Monday, 30 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (Movie Review)


The 2018 summer blockbuster season is coming to an end, and what better way to end it than with what is arguably the best film of the entire season. Mission: Impossible - Fallout continues the high benchmark and current winning streak the franchise started with Ghost Protocol in 2011. Tom Cruise returns as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent, Ethan Hunt, with Christopher McQuarrie also returning as director in what is effectively a direct sequel to his previous installment, Rogue Nation.

Set two years after Rogue Nation, Fallout finds Ethan Hunt and the IMF dealing with the aftermath of the criminal organization they took down in the previous film, The Syndicate. With their leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), captured, the remaining members of the organization form the terrorist group, The Apostles. The movie opens with the IMF and The Apostles butting heads, as the latter tries to secure three plutonium cores off the black market, and the former tries to stop them.

The IMF ultimately fails its mission, and the members of The Apostles escape with the plutonium, which they were acquiring for a mysterious client known as John Lark. This causes the Director of the CIA, Erica Slone (Angela Bassett), to insist on shadowing Hunt and the IMF on their mission to retrieve the plutonium with one of her agents, the trigger-happy operative, August Walker (played by Henry Cavill, and his infamous mustache). The plutonium is to be sold at a fundraiser in Paris, by a broker known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).

Hunt and Walker infiltrate the fundraiser, where they hope to retrieve the plutonium from the White Widow by impersonating John Lark, the buyer. They succeed in gaining her trust when they save her from several assassination attempts. But things become decidedly more complicated when the Widow reveals the price for the plutonium cores: they must first help her extract The Syndicate leader, Solomon Lane, who it turns out had been pulling the strings as he strives to bring about his doomsday plot.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is not only one of the best movies in the franchise, but one of the best action movies to grace cinemas in recent memory, period. Tom Cruise proves once again that he is ever the viable action hero, performing his own stunts in some of the most jaw-dropping set pieces to be seen in any film. One of the biggest ones in the movie is the breathtaking HALO jump over Paris, which is impeccably shot and edited to reproduce that sense of vertigo and tension.

The same tension carries through the other set pieces and quieter scenes alike. And while the movie itself might feel overlong at nearly two hours and thirty minutes, it never seems to lose any steam as things continue to stack up at a breakneck pace. It is hard to see any other action movie topping this anytime soon, as it joins the ranks of Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the finest the genre has to offer.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Movie Review)


ABBA fans rejoice as the cast of the jukebox musical, Mamma Mia!, make a return to the Greek island of Kalokairi. Theirs is a bittersweet reunion though, as the story takes place one year after the death of Donna (Meryl Streep), frontwoman of the Dynamos and owner of the island's popular hotel villa, the Hotel Bella Donna. Much of the story is also told through flashbacks, and as such the movie functions as both a prequel and a sequel, with all the romance, comedy and musical numbers we've come to expect.

Since her passing, the Hotel Bella Donna has fallen into a state of disrepair, a situation her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), seeks to rectify through a grand reopening she intends to dedicate to her memory. Things don't go according to plan of course, as the island is hit by a storm on the eve of the ceremony, undoing much of the preparations as well as preventing all the high-profile guests from being able to attend.

Sophie is also going through a rough patch in her marriage to Sky (Dominic Cooper). She receives counsel from her mother's best friends and bandmates, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), and through their tales, she learns much about her mother's misadventures as a young adult (played by Lily James) in the summer of 1979, and how she came to meet her three fathers, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård).

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is undeniably the best feel-good movie I have seen so far this year. The movie exudes the kind of charm that leaves a smile plastered on your face for the duration of its runtime. It doesn't hurt that I love ABBA and their incredible catalogue of hits. All that said, I must confess that I wasn't the biggest fan of the original film, which at the time of its 2008 release I found a little too campy for my tastes. Some of that campiness carries over into the sequel of course, but the musical numbers are so well executed here that you'd be hard pressed to find any reason to complain.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Movie Review)


Much like they did in 2015, the folks at Marvel Studios have chosen to follow up another Avengers movie with an outing of their ant-sized heroes. And of course, after the gut-wrenching finale of Avengers: Infinity War two months ago, you can be sure that fans have been waiting for Ant-Man and the Wasp, looking for answers, or closure, or a bit of both. Except the filmmakers have their own story to tell, be it one that is on a smaller scale and with relatively smaller stakes.

Set following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the movie finds Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) undergoing house arrest for assisting Team Captain America in its fight against Team Iron Man. Scott is just days away from serving his sentence when he receives a message from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been trapped in the quantum realm for some thirty odd years. This leads him to contact Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), her husband and inventor of the Pym particle.

Scott is broken out of house arrest by Hope van Dyne (Evangelline Lilly), aka the Wasp, who you'll remember had assumed the mantle during the mid-credits scene of the last film. The two of them must work together with Hank to rescue Janet. Except they have to contend with not only the authorities (Randall Park) and a black market dealer (Walton Goggins), but also a mysterious masked woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through walls and uses this ability to steal Hank's lab (yep, the entire lab) with hopes of also finding Janet for personal reasons.

If you're one of those expecting Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide answers to some of the questions you had after Avengers: Infinity War, then I'd have to say prepare yourself for some measure of disappointment. The movie is as self-contained as they come.There is not an Infinity Stone in sight. What we get instead is much talk about quantum realms and particle accelerators. Thankfully, the movie itself is just as funny as the first one, with Michael Peña once again stealing the show with his portrayal of the fast-talking ex-criminal, Luis.

The movie also boasts more of the inventive action sequences we saw in the first film, making great use of its heroes' abilities to switch sizes. But for those still wanting to know how all this ties into the greater ongoing drama of the MCU, I'll say this much: be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene. It might not provide all the answers, but at least it places the film within the context of that other movie.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

A Quiet Place (Movie Review)


One of the downsides of living in a country where there is little appreciation for anything outside what it considers mainstream is you tend to miss out on a lot of gems. So of course I wasn't surprised when the geniuses that run our local cinemas had elected not to show A Quiet Place all through its global theatrical run. And so I had no choice but to patiently await its release on digital download, even as news of its success filtered over to our shores. But man was it worth the wait.

The movie stars Emily Blunt and real-life husband John Krasinski (who also directs) as a couple struggling to keep their family safe in a post-apocalyptic world where much of the Earth's population has been decimated by vicious creatures that hunt by sound. Where did the creatures come from? A planet of angry librarians perhaps. The filmmakers don't even attempt to answer these sort of questions, choosing instead to focus on the plight of this one family stuck in this dire situation.

Much of the movie takes place on the rural farm the family calls home. They go about their day-to-day activities like any regular family would; they do laundry, help their kids with their homework, go out hunting and have dinner. Except they do all this in silence and with the knowledge that there are three of the creatures actively hunting in the surrounding area. It is quickly established that the creatures have no known weaknesses, other than the fact that they are totally blind. But things are about to get more complicated as the family prepares to welcome its newest member.

I know it is too early to call it, but A Quiet Place is quite possibly my favorite movie of 2018. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane before it, the movie plays out like an intricate game of chess, and we get to watch as all the pieces are moved into place. It eschews traditional jump scares in favor of a deeper sense of dread that permeates every scene. It also boasts one of the most memorable and impressive sound designs since Gravity, as it makes good on its titular promise, with stretches of silence that make even the most mundane sounds sound scary and unwanted.

But the movie is as much a family drama as it is a brilliantly executed horror film. Ultimately, it is a movie about parenthood, and what it means to keep your loved ones safe in the face of clear and present danger. I couldn't recommended it highly enough.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Incredibles 2 (Movie Review)


Everyone's favorite superhero family, the Parrs, make their return in Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2004's The Incredibles. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film picks off right where the first movie left off 14 years ago, with the mole-like Underminer arriving to lay siege on the city of Metroville, forcing the Parrs to once again don their superhero costumes and personas as they fight to protect its citizens.

They manage to foil the Underminer's plans to rob the city's bank, but not without leaving a trail of collateral damage in their wake. This causes the authorities to hold them accountable for the incident, especially since they had been acting against the laws forbidding all acts of superheroism. But their plight is brought to the attention of Winston and Evelyn Deavor, a brother-and-sister duo of superhero advocates (voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener).

The pair are seeking to restore the public's faith in superheroes, and ultimately put an end to the law preventing them from fighting crime, and this they intend to do by showing the untold stories of the crime fighters. And in a reversal of roles, Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) is chosen as the face of this campaign, while Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) gets to play the stay-at-home dad who must tend to the day-to-day needs of their three superhero kids.

The Incredibles was revered for elevating the superhero movie genre, a genre whose landscape has changed drastically in the last 14 years with the advent of shared universes. So the fact that its sequel still feels as poignant today as the original did all those years ago is a feat in and of itself. As expected, the technology powering the production has improved since 2004, a fact that is immediately apparent from the very first frame, with details like hair and lights taking on a life-like quality.

The movie still retains the same animation art style though, with more of the fancy camera work and whiplash-inducing action we've come to expect from the original. Also worthy of note is the movie's score, which highlights and underscores all the key action scenes with a sense of urgency that gets the pulses racing.

2018 has already proven to be an awesome year for superhero movies, with heavy hitters like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 all finding success and critical acclaim (with Ant-Man and the Wasp and Aquaman still to come). We can add Incredibles 2 to that list, a movie that manages to feel fresh in the current landscape, while also staying true to form.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Movie Review)


Every summer, there seems to be at least one obligatory tentpole release from a long-gestating franchise nobody really asked for. In 2015, that movie was Jurassic World, except it exceeded expectations by breaking several box office records, proving that there was indeed a demand for just such a film. It also helped that the movie didn't totally suck. All that success of course meant that we would be getting an inevitable sequel, hence Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

It's been three years since the dinosaurs took over the titular theme park. In all that time, they've been left to roam wild and free on the fictional island of Isla Nublar. But their makeshift haven is about to come to a fiery end as an active volcano on the island draws closer to eruption. This raises the moral debate of whether or not their human creators should intervene or allow nature to run its course. But of course the film wouldn't be much fun if they'd chosen the latter.

So before long, a rescue operation is mounted and a team assembled to help with the evacuation. This includes the park's former operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and everyone's favorite dinosaur trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). The dinosaurs are to be transported to a new island, with the operation being funded by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of the original park's creator, John Hammond. Everything is not as it seems though and it soon becomes evident that their kind benefactors might be harboring some dark secrets.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom lives up to the legacy of its predecessors as a true summer blockbuster. The movie is full of spectacle, with some of the biggest set pieces the franchise has put forward till date. The visuals are appropriately spectacular, and the fact that a lot of the close-up dinosaur effects were achieved using animatronics helps sell their performances even more.

It's a shame the same thing can't be said about their human counterparts though, some of whose actions and motives were downright unbelievable. But overall, the movie provides enough thrills and close-quarters scares to tide fans over until the third and final installment of the new trilogy drops three years from now.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)



The second Star Wars anthology movie is here, arriving just five months after the release of The Last Jedi. There's been much talk over the internet about franchise fatigue, so I'd be quick to confess that like many fans, I was also skeptical about the prospects of a young Han Solo movie. I mean, here was a character we all grew to love over the course of the original trilogy, played so perfectly by Harrison Ford. And our skepticism wasn't exactly helped by news of the film's troubled production, with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being fired midway due to creative differences, prompting reshoots and a change of director.

They were replaced by Ron Howard, and he has done an admirable job of making the whole thing look like a coherent whole, unlike the last movie I saw with an equally troubled production. So the burning question then is how does all of this affect the quality of the final product? And the answer I guess depends on how you've felt about the recent crop of Star Wars movies, and more importantly, what you are expecting from this one. Billed as a space western, the movie makes good on its promise of depicting a fun adventure by a beloved character, but doesn't aspire to do much else.

The movie is set about 10 years before the events of A New Hope, at a time before Han Solo (now played by Alden Ehrenreich) became the hotshot pilot of the Millenium Falcon. Tired of life in the slums of his home planet Corellia, young Solo plots his escape with love interest, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). But the two are separated when she is captured at a security checkpoint during their escape. Han vows to come back for her, and he spends the next three years trying to raise enough money to buy a ship and do just that, first by enlisting in the Imperial Navy, before joining a group of criminals. Led by a man known as Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), the group inform Han of a train heist that would reward him with enough money to carry out his vow.

Things don't go according to plan though and they are ambushed by a rival gang in the middle of the heist, ultimately losing the shipment of coaxium (a precious hyperfuel) they'd been after. Han learns that the job was actually done in service of the crime boss, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and their failure means they'll need to find another way to repay him. They manage to avoid certain death at his hands by convincing him they'd secure enough raw coaxium to repay him, but to do so, they'd need a ship fast enough to make the infamous Kessel run. And so they go in search of the one man with a ship that meets that requirement, the smuggler Lando Carlrissian (Donald Glover).

If I were to rank the recent Disney-produced Star Wars movies, Solo: A Star Wars Story would fall squarely into the last position. That said, the film is by no means a bad movie. Far from it. It has its fair share of flaws, for sure. It takes some time for things to really kick into gear, and it also fails to show any meaningful character development for its key characters, Han Solo most especially. There is also that overall lack of suspense, since we already know where the whole thing is headed. There were also some unresolved subplots and twists towards the end that allude to some sort of sequel or connection to a future anthology movie.

You can blame all this on the exceptionally high bars set by Rogue One and The Force Awakens. Or as the naysayers on the internet would put it, on franchise fatigue. But ultimately, the movie functions more like a fun excursion to a place we've all come to know all too well; beautiful for sure, but doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.