#335. Action Spy!

The irony of the spy genre in Hollywood is that any spy who is really good at espionage is unlikely to be caught. If a spy is not detected, then there is no chance they’d have to escape via a high-octane action sequence. This would be a dull movie. Anymore, most spies are experts in the cyber domain, which makes any chances of action even less likely. Still, for those “feet on the ground” agents out in the field, knowing how to handle one’s self is a fundamental element to their survival should they be compromised. While most spy movies involve some elements of action, some have more action than others. Entire film franchises are based on spies saving the world by fighting their way out of the enemy’s clutches. So, while the action spy is a fabrication of Hollywood, it’s safe to say they’re here to stay. This week’s two films highlight some notable examples of the action spy.

The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne Identity
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Most spies usually have an agency backing them. Whether it’s MI6 in the James Bond franchise, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) in the Mission: Impossible franchise, or the eponymous U.N.C.L.E. in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), every spy has an agency giving out orders and providing logistical support to keep them armed and dangerous. But what if a spy’s agency turns on them? What if they have to not only survive with a compromised identity but survive against the agency that trained them? These spies need to think fast and move even faster. When a spy is the best of the best, it’s entertaining to watch them escape from even the most hopeless situation via their ability to fight, run, and survive by any means necessary. The epitome of this type of spy is none other than Jason Bourne.

After a botched mission, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is shocked to learn that Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has survived and now has no memories of who he is. Unfortunately, his training is so deeply ingrained in his mind that he is able to call upon his spy skills to avoid capture. From hand-to-hand combat to professional driving, Bourne uses his talents to escape to the French countryside where he eliminates The Professor (Clive Owen), a sniper sent from the same CIA black ops program Bourne was from to eliminate him. With this new knowledge of Project Treadstone, Bourne heads to the safe house in Paris to confront his handler, Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper). Upon reaching a modicum of closure, Bourne vanishes into the night, attempting to live a peaceful life as he continues to search for his missing memories.

Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

Any spy worth their salt (haha) will be able to maintain their cover, even in the most stressing of situations. As we’ve seen in films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), this cover can go so deep as to keep an individual’s spouse in the dark as to the true nature of their employment. Of course, as we also saw in that movie, once covers are compromised, action ensues in the most extreme fashion possible. Even if a spy’s spouse or significant other isn’t a spy, like in RED (2010), then there’s likely to be a greater chance said spy would need to protect themselves and their loved ones should anything go wrong. Obviously, when things go wrong with a spy, they can go wrong in a big way. There’s a reason these action spies are usually off globetrotting since the fate of the world is often in their capable hands.

Shortly after being rescued from North Korea, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) admits to her boyfriend that she is actually a CIA agent. Regardless of this, the two of them get married shortly afterward and live happily until two years later when a Russian agent arrives at the CIA and is interrogated by Salt. He tells her about a group of Russian sleeper agents and that she is one of them. Since his testimony is proven correct by a lie detector, Salt needs to immediately escape the CIA compound and head into hiding. Upon learning her husband is kidnapped, she decides to carry out the mission of her sleeper-agent self, killing the Russian President in the process. With her loyalty to the Russians now confirmed, she is given her next assignment: kill the U.S. President. When one of her CIA colleagues reveals himself to be another of the sleeper agents, Salt reveals her actions are a ruse and that she is still loyal to the U.S.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 exciting espionage agents

#306. Based on TV

The rallying cry of fans of the TV series, Community was “Six seasons and a movie.” While playing to an established fan-base is a wise move for movie producers, sometimes striking a nostalgic chord with audiences is the better path to success. Sure, there have been plenty of movies based on TV shows which have also featured the original cast, but sometimes a reinterpretation with modern actors gives the concept a fresh feel. That’s not to say movies based off of TV shows that feature the original cast (a la the Star Trek films before 2009) are wrong, it’s just that a unique take on the themes and motifs of the TV show makes the movie feel more like a standalone story, instead of just an extended TV episode. This week’s two films were based on television shows but did not feature the shows’ original cast.

The A-TeamThe A-Team
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

Clearly, the wave of nostalgia for those people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s is what has inundated Hollywood with the plethora of TV show adaptations. Starting around 2004, the trend to bring these television shows from the golden era of television has only continued. Films like Starsky & Hutch (2004), Bewitched (2005), and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) all played as standard comedies, albeit updated to the comedic styles and tastes of the new millennium. A couple of years later, we saw these adaptations gain steam again with such films as Get Smart (2008), Land of the Lost (2009), and Dark Shadows (2012) leading the pack. Of course, none of these films were that great. Occasionally audiences would get a treat with such fantastic films like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), but these were rare. Most films were campy throwbacks, much like The A-Team (2010).

Acting as an origin story for the eponymous “A-Team,” this film modernizes the original premise behind the television show. “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.” Instead of taking place in 1972, these commandos were shown to be Army Ranger veterans from the Iraq war. Upon being framed for a botched mission involving U.S. Treasury plates, these four men set about to find the man behind their wrongful incarceration and manage to bring him to justice.

Year: 1994
Rating: PG
Length: 127 minutes /  2.11 hours

Even before Hollywood began marketing on the nostalgia of comedic television shows, they had already adapted a few films to prove that the concept worked. What’s interesting about these earlier adaptations from TV was that they were almost able to maintain their own notoriety apart from the source material on which they were based. Films like The Fugitive (1993) earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, whereas Mission: Impossible (1996) spawned a five-film franchise. Even newer adaptations like Star Trek (2009) have been able to cash in on the popularity of its fan-base, even if most of them don’t particularly care to be pandered to. Of course, there are also the television shows that haven’t remained nearly as relevant in popular culture, so few modern moviegoers will know that these films were even based on TV shows. One such film that would fit this category for me would be Maverick (1994).

Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) is confident he is the best card player in the world, so to have definitive proof of this, he enters a poker tournament that requires $25,000 as an entry fee. While he’s a little short on the money, he sets out to get the rest of it from some of his contacts. Along the way, he meets two others who want to participate in the tournament: Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and Angel (Alfred Molina). Bransford and Maverick manage to con a Russian Grand Duke out of some money so they can both enter the tournament, while Angel is on a mission to stop Maverick from playing. Meanwhile, Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner, who also played Bret Maverick in the original show) is keeping an eye on all the players, hoping to arrest some of them for illegal activities. The tournament comes down to a single card to determine who will win. So, who has luck on their side?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 TV transitions

#195. Hugh Grant

Some actors have almost become the epitome of their country. If I were to ask you to name a Scottish actor, you would tell me, Sean Connery. If the same question were asked about Australian actors, you’d say Hugh Jackman. Well, Hugh Grant is probably the best-known British actor. This is because most of the films Hugh Grant has performed in have been from Britain. As such, since Hugh Grant has appeared in many British films, he would tend to be identified as the epitome of a British actor. But what really defines a British actor? Often, they are seen as overly formal, socially bumbling, and all around charming in an awkward kind of way. This week’s two films highlight some of Hugh Grant’s roles as a British actor which have ended up defining the stereotypical British role.

                                                 Four Weddings and a FuneralFour Weddings and a Funeral
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

Hugh Grant’s defining genre has been that of the romantic comedy. This was probably due to his breakout role in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). After that, he has starred in such films as Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), Two Weeks Notice (2002), About a Boy (2002), and Music and Lyrics (2007). He also starred in three more romantic comedies which were written by Richard Curtis (who also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral): Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and Love Actually (2003). That’s not to say he’s exclusively done romantic comedies, having acted in dramas like Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Cloud Atlas (2012). Still, his charming protagonist roles in the distinctly British style have caused his name to be forever linked to the romantic comedy genre.

As we all know, most romantic comedies end in weddings, so there’s no doubt that Four Weddings and a Funeral is a romantic comedy since it contains four of them. In the first wedding, Charles (Hugh Grant) meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell), and they end up having a one-night fling before she has to fly back to America. By the second wedding, Charles is crestfallen to find Carrie has brought along her fiancé: Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave). To add insult to injury, he is seated at a table full of ex-girlfriends, followed by being trapped in the hotel room where the just-married couple burst in to consummate their vows. The third wedding between Carrie and Hamish came after Charles told her too late that he loves her. This is why the fourth wedding between Charles and Henrietta (Anna Chancellor) is made all the more awkward when he learns Carrie is now divorced.

The Pirates! Band of MisfitsThe Pirates! Band of Misfits
Year: 2012
Rating: PG
Length: 88 minutes / 1.46 hours

The gap that often links romantic comedies to regular comedies is quite small. As such, comedies like Small Time Crooks (2000), Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) are all part of Hugh Grant’s repertoire. But, as I mentioned earlier in this post, since Hugh Grant is somewhat the epitome of the British actor, it makes sense he would work with British directors (like Richard Curtis and Guy Ritchie), as well as British production companies. One such company is that of Aardman Animation. These purveyors of plasticine plots have made their mark on the film world with such family classics as Chicken Run (2000), and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). Because they work solely in animation, only Hugh Grant’s voice was needed for The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012).

On the high seas, many men are out to prove themselves. Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is trying to prove he’s the best there is by attempting to plunder more treasure than any other pirate, thus winning the “Pirate of the Year” competition. Unfortunately, his inexperienced crew is unable to produce results. On their final attempt, the crew boards the Beagle, where they find a love-struck Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin is attempting to win the “Scientist of the Year” competition so he can impress Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) and get her to notice him. It is in this fateful meeting where Darwin finds that Pirate Captain’s bird, Polly, is actually the last of the dodo birds. In a twist of fate, Pirate Captain finally strikes it rich by making a deal with Queen Victoria, thus winning the competition. However, at what cost did this prize come?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 hilarious Hugh Grant roles

Bacon #: 2 (Two Weeks Notice / Robin Weigert -> My One and Only / Kevin Bacon)