WYSIWYG The November Man

WYSIWYG is a design principle where “What You See is What You Get”. The November Man is currently playing in theaters.

The November Man

 

The November ManĀ (2014) – Rated R

An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.”

Know what we used to call you Peter? The November Man. Cause after you passed through, nothing lived. You were one bleak mother$%^& my friend.

Obviously it’s a good idea to cast Pierce Brosnan as an aging, retired superspy. There are plenty of people who have missed him as Bond, though Daniel Craig is a fine successor. I am old enough to be a Connery fan but I like Brosnan and he has aged well.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much all you get with The November Man. It is a by-the-numbers spy thriller with Devereaux coaxed out of retirement because a loved one is in danger. A hotshot protege is after him, the agency head wants him dead, and there is an agency contact in the middle. The main problem is that these roles play out exactly as we’ve seen them in many other genre books and films.

Another problem is that the Russian President-elect is basically a cipher here, practically a MacGuffin. I suspect that the screenplay rearranged things around Brosnan and downplayed other parts of the novel, “There are No Spies”, by Bill Granger. Michael Finch (Predators) and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion) wrote the screenplay.

The cast is a mix of Hollywood types and apparently whoever was available in Serbia. I understand that it is very cheap to film in Eastern Europe but it almost always looks cheap as well (see the fifth Die Hard – or better yet avoid it) and The November Man is not an exception. Will Patton is always a welcome presence but does not have much to do.

Director Roger Donaldson is a competent, if unspectacular, director. He has worked with Brosnan before on Dante’s Peak and showcases him here to good effect. Devereaux’s return after his initial escape is a standout sequence but the rest of the film is fairly routine. The subject matter is unpleasant enough to earn an ‘R’ rating but sanitized enough for viewing audiences. The November Man is rated R for strong violence, including a sexual assault, language, sexuality, nudity, and brief drug use.

This is an easy recommendation if you are a Brosnan fan, otherwise meh.

Dante’s Peak – Not Kidding – The End is Nigh! week

Dante’s Peak is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: Everything you know about volcanoes thrown into one small town – fun havoc ensues.

Dante’s Peak (1997) – Rated PG-13

“Pierce Brosnan stars in this nail-biting thriller as volcanologist Harry Dalton, who comes to the sleepy town of Dante’s Peak to investigate the recent rumblings of the dormant volcano the burg is named for. Before long, his worst fears are realized when a massive eruption hits, and immediately, Harry, the mayor (played by Linda Hamilton) and the townspeople find themselves fighting for their lives amid a catastrophic nightmare.”

“It’s coffee time! Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee!”

I cannot say that Dante’s Peak has less mistakes than the other natural disaster movies but at least it tries. Most of the faults come from the implementation of what a volcano can do. The plot goes through a laundry list of volcano effects without regard to what would or could happen.

Yes, volcanoes can turn a lake acidic – no, not to the point where it instantly melts a boat. Yes volcanoes can erupt basaltic flows and pyroclastic – no, not simultaneously. Yes, there are pyroclastic clouds – no, a vehicle without tires cannot outrun one. Yes, you can drive onto a lava flow – no, you are not driving off of it.

As the Hollywood studios often do, two volcano projects were rushed into production. Dante’s Peak got released just two months before Volcano (much like this year’s dueling Snow Whites – Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and The Huntsman). Much as I like watching a volcano appear in Los Angeles, Dante’s Peak is the better film.

Roger Donaldson wisely limits the scope to a small town and keeps the focus on a single family (the Mayor, her two children, her mother-in-law and their dog) and the small USGS crew. There is no over-the-top attempt to stop a volcano from blowing, merely an attempt to predict and dealing with the inevitable aftermath.

Donaldson has some nice stylistic touches such as having Linda Hamilton look out a car window during the event and have her worried face reflected in the glass while we see the explosion. He likes it so much that he repeats that basic shot twice more. Real footage of Mt. St. Helens is melded convincingly into Dante’s Peak, lending some authenticity to the proceedings.

There are a lot of jarring continuity issues that pulled me out of the film: disappearing clothes hanging by the hot springs, a busted in window made whole again, a truck emerging from the river dry, writing on a cast disappearing. There are shoes, goggles, and glasses that appear and disappear. The worst one though is clearly the one-lane bridge that is sometimes the width of one lane and sometimes wide enough for two lanes and a shoulder.

Dante’s Peak answers the question of what did Linda Hamilton do after the Terminator movies. She is just fine here as the mayor and mother of two. Pierce BrosnanĀ  is his usual charming self as the vulcanologist who knows more than his colleagues. The child actors (Jamie Renee Smith and Jeremy Foley) acquit themselves well as does Elizabeth Hoffman as the cranky old grandmother. In short acting is solid but not award-winning.

Dante’s Peak is engaging and, if you can forgive the prominent errors, really starts to rock once the Peak blows. I’m beginning to think that what I like about disaster films are all the errors but if that were the case I would enjoy hacker movies more.

Aliens Attack! Species Edition

Those aliens just can’t beat us down. Species is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-line Review: Gorgeous alien models (Giger and Henstridge) enlivens otherwise routine move.

Species (1995) – Rated R

“When government scientists (led by Ben Kingsley) receive a transmission from space containing alien DNA, they create the ultimate femme fatale: a hybrid woman named Sil (Natasha Henstridge) with supermodel looks, deadly shape-shifting abilities … and raging hormones. When Sil escapes, a team of specialists scrambles to find her before she can reproduce, culminating in a fright-filled climax in the Los Angeles sewer system.”

“Nobody ever asked me to find anything they didn’t want dead.”

Species is definitely a guilty pleasure. It is neither written nor directed well and the acting is all over the place, in spite of the cast. Roger Donaldson (Cocktail, Dante’s Peak) is an adequate director but is often too by-the-numbers to produce something memorable. Dennis Feldman has seven writing credits – three of them are Species films.

Donaldson assembled a nice cast of solid ‘B’ performers. Ben Kingsley is our resident Frankenstein, Xavier Fitch, tampering with the forces of nature. Kingsley proved he was a great actor with Gandhi but since then has appeared in anything anyone asks him to. As usual Michael Madsen plays the killer, though no one seems to get the performance out of him that Tarantino does.

Marg Helgenberger is actually good as Dr. Laura Baker. The same cannot be said of the normally reliable Forest Whitaker as the world’s most clueless empath, Dan Smithson. Alfred Molina rounds out the cast of hunters as the hapless Dr. Stephen Arden.

The real find here, of course, is Natasha Henstridge in her debut performance. She is really good here channeling a Daryl Hannah Splash-type of alien and the camera loves her. From her emergence from the womb, naked and completely covered in KY (I swear I’m not making that up), well let us just say that she had me at hello. I liked her so much that I watched several more of her movies before I realized that I really just liked her as Sil.

The other real star here is H.R. Giger’s creature design. He does a wonderful job of creating monsters that convey an uncomfortable level of sensuality. His Alien design was so classic that it helped spawn a whopping five sequels and now a prequel (of sorts) in Prometheus. His Sil design is reminiscent of the classic Alien crossed with a human which, not coincidentally, is pretty much what Sil is.

Not only is Giger a great artist but he had such a commitment to the project that when MGM canceled the ‘nightmare train’ shoot because it was too expensive, Giger put up a hundred grand to film it. I like that they kept it because it looks neat but it is not actually integral to the plot.

The film is somewhat by-the-numbers. Sil, an unstoppable alien hybrid, escapes from a scientific facility and ;earns human behavior while trying to find a mate. The government assembles a team of experts to hunt her down but can they find her in time? This formula and the other factors would have produced a classic film had portions of this movie not been so terribly stupid.

Notes to filmmakers: Cyanide gas is invisible. Arcade games should be plugged in. Empaths should be empathic. Lab grown aliens do not have pierced ears. You don’t need an empath to state the obvious. You don’t need a psychologist to state the obvious. You don’t need a biologist to state the obvious. Oh fine – let’s just say you don’t need to state the obvious. For goodness sake, learn to hide the boom (Film 101).

Species is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy in moderation but the script is deeply stupid. Every one of the hunters states the obvious repeatedly and almost none of what they say or do requires the expert knowledge they supposedly possess.

People Watch: Look for Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Shutter Island) as the young Sil (prior to her transformation into Natasha Henstridge). Patricia Belcher, Caroline on Bones, appears briefly as a hospital admittance clerk.