Friday, August 17, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

Last night I saw The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz.

Aaron (Renner) is a spy on the run who is in need of his daily meds. He is part of an elite program of spies who are trained to do just about everything. Among his peers is the missing-in-action Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, who only appears in a photo in this installment of the series).

After a cold, difficult trek through the mountains, Aaron cleverly escapes the wolves who were chasing him, and the bosses who seek to destroy him (apparently everyone in the club must die since they're discontinuing that mission). In the process, he comes to the rescue of Dr. Shearing (Weisz), a lab genius for the group who escaped a mass murder shooting by one of her colleagues only to be turned into prey for her bosses (the same bosses who seek to eliminate Aaron). He is preserving her because she is the only doctor left who can lead him to more meds.

Turns out, the meds are in Manilla, so the obligatory chase scenes begin with their attempt to get there, of course with the government on their heels at each turn.

Everything here on out is very standard 'action' film content, with an especially ridiculous motorcycle ride near the end.

I'll admit I was entertained, and after the slow pace in the beginning, the speed of the story picked up considerably. What made this movie so disappointing was the lack of intelligence.

In the past Bourne films, the heart-stopping action sequences have been built and executed around clever, smart, complicated narratives.

Here, it's merely plot points A, B and C with very little chemistry between the players and over-the-top stunts.

I miss Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass.


Friday, August 10, 2012

The Queen of Versailles

Tonight I saw the documentary The Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield.

Jackie and David Siegel are the epitome of the 1%. At the beginning of this film, they're in the progress of constructing the largest single family home in America. Their lives are all about excess: they have eight kids; 15 housekeepers; five nannies; drivers and more. They're active political contributors (David claims credit for getting W. elected for his first term) and are literally modeling the house they're building after the Palace of Versailles in France.

David is a time-share mogul who keeps growing his empire; his wife Jackie is a former model/computer engineer who just might be a hoarder. Of really expensive things.

Their world comes crashing down when the economy collapses and David is forced to halt construction on the mansion as he lays off thousands of employees to save the business. Times are tough—as long as you define "tough" as "flying commercial" and switching from private to public school for the kids.

On paper, they don't seem like a family that the average person would feel sorry for, but through the course of the narrative, you almost can't help but like them. Really, who wants to root against the American dream?

After all, they are self-made millionaires who both came from modest upbringings and were smart enough to build this wealth themselves. They do appear to have married for love, and their children seem like decent, kind people.

Maybe they aren't so bad, but gee it's hard to watch Jackie shop her way through a ghastly place like Wal-Mart for dozens of toys the kids clearly don't need.

One of the most touching scenes shows the family opening presents on Christmas morning and David explaining why a plain Hershey bar is one of his most treasured gifts. At the end of the day, he seems to get what's important but can't stop himself from being a business man.

At that is the moral of the story: watch out for the greed, because it almost always gets you in the end.

This was an incredibly watchable, human look at everyday people who became extraordinary and then normal again. Greenfield stays away from sensationalizing the situation and captures the family instead as they are—lucky for her, they're fascinating.


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

Tonight I saw Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale.

For a remake, it's not as bad as it could be, but as a stand-alone film it has some flaws.

Colin (Quaid) is a factory worker in a dystopian future who is looking for an escape from his less-than-fulfilling life (though his job seems solid and his wife seems hot, but whatever). He decides to take a risk and go to Rekall, where he can have new memories programmed into his brain. Note: this sequence of the film reminded me more of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than it did the original Recall, but that moment soon escaped me.

When Quaid goes in for the procedure, hoping to be programmed as a secret agent, all hell breaks loose and his identity is called into question.

From here on out, the film is a roller coaster of storm-trooper-resembling soldiers, deceptive women and Bryan Cranston, who unfortunately can't come close to being as menacing as his Breaking Bad alter ego, Walt.

Is it entertaining? Sure. Farrell is a solid actor (and more believable as a highly intelligent operative than the role's original Arnold S.) and the chemistry he has with Beckinsale is fun to watch.

But for a sci fi movie that clearly maps out what has become of our world, the scenery is pretty unremarkable, and some of the technologies (phones implanted in hands) don't match up with other props (a good old paperback book—which makes us wonder if the Kindle population was also wiped out in the chemical warfare).

Cool to see? Refrigerator photos and notes that are digital (I can't imagine that doesn't already exist) and hovercrafts that rival those from Back to the Future II.

Not so much? Jessica Biel who really doesn't convince the audience of anything. I'm still not sure why she had to be there.

All in all, you could do worse if you're just wanting some action-heavy, pow-wow entertainment, but if you're looking for substance or sci fi innovation, stay home.