More of the same, and I ain't complaining one bit
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019): Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin's guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head - he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.
The latest installment in the unexpectedly solid John Wick franchise is exactly what you'd expect: more of the same. Now, is more of the same a good or a bad thing? Did you like the first two John Wick films? Then it's safe to say you'll like this one. Did you either not care / not watch either of the previous two films? This probably isn't the place to start. That said, I fall squarely into the former category, and, as you would expect…. I had a ball of a time here.
At its core, John Wick is a phenomenally choreographed action movie with some breathtaking visuals. This franchise is the pillar for what a modern action film should look like, second only to the Mission: Impossible franchise for best action movie franchise in Hollywood today. (Sorry James Bond / Fast and Furious.) At its core is its heart-stopping fight sequences. These sequences showcase the very best of what Hollywood can do in 2019, with cinematography that actually allows you to see the action unfold. Who knew doing something as simple as shooting your action sequences with as few cuts as possible and giving us wideshots so we can see everything would make such a huge difference, but that's why someone like me (who couldn't care less about the John Wick lore at this point) keeps coming back to this franchise. In a post-Bourne Identity world, where so much of what's considered "action films" is inhibited by Marvel doing whatever they feel like with whatever budget they want, few franchises pay this close attention to detail while making every cent of their production budget count.
That said, the budget of this film clearly went to the stunts / action sequences, because the lore continues to be completely uninteresting to me. Sadly, much of the second act of this film investigates said lore of this franchise, and for people like myself who don't care it was veeeeeery boring. On a surface level the lore is interesting, but it contorts itself to service the protagonist John Wick at every turn, which makes it ridiculous, unbelievable, and boring. Also, Keanu Reeves's portrayal of John Wick has lost the pisaz it once had, an unfortunate result of the fact that there's now 3 of these films. Long gone are the iconic lines of previous installments.
However, that's a rather marginal complaint for the film and franchise as a whole, after all you come for the breathtaking action sequences and tolerate the lore as a tradeoff. Because of how much time this film spends on its lore, I don't think Parabellum will do a good job bringing in new fans, (start with John Wick: Chapter 2 if you're new to the franchise) but for those who are already dug in, Parabellum delivers exactly what you're looking for: mesmerizing action scenes with an increasingly mediocre story to compliment it.
The Critique: Pulse-pounding action sequences continue in blissful fashion in the latest installment of the John Wick franchise.
The Recommendation: This franchise continues to be an absolute must-watch for anyone who considers themselves a fan of action movies. Don't miss it
My Number: 8/10. And that's a testament to how phenomenal the action here really is.
One of the best action movies ever
Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018): Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.
YES. After months of anticipation, the latest installment in arguably the best franchise in Hollywood right now is finally here. Mission: Impossible - Fallout further cements this unlikely franchise at the top of the over-saturated mountain of existing Hollywood IP, and further cements the franchise's place as the undisputed king of the action genre. (Check out my series review here. I am, after all, a company man. Isn't that right Oscar? No, we'll worry about your healthcare later!) Seriously, if you have even a passing interest action movies, put any predispositions you may have towards Tom Cruise the man or the thought that this is "yet another franchise" aside and see this movie. It truly is one of the best action movies ever made. I had unrealistically high expectations for this film, and Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise, and the rest of the production crew for Fallout somehow met them.
I think it's worth starting with the faults here. The film's story is a little messy and hard-to-follow. Unlike previous installments, including Rogue Nation, this installment did take itself a tad too seriously for what a popcorn flick should be. That's not to say there isn't a significant amount of humor and lighthearted dialogue scattered throughout its lengthy 147 minute runtime, but the tone did seem to be a bit more serious than previous films in the franchise, particularly in the final act. That said, I actually found myself personally getting a little emotional in said final act, but I will readily admit I admire this franchise more than most, so in all likelihood most viewers will be bored during these touching moments. They really serve as nothing more than placeholder moments to let the audience take a breath in between the jaw-dropping setpieces, but they're still a thing and a rather weak thing at that. Honestly, I'm just trying to split hairs here so I'm not constantly gushing about this film. Because it is worth gushing over.
The action setpieces here are some of the greatest I have ever seen. Tom Cruise shows that he can still bring it at age 56 with ease, and watching him hang from the side of a helicopter or run through the rooftoops of London (open palm running and all) is still nothing short of exhilarating. See, Mission: Impossible's insistence on filming as many of the stunts with practical effects, combined with Tom Cruise actually doing most of the incredible stunts throughout are what make Fallout as good as it is. Cruise actually spent three months learning to fly a helicopter in the film's breathtaking conclusion, and the cinematography around this unbelievable setpiece really sells it home. This helicopter chase is one of the most incredible sequences I have ever seen, and while it is the end of a resounding crescendo from director Christopher McQuarrie, there are plenty of other setpieces to get your adrenaline pumping. Heck, one of the early sequences features a spectacular oner that includes a cameraman doing a HALO jump with Tom Cruise, (which I still can't believe they did) which will likely go down as one of my favorite movie moments of 2018. And that's basically the first setpiece of the film! Ya, it's that good.
On top of the incredible action sequences, the film has a marvelous cast that features a surprisingly diverse cast of core characters. It's taken 6 films, but this franchise finally has a strong group of supporting women, led by the return of Ilsa Faust. (the role that put Rebecca Ferguson on the map) We also get two great newcomers in White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) and the stern, resolute, and cold-blooded Erica Sloan. (Angela Bassett) Also, August Walker (Henry Cavill) is pretty darn good alongside Ethan Hunt, (Tom Cruise) and he looks pretty sleek with his mustache too. Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) also returns as this film is something of a direct sequel to Rogue Nation, but Lane continues to dwarf the legendary performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman from Mission: Impossible 3. However, he is a formidable villain for Ethan Hunt. And that's who you come to see, right? Yes, once more Tom Cruise handles the mantle and does things that I could only dream of, and is worth the price of admission alone. (Yes, he's not asked to do much in terms of acting here, but he doesn't need to when he's riding through Paris on a motorcycle without a helmet, right?) Tom Cruise is the the centerpiece of this franchise, and his suave and grace during the chaotic setpieces are exactly why. I also have to mention the score. Compsed by Lorne Balfe, Fallout's score is easily the strongest of a franchise that includes scores composed by Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, and Danny Elfman. It's a wonderful breath of fresh air for what's usually a forgettable summer blockbuster score. Also, gotta give a shoutout to director Christopher McQuarrie. Since Fallout doesn't cheat any of its action sequences, every aspect of filmmaking shows up and sells these over-the-top action setpieces, and McQuarrie is a big reason for why it all comes together and continues to work flawlessly. It doesn't really matter that the story is over-serious and confusing at points. You're not looking for a meaningful story in a popcorn flick. You're looking for good ol' fashion fun, and there's plenty of it to be found in Fallout. One of the best films of the year so far, Fallout is a masterfully executed action film, and is exhibit A for why you go to the movies. Don't miss it!
The Critique: One of the best action movies ever, Mission: Impossible - Fallout soars from one exhilarating sequence to the next with flawless execution, with an ageless performance from Tom Cruise holding it all together.
The Recommendation: Yes, this is an absolute must-see for all.
Rewatchability: Very High
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
Hey friends! With the impending release of the sixth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise, I figured now is as good a time as any to take a look back at the previous five installments. Hopefully you'll see that while the franchise had some very humble beginnings (I'm still not sure how it continued on after the rather disastrous M: I-2) but hopefully I'll convince you that this franchise has propelled itself to the top of the proverbial action genre mountain with its recent installments. By the end of this you'll understand why Mission: Impossible - Fallout has been my most anticipated release of this summer's slate of blockbusters. So, let's get started!
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
IT CAN'T GET OUT OF ITS OWN WAY
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman's journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.
There's a lot to like in this movie. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is Matthew Vaughn's sequel to 2014's wildly successful Kingsman: The Secret Service. I wrote a review on that film, which you can check out here, and in it I said that while there was a lot to like in this film, there were some significant problems with it as well. Unfortunately, this sequel is more of the same. There's a lot to like about it, but there are some significant problems with it as well. More so than on the last go around. All of this is going to make Kingsman: The Golden Circle a below average film for me. Now before you say I don't know how to have fun at the movies, I implore you to listen to what I have to say about this film, because it's reaaaaally not that good.
But first, let's focus on the positives. There were two big things here that I looooooved. First off, there's the fantastic villain. Julianne freaking Moore had an absolute blast with this character, and was by FAR the strongest part of the movie. She stole every scene she was in by a long shot with her eccentric and fiendishly upbeat portrayal of the film's villain. Personally, I liked her far more than Samuel L. Jackson's villain in the first film. I also really enjoyed Pedro Pascal's performance as Agent Whiskey. If his portrayal of Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones wasn't enough to convince you this dude has a bright future ahead of him, then this movie certainly will. Additionally the regulars of this franchise are good, with Taron Egerton leading the way. This dude needs more work, please! Finally, there was also a cameo in this movie that was amazing. I won't spoil it, but just know said cameo plays a big role in the movie, and it was hilarious and awesome. Unfortunately, this is all the film had going for it in my opinion.
NOW, let's talk about the bad, no, the downright AWFUL bits of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. First off, the cinematography. The action scenes of the initial film were extremely erratic, but I was still able to kind of appreciate/understand what was going on. However this time around, it's as if Matthew Vaughn watched the original film, liked how the church scene was shot from that movie, and made every scene of this movie look like that. That scene was meant to be chaotic because of all the bodies being thrown around in the sequence, but when you have three dudes going at it and the camera is moving all over the place up, down, sideways, this and that.....it's incomprehensible! To me it was even worse than shaky cam (which I despise) because whereas shaky cam is meant to ratchet up tension even though it's not needed.....here, Matthew Vaughn is just in love with himself too much! It is too over-the-top. You had no idea where anyone was at any given moment in correlation to anything else, and eventually I just gave up trying to comprehend these scenes. When the weakest part of your action movie are your action sequences.....that's not good. Additionally, what the heck is this plot trying to accomplish? Julianne Moore's character's incentives made no freaking sense, and the motivations of the president made even less sense. GEEZ DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE PRESIDENT'S PLOT. It was so stupid! And its resolution had me literally laughing out loud at the film. Poor Bruce Greenwood and Emily Watson for getting sucked into that TERRIBLE storyline.
Let's see is there anything else? I think I hit on my biggest issues with this film. But those are some big problems! Ultimately, the biggest issue with Kingsman is that it tried to be too over-the-top. It can't get out of its own way and became too ridiculous for me to enjoy. I'm all for having fun with films, (heck look at my reviews of It and Baby Driver to find evidence of that) but it still has to maintain some level of credibility and sanity. Here, Matthew Vaughn just said f*** it and just went for the biggest, baddest thing he could think of. Oh! I almost forgot! Channing Tatum. Now let's talk about Channing Tatum. Can we talk about Channing Tatum, please? I've been dying to talk about Channing Tatum all day. I don't care if you think this is a spoiler, but you know how you've seen Channing Tatum in all the trailers for the movie? Ya. If so, you've seen all of the scenes that Tatum is in this movie for. He's just in this for the inevitable threequel, guys. Doesn't that bother you? Because it bothers me! He spends most of this movie on ice (literally) so that he can be good to go for the next film. I mean, c'mon guys! Whatever. I'm done talking about this movie. Hate me all you want, but Kingsman may very be the single most overrated franchise in Hollywood today. Hey. Maybe Matthew Vaughn will figure out how to get out of his own way in the threequel. But after this film, I'm not counting on it.
The Critique: Despite a great villain and an even better cameo, Kingsman: The Golden Circle fails to reach mediocrity thanks to horrific cinematography and a ridiculous, over-the-top plot.
The Recommendation: I know you're going to go see this regardless of what I say, but there are far better films to spend your money on in the theater right now. It, Mother!, Logan Lucky, and Wind River, to name a few.
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
A technical Triumph
Dunkirk (2017): Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
Wow. Christopher Nolan does it again. Undoubtedly his strongest technical film to date, Dunkirk is perfect. This is exactly why I love movies. I am going for 100 films reviews in 2017, and that means I will sit through some pretty bad ones (see: Transformers) in the process, but if anything that makes experiences like Dunkirk that much better. A film like Dunkirk will revitalize me and prepare me for the inevitably mediocre (and worse) films that are still to come this year. But there is no doubt this will be one of the best films of the year, and thanks to its mastery of all technical categories, will undoubtedly receive some love come the Oscars. So let's dive into it, shall we?
There's one thing that I didn't like about this film, and that's its non-linear story. The editing early on was a tad jarring as I didn't know I was in for a non-linear story, but once I realized what wass going on I actually enjoyed this film's simplistic story. Nolan has run into problems in the past when he tries to make his stories more "important" than they really are, but that doesn't happen here. This story is quick and easy, with the events themselves providing all the drama this film needed. But the calling card of this film is not it's story, or even the acting. Rather, it's with the viewing experience itself.
First off, before I talk about the technical masterpiece that is Dunkirk, do yourself a favor and see this film in IMAX. Now. It is undoubtedly the best film I have seen in an IMAX movie theater, and that's thanks to the care Christopher Nolan put into creating the film. Most of this film is shot on native IMAX 70 mm cameras, so we had no black bars on the giant IMAX screen. Additionally, there's the INCREDIBLE sound design. From the first moments of the film, I was blown away by the sounds of the movie. The planes roaring overhead, the bombs exploding, the gunshots.....simply incredible. Additionally, the dogfights are, simply put, the best WWII dogfights I have ever seen in a film, and that's thanks to those sequences being (somehow) shot entirely in IMAX 70 mm. The film made me feel like I was really up in the air in the middle of these fights. These dogfights alone are worth the price of admission.
Finally, the other major accomplishment of this film is the score. While it doesn't provide any "catchy" lines, so to say, it did provide exactly what this film needed to continue to build tension. By the climax of the film I was as close to the edge of my seat as I could be, even on the second viewing! I give Hans Zimmer's masterful score major credit for this tension. The one thing I haven't really mentioned is the acting, but that's because it's largely secondary in this film. It's definitely well-acted, and Fionn Whitehead is great as the closest thing this film has to a lead, but other than that I didn't really see any standouts in this film. But still, the overall cast is excellent. Ultimately, this film is a perfect technical experience, and it also delivers in every other category to make it the best film of the year so far.
We are on some kind of roll right now! Hopefully Atomic Blonde can keep it going, but in the meantime, see this one with confidence. And see it in IMAX, please! You will not regret it!
The Critique: A technical masterpiece, Dunkirk features incredible sound design, beautiful visuals, and an innovative score.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see. See it with confidence!
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
Finally! A good summer blockbuster!
Baby Driver (2017): After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
What a fun film. Baby Driver is the latest from the fantastic director Edgar Wright, a man with some of the funniest comedies of the modern era under his belt, including Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Each of these films has a very recognizable fingerprint that makes it an Edgar Wright film. Despite the fact that this film is not a comedy, (it's actually the first foray into a drama for the director) it’s still another classic Edgar Wright film. Somehow, the man can do no wrong. He produces what is easily the best film of 2017 so far, and certainly the best summer blockbuster of recent memories. This film could not come at a better time. We've had a terrible summer blockbuster season so far, so it is really refreshing to see a film be original and actually try and push the envelope. Were it not for some faults in the third act from a storytelling perspective, this film would score a perfect 10 in my book. But this film, like other Edgar Wright films, is a wonderful reminder of what happens when a filmmaker actually uses the entire spectrum of cinema to tell a story.
I’ve long appreciated his visual style, as he’s basically the only director of modern American comedies outside of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of 21 Jump Street fame) to actually employ visual humor and not have his films essentially be lightly edited improv. Here his visual storytelling style comes out in the music. The music of Baby Driver is the calling card here, as Edgar Wright does a marvelous job not just employing effective musical choices for any given moment of his film, but also syncing up his film to the music thanks to some fantastic editing. Everything from car doors closing to gunshots are done to the beat of whatever song is playing at that moment, and it was really fascinating (and fun) to watch. I honestly would not be surprised at all to see this film be nominated for Best Editing come Oscar time next year. Outside of the fantastic editing were some great visuals. Edgar Wright has clearly watched a lot of heist films, and he’s picked up on how to shoot them effectively. The car chases in this film are some of the best sequences I’ve seen in recent memory, and even give The Fast and the Furious a run for its money. Additionally, the acting in this movie is awesome. Ansel Eigort puts in a great performance as the lead, playing a wide range of emotions from start to finish as the quite and reserved Baby. Kevin Spacey is Kevin Spacey (and there’s nothing wrong with that) and Jamie Foxx was over-the-top. However, for me the two that steal the show are Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez. They play husband and wife in this film and are menacing and unpredictable. I absolutely loved them. Lily James was fine, but her character was also the reason this film does not receive a perfect score.
So, let’s talk about the story briefly, shall we? While overall we have a strong story here, there are definitely problems as well. Most notably, the character played by Lily James. The scenes between Ansel Eigort and Lily James were fine, but they also slowed down the film tremendously. I think Edgar Wright realized this and left several scenes between the two of them on the cutting room floor, however the unintended side effect of doing this was the actions of James at the end of the film weren't earned at all. One second she's a waitress, the next she's risking her life for a person she just met a few days ago? I really have no idea what they could've done to improve this as Wright was definitely stuck between a rock and a hard place, but it doesn't change the fact that this is the weakest part of the film. Fortunately, though, this is just about the only misstep here, and doesn't detract from the overall viewing experience that much. I'd say this is the first true "must-watch" film of 2017, and it is easily the best film of the year so far. See it with confidence.
The Critique: Baby Driver is a marvelously executed summer blockbuster with exhilarating action sequences and few faults.
The Recommendation: A must-see for everyone. Don't miss it!
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
How Action Films should be shot (again)
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017): An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.
Before we go any further, and if you're a fan of action movies.....stop reading. Drop everything and go see this. If you are a fan of the action genre and somehow missed the first John Wick, change that. Right now. Because John Wick is easily one of the best action flicks of this decade, and this second film somehow lives up to its predecessor. Yes. Once more, like with the original, I freaking love this movie. It is wonderfully shot, choreographed, and executed. There really isn't anything out there filmed quite like John Wick, and when I come out of these movies I'm really baffled that there aren't any imitators yet. There are problems with this film, yes, but man. If you want amazing action sequences.....look no further than this.
So what makes John Wick's action so great? I think it's really the choreography of it all. The sequences are meticulously staged, right down to ensuring that an empty clip of Wick's gets thrown in the perfect spot and hits the wall at just the right time. The choreography in this film follows closely with it's predecessor, and given the fact that this is easily the best part of this franchise (and what makes John Wick, well, John Wick) I am amazed that the copycats haven't sprung up just yet. Looks like that might change with 2017's Ghost in the Shell, but we'll have to wait and see. Additionally, what makes the action sequences so great here is the camera placement. Stuntman-turned director Chad Stahelski is very conscious of where the camera is placed at any moment in these action sequences, and thanks to its wide lens the viewer is able to see everything going on. No shaky cam! No uncomfortable close ups! Just as many wide-shots as possible. And when the action does move into a more claustrophobic area towards the end of the film, the camera still gives us enough of a wide-shot to not get too disoriented.
While the action sequences are still the calling card for John Wick, this film also investigated the alternate universe that its creating. More so than the first one. Unfortunately this is where a few small missteps occur, as we see some of these big sequences take place in highly populated areas of the world and yet no one around these assassins ever blinks an eye. Like if someone fired a gun in a subway the people wouldn't go nuts. Because they, you know, don't want to get caught in the crossfire. But beyond that I loved the world-building that takes place in this film. It has just enough rules to be interesting while being grounded enough to be believable. Finally, I have to talk about this legendary cast. The marketing team focused on the reunion of Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, but I was more intrigued by the cameos from acting legends, including Mario Donatone, Peter Stormare, and Franco Nero. It felt like every scene I was going, "Hey! I know that guy!" which is always fun. At the end of the day it felt like people wanted to be in this, and hopefully that continues with the inevitable next installment. While it's not quite as good as the original, if nothing else John Wick: Chapter 2 solidifies this franchise's place at the top of the action movie genre. Now if you're still here and even remotely like action movies.....go see this.
The Critique: While not quite as good as its predecessor, John Wick: Chapter 2 solidifies this franchise's place at the top of the action genre thanks to its breathtaking fight sequences.
The Recommendation: An ABSOLUTE must-watch for any action fan or fan of Keanu Reeves.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great (though not quite as strong an 8 as I gave its predecessor)
Come for a story about peace, stay for the war sequences
Hacksaw Ridge (2016):WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to win the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
Wait, Mel Gibson directed this? I'm just as surprised as you are. Well, even though Gibson is not the most sane person on the planet, I've always tried to seperate the man from his work, and when you do that here you find yourself with a pretty darn good film. While there are definitely some problems in the story sequences, and a few of the action sequences go a little overboard, overall this is a great film with several extremely moving sequences. So, let's jump into it shall we?
First off, what does this film get right? Let's talk about the big one: the action sequences. These action sequences are already being compared to Saving Private Ryan, which still serves as the pinnacle for wartime action sequences, and for good reason. These sequences are incredible, and certainly worth the price of admission alone. Gibson uses minimum CGI to make these sequences look as brutal as possible. While there were a few points where Gibson went overboard and made things unnecessarily brutal, (did we really need to see the Japanese Seppuku at the end of the film?) overall the sequences were simply excellent. On top of the thrilling war sequences, you had one of the better performances I've seen so far this year from Andrew Garfield. While this film has a relatively weak supporting cast, this allows Garfield to really shine, as he brings a wide range of emotions to this complicated role. This is easily the best performance of his young career. While 2016 is shaping up to be a strong year for actors, I would not be surprised to see a nomination for Garfield next year.
However, despite the brilliant performance from Andrew Garfield, you have a very lackluster performance from Hugo Weaving to offset it. Easily the weakest part of the film, Weaving's portrayal as the father, Tom Doss, was both poorly written and executed. The British Hugo Weaving's Virginian accent left much to be desired, and the lackluster character arc certainly didn't help. Additionally, Teresa Palmer, who was excellent in Lights Out, was completely wasted in yet another role that can be described as "the wife." This story line was definitely rushed, but I am willing to forgive this since the movie had to move quickly through the backstory to get to the actual war sequences. This movie makes use of every second of its 139 minute runtime, though it cerrtainly felt more like 180 minutes. (which in this case is a good thing)
Ultimately, while I've highlighted more of the negatives than the positives, that's because at the end of the day this is a great film. During the climax of the film, I was very emotionally moved, and then when you add on top of it some phenomenal action sequences and a memorable performance from your lead you certainly have a movie that will be talked about in this year's Oscar season. I would definit4ely recommend checking this one out!
The Critique: Despite some shortcomings, Hacksaw Ridge is a great film thanks to some of the most brutal war sequences ever seen on film, as well as a great performance from its lead.
The Recommendation: If you like WWII films, it's a must-see. If you like Andrew Garfield, it's a must-see. If you're not a fan of either, this film might be able to change your mind.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Image Credit: http://static.srcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/hacksaw-ridge-2016-andrew-garfield.jpg
There's a lot of running in this movie
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016): Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.
First off, full disclosure time. One of my bigger inspirations for this blog was my (now deceased) Uncle Bob Brockschmidt. We watched a lot of movies together over the years, and the very last one I saw with him was 2012's Jack Reacher. Well now the sequel is out, and so it was with mixed emotion that I went and saw this film. Well, I know what he would've thought: this film: not good. This sequel leaves a looooot to be desired, and short of a post-conclusion epilogue that was surprisingly emotional, I was pretty bored throughout the 118 minute film. So, let's jump into this lackluster sequel, shall we?
First off, the good. There were 2 things I liked about this film. One, the flashbacks looked pretty cool. I noted there was some nice editing and cinematography to show the flashbacks, but that might have also been amplified by the fact that everything else was so dull. I also liked the surprising epilogue. I can't really say anything about this part without spoiling it, because it is literally the only part of this film worth remembering, but the story line between Tom Cruse and Danika Yarosh was concluded in a surprisingly effective way. But this might have also had to do with the fact that the rest of this film is so bad.
So! What's the biggest problem with this film? The writing sucks. While it's relatively well shot (mostly because they simply didn't use much shaky cam) the sequences are just totally devoid of any actual drama. They're ridiculous! This film basically goes from one scene to the next and is full of QUICK! HE'S OVER THERE! (runs) GOT YOU. TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW (tells them everything they know) it's just very.....ordinary and cliche. Oh! Speaking of cliche. Cobie Smulders character is sadly not much more than eye candy. Which is CRIMINAL given how much of this film she's in. But she's never given a true moment to shine, and thus is nothing more than "the girl." Who of course at one point has to be in her bra for some reason. And a bath robe. While Smulders acts the crap out of this film, the writing sinks her character. Ultimately, this film never really had much of a chance to succeed, but dismal writing didn't do the film any favors. Sure Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, but you need more than that for a film to actually be good. Don't bother seeing this, unless you are a DIE HARD Cruise fan.
The Critique: Lackluster in almost every way, this unwarranted Jack Reacher sequel is sunk due to bad writing and boring action sequences.
The Recommendation: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE. Even if you are a die-hard Cruise fan I would still say it's not worth it.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad
The Classic Definition of "It's Fine"
The Magnificent Seven (2016): Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
Man I wanted to like this film so much more than I did. One of Hollywood's great classics is remade here in yet another cash-grab of 2016. But, as usual, I try and ignore the cash-grab aspect of this film, and instead try and focus on the film itself. Doing this with a film like Ghostbusters made it one of my favorites of 2016 to this point, and I was really hoping it was going to correlate here. After all this film puts director Antoine Fuqua and actors Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke on screen together for the first time since 2001's classic Training Day, and it even added the oozingly charismatic Chris Pratt into the mix and let one of Hollywood's best villains, Peter Sarsgaard be, you guessed it, the villain. They even put the rapidly rising Haley Bennett in as the film's only female star! How kind of them to remember to include a woman in this film! Siiiiigh....when will Hollywood learn that it needs more women in its films? Not today clearly. Oh well. Anyway, let's get to analyzing!
First off, what does this film get right? Well, no doubt the best part of it is the story line involving Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington. There were a select few scenes involving these two, and there's no doubt they were the best parts of the film. Hawke's character even has something of a character arc that makes his story very engaging. Washington and Pratt also work very well together. I'm sure someone in Hollywood has already scene the potential cash cow that would be an action film featuring Pratt and Washington as the leads. Also, the big action sequences are fun. How this film is rated PG-13 is beyond me, (there's a fair amount of blood for PG-13) but if you go into The Magnificent Seven looking for a mindless Western popcorn flick, that's what you're gonna find. I was just disappointed that there wasn't anything more.
The is the biggest problem with The Magnificent Seven. It isn't anything more than a big mindless Western popcorn flick. It was trying to be. You can tell this film is trying to be about something, but there's just too much silly banter between the characters for it to achieve this. This struggle to find its identity really brings down the overall film, and the silly banter really takes away any opportunity for character development outside of Washington and Hawke. This silly banter even took away some of Pratt's charisma. (Though it pales in comparison to Jurassic World so it's not that bad.) The one other actor that didn't suffer from silly banter was Byung-hun Lee, but that was more or less because he didn't really say much at all. At the end of the day, The Magnificent Seven fails to get out of the shadow of feeling like a cash-grab, and this unfortunately sinks the ship. While it's certainly a fun film to take a break from the impending "important" films that define Oscar season, it is just another reminder of how disappointing 2016 has been for the big-budget blockbuster film.
The Critique: While fun during the action sequences, The Magnificent Seven fails to capture the magic of it's previous reboots due largely to lazy writing.
The Recommendation: While the action sequences make this film worth checking out, I don't think it's worth checking out before it's available to stream. Grab some beer (or wine) and a few friends, and have a good time.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
I guess you could say this film wasn't.........wait for it......magnificent.
https://i.imgur.com/APPpwzy.jpg (Yeah meme)
A Mixed Bag
The Accountant (2016): As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.
I'm baaaaaaaaack! After almost a month off as I dealt with my personal life, I'm back and getting ready for the Oscar season by reviewing a film that will almost certainly have nothing to do with the Oscars come February! YES. Who need Birth of a Nation when you can see The Accountant, right? Well, I figured I should come back on the movie scene by reviewing a film that I had actually been kind of looking forward to for a while. I was initially really excited for this after seeing the debut trailer. This trailer is one of my favorites for the year, but I quickly became cautious with this film because Warner Brothers marketed the crap out of it. Often times, when a film is marketed as much as Warner Brothers marketed this, it means that the film is not great and the distributor is trying to hype up opening weekend sales because chances are the sales will drop drastically after the word gets out. Additionally, Warner Brothers is on some kind of cold streak, and sadly that (mostly) continues here. Actually, this film is decent. But decent for Warner Brothers is Best Picture worthy in their book. But for me decent is disappointing because I was hoping for so much more. So, once again, let's jump into it, shall we?
First off, let's talk about the best part of the film. The huge marketing campaign has focused around #WhoIsTheAccountant. Warner Brothers was wise to focus on this aspect of the film, because it is the best part of the film. The first 45 minutes or so of the 128 minute film are by far the most interesting as we discover, with the people around him I might add, who the accountant really is. The film does a good job only giving us bits and pieces of his past through periodic flashbacks, but this is where it's first fault lies. The film is constantly trying to one-up itself. Each new revelation HAS to be bigger than the last one. This torpedoed the film in its final act, as the last big "twist" is totally ridiculous and unbelievable, and contrasts with everything else we had seen in the film to that point. The film also stumbles in its delivery of two major story lines. The FBI story line is completely ridiculous and frustratingly wastes JK Simmons, (which is criminal-you cannot waste one of the most talented character-actors ever like this) and the talented Anna Kendrick is wasted in a role that can simply be described as, "the girl who falls for the guy." Heavy sigh.
While these faults are pretty glaring, there are other silver linings in this film. For one, it is quite funny. I think a few times I laughed at times I wasn't supposed to, but there are a few good lines scattered about to keep you entertained. Ben Affleck is pretty good too. Not great, but good. Don't worry, though. His Oscar contender is still coming later this year in Live by Night. JK Simmons, despite his limited role, steals the show because of course he does. Despite a weak storyline, the one scene where he's asked to do some actual acting he kills it and single-handily makes this scene my favorite scene of the film. And everyone else's favorite scene from the film in the theater. Trust me. If you do go see it, you'll know what scene I'm talking about. Ultimately, though, the biggest fault of this film is that it's safe. It is a very ordinary film that I found myself asking "is that it?" when the credits rolled. The main story line is fine, but by no means super captivating, and if you're film's main story line isn't captivating, you aren't going to make it very far. Even more so when there is nothing of note to say in terms of cinematography, editing, or costumes. Even the score and musical selections are forgettable, and that's one thing that Warner Brothers usually goes all out in. I would say your money is better spent on something else. Netflix it when that day comes.
The Critique: Despite some captivating intrigue early on, The Accountant ultimately flops because of an unquenchable need to try and one-up itself. And because it wasted JK Simmons. Not happy about that, guys.
The Recommendation: Netflix it.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
I have no idea what I'm doing
Jason Bourne (2016): The CIA's most dangerous former operative is drawn out of hiding to uncover more explosive truths about his past.
SPOILER ALERT: This movie sucks. There. I said it. Sorry for ruining a good thing, but I really REALLY did not like this film. It's messy, had me constantly questioning what was going on at any given moment, and had the (in)famous Paul Greengrass cinematography I despise so much. (So much I actually had a discussion on it which you can check out here) Everyone in this film is sleepwalking throughout it, even Matt Damon, who has always been good about trying in everything he does. Well, it really feels like no one is trying here, including Alicia Vikander which makes me really sad. Vikander was my favorite actress of 2015, and this is her first big role in 2016 and boy is it disappointing. (Man 2016 has not been great for either Vikander or Oscar Isaac, who stared as Apocalypse in the lackluster X-Men film) Ultimately, Jason Bourne is incoherent and incomprehensible with just too many quick! Locate him in a Berlin! *bangs on keyboard for a few seconds* There he is! Now get our agents to with 5 feet of him! *bangs on keyboard a few more seconds* Done! Engage! type moments. The film is a big stupid action movie but it is trying to hard to be something more, and it's ridiculously grand statements about what we can do with technology nowadays and what our intelligence community is capable of just made this film, well, bad in my eyes.
You know....I probably shouldn't be as harsh on this film as I am trying to be. I think at the end of the day, it's trying to appeal to an older generation, as well as trying to appeal to the staunch privacy advocates out there. I think if you ask one of those two demographics what they thought about this film, they'd say it was fine. Maybe even decently good. But there's just too much sleepwalking from the cast (Matt Damon apparently went through quite the physical transformation to play this character but that transformation did not resonate at all) and too much of the Greengrass cinematography, which can basically be summed up as shaky cam: hardcore edition.
Honestly, what good is there to highlight in this film? Ummmmm oh! Tommy Lee Jones is in it! America's favorite grandpa (don't tell him I said that) is restrained for most of it, but pretty much the best moment in the film for me came when Tommy Lee Jones was finally Tommy Lee Jones and threw some sass into a few of his lines. But, beyond that? I don't know man. I honestly got nothing. Ultimately, this film falls into the shadow of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for 2016 being a late summer blockbuster that is targeted towards the older generation. Only difference is 2015's late summer blockbuster was actually good (it made my best films of 2015 which you can check out here) and just misread the target audience. That said, no way are they gonna let this franchise die, so you can look forward to another disgruntled review when they try (again) to revive this long dead franchise in 2019.
The Critique: Lackluster in nearly every way, Jason Bourne is another disappointing addition to a franchise that should have been allowed to die ten years ago.
The Recommendation: Are you a baby boomer or a privacy advocate? Then this film is for you. Everyone else? Just watch the original Bourne Identity again.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad. And it gets a 3/10 pretty much just for Tommy Lee Jones.
Brutality shows no mercy
Sicario (2015): An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
Ok first off, this film is freaking brutal. I mean like holy crap levels of brutal. If you are feint of heart, do not make any effort to see this film. Just leave, now, because I don't know what I'm gonna talk about yet and something might come up that scares the crap out of you. (And me, honestly, because some of the images I have from this film aren't leaving my mind anytime soon...) for the rest of you, let's talk about Sicario.
Sicario is a good film. A good film that suffers from a few problems, but let's talk positives first. First off, the film looks absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography from legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins is fantastic, and EASILY the best part of the film. Every shot of this film, even the Call-of-Duty-esque fighting sequences, looked absolutely wonderful thanks to Deakins. It almost makes me sad that he's not gonna win an Oscar, but Emmanuel Lubezki is Emmanuel Lubezki so there's that. Additionally, the film is wonderfully acted by Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Emily Blunt is asked to do a lot here, and she does an excellent job. Also I didn't think they could make Emily Blunt not look stunning, but they accomplished that somehow. She only looks relatively attractive in this film. Kudos to the makeup department for that one. Also, this film does have a relatively engaging, despite it being an incredibly brutal watch. But Benicio Del Toro had a really interesting character arc, and there were some "twists and turns" that I wasn't expecting. That said, these character arcs is where one of my major problems with the film come in.
I did NOT like Emily Blunt's character arc. I get that she's supposed to be beaten down by the events of this film, and she's supposed to be how we would react, but after seeing how much of a boss Blunt could be in Edge of Tomorrow......her character really could've been played by anyone. This character arc really took away Blunt's ability to be as fantastic as she usually is, and that made me sad. Additionally, this film was just....too much for me. I don't know a whole lot about the drug war of Mexico, but this film made it seem like it is as bad as like ISIL is in the Middle East. There's a scene where Emily Blunt looks into a Mexican town, and there are gunshots everywhere and even some explosions. It looks like a total war zone, and I simply just find it hard to believe that the Mexican drug war is really that much like open warfare. Oh and no way would Josh Brolin's character arc exist. I didn't really appreciate that either. Ultimately as the film went on it started feeling like American Sniper to me, and when a film feels like that.....that's not good.
So, despite the fact that this film looks fantastic and has a pretty engrossing and unpredictable story, Sicario just takes too many liberties for me to truly appreciate its attempt at realism. Despite the fact that there are three great performances from its main characters, their arcs were just all over the place and not quite my style. While still above average, this film definitely could've been better had it, well, just toned it down a bit. Man that's an odd thing for me to say about a film, but I guess there's a first time for everything!
The Critique: While beautifully shot, Sicario suffers from the rare problem of being too brutally "realistic" which limits the film to being merely above average.
The Recommendation: If you like Emily Blunt, or brutal realism, or Roger Deakins, then this film is for you. If not? Stay away.
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
An Explosive Christmas
The Bourne Identity (2002): A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia, before racing to elude assassins and regain his memory.
Merry Christmas everyone! I have a tradition going here at Enter the Movies. For those who don't know, every year I celebrate Christmas by reviewing a film that has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday, but rather the events of the film take place around the holiday. For example, two years ago I reviewed Die Hard, which is quite possibly the most famous example of this. However a few months ago, (end of October, to be exact) I was watching The Bourne Identity for the first time (yes, I had never seen the film get over it) and realized this film would be perfect to continue this tradition. So, I'll date when I'm writing this review. It is October 26th. And I'm writing my Christmas review. And you think I procrastinate.....
There's a reason this series has become a huge franchise. This movie is excellent. It has an extremely original and well-executed premise. The idea of completely losing your memory and having to figure out why people want to kill you makes for an extremely fun film. Fortunately for the viewer, Jason Bourne is a James Bond-level spy, otherwise this 119 minute film would've lasted about 20 minutes when the first assassin takes him completely by surprise and kills him immediately. But moving on! (Believe me I'm aware I can't actually hold that against the film) Matt Damon is awesome. Man do I love Matt Damon! This may be the role that made him the superstar he is today, and it's easy to see why. He is absolutely awesome as Jason Bourne. The supporting cast is full of 90's holdovers, including a female lead that just screams 90's in every sense of her fashion and style.
Honestly this might be my biggest fault with the film. I mean obviously a film that came out in 2002 and has technology be a key component of the story is going to be outdated 13 years later. But, with the exception of Matt Damon, the acting in this film also makes this film pretty dated. I've always wondered if actors that were big in a certain decade would make that film feel like it's from said decade. And while I think the answer to that question is "It depends on the film." Here it's definitely a resounding yes. Franka Potente, the female lead and a relative newcomer before this film, was the epitome of a 90's female lead even if she didn't mean to be. But other than that fault, there really isn't much else I can find wrong with this film.
Overall, The Bourne Identity is an excellent film. While yes, it is a mindless popcorn action flick, it is definitely one of the best to come out of this genre in the 2000's. And it is very Christmas-y. So why bother with films like Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas when you can watch The Bourne Identity? If you haven't seen this film, change that. It will be 2 hours of your life well spent. Merry Christmas everyone!
The Critique: While rather dated at this point, The Bourne Identity delivers an interesting premise, awesome acting, and great visuals. A great action film even today. And Christmas.
The Recommendation: If you like action films and haven't seen this film, you should change that. 'Nuff said.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Merry Christmas everyone! Now this review gets to sit in my drafts folder for 2 months....
A return to old-school Bond
Spectre (2015): A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
Alright. Let's get something out of the way right off the bat: this Bond film is not as good as Skyfall. But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Spectre, as I said before, is a return to the old-school Bond formula: get the assignment, get the tech from Q, meet the girl, get in a car chase, destroy car in said car chase, meet villain in exotic location, defeat villain in exotic location. Rinse and repeat. This formula has been used in Bond films over and over, and it has not only been the cornerstone here but has been the groundwork for countless action films over the years. And personally, I love it. I absolutely love it. While the formula has a tendency to date some of the films (try and go back and watch a Roger Moore Bond film without laughing at it at various points) it's still an absolute blast to watch on screen, as long as it's properly executed. And it is certainly well-executed here.
What made Skyfall different was the fact that it strayed from this formula. There was actual emotion in the film. Bond did not feel as invincible as he usually is. You weren't saying "What a guy," over and over whenever he does something incredible, in part because he doesn't really do anything incredible besides take on one of the best Bond villains in the franchise's history. Well, let's flash forward to Spectre. The main reason I had high expectations for this film (and why it was the most anticipated film of the year for me) was because of the villain. The organization Spectre has been a huge part of the franchise from way back in the Sean Connery/Roger Moore days. However in recent years the Bond crew were forced to put the villainous organization on hiatus due to legal issues. And now that the legal battle is over and the Bond crew received the rights once and for all, they immediately announced the new film would feature the organization. And once the crew announced Christoph Waltz would head said organization in this film, I have been counting down the days until I could see it. And Christoph Waltz did not disappoint. I've been long saying Waltz was born for this role, ever since he burst onto the scene with his performance in Inglorious Basterds. And he absolutely knocked it out of the park, and even delivered my single favorite moment in film this year to date. By far. (I won't spoil it for you) Spectre did falter in some places, but one of those places was absolutely not the villain. They knocked that one out of the park. I must also give some props to other departments I don't usually mention in these reviews. First off, the special effects crew did a fantastic job with all the stunts in the film. While sadly the coolest stunt was spoiled in all the trailers with the helicopter, the demolition crew got to destroy several major sets, so good job to capturing those explosions. (They likely had to do it in one take) However one of the best part of this film for me was the lighting. Yes. The lighting. The use of shadows and streaks of light in this film were amazing, and felt like an ode to the truly mise en scene days of the '60s and '70s. I have no idea who was in charge of lighting, but they deserve a huge raise.
This film was not without its flaws, however. Let's first talk about the acting. Cause that's the big one. Daniel Craig was his typical Bond, which I had no problem with, and the main Bond girl in Lea Seydoux was also excellent, but there were two huge disappointments out of this department. Monica Bellucci and Andrew Scott. And it was to no fault of their own, however both of these ridiculously talented actors were completely wasted in their roles. Criminally wasted, actually. Bellucci was in a total of three scenes, and she was incredible in them, but her character was nothing more than a means to an end for Bond, and she never showed up for the rest of the 148 minute film. Andrew Scott was even more ridiculous. He was an extremely poorly written character, yet even with his laughably bad material he still put in a great performance! Seriously, guys: Andrew Scott is hugely talented, If he could make a performance out of virtually no material, he can do anything. Get him more roles!
That's pretty much all I got. The film was....good. It was a refreshing return to the Bond days of old, but I think a lot of people who don't care for the formula as much as I do will be turned off by it. However everyone can agree that the franchise will benefit from having Spectre back in the mix of things, and with Christoph Waltz at the helm of it, I can't wait to see where the franchise goes next. Oh and PS-I am ready for a new Bond. As much as I loved where Daniel Craig took the character, he's officially too old. Bring on Idris Elba!
The Critique: While failing to live up to its predecessor, Spectre brings back the old Bond formula and executes it in an enjoyable fashion.
The Recommendation: Bond fans, Daniel Craig fans, and Christoph Waltz fans all know what to do: go see this if you somehow haven't already.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Stylized, sexy, and Incredibly Fun
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
This is what the modern action film should be. The Man from U.N.C.LE. has some flaws, but overall it is an incredibly fun and stylish experience. First off, can I please have Henry Cavill's wardrobe? Holy crap, guys. The wardrobe department did their job in this film with flying colors. Who knew you could make those 60's spectacles that Alicia Vikander wears look so damn good? But the fashion of this movie plays into the overall vibe of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in that it is stylish and sexy. Every aspect of the film screams style. To a fault actually, as at times the script is sacrificed for style. But I didn't care. So, let's jump into it, shall we?
First off, let's talk about what this film does right. The acting. While all these characters basically hit one note the whole time, (charisma) I loved Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill. These two actors are asked to do a lot in their hating-each-other-but-still-having-awesome-chemistry roles. Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki are fantastic as the female leads as well. Actually, I think Vikander and Debicki are the real stars here. Their acting is on point and their characters are well-written. The cinematography, costumes, and effects crew all showed up and did a fantastic job, and director Guy Ritchie filmed some amazing action sequences.
However, while the film looks sexy as hell, it definitely feels like an old-school Bond film. While I have no qualms with watching a modern interpretation of a From Russia with Love-style spy film, others may be disappointed knowing that the script and story itself is surface-level at best. But, while a film like MI5 has no problem being just a big stupid action movie, I couldn't help but feel like there was an attempt at morality by Guy Ritchie in this film. It's not content with being just a big sexy action movie, and that's where it fails. That said, I am more than willing to forgive this film's faults and just have fun with it. I want to see more, (and I hope you go out and support the film so they approve a sequel) because if we get another film where the filmmakers just accept the idea that their film is a big sexy action film and have fun with this premise, then that sequel could be one of my favorite movies of that year. The potential is their guys! It just falls a bit short this time around.
The Critique: Sleek, sexy, and fun, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. lays the groundwork for a truly phenomenal sequel, despite falling just a tad short this time around. A great film.
The Recommendation: If you like action, or any of these actors, or you're under 40, go see it. This film is absolutely worth your time.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
The Best Popcorn Flick of the Summer
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015): Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate - an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.
I can already imagine people getting upset with me at that tagline. But, you have to remember what "popcorn flick" means. Does it mean the film is trying to create a heavy-handed, important theme? No. Does it mean there's some big story where you're supposed to feel for the characters by the end and the hardships they go through? Absolutely not. No. A popcorn flick is a big stupid action movie. But it's a big stupid action movie that is FUN. It's fun! And that's exactly what MI: V is. A big stupid action movie that is an absolute blast to watch. The film essentially moves from one action set-piece to the next, with some exposition spouted in between that's really just an opportunity for the audience to catch their breath. I mean I hardly remember anything about it already, and I just saw it yesterday. Apparently there's an anti-IMF out there hellbent on toppling world governments and responsible for things like the 2008 financial collapse that somehow the entire world's intelligence community, short of one nation and Ethan Hunt, have not even heard of? Right. Sure. But that's not the point of this film. This is not a Marvel film. You're not supposed to try and figure out the implications the film has in the "Marvel Comic Universe." You're not supposed to analyze Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Because as soon as you do, you'll see some pretty glaring flaws. No. This film is a film where you sit down, turn your brain off, grab some popcorn, and enjoy 131 minutes of mindless, but fun as hell, action.
Some of you might recall from my early days that I would use this same defense for mindless comedy films too. Well, here's the big difference between a mindless action movie and a mindless comedy: an action movie in 2015 is still held to a high standard of technical specification. There's editing, cool lighting cues, sound mixing, and of course, special effects in an action film. Comedies of today that are mindless are essentially lightly edited bits of improvisation. So, while there's absolutely no substance here in MI: V, the film is still technically creative and makes the overall experience much more positive visually. On top of that, there's some actual acting in this film. Yes, Tom Cruise is in it. Get over it. The man is right there with George Clooney and Tom Hanks today as being the closest thing we have to movie stars. Yes, there's obligatory Tom Cruise running scenes. Yes, there's an obligatory Tom Cruise-riding-a-motorcycle-without-a-helmet scene. But the man is still a freaking movie star, and his charm and charisma shine through and through here once again. And he fills out the roll just as well as he did in the original Mission Impossible (which is a TERRIBLE movie nowadays....it has not aged well even in the slightest) 20 years ago. But the real star here is Rebecca Fergusson. Her character is the only character with any substance behind them, and she does a fantastic job of being the "which side is she on?" agent. Director Christopher McQuarrie made a great find here with Fergusson, a complete unknown, as she more than handled herself alongside the likes of Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg. And while yes, there is plenty of unnecessary objectification of her character, Fergusson does make up for it by being a complete badass. She even owns Tom Cruise on more than one occasion, which made for some of the best moments of the film.
Finally, we have to talk about Simon Pegg. He is, to me, the biggest reason why these films have been flourishing in the last few years. Pegg does comedic relief in an action film right, which means finding a balancing act between being silly and smart. Pegg more than carries his own in this role, and even brings out some acting chops when called upon in the film. Freaking love this man. So, apart from having a paper-thin story, what else does this film mess up? Honestly? Nothing. The action set-pieces were great, and felt exactly like something I would see in a Mission Impossible film. Hey! It's almost as if that's exactly what I was watching WHOA. And as I said before, there are some great technical moments as well, which keep the film visually interesting. And the stunts are great! I really appreciated them getting the big stunt they've been marketing the crap out of out of the way right at the beginning, because it sets the tone for the film as opposed to having everyone sit there and say, "Ok, when is this going to happen?" And apparently it really was Tom Cruise hanging off the side of the plane so I'm glad he can cross that off his bucket list. Go see this film, guys. This is what every summer popcorn flick should be.
The Critique: the quintessential popcorn flick, MI: V combines a solid acting performances with breathtaking visuals to deliver the best summer blockbuster this year.
The Recommendation: a must-see for any fan of the action genre. Plain and simple.
Rewatchability: Very High
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Oscar Talk: This film is almost a sure-thing for a Best Special Effects nomination. Calling it now.
A Damn Good Mindless Popcorn Flick
San Andreas (2015): In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his daughter.
Ok guys. Turn your brains off. We're gonna talk about San Andreas. This will be a bit of a quicker review because I'm a little busy right now, but here's the deal. San Andreas is a mindless disaster film. It follows in the footsteps of who I believe is the master of mindless disaster movie popcorn "fun," Roland Emmerich, and it never thinks its an important film. It's not meant to be taken seriously. The characters are less than paper thin, there's one nick-of-time escape after another, and the only time the movie makes you feel anything is when it goes out of its way to kill a lot of extras. So, that's my first point: if you don't like watching people die, even if they're fictional characters, stay FAR away from this film. You've probably already written it off. Don't change that. For the rest of you, however, stick around. Because you should see San Andreas.
You heard me right. Gather your friends, get a few beers, and go see this film on the largest screen possible, because it is a fun ride from one set piece to another throughout the 114 minute popcorn flick. You know, real critics actually classify popcorn flick as a genre. If I had to sum up this genre, I would probably use this film, because it is the QUINTESSENTIAL popcorn film. The film has a ridiculous pace, and it shoots its giant disaster set pieces, aka the complete destruction of three major locations in the Hoover Dam, LA, and San Fran, EXACTLY how you should shoot your big budget set piece. The film looks great, with the special effects department doing their job with flying colors, and the wall of water looks great too. I wouldn't bring that up were it not for 2014's Exodus: Gods and Kings complete inability to create a somewhat realistic wall of water. Regardless of whether it's an action set piece or a disaster set piece, this is how you do it. THIS is how you do it. From sweeping wide shoots where you can actually see everything happening, to very little shaky cam, (amazing I know, because a film about earthquakes is about the only time this element could actually be even remotely acceptable) to even a BEAUTIFUL Spielberg Oner, (a one shot that doesn't draw attention to the fact that it's a single take) in the middle of the earthquake mind you....man this is how you do it! Seriously, I praise director Brad Peyton and company for having the guts to put that Spielberg Oner in their film, and in the middle of one of the giant earthquakes. And it works! It works spectacularly and was easily my favorite moment of the film. The take was about 2 minutes long, and there was so much happening in that take it was ridiculous. Good job, guys!
Got a little off track there. But there really isn't much else to say about this film. The acting is fine. Dwayne Johnson is as charismatic and badass as ever, and our female leads Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario are good too. And I'm really glad that the film did not make these two characters damsels-in-distress. Well, sure, I guess Alexandra Daddario was in distress, but there were two other male characters with her that she was helping keep alive. And who basically admit at the end of the film and at a few moments throughout that they would be dead were it not for her. I love female power characters, and I'm glad this film went this way rather than the stereotypical damsel-in-distress route. Paul Giamatti was also great. As usual. His scientific exposition was very welcome throughout the film, and gave it at least a little bit of scientific realism. Not much, but some is always better than none.
So that's it. If you're looking for a big budget summer blockbuster, this is exactly it. It's mindless fun, but enjoyable mindless fun. Long as you don't mind seeing fictional characters die. I guess that makes me cynical for that not bothering me too much? I mean no one actually died making this film. Oh well. I'll just blame video games. Cause that's exactly what our society wants to hear nowadays.....
The Critique: A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
The Recommendation: A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
Rewatchability: A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
Oh what a film. What a lovely film!
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.
Wow. It takes a lot for a film to leave me completely speechless in the moments after watching it. Gravity did it back in 2013. Whiplash did it in 2014. (Multiple times, mind you-that's how great that film is) And now, Mad Max: Fury Road has done it. This film....this film gives me hope for the industry. I hope people like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder sit down and realize this is how you film a big budget action film. This film is beautifully stylistic, incredibly well shot, deep with narrative, and amazingly acted. In short, Mad Max: Fury Road sets a new standard for what the action genre can (and should) be.
A thesis could be written about this film. I'm not kidding. But we only have time to scratch the surface of this 120 minute piece of cinema. First off, stylistically, this film is a masterpiece. George Miller is a creative genius, and his ability to make the Australian Outback look as beautiful as it does in this film, despite the fact that it's all, you know, one color, is an incredible feat in and of itself. Nothing against the Outback: it is definitely beautiful in its own right. But it's one color. And rather than shy away from this fact, Miller embraces it and, with outstanding costumes and brilliant cinematography, (there has to be some filters on this) puts this film stylistically on the same level as a Wes Anderson film. Those two must be bffs. But watch a film like Mission Impossible 2 and how it shoots the Australian Outback versus how Mad Max: Fury Road shoots it. You'll see my point.
Since I've brought up cinematography, let's talk about it, ya? Cinematography is where most action movies fail. Many directors have adopted either the Michael Bay or JJ Abrams style of shooting an action film. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean we bash Michael Bay films all the time because his characters are about as deep as a paper plate, but his films are as successful as they are because that's what mainstream moviegoers want to see. Frantic camera moves (shaky cam and lens flares in Abrams case) and as much crap as possible on the screen. More more more! Both directors are excellent in their own right, but for those who want quality over quantity, that's something that's hard to come by in this genre. But then George Miller comes around and reminds us that yes, quality can still happen. The films great combination of huuuuuuuge soaring wide shots, allowing you to see everything happening at any given moment and dramatic, 80's-style close ups, all while never using hand cams creates an incredible viewing experience. And leaves you breathless after the sequence is over. Dear God: if you like action films, go see this film on the biggest screen possible. You'll thank me later. Even if you haven't seen any of the other films. It doesn't matter-you'll catchup just fine.
Finally, I want to talk about the acting. I. Love. Tom. Hardy. I'm hoping this is the role that finally breaks him into the mainstream again, because it's criminal to me that people still think of him as Bane, easily his weakest performance in the last 5 years. The dude has been tearing it up in the indie genre these last few years, and he's rapidly becoming my favorite actor in the business. His role as Mad Max is yet another phenomenal performance from him. And then there's Charlize Theron. Yes, "men's rights activists", this film is really about her. Get over it. It's been a while since Theron has turned the acting chops on, so it was nice to see her shine as well. Nicholas Hoult is great as well. Honestly, this film is very well-acted, with everyone, including the MVP guitarist, taking their roles very seriously.
In conclusion, this film is perfect. It does slow down a bit at the start of the third act, but I think everyone can agree that we really needed a second to catch our breaths before the conclusion. If you enjoy action films, this film is the definition of a must-see. I'm really hoping it doesn't get lost in the commotion of the big corporate films being released right now that are Pitch Perfect 2 (which easily beat it at the box office opening weekend) and Tomorrowland, which drops this upcoming weekend, but we'll see. Hopefully word-of-mouth advertising will help this film recoup its $150 million budget, so after you see this film and realize how great it is, spread the word! Get your friends to see it! Mad Max is counting on you!
The Critique: The action genre done right. Mad Max: Fury Road is easily the best big-budget action film we've seen in a long time.
The Recommendation: A must-see for everyone, but especially those who like Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, cars, and, well, action. And feminists! After all, Theron is an awesome power-female lead. More films need to adopt a Charlize Theron-like character in their supposed "guy" movies.
Rewatchability: Absurdly High
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect.
Oscar Talk: I'm sure we'll see this film again come Oscar season, at the very least for visual effects. Even though this film has very VERY little CGI in it. Fun fact: almost all the crashes and explosions in this film were real. That's what a 16 year production cycle and $150 million budget will get you!
A fitting Sendoff for Paul Walker
Furious 7 (2015): Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his family for the death of his brother.
Ok everyone. Turn off your brains. Let's talk about Furious 7. Now, I know there's gonna be a lot of hate attached to this film. After all, it is the DEFINITION of a big stupid action film. You turn your brain off, you stop thinking about physics, you get comfortable with your popcorn, and you watch a Fast and Furious movie. That's how it works. And Furious 7 is simply more of the same that was delivered from the last two installments. Which, really, when you think about this franchise, you think 1 and 2 were too serious, 3 just flat-out sucked, 4 began the formula that was improved on by 5 and perfected by 6 and used again in 7. What's this formula, you ask? Well, you know how I've talked about how I loooove films that acknowledge what they are and have fun with their premises? Ya. The Fast and Furious franchise basically invented that sort of film. These films are over-the-top, the filmmakers know they are over-the-top, and they have an absolutely blast with themselves. Can we race a car between 3 skyscrapers? No? LET'S DO IT. Can we go skydiving with a car? No? LET'S DO IT. And let's ACTUALLY do it in real life too! That's the other thing that makes this franchise awesome: it's not CGI porn like Michael Bay films! They actually drove cars out of a plane and filmed those shots of skydiving in cars. Even the CGI-created shots weren't clusterf*cks and looked pretty real. The action in general is incredibly well-shot, where you don't get totally discombobulated by something and know where everything is in correlation to everything else. Why can't all action films be shot like Fast and Furious?
But then, the film takes a turn. And that brings me to my next point. In the third act, the film takes a very unexpected and legitimate turn into the realm of the dramatical, and I'll tell you why. So, if you've seen these films, you know that our main characters can survive pretty much anything. Falling out of a plane at 60 miles an hour on a 100 mile runway? (That pissed me off in Furious 6. I mean c'mon. Even with the brain turned off that runway must've spanned 100+ miles) Nah. No problem. Just a bruise. I was in a car so I was ok. But, because of what happened in real life to Paul Walker, these guys actually feel human. There's some great writing and some great scenes that make you believe that someone is going to die. And, while I will obviously allow you to discover what happens for yourself, I will say the sendoff they give Paul Walker was brilliant. There was not a dry eye in the audience, including my own. He truly received the sendoff he deserved in this film. You will be missed, Paul.
That said, there are still quite a few flaws with this film. Let's start with the acting. All these actors are basically playing themselves, which is fine mind you, with only Jason Statham and Paul Walker doing much of anything in terms of acting. Kurt Russell is only in it for the paycheck, and his character is also fairly poorly written too. But then there's Tyrese Gibson. His character has been in several of the films, and each time he's become more and more ridiculous. Finally, in this film, it was too much. Dear Tyrese Gibson and Furious 7 writer Chris Morgan: shut the hell up. I don't know if there are gonna be more of these films (let's be real-no way they let this series die) but if there are, can we please cut out Tyrese? He's.....just.....bad....cringeworthy bad. All the bad and no good. He has maybe two funny lines as the "comedic relief", but everything else sucks. It's really depressing to think that all these over-the-top action films are adopting the Michael Bay formula of including that one ridiculous character who's out of place and screams at everything. Least here he's not being played by some super high-profile actor who's only in it for the paycheck like in Michael Bay films. (Looking at you, Stanley Tucci) But then there's the objectification. Ok. I get that this is a guy film. It's target audience is the straight American male. It's ok to have booty shots in a film like this. Especially when you have a lead female character who's a total badass in Michelle Rodriguez. But Furious 7 takes booty shots to a whole new level. There is so much objectification of women in this film. Too much. It made me seriously uncomfortable to see Furious 7 top its predecessors in terms of how much booty (and tits, for that matter) it could get in its 137 minute film. But, my biggest problem in this regard come from a conversation between Ludacris and Tyrese claiming dibs on a girl who, just a few minutes ago in the film, was the damsel in distress. Really? She's just been through an incredibly traumatic experience that would kill someone in real life and, rather than comforting her, you're gonna claim dibs on her? Really? And then, for good measure, two seconds later she's in a bikini. Ok! Guess it's fine nothing to see or complain about here.....
So, to sum up, Furious 7 is a good film. It's fun, mindless action that's a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season with a fitting sendoff for the best actor of the franchise. But, I'm probably not changing anyone's minds on the film. If you dislike the franchise, you aren't gonna like this film, if you enjoy the franchise, you will. It's essentially more of the same. Just...if you like Paul Walker, watch this. Oh crap! Ya. So Paul Walker died very, VERY early on in the filming of this movie. In case you didn't know. They used his brothers as stand-ins for the film, and used a combination of past scenes he was in and past dialogue to recreate him and keep him in the movie for the scenes they needed. There was some master CGI work done here by James Wan and company for Paul Walker that makes this movie well worth the watch to see the power of illusion cinema has nowadays. Well done on this front, guys. Oh ya. And the car porn is still perfect. If you think effectively shooting a car scene is easy, go watch Need for Speed. It's not. And this franchise still does it better than anyone else.
The Critique: While more of the same, Furious 7 delivers wildly enjoyable over-the-top thrills with an unexpectedly dramatic final act. The perfect sendoff for Paul Walker.
The Recommendation: car fans, rejoice! Furious 7 still knows how to deliver great car porn. A must-watch for car fans everywhere, as well as Paul Walker fans everywhere.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
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