Lists, Lists, Lists: Best Last Lines, Best Matt Damon Performances, Best 21st Century Films (So Far), And Stars Pick Their Favorites

Posted on September 3, 2016 at 8:00 am

Movie lists are irresistible — to make and to debate. Here are three intriguing new ones.

My friend, Talk Easy podcast host and critic Sam Fragoso, has compiled a list ranking all of Matt Damon’s performances. I’d put “Stuck on You” higher and “The Good Shepherd” lower, but it is a great reminder of what a complex, thoughtful actor Damon is.

There are a lot of great movies, but not nearly as many great last lines. Mike McGranaghan of Screen Rant has assembled a great list of perfect movie cappers. I’d put his #4 as my #1.

And the BBC asked a group of critics to rank the top 100 movies of the first 16 years of the 2000’s. At the top of the list, the puzzlebox David Lynch film, “Mulholland Drive.”

And celebs including Rob Lowe, Amy Schumer, Josh Radnor, Ike Barinholtz, and Eric Dane responded to a #7favoritefilms Twitter hashtag with their picks.

Crank up those Netflix queues!

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Critics Film History For Your Netflix Queue Lists Movie History

Trailer: Matt Damon in “The Great Wall”

Posted on August 20, 2016 at 11:46 pm

Screenwriters Max Brooks (“World War Z”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton” and the upcoming “Star Wars” movie “Rogue One”), Marshall Herskovitz (“thirtysomething,” “Nashville”) are part of the team behind this epic historical drama about the building of The Great Wall in China.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips
Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Copyright Universal 2016
Copyright Universal 2016

Whoever thought that the “Fast and Furious” series would keep getting better while the once-smart “Bourne” series is the one that drives off a cliff?

During the boring parts of this movie, I played a game I made up that I called “Same or Different.” For example, in one of the earlier Bourne movies, our hero, the once-amnesiac CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) grabbed a limited-use anonymous cell phone for a particularly clever maneuver. In this one, he grabs a small tracking device handily left out in a bowl like peanuts at a bar for happy hour. Same or different? Different because the first one was plausible and this one was ridiculous.

The earlier films had exceptionally well-staged fight scenes that felt like real people who get out of breath and hurt each other and jockey for advantage. In the first moments of this film, in addition to completely unnecessary jumps between five different locations around the world for no purpose, he knocks out an enormous professional fighter with one punch. Same or different? Same answer as above.  And if we distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys by how much collateral damage they inflict on the world — how many innocent bystanders get killed, the answer here is more same than different.

There are franchise films made for fan service and then there are those that do not even service the fans, are merely a cash grab, and retroactively devalue the franchise.

This is a movie that asks us to believe that the head of the CIA and a Mark Zuckerberg-young titan of the world’s coolest social media company, a sort of cross between Google and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat, decide to have a conversation of the utmost secrecy in a posh Washington DC restaurant, the kind where everyone eavesdrops on the big shots at the next table, especially reporters, politicians, and Hill staffers.

The first three Bourne films transcended the action/spy genre with a gritty, almost intimate feel far from the glossiness of James Bond, and with an expanding, deepening storyline that, as the then-LA Times critic Manohla Dargis said, began with the existential in “Identity” (Who am I?), extended to the moral in “Supremacy” (What did I do?). With the third film, the question of culpability extended to the larger “I” of the government: Who are we and what have we done? We will put aside for the moment the non-Bourne “Bourne,” which mistakenly went in the direction of a secret government program that was more “Captain America” than Bourne, with a mysterious ability-enhancing drug that removed the somber reality that resonated with the era of waterboarding and Abu Ghraib. There is plenty to explore and attempt to expiate now, and the movie tries to touch on contemporary issues explored in far more compelling — and terrifying — terms in documentaries like Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets” and “Zero Days.” It just doesn’t do anything interesting with them while it is piling improbable motivations and preposterous situations almost as high as the carnage and wrecked cars.

Parents should know that this film has constant spy-related action-style peril and violence, many characters injured and killed including many innocent bystanders, themes of government corruption, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Who should decide the balance between privacy and security and how much information about those decisions should be public? What real-life events inspired this story?

If you like this, try: the other “Bourne” films and “Zero Days”

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Action/Adventure Series/Sequel Spies
The Martian

The Martian

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril throughout with some injuries, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 2, 2015
Date Released to DVD: January 11, 2016 ASIN: B017S3OP34
Copyright 2015 Twentieth Century Fox
Copyright 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

In a crackling sharp movie about brilliant people solving very tough problems, it is endearing that the first and most important involves one of the earliest skills developed by mankind. Indeed, it is the skill that made it both possible and necessary to develop the very first communities. It is the skill that turned nomads and hunters into complex societies: the cultivation of crops.

Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon as an endlessly resourceful Eagle Scout-type who would run over from next door to help carry your groceries, is part of a US astronaut team on a mission to Mars. When a storm comes up, they have to make an emergency evacuation weeks before the mission is completed. He is separated from the group and they believe he is dead. So, like ET, he is left behind on an alien planet. But no Reeses Pieces here, and no Elliot to befriend him. The first thing he has to do is figure out how to feed himself. “Fortunately,” he explains to us via his video log, “I am a botanist!” {Hmmm, just like ET, who came to earth to collect plant specimens.) That credential has never been announced with such deserved satisfaction. What if the one left behind was the expert in telemetry or navigation?

As he explains in an unnecessary coda, one of the tightly constructed film’s few excesses, he knew he was probably going to die. But his attitude was, “Not today.” He understands that any hope of rescue is 140 million miles away. Even if NASA could figure out that he was still alive and could figure out a way to rescue him, it would take years before they could reach him. He counts out the meals left behind by the crew to figure out how long he has before he has to have some sustainable source of nourishment. Of course there are no seeds. There is no water (Mark would be very happy with the latest reports that in fact there might be water on Mars, but for this movie, there is none.) The ground (I guess you can’t call it “earth”) does not have the necessary nutrients. But there’s a bag marked “Do not open before Thanksgiving,” and inside, there are potatoes. And Mark is a botanist. He rigs up a machine to create water and empties out the lav for fertilizer. He plants the potatoes and sure enough, little shoots appear.

Meanwhile, the crew is still on its way back to earth. On earth, there is a state funeral for Watney. And then an analyst looking at transmissions from Mars sees something that could be a person. NASA realizes that Watney is alive. Can they mount a rescue mission before it is too late? Given the risks to the crew, should they?

Director Ridley Scott and the nicely space-named screenwriter Drew Goddard (based on the book by first-time author Andy Weir) have created a completely believable and utterly immersive world, and Damon’s Watney is an idea hero for the story. He is smart, self-deprecating, optimistic, and inventive. “I’m going to science the s*** out of it!” he says, understanding that the odds are against him but also understanding that the only way to stay sane and focused is to work each problem, one at a time. He genuinely enjoys the challenge (well, most of the challenges) and that makes it fun to watch.

Watching the way he thinks through problems is endlessly enthralling. He even rigs together a version of ET’s Speak and Spell to phone home. On earth, we see characters debate the politics and practicality of a rescue operation, ranging from who should know what when to whether the US should work with the Chinese on a launch mission. Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Kristen Wiig as the media liaison, and the various people in charge of crew and equipment all have different perspectives and priorities. The political and personality puzzles are as tricky as the scientific ones.

Production designer Arthur Max and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (who worked with Scott on “Prometheus”) provide striking images of stunning beauty that are both strange and familiar. At times, it almost looks like the red rocks of the American Southwest but we are also aware of the peril constantly surrounding Watney, where a crack in the helmet can mean death. The scenes on the spacecraft, with the captain (Jessica Chastain) and crew matter-of-factly floating through corridors, are brilliantly realized.

This is an exciting, absorbing story, an adventure with a genuine hero whose courage, fortitude, and intelligence will spark the hero inside anyone who see it.

Parents should know that this film includes intense and prolonged peril with injuries, some disturbing images, brief nudity, some strong language

Family discussion: What was Mark’s most difficult challenge? What were the differing priorities of the people at NASA and when there are conflicts, who should decide?

If you like this, try: “Gravity” and “Apollo 13” and the miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” — and the book by Andy Weir

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