Monday, August 17, 2015

No Escape

No Escape – 93min – R

This is not a relaxing film. It stirs up tense moments on so many different political and familial levels. At times I was worried about the family and others worried about the filmmakers. Regardless of the tense moments it seems like a movie that is out of step with today’s understanding of the world. As a yellow light film it was riding right in the middle of good production value but poor story.

Jack (OwenWilson) and Annie Dwyer (Lake Bell) have moved their family to an East Asian Country for Jack’s new Job. They are far from their family and friends, complete strangers in a very dark landscape. Before they land, the government is overthrown in a bloody coup. The angry mob is out to kill the evil Americans who have come to exploit their water. The Dwyer family is running for their lives and get help from an ex secret agent, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan). He sacrifices himself for the family and they fight their way to the safety of Vietnam.

There was a very seedy feel to the story. The setting was generic Southeast Asian country and instead of focusing on any of the cultural richness of the region, it was a mishmash of prostitution, karaoke and old people living in squalor. There could have been just as much anger and rage by the people being exploited without making them out to be the worst people white people imagine about that area of the world. If anything it would have been more terrifying that a culturally rich country could have such violence amongst it.

The craft of filmmaking was great. The camera work and the scenes were well constructed to make you uncomfortable during the escape and the fighting. There are some good perspective shots that put you in the action and in the same hiding places. They also construct situations that will put you on edge. The scene where they have to ride a moped through a mob on the street in clothes they have taken off of people that have been killed by the angry mob is very tense. There was a moment that could have been better used. His bike falls over and he gets help picking it up by a guy who kind of recognizes him but doesn’t. It would have been better to have the guy who helps him is someone who he helped earlier. Say a man on the street is moving sacks of rice and Jack helps him pick up a few bags as he is going to the store for a newspaper.

The lack of blended storytelling makes this film seem very one dimensional. They have absolutely no depth to the characters or the plot. However the use of slow motion scenes and the angles used for some of the shots were great at inducing anxiety. I am not a fan of handheld shots, but in the chaos of a coup it does as designed and gives you a very uncomfortable feel. The pacing of the film is great you go from high action to quiet sneaking and back to high action, but it doesn’t remove any of the tension. Walking out of the film I was finally relaxed that it was over.

Ultimately this film will fall into obscurity and do nothing for the people who made it. The director (John Erick Dowdle) has a good eye for filmmaking but now needs to pair up with a great writer. What would be your dream team for a director and writer combo?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

As a formulaic summer blockbusters go, the latest installment in the MI series does a great job of bringing the goods. When I go and see this movie I am not looking for deep plots or a lot of character development. I come to a film like this to see the following: Tom Cruise channeling his inner Jackie Chan and doing some crazy stunts. Simon Pegg adding his pop culture nerdly flavor to the supporting role. Jeremy Renner looking fabulous as he brings the heat. Ving Rhames being the baddest hacking Motherfu(Hush your mouth).. Just talking about Ving. I enjoyed this movie immensely.

Ethan (Tom Cruise) gets attacked by the Syndicate, an organization like his, only bent on making the world a more chaotic place. He is the only one who knows for sure this organization exists and his department is being shut down because of the efforts of Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). The IMF agents are all being absorbed into the CIA. Ethan is on his own with no support from his country, but being disavowed is nothing new to him. He starts recruiting some trusted people and goes on the offensive.

I liked how this movie picks up right after the second movie. I don't know if they are going to do more but as an action fluff film they have the right mix. Other films go heavy on the humor and some just focus on causing the most damage scene after scene. This film has a good balance between building action scenes and story with just a few humorous spots to relieves the tension. The characters have had a lot of time to get comfortable in their skins and it shows on how easily they interact on screen.

The director (Christopher McQuarrie) really knows how to work with the action film elements. As writer and director, he can guide the action to be as he intended on the page. Some writers/directors need someone to bring them back after they have swerved too far off the path. McQuarrie doesn't seem to need this. His product is fresh and clean and an enjoyable journey. He first got my attention with his work as writer for The Usual Suspects. He has a great way of making the characters seem real. There is an honesty to his characters that is fun to watch.

Tom Cruise, regardless of his personal beliefs and associations, is a star. I have been guilty of making fun of the craziness that is his personal life but when we are in the theater and he is on screen he commands respect and can carry off the many performances that he takes on. He was miss-cast as Jack Reacher but still did a strong job as that version of the character.

Rumors hover over the next installment but they are going to have to tread carefully. You don't want to carry the fun on too long because when a franchise goes bad it just doesn't go a little bad it goes very, very bad. So far they are doing fine and I hope they continue with this streak, because gosh darn it, these moves are fun. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E

Proving yet again that Hollywood is out of ideas, we have another movie made form a TV show. I was never a fan of the TV show so I was only mildly interested, however Guy Ritchie is an outstanding storyteller and makes this formulaic TV story into something outstanding. This film highlights Ritchie's masterful skill at blending just the right amount of action with story and emotion. I appreciated the dedication to the vintage time period. it feels like if the filmmakers from the 60s had access to today’s technology, this would totally be a move they would have made.

Art thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is recruited by the CIA to work for them in exchange for not going to jail. He is partnered with a KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Arnie Hammer)  to find and stop a maniacal villain, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) from launching a nuclear weapon. With the help of a girl, Gaby (Alicia Vlkander) from East Berlin whose father is being held captive to work on the bomb. Together they work to save the world.

The setting is the cold war and they did a perfect job of fitting in with that time period. The costumes and set design are one thing, but the choice of font for subtitles blends in with that time period perfectly. They even took some of screen division elements from the TV show. You know the ones where we see one protagonist looking one way, and only on the top half of the screen and the other protagonist looking the other way occupying the bottom of the screen. They both split further and the bad guy is looking directly at the screen. The animated series Samurai Jack used this technique well.

I enjoyed the way that they sometimes back tracked on a scene, showing what is happening all at the same time. The end is a great example of this. We see events unfold from one point of view. Then we see them from a different character’s POV, and again from a different character. All of the events happened simultaneously but we are now seeing what everyone was doing right before the final outcome, with the scenes edited together without confusing the audience is a challenge. They did a great job of it.

I have yet to see Guy Ritchie movie that I didn't like. Unlike the other directors of today he seems to have gift for adding just the right amount of everything. He has a knack for pace and for blending all the elements together to make a highly entertaining film. His choice of performers is outstanding as well. The three stars of the film work really well together on screen. They have a great chemistry that makes it enjoyable to watch.

Armie Hammer's portrayal of Illya is perfect. He has the intensity of a hard Russian spy but enough subtle vulnerabilities that make him interesting. As the straight man to Solo's sense of humor he gives a lot of great material to play off of. Henry Cavil's Agent Solo is extremely American. Every line he delivers is like he is making an announcement at a pageant. Every line is dripping with roguish charm.

When I was a kid, I saw the show in reruns but it never held my interest, maybe now that I'm older I should give this series another look. Or maybe Guy Ritchie took a dull series and made it entertaining.

What TV shows did you look at in a different light after they were put on the big screen? 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Terminator Genisys

Ok, Ok. I admit when I heard they were making another Terminator movie and having Arnold reprise his role, I was the first to jump on the "He's too old" bandwagon. I am also the first to admit when I am wrong. This film not only respects the original two films, but incorporates them in a way that gives Arnold's age a feasible reason. I apologize to Mr. Schwarzenegger. He still has it. This film is now the third movie in my perfect trilogy of The Terminator series.

This movie takes place long after and long before the events of the first film. When playing with time travel you can easily bake your noodle. They do it in a way that makes it easy to follow. A guardian terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back to prepare Sarah Conner (Emilia Clark) to survive when they send another terminator back to kill her. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) comes back in time unaware that Sarah is waiting for him and prepared to rescue him from a new terminator.

What really gets me is their dedication to the original film. They took great pains in reshooting the original scenes from the first terminator movie to such detail that I had to go back to the original and verify they didn't use remaster shots. They did a great job of matching it shot for shot.

As Arnold isn't getting younger they quickly age him by way of having to jump forward in time without him. The guardian can't go with them he has to go the long way around to meet them. Thus providing the means of having Arnold just the way he looks now. He also has more of a heroic role that he wanted. He is the protector and the series two terminators (T-1000) are the bad guys.

He has trained Sarah but she has also trained him. He is now programed to not kill humans. This is an interesting dynamic that was in the second film and it works well.

Another nice touch to show the distance in time was the addition of the Character O'Brien. When Kyle jumps to the 80's He meets a cop by the name of O'Brien (Wayne Bastrup) once they jump further in the future O'Brien (J.K. Simmons) is there and his run-in with the killer robot has affected him and he looks for stuff like time travelers. This gave the scenes distance from each other. It added to the realism of the time travel.

Matt Smith is now the embodiment of the Skynet and a complete change from his previous role as the Doctor in Doctor Who. This is a perfect example of his range. The Doctor was charming funny and fun to be with, Skynet not so much. He takes over John Conner(Jason Clark) in the future and send John Conner back to start the process that will ensure Skynet's creation.

This is where it blends in with the second film. The same location and company but this time Skynet has advanced the technology they have created to make the T-1000 machines a lot sooner in the time line.

Emilia Clark is outstanding as Sarah. She plays her with strength and just a touch of humanity. She has proven to me that she can take on some more action roles and not lose touch with her charm and femininity. She is not the victim in this timeline. She has been training for this fight and brings the heat to the machines. I would pay to see her in another action film.

A perfect Saturday would be Subway sandwiches, cooler of your favorite drinks some snacks and a trilogy with The Terminator, Terminator Two: Judgement Day and Terminator Genisys. The others two don't need to be brought up. Who's in?