Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The last installment of the Bourne franchise left with Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy exposing Operation Blackbiar to the public, jumpstarting Legacy with the CIA’s immediate action to eradicate their other black ops projects, including eliminating all the field agents attached to them. Enters Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the movie’s rugged leading man, emerging from the mountainous waters while on a training mission, ripped and steely-eyed as 007’s Daniel Craig. With the sharp, howling atmosphere of Alaska as the film’s opening backdrop, it sends its audience into flight response while still steadily pacing the plot and character introductions by cutting continuously between Cross’s expedition back to the shadowy conference rooms in D.C.

Edward Norton plays Retired Colonial Eric Byer, the head of special ops programs. Clearly a man who is consumed by his job, hence his prematurely graying hair, Byer will go to any length to stop his secret operations’ dirty little secrets from ever seeing the light of day. In an extremely refreshing take, Norton is not playing your typical sinister, mustache-twisting-villain, but simply a dedicated man trying to do what he believes is for the better good of the government. With Tony Gilroy’s screenplay, he constructs it so that everyone is morally compromised, so Byer being the antagonist is based more on the fact that he is simply the greatest threat to Aaron. Cross, who is effortlessly engaging in a wordless manner, finally comes across another field agent, Number Three (played by Oscar Isaac). As the two finally exchange dialogue, we discover that this particular program, called Operation Outcome, is made up of genetically enhanced super-agents provided with drugs concocted by biochemist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and others at a high-security laboratory.

After outlining the film’s scenario, Legacy shoots off into action mode with a massive missile explosion that wipes out the training cabin Cross and Number Three are taking refuge in. When Byer and the rest of his tech-savvy team are convinced Cross has been killed, they move onto taking out all the staff involved in Outcome as well, including Dr. Shearing.

The pace and action scenes are recognizably different in this fourth installment, some for the better and some not. What initially starts as an intriguing back-story suddenly inches its way to becoming the main plot. Identity worked with the audiences not learning a lot about the government’s secret programs, because we only knew as much as Bourne did at the time (consequences of amnesia). Unfortunately, everyone is now well aware of the CIA’s involvement, and we would have liked to know more on how Cross plans to remove this threat, but Legacy fails to deliver. It is primarily a survival film, a continuous struggle of Cross and Shearing being hunted with Byer’s men on their boot heels. And its final action sequence isn’t exactly climatic, not to say it isn’t well made. It simply just doesn’t leave the audience with that lasting satisfaction required to end the movie, but is better suited as a mid-film adrenaline shot. So when Moby’s “Extreme Ways” (the franchise’s theme) starts to play in the background, it’s clearly announcing the film’s conclusion, but it still feels all a bit too abrupt.

On a positive note, the casting in Legacy is a definite upgrade. Rachel Weisz’s chemistry with Renner seems far more realistic and believable than Matt Damon’s former interests, Julia Stiles and
Franka Potente. As for the skepticism concerning Matt Damon’s replacement, the truth is there’s no contest. Jeremy Renner is a far more natural fit for the role, looking much more at home with his physicality and demeanor. Damon’s boy-next-door appearance never quite captured the “super-spy” air that his alternate does. Also, in the big brother era with security cameras lurking everywhere, director Doug Liman’s approach to the first three installments always presented Bourne too conspicuously, begging the audience to ask the question, “doesn’t Bourne own a hat, or at least a hoodie?” Fortunately its new director, Tony Gilroy, still never disguising Renner’s appearance, somehow is able to give Cross a phantom-like presence, distinguishable to us as the viewers but never making him the spotlight to onlookers.

Despite my few criticisms, the good points outweigh the negative. Renner and Gilroy have established their mark on this chain, proving Damon’s presence is not essential or anymore relevant to keeping these films afloat.

Rating: B 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

True Blood: Final Season Review

What. Did. I. Just. Watch?
To say that we want to do “bad things” to the writers of the show would probably be an understatement.
Having been a loyal fan of the HBO series since first being introduced to Bon Temps, Louisiana in the pilot episode, “Strange Love”, I still held onto hope for a satisfying ending to this vampire drama. And let’s face it, this show was worth every bit of the praise and mania that accompanied it as we blissfully welcomed its fangs into our homes in 2008. True Blood used to be the Game of Thrones of Sunday nights. We couldn’t wait till the end of the weekend! It had us hankering for those accents, the blood, the fangs, that rich Southern atmosphere, and all the gratuitous sex. It was that ultimate guilty pleasure with fun, sexy, scary twists to wet your mind’s appetite, along with your eyes’.
With a great ensemble cast of characters that left no stone unturned in forms of diversity, strong storytelling, grade-A dialogue, and Nathan Barr’s gorgeously haunting musical score, it was hard not to love it. But somewhere along the line (probably season 4), the show jumped the shark. After that, it’s been a relatively painful viewing experience. Yet I continued to watch… I’m pretty sure that classifies me as a masochist for enduring the agonizing trek to the finish line. I’m just one of those people though that likes to give a show the benefit of the doubt, because it’s not unheard of for a series to hit a slump - only to recover. I hoped. I prayed. I hung in for dear life…with no reward. Full of campy and ludicrous scenarios, True Blood used to be the best television escapism, only to become one of those shows that makes watching it feel more like a chore.
The once-endearing telepathic Merlotte’s waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, became a Bella Swan wannabe who couldn’t seem to take care of herself with the help of some supernatural being. Just out of curiosity, what does Sookie do for a living now? It seems like she hasn’t worked in years. Bill went from a brooding romantic to a conniving, murderous, heartless ass-hat. Sam seemed to be neglected by the writers. His character slowly fell into the background and became of no real importance, which is a shame for me because his complexity earlier in the series made him a favorite of mine. Eric…well, he’s still perfect. Only gripe, Sookie and he had such a great rapport that culminated so wonderfully over the course of the first two seasons. By season 3, I was DYING for a Sookie/Eric hookup! Instead, we got teased a little while longer, and wound up with a puppy dog version of Eric via memory loss that seemingly left him without his gonads. REALLY?!?! Eric was already worthy of Sookie’s love in all his wicked, badass glory, so why? WHY?! Thereafter, their relationship never returned to the glory many were longing to see.
And the seventh season was a kerfuffle of a disaster. With a show that built its fan base on gore, suspense, scares, and sex appeal, it makes us scratch our heads as to why the show’s runners would abandon all those themes for the aimless melodrama that plagued the final season.
Take Tara’s death for instance. Honestly, what the H-E-L-L was that? For a main character who’s been in the series from day one to get killed off camera in the most disappointing fashion was the first sign for the catastrophe we were all in store for. Seriously, did anyone believe as a viewer that she was actually dead at first? How could you in a TV-MA series renown for its violence not let us see Tara go out in a blaze of glory? She deserved that much. On top of that, no one really seemed to care! Look at Sookie’s reaction and mourning of Alcide, and compare that to the loss of her best friend, the girl she’s known since she was little. Notice anything? She bawled her eyes out over the demise of the sexy werewolf, but didn’t really seem to give Tara that same respect, at all!
And that brings me to my next point of scrutiny. One word to describe the seventh season: LAZY. The romance was melodrama-galore. The storylines lost complete focus on the core main characters, giving useless back-story and development to side characters that we never really gave a hoot about from the get-go. And the deaths were about as climactic as sitting in a traffic jam in rush hour; there’s no advancement in the plot and it only makes you angry. Maxine Fortenberry was the only exception. That actually made the show redeemable…for about a minute, until Alcide’s untimely, completely dishonorable shot to the head. Not to mention, since there was no hint at a possible cure, Eric’s Hep-V diagnosis didn’t bring panic as much as it did an unhealthy bout of depression. Bon Temps lost all its southern charm. Sookie’s accent actually disappeared and Bill’s came and went from scene to scene. The whole Lafayette/Jessica/James love triangle felt about as true to the characters as a polar bear wearing a bathing suit. Nathan Parsons’s replacement of Luke Grimes’s original portrayal of James was so far off the beaten path of the kind, soulful-eyed James we were introduced to the past season that it was about as subtle as a kick to the shins that the show’s writers were more concerned with pushing an agenda than giving the characters the respect they deserved. I mean, come on! Lafayette is an awesome character, and he deserved better than some cheap melodramatic hookup with James that was only meant to ship Jessica out of the relationship. And where was Lafayette in the series finale? His absence was wrong on every level. Again, LAZY.
Then there’s Bill’s death.
Quite frankly, when he refused to drink Sarah’s blood, my first thought was, I don’t care anymore. His reasons for killing himself were in complete contradiction for his wanting to see Jessica marry Hoyt, and his request for Sookie to go all Dr. Kevorkian on him was just selfish. Suicide is never the answer. In reality, it doesn’t give someone closure. It only delivers pain to your loved ones, and asking her to do the deed only makes it worse. Bad, Bill. Bad.
Although, when Sookie could hear Bill’s thoughts at the wedding, did anyone else think that maybe Bill was possibly in transition to becoming human again? It didn’t seem too outlandish for how ridiculous the show had become, so it seemed like a possibility that Sookie’s Hep-V contaminated fairy blood was changing him. Maybe Sookie’s last use of her energy on him could have actually healed him and changed Bill into a real boy again.
Think about it. Bill’s human again, and now he’s capable of giving Sookie the life she deserves in the daylight with the prospect of a family of her own. Sookie’s fairy powers that have impacted her life in far too many worse ways than better ones would be gone, freeing her from ever being used again by other vampires. Problem solved.
We get a bloody, gutty stake to the heart, and so does Bill. Sookie refuses to rid herself of her fairy energy, leaving her with the exact same problem she had from the very first episode of the series. How can she have a relationship with a human man if she hates the fact that she can hear all his thoughts? Good question. But that apparently doesn’t anymore, at for the writers anyway, because she winds up being knocked up by some faceless shmo four years later.
The only upside to the series finale apart from Eric and Pam’s scenes was Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” playing as the concluding song. True Blood most definitely went out with a fizzle rather than a bang.

Rating: D