New in Theaters – “The Bourne Ultimatum:
With more than 3,600 Americans dead in Iraq – exceeding even the death toll from 9/11 – and Muslim maniacs everywhere gazing longingly at skyscrapers, Hollywood keeps telling us the only thing we have to fear is our own government.
In action films, more Americans are killed by the C.I.A., or a rogue operation thereof, than Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, airborne Saudis and every other jihadist outfit in the world – by a factor of 100.
Hollywood (America’s paranoia factory) would have us believe the real enemy is here at home – homicidal patriots who control our government and its intelligence agencies, murder Americans right and left (well, mostly left) and conspire to abolish civil liberties and usher in a national security dictatorship.
That’s the message of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the third screen outing of Matt Damon as Robert Ludlum’s amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne. “Ultimatum” was preceded by “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy” and will be followed by “The Bourne Rebuttal,” “The Bourne Obsession” and “The Bourne Inanity.”
Having foiled attempts by the agency he once worked for to terminate him with extreme prejudice, like a supercharged pinball, Bourne bounces from Moscow to London to Madrid to Tangiers to Manhattan in search of his memory and true identity – as well as to wreck bloody vengeance on the Agency’s hierarchy that turned him into Secret Assassin Man (They’ve Taken Away His Memory And Given Him A License to Bore).
Like the first two installments, only more so, there are the standard car crashes (where everyone else dies or sustains serious injuries except Jason) and hand-to-hand combat to the death sequences. Just for variety, there are also moped chases and sprints across the rooftops of Tangiers as Bourne attempts to elude the local constabulary and “assets” trying to put him in a body bag.
All the while, poor Jason is having flashbacks to his initial conditioning at the hands of a CIA shrink (a miscast Albert Finney) who apparently erased Bourne’s memory, and turned him into a lean, mean killing-machine, by repeatedly dunking his head (covered with a black sack) in water. Or, maybe they made him watch a Koran being flushed.
Critics who are raving about the action sequences are confusing exhilarating with nauseating.
There’s a once-was/might-be-again romantic interest, Nicky Parsons (played by the exquisite Julia Stiles), the CIA heavies – David Straithairn (whose car has a bumper-sticker that says “Think Whacking”) and Scott Glenn (who lives by the words “plausible deniability”) – and good gal Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) the foil for all of the Agency’s rotten, corrupt killers.
“The Bourne Ultimatum” contains such memorable exchanges as when an incredulous Allen asks a grimacing Straithairn, “We don’t kill Americans, do we?” to which the latter grimly replies, “If we have to.”
It probably took Damon minutes to memorize his lines. He has so few. The puppet version of himself in “Team America” (“I’m M-a-t-t Damon”) delivered his line with more emotion.
Interesting coincidences: 1) The C.I.A. villains both had Biblical names (Noah Vosen and Ezra Kramer) – a religious right allusion? 2) The reporter who tries to help Bourne in the opening of the film writes for the Guardian (the Brit equivalent of the The Huffington Post). 3) Damon grew up next-door to and was mentored by Marxist scholar Howard Zinn. The actor alludes to Zinn’s opus “A People’s History of The United States” (“This book will knock you on your ass!”) in “Good Will Hunting.”
Like the fictional Jason Bourne, Hollywood seeks to condition us. (“Forget terrorists! C.I.A. bad! Kill C.I.A.!”) Instead of dunking our heads under water, this conditioning consists of thousands of hours in a darkened room as images of car crashes flash across the screen.
New on DVD – “The Second Season of Rome”
For me, the HBO series “Rome” was a guilty pleasure, like being addicted to daytime drama or the “Jerry Springer Show.” It was sensational, sensual, graphically violent and melodramatic. And I loved every minute of the 22-part series that ran over two years.
I’m a sucker for historical narratives with warriors who weren’t hampered by rules of engagement and power-hungry politicians who settled scores with knives, instead of sniveling about negative campaigning and the politics of personal destruction.
The first season opened in 49 B.C., with Caesar completing his conquest of Gaul, showed his defeat of a puffed-up Pompey Magnus (through sly political maneuvering and superior generalship) and ended with the progenitor of Rome’s first dynasty dead in the Senate.
The second season takes us from the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination to Gaius Octavian’s triumph over Mark Antony and Cleopatra as he marches toward the purple he’ll one day wear as Caesar Augustus.
It’s refreshing to encounter characters with more depth than the actors who portray them. These snarl, scheme, quarrel, lust and demonstrate bravery and loyalty -- as well as cowardice and betrayal -- with verve.
The series’ actors, English for the most part, were splendid – the wonderful Irish actor Ciaran Hinds as Caesar, Polly Walker as the bitchy Atia of The Julii (who could give Joan Collins lessons in double-dealing and vindictiveness) and James Purefoy, who plays Antony as an opportunistic, ego-driven, rake who throws the dice once too often..
There are parallel plots. While the nobles swill, swive and scheme, the series also follows the adventures of two legionnaires – the stalwart Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and bad boy Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson).
Vorenus is all spit and polish – anger, confusion and silent suffering. In the first episode, when Caesar asks Antony if they can count on First Spear Centurion Vorenus, the latter replies: “That one? He’d follow the 13th. (Legion) up Pluto’s arse!”
His mirror image is Pullo, a big, happy-go-lucky brawler (constantly in and out of trouble) whose life revolves around wine, slave girls and spoils.
The two form an unlikely friendship – one man agonizing over his honor and the decline of civic virtue, the other good-naturedly committing mayhem and the most atrocious follies.
In the Second Season, there’s a role-reversal, as Vorenus (devastated by the death of his wife and loss of his children) starts on a downward spiral of grief and nihilistic rage, while Pullo become the sober, responsible member of this mismatched pair.
“Rome” is suspenseful, lustful, colorful and superbly acted. It may not keep you on the edge of your seat, but will hold your attention through 22 powerful episodes.
Finally, HBO did something right. The Valium-popping Tony Soprano clan are no match for the toga-wearing, sword-wielding, barbarian-butchering, plot-hatching prototypes for Italian crime families.