A Bourne Patriot?

Over time, I have surmised regarding the Bourne series, particularly the first trilogy, adults above the age of forty love it. Whenever I have brought it up in conversation, at some point they mention how much they like it, with a fit of gusto in their voice. A kind of nostalgia regarding the “adapted from a novel” approach that also applies to the Jack Ryan movies. Despite liberties taken with novel accuracy; the overall tone, the “good ol’ boy” charm of Matt Damon, and Bond-style exotic locations comprise a visual experience any action movie fan will enjoy.
The series as a whole has a unilateral narrative cycle akin to another Universal franchise: Fast & Furious; unilateral in the sense that both series know what they are, know their audience, and know that they’ll be making sequels regardless of critic reviews. Concerning the Bourne series, consistency has been their strong suit. Bourne has an unlimited well of skill, innovation, and timing that is impeccable. The car chases are short and sweet, in the most claustrophobic locations of the city. He uses information and anonymity as his main weapons in the finely crafted games of cat and mouse that ensue when he is on the espionage trail. The more secrets he uncovers the more the conspiracy unravels. The conspiracy unravels and more the story trails off into a barrage of political exposition dumps; shady characters and organizations are brought in and the rabbit hole keeps splintering. Can the narrative stay the course without getting bogged down in the exposition dumps packaged with each successing movie in the franchise?
Regardless, despite how critics view the movie, the fans will come and see it; this is another shared correlation with the Fast & Furious franchise. Granted, the Furious franchise retooled their formula between four and five, and have released movies on a more consistent basis. It is still quite the accomplishment to have a film franchise, let alone two, that have been commercially successful since 2001-2002. The audience’s perspective of these types of movies are lenient when it comes to real life accuracy, they came for the characters, the fights, the car chases in which both franchises have in spades. Jason Bourne, however homogenized it may be with Supremacy and Ultimatum, is familiar. The audience will get a kick out of seeing familiar faces and new faces as we continue the global trek of Bourne and his never ending quest to see HOW far the conspiracy unravels.


The Nice Guys


     When the movie was over, I had a thought; perhaps the reboot culture we live in could benefit with a paradigm shift toward spiritual successors; the correlation in this instance being Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys and Shane Black. There is enough aesthetic similarity between the two films – instead of bringing back Mel Gibson and Danny Glover or going through the recast shuffle – present the same grimy city element, push it back a decade, and have the main characters in less than reputable jobs. The shot in the beginning of The Nice Guys was a sublime call-back to Lethal Weapon; even the fights brought back comparisons to similar shots.

     The beats of the movie are consistent with past examples of noir/crime narrative flow: woman dies, we meet the protagonists in their environments, they cross to hilarious results, get to know each other, go on the trail, get in some fights, the plot unravels, lose the trail, have a break through, another fight, meet the big hoss, learn what is actually going on, have a final shoot out, and become an inseparable team; all within a grimy, polluted, dangerous, and retro set Los Angeles. The pace and flow of the movie is quick, akin to The Wolf of Wall Street; what feels like an hour and a half tops is closer to 2-3 hours of the actual movie time. Stories such as these benefit from a quickened pace as to match the erratic environment the cast occupies, that and to avoid inconsistencies within the narrative flow.

     The main inconsistency problem I had was with the third act. The whole “we’ll take them down with an experimental porno” arc put Gosling and Crowe in a no-win situation when it was revealed the antagonist that be was unbeatable by a P.I. and enforcer, even after factoring in the suspense of disbelief prior. Further more, the cheeky gag of how polluted Los Angeles was should have stayed that way; making it the main cause of the whole debacle sent the narrative flow on a preachy path. If the main plot traveled further down the path of investigating the porn industry, then, the recurring gag of pollution could still work as an analogy towards the excess of the industry. That, and we could have had some choice call-backs in the fashion of The Big Lebowski or Boogie Nights.

     Understandably, the box office return on The Nice Guys was stifled in the wake of movies such as Neighbors 2, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, and The Angry Birds Movie during opening weekend. I implore that as many people as possible see The Nice Guys if they desire a nutty, skimpy, irreverent tale in the vein of some mad concoction betweeen Pineapple Express and The Big Lebowski; where the wordplay is tight, the action is zany, the movie shot well, and the hijinks last for days. Inconsistencies aside, it is splendid to see that neo-noir is alive, the two protagonists were not totally inept, and that people like Shane Black are still working. Even though it may not make it’s budget back, it is nice to see a spiritual successor in a sea of sequels and reboots.


Benjamin Himes

          A year removed from Gone in 60 Seconds, director Dominic Sena takes his kinetic-aesthetic in the world of shadow government agencies with a touch of technology a la Hackers; in the form of the 2001 film Swordfish, starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, and Don Cheadle. If Gone in 60 Seconds is The Fast and the Furious with Nicolas Cage, then Swordfish is The Bourne Identity with John Travolta. These films have that certain texture and vibe where you know not to take the film seriously, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The narrative is as intriguing as one would expect from an action film of this time. Maybe it has not has as well as a fine wine, as fine as the wine Scott (Jackman) searches for as he pre-maturely stumbles upon the film’s twist out of context. The film’s narrative resonated as a mix between Hackers and The Bourne Identity. Elements of Hackers come up when Scott does his hacker thing, side note, Hugh Jackman as hacker is about as believable as Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat; the challenges presented to Scott throughout the hacking scenes had that sense of ‘me vs. The Man’ feel as he does what he does to make the uppity government look like fools when compared to his ‘top notch skills.’ The Bourne Identity side of the resonance comes from the power plays and espionage carried out by Gabriel (Travolta) and Ginger (Berry), wheeling and dealing secret alliances and sabotage in order to keep all sides guessing until the third act.

The lack of believability keeps this film from traversing into Zack Snyder territory in that it is a hokey film that does not take itself too seriously, there is something about the way John Travolta and Halle Berry play off one another and the rest of the cast that gives it a zany feel. This is the bread and butter of a narrative cooked up to stimulate the adrenal glands. The creators’ of the film knew what their audience would expect: a semi-serious plot with ludicrous delivery that creates a package when, executed correctly, would undoubtedly garner positive word of mouth despite what critics and ratings might entail. Definitively, this is not a film that needs to thrive off of all that, if an audience member likes this film, they will tell everyone they know who has a penchant for action movies that this one will meet their fix.

The tone of Swordfish, while based in something as serious as armed robbery and government collusion, is off set by the performances of Travolta, Berry, Jackman, and Cheadle; which often times come off as exaggerated, do not distract from the overall experience, but enhances it. The tone is perfect for Swordfish, not as serious as The Bourne Identity yet not as silly as Face/Off, a popcorn flick that is not meant to garner deep thoughts. It is eye-candy, a fulfillment of a desire to escape to a world that does not have to make sense at certain points, where the action pulls us in and never lets us go!

Pre-Fast, Pre-Furious

Benjamin Himes

          How did it come this? What was the catalyst that kick started the trend of hyper-kinetic action films with an emphasis on vehicles, heists, a diverse crew, explosions, and plenty of snap-cuts? Wait, was it Michael Bay? Was this not a thing that happened in the nineties when he was picking up steam? Absolutely, yet his narratives in films such as Bad Boys and The Rock focus more or less on the side of law; after a while, narratives went the opposite direction. Films such as Point Break showed that a narrative could enlighten us on empathizing with the villains/criminals, that they are not one-dimensional characters who ONLY care about the money. This is where the turning point comes in, in the form of Gone in 60 Seconds.

Released in 2000, Gone in 60 Seconds marks an interesting turning point, five years removed from Heat and four years ahead of Collateral; this point in time was ripe for directors such as Antoine Fuqua, Dominic Sena, and Andrzej Bartkowiak to express their flashy directing styles; with films that had a penchant for crime, and may hold a special place in our millennial hearts for films that fall under ‘so bad it’s good.’

The former criminal at play, Memphis Raines portrayed by Nicolas Cage, is a prime example of how the hero/villain dynamic had changed. Had this film come out at a time when action films to an extent, did not delve into the villains/criminals the way heroes/police/the man were given camera time and reinforced narrative structure. By switching the script and portraying Memphis (Cage) the reluctant criminal and protagonist of the film, the narrative focuses on the heist rather than preventing it.

Memphis’ main goal throughout the film is to steal 50 cars for Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), to finish a job his brother Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) fudged up by playing it fast and loose; getting tangled with the cops narrowly escaping with his freedom, but for how long? Memphis, at the heart of the issue, wants to keep his promise to his mother to keep his brother in check; to look out for family above all else, a motif revisited multiple times in a future series that involves cars, a crew, explosions, and game of cat and mouse between criminals and law enforcement.

Through this, Memphis goes back to doing what he does best, and while at first it seems as though he is reluctant to go back to burgling cars, we the audience know full well that he enjoys it. The thrill of the steal, the satisfaction of beating the cops, and putting together the crew. With familiar faces such as Chi McBride, Vinnie Jones, Scott Caan, Timothy Oliphant as one part of the cops hot the trail of Memphis and crew, and lastly, a blonde-haired, dreadlocked Angelina Jolie, yes, you heard me correct. The antics with these never-ending chases and stake-outs fall between silly and meh. Yet, who IS the shadowy crime boss pulling the strings? No really, who? The only times Calitri appears within the film are in the beginning and the end; I understand the main focus is on the mission Memphis and company must go on in order to make the drop and appease Calitri. However, he never lives up to the dangerous reputation Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall) mentions earlier in the film; he comes and goes as he pleases, the sense of urgency is often lost, if this were such an important drop why wouldn’t he keep tabs on Memphis with an accelerated frequency?

Other than the lack of a memorable villain, Gone in 60 Seconds will no doubt be a treat for action movie fanatics with a nostalgic gleam in their eyes for that era in the early 2000’s.