Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

In a year or two of mostly meh films, and an overwhelmingly meh, it's nice to see a film break apart from the pack and excel. It's even nicer when you don't expect that film to be as good as it actually is. But, that certainly couldn't happen this summer, right? With all the dreadful threequels? Wrong. Ready for a third installment of a trilogy that not only doesn't suck, but blows away the first two installments?
Say hello to The Bourne Ultimatum.
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still on the run. At the opening of the movie, he is wounded and evading capture in Russia, continuing the story directly from the end of the second film. This time, he is focused on finding out who he was, and how he got to where he is. Meanwhile, the CIA is heavily tracking him, under the watchful eye of Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), providing a calculating counterpoint to Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). Will Bourne evade his captors? Will he find out the truth? Will the truth leave him more broken than before?
Although you obviously get the answers to all of the above questions, it doesn't really matter.....but in a good way. TBU features one of the most skeletal plots in recent memory, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. TBU is a tour-de-force of action and suspense, like Ronin on an adrenaline dump. I wasn't expecting all that much from TBU after the 2nd movie, but my expectations were dashed apart not long in. There's an extended sequence of suspense where we see Bourne using the business of London to stay one step ahead of his CIA pursuers. A chase through the streets of Tangier that keeps the raised bar from Ronin and The Transporter. A jaw-dropping (that modifier comes from somebody whose martial arts films viewings is somewhere in triple-digits, BTW) fight scene with Bourne and one of his opposite numbers in the CIA, that features new and innovative uses for books (sorry, Eve.....) and towels. A harrowing car chase/crash in the streets of New York. All this followed by an ending that makes you want to hold your breath, but lets you breathe again by the time the credits roll.
Paul Greengrass puts himself squarely on the map as a great director with the one-two punch of United 93 and this film, but credit must be shared. The "less is more" script by Tony Gilroy, George Nolfi and Scott Burns maintains a consistent tone throughout, and veteran cinematographer Oliver Wood furthers that tone with a shaky, verite feel to the filming that greatly heightens the realism. Might wanna pack some Dramamine with the popcorn if you're the seasick type, though.
Let's also not forget the performances. After watching Matt Damon in this film, I'm convinced he's sufficiently badass to fill the boots of Captain America, so I hope Marvel takes note. David Strathairn also doesn't disappoint as the villain of the piece, minus the mustache-twirling.
The Bourne Ultimatum gets a 19 out of 22 on the 22 scale, and deserves every point of it.

Memorable Quotes:

Pamela Landy (briefing her team on Bourne): "This is Jason Bourne, the toughest target that you have ever tracked. He is really good at staying alive, and trying to kill him and failing... just pisses him off....."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Judd Apatow comedies are a lot like sex. With sex, there's quite a lot of disgusting things happening--sweat pouring out, inappropriate body parts being utilized, unspeakable bodily fluids spraying everywhere. In the end, everyone agrees it's worth it, but you still feel like you need a shower afterward.

Superbad is not an exception; if anything, it's even more crass than Apatow's previous offerings. (Apatow produced rather than directed this one, but his fingerprints are still all over it.) However, like Apatow's previous films, it's still pretty worthwhile.

Superbad is the story of two high school seniors: Seth (Jonah Hill, one of Seth Rogen's buds in Knocked Up) and Evan (Michael Cera, who played George Michael in Arrested Development). Seth and Evan are high school seniors with two weeks left until graduation, so it should come as no surprise that much of this movie is the Quest for the Holy Vagina. A co-pursuant in this quest is Seth's and Evan's marginal friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who becomes infinitely more useful once he obtains a fake ID. Seth mentions the fake ID to a popular classmate named Jules, who happens to be having a party that night. Jules enlists Seth and friends to obtain the booze for the party, and this quest--which Seth in particular believes will allow them to complete the Quest for the Holy Vagina--makes up a large portion of the movie.

The first question you should be asking is: How is this any different from American Pie? Thematically, it's not really that different, but where Superbad crushes American Pie is with characters. Both movies have characters that are a little out-of-this world, but Superbad's are more real, more three dimensional, fleshier. And not just the main characters, either: One of the hallmarks of Apatow's films is that almost every person who appears on the screen seems to be a complete person.

The movie also shares some of Apatow's problems, however, most prominently that of a schlubbish guy somehow getting together with an implausibly hot girl. This wasn't a problem in The 40 Year Old Virgin, as Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener seemed well-matched. It was a bit of a problem in Knocked Up, as Katherine Heigl is clearly too hot for Seth Rogen, but their situation and Rogen's easy charisma made the match seem plausible. In Superbad, however, Jules inexplicably finds herself interested in Seth, who is frequently depicted as an uncool member of his class and who's not much of a looker to begin with.

Superbad is also plagued by a bit of unApatowesque sloppiness. Certain events are more coincidental than really good screenwriting allows for. Certain plot elements are not given the resolution that their significant build-up warrants. It's a comedy, so you can usually get away with things like this if your audience is laughing.

And they are here, largely thanks to the charisma of the three stars. Jonah Hill gets a bronze medal: He's perfectly cast as a particularly crass, sex-obsessed, selfish loser, and his lines get a lot of shock laughs. His character, however, is almost too depraved to root for. Almost. Christopher Mintz-Plasse gets a silver medal as Fogell--self-rechristened as "McLovin." His skinny geek with the tongue of a pimp is mostly comic relief, but one can't help but cheering for Fogell and all of geekdom with every success he has in the film. The gold medal goes to Michael Cera, however. He doesn't quite live up to his stellar turn in Arrested Development, but he still rocks the house. Compared to his friends, Cera's Evan is fairly normal and well-adjusted, but still has to deal with every bit of awkwardness that a normal teen does. And no one squeezes more joy from awkwardness than Michael Cera. Also, unlike Hill, Cera's character is one we can root for--and the very fact that Cera likes Hill makes the audience like Hill a bit more.

Superbad lands at an 8 on the 22 scale. There's certainly more good than bad here, but it's not nearly as excellent as Virgin or Knocked Up. So perhaps Apatow's films are like sex in another way: There's nothing quite like your first.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I figured I’d keep up the fantasy/magic trend for another week. Plus, I know how all of you are simply dying to hear about the new fantasy movie out in theaters entitled Stardust.

Stardust takes place initially in the village of Wall which we quickly learn is named so after the large stone wall that separates it from a magical world. The people of Wall know very little about this other world because no one ever crosses the wall. Well, that is, until now.

A young man in Wall named Tristan is in love with Victoria, a beautiful girl who doesn’t seem to notice Tristan because she has eyes for Humphrey, a more dashing, mature, and frankly, mean person. When given the chance to proclaim his love for her, Tristan promises to bring her back a star that they see falling from the sky. She tells him she’ll wait one week for him to do so before she commits herself to Humphrey forever.

In the meantime, the King of Stormhold is dying, and his sons all want the throne. On his deathbed the King tells them that the son who regains his jewel pendant and once again makes it shine red will take his place. They quickly set out to do so, and they’ll do anything to get it.

Lastly, there are three powerful sister witches who have heard of the fallen star. A fallen star to a witch is like the fountain of youth, and these three sisters could use some beautifying. One of them, Lamia, sets out to find it and, like the princes, will stop at nothing!

When Tristan gets to the star, he is quite surprised to find that the star is actually a person! It's a girl, more specifically, whose name is Yvaine. He plans to take her to Victoria so she will marry him, while the witches are after her so they can cut out her heart, and the princes end up chasing her because somehow, she ended up with the jewel pendant they want. It isn’t easy being a fallen star.

Stardust has a lot of good things about it. It’s a wonderfully sweet love story, not lacking in comedy, with a compelling plot of impending doom. There are some definite Princess Bride-like moments throughout the film, when the filmmakers are clearly poking fun at the genre. Stardust takes itself much more seriously than Princess Bride, however, and relies more on special effects and typical gags than on the wit of its characters. Also, there are a number of points throughout the movie when we really don’t know why what’s happening is happening, as though we’re out of the loop. It’s a bit like when you’re playing a game with a 6-year-old, and he decides partway through the game that some of the rules no longer apply, but then don’t forget these new rules that (unbeknownst to you, of course) allow the child to instantly win. The director and screenwriter made up the rules for their fantasy world as they went along, and we’re expected to just accept it without asking any questions. I had a slight problem with this at times, but since it was a fairytale, it wasn’t too hard to let it go.

Charlie Cox as Tristan was charming. Michelle Pfeiffer as the old witch Lamia was as convincing as you’d imagine her to be. She does haughty and evil pretty well. Claire Danes was OK as the spunky-yet-sweet Yvaine, the fallen star, but I had a difficult time totally buying her character. Plus, she has this annoying neck craning tendency that bothered me. Robert DeNiro also makes an appearance as a pirate, Captain Shakespeare, with a secret identity. He’s fabulous. (But I won’t spoil it for you.) Other notable actors are Peter O'Toole as the King, Ricky Gervais as Ferdy the Fence, and Mark Strong as Septimus.

Rating: 11

Stardust was a very enjoyable movie, complete with love, magic, swordfights, pirates, wit, style, humor, and romance. The characters are satisfactory, even while the plot is a bit convoluted. While it shares some similarities with The Princess Bride, I wouldn’t compare the two on the same level. If you don’t like fairytales, you shouldn’t rush to see this movie, but I think that most people would find something redeemable in it. I’ll definitely be seeing it again!

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Princess Bride

In 1987, Rob Reiner of "All in the Family" fame decided to bring to life a cinematic masterpiece called The Princess Bride. Being only 5 at the time of its release, I was not able to enjoy this wonder until 1992. It was on that day that one of my friends and I were looking for entertainment during our weekly sleepover. She suggested The Princess Bride and my cinematic life has not been the same since. And now, 15 years after my original viewing, I am still enthralled by the movie.

The movie introduces us to Westley (Cary Elwes), a servant boy, and the woman he loves, Buttercup (Robin Wright). Although Buttercup gets her joy originally from ordering Wesley around, she soon realizes his feelings for her and also discovers that she has the same feelings for him. In order to begin their life together properly, Wesley sets out to make money. However, he is soon captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts and presumed dead. Buttercup is then forced to accept a proposal from Prince Humperdink, who is not as good as he may seem at first. We are also treated to a thrilling and sometimes comedic tale of revenge. Along the way we meet some great characters such as Fezzik, Inigo Montoya, Vizzini, Count Rougen (the six-fingered man), and Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie. All of these characters have vital roles to play as we find that “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for awhile.”

The Princess Bride came out in the late 80s, so there is a certain cheesiness factor about it. However, in watching the movie, all thoughts of cheesiness are forgotten. There is a reason this movie is classic: because it's freaking awesome. What girl does not dream of being loved so deeply that nothing can stop her love from getting to her? And what boy does not wish to be the strongest guy, able to beat every other guy he comes across? Rob Reiner takes us into this magical world and shows us a thrilling adventure which makes you laugh and also warms your heart. It's the kind of story you want someone to read to you when you are sick--which is how the movie begins. Peter Falk plays a grandfather who decides to visit his sick grandson (Fred Savage) and read him this story.

As I analyze this movie more and more, I am bursting with all the quotes in the movie. However, I will refrain from that in case someone out in Cyber world has not seen this wonderful movie. I love this movie and I have since the first time I watched it. I think anyone could quote the whole movie and still never be tired of it. That is indeed a rare feat! Thank you Princess Bride, please come to the podium and receive your well deserved 19.