URGE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent and Sexual Behavior, Drug Use, and Language throughout

Directed by: Aaron Kaufman

Written by: Jerry Stahl

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Ashley Greene, Justin Chatwin, Alexis Knapp, Danny Masterson, Kea Ho & Bar Paly

The trailer for URGE sold it as a cross between THE CRAZIES and LORD OF THE FLIES with drugs. I was sold, even if reviews were terrible and Pierce Brosnan was clearly showing up because he needed some quick cash. Still, I sought out URGE and instantly regretted it by the time the end credits began to roll. Much like a drug, this film lures you in with false promises and then crushes your hopes into a fine dust. URGE has cool ideas and a few redeeming qualities, but it’s mostly hot garbage that should be avoided in favor of better crazy thrillers.

A group of friends head out for a relaxing weekend on a tropical island paradise. They have all sorts of fun activities planned, including booze, boobs, and drugs. After stopping by a strange nightclub, rational member of the group Jason (Justin Chatwin) is given a suitcase full of glowing vials by a strange intellectual simply known as The Man (Pierce Brosnan). These vials contain a drug, called “urge,” that’s all the rage on the island. Urge guarantees a high to end all highs, but it comes with one big rule: You can only use it once…ever. Being a bunch of idiots, the group decides to break the drug’s single rule and bad things happen. As their inhibitions slip away, their humanity gives way to a darker side.

URGE has a pretty awesome premise. It’s THE CRAZIES with drugs and that sounds cool. The main idea was interesting to the point where I was excited to watch this film. The story has a handful of twisted set pieces that stick out as the best moments in the whole damn film. There’s one person eating an entire cake in an orgasmic way that had me laughing my ass off. There’s a memorable moment of weight-lifting gone horribly wrong, as well as other crazy bits of over-the-top violence. These are entertaining scenes in an otherwise disappointingly dull film.

With the good, comes a whole lot of bad. URGE’s characters are bland as bland can be. The darker moments are cool for their pure spectacle, but these bits don’t leave much of an impact because the characters are paper-thin. Justin Chatwin (THE INVISIBLE, WAR OF THE WORLDS) plays a protagonist that we’re supposed to root for simply because he isn’t an unlikable douchebag. Danny Masterson plays an insufferably snobby rich asshole, while Ashley Greene looks bored as his perpetually annoyed secretary/crush. Meanwhile, the rest of the main characters include: a British jock who’s obsessed with his abs, that British jock’s diet-happy girlfriend, a nerdy outcast stereotype, and a somewhat sensible gal who begins to realize that urge is dangerous.

The only capable actor here is Pierce Brosnan as the scenery-chewing Man and his hammy bits consist of about ten minutes of screen time. While Brosnan is on the screen, he somehow makes this film entertaining in a really stupid way and this includes the story’s inexplicably baffling stray into supernatural territory. The film’s script progressively gets more ridiculous as it moves into a final third that’s mind-boggling in the worst ways imaginable. There was an attempt to throw deeper meanings into the mix and these bits come off as laughably inept, especially with a two-minute end credit sequence that belongs in a completely different movie.

URGE’s visuals look slick for the most part, but this film tries too hard to be stylish and edgy. The latter comes from opening credits that feature close-ups of two rubber fetish suits for no damn reason other than to push the envelope. The film has annoyingly sped-up transitions and unnecessary close-ups during its first act that give way to the laughably bad drug trip sequences. Urge is a drug that gives its user: sex-filled montages, psychedelic colors, and (later on) split-second images of scantily clad evil angels. This is all as laughably bad as it sounds. There are also spots of CGI blood that look godawful. Could the budget really not afford “expensive” fake blood, so they just added these fake-looking splatter effects in post?

URGE has slick visuals and a few cool moments. These redeeming factors only marginally counteract the film’s tonally muddled script, stupid plot twists, pretentious attempts at deeper meanings (brace yourself for Biblical discussions), and thoroughly unlikable characters. It’s also worth noting that the titular drug doesn’t seem all that special. The characters seem amazed that a drug would make you want to have sex in the middle of a rave party, but isn’t that the exact function of ecstasy too? Also, urge looks like a small glow stick that you snort up your nose. In short, URGE is not worth watching. Cool premise, terrible execution.

Grade: D+

DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Sexuality

DieADay poster

Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Written by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang & John Cleese

The twentieth movie in the Bond franchise and eleventh in my 007 retrospective, DIE ANOTHER DAY marked the end of the Pierce Brosnan’s stint as the iconic secret agent. In the grander scheme of thing, it also technically serves as the conclusion of the original series and caused its studio to reboot the franchise. In other words, DIE ANOTHER DAY has a pretty bad reputation for wrecking James Bond to the point where the series needed to be remade. So, is this a colossal failure? Is DIE ANOTHER DAY the BATMAN & ROBIN of Bond? I wouldn’t go that far, because there are a couple of things I like about this “final” Bond movie. That being said, this is still pretty bad.

DIE ANOTHER DAY, Pierce Brosnan, 2002, (c) MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

James Bond’s latest mission has taken into dangerous North Korean territory. When his cover is blown, Bond is taken captive and suspended as an MI6 agent. Through a few cunning decisions and sheer dumb luck, Bond escapes and tries to track down a crazed terrorist from his past. This will require Bond partnering up with catsuit-wearing NSA agent Jinx. The two spies are forced to face off against a terrorist with diamond-acne and a super-weapon-wielding entrepreneur.

MCDDIAN EC020

Let me address the good stuff first. I really enjoyed the prologue in North Korea. The action may be bombastic, but there’s a sense of excitement that reminded me of GOLDENEYE‘s opening. It also set up this story with a ton of potential…and then everything goes down hill as soon as the opening titles roll. The problems begin in the titular song of the credits, which doesn’t sound like it even belongs in a Bond film. This just sounded like a random pop song that was thrown in at the last-minute. As the minutes tick forward from that point on, DIE ANOTHER DAY wastes away its potential on pointless scenes, a bored Brosnan, and a screenplay that’s riddled with plot holes. The story feels too clichéd and over-the-top, even for a Bond film (which can typically be far-fetched, but fun). Besides the opening sequence, the only other moment that sticks out for good reason is a fencing scene between Bond and the main villain. As cool as that sequence is, it only raises further plot holes once a few convenient (and stupid) revelations occur during the final third.

DieADay 3

Brosnan seems past his point of caring to be Bond. His performance in this film is even more apathetic than his purely-for-the-paycheck effort in WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. As far as villains go, only one performance stands out and I won’t give that cast member’s identity away for fear of spoilers. However, I appreciated this person’s contribution to the film and wish that their character served as the main villain instead of a mere plot device. Halle Berry headlines the film with Brosnan and doesn’t really feel like a Bond girl at all. Instead, it almost feels like CATWOMAN got crossed with a crappy Bond flick. Speaking of which, DIE ANOTHER DAY is on the same level as CATWOMAN’s special effects. We get some shockingly crappy visuals. These include cartoony electricity (courtesy of the main villain’s super suit), Flash Animation quality lasers (that don’t blend well with a fight scene), a Syfy-level melting ice palace, and a rubbery surfing Bond aided by a fake-as-hell parachute.

DieADay 4

DIE ANOTHER DAY came out on the 20th anniversary of DR. NO. Throughout this twentieth Bond flick, there are little nods to the other movies (e.g. the shoe-knife in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the rocket-pack from THUNDERBALL, etc.). All these little cameos only served to remind me how badly this final Brosnan entry screwed the pooch. The original Bond series survived decades of directors, actors, and varying levels of effects. However, none of that could endure after DIE ANOTHER DAY sent everything plummeting into such a rut that a reboot not only became preferable, but transformed into a damn necessity. The original Bond series ended with a whimper as opposed going out with a glorious bang…

Grade: D

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, some Sexuality and Innuendo

WorldNotEnough poster

Directed by: Michael Apted

Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Colin Salmon & John Cleese

The nineteenth entry in the Bond series and the tenth review in my 007 retrospective, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is a movie that I actually had a weird childhood connection with. Though 2006’s CASINO ROYALE was the only Bond movie I had ever watched before starting this retrospective (in anticipation of SPECTRE), I played the Nintendo 64 version of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH throughout my later years of elementary school. So while I had never seen this 1999 film, I had played its videogame counterpart enough to guess a basic outline of where things might head. That being said, I was excited to see if this third Brosnan Bond flick would hold up to his first two entries. To put it nicely, this was a disappointment…

MSDWOIS EC091

Sir Robert King, a high-profile businessman, has been assassinated inside of MI6. James Bond gives chase to the assassin, but is left in the dark as to why King was killed and by whom. As a result, MI6 assigns Bond to guard King’s daughter, Elektra. The culprit behind King’s assassination appears to be Renard, a chaotic terrorist who had previously abducted Elektra. Bond quickly discovers that Renard seems to be coming after Elektra for a second time and a deadly, destructive plan is set in motion. Aided by a most unlikely nuclear physicist (Denise Richards), Bond must race against the clock to stop a nuclear attack.

MSDWOIS EC002

The opening ten minutes of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH speak volumes as to what kind of movie this is. We see Bond confront a Swiss banker, leap out of a building, witness an assassination, engage in a high-speed boat chase and then jump off an exploding hot-air balloon. As adrenaline-pumping and overwhelming as all of this sounds, none of these things come off as the least bit exciting. An apathetic approach towards the action is constant throughout most of the running time. However, there are a couple of ridiculous scenes that I enjoyed if only for their sheer absurdity. The best of these has Bond facing off against a helicopter equipped with saw blades. This sequence is just as stupid as it sounds, but at that point, I was taking any possible enjoyment that I could muster. The film also looks good (for the most part) with solid special effects and stunts, but sadly this cannot make up for a lackluster screenplay.

MSDWOIS EC057

I don’t know what happened between TOMORROW NEVER DIES (my pick for the most underrated 007 film) and WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, but it seems like Brosnan just stopped caring. When performed well, the character of James Bond can bring a level of fun and excitement to even the most preposterous script. In his third outing as the iconic secret agent, Brosnan seems bored. The only halfway decent performance in this movie comes from Sophie Marceau as Elektra King, but I saw her character’s whole story arc as forced and unbelievable. Denise Richards takes the spot of worst Bond girl that I’ve ever seen. She has no chemistry with 007 and her wooden delivery make all of her puns even more painful to behold. Finally, there’s Robert Carlyle as the scarred madman Renard. This Bond villain is just plain vanilla. He’s bland and the only unique characteristic to him is that there’s a bullet in his brain that makes him immune to pain. That being said, the final showdown between himself and Bond comes off like the actors are rehearsing for a fight scene as opposed to actually performing stunts in front of the camera.

MSDWOIS EC084

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is where Brosnan’s stint as Bond began to turn sour. The self-referential attitude is absent and the character of Bond has suddenly turned into another generic action hero. The qualities that made this long running franchise of spy movies so special don’t seem to exist within the confines of these 128 minutes. I was far more bored than excited. The action scenes (which should have been impressive, save for that lame final fight) somehow come off as dull. Sadly, WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH doesn’t pack enough of a plot or enough excitement to be remotely satisfying.

Grade: C-

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, Sexuality and Innuendo

TomorrowDies poster

Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode

Written by: Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Gotz Otto, Ricky Jay, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli & Judi Dench

The eighteenth film in the Bond series and the ninth in my 007 retrospective, TOMORROW NEVER DIES wasn’t as well-received as GOLDENEYE by most critics and audiences. Color me surprised, because I absolutely loved this second Brosnan Bond film just as much as GOLDENEYE. In a franchise that has frequently used evil organizations, constant nuclear threats and a noticeably sexist viewpoint towards its female characters, TOMORROW NEVER DIES does something out of the ordinary. It’s so vastly different from the rest of the 007 series (in a good way) that I couldn’t help but appreciate every second of this eighteenth(!) Bond entry.

MSDTONE EC032

After saving the world during an opening sequence, James Bond is saddled with yet another assignment (does he ever get a break?). His latest venture is to investigate narcissistic media mogul Elliot Carver. Carver’s newspaper was the first to report on the mysterious sinking of a British submarine. Bond discovers that Carver is intent on starting World War III in hopes that he’ll gain a stronger hold on the media and more power for his god-like complex. Bond is on a mission to stop the insane businessman, but Carver is also onto 007. A deadly, international game of cat-and-mouse erupts between the two with others caught in the crossfire.

MSDTONE EC077

I already said in my review of GOLDENEYE that Pierce Brosnan wonderfully inhabits the old-school Bond that Connery made his own. That doesn’t change in this second outing with Brosnan in the role. The biggest stand-out is Jonathan Pryce as Carver though. He’s simply a fantastic villain. Though his plan to start WWIII might echo a certain earlier Roger Moore entry, his insanity and motives are wholly unique. The narcissistic attitude and smugness in which Pryce plays the part make Carver into a Bond villain unlike any other. He’s simply a lunatic with a massive complex and a most unusual view of world domination. What’s also notable is a distinct lack of a singular Bond girl for a majority of the running time. If you want to be technical there are two female partners with whom 007 teams up, but they come at different points in the movie and don’t necessarily qualify as main characters in my view. It was nice to see Bond up against a villain who was one step ahead of him for nearly the entire film. Unlike Sean Bean in GOLDENEYE (who served as a wonderful villain due to his familiarity with 007), Carver is just an insane genius who makes some pretty ballsy moves in order to outwit Bond.

MSDTONE EC012

Much like GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES uses familiar elements from older Bond flicks in a fresh way. A megalomaniac villain exists in pretty much every Bond movie to date. After all, who are you going to pit a seemingly invincible secret agent up against? An average small-scale bad guy or someone who wants to wreak global havoc? I think everyone would agree that the latter option will always be the better one. Besides a killer villain, TOMORROW also uses an extremely fast pace with tons of action. However, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing so merely for the sake of using bombastic special effects. Instead, the story ventures into remarkably darker territory (especially one scene in a hotel room) that older Bond movies wouldn’t have dared to go into. These plot points make for a more sinister and intense storyline. It all worked because I was hooked from start to finish.

MSDTONE EC064

Thus far, the two Brosnan Bond flicks I’ve seen have shaken up familiar 007 conventions. Familiar plot points are adjusted with a modern flare that make for high-octane spy entertainment willing to take more risks than previous efforts. TOMORROW NEVER DIES really stands out as one of my favorite 007 films so far. It has a creative, original story when compared to most other entries in the franchise. Carver stands out as one of the most unusual villains in the series too. I was blown away by this movie and look forward to revisiting it many times in the future. TOMORROW NEVER DIES comes highly recommended as one of the very best Bonds.

Grade: A

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a number of sequences of Action/Violence, and for some Sexuality

Goldeneye poster

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Gottfried John, Robbie Coltrane & Alan Cumming

The seventeenth Bond film in the series and the eighth in my 007 retrospective, GOLDENEYE brings a fresh-faced, modern take on Bond. It turns out that through studio disputes and (possibly) poor reception to Timothy Dalton’s previous outing (which is my pick for the worst Bond film I’ve seen thus far) was enough to sort of “reboot” the franchise. This 90’s Bond takes off with material that’s in line with the rest of the franchise and does so with an even more action-packed style. GOLDENEYE brought Pierce Brosnan to the screen as 007 and managed to be a big hit, both financially and critically. After watching it, there’s no surprise as to why that is.

MSDGOLD EC026

In the mid-80’s, oo7 and 006 (Bond’s partner and best friend) undertook a mission to destroy a Soviet biological weapon facility. The mission was an overall success, but 006 was killed in the process. Nearly a decade later, Bond finds himself on the trail of a super weapon that has fallen into very dangerous hands. This weapon is able to detonate locations from outer space and only one person has survived its power. The sole survivor is Natalya Simonova and Bond is forced to partner up with her. The search for the weapon will lead Bond to a sadistic murderer as well as a familiar face from the past (take a guess as to who that could possibly be).

MSDGOLD EC002

First things first, how’s Pierce Brosnan as Bond? Some people I’ve spoken with really don’t like him as the iconic secret agent, but I actually dig Brosnan’s 007 quite a lot. He seems to be taking the old-school Connery approach. By this, I mean that he balances a charismatic ladies man attitude with a likable action hero persona. I totally bought him as the character. However, certain Bond films are only as good as their villains and the baddie here is amazing. It’s not a spoiler (considering that most plot descriptions give more away than I will) to say that Sean Bean is impressive as a rogue agent. Seeing as Bean’s character was a former MI6 agent, it makes him a far more intimidating foe because he knows all of Bond’s tricks intimately. This also leads to tense confrontations and damn near impossible life-or-death situations that Bond finds himself trying to escape. Bean isn’t the only impressive baddie though as Famke Janssen plays a henchwoman who literally gets off on the violence she inflicts. Her scenes are both frightening and darkly hilarious in a really sick way.

MCDGOLD EC011

The Bond girl this time around comes in the form of Izabella Scorupco. I really enjoyed her performance as Natalya and she asks a question that few Bond girls have ever dared ask. She gets frustrated at the violence Bond inflicts and asks him why he must kill his enemy as opposed to merely thwarting and capturing them. This verbal bombshell gives her character far more development than most of the Bond girls from previous films. However, Natalya’s complaints fall on deaf ears as GOLDENEYE is pretty much constant action that moves a rip-roaring pace. The plot may resemble Bond movies of the past, but it’s executed in a bigger, better and smarter way. The Bond girl is a survivor of a horrific attack. The villain is a former friend of 007’s and not simply a cat-stroking, eye-patch-wearing madman. The weapon isn’t simply a nuclear bomb, but a threat that can hit from space. The sense of humor works with Alan Cummings playing an “invincible” hacker whose punchline is well worth a potentially annoying running joke. There’s also a fantastic chase scene in which Bond pursues the baddies through the city streets in a friggin’ tank (yes, you read that right!).

MMDGOLD EC004

The best part about GOLDENEYE is that it feels like a Bond movie that’s seen the rest of the Bond series. It’s not simply repeating well-worn clichés and staples in the series. Instead, it’s using the previous films to its advantage in keeping the viewer on their toes. The villain is well-aware of MI6 protocols and Bond’s personality, which makes him a more intimidating presence. There’s a Bond girl who actually is frightened and upset by the bloodshed around her, instead of merely shrugging it off as part of the battle. The whole plot is smart and thwarts expectations set by the series. Overall, GOLDENEYE stands as a fantastic example of why James Bond can survive various actors, over 20 films, and decades of pop culture. In the right hands, this material provides some of the best spy entertainment ever brought to the screen!

Grade: A

NO ESCAPE (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence including a Sexual Assault, and for Language

NoEscape poster

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

Written by: John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle

Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins & Claire Geare

My mind is boggled that a film like NO ESCAPE could even be made in today’s society. Originally titled THE COUP, this film was supposed to come out in March and got shifted to August at the last-minute. The premise had a lot of potential behind it. However, I couldn’t help but notice that it was being written/directed by the Dowdle brothers. This pair of sibling filmmakers were also behind such disappointments as QUARANTINE (the [REC] remake) and AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (which had a great premise and little follow-through). In a sadly not-so-surprising twist of foreseeable fate, NO ESCAPE suffers from poor direction and bad writing. Though slight glimmers of quality occasionally shine through, this film comes off as an ultra-xenophobic exploitation flick and is weighed down by all the baggage that comes with that. It might be taken as unintentionally hilarious, if it weren’t so insanely offensive.

NoEscape 1

Jack Dwyer has moved his American family (his wife and two daughters) out to Southeast Asia for a business venture. Their trip seems to have gotten off to a rocky start with a rundown hotel room and a crazy taxi driver. Faulty electricity and bad driving are nothing compared to what happens next though. A rebel army has assassinated the prime minister and are rioting across the country. Jack discovers that these crazed gun-waving rebels are executing foreigners on sight. Seeing no easy way out of this dire situation, Jack does all he can to keep his family safe. This means venturing out into the chaos-filled streets to get to the American Embassy. That’s pretty much the whole plot right there.

NoEscape 2

The Dwyers are a bland family of generic character types. There’s the businessman husband, the reluctant wife, and the two daughters who only serve as children thrown into harm’s way (therefore automatically upping the stakes). Owen Wilson is woefully miscast in the role of a would-be action hero and his entire performance seems awkward. Meanwhile, young Sterling Jerins is reprising her role as the scared child from WORLD WAR Z. I swear that this was that exact same character, but with Owen Wilson replacing Brad Pitt as her father. Also, the villains are just a bland mass of Asians. We never find out what country NO ESCAPE takes place in (though most of the film seems to have been shot in Thailand). The characters never refer to it by name, they just keep calling it Asia. However, I’m not exactly shocked by that cultural insensitivity seeing that they didn’t even bother to correct upside down Khmer on police shields (which resulted in this film being banned in Cambodia). Putting it nicely, NO ESCAPE is xenophobic to the extreme.

NoEscape 3

As bad and misguided as a majority of NO ESCAPE is, there are brief redeeming qualities. These come in two polar opposites. Pierce Brosnan plays a quirky secret agent-like character and makes his scenes somewhat enjoyable. Brosnan seems to be channeling the goofy sort of camp that this film might have had if the story went all the way into enjoyably over-the-top B-flick territory. Instead, the movie tries to be a frightening thrill-ride from start to finish and only one sequence legitimately frightened me. Near the beginning of the chaos, the rebels are breaking down hotel doors and slaughtering the occupants inside. This entire scene through the hallways of the hotel is intense and disturbing. Corpses littering the rooms with blood splattered on the carpet are far more frightening than any of the goofy stuff that happens during the rest of this movie. This scene demonstrated how great this movie might have been if it had a solid script driving it and a better director behind the camera.

NoEscape 4

From the second act onward, NO ESCAPE gets increasingly far-fetched with each passing scene. Though some have said that this should be enjoyed as an illogical “popcorn” flick, I disagree seeing that the subject matter is treated as anything but fun. Shaky camera work is overused to the point of nausea and the film frequently delves into clichés. I found myself waiting for the sweet embrace of the end credits all through the final third. One illogical mistake is constantly repeated in characters leaving loaded guns (that could possibly be used to defend themselves) lying on the ground. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every single time this happened. With characters this bland and stupid, I could really care less as to whether they lived or died. However, that didn’t stop John Dowdle from throwing in enough slow motion to compensate for about 5 minutes of total screen time. The most ridiculous use of this comes in the characters jumping off a rooftop. We see all four characters jumping or being tossed over a high gap between buildings…very, very slowly. I had to stifle laughter every time the dramatic slow motion came into play as if to compensate for the lack of dramatic heft and suspense.

NoEscape 5

NO ESCAPE is absurd, but not entirely unwatchable. The latter comes courtesy of Pierce Brosnan and one very well-executed sequence. However, these two qualities alone can’t save NO ESCAPE from becoming a distractingly xenophobic exploitation film that would be right at home in the days of cheap 70’s and 80’s B-flicks. That’s not meant as compliment either, this movie is a big disappointment. I can’t help but wonder how this even got funded, but such is life…and filmmaking. Maybe, in a few years, it could serve as a trashy piece of crappy entertainment for bad movie enthusiasts. Right now, it’s just a bad movie that happens to be playing in theaters nationwide.

Grade: D+

THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence including a Sexual Assault, Language, Sexuality/Nudity and brief Drug Use

NovemberMan poster

Directed by: Roger Donaldson

Written by: Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek

(based on the novel THERE ARE NO SPIES by Bill Granger)

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic & Lazar Ristovski

Color me pleasantly surprised. I did not expect to like THE NOVEMBER MAN as much as I did. There’s a certain charm that’s usually apparent in most standard spy movies. What’s surprising is that this one turned out to be a pretty damn great thriller that has an interesting plot, dark atmosphere, and a whole lot of ass kicking from a former Bond. This flick may have some clichés, but I had a blast watching this full-throttle blend of action and conspiracy thriller. NOVEMBER MAN is bound to walk away as one of the most underrated movies of 2014, which speaks both to its overall quality and the sad state of the box office for this film.

THE NOVEMBER MAN, Pierce Brosnan, 2014. ph: Aleksandar Letic/©Relativity Media/Courtesy Everett

Peter Devereaux, a former CIA agent, is living his retirement out quietly in Switzerland. When someone he cares about is put in danger, Peter jumps back in the game and his simple mission doesn’t go through as initially planned. Devereaux finds himself up to his neck in enemy fire, a conspiracy, and fellow agents turning against him. Not everything is as it simple as it originally seemed. Peter bonds with a Russian social worker in grave danger, must face off against his former protégée turned enemy, and finally reveal the truth about a deadly secret that started this whole mess he’s trapped in. Also plenty of bodies pile up, explosions occur, blood is shed, a Russian assassin is also on his tail, slow motion is used, and a whole lot of twists (that I didn’t see coming) are launched at the viewer. This is a rollicking good time.

THE NOVEMBER MAN, Olga Kurylenko, 2014. ph: Aleksandar Letic/©Relativity Media/Courtesy Everett

Pierce Brosnan funded this movie himself after it failed to gain much attention and I can safely say that NOVEMBER MAN will make its money back at the box office (only a mere 15 million budget, which makes everything that much more impressive). Roger Donaldson confidently takes the directing reigns. It was nice to see action scenes where the violence was actually well-choreographed (but convincing) and the camera wasn’t shaking all over the place. Donaldson makes a repeated stylistic choice that’s questionable (more on that later), but the action had me on the edge of my seat. Every single one of the performers did an excellent job. Pierce Brosnan is a compelling lead, going into territory that not even Bond would touch. Olga Kurylenko disappears into her role of the Russian social worker, who becomes Brosnan’s sort of love interest (it’s not an essential piece of the film). Also Luke Bracey is a pretty boy in all of his other roles, but does well as Brosnan’s main antagonist. Though I feel Dominic Cooper (the original choice for the role) would have delivered a far bigger rival screen presence for Brosnan. Other colorful characters include newcomer Amila Terzimehic as the Russian assassin and a smarmy Bill Smitrovich in a memorable part.

THE NOVEMBER MAN, from left: Luke Bracey, Pierce Brosnan (on screen), 2014. ph: Aleksandar

NOVEMBER MAN is loaded with an unusually smart plot for a summer action flick. It also doesn’t shy away from the R-rated content. There’s a reason it got this rating and I’m glad the studio didn’t go to absurd lengths of pandering to those who wouldn’t even be interested in watching this film to begin with (how many people under the age of 16 even know who Pierce Brosnan is?). The flick goes into dark (at one point, uncomfortable) territory, but it never lost me in terms of turning into an outright disturbing flick along the lines of 8MM. At the end of the day, this is a popcorn-munching action flick with more brains and talent than one might expect walking in. Comic relief can either work wonders or be unbearably distracting in this type of film. I can’t think of a single joke that didn’t work. It helps that there aren’t a vast number of them, but when Brosnan injected some humor, I laughed.

THE NOVEMBER MAN, Amila Terzimehic, 2014. ph: Aleksandar Letic/©Relativity Media/Courtesy Everett

On the annoying side of things (nothing is downright bad), a couple of the clever plot points are mighty convenient. I did call a major twist about 20 minutes before it was fully revealed, but it almost seemed like that was the film’s intention as the reveal is a quiet one that doesn’t spell everything out for those who weren’t paying attention. A couple of interesting characters are unceremoniously disposed of, but it was probably in the interest of time (though I would have been happy if the film lasted 20 minutes longer in order to resolve those plot threads in a more concrete way). Also director Roger Donaldson goes into slow-motion overload. It’s cool to show a few scenes (such as explosions or a bloody shootout) in this way, but Donaldson shows some mundane things like a cell phone being tossed out of a car or someone falling over a pipe during a fight in super slow-mo as well. These latter instances felt unnecessary and silly. He also indulges in a few too many lens flares.

THE NOVEMBER MAN, Pierce Brosnan, 2014. ©Relativity Media/Courtesy Everett Collection

In January, an attempt to jump-start a spy franchise was released in the form of JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. That film was decent at best, surprisingly high-grade compared to the rest of theatrical dreck in that dump month. However, it bombed and there’s not much of a chance to see another JACK RYAN flick in a long time. NOVEMBER MAN does what JACK RYAN tried to do with a much lower budget, a more mature story, and never panders to making things accessible for the widest possible audience (the R rating should really be applauded here). I’d much rather see the return of Peter Devereaux (a.k.a. November Man) than I would Jack Ryan. I really hope the announced sequel is really in the works and if so, I can’t wait to see it. THE NOVEMBER MAN is most likely going to wind up as my biggest unexpected surprise of the year. It’s not only better than looked, but it’s a legitimately great spy thriller. Check it out!

Grade: B+

THE WORLD’S END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language including Sexual References

Worlds End poster

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike & Pierce Brosnan

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost all burst onto the spotlight in America with their zombie comedy SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Three years later, they returned with an equally hilarious and brilliant (maybe even a tad more so) action comedy HOT FUZZ. It’s been six years and the long awaited arrival of these three capping off their trilogy of spoof-comedies has arrived with a sci-fi romp titled THE WORLD’S END. This third and final entry in the “Cornetto” trilogy is also the movie that packs the most punch.

Worlds End 1

In 1990, Gary King and his four friends set off to conquer the Golden Mile, a series of twelve pubs in one night. Though they didn’t quite make it to the end, Gary still considers it to be the best time of his life. Now a middle-aged alcoholic, Gary gathers his mates together for a reunion to return to their hometown and conquer the Golden Mile again, once and for all. All of the friends are a little reluctant to come though, especially Andie (Gary’s former best mate). As the five adults catch up, it appears that something is wrong with their hometown. Most of the population has been replaced by robots and the group (including another acquaintance of theirs) must work together to survive the night. But more importantly, will they finally make it the last bar (aptly named The World’s End).

Worlds End 2

THE WORLD’S END works as a comedy, a science-fiction film, and a drama about friendships that last, as well as reminiscing on the past. In fact, the first 30-40 minutes of THE WORLD’S END play out without a bit of science-fiction or robots to be found. This is far from a detriment to the film, as it allows us time to watch these characters interact, laugh at Gary’s constant blundering and idiocy, as well as feel for them (both the frustrated companions and the tragic figure that Gary is).

Worlds End 3

By the time, the first robots are made apparent, I had almost forgotten that this was a sci-fi comedy, because I was buying it so well as just a plain comedy with dramatic elements. Once the action starts though, it rarely lets up. Seeing as this is an Edgar Wright film, it never takes the road we expect it to. The two regulars, Pegg and Frost, deliver their best roles to date as two former friends who have had a falling out for a major reason that’s revealed as the movie goes along. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine (who have both appeared in Wright’s former films in side parts) are given a lot to do here. Eddie Marsan shines in this comedy too, which is particularly impressive when you consider his filmography contains a whole lot of serious roles.

Worlds End 4

THE WORLD’S END also concludes on a bittersweet and wholly satisfying note that took a lot of guts to go through with. In fact, I didn’t know how I felt about the ending as I walked out of the theater, but the more I think about it, the more I love it. This is a comedy with damn near every attribute you could want a film (of any kind) to have. It’s funny, touching, entertaining, and leaves you thinking about it for a long while after. Not only is THE WORLD’S END the best comedy in years, it’s also one of the best movies of 2013! So gather your mates, maybe get a drink or two, and prepare to be annihilated in the best way possible!

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑