Jason Bourne

July 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by: Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Captain Phillips”)
Written by: Paul Greengrass (“United 93”) and Christopher Rouse (debut)

When we last saw Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) nine years ago, he had finally found himself. It turns out his real name was David Webb, and he was a good soldier who signed up for the Treadstone program run by the CIA that created brutal, badass, and brainwashed assassins. After spending three films on the run, dodging surveillance and special agents unleashed upon him from various corrupt men and women in computer-filled rooms across the globe, Bourne was free—so to speak. So much so that you could be forgiven for thinking his story was over. After all, Damon and director Paul Greengrass had seemingly hung things up and Universal had moved on, crafting the unsatisfying side-quel “The Bourne Legacy” with Jeremy Renner as a Bourne-adjacent character named Aaron Cross.

In my review of that film from 2012, I accused the studio of pulling “a ‘Teen Wolf Too'” and making “a movie where everyone knows who Jason Bourne is, but since he’s not around they just made the story about this other guy who’s just like him instead and called it ‘The Bourne Legacy.’” Eager to get the eternally-bland taste of Renner out of everyone’s mouth, Damon and Greengrass returned to retake the franchise, and the result is…well, the pretty bland “Jason Bourne.”

Bourne foil-turned-associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) opens the film hacking into the CIA to steal classified files for the movie’s proxy Edward Snowden (the real-life Snowden and the rise of social inform this universe more than the original trilogy’s post-Cold War paranoia). When she’s made by agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) figures Bourne can’t be far behind. An assassin with ties to Bourne (Vincent Cassel) is dispatched to kill the pair. When Bourne slips through their fingers and is put on the trail of his dead father, Lee and Dewey work to stop Bourne from exposing the agency’s secrets. You know…again.

The problem with “Jason Bourne” is that it never finds a sense of purpose—much like the character himself. The first three films in the series were about Bourne finding out how he became who he is now—and those questions were answered. Nearly a decade later, “Jason Bourne” asks “what about Bourne’s dad?” And really, the answer is about what you’d expect. Stir in yet another corrupt CIA official, a half-hearted stab at social media privacy, and some frankly dolt-ish faux consumer electronics gear, and you might wish Bourne had stayed in hiding instead of going through the motions one more time.

The Homesman

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones (“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”)
Written by: Tommy Lee Jones (debut) and Kieran Fitzgerald (debut) and Wesley A. Oliver (debut)

Sometimes when I’m watching a movie that I find to be at least somewhat enjoyable, I’ll get a little twinge of delight in knowing that someone else I know personally will enjoy it even more so. As “The Homesman,” directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, unspooled before me, I instantly knew this would be a movie my dad would be fond of: a low-key western with a mildly cantankerous performance from Jones, one of my father’s favorite actors. That a man in his 60s will likely get more from the experience than a man in his 30s will shouldn’t be taken as a slight; it’s just a fact. While the first hour and a half of the film flirts with a revisionist take on the oaters of old, its boots end up firmly planted on more traditional western ground.

A strong, pious woman named Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) lives a life alone on her land in a 19th century Midwestern settlement. Cuddy pines for a husband, only to be turned down for being “plain as a tin pail” by one potential suitor. After a harsh winter, three women in the settlement become mentally ill due to various tragedies and need to be taken back east to be put in the care of a pastor and his wife. When none of the men prove worthy enough for the trip, Cuddy volunteers, seeking both adventure and an escape from the loneliness she faces. Along the way she meets George Briggs (Jones) at the end of a noose, left there for claim jumping another man’s land. Cuddy makes a deal with Briggs: she will free him if he will accompany her on her journey, working to keep them safe from Indians and other hazards. George reluctantly agrees, and the party heads off toward the Missouri River.

While both Jones and Swank turn in fine performances, the film features a shocking turn—which I won’t spoil here–that leaves the character arcs of both performers in question and the movie feeling like two different stories hastily hitched together. The strength and tenacity Cuddy exudes early in the film is undone in tragedy, while Briggs’ journey from claim-jumping outlaw to noble man of his word feels somewhat unearned, not to mention some brutal vengeance enacted by Briggs over a minor incident that ends up painting him as a murderous psychopath instead of a protector of broken women. Regardless, I know my dad will get a kick out of the whole thing, and that’s enough for me.

The Family

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken”) and Michael Caleo (“The Last Time”)

When the critically acclaimed “Silver Linings Playbook” came out last year, many film fans were enthused about the performance and presence of Robert De Niro. It wasn’t just that De Niro turned in his best performance in years, but it was that he did such in a great project. For the better part of the past decade, De Niro has been a perpetual enemy of positive critical consensus, turning in performances in poorly received “Meet the Parents” sequels and various action films. Though De Niro has already had one of the most poorly received films of the year thus far with “The Big Wedding,” his next starring vehicle, “The Family,” is another test to see if his Oscar-nominated performance in “Playbook” was an aberration or a sign of things to come for an actor in desperate need of a career resurgence.

As part of the witness protection program, mafia boss Fred Manzoni (De Niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo) are forced to move to a quiet, low-key town in France. While there, the family can’t seem to avoid attracting attention and are eventually tracked down by a mob boss looking to settle a score.

As far as performances go, everyone in the cast does a fine job. De Niro slips back into a mobster role well enough, and the supporting cast like Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones (as a federal agent) and kids turn in effortful performances. The problem, however, lies in the way the characters are written and their complete lack of depth. De Niro’s character in particular seems to be going through an identity crisis with the adjustment of being out of the mob, but the idea of him writing his memoirs goes absolutely nowhere other than the serve as a narrative device for the film and to inform a bit on the past.

But the poor writing and lack of character depth is more complex than that. The children, who are now used to being bounced around from country to country, are shown at school doing various aggressive things, but without reason or explanation other than their ties of having a mafia leader as a father. There’s really no purpose Warren, for example, tries control the school through various forms of intimidation. An even bigger disservice is done to the character played by Agron. She is presented as a strong, tough, badass girl who in early scenes beats an aggressive fellow student with a tennis racquet. But later in the film, she is given a typical female storyline where her emotions are put in check when she falls head over heels in love with a guy. This of course completely undoes most of the strong and independent characteristics established at the beginning of the film.

For what it’s worth, the film sticks to a consistent tone balancing violence (mostly implied rather than graphic) with black comedy. The problem is that the comedy is not funny in the slightest. The jokes – mostly centered on De Niro’s aggressive imagination – never quite click. There’s also an abundance of typical Italian mobster stereotypes, which, while never offensive, are extremely obnoxious.

When all is said and done, “The Family” is a film that accomplishes none of its goals. The humor falls short, the violence is ineffective, and the characters are stripped of their memorability by a hackneyed script. For the time being, it appears that De Niro’s full-time career comeback is on hold.

Emperor

March 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune
Directed by: Peter Webber (“Hannibal Rising”)
Written by: Vera Blasi (“Woman on Top”) and David Klass (“Walking Tall”)

Taking place after the Japanese surrender in World War II, “Emperor” tells the story of General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) who is assigned a task from General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) to investigate whether Japanese Emperor Hirohito will be tried as a war criminal for ordering of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With the Japanese uninterested to talk and Fellers’ past involvement with a Japanese girl complicating the situation, the truth might not be as easy to find.

Since the end of the wildly popular TV show “Lost,” Fox has done little to cement himself as a leading man in films. His performance in “Emperor” is often times wooden and uninspired. His line readings feel forced and unnatural. Other than one scene where he actually shows some emotional range, his ability to do this on a consistent basis is stifled throughout the film. It is pretty impressive that Jones is able to get away with giving the same exact performance in nearly every role he plays. It is hard to argue what he does isn’t the same look, inflection and attitude in every film. While he doesn’t have nearly as much screen time in the film as Fox, Jones is merely passable as MacArthur.

The investigation of war crimes unfolds in a way that is absent of tension. Even though it attempts to tells a part of history, the script fails to be interesting. It never feels like anything major is at stake. Screenwriters Vera Blasi and David Klass look to a weaker secondary story between Gen. Fellers and his Japanese love interest. Their relationship provides no emotional stock for the view and are achingly generic.

Even with a historic story that might be unknown to many people, “Emperor” is too dull to resonate on any level. Fox isn’t quite ready to take the reigns of a lead role and the film is too weighed down by a subpar romantic subplot. Perhaps there is no greater sign that a movie is doomed from the very beginning than when even the always-dependable Jones is overshadowed by his massive corncob pipe.

Men in Black 3

May 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men In Black”)
Written by:  Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”)

Released in 1997, the first “Men In Black” was a breezy, quirky summer movie hit that succeeded in blending an original, humor-and-alien-laden script with big-budget action and special effects. In the process, it also confirmed Will Smith’s mega-star status after he starred the year prior in the blockbuster hit “Independence Day.”  Of course a follow-up was a no-brainer, and everyone’s worst instincts took over. Infected with deadly sequel-bloat, 2002’s “Men In Black II” was a half-baked mess, an empty collection of CGI strung together by a limp screenplay that seemed more concerned with expanding minor kid-friendly jokes from the first film into full-fledged main characters than recapturing the satirical edge that made the original so enjoyable. What was once a promising franchise had been spectacularly mishandled, and when years went by with the summer movie season being ceded to comic book superheroes, the world at large figured the series had been left for dead. Never underestimate the power of an established name brand in Hollywood. No matter how creatively compromised, there’s always room to make money.

Directed once again by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men In Black 3” opens deep within the walls of a lunar prison built to house dangerous intergalactic biker-ish criminal Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, one half of Flight of the Conchords). With the help of a beautiful woman and a cake concealing a spidery/crabby cohort, Boris is able to escape and set in motion his plan to seek revenge on the man who locked him up and took his arm: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). When K’s partner Agent J (Will Smith) learns Boris’ plan involves traveling back in time to kill K before he can deploy a planetary defense system, J jumps back to 1969 just before Boris’ arrival. J’s plan goes awry, however, when a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) apprehends him, forcing J, once again, to break through his future partner’s stoic demeanor in an effort to save the planet.

While this second sequel is easy to dismiss sight unseen, taking into account how much the last movie missed the mark and the fact that these characters have been in a deep freeze for 10 years, the end result is surprisingly enjoyable. “MIB 3” effectively ignores the second film entirely, with nary a mention of K’s five-year hiatus as a postmaster or Frank the Welcome-Wearing-Out Talking Bulldog. Instead, it tosses us directly into the day-to-day duties of K’s and J’s decade-and-half partnership as if they never missed a beat. While Jones comes off a little tired and disinterested (and really, his role is more or less a cameo), Smith seems invigorated by being back in the action/comedy/sci-fi saddle. Being the fish out of water suits Smith well and the movie really kicks into gear when he arrives in 1969. Credit Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”) for not shying away from the perils an outspoken, well-dressed black man would face in the late-‘60s, especially when he’s driving a stolen car and carrying a weapon. The real standout, though, is Josh Brolin’s killer take on Agent K. Perfectly matching the cadence and demeanor of Tommy Lee Jones, Brolin makes the perfect foil to the wizened Smith, evoking with a wink the relationship established in the first film that made the characters so appealing. Clement also shines as the menacing, slightly-underwritten Boris, especially when he’s given the chance to dole out some trademark deadpan humor. And a cameo by SNL’s Bill Hader as Andy Warhol flies in the face of what you’d expect and brings big laughs in the process.

So whip out the neuralizer, zap away all memories of the second movie, and enjoy the film as the satisfying “Men In Black” follow-up adventure we should have gotten years ago.