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Monday, August 6, 2007

REVIEW - "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007)

Jason Bourne has always seemed like an invincible character. He’s smart; he makes his way out of impossible situations and is highly skilled at slim escapes. So it’s ironic that the movie begins with an injured Jason Bourne trying to escape the Russian police. The fact that this movie second-guesses the audience right at the beginning is a good omen. We thought we’ve seen everything Bourne was capable of in the first two films, but this movie ditches out far more.

More action heavy than the last film, Bourne is retracing his steps and trying to figure out who he is and why he’s such an efficient tactician. During the search for his past, Bourne races against his enemies to find information about the program that created him and the people behind it.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” pulls out all the stops. Never have we seen Jason Bourne so quick and clever. For those who have seen the first two films, you know that’s saying a lot. His enemies feel more dangerous than ever and the questions we’ve all had about Bourne come full circle.

Director Paul Greengrass, who also directed the previous film, knows how to make everyone and everything look dangerous. The result is often a great deal of tension and suspense. As we see Bourne succeed in surviving, we also see him fail important tasks that makes the audience doubt Bourne just enough to keep things interesting. (What fun is a hero without flaws after all?)

David Strathairn provides us with the most despicable villain yet. Treadstone has now decided to killing Bourne on sight, whenever the chance given to them, is their best option. This also includes everyone who Bourne communicates with, innocent or not. This move provides Bourne with even more obstacles to get through. That's essentially what the movie is—Jason trying to plow through one situation after another.

One of these situations is, of course the mandatory car chase. In “The Bourne Identity” we got a fun car chase that was better than it should have been with such a wimpy car. And in “The Bourne Supremacy” we’re given quite possibly one of the greatest car chases in decades. With “Ultimatum” I feel that Greengrass decided it would be too hard to top the previous film, so instead of a car chase we get more of a car brawl. Jason takes control of a New York police car and intentionally rams the vehicle in to others more times than I could follow. It’s as fun as the previous films’ car scenes, but it offers more car crunching than car chasing.

If there’s anything to distract from the quality of this film it’s the massive camera shaking. Like Michael Bay, Greengrass is in desperate need of a tripod. The whole movie is filmed like a 97-year-old man is holding the camera. Yes, this is the style of these films, but it seems to have become progressively worse with each one. There’s no need to shake the camera dramatically while two characters are having lunch.

Julie Stiles’ character gets a bit more action in this movie as well, including hints of her past relationship with Bourne. She just vaguely mentions this and nothing more is established. I kept expecting more, but it didn’t happen. I really wished there was more elaboration on their past.

Regardless of these drawbacks, the film doesn’t let up on adrenaline and it ends really well. The final twenty minutes are particularly good and the tail end couldn’t have been more fitting. Truly this movie has my favorite ending of the films I’ve seen this year. It felt original, it felt cool and it felt like a fitting conclusion to a consistently good set of films. Espionage action has never looked this good on film.

*** out of ****

Sunday, August 5, 2007

REVIEW - "Sunshine" (2007)

“Sunshine” is a solid movie that suffers the same fate Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” suffered, just not to the same extent. In “28 Days Later” director Danny Boyle gave us a decent zombie flick with our characters on the run instead of holed up in a shopping mall somewhere. However, the movie fell apart halfway when they bumped in to a lone military group. Suddenly everything about the movie changed and it didn't match the first half. This happens again in “Sunshine," but to a lesser extent since it doesn’t happen right smack in the middle of the film. Otherwise it’s a thoughtful and rather well made film about the argument for, and against, human life and whether or not it is up to us to keep existing.

The film takes place many years in the future of course. The sun is dieing, and seven years ago Earth sent the shield ship Icarus 1 to reignite the sun. The mission failed and Earth lost contact with the ship. Now a second ship, Icarus 2, has been sent and they come across a distress signal from the Icarus 1. In their attempt to go check it out the Icarus 2 withstands heavy damage and a few surprises lead to a disastrous flight in to the sun.

“Sunshine” thrives on very strong characters lead by Cillian Murphy as Capa, the physicist, and Chris Evans, the computer maintenance officer, Mace. All the characters are very different and seem to value different things. Capa is a character that likes to observe more than act. His input is rare, unless asked; he reluctantly makes decisions he believes are right, but oppose his own feelings. Mace is always thinking of the bigger picture. He sees himself, and the crew, as disposable. As long as they complete their mission their lives don’t matter. Whoever is the more important crewmember has priority over others. He’s pretty straightforward and kind of a jerk, but he’s not a villainous character you hate by any stretch. In fact he’s one of the more interesting characters in the film and Chris Evans ends up out-performing most of the cast.

Cassie is a character that values individual life as much as the entire spectrum. She knows her mission and she knows what the bigger picture is—But her ethical decisions are much different from the rest of the crew. Some could say she is the most innocent and hopeful of the characters. Searle, the resident psychiatrist of the ship, has a fascination with the sun that seems to mirror what happened to the crew of Icarus 1. He’s engulfed in the beauty of it, but has been damaging his own skin from observing it so much.

So why is it important that all these characters believe different things throughout the course of their mission? The film thrives on the concept of human life and its importance. Is it right to weigh one life against billions? It seems logical, but when asked to vote for the killing of a crewmate Cassie says, “I understand the logic, but no.” And in the rather unmotivated twist toward the end, the movie speculates whether or not it is up to humans to continue surviving when it seems our time is up. Should we just accept what seems to be our fate? Or is it worth the hassle of pressing against some higher force in order to survive? If we succeed, does that mean we were meant to survive anyway? It’s an interesting commentary the movie has within itself and it certainly does a fantastic job with giving you different enough characters to take sides with.

The film, however strong it was, takes a turn in to mediocrity toward the end. It went from being a great sci-fi picture to a decent one when a rather expected surprise happens. The film transforms from a thrilling drama in to a “something’s-on-the-lose-in-a-space ship” movie in no time. The transition is a bit abrupt and it seems so out place. I understand what Boyle was trying to do. I even understand what he was trying to do when he pulled this stunt in “28 Days Later.” But the fact is it just doesn’t work to turn a movie in to a different movie in the last twenty minutes. I suppose I was able to withstand it more since he has done this before and I did enjoy the new point that was brought in—But it was underdeveloped and needed a better transition if it was going to happen.

Despite the odd turn “Sunshine” still gleams pretty well. The character strength is maintained throughout the entire film and it’s probably the most thought provoking film people could see this summer. However, it hurts to know that it could have been a greater movie had it not transformed in to a space-thriller we’ve seen so many times before. It’s worth seeing though. It even may be worth more than one viewing simply for all the ideas running amok. Just don’t expect the originality to last.

*** out of ****

REVIEW - "The Simpsons" (2007)

“The Simpsons” have for years been a social staple in mocking everything remotely backwards with society for nearly two decades. For years we’ve seen this family and its seemingly unlimited amount of characters get involved in the most absurd situations that, fittingly, mock the absurdity of reality. It’s funny how the episodes work; we know the gags, we know the characters and we know how the Simpsons’ universe operates. So what more could be done in a movie based on an 18 year old franchise?

The answer is nothing but a nonstop homage of what made it so good to begin with. It’s all there: The classics gags, the ridiculous situations, the mockery of current events, the government and even the people sitting in the theater watching. The movie doesn’t pretend to be something new and fresh. We are all well aware that this is a very old franchise and it uses its age as an advantage. We don’t need much of an introduction so we’re not given much of one. We’re launched right in to the world of The Simpsons and asked to do nothing more but sit and enjoy.

The movie is formulated much like an episode in the series. There is a problem that comes up and we think it’ll revolve around that, but as it turns out it was nothing more than a catalyst for a bigger storyline. Springfield faces a pollution problem and quickly act to fix it. Homer, however, ruins that (in classic Homer Simpson fashion) and the government decides to put a glass dome over Springfield. The dome traps both the people and the pollution beneath it and Homer and his family find a way out to live their lives alone. His family of course feel an obligation to Springfield, so when they leave it comes down to Homer trying to save his home town.

In the midst of this ridiculous storyline we find Lisa with a new love interest, Bart discovering what it’s like to have a loving Dad and Marge’s relationship with Homer is challenged. The movie mostly revolves around the family, but there are some hysterical cameos from some classic Simpsons characters. It’s really surprising how much character attention went to each family member though. In that funny way the Simpsons develop, the characters grow and learn something new—Even if it’s for the wrong reasons or a lesson they could have done without.

Often it’s easy for a movie like this to be nothing but an extended episode, but it really did feel like a movie. It was epic and brought the characters to such a large scope that I completely bought how this made it to theaters. Even the animation looked better in terms of quality—Not that it’s saying much, but it did look pretty good.

Meanwhile the jokes and gags this movie pulled are ones we’ve seen before. They come at the audience like rapid fire and the content within each one is so good it’s hard not to laugh nonstop. It is consistently funny and it just doesn’t let up. The creators really pulled out all the stops for this thing and if this were the end for The Simpsons it would be a great way to go out.

On the other hand I can see some fans thinking the opposite. The movie’s greatest strengths are potentially its greatest weaknesses as well. Maybe the fact it doesn’t bring much new material to the table will deter audiences. Perhaps some expected more. Because of the classic comedic moments in this movie, it may not hold up to repeated viewing. Besides, how is everyone going to be pleased with a movie based on a franchise this old?

In any case, “The Simpsons Movie” is worth the viewing, the repeated viewing, if you like, and the headache you may get from laughing so hard. With a franchise like this, sitting back and enjoying the mayhem is the best way to enjoy it. A hysterical classic.

*** out of ****