The Borne Supremacy

© 2004 Ray Wong

Two years after THE BOURNE IDENTITY redefined espionage action thrillers, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY roars back with its unlikely protagonist Jason Bourne, one of the most interestingly unreliable protagonists in Hollywood these days.

Jason Bourne, the mysterious secret agent-fugitive, has been in hiding for almost two years with his girlfriend Marie. The ghosts of his past keep chasing him, and he continues to try to find out who he was.

One of those ghosts manifests itself as a botched CIA operation, in which Bourne is framed for stealing important evidence and killing two CIA agents. While in India, he finds himself an assassination target, and he loses Marie. The hunted becomes the hunter when Bourne actively pursues those who are after him, including his old boss Ward Abbott and CIA operative Pamela Landy. Pieces of memory begin to fall in place as he begins to find out what happened and who is behind everything.

As in the original, this film is fast-paced, with an almost breathless urgency in every frame. Director Greengrass (BLOODY SUNDAY) has created a gritty world full of discerning bystanders in which Bourne appears and disappears like a ghost himself. Shot mostly through a handheld camera, the film is filled brim-to-brim with fast-cutting actions and close-ups, creating an exciting illusion and sensation that we’re inside the action ourselves. At times the shaky-cam approach creates a near-nauseating effect (be sure not to sit in the front row!) but Greengrass and cinematographer Oliver Wood (FREAKY FRIDAY) have given us a realistic, detached world and some of cinema’s best action sequences.

Damon (STUCK ON YOU), reprising his role as Bourne, is excellent in portraying the emotionally detached yet deeply wounded hero. He is like a lost puppy that will bite you hard if you ruffle him. Potente (BLOW) dazzles as the down-to-earth Marie. Her role is brief but strong, giving the film a needed emotional gravity and Bourne a legit motivation. Cox (TROY) and Allen (THE NOTEBOOK) are adequate, but their roles have too little screen time (mostly just running around, barking orders at each other and chasing Bourne). Stiles (THE PRINCE & ME) also has little to do. Urban is great to watch as the cold-blooded assassin, but again, his character has only one purpose, making him two-dimensional. Clearly, the film is all about Jason Bourne and the camera likes to follow him, sometimes in extreme close-ups.

The plot itself is simple yet convoluted at the same time. It is simple because it is pretty much the same story of the original, where Bourne must pursue his pursuer throughout Europe to survive. It’s a basic “Who Am I” plot. It is also simple because the good and bad guys are very clearly defined – we know who to root for and who to despise. However, it is convoluted because the film’s breakneck pace does not allow a moment for us to relax and catch our breath. It leaves us no time to get to know most of these characters. In a way, the script asks you to be emotionally detached.

Perhaps that’s one of its pitfalls. For example, by eliminating Marie early on, the film loses the emotional intimacy of the first film. Here, the filmmaker strives for anguish and despair, but it just doesn’t quite work in the midst of all that action. You’d come out of the theatre feeling the exhilaration of the ride, but ultimately you really don’t care much about these characters. There’s nothing supreme about that.

Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, Karl Urban
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer: Tony Gilroy (based on Robert Ludlum’s novel)
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extreme violence


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 9
Production – 7

Total – 7.1 out of 10

I, Robot

© 2004 Ray Wong

Will Smith is set to “come back” as Mr. July after a few duds such as WILD WILD WEST and BAD BOYS II. He might just do it with the slick, moody sci-fi thriller I, ROBOT, which is “inspired” by a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov.

Smith plays Del Spooner, a Chicago cop in 2035 who has, literally, a chip on his shoulder. This is a time when robots are quickly becoming commodities much like personal computers “were” in 2004. They are governed by the three laws of robotics, and can never harm a human being. But the robot-phobic Spooner doesn’t trust them.

While investigating an apparent suicide of Dr. Lanning at U.S. Robotics, the world’s largest R&D and suppliers of robots, Spooner suspects foul play. USR is on the verge of delivering millions of the new NS-5 to the world, making the dream of “one robot in every home” a reality.

Soon, with the help of a beautiful scientist/psychiatrist, Susan Calvin, he is hot on the trail of a robotic suspect, a model NS-5 named Sonny. Despite the lack of evidence that a robot can actually harm a human, Sonny is scheduled to be ‘decommissioned’ nonetheless. When Del’s life is threatened by a horde of homicidal NS-5s, he realized that his suspicion is justified, and that the suicide is actually part of the clues of something bigger happening. Somebody has violated the three laws, and humans are in danger.

Writers Vintar and Goldsman (A BEAUTIFUL MIND) have successfully strung together a chain of exciting events, albeit some cheesy dialogue and stale, cliché storytelling moments. Under director Proyas’ (DARK CITY) capable hands, the fantastical world of a 2035 Chicago comes alive on screen. There are many similarities between this film and THE MINORITY REPORT: both evolve around a murder mystery that leads to a conspiracy, and both have created a world in the near future that is both familiar and foreign. The cinematography is pleasing to the eyes, slick but not cold. The production value is top-notch. But I, ROBOT is the less intellectual, more predictable of the two.

Smith (BAD BOY II) is serviceable as Spooner, all buff (complete with a gratuitous nude scene), macho and moody. However, I find his performance one-note, incapable of realizing fully the character’s complexity. Moynahan (THE RECRUIT) is stone-cold and expressionless as Susan Calvin. I find it hard to get into her character at all, eventually not caring if she survives. Cromwell (THE SUM OF ALL FEARS) and Greenwood (THE CORE) give respectable performances in their relatively small roles. McBride (THE TERMINAL) is interesting as Spooner’s clueless, tough-sensitive boss. The iMac-like Sonny, a CGI character based on the performance of actor Tudyk (DODGEBALL), practically steals the whole show. It is unnerving to see how a CGI character manages to outperform almost every real-life actor in the film. Ironic, isn’t it, given the “technology vs. men” premise.

In a way, I, ROBOT is a slightly more sophisticated and intelligent sci-fi thriller than a run-of-the-mill Hollywood fair such as the abysmal PAYCHECK. But CONTACT it isn’t. Loosely based on Asimov’s groundbreaking stories about a future world occupied by robots, this film is still more of an action-packed thriller than a brainy sci-fi classic. Hardcore sci-fi fans, especially those who love Asimov’s original, may find the story of I, ROBOT somewhat lacking and superficial. For the rest of us, it’s a worthy summer entertainment.

Stars: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for alcohol, brief nudity, intense action/violence


Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 9

Total – 7.3 out of 10

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

© 2004 Ray Wong

There seems to be a current trend in comedy: Let’s bring back the good old 70s, because it is funny! Nostalgia first brought us STARSKY & HUTCH. Now we have ANCHORMAN, a slapstick comedy about the bizarre world of broadcast news in the early 70s.

Ron Burgundy is the anchorman at KVWN News, the number one news program in San Diego. He is a knucklehead and a dimwit, but loved by everyone. His team include sportscaster Champ, weatherman Brick, and lifestyle reporter Brian – a group of overgrown frat boys in leisure suits.

When beautiful reporter Veronica Cornerstone enters their world, her presence threatens their testosterone balance and male sensibility (yeah, right). Not to mention her ambition to become the first network female anchor. Naturally, Ron and Veronica fall in love, and their relationship and professional rivalry come into direct conflict.

Ferrell and McKay have created a collection of absurd and hilarious characters in ANCHORMAN. The humor is sophomoric and zany, but judging from the audience, the laughs are frequent, big and real. The plot is simple enough. That’s part of the pleasure; to be able to set your brain aside to enjoy some mindless laughs. The satirical humor is on the mark, and works well especially if you have lived through the 70s and heard a thing or two about the goings-on in broadcast news. For example, we can’t help but chuckle when the biggest news of the year is the birth of a panda bear.

However, not all the jokes work. Almost every scene in which the KVWN team confronts their rivals falls flat and becomes tedious. The scene where they engage in a street fight is excessive and pointless. Also, a lot of what’s on screen is improvised – some of it works, some doesn’t.

If the script is inconsistent, the cast is largely superb and comedic performance is probably one of ANCHORMAN’s biggest strength. After ELF finally elevated Ferrell as a bona fide star, he gives us another deliciously absurd character named Ron. His comic timing is pitch perfect. He can make you laugh just by staring into the camera with an arched eyebrow. Applegate (VIEW FROM THE TOP) is funny as Veronica, contrasting Ferrell’s simplicity and cluelessness with smarts and a dose of snideness. Rudd (HOUSE HUNTING), Koechner (A GUY THING) and Willard (A MIGHTY WIND) all give stellar supporting effort. The standout is Carell (BRUCE ALMIGHTY) as the “retarded” Brick – he manages to steal every scene from his hilarious co-stars. We also enjoy notable cameos by Ferrell’s friends such as Jack Black, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins, and Ben Stiller.

I must say I did enjoy ANCHORMAN, but wish that it were shorter and more consistent. I wish that the filmmakers have done a better job trimming the fat and tightening the script. I feel that there are missed opportunities that could have made the film so much funnier and sharper. I keep having the feeling like I am watching a very long Saturday Night Live skit. I like the performers and I like what they are trying to do. But there are times when I can’t help but look at my watch and wonder when the movie is going to end. And that is not a good sign.

Stars: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steven Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard
Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Distributor: DreamWorks
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for alcohol, drugs, sexuality, violence, crude humor


Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 6
Production – 6

Total – 5.7 out of 10

Spiderman 2

© 2004 Ray Wong

One of the most anticipated movies of this summer, SPIDER-MAN 2 is set to break many box office records. Again. With a bigger budget and over 4000 screens in North America alone, it runs the risk of buckling under its own weight. Fortunately, this sequel is even better than the original -- a rare occurrence in Hollywood.

Two years after Peter Parker assumed his alter ego, his life is falling apart. Being Spider-Man has rendered him physically and mentally exhausted. He cannot hold down a real job and his academic studies at Columbia University are faltering. He cannot pay rent and his aunt May is losing her house. More importantly, his yearning for MJ Watson continues to depress him.

Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn still hates Spider-Man for killing his father. The Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson is turning the city against Spider-Man. Meanwhile, MJ’s career as a model-actress has taken off and the distance between Peter and her is growing wider. Convinced that Peter will never be there for her, MJ decides to marry her beau John, the astronaut who happens to be Jameson’s son. As his web dries up, Peter realizes the only way he can get what he wants is to relinquish his power, thus the responsibility. Spider-Man is no more.

Everything starts to turn up for Peter until a lab accident turns Dr. Otto Octavius into a menace with four mechanical arms. Doc Ock (a name christened by Jameson) terrorizes New York and his insane experiment threatens to destroy the city. Peter has to decide between getting what he wants and saving the world.

Maguire (SEABISCUIT) has matured well into the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He portrays Parker’s complexity and internal conflicts with masterful skill, reconfirming his status as one of the most talented young leading men of our time. Dunst (MONA LISA SMILE) is perfect as MJ Watson. She and Maguire have great chemistry together. Franco’s (THE COMPANY) role as Harry has been reduced and his performance is somewhat over the top at times. Molina’s (IDENTITY) Doc Ock is a worthy villain, torn between humanity and menace. Harris (BLOW DRY) remains an emotional anchor, the true matriarch, for the series, and she steals every scene she is in. The irreplaceable Simmons (THE LADYKILLERS) continues to bring the manic caricature of Jameson to life. Willem Dafoe and Cliff Robertson also appear in cameos, reprising their roles as Norman Osborn and Ben Parker respectively.

Director Raimi, with the help of his writers (including literary laureate Michael Chabon), has created a fascinating alternate universe that is New York, ripe with comic-book colors and architecture. Like he did with the original, Raimi balances the blood-boiling action sequences and mind-blowing CGI special effects with heart-felt drama. For example, an exciting subway train sequence ends with a poignant coda that shows the heart of what the series is all about. The conflict and relationship between Peter and MJ is wonderfully written and acted.

Technically, the film’s production exceeds the original in almost every way. Between the drama and action, Raimi also sprinkles the film with silly, comic-book moments to lighten the mood. The ending is, in a way, unexpected and satisfying, making us wonder what is coming in the next installment. We just can’t wait.

Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon, Alvin Sargent
Distributor: Columbia
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence


Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 9
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 9
Production – 10

Total – 8.8 out of 10