Tag Archives: Matt Damon

Jason Bourne (2016)

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He’s back!

No, not poor Jeremy Renner, but the original and still the best: Matt Damon. And of course, nearly just as important, director Paul Greengrass (who helmed the second and third films in the franchise, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum). The dynamic duo said they probably weren’t going to make it and they didn’t need to make it, but they made it anyway ($$$). And so we have Jason Bourne.

This time, the eponymous protagonist (Damon) stumbles onto a secret about his forgotten past thanks to former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), and is forced back into the game he tried to leave behind. Pursuing him this time is new agency hotshot Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and head honcho Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), with a super assassin (Vincent Cassel) thrown in for the fun of it. It’s more or less the same type of film as its predecessors, with tense spy sequences, loads of destructive action, chase scenes, and gritty, brutal close-rang combat. Everyone’s get a secret agenda and it’s up to Bourne to find out what the heck is going on, or at least beat the crap out of everyone trying to do it.

To be honest, I’ve never been a super big fan of the Bourne series. I’ve watched all of them and enjoyed them to varying degrees, but this is not a franchise that gets me particularly excited, and I tend to forget about them pretty quickly after I walk out of the cinema. I only had a vague recollection of the history of the character and this latest entry didn’t do a whole lot to jog my memory. That said, Jason Bourne is solid entertainment. Damon and Greengrass are just too good for this cash grab film to suck.

For starters, there’s the action. There are some really fantastic set pieces throughout the film, including a chaotic, super-intense riot sequence at the beginning that hooks you right into Jason Bourne’s world. There’s also a wild car sequence at the end and some bone-crunching hand-to-hand fight scenes that kept me at the edge of my seat . Greengrass shows that great action isn’t simply about loud noises and blowing things up, but through use of smart camera angles, timely cuts and measured pacing.

Then there’s Matt Damon, who is, as usual, wonderful. It has been said that he has something like 20-30 lines throughout the entire movie, though I wouldn’t have noticed had you not told me. He simply embodies the character of Jason Bourne through his demeanour and mannerisms. His resting badass face, his strut — everything he does in this film tells you he knows exactly who the character is.

The rest of the cast is solid too. Vikander, despite a shaky attempt at an American accent, delivers a multi-faceted character who can seem vulnerable one second and frightening the next. Tommy Lee Jones, whose face resembles a rubbery Halloween mask of Tommy Lee Jones’ old face at this stage, lends his gravitas to the role of nasty government official, while Vincent Cassel offers a nice contrast to Bourne by being a different kind of assassin — slick, sinewy and calculated — but just as deadly. Special shout out to Riz Ahmed as a tech billionaire with a pivotal role in the film. There’s not a whole lot of screen time, but Ahmed nails every scene he’s in. Seeing how different he is in this film compared to his role in the HBO series The Night Of (a must-watch, by the way) tells me he’s bound for bigger and greater things in his future (he already has Rogue One coming up at the end of the year).

Having said all those good things, I don’t think Jason Bourne is by any means a modern action masterpiece or anything like that. When you break it down, there’s not much of a plot, and no one will be surprised when the central mystery of the film is finally revealed. Ultimately, it’s nothing we haven’t really seen before, and Greengrass seems to be content sticking with what has worked in the past. As a result, Jason Bourne does come across as just another typical entry in the series as opposed to a standout, and as I said earlier in this review, I’ve never been a massive fan of the franchise. However, even an average Bourne film is better than the majority of other action flicks out there, and I appreciate how well it is acted and executed. It didn’t blow me away, but I enjoyed it for what it was.

3.5 stars out of 5

2016 Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win & Who Should

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I don’t have the time to do a detailed post for the Oscars this year, but it wouldn’t feel right without throwing some predictions out there. Here are my predictions (ie, guesses) on how I think each category will turn out, and which nominees I feel are most deserving.

Best Picture

Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight

Will win: This is a really tough one to pick as it has been such a tight race. It will go down to The Revenant, Spotlight and The Big Short, and my guess is that Spotlight will edge out the others to take home the biggest prize.

Should win: If it were up to me I’d go with either The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road. In any case it’s been a terrific year for cinema and I think all of the Best Picture nominees — with the exception of Brooklyn — are all deserving.

Best Director

Nominees: Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Will win: Another tough one. Usually Best Director also gets Best Film, though it’s not as set in stone as it used to be. I initially went with McCarthy, but after some thought I’ve decided to pick Iñárritu.

Should win: Iñárritu or Miller are the most deserving in my opinion.

Best Actor

Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Will win: Leo. It’s his time.

Should win: There’s been some backlash against Leo lately but I still think he delivered an Oscar-worthy performance. The Academy has given away awards for far less relevant reasons, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t get it this time.

Best Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Will win: Brie Larson. She’s been the favourite for a while, though Charlotte Rampling is a dark horse.

Should win: Brie Larson or Charlotte Rampling. Both magnificent performances. I thought Larson’s was more emotionally affecting, though that’s partly due to the subject matter.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Will win: Sylvester Stallone. All the momentum is on his side, and if he misses out it will be a bit like when Michael Keaton missed out on Best Actor last year.

Should win: Mark Rylance. I’ve said it since I watched Bridge of Spies. He was absolutely brilliant in that film.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Will win: Alicia Vikander. The least suspenseful award. She appears to have it in the bag.

Should win: Vikander was great in The Danish Girl, but let’s face it, she was the lead actress, not a supporting actress. And I actually think she was better in Ex Machina. The deserving winner here is really Rooney Mara, though she should have been in the Best Actress category too.

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton

Will win: Spotlight. Would be surprised if someone else won — though maybe the voters get swayed by all the OscarsSoWhite# backlash and end up voting for Compton.

Should win: Ex Machina. The most creative and intelligent script of the year,

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room

Will win: The Big Short.

Should win: Hard one to pick. I probably would go with The Martian.

Production Design

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road. I feel like this film will take out at least one of the technical awards.

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road or The Martian

Costume Design

Nominees: Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant

Will win: Carol. Kind of like a consolation prize for missing out on being nominated for Best Picture.

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m not that into costumes from period pieces. At least I can remember the costumes in Fury Road.

Make-up & Hairstyling

Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, The Revenant

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road. Immortan Joe!

Cinematography

Nominees: Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario

Will win: The Revenant.

Should win: The Revenant or Sicario.

Film Editing

Nominees: The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: The Revenant. Just because.

Should win: The Big Short. Loved the edits in this.

Sound Editing

Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: The Revenant.

Should win: Sicario.

Sound Mixing

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: The Martian. It has to win something.

Should win: I really don’t know what this award is all about, to be honest.

Visual Effects

Nominees: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I mean, it’s Star Wars.

Should win: The Revenant. Absolutely seamless stuff. Ex Machina is probably equally deserving considering the budget.

Animated Feature

Nominees: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There

Will win: Inside Out. This shouldn’t be controversial.

Should win: I haven’t seen Anomalisa (which is apparently really good), so on that basis I have to go with Inside Out.

Animated Short

Nominees: Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay’s Super Team, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow

Will win: Sanjay’s Super Team. Pure speculation.

Should win: No idea.

Documentary Feature

Nominees: Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Will win: Amy, though Cartel Land has a strong chance.

Should win: Amy. One of the best docos I’ve seen in years.

Documentary Short

Nominees: Body Team 12, Chau Beyond the Lines, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom

Will win: The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. Another wild guess.

Should win: No idea whatsoever.

Live Action Short

Nominees: Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay, Shok, Stutterer

Will win: Day One.

Should win: No idea.

Best Foreign Film

Nominees: Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War

Will win: Son of Saul, it’s the one everyone’s talking about.

Should win: No idea.

Original Score

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will win: Probably Star Wars.

Should win: Probably either Star Wars or Carol.

Original Song

Nominees: Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey), Manta Ray (Racing Extinction), Simple Song #3 (Youth), Writing’s on the Wall (Spectre), Til It Happens To You (Hunting Ground)

Will win: Til It Happens To You. Lady Gaga is performing this song immediately before this award is announced, and she’s being introduced by US Vice President Joe Biden. So it’s hard to imagine this song not winning.

Should win: No idea

The Martian (2015)

The Martian Launch One Sheet

After a long and agonising delay brought on by unforeseen circumstances (sick kid), I finally got to see Ridley Scott’s The Martian, one of my most anticipated movies of the year. And it was well worth the wait.

I had been hoping to see the film before all the positive buzz hit (93% Rottan Tomatoes, 81% Metacritic) hit the web so I wouldn’t develop unrealistic expectations. That didn’t happen, and yet the film somehow managed to live up to the hype for me.

If you’ve heard anything about this movie at all, you’ll know it’s about an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who finds himself stranded on Mars. The premise can’t be a spoiler. I knew a little more than that before going in, but for the most part I was prepared for anything.

There have been a lot of comparisons thrown around. Most would have heard of the inevitable comments regarding Interstellar because — spoiler-alert for those who haven’t seen it yet — both films star Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. And in both films Damon happens to be an astronaut stuck on a distant planet.

There are also many who have called it “Castaway on Mars” or “Life of Pi in Space” and so forth. It is true that The Martian has elements of all these movies, but it is also vastly different and stands very well on its own.

Personally, I would say that the film is like the perfect love child of Interstellar, Gravity and Apollo 13. It has the big ideas and spectacle of Interstellar without all the fantastical/theoretical mumble jumbo that turned a lot of people off. It has the beauty, tension and thrills of Gravity without the eerie silence and lack of character interaction and development. And the Apollo 13-esque tactic of cutting back and forth with ground control on Earth makes the story about more than just one person and breaks up the monotony of space travel and a life of solitude on a barren planet.

There are so many things to like about this movie. For starters, The Martian is ingenious. It’s one of the smartest films I’ve seen in recent years. I’m not sure how legit the science is (and there’s a lot of it), but all of it feels credible. I would imagine you’d need to be at least a semi-expert or very knowledgeable in certain fields to be able to poke holes in the story; for most general audiences it wouldn’t matter. And as a member of the uneducated general audience I found it all absolutely fascinating. I was engrossed.

I know the book on which the film is based, written and originally self-published by Andy Weir, has been panned by many for alleged “bad writing.” Be that as it may, the thought that Weir has built into the story and the science behind it is remarkable. It’s at least as impressive as say the work Dan Brown (a fellow oft-criticised writer) puts into blending history, religion and architecture into his novels. I can’t help but be happy for his success.

Secondly, the “action” sequences — if you can call them that — are well-executed. When you feel the tension and the adrenaline even when you know what is going to happen, and when you don’t notice the CGI even though you know most of it probably is, you know they’re doing a good job.

The other thing that stands out about The Martian is that it is surprisingly funny. That is not to say that the film is a comedy by any stretch, though it is without a doubt filled with more laughs than Interstellar, Gravity and Apollo 13 — combined.

The main reason is because of Watney’s personality, which is, for the most part, optimistic and stoic despite the odds against him. He’s a guy who tries to see the lighter side of things and can find humour in the most dire of predicaments. Because sometimes, that’s all you can do. It fits in well with the uplifting and occasionally fun tone the film tries to convey. Some might complain that it glosses over the darker aspects of the tale — the isolation, the stress, the fragile emotional state — but ultimately this is not that kind of movie, and I am glad it didn’t go down that path.

As clever and funny The Martian is, I also found myself unexpectedly moved by the drama. At its heart, it’s a simple story about one man’s unrelenting will to survive. It’s about finding solutions to problems as they arise, one at a time. It’s about human kinship and international solidarity. Ridley Scott does a great job of developing the characters into likable people we care about, not just Watney but the entire extended cast. There’s no real villain in the story, just a bunch of people doing what they think is best in a very difficult situation. The relationships and dynamics are set up early and skilfully so the emotional payoffs work when they eventually have to.

Kudos of course to the spectacular cast. Apart from Damon and Chastain there’s also Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA’s Mars mission director, Sean Bean as the spacecrafts’s crew commander and Kristen Wiig as NASA spokesperson, plus Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan as crew members. Everyone’s fantastic, and I also enjoyed the witty references to films that some of the actors have been in it are affiliated with.

At 2 hours and 22 minutes, the length is perfect. It never feels too long; there is always something going on, and I was always either being amused or thrilled or educated. I was certainly always entertained.

While The Martian doesn’t necessarily have the feel of a masterpiece — it’s not as epic as say Interstellar or as majestic or awe-inspiring as Gravity — it delivers as good of a time as I’ve had at the cinemas this year or any year.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Monuments Men (2014)

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I have a feeling that The Monuments Men will go down as one of the strangest most disappointing movie going experience of 2014. It had everything going for it — an interesting true story premise about allied heroes who try and salvage priceless art stolen by the Nazis during World War II; an excellent director in George Clooney; and a superstar cast including Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, a lot. Technically, The Monuments Men as well made. The performances, the direction, the sets and the cinematography are all strong. And typically, and story about going up against Nazis are well received. But shockingly, The Monuments Men turned out flat, slow and frankly, a little boring.

It was an interesting choice for Clooney to try and make an old-fashioned army adventure movie. It doesn’t have the farcical feel of say something like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but it’s also far from the gloomy tones of Damon’s Saving Private Ryan or the intensity of Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie. So the feel of the film is somewhat old, uneven, not comedic but not serious, generally light but occasionally solemn, and always eager to be “respectful” in its portrayal.

The result is just a bunch of guys who spend a lot of time discussing what they plan to do, but not a whole lot of time of them actually doing it. I had envisioned a rag tag team doing something very exciting and clever in the vein of an Ocean’s Eleven. Unfortunately, reality was a lot duller.

One of the problems is that there were too many characters involved, many of them split into smaller groups, meaning we kind of know them all a little bit but not enough to truly care about them. Clooney, in particular, was a leader but it also felt like he was in the background a lot. Instead, the focus shifted to the relationship between Damon and Blanchett, but there wasn’t enough time for anything substantive to blossom. I like all the actors in the movie — I just didn’t really like the characters they were playing.

Perhaps the true reason I struggled with the film is because I’m just not a huge art guy. The protagonists of the film are often asked the question — if any piece of art is worth a man’s life — and to me the answer is always simple: depends on the person who is giving their life up for the art. For them, it was obviously worth it, but for me it was difficult to feel connected with their noble ambitions.

Whatever the reason, I found The Monuments Men to be an unsatisfying, punchless experience. All the pieces were there but just didn’t fit together. An interesting premise blunted by the lack of memorable characters, relationships or dialogue, and a general dearth of anything to get the pulse racing. A shame, and a wasted opportunity.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Elysium (2013) (IMAX)

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Elysium is a thrilling sci-fi action blockbuster with a thought-provoking premise, but it also requires you to partly switch of your brain to fully enjoy it.

I was expecting an intelligent thriller as Elysium is director Neill Blomkamp’s highly-anticipated follow-up to the acclaimed District 9, which you might recall was a clever and cheeky 2009 sleeper hit inspired by South Africa’s apartheid era. But if you watch Elysium looking forward to the same sharp wit and veiled political commentary you will probably come away disappointed. On the other hand, if all you want is exciting popcorn entertainment, then Elysium will surely satisfy as a violent, white-knuckle thrill ride with a suped-up Jason Bourne.

Towards the end of the 21st century, Earth is overpopulated, polluted and practically in ruins. The wealthy don’t have anything to worry about, because they live on a luxurious man-made community floating above the planet’s atmosphere called Elysium, where there is no poverty, no disease, and presumably, no need for people to commit any crime.

Matt Damon plays Max, an Earthling who dreamed of one day making it to Elysium as a kid but instead grew up to be a crafty criminal — well, ex-criminal, because he now works at a factory manufacturing the same androids that police their sad, wretched, pathetic lives.

I’ll try to tread around spoilers, but of course, Max needs to make it to Elysium at all costs. Standing in his way is Jodie Foster, the defense minister on Elysium, and the crazy South African mad dog she hired to do her dirty work on Earth, played by Sharlto Copley (the protagonist from District 9).

I was surprised that Elysium turned out to be such a straightforward sci-fi action flick (complete with the typical cliches), which may not have been a bad thing had the premise not held so much potential. Yes, there are obvious moral themes that emerge out of the premise, but most of these are only touched upon on the surface.

There are a lot of things left unexplained: How did the world get like this? How did Elysium get built? What’s the political or legal system there and on Earth and between the two? How is it possible that every house on Elysium has a miraculous machine that can cure all diseases (including cancer), perform instant surgeries and even reconstruct body parts — and Earth not even have a single one? Are there no altruistic rich people anymore? I’m not talking about a comprehensive explanation, just some hints. Oh, and I would have loved to have seen more of what people actually do on Elysium — apart from high society afternoon parties and dips in the pool.

And those are just the questions about the background. Elysium also raises many other in-film questions that, if left unanswered, result in Prometheus-sized plot holes. Perhaps I’m being picky, but I had so many questions about what was happening that it became a distraction at times.

If you can put these issues aside and just go along for the ride, however, then you might find Elysium a highly entertaining film powered by near-seamless special effects and inventive sci-fi creations. Watching Matt Damon run around, getting smashed and smashing people and being Matt Damon is never a bad thing anyway.

Elysium has plenty of graphic violence that could shock viewers unfamiliar with Blomkamp’s style, but personally I don’t have a problem with some visceral stimulation every now and then. What I did have a problem with was some of the intentionally shaky camera movements and quick cuts during some of the action sequences, especially the hand-to-hand combat scenes. I just prefer clarity.

The performances were interesting. Matt Damon was his usual steady self, focused and charming and dedicated to the task. He was believable and probably the only character to experience any development throughout the whole movie. Sharlto Copley got to play the cool villain by being a complete nutjob, albeit an extremely dangerous and lethal one. Strangely, it was the dual Academy Award winner, Jodie Foster, who ended up as the weak link. I think she what she could with her flimsy lines, but she couldn’t help that her character was a cardboard cutout who was never as important as we thought she was.

Final word: Viewers expecting Elysium to be Blomkamp’s allegorical portrayal of the world’s growing wealth gap in the same way he tackled apartheid in District 9 might be disappointed. But who says all of his movies need to have a potent political message? In many ways, I actually enjoyed Elysium more than District 9. With a considerably bigger budget (US$115 million vs US$30 million), enhanced star power and an enlarged scale (seeing it on IMAX was particularly stunning), Elysium is one of the year’s more exciting and aesthetically impressive action blockbusters. It might not tick all the boxes, but the film is never boring and should keep audiences completely engaged for its apt 109-minute running time.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

A Bourne movie without Bourne? Why the heck not?

The Bourne Legacy is the fourth instalment of the Bourne franchise and it’s the first in the series without Matt Damon, who played the titular Jason Bourne in the first three films (Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum). Instead, we get a pretty darn good replacement, Jeremy Renner, who I have been a fan of since The Hurt Locker and then became a massive fan of following The Town. And being Hawkeye in The Avengers didn’t hurt either.

It needs to made clear, however, that Renner is not playing Jason Bourne — he is Aaron Cross, another super soldier created by the US government. So why is a guy named Cross in a film with someone else’s name in the title? Well apparently, Damon’s decision to walk away from the franchise was only “temporary” because he and Paul Greengrass, the director of the first three films, didn’t think the studio gave them enough time to do this fourth film justice.

What this means is that The Bourne Legacy takes place in the same universe and is a continuation of the Bourne story but focuses on a different central character. You see photos of Bourne and he is repeatedly mentioned by the government and the press, but he’s supposedly hiding somewhere so that Aaron Cross can do his thing.

It does feel kinda weird watching a Bourne film where he isn’t in it, but I suppose Tony Gilroy, who was a co-writer on the first three films and wrote and directed this one, did the best he could under the circumstances. It certainly helps that the intense Renner plays a very different character to Bourne and is a killer badass in his own right.

That said, I don’t think the script is as brilliant as it pretends to be. We studied Gilroy’s Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton script in my screenwriting class, which I admired greatly for its confident dialogue and ability to keep the audience hooked by thrusting them into a world which has to be gradually pieced together, bit by bit, to understand what the heck is going on. You are constantly wondering what people are saying and doing throughout the film, and it’s not until the pieces start falling together that it all starts to make sense.

Gilroy employs the same technique for this film, but if you really think about it, all the pieces don’t exactly fall into place or fit together. He sets up a lot of “mysteries” as a device  to keep the audience engaged, but never ends up answering them in the end. Perhaps it was this kind of uneven writing that prompted Damon to call Gilroy’s The Bourne Ultimatum script a “career killer.”

Another problem  is that the forced references to Jason Bourne can be confusing for viewers who aren’t completely across the history of the franchise. I have watched all the earlier films in the series but to be honest I don’t remember a whole lot about the plot, which made it a little frustrating at times when the characters rambled on about the various government projects and some scandal that was being played out in the media. I also recognised returning actors such as Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen, but I had trouble remembering who they were. I imagine I’m not the only one who struggled with this aspect of the film.

But let’s face it, the plots of the Bourne films have always been secondary to their well-crafted suspense and action, and that’s where The Bourne Legacy also shines. The Bourne Legacy carries on the franchise’s tradition of “realistic” action that avoids reliance on CGI, which is made more impressive considering that Renner apparently performed almost all of his own stunts (talk about being devoted to the craft). The final extended action sequence, in particular, is probably the best in the entire series, and that says a lot.

I can’t believe I have written this much and not mentioned the two newcomers to the franchise, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton. Weisz plays a doctor who is involved in the medical aspect of the program while Norton is the new guy trying to hunt the super soldier down. Norton offers the better performance but is given the short end of the stick in the script, where he can disappear for long stretches and be completely forgotten at times. Weisz, on the other hand, is gifted some of the best scenes in the film, including one outstandingly horrific sequence at the laboratory where she works, and another later on at her house. It’s scenes like these that demonstrated Gilroy’s ability as a director — someone who knows how to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. And he isn’t as big of a fan of the shaky hand-held camera as Greengrass, which for me was a huge plus.

On the whole, The Bourne Legacy is a rather flawed movie and might be regarded by some as a “filler” film that can make the franchise more money while it waits for Damon to return. But what I can’t deny is that it is still an excellent flick purely from an action and suspense perspective and that Renner is absolutely dynamite as the new super soldier on the block. Damon has left open the salivating possibility of returning to the franchise in the future, which in an ideal world would put both him and Renner on screen at the same time. That would be awesome.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Contagion (2011)

I’m still washing my hands at least 20 times a day after watching Contagion last week.

This medical thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh plays out like a horror movie because of how possible it might just become reality some day.  The film begins on day two of a new, highly infectious and deadly disease outbreak and follows several key characters from different walks of life as they fight for survival — of their own lives and that of the human race.

Soderbergh is known for his amazing ensemble casts, and Contagion is no different.  No single actor or actress dominates, but there is enough screen time in this 106 minute film to fit in significant roles for the likes of Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes (remember him from Winter’s Bone), amongst others, including my new favourite actor, Bryan Cranston (I’ve recently become addicted to the sickeningly great Breaking Bad — and it took me almost a full season to realise that he’s Tim Whatley from Seinfeld!).  Ensemble casts are ordinarily troublesome but every actor in this film played their part perfectly and without trying to steal the show, resulting in an awesome experience where you are constantly watching an A-lister without feeling overwhelmed by the fact.

There have been several ‘outbreak’  films in the past (Outbreak being one of them), but Contagion surely has to be one of the better ones, and certainly one more the most realistic.  It looks at how different people deal with the news of the infections, how the government tries to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, how it seeks to contain it, and how certain people may try to profit out of it — on an international scale.

Soderbergh controls the film at a deliberate pace — fast enough to not get bored but considerate enough to allow the audience to appreciate the magnitude of the events.  Contagion tackles numerous themes and gives viewers plenty to think about if, god forbid, this film became reality — loss of social order, public vs personal interests, wealthy countries vs poor countries, and the systems governments have in place to deal with and control sudden mass deaths and mass hysteria.  It’s actually all quite fascinating.  And yet, despite these potentially heavy themes, the film is rarely bogged down and manages to keep the focus on the characters.

As an ensemble cast film, Contagion obviously struggles to provide the deeper emotional impact some top-notch single protagonist films can, but I think overall it was done well enough to provide an entertaining and thought-provoking viewing experience.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The other day I had a choice of Battle: LA and The Adjustment Bureau, and the general consensus with friends was the former, so I went with it and had a decent time (review here).  The Adjustment Bureau was supposedly ‘crap’ and ‘boring’, though one voice of reason suggested that it was ‘better than expected’.

To be honest, I had really wanted to see The Adjustment Bureau.  From the trailer, it looked like one of those classic sci-fi thrillers (and as I discovered, it was loosely based on a short story by Philip K Dick, the man responsible for Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report, but of course also Paycheck and Next) where you don’t know what the hell is going on but it’s nonetheless all very exciting and thought provoking.

As it turned out, The Adjustment Bureau was both different to what I expected and better than I expected.  If you go into it thinking it’s going to be anything like Blade Runner, Total Recall or Minority Report, you’ll probably come away bitterly disappointed.

There are thilling moments, but The Adjustment Bureau is at its heart an epic love story between a budding politician (played by Matt Damon) and a contemporary dancer (Emily Blunt).  And while it has sci-fi elements and a sci-fi feel to it, it’s not really sci-fi either.  Does fantasy romance with a religious slant count as a genre?

There’s not much of a mystery involved either as you discover what the ‘Adjustment Bureau’ really is relatively early on.  That’s because the focus of the movie is always firmly on the love story.

Therefore, whether you believe in the romance plays a huge part in whether or not you can appreciate the film.  I must admit I was one of the ones that did, mainly because of the excellent chemistry between Damon and Blunt.  Ordinarily I would have thought such an obviously contrived romance would be cringeworthy, but I actually found it rather sweet.  Maybe it’s just the romantic in me.

So while the film was a slow crawl in parts and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you think about it, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I enjoyed it.  It’s really a fable about fate and love, and gets you thinking about free will, chance, and whether there are people out there who are meant to be together.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

Sure, Invictus was just okay, but it seems to me old Clint Eastwood can do no wrong these days.  There is a quiet confidence in his approach, a lovely subtlety in his pacing and pauses.  And no matter what, he manages to evoke powerful, genuine emotional responses from his audiences (I mean, come on — Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino…).

Eastwood’s latest effort, Hereafter, is no different.  It’s a dangerous project because, as the title suggests, the film is about death and what comes after, which makes it prone to soppy melodrama and manipulation.  And of course, the afterlife is a topic often subject to ridicule and parody, so there’s the additional hurdle of keeping the film serious without tipping it over the edge.

Somehow, some way, Eastwood delivers.  Pound-for-pound, Hereafter is perhaps not one of Eastwood’s greatest films, but it’s certainly one of his better ones — and it holds great potential to be one of his most popular films.

It tells three separate stories about three different characters — Marie (Cecile de France), a well-known French television journalist; George (Matt Damon), an American factory worker who just gave up on his old job; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a British boy with an older twin brother and a crackhead mother.  I won’t say much more than that except that each of their lives is touched by death and what lies beyond.

Perhaps it’s just my fascination with the film’s themes and/or my appreciation for Eastwood’s direction, but I was totally engrossed by Hereafter from start to finish.  Sceptics might have a natural bias against the film because it lays quite a lot out on the table (similar to say atheists towards The Passion of the Christ or fundamentalist Christians towards The Da Vinci Code — even though it’s fiction), but those who keep an open mind will find it hard not to be moved by at least one of the three stories in the film.  It’s a shame that many people will simply scoff at this film because of its subject matter and try to discredit it on other grounds.  I’m just glad religion played an almost non-existent role in all of this.

Anyway, I loved it.  Eastwood butchered the ending in my opinion with a pointless sequence but apart from that I found it beautiful, absorbing, poignant, and ultimately very satisfying.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: True Grit (2010)

They say remakes seldom better the original, but it’s hard to imagine the 1969 John Wayne classic (which I haven’t seen) being better than the new version from my favourite filmmaking duo.  True Grit is vintage Coen Brothers, more No Country For Old Men than The Big Lebowski but still funny and quirky.  And when it comes to dialogue, human interactions and suspense, few can compare with Joel and Ethan Coen.

Based on Charles Portis’s 1968 novel of the same name, this version of True Grit is supposedly truer to the original source.  It tells the story of young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old who seeks to avenge the death of her father by tracking down and killing Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  To do so, she seeks the assistance of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a merciless but drunk and out-of-shape Deputy US Marshal.  Tagging along for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is chasing Chaney for an unrelated crime.

I’m not usually a fan of Westerns, but True Grit had me hooked from the beginning.  It moves with at a pace similar to No Country, which might be on the slow side for some, but whichever way you look at this film — whether it’s the screenplay, the performances or the direction — it’s top notch.  And all through out was that trademark Coen Brothers touch, that unexpected, random hilarity that I can never get enough of.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon were expectedly excellent (as were Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in smaller roles), but it was the remarkable performance of young Hailee Steinfeld that carried the film from start to finish.  Good to see that she received an Oscar nomination, but how it was for Best Supporting Actress as opposed to Best Actress (considering she was in just about every scene) beats the hell out of me.

My only complaint was that it felt like the film needed subtitles at times because of the excessive mumbling (mostly by Jeff Bridges) which made the conversations difficult to follow.  But apart from that, an awesome experience.

4.25 stars out of 5