Monday, December 17, 2012

Masterful ‘The Master’ headlines Kansas City Film Critics awards

By Steve Crum

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was chosen Best Picture of 2012 at yesterday’s (Dec. 16) KCFCC awards voting. In fact, the film garnered a trifecta, with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Best Supporting Actor as well as Anderson’s Original Screenplay. 

Ang Li received Best Director for Life of Pi, which prompted my groaner-quip, “Pi r won.” I was among 32 vote-casting film critics, representing KC mass media outlets, who are members of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, the oldest major city film critic organization in the nation. 

The complete slate of winners at the 46th Annual Loutzenhiser Awards, named for the late founder of the KCFFC, Dr. James Loutzenhiser:

BEST PICTURE...The Master

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR...Ang Li [Life of Pi]

BEST ACTRESS...Jennifer Lawrence [Silver Linings Playbook]

BEST ACTOR...Daniel Day-Lewis [Lincoln]

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS...Anne Hathaway [Les Miserables]

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR...Philip Seymour Hoffman [The Master]

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY...Chris Terrio [Argo]

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY...Paul Thomas Anderson [The Master]

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM...Amour [Austria/France]

VINCE KEOHLER AWARD FOR BEST SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY OR HORROR FILM...The Cabin in the Woods

BEST ANIMATED FILM...Frankenweenie

BEST DOCUMENTARY...The Imposter
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Ladies and gentlemen, The Master's trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1O1vb9AUU

Saturday, December 8, 2012

While not masterly, ‘Hitchcock’ is fun, fascinating ‘Psycho’ telling


By Steve Crum

The cliche “crowd pleaser” applies to Hitchcock, which dramatizes a crucial time in the professional life of Alfred Hitchcock, when he made Psycho. That 1960 film marked the artistic and commercial peak of Sir Alfred’s career, and was one of the biggest crowd pleasers in the history of motion pictures. 

If only Hitchcock the movie had focused solely on Psycho’s behind-the-scenes production, which would have made it even more pleasing. Instead, there is a makeshift subplot involving Hitch and his wife Alma’s marriage bond, or lack thereof. Make that two subplots, the second referencing Hitchcock’s psychological fixation on real-life, sicko serial killer Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho’s central nutcase, Norman Bates. No doubt John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay, which is based on Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, includes the peripherals to appeal to a wider, non-movie buff audience. In the process, the story is muddled and somewhat alienates those who ARE Hitchcock fanatics. 

Director Sacha Gervasi does an impressive, if not campy, job with numerous profile shots of Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) in stereotypical pose. The Ed Gein dream sequences that show some of the atrocities he committed, particularly toward his mother, echo Psycho scenes featuring Norman and his mama. While it is documented that Hitch did base his Norman Bates on grim Gein stories he had read, there is no proof he obsessed about Gein to any extent. The film strongly implies Hitchcock was himself psychotic about the Gein saga, dreaming about it at night, and imagining Gein himself is advising for authenticity during the actual direction of Psycho. By the way, Gein’s murderous ways formed the basis for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a heinous 1974 movie directed by Tobe Hooper that spawned several sequels and copycat horror flicks.

Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife and film collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) clearly suggests that by the time Psycho was being planned, their marriage was more so one of convenience and uncertainty. Using a great deal of artistic license, Gervasi and McLaughlin fill in relationship unknowns with a quasi-love story. Although the two respect each other for their personal and professional history, Hitch himself feels he can tackle Psycho virtually alone, which alienates Alma to collaborate on close friend Whitfield Cook’s screenplay. As the two take extended trips to Cook’s beach house to edit and write, Alfred becomes jealous. 

Of course, Hitch continues his womanizing on and off the Psycho set, flirting with and leering at Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Such Hitchcock escapades are facts that have taken legendary proportions. See the recent HBO movie, The Girl, which shows Hitchcock literally pouncing upon Tippi Hedren in the backseat of his limo. While that incident may be exaggerated, Hitchcock’s lust for his blonde actresses is a given. It is assumed he never channeled Ed Gein during those moments. 

The meat and most fun of Hitchcock, however, is the making of Psycho scenes themselves, on and off the set. Casting Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) as Norman was influenced by Perkins’ own mother fixation. We also learn of Hitch’s near disgust at Vera Miles for ruining his plans of making her a star by getting pregnant. Funny that in Psycho, Miles has more screen time than the top-billed Leigh, with Leigh’s character killed off early in the movie. 

Integral to the Psycho production story is Hitchcock’s fight early on with financing at Paramount Pictures, which (as shown) ended with Hitch himself financing the film. To me, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score contributes to at least half the impact and success of the movie. Happily, thanks to a very telling sequence involving a preview audience, Hitchcock verifies what I have realized all along.  

Even though Anthony Hopkins is not a Hitchcock clone, his makeup, body language, and speech mannerisms are convincing enough to accept him as “The Master of Suspense.” Add to it enough appropriately dark humor, and the illusion works. 

Despite the Ed Gein and love story MacGuffins, Hitchcock makes for a “good evening.” 
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GRADE On an A to F Scale: B
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Presenting the trailer to Hitchcock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rQuRLERl6A

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mathew Brady tintypes seemingly come to life in fascinating ‘Lincoln’

By Steve Crum

Eighteen years ago while walking to the parking lot after screening Jurassic Park, my then 12-year-old daughter said to me, “Dad, I feel like l’ve just been with real dinosaurs.” She was referring to what she saw in the movie, not me and fellow movie critics. I felt much the same after seeing Steven Spielberg’s recent other work, Lincoln. I had been in the presence of our 16th President for 150 minutes, a unique experience, certainly. Figuratively, at its visual core, Lincoln is a collection of Mathew Brady photos come to life. 

That is not meant to imply Lincoln is a documentary. It isn’t, but the incredible thing about it is its credible realism. Certainly, Spielberg gets enormous credit as director and co-producer, but as in any artistically successful film, his team deserves kudos as well. Tony Kushner’s screenplay, adapted from the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is laced with sharp wit and stirring rhetoric. The script includes documented speeches and conversations by Lincoln and his associates. After all, how do we really know everything said behind closed doors? Here is where Kushner and Goodwin fictionalize, but believably.

Another component vital to the success and atmosphere of Lincoln is the cinematography of Spielberg’s longtime collaborator, Janusz Kaminski. For Shindler’s List (1993), Kaminski photographed in newsreel-like black and white, adhering to our perception of WWII. For Lincoln, the look is bleached or amber-hued color, resembling 19th Century tintypes. Kaminski and Spielberg also chose to shoot indoor scenes with available light, via candle or kerosene lamp. The use of color seems more a lack thereof, and extremely effective for realism. K/S used a similar look for 1997’s Amistad.  

Lincoln is not a biography of Abe Lincoln's entire life, but it vividly portrays the man during a critical period in our country’s history, nearing the end of the Civil War, and on the brink of abolishing slavery. In fact, during the course of the movie, we witness (per se) Lee’s surrender to Grant and, after belabored efforts--to say the least, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. This encompasses the final four months of Lincoln’s presidency and life, in 1865. During all the bickering and figurative backstabbing of Congressional members over both ending the war and passage of the amendment to end slavery, Lincoln himself stays focused on achieving both goals. The story is  enhanced by the inclusion of his badgering wife Mary, finely portrayed by Sally Field, shown to be both a thorn and driving force in her husband’s political efforts.

Of the 100-plus speaking roles, surely a record for any recent motion picture, it is Daniel Day-Lewis who dominates. I am neither the first nor last to note such. His Oscar worthy performance encompasses greatness. Day-Lewis IS Lincoln. Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey will forever be revered for their takes on The Great Emancipator, but the acting benchmark has now been set with Day-Lewis, our greatest living film actor. His body of film work is stunning. 

In addition to Day-Lewis and Field, there are at least a dozen noteworthy actors. Among them, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert, who tries to persuade his parents to let him enlist as a soldier. Tommy Lee Jones, as Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens, delivers one of the two best performances of his career, the other being Coal Miner’s Daughter. Others deserving mention include David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, and Jackie Earle Haley. 

Scenes cover the Lincolns in bedroom talk, wherein Mary Todd relentlessly blames her husband for the death of their youngest son, Willie. On a lighter note, Lincoln’s tendency to both humor and manipulate fellow politicians by segueing into one of his homey, backwoods parables, even in the midst of advising a battle, adds to his unique characterization. 

Incidentally, do not expect elaborate scenes of Civil War battle. There is a sobering scene of Lincoln on horseback, stovepipe hat and all, slowly maneuvering through a battle’s aftermath of hundreds of dead soldiers. I was taken more with the fact President Lincoln is on horseback, an image never photographed--at least to my knowledge. 

There is a lot of flourish and pomp in Lincoln, as well as humanism and intimacy. Spielberg’s superb storytelling, like his classic Schindler’s List, is a must-see. 
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GRADE On an A to F Scale: A
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Enjoy the trailer to the memorable Lincoln: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiSAbAuLhqs

Friday, November 9, 2012

‘Skyfall’: THE best James Bond movie...ever

By Steve Crum

Skyfall would not be the best James Bond film ever had it not been for the previous 22 Bond movies. Not that this Sam Mendes-directed, smoothly stirred blend does not stand independently as a Class A action-adventure yarn, which it does. But to fully appreciate Skyfall, one really needs to be a Bond movie aficionado. That is because there are so many subtle and overt references and outright homages to 007 cleverly worked into the plot, dating back to Sean Connery. Otherwise, a first time Bond viewer will miss an arsenal of fun. 

For this Bond freak, Skyfall is one satisfying James Bond adventure.

It grabs from the get-go via an opening chase scene of Bond (Daniel Craig) running afoot and eventually on top of a speeding train to nab an assassin-thief possessing a vitally needed, coded chip. Naturally, every James Bond movie opens with an action set-piece which is followed by the title sequence with theme song, and this one does not waiver from tradition. However, there is more derring-do gutsiness compressed in these five minutes than in any previous Bond. Trying so hard not to spoil the fun, let’s just say there is breakneck running and jumping, car chasing, and a Caterpillar involved. And not the little, wooly kind. 

As the story (by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan) develops, it is clear that British spy headquarters M16 is under explosive attack because of its leader, M (for the final time played by Judi Dench). Something or someone is targeting her agency to get to her. Unfortunately, at a crucial time like this, M’s foremost agent, 007, has some issues of his own, interfering with  duty to M and country.    

This development does give ultra-psychotic Silva, played by Javier Bardem in blond wig, opportunities to display his viciousness, making him the most formidable and dangerous Bond villain of them all. Just try not to think of his similarities to Hannibal Lecter when he is (temporarily) jailed. Each and every Bond bad guy is dangerously eccentric, but the relentless Silva, an ex-M16 agent, is vastly more conniving and driven, fueled by personal vendetta. Bardem’s bloodthirsty villain Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men in many ways registers as a kissin’, er, killin’ cousin to Silva.

Bond movies are formula famous for being filmed in some of the most exotic, colorful locations in the world, and so goes Skyfall. The Hong Kong scenes, particularly at night, are spectacular. Mendes integrates memorable action set pieces befitting each location. Speaking of action sequences, Skyfall’s opening bit is equalled by a half dozen other nail-biting slam-bangers. Do not ask how future Bond movies (and there will definitely be more) can even equal what Mendes has accomplished here. 

By mid-movie, M is both in danger of being killed and losing her job (through forced retirement) in the process. However, there is always 007 to her rescue, along with his sometimes able assistant, Eve (Naomie Harris). Even M’s second in command Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) proves himself as no slouch in heroics. She and M16 get able support from the newly designated and very young Q, played by Ben Whishaw, who looks like he just stepped off The Big Bang Theory set. 

Mix in a very strong finale performance by Albert Finney as Scotsman Kincade, outstanding stunt work and visual effects, and perhaps the most eye pleasing opening title sequence (Daniel Kleinman) of all 23 Bond flicks. Adele’s title song, written and performed by her, is a gem too. Speaking of music, there is a fine Thomas Newman score, with a very healthy dose of Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme punctuating key parts. 

Daniel Craig’s central performance is vital, and he does not disappoint. For Judi Dench, the swan song could not be more emotionally fitting.   

By film’s end, we appreciate that the franchise has refashioned itself by never once forgetting its glorious history, including a certain Goldfinger car. So satisfying it is, five decades later, and counting. 
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GRADE On an A to F Scale: A
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The trailer previews a goodly number of Skyfall's thrills: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kw1UVovByw

Friday, November 2, 2012

‘Flight’ will undoubtedly garner Oscar nomination for Denzel

By Steve Crum

Ray Milland did it. So did Jack Lemmon, Susan Hayward, and Dudley Moore. These are actors who were Oscar nominated for superbly playing alcoholics. Milland even won for 1945’s Lost Weekend. A few months from now, when Oscar noms are announced, you can add Denzel Washington to this cadre. No doubt  he will be nominated for Flight. His performance is a stunner.

In fact, Flight is a terrific movie overall, featuring standout support from Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle, and Bruce Greenwood. Director Robert Zemeckis’ drama is his most introspective work since Cast Away. Perhaps that is faint praise, considering his primary body of comedy, fantasy, and animated films.  

The wrenching story (penned by John Gatins) follows a would-be heroic commercial airline pilot and his ongoing decent into the hell of drug and (particularly) alcohol addiction. Washington portrays veteran pilot Whip Whitaker, whose cocky worldliness masks a lonely, driven soul. We perceive him first as a carefree, cool ladies man, but Whitaker‘s persona rapidly changes to disgusting irresponsibility. It is the acting challenge of a lifetime, and Washington triumphs. 

Flight’s harrowing first 15 minutes features one of the most white knuckled plane crash sequences in film history. What begins as a routine morning flight from Orlando, with 88 passengers aboard, quickly turns deadly. Captain Whitaker, assisted by Co-Pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), tensely maneuvers through stormy skies only to encounter one engine malfunction after another. The plane nose dives out of control. 

To Evans’ consternation, Whitaker takes manual control. It is no real spoiler to reveal he basically saves the day, and is soon heralded by the media as a hero.  

Here is where the real story of Flight begins, as Whitaker’s personal life spirals to a devastating crash due to his alcoholism. His union rep, Charlie Anderson (Greenwood) and union attorney Hugh Lang (Cheadle)  struggle to cover up Whitaker’s inebriation while flying as well as keep him sober as he testifies before feds at an NTSB hearing. Unfortunately, Whitaker’s addiction now directly affects his ex-wife, his teen son, and a new girlfriend (Reilly). The same goes for his old friend, Nadine Velazquez (Katerina Marquez), a flight attendant. 

The only one in Whitaker’s life not negatively affected, although he is probably concerned, is pal Harling Mays (Goodman), aging hippie and Whip’s main drug supplier. Goodman has two primary scenes, and they are choice bits of grim humor. In a movie like this what other kind of humor could there be? 

It cannot be said Flight is particularly uplifting or inspiring, but there is welcome calm following Whip Whitaker’s turbulent life storm. 
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GRADE on a scale of A-F: A
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Take flight with this trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlFMZ5D8FNc

Friday, October 26, 2012

‘Cloud Atlas’ is supremely complex, stunning epic

By Steve Crum

Spanning 500 years, Cloud Atlas had to be the ultimate creative challenge facing the three screenwriters-directors, production crew, and actors. It is also a challenge for the audience, in both pro and con ways. 

Let me put it this way. If you can make it through the first third of the nearly three hour epic, things get clearer. Those “things” include fragmented plots and layered characters. This is the kind of film requiring vigilant attention. Do not leave to get snacks. You will be Cloud Atlas lost forever. 

Credit writer-directors Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski for successfully adapting David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas novel to the film medium. Unfortunately, their creation will likely register as too daunting, too confusing for the mainstream audience. That would  be unfortunate, because of the movie’s cinematic and philosophical riches. 

But as long as one is very patient, and willing to ride with six separate story lines that dart back to forth to forth to back and in between, then there is no problem. Otherwise, Cloud Atlas is problematic. With a narrative that seems at first to be all over the place, the multiple stories are sometimes hard to grasp. Stories are joined in disjointed ways. The good news is everything gets clearer as the film progresses. Patience is indeed the virtue here. 

Cloud Atlas features stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and more--each portraying five or six characters. In multiple cameos, look for Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. Credits note two or more producers, composers, designers, and directors of photography. Collaboration City, indeed. 

The film’s overall theme smacks of reincarnation, exemplified by studio press banter: “Drama, mystery, action, and enduring love thread through a single story that unfolds in multiple timelines over the span of 500 years. Characters meet and reunite from one life to the next. Born and reborn.” Stories are set in the past (1849), present (various years in between), and future (2144-2300’s).

Visuals throughout Cloud Atlas are Oscar caliber stunners, from sets to digital effects to stunts to makeup. Regarding the latter, Halle Berry is even transformed into a man in one time period. She is so believably a guy that I did not realize it was Berry until the end credits. In a reverse, Hugh Lofting’s brutish woman guise surprised as well. What a hoot! Or hooters. 

A figurative time capsule captures the complex story lines: in 1849, a San Francisco lawyer protects a runaway slave on a ship in the Pacific Islands...in pre-WWII Great Britain, a poor but gifted composer commits an act which influences the creation of a lifelong work he calls “Cloud Atlas Sextet”...a 1973 journalist  tries to avert an industrial disaster...a present day publisher faces unjust imprisonment as he nears great success...in 2144, a genetically engineered young lady, bred to follow orders without thought like a robot, begins adopting human emotions, and acting upon them...and in 2300 or thereabout, a goat herder faces both his conscience and violent surroundings in an evidently post-apocalyptic world. Hanks, Berry, and cast all act in key roles of each segment, and do so quite gloriously. I will not muddle the mind explaining or even listing all their characterizations.

The fact that a key character per story wears the same birthmark reinforces the reincarnation premise that ties the tales together. However, are these really the same individuals reborn or merely symbolic beings representing the struggles and glories of mankind? Or both? “Our lives are not our own” is uttered by one character, which could be taken as a predestination inference.  The film consistently preaches that everyone’s life is shaped by the feelings and actions of others. 

What is blatantly missing is any direct reference to religion playing a part in these characters’ lives, Christian or otherwise. This is an observation, and neither negative nor positive. 

Cloud Atlas is an epic, visionary work expounding upon life existing as a domino effect. 

This is a complex and must see film.
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GRADE on a Scale of A-F: A-
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Maybe the trailer will help clarify: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByehYal_cCs

Friday, October 12, 2012

Factual, ultra tense ‘Argo’ is one of 2012’s top films

By Steve Crum

The rescue of Israeli hostages in 1977’s Raid on Entebbe came to mind at the outset of settling into Ben Affleck’s tautly directed Argo. Both films are based on real events that occurred two years apart, and both are presented in storytelling that flips back and forth from rescue planners to each country’s detained citizens. However, there is a major difference in the two incidents. 

The successful raid on Entebbe (in dictator Idi Amin’s Uganda) is a story focused on a squadron carrying out a precision military rescue laced with machine guns, hand grenades, and gritty combat. Argo’s rescue “force” is one determined CIA agent, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), whose brash and ultimately successful plan is to rescue six Americans in Tehran, Iran. He will do so virtually single handedly--with incredible help from Hollywood movie insiders, no less. It should be no spoiler to reveal the outcome of the rescue since it is historic fact. That said, I admit to having never heard anything about this sidebar story of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, perpetrated by Iran’s infamous Ayatollah Khomeini. 

Chris Terrio’s script, based on writings by Antonio J. Mendez (yes, the same Mendez depicted in the film) and Joshuah Bearman, opens in near documentary style, on Nov. 4, 1979. Militants storm the walls surrounding the U. S. Embassy in Tehran, and take 52 Americans hostage. (They will remain captives for over a year.) But that is not Argo’s real story. Argo focuses on the six Americans who barely escaped and hid out in the Canadian Embassy, also located in Tehran. They are given sanctuary in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). 

Since the Iranians had no vent against Canada, the property was a safe haven. Of course, their presence had to be kept secret. Once the Iranians discovered the six were missing, however, a dragnet to find then ensued. At the same time, our homeland CIA was planning their escape. Realize too that separate negotiations were ongoing regarding the captured 52. 

CIA operative Mendez’s plan turns on a pretty far fetched premise: travel to Tehran alone under the guise of a Canadian filmmaker scouting possible filming locations. Once there, he would visit the Canadian Embassy, and prepare the six “guests” to escape. With the help of Hollywood  studio special effects guru John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) a shelved sci-fi script is chosen, entitled Argo (sort of a B-grade Star Wars), and publicity is immediately put into place for credibility. Even the Hollywood community believes this to be a production in the works. If Hollywood itself believes the ruse, surely the Iranians will too. And so it goes.

Argo is a lesson in near perfect pacing with the first 2/3 in slow, temperate gate with light humor supplied by the characters of Goodman, Arkin, and Bryan Cranston (as CIA honcho Jack O’Donnell). The groundwork is specifically laid out. The film's final 20 minutes are some of the most seat-edged, harried moments of this or any film. Bee-rother. 

The plaudits have to go to Ben Affleck, whose producing/directing/acting trifecta makes Argo one of the top films of the year, and a natural for the Oscar. 
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GRADE on an A to F Scale: A
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The Argo trailer gives one a good overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w918Eh3fij0

Friday, August 10, 2012

Overlong ‘Bourne Legacy’ features dazzling chases, convoluted plot

By Steve Crum

Fans of the first three Bourne movies will want to see this fourth franchise installment, The Bourne Legacy, which--as the title implies--is a kind of homage. Those who have never seen the previous films (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) will definitely want to see those movies before seeing Legacy. Otherwise, the complex plot, which references the previous films, will be confusing to the point of exasperation. I did see and greatly enjoy the previous Bournes, but was dizzied at what the heck was going on in this new take. No doubt this is the end of the franchise.

Director/co-screenwriter Tony Gilroy helms The Bourne Legacy, his first time in that director batting position. Once again, the story is “inspired” by Robert Ludlum’s Bourne book series, much like the James Bond movies are loose adaptations of Ian Fleming’s novels. Unfortunately, metaphorically, Gilroy does not score any homer with this one. That is no slight to the cuticle biting action sequences that earmark the Bourne movies. In the first two Bournes (that sounds so familial), the action balanced the dialogue and character development. In Legacy, the action really dominates, punctuating often long, rambling dialogue sequences. The capable actors do their best in both realms, particularly leads Jeremy Renner (as Aaron Cross) and Rachel Weisz (Dr. Marta Shearing). 

Replacing Jason Bourne as the central character, without a “new” Jason Bourne, is the daunting task here. Instead of Matt Damon in the lead, we have a kind of Bourne wannabe, since Cross has been trained and chemically programmed by the same nefarious, CIA connected government agency that previously shafted Jason five directions. To supposedly make matters clearer, which made matters even more muddled to me, there are constant references to Jason Bourne along with flashing his 8 x 10 Matt Damon photo a half dozen times throughout the story. Hopefully, Damon received payment for his product placement. 

There is a stunning Canadian location sequence (filmed in Alberta) opening the story, in which we are introduced to central character Cross as he trains himself to survive in desolate mountain surroundings. He climbs, jumps, ropes, and even dives into freezing water, a stunt actually performed by Renner in one take. For the unaware, the Bourne films feature actual stunt men and women as opposed to digital effects. This is a plus for an action movie these days, and the difference truly shows. The reason for his training is answered in due time, so in the meantime, we get to see some grueling workouts. Little by little, Cross’s identity is sketched out through flashbacks and concurrent conversations at CIA headquarters, featuring Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, and Stacy Keach as slimy leaders upholding what they consider truth and justice the American way. They are tied in with secret testing on soldiers (like Bourne and Cross).

A planned, tragic incident at the government’s secret spy lab triggers a chase involving both Cross and chemist Shearing (Weisz), with CIA operatives in pursuit. It all has to do with Shearing helping Cross deal with his (CIA) drug dependency. I won’t spoil the plot with specifics. By the way, the on location filming in Manila is spot on and worth the reported hassle filming in that extremely crowded downtown locale. Much of Legacy’s best action bits were shot there, with the motorcycle chase finale the most breathtaking of them all. Forgive my hedging, but the early on sequences of wolves attacking Cross as well as the drone firing missiles at our hero are impressive too. Kudos to  editor John Gilroy and composer James Newton Howard for heightening the suspense and action. It is a shame similar accolades cannot be given to the film’s dialogue and plot. 

Leaving the overlong screening, two strangers walking behind me were seriously trying to figure out plot details, particularly in regard to Aaron and Jason. I was hoping to get some answers myself before they turned the corner.  
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GRADE on a scale of A-F: C
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At least the trailer is brief: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSzy9qQ3mDE

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Finale of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy rises, dazzlingly

By Steve Crum
Bruce Wayne’s servant/protector/confidant Alfred pep talks his master early on in The Dark Knight Rises. “Don’t worry, Mr. Wayne,” Alfred says, “it takes a little time to get back in the swing of things.” The line, written by the film’s brilliant screenwriter-director-producer Christopher Nolan, and his brother Jonathan, is both prophetic and literal. Indeed, by the time the non-cowled Bruce Wayne first makes his appearance, a super thug and his gang are amok in Gotham City, pillaging and murdering. 

Forget about Batman himself appearing just yet. That comes even later in the story. It is worth the wait.
The third of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is once again laced with grimness, despair, and a heinous villain. Although 2008’s The Dark Knight features an Oscar winning turn by Heath Ledger as the most memorably psychotic of all Batman villains, The Joker, Tom Hardy’s vicious Bane comes in a strong second. As all good DC and Marvel geeks (like yours truly) know, a superhero is only as good as the super villain. This makes or breaks the central conflict. Bane looks like a WWE wrestler with a Hannibal Lector mask attached to his face as a breathing mechanism. As such, he breathes--deeply, a la Darth Vader. And his voice sounds like Sean Connery's. James Bond never, ever broke guys’ necks, at least not like Bane does.  
Add to the mix another Batman nemesis, Catwoman aka Selina Kyle, here played less sympathetically than in previous movies and TV episodes, by Anne Hathaway. Hathaway enhances the role physically and emotionally. Her real life dancing skills have segued into gymnastic moves that make her lady burglar sequences credible. Backward flips out a window might have been accomplished by a double, but why--when Hathaway is capable. 
To take on Bane, Catwoman, and sundry other ventures, including the depletion of Wayne Foundation finances, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) must first emerge from self-imposed confinement at Wayne Manor. Wallowing in his guilt and depression over the death of his friend, District Attorney Harvey Dent (see the last movie), Wayne has been living a Howard Hughes-like existence for the past eight years. Adding to his misery is the fact that most of society blames Batman for Dent’s murder. He is a wanted fugitive, something most superheroes encounter at one time or another in their plot lines. 
Batman’s never faltering ally is Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), who now has an ally himself in John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young and capable detective serving under Gordon. Besides them, Wayne’s father-like servant Alfred (Michael Caine) and Wayne Foundation design tech guru Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), moral and physical support for Batman is nil. By the way, there is a solid performance by the nearly unrecognizable Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate. 
Once Batman finally gets back to action, with the audience’s dander by that time primed to the max, the film explodes in scene after dazzling scene of air to street attacks and counter attacks. Highlights include Batman’s newly designed airplane, The Bat, which can hover in mid-air or fly at supersonic speed. It is impressive that so many battle scenes occur in broad daylight, which means the digital effects must be flawless. They are indeed. There is an awesome, yes that adjective is overused--but not here, sequence during a jam packed football game at a huge stadium. It is not the Red Sea parting, but close. 
Nolan has succeeded in creating essentially a successful third act finale of one of the best trilogies ever filmed. Its plausible script, particularly for a comic book movie, happens also to have timely political references to wicked Wall Street and the gullibility of people easily swayed through bandwagon sensibilities. 
The film’s two negatives are slight, the first being a too convenient subplot of Bruce Wayne’s imprisonment well into the film. It puns the film’s title. There is also the hokey, but expected, conclusion which involves a set-up, delivery, and fake-out. Then again, all should probably be forgiven since we are dealing with a comic book-inspired, fictional character who fights for humanity’s good. Bring on the fantasy.
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GRADE on a scale of A to F: B+
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Enjoy the trailer of this trilogy conclusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8evyE9TuYk