The November Man


One Bond reference too many.

One Bond reference too many.

(2014) Spy Action (Relativity) Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic, Lazar Ristovski, Mediha Musliovic, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Akie Kotabe, Will Patton, Patrick Kennedy, Dragan Marinkovic, Ben Willens, Milos Timotijevic, Dragan Dvojakovic, Tara Jervrosimovic, Nina Mrdja, Milutin Milosevic, Lena Milan. Directed by Roger Donaldson

In a recent interview, Liam Neeson, in describing his character from the film A Walk Among the Tombstones, declared that people need a hero who is a bit of a loner; one who has one foot on the side for justice and one foot on the side that is lawless. Our heroes can’t be completely pure, otherwise we have trouble relating to them.

Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) is an operative for the CIA, a veteran and crafty one at that. His partner and protégé is David Mason (Bracey), a brash and arrogant sort who doesn’t always listen to those with years of experience on him. When on a mission to protect an American ambassador targeted for assassination, Mason’s inability to follow orders ends up with an innocent child getting killed in the crossfire. Devereaux takes early retirement soon after that.

He is running a small bar and cafe in Lausanne, Switzerland when his old friend and handler for the CIA Ray Hanley (Smitrovich) turns up, telling him that a double agent buried deep in the employ of Arkady Federov (Ristovski), a war hero from the Chechnyan civil war and favored to become the next Russian president, has discovered something big and needs to be pulled out. However, Peter is the only agent she trusts to get her out of Russia.

So, reluctantly, Devereaux heads to Moscow to pull out the secretary Natalia Ulanova (Musliovic) and get the flash drive with her information on it. However, things go sideways quickly and Russian security is hot on their tails. A CIA higher-up, Perry Weinstein (Patton) gives the order to terminate the asset. The woman is then shot by a company sniper.

Furious, Devereaux gives chase to the assassins and takes out most of the team. When he discovers who the trigger man is, he is momentarily shocked and walks away. The man who killed the asset – David Mason.

Now, Devereaux and the CIA are in a race to find the one connection that can take down Federov – a girl named Mira Filipova (Mrdja). The girl however seems to have completely disappeared off the face of the Earth – the only link to her is Alice Fournier (Kurylenko), the director of a refugee agency. Luckily, Devereaux gets to her first. However, now the race becomes a game of cat and mouse between Devereaux and the CIA. Just who the cat is and who the mouse is in the equation is anyone’s guess.

Based on the seventh in a series of novels by Bill Granger written back in 1979 in this specific case, the movie combines the action of a Bond film, the realistic spycraft of Le Carre and even elements of the Bourne series. That kind of leaves one with a been there-done that feel pretty much throughout.

The saving grace is Brosnan who steps into the shoes of a superspy and finds them a comfortable fit. He is just as suave and sophistication as he was in his heyday as Bond nearly twenty years ago. He dominates the screen and adds a hint of sadness and weariness to the character that was absent from Bond. Brosnan has done some really good acting jobs in films like The Ghost Writer since hanging up his Walther PPK and there is a level of depth here that wasn’t really necessary in the Bond films but adds additional flavor to the role. It might be the best action hero performance of the year. Devereaux is also far more ruthless, willing to slice open the femoral artery on an innocent girl in order to get in the head of Mason.

The action itself is pretty old school with plenty of car chases and Devereaux being chased by dozens of lethal, highly trained agents but getting away with some ease. He has survived as long as he has by always being a step ahead of his quarry or his pursuers and that aspect of the character looms large throughout the film.

The movie seems anachronistic at times, with modern cutting-edge technology on the one hand, but cell phones with flip cases – which have been out of style for almost a decade now – are everywhere. I’m wondering if that is what is new and cutting edge in Belgrade, where this was mostly filmed. I think not however and no mention is ever made of the action taking place in 2005 or thereabouts which it sometimes seems to be.

There are plenty of twists and turns as you’d expect in an espionage thriller, a little too many for my taste. While I understand the need to keep your audience guessing and as off-balance as the filmmakers can make them, the movie seems overly complicated which it really doesn’t need to be. A story like this can be told without quite so many moving parts and still be quite effective.

As action and espionage thriller material goes, well, it’s what you’d expect to find in the dregs of summer. It’s not anything that is going to make you want to run right out to the theater, but it isn’t anything that will make you regret being there either. It is nice to see Brosnan in the type of role that is right in his wheelhouse and I can’t help hope that there are more roles like it in his future, although he is getting on a bit. Still, while the Devereaux series doesn’t seem to be likely to be continuing any further given the anemic box office for this film, the acclaim for Brosnan makes me think that there may be other producers perhaps ready to hand over to Brosnan the types of roles that Neeson has been getting for the past decade now.

REASONS TO GO: Brosnan is an old pro at these sorts of movies. Some fairly nifty old school action scenes.
REASONS TO STAY: Seems oddly dated. Plot unnecessarily over-complicated.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence, some of it brutal, as well as a sexual assault. There’s a good deal of foul language, some sexuality, brief nudity and one scene in which drugs are used.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When we glimpse Devereaux’s file, the birthday given for Devereaux is the same as Brosnan’s actual birth date. Also, along with Brosnan, Kurylenko also has Bond experience in Quantum of Solace.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Goldeneye
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Life After Beth

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In a World…


Fred Marino offers a skeptical Lake Bell the world.

Fred Marino offers a skeptical Lake Bell the world.

(2013) Comedy (Roadside Attractions) Lake Bell, Rob Corddry, Alexandra Holden, Eva Longoria, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Fred Melamed, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Michaela Watkins, Geena Davis, Stephanie Allynne, Melissa Disney, Olya Milova, Corsica Wilson, Yelena Protsenko, Charly Chaikin, Janicza Bravo, Jason O’Mara, Talulah Riley, Don La Fontaine, Jeff Garlin, Amy Vorpahl. Directed by Lake Bell

If you’re reading this, chances are you like movies enough to pay attention to the trailers. One of the most notable phrases in a trailer is “In a world…” which actually was the trademark of a single man – Don La Fontaine, who essentially for 20 years was the voice of movie trailers. Although there were certainly other voice over artists who worked major studio releases, La Fontaine was The Man pretty much up to his death in 2008.

However, it is true that nearly all the voices you hear shilling movies in their trailers are men – the lone exception being Melissa Disney (who in a nice bit of gracia is given a small role here by Bell) whose voice was once heard extolling the virtues of Gone in 60 Seconds. Carol Solomon (Bell) would like to be the next Big Voice. She is pretty talented too, able to switch to just about any sort of vocal style you can name. In order to better emulate them she likes to record people, sometimes surreptitiously sometimes not to the point where she has been barred from the high end hotel where her sister Dani (Watkins) works as a concierge. However, it’s a nearly impossible field to break in to for a woman so Carol makes due with gigs as a vocal coach helping celebrities like Eva Longoria speak with a believable accent.

What makes it doubly hard is that her father, Sam Sotto (Melamed) is one of the bigwigs in the industry and due to receive a lifetime achievement award. He’s not a candidate for father of the year by any stretch of the imagination – his voice may be sonorous but his soul is not. Carol has been sleeping in his spare room for awhile but Sam kicks her out so that his girlfriend Jamie (Holden) – whom Carol and Dani deride as a groupie – can move in. Carol moves in with Dani and her husband Moe (Corddry).

The “In a world” trailer line is going to be brought back for Hollywood’s hottest property – a quadrilogy called The Amazon Games and while the producers want Sam to do it, Sam magnanimously steps aside so that his good friend and protégé Gustav Warner (Marino) can get the gig but Gustav – whose ego may be even greater than Sam’s – contracts laryngitis and is unable to make the recording session for a temporary track to show the executive producer. Carol is helping Longoria re-record her dialogue in a nearby studio and the engineer, Louis (Martin) suggests that Carol do the temp track.

It turns out that the executive producer is so taken by Carol’s performance that she wants to use Carol for the final track and based on that Carol begins to get work on other trailers as well. Gustav is throwing a party for Sam and his impending award so Carol kind of has to go. Louis is eager to go with her as her date but is too shy to ask her. At the party Gustav hooks up with Carol, not realizing who she is.

Will Carol end up with the selfish Gustav or the shy Louis? Will Moe and Dani be able to overcome their marital problems? And who will be the one to warble the immortal words “In a world”?

This is one of those movies that earns the laughs that it gets. This isn’t one of those “throw everything and the kitchen sink at the screen and see what sticks.” The humor is carefully crafted and a collaboration between Bell, the writer and director of the film and her actors, taking advantage of their strengths as comic actors as well as of their physical appearances.

Bell’s ability with accents and mimicry is part of what stands out about her performance on the surface but if you look a little deeper you’ll find that this is a very layered character who can be selfish and oblivious to the needs of others – obviously the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – and also there’s a great deal of insecurity there as well. She desperately wants to be part of the elite of the industry whose voice is instantly recognizable even if her face isn’t. Somehow, I think the ladies of 20 Feet from Stardom might understand her pretty well.

Bell also shows some skills behind the camera as well, shooting this more in the style of a drama rather than a comedy – Woody Allen is a master of this and Bell delivers a movie that Allen would likely be proud of. However, I think that as a writer she might be most talented of all – this is a smart script that allows each character enough time and space to develop a real personality. They’re not perfect and they’re just flawed enough to be realistic without being annoying. She doesn’t fall into the indie “quirkier-than-thou” trap which a lot of independents tend to do, mistaking neuroses for personality.

Melamed is perfectly cast as the unctuous Sam, full of fake bonhomie and ego but even so there is love in him. Even Gustav, the erstwhile villain, has some redeeming and interesting features. Corddry gets a somewhat different kind of role to play – Moe is less sure of himself and much nicer than what we usually see out of Corddry.

This is really a very good movie, worth seeking out. Bell has always been one of those actresses who does solid but not really noticeable work mainly in second banana roles. Here she is front and center and shows that she is worthy of consideration for higher profile parts – like this one. In a world where the worthy are rewarded for their toil, it would be sure to happen. Seeing as this is planet Hollywood, that is far from a sure thing.

REASONS TO GO: Deceptively funny. Bell is magnificent in front of and behind the camera.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit too Hollywood of an ending.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of foul language including some sexual references and some sexual situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was the winner of the award for Best Screenplay at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: All the Light in the Sky

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

The Mechanic (2011)


The Mechanic

Jason Statham wants to renegotiate his fee.

(2011) Action (CBS) Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Chase, Mini Anden, James Logan, Joshua Bridgewater, Mark Anthony Nutter, John McConnell, Lara Grice, Ada Michelle Loridans, Eddie Fernandez, Lance Nichols, J.D. Evermore. Directed by Simon West

Being an assassin is a lonely business. Killing people for hire tends to breed a certain amount of paranoia into one’s makeup; meticulous planning leads to success in this world, and those who allow a human interaction into the mix are just begging for trouble.

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is the best in the world at what he does. He’s a mechanic, a professional hitman who takes care of problems. He is adept at any sort of hit; be it one that looks like an accident or natural occurrence, or one that sends a message. He is employed by a shadowy company that rents out hired killers to wealthy clients, although Bishop’s hits are apparently only criminals and terrorists. As John Cusack said in a similar role in Grosse Point Blank, “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to deserve it.”

After taking care of a Columbian drug lord (Logan) in a typically efficient and professional manner, Bishop returns home to New Orleans to meet with his mentor and corporate contact Harry McKenna (Sutherland) to receive his payment. The two banter about like old friends, which they are; bitching about corporate politics and Harry’s somewhat useless son Steve (Foster) from whom he is estranged. Bishop then goes home to his gorgeous house on the bayou which is accessible only by boat

Not long thereafter Harry meets an untimely end. Bishop is none too thrilled about it, but he has issues to take care of. Harry’s son Steve also shows up, angry at the world and ready to take out a random carjacker (Bridgewater) in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bishop shows up just in time to avert a stupid act of vengeance that would have ruined Steve’s life and agrees to take him on as a protégé. He trains him not only in the skill of firing weapons but in the art of killing. He even takes him along on the job to watch him kill a gunrunner (Evermore), a kind of “take your surrogate kid to work day” exercise.

The two then go after a couple of victims on their own, a rival mechanic (Chase) and a preacher/cult leader named Vaughn (McConnell). Due to Steve’s sloppiness and inability to follow instructions, they both turn messy. About then they discover that the death of Steve’s dad was ordered by Dean (Goldwyn), a high-ranking executive of the company which coupled with the botched assignments makes them a corporate liability. The mechanics become problems for other mechanics to fix. Can they get to Dean before he gets to them?

This is a remake of a 1972 film with Charles Bronson in the title role and Jan-Michael Vincent as Steve. That one, directed by frequent Bronson collaborator Michael Winner, was much more noir than this and like many films from the era had a somewhat fatalistic atmosphere. Some of the conceits of that movie don’t really translate well to this era of filmmaking, so the movie is different (although not radically so) than the original.

Director West, who has a mentor of his own in Michael Bay (West is best known for directing Con Air), is a strong action director and knows how to appeal to the hearts of men everywhere. There is nary a woman to be seen except as hookers (Anden) and victims (Grice and Loridans, whose arm Bishop threatens to stuff down a garbage disposal to motivate her dad for information).

Jason Statham was a wise bit of casting. Like Bronson, he plays it close to the vest emotionally. He conveys amusement with a little half-smile and annoyance with a half-frown. He is the perfect ice cold killer, which is what the character needs to be. He bares his chest and then some in the opening moments of the film, and ladies will get a nice up close look at nearly all of him later in the movie; for the guys, he kicks ass without ever breaking a sweat. However, it must be said he has the best stubble beard in the business.

Foster is an up-and-coming actor who already has an Oscar nomination under his belt; although this is most assuredly not going to win him his next one, I think that he’s going to win gold in that department in the very near future. He gives Steve menace and vulnerability at once, as well as a sexual ambiguity that adds some spice to the role. It’s a magnificent portrayal and well worth the price of admission for his performance alone.

The movie is a bit too workmanlike. My problem with it is that Bishop is so good that even when things go south you never get a sense that he’s in danger. He always seems to be two or three steps ahead of everybody else. He’s a bit like Superman in that regard; Superman is so strong and so invulnerable that it’s pretty hard to convey a sense of jeopardy. Bishop needs a really strong opponent and there isn’t one in the movie. No kryptonite here, either.

Still, it’s got all the elements you need in an action film – fast pacing, great stunts, things blowing up, a couple of hot naked (or nearly naked) babes and lots and lots of guns. While action movies have less cachet since the era of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, this one at least is a decent enough entry in the genre. Action fans will certainly be satisfied.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent action sequences. Foster is really good in his role. There may be no better action star at the moment than Jason Statham.

REASONS TO STAY: You rarely get a sense that there is any danger for Arthur Bishop – he’s almost too good for there to be a sense of jeopardy here.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect in a movie about an assassin, there’s lots of violence and a couple of disturbing on-screen murders. There’s also plenty of foul language, some nudity and sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sarah, the role played by Anden, was played by Jill Ireland in the original 1972 version (Ireland was then-wife to Charles Bronson). The character in that movie had no name and was listed in the credits as “The Girl.” 

HOME OR THEATER: The action sequences don’t have that epic a quality to them; the explosions might work better on the big screen. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all a matter of personal preference whether or not you want to see it at home or in a theater; you make the call.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Way Back