In the latest Jason Bourne movie, Matt Damon will punch, kick and spy master his way to the top of the box office charts.
His previous Bourne films, Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum, were all hits commercially and critically.
Damon says he owes a great deal to the fictional character.
After the early success of Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan and The Talented Mr. Ripley made him a star, a string of flops cooled his box office appeal.
“Right before The Bourne Identity came out,” he said, “I hadn’t been offered a movie in a year.”
Then his career was Bourne again.
“It’s incalculable how much these movies have helped my career,” he told The Telegraph. “Suddenly it put me on a short list of people who could get movies made.”
In the spirit of “one for them, one for me” for every film like The Martian or the new Jason Bourne, Damon has attached himself to smaller, riskier projects.
He lent his star power to The Good Shepherd, a low budget film directed by Robert De Niro. It’s a spy movie without the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from our favorite undercover operatives.
There are no elaborate chase scenes a la James Bond or even the great scenery of the Bourne flicks.
In fact, the only thing The Good Sheperd shares with any of those movies is Damon, who plays Edward Wilson, one of the (fictional) founders of the CIA.
Despite mixed to good reviews — USA Today gave the film three out of four stars—and winning the Silver Bear of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, the movie barely earned back its production costs at the box office.
Ninety per cent of director Steven Soderbergh’s job on The Informant! was casting this mostly true tale of a highly paid executive-turned-whistleblower who helped uncover a price fixing policy that landed several executives (including himself) in jail.
It’s a tricky balancing act to find an actor who can keep the audience on-board through a tale of corporate malfeasance and personal greed, who can be likeable but is actually a liar and a thief, but Damon is the guy.
The Informant! skewed a tad too far into art house territory to be Soderbergh’s new Erin Brockovich-sized hit, but Damon’s presence kept the story of accounting, paperwork and avarice interesting. Reviews were kind but A Serious Man and The Twilight Saga: New Moon buried the film on its opening weekend.
Damon teamed with John Krasinski to produce and co-write Promised Land, a David and Goliath story that relied on the charm and likability of its cast to sell the idea that fracking is bad and the corporations who dupe cash-strapped farmers into leasing their land are evil.
It’s hard to make talk of water table pollution dramatic but Promised Land makes an attempt by giving much of the heavy lifting to Damon.
Done in by middling reviews and “sobering” box office receipts, this earnest and well-meaning movie might have been better served in documentary form.
With an Oscar on his shelf and more than 70 films on his resume Damon is philosophical about the kinds of films he chooses to make, big or small.
“If people go to those movies, then yes, that’s true, big-time success,” he says.
Traditional wisdom has it that January is a dumping ground for bad movies.
“Everyone is broke after shelling out for Christmas presents,” the studios say. “The weather is crappy and anyone leaving the house is going to the gym instead of the movies,” complain the suits.
That’s why clunkers like One for the Money, a Katherine Heigl crime drama with a two per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating and Season of the Witch — which saw Nicolas Cage go all medieval on the forces of evil and strain his credibility as an actor — made the lives of critics and audiences miserable on long, cold winter nights in bygone Januarys. Why waste good movies when no one was likely to go?
Years ago studios threw the odd quality film into the January mix — Traffic, Good Will Hunting, Before Sunrise, Dr. Strangelove and Silence of the Lambs—but every good movie like Matinee (92 per cent on RT) was balanced out with a stinker like Body of Evidence and its paltry six per cent rating.
There is still that yin and yang as last week’s releases of The Boy Next Door and Mortdecai (two movies that will decorate Worst Of the Year lists) proves, but the tide seems to be changing. Perhaps that’s why Project Almanac, a time-travel drama from producer Michael Bay, moved from a prime July release date to the barren January slate. Surely Bay, as savvy a player as Hollywood has, wouldn’t allow his movie to be tossed out with the trash.
The reason given for the schedule move was that Bay himself wanted to sprinkle some of his Transformers’ fairy dust to pump up the film’s appeal to young audiences. But it’s also apparent that a micro-budget movie like Project Almanac, even with Bay’s name attached, could get lost in a summer filled with large-scale offerings like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, so why not release in a less crowded, but increasingly profitable field?
What used to be a time to fill screens with borderline cheesefests has become a viable month to release a movie.
Last year big crowds braved the polar vortex to help the Kevin Hart comedy Ride Along set a January opening record. This year the Oscar-nominated Selma and Still Alice have opened wide in a month usually reserved for Golden Raspberry winners. Perhaps the biggest story of 2015 so far is the success of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic, American Sniper, which has raked in upwards of $170 million in just two weeks. The success of that film is as strong an indicator as Hollywood needs that January is no longer a no-go zone.
The first time I saw Robin Williams was on 90 Minutes Live with Peter Gzowski, a Canadian late night talk show that aired from 1976 to 1978.
Thirty-five years later, I can still remember the frantic burst of energy that emanated from my television that Friday night. Gzowski grinned as the comic careened through their chat, jumping from joke to joke, impression to impression, including Williams’s take on the world’s most intelligent child. “I find most adults very banal, but I’ll talk to you anyway.”
“Where did you get that character from?” Gzowski asked, “Was it based on anyone?”
“Me, basically. As a kid.”
“Were you brilliant as a child?”
“Yes, and as a young man, too,” replied the impish 27-year-old.
The stand up comedians I had seen on television wore suits and told one-liners. This was stream of consciousness, a wild look at a comedic mind that didn’t work the way I was accustomed to. For six minutes it felt like an alien had taken control of my TV, a life force like I had never seen before.
Appropriately enough, soon afterward he appeared as Mork, the extraterrestrial from Ork, on Happy Days and his career was officially launched.
For the next 35 years Williams was a constant on our screens, big and small. His first starring role in a movie, 1980’s Popeye, was met with critical scorn and a weak box office, but Roger Ebert had praise for the star, calling Williams’ “perpetual squint and lopsided smile” completely convincing.
Moving from strength to strength he embarked on a remarkable run of films, earning the first of three Best Actor Oscar nods for Good Morning, Vietnam and winning an Academy Award for his work as an empathetic therapist in Good Will Hunting. A handful of Golden Globes celebrated his work in Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King and Mrs. Doubtfire.
He leaves a diverse legacy from the laughs of The Birdcage, to the drama of Awakenings,to the chills of One Hour Photo, the seize-the-day uplift of Dead Poets Society and the ad-libbed brilliance of Aladdin. Every decade since that appearance on 90 Minutes Live has given us a memorable Williams performance. He will live, on the screen at least, with three more films scheduled for release this year and next.
Everyone has a favourite Robin Williams character. For me its Parry, the treasure hunter in The Fisher King. It’s a funny, bittersweet performance in a movie that mixes fantasy and reality in equal doses.
“I’m a knight on a special quest,” Parry says, words that could apply to the comedian’s crusade to entertain in weird and wonderful ways.