Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Hard to believe we're on the fifth Mission: Impossible movie. It's harder to believe that they're any good still. What's with some of these action series getting better with each sequel? This shouldn't be happening.

Anyway, so what's Rogue Nation about? You know, typical spy crap. Some underground organization wants to do something, and it's up to the other underground organization to stop them. At least it's a little more grounded in that the villain's goal seems somewhat realistic and don't involve some crazy weapon of mass destruction thingy. There is a device everyone is after, but they practically call it a MacGuffin, as if to throw their hands up admit that it's meaningless. It's also nice when the villain is someone that the hero actively admits he's overmatched by. Raises the stakes a little bit.

The action scenes were solid, if a bit uninspired. It's entertaining, but nothing you haven't experienced before. However, there's a motorcycle chase that might be the best I've ever seen in terms of point-of-view and sense of speed. It appears Cruise did most of his stunts again and you have to applaud the guy for the dedication and willingness to put himself at risk. You know that airplane scene that you seen in all the commercials and trailers? That's the opening scene! It's not even relevant to the plot. Just some cool shit to start the movie with.

Rogue Nation brings back the primary cast from the Ghost Protocol (and other MI films), with the exception of Paula Patton, so there's continuity as far as that goes. You won't miss Paula Patton though, as the one thing most people will come away with is how badass Rebecca Ferguson is. A lot of people, myself included, praised Ghost Protocol for Patton's character being more than just window dressing, but Ferguson's blows her out of the water and it's not even close. She's tough, cunning and sexy. Other spy/action films should take note. Tom Cruise, is well, Tom Cruise. What else can you say about him at this point? Simon Pegg provides the comedy relief and I enjoyed that Rogue Nation had a sense of humor and it was peppered by funny moments.

Oh, and can Christopher McQuarrie just write or direct everything that Tom Cruise is in at this point? Yes, please!

While it's not quite as fun as Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation is still a solid entry in the series and holds up with the best of them. It feels like this has been kind of a weak Summer for action, so Rogue Nation was the nice kick-in-the-pants, adrenaline boost I've been looking for. Definitely worth checking out on the big screen.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dope (2015)

It's funny that a movie about a group of geeks fixated on 90's hip-hop culture are in a plot that also feels like something out of the 90's. You know, where a group of nerdy kids somehow get mixed up with the scary drug dealer and then spend the rest of the film trying to make everything right. It sounds kind of dumb when you look at it that way, but trust me, Dope is a much better and smarter movie than that.

Newcomer Shameik Moore carries the film as Malcom. He's an easily relatable character and you root for him from the first moment you see him. He's not a typical kid from "The Bottoms". He obsessed with 90's hip hop and culture, gets good grades, likes stuff like Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons, and plays in a punk band. Much of Malcom and friend's interests are deemed "white shit" (which I thought was hilarious) by the other kids at school, and they are picked on constantly for it.

Aside from Moore, the whole cast is great, particularly Blake Anderson and Zoe Kravitz. Anderson is mainly there for comedy relief, and he delivers, while Kravitz is a love interest for Malcom. This might be the sexiest I've seen Kravitz play before.

Without getting too much into the plot, I think the biggest takeaway point this film makes is that don't be too quick to make a snap judgement about a person because of their color or where they're from. When you lump someone in a group because of some characteristic, you sell them short. The narcissist in me points to when people label me a meathead cause I workout, but I'm probably one of the biggest geeks you'd ever meet. If you just judged me on my appearance, you'd never know that, just like if you just assumed a black teen from Inglewood was a punk or gangbanger, you'd also be wrong. This is a point Dope slams home at the end, and it's a better movie for it.

There's also some great editing, particularly when they 'rewind' to show you what happened to another group while they were away. It feels like something you seen before, but it just works better here.

While it's an extremely funny movie, director Rick Famuyiwa always manage to keep that threat of violence that exists in their world. More than a few times you are genuinely scared and concerned that these kids might not actually make it out of this mess. It gives the film a little more weight, where in lesser films like this you know that nothing is really going to happen to the characters.

Dope, simply put, is dope. This is one of those smaller films that's smart and funny, while giving you a different point of view. Highly worth a matinee, but at the time I'm writing this, I'm guessing it's likely going to be out of theaters for most of you.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

I was a little leery of seeing Infinitely Polar Bear. If not given the right tone or touch, it could be too heavy or hard to watch. I'm also on the fence about Mark Ruffalo, it's not that I don't like him, but he has that thing where it looks and sounds like he's chewing on the inside of his lip and that puts me off a little bit. Maybe that's just me though.

The basic premise is that Mark Ruffalo's character is manic-depressive and has had several breakdowns. He tries to reclaim his life and family by attempting to take care of their two daughters while his wife, played by Zoe Saldana, goes to school to get her MBA. It's Mr. Mom, but with bi-polar disorder.

Fortunately, Infinitely Polar Bear has a much lighter tone than I expected. Much of time this feels like more of a dark comedy than a drama. This is in large part due to Mark Ruffalo's brilliant, complex and manic performance. I think this might be my favorite performance of his (even surpassing Begin Again). Just as great are his two daughters, played by Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky (who happens to be director Maya Forbes' daughter). Both are newcomers, but you wouldn't know it as they are so fantastic. It's interesting to see such great performances from young actors. At times, they're the ones who are the adults and struggle with Ruffalo acting like a child. It can be hard to watch Ruffalo's character self-destruct and be a general mess. Their frustration is real, but so was their love and it really got to me emotionally by the end of the film. I also want to mention this is probably the best dramatic role I've seen Zoe Saldana in. The story is just the four of them, and they carry the film admirably.

While Polar Bear is rated R, it's mainly because of language. This is a time where I really don't see why it couldn't have been PG-13. Why? Because a movie goes over the quota for certain words? It's stupid, antiquated and I don't think this should affect that rating that much these days. It being rated R might discourage people from taking their kids, but I actually think this is something you should take your kids to see, provided they are mature enough.

Infinitely Polar Bear isn't depressing or a downer, and I actually think that most people will ultimately enjoy and have fun with it. Despite its lighter tone, it has its poignant moments and worth seeing just for the performances. I actually thought it was a good date movie. Infinitely worth a matinee.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mr. Holmes (2015)

This is great example of how a movie might be slowly paced or not the most thrilling, but cast the right person as your lead and you'll still be fascinated.

Mr. Holmes is based on the book A Slight Trick of the Mind, where we catch up with Sherlock Holmes long into his retirement. I love the idea visiting a beloved fictional character in this kind of situation, and it's fun to see that realized. I can't think of too many examples of it in film, and I'm kind of surprised it isn't done more. Anyway, Holmes lives in a remote house with his housekeeper and her young son. The story mainly revolves around Holmes trying to document the final case that made him retire.

Holmes' memory is failing though, making this difficult, and the film does an effective job of flashing back to his younger self as things jog his memory. It was amazing to see McKellen play both versions of Holmes. One scene you'll see a feeble old man struggling with senility, then contrasted with his younger self at the height of his skills. I'm sure there was some creative makeup, or even some digital de-aging, in play, but it was all very convincing. If anything it serves as a reminder of how great of an actor Ian McKellen is. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a few nominations for Mr. Holmes. He's that good.

In the present time there's also a touching relationship as Holmes forms a bond with his maid's son. The son, played by Milo Parker, was very good and I believe this might be his first role. Without their relationship, I don't think I would have enjoyed this as much as I did.

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Holmes is a little slowly paced, and I couldn't help getting a little squirmy towards the end. That's the kind of story this is though. This isn't an action film or tightly wound mystery. Don't expect to see Robert Downey Jr. running around with Jude Law.

I'm glad Bill Condon is making films like Mr. Holmes again, if only to help me forget he was ever involved in the Twilight series. I can only imagine they must have drove a truckload of cash to his house to get him to do Twilight in the first place.

Overall, Mr. Holmes is wonderfully acted and an interesting story, but it's not exactly something you need to rush out and see in the theater if it's not playing around you. It is worth a matinee if it is though. It's a solid rental otherwise.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Self/less (2015)

Imagine a bit of a blend of The Sixth Day and The Island. That might not inspire confidence, and unfortunately this is a good example of an interesting idea and a cool setup, but then terribly executed.

Without going into it too much, the basic premise is that someone figured out how to transfer a mind into a new body, but it's only available to the ultra rich. Ben Kingsley plays a dying billionaire who takes advantage of this. He wakes up in Ryan Reynolds body and begins his 'new' life. Guess what? Things don't go as smoothly as advertised and then Reynolds runs around trying to figure out the truth behind it all.

At this point, Self/less abandons its premise and turns into a predictable action thriller. It's extremely disappointing in that the very sales pitch they give Kingsley's character is what would've someone like Einstein or Steve Jobs been able to do with another lifetime or two. However, the first thing they make Kingsley do is make is death public, so when he wakes up in Reynold's body, he has a completely different identity. It's not like he can continue his legacy, so what's the point of the sales pitch if you can't pick up exactly where you left off? He's allowed to set aside money, so it's not like he's broke, but as far as his business and relationships go, he's starting over from scratch. Imagine telling Steve Jobs he gets another lifetime, but he has to start another company or try to get a job at Apple and then have to work his way back up to the top. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. If he had really planned ahead, he would have arranged to have his new identity named his successor, but Self/less doesn't do that.

After getting his new body, Self/less initially plays out more like an early retirement (that was even his new body's backstory). He doesn't try to start another business. Instead he plays basketball, bangs a bunch of chicks, and eats peanut butter (his previous body was allergic). I get taking advantage of your youth again, but this doesn't seem like someone truly taking advantage of this new life and maxing out your potential. Seems like you'd get bored pretty quickly.

Another huge disappointment was to learn this was directed by Tarsem Singh. If you aren't familiar with his work, his previous films have all had a very striking visual style. Even if you didn't care for the story, at least you'd get something out of the look of the film. There's none of that here in Self/less, which makes me wonder why he was even involved in the project. It's too straightforward for him.

Outside of Natalie Martinez, I didn't get anything out of any of the performances. It's not that anyone is bad, but she's the only person you connect with on any level.

It's not completely terrible, but not really worth recommending. You might catch this on cable one day and not think it was that bad, but that's about the highest praise I can give it.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

Judd Apatow has a knack for making a movie about a character that really isn't the best person, but you end up sort of liking them anyway. Trainwreck's Amy is exactly that. She's not a wreck to the point where she's a sociopath or anything like that, but it quickly becomes clear how she's ill equipped for an adult relationship. You know that friend that can't never seem to get their shit together and not get out of their own way? That's Amy.

I had joked that if Cleveland had won the NBA Finals that I wouldn't see Trainwreck in the theater as I couldn't support a movie with LeBron James in it. Fortunately the Warriors won, so I could enjoy this movie without thinking about that. I did let out a slight 'boo' the first time he appeared. I couldn't help myself. He's actually pretty funny in the movie though, so he would've won me over anyway. In fact, some of the funniest scenes in the movie feature LeBron.

There are lots of cameos, some are of the blink and you'll miss them variety, but if you're up on your comedians, you should be able to spot them.

While Amy Schumer wrote this and it's being billed as a breakout performance for her, I didn't think she was all that great in this. I enjoy her standup and show much more. She's funny when she needs to be, but outside of one scene her performance lacked the depth and nuance that would have made her character more sympathetic.I spent a lot of the movie wondering way Bill Hader's character dated her as long as he did. Hader is great, but the best performance comes from Brie Larson. In her limited screen time, her performance had the emotional depth I wished Amy's had. I could have used a little more Colin Quinn, and I really enjoyed an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton.

Like all Apatow films, it does run on a little too long. I'm not sure why he's so in love with making 2-plus-hour comedies, and he always seems to have that section where nothing funny happens for a significant period of time. Trainwreck is certainly funny, and I laughed a loud a lot, but the funny parts in the film didn't come at a quick enough pace, and more than a few landed with a thud.

Trainwreck isn't a perfect film, I can't even call it the best comedy of the summer, but it's entertaining and overall a fun watch. Definitely worth a matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Spy (2015)

Here's a story. I actually 'watched' Spy a little over a month ago. The night it came out, in fact. Why didn't I write about it? I fell asleep about 15 minutes into it and woke up with about 5 minutes left. Not really a good place to write a review, right? It wasn't Spy's fault though. Normally I don't fall asleep during films, but the moral of the story is, don't go to an 11:30 PM screening on a work night when you're already pretty tired. I'm too old for this late screening shit.

Anyway, so I finally gave it a shot again over the weekend and I'm glad I did. I've been hard on Melissa McCarthy films recently, which is deserved because Tammy sucked and Identity Thief sucked worse. I was optimistic about Spy though since this was also a Paul Feig helmed film, and I hoped that their collaboration would work similarly as it did for Bridesmaids and The Heat. Spy is a genuinely funny film.

It seems that McCarthy is best when she's adlibbing and hurling insults, but she needs someone like Feig to reign it in and refine it. Some of the best moments of the film are when she's just berating the hell out of somebody. They even played on the way she's normally used in physical comedy and made it work. Whoever McCarthy's stunt double was, she kicked ass.

Surprisingly, one of the other funniest people in Spy is Jason Statham, who plays this hyper-macho version of every character he's ever played before. At every opportunity he spews an increasingly improbable list of feats and it's hysterical (he even throws in a direct reference to Crank). The whole cast is great really. Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, and especially Peter Serafinowicz.  This is the kind of film where you get the feeling that everyone got along and had a great time making the film. You can feel that in the chemistry of it all.

At it's heart, Spy is a pretty good spoof of the spy film genre, in general. It doesn't take itself too seriously, while occasionally taking jabs at some of the more ridiculous parts of spy films. There's even some good action sequences.

Spy's winding down it's theatrical run, but if you haven't seen it yet, and it's still playing near you, I highly recommend checking it out. Totally worth it.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

One of the funnier Marvel films to date. I can see why James Gunn gave it such high praise. It's one of the lightest in tone of all their films. I laughed out loud during Ant-Man almost as much as I did during Guardians. It's a shame I saw this on such a small screen with only about 15 people.

Ant-Man is also another good example of great casting (something Marvel seems to keep nailing). If you don't cast someone as funny and charismatic as Paul Rudd in the lead, it's likely the whole film doesn't work. I'm a huge fan of Michael Pena and he worked great as additional comic relief. Evangeline Lilly was great as well. It's ironic that she's an actress that's actually athletic enough to pull off a superhero role, but yet still doesn't get to play one. It looks like she might get her chance soon though.

I'd say Ant-Man's biggest fault is that it's yet another origin story, and it's pretty formulaic as far as that goes. Also, in a lot of places it feels like it exists just to bridge some of the other Marvel films together. Fortunately, the bridging is done in an entertaining way, and some of the flashbacks and cameos made me geek out. Ant-Man doesn't require that you've seen all the other movies or are super familiar with the MCU. It's pretty accessible compared to some of the other MCU films.

I don't know the reasons why Edgar Wright left the project, and one can only imagine how this would have turned out had he stayed on. You can see his fingerprints on the final product in a few places.

I did see this in 3D, which of course, was a total waste of time and did nothing for the film. It was unfortunately my only option, but I advise you to skip it if possible. Visually the effects were good though.

There are two post-credit scenes, so get comfortable during the credits if you don't want to miss them.

Ant-Man isn't the strongest of Phase II, but it's one of the most fun. Those looking for some late summer entertainment won't be disappointed. Totally worth the price of admission.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

In the simplest terms, it's not as bad or serious as the fourth, and not as cheesy as the third. The first 30 minutes or so of Genisys feel like a highlight reel of all the best and memorable moments of the Terminator franchise, but from a slightly different perspective. It's actually pretty fun.

Then, it transitions into a convoluted story regarding time travel and alternate timelines that only makes you cringe and scratch your head. I'm not sure we can expect much less at this point. They have to do something unusual to keep justifying this story continuing on. How many times has the resistance defeated Skynet at this point? Has any Terminator succeeded in killing the Connors in any timeline?

We're now on our, like, third version of Skynet's origin. At least this one has a lot of callbacks to T1 (or is it just T?) and T2, so it feels like more of a true sequel than the others. In fact, it pretty much totally ignores 3 and 4 entirely. I think most fans won't mind that. I'll admit that I had fun with 3 though. The fourth I can still do without.

The effects were good, especially when dealing with the older Terminator models. We've never seen a T-800 move around like this. However, there's a point where you see these things beating on each other, and I know they're tough, but you're like, "Shouldn't these things be pretty banged up by now?" We're dealing with movie physics though, so shut up, nerd!

The cast seemed like they were having fun, at least. Arnold is, of course, Arnold, and he plays this with the same dry sense of humor that he always has. It's just fun to see him where he belongs. Jason Clarke played a great line between heroic and creepy. I've been hard on Jai Courtney, but he was good as Kyle Reese, even a bit more charming than Michael Biehn (that's probably blasphemy of some kind). I'm sure most are going to watch this for Emilia Clarke (no relation to Jason), and she also does a great job. She was tough, but it would have been nice to see her buffed up a little bit. I'm surprised they didn't force her on Crossfit regime before filming. Anyway, the hierarchy of Sarah Connors goes like this:

1. Linda Hamilton
2. Emilia Clarke
3. Lena Headey

It's kind of interesting that the last two actresses that played Sarah Connor have been English. I guess there are a shortage of sandy blond actresses available to play a 20-something, Los Angeles native, to the point where they had to get a British brunette girl to play her. Go figure.

Watch out for a cameo from a Doctor...

Anyway, I don't want to spoil much, so I'd recommend it as a matinee to fans of the series. It's pretty mindless and harmless entertainment. It actually succeeds at being pretty funny at times. I enjoyed myself for the most part.

...oh, and don't leave when the credits start...

3 (out of 5) Death Stars