Commentaries

Saturday, July 30, 2016

JASON BOURNE REVIEW



EPIC FAIL

Film Review by Fiore 


The troubles that plagued the previous Jason Bourne films, also hinder this latest endeavor from Director and Screenwriter Paul Greengrass, except this time, all of those cinematic ills are on steroids.

When critiquing Greengrass’ films, there are always two views to consider.  First, there is his typical modus operadi, which includes horrible cinematography and editing; and there is his blatant political pontifications, which align themselves with the insipid ideology of the UK Guardian.

Let’s talk politics first.  The overriding theme in JASON BOURNE is the concept of one’s privacy rights vs. the preservation of freedom.  This is a key component of our society for many purport you can’t have one without the other.  (That simply is not true.  You can have both simultaneously, but it involves elements not deemed politically correct to accomplish.)  Greengrass is an ultra-liberal Brit, still angry the Colonies broke away.  As such, he is totally against anything America does that does not fit in with others of his ilk.  Therefore, the bad guys in JASON BOURNE are the same antagonists as in all his Bourne endeavors – the American government, and more specifically, the CIA.

Let’s take a little walk down the political road Greengrass paves for us in this film. 

According to the themes in his script: no one should ever do anything to preserve freedom that would hinder one’s privacy; the recent onslaught of lone wolf terrorist attackers is simply a ploy used by America’s intelligence agencies to cover their own dirty deeds and turning public sentiment against peaceful Muslims; and the American Government, through its intelligence agencies, wants to spy on every individual, all the time.   This final political concept is very popular in movies today; however, Christian Bale as Batman, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox covered the concept with better aplomb in THE DARK KNIGHT.

If you are comfortable being lectured about these issues by an Englishman, in the guise of an action film, then you may find some merit in JASON BOURNE.  Personally, I don’t agree with Greengrass’ vision of the perfect world (a phrase he uses for his production company – Perfect World Pictures) and his constant attempts to promote an America more in the vain of an idyllic England, are nauseating.  He finds a compatriot soul in Matt Damon, who is also one of the Blame-America-First members in Tinseltown.

Now that politics are covered, let’s take a gander at the filmmaking elements of JASON BOURNE.

This film is an absolute nightmare to watch.  Greengrass combines with Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and Editor Christopher Rouse to create a hodgepodge of nonsensical visual elements.  Allow me to return to my teaching days, and be just a bit technical.

The film’s action sequences consistently cross the 180-degree line.  In addition, when the cross is made, the shot is slightly out of focus and then quickly adjusts.  Ackroyd uses, almost exclusively, tight close-up shots, which totally ruin all the fine work by Fight Choreographer Roger Yuan.  Yuan knows how to stage fight scenes.  He has worked on BLADE, with Wesley Snipes; SPAWN, with Michael Jai White; and on this year’s WARCRAFT, which is one of the year’s better films. 

In addition, Simon Crane serves as Second Unit Director, and he is known throughout the industry for his stunt work and fight choreography.  The combination of Yuan and Crane should be dynamic. Not content with ruining their work, Ackroyd then incorporates WWE zooms on the action.  Rouse then takes the close-up shots and quick cuts all of them.  The results are action sequences that flash and blur, like a child’s cartoon, but cannot be deciphered in any aspect of reality.

For establishing shots, Greengrass orchestrates just as much mayhem. He utilizes the carefully structured look of Uncle Charlie’s backyard cookout.  The camera never stays still, swerving without purpose from side to side or up and down.  A tripod would help.   The underlying purpose is understandable; Greengrass wants to convey chaos to viewers.  Unfortunately, the end result is so dysfunctional the screen will provide viewers with massive headaches before the final reels.  It’s akin to a steady diet of J.J. Abrams’ CLOVERFIELD.

This has been Greengrass’ stratagem on all the Bourne films, and one of the reasons is star Matt Damon can’t fight.  He has a personal trainer who helps him achieve a magnificent physique, but the build won’t help you when facing an assailant.  He is certainly no Snipes or White.  He isn’t even Jason Statham or Mark Wahlberg.  Perhaps he is better served floating in space, waiting for a ride home, as he did in THE MARTIAN.

Our story begins when Nicky Parsons, played by Julia Stiles, one of Jason Bourne’s comrades, hacks into the CIA server and downloads all of the agency’s black ops material.  Apparently she still couldn’t find Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails, but that is, in the words of Conan, another tale.  She contacts Bourne because the material reveals even more secrets about his past.  Here, the script turns sour.

All through the Bourne series, Jason is trekking to self-discovery.  Batman and Spider-Man didn’t go through this much angst. Greengrass demonstrates lack of creativity in resorting to the same plot lines and same antagonists as the previous films.  Any reader of the Robert Ludlum novels knows there is more to the character than these one dimensional premises contain.

So, well into movie number three, Bourne is still trying to discern new elements of his past.  This causes CIA Director Robert Dewey, played by Tommy Lee Jones, a bit of consternation because he doesn’t want the black ops made public.  He enlists two associates, Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander and “The Asset” played by Vincent Cassel. 

Jones has little more than a cameo role, in which he displays all the manic foibles Greengrass wants associated with the CIA.  Vikander, who burst on the cinematic scene in EX MACHINA, where she spent a majority of the film nude, offers a rather mundane performance, which possibly could have been helped by her disrobing. (That statement may be considered insensitive, but unfortunately it is also true.)  Cassel is great.  I do not recall ever seeing this man in a bad performance.  He holds the entire mishmash together and is the only reason I didn’t walk out on this debacle.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      The end credits.

There are several behind the scenes elements making JASON BOURNE a little more interesting.  First, the trailers for the film show key scenes, but from camera angles different than the ones used in the movie.  This is a very clever marketing ploy, though in some cases, the angle used in the trailers is better.  

Then there is Jeremy Renner.  Damon announced he was done with the Bourne character.  Universal, however, realized it was sitting on a gold mine with the character, and Ludlum had written many more novels.  Also, upon Ludlum’s death, the novelization mantle was passed to Eric Van Lustbader who cranked out Bourne novels like a Twix factory.  The studio brought in Renner and simply shifted the character to Aaron Cross, a bit of a play on James Patterson’s character Alex Cross.  The Renner film scored well at the box office and it seemed he had inherited the franchise.

When Universal announced Renner’s next go as Cross, Greengrass and Damon announced they were coming out of retirement with Jason Bourne.  Initially, the films were scheduled for a near simultaneous release.  Due to JASON BOURNE, the Aaron Cross film, though still planned, is currently in a state of suspended animation.  Do you think Renner will invite Damon over at his next get-together?  Nah.

With the combination of anti-American sentiment, horrible cinematography and editing, JASON BOURNE is a celluloid disaster.  If you are a fan of the series, best wait for this one to come to one of the streaming services.  Then you won’t mind wasting your money.




THE GRADE FOR JASON BOURNE = D.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

STAR TREK: BEYOND



PEGG AND URBAN SAVE THE FILM

Film Review by Fiore 


The original Star Trek franchise is known for its keen, sometimes misshaped, cultural observations and commentaries.  Pittsburgh’s own Frank Gorshin starred in one of the better episodes, concerning racial prejudice, playing characters who had split back and white faces.  But, the overriding social commentary in STAR TREK: BEYOND is nothing more than a watered down cheerleading rant for the Progressive Movement.  It’s like Mr. Mackey claiming: “Progressivism is good.  M’mK.”  The film tentatively claims mankind, even in the 23rd Century, is somehow moving in the right direction.  Hooray.  The rest of the movie is Director Justin Lin pretending he is doing another Fast and Furious movie with starships.

Captain James Kirk, played again by Chris Pine, is in the third year of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s five-year mission, and he’s bored with all the scientific gathering and analysis.  He is so lackadaisical since stopping the genetically enhanced madman Kahn, that he is considering a promotion to a desk job.

While he and the crew are on shore leave at the Yorktown, a deep space “snow globe ready to burst”, a ship arrives with a frantic SOS. The ship’s captain claims her research vessel is in distress and her crew injured, on the opposite side of a nebula, in deep space.  Before vetting the claim, the crew of the Enterprise is dispatched to help those in need.  I guess this is one of the founding tenants of progressivism – believing everything, and everyone is intrinsically good.  It’s probably the same mental disorder that mandates increasing immigrants by over 500 % from a country that is bombing your citizens and promised to murder all of them.

Undaunted, the Enterprise embarks on its rescue mission only to discover it’s all a ruse by yet another madman, Krall, played by Idris Elba, determined to rule the universe.  His main malfunction is his lack of belief in the Progressive Movement.  He wants the status quo, filled with conflict and war.   It’s not long before the Enterprise is reduced to rubble and the crew is left to its own innovativeness to save the day.  For a spaceship as famous as The Millennium Falcon, The Nostromo, and The Botany Bay, Paramount producers seem all too eager to blow the Enterprise up.  If the flagship of the Federation can’t handle initial encounters on the other side of a nebula, it doesn’t speak well for the rest of the fleet.  No wonder Commander Ryker passed on numerous promotions.

Returning are: Pine; Karl Urban, as Dr. McCoy; Simon Pegg, as Montgomery Scott; Zoe Saldana as Uhura; Pittsburgh’s Zachary Quinto as Spock; the late Anton Yelchin as Chekov.  Joining the cast this time around are: Elba; Sofia Boutella as Jaylah; and Joe Taslim as Manas.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      Transportation of Bones and Spock
2.      The toast between Bones and Kirk
3.      Filtering the scanners for Vulcan metals

STAR TREK: BEYOND is SFX eye candy.  Interspersed with the action is an acceptable, though stogy story.  The studio, initially was not impressed with the script.  They asked Pegg to lend his talents as part of the writing team.  In the film’s final credits, he is listed as the prime screenwriter.  His influence is noticeable, since STAR TREK: BEYOND is infused with myriad humorous moments.  This is a good thing, since the rest of the plot is rather mundane.

Of all the new Star Trek characters, Pegg’s version of Montgomery Scott and Karl Urban’s of Dr. Leonard McCoy are the best.  In fact, at the risk of upsetting Trekkers everywhere, I’ll go as far to say Urban’s portrayal of Bones surpasses DeForrest Kelley.  Fortunately, these two characters dominate the screen and have some of the best scenes.  Pegg even gives a well-deserved nod to screenwriter Nicholas Myers.  Myers wrote the two best scripts in the original Star Trek film series, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN, and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY.  In both, he quoted classic literary works, including Shakespeare.  There is a dramatic scene where Spock quotes the Bard, and not coincidentally, it’s Bones who makes the observation.

If you are a millennial with ADA (it seems a requirement of the generation), you’ll love all the frantic action.  For the rest of us, the sequences are cut too quickly and too many shots are close-ups, giving a disjointed sense to the scene.  Kirk and Scotty’s escape from the saucer section, the penetration into the Yorktown and the gravity swirls in the ventilation tower are all a blur of colors and shapes, suitable for small children.  Part of the problem is the shot options of Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, and the other part is allowing a posse to edit the film.  A keener sense of linear continuity is always achieved with one editor.

The controversy before the film’s release was making the character of Commander Sulu homosexual.  This was done as a nod to George Takei, who originally played the role.  Fans of actor John Cho, who now plays Sulu, balked at the scene, claiming it detracted from the actor’s career and talents.  Takei, himself recoiled at the scene, claiming it was totally unnecessary.  The scene is fleeting and as such is awkward, and unnecessary.  It is as forced as some of the main characters’ trademark lines being uttered by actors still uncomfortable with their Federation personas.

Kirk intones “The universe is endless”, so you would think somewhere in the universe there must be a really bad guy the crew of the Enterprise can battle.  Something like the Borg, who caused Captain Picard major headaches.  Instead, we have a disgruntled member of Starfleet, who doesn’t like all this happy, happy ideology.  It is a veiled commentary on Progressives vs. Conservatives, but it’s too thumbnailed to be anything but trite.

STAR TREK: BEYOND is fun, primarily for Pegg and Urban.  And certainly no one would ever expect Rhianna and Public Enemy to play an integral role in the salvation of mankind.  So, there are a few surprises.  Despite convoluted race scenes with space ships, a watered down social commentary surrounding unity and an antagonist with no creativity, STAR TREK: BEYOND fits into this new timeline, though it does come in third place.   It’s certainly not as good as STAR TREK: INTO

DARKNESS, but then, it’s tough to beat Benedict Cumberbatch. 



THE GRADE FOR STAR TREK: BEYOND = B