Thursday, August 28, 2014

The November Man - 3 stars

Code named 'The November Man', Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is a lethal and highly trained ex-CIA agent, who has been enjoying a quiet life in Switzerland. When Devereaux is lured out of retirement for one last mission, he must protect valuable witness, Alice Fournier, (Olga Kurylenko). He soon uncovers this assignment marks him a target of his former friend and CIA protégé David Mason (Luke Bracey). With growing suspicions of a mole in the agency, there is no one Devereaux can trust, no rules and no holds barred. With a screenplay by Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek based on Bill Granger's novel "There are No Spies" from the bestselling November Man book series, THE NOVEMBER MAN is the ultimate cat and mouse game set in the world of international espionage. Directed by Roger Donaldson (The Bank Job, No Way Out, Thirteen Days), the film is produced by Beau St. Clair of Irish DreamTime and Sriram Das of Das Films.(c) Relativity

Pierce Brosnan is back in spy mode, but this is no James Bond movie.  Peter Devereaux has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way, no matter who they are.  I lost count of how many CIA agents he shot who probably had no idea what they were involved in.  There's a point where he does something to an innocent woman that I couldn't believe.  From that point on, I was hoping that he would be killed before the end of the movie.

I do have to give the movie props for making the character so unlikeable.  I'm sure the studio had some reservations about that.  A lesser movie would have softened him up in order to make sure audiences would root for him until the end.  I've never read the book series this is based on, but I imagine they stayed pretty faithful to the character.

The plot doesn't really matter so much.  It involves the soon to be elected Russian president, a war years before between Russia and Chechnya, and some top level CIA officials who might have been involved.  But the main focus of the movie is the relationship between Devereaux and Mason.  They're both out to kill the other, and Devereaux enjoys taunting Mason whenever he gets the chance.  Neither one is a likeable guy, and there were times were it felt like the movie wanted us to shift our sympathies to Mason. 

There are problems with this movie, but I did find it entertaining.  The action was well done, and no matter how much I didn't like his character, it was really nice to see Pierce Brosnan back in action mode.  This character may actually be much closer to James Bond as originally written than the way he's portrayed in the Bond movies. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - 2 1/2 stars

This sequel to Sin City follows a few returning characters and several new ones.  Marv (Mickey Rourke) wakes up on the street to find two wrecked cars, a bunch of dead bodies, and he has no memory of what happened.  Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky gambler, rolls into town with plans to beat Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at a game of poker.  Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), the stripper who doesn't strip, is haunted by the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and is looking for revenge. 

But the best story of the bunch concerns Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and his ex-lover Ava Lord (Eva Green).  Ava convinces Dwight that she still loves him and needs to be rescued from her abusive new husband.  When Dwight walks into a trap that Ava sets up for him, Dwight turns to Marv for help getting revenge.  This story was the most interesting, and it also took up the most screen time.  I think there were at least 30 minutes of screen time where the movie never cut away from this story.  But most of the time the movie jumped back and forth between the other stories.

I enjoyed most of the movie but the last 15 or 20 minutes focused on Nancy Callahan and I got bored.  Her story isn't that interesting.  She goes on stage, dances while drinking a bottle of booze, thinks about shooting Senator Roark, then goes backstage to pout.  This seemed to happen several times.  By the time she and Marv actually go after Roark, I lost interest completely. 

Just like the first Sin City, it looked great.  Every frame looks like it was taken from the graphic novel, and there were some fun side characters.  My favorite was Christopher Lloyd as a creepy back-alley doctor.  The movie could have used more of him.

This wasn't as good as the first Sin City, but it was entertaining enough until the last 20 minutes.  I just wish the movie hadn't focused so much of Nancy's story.  Maybe they could have done more with Johnny and his story, since it seemed a bit too simple.  The character was too cocky, and he didn't seem to have much of a plan.  But Gordon-Levitt and Powers Boothe were fun to watch.  They seemed to be the only ones having any fun in this movie.

If I Stay - 3 stars

From Wikipedia: The story follows 17-year-old Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she deals with the aftermath of a catastrophic car accident involving her family. In a coma, Mia has an out-of-body experience, and watches as friends and family gather at the hospital where she is being treated. Mia watches as her memories flash before her eyes as she comes to realize that she must decide if she should wake up and lead a life far more difficult than she ever anticipated, or slip away and die.

The movie moves back and forth between Mia in the hospital after the accident, and the year prior to the accident.  We watch her meet Adam, the lead singer of a local rock band.  She and Adam fall in love despite their musical differences - he's into punk rock, she loves classical.  She even has Yo-Yo Ma stickers in her locker.  As high school ends, Mia has to decide whether to try to get into Juilliard or stay in Oregon and be close to Adam. 

For a while, I was kind of annoyed with the back and forth.  I was getting to like these characters, and I was much more interested in watching their relationship progress than watching her ghost walk around the hospital and observe her friends and family sitting in the waiting room.  I felt like the out-of-body thing was an unnecessary gimmick, and I would have preferred a standard, chronological story.  As the movie went along I started to get less annoyed, but I still think the movie would have worked without the gimmick.

I really wasn't expecting to like this movie based on the trailers, but I did.  The characters were well written and well acted, and I thought the dialogue felt authentic.  In movies like this, the dialogue usually feels forced and the characters usually don't talk the way real people talk.  I especially liked the parents.  Mia's dad was a drummer in a punk band when he was younger, and he gave that up to raise his kids.  Her mom was a rocker chick who also settled down.  The parents could have easily been the cliched 'cool parents' but they also felt authentic.

The hospital scenes to get a big tedious at times, but there are some real powerful scenes as well.  I was especially moved by a scene towards the end when her grandpa (Stacy Keach) is talking to his comatose granddaughter.  Bring a tissue - the entire audience I saw it with was crying most of the second half of the movie.

In the wrong hands, this could have been a very tough movie to sit through, but I liked it and I would see it again.

Land Ho! - 2 1/2 stars

My Land Ho! review from the Sundance Film Festival:

A pair of former brothers-in-law take a trip to Iceland together.  That's the story. 

Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is from Louisiana.  He's a recently retired doctor, and kind of a good old boy.  He's likes to get high and he's always up for a good time.  His companion on the trip is Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), an Australian who's kind of a sourpuss. 

Their dynamic was probably inspired by Miles and Jack from Sideways.  Colin just wants to stay in, and Mitch wants to go out and party.  Their second day in Iceland, Mitch arranges a night on the town with two young ladies.  One of them is his niece, but he says "beautiful women begat other beautiful women."

The first act of this movie was just delightful.  Mitch is hilarious, and it seemed like a good road trip movie was ahead of us.  But the movie gets to a point where it just seems like the screenwriter ran out of ideas.  The middle of the movie goes nowhere and the movie started to lose me.

As much fun as Mitch is, some of his dialogue seems very scripted and out of character.  He's always talking about sex, but once in a while he says something that just seems over the top, even for him.  The rendezvous with the two women goes nowhere, which is good because it would have been a bit creepy if either of the old guys had hooked up with the young women.  But they are only in the movie for about 10 minutes, and once they leave their presence is missed.  After about a half hour of just the two guys, I got tired of their company.

There is another nice encounter late in the movie.  While at a natural hot spring in the mountains of Iceland, they meet a Canadian woman.  She and Colin have nice chemistry together.

Besides the obvious similarities to Sideways, it also reminded me at times of The Trip.  While there are no Michael Caine impressions, they do talk about movies a lot and there are Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions.  There is also a scene where they go out to dinner and the camera takes time focusing on the dishes they're eating.

The movie is nice and sweet.  Overall I did like the characters and mostly enjoyed the time spent with them.  But it seems like the movie was lacking.  There wasn't enough drama or pathos, and the laughs are few and far between late in the movie.  It's close, but I can't quite recommend this movie.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 1 1/2 stars

This is the fifth TMNT movie but it’s a reboot of the series, so it has nothing to do with the previous movies.  It’s also a lot more dark and serious than a turtles movie should be.

First of all, the movie takes way too long to introduce us to the turtles.  For the first 20 minutes or so, we’re watching April O’Neal (Megan Fox) working as a news reporter.  She wants to report on the big stories, but she’s stuck doing fluff pieces.  When she witnesses the evil Foot clan trying to rob a shipping dock, she sees a mysterious vigilante thwart the crime.  She tries to tell her news director (Whoopi Goldberg) who doesn’t believe her.

It’s obvious the filmmakers were trying to make this as much like Transformers as they can.  The problem is this is a movie for kids, and I think they would be bored by it.  We should be excited to meet the turtles, and when we finally do, they’re a letdown.  The CGI is good – unlike the 1990 movie, their shells don’t bend when they fight – but the characters are too harsh and sinister.  Michelangelo is the only one who cracks any jokes, and he made me laugh a few times. 

The story is so convoluted.  There’s a rich scientist who turns out to be a villain, and he has a master plan to release some kind of toxic gas that will kill everyone in New York.  The movie also adds a backstory that links the turtles with April and her father, and I’m pretty sure that backstory didn’t exist in the cartoon or the comics. 

This should have been a fun, lighthearted movie with some laughs and instead it’s dreary and dull.  I was bored the entire time.  I think TMNT fans are going to be very disappointed.

Into the Storm - 2 stars

Into the Storm is a disaster … movie about a small town in Oklahoma getting ravaged by the biggest tornado storm in history.  It’s a found footage movie, like Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity which means that everything we see in the movie is being filmed by one of the characters.  

There are two groups of characters in this movie.  One is a group of storm chasers who are making a documentary, and the other is a pair of brothers in high school.  It’s graduation day, and they have been assigned to film everyone they can to make a video time capsule.  So this explains why there are so many cameras around. 

The problem with the found footage genre is that the video needs to make sense with the story.  In the case of those other movies, they started by telling us that something happened and this video tape was found, and we’re now watching what happened to them.  But this movie gives us no explanation why we’re watching this footage.  And since there are obviously a lot of cameras used, someone had to go and edit all the footage together.  It’s just a big waste of time.  The filmmakers realized this as well, and an hour into the movie they abandon the gimmick entirely.  They were probably hoping we wouldn’t notice.

It’s obvious that very little time was spent writing this story.  The back story to the brothers is that their mom is dead and their dad is the assistant principle at their school.  He’s played by Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield from the Hobbit movies), and whenever he gets upset, his accent slips.  In the most hamhanded way possible, they quickly inform us that they don’t get along with their dad.  The storm chasers are led by Pete, a very strict taskmaster who has no concern for the safety of his team.  He’s just interested in getting the best tornado footage ever filmed.  Sarah Wayne Callies from the Walking Dead is also on his team, and she has a 5 year old daughter at home.  We know this because every 5 minutes she brings her daughter up and talks about how bad she feels that she’s not at home with her.

The only reason to see this movie is the tornados, which are very cool.  CGI has come a long way since Twister, which was released back in 1996.  Make sure you see it in a theater with good sound.  It’s really impressive in a theater with Dolby Atmos.  But the story is badly written and acted, and the emotional moments didn’t work at all.  When the movie wanted me to cry, I was just laughing.