Saturday, August 01, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris

Plot: Ethan Hunt and his team square off against an organization similar to the IMF who want to turn against their former governments, while the CIA disbands the IMF and tries to bring Ethan into custody.

Review: It's quite impressive actually, watching Tom Cruise, arguably the biggest movie star in the world, do the things he does in the M:I films without the help of stunt doubles, at the age of 52. Say what you want about the man, but he is one committed action star.

In this latest instalment, the CIA has had enough of the IMF's reckless tactics in carrying out their assignments and pushes for them to be shut down and absorbed by the agency. It couldn't come at a worse time as Ethan Hunt discovers that a rogue organization called The Syndicate, made up of agents presumed dead all over the world, is doing everything possible to destroy the IMF and everything they had done. With no support and only a few friends left to turn to, Ethan finds an ally in the form of Ilsa Faust, a double agent who also works for the leader of The Syndicate, Solomon Lane.

In terms of action, director Christopher McQuarrie's effort is almost on par with Brad Bird's work in the last film. The most talked about airplane sequence that features Cruise hanging out on a plane taking off is actually at the film's beginning, and yes, it is awesome to actually see the man do that. From then on, the action doesn't let up as we are treated to car chases, hand-to-hand fights and yet another high security break-in, though the over-the-top complexity of the break-in makes it seem almost ridiculous and thus not as fascinating to watch as the famous ceiling hanger from the first film.

Cruise is again in his element as Ethan, and though his age is starting to show on his face, he still hasn't lost a step in becoming an action hero. Simon Pegg gets a lot more to do this time around as Benji. Just like he came into his own as Scotty in the Star Trek sequel, he does so here too as Benji gets in on the action with Cruise, leaving co-stars Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames much less to do this time around. Rebecca Ferguson is pretty good as Ilsa, doing the action beats just as good as Cruise, while Alec Baldwin lends his commanding presence he's well known for as Hunley, the CIA director hell bent on apprehending Ethan.

The downsides come in the form of the film's villain played by Sean Harris. While Harris suits the role to a tee, the role itself isn't well written enough. The film's climax is also quite a letdown, which gives the previous film a slight edge over this one.

Overall, this Mission: Impossible instalment is a lot of fun from start to finish, even if it is not as good as Ghost Protocol. Recommended. (8/10)  

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Year: 2015
Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale

Plot: Scott Lang, a cat burglar recently released from prison, gets a second chance to do good when Dr Hank Pym, a scientist who created a suit that can shrink its wearer to the size of an ant, recruits him to pull off a heist necessary to save the world.

Review: In the wake of superhero films made up of a group of super powered beings and the recent release of trailers for DC Comics' upcoming films for next year, it's refreshing to see a film like Ant-Man make a mark.

While it doesn't differ much from most superhero films (there's a hero, a villain and plenty of action), Ant-Man is very much a heist film as well. Our hero, Scott Lang is a reformed burglar who just wants to spend more time with his daughter, but unable to secure a job in order to pay child support due to his prison record. He does one last break-in and steals what he thinks is a motorcycle suit, only to discover it's a special suit that allows him to shrink himself to the size of an ant. Its creator, Dr Hank Pym, impressed with Scott's skills, recruits him and trains him to use the suit and pull off a heist, which involves breaking into his former lab and stealing a suit developed by his former protege, who is obsessed with turning the shrinking suit technology into a weapon.

Director Peyton Reed, taking over from Edgar Wright who dropped out, keeps the film entertaining without a dull moment in sight. It's notable that Ant-Man is hilarious from beginning to end thanks to a great script and lead star Paul Rudd's charisma, but what's also good is the drama and action in it. The drama comes mostly from Hank Pym's relationship with his estranged daughter Hope, who is torn between her love for her father and her business loyalty to Pym's former assistant Darren Cross, the film's villain.

There are quite a handful of action sequences here, two of which stand out the most. The first is a scrap between Scott and an Avenger midway through the film, the second is at the film's climax when Scott takes on Cross in their respective suits. Credit is given to the CGI crew who convincingly make shrinking effects as well as showing how ants can help our hero.

I gotta say, though I'm not a fan of Rudd, I felt that he's the perfect guy to play Scott Lang, a charming and likable everyman who gets the second chance he desperately needs. Rudd makes him easy to root for, which is important in a film like this. Michael Douglas is equally solid as Hank Pym, a man who created something awesome, but knows too well that in the wrong hands it can be catastrophically bad, and is in some ways, a victim of his own ego. Douglas works well with Rudd, and also with Evangeline Lilly as Hope. Lilly gets to do a few action sequences here too, though much less than in the Hobbit films. 

The downside to Ant-Man is mostly its villain, played by Corey Stoll. Stoll actually did quite well, but the Darren Cross character seemed too comic book-y, where some of his lines sounded cliched. Michael Pena, while being well suited in the role of the film's comic relief as Scott's former cellmate, deserves better than this. The guy's talent is a tad wasted here.

So should you go watch Ant-Man? Absolutely. I know I would. P.S.: wait for the post credit scenes. There are two. (8/10)

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Terminator Genisys

Year: 2015
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Lee Byung-Hun

Plot: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to 1984 to protect his mother Sarah Connor. But once Kyle arrives there, he realises nothing is what he expected to see.

Review: Like Jurassic World before it, Terminator Genisys has a herculean task of seeking its own identity while staying true to the material that has made the franchise so successful.

First, the story. Most viewers already know what this film series is all about. Machines turn on humans, it causes Judgment Day, John Connor leads the resistance to victory, machines send a terminator back in time to kill John's mother, John sends someone back to protect her. We all know this already and we see it again in the first 20 minutes of Genisys. Emulating what happened in the first original film, Genisys sees Kyle Reese going back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor, only to run into a T-1000 and then getting saved by Sarah instead. Then there's an aging T-800 that runs with her now, and the trio have to stop Judgment Day, which Kyle suddenly remembers is now in 2017 and not 1997. All this is because someone sent the T-800 back to 1973 to save Sarah as a young girl from a T-1000, and as a result, alternate timelines exist.

Confusing? Perhaps. But this franchise can't keep using the time travel story without throwing in a few new surprises, so for me, it's rather welcome. The confusion isn't really the problem here anyway. Alan Taylor, who directed Thor: The Dark World and several Game Of Thrones episodes, does a solid job of keeping the film moving briskly, even as the slightly confusing plot threatens to derail the whole thing. At the very least, the action sequences are well shot, though there isn't anything here that matches the intensity of James Cameron's work in the first two films. Perhaps it was unwise to make this film a PG-13 when a R rating would have boosted its entertainment value somewhat.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man himself, is back in the role he's best known for, even acknowledging his age, which the plot manages to explain quite conveniently. Strangely enough, he doesn't do much more than action sequences here, leaving the acting mostly to Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney. The duo make a very different Sarah and Kyle as compared to Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, in the sense that Genisys is a far less serious film than its predecessor. In fact, the three of them do more arguing and engaging in humour than they ought to, which works sometimes, and sometimes not.

Jason Clarke plays John Connor well enough, but as you might already know from the trailers and posters, he's not who we once knew. It might take some getting used to, and I felt that having a emotionless machine be a villain is always stronger than a human one. It's not really Clarke's fault, he did his best with what he's given. J.K. Simmons is a welcome addition as a cop who is willing to help the good guys, while Lee Byung-Hun sadly gets so little screen time as the T-1000. He certainly deserved better considering that he's well cast in the role.

Taylor wins plenty of brownie points for making many nods to the original, especially when Kyle and the T-800 arrive in 1984, right down to the shoes that Kyle steals in the department store. What's also cool is how Skynet plans on ending the world by using humans' dependency on smartphones, which is very relevant in today's world. But as mentioned, the PG rating dampens the intensity of the film, and a bit less humour than what was shown would have helped. As a result, Genisys isn't as engaging or edgy as it could have been.

Overall, Terminator Genisys is quite entertaining, though not as awesome as it would have been in James Cameron's hands. Still, I'd rather see this again than watch another minute of Jurassic World, box office collection be damned. (7/10)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dark Places

Year: 2015
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Moretz, Corey Stoll, Tye Sheridan

Plot: Libby Day, the only survivor of her family massacre at the hands of her older brother Ben 30 years ago, is forced to revisit the crime when a club of private investigators and true crime fans approach her about the truth, believing that Ben is innocent.

Review: Dark Places is based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote last year's hit Gone Girl. In comparison however, this film is much more low key and more importantly, not the thriller the trailer is marketing it as.

The story is about Libby Day, who was eight years old when her family was brutally killed, apparently by her own brother, Ben in 1985. Thirty years later, Libby is a mess, not having moved on from that tragedy, living on royalties from the book she made about the incident as well as donations from sympathetic members of the public. She's running out of money when she's approached by Lyle Wirth, a member of the Kill Club, a group of people made up of true crime fans and PIs, who believe that Ben is innocent. In exchange for money, they want Libby to revisit the tragedy and find out the truth. So Libby has to dig up her past and talk to people she had left behind: her brother, her estranged father as well as her brother's friends.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner sets the film on two courses, one in 1985 and one in the present. The past thread shows the events that led to the massacre while the present thread shows Libby and her investigation of events. The past thread is the duller of the two, though a few good performances here and there just manages to save it from being a waste of time. Perhaps they spent too much time in this thread, with possibly the sole purpose of throwing red herrings at the audience, and the effort doesn't quite work. The present thread works better, thanks to a solid performance from Charlize Theron, who makes Libby seem unlikable at first, but slowly grows on you as the film progresses.

Christina Hendricks puts in a good performance as Libby's mother Patty, who has to remain strong for her kids as a handful of problems threaten to derail the family which led to the tragedy. Tye Sheridan and Corey Stoll both do well as the younger and older Ben, while Chloe Moretz is convincing enough as the younger Ben's wild girlfriend Diondra, though she doesn't get much screen time. Nicholas Hoult also does his best as Lyle, but like Moretz, doesn't have much to do despite the both of them getting top billing.

As mentioned, the film isn't really a thriller like the trailers will have you believe. In fact, it's more of a slow burn mystery movie, and almost devoid of any thrills. There's some suspense towards the end but even that ends almost as quickly as it started. That and the way the film ends makes Dark Places look like a TV movie, and with the star power involved, it deserves better.

Overall, it's not a total drag. Dark Places works mostly because of Charlize Theron, and with some tighter editing and a bit more suspense, it would be more interesting. (6/10)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Insidious: Chapter 3

Year: 2015
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell

Plot: Set a few years before the Lambert haunting, psychic Elise Rainier comes out of retirement to help a young girl haunted by an evil spirit after trying to make contact with her late mother.

Review: In Chapter 3 of the Insidious franchise, we step away from the Lamberts and focus on Elise the psychic, who is actually one of the best things about these films.

While the story is also about the Brenner family, equal measure is given to Elise, who has retired from giving readings after coming into contact with a spirit who has threatened to kill her, a spirit which followers of the franchise will immediately recognize. Anyway, Quinn Brenner, a teenager and aspiring actress, has attempted to contact her late mother but inadvertently brings back an evil spirit that haunts her every night. Refusing to help at first, Elise finally relents when she realises the girl's life is in grave danger.

James Wan, director of the first two chapters, steps down this time and puts on the producer's hat (and supplies a cameo), leaving collaborator Leigh Whannell to direct instead. Whannell clearly knows his characters well and does his best to flesh them out, giving most of the attention to Elise and Quinn, though he strangely gives Quinn's father Sean too little to do. However, unlike Wan, Whannell doesn't have the ability to get under the audience's skin, resorting to jump scares plenty of times. There are some genuinely spooky moments here and there, but nothing truly terrifying.

But Whannell does succeed in connecting this film to the first two, by bringing back a couple of familiar spirits from the franchise, as well as the well loved duo of Tucker and Specs, played by Angus Sampson and Whannell himself. In this film, the duo are introduced as amateur ghost hunters, the kind you see on TV, and they're still quite entertaining to watch, lightening the mood whenever necessary. Whannell also gives Elise a solid backstory which solidifies her role as the franchise's hero.

The best thing about this film is Lin Shaye, who is the heart of this whole franchise. Shaye gives Elise the right balance of bravado and vulnerability to make her a believable hero and a very convincing psychic. Stefanie Scott is also promising as Quinn, but Dermot Mulroney doesn't have much to bring to the table as Sean here, but he does what he can with what he's given.

Overall, Insidious Chapter 3 may not be scary, but still manages to entertain on a certain level. Fans of the franchise will probably love this more than non-fans. (7/10) 


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