The November Man
Rated R for rape, profanity, sexuality, nudity, graphic violence and brief drug use
It’s Spy Vs. Spy In Labyrinthine Espionage Thriller
Director Roger Donaldson is probably most closely associated with No Way Out, one of the best espionage thrillers ever made. The accomplished Australian revisits the genre with The November Man, though this picture pales in comparison to his ingenious, 1987 classic.
Nevertheless, Roger has crafted another labyrinthine, cat-and-mouse caper which miraculously manages to keep you on the edge of your seat despite an often-incoherent plotline, slapdash action sequences, and an inscrutable cast of characters with difficult to discern motivations. Overall, the adventure amounts to a dizzying head-scratcher which takes you on one helluva roller coaster ride, even if it might take a scorecard to keep the profusion of players straight.
Based on the Bill Granger best seller There Are No Spies, the movie stars Pierce Brosnan in the title role as Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA Agent once code named “The November Man.” While he retired to Switzerland five years ago, it doesn’t take much to coax him out of the rocking chair to help extract Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), a Russian double agent ready to come in out of the proverbial cold.
After all, they share a secret past which produced Lucy (Tara Jevrosimovic), a love child he misses terribly. However, the prospects of a father-daughter reunion are reduced significantly when Natalia is shot in the head by a team of assassins led by David Mason (Luke Bracey), Peter’s former protégé in the CIA.
What’s up with that? Did the Agency really want Natalia dead? Or did David go rogue? These are the questions left unanswered as Peter accepts another dangerous assignment, namely, the exfiltration from Moscow of Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko).
Alice is a pivotal witness for the prosecution set to testify in front of a war crimes tribunal about all the atrocities committed in Chechnya by Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). Trouble is Federov is Russia’s ruthless President-elect and isn’t about to let some social worker abort his rendezvous with destiny.
So, it’s not long after making Alice’s acquaintance that Peter realizes she has no shortage of angry adversaries, both Soviet, such as Federov’s acrobatic henchwoman (Amila Terzimehic), and American, like the CIA mole giving David his marching orders. Regardless, the peripatetic pair proceed to leave a messy trail of bloody bodies behind as they pick up long-lost Lucy before making a daring escape to the West.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
In English and Russian with subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Are You Here
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use
Owen Wilson And Zach Galifianakis Return To Roots In Irreverent Buddy Comedy
Sometimes you can appreciate what a movie might have been shooting for, even though the final cut falls far short of the mark. Such is the case with Are You Here, a cringe-inducing buddy comedy co-starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis.
The movie marks the eagerly-anticipated directorial debut of nine-time Emmy winner Matthew Weiner, who fails in his first attempt to find the same magic which served him so well writing scripts for both Mad Men and The Sopranos. Unfortunately, something ostensibly got lost in the translation from TV to the big screen, as this picture proves to be an annoying test of patience.
The problem probably emanates from the ill-advised pairing of the wry Wilson and goofy Galifianakis, whose personas mix about as well as oil and water. Sorry, Weiner doesn’t get any extra credit for effort for crafting an ambitious adventure that bites off more than it could chew cinematically, since all that matters to an audience is execution.
And while Are You Here revolves around an intriguing enough premise and features plenty of surprising twists, the comedy portion of the production simply flunks the “make me laugh” test. At the point of departure, we’re introduced to roommates/BFFs Ben Baker (Galifianakis) and Steve Dallas (Wilson). The former is an infantile eccentric incapable of functioning in society, while the latter is a stoner and popular TV weatherman for a local network.
When Ben’s dad dies, the two decide to drive the thousand miles back to their idyllic hometown in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the recently deceased has left behind property worth millions of dollars. Also showing up for the funeral is Ben’s only sibling, Terry (Amy Poehler), a greedy shrew who clearly expects to inherit half of her father’s estate.
At the reading of the will, however, she learns that the old man only left her $350,000, and cut his trophy second-wife, Angela (Laura Ramsey), out of the will entirely, with the bulk of his cash plus a grocery store and 144-acre farm going to Ben. But her brother’s so dysfunctional, there’s no way he’d ever be able to manage the family businesses, given such bizarre behavior as visiting their Amish neighbors in his birthday suit.
Based on the scenario I’ve just described, one would naturally expect the tension to build around a fight over the inheritance. However, writer/director Weiner earns high marks for creativity in that regard, as he’s fashioned a novel plot that’s hard to predict.
Rather than spoil any of the subsequent developments, suffice to say that its unique storyline can’t save a picture that breaks a cardinal rule of comedy by failing to be funny. Have Wilson, Galifianakis and Poehler ever been better? Gosh, I certainly hope so.
Fair (1 star)
Running time: 114 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening August 29, 2014
As Above, So Below (R for terror, graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Found-footage horror flick, set in the catacombs beneathParis, revolving around a team of American archaeologists who unwittingly unleash countless dormant demons while exploring the uncharted subterranean maze. Co-starring Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge and Perdita Weeks.
The Calling (R for violence, profanity and disturbing content) Crime thriller about a small town detective (Susan Sarandon) whose investigation of a string of grisly murders brings her face-to-face with a serial killer. Ensemble cast includes Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace and Donald Sutherland.
Canopy (PG-13 for intense violence and bloody images) World War II drama about an Australian fighter pilot’s (Khan Chittenden) struggle to survive in the jungle after being shot down overSingapore. With Mo Tzu-yi, Robert Menzies and Edwina Wren. (In English, Japanese and Mandarin with subtitles)
The Congress (Unrated) Animated sci-fi adventure about an aging actress (Robin Wright) who breaks a contract by coming out of retirement after having sold a movie studio the exclusive rights to her image. Cast includes Paul Giamatti, Harvey Keitel, John Hamm and Danny Huston.
Last Weekend (Unrated) Ensemble dramedy about a matriarch (Patricia Clarkson) who comes to question her role in her dysfunctional clan during a disastrous reunion at the family lakefront estate she’s about to sell. WithMary Kay Place, Zachary Booth, Rutina Wesley, Judith Light and Jayma Mays.
Life Of Crime (R for profanity, sexuality and violence) Mobster comedy about a couple of crooks (Mos Def and John Hawkes) who kidnap the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a millionaire (Tim Robbins) for ransom only to learn that they’ve done the philanderer a favor by freeing him to spend more time with his mistress (Isla Fisher). Support cast includes Mark Boone Junior, Kevin Cannon and Julie E. Davis.
The Naked Room (Unrated) Fly-on-the-wall documentary focusing on the behavior of patients, parents and physicians in the examination room of a children’s hospital inMexico City. (In Spanish with subtitles)
The Notebook (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality and disturbing violence) Coming-of-age saga, set in the Hungarian countryside toward the end of World War II, about twin 13-year-old boys (Andras and Laszlo Gyemant) forced to fend for themselves after being left in the care of their abusive, alcoholic grandmother (Piroska Molnar) by their desperate mother (Gyongyver Bognar). With Andras Rethelyi, Ulrich Thomsen and Orsolya Toth. (In Hungarian with subtitles)
Second Opinion (Unrated) Medical exposé about Ralph Moss, Ph.D., a young writer in Sloan-Kettering’s PR Department who risked his career by blowing the whistle on a massive cover-up of the truth about a promising cancer cure called Laetrile.
Shadows From My Past (Unrated) Holocaust documentary revisiting the plight of The Kaufmans, as preserved in letters exchanged among members of the Austrian Jewish family between 1939 and 1941.
Starred Up (Unrated) Irish crime drama, set inBelfast, about a troubled juvenile delinquent (Jack O’Connell) assigned to an adult prison for violent offenders who meets his match in an inmate (Ben Mendelsohn) that happens to be his estranged father. Cast includes Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell and David Ajala.
The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears (Unrated) Behind closed doors mystery about a man (Klaus Tange) whose search for his missing wife takes him down a labyrinthine trail around his apartment building marked by eroticized bloodshed and bizarre sexual fantasies. With Ursula Bedena, Joe Koener and Birgit Yew. (In French, Danish and Flemish with subtitles)