Category Archives: Movies

The November Man


Most people naturally think of James Bond when they hear the name Pierce Brosnan, particularly when the word “spy” is in the same sentence.  Given the strong association of any actor who has played that iconic role, any spy movie not relating to the world of James Bond has to be better than the average spy movie due to the immediate comparisons to the Bond franchise.  Even more importantly, a new spy movie that is not being touted as a reboot or remake should not immediately evoke memories of a movie that was out 13 years prior.

After a long Labor Day weekend that had me moving apartments, I needed a movie.  Part of my bribery…err…convincing of my buddy Russ to help out was that I would cover the cost of the movie.  The original plan was to see Guardians of the Galaxy since Russ had not seen it; unfortunately the times didn’t work out.  The November Man fit the schedule and was one that captured our interest.  Only downside was that it was a Regal location; however the AMC at Downtown Disney is hampered by poor parking.

The November Man centers around a spy who has retired and is enjoying life out of the spy game.  An old handler shows up with a mission that requires Brosnan’s special touch.  What follows is a fairly formulaic movie with predictable plot points.  What was jarring for me was that within the first 10 minutes I immediately flashed on the memory of watching 2001’s Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.  Sadly this memory kept popping up throughout trying to watch The November Man.  Spy Game had a better story, which made things worse.

The charm of Brosnan does a lot of the heavy lifting of this movie, but it is not enough to save it.  The director and writers are to blame for this mess.  I wanted to include the trailer as part of this review, but can’t due to the fact that the majority of the contents are from the last 30 minutes of the movie.  That makes it way too easy to spoil already easy-to-detect plot points.  The positive of the afternoon was that we saw it at matinee price.

My advice: wait for cable or streaming.  It is not worth making a trip to the theater, particularly when USA has aired better options with Burn Notice and Covert Affairs…

Guardians of the Galaxy

From the very beginning, I have always talked about how the movies I saw as a kid shaped me and my interests today.  I am thankful that I grew up in an age where watching movies at home wasn’t easy to do.  I grew up reading interviews with Lucas and Spielberg where they cited inspirations being the old serials that they would watch at the local theater.  No matter how it was described, going to the movies for these directors and countless others like me was an event that was treasured, no matter how good or bad things were.

For me, the first science fiction movie I saw on the big screen was Star Wars.  Even with all of the normal things people point to, what captured me from the beginning was that this was a ride:  a rollicking ride through the universe with Luke, Han, and Chewy as our guides.  It was this fun I looked for in science-fiction movies then and now.  While my tastes may have matured over the years, sometimes I just want the Flash-Gordon, Han-Solo fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun that can be one of these movies.  Sadly Hollywood is fixated that everything must be a space opera with great importance.

This does science fiction a disservice.

Why?  Think back to why many kids grew up reading Tom Swift and Jules Verne; watching Buck Rogers and Captain Kirk; and waiting forever to see Han Solo crack that cocky grin and blast his way out of trouble.  We thrilled to the excitement of their adventures and couldn’t wait for the next one.  Comics helped fuel this with superheroes that not only took care of Earth, but the whole universe.

While I am familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy, I have never really read anything except the Infinity Gauntlet trade paperback that Amber grabbed for me as a thank-you for taking her to the 6-movie Marvel marathon when The Avengers came out.  So unlike some of the other Marvel and DC movies, I had no preconceived notions of what to expect over the past 2 years as production began on this project.  I also made it a point to not really read a whole lot about this movie, choosing to remain spoiler-free as much as possible.

That said, I still kept up with basic news: casting, director assignment, etc.  I was intrigued by two casting choices:  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, and Bradley Cooper as Rocket.  I had not watched any of James Gunn’s work, but the general vibe was one similar to how people felt about Joss Whedon directing The Avengers:  it will; either be tremendously good or tremendously bad.  When the first trailer hit and I heard “Hooked on a Feeling” as part of it, I knew that this was not going to be a typical sci-fi/superhero movie.  This had the potential of being a great entry in the genre.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-IMAX-poster-700x1024In early July, I got lucky enough to score a pass to a special IMAX preview of the movie.  In the 17-minute screener, I got to see one of the major scenes that highlighted what the movie would be:  a rollicking good time.  The 3-D looked amazing, and the casting was dead on.  As a bonus for going, everyone got a special poster to take home.  All I could think about on the way home was how good this movie was going to be when I saw it completed.  For something that I had minor interest in before, I was now rabid for more.  Yet I still avoided spoilers – I knew that to indulge now would ruin what could be a truly fun experience in the theater.

I did get to see it on the Thursday night before opening, but I had to settle for the AMC Dine-In theater.  I say settle because it is not outfitted as an ETX screen.  I chose the dine-in option due to not knowing when I was leaving work and the ability to reserve my seat.  AMC was running a promotion for Stubs members that gave them a free random pin with ticket purchase; I got Gamorra.  I settled into my seat, ordered dinner, and waited for things to unfold.

For once, I had not built this movie up too much in my head before seeing it.  There is a lot of good to enjoy, enough to offset any bad.  So what did I like:

  • Chris Pratt – He brought the wholesomeness of Andy from Parks and Recreation and gave him an upgrade on intelligence.  This movie works because of Pratt’s acting.
  • James Gunn – What unfolds is a master class on how to make a fun space movie.  Even with the stakes being high, Gunn drops the angst and focuses on why we have loved Tom Swift, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers for decades.
  • standard_fantasticThe soundtrack – Gunn once again shows the importance of a choosing the right songs to tell a story.  It’s easy to do when someone is composing; Lucas used to brag that you could watch Star Wars with just the Score audio track and no dialog.  But choosing songs that people know to help tell a story is infinitely more difficult.  Over the past 10-25 years, very few movies have had a soundtrack of songs that essentially became another cast-member: 10 Things I Hate About You; Garden State; and Love Actually all spring to mind as solid examples.  Gunn’s use of the songs in Guardians can be summed up with the tile of the tape: Awesome.
  • Bradley Cooper – His voice work for Rocket sold the character.  Time and again people think voice work is easy.  It isn’t and done poorly, it can ruin a movie.  Cooper did it quite well.
  • Visuals – Even with limited locations, one never feels cramped in this galaxy.  It is expansive and beautiful and ugly, all at the same time.
  • Story – For the most part, a fairly simple story that does not require any knowledge of the comics or even the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe.  This can be a stand-alone movie and last for decades.
  • “Stingers” – There are two scenes during the credits and are worth staying for.  I will not spoil either of them.

So was there anything I did not like?  Some minor quibbles, but nothing that kills the enjoyment – here is what I noticed:

  • The Collector – For a character that seemed to have a lot of hype, not much other than him explaining the infinity stones.  Granted there was a lot to cover story-wise for the movie, but this character is going to need some type of development if it is going to continue being a through-thread.  This was the second time seeing him, with the first being during Thor: The Dark World.
  • Homages – Now that the first movie is done, let’s ease back on the homages to Indiana Jones and Captain Kirk.  Some of the best scenes for Pratt’s character were original ones that did not try to make the same tired jokes of the “rebel sleeping with every female alien” or the “mystical quest”.

My Advice:  Pay full price and see it in 3-D IMAX; well worth the money.  I anticipate seeing this movie 1-3 more times in the theater.  It is on my top 10 list for the year, top 5 for Marvel movies, and one of the top in the genres of Science-fiction for me.  I anticipate enjoying this one for years.


Silver Linings Playbook

silver linings playbookAgain, I find myself talking about a movie that was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and received the Academy Award for Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).  I saw this one a few days after the ceremony as well.

This movie is brought to life by the same director who gave us The Fighter, a surprising-to-me movie that I enjoyed.   Here, David O. Russell gives us the tale of a man trying to piece his life together after its disintegration due to his mental issues related to being bi-polar.  We are not forced into an “origin” story – rather, Russell trusts his audience to pick things up as we move forward.  What unfolds is a story that avoids becoming overwhelmingly dramatic and instead allows us to understand each character.  In the hands of a lesser director, this could have easily turned into a Lifetime TV movie.

Bradley Cooper gives an outstanding performance as the main character.  Within the first 10 minutes it is obvious as to why he received a Best Actor nomination.  He could have easily won it had Daniel Day Lewis not done Lincoln this year.  Robert DeNiro does well, but I am not certain it was worth a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  The most intriguing performance to me was Chris Tucker’s – he actually showed that he can dial things back and if given good material, turn in a good performance.

The standout is Jennifer Lawrence without a doubt.  She held her own acting alongside Cooper and DeNiro, and maybe even showed them a few tricks.  This is reminiscent of Amy Adams’s performance in The Fighter.  Lawrence has a long career ahead of her if she keeps getting the variety of roles she has so far that allow her to show her range.

My advice:  Big screen is not necessary, but you will not waste money if you do go see it on one; definitely check it out as soon as you can…


argoIt seems a bit presumptuous to review a movie that has just received the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Sadly, I did not see this one until a couple of days after the Academy Awards ceremony.  This review will instead focus on what I feel made it a good choice for the Academy Award.

First area of discussion is the direction.  While I am not sure if he should have won, Ben Affleck definitely should have been nominated.  Affleck’s directing choices made this movie what it is.  The choice to film it as if it was being filmed in 1979-1981 was brilliant.  This gave the movie a feel of realism that today’s cameras would have missed.  I liked the inclusion of the 70s/80s style Warner Bros logo; that one touch helped establish the look and feel of the movie.  Affleck went for as close to reality as he could get in casting and cinematography.  I did like the inclusion of the side-by-side comparisons of cast and scenes to real-life documents that played through the closing credits – it reinforces the attention to detail that Affleck put into making this story come to life.

Casting was also key to this movie working.  Several known character actors and names appear throughout the movie and deliver each time.  Affleck faced a daunting challenge in not letting any of these actors run away with the movie while getting the most out of their performances.  Directors wanting an example of how to work with a large ensemble and producing a good product should have this as one their top 5 examples.

My advice:  See it on the big screen if you can to get a good feel for the cinematography – if you choose to see it at home, that is fine – just make sure to see it…

A Good Day to Die Hard aka Die Hard 5

die hard 5In various reviews on this site, I have been pretty vocal about how studios, directors, and actors should know when to call it a day on a franchise.  The bigger the movie, the bigger the disappointment can be.

After Die Hard 3 (Die Hard with a Vengeance), I felt a lot of disappointment.  Some of the elements from the first two were gone, and the movie felt like it had to top the action of the ones before it.  When Live Free or Die Hard aka Die Hard 4 came out, it felt like the franchise was starting to recapture the mojo, even though the stunts were over the top.  So I felt some excitement when the head of Fox Studios announced on the Jim Rome show in 2012 that a new Die Hard was coming.

Fast forward to Feb. 13, 2013…

What was shown on the screen was a Die Hard movie in name only – it did not contain any of the true hallmarks of Die Hard movie.  The fifth installment finds John McClane in Russia trying to help his son.  Of course everything goes wrong, and McClane has to save the day…

…or does he?

What makes the original Die Hard work is that McClane is just a guy stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to keep his family safe.  He is the anti-Rambo, the anti-Terminator – He is you or me just trying to survive.  Even though the thread of this character identity fades with each sequel, it is still there.  In the first four, McClane did not try to get into danger until he was already there.

Not true for this installment.  McClane chooses to go to Russia with no plan on how to help his son.  He intervenes in chases that did not concern him.  When he finds out the truth about his son, it doesn’t have any affect on him.  I guarantee you my dad would have had a stronger reaction.   The villains are so bad that they start killing them off early just to keep the audience entertained with “action.”

Then the story serves up a location like Chernobyl, a setting rich in possibility.  Sadly it could have been any factory not contaminated with nuclear fallout.  Amazingly, our heroes get wounded and then FALL IN a pool of NUCLEAR FALLOUT WATER.  Do they die or even grow gills?  Nope, they shrug it off like it is nothing.  so now John McLane has gone from every day guy to Superman.

That is not Die Hard…

Sadly, you can tell that Bruce Willis is not even convinced this should be a movie.  He hardly commits to any of the work and cannot even be bothered to say his trademark phrase with any type of conviction.  Maybe he wanted to make sure he would never have to play this role again.

My advice: Skip it – doubt it is even worth watching on cable.  The only thing that made this disappointment bearable is that I saw it as part of a marathon and got to enjoy 4 good entries in the series before this steaming pile of celluloid…