Darke Reviews | The November Man (2014)

What? Didn’t hear about this one? Not many did. This is the result of studios dumping films they don’t anticipate will be successful at the end of August. It’s why Guardians of the Galaxy continues to do so well, it has no competition. It also helps that it is good. Schools are coming back into session (or already are…Arizona is weird), final family vacations, etc all contribute to lower box office in this time. The weekend before labor day is particularly notorious for well – studio garbage.

Let’s look at last year this time: One Direction: This is Us, Instructions Not Include, and Getaway. The prior week had The Worlds End and You’re Next, both of which barely eeked into the top 10 on labor day weekend. The total for the top 10 last year was only ~$26 million. That – to Hollywood – isn’t good and not worth investing in. This year doesn’t look to be shaping up much better with The November Man, As Above So Below being the only two new openings in wide release with Ghostbusters (30th anniversary) coming back to theatres. I love my Ghostbusters, you should too. It will be sad, however, if it dominates the weekend – which it might!

So that bit of info understood – should you spend money on November Man this weekend?

I have to admit, the trailers failed this one. I thought I was getting a poor version of the Mechanic (either version, but Bronson/Jan Michael Vincent’s is better). At best it seemed to be a watered down version of Bourne or Spy Game. I’d like to say I was pleasantly disappointed.

The movie is based on the November Man book series by Bill Granger, specifically book 7 “There Are No Spies”. Based on a quick read of the synopsis the words based on are used liberally here. Adapting the novel was Michael Finch (Predators, Agent 47) and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion and the quickly cancelled Last Resort series). They don’t have a lot of work under their belt and quite honestly it shows. The plot is kind of a muddy mess. It feels like they didn’t know which story elements they wanted to use and took it to a 5 year old to cut and paste as a kindergarten project. This isn’t to say what they wrote was bad, but that when watching it as a whole it is a bit of a sloppy mess.

The movie gives us a familiar story of an over the hill spy (Pierce Brosnan) retired from the game, but pulled back in for one final mission by his old boss. In a world of Spy vs Spy he must outwit his own protege (Luke Bracey) and save a high value target (Olga Kurylenko) who is the key to information that is useful to all sides in this.

Not original I know. It actually feels very cold war, for those that remember it, even if it is referencing more modern conflicts such as the Chechen-Russian war. They don’t ever quite bring me to care if anyone lives or dies. Succeeds or fails. So for a spy thriller they failed in the tension department.

That might fall on director Roger Donaldson, who had previously tried his hand at spies in 2003’s The Recruit (which bombed). He is also familiar with Brosnan from their work on Dante’s Peak in 97 – which also failed. He does have an appropriate bit of flair so while the story falls flat and fails to bring me to care; I find myself enjoying it and the shots he picked. Even the performances he got from his actors, well most of them.

Brosnan does well as Devereaux, our retired spy. He has the certain ennui required for it. He also has the damage and baggage. A few actors could have done it, but I think perhaps a Bond actor does it better than most. Even his action beats are good and the fatigue coming out of them. Relative new comer Luke Bracey (GI Joe: Retaliation, The Best of Me) plays the protege. He’s just ok. I think the role doesn’t give him a lot to work with and he mostly stares his way through the film. There might be something there, but it did not show up here. It’s worth noting he is currently slated to be the new Keanu in the Point Break remake.

The female leads in the film are actually noteworthy. Olga Kurlyenko, whom I adore, from Oblivion and Centurion plays the prize. She isn’t completely helpless though! She has fire in her. She’s a survivor and they let it show. There is also a female assassin in the film Amila Terzimehic who has both good and bad going for her. The good is she is an intelligent, kick butt assassin who uses her brain as things play out. The bad is they don’t use her nearly enough in the film, though based on her IMDB page material was cut that had her in it.

From a technical standpoint, the movie doesn’t do much particularly new but also doesn’t fall to the Greengrass sins of shaky cam. I found myself enjoying the action beats when they occured and the overall pacing was pretty good. The movie doesn’t feel like it’s two hour running time.

TL;DR?

So at the end of the night, I enjoyed this movie. It isn’t great. It isn’t new or original. It exists quietly in the spy thriller genre and won’t make any waves and has no real weight to it. It just is.

Yet, I still enjoyed it. I still smiled a few times and looked over to the friend I was watching it with who was enjoying it as well.

So if you have nothing better to do this weekend and want a bit of Spy vs Spy action – give this a shot. Otherwise, go see Ghostbusters (which I am going to do a review of as well)!

This is a three review weekend folks….so one down, two to come.

Darke Reviews | Oblivion (2013)

So there I was leaning on the railing of the front row as the credits rolled on Oblivion tonight. I am listening to the score by M83, which keeps reminding me of the epicness of Dune (Lynch 84), it’s powerful, it’s moving and fitting. I look back on the past two hours and twenty minutes and wonder – is big budget science fiction making a resurgence? We’ve had some OK Sci-Fi in the past year or so and some really good Sci Fi. Where does Oblivion fall?

It’s a trick question. It doesn’t quite fall in the mix because it *is* the mix. Writer/Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy) is clearly and strongly influenced by the science fiction cinema of his age – which happens also to be mine. As an aspiring writer trying to find my voice and my style for the so-called original vampire novel I am working on; I understand how challenging it is to write a purely original story in a world where so many have been told. I am aware like few others that its nearly impossible to not lift elements from your favourite works of fiction that you are trying to tell a story within. I see Kosinki’s love for Dune, all the cinematic works based on Phillip K Dick (if I name specific ones it’s nearly a spoiler), 2001, 2010, Event Horizon, and so many more sci fi films of the late 70s and early 80s. I almost want to say this movie is his love letter to the works of that time. Yet, it isn’t quite that either, he has managed to tell a beautiful three act story with elements of so many others in his own way and in his own narrative vision.

Let me tell you about his vision. We have Jack and Vickie, “the clean up crew” and an “effective team” on an earth ravaged by a war with an alien race. Because there are still aliens on earth, hiding and attacking that which Jack and Vickie protect our protagonists have their memory wiped to protect the security of the mission. Jack has a curious streak a mile wide and during his routine patrols explores areas of the ruined earth in his hi-tech ornithopter. Kosinki’s vision of a ruined earth years after the war is nothing short of breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and that is no small feat. There are a flybys that had me scratching my head on the environment they presented, but I let it slide for the beauty and wonder it brought.

Now we get to act two of our story and we introduce the survivor of a crashed ship. She knows something and hiding it. Jack and Vickie both know she’s hiding something but react differently. Vicky just wants to complete the mission according to protocols and head to Titan with the rest of the survivors of the war. Jack, well Jack needs to know. This takes him deeper into the rabbit hole and where the story really starts to bloom. I would tell you more of act two and act three but to do so risks spoilers even with the most careful of writing. Suffice to say I didn’t see a few elements coming; while others I saw in the trailer and figured out instantly.

Breaking it all down –

While I normally could rant about trailers for hours, the trailers here did the movie justice and kept hidden what needed to be kept hidden.
The visual design of the world – nothing short of astounding.
The tech – I have problems. You won’t be able to unsee it once I say it, but I consider it lazy on the prop department so I cannot forgive. Jack’s rifle is a modified Nerf Longshot. The thrusters on his craft are the ear pieces to a standard call center headset.
Music – Nearly overpowering when it needed to be subtle, but it fit the movie.
Science – I often rant about the science in science fiction. This one has a few elements leaving me wondering, only one of which truly bothered me. A storm system that was fairly persistent.
Pacing – hit and miss.

So at the end of another day in paradise we have a film that embraces all the things we love about science fiction. We have a director that knows how to get a good performance of his three main actors and has a visionary eye that needs to be encouraged by the studio and fans. Is it flawless? No. Is it something that hearkens back to the best of the 80s sci fi? Without a doubt.

For the TL;DR crowd

Sci Fi fans – See it
Tom Cruise Fans – See it
Kosinski fans – You have already seen it and are just reading my review to confirm or refute me.

If you are a die hard cruise hater – pass
Sci-Fi not always your thing? – pass, this won’t change your mind.

If you aren’t sure on this – Matinee it and let me know what you thought below.

I do think people need to see this movie so that the studios take more chances on science fiction. It’s nearly a lost genre and when we lose it we lose something special. I think in the end I am looking forward to the Blu Ray release already so I can add this to my collection and watch it in my living room with the surround sound and a smile on.