Mission: Impossible reviews – Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015)

Released: December 21, 2011. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg. Runtime: 2h 12 min.

Brad Bird directs his first-live action film with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol after doing the great film The Incredibles.

I think his sense of humour is one of the reasons this entry has so many funny moments, and another reason is Simon Pegg getting a bigger role as Benji, who’s been newly promoted to field agent. Bird’s humour is shown when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets a mission to find files identifying a person of interest called “Cobalt,” from the Moscow Kremlin archives.

It’s the usual when Ethan gets the message, but the phone says it’s going to self destruct but it doesn’t, so Ethan goes back and hits it with his hand.

The plot itself is good as “Ghost Protocol” is put in place by the President that disavows the entire IMF team because Ethan and his team, including Benji and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), are implicated in the bombing at the Kremlin. Also helping them is intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and his character’s super interesting. The villain played by Michael Nyqvist is good.

The action’s thrilling, too, especially the stunt outside of the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalif. The film’s prison break at the beginning is also such a great opening.

Score: 85/100

 

Released: July 31, 2015. Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie. Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner. Runtime: 2h 11 min.

Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

The idea of a shadow organization like the IMF is such a cool idea. It’s awesome watching Ethan try to take them down, and there are a lot of cool plot twists throughout.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is also a good villain, and his speaking voice is so damn cool. New character Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has a great dynamic with Hunt, and she keeps us guessing throughout.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is just so bonkers it starts with Tom Cruise hanging off an airplane. It’s one of the best stunts but the film is very entertaining. The film’s set pieces really continue to astound, especially the car chases. One notable scene at an opera makes the opera look like a lot of fun, so that’s a mission it also accomplishes.

Score: 90/100

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My anxiety and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Emma Watson

Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Source)

Hi all, I thought I would divert from my usual film reviews for a post. I wanted to share a column piece I wrote for my college newspaper, the Algonquin Times, last semester about my anxieties in high school and how the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower  (review) helped me get through it.

I also just wanted to share what I’ve been doing in school, too, so here’s my author page for the publication if you wanted to check out any of the other articles.

Anyway, here’s the article which originally appeared here

Logan Lerman

Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Source)

During my high school senior year, I was looking for a sense of belonging.

I was searching through the hallways or, frankly, anywhere I could find it.

Finding that belonging has never been easy for me. Those lonely lunch hours led me to going home for lunch a lot, my main comfort zone.

I’ve had anxiety for some time. The source for it has been my fear of judgment, a need of acceptance and lack of confidence. Another source of my anxiety was my inability of feeling like I could be myself in a group of people where I felt uncomfortable with one person. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

Alas, anxiety is a part life.

I wasn’t able to truly pinpoint these feelings until October 2012 when I saw the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, adapted from a novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky. It was a film that changed my life.

The film dealt with a wallflower, an introvert, who found friendship during his teenage years. The narrative showed there’s no shame in being yourself, and that none of us are alone. Its content was deeply resonant at that point in my life, and I felt like I was taking the journey with the characters. I laughed and cried, and had a lump in my throat throughout.

Even like one’s basic anxiety medication, The Perks of Being a Wallflower didn’t make me invincible. I still had my fair share of problems and took a year off after high school until my anxiety had weakened and my heart wouldn’t beat like a speeding drum, like it did on the first day of college.

The film brought me a better understanding of myself. It helped me feel more visible. It, and my program, has drawn me out of my gradually expanding comfort zone. It’s helped show me that I really can do anything I aspire to do.

Since this current level of the journalism program has less than 35 students, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the same person if it were a larger program. Our tight-knit community brought me confidence, and it help me to find a group of like-minded people.

When I met with a friend from high school, I asked him if he noticed anything different about me, expecting no deep answer. “You laugh more,” he said.

I can attribute that to finding a sense of belonging. I am no longer that vulnerable boy walking down a hallway looking for a friend.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men FirReleased: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.

X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique). 

The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more. 

I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.

The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?” 

The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.

One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story. 

Score: 90/100

Rio (2011)

RioRelease Date: April 15, 2011. Director: Carlos Saldanha. Stars (voices): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 96 min.

Blue Sky Studios produces decent animated movies; from the Ice Age flicks to Horton Hears a Who! to Epic. The studio is just that, though, decent. Their movies aren’t anything extraordinary usually – and that’s just the case with Rio.

As feel-good and foot-tapping as the movie is, it’s quite generic and simply forgettable. It’s a good way to pass the time, and it offers a few laughs, but I don’t remember any of them. The voicework is also fine. It’s a story about believing to fly, because Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) was taken from his natural habitat before he learned to fly. I don’t remember hearing any R. Kelly song throughout this movie, so that seems like a missed opportunity. The supporting characters are mildly amusing.

The movie goes down like a bitter pill. The movie is solid entertainment, but it hurts to know that Pixar could have made a movie just like this. They had to cancel their project, called Newt, because theirs was a similar premise with geckos — and I just can’t help but think their finished project would have been superior to this only mediocre film.

Score63/100

I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

I Spit on Your GraveReleased: October 8, 2010. Directed by: Steven R. Monroe. Starring: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard. Runtime: 108 min.

Steven R. Monroe’s I Spit on Your Grave is the remake of Meir Zarchi’s 1978 film Day of the Woman, a film so brutal it was banned in many places (a few provinces in Canada, the Phillipines, China). It’s an exploitation flick that analyzes the human capacity for cruelty. It also raises questions of, if you were raped and left for dead, would you seek revenge against those who did it? The film’s premise is that a writer named Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) rents a cabin in order to find quiet which will help her finish her novel quicker. A few locals decide to have a little fun with her after the leader is sort-of humiliated at the gas station at which he works. In the meantime their mentally challenged friend (the unconvincing Chad Lindberg from The Fast and the Furious) can lose his virginity.

The crew gang rape the innocent Jennifer and leave her for dead. Revenge tactics ensue. How she gets the materials to conduct these acts of revenge is beyond me, but she does it. It seems like she gets a few of her materials from a different, abandoned cabin she finds in the woods.

The film is just a major exploitation flick that isn’t very good. It’s uninspired redneck cruelty because they think city girls are much too prissy and stuck-up. One of the crew is Damien from Mean Girls. He’s okay in this. Everyone in this is just okay. Butler expresses the human capacity for violence pretty well, but isn’t she becoming animalistic like these Neanderthals? Granted, it’s for inspired reasons, so the film says karma is just a bitch. Horror fans might like this violence, but it’s just okay for me. Cringe-worthy and disturbing in more than a few parts make this film hard to watch. The subject matter should tell you what this film has in store for you.

Score: 40/100

Red State (2011)

Red StateReleased: September 29, 2011. Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman. Runtime: 88 min.

I must give respect writer/director Kevin Smith for giving us something we haven’t seen from him before. There’s only one laugh in the entire movie. It’s a nice change of pace for him, but not a great film.

Set in Middle America, Jarod (Kyle Gallner) invites two of his best friends, Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) to have a foursome with an older woman he met through a dating site. Instead of having a good time, they fall onto the family church of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a religious zealot who has a much more sinister agenda.

I also respect that this is a movie I wasn’t really expecting – because it’s certainly not one’s run-of-the-mill action-horror flick. It also realistically portrays religious fantacism, in a particularly shocking way in one scene – but when Cooper simply preaches his beliefs down his family’s throats (and our throats, too, in turn) it’s the same familiar Bible quoting. I have my own religious beliefs – but I’m not one to stand on the lawn of a church during a funeral to protest homosexuality.

Things take a turn halfway through when intelligent cops actually show up (a rarity for horror flicks, no less) on a lead of the compound holding weapons that violate the National Firearms Act. These occurrences change the film’s tone from subtle horror to a bit of full-out action, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world because with that we get another intense performance from John Goodman. Viewers also get to see Michael Parks act nucking futs, and Nicholas Braun’s fear of the situation in one scene is particularly impressive.

There’s some analysis of repercussions of taking orders and not taking orders from higher powers (I’m talking about one’s boss in this case!), as well as some thoughts on terrorism. The religious fanatics are a little cuckoo and some of the occurrences are disappointing; leading me to not really care about the characters any more, but at least there’s some humanity within the religious family. It’s cool that some of the focus is taken away from the young teens who were the stars at the beginning, but surprising. But that’s what we look for in films – surprises. That’s what makes “Red State” only a decent watch. An unpleasant surprise is that this feels much more like an action film than a horror film, but it’s still not a waste of time; and one thing is certain: It makes me a bit more cautious of Craigslist, at least if there are any religious fanatics in my area.

Score63/100

Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-AssReleased: April 16, 2010. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloë Grace Moretz. Runtime: 117 min.

The superhero niche genre is a prominent one in Hollywood these days. Whether it follows a big name hero like Batman or Superman, or if it’s a critical disaster like something akin to “Green Lantern,” they usually make awesome money. It’s always refreshing to see a superhero movie made with a low budget.

The story follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who wonders one day, why has no one ever decided to become a super hero? He’s an unnoticed student and comic book fan who buys a suit and becomes a super hero, even though he is powerless, has no preliminary training or any true reason to do so.

“Kick-Ass” makes me happy for the future of R-rated super hero movies. This has a satirical edge and meta way about it. I love all the homages to super hero movies and the general universe comic books create. I think people who read comic books can respect it a bit more, but this is such an entertaining piece of cinema. The action sequences are tons of fun, and the comedy is just as impressive. The characters are colourful and this is probably my favourite movie based on a comic book. It gives audiences an interesting look into the world of super heroes without any powers. It does raise the question: Why hasn’t anyone put on the cape before and fought crime?

Probably because they’d get their asses kicked. And when they begin to be threatened by the mafia, things don’t get better – they get worse, obviously. That is thanks to Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who are planning a revenge plot on mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), after D’Amico framed Big Daddy, former police officer, and put him in jail for a very long time. (Hit Girl is going along with it because those are the values she was taught. This might disturb some audience members.)

The action is deriously entertaining. Director Matthew Vaughn balances the satirical humour with dark violence, that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Quentin Tarantino picture. One particular scene is hard on the eyes – but so well-done, and it’s a testament to the movie’s visual style and charm. This is a memorable experience, with a great cast.

Nicolas Cage was practically born to play the role of Big Daddy, a darker version of Batman. Some might question a little girl playing the role of a vulgar killing machine, but she (Moretz as Hit Girl) gets some of the biggest laughs and is included in some of the coolest sequences. Moretz has a great career ahead of her. Lyndsey Fonseca is there to up the sexiness of the movie. The film’s finale is astounding and the entertainment rarely dies down throughout. Blood and gore hardly looked so nice in a super hero flick. Vaughn expertly balances the action and the comedy, and I can’t decide which is better.

You care about the characters. The universe created here is magnificent. Aaron Tayl0r-Johnson fits the character of Dave well because, initially, he’s a huge geek. We get to see his process of becoming a character that can really kick ass without the help of spider bites or fancy gadgets. With no power comes no responsibility.

Action, crime, comedy, great characterization, blood, superheroes. This movie’s got it all.

Score95/100