Ex-covert operatives are all the rage in Hollywood these days. Just like U2 saved rock 'n roll with their track Beautiful Day, Liam Neeson has almost single-handedly brought back the old guy with action skills revenge thriller with Taken. Although, let's not discount Sylvester Stallone's efforts to reinvigorate aging action men of the '80s with his reboots and The Expendables. For what it's worth, you could argue Steven Seagal and his stunt double team have dedicated his entire career to this format.
We just saw Denzel Washington playing a likable version of Steven Seagal in The Equalizer and now it's Pierce Brosnan's turn to reboot a character from the past in The November Man. Brosnan was one of the better Bonds. He had the schmarminess, the Gillette razor looks and the devil-may-care charms to play up the widely-worshiped gigolo, part-time spy and international man of mystery. While his latest contract prevents him from getting his kit off on camera, he's allowing his estranged apprentice to do all the bedroom stunts.
His latest mission finds him bored of not killing people and pitted against his former pupil and the Russian president-elect. It's pretty standard Jean-Claude Van Damme action thriller terrain and it's mostly entertaining seeing our main man Brosnan pulling off some Bronson revenge intensity. We buy the ex-CIA operative angle thanks to his Bond background and he's still pretty compelling as the weathered one-last-job action star.
He's supported by G.I. Joe: Retaliation's Luke Bracey, who plays an apprentice both on-screen and off. Bracey's not the main attraction, but works as a counterbalance to Brosnan with some heated cat-and-mouse action sequences between the two. Bracey is a handsome guy, but is much colder than The November Man, always playing second fiddle.
"No, the women are great... I'm just sick of playing a bloody agent."
Olga Kurylenko brings even more Bond nostalgia to The November Man as a former Bond girl fromQuantum of Solace. She seems like the go-to girl for these kinds of movies, after appearing in Hitmantoo, and her Ukranian heritage helps cover some plot points as she plays the mysterious damsel and arm candy to Brosnan. She's mostly there for her action experience and beauty, but does enough to sell the character.
Director Roger Donaldson worked previously with Brosnan on Dante's Peak, and until late had a fairly strong run of films including: The Bank Job, The Recruit and The World's Fastest Indian. Unfortunately,Seeking Justice with Nic Cage was not as strong and perhaps the Cage bug bit because The November Man doesn't keep step with the better half of his directorial efforts.
The November Man starts with aplomb and it's great to see Pierce Brosnan still kicking, but the film loses itself along the way. We're split between three lead characters, each on their own personal vendetta and this fragments a film you were expecting The November Man to dominate. This probably wouldn't have been as much of an issue if each trail had kept pace. Unfortunately, an off-key romantic subplot grates and the film doesn't recover.
We're still invested in the versus action, the political conspiracy is relatively engaging and it's always good to see the bad guys getting dominated. Unfortunately, like many of these coming out of retirement films, the hero is borderline invincible, MacGyvering his way out of trouble and treating bad guys like Usain Bolt's hurdles. We've seen it all before and The November Man does it all again.
To its credit, they've tried to get creative with their fights and props and they never stop trying to entertain, but The November Man is going to fade into the glut of superior action thrillers out there. It's good enough to sit through, enjoyable for the twists-and-turns and clocks in above straight-to-video status. Unfortunately, it's too indistinct to register as anything more than a middling, reasonably entertaining action thriller.
Faith-based films are set apart when it comes to film-making. Unfortunately for most, this subgenre separation is not complimentary and has given Christian-themed cinema a self-perpetuating stigma. While the film-makers set out with the best of intentions, these inspirational films all seem to encounter a similar batch of issues.
Part of the inherent problem rests with the original objective and purpose of the film. Are the film-makers aiming to make a great film with Christian values for everyone, or are they setting out to make a Christian film with great production values for Christ-followers? It’s ironic that you’d imagine the inspiration at the heart of the film is meant to draw the "unchurched", yet it often ends up being made exclusively for pre-existing members.
Are these Christ-orientated films seen as tools to spread the good news, or are they simply cornering a large captive self-marketing segment? These films tend to preach to the choir. You could argue that the role of church-friendly films is to serve the endorsed entertainment needs of the insiders, yet this exclusivity shouldn’t compromise the quality of the film in question.
In order to address and hopefully eradicate the stigma going forward, here are Seven Cardinal Sins that Christian films and film-makers often commit...
If you’re looking for pure entertainment, there’s nothing worse than feeling as though you’re being manipulated by a film. Great thought-provoking films won’t insult audiences with strong biases; instead they will persuade the viewer to see things from their point-of-view. If you feel like you’re being led by the nose or patronised, you’re going to kick back.
Christian films tend to create barriers when viewers feel like they have been judged, excluded or forced to accept a set of absolute values they haven’t subscribed to. Film is a powerful medium, but if the audience feels the underlying message is self-righteous or rife with propaganda and ulterior motives, the end result is usually a disconnect for them.
The Christian lens is typically rose-tinted. As such, we tend to encounter a rather romantic view of life in films representing this viewpoint. It’s not to say that bad stuff doesn’t happen, but we’re typically privy to a sanitised "Pleasantville" version of what we know from our own experience. There’s a creeping idealism as characters tend toward positivity and simplicity. They’re not perfect, but their wholesome virtues predispose them to fit in-line with the idea of being God’s children.
This suspended God-vision seems to numb the depths of depravity and turn ordinarily complex situations into a simple spiritual equation. This naivety also sinks into the medium as an art form, diluting the artistic merit of the director’s personal vision for a safer, clean-cut middle ground.
Inspirational films probably struggle to get the same level of funding and support from traditional investors as mainstream productions. While it could be seen as a setback, Christian films are able to leverage their message movie status to accumulate necessary resources from local churches, change agencies, charity partners and key individuals.
With a typically indie disposition, the film-makers tend to rely on whatever resources are available to them. “Doing it for the faith” can sometimes mean working at a reduced fee, offering film services for free and trying to save a buck wherever possible. Keeping costs low, phoning in favours and debuting inexperienced talent makes these films more susceptible to inconsistency in performance and makes them more prone to technical hiccups, which can make or break a film for less forgiving audiences.
Just like good and bad CGI, there’s a fine line between real and unreal. God’s supernatural power as Creator of the Universe makes Him difficult to represent in human terms. As such, it’s tricky to represent an all-knowing, all-powerful God or heaven in any form without being subject to some inherent inadequacy. This generally cheapens the vision and undersells the moment. It seems that you can’t be subtle enough.
This also applies to sincerity and insincerity when it comes to film, and trying to get the balance and integrity of God-breathed passion can sometimes go horribly wrong. There are many hurdles: shoestring budgets, thin scripts, two-dimensional characters, working with non-actors and creating moments of deep, heartfelt spirituality can render important scenes off-balance and insincere. That contrived feeling can ruin the emotional integrity of a scene, and if a degree of insincerity creeps in, the moment goes from deeply heartfelt and sentimental to funny and borderline sacrilegious.
Christianity is a faith that encourages an intersection of the heart, mind and soul. It’s not simply a religious theory, but a message of love and relationship, which tends to pivot on a deeply emotional breakthrough for true change to take place. Placing your faith in Christ and casting your belief on an event in history that forms the basis of our timeline is not simply a light-bulb moment. It often results in a pent-up, overwhelming outpouring of elation and emotion simultaneously.
Dealing with characters struggling through life, experiencing highs and lows or converting on this basis makes it easy for a faith-based film’s tone to tend toward melodrama. This is exacerbated by strongly stereotyped characters, who often populate scripts trying to reach the broadest audience possible. Choosing to enrich these moments with cinematic power is prized over entrenching them in the maudlin.
While finding new audiences must be a serious consideration and motivating factor in the film-making process, Christian films often seem content with simply speaking to, inspiring and satisfying their own folk. If you’re relying on a captive audience to champion your film or a church network to fund the production, they obviously need to like it.
This prerequisite often results in an inoffensive message tailored to the insiders, as opposed to the telling of a universal story that has points of contact for all audiences. While the general themes of redemption, forgiveness and restitution hold strong as compelling journeys for characters, the didactic language, church-orientated setting and one-cure-fits-all approach can be alienating.
The Christian way is founded on such noble qualities as authenticity, belief and honesty. Conveying these qualities by means of the film medium can be problematic in the sense that the film-making process relies on illusion and fabrication of such moments. Every film-maker aspires to represent moments of truth, yet the pressure is compounded by a film’s budgetary reach. While faith-based films deal with relatable characters, their scope is generally ambitious and the stories extraordinary.
This kind of storytelling has a tendency to be overwrought in its attempt to extract great emotion. When we deal with characters going through a life-changing conversion, everything seems to get played up and the nuances of the moment are lost. Creating the right conditions for a character to reach full realisation also tends to be orchestrated to a fault, straining the emotional integrity and over-extending our suspense of disbelief.
In order to rectify these problems, film-makers need to be aware of and identify these pitfalls. The Christian film industry appears to be improving and growing with experience with each passing year, and hopefully this will be reflected in terms of potential investors. More experience, more workable budget and having access to better actors will also go a long way to establishing the right tone and hopefully these films will start to appeal to those inside and outside the faith as both an enjoyable and worthy form of entertainment.
Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty won Best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards. The luscious and breathtaking film set in Rome has lauded praise from critics and audiences alike, Spling checked in with Paolo to find out about his film, which is now showing at independent and commercial cinemas in South Africa.
Did you expect The Great Beauty would be such a success?
All the rave reviews it got were a surprise. All I tried to do, to the best of my abilities, was make the film I had in my head. Everything that happened after, the acclaim and its fallout internationally as well, really went beyond anything I could have imagined.
The cinematography of Rome is glorious... were there any locations you would have liked to shoot?
I had the chance to shoot there where I wanted, in the places I’d imagined being able to describe.
The Great Beauty presents a number of paradoxes relating to Rome, how has your film been received in Italy?
In Italy the film was controversial from its first showing at Cannes and that went on up to the Oscar.
You chose to shoot on 35mm, what’s your take on digital?
When I was filming The Great Beauty I knew it would have been my last film in 35mm. And, in fact, that’s how things have panned out.
You’ve directed Toni Servillo in a number of films, do you see yourself in him?
Toni and I have known each other for many years. Our friendship and sense of complicity, his total dedication which, though, never get in the way of his desire to have a good time and do the thing together, passionately, as if on an adventure, means Toni is my ideal interlocutor to deal with the arduous struggle that a film represents. Not to mention, naturally, his inexhaustible capacities as an actor, which are always unforeseeable and unexpected to my eyes.
Which scene in The Great Beauty is your favourite?
I'd say that one moment of the film I feel is essential is when the missionary who's going to be canonized says, “You don't talk about poverty, you live it”. For Jep that moment marks the possibility of being able to pick up the thread of his life again.
Your film’s been compared to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, what aspect of your cinema would you like to be remembered for?
As I've said before, I consider La Dolce Vita a masterpiece while The Great Beauty is only a film. It's hard to say what will remain of your work. I always hope that my films manage to move people.
Tell us about the writing process... where do you write and what inspires you?
I write at home, in my study. The creative process usually begins with the identification of a character. I start taking lots of notes, about all sorts of things, about things I see and what happens to me as well. I gather all this together and when the material starts to become really substantial, I start creating rhymes, assonance, connections. I define my story as I go along. The next phase is writing the screenplay.
You tend to write and direct... if you had a choice, which screenwriter(s) would you like to work with in the future?
It's not easy for me to think of writing with another screenwriter. I did it with Umberto Contarello for This Must Be The Place and for The Great Beauty. I started writing with Umberto when I was very young, when he was already a successful writer for the cinema and I was just aspiring screenwriter very much learning the ropes.
Ours has been a simple and happy relationship, thanks in part to the method that we used. Basically, this method consists of a first phase of chatting, where we concentrate on general suggestions, the points of interest, the tones. We go for very long lunches during which we talk about the film and often wander off in other directions. Then I write a first draft of the screenplay, Umberto does the second and so on like that, in a long work of ping-pong that goes on right up to the last possible moment, that is, the day before shooting starts.
Was it easy to readjust after shooting This Must Be the Place?
After two wonderful years of travelling between Europe and the United States to make This Must Be the Place, I really felt the need to stop moving. I wanted to maintain my idle lifestyle with a job that allowed me to go home every evening; but in reality La grande bellezza was an exhausting film, despite being a passionate experience.
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PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE 3D
Planes: Fire and Rescue follows Dusty Crophopper, a world famous air racer, who discovers his new calling as an aerial firefighter after engine trouble ends his racing career. This high-flying animated adventure Disney sequel to Planes features the voice talent of Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Julie Bowen and Brad Garrett.
Why you need to see it: If you and your kids enjoyed Planes, you'll just love the flashy 3D action, inside jokes and heroic characters in this sequel!
Based on the 1980s TV series, this revenge thriller is about Robert McCall, played by Denzel Washington, a former covert operations officer, who commits his unique skills as a private eye to those in need. After befriending a teenage prostitute, the cool, calm and collected McCall finds himself in an underground war against the Russian mob.
Why you need to see it:Denzel Washington is super cool, Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) is behind camera and this movie echoes films like Training Day, Man on Fire and Taken.
THE MAZE RUNNER
Based on the young adult novel of the same name by James Dashner, this dystopian sci-fi thriller follows Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), who finds himself trapped with a host of other teenage boys at the centre of a deadly maze without any recollection of their past. With a Lord of the Flies scenario, Hunger Games setting and vicious Grievers patrolling the maze, the teenagers prepare to go where boys fear to tread.
Why you need to see it: If you loved Divergent, The Hunger Games or The Giver, this dark, mysterious sci-fi thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat!
When a couple in deep financial trouble, discover $400,000 in cash in a neighbour's apartment, they attract the attentions of the thief that stole it. This gritty and suspenseful crime thriller stars James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson and Omar Sy, star of The Intouchables.
Why you need to see it: This classic, star-studded and violent crime thriller grapples with what happens when an ordinary couple are pushed to the edge.