Friday, November 26, 2010

Patriot Games

Year 2, Day 330 - 11/26/10 - Movie #696

BEFORE: I suppose I could have made a connection between "Ripley's Game" and this film, sharing a word in the title, but I'm happy with the order I originally planned, and saw no need to switch things up. I'm skipping "The Hunt for Red October" since I've seen it before, and moving on with the continuity-challenged adventures of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.

THE PLOT: When CIA Analyst Jack Ryan interferes with an IRA assassination, a renegade faction targets him and his family for revenge.

AFTER: At the start of the film, Jack Ryan (now played by Harrison Ford, last seen in "Hollywood Homicide") is already retired from the CIA, but the events which follow lead to his return to the agency. While on vacation with his wife and daughter, he witnesses an attempt by the IRA to kidnap a member of the royal family, and he jumps into the situation, proving that you can take the man out of the spy game, but you can't take the spy game out of the man.

The rest of the film concerns one of the terrorists seeking revenge on Ryan and his family, and what Ryan does in response. Pretty formulaic, but still rather exciting.

Now, if I found out that I and my family were under attack from a terrorist, I'd consider moving, or at least a long vacation, and maybe an unlisted phone number - but not Jack Ryan. No, he keeps on living in plain sight - was this stupid, or a clever attempt to draw the terrorists right to him? I'm just not sure...

Interesting that the film stars 2 past and 1 future "Star Wars" actors in major roles, and I'm wondering if that's some kind of record...

Also starring Anne Archer, Patrick Bergin, Sean Bean (last seen in "Ronin"), James Earl Jones (last seen in "The Meteor Man"), Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "The Negotiator"), Thora Birch (last seen in "Dungeons & Dragons") and Richard Harris.

RATING: 7 out of 10 satellite images

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Sum of All Fears

Year 2, Day 329 - 11/25/10 - Movie 695

BEFORE: This Thanksgiving we went out to Long Island, as we did last year, to my wife's brother's in-laws, and they served up deep-fried turkey, roast turkey (in case the deep-frying went South), and ham, plus all the trimmings, and a pasta course before-hand. So now it's an Italian Thanksgiving that sets the standard for us. Thanksgiving is a great example of what makes our country great, and I don't just mean in a political or religious way - I mean it's a great lesson in economics. City-dwellers like us can hook up with family out in the suburbs and get a full-on home-cooked feast, for just the cost of bringing desserts and a couple six-packs (Blue Point pumpkin ale and Harpoon cranberry ale this year, thanks for asking...). It's like some throwback to the old barter system, which has its advantages.

I'm following up this week's Matt Damon films with a Ben Affleck film, as Jason Bourne leads into Jack Ryan, and Robert Ludlum leads into Tom Clancy. Thanksgiving also makes me think of football, and that also leads me to this film.

THE PLOT: CIA analyst Jack Ryan must thwart the plans of a terrorist faction that threatens to induce a catastrophic conflict between the United States and Russia's newly elected president by detonating a nuclear weapon at a football game in Baltimore.

AFTER: Well, we've got some timeline issues with the Jack Ryan films, now, don't we? Ryan is played here by the 30ish Ben Affleck (last seen in "Extract"), but the film clearly takes place after the end of the Cold War, with references to Ukraine and Chechnya. But Ryan was older when played by Alec Baldwin in "The Hunt For Red October", which was set BEFORE the end of the Cold War. So this was an attempt to freshen the franchise by going, OK, I'm not sure what the logic was behind this choice.

This movie was released in 2002, which means that it had to be in production well before Sept. 2001. According to the film's IMDB page, the terrorists were Islamic extremists in Tom Clancy's novel, but the filmmakers changed them to Neo-Nazis since they didn't think that Arab terrorists could strike on U.S. soil. Right.

A character mentions that he has a "back-door" connection to a source in Moscow, and they trade information. Um, isn't that treason? Speaking directly to the Russian president with information obtained on a CIA mission - same deal, right? So thanks for saving the world, but now we have to execute you as a traitor...

There are some other major plot-holes here, which prevent it from scoring higher, but this was still pretty exciting, if not completely believable. There's a little too much focus on what one man can do to stop a nuclear war, where I'm guessing that the CIA's intelligence gathering is probably more of a team effort.

Also starring Morgan Freeman (last seen in "The Bucket List"), Liev Schreiber (last seen in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), James Cromwell (last seen in "The General's Daughter"), Bridget Moynihan (last seen in "Serendipity"), Ciaran Hinds (last seen in "Miami Vice"), and a bunch of the usual character actors: Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "The Talented Mr. Ripley"), Ken Jenkins (last seen in "The Tailor of Panama"), Ron Rifkin (last seen in "Wolf"), and Bruce McGill.

RATING: 6 out of 10 launch codes

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ripley's Game

Year 2, Day 328 - 11/24/10 - Movie #694

BEFORE: As long as I'm confessing my deceptions, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Thanksgiving, since I've avoided my family's traditional gathering for the past few years. But I've got a darn good reason. My parents would usually drive to my aunt and uncle's place upstate, and usually I would meet them there - now anything my family does more than once is considered a long-standing tradition, but this was the Turkey Day locale for me for over 15 years, and though the meal was great, over time the visits became less fun and more dysfunctional. When I finally got tired of my aunt's particular brand of crazy, I found a way out when my wife and I went on a cruise a few years ago for our 5th Anniversary, and wouldn't you know it, it took place over Thanksgiving. I have to say that the Holland America line put on a smashing Thanksgiving Feast, despite being a Dutch Cruise Line run by Canadians, with a largely Filipino complement of chefs - it was a great spin on a traditional American dinner. Anyway, the year after that we learned that they also serve Thanksgiving Dinner in restaurants, so we gave that a whirl, and I haven't been back to my aunt + uncle's house since - I still see them at Christmas anyway.

Checking in again tonight with Tom Ripley - it looks like he grew up to be a spy, so he found a career that makes good use of his skills at deception, forgery and vocal mimicry.

THE PLOT: Tom Ripley persuades a man to commit a murder for a large sum of money. The situation goes out of control, and that man must escape trouble.

AFTER: OK, my bad again. Ripley's not a spy, per se (how was I to know?) he's more like an assassin, but that job seems to draw from pretty much the same skill set, though I bet it pays better.

The "game" mentioned in the title refers to the situation Ripley offers up, suggesting that his old partner hire his neighbor for a job, though the man has no experience in killing, he does have a fatal illness and is probably in need of cash, either to pay his medical bills, or to provide for his family once he's gone. Ripley's ability to read people tells him that the man will probably take the job, and he seems to be curious about how well the man will perform the task, and perhaps how doing so will change him. After all, unlike Ripley, the man does have a conscience.

Ripley is played here by John Malkovich (last seen in "Alive"), and with maturity he seems to have gained an interest in art, along with a steady girlfriend (really?) and a bundle of cash, but some things never change - he still lives in Italian villas and enjoys the high life, fast cars and fine books, and making souffles. Am I buying Malkovich as the older Matt Damon? Yes, I suppose I am.

Also starring Dougray Scott (last seen in "Mission: Impossible II"), Lena Headey (last seen in "The Brothers Grimm"), Ray Winstone (last seen in "The Departed").

RATING: 5 out of 10 train tickets

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Year 2, Day 327 - 11/23/10 - Movie #693

BEFORE: While it may not be a spy film, my understanding that it is about deception and intrigue, and it provides me the perfect link between the Matt Damon "Who am I" films of the last few days, and tomorrow night's film. This is another film based on a book series that I'm not familiar with, by Patricia Highsmith.

THE PLOT: In the late 1950's, Tom Ripley, a young underachiever, is sent to Europe to retrieve a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy, named Dickie Greenleaf. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures.

AFTER: This is a dark, complicated film about a young man who wants to get ahead in life, and become part of high society, by pretending to be someone else - the deception begins innocently enough, but soon another lie has to be told to back up the first one, and then another, and before long the central character has three different identities, and has to struggle to keep track of which lie he has told each person.

Tom is sent to Italy by Dickie's father to befriend him, and convince him to return to America. But once Tom gets a taste of how the other half lives, he starts to enjoy Italy on his benefactor's dime, so his motives get more than a little muddled. In fact his motives are mainly unclear throughout the film - since he's such a riddle wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a false identity.

We're never sure if Tom is just pretending to be Dickie's friend, or if at some point they've crossed over to being actual friends. For that matter, it also seems like Tom would like to be more than friends with Dickie - not that there's anything wrong with that, but it seems like Tom's also got his eye on the ladies. Either way, there's more to Ripley than meets the eye - but it's also possible that his hidden personality traits are in fact dark and sinister.

Again, still trying to maintain a spoiler-free zone, but this twisty tale unfolded very slowly and intricately - though it seemed at times that the universe was carefully arranging itself to maintain Ripley's deceptions. Ripley claimed to be good at certain things, including forgery and vocal mimicry. I would have liked to see a little more of that, along with some disguises that worked better than glasses - but I guess if they're good enough for Superman...

As I said after "The Informant", I believe in being honest...mostly. But I can recall a few times when it benefited me to be deceptive. In my senior year of high school, I had a lot of free periods (since I took a year of German on independent study) and I lived just 2 blocks from the school, so if my day ended with a study-hall period, I tended to leave early. In my defense, I was also working at night and mostly just needed to go home and catch a nap. But I found that the best way to leave school early and get away with it was NOT to sneak out the back door, which looked guilty, but to stroll out the front door, and wave to the secretary in the office. Now I had a reputation as a (mostly) straight-A student, and perhaps as an honorable person, so everyone just assumed I had permission and/or a reason to leave.

Another thing I'll admit to is not finishing the course work in a computer animation class at NYU. To be fair, there were more students than workstations, so I couldn't always get computer time, plus my heart wasn't really into graphing spheres and cones. (I hear computer animation's come a long way since then) So when the teacher came to me on the last day and said, "I saw your final project, right?" She hadn't, but I said "Yes." And that was the end of my career in computer animation, I passed the class, but really, what was I supposed to do? Admit that I had no final project? Besides, shouldn't there have been a more thorough process for making sure I'd done the work? Yeah, I still feel a little guilty about that one.

Starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "Iron Man"), Jude Law (last seen in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"), Cate Blanchett (last seen in "I'm Not There"), Philip Seymour Hoffman (last seen in "Flawless"), James Rebhorn, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "Say Anything"), and Celia Weston (last seen in "Observe and Report").

RATING: 6 out of 10 jazz records

The Bourne Ultimatum

Year 2, Day 326 - 11/22/10 - Movie #692

BEFORE: It's the last Bourne movie you'll need - the "ultimate" one... Of course they left the sequel opportunities open (don't they always?), but let's hope they go back to basics for this one.

THE PLOT: Jason Bourne dodges a ruthless CIA official and his agents from a new assassination program while searching for the origins of his life as a trained killer.

AFTER: Good news, it started out much like the first one, with Bourne hurt and on the run, with only fragments of memories running through his brain. Then we saw him "work the room" at a very crowded U.K. train station, confounding the in-house security AND the C.I.A. as he makes contact with a reporter and tries to avoid detection. All good, meaty, spy stuff.

Then he had to work his way up the food chain, to figure out who and what he is, and how he got that way. There's something of a connection here to "The Manchurian Candidate", as you've got to believe that a man can be remade, programmed to kill for a cause. Even though Bourne's not mindless, his memory is very spotty, and that's the next best thing.

But why the big quest to find out his real identity? Why not just be Jason Bourne? There's not much cooler than that, except maybe being James Bond (hey, same initials!).

I had a problem with two characters having nearly the exact conversation that they did at the end of the last film - but maybe that was intentional, part of the game they were playing?

Anyway, that wraps up this franchise, until they maybe decide to tack on another one. How long before it gets repetitive, or is it too formulaic already? Still, this was an improvement over "Supremacy", but maybe not as good as "Identity".

Starring Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles (all carrying over from last night), plus David Strathairn (last seen in "Good Night and Good Luck"), Albert Finney (last seen in "Murder on the Orient Express"), and Scott Glenn (last seen in "Training Day").

RATING: 7 out of 10 top secret files (conveniently labelled "Top Secret" - yeah, that's how it probably works...)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bourne Supremacy

Year 2, Day 325 - 11/21/10 - Movie #691

BEFORE: It looks like Jason Bourne's past as a programmed killing machine is about to come back and haunt him. I had a feeling that it might...

THE PLOT: When Jason Bourne is framed for a botched CIA operation he is forced to take up his former life as a trained assassin to survive.

AFTER: When an attempt is made on Bourne's life, he naturally assumes that the agency he used to work for (though he only remembers bits and pieces) is behind it, even though his division was eliminated years ago. At the same time, he's framed to look responsible for a bombing (?) in Berlin, and the whole thing has ties to his first mission, which also took place in Berlin.

Meanwhile, there's some Russian deal going down that's very confusing, and this leads to a car chase through Moscow that was even more confusing. Jeez, last night's film made more sense, even when you factor in the amnesia.

The pieces didn't completely come together for me with this one - and the franchise started out with such promise...

Also starring Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Chris Cooper (all carrying over from last night's film), plus Joan Allen (last seen in "Tucker: The Man and His Dream") and Michelle Monaghan (last seen in "The Heartbreak Kid")

RATING: 6 out of 10 classified files

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bourne Identity

Year 2, Day 324 - 11/20/10 - Movie #690

BEFORE: Matt Damon carries over from last night's film, but last night he was a regular man with delusions of being a spy, and tonight he's a spy who can't remember his past life. I had my whole spy chain planned out, but a few weeks ago I saw that my cable's Movies on Demand system was offering all three Bourne films for just $1.99 each, and I couldn't pass that up. It seemed like excellent timing, so I nabbed them all and shuffled my schedule around a bit to accommodate them.

THE PLOT: A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and without memory, then races to elude assassins and recover from amnesia.

AFTER: I probably should have been keeping track all along of which of these films are based on books, because some pretty famous authors have turned up in the chain so far - William Goldman ("Marathon Man"), John Le Carré ("The Tailor of Panama", "The Russia House"), Frederick Forsyth ("The Fourth Protocol"), Michael Crichton ("Rising Sun"), and tonight's film is from the books of Robert Ludlum. All notables, though I'm not big on reading the spy books themselves.

Jason Bourne turns up shot and floating in the Mediterranean Sea, with no memories except for some pretty useful ones - how to disarm an attacker, how to speak several languages, and how to get a woman to drive him across Europe and (eventually) engage in some hot spy sex with him in a hideout. Oh, and how to evade capture by driving down a highway the wrong way, which seems to be very important in the espionage biz.

Marie, the woman who assists Bourne and gets caught up in his life of intrigue, had what I think was a very realistic set of reactions when she realizes that she's in over her head, and that her life is in danger - first she asks questions, then she shuts down, and then she vomits. Perfectly normal reactions when in a state of shock, yet you rarely see something so candid in films.

In fact, the whole film seemed on the realistic side - even the amnesia. People get amnesia, right? So I'm giving high marks for not only showing someone acting like a spy, but also thinking like a spy (or at least how we think a spy thinks...). Bourne describes the way he cases a room, locates the possible exits, and assesses the threat levels of everyone in the room - so even though his memory is gone, we're still able to get inside his head, where the fun spy stuff is.

Bourne has to not only figure out who (and what) he is, he's got to decide if he wants to fight his way out of trouble, or get pulled back into the system. But I have a feeling that even if he succeeds in leaving the life, he's only going to get pulled back in...

Also starring Franka Potente (last seen in "Blow"), Chris Cooper (last seen in "Capote"), Clive Owen (last seen in "Inside Man"), Brian Cox (last seen in "Manhunter"), Julia Stiles (last seen in the remake of "The Omen"), Walton Goggins, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (from "Oz" and "Lost").

RATING: 8 out of 10 fake passports