Friday, July 31, 2015

 

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation official site By now, you must have seen or heard about the astonishing scene of Tom Cruise hanging on a military transport aircraft that is taking off. There is no special effect or stunt. It's a stunning and brave action that convincingly belongs to the fictional espionage character Ethan Hunt in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. That scene also sets the high bar to the franchise's fifth installment, a thrilling "Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation" (USA 2015 | 131 min.). The writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and the producer-star Tom Cruise handsomely delivers a fine summer entertainment with an intense story, exhilarating action sequences, and the familiar "Mission: Impossible" theme tune.

The impressive opening scene is simply an exciting way to reintroduce the film's protagonist Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) who is still active with his pals: the geeky wizard Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), the always competent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and their commander William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) at the secretive espionage agency Impossible Missions Force (IMF). Even though they have just averted a disastrous situation preventing terrorists from possessing chemical weapons, the CIA director Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) isn't happy with them. In fact, he deems IMF's actions irresponsible. He proposes to shut down their operations and to bring Ethan back to US soil.

That seems an impossible mission because Ethan is the "living manifestation of destiny." He easily eludes the pursuit from the CIA and continues to be anywhere he needs to be. But he is not the target only of the CIA. His superb ability is also sought after by a secret terrorist group called the Syndicate, led by a ruthless Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Ethan is dragged into Lane's scheme to steal an encrypted computer file from a secured location with the help from a former MI5 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). The file is crucial to the future operations of the Syndicate as well as to uncovering the past of MI5. It's in everybody's interest to gain control of it.

No mission seems impossible for Ethan Hunt and his fellow IMF agents. The game is on and you better fasten your seatbelt when you witness the journey.

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation Official Site

Winning an Oscar for writing "The Usual Suspects" (1995), the writer-director Christopher McQuarrie certainly knows how to engage his audience with a well-structured complex story. Even though it's billed as an action flick, this film's multi-layered plot never gets washed off by its superbly-choreographed actions. Each segment of the story is cleared laid out by setting up an intriguing scenario that sounds absolutely impossible. Yet, it unfolds with credibility and conviction.

The film also exhibits a smooth rhythm between the slick moves of an old-fashioned spy movie and the spectacular visuals of a modern action flick. It contains an elegantly-crafted operatic assassination during the performance of "Turandot" in Vienna. It also involves a mesmerizing chase in Casablanca that beats any commercial for "the ultimate driving machine." If those are not enough to impress you, the characters also jump on motorcycles for a serious ride.

Without any doubt, Tom Cruise affirms himself to be the legendary Ethan Hunt in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. Although he doesn't yell "Show me the money!" in this film, movie-goers will do just that at the box office for this film and its sequels to come.

"Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation," a Paramount Pictures release, opens on Friday, July 31, 2015.


Friday, July 24, 2015

 

Irrational Man

Irrational Man official site For more than four decades, the prolific auteur Woody Allen has been making one movie per year without missing a beat. Some of them are great, some are mediocre or worse. Turning 80 years old this year, the writer-director seems to be more concerned about keeping up his record than telling a compelling or entertaining story. He scrambles to recycle some materials from his previous works, and turns in this year's report card—a ridiculous murder story called "Irrational Man" (USA 2015 | 96 min.). He should have skipped a year if he has no substance to offer. Instead, he spoon-feeds us an unconvincing tale about an impulsive romance triangle and a bizarre crime involving a few implausible characters.

The film's irrational man is Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) who is supposed to be an expert in rational thinking because he is a Philosophy professor. However, he is not together unless he conducts his "mental masturbation" teaching in a classroom. He arrives at a small town college with liquor in hand while driving and sticks his belly out when he is standing. But for reasons only Woody Allen can understand, he immediately becomes the romantic interest to two attractive women who are not single.

One of them is a Chemistry professor Rita Richards (Parker Posey) who wants to get out of her unhappy marriage. The other is a straight-A student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone) who claims that she and her devoted boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley) are not exclusive as soon as she meets Abe.

But Abe doesn't seem interested in either of them at first. In fact, he doesn't find anything interesting at all in his life. That suddenly changes at a diner when he overhears a stranger's story about a corrupt civil court judge. His life is suddenly lit up by his philosophically justified idea—the world is a much better place if he murders this judge who he doesn't know. He becomes alive again after he finds his new purpose in life. His impotence problem is gone and his romantic relationships with both women start to flourish.

Irrational Man Official Site

Woody Allen has created numerous wonderful and complex female characters in the past. By contrast, it's perplexing to see two desperate women falling for a complete loser in this film. He perhaps realizes himself that Abe is a crazy individual that no woman would have laid an eye on, both physically and mentally. To make his story sound reasonable, he constantly lets Jill speak by voice-over to tell us how interesting Abe is without any specifics of why. No matter how innocent Emma Stone's giant eyes appear, we can look into them and see that she doesn't believe in what she is saying either.

The plot development is also extremely sloppy and lacks sophistication or imagination. Things always come together at the right spot at the right time, as if the director has no time to rewrite them to become more reasonable because he needs to get this out due to a looming deadline. When there are a million things to talk about in a living room, his characters will instead discuss the murder which leads to one after another ah-ha moments. While it might be convenient to the storyteller, it's an insult to the viewers' intelligence.

Although the title suggests the film's characters are irrational, it's no excuse for the film to be irrational itself.

"Irrational Man," a Sony Pictures Classics release, opens on Friday, July 24, 2015 in San Francisco Bay Area.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

 

Pixels

Pixels official site Earlier this week, scientists felt jubilant to receive $100 million Russian money for alien search, and cosmologist Stephen Hawking emphasized that "we must know" if there are intelligent creatures out there. What he probably doesn't know is that Hollywood already spent $110 million on one single movie called "Pixels" (USA 2015 | 105 min.), and the movie has figured this all out already—Yes, indeed there are aliens and they look like Pac-Man from an arcade game decades ago. Worse, they are coming down from the sky to destroy us. However, judging from the characters in the film, you probably want to root for the aliens thinking the human beings down below deserve their fate, at least for their stupidity.

Back in 1982, when Pac-Man is an extremely popular arcade game, 13-year-old Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) becomes exceptionally good at it playing with his best friend Will Cooper (Jared Riley). But they are not good enough and lose the championship title to Eddie Plant (Andrew Bambridge), nicknamed "The Fire Blaster." Nevertheless, the footage containing the game is sent to the space by NASA in search of aliens.

When you blink your eyes, the film abruptly leaps to present day when Sam (Adam Sandler) works as a handy-man, and the not-so-smart Will Cooper (Kevin James) becomes the President of the United States! That actually might not be entirely unconvincing if you recall who was Obama's predecessor or if you compare this setup to the rest of the plot in the film. When Sam finishes an installation job at Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten's (Michelle Monaghan) home, he gets a call from the President because the US military base in Guam is under attack by Pac-Man. It turns out that Pac-Man actually exists in outer-space and it wants to play a final game with the human world.

Will, the President, obviously has more faith in Sam than his national security team including a hawkish and grumpy Admiral Porter (Brian Cox). He lets Sam be in charge of fighting back aliens. Joined by their paranoid childhood friend Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and the game champion but now a criminal Edie (Peter Dinklage), they form a team to play the game of combating aliens.

Pixels Official Site

This preposterous film is directed by Chris Columbus who shows no interest in exhibiting any intelligence in these characters, but he is eager to deliver juvenile jokes that are seldom funny. Not a single character in the film is remotely believable or likable, and they appear ranging from being stupid to retarded. If I were an alien, I would have no regret destroying any of them.

Even with more than $110 million in its budget, the film's visual is pathetic and shows no creativity or imagination. The film's posters have shown that cities like San Francisco, Sydney, Paris, and Tokyo are destroyed by Pac-Man. But that's just a cheap trick to market the film, as if money has been spent on false and misleading movie posters than the actual movie. In the film, Pac-Man only shows up in Guam, Washington DC, Hyde Park in London, and New York City. It never gets a chance to go anywhere else as the film posters imply.

If the $110 million were spent on actual searching for aliens instead of this movie, that would be a good excuse for aliens to spare the extinction of humanity. It looks like Stephen Hawking is getting more pressure in communicating with aliens since Hollywood is no good at it.

"Pixels," a Columbia Pictures release, opens on Friday, July 24, 2015.


Friday, July 17, 2015

 

Trainwreck

Trainwreck official site When it comes to sex in comedy, men often rightfully get the bad reputation for being raunchy and promiscuous. That perception is completely turned around in an often hilarious comedy "Trainwreck" (USA 2015 | 121 min.) in which women take charge both inside and outside of the bedroom. The film is directed by Judd Apatow who made racy comedies such as "Knocked Up" (2007). It's written and starred by rising stand-up comedian Amy Schumer who is known for her edgy jokes and her own show "Inside Amy Schumer" on Comedy Central. When they team up together, you should already have a pretty good sense about what's coming.

The film's amusing opening scene perfectly sets the tone of the film and shows where its protagonist Amy (Amy Schumer) is coming from—23 years ago, her father Gordon (Colin Quinn) efficiently explains to his two young daughters why he is getting a divorce: "Monogamy isn't realistic!" He surely has a point when he uses the girls' dolls as a metaphor.

Obviously, Amy takes that teaching to heart and goes after what's realistic. She drinks as much as the guys she has sex with and she sets herself a rule not to sleep over. Needless to say, unlike her sister Kim (Brie Larson), it's out of the question for Amy to commit to anyone. But that seems to suit her just fine as a writer for a men's magazine, called S'Nuff, which prints articles titled "What Your Phone Says About Your D**k" and "You're Not Gay, She's Boring."

That status quo begins to shake when she is given an assignment by her nutty and incredibly funny editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton). The task is to write a profile article about a sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) who works with many celebrity athletes such as LeBron James and Amar'e Stoudemire who play themselves in the film. Soon after they meet, and have sex of course, Aaron falls for her. While she keeps asking why Aaron loves her, she has to figure out if she should bend the rule to commit to a relationship.

Trainwreck Official Site

It's truly refreshing to see such an original and bold female lead character that takes charge both in bed and in the story. Unlike many comedies that revolve around sex, it's men who are the underdog in this film and appear to be vulnerable for sexual exploitation. Despite plenty of sex scenes in the film, you don't see a single shot of a woman's fully naked body. But when a fully naked man's body is both awkwardly and amusingly displayed, you feel the power that Amy possesses. That power is perhaps something she is afraid that she may lose if she changes her behavior and commits herself to a monogamous relationship.

There are numerous famous actors, athletes, and TV personalities appearing in the film to provide more entertaining value in addition to those lively characters and hilarious one-liners. But toward the second half of the film, the plot becomes formulaic and jokes begin to lose their steam. It starts to fall inro the trap of a romantic comedy despite the fact that being unromantic is supposed to be the soul of this film. But as soon as Tilda Swinton spits another line in her singular British accent, all flaws in the film are forgiven.

It's a fun ride after all, even though the film's title indicates otherwise.

"Trainwreck," a Universal Pictures release, opens on Friday, July 17, 2015.



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