Friday, July 31, 2015

Movie Review: "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"

It is very rare for a film series to actually get better with each subsequent installment, but that is exactly how the Mission: Impossible series rolls.  Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the film series that started all the way back in 1996 (that film in itself based off of the Sixties TV series), but Rogue Nation is really the first Mission: Impossible film to bring together every element that worked in the previous films to make the most complete Mission: Impossible to date.

Tom Cruise once again is the face of the IMF as agent Ethan Hunt, tracking down a clandestine shadow organization known as the Syndicate, who is always just one step ahead of Hunt.  Making Hunt's mission even more impossible is the fact that the US government has shuttered the IMF after their cowboy actions in Ghost Protocol that nearly saw San Francisco obliterated by a nuke because Hunt willingly gave a terrorist nuclear launch codes in order to try and catch him.  Of course, Hunt has gone rogue in every single Mission: Impossible movie that has ever been made, so it's no surprise that he continues to evade the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin) while trying to bring down the Syndicate.  However, like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation has a greater attention to the team element than most of the previous Mission films with Simon Pegg back as funny gadget guy Benji, Jeremy Renner back as analyst Brandt, and Ving Rhames back as hacker Luther.  Then there is the new addition of Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious, butt-kicking Ilsa Faust, who is either a double agent helping Ethan bring down the Syndicate from within, or is actually in the Syndicate and is playing Ethan and his team.

While it may seem like there is a lot going on in this film, it all feels organic and the story clips along at a very brisk pace, always making sense (which was a problem I had with Ghost Protocol).  Then there is the stronger villain presence in this film than in Ghost Protocol, with Sean Harris portraying the cold-blooded head of the Syndicate who is always outsmarting Ethan at every turn (though Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I:III is still the series best bad guy).  While I have to concede that Ghost Protocol had better gags, Rogue Nation utilizes Simon Pegg better than he has been utilized in any of his previous two Mission films and that in itself leads to some good comedic beats featuring Benji.  Another thing that Rogue Nation really does better than most of its predecessors is action aiding the story.  All of the action scenes are exquisitely orchestrated and are some of the franchise's best.  Of course, the thing that makes Rogue Nation the best Mission film is it really plays off of the relationships established between these characters in a way that no other Mission film has done.

Having gotten to know Simon Pegg's Benji for three films now, we actually get to see more of a friendship between Benji and Hunt than ever before, and that idea of friendship is echoed in the characters of Brandt and Luther.  Most of the Mission: Impossible films never really brought back the previous teammates, but with the past two films they have made a concentrated effort at creating this team and it finally pays off here with some nice emotional moments between all of them.  There is arguing between them, but there is also a level of trust and a willingness to do anything to save one another's lives that was never there in any of the previous films, which makes you care more.  Then there is the new friendship forged between Ethan and Ilsa that is very engaging because it is so different from any of Ethan's previous relationships with women in these movies.  It also doesn't hurt that Rebecca Ferguson is insanely awesome in this movie.

When all is said and done, you really feel like you have gone on a ride in Rogue Nation.  The plot is full of twists and turns, something one should expect with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie having written The Usual Suspects, and the action is thrilling and intense, with McQuarrie really flexing his directorial muscles with only his third film as a director.  You will have fun with Rogue Nation like you have with every previous Mission: Impossible, but you will also be treated to a smart story that you have to think about with some emotional consequences at the core that McQuarrie really milks in one beautiful sequence near the end where all sound drops out of the film and we go into slo-mo.  It's a smart choice in a film full of smart choices.

I give Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation a series best 10 out of 10!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Movie Review: "Mr. Holmes"

It is rare to find something new done with an old character, especially one that has been around for nearly 150 years like Sherlock Holmes has, but that's exactly what the movie Mr. Holmes does.

Based on the book, A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, the film tells the story of a Sherlock like we've never seen him before, a 93-year-old retiree struggling with dementia and the ghosts of cases he feels were left unsolved.  Sir Ian McKellen portrays the titular Mr. Holmes with the wit that you expect from the character, but also with an undercurrent of humanity that few actors that have played the part ever managed.  Perhaps a part of the reason that this is the most human Sherlock is because this is a Sherlock who isn't infallible.

Here, Sherlock is an old man who has to use a cane to walk around and must rely on his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (a revelatory Milo Parker), for almost all of his everyday needs, a fact that doesn't always sit well with him.  Another thing that really shows Sherlock's humanity in Mr. Holmes is the friendship that Sherlock strikes up with Roger, who is fascinated by the Sherlock Holmes he has read about in books and is even more fascinated by the man who can tell you exactly where a person has been just by looking at them.  In a lot of Sherlock Holmes films or TV shows we are presented with a Sherlock who is rather abrasive and far from a gentleman, but there is a gentlemanly quality to the Sherlock in Mr. Holmes which allows you to really sympathize with him, and without it you probably wouldn't care as much when Sherlock has to write down Roger's name on the cuff of his shirt just so he can remember it.  Another thing that is refreshing about Mr. Holmes though is that it really isn't a mystery.

Mr. Holmes is a very tender drama with some mystery elements to it, but there is no great whodunit here.  There is no theft, no murder, the only little bit of mystery comes in the form of Sherlock trying to recall his past.  We want to know how Sherlock became a bit of a recluse?  What happened on his last case that made him retreat into a small house on the seaside with his housekeeper and his bees?  These questions all play into the ideas that I thought about the most while watching the film -- memory and mortality, and how we can lose both.

When it gets right down to it, if you are looking for a Sherlock Holmes film that is in a more traditional fashion, there are probably at least a hundred of those out there, but Mr. Holmes isn't one such film.  Mr. Holmes actually manages to be something unique and stand out from all the other stories about the world's most famous detective because it is a look at the man himself, and not just the man going about solving a case.  By examining a Sherlock Holmes without a real case, we get to know the real Sherlock Holmes and actually feel for him in a way that I don't think I've ever felt for Sherlock Holmes before and that is why Mr. Holmes is a remarkable film that should be seen.

I give Mr. Holmes a 10 out of 10!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Movie Review: "Ant-Man"

It almost seems like people are just waiting for Marvel Studios to stumble at this point.  Well, those people will have to wait even longer cause Marvel has done it yet again with Ant-Man.  Ant-Man is perhaps Marvel's most unique movie to date featuring a superhero who can become the size of an insect at will and use his special helmet to control ants with his thoughts, not to mention the fact that our hero, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), is an ex-con trying to go on the straight and narrow.

We first meet Scott as he is being released from prison for basically playing Robin Hood with a major corporation.  Now vowing to go straight so that he can reconnect with his daughter, Cassie, Scott finds it harder than he initially thought to get a job thanks to his past, ultimately resorting to thievery yet again.  Scott and his hilarious pals (led by a scene stealing Michael Pena) break into Dr. Hank Pym's house and crack open his safe to find what appears to be a weird motorcycle suit.  Later, when Scott puts the suit on and shrinks, he realizes that this is no ordinary suit and that the man they stole from, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), is no ordinary man.  One thing leads to another and Hank recruits Scott to help him and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), save the world by stealing a dangerous piece of technology that Hank's former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has developed, and thus, Ant-Man is born.

I really don't think there has ever been another superhero movie where the hero started out as someone who would ordinarily be the bad guy and by the end has become the ultimate good guy.  That must have been a tough feat to pull off for the writers and director Peyton Reed, and yet they did it, they made Scott Lang such a likable guy that you are rooting for him the entire time (of course it doesn't hurt that the crimes he committed were ones of an altruistic/Robin Hood nature).  However, the real x-factor in regards to Scott Lang is Paul Rudd.  Rudd infuses his natural everyman vibe with his charm and goofiness, making Lang a character we care for in regards to achieving his goal of overcoming his past to be closer to his daughter.  In a nutshell, that idea of either overcoming or succumbing to your past is the thematic spine of the whole movie.

Scott wants to actually earn the look in his daughter's eyes by being a better man than he was in the past, while Hank Pym is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter and come to terms with what happened with his wife's death, and Hope and Darren are both trying to wrestle with their complicated feelings toward Hank's treatment of them growing up.  Ultimately, with Scott, Hank, and Hope, being the good guys, and Darren being the bad guy, you know who overcomes their past and who doesn't, but the fact that a superhero movie features such ideas as redemption and atonement as well as the dangers of hate, is a great added bonus.  When it's all said and done though, the main reason I absolutely love Ant-Man is because it's just so much fun.

This movie is chock full of jokes and even in the dramatic moments there is humor to keep things from ever getting too stuffy.  Few movies nowadays are brave enough to just be silly and have a good time, and that's what Ant-Man does.  You can tell the filmmakers know that this whole concept is absurd and they don't care.  The characters take their situations seriously and believe in what they're doing, but they also make jokes at almost every turn because that's just who these characters are and that is, in my opinion, the mark of every Marvel Studios movie thus far and why I like what they're doing more than DC.  So if you just wanna have fun at the movies, go see Ant-Man, cause I can guarantee you wont regret it.

P.S., the musical score by Christophe Beck is sick!!!

I give Ant-Man a 9 out of 10!