The November Man

 

The November Man is a decent enough spy thriller but it may seem like others you’ve seen before. Interestingly, even before its release, word is already out that the film will have a sequel.

In The November Man, Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is an ex-CIA agent who is recruited come back and help bring down the Russian Federov (Lazar Ristovski) who is in line to become the country’s next president. Devereaux’s first step, getting a woman out of Russia, fails, thanks to the bullets of another CIA team.

Turns out that the unfriendly fire came from a group led by young David Mason (Luke Bracey), an agent who trained under Devereaux and years before was chastised by Devereaux for screwing up a mission and killing a child.

Devereaux goes to Belgrade to protect Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) from nasty Russian assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic). Alice has the goods on Federov and his mistreatment of civilians during the Chechen war versus Russia.

Pierce Brosnan is a likeable actor who still carries some heft at age 61. And Luke Bracey, an Aussie who’s had little exposure on U.S. screens, is solid enough for the role as Brosnan/Devereaux’s CIA ally/rival.

Some of the film’s plot elements may leave you scratching your head and wondering, “why did they do that?” But it all comes together—sort of—at the end and good overcomes evil once more.

Whether you want to see The November Man depends on how big a Pierce Brosnan fan you are. This is not quite as iconic a role as Bond, but, presuming this film and its sequel do okay, it could become a trademark role for the sexegenerian.

 

 

 

 

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

 

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is beautiful and ugly—at the same time. The screen is filled with memorable images demonstrating the stark contrast between darkness and light. It’s a movie in basic black and white with color added sparingly to highlight key elements. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is, stylistically, gorgeous to look at.

The ugly part comes from the bad behavior of the film’s characters. Gunplay, along with sword and arrow play, result in generous splattering of blood and moans of anguish. Though much of the damage to various bodies is presented with over-the-top, comic book unrealism, there’s enough grisly stuff here to elicit the occasional cringe.

The film’s voiceover narrations in classic film noir fashion are perfect. Dwight (Josh Brolin), Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) deliver monologues that advance the film’s plot and provide a window into their private thoughts.

Of the film’s stories, the most compelling is that of Dwight and the unhappily married Ava (Eva Green). He knows that she’s manipulative and will lead to trouble, be he can’t resist her charms. Green is model-thin but busty and unclothed for a great portion of her time onscreen. She is the dame to kill for. My favorite shot in the film is her dive into a swimming pool with the pool surface mirroring her graceful form.

After Dwight is roughed up, he visits the hookers in Sin City’s sleaze strip called Old Town. Led by Gail (Rosario Dawson), they heal his serious wounds. With help from the hookers, including the ninja-like Miho (Jamie Chung), and the fierce and enormous Marv, he goes back to exact his revenge.

Two other stories involve the evil Senator Roark (Powers Booth). He and his henchmen bring terror and pain to Johnny following Johnny’s big win at the poker table. And stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) looks to avenge Roark’s killing of her guy Hartigan (Bruce Willis).

As with 2005’s Sin City, the new SC:ADTKF is more about look and characters than about the narrative. When good and evil intersect, there’s conflict. And there’s plenty of conflict to go around.

Other cast members worth mentioning are Dennis Haysbert, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach and Ray Liotta. (And the lineup of classic cars is very cool.)

Co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez have created one of my favorites of 2014. For fans of the film noir genre and the comic/graphic novel print format, as well as for those who appreciate the visual art of cinema, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is one to see and enjoy!

 

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

 

It’s always a good thing when a film turns out to be better than expected. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of those movies, though maybe its release could’ve been better timed.

April O’Neill (Megan Fox) is a New York TV reporter who wants to break the story of the vigilantes who are foiling bad guys but she can’t produce hard evidence of their existence. Her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) urges her to stick to the fluff stories she’s assigned.

When April finally gets the scoop on the TMNTs she can’t spill the beans, lest she blow their cover and sabotage their efforts. She and Will join in to help the Turtles stop the evil Foot Clan.

In this origin story, the four TMNTs are shown to have been spawned by a lab episode gone wrong. Turns out April’s dad was killed in an accident in that same lab and the tiny turtles who morphed into the TMNTs had been April’s pets back in the day. Small world, huh?

This campy tale brings to mind certain aspects of the Batman saga, such as the secrecy and the revenge factor. TMNT has some funny stuff, but can’t quite match up to last week’s release, Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s violence galore in this PG-13 rated film with a couple of battle sequences that last just a bit too long.

TMNT is a fun action film that offers great effects and a few neat surprises. If you like this sort of movie, see it and enjoy it.

But it is likely to be buried at the box office this weekend by Guardians of The Galaxy, which has great momentum and strong word-of-mouth buzz. GOTG should hold on to its #1 standing again this weekend. Had TMNT been released earlier this summer it might’ve had a better shot at hitting a box office homerun.

 

 

The Hundred Foot Journey

 

The Hundred-Foot Journey has excellent credentials. Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg are among the film’s producers. The great Helen Mirren is the main star. The film is set in France. It’s based on a popular novel. It promises and delivers gorgeous food images.

But it’s not a particularly good movie.

The Kadam family is forced to leave India. Their ultimate destination is France. They take over a building directly across the street from a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). The Indians, led by Papa (Om Puri), are boisterous in sharp contrast to Mallory and her refined crew. They are just 100 feet away. (And I’d always thought France was on the metric system!)

One of Mallory’s cooks, the gorgeous Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), befriends young Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), sharing cookbooks with him and encouraging him to elevate his ambitions. He gets hired by Mallory, passes Marguerite on the kitchen pecking order and, thanks to his spicing up the food just a bit, brings the restaurant up a notch to two Michelin stars.

He then moves on the to big leagues, nabbing a chef gig in Paris. He leads an active social lifestyle, but begins to miss the folks back home.

Why does The Hundred-Foot Journey fall short of greatness? The characters are not particularly compelling. It’s pleasant to watch Hassan and Marguerite’s chaste budding romance, but I wasn’t particularly concerned about their ultimate fates. Meanwhile, it’s not a surprise when Papa and Mallory are shown to have soft spots in their hearts despite their tough exterior personalities. Still, I did not have a soft spot in my own heart for either of them.

Despite my misgivings, here’s why you may want to see The Hundred Foot Journey: It’s rated PG. No language, sex or violence. It’s like a Hallmark Channel movie with a bigger budget. Also, the food looks great. (Although this year’s other foodie movie, Chef, caused me to leave the theater hungrier than THFJ did.)

The film’s message—that different cultures (and cuisines) can combine to deliver great outcomes—is an admirable one. It’s also one that can be observed in dining establishments and other businesses around St. Louis every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get On Up

 

The number one reason to see Get On Up is to witness the performance of Chadwick Boseman. He’s fantastic—singing, dancing and acting.

The story of singer James Brown (Boseman) is cleverly told out of sequence by director Tate Taylor and screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Episodes depict performances as well as Brown’s dealings with family, fellow musicians and strangers.

James Brown’s dysfunctional upbringing led him to unsavory behaviors as an adult. That rough childhood also gave him the will to be his own man, not dependent on others.

The musical performances in locales from Vietnam to Paris to the Apollo Theater in Harlem to the set of the movie Ski Party to a Cincinnati recording studio are uniformly excellent and fun to watch. If Boseman really did all those dance moves, he proved himself to be just as athletic here than as he was in last year’s 42 biopic where he starred as baseball great Jackie Robinson.

Brown and mom Susie (Viola Davis) had a troubled relationship. His abandonment issues resurface in a tearful reunion. Brown was abusive to his wife Dee Dee (Jill Scott, who makes a strong impression in her minimal screen time) but she hung in with him. Brown’s up and down relationship with musician Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) is resolved in the movie’s final half hour.

Unlike many black characters from all eras in modern movies, in Get On Up, James Brown has an authentic Southern black dialect. Hats off to the filmmaker for making that choice. Boseman nails the memorable rasp in JB’s voice.

Get On Up could use a bit of tightening up. But despite its just-a-bit-too-long run time, the film reveals much about a man who was a genuine pop icon. And whether you are/were a James Brown fan or not, Boseman’s performance will impress you.

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy

 

Guardians of the Galaxy is a big ol’ chunk of sci-fi fantasy fun. Because of its characters, the film resembles a cartoon. But it’s all live action, with some help from computer-generated images. St. Louis native James Gunn directed and co-wrote the script.

Earthling Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) AKA Star-Lord is a child of the 80’s who grooves on music from the 70’s. (Come And Get Your Love by Redbone is the film’s opening theme.) He’s the quasi-leader of this motley crew, similar to Han Solo, but with more flaws and funnier.

Rocket Raccoon is a CGI figure that could pass for real. He’s voiced by Bradley Cooper and has a sardonic smart-ass attitude and several good laugh lines.

Another CGI guy is Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel. Groot—who resembles a big tree—is not particularly graceful but he gets to play a vital role as the 5 guardians try to save the galaxy.

Rounding out the team are Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an alien assassin with bad attitude and Drax (Dave Bautista). You saw Saldana as a blue character in Avatar; here she’s green. Drax is an enormous hulk of a creature with a violent streak.

The film’s plot centers around a mysterious orb that Quill has stolen. Bad guy Ronan (Lee Pace) and his henchmen and women want it back.

The story is not why you want to see GOTG. You want to meet and enjoy these characters, especially Quill. This role appears to be a star-making turn for Chris Pratt. (He also was a key player in another of the year’s better films, The Lego Movie. He voiced lead character Emmet Brickowski.)

Another reason to embrace Guardians of the Galaxy is its cool oldies soundtrack. From Go All The Way by Raspberries to It Takes Two by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Good stuff!

Is GOTG suitable for younger kids? It’s rated PG-13, so this is where moms and dads will have to exercise real parental guidance. Today’s 8 and 10 year olds may have been exposed to more violent images than Millenials born just a few years earlier, so recommending a minimum age is dicey. But the content has huge kid appeal.

Presuming that your age is well into double digits, I have no qualms about recommending Guardians of the Galaxy to everyone. Big fun!

 

 

 

 

Boyhood

 

Even if director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood had turned out to be a poor or mediocre movie, the project would still be recognized as a noble effort. The fact that he has delivered an excellent film is a lucrative payoff for the time and the risk invested in the making of Boyhood.

Boyhood is a genius piece of filmmaking. Linklater and key cast members got together for filming every year for 12 years. We see Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow from a small child with a high-pitched voice into a man. And it’s the same actor from start to finish!

That alone would be enough to make Boyhood an interesting curiosity item. The better news is that Linklater tells a compelling story of Mason and his family as they move through those 12 years.

Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) are Mason’s divorced parents. As Mason’s life gains focus, so do those of his parents. Mason’s slightly older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) grows up before the audience’s eyes as well. But the central spotlight is on Mason.

As he goes through the stages of boyhood that most males experience, he also does a few things particular to his generation, such as playing modern video game systems and getting a youthful glimpse of internet porn. As he grows into a young man he becomes an accomplished photographer.

When I heard about the project, I’d feared that Boyhood would be shot as if it were a slice of life, in documentary fashion, like many so-called “reality” TV shows. Instead, Boyhood is presented as a traditional movie narrative about the ups and downs of Mason and his family. Honestly, Linklater’s story has plenty of meaningful moments without the manufactured conflicts of a reality show.

Boyhood will certainly be on many 2014 top ten lists. Richard Linklater will likely receive several awards nominations.

But what about Ellar Coltrane? Because inept juvenile actors can derail the best work of moviemakers, mere competence from Stone would be enough to keep the project on track. But he has great screen presence and handles the role masterfully—from early childhood through adolescence into the beginning of adulthood. Those awards organizations that tend to embrace new talent could easily be honoring him at year’s end.

Boyhood is a must-see for serious movie fans. It’s a bit long at 2 hours, 45 minutes, so budget some extra time to enjoy the brilliance of Boyhood.

 

A Most Wanted Man

 

A Most Wanted Man is a movie that asks two questions: 1. In the spy game, can you trust anybody? And 2. Will Philip Seymour Hoffman win a posthumous Oscar? (Answers are “no” and “maybe.”)

Günther Bachman (Hoffman) is a chain-smoking German espionage schlub working on a plan to expose—and halt—an operation that’s transferring money from to terrorist organizations. A new arrival in Hamburg from Chechnya is central to Heinrich’s scheme. Gunther is working angles with a variety of players, managing to manipulate certain activities but needing cooperation to make other pieces fall into place.

Martha (Robin Wright—with black hair!) is an American spy whose motives are parallel to those of Gunther’s. Annabel (Rachel McAdams) is a lawyer who helps conceal Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) from authorities who would deport him back to Chechnya before he can get his hands on a large sum of money. Tommy (Willem Dafoe) is the banker whose efforts are vital to Gunter’s plan.

Hoffman’s acting skills are top notch as usual but this is not the kind of role that screams for an Oscar nomination. However, his untimely passing coupled with the admiration of his talent by the movie community, could lead to year-end honors. Some online commenters have called PSH’s German accent into question, but Sally Field and Tom Hanks won Oscars with unauthentic Southern accents, so that issue should be moot.

A Most Wanted Man has a story that requires strict attention to the cast of characters and their respective needs and wants. No running out for more popcorn during this film—too much going on. A Most Wanted Man is not a likely crowd-pleaser. But if you enjoy a dark, heavy spy film, and/or you are a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting, don’t miss it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And So It Goes

 

And So It Goes is a nice, sweet, occasionally funny romantic comedy for older people. It stars Michael Douglas, age 69, and Diane Keaton, age 68. Rob Reiner, age 67, is the director. Good to see that some outfits still hire people over 60!

Oren (Douglas) is a real estate salesman who has issues: resentment, anger, selfishness, etc. A decade after his wife’s death, he’s selling his family home in a well-to-do Connecticut community. He has moved into a four-plex next door to a widow, Leah (Keaton). She is a torch song singer who often becomes so emotionally involved in her songs that she often can’t finish her set.

Oren’s ex-addict adult son Kyle (Austin Lysy) saddles Oren with a 10-year-old granddaughter to care for while Kyle goes to jail. When Oren is initially cool to the girl, Leah is warm and welcoming. Young Sarah (Sterling Jerins) even calls Leah “grandma.” Over time Oren’s heart softens and he works to heal the emotional damage in his life. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to share that he falls hard for Leah.

And So It Goes has a decent number of laughs scattered neatly throughout the film, along with a couple of comic characters. Reiner appears as Leah’s accompanist (and would-be suitor) Artie wearing a laughably horrible toupee. Presumably to make the lead characters appear younger by comparison, Oren’s co-worker Claire (84-year-old Francis Sternhagen) is a hoot as a chain-smoking quipster.

And So It Goes is another film with a generic title that gives little clue as to the film’s content. (Other recent films guilty of this same crime include Begin Again and Enough Said.) Are all the good titles taken?

Because older folks do go to movies, it’s good to see a film with mature lead characters in theaters. And So It Goes is not a film that makes a big impact, but it’s likely to make people—especially fans of Douglas and Keaton—happy. And that, as Martha Stewart likes to say, is a good thing.

Sex Tape

Sex Tape is not a dirty movie. Yes, there’s nudity and sexual content and language galore but this film is designed to tickle more than titillate.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are a loving married couple. In college, they had sex and lots of it, as illustrated by a hookup montage near the beginning of Sex Tape. But, as often happens with married couples, work and kids seriously impact their carnal couplings.

On a night when the kids are at mom’s, Annie and Jay go for it. Do they ever! They shoot for every position shown in the book The Joy of Sex. After 3 hours they are exhausted.

The next day Jay becomes aware that he has unknowingly shared the video with several people to whom he had given iPads. Jay and Annie go on a mission to recover those iPads. Their close friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper) are recruited to accompany them.

In a brilliant casting move, a key player in the film is Rob Lowe, who famously starred in a real life sex tape 1988. In Sex Tape, Lowe is Hank, a narcissistic marketing guy who wants to sign Annie to blog for his toy company.

Since he has one of the iPads, they go to his house. While Hank and Annie’s conversation leads to his offering her cocaine, Jay runs through the house looking for the iPad while being chased by a German Shepherd.

After Jay is finally satisfied that the iPads are wiped clean of the recording of their coital marathon, he learns that it has been uploaded to the internet. He and Annie—and their kids!—drive to the website’s headquarters to break in and destroy the computer servers. What happens when they get there won’t be revealed here.

When Jay is handed a thumb drive that contains the last remaining copy of their sex tape, he and Annie finally watch the thing, portions of which are included in the Sex Tape film. There’s some funny stuff here!

Sex Tape is the perfect film for a married couple date night. (Even if you’ve never made a sex tape.) Segel and Diaz are funny and charming. Rob Lowe is weirdly amusing. Unless you’re prudish, go and laugh.