Review: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

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DIR/WRI: Christopher McQuarrie  • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Tom Cruise, David Ellison • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Eddie Hamilton • MUS: Joe Kraemer • DES: James D. Bissell • CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley

 

Christopher McQuarrie directs the latest Mission:Impossible installment, Rogue Nation. Despite boasting a number of films that sees it saunter dangerously into Police Academy territory, the M:I franchise has done the decidedly improbable and kept the quality at a genuinely high standard. The trick is continued here with a typically convoluted but altogether engaging plot, competent direction and a few well honed performances. Tom Cruise is in it also.

The Impossible Mission Force (referred to in the movie as the IMF, Greece should know), is being shut down by the CIA for acting the rogue on one too many occasions, making Ethan Hunt (Cruise) an international fugitive and sending him on the run. Meanwhile, a nefarious organisation, The Syndicate, is revealed to be the catalyst for the IMF’s dissolution, laying the groundwork for the mutual pursuit between Hunt and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), leader of the Syndicate and long term Hunt-agonist.

Despite the tired old cliche of this one being their ‘last mission’ (a sequel is well into production), McQuarrie manages to wrangle some genuine tension throughout in this installment. The prolonged set-pieces, or missions within the mission, are delivered with style and wit, though admittedly not as well as the last two movies. The first ‘nail-biter’ is set in the middle of the Vienna Opera – a slightly worn juxtaposition between peril and pantomime – but the skill to both introduce and involve key characters with such little dialogue without compromising the intensity cannot be overlooked. The second hour for the most part is breathtaking, an oxygen-sapping diving sequence is followed by an at times hilarious car chase – and that’s just the beginning.

Despite the slightly grating super-human competence embodied by Cruises character that verges on deux-et-machina levels on multiple occasions, if anything, the film is overly tight. The big bum-note is a curiously stodgy screenplay, penned by director McQuarrie, who is also credited with writing one of the finest thriller films ever made with The Usual Suspects. Like ever other movie in the M:I series, the story demands your unedified attention at every beat, and one can’t help but feel that some of the countless twists are frivolous considering the basic framework of the narrative.

The supporting performances are all good. Simon Pegg is given more responsibility than before in the franchise and carries it well. Jeremy Renner is as excellent as ever, and the obligatory femme fatale role is played with conflicted elegance by Rebecca Ferguson.

Though the convoluted plot is bundled into an over-wrought running length, the film stumbles but never falls. And despite Mr Cruise’s continued existence as a morally corrupt exploitative cult-monger, he gives his most famed role just the right amount of ham once again.

Paced well if prohibitively confusing for a general audience, Mission Impossible accomplishes its objectives for a fifth time. The achievement of this franchise’s longevity should not be underestimated, either. By keeping the films inextricably linked through its core cast (Cruise, Rhames), while preserving its currency with self-contained plots and a constantly changing vision through the varying styles of its directors, the M:I gravy train remains unfettered 20 years after first exploding inside a tunnel.

Shane Hennessy

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
135 minutes

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is released 31st July 2015

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation – Official Website

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Review: Hot Pursuit

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DIR: Anne Fletcher • WRI: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen • PRO: Jonas Rivera • ED: Kevin Nolting • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Ralph Eggleston • CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley

 

Imagine a buddy cop film…but with girls! Girls, who do silly girl-things like run in high-heels, use their sexuality to get out of sticky situations, and menstruate (ew, gross! Ha-ha!). Then, boy, do I got the film for you! Because that’s all Hot Pursuit is – a concept stretched so thin, the river of potential jokes is run dry within the first five minutes of the film. This is especially disappointing when taken into consideration that its two female stars were also the film’s producers. What the audience is left with is a dull and uninspired would-be comedy that makes one lovingly recall Melissa McCarthy’s and Sandra Bullock’s 2013 venture The Heat which, though by no means perfect, was thoroughly enjoyable.

The way-better-than-this Witherspoon plays Officer Rose Cooper, a straight-laced cop eager to prove herself in the field after a number of previous mishaps. Her big opportunity for redemption comes in the form of Daniella Riva (played by Vergara playing Gloria from Modern Family), who is on the run after agreeing to give evidence against a notorious drug lord. Antics ensue. Not much else can be said for the films plot, which often sees events randomly occur without any context. Sloppy editing also adds greatly to the uneven tone of the film. The characters go from one location to the next with little to no explanation. All sense of tension is lost by the uninterested way in which director Anne Fletcher handles the more serious scenes of the film. Combine this with some pretty unthreatening villains and the film just judders along before finally creaking to its lacklustre climax. Ditto for character development. Emotional reveals prove to be less explosive so much as blips on this seemingly never-ending journey of mediocrity. Our two protagonists are little more than stereotypes, proving it difficult to engage with the film on any meaningful level.

Female team-ups in mainstream cinema are too rare an occurrence for films like Hot Pursuit to muddy the chances of audiences being interested in seeing more of them. Hollywood is in dire need of more genre-bending, women-focused material, but Hot Pursuit just serves up a cold dish of disappointment.

Ellen Murray

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
87 minutes

Hot Pursuit is released 31st July 2015

Hot Pursuit  – Official Website

 

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Inherent Vice

inherent-vice-trailer3

DIR/WRI: Paul Thomas Anderson • PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Leslie Jones • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: David Crank • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin

Pulsing through the pot smoke with cinematic prowess, Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision aligns with the paranoid world of enigmatic literary icon Thomas Pynchon, in an adaptation of Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice. This can only make for cinematic voodoo. This is the kind of thing many a square-eyed Pynchon reader has fantasised about for decades; in earnest. And Vice is a narcotic trip, it lulls and pulls. Sucking the viewer straight down the rabbit hole, through the tunnel of love, and back in time to 1970’s Los Angeles; in what, on the surface, presents itself to be a very Chandleresque detective story, in the vain of The Long Goodbye or The Big Sleep.

So we’re in LA, the free love and peace of the swinging ’60s have waned into the paranoia and hedonism of the 1970s. Doc’s just woke up. Mutton chopped, joint in mouth and carrying himself like a Neil Young wannabe rag doll. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is played with gusto by a dirty looking Joaquin Phoenix. (I mean he’s so dirty at one point I’m convinced I can smell his feet.) Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello a stoner, sandal wearing private dick. Think Phillip Marlowe after a bag of ‘panama red’.  Anyway Doc’s ex old lady, Shasta, turns up in the dead of night scared and looking for help. She’s been shacked up with some shady real estate developer who’s embroiled in some diabolical plot. She’s freaked and that isn’t groovy with Doc, so he’s hot on the case. Naturally this kinda set-up lends itself to some serious slapstick and ambiance.

But behind the chaotic slapstick and entertainment, Vice is a socially conscious film, a film with a massive heart that pounds along the heroin trails and through the marijuana haze. This is bold crisp American cinema and Anderson has a very decisive view of America. An America that’s disconnected from itself, that’s wounded and looking for answers in all the wrong places. At the heart of Pynchon’s novel there’s a tremendous sense of melancholy, and a sense of disappointment with the promises of the Hippie movement and free love; which in the end proved as much a pipe dream as ‘democracy’ or the American dream; and just as corruptible. These aspects remain true of Anderson’s movie and it’s clearly a perspective Anderson strongly relates to. The sense of an ideological conflict is evident in the love-hate relationship between Big Foot Bjornson (played by Josh Brolin) and Doc. Big Foot is a hippie-hating LAPD detective with a boxy buzz cut haircut and a questionable penchant for frozen bananas. In a sense, the film is a series of short cameos as the case unfolds, and Doc chases down countless leads, and countless red herrings, and some strange entity called The Golden Fang.

As a major fan of both P.T.A and Pynchon, I have an obligation to say it isn’t perfect, it’s rough around the edges, even for what it’s meant to be, which runs contrary to most of the criticism so far. I think a lot of critics who misjudged Anderson’s previous film The Master (2012) are reluctant to fall into the same trap with Inherent Vice. The Inherent problem with this of course is; it’s a bit like that old Woody Allen joke about him applying what he learned from his mistakes in one marriage, to the next; only to find it didn’t work because it’s a completely different woman. In short Inherent Vice is a completely different woman.

It can’t be denied that Anderson accepted a challenge like no other in grabbing Pynchon’s novel by its metaphorical horns. But too some extent I think Mr. Anderson fell into the trap of being too reverent to the source material. He clearly struggled to pare the book down. This has led to some clichéd representations of characters who lack the sense of dimension they had in Pynchon’s book. Anderson has been quoted as to saying that the plot doesn’t matter, which seems to be over-simplifying things a bit. Plot has a clear function in Pynchon’s writing, it just isn’t always in the foreground of the narrative. What is in the foreground are his characters, who inhabit a world over-saturated with information, a world so chaotic and paranoid it seems impossible for them to function within it.

The performances, however, are, by and large, impeccable. Martin Short is stellar as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, a sex-crazed dentist wearing an ultraviolet suit who has cocaine nostrils flared wider than bell bottoms. Katherine Waterson’s portrayal of Shasta Fey Hepworth has a mysterious allure and deftness that’s nothing short of nerve-tingling and electric. Right off the bat she’s earned serious brownie points and established herself as a major leading actress.

Anderson took a serious risk in making a picture that, when you break it down, is principally dialogue driven. I appreciate what he was trying to achieve but I’m not entirely sure it worked. One of Anderson’s greatest assets as a filmmaker is his tremendous sense of mobility and his ability to tailor movement in relation to narrative. There’s a very static quality to the staging in Vice, which makes the imagery less emotionally arresting. We’re left with Pynchon’s words, which is exactly the point. In Andersons own words the film is about ‘Pynchon’.

Johnny Greenwood, of Radiohead fame, has partnered with Anderson again. The score isn’t as prominent a feature of this film as his work in There Will Be Blood or The Master. But elements of those works shine through for sure, with a bit of a more seventies’ish use of synthesizers and guitars. Think Bernard Hermann crossed with Steve Reich and you’re on the right track. David Crank’s production design is off the hook in its accuracy. You can practically smell the 1970s from the image. And it’s pungent. Which is no mean feat since I wasn’t even alive then. The cinematography is grainy, fuzzy and beautiful, courtesy of Anderson’s long-time partner in crime, Robert Elswit.

At its core there’s an unhinged authenticity to Inherent Vice, vividly captivating a specific moment in time. Overall though, flaws aside, this is a grade A pedigree pot movie filled with some golden moments of true comic genius. This is the marriage of two of the most astonishing American talents. Pynchon, without argument being a colossus of post WWII American fiction, and Anderson, the once upon a time wunderkind whose blossomed into a virtuoso, who’ll stare down the barrel of a lens fearlessly, knee deep in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, armed to the teeth fighting the good fight; a real good boy. Keep it up Anderson you talented f*cker, keep rocking and rolling.

Michael Lee

16 (See IFCO for details)
148 minutes
Inherent Vice
is released 29th January 2015

Inherent Vice – Official Website

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Cinema Review: This Means War

A man called McG on the loose

DIR: McG • WRI: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg • PRO: Simon Kinberg, James Lassiter, Robert Simonds, Will Smith • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Nicolas De Toth, Jesse Driebusch • DES: Martin Laing • Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler

Remember McG? The barely named director was seen as a Hollywood wunderkind in the early 2000s after his kinetic, girl power nonsense take Charlie’s Angels was released. One intelligence-insulting sequel and a Terminator reboot with more plot holes than six viewings of Inception later, McG has managed to keep himself in the game by producing semi-popular schlock TV, such as The OC and Supernatural.

Now he’s back in the director’s chair with this self-important action comedy. This Means War is a confused film that attempts to be the ultimate date movie, pitting two best friend super-spies against one another for the hand of the girl they both fancy. Dripping in eye candy for women and full of Sex and the City-style ‘witticisms’ about penises while boasting less-than-inspired action, few men are likely to come out of this feeling they got a fair share.

Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play FDR and Tuck, two top CIA agents reduced to deskwork after a mission goes awry. FDR is cocky and up for anything. Tuck wants to settle down and is inexplicably English. One day, at separate times, the pair each meet Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a feisty, no-nonsense girl who is fed up with disappointing men. Tuck falls head over heels. FDR finds he may want more than just a quickie for the first time ever.

Of course, the friends soon realise they’re dating the same girl, and a high-tech pissing contest soon begins as they use the CIA’s facilities to recon their target, find out what she likes and sabotage each other’s efforts to woo her. It’s entirely as morally inexcusable as it sounds. Not only have they bugged her apartment, but their competitiveness over her reduces Lauren to little more than a sack of meat prize with all spoils going to the victor.
Of course, Lauren is hardly free of blame. Bolstered by her jealous, seemingly miserable married best friend (Chelsea Handler), she proceeds to date two men at once because, sure, guys do it all the time.

This Means War really is about as sexist as a film can get these days. Women are portrayed as irrational, self-centred, needy and borderline bipolar. Sure, men get it pretty bad too – they’re portrayed as being aggressive, competitive and insecure – but comparatively these character defects seem hardly as negative. The film is so convinced it is a modern tale about a woman getting to choose between two near-perfect men, but really it’s more conservative than It’s a Wonderful Life and without a fraction of the charm.

And all this might be excusable if it was well made, but it isn’t. The writing is simply abominable, featuring some of the laziest dialogue you will find. The agents’ boss talks like a mission guide between computer game levels. One of Chelsea Handler’s Carrie Bradshaw-est moments, where she compares a man’s penis to a poltergeist, sounds like it was written by picking nouns at random out of a bowl. Determined to ruin the manlier aspects of the film too, the shaky action sequences are shot by a cameraman who appears to have a bee inside trousers. One sequence, a strobe light-heavy shootout in a strip club, seems determined to seek out the person in the audience with epilepsy and give them the seizure of a lifetime.

In fairness to the actors, the three leads are all up for it, and give their portrayals far more effort than the material deserves. Chelsea Handler brings down the tone enormously however, injecting sheer misery into the film as its “comic” relief.

While the sabotage scenes are fun, they’re not enough to save a film so utterly out of touch with its audience that when the villain wants to track down the film’s two heroes, he goes to FDR’s London-based tailor to find out where the owner of his one-of-a-kind suits lives. No one would care about the film being a sexist tale of the sex-lives of the wealthy if the thing were at least entertaining. Realistically the only viewers who could enjoy this film will be those with uncontrollable lust for Messrs Hardy and Pine and pop culture academics revelling in the simmering homoeroticism at the heart of the movie’s bromance.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
This Means War is released on 2nd March 2012

This Means War   – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsAqVvlR5DQ

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Water For Elephants

Water for Elephants

DIR: Francis Lawrence • WRI: Richard LaGravenese, Sara Gruen •  PRO: Gil Netter, Erwin Stoff, Andrew R. Tennenbaum • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Alan Edward Bell • DES: Jack Fisk • Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz

 

Basically Titanic set in a circus, the story starts with an old-timer telling a stranger about a beautiful woman he fell madly in love with way back when. Unfortunately, she was married to a homicidal maniac, and the entire thing is a foreground for a massive disaster lurking on the horizon.

 

Robert Pattinson is a veterinarian student, who is suddenly without money or a place to live, when he parents are killed in a car accident. He happens upon a train that homes a travelling circus, and he is quickly hired as their in-house (in-tent?) vet. And just as quickly, he falls head over heels for Reese Witherspoon, who is the star of the show, which is owned by her husband Christoph Waltz.

 

The three leads all do well enough with roles they’ve played before; Pattinson is angsty and love struck, Witherspoon is conflicted between lust for this new man and fear of her old one, and Waltz is equal parts charisma and lunacy, with a penchant for throwing people off his train because it’s easier than dealing with the paperwork of firing them.

 

Director Francis Lawrence made his name in the world of music videos (including, yes, Britney Spears’ ‘Circus’), but here he dials back the OTT visuals he brought to Constantine and I Am Legend, and instead serves up something much more old-school, letting the perfectly reimagined 1930’s setting and glorious cinematography wash over you.

 

As a whole, the film is far from great; there are a lot of cheesy lines, and there are more than a few montages dedicated entirely to stolen glances of longing. But when there are lions and tigers and fat ladies and midgets and, of course, that glorious elephant Rosie, that you will fall in love with almost immediately, you can almost forgive any discrepancies in quality. Almost.

 

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Water For Elephants is released on 6th May 2011

Water For Elephants – Official Website

 

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How Do You Know

How do you Know

DIR/ WRI: James L. Brooks • PRO: Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks, Laurence Mark, Paula Weinstein • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Richard Marks, Tracey Wadmore-Smith • DES: Jeannine Claudia Oppewall • CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson

There is so much to like about this movie that it feels like a disservice to some of the wonderful separate elements pronouncing the ‘whole’ a bit flat. But so it is. With the potential to be a perfect romantic comedy, it instead delivers a rather stale serving of predictability where might have stood a feast of chuckles and emotion. That it stands above the normal fodder of ‘chickflick’ banality is down, pure and simple, to wonderful acting from the eternally likeable Reese Witherspoon, and perfectly placed leading-man goofiness, expertly handled by Paul Rudd. Even Owen Wilson’s dumb-blonde ‘himbo’, though done to death at this stage, lifts the movie above comedy car-crash, and adds weight to an otherwise humdrum script.

Witherspoon plays Lisa, a professional baseball player, who is dating successful fellow-baseballer and all-round player Matty (Wilson), but his thoughtlessness leaves her in a position to accept a blind date from George (Rudd). Their subsequent dinner occurs on the day that Lisa is dropped from the US team for her advancing years, and George is indicted by the US government for crimes he hasn’t committed. Their predictably disastrous date is, however, dealt with quite gently and realistically, and the spark between them is undeniable. In their subsequent friendship they both find ways of dealing with these pivotal moments in their lives – Lisa in attempting a meaningful relationship with Matty, and George in repairing his own relationship with his father (Jack Nicholson), who may have gotten him into all this trouble. Despite the triteness of the story, it is imbued with character and comedy by the actors involved. Rudd, in particular, is outstanding and unbelievably likeable as George, willingly twisting his handsome face into comic foolishness, and proving that his leading-man credentials are hard-earned and well-deserved. I challenge anyone not to find Witherspoon charming – in this, or any, movie – and she gives Lisa a glowing depth not always visible in the lacklustre script. Until the final act, it feels almost like a perfect rom-com, but there is really only so much the actors involved can do to save what eventually feels like a sinking ship. Its denouement leaves no bitter-sweet taste, a lá The Graduate, from which it seems to take inspiration, nor does it give a sappy wrap-up – instead falling somewhere in the middle.

James L. Brooks has been making every effort to appear hit-and-miss, and How Do You Know is another half-step downwards in this campaign. The posters are hyping the movie as from the creator of As Good as it Gets, but despite the repeat presence of Nicholson, it can’t quite reach that magic. Finding it hard to reduce down from melodrama or boil up from pure rom-com, the lack of focus causes a dilution of both sub-genres. The upshot of this is a nice idea, with delightful component parts, producing a movie that lacks enough substance to truly make it a worthy romantic comedy.

Sarah Griffin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
How Do You Know
is released on 28th January 2011

How Do You Know Official Website

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