The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The Bourne Legacy is not as urgent as the Ultimatum and Supremacy of the past, but it is a strong surge of paranoia and angst. The movie begins in a disorienting manner, like an old Bond film, with Jeremy Renner staked out in frosty mountains amongst the wolves. It’s not quite a homerun, a new re-amp that improves on the original, but such a feat cannot be expected. It takes an actor who was not quite a star and lifts him up to that level. And if in the long-run that’s all it accomplishes, fine, because Renner is an actor with true potential, though he recently said he will be taking a break from acting. No matter what they say about his size and physique, his energy is there–and if Tom Cruise can be short, so can Renner.

The plot is basically an aftermath ‘gathering-of-wits’ from the Bourne case, featuring Pamela Anderson in trouble with the law after assisting Bourne’s escape. It used to be called treason, one of the CIA operatives says. There is no cameo from Matt Damon as one would assume, besides the CIA files containing his twenty-something profile.

Next to Renner stars Rachel Weisz, a biochemical scientist working on the operatives ‘KEMS’, a programmable drug that enhances IQ and physique for Aaron Cross and other agents. Once he runs out, he is desperate for more–or else he will be incapable to do the hit em’ up tactics, and our movie would be over, or just plain unexciting. Edward Norton takes the place as CIA director–and he is my main criticism of the film, a man with no motivation besides duty, boring and meant only to give and direct orders. All other directors had some underlying reason behind there actions, whether out of malice or assisting the ‘enemy’. Maybe in the next film, since this one ends with the complete hope of a sequel to this sequel, a bit of a series overkill if you ask me.

The movie never drags on and will definitely please the average action-junkie. It has a cast of versatile stars, and fails only to punctuate in it’s own ‘after-the-fact’ story premise: It’s the wagging tail of a long-gone series. Directed by Tony Gilroy, a writer for the earlier series, he showed promise for this movie after directing ‘Michael Clayton’, a very intelligent political thriller. And he does fulfill the promise, at least partially: The Bourne Legacy is an entertaining and adrenaline-fueled adventure.

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The Raid: Redemption (2011)

This Sundance punch is a gritty, neo-violent mess of a movie, featuring a cast of SWAT-team members dropping the guns and bringing out classic but hyper-realized hand-to-hand combat. It slides story to the side, deciding to instead focus primarily on the kinetic fight sequences and over-the-top kills. A SWAT team is raiding a drug lords building complex, an untouchable resort filled with only a handful of innocent residents; most are criminals or drug addicts. The objective is to silently rise to the top and remove the drug lord: Except, after being flanked by the maniacally violent, meth-head henchman, the officers realize that it’s not going to be that easy. And in fact probably even a challenge to stay alive.

The voices in The Raid are synced with English voice dubbing. It worked fine for me, especially since there is such minimal dialogue, most of its running time filled with maximum violence. The only thing that I thought could have made a difference is having the voice-overs recorded by Japanese-English actors, instead of straight American voices. The scene transitions are well-done and there are some moments of sheer tension: A blade, cut through the wall that covers the covert officer, positioned directly onto his cheek. The next slash is in his head.

The noirish atmosphere fits well with the dark mood of the tale. Residents are shown lighting and smoking foil-crinkled pieces sprinkled with crystal. There is one guardsmen in the building that is torn between loyalties, a fresh dynamic to insert into an otherwise straight-forward tale. Like the grind house movies of the 60s and Tarantino, this movie strives on imagining the most creatively possible deaths. Smashing a head into a splintered door, using peripheral objects as convenient stakes of death; It’s like a piranha movie with the piranhas replaced with sweaty, knife-bearing psychopaths. Chaos on each floor, and a heightening sense hopelessness, no end in sight.

The movie is very impressive in its editing techniques. Dark-lit halls reveal a mob of gun-wielding henchman; and then pounding, vibrating music as the bullets soar through the air. The filmmakers make use of slow motion, and an insanely intense shootout brilliantly constructed with a shaky cam to match the chaos of it all. At times, though, it cuts to so many places that appear so similar to the last that it becomes hard to keep track of who’s who. With the characters being introduced very briefly at the beginning, the impressions aren’t very long-lasting, but the magnificently choreographed fight skills shine through and clear. It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, but such a thing doesn’t and shouldn’t exist: If you like skillfully designed action sequences and over-the-top violence, it’s safe to assume that you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Raid.

Contraband (2012)

Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale star in this flashily shot heist thriller with somewhat of a pulse, but yet in the end adds up to a genre exercise that doesn’t really exercise much at all, other than Wahlberg’s biceps. It’s character driven and has plenty of pans swooping over city-lit buildings with picturesque, faded yellow lights that would look like Michael Mann’s Instagram if he had one. There aren’t very many moments of grave suspense, and in fact most of the subplot conclusions are extremely predictable. Though it may be generic, one shouldn’t discredit the movies impressive qualities, especially its intriguingly grainy, darkly-colored photography.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t isolate itself from its predecessors, like it does the citizens of Gotham. It is constantly referencing the mythology and the prequels, little nuggets that the pure fan-boy can appreciate. The director, Christopher Nolan, commented on the graphic novel “The Long Halloween” with much praise, and that is the sort of recognition that makes us assured that he’s the man for the job, or should I say was. His trilogy has marked itself on the wall of epic blockbusters, juxtaposing itself boldly against The Matrix and even The Lord of the Rings. But this isn’t the breakthrough conclusion that acts like a parent to the earlier entries; no, this is a bomb-flying thrill ride at times, but a slow-paced dialogue romp at others. It’s not the sort of comparison that does any sort of cinematic justice.

Batman has been gone for eight years, following the death of Harvey Dent. When a notorious villain involved in the League of Shadows surfaces, who they call Bane, he is pumped into confronting evil once more. A death-trap, his physique is not as tuned as Bane, and the Police haven’t stopped hating him. He deals with personal meditation similar to the strenuous training in the first Batman film, “Batman Begins”.

“I believe in black eyeliner.”

The first quarter of the movie, I feel, is unbearable. It is the worst constructed aspect of the film, with redundant dialogue and one-line emotions. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, and people are starting to poke fun at him; long-nailed Wayne and the like. But do we really need several unknown and unexplored characters throwing out nasty puns about him? Then, we see Alfred for the first time, directing a kitchen full of young maids preparing the meals for a banquet; he is the hearty caretaker, not an objective wedding planner. But then, Nolan turns it around with a waterfall of emotion: Alfred tells Bruce how he wishes he had a family, and would move on from the Batman gig. He tells him about his dreams. While this Is expected in the conclusion, and there are definitely hugely poignant moments between the two, the frequency of there tear-sharing causes it to have less of a punch.

One thing that causes The Dark Knight Rises to seem like a recovering of 2009’s The Dark Knight is that Mr. Wayne is coming out of retirement. We watch Bruce inch himself back into the world, re-establishing his friendships with Foxx and Jim Gordon; but we know them, and we know how they will respond, essentially with the same elbow-nudging wit as everyone else. I really think the dialogue was neglected here: 2009’s Dark Knight is jam-packed with philosophical and memorable ramblings.

Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman

Here, the one-liner is prominent and over-used. And the only one who deserves and can perform them, Is Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. A master jewel thief and a secret Wayne admirer, she leaps hesitantly between her own self-interests and actually making a difference, while always bursting with her signature sass. Spoiler: She doesn’t really purr at all.

John Blake

There are a lot of new characters in Rises, and pretty much all of them were involved in Nolan’s film ‘Inception’. Introduced is police officer John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is an idealistic orphan with a strong intrigue for the Harvey Dent/Batman case. He believes Batman didn’t kill Harvey, or at least refuses to believe it. He was a sign of hope to him and the other children at the orphanage. Jim Gordon soon becomes aware of the Police Officer, and moves him over to his side. He is an overall strong character, even if not entirely necessary, especially on the final film.

Bane

The villain of Rises is the notorious Bane, a brass-shouldered leader with a clan full of devoted followers. His story is told in a Roman-like fashion, showing him at a young age, living underground in the hell of a Gotham prison. He did what no-one else could: he made the jump into the light, as a young child. The connections between this film and Batman Begins makes me think one ought to back it up and watch Batman Begins again; Scarecrow will seem funnier. And with the League of Shadows being referenced a lot in Rises, some will be clueless, but if you see Batman Begins, It all connects beautifully and conclusively. Even Liam Neeson makes a guest appearance from his earlier role, albeit only for a few seconds.

Miranda

Marion Cotillard, the actress playing the delusional wife in ‘Inception’, stars as Miranda, a charity-driven woman trying to work with Wayne to better the world. She is sensitive and business-like, and even despite obvious differences between the two, they grow on each other and become intimate. She takes over the company when Bruce steps up to the Bat-mobile, and is trusted to watch over a Russian scientist’s fission reactor that could potentially provide sustainable energy. The scientist is in the first scene, I believe, since the first scenes of a movie you don’t know who to focus on, I settled for Bane. The scientist was taken out of the plane, which was crashed by Bane and company, and pronounced dead: In reality, Bane parachuted him out.

People were saying from the start that Bane was difficult to understand through the mask. His breathing and talking are one in the same, and the static does sometimes make it difficult; but mostly whats causing the difficulty is the purposefully off-pitched acting from Tom Hardy. He follows a string of low-pitched words with an accentuated high-pitched voice, creating a chilling enthusiasm behind such massive biceps.

The camerawork is staged very similarly to the other Batman films. Slow pan-ins to old men with jaws hanging low in awe, scrolling scenery of the city. Mostly every scene transition converts into a pan, moving in towards something, whether its Catwoman cracking a safe or a Wayne board meeting. During the exposition, this transitional panning is used to a conscious point: let’s slow down the cutting and the drowning Hans Zimmer score and actually have some intertwining plot strings. And it lasts nearly an hour.

The Dark Knight Rises has memorable parts, though it also has parts that create gaps in the chronology out of lack of profundity. Even with a few narrative bumps, it is still an intense, world-encompassing, (well, city-encompassing), film with enough characters to give us a tour of the whole city.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man reboot has of course caused a hoopla of ‘what?’ and confusion, since only several years ago the franchise had concluded. The first Spider-Man was Sam Raimi’s vehicle, a wondrous display of set-pieces and talent: But with the new Spider-Man, we see a new look, tone, and feeling for the character. Here, Peter Parker has the on-the-fringe personality that is so attracting in the movies: Avenger flicks have made huge gross amounts in movie history. His parents left him at a young age with his Uncle Ben, played with the old-style charm of Martin Sheen, and Aunt May. Although It distinctly establishes its own uniqueness, there are some scenes that seem strangely similar.

I liked the fact that Spider-Man had to create, spindle shall we say, his own webs. It put a limitation to his tower-swinging capabilities; after all, you can’t be heroic without an Achilles heel. It has a true effect of trying to fit-in with a modern-retelling; the characters use smart-phones and Bing search engines, but the drama always remains in the neatly-wound realm of superhero flicks. When Peter comes home, late at night, bloody in the face, the Aunt assumes nothing, or seems not to; and right after Peter is bit, he comes home in a jittery sweat, eating and catching flies between two fingers: Why couldn’t Uncle Ben ask him if he was on coke? These are domestic people, let’s show it that way.

Garfield’s Parker is a lot more narcissistic with his own feelings, partly because more tragedy is involved in this Spider-Man. There are many scenes where he is teary-eyed, and easily visible behind his dusty, bloody face. He needs Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, and at first it seems to be a Romeo and Juliet story, only the Montagues end up dieing instead of the children. There scenes have a vibrant, muted expression, and an innocence that is too far gone in Peter’s life.

The villain in The Amazing Spider-Man is a bit unusual. We don’t necessarily have that subjection of hatred towards him like most superhero flicks; he is a brilliant scientist with a desire to change his life and handicap, and even the lives of others. Though, after recording himself deep in the sewers, we see that he is not only turning into a reptile, but also a ideological mess; he has the sort of impenetrable mindset that insists on helping the world by turning them all into lizards like him. A brooding tale of deceit, responsibility,  and family history.

Battle Royale: Hunger Games Unrated

    Battle Royale is the BR act in Japan, which consists of a mandatory lottery that selects a class of students to fight it out on an island, to the death. In this film, we see a class of rebellious ninth-grade students taken onto a bus, gassed, and then woken up, confused and bewildered like the viewer. Their past teacher, one who was cut and abused during his time teaching, shown in the first scenes, is now their commander in the BR act. They are all very shocked and the sense of rebellion still acute. They shout and demand answers. This is it. Their to be silenced, with a bag of random weapons and a chance in the course of three-days to kill all their classmates and remain alive and able to return home. But to what? Is what’s being asked by several characters.

The film blends pulpy, bloody action with high-school drama in a sardonically funny, yet poignant way. Behind each person pointing a gun comes with conviction: You locked me in the bathroom, you stole my boyfriend, etc. High-school students are too misty with their priorities for violence, and the ‘teachers’ know this. The scenes are shown in an evocative manner alongside long-spanning landscapes and frightening noises. Shuya and Noriko band together as romances, like so many other devoted young lovers, or young fighters. The movie has stark similarities to America’s Hunger Games film and books raving, but this is an entirely different beast and genre. It is dark, atmospheric, and grotesque, while Hunger Games is fluffy, flush-faced and Hollywood-designed. Don’t make exceptions with your children on this one.

Their are ironic moments that lift this film far above The Hunger Games. It isn’t first-person, but instead switches to different people and incites convictions from different points of view. The way it seams these together, even with sporadic use of flash-backs, makes it a masterpiece of film structure. When you look at movies in Hollywood consisting of twenty-plus people, you will see two or three people and become close to them, idealize them in fact, and the rest of the bunch won’t be introduced besides the act of being killed. Not here, though I don’t see entirely why we couldn’t spend a few minutes of exposition introducing the characters in their natural, school-desk existence.

Battle Royale is a strong, highly cinematic and entertaining film for those who like Pulp action or High-school drama (think Carrie). This is a movie that deserves and is receiving hype, even with the subtitles that ignorantly turn people away.

Inglourious Bastards: Okay, a little glorious

8/10

Quentin Tarantino packs a punch like usual with his Nazi slap-in-the-face, Inglourious Bastards, showing an organized, street-like Jewish rebellion: The bastards. A crew of Nazi killers who remove the German’s scalps for treasure, and wipe out whole scouting parties to the point of making a name for themselves amongst the Nazis. It’s well acted all around, and rightfully won Christoph Waltz an Oscar for his role as a cruel German officer, or ‘The Jew Hunter’ and features a very dense plot, with several story-lines weaving into one, like the Director did in one of his earlier films, ‘Pulp Fiction’.

The movie is somewhat exploitative in the way it takes a terrible event in history and turns it into a showcase and excuse for being terribly violent; yet, its rewarding in more ways than this, and Jewish folk are a bit to modest to make a movie so audacious: Roman Polanski making this film would be much different than Tarantino making it, and people no doubt can make the distinction. Lt. Aldo Rain (Brad Pitt), is leading a team of Jew-recruits into the heart of Germany; their scenes are the most exciting, like a scene taking place at a bar where a member of the crew is trying to fit in amongst a table of hearty German officers. The result is not a gentle tip of the hat and a salutation, the bastards send bullets in all possible directions. This leaves a famous German actress, alive but wounded in the leg,  for their taking: they use her as sabotage to access a party for the Fuhrer, later in the film.

A young Jewish girl, Bridget Von Hammersmark, who escaped Lieutenant Hans earlier in the film, becomes a theater owner at a fairly young age, having inherited it, and becomes the attraction of a young and famous German soldier, who, as a a hiding Jew, she internally could never love. He’s more than just a soldier, too: he is a star in a new German film where he solely sits at the top of a clock-tower and shoots down Jews below. The fuhrer loves it, but Bridget comes up with a plan to show the Germans their cruelty, a down-pouring of beautiful revenge: Let the theater on fire. And with the easily combustible film of that era, it would not be difficult for it to actually happen.

The film is a fantastic genre-blend of action, violence, and alternate history, featuring typically memorable characters from Tarantino, some hypnotic scenes, and an all around entertaining flick: Inglourious Bastards is far from a disappointment from Tarantino.

The Hunger Games

People tend to criticize book-to-movie adaptations not because the movie really was poorly made, but the reader just wants people to be aware that they experienced and put in the effort to read the ‘better’ version.  The books were not Shakespeare,  I read them and saw the appeal, but the main point is that its fluff dressed in sophisticated clothes. The movie was solid, well paced, and far more emotionally descriptive than the novel, and containing a more suitable third-person perspective for such narrative scope. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, the doomed contestant in the Hunger Games, and does a very nuanced job in a very different tone than her last film, “Winter’s Bone”.

One of the best movies thus far in 2012, brash, fun, sexy and stylish: bring on President Snow’s back-lash!

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers is as packed with stars as it is super-heroes, yet surprisingly they all deliver their characters moors and idiosyncrasies with audacity and comfort; Iron man returns as Robert Downey Jr., Hulk changing actors again with a calm-faced Mark Ruffalo, a sassy pellet-lipped Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Evans Captain America, Chris Hemingsworth as the god Thor, and the barely introduced Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson, who has allegedly signed his star-name onto nine comic-book related movies. Oh, and don’t forget newcomer Hawk-eye played by Jeremy Renner, a crossbow wielding assassin. The characters are mostly known by the comic-movie niche, the hulk smashing through two semi-mediocre movies, Iron Man with two well executed vehicles along with an introduction of Black Widow in the sequel, and of course the recent Thor and Captain America releases.

The story centers around the upheaveling plans of Thor’s adopted brother, Loki. The movie starts out in a panicked, under-seize state of affairs, a tense Nick Fury walking the hollow infrastructure of S.H.I.E.L.D. Loki soon-after ports into the scene, arriving in desire of the Tesseract, an unknown energy source that Nick Fury previously had under his foot. Loki succeeds and escapes along-side his blue-eyed minions, Hawk-eye and the Scientist, hypnotized by the Tesserect. Now it’s a back and forth heist for the energy source, which eventually unravels in Loki being purposefully caught and then leveraging his higher-deities onto earth, the ultimate confrontation for the assembled super-heroes.

Robert Downey Jr. leads the race with sharp wit that the less dedicated hero-fans needed. The moment-after one word responses, by the puny S.H.I.E.L.D agent and by the culturally unfounded Captain America are relaxing touches. They even joked as New york city was being overwhelmed with green scale-typico aliens. Scarlett Johansson shows well-toned, Russian-suppressed emotion alongside her sassy appeal. Mark Ruffalo was the actor I least liked, partly because his dialogue was slightly redundant, constantly saying to not let him run wild; that Is not necessarily his fault, but he was of such an ex-addict disposition to the point of being overcooked.

The exposition scenes have moments of doggedness and expected situations. But Whedon has a gift or maybe just an obsessive-like consciousness of transition, and each stock-character is a beacon to the characters’ assembly, like a little afghan girl hand-hugging the hulk towards her disease-stricken father, to have Banner and the audience discover she was a courier; and to put it simply, even if they were quietly playing chess it would be exciting; in reality, the fans prescribe the greatness to the heroes; to us, the beginning is like gangsters clambering out of limbos with sagging cigars, long-time greetings. And at least the characters are resilient, not the proto-type overacted bringin’ back the crew moment. But the film structure is far too in accord with itself for my liking. It’s like a pendulum, you are thinking too much about how far down it has swung, rather than the story; the purpose of film-devices is to advance the story, and for the same reason Hitchcock stopped his cameos because he felt it distracted his views, this pendulum camera-work does the same for me, awkward prediction of who’s coming into the panning-view next; however, this is slight compared to what a juggle the film is with so many characters, and it is truly amazing how the final-cut ends up being so well-toned and followable. The music was far from pop or techno that one might grudgingly suspect, but instead takes the preference of Iron Man and twists it a little, with bands like Soundgarden.

The Avengers is secret-agent entertainment, a dialogue of personalities, and a semi-size load of fun. It transcends the genre, and comes out swinging with a record-breaking weekend gross. But whether or not that will rise much, we’ll see. It’s usually a first come first-splurge movie, and next week it will dissipate into its own convention. Regardless, I would sit through it again, and recommend it to any sci-fi or superhero connoisseur.

Sucker Punch: To Zach Snyder’s career

4/10

Zac Snyder’s new geek-aimed film, Sucker Punch, first released with the motto that it was “for woman’s rights”. Well, it lost everyone elses in the process, including the girls, through exploitation and depictions of innocent stupidity. However true, it is nowhere near a plus for woman’s rights. The film evokes a feeling of a silent movie, where the prospect of said films sounds riveting, with action progressing through pounding soundtracks in a synthetic, natural linearity. However, this is not the case here; Snyder has tried to copy and paste the feel of a graphic novel onto the screen with terrible dialogue and an uninvolved plot.

The plot surrounds a girl in a psych-unit, who escapes the dreary world through unexplained dreams of epic-fighting and Japanese like dodging. The movie feels like a long music video for a dubstep song, with never ending swirls of noirish imagery and girls’ hips. Blue Jones, played by Oscar Isaac, is a pimp for the backstage girls; he releases his angers through pretensious directing, like wincing with his eyes closed before putting his head up to make his frustrated point. He has a thin-mustache and tries to act seductive, which nastiness would be right for the character, but the actor doesn’t play the role to good effect. The girls are depicted as far too innocent and indecisive; they are in a psyche unit, I would image they would be a little more on the fringe.

As the director of Watchmen, some say he ruined a masterpiece. He no doubt has a knack for wild special effects, but what he does with them is what makes his reputation drown. Sucker Punch stars  Emily Browning as Babydoll, sent to an old fashioned psychiatric unit by her father; the whole institution is filled with prostitutes;the costumer designer definitely makes them look like one, but doesn’t draw the line for who isn’t, maybe everyone; a great thing to look at for a couple hours, no doubt, but once again, Woman’s rights?

The film is redundantly paced and childishly made, featuring Nazi zombies and ninja skirt-wearing ninja girls. The effects become tiring in the noirish swirls of uninspired terror and fear, and even the girl’s pottiness gets tiring,  the actresses effortlessly sad that their director didn’t supply them with a more justified reason to be balling their eyes out. Sucker Punch drags and brings nothing new but an army of red-eyed nazi zombies, a big misfire for effects-director Zac Snyder.