Reading through Part 1, I see I strayed a bit off course. I promised they wouldn’t take the form of traditional reviews but you can take the Ebert out of the Guy but you can’t take the Guy out of Ebert. (I’d like to say that sounded better in my head but now that I’m visualizing every sick connotation all I can say is, No – No it doesn’t.)
Anyway, I hit y’all with a rambling manifesto to kick this off last time, so today I’m just going to dive into the deep end and try my hardest not to officially review these flicks. Remember, this is just supposed to be my reactions and observations of the whole laundry list of films that I somehow missed on first run and am now parsing through in the comforts of my own home.
One last programming note. I’ll probably do this as a recurring monthly feature. I’d like to get 10 or so flicks under my belt and then hit you with a twofer, so if anyone is enjoying these pieces, look for them at the top of each month.
On with the show (and as always – Please comment below).
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
After three Pirates flicks and approximately 400 minutes of my life, I’ve had enough of the Capn’ in me for a lifetime. These films have been awesome spectacles to behold but I’m not really sure there was ever enough plot to dictate that much movie. This final film is curiously named, as World’s End is merely a quick stop on the journey and not the final destination. Essentially, our rogue’s gallery of pirates and pirate sympathizers, journey alongside the resurrected Captain Barbossa to liberate a stir-crazy Captain Jack from Davey Jones’ Locker. There’s some cool effects sequences – including a playful bit with an army of ‘rock crabs’ – and the final battle in a maelstrom showcases the bleeding edge of effects work but you could waterboard me for days and I’m not sure I could intelligently describe the plot to you. All I know is it’s over and I’ve sort of had enough of these retro-fitted trilogies for a few years. Let’s go back to some good old-fashioned stand alone movies.
2. The Bourne Supremacy
Now here’s a trilogy that was actually worth it’s weight in celluloid. In fact, I’m sort of sad to see it all end (more below). I caught the original Bourne Identity when it first hit DVD a few years back. I remember digging the gritty-realistic vibe that director Doug Liman brought to the enterprise. Damon’s espionage flick hit the same summer that Ben Affleck jammed his stumps in Jack Ryan’s shoes and of the two Boston boys, it was Damon that earned our goodwill. I don’t know why I missed the subsequent flicks but I’m happy to have remedied that in the last two weeks.
With this one, Liman exits and hands the baton to British filmmaker Paul Greengrass (United 93) who applies his documentarian eye to the proceedings – giving them a raw, visceral and vital edge. Bourne’s plight and flight becomes our own as we’re given a front row view into his globe-trotting chase to both elude his hunters as well as track them himself. This film certainly feels like the second act of a continuum – teasing us with the right mix of reveals and questions. Greengrass may ratchet up the shaky-cam but it never fees like a gimmick.
3. Live Free or Die Hard
If I am a little tired of unnecessary trilogies, these retreads and remakes of classic 80’s properties have got me rolling in my grave. You just know there are starving screenwriters out there whose fatal flaw is they wrote the Great American Screenplay and are resigned to pimping that around town instead of whoring for a studio and cranking out a spec script for Saw V. The industry is not starved for fresh ideas, it just doesn’t want to eat from that garden – choosing to raid the mini-fridge and pig out on processed foods.
I think I hit my breaking point this past May when I hit the cinema, early summer Superflu be damned, and forced myself to slog through my long-awaited reunion with childhood hero, Indiana Jones. Not even the 60,000 cc’s of Sudafed that I was self-prescribed could dull my pain. Just because these properties worked once upon a time, doesn’t mean they’re timeless.
Indy’s weakness is simple – Spielberg has matured and Lucas is a child and neither the twine shall meet. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is akin to The Mummy or National Treasure – it looks like an Indy film but it’s all a gold foil facade. Inside, nothing but that nasty hollow Easter Bunny chocolate – and that’s just sad. Live Free or Die Hard shares the same problem. It looks like a Die Hard movie but it never feels like one. It’s just going through the motions, trying way too hard to turn John McClane into Jack Bauer.
The DVD release that I received had two viewing options – Theatrical Cut or Unrated. I chose the Unrrated version which was a big mistake. The theatrical release was rated PG-13, a first for the Die Hard series. For the DVD release, the filmmakers simply ratched up the cursing and not in any way one would call poetic. Mamet, this is not. Nope, they applied one of two Band-Aids. Either they redub the dialogue (usually when the camera is on McClane’s back) to add a curse to his speech or they filmed multiple versions of the same lines and then inserted both into the film. Case in point – McClane is speaking to this computer geek he’s tasked with ferrying to DC. In the Theatrical Cut, he barks, “Get in the car.” In the unrated cut, he barks, “Get in the car. (Pause) Get in the f@$king car.” What doesn’t make any sense is why they go with both lines. I guess the director was so in love with the line, he couldn’t bare to cut a take.
4. Speed Racer
This one surprised the hell out of me. For starters, I know nothing about Speed Racer. I’ve never seen the show and from the little clips of stilted 60’s era anime I have spied, I’m not sure I’d ever want to. When a half-hour program features the same 6 fames of cell run over and over, you have to wonder how the nostalgia built for this over the years. Ya’ got me but apparently there’s some appeal – enough that Andy and his sister Larry Wachowski optioned the property. What follows was their first post-Matrix directorial gig that crashed hard in theaters. This released in late May and I think hit DirectTV a week later. A colossal disaster that really hit Warner Brothers hard – thankfully The Dark Knight swooped in to save the day.
Well, when I finally sat down to watch this, I was bowled over. This is a GREAT family flick although I hesitate to call it a kid’s movie – not with the gun fights, ninja assassins and piranha attacks. The visuals are insane and the kaleidoscope of colors conspire to give you instant epilepsy. It’s like someone took the Hadron Collidor and started firing Skittles into my eye-sockets. Anyway, the film is a lot of fun. Emile Hirsch brings gravitas to what could have been a stock-cartoon character. John Goodman is larger than life as his pops. And there’s a chimp running around in kick-ass boy pajamas alongside a boy running around in kick-ass chimp pajamas.
5. The Bourne Ultimatum
There’s no question that the Bond series owes Bourne and Batman for its reinvention. If it weren’t for Bourne, which effectively rendered all those invisible cars silly, I’m not sure we would have been graced with the sublime Casino Royale and its forthcoming follow-up, Quantum of Solace. Where I knocked Pirates for overblown trilogies that just stretch on and on, I was really sad to come to the end of Bourne’s tale. This last film was excellent – standing tall alongside Royale as the best spy flick I’ve ever seen.
What these flicks have that so many others miss is the attention to character. The gadgetry and satellite telemetry and globe trotting is fun but you need to be invested in the characters. They need to hurt. In this series, Jason Bourne hurts plenty and lays the hurt on even more. I also love the stunt work that seems done devoid of any CGI trickery. Oh, I’m sure its there to hide wires and fake vistas but you’d never know it. When Bourne is scampering around Morocco, leaping from rooftop to rooftop in a hunt for a fellow assassin, you really believe that’s Matt Damon doing the stunt work. That sequence is just one of many in this series that really gripped me.
There was some talk earlier this year – around Oscar time – that this film was deserving of an Award. I say, why not? It was emotionally gripping, taut, thrilling and incredibly dramatic. The only thing it lacked was the overwrought grandstanding featured in your typical Oscar bait. Damon gives a driven performance and melds into his character so well that I think some voters are fooled into thinking “That’s not acting.” I say, what Damon accomplished is as nuanced as bellowing “I drink your milk shake.” Well, I think the Academy has to start taking notice of all films. I’d hate to see The Dark Knight fall victim to the same bias that snubbed Bourne.
Call this The Humphries Ultimatum.