random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

REEL REVIEWS: 3:10 to Yuma ****


R for violence and some language.
1 hr. 57 min.
written by: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas & Halsted Welles (screenplay) and Elmore Leonard (short story)
produced by: Kathy Conrad & James Mangold
directed by: James Mangold
This review comes with my own bias seeing as how I grew up watching westerns on TV. I'd watch reruns of The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Bonanza & The Big Valley. Then I became quite fond of Eastwood feature film westerns and many of the more realistic and gritty takes on the genre. It was probably back then when I fell in love with the Wild West and all it's expansive open country and living-off-the-land lifestyle. Sure, it was a dangerous time to live with seldom a cure for common illnesses and all the six-gun shooting goin' on but I just loved the idea that a man could get his hands dirty, work his land for a living and provide for his family. It seems simple yet hard but certainly not complicated. Maybe that's what I like about most great western genre movies, there's nothing complicated about them. There's usually a journey the protagonist has to take and the obstacles he has to overcome to get where he needs to be.
Director James Mangold's new film is indeed an uncomplicated remake of the same-titled 1957 that starred Glenn Ford. Both of which are based on a short story by Elmore Leonard that was first published in Dime Western Magazine in 1953. It's a typical morality tale similar to what you might find in a old Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents with all the familiar western genre conventions. But there's more going on with the two main characters here and that's what I really appreciated. Sure, there's a taut stagecoach robbery, some dastardly bad guys and sweaty railroad building but seeing these characters develop was a real treat. After all, many westerns have fallen flat in the past due to their heavy lean on convention instead of character.
Logan Lerman and Christian Bale in Lionsgate Films' 3:10 to Yuma
The story follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a troubled farmer and Civil War veteran who has found that the quiet life he wanted for his family is harder to come by than the restitution the government owes him for his war-damaged leg. Dan's got debt and if he doesn't pay up in seven days, Hollander (Lennie Loftin) the local land owner of Bisbee, Arizona will take his land and sell it to the railroad. He needs cash and he needs it fast. Not only does he need the money to save his land but also for medicine for his sick youngest son Mark (Benjamin Petry) Through not so subtle turns, we see that Dan fears he has lost the confidence of both his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and teenage son Will (Logan Lerman), who doubt he can make the ranch work. Will, who has practically memorized dime novels about nefarious outlaw Ben Wade, doesn't see in Dan the father he would like to look up to.
After witnessing a stagecoach robbery with his boys while trying to find his missing cattle, Dan finds himself in an unlikely situation that just might pay off all his needs....literally. Turns out Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang were the cause of that robbery (and his missing cattle) and Wade has now found himself captured and cuffed by bounty hunter Byron McElroy (a great, grizzly Peter Fonda). Wade and his gang have been behind over 20 major robberies on the Southern Pacific Railroad in 19th-century Arizona. Local bank suit Mr. Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) offers Dan two hundred dollars to join a posse that will take captured Wade to the town of Contention and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. Dan takes the offer ands takes it seriously, seeing it as a way to not only make ends meet and also finally see something through.

Christian Bale and
 Russell Crowe in Lionsgate Films' 3:10 to Yuma
On the hazardous way to the train all sorts of complications happen in requisite western fashion. Pistols are fired, blood is shed, and the traditional thematic elements are all present and well-filmed with a modern, realistic tone. Without Wade, his gang is led by obsessed, right-hand man Charlie Prince (Ben Foster, in a standout performance), are tracking their trail, set on freeing their leader. But Wade doesn't seem to concerned about a rescue as he sits antagonizing his captors or contently drawing on a sketch pad whatever he sees around him. These scenes are well-acted and written with a combination of intense edginess and wry humor. Still, underneath it all, you just know that a guy like Wade, a take whatever he wants kinda guy, is just biding his time, waiting for any opening to break free.
The psychological duel between Dan and Wade on the way to the 3:10 is the most interesting and entertaining thing about this film. Not to discredit the action sequences or other characters like Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) but it's just kinda rare to see two great actors in a western given such great material to work with. The two start out as rivals and in the end pretty much remain that way yet with mutual respect. There's no blatant team-up (a good thing) but there is an unspoken admiration between the two that it interesting to see develop. The action sequences are good, particularly the frenzied climactic gun battle, but it's nothing original and I was fine with that. The feel of the film was refreshing in that I felt like I was watching a modern classic telling of the Old West.
Mangold is coming off his success of the award-winning "Walk the Line" where he showed a good sense of storytelling and an ability to bring out the best in actors, which is evident here for sure. He must be a fan of westerns to film with such zeal but credit should also be served to the writing team. I haven't seen the original but I'm betting it couldn't compare to this one, at least for my tastes. The two lead actors get to convey their moral tussle through just the right dialogue but mostly through their behavior which tells me that the writers knew when to reign it in and let the actors do their thing. In the end, these men both believe in something, even if the morality of their personal code may be questionable from the other's point of view. They believe in the individual and the rights of a man to take action, whereas everyone else just seems to be worrying about making money and they'll remove whomever is in their way to do that.
Ben Foster in Lionsgate Films' 3:10 to
Bale is becoming an actor that pretty much always has a film out and ordinarily I'd grow tired of that. not with him though, I continue to be impressed by his range and variety of choices. He manages to keep finding fresh angles to approach conflicted characters. Bale conveys Dan's core in such great subtle ways, he's a man trying to stand up and do what is right, but there shouldn't be so much standing in the way of making an honest living. All of this can often be seen in just an expression and that is great acting. One of his disagreements with Wade manifest as a battle for young William who is fascinated by the dark figure. In the boy's eyes, his father is meek and slow to act, whereas the criminal takes what is his, reacting with the speed of his shooting arm. For his part, Crowe has the more fun albeit harder role. He sheds any outlaw stereotype and exudes a philosophical intelligence and sympathy that runs well with his ruthlessness. Sure, there are those who dislike Crowe but is that really for his acting....really? Crowe makes the smart choice of steering clear of being showy. He has his moments of verbal dexterity, playing mind games on his captors to try to get them to drop their guard, and less careful actors would have gone "maniacal villain"with the role. But Crowe makes Wade subtly charming, he seems to barely lift a finger for the duration of the story, and yet he owns his screen time.
There are quite a few people out there who have aversions to westerns (my wife included) but a good story should be able to translate to any genre and this one does. Am I proven wrong in thinking this seeing as how the movie was number one at the box office in the U.S.opening weekend? I dunno. There aren't that many westerns made anymore, so when one is released it's scrutinized and everyone says how it's a dying genre. Well, I'd rather have a few good or great ones released sparsely then have a slew of hack jobs spewed out on a regular basis like the horror genre. Filmmakers don't need to reinvent the genre, just do a great job and use a great script. As much as it was smart casting to sign Crowe and Bale, it was just as smart of them to agree to do it and you can tell they had fun with it. Excellent work by both of them make this film a worthy entry into an excellent genre.
Director James Mangold on the set of Lionsgate Films' 3:10 to Yuma
The Skinny:
  • Crowe was director Mangold's very first choice for the role of Ben Wade. After Tom Cruise dropped out of talks for the film, putting it into turnaround, it was the casting of Crowe that got the production back up and running.
  • Crowe, Mangold, and producer Cathy Konrad unanimously preferred Bale as the co-lead.
  • Eric Bana was in initial negotiations to play Dan Evans, opposite Cruise in this film.
  • For the film, Crowe and Bale studied the art of gunslinging from renowned armorer Thell Reed.
  • On the first day of filming, a rider and his horse were seriously injured in a scene when the horse ran directly into a camera-carrying vehicle instead of veering off as planned. The rider was hospitalized, and the horse had to be euthanized on the set. The animal's death prompted an investigation from the American Humane Association. By November, the AHA concluded its investigation, finding that the horse did not respond accordingly due to having received a dual training approach and the rider not being familiar with the mount. The organization recommended no charges against the producers.
  • The weekend before shooting was scheduled to wrap, a freak storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on the supposedly drought plagued town. Labourers shoveled the snow from the buildings' balconies and roofs and distributed 89 dump trucks worth of dry soil on the ground. Backhoes created an 8 foot tall rampart of snow just beyond camera sight lines for the remaining 6 days of shooting. You can see the snow on the other side of the Yuma train tracks.
  • The movie was funded in conjunction with New Mexico's Film Investment Program.
  • Filming began on October 23, 2006 in New Mexico and concluded on January 20, 2007.
  • After filming concluded, the owners of the Cerro Pelon Ranch petitioned to keep a $2 million expansion to the movie set on their property, which was supposed to be dismantled within 90 days. The set for the film made up 75% of the overall sets on the ranch. In April 2007, the request was met by the county's development review committee to keep the expansion, which would potentially generate revenue in the future
  • The filming took place in a veriety of beautiful locales:
    Bonanza Creek Ranch - 15 Bonanza Creek Lane,Sante Fe, Mexico, which represented the film's town of Bisbee as a "kinder, gentler frontier town" while Galisteo was set up to be Contention (now a ghost town), a "much rougher, bawdier, kind of sin city". After filming concluded, the owners of the Cerro Pelon Ranch petitioned to keep a $2 million expansion to the movie set on their property, which was supposed to be dismantled within 90 days.The set of 3:10 to Yuma made up 75% of the overall sets on the ranch.

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Bale and Crowe on 3:10 to Yuma

Fonda & Foster interview

Director James Mangold on 3:10 to Yuma

Mangold & Konrad interview

The writers of 3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma Poster

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

REEL REVIEW: The Bourne Ultimatum ****


PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action.
1 hr. 51 min.

written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi & Tom Stoppard (uncredited); based on characters created by Robert Ludlum
produced by: Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall, Paul L. Sandberg & Doug Liman

directed by: Paul Greengrass

Matt Damon in Universal Pictures' The Bourne Ultimatum

Around the time I had heard that Matt Damon had been cast as Jason Bourne, the action-amnesiac hero of Robert Ludlum's novels, I went and bought used copies of all those novels. Not because I wanted to prepare or familiarize myself with the Bourne world, no that wasn't why. It was for my wife. I knew she liked Damon (as do I) and I thought this might be something we could both get into. Now, I'm fortunate enough to be married to a woman who likes an intelligent action/suspense (as well as war movies...woo hoo!) She wound up devouring each novel and would keep me up to speed with what was going on with Bourne. So far, we've loved each of these somewhat-related film adaptations and having recently seen this recent sequel, we both agreed that it would be fine if they ended the series with this film....or maybe not. It's just that good and would be a perfect end to it all but we wouldn't mind visiting this world again.

When we last saw our CIA-trained, assassin hero in "Supremacy" he was still chasing the McGuffin introduced in "Identity". You'd think taking a common plot thread like a character tryin' to figure out how he got to be who and what he is and who is responsible for his past and present state would be a lil tedious. Nope, not in these movies. Anything but. At times it's kinda complicated but if you pay close enough attention it all comes through. All three of these movies can certainly stand viewing apart from each other but one obviously benefit from the character development in watching all three.

This film starts out with a battered Bourne (played once again to steely perfection by Damon) recovering from that now-legendary car chase through Moscow at the end of the last film. The event seems to have jarred loose some memories that we see as he hazily digs these images up from the back of his mind. I'm thinking with all these jarring auto bang-ups, he outta remember everything already! Those glimpses of the past, plus his fury over the murder of his girlfriend Maria in the last film, make him more determined than ever to learn who's responsible for all this, and to deliver the appropriate punishments.
Bottom line, he's ticked and he wants to see this to the end and that means going to the beginning. This is a sublimely uncomplicated film in which Bourne tries to find the truth and the people who have the truth try to kill Bourne. Real easy. That's the movie. As with the last film, direction is excellently handled by Paul Greengrass ("United 93") and written by Tony Gilroy from Robert Ludlum's novel. The movie is as lean, efficient, and ruthless as Bourne himself. while there's no need to 'get-to-know' Bourne (cuz he doesn't know himself) that's not the reason that the dialogue is used sparingly. This story needs to move and any exposition dialogue would just slow it down but what dialogue there is crackles with serious-spy-movie electricity. This movie is not kidding around, and that no-nonsense attitude during all the clever reversals and bruising fight sequences makes it a joyful thrill to watch.

Scott Glenn , Joan Allen and Tom Gallop in Universal Pictures' The Bourne Ultimatum

Bourne and the CIA become each other's enemies again when a London newspaper reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) publishes a story about Bourne that mentions a top-secret operation called "Blackbriar." The CIA, under the power-mad and slightly paranoid Noah Vosen (the great David Strathairn), furiously searches within itself to learn who the reporter's source was. Could it be from within or is it someone connected tio the CIA? Upon learning that Bourne himself may be involved, they bring in Pamela Landy (Chicago's own Joan Allen), the CIA operative who has dealt with Bourne in the past.

It only makes sense though that some in the CIA have become sympathetic to Bourne and his search for answers about who he was before the CIA trained him. Landy might be among his supporters, and so might Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a field agent whom Bourne re-encounters in Spain (How does this guy get around so much? Where's he get the funds?). Just when we might believe that Bourne doesn't needs a lot of help, she appears and in a palpable way that adds to his past. Like many other famous movie or TV spies, it would appear that Bourne is indestructible. Sure, trying to kill him only makes him angrier but Damon plays his action scenes on the edge of assuredness and desperation. He has the mad skills and brains of Bond, but without that part of the suave personality that lets him relax. Bourne can't relax. He does not engage in clever repartee with villains. In fact, I only remember him smiling at all once in the first film and that's when Maria (Franke Potente) made him crack one.

The film fits in smoothly and seemlessly with the previous two. I've like all three of them but I do see how they have improved upon each other in many aspects each time. Greengrass still favors the shaky camera style of photography that many complain about (hey, sit int he back then!) and he's quite fond of staging fight sequences without any music or other adornment. But, although there may not be any frenetic music playing alongside these well-choreographed fights, the sound cannot be missed. As Bourne ties to through ever thing at Desh (Joey Anseh) in a close-quartered duel, all the crashes and groans can be felt as clear as they are heard. Bourne used a magazine as a lethal weapon last time; this time it's a book and a towel that figure into his hand-to-hand combat, in a fight scene that's brutal and seemingly never-ending. Although, Greengrass doesn't even try to top the Moscow car sequence from last time around, there is a bone-crushing jaunt through downtown Manhattan that serves as a quite a follow-up.

Matt Damon in Universal Pictures' The Bourne Ultimatum

Some new players this time around are played with actors that fit right in with this series. The tip-top, shady head CIA Head Director Exra Kramer played by the always reliable Scott Glenn with delicious mystery. Bourne finds the man who hired him into this covert mess, Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney, always a delight) who actually tells Bourne who he really is and all about the program that he initially signed up for. I really enjoyed how Damon and Finney handled these scenes. In the finalle, Damon is cornered by everybody as he comes face to face with Paz (Edgar Ramirez) who tried to kill him previously. But Bourne is done in the end, he's just too smart for everyone. He knows what he wants now that he found out who he is and that's all that matters to him.

There are some out there that have actually complained that this is film is too similiar to the other two films or that it's just not the action movie they were looking for. Those who've enjoyed the first two movies might get mildly irked by how "Ultimatum" rarely tries to tread new ground in terms of storytelling, especially with a number of blatant homages that mirror classic scenes from the first movie, but it also ups the ante in terms of action, outdoing the car chase climax from the last movie with ease. Those who've been following the story so far shouldn't be too disappointed by the resolution that brings Bourne to New York City and answers many of the questions about Bourne's past and the program that changed him. Just think of these three movies as one long six hour film that takes you on quite a ride, literally.

As I mentioned, if this is the final film in the series, I'm totally cool with that. "Ultimatum" is brings closure to Bourne's search for answers. It does this satisfactorily, and we realize that the scarcity of dialogue and lack of information about Bourne's pre-spy life doesn't really matter. Bourne has somehow become a real, flesh-and-blood, fully developed character despite anything these movies may lack. The series has been surprisingly carried by Damon's stern somberness, plus his ability to use just his eyes and face to speak volumes about his character's thoughts, vitalizing the screen. In a summer full of disappointing threequels, it's nice to know that at least one franchise knows how to deliver the goods by replicating the thrills of the first two movies by sticking to a similar formula while answering the burning questions that have kept so many people interested for so many years. That's why if this isn't the last one....well, I'd be fine with that too.

The Skinny:

  • During one of the scenes in the New York CIA office, a picture of Donald Rumsfeld can be seen on one of the computer monitors.
  • It took six weeks to film the climactic car chase in downtown New York City.
  • During the final car chase in NYC all the cars are going 35 MPH or lower. The NYPD was afraid of pedestrians getting hurt and wouldn't let filming crews go any faster.
  • A copy of Bill Clinton's autobiography, "My Life," appears on the bookshelf in Vosen's office.
  • A copy of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, 'Long Walk to Freedom', can be seen in the office above Clinton's Autobiography.
  • Release prints were delivered to theaters in two parts, each with a fake title. Odd numbered reels were labeled 'Umber'. Even numbered reels were labeled 'Buum'.
  • Among the files Bourne takes out of the safe and Landy later faxes is that of a terminated agent. The photo is of the actor Richard Chamberlain, who played Jason Bourne in a 1988 TV movie version of ‘The Boutne Identity’.
  • The film crew were unable to shut down Waterloo station, so pedestrians in the station can be seen looking and pointing at the camera.
  • SPOILER: Jason Bourne's final line in the film: "Look at us. Look at what they make you give.", mirrors The Professor's (Clive Owen) dying words in The Bourne Identity (2002).
  • SPOILER: Operation Blackbriar, the main focal point of "The Bourne Ultimatum", was originally introduced in "The Bourne Identity". Near the end, Abbott (Brian Cox), who is before a congressional review board, explains how Treadstone was a failure (closes the file) and then moves onto Operation Blackbriar.
  • The movie was filmed in multiple locations including New York, Morocco, Spain, Germany, France, the UK and other locations in the US.
  • "Extreme Ways" is the name of the song by the Techno artist Moby (which can be heard in the above fan trailer) featured as the end title theme for all three Bourne movies. A new version of the song was recorded for The Bourne Ultimatum, and released on the film's soundtrack. It was originally featured in Moby's studio album 18, released on August 29, 2002, it was released as the second single from the album. It is also featured in Disc 1 of the American release of Go - The Very Best of Moby.
  • The premiere was held in downtown Oklahoma City on July 31, 2007, at Harkins Bricktown Theaters to benefit The Children's Center, located in suburban Bethany. The film was shown simultaneously on three screens. Damon was at the event to greet guests.
  • The film was released on August 16, 2007, in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Singapore.

Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass behind the scenes of Universal Pictures' The Bourne Ultimatum

Universal Pictures' The Bourne Ultimatum

Moving Pictures


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