Jean-Claude Van Johnson: what if the ‘rubbish’ straight to DVD movies JCVD made in the between the bigger films were just cover for his super-agent alter ego to carry out real black ops missions? That’s the premise for the Amazon pilot Jean-Claude Van Johnson. The episode has a lot of great action genre and movie business digs and jokes; although some of the more general jokes fall a bit flatter, focusing on easy targets like hipsters, pop-up restaurants, vaping etc. The scrip is littered with witty LOL moments like an entire Looper / Timecop debate, and lines like “I’m real retired, not like Nicolas Cage retired“. While the love interest angle doesn’t quite work with the meager time assigned to it; it has potential to grow through a full season. The Van Johnson pilot is handled beautifully, and clearly made with affection for JCVD’s career and filmography… It’s also great that a star of his stature can poke this much fun at himself; making this an absolute must-watch for any JCVD or action B-movie fans.
The November Man: a lethal ex-CIA agent is brought back in for a simple extraction that tangles him up with a Russian politician, the CIA, and his former protegé. It’s one of those films set in the Soviet Bloc in which ‘everebadee talkz Eengleesh‘. It also boasts two former James Bond stars reprising the best bits of their roles – and for what it’s worth, it’s great to see Broz’s charisma again as he pouts and shouts his way from scene to scene in a antiheroic fashion. For a political/thriller there’s more than enough solid action scenes: car chases, foot chases, gunfights (complete with some John Woo style jumping / slow mo). There’s a shape-shifting plot that’s fun to follow, especially because the entire film is back to back plot-action-plot-action, that only briefly dips in the middle. It’s not all roses however; some of the sub-plots (like the mentor / master angle) feel very clunky, there’s a couple of weird directorial choices (like mad Dutch angles everywhere), and the woeful title isn’t explained until last 10 minutes – and it barely makes sense. Most importantly, there’s very little to distinguish this from a thousand other similar sub-Bourne movies based on shady CIA operations. The November Man is a solid – but unremarkable – Spy Thriller that sits just above the middle ground with entertaining performances and action.
The Counselor: when a lawyer invests in a drug smuggling operation that goes south, the world around him collapses. This movie essentially comprises of a heap of dragged-out scenes where fine actors deliver lines that probably looked great in a script, but end up coming over as quasi-biblical, pears of faux wisdom “that would sound totally rad in the trailer, man.” Some of the conversations were so vague and non-directional that they felt intentionally cryptic for no reason. The other distracting aspect was the ridiculously over-luxurious, decadent and excessive lifestyle of every protagonist; lavish clothes, jewels, cars, props, and even animals – it feels more like you’re flipping through a high-end fashion magazine. The casting here is crazy-good, and the quality of actors is world-class, there’s even some great flashes of acting – but it’s all crushed under the weight of great expectations. The most fun you can get out of this is playing the “OMG it’s that guy” cameo-spotting game, with the likes of Toby Kebbell, Dean “Hank” Norris, Donna Air, Rosie Perez, Bruno Ganz. And seriously, does Cormac McCarty just sit at home thinking of new ways to kill people all day? In a nutshell, The Counselor is too arthouse-y for it’s own good – and the distracting stars, lifestyles, plot, and “that would be cool in a film” conversations make it all feel like a surreal advert – aimed more at getting punters in the screen, than delivering a decent film. You can’t help but feel disappointed that a cast/director/writer this good have produced something so ordinary and forgettable – when compared to a lesser cast and (arguably lesser) director doing balls-to-the-wall a film like Savages. The Counselor is a ridiculously convoluted (although NOT as hard to follow as people have made out) that lets us know immoral actions may have grave consequences – ahhh duh duh duh duh!