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Tim Grierson on the “Bourne” Legacy

Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy

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This weekend sees the unveiling of “The Bourne Legacy,” an unusual twist on the current reboot/remake trend in Hollywood. Rather than bringing back the same character from a popular series, Universal Pictures is returning us to the franchise’s milieu but with a completely new protagonist at the center. That puts pressure on Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner, the lead in “The Bourne Legacy,” to prove himself as a viable action star. (Granted, he played Hawkeye in “The Avengers,” but it’s not as if he was asked to carry that superhero extravaganza.) But with pressure comes opportunity, and Renner should keep this in mind: Before the Bourne films, people didn’t necessarily think of Matt Damon as an action star, either.

“The Bourne Identity” opened June 14, 2002, and it wasn’t as if audiences weren’t aware of Damon. He had won a screenwriting Oscar (with his buddy Ben Affleck) for “Good Will Hunting,” and he was the Ryan being saved in “Saving Private Ryan.” But even in 2001’s hit caper comedy “Ocean’s Eleven,” Damon was overshadowed by his higher-profile co-stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney. So doing “The Bourne Identity” was definitely a bit of a stretch, playing an elite assassin who has lost his memory and must quickly regain it while being chased by those who want him dead. This wasn’t exactly the same thing as being the sensitive Will Hunting or insecure Linus Caldwell — he had to be a chiseled, believable killing machine.

When “Identity” came out, it performed well in its first weekend — grossing $39 million — but in a sign that audiences weren’t exactly salivating for either a Bourne film or an action movie starring Damon, it ended up in second place, crushed by a $76-million opening for “Scooby-Doo.” (Yes, there was a time when people were more excited about a Scooby-Doo flick that a Bourne film.) But “Identity” showed legs and earned good reviews, snagging almost $122 million during its theatrical run and becoming a huge hit on DVD.

Even more importantly, though, “The Bourne Identity” helped establish a template for what this series could achieve. For as much credit as director Christopher Nolan rightly received for reinventing Batman with the dark, realistic tone of 2005’s “Batman Begins,” “The Bourne Identity” had adopted much of the same approach three years earlier. Directed by Doug Liman, who previously had made the indie films “Swingers” and “Go,” “The Bourne Identity” featured terrific stunts, but most of the best moments stemmed from human-scale tension, such as in the dynamic shootout between Bourne and a lethal sniper (Clive Owen). Damon was able to convince as an action hero, but he didn’t have to jettison his empathy and soulfulness in the process — if anything, those qualities were just as critical to his construction of a character who only slowly begins to understand the monstrous things he once did for the U.S. government.

By the time of 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy,” the series was popular enough that it opened to almost $75 million, dwarfing everything around it. Ending up as the eighth-highest-grosser of its year, “Supremacy” was even better than “Identity,” thanks in no small part to the arrival of director Paul Greengrass. Before “Supremacy,” the English filmmaker had never made a Hollywood movie, but he proved more than capable, delivering a beautifully intense thriller that upped the action while simultaneously deepening the emotional resonance of an assassin’s reckoning with his past. Add to that one of the greatest hand-to-hand combat scenes in recent Hollywood history, and you’ve got a supremely riveting film that was hugely influential. (The steely 2007 James Bond reboot “Casino Royale” is heavily indebted to the quick cutting and realistic tone of “The Bourne Supremacy.”)

2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which reunited Damon and Greengrass, was even more commercially successful, satisfyingly resolving the trilogy while also being faithful to the series’ critique of government surveillance and unchecked power. Between “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” Greengrass made “United 93,” a dramatization of the terrorist hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 during 9/11, and while that film largely eschewed political messages, his big-budget Bourne films were in a way a response to the aftermath of the events portrayed in “United 93,” showing a world in which personal liberties were sacrificed in the name of homeland security. Of course, you didn’t have to read any deeper meaning into the “Bourne” films to be whisked away by their propulsive energy, but that subtext made them rather nervy for mainstream entertainment — and yet all three films combined have brought in almost $1 billion worldwide.

Now it’s 2012, and Greengrass and Damon have moved on to other projects. “The Bourne Legacy” has a financial legacy to live up to, but even more so, a creative one. Outside of Nolan’s Batman films or the “Lord of the Rings” movies, no recent trilogy has been so wholly entertaining as the Bourne series, offering a new level of kinetic thrills and stripped-down drama that also boasted some real brains. The new film is directed by Tony Gilroy, who co-wrote the first three films and also directed “Michael Clayton,” so it’s not as if “Legacy” won’t share any DNA with its superb predecessors. But if Renner felt any wariness about signing up to play a Bourne-like soldier, he might be cheered to know that, of all recent franchises, the Bourne films have been the most welcoming of fresh faces. Doug Liman had never made a film on this scale, and neither had Paul Greengrass or Matt Damon. If anything, Renner’s in fine company.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…