical cliffhanger to torture fans with for the next few years (in case it's not renewed I guess) and scraped together some kind of open-ended resolution, but loose ends and plot holes abound. So little was actually wrapped up. What a mess. I feel as though I've been insulted for my loyalty. I was never unconditionally loyal to the show, only to the aspects of it that I loved and thought were good, but I have been more forgiving. Now the infractions are intentional and impossible to ignore, and I'm done picking through grimy rubble to enjoy what I can. There's barely anything left to be loyal to. The spell is broken. Goodnight, Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jason Bourne

Major Spoilers.

You know his name... but they still felt the need to make it the title.

Bourne's story was pretty well wrapped up last we saw him, so this movie has to make up new information to draw him back into the fight again. It comes from Nicky () who was just minding her own business hacking the CIA when she came across an interesting (new!) fact: Bourne's father Richard Webb was involved in Treadstone. This is important to Jason because of... reasons, so he starts chasing down leads and baddies again. Meanwhile, upstarty and serious CIA agent Heather Lee () and the CIA Director () catch wind of Bourne and can't resist giving chase -- in spite of the long track record of disaster for all others who have tried.

You know what this movie's problem is? Bourne Legacy. That is literally its problem. This whole movie seems to exist as some kind of incarnate indignation over Legacy's existence. It's been nine years since Ultimatum; a satisfying ending to an excellent trilogy. Now, back for no reason, Matt Damon's Bourne is older and significantly less interesting than he used to be. The movie's plot is basic and a thinly veiled excuse to bring the character back, and nothing brought to the movie brings anything worthwhile, or even new or interesting, to the table.

In some instances, quite the opposite.

In fact, they spent most of their time taking away things the franchise has given us so far. Maybe I was alone with this (I doubt it) but I personally liked the open ending of Ultimatum; an implication the there was more adventure to be had, with a happy ending somewhere nearby. I liked to imagine that once thing quieted down Jason and Nicky got together and managed to live a little. But no, this movie says. Nicky gets killed so that we can have more, bigger car chases and blurry fist fights. And no, we can't rest leaving the plot as a smart spy conspiracy; we have to throw in from left field some weird stuff about Jason's dad... to make it personal I guess? Jase, Shark. Shark, Jase.

But as offensive as all that ridiculousness is, the biggest offense here is simply that the movie just doesn't bother to be as good as any of Jason's other outings. Personally, I found that each sequel to be slightly worse, but at least they all fit together as a cohesive unit; this one tries to attach itself to the trilogy, while having more in common with Jeremy Renner's spin-off -- except without the freshness of a new face and story line. I enjoy Legacy immensely, but I do consider it to be on a lower quality level than the other Bourne movies. This one is on that step down with its general quality and being, and can't even manage to be fun and entertaining to make up for it.

I appreciate what you've done in the past, but if this is what you're gonna give us now, I'd rather someone else have a shot.

Jason Bourne has always been a great character, and Matt Damon seems incapable of failing to pull the weight of any movie, but he sure does come close here. He gets very few lines (he's never been chatty, but this is like BvS Superman-level-bad), and even when he does speak words they have nothing to do with his character at all, and are delivered so weirdly flat... I just don't get it. Why did they jump the shark to bring a personal issue to this movie if they weren't going to make Jason sympathetic, and develop the character in new ways? Yeah, he's still good at and driving, and hiding in a crowd, and punching people, and looking good with blood on his face, but it turns out that those are not things that resonate with an audience on a personal level.

I should also mention that Vikander I've always enjoyed in movies so far, but she does nothing to help out this film either. Her accent kept slipping through, her character was way too deadpan, and this is hardly her fault, but the twist of her being the bad guy in the end was poorly timed. It should have been earlier or later. Tommy Lee Jones was decent for what he had to work with. I was very impressed by his death scene, actually. On board with the wooden line delivery was Stiles. That was the only upside of her being in the film so briefly. is the obligatory cool and mysterious asset who's sicced on Bourne, and Rogue One's makes an appearance too.

*cue disappointed and resigned sigh*

Cinematography and action is the film's biggest pro. There's still a shaky-cam during a lot of the action -- sometimes it felt like the camera was being punched along with people's faces -- but that's something we've come to expect, and it wasn't too hard to follow. Otherwise there were a few memorable shots. And the climatic chase and subsequent fight scene was a well-done and entertaining piece of action. What was in the rest of movie up til then could hardly be considered action at all, let alone entertaining action.

This is a little sad. I kinda just feel sorry for everyone... mainly the characters who got dragged back out of a nice retirement for basically nothing -- just to join the ranks of "Franchises With Too Many Sequels" and films that suffer slow deaths via half-hearted sorta-reboots. Leaving well enough alone has never been in Bourne's wheelhouse, but one might have hoped that it would be for filmmakers who really care about his story and making good movies. This movie is perhaps not nearly as terrible as it could have been, but it's a long way from justifying its unnecessary and uninspired return.