Thank you to all of the readers who have visited this website over the past several months. August was our best month ever and you've made 'REEL BRIEF' one of the fastest-growing movie review blogs out there.  Every month we continue to increase readership and that's because of YOU.  Thank you for making 'REEL BRIEF' a part of your entertainment reading and telling others about this site.

I will continue to provide you with my honest ratings on films while not giving away spoilers or scene-by-scene descriptions of movies like other critics or movie blogs.

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'November Man'

Former James Bond 007 actor Pierce Brosnan returns to the world of professional assassin in this film based off the bestselling November Man book series by Bill Granger. In “The November Man” Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent who earned the nickname of the movie’s title for always leaving an unmistakable path of death and destruction behind him. Brosnan’s Devereaux is forced out of retirement and back into the field to help save an undercover agent and secure intelligence information. Directed by Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out” in 1987), “The November Man” is an espionage thriller that could have been ripped straight off of the front page of today’s newspapers.

'November Man' Brosnan

“The November Man” reminds us of why Brosnan was once selected as only the fifth person to play Bond (“GoldenEye” 1995)--he’s cool, confident, unflappable and never flustered by mayhem around him. A strong and convincing Brosnan plays the experienced CIA killer, selected to teach to a new journeyman (Luke Bracey) his deadly trade skills. This relationship between instructor and his flailing student provides a compelling back-story to a very watchable movie for viewers who enjoy the James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible spy thrillers. Yes, the overall plot in “The November Man” may not be difficult to decipher early on, but subtle intricacies to the storyline appear throughout to keep viewers entertained as the action slowly burns.

'November Man' Olga

Another 007 connection exists in the film with Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko portraying the woman Brosnan must keep alive long enough to provide vital information on a deadly Russian conspiracy. Kurylenko, the former Bond Girl to Daniel Craig’s 007 in 2009’s “Quantum of Solace”, provides excellent company to Brosnan while showcasing her own undercover talents.

'November Man' Maxim

Aside from these two main characters, Pierce Brosnan saves an otherwise weak cast. The Peter Devereaux character in this movie is easily Brosnan’s best performance since 2005’s “The Matador”. The former MI6 James Bond actor clearly shines in his covert spy roles, tugging beautiful girls through gunfire and chase scenes. Despite several predictable themes, “The November Man” offers an intriguing and sleek film that will leave viewers making comparisons between Brosnan’s CIA assassin in this film and his alter ego, superspy gig as Britain’s 007 agent. For that reason alone, “The November Man” will keep audiences entertained and thankful we have dedicated assets with these skillsets in today’s world of troublemakers.

Grade: B

"The November Man" is Rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes.

'Margin Call'2

"Margin Call" (2011)

Similar in some ways to 2013's blockbuster hit 'The Wolf of Wall Street', this film depicts the business side of Lower Manhattan.  However, whereas 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is the Candy Land of board games, 'Margin Call' is more of the intellectual, Chess game variety.

You'll find yourself sitting between Kevin Spacey and some rocket scientist in a Wall Street boardroom during the 2008 financial crisis. Superb acting and an Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay, 'Margin Call' will have you crunching numbers and disbelieving how much money and American power is in the hands of so few. Place this flick in your viewing portfolio soon so you can understand how the game is played and by whom.

A brilliant cast includes several Academy Award nominees and winners led by Frank Underwood Kevin Spacey (Netflix's "House of Cards"), Jeremy Irons ("Reversal of Fortune"), Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Mary McDonnell (Sci-Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica"). Also included are Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek Into the Darkness"), Englishman Paul Bettany ("The Da Vinci Code") and Demi Moore ("Ghost").

'Margin Call 3'

"Margin Call" is available to rent at Amazon, Apple's iTunes, Netflix and Redbox.  It's rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes.

 

American Sniper2

Bradley Cooper (Left) plays the late U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Right)

It's been announced that the movie version of the book "American Sniper" by the late U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has been set for release in limited theaters on Christmas Day of this year.  The move by the studio appears to be an attempt to get the movie into consideration for 2014 award nominations.  "American Sniper" will be widely released to U.S. theaters on January 16, 2015.

Two-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood ("Unforgiven", 1992 and "Million Dollar Baby", 2004) will direct "American Sniper", which is based off the bestselling autobiography by Kyle--the most lethal sniper in American history--and his 4 tours of duty in Iraq.

Chris Kyle will be played by Bradley Cooper (Academy Award nominated for "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle").  Sienna Miller will portray Kyle's wife, Taya Renae Kyle in the movie.

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Cooper with the 84-year old director, Clint Eastwood, on the movie set.

It's apparent that Bradley Cooper is taking his SEAL role serious--bulking up for the film.

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Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range on February 2, 2013, in Texas.  You can purchase the book "American Sniper" at Amazon.com here - along with his other novel, "American Gun: A History of the U.S. in 10 Firearms".

Proceeds will go to his wife to help defend herself from this Scruff Face assclown. Additionally, here are some cool shirts you can order too.

American Sniper book

When the Game Stands Tall

Inspired by true events, “When The Game Stands Tall” is the story of the De La Salle High School (Concord, CA) football team posting the longest winning streak in football history. The film neatly illustrates the De La Salle Spartans 12-year rule on the gridiron and how “the streak” ending comes almost as shocking to the world as a Harlem Globetrotter loss in basketball. The difficultly the coaches, players and community have in confronting their rare defeat--and moving on in life--gave the film so much potential. Unfortunately, the remarkable real-life story that helped propel De La Salle to triumph once again on and off of the football field, fails to inspire filmgoers the same way on the big-screen.

Thomas Carter, who brought us the stirring “Coach Carter” movie starring Samuel L. Jackson in 2005, directs the film. Jackson’s Coach Ken Carter character brilliantly turned around his underachieving high school basketball team from worst-to-first using stern practices and tough love. In “When The Game Stands Tall”, De La Salle football coach Bob Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) also stresses personal responsibility, focusing on each player’s future after football. But Caviezel (from CBS’ “Person of Interest” and the 2004 film “Passion of the Christ”) doesn’t provide any spark or connect with audiences like Samuel L. Jackson’s demeanor did on the hardwood floor.

Caviezel’s monotone locker room and pre-game speeches, combined with blank stares over the practice field and fruitless discussions with his wife about a job at Stanford, all lack an emotional fireworks. As an absent father, Ladouceur gets respected by his son more for his X’s and O’s strategy than any investment to the family dynamics. Denzel Washington’s memorable portrayal of the even-keeled coach Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans” (2000) used very effective outbursts and flashes of raw emotion to bring the story and Boone’s character alive both on the field and at home. Director Carter played it too safe with Caviezel’s coaching character in this film, stiff-arming the marriage and co-parenting aspects of Ladouceur’s life—both of which could have offered Caviezel a chance to make us want to stand up and cheer not only the successful coach, but also the honorable man.

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“When The Game Stands Tall” had a playbook full of established and proven storylines to call upon; faith-based teachings and mentorship, unexpected adversity for a close-knit community, successful inner-city kids earning a life-changing opportunity at college, and a coach--with job security for life--weighing lucrative offers to teach elsewhere. Together, these themes should have made “When The Game Stands Tall” the perfect feel-good movie heading into football season.

Perhaps sports films about already successful teams attempting to stay on top are less enjoyable to watch than a group of underdogs making their quest to be the best. Regardless, “When The Game Stands Tall” fumbled in its emotional connection to viewers as a result of the inexpressive, monotone delivery by Caviezel’s coach “Lad”. And that turnover cost moviegoers the chance to be as inspired by the De La Salle’s coaching staff as the players were back in 2004.

Grade: C+

"When The Game Stands Tall" is rated PG and the running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes.

 

 

Star Lord

Check this out.

Well done, Mr. Pratt.  How do you not like this guy?  Summer's biggest hit movie.  Already has a huge fan base of kids from his "The LEGO Movie" earlier this year.

I keep thinking Chris Pratt's movie career may be at the same point we found Tom Cruise back in 1983 with this gem--about to skyrocket into one of the most demanded actors in Hollywood.

If you haven't seen Pratt yet in "Guardians of the Galaxy" you're missing out.  Go see it!

Lincoln Laywer2

'The Lincoln Lawyer' (2011)

No, I don't remember Matthew McConaughey taking off his shirt--thankfully, sorry ladies. He does, however, defend clients from his Lincoln Town Car in a way that would make old "Columbo" TV fans proud--finding the truth hidden under one lie at a time.

Based off the bestselling novel by Michael Connelly, this 2011 thriller marked the first time I stood up and took notice of Matthew McConaughey's acting talent.  And, by now, we all know just how good this Oscar-winner is on the big-screen.

This film will keep you glued until the credits roll while William H. Macy and Country singer Trace Adkins round-out a great cast that includes Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei ("My Cousin Vinny" in 1992) and Emmy Award winner Bryan Cranston from TV's "Breaking Bad".  I rest my case.

Grade: A-

Available to rent at Amazon, Apple TV's iTunes, Google Play, and Netflix.  "The Lincoln Lawyer" is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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Let's see...we've got boys trying to survive but can't seem to put their testosterone or egos aside for the greater good.  Then a girl enters the picture and things start happening and getting done.  Geezus.  Sounds exactly like an episode of Discovery's "Naked and Afraid" TV show to me.

Here's the trailer....

I'm curious about the maze and the runner, but more interested in the Grievers--the creatures.  Based upon the best-selling novel by 41-year old James Dashner, which I've only heard good things about his paper-turners. In fact, "The Maze Runner" was on the New York Times' Bestseller List for over one year.  Dashner's other The Maze Runner Series books include; The Scorch Trials (2010), The Death Cure (2011) and The Kill Order (2012).

"The Maze Runner" movie is rated PG-13 and stars Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter.  You can learn more about these kids "Gladers" here.

T-37 1

Photo courtesy of MilitaryFactory.com

Only 2 months into flying the Air Force’s Cessna T-37 primary jet trainer, I learned one of my biggest lessons from the 52-week journey known as Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT); flight discipline.

***

On this day, October 12, 1994, I was a student pilot at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma about to fly with my seasoned instructor pilot, who sat directly to the right of me in the side-by-side, cramped T-37 cockpit. With a 4 a.m. show at the squadron earlier that morning, taxiing out for takeoff at 11 a.m. felt like it was already late afternoon.

Tweet cockpit

Photo from Wikipedia

The flight’s objective was to give the instructor pilot a demonstration of my acrobatic flying prowess in the skies just north of Enid, Oklahoma. The mission profile would include; loops, aileron rolls, split-S, Cuban 8, cloverleaves, barrel rolls and the Immelmann maneuver.

After we cleared our working airspace of stray civilian aircraft, I climbed our T-37 to above 20,000 feet to begin the required full spin & recovery procedure. I pulled both twin engines to idle power while raising the jet’s nose higher and higher into the air—all the way until the T-37 nose was pointed straight up. The rudder and ailerons were then neutralized. As airspeed dwindled down and the wings ceased to provide lift, the nose suddenly dropped off to my right, pointing the jet violently down towards the ground. As expected, the aircraft entered a full spin, wrapping us up faster and faster into tighter turns while the windscreen filled with images of cotton fields from the farmland circling below.

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Photo courtesy of tasoscorsair @ youtube.com

It’s important to note here that instructors and students have handshake agreements on when to “punch-out” (eject) of the aircraft in case of an emergency. We discuss these potential problems on the ground at zero airspeed, zero altitude and time to think. Therefore, when split-second decisions must be made in the air, muscle memory kicks in and proper--yet timely--reactions occur. The better prepared you are, the more options you always have. To quote Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Flying is about creating your own luck through dedicated study and continued improvement…something that’s been instilled into me since I began flight lessons at the age of 14.

My instructor and I had agreed that if we’d descended below 10,000 feet and the spinning aircraft could not be stopped, we were going to eject from the T-37. As a result, we’d only have a few ticks below 45 seconds to get this aircraft under control. This afforded me two, maybe three, chances to successfully regain control before my instructor gave it a shot or two, himself. If we could not regain control of the jet and were forced to eject, this 1950s aircraft would be prematurely retired into a smoking hole on a northern Oklahoma farm.

“Needle right, spinning right,” I confirmed. Full left rudder applied! Control stick abruptly pushed full forward--and then the spinning suddenly stopped. Flight controls neutralized. And recovery was successful. Whew.

Following the spin, we immediately went into the rest of our flight profile: all the aerial gymnastics you’d see at your favorite airshow. Just after I executed the Cuban 8, I began to feel some nausea set in. I continued to fly, however, and started my next maneuver, the cloverleaf.

I felt the nausea worsening and recognized that it might have severe consequences regarding my training; not only this flight's training, but my continued existence in the program. Airsickness for student pilots meant the possibility of being disqualified and "washed out" of the flight training. A classmate, struggling with airsickness earlier in the program, was sent to flight medicine for evaluation. Treatment for him consisted of sitting in a “Barany Chair”, and being spun around until he threw up. He endured this “treatment” twice a day for 3 straight days. When he came to visit us during one of his “chair” days he didn’t remotely resemble the smiling, jovial lad I had known prior “the chair”. Instead, he reminded me of the animals at the dog pound with that 1,000-yard stare.

In mid-cloverleaf maneuver, the nausea became overwhelming. My instructor was monitoring my flying and yet had no idea I wasn’t feeling well. Unfortunately, just as I completed the cloverleaf, the Lucky Charms and turkey sandwich I’d put down earlier that day reemerged with a vengeance. The hacking noises I made were easily discernible through the intercom system, forcing my instructor to immediately grab his control stick and uttered “My aircraft!”  At the same time, I too, took some immediate actions of my own.

I trapped the vomit in my mouth and kept it from entering my oxygen mask. At which point, I was left with two unpleasant choices; 1) pop my mask open and throw up into the white plastic bag—stashed for regurgitation or, 2) put down my breakfast and lunch for a second time.

I made the split-second decision for Option #2. Only after I had put down my breakfast and lunch a second time did I pop my oxygen mask open from its right side. My instructor peered over at me, completely shocked not to see any remnants of airsickness. In disbelief, he scrutinized my clean flight suit and oxygen mask. He was certain that I’d ‘blown chow’ a moment earlier but now he had no hard evidence, minus the loss of coloring in my face.

“Are you alright?” he questioned me. Yep. He let my answer soak in for a few seconds before deciding our next move. “Ready to fly?” he finally asked. You bet!

We finished the profile with a split-S turn before heading back to a full-stop landing at Vance Air Force Base. My instructor debriefed the entire flight and gave me good grades overall on my flying skills. In hindsight, I might have downgraded my situational awareness for not seeking his assistance in my compromised state. However, I’d give myself top marks for putting back down the puke and not stalling my flying career.

BTW, I’ve never again experienced airsickness while flying. And best of all, I’ve never had to endure the “Barany Chair”.

(This was an excerpt from the unpublished novel titled 'My Wild View Yonder - Memoirs of an Air Force Officer & Pilot' by Patrick King)

**

King was commissioned in 1990 at Oregon State University and retired from active-duty in July of this year. During his career, Colonel King flew a number of U.S. aircraft, to include the C-130 and EC-130 aircraft. He is an expert in electronic attack and cyberspace warfare.

 

Giver2 (2)

Certain movies and directors challenge viewers’ intellect, daring to take the path less traveled on the cinematic screen in order to make audiences actually have to think.  Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (2010) about hijacking dreams and 2012’s survival challenges in “The Hunger Games” are two thought-provoking success stories.  We can now add “The Giver” to the list of films requiring moviegoers to think outside the box and ponder the role of individuals in society.

Based upon Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel by the same name, “The Giver” depicts a utopian world without individual freedoms or personal choice.  A society of sameness, minus any differences amongst the populous, is required because we’re told; “When people have freedom to choose, they choose wrong”.  Absent in the community are the memories of its past and roots of disorder; times marked by anger, death, happiness and love.  The community elders’ concerted effort to keep a lid on individualism and defiance results in only one person, The Giver (Jeff Bridges), having complete knowledge of history.  When the elders need guidance, it’s The Giver who must provide them with the wisdom, using the memories of the past to sidestep current problems.

The_Giver_Cover

Meryl Streep effortlessly plays the shrewd, calculating Chief Elder—a portrayal the record-nominated (18 times) Academy Award winner (won 3) has mastered over her 37-year film career.  However, it’s Jeff Bridges’ performance that stands heads and shoulders above all others in this movie.  The Oscar winning best actor (2009’s “Crazy Heart”) steals every scene he’s in and single-handedly takes “The Giver” from an interesting look at humans in a petri dish to a hugely successful movie on humanity’s individual liberties.

Giver Meryl

At only 1 hour and 40 minutes in duration, “The Giver” missed a golden opportunity to showcase competing emotions in the characters after it had gained momentum from the film’s flawless start.  The hasty end voided any chance to sharply delineate the colorless world from the colorful, or to glimpse reactions to newfound freedoms—the ultimate gift from The Giver.  Australian director Phillip Noyce, though, deserves credit for sparking discussions on humanity’s role in balancing basic freedoms and individuality with society’s need for conformity and rule following.

“The Giver” is not only about the way things look in society, but the way things are. Both themes are very different and give audiences plenty of food for thought.  Jeff Bridges’ performance shines bright and carries the message and film throughout.  He guides and teaches a young apprentice (Brenton Thwaites) and moviegoers on how our past impacts our future.  “The Giver” makes the case that harmony comes with a very steep price; the loss of individual choice and emotion replaced by sameness and blandness.  It’s the delicate balance between the rule of law and individual freedoms that Noyce captures brilliantly in the film--and that’s the greatest gift from “The Giver”.

Grade: B+

"The Giver" is rated PG-13 and the running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes.