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Industry pundits are gob smacked and they have every reason to be. What
started as an over the top action spectacle has turned into a refined
espionage thriller, albeit still a tall tale, but close on the heels of
recent Bond films. Now in its fifth installment, and 20 years later,
the Mission Impossible franchise has finally found its niche by almost
entirely abandoning the cheese.
In some ways, Rogue Nation could also have the edge over Daniel's Craig's Bond flicks when considering the latter's tradition for forced romance and prototype gadgetry. None of that here, and thankfully, no time inflating fillers either. That said, there isn't much of a story either and John Le Carre fans will eat through the plot before you can say "I spy". Instead, Rogue Nation offers the best thrills in the series where the ride has prominence over the destination. For now, all you need to know is that the IMF has found its diabolical equal in The Syndicate, a shadow organization responsible for orchestrating devastating geo-political terror attacks around the world. But just when Ethan Hunt discovers their leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) disbands the IMF, citing unorthodox engagement tactics. Working from the shadows, and double crossed by double agents, Hunt does what he does best a series of impossible missions that leaves us breathless.
Reprising his role as Hunt, it would only be half-truth to say that Rogue Nation is all Tom Cruise. But with Cruise actually performing his own stunts, it's fair to say that the success of this film emanates from his unmatched delivery as an aging action hero. Unless Cruise is nourished from a secret fountain of youth, doing all that he does at the age of 53 is in itself an incredible feat and worth the price of admittance. The other half emanates from insane white-knuckle action paused only by Hitchcockian moments of suspense. Flanking adrenaline packed car and bike chases are two nail biting scenes one takes place above the stage of a Viennese opera and the second in an underwater vault which appears to be shot in one take. Both scenes are insanely pulse pounding and precisely why this installment is the best in the series.
That casting takes a backseat could be a dent in the overall making of this film. Although Simon Pegg is back for comic relief and he delivers, Jeremy Renner's inclusion serves no purpose at any point during the plot. Additionally, Harris as the villain is more annoying than threatening, and visibly weak in comparison to Philip Seymour-Hofmann's mesmerising delivery in Mission Impossible III. Even so, none of this diminishes from the sheer entertainment factor of this film and precisely why the franchise has been accumulating a massive fan base.
Just watched this multi-layered indie mockumentary called Black & White
& Sex. Beautifully shot in monochrome using multiple cameras with
several women posing as 'Angie', a sex worker. The supposed interview
talks about sex as a commodity but within parameters of morality,
submission, power-play and erotism. Then it opens up into classy film
noir laced with wicked humor. Unconventionally fresh as a film
consciously narrated within a film, this is topnotch crotch talk and a
rare Aussie gem crafted with style and a bit of acquired taste.
Amongst the eight actresses who play Angie, I can't think of anyone who stands out because they are all brilliant, each carrying the discussion forward until it reaches a climax (pun unintended). The discussion itself is written and filmed as a documentary where the premise is about prostitution and all its highs and lows as a profession. We don't see the director and I suspect this was intentional. More so because the director (or the unseen) also represents us, the audience, with all our perceptions about prostitution and its moral implications (or lack of). The best part of the film is not what happens in the end, but the power-play between Angie and the director. Metaphorically, it's something like sex, where each partner takes turns in dominating the other, until both reach a 'happing ending'. The reason why this film is shot in black and white is just astounding and another metaphor that reveals itself once we arrive at the inner most layer of the discussion.
Black & White & Sex is highly recommended as a brilliant film that not only tries to eliminate the taboo behind prostitution, but reiterates why it is sometimes a necessary evil. It's all about perception and what sex means to anyone watching this film, be it consummated, consensual or means to self-gratification. Best served with oysters!
Ever been told never to let your emotions get the best of you? Now what
if you could actually see and hear those emotions emote. Welcome to
Inside Out, a remarkable animation that is as original and clever as it
is compelling and poignant. Simply put, another masterpiece from
Pixar/Disney's library of outstanding animations.
From the Academy Award winning Toy Story franchise to the Academy Award winning Up (2009), the mechanism behind Pixar's storytelling prowess has always been its ability to engage children and adults simultaneously. Inside Out works pretty much the same way but on a whole new level that uses relatable metaphors to tell the story. Set inside the mind of young Riley (voice by Kaitlyn Dias), we follow her mood swings when her parents decide to move from snowy Minnesota to sunny San Francisco. Determining the outcome of her actions are emotions, each colour-coded and manifested as characters bright and radiant Joy (Amy Poehler), blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), purple Fear (Bill Hader), green Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and flaming red Anger (Lewis Black). While influencing Riley's decisions, these emotions also preserve her memories (based on her actions) in coloured orbs relating to a specific emotion. In turn, each stored memory (or core memory) shapes her personality. Everything happens in "Headquarters" or Riley's consciousness where each of her emotions strive for control over her actions. So on her first day at a new school, Riley is overcome with 'mixed emotions', brought on by a struggle between Joy and Sadness. It's an astute moment in the film that literally defines the word 'nostalgia'. But then something goes wrong, sending dominant emotions Joy and Sadness into Riley's sub consciousness. Now left with just three emotions, Riley begins a dangerous descent into depression with Fear, Anger and Disgust wreaking havoc on her personality.
Kicking the film into high gear is the ensuing roller-coaster ride where Joy and Sadness try to get back to Headquarters. It's also where we are introduced to other characters and instances residing in Riley's deepest memories. As such, prepare for Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley's imaginary friend and one of the most charming characters in the film, whose inclusion results in a pivotal yet heart wrenching plot point in the story. Such is the powerfully overwhelming nature of this film, often leaving us stranded between Riley's fondest memories and the manifestation of painful new ones as she grows older. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of this film is the reiteration that the magic and innocence of youth will inevitably fade away, only to be replaced with the harsh and often cynical trappings of adult perceptions. It's the same reason why Santa Claus is nothing more than a childhood fantasy.
Co-written and helmed by Up director Pete Doctor, Inside Out is packed with such metaphors and many more that adults will relate to. A thrilling segment where Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong must board a 'Train of Thought' to save Riley is just one of Doctor's clever puns, and as it turns out, comes loaded with comical shenanigans to keep younger viewers rollicking in their seats. Clearly, there's a lot of backend study into psychology and behavioral science, but the way it all unfolds on screen is the work of pure genius and the type that will leave you in awe laughing one moment and speechless the next, while stifling a tear drop all through to the end.
Along with its mega box-office pull, Marvel's cinematic achievements
have also gained a reputation for being loud and repetitive, with
emphasis on sheer size and scale. But as we've seen before, it can also
be uplifting, laugh-out-loud funny, and thoroughly engaging all
instantly recognisable qualities of Ant-Man.
By cutting out multi-character excessiveness from previous films, Ant-Man is also scaled down to size, albeit literally, with the use of just one protagonist. This works by allowing us to focus on the adventures of an everyday man, but one that is destined for incredible heroics. That man is Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a petty criminal desperate for a clean slate. Caught between his reputation as a cat burglar and a failed father, Lang stumbles upon a powered suit that shrinks him down to the size of an ant. "It's nothing like the Ironman suit", says inventor Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a former S.H.I.E.L.D scientist. Quite literally, Douglas is saying two things at the same time - don't underestimate the power of an ant, and also that Ant-Man is unlike any other character we have seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Overlooking bland melodrama that has Lang trying to impress his daughter (primed with stock Hollywood cuteness), the film really opens up when we see the titular superhero in action. Filmed with Arri Alexa cameras, visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic is mind bindingly stunning when switching back and forth between macrophotography and life size rendition. Also look out for a de-aged Michael Douglas in the pre-credits prologue (set in 1989), made possible with the use of motion capture technology. And given the context of the story where a lot happens in microscopic proportions, effects are aided with the proper use of 3D, resulting in a rare occasion where it actually works in favour of the cinematography.
With just the right amount of action combined with potent laughs (watch out for Michael Pena Peña as a motor mouth), Reed, in combination with comedy writers Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, keeps the story simple and easy on the eyes. And owing to the obvious detachment from the juggernaut trappings of previous MCU films, there's none of that city demolishing nonsense that has become a standard in superhero films. Instead, the story remains enveloped in the fantasy ethos that illustrates how an ordinary person can become extraordinary.
The fact that Rudd (up until this point) has been cast in romantic-comedies makes him the ideal choice to play this unlikely hero. Equally unlikely is Peyton Reed, having directed a string of romantic-comedies that nobody remembers. There's a reason why their collaboration in Ant-Man works to everyone's benefit, much the same as Chris Pratt and James Gunn, who were both underrated before 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. While it's apparently easy to make blockbusters with over the top action (looking at you Michael Bay!), Ant-Man is self-aware of its limitations, resulting in another rare occasion where less is more. That alone should be a educated answer to an age old debate Does size really matter?
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion but also the only word that can
entirely describe Pixels - a sci-fi adventure masquerading as a comedy.
While this film has every reason to fail as a comedy, it can still
appeal to a specific audience - kids of the 80s, and the current
generation of pre-teens yet to discover the trappings of social media.
That's a generation gap of 30 years, but the defining moment that bridges this gap is the mutual love for video games. Back in the day, the social norm was to get out of the house, walk to the arcade, spend a few hours with real friends, and vie for social standing as a champion gamer. It felt real with moments that bring back joyous memories that not even a thousand friends on Facebook can match today. On the flip side, gamers are still typecast as nerds, and this is what the film attempts to say. It's 1982 and gaming prodigy Sam has a shot at the Guinness Book championship title. Backed by his gaming chums Will and Ludlow, Sam reaches the finals in a faceoff against narcissist nemesis Eddie 'The Fire Blaster'. Also present is NASA who records the competition and sends it into space to contact alien life. Wrong move. Cut to present day and Will (Kevin James) is the President of the USA (there's hope for gamers?) while Sam (Adam Sandler) and Ludlow (Josh Gad) are everyday losers. Turns out, those aliens did get the message but misinterpreted it as a hostile invitation. Who do you call? Ghostbusters zapping aliens pretty much sums up the rest of the film. While the story gets dumber by the minute (inclusive of the clichéd romance between Sandler's Mr. Fixit and Michelle Monaghan's White House official), director Chris Columbus alternates flat gags with solid visuals and iconic characters that wreak havoc on screen. Add to that some madcap moments from Peter Dinklage as the aforementioned narcissist, Gad let loose ala Jonah Hill style from the Jump Street films, and a list of clever cameos, and there's enough reason for Pixels to generate some offbeat excitement.
The fact that Sandler is still pigeonholed as a sad-sack from his Happy Madison Productions (from Happy Gilmore to last year's The Cobbler) can be a typical letdown for many viewers and fans alike. It's the same reason why most of the amusement comes from the supporting cast. Even as they deliver with acceptable comic timing, the real fun is in racing back to the days of Atari or annihilating monsters at the gaming arcade. And speaking of nostalgia, look no further than Columbus, the writing genius behind all time classics like The Goonies and Gremlins - films that are as iconic as the Pac-Man and Donkey Kong games. Kids who watched those films or played those games are grownups today but for the most part, Pixels made me feel as invincible as a kid in an arcade. Game on dude!
Some films are critic proof. Sometimes even the most verbose film
critics will find themselves in gleeful abandon, for no other reason
than pure cinematic indulgence. I know I did. Likewise, Jurassic World
will do that to you in the most eye-popping, heart-racing way a tent
pole summer movie can.
Right off the bat I'll say that after the disastrous Jurassic Park III (2001), this fourth installment has no reason to exist. In fact, Jurassic World is filled with so many inconsistencies, calling it flawed would be an act of kindness. Comprising of uneventful drama about corporate excess and consumer supply and demand, pacing is a major issue during the first half of the film. Symbolic to the film's subtle theme on humanity's greed for bigger and better material possessions, this part of the film is nothing more than a talky filler leading up to the non-stop action saved for the second half. However, the pay-off is extremely gratifying and worth the wait, and it only gets better with each passing minute.
Set 22 years after the events of the first film, we are taken back to the Eastern Pacific island of Isla Nublar, where the titular theme park has reopened and is once again a major tourist attraction. In the tradition of preceding films, the story revolves around a female protagonist, this time park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who believes in enticing tourists with newer attractions. Richard Attenborough's John Hammond is replaced by Bollywood thespian Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani, the new owner of Jurassic World. Masrani is uneasy about Dearing's new attraction a bigger and meaner hybrid creation called Indominus Rex. For the cinema audience, this aptly relates to a bigger, louder and scarier prehistoric monster. Wish granted! Even before Indominus is released as an 'attraction', expert Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) discovers something abnormal about this new creature. And so it begins like it always does an accident is shrugged off as a near-miss incident. It should have been a warning. When the second accident occurs, it's already too late.
Running, screaming and utter pandemonium forms the rest of the film, punctuated with the occasional yet distinctive sound of a predatory 'chomp'. This is when the film lifts off with blistering pace thanks to well executed action, suspense driven terror and technical achievements that include fluid animatronics, and fantastic visual and sound design. Production design is also massive in keeping with original author Michael Crichton's intricately detailed world in the Jurassic Park novel. In only his second foray as director, it's safe to say that Colin Trevorrow has done his homework, especially with special effects bigwig Steven Spielberg overseeing the production as executive producer. Look out for two new ferocious creatures and an old favorite brought back for an amazing finale. And just to appease fans of monster movies, Trevorrow also interjects the action with several references to the first film, along with memorable scenes from King Kong (2005) and even James Cameron's Aliens (1986). Although this doesn't say much about originality, it still works as solid aid to the entertainment factor. On the downside, and if there is a weak link in human characterization, it would have to be Howard's stereotypical damsel in distress. Only here, her character is written off as a pushy corporate executive who can outrun ravenous dinosaurs with high heels! On the other hand, Pratt anchors the film with an Indiana Jones getup and is genuinely engaging throughout. Cocky yet equally charismatic, this is an actor highly capable of becoming the next Tom Cruise.
That said, Jurassic World and its older siblings have never been about an actor's depth. It's all about the dinosaurs and their fight for supremacy in the food chain. After all, these were creatures of calamity but also creatures that dominated the planet long before we did. Bringing them back to full celluloid life is where this film excels and by the looks of it, no expense was spared. In other words, if there's one film that gives you your money's worth this summer, this is it and does so in Jurassic proportions.
There's something about horror films that scare you one minute and
makes you laugh the very next minute. It's the same ruse that made The
Evil Dead franchise a fad for decades. Using this ploy, series writer
Leigh Whannell vindicates the necessity of a third installment, albeit
with more zany humour than actual scare tactics. It's like putting half
your chips on red and the other half on black in a roulette game. And
that's exactly what happens with Insidious: Chapter 3 it's not a
winner but it isn't a disaster either. Somewhere in between is a horror
film that is more entertaining for the fun it pokes than its primary
intent in frightening the viewer.
Having worked with James Wan long enough, with joint repute in The Conjuring and the first two Chapters of this franchise, Whannell isn't new to horror and it shows. Now with the added responsibility as debut director, while also co-starring, the question arises whether Whannell had too many things on his plate. It's not that Chapter 3 is boring or even ineffective as a scary movie. It's just that you get what you expect, more or less. Like previous films in the franchise, the mechanism applied is jump scares with an amped up shrieking sound that gives you the jitters. Only this time, this technique is applied with thoughtful restraint.
Penned as a prologue that precedes the Lambert incident in Insidious, Whannell's setup is twofold. The first is a bit of indulgent haunting while the second (and most important aspect) is the background story that fully introduces us to Elsie Rainer (Lin Shaye), the spirit medium from the first two films. Now here comes the first film length gag Elsie is a funk despite her experience as a reputed medium. Too many séances have left her drained with one particular spirit stalking her every time she enters 'The Further', a realm beyond the world of the living. It's one of the reasons why Elsie considers retirement, but an encounter with teenager Quinn Brenner (Stephanie Scott) draws her back in to what turns out to be an unusual and dangerous case. As the story goes, Quinn is still mourning the death of her mother. Although Quinn feels her mother's presence more than a year after her passing, she may have inadvertently latched onto something else while trying to contact her mother from beyond. During her first interaction with Elsie, the latter explains it layman's terms calling out to a dead loved one is always risky because once you make contact, you have contacted all of them instantly; all of them including malevolent spirits who will piggyback into the world of the living.
While it would have been all too obvious to follow Wan's tradition in the first two films, Whannell's prequel actually veers off and then finds a quaint niche of its own. You could say that it's partly due to the sparingly used jump scares, or even the dead silence leading up to those scares. While that works to some extent, the real saving grace is the unexpected comic timing from 72-year-old Rainer, who not only becomes the central character, but also gets to kick some ghostly butt, ala Sigourney Weaver style!
In the end, Insidious: Chapter 3 may not give you nightmares, but for what it's worth, there are few genuine jolts some to the spine and a few to the ribs. You could be winded either way.
No one ever said that a film has to be Nolan era cryptic to be
appreciated. But that doesn't mean there should be a critical lapse in
logic either. In the wake of increasing terror attacks around the
world, Survivor might have timing on its side but precious little else
when viewed as a straight-up action thriller.
A bulk of that problem lies with the severely disjointed story of a girl that cried wolf. That girl is Foreign Service Officer Kate Abbott (Mila Jovovich), newly stationed at the American Embassy in London. Abbott comes with an impressive resume but despite her commendable experience in profiling terror suspects, can't seem to convince her boss and Ambassador to the UK (Angela Bassett) that certain visa applicants to the United States have diabolical motives. One such applicant is a Romanian doctor who calls The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan), an accomplice and hit-man, to eliminate Abbott. Their plan bomb a restaurant she's dinning at. Of course, Abbott survives, and just minutes later, appears to have killed an embassy official thanks to social media. It's the first of several laughable face-palm moments. Now going from the frying pan into the fire, Abbott is targeted by British authorities, American authorities and The Watchmaker himself, before trying to single-handedly foil a massive terror attack on US soil.
By now you must have noticed a string of inconsistencies that are not only illogical but absurd. Why would a skilled hit-man blow up a restaurant just to kill an unarmed office worker with no field experience? With CCTV coverage at every nook and cranny in London, why would the US Embassy implicate one of its own without a shred of evidence? As an Embassy officer with diplomatic immunity, why is Abbott hiding? Even if there are justifiable theories to those questions, nothing can prepare you for the ludicrous nature of how the entire story is penned. Pacing is an even bigger issue coming from James McTeigue, the same director responsible for the fantastic V For Vendetta. Except for Abbott's unbelievable escapes every time The Watchmaker strikes, the rest of the film comprises of time filling goose chases from one plot point to another. It doesn't register and neither does Brosnan's villain who goes from brutal to clumsy in direct reference to the title.
Documenting a movie experience is never easy when you have certain expectations, only to be let down by poor execution, lazy scripting and wooden performances. At best, Survivor is a film with a bunch of talented actors struggling to bring out an honorable tribute to law enforcement agencies thwarting terror attacks since 9/11. Although that message is intrepid, the film isn't and anyone watching this film won't remember what it stands for.
If you've ever seen photographic film being developed, you will agree
that it's a slow but painstaking process. And no matter how many photos
you've developed that way, it's always rewarding when you see the
picture emerging into existence. Resolution works the same way, only
here the real picture emerges well after you've seen the film. And then
it continues to play on your mind by taunting you into reassessing what
you've just seen, over and over again.
Just like various chemicals used to develop film, there are several catalysts at work in this multi-layered but slow cooking pot boiler. Distributed as a horror-mystery thriller, none of this is remotely apparent when we are first introduced to lead characters Mike (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran). They are best friends and over time we get to know them fairly well. What's apparent is that Chris is a meth addict and Mike wants to save his friend by forcefully inducing withdrawal through cold turkey. Holed up in a depilated shack in the middle of nowhere, Chris is bitter about it but Mike is patient and persistent. Their bickering goes on for a while, sometimes funny, sometimes drab, until you feel it playing out like a pretentious 'friend in need' story. You, the viewer, can be forgiven for thinking this is getting all too boring. You want more drama, peril, action. You keep wondering why the filmmakers said this film is a horror thriller. And just then it starts - things go from bad to worse between Mike and Chris as they are unwittingly drawn into a situation that is not only dangerous, but gets weirder and weirder by the minute.
"It's an unusual story with a beginning, middle and end", a key character tells Mike when he goes looking for answers. This is a pivotal moment in the film that reveals a major clue and one that will come in handy by the time we get to the seemingly absurd ending. But Mike doesn't get it, and if you've not been paying attention, neither will you as the viewer. It's not that Resolution tries to be a film meant for rocket scientists, or prides itself as a mind-bender. For a low budget indie horror film, the concept is not only off-the-beaten-path, but one that requires literally thinking outside the box to fully appreciate its making. If I were to compare, directors Justin Benson (also the scriptwriter) and Aaron Moorhead uses a ploy similar to the one that got The Cabin in the Woods a lot of mixed reactions. Viewers of that film either loved it or hated it. Cut from the same cloth, the concept here is fresh and astoundingly visceral, two qualities that are hard to come by in contemporary horror cinema. But if horror cinema has a new sub-genre, then this is the film to have created it and along with it, a new monster you'll never see during the film. Figuring out who or what that monster is, is undeniably what sets this film apart with a euphoric high.
Ever been told that too much television can be bad for you? Such was
the writing on the wall for kids of the 80s. Co-written and produced by
Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist in 1982 drove that message right into the
living room with a terrifying new twist to the horrors of home
invasion. Now more than three decades on, the titular remake attempts a
similar feat, albeit with the advantage of cinematic progression in as
many years. Does it work?
The answer to that question depends on your threshold for fear. Simply put, if you get a kick out of jump scares, there are plenty of hair-raising moments (excuse the pun). But if you are the type of horror fan who has seen it all, then this 2015 remake isn't for you, and neither does it offer anything to get your heartrate thumping. To be fair, new director Gil Kenan seems to have had his heart in the right place and with horror legend Sam Raimi as producer, Poltergeist, the remake, has all the tick marks of contemporary horror. The problem I see, are also those very tick marks, which as it turns out, appears to be a long checklist of clichés from previous horror films; A stock opening scene of a lovely family buying a new home in the suburbs check. The realtor makes an impression on the parents, but not the kids check. The house is below the market value and the realtor doesn't say why check. Kids are the first to sense something odd about the house but their parents think little of it check. Then all hell literally breaks loose, which is exactly what happens when the Bowens (led by Sam Rockwell) and their three kids move into their new suburban home. And before I say 'check' again, their youngest and cutest kid, Madison, is abducted by the titular entity, leaving the family to rely on paranormal psychologists to bring her back. Check.
Of the various pitfalls in this remake, the most obvious is how similar this film is to the 1982 original, including but not limited to the way electrical appliances are used as a gateway between the living and the dead. So my biggest qualm is why remake a classic after thirty years if it doesn't offer anything new? Also bear in mind the aforementioned checklist when comparing this film to The Conjuring and Insidious, both films with an almost ditto plot line. But unlike those films, Poltergeist leaves more to be desired in its execution. Yes, it is well shot with cool special effects comprising of modern CGI and old fashioned light, shadow and puppeteering. Delivery from actors are acceptable, especially Rockwell (who can do no wrong in my books) and there are several junctures in the film that are actually amusing. So what went wrong? No heebie-jeebies, no build-up and absolutely no atmosphere of dread; this, over and above the paint-by-numbers predictability.
All said, Poltergeist is neither a bad film, nor is it poorly crafted. It's just unfortunate that the mechanism applied to induce fright is severely underpowered. Perhaps the intensity of scares is limited only by its PG-13 classification. Perhaps the intention was homage to the original. We may never know. What's certain is for a big budget horror film, this remake is a mere average in the annals of horror cinema and nowhere near the highly effective and soon-to-be-classic, It Follows.
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