Movie Review – Shooter, Sunshine, Descent and an Ultimatum
Having plenty of time to spare this weekend, whilst relaxing after Christmas, enabled me to get back to doing something I really enjoy; watching a bunch of movies in a row. This week, I chose the following:
The Bourne Ultimatum
Lets get into the reviews, shall we?
The Bourne Ultimatum
The third in the series of Ludlum novels is turned into a film, even if the plot of the book and the final movie are worlds apart. Starting where The Bourne Supremacy left off (and I mean, immediately where the second film left off!), Bourne continues his hunt for those responsible for turning him into an assassin. Can I just say that if you did not enjoy the way the second film was shot and made, then you will feel equally maligned towards this film as well. Director Paul Greengrass favours the unsteady, hand-held camerawork of most of his films (including the brilliant Bloody Sunday, and the underrated but extremely moving United 93) and creates a real sense of tension through filling the frame with blurry, nerve jarring action, or at times only allowing one part of an actors face to be seen to heighten the “documentary” feel of the film. Greengrass is asking us as an audience to eavesdrop on Bourne’s journey, to be a part of it while not being directly involved.
Matt Damon is rock-steady in his portrayal of Bourne, delivering another professional (if somewhat aloof) performance as the amnesiac spy. The cast from previous film who are still alive rejoin the action as well, with Julia Stiles recieving a beefier part and Joan Allen again providing class and guile to her role. Newcomer David Strathairn (in a role similar to the original Bourne Identity’s Chris Cooper) plays viscious CIA chief Noah Vosen, who uses all his availbale personnel to chase anybody connected with Bourne (including his own people) and kill them. As with all CIA/FBI people in charge of capturing Bourne, he gets increasingly frustrated at his inability to do so. The incomprable Albert Finney (Daddy Warbucks from Annie, or Ed Masry in Erin Brockovich) appears as the man ultimately behind Bourne’s condition, and their final confrontation is terrific. What’s great about the Bourne/Dr Hirsch finale is that it’s not an action scene (as you would normally expect in an action film) but a dialogue scene. This makes the journey that began in the waters of the Mediterranean in Bourne Identity much more emotional and complete.
The Bourne Ultimatum is a class above most action film made today, in that is delivers one of the tensest action sequences in recent times (Bourne driving at breakneck pace through New York City) and a well developed plot, that’s grounded in a sense of reality in that this entire thing “could happen”. When people get shot they die, they dont take a breather, get back up and keep fighting. Unless they’re Jason Bourne. In all, this is a well developed, well shot, and well directed film that’s as fitting a finale to the Bourne journey as you could want.
You know, this script must have seemed like a godsend to just about any horror filmmaker working today. A bunch of young, attracting women (one of which happens to be a lesbian… not that it’s a key plot point, but it certainly needs mentioning) go spelunking in an unknown cave system, get trapped, and are set upon by vicious underground monsters, with no way out and no food and no light and no blah blah blah….. lost you at the young attractive women bit, didn’t I? Sure, this film has all the hallmarks of a bad B-movie plot that, had it been made during the 70’s, would have involved most of the women taking off their clothes in one of these caves (preferrably, all at the same time) and getting down and dirty. Strangely, in the new millenium, that does not occur. What does occur, however, is a frightening journey into madness and terror that, for once, truly does give viewers the heebie-jeebies.
People in Australia will not recognise the name of director Neil Marshall, an Englishman best known for his only other feature film release so far, Dog Soldiers. That film was a low budget werewolf film, that as since gone on to attain a cult following, even if it did not make money at the theatre. Dog Soldiers is certainly a well made film, and even if the subject matter is not up your alley, its worth a look for bravura filmmaking.
Marshall puts the skills he honed on Dog Soldiers to good use here in The Descent. Unlike the other spelunking film released at a similar time (funnily enough, entitled The Cave) this film is darker, less reliant on widescreen action and effects, and a whole lot grittier than the Amercianized bastard that it competed with. For Australian audiences, it includes a bit of local flavour in that among its cast is Natalie Mendoza, one half of former pop band Jackson Mendoza (you know, they sang that song entitled “Venus or Mars”) as well as a bunch of other “unknowns” in the lead roles.
The film starts off setting the tone with a rather brutal car crash, killing of the husband and daughter of one of the women, Sarah, played by Shauna Macdonald. Sarah and her friends are extreme sports fans, and they appear to have a long and complicated history, which is hinted at but (thankfully) never fully explained. I say thankfully, as Marshall allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the relationships between the six women, rather than explain it all for us. A year after the crash, the girls gather in the Appalanchian Mountains to go spelunking, organised by Juno (Mendoza). Of course, once the girls get down into the cave system, things go horribly wrong. Their only way out appears to have been blocked by a dramatic and intensely claustraphobic cave-in (best line of the film: “F**k the bag, lets go!”) and for some reason, Sarah keeps hearing the sound of a child laughing throughout the early part of the movie. Is it the sound of the ghost of her dead daughter?
Of course, the main reason the audience goes to see a film like this is for the monsters. And boy, are they creepy. And their big reveal is genuinely “jump out of your couch and hit the ceiling like that scaredy cat in the Bugs Bunny cartoons” frightening. Skin crawlingly scary. And they are vicious. And the girls are put through the ringer in ways more frightening than any “trapped in a dark place” film I have seen before.
While a lot of filmmakers try and build up the suspense and trick you as to who is going to live and who will die, Marshall is one filmmaker who genuinely succeeds in this effort. You do not know who will live and die by films end. The adventure goes completely to pieces as soon as the monsters come out, and from there its a mass of darkness, monsterous screams (which, I might add, are also genuinely scary) and women trying desperately to get to the surface and possible freedom.
Is it a good film? Well, if you don’t like blood, gore, violence and people swearing, then no, this film is utterly terrible. But if you are a person who enjoys getting truly frightened in a darkened loungeroom late at night, then this film will be right up your alley. Awesome editing, wonderful sound design and a brilliant idea for a plot make this a truly frightening advenutre underground. Like Jaws made you stay out of the water, this film will make you afraid to go spelunking.
Danny Boyle has been something of a mixed bag since he directed Trainspotting and put himself on the map. On one hand, he has a solid grasp of the magical (Millions, for one, is a fabulous film), the gritty (the aforementioned Trainspotting) as well as the truly horrific (Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later). But its the drama that has let him down (The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary) and Sunshine is no exception. And categorising a sci-fi film as a drama is no mean feat.
Let me just say at the start that I enjoyed this film’s beginning immensely. It’s no Star Wars, but then, it never intended to be. The trailers hyped it as some bizarrre mix of Event Horizon and 2001, A Space Odyssey; an homage to Kubricks masterpiece is even featured in one scene in the film. Where Sunshine plays differently, however, is that it’s a more ensemble film, with some tense moments thrown in.
The film takes place in an unknown future time where the sun has begun to burn out, and a team of scientists and astronauts are travelling on Icarus II to throw a ginormous nuclear weapon into the dying star to reignite it. Sounds easy when you say it fast, right? Well, unfortunately, things go bad when the crew of the vessel discover a signal from the Icarus I, the first ship to be sent to the Sun with a nuclear bomb attatched. You see, Icarus I went AWOL years before and their mission declared a failure. So when the crew of Icarus II run into difficulty and their mission is also placed in jeapordy, they decide to rendevous with the other vessel and plunder its precious cargo of oxygen and the second bomb.
And its then that things start to go wrong with the film. It seems that the seemingly deserted Icarus I is not so deserted after all. This turns what began as a great little Space Odyssey clone into an Even Horizon mess.
The cast includes Cillian Murphy (whom Boyle directed in 28 Days Later, and who also starred as Scarecrow in Batman Begins), Chris Evans (The Human Torch from the Fantastic 4 films series) and the beautiful Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Also involved, although in a somewhat smaller role, is Australia’s Rose Byrne. They are up to the task, each individually, of carrying this film, however their dialogue and characterisations are dry and somewhat distant, and as an ensemble, they do not click. I cannot put my finger on why such a talented cast would not get more emotion up on screen, but it appears to have worked in reverse. I felt no real empathy towards these characters; they seemed to be stock characters we’ve seen before in any number of lost in space movies. There’s the brave but flawed Captain, who sacrifices himself so he can get a better view of the sun. There’s the figety and coming-unhinged navigator who blames himself for the mission going wrong. There’s the strong and pragmatic crewman who leads the crew emotionally by not revealing his own feelings (Evans) and has a smart comment for every situation.
You can see where Boyle was trying to go with this film and his characters, but it just doesn’t seem to work. And the last act, where the film degenerates into The Blair Witch Project in space, made my head spin for the class I figured Boyle would show at this time. The old plot twist alluded to in Paul W S Andersons Event Horizon (where a long-dead crewmember is not quite as long-dead as we thought) made me actually groan when it occurred twenty minutes from the end. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film, but you’ll know it when it happens. And it’s such a B-movie cliche that I nearly turned off the film at that stage. I was utterly disappointed.
Story aside, the film does have its moments. The special effects are simply stunning. A key moment in the film, where the crew of the Icarus II look out at the Sun just as Mercury passes by in silhoette is pure magic. In fact, each time the sun is seen, its magic. One key scene has two crewmembers go outside the ship to repair some damaged part of the stricken vessel, and this is perhaps the most visually arresting and tense part of the entire journey.
The film’s logic is based on a sense of realism, but ultimately comes apart at the end. Flying towards the sun is all well and good, but flying into the sun? No matter what material science concocted here on Earth, it would not be able to achieve that is required at the conclusion of this film. And that’s where the film lost me as well. Films based on “real” science for their believability should not throw that “reality” to the wind at the last minute, as it rips the audience out of the film and destroys all you have built up in the hour or so prior.
While Sunshine does have some excellent moments, ultimately, it is flawed and cliche-ridden exercise that does little to recommend it at the end of the day.
Ahh, Mark Wahlberg in an action film… who would have thunk it? Now, before you roll your eyes at this, let me tell you: Shooter is a cool little action film that never takes itself seriously or tries to be too clever.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, he who was responsible for the Replacement Killers, Training Day, Bait, Tears Of The Sun, and the woeful King Arthur, Shooter is less reliant on fancy camera work and balletic slo-motion action scenes, and focuses instead on a sense of solid, old-style action, similar to what we saw in the early Lethal Weapon movies. Wahlberg is broodingly efficient in the role of Bob Lee Swagger, a retired marine sniper who just wants to live peacefully in the mountains. He’s brought out of retirement to help his government prevent an assassination on the President. When the platform the president is giving his speech on is shot at, and Swagger is implicated via double-cross, he goes on the run, and uses his skill with long range shooting to bring the conspiracy undone.
Shooter is by no means the cleverest high-concept film to come out of Hollywood, but under the steady hand of a solid Fuqua and with the dependable action star in Wahlberg grunting and mumbling his way through the various set-pieces on offer, Shooter is value for money action at its best. The plot drage a little in the character played by Michael Pena; that of a new FBI agent caught up in the assassination. He is brought into the action by Swagger, and it must be stated that his transformation from FBI newbie to gun toting sniper spotter is highly questionable. But, overlooking this small fact, there are enough explosion and gunfire in this film to keep action fans happy for a couple of hours.
As a side note, be on the lookout for a wonderful campy Danny Glover as the main antagonist in the film. His voice and characterisation make his appearances a real plus. Perhaps he’ll get to play more bad guys as his career progresses.
Shooter is solid, steady filmmaking that is neither wasteful nor wanting.
Well, that concludes this movie review post. If you managed to read all the way through to this stage, i suggest you continue on and leave a reply for me to read, so I know what YOU thought about the same films. Did you agree with anything I said? or do you want to burn me at the stake for heresy? I leave it to you.
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