Bourne Again: An Early Review of “The Bourne Legacy”

Upon seeing The Dark Knight Rises, a friend (and That Essence Rare blog reader) and I discussed the best trilogies of all time. Christopher Nolan’s work with The Dark Knight approaches the top of my list, as do Lord of the Rings and The Godfather (yes, the third one is the disliked and underperforming red-headed stepchild of the three, but it’s still better than most children out there, ok? The third was nominated for Best Picture after all). Star Wars is not my thing because George Lucas can’t write his way out of a paper bag filled with Ewoks, but I respect it as a top choice for its groundbreaking approaches to film and its genre. As I started to think more, maybe The Bourne Identity movies should be considered. Well-acted, well-written, sharp, taut, and entertaining (even to those who can’t handle director Paul Greengrass’s handheld camera style that worked brilliantly in United 93), the Jason Bourne movies guaranteed high-level entertainment. While The Bourne Legacy has its highlights and entertaining scenes, it, sadly, does not live up to those admittedly high expectations.

The Bourne Legacy is an occasionally entertaining film and many will find its thrills and chases entertaining summer fun with a bit of added interest for the pharmacists in the audience. The film’s brief focus on other secret agents inflitrating North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan would make a fascinating film on its own, but it is relegated to a sub-plot that is quickly dispensed with.

The film’s main weakness is that the filmmakers refuse to let the new film stand for itself. Jeremy Renner is not tasked to be Jason Bourne but, rather, another highly-trained and over-medicated killing machine engineered by the U.S. government.  Constant references to Jason Bourne and better plot lines from the first three films keep this fourth installment always in the shadow of its better predecessors. If you’re going to take the film in a new direction, stop setting it up as if Matt Damon is about to smash through the closest window and take control of the film. (Sorry, he doesn’t.)

Renner is a talented, Oscar-nominated actor coming off a great ten months (Mission: Impossible 4, The Avengers) and offers a new, scrappier version of a Bourne-like character in the same way Daniel Craig brought a new, scrappier version of James Bond. Both actors in their respective franchise re-boots usually hold their own, but, in action films, no man is an island — unless that island is booby-trapped with transforming alien robots that spit fire and eye-roll-inducing quips. A supporting cast filled with Oscar winners (Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Albert Finney) should not be so disengaging, whether they are keeping track of Renner’s character (Norton, Finney) or going along for the occasionally bumpy ride (Weisz). Norton has now replaced his tag “a less-good Hulk, compared to Mark Ruffalo” with “a less-good CIA boss, compared to Joan Allen.” Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It’s also interesting to see Weisz’s scientist character as just a panoply of whining and helpless action female stereotypes, especially after her film last year, The Whistleblower, which was the true story of a Nebraska cop who fights sex trafficking and promotes female empowerment.

But no one goes to an action movie for the acting or moral message. The Bourne Legacy starts slowly and intelligently in the arctic and offers explosive moments throughout, but also gets bogged-down by talking. That would be good if the dialogue and plot lines weren’t so repetitive. Chase scenes across the roofs of buildings bring to mind the raging sport of parkour, but without parkour athletes’ oddly common grey sweatpants. The main thrill of the film is an extended foot/car/motorcycle chase sequence filled with thrills, chills, jeers, and other emotions to keep you from wondering why the movie is two hours but feels longer. It’s a great set of scenes and shows that the filmmakers did not waste the original trilogy’s smart use of constant action. Still, even after the most entertaining and engaging moments, viewers’ minds will likely wander back to the better days of the original Jason Bourne trilogy.

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Summer movies … without explosions!

I know, I know … you’re thinking “I just saw Battleship and That’s My Boy! and Dark Shadows in an awesome movie marathon… how can summer movies get any better!?!?”

Well, they can. And please leave.

Every summer there’s always a little indie gem that shakes up audiences and reminds them not every summer movie has to involve Michael Bay-like explosions. I haven’t posted in two months, but really enjoyed “Safety Not Guaranteed.” It was a perfect escape this afternoon from a 105-degree day on the East coast.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a quirky indie dramedy about journalism, love, loss, and time travel. It’s not for everyone, but sufficiently offbeat to enchant those who love films that win awards at festivals and just mainstream enough to win over general audiences. Are there some plot holes involving time travel, spies, and potential lies about the past? Sure, but none so big that a Prometheus-sized ship could pass through them. It’s a smart, surprisingly sentimental, occasionally hilarious, well-acted, intelligently-written film to check out in the month between seeing “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Check out the trailer (it’s only in limited release nationwide right now):

New Film Review: CABIN IN THE WOODS

“That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Don’t release it.” ~ Lady leaving “Cabin in the Woods”

“That was the … BEST … MOVIE … EVER” ~ Man who looked suspiciously like Comic Book Guy on “The Simpsons” leaving “Cabin in the Woods”

Horror films are difficult to review. Some fine gentlemen might think “Signs” contains terrifying imagery, while others believe it’s a corny start to the great plunge of M. Night Shama… who even cares if I spell his last name wrong anymore? Others consider “Paranormal Activity” to be a brilliant ride into the psyche, making you question what horrors unfold while you sleep, while some consider it a boring mix of great anticipation and no payoff.

That being said, “Cabin in the Woods” is an innovative take on the traditional “bunch of college kids go into the woods for sex, beer, and OH MY GOD A ZOMBIE JUST ATE MY FRIEND!” genre. It is occasionally smart, often funny, and generally a good time, but it is very rarely scary. In a packed crowd, there were only two moments when people jumped out of their seats, and one was the very loud noise accompanying the title credit. The other involves “part of a plot twist.”

As stated by Roger Ebert, “You’re not going to see this one coming.” That is an absolutely true statement when you’re in the lobby outside of the movie (or, nowadays, waiting for it to download — you know who you are). However, if you give it a little thought, consider the film’s two settings, and pay attention from the very beginning, you could piece it together quickly.

The film starts off with our college heroes (a likeable five-some, including Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth) preparing for their sexcapade into the woods while two scientists (yes, that’s Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who never won an Emmy for his excellent work on “The West Wing”) in their lab for what seems to be an industry-defining experiment. Most of the film’s laughs come from the scientific setting, with the exception of a brilliant invention by the film’s genre-required pothead who is surprisingly endearing throughout the film. A funny phone conversation between the scientists and a stereotypical, backwoods hick straight out of every “The Hills Have Eyes” film of the past fifty years makes it clear early on that the two casts of characters are very closely related and that something is going on. I’ll leave it at that, as every early review calls what comes next an exhilarating surprise.

“Cabin in the Woods” is not scary and it is not that surprising, but it’s a refreshing new direction for horror films and should earn the audience’s respect for trying and often succeeding. It is almost gory enough to satiate the bloodlust of the “Saw” crowd, almost funny enough to entertain “Shaun of the Dead”/”Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” fans, and nerdy enough to win over the Joss Whedon fans who would probably see a two-hour film of paint drying if it said “written by Joss Whedon.” It also has a scene that, in a PG-13 manner, blends necrophilia and bestiality if that’s your thing.

However, there is a pervading feeling that it could have done more. This is especially evident when the film briefly focuses on a side plot straight out of a terrifying Japanese horror film. Although it amounts to only two short scenes, the viewer might wish they were watching more of that film.

This is also the rare horror film when they start killing off the kids too quickly, as if the writers want them to all die so they can move on with the story. The speedy slaughter makes sense from the lab setting side of the plot, but much more could have been done with the zombies which serve their murderous purpose and then fall into the background.

When the film does start to wrap up, though, there is a scene that will be talked about for years on horror blogs that cannot be described without ruining the twists. It is a very bloody, very entertaining fanboy-type moment that would make any SyFy movie director step back in awe. And for those entertaining moments and Joss Whedon’s creative take on the horror genre, it doesn’t need to be scary or surprising to be a fun film worthy of your Netflix queue.

Five Entertainment Stories to Keep You Awake

It’s January 3 and most of us return to work this morning after temporarily being reminded of what it was like to have a winter break (though some of us were in school until age 29). To keep the morning going, for each cup of coffee you chug down, read one of these entertainment-related links:

1) Roger Ebert talks about the decline of movies. While I often disagree with his reviews (“Gigli” at 2 1/2 stars still baffles me), the man is a brilliant film commentator and historian.

2) People sure love watching the Dallas Cowboys lose (this link also lists the top ten most watched NFL Sunday Night Football games ever).

3) Read about tonight’s TV premiere of what could be 2012’s worst show.

4) The obituary of a movie man you’ve all seen without knowing it.

5) Roger Ebert’s four star review of “The Artist”, which is currently my top movie of 2011 (with many more left to see). As usual, Ebert’s review is more about himself and the film industry than the movie itself, but the review brings this too-often-true anecdote:

“I was reminded of the time a reader called me to ask about an Ingmar Bergman film. “I think it’s the best film of the year,” I said. “Oh,” she said, “that doesn’t sound like anything we’d like to see.””

Five Things You Did to Change 2012

Hollywood is more short-sighted than Mr. Magoo, so everything you did in 2011 is going to come back and haunt you in 2012. Here are five ways your 2011 entertainment choices will lead to more of the same:

(1) “The Lion King 3D” made $94 million.

“The Lion King 3D” was a smash hit despite the fact it’s more than a decade old and you probably own it on DVD, VHS, Laserdisc, or BetaMax. So what happens now? Well, the movies are already made so, in 2012, you’re getting “Beauty and the Beast 3D,” “Finding Nemo 3D”, “Titanic 3D” and “Star Wars: Episode I: #^!@#! Jar Jar Binks in 3D”. Yes, an even more annoying Jar-Jar is your fault because you wanted to sing Hakuna Matata and that is NOT a wonderful thing.

(2) You refuse to stop watching “Glee!”

Sure, the “Glee” movie bombed horribly (see HERE) and the ratings are in decline, but you’re still watching it and buying the singles. In fact, the cast of “Glee” already has more songs on the Billboard music chart than The Beatles ever did. See HERE (via KK).The cast of “Glee” has had more songs chart than the Beatles

So, what happens now? You’re getting “Joyful Noise”, a choir musical/dramedy/race riot film with Dolly “Country is Better, Honey!” Parton squaring off against Queen “No, it ain’t, bitch!” Latifah in a giant Jesus-inspired musical. And you’re getting “Rock of Ages”, the hair band musical starring Tom Cruise. And the clearer rip-off “Smash” on NBC, with “American Idol” wash-out Katherine McPhee as a singer trying to make it on Broadway with the help of Debra “Grace of Will & …” Messing. Maybe the new “Les Miserables” musical starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe will be good. Yes, you read those names correctly.

(3) Speaking of Jesus, “Courageous” was a huge hit in theatres.

Never heard of “Courageous”? Then, you’re probably too busy sinning and performing unspeakable acts of sodomy. “Courageous”, a heartwarming tale of why Evangelical Christians are far better people than you, cost $2 million and made $34 million (before the 100,000 DVDs bought by “Movie of the Month” church groups). So, what happens now? Tim Tebow won’t be the only one praying on your TV screen. Expect more Christian-amped entertainment, though the new 2012 TV show “Good Christian Bitches” should be more snarky than sanctimonious.

(4) Your favorite movie franchises are ending so … back to superheroes!

Harry Potter waved his wand for the last time and the Twilight cast is getting ready to put their shirts on and head into much less spectacular movie careers, so Hollywood knows it needs something big. With no superhero movie hitting big (“Thor” was the highest as the 8th biggest movie of 2011), Hollywood is set-up for an amazing superhero year. “The Dark Knight Rises” alone warrants an entire summer, but there’s also the much-hyped, much-anticipated “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-man” getting its reboot. And that just includes traditional superheroes … “Men in Black 3” is also on its way, as are “G.I. Joe 2” and a Jason Bourne movie expected to be awful because it lacks … well … Jason Bourne. Matt Damon was too busy buying a zoo.

5) You refuse to accept new things.

In addition to all of the sequels listed in #4, let’s look at 2011’s top 5 films in order: (1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; (2) Transformers: Dark of the Moon, (3) Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I; (4) The Hangover Part II, and (5) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

… notice a trend? No? Well, #6 is “Fast Five” and #7 is “Cars 2”. How about now? Hollywood knows you get scared of new things, so, don’t worry, you can return to the same-old, same-old with 27 franchise films in 2012, and the long anticipated “The Hobbit.” Heck, they’re making two movies based on Snow White (see HERE), NBC’s newest legal show is based on a book and movie more than 15 years old “(The Firm”) and there’s even a new movie starring Rihanna and Liam Neeson about the plot-heavy board game “BATTLESHIP!” Can’t wait for the “Mouse Trap” movie. I predict the budget is going to skyrocket when they can’t get the damn set to work.

Five Things About The Golden Globes

Golden Globe nominations were announced today (full list HERE). As always, there were disappointment and surprises, but no embarassments like the recent decision to give “Burlesque” a Best Picture nomination.

Five Things to Consider:

(1) The Golden Globes hate “The Muppets”. This was the time for “The Muppets” to shine with a Best Comedy (Best Picture) nomination. Instead, the Globes nominated the supposedly sub-par “My Week with Marilyn” alongside expected nominees “50/50” (very good, but more drama than comedy), “The Artist” (get used to seeing this one on lists), “Bridesmaids” (all to help leverage Melissa McCarthy’s possible Oscar nom), “Carnage” (phenomenal play, phenomenal actors, phenomal yet pedophilic director…), and “Midnight in Paris” (Woody Allen has a commercial success?). It also received ZERO nominations for best song, despite two of the best of the year.

(2) The Golden Globes love Ryan Gosling. Nominated for Best Actor-Drama (“The Ides of March”) and Best Actor-Comedy (“Crazy Stupid Love”, though more like “Sexy” than “Stupid” based on People magazine’s obsession with Gosling’s abs), the Globes ignored “Drive” but was it really an acting performance? He’s pretty quiet and somber throughout the stylistic movie but, then again, the whole cast of “The Artist” is silent as it’s a silent film and all.

(3) The Golden Globes love TV creator Ryan Murphy. You say “Glee” has fallen asunder into a weekly rehash of trite performances and unbelievable plots? The Globes say it’s a Best Comedy nominee, much more deserving than “Community” and “Parks and Rec.” You say “Breaking Bad” and “The Good Wife” are two of TV’s best dramas (and “The Walking Dead” one of the most entertaining)? The Globes say “American Horror Story” is better. Both Ryan Murphy shows, both denied better shows a good nomination.

(4) George Clooney is the new Johnny Depp. The Globes normally just gave a nomination evert time Depp touched a movie (“The Tourist”, anyone?), but now it’s Clooney, with Best Screenplay (“Ides of March”), Director (“Ides of March”), and Actor (“The Descendants”) nominations. The second two are deserved, but the first knocks out better writing this year like in “Win Win.”

(5) There’s still room for surprises. Because the Globes have drama and comedy categories, some well-deserved performances can make their way in. Two examples: Brendan Gleeson’s excellent performance in “The Guard” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strong, dramatic performance in “50/50”; neither Oscar likelies, but both nominated here for Comedic Actor. Ignore all of the crying, “I have cancer” drama — “50/50” is a comedy! Yeah …

All in all, not bad, but it begs the question: These are the best movies of 2011? Not a strong year. Here’s to 2012 and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

My Listed Guide to Movie Lists

This is the time of year when critics far and wide start to list their favorite movies. Sometimes you see an unheralded gem slide into a spot. Other times, you are shocked in disbelief (Time magazine … this means you and your inclusion of “Fast Five”). But there are some universal truths that everyone needs to know and sharing them with you will be cathartic so thank you for this therapy session. You are permitted to envision me laying on a couch in your office. I am fully clothed … the whole time.

(1) Critics are temperamental little bitches who love to be glorified

How do I know this? I am one, though try my best to separate myself from the pretentiousness as much as possible (example: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has a very strong shot of making my top 10). You need to understand that most critics are emotionally flawed in some way as you look at their choices. Is “Hugo” a good movie? Despite some minor flaws, Martin Scorsese absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination and perhaps a win. But what will propel “Hugo” far up in the lists is that it’s a movie for people passionate about movies. It’s not often someone makes a 2-hour epic about the importance of film preservation, so this film will give added meaning to the lives of people who live only through critiquing others’ movies. And critics LOVE that!

(2) The “best” movie is not usually the “most enjoyable”

Hands down, “The Muppets” is going to be my pick for most enjoyable film of the year. It is unbridled fun and, in the words of my mother, “pure joy on screen.” It has laughs, singing, dancing, some witty lines and smart cameos (some bad cameos (Serena Gomez, I’m looking at you)) and is an epic mixture of nostalgia and the rebirth of the Muppets. Yet I have a hard time picking it as my number one because is it really a masterpiece? An advancement in film? No, but … life’s a happy song! And I’m a man, not a muppet! Instead, expect to see a lot of “The Artist”, which has potential to be very enjoyable — or it might just be a way-too-artsy black and white silent film from France about the film industry (see #1, above, for why this matters a lot).

(3) Movies released before September don’t exist.

The best film lists can’t possibly avoid nine months. Well, they do. Off the top of my head, I can only think of three films released before September that won Best Picture in the last two decades: “The Silence of the Lambs”, “Gladiator”, and “The Hurt Locker.” “Hurt Locker” benefitted from a DVD push and some residual “Avatar”‘s been-here-before-but-it’s-oh-so-pretty malaise, while “Gladiator” and “The Silence of the Lambs” were box office smashes. Hopefully, the Oscars don’t again avoid brilliant performances from months past (Paul Giammati in “Win Win” is better than George Clooney in either “The Ides of March” or “The Descendants” or, frankly, Paul Giamatti in “The Ides of March” though all four performances are worthy), but they tend to. So, those of you looking to see those masterful January releases “Season of the Witch”, “From Prada to Nada” or “The Green Hornet” at the Oscars … sorry. There is an exception, of course …

(4) The Oscars are starting to sell out

The Golden Globes are about as reputable as a Congressman saying “I did not have sex with that woman, man, small woodland creature….” Want an example? “Burlesque” was nominated for Best Picture. Here’s an interesting anecdote:

“The whole reason the Globes exist as the boozy, star-filled public spectacle we TiVo today is because, back in 1958, Old Blue Eyes, along with fellow Ratpackers Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin, got tired of that whole boring part where they announce the winners. Sufficiently soused, the three jumped on stage with cigarettes and high-balls in hand, and hi-jacked/hosted the then modest awards show.” (via VF)

So, okay, the Golden Globes are the drunken uncle of awards and, like that drunken uncle, can be absolutely hilarious — but not the Oscars! Well, yes, the Oscars. Back when “The Dark Knight” was denied a well-deserved Best Picture nomination, fans were angry and people stopped watching. So, instead of deciding to expand the nominees to an unset number of worthy films each year, they expanded the field to ten films a year. That brought the hideously boring “A Serious Man” and the tear jerker I loved so shut up but it’s not a best picture nominee “The Blind Side”. And, for 2011, it will bring “The Help”, also helpful because the list of Oscar winners is really just a few shades darker than a KKK rally. (I held back on my even less PC my first analogy here…)

and (5): Critics who have not seen all likely winners shouldn’t post lists, but they do

Many critics feel that the list of their top 10 movies deserves attention. It often does not. There’s a reason why you won’t see my top 10 list in the next few weeks and not just because I’m on this hiatus. It’s because there are at least 15 films I haven’t seen yet that have made lists. My list is woefully incomplete. However, this doesn’t stop critics with deadlines (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “War Horse”, and “The Iron Lady” were shown to critics a week after some big lists started to get published), so keep an eye out if the list includes movies that have all been released.

Remember these five simple things as you look at the lists and, oh, one more thing: Mahna Mahna.

Crazy movie lawsuits

Crazy movie lawsuits! No, I’m not talking about crazy lawsuits in movies (despite “The Dark Knight” being brilliant, the scene where they arraign every single member of the criminal organization in one “How do you plead?” moment made me laugh). Instead, I’m talking about two insane recent lawsuits ABOUT movies.

Case one: Spain isn’t very permissive of safe sex (Catholic Church 4EVA!), but safe driving? That’s a serious issue! The studio behind “Larry Crowne” (Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts’ failed attempt to be relevant again) was fined for the movie poster, which has Hanks and Roberts riding a moped without helmets. There’s a law penalizing anyone who promotes unsafe driving practices. Guess they should have done something safe, like went running with the bulls.

Case two: “Drive” was a well-made film, with intelligent direction and cinematography that harkened back to the 1970s. It, however, was not “Fast and the Furious” or “The Transporter” and Ryan Gosling rarely says a word in the entire film despite being its lead. To know that, you could (a) read any review or (b) ask someone who saw it. Or you could get angry and sue. Yes, a Michigan woman decided to sue the makers of “Drive” because “there is very little driving in the motion picture.” (I’m guessing her lawyer is old because who uses “motion picture” anymore?) Not only does she want her money back, she wants to start a class action lawsuit against misleading film trailers. Well, if that’s true, I want in: “Pearl Harbor” has easily one of the five best trailers of all time and that movie was an awful threesome (of the boring variety). I know one of you strongly agrees (please comment!)

Let’s Talk Batman

“It’s not about fighting. It’s about carnage… Anything from small-joint manipulation to crushing skulls, crushing rib cages, stamping on shins and knees and necks and collarbones and snapping heads off and tearing his fists through chests, ripping out spinal columns.”

Is this a preview of the next UFC fight? An upcoming Jason Statham movie? The next Kardashian wedding video?

No, this is what Tom Hardy (that guy you liked in “Inception” but couldn’t place as someone you saw before) said about his character BANE in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Click here for “The Dark Knight Rises” trailer

Yes, folks, it’s never too early to talk about Batman, especially when this might be the end of a brilliant Christopher Nolan trilogy. Don’t believe me that Nolan will leave after the third? Well, nothing is ever certain in Hollywood (who expected a third “Big Momma’s House”?), but Nolan did say “It’s really all about finishing Batman and Bruce Wayne’s story” when asked to describe the plot.

I’m ready for an incredible finish on July 20, 2012. Are you?

VIA Empire (the best movie magazine in the world)

Monday Morning @ the Movies … done?

Of course, right after I decide to end the “Monday Morning @ the Movies” weekly feature due to low readership (compared to other posts), I get emails asking where it is today.

If you want it back, just let me know. I’m very accomodating to loyal readers. That being said, if you want a particular post on ANYTHING movie or TV related, write a comment on one of the posts. If you want posts on music, you’ll have to negotiate with BK.

Stay tuned for the November Sweeps TV Discussion coming soon, which will involve discussions on the recent bad news for “Community” and “Cougar Town” and predictions on which of your favorite shows will be dead by May.