Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

This review originally appeared on

These days, attempting to separate the image of Tom Cruise, loony Scientologist elder, from the image of Tom Cruise, Big Movie Star is a nearly impossible mission. But movies like last year's Edge of Tomorrow and this fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible are making it a little easier.

All five M:I movies have had different directors, which is a tradition I hope continues with the inevitable sequels — it lends the series a nice level of unpredictability. And while current director Christopher McQuarrie doesn't bring anything revolutionary or insane to the series, (for that, you'll have to reach back to John Woo's Mission: Impossible 2, which was the nuttiest — and thus my favorite — M:I movie), he has crafted a solid bit of action-filled entertainment, complete with the requisite villain hoping to destroy the world (Sean Harris); an upper level management type who wants to keep the IMF team apart; (Alec Baldwin); and a femme who may be a fatale, or may be a friend (Rebecca Ferguson).

Ferguson steals the show on more than one occasion — which could be a testament to Cruise, who isn't afraid to be upstaged. In fact, he's probably at his best when he's fighting against someone who's clearly a little smarter and/or a little stronger; it gives his Ethan Hunt a nice does of humility, and humor.

Besides, he'd never be able to come close to the moves Ferguson masters in her fight scenes, particularly the classic "lady crushes man's head between her thighs" maneuver, which she tends to combine with an initial flying leap over the guy, resulting in her landing on top, head between legs, neck in perfect position for snapping.

The IMF gang is also back: Ving Rhames as Luther, who does NOT do much leaping in the movie; I think he spends most of it lying down; Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, who has to fight off Alec Baldwin's CIA chief; and; Simon Pegg as Benji, who gets more feet-on-the ground action this go-around.

Sure, the movie's probably about 20 minutes too long, and the ending is the furthest from surprising that you can probably get. But the Mission: Impossible series has always been a nice alternative to the more serious Daniel Craig 007 and Bourne movies, and Rogue Nation is so much fun it almost manages to make you forget about Crazy Cruise. And that's an accomplishment.

Friday, July 10, 2015

More Than Smeared Eyeliner: Amy

This review originally appeared on

While most of the world seemed to view the death of Amy Winehouse as unsurprising and an inevitable end, I was shocked. I thought she'd end up the equivalent of Keith Richards, or Courtney Love: rock stars who live the lifestyle to the extreme, but who never made into the 27 Club. But after seeing the documentary Amy, I now know there was no hope of that; she was doomed.

If you're a fan of documentaries, the film is worth seeing — even if you aren't a fan of Winehouse's music — because it's a remarkable piece of curation: No new footage was shot for the film, and all new interviews are only heard as voiceover. Instead, it consists entirely of archival video and film, shot by her family and friends, as well as stuff shot for TV and, most disturbingly of all, paparazzi footage; she was hounded by them until her death.

And it's this image of her that prevailed, until now. Thanks to this film, we get to see the Amy that, at age 14, could belt out a version of "Happy Birthday" worthy of the jazz singers she idolized; the Amy that was a burgeoining musician — still just in her teens — promoting her first album, and answering questions about fame with answers like "I don't think I'm gonna be at all famous. I don't think I could handle it. I'd probably go mad."

It's also great seeing the subtle look of disgust she gives when asked what it's like to be shot by photographer Terry Richardson, and not hiding her complete boredom at an interviewer's droning on about Dido's lyrics. Seeing these moments of personality that are so different from the images of her walking through the streets of London in bloody ballet slippers and smeared eyeliner turns her downfall into something heartbreaking, and not something to be joked about — as was the case so often towards the end of her life.

The film doesn't shy away from presenting those who surrounded her after she hit it big as the shitty support system they were. An opportunist father; a dirt bag junkie husband; managers who really didn't know what the hell they were doing. She was only 22 when Back to Black was released, and clearly not prepared for the fame it would bring her. If only she had lived long enough to learn how to live through it.


This review originally appeared on

Imagine being able to live forever in the body of Ryan Reynolds. Welcome to the (sort of) plot of Self/less. Ben Kingsley plays a dying New York billionaire with a ridiculous accent and an insanely tacky, gold-plated apartment worthy of Donald Trump (and ha, it actual IS Donald Trump's apartment, as revealed in the credits). When he's told about a procedure called "shedding," he forks over the money to have his consciousness transferred into the lab-grown body of a virile young man. This involves MRI-type machines and no actual brain transplantation, so is, in other words, completely preposterous.

When he wakes up in his new body, he has all the memories of his former self (although he doesn't have the ridiculous New York accent, which, huh?), but must start a new life, as giving up his old life is part of the deal. And the transition isn't entirely smooth, since without daily drugs, he starts to have weird seizures that come with memories that seem to belong to someone else.

Ah ha! There's the rub. "Lab-grown" body indeed! The majority of the movie features Reynolds searching for the truth behind his new body while being chased by the shady org that facilitated it all. There are some interesting philosophical discussions to be had about the potential for immortality, how the brain facilitates consciousness, and the ultimate opportunities of the haves and the have-nots. But this movie isn't really concerned with any of that that. It's more interested in car chases and gun battles. Your enjoyment depends on your preference for the former or the latter in your entertainment.