Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - 2015

"Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" - 2015
Dir. by Christopher McQuarrie - 2 hrs. 11 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Impossibly, these "Mission: Impossible" movies seem to keep getting better.  To give a quick history of my viewership of these films, I was okay with the first, hated the second one so badly that I refused to see the third, watched the fourth only because it was Brad Bird's first live-action directorial job (and was very happy with that film), and was actually looking forward to this fifth installment.  And this one delivers, at least as well as the fourth film did.

Once again, Ethan Hunt  (Tom Cruise) is back on the job, trying to get his next assignment.  However, he's been identified by the enemy, an organization called "The Syndicate," and is captured in a typically elaborate manner.  Meanwhile, Stateside, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is tasked with defending Hunt's and the IMF's actions against accusations by the director of the CIA, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin).  Ultimately, the IMF is shuttered and folded into the CIA, and Hunt is on the official government shitlist, trying to solve the issue of the Syndicate without any official help.

So, let's get the big stuff out of the way.  With films in this franchise, you know there's going to be at least a couple of spectacular, arm-rest-gripping scenes, and that they completely need to deliver.  There are two (well, three, if you include the opening scene), and they come correct.  The car chase is spectacular and wild, and there's an underwater scene that's just as gripping.  So rest assured that you'll get your action fix.  As far as the actors, they've eased into their respective roles.  Especially so with Simon Pegg, whose exasperation with Cruise's character is a constant stream of amusement.  He has a more prominent role this time around, and he's game.

Beyond that, the story does carry some intrigue.  There are unexpected twists and turns, and the movie keeps you guessing all along, until you see exactly how things are going to play out.  I mean, you know that everyone's up to something, and that the movie is essentially a series of reveals, and that's okay.  That, along with the action pieces, are why you'd show up for a MI movie.  That, and the girl, of course.

Someone get Rebecca Ferguson a towel!

Ilsa, played by Rebecca Ferguson, is up to the challenge of stringing along both Ethan Hunt and the leader of the Syndicate, and looking damned good while doing so.  It's not a femme fatale situation; Ilsa has her own motives beyond romance (and there's not exactly a romance angle in MI5; there's the possibility, but Ethan always has other things on his mind).  And, as the picture above shows, the nod to Ursula Andress in "Dr. No," albeit in evil black instead of white, was appreciated.

I don't have anything bad to say about MI5.  I was looking forward to seeing this one, and it delivered.  One might suggest that the complicated traps and the insane stunts stretch credibility, but that's exactly what you sign up for when you buy your ticket to a Mission: Impossible movie.  So no complaining about that now.  I was completely into the story, and the run-time flew by, and the twists and turns worked.  "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" is maybe the best of the five movies (or at least even with the fourth installment).  It used to be that sequels were an exercise in the degradation of a concept, but this franchise and the Fast & the Furious franchise prove that doesn't have to be the case.

4 / 5 - Theatre

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spies Like Us - 1985

"Spies Like Us" - 1985
Dir. by John Landis - 1 hr. 42 min.

by Clayton Hollifield

It's impossible for me to give a fair review of "Spies Like Us"; this was one of my favorite movies growing up.  So even though I'll try my hardest to present a decent look at it, ultimately I've already watched this movie dozens of times, and I'll probably end up watching it another dozen times before my days are over.  To kick things off, a song:


A pair of CIA wannabes, Emmett Fitz-Hume (Chevy Chase) and Austin Millbarge (Dan Aykroyd) get a last-minute opportunity to take a test that would turn them both from desk jockeys to actual field agents.  Emmett is a classic BS artist (as most Chevy Chase characters are), and Austin is great with machinery and languages, but is languishing in a basement somewhere, doing someone else's work for them.  The test goes poorly (!), but the CIA decide to put Emmett and Austin in the field as decoys, to draw attention away from the actual operatives and operation.  Once they're air-dropped into Pakistan, they make their way to Afghanistan, all in the middle of the Cold War, trying not to get captured or killed along the way.

This film features a pretty prime performance by both Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.  It's hard to think of a better Chevy Chase movie (maybe one of the first two "Vacation" films?), and Dan Aykroyd excels as the straight man to Chase's insincere motor-mouth character.  It's almost impossible to overstate how much Aykroyd owned this time period; his run from "Blues Brothers" through "Ghostbusters" and "Spies Like Us" is a stretch that most comedians would be envious of.  This duo is enough to justify the film, even if it's a little like "Stripes," minus any Bill Murray pep talks.  The story is good enough - it's a series of settings in which Chase and Aykroyd get to ply their craft, and is no more or less complicated than it needs to be.

One word scene.

So what's the downside to "Spies Like Us?"  Is there a downside to "Spies Like Us?"  Not really.  Yeah, it's an '80s comedy, and plays like one, but it's one of the better examples that kind of film.  You might not be partial to Chevy Chase, but this is one of his best roles.  And if you don't like Dan Aykroyd, you should probably go ahead and kick yourself in the crotch.  Get help if you need, but definitely get that done.  There are a number of great (!) scenes, like the doctor scene, or the test-taking scene, and everything moves pretty quickly aside from that.  There aren't any lulls in the movie, just set-ups and pay-offs, and it works well.

Like I said before, I've seen this film a ton of times, and I'll surely watch it another ton of times.  While all the other kids were watching Disney films, this is exactly what I grew up on.  It's cinematic comfort food.  I completely accept that your mileage might vary, but I'll probably judge you harshly if you disagree with me.  So let's just leave it at that.  I like "Spies Like Us."  You might too.  I hope you do, so that I don't have to dislike you.

3.5 / 5 - Blu-Ray

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled - 2012

"The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled" - 2012
Dir. by Ryan Polito - 1 hr. 30 min. (?)

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Perhaps the faintest praise you can damn a project with is to dub it "for fans only."  "The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled," I dub thee.  There's a lot of reasons for that, perhaps the biggest being that it took me two sittings to get through the film, and then I forgot to write about it for another week after that.  Clearly, that meant that I was not particularly compelled by the material, even if it was good enough to get through.  And it was that.  But your enjoyment is going to be determined by how much you love Doug Benson almost entirely.

"The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled" is a documentary of a tour headlined by Doug Benson, supported by Graham Elwood.  It's a mix of travelogue (sort of) and performance material, and Doug smoking weed out of apples.  There's not really a point to any of it, nothing important happens other than that they get through the tour, and no one stuck around to smoke with Doug in Des Moines.  But that's about the worst thing that happens in the film.  This is a very low stakes movie.

On the positive side, this film exists.  Benson and Co. set out to document a tour through the heartland of the United States, and they were able to accomplish that (and apparently fund it through the concerts).  The crowds seemed to be into the shows, and that's always good.  Beyond that, there's not a lot to tie the material together.  There's a fundamental issue with comedians that their personalities aren't usually radically different from their stage personae.  There's no layers to peel back, because the peeling of layers usually occurs on-stage.  So, the footage of Benson and Elwood travelling aren't really relevatory, because they're just less refined versions of what you see on-stage.  This isn't like with musicians, who frequently craft an image of themselves that isn't perfectly in line with their actual personalities.

But also, nothing really happens in the movie.  There's no focus on the locations being of interest (which is probably exactly how you'd view an endless parade of cities you were performing in), there's nothing to overcome (or if there was, it wasn't included).  There aren't even a ton of interesting personalities in the film, and you'd expect some of that.  There's just performance, travel, and Doug seasoning apples with his own herbal blend of spices.  That's super cool if you're a big Doug Benson fan.  I'm enough of a fan to have watched a stand-up special of his, and "Super High Me," and now this.  "The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled" is definitely the weakest of the batch, but it's still watchable.  Yes, it's pointless and directionless, but that's at least part of the appeal of Benson himself.

So if you're a fan, dig in.  If not, try "Super High Me" first.

2 / 5 - Streaming

Monday, September 7, 2015

Hackers - 1995

"Hackers" - 1995
Dir. by Iain Softley - 1 hr. 47 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

"Hackers" is a really weird movie.  That's probably the best thing it's got going for it.  It's really weird, it's a movie about a despised subculture, it doesn't even bother apologizing for that either.  At the time it came out, it didn't really have any stars in it (obviously Angelina Jolie blew the f up over time, and you can see why here, but some of the other actors have had decent careers as well), and movies could kind of tell where things were going with the entire "internet" thing, but nobody had a good idea of exactly what it was going to look like.  In fact, the "internet" at the time was pretty much the province of college students and government employees.  This is a pre-AOL free disk movie.  It's pre- everything that we all take for granted as part of our daily lives now, but it was trying to look forward a few years.


Dade Murphy (Johnny Lee Miller) is a child prodigy at hacking, to the degree that he gets in a significant amount of legal trouble for messing with the stock market, and is banned from things like using touch-tone phones (Google it, youngster) until his 18th birthday.  Fast forward to his senior year of high school, and he and his mother are forced to move from Seattle to NYC, and he's got to fit into a new school.  Dade, or Zero Cool as he was once known, celebrates his 18th birthday by pulling an all-nighter and taking over a TV channel, before getting booted out of the system by another hacker named Acid Burn.  Meanwhile, at the school, he gets jerked around by a super-confident girl named Kate (Angelina Jolie), and some of the other hackers take note of his skills.  One of the low-level hackers, chain-smoking Joey (Jesse Bradford), breaks into a Gibson (Google it) and copies some garbage files, which contain proof of a worm (Google it) being used to scam a giant oil company out of a royal buttload of cash.  This also brings the attention of The Plague (Fisher Stevens), the oil company's hired hacker goon, who sets out to frame this batch of teenaged hackers for what will be a fairly significant crime.

Yes, "Hackers" 100% looks like a film from 1995.  There's no getting around it, but it's a fairly decent representation (visually) of the time and subculture.  But, to director Iain Softley's credit, he gives zero fucks about trying to represent what the actual world looked like at the time.  Everything is weird and custom and computery and neon and on wheels.  The batch of good guys rollerblade everywhere (which, thanks to the WTF interview with Josh Homme from a couple of years ago, is called "fruitbooting" in my head whenever I see it).  Even The Plague, middle-aged corporate hacker hoe, is first seen skateboarding into screen.  He even skateboards during a hand-off!


Everyone in the movie dresses like there are no mirrors in this universe, which is why you just have to accept Matthew Lillard in pigtails, or Angelina Jolie's weird white leather biker outfit.  Basically, what you need to understand is that people dress here like Tank Girl, if Tank Girl lived in New York City.  And then there's the visual representation of hacking.  This film might have the best approach I've seen from this era; there are scenes of microchips as cities, everyone's hacker stuff is on the level of a 13 year old's aesthetic, and whenever anyone hacks into anything, they start tripping balls (if LSD caused mathematical equations and lines of code to swirl around one's head).

Dade is so high right now.

In fact, the best thing about "Hackers" is the director's insistence on visualizing anything that could potentially be boring.  Sure, the actors always look interested and involved instead of having that dead-eyed, slack-jawed, lightly-drooling look that comes from staring at a screen for hours, but this is a visually interesting (if dated) film, when it could have been about beige boxes and the consumption of Jolt Cola (Google it).  And there are no apologies for that, either.  There were no stars here, no one in the real world was going to sympathize with hackers because they were the scourge of the ongoing computerized revolution, so this film goes for broke over and over again on the visuals.  Nonetheless, this gets a little closer to the heart of the movement than anyone should have expected from a Hollywood film, and gives credence to the concerns of the kids involved.

"Hackers" pays more than lip service to the idea that the kids are going to be fine; The Plague is a semi-skilled sell-out (Google it), and his speeches about being cowboys with no loyalties don't resonate with the hacker crew; kids that fruitboot together stay together.  Even when the fix is in, they stay on point and get done what needs to get done, both to preserve their own freedom and to keep deliberate sabotage for profit from being the order of the day.  Even if some of the technobabble doesn't make any sense, and the visual metaphors aren't necessarily dead-on, they're still interesting enough not to lose me as a viewer.  And the idea that the government is clueless and manipulable resonates super hard.  And, if you needed another reason to check this out, Angelina Jolie.  This was a decent role for her, but it's also immediately clear that she's kind of too good for weird teenager movies about computer dorks with braids, but boy was I glad she was there.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming