Friday, August 26, 2016

"Jason Bourne" and The Week in Reviews

[I review Matt Damon's new movie "Jason Bourne" as well as DVDs "San Andreas" and "Sing Street."  The Book of the Week is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s view of the Martha Moxley murder "Framed."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."]

Jason Bourne

Trained CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is back and still trying to figure out who the hell he is.

I am fundamentally opposed to having to do homework before attending a movie, but that's what I wished I had done before seeing this film. I didn't know what the heck was going on for the first hour, because I had forgotten what had taken place in the earlier films. I mean, what do you expect?  It's been nine years since the last one.  So with some of these franchises, if it's been awhile since the last one, you might need to bone up a bit.

But that's not to say I didn't like this film.  I did.  It's action-packed, intelligent, and I love Matt Damon.  He always delivers.  Here he is the badass trained killer, Jason Bourne, who for the fifth time is still trying to find out who he really is.

For those of you who are like me, as in can't remember crap, here is a bit of background:

Jason Bourne is a character created by writer Robert Ludlum.  Bourne is a CIA assassin who is suffering from extreme memory loss and spends much of the films trying to find out how he got himself into this lifestyle as in killing people and being hunted by the CIA (not fun)!

In the first film, "The Bourne Identity," we meet Jason as he takes on the persona of Jason Bourne, though he doesn't remember anything about who he really is or was.  However, he discovers that he is a trained assassin and he also discovers that he must not have been a very good employee because now his employer, the CIA, wants to kill him.

In the subsequent films - there are four more before this one, though Damon only starred in four of the five films - Bourne continues to expose shifty stuff going on in the CIA (and there is lots of it), women come and go, and he continues to seek revenge, go back into hiding, seek revenge, go back into hiding (you get the picture), while at the same time the CIA is trying to kill him.  This film is no exception.

When "Jason Bourne" begins, Jason is hanging out in Eastern Europe engaging in bare knuckle fighting.  That was my first "Huh?" moment. Then we switch to Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has also been in hiding since "The Bourne Ultimatum," has now resurfaced and joined forces with a Julian Assange-type character to expose shady CIA dealings.  However, in so doing she has also gained access to some sensitive CIA files that shed some light on Bourne's past and his father's role in Operation Treadstone, the program that trained Bourne to be an assassin.  Turns out Bourne's father was an integral part of that program, but did not want his son to participate.  His lack of cooperation cost him his life.  The CIA does not mess around if you are not on board!  

CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, in his usual grumpy, craggy-faced performance) is not happy about this turn of events and hunts down Parsons and Bourne using a bad guy who he calls an "asset" played menacingly by Vincent Cassel.  He also has help from Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who is the head of the CIA's Cyber Ops Division and who possesses incredible technical skills. When Bourne learns that Dewey had his father killed, Bourne seeks revenge on Dewey. There's that revenge thing again. Meanwhile Lee wants to bring Bourne back into the CIA and she thinks she has Dewey's support while he is in fact planning on killing Bourne.

There is a subplot involving Operation Iron Hand, a surveillance program that seeks secret access to a giant social media service similar to Facebook called Deep Dream, thus spying on all of us social media folks (hey, isn't Facebook already doing that?).  This is a popular plot line these days because as I recall, it was also used in "Now You See Me 2" and "Spectre." 

There are the usual fights and car chases, the one at the end quite a spectacular one, but I have to say that I have grown weary of that formula for spy thrillers.  You can always count on a motorcycle chase or two, several car pile-ups and someone falling or dangling from a high place.  Yawn.  Though I did enjoy the devastation of the late, great Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, which was set for demolition anyway. It went out in a blaze of glory.

However, director Paul Greengrass delivers a taut, action-packed thriller if you are into that kind of thing and can follow these convoluted and intricate plot lines so prevalent in spy thrillers. I seem to have trouble with it myself.  I have to say, though, I have a particular fondness for director Paul Greengrass and his movies, ever since the incredibly moving "United 93," which told the story of the brave souls who foiled the 9/11 hijackers on that flight, losing their lives in the process and which I defy you to try to get through without crying your eyes out.  He has directed three of the five "Bourne" films and co-wrote this one with Christopher Rouse.  He does a good job keeping the franchise going and if the ending of this film was any indication, it looks like the Bourne movies, like the Duracell Bunny, will keep going and going and going.

Rosy the Reviewer spy thrillers go, this is an intelligent, action-packed ride and Matt Damon's presence pushes it above the run-of-the mill.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now on DVD

San Andreas (2015)

After "The Big One" in California (you know it's coming, right?), a helicopter pilot/fireman makes the treacherous journey across the state to save his daughter.
This movie is probably not a good idea for someone living in earthquake country where earthquakes are not only predictable but inevitable.  And the same goes for movie mavens watching disaster movies like "The Towering Inferno," "The Wave," and this one, which are inevitably predictable.  But despite that I have always had a weakness for disaster films.  They are like horror films - which I also enjoy from time to time - they both have formulas, but disaster films usually employ more of the human element.
With disaster films, the formula includes:
  • Ominous music during a cold opening where something bad happens to an innocent person (remember "Jaws?").  The ominous music also might just play over the opening credits. But ominous music early on is a must!  The filmmakers don't want you to get too comfortable.  They want you to know that something *bad* is going to happen
  • Foreshadowing of that something *bad* that is about to happen.  Earthquake movie?  We get little shakes and rumbles that everybody discounts, except the scientist that no one will listen to.
  • Speaking of which, there is always a scientist who is predicting doom but no one is listening to him (or her).
  • A handsome, selfless but rough and tough leading man to play our hero (and they don't get better than The Rock, who is now our highest paid actor) playing a heroic firefighter who fearlessly flies a helicopter to save people - if anyone can take on an earthquake, it's The Rock)!
  • Heroic music as our hero rescues the heroine or that innocent person in the opening.
  • Heroine music - that's the music that plays when the heroine, with tears in her eyes, watches her man doing something heroic.  It rarely happens when a man watches his woman doing something heroic.
  • Kids in danger - we need some little precocious tykes to worry about
  • Romance - somehow in the midst of the world cracking apart and facing death, people still find the time to make out and have sex.  I don't get it.  I would be running for my life!
  • Overdramatic acting, because no matter how good the actor is, he or she cannot overcome what is usually very overdramatic and lame dialogue.
  • Dramatic, over the top deaths, especially for the bad guys.
  • Several storylines going on at once, especially a mission for our hero (here it's saving his daughter).
  • A coward, there's always a blowhard who turns out to be a coward
  • Improbable rescues
  • An old married couple looking knowingly at each other and hugging as they wait for The End (hey, I'm old, but I certainly wouldn't hang around with Hubby waiting for The End. Screw Hubby.  I would have made a run for it)!
  • At movie's end, if the film has done its job, you are even more scared of earthquakes/tornadoes/meteors/the world ending - than you were before.
  • But when the movie is over, there is an uplifting scene to give you hope and remind you that WE DON'T GIVE UP!

So how did this one measure up?

Yep, it's all here.

Several storylines: The Rock AKA as Dwayne Johnson plays Ray Gaines, an L.A. firefighter and helicopter pilot, who is going through a divorce and is not happy about it.  His soon-to-be ex, Emma (Carla Gugino) is going with Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), a guy who builds really tall buildings and is about to build the very tallest one ever in San Francisco.  Uh-oh.  Daniel and Blake (Alexandra Daddario), Ray's and Emma's daughter, are headed to San Francisco.  When they get to San Francisco, Daniel introduces Blake to Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), an engineer from England, and his little brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson). Love blooms.  With Blake and Ben, not Blake and Ollie.  Ollie is on hand so we have a precocious little kid to root for when the disaster happens.  Blake is with Daniel in the parking garage when the shaking starts and Daniel hightails it out of there, leaving Blake to get out on her own.  Daniel is our resident coward but he gets his in a cartoon splat of gigantic (and laughable) proportions.  Ben and Ollie rescue Blake and now Ray and Emma have to rescue everyone else.

Paul Giamatti, who always plays Paul Giamatti, also plays a scientist who can predict earthquakes. When he realizes The Big One has arrived, he is asked "Who do we call?"  And in true overdramatic fashion, Paul says, "EVERY - BODY!!!"  I shouldn't blame it all on him.  Some of the dialogue, true to its disaster movie cliches, is cheesy and overdramatic.  It's just that Paul adds an extra layer of cheese.

Anyway, when Ray realizes what is happening, he flies his helicopter to where Emma is to save her, which just so happens to be on top of a skyscraper, and an improbable rescue ensues.  Poor Emma is hippity-hopping over the tops of the skyscrapers trying to outrun the earthquake, and I am yelling at the screen, "Girl, get yourself on that helicopter!"  She does and Ray saves his wife.  Now if that isn't a reason to stay together, I don't know what is.  Then after saving his wife, the two of them decide to fly the helicopter from L.A. to San Francisco to save their daughter, but it crashes in Bakersfield and they have to drive up 101, a highway I know well.  My fellow Monterey County residents will recognize some Salinas Valley locales.  Will Ray and Emma get back in time to save their daughter or get stuck in King City? Well, you know the answer to that, don't you? 

Once the shaking starts, it's one horrendous shake after another.  I actually laughed a couple of times (sorry - I know I will probably pay for my flippancy), because like Paul Giamatti, the special effects were a bit cheesy.  The special effects were obviously computer generated and over-the-top. However, Gugino is always enjoyable. She is currently starring in the Showtime TV show "Roadies" and I really like her.  She has that je ne sais quoi that makes an actor instantly likable.  And The Rock is, well, he's The Rock.  All of the actors did their best, but these kinds of movies are not about the acting.  They are about how much carnage can be inflicted upon them -- and us.

But, hey, don't think it all stops with the earthquake.  Then there's a tsunami and the threat that the whole rest of the United States is going to shake itself to death!

Directed by Brad Peyton and written by Carlton Cuse, I have to say that this film was probably better in 3D at the cinema rather than at 4pm on a weekday after a long day of retirement, but at least I could have a glass of wine with my disaster.

San Francisco folks and those who know the city will enjoy the locales such as the Crookedest Street, SoMo, Coit Tower and the scene where they parachute into AT&T Park, but then again, maybe you won't enjoy watching it all get destroyed since us West Coast people have been threatened with THE BIG ONE for the last 40 years.
And by the way, those of you who don't live on an earthquake fault line and think you don't have anything to worry about, think again.  The movie gives you something to be scared about too.  Be afraid, be very afraid. "San Andreas 2" is already in the works!

You don't judge disaster movies by the same criteria as other dramas.  Disaster movies are supposed to be over the top.  I can recommend it because it's good improbable disaster movie fun.  Well, the earthquake isn't improbable, but the other stuff - improbable disaster movie fun.  Improbable disaster movie fun.  Improbable disaster movie fun.  I keep telling myself that.

And then it happened. The movie ends with a military helicopter flying over the city and a huge American flag unfurls over the Golden Gate Bridge.  My god, no words...I lost it. LOL

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is one of those disaster films that embodies every disaster film cliché, but instead of that being a bad thing, it's so bad it's good.

Sing Street (2016)

A Dublin teen starts a band to impress a girl.  So what else is new?

It's a boy's catholic school in Ireland in the 1980's and the priests are not above boxing ears and humiliating boys they deem rebels and imposing silly rules. Conor Lawlor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, which has to be one of the coolest actor names ever) is one of those boys and gets in trouble first for wearing brown shoes to school (he can't afford the requisite  black shoes) and later for his increasing desire to look like a member of Duran Duran

Conor falls for a girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who is an aspiring model and who dresses like Madonna. Like I said, it's the 80's.  He asks her if she wants to be in a music video.  She is intrigued.  The problem is that Conor is not only not making a music video, he doesn't have a band.  But he decides that starting a band will impress her, thus reinforcing the idea that all of our rock gods started bands just so they could impress girls.  It doesn't matter that Conor doesn't know how to play any instruments.  Like I said, it's the 80's.  All he needs is big hair and some catchy pop tunes. 

Conor is introduced to Eamon (Mark McKenna) who can play every instrument and with him on board, Conor manages to fake his way into getting some other musicians to join his band.  They name the band Sing Street (their school is on Synge Street, get it)?  They don't want to be a cover band so Conor tries his hand at writing songs and in true musical comedy fashion comes up with some great songs. The band starts to get gigs and Conor starts to get the girl.  She teaches him to live life more fully which includes wearing eye makeup.

Now Conor starts having even more trouble with the priests.  The head priest drags him into the toilet and rubs his face in the sink.  Undeterred, Conor transforms from a callow school boy to a Duran Duran lookalike. Us old folks still think everyone wanted to be The Beatles, but we didn't realize those 80's teens were inspired by glam rock and jazzy music from the likes of "A-Ha" "Hall and Oates"  and " "Tears for Fears."  I guess we forgot about the 80's. 

Favorite quote:  "No woman can love a man who listens to Phil Collins."

Written and directed by John Carney, who brought us the wonderful "Once," this one sometimes felt like an Irish 80's version of "Glee," but it's a coming of age story and the theme of music as a form of expression that leads to confidence and identity is a good one. The actors are engaging and the music is fine, though not on the level of the songs from "Once."

Ferdia-Walsh is an appealing actor who bears a resemblance to a young Paul McCartney and his love interest, Lucy Boynton, is charming.  All of the other young actors are the usual quirky mix you find in "Let's start a band" movies like this.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a sweet film with some catchy music, but if you are expecting "Once," you will be disappointed.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

239 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist (that's a sleepwalker to you and me) to commit murders.  Dr. Caligari is not a very nice guy.  Or so we are lead to believe.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, the film begins with our hero, Francis, telling the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a sideshow somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt), to commit murders. However, as the film progresses and the twist occurs, we wonder, just who is the insane one?

Why it's a Must See: "[This film] is the keystone of a strain of bizarre, fantastical cinema that flourished in Germany in the 1920's and was linked, somewhat spuriously, with the Expressionist art movement...With its sideshow ambience, hypnotic mad scientist villain, and leotard-clad, heroine-abducting monster, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a major early entry in the horror genre, introducing images, themes, and characters that became fundamental to the likes of Tod Browning's Dracula and James Whale's Frankenstein (both 1931)."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

The version I saw (on DVD) was taken from a 35mm print restored by the Bundesarchiv Filmarchiv of Germany featuring the original color tinting and toning giving the film a sort of tintype, overexposed look.  The set design is all very art deco and modern, the set designers having used paper sets drawing the shadows onto them.

Since the advent of sound, silent films are difficult for many to watch.  They not only have subtitles we have to navigate but the acting is often histrionic and funny to watch by today's standards.  However, silent films embody the essence of film; they are the ultimate film experience because they are all about the visuals.  No matter what language you speak, you would be able to understand what is going on in a silent film with or without the intertitles.  Silent films deserve their place in film history and should be seen.

It's a horror film but probably less horror and more comedy for today's audiences.  No hatchets in heads or screaming teens running from a knife-wielding attacker.  Just odd characters and a nightmarish creepiness.

Some critics have said the film uses themes of authority and brutality to represent the German war government and Cesare symbolized the common man conditioned to become a soldier conditioned to kill.  Also, author Siegfriend Kracauer, in his book "From Caligari to Hitler," offers the theory that the film "reflects a subconscious need in German society for a tyrant, and is an example of Germany's obedience to authority and unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority. He says the film is a premonition of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party."  The film also explores the theme of sanity vs. insanity, or who is really running the asylum?

Rosy the Reviewer says...whatever the deeper meanings may be, this is one strange and creepy film ahead of its time.
(Silent with English intertitles, b & white with color tinting)

***Book of the Week***

Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent Over a Decade in Prison for a Crime He Didn't Commit by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (2016)

The Martha Moxley murder case was a cause celebre in part because it involved a rich, blonde teenaged girl and partly because of the connection to the Kennedy family.

The night before Halloween in 1975, Martha Moxley was found brutally murdered near her home in the ultra-rich community of Greenwich, Connecticut.  Though there were many suspects, the case remained unsolved until 27 years later when Michael Skakel was convicted of the murder.  He was convicted despite no physical or forensic evidence, no fingerprints or DNA, no witnesses.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is Michael Skakel's cousin; his mother Ethel Kennedy was born Ethel Skakel.  As the title states, Kennedy believes Michael was framed and presents his evidence.  And not just framed, framed through a full-blown conspiracy.

"Because of the dearth of evidence against him and his airtight alibi, a number of people had to commit selfish, malicious, or illegal acts in order to convict Michael...I am going to show that [he] did not and could not have killed Martha Moxley; how and why he got framed for the crime; who did the framing; and how they accomplished it.  I'm also going to show how I tracked down the likely killers, phantoms who moved in and out of Greenwich like shadows...Despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt, Connecticut prosecutors and police still refuse to investigate them.  Today those man walk free, as entrenched, ego-bound police and prosecutors stick to their guns and refuse to acknowledge their mistake."

Written like a true lawyer.  The "number of people" Kennedy alludes to are the Skakel family lawyer whose self-interest it was to point to Michael's culpability; Dominick Dunne, who made a career out of covering high profile murders and who, according to Kennedy, had a vendetta against the Skakel family; Mark Fuhrman, the cop who disgraced himself at the O.J. Simpson trial and who wrote a book about the Moxley murder in hopes of rehabilitating his own image; and the overzealous, and in Kennedy's words, the "morally corrupt" police officer, and "the unscrupulous prosecutor" who all came together in a perfect storm to convict Michael Skakel.

Kennedy wrote this book to make that case. It's a tall order but Kennedy delivers a well thought out indictment of Greenwich law enforcement and others.

Also the Kennedy connection was the catalyst for the notoriety this case enlisted, but ironically Kennedy points out that he didn't even know his Skakel cousins because of a long-standing family feud between the two families.  When Ethel married Bobby, she became a Kennedy and distanced herself from her Skakel roots.

Michael Skakel served 11 and a half years before he was released on appeal and whether or not he will have to stand another trial is still up in the air, but Kennedy definitely makes his case that justice was not done for Martha and Michael Skakel was a pawn in an intricate web of lies and incompetence.

Rosy the Reviewer says...though a bit dry at times, if you like well thought out, compelling true crime nonfiction, this one delivers. 

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for


 "How Not to Act Old"



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