Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher)
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material

     This fifth installment of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) deep in the middle of a huge international case when the CIA decides to disband the IMF and make Hunt enemy number one. But instead of revolting or disappearing, Hunt and his crew of highly skilled misfits continue to work on finding and stopping the international crime “syndicate” that the CIA doesn’t even believe exists.

     Each one of these films has bigger and flashier set pieces but this one really takes the cake, and even in the first few minutes. In the very first act, Cruise pulls off a stunt hanging from the side of a jumbo jet as it takes off, and from the press around the film it appears the stunt was very real. With today’s technology this could have easily been done on a computer. But to give his audience the biggest thrills possible, Cruise gives the movie his all, over and over again. His abilities and dedication to his craft have never ceased to amaze me and this film just takes everything up a notch.

     New to the franchise is director Christopher McQuarrie, who until recently has had mostly writing credits on his resume, including his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects. Here he really shows that he has the chops to direct a big tentpole picture. Along with a very talented production team, and a gigantic budget I’m sure, he pulls off a massive undertaking with style and class.

     While Ethan Hunt has been considered by many to be the American answer to James Bond, I didn’t think I would ever see the day that a Mission: Impossible flick could be better than a Bond film, especially in the presence of new Bond Daniel Craig. Until now. Rogue Nation is better than any 007 film I’ve ever seen and has the potential to be a legendary movie in the spy genre.

     So your mission, should you choose to accept it: show some discipline and don’t see this film – no matter how good people say it is. If you believe Mr Cruise to be the leader of a dangerous and recklessly un-American cult, then send a message to him, with your pocketbook, that as long he is associated with Scientology, you will not support his “church” with your hard-earned dollars. Trust me, with the reviews this film is going to get, should enough people stay home this weekend, he will hear you loud and clear.  A

New in Home Entertainment – July 28, 2015

Water Diviner

New in Home Entertainment

July 28, 2015

The Water Diviner
Rated R for war violence including some disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Russell Crowe directs and stars in this drama about an Australian father who travels to Turkey to find his three missing sons after the Battle of Gallipoli. While one of the greatest actors of our time, Crowe is making his directorial debut here and he does a pretty admirable job. The pacing is a bit off at times but his presence on screen carries the film and makes it so you at least care about his plight, no matter what the result. The film does lose its focus a bit in regards to the single mother who works in the inn where he resides, which diverts the story in the direction of being a slow-moving romance. While this subplot isn’t horrible, it is against character as Crowe seems distracted from his honorable cause a little too much. My knowledge of wars in that region of the world is less than adequate, so I’m very thankful there is a special feature about the Battle of Gallipoli to help with context. B

White God
Rated R for violent content including bloody images, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Hungarian with English subtitles
When a girl’s mutt is taken away from her and released on the outskirts of the city, she goes on a daring quest to reunite with him. But her dog’s journey creates a scenario where he becomes an alpha of a large and aggressive pack, bent on revenge against mankind. This is definitely a case of a film being impressive in regard to how they made it, but the overall project could have used some help in the story department. I loved the dog’s tale, but the girl’s tale was less than compelling. I have to admit that it’s a truly amazing achievement how the filmmakers were able to make a movie using rescued dogs, turning them into such fantastic characters. The vision is truly extraordinary. As a horror film it’s not particularly scary, but it’s still an adventure worth taking. B-

New in Home Entertainment – July 21, 2015

What we do

New in Home Entertainment

July 21, 2015

What We Do In The Shadows
Rated R for bloody violent content, some sexual material and language
Available on Blu-ray and DVD
This comedy from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords) and Funny or Die explores the lives a group of vampires who share a flat as a documentary crew follows their day-to-day existence. From arguing over household chores to discussing fashion to picking fights with a local group of werewolves, their exploits are hilariously crafted and while mostly silly, provide an overall hilarious 86 minutes. The brevity of the film is key as the filmmakers know that the joke will get old fast, so why torture the audience. Instead their mockumentary provides for fresh and memorable entertainment. A-

Tangerines
Unrated
Available on DVD
In Estonian, Russian and Georgian with English subtitles
In this Oscar-nominated foreign film from Estonia, two Estonian immigrants who operate a tangerine farm in Georgia find themselves in the middle of a war when they save the lives of two opposing soldiers who clash and nearly die on their property. While the film is about a poorly understood conflict following the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is ultimately about peace, friendship and saving our humanity in the midst of a mindless crisis. Beautifully shot and impeccably acted, the script is able to deliver not only a wonderful story, but also a hard-hitting message and a better awareness of recent events that most of us know little about. A

New in Home Entertainment – July 14, 2015

ex machina

New in Home Entertainment

July 14, 2014

Ex Machina
Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This frightening yet sophisticated and addictive piece of science fiction follows an eccentric billionaire (Oscar Isaac) who has invented a robot with artificial intelligence in the image of a beautiful young woman (Alicia Vikander). In an attempt to test her level of AI, he hires a young genius (Domhnall Gleeson) to visit his hidden estate and interrogate the new life-form. While very artsy and with a limited cast, the film does an excellent job of taking itself in many different directions. While many movies attempt to put you into the head of the hero, this film excels at placing you in the young visitor’s shoes. The whole thing is treated like a mystery with a naive but brilliant detective guiding the way, helping you to figure out the complicated puzzle presented to him. But once the puzzle is solved, the Pandora’s box opened is unexpected and wonderfully twisted. Smart, dark sci-fi thrillers like this are so rare that I can’t help but relish the chance to enjoy them when they pop up. A

Merchants of Doubt
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
From the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc., Robert Kenner, comes this frightening true tale of the spin we’ve been fed for decades by corporations who need us to believe their lies in order for their businesses to succeed. From smoking to global warming, the movie uses magicians and their slight of hand as a metaphor for the lies being told to us on a daily basis and the damage those lies do when they are blindly believed by a gullible public. While many will take the information provided as mere conspiracy theory and essentially the same spin the film accuses others of, the filmmakers go out of their way to show the recent history of propaganda and the dangers it has had on its victims in order to make its very important case. Yes it doses meander in places and there is most certainly a bias towards ideologies belonging mostly to the left and against right wing agendas, but I did feel their case was stated justly and without overt factual error. That being said, I do feel that the movie is preaching to the choir. It’s audience most likely already knows most of the material and I doubt many ditto heads are going to look to the film for a paradigm shift. B+

The Salt of the Earth
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving images of violence and human suffering, and for nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
For forty years, photographer Sebastiao Salgado has traveled the world to capture the struggles of human existence with his camera. This Oscar-nominated documentary from famed German director Wim Wenders and Salgado’s own son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, looks at Salgado’s rich life experience through his photography and his evolution from capturing the despair of man during times of genocide, famine and exodus to the hope of man through his own efforts to regrow a major rainforest in South America. For many, Salgado is a rock star in his field, but for folks like me, who have never heard the name before, there is much to be learned and appreciated. And to elevate the story is the stunningly beautiful photography which has turned me into quite the fan. This documentary does what a great documentary should: takes you to places you never even knew you wanted to go with the end result being a fantastic voyage. A-

New in Home Entertainment – July 7, 2015

Slow West

New in Home Entertainment

July 7, 2015

Slow West
Rated R for violence and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This unconventional western stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a love-torn young man who must travel across the country to find his girl and Michael Fassbender as a mysterious traveler who wants to help him get there for his own undeclared reasons. Beautifully shot and superbly paced, this is an easy enough film to watch with lots of shocking moments and a hugely talented cast. While Fassbender always impresses, I love that they threw in my favorite movie villain, Ben Mendelsohn, as a peculiar and unpredictable bounty hunter. This is the kind of western that makes you wish they’d bring the genre back in full force. A-

Maggie
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including bloody images, and some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this post-apocalyptic world a zombie virus infects Abigail Breslin leaving her father, Arnold Schwarzenegger, only weeks to say goodbye to his dear daughter forever. We’ve had a ton of cross-genre films lately, especially in the zombie realm where zombie rom coms have proved to be a semi-successful stretch. But zombie melodramas? In this case, it just doesn’t work. There’s not nearly enough horror and the long goodbye is just too long. The makeup effects are interesting and the story isn’t a bad idea, but there just seemed to be something missing. That being said, it does feel like there is a real vision here and it was fully realized on screen. Also, the performances are actually pretty good considering what the actors are doing and who they are playing. C+

Woman in Gold
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on a true story, Helen Mirren is a woman who, sixty years after fleeing Vienna for America during World War II, tries to get back her family’s famous Klimt painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” after it was stolen by the Nazis and placed in a museum in Vienna. Ryan Reynolds plays her inexperienced lawyer who spends years of his life trying fight for her right to claim what is hers. The story itself is fascinating and the script and cast do a very good job of telling it. It’s not the most exciting film you can spend an evening in front of, but it has its moments. My biggest disappointment was reading about the events that happened after this story ends on film. It just shows that Hollywood can really turn on the spin when it wants to. B-

New in Home Entertainment – June 30, 2015

get hard

New in Home Entertainment

June 30, 2015

Get Hard
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In his latest raunch-com, Will Ferrell is an investment banker who is given a harsh prison sentence and thus hires Kevin Hart, a man who he just assumes has been to prison, to toughen him up for his upcoming years behind bars. From the trailer I was rather excited about the concept and the fact that it looked really, really funny. And there are some big laughs throughout. But there are way too many groans for me to fully recommend. Once Farrell is full into prison training, the movie takes a turn for the worse by going completely over-the-top. The cast was having too much fun and the whole thing looked like a collection of bloopers rather than a narrative. I think had they try to keep a spirit of authenticity, even with such a farcical story such as this, the movie could have been a fantastic comedy. C

While We’re Young
Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In the latest adult comedy from Noah Bombach (The Squid and the Whale), Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are a forty-something childless married couple who try to find themselves as a couple by gravitating towards a young twenty-something pair (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who they find more interesting and vibrant than their child-rearing friends of the same age. At first this feels like a lovely little story about the differences between generations and the desire for staying young in the face of reality. I rather liked that beginning. But when the narrative kicks in and the film becomes more about motives and conflict, I must admit that I checked out. Still, the performances are all very good. Every time I see Stiller like this it makes me miss him as a serious actor. Like Jim Carey, Adam Sandler and the late Robin Williams, Stiller proves that he is a much better actor in these low-budget indies than he gets credit for in his big-budget stupid comedies. B-

The Gunman
Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Taken director Pierre Morel delivers here a slightly boring action thriller starring Sean Penn as a former mercenary from the Congo who tries to unravel who is trying to have him killed years after a political assassination he carried out. I have very mixed feelings about this latest movie. It is an interesting enough story but the execution (no pun intended) is flawed to say the least. The pacing is too tired for it to be an action thriller and yet it doesn’t seem to want to hang out in the drama category either. And with Penn in the leading role I thought we could at least get a nice political message, maybe more like The Constant Gardener, but instead we get a lot of promises of what could be without much of a delivery. C

I Am Evel Knievel
Unrated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
One of the better movies I saw this year at South By Southwest in Austin was a documentary about the life of Evel Knievel. But not this one. That one, Being Evel, will be released by the History Channel later this year. This one is another polished doc about the daredevil that tells many of the same stories with many of the same people associated with the legend being interviewed. While not as flashy as the other doc, you do still get to really know the man by the end. Until the third act, I was convinced that the other one was stronger, simply because of its style, but then some of Knievel’s most controversial actions were discussed from very differing viewpoints. For example, while Being Evel made Knievel into almost a villain for the events that sent him to prison, this film made his actions seem almost justified. Honestly, I liked seeing both films, especially given their viewpoints from differing angles. B

Into the Grizzly Maze
Rated R for animal attack/disturbing images, violence, terror, brief sexuality and language
In theaters and available on iTunes
James Marsden, Thomas Jane and Billy Bob Thornton lead this fairly all-star cast as individuals, all with different motives, who attempt to hunt down a monstrosity of a grizzly bear who is terrorizing the community. It’s fairly obvious from the stale performances that everyone involved was there for a paycheck, but at least the filmmakers keep the movie short and full of fun bear-induced violence. I was actually impressed at the final battle sequence which looked semi-believable. In fact the ending is almost worth having to put up with the rest of the movie. C+

New in Home Entertainment – June 23, 2015

Timbuktu_01

New in Home Entertainment

June 23, 2015

Timbuktu
Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In French, Arabic and English with English Subtitles
This Oscar-nominated foreign film tells a fictional account of the damage Sharia Law did to the ancient city of Timbuktu when Jihadists captured the city and made illegal much of their culture including music, laughter, cigarettes and even soccer. Written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, a Muslim from the neighboring country of Mauritania, the film captures the brutality of the brief occupation without being exploitative. At PG-13, the film tries to show the impact on their culture in a way that demonstrates its harshness without succumbing drastically to the monstrous actions of the invaders. While not a great narrative, you definitely get the sense of what it would have been like to be stuck in this region during this horrible time in their history. B

The Fisher King: The Criterion Collection
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Terry Gilliam’s twisted fairy tale, shock DJ Jeff Bridges tries to help a homeless man (Robin Williams) when he finds out that one of his on-air rants was the cause for the man’s ruined life. Together they set off on an Arthurian quest to reclaim the Holy Grail from a castle-like mansion in Manhattan. As with any Criterion release, the film has been restored to its original beauty in this new 2K transfer with a freshly scrubbed soundtrack. The set also includes many old and many new special features that really help shed light on how this brilliant 1999 fantasy came to life, and its legacy long after. A

New in Home Entertainment – June 16, 2015

run all night

New in Home Entertainment

June 16, 2015

Run All Night
Rated R for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I’ll admit that Liam Neeson movies sort of melt together for me. In his latest thriller he is a hit man for a mob boss (Ed Harris) who kills Harris’s son when his own son’s life is threatened. In the process, he is hunted for his actions and will do anything to keep he and his son alive. While the film is a tad predictable and cliche, there’s a reason why Neeson keeps getting projects like this: he’s good at it. His character is believable and ultimately he is very watchable. Yes the film is a bit of a mindless mess and the assassin played by Common was a terrible idea, but if you can remove your brain before starting the movie, you might just enjoy it. C+

Wild Tales
Rated R for violence, language and brief sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Spanish with English Subtitles
This Oscar-nominated Argentinian export tells several unconnected stories about people and situations that get completely out of control. For example, in one of the stories two men exhibiting road rage cross the line in a hilarious yet disgusting display of primal anger. Or then there is the wedding where the bride discovers a secret about her groom that drives her to near insanity in the middle of her reception. The pic is sick, twisted and extremely funny in a perverse way. But it’s also sobering because you find yourself thinking that the actions and reactions are easily understood even though they are horribly unconscionable. You hope that you wouldn’t act this way, but you also know that sometimes its hard to keep in control. A-

New in Home Entertainment – June 9, 2015

duff

New in Home Entertainment

June 9, 2015

The Duff
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), according to this story, is the member of a group of friends who is thought to be included merely because he/she makes everyone else seem more attractive. In this teen comedy, Mae Whitman discovers that she might be her friends DUFF and she strikes out to do something about it. You would fully expect a film like this to be a simple and stupid comedy not worthy of being watched or appreciated by anyone over the age of 18, but instead we get smart and complicated storytelling that brings back both a nostalgia for our teen comedies along with a dose of sophistication that is entirely unexpected. It never tries to be more than what it is, but it totally over-delivers on its outward promise, like a good DUFF should. B+

Project Almanac
Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This found footage teen drama follows a young man who discovers a time machine in his father’s lab and upon tweaking it, finds a way to send he and his friends back to change their destinies. I fully expected to hate this film, but honestly it is a thought-provoking story and while the science is insane, the decisions made by the teens are realistic given their circumstances. Too many times I found myself thinking that they should have been more creative in terms of their time travel, but then I remembered that the movie is made about teens making silly teen decisions, making it weird that the film has an unusual realism at its base given the overall premise. B-

1776: Director’s Cut
Not Rated (Original was Rated G)
Available on Blu-ray
Not a lot of folks know about this 1972 movie musical, but this classic musical based on the 1969 Broadway hit is a wonderful little movie and very worthy of Sony’s special treatment here. In this new blu-ray edition of this musical about our founding fathers and the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Sony decided to fully remaster the film in 4K and clean up the soundtrack to the point that the film has never looked or sounded as good as it does here. And while some critics think the film a little silly (and it might be), it is still full of fantastic songs performed by amazing actors. It is a highly enjoyable pic from the most unusual of historic sources. A

Falling Skies: The Complete Fourth Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
While it is popular with a small, underground section of sci-fi fans, I’m surprised that this little TNT series hasn’t gotten the same recognition as that of shows like The Walking Dead. In season four, Noah Wyle is back as the leader of a group of humans still at war with an aggressive alien race and trying to not only merely survive, but fight back as well. The writing is creative and ultimately the show works merely because they keep breaking new ground in their storytelling. That and the special effects are much better than they should be for a cable series. Also hitting blu-ray and DVD this week is TNT’s new show The Last Ship which has turned out to be quite the big hit for the station. B

New in Home Entertainment – June 2, 2015

jupiter-ascending

New in Home Entertainment
June 2, 2014

Jupiter Ascending
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
The Wachowski siblings have always pushed the limits of storytelling and special effects in their various projects since they made The Matrix back in 1999. In Jupiter Ascending, Mila Kunis is a young immigrant house cleaner who discovers that she is actually the reincarnated form of an intergalactic queen who must save Earth from her evil children who plan to harvest the planet for sinister purposes. While there are definitely some plot holes and a few cheesy moments, I thought for sure, upon leaving the theater, that this would be a huge hit. Overall I found the movie to be a fun, witty and entertaining piece of sci-fi. But I have to admit that most folks (especially other critics) have quite the opposite opinion and the film ended up being a complete dud at the box office. My advice would be to check it out anyway. You just might find yourself having a blast like I did. B+

Spring
Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Exclusively available at Best Buy
Spring tells the tale of a young man, who upon losing his mother to cancer, decides to take a trip to Italy in an attempt to help him move on. Upon settling on what I can only assume is Cinque Terre, he falls in love with a beautiful young woman who is hiding the secret that she is actually a Jeckyl and Hyde-like monster trying to overcome her disease. While not overly scary, the film is wonderfully interesting and beautiful to look at. With such a tiny budget, the filmmakers were able to put together a terrific leading man and woman with some rather disturbing and well-crafted creature effects and a story straight out of the X-Files. This is a gem for those of you in need of a great midnight movie. B

McFarland, USA
Rated PG
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on a true story, Kevin Costner plays the legendary high school coach Jim White, who brought the first ever cross-country track program to the small, mostly latino farming town of McFarland, California. These kinds of stories always come off as a little corny, merely because its hard for them to not be overly earnest in their storytelling. But with Costner on board, the movie has a lot more weight than you would expect and ends up being a nice little inspirational, family-friendly sports movie. B-

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
In this newest Spongebob adventure, the titular character finds himself and his friends entering the real world in order to track down a loopy pirate (Antonio Banderas) who stole the coveted Krabby Patty recipe. I’ve never been much of a fan of Spongebob. I can appreciate the humor, but the weirdness just seemed too forced and extremely annoying. And to make matters worse, the movie is stretched out to an extreme length. They sell the film like it mostly takes place in the real world, but just to get to that point, you have to wade through an awful and awfully long underwater cartoon experience. And while technically PG, I didn’t find it to be terribly kid-friendly. While most young kids won’t get the dirty jokes and the sexual references, I have no idea why they needed to be in there in the first place. C-

Focus
Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Will Smith stars in this story about a con man who runs a large organization of advanced-level street thieves who go from city to city to separate average folks from their money and jewelry. To fully fill you in on the whole story, I would need a lot more words and risk some big spoilers, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. I found the first half very interesting, and the second half too much of a con that just feels too inauthentic. As a warning about thieves in the world such as this, I feel like part of the movie was worth my time. But then it felt like part of my time was stolen from me also. C+