By: Kevin Jordan
Hanging by his fingernails.
Four years ago, at age 49, Tom Cruise wanted to prove to everybody that he still had “it” by hanging off the side of the 2717 foot tall Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. We’re not really sure what “it” is, but Cruise will be damned if he’ll let anyone believe he lost “it.” Now, at age 53, he’s at “it” again, this time hanging off the side of a cargo plane while that plane is taking off and flying in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. When normal people go through mid-life crises, they buy sports cars or bang their yoga instructors. Apparently, Tom Cruise hangs off of stuff.
Rogue Nation is the fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise and neither it nor Cruise show any signs of stopping. Much like the Fast and Furious franchise, MI seems to have figured out its formula in the fourth installment and built on that success in the fifth. For MI, the key to success isn’t its main character, Ethan Hunt (Cruise), but a sense of humor and good action. The first three movies featured exactly one bit of comedy – Emilio Estevez. Yeah, you forgot he was even in the first movie, didn’t you? Anyway, the franchise was taking itself way too seriously and who better to break the rut than Simon Pegg? Pegg (as well as much different writing) has made the series feel fresh and more fun – which isn’t a surprise because he was instrumental in doing the same thing for the Star Trek reboot (and sequel). I’m not saying I don’t like serious action flicks, but the ones that blend comedy and action almost always end up more entertaining. In a nutshell, that’s Rogue Nation.
As much as I enjoyed Rogue Nation, I left the theater with one question – what does the title even mean? Like Ghost Protocol, it’s pretty much a nonsense term that the movie has to literally say out loud in a sentence so the audience knows what it means. Rogue Nation is what the CIA and its director, Hunley (Alec Baldwin) refer to the bad guys’ organization as. Don’t ask; just go with it. The plot of the film is exactly what you think it is – the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) has to stop the bad guy from achieving his goal and must do something “impossible.” As fresh as the film feels, the impossible mission is the same as it always is – they have to break into an impenetrable facility in order to steal a data file and Tom Cruise is going to perform another crazy stunt in addition to hanging off of an airplane. I won’t spoil this part of the movie for you, but I will tell you that Tom Cruise holds his breath for six minutes.
Besides Cruise and Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames reprised their roles as IMF agents. Strangely, Renner was not given any action scenes; relegated to CIA duty (once again, the IMF is being disbanded – I guess this movie really isn’t that fresh) which entailed standing in operational control rooms and silently signaling his men with facial expressions. Considering how good he was at the action scenes in the last film (as well as The Bourne Legacy), it’s easy to understand why he seemed a little bored during much of the film (his apparent boredom led him to deliver his lines by over-enunciating every word). On the other hand, Baldwin was seemingly overjoyed to be back in an action movie and was anything but bored, delivering a performance that is best described as zealous.
In addition to Baldwin, the other two new actors are Rebecca Ferguson as ally and/or enemy, Ilsa Faust, and Sean Harris as the evil villain and/or…no…he’s definitely the villain. And, what a villain he is. Not only is he very creepy looking, his delivery and performance drips with villainy. As spy movie evil villains go, he’s easily as good (bad) as Javier Bardem in Skyfall and definitely the most memorable (sorry Jon Voight) of the MI flicks. I won’t say any more than that, but he is worth the price of admission. Ferguson is also a refreshing addition and is just as good at the fight/action scenes as anyone (including Renner – maybe she got his action scenes after beating him in a fight).
You may have noticed I didn’t say much about Cruise, but after hearing he hung off an airplane and held his breath for six minutes, is there anything I could tell you that’s even half as interesting? I know I poked fun at him for it, but I actually am quite impressed that he’s willing to do stuff like that. I may not agree with his personal opinions, but there’s no denying that the man almost always does good/great movies. But, as far as mid-life crises go, I do think he might want to consider just buying a Corvette next time.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and stay away from my Pilates instructor.
By: Kevin Jordan
Not your grandfather’s Vacation.
If you like reading reviews, you’re going to read a lot of them saying how bad or depressing the new Vacation is. Don’t believe them for a moment. They are the stodgy old people who hate the designated hitter, think Matlock will never be topped, and don’t understand what all the fuss is about Twitter. These people will reminisce about “the good ol’ days” and tell you how nothing could possibly be as good as a movie written by John Hughes starring Chevy Chase. Well, they’re wrong. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the original Vacation, but the only thing I can remember about it is Clark Griswold (Chase) forcing John Candy at gun point to let his family into Walley World. And, I’ve seen it more than once so it couldn’t have been that great if I can barely remember it. And if you think that’s just me being forgetful, I remember everything from Caddyshack and it’s three years older than the first Vacation. In other words, this new Vacation is just as good as the original and stodgy critics hate fun.
(Note: The new Vacation is notably missing the National Lampoon moniker, so I will refer to the original as NLV for the rest of review, partly because the stodgers hate anything that looks like texting speech.)
The first argument that everyone has already had about Vacation is whether it’s a sequel or a remake. The answer is that it’s both – it’s a requel (thanks to a commenter for that one). Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) – Clark’s son – is all grown up, with a family of us his own and wants to take his family on a road trip to Walley World. See what they did there? If you want to know what gags they retread, well…I already told you I barely remember NLV, so unless Rusty takes a hostage in order to gain admission to Walley World, all of the jokes will be new to me (SPOILER – he doesn’t).
To be fair to those stodgers, I had my reservations going in. I believe my exact words were “(Sigh) I guess I’ll check it out (Sigh).” However, during the trailer, there’s a scene in which Rusty’s two sons are sitting at the kitchen table and the older son, James (Skyler Gisondo), says to a girl “are you enjoying school?” The younger son, Kevin (Steele Stebbins) repeats the line in a mocking voice, then says “that’s what you sound like. Shut up!” It made me laugh during the trailer and it gave me just enough hope that I stayed cautiously optimistic. Much to my delight, not only did I laugh just as much at the “shut up” joke during the film, but I found myself (and the audience) laughing throughout the entire movie.
It’s rare that a comedy can keep up the laughs for the duration of the film. Most of them fizzle out after the second act because they sacrifice the comedy to bring the plot to a semi-serious close. Think about every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen and try to think of any jokes during the last half hour of the film. Even some straight comedies think their stories need to have some gravity and end up delivering sappy, bullshit endings for stories that weren’t very good to begin with. Vacation toes the line – the entire vacation is Rusty’s attempt at bringing his family closer and rekindling the flame with his wife – but it never forgets that the reason people paid to see it is for the jokes. And jokes there are a plenty.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil any of the jokes (the trailer does that plenty enough). Like I said, that’s why you’re there. For me, the jokes all seemed fresh (a quick look at the wiki page for NLV revealed that they did indeed retread some) and only a couple of them made me cringe. There’s an especially awkward minute early on involving Rusty competing with his neighbor’s show of affection towards his child. It reminded me of the competing maid of honor speeches in Bridesmaids – the joke goes on for far too long and is never funny at any point. But aside from that, Helms was funny, Christina Applegate (Rusty’s wife) was funnier, and the two kids were downright hilarious. And if that’s not enough for you, Chris Hemsworth plays a small role and delivers the best gag (a sight gag you can’t unsee) of the entire film.
Yes, NLV was funny in its day and still makes us laugh, but thirty years have gone by and comedy evolves just like any other genre. Vacation is a great entry in the series and anyone who says otherwise has probably yelled at more than one person to get off their lawn.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and try not to hurt yourself laughing.
By: Kevin Jordan
Movies for me and other nerds.
As I write this review, the approval rating for Pixels on Rotten Tomatoes is dropping before my very eyes. It currently sits at 13% (down from 17% last night) and all I can do is feel sorry for the 87% of critics who are dead inside. Yes, it’s an Adam Sandler movie, and almost all Sandler movies are about as fun as rectal exams, but Pixels isn’t like other Sandler movies – it’s about classic arcade games brought to life. Don’t get me wrong, Pixels follows the same basic formula and includes many of the same (often dumb) elements as his other films, but in Pixels, Sandler isn’t the main focus like he is in all his other movies (despite writer Tim Herlihy’s best efforts), the video games are. Like I said, you really have to be dead inside not to have at least a little fun watching Pixels.
(There are SPOILERS coming, though really the only SPOILERS are which games show up when. Considering the trailers, it’s almost impossible for me to spoil it more.)
The film begins in 1982 with the child versions of the four gamers that are our main characters at an arcade game tournament. Sam (Sandler) faces off against Eddie (Peter Dinklage) for the championship, while Sam’s best friend, Will (Kevin James), and Sam’s new friend, Ludlow (Josh Gad), cheer him on. Sam loses and grows up to be an electronics installer (think Best Buy Geek Squad) because that’s what happens to video game losers in lazily written scripts featuring Sandler. Conversely, Will grows up to become the President of the United States, even though he is terrible at video games and can barely read (I wish I was making that up). Because making an illiterate tub of fat the King of the World would be absurd.
The writing gets worse with regards to Sam and Will’s difficult-to-swallow relationship, as President Will spends an inordinate amount of time with Sam while simultaneously telling Sam that his wife is complaining that Will doesn’t spend any time with her. Sam is even on a first-name basis with White House guards and Secret Service agents so as to set up a metaphorical dick measuring contest with the female Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Moynihan). I could go on, but the point is that much of the lazy script is devoted to setting up cheap jokes that are a staple of Sandler comedies without said jokes being relevant to the plot (or even the premise).
Speaking of lazy writing, Van Patten may be one of the worst characters ever written and not just in movies. I’ve met a few Lt. Colonels in real life, and not one of them would ever be found drinking wine and crying in a closet (because her husband cheated on her) while a strange man installed a television in her living room. And that’s how we meet her. You have to give credit to Moynihan for even taking such a thankless role, especially knowing Violet would be the standard love interest of Sandler’s character and, therefore, being no more than a pair of talking breasts.
Anyway, the film gets to the point when aliens attack a military base. Will calls Sam to have him look at footage of the attack and Sam concludes that they were attacked by Galaga. Naturally, nobody believes him (including a ridiculously hammy Brian Cox playing a General). Soon, the aliens attack again (this time, the Taj Mahal) in the form of Space Invaders. Meanwhile, in one of the very few clever moments of the film, the aliens send them a video message in the form of Ronald Reagan telling them that they received the humans’ declaration of war (a video containing footage of the 1982 arcade tournament). Additionally, the aliens set out the rules of the game (clever moment number 2) – the first to win three battles wins the other race’s planet (or gets to destroy it). This sets up the rest of the film’s scenes – Pacman, Donkey Kong, and Centipede – and the extremely predictable ending.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s hard to overemphasize how truly lazy the writing was. To begin with, Sean Bean makes a cameo as a British military commander, but doesn’t die. How do you fuck that one up? (Screenwriting 101: Sean Bean Always Dies.) Then there’s the matter of some of the games literally just being projected into the sky (like Centipede) or in spaceships. Pacman was built into the streets of New York and its ghosts played by our gamers in different colored Mini Coopers; why weren’t the other games incorporated into the environment? Is Herlihy really so creatively bankrupt? Did it not occur to anyone to survey a group a fifth graders for ideas? Am I asking rhetorical questions?
The laziness gets worse in the form of 80’s homages we get throughout the movie that shouldn’t have been there. They tell us the video the aliens received was from 1982, so why did we see Max Headroom (1984), Where’s the Beef? (1984), and the Duck Hunt dog (1984) (among others)? We even see a kid donning Daniel Larusso’s headband and performing a crane kick at the ’82 tournament even though The Karate Kid came out in 1984. Apparently, Herlihy forgot what year he wrote for the tournament and Happy Madison Productions doesn’t employ fact checkers or researchers or editors. Or people older than 30.
But to top it all off, Herlihy literally invented a video game called Dojo Quest, featuring a scantily clad Ashley Bensen, solely so Gad can make out with her. Because if there’s anything we can rely on in Sandler movies (especially those written by Herlihy – seriously, check out his writing credits), it’s that dumb fat guys, or losers, or dumb fat losers always get to kiss hot women.
Despite everything I just said about this film, I actually did have fun watching it. Not because of Sandler or James, but because of Gad, Dinklage, and nostalgia. While Dinklage’s character was nearly as hammed up as Cox’s General, there are times at which his smarm made me laugh out loud, bad Cajun(?) accent notwithstanding. Gad was even funnier and was probably the reason most people were laughing in this movie. But the real reason I liked it is because the film brought to life games I loved as a kid without taking a total dump on them (excusing Q*Bert peeing himself, that is. That was awful). When it comes to an Adam Sandler flick, I think that’s all you can really hope for.
Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back. This movie is the very definition of what I call Movies for Me. *I* would pay for it, but you probably shouldn’t.