Movie Review: “The November Man”

Starring
Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Will Patton, Bill Smitrovich
Director
Roger Donaldson

Think of “The November Man” as “Mission: Impossible” with extreme prejudice. Ethan Hunt wouldn’t kill anyone that he didn’t absolutely have to kill, but Pierce Brosnan’s ex-CIA spook Peter Devereaux lives by no such code. If anything, he’s a “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy, which would normally make someone an antihero, but we’re talking about Pierce Brosnan here. He doesn’t know how to do antihero: even as he steals booze and downs it like it’s his last night on Earth, he’s just too damn likeable. Ultimately, this works in the movie’s favor, as Brosnan’s presence excuses a fair amount of shortcomings. The end result is boilerplate, but entertaining, just twisty enough to keep the audience guessing.

The movie opens in 2008 with Devereaux showing the ropes to new recruit David Mason (Luke Bracey) on a mission. Mason doesn’t follow Devereaux’s instructions to the letter, and though the two accomplish their mission, a civilian dies in the process. Fast forward five years, and a now-retired Devereaux is roped in by former colleague John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to help extract a CIA contact who has valuable intel on Russian general and soon-to-be president Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). The extraction is botched on a number of levels, but Devereaux is able to get the name of the person the contact is protecting. Devereaux discovers that the mystery person is a refugee, and contacts a local shelter to ask for help. Shelter employee Alice (Olga Kurylenko) doesn’t have any answers, but Devereaux knows that her life is now in danger and that if he doesn’t protect her, she will be dead by sunset. In a second, Devereaux inherits three tasks: find the mystery girl, protect Alice, and continue to play cat and mouse with Mason, who’s clearly out to prove himself to his former mentor.

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Movie Review: “Starred Up”

Starring
Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Peter Ferdinando, Sam Spruell
Director
David Mackenzie

Anyone that watches movies for a living must constantly keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in cinema, but it’s easy for one to slip through the cracks, which is why it’s so exhilarating when a small indie like “Starred Up” comes out of nowhere and knocks you flat on your ass. Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser, who spent time working as a therapist within the British prison system, the film is scary in just how realistic it feels at times. From the cell block politics, to the crooked authorities supposedly in charge of keeping the peace, “Starred Up” doesn’t pull any punches in its tough and gritty depiction of prison life.

The movie’s title refers to the act of transferring a young offender from a juvenile detention center to an adult penitentiary prematurely, and in the case of 19-year-old Eric Love (Jack O’Connell), he’s been relocated two years early due to the frequency and severity of his violent outbursts. When his volatile temper quickly earns him enemies among both the guards and fellow inmates, Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend) about attending his anger management class, which he believes will provide hope to the young man that he can someday function normally in society. But while his estranged father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who also happens to be doing time in the same prison, encourages him to accept the free help, his constant meddling causes Eric to wonder whether he’s actually there to protect him or contribute to the abuse.

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Blu Tuesday: The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Co. continue to struggle for survival as they face a whole new set of challenges, including a deadly virus and the vengeful return of the Governor. But when the group is forced to flee the safety of the prison, the survivors get separated from one another and head for a sanctuary called Terminus.

WHY: The fourth season of “The Walking Dead” may be plagued by many of the same problems as previous years, but while its tendency to let plotlines drag on for too long causes the show to grind to a halt at times, the renewed focus on keeping the story moving even when its characters aren’t plays a huge part in its success. Though the first half of the season is bogged down by the silly virus storyline, the Governor’s return (from the pair of episodes detailing his whereabouts, to his eventual assault on the prison) serves as the impetus to the much stronger second half. It was a pretty gutsy move on the part of the writers to split up the group dynamic that makes the series so compelling, but it’s probably the best thing they could have done, because it’s refreshing to spend certain episodes focused on a handful of characters. Not only does it allow for more character development, but it gives some of the more peripheral characters their chance to shine. That may result in less thrills, but Season Four seems to have finally struck the perfect balance between zombie action and human drama, and although audiences love the former, there aren’t many shows that do drama better than “The Walking Dead.”

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on four episodes, the Blu-ray set includes “Inside ‘The Walking Dead’” and “The Making of ‘The Walking Dead’” featurettes for each episode, some deleted scenes and additional featurettes on the parallels between the comic book and TV series, visual effects and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Sons of Anarchy: Season Six”

WHAT: Just as Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is beginning to legitimatize the motorcycle club’s business ventures, SAMCRO is targeted by a tough-as-nails district attorney (CCH Pounder) when the weapon used in a school shooting is traced back to them. Meanwhile, Clay (Ron Perlman) attempts to save his skin by striking a deal with the Irish, and Gemma (Katey Sagal) and Tara (Maggie Siff) butt heads once again.

WHY: Why: Ask any “Sons of Anarchy” fan what their least favorite season is and many will probably list the oft-criticized third season (AKA the Ireland one). But while the series has had enough crazy plotlines over the years to justify why some might view the show as nothing more than a male soap opera, it’s always backed them up with great characters and writing. That is, until Season Six, when it finally became too ridiculous for its own good. Though the biker drama’s penultimate season has plenty of things worth celebrating (including a larger role for Mark Boone Junior and excellent guest stars like CCH Pounder, Donal Logue and Walton Goggins), a lot of the conflict this time around seems to be less about driving the narrative than shocking the audience, none more so than the death of Maggie Siff’s Tara. While fans have been waiting to see Clay’s demise for years (and rightfully so), Tara’s murder-by-carving-fork comes across more like a desperate attempt at a cool cliffhanger than a fitting end to her season-long arc. Tara was destined to die, but not like this, and the treatment of that character is just one of the reasons why this season is the most disappointing to date.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes cast and crew commentaries on the season premiere and finale, deleted scenes, a gag reel, character goodbyes and all three episodes of the post-show specials “Anarchy Afterword.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

Starring
Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Jamie King
Directors
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez bring the long-awaited “Sin City” sequel to audiences after nearly a decade’s absence. Unfortunately, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” proves that no matter how many clouds and thunder you put on a screen, it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The characters are engaging, the over-the-top violence is there in spades, but the magic that made fans scream for a sequel is somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel and the cutting room floor.

Everyone’s favorite jawline with muscles, Marv (Mickey Rourke), is back in full noir fashion. The film opens with him awakening to no memory of the cool trenchcoat he’s wearing and the not-so-cool injuries that came with it. Before he can put things together, he witnesses a guy being set afire by a bunch of frat boys. He teaches them a lesson that they’ll never forget in this world or the next. Just as in 2005’s “Sin City,” Marv is willing to nearly kill himself to bring people to justice. Although seemingly indestructible, he racks up scars by the dozens. Of course, with the six inches of prosthetics Rourke wears on his face, it starts to grow on you.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the cast as the unstoppable gambler, Johnny. Levitt is continuing to fuel an argument as being one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood. Expect this performance to only add to that. As the slick-talking Johnny, it’s easy to believe that he can do no wrong. He’s a suited force of nature, emptying slot machines almost without pulling the handle. But Johnny boy has his eyes on the sinister Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and as bad guys go, Roark takes the cake and smashes you in the face with it. He doesn’t suffer fools or losing lightly and quickly shows Johnny why he’s feared by almost everyone with a pulse. Another guy on the wrong end of Roark is Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private investigator who uses his fists to get to the bottom of a case, especially when it’s involving a damsel in distress. And this particular damsel is the titular dame to die for: Ava Ford (Eva Green).

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Blu Tuesday: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Only Lovers Left Alive and Rosemary’s Baby

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″

WHAT: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) faces his biggest challenge yet as Spider-Man when an Oscorp employee named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is transformed into the supervillain Electro and wreaks havoc on New York City. Meanwhile, Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is tested just as his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home seeking Peter’s help in curing a deadly disease.

WHY:The Amazing Spider-Man 2” isn’t nearly the disappointment that some have painted it as, but it doesn’t capitalize on the promise of its predecessor either. The problem with the film is that it’s bursting at the seams with material, and although there’s some cool world building along the way, just like “Iron Man 2,” it spends more time looking ahead to the future than focusing on telling the best story possible. But for as messy as the movie may be from a narrative standpoint, the performances are strong enough to keep you entertained, especially stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. The former really seems to understand what makes Peter Parker and Spider-Man tick, and his chemistry with real-life girlfriend Stone continues to sparkle with charisma, even if the film wastes a lot of time reestablishing the Peter/Gwen romance. And while Jamie Foxx makes for a pretty dull villain (through no fault of his own), Dane DeHaan is fantastic as Norman Osborn, swinging between vulnerable and menacing, often in the same scene. It’s just too bad that Webb isn’t as adept at handling the superhero elements as he is with the human drama, because that’s one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the franchise’s continued success: making the costumed hero as interesting as the man under the mask.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a six-part making-of featurette that runs just over 100 minutes, an audio commentary with writers Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Pinkner and producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, seven deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes look at scoring the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Only Lovers Left Alive”

WHAT: Reclusive, depressed vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston) has grown tired of living in a world populated by “zombies,” and sensing that he may be worse for wear, his centuries-old lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) leaves her home in Tangier to visit him in Detroit. But when Eve’s rambunctious sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up uninvited, she threatens to ruin the pair’s idyllic lifestyle.

WHY: I’ve never been a big fan of Jim Jarmusch’s work, but “Only Lovers Left Alive” is definitely one of the director’s better films. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but while the movie doesn’t work for me as a whole, there are bits and pieces that are actually quite good. In fact, the film gets off to a pretty solid start as Jarmusch explores the unconventional but fascinating relationship between Adam and Eve, going so far as to dress one in black and the other in white to symbolize their yin and yang bond. Unfortunately, the paper-thin plot becomes more noticeable in the second half, especially when Mia Wasikowska’s juvenile troublemaker enters the story. Wasikowska’s character doesn’t serve much purpose other than to create a problem that Adam and Eve must solve, which causes Jarmusch’s script to feel like it’s being stretched beyond its limits. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are both great in their respective roles, and the pitch black humor delivers some unexpected laughs, but while “Only Lovers Left Alive” presents a unique and interesting take on the vampire genre, much like its immortal protagonists, the movie outlives its welcome.

EXTRAS: In addition to a 50-minute video production diary focusing on director Jim Jarmusch, there’s some deleted and extended scenes and a music video.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Rosemary’s Baby”

WHAT: When Rosemary (Zoe Saldana) and her husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams) move to Paris for an incredible job opportunity, they’re befriended by a wealthy couple who present them with an offer they can’t refuse: an apartment at the most prestigious address in the city. But as Rosemary learns more about its haunted past, she begins to suspect her new friends are Satan worshippers hell bent on taking the baby she’s carrying.

WHY: Setting aside the popularity of Roman Polanski’s 1968 cult classic, this TV version of “Rosemary’s Baby” isn’t just a bad adaptation or remake, but a bad film period. Though presented as a two-part miniseries in an attempt to make it feel like more of an “event,” the bloated 170-minute runtime is completely unwarranted, as none of the new material adds anything to the story. The acting is also pretty dreadful for the talent involved, particularly Zoe Saldana, whose wooden performance only adds to the fact that her character is incredibly annoying. Rosemary’s constant mood swings (from hysterical in one scene, to abnormally calm in the next) occur without any explanation, and her decision-making skills are so terrible that she’s extremely difficult to root for. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, save for Carole Bouquet, who delivers an enjoyably creepy turn as the maternal coven leader. Unfortunately, Bouquet is about the only good thing that this version of “Rosemary’s Baby” has going for it, which makes me wonder why anyone thought it would be a good idea to remake such a famous movie in the first place, especially one entirely lacking any sort of suspense.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a look at the film’s production design.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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