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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s been nine years since the last Bourne movie that mattered. (The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner, back in 2012 was a joke.) After saying he wouldn’t play the part again, Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne, with director-buddy Paul Greengrass in tow.

The result: Jason Bourne, a tedious, desperate and sad extension of the Bourne storyline.

At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon’s Bourne woke up after a bridge dive and swam off into an unknown and unpredictable future. It seemed to be a fitting and perfect end to the character, or perhaps that particular story arc. Bourne found out his real name, learned why he was an assassin with amnesia, and got himself a little revenge. Case closed, right?

Wrong. Money matters, and Universal wanted to keep the Bourne locomotive on track. An attempt to keep the franchise going with a new star (Renner’s awful Legacy) was stale. Then Universal saw an opportunity with Damon, who hadn’t had a major hit in many years. (Damon decided to go back to Bourne before the release of The Martian last year, a movie that garnered him an Oscar nomination and showed he was still bankable.)

Greengrass and his writers have come up with a way to further confuse Bourne about his identity. As it all turns out, there’s more to his amnesia: HE DOESN’T KNOW EVERTHING AFTER ALL! He’s also got some daddy issues.

The film starts with Bourne pulling a Rambo III, subjecting himself to public fights as a means of fueling his unquenched inner violent side. Former work associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) meets up with Bourne in Greece to tell him that she discovered some more stuff about his identity while doing some computer hacking. For Jason Bourne … it’s not over yet.

It’s embarrassing to watch Damon and Greengrass go through the motions of the tired scenario they have put into play. One year after perhaps his most enjoyable and fully dimensional performance in The Martian, Damon is forced to put the now-boring Bourne pants on again. His performance lacks dimension, emotion and humor. It’s not entirely his fault: The part is written that way. Ten years ago, Bourne was a cool role for Damon, one that allowed him to strip down and do something different. He’s grown as an actor since then, and has essentially outgrown Bourne. It feels like a step backward for him.

Greengrass tries to beef things up on the villainous end by employing Tommy Lee Jones as a CIA jerkface, which is a move as predictable and clichéd as casting Tommy Lee Jones as Tommy Lee Jones. Jones invests nothing new into his character, a type he has played many times before.

Oscar winner Alicia Vikander shows up as an ambitious CIA employee looking to make her mark. Her performance here is more robotic than her actual work as a robot in Ex Machina. Vincent Cassel is also onboard as a hired assassin called “The Asset.” Man, somebody had to work overtime to come up with that name.

There had to have been a better way to do this. How about giving Bourne a new career, one that he’s happy with—and then having him find out something is still wrong in his past? Or could they have simply made him a paid assassin who is truly screwed up thanks to his past? The new gimmick Greengrass and friends come up with to further extend Bourne’s identity crisis is not shocking, surprising or inventive. It feels drawn out.

Attempts to modernize Bourne with mumbo jumbo involving a tech mogul (Riz Ahmed) and a new social-media platform make parts of this movie feel like a jettisoned episode of Silicon Valley.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens stands as the best recent attempt to continue a franchise without making it feel forced, desperate and like a blatant attempt to cash some checks. Jason Bourne does nothing to better the franchise. This storyline needs to end here.

Jason Bourne is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala provides a cadre of A-list film actors and directors with oddly titled awards for their trophy cases—along with a low-stress, fun night in Palm Springs, the “home away from L.A.” for many celebrities.

This year’s honorees at the Saturday, Jan. 2, gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center included Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara and Tom McCarthy.

The 11-day festival proudly presents a broad gamut of films within nearly every genre, produced both here and abroad; some of these films receive little or no viewership in the commercial marketplace otherwise. In contrast, the celebrity cast of honorees and presenters—Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Ridley Scott were among the latter this year—as usual included a host of attention-grabbing nominees for the rapidly approaching major award season in Los Angeles. This proven strategy creates fund-raising fodder for the mix of industry players and local philanthropists who pay to get inside the Convention Center event. This year, more than $2 million was raised to support the year-round community service and film appreciation activities of the Palm Springs International Film Society, organizers said.

However, for me, the night proved to be a bust. While larger national media sources received prime space on the red carpet, the stars—most of whom were accompanied by a phalanx of PR representatives—were quickly whisked past those of us at the very end of the carpet where media outlets not offering national outreach were banished. (As for photos … the Independent was denied a photo credential, period … hence the mediocre smart-phone pics below.)

Special recognition was earned by Mr. Depp, who took time to amble at a leisurely pace, offering smiles and a couple of mumbled responses to urgently proffered inquiries.

In summation, I offer, for your enjoyment, a few freeze-frame stills and a brief video I shot to prove that I did, in fact, cover the event.

Enjoy. 

Published in Snapshot

Men playing with microchips learn that highly intelligent robots aren’t the best of ideas in Ex Machina, a competent and exciting directorial debut from Alex Garland, who also wrote the script.

Computer-programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) gets a weekend to hang out with his eccentric, reclusive boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at a secluded house in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after arriving, Caleb learns that he is to take part in an experiment in which he must interact with Nathan’s latest creation: a mightily attractive and lifelike robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Caleb is told to analyze Ava’s legitimacy as full-blown artificial intelligence—a thinking robot with emotional capability. He does this, and develops a crush along the way. In many ways, Ava seems constructed to be Caleb’s ideal woman—and Nathan’s motives are quickly called into question: Not only is Nathan playing god, but he’s using Caleb as a guinea pig.

While Garland could’ve easily made this a Caleb vs. Nathan affair, he tosses in enough variables and curveballs to keep the audience guessing. The film works as a thriller, a science-fiction piece and a mystery; it even passes a few horror-movie tests.

As the tensions mount, and the film races toward a surprising conclusion, the performances become more tour de force, especially that of Isaac. Thanks to a Garland script that harbors a huge brain, Ex Machina winds up being a convincing piece of sci-fi. The future depicted in this movie feels like it could happen within the next 10 years. Heck, judging by all the crazy shit my iPhone can do, it probably will happen within the next 10 years.

Ava is a nice special effect, fortified with nice acting from Vikander. Ava has many human attributes, including her beautiful face, her charming demeanor and her otherworldly butt. (Creator Nathan is clearly an ass man.) Much of her body is see-through, allowing her mechanical innards to be in full view. She is consistently visually interesting to behold, and Vikander fleshes her out nicely.

Gleeson, who has been doing a lot of outstanding work recently (Frank, About Time, Unbroken), doesn’t break his streak with this one. His Caleb is a confused young man being used as a pawn in somebody’s game. He also brings a sinister edge to later scenes that make Caleb far from one-dimensional.

While those two performances are exceptional, Isaac’s work is even better. Isaac is developing into one this generation’s best actors—and he’s quite the chameleon. His Nathan is a slithery, hard-drinking, narcissistic brilliant mess of a human, a far cry from the grouchy folk singer he played in Inside Llewyn Davis.

Given the isolated setting for the film, this is largely a three-performer show, although Sonoya Mizuno does give a haunting performance as Kyoko, Nathan’s live-in servant. Kyoko rounds out the general nastiness of the Nathan character: He’s a control freak with a god complex who has some nice, chummy moments, but is really somebody who is looking out for himself, and himself only.

Garland’s debut is quite original, although he does take some visual cues from Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, who combined (posthumously, in Kubrick’s case) for the great robot epic A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Ex Machina plays like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence’s first cousin.

Garland has been kicking around Hollywood for years, delivering solid screenplays for the likes of 28 Days Later …, Dredd and Sunshine. His work behind the camera here definitely points to a directing future.

Isaac and Gleeson will be together again this year in Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens; I would say they are the two front-runners for Science Fiction Kings of 2015. Vikander’s 2015 slate includes The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Light Between the Oceans, the latest from director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), so she has a shot at Breakout Performer of 2015. At this point of the year, she’s my pick.

As for a future with robots that act and think on their own: Ex Machina will have you wishing for a future that draws the robotic line at Siri and Roombas.

Ex Machina is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews