Bourne in Hell . . . Review of “The Bourne Legacy”

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The Bourne Legacy is born from the trilogy of Matt Damon Bourne movies and is intended to give birth to a new flood of cash. After rogue agent Jason Bourne does his superspy tap dance across the CIA in the previous three movies, that agency decides to terminate operations coming from Treadstone, the top secret project creating ultimate warriors like Bourne. Terminating operations means murdering all of the people connected with them. One of these uber-soldiers, Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner), manages to escape his execution and goes on the run with one of the doctors who helped create his super powers, Dr. Marta Shearing (played by Rachel Weisz).

We’ll tell you right up front that we didn’t like this overblown excuse for a movie, but that was definitely due to no fault of the actors. They did the best they could have done with this cinematic travesty. In fact, the acting was the only redeeming quality of the entire two miserable hours.

image from en.wikipedia.org

Now for our individual observations.

Bayard:

Understanding that this is fiction, I’m generally pretty charitable with movies. However, I do not give them license to be stupid. Shortly into this movie, I knew The Bourne Legacy crossed that IQ line when I cracked up laughing, thinking, “What? He’s got a rifle? Why didn’t he just shoot the damn ****** instead of dancing with them?”

It did not get better. In fact, about a half an hour in, I had to stop myself from moo-ing because The Bourne Legacy is what I call a Dairy Farm Movie. I understand that the movie business, like every other business, is in the business of making money. But movies, books, paintings, dance, etc. should give us something in exchange for that money, and that something should not be to treat us like cash cows to be milked.

As an author, I’ll say I found this story sorely lacking in structure. It has a beginning; it has a middle, a middle, and another middle, all of which consist of chase scenes punctuated by an occasional dramatic pause. In fact, if it’s true that visualizing a physical activity is almost as effective as doing the thing, I burned at least 5k calories watching these chase scenes. It finally got to the point that I thought I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in The Terminator.

Unlike The Terminator, though, The Bourne Legacy has no actual end beyond a trite committee meeting held with people who would have already known about the project in the first place for it to exist at all. At no time do the “white hats” actually take charge of the situation and dominate the “black hats” to obtain satisfying resolution to the story problem.

Bottom line? I want those two hours of my life back, please. I could have been ironing my pantyhose or watching my dog catch flies.

Holmes:

This movie was Bourne in Hell, and then it got worse.

It’s rare for me to walk out on a movie, but if I hadn’t been there to review it, I would not have stayed. Generally, if I’m going to review a movie, I watch it at least twice so I can catch more detail and find more things to appreciate about it. I’m sorry, folks. I did my best but I can’t tolerate The Bourne Legacy a second time. All I can offer is my honest first impressions.

If a movie with a well-developed plot or great action is what you seek, then by all means spare yourself the agony of sitting through this one.  And if you’re hoping to see a Jason Bourne movie, it isn’t one of those, either. The producers saved themselves a bundle by only flashing a brief glimpse of Matt Damon’s photograph rather than hiring the actual actor.

As to plausibility of the movie concept, there isn’t one. I won’t claim that the CIA has never, ever killed anyone, but it is not their normal and customary practice to run around killing each other. No intelligence organization in a democratic society could sustain itself by routinely murdering its own employees or citizens. That was standard operating procedure for the Soviet Union, and you see how well that worked out for them.

Most of the “action” scenes are severely edited, resulting in a hint of action amidst abundant kinetic energy. It’s more like a stop-action animation film with bad editing. For example, one moment a woman is upright on a motorcycle, and the next she is falling off the side, clinging to a bus, but we never see how this happens. It is frenetic activity, but it is not fluid action.

This is, unfortunately, a money-saving trend in modern films. While they clearly saved a lot of cash by cheating on the action scenes in The Bourne Legacy with staccato film editing, it gave me annoyance rather than the tension and interest it was supposed to be creating.

And the plot?  Are the writers on strike again?

So far some critics have been upset by the lack of an “ending” to The Bourne Legacy. I’ll let them slide on the ending. If you never quite start the movie, why should you have to end it? Besides, in the case of The Bourne Legacy, my favorite thing about the movie is that it finally stopped when it did, though sooner would have been better.

At the “end” the non-action switches abruptly to a non-love scene. We are all better off not seeing that love scene. It would have no doubt amounted to something like “Fifty Shades of Bilge Grease” or “Last Tango in a Tropical Hell.” I want to personally thank the writer and producer for sparing me that agony.

On the positive side, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, it’s not to late to avoid the pain. If you have ten bucks that are burning a hole in your pocket and you are in dire need of some action, then use the cash to buy a pair of knitting needles and a skein of wool. Learning to knit would be a better bet for entertainment than paying to see The Bourne Legacy.

The Bourne Legacy will soon be coming to a theater near you! Warn your loved ones!

Rating:

The Bourne Legacy earns our first Dud Chinese-Manufactured Ammo* rating. We know better than to look for documentary style reality in movies, but this film did not bother to employ the many modern techniques available for producing a satisfying story or exciting action scenes. If you’re looking for action or for a movie, this isn’t either.

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

*Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.

Piper Bayard is a recovering attorney with a university degree or two. She currently pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels with Holmes when she isn’t shooting, SCUBA diving, or chauffeuring her children.

‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

© 2012 Piper Bayard. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a movie based on Jean Le Carre’s novel by the same name. It’s the story of George Smiley and his efforts to root out a mole in MI-6 during the Cold War. Gary Oldman takes the lead with a heavy hitting cast including John Hurt and Colin Firth.

Bayard

Jean Le Carre is the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell. Cornwell worked for the British Intelligence Services MI-5 and MI-6 from 1952 until 1964, during the time the Cambridge Five were passing information from those agencies to the Soviets. (See Holmes on the Cambridge Forty in Archives.) Some sources say one of their leaders, Kim Philby, worked behind the scenes to have Cornwell dismissed from MI-6 and gave his name to the Soviets, ending Cornwell’s intelligence career.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the novelisation of the hunt for the Cambridge spies, and the mole Smiley is searching for is based on Kim Philby. Let this be a reminder to all of you who know authors. Don’t mess with us or your dastardly deeds will be immortalized.

As a veteran of the Cold War, Holmes’ comments regarding the nature of this movie are far more erudite than my own so I will leave further analysis to him. However, this movie did have me asking him one question. Do top-level intelligence officers actually pause and stare meaningfully at each other that often during the course of their days?

His answer when he quit laughing? “They do sometimes get very quiet in meetings when they are thinking. In this movie, though, they were giving the audience time to think. It had to do with the complexity of the movie and not with intelligence procedures.”

Holmes

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, in my view, one of the more realistic spy films that I have seen. If you’re in the mood for wild chase scenes, lots of beautiful, naked women, handsome hunks, and running gun fights, keep looking. This isn’t it. If, on the other hand, you want a realistic story about Cold War spooks, this is a movie well worth watching.

This is a spy movie but not an “action” movie. Much of the action that needs to take place is in the viewer’s mind. The viewer is given more than enough information to resolve all of the questions as long as the viewer stays engaged with the plot. This is not a movie to go to if your brain is tired and you need a laugh, graphic sex scenes or loud explosions.

If you intend to grope whomever you bring to the theater with you, go alone and grope them later. That tactic worked well for my wife and I. She went shopping, whereby she presumably temporarily avoided being groped by a dangerous man in a dark room, and I saw the movie while not allowing myself to be too distracted by any thoughts of groping. After giving fair warning to my young adult children that there would be no sex or wild shoot outs in the movie, they declined to see it. So I sat alone in the theater and, after politely asking* the elderly couple in the row in front of me to please stop their overt and not at all silent groping activity, I allowed myself to be carried back to rainy London nights during the Cold War.

Before I get on with the movie, let me take a moment to issue an important public service message. If you are between the ages of 18 and 40, please don’t embarrass me by making your groping activities too obvious while sitting near me. If you are over forty, I am even less inclined to tolerate your overt groping. If you lack the skills to grope your play partner properly and discreetly without annoying grumpy old cranks like me, then by all means stay at home and grope away as you please or until the Viagra runs out.

The movie (once you scare away any local gropers) is about the search for a mole in British MI-6 by George Smiley, a recently retired deputy director. The retired spy finds himself being asked by run-of-the-mill cowardly, sleazebag politicians to ferret out a possible mole without rocking any political boats. In a better world, the politicians would pretend for a moment that they were not slimy worms, and they would order a full and immediate investigation without concern for political fallout. Poor George Smiley lives in our world so he knows that probably won’t happen, and he agrees to take on the thankless task.

If you pay attention in this part of the movie, you will catch a brilliantly played split second when Smiley considers giving in to his emotions and throwing the politician from the high spot that they occupy at the meeting. You can read his mind and sympathize with him. From your seat in the theater, you’ll be wanting to smack these supercilious bastards.

Even though Smiley knows that he can more easily get the job done without them wasting more of the world’s oxygen supply, he relies on his well-honed self discipline, ignores their insults, and gets on with the task at hand. Which is as it should be because if we all give in to our darkest instincts, our world will soon look like Iraq does this week, and the whole reason for having an MI-6 is to keep that from happening. So future spooks who are reading this, remember . . . leave seemingly urgent questions of justice to God and the voters and concentrate on your work.

Smiley is handicapped by a lack of resources and by the need to keep his investigation quiet, but he and his capable assistants rely on their collective experience and sharp minds to get things done. Smiley uses every spook’s most important weapon to crack the case. His brain.

The movie was well cast, well acted, and well directed. The director skillfully used the dreary scenery and the music to portray the dread and depression that a George Smiley would feel in his circumstances. He has to contend with feelings of betrayal and trepidation at what a mole might mean for him and for his country without letting it all overwhelm him and render him useless. He has to ignore personal feelings and likes and dislikes to peer at a smoke-filled reality through multiple warped lenses to glimpse the truth.

The movie clearly and realistically portrays that dynamic, and the viewer can easily imagine himself in the same situation and can ask himself how he/she would deal with the same. Who do you have that can help? Who would you call first? Who would you avoid? How will you get to the files that you want without alarming anyone? Who can you trust?

As long as we remember what audience this movie is for, I can’t see any reason to offer any criticisms of this film. The plot holes were so minute as to make them meaningless. Don’t even look for them. Just enjoy the movie completely.

This movie won’t change your life unless it scares you off from seeking a job in intelligence, or you get arrested for overt public groping. But it will give you more insight into one aspect of the intelligence world and its complicated history. It’s a very good movie. Movies that can keep you awake without sex and explosions are rare so don’t miss this one. We give it a .44 magnum rating** and we’ll actually pay to go watch this movie again.

Have you read this book or seen this movie? Will you go to a movie without explosions?

*Piper’s Note: Someone pleeeeeease ask Holmes what constitutes “politely asking.”

**Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Ides of March

The Ides of March is a political drama about idealistic campaign staffer Stephen Meyers (played by Ryan Gosling) who loses his idealistic values the instant they are diametrically opposed to his own survival. The movie stars George Clooney as George Clooney, but in the movie he goes by the name Governor Mike Morris. It also stars Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatta.

Bayard:

This movie left me saying, “Where’s the beef?” Because it definitely has more bun than burger. Overall, it was a beautifully produced non-story about a guy who was a skumbag all along and just didn’t know it until he had his shallow dogma challenged by reality.

As an author, I felt this movie took far too long to get any real tension going. Then, once it did, it never delivered resolution. The twenty minutes of actual story line were imbedded in an hour and a half of drawn-out, mundane details, such as climbing staircases and delivering coffee.

The most accurate comparison I can think of is Taco Bell “taco meat,” which is alleged to be around 36% meat and 65% fillers.

Or maybe it’s better compared to an overpriced, “prize inside” box of cereal. Lots of anticipation with no payoff, so when the movie ended, I felt like I’d eaten a lot of cereal, only to be cheated out of the action figure at the bottom of the box.

Perhaps it’s all of this talk about food, or pseudo-food, but right now, I would advise that you spend your money on a decent meal rather than see this movie at the theater. That’s why I’m going to break with the critics and rate this as a .22 rim fire*. It doesn’t justify the big screen, but it would be ok to rent.

Once it comes out on DVD, if you need one of those kinds of movies that’s just an excuse to sit next to someone on a couch to get to know them better, this would be a good one. The boring beginning will give you lots of opportunity to casually get closer to each other without missing anything.

Holmes:

The very popular George Clooney does a good job of playing George Clooney.  His long years of practice in that role show in his performance.

This film was also directed and written by George. If you’re looking for hard hitting drama or sophisticated political intrigue in this film, you might be disappointed. It’s less about a political intrigue, and more about George’s sense of urgency in letting us know what his political views are. To avoid that disappointment, just have fun and view it the way you would view a neighbor’s long video of their toddlers playing with the garden hose.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Paul Zara

If George Clooney is somewhat limited in what personalities he portrays as an actor, he can at least take pride in his production skills. George was skillful in his casting choices. Philip Seymour Hoffman was Clooney’s first excellent choice. In one of the critical roles, Philip was very convincing in his portrayal of experienced, no-nonsense campaign warrior, Paul Zara.

Ryan Gosling plays a cute little energetic political baby goose, Stephen Meyers. He fills the role very effectively.

Ryan Gosling as Stephen Meyers

Evan Rachel Wood did a nice job playing the careless young seductress, Molly Stearns, who is away from home and taking ownership of her exciting new hormones. I enjoyed that she was not made up to enter each scene as a perfect Goddess of Eroticism. She’s attractive, but she’s not airbrushed. One of the things I enjoyed in this film is that this sexually available young intern isn’t demonized as a political home wrecker. Whatever blue dresses she might have in her closet, George doesn’t blame her for them.

Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns

The lighting, camera work, and editing were nicely done. I was happy to see George step away from standard procedures and make a few risky decisions with the camera work and lighting.

The music was very dramatic and well timed, but the sound work could have used a little improvement. I suppose that monotone mumbling is important for keeping political conversations private in campaigns, but those of us who didn’t write the script can’t follow it quite as easily as the writer/director.

I thank Mister Clooney for shunning the use of the usually aggravating  “queasy cam.” The dramatic music begged at least one car chase and two shoot outs, but George avoided those mistakes, as well.

While the production qualities were good, the story struck as not being quite developed. For me, it flowed like a college freshman’s weekly English paper. Professors don’t want to grade long, complex papers so the freshmen are stuck keeping it short and simple. In my opinion, this story failed to reach it’s potential. If a little more effort had gone into the writing, it could have been a great film.

George, the next time you and your pals are going to burn up a mountain of cash on producing a film, just contact us first, and we’ll be happy to hook you up with some great writers. With so much talent and production quality involved in a movie, you could easily produce a great film rather than a campaign speech.

The earliest reviews of this film were very high, but I am also going to break with the majority of critics by giving this film a .38 Special rating. You won’t kick yourself for going, but try to avoid paying full price. This would be a handy matinee because you would leave entertained, but not intellectually or emotionally drained. You would easily be able to return to work and do your job or finish those domestic chores.

George, if you think we’ve been unfair, you are free to submit a rebuttal.

Have you seen Ides of March? What did you think? What other movies would you like us to review?

Piper Bayard–The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Holmes–Student of Sex, C4, and Hollow Points

*Bayard & Holmes Movie Ratings (We prefer ammo. Thumbs are so yesterday.)

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinee if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinee yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: RED

Per a request from our reader, Ellie Ann Soderstrom, Holmes and I sat down together a while back to review the movie, RED. RED is a movie about a retired black-ops CIA agent who puts his old team back together when someone tries to assassinate him. Both Holmes and I found this film delightful, and we weren’t even drinking guinda that evening. . . .

RED Movie Poster

Bayard

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s what I think of as a “Nolan Ryan film.” For those of you who are not adherents of the faith of Baseball, as I am, Nolan Ryan pitched a perfect game in 1991 at the age of forty-four. In other words, he was an old dude showing the puppies how it’s done. Likewise, RED is a tribute to the timeless adage that age and treachery will win over youth and skill every time. I don’t know about you, but I like that theme more and more with every passing year.

As an author, one character I particularly appreciated was Frank, played by Bruce Willis. Frank is a kick-ass former government agent who reads romance novels and is sweet on Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), a customer service representative he’s only ever talked to on the phone. This caught my heart right away because there’s really something to that notion of the sensitive tough guy.

Over the years, I’ve known a variety of individuals who could reasonably be classified as, “bad-ass dudes.” Each and every one of them had a soft spot. . . . Some well-developed aspect of gentleness. . . . From a Hell’s Angel who photographed flowers to a Delta Force original who taught aikido to the softest, greenest civilians Continuing Education could send him. So the fact that Frank in the movie was a retired spook who read romance novels made him real and well-rounded to me right from the start.

As a belly dancer and a woman, I loved Helen Mirren’s evening dress with combat boots. As Mama always said, “Shoes and handbag make the outfit.” Mirren was brilliant in the role of Victoria, the high-class cross between Florence Nightingale and Attila the Hun that Frank used to work with.

I think this movie would be great fun for anyone who enjoys colorful, well-developed characters in extremely unrealistic situations.

Holmes:

If you’re looking for a serious spy story sort of movie, this wouldn’t be it, but if you want a laugh, this is a good movie for you. I don’t want to criticize the what-ifs because they weren’t trying to be serious. Even “old hands” from the Reagan Era can enjoy this movie. Just relax and don’t take it seriously.

Regarding the trick of putting bullets in a skillet and heating them up to make them fire. . . . Bullets only sound like they have been fired from a weapon if they are fired in a weapons chamber or test chamber. Bullets heated in a skillet would sound like the cheapest grade of half wet firecrackers. Also, pan frying bullets won’t fire the bullet, but shell casing fragments could fly fast enough to hurt your eye. Do not try this at home.

Joe, Marvin and Frank questioning a prisoner

As far as the Retired Extremely Dangerous designation is concerned, there is no big file of REDs. The two basic categories of retired CIA agents are “Retired and Willing to Work for Free” and “Retired and Not Willing to Work for Free.”

We rate this movie a .357, which means we wouldn’t resent paying prime time prices if we were willing to tolerate the prime time crowds, which we’re not. (Click here for rating system.) It was a creative, entertaining movie, and we can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to enjoy it. It’s not deeply meaningful or life-changing, but it’s good, light fun. The script was well-written, the actors did their jobs well, and the production was high quality. We recommend this movie as an amusing way to spend a couple of hours of your life.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Mechanic

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

By popular request, Holmes and I went to see The Mechanic, a film about a hit man who kills his friend, and then takes in his friend’s son as his protégé. Jason Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, the hit man, and Ben Foster plays Steve McKenna, the pup he takes in. So here’s what an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations have to say about this film. . . .

Overall, we think The Mechanic will rightfully appeal to people who like lots of action and explosions in their movies. There are several fun scenes that we won’t comment on because we don’t want to ruin the movie for you. However, Holmes and I agree the whole premise has a few drawbacks.

The first thing we spotted is that you don’t wait at the bottom of a pool to kill a guy, especially when you only have a small bottle of compressed air to breathe off of. What if that guy decides to shower or cozy up to one of his molls before he swims? You suffocate. And with four guys wielding machine guns outside the pool? No. You slip in when no one’s there, put a toxin in his swim goggles, and get gone, because the best place to be when your enemy dies is in another country.

Ben Foster as Steve McKenna

We also agree that no professional in any business knowingly pairs up with a mentally unstable, reckless individual. Even if Arthur had a momentary lapse of judgment out of compassion for his friend’s son, the first time the protégé deliberately disobeyed instructions, he’d be out the door wearing cement shoes. Professionals involved in any aspect of covert operations, legal or illegal, avoid associating with people who are obviously self-destructive because they just don’t recruit people who are going to burn down their world.

Now to our individual comments. I’m leaving this mostly to Holmes because of his expertise in covert operations.

Bayard:

As an author, I appreciated the smooth shifts in the antagonist focus. The Mechanic sorts through the bad guys and the good guys by bringing you along with the one consistent good guy. It’s an effective and artful way to traverse the twists of intrigue without dropping you into a high-speed blender.

And speaking of blenders, I liked that scene. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Holmes liked it, as well, and thought it was one of the more plausible scenes in the film.

The Fantasy:  Handsome Arthur Bishop Always Wins

I don’t have any comments as a dancer, but as a woman, I can say that Arthur Bishop is a most appealing anti-hero. Very powerful and sexy with his own brand of integrity. Reality check to the ladies, though. Having a hit man for your love interest would have to seriously suck, no matter how handsome or smooth or classy he is, and most of them aren’t.  I mean, this is a guy who values cash above human life. Not only that, he’s gone all the time, he can’t say where or how long, and don’t even think about calling him. He’s the one going places and doing wild things. You’re the one working as a waitress in a sleazy bar, just hoping he’ll call.

Holmes

This movie is not for everyone. It’s an action flick, and there’s more action than flick here. The writers, producers, and directors seemed to follow the tried and true approach of adding more explosions, gunshots, and noise whenever the writing became difficult.

I would say that the acting is better than the script. The conversations appear to be some writer’s first impression of what conversations in the real world might actually be like. Given the vast number of unemployed writers who have life experience and social contacts, I find the lack of polish and effort regrettable. With the bare minimum of dialogue taping together the action scenes, this was the script version of Queasy Cam.

Also, in movies, as in real life, chase scenes and shootouts are much more dramatic after a calm interval. Part of what makes action interesting in an action movie is that contrast. The Mechanic would be better by a whole notch if they left out 10 minutes of violence and replaced it with 10 more minutes of character development, setting, and dialogue.

I thought the sex was just enough that I would not bring any of my nieces to this movie. The visual and verbal allusions to sadomasochistic sex do fit the hit man’s character, but, in my view, they create a smaller audience for this movie. If you’re a dad, and you find yourself willing to share these scenes with your daughter, consider giving your daughter up for adoption while there’s still time for her to develop sanity. For that matter, I wouldn’t bring any guy or gal under the age of fifteen to this movie.

Now, if you’re curious about the plausibility of this movie, here’s my take. Let’s not bother with the procedural errors because you weren’t hoping that this movie would be an assassination manual, and if you were, I wouldn’t want to help you, anyway. . . . So the plausibility of this highly glamorous, 5-star living Murder Incorporated racket is nill. Why would you pay $50 million to kill somebody when you could pay 20 sleazebags $10k each and see who gets him first?

The idea of some big organization with several teams of assassins all working together in a collegial environment, completing hits at a breakneck pace (no pun intended)—it just doesn’t happen. With that many people involved, the risk of them turning state’s evidence would be beyond control, not to mention the supply and demand issue. These are killers who don’t share a goal or a value. Their only value is money, and there’s no way to hold a group of people together without some other common value. Organized crime struggles with this every day. If you want to know the reality, read the news about Mexican drug cartels. They are what happens when the only common ideology is wealth.

Our Rating:

With a little more character, setting and script development The Mechanic could have been a .357, but, as it is, we have to rate it a .38 special. (Click here for rating system.) There were enough creative action scenes (action as in murder) to make the movie worth seeing for action movie enthusiasts. It has lots of nice explosions and creative use of such things as a bus, a garbage truck, and a garbage disposal. It’s certainly an improvement over the original Charles Bronson/Jan Michael-Vincent version, but if you require plausibility in a movie, stay home and read a good book.

If you’re interested in learning about the life of a real hit man, check out the book Blood Relation. In it, journalist Eric Konigsberg interviews his uncle Harold “Kayo” Konigsberg who was a freelance hit man for various Mafia families and is responsible for more than 20 murders.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: Black Swan

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Black Swan is a psychodrama about a ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who flips out in her quest for perfection. By popular request, Holmes and I recently went to see it so we could give you a review from the perspective of an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations.

Holmes and I agree that Black Swan puts the psycho in psychodrama. Aside from the fact that we’ve both spent a great deal of effort eliminating psychos from our lives, and sitting in a room with them for two hours isn’t something we would ordinarily choose to do, we also agree that it was an excellent movie. Beware, however. Do not take your kids. As far as this small town girl and this rather worldly boy are concerned, Black Swan stretches its R rating to the limit.

We both also thought the queasy cam effects, while reflective of Nina’s growing instability, were a bit much. By the way, queasy cam is that documentary-type, shakey image that promotes a feel of instability and makes you seasick just watching it. Holmes says it well for both of us. “Charlie Chaplin and his pals went to great lengths to develop methods of avoiding that effect, and I wonder how horrified he would have been to see such violent camera work.”

Now on to our individual comments. . . .

Bayard:

I knew nothing about Black Swan when I walked in except for what I got out of the SNL skit the other night with Jim Carrey.

As an author, I was impressed with the character development and the plot movement. With no visible back story, we know soon enough that Nina is a head case. This is well represented throughout the movie by her relationship to her skin. Also, I appreciated the smooth ebb and flow of tension, with each wave building on the last. The exception to this for me was the gratuitous lesbian love scene. That theme could have been handled with much more class and subtlety.

Everyone in Black Swan is a nut job of some variety, and they are excellent nut jobs, at that. Just the kind you’d expect in any dance company, frankly. We have the frigid, obsessed Nina, her “sexual harassment lawsuit looking for a plaintiff” artistic director, Thomah (Vincent Cassel), and, the anti-Nina in the form of uninhibited party girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), who, in the real world, would be on the Lindsey Lohan fast-track to rehab. All beautifully written and played.

My favorite whack job, though, is stage mom Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey). She’s driven and obsessed with her daughter, yet all the while she reminds little Nina that she ruined her mother’s life. Damn near drove me crazy just watching her. I could swear she walked right out of the local PTA meeting for parents of  “gifted and talented” children.

As a dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. The dancers all have excellent posture and beautiful hands, and they manage to avoid my two major pet peeves of ballet. Their spins are vertical with no Leaning Tower of Pisa Turns, and they do not subject the audience to any Great Divide Crotch Shots. That’s where the man lifts the lady to grace the audience with the vision of her tutu framing her hoo-hoo as she splays her legs. Indeed, I’m happy to say I never once got the same view of Natalie Portman’s crotch that Mila Kunis did during their lesbian scene.

One more thing. In spite of artistic director Skumbag being a skumbag, he is 100% correct in his instructions to Nina. There is an essence to Dance that transcends perfect steps. As I always told my students, Dance is the elimination of thought between the music and the motion. Discipline gives Dance its tools of expression.

Aside from being in a room with psychos for two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Swan.

Holmes:

When I was five, my first crush was my teacher, Sister Miriam. I asked her to marry me. She explained that she was already married to Jesus. I pointed out that Jesus wasn’t here, and I was, but for some reason, she didn’t go for it.

A year later, I saw my first ballet, Swan Lake, performed by the New York City Ballet company, and I found true love. You have to understand that Swan Lake holds a special place in my heart, and I don’t like to see it messed with. It’s a ballet that, because it was the first one I saw live, has outshined every other ballet I’ve seen. So when I went to see Black Swan, it was like going to visit my pristine first love and finding a drunken convict on top of her.

I thought it was a very good movie, though, and I would have seen it even without the lesbian love scene. I found that scene both unnecessary and unnecessarily brief, not to mention unrealistically dry. They could have drawn out the action there without losing my interest. However, it was a fairly predictable and pedestrian trick, and it seemed like they worked pretty hard to fit it in. In fact, I think they just threw that in to get guys to go see the movie with their wives and girlfriends. It will probably work.

I’m being overly critical here, but in terms of psychosis and neuroses and such, it was a bit muddled. If Nina was that deep into her sickness, she wouldn’t have been able to hold it together to be the prima ballerina of the New York Ballet. They are on stage every moment of their lives and have to handle intense stress. If she was that crazy, she would have broken sooner.

The style of the movie was completely operatic, with many Hitchcockian devices which effectively enhance the story. I felt like I was watching an opera about ballet, as everything about the timing, the over-dramatization, and the acting seemed calculated to be visible to the people in the “back row.” There was no subtlety in the actors’ physical movements or in the story line. Anyone who likes opera, stage theatre, or zarzuela will like this movie.

Overall, I enjoyed Black Swan, but I could have used more Swan Lake and less queasy cam.

Holmes and I rate Black Swan at a .357, or, it’s worth the prime time price if you can stand the crowd. (Click here for our ammo rating system.) We certainly recommend this movie. The acting is excellent, the story line is engaging, and it uses old suspense movie devices to great effect in conveying the psycho nature of the drama. Not quite a life changer, but definitely interesting and unique enough to be entertaining.

All the best to all of you for a week without queasy cam.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Tourist

Holmes and I have always wanted to critique movies so we started with The Tourist. It’s an international crime thriller starring Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward and Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo. We don’t want to spoil it for you folks so we won’t tell you what it’s about. But that’s ok. As with many movie reviewers, the plot is irrelevant to our critique. So as an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations, we’ll skip comments about acting quality, which was fine, by the way, and provide you with assessments from the perspective of our specialties.

Bayard

As a bellydancer, I loved Jolie’s wardrobe. All beautiful drapes calculated to emphasize her curves and her seductive walk that any dancer might admire. I must caution, though, that if she continues to slink about in high heels with that exaggerated wiggle, she will end up with a serious case of tendonitis in her psoas.

I also noticed that Jolie’s lip and eye makeup, while masterfully drawn, was so pronounced that there seemed to be three characters vying for center stage in all of her close-ups. Great for theater lights, but hardly what a classy woman would wear. Made me wonder if her lips and eyes are Union and had their own contracts.

My author side noticed that there is no clear-cut good guy in this movie. I spent the entire movie wondering who I should root for. The geeky stranger? The mysterious boyfriend? The cops? I finally decided my confusion was the movie’s goal because Elise was just as confused as I was. I wasn’t sure she was even on her own side, much less anyone else’s.

Since I write science fiction, though, I appreciated the fantasy quality of the magical Beretta that managed to pop off three shots at a time with an immobile slide and exactly no recoil. I hope Hollywood will start providing our law enforcement agencies with these.

As for Jonny Depp, his appearance was satisfactory, but he was the victim of indecisive characterization, made all the more extreme by his good job of acting. Ok. I guess I will give you a bit of a spoiler. Skip down to the Holmes section if you don’t want your movie-going experience ruined for you.

Did you skip down?

No, really, I mean it, Skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie. It will blow the whole thing for you.

Depp is supposed to be playing a master manipulator who even fools his lover, Elise, with his disguise as a geek. The problem is that he is entirely too much of a geek. I mean, if he’s really Pearce, the guy who pulls off this incredibly complex plan, why in the hell would he let himself be surprised by a bellhop and then trapped in a bathroom with bullets coming through the door? He wouldn’t. Pearce would know where all exits are at all times and how to use them. Sorry. The Tourist gets a fail on character consistency.

Pearce would never have been in this predicament under any name.

Ok. You can start reading again. You didn’t cheat, did you? No. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that. . . . Would you?

Holmes

Fortunately, this movie is unrealistic. Had it been realistic, it would have involved a great deal of tedium and boredom, which was what you were trying to escape when you went to the theatre. Don’t bother asking if this is how the criminals would do it or this is how the cops would do it. It isn’t. So just suspend reality for a couple of hours and have a little fun.

If you insist on worrying about it, here are some of the unrealistic aspects.

The big, European style black van with a camera on top that was following a few paces behind Elise? That’s how someone follows someone in Pink Panther movies or Mickey Mouse cartoons. It’s difficult to follow pedestrians in a vehicle without being noticed. You can use a vehicle as part of the mix, but to just drive along that way and stay with her was bizarrely cartoonish.

Also, a high-end, high-tech safe could not be installed in a remodeling project conducted on a Venetian mansion without the Italian treasury authorities and the European community authorities knowing about it. High-end safes are rare enough that they are easy for governments to keep track of, and governments do keep track of them. Authorities always want to know who the safes are attached to, what might be in them, and where the contents might come from.

As for the demolition job on the safe, it was one of the cheaper Hollywood safe jobs that I’ve ever seen. It would not have opened the safe, but it likely would have done a lot of damage to the room.

Here’s another unrealistic aspect that any middle school detective might spot. Since no one knows what’s going to happen, how do they know the snipers are what they need, and that all the bad guys are going to each conveniently be standing next to a window? Some bad guys sometimes spend part of their day not standing next to uncovered windows.

Us

Overall, Holmes and I give The Tourist a rating of .38 Special. That means we didn’t resent paying matinee price to see it. (See rating system below.) It had nice scenery, decent production quality, and good acting in spite of the character inconsistency for Tupelo and the confusion for Elise. We also agreed that it was reasonably entertaining.

If you’ve seen The Tourist, what did you think of it? What movies would you like reviewed by an author/bellydancer and a spook?

Bayard & Holmes Movie Ratings (We prefer ammo. Thumbs are so yesterday.)

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinee if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinee yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.

All the best to all of you for not getting followed by a big, black van today.

Piper Bayard—The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Holmes—Student of sex, C4, and hollow points

Trailer for The Tourist