The Great Wall

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Andy Lau
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”)
Written by: Carlo Bernard (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”), Doug Miro (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”)

For those prematurely concerned with another Hollywood whitewashing of Asian culture when “The Great Wall” was announced with star Matt Damon, rest assured: this is most definitely a Chinese movie with Americans along for the ride. With most of the dialogue in Mandarin (with English subtitles) and some of the Chinese film industry’s biggest stars in actor Andy Lau and acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, “The Great Wall” doesn’t feel culturally compromised (at least to this ugly American), but it doesn’t ever fully embrace its potential for mash-up weirdness either.

When a pair of European men, William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), narrowly escape a monstrous creature while on the hunt for black powder in China during the Song dynasty, they stumble across the Great Wall as the color-coded soldiers prepare for an attack by the Tao Tie. The Chinese army, made of up archers, wall-walking infantrymen, and rope-assisted crane fighting women, are defending the capital from the creatures (essentially telepathic monster dogs who came to earth in a meteor and represent greed!). When William proves himself to be an effective warrior, he earns the trust of Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and devises a plan alongside the Chinese soldiers to defeat the dog-monsters once and for all.

While “The Great Wall” isn’t a bad movie, it is mostly a boring one—and one that leaves what could be epic multicultural weirdness on the table. Damon is fine, if not totally committed, to the role of a semi-scoundrel looking for honor, but the trio of screenwriters (including frequent Damon collaborator Tony Gilroy) fail to drum up much internal conflict for William—or anyone else for that matter. “The Great Wall” presents its conflict (the fight against the telepathic dog-monsters from space), the threat they pose (the dog-monsters have breached the Great Wall) and the unlikely secret weapon Damon introduces (a magnet!) that can help take the Tao Tie down and save the planet in the process. If that sounds potentially bananas, especially in the hands of Zhang, you’d be right. But “The Great Wall” never lives up to its batshit crazy potential.

Rogue One

December 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“About A Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Supremacy”)

Prequel is one of the dirtiest words in the English language to “Star Wars” fans, right up there with midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks. The increasingly negative reception to George Lucas’ prequel trilogy that unspooled from 1999 to 2005 has rendered the word toxic, which is why Disney’s marketing of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has expressly avoided using the word at all—even though the movie is very much a direct prequel to the original “Star Wars” movie from 1977, known now as “A New Hope.”

This is the first live-action “Star Wars” theatrical adventure to deviate from the so-called saga of the Skywalker family being chronicled so far in Episodes I through VII (there was an animated “Clone Wars” film in theaters, as well as a pair of Ewok-centric TV movies in the ’80s and the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” from 1978) and represents the opening salvo in Disney’s mission to release a “Star Wars” movie every single year for the rest of all of our lives.

Opening around 15 years BBY (that’s Before the Battle of Yavin—the events of “A New Hope” and the super-geeky way in which the “Star Wars” timeline is sometimes parceled out), “Rogue One” focuses on Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), the reluctant brains behind the weapons tech in the Empire’s planet-killing Death Star. He and his family, including daughter Jyn, are in hiding from the Imperial officer heading up the Death Star project, Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn). When Krennic tracks them down, he kills Jyn’s mother and captures her father as she flees, taken in by militant Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is busted out of an Imperial prison by the Rebels and given the choice of helping Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droll, reprogrammed Imperial droid 2-KSO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) capture her father back from the Empire to find out how to stop the superweapon. When plans go awry after a test-firing of the Death Star levels a Rebel stronghold, Jyn and Andor must team up with a blind, Force-sensitive monk (Donnie Yen), his heavily-armed sidekick (Wen Jiang) and an Imperial defector (Riz Ahmed) to steal the plans for the Death Star, a monumental event that set in motion the entire franchise nearly 40 years ago.

Burdened with extensive reshoots and the unavoidable fact that we know how it all ends, “Rogue One” represented somewhat of a risk for Disney—albeit a risk that will, worst case scenario, not make quite as much money as “The Force Awakens” did last year and only sell 85% of the toys. Happily, though, the movie ends up killer, with a brutality of war featuring the troops on the ground we’ve never seen in a “Star Wars” film before. The scars of the reshoots show through here and there, though, with Whitaker’s character seemingly suffering the most, relegated to a plot device that goes nowhere—and the same goes for a mystical crystal Jyn wears around her neck. Neither of those, however, are likely to conjure up the negative conversations that one prominently featured CGI character will over his too-many scenes. For the record, I’m not talking about Jar Jar Binks, but a long-dead British actor resurrected to look like a Playstation 4 cutscene character—pretty good, but still off-putting and not quite right. Ultimately, we’re left with a thrilling “Star Wars” movie that dares to be different—for example: no opening crawl, no transitional wipes, and no Jedi—and ends up as a better film than the widely-beloved nostalgia hug that was “The Force Awakens.”

The Bourne Legacy

August 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachael Weisz, Edward Norton
Directed by: Tony Gilroy (“Duplicity” “Michael Clayton”)
Written by: Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and Dan Gilroy (“Real Steel”)

After both star Matt Damon and go-to director Paul Greengrass passed on doing a fourth film featuring Damon’s badass amnesiac Jason Bourne, the studio behind the series (Universal Pictures) had a decision to make. Should they recast the role with a new actor? Maybe they could reboot the franchise and start from scratch. All the studios are doing it these days. Or perhaps they could just leave well enough alone and be content in having produced a fantastic trilogy of solid action movies that redefined the genre for the 21st century and move on to something else. With none of those options deemed suitable, Universal pulled a “Teen Wolf Too” and made 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.”

“Legacy” stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, a Bourne-like agent from Operation Outcome, a sister operation of the previous films’ Operation Blackbriar. When Jason Bourne brings down Blackbriar, the high-level CIA suits, led by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), order all of Outcome’s agents killed. Cross manages to escape, however, and enlists an Outcome scientist (Rachel Weisz) to help him get the drugs he needs to survive.

Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter behind all three of Damon’s entries in the series, takes over the director’s chair in addition to his writing duties this time out. Gone is the kinetic, handheld camera feel Greengrass brought to the series, and with it most of the excitement. Gilroy doles out the series’ trademark action sparingly, peppering it in here and there between long scenes about pharmaceuticals and people talking about what the never-seen Jason Bourne is doing at the moment. With a good portion of “The Bourne Legacy” taking place at the same time as the events in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” you may start to feel like you’re stuck in a theater showing a dry political drama while the whole time you can hear the rumbles coming from the awesome action movie playing next door.

Jeremy Renner, who you may remember from “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “The Avengers” as the guy who was along for the ride while the real heroes did their thing, steps in to the lead and does an okay job, but doesn’t come close to matching the desperate intensity and anger Damon brought to the series. It doesn’t help that Renner’s Cross isn’t suffering from memory loss, trying to regain the life that the CIA stole from him. Instead he’s a modern day Captain America – an injured soldier with a low IQ given drugs that turn him into a super soldier. That’s right, Renner’s ass-kicking powers come from a daily dose of drugs, a revelation that’s nearly as disappointing as finding out that Jedis are only Jedis because of the high amount of midichlorians in their blood. Throughout the movie we’re told over and over that Jason Bourne wasn’t the only one. But he should have been.

State of Play

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Kevin McDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”)
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan (“Lions for Lambs”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), Billy Ray (“Breach”)

There will never be another newspaper film like “State of Play.”

While it might be a bit extreme to say Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams are on the same tier as Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford’s Woodward and Bernstein in the 1976 media epic “All the President’s Men,” no one has ever come as close to capturing the true meaning of investigative journalism in the print media. Even with some sensationalism thrown in for flavor, “State of Play” is smartly done.

For the generation who like their news in short blurbs written by bloggers who use Wikipedia as their main source, this definitely won’t resonate with you. For those who still value the art of in-depth reporting and the way an actual newspaper still feels between your fingertips, “State of Play” is as tightly written as a front-page story grinded out on an unapologetic deadline by a veteran reporter.

Based on a 2003 British TV miniseries of the same name, “State of Play” follows old-school Washington D.C. scribe Cal McAffrey (Crowe) in the middle of a political scandal that slowly reels him personally and professionally. The mistress of his old college friend, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), has died of an apparent suicide, but with some exceptional fact digging, Cal uncovers other circumstances that could prove to be damaging to some governmental bigwigs and to himself on an ethical level.

There to pick up the slack as their scowling editor (Helen Mirren) keeps a sharp eye on her staff is internet reporter Della Frye (McAdams), whose blogging abilities are just impressive enough to provoke Cal’s traditional stance on his lifelong career. “I’m just trying to help you get a few facts in the mix the next time you upchuck online.”

Still, a little new blood never hurt anyone especially with someone as hungry for a newsworthy story as Della. Crowe and McAdams’ chemistry blends well from the start and only strengthens as the political thriller dashes in and out of some sharp turns and detailed storytelling. It’s easily the best newspaper movie since 2003 “Shattered Glass” and the most intelligent film to be released in the first third of the year.