Friday, July 31, 2015

Movie Minutes: Vacation (2015)

It saddens me to watch critics verbally bash Vacation like an unsuspecting piñata, almost as if there's some sweet prize to be procured from its mutilated carcass, as is the case with any enjoyable film that gets ripped to shreds by seas of reviewers. Sure, it won't win any Academy Awards (as if that means anything anymore anyways) or save the world, but if it made me forget about my miserable life for a little while, then it's worth the while. And if you're in the mood for some raw, R-rated raunchiness served on a golden platter by Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, two of the best around, then take a chance on this National Lampoon sequel. It's funny wall to wall.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation is the fifth installment of the silver screen series (that's impressive considering the original film came out in 1996 and even more so seeing is we're living in the golden age of reboots). What's funny to me (as well as disappointing) is that the latest entry seems a bit too protocol, especially coming off the hot heels of a great film called Ghost Protocol.

Don't misunderstand me. Christopher McQuarrie's (Jack ReacherRogue Nation is a solid installment: it's got the action, the humor, the gadgets, and the wit we've come to expect from the tenured tent-pole. It just doesn't have the new spy car smell like most of its predecessors, especially after a sequel that was brimming with new ideas: Benji passing his field test; introducing Jeremy Renner, dissolving the IMF; and not to mention the largest, most visually striking set pieces in the series to date.

Tom Cruise returns as renowned IMF agent Ethan Hunt, proving once again why he is the definitive action star of the past two decades (and that age really is just a number!). This time Ethan and the disbanded IMF are the only thing standing between global anarchy and a specially-trained shadow organization, lead by Sean Harris' delightfully devious Lane.

Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames return as Ethan's trusty crew and all do solid work. The always enjoyable Alec Baldwin gives his "likeable jerk" routine as head of the CIA, Alan Hunley. However, the real intrigue of the story comes in the form of the mysterious Isla Faust, portrayed by the talented actress Rebecca Ferguson (of BBC's The White Queen).

For most of the film we're not sure of her true motives. Is she a double agent? Triple agent? Quadruple agent (are those even a thing?)? Although we've seen this mystery play out many times in a lot of movies like this, once Faust's true motives are revealed, you can't help but feel a little empathy and understand why she feels such a strong bond with Cruise's Hunt.

With not a whole lot of new ideas to offer and a runtime totaling over two hours, Rogue Nation does tend to overstay its welcome. However, we only get one impossible mission every few years or so, so I can't complain too much.

Ethan Hunt himself, Tom Cruise, has confirmed that Mission Impossible 6 (I'm Getting Too Old For This Shit) begins production next summer. With a relatively short turnaround, here's hoping that J.J. and company have enough time to pull together a reinvigorating script.

Grade: A-

Saturday, July 18, 2015

5 Faves: Movies of 2015 (So Far)

I know it's hard to believe it, but we are more than halfway through 2015 already, which means we have seen half of the movies that 2015 has to offer. To be quite frank, it's been a pretty good year for movies. We've seen many box office records broken as well as two films entering and exiting the top five highest grossing films of all time list: Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World. To boot, a lot of these films have been fun! Sadly, as much as I'm enjoying a lot of movies this year, there's only so much room in my list...

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Yet another successful comic book adaptation from director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class). 'Kingsman' is a quirky, exciting send-up of the James Bond films of old, starring a delightful cast and a "thene thtealing" villain portrayed by the one and only Sam Jackson. It's funny, action-packed, and the start of what could be a great spy franchise.

4. Predestination

This film may be one of the greatest "Holy S***!" movies in a long time. Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent who skips through time looking for an elusive terrorist known as The Fizzle Bomber. Sarah Snook also gives a star performance as Hawke's new recruit. Even if you see the ending coming, it's still going to blow you away. Don't miss this one!

3. It Follows

Some critics hailed It Follows as one of the greatest as an instant classic, even going so far as to call it one of the best horror films ever made. Don't let the hype fool you. David Robert Mitchell's minimalistic horror flick is not quite a game-changer, but it is a well- crafted, well-acted slow burn that starts you off uneasy and gradually terrorizes you as it drags its protagonists through an unrelenting, hellish nightmare. The score is brilliant too.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

There's no school like the old-- Oh, you get it. Back in 1981, an Australian medical doctor-turned-filmmaker defined the term "action-packed" with a little film called Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Thirty years later, Miller does it again with his quasi-reboot Mad Max: Fury Road. With Miller's emphasis on live-action stunts, 'Fury Road' makes films like Avengers: Age of Ultron look like a screen saver. Exciting vehicular warfare charges this NOS-injected action thriller while tender dialogue and character moments distinguish Miller's movie from other "just enjoyable" thrillers.

1. Ex Machina

It is not very often we get a sci-fi flick that transcends the action-thriller banalities which have long plagued the genre. After last year's mesmerizing Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson, science fiction spoils us again with Ex Machina. Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander both give Oscar-level performances as creator and creation, respectively. Isaac plays a scientist who invites a nobody computer programmer to his house to run a Turing Test on his newest A.I. However, Ava (Vikander) may be more human than anyone could have ever imagined possible. Ex Machina is a gripping, intriguing cautionary tale about the dangers of playing God. Also, it's my favorite movies of the year so far.

Review: "Ant-Man" stands tall

Marvel topped off Phase Two of their cinematic universe in small fashion, introducing the hilarious Paul Rudd as their newest Avenger, Scott Lang, otherwise known as the Ant-Man.

Given the production issues: Writer-Director Edgar Wright leaving the project after a decade due to creative differences with the studio and Marvel not replacing him till near principal photography, Ant-Man is an impressive feat. That said, Ant-Man may not feel as fresh as recent Phase Two entries, such as Guardians of the Galaxy, but Director Peyton Reed's (Yes Man, The Break-Up) film is just as funny and equally endearing. This film is a testament to Marvel's keen sense about their audience and the relentless expectation put upon them to deliver time and again.

Don't get me wrong, Ant-Man is structured like any run-of-the-mill origin story as it hardly deviates from the path long traveled by the superhero genre since Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man flick back in 2002. However, unlike most superhero movies, Ant-Man is lite on action, which means, like 'Guardians,' this film relies heavily on its talented cast and character relationships. And in the end, that's the film's strength.

Michael Douglas highlights the film as an aged Dr. Hank Pym, a scientist whose serum shrinks the distance between atoms of any object; in other words, it makes things smaller. When Dr. Pym's protégé, Darren Cross, played to menacing perfection by Corey Stoll (of the American House of Cards), recreates the serum for Hydra, Hank recruits Professional Burglar and Ex-con Scott Lang (Rudd) to steal it back. Even Evangeline Lilly (LOST) gets her fair share of screen time as Hope, Hank's estranged daughter whose caught in a love triangle between Darren and Scott. These four have well-developed, complex relationships with one another that evolve as the story progresses, leading to many heartfelt, heart-breaking, melodramatic moments. This is where Ant-Man stands tallest.

Did I mention the film's funny, too? Given the final product, it's easy to see why Marvel wanted a director and a lead with backgrounds in comedy. Peyton Reed brings an impeccable sense of comedic timing to most of the jokes, particularly the physical gags that take advantage of the ant men's changing sizes, while the endearing Paul Rudd charms us with his signature wit. We want Scott to win over the bad guy and to mend the broken relationship with his own daughter and family.