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.

Five Things About the Oscar Nominations

Updated 9:27ET

It’s time for Oscar nominations, that special time of the year when Hollywood women move far away from candles to prevent their new faces from melting off and George Clooney sits down with “The View” to explain how gosh-darn adorable he is to your grandmother (though he lost a director nomination to Terrence Malick, he has acting and writing nominations for two different movies).

As always, there were some major surprises. For those more interested in seeing if “Jack and Jill” (which this blog tragically, became deeply connected to on the Internet because of this going viral in its own way) will win the Razzie award for worst film of 2011, you have to wait another month for those nominations.

Five things to consider:

(1) The rules have changed. After expanding from five to ten Best Picture nominees in 2009, the Oscars have now taken an “Anything goes! We don’t care, just please, please watch us!” approach, allowing anywhere from five to ten nominees, depending on the year’s quality. This expanded list brought us “A Serious Man” in 2009, which might be my least favorite Best Picture nominee in recent memory (I can’t judge “The Tree of Life” because I refuse to see it), but was partially expanded to prevent films like “The Dark Knight” from missing out again (it didn’t make the cut of five in 2008, but would have made the top ten) so it did have some value. 2011 was not a strong year but we have nine (with instant commentary):

The Artist  (excellent)

The Descendants (great but overrated)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (surprise, see #5 below)

The Help (audience favorite to get viewers)

Hugo (good, not excellent, but strong direction, see #3 below)

Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen makes a commercial hit? Award him before he dies!)

Moneyball (This year’s “The Social Network” but with less chance of winning)

The Tree of Life (I cannot express my hatred for this movie only because I refuse to see it based on all of his other pretentious films)

War Horse (likely more disappointing than his “Terra Nova”)

(2) “The Artist” is a great movie deserving many Oscars, but it’s not for everyone. Even though it received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, etc., you have to answer this question: “So… wanna see a black and white silent film from France with some American actors?” If the answer is “hell no!” (you know who you are), then the awards are not going to change that. If the answer is “maybe”, consider the awards and its spot as the leading contender for Best Picture reason to go check it out. It’s more enthralling than you’d expect.

(3) As stated by this blog earlier, Hollywood loves talking about itself and glamorizing itself. That’s partially why “The Artist” and “Hugo” are making big runs for awards. Despite a quiet spot behind “The Artist” and “The Descendants” in many Best Picture awards this year, “Hugo”‘s Martin Scorsese grabbed a well-deserved Best Director Golden Globe earlier this month. His direction is great, the premise is great, but “Hugo” lacks the magical punch it needed to be an instant family classic. Still, nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, among others, keep it in the big leagues.

(4) “Bridesmaids” fails to get a Best Picture nomination, but scores screenplay and best supporting actress nominations. This is being portrayed as a surprise but is “Bridesmaids” really a best picture contender? Sure, I enjoyed it but ehh … Oscars do not give awards to comedies and this wasn’t the one to change that. The only sure comedic bet is Pixar, which won two Oscars last year for “Toy Story 3”. But even Pixar is losing steam, with “Cars 2” being its first film rejected for Best Animated Feature, an award pretty much created for Pixar. Woody Allen also brings a strong chance to the comedy genre with “Midnight in Paris” but it’s hard to call Woody Allen movies comedies. They’re more just “Woody Allen movies” in their own genre.

(5) In what truly did surprise me, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” shot from nothing to Best Picture. Its nomination even got a loud yell and clapping from the audience at the nominations. This expected to be schlocky, maudlin, melodramatic 9/11 drama needed a big day to jump start its D.O.A. box office, even with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock behind it. A Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor nomination might do that, though its chance for Best Picture is only slightly higher than that of “The Muppets” which did not get a best picture nomination. I was very pleasantly surprised at the “Margin Call” and “A Separation” writing nominations, though disappointed they knocked out “Win Win” which I loved. I am fickle, especially now than “Real Steel” is an Oscar nominee and “Win Win” is not. [Updated 9:30ET]

Acting snubs included Tilda Swinton for “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (killing its box office chances), Albert Brooks for “Drive”, and Michael Fassbender for “Shame” (NC-17, constant full front nudity may be a bit much for the octogenarians on the Academy committee). The Oscars chose Jonah Hill as their (formerly?) fat supporting actor comedian in a semi-drama award for “Moneyball” over Patton Oswalt in “Young Adult.” I love Patton, but I hear Jonah was excellent.

For loyal viewers like you, this was written after the major nominations were announced. The complete list will be available soon at: http://www.imdb.com/oscars/nominations/ and it sure as hell better have a best song nomination for “The Muppets”. (Update: It did. “The Muppets” received one of only TWO Best Song nominations (new formula this year). It looks like the stars of “The Big Bang Theory” and “HIMYM” will be singing at the Oscars.)

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 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.”

Which is better: J. Edgar, Immortals, or Jack and Jill?

“J. Edgar”, with an Oscar winner writing the screenplay, an Oscar winner directing (Clint Eastwood), and an Oscar winner (Judi Dench) and nominees (Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts) in the cast, has to be good, right? Check out the review HERE.

Well, the critics aren’t very impressed. If you go to the movies this weekend, the following nationwide, big-budget films are all doing significantly better (critically) than “J. Edgar”:

In order from best rated:

PUSS IN BOOTS (uh huh …)

A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS 3D

FOOTLOOSE

TOWER HEIST

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

REAL STEEL

THE RUM DIARY

IMMORTALS

… yes, “J. Edgar” is seen by critics as worse than all of these. What a crazy way to start the Oscar-heavy fall and winter award movie season!

At least it’s dominating Adam Sandler’s “Jack and Jill” right? The first four films in the Adam Sandler-Dennis Dugan (director) partnership opened to more than $30 million each, and made more than $100 million. Let’s hope “Jack and Jill” breaks that impressive trend.

As of writing, “Jack and Jill” had a rare 0% on Rottentomatoes. Yes, that means not a single person found it worthy of a good review. This picture just begs for an Oscar though, right? No? Maybe Katie Holmes will win Best Actress for it? I just hope Al Pacino doesn’t suddenly die and this becomes his last film.

Brett Ratner and hate speech

Film director Brett Ratner made a big apology yesterday. He was picked to direct next year’s Oscar ceremony and reporters asked him about rehearsing the usually too long, too bloated, and too dull movie telecast. His response:

“Rehearsal? What’s that? Rehearsal’s for fags.”

And now Ratner is no longer directing the Oscars next year. While this hate speech deserves an apology, here are five more things Ratner should apologize for (in no particular order):

1. This Nobel prize in medicine worthy gem from his horrid appearance on “The Howard Stern Show”: ““I’m a hypochondriac. Before I go all the way, I send the girl to the doctor and check them for everything. My doctor has a test to tell if you’re going to catch something in the future even.”

2. “X-Men: The Last Stand”

3. “Chaos”, one of 2011’s shortest-lived shows (it aired over the summer … once before changing time slots; three times before being canceled)

4. “Rush Hour 3” and the fact they gave Chris Tucker more than $20 million for it. What else has Chris Tucker done?

5. Telling Howard Stern “I have huge balls.”

Monday Morning @ the Movies (Oct. 31)

This weekend’s big movie surprise wasn’t that “Puss in Boots 3D” debuted as number one … it’s that everyone really liked it, so much so that it might set the Halloween box office record (and take away the record from the SAW movies).

1) PUSS IN BOOTS     ~$33.7 Million Weekend     NEW

No, this is not a sequel to the little seen indie gem “Kinky Boots” about a cross-dressing Black British man who grows up to co-star in “2012” and “SALT.” Critics and audiences alike loved “Puss in Boots”, meaning it might just be a return to the quality of “Shrek” and “Shrek 2” and not the trite awfulness of “Shrek 3” and “Shrek Forever After.” For someone who was heralded as a sexy Latino sensation back in the 1990s, audiences only see Antonio Banderas movies when he’s nowhere on screen. If you look at his IMDB movie history (here), you’ll see most of his films are either failures or animated. 2011, however, might be his comeback, with “Puss in Boots” and “The Skin I Live In”. Spain refused to pick “The Skin I Live In” as its 2012 Foreign Language Oscar nominee, but that’s more because Spain has an embarrassing problem with the Oscar-winning director.

2) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3         ~$18.5 Million Weekend      (Total $81.5 Million)

I will go on the record that I did not enjoy “Paranormal Activity.” I was not scared, I rolled my eyes more times than I jumped out of my seat, and luckily I was with one of my good friends who agreed with me. That being said, the trailer for the third one looked scary and excellent. That’s probably why it broke a October box office record and will have a huge Sunday and Monday audience. Just to give you an idea of its success: its budget was $5 million and it should bring in $110 million. That’s a nice return on investment.

3) IN TIME       ~$12.0 Million Weekend      (NEW)

Back in our October movie preview (here), I said: “Is this going to be 2011′s “Inception” or 2011′s “The Island” (a supposedly thoughtful (but not) sci-fi Michael Bay movie with a good cast, but horrible writing)? I root for the former, but have no idea.”

Turns out it’s more like “The Island” with reviews trashing it for ruining a great idea. Amanda Seyfried, Justin Timberlake, and Olivia Wilde continue to grace magazine covers, but none can carry a movie. Timberlake has a huge career already, but will we still be seeing Seyfried and Wilde on screen in five years? Or will it be on Cinemax After Dark?

4) FOOTLOOSE          ~$5.4 Million Weekend      (Total $38.5 Million)

Refuse to acknowledge.

5) THE RUM DIARY    ~$5.0 Million Weekend      (NEW)

Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson’s biggest fan, gives it a second try after “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” gained a cult following after being a box office and critical disappointment. I always root for Depp when he leaves the blockbuster “Pirates” world. His best drug movie was “Blow”, and audiences have generally trashed “The Rum Diary”, so maybe he’ll stop his Thompson Trilogy at two films?

6) REAL STEEL        ~$4.7 Million Weekend      (Total $74.1 Million)

7) THREE MUSKETEERS  ~$3.5 Million Weekend      (Total $14.8 Million)

A total bomb of a movie that didn’t need to be re-made just for schlocky 3D imagery.

8 ) IDES OF MARCH    ~$2.7 Million Weekend      (Total $33.5 Million)

The budget remained low despite the A-list cast, but the lack of audiences will affect its Oscar chances. Which is fine, because it’s always good, never excellent. Review here and previewed here.

9) MONEYBALL    ~$2.4 Million Weekend      (Total $67.4 Million)

“Moneyball”, on the other hand, made just enough money to stay in contention for Best Picture. Yes, money shouldn’t matter for Oscar nominees, but it does. See “The Blind Side” as an example and “The Help” (likely nominee this year).

10) COURAGEOUS     ~$1.8 Million Weekend      (Total $28.6 Million)

Jesus saves … the film industry from low profits. With a super small budget, this Christian redemption film will be one of the biggest successes (based on % of money made over money spent) of the year.

ALSO:

14) ANONYMOUS ~ $ 1.0 Million Weekend     NEW

This “Who was Shakespeare?” movie was supposed to get a big release with its big director (two references to “2012” this post!) and critically beloved British cast, but Sony scaled back. Instead, it will remain fairly anonymous to moviegoers.

Lovely Ladies

Imagine watching a movie about an Irish person (both a lesbian male butler and a female, African American maid) who leaves a cult, becomes Marilyn Monroe, and then becomes the Prime Minister of the UK and deals with her son’s violent crimes just before the world ends? That would be a hell of a movie. Unfortunately, 2011 will require seven different movies with potentially brilliant performance to get that combined plot line.

The Oscar season has not yet started and this year has, frankly, been pretty bad so far, but I’m going to be ballsy and go out on a limb to make some predictions.

I’m guessing the two top nominations for the Best Actress Oscar in 2012 will be for “Albert Nobbs” and “The Iron Lady.”

As one major contender, Glenn Close stars in “Albert Nobbs”, the story of a woman in Ireland who poses as a male butler. Someone’s going to find out and, yes, she’s going to fall in love with a woman. Glenn Close appears to be astounding in this role and certainly deserves a major award here, but I can’t get over the fact that the “male butler” always looks just like Glenn Close with a short haircut.

As the second major contender, Meryl Streep portrays Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the UK. Meryl Streep is excellent in everything, so there’s no surprise that she’ll be outstanding in “The Iron Lady.” What’s surprising, however, is that Meryl Streep is on quite a losing streak at the Oscars lately. Will this be her time?

MY EARLY PICK:

Other potentials:

– Kirsten Dunst in “Melancholia” (already won a major award)

– Viola Davis in “The Help” (which, hopefully, won’t lead to an Oscar win, but is important to get all of those soccer moms who watch the Oscars)

– Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn” (as Marilyn Monroe) (she’s gone quite a way from “Dawson’s Creek” to possible two-years-in-a-row Oscar nominee)

– Tilda Swinton in “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (as the mother of a child who commits a Columbine-like offense. I read the British reviews and it sounds harrowing)

Potential from movie you’ve never heard of:

– Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (about a woman fleeing a cult; she wowed critics at Sundance and Cannes, which is a great start to the awards season)