The Unstoppable “Impossible”

missionimpossible5

With all the hoopla that surrounds the casting of superheroes in movies, it’s a wonder that no one ever tried to get Tom Cruise in a cape and mask. In nearly every movie he’s in, he’s speeding through the streets, fighting bad guys, dodging gunfire, running to and from explosions and treating death defying stunts like a stroll through the parts. Even when it comes to the tabloid field-day that is his personal life, Cruise is almost indestructible. Seriously, how has this guy not been tested as Superman or Batman?! Regardless, Cruise is back as international capeless crusader Ethan Hunt for a fifth time in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

M:I 5 revolves around Ethan (Cruise) and his covert search for The Syndicate, a team of missing or presumed dead international spies working to incite global chaos. Ethan’s search has been tough, especially since CIA big shot Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is trying to dissolve the IMF due to their chaotic history. Fortunately, Hunt got backup in tech savy Benji (Simon Pegg), cool Luther (Ving Rhames) and by-the-books Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Hunt also has an uneasy alliance with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a former British Intelligence agent who may or may not be working with The Syndicate. Together, Ethan and co. trot the globe looking for The Syndicate’s leader (Sean Harris) and trying to stop their plans for global anarchy.

The quality of a Mission: Impossible movie all depends on who’s directing it, whether it be the subtle slickness of Brian De Palma, the overblown machoness of John Woo, the spastic flashiness of J.J Abrams or the stylized fun of Brad Bird. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, who worked with Cruise in 2012’s underrated Jack Reacher, seems to bring a touch of darkness to the M:I franchise. Characters are mostly wearing black, the action is rougher, the physical damage from the stunts is more noticeable and there’s a heightened sense of fear coming from the villainous Syndicate. McQuarrie seems to be the first director to take the sense of global terrorism really seriously, and he wants to see people die instead of just beat up and brushed aside. It may be the first Mission: Impossible movie to highlight how hard it is to be an IMF agent or, more specifically, Ethan Hunt.

Tom Cruise was 34 when the first Mission: Impossible came out and he had to silently repel from a ceiling and fight on a high-speed train, which is still pretty demanding. Now, at 53, Cruise hanging off of a giant plane, holding his breath underwater for over three minutes, getting beaten up by young Dolph Lundgren clones and chasing down bad guys mere minutes after dying from suffocation…….HOW IS TOM CRUISE NOT SUPERMAN?!?!?!?! But, like other M:I movies it’s not all about Cruise. Simon Pegg is the best he’s ever been as Benji continues his time as a serious field agent. He and Cruise are together for most of the movie, almost turning it into a buddy cop adventure. Rebecca Ferguson may be the best female character in the M:I movies, as she (literally) climbs and crushes bad guys with her bare legs, even holding her own against Cruise. She’s not a love interest, more so a reflection of Ethan and the damages of spy life. Alec Baldwin is slimy, stuck-up Alec Baldwin here, which of course is the best kind of Alec Baldwin. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman was the best villain (and perhaps best actor) to be a part of the M:I franchise, but Sean Harris comes damn close with his stone cold killer leader.

While the darker tone does keep the movie and franchise fresh, a slight touch of humor could’ve taken the movie to perfection. And really, that’s the only complaint in the best action movie this year since Mad Max: Fury Road. Even with internet complaints of expanding franchises and cinematic universes, Mission: Impossible seems unphased by the constraints of other franchises. With Tom Cruise promoting this installment and already talking about a sixth movie, it’s hard not to wait in anticipation for accepting another one. As long as Cruise is there to continue to defy the laws of physics, sign me up.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4

Punch Drunk Entertainment

southpaw

It must be hard to make a movie about boxing, let alone an original one. Movies like Rocky and Raging Bull have practically mapped out the blueprint for boxing movies: show boxer, have him struggle, train for a big fight, win big fight, end movie. That’s probably why so few boxing movies are made, but that isn’t stopping Antoine Fuqua. The director of Training Day and last year’s surprise hit The Equalizer has teamed up with writer Kurt Sutter (creator of TV’s Sons of Anarchy) to bring the world another boxing movie. So the question is, how much entertainment can they pull out of something tried and true? Quite a bit, actually.

Southpaw follows Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), the light-heavyweight champion of the boxing world, undefeated and nearly immune to punches. Soft-spoken and temperamental, Billy’s life is a dream come true (especially for him, an orphan who grew up rough in the Bronx). He lives luxuriously, shares his wealth with his longtime buddies and earns major money from his fights thanks to his manager Jordan Mains (rapper 50 Cent). But Billy’s inner-self is kept sane by his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Jordan wants Billy to sign a contract having him fight three times a year for $30 million total, but Maureen wants Billy to take some time off before his punch-drunk attitude gives him long-term consequences. Billy thinks it over as he and Maureen attend a charity dinner, which is also where a possible title contender (Miguel Gomez) happens to be. An altercation occurs (the contender says he’ll take Billy’s “bitch” and belt) and Maureen gets shot by one of the contender’s crew by accident. After she dies, Billy’s life crumbles all around him: he throws a fight, headbutts a referee, gets suspended, loses all his riches and Leila is taken away from him. With almost nothing to his name and life seemingly hopeless (no pun intended), Billy moves back to the hard streets of New York City and gets a job cleaning up a gym. He ends up getting the attention of the gym’s owner Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), a trainer who sees Billy down on his luck and wants to help him out. He trains Billy and builds his confidence, while Billy tries to rebuild a relationship with his daughter and his own life.

If you like boxing movies, you’ll probably really like Southpaw. It’s plot, tone and style is very common with recent boxing movies like The Fighter and other sports-based redemption stories. Billy’s tale is that of a rise-and-fall-and-rise again, and it’s all surprisingly fast. The pacing isn’t bad, but the events of the movie all seem to happen over a quick period of time. Billy rises from the ashes almost as quickly as he fell from grace, which was probably done to keep the attention of audience in the film’s 123 minute running time. Maybe if the movie was longer, Billy’s struggle could have more time to leave a better impact on the audience. Regardless, Kurt Sutter’s script is solid enough to keep the audience invested. He occasionally goes for cliches, but also manages to pull out some more darker scenes using Billy’s street-upbringing. Fuqua also knows how to stage boxing matches as well, using quick-cuts and a variation of close-ups and slowed-down wide shots. His close-ups are impressive, seeming like he put GoPro cameras on the gloves of the fighters so the audience can feel the impact of every jab.

Where the movie lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in performances. For the past four years, Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a quest to turn himself into a serious leading man. He’s been around for a while in great movies (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac), but he’s bounced around from romantic comedies (Love and Other Drugs), blockbuster action movies (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) and tepid drama (Brothers, Proof). But ever since 2011’s Source Code, Gyllenhaal has been on a career high with top-notch performances in Prisoners, Enemy and End of Watch, culminating with his first Oscar nomination in last year’s Nightcrawler. So does his performance in Billy Hope manage to knock out the creepy news vulture Louis Bloom from Nightcrawler? No, but damn it Gyllenhaal tries. He’s intense in the boxing scenes (at times literally getting beaten to a bloody pulp), but he sells the performance in the quieter moments. When Billy’s not shouting at his opponents with blood coming out of his head, he mumbles and slurs his speech. He’s quiet and clearly struggling to understand his crumbling life around him, with his support system gone and nothing to lift him up. Then again, it’d be a pretty hard blow to take if one lost Rachel McAdams. Her New York accent is believable and the chemistry she has with Gyllenhaal is endearing. When she’s killed off, it’s tragic for Billy and the audience. That’s the stamp McAdams leaves on the movie. Forest Whitaker is solid as the stern trainer bringing Billy back from the brink. It might seem mean to knock a child actor, but Oona Laurence seems out of place in Southpaw. She and Gyllenhaal have a scene where she says she hates him and wishes he died, and it seems the dialogue is too adult for her. Even as she’s screaming, crying and slapping Gyllenhaal in the face, it’s not entirely believable. 50 Cent’s character is also tossed to the side by the end of the movie, starting as the sleazy manager abandoning Billy for a more profitable fighter, but then he just fades into the background.

Besides some great performances and well staged boxing matches (plus a solid soundtrack overseen by Eminem, who was originally supposed to be Billy Hope), Southpaw is another (if not rushed) redemption sports movie. To his credit, Fuqua has put more heart in Southpaw than in any other movie he’s made in his career. Aside from the macho-atmosphere from boxing, Southpaw is driven by emotion (especially that of Jake Gyllenhaal). Even if the plot is something out of a copy machine, most of Southpaw is never phoned in. It’s a welcome shot of dramatic entertainment driven by real feeling instead of CGI.
Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

Upping the “Ant”e

Paul-Rudd-Ant-Man-Movie

Well it’s official: Marvel Studios is the Superman of Hollywood. No offense to Henry Cavill, but the superhero movie factory has a lot in common with the Man of Steel, in good and bad ways. There are those that love Marvel Studios for their vision and approach to superheroes, but there are others that pan them for having the same old story for every single movie. Some claim Marvel Studios create visual eye-candy and action-packed thrill rides, other claim that the formula for their movies has already gotten stale and don’t have enough substance. One thing’s for sure, Marvel Studios and Superman are impervious to damage and damn near unstoppable. Case-in-point, Ant-Man.

In 1989, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) decides to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to protect his breakthrough shrinking technology (called the Pym Particle) from being used just as a weapon. 26 years later, Dr. Pym discovers his successor, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has nearly mimicked the science of the Pym Particle in order to create shrinking suits (called Yellowjackets) that’ll sell to the highest bidder. Fearing the worst, Dr. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) plot to steal and destroy Cross’ technology so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Who do they choose to pull off the heist? Recently released con-man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s looking to redeem himself for the sake of his young daughter and find his true calling. Working with Dr. Pym, Hope and Scott’s three buddies (Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and rapper T.I.), Scott uses Dr. Pym’s shrinking suit and becomes (SPOILER) the Ant-Man.

Ant-Man has been on people’s watch list for a while now, mostly due to its drama behind the scenes. Originally, writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) was supposed to helm the movie, but he left after Marvel Studios denied him of his vision (though he and Joe Cornish are still given credit to writing the screenplay and story). The final product, directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) and rewritten by Paul Rudd and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers), is more like someone trying to make an Edgar Wright movie, at least from a director’s standpoint. Many of the sequences, like Scott’s training with the Ant-Man suit or Michael Pena’s character explaining how he gets information, are cut and move with the same energy of Wright’s movies. It’s even peppered into the action scenes, showing the Ant-Man using his shrinking abilities to dodge enemies and grow just in time for some quick jabs. Peyton Reed may not have his own distinguishable style on this movie, but he knows to give the movie a steady pulse and some hustle in its action. The script is also solid, with Wright and Cornish’s clever pacing blending well with Rudd and McKay’s cocky dialogue. The combination of the Wright-ish directing and the funny dialogue is probably why Ant-Man easily flies by in its 1 hour and 57 minute duration, making for what feels like the quickest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The cast is more of a mystery, specifically Paul Rudd. He’s known primarily as a supporting player in comedies, but whenever he’s in a lead role he’s always given another lead to support him (Seann William Scott in Role Models, Jason Segel in I Love You, Man and Tina Fey in Admission). Ant-Man is no exception, as Rudd is given very little solo scenes to entertain or stake his claim as a character. He’s either with Michael Douglas training or with Michael Pena planning a heist. Rudd’s not bad here, he just doesn’t show enough charisma or character development to hold certain scenes. If anything, his Scott Lang is meant to be a comedic punching bag, the struggling every man (though he is a criminal) thrusted into an extraordinary situation. It’s as if the movie knows you don’t care about Scott Lang the way you care about Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, so it doesn’t take the time to make him unique. Scott Lang may be the easiest character Marvel Studios have ever written, but then there’s Darren Cross. Corey Stoll’s villain is the typical “evil guy because he’s evil” character, much like Jeff Bridges in Iron Man. All he does is look creepy and yell when he gets mad. Don’t lose hope because the real star of Ant-Man is Michael Douglas, who acts everybody else under the table. The best thing is that Douglas isn’t just some old acclaimed actor doing a superhero movie for cash or to get props from their grandkids. Douglas is invested in the story and character of Hank Pym, even enjoying himself throughout the movie. Evangeline Lilly is the most badass character of the movie, showing Hank how to punch and keeping all the cocky nerds of the movie in line. Michael Pena, known more for dramas than comedies, steals every damn scene he’s in with his jovial energy.

While the energy and comedy is on point here, Ant-Man is more of a typical heist movie than a typical superhero movie. That said, “typical” is still a common word used here, with the usual montages of training for the heist, planning the heist and getting the rag tag team together. Still, Ant-Man is a welcome burst of fun in the MCU canon. It’s still a similar vehicle, with different parts and the order of the set-up switched around a bit. Even though Edgar Wright’s vision wasn’t fully formed, the good bits break through to make a more exciting movie and keep the Marvel success story rolling. In fact, it may be the least important film in the set-up to the next Avengers movie, and maybe that’s a good thing. Ant-Man is much better as a stand-alone movie, trying to do Marvel’s formula a bit different, and that’s something Marvel Studios needs to do more often before they, like Superman, face their Doomsday.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Despicable Marketing

minions_2015-wide

Give credit where credit is due: a whole movie centered around living yellow pill capsules that don’t speak english seemed impossible, but Illumination Entertainment needs to make money somehow. So since they can’t make Despicable Me 3 any faster, they’ve giving the backstory of those adorable little henchmen of Gru and how they came to work for the most dastardly villains of the world. Why? BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT, DAMMIT (also because Minions make great toys for little kids).

According to Minions, the little yellow creatures have existed since the dawn of time. From single-celled organisms cruising through the ocean, rolling with the dinosaurs, helping build pyramids with the pharos of Egypt and charging with Napoleon into battle, the Minions have been around forever. But in 1968, many years had passed and the Minions haven’t had a villain to call their master in a while. After being stranded in an ice cave, three minions step up and set out to find a new master. Kevin leads the trio, Stuart plays guitar and Bob is the young one scared of the new world. They wind up meeting Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world’s most infamous villain, who wants to steal the Queen of England’s crown. The minions impress Scarlet and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm), who bring the minions into their fold and on board with their plan for world domination. Naturally, hijinks ensue.

One might think Minions is just another $10 distraction for little kids, and they’d mostly be right. Minions doesn’t give a crap about an interesting plot or character development. It’s not here to teach a lesson, just make you laugh. To its credit, the movie does know how to work zany humor and physical comedy. It’s like a really dumb Looney Tunes cartoon that, when it cracks wise, doesn’t wink at the camera like Bugs Bunny, but instead hurls the punchline at the audience like a pie in the face. Sometimes it works (the minions evading royal army guards and torture), other times it’s annoying (Stuart thinking yellow fire hydrants are hot girls). The minions’ gibberish talk, consisting of broken Spanish, French and other European languages, gets old after a while as well. On the flip side, the creators of the movie throw in some solid physical comedy.

They’ve also got some great voice actors for support. Sandra Bullock as Scarlet Overkill is pretty funny as the vein and self-absorbed Scarlet. She’s like that little girl who always wanted to be a princess and would throw a hissy fit if she didn’t get her way. She’s got great, hammy (no pun intended) support in Jon Hamm. He sounds like a Bond villain playing for the back row. There’s also a good bit with the minions riding from New York to Orlando with a family of crooks, with the mother played by Allison Janney and Michael Keaton. As far as animation goes, Illumination Entertainment may be the most kid-friendly form in Hollywood. Before anyone kills me in the comments, I’m talking strictly animation. Everything is so bright and sunny, never darkening the mood or making anything somber. Even in the moments where the minions are running for their lives, it’s animated in a colorful romp and not an escape from death. There’s no complexity or difficult emotions to process, it’s just sunshine and silliness.

That’s actually Minions in a nutshell, and it can be viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing. If one has the stomach for just nonsensical zaniness and are looking to keep your young (emphasis on YOUNG) quiet for 90 minutes, one could do worse than Minions. However, Minions is probably one of the most forgettable animated movies I’ve seen, especially one based off of better material. There’s no reason for this movie other than something to occupy audiences (and to keep Disney at bay). It’s a fine bit of fun, but is anyone going to remember this movie at the end of the year? What’s going to be so different about the minion plush toy from Minions compared to the minion plush toy from Despicable Me?
Final Verdict: 2.5 out of 4 stars

*Sigh* I’ll Be Back

terminatorgenisys

“I am old, not obsolete”

Yes, this may seem like just another clever quip from the T-800 in Terminator Genisys, but it’s not. In fact, I’m almost positive that line wasn’t even in the script. Instead, it’s an ad-lib from Arnold Schwarzenegger telling moviegoers that he may be in his late 60s, but he’s not going anywhere. A man who almost religiously doesn’t believe in failure, Schwarzenegger has been nearly-indestructible throughout his near-40 years in the spotlight. Now he’s trying REALLY hard to remind people that he’s got plenty of gas left in the tank. While it remains to be seen whether or not the former Governator still has it in him, his tentpole franchise may have just had it’s Judgement Day.

Terminator Genisys (or as I’ve been calling it, Terminator Bad Spellyng) has a whirling dervish of a plot that shoots off on logic that makes little to no sense. Digging through the rubble, we find Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) sent back in time by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to protect John’s mother. Kyle arrives in 1984 to find John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), a stone-cold badass with a vast knowledge of the horrible future and looking to stop Judgement Day before it ever happens. Sarah’s got some help too, in the form of a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) who raised Sarah. Together, Sarah and Kyle jump to 2017 where they meet up with the same (but aged) T-800 in hopes to destroy Skynet before it launches a full-scale war on the human race. Unfortunately, they run into a big problem: John, infected with a sentient liquid metal and changed to a human/Terminator hybrid sent back in time to kill the trio of heroes.

Now let’s be blunt, people: Terminator Genisys is one of the dumbest movies EVER MADE. It thinks it can explain it’s time-travel science through fast-spoken big words instead of comprehensive explanation. Logic and physics are thrown out the window from the very first action scene, and character development is so passe compared to gunfire and CGI. Explosions and car crashes happen out of nowhere for no apparent reason, and plot motivators pop up first to no explanation and then to end up making little sense. On top of that, it cribs elements from so many other movies before it (Matrix Reloaded and I, Robot to name a few).

As mentioned before, there isn’t so much “fleshed-out characters” as there are “people used to run from explosions.” Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, A Good Day to Die Hard) is brawny but bland, never showing any excitement and very little charisma. His motivation seems to stop at “what the hell is going on?,” a common questions asked by commonly intelligent audience members. Emilia Clarke, one of television’s most imposing female characters on Game of Thrones, is totally wasted here as she’s never given anything to make Sarah Connor intimidating or memorable. It’s almost a shame she didn’t ask for pointers from her Game of Thrones co-star Lena Headey, who was far superior as the heroine in the short-lived (and underrated) TV adaptation Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It would be a compliment that Jason Clarke plays the now-bad guy John Connor in a creepy way, but it still means his performance is robotic and stiff.

How fitting that the one star this movie gets is for the main star of the movie itself. Yes, 31 years after first stepping out of that time bubble nude and monotonous, Arnold Schwarzenegger still owns the role of T-800. Equal parts imposing ass-kicker, heartfelt humanoid and even comedic doofus, Arnold still knows how to make himself entertaining. Despite most of the action scenes looking mostly fake, Arnold still brushes off hits and crashes like a mosquito landed on him.

The crazy thing about Terminator Genisys is that it only wants to be a Terminator movie merely in its title. Otherwise, it wants to be every other action/sci-fi movie EXCEPT an actual Terminator movie. The PG-13 instead of R rating is clearly trying to bait younger audiences that fill the bank accounts of Marvel and Disney movie masters, clearly assuming that the T-800 might as well be Superman. But what the movie sacrifices is the apocalyptic mood of the previous movies, and makes Genisys seem utterly pointless. There are seemingly no stakes to this movie, whereas the previous movies added some visual gloom and doom to make the events seem more important. Even the much maligned Terminator Salvation created an impressive desolate wasteland and humans actually losing against the machines to show how important the coming events would be. Terminator Genisys feels so run-of-the-mill and just trying to get to the end. Stupid, boring and mostly dry in its action scenes, Genisys was created for one purpose: to add more gas to the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s nice to have Arnie back, it’s just too bad he didn’t bring a good movie with him
Final Verdict: 1 out of 4 stars