Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jason Bourne

Year: 2016
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles

Plot: Jason Bourne now lives day to day by taking part in illegal fighting. When his handler, Nicky Parsons, hacks the CIA database and retrieves black ops files including Treadstone, she becomes a target of ambitious CIA operative Heather Lee, who is interested in bringing Bourne in. Bourne now has to dodge Lee and her superior, CIA director Dewey and his chosen asset while digging up his past, particularly his late father.

Review: Personally I wasn't too excited about having a new Bourne film, particularly one featuring Matt Damon. Not that he isn't awesome in it, he always has been. It's just that The Bourne Legacy was made, and Jeremy Renner made a great action hero out of Aaron Cross. I was looking forward to a sequel to Legacy, which word has it, will arrive in 2018. For now, we have Damon and director Paul Greengrass reteaming for Jason Bourne, and to be honest, it's pretty damn awesome.

What's funny is that Greengrass hasn't changed his style that much. In his last two attempts with Bourne, he stages elaborate sequences involving large crowds, brutal fights and at least one car chase. Here he does the same thing again, but you gotta give it to the man for making it work even better. In Supremacy and Ultimatum, fans would recall the large crowd sequence in Germany and London's Waterloo Station. Here he gives us not one, but three of these sequences; a riot in Athens, an emergency evacuation in Paddington Plaza, London and a chaotic finale in Vegas. The Athens sequence was amazingly set up, I can only imagine the logistics hell of that entire sequence. Greengrass clearly knows how to plan his action scenes, as all three are well done.

Another thing worth mentioning is the car chase at the end, which is by far one of the best in the series. Damon's Bourne and Vincent Cassel's character chase each other down the Vegas strip in a car and SWAT van respectively. It feels familiar overall but vehicular carnage is just amazing to behold, so I loved every minute of it.

Damon is still great in a role that made him an action star, so no complaints there. Alicia Vikander gives Heather Lee the right amount of ambiguity overall, but I do have a slight issue with her being possibly too young for the role. Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent Cassel are okay as the film's villains, though I'm surprised how well Cassel did in his role. He's pushing 50 but is still able to go toe-to-toe with Damon.

Scriptwise, the film is reminiscent of what has come before. Tony Gilroy might not be on board this time, but the old story beats of Bourne chasing his past while the CIA tries to cover it up is in play again here, this time involving Bourne's late father, who was involved in Treadstone. Despite the familiarity, it works with what we should expect from Bourne. There's also a subplot involving a social media mogul whom the CIA wants to work with in order to monitor the public, which is easier to understand and relate to compared to previous Bourne plots.

I am wary though, of how much longer Jason Bourne's story will carry on. This film works very well, but exactly how often can Greengrass and Damon do this before audiences get tired? The 9 year layoff since Ultimatum certainly helped them here, but like I mentioned earlier, it's time to let Aaron Cross run with the baton.

But I'll give credit where it's due. Jason Bourne was better than I expected. Maybe I'll change my mind over time, but if you want summer action, this film is it. (8/10)  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella

Plot: The Enterprise answers a distress call and mounts a rescue attempt, only to realize too late that it's a trap set by Krall, who wants an artifact in Kirk's possession. As the Enterprise is destroyed, the crew is trapped on a planet, where they must team up with an alien named Jaylah to stop Krall from destroying a nearby Starbase.

Review: J.J. Abrams, who directed the first two Star Trek reboot films, steps down so that he can helm The Force Awakens, and in his place is Justin Lin from the Fast & Furious films. As a result, the film takes on a new method of fun and adventure, but doesn't always hit its target.

The biggest difference is watching the Enterprise crew lose the ship in the first third of the film and spend the second third trying to survive on the planet they crash landed. The downside is watching the film drag a bit as Kirk and company attempt to gather themselves and mount an offensive counter while pondering their future and existence, but the upside is allowing the separated crew an opportunity to get more screen time, at least for some of them. In this case, the late Anton Yelchin's Chekov gets more time than he ever did in the first two films, assisting Kirk in technical and strategic matters. The best part is seeing Karl Urban's McCoy and Zachary Quinto's Spock exchanging humorous banter while the latter is nursing a serious injury.

The film starts to pick up though, when the crew finally reunite alongside Jaylah and plan a rescue attempt as well as an escape from the planet. This leads to the final third where the crew battle Krall as he attacks Starbase Yorktown.

The somewhat minor pacing problem aside, Beyond also feels less of a Star Trek film than the first two, though Trekkies have been criticising about Abrams' less than pure approach for years now. Lin also tries to inject some drama into his film, getting Kirk to think of his future and Spock to consider taking over from his alternate predecessor's role after his passing (acknowledging Leonard Nimoy's recent death), but it doesn't work quite as well as the previous films.

But despite all that, the film still manages to entertain throughout most of its runtime, with the cast slipping into their roles like they never left. Sofia Boutella makes an interesting addition as Jaylah, while Idris Elba is solid as the villain Krall, though he's more like Nero than Khan here.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is an entertaining adventure, though it falls slightly short if compared to the first two films. (7/10)  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Purge: Election Year

Year: 2016
Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Edwin Hodge

Plot: Charlie Roan, a senator who lost her family on Purge Night, vows to end the Purge if she wins the election, making her a target by the New Founding Fathers, who intend to use the Purge to eliminate her. Her chances for survival are in the hands of her bodyguard Leo Barnes and a handful of poor people trying to survive the night.

Review: Writer and director James DeMonaco deserves credit for achieving two rare feats. One: writing and directing all three Purge films, and two: making each one better than the last.

The first film was a basic home invasion story, the second taking it a step further by putting the audience on the street and watching the poor and innocent victims getting mowed down by the crazies and the rich. The idea of the Purge being a plan by the New Founding Fathers to eliminate the poor in order to save money on welfare was hinted at in the second film, Anarchy. Now in Election Year, that idea is expanded. This angle is explored through the eyes of Joe Dixon, a deli owner whose insurance will not cover losses from Purge Night, and therefore has to take up arms and watch the place himself, alongside his loyal worker Marcos. There is also Laney, a friend of Dixon's, who has a history of crime but now chooses to roam the streets on Purge Night in an armored triage van giving help to the wounded.

As mentioned, the senator, Charlie Roan, a victim of the Purge herself, gains momentum in the upcoming elections by promising to end the Purge if she wins. The NFFA view her as a threat and attempt to eliminate her on Purge Night. Traitors within her security team forces her to flee with her bodyguard, Leo Barnes, whom you'd remember from Anarchy. The duo run into Dixon and company, and the fight begins.

DeMonaco improves on the earlier films in a handful of ways, upping the ante on the action, violence and the plot. Sure, this is yet another fight for survival, but the stakes are much higher now. As one of the character states: the soul of the country is at stake. Election Year takes a closer look at the plight of the true victims of the Purge, how they suffer every time this happens and what they stand to lose. There is a group, led by Bishop (the homeless man from the first film) who gives shelter and medical aid to the poor. Bishop plays a key role in the film's final third, where the senator's campaign and life hangs in the balance.

The action and violence is pretty awesome for the most part. Lots of headshots, explosions and blood. We even get a pretty nasty hit-and-run followed by shotgun blasts. The crazies get more creative with their outfits too, and DeMonaco even throws in murder tourists from Russia, who arrive just to have fun taking part in wanton murder. Like I said, the ante is upped tremendously. Even the pace of the film is perfect, as I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

The cast all perform splendidly, and while Frank Grillo's Leo Barnes makes a good action hero, it is Mykelti Williamson's Dixon that steals the show as the everyman trying to protect what's his. Joseph Julian Soria and Betty Gabriel are also solid as Marcos and Laney respectively, while Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell makes a convincing turn as Senator Roan. Also worth mentioning is Raymond J. Barry hamming it up as NFFA leader Caleb.

If there's a downside, it's the question of why there are so many crazy Purgers in each film. The final scene, which takes place in a church, is a fine example of this. Just watching this insane guy stabbing a man to death while the NFFA minister stands behind him preaching and getting orgasmic in front of an audience was pretty funny.

My local censors did wipe out several things which barred my enjoyment slightly. But I gotta say, The Purge: Election Year is awesome, and that's something I didn't expect. (8/10)   

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Legend Of Tarzan

Year: 2016
Director: David Yates
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent

Plot: Tarzan aka John Clayton III, who now lives in London with his wife Jane and accustomed to civilized life, is asked by American adventurer and historian George Washington Williams to travel back to the African Congo, to assist in investigating news of the King of Belgium engaging in slavery there. Little does he know that an old rival, Chief Mbonga is collaborating with the Belgium king's man, Leon Rom to capture him in exchange for the diamonds in his territory.

Review: There have been many tales of Tarzan depicted on film in the past, though none in live action as of late until now. The last two were animated features, one of which was made by Disney.

David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter films, takes a stab at bringing Tarzan back to the silver screen. The first thing you'd notice is Yates not setting his film at Tarzan's beginnings, instead beginning his story where the man has accepted his true heritage and now resides in London with his beloved wife, Jane. It is very much a welcome change, though Yates does give the audience flashbacks of his past from time to time, some of which don't quite gel with the main running plot, but it is a mere mild distraction.

From a technical standpoint, Yates gets it mostly right. Set design and cinematography are all great, especially in the opening sequence. There are many beautiful shots of rivers, waterfalls and the jungle, till it almost becomes a character of its own. The CGI and motion capture for the gorillas are quite well done, though when used to depict a younger Tarzan, it looks much too obvious.

The cast perform to expectations, with Alexander Skarsgard making a suitable Tarzan, portraying him as a mild mannered hero who can throw down with anyone including gorillas. Skarsgard has done well in achieving the physique required for the role and should be commended for that. Margot Robbie plays Jane with a large dose of spunk, but unfortunately she still needs to be saved by her hero here. Samuel L Jackson gets the sidekick role of George Washington Williams and proves to be capable in being a useful ally and a funny guy too. Christoph Waltz and Djimon Hounsou however are reduced to playing the same kind of villainous roles they have done before, which is a pity as they deserve better.

Action wise, the film does have a handful of suspenseful scenes, but Yates doesn't quite know how to shoot them properly. They're either over too soon or shot too close. The best one of them would be Tarzan facing off a group of soldiers on a train car, all by himself. The rest of the scenes are just average.

In the end, The Legend Of Tarzan is a fairly entertaining adventure film. It won't impress you too much but it's a decent way to spend two hours. (7/10)


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