FS, Contributing Writer
“The November Man”
Pierce Brosnan tries returning to his James Bond roots with “The November Man” (wide release), a collection of tropes from old spy movies that is as tired as the star appears to be.
Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a legendary agent who quit the CIA after a botched operation in which an innocent kid was killed. Five years later, he is lured back into the field to extricate an old flame working undercover for a Russian politician — she has collected in formation that could derail the ex-general’s bid for the presidency.
Unfortunately, the mission in Moscow goes awry, and Devereaux finds himself chased by both untrustworthy CIA types and Russian assassins while trying to find a girl who was an eyewitness to atrocities in Chechnya in which the president-to-be was implicated.
The plot is both very complicated and completely incredible. To make things even worse, the inept staging of the numerous action sequences makes the picture almost risible.
It may be named after November, but this is a typical August release — a movie so bad that the studios dump it into the dog days of summer where it can disappear quickly. Brosnan should be pleased about how few people will see it.
Griffin Dunne plays a completely unlikely character — a burned-out history professor — in “The Discoverers” (Angelika). But despite that central implausibility, the picture is a genial if unexceptional road movie about how a family reconciles over the course of an eventful trip together.
Dunne’s character, a once-promising scholar now teaching at an unaccredited community college while trying to find a publisher for a 1600-page manuscript on the Lewis and Clark expedition, must deal with his long-estranged, recently widowed father and his two distant teen kids over the course of a reenactment of that 1804-06 transcontinental trek. Naturally, all four bond during their often stressful time together.
The picture is hardly a great cinematic discovery itself, but it has amusing and insightful moments, and Dunne’s hangdog persona is engaging to watch.
Michael Fassbender takes on a challenging task in “Frank” (Angelika). He plays a rock singer who wears a plaster mask on his head at all times — even, as one particularly funny scene shows, when he’s in the shower. He and his band, called soronprfbs (no, that’s not a typo), perform numbers so peculiar that they are practically an invitation for crowds to object vociferously to their shows.
The fate of Frank and his associates is told from the perspective of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a talentless wannabe keyboardist who’s invited to join the group and uses the year they waste at a rustic retreat trying to record an album to promote Frank on the Net. That results in an invitation to South by Southwest in Austin that takes a disastrous turn.
Decidedly strange but also quite funny and, in the end, poignant, “Frank” is hardly a movie for everyone, but the adventurous will find it weirdly entrancing. And Fassbender is simply amazing.
“The Trip to Italy”
In Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” (2010), Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon made an engaging pair as they played exaggerated versions of themselves, traveling around northern England to eat at various restaurants they were hired to review for a British newspaper.
They return for a second journey in “The Trip to Italy” (Magnolia), and once again the extended comic riffs as they try to outdo one another are unfailingly amusing. A routine sending up the unintelligibility of Christian Bale and Tom Hardy in “The Dark Knight Rises” is priceless.
But the picture also has more serious moments dealing with the men’s familial responsibilities, and it adds some literary tidbits through allusions to the time Shelley and Lord Byron spent in Italy.
There’s also magnificent scenery as the duo travel from Piedmont through Rome to Pompeii and Capri. For those who have completed the Rome semester, this trip will probably stir up some fond memories.
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
In terms of box office returns, this summer was dominated by “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the special effects extravaganza still in wide release. Basically, though, that movie is nothing more than a strained effort at a cooler version of “Star Wars,” with a fast-talking Han Solo-like hero and some completely forgettable villains.
The real standout of the season was Richard Linklater’s brilliant “Boyhood” (Magnolia). Filmed over twelve years, it follows a youngster from age six to eighteen; a single actor plays him, and we actually see him mature, along with the actors around him.
Austin-based Linklater has created a wonderfully naturalistic portrait of the small moments in life that are more real, and cumulatively more powerful, than the big melodramatic ones most movies concentrate on.
“Boyhood” runs nearly three hours, but it feels far shorter than most films half its length.