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Review – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

With Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity. 131 minutes.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is the summer movie we’ve been waiting for: filled with action, exotic locations, and enough plot twists that you simply can’t check your brain at the door. Reminiscent of the early James Bond movies, it features an international conspiracy that employs modern high-tech but isn’t over-the-top unbelievable, and our group of good guys having to fight against all odds.

At the film’s start, CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) is having the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) shut down. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is told that his top priority is to bring in Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), whom Hunley feels is a rogue agent. Hunt and his team, including Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), don’t play by the rules, but they get the job done. Hunt’s problem is that he is on the trail of a mysterious group known as “the Syndicate,” a terrorist organization headed by an ex-British spy (Sean Harris) and operated by former agents from around the world, all of whom are presumed dead.

Indeed, early on we see Ethan captured and ready to be tortured by a rogue agent named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), but through a series of reversals, Ethan is soon on the run with both the CIA and the Syndicate after him. (And if telling you that Tom Cruise’s character isn’t killed off–at the beginning of a two-hour franchise movie that he’s the star of–is a “spoiler,” then you need to stop reading reviews altogether.)

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has the pacing just right as we get one great action/suspense sequence after another with just another down time to catch one’s breath. Indeed, the only moment that seems tired is a car chase through a Moroccan market place with the inevitable barreling-through displays of wares. It gets better. Indeed there’s a sequence at the Vienna State Opera that’s a clear homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” that has no less than three shooters involved in an assassination plot with Ethan and Benji trying to thwart them. The payoffs work with several face-offs between antagonists that should have audiences cheering. (See? That’s avoiding spoilers.)

In terms of the acting, people do their job well, and the kudos go to Renner, Ferguson, and Harris who get to mix some character work in with the derring-do, not that the others aren’t entertaining as well. Renner, who is often underutilized (as in “The Avengers” movies), plays someone who’s trying to be a “company man” at the CIA while working to get his IMF back in operation. Ferguson similarly is playing both sides of the street and for much of the film we can’t quite be certain which side she’s on. As for Harris, he is utterly creepy as the rogue spymaster in the way of the early Bond villains–evil and brilliant while still retaining credibility.

“Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation” is sheer fun for those looking for action and thrills without having to enter some sort of alternate reality.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Southpaw

With Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence,
Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent. Written by Kurt Sutter. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rated R for language throughout, and some violence. 123 minutes.

SOUTHPAW is a story we’ve seen many times before, but it’s acted with such heart and directed with such skill that it’s hard to resist. It’s a boxing story about redemption (see “Rocky”) with the bond between parent and child (see “The Champ”) at its core. Credit a solid cast and director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) for keeping things taut despite a two-hour running time.

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the undefeated light heavyweight champ, and he has a habit of taking a terrific beating before coming back for the win. He’s had a tough life but seems to be in a good place now. Having grown up in an orphanage, he’s married to Maureen (Rachel McAdams), another orphan he met there. They live an idyllic life with their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence).

Without going into details, Billy–who has relied on Maureen and his manager (50 Cent) to handle the details of his life–loses everything. Like a modern day Job, he finds himself stripped of his relationships, possessions, and his boxing career. Hitting rock bottom, he goes to a gym run by Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to begin the process of rebuilding and reclaiming his life.

As a story it’s melodramatic. However Jake Gyllenhaal–who gave a brilliant and underrated performance in last year’s “Nightcrawler”–makes Billy more than an inarticulate lug. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but he appreciates what he had in terms of personal relationships and support and never pretends he did it all on his own. He has to get beyond the feelings of loss and humiliation if he’s going to get his life back.

McAdams swiftly sketches in a character whose bond to Billy comes as much from their shared background as their current success. Whitaker’s character is equally complex, trying to keep Billy at arm’s length while trying to instill a sense of pride in the poor kids working and learning at his gym. Good as they are– and they’ve very good–the amazing performance here is that of young Oona Laurence as Leila. The character’s relationship with her father evolves over the course of the story, and Laurence is never less than believable as the pre-teen reeling from the mess her life has become.

Fuqua’s direction goes from the personal to the pugilistic with ease. The boxing scenes are brutal. Where early on non-boxing fans (such as this reviewer) may view the scenes as barbarous, things change when Billy comes under Tick’s guidance. It may not change your mind about real-life boxing, but Tick’s argument that boxing is more about strategy than brute force becomes clear in the final bout, bloody though it is.

As an entry in the venerable boxing film genre, “Southpaw” is simply a modern evocation of tried-and-true plot points and characters. What it loses on lack of originality it more than makes up for in execution, making this one of the unexpected surprises of the summer movie season.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Ant-Man

With Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll,
Bobby Cannavale. Written Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish & Adam McKay & Paul Rudd. Directed by Peyton Reed. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. 117 minutes.

ANT-MAN helps illustrate that the ever-expanding Marvel Universe knows no bounds. It’s sort of like the Unified Field theory in physics. Eventually everything will be explained in one formula.

For those coming in (like this reviewer) with limited knowledge of the comic books, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is actually the second Ant-Man. The first, Dr. Howard Pym (Michael Douglas), withdrew from public life after the death of his wife and his concerns that his research might be misused. Now his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is planning on doing just that and Pym has recruited Lang to don the ant suit for a special mission.

The suit allows him to compress his atoms (insert scientific mumbo-jumb0 here) so he can get real small while retaining his full-size strength. Various things happen, including two scenes in the closing credits, which let us know we’re being set up for further adventures of Ant-Man on his own and in the world of Captain America and Iron Man. For the comic book geeks, this is manna from cinematic heaven.

As for the rest of us, this a lesser but fun effort. Paul Rudd is not Robert Downey, Jr., but he does have a wry sense of humor (and co-authored the script). His character is motivated by his love of his young daughter, but being an unemployed ex-con it’s not easy to get a job and pay child support. It doesn’t help that his ex (Judy Greer) is living with a tough cop (Bobby Canavale).

It’s a mix of action, humor, and some parental drama. Scott misses his daughter. Howard has issues with his daughter (Evangeline Lilly), as well as surrogate son Darren. In these days where CGI makes special effects seem so effortless, scenes of Scott surfing through a water pipe on the backs of an army of ants seems par for the course. It’s in the cleverness of the final fight scene between Ant-Man and Darren, now in the guise of Yellowjacket, that the film fully comes alive. They battle across a toy train set and we see one heave the engine in a near death blow against the other tiny character only to see the lightweight plastic toy then clatter to a halt.

What’s interesting is watching Douglas fit right into this world as Howard Pym. As with Robert Redford in last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” he takes the material as seriously (or lightly) as the moment requires, without the sense of, say, Marlon Brando in “Superman” (1978) obviously slumming it. For those eager to tie this in to the larger Marvel Universe, there’s appearances by Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

“Ant-Man” will likely play just as well on the small screen–so to speak–but for those needing their Marvel fix between “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the reboot of “The Fantastic Four,” it will do.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Gallows

With Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford,
Travis Cluff. Written and directed by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing. Rated R for some disturbing violent content and terror. 81 minutes.

THE GALLOWS is one of the worst horror movies likely to be released this year. Even allowing its low budget and no-name cast, it is badly thought out from its absurd premise to its equally absurd payoff. Even people with low expectations for movies like this will not have them met.

However, before proceeding to trashing this excruciating exercise that makes 81 minutes seem like forever, let’s praise the one good idea they had and what presumably got the film made: almost the entire movie consists of four people locked in a high school late at night. Even this idea doesn’t quite work because this is a high school that seems to have been designed by the writers who created the ship for “Galaxy Quest.” (If you don’t remember the joke, it’s a complaint by one of the actors that there are things on the ship that have no practical purpose except to threaten the lives of the crew.)

So here’s the premise: In 1993, a small-town high school puts on a play called “The Gallows.” It’s a period piece about a commoner romancing a noblewoman and ends with him being hanged. Something goes horribly wrong and the kid playing the commoner dies.

Two things are immediately apparent. This is yet another “found footage” film with all the action not only filmed with shaky handheld cameras but with variable lighting for “atmosphere.” Second, the story jumps ahead to 2013 where, amazingly the school is putting on the play again. The female lead is played by Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), who has been trying to recreate the original production right down to the picture on the cover of the program. What’s more, a photo of the original cast–including the dead boy–remains prominently on display.

Does this sound like anything even approaching reality? When we hear that “Charlie”–the dead boy–still haunts the school, we know we’re in trouble. Then Reese (Reese Mishler), the male lead in the new production who has quit the football team to do it, allows himself to be persuaded by his idiot friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and ditzy cheerleader Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) to break into the school and wreck the set. Why? So the play will be cancelled.

Other than the arrival of Pfeifer, the only surprise here is that no one can figure a way to get out of the school and that the stage seems to be built around several miles of corridor which have no purpose except to look scary. By the time the hapless teens start disappearing and some “secrets” are revealed, you’ll likely be less impressed with what they did on a low budget and more annoyed with what they’re trying to put over as a “horror” movie.

It’s possible to do something more or less creative on a shoestring and Blumhouse Productions, one of the companies behind this, has done it before with “Sinister” and “The Purge.” Some would add “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity,” which shows just how low the bar can be set. “The Gallows” doesn’t even reach that. It just hangs there, dead… and deadly dull.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Minions

With the voices of Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush. Written by Brian Lynch. Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin. Rated PG for action and rude humor. 91 minutes.

It would be nice to report that MINIONS is a masterpiece. It isn’t. What it is, however, is a whole lot of silly fun. As with “Penguins of Madagascar,” it attempts to take the hilarious sidekicks from an animated series and put them center stage. What you get is similar to if you made a dish with your favorite seasonings and left out the entree. You enjoy the taste but after a while you notice something is missing.

The Minions, of course, are the yellow, pill-shaped creatures who serve mad scientist Gru in the “Despicable Me” films. Here we go back to the dawn of time to see the early minions seeking out some powerful figure to serve and going through various mishaps. Finally three of them arrive in the modern world of 1968–carefully selected for a reason that soon becomes apparent–and find themselves heading to Orlando for a villains convention. That’s a cute little joke right there, because it’s prior to the creation of the Florida theme parks, and so it’s still a provincial backwater.

At the convention they meet Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock), who takes on Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (gibberish voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) for her most nefarious plot yet: stealing the crown of the Queen of England (voice of Jennifer Saunders). To spend much more time on the plot would be missing the point. We don’t care as much about the story as about the Minions themselves.

There’s plenty of slapstick tomfoolery that will appeal to all ages, but there’s also the opportunity to burst into their unique renditions of familiar music including “Make ’em Laugh” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and a post-credits production of the Beatles’ “Revolution.” Other artists of the era – including the Rolling Stones, Donovan, and the Who–turn up on the soundtrack. Then there’s their gibberish, which is given enough context–and occasional borrowing from other languages including a heartfelt Hebrew “mazel tov”–to be understood.

It’s a fast-paced 91 minutes that will not leave you longing for “Minions, Part II” but glad that you sat through this one. Sometimes there’s a reason a beloved sidekick should remain in a supporting role. In small doses we treasure their every appearance. In a feature-length film where the sidekick is the star, we begin to notice there’s not quite enough depth there to carry the film. Imagine a movie about Elmer Fudd or a “Toy Story” spinoff about Mr. Potato Head or a “Snow White” sequel about Grumpy. Such characters are the seasoning, not the main course.

That said, it still has to be noted that “Minions” is enjoyable and funny and a perfect way to beat the heat. Sometimes that’s enough. Indeed, sometimes that’s more than enough.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Magic Mike XXL

With Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Juan Piedrahita. Written Reid Carolin. Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. 115 minutes.

There’s something familiar about MAGIC MIKE XXL, the sequel to “Magic Mike” It’s not just the return of most of the male strippers – excepting Oscar-winner Matthew McConnaughey’s Dallas whom we’re told has a new troupe of strippers in Macao. No, it’s the plot.

Mike (Channing Tatum), has left the life to open up the furniture business he was saving up for, but things are so tough he can’t even afford health insurance for his sole employee. When he gets a call from Richie (Joe Manganiello) he discovers that his old Tampa gang are going to a “convention” of male strippers in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The promise of big money lures Mike back for one last show.

As the nearly two-hour movie progresses, they hit various bumps. An accident takes out their van and their driver/MC Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) for the duration. Mike meets Zoe (Amber Heard), who sends him decidedly mixed signals. He reconnects with Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), who now presides over her own male strip club. They stop by an old friend only to find her mother (Andie McDowell) and her friends who take a decidely unladylike interest in the strippers. They argue over whether to do their tried and true acts or dare to do something new with only days to rehearse.

Finally, it’s the big night. The woman in charge (Elizabeth Banks) gives them a key slot. And then it’s show time. Finally we get to see the big acts each of them has created, with Mike arranging for Zoe to be his on-stage partner/prop for his act. It’s not a spoiler to say that audiences which have been waiting for this series of payoffs won’t be disappointed.

The details, of course, are entirely different, but this is the outline for virtually every backstage musical ever made, starting with “42nd Street” (1933). There’s a lot of plot churning and hijinks as we wait for the big numbers at the end. The characters are likable enough that you don’t mind following them, but there’s no real depth here, nor is any intended. The whole movie is just a vehicle to get you to the last half hour or so and the various “dance” routines.

Thus the fact that there are some credible actors in the cast–Tatum, Manganiello, Smith, McDowell, and Banks among them–is almost beside the point. This is about objectifying and sexualizing male bodies, and since this is usually the way women are portrayed on screen, one can hardly complain. (Or, if one wants to complain, this is hardly the place to start.) This is a movie that is cashing in on the success of the first one.

Magic Mike” was not a great film but it was directed by Steven Soderbergh and had moments where you really did care about the lives of the characters and the choices they were making. This film, although penned by Reid Carolin who wrote the original, doesn’t quite reach for that. The biggest crisis here is Richie deciding whether he wants to play a fireman, as he has been doing, or find himself a new role as a “male entertainer.”

Magic Mike XXL” is eye candy for those who want to see barely dressed men simulating sex. If that’s not you, you needn’t bother.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Terminator Genisys

With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons. Written Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier. Directed by Alan Taylor. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. 125 minutes.

It’s hard to believe that it’s more than thirty years since the original “Terminator” film. TERMINATOR: GENISYS is the fourth sequel (plus the TV series “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), so it’s a complex universe, made more complicated because time travel and attempts to alter the past and the future are part of it.

After the first two entries, which were directed by James Cameron, it’s been hit-or-miss, but fans should embrace this one as a worthy entry. For those coming in late, the simple story line is this: at some point a computer system called “Skynet” takes over the world and begins eradicating humans. John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads a successful revolt. A terminator robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original) is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before John is born. A human, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back to make sure she lives. In the second film, Schwarzenegger’s cyborg becomes a good guy fighting off a different and more advanced assassin.

This installment follows that outline, but there are new complications, as the timeline has changed. When Kyle shows up, he’s met by an advanced killer (Byung-hun Lee) and rescued by Sarah, who has been raised by Schwarzenegger’s time-wizened cyborg. And Skynet isn’t going to take over the world in 1997 (as in the earlier films) but 2017, so Sarah and Kyle have to go into the future to stop it. There’s more, including an old cop (J. K. Simmons) who seems to know an awful lot about what’s going on.

Unlike the more recent sequels, the filmmakers have made a real effort to make this fit into the world created in the first two movies. There are elements that deliberately echo or play off of moments in them, and there’s some fun with the time travel stuff that shouldn’t leave you scratching your head. Schwarzenegger looks like he’s having fun in one of his signature roles in a way we haven’t seen on screen in a long time. For one thing he gets to acknowledge being old (he turns 68 on July 30) while pointedly noting that that doesn’t mean he’s obsolete.

Jason Clarke continues to impress in what turns into quite a twisted role, while Jai Courtney plays Kyle as a young hero who find himself buffeted by forces beyond his control. Most interesting is Emilia Clarke, who has to follow in the footsteps of Linda Hamilton and Lena Headey in the role of Sarah Connor. Clarke, who plays the very blonde Daenerys on “Game of Thrones,” is tough but more vulnerable, perhaps because this Sarah seems somewhat younger than what we’re used to.

If the special effects aren’t as novel as they were in “Terminator 2,” there’s still some very impressive work here providing both action and imagination. The material is better balanced this time around so we actually get some character moments with Kyle and Sarah instead of just unrelenting battles with cyborgs. “Terminator Genisys” may be yet another summer movie sequel, but this one turns out to have been worth the effort.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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