Friday, August 10, 2012

“Gone Bamboo” – Book Review



Recently, I read “Gone Bamboo”, a novel by Anthony Bourdain.


Henry is a CIA-trained assassin who was hired to take out Charlie, a mobster on the verge of giving it all up to the Feds.  But when Charlie survives the attempted hit, Henry and his wife Frances go into semi-retirement on a Caribbean island where they live in a hotel and spend their days drinking on the sun-drenched beach.  After Charlie recovers and flips to the FBI, he is then placed in the Federal Government’s Witness relocation program and ultimately winds up on the same island as Henry and Frances.  Once a transvestite mob boss discovers where they’re both located, he sets out to have them whacked – but can Henry and Charlie put their past behind them in order to team up to escape the murder attempt and exact revenge on the mob?



Chef, television personality and author Anthony Bourdain has long had an affinity for The Mafia – doubtless due to the fact that some of the restaurants where he used to work were likely mob-owned and run.  His recent hosting gig on AMC’s Mob Week attests to his affection for these stories, as do some of his novels -- “Gone Bamboo” being one of them (previously reviewed here), “Bone In The Throat” being another.  He writes with great verve and humor in general as well as throughout this book in particular.  As dangerous as these characters are, he somehow manages to imbue them with humanity and wit. 

Given the fact that the book is such a quick read (I breezed through the first 21 of its 46 chapters in an entire afternoon), it is perfect for either a vacation read or for the beach in these waning days of summer.  Between its story’s strong forward momentum, the author’s writing style and his unique sense of humor, “Gone Bamboo” is ultimately quite entertaining mind candy that can be consumed in rather short order.  Also, given the fact that much of the action takes place on a Caribbean island (likely Saint Martin), this makes it an ideal beach or vacation read as well. 

A couple of months ago, it was announced that Bourdain’s “Bone In The Throat” would finally be made into a movie; exactly what took so long is hard to say since the book was published a number of years ago – in all likelihood, it probably wound up optioned many times, each instance of which resulting in the Hollywood Hell of turnaround on each and every occasion.  Regardless, I would hope that this will motivate a studio executive to want to produce a motion picture version of “Gone Bamboo” as this would almost certainly make an excellent film as well – especially if Bourdain himself was hired to write its screenplay.   

Sunday, August 05, 2012

“The Bourne Legacy”–Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class had the summer’s final bonus screening with “The Bourne Legacy” starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz.



When leaders of a Special Operations Team of the CIA decide to terminate their group for security reasons, agents on that team suddenly start turning up dead around the world – but can the one agent who survived somehow manage to keep himself alive against all odds?



Special Operations Agent Aaron Cross (Renner) is on a training mission somewhere in Alaska when he discovers that someone is out to get him – little does he know, however, that this someone is the head of the team for which he works.  Oblivious to the fact that his colleagues are perishing all around the globe, Cross nevertheless suspects that this sudden assassination attempt may have something to do with a secretive scientific experiment in which he – and the other agents on his team – took part.  Cross then decides to return to Maryland, where the lab conducting the tests is located.

Meanwhile, back at this lab, Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz) – one of the scientists conducting these experiments – barely manages to escape an attempt on her life when a trusted co-worker goes rogue and murders several of her colleagues before committing suicide. Following this incident, agents are sent to Shearing’s home to ensure that she is coping with this trauma – but when it turns out that their true mission is to finish the job started by the rogue co-worker, she struggles to save herself.  It is at this point Cross intercedes and rescues Shearing – but not before getting some questions answered. 

Shearing explains that Cross and the other agents have been part of an experiment seeking to strengthen the team both physically and mentally by plying them with a virus that may have unknown side effects.  Informing him that removing the virus from his system will require travelling to The Philippines to obtain a serum that may also have its own dangerous side effects, the two set out on the excursion with the leaders of the Special Ops team tracking them all the way.  But when a Bangkok assassin is sent to kill both Cross and Shearing, can the two escape before he catches up with them?



A movie such as “The Bourne Legacy” is an unusual one for my class to screen.  For one thing, it’s a major Hollywood studio release that has a potential for big box office even without any word of mouth from our group.  Another reason why it’s unusual is due to the fact that it’s an action-adventure film, which is something that is rarely selected for us.  Regardless, I would say that while “The Bourne Legacy” is in no way short on fist fights, gunplay and chase scenes – things for which the franchise has long been known – it comes up short in terms of plot. 

While I made a stab at trying to provide a story description above, I have to admit that very little of “The Bourne Legacy” made sense to me.  I found its story convoluted, difficult to follow and essentially incomprehensible.  Although major characters from previous films in this series are alluded to in one way or another, one still is left rather puzzled trying to figure out exactly what the connection is supposed to be with Jason Bourne.  Based on what I’ve seen in “The Bourne Legacy” it would appear that this franchise has completely jumped the shark and its creators have simply run out of ideas. 

Following the screening, our class had a brief discussion about “The Bourne Legacy”.  I was greatly relieved to learn that I was not the only one left utterly befuddled by this film. Our instructor confessed that he was perplexed as well and he asked the class if anyone else was similarly confused; a great majority of the students admitted to scratching their head over this flick.  Should you see “The Bourne Legacy”?  Well, if you are willing to plunk down your cash to totally turn off your brain and just sit back and watch a couple of hours of mindless violence, then by all means, go for it; on the other hand, if you are hoping for a movie with an engaging, coherent story, then you may want to consider passing on this one.  


Thursday, August 02, 2012

“Hello I Must Be Going” – Movie Review



This week in the final session of my movie class, we saw the romantic comedy that opened the Sundance Film Festival,  “Hello I Must Be Going”, starring Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott.


When a recently divorced woman moves in with her parents, friction with her mother develops – but when she meets a much younger man, will he help mend her broken heart or only serve to complicate matters further?


Amy (Lynskey) is going through a pretty tough time right about now – in the process of a divorce, she has returned home to live with her parents in their expansive Connecticut house. In the throes of a massive depression due to her current situation, she has been sleeping late, not dressing and refusing to leave the house. At the urging of her mother (Blythe Danner), Amy makes an effort to re-integrate herself into society by going shopping and trying to make new friends, as painful as this may be for her. Attending a dinner party thrown by her parents, Amy meets Jeremy (Abbott), a much younger man who is pursuing an acting career.

Despite feeling uneasy over the age difference, Amy nevertheless permits herself to engage in a torrid affair with Jeremy. However, since he also lives in the nearby house of his parents and is the son of someone with whom her lawyer father has to do business, they both must keep their romance a secret. Further necessitating the secrecy is the fact that Jeremy’s mother is incorrectly convinced that her son is gay – not entirely sure how she drew that conclusion, Jeremy nevertheless decides to allow her to continue her fantasy merely because it seems to please her for some reason. Meanwhile, Amy’s brother and his wife attempt to fix her up with a friend who’s also divorced.

Eventually, it comes out that Jeremy and Amy have a friendship, but it is believed to be platonic. As the business deal of Amy’s father appears nearing a crescendo, she and Jeremy find that they are increasingly reliant on each other. Fearing that the intensity of their relationship may negatively influence her father’s business deal, she breaks it off with Jeremy, only to later realize that their feelings for each other are genuine. With Jeremy now trying to move on with his life, can Amy somehow manage to win him back – and in so doing, prevent any problems from ruining her father’s lucrative business deal?


If you are a Marx Brothers fan as I am, then you know exactly what the title of this movie is referencing; in fact, at various points throughout the film, the character of Amy is seen viewing various Marx Brothers classics as a sort of emotional comfort food. While “Hello I Must Be Going” has a well-constructed script with a realistic ending that makes perfect sense, the movie as a whole doesn’t stand up very well. At times, it seems a little on the bland side, perhaps because I sensed very little chemistry between the two leads; it was hard to understand why Jeremy would be interested in Amy since she came across as such a sad sack and dressed in a rather dowdy manner, in addition to exuding a vibe that suggested she simply didn’t want to be bothered.

I think the character of Amy is what bothered me most about the movie because I felt that she was just dug so deeply into her depression that I found it to be difficult to root for her. In some ways, she seemed self-sabotaging and unwilling to actively participate in essentially what amounted to saving her own life – it almost appeared that she was awaiting some Act Of God to salvage her. To a degree, that was what happened when Jeremy fell into her lap, but she still spent an inordinate amount of time feeling sorry for herself. Does that accurately portray the way a person suffering from clinical depression truly behaves? Maybe, but if so, then she doesn’t exactly make for a terribly sympathetic character.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the movie’s two stars, Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott. Abbott talked about his experiences auditioning and his background coming from Connecticut to seek an acting career in New York City. He was asked about his work on the HBO show “Girls” and said that the strong reaction to the program took him somewhat by surprise; recently, he has been shooting episodes for its second season and maintains that the cast and crew seem unfazed by its popularity. Lynskey, who is originally from New Zealand, talked a little bit about the time she spent working on the CBS sit-com “Two And A Half Men”. Contrary to the behavior Charlie Sheen exhibited last year, she said that Sheen was very normal during the time that the two worked together – he always showed up on time, never missed a day and knew his lines as well as any other actor on the set.