The Best Movies of 1998

1998 logo

Now it’s time to go to take a look back at the movies of 1998, the same year when California started the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. What else happened that year? John Glenn became the oldest astronaut to go into space, and it gave us a reason to watch the space shuttle launch on television for the first time in years. The Denver Broncos became the first AFC team in 14 years to win the Super Bowl when they beat the Green Bay Packers (I’m so glad I didn’t bet on that game). The whole controversy of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky exploded, which the President’s enemies seized upon like teenagers going through their dads’ Playboy magazine issues while he is out of town. And, most ironically, a court in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan ruled Osama Bin Laden was “a man without a sin” in regard to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Well, we knew better.

As for myself, I was in my second year at UC Irvine and my fourth year in college. I still had a dorm room all to myself, and I was busy with school work and appearing in plays like “Enrico IV,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “Twelfth Night.” Of course, I tried to get out to the movies as much as humanly possible. Many of the movies on this list were ones I actually didn’t get around to seeing until years later, so it’s probably best I am giving you this list now.

10) There’s Something About Mary

Theres Something About Mary poster

Bobby and Peter Farrelly gave us one of the most gut bustlingly hilarious movies ever made with “There’s Something About Mary.” I was dying with laughter while watching this, and I wasn’t expecting to. In retrospect, I should have though since this came from the same directors who gave us “Dumb and Dumber” as well as “Kingpin.” On top of having so many funny moments, the movie also has a lot of heart in the way it portrays the two main characters played by Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. Those of you who think Diaz can’t act need to revisit this one because she is so good at playing a teenager who we later see as a well-meaning adult with a few too many stalkers.

9) American History X

American History X poster

So much has been said about the making of “American History X” and the bitter disagreements between director Danny Kaye and actor Edward Norton. Regardless of whoever deserves the majority of the credit, there is no denying this is a powerful and unforgettable motion picture. Norton gave one of his very best performances as white supremacist Derek Vineyard, and the look he gives the camera after killing two people is a very chilling moment which is not easily erased from the conscious mind. Norton also gets great support from Edward Furlong who plays Danny, Derek’s brother, who threatens to tread down the same hateful path Derek has. Kaye, even if he didn’t get final cut, gives the movie an amazing look in black and white which captures the escalating tension of Derek’s journey from a world of hate to a place of compassion.

8) Dark City

Dark City movie poster

Alex Proyas followed up his brilliant adaptation of “The Crow” with this visionary sci-fi epic about a man who wakes up not knowing who he is, and of those who seek to capture him for their own twisted experiments. Like many great sci-fi movies “Dark City” was a box office flop upon its release, but it has since found an audience to where there’s no denying it is a cult classic. You’re along for the ride with Rufus Sewell as he tries to understand his place in a world ruled over by the Strangers. This movie remains suspenseful to the very end, and the look of the movie feels like no other I have ever seen. Jennifer Connelly also stars in the film and looks beautiful as always, and it is interesting to watch Kiefer Sutherland play a complete wimp after watching him for so long on “24.”

7) Out Of Sight

Out of Sight movie poster

Here’s the film which brought Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney together, and it also serves as one of the very best adaptations of an Elmore Leonard novel. With “Out of Sight,” Clooney proved without a doubt there was going to be life for him after “ER” with his performance as Jack Foley, the most successful bank robber in America. When Jack escapes from jail, he ends up sharing some trunk space with Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). “Out of Sight” also marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Soderbergh, and he got to work from a truly great screenplay written by Scott Frank. Also starring is the fantastic Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Dennis Farina, Isaiah Washington, and the always reliable Don Cheadle. This movie was a lot of fun, and Clooney and Lopez had such great chemistry together.

6) Rushmore

Rushmore movie poster

This was my introduction to the highly creative world of Wes Anderson. “Rushmore” is an instant comedy classic with more depth to it than many others of its genre at the time. Max Fischer is an original eccentric character; a young man involved in just about ever extra-curricular activity at school, all at the expense of his report card. Jason Schwartzman is great fun to watch as Max, and Bill Murray gives a performance which damn well should have earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With Anderson, his comedy is fueled by the sadness and isolation of his characters, and of the things they desperately want in life. “Rushmore” is filled with as much meaning as it does laughter as both Schwartzman and Murray battle over the same woman played by Olivia Williams. It also owes a lot to the late Mike Nichols’ enduring classic “The Graduate.”

5) Happiness

Happiness movie poster

Todd Solondz’s follow up to “Welcome To The Dollhouse” may very well be the most ironically titled film in cinema history. Controversy followed “Happiness” all the way to its release, and the MPAA of course just had to give it an NC-17 (it ended up being released unrated). One of the blackest of black comedies ever, it follows the lives of three sisters and the various people who are a part of their fragile lives. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a frighteningly memorable performance as an obscene phone caller, and it was one of the first real examples of the brilliant character actor we came to see him as. But the bravest performance comes from Dylan Baker who plays Bill Maplewood, a psychiatrist, husband and loving father who, unbeknownst to his family, is a pedophile. Baker ends up making you empathize, but not sympathize, with a man who we would instantly despise once we discovered his terrible secret. As unappealing as these characters may seem, Solondz makes us see ourselves in them and to where we cannot see we are not all that different.

4) The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski movie poster

I didn’t get to see this when it first came out in theaters, but my parents did eventually strap me down in a chair to watch it, and this should give you an idea of how much they love it. The Coen brothers follow up to “Fargo” did not get the same reception when originally released, but it has since built up an amazing cult following. Much of this is thanks to Jeff Bridges’ brilliant performance as Jeffrey Lebowski, aka “The Dude.” What could have been a performance built on stereotypes of the slackers we know in life turns out to be perhaps the most memorable character in Bridges’ long and underappreciated career. It’s an ingenious comedy with not so much a plot as a connected series of events which start with the theft of Lebowski’s carpet which he says “tied the whole room together.”

3) The Truman Show

The Truman Show movie poster

It still seems criminal how Peter Weir’s film was surprisingly, and infuriatingly, snubbed for a Best Picture nomination. Jim Carrey gives a truly astonishing and powerful performance as Truman Burbank, a man who slowly becomes aware he is the star of a reality show about his life. Yes, he should have been nominated for an Oscar alongside his co-star Ed Harris, but there will always be the unforgivable snubs. “The Truman Show” has become a prophetic movie of sorts as reality shows are the norm in today’s culture, and this obsession we have over them remains very strong to this day. Andrew Niccol’s screenplay was a brilliant examination of how we might view our own life if we found out it was based on a lie, and that everything we know is actually wrong. This stands as one of Weir’s best American movies in a long and justly acclaimed career.

2) Shakespeare In Love

Shakespeare in Love movie poster

While it may have gotten overwhelmed by Miramax’s Oscar campaign, there’s no denying “Shakespeare In Love” is a brilliant and highly entertaining romantic comedy. The film tells the story of how Shakespeare goes about writing “Romeo & Ethel The Pirate’s Daughter” which eventually evolves into “Romeo & Juliet.” Gwyneth Paltrow gives a most entrancing performance, and I loved watching her every second she appeared onscreen. Joseph Fiennes is perfectly cast as Shakespeare himself, a passionate writer who is hopelessly enamored with Paltrow’s Viola. I also got a huge kick out of Geoffrey Rush’s performance as theater manager Philip Henslowe, a brilliant comic creation who steals every scene he is in. “Shakespeare In Love” serves as not just a great story of how Shakespeare may have written one of the most immortal plays ever, but also as a great satire of the film industry and how it deviously profits from unsuspecting participants.

And now, drum roll please…

1) Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan movie poster

It would be so easy to put this as my top choice thanks to some of the greatest and most vividly realistic depictions of war ever put on film. Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the landing on D-Day is nothing short of amazing, and it was one of the reasons why I saw this film five times before it came out on DVD. But moreover, it is a deeply respectful salute to those war veterans who served in the armed forces during World War II. “Saving Private Ryan” is filled with great performances from a great cast of actors including Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Matt Damon, and Barry Pepper among others. But it also has one of Tom Hanks’ best performances ever as Captain John Miller, a military man who leads his men to find Private Ryan and bring him back home to his grieving mother. Just when you thought Spielberg had peaked with “Schindler’s List,” he gives us yet another astonishing piece of filmmaking which shows him at the height of his powers.

Honorable Mentions:

Primary Colors – Great Mike Nichols movie based on the book by Joe Klein. It features great performances from John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates as well as an extraordinary cameo from Mykelti Williamson.

Bullworth – Warren Beatty’s scathing political satire may be a bit too broad, but it is a very effective indictment of how the Democratic Party let the American people down.

Elizabeth – Definitely worth mentioning for the brilliant breakthrough performance of Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s crazy novel is a true acid trip nightmare with Johnny Depp channeling the reporter all the way to what he was famous for wearing and smoking.

God Said, Ha! – Wonderful concert film of Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show which deals with the time her brother got cancer, and of how she later got cancer herself.

Hurlyburly – Film adaptation of David Rabe’s play dealing with Hollywood players and their dysfunctional relationships with one another. Features a great cast which includes Sean Penn, Chazz Palminteri and Anna Paquin among others.

Affliction – Another emotionally bruising movie from Paul Schrader which is based on the novel by Russell Banks. Features career high performances from Nick Nolte and the late James Coburn who deservedly won an Oscar for his work.

Next Stop Wonderland – An eccentrically unusual kind of romantic comedy which helped introduce actress Hope Davis to a wider audience.

Ronin – One of the last films from the late John Frankenheimer which stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Jonathan Pryce among others. It also features some of the very best car chases of the 1990’s.

Run Lola Run – Kinetic German thriller with Franka Potente that views her attempts to save her boyfriend’s life in three different ways. This was a great teaser for what would come in 1999, when movies of different kinds proceeded to change the rules of where a story could go.

The Thin Red Line – Terrence Malick’s first movie in over 20 years threatened to be more meandering than anything else, but it is filled with such powerful imagery and to where many considered it more anti-war than “Saving Private Ryan” was.

John Carpenter’s Vampires – It was advertised as a horror movie, but it is really a more of a western and the closest John Carpenter has ever come to making one. James Woods’ performance alone is worth the price of admission as he plays the most badass of vampire hunters, Jack Crow.

Star Trek: Insurrection – Much better than its reputation may suggest, being an odd numbered Star Trek movie and all.

 

 

Advertisements

‘The Incredible Hulk’ Proves to Be a Decent Marvel Reboot

The Incredible Hulk poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

Well, it’s not incredible, but it’s still pretty good. “The Incredible Hulk” is not so much a sequel as it is a reboot. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” was not the movie Marvel Comics fans were waiting for, and the backlash against it was pretty severe. This was a shame because Lee’s movie was not at all bad, but I came of it knowing it would get a lukewarm response from audiences because it was more of a character driven piece which the summer movie season typically relegates to arthouse cinemas. But with this action-packed blockbuster, fans will likely get more of what they were looking for the first time around.

“The Incredible Hulk” thankfully sprints past this particular superhero’s origins by doing a quick recap of Dr. Bruce Banner’s accident which turned him into the ferociously mad and enormous beast who tears through all of his clothing with the exception of his underwear (very convenient for a PG-13 rating). We catch up with Dr. Banner, now played by Edward Norton, in Brazil where he has successfully managed to control his anger for over 130 days. While working a menial job at a bottling plant, he continues to look for a cure which will keep him from turning green and becoming super pissed. As a result, Banner is one of the few people on this planet determined not to go green in order to save the environment. But despite all the breathing exercises he does to control his anger, we all know he will soon find it’s not easy to keep from being green.

This Hulk movie is a lot more action packed than the previous one as it starts up quickly and never lets the pace go slack. Directing this superhero reboot is Louis Leterrier who directed “The Transporter 2” and “Unleashed.” He clearly likes the hyperkinetic style of filmmaking and it shows throughout. The direction is not necessarily outstanding and Leterrier doesn’t seem to quite have a style of his own yet, but he gets the job done and he keeps the film entertaining from start to finish.

The cast is different as well, with nobody but Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno, doing their mandatory cameos, returning from Lee’s film. Norton is in some ways a better fit for Bruce Banner than Eric Bana was, and a lot more animated too. He may not physically look like someone who could become the Hulk, but that’s the point. Norton also did an uncredited rewrite of the script, but the Writer’s Guild of America denied him credit (Zak Penn gets story and screenplay credit). As always, Norton reminds us why he is one of the best actors of his generation, and he comes across as an ordinary joe thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

Liv Tyler takes over the role of Dr. Betty Ross from Jennifer Connelly, and while she doesn’t have much of an acting range, she is always a nice presence to have in any film (not just as eye candy mind you). She holds up well next to Norton as they both work to find a way to stop him from becoming the Hulk again. William Hurt plays her father, Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, and he is always an interesting actor to watch. All the same, I have to admit that I liked Sam Elliott better in this role when he played it in Lee’s version. Elliott comes across better as an army general than Hurt does, and he was one of the best things about the previous film.

But the best addition to “The Incredible Hulk” is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, chief nemesis to Dr. Banner and his angry alter-ego. After playing a wuss of a man in the highly disturbing remake of “Funny Games,” Roth is in bad ass mode as a soldier who wants to take the Hulk down, but soon finds himself wanting his power. In the film, Emil ends up getting injected, by choice mind you, with the same stuff Banner got injected with. It’s enough to give him the power to overcome the most serious of injuries, but he soon finds that he wants more of that power which leads him to become the Abomination. Roth’s character is actually one of the more complex and most realized characters in the movie.

Roth’s performance here is a reminder of what a strong presence he is and watching him here should help ease the memories of the torture he endured in “Funny Games.” How refreshing it would have been to see he Abomination take out those two young cads who tortured that family. Of course, Michael Haneke would just rewind back from Abomination’s victory to intentionally frustrate the audience.

If there is anything lacking in “The Incredible Hulk,” it is not as strong on character development. One of the strengths of “Hulk” was the attention it paid to its characters and how they really drove the movie. I know Marvel Studios didn’t want to get too caught up with this in this reboot, but it would have been nice to see more character work here to keep this from being just an average action movie. In the end, this was a movie made to please the fans who felt let down by what they saw in 2003.

I wish I could say that I loved this incarnation of the Hulk, but it didn’t quite reach the heights I wanted it to. But it still was a lot of fun and kept me entertained from start to finish. It is a flawed film, but we do get to see Hulk smash in a way we didn’t get to see as much of previously. That was probably the best thing about this film, seeing Hulk smash stuff up. Using two halves of a police car to take out stupid humans makes for great action. All the same, it could have been better.

* * * out of * * * *

Conquering the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon

LA Marathon 2018 Pablove team photo

It was almost hard to believe, but the time had finally come to run 26.2 miles through the vast city of Los Angeles. The day of the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon had finally arrived. Was I prepared? I couldn’t say for sure. This is the eighth year in a row I have ran this event, a brutal test of endurance, and while I am a true marathon veteran, I still approached this particular one with much nervousness. Was I really ready? Had I done all the training I needed to do? The only way I would know for sure is when I crossed the finish line, and I was determined to cross it regardless of any concerns I had.

LA Marathon 2018

We had a wonderful and delicious celebration dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy Restaurant located in The Grove the Friday night before the big day, and from there we were encouraged to get as much rest as possible. Since there was a full bar nearby, Coach Kerry said we could have all the alcohol we wanted, but he made it clear we were not to touch a drop of it on Saturday. As for myself, I abstained from drinking any alcohol throughout the week as running this event completely dehydrated was not much of an option.

I did have to work for a few hours Saturday night, and getting to sleep was challenging as always. While I had a very restful sleep Friday thanks to Temazepam, I found myself understandably restless as I knew what I would experience following the marathon, soreness which would feel never ending. Plus, a new episode of “Saturday Night Live” was on, and it was being hosted by Bill Hader with musical guest Arcade Fire, an unbeatable combination. Somehow, I managed to turn my television off before I could see him reprise his endlessly hilarious character, Stefon, on Weekend Update. Still, my mind would not rest until I made a payment of any kind on my past due credit card bill. Afterwards, I read several chapters of Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please,” before I found myself sliding into the realm of sleep. Considering I couldn’t get myself to put the book down for a long time, this was surprising.

The alarm on my Android phone and my interval timing watch went off simultaneously at 3:15 a.m., and for once it didn’t take long for me to haul my ass out of bed like it does any other day of the week. I had set up everything the night before, so I was all set to go. I even took out the trash as walking anywhere following the marathon was out of the question. My running shoes, which I bought only a couple of weeks ago from A Runner’s Circle (I was in and out of there in less than 5 minutes), were right next to the gym bag I packed with a change of clothes, deodorant, another pair of shoes and whatever else I needed following this amazing event which inspires in even those who do not run it. Unlike the night before when I was panicking about all the things I was afraid I would forget, I was quick and efficient in getting out the door at a reasonable time.

One thing I was especially thankful for this time around was how much cooler the weather was. The last few years have seen the Los Angeles Marathon deluged by high temperatures which meant we had a better chance at getting sunburned than in setting a new personal record. So, considering how the forecast was predicting this Sunday to be an especially cold one made me very happy as, for the first time in years, we would not be feeling like shish kabobs on the grill as we passed through Century City on our way to Santa Monica.

The line to get on a bus which would take us from Santa Monica to Dodger Stadium moved a lot faster than in previous years, and I arrived at Dodger Stadium in what felt like record time. However, I do have to say the bus I was on bounced around a lot to where I wondered if the shock absorbers on it needed to be replaced a long time ago.

Unlike previous years when I ran with Team to End AIDS where we had a suite inside Dodger Stadium, us Pablove Foundation runners had to wait outside in the freezing cold right next to the UPS vans which served as the gear check stations. The fact I was able to find any fellow Pablove runners in the midst of the thousands of others was amazing as I expected to see them. But sure enough, I ran into a couple of them as they tried to figure out where the hell everyone else was. Eventually, those Pablove runners who were not stuck in traffic met up with one another in front of the Los Angeles Road Runners gear check van. It says a lot about that this group got their own UPS van unlike all the others.

While I was glad the weather cooled down a lot this marathon year (as much as it can in the realm of global warming anyway), it proved to be a very chilly morning in Santa Monica to where my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I had a couple of non-cotton shirts on as wearing the Pablove singlet by itself was a little too horrifying as it is already clear to the world I have yet to reach my ideal weight. I also was wearing a UCLA cotton jacket which I picked up from the local Goodwill Store the day before, but even then, I was moving my legs around in an effort to keep warm.

LA Marathon 2018 Pablove socks

All the Pablove runners had the foundation’s logo proudly displayed on their outfits whether it was on their singlets or their socks. The socks were pink by the way, a color which doesn’t always look great on me, but on this day, it didn’t matter. They were given to me a while back, and they have proven to be a great and much-needed pair when it seemed like all my other pairs have gone past their prime.

Coach Kerry was supposed to meet up with us before the marathon began, but he ended up getting stuck in traffic as there was an accident on the freeway. Still, it was all good because the support system was definitely in place as we always look out for one another.

At around a quarter till 7 a.m., we went to our individual corrals which were designated by the pace we were running per mile. I had been running a 15-minute mile pace this season, but I ended up waiting in the 13-minute corral instead as Walter, a fellow marathon veteran, was there and it felt good to start off with a fellow T2EA/Pablove runner before we lost sight of one another.

The Elite Runners were the first to start, and when Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” began playing on the speakers, we knew it was our time to start. However, just as it felt like we were proceeding to the starting line, everyone was starting and stopping at a rather alarming pace to where it felt like we were on the 405 freeway during rush hour. Seriously, if you ever want to know what the life of a snail is like, drive on the 405 when the work day is over. It doesn’t take long for it to resemble a used car lot. At one point, I yelled out Al Pacino’s famous line from “Carlito’s Way” of “here come the pain!” Walter laughed and replied, “Well, not yet!”

By the way, I always wonder why the organizers of the L.A. Marathon never bother to play “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons as we head to the starting line. Even they must be getting sick of “I Love L.A.” by now.

Anyway, I managed to get across the starting line while stepping over all the sweaters, jackets and mylar blankets which other runners tossed away once they began running. We do what we can to keep ourselves warm, but when we start running, people don’t hesitate to shed the extra layers of clothing they don’t need. The trick is not to trip over anything as there is always something on the road for us to trip over or slip on to where the marathon can end as quickly as it began.

LA Marathon 2018 the start

As I made my way out of Dodger Stadium, my teeth were still chattering as the temperature was still at around 50 degrees, and I soon became impatient for the weather to warm up, if only a little. Obviously, I didn’t want to experience another hot summer day while running this event, but I also don’t want frost forming on my clothes like it did several years ago. Believe me, there was a time when it did snow in Burbank.

While there is always some joker at the start of the race holding up a sign which says “the end is near,” I found it both very reassuring how one guy proudly held up a sign which said, “The End is Very Far.” For once, someone spoke the truth at Dodger Stadium.

And as you can expect, the Bible thumpers were all over the place, holding up signs which said “Jesus Saves” among other things or trying to get our attention through the use of megaphones and yelling out, “Give your life to Jesus!” Now I don’t know any of these people personally, but they strike me as a group who has taken the word of the Bible ever so literally to where they won’t allow themselves, or anyone else, to question it. Most of the runners I saw were annoyed by their presence, and one put his hand behind his head to make it look like he had horns. The Bible thumper with the megaphone saw him said, “Yeah, I see you. This guy likes to worship Satan.” Everyone in the vicinity laughed out loud in response.

As we made our way from Silverlake into Chinatown, I once again was in awe at the sight of thousands of runners making their way through the city. It remains quite the image every time I run this marathon as it feels like the whole city has joined in to either run it, volunteer for it, or to simply be a spectator. I wanted to take a picture of this, but my damn Android phone kept shutting down on me even though it had 90% power. Seriously, when did this device turn into an iPhone?

From there, we made our way into the unmistakably urban streets of Downtown Los Angeles, and it was at this point the temperature rose into the high 60’s. Once I took my UCLA jacket off (I went to UCI by the way), I wrapped it around my waist as I figured it would still be needed with the weather being so cold. When I ran this marathon for the second time, I held onto the second-hand jacket I bought for the whole thing as the winds kept howling like crazy to where I kept waiting for all the palm trees in Santa Monica to get blown over. But it soon became clear that, while there was still a nice breeze in effect, the temperature was not about to drop down to where it once was, so I ended up ditching the jacket at around Hope Street. It either fell into the hands of a second-hand shop employee and may end up being sold yet again at the Goodwill store I bought it from, or it made some homeless person very happy.

Incidentally, this country really needs to get back to fighting wars on poverty and not poor people.

In Downtown LA, I went up the first of several hills this marathon had to offer, and it never fails to test my limits as I force myself to run up the street where all the courthouses are at. One thing which really helps on this hill is the presence of all those Taiko Drummers who gleefully pound away at a furious pace to where I think they are playing the “Tsunami” theme which was featured in “Rising Sun.” I have the soundtrack, and as a teenager I often found myself boogying out to this music as it forced you to shed your inhibitions in a way other music could not.

LA Marathon 2018 Jasmine in hazmat suit

At around mile five, I heard someone from behind me calling my name. It turned out to be Jasmine, one of my fellow Pablove runners who was quickly catching up with me. At the Pablove celebration dinner, Jasmine told me she had been really sick this past week to where she wasn’t sure she would be able to run the marathon. But she did indeed show up and in a hazmat suit as well. When I first saw her in the suit, I couldn’t help but tell her, “I loved you on ‘Breaking Bad!’”

Jasmine was still under the weather as she caught up with me, but I wouldn’t have known how sick she was if she hadn’t told me. I really admired her for persevering despite dealing with the flu, and she called me a lifesaver as I continued at 3:1 pace. While part of me wanted to see if I could set a new personal record and finish in less than six hours, it felt more appropriate to stick with Jasmine as she confessed to me that I was saving her life. You know what? Jasmine explained it best in her Facebook post several hours later:

“Now that the dust has settled at bit, I wanted to say a few things. As many of you know, I had a pretty nasty flu a week up to the marathon. It settled into my chest and by marathon morning I was still sick, hadn’t eaten much for the week prior and I was coughing up a lung. So, when I started, it sucked and kept sucking.

At mile five, I ran into Ben Kenber. Ben stayed with me for the next 14 miles, talking to me, encouraging me and basically keeping me in the game. When it became obvious to me that I couldn’t keep up with him anymore, Ben still didn’t want to leave me. What a guy!

Ben finally went on, at much insistence, to run his race but, I just want to thank you Ben, I don’t think I would have finished without you.”

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry and Jasmine and Ben and Kat

Indeed, we kept with one another for over a dozen miles, and Jasmine remarked how this was one of the best-catered marathons she had ever ran. In addition to all those volunteers who were handing out paper cups of water and lemon-flavored Gatorade, others were handing out orange slices, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas (which contain potassium that feels so heavenly on any long run), Red Vines, Jolly Ranchers, and fun size Snickers. While I may have been hesitant to consume these things in the past, it suddenly became in my best interest to do so as I take whatever runner’s fuel which presented itself to me. After lagging behind all the other Pablove runners this past training season to where I was astonished Coaches Kerry and James were still waiting for me in Griffith Park at the finish line. I kept imagining they were rolling their eyes as they were eager to get home and enjoy the rest of their weekend, but they were still there to cheer me on as when I made it to the end.

Jasmine’s flu made her belch quite a bit, something I used to think only men could do, but I have long since been corrected to where I am annoyed when other men consider themselves superior to women. Let’s face it men, we never were in the place. Every time Jasmine burped, I made sure to tell her “bless you.” I know you only say this to someone when they sneeze, but it felt appropriate considering the distance we were trying to travel. She kept up with my pace of 3:1, but every time I heard her watch beep, I thought it was mine. It became a routine for Jasmine to tell me it was her watch going off. Still, it was a force of habit to check my watch whenever any beep went off.

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry and Kat

At mile 11, we finally ran into Coach Kerry who was waiting for us right near where The Pablove Foundation office was. He was there with Kat and several others who were cheering us on, and he gave Jasmine a big hug as he was worried about her. As to why he didn’t give me a hug, well, scientists are still looking into that.

When it came to mile 19, Jasmine decided she wanted to walk the rest of the way. As she indicated in her Facebook post, she encouraged me to go on, but I wanted to make absolutely certain she was okay with that. She made it clear I should go on, and I congratulated her for making it this far despite having to deal with a disease which cruelly greeted her a week before she was set to run this marathon. Please believe me when I say I was not quick to leave her behind as I very much admire her for getting as far as she did. It’s been a long time since I had the flu, but I remember just how debilitating it was to have it. The flu robs you of your ability to do much of anything, but it didn’t rob Jasmine of her ability to run the LA Marathon. Furthermore, I got to meet her mother and some friends of her who were kind and patient enough to wait for her on Hollywood Boulevard.

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry Jasmine and Ben

One of the more unfriendly parts of this marathon is running through Century City as the roads lacked of shade from the occasionally brutal sunlight. Then again, I did get to pass by Robin Russell whose energetic drumming always lifts me up whenever I find myself slowing down more than I would like. I remember first seeing him pounding away at his drum set during the 2009 LA Marathon and totally digging the rhythm he was drumming. It’s always great to see him out there, supporting us runners with his playing.

When I started my way downhill through San Vincente Boulevard, a street which always feels never ending, it was then that the soreness began overtaking me. I was actually feeling really good for most of the marathon, and I even took an Extra Strength Tylenol capsule to ease whatever pain my body was experiencing. However, my legs were starting to feel the pain. I wasn’t in agony, but it was an especially irritating pain which just annoyed the hell out of me. I have never broken any bones in my body before and I am in no hurry to experience that level of pain and torture, but this kind of pain really irked me. It was like I was telling my legs to give me a break as there were only a few more miles to go, but just like Edward Norton in “Fight Club,” my legs were calling out to me in vengeance, “I am Ben’s inflamed legs!”

As I continued down San Vicente, I did run into Coach James who was all smiles once he saw me. As always, he was enthusiastic and proud of us runners as it was clear even to us just how much our training had paid off these past few months. James had a whole bag of treats for us, and he kindly gave me a bottle of Cool Blue flavored Gatorade. Along with the ice-cold bottle of water some from UCLA gave me, this proved to be a most welcome gift. James, if you are reading this, thanks for everything.

I did bring my soundtrack iPod with me and put on some tunes to take my mind off the soreness. “Sliver” may have been a terrible movie, but the soundtrack which came out of it was awesome, and songs like “Slid” by Absurd, “The Most Wonderful Girl” by Lords of Acid and “Unfinished Symphony” by Massive Attack helped to move my spirits when they appeared down for the count. Also, Aftershock’s “Slave to the Vibe” remains one of the lost hits of the 1990’s.

Following this, I listened to the “Tangiers” track from John Powell’s score to “The Bourne Ultimatum.” It is one of my all-time favorite pieces of film music as we watch Jason Bourne race over rooftops in an effort to save his friend from an assassin. Listening to it makes me feel like I am running to either stop something bad happen, or instead running from an adversary who looks to seal my doom.

When I finally turned on Ocean Avenue and headed towards the finish line, I was determined to listen to Peter Gabriel’s “The Heat” from his soundtrack to “Birdy.” This track really got me to run fast when I needed a boost, and it certainly came in handy as my body was starting to give up on me. The soreness continued to escalate to where I was acting like some spoiled rotten cheerleader who kept complaining about how there was a run in her nylons. I was basically telling my legs, “Ow! Stop it!” as I could finally see the end just ahead of me. My soundtrack iPod only had a little bit of power left, so I prayed I could listen to “The Heat” as the finish line got closer and closer. Keep in mind, this music by Gabriel has been used on numerous movie trailers, and it never fails in getting my adrenaline running.

I held eight fingers up in the air as I crossed the finish line, signaling to everyone this was the eighth year in a row I ran and completed this marathon. From there, I kept walking as to stop moving at all was not a good idea. We still needed to cool down from what we had just endured, and to suddenly come to a full stop is not at all healthy. I got my medal from one of the marathon volunteers, had a cinnamon raisin bagel and just kept walking. The volunteers were still on hand to give us food and drinks (of the non-alcoholic kind of course) as we now had to put a lot of calories back into our bodies.

On my way past the Santa Monica Pier, I came across another one of those Bible thumpers who was also equipped with a megaphone and saying, “If you are an adulterer, you are a sinner! If envy another person, you are a sinner! If you are a thief, you are a sinner!” This became very monotonous to where I began to wonder, who isn’t a sinner? Heck, I wanted to go up to the guy and ask him this. Of course, he would have responded by saying he was not, so what would be the point? Surely everyone has sinned at one time or another, but does this really mean we will never make it to heaven?

In the past, Team to End AIDS had a booth set up for runners to stop by and sit for a bit as we reveled in what we had accomplished and indulge in some much-needed refreshments. The Pablove Foundation, however, did not have anything set up as we were, once again, a small group, so I just kept walking and walking until I got back to my car and drove home. I avoided the 10 freeway which I knew was going to be backed up and I drove through the back way of Santa Monica and thru Marina Del Rey and headed straight down Washington Boulevard. Geez, I sound like an episode of “The Californians.”

Before I made it back, I did drop by my local Ralphs Supermarket to pick up a few things, among which was a 10-pound bag of ice. For once, I was going to subject myself to an ice bath, something I actually hadn’t done in quite some time. But considering how infinitely sore I was, an ice bath felt absolutely necessary as it always succeeds in reducing the swelling in the legs. I still had my marathon medal on and going through the supermarket was a lot like running those 26.2 miles as complete strangers saw it and congratulated me on my grand accomplishment. One supermarket employee asked to hold it, and she was stunned at how heavy it was.

These congratulations continued as I made my way back to my apartment. One guy even passed by me and said, “And you’re still standing!” I was also ever so thankful to find a parking spot on the side of the street which would not be subjected to street cleaning on a Monday, and this meant I could sleep in.

Having an ice bath was a different story, however, as the water in my bath tub kept draining almost as quickly as the water went into it. I should have known something was up when a dozen minutes had passed and the tub wasn’t even half full. Keeping the faucet on also made it impossible for me to listen to the Fresh Air interview Terry Gross did with Danny Trejo about going from being a San Quentin inmate to becoming an in-demand actor. I did finally put the ice in once the water got to a certain level, but this ice bath was unfortunately not as effective as it could have been. Following this, I crashed in bed and had a nice, long nap. Again, I didn’t get much sleep the night before, so you can sure bet I caught up on it.

Now it’s a few days later, and my legs are still recovering from the soreness. Walking normally has gotten easier, but I still find myself wanting to cry whenever I see a flight of stairs in front of me. Even though I know I will fully recover, looking at stairs after running a marathon always makes me wonder if I will ever go up them again with the same enthusiastic energy I once had. The answer, of course, is yes, but it always feels like I never will. I also find myself in a constant state of tiredness, but this may have to do more with depression than running the marathon.

JC Fernandez at the Boliver tree

Recently, JC Fernandez, one of my former coaches from T2EA, posted the following on my Facebook page:

“Hey Ben! At the start of the year, I mentioned how I felt Coach Scott’s presence in your weekly Ultimate Rabbit posts. Your determination and will to push through your struggles is the embodiment of his mantra ‘keep going.” Reading Jasmine’s account of the race this weekend and how you stuck by to support and encourage her, sacrificing your race for her well-being… and I feel him again.

Thank you for carrying on his spirit. And congrats on another 26.2!!”

Indeed, Scott Boliver’s spirit has never left us as he always told us to just keep going, and it felt great to hear I embodied this spirit from JC. For us T2EA and Pablove runners, it isn’t always about setting a new personal record or winning the whole thing. It’s all about crossing the finish line. If you set a new personal record for yourself that’s great, but what really matters is finishing the whole thing come rain or shine. Even when we have hit the runner’s wall where are brain is telling us to just give up already, we keep going. Maybe we will run a bit slower or just walk the rest of the way, but we keep on going even when everything tells us to call it quits. In the end, that’s all we can do, just keep going.

Scott Boliver photo

In life I try to be humble about a lot of things as having an oversized ego has led me into painfully embarrassing situations more often than not, but few things in life have earned me more bragging rights than running a marathon. While I may be shy about some things, there is no reason for me to be shy about the medal I earned.

My thanks to Coaches James and Kerry and to everyone at The Pablove Foundation for helping me get through this season. I also want to send out congratulations to my fellow Pablove runners for participating and completing the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon. Special congratulations to Jasmine who ran despite being sick and finished about 20 minutes behind me.

Will I be back next year? I’m not sure. The last few years have had me wondering if it is time to take a break from all this running, but when the start of the training season is near, the excitement overcomes all the rational thoughts I have, and I find myself happily back at Griffith Park on Saturday mornings. But with my advancing age, something I prefer not draw too much attention to, maybe I owe it to myself to give my body an extended rest. Then again, Harrison Ford said it best in “Raiders of the Lost Ark:”

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

The 2018 Los Angeles Marathon was truly one of the best years for this event. The weather was perfect, the nutrition was endless, and the support from complete strangers is always welcome. And, as one spectator pointed out on a sign he held up, we were running much better than the U.S. Government.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I have now raised $1,389 for The Pablove Foundation. As a group, us Pablove runners succeeded in raising around $60,000 in the fight against pediatric cancer. It is important to note that while the U.S. Government does give a lot of money to cancer research, only 4% of it goes towards childhood cancer. My personal page is still open, so if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please do not let me stop you (as if I would ever want to).

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

See also:

What’s Pablove Got to Do with It?

No Pablove Runner Walks in L.A!

Running in the Aftermath of Thanksgiving for Pablove

A Tough Pablove Run for Me

One Last Pablove Run for 2017

A Pablove Run in Memory of Scott Boliver

A Longer Than Expected Pablove Run

An Especially Frigid 18 Mile Pablove Run

There’s Nothing Like a Hot Summer Day in February

23 Miles in the Frigid Los Angeles Wilderness

One Last Pablove Run, and One Last Hill

LA Marathon 2018 the runners

Scott Boliver tree 2014

Movies Which Explore the Reality of White Supremacy

American History X Edward Norton

The tragic and horrific events which came about during a white supremacy rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia were a sad reminder of how hate can ever so easily take over the weak-minded. But moreover, it has shown how the power of white supremacists has grown over the years. While the current Presidential administration has allowed this movement, whether they admit or not, to gain strength, this network of racism has been growing for far longer than most people realize. While politicians continue to exploit our fears of international terrorists, it should be clear by now that domestic terrorism is an even bigger threat than what we are dealing with overseas. The question is, can we get more Americans to realize this sooner rather than later?

For years, we believed the white supremacy movement was one which was dying a much-needed death, but this is not the case. It got me to thinking of movies released over the years which dealt with this particular form of racism head on. While many saw Neo-Nazis and Anti-Semites as mere fringe groups on their way out, the filmmakers here saw them as still powerful as their leaders were skillful in gaining new recruits and keeping them on board even if they wanted out.

Higher Learning movie poster

Higher Learning

This was John Singleton’s third film following his Oscar-nominated “Boyz n the Hood” and “Poetic Justice,” and it takes place at the fictional college of Columbus University where people from different walks of life and races are forced to deal with one another in different ways. One particular subplot has a freshman named Remy (played by Michael Rappaport) having trouble fitting into his new environment. One night, while sitting alone on campus, he is approached by Scott Moss (Cole Hauser), a white supremacist who invites him to hang out with his friends for a drink. From there, Remy finds a sense of belonging he initially had trouble finding, but the other skinheads begin to wonder if he is all talk and no action, and this leads to a devastating climax which has him committing an act of violence he will never be able to take back.

When “Higher Learning” was released back in 1995, many critics did not take the white supremacy storyline all that seriously, thinking it was dated or dealing with something which no longer seemed like much of a threat. But watching this movie now in 2017, the actions of Scott Moss and Remy feel more real and scarier than ever before. Scott senses Remy is capable of violence from their first meeting, and he exploits this knowledge at every given opportunity. The last time we see Scott in the movie, right after Remy has shot at people with a high-powered rifle, he stares at the camera and smiles in a way which is truly chilling. Looking back, I think Scott saw this as the start of a new wave of white supremacy power, and the realization unnerves me to where I can’t get this movie out of my head.

American History X poster

American History X

Tony Kaye’s powerful 1998 film is impossible to forget about once you have seen it. Edward Norton stars as Derek Vinyard, a young man who becomes a member of the white supremacist gang called the Disciples of Christ following the murder of his firefighter father who was killed by black drug dealers. “American History X” follows Derek as he grows in power as a Neo-Nazi, goes to prison after he kills thieves trying to steal his truck, the abuses he suffers while in prison which make him rethink his racist philosophies, and his efforts to keep his brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), from following this same misguided path.

“American History X” is a fascinating study in how someone becomes enamored with a racist movement which he later seeks to abandon upon realizing the cost is greater than his soul can bear. Norton has given many great performances, but this is one of his best as he convincingly takes Derek from being a hateful individual to one who is compassionate and eager to escape the racist realm he has ensnared himself and his brother in. Furlong is equally effective as Danny, a young boy eager to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but who is dissuaded by him to follow such a path. Danny’s last lines in the movie, as he recites the final part of a paper he has written for school, ring true: “Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it.”

The Believer movie poster

The Believer

This 2001 film was written and directed by Henry Bean, a Conservative Jew from Philadelphia who was the screenwriter behind “Internal Fears,” “Deep Cover,” and, yes, “Basic Instinct 2.” It stars Ryan Gosling, in what proved to be his breakout performance, as Daniel Balint, a brilliant but troubled Jewish yeshiva student who becomes a fanatically violent Neo-Nazi in New York. The story is based on the true-life story of Dan Burros, a member of the American Nazi Party and the New York branch of the United Klans of America who committed suicide after a New York Times reporter revealed he was Jewish.

What’s particularly fascinating about “The Believer” is how its main character of Daniel is so deeply conflicted over his own identity. He presents himself as a Neo-Nazi skinhead capable of vicious violence, but he cannot escape the fact he is Jewish and is still respectful of this religion’s history. When Daniel and a group of skinheads vandalize a synagogue, they trample on a copy of the Torah which he later takes home and carefully repairs. Like “American History X,” “The Believer” shows how someone can be easily swept up into a realm of hate, but we also come to see how Daniel believes hate is the Jews chief defense against utter annihilation.

Imperium poster

Imperium

One of the more recent movies on this list, it stars Daniel Radcliffe as Nate Foster, an FBI agent who is recruited by Angela Zamparo (the infinitely cool Toni Collette) to infiltrate a white supremacist group. Nate is eager to prove to himself and others he can be an excellent undercover agent, but as he gets deeper into his role as a Neo-Nazi, he becomes unsure if he can escape it in one piece.

In some ways, “Imperium” is a routine undercover cop movie as the protagonist goes through the conflicts of becoming someone he is not outside of work, but it also shows how much of a threat white supremacy has become in America. There’s a montage near the beginning which shows images of racial hatred in America and of Neo-Nazi groups coming together, and it gets to where you cannot dismiss white supremacists as being a part of a mere fringe group. Seeing those images makes this movie worth the price of admission as they show much of a threat they are against the values this country was founded upon.

This is England movie poster

This is England

Of all the movies on this list, it is the only one which doesn’t take place in America. “This is England” was written and directed by Shane Meadows who himself was involved in white supremacy groups as a kid. The movie takes place in 1983 and follows 12-year-old Shaun Fields (Thomas Turgoose) as he gets picked on by bullies at school, and we learn his father was killed in the Falklands War. One day, he comes across a gang of skinheads led by Woody (Joseph Gilgun) who sympathize with his struggles and invite him to join their group. From there, Shaun finds himself a part of a family which gives him a sense of belonging and a rise in his own self-esteem. But then Andrew “Combo” Gascoigne (Stephen Graham) returns to this group after serving a prison sentence, and he proves to be a charismatic personality as well as a sociopath. Andrew’s eagerness to take leadership over the group causes many of its members to jump ship, but Shane stays on as he is too much a part of this family to simply abandon it.

“This is England” takes an incisive look at how this skinhead subculture had its roots in the 1960’s West Indies culture and later became adopted by white supremacists. This movie shows this leading to a division amongst skinheads, and of the ways they could attract new members to their movement. It received tremendous critical praise upon its release in 2006, and it inspired a spin-off television series which took place three years later.

Seeing the disgusting rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and its aftermath reminded me of an episode of “Law & Order” entitled “Charm City” in which Detectives Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) investigate the murders of several subway riders who were killed by a poisonous gas bomb set off on a train. Eventually, they find and arrest Brian Egan (Kevin Greer), a white supremacist who is later convicted for the crime. Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) informs Brian, “You’re a racist and a murderer, and you just found out your country won’t tolerate it.” To this, Brian says the following:

“You mean your country won’t. Mine is growing. You think you can stop it? You can’t stop anything.”

This “Law & Order” episode aired back in 1996, but these lines of dialogue now seem more chilling than ever before.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman movie poster

Will there be a more perfectly executed movie in 2014 than “Birdman?” It’s hard to believe there will as director Alejandro González Iñárritu succeeds in giving us a truly brilliant movie going experience which combines amazing technical aspects with a strong story and actors who give some of the best performances of their career. Your eyes will remain glued to the screen from start to finish as “Birdman” takes you on a cinematic journey we seldom go on, and you will leave the theater feeling mesmerized and in awe of what everyone managed to accomplish with a budget which is a mere fraction of today’s average blockbuster.

I’m always happy to see Michael Keaton in any movie he appears in, and he is crazy brilliant as Riggan Thomson, an actor who became a star after playing the superhero Birdman in a movie trilogy. As we catch up with him, he is now a washed-up actor whose glory days have long since passed him by. In an effort to restart his career and achieve true greatness as an actor, he decides to mount his own production of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a play which is based on the short stories of Raymond Carver. Riggan has put everything he has into this project and has even mortgaged his home to put up the capital for it. It’s hard not to sense his desperation as this play which he adapted to the stage, produced, directed and stars in threatens to become a total disaster.

Suffice to say, things are not going well as one of the cast members gets seriously injured before previews are set to begin, Riggan is trying to repair his relationship with his family while having an affair with one of the actresses, his daughter has just gotten out of rehab and is working as his assistant, and he has just cast a new actor whose ego is every bit as big as his talent. As his stress level increases, he begins to lose touch with reality and soon finds himself haunted by his most famous character who constantly urges him to take matters into his own hands.

Now many are calling “Birdman” Keaton’s comeback movie, but this is not entirely fair. Keaton never disappeared from the limelight, and while his career may not be as hot as it once was when he appeared in Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies, he remains a standout in each film he appears in whether it’s “The Other Guys” or “Toy Story 3.” But with “Birdman,” Keaton gets a role which is more than worthy of his talents, and he makes the most of this opportunity and then some. As unlikable as Riggan may be when it comes to how he treats others, Keaton makes you empathize with him as he tries to do right by himself as the play’s premiere comes at him sooner than he thinks. It’s a tour de force performance, and hopefully it will bring Keaton the Oscar nomination he should have gotten years ago for “Clean & Sober.”

But the real stars of “Birdman” are Iñárritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who brilliantly succeed in making this movie look as if it was all shot in one take. They make us feel like we are floating along into these characters’ lives as they struggle to make this play the best anyone in New York has ever seen. Even if you think you can spot where and when Iñárritu cuts from one scene to another, the movie still feels remarkably seamless from start to finish. Some filmmakers value the visual aspects of a movie over the acting or vice versa, but Iñárritu manages to balance out both to brilliant effect, and it makes for one heck of a cinematic experience. Heck, you can’t even help but wonder about what the cast and crew went through while making “Birdman” because there’s no way this could have been a walk in the park for anybody.

It’s impossible to think of an actor other than Edward Norton who could play the infinitely egotistical actor Mike Shiner so perfectly. Director Brett Ratner once described Norton as being someone whose mission it was to save a movie and of how this can be your best asset or your worst nightmare. I couldn’t help but think about what Ratner said as I watched Norton burst onto the scene and insinuate his character into a play about to be previewed to an audience. When it comes to method actors, they can take things too literally and Norton shows just how ridiculously far one can go. It’s one of his best performances to date.

I also loved watching Emma Stone who plays Riggan’s daughter, Sam. Stone has been a fiery actress ever since we first saw her, and you can’t take your eyes off of her whenever she’s onscreen. Stone makes Sam into a wonderfully realized character who is trying to stay one step ahead of what has brought her down in the past, and she gives a riveting performance which shows just how far her range as an actress can stretch. While she may not have been able to save “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (in all fairness, no one could), she is a truly unforgettable presence here.

Other great performances in “Birdman” come from Naomi Watts who plays the amazingly insecure actress Lesley, and I have yet to see her suck in any movie she appears in. Andrea Riseborough, who stole a number of scenes from Tom Cruise in “Oblivion,” is wonderful as Laura, the actress Riggan may or may not have gotten pregnant. Zach Galifianakis takes on an unusual role for him as Riggan’s best friend and producer, Jake, who goes through hell in order to get this play off the ground. And then there’s Amy Ryan who plays Riggan’s ex-wife Sylvia who still has feelings for him even as he continues to do her wrong. Ryan never disappoints, and I love how she finds the good in Riggan when no one else can.

“Birdman” is the kind of movie which makes seeing movies on the big screen a sheer necessity. It challenges the realm of cinema to show what can be accomplished, and it gives us quite the kind of ride movies should be taking us on in a much more frequent way. In a year overwhelmed with tent pole franchises and a barrage of superhero franchises, this movie stands out as brilliantly unique and impossible to dismiss or forget.

* * * * out of * * * *

The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy poster

Some consider “The Bourne Legacy” to be a cinematic cheat, nothing more than a greedy attempt by Universal Pictures to continue a hugely successful franchise without its main stars (Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass). Truth be told however, Universal has done a good job making it clear to audiences that this movie is not out to replace the character of Jason Bourne or have an actor other than Damon playing him. Even though it doesn’t break any new ground in the franchise and threatens to pale in comparison to the trilogy of films which preceded it, “The Bourne Legacy” proves to be an exciting action flick that finds its own rhythm and goes with it.

Describing this movie is a little complicated as it cannot easily be called a sequel or a prequel. This one is really more of a parallel story or a “parallel-quel” if you will. Like “Paranormal Activity 2,” it surrounds the events of the movie which came before it, “The Bourne Ultimatum.” With Jason Bourne systematically taking apart Operation Blackbriar, “Legacy” looks to pull back the curtain to reveal there were several other secret government programs which trained American soldiers to do their dirty work. The program focused on here is Operation Outcome which has employed Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent who’s not suffering from amnesia but one who knows he is as easily expendable as Bourne.

In differentiating Aaron Cross as a character, Outcome agents are shown to be more like mice in a science lab as they are given certain kinds of medication which give them increased mental and physical abilities. There are no red or blue pills like in “The Matrix,” but instead green and blue ones which Aaron needs to function. If he misses a dose or doesn’t have access to a refill, he will go into serious withdrawal and could die. Anyone who has had experience with certain medications can certainly understand how bad the withdrawal part can get.

When the situation with Bourne gets as explosive as it did in the last film, retired Air Force Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is brought in to contain the situation and decides the Outcome agents need to be eliminated for the government’s own protection. So despite the agents’ allegiance to their countries, they are stabbed in the back and assassinated in the coldest way possible.

Aaron narrowly escapes an assassination attempt and ends up going on the run to escape detection and to find some more of those pills. This has him traversing through the Alaskan wilderness while being chased by wolves and going all the way to the Philippines. Joining him in his exploits is Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), one of the doctors who helped Aaron achieve such amazing abilities. The setup does have a ring familiarity about it as Marta, like Marie in “The Bourne Identity,” sees her life get turned upside down and is forced to go on the run with Cross. But whereas Marie was an individual who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, Marta does have a stronger purpose as Aaron needs her to stay alive.

 

I could spend a lot of time comparing “The Bourne Legacy” with the three previous films, but I would rather not. Those three movies set a new standard for action movies which is extremely hard to top, and that makes certain comparisons somewhat unfair. Greengrass at one time joked that doing another Jason Bourne movie might as well have him calling it “The Bourne Redundancy,” and that could have been the case here. Indeed, the setup is the same with two characters on the run from a government that has betrayed them, but Tony Gilroy does ground this story in a reality that wasn’t as present in the previous movies.

Gilroy has already made himself well known as one of the main architects of the Jason Bourne movies with his involvement in writing the screenplays for them, but his talents as a director were established before “The Bourne Legacy” with “Michael Clayton” which was one of 2007’s best movies. He does solid work in making this particular Bourne movie stand out from the others, and he doesn’t have the camera shaking all over the place.

Renner creates an intriguing enough character in Aaron Cross that makes us want to follow him some more in the future. Renner has long since acquitted himself as an actor in movies like “The Hurt Locker,” “The Town” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” and with “The Bourne Legacy” he gets a lead role in a motion picture worthy of his talents.

And while her character yells more than she should, Weisz is Renner’s equal in one scene to the next as she is thrown into a situation which changes her life permanently. Weisz is a powerful actress to say the least, and she keeps us hanging on during the movie’s more intense sequences.

Edward Norton creates a down to earth nemesis with his character of Eric Byer. While Norton is not always known as one of the easiest actors to deal work with, we know he will always give a multi-dimensional portrait of each character he plays. Eric is not a man driven to do evil, but one whose patriotism forces him to do extreme things in order to protect his country.

You also have to acknowledge actors like Oscar Isaac, Donna Murphy, Zeljko Ivanek and Stacy Keach who take their small roles and made them into compelling characters. Other actors who show to reprise their roles, however briefly are David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, and Joan Allen who once again proves with a single line that Deputy Director Pamela Landy is not a person to be messed with.

I missed John Powell’s brilliant music from the past three movies, and the scoring duties this time are left to Gilroy’s frequent composer James Newton Howard. Powell created adrenaline pumping music for the previous three movies that fused orchestral and electronic elements together to thrilling effect. Having said that, Howard is an excellent composer in his own right, and he does give the movie the kinetic score it deserves.

With “The Bourne Legacy,” Tony Gilroy gives us a new chapter in this franchise which in some ways is more realistic than the ones which came before. This may take fans for a bit of a loop depending on what they expect, but it still manages to deliver the goods all the same. Still, it would have been nice for Aaron Cross to have his own theme song instead of Jason Bourne’s (“Extreme Ways” by Moby). How about “Renegade” by Styx? That would work.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2012.