The pen is mightier than the sword

penbluePicture this: you’re in a fight, possibly to the death, and you’re on the brink of losing. You’re scrabbling around to find purchase on something, anything to give you an advantage. Your fingers grasp a thin object. Dimly, through the red mist, you realise the tides are turning, your luck is in; for you have come into your possession a weapon mightier than most in the world of movies: the humble pen.

Many a movie fight has conveniently been won this way. I suppose this is typical of the cinematic world because we all know, in real life, you can never find a bloody pen when you want one. And the chances of one finding your questing fingers during a fight are next to nil.

But then, maybe that’s why it works. Fate is a cruel mistress and likes to throw us a lifeline when we least expect it. Anyway, moving on. To celebrate the pen (and pencil), let’s look at movie scenes where this unassuming little object has briefly taken the limelight.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Guy flies through the window with a machine gun then comes at you with a knife, what do you do? Calmly grab a pen and dispatch him, that’s what. Jason Bourne, still absent memory, demonstrates how lethal a biro can really be. Pen vs. knife? The knife stood no chance.

Liar Liar

‘The colour of the pen that I hold in my hand is…ROYAL BLUE!’ Jim Carrey at his overacting best in the late ’90s, as a lawyer condemned to tell the truth as the result of a birthday wish made by his son. Silly, but entertaining stuff.

The Naked Gun (1988)

The Japanese fighting fish; beautiful, graceful and elegant. Quickly gets skewered with a rare Samurai pen by Lieutenant Frank Drebin, Police Squad! The pen in question being unbreakable, impervious to everything but water. Pure comedy gold.

Shaun of the Dead

‘You’ve got red on you.’ Shaun’s pen leaks on his shirt early on in the film: a portent of things to come and an observant nod to the mindless and banal comments people say every day. Here’s a little compilation from the film. Ah, zombie-filled memories.

The Dark Knight (2008)

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t have my boy here pull your head off? ‘How about a magic trick?'” Quite simply one of the best character entrances to a film in recent years. Heath Ledger’s Joker took us all by surprise. He begins with a simple pencil…


Another entry for the Joker, this time Jack Nicholson’s flamboyant portrayal. Here he sports a wonderful feather quill pen, used to chilling effect to spear someone in the throat. Was Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight an update of this scene? Both dark and compelling with a macabre sense of humour.

The Faculty (1998)

Always considered this film, directed by Robert Rodriguez, a bit of a guilty pleasure. With slightly cringing lines like ‘Aliens are taking over the fucking school’ and Famke Janssen asking for something ‘cherry flavoured’. This pen-related scene sees Josh Hartnett’s character stab his teacher in the eye, then watch in horror as he visibly dissolves.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

You’re Dr. Jones (Sean Connery) and you’re trapped in the body of a steel beast, otherwise known as a tank. You spot a chance to escape and end up grappling with the nearest Nazi soldier. Victory comes in the form of a squirting ink pen, leading your companion, Marcus Brody, to exclaim ‘The pen is mightier than the sword!

Goldeneye (1995)

Click, click, spin, click, spin, spin…BOOM! The old exploding pen trick. A classic Bond scene, building to an explosive finish. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond held captive, watching a programmer attempt to break a guidance code before Sean Bean’s bad guy rocket plummets back to earth. Little does he know he holds an explosive pen in his hand.

Bourne again? Jeremy Renner and his green pills – Tony Gilroy’s legacy

Does it strike you as funny that of two films that are currently out at the cinema – one a remake, one a sequel of sorts – both are to do with memory loss?

I am, of course, talking about the Total Recall and the Bourne Legacy, the latter of which I saw recently and want to discuss.

First things first, I am a fan of Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, the former for the Hurt Locker and The Town, and the latter for just being Mrs Daniel Craig. Seriously, there’s a lot of films which were significantly lifted by her presence; About a Boy, The Fountain, Enemy at the Gates, Runaway Jury and, yes, even The Mummy (seriously, she makes Brendan Fraser bearable).

In terms of the Bourne Legacy, Renner was solid as a spy, you believed he could do the things he did. Particularly his Alaska section, which reminded me slightly of Into the Wild, with Emile Hirsch, just with more explosions and less depressing deaths.  He fought like Bourne and was just as resourceful, however he just didn’t seem as accessible as Damon. Maybe it’s easier to identify with a man trying to regain his memory and make sense of his situation, whereas Renner’s Aaron Cross is in full possession of his memory, and is primarily trying to shake his dependency on drugs (which we’ll discuss more in a bit).

Perhaps in contrast to Cross’s cold, calm nature, Weisz is the emotional warmth of the film. Beautiful, intelligent, and a Doctor – I once read an article where she was voted the woman that men would most like to marry – too bad James Bond beat us to it!

As far as the link between this film and the preceding trilogy, the last two of which Paul Greengrass directed, you can see how they’ve tried to expand the world of shady goverment agencies with ‘assets’ placed across the globe in multiple, sinister programmes/experiments. It’s a nice link, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

jeremy renner and ed norton bournePerhaps too much time was spent on Renner’s character hanging out the in the wilderness, then racing across from the US to Manila in search of medication. I wonder if there would have been more mileage in exploring how Aaron Cross came to be in the programme? Treadstone or Blackbriar or whichever one he was in. This was touched on in the film, but it would have been very interesting to explore further.

There was a scene where he was all beaten up, with cuts all over his face, talking to some figure out of shot. Did he go through the same process as Bourne? Sticking with the memory theme could have been intriguing. The trick is to keep it grounded in the real world. Paul Greengrass did an excellent job of this, particularly with stunts and fight scenes.  I think, perhaps, Tony Gilroy let it become too ‘Hollywood’ and too detached. You got a sense that Bourne was always vulnerable. In contrast, Aaron Cross seemed too ‘action man’, holding his guns up to his chest, shooting round corners etc – too showy – like he could do almost anything, up to the point when he gets shot, then finally seems human. Let’s not forget, in the original trilogy Bourne kills someone with a biro, that’s realism!

I suppose what frustrated me was Bourne had a solid cause – recover his memory and expose Treadstone. Cross just didn’t seem to have a clear plan beyond wanting off his medication. There’s even a scene where says to Weisz’s character that if she doesnt know what to do next, he’ll find the next guy that does and ask him. It almost felt like script meetings Gilroy and his team must have had. Does someone know where this story is going beyond Cross getting off his medication? Will he go after Treadstone and the rest? Will he settle down with Weisz somewhere in Asia, only rousing himself to exact revenge after she gets murdered? No, wait, that’s the plot of the second film. Will the audience stick with us whilst we compare notes?

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Greengrass and Damon set the bar extremely high with Ultimatum and Supremacy. So much so that you only notice when the next Director comes along and tries to pick up the baton. In some ways I hope they get another crack at it, but it really needs a firm direction and killer script. Now Cross is off his medication, what next? Would it be the ultimate if Greengrass and Damon returned and teamed up with Renner? The ultimate Ultimatum if you will. Is that Gilroy’s hope? Like an Avengers film, but set in the Bourne world, hmmm.

Anyway, I’ve written more than I intended and my imagination is getting carried away as usual. What do you guys think of Bourne Legacy? Is it worthy of a follow up film? Or two? Should Gilroy try and get Greengrass back in the driving seat? Would Damon and Renner make a good team? So many questions. Right, where did I put my green pills…

Clooney and Lake Como – the lacklustre American

George ClooneyFor this post I’d like to review a film I watched recently that’s been on DVD for a little while, The American, starring George Clooney. Nothing new you might say, but I like to think my take on it is fresh, or at least personal to me, so here goes.

Question: you’re an up and coming director (Anton Corbijn), how do you get a A-list actor to appear in your film? Answer: show him the script (where not a great deal happens) and explain the film takes place a stone’s throw from his Italian home at Lake Como. Seal the deal by introducing him to the actress he’ll be opposite for much of the film, the achingly beautiful Violante Placido. Then you’re in business!

Ok, maybe I am being a little cynical. I am sure the fact the film was set in Italy didn’t influence Clooney one bit. That said, the sort of minimalist, gritty, European feel to the film was a good way to set the tone. It was a sort of brooding, reflective version of a Bourne film, i.e. an assassin type laying low trying to figure out who is trying to kill him, versus assassin type running around Europe trying to get his memory back, whilst trying to figure out who is trying to kill him.

The AmericanMake no mistake, I am not saying The American compares to the Bourne films in any way, other than a similarity in terms of setting the scene and the European feel. It also shares similar DNA with Hanna, the Joe Wright directed piece that was a sort of modern version of Leon. Actually, come to think of it, a lot of films have followed where Bourne has led, in terms of European setting with short, sharp Krav-maga esque fight sequences. Taken, with Liam Neeson is another example. Although I am moving off the point here, back to The American.

Did Clooney convince as an assassin who had lost his edge? I would say on occasion. Maybe he was let down by the script. In general, just not much happened, it was all fairly slow paced. Maybe that was the idea.  Keep it slow and sleepy then hit the audience with bursts of action, like Clooney chasing an assassin who has caught up with him on a moped – you cannot get more Italian than that!

I suppose, even for a film where an assassin was meant to be in hiding/laying low, most of us want to see more ruthless, assassin type behaviour. The aforementioned scene with the moped chase was short but sweet in that respect. Clooney chasing a hitman who has failed to whack him, shooting out his tyres forcing him to crash, then throttling him. It was quite bad-ass and reminded me of a scene in Out of Sight, where he has to prove he can handle himself in prison, smacking Don Cheadle’s heavy enforcer in the face with a book. ClooneySimilarly, Dusk till Dawn, one of his breakout films, introduced him with more edge, moving away from any heartthrob ER days, less Ocean’s Eleven smugness, more tattoos up his neck and tough attitude.

So, to sum up, I think The American is worth a watch if you’ve got a spare evening, but it’s not vintage Clooney, and it’s not a vintage assassin film either. Maybe a solid 3 out 5 stars. Watchable, but just not that engaging. If you want shots of pretty, picturesque Italian towns and the super sexy Violante Placido, then it’s worth a viewing!