Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Time Travel, "Bourne" Action & The History of Bond...James Bond

Here's some brief thoughts on three films I've viewed recently:

Looper (2012) - Time travel stories are always a tricky prospect; do you construct an elaborate puzzle box where all the pieces fit, or do you throw caution to the winds, and just tell a fun and exciting story? Director Rian Johnson's clever thriller falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. In the future, time travel is real, but has been outlawed by the authorities. The criminal element uses it to eliminate their enemies. They send a victim 30 years into the past, where a "looper" kills them and disposes of the body. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays one of these assassins, who comes face to face with his older self, played by Bruce Willis. The plot hinges on Willis' very personal reasons for traveling to the past, and what he hopes to accomplish there. Can he affect a future he believes should be changed? Gordon-Levitt (in some amazing makeup) and Willis are both excellent, and Emily Blunt is very effective in an atypical role. A neat touch here is that the future world is really well-designed, and feels like a realistic extension of our current time. Looper is an engrossing thriller, and you don't start asking questions about the plot discrepancies until after the credits roll. It's a well-directed, intelligent sci-fi film that's worth checking out. The movie is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download & streaming. The Blu-ray and DVD have some interesting extras, including deleted scenes and interviews with the cast & crew about the making of the film.

The Bourne Legacy (2012) - Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers) takes up the mantle in this action-packed "sidequel" to the Matt Damon series. This film takes place during the events of the last film in the series, 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum. Renner stars as Aaron Cross,  the product of a super-soldier project similar to the one that created Jason Bourne. When the government decides to eliminate all the products of the experiment, Cross goes on the run with a scientist played by Rachel Weisz. In an icy, effective performance, Ed Norton plays the leader of the government forces hot on their trail. There are some good action sequences, and Renner makes a convincing hero, but it feels a little too similar to the first Bourne film...and ends just when it really gets going. The film is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD and for digital download & streaming. Entertaining, and worth a rental, but it doesn't quite reach the heights of the recent Bond film Skyfall (2012) and speaking of Agent 007....

Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (2012) - This interesting documentary (originally shown on the EPIX cable channel) takes a look at the history of the James Bond phenomenon, beginning with a brief look at Ian Fleming's creation of the character, and his efforts to get a film version of 007 off the ground. The main focus is on partners Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, and how they brought all the right elements together to create the longest running franchise in movie history. There's some great archival footage and current interviews with the producers' children, as well as many of the cast & crew members associated with the Bond films. All of the actors who played 007 are featured (though Sean Connery is only seen & heard in previously recorded footage) and it's interesting to see what former Bonds like Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore think of the character, and their time in the role. Dalton actually comes off very well, and discusses his idea of going back to Fleming's conception of Bond, long before the series took that direction in the current Daniel Craig era. Despite an overuse of clips from the films to illustrate some of the narrative, and a tendency to gloss over some of the low points of the series (this is an "official" documentary after all), this is essential viewing for Bond fans, and a nice tribute to the series' 50th anniversary. It's now available for streaming on Netflix and other services.

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