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CIA-trained killer Jason Bourne is still in search of his identity in The Bourne Ultimatum. The third instalment in the amnesiac’s saga whisks us through Moscow, Russia, Turin, Italy, Tangier, Morocco, and New York, unspecified. Early on it plunges breathlessly into a cracking action sequence in rush-hour Waterloo (London, England, not Belgium) as CIA operatives try to foil a meeting between our hero and Fleet Street’s finest. This is The Guardian’s security correspondent, who, given that he fails to notice a passer-by dumping an alien mobile phone in his pocket and panics at the sight of a litter-collector, may have made an unwise career choice. Or so our hero suspects, to judge by his snarl of “This isn’t a story in a noospaper – this is real”, a nice distinction. It doesn’t prevent the Guardian man being shot, a victim of London public transport’s notorious overcrowding.
Director Paul Greengrass piles on the action at a breathless pace, which perhaps fortunately leaves no time to think. Matt Damon has matured impressively as the agent struggling to fill in the gaps between hazy glimpses of his murderous past. David Strathairn makes a superb villain in the heart of the CIA. Albert Finney is the no-neck monster scientist who, it transpires, created Bourne the killer. A rattling yarn exuberantly told, crunchingly violent but not too sadistic, give or take the odd Guardian journalist.
Tension of a different sort in Ecoute le temps from French-based Lithuanian Alanté Kavaïté. Here is the French countryside at its most sinister: sideways glances from hostile natives, inbred yokels, disappearing children, corrupt politicians . . . On top of it all, townie Charlotte, investigating her mother’s murder, discovers she can pick up sounds from the past on her recording engineer equipment – perhaps even her mother’s conversation with her killer. Emilie Dequenne has the look of a young Isabelle Huppert in this astonishingly assured and atmospheric first feature. But be careful if you’re tempted by that picturesquely crumbling rusticity going cheap across the Channel.
12:08 East of Bucharest is another intriguing sign of Romania’s confident new cinema. The central European tradition of failed aspirations, lost ideals and forlorn eccentrics goes back to early Forman, or indeed Chekhov, but the Latin Romanians bring their own awareness of the distant big city alternately beckoning and frightening. Cornelius Porumboiu evokes the bleak provincialism of Fellini’s Vitelloni as much as the wistful cosiness of Forman’s Firemen’s Ball.
This is managed as a basic three-hander facing the camera, as seen in a TV chat-show. A self-important host questions two locals about their memories of the 1989 revolution; phone-in callers contradict, ramble, abuse, threaten legal action. Beautiful performances run the gamut from petty bullying to glum resignation. Today Chekhov would be working in films.
But possibly not in Marigold. Bollywood cheerfully meets – not Hollywood, exactly, more straight-to-video. Bitchy American actress Marigold, star of films “with numbers in the title” (Basic Instinct 3, Indecent Proposal 2), stranded in India, finds love and fulfilment in the local movie world. The silliness is rather engaging thanks to a likeable cast led by Ali Larter – much too nice for the bitchiness – who falls for a brilliantly talented choreographer, charismatic, irresistibly sexy yet scrupulously moral, unwaveringly idealistic – and a prince! He is played with disarming complacency by Bollywood idol Salman Khan, who, we are told, closely participated in developing the screenplay; which one can believe.
As escapist rom-com Marigold is infinitely preferable to the leaden Sparkle. At best it recalls those 1960s films about young chancers in swinging London, the obligatory party scene invariably including (as here) two women embracing. Liverpudlian Sam comes south with his mum – and the total lack of connection between Shaun Evans and Lesley Manville sums up the absence of electricity between the characters, all of whom could have been filmed in different studios on different continents and edited together. Inertly plotted, haltingly paced, further embarrassed by Bob Hoskins in shyly lovesick mode, this broken-backed mess is fitfully illuminated by Anthony Head in a camp turn and the American Stockard Channing, her style as immaculate as her English accent.
Eagle vs Shark lays on the whimsy with a trowel, almost smothering the real talent of an endearing cast. Provincial New Zealand: sweet wallflower Lily, a burger bar waitress, shyly adores oafish Jarrod, whose dorkish passion for video games is equalled only by his vengeful brooding about childhood bullying. Imagine quirkiness to the point of weirdness – the wilder reaches of early Mike Leigh, Ayckbourn’s dottier obsessives. Endearing; but less would mean more, and there should be some character with a mental age greater than 10, simply for contrast’s sake.
Copying Beethoven comes with respectable credentials. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, it stars Ed Harris as the composer in his last days. A female copyist – and, heaven forfend, aspiring composer – lends a pen with the manuscript to the Choral besides emptying the master’s chamber pot, scrubbing the floor and washing his torso; all with Diane Kruger’s flawless complexion, wrinkle-free thanks to her avoidance of any facial expression.
Beethoven shouts a lot, talks about art, is grumpy but lovable. A number of well-known British actors (Ralph Riach, Bill Stewart) adopt American accents. Phyllida Law’s mother superior stays resolutely English to deliver lines such as “Dreams can be wonderful – but they can be dangerous” but inexplicably fails to launch into “Climb Every Mountain”. Joe Anderson winsomely plays the composer’s nephew with touching reliance on an old-fashioned teeth-and-smile approach. The potted version of the Ninth Symphony does no favours to anyone. One scene is cribbed from Amadeus, one bon mot, about dogs walking on hind legs, from Dr Johnson (unattributed). Immortal Beloved with Gary Oldman, for all its romantic excesses, conveyed more of Beethoven than this amateurishly written, scarcely acted tosh.
Phyllida Law reappears to lend Scottish nanny tones to a Canadian-set children’s adventure shot in New Zealand by an Anglo-German group. The kids are bearable, the adults likeable (or, where appropriate, hissably horrible), the titular Mee-Shee: The Water Giant not terribly convincing (the Loch Ness Walrus?) but as it’s meant to be lovable rather than frightening, this hardly matters.