Monday, 24 August 2015

American Ultra

A stoner - who is in fact a government agent - is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he's too well-trained and too high for them to handle.

American Ultra is a late-summer business for good-time-seeking young audiences. Those who saw director Nima Nourizadeh's moderately successful first feature, comedy Project X, will have an idea of the excess to expect here. It's a very mid-August sort of film, the kind that benefits from low. The first 20 minutes or so are pretty fun and provokes a few laughs by identifying multiple symptom of our generation. The script by Max Landis (Chronicle) delivers more of a big mess than anything coherent or genuinely engaging. Moreover, characters are fun. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are a sort of Bonnie and Clyde with a water bong. Unfortunately both of them, frequently great, are unsure footing here. They smoke, say "like" and the F-word a lot and eventually kick plenty of butt in a way that looks pretty good. Their relationship is revealed to have a history and dynamic that goes much deeper. 

However, the only aspect of Jesse Eisenberg character that feels genuine is his paranoia, which within the auspices of comedic action movie, is totally earned. Plus, some people come across as larger than life on screen but Eisenberg and Stewart really don't. There are some highly entertaining cameos. The action sequences build in size throughout the movie. There's chasing, fighting, hiding and urgent phone calls. All of what is nicely edited, big slo-motion shoots down come together in slick and engaging ways. This time around director has thankfully moderated her shaky-cam tendencies. Still, sensation is sensation, amusing discussions, witty characterisation and creative violence. Finally the most creative and witty part of the entire film may well be the animated and credits, which have a panache mostly absent from what's come before. I actually had fun with this movie though. The film doesn't aim for much but guess what? It's nor award season but the last weeks of summer. 

Overall, American Ultra is a bit lazy comically, the plot has some holes and the pace is not even but the love story is sweet.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Paper Towns

A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door.

This second John Green adaptation is a less tear jerking, more affecting teen drama than The Fault in Our Stars. The film describes a certain suburban disillusionment where everything and everyone in life seems phony and two dimensional. A condition to which some sensitive teenagers can be especially susceptible. If it's authenticity these young adults seek, they could have done far worse than this second movie. It's most interesting as a perspective on adolescence in which all the girls are more mature, nervy and perceptive than any of the boys; who have some catching up to do if they're to have a chance with any of them. Characters are introduced as flawed, ordinary young individuals who are touchingly vulnerable to the social pressures and sexual anxieties of contemporary teenage life. Plus, all of the film young actors get the opportunity to reveal more than one dimension of their own character. 

Some would say the real find here is Cara Delevingne who, with her subtly smoky voice makes the girl of Quentin's fantasies a singularly charismatic presence, all the more so due to her limited screen time. However Nat Wolff is the one to get the deserved promotion from strong supporting actor to leading man. He's the one presents in just about every scene. The one to hold the centre as a young man who isn't overly concerned about either standing out or fitting in and whose behaviour can often be as hesitant as it is impulsive. Indeed, despite the movie's puzzle-like structure Paper Towns steps in the common rituals of young adulthood, that is to say the well worn conventions of so much teen cinema. There are house parties, pop quizzes, locker-side confrontations and some talk about hot moms and sexually transmitted diseases. Large quantities of beer are consumed and parental supervision is pretty minimal.

Overall, by the end nearly all the story's question mysteries and dilemmas have been neatly answered and tied up, with just a dash of melancholy and a hint of maturity added to the mix as life moves on.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate - an International rogue organisation as highly as they are, committed to destroying the IMF. 

Over the past 19 years Mission: Impossible movies have become synonymous with its star's fearless stunts. This new entry takes the best of all the "good" Mission: Impossible, blend them together as the formula of ingredients is familiar and time tested. This might actually be the best fifth instalment in a franchise, its only real competition is Fast Five - no The Empire Strikes Back doesn't count despite the fact that it is Star Wars: Episode V. Those films have remained Tom Cruise safe harbour, his teflon franchise. Ethan Hunt will always be embraced as a returning hero. You can shoot him, stab him, drown him, blow him up or pair him with the baddest of all; but you will never stop Ethan Hunt, because he is played by Tom Cruise. Make no mistake, even at 53, Tom Cruise is still Hollywood's hungriest leading man. In the previous chapter, 2011's Ghost Protocol, Cruise wowed audience by hanging from the side of the world's tallest skyscraper. Now in the latest sequel director's understood perfectly Cruise's signature and he wastes no time serving it up, opening the film with the guy himself sprinting and leaping onto the wing of a Russian cargo plane speeding down a runway.   

Cruise is - obviously - the definitive modern movie star. A charismatic force that can make the bad watchable and the average ultimately quite fun. Plus, he's very far from being a candidate for The Expendables series any time soon. Rebecca Ferguson is also great in this movie, she is the right balance between femininity and bad-assery. The light hearted tone of this movie is mostly due to and expanded role for the comic-relief maestro: Simon Pegg. This man is hilarious, he's a quite actor who - I believe - doesn't get much credit for his work. If you watch Shaun of the Dead, he has this comic aspect as well as a very good dramatic one. The villain is also good. He has motivation and you can really feel where he's coming from; still not an incredible villain but he's functional. 

Shockingly, the theme music is - after an initial blast - sabotaged. In fact, Rogue Nation might not be the tightest, or even, the most logically coherent Mission: Impossible movie but there should be more movies like this one: relentlessly thrilling. It recalls the first film a lot, coming back to that more tense, suspense oriented espionage; with a sharp script that springs a little surprise or two. It does more than just connect the dots between action set-pieces. The writers perfectly balanced the espionage devices with gadgets while having thrilling action sequences. The action is indeed amazing. That is the very heart of why you like action movies. This franchise is the few remaining series (along with 007) where globe trotting action is still appreciated. 

Action scenes are extremely well handed by Christopher McQuarrie, characters  are still very accessible, enjoyable and seeing them coming together again is very important as we can see that a lot happened to this team before. The film's most exciting sequence - a tussle between Hunt and three assassin sent to murder the Austrian Chancellor at the Vienna State Opera - is a beautifully managed action sequence. Unconventional and quite brave for a mainstream franchise picture. Yet, the motorcycle chase is one of the best I've seen for a long time in a movie. 

Overall, this movie is not so much about the outcome as it is the breathlessly thrilling journey Tom Cruise takes us on to get there.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Fantastic Four

Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. 

Fantastic Four is the 20th Century Fox reboot of the Fantastic Four film franchise (2005-2007) that many would agree was not that good - but so horribly fun. This is ironically the fourth Fantastic Four movie and the second (technically third) stab at Fantastic Four, which comes just eight years after the first try and its sequel. Which didn't really set the bar inordinately high. Based on the oldest Marvel comic titles, this inherited property feels less like a blockbuster in this age of comics-oriented productions. This film isn't an embarrassment but a wrong experiment. Although, disappointingly this new adaptation isn't that much better than the previous one. They barely drew from a different source to reimagine the quartet's origins, without even improving them. Moreover, the cast is significantly younger. The heart and soul of the original comics were part of the interaction between each character. From Ben's depression at having become a "monster" to the budding relationship between Reed and Sue, to Johnny and Ben's squabbling. Those things didn't even slightly emerged. 

Central characters are mostly gazing intently into computer screen throughout the major part of the movie. There's no clear development to Victor's drastic transformation into the powerful villain. It felt that Victor was a better character before he becomes Dr.Doom. Technically, the look has slightly improved. Starting with the Thing who picks up computer-generated size, muscle and menace which might have lacked in the former incarnation. As for the costumes, they are built for utility only. Film goers are treated with a lot of science, that, I'm not complaining about, I always liked good theories. CGI is not convincing at all though. Even the green screens are laughable. Not one of the extraterrestrial scenes are believable, like this world might exists somewhere. 

Nothing really happen, it's long and boring. This movie displays a bunch of people trying to make something and then they get powers, but don't really use them so nothing's happening still. Alas, it takes a long time before anyone gets around to smash much of anything. And because it's hardly a mystery the heroes will end up facing off with Doom, there's a sense of killing time in the early going that's not adequately compensated for by the action sequences and especially the "big" finale. Where many recent superhero movies have risked overstaying their welcome, Fantastic Four, at 100 minutes has a slow initial pace, climax probably should have come at least half an hour sooner and the end feels a little bit rushed. Don't expect a lot of action as the film takes most of its time with exposition and development from the very beginning. In fact, this film is one giant exposition. There isn't one single memorably cool moment in the movie that people would talk about.

Director Josh Trank sharing script credit with producer Simon Keborg (veteran of the X-Men franchise) and Jeremy Slater go way back into the group's past this time around. Plus, the script made major changes to the origin story which immediately distinguishes itself from the previous adaptations, with a seriousness of tone and a near-absence of humour, horrid dialogues and predictable moments, all accumulated have ruined the potential this film had. The final third and the last scene are so suddenly cheesy, I cringed. The collaboration of Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass also yields some intriguing riffs in what ultimately sounds like a pretty conventional score. Finally, they made a movie to set up another movie. Producers no longer intend to make good movies on their own. I genuinely never thought to this day to see a superhero movie that is that bad. There's no post-credit scene as it's probably not tied to the MCU.   

Overall, I really wanted so bad to love this movie but the entire run time is exposition. This movie feels like a teaser for a more exciting follow up that might never happen. The cast is all very talented and do their best to make this believable. What the heck happened?