John Ostrander: The Bourne Formula

by John Ostrander

NOTE FROM LB: Some of you may read this as a film review. But if you look upon John’s words here as a writing lesson, well, you and your readers and viewers will be mighty glad:


Spoiler note: Various plot elements of the Bourne movies may be revealed below. The movies have been out for a while so I’m assuming those who want to see them have seen them. Nevertheless, the spoiler flag is flying just in case.

There are a number of movies that, when I come across them on the tube, I’ll stop and watch them. I tell myself that it will be just until a certain scene or bit of dialogue but the fact is I usually wind up watching them through to the final credits. When this happens late at night, I can wind up staying awake for far too long and suffer for it the next day.

The Bourne series of movies fall into this category. They include The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum and Jason Bourne but not The Bourne Legacy which, despite its name, has no Jason Bourne in it and appears to be ignored by the series filmmakers so I do, too.)

The reason I’m doing this retro review is to look at how something that starts fresh can drift into formula.

The films center on an assassin working for a clandestine special ops CIA agency. Born David Webb, he has become Jason Bourne – among other identities. Trained to be a living weapon, Bourne (wounded on one failed assignment) has become amnesiac. Over the course of the films, he starts to recover that memory.

The series starts with 2002s The Bourne Identity, loosely (some say too loosely) based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name. It was a refreshing take on the spy/action genre, which previously had been defined by the James Bond films. The action was more realistic as were the characters and the situation. There was a car chase but it involved what I think was a Mini. The villain in the movie was not a huge over-the-top megalomaniac but the very agency that employed Bourne. The female lead was not a striking Bond girl but a Bohemian woman named Marie. The film ends with Bourne and Marie putting a new life together for themselves and the agency that hunted them has been closed down.

The film was a big success and re-defined the genre; the Bond films were re-cast in the Bourne mode – tougher, grittier, more realistic. They had needed to change and Bourne showed the way.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) continued the trend. There’s a successor to the black ops agency in the first film but there’s a traitor inside who frames Bourne for a failed mission. In attempting to take him out, Bourne’s love Marie is killed. This is startling; Marie was a major character in the first film and her death has a major effect on Bourne, giving him a motivation that continues through the series. Still, the Big Bad is again the Agency or, at least, elements of it. We’re seeing a pattern developing.

The third film in the series, 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, once again has Bourne and the Agency at odds. This time, the film winds up bringing Bourne back home to the U.S., specifically New York City. He learns the truth about his origin and there are touches throughout that bring us back to the first film suggesting this is the final installment in a trilogy.

And it was, for 12 years.

In 2012, the studio tried to capitalize on its franchise with the Bourne-less The Bourne Legacy. It also tried to make Bourne more of a superhero. That didn’t work all the way around.

Last year saw Jason Bourne (with returning star Matt Damon) hit the theaters. Once again, a woman who is close to Jason is killed and once again the central villain is the Agency (or someone at the Agency). And the formula is starting to become obvious.

Every film has a car chase, each becoming more spectacular than the last. The first one was relatively modest and interesting. After that, any time Jason takes the wheel insurance rates are going up and there will be considerable collateral damage. In all the cars being upended or hit, I just imagine people being hurt and dying. I’m no longer impressed.

There will be a big hand to hand fight between Jason and… somebody. Somebody trained enough to give Jason a good fight but the outcome is never in doubt, It will be very violent and no music plays during it.

In every film, Jason says some variation on “This ends here.” Except it never does. If the studio has its way, it never will. So why even say it?

The antagonist is always the Agency or someone at the Agency. Always. Jason might as well be fighting Spectre and Blofeld.

In two out of the four films, a woman close to Bourne is killed. The first time it was effective if startling and had real impact and consequences. It’s starting to look like a trope.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed each Bourne movie I’ve seen and I wouldn’t mind seeing another. But what started out as fresh and different is becoming old and formulaic. That’s hard to avoid when you’re working on a series. How do you keep from repeating yourself especially when part of the attraction for the fans is that repetition of fave motifs and lines?

It can be done. The next Bourne should avoid the Agency or maybe have Bourne work with the Agency, Different settings, different stakes. As it stands now, they’re not doing sequels; they’re doing remakes.

The Bourne Repetition.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Doug Snauffer’s Short Takes: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

by Douglas Snauffer

Saw WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES last weekend — and loved it.

Although, as I sat there watching the movie for 2 hours and 20 minutes, I had to doubt its appeal to today’s younger crowd (ages 18-25).

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a writer’s delight in that it’s totally character-driven. Dialog matters in this film – a lot – while the action scenes this time around are extremely limited right up to and including the end.

In other words, it could be described as ‘slow-moving’ by young moviegoers more accustomed to the all-out CGI apocalypses so common in today’s tent pole extravaganzas. The kind of movie I love, but young moviegoers today simply love to avoid. The film’s current worldwide gross is around $100,000,000, with the U.S. gross just $56.5 million from 4,022 locations. In other words, as Variety says, WFTPOTA “is coming in on the low end of expectations….”

In addition to the fine script, Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson offer up wonderful performances. And the director is Matt Reeves, whom I consider one of the best young directors in the business, with credits that include 2014’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the superb LET ME IN (2010) and CLOVERFIELD (2008).

I hope more moviegoers give this one a chance.


Doug Snauffer is TVWriter™ Contributing Editor.  His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel. He’s also the writer of several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Learn more about Doug HERE.

Diana Vacc sees ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

On May 26, 2017, Disney released the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. This volume of the franchise follows Jack Sparrow as he searches for the trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact with the power to break all curses of the sea. 

THE GOOD:

  • Writer Jeff Nathanson brings back the magic that made the original so successful.  The humor, the chemistry, and the story.  I loved the return of the romance of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly).  I enjoyed finally learning the back story of Jack and how he became Captain.
  • The newest love story of Henry and Carina (Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario) is reminiscent of Will and Elizabeth and you know what? I was cool with it. The chemistry of both actors was breathtaking, and who would want to get in the way of that powerful an attraction to each other?
  • The motivation of Will son’s Henry to break the Curse of the Dutchman over his father tugs at the audience’s heartstrings. Thwaites performs with sure determination, as if Bloom is his actual father.
  • The performance of Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar was creepy and gross but in a good way.  The black goo that comes out of his mouth is disgusting but it works for the character.

THE BAD:

  • Not enough Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.  I wish they were in the film more. I have loved these characters and their romance since the first film of the series.


THE REST:

  • I realize that I’m in disagreement with a majority of critics, but this film is pure fun. It brings back the magic that the last Pirates lost.  I definitely recommend you go see it.

Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

Wonder Woman: A Hero Beyond The Screen

LB’S NOTE: Yes, it’s true that Monday is usually my poetry day. However, all kinds of things, including a mysterious visitor from my past, omens of good fortune and fair trade, and an overcrowded schedule mean that the next epic from yours truly can’t be here today but absolutely will be online June 19th, in honor of Father’s Day.

As we used to say on Hawaii Five-0 (the real one)“Be there!”

Meanwhile, Kate Graham graces us with her insight once again:


by Kathryn Graham

We write about TV here at TVWriter, but for this past weekend, all of the attention has been on the silver screen. There’s one reason for that.

Wonder Woman.

Since this is the kind of film I’ve waited my whole life for, I am going to write about it, TV emphasis be damned. I cannot be confined!

My review of Wonder Woman is:

I need to watch it again.

I went into it expecting to be absolutely blown away, and truth be told, I wasn’t. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the spectacle all of the hype had me believing it was.

That’s exactly why I need to see it again. I need to be able to take it for what it is – a beautiful, powerful superhero movie with a sprinkling of deeper meaning and a lot of women kicking ass.

Because that part, oh that part was glorious.

See, I don’t like superhero movies in general. The main reason is I know that I’m going to see something that’s meant for men, which apparently means three things: women are scarce, women are love interests, women wear skin tight clothing.

I hear a lot about how important it is that little girls can look up to Wonder Woman. No doubt. But I’d posit to say: adult women need her just as much if not more. I need her more.

Wonder Woman wants women to feel the same thrill and excitement that every man has felt his entire life when he watched Spiderman, Superman, or Batman take the bad guys down. It isn’t that we can’t identify with Superman, of course not, but you tell me it doesn’t say something when only one gender is kicking the hell out of evil and the other is the ‘love interest’.

You tell me how it feels when your main purpose is to be hot. When no matter how badass you are, you always need someone to save you.

Not so with Wonder Woman.

Women were in tears while watching her fight because this was a realization of a long-awaited dream.

The importance of this film stretches far beyond a simple superhero movie, not just for the audience, but for the industry.

Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins are superheroes for all women in the film industry. Hollywood is so sexist, they don’t even bother to hide it. Anything a woman touches is judged ten times harsher because she is somehow representative of her entire gender. Every failure is a setback for half of the damn population instead of a shitty movie.

One bad superhero movie and suddenly no one wants to see female superheroes. One bad female directed movie, and well, we know women couldn’t direct, didn’t we boys?

Wonder Woman saved us.

It never should have come to this. If we lived in an equitable and free meritocracy, we would have thousands of movies directed, written, starred in, crewed, and more by women. All of them judged by how stupid the plot was, how great the acting, the big booms and zooms, and not by the gender of the person who worked on it.

We don’t live in that world. Even with Wonder Woman, the number of women working in film is abysmal, and I’m skeptical about just how much better it will get now. But this movie has given us a ray of hope.

Sure, I would have loved to have seen a bulkier woman play Wonder Woman, but Gal Gadot did a great job. Yes, I would have loved for there to be more women in the movie later on, but I understand why they weren’t. Yes, I want to see Wonder Woman have a female love interest someday, and yes, I’ll be happy to write that script for you, thank you for asking!

Anyway…

This movie was a small step forward that feels like a giant leap.

Wonder Woman may not be the hero we deserve (do we deserve better or worse? you decide), but she is a hero we can believe in. Thank you, everyone who worked on this movie. Truly. I’m off go to see it in IMAX.


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor and our very own wonder woman although she probably doesn’t believe that. Learn more about Kate HERE

Diana Vacc sees ‘Beauty and the Beast’

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Friday March 17, 2017, Disney Studios released the live action version of their iconic animated film Beauty and the Beast. Growing up, I loved the animated film and watched it countless times, so I was truly excited to see how Disney would reinterpret the classic fairy tale of a prince who is imprisoned in the form of a beast and can only be freed by true love.

And guess what? I was not disappointed.

THE GOOD:

The actors inhabit their roles perfectly. Emma Watson was born to play the beautiful Belle and brings truth and power to the role. Dan Stevens as the Beast gives us the heart we need to empathize with him and his situation. Watson and Stevens have great chemistry, making us root for Belle and the Beast to get to know each other better so their love can develop and grow strong.

Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson as Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts bring their motion capture characters to life. The CGI feels absolutely real, and I admit that I teared up toward the end as we were presented with a terrible fate for these characters.

Luke Evans as our villain, Gaston, brings the all the narcissism of this classic character to life with humor to spare. One scene in particular sums it up as we watch Gaston profess his love for Belle…while admiring himself in a mirror.

The makeup on the Beast was fantastic. Every bit as striking as in the animated film.

The music by Alan Menken, who also did the original’s score, returns with great additions. Yes, those  additions are often corny but are fun nevertheless, and overall the music does a fine job of helping the story move forward while bringing out the emotion in each scene.

The writing by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos not only lives up to the original, it add info that the animated version missed. Many critics have complained that it is mostly “unnecessary” backstory, but I loved seeing the party and the Enchantress changing the prince into the Beast. And as somebody who always wondered why Belle and her father were living in that little backwater village, I especially loved this version’s answer as well as discovering so much more about Belle’s mother.

THE BAD:

There is no bad for me. This film is truly magical.

THE REST:

If you loved the original Beauty and the Beast, you will definitely love this version too. And even if you’re not the biggest fan of the original, the additions may well change your mind.

I highly recommend this film and look forward to future live action versions of classic Disney animated films.

Diana Vacc sees ‘Beaches’

Why in the name of creativity are these women smiling?

by Diana Vaccarelli

No spoilers here because it’s already spoiled!

Last month Lifetime premiered yet another remake Beaches.  As a feature film, Beaches was a moving drama following two young friends and their relationship throughout the years. Unfortunately, the only thing moving in this television film was my gag reflex.     

THE GOOD:

  • Nia Long gave a gut wrenching performance as the introverted Hillary Whitney. This performance is heartfelt and breathtaking.  I felt sympathy for her and was rooting for her to survive her disease.  One scene that stood out in particular is when Hillary is watching her young daughter Tori play with CC on the beach and smiles at the two of them. This scene represents hope, showing that Hillary knows that her daughter is going to be okay and that she can let go.   

THE BAD:

  • Where to begin? Lifetime, was it really necessary to remake such a classic? The writers, Bart Baker and Nikole Beckwith, didn’t come close to capturing the magic of the original. The original worked so well because of the chemistry between stars Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.  Those two perfectly displayed that the characters have been friends for a lifetime. Here…it’s like they just met during casting.
  • Idina Menzel portrays the character of CC Bloom made iconic by the Divine Ms. M aka Bette Midler.  Menzel as the character is annoying and frustrating.  At a pivotal moment of conflict between the two heroines, Menzel destroyed all credibility, yelling in a way that made listening even more painful than having to endure nails scraping on a chalk board. It’s not like me hate on an actor, but I wanted to slap her. Menzel’s vocal range as a singer matched Midler’s, but her acting in this film never comes close.
  • The scenes that were supposed to be funny weren’t at all comical. Writing flaw? Acting flaw? Directing flaw? I think the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of whomever made the decisions that brought all the participants together.

THE REST:

The remake of Beaches has no reason to exist.  It was completely unsatisfying. I can’t think of anybody I know to whom I would recommend it.  


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and one of the best people we know. Find out more about her HERE

David Perlis reviews ‘Rogue One’

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s begging a thousand pardons time as TVWriter™ acknowledges that we fucked up bigtime. We’ve had David Perlis’ review of Rogue One for months now but totally lost track of its place in our Secret Subterranean Vault, and it only re-surfaced yesterday.

Our apologies to David and Star Wars fandom as a whole for depriving them of David’s opinions back when they were timely. Forgive us – puhleeze!

Okay, David, we’ve abased ourselves enough, yeah? Over to you, dood:

Rogue One Review…Finally!
by David Perlis

THE ACCURATE AND NUANCED PLOT SUMMARY

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Young Ian McKellen blackmails bad-guy turned good-guy Galen Erso into building the Death Star. Fifteen years later, Captain-Rebel finds Galen’s daughter Jin (Jyn? Gin? Jen?), to help find Forest Whitaker (a sort of Che Guevara—whose name, I think, actually was Che Guevara), to find the pilot guy, to find Galen, to find the Death Star plans. Along the way, they pick up Donnie Yen and Donnie Yen’s friend. No one knows their names. Not even the writers. CGI Tarkin is taking credit for all of Sir Ian’s work, so Sir Ian complains to Vader, who has a mother fucking castle on Mustafar with a mother fucking BACTA TANK! That was cool. Vader calls Sir Ian whiney (I could have done without Vader’s puns), so Sir Ian flies to Deep Space 9. Galen dies. Jin flies to the planet that DS9 hovers over to steal the Death Star plans. Master switch and satellites abound. More rebels show up and botch everything. Master switch and satellite and a big battle—then Jin steals the plans. The Death Star arrives, and Sir Ian has this rather beautifully moment of realization that his life’s passion is about to pee all over him in the form of a big green Super Laser.

The entire cast is blown up.

And you think it’s over, right? NOPE! ‘Cause just as the rebels escape, Vader shows up, and I swear, it’s the best five minutes in cinematic history. Vader goes fucking ape shit, and even though you know they escape with the plans, you just keep thinking “Jesus Christ! They’re gonna lose! Vader is right there, and they’re gonna fucking lose!” And your concrete memories of exactly what happens in A New Hope are put into serious doubt, but then of course they escape, and the movie ends with a shot of CGI C-Fish saying “Hope.”

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE

Got it. But how did yesterday’s far superior and inspired post give a respectable B- to a film that you, yourself, suggested can largely be ignored for a good romp in the sack?

Rogue One is good. Sex is better.

WHY SEX IS BETTER THAN ROGUE ONE

Good sex is better. The kind you have in the back of a packed theatre. With Red Hots. And THX.

The final five or so minutes alone make this movie a blessing in mine eyes. Vader slaughtering the rebels? My oh my!  And there were other moments throughout that really lit me up…can’t think of ’em right now. Anyhoo!—overall, the movie just didn’t suck me in the way a good ole’ garbage chute getaway does. I doubt I’ll be watching Rogue One yearly, as I do with the Original Trilogy—and I chalk that up to a few different things:

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Forest Whitaker’s Che Guevera was cool. Cool like Luke—from Cool Hand Luke. A rebel extremist at odds with our familiar band of heroes. A paranoid, maybe even schizo, cyborg. Hell yeah. I tell ya, I was prepared to watch an anti-hero test our protagonist’s morals and start fucking up best-laid plans in Acts II and III before succumbing to his fatal flaws. Greek drama at its finest. Instead, he’s killed off on the fringe of Acts I and II, never serving more than a hiccup of an obstacle, and adding twenty-odd minutes of “so what?”

I’m not sure what writers saw as Che’s dramatic purpose, but every hope I had for him basically fizzled out with an anti-climactic death. Boo.

By the way, that “fatal flaw” is known as “hammartia” in pretentious drama-speak. Yeeeeep.

MEGO

It’s a criticism one of my 4000-level writing profs turned me onto back in college. MEGO: My Eyes Glazed Over. Like when your mind just won’t process the logorrhea served up to you, but fuck it, you’ll fake it later.

I’m afraid I had my share of Rogue One MEGOs. It usually happens when there’s a lot of lateral plot points, without going deeper into the complexity of existing plot points.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE

Lateral plot points? Wut? MEGO, man! MEGO!

Just sayin, having to find this dude, to get to that dude, cause of this dude…it’s a set series of road bumps that I just want to get to the end of ’cause it could basically be condensed with no real change. I sorta ignored all of Rogue One‘s technical details for the same reason. Hyperdrive doesn’t work? Got it. Need to shut down a tractor beam? Right there with ya. But master switch, ’cause satellite, but the shield and oops tangled power cordwhatever, there’s laser beams, so I’ll just…Yeah. Hand me a Red Hot?

Miss a line of dialogue, and your understanding for the next ten minutes is reduced to “rebels vs Empire.” But it’s at least explosive.

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE

You’re bummin’ me out, man! Can’t you give me something positive?! I already bought my ticket!

No problema! (I’d also like to direct you to my lighter, more respectable post from yesterday).

GALEN ERSO: THE GALAXY’S FIRST SCIENTIST

I bet you never even noticed that Star Wars was scientist-free before now. Didja? Didja?!

Had he spent too much time onscreen, I might have lost interest in Mr. Erso. But oh how those crafty writers kept him elusive and mysterious, perfectly balancing his evil deeds with his misgivings. I love his stoicism. I love his empathy. I love that I remember his name.

Yes, Mr. Erso adds a lovely shade of gray to our “light” and “dark” Star Wars arenas. Gray—just like his beautiful, thick locks. His engineering genius is a welcome addition to our normal cast of philosophers, pilots, smugglers, knights, politicians, bounty hunters, farmers, salesman, and 1960s fry cooks. I wish he would have worn a space visor, but, I can forgive that one.

Galen Erso. Solid A+ for me.

Shit. I just remembered those Kamino cloner dudes. That was pretty sciencey. They’ve ruined my point, and now I hate that movie even more.

Moving on? Moving on.

PILOT GUY

That’s all he will ever be to me: Pilot Guy. Just like “Oversized Munchkin,” Or “Stupid Podracer Kid.” He got us from A to Z by filling gaps other characters couldn’t. But that’s about it. Pilot Guy: Licensed Gap Filler. (I swear, if anyone makes a lewd comment…) And it’s not just Pilot Guy. He’s just the poster child for the others, like Donnie Yen, and Donnie Yen’s friend. Just kinda there. No real dramatic intention. Sometimes you toss him a problem only he can solve—maybe something with the master switch!—but that’s about it.

No, I didn’t much care for Pilot Guy—But this comes with one very important caveat. (“Caveat” may not be the right word, but I can’t think of the one I want. So we’ll stick with “caveat.”)

THE IMPORTANT CAVEAT TO DISLIKING PILOT GUY (AND EVERYONE ELSE)

The capacity to forget Pilot Guys does work beautifully in one way: He may be nothing more than Pilot Guy to me, but you can’t help but feel that, in the long run, that’s all he was to the alliance, too. One of the many forgettable pilot guys. Ya don’t see portraits of him, or Captain-Rebel or Jin Erso lined up at the altar when Luke, Han, and Chewie get their shiny medals, do ya? In our decades long war, lots of people die, and lots of people are forgotten. Rogue One is the story of unsung heroes, and I appreciate that about it.

Rest in peace, Pilot Guy.

The Greatest Success of Rogue One

I think the prime directive (someone’s going to murder me for that one) for Rogue One was to bridge the prequels with the Original Trilogy. A piece of a greater puzzle. From all the small continuity nods (killing off Red Five, anyone?) to the fan boy moments (seriously—Vader in a bacta tank), it satisfies all those little questions we ever had with little complaint. If that’s it’s only job, it does it brilliantly, and I give it an A.

But I feel compelled to look at a movie’s ability to stand on its own two legs, no matter its primary purpose. And for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I’ve gotta take it from the A down to the B-. Maybe a B if I’m high.

And there it is, my friends. A much too long, and unnecessary review of Rogue One. Be sure to comment below.


David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time.