Sunday, September 14, 2014

The November Man (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The November Man

 In Roger  Donaldson's "The November Man", Pierce Brosnan has a solid outing in the time honored genre of the spy / hit man film. Here Brosnan plays an aging agent and "fixer", Peter Devereaux. He is sent to keep a watch over things, including the despicable and sadistic Federov (Lazar Ristovski) who has a repulsive past. When Devereaux's agent / wife gets shot, Devereaux, understandably has a death wish of sorts. His young disciple, David Mason (Luke Bracey)  is working for a rival agency up to no good.

Through the witnessing of his wife's shooting, Devereaux meets the smoldering beauty, Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) and resolves to help her. Fournier has a personal vendetta against Federov with good reason.

Brosnan is a steady as iron compassionate savage, if that makes sense. As a parallel to The Bourne films, the action is tense and apprehensive with Devereaux using his James Bond and even Macgyver wiles, usually involving explosives.

Brosnan and Bracey deliver the bone crunching goods with some thrilling Saturday matinee chasing. The earnest and surprised Kurylenko does well too, as a smoky mascara femme fatale who is driven to brutally avenge a warlord and sex criminal.

There is also a sinister female killer Alexa ( Amila Terzimehic) who is as scary as Daniel Craig in a bad mood.

The film falters a bit, however, by being conventional. Brosnan does a good job doing his tight and terse act, but his emotions don't vary much; he is beaten and battered, bruised and wincing throughout. David Mason, while showing himself a nihilistic prick at the story's beginning is neither anti-hero nor angel. With a promising start, his manner never really surprises. He is a bit of a blank slate. A machine in the image of Matt Damon. After a well done and jumpy prologue of twin father against twin son, the narrative goes thru a bit of a checklist routine of bond-able moments (the hunted man, the sultry girl, the evil kingpin etc).

If you are in the mood for a cat-and-mouse thriller that shadow boxes and delivers the punch on time, "The November Man" does well in spite of some gratuitous, slow motion blood gushing.

But for the more edgy among us, you will search in vain every nook and cranny from Montenegro to Milan for a more satisfying and ambiguous battle of wills between spy versus spy.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Trip to Italy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Trip to Italy

Two pop culture-obsessed people are at it again, traversing though Europe in funny voices. This is "The Trip to Italy", by Michael Winterbottom, a sequel to an earlier "The Trip" where we saw a more hirsute and crestfallen Steve Coogan and a permanently upbeat Rob Brydon, doing versions of themselves.

Here they are in Italy now (Lord Byron territory) dining and chattering away while making fun of Hollywood.

The key to the films have always been the easy chemistry that Coogan and Brydon possess, and it is in  clear evidence once more.

The duo are now family men, but rather than worry about their families, they ramble on about actors and acting and try to out do each other.

Coogan rolls his eyes while Brydon goes on at length about Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. His favorite impression is Al Pacino. While Brydon's voices always seem to just miss, (every voice sounds the same) that adds to the fun. It's a kick and a holler to watch Coogan's irritation.

The shots of the Italian countryside are nothing less than a visual Pannettone aflame with stars and the appearances of the cuisine are so buttery and sumptuous that all seems to roll and slide off the plate in a salacious salivary 3D.

There are poignant wraiths of mortality throughout. The couples journey to the beach on Tuscany where Shelley was roasted on a pyre and his heart (like a galvanic mollusk) was saved and given to Mary. They journey to Rome and quip by the poet's grave. There is a wonderfully sneaky shot of Shelley's Memorial and its almost as if the camera was giving a respectful, if covert kiss with some singular and image-hungry eyes in shyness.

Shelley and Byron are thick ghosts and their shade seems to hang everywhere, mixing with talk of Robert De Niro and the ubiquitous Al Pacino to make a new spirit with appendages from an iPhone culture, transmuting into something truly rich and strange.

The linen and gray pair also go to the catacombs and are promptly creeped out. The Specter of Death does make a cameo, but his scythe is more of a smile rather than a sharp edge.

Coogan has a son, Joe (Timothy Leach) and Brydon is having an affair with a deck-hand Lucy (Rosie Fellner). While this might seem Allenesque, it isn't. The duo seems more at ease retreating into a Hollywood carnival of their own making with a carousel of voices, which is interesting in itself.

Curiously, Steve Coogan emerges as the more confident one. It is he alone who tries to reconnect with his son, while Brydon encloses himself in a stream of silly imitations, whenever the recitation of poetry forces Brydon to give a little of his human self.

These touches, akin to drizzles of red and yellow on a slice of fish or beef, make the film.

All in all, "The Trip to Italy" is a fine repast. Predictable at first glance it is, but Coogan and Brydon share enough intimacy under the nonsense, which gives the hilarity a hint of well placed haunt.

Write Ian at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week of September 12 - 18 (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Six Films Take You on Cinematic Journeys at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

At the Tropic Cinema you’ll find four films good enough to be held over -- plus two interesting newcomers. This is the ebb and flow of movies in Key West.

New to the screens is “The Trip to Italy” with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. A sequel to their previous talkie travel buddy movie (“The Trip”) the boys are on the road again, this time dining and bickering their way through Italy. The New Yorker says, “This hedonistic japery is shot through with middle-aged melancholy and the fear of death.” And Detroit News concludes, “If it's your cup of tea, you're likely to spill it from laughing so hard. Somebody send these two on another holiday.”

Also new is the slam-blam new James Bond movie … well, not exactly. It’s Pierce Brosnan as a former CIA assassin known as “The November Man.” Plenty of action as Brosnan tackles his first spy movie since giving up the 007 role. Laramie Movie Scope tells us “The pace of the film is fast and it generates a lot of tension. The acting is solid, led by Brosnan, who handles this role with aplomb…” And Three Movie Buffs exclaims, “It's a thrill seeing Brosnan in action once again.”

Holding over is “Land Ho!” -- another talkie-travel movie, this time with two older guys (Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson) going to Iceland. The babble of conversation and the stark beauty of the scenery will pull you along on their journey. Chicago Reader describes it as “engaging, low-key character study.” And Seattle Times adds “Eenhoorn brings an understated wry quality to his performance that nicely counterbalances Nelson's unflagging bonhomie.”

Another journey is … well, “The Hundred-Foot Journey/” that’s the distance between two restaurants, one a dignified French dining establishment overseen by Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren), the other a raucous Indian eatery that disturbs her sense of decorum. But romance is served up on two levels as a young Indian chef goes after Michelin star ratings. Richard Roeper calls it “Food porn with a sweet albeit predictable menu.” And Movie Talk elaborates, “Swedish director Lasse Hallström serves up the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, but if that is your fare of choice then this culinary culture-clash comedy will go down a treat.”

“Lucy” features Scarlett Johansson as the titular heroine, a young woman who gets exposed to a drug that activates unused portions of her brain, turning her into an all-powerful scourge against an army of Korean drug thugs. Morgan Freeman is on hand to explain it all like he does in those TV science programs. Los Angeles Times describes it as “Part philosophical/scientific treatise, part action movie…” And Village Voice notes that “Scarlett Johansson carries the film effortlessly.”

And last -- but not least, as they say -- is “The Last of Robin Hood.” This biopic tells of the last days of matinee idol Errol Flynn, star of the classic Robin Hood movie. Here Flynn (played by Kevin Kline)  falls for 15-year-old Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) while urged on by her mother (Susan Sarandon). True story mostly. Suburban Journals of St. Louis observe, “While this movie is a fairly middling biopic, it is actually a much more fascinating look at the trappings of fame, show business and celebrity culture.” And Newcity concludes, “Kline plays Flynn as a concatenation of jitters, fearful not only of fading but of death; Fanning is steely yet bright-eyed, and Sarandon flutters meaningfully.”

There you have it holdovers and newbies -- a great week at the Tropic.

November Man (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“November Man”
A Bond-Like Encore
For Pierce Bronson

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

One of the lessons of having a mentor is that this master-grasshopper relationship doesn’t last. Either the mentor must “kill off” the mentee when his growing skills threaten the relationship. Or the apprentice eventually tries to do in his master to assert himself.

You see it in the wild: Young wolves challenging the head of the pack for dominance.

That story has been told in spy movies before. Charles Bronson was challenged by Jan-Michael Vincent in 1975’s “The Mechanic.” Jason Statham and Ben Foster repeated it in a 2011 remake.

Now in “The November Man” -- the new spy thriller playing at the Tropic Cinema -- we have Pierce Bronson as an ex-CIA assassin being hunted by his former protégé, Luke Bracey.

Here, Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) is a mechanic known as The November Man, because as an old boss tells him, “after you pass through nothing lives.” Having retired to a quiet life in Switzerland, he’s called back into the field to protect a pretty woman who knows too much (Olga Kurylenko). But when he uncovers a plot involving the Russian president-elect, his old CIA handlers assign their best hitman to take him out. Turns out, it’s a guy he trained, his best friend David Mason (Bracey).

Yep, it’s the classic old bull - young bull scenario, with lots of gunplay, car chases, explosions, and James Bond-like derring-do.

This is the first action thriller Pierce Brosnan has done since stepping down from his starring role in the iconic James Bond series. “After Bond slipped away, I didn’t want to do action movies,” says Brosnan. “I wanted to stay away, I wanted to go off and do characters, play in a different tempo. But I think the timing now for this one feels right. Geopolitically it seems to have a certain relevance ... but it’s a hardnosed, hardboiled edge-of-your-seat thriller of the old-school spy genre.”

He says he wanted to have an action hero who didn’t rely on gadgets but used his own wits and intellect, a sassy badass who “gets the job done.”

Too bad director Roger Donaldson couldn’t snag Daniel Craig to co-star in this pitting of old pro against new kid on the block. Instead, relative newcomer Luke Bracey was given the assignment. He’s an up-and-comer with lots of films in the works (he has the Keanu Reeves part in a remake of “Point Break”).

Ukrainian-born Olga Kurylenko plays the burgundy-haired temptress that our hero is out to protect. A former Bond Girl (playing opposite Daniel Craig), you also saw her in “Oblivion” with Tom Cruise.

Not really a James Bond rip-off, “The November Man” is based on a book called “There Are No Spies” by Bill Granger. I remember reading it when it first came out in 1987. Granger was a Chicago newspaperman who wrote political thrillers under a variety of pseudonyms. There are thirteen books in The November Man series. A November Man movie sequel is already in the works.

An old pro who knows how to play the game, Pierce Brosnan tweets, “Well, thanks to one and all out there who have supported my career all these years. I am forever grateful to you. I really, sincerely, hope you enjoy The November Man. I shall carry on doing my best to entertain you all.”

James Bond … Remington Steele … Peter Devereaux … a spy of any other name, we like Brosnan in the role.

The Trip to Italy (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Trip to Italy”
Is Repeat Journey

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Recently, in reviewing “Land Ho!” I identified a new trend in films: what I called “guys traveling about, talking.” I likened it to “My Dinner With Andre” on the go.

Such a film was “The Trip,” with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The studio’s production notes tell us this about the movie: “Steve Coogan has been asked by The Observer to tour the country’s finest restaurants, but after his girlfriend backs out on him he must take his best friend and source of eternal aggravation, Rob Brydon.”

They are a popular British improv team, although Coogan has broken out in the film world (“Philomena,” “Tropic Thunder”).

Nevertheless, several moviegoers I know pegged “The Trip” as “self-indulgent nonsense.” But you can’t please everybody.

Now we have “The Trip to Italy,” a sequel again starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. This one’s described: “Two men, six meals in six different places on a road trip around Italy.”

Perhaps we should amend my description of this new trend in film to guys traveling about, eating and talking.”

“The Trip to Italy” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is not quite a reincarnation of those old Bob Hope - Bing Crosby road pictures. Instead, it’s a continuation of the previous movie with Coogan and Brydon. In fact, they reprise their dueling Michael Caine and Al Pacino impersonations from “The Trip.”

Yes, the film is filled with banter.

Were you abused as an altar boy?” asks Coogan.

“Only verbally,” replies Bryson.

Maybe you should focus on the food. They eat well.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Last of Robin Hood (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Last of Robin Hood

The directing duo of Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (The Fluffer, Quinceañera ) have a definite compelling swashbuckler on their hands with wonderful production design, yet the handling is just a little too fluffy.

"The Last of Robin Hood" stars a verbally agile Kevin Kline as the great, egotistical star with the rapier mustache, Errol Flynn.

Flynn is, if not at his twilight era, definitely seasoned in years here at 1958. The libertine actor has fallen in love with a presumed 18 year old jejune girl with Kim Novak cat eyes, one Beverly Aadland ( Dakota Fanning).

Flynn spies the girl from afar on the studio lot and gets her to audition for a play. He is instantly smitten. Dinner and some libidinous poking follow.

Alas, Whatever Errol wants, Errol gets.

Beverly is shaken up, then begins to enjoy the attention.

Beverly's scattered yet obsessive mother (Susan Sarandon) encourages the affair.

Abruptly, the girl rebuffs and aloofly taunts the dashing if aging man. Flynn becomes incensed and driven in amorous conquest.

Kevin Kline is authentic, jittery, dilapidated and dashing as Flynn. And, he has the right tone and repartee with the best lines. The slickness of the film moves a bit too fast and gives this amorally compelling figure more speed than space and more glancing parry instead of sharp poignance.

We seem to see only a shade of Flynn, at times air fencing and doing spins. If only there was more glue to his ghost.

The production values are spectacular. The cinematography is facile with its fluid camera that moves in sweeping arcs reminiscent of the film "Hitchcock". There are shimmering champagne dresses, cream colored cars, brown sweaters, fresh faced  high school kids and swishing skirts swirled in the laughter of lipstick, scotch and cigarettes.

Dakota Fanning is satisfactory even though she feels slight and a bit blank with not much emotional range. She invariably fixes the screen with a large eyed feline "come hither" pout.

Susan Sarandon is fine here too, but her voice-over interspersed throughout, goes over heavy and makes some tension seem like an hour TV movie. At one point, when she throws rocks at the window saying "I'll get you, you punks!" , it feels like a serialized melodrama without much gusto.

Still, Kline saves the day. He is complete in this role, despite having only a peppering of earthy entrances with depth to his part, aside from being the arrogant Casanova.

One interesting element is the aspect of Errol Flynn as Humbert Humbert, chasing his Lolita from the  reaches of Africa, to the sunlit surf of Cuba. Flynn risked all to remain virile, beyond the law, and on top of fame, but his unrestrained lust for teenage girls became a Faustian bargain, abruptly rescinded. It  seems Kubrick did not know what to make of an overzealous and leathery Flynn or for that matter his vacuous, kewpie doll love.

"The Last of Robin Hood" is deeply evocative of its period, but the all too rolling swiftness treats all drama with a sugary coloring book fizz. Kline pops in with verve and bravado, but at last, the distinctive  and looping curl on his lip that turns a questioning dare into a smile, looks like a Sharpie Ultrafine marker rather than a genuine detail of a life once lived in a black bottom pool

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Land Ho (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Land Ho!

Here is a road comedy co-directed by Aaron Katz (Cold Weather) and produced by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) about two older men who are also former brothers- in-law and lifelong friends.

While it is light on pathos, it is a kind of microscopic study in friendship. With only a few minimal touches similar to calligraphy, you do get a sense of these men.

Like a film employing a visual sleight of hand, "Land Ho!" is more than the sum of its parts. The film was shot with Red One cameras in order to better capture a minute fly-on-the wall feeling, rich in subtle unobtrusive gestures. The effect works, producing a swift and breezy account of an uncomfortable idyll in progress.

Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is a doctor, who is part John Wayne, part Santa Claus. He is sex-obsessed. When his emotionally-reserved friend, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) gets divorced, Mitch tells his friend that they are about to go on a "get-your-groove back" vacation.

But where? Miami Beach? Las Vegas? The Hamptons?

No, Iceland.

Colin is aghast. Surely Mitch can't be serious?

Fear not. "Land Ho!" is no cornball version of  "The Bucket List". Instead, in the manner of a short New Yorker biographical sketch we see these people as they truly behave in public and private.

The melancholy Colin sees meaning and anxiety in a mixed media assemblage at a gallery, while Mitch only sees a physical sexuality. Art is merely porn to excite him.

Mitch and Colin go to the airport in Reykjavik to pick up Mitch's cousin, Ellen (Karrie Crouse) and her girlfriend Janet (Elizabeth McKee). Horny devil Mitch lasciviously and creepily leer at the women as if they are bait on a hook, and the two girls attempt to flee to the bathroom.

In a pot and alcohol haze, the two go to a disco, where they are kicked to the curb, by the younger ladies. Colin and Mitch become prey to sluggish boredom, rapid nonsensical speech and a youth culture that is patronizing and chock full of little elements that they can't understand.

Mitch's earthy sour-ball joy keeps Colin's Low-T fiesta from sinking beyond reach.

The two actors play off well together, having a light bounce that is irrepressible. Earl Lynn Nelson is a riot in his inappropriateness and blunt free associations that hover close to a snickering offensiveness. Mitch is a teenager in a baby boomer's wrinkled body, a hopeless  pothead prone to anxiety, while there is a juicy leap when the shy and awkward Colin feels the warmth of a Canadian kiss with the softly sensual  Nadine (mosaic artist Alice Olivia Clarke).

As if to take a cue from PBS' "East Enders" these vignettes prove brief sketchy, and so pastel in texture that they might just slip under the eyelids.

Then in a clap, the episodes turn compact and form a whole, where the arc of a friendship can suddenly be seen like randy rockets  from a hot spring: a septuagenarian geyser of steamy vapors which in a final jolt, form the shapes of two.

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