A former Bond makes like Bourne and Susan Sarandon plays police in Ontario
These are my last reviews for a few weeks. I’m going travelling; in fact I already am. I wrote this last Saturday which is why it’s not as complete as usual. See you when I get back, just in time for the film festival.
Here’s today’s list:
The November Man: 2 stars
The Calling: 2 ½
The Congress: 3 ½
Rich Hill: 4
Foxfire: 2 ½
THE NOVEMBER MAN: Just like the character he plays, Pierce Brosnan is called back for one more spying job. Not as Bond this time; more like Bourne, taking on elaborate car chases and shoot-outs and complex plots and conspiracies in Eastern Europe. As one character says, “The front line is now in Belgrade.” Maybe, but it’s a messy one in this first film directed by Roger Donaldson from a line of potboiler novels by Bill Granger.
The title refers to a reputation: after November comes through, there’s nothing left alive. Except for one ill-advised scene, Brosnan falls short of that level of menace. He’s former CIA, 5-years retired and called in to foil a Russian politician who seems headed to be president but has much to keep secret about the war in Chechnya. With a single clue (a Russian woman’s name) and the help of a Serbian relief worker (Olga Kurylenko ) he uncovers a tawdry scandal which we get to see in some rough flashback scenes. There’s also a female assassin from Moscow on his trail and an old protégé of his at the CIA now sent by Washington to kill him. The film starts well with a zippy pace but loses us as it overheats in the narrative clutter. 2 out of 5
THE CALLING: A good cast (Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Heyerdahl, Gil Bellows and Ellen Burstyn) give it their all but don’t manage to put much vitality into this dreary film. The chief problem is the story. Taken from a popular novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, aka Michael Redhill, it gives us lapsed Catholics, ancient mysticism, murder, mercy killing, terminal illness and maybe a serial killer, bleak subjects all and then asks us to accept some highly improbable revelations. I didn’t buy any of them. The film also gets uncomfortably graphic at times and then nutty.
Sarandon plays a small town cop in Ontario who along with Grace and Bellows investigates a couple of gruesome murders and then learns there have been others. Each time the victim’s mouth had been positioned to look like it was talking. Put them in sequence and read their lips and they’re speaking a clue. “Early Christian mysticism,” says Sutherland, playing a priest. Who did it isn’t in doubt from the first minute a certain character shows up but Grace has to travel all the way to Vancouver Island and then Quebec to find out why. It should be much more involving than it is. I didn’t buy the overwrought ending either. 2 ½ out of 5
THE CONGRESS: You can’t fault this movie for lack of ambition. Having too much maybe, but not too little. Look at all that’s going on here. At the centre there’s a dark vision of the future. Everybody takes hallucinogenic drugs which the authorities supply to keep people under control. That draws on a novel by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, who also wrote Solaris. Built in both before and after is a heady satire of Hollywood where technology shapes entertainment today but 20 years on, when movies are “old news,” the industry turns to flogging speedier diversions.
Robin Wright advances through those stages playing herself, first in live action, them in animation, and then back again. She’s offered a deal by Miramount Pictures that will prolong her career. The studio will computer scan her image and use it instead of her live performance in future films. No porn or sci fi, she insists. Two decades later, she’s still a star and invited to an industry “congress” before a frenzied comic-con size crowd for the launch of a major new product. That’s held in a “restricted animation zone” which means she and everybody there are now animated characters; toons if you will. I don’t know why but it is visually dazzling. Whales leap, cars careen and robots bring room service, all rendered in bright colors and seemingly inspired by the Japanese master animator, Hayao Miyazaki. A rebellion breaks out and things get extra crazy. The movie industry angle disappears for a long time.
Five years ago, Ari Folman used animation in his film Waltz With Bashir to raise war issues in the Middle East. Taking on Hollywood seems relatively trivial but from Harvey Keitel’s fawning agent to Danny Huston’s venomous studio boss to Jon Hamm as an idealistic rebel, he gets in many entertaining blows. It’s just hard to see how his vision connects to Lem’s “world of chemical fantasy”. (5th Ave.) 3 ½ out of 5