Friday, August 21, 2015

INSIDE OUT movie review

Foreword: Lava, the short film that played before the movie, was awful. It made me wish they just kept that Secret Life of Pets trailer on repeat instead.

Inside Out is the fifteenth film from Pixar Animation Studios. It centers around Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), the emotions in the head of a little girl who's going through an emotional time as her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Between the merchandising film, Cars 2, the half-great, half-generic Brave, and the completely pointless Monsters University, Pixar hasn't had a good string of films recently. Luckily, they take their "inventive fun + emotional depth" formula literally with this new film to remind us how good they can actually be.

This is a fun movie, with a weird premise, and director Pete Docter manages to thoroughly and coherently establish the premise of this movie in the first ten minutes, and it's all uphill from there. Much like how he approached Monsters Inc. years ago, Docter explains the inner workings of your subconscious in ways that are clever and/or ways that strangely have some weight to them. File this under the The Matrix / Inception category of coherent, imaginative storytelling.

I really liked that the emotions (characters that, for all intents and purposes, should've been one-dimensional) were treated as rounded, three-dimensional characters (some of them at least). Joy has a character arc (not all stories need its characters to have an arc, but her's works really well), Sadness may just be the most interesting of the group, and while I didn't find the character Bing Bong (Richard Kind) all that engaging/accessible, his character really resonated with me by the end.

The film speaks volume as to where Docter came from as a child and where he is now, emotionally, and the same can be said for many who watch this film. Pixar usually finds their wins in the stories that captivate the audience by the emotional depth and sincere life lessons, and this film is where it stands out the most yet works just as well. 

As I said earlier, they turn their figurative formula into a premise of a movie, and it works wonders. (Spoiler parenthesis: I know I sure as hell was impacted by the climax of Joy's arc, where she learns that repressing sadness only leads to isolation, in the middle of a literal forgotten wasteland.)

Inside Out is a film that bathes in its imaginative storytelling and emotional sincerity. I love it. And not just puppy-dog love. I mean, like, create-an-Inside-Out-character-for-this love.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movie review

Ugh, spy movies are cultural genocide.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a film based off the 1960s television series of the same name. It's essentially a buddy-spy action/comedy focusing on American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), who have to team together to stop a bad person from acquiring a bomb.

There have been three spy/secret agent movies so far this year that, whether you like them or not, all have differing approaches and aesthetics to them, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is no different. 

Being directed by Guy Ritchie (more recently known for the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies), the pacing and rhythm of the film is very distinctive of his work that it offers another uniquely entertaining addition to a year loaded with spy films.

I feel that Henry Cavill, in-character, encapsulates this movie, in both the positive and negative sides. He's charming, slick, and suave, yet he's nothing more than those surface characteristics. The same can be said for the movie; it's paced quickly, with snappy dialogue and stylistic and upbeat music, and it's oozing with charisma. The film is basically an invitation for having fun with it, and it works mostly because it's completely accessible.

Two of the three leads, Cavill and Alicia Vikander, create a vibrant atmosphere to let loose, while Hammer just faceplants with his use of a Russian accent. The action sequences are fun at times, with the only memorable ones being the boat sequence in the middle of the movie and a hotel dance/fight sequence with Vikander and Hammer.

Beyond those surface values, however, there isn't much, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since I'd prefer to have my empty films as stylistic and fun rather than dull and boring. Still, the film doesn't try to go beyond that other than several Leverage-esque reveals meant to amaze the audience, that ironically, I found unimpressive. They only make use of editing techniques and camera framing, so they aren't exactly crafting a well set-up for a reveal that's made a big deal of.

There were quite a few tedious scenes that are required to sit through (most involving Armie Hammer, unfortunately). The worst of which was the last act of the movie which is quite hard to follow, with all the moving plot points. It also somehow ends up at a point where the final showdown is one of those aforementioned reveals, just to once again reiterate that the spies are cool.

The film is basically cool guys doing cool things for your viewing entertainment. Going on nothing but style and charisma, the film manages to give an fun little throwback to a 60s spy adventure.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Tom Cruise risks his life multiple times to deliver an entertaining movie. That's true dedication right there.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible series and it sees the return of Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Vingh Rhames and also introduces Rebecca Ferguson into the fold. This time around, the IMF encounter trouble when their agency is dissolved as they try and take down the Syndicate.

M:I is a fun, action/adventure spy series, yet the only one I really like is Ghost Protocol. The trailers of this movie made it seem like it was aiming to recreate the same adrenaline-infusing excitement that Ghost Protocol was able to deliver so well, but in reality, the movie is much, much more than that.

The movie starts off with one breathtaking sequence that lives up to the franchise name. It feels familiar and it fits in the vain of Mission: Impossible. However, almost immediately after, it starts to challenge those very same, familiar elements of the franchise and attempts to tackle big ideas that the series has never dared touch.

Like how Empire Strikes Back challenged Star Wars' adventurous spirit, with Yoda telling Luke that he must unlearn what he has learned, Rogue Nation challenges the main draw of this series, the stunts and action, by raising the point that maybe these dangerous missions are a risky business that could lead to drastic consequences. 

All the action sequences following that first one have weight to them; characters die when minor hiccups in the mission occur, missions fail badly and suffering happens because of it, Ethan Hunt's knack for gambling with people's lives is at the forefront, and characters question the complexity of these elaborate set pieces (which leads to some hilarious banter). It's a fun flip on the franchise's identity while still remaining true to it.

I can't imagine the pressure of following Brad Bird's directing in Ghost Protocol, but director Christopher McQuarrie seemingly pulls it off with ease, offering some of the best action sequences this franchise has had to offer. Instead of going for a rehash of the Burj Khalifa sequence of Ghost Protocol, or even worse, trying to top it (you can't), McQuarrie goes for a variety of complex yet very entertaining action sequences. I'm not quite sure many directors are able to stitch together an underwater break-in scene, a car chase, and a motorcycle chase, but McQuarrie can, and it's one of the best parts of the movie. However, the best action sequence of the film goes to opera fight sequence. There was a point during that sequence where I just couldn't believe what I was watching. 

McQuarrie also gets some of the best scenes of interplay between cast members in the series. As I said, Tom Cruise is a champ. He can carry this franchise until he's 90, probably. Simon Pegg is back in a bigger role, and he's great. I've always loved his brand of comedy, and American filmmakers are now starting to use more of him, so that's pleasant to see. Newcomer, Rebecca Ferguson totally steals the movie however. Her character is intriguing, complex, and more than capable that I would love to see more of her in future installments.Her character works so well opposite Ethan Hunt too. It's Cruise, Ferguson, and Pegg. This is the M:I trifecta that should never go away.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is definitely the most interesting film of the series. It doesn't attempt to rehash or out-do what came before and is more than willing to explore the very nature of this franchise. Plus, the exhilarating action sequences and great performances make it a Summer blockbuster you won't want to miss.