Sunday, 31 July 2016

'Jason Bourne' (2016) Review: Bourne. Again.

Big Screen Watch: 'Jason Bourne' is a movie that you should definitely head out and see. It's worth the price of admission and more.
Last year, if you paid any attention to the movies, you might have noticed quite a few spy movies came out. You had new spies in 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' and 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E', and all the old guys came out to play like James Bond and Ethan Hunt. Someone it seems wasn't invited to the party. Jason Bourne. I didn't mind this of course, having never seen a Bourne movie, but it was a notable absence. There's no mystery as to the why the spy is making a comeback of course. In this day and age of Snowden, where our information is readily available to the discretionary powers that be, movies about surveillance tap right into the heart of what's happening today.

'Jason Bourne' is no different. The movie of course follows Jason Bourne. A man trained to be the ultimate super spy by the CIA. After having exposed the secret agency's secrets out to the world, Jason goes into hiding. He makes his money in underground street fights, against guys he can knock out with one punch. However, when someone from Jason's past brings him information that the world needs to know about, he must decide to either turn a blind eye, or get back in the game. He probably gets back into the game though cause, that'd be a real short movie otherwise.

"Bourne we need your help." "Nah..." *Roll Credits*
Really 'Jason Bourne' follows a very classic resurgent hero story. The protagonist is brought back into the old fray to once more face his old foes, and may not make it out alive this time. As with those movies though, the first act inevitably drags. You have to wait for the story to be ready for the Bourne to return. That means sitting through set up, exposition, people walking through corridors, and scenes that fail to compel. Never has working at the CIA looked so ridiculously banal.

Imagine a Bourne movie written by Aaron Sorkin or Shane Black. Or both. Now that's a movie right there.
Once Bourne comes back though, the movie really picks up. It was as if Jason Bourne was the adrenaline shot to the sedated husk that was this movie. Last week, I wrote about how 'Star Trek Beyond' had a sense of intelligence behind it's scenes and 'Jason Bourne' continues that streak. This movie has a remarkable sense of continuity with it's action sequences. The action is so dense and complex, with many moving parts, at a very brisk pace, but never once will you be lost as to what's happening. The scenes then have a greater impact, and are immensely satisfying to watch.

The movie could skate by on being purely about the action, but instead, it decides to have a message. The story involves Bourne exposing the CIA for their blatant disregard for personal privacy, in the name of national security. To see the inspiration for this, check out the daily news. The movie does fairly well with this, and even goes so far as to show the messy grey areas of the subject. I liked that the movie could have been simply good vs. evil, but instead it presents the issue as the layered and complex one that it is.

All that talk of layers made me think of 'Shrek'. I have now shredded my credibility and rendered my serious analysis moot.
Regarding Bourne himself though, I can't speak to the characters evolution from the previous films, as I've yet to see them. In this film though, I felt it did a good job with the resurgent hero archetype. In fact, the dull first act may in fact have been wholly intentional. By creating a sense of tedious monotony for the audience, and then switching it to the more satisfying action and thought provoking plot, you're placed in the mind-frame of the main character. The way the audience feels is exactly the way the character of Bourne develops. Seduced into the far more rewarding life of a super spy, away from the meaningless life of a survivor.

I should also mention that while Matt Damon is engaging as Bourne, the real standout in this film is Alicia Vikander. Her performance as the young, ruthless and manipulative CIA official is probably the saving grace of those earlier less compelling scenes. Although considering her role in Ex-Machina is eerily similar, she may be in danger of being typecast.

I'm not saying that she's doing the same thing twice. I'm saying she's literally playing the same character. #BourneExMachinaCrossover #BourneVsTheMachines #BringTerminatorIn?
As my first foray into the world of Jason Bourne, I have to say I was satisfied by the experience. Those wondering if the movie is incomprehensible to the uninitiated, it's not. The movie has a mystery to it that ties into the previous iterations of the franchise, but it's largely secondary to the main plot. By itself this movie is a classic spy thriller, chock full of exciting action as the main course, with a side of thought provoking undertones. It's a definite Big Screen Watch.

'Star Trek Beyond' (2016) Review: Summer Saved

Big Screen Watch: Definitely worth a trip to the theatre. This movie demands your attention on the big screen. 
When J.J Abrams was announced as the director of 'The Force Awakens' I thought "How amazing is it that one man gets to bring both Star Trek and Star Wars to a new generation". Abrams has always proclaimed to be more of a Star Wars fan so, it seemed to be a better fit. However, after seeing what he did with both franchises, I'm inclined to think differently. The worst thing about 'The Force Awakens' is being to beholden to the original material. The best thing about Abrams' 'Star Trek', is that it isn't. Sometimes it's better to get eyes from outside the fandom to create things for the fandom. Then again, the man made 'Star Trek: Into Darkness', which was problematic for being a remake of 'Wrath of Khan', so maybe I'm just spewing trash.

You should probably just forget that movie anyway, since that's exactly what 'Star Trek Beyond' wants you to do, and it gives you a pretty solid film in return. Set three years into the 5 year journey of the USS Enterprise, the movie of course follows Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the crew you've come to know and love. When a routine rescue mission goes south, and the ship comes crashing down, that crew is left stranded, without resources and Simon Pegg. No it's not a Mission Impossible movie, I promise.

Okay maybe just a little.
This time around, Chris Pine’s ‘Captain Kirk’ isn’t exactly sure if he even wants to be a Captain. His heart just isn’t in the dangerous, exciting adventure game anymore. Before he has a chance to contemplate that though, he’s thrust into another dangerous, exciting adventure. Starfleet has no room for existentialism. His other half has issues of his own, as Zachary Quinto's Spock suffers the most intense form of survivor's guilt I've ever seen. When a man breaks it off with Zoe Saldana because of his duty to further his near extinct species, you know it's bad. 

Beyond the galaxy's oldest bromance, this movie actually has quite a bit of character. The characters are left momentarily separated in the second act of the film, getting around the problem ensemble films usually have. Instead of struggling to get to each character in a big group, you spend time with smaller groups instead. Following the duo of Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ and Zachary Quinto’s ‘Spock’ is a highlight, as the sarcastic one of the group bounces quips off the abnormally genuine alien.

Space besties
Aside from stellar performances from the regular cast, the movie introduces Sofia Boutella’s ‘Jayla’, an alien that our heroes meet on their journey. Her introduction is remarkably well done, instantly feeling like she belongs and a treat whenever she’s on screen. Another stand out is Idris Elba’s villainous ‘Krall’. He’s an imposing figure that feels like a genuine threat. It’s a testament to Elba’s performance that I was able to feel his charisma underneath all his character’s alien make up.

Action wise, this movie is quite focused. It has an energy that never really goes away. It’s the type of action movie that feels as though it has a degree of thought behind it. ‘Star Trek Beyond’ isn’t just coherent, it’s inventive. Justin Lin was an unlikely choice for the movie, but the shots he chooses to tell his story have a sense of genuine creativity behind them. Not at all the type of stuff you’d expect from a big franchise film like this one.

This Just in, but 'Star Trek Beyond' is Lin-saaaaaane!
And readership suddenly began to fall indefinitely
‘Star Trek Beyond’ is a lot like the ‘Star Trek’ of 2009. It’s exciting, clever, and thoughtful when it needs to be. It has an excellent grasp of its tone, never feeling too dark or too light. If you’d told me at the beginning of the summer that this would be one of my favourite movies, I’d call you crazy. Now, with a summer that’s been mostly a mixed bag, it’s a lot easier to believe. ‘Star Trek Beyond’ is a definite Big Screen Watch. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

'Ghostbusters' (2016) Review: A Funny Kind of Awkward

'Catch It On Cable': Not good enough to rush out to the theatre, but good enough to warrant a watch if you come across it on TV

Whatever happened to remakes and sequels? I realize I'm about to argue the artistic integrity of a practice that involves recycling the same stories. I know that's not a winning stance to take, but in my eyes, these movies used to at least carry the pretense of caring. Nowadays, once you have the name of an established property, you don't have to do much else. Instead of tweaking the original story, adding a few interesting new ideas here and there, they are now just shy of carbon copies of the original. If you want examples go see 'Independence Day: Resurgence' or the biggest movie of 2015 'The Force Awakens'.

The new 'Ghostbusters' is no different. The biggest issue with it is its lack of originality. Based on the 1984 original of the same name, 'Ghostbusters' is a remake through and through. New York City has seen an rise in paranormal activity, posing a threat to modern society. Thankfully, a group of keen eyed scientists obsessed with the other side pay attention and form the group known as the Ghostbusters, to, you guessed it, bust some ghosts. Only this time, instead of a bunch of dudes, it's a group of girls. Namely, Leslie Jones, Kate Mckinnon, Kirsten Wiig and Melissa Mccarthy.

That seems to be the only real change in this film, and it's largely artificial. Story wise, it's beat for beat the same as the original. Complete with bureaucratic obstacles to busting ghosts and a theme song. With the story being spoken for the movie focuses more on crafting their new characters. This is done well as each of the Ghostbusters feel distinct enough, and have a good degree of chemistry between one another, but that only happens if the script decides to work.

If not the whole thing comes undone.
Because this film is played as a straight comedy, it means a lot of screen time is devoted to jokes. Unfortunately in this case, very often those jokes don't really work. So much of my time in the theatre was spent waiting for a joke to be over just so we could get to the next scene. That next scene would most likely not be funnier than the last, and it was seemingly unending awkwardness for large portions of the movie. By the time a genuinely funny scene came around, I probably laughed harder than it deserved just because I was relieved.

Comedy of course is subjective, even though I didn't hear much laughter in the theatre I attended. However I did get a few good laughs in. That's what happened with the characters of Kate Mckinnon's Holtzmann and Chris Hemsworth's Kevin. The jokes are essentially, Mckinnon is weird and Hemsworth is stupid. Granted, the way the characters are used at first is funny, but it quickly starts to become grating as the movie goes on.

Like a cheese grater, except with jokes.

When not trying to maintain the difficult balancing act of comedy, the movie slips in a few action scenes. Director Paul Feig is known for this, as evidenced by 'Spy' and 'The Heat', but like the comedy, a lot of these scenes are hit and miss. Some are tense and intriguing, and play up the tension associated with the supernatural. Others are goofy, mistreating your eyes with the nauseating neon of CGI ghost people.

'Ghostbusters' is a very uneven movie. I was constantly going back and forth with how I felt about it. It would make me laugh and be a charming film, with characters that worked really well together, but then it would be incredibly awkward and make me wish it were 20 minutes shorter. Never though did I think it was a bad film, just not a particularly good one either. With that in mind, I'd have to say that if you're gonna see it, you should probably Catch It On Cable.

For more discussion on movies like this one, check out the Take 4 Podcast. Our last episode was about fighting movies, and the Jackie Chan Jet Li movie we never really got.

Friday, 8 July 2016

'The Legend of Tarzan' Review (2016): The Dark Tarzan Rises

CATCH IT ON CABLE: Not good enough for you to seek it out, but it's worth a watch. Maybe if there's literally nothing else on.
As we reach the middle of the summer blockbuster season, I think it's time to acknowledge: This is a really weird summer. After the explosive way it began with 'Captain America: Civil War', week after week has been a constant stream of movies that were just...strange. I would go into most of them not really excited and leave the mostly just confused, but not exactly disappointed. That's what happened with Independence Day 2, Ninja Turtles 2, and Warcraft. Thus far, there hasn't really been a movie that was worth raving about. That even includes 'Finding Dory' which I've had retroactive mixed feelings about.

'The Legend of Tarzan' is no different. I didn't hate it, but I couldn't argue with someone that did, and I understood it, but that's mostly because it's really stupid at times. I won't even call this a live action remake of a Disney classic. It's touted as being a more faithful adaptation of the original story. The untold story if you will. The movie takes place 8 years after Tarzan's left the jungle. He took back his birth name, got a mansion and just boatloads of cash. Safe to say after spending decades in a jungle world, he landed on his feet.

Previously on MTV Cribs
The jungle though is not finished with the lord of the apes. A convoluted plot involving slavery, warring tribes and special diamonds brings Tarzan back to his home. Here he must face his demons and come to terms with the wild within the wildman. Along for the ride is Margot Robbie as the Jane to Alexander Skarsgard's Tarzan, Christoph Waltz playing himself. Again. And Sam Jackson as Tarzan's wise cracking second half of a buddy cop jungle duo.

One is by the book. The other? He only knows one law. The law of the jungle. 
The way Tarzan is sequenced is very much like other reboots of this type. There's a series of flashbacks that tell the story we know, but in the context of this new story, like in Batman Begins. On the other hand the movie is chocked full of things that are recognizable to us as fans of the franchise but don't really make sense in this particular film. Reboots are messy work that tend to feel unnecessary which is why the untold story is the go to format. Trying to get you to see the movie because it's not quite what you saw before. 

Yeah that's never been done before. 
That however, is incredibly tricky to pull off. Simply because of all the information you have to give to the viewer, just to establish the movie. 'The Legend of Tarzan' doesn't pull this off and has a very difficult to follow first act. If that were it's only sin, it might be a solid film, but alas, it is not. No, the biggest problem with the movie is that it is utterly ridiculous. It starts out trying to take itself very seriously, but everything to do with plot details or character motivations is paper thin and massively contrived.

The best way I can put it is, this movie is like a big budget exploitation movie. It's got the brains of a tv movie and the body of a blockbuster. Style over substance is definitely the mantra here. In that regard Tarzan definitely looks good. Its creature effects are about as good as say a 'Planet of the Apes' movie. David Yates is a director who knows how to craft a pretty shot so it's definitely a visually involved movie.

Ape look good. Ape CGI. Ape convincing.
The movie isn't without it's moments. It just betrays itself time after time. Whenever it tries to be intelligent or meaningful, Sam Jackson will have a one liner that brings the movie back down to mediocrity. To that end, this is such a wasted cast. I genuinely liked everyone's performance in the film, but the material to work with just feels lazy sometimes. Yet, not offensively so. At it's best, 'The Legend of Tarzan' is a pretty good looking, "so bad it's funny", Syfy channel movie. At it's worst, it's a forgettable dumb summer blockbuster. For that, I'd say the movie is best if you just Catch It On Cable.