Review: “The November Man”

The November Man

It’s been 12 years since Pierce Brosnan last donned his James Bond tuxedo, but the 61-year-old still has a few spy tricks up his sleeve.

In “The November Man,” Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a retired government agent who gets called back in when a former love interest is in trouble. When the mission inevitably goes south, Devereaux finds himself hunted by the US government and the young operative (Luke Bracey) he trained years earlier.

The story, an adaptation of the Bill Granger book, “There Are No Spies,” is fairly by the numbers as far as international spy films go. There are easy comparisons to films like “The Bourne Identity” and “Taken” and though the story has a few twists and turns along the way, they aren’t too surprising. If you’ve seen one spy movie, you are familiar with what kind of clichés these films tend to contain.

One thing that makes the film a little more interesting is that Brosnan’s Devereaux isn’t really a hero or anti-hero by general definition. Closer to the former, the character does a few things in the film that are cold-blooded for anyone you are supposed to be rooting for. At one point he even slices a woman’s leg in order to evade capture.

Despite a few stereotypical aspects to the film, it does move along at an entertaining pace, never wandering into mindless action or utter boredom. Most of the action is pretty average as there are few tough fight scenes. Matt Damon and Daniel Craig may have recently influenced the genre with their signature fight choreography but Brosnan is still roughly the same age as fellow Irishman Liam Neeson.

One actress who has been a bit of a wild card for the last few years is Ukrainian Olga Kurylenko. She has been in two video game adaptations (“Max Payne” and “Hitman”), Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” a James Bond film (“Quantum of Solace”), and last year’s “Oblivion.” Although it’s rarely, if ever, her fault, she often appears in films that are massive letdowns. On top of that, she almost always plays a woman who has been a victim of rape and/or addicted to drugs. Talk about unfortunate typecasting. She gives another decent performance here as a witness that Brosnan must protect from the CIA and a Russian assassin.

Aside from these two, most of the characters are bland or a little too hammy. Devereaux’s former trainee, Mason (Bracey), is a severely underwritten character. We never get much of a backstory on him, his character motivations change on a whim, and his dialogue is merely passable. There’s also a just-here-for-the-paycheck performance by Will Patton and Bill Smitrovich chews up the scenery as Brosnan’s former boss.

“The November Man” isn’t a film that you would include in any “Best of” lists but it’s an entertaining spy adventure for the post-summer theatergoers. A little more development of the characters, more memorable action sequences and some better writing would have made the film a vast improvement.

Grade: C+

Happy viewing.

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Review: “When the Game Stands Tall”

Jim Caviezel;Alexander Ludwig;Michael Chiklis;Matthew Daddario;Jessie T Usher

Not too long ago, inspirational sports films were nearly as prevalent as the superhero films of the last few years. As cycles come and go in the film industry, the sun set on the sports films right around the time that Bernie Mac and Terrence Howard coached an inner city swim team in 2007’s “Pride.”

Though their time in the sun has passed, Hollywood still allows a couple to trickle through theaters every now and then. This year has seen “50 to 1,” a horse racing film, “From the Rough,” a golf film starring Taraji P. Henson, and now “When the Game Stands Tall,” a football film just in time for the kickoff to fall.

The film chronicles the true tale of the De La Salle Spartans, a high school football team that snapped a 151-game winning streak. Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) preaches honor and integrity to his players, focusing more on molding them into men than making sure the school has a full trophy case. His principles and devotion have led the team to the longest winning streak in the history of sports, amateur or professional. When tragedy strikes the team and the streak comes to an end, they have to regain their focus and start rebuilding the program.

The film also stars a bearded Michael Chiklis as Ladoucer’s assistant coach, Laura Dern as Mrs. Ladoucer, and up-and-comer Alexander Ludwig as the team’s star athlete looking to break the career touchdown record.

If you watch the trailer, it may seem like a made-for-TV version of a film you’ve already seen several times before. You wouldn’t be too far off. Though the discipline and values that the film strives to teach are admirable, they’re not exactly new ideas. Despite being a true story, the film comes across as someone checking off a list of sport movie clichés while the audience waits for the inevitably predictable conclusion.

The first 15 minutes of the film sets it up for failure by featuring some of the worst editing I’ve seen in a major feature film. Even knowing the story going in, I felt like I was playing catch-up as the story shot back and forth in timeline, set up “the streak,” and introduced a half-dozen characters with different storylines that end up not even being essential to the film’s plot. Everything after these first few scenes seems brilliant by comparison.

Sadly the script also fails to deliver any interesting dialogue or even a cool pre-game speech. It all seems pulled from everyday life, but not in a good, authentic way. It’s more like you combined a rehash of every other sport film with the mundane conversation you had at work yesterday. The story of De La Salle High School is worth a film being made, but a documentary might have hit the nail on the head more effectively.

Even the worst script can be made better if the actor is behind it and breathing life into it, but Jim Caviezel seems ultimately bored with the material and, especially, the character he’s playing. Everything is spoken with a flat tone that would make even a decent script seem rough. The only actor who really seems to care is Ludwig, who has made a pretty good name for himself since being the little kid in “Race to Witch Mountain” (Yes, that’s him. We all feel old.) Though his character is extremely reminiscent of Garret Hedlund’s Don Billingsley in “Friday Night Lights,” he does well with the material to try and make it his own.

The saving grace of the film is that the scenes on the field are pretty fun to watch. There’s a lot of slow motion, hurdling, and stiff-arming to keep you entertained and the sound effects of each hit are a perfect crunching sound.

“When the Game Stands Tall” doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but it’s a family friendly film being released at the perfect time of year for its subject matter. The game of football itself is what makes the film watchable. If you are not a fan of the game and you’re looking for a really great film, I suggest looking elsewhere.

Grade: C

Happy viewing.

Another Piece on Robin Williams

Robin Williams

There are by now, I’m sure, thousands of articles available on the Internet about the passing of the comedic genius Robin Williams. Why write another? Because if you’re anything like me, Williams was more than just an actor or stand-up comedian. He was a friend, a father figure, and a guide into worlds that were before unknown.

Though he was originally known for outlandish characters, he eventually made a name for himself in dramatic acting with films like “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting,” for which he won an Academy Award. Aside from those listed already, some of my favorites from his filmography are “Patch Adams,” “What Dreams May Come,” “Insomnia,” and “Hook.”

I can still remember the day that I saw “Patch Adams” for the first time. It was a day or two after Christmas ’98. I went to the theater with my brother and cousins because even at an early age we knew that Robin Williams was a funny guy. Was it a masterpiece? Of course not. However the film left an impression on me that has stuck with me to this day: The importance of laughter in life can never be overstated. Not exactly “Carpe diem” but it’s something that has affected me for the better through the years. It is one of many influences that have allowed me to overcome the tough days and to embrace the hope of a better tomorrow.

Comedy, and art in general, has the ability to pierce into our souls and provide a truth that we didn’t even know we were looking for. The stories we view on the silver screen can shape who we are just as much as any person in our lives. That’s why the passing of great actors (especially those who die too soon) is always a burden we’d rather not face.

Sadly in the case of Robin Williams, it appears that his own demons were the cause of death. There was no plane crash or sudden explosion, only the internal struggle of a man drowning in despair. It is a sad cliché that some of our funniest entertainers quietly suffer from what they deem a hopeless existence. Mental health is a puzzle whose pieces we are only beginning to run our fingers around.

As we take a few moments to mourn this great actor, here are a few of his most memorable scenes. The park scene from “Good Will Hunting” is often thought of as his best.

Whichever film or scene you most treasure from his work, Williams will be remembered for the laughs he provided to audiences in the past and to future generations as well. I will miss his wild antics and booming voice. I will miss his quick-witted humor and dramatic roles. I will miss the friend who taught me to laugh, even on days such as this when I don’t want to.

Thank you for contributing a verse.

PS-This seems as good a place as any to remind those reading this in America that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

Happy viewing.

Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Guardians of the Galaxy

With only a couple of quality films under its belt, Summer 2014 was looking like a major bust for the film industry. Things started well with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” recently breathed a little life into the box office. Just as it looked like the summer might end with a whimper, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is here to revolutionize the superhero genre.

After he is beamed aboard a spaceship as a child, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is raised by smugglers and scavengers. During the course of a big score, a bounty is put on his head that draws the likes of Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). After a series of events lands them in jail, they come across Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who is on a vengeful path to kill Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). As it so happens, Ronan is also after an artifact that is possessed by Quill, who also goes by Star Lord.

Thus the Guardians of the Galaxy come together as assassins, thieves, and…tree things to fight Ronan and save the planet he intends to destroy.

The concept of the film is a pretty tall order as it has traces of “Star Wars” but carries the attitude of a Saturday morning cartoon. Fortunately, James Gunn is at the helm and he understands the material perfectly. His direction is fun, though fairly by-the-numbers, and makes the film reach its full potential. The previous Marvel films have all favored a lighter tone mixed with their heroes, but this latest film has perfected the formula and delivered the most entertaining film of the summer.

“Guardians” is one of the, if not THE, best casted superhero films of all time. From Pratt and the rest of the heroes to Pace’s Ronan and even the superb choice of Michael Rooker as Yondu, the smuggler who raised Quill. This film started with a leg up because each character has the right person playing them.

While it certainly delivers on the laughs, a superhero space film without good special effects and action sequences would be a waste of time. Luckily, there’s nothing to worry about on those fronts. Though “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” might have the film beat on fight scenes, there are more than enough fisticuffs and explosions to suit your summer blockbuster needs.

The plot alone is compelling enough to warrant the ticket price, but it’s the characters that make the film worth remembering. The opening scene of the film establishes its heart by showing us Quill’s life on earth before he is abducted. That heart continues throughout the film with the relationship between the characters and their backstories. Even Drax the Destroyer is an endearing character and Bautista plays him with the perfect amount of rage and humor. One of the best relationships of the film is between Rocket and Groot, the group’s least human characters. Rocket is a raccoon who can fight as well as talk after some nasty lab experiments and Groot is essentially a talking tree (granted he only says “I am Groot”) that can beat the sap out of some bad guys. Their Han Solo/Chewbacca relationship is one of the films more heartwarming qualities.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was such a weird concept that it was either going to bust or be the biggest hit of the summer. I’m glad to report that the latter is, in fact, true.

Grade: A+

Happy viewing.