Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"JASON BOURNE" (2016) Review

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"JASON BOURNE" (2016) Review

When I first learned that Universal Studios had a fifth movie planned for their BOURNE movie franchise, I was pleased. I figured that this new movie would continue the story where both the 2007 film, "THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM" and 2012's "THE BOURNE LEGACY" left off. 

I suspect that some might be wondering to what I am referring. Let me explain. Both movies hinted, especially "THE BOURNE LEGACY" that C.I.A. Deputy Director Pamela Landy might be facing trouble for assisting Jason Bourne aka David Webb in the 2007. In fact, one of the reasons that Deputy Director Noah Vosen and Director Ezra Cramer had chosen her to help track down Bourne in the 2007 movie in the first place . . . to set her up to take a fall in case their efforts to find and kill Bourne go south. Well, it did go south . . . for them. And in the 2012 movie, Vosen accused Landy of committing treason in order to deflect his legal problems from himself and Cramer. So I figured that this fifth movie would pick up the tale. I even considered the possibility of Bourne and fellow C.I.A. fugitives Aaron Cross from the 2012 movie, working together to help Landry. Well, that did not happen. As it turned out, star Matt Damon and screenwriter/director Tony Gilroy had a falling out over the screenplay for the 2007 movie. Jeremy Renner starred in the 2012 movie and Gilroy did not participate in this new film's production.

So, what was "JASON BOURNE" about? Written by Christopher Rouse and Paul Greengrass, who served as director of this film, the 2007 movie and 2004's "THE BOURNE SUPREMACY"; the movie centered around Jason Bourne's attempts to discover more about his past with the C.I.A. and especially Treadstone. This all began when former Treadstone colleague Nicky Parsons, who has joined a hackvist group, hacks into the CIA's mainframe server in order to expose the CIA's black ops programs. Parsons finds documents that concern Bourne's recruitment into the Treadstone program and his father's role in the program. Both Bourne and Parsons meet at Syntagma Square during a violent anti-government protest in Athens, Greece; where she informs him with this new information. At the same time, Parsons' hack alerts Cyber Ops Division Head Heather Lee and CIA Director Robert Dewey. Dewey sends a black ops team and a former Blackbriar assassin nicknamed "The Asset" to kill Parsons and Bourne. More importantly, Dewey wants to shut down any loose ends regarding the C.I.A.'s black ops programs, including the latest one, "Iron Hand" (a collection of the previous ones - Treadstone, Blackbriar, Outcome and LARX). That means destroying the hackvist group to which Parsons belonged; killing Bourne; Parsons; CEO social media site Deep Dream Aaron Kalloor, with whom he had become estranged; or anyone else who might be a threat. He also wants to use Kalloor's Deep Dream site for real-time mass surveillance of the public.

Eventually I realized that "JASON BOURNE" was not going to continue the narratives of "THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM" and "THE BOURNE LEGACY" and set about enjoying this latest entry in the franchise. And there was a good deal to enjoy about this movie. First of all, "JASON BOURNE" featured some top notch performances. Matt Damon gave a pretty solid performance as an older and more world weary Jason Bourne aka David Webb, who seemed to have resigned himself to an existence of wandering, participating in illegal fight rings and loneliness. Tommy Lee Jones was also excellent as Robert Dewey, the current and ruthless C.I.A. Director who feels threatened not only by outside forces like Bourne, Nicky Parsons, a hackvist group and an angry social media CEO, but especially from the likes of his ambitious colleague, Heather Lee. Julia Stiles returned with another excellent performance as Nicky Parsons, an ex-C.I.A. operative-turned-hackvist. Vincent Cassel gave a very intense performance as former Blackbriar assassin, "The Asset", who harbors a grudge against Bourne, whose exposure of the black ops program led to him being captured and tortured. The movie also featured pretty good performances from Ato Essandoh, Riz Ahmed, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp, Vinzenz Kiefer and Gregg Henry (who portrayed Bourne's late father in flashbacks). But for me, the most interesting performance came from Alicia Vikander, who portrayed C.I.A. Cyber Ops Division head, Heather Lee. Vikander's Lee was a curious mixture of raging ambition, an introverted personality and a ruthless talent for manipulation.

The movie also featured some excellent action sequences. Yes, I realize that it signaled a return to Paul Greengrass' shaky camstyle. But to be honest, different movie industries have been utilizing this style for about a decade. Personally, I wish they would get over it. But despite this, I still enjoyed this movie's action sequences. I found the Athens sequence rather exciting. Greengrass and Rouse upped the scale by allowing it to take place during an anti-government protest . . . at night. Another action sequence that impressed me occurred in London, where Bourne contacted a former Treadstone surveillance operative named Malcolm Smith for information about his father. But if I had to choose my favorite action sequence in Las Vegas, where Bourne attempted to prevent Dewey from getting rid of his increasingly troublesome former ally, CEO Aaron Kallor during a technology convention and Lee. 

Despite these cinematic virtues, I had walked away from "JASON BOURNE" feeling disappointed. What was my main problem? Quite frankly, Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse's screenplay. I found it contrived, unoriginal and filled with some questionable plot holes. A closer look at this movie made me realized that it strongly reminded me of the plot for "THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM". In both movies, Bourne found himself drawn into the story by an individual bent upon exposing the C.I.A.'s black ops programs. In this movie, it was former agent Nicky Parsons. In the 2007 film, it was a British journalist. Both ended up murdered within the movie's first thirty-to-forty minutes. That is correct. Poor Nicky shared the same fate as Marie Kreutz - fridged for the sake of the main character. I tolerated it once, but not this time. In both movies, the main villain decides to go after Bourne because he feared the former assassin might expose his current schemes. And once again, this movie exposed another disturbing secret regarding Bourne's past.

Speaking of the latter, this one aspect of the movie's plot really annoyed me. What was the secret in Bourne's past? Apparently his father - a C.I.A. official named Richard Webb - was the true creator of the Treadstone program. When I first heard this, I was . . . well to be honest, I simply did not care. But when I heard that Webb Senior was murdered because he tried to stop his son's recruitment into Treadstone, my apathy transformed into contempt. And when the movie revealed that it was Dewey who had ordered Webb Senior's assassination, I shook my head in disbelief. How was that possible? Were audiences really supposed to believe that Dewey was an official part of the Treadstone program? Since when? To make matters worse, Greengrass and Rouse had marked "The Asset", a former Blackbriar agent, as the one who committed the murder. I found this revelation to be ridiculously contrived and I officially washed my hands of this movie.

Yes, I realize that I found the performances and action sequences something to admire about "JASON BOURNE", thanks to director Paul Greengrass and a cast led by Matt Damon. Many fans had cheered that Damon had resumed as lead in the BOURNE film franchise. Yes, it was nice to see him again. But to be honest, I never had a problem with Jeremy Renner or the actual movie he had starred in - namely "THE BOURNE LEGACY". Hollywood legend Darryl F. Zanuck had once pointed out - the backbone of a good movie is the story. Yet, despite the virtues in "JASON BOURNE", I found its main narrative unoriginal, contrived and questionable. And in the end, the movie eventually disappointed the hell out of me.

Monday, August 28, 2017

"BABY DRIVER" (2017) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new action film, "BABY DRIVER". Written and directed by Edgar Wright, the movie stars Ansel Elgort, Lily James and Kevin Spacey: 


"BABY DRIVER" (2017) Photo Gallery
























































































Saturday, August 26, 2017

"DOWNTON ABBEY" Food Styles


Below are images of culinary dishes created by food stylist/chef, Lisa Heathcote, for the 2010-2015 ITV series, "DOWNTON ABBEY":


"DOWNTON ABBEY" FOOD STYLES



























Thursday, August 24, 2017

“WONDER WOMAN” (2017) Review


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"WONDER WOMAN" (2017) Review

Since the release of "MAN OF STEEL" back in 2013, the D.C. Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise has been in a conundrum. Although the 2013 film and with the two movies that followed - "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE"and "SUICIDE SQUAD" - were all box office hits, they had been heavily condemned by many film critics. Then along came "WONDER WOMAN", the first superhero movie that featured a woman in the lead since 2005. 

Directed by Patty Jenkins, "WONDER WOMAN" is basically a flashback on the origins of Princess Diana of Thymerica aka Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. Some time after the events of "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", Diana received a package at her Antiquities Curator office at the Louvre Museum. It came from Bruce Wayne aka Batman and it contained the original photographic plate of her, Steve Trevor and their comrades during World War I:

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The photographic plate led Diana to recall her past, starting with her childhood on Thymerica Island. While being raised by her mother, the Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, Diana learns about Zeus' creation of mankind and his son Ares' jealousy of his father's creation and the latter's attempts to destroy humans. After the other Mount Olympus gods were killed by Ares, because of their attempts to stop him, Zeus created a weapon for the Amazonians, a "Godkiller", in case Ares decides to return. Although Queen Hippolyta has no trouble telling Diana about Zeus, Ares and the other Mount Olympus gods; she forbids her sister and military leader of the Amazons, Antiope, to train Diana. Eventually she relents and demands that Antiope train Diana harder than the other Amazons.

During the last year of World War I, Diana rescues an American military pilot named Captain Steve Trevor, after his plane crashes off Themyscira's coast. The island is soon invaded by German sailors from a cruiser, pursuing Trevor. The Amazons engage and kill all of the German sailors, but Antiope sacrifices herself to save Diana. Interrogated with the Lasso of Hestia, Trevor informs the Amazons about World War I, his position as an Allied spy and his mission to deliver a notebook he had stolen from the Spanish-born chief chemist for the German Army, Dr. Isabel Maru. The latter is attempting to engineer a deadlier form of mustard gas for General Erich Ludendorff at a weapons facility in the Ottoman Empire. Against her mother's wishes, Diana decides to help Steve's war efforts by leaving Themyscira and accompanying him to London. Recalling Hippolyta's tales about Ares, she believes the latter is responsible for the war and hopes to kill him with the help of the Lasso of Hestia and the "Godkiller" sword that Zeus had left behind.

As I had earlier pointed out, "WONDER WOMAN" received a great deal of critical acclaim. In fact, it proved to be the first film in the DCEU franchise to do so, leading many to regard it as better than its three predecessors. Do I feel the same about the movie? Not quite. Do not get me wrong, "WONDER WOMAN" struck me as a first-rate movie that I found very entertaining. As a woman, I found it personally satisfying that it proved to the first successful comic book heroine film. More importantly, it was also the first comic but the first to be directed by a woman. In the end, "WONDER WOMAN" became one of my top favorite movies from the summer of 2017. Many people were surprised that most of the film - namely the flashback - was set during the last month of World War I, especially since Wonder Woman's origin began during World War II. It could be that Warner Brothers wanted to avoid any comparisons with Marvel's Captain America, whose origin began around the same time. I am glad that the movie was mainly set during World War. One, I feel that it would have been compared to Marvel's 2011 film, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER". But more importantly, the World War I setting meshed better with the film's portrayal of one of the villains, Erich Ludendorff. And without the World War I setting, I would have never experienced one of the best action sequences I had seen this summer - Wonder Woman's foray into "No Man's Land", as seen in the images below:

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Thinking about the No Man's Land" sequence reminded me of other action scenes in the movie that I found satisfying. Those scenes include a montage of Diana's training as a warrior, the Amazons' defense of Thymerica against invading German sailors, Diana and Steve's encounter with a group of German spies in a London alley. The "No Man's Land" sequence eventually led to another fight in which Diana, Steve and their companions led a liberation of the Belgian town Veld, which had been occupied by the Germans. You know what? It is possible that I may have enjoyed this sequence even more than the charge across "No Man's Land". One, it lasted longer. And the sequence featured more of a team effort between Diana, Steve, their three companions and troops from the Allied Powers. In fact, one scene featured Steve remembering an Amazonian tactic from the Thymerica battle and utilizing it with Diana in Veld. I literally smiled at that moment.

But "WONDER WOMAN" was not all about action scenes. Personally, I regard the movie as a character study of its lead character. Ever since Diana had informed Bruce Wayne that she had walked away from mankind for nearly a century in "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", I have always wondered what led her to become that slightly cynical woman. For me, "WONDER WOMAN" told that story . . . to a certain extent, thanks to Allan Heinberg's screenplay. The Princess Diana aka Diana Prince that we see in this film is an intelligent woman with a fierce sense of justice and duty. Whereas her mother and other fellow Amazons want to isolate themselves from humanity and the rest of the world at large, Diana views Steve's arrival and his revelation about the war being raged to save humanity from what she believed was Ares' destructive influence. Diana is also portrayed as a compassionate woman incapable of turning a blind eye to the devastating effects of war upon the Belgian civilian population and servicemen like Charlie, a Scottish sharpshooter and ally of Steve's, who suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD). She also possessed enough compassion to become aware of the discrimination that Steve's other two friends faced - the Blackfoot warrior and smuggler Chief Napi and the French Moroccan secret agent, Sameer.

But Diana's belief in Ares' role in the Great War also revealed some negative aspects of her personality. One aspect of Diana's personality in this film was her naivety. There were scenes in which her naivety about the "world of man" that I found humorous - namely her shopping trip with Steve's assistant, Etta Camp; her introduction to ice cream; and her discussions with Steve about human sexuality. But there were plenty of times when I found her naivety very frustrating - especially in those scenes in which Steve tries to explain the true ambiguous nature of human beings and the war. A good example was Diana's interruption of the Allied Powers' high command and her attempt to instruct the generals on how to "run a war". Many found this scene as an example of Diana's feminine empowerment. I found it as an example of her naivety and a bit of arrogance on her part. In these scenes, Diana seemed to display a stubborn, almost hard-headed and blind reluctance to let go of her misguided beliefs. Because of this unwillingness to believe she might be wrong about matters, Diana killed one of the characters believing him to be Ares without any real proof. I found this moment rather frightening. This hard-headed trait revealed what I believe was one example of Diana's penchant for extreme behavior. Diana's angry and frightening reaction to Steve's sacrifice was another example. And the hard lessons she had learned about humanity, along with personal tragedy, led to her almost century long foray into emotional isolation. In many ways, Diana's journey is that if an idealist, whose positive assumptions had been ripped away in the most painful manner.

While watching "WONDER WOMAN", it seemed obvious to me that Patty Jenkins is more than a competent director. She is obviously first-rate. Mind you, I do not believe that she possesses Zack Snyder's razor-sharp eye for imagery. And yet, judging from the sequences of the Thymerica battle, Diana and Steve's arrival in London; along with the outstanding "No Man's Land" sequence, it seems obvious to me that Jenkins has a solid grasp of imagery and is capable of being a visually original director. It helped that cinematographer Matthew Jensen and film editor Martin Walsh contributed to Jenkins' visual presentation of "WONDER WOMAN". I would not consider the costume designs from "WONDER WOMAN" to be among the best of Lindy Hemming's career and a costume designer. But I thought she did an excellent job in designing the Greco-style costumes for the Amazons - including Diana's Wonder Woman costume. And I found her re-creation of the 1918 wartime costumes for the characters of both genders well done:


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Although I believe there is a great deal to admire about "WONDER WOMAN", I do have a few complaints. One of them happened to be Jenkins' use of slow-motion filming in many of the film's action sequences. Yes, I realize that Jenkins was not the first director to use this form of filming action scenes. Her fellow DCEU director, Zack Snyder, was notorious for his use of this technique - especially in his pre-DCEU films. Unfortunately, I found myself getting tired of the slow-motion technique not long after ten to fifteen minutes into the film. I mean . . . good grief! Jenkins not only used it in the film's every action sequence, but also in one scene that featuring one of the Amazons' combat training sessions. I just got tired of it . . . really fast. 

My second problem with the film centered around the final action scene between Wonder Woman and Ares. I had no problems with Ares' revelation about his identity. And I certainly had no problems with his revelations about the true nature of humanity and the war itself. And I found Wonder Woman's reactions to his revelations and Steve Trevor's sacrifice rather interesting. But why . . . why in God's name did Jenkins and Heinberg find it necessary to have Diana say the following line to Ares before their final duel?

"It's about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world."

While the sentiment is lovely, it contradicted Diana's cynical attitude and words to Bruce Wayne, following Clark Kent's death in "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE":

"A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind; from a century of horrors... Men made a world where standing together is impossible."

Now, one could say that Diana had acquired this attitude during the 97 years between her showdown with Ares and the incident with Doomsday. But she made it clear to Bruce that she had walked away "a hundred years", which is roughly between the end of World War I and "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN", save a three years. Why did Jenkins and Heinberg allow her to spout that line about how love with save the world? Was this some emotional sop to those critics and moviegoers who wanted to pretend that Diana had managed to avoid wallowing in her grief over Steve and disappointment over Ares' revelation? If so, that is bad writing . . . or bad timing. Jenkins and Heinberg could have saved the line for Diana's narration at the end of the movie. After she had received the photographic plate and Steve's watch from Bruce . . . and after she had finally lifted herself from her cynicism and detached air.

I certainly had no complaints about the movie's performances. Mind you, there were two performances that failed to knock my socks off. One came from veteran actor Danny Huston, who found himself saddled with the clichéd riddled character of General Erich Ludendorff. Huston did not give a bad performance. Being a first-rate actor, he did the best that he could with the material given to him. But the screenwriter's portrayal of the character reeked with the Hollywood cliché of an aggressive German military officer, straight from the "Ve haf vays of making you talk" school of screenwriting. And I believe this may have hampered Huston's performance. I also had a slight problem with Eugene Brave Rock, who portrayed one of Steve Trevor's allies, Chief Napi. Rock was not a bad actor and I found him very likeable. But it was easy for me to see that he was not exactly the most experienced actor. And I was not surprised to discover that he had spent most of his film career as a stuntman and stunt trainer. When Ewan Bremner first appeared in the film, I suspected that he had been cast to portray another one of the many comic roles he has portrayed in the past. However, his character Charlie proved to be another kettle of fish. Thanks to Bremner's skillful performance, Charlie proved to be a tragic figure whose peace of mind had been ravaged by the violence of war. Elena Anaya, whom I have never heard of before this film, gave an intelligent and intense performance asIsabel Maru aka Doctor Poison, the Spanish-born chemist recruited to create chemical weapons for the German Army and specifically, for General Ludendorff. Unlike the latter, Dr. Maru is a villainess straight from the pages of the D.C. Comics titles for Wonder Woman. And yet, thanks to Anaya's performance, she was not portrayed in a ham-fisted manner. But I must admit that I adored Saïd Taghmaoui's portrayal of French Moroccan secret agent, Sameer. I found his performance charming, witty and very intelligent. And in my view, he had the best line in the movie (about Diana, of course): 

"I am both frightened... and aroused."

Connie Nielsen's portrayal of Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta of Thymerica proved to be more interesting that I had assumed it would be. Frankly, I thought Queen Hippolyta would be a somewhat bland parent figure, who was simply protective of her only daughter. In the end, Hippolyta's protectiveness toward her daughter proved to have a major impact upon the latter. This same protectiveness, along with her world-weary response to Diana's decision to leave Thymerica revealed the true, ambiguous nature of the character and Nielsen did an excellent job in conveying it. Robin Wright had an easier time in her portrayal of Diana's aunt, Antiope. The actress not only did a great job, I was especially impressed at how she embraced the more physical aspects of the role. After all, Antiope was the Amazonian army's lead general. I was very surprised to learn that the actress who portrayed Etta Candy, Steve Trevor's assistant, was none other than Lucy Davis, who had a supporting role in the 1995 miniseries, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE". Personally, I adored her portrayal of Etta. Like Taghmaoui, she was a walking embodiment of charm and wit. I especially enjoyed Davis' performance in the scene that featured Diana and Etta's shopping trip. David Thewlis gave a superficially pleasant performance as the dignified Sir Patrick Morgan, a diplomatic liaison with the Imperial War Cabinet. I found him intelligent, subtle and a little tricky.

I have a confession to make. I have always liked Gal Gadot as a screen presence. Honestly. She has a very strong presence. But I have never considered her as a top-notch actress . . . until recent years. But I must admit that her portrayal of Princess Diana of Thymerica aka Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman really knocked my socks off. I was impressed at how Gadot managed to portray Diana during two distinctive phases in her life - the naive, yet stubborn young woman who seemed convinced that she knows what is best for the world in this film; and the cynical and weary woman who is somewhat contemptuous of the world in "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE". And she did such a marvelous job in conveying this two phases in Diana's life . . . in two different films. Ms. Gadot has come a long way. I think Steve Trevor might one of my favorite roles portrayed by Chris Pine. Aside from the fact that he has great chemistry with Gadot, Pine gave a very entertaining portrayal of the American intelligence officer who first befriends Diana and later, falls in love with her. I found it fascinating to watch Pine convey Steve's intelligence, cunning and wry sense of humor. I also found it fascinating to watch how Pine conveyed Steve's struggles with Diana's naivety, stubborness and impulsive behavior. And he did so with a great deal of skill.

"WONDER WOMAN" is the fourth film released through the D.C. Comics Extended Universe (DCEU). And like the other three, I found myself not only enjoying it very much, but also impressed by it. Aside from a few flaws, I thought director Patty Jenkins did a first-rate job in telling movie audiences the story of how Princess Diana of Thymerica became Wonder Woman . . . and how she also became that world weary woman from 2016's "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE". And she did so with a first-rate movie crew and a wonderful cast led by Gal Gadot.


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