Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

“I kinda kept forgetting this movie was happening. It arrived with so much less fanfare than any of its predecessors. I think the trailer came my way only once or twice, and when I was adding movies to my Google calendar months in advance, IMDB kept showing Jul 31 as a sort of TBD. I very much love this franchise, so it was kind of a happy surprise, a gift even, to brighten up my summer even more.

Now, I’ve said this before, and I will say (type) it again, and I will keep saying it until the day I die. I will always support Tom Cruise as an actor. Sure, he may be a bit of a crazy person IRL (debatable), but if we let his work speak for itself, he truly is fantastic. Don’t believe me? Go watch Magnolia, Rain Man, Top Gun, Collateral, Minority Report, Tropic Thunder, and any of the previous MI movies (preferable 1 or 4). Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Wasn’t he fantastic in all of those? Didn’t those all represent an incredible range and even greater charisma. And there’s still other lauded performances of his, including his other two (Magnolia being the first) Oscar nominated performances: Jerry Maguire and Born on the Fourth of July, neither of which I know as well as I should, which is why I left them off the list of movies I do vouch for him in. It’s such a shame that his image has been tarnished by his actions and perceived antics. I read this really awesome article written last year that described how he was one of the first victims of viral video and internet celebrity gossip sites. Ten years ago, no one knew how big these things would blow up, and this once very private movie star made a series of missteps that will live on in infamy, and it saddens me to no end that it’s had such a negative impact on his career. (Sidebar: The linked article is a little lengthy, but it is a fascinating and informative read. If any of my rant has peaked your interest, do go read it).

Okay I’ll get up off my soapbox (I still love you, Tom!) and will actually talk about the movie. Well, first, a quick thought on the franchise. MI:2 came out right as I was starting to get into action movies, and 15 year old me ate it up. I revisited 1 and was blown away. 3, little bit of a letdown, but could have been worse (it could have been Die Hard 5 *tear*). 4 was perfection. Absolute perfection. I loved how every previous installment had its own vibe, owing in part to the rotating directors. 1 focused on the intrigue, 2 the action, 3 I don’t even remember, 4 brought us levity. Lots and lots of much needed levity. And that helped revitalize the franchise. 5 took a lot of its tone from 4 and structure from 1. In other words, combining the best of the best.

Okay, so combining the best elements doesn’t guarantee the best movie. While I’ve heard some arguments otherwise, I don’t think it topped those two predecessors. But it sure came damn close. In a time when more and more movies are going dark (I’m looking at everything you do, Zack Snyder), I love that MI:n (n being used as a variable, for all you non math geeks) is going light. Now I do love my dark movies, but not when they’re dark for the sake of being dark. The humor initially worked its way in thru Simon Pegg in the previous, but Cruise has started to get more comfortable with it, and it’s such a better world because of it.

I don’t know why Cruise tends to hide his sense of humor. It’s part of the charisma that’s got him this far, and it’s what’s going to continue to propel him forward, back into the spotlight (as much as he wants to, of course) and back into the hearts of America. He started to show us that when he lip synced with Jimmy Fallon. His self depricating humor was the best part of the fan-\m/-tastic and criminally underseen Edge of Tomorrow. And let’s not forget about Les Grossman. He allowed his comedic flag to fly a little freer this time to great effect.

Now, the part where we get real, I felt like there was just a little something missing. Maybe the plot got too complicated, maybe they blew their wad with the earlier action sequences and the climax felt anticlimactic, maybe the scenes in between big sequences felt too much like filler. I don’t know. Something made my mind wander at certain points, and I never did quite get the logic of what was going on. But the parts that were awesome were really \m/ awesome (that underwater scene, oh man!). Maybe not as awesome as their counterparts in 1 and 4, but when awesome is the word you’re using to describe parts of a 5th installment, you’re doing pretty good. I guess the Fast Franchise isn’t the only one who found new life in their second trilogy. Star Wars, I hope you’ve learned your lesson in time for the next set.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Vacation

“””I show up at 3:00 AM. She’s still up watching Vacation, and I see her pretty face.”” Famous Blink 182 lyrics from their song Josie, if you knew them before All the Small Things, or at least did your homework afterwards. Now of course, this being off their album Dude Ranch which was released in 1997, they’re talking about the original vacation. Not this far off sequel.

Coincidentally, this post for Vacation is the first of hopefully several that are set to autopost while I myself am on vacation. Except I’m going to Disney World, not Wally World. Moving on.

I have to applaud the writers here on their idea how to do a new Vacation movie. It’s a remake-ish, but more accurately a far in the future sequel. It involves the notorious Griswald family taking a trek across the country. However, the patriarch of the family is the now grown up Rusty, the young son in the original Vacation and subsequent sequels. Incidentally, he and sister Audrey were played by different actors in each movie (with parents Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo remaining constant) so it’s fitting that we have Rusty #6, Ed Helms. A new Audrey (Leslie Mann) shows up too, but only during a stop on the trip and not in the whole thing.

We had a really great meta joke early on about how they weren’t going on the exact same trip, that pointed out some arbitrary differences in the details. Aaaaaand it was all downhill from there, unfortunately. The movie and the humor were just dumb. To be fair, the previous installments are kinda dumb too, but they’re tinted with enough nostalgic value that it can be overlooked. I don’t see this one ever garnering the same respect in the history of comedy.

I’m not sure that I could even pinpoint what went wrong exactly. I typically like Ed Helms, even though most of his characters tend to be played similarly, and he teamed well with Christina Applegate. I think my problem was with the lazy humor. Unclever gross out jokes or long uncomfortable moments of awkwardness. That absurd car is probably where my suspension of disbelief ended, because really, nobody could be that dumb to use the vehicle that no one on earth would have created anyways. I mean really, is there any way to justify having buttons to blow out the windows or eject the rear bumper?

I’m a little disappointed in writer/1st time director John Francis Daley and his partner in crime Jonathan M. Goldstein. I mean, really, this is what Daley left Bones for? I’m happy for this former Geek (as in Freaks and Geeks) to have started making a name for himself behind the camera, but I expected or at least hoped for more. The jokes that landed were few and far between. There were a few good cameos that attempted to help, but they weren’t enough to save the film. I just hope I’m never trapped on a cross country road trip with only this movie for entertainment

Vacation – \m/ \n”

Tangerine

“And now we’ve reached the last movie in my Chicago adventures. The last full day I was there was leading up to our big event for the evening, the aforementioned Move Live on Tour with Derek and Julianne Hough. But we had some time to kill first. After an amazing breakfast at a legit Mexican place (just when I’d resigned myself to only having real enchiladas suizas and menudo at Christmas), we stomped around lincoln park for a bit. But there was still more time. Movie? My buddy checked out the options that were near us or near our eventual destination. We were originally seeking out Paper Towns, until he remembered a cute independent theater that showed independent movies that wouldn’t be too hard to get to. On their lineup, they had Tangerine. He’d heard some good buzz for it and I remember spying a good review in EW. Sure, what the heck.

First off, the Music Box theater in Chicago is pretty great, at least from what I saw. Its a cute venue with intimate screening rooms and an adjoining bar room beside the box office. Besides, you’ve gotta love a place that nonchalantly (can you use that word not describing a person’s attitude?) places a leg lamp in a corridor that’s filled with similarly lighted but non descript lamps.

Tangerine follows a day in the life of transgender working girl Sin-Dee Rella, who soon after her release from prison finds out that her pimp/fiancee has been cheating on her. It’s her mission to find both of them and give them hell to pay.

First off, it’s just great to have a movie like this with transgender lead characters (her BFF is as well). Even better that the film is not just about that part of them. It’s a detail in their characters, and an important one, but not the focus, and not the main plot point. Society is making (small) progress!

It certainly had that small indie feel. Minimal on all fronts: story, setting, scope in general. No flashy effects or big name actors to wow you. Just an imtimate look at some real life characters. While I may not have always liked what Sin-Dee was doing on screen (she was sometimes a bit too loud and in your face for a quiet introvert like me) she was a very likeable character. You wanted her to catch a break instead of staying stuck in her less than ideal life, and you cared about her.

Oh and very important note: the whole thing was shot on iPhone5. No fancy equipment or exclusive technology. Just some everyday tools that are easily available. That on its own should be inspirational.

Tangerine – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Pixels

“We now return to your regularly scheduled vacation movie recaps. Earlier I talked about my buddy and I going to see Southpaw while I was in Chicago. The story doesn’t end there. He might not see quite as many movies as I do, but he’s certainly up to the task of trying to keep up with me over a couple days. We were debating what movie to double with. Both of us had been eyeing Pixels, but the word on the street was that it was terrible. Before we continued the debate further, I stopped him. “”Look, I’ll probably end up seeing this movie either way, but I do not want to subject you to what is probably an awful movie unless you really want to””. I pride myself on being able to give great movie recommendations for people, and I won’t vouch for a movie that’s not good without at least a disclaimer.

As with Southpaw, we decided to let the scheduling gods decide our fate. Pixels timed up perfectly. Even more perfect was that we could see Southpaw first with a clear mind, and then grab a couple of those giant sized beers for Pixels. We assumed they’d be very much needed. Anyways, I don’t know if it was the beer or the very low expectations, but the movie wasn’t all that bad.

So because of reasons, aliens are invading Earth in the form of old school 80s video games. That means giant Pac-Man and Centipede, among others, are roaming the planet, destroying and pixelating everything in their way. Just go with it. In comes the geekiest gaggle of geeks, a quartet of former video game world champions to defeat them.

Here’s the gist. Adam Sandler was creepy. Kevin James was boring. Peter Dinklage was awkward. Josh Gad was kinda awesome. I’d expected most of those adjectives, but switched around a bit.

We know Sandler hasn’t had a winner in a while, but he still insists on sticking with his shtick, rather than branching out and trying something new. Please please Mr Sandler, go back to the mindset you were in circa Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish and try to stretch out a bit. The whole Sandler/Michelle Monaghan thing just felt wrong and uncomfortable. His buddy Kevin James is in a similar funk, role wise, and he just sorta coasted thru this one. I think the point where the suspension of disbelief failed for me was James as POTUS. Nope, game over.

I thought Dinklage would be our scene stealer, and was excited to see him in a big movie that’s pretty far removed from Game of Thrones, but something just missed the mark. A combination of a poorly written role and trying too hard. Our scene stealer actually turned out to be Gad, who, let’s face it, I should have expected greatness from. He jived with the tone of the movie, picked his spots to stand out, and just owned it. If it had just been him trying to save the world instead of the team, I think we would have had a much better movie.

So a lot of the jokes fell flat. The cast had some flaws. There were too many unintentional uncomfortable moments. But the few jokes that landed, landed well. Nostalgia abounded, each time we welcomed a new beloved character to the screen. And if nothing else, the effects were incredible. Visually amazing. There might be a decent 20 minute movie in there if you cut out most of the crap. Just have Josh Gad hang out with Qbert playing real life video games. That’s all I ask, and all we would have needed.

Please just ignore the rating. It’s the beer talking. I’m really not endorsing this movie unless nothing I said deterred you, and you accept that you have been forewarned and forearmed, and will not hold me liable for sending you to a bad movie. The circumstances were just right for it to be enjoyably bad moreso than painfully bad.

Pixels – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Paper Towns

“Breaking the rules a bit here. We’ll get back to my Chicago movie adventures for the next post, but I wanted to get this one out while it was still fresh. So, spoiler alert, didn’t see Paper Towns in Chicago, even though it came up as an option a couple times. I’d previously marked today as an available movie catch up day since it’s the night of the month that my advanced yoga class switches to a really advanced one that I wasn’t ready for. I figured in the unlikely event I didn’t get to everything (or anything) in Chicago, I’d at least have this day.

Originally, Paper Towns was midway on my priority list. Not a must see, or a try to see, but a see if I’m caught up on all musts and tries. I did think that John Green’s previous offering, Fault in Our Stars wasn’t too bad, all things considered. Not a raving enough endorsement to decide anything, but enough to give me pause. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to deal with a teeny bopper romantic film. But somewhere in the past week or so I decided that I think I like Cara Delevigne. She seems like a pretty bad ass chick and that she’d bring some grit to the role. Every time the movie got bumped from my potential schedule, I found myself a little bit bummed. It didn’t occur to me until I was there that she likely wouldn’t be in too much of the movie (given the plot) so maybe not the best reason to justify going.

I was really surprised with how much this resonated with me. And as I sat by myself in the nearly empty theater (two other very quiet people a couple rows back, and that’s it), and I noticed I picked a spot that framed the screen exactly centered full width in my line of vision, it felt like it was all just for me.

The manic pixie dream girl is a trope that I have mixed feelings about. She was great the first few times I spotted her (Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer being the ultimate one). Since then she’s been a little overdone. Also, there tends to be a feminist argument against her since she promotes an unrealistic ideal as an object of desire. My problem isn’t that I want her and she’s not real, but rather that I really want to be her and that’s unobtainable. Watching the story play out, Margo was very much the latest MPDG.

So the story is that Margo is the ultimate girl next door, or actually across the street, from Quentin. He fell in love with her as kids when they used to play together, but over time they grew apart. Now, in high school, she’s the enigmatic and widely beloved popular girl and he’s the ignored geek. She sneaks into his room one night and enlists his help in an evening of revenge and rebellion. The next day, she’s gone without a trace. Well, almost without a trace. She leaves subtle clues that Quentin attempts to follow so he can find his dream girl at the end of her trail of breadcrumbs.

Watching this, I couldn’t help but think how perfectly Margo embodied the MPDG I wish I was. From her sense of style, to her husky voice, to her clever schemes, to her quirky spontaneity. Hell, I even went thru a phase where I capitalized all my letters except for “”e”” that kinda mirrors her random capitalization thing. But the more we learned about her, the more I realized I wasn’t remotely like her, but in fact was exactly like Quentin. Shy, anxious, overly logical, planning out every detail of everything. I mean really, him chasing her was an exact representation of me chasing that character.

I was enthralled thru the first two acts, but the third sort of slowed down into your typical high school bildungsroman. And I realized why high school kids are annoying and why their sentimentality is kind of crap, mostly based on my experiences in which high school was the worst part of my life that I knew I could escape once I reached college. Not to give things away, though, I was very satisfied with the resolution. Realistic yet still a little whimsical, even if some details were a little trite (IMDB tells me most of those details I didn’t like were actually changes from the novel). The point was that what a person seems like to you is just a matter of perspective. Maybe someday I’ll be someone’s idea of a MPDG. Maybe I already am and I just don’t know it

Paper Towns – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Southpaw

“So back in Chicago, I already talked about how we saw Trainwreck a couple hours after I got in. That was Wednesday. On Thursday, our movie du jour was an outdoor screening of Big Hero 6, held in one of Chi-town’s many many parks, and part of an ongoing program showing over 200 movies throughout the course of the summer. On the way home, we went over plans for the next day. Being new release Friday, I’d planned to catch one, maybe two, movies before killing time at the planetarium and/or aquarium until my buddy was free. He assured me that he had less work to get done, and bade me start with the planet(aqua)rium and then he’d join me for the movie. We went back and forth on what we wanted to see. Both of us really wanted to see Southpaw, but I at least knew that if I didnt see it that weekend, I’d catch it pretty quick. We let the scheduling gods figure it out for us. Everything turned out pretty equal so we just went with it.

Oh my God, this movie was so sooo good. A much stronger drama than you’d expect in a mainstream summer movie. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope, a one time world champion boxer, who hits rock bottom after a series of very unfortunate events in his life. He then has to literally fight his way out of it. Yeah, we’ve seen variations of this a million times. Rocky. Million Dollar Baby. Warrior. And that’s just within the fighting world of sports. Still, the reason we do have so many of these films is because they are so damn compelling.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is garnering some very well deserved buzz. He is one of the modern masters of the transformative performance (see also: Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis), and this was yet another great turn. He balanced a quiet reserve with unbridled rage as appropriate for his character in the specific moments. And of course, he had a stellar supporting cast including Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, and Naomie Harris. Also, I seem to be raving about wonderful kid stars lately (see also: Infinitely Polar bear), so I have to add Oona Laurence to that list. A far more nuanced and dynamic range than I would expect from someone so young. Hell, at times, she even commanded the screen better than our star did.

As the trip went on, my buddy and I did find a few gripes. Some minor plot holes, some questionable choices, but they were all minor. The fact that we could nitpick about little details that only came up after the fact (meaning they didn’t interfere with our experience watching the film) is a good sign. If a movie is bad, these discussions would be over major pieces, or there’d be no discussion at all. This just proves that we wanted to talk about it because we enjoyed it and wanted to relive some of the movie magic. I’m actually kinda excited to add this to my movie collection in a couple months

Southpaw – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”