Halloween(8/31/2007)

   

 

            When it was announced that Dimension films was planning a remake of John Carpenter’s 1979 slasher classic Halloween, I among many others just sighed at the folly of the enterprise.  The original Halloween was one of the most influential horror movies of all time.  The movie still holds up today; aside from some 70’s style clothing, hairstyles, and slang one would hardly realize it was old.  The original is still watched annually by me every October 31st, I didn’t need a new Halloween and I was ready to miss the remake when it hit theaters.  Suddenly though I was struck with a ray of hope, Rob Zombie was going to be sitting in the director’s chair.  Rob is a director who has had a certain integrity and creativity during his horror movie career, I didn’t see why he would be making this if it were the debacle I had envisioned.  Unfortunately, Rob Zombie has completely disappointed me, the remake of Halloween is just as bad as I feared.
            The film begins in 1989 where a young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a troubled youth living is a deeply dysfunctional redneck family.  His father (William Forsythe) is clearly abusive, and his loving mother (Played by Rob’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper.  Michael finally snaps and murders a school bully, his father, his sister Judith (Hanna Hall), and her boyfriend.  Following this quadruple homicide Michael is put into a maximum security psychiatric ward.  Michael’s mother commits suicide, leaving behind a baby girl.  Psychologist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) tries to work on Michael for seventeen years without any success.  The adult, and mysteriously buff, Myers (Tyler Mane) naturally escapes from prison seeking blood.
            Rob Zombie (real name: Robert Cummings) began his entertainment career in music, as the lead singer of the groove metal band White Zombie.  Zombie, who had been interested it kitch horror movies since a child, brought a sense of macabre theatricality to his music, especially in is live performances and music videos.  In 2003 Zombie expanded his work into film directing with The House of 1000 Corpses, a movie that ultimately failed but had its moments.  There was promise in Corpses, but I was completely unprepared for how good its sequel The Devil’s Rejects was.  Rejects was a rollicking good time of violent kitch, not a true horror movie, but a violent tribute to everything Zombie seems to love.  Rejects was actually a movie that owed a lot to Quentin Tarentino of all people.  The film actually did the same thing Tarentino does: borrow from a whole lot of other movies the director loves and mix them interestingly into an original story.  Rejects wasn’t for everyone, but I thought it was one of the most enjoyable movies of its genre in a long time.
            The Devil’s Rejects is the one thing that convinced me this remake would be worthwhile.  Zombie seemed to know what he was doing, the casting of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis seemed perfect. I defended Zombie even when it was announced he was going to be revealing additional back-story about Myers, a move many (correctly) thought would de-mystify the character.  Unfortunately my initial instincts about this project were correct, a remake of Halloween has proven to be completely unneeded.  The project is also unsuited for Zombie, whose previous work was effective because it embraced a certain campy fun that is completely absent from the original Halloween.
            The remake makes a futile attempt at telling the back story of Michael Myers.  This is futile first because everything here actually was covered in the original, just in a much faster and far less boring way.  Michael’s childhood murder for example, was taken care of during a five minute sedi-cam shot.  Here it is covered by a twenty minute sequence, but what new does this twenty minute sequence accomplish?  Well there are four victims instead of one, which helps the film’s blood quotient, but otherwise doesn’t change the Myers character one iota.  Additionally it turns his family into a completely dysfunctional entity in a futile attempt to explain Myers behavior.  But isn’t it more frightening for Meyer’s behavior to come out of ordinary circumstances?  The original managed to avoid all this by writing off Myers as simply being the personification of evil, this not only moved the story along but also added a creepy aura to Myers that contributed far more to the fear the character evoked than his butcher knife.  The remake is robbed of this aura and is completely slowed down by this new material.  Also boring, is the extended period Myers spends in prison, which again, slows down the story and takes away Myers aura.  The movie does get a little better once we get to the contemporary story, if only because it follows the original’s story more closely.  
            The casting of both the young and the old Michael Myers are poor.  Daeg Faerch is boring and one note as the young Michael Myers , his line readings are poor and his “spooky stare” needs work.  I don’t want to be too hard on a ten year old actor, but we’ve seen dozens of better “creepy kids” throughout horror movie history.  Tyler Mane as the adult Michael Myers is even more problematic.  Many would assume that the role of a masked killer could be played by anyone regardless of talent, and that’s true, the original Myers was basically played by an unpaid intern and has been played by various stuntmen ever since.  Mane isn’t to blame for his presence, he’s simply miscast, this former pro-wrestler is a huge behemoth who more closely resembles Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series than the Michael Myers we all know and love.  This Myers is more of a brute force than the original who seemed to have a more stealth oriented approach to things.  
            For what it’s worth, the rest of the cast isn’t half bad.  I rather like the girls cast as Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe), in fact I think they are about the only improvement here over the original.  It may seem like heresy but I don’t really think Jamie Lee Curtis was all that good in the original, she gives a lot of bad line deliveries and despite only being 21 at the time, didn’t look at all like a teenager.  The new trio of friends however did feel like a real set of teenage girls. Some may find the way these teens act and talk annoying, but it really is authentic way modern teenage girls act and talk.  Malcolm McDowell felt like perfect casting as the crazy old man Dr. Sam Loomis, his performance however is a bit of a disappointment.  McDowell is all right, but he doesn’t live up to Donald Plesence’s take on the character in the original.  The rest of the cast is made up of cameos by the cast of The Devil’s Rejects each of whom brings brief, fun, presences in their scenes.
            The violence in the original Halloween is surprisingly restrained in retrospect.  It’s R-rated stuff, but it was also mostly bloodless.  Knowing Rob Zombie’s body of work I knew that wasn’t what we were in for here.  This movie is incredibly bloody and violent; this alone isn’t a problem, I am a fan of The Devil’s Rejects after all, but it doesn’t work at all here.  Those seeking the kind of over the top, almost fun gore seen in 80’s slasher films like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street provided will be disappointed.  The violence in here is of an extremely brutal nature.  The first kill for instance involves a young Myers beating another child severely with a log, pausing to listen to the boy plead for his life, only to finish him off.  There are twenty one more brutal killings to go after that, I wasn’t remotely scared or even put in a state of suspense by any of this, it was simply disturbing for the sake of being disturbing.  It really wore me out by the end.  
            The movie is amazingly dark, in the sense of lighting that is. At least 80% of this movie must take place at night.  My eyes began to strain by the end of the movie.  Between this and the unrelenting violence I was quite relived to walk out of the theater into sunlight.  The story amounts to nothing, the violence is needlessly sadistic, it fails completely to live up to the original, and it is also devoid of any suspense.  With this disaster I have lost a lot of faith in Rob Zombie as a film maker.  I’ve always felt he deserved better than to be lumped into the so-called “splat-pack”, but I’m beginning to think The Devil’s Rejects was a fluke.  Remaking Halloween was a massive lapse in judgment from someone I once had a lot of respect for.  Rob Zombie should have known better than to make it, I should have known better than to see it, and unless this movie ends up being the fluke of his career I may soon be turning in my “Rob Zombie apologist” card.

* out of four

DVD Catch Up: The Lookout(8/28/2007)

 
            The Lookout is the first film directed by veteran screenwriter Scott Frank.  Frank has done writing work on some really good films including Out of Sight and Minority Report.  His directorial debut is based on his own original screenplay.  The fact that it is an original screenplay is interesting as the film feels like it was based on a novel.  The film doesn’t feel like it was based on a very good novel, but it does feel like a crime story more concerned with its characters than with crime.
            The film centers on Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a twenty-something dead at the core.  It is revealed in the first scene that Pratt’s irresponsible driving lead to the deaths of two friends in a nasty accident.  The accident left Pratt with brain damage and a deep guilt about his actions.  Pratt has a distant relation with his family and lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a blind friend who has a certain wisdom about the world.  Lewis may be blind, but Pratt is the true handicapped person in the apartment, Pratt can barely tell the story of Goldilocks without help.  Pratt holds a night job as a janitor at the local bank where he is visited every night by a friendly state trooper named Ted (Sergio Di Zio) whose wife is expecting a baby.  Eventually Pratt begins to fall in with a crew of bank robbers hoping to use Pratt’s inside position at the bank to help a robbery.
            Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives an admirable lead performance as Pratt.  Most viewers will probably recognize Gordon-Levitt from the 90s sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun,” since that show was cancelled in 2001 he’s been in a number of respectable but forgettable independent films like Brick and Mysterious Skin.  Gordon-Levitt is completely inhabits this sad, lonely, and wounded person.  Jeff Daniels also creates a likable character that is an interesting contrast to Pratt.  Lewis is a very warm lovable figure, yet also very believable.  The supporting cast isn’t as consistently good as the two leads, the bank robbing crew are particularly one note.
            Chris Pratt is an interesting and sympathetic character.  There are the makings of a good character study here, unfortunately the film decides to be a thriller rather than a slice of life, and the eventual event that Pratt is a lookout for is no where near as interesting as the character driven elements.  
            The movie is quite predictable, everything that happens in the second half are transparently set up in the beginning.  Pratt is visited by a very friendly police officer whose pregnant wife is expecting to deliver soon, the cop visits the bank every night; can anyone NOT guess what’s going to happen to this guy?  There are a lot of things like this, by the end you realize that almost every scene in the first half only existed to set up something in the second half.
            Scott Frank’s direction is highly competent, but could use work.  His obvious weakness is action, the visual continuity of the films main set piece completely breaks from the visual continuity of the rest of the film.  The technical accomplishments of the rest of the film are never poor, but rarely impress enough to elevate one’s opinion about the film.
            The Lookout is a noble effort that never really breaks out of a fairly mediocre mold.  I wish Frank had more confidence in his character’s ability to entertain.  Pratt the depressed soul is a lot more interesting to me than the mediocre heist sub-plot.  The Lookout is a missed opportunity, but there is enough good in it to maybe be worth a rental.
**1/2 out of four

Superbad(8/22/2007)

 

            Judd Apatow is a on top of the comedy world right now.  Apatow has been behind my two favorite comedies of the last three years that didn’t involve anyone saying “U-S and A”, those two films being Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin.  Both of these movies managed to take high concept stories and made them hilarious largely because of they A. had absolutely laugh out loud hilarious and profane dialogue between established groups of friends, and B. had real human stories to contain the aforementioned dialogue.  The new film Superbad, is largely considered to be Apatow’s follow up to Knocked Up, which is strange considering Apatow neither wrote nor directed the film, he merely produced the film along with three other credited producers.  Television director Greg Mottola was the director, but the comparisons to Apatow’s two previous projects are valid, Superbad takes the idea behind those two projects, executes them nearly as well, and the result is another great comedy from team Apatow.
            I started my review of Judd Apatow’s last project, Knocked Up, I said it was one of the most original unoriginal movies ever made.  I’m tempted to recycle that line again for his new project Superbad, it takes a stock storyline we’ve seen done a thousand time and finally does it right.  While The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up largely focused on a single character ad his circle of friends, Superbad acts as more of an ensemble piece between three characters.  The two characters at the center of the film are Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) two unpopular high school seniors who will be going to different collages the next year.  The two manage to get themselves invited to a party where their respective crushes Jules (Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac) will both be attending and, as Seth hopes, be drunk and horny.  The catch is, the two are expeted to be supplying the alcohol at the party and the person in possetion of the fake I.D. they claimed to have is Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a nerdy figure who seems to be a secondary friend to the pair.  Getting the booze to the party turns out to be far more complicated than either of the boys imagined.  The pair and Fogell are separated; Seth and Evan find themselves at the redneck house party from Hell, while Fogell is given a ride by the two most irresponsible police officers this side of Bad Lieutenant.
            The plot of Superbad makes it sound like the same raunchy teen comedy you’ve been watching for years.  The difference is that Superbad isn’t really a teen movie, it’s an adult comedy about teens, that’s not to say teens won’t enjoy it (they will), but there’s more going on here than the hormone fueled hijinx of something like Porkey’s.  It may be hard for many audiences to understand the sophistication of a film that has 186 uses of the F-word, a joke involving period blood, and an adolescent with a fake ID involving identifying him as McLovin (no first name, just Mclovin), but there is a reason for all this.  The dialogue is profane, but if you listen to the way actual way 17 year old male adolescents talk, you’ll find this is simply an accurate portrayal. 
            Superbad has more in common with Linklater’s Dazed and Confused than it does with American Pie.  The movie seems to be made with a certain sense of nostalgia, not for any era (the film is set in modern times) but for youth in general.  The film explores many of the issues covered in Alfonso Curon’s Y Tu Mama Tambien except in a far more comedic way. The relationship between Seth and Evan feels real, and their eventual coming of age revelations are cathartic.  The story seems to come from a very personal place.  It is probably not a coincidence that the film’s writers are named Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.  I’ll admit that the moral story here is not masterful, it certainly can’t  live up to a dramatic story covering the same topics (like the aforementioned Y Tu Mama Tambien) but this part of the movie comes off a lot better than the seemingly thoughtless humor of something like Talladega Nights. 
            This talk of the underlying messages about coming of age may be misleading, all that is there, but this is a sex comedy first and a coming of age movie second.  What’s really important here is the film’s comedy, and that works very well.  Most of the humor derives from the witty banter between Seth and Evan.  I could sit and listen to these guys go at it for hours.  There are also a lot of crazy happenings, but they never delve too far into the bizarre, the film does mostly take place in the real world.  Some of the behavior of the police officers begins to delve outside the film’s reality, but by this point the film is working so well the viewer doesn’t care. 
            One thing the film gets right is to cast actors who actually look like real teenagers.  Three of the five actors in teenage parts are under twenty, this works a lot better than the twenty-something actors that are usually cast in this type of movies.  The actors also look a lot more like real people than the cast of models that tend that fill up movies like American Pie.  Jonah Hill has been in a lot of poor comedies recently like Accepted and Grandma’s Boy, but here he prove that he can work when he’s given better material.  Michael Cera, who made his name on the cult sitcom Arrested Development, has to basically be a straight-man but also hold his own in a lot of funny conversations.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse makes his screen debut as Fogell (a character who will forever be remembered as McLovin), creates a character who almost steals the show.  Writer Seth Rogen and under-rated “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bill Hader play the two police officers in the film and both seem to have a great chemistry that keeps these two strange characters from seeming to absurd to work.
            Judd Apatow’s troupe is by far the most successful group in film comedy today.  This is the third straight success from them, and will easily be a classic of the teen sex-comedy genre.  The comedy is hilarious, the story holds up, and the comic acting is great.  The movie’s plot is familiar without being derivative.  Here’s hoping Apatow’s winning streak keeps going.  The movie isn’t for the easily offended, but those who don’t mind this kind of humor will find the movie Supergood (sorry I couldn’t resist.)
***1/2

The Simpsons Movie(8/17/2007)

 

            “The Simpsons” has been aired on Fox for almost eighteen years.  The show had a shakey first season, but quickly became one of the smartest and funniest things on t.v. or any other medium for that matter.  Unfortunately the years have not been kind to the show, most agree that the show has jumped the shark.  Thirteen hundred and two people on jumptheshark.com feel jumped in 1999, Seven hundred eighty eight people say it jumped in 1997, but they all seem to feel that by the end of the millennium the show had descended into a series of pointless random gags and lame episodes that either feature lame family trips or exist solely to support a guest star’s presence.  What was once the edgiest show on T.V. has become family entertainment, the formerly rebellious show has become part of the establishment. Now in 2007, more then half a decade since the series almost certainly jumped, Groening and company have decided to bring the Simpson family to the big screen with The Simpsons Movie.

            The Simpson family is familiar to just about everyone, even those who’ve been living under the proverbial rock.  As the movie opens, the Springfield lake has become so polluted that a big barge in the water dissolves as if it were in acid.  Lisa Simpson manages to convince the town to stop polluting the lake.  The town even stays true to its word, that is, until Homer (motivated by the prospect of free donuts) dumps a vat of pig waste into the lake resulting in an environmental crisis.  In response to this crisis President Schwarzenegger (not voiced by the real Schwarzenegger) is told by the millionaire EPA head Russ Cargill to place a dome around all of Springfield. 

            Watching “The Simpsons” on T.V. is free; so why would a viewer pay good money to see it in theaters?  The answer Trey Parker and Matt Stone came up with was to take away all the censorship of T.V. and go for an all out R-rated movie, thus delivering a much different product.  The Simpsons Movie does take a few liberties with its PG-13 rating that wouldn’t be taken on television.  A character says the word “goddamn” at one point, Homer gives a mob “the finger” in another, and there’s a surprising gag involving nudity.  However what you get for the most part is t.v. friendly.  I would have preferred they did more with the freedom of cinema, they had an opportunity to throw around the “s-word” and they could have used the “f-word” at least once, but they did neither despite obvious openings for both.

            There are more subtle benefits to the theatrical format.  The extended length of the movie really gives the show more of a chance to breath than a thirty minute episode ever would.  The fact that there are no (real) commercials also helps a lot.  For someone like me who doesn’t see many animated movies, it is really different simply to see the show projected onto the big screen.  The film also has a larger budget and uses a lot of computer related effects.  The movie’s frame is expanded to a full 2.35:1 widescreen, and the whole thing just looks a lot sharper than the show.

            The true benefit of the movie is that it is an event rather than yet another episode and as such the writers actually seem to give a damn.  The movie develops a real story that carries throughout the entirety of the film rather than annoyingly switching story paths every fifteen minutes like most recent episodes have.  The story focuses on the Simpson family rather than focusing on the one-note supporting characters that populate Springfield, these characters show up a lot but no one secondary character ever takes over.  The movie does have guest appearances, but the movie isn’t taken over by them like so many episodes are.

            Perhaps most importantly, the movie is pretty funny.  There are a lot of witty lines here that elicit laughs.  There are a lot of in-jokes that will have the hardcore fans giggling.  There are some politically subversive gags, but the movie generally avoids major political messages.  The lower physical humor doesn’t impress me much, but I’m sure it works for those looking for such material.  I did laugh a number of times, not very hard mind you, but I was laughing. 

            That’s not to say that many of the show’s more negative aspects as of late aren’t also present.  Many blame the decline of the show on the simple fact that it’s run out of ideas after nearly two decades.  This can be seen in the movie, as a number of jokes and plot ideas have been seen in some variation or another in old episodes.  There have been more than a few occasions where Marge and Homer have had marital problems, the town has been angry at Homer before, there have been a number of episodes where the family has gone on a trip and here they’re going on yet another one (this time to Alaska).  Additionally the movie too often descends into some of the crazy “Family Guy”-esque humor that has plagued recent episodes of the show.  For example, at a peak emotional point the screen goes black and a title card comes up and reads “To Be Continued… Immediately”.  This kind of “joke” is not only is completely unfunny but also takes the viewer completely out of the movie.  This type of thing comes up repeatedly.

            There really isn’t much to say about The Simpsons Movie, anyone who’s seen an episode of the show will pretty much know what they’re getting.  At the end of the day it is basicly a pretty good three part episode on screen, if you have no interest in seeing that, than stay out of the theater.  If you are interested in such a thing, The Simpsons Movie won’t disappoint.

*** out of four

DVD Catch Up: I Think I Love My Wife(8/9/2007)

 

            When he’s behind a microphone, Chris Rock is one of our greatest treasures.  Rock’s HBO specials like Bring the Pain, Bigger and Blacker, and Never Scared are masterpieces of standup comedy.  Those specials average sixty eight minutes in length, yet yield ten times as many laughs as even the best film comedies.  Unfortunately Rock’s acting career hasn’t been as consistent as his stand-up career.  He’s managed to be a decent supporting actor in other people’s movies, but he hasn’t really been able to lead a feature film.  Early in 2007 Rock released I Think I Love My Wife, a film which looked like it could break that trend.  It was an adult targeted film with a mature sounding storyline.  Additionally it sported an R-Rating, it seemed studios were finally willing to give the guy a chance to make a movie without censoring himself.
            The film focuses on Richard Cooper (Chris Rock), a stock trader on Wall Street who’s happily married to with two kids.   Despite his seemingly ideal life, Cooper finds himself bored with his wife Brenda (Gina Torres).  The marriage has descended into repetition and tedium and the couple’s sex life has become non-existent.  Cooper’s frustration is at the tipping point when Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington), and old friend, surprises him at his office having moved to the city and needing a job reference.  Cooper does not start sleeping with Nikki, but he does become attracted to her and begins going on what could be called dates with her.  Cooper’s work colleague George (Steve Buscemi) warns him that he’s too emotional to juggle both Nikki and his wife; George is right too, the “affair” causes an identity crisis of sorts for Cooper. 
            I Think I Love My Wife, a remake of the 1972 French art film Love in the Afternoon, is an attempt at smart Woody Allen style, upper class comedy.  Rock directed the film and wrote it with fellow stand-up Louis C.K.  Both of the writers have discussed the pitfalls of marriage in their stand-up careers, and the film is full of comic observations about the institution.  The boredom of marriage is not an original topic, sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond have discussed the topic ad nausea, however there does prove to be enough strength in the subject matter to support another movie.
            As a straight up comedy the film is moderately successful.  There are funny moments throughout, although most of the best laughs are frontloaded at the beginning, as the film focuses more on the romantic elements in the third act, with the exception of one very unfunny and misguided trip into broad, gross-out humor toward the end.  In many ways the film holds back from being a laugh riot in order to focus on the Woody Allen style romance storyline.
            The romantic storyline is hardly perfect.  The film is never quite sure what to make of the Nikki character: is she just a temptress? Or is she just as confused as Cooper?  The movie never seems to decide.  The movie is told through voice over by Cooper, a tactic that many critics jump on.  The V.O. here is a bit of a crutch here, but frankly unnecessary V.O. has never been the pet peeve for me that it is for many; it gets the story across and helps out a few jokes, debating about it seems petty.  The movie can also become a little repetitive with Cooper constantly debating with himself about his eventual decision; he seems to go on one or two too many outings with Nikki that end the same way.
            The acting in the movie is pretty good all around.  Kerry Washington is great on screen, she has a seductive quality that jumps off the screen, we can understand what it is about this woman that has Cooper considering infidelity against all logic.  Gina Torres is also good, although she doesn’t have as much screen time as one would expect considering her character’s place in the title.  Bushemi’s small but interesting role is also well acted, this performance is particularly interesting because Buscemi seems to have ditched his worn out weirdo-shtick.  It is interesting seeing this guy act like a normal person for once.  As for Rock himself, he’s no great leading man, but he is improving.  This is definitely the best work he’s done, but that’s not really saying too much.
            The real problem here isn’t Chris Rock the actor, it’s Chris Rock the director.  His work here is good, but in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker it could have been great.  Still one must give Rock a lot of credit for trying.  Rock’s stand up colleague, Eddie Murphy, has been getting lower and lower brow, Chris Rock has been getting higher and higher brow.  While I shudder thinking about what new low Murphy will hit after Norbit (which I admittedly haven’t seen, but am willing to believe what I’ve heard), I’m very interested to see where Rock will be doing next. 
*** out of four

The Bourne Ultimatum(8/3/2007)

 

            The Bourne series has been a genuine surprise, something that is rare for a summer action movie.  The Bourne Identity surprised everyone with its success both critically and commercially.  Prior to its release most assumed it would be overshadowed by another spy thriller being released two weeks earlier, The Sum of All Fears.  Tom Clancy was a better known spy fiction writer and Ben Affleck had more blockbusters to his name, but Matt Daemon’s Robert Ludlum adaptation held its own.  The Bourne Identity only made a few million more than Sum but it is far better remembered today. 
            When it came time for a sequel, people were skeptical again.  The Bourne Supremacy had a lot to live up to and surprisingly it delivered.  New director Paul Greengrass came in and gave the sequel a gritty look that was jarring at first but grew on the viewer with time.  The Jason Bourne character grew and changed, he stopped being surprised at how efficient he was and started to really feel like a super spy.  The Bourne Supremacy solidified the series as one of the most important action series of the new millennium.  Before 2004, the James Bond series had been the gold standard by which all spy movies were judged, but with Casino Royale it became clear that the master had become the apprentice; James bond was trying to catch up with Jason Bourne.
            The third film seemed doomed to failure a few months ago, there had been a long string of disappointing “threequels” like Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End and The Bourne Ultimatum it seemed would be the last victim of this string of failures.  However Bourne has come forward and surprised his naysayers once again, The Bourne Ultimatum is the best film of the series, and the best action movie of the summer.
            Six months have passed since Bourne was chased down in Moscow; Bourne has traveled to Italy to inform Marie’s (the heroine played by Franka Potente from the original Bourne Identity) brother of his sister’s death.  The brother (who will be remembered from the pen-ultimate action scene from the original film) tells Bourne that he knew it would end like this, Bourne reluctantly says he didn’t.   As he is leaving Bourne learns that Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), a reporter for The Guardian, has written an article about Bourne and the Treadstone project.  Bourne decides to follow this new lead hoping it could lead him to more answers about his past.  Unfortunately Bourne isn’t the only one who read that article, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) leader of Blackbriar (essentially Treadstone 2.0) is also aware of the article and is monitoring Ross to find out his source. 
            What is it that sets the Bourne movies apart from the many other similar spy movies out there?  Part of it is that they are meant to please adults instead of teenagers.  Even though they feature the young actor Matt Daemon, they aren’t dumbed down in any way.  They never tried to appeal to MTV sensibilities and never worried about being hip, a mistake made by lesser action films.  While the films weren’t made for teenagers, they could still be enjoyed by that powerful yet largely underestimated demographic.  The films managed to feel authentic even though it probably bears little resemblance to real world spycraft.  They had political thriller elements without having to discuss politics.
            The action scenes in the trilogy were top notch, yet the filmmakers knew just when to hold back to prevent them from feeling cartoonish.  The action scenes never feel gratuitous, every one of them work to advance the stories.  Bourne is not a physically imposing figure, he gets by in extreme situations with his excellent intelligence and skill are what bring him through the action scenes rather than brute force.  The car chases have all been spectacular and exiting without taking the viewer out of the film’s reality.  The fight scenes have all been fast and brutal, the films stayed PG-13, but without feeling unnaturally censored.  But where the movies are at there best have been the cat and mouse chases.  The Bourne Ultimatum has the best cat and mouse chase in the entire series, the best fight in the entire series, and the best car chase in the entire series, quite an accomplishment considering how far ahead of everyone else the series has already been.
            The movies have consistently had excellent supporting ensemble casts; great character actors like Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and Joan Allen have populated the world of the series throughout and added significantly to the movies.  The filmmakers have also been willing to really focus on these characters who would be two dimensional villains in lesser action movies.  Joan Allen is back as Pamela Landy and better than ever.  Julia Stiles has been an interesting presence throughout the series and her part in The Bourne Ultimatum is larger than it has been before.  Stiles’ character of Nicky Parsons is probably the most dynamic character of the series, in the first film she was an ally to the antagonist Treadstone group, in the second she became a more sympathetic antagonist like Pamala Landy.  In The Bourne Ultimatum her shift goes full circle, she takes the Franka Potente role as Bourne’s female ally.  New to the cast is David Strathairn; fresh off his Oscar nominated role in Good Night, and Good Luck, Strathairn manages to enter into this and live up to the high standards set by his predecessors. 
            Director Paul Greengrass entered the series in the second installment and was a controversial choice.  The original director, Doug Liman, used a very traditional visual style, it used simple camera movements. Greengrass however uses a very dynamic, documentary filming style involving a shaky camera.  The style shift was jarring at first, I myself wasn’t sure what to think of it at first, but its strengths began to grow on me with future viewings.  Greengrass, who directed last years best film United 93, knows how to manage a handheld camera better than anyone else.  Greengrass uses the style consistently throughout the film rather than switching styles whenever he thinks they’ll be convenient.  Greengrasses style is still present in The Bourne Ultimatum and it has matured even further, the viewer no longer even notices the camera shaking even when it is. 
            It was easy to take the first two Bourne movies for granted they never hit you over the head with their greatness; they were low key movies that never missed a beat but never really did any showing off.  I suppose you don’t really know what you’ve got until it’s gone, only with the last film do I see just how much of an accomplishment has been achieved by this series.  It’s an almost perfect franchise, I can’t think of a thing I’d change.  The Bourne Ultimatum is more of the same except better this time, it’s an evolution rather than a revolution, but when you’re working with a series that has been consistently ahead of everyone else that’s a reasonable thing to deliver.  If you liked the last two Bourne films, you’ll love this.  If you missed the last two Bourne movies, where have you been for the last five years?  And if you didn’t like the first two Bourne movies… well you’d be the first.
**** out of Four