Jason Bourne Is Back


Jason Bourne is back and uses the biggest sporting event to showcase in an action-packed tv spot why people should care that he’s back.

Yes, we know who he is. He definitely knows who he is, but this time around it looks like he remembers everything. If that’s the case then the CIA may be in for another beating Paul Greengrass-style with all the shaky-cam we can shake a stick at.

Looks like, if this tv spot is any indication, that Jason Bourne wasn’t taking it easy physically while he was gone. He definitely didn’t skimp on the lifting.

Jason Bourne is set for a July 29, 2016 release.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #97: Elizabeth (dir by Shekhar Kapur)


Elizabeth_Poster“I am no man’s Elizabeth!”

— Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) in Elizabeth (1998)

I have to admit that I always feel guilty about the fact that I love movies about British royal history.  After all, I have roots in Northern Ireland and I was raised Catholic.  If anything, I should refuse to watch films about British royalty on general principle.  I should be writing more reviews of films like Bloody Sunday.

But I can’t help myself.  Whether it’s because I enjoy looking at all of the costumes or I just have a thing for movies set in drafty old castles, I have a weakness for films about British royalty.  (And I will also admit that I sat through the entire royal wedding and I have a bit of a girlcrush on both Pippa and Kate Middleton.  As I said, I just can’t help myself.)

Of course, some of it definitely has to do with the fact that I’m an unapologetic history nerd.  I am fascinated with how people lived in the past.  And, of course, anyone who shares my obsession understands that, when it comes to history, there’s both the official story and the truth.  The official story is something that’s passed down over the centuries.  It’s what we learn in school.  The truth, however, is always far more obscure.  The truth is what historians piece together from what little gossipy evidence has managed to survive the passage of time.

We all know that the official story of Queen Elizabeth I is that she was England’s greatest Queen, she defeated the Spanish Armada, and she never married.  She was the “Virgin Queen,” forsaking love to serve her nation.  That’s the official story but is it the truth?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1998 Best Picture nominee Elizabeth.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing that Elizabeth represents the truth.  Historically, the film is messy and full of speculation that is less based on evidence and more on the desire to keep things cinematic.  But still, Elizabeth is an interesting film specifically because it takes a historical figure and dares to suggest that she may have been human before she became an icon.

Cate Blanchett gives a great performance in the role of Elizabeth.  When we first meet her, she’s a somewhat silly girl who is less concerned with politics and religion and more concerned with her boyfriend, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes).  Elizabeth is also the protestant half-sister of Catholic Queen Mary (Kathy Burke).  Mary is planning on ordering Elizabeth’s execution but dies of stomach cancer before she gets around to singing the order.

Suddenly, Elizabeth is Queen of England.  Young and insecure, she is, at first, manipulated by advisors like William Cecil (Richard Attenbrough), who pressures her to marry the cross-dressing Henry III (Vincent Cassel) of France.  Meanwhile, the Pope (John Gielgud) signs an order calling for Elizabeth’s death.  Catholic nobleman Thomas Howard (Christopher Eccleston) and mysterious priest John Ballard (Daniel Craig) conspire to assassinate Elizabeth.  With even Robert Dudley giving her reason to distrust him, Elizabeth discovers that her only ally is the enigmatic and ruthless “spymaster,” Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). It all ultimately ends in a sequence that basically transports the finale of The Godfather to the Elizabethan era.

I really should not like Elizabeth.  It’s undoubtedly an anti-Catholic film, though it’s nothing compared to the histrionic anti-Catholicism of its sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  But I can’t help myself, I enjoyed Elizabeth.  It was impossible for me not to relate to Cate Blanchett’s passionate performance.  (And there was just something so incredibly hot about the way Joseph Fiennes, with his intense eyes, would stare at her.)  When you ignore the film’s protestant bias and just concentrate on the performances and the gorgeous production design, you can’t help but love Elizabeth.

Film Review: Trance (dir by Danny Boyle)


trance

Trance, the latest film from Danny Boyle, is an enjoyable mess.  The film makes little sense, the characters are rarely consistent, and tonally, Trance is all over the place.  At the same time, it’s also a lot of fun.

Seeking to do for hypnosis what Inception did for dreams, Trance opens with Simon (an excellent James McAvoy), a fine art auctioneer who has gotten into trouble with online gambling.  Desperately needing money, Simon agrees to help the criminal Franck (Vincent Cassel) steal a painting.  However, during the robbery, Simon attacks Franck.  Franck responds by whacking Simon on the head.

As a result of the blow to his head, Simon ends up with amnesia and can’t remember anything that happened immediately after the robbery.  Unfortunately for Franck, Simon was attempting to steal the painting for himself when he got hit on the head.  As a result, neither Simon nor Franck have the painting and Simon can’t remember where he hid it.  After unsuccessfully attempting to restore Simon’s memory through physical torture, Franck then decides that Simon should see a hypnotist.

Simon goes to see Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (a surprisingly effective Rosario Dawson).  In several hallucinogenic and increasingly surreal scenes, we watch as Elizabeth leads the hypnotized Simon through the twists and turns of his own troubled subconscious.  While Simon initially lies about why he’s undergoing hypnosis, Elizabeth quickly reveals that she knows what’s going on.  However, to Franck’s surprise, Elizabeth agrees to continue to treat Simon and help him remember the location of the painting.  Soon, both Simon and Franck find themselves falling in love with Elizabeth, little suspecting that Elizabeth has an agenda of her own…

Judging from some of the reviews and other online comments that I’ve come across, I may be in a minority but I actually really enjoyed Trance.  Seriously, how can you not enjoy a film that’s so unapologetically over-the-top?  I loved the film for its lush cinematography.  I loved the fact that everyone’s apartment appeared to decorated exclusively with neon.  I loved the fact that all three of the main characters came across like they were continually on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.  In the end, I even loved the fact that Boyle didn’t even attempt to make the film realistic.  Trance is a celebration of pure style, a collection of barely connected set pieces that come together to make Trance into a pure cinematic experience.

Danny Boyle is one of those directors that people tend to either love or hate.  If you don’t like Danny Boyle, you probably won’t enjoy Trance.  However, if you’re like me and you’re an unapologetic fan, you’ll appreciate Trance for what it is, a pure triumph of style over substance.  Like many other Boyle films, the visuals are so strong, the music is so propulsive, and camerawork is so kinetic that you can forgive the fact that the film’s plot doesn’t make much sense.  Boyle may be a messy filmmaker but it’s often a beautiful mess.

Scenes I Love: Eastern Promises


EasternPromises

News that the sequel to Eastern Promises was one of the few pieces of news that really bummed me out when it made the rounds late 2012. The first film was one of my top ten for 2007 and consider it one of the better films about organized crime in the 21st century. A sequel to this film wasn’t needed, but most fans of the film wanted one just to see a furthering of the storyline between Viggo Mortensen’s character and that of Vincent Cassel’s character.

While the sequel may not be happening there’s still hope that it will get resuscitated in the future. Until that happens let’s take a look at what has to be one of the most realistic fight scenes on film. It’s the infamous (or famous depending on how you feel about the scene) Russian bath house scene near the end of the film. The scene sees Viggo Mortensen’s character of Nikolai Luzhin set upon by a couple of Chechen hitmen in the bath house where he proceeds to fight for his life in the most vulnerable fashion anyone can ever find themselves in.

Cronenberg has always been one of my favorite filmmakers and I continue to believe that his work body of work throughout his career puts him in the upper echelon, if not the elite level, of filmmakers living and working today. This fight scene has nothing glamorous about it. The cool factor that some attribute to the scene just emphasizes Cronenberg’s recent observation about the hypocrisy of those who denounce violence yet look at the violence he creates on film and call it art.

I consider this a scene I love just for the base simplicity of the scene itself. It’s primal and almost Darwinian in the lengths a person will go through to keep themselves alive for one second more. The scene also reminds me why Viggo Mortensen remains one of this era’s most underrated and greatest actors. Yes, it’s just a fight scene, but he gives so much into making it authentic that one could almost believe that his life was in danger and he did the fight for real (in fact Mortensen did injure himself so much during the several takes of the scene that his bruises afterwards became a problem for the make-up department who had to apply his vory v zakone tattoos every day).

Trailer: A Dangerous Method (dir. by David Cronenberg)


To say that I am a huge fan of Canadian auteur and all-around genius filmmaker David Cronenberg would be the understatement of the decade. I count him as one of the greatest filmmakers of the last 30 years. Seen his style go from grindhouse video nasties type of horror to the sublime. He’s one filmmaker who has never had to compromise his filmmaking style to suit the audience. You either accept what he has crafted or not.

The last 5-6 years has seen his stock rise amongst the film community as films like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises has gotten him recognition from the Academy voters, Film Circles and others in the film elite community. At the same time these films have been widely regarded by film fans as some of the best of the past decade. It helps that he seems to have found a partner-in-crime in another auteur with actor Viggo Mortensen who played lead in both those films.

Now for 2011 the two partner up again for the third time for Cronenberg’s film adaptation of the stage play “The Talking Cure” which itself was adapted from the non-fiction book, A Most Dangerous Method. The film is called A Dangerous Method and stars Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein. These three become the focal point of a sort of relationship triangle as the friendship between Freud and his younger apprentice in Jung becomes even more complicated when young Sabina get’s between the two men who would give rise to the study of psychoanalysis.

That brief synopsis doesn’t make this film very interesting at first glance, but this is Cronenberg who never picks projects and stories to tell unless it appealed to him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film wasn’t just a story about three individuals and their relationships towards each other, but something even more abstract as Cronenberg’s bound to explore the early days of psychoanalysis itself.

Here’s to hoping A Dangerous Method delivers on everything fans of Cronenberg have come to expect from him…or not expect as the man has a tendency to surprise with each new film.

Black Swan Teaser Trailer (dir. Darren Aronofsky)


The first official trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s next film has been released.

Black Swan stars Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder. It’s a psychological thriller based on the script by Mark Heyman and sets the film in the competitive world of ballet. The film will have its premiere at the 67th Venice Film Festival this coming September 2010 with another screening soon after in the same month at the 35th Toronto International Film Festival. The film will open to limited release in early December to qualify it for the award season for 2010.

The trailer definitely has been getting much buzz since it’s release on August 17th, 2010. Some have called it Fight Club for women just from the series of clips and images which made up the teaser trailer. While I won’t say that these individuals are right or wrong, to try and determine what the film is about in just a 2-minute trailer is idiotic. The film definitely plays on the psychological aspect of the story with Natalie Portman’s character the main focus of all the happenings going on around her.

Ms. Portman’s career should get another boost from this role as she continues to move away from her half a decade spent on the Star Wars universe. She has definitely made a concerted effort to pick roles as diverse as possible to avoid being typecase in any one particular role. Already an Oscar nominee for her work in Closer there’s a good chance that she may get another for her work on Black Swan. We will see if the buzz on that rumor will have weight come September 2010 when the film premieres n the Fall Film Festival season.

Black Swan: Aronofsky, Portman and Kunis this December


On July 22, 2010 USA Today score the first exclusive pictures from the set of Darren Aronofsky’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 208 film, The Wrestler. This time around Aronofsky takes on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and weaves a psychological thriller around the classic ballet.

Black Swan will have in the titular lead one Ms. Natalie Portman. She’s taking on a role which continues her attempts to expand her repoertoire of character beyond the helpless child-like young women she’s been portraying since she first burst onto the scene. Playing opposite Ms. Portman is Mila Kunis. There’s already been talk going as far back as late 2009 that the two co-sta’ characters will be getting real close.

Synopsis:  The dark tale with psychological twists stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a technically brilliant ballerina whose life takes some strange turns after being picked as the lead in a New York City production of Swan Lake. Pressures mount as her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) pushes her to succeed and her manipulative dance master (Vincent Cassel) commands her to be more seductive and loose in her performance.

Complicating matters is the arrival of Lily (Mila Kunis), a sultry dancer who exhibits all the innate ease and sexuality that Nina lacks. Nina begins to fixate on the newcomer as the two forge an unusual relationship.

The film will premiere at the Venice Film Festival this September and also appear in the 35th Toronto Internation Film Festival. Black Swan will be shown in limited release this coming December 1, 2010 to qualify it for the awards season and from the buzz surrounding this film don’t be surprised if it does well with awards and critics prizes. Pictures from the set can be seen in the USA Today link below.

Source: USA Today

Quickie Review: Irréversible (dir. by Gaspar Noe)


Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible is filmed in the same style as Christopher Nolan’s excellent Memento. With the story unfolding in reverse sequence, the audience’s first impression of the story doesn’t end up being the same once it finishes.

Everyone has made it a point to mention the disturbing and hard-to-watch sodomizing that Monica Bellucci’s character goes through at the hands of a random, strung-out stranger. This 10-minute sequence is as disturbing as any film sequence I have ever had the chance to watch. There is absolutely no feeling of lust or sexiness this scene brings up. A sense of shock, disgust and pain is more appropriate reaction to seeing the lovely Ms. Bellucci’s character go through a very inhumane experience. This scene goes a long way to explaining the film’s beginning where a brutal and equally inhumane murder takes place inside a murky, red-lit, underground gay S&M club.

As the film continues to move backwards in time and shows the viewer the earlier and happier time of Bellucci’s and Vincent Cassel’s characters, the earlier scenes of violence take on a more poignant and sad note. In a space of a day many lives are broken and destroyed, and in the end all because of a random night occurrence in an dingy, lit underpass.

Gaspar Noe’s film is not for everyone and even those daring enough to take a chance to view it will have a hard time sitting through the first half of the film. The film itself takes on a dream-like quality as it begins to unfold. From its nightmarish tone and look to a dreamy last reel. I have heard people call Noe’s film as exploitive and misogynistic in its treatment of its main female character. In the end, Noe’s choice to shoot the rape scene in a realistic fashion and have it linger and linger shows the viewer that evil and ugly things do happen in real life. One either takes it and learn from it or turn away and pretend it never happened.

Irreversible is a film that people will either love or hate. This film doesn’t straddle the center when it comes to viewers reaction to it. Gaspar Noe’s film is not perfect, but overall it provokes the viewer to think on what they’ve seen and felt as the story unfolded.

Review: Eastern Promises (dir. by David Cronenberg)


In 2005 Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg brought to the silver screen a film that was both a taut, smart crime-thriller and also a well-done film treatise on the nature of violence and how it changes not just witness’ perception of an individual but about themselves as well. The film also introduced what might be the newest creative pairing that could be on par as other pairings like Scorsese-DeNiro and Burton-Depp. The pairing I speak of is that of Cronenberg and his growing repertoire with actor Viggo Mortensen. They scored a critical hit with A History of Violence and in 2007 they collaborate in another crime-drama that more than lives up to their initial collaboration. Eastern Promises is a taut and meticulous drama which brings new eyes and a different approach to the mob film genre made famous by Coppola and Scorsese.

The film begins innocently enough with a very pregnant teenage Russian girl named Tatiana entering a neighborhood store. While Cronenberg chose to open up A History of Violence nary any musical cues and backgrounds to create a sense of naturalism and plant a seed of unease in the audience of what’s to come, he does the opposite with Eastern Promises by allowing long-time collaborator Howard Shore to score this opening scene with a haunting violin solo. Even right from the start Cronenberg’s propensity to use a sudden image of violence to shock the audience works well to set the tone for the film. It is not the usual filmgoing experience to see a young girl, looking lost and afraid of her surroundings, suddenly and bloodily starts to give birth in the middle of a store. It is from the diary entries of this young girl where we get glimpses of the true meaning of the film’s title and sets up the clues and tidbits that Cronenberg gradually fills in as the film progresses and the main characters investigate the girl’s death and the full contents of her diary.

We’re quickly introduced to Anna Khitrova (played with touching compassion and a certain naivete by Naomi Watts), midwife at the London hospital where Tatiana dies from bloodloss due to childbirth. Having had experienced her own personal tragedy regarding a past pregnancy Anna takes it upon herself to find the next of kin or, at the very least, close friends who might know Tatiana and thus claim the child and care for her. It was finding Tatiana’s diary and the business card tucked within amongst the young girl’s meager possessions which gives Anna a starting point for her investigation and search. It is during this search into Tatiana’s life that Anna encounters Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen at his most chameleonic), the personal driver of one Semyon (as played by Armin Mueller-Stahl). Semyon charms Anna with his old world grandfatherly persona yet both the audience and Anna feels something off, even sinister beneath the charm and twinkling eyes. Semyon is not just the owner of the Trans-Siberian, a Russian restaurant, but a boss in the vory v zakone also known as the Russian Mafia. It is through Nikolai that we see the underbelly of Tatiana’s life before her death.

It is during the second half of the film that the film takes a clear turn into Cronenberg territory. With all the players in play Eastern Promises starts to peel the layers on all the characters. Just like in A History of Violence every character in this unofficial follow-up to that film go on through the film living dual-lives. Even Anna’s seeming naivete, in regards to the danger she faces in Semyon and his unstable son Kirill, shows a modicum of world-weariness born out of personal tragedy and those she sees on a daily basis when working as a midwife in the hospital.

Cronenberg doesn’t just try to tell a crime drama about the mob and the subculture they live and die in but he adds his own personal stylistic and metaphorical touches on the mob film conventions. While in the past he has taken on the immutability of the body and the physical nature of man in his later years he has moved on to the amorphous nature of man’s very nature as both a civilized and reasoned animal to the primal being which lurks within each. Eastern Promises delves into this metaphysical topic by showing the natures of both Nikolai and Semyon. Both of whom, at first glance, inhabiting a particular stereotype but soon showing the opposite as the audience gets to know them. Even the twists in the story in the middle section and close to the end doesn’t seem like cheap plot tricks but a logical and almost mathematical conclusion to the very themes Cronenberg has been exploring right from the beginning.

The performances by the cast was top-notch from top to bottom. David Cronenberg’s always has had a reputation for being an actor’s director. His willingness to allow his actors to not just play the part but find ways to become their characters makes his films some of the more well-acted one’s of the last quarter-century. From Watts’ own touching performance as the moral center of the film in Anna to Cassel’s unstable and coward of a bully in Kirill the work put on by the actors adds a level of gravitas to a story that has it’s roots in pulp crime stories and not the high-brow tales prestige films like Eastern Promises has been compared to. But the two stand-out work comes from Viggo Mortensen as the enigmatic Nikolai and Armin Mueller-Stahl as Russian mob boss Semyon. Where Watt’s performance was subtle and Cassel’s literally scene-chewing both Mortensen and Mueller-Stahl bring forth nuanced performances full of life and complexities that makes both characters stand out above a cast already doing great work.

Mortensen’s work as Nikolai actually surpasses his previous Cronenberg-directed role in Tom Stalls of A History of Violence. Viggo has always been quite the Method actor and really loses himself in every role he takes on, but it took him being paired up with Cronenberg for critics and cineastes to finally realize how great an actor he really has become in the last decade. His Nikolai oozes a charisma from the moment he enters the film. He makes Nikolai not just a thug with a brain and a semblance of compassion beneath the rough surface. Mortensen literally becomes Nikolai right down to the very tattoos which tells his character’s criminal past in ink. One could not help but be mesmerized by Mortensen’s work in this film that it was easy to forget that he was playing a part and not actually living that life. To say that Mortensen may have found his creative soulmate in Cronenberg would be quite the understatement and with more projects in the future linking the two together it wouldn’t be a surprise if the two in conjuction finally get the critical awards that has eluded both.

While A History of Violence showed that Cronenberg could work beyond the genre and esoteric genres of his part works, it is with Eastern Promises that we see him move towards a more mainstream type of work. Yet despite a work more accessible than before he still was able to add his own style of storytelling and explore themes usually not seen in crime dramas and mob films. It is this ability to marry the violent pulp with the intellectual high-brow which makes Eastern Promises a delight for both the general filmgoer and the arthouse cineaste. Time will only tell if the successful streak by the duo of Cronenberg-Mortensen continues as the two continue to work together in the years to come.