Yesterday I knocked out eight or so quick hits of movies I enjoyed in 2019. I should have mentioned in that first post that I’m talking about movies I watched in that year, not necesarily movies that came out in said year. If that were the case, I probably wouldn’t have much to write about as someone who mainly gets their entertainment from Netflix (digital AND disc, like an O.G.), Amazon Video, the library and Hulu! Let’s get back to it!
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.
This 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.
I 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!
I’ve been pretty tired lately, which means I’ve started a lot of movies and left them half-watched at best. Yesterday I was trying to figure out the last time I actually finished a flick and realized it was just last weekend when the wife and I gave Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a watch. I didn’t know much about the film aside from seeing the trailers and a vague understanding that it didn’t do very well, at least in the States. Apparently people wanted a serious film about witch hunters starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, but instead got a tongue-in-cheek spin on things.
The Tommy Wirkola written and directed film kicks off as anyone familiar with the fairy tale would expect, with the title kids wandering through the woods, finding a house made of candy and getting into it with a witch. After that, they grow up and travel around acing witches for fun and profit. The main thrust of this story finds them in a particular town with a witch problem that turns out to be much bigger and more revelatory than they expected.
Sounds pretty rad, right? And it is, but there’s also a jokey layer of the film that probably got on a few nerves. For instance, Hansel is diabetic after being force-fed candy by the witch and injects himself with a substance, presumably insulin or something like it, every time his wristwatch goes off. I think it’s actually a really clever idea, but obviously anachronistic. If that’s the kind of thing that will turn you off too much from enjoying a fun action romp with a TON of decapitations, then you should probably skip Hansel & Gretel. If you have a sense of humor to go along with movie-based blood lust, then I think this will be your jam.
A big reason I found the film so enjoyable was because of the cast. I enjoyed Renner in Avengers, but let’s be honest, Hawkeye’s not really a character for most of his scenes. This is what I wanted from that film: a cocky hero who’s really good at shooting things. I’m not super familiar with Arterton aside from seeing her in Quantum Of Solace and Pirate Radio, but I really enjoyed seeing her play a strong, badass lady who’s equal to her brother in the witch hunting game if not better. Famke Jannsen also seemed to have a great time as uber-witch Muriel just rolling through the film chewing scenery and reveling in her badness. Plus, Peter Stormare is in this thing. That guy earned my fandom from Prison Break and I still get excited every time I see him skulk onto screen.
There’s even a few fun plot elements that weren’t exactly mind blowing, but still enjoyable. The troll looked rad and it features some of the coolest movie weapons I’ve seen in a while. Who wouldn’t want one of those side-shooting crossbow thingies? So cool. If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to see on screen, give Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a look. It’s even on Netflix, so it’s easy to get at!
If you were hoping that Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass would re-team for the fifth Bourne movie, Universal’s got some news for you: not happening. After TwitchFilm reported that the Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum duo were in talks with Universal to return to the franchise, the studio came right out and told Variety that there’s “no truth” to the rumor.
Sounds like a pretty done deal then, right? Well, Twitch updated their original post with “we remain very confident in our sources.”
The fifth Bourne film, which doesn’t yet have an official title, is being written by Sherlock Holmes’ Anthony Peckham and presumably focuses on Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross character as introduced in The Bourne Legacy.
Tom Cruise will be teaming up with Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie once again. This time, the action star is bringing the director along into his most successful franchise, the Mission: Impossible films. McQuarrie’s name had been floating around the project for a while now, but he’s officially joined a club of directors that includes Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird.
“I am thrilled to reunite with Chris for the latest installment in the Mission series,” Cruise said via statement. “I began producing the films with the goal that a different director with his own vision would make each one. Chris is an extraordinary filmmaker who will deliver the heart-pounding action and thrills that audiences around the world have come to expect from the Mission: Impossible franchise.”
The film, which is being produced by Bad Robot, also features a script written by Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3). The fifth film is expected to see Ghost Protocol actors Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames and Paula Patton return along with Cruise, though nothing has been announced officially. The film is expected to hit screen in 2015.
Universal’s not letting filmgoers forget The Bourne Legacy. Deadline reports that the studio snagged Invictus and Sherlock Holmes screenwriter Anthony Peckham to work on the currently-untitled fifth film in the franchise. With Matt Damon not returning for Legacy, the franchise switched gears, revealing that the government didn’t put all their eggs in the Jason Bourne basket. They also had chemically and biologically altered super soldier Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) in the works who was going on his own adventures.
The film, like the previous Bourne flicks, is based on the ideas of writer Robert Ludlum who passed away in 2001. Renner is expected to return, but it’s currently unclear if Legacy director Tony Gilroy (Duplicity, Michael Clayton) is coming back as well.
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.
After checking out the first three Mission: Impossible movies at the end of last year, I was interested in checking out Ghost Protocol. That’s kind of saying a lot because it’s a franchise I’ve forgotten a lot about (including almost all of the third installment, as it turns out). I also have very mixed feelings about Tom Cruise as a person, though he seems to keep doing a good job acting. I’m not sure how I’ll feel after everything shakes out from his divorce from fellow Toledoian and one-time grade school classmate of mine Katie Holmes.
Anyway, this movie wound up being exactly what you want from a M:I movie. You’ve got Cruise and company winding up on the run and on their own (that’s the plot of at least two of the other movies, isn’t it?). But, even if the broad plot strokes seem familiar, director Brad Bird and company did a great job of upping the ante along with the tech. Instead of climbing a mountain, Cruise climbs the tallest building in the world (awesome scene). Instead of dangling in a control room, Jeremy Renner magnetically floats in a ventilation shaft. While I’m not always a big fan of the sequel formula that assumes the new film needs to hit several of the same plot points as the original, I think it was well done in this case.
So, yeah, I really really enjoyed the movie and recommend it for just about anyone who dug the previous flicks or action movies in general. I might have missed it in theaters, but my parents actually have one of those DVD projects and my dad made a screen out of roofing material that he hangs outside, so my wife and I did actually get to see it on the (or a) big screen. Honestly, that’s my favorite way to watch a movie. I’m thinking of just clearing out half our place and turning it into a screening room.
Allow me to get nostalgic, just for a moment. The first time I saw Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was in this tiny art house theatre in Bowling Green, Ohio. I went with Barry’s co-worker-turned friend Bobby, his girlfriend-now-wife Sasha, Toth and Randy (I think) and it blew us away. We had been hearing chatter about it and the alternate ending that you could see if you waited through the credits. The ride home was full of conversations about fast zombies and which ending we liked better. I can tell you with zero doubt that that’s the furthest I’ve ever gone to see a movie and it was totally worth it. I later bought 28DL and watched it a number of times, so, like every other person on the planet, I was pretty skeptical when I heard about the Boyle-less sequel 28 Weeks Later. But damn was it good.
I won’t be nearly as eloquent and detailed as Sean was when he talked about writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28WL back in ’07, but it really seems like this flick was amazing in spite of itself. A sequel to a movie that most people either saw in art houses or on DVD getting a bigger sequel by some guy who wasn’t involved in the first one with a joke title like 28 Weeks Later? It couldn’t possibly live up to it’s predecessor, but boy howdy, does it.
And, I think what makes it work so well is the fact that it’s not a direct sequel, it’s merely set in the same world as the original. No characters return (unless you count London, which I wouldn’t argue against) so you’re left with a part of the zombie mythos we don’t tend to see: the clean-up and aftermath. Plus, if the opening of this movie doesn’t get under your skin and make you think about how you’d REALLY react in a situation like this, then you might need to check your pulse. Sure we’ve seen people ditch other folks to save themselves in movies like this, but damn if this isn’t the most effective emotionally.
That’s really what makes this such a superior horror film, the level of emotional attachment stays consistent with the original. You start wondering how’d you react in a given situation and it’s so easy to transfer most scenarios from a zombie infested world to the real one: how would you react if the woman you abandoned to thieves turned out to still be alive?
I also like how the emotional attachment bounces from character to character. After seeing how easily and understandably a husband might abandon his wife, it makes the adult heroes of this movie who accompany the children, even more heroic, earning them instant credibility (along with Scarlett’s attestation that they probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the city).
I had seen 28WL on DVD a while back, purchased it almost immediately afterwards, but hadn’t watched it in a while, so the fates of the characters weren’t fresh in my mind and I was continually surprised followed by moments of “oh yeah.”
Another aspect of the movie that I love is the fact that things aren’t forced down your throat. You can think about this movie for a while and realize all kinds of things. This time around, I fell in love with the idea that, Scarlett protested the idea of kids coming into London because “what if the rage virus isn’t all the way gone?” only to have them not only be the only ones to survive (of our main characters at least), but also re-caused the spread of the virus inadvertently. So, she was right that they shouldn’t be there, but for a completely different reason. Damn kids.
Oh, plus Harold Perrineau of Lost fame is in it, so bonus! I know I’m talking about a much-loved two year old movie that most horror fans have already seen, but if you haven’t watched it in a while, I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than the helicopter vs. zombie scene and the very end with zombies storming France. It’s way more effective than the “invasion” of NYC in Zombie and it nicely sets things up for a potential sequel.
Finally, a quick note about the DVD. There are two animated comics on there that were apparently first published through Fox Atomic that tell the tale of the guys who accidentally created the rage virus before the events of 28DL and one of a vigilante killing zombies and humans in “his city.” The first one was really interesting from a continuity perspective (plus it had art by my con buddy Dennis Calero), while the second is more of a slice-of-life from one tiny perspective in a larger world. They’re not too long and definitely worth a look.