The latest installment in the Bourne series takes a page from the series that it has largely supplanted, the 007 movies, but rather than simply hiring someone new to take over from Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, the film replaces him with a Bourne-like character while still keeping the narrative arc from the previous films intact. The new guy is Jeremy Renner, playing Aaron Cross, a super soldier who is also the product of an experimental government program, and who is also forced to go rogue, this time after the government decides, in the wake of what went wrong with Bourne, that the program is a liability.
Much like Bourne himself, and now Cross, this series is now off the grid and operating without orders—Gilroy’s scripts for the previous films may have strayed far from the source material of Robert Ludlum’s novels, but now they abandon the title character altogether for entirely uncharted territory. Ludlum only wrote three Bourne books, but while author Eric Van Lustbader did pick up the series for a fourth installment that shares a name with this film, that name is all that’s shared. Gilroy, who co-wrote the previous films, writes an entirely new story with a new protagonist, within the universe he helped to create in the previous films. Only now he also sits in the director’s chair for a series that has been largely defined by the frenetic directorial style of Paul Greengrass in the past. Which means Renner isn’t the only trying to fill some big shoes on this one.
If you’re looking for a thriller but skeptical of the Bourne reboot, there’s good news: The hands-down best thriller of the year so far is opening up at E Street. The surprising thing is that it’s a documentary. Director Bart Layton examines the case of the disappearance of a Texas teen in 1994. Three years after Nicholas Barclay had vanished, he turned up in Spain with a harrowing story of kidnapping and sexual abuse. But the man claiming to be the missing boy looked nothing like Barclay, was six years too old, and spoke with a French accent. He was Frédéric Bourdin, a con artist with a pathological need to impersonate other people—but despite the ridiculousness of his claim to be this missing boy, Barclay’s own family, astonishingly, actually bought his story.
Layton essentially tells the story from Bourdin’s perspective, letting him describe events, and liberally employing reenactments to illustrate Bourdin’s stories. While that might sound slightly hokey, the elegance of the original material Layton shoots, and its integration into the narration provided by his interviewees, gives the documentary a narrative drive it might have lacked otherwise. He addresses not just the question of why the family accepted Bourdin, but also what that might mean about the real circumstances behind Barclay’s disappearance, causing the final segment of the film to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller with an ending more daring than fiction would ever allow.
You can read more of my thoughts on the film in this piece at the Atlantic.
Just in time for election season, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis poke holes in the overinflated rhetoric of the campaign trail with the story of an oafish congressman who has long run unchallenged in his district suddenly facing a fight to keep his seat. Ferrell plays the incumbent, with Galifianakis stepping is as a political babe in the woods, essentially a stooge propped up by a pair of corporate bigshots meant to invoke the Koch brothers, using their money to gain political power. Most advance reviews indicated that the film’s attempts at satire lack some teeth due to its insistence to keep questions of left or right out of the equation, but those that do find something to like do so not in its political savvy, but rather in the absurd farce of the back-and-forth of the campaign trail.
Though it’s one of the landmarks of Indian cinema, it’s a wonder that director K. Asif’s epic Mughal-e-Azam even exists at all. The productions was plagued with problems, from near bankruptcy due to the loss of financial backing to a complete recasting of the film prior to shooting to a production that stretched out over nearly a decade from the start of shooting. By the time all was said and done, it was by far the most expensive film ever produced in the country. But all that cash is most certainly up on the screen, as the film was also hailed for its beauty and grand scope; one scene alone reportedly employed 8,000 extras, along with 6,000 camels and horses. The movie is based on an Indian folk tale of a young prince who falls in love with a servant girl.
Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni would have turned 100 next month, and in celebration, the National Gallery is offering this retrospective covering selected films from his early work expanding on his apprenticeship in the Italian neo-realist movement and continuing through the four films that, in the mid-’50s through the early ’60s, formed a loose stylistic foursome that took him far from those roots into much more experimental, contemplative territory. This weekend is concentrated on the early films, starting with his first feature, 1950’s Story of a Love Affair, about a wealthy man investigating his young wife’s former dalliances. That’s followed by the three morality tales contained within 1952’s I vinti, and then The Lady Without Camelias, about the rise and fall of a shopgirl who becomes a movie star. That last one is paired with a 1949 short, Lies of Love.
DVD Pick of the Week: Johnny Guitar
In the 1960s, the Western went from celebration of American exceptionalism to trenchant critique of American racism, sexism, and violence. But long before that became the norm for the genre, Nicholas Ray, one of the most subversive directors to work within the studio system, made Johnny Guitar, a film American critics despised and that the young radicals who would start the French New Wave adored. As a result, the film was long much more popular in Europe, and was so forgotten in the US that this week’s release marks the first time since a small mid-’90s VHS release that it’s even been available for home viewing in this country.
While Sterling Hayden takes on the title role, the real star here is Joan Crawford, who plays a saloon owner who runs afoul of the local cattle ranchers when she supports a proposed railroad through their land, as well as providing safe haven in her bar for a gang of stage coach robbers, and haven in her bed for their leader. At a time when westerns were tough and dusty tales of men being men and women being invisible, Ray created a technicolor, melodrama-infused Western in which the two strongest characters were women with leftist leanings and a clear critique of McCarthyism. Due to its scarcity on home video, this is one of the greatest American films that hardly anyone has seen; hopefully this release will allow people to rediscover a masterpiece that’s been difficult to see for more than half a century.
Special Features: An introduction from Martin Scorsese, recorded for a previous European release.
View a scene from the movie.