from Indy Week

When The Bourne Identity hit theaters in 2002, it jostled loose in me old fanboy quirks I hadn’t experienced since Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It’s a little embarrassing, but I would sometimes pretend to be an amnesiac superspy in airports and shopping malls—scanning the crowds, analyzing my options. I can tell you that the guy at the Cinnabon counter is 190 pounds and knows how to handle himself. I can tell you that the best place to look for a bathroom is at Sears, and at this hour of the morning I can run flat out for 120 meters before my back locks up…..

Opening today, The Bourne Legacy is the fourth entry in the critically and commercially successful spy series. Legacy works as both a sequel and reboot, but it’s not as clever, it’s not as thrilling and it’s not as fun.

ImageMatt Damon has been replaced by Jeremy Renner in the lead role, and the story makes a lateral jump from Jason Bourne to fellow black-ops hard guy Aaron Cross, who has his own set of problems.

The film starts out in an interesting place. After all the cramped urban violence of the first three films, we begin with sweeping aerial vistas of rugged Alaskan mountains. Alone in the wilderness on a training mission, Cross dives into icy rivers and fends off ravenous wolves as the film establishes its own visual tone.

Via some clever cross-cutting techniques with scenes from the third film, we learn that Cross is a trained assassin with the same covert outfit that produced Jason Bourne, and that events are taking place in parallel with events from the previous movie. Bourne’s actions have caused a ripple effect, and now the government’s nefarious handlers intend to systematically kill off all of their own assassins.

The Bourne Legacy is essentially about Cross’ efforts to avoid that fate. Complicating matters, Cross’ handlers have hooked him on rationed drugs which heighten his physical and cognitive abilities. Rachel Weisz enters the story as CIA-employed medical doctor—also targeted for elimination—who can help Cross kick. Together, they race around the globe, just a half-step ahead of new villain Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), running the show from the usual high-tech nerve center of satellite feeds and nervous underlings.

Tony Gilroy, who wrote most of the first three films, takes over as director in Legacy and he clearly has a strong grasp on the Bourne template and mythology. Unfortunately, he lacks the narrative boldness and visual precision of previous helmers Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass.

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ImageThe disturbing saga of the West Memphis Three has been playing out for nearly 20 years now. In 1993, three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley — were tried and convicted for the horrific murder of three young boys.

The teens were accused of performing a Satanic ritual in the woods, and implicated as much for their black clothes and heavy metal records as anything else. No physical evidence tied them to the scene, and later revelations would raise multiple red flags on the trial, including suggestions of false testimony, coerced confessions and jury misconduct.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, new this week to DVD, is the third in a series of HBO original documentaries chronicling the case of the West Memphis Three. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky originally went to Arkansas in 1993 to cover a lurid and sensational trial, but soon became convinced that they were witnessing a modern day witch hunt. Their 1996 documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills was followed by a 2000 sequel Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.

The films raised such public awareness that celebrities from Metallica to the Dixie Chicks to Johnny Depp rallied to the cause. As of 2011, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley had spent 18 years in federal prison, their various appeals denied by a stubborn legal system despite mountains of new exculpatory evidence, including DNA analysis.

Last year, just weeks before Purgatory was to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the three convicted men were abruptly released from prison thanks to an obscure legal maneuver.

The DVD release of Purgatory is like an overflowing case file on the story of the West Memphis Three. The film itself includes footage from the previous two installments, as well as an epilogue covering the events of last year. There’s also a collection of previously unreleased footage; a panel discussion with Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley; and a recent interview with the filmmakers.

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ImageTwo of the great benefits of home video, in my embarrassingly considered opinion, have to do with sound and subtitles. I watch a lot of movies on DVD and Blu-ray, and have learned to appreciate having control over audio specs and closed captioning.

Sound design in theaters is usually great. There’s an entire industry dedicated to making movies sound good. But when the sound is bad, it’s excruciating. Lately, it’s a problem of volume. The last few action pictures I saw at the multiplex literally hurt my ears. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I still cling to the notion that movies shouldn’t involve physical pain.

The excellent documentary MARLEY— new to DVD, Blu-ray and digital this week — is a great example of how sound and subtitle options can impact the experience of watching a film. (Check out Craig Lindsey’s full review here.) The music of Bob Marley is both the topic of Marley, and its soundtrack. Every scene pulses with Marley’s bright and nimble brand of reggae, ska and rocksteady.

I have a pretty good home theater system, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix on this DVD made the living room bounce. (And the rest of the house, as my family quickly informed me.) Because the film’s rhythm and pacing is so tightly stitched to the music, the sound design here is critical.

Unfortunately, the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release lack closed captioning in English, although there is a Spanish subtitling option. Again, this choice impacts the experience of watching the movie at home. Director Kevin Macdonald subtitles some of the dialogue, when the Jamaican accents and patois get too thick. (These scenes were already subtitled in the theatrical release.)

But other scenes aren’t subtitled at all, and many of the talking-head interviews are simply hard to follow because of the thick accents. If your aim as a filmmaker is to communicate efficiently, this is just bad policy. The 2011 Brendan Gleeson comedy The Guard comes to mind. I think I missed half the jokes in that movie because I couldn’t cut through the Irish brogue.

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ImageFilm critic Pauline Kael once famously wrote, “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.”

A genre-specific update these days might read: Horror films are so seldom watchable that we should appreciate anything that isn’t contemptible torture porn.

INTRUDERS, a modest European thriller from Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later), has a couple of things going for it. First, it has Clive Owen in the lead, which never hurts. And second, it sticks to old-fashioned scary movie tropes, staying well clear of gratuitous gore or ironic hyperviolence played for laughs.

The film tells two stories, actually, separated by time and distance but connected in an eerie fashion. In the first story, a young boy in Spain (Izan Corchero) is menaced by a hooded figure who steals into his room at night. The boy calls the monster Hollow Face, and his mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala) seems to know something about the manifestation. But she isn’t talking, and the boy is forced to hide alone under the covers and ignore the blood dripping from the ceiling.

Meanwhile, in London, 13-year-old Mia (Ella Purnell) is being stalked by the same creature, only this time Hollow Face must contend with Mia’s dad (Owen), a construction worker who may have his own connection to the monster.

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ImageWriter/director Whit Stillman’s films are populated by wealthy young people—preppies, snobs, One Percenters in the larval stage—and we shouldn’t really like them.

And yet we do. In fact, we come to sort of love them, and if Whit Stillman can claim anything on his deathbed, it’s that: He made yuppies loveable.

Stillman’s loosely connected 1990s trilogy of films—Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco—feature young members of the privileged classes making their way into the wider world. Stillman returned to theaters earlier this year with Damsels in Distress, a more broadly funny take on his template of arch, literate comedy.

METROPOLITAN and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO have been reissued to Blu-ray this by the Criterion Collection this week, with restored picture, sound and a few modest extras. There’s something fragile and rather lovely about Stillman’s brand of melancholy cocktail comedy, and it’s nice to have him back in the mix.

Metropolitan is Stillman’s first film, a true indie which he wrote, filmed and financed himself. Shot guerilla-style in New York City, the story follows a group of upper-class, overeducated college students as they make the circuit of Manhattan debutante balls and after-parties.

Tom Townsend (Edwards Clements) is the odd man out in this group, whose secret is that he isn’t really rich at all, and lives with his divorced mom in a modest flat downtown. The others in the group each have their roles—the jaded dandy, the intellectual nebbish, the “good girl”….

Metropolitan won an Oscar nomination for its over-articulate screenplay, but what really endures is the comic empathy underneath. The characters know that their social schedule is a rickety artifact of old money tradition. Debutante balls? Really? But they go through the motions anyway—it’s what one does—and sublimate their fears of the real world into airy bon mots. It’s about the sadness of things ending, really, but loyalty and decency prevail.

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ImageKathy Griffin has made a career out of speaking her mind. The veteran comedian and actress started out in Los Angeles with the improv troupe the Groundlings and has since been one of the busiest performers on the comedy scene.

She’s won two Emmy Awards for her reality show “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” participated in several USO tours and in 2009 released her autobiography “Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin.”

This spring, she launched her late-night talk show “Kathy” on Bravo and became the first comic to release four television specials in the same year.

A longtime activist for gay rights, Griffin will take the stage tonight at the Durham Performing Arts Center to kick off the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (NCGLFF).

She recently spoke by phone from her home in L.A. about comedy, same-sex marriage, and the trouble with Ryan Seacrest.

Q: So this performance that you’re doing in Durham, is this specific to the gay and lesbian film festival, or is it part of the stand-up tour that you’re doing?

A: I want to be clear – I’m here to offend everyone. I’m not just here to offend gay people, I’m here to offend the random heterosexual who walks in with his wife. I am an equal opportunity offender.

I might turn a couple straight guys gay at the show. I might ask a couple of gay guys to reconsider.

It’s a wide-open community in this day and age. We really are in a time of pop culture where all this stuff is intermingling.

Q: I don’t know if you’re aware, but there was a ballot initiative in North Carolina back in May to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

A: That is a shock. You mean to say that in Durham, North Carolina, they’re not having gay weddings in the town square in front of the Chick-fil-A?

Look, here’s what I think. I think that people – the majority of people in America – don’t really care about who marries who. I think these votes are reflective of a small group of people mobilizing a small army. Certainly the polling shows with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – and I know from performing in Iraq and Afghanistan – that the majority of the members of the military really don’t care. It’s just not their highest priority.

The majority of Americans don’t feel strongly against gay marriage at all. Every poll shows the normal American’s No. 1 concern is the economy.

I think you have a small group of people that are extremists, and they’ve kind of made this kind of their cause

You know, we’ve just got to keep perspective, we’ve got to keep hope alive. Because I really believe the average American has no desire to stop two people from coming together and getting married, and not harming anybody.

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ImageThe indie comedy-drama “Ruby Sparks” has some nice moments, some good laughs and some great performances. But the film never quite delivers on its too-familiar premise, and in the end commits the cardinal sin of movie-making: It tells you how to feel.

The film’s central conceit sounds like something out of a freshman creative writing class. Novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a 20-something boy wonder whose first book was a runaway literary sensation.

Suffering from a debilitating case of writer’s block, Calvin takes the advice of his shrink (Elliott Gould) and begins to write about the girl of his dreams, whom he names Ruby Sparks.

The next morning, Ruby (budding star Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the script) simply appears in his kitchen, making eggs.

Understandably, Calvin proceeds to freak directly out. This is maybe the movie’s funniest sequence as Dano, with his long-limbed gawkiness, delivers some terrific physical comedy, literally bouncing off the walls before folding himself under his desk.

Ruby is a dream girl, all right – beautiful and bright and funny. She’s also quite real. Paul has somehow written his perfect girlfriend into existence, complete with her own memories and back story.

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