Bourne and Seagal are back, giallos get a tribute, and a vampire goes to therapy.
JASON BOURNE (2016)
Feeling like the story of Jason Bourne, a black ops assassin who gained a conscience along with a case of amnesia, had been completed with the The Bourne Identity / The Bourne Supremacy / The Bourne Ultimatum trilogy, franchise star Matt Damon decided to take a step back from the series for a while. It never seemed like a permanent decision, but it also didn't seem like Damon was in any hurry to get back to making Bourne movies - and he also said that he would only return to Bourne if Supremacy / Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass would come back with him.
Universal wasn't interested in taking the James Bond route and just recasting Bourne, but they also didn't want to let the Bourne property go to waste, which is how we got the 2012 film The Bourne Legacy, which was directed by Tony Gilroy (who had worked on the scripts of every Bourne movie) and starred Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, another black ops assassin who was affected by the actions of Bourne. The Bourne Legacy wasn't exactly greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm, but even though the movie has its weak points I did like Renner as Cross and was open to seeing his adventures continue. Universal was going to make it happen, too. They hired Justin Lin, director of the third through sixth entries in the Fast and Furious saga, to direct a Renner-Cross Bourne sequel that was first scheduled to reach theatres on August 14, 2015 and was then pushed back to July 15, 2016.
And then, before the Lin and Renner film could get into production, Paul Greengrass realized there was a new story he could tell with the character of Jason Bourne. With Greengrass on board, so was Damon, and the Aaron Cross sequel was shelved in favor of the return of Jason Bourne. Lin moved on to Star Trek Beyond, which ended up coming out on July 22, 2016, just one week later than his Bourne movie was supposed to be released, and Jason Bourne reached theatres on July 29, just two weeks later than the Aaron Cross movie was supposed to.
Despite being released five years after The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy took place very soon after the ending of that film (the two even overlap for the first 30 minutes of Legacy). Jason Bourne moves the timeline forward several years to find Bourne, having aged around a decade since we last saw him, struggling to figure out how to live a civilian life and not doing so well at it. The black ops program he was part of turned him into a war machine, all he really knows is how to pull off covert missions and assassinate people. Now that he's no longer doing things, he's scraping together a living by winning money in underground fights - much like fellow war machine John Rambo was seen doing at the beginning of Rambo III.
It's Bourne's ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a character who was in every installment of the trilogy with him, that draws the CIA's attention to him after all these years of living off the grid. A hacker working in association with a Julian Assange/WikiLeaks type, Nicky hacks into the CIA database and digs up some information on Bourne's history that reveals his analyst father had something to do with the inception of the shady organization Bourne ended up working for... after he saw his father killed by a car bombing.
Representing the CIA this time around are Tommy Lee Jones as the agency's director Robert Dewey and current Hollywood "It Girl" Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, the ambitious new head of the cyber ops division. They trace the hack to Nicky and then track her to Athens, Greece, where she meets up with Bourne in the midst of an anti-government protest that turns into a full-fledged fiery riot.
As soon as the CIA gets a glimpse of Bourne on their surveillance monitors, we're off and running on a new action-packed adventure that is very much the same type of movie fans came to know and love with the previous movies. Damon and Greengrass got right back into the swing of things with no sign of the nine year break having slowed them down or softened their edge.
The CIA chases Bourne across the globe, with Dewey and Lee having very different views on how to handle the situation. Dewey simply wants Bourne to be killed, to be taken out of the equation by an assassin known only as "The Asset", a character played by Vincent Cassel who was, like Aaron Cross, impacted by Bourne's shenanigans in the earlier films. Lee has the idea that she might be able to bring Bourne in from the cold and get him working black ops again. It may not be entirely out of the question. We know civilian life does not agree with him.
While previous Bourne movies had intrigue, none of them had a subplot that I found quite as engrossing as the one that plays out over the course of Jason Bourne, between the trademark chases, cat and mouse sequences, and shaky cam fight scenes. For the first time ever in this series, Tony Gilroy had no involvement with the script, this one was written by Greengrass and his go-to editor Christopher Rouse, and the story they came up with fully brings Bourne into the modern age of social media and apps. Dewey has questionable dealings with youthful entrepreneur Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), head of a social networking service called Deep Dream that promises complete privacy for its users but actually has the opposite intention behind the scenes. The CIA is going to be monitoring and pouring over the personal details of every Deep Dream user. Dewey and Kalloor's interactions go in some interesting directions, and I enjoyed watching this play out more than anything Supremacy, Ultimatum, or Legacy had to offer outside of what the hero was doing.
With the refreshing new comes a bit of the same old same old, as Greengrass and Crouse have Bourne again seeking answers that will fill in a gap in his spotty memory. In Identity, Bourne remembered the job he was attempting to pull off when the incident that caused his amnesia occurred, and he remembered what black ops program he was working for and appeared to shut it down for good. I was perfectly satisfied with all of that and didn't really need any more answers about Bourne's past. Then in Supremacy he remembered and apologized for his first off-the-books job, which provided a good dramatic moment. In Ultimatum he sought out the doctor who put him through the mental programming paces and discovered that he willingly volunteered for the gig, a revelation I really didn't care about at all. I also don't care about the father he's trying to find out more about in this film, a father we're only hearing about for the first time. The answers give us insight into the hows and whys of Bourne's decision to volunteer and mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. I don't need to keep taking these little steps further and further back into Bourne's past. All that the flashbacks here really provide is a chance to see Matt Damon sporting a digital de-aging makeover like Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. received in Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, respectively.
Even the event that helps spur on Bourne's new personal mission is a "been there, done that" beat, being way too similar to something that happened in Supremacy.
Where Jason Bourne delivers big time is the action department, being book-ended by an incredible motorcycle chase through the turmoil-filled streets of Athens and a jaw-dropping awesome vehicular chase through the neon streets of Las Vegas, Nevada, in which Bourne takes the wheel of a Dodge Charger to pursue the Asset, who is driving an armored SWAT truck that can plow through traffic, tossing cars driven by innocent motorists through the air like they're nothing. Between these sequences we get plenty of gunfire and fisticuffs in those locations as well as Berlin and London.
Any problems I have with this film are truly just nitpicks. Retread moments and a disinterest in Bourne's father didn't hamper my enjoyment of it in any way, and I found Jason Bourne to be a very fun and exciting viewing experience overall, quite possibly the most entertaining of the Bourne sequels. The Bourne Identity remains my favorite installment in the franchise, but Jason Bourne is a strong contender for second favorite. When the Moby song "Extreme Ways" kicked in to play over the end credits, as it does in every Bourne movie, I had a big smile on my face.
I was also glad to see that, although this movie derailed the Aaron Cross follow-up, it didn't totally disregard The Bourne Legacy, which it has nothing to do with. As Nicky and Bourne dig into the CIA's black ops files, they see a list of black ops programs that includes Iron Hand, the new program Dewey is trying to get off the ground, Treadstone and Blackbriar, the programs from Bourne's past, and Outcome and LARX, the programs that were part of The Bourne Legacy's story. It's a small nod, but a commendable one.
Just like last year's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, this is a spy movie I saw on the big screen while visiting my Remake Comparison collaborator Priscilla in Brazil. She has little interest in this type of movie, but she sees them because I want to see them. A gracious host.
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
One of my least favorite kinds of movies to watch is the Italian giallo, so when a movie is described as an homage to giallos it's more of a deterrent to me than a draw. So writer/director Peter Strickland pulled off quite a feat with his film Berberian Sound Studio, making a giallo tribute that I found to be somewhat fascinating.
Toby Jones stars as middle-aged sound designer Gilderoy, who makes the trip from England to the Berberian studio in Italy expecting the movie he'll be working on, The Equestrian Vortex, to be a very different sort of film than it actually is. Although the director will get upset if it's referred to as a horror movie, considering it a study of life and the human condition, it is most definitely a horror movie, featuring brutal murders, chainsaw action, witches, a horny goblin, and an appalling moment where a woman gets a red hot fireplace poker shoved into her vagina... We see none of this. Strickland chooses not to show us the film, instead focusing on Gilderoy as he records the dialogue and screams and figures out how to create the sound effects. Melons are massacred for the violent scenes. And how do you create the sound of a red hot poker in a vagina?
This is the first time Gilderoy has ever worked on a horror movie, and it's clear that he would prefer not to. The subject matter gets to him, as do his awkward interactions with his co-workers and the fact that he's so far from home. Far from his mother.
Things start to get strange around the hour mark, and it begins to seem like Gilderoy might be having a mental breakdown.
The vast majority of the film simply concerns Gilderoy sitting at his work station, doing his job. Some viewers will get the feeling that there is nothing happening in this movie, but I was captivated by what was going on. I don't even usually like movies about making movies, but the sound department is not an area we tend to see much of, so I found it interesting to see Gilderoy at work. Berberian Sound Studio is an odd little film, but it kept my attention.
My interest was boosted by the fact that the studio's useless receptionist is played by Tonia Sotiropoulou, who was a Bond girl this same year, making a brief appearance in Skyfall.
Berberian Sound Studio was a Final Girl blog SHOCKtober pick, as was director Jim Mickle's 2013 We Are What We Are the following day. We Are What We Are is one of those movies that I'd rather not say too much about right now because it's a remake, based on a 2010 Mexican film written and directed by Jorge Michel Grau, and you never know what might be covered in the future as part of the Remake Comparison Project.
Mickle's version is set in rural America and centers on the Parkers, a family with a very dark secret that goes back generations, hundreds of years. He takes a very low-key, deliberate approach to telling the story, which will be off-putting to some viewers and I can't say that I was kept captivated the entire time. It is a very well made film, though, definitely worth checking out. The performances are solid across the board, but the movie earned extra points from me by having the great Michael Parks as a coroner trying to figure out why people keep disappearing in this area...
OUT FOR JUSTICE (1991)
In contrast to Marked for Death, which was my favorite Steven Seagal movie when it was released in 1990 but has slipped down the ranks a bit since, Out for Justice is a movie that I didn't like very much when it was released but have come to appreciate more as time goes by.
Directed by John Flynn (Brainscan) from a screenplay by David Lee Henry/R. Lance Hill, the co-writer of 8 Million Ways to Die and Road House, Out for Justice casts Seagal as New York cop Gino Felino. When his partner Bobby Lupo is murdered by Richie Madano, a guy Gino grew up with, in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses, Gino's captain (played by Jerry Orbach) gives him free rein to do whatever's necessary to bring Richie to justice.
Richie is mentally unhinged in addition to being a drug addict, he has gone rogue from the local mob but still has a group of loyal lackeys to back him up as he goes on a killing spree through Brooklyn, a rampage that most shockingly includes a scene where he pulls a woman through her car door window and shoots her in the head just for honking at him and telling him to get out of the way.
Gino's manhunt through the worst part of the neighborhood allows Seagal to do all the fighting and skull cracking you want to see when you put on a Seagal movie, but it also allows some fun glimpses into day-to-day neighborhood life. Gino's interaction with a kid selling water, Seagal's very genuine-feeling reaction to a prostitute trying to lure him in with a vulgar line, a walk down memory lane with a wiseguy, a visit to a grocery store, they're all standout moments.
In the midst of all the action and mayhem, this is actually a well written story with some humanity to it, which makes the cold-blooded murders the film features all the more effective and troubling. That's part of why I didn't like it when I was a kid, it felt too dark and dirty for me. The character of Richie, as played by the great William Forsythe, is a total scumbag, and I just did not want to watch him back in the day. Now I see it as a terrific villain performance.
Out for Justice was developed under the title The Price of Our Blood, but the studio picked the title Out for Justice because they wanted to continue the trend of Seagal movies having three word titles. Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death... This film apparently had some issues behind the scenes, not the least of which was Seagal acting like a diva - showing up late, harassing women, rewriting the script himself, telling Brooklyn native Forsythe that he needed to improve his Brooklyn accent, having the movie re-edited to cut down Forsythe's screen time because he didn't want to be upstaged - but it still turned out to be one of Seagal's bests.
There are moments of violence in this film that you might never forget after seeing them, but what will stick with you most of all are Seagal's delivery of the repeated line "Anybody seen Richie?" and the name "Bobby Lupo".
Another one of the most memorable elements is my favorite thing about the film, a subplot where Gino witnesses someone toss a puppy in a garbage bag out the window of a car with a bumper sticker that says "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." Gino rescues the dog, and in the final moments Gino and the person who tossed the puppy cross paths again. The guy gets the comeuppance he deserves.
The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com
THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE (2014)
The fact that the legendary Dr. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, plays a role in writer/director David Rühm's Austrian horror/comedy Therapy for a Vampire is a major selling point in the marketing of the movie, as you can tell from the focus the therapy aspect is given in both the English title and the original German title, Der Vampir Auf Der Couch. Despite how much attention that element is getting, fans of Freud excited to see a fictional forgotten chapter in the doctor's life may be a bit disappointed with how he's used here. Freud's part in the proceedings is actually quite minor, and the story really could have been set at any point in the last one hundred years or so and the therapist given any random name and it would have played out in exactly the same way. The inclusion of the historical figure mainly just serves to bring about a smile when you recognize the name.
Therapy is a romantic tale that starts off with the introduction of a young man named Viktor (Dominic Oley), who may be a gifted artist but is a pretty terrible boyfriend, always focusing on the things he doesn't like about his girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan). When he paints her portrait, the Lucy on the canvas has the hairstyle, hair color, and fashion sense he wishes the real Lucy would have.
Viktor has been hired by Freud to sketch the images from the doctor's dreams, which often involve horrific things happening to young women. Women who have Lucy's face in Viktor's sketches.
Enter the vampire of the story, Tobias Moretti as Count Geza von Közsnöm. It can be tough to evaluate a performance delivered in a language you don't understand, but Moretti breaks the language barrier with his screen presence. I had to trust the subtitles to know what he was saying, but I still found this actor captivating to watch. The Count has been around for hundreds of years, and he seeks the help of Freud because he has grown weary of his immortality. You can get a taste of the film's humor through the puns that are used to describe the Count's ennui: he has lost the thirst for life, life has lost its bite. Enhancing the Count's unhappiness is his relationship with his wife Elsa (Jeanette Hain), who is obsessed with her looks, having forgotten what her own face looks like, it's been so long since she was able to look in a mirror. This brings about another pun in therapy. When Freud asks why Elsa can't look at herself in the mirror, the Count answers, "She's never reflected on that."
After seeing Viktor's portrait of Lucy in Freud's office, the Count believes he has found the answer to his troubles. He can have Viktor paint Elsa to show her what she looks like, and he can ditch Elsa in favor of Lucy, who he is convinced is the reincarnation of his long lost love Nadila, the woman who turned him into a vampire and who promised him, right before being executed, that she would return to him one day.
The Count will have to handle things in a very specific way to get Nadila's consciousness to awaken within Lucy, and that sets the stage for the rom-com shenanigans that make up the bulk of the film. With the Count, Lucy, Viktor, and Elsa all in the mix, we have something even more complicated than a love triangle here. Add in the fact that the Count's human servant also has the hots for Lucy, and we have a love pentagon.
When it comes to the horror/comedy balance, Therapy for a Vampire most definitely leans more heavily toward comedy, bringing the laughs through a mixture of wordplay, sight gags, and some physical comedy. Unlike many other horror/comedies, it does practice some restraint, never going too goofy or over-the-top.
It is a really fun movie to watch, breezing through its 88 minute running time at a quick pace. I was invested in the story of the characters and liked the moral that Rühm was trying to get across with it.
I was also stunned by the visuals that Rühm and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht were able to cpature, with the help of some digital manipulations. Rühm is a veteran filmmaker, and this appears to have been the first feature he has made after taking a seventeen year hiatus. If this was indeed his return to the medium after years away, it was a triumphant one. This movie is gorgeous to look at.
Rühm may not have done as much with the character of Freud (who is played by Karl Fischer) as he could have, but aside from that quibble Therapy for a Vampire is a real joy.