Guest Review: The Great Wall (2017)

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Directed By: Yimou Zhang
Written By: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I’m so happy they cast Matt Damon as the lead in The Great Wall. Middle-aged white men are dangerously underrepresented in Hollywood nowadays, and giving recognition to a criminally underused actor was such a brave, progressive decision by the filmmakers.

Am I being too subtle in my sarcasm? I might be laying it on a little too thin. In all seriousness, I won’t make this entire review about whitewashing in Hollywood (although, obviously, it will be addressed), since A) there would be too much to talk about for one post and B) this movie had other problems in addition to casting a white actor as the main character in a movie set around a Chinese landmark…like the fact that it’s in 3D. Oh, boy.

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In The Great Wall, two European soldiers named William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are searching China for gunpowder and stumble upon the eponymous structure in the midst of an attack by a horde of massive reptilian beasts that have been plaguing the country every sixty years. The men assist the soldiers, led by Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), in attempting to defeat the monsters once and for all.

One of my biggest questions during this movie was “What nationality is Matt Damon supposed to be?” Saying he half-asses whatever accent he’s attempting is generous; he quarter-asses it. It sounds like a lazy blend of Irish and Scottish, although at one point when he responded to a question Tovar asked him in Spanish, I thought for one glorious moment he was supposed to be from Spain and was going for an imitation of Sean Connery in Highlander before we eventually find out the character’s name is William.

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Seriously, there is no good reason to have a European character as the lead in this movie. William and Tovar could easily be completely removed from the film without affecting the plot. They try to make it out like William is this big hero, a huge asset to the Chinese army’s cause (because obviously what this massive, finely-tuned army really needs is one white dude with a bow and arrow to save the day), but the only role William and Tovar serve is exposition, clueless foreigners for the Chinese army to explain why there are lizard-dog monsters attacking the Great Wall. At best, they provide some comedic relief, but it ranges from cliché to cringe-worthy, including an especially stupid moment where Tovar grabs a bright red cape from a fallen soldier and waves it, toreador-like, at one of the creatures; apparently the writers took some of their comedy cues from old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

On the subject of Tovar, I do love Pedro Pascal, especially after seeing him in Game of Thrones a couple seasons ago (R.I.P., Oberyn), and he does a good job with what little he’s given, managing a balance of being humorous and a little menacing. I really hope to see him in more major films, just not any that are…like this.

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While the writing and casting of this movie are problematic, it still is visually stunning. The costumes are especially beautiful, with the brightly-colored armor vibrant against the gritty background. The soundtrack is lovely. A lot of the battle action is really cool to watch, with some incredibly well choreographed moments. There are some breathtaking wide shots of the scenery, marred only when they do running close-ups of the wall and cheesy CGI arrows as an excuse for 3D. While there is a lot that is fun to look at, there is no reason for it to be in 3D, and the shots that are clearly in the movie for the 3D are so forced.

If you just want to see some pretty scenes and creative monsters, check this out. Otherwise, I’d recommend avoiding this hour and a half of stupidity.

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Have you seen ‘The Great Wall’? Well, what did you think? 

Ranking the BOURNE villains – from worst to best

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Every hero requires a villain and the Jason Bourne franchise has plenty of villains to root against. I do want to see him go up against other groups of villains though, as opposed to just CIA bigwigs and their hired assassins. Maybe for the next sequel, Bourne could take down some other group of baddies. In the meantime, here’s my list of worst to best villains of the franchise so far. Please note I’m excluding The Bourne Legacy without Matt Damon in the lead because that’s a crappy film and I don’t count it as part of the Bourne franchise.

Naturally this post contains spoilers so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen any of the Bourne films yet.

4. The Bourne Supremacy – Ward Abbot, Gretkov and Kirill

Even though it’s my favorite film of the franchise, I thought the villains were pretty weak. Abbot (Brian Cox) was just a greedy weasel who tried to cover up his mess when the shit hit the storm. Gretkov is a typical powerful businessman whose only goal was to get super rich and killed anyone who got in his way. I like Karl Urban’s assassin character here but he didn’t have much to do. He’s just another hired gun and nothing else. I would’ve loved to see more development of his character and maybe that epic climatic car chase between him and Bourne would’ve been even sweeter.

3. The Bourne Ultimatum – Noah Vosen, Ezra Kramer and Paz

I like David Strathairn as an actor but somehow I thought he’s sort of miscast here as the lead villain in this third Bourne film. Vosen is basically a Yes Man type of character whose main goal was to keep his boss out of trouble. To me he’s not menacing enough to be the lead villain in a spy film. Now the true villain in the film was actually Scott Glenn’s character but we saw so little of him that he became non-existent. Edgar Ramirez’s Paz was just another hired gun whose mission is to kill Bourne.

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2. Jason Bourne – Robert Dewey and Asset

In the newest Boune film, these two villains were given more to do than just trying to take down Bourne. Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is an old school type of person and he truly believes what he’s doing is to keep the US safe from terror. He’s cunning and very manipulative and of course dangerous if you decide to cross him.

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Vincent Cassel’s assassin character was given some motivation as to why he wanted to kill Bourne and I thought it worked pretty well. He’s not just another hired gun who wants Bourne dead; he got his own agenda and won’t listen to reasons until Bourne is gone. For those who’ve seen the film, you’re probably why I didn’t mention Heather Lee. Well I’m not sure if she’s truly a villainous person or someone who still wants to use Bourne to climb the CIA power ladder. I think of her as the younger version of Pamela Landy.

1. The Bourne Identity – Conklin and The Professor

Chris Cooper’s villainous turn in the first film is still my favorite. He’s got as much screen time as Bourne and also has some juiciest and fun scenes. My favorite scene is when he found out the French police has screwed up and alarmed Bourne and then Bourne was able to get away, again. He’s started screaming in the CIA operation room and everyone was silent and scared shitless. I think most of us have been in that situation when your boss loses his cool and you don’t know what to say. His confrontation scene with Bourne near the end was another one I really enjoy, I thought Cooper totally outshine Damon in that scene.

Clive Owen’s The Professor wasn’t on the screen that much but his mysterious character somehow made more impact than other assassins in the franchise. His scene with Bourne before his death (shown above) is still my favorite; it’s quite and kind of chilling as to what these assassin has to go through in their daily lives.

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Ruth’s Take

I agree with Ted’s list though I probably would switch #3 and #4 because I think Brian Cox and Karl Urban are far more interesting than the David Strathairn/Edgar Ramirez pairing. In fact I barely remember Ramirez whilst all the chase scenes with Urban is extremely memorable.

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“I always work alone.”

I totally agree with Ted’s number 1 pick, and that chilling final scene between Damon and Owen is one of my favorites of the entire franchise. Owen displays such a compelling vulnerability as an assassin that made the character human instead of just another cold killing machine.


So what do you think of this list? How would YOU rank the Bourne villains?

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FlixChatter Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

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As a fan of the Bourne trilogy, I was dismayed when in 2012, Universal went ahead with the sequel (Bourne Legacy) without Matt Damon. That fact perhaps made me more excited to see Damon teamed up again with director Paul Greengrass for a fifth (well, technically fourth) entry. I guess it’s inevitable that a franchise as lucrative as Bourne will keep on going and going like the Energizer bunny, it’s essentially the American version of James Bond.

This movie starts out about eight years after the events that took place in Bourne Ultimatum, where Bourne exposed CIA’s covert ops Blackfriar. As a result he’s been hiding out in Greece, and apparently does bare-knuckle boxing in his spare time. Whilst the previous three films followed Bourne on a journey to find out who he really is, this time around he’s aware of his identity. He knows his real name is David Webb and became the lethal assassin that is Jason Bourne when he joined Treadstone. But of course there are new revelations about his past that the CIA’s been keeping from him, and later we find out the matter is quite a personal one.
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Intense secrecy and not knowing who to trust is at the heart of any spy thriller and that’s the case here. There are obvious antagonists, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his henchman known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel), but there’s Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who heads the Cyber Ops Division who’s sort of in the gray area. On Bourne side is his longtime ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who risks herself retrieving classified files about Bourne’s late father.

Now, one major beef I have with this movie is how they handled Nicky. I feel that for someone who’s been with the franchise for that long, the writers (Greengrass & Christopher Rouse) should’ve given her a much better character arc. Heck, I’d love to see just a bit of background to her character that would at least explain why she’s loyal to Bourne. I mean, they did so with The Asset, which explains his personal vendetta against Bourne. At the very least, why not give her the same courtesy?

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But what I did like is that like in previous films, Bourne is given an adversary worthy of his prowess. Jones’ Dewey is ruthless in his pursuit to eliminate him and Cassel is one menacing guy who makes The Asset a formidable foe for Bourne. Dewey’s ruthlessness isn’t just concerning Bourne, but the fact that he’s willing to sacrifice his own people, as well as civilians at large, in order to fulfill his purposes. The film also delves into the state of current tech and geopolitical climate and woven it into the plot. Things like privacy, hacking, the political instability in Greece, etc. are certainly timely things we deal with in our world today. So the subplot involving a social media program called Deep Dream is pretty relevant, and British actor Riz Ahmed is quite memorable here playing its founder.

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The movie is basically a giant chase scene. There’s not much breathing room because of the way Greengrass shot every scene. Even the mundane office scenes are shot in a frenetic style with hand-held camera that gave me a bit of a headache at first. But thankfully after a while I was able to overcome it and it didn’t bother me as much, though I still think it’s a bit excessive.

Going into a Bourne movie, of course you expect a ton of exhilarating action sequences, and this movie delivered! The motorcycle scene through narrow streets, scaling up and down steps through a Greek city gives you such a huge adrenaline rush. But that’s nothing compared to the crazy car chase in the Vegas strip involving a SWAT truck plowing through a bunch of cars. It certainly isn’t aiming for realism, but boy was it fun! Apparently the sequence took five weeks to shoot and ended up wrecking 170 cars.

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Those wanting to see hand-to-hand combat won’t be disappointed though. There’s an extended scene of Bourne vs. The Asset that’s pretty darn intense. I noticed there’s no music going on during that scene, only the sound of bone crunching and flesh tearing to enhance the impact. Damon’s definitely still got it, Bourne is certainly one of my favorite roles of his. At 45 he’s looking more grizzled with bags under his eyes, but he pulls off the physically-demanding role once again. But of course like Bond, Bourne’s got stamina of super-heroic proportion and seems to be impervious to pain.

The finale suggests the strained relationship between Bourne & the Agency remains unchanged. Of course there wouldn’t be a Bourne franchise if the hero’s suddenly in good terms with a big, powerful organization notorious for overreaching its boundaries. Vikander acquits herself well here as the new face who might be present in future installments, and I have no problem with that.

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I think there’s nostalgic elements here that affect my enjoyment. I love that the Moby song Extreme Ways is still used, it’s certainly the defining theme for the franchise. On the whole I think Jason Bourne is on par with the trilogy even if it isn’t as impactful. It could be because the mystery surrounding his identity is no longer there, which was the secret ingredient that makes Bourne’s journey so intriguing. That said, it’s certainly still an enjoyable action thriller because I’m a big fan of this character and Damon playing him. Unlike Bond though, it remains to be seen if this franchise can have as much longevity without Greengrass and Damon.

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Have you seen ‘Jason Bourne’? I’d love to hear what you think!

Genre Grandeur – Heist Movies: Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Thirteen

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This post is part of MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur (or Guesstimation) series. Thanks to my pal Ted S. for his review of one of his favorite films of the genre.


I lost count on how many times I’ve watched these two Ocean’s films; I’m going to pretend that Ocean’s 12 never existed; the self-indulgent film was an embarrassing to everyone who’s involved in making it. Don’t get me started on the whole Julia Roberts pretended to be Julia Roberts sequence. I wanted to punch the writers and director Steven Soderbergh for thinking that we the audience would be that stupid and thought it would be a fun scene to watch.

Well speaking of Soderbergh, in the early 2000s, he’s the director every actor wanted to work with. If I remember correctly, two of his films in 2000, Traffic and Erin Brockovich were box office hits and got nominated for best picture at the Oscars. He received the golden statue for directing Traffic. So of course there were big expectations for his next picture. Opened during the holiday season of 2001, Ocean’s Eleven was one of that year’s biggest hits and spawned two sequels. Of course the cast was probably the big draw, packed with three A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts; veterans Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould and young up and coming actors such as Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.
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Recently paroled Danny Ocean (Clooney) decides to get in touch with some of his old buddies including black jack dealer named Frank Catton (the late great Bernie Mac) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt). They hatched a plan to steal money from two Las Vegas casinos during a big boxing match that could be worth more than $130mil. The casinos are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). In order to get their plan rolling, they need some funding from Benedict’s rival Reuben (Elliot Gould). With backing from Reuben, Danny and Rusty went and recruit the rest of the team.

What I love about this film was the chemistry with each of the actors; they were all believable to me as a team on a mission. I especially love the bickering between the Mormon twins (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan). The script was well written and the actual heist was very clever and fun to watch. Unlike some other heist genre film, there were no twists or backstabbing from someone in the team. They finished their mission and everyone got paid.

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After the disastrous Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh decided to fix his mistake from the second sequel and brought the team back for another heist in Vegas. In Ocean’s Thirteen, the team’s mission this time is revenge. After Reuben was left for dead by his former partner Willy Bank (Al Pacino), Danny and Rusty wanted to break Bank’s brand new casino. Unlike the second sequel where I felt the actors and filmmakers were having fun but we the audience were left out. In this film, Soderbergh brought back the fun and I had a great time with it; heck I think I liked it better than the first film. The heist itself was quite clever, instead of stealing the money from the casino for themselves, Ocean’s team decided to let everyone win big. Speaking as someone who goes to Vegas regularly and gambles there, I would have loved to be involved in this heist.

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Pacino w/ Ellen Barkin who’s quite the scene stealer in the movie

These two Ocean films aren’t the best in the heist genre but they sure are fun to watch. Maybe because it’s set in one of my favorite cities to visit Las Vegas, it’s the reason why I can’t get enough of these films.

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Well, what do YOU think of these two Ocean’s films? Which of the trilogy is your favorite? 

Throwback Tuesday: Fave scenes from THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)

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Hello friends! I thought I’d introduce a new blog series, as I’m so good at keeping up with every single blog series I’ve put together, right 😉 This series is sort of inspired by Deadpool believe it or not. I just saw it last night and it’s got a lot of hilarious 80s throwbacks so I thought why not do a throwback post?

So this series is to highlight a scene/quote/photo what have you from my favorite movies that’s at least a decade or older. And since we just saw the Jason Bourne trailer during the Super Bowl, it made me want to re-watch the original trilogy (I’m not counting the lame Bourne Legacy w/ Jeremy Renner).

Firstly, look at what Matt Damon look like fourteen years ago. Yep, it has been that long since The Bourne Identity was released in 2002! I’d say he still looks pretty good now after over a decade, I mean he’s got more lines on his face which adds more character and grit. He looks like he’s even more pissed off too, which made him scarier, ahah.

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Damon as Jason Bourne in 2002 and in 2016

Look at that baby-faced Damon in the first Bourne movie. Who’d have thought he’d be a highly-efficient killing machine?? I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of Damon before Bourne. I mean, I didn’t dislike him or anything, I just didn’t think he was anything special. I never would’ve thought he’d be good in a role like this so imagine my surprise that not only did I LOVE the first Bourne movie, it also changed my opinion about Damon in that he can be super bad-ass!

Now, there are a ton of awesome action sequences here, but I always LOVE a good chase scene. Especially set in one of my favorite European city! This was directed by Doug Liman who recently did Edge of Tomorrow.


Who doesn’t love Clive Owen. It’s absolutely brilliant to see him (the man who could be Bond) as the strong-silent-type villain opposite Bourne? I think the finale is fantastic, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet you might not want to watch this.



Are you a fan of the Bourne franchise? What’s your memory of the first time you watched The Bourne Identity?

Music Break: The Martian’s DISCO Classics

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One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed about The Martian was the lighthearted tone of the film, despite the obviously dire subject matter of someone being stuck in Mars. And one of the funniest bits in the film involve something totally unexpected… DISCO music!

Matt Damon‘s character Mark Watney initially hated it, but he’s not only stuck in Mars but he’s also stuck with his colleague Melissa Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) disco collection. “My God, Commander Lewis… couldn’t you have packed anything from this century?”

Disco + Mars?? Who’d have thought?? When I left the theater I immediately turned to my hubby and said that it certainly has the Guardians of the Galaxy vibe with its 70s retro music compilation. Per Billboard mag, ‘…The ‘70s music theme is taken directly from Andy Weir’s best-seller upon which the movie is based. Screenwriter Drew Goddard wrote song choices into the script and Scalia says the majority were kept, although a few were switched for other tunes…’

I also enjoyed the score itself by composer Harry Gregson-Williams. He’s quoted on Billboard saying that “Scoring The Martian involved ducking and diving around some pretty neat classic disco songs that were woven in to the fabric of the film.” That’s just brilliant!

As The Atlantic article aptly puts it… “It’s hard to become too depressed by Watney’s situation when “Hot Stuff” is playing in the background.” Indeed. Depending how you feel about disco music though, beware that after watching this, you’d be humming (and even dancing) to them before you even realize it!

So here are five awesome disco classics featured in the movie:

Hot Stuff by Donna Summer

Turn the Beat Around by Vickie Sue Robinson

Love Train by O’jays

Waterloo by ABBA

This one plays in the end credits and of course it’s just perfect!

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

 


Did you enjoy the music in The Martian?

FlixChatter Review: The Martian (2015)

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It’s a testament of a truly good film when two weeks after I saw it I’m still thinking about it fondly and can’t wait to see it again. I mentioned in this post that I had been anticipating this film for a couple of reasons, but deep down I still wished it’d be good as I like Ridley Scott. Well, glad to report that the 77-year-old British thespian certainly still got it.

If the plot makes you think of Saving Private Ryan because it involves saving Matt Damon, well you wouldn’t be wrong, but the similarities pretty much end there. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to the part when Mark Watney is left alone in Mars following an accident that made his teammates presumed he’s killed. It turns out he survives the accident but that’s only the beginning of his journey being stranded in a desolate planet. The first act pretty much contains scenes of Watney dealing with the concept of surviving on whatever resources is left on the space station, as the next Mars mission would take at least four years.

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There are similarities to Gravity and Interstellar, but I think The Martian is a heck of a lot more entertaining than both. It’s an intelligent crowd pleaser that doesn’t dumb down the audience, but it also doesn’t bog us down with scientific mumbo jumbo or bludgeon us with over-sentimentality. Even the scenes in NASA with a terrific ensemble cast doesn’t feel at all boring or obligatory and has its share of amusing and fun moments. The emotional moments throughout the film feels natural and not at all manipulative, a testament to the shrewd script by Drew Goddard and Scott’s direction.

The whole concept of an astronaut growing potatoes inside a space station certainly make for some amusing and highly entertaining scenes. Whether it’s actually possible or not doesn’t really matter, and that’s what I find about this film. I find that I don’t pick apart the science as much as I did with say Interstellar, as I was completely invested in Watney’s journey from start to finish. It helps too that the script is really focused about the ‘bring him home’ storyline and keep it frill-free from unneccessary subplots.

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As for that ensemble cast, I’ll mention those who impressed me most, starting with Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. He made him memorable even though he’s not the most interesting characters. The same could be said with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as two lead scientists tasked to help bring Watney home. Sean Bean is always great to watch but there is one particularly memorable scene involving a very famous fantasy trilogy that made his casting even more perfect. They actually have more to do in the film than Watney’s fellow team mates including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, though they are all pretty good in their roles. Donald Glover also has a brief but memorable role as a young genius astronomer who provides a key theory for the recovery mission. But the real star here is obviously Damon, who has the most screen time and most of his scenes are basically a one-man-show of him talking to the camera.

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The Martian looks phenomenal and has some breathtaking *aerial shots* by Dariusz Wolski of the red planet, shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red-colored desert. That said, it’s not a style-over-substance film, in fact, it’s a story and character-driven piece, which is what every film should be. It must have been hellish for Watney to be stuck up there on his own, but thankfully, watching him being stuck there isn’t. The survival story is more akin to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, given the humorous tone and amazing survival skills of the protagonist. This is perhaps one of my favorite roles of Matt Damon, and he’s as likable and funny as he ever as astronaut Mark Watney.

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As with any survival story, there is an element of inspiration that make you appreciate what you have on earth, from profound things like spending time with your family to seemingly-trivial things like duct tape. But the film does it in such a droll and fun way, which seems to be faithful in terms to tone to Andy Weir‘s sci-fi novel, described by one book critic as “…sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery” (per Wiki). I also love that The Martian is not dark and brooding despite the rather grim subject matter of a man being trapped alone in space. It’s also not nearly as violent as Scott’s other sci-fi film, apart from an earlier scene that definitely made me avert my eyes. This could very well be the most enjoyable theatrical experience from Ridley Scott since Gladiator, so yeah sir, we’re definitely entertained. And thanks for making another epic film that I can watch and appreciate for years to come.

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Have you seen The Martian? What did you think?