Monday, August 31, 2015

[Review] The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Donning a unique mixture of elements reminiscent of The To-Do ListFish Tank, and even Blue Is The Warmest Color, this blissfully frank and very R-rated coming-of-age film The Diary of a Teenage Girl certainly delivers on what is advertised.

San Francisco 1976, (there's bellbottoms everywhere!) we meet Minnie (Bel Powley), a 15 (and a half) year old high school student. She's hyper-observant, curious, and her mind is bombarded with mixed thoughts and feelings about love & sex. At the opening, she proudly proclaims "I had sex today, holy shit!" via her intimate narration (she records a lot of personal details onto cassettes). The film starts out light and comedic in tone, but some uncomfortable undertones set in when we find out that the person she lost her virginity to is Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard)--the skeezy 35-year-old boyfriend of her druggy mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), even though it's mutual.

The narrative is less of a well-rounded story and more of a series of sexual experiences followed by diary entries, awkward tip-toeing around, and a matter of waiting until Minnie's mom finds out and shit hits the fan. Minnie is an avid doodler and aspiring cartoonist, so a lot of her graphic (I mean graphic) drawings actually leap off of the page and animate within the live, grainy and retro interior-design-gone-wild settings, making for some visual spunk.

Kristen Wiig is great here, continuing to delve into more serious roles as of late. Bel Powley gives a brilliant triumph of a performance on multiple fronts. Aside from her exuberant line deliveries and wide range of emotion, the camera focuses heavily on her huge blue eyes, which manage to convey her confusion and constant musings. The character undergoes some major internal and table turning transformations. Between writing off her distant father and a late acid-fueled sleepover scene where Monroe is practically reduced to a child crying in her arms, Minnie begins to realize that she doesn't need to depend on a man in her life, and it's an empowering moment.

The problem is that the narrative gets overly repetitive for a big chunk of the midsection. Stuff is happening, but it feels like a stagnant zone. So, you're more than likely to come away admiring the performances and the concluding resonation of themes, rather than the entire picture.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

[Review] The End of the Tour

Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg star in this profile renowned author David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide at the age of 46. The End of the Tour is based on one of his complex and revealing interviews with Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. The film is essentially one really long conversation, but it's a thought-provoking and well-acted one.

Sick of writing about Boy Bands, David Lipsky (Eisenberg) is granted permission to do a story on the long-haired, bandana-wearing David Foster Wallace (Segel) during his book tour for his bestseller Infinite Jest. Once the two get past the awkward introductions and dissect the conscious nature of an interview, a sort of solemn bromance forms. They discuss a vast array of topics - from music, food, dogs, depression, movies, and masturbation. In fact, the film blatantly avoids talking about the actual writing process. The rest of the way, Lipsky is caught between either being respectful to a guy he admires, or prying for the best (and juiciest) story possible.

If you're familiar with Eisenberg's past work, you won't be surprised to know that he's completely in his element here, putting on a solid performance as a fascinated and somewhat nerdy journalist. And if you're familiar with Jason Segel's past work, you'll know that his repertoire has been dominated by comedies, both on TV and film--which is why it's so compelling to see him in such a serious, nuanced, and even dark role. He does it masterfully. I'm sure he's had it in him, but we just didn't know it. He nails the sophisticated, post-hippie cadence and he skillfully presents himself as an introspective over-thinker, with a sadness and agitation that emerges through the surface. Even if he doesn't get Oscar recognition for this, he's sure to gain some awards attention among indie circuits.

The End of the Tour is a sombering (it's a word now) portrait of loneliness, skewed reputations, and the lines between journalist and friend. It also makes sure to not glorify the idea of the "tortured writer". Not everyone will be interested in this film, and it slightly drags toward the end, but if you're down for some great performance and existential discussions, The End of the Tour couldn't be any more fitting.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

[Review] She's Funny That Way

She's Funny That Way is a screwball ensemble rom-com with an endearing cast of Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Anniston, Will Forte, and Kathyrn Hahn. Peter Bogdanovich directs, and Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach are listed as executive producers, so it's kind of surprising that the film is such a mediocre romp.

Right away, the throwback vibes are clear, from the chirpy music to the graphics and colors that fill the opening credit sequence. It opens with Izzy (Poots), a heavy Brooklyn accented girl reminiscing about the oldie romantic films: Spencer Tracy, Kat Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall... Then it flashes back to a slightly earlier time where Izzy works as an escort, or "muse" as she likes to call it. Arnold (Wilson), a Broadway director, requests Izzy for her services. After some heart-to-heart talks and "detailed" sex, he falls for her and ends up casting her in his new play. Then, Arnold's playwright (Forte) and a therapist (Aniston) enter the picture, and a crazy love tangle forms.

The film wants to be a comic environment, and despite having its moments and piling on some juicy situations, it disappointingly just doesn't bring many laughs or hearty sentiment. It's still easily watchable, though. However, it's nowhere near as charming as the classics it's attempting to recall (A main one that comes to mind is the Rock Hudson and Doris Day starring Pillow Talk [1959]). The cast here is fully enjoyable, especially Imogen Poots. I am not overly familiar with her past work, but it seems like she should be on the verge of being one of the biggest actresses in the world.

She's Funny That Way has potential, but it never really amounts to all that much. And there's a noteworthy cameo at the end that turns out to be more of a head-scratcher than anything.


Monday, August 24, 2015

[Review] Sinister 2

Sinister was one of the better recent horror films of its kind, succeeding off its technical chops, steady build of dread, and audacious ending. It was good enough as a standalone piece, to the point where the "well, that was quick" news of a sequel made eyes roll. Then when the trailer for Sinister 2 released, it actually looked pretty hardcore. However, it ends up being a large step down (like, basement trap door sized) from the first, but it still manages to deliver some solid scares.

A single mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two rowdy boys have newly moved into a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. And of course, some weird stuff is occurring there. There are two major links to the first film. One is the ghastly Bughuul demon (who, now that we've gotten clearer views--is starting to look like a mix between Glenn Danzig and Kane from WWE), which thrives off the corruption of innocence. The second is the cop (James Ransone), who returns here as a private investigator. He's been following these supernatural events for a while, and it turns out that one of the grisly group murders took place inside of an old church on Courtney's property. The curse is bound to repeat, and he's trying to break the pattern.

If you're wondering if you need to see the first one before you see this one, the answer is probably yes--not only because it explains the concept of Bughuul, but also because it's a really good film. Anyway, the story in Sinister 2 is heavily lacking, especially considering an unnecessary and ridiculous subplot that just seems like filler every time it comes up. And the film doesn't have a performance like Ethan Hawke's (the protagonist in the predecessor) anchoring it. The momentum is disjointed, and the ending is rushed and pretty underwhelming compared to the first film.

This is a situation where the biggest scares in the film were all packed into the trailer. But along the way, we still witness a lot of unnerving walks through dark and forbidding settings, the usual jump scares, and the disturbing, twisted, and painful-to-see snuff film footage. Even though it's difficult to watch, the snuff aspect is the strongest point of the film, in both visual style and traumatic creep factor.

All in all, Sinister 2 isn't as abysmal as a lot of reviews are making it out to be. If you just want to get your fill of scares, you'll probably get them. But chances are, we won't need a Sinister 3.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

[Review] People Places Things

Jemaine Clement and Regina Hall star in this paradigmatic indie dramedy and low-key rom-com.

Within the first five minutes Will (Jemaine Clement) walks in on his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) cheating on him. It's one of the calmer scenes of this nature to grace the screen, but it's apparent that their relationship has been on a trail of unhappiness, and questions about their kids' well-being arise after the split. Then we jump forward "One year later..."

Will is still in a rut, working on his graphic novels, struggling to be competent at his NYC professor job, and coping with seeing Charlie move on while he isn't over her. But one day, a student of his asks him over for dinner. In a play of awkward comedy, Will absolutely refuses (you know - the student/teacher rule), but she, appalled, clears things up and emphasizes that she wanted to set him up with her MOM(!) Diane (Regina Hall). Will and Diane manage to argue profusely and somewhat hit-it-off at the same time during their first date. And now, we're in-store for the usual character-driven indie elements--internal transformations, emotional arcs, and turning points. Or in other words--Is Will going to get his life on track? And are Will and Diane going to end up together?

Will is likable, if a bit plain as a character. He doesn't necessarily possess a factor that makes him an overtly interesting standout or particularly memorable. But he does present endearing moments. During his twin daughters' birthdays he announces "I got you iPads!" as he holds up a pair of kites.
The midsection of the narrative actually reflects the main character--It's meandering and lacking in consistent plot. Still very watchable, but not extremely engaging.

But on an interesting note - Jemaine Clement is a pasty, awkward New Zealander (they didn't decide to mask his accent), and Regina Hall is a fervent, no-BS black woman. The film refreshingly doesn't even draw attention to the interracial aspect. I'm not suggesting that drawing attention to it is always completely a bad thing, but here it appears that the filmmakers are primarily concerned on a general humane level, as well as casting whomever they want without having to poke and prod for comedy, irony, or conflict in regards to their different ethnicities in order to serve the story.

Both better and worse, countless films of this vein have come before this one (I think at least two of them have starred Mark Ruffalo, AT LEAST), but if done well it's usually hard to dislike them, and People Places Things is a pleasant one. It ends up being slightly mild, but that also means it goes down easy.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

[Review] Ten Thousand Saints

This limited release Ten Thousand Saints is a well-acted affair with an indie-friendly cast, including Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, and Emile Hirsche.

The story revolves around teenager Jude (Butterfield) during the late '80s. Him and his best friend Teddy (Avan Jogia) are skateboarding, all black-wearing punk rockers, and they're starting to experiment with drugs. Along the way, they meet Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), a girl with similar tastes. Jude's life is flipped when Teddy dies from a drug overdose. Afterward, his estranged father, the man-childish Les (Ethan Hawke) comes and swoops him up and takes him to live in Manhattan, where Jude befriends a group of straight-edge kids and attemptss to clean up his lifestyle, but things get complicated when he learns that Eliza is pregnant with Teddy's child.

Even though some moments don't feel as genuine as they probably want to be, there's an appealing charm here (a big part of that is due to Hawke's presence) that rings similar to a lot of serious little indie dramas that have come before this. At points in the narrative, things get pretty weird and directionless, and flaws begin to emerge. However, certain people will probably be intrigued by the views of CBGB and the band discussions--The Misfits, Dead Kennedys, and a number of hardcore acts. The film flaunts a diverse rock soundtrack, as songs like Social Distortion's "Prison Bound", R.E.M.'s "Fall On Me", and The Replacements' "Little Mascara" play during montage sequences.

The film is essentially about becoming your own person despite what the past or preconceived notions might dictate. The biggest problem is that it never rises very high above its material, and the back half settles into an underwhelming stretch. Still, if this sort of thing piques your interest in any way, it's worth checking out if you have the time.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

[Review] The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is an awkward title for a feature, but it's actually a reboot of a '60s TV series of the same name. This Guy Ritchie film is a fun, old-fashioned spy caper.

Set amidst the Cold War, we meet Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill, Man of Steel), a suave, smooth-talking CIA agent. He tracks down a woman named Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander). She's a mysterious, quick-witted, and highly skilled auto mechanic who is a key lead in Solo's mission. Things waste no time ramping up when they realize another decorated, hard-to-kill agent named Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is on their trail, and a long chase scene ensues through the nooks and crannies of East Berlin. Next thing you know, the group of three are forced to join forces in order to infiltrate a criminal organization with nuclear stakes.

As expected, the plot is packed with turns, twists, questionable allegiances, and surface thrills. The element that it really has going for it is that it's very funny. The bickering between the characters is always amusing, and the film is full of shameless sight gags. There's a heavy utilization of visual flair, energetic camerawork, and jazzy editing. During a standout scene of cross-cuts, the three main characters split up at a party with specific tasks at-hand, and there's just something humorous about all these people that are constantly 'up to something' being in an area at the same damn time.

Henry Cavill came off as stiff and stale as Superman in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, and that might have been due to scripting and tonal issues, because in a setting like U.N.C.L.E. he's extremely charismatic and demonstrates some great comic timing. Then there's Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, Testament of Youth), and as I've mentioned before, she's one of the most impressive new-ish actresses on the scene, and this role further confirms that, especially as she's able to let loose and wield some swagger.

The story does lose some of its momentum toward the end, and it gets a little confusing (perhaps intentionally), and the latter pile of twists actually drag out a bit. However, it's an enjoyable enough ride to come away feeling accomplished.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

[Review] Cop Car

New primarily on VOD releases are often chalked up as inessential, but there are always a few worth seeing--ones that are actually better than a lot of things taking place on big screens. Cop Car--not to be confused with anything that has to do with Ride Along or Cop Out, is one of the good ones, and it's a salient vehicle for a mustached Kevin Bacon.

Opening with some well-framed and scenic landscape shots, we meet two miscreant kids (they can't be older than 12). They're the type that recite swear words as a rebellious hobby and throw rocks at stuff. Anyway, they stumble upon an unoccupied cop car and decide to take it on a joyride. Meanwhile, the scuzzy cop that left the vehicle behind (played by Kevin Bacon) is now on the prowl to find it, and we sense that things are going to get ugly.

Sometimes films with a simple, focused, and straightforward premise that can sustain their feature length are great viewings, and Cop Car definitely falls into that category. One thing to note is how well the dialogue is written for these young boys. It sounds natural and convincing, and it carries a shrewd naivety that brings about a "that sounds like something they would say" factor in the given situation. In a way, the film has a coming-of-age feel to it, mixed with neo-Western tinged dark comedy, somewhat reminiscent of last year's grisly Blue Ruin. There's also a twist here, and even though it's revealed early on, I'm gonna choose to keep my mouth shut.

Kevin Bacon finds himself in one of his more interesting roles in a while, and he does this sort of thing well. The narrative is paced on the slower side, but it's the type of slow that isn't tedious. It's a steady build of burn. I've seen a couple of complaints about the ending, but I personally thought it concluded in a way that was consistent with the audacious story.


Monday, August 17, 2015

[Review] Straight Outta Compton

You've probably noticed that music biopics have become a common trend in Hollywood, populating movie screens at a frequent rate the past few years. This year's N.W.A. portrayal is the most hyped of them all. If we've learned anything, it's that there is a laundry list of things that can go wrong (and usually do go wrong) in music biopics. Thankfully, not much goes wrong in Straight Outta Compton.

During the intense and hazy opening scene, we see Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) dashing out of a dope house during a police raid. This is the first of several introductions to the artists we'll meet. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) finds himself getting lost in records (and wearing headphones), defying conventional employment. Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr., who is actually Ice Cube's son) is reflective and observant, writing rhymes on notepads while witnessing Bloods vs Crips quarrels. And there's a temper there waiting to burst. From here on out, it's the formation of the infamous and influential hip-hop group N.W.A. and their explosion onto the scene, as well as the rise of Gangsta Rap (or "Reality Rap" as they like to call it), and the resistance that meets it.

Straight Outta Compton trades in the gloss and polish for a more gritty aesthetic, and the overall vibe strays away from getting too cheesy. It also must be noted that the audio during the performances actually captures the sound of a live rap show, so there isn't that flat and awkward aspect to it. And while the musical side of the tale is entertaining, energetic, and an intriguing draw for generations of the rap fans, it's the relevant themes that give this film its power--from racial profiling to police brutality, record industry politics, and the plight for freedom of speech. The narrative also doesn't gloss over the conflicts within the group. The film runs at a surprisingly long 160 minutes, but it never feels like it drags. Sure, the first half is generally more enjoyable, but that's because the story itself takes on a somber tone as it approaches its closing.

Any casting concerns are put to rest with these performances that surpass cartoony impressions.
O'Shea Jackson Jr. cruises by on looking almost identical to his father, and it works well. Paul Giamatti plays Jerry Heller, and he's pretty much mastered this untrustworthy manager role, as he also demonstrated in this year's Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy. And yes, he still has the best yell in the game. Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E is the true standout. It's seasoned, and the most depth-filled performance of them all. He's complex, soulful, funny, poignant, and he steals every single scene he's in. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why Mitchell shouldn't be in Oscar discussions this year.

Most of us will never know exactly how a lot of these 'behind closed doors' situations went down in real life. And of course, embellishments come with the territory, but this is a dramatic retelling--not a documentary. It at least seems that F. Gary Gray's picture was crafted with a lot of care, input, and enthusiasm. Some moments in the plot might come off as rushed bullet points, but they are bullet points that should stand the test of time.

* 9/10 *

Thursday, August 13, 2015

[Review] Dark Places

Gone Girl was one of the more twisted and intriguing films of last year (it ranked Top 5 in my Top 25 Films of 2014 list). This year brings another feature adapted from a Gillian Flynn novel, called Dark Places. I doubt anyone expected this to match Gone Girl's greatness, but what's so disappointing is just exactly how far it falls short of it.

Libby (Charlize Theron) was 7 years old when her family was murdered within their own home. In turn, Libby was orphaned and grew up living off income from other people's donations and a tell-all book. Now an adult for many years, she's at a loss for what to do, and it isn't surprising that she's been left with trauma and trust issues. It's an interesting thing to think about--all the survivors of these grisly "48 Hours" and "Dateline" crimes--Where Are They Now? Here, it just so happens that the mystery of Libby's family remained unsolved, and for the first time, she decides to revisit the scene of the crime in order to uncover new details about the brutal murder.

The story itself isn't as shocking and batshit insane as Gone Girl, and there just isn't an engaging enough pull or intrigue to it, and a film of this nature obviously needs that. And of course, the film doesn't possess David Fincher's keen direction, illuminating the shadows. In Gone Girl, the voiceover narration was blunt, insightful, poetic, and it enhanced the madness. But here, it's essentially a bland handhold. There's just something sloppy about the entire film, and there's no wonder why it didn't have a significant backing for its theater release.

Dark Places can be slotted into the category of bad films excellent casts. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult both recently appeared together in one of the year's best films in Mad Max: Fury Road. It's fairly pointless to compare the films since they're so different, but you might end up daydreaming about the exhilarating desert storms and blistering action the two stars engaged in during Fury Road. Budding newcomer Tye Sheridan (Mud, Joe) shows up in an underwhelming role, along with Christina Hendricks, Corey Stoll, and Chloe Grace Moretz. We've seen all these people work wonders in other settings, but in Dark Places the performances don't really rise up off the sketchy script, and any tense conflict or chemistry is virtually non-existent.

Dark Places is more dull than compelling.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

[Review] The Gift

I ain't gonna lie... when I saw the trailer for The Gift, I thought it looked like a crappy stalker film, verging on parody and sliding into theaters during the back end of the summer. Thankfully, I was wrong. The Gift is a well-wrought suspense thriller in every sense.

Upper class husband and wife Simon (Jason Bateman) & Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move into a sleek new house (note: the windows are huge) located in the California hills. One day while out shopping, a creeper whom we will get to know as Gordo (played by a perfectly cast Joel Edgerton, who also directs this film) approaches the couple. Turns out, Gordo is someone Simon went to high school with. Shortly after, Gordo begins sending various gifts and shows up to their home unannounced, despite not having been told their address. From here on, we just sit back (or lean forward) and see how all of this escalates.

The story is genuinely unpredictable and it adeptly plays around with expectations. The intrigue is kept at a constant--each new turning point or reveal just propels the mystery even more. Conflict also rises within Simon and Robyn's marriage. Simon wants nothing to with Gordo, while Robyn is willing to give him the benefit out the doubt. Secrets are hidden, and we don't know whether to pity or fear Gordo. The tension is so thick that it actually creates some jump scares.

In some cases with films like these, the path to the end is more interesting than the conclusion, but here the climax still presents something fierce and disturbing that will complicate feelings and possibly rub audiences the wrong way. Anyhow, the film still drives home a not-so-subtle topical message that I'm going to refrain from mentioning for the sake of not spoiling.

The Gift should be commended for containing an original, well-written script. This film isn't a remake or a reboot or a sequel, and it isn't adapted from already existing material (not that that's always a bad thing), so it's certainly a welcomed occasion.

* 8.5/10 *

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

[Review] Shaun the Sheep

I'll come out and say that I am not very familiar with the "Shaun the Sheep" TV series. But what I can say is that the Shaun the Sheep movie stands alone as a charming and intently detailed, standalone animated feature. It's also *gasp!* dialogue-free.

Shaun and his sheep comrades decide escape their farm for the heck of it, and in the process they end up taking a bus ride into the city. But of course, it's quite the culture shock for them. They engage in some fish-out-of-water antics, or more accurately sheep-out-of-farm antics (buying clothes, going to restaurants, unknowingly eating a hot chili pepper), and they have to steer clear of getting caught by terrifying Animal Control. Pretty soon, they realize the big city is not for them, and they attempt to escape and make it back to the farm safely.

It's essentially like an animated silent film (even a bit Chaplin-esque at times). There's a lot of energy and much focus on physical comedy, tightly coherent visuals, and an easy to follow narrative. It all works wonderfully. (Hopefully) No one is going to get bored or put off just because no words are uttered. There's heart here, too. In one of the film's simultaneously poignant and humorous scenes--Shaun gets locked away in an animal shelter, and when a family comes in looking for a pet, all the animals prop up their appearance and put on their best faces.

We can't end this without mentioning the exceptional visuals. Aardman Animations is responsible for multiple gems (including Chicken Run, and the under-appreciated Arthur Christmas), and they have another one on their hands with Shaun the Sheep. The claymation is top-notch here, and the settings display various textures of wood, fuzz, and metals. It all looks very three-dimensional and depth-filled despite not requiring clunky 3D glasses. You might catch yourself just staring at and admiring the animation--just wondering about the great skill that was needed to craft it.

Shaun the Sheep conveys a sweet and simple ending that is almost welcomely cliche: "There's no place like home."


Monday, August 10, 2015

[Review] Fantastic Four

More times than not, superhero movie reboots come off as humdrum "Okay, let's try this again" attempts as the filmmakers try to inject new life into the franchise. When news broke of an upcoming Fantastic Four, the same thoughts rang out. But on the other hand, Fantastic Four (2007) wasn't very good, so there was at least room for improvement. Then, details of the cast emerged: Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan--which left some fanatics in a ridiculous (and racist) uproar. I personally thought the casting was great, so my optimism rose, potentially anticipating an "In your face!" moment. Unfortunately, even though the cast does a solid job, the story itself is an empty slog.

Following some childhood preludes, we flash forward 7 years and meet Reed (Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell), two best friends who have been working on a teleportation machine. They're eventually recruited by a hi-tech university, where they meet Sue Storm (Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan). All of this stuff is very watchable, but we start to get the feeling that the film is going to be hella introductory and origin story-loaded. In fact, about 45 minutes pass before any semblance of superhero action begins.

A huge chunk of the duration involves the team trying to get the teleportation machine to work properly, which isn't very fun for other people to watch. Once they finally do get it to work, the crew launches into another interplanetary dimension. They stumble upon a glowy substance that explodes and gives them all their respective blessing/curse superpowers and we'll come to know them as Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, & Thing. I won't go into detail about their superpowers, because you probably already know or don't care. The narrative is so disjointed and misguided that it's hard to imagine anyone being satisfied with this.

The movie is basically either the longest trailer in history, or it's just one gigantic first act with a catalyst that comes extremely (and loathsomely) late. In a world that is crowded with comic book/superhero films and blockbusters that go for full glory, ain't nobody got time for this.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

[Review] Vacation

It doesn't seem like we needed this, did we? With National Lampoon's Vacation already being considered a cult staple by many, 2015's Vacation represents the lowest of the low of Hollywood's haphazard, compromising, and unoriginal decisions to pump out these smelly and wasteful remakes.

Rusty Griswald (Ed Helms) and Debbie Griswald's (Christina Applegate) marriage has hit a rough spot, and their two boys James and Kevin don't get along. Rusty, being the son of Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) decides to take a vacation to Wally World just like old times, and the whole setup reeks of "Why in the hell are we doing this again?"

Its brand of humor is a brand of humor that warrants no laughs, from the rudimentary slapstick to the awful dialogue. At one point, Rusty walks into the kitchen and says "Kids I have exciting news!" and Kevin responds with "James has AIDS?!" I'm open to a variety of different humor but I didn't even chuckle once throughout this entire thing. When the attempts at jokes make you more angry than happy, you know something is severely wrong with the film.

So, it goes without saying that this is a completely bastardized version of its predecessor. Scene for scene, it presents its spin on the original, but the spin just happens to be the worst version of each one. And it surely doesn't help that the kids are super obnoxious and unlikable here. The film's only possible bright spot is the Chris Hemsworth sequence, but even the best parts of that were already shown during the trailers. And Chevy Chase's appearance is just sadly uninspired.

Avoid taking this ride at all costs.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

[Review] Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

M:I is a franchise that has improved with each sequel, perhaps peaking at 2011's Ghost Protocol. And no matter what you think of Tom Cruise's off-the-screen endeavors, his versatility as an action star is undeniable. Rogue Nation is a small step down from Ghost Protocol, but it still brings the slickness.

After being captured and held a tortured prisoner, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) escapes with some crucial help from a mysterious agent named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Then, through some nifty technology, Ethan contacts Benji (Simon Pegg, as expected offers some comic relief) and they team together in order to track down a nefarious terrorist organization called the Syndicate, who are trying to start their own New World Order.

In a questionable surprise, Rogue Nation seems to hold back a bit on its lofty action sequences, chases, and hand-to-hand combat scuffles, and instead provides more of a mix of deception filled espionage thriller, heists, and imaginative yet near-future gadgetry. Don't get me wrong, this is still very much an action film, but the a lot of is deployed at the very beginning and the very end. There's a fight atop theatre rafters early on, as opera music blares in the background. While intense and well-choreographed, the scene can't help but feel like that sort of thing has been done many times before. The film just isn't as fun as Ghost Protocol and it does get a little overly talky at times.

There's no shortage of a charismatic cast, though--from Cruise's physical aptitude to Ferguson's badassery. The surrounding characters are familiar faces in Alec Baldwin and Jeremy Renner, operating in their natural elements. And then there's Pegg, who manages to be the most human and endearing of them all.

Rogue Nation doesn't have the high-octane setpieces of Ghost Protocol, and it isn't as memorable as its 2015 contemporary companion Furious 7, but it's a rather solid outing for fans of this stuff.