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Tag: action

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

You’re In The Army Now… Again!

A big fat neutered cat of an action movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (henceforth: JR2) has Tom Cruise, probably unaware the title tells him never to, well, going back to the army to clear up the name of a girl he thought at some point of their telephone exchange would be worthy of a diner invitation. Yes, that’s quite about it. Of course, there is something fishy in Afghanistan, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb, weapon smuggling, etc. and Mr Cruise can practice his favourite hobbies: climbing stuff and chasing cars. Cats and dogs, all wrapped in that tiny bundle of joy.

If a movie is only as good as its villain, one will let you choose between the professional assassin appearing or vanishing at will, the old guy with the earpiece, and a French. If you need some time to think, please absorb a few fun facts along the way:

– It is extremely easy to escape from a military prison.
– A driver can be put in charge of the freshly proven ineffectual prison security without anyone noticing.
– A trained soldier armed with a meat cleaver will cower in fear of bullets shot in another direction.
– Annoying teenagers are punished by imprisonement in a very expensive art school.
– Twin beds are deterrent to sexuality.
– Afghanistan is sepia.

Everything is played by the book and it’s a very boring one. The only redeeming feature of JR2 is that Cobie Smulders (Robin Scherbatsky in the vastly overrated How I Met Your Mother) is a trooper when it comes to kick ass. Tom Cruise has obvious chemistry with her and he’s very good in a couple of mute scenes. But please, Tom, never go back there.

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Jason Bourne (2016)

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The Bourne Paternity

Whatever bias had the prophets of decline who wrote bad reviews of this movie, or whatever movie they might have seen instead, they were wrong. When had been a quadrilogy that consistently good? The Bourne Identity reinvented a genre, The Bourne Supremacy relegated James Bond in the English Heritage theme park hé so deservingly belongs to, The Bourne Ultimatum cemented the Bourne action franchise as the best and most earnest ever. Jason Bourne completes the cycle but is a different movie altogether: there is nothing to prove anymore, yet the character unflinchingly, unsmilingly played by Matt Damon is missing a crucial part of his own existence. He got the How, the When and the Who. What he has left to do is to understand the Why. Would this Why only be a filial quest, it would be a run-of-the-mill American story. But this time around, the backdrop of Jason Bourne’s formidable action scenes is societal. Chaotic. And this chaos is impeccably filmed by Paul Greengrass.

Jason Bourne is the genie nobody can force back into the bottle, whatever charm or violence is used against him, not before he understand what’s going on. He’s “pulled out of retirement” by Niki Parsons (Julia Stiles, aging gracefully), that is, if taking part in a fight club on the Armenian/Greek border is your idea of retirement. Bourne needs violence, he is violence, bubbling under Matt Damon’s preppy charm. Anyone behaving like that has a death wish, and this fourth opus is by far the darkest and meanest of the franchise. The action scene in Athens starts during a protest against the IMF and Greece’s creditors on Syntagma Square and after twenty breathless minutes it ends on affliction. Bourne’s death wish once again turns against what he holds dearest: deflecting death is a reflex for him, or rather to the killing machine the CIA has trained him to be.

A brief sequence reunites Bourne and Berlin (one could almost see the “Welcome Back Jason” banners) on the Alexanderplatz, during another protest, before he’s off to London for another gripping action scene. Four parallel courses of action take place simultaneously, and following them is effortless. Spatial logic is respected, instant decisions are made for better or worse and one can relate to each of them. The sequence is a model of suspense and clarity. It includes another chassé-croisé with the new girl on the CIA block (Alicia Vikander, icy), on whom her boss (Tommy Lee Jones, what else to say?) is pulling rank. Tommy Lee Jones is the only one who smiles during the movie, and this smile is of the professional courtesy kind. It’s scary and rather horrid.

By that point in the movie one was struck how much the language of espionnage emulates the dialect of finance. There are assets, insurance policies, accounts to be closed. Jason Bourne is the human factor, the spanner in the works of a monstrous machine churning profitability at the global scope. Jason Bourne is that good old Schumpeter, creatively destroying everything on his way. He gets back to the USA, where the final showdown has to take place. You know what they say, “what happens in Vegas remains in Vegas”? Well, there was no better place to end this franchise. Gambling, mad money, secrecy, with the contemporary seasoning of an IT mogul being treated like a rock star during a business convention turned assassination attempt. Jason Bourne has an idea or two behind its phenomenal action, not far of those treated in Money Monster, as bitter as it is relentless (weirdly, both movies have Icelandic hackers).

The mandatory car chase is mayhem on The Strip, a massive car pile-up ending in the desecration of the Riviera casino. The brutality of the scene exceeds its vicious Moscow companion piece in The Bourne Supremacy. By understanding the Why, Bourne has gotten rid of his death wish, but he’s still a merciless instrument of retribution and death. A last, ill-advised attempt is made to bring the elite killer back into the CIA’s lap. But he’s no longer that, he’s just him by then.

One saw some positive reviews modulating their praise by “Please, no more!”. Of course there won’t be more Bourne. The man has ridden alone in the sunset like the lonesome cowboy he is. But please, pretty please, more of that stuff, for this is the right one.

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LONELINESS   Monstrometer4
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer3
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Bastille Day (2016)

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B-Day

Yes, it’s formulaic, an odd couple of underdogs facing a vast conspiracy, the lonely American saving France. Yes its marketing in this country was severely hampered by the mad truck terrorist attack in Nice on July the 14th, which in ricochet delayed screening in some other countries. It should have been a hit in UK, considering the portrait it paints of contemporary Paris, a city only a few inches above Baghdad in terms of safety, riddled as it is by larceny, fundamentalism, riots and corruption. Oh, and naked women in the streets. Bastille Day nevertheless achieves quite a good deal in the packed, dense, urban thriller genre.

The setup goes like follows: a terrorist group intends to plunge Paris into chaos by manipulating traditional and electronic media. Their first strike is to have a mule dropping a bomb at the headquarters of the “French Nationalist Party”, but the girl gets cold feet when the building is not empty as expected. Her bag with the bomb inside is stolen by a pickpocket (Richard Madden), who discards it in a trash can, killing four people and making him the prime suspect in the process. As the pickpocket is a US citizen, the Paris branch of the CIA tasks free electron Sean Briar (Idriss Elba) to find him before the French Police does, in an increasingly tense situation as the terrorists follow up with their plan, triggering a city-wide state of unrest.

Bastille Day‘s screenplay is not bad, including three twists that can hardly considered as novel but serve a logical progression of the intrigue. The third twist actually resonates in our time and age; it is the third time in a row that street protest is connected to mad finance, as was the case in Money Monster and Jason Bourne, even though in this case the latter is not the cause of the former. The three main characters (including José Garcia as the Head of French Intelligence) are competently written and well acted. But what Bastille Day has that places him a notch above other thrillers in the same vein is the force of nature also known at Idriss Elba.

A wrecking ball with a golden heart, Elba bludgeons into the story like the unstoppable force he so convincingly embodies. In a Vertigo-inspired, vertigo-inducing roof top chase as in more intimate scenes in which he conveys credible menace as well as the occasional sparkle of humour, he’s impossible to doubt, impossible to resist. He even manages to fool French policemen into thinking he’s one of them by piping “Oui, je arrive”. So cute. He’s also very affable to ordinary people he come across during his investigation, most of them African French in suburbs or the Barbès area. The fact that Elba is black himself allows him a connection which cleverly bridges the cultural gap his American origin could entail (he tells the fable he’s a refugee from Belize, only to tersely state later on that he was born in Connecticut). But it is his sweetness which gets him through his investigation pitfalls, that and of course and the brute force he’s able to summon at will. “Pinky pumps?” offers the pickpocket when they close a deal, and Elba’s reaction makes that extraordinary desirable, even though you’re quite sure he would tear up your little finger without blinking.

Yes there are some “This is Paris, vin rouge, Louis Vuitton” dialogue, no the prime suspect never shaves his beard even though his picture is on every screen, yes the final confrontation is a bit of a letdown. But for his Anonymous, typically contemporary sacrifice during the National Reserve bravura scene, and some delectable use of the French vernacular (“Abrutis de merde!” being a personal favourite), Bastille Day is quite good. The lingering question, however, remains why make this kind of fiction in the first place if a brush with crude reality makes you chicken out of its release? How long will politically correct circumnavigate violence, when it had so abrasively eroded race, sex, work and ethics? The answer to that question, if there is one, certainly doesn’t lie with Bastille Day, but one is grateful to the movie to ask it, even involuntarily.

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MONEY   Monstrometer4
LONELINESS   Monstrometer2
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer2
TIME   Monstrometer2

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