We Want Action: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

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Over the years, the Mission: Impossible movies have translated into a variety of highly entertaining films from a diverse group of directors who put their own stamp on things. The first, second, third and fourth movies — directed by Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird receptively — have all offered crazy, wild and wonderful scenes that often feature Tom Cruise doing something incredibly dangerous that looks far more real than they should and Christopher McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation is no exception.

mission impossibel rogue nation posterThis one follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as he goes rogue on a mission to shut down an international terrorist group called The Syndicate that wants to destabilize the world. This become all the more difficult when Alec Baldwin’s head of the CIA lead to the dissolution of the Impossible Mission Force. So, he recruits Benji (Simon Pegg) to come help him track down the Syndicate’s leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and also find out who the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is really working for. Of course, Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) also get in on the fun to help save the world.

mission-impossible-rogue-nation-poster-simon-peggI won’t get into all the twists and turns because I can’t remember them all and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to ruin them, but this was a fun, super-taut thriller that kept my undivided attention for hits just over two hour run time. We caught it at the drive-in last weekend after watching Minions (you can read my review of that film over on my dad blog Pop Poppa). Even our 4 year old daughter seemed to enjoy the first part before she fell asleep.

Now that this film has racked up five films, I’ve come to really enjoy these characters and how they interact with one another. I’ve been a big fan of Rhames since I saw him in the first film and appreciate that he’s stuck around. And, how can you  not like Pegg and Renner? In a way, them all being together is kind of like the ensemble cast in the Fast & Furious movies which is a big reason they’re so popular. The downside to that is that, even though I really enjoyed Ferguson in the movie, I missed seeing Paula Patton in this movie, but maybe she’ll be back in the future!

Also like the F&F movies, these are just packed with crazy action scenes. I was glad that this one wasn’t bogged down with a love story (we’ve seen enough of that in these movies) which meant that Ethan and company could focus on the main villain. This also meant that threatening a woman wasn’t a major part of the bad guy’s plan. It’s so easy to go down that route, so I appreciated Lane’s somewhat more inspired choice in kidnapee. Also, that whole thing with the underwater lockbox was super intense and it was quickly followed up by one of the franchise’s best chase scenes so kudos all around!

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Halloween Scene: Savage Weekend (1976)

savage_weekend If you think that mispresenting horror movies by way of posters or home video boxes is a new thing invented by Lionsgate, I offer you the rad poster for Savage Weekend. Pretty cool, right? That vaguely Skeletor-looking Grim Reaper pointing right at you Uncle Sam-style with bloody scythe and that tag line, “You have been chosen. You are doomed. Prepare yourself for…Savage Weekend.” Hey, SPOILER WARNING: none of that has anything to do with the film, just FYI. I don’t even think there’s a scythe in the background of a scene in this weird little gem of a movie.

To be fair, I wasn’t actually duped by the poster. This is one of 50 movies in a pack I bought years back called Drive In Movie Classics. It’s a mix of thrillers, action, exploitation, horror and other mostly forgotten B-movies. I was looking around for something I could watch on my computer while doing work this morning and a movie about friends spending some time in a remote locale getting offed by a masked killer sounded like just the thing. As it turned out, this is an odd film that wound up capturing my attention a lot more than I thought.  Continue reading Halloween Scene: Savage Weekend (1976)

Drive In Double Feature: Monsters University (2013) & Iron Man 3 (2013)

monsters university We’re pretty lucky to live in an area with not one, but three drive-in movie theaters that are less than an hour away. We usually go to the Warwick, but they’ve had some pretty strange pairings this year. I’m still not sure why they didn’t go with an Iron Man 3/Star Trek Into Darkness combo, but that’s neither here not there. As the parents of a 2-year-old without a regular babysitter, we’re pretty limited in our movie-going options, so we like to have at least one film that Lu will kinda-sorta like. So, when we saw that Hyde Park had Monsters University paired up with Iron Man 3, we figured it’d make for a pretty good outing.

Lu and I actually have never seen Monsters Inc., but we did both see the show at Disney World based on the film. Even so, I’d say we both enjoyed the experience. Lu loves pretty much anything that’s big and bright and I thought the movie was a fun, kid friendly version of the kinds of college flicks I’ve loved since I was a kid myself.

The film follows Mike (Billy Crystal), a young monster who wants to be a scarer who winds up getting in to the number one school for such things, Monsters University. There, the overachieving bookworm meets Sulley (the glorious John Goodman), another scaring student who’s the latest in a long line of scarers. The problem? Mike isn’t actually scary and Sulley relies too much on his family name. The two wind up in the same geeky fraternity which allows them to compete in the Scare Games. Thanks to a deal made with the dean (Helen Mirren!), if they win the Games, she will let them  back into the scare program. From there they have to join forces, become friends and learn to work together.

I like everything from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds to PCU and Pitch Perfect, all of which either influenced or are somewhat similar to this movie, so it’s right there in my wheelhouse. Even though I haven’t seen the original, I didn’t feel lost when it came to this movie which was nice. I didn’t realize that one of the villains from the original was also in this one, but my wife told me about it on the way home, so I was in on the joke after the fact. I’d say this works extremely well as a stand alone film and a prequel because it does actually make me want to see how these characters act as adults. Time to move that flick to the top of the ol’ Netflix Queue!

iron man 3 Much as I wound up liking Monsters University, Iron Man 3 was the movie I was more excited about. Movies like this which are big on the geek radar can get a little tiresome to folks like myself who cover them on the interwebs. Even though I probably wrote a dozen or two stories about this film for Spinoff, I still enjoyed it and — more surprisingly — was still in the dark on a lot of the major plot points. It helped that I avoided every tweet and conversation about the film after it came out.

So, the story this time around is that Tony Stark’s going down a fairly dark path. He’s pretty disturbed after the events of The Avengers which saw him possibly destroy an entire world/army/dimension. He’s building all kinds of armors, but there’s a more physical threat gunning for him: The Mandarin. An international terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, the Mandarin has plenty of shady people working for him like Guy Pearce, but more importantly, his people have been imbued with Extremis, a techno-organic program that can rewrite a person’s DNA, making them a fire-breathing, superpowered menaces. They blow up Tony’s house which sends him out on his own without a suit to figure out what’s up with the Mandarin and spoilerific things ensue.

I’m not going to get into specific spoilers just yet, but I do want to talk about the ending of the film. Like I said, I went in relatively spoiler free, but I did figure that the extra armors Tony built would come into play during the film and boy do they. It’s so rad seeing Tony running around a giant structure, hopping in and out of different suits and fighting off bad guys. It’s the kind of thing that Joss Whedon did really well with the final battle scene in Avengers and something director Shane Black followed up on pretty well in this film.

Okay now it’s time to get into SPOILERS. Consider yourself WARNED. Man, I really liked what they did with the Mandarin in this movie even though the reveal feels a bit like the one used in Batman Begins with Ra’s al Ghul. In this case it helped that they got such a weighty actor and had him turn in first, a scary performance and second, a hilarious one. Going for the complete personality switch is what sets this apart and makes for a great moment. This was the element of the film I was most surprised hadn’t been spoiled for me yet. Then you’ve got the ending which certainly leaves Tony Stark in an interesting place in the Marvel Studios Universe. He’s still got that big brain of his, but he doesn’t have the ARC reactor which powers his suit. It’s the kind of move that would last for maybe a few years in the comics before something else would pop up and he’d have to, I don’t know, have his heart get blown up again or something. But, since we’re dealing with a film universe — even a shared  one — they get to play with the elements and the players a bit more. The real world side of things is that RDJ might not want to play Iron Man much longer — Tony Stark seems less taxing — and it might make sense within this new world to go a different route and have someone else fill in inside the suit. Of course, since the Extremis now exists in the movie-verse, it’s within reason that Tony will find himself in a situation where he needs to inject himself, this becoming Iron Man Version 2.0. There’s a lot of possibilities and it will be interesting to see where things go with the character from here.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a fun viewing experience. I also really liked the kid who played Harley and think he needs to be in a kids-dealing-with-craziness movie like The Goonies. At this point, I’m a general fan of the Marvel Studios films. Avengers is rad, I dig the Iron Man flicks and Captain America, Thor was okay and I haven’t seen Incredible Hulk in a long time, but didn’t like it at the time. I’m curious about the Thor and Cap sequels, but am far more interested in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the other flicks starring new characters. Let’s see what they can do with some new old characters.

The Dark Knight Rises Versus The Avengers

One of the hallmarks of the geek community is comparing things we love and seeing how they stack up. Of course, the problem with doing this is that we wind up comparing things that don’t even match up. Back when The Dark Knight came out the big question was whether it was better than Iron Man and I thought it was incredibly annoying. It’s like comparing Die Hard to The Usual Suspects, they’re both somewhat dramatic action films, but that’s where the comparisons end. One’s a balls-out auctioner while the other is a really serious, more cerebral outing…with punching and costumes.

The same thing happened this year when people started comparing The Avengers to The Dark Knight Rises and I thought it was an equally foolish comparison. However, while watching Avengers for the second time at the drive-in last night I realized a few things about the two movies that made me like one over the other and, seeing as how this is the internet, I figured I’d share them with whoever will read them.

Right off the bat (heh, PUN!), Avengers is more fun and a more enjoyable watching experience. It’s the perfect movie to check out on a Saturday or Sunday. It also has a lot of great moments that made me geek out, but I realized something while watching Avengers again. The moments in that movie that I dug the most (Iron Man reflecting his blasts off of Cap’s shield, Hulk sucker punching Thor after a team up) were great moments that reminded me of ideas from comics, but those same kind of things in Dark Knight Rises reminded me of specific moments from Batman comics. This is obviously completely subjective, but I can’t separate those very personal moments of awesomeness form my childhood, so why not embrace them? It doesn’t discount anything from Avengers, but just gives DKR a leg up in my book.

I know a lot of people thought DKR was bleak and sad, but I actually found it really uplifting. The character of John Blake completely embodies the never-give-up attitude that’s kept humanity alive for all these centuries. That same attitude is something Batman had to rediscover and use to his advantage to save the city he loves. There’s some of that in Avengers, but I never really thought they’d be in trouble. That wasn’t going to happen, but with rumors swirling that Batman would die in this flick and Christopher Nolan being an incredibly ballsy filmmaker, there was a small part of me that thought it might happen and even that it should have happened. I left Avengers feeling pumped up and fueled by geek-love, but I actually felt good about humanity after watching Rises.

So, Dark Knight Rises has the leg up in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I like Avengers any less. They’re both hallmarks of filmmaking that should be appreciated by all kinds of audiences. It’s amazing the kind of things that can come from comic book source material.

The Avengers (2012) Is Awesome

I’m 29 this year. When I was a kid and falling in love with comics, I didn’t have a lot of good comic book movies to fall in love with. I didn’t really get into Batman, but wound up loving Batman Returns. The Superman movies never did it for me because they were just so far away from the Superman I knew from the comics. Heck, I remember getting excited about the Generation X and Nick Fury TV movies. Then we got Blade and X-Men and things changed. Eventually X2, Batman Begins, Dark Knight and Iron Man really made the comic book-based movie a thing to be reckoned with both in the box office and compared to other movies.

As the movies got better, I found the mediocre ones less interesting, but a little more disappointing. If you know how to do these things well, why not just keep doing them well. Is it so difficult to get someone who understands the material to make something good on a proper budget? Christopher Nolan did it, Jon Favreau did it and god damn, did Joss Whedon do it with Avengers.

My wife and I decided to head to the drive-in with some friends to see it. It kind of snuck up on my how excited I wound up being for this flick. I really like the Iron Man movies, didn’t like Ed Norton in Incredible Hulk, kinda sorta liked Thor and had a pretty good time with Captain America: The First Avenger, but the ad campaign, plus the fact that I wrote about the movie a bit for Spinoff Online got me pretty excited. Then I started hearing people I know and respect coming back raving about the movie. People were comparing it to Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note that both of them are die hard Marvel fans and, like me, never thought they’d see a movie like this in the real world, on the big screen, done this well.

And man, this movie is done well. Whedon did an amazing job trying together the very different movies, bringing in new characters, pumping up ones we’d only seen briefly and making them all work in ways that make sense. It just makes sense that Tony Stark’s flip attitude toward everything would eventually rub Captain America the wrong way or that Thor would find the petty complaints of mortals well, petty. But, this movie is so much more than great character beats. The action is spectacular in every sense of the word. The attack on the hellicarrier? Wow. I wasn’t sure if the rest of the movie could top that, but the end battle was magnificent. Those long tracking shots that don’t cut away moving throughout the city from small battle to small battle with different characters flying in and out and wrecking shop in different ways was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Ever.

I could go on and on. The moments with the Hulk? Amazing and hilarious. Possibly my favorite Hulk of all time. That small moment where Iron Man shoots his repulsors off of Cap’s shield or the shockwave sent out when Thor hit the shied? So awesome. Hawkeye calling the shots and using his ingenious bow and quiver? So cool. My wife poked fun at me for giggling with excitement throughout half the movie. I wasn’t sorry, I reveled in it. I really can’t remember having more fun at a movie in a long time. It was basically Expendables, but instead of starring actors I’ve known forever, this was characters.

Okay, now someone needs to get me a Justice League movie.

I Watch A Lot Of Documentaries: Dalekmania, American Grindhouse, Trumbo & Mayor Of The Sunset Strip

I Watch A Lot Of Movies will most likely be a recurring feature here on the blog because it’s a plain fact. Because I work from home and I like to have something on to either watch or listen to while I do so, I go through a lot of movies, shows, podcasts and records. Sometimes I give them their own write-ups, but sometimes I don’t have as much to say. So, IWALOM will be a kind of catch-all for the things I want to say a few words on. As it happens, I’ve been on a bit of a documentary going back to when I watched and wrote about Too Tough To Die and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a few weeks ago.

One of the more curious documentaries I’ve seen on Netflix Instant has to be Dalekmania (1995) which I assumed would be about the history of the Doctor Who baddies. Instead, as the subtitle explains, it’s actually the story of Daleks and the Doctor on the big screen. Back in 1965 Peter Cushing starred as a tweaked version of the character in a big screen flock that remade one of the few serials I’ve actually seen: The Daleks.

Much like the 1996 Fox-produced Doctor Who movie, the movie and it’s sequel, the awesomely named Invasion Earth: 2015, neither film is in cannon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look interesting. Seeing a documentary based on a pair of films I’ve never seen was cool because it’s not like I had heard any of these stories before. The downside? The movies aren’t on any kind of Netflix so I can’t check them out, which is a little frustrating. It seems like everyone involved (and living) was interviewed and you also get to see a cool collection of Dalek and Who memorabilia from a husband and wife collector team. Worth checking out for Who fans even if they don’t HAVE to know about these flicks.

I was kind of disappointed by American Grindhouse (2010), especially after being so impressed by essentially the Australian version of this doc called Not Quite Hollywood. While Not Quite really seemed to just jump in and celebrate their schlocky movies, Grindhouse seems to take an almost clinical approach which saps some of the fun out of the proceedings.  A big contributor to that feeling is how specifically they define “grindhouse.’ Instead of being about low budget movies sent to drive ins or cheap theaters, we’re told that an actual grindhouse was a theater that would never shut down or stop showing movies. Uh, okay. It’s the equivalent of someone telling you in great detail that what you’re blowing your nose in isn’t actually a Kleenex, but a facial tissues.

The opposite side of the specificity coin is that you actually get treated to lots of different kinds of movies than you might expect, going all the way back to the early days of film. The movie points out that, almost as soon as people figured out how to use movie cameras, they started pointing them at naked ladies. I actually learned this in either high school or college and was blown away at the time because you kind of assume that everything was super prudey back in the day, but in reality people are people and are always curious about things like that.

The film also boasts a quality group of talking heads including John Landis, Joe Dante, William Lustig and plenty of others. Everyone brings something interesting to the table, it’s just a broader table than I was expecting when I turned it on.

I probably wouldn’t have given a movie called Trumbo (2007) if not for the awesome image on this poster. A dude writing in the bathtub? I love it! The story found in the documentary is even more interesting. Dalton Trumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, a group of writers who were blacklisted for communist leanings thanks to McCarthy and the ridiculous red scare. He wrote movies like The Devil’s Playground, Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Johnny Got His Gun and plenty of others, some of which were credited to other writers who fronted for him and some of the other Hollywood Ten.

The doc has an interesting style that takes many of Trumbo’s writings and has famous actors do dramatic readings. I didn’t realize what was happening at first when people like Michael Douglas, Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and others started doing these monologues in dark rooms, I was confused, but I soon caught on and enjoyed the method. Apparently, this film is based on the stage play of one of Trumbo’s  sons, which makes that all make a lot more sense.

I like that Trumbo never lost faith or face, really, kept writing and later on didn’t seem too bitter about what happened. He definitely answered some questions with a sharp wit, but he didn’t seem bitter, which is inspiring considering the mountains of bullshit heaped upon him.

Like a lot of things on Netflix,  I didn’t really know what Mayor Of The Sunset Strip (2003). For some reason I thought it was about a guy who was influential in the 80s metal scene on the Sunset Strip. It’s actually about Rodney Binginheimer, a dude who started out as a groupie in the 60s, met practically every rock star, got nicknamed in a Beach Boys song, became one of the most influential DJs in music history and is still kicking.

I found this story so fascinating because Bingenheimer is ridiculously damaged. Yes, he’s met every single important rock and roll musician since the medium was practically invented and yes he has (or at least had) a great deal of power in his business, but he is also a sad, lonely man with mom issues. The portrait painted is that of a man who prefers not to be in the spotlight, but absolutely expects to be just on the fringes now. It’s also the story of a man whose time as come and gone, though that’s not the main focus. Towards the end of the movie, the man with ridiculous hair tells the camera that he’s only got one night a week as a DJ on KROQ which clearly bums him out. The only time he expresses any real, obvious emotions happens in a scene where his radio protege finishes a show and Bingenheimer is pissed because he thinks the younger man has basically stolen his entire schtick.

For me, Mayor has two lessons to be learned. First, it shows me that anyone can become important. There was nothing truly special about Rodney Bingenheimer, nothing that would make him an obvious maven of a culture movement. But, he physically got himself where he needed to be and worked his way up to becoming ridiculously influential. That’s the American dream, right? Well, the second lesson shows what can happen if you don’t balance your life out. Even with all his power and influence, something about his personality didn’t allow him to capitalize on it too much and he has essentially faded out of prominence. The lesson is to both keep working even after reaching prominence, but also that all the importance in the world doesn’t fix your problems. You’ve got to work on that stuff on your own and it didn’t seem to me like Bingenheimer has done that.

Drive-In Double Feature: Harry Potter 8 (2011) & Horrible Bosses (2011)

Last night, the missus, our daughter and I went to the drive-in once again to watch one of the most mis-matched double features I’ve ever heard of. First up was Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 (or what I like to call Harry Potter 8, or just HP8 for short), a PG-13 dark fantasy epic along with the R-rated, somewhat filthy dark comedy Horrible Bosses. It was pretty funny watching the cars with kids tear out of the drive-in parking lot 10-15 minutes into the movie. Thankfully, our daughter’s too young to understand any of the bad words, so we stuck around.

I wrote my thoughts on this movie’s predecessor here, if you’re curious. As I said over on that post, I’m not much of a fantasy fan and, while I respect Harry Potter, it’s not something I lover. My wife does, hence our viewing. Anyway, like that movie, I wound up liking this one and its dark tone. Man, is this movie dark. But what else would you expect from the build-up to the death of several characters. I’m still not sure why no one tried to shoot Voldemort in the face, but that’s just me.

As I mentioned above, this movie is pretty epic. Lots of things happen. Lots of people die. Lots of magic gets thrown around. Some of the moments were a bit ovbious if you’ve ever read anything in this genre, but overall I thought it was well done and actually kind of ballsy with how violent and terrifying things got. Plus, Neville Longbottom got to be a badass. Good for him.

In my review of the last movie, I said I didn’t like how the magicians had to say the spell they were using. This time there was less of that, though oddly enough Voldemort still says some of his. My only real problem with the movie was that characters seem to disappear and then show up in strange places with zero explanation. Luna Lovegood’s with the gang at a cottage and then she’s at Hogwart’s. Really, why’d she go there when it’s run by a kinda evil Snape? Then there’s the scene when Harry saves Malfoy (I wish that little bastard would have gotten what was coming to him), they go through some mystical door and then it’s just Ron, Hermione and Harry talking. Where’d Malfoy go? I guess it’s possible he scurried off and I happened to look elsewhere? I dunno, it was a problem I had throughout the movie, but all in all, I’ll give this one the thumb’s up. Kinda wish someone would edit the long boring parts out of the previous film and put them together with this one, because that would be one ass kicking movie. I would also be in full support of an 80s director remaking this movie with a snarkier lead who would drop some awesome one-liners when kicking bad guy ass.

I had heard nothing about Horrible Bosses before going in. I love stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. I’m quite fond of their awful bosses Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston. But, I’ve seen most of those people in movies I don’t like–especially Bateman in Extract, woof, what a stinker–so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thankfully, Horrible Bosses turned out to be a rollicking good time that played it’s leads to their strengths and mostly played the bosses against type. I guarantee even the most jaded people around will be at least a little shocked with the graphic talk coming out of Rachel-from-Friends‘ mouth. And yet, it was all pretty hilarious.

The plot is pretty well established in the trailers, these guys all have pretty terrible bosses and decide that the only way they will ever be happy in their lives is to murder their bosses (it’s actually less silly and more logical in the movie than it sounds). Even with them doing a lot of research, getting a murder consultant and getting pretty close to actually doing the deeds, I never bought for a second that these guys would kill anyone. I think that’s part of the conceit though. How would regular guys try to figure out how to find a hitman? The internet? Going to a dive bar? That’s probably where I would start.

My wife said she didn’t like how the movie kind of rapped up so quickly at the end. She said something like “it seemed like they were trying to keep it to 90 minutes and wrapped it up really quickly.” I can see where she’s coming from, but I thought the ending made a lot of sense within the story. Yes, it comes quickly, but it made sense and wound up being pretty funny.

On a side note, this movie was directed by the guy who made one of my favorite movies of the past decade: King Of Kong, the Donkey Kong doc. His name’s Seth Gordon and he’s also done a few TV gigs like directing Modern Family, The Office, Parks & Recreation and Community episodes along with a few other movies I haven’t seen. I like what he did here and would be curious to see what else he can do in the future.