‘Jason Bourne’ DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

jb-1The last entry in the Bourne franchise was 2012’s The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner. While that became a one-off, it’s worth examining the character’s true legacy before diving in with this review. The original trilogy helped cement Matt Damon‘s position in Hollywood. Paul Greengrass‘s involvement from part two onwards gave the series an additional layer of quality. More than anything, the films had an impact on movie action in general. When Daniel Craig took the role of 007, it was no coincidence his adventures were “back to basics” in nature, a single shot saying more than a million bullets out of a machine gun ever could.

Identity through to Supremacy appeared to offer a complete journey for Jason Bourne. Despite this, Damon and Greengrass have got the band back together for their riskiest mission yet: an extra helping that tries not to tarnish what has gone before. Have they succeeded? Well, on the whole yes, though there are a few bumps on the road as they go.

Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse have developed their hero’s personal odyssey further by revealing hitherto-unknown information about Bourne’s involvement in Operation Blackbriar (the covert assassination league he blew wide open during his last outing). When former ally-turned-Snowden-esque-hacker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) contacts a broken-down Bourne about this explosive development, the scene is set for him to return from his exile as a bare knuckle boxer and set the world to rights one more time. It’s a logical but well-worn approach, though in fairness the strength of the franchise was the way it put a new spin on hackneyed spy thriller clichés rather than innovate itself.

Drawn back into the fray like a chiselled moth to a flame, Damon’s Bourne runs up against an impressive trio of villains. Tommy Lee Jones‘s weathered CIA chief Robert Dewey wants the rogue operative permanently erased. Alicia Vikander‘s ambitious and fetching Heather Lee represents the changing face of intelligence, believing Bourne can be brought back into the fold. Meanwhile Vincent Cassel’s “The Asset” becomes the latest relentless Euro-henchman to be put on Damon’s tail, a man of steel with old scores to settle.

Inevitably it’s more of the same controlled chaos, with Greengrass’s handheld camera roving amongst the fist fights and destruction at breakneck speed. The unflinching pace doesn’t make up for repetition and an overall lack of meat. However some intriguing snippets of Bourne’s character are in evidence – most notably the way he distances himself from Nicky’s counter culture activities. He may be fighting the system, but at heart he’s an establishment man, a strand which gives credence to Vikander’s belief he secretly wants to return to duty.

She is the film’s strongest element, Lee possessing equal capacity to wear either the white hat or the black. Damon can do this sort of thing in his sleep and the same can be said of Jones, who is a welcome presence. Cassel’s ageing hard man is also highly watchable. Like a lot of these big action projects, it could have done with being a bit shorter and not all the fresh ingredients work. Riz Ahmed‘s social media mogul doesn’t add much to the narrative, aside from making the basic point that Dewey’s world is changing.

Ironically the climactic chase has all the extravagance of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, a sign that maybe the series is running low on inspiration. The team have had a good run, and made a sizeable mark on the genre – as Moby’s excellent Extreme Ways kicks in over the end credits, it might be time to admit those ways are now the old ways.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

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Sometimes They Come Back: ‘Jason Bourne’ Feature (The Hollywood News)

md-jb-2For a while it looked like Matt Damon had left the action-packed life of rogue operative par excellence Jason Bourne far behind. Jeremy Renner starred in 2012’s The Bourne Legacy and was set to continue in the visceral vein of his predecessor. However, fans got a surprise when Damon announced his return to Robert Ludlum‘s butt-kicking chronicle, bringing regular collaborator Paul Greengrass along for the ride.

The star’s reappearance in one of his defining roles is a bit out of left field, but certainly not unprecedented when it comes to celluloid heroes and heroines resurrecting themselves for that extra sack of box office loot. So as Damon comes back to Bourne, let’s check out some other notable names who decided the show wasn’t quite over yet…

SEAN CONNERY: JAMES BOND

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The rugged Scotsman made his name wearing the tuxedo of Ian Fleming‘s infamous superspy. Yet his attempts to leave the legacy behind were twice thwarted. First he was persuaded to get the Walther PPK out for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, after replacement George Lazenby‘s stint turned into a one-off.

Twelve years later he got another call, this time to pit an ageing Bond directly against the Roger Moore era for Never Say Never Again. The reworking of Thunderball ultimately lacked the class of the established franchise. On the other hand it was fun to see Connery back in the saddle, strongly supported by Kim Basinger and Rowan Atkinson.

KATE BECKINSALE: SELENE

kb-uThe actress with enough charm to get the pants off King Kong made two Underworld flicks before seemingly moving on to pastures new and unbloodied. 2009 prequel Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans starred Rhona Mitra as a younger version of rubber-clad vampire and werewolf-buster Selene. Here we saw how the ludicrous battle between the fanged and the furry got started in the first place.

Beckinsale must have figured there was life in the old dog despatcher yet, returning to the fold for Awakening in 2012. The film had Selene defending herself in a dangerous future where vamps and wolves were acknowledged by the general populace. Forthcoming chapter Blood Wars will continue the saga with the star very much at the forefront.

VIN DIESEL: XANDER CAGE

vd-xxxDiesel has made a better fist of reviving his well-known characters than most. Luckily he’s been the mainstay of three eye-catching series; playing Riddick from Pitch Black onwards, Dominic Toretto in the turbo-charged monster of the Fast & Furious movies; and now he’s pumping iron for xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, set for release next year.

The belated threequel will come fifteen years after the original installment, which posited the brooding actor as an extreme sports junkie turned 007-esque adventurer. He declined the next mission for part two, with the lead role taken by the unlikely shape of Ice Cube. The new chapter finds Cage engaged in that staple of the genre, the testosterone-laden conspiracy thriller.

MATT DAMON: JASON BOURNE

jb-1It’s a tough gig finding out you were a trained assassin in a former life. Jason Bourne should know – he’s been living the nightmare for the past fourteen years. The Bourne Ultimatum appeared to give him his long sought-after identity back. Though when you’re as up to your neck in calamity as this guy, you know it’s only a matter of time before yet more trouble ensues.

Helmer/co-writer Paul Greengrass has reportedly succeeded again in handing Bourne his action credentials in another exploration into what makes the chiseled chaser tick. Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Vincent Cassel make up the opposition trying to take the hero down a peg, whilst Julia Stiles resumes her role as Nicky, on hand to get Damon out of the mother of all jams, spooned into the jar in just the right amount by one of Hollywood’s hottest teams.

 

This feature first appeared on THN.

“There’s the film you write, the film you shoot, the film you edit…” Interview with ‘Jason Bourne’ writer Christopher Rouse (The Hollywood News)

jb-3As Matt Damon brings the high octane adventures of Jason Bourne into your home this week, now is a good time to interview the man who puts those heart-stopping action sequences together: editor and co-writer Christopher Rouse.

Rouse occupies an intriguing position in the Bourne firmament. Having began his association in the cutting room, he now takes on script and production duties alongside director Paul Greengrass. This strong partnership crafts the franchise behind the scenes, while Greengrass and Damon cause a storm front of camera. As the torch bearers for Robert Ludlum’s character, our first question naturally concerned the immense task they faced…

jb-crTHN: Did you and Paul Greengrass experience any trepidation in continuing Bourne’s story?

Christopher Rouse: Well I think we both have incredible respect and admiration for the franchise. We didn’t want to embark on a process or a script idea unless we believed there was a real story to tell, that would do justice to the franchise and his character. So we were cautious all the way through it certainly.

Tell me about how a Bourne action sequence evolves, from the original idea to the page and then on to the shoot…

Like any sequence, action has to be rooted in story and character. It has to have stakes and clear goals and obstacles for the people involved. Once that’s defined it’s a matter of calibrating that, in terms of what might be visually interesting and exciting. Once we get something on page then Paul will take it and work with his second unit director and a very talented stunt team. Then the piece will evolve even further. Where it’s shot, that’ll give rise to other ideas… the location may dictate certain restrictions to what we’ve originally imagined. I’ll receive it in the cutting room, it’ll continue to evolve and I’ll shape it as I see fit through the post-production process. It’s like any other scene, or aspect of the story. There’s the film you write, the film you shoot, the film you edit. The piece is always imbued with new ideas and different types of energy.

jb-1Paul Greengrass is known for having multiple camera set-ups, so you’ve got lots of footage to play with in the editing suite. Would you say your films with him are primarily made in the edit?     

I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. They certainly take shape there in many ways but Paul is a visionary filmmaker and I think the film is in his head very early on.

It strikes me as a complicated way of working, to shoot so much to begin with!

It is a lot of work and at the end of the day I’m trying to put together a film that makes sense to me, and that is in concert with Paul’s vision. Having done six films now with him, one of the great things is that we know each other well, we share a common world view. We’re interested by the same types of things. We have the same artistic sensibilities. It’s very easy for us to lock in together, I’m highly attuned to what he believes the piece is as it evolves. Even though I get a tremendous amount of footage, if I’ve done my job and I’m anchored in story and character when I start putting things together, it’s actually most times a straightforward proposition. I’m not saying there isn’t any heavy lifting because there is. It’s shaped in the cutting room but not made there, which is an important distinction.

jb-2The film is also another reunion between Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon. What is it about that relationship that you think works so well?  

There’s deep affection between the two of them and they’re exceedingly hard workers. You wind up with a special relationship. And then there are loads of tangibles, having two types of superb artists married together, there’s that symbiotic connection that occurs where you get a lot of magic, spontaneously and unexpectedly. It doesn’t happen often.

You started off as an editor and now you’re co-writing and producing. Do you fancy directing at some stage?

I’ve been approached to direct several times, in fact I’ve written for many years myself. My father (Russell Rouse) was a screenwriter and I’ve written short stories, poetry and screenplays on my own. I’d consider directing. One of the things I really enjoy with Paul is the tremendous amount of creative freedom. It allows me to express myself in ways I wouldn’t in a normal editing situation. This is a long way of saying yes, I would consider being a director if it were the right project, not doing it for the sake of directing. I want to direct something that matters to me.

One of your first big editing jobs was working on Desperate Hours with Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), who sadly passed away this year. That must have been a hell of a formative experience…

Also I worked with Hal Ashby (Harold & Maude) for three years, a superb editor and director. I learnt a tremendous amount from Hal at a very young age. Michael gave me plenty of opportunities to express myself creatively and I’m very appreciative for that. He was a complicated man, he could be very generous and very difficult at the same time. I’m very grateful for what I learned from him and what he gave me.

What’s coming next down the line?

Paul and I are actually writing together right now, it’s an original idea we’re playing around with. When I hang up with you I’m going to call him up and talk about the day’s work.

Can you tell me anything about it?

I can’t at this point, I’m sworn to secrecy! But I think the piece has a lot of potential and Paul is very excited about it. We’ll see if we get anywhere…

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

Capturing The Krays: A Legend Feature (The Hollywood News)

TK 2It’s been a quarter of a century since a film was made about the Kray twins, and now two have come along at once! The main event of course is Legend, showcasing Tom Hardy in a dual role that has earned rave reviews from critics. The gangster pair were admired and abhorred in equal measure. They represented a strand of culture that mixed community values with intimidation and violence.

Some are looking forward to further exposure for Ronnie and Reggie. Others object to the perceived glamourizing of men who were hunted by the police and responsible for bloody carnage across London. Whatever your view, you have to agree they had a permanent effect on the fabric of Britain and this has been reflected onscreen in some surprising ways.

Don your best suit, pack your shooter and prepare for a rain-soaked car journey into the neon heart of the capital for some peeper-peeling glimpses of a team who epitomized fear in the Sixties…

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS (1970)

MPFCThe first high profile take on the legacy was a sketch in the BBC’s surreal talent launchpad. Oxford men Terry Jones and Michael Palin played Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, vicious relations whose life story bore a passing but bizarre similarity to the Krays’ saga.

Of course their blowing up of Luton airport and Dinsdale hallucinating a massive hedgehog called Spiny Norman strayed a bit far from the source material. But certain characters were clearly inspired by reality, such as Harry “Snapper” Organs, derived from the dogged figure of copper Leonard “Nipper” Read.

The documentary-style presentation further enhanced a sense of sheer lunacy. Though as this list will go on to demonstrate, this wasn’t the last word in the way of far out tributes to the notorious brothers…

THE KRAYS (1990)

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Writer Philip Ridley and director Peter Medak created a memorable depiction of the two Rs at a time when they were in danger of dropping off the national radar. Made at the start of the Nineties and starring a pop star combo from the Eighties, it proved to be an unlikely but evocative production.

Gary and Martin Kemp played the Krays. They didn’t look alike and were best-known for belting out hits with Spandau Ballet. Yet Medak’s gamble paid off and the film launched their acting careers. They were backed by an eclectic cast that included Billie Whitelaw as their Mum Violet, Tom Bell as the unfortunate Jack “The Hat” McVitie and Steven Berkoff as rival George Cornell.

Ridley’s screenplay had an eerie dimension, opening via Violet’s description of a dream, and the stark violence left viewers under no illusion as to the nature of the twins’ hold on London.

WHITECHAPEL (2010)

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ITV’s historically-themed crime drama had an eye-opening trick up its sleeve when it returned for its second series. The first run was concerned with a resurrection of the murders of Jack The Ripper. Where for writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip to go next…?

How about a secret pair of Kray twins continuing where their father left off? Top marks for curveball-throwing! Five years before Tom Hardy‘s ambitious double-header, Craig Parkinson portrayed new characters Jimmy and Johnny.

It turned out to be a hoax, but this still managed to be a truly unusual attempt to mine the brothers’ story for the twenty-first century. As for this incarnation of the fearsome twosome, they wound up getting murdered in custody, so we’re unlikely to see a sequel!

THE RISE OF THE KRAYS (2015)

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Pipping Tom Hardy to the post is this straight-to-DVD thriller from director Zackary Adler. Kevin Leslie and Simon Cotton are Reggie and Ronnie. Former EastEnders star Nicola Stapleton plays Violet.

It’s the first time the pair have been front and centre in a movie since The Krays (though Neil Scholtz and Gareth Simons played them in Malcolm Needs‘ 2004 drama Charlie). A dubious honour, as it’s been criticized for a lack of budget and various period continuity errors.

Still, with the buzz around its megabucks successor, I’m sure releasing it to supermarket shelves everywhere was a canny move on the part of the producers, even if I expect to see it for £3 in the bargain bin within weeks!

LEGEND (2015)

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The genuine article is seen as this bad boy (or boys), that resurrects the brothers via Universal Pictures. Appropriate perhaps, seeing as how the real life twins mixed with movie stars. In addition to Tom Hardy undertaking the mammoth task of conjuring both men, there’s a raft of famous faces and up and comers backing him up.

Emily Browning is Frances Shea, the tragic figure who married Reggie, who forms the film’s focus. Christopher Eccleston is police bloodhound “Nipper” Read, forever on the Krays’ tail. Taron Egerton may be flying into cinemas soon as maniac skier Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, but here he’s Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith, with whom it’s said Ronnie was intimately involved. Chazz Palminteri hasn’t been seen on the silver screen for ages and I’m glad to say he appears as Philly mobster Angelo Bruno.

LA Confidential‘s Brian Helgeland writes and directs, based on the definitive tome The Profession Of Violence by John Pearson. Reaction to the release so far has been largely positive – we at THN loved it, whereas reviewers like Mark Kermode pointed out a lack of overall substance. The publicity team also made the headlines when, in a move their subject mights approve of, a two star rating from The Guardian got positioned between the two Hardy’s heads, cheekily suggesting a star either side!

Either way, Legend is seen as an important contribution to the cinematic world of the Krays. With a Brit lead who couldn’t be hotter if he wore nylon near a volcano, this may be the last word on a dark but compelling time in Britain’s capital city during one of its definitive decades.

This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.

Pitch Perfect 2 Blu-Ray Review (The Hollywood News)

PP2 1Pitch Perfect put the cheesy charm of the a cappella movement on the movie map, so naturally a sequel is going to give its audience more of the same, only bigger and better. That’s all you really need to know about Pitch Perfect 2, hitting screens courtesy of cast member-turned-director Elizabeth Banks. The first film saw Anna Kendrick‘s outsider/mash-up maestro find acceptance in the Barden Bellas before giving their beloved genre a good kick in the ass. Her character Beca formed the centre of a classic rite of passage tale, showcasing winning support turns from Rebel Wilson and Anna Camp.

With the tonsil-busting team established and all that angst out the way, Banks and screenwriter Kay Cannon can only tread water, returning us to the much-loved characters but this time without a lot of point outside of the impressive vocal gymnastics. There isn’t so much a story as a collection of bits and pieces, all of which manage to add up to a reasonably satisfying whole.

The script is basically concerned with how the Bellas get their groove back, after a catastrophic incident whereby Fat Amy (Wilson) gives President Obama an eyeful after the ultimate wardrobe malfunction at a prestigious performance. After that strong start the action roams around for the best part of two hours, taking in a raft of comedy goodness, from a romantic subplot between Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine) to a Christmas album recording for Snoop Dogg. Halfway in the plot begins to go somewhere, as Beca faces the prospect of a juicy record company career away from campus and the spectre of the World A Cappella tournament looms large.

The tournament involves locking horns with Das Sound Machine, a terrifying German outfit of PVC-clad aca-warriors led by Borgen‘s Birgitte Hjort Sørensen. DSM are funny, but transplanted straight out of a cartoon, and they’re less then politically correct. These militaristic music-mongers feature in the movie’s most amusing sequences, such as the “riff off” at the home of eccentric enthusiast David Cross. This set piece displays all the energy and creative edge we came to associate with part one – in fact it’s better than the final showdown, which lacks danger and is followed by a somewhat abrupt ending.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Emily, a major new addition to the cast. She’s pleasant enough, but I’m not sure what she really brings to the table in a movie overflowing with characters in the first place. Kendrick is as likeable as ever, and Wilson wisely gets to do more this time round. Camp shows up in a smaller role, with Aubrey now running a country retreat used by the group later in the film. If anything Banks and Cannon ration the performers quite effectively. Skylar Astin returns as Jesse, but is scaled down in favour of Ben Platt‘s Benji, who romances Steinfeld. Not everyone is well-served –  I found it hard to see why Chrissie Fit‘s offbeat dialogue was supposed to be funny (she comes out with far better material in the outtakes) and she’s doing the same joke as Hana Mae Lee‘s Lilly anyway. Banks herself has some choice moments in the company of sparring partner John Michael Higgins.

Universal haven’t skimped on the extras, with the Blu-ray carrying a long list of featurettes, bonus musical content, deleted scenes and a commentary. If you’re not all aca-ed-out by the end of the feature you can dive into various toe-tapping treats.

Pitch Perfect 3 is on the horizon, and it’s tough to see where the Bellas could go next. Saying that, the second instalment similarly had nowhere to go and went alright. Banks has succeeded in making an entertaining follow up, her directorial debut showing the kind of warmth, sass and sheer sense of joy that set its predecessor apart from the crowd. It’s far from perfect, but its pitch is in the right place.

This review appeared on The Hollywood News.

Columbo: How I’d Do It

PFColumbo is one of my favourite TV shows, and like many fans I wonder how it would work if it were brought back. In the twenty-first century the legacy is very much alive on social media and Columbophile’s recent post got me mulling definitively on the prospect.

It’s led me to think that, despite the absence of original star Peter Falk, the show really could be revived. Whether it should…? That’s a whole other question. Columbophile was highly eloquent about what he did and didn’t want, and we chatted briefly about it on Twitter. However the more I pondered it, the more I found myself going in a different direction. Eventually, like the little details that always bug the Lieutenant, the ideas soon crowded in my head and now it’s going to be cheap therapy for me to write it down.

I’m arguing that the format was as much a star of the show as Mr Falk. The simple concept of knowing who committed the crime from the outset is unique to Columbo and can’t be separated from it in my view. There are two major factors to the appeal of the series – watching the killer in the aftermath of the crime/waiting for him or her to be caught. And spectating as the high and mighty are brought down a peg.

The former will always be compelling. There’s a greater social context than ever for the latter. Donald Trump is aiming for the White House. Celebs achieve notoriety by showing up at various places. The cultural landscape is ripe for a Columbo’ing! Aside from the usual line up of prominent figures I’d have murderers more directly tied to real life “personalities”, so there’d be a satirical bent to proceedings. Columbophile makes a good point that – as with the classic 70s version – performers you associate with movies have decamped to television (one of the reasons the revival lacked sparkle). But there’s scope to put some less likely actors in the frame, along the lines of Johnny Cash‘s appearance in Swan Song. In this age of celebrity you might well see occasional thesps Taylor Swift, or Snoop Dogg being pestered by the great detective.

So a crucial element of a return for me would be a contemporary setting. Columbo is associated with the 70s, but back then it was cutting edge stuff, in terms of electronic music and presentation. I’d be more interested in pushing forward with the new rather than sticking closely to the old, and feel the staple ingredients would update themselves quite easily. The earlier episodes were an hour long, fairly similar to today. I’d keep the slower pace of course, in opposition to the CSI style – audiences wouldn’t mind and like before it’d enhance the old school battle of wits.

The small screen plays host to all manner of horrors, with the theatre of death having been ramped up to mega-levels in the decade or so since the last televised instalment. I’d make the murders pretty eye-popping at times, fiendishly-constructed and not shying away from gore. That’s not to say every week would see a flying head, but the new Columbo would be more wince-inducing and graphic. Mind you, its predecessor had a fair helping of nastiness – George Hamilton despatching a reporter with a poison cigarette in Caution Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health was uncomfortable viewing as I recall.

Last but not least, there’s the question of the lead actor. Peter Falk is a legend. That’s why I’d have no intention of trying to replace him, or echo his performance (though Jason Alexander would make a good Columbo in that mould). Instead I’d go for something different and cast Hugh Laurie

HLHis name has been speculated on previously and to me he’s a great fit. Columbo is full of surprises. Hugh Laurie is full of surprises. He can take the aloofness, the humour, the intelligence and gumshoe persistence, and roll it into a ball, creating a deceptive steamroller of a character. There’s no point in conjuring up Mr Falk. A fresh take on the concept requires a fresh face.

I’d shift the nature of the Lieutenant slightly, moving him away from the trench-coated bloodhound and more in the direction of slacker. To his opponents he’s a Cosmo Kramer-like “hipster doofus” (though he wouldn’t be walking into doors and so forth). Yet he epitomizes the person who looks all over the place, when really they’re paying strict attention, and waiting for the moment to strike.

That’s how I’d do it anyway.