Film


Matt Damon

I love Matt Damon. Ok, not really, but really. Well, maybe it’s a little more to the point say that I love his character choices, because what do I know about the man? Mattrivia can be summed up in a few bullets, friend of Ben and Brad and George, academic parents, Harvard drop-out, screenwriter and actor, married with two kids, interested in politics. That’s it, so I’m sticking with characters; there’s more to say.

Bourne Ultimatum

The latest installment in the Bourne series is no exception to the rule. In fact, The Bourne Ultimatum directed by Paul Greengrass (he also directed number two, The Bourne Supremacy) is probably the best of the three. Catering to those of us too impatient to be bothered with such pesky little things like exposition, Greengrass drops the audience in media res into a getaway scene and the action barely ceases from that point on. It is to his credit that he manages to incorporate the necessary background information into these fast-paced scenes. As for Matt, in the words of NY Times film reviewer Manohla Dargis, he’s a “missile,” usually engaged with lethal force, but if not, he’s cocked, locked and loaded for the next target.

David Strathairn

Describing the slippery CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (superbly played by David Strathairn), Dargis also notes the parallels between his choices and those made by members of the current administration with respect to Abu Ghraib. However, such comparisons only skim the surface of what Greengrass accomplishes with this film. For in it, Jason Bourne represents a kind of everysoldier, that is the best intentions of every American soldier fighting overseas today. As we learn, Bourne signed himself up to serve his country and protect American lives. However, in the process of doing so, he literally loses his identity and goes from being a soldier to a hit man, mindlessly doing the bidding of officials who use him for personal gain. Bourne’s slow process of awakening, as well as his desire to take revenge upon those who allegedly did this to him echoes our own gradual coming to terms with our current administration’s agenda in Iraq. Like Bourne, our best intentions were manipulated as we were led astray by officials with poorly planned agendas and personal vendettas. (See the recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by active members of the U.S. Armed Forces for a firsthand explanation of what’s wrong with Iraq.) Eventually Bourne learns that he has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his identity, but knows too that it is on his shoulders to end the charade of patriotism by disavowing his identity as Jason Bourne. In doing so, Greengrass argues that we too must take back our rightful identities and end what began in folly.

Sources: The picture of Matt Damon is borrowed from People magazine, The Bourne Ultimatum onesheet comes from LatinoReview.com and the picture of David Strathairn can be found on CanMag’s website.

A Very Long EngagementDon’t get me wrong, I do love the American film industry in all of its shiny, happy glory but every once in a while I crave something a little off the beaten path. For this I turn to foreign films. I recently watched Audrey Tatou (of Amelie fame) in Un Long Diamanche Fiançelles, (A Very Long Engagement) directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and set in France during and after World War I. Yes, this is a war film of sorts and yes, I am a war film junkie, but the most interesting aspect of this film was the way the director combined several seemingly incongruous genres to create an unexpected tale that was part war story, part detective story, and part romance. I won’t give away the end of the film but I will say that one of the best things about foreign films is their endings–they are not Hollywood! Jeunet also explores two themes, fate and hope, and skillfully develops them independently and as they relate to one another throughout the story. A Very Long Engagement is a wonderful and unexpected tale, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something out to the ordinary.

As I was looking for pictures to accompany this post, I also started to think about the differences between American and European culture and the way these differences emerge in unusual ways. The two images chosen to advertise the film in France and the United States, respectively, seem to indicate the differences between our two nations’ cultures. Un Long Diamanche FiancellesThe American version (at the top of the post) depicts a young couple entwined in one another’s arms blissfully unaware while a line of soldiers is marches across the top of the scene, emphasizing the romantic aspects of the story and suggesting a line demarcation between the war and the young lovers, as though their own joy holds everything else at bay.A less generous reading might find that their self-absorption comes at the expense of a national tragedy. Either way, it recalls the distance with which the United States held the rest of the European community during World War I, entering only when failure seemed eminent without our involvement. In contrast, the poster advertising the French release of the film only depicts the actress Audrey Tatou shot from behind looking over her shoulder slightly to suggest some engagement with the audience or perhaps something in the past, but little else. I’m not sure what this says about French culture, and I would welcome any ideas, but it certainly differs dramatically from the poster produced for the international release.

 

The American onesheet of Jeunet’s film is borrowed from the following Warner Brothers website and the French version is from a web discussion on The Lost Forum.

Douglas AdamsIn case you haven’t picked up on the reference yet, the title to this page is a not so subtle homage to the late, great creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. (That’s him over to the right.) I haven’t reread Hitchhiker’s in a few years, but I was pleasantly surprised by the movie adaptation, especially considering I had what were probably impossibly high expectations. Once again, Alan Rickman is absolutely without equal as Martin. Who would Adams appeal to? Anglophiles (his pillorying of British bureaucracy is priceless), anyone with a sense of humor and appreciation for good satire, and obviously sci/fi enthusiasts.

The picture of Douglas Adams is from his website, http://www.douglasadams.com

Pan’s LabyrinthUpon recommendation, I also rented and watched Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) over the weekend. On some level it was strange to watch two films that fall under the genre (fantasy) and ostensibly explore some of the same themes but were so completely different. I don’t know if it was the mood I was in, or the film itself, but I was very saddened by the resolution. I found nothing redeeming about the conclusion of the film, although perhaps for some the promise of another (better) life is optimistic. The moral learned by Ofelia–shed your own blood before you shed the blood of an innocent–seems especially relevant today, but since she must learn this lesson at the expense of her own life, director Guillermo del Toro seems to imply there is little hope for our current crisis. The scenes involving the torture of Pedro by Capitan were so vivid I could not bear to watch them, which is atypically sensitive of me, but also a reflection of the relevancy and timeliness of this topic.

Goblet of FireOne’s first post aught to be something auspicious and memorable, right? But I’m flat out of brilliant ideas at the moment. I did see the fifth of the Harry Potter films over the past weekend with my nephews and niece. And, yes, I’ve also pre-ordered the final book from Amazon, though not without a good dose of Catholic guilt over not purchasing the book locally. Talking Leaves (the best Buffalo bookstore) will win the next round. I can’t say that I’ve reread any of the books, so my level of Potter expertise is minimal at best, but one of the most interesting aspects of Rowlings’ series for me is the way the characters have matured as the storyline develops. The fifth novel is no different, portraying a moodier but more sophisticated (teaching classes, weighing in on politics) Harry. The movie is quieter than the other four, but manages, as noted by A. O. Scott, writing for The New York Times, to smoothly compress the action of Rowling’s longest novel. The darker shade of Hogwarts fits both the characters’ developing personalities and our times. Like Scott, I also appreciated the sugary pink evil Dolores Umbridge played by Imelda Staunton and once again Alan Rickman does not fail to impress with his this time slightly more harried and benevolent Snape. Overall, worth the price of the ticket.

The picture above depicts Ron, Harry and Hermione in the film, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. The photo was taken from the website: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00004187.html