Monday, September 1, 2014

Brosnan Shoots, Kline Scores

I recently reviewed a couple of new movies on cable's Arise TV for the show Arise On Screen.  One movie opened wide.  It's The November Man, an action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan.  He's a disgruntled ex-CIA operative who gets pulled back into the espionage game.   Bad Russians are involved.  You get intrigue, war, doomed love, double-crosses, car chases and lots of gunfire.  I felt like I'd seen this story before -- either starring Liam Neeson or done as a made-for-TV movie.  You can tell Brosnan is the hero because he walks casually towards the camera as a vehicle explodes behind him.
He's good.  I think, to distance this undercover character from Brosnan's years as James Bond, his dialogue was pepper-sprayed with four-letter words.  The November Man would be an entertaining in-flight movie but the bad language might have to be dubbed over.  Pierce Brosnan has still got the stuff to pull off this kind of secret agent role...even though most of what he had to do as The November Man was run, squint and shoot.
Brosnan plays the CIA veteran whose best friend is his cocky, young protege.   Something happens and they become rivals.  Luke Bracy has the young hotshot role.
The script problem is this -- you know they're rivals but you never see how and why they were best friends.  Think of the Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd characters in the classic Ben-Hur.  We see why they were friends, how close they were, and what caused the friendship to dissolve.  We needed to see that in The November Man.

There is a very attractive, intelligent middle-aged woman for the over-50 Brosnan at the beginning.  Then she's removed.  Male AARP action heroes rarely go through the movie with a female their own age.  The November Man gets a hot, young damsel-in-distress who survived horrors of the Second Chechen War .  She knows how evil the man who wants to be Russia's President-elect truly is.  She was a victim of his military atrocities.
The November Man takes us to a big, important Eastern European city where, obviously, it's ok to travel to a hotel with all sorts of guns in your airport carry-on luggage.  It's also ok to be a villain and chase an innocent woman with a big-ass gun through a busy train station because there's not one single security guard or cop on duty anywhere.
There's a Russian hitwoman in The November Man.  She's a fascinating character (because men are usually the assassins) but, to me, she was miscast.  When you see an assassin in a political thriller, the killer often has a look that can be both attractive (to seduce someone) yet generic enough to be disguised. Think of James Fox as the hitman who donned different looks in Fred Zinnemann's 1973 The Day of the Jackal. 

He could blend in.

Not this hitwoman.  She's shapely, yes.  And she does ballet moves to limber up for a kill.  She can do splits and lift up her leg to touch her forehead.

But she's got a nose like that bird on the Kellogg's box of Froot Loops.  She couldn't blend in if she tried.  And who would she disguise herself as?  Adrien Brody?  And why did the movie bother showing her doing all those ballet calisthenics only to have her disguised as a waitress?  She entered the restaurant's dining area ten seconds after her nose did.  I would've disguised her as a killer Fanny in a Russian production of Funny Girl.  But that's just me.

The November Man.  Pierce Brosnan is very good in a thriller that's pretty standard.

"Errol Flynn is a walking penis!," says the angry father in The Last of Robin Hood.

We see the angry father's wife at the open of the film tell 1959 news reporters "My baby was a virgin the day she met Errol Flynn."

Aging movie star Errol Flynn says "Mothers see what mothers want to see."
Kevin Kline (above) does some of his best film work ever as Hollywood legend Errol Flynn in his "big chill" years.  A handsome and talented action/adventure movie star, Flynn was tainted by scandal because of his fondness for booze and babes.  In the 1930s, he was a major movie star when he starred in the 1938 classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

In films like 1939's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Bette Davis and 1942's Gentleman Jim, Flynn proved that he wasn't just eye-candy.  He could act.

But he was a notorious party boy.

The drink, some  drugs and his hedonistic lifestyle dissipated his dashing good looks.  When he died in 1959, he was only 50 but he looked much older.

This movie focuses on Flynn's last romantic relationship.  The action goes from its beginning to its conclusion, an end that came with his death in 1959.  I was aware that he'd had a younger girlfriend, Beverly Aadland, and they appeared in one of his last films, the low-budget and low-quality Cuban Rebel Girls (1959).  Although his leading man glory days were gone in the 1950s, he still had flashes of talent.  That's evident in Fox's big budget adaptation of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, a 1957 release starring Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner.  Flynn's work in that film was worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  But, sadly, he never got an Oscar nomination in his film career.

Peter O'Toole was brilliantly funny in My Favorite Year, a comedy that brought him one of his several Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
His role as the famous movie star who swashbuckled his way through many popular Hollywood adventure films was based on Errol Flynn doing a guest appearance on a TV comedy show.  I think The Last of Robin Hood is a bad title for this good movie because it sounds like a comedy about Flynn.  This film is not a comedy.

In his 40s, Flynn booked TV appearances.  He and Beverly did The Red Skelton Show.

I bet this was a complicated script to write because of Flynn's much-publicized weakness for young females.  Sometimes a bit too young.   I didn't know he wanted to star in the film version of Lolita.  That business is brought up in the film with Kline's Flynn meeting with director Stanley Kubrick.  The complication of The Last of Robin Hood would be to make Flynn sympathetic although some behavior was inappropriate.
As portrayed in The Last of Robin Hood, Beverly Aadland was younger than she said she was.  She lied about her age to get Hollywood film work.  Her suffocating, one-legged mother -- very well-played by Susan Sarandon -- is in a league with Mama Rose from Gypsy.  She pushes her daughter into the career and life she wishes she could've had for herself.  She's practically pimping Beverly to Errol Flynn.  That's why the father is angry and wants no part of the mother's irresponsible showbiz plan.

Beverly, as played by Dakota Fanning, comes to care about Errol Flynn, a man whose career and health are both fading.  To me, that's what made this film interesting and brought something new to the Flynn legend that classic film fans know.  Beverly realized her limited acting talents.  In The Last of Robin Hood, she cares more about being a loyal partner to Flynn than she does about becoming a celebrity.  Her mother wants to use the Flynn celebrity connection for financial gain.  Beverly does not.
In this, the Bronze Age of the Kardashians, that is novel.  We're in a tell-all and show-all reality TV and entertainment gossip era.  Beverly Aadland could've manipulated the spotlight from her relationship with a world-famous Hollywood star to make herself a celebrity and sell her story to press and/or a book publisher for big money.  But, apparently, she didn't.  Beverly died a few years ago.  She was never indiscreet about her relationship with Errol Flynn.  When Flynn died, she was 17.

Sarandon steps into some Shelley Winters turf with her juicy turn as the conniving, unsophisticated mother.  The big light of the movie is Kevin Kline as Flynn.  I've liked Kline since his Sophie's Choice, The Big Chill and A Fish Called Wanda days.  The latter, a comedy, earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.   I've seen Kline on Broadway.  He was excellent.  On film, I often catch him "acting."  I see his technique.  What works onstage doesn't always work on film because doing less is part of the art of good screen acting.  Director George Cukor taught that art to young Jack Lemmon.  Kline plays Errol Flynn as a man well aware of the error of his "wicked, wicked ways" (to borrow the title from a Flynn autobiography).  He's aware that his movie glory days are over, yet he still retains a mist of Old School Hollywood charm to carry him through the humiliations of his middle-age.  It's all in Kline's eyes -- the lust, the shame, the fears, the sadness.  Kevin Kline really gets the broken soul inside the aging movie star exterior of Errol Flynn.  He gives you an Errol Flynn who seems to wish he could turn back the hands of time and do it all over again -- with a little more self-discipline.  Ultimately, he's got no one to blame but himself.

In this performance, Kevin Kline did less and gave us more.  I didn't catch him acting.  I saw him being Errol Flynn.  This is Kline at his best.  It's not a great film, but Kevin Kline makes The Last of Robin Hood worth watching.  It's now playing in limited release.

Beverly died in 2010 at age 67.

I wonder what Flynn's relationship with his own mother was like.

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