by Alan Yudman

Is there any franchise that is more reliable than the Bourne franchise? Especially the three films directed by Paul Greengrass, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM and now, JASON BOURNE.

You thought Greengrass and Matt Damon had wrapped up the storyline nicely at the end of ULTIMATUM? They did. Could have ended it there. Matter of fact, they did. The next Bourne movie was THE BOURNE LEGACY which neither Greengrass or Damon had anything to do with. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t Bourne. So I was eager to see the pair team up again and to see where it would go.

Jason Bourne (or David Webb) is living off the grid, making money as a bare knuckle brawler in Greece. But while he’s doing that Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) has been working for a hacker/leaker. She has discovered the CIA is running more black ops that are off the books. She finds info about Jason’s past to lure him back into a world he thought he had abandoned.

The rest of the movie plays out as you might expect. Bourne hunts. Bourne fights. Bourne uncovers. Car chases. Snipers. Panic. Amazing stunts and set pieces. Check all those boxes. He also has a new ally. Oscar winner Alicia Vikander is the head of the CIA’s cyber ops division. She initially wants what her boss, the CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones) wants. To find Bourne and take him out. But as she reads more and watches what her boss is doing, she devises another plan to bring Bourne back into the fold at the CIA.

Jones uses an operative known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel). He is more than just a man doing what the bosses tell him to do. He want revenge on Bourne because the exposure of Treadstone and Black Briar got him captured and tortured. But Bourne and The Asset have a deeper history, one that I will leave a mystery so as not to spoil anything more.

There is also a plot line about CIA surveillance and use of tech companies to do their dirty work. It feels very current given concerns about privacy and the government’s desire to hack into some iPhones.

JASON BOURNE delivers exactly what you would expect. Damon is great, he steps right back into the character without a beat. Vikander is wonderful in everything she does (or at least everything I’ve seen her do). Jones is, well a force of nature. This is a well executed thriller that is nothing if not entertaining. That also is what makes it just a touch disappointing. No boundaries are pushed. No extreme twists or complex ideas. It feels a bit safe, even as Bourne and The Asset are involved in a car chase on the Las Vegas Strip. Safe is ok. Well done safe is better and this is exceptionally well done. But sometimes you want something challenging and on that count JASON BOURNE falls short.


by Alan Yudman

If you go to a Woody Allen movie you can rely on several things. Jazz, jokes and angst. Sometimes the angst is extreme (BLUE JASMINE and INTERIORS jump to mind), sometimes it is purely comic. CAFE SOCIETY falls toward the comic end of the spectrum and with a cast that is new to the Allen oeuvre.

Jesse Eisenberg is Bobby Dorfman, the youngest of three siblings who grew up the children of a jeweler in Brooklyn. Bobby has bigger aspirations and goes to Hollywood seeking a job with his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), the big Hollywood agent. He meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), his Uncle’s secretary and is smitten. But Vonnie is seeing someone else. She tells Bobby that her boyfriend is a journalist. That’s not true, but I’m not going to spoil that. Matter of fact that is all I can reveal of the plot without spoiling the whole thing.

If you are a fan of old school Woody Allen, this you will enjoy this immensely. The slightly angst-ridden protagonist, the overly specific Jewish family, lots of sexual innuendo, romance and disappointment. There are writers who’s dialogue is instantly familiar. Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet and Wes Anderson are three. You could be blindfolded in a dark room and just hear their words and know who wrote what. Allen is the another. The smart-aleck tone to everything. The reverence for romanticism. The hopefulness in every disappointment. And of course the humor. It is familiar and fun and I could watch his movies forever.

The cast is wonderful. Eisenberg is the heir apparent to Allen’s nebbishy neurosis. Stewart continues to impress with every role that distances her from The Twilight movies. Carell is rock solid. Corey Stoll is wonderful as Bobby’s hoodlum brother and Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are the wonderfully stereotypical old world Jewish mother and father.

CAFE SOCIETY is not deep, nor poignant in any real way. But it is nearly flawless. It is a testament to Allen’s genius as a filmmaker. If you have 95 minutes to kill, you cannot find a better way to occupy that time than by watching this film.


— by Jeff Schultz

In this effective horror movie, the monster (through a believable backstory) gets inside a mother’s head, enabling her to bring it to “life”, and thus giving it the power to kill. The mother is a congenital depressive, hospitalized as a child. The possession sends her off the rails, even as she tries to maintain. By keeping the brakes on just enough, Maria Bello is excellent at letting us see the crazy poking through instead of “mad” histrionics. Bello has her match in 10-year-old Gabriel Bateman, familiar to “American Gothic” fans, who has some really polished acting moments and also does scared well. His naturalness reminded me of Henry Thomas in E.T. The ending makes perfect sense (not always the case with horror flicks). I just wish the wrap-up hadn’t been so perfunctory; it seemed thinner than the solid movie that came before it.


by Alan Yudman

One of the themes running through the final few films featuring the original cast of Star Trek dealt with change. James T. Kirk had to decide whether he wanted to stay Captain of the Enterprise or move up to become an Admiral. When he did, he regretted it. Even as he was written out of the storyline in Star Trek: Generations his advice to Jean-Luc Picard was to stay in the Captain’s chair as long as possible.

Change is also a predominant underlying theme of STAR TREK BEYOND. Chris Pine’s Kirk is considering change. Zachary Quinto’s Spock is also considering change. That is the set up, the framework on which screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung build a compelling action movie.

The Enterprise and its crew have been exploring the galaxy for more than 3 years. They are tired. They stop at Star Station (or Space Station, sorry if I got that wrong) Yorktown for resupply. While there a ship approaches the station and because the United Federation of Planets welcomes all with open arms, the pilot is allowed in. She tells how her crew crash landed on a planet on the other side of a nebula and she asks for help rescuing them. Kirk volunteers the Enterprise to go and they make it to the planet only to be attacked by something. Or a lot of somethings. A swarm of metal pods that destroy the Enterprise. So, now Kirk, Spock, et. al. must find a way to save their crew and get back to Federation space without a ship in which to do it.

The leader of the enemy is Krall, menacingly played by Idris Elba. Though he has a long way to go to chew scenery like Benedict Cumberbarch in Into Darkness. Krall seems to know more about the Federation than the Federation itself. We later find out why. No spoilers here. Krall also has a nasty habit of draining the life energy from people so he can regenerate himself. That is why when the Enterprise is destroyed and the crew flees in escape pods, Krall’s forces don’t destroy them, he takes them.

Pegg and Jung’s love for the genre and this specific franchise is evident. Kirk is brash, but unsure of the future. Spock is logical to a fault. Bones is well, Bones. They work Leonard Nimoy’s death into the plot nicely. But it was sad to see Anton Yelchin who died just a few weeks ago. The movie works on a lot of levels, but mostly it is a very good adventure that is faithful to all that is Star Trek. Justin Lin capably takes over for JJ Abrams. His experience with action movies (Most of the Fast and Furious franchise) shows. He know where to place the camera and get the audience rapt in the action without being confused or nauseous from motion sickness. Pegg, Jung and Lin keep it relatively simple. That is always a plus in these kinds of movies. They tend to go off the rails when they get too thinky or obsessed with too many characters.

In a summer where other big franchises disappointed (SUPERMAN V. BATMAN and THE X-MEN) it is nice that some things do not change. The material is familiar and comfortable. It is even nicer to see those responsible honor the Star Trek Universe, respect the fans and do not completely screw up the whole thing.


by Alan Yudman

Living off the grid. Being so fed up with how corrupt and dysfunctional modern society seems to be that you just cannot live in it any longer. Deciding to do that and raise your family out there is extreme, but is it crazy? Viggo Mortensen wrestles with his back to basics lifestyle choice in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. He and his six children are living in the mountains of Washington state. His wife was living there too, but she is dealing with bipolar disorder and is in a hospital. More on her in a moment.

The lifestyle is grueling. The children endure physical training and book learning that would be daunting for a college freshman. We soon learn that Mortensen’s wife has succumbed to her demons and has killed herself. Her father (Frank Langella) warns him to stay away from the funeral or he would have Mortensen arrested. Seems the father blames him for his daughter’s illness and death. Mortensen is willing to obey those wishes, but the children want to say goodbye to their mother. Their journey from wilderness to civilization and back to the grid is at the heart of the film. Mortensen wrestles with decisions that go against the fabric of who he is, but may be better for his children. The children seem willing to explore this dangerous world, but he is torn between trying to protect them and knowing that he cannot do it forever.

Mortensen is wonderfully maddening. You never know whether to root for him or run up to the screen in an attempt to smack him around. He tries to remain as true to his values as circumstances will allow, but that tears him apart. He is challenged most by his sons. George MacKay is the oldest child and Nicholas Hamilton is the next oldest boy. MacKay is in on the vision to a point, but he wants to go to college and has been accepted by Ivy League schools. Hamilton is rebellious. He doesn’t understand and is always boiling just beneath the surface. Mortensen deals with these conflicts by feeling alternately betrayed and disappointed and angry. He has some understanding, but will he let the children grow beyond his vision.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is wonderful. Both meanings. Good and full of wonder. Matt Ross wrote and directed. Matt Ross. Silicon Valley fans know him as Gavin Belson. I was blown away. Ross has a deft touch, bringing the right mood to every scene. He gets the balance between comedy and drama just right. He never lets the story go too far one way or the other. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Ross won Best Director at Cannes. So, ya know…Cannes.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is a warm and funny story about family and parenting. One of the best I’ve seen this year.


by Alan Yudman

Oh God I wanted to like this movie. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Paul Feig directing. Seems like a formula for success. Only GHOSTBUSTERS does not work.

I am going to try to avoid comparisons to the original film, but it is going to be difficult. Here goes. Kristen Wiig is Erin, a scientist about to get tenure at Columbia University. But a book she wrote years ago with her friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) resurfaces and not only stops her tenure track, but forces Charle Dance to fire her (Tywin Lannister lives). Abby is working with Jillian (Kate McKinnon) at a diploma mill, trying to keep the paranormal dream alive. Erin confronts her about the book, but they wind up going to a creepy old New York mansion where they find a ghost. Eventually they meet up with Patty (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker who spots a spirit in the subway. The four women go off hunting and trapping ghosts until the Mayor (Andy Garcia) tells them to stop. But they can’t because a social outcast of a guy (Neil Casey) is trying to break the barrier between realms or something and bring the dead back to start the 4th Apocalypse (the first 3 were when?). There are proton packs, new devices and conflict with the government and a lot of pseudo scary ghosts.

The problem is none of it makes a whit of sense. Yeah, it does not have to in the real world. It has to make sense in the world created on film. Other than being an outcast, why does Casey’s character do it? Some vague reference to restarting the world, but really it is never clearly explained. Leslie Jones’ character just quits her job and joins this band of Ghostbusters because she knows New York. They hire Chris Hemsworth as their secretary/receptionist for no apparent reason other than he’s beefcake. We learn Erin’s motivation for doing this, but Abby and Jillian? No clue. Characters flit in and out for no apparent reason. And the cameos, oh my. Bill Murray has a supporting role as a paranormal debunker. But Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts make quick appearances just so the audience can go, “oh wow, look who it is now”. Ackroyd’s cameo is particularly pointless. Then there are the meta references to the criticism the reboot received for casting women. Yeah, the points are correct, but completely out of place here. There is a running gag about Abby’s frustrations with Chinese takeout, but why? It has nothing to do with the story at all.

The cast is fine. Wiig’s nervous nerdiness plays well. McCarthy’s character sort of works, but other than telling us she’s an expert and spewing a bunch of paranormal science terms she’s marginally credible. Jones plays an outsized version of herself. She is one of the funniest people on the planet and she is really funny here, but it is not much of a stretch. McKinnon’s weirdness plays the best. She’s the inventor of the group, coming up with all the gadgets and ghost catching equipment. It’s like a nutty professor on steroids, or amphetamines.

Other than the four stars, there is a lot of talent in supporting roles. Most of it is wasted. Cecily Strong is decent as an uptight assistant to the Mayor. But Zach Woods, Toby Huss, Ed Begley, Jr., Matt Walsh, Michael Kenneth Williams all have such fleeting appearances. They are all underused for such distinctive talents.

And the music. They start the film with the beginning of Ray Parker, Jr.’s hit but we never hear the full song. Maybe they didn’t want to pay Huey Lewis royalties. But about 4 different artists reinterpret the song. It’s just annoying.

Here’s my issue. Either completely embrace the original and do this as an updated version of that storyline or completely cut ties, meaning no cameos from the original cast that make us yearn for that version. Feig does neither and the middle ground is not good.

Look, GHOSTBUSTERS is a perfectly satisfactory movie. But it could have been so much better.


by Alan Yudman

This blog is mostly movie reviews, but occasionally we dip our toes into TV. Today’s Primtime Emmy Nominations announcement seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about TV. So here goes.

Let’s start with the Drama series category. How do you choose between GAME OF THRONES, THE AMERICANS, BETTER CALL SAUL, DOWNTON ABBEY, HOMELAND, HOUSE OF CARDS and MR. ROBOT. Not that any voter is asking me, but allow me to help. First eliminate DOWNTON ABBEY. This feels like a lifetime achievement nomination. This season was nice, but by far not the best. I’m a fan and I enjoyed it, but at times it was too much like a daytime soap set in post WW1 England. HOUSE OF CARDS also has been just ok. I still have not gotten through the new season. I think that’s an indication. HOMELAND and THE AMERICANS I have no take on since I have not watched them in years. My bad. So, what’s left. GAME OF THRONES, MR. ROBOT and BETTER CALL SAUL. THRONES was good this year, some outstanding episodes but on the whole not the best season. So I have narrowed the crowded field to two. And that is a tough choice. Both are excellent with great writing and outstanding acting. Forced to make a choice, because that’s what this is all about, I would have to pick MR. ROBOT. Months after season one ended I was still thinking about it. What it meant, what it still means especially since season 2 just debuted this week. BETTER CALL SAUL is excellent in the same vein as BREAKING BAD. Saul’s struggles with ethics and conscience are brought to life by Bob Odenkirk. But, it is just slightly less thought provoking and genre pushing than MR. ROBOT. Sam Esmail’s odd yet powerful story of the way a mentally ill hacker tries to deal with life touches you on several levels. It’s also an on point commentary on computers and our vulnerability in this connected era. It is fast becoming a classic.

Now Comedy series. MASTER OF NONE, MODERN FAMILY, black-ish, SILICON VALLEY, TRANSPARENT, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT and VEEP. I will confess that the genre of sitcom has passed me by. I watch a select few because most of what is on network TV is well, garbage. I have never seen one episode of black-ish, though I have read that it does address some societal race relation issues, so props to the producers for that. MODERN FAMILY is a show I used to watch. Used to. It has become insufferably unfunny for me. Same jokes over and over and over. I’m done and so should Emmy voters. I watch some of season 1 of TRANSPARENT and thought it was incredibly well done. Jeffrey Tambor went full trans (hat tip to TROPIC THUNDER). That said, it is not my favorite. Not enough funny for a comedy. So, checking in that leaves us with VEEP, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, SILICON VALLEY and MASTER OF NONE. Wow. That’s tougher than the drama category. This may have been VEEP’s best season yet. Great storyline and each episode was packed with laughs. High joke count. Couldn’t ask for more. I have not watched season 2 of UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT yet. I have to be in the right mindset for that show’s particular brand of insanity. I’ll get there. But in in a similar wacko vein I prefer Maria Bamford’s LADY DYNAMITE. SILICON VALLEY, like VEEP is consistently hysterical. Plus the characters are infinitely more likeable than VEEP. You find yourself rooting for them even as they consistently prove they are the gang who couldn’t code straight. But my pick here is MASTER OF NONE. Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy is brilliantly conceived and executed. The entire cast is wonderful. And the show makes points about profiling and discrimination and interracial dating without bludgeoning you over the head and without missing a joke. Props to Ansari.

As I said, sitcom isn’t my preferred thing but there are three omissions I have to point out. The Golden Globe nominated CASUAL on Hulu, BOJACK HORSEMAN on Netflix and MARON on IFC (and maybe the aforementioned LADY DYNAMITE).

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated BOJACK HORSEMAN makes me laugh for 30 minutes, non-stop. The show populated by humans and animals acting like humans (except when they act like animals) could be just a goof. A bizarre concept done well, and that would be enough. But there is an emotional depth to the characters that really takes it to the next level. Bojack’s struggle with failure, success and a fucked up childhood touch your heart more than a lot of live action comedies ever come close to.

CASUAL is weird and funny. It is a more real family comedy than MODERN FAMILY could ever be. The characters struggle with love, divorce, dating and family are brilliantly executed by creator Zander Lehmann and his staff of writers. And the dynamic between the three main characters (Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey and Tara Lynn Barr) feels authentic. The real issues are dealt with deftly and even when things get tense, the comedy is never far away.

Finally MARON is over. And that is a real shame because this final season has been the best of the show’s four year run. The first three seasons pretty much followed Marc Maron’s life note for note. Podcaster, divorcee, comedian. Ticked all those boxes. But this season dealt with Marc’s fictional recovery from a relapse into the world of alcohol and prescription drugs. His journey felt real and was at times uncomfortably funny. There was always something bubbling underneath as Marc struggled to find his life after comedy. It was a long and totally satisfying journey.

There you have it. My takes on the Primetime Emmys. Here’s hoping the Television Academy can continue to nominate shows that push the envelope and that the four networks don’t shy away from putting those shows on the air as they have in the past.

Sent from my iPad


— by Jeff Schultz

Given the title, it would have been soooo satisfying to write “Blake Lively is out of her depth”. In fact, the actress does ok shouldering the burden of what’s pretty much a one-woman (and one shark) film. Rather, the problem lies in a character who’s not so much unsympathetic as dull, in a perilous situation that can’t deliver the heart-stopping moments you look for in these kind of ordeal films. Lively’s predicament is simply not made vivid enough; she can be seen and heard from shore, placing her not all that far from safety – and while that’s the point, with the plot turning on a shark that won’t leave the area (because of a food-rich floating whale carcass), the way it’s shot spatially doesn’t give a proper sense of “so-near-and-yet-so-far”. There’s an (admittedly cute) seagull whose separate but adjacent struggle turns it into the equivalent of Tom Hanks’ “Wilson” in CAST AWAY— and whose own separate but adjacent happy ending too neatly wraps things up, along with a trite coda that puts paid to the heroine’s melodramatic backstory.


by Alan Yudman

What do your pets do while you are off at work. I mean other than chewing the occasional shoe or scratching the corner of your sofa. That cannot be their entire day. If THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is any indication, they live a much funnier life than any of us.

The film from Illumination Studios (the same people who brought us DESPICABLE ME and MINIONS) focuses on Max. A nondescript yet adorable dog who is living a happy existence with his owner Katie. While she is at work, Max and is dog, cat, bird and other varieties of house pets meet, eat and frolic until it is time for their owners to come home. These sequences in the film are really funny because they give voice to what the thoughts you assume your pets are thinking. Then Max’s world is turned upside down. Katie brings home another dog from the pound, a big hairy oaf of a dog named Duke.

The two have a bit of a turf war, trying to gain dominance. Duke wins initially, but Max asserts his authority by playing mind games with the lummox. A dog walker takes Max, Duke and friends out one day and loses track of the new “brothers”. That is where the movie really takes off. Max and Duke try to get home. Max’s friends try to find him, including a Pomeranian (I think) who loves Max from afar.

While on the run, Max and Duke meet up with an underground society of “flushed away” pets led by a maniacal rabbit tossed away by a magician. They lie to gain acceptance then are found out as “house pets” and are forced to run and try to find another way back home.

Does THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS have deep meaning or a powerful message? No. There is some light theme about family and acceptance but unlike a Pixar movie that is beside the point here. The point here is laughs. Lots of laughs. Grab your stomach, bend over at the waist, big and loud laughs. The movie is about 90 minutes long and builds from chuckle to uproarious with hardly a pause to catch your breath. Yes the jokes are sometimes obvious and telegraphed, but that does not make them less funny.

The voice cast is outstanding. Louis CK brings his unique personality to Max. Eric Stonestreet is Duke. Jenny Slate goes from sweet to ferocious as Max’s secret admirer Pomeranian Gidget. There is a lot of other great talent, including Albert Brooks as a hawk trying not to eat everyone. But the bright shining light here should be on Kevin Hart who voices the maniac Bunny. Hart’s over the top delivery and wild personality are perfect. You cannot help but laugh every time the Bunny opens its mouth. It is comic genius.

I was afraid all the laughs in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS were in the trailer. No no, that is just the beginning, the jumping off point for one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time.


by Alan Yudman

Some movies based on the works of John le Carre are difficult to fathom. I think i’ve seen THE CONSTANT GARDENER once and I never fully got it. Guess I need to see it again. OUR KIND OF TRAITOR does not suffer from that. In fact, maybe it is a little too accessible. A bit too easy to follow.

Stellan Skarsgard is the money man for a big player in the Russia mob. But he knows this new “Prince” is not the man his father was, a man Skarsgard had love and respect for. He knows once he signs over all the accounts he controls his life is not worth anything. So he devises a plan to sell secrets to the British Secret Service, MI6. But how to do this with The Prince’s men watching him all the time. He spots a couple at a restaurant in Marrakech. Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris are on holiday, trying to save their marriage after he cheated on her. She leaves the restaurant to tend to business, leaving the distressed McGregor alone. The perfect target for a Russian mobster used to recruiting vulnerable men in prison.

Skarsgard turns over information to the unsuspecting McGregor, telling him to give it to MI6 when he returns to London. McGregor is a good man, an professor of Poetics with a strict moral compass. He helps Skarsgard because saving the Russian’s family is the right thing to do. McGregor turns the information over to Damian Lewis, a British agent. Then, as they say, things get messy.

There are several twists to each storyline, especially for Lewis’ character. But you see the people as they are. No one has a surprise hidden agenda. The twists are in the plot. Will Skarsgard get his family out? Will McGregor have to compromise his morality? Will Lewis be able to pull it off despite not having the support of his bosses?

Each twist is telegraphed just a bit. I didn’t think I knew the ending halfway through the film, but as each conclusion approached I figured out what was going to happen. So in the end, I was not surprised by anything. But I was entertained. McGregor, Lewis and Skarsgard stand out above the rest of a very fine cast. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle has that grey Cold War tinge to it. Hossen Amini’s script is decent enough and Susanna White did a fine job keeping it all heading in the proper direction without going off the rails.

I have yet to see THE NIGHT MANAGER. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is one of the better le Carre adaptations because the characters are so deep and complex. This plays more like le Carre light. Nothing wrong with that.