Sunday, August 26, 2012

2 Days in New York (2012)


French tourists are obnoxious, loud, dirty, and oblivious to anything other than their petty concerns.  I was under the impressions these are adjectives for American tourists when they venture over to the Old World; however, according to Julie Delpy's new film, 2 Days in New York, French people are truly garish.  Five years after her similar effort, 2 Days in Paris, a busy and crowded New York apartment is the setting for a very disappointing movie.

Marion (Delpy) and Mingus (Chris Rock) live together with a modern, blended family setup.  Marion has her toddler from a previous marriage and Mingus shares custody with his own elementary school aged daughter.  They live in a cramped apartment somewhere in Manhattan but appear to be financially stable.  Mingus hosts a few radio shows and writes for the Village Voice while Marion is a conceptual artist who is about to open her first solo show in a ritzy art gallery.  The show opening is the impetus behind the invasion of the unbelievable French relations.

Marion's father Jeannot (Albert Delpy) arrives with his other daughter Rose (Alexia Landeau) and her current boyfriend of the day Manu (Alexandre Nahon).  Instead of comedic cultural insights or witty observations, the audience is saddled with farce and stupidity.  They are delayed in customs for attempting to smuggle in 40 pounds of sausage and cheese.  They cut their toe nails at the dinner table, use Mingus' tooth brush during some off-screen sexual tryst in the bathroom, and latch on to a middle school level running gag that Mingus's name rhymes with cunnilingus.  I have been to France multiple times…where the hell were these people hiding?  

Marion's art show is based on two themes, photographs of ex-lovers waking up in the morning showing how a relationship develops over time and the auctioning off of her soul.  To the highest bidder, she will sign a contract whereby her immortal soul will be owned by another person.  Sound familiar?  It should; Bart Simpson sold his soul to Milhouse in a Simpson's episode.  Way to dig deep for creative inspiration there Julie.

A film with Chris Rock and Julie Delpy with New York City as a backdrop has so much promise.  Why oh why did Delpy write and direct a script which is unfathomably horrible?  There is a sub-plot involving a lie about a brain tumor, the relentless antics of the French family, and the noticeable bad acting from Delpy.  She was wonderful in the Before Sunrise/Sunset series, but perhaps she was distracted by he director role this time.

Stay far away from 2 Days in New York, it will just let you down with thoughts of what might have been.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Bourne Legacy (2012)


Jason Bourne is one of the more intriguing film characters of the past decade.  He methodically and purposefully found out who he was, who was responsible for his condition, and attempted to bring everything back together again.  Even better, he was not a superhero; Jason was just a guy who went through a lot of training.  He is elite, but deep down he is still one of us.  Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), on the other hand, has been tweaked a little bit.  He pops pills to up his physical and mental skills.  Yes, he is still human too, but perhaps a bit genetically modified.  This splash of sci/fi does not help an audience tuned in to the adventures of Jason Bourne connect with the new guy.

When I first heard there was another Bourne installment, this time without Matt Damon, I figured someone either wrote a good script to carry on a new story line, or the studio wanted to churn out a guaranteed cash cow under the title of a proven and successful action series.  Writer/director Tony Gilroy wrote the scripts for the first three Bourne films, but this is his first time behind the camera in the series.  He successfully directed Michael Clayton and the under-appreciated Duplicity, but now the magic is gone.  The Bourne Legacy is stale.  

Enduring a painfully slow beginning, The Bourne Legacy reveals it is set at the same point in time as The Bourne Ultimatum.  In fact, if you have forgotten the plot points and supporting characters of the previous film, take the time to either watch it again or read about it online before heading into the new feature.  Jason Bourne's escapades have thrown multiple CIA operations out in the open and the shadowy powers are frantically trying to sweep them under the rug before either Congress or the press start asking questions.  Eric Byer (Edward Norton) orders the termination of Project Outcome, the new series of super agent represented by Aaron Cross.  Instead of telling the agents to pack up and go home, the CIA chooses to assassinate them instead.  Oh, and they try to wipe out all of the scientists who made them so super in the first place.

Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is one of those scientists seeking ways to alter chromosomes to make a more perfect human.  After surviving annihilation himself, Aaron conveniently scoops the good Dr. out of harms way which sets up an 'us against them' theme quite similar to the one you remember from The Bourne Identity.  Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy noticeably lacks the quality script and thrilling action sequences of that first film.  The chase scenes in the new film are edited so atrociously, especially during motorcycle elements, that they are almost impossible to logically follow.  You know they are weaving in and out of traffic, there are near misses, and flying bullets; but there are only quick glimpses of that on the screen in the midst of the unsteady camera work and split-second jump cuts.

The Bourne Identity also had a mystery to unravel and wandered around the world trying to find out who was behind the curtain.  There is no curtain now, Edward Norton is pulling the strings in plain sight using all of the means in the intelligence community he can lay his hands on.  There are armed Predator drones, devious mop-up CIA killing squads, and even a possible super-duper agent; imagine the Schwarzenegger Terminator battling the new T-1000.  

Renner and Weisz do their best to remake a film which was already pretty great.  Yes, they have new names and faces, but they are running from the same agency, dodging the same bullets, but this time they have a higher chromosomal level on their side.  The Bourne Legacy will be known as that film which derailed the very respectable Bourne franchise. Paul Greengrass, the director of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, was correct when he said any further film would feel like The Bourne Redundancy.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Queen of Versailles (2012)


Schadenfreude - pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.  The entire audience at the screening of The Queen of Versailles experienced this feeling about the Siegel family; they are truly atrocious people.  Two years ago, David and Jackie Siegel were billionaires.  They had planes, Rolls Royces, multiple nannies for their seven kids, hosted parties for the Miss America pageant while David flirted with the contestants, and sat on a golden throne in their Orlando house during interviews for this documentary.  They also began construction on a mansion called Versailles, a project which would become the largest house in the entire United States.  

It appears the filmmakers wanted to document the rise of this monstrosity of a house and display the lifestyle of the obscenely rich.  Even better, these rich people liked to flaunt in front of the camera, not enjoy their splendor in private ala Bill Gates.  David Siegel proudly claims he is individually responsible for George W. Bush winning the state of Florida and therefore the presidency; however, he chuckles that what he did was not exactly legal.  Oh yes, schadenfreude.  David called himself the 'King of Time Shares'.  He built 28 resorts and an enormous building on the Vegas strip, parceled them up, and sold them 52 different times to vacationers.  Then, in what must have exceeded all of the filmmakers' expectations, the recession hit and everybody in the country stopped buying time shares.

The Siegels were billionaires and yet, they had no savings.  They paid cash for the Versailles house and only later put a mortgage on it because that meant millions more in ready, liquid money.  They put nothing away for college funds for their kids.  In fact, Jackie stares at the camera exclaiming her children might actually have to go to college now.  The Siegels can no longer keep up with the Versailles mortgage payments and put it up for sale unfinished for $75 million.  The housing market just crashed, tens of thousands of families are entering foreclosure, including Jackie's best friend, and the Siegels are trying to move a $75 million dollar mistake.  The realtors may not be quite up to the task of marketing the house since one of the agents exclaims how unique Versailles (pronouncing it Versize) is. 

Nobody is buying time shares, therefore, there is no money coming in to the company, and David lays off 7,000 employees.  He also fires 19 household servants.  Dogs run around crapping all over the house and nobody picks it up.  A lizard dies of lack of food and water, a fish floats at the top of its filthy tank, and one of the kids exclaims, "I didn't know we even had a lizard."  Don't worry, Jackie still compulsively shops to add to the ridiculous piles of 'stuff' that the kids do not even know they have.  She also maintains her plastic surgery regimen.  Jackie's chest has enjoyed being a a third character in this whole mess.  

Other than the Michael Moore type of documentaries which have a stated agenda, filmmakers are thought to be neutral arbiters.  They film the action, interview the subjects, and edit it in a way fair to all the players.  However, no matter how one edits the footage, the Siegels are going to come off looking like some very horrible people.  David is 30 years Jackie's senior and now that their funds are rapidly dwindling away, he is starting to get tired of his third wife.  He hides in his office (a couch in front of a flat screen surrounded by papers and food scraps) to enjoy being away from the chaos which his house has become.  

You will not envy the Siegels.  They still have more money than you do, but you would never switch places with them.  I walked out of the theater with a new appreciation for my situation in life knowing that most of us are normal folks going about our business and enjoy time with our family and friends.  The fact that there are folks like the Siegels out there, who by the way are shocked a bank bailout did not filter down to them, makes you shake your head in shame of the human race.