Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why See This...Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation [2015]

In an era obsessed with remakes, reboots and sequels, it comes as no surprise that 2015’s summer Blockbuster season has given us a fifth sequel. And once again, movie-goers must face the age old question- why is no. 5 worth seeing?

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible film opts for a simple, tried and true plot line of many past action films. This is no slight towards McQuarrie’s writing abilities, who earned an original screenplay Oscar for the sleek crime thriller The Usual Suspects. But he knows such twists and turns do not fit the Mission Impossible mold. Audiences flock to the MI series for the impressively staged action sequences and whacky virtuosity of Ethan Hunt (and Tom Cruise).  Both are in full force here.

The finals moments of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, have Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) barely saving San Francisco from nuclear annihilation. In Rogue Nation, the director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin) opposed to the Hunt’s unconventional tactics and admittedly lucky breaks shuts down the IMF and a search for Hunt begins, who is to be charged with treason. Out in the cold, Hunt is in the midst of his own pursuit— tracking down a terror network known as the Syndicate. Hunt has linked them to a series of global terrorist attacks. After an early face to face encounter with its leader, the composed yet cunning Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), Hunts will stop at nothing to find him and bring down the Syndicate.

Rogue Nation marks the third collaboration between McQuarrie and Cruise in recent years. Their first pairing came in 2012 for the rather flat, more Bourne-esque thriller Jack Reacher.  Last year’s under-watched sci-fi film Edge ofTomorrow earned the two greater praise. What worked in Edge of Tomorrow that was absent in Jack Reacher, is Tom Cruises’ often unspoken of and underutilized charm and comedic timing.  Ethan Hunt is not Jason Bourne and at no point does he ever try and mimic James Bond. In fact, Hunt can be thought of more as like a younger brother of 007. He gets into trouble and occasionally relies on a little luck to get himself out of a jam.  Regardless, Hunt’s formidable charisma never strays too far and this is why we like him.

Cruise is certainly not the only actor who deserves praise in Rogue Nation. Already mentioning Sean Harris’s brilliantly restrained evil; Simon Pegg, always a crowd pleaser, is as good as ever as Hunt’s genial, sarcastic wingman. Rogue Nation also wins many fans for the return of Ving Rhames as the calm and cool Luther Stickell who was very noticeably and surprisingly absent from Ghost Protocol. New to the film is Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust who appears right at home as the double/triple/quadruple crossing “frenemy” of Hunt. The ensemble works like a charm.  No character, big or small, steps out of their role to try and overtake the Ethan Hunt show. Early on in the movie, as Faust helps Hunt out of an early predicament, he has to ask her, “this is the first time we’ve met, right?”

Like the last one, Rogue Nation opts for a livelier, funnier tone, something pushed aside in the darker, more intense MI 2 and 3. That is not to say the movie does not have its share of edge of your seat, final-seconds-before-it-goes-kaboom-type drama we crave in Mission Impossible—motorcycle chases through the tiny streets of Casablanca, Hunt hanging onto a flying plane’s hatch in Belarus, scuba diving underneath a powerplant- without oxygen…A particularly memorable scene finds Hunt trying to desist three assassins high above an ongoing performance of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House. Its an unusually long scene for an action film, but the intricate staging, cross cutting and rich opera soundtrack make this scene and the movie as a whole, a pure delight to watch.

Ghost Protocol saw resurgence in the critical praise of the MI series, but Rogue Nation rightfully surpasses it. And if such a trend continues, I wouldn’t mind seeing the 53 year old Cruise throw himself off buildings and onto planes (and/or vice versa) again in a few years, maybe even into his 60s, but at that point, hopefully he’ll keep his shirt on.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why See This...Blue Jasmine [2013]

Since 1966, Woody Allen has directed 43 features, amounting to almost a picture per year, an immense quantity for a one director.  Given such a rapid rate of production, it comes as a surprise that with such a large body of work, Allen has not fallen into a simply mediocre repeat-as-necessary formula.  Best known for his wry romance-y comedies and quirky, rambling set of on-screen portrayals, Allen no doubt does comedy best.  But every once in a while, his writing can take a dramatic turn.  The laughs come fewer and farther in exchange for a deeper study of human psyche and emotion, ala Match Point.  Not a typical Woody Allen movie some might say, however, amidst a slew of Allen-esque comedies, these often stand as some of his most memorable work.

That all said, Blue Jasmine is not a typical Woody Allen movie of recent memory.  The film lacks the outlandish faltery of last year’s To Rome with Love and the whimsical nostalgia of 2011’s gem, Midnight in Paris.  His newest film, rather, is a swooning, cerebral drama detailing pain and loss, obsession and regret.  Blue Jasmine updates Tennessee William’s classic stage play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  New Orleans swaps out for San Francisco and the 1950s becomes the present day with cell phones and tinted minivans.  The nutty Blanche DuBois character, Jasmine, is marvelously depicted by veteran actress Cate Blanchett, who the Academy will no doubt recognize with at least a nomination.  Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale take up the Stella and Stanley roles respectively.  And while the latter two have not received as much buzz as Miss Blanchett, they should be regarded with equal praise.

After a public mental breakdown, Jasmine heads out to San Francisco to live with her sister, hoping for a fresh start now removed from her glitzy life in New York that ended abruptly when her successful and suave husband’s (Baldwin) wealth fell to various police charges, jail, and eventual suicide.  This happening also left Ginger and her ex-husband without any money too.  Greetings are particularly stiff when Jasmine and Ginger first see each other.  Despite having no money, Jasmine still holds her head high thinking she is too good for her sister’s blue collar life.  But she experiences a rude awakening as she is forced to get a menial job as a dentist’s assistant to pay for computer classes in the hopes of studying fashion online.  Jasmine receives little warmth from the rest of Ginger’s life.  Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Cannavale) was all set up to move into Sally’s apartment until Jasmine’s temporary stay hampers the plans.  Her drama and clear ignorance for the rest of the world sets him off.  The brute, blue-collar Chili is played wonderfully by Bobby Cannavale, echoing Brando’s character brilliantly with sporadic tantrums and delightfully sinister comments always geared towards Jasmine.  We meet Jasmine after the fall, but viewers receive her back-story through an array of flashbacks comprising almost half the movie, though inserted seamlessly matching her emotions and memories and provoking no abruptness of the sort.  The glimpse into her life offers a look at the fairer yet probably worse days of her life as a queen on the Upper East Side.  In the present, we watch her struggle immensely to regain that life in some other form any way she can.
Appearing in nearly every frame of this movie, the film’s success undoubtedly rests on Blanchett’s shoulders.  She so perfectly captures the hysterical frenzies that is Jasmine, often times battling long takes and extensive close-ups and doing so without flaw.  But not to be disregarded is the supporting cast of this film.  I have already given praise to the likes of Hawkins and Cannavale whom I hope the Academy also deservingly recognizes.  Allen also takes a bit of a casting risk deploying the chops of two well-to-do comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK despite their limited film experiences.  Both take up their jobs as if screened veterans. 

Though Allen takes a step away from his recent comedic stretch, he comes back with an intelligent and superbly acted film with Blue Jasmine.   We haven’t seen Woody go this serious since 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, but Blue Jasmine is far better still offering some instances of comic relief; giggles they might just be and not altogether laughs.  Even in the deadpan, Woody can still deliver and Blue Jasmine is undoubtedly one his finest pictures in recent memory.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Reel News...Ben Affleck is the New Batman

Ben Affleck has certainly earned himself the occupation of director in Hollywood with his small, yet blossoming filmography.  With a very strong directorial debut in 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, Affleck proceeded to best this rookie effort with the criminally-charged heist movie The Town (2010) and then managed to out-do both with last year’s excellent political thriller Argo (2012), casually picking up the Oscar for Best Picture and a Best Director nod too.  The future looks bright for Director Ben Affleck as he has another film in the works adapting Dennis Lehane’s crime thriller Live By Night (2014).

That being said, it comes as a surprise to hear that Affleck has taken up the role as Batman in Zack Snyder’s upcoming and untitled Man of Steel sequel with will introduce Batman into the world of Superman.  This is not Affleck’s first time playing with superpowers.  In 2003, he played the titular hero of a very forgettable movie called Daredevil.  Affleck has no doubt proven himself quite capable of directing and seems to have found his niche working within the crime genre.  (Of course, one cannot forget that small script he co-penned with Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting.)  Talents abound, it is simply his role choices that have always had people scratching their heads (Gigli anyone?).  But acting from his own script, however, as he did in Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, Affleck can convince us he still has the acting chops.  So it may come as a relief then knowing that he will also have a hand in writing this one as well.

Nevertheless, Affleck will certainly have a challenge waiting for him as he takes the bat suit from the much accomplished Christian Bale.  There was already plenty of buzz surrounding the release of news as #BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck lead the movie trend on Twitter last night even on the night of the premiere of Ghost Shark.  But only time will tell.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Month of Movies...December 2012

Total Movies Watched: 12

60s: 0     + 5 movies I certainly would not recommend to most people
70s: 2     + 2 Tarkovsky films
80s: 5     + 2 movies directed by a brother-brother duo
90s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
00s: 0     + 2 re-watches
10s: 5     + 1 movies I was forced to sit through on a plane because I checked by books

Stalker [1979] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Offret (The Sacrafice) [1986] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Month in Moves...November 2012

Total Movies Watched: 8 (Weak)

50s: 1     + 3 foreign films
60s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
70s: 3     + 2 English movies watched entirely in Czech
80s: 0     + 1 re-watch
90s: 0
00s: 1
10s: 3

Hi Terezka [2001] dir. Robert Glinski

Ucho (The Ear) [1970] dir. Karel Kachnya

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why See This...Hukkle [2002]

To consider Hukkle a murder-mystery, as it is described, might be somewhat misleading, yet that is exactly what it is- to an extent.  Tip-toeing the very rare line between murder-mystery and European Art cinema, the 2002 Hungarian film is a work of art that defies genres and categorization.  Thereby, Hukkle is a sometimes comical, other times eerie and most always tantalizing piece of film.  It lends itself as an experience possibly never felt before  by its viewers.  Hukkle assumes no relation to the classic story-styled narrative viewers are used to.  Director György Pálfi delivers more awe and wonder than thrills in his carefully presented survey of a rural Hungarian town.  There is a plot, sometimes, but the story is hardly what we concern ourselves with. 

Hukkle shares the similar scanty, free-wielding plot found in Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991).  For Slacker, the existence of a plot is highly debatable.  And as we can soon figure out, the plot is not the point.  Much of the same can be said for Hukkle., whose murder-mystery premise takes a backseat in favor of captivating imagery and visual style.  Even dialogue is not a concern in Hukkle.  The film, which runs close to 80 minutes, contains no absolutely dialogue.  The closest thing we have is an old man who constantly hiccups.

And given the array of both intimate and grandiose images the movie boasts, maybe a more sensible comparison for Hukkle would be to Terrence Malicks’s The Tree of Life, and Malick’s almost infamous and unorthodox directing style.  As the camera peacefully meanders about the town in a careful Linklater –like observance, Pálfi also manages a stunningly visceral, Malick-like approach to his cinematography, capturing both the human residents as well as those not so human like birds and bees.  Some of the most unforgettable images are not so living it all like the tall prairie grasses swaying back and forth at the hands of the wind—maybe not living in the most obvious sense.  These pristine images force us to reassess some of the most obvious truths regarding life, existence and beauty.  Even the natural sounds of these scenes that would usually be overshadowed by character dialogue or an accompanying score present themselves to the viewer.  We find ourselves not only captivated by images, but also by these simple sounds like the buzzing of bees or whispering winds against the tall meadow grass.  Hukkle is a voyeuristic parade that causes wonder as much as bafflement and confusion..

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Month in Movies...October 2012

Total Movies Watched: 10

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] [1920] dir. Robert Wiene
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Ju-On [2002] dir. Takashi Shimizu

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] dir. Tobe Hooper