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The November Man (2014)
A dull and forgettable spy flick.
Yeah, Pierce Brosnan is 61 now but he's still a fine leading man in movies. I usually enjoy watching Brosnan in films, and my mother thinks that he's the most attractive actor out of the ones who've played James Bond. Can't say I agree with the man's politics though. Brosnan is really the only reason to see The November Man because the film is not memorable or entertaining. It's no wonder that Brosnan's photo takes up most of the film's poster. It's an above average spy action thriller that gets a few things right but it's nowhere near as engaging as, let's say, GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) or The World Is Not Enough (1999). In addition to Brosnan, the film has good-looking actress a) Olga Kurylenko and good-looking actress b) Eliza Taylor, as well as some well-photographed international locations. Other than that though there's really nothing else to like in The November Man. The biggest problem is the screenplay, written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek. It makes the film confusing, it contains terrible dialogue, and the characters are not interesting. Sure, as producer, Brosnan got the right ingredients for a good spy movie, including director Roger Donaldson. But because of the poor screenplay the result is disappointing. By the way, Donaldson directed No Way Out (1987), White Sands (1992) and The Getaway (1994), films that you should really see. The November Man, on the other hand, is definitely something that you can avoid. What one should know about Donaldson as director is that he's usually at the mercy of the screenplay. This is obvious in The November Man, which is confusing and at times offensive. Even if it didn't contain those anti-Russian bits, The November Man still wouldn't have worked because at one moment it shows women as victims, at another moment it shows women as ruthless killers, and at another moment it shows women as seducers. It just doesn't make sense. I don't recommend The November Man.
The Equalizer (2014)
Watching The Equalizer is almost like watching the Iraq War.
The Equalizer is one very brutal film. There's hardly any humor in it and, at times, it's violent in the extreme. It's definitely not something that you should watch with your girlfriend because it deals with prostitution, corruption, murder, loss and the underworld. If The Equalizer didn't contain any action it would have been a truly depressing and unpleasant viewing experience. I guess the only reason to see this film is Denzel Washington, who plays Robert McCall. One can think of The Equalizer as a superhero movie because of its break with reality and McCall's ability to kill people in impressive and often ridiculous ways. McCall also has a knack for avoiding injury and he deals with the bad guys mostly at night. There are attempts in Richard Wenk's screenplay to develop the characters but they don't go far, and the result is a simple fight of good against evil. The mobsters are mostly clichés, their victims are clichés, and the only thing that McCall has to decide is whether or not he should again become the unstoppable killing machine that he was before. The gruesome and violent action scenes manage to entertain because of Washington's slow-burn, perfectly modulated performance. It's just shootouts and fights. There's nothing new or original about them even if they are expertly staged. As the film moves along it gets more and more ridiculous, going from McCall wanting to help a brutalized girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to McCall taking on almost the whole mafia underworld, foreign and domestic. The Equalizer is no Lethal Weapon (1987) or Die Hard (1988). It's more like Death Wish (1974). The film isn't really entertaining but it can be compelling, especially when the mobsters try to find McCall and take him down. I don't recommend The Equalizer because it's not much of a thriller and it's not much of an action movie. It has its moments but it's predictable, brutal and mostly forgettable.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
The Boxtrolls is as memorable for children as it's entertaining for adults.
The Boxtrolls is another must-see release in Laika's solid filmography. Over the past several years the studio has gone through lay-offs and departures, worked on commercials, and is now focusing exclusively on feature film production. I have to admit that I wasn't looking forward to seeing this film because the trailer and the story didn't impress me as much as Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012). But I decided to give it a go. The Boxtrolls turned out to be an enjoyable family-oriented comedy. It's not quite as good as Coraline but it's easily one of the best animated films of this year. There's a certain charm to stop-motion animation. Russian animator Ladislav Starevich is the pioneer in this field, and his work has inspired animators and special-effects technicians. The Cameraman's Revenge (1911) is one of Starevich's most well-known films. I also recommend seeing Cheburashka (1971) by Roman Kachanov. The reason why I like The Boxtrolls is its characters. Sure, the style here is as visually inspired and fanciful as anything that Laika has put out. But it's the distinct and memorable characters that make this film such a treat. Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is the villain, but he's a product of poverty. Because of her father's preoccupation with wealth, Winnie Portley-Rind (Elle Fanning) is rebellious. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is a boy who has to deal with difficult truths once he meets Winnie. The boxtrolls themselves are gentle creatures but they're far less interesting than the human characters. Because the film is based on Alan Snow's novel Here Be Monsters! it has the themes of social injustice and economic disparity, which make little impact because they're delivered haphazardly. Still, the film manages to correct itself because it shows what complacency can lead to. Complacency runs strong with the townsfolk, the boxtrolls and Snatcher's henchmen. At a time when the animation market is dominated by Walt Disney Studios, Pixar and Japanese anime, a stop motion effort like The Boxtrolls is a breath of fresh air. It succeeds uniquely because of its European, and especially Russian, influences. It also delivers action and adventure to appeal to a large audience. Most importantly, it makes a statement without losing its sense of humor and whimsy along the way, which is a sign of respect for the young audience. I recommend The Boxtrolls.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
This Marvel gamble pays off more often than not.
Guardians Of The Galaxy is, without a doubt, the weakest Marvel Studios film yet. But it's also the most charming. It suffers because of its very simple origin story. The reasons why many people overlooked this are its likable characters, sweet retro soundtrack (the songs Come And Get Your Love by Redbone and Go All The Way by Raspberries are featured at the beginning), comedy, and impressive visuals. It's really like a colorful lollipop. Once you're done with it though there's not much to return to. Sure, people liked it when Footloose (1984) was mentioned. The whole audience laughed in the theater where I watched the film. The performances by the cast are all good. Even the supporting characters are played well, reminiscent of Maximiliano Hernandez's excellent part as Jasper Sitwell in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Among the heroes it's Dave Bautista who steals the show as the angry yet honorable Drax the Destroyer. The interesting minor touches that he brought to his performance reminded me of the way Dwayne Johnson acts in some of his roles. And Bautista's bits of comedy are some of the most effective and intelligent in the film. I think that Chris Pratt was chosen to play Star-Lord because of his looks. His performance is still good though and it's clear that he's trying, sometimes seeming forced but effective. Screenwriters James Gunn and Nicole Perlman attempted to give every character time to develop, so even Groot (Vin Diesel) gets to show that he's not just houseplant/muscle by the end of the film. The raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is another well-realized CGI creation. Rocket's uneasy life and his origin made him heartless and hard to get along with, though he is the technical wizard of the team. As Gamora, Zoe Saldana isn't really the tough female character that she says she is. But she did participate in most of the action, and her performance is one of the best in the film. Lee Pace plays the main villain, Ronan the Accuser, a character that I think was tragically underused. Along with Bautista and Saldana, Pace provides the best performance in the film. This doesn't mean much, however, because Ronan has little to do and little to say. He hardly participates in the action, something that's really unforgivable for a villain in a superhero summer blockbuster. And this brings me to another problem that I have with this film. There's a lack of thrilling action. Guardians Of The Galaxy delivers the comedy and the characterization but the action is a disappointment, comprising mostly of chases. Even the predictably big final battle offers few thrills. After the action-packed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians Of The Galaxy seems tamed in comparison. Because of this I don't have an urge to see Guardians Of The Galaxy again. Despite the convoluted plot I commend director James Gunn for what he's done. It's definitely a film worth seeing because it brings something fresh to the scene.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This dramatic and rousing film features the Hulk that everyone knows and loves.
When The Incredible Hulk came out back in 2008 I watched it in a movie theater. I remember thinking that this is the best film portrayal of the Hulk yet. It's by no means a perfect film but it gets a number of things right. It definitely has replay value. Casting Edward Norton as Bruce Banner was a curious but inspired move. Norton is a good actor. In this film his Banner is a likable and charismatic character from the beginning. This reluctant hero gets a dramatic treatment like never before in film. In addition to the well-handled romance between Banner and Betty Ross (a perfectly cast Liv Tyler) we're also shown how he relates to his work. Since this is a beginnings story Banner can't yet control the Hulk and he wants to rid himself of the green monster. This drags down the action scenes a bit because the Hulk fights against Thunderbolt Ross' (William Hurt) army units. It's not very exciting stuff because he isn't facing a supervillain. So he smashes some armored cars and brings down a chopper. Only at the end of the film do we get to see some real Hulk action when he faces Emil Blonsky. But, surprisingly, the action involving the Hulk isn't even the best aspect of this film. It's more interesting to see Norton play Banner while he's on the run from Ross. The inclusion of some good natured humor is also a plus. Hurt lent an air of respectability to the film in his role as General Ross just as Jeff Bridges did in Iron Man (2008). It's unfortunate that Norton didn't get to reprise his role as Banner in The Avengers (2012) because he made Banner a believable character. In The Avengers Banner is often used for comic relief while the Hulk is used only for action. Sure, the fight featuring the Hulk and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is exciting. But when written by Joss Whedon and played by Mark Ruffalo Banner has none of the mystery and charisma that Norton brought to the role. Norton said that his dispute with Marvel producers was about money, while Kevin Feige claimed that they didn't get along with Norton. Perhaps Norton disagreed with Whedon's comical take on the character, or perhaps Feige thought that the box office returns were below expectations and decided not to spend more time and effort on Hulk films. It's too bad because out of all the Marvel superheroes I was most excited about seeing the Hulk. The Incredible Hulk achieved what it set out to do. Norton and director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Now You See Me) successfully revived the character and did it in a smart way. The CGI was provided by Rhythm And Hues and not by Industrial Light & Magic, the company that created the visual effects for Ang Lee's Hulk (2003). They succeeded in making the Hulk a vivid on-screen presence. Craig Armstrong provided a memorable music score, and if you want to get it it's available on two discs. There's a significant amount of footage that wasn't included in the final cut of the film. For example, the original opening, where Banner comes to the Arctic to commit suicide was cut out. When the scene ends, in an instant the frozen body of Captain America is partially seen in the ice. Some of the flashbacks that were placed across the film were compressed to the film's start. I would have liked seeing these in the final cut though. I recommend The Incredible Hulk. It's one of my favorite Marvel Studios films.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
This gripping and well-acted science fiction film leaves an impression.
Edge Of Tomorrow is definitely one of the must-see films of this year. Director Doug Liman infused this military science fiction story with his distinct action style. But as good as the film is (I can even call it inspired) it's still dragged down by Liman's lack of artistry and his inability to create a clear narrative. Edge Of Tomorrow is a good-looking film. At times there's some very impressive imagery, especially in the action scenes. Shots of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) come to mind. But, overall, there isn't much to look at except for the metal suits. The film starts out rather slowly as the viewers are introduced to an alien threat (the Mimics) and what is being done to fight them. William Cage (Tom Cruise) is there from the beginning, though his character becomes interesting only later. The story begins developing once Blunt is on screen. She's magnetic in her role as Rita and clearly the best feature of the film. This is one tough woman that one can actually admire. She looks like a heroine but, in addition to her determination, Blunt also brings some vulnerability to the character. This shows that there's more to her than being a soldier. I didn't really expect Blunt to deliver a good performance. Her previous work in Hollywood films didn't show much. I haven't seen any of her work in English productions. Edge Of Tomorrow is an American film but for some reason it takes place in England and in Europe. Almost all of the characters are English. The film clearly reaches its peak in the middle. That's when the best most exciting action occurs. That's when Cruise's character begins to develop. That's when the story gets most interesting. The Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka was the inspiration for Edge Of Tomorrow. Surprisingly, except for the main characters, there aren't many changes from the light novel. The story is basically the same. William Cage (Keiji Kiriya in the light novel) gets caught in a time loop where he wakes up one day in the past after having been killed on the battlefield. Cruise is playing against type here because his characters is a coward for most of the film. The repetitious concept is used as a means of exploring the protagonist's deeply flawed nature and reluctant push for self-improvement. As for the other characters, I could care less about them. Time is spent on developing them too, but they're not a memorable or even a likable bunch. Because of its action and sense of urgency Edge Of Tomorrow is similar to The Bourne Identity (2002), which is another Liman film. However, it also contains some humor, making it seems similar to Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) too. It's better than both of those good-but-flawed films, so it's a summer release that I definitely recommend.
A playful action blockbuster with a top-shelf cast.
I didn't watch Red until after I watched Red 2 (2013) in a theater. It didn't seem interesting to me at first. I watched Red 2 in an auditorium full of adults and was pleasantly surprised. I only watched it to waste some time but Red 2 turned out to be a very funny and enjoyable film. I watched it in the evening and it made my day. So, naturally, the next day I watched Red. I consider it to be just as enjoyable as its sequel. It may be funnier too. Bruce Willis is 59 now but he still manages to shine in the action roles that he picks. He isn't picking anything meaningful, but Live Free Or Die Hard (2007) was one fine action film. The comedy that he shares with Mary-Louise Parker in Red boosts the action at the beginning. However, the film becomes even more enjoyable once John Malkovich jumps out of the bushes. His antics as the wild-eyed paranoid assassin Marvin Boggs just have to be seen. Morgan Freeman, who seems to be in many films these days, plays the canny and loose Joe Matheson. He does well with the clever comedy too. All the main players seem to be having a blast with the weaponry. Helen Mirren more so than others perhaps. She looks elegant in the expensive clothes, even when she's firing a machine gun. The cast is definitely the best feature about Red. Karl Urban acts just as well as the main players, with confidence and style. With Red director Robert Schwentke managed to make what is easily his best film to date. The energetic action scenes that he filmed with cinematographer Florian Ballhaus are stylish and coherent. The downside to Schwentke's direction is the film's awkward pacing, which makes it seem longer than it actually is. This prevents Red from being a truly satisfying action comedy. Still, it's not a big problem. The film looks great, the laughs come often, and the action is exciting. The biggest draw though is certainly the cast of famous actors. This unconventional yet exciting concept gets a high recommendation from me.
An American Tail (1986)
Not as good as the best Disney productions, though it leaves a lasting impact.
I remember watching An American Tail as a kid. I can't say that I have fond memories of it, but director Don Bluth's animation and storytelling do leave an impression. The Secret Of NIMH (1982) remains Bluth's best film in my opinion. It was also his first film after he and his team of animators left The Walt Disney Company to work on more ambitious animation. But An American Tail comes close in terms of quality. It also follows The Secret Of NIMH in formula, even making the main characters mice again. What one should know about Bluth is that he's a Mormon, and the influences of his faith are obvious in his animation work. Bluth's grandfather was Helaman Pratt, an early leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An American Tail is very much a film for children, though the quality of the animation can attract adults too. Bluth and his team are known for sometimes using unusual animation methods. Their unique style in this film is made more striking by the near absence of bright colors, which often gives the film the look of an old photograph. Characterization is another of Bluth's strengths as a director. His characters are distinct and memorable. The downside to this in An American Tail is that they're often clichés. There's a poor Jewish family of mice, the Mousekewitzs, with thoughts of America as some land of milk and honey. There's a young Italian mouse (Tony Toponi) that falls in love with a young redhead Irish mouse (Bridget). There's a wealthy old German mouse (Gussie Mausheimer). The screenplay was written by Judy Freudberg and Tony Geiss so this isn't entirely Bluth's doing. But what's interesting, and at the same time disturbing, for me about An American Tail is the anti-Russian propaganda, something that runs strong in Mormonism. Bluth showed his anti-Russian tendencies again with Anastasia (1997). The thing about Mormonism is that it started out as a British intelligence project in the 19th century. The faith's founder, Joseph Smith, was a British agent. For the last 200 years Russia has been London's enemy #1, and the British created many difficulties for Russia. In Smith's White Horse Prophecy Russia is mentioned as the ultimate enemy of the Mormons. According to him, the final struggle against Russia will come after the Mormons conquer the United States and absorb the British Empire. This is a piece of Mormon history that few non-Mormons know about. Therefore, it should be known that Mormons are some of the most reactionary, conservative, anti-Russian and pro-British people in America. Mitt Romney, by the way, is a Mormon. I recently found out about this thanks to Webster Tarpley's book Just Too Weird: Bishop Romney And The Mormon Takeover Of America: Polygamy, Theocracy, And Subversion. So the anti-Russian propaganda in the film is certainly no accident. In addition, one should know that Bluth collaborated with Steven Spielberg on An American Tail, so it's also no accident that the Mousekewitzs are a Jewish family. This isn't the only dark side of the film however. The American immigrant experience is tackled too, showing the very real difficulties and racism that immigrants had to deal with upon arrival. Still, this isn't something that children will understand unless their parents tell them. The lively animation and James Horner's fine score manage to make the experience uplifting and touching, but there's no hiding the film's intentional dark side. An American Tail certainly isn't a Disney product. It's a film that I can easily recommend because of its animation and music. The screenplay, on the other hand, doesn't impress.
A supernatural spellbinder that succeeds at disorienting the viewer with a cleverly structured screenplay.
It's a good thing that there's a theater like Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas in Vancouver because foreign and independent films are screened there. Oculus was made on a small budget of $5 million. It didn't receive a wide release, but it still earned $30 million at the box office. It features a few actors who appeared in other more popular films. Scottish actress Karen Gillan, playing Kaylie Russell, appeared in Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014). Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, playing Tim Russell, appeared in Maleficent (2014). American actress Katee Sackhoff, playing Marie Russell, appeared in Riddick (2013). Kaylie and Tim are the two main characters. They're brother and sister. Gillan and Thwaites provide good performances and so do the other actors. Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan play the children and they're also good. In fact, the acting is my favorite part of the film. Gillan clearly provides the best performance. The film itself is engaging psychological horror but it does have some problems. The biggest problem is that director Mike Flanagan attempted to turn his earlier short film (Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man With The Plan) into a feature length film. This robbed the original story of most of its power and mystery. Oculus starts out slow as the characters are introduced. It gets a lot more interesting when the antique mirror is shown and its story is told. What follows seems uneven. The parents, played by Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane, are not well-written characters, so Oculus loses some interest whenever they're on screen. Oculus gets interesting again when Kaylie's and Tim's struggle with the mirror is shown. Flanagan and screenwriter Jeff Howard reveal their true talents when the plot deepens and the action frequently alternates between past and present. Unfortunately, to fill the time the filmmakers also included some gore, which sometimes seems out of place with the events concerning the mirror. The gore is chilling, but it's not frightening. The film overall isn't a frightening experience but it is unsettling. What sets it apart from generic horror films are its clever mind games, eerie memorable visuals, and its adeptness at merging past and present. Oculus left an impression on me and I definitely liked it. The good music score by The Newton Brothers fits the film well. I definitely recommend Oculus. Even if it contains some minor problems I still fondly remember watching it.
Alex Jones - Master Actor
If you want to see a man who lies so much that he almost believes himself then watch the acting genius that is Alex Jones.
Behold a man who managed to dupe thousands of uninformed people by making himself seem like a loud honest Texas family man. Behold a man who serves his capitalist Koch masters so well that he doesn't go a day without badmouthing communism and socialism. Behold a man who respected the conservative tool Glenn Beck and then, after Beck called him a psycho, began to talk a little less respectfully about Beck. Behold a man who tries to exploit every opportunity to make himself more popular, the way he did with the 9/11 truth movement. Behold a man who constantly quotes the British intelligence project Wikipedia. That deceiving man is Alex 1776 Jones, a true American patriot who constantly violates the constitution.
The real police state will come because of paid liars like Alex Jones.