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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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Showgirls (1995)

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Snow White Does Las Vegas

The fact that Showgirls is back in theaters speaks volumes about reevaluation, and as far as prep talks go it says a lot about media hype and the burning of idols, too. That movie would be a cautionary tale if anything of the sort still existed; as such, it nevertheless takes part in a conversation about Short Attention Span Disorder that no one is able to follow, and that’s the irony of it.

Irony is not exactly foreign to Paul Verhoeven, as demonstrated by Robocop, Starship Troopers (is it the best bad movie ever, or is it the worst good movie, the jury will ever be out) or even Basic Instinct. The man is one of the few European directors to have left his mark on Hollywood at the end of the 20th century, directing big budgets blockbusters which were hot topics at the time, mainly for their violence but also for their sexuality (remember that particular piece of the True Crotch?) But, but, violence is good, violence is fun, and sex is not. Sex is evil, well, women sex is. The female sex in general. Whores and witches, all of’em, ya know.

By switching focus from violence to sex, Verhoeven spoke the unspeakable and committed a cardinal sin. Backlash was swift, the same ones who enjoyed Total Recall (Violence + Comedy) and Basic Instinct (Violence + Sex) rejecting with puritan horror Showgirls (Sex + Comedy). What the hell was he thinking, desecrating Las Vegas, the Wedding Meccah? Focussing on strip clubs and tacky shows, when there is so much to gamble about, what Ocean’s Eleven, a perfectly apt American movie made by a less controversial European director, made six years later?

But what about the movie itself, you think? Well, think of it as an adult version of Snow White and fuggettabout the Seven Dwarves. If you can’t, you have a fetish and you are very much welcome, but you have a problem, too. So: Snow White, the Evil Queen, and Prince Charming. Las Vegas is the mirror on the wall, the bad guy who says to the Queen (Gina Gershon, one of the most carnivorous actresses who ever were) that there is a fairer of them all. Snow White (Elisabeth Berkeley, not a great thespian by any mean but the quintessence of bimbo, and as such an inspired casting) does what Zach Snyder’s limp dicked Sucker Punch was unable to show: she dances like hell, thank you very much, and when she does it is impossible not to watch (the impossibility of the male gaze not to stare at beauty being our fetish of the week).

Showgirls is a great movie, but it’s the Versace in a row of Prada. It’s tacky, expensive and camp, yet smart as a whip and, at the end of the day, surprisingly human for all the caricature involved. Its backstage scenes are as superiorly filmed as its show scenes are flatly vulgar, all organised confusion and petty revenge when no natural empathy is involved. And a lot of empathy is at work here. For all its bare breasts, implied sex and titillation, Showgirls is at its core a feminine movie, its men helpless or unable to touch (Kyle McLachlan, miscast but not as Prince Charming). It’s Grrrl power two years before Spice World. It’s a shame to the Razzie Awards, which Verhoeven was the first director to attend to collect his. Irony, see, is a tightrope, but if you get to the other side the same ones who derided you will clap, given time. And balance.

Also, writer Joe Eszterhaz was at its best with this one. “They wanna fuck Hope. This is a classy joint”. This is screwball for the millenium. A perfect companion to Wall Street (1987), except that one got an Oscar even though it is much inferior, Showgirls is like its “Goddess” heroin, ambitious as hell and how fuck does it know the moves to get there (this one pool sex scene with Prince Charming a cyborg terror one). But when a drag queen becomes the closest she has to a mother, Nomi is genuinely happy to see her again. “Full of shit”, the fat lady sings. Irony, yes?

MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer3
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer3
TIME   Monstrometer3

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