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Rating History

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

"Every one of the attacks you attributed to the Syndicate, the IMF was there."

It's been nearly 20 years since the first time Tom Cruise played IMF agent Ethan Hunt, and after this fifth installment of the franchise there is no sign of him stoping any time soon. Like good wine, these movies seem to get better the older Cruise gets. The weakest link in the series is by far the first sequel directed by John Woo, but J.J. Abrams managed to reinvigorate the franchise in the third Mission Impossible film with Philip Seymour Hoffman's memorable performance as the main villain and the introduction of Simon Pegg's character who brought the much needed comic relief. Brad Bird continued what Abrams started with Ghost Protocol and introduced Jeremy Renner to this world, and now it was up to Christopher McQuarrie to continue the hot streak. McQuarrie had previously worked with Cruise in Jack Reacher, a film I seem to have enjoyed more than everybody else. In Rogue Nation he followed what the previous directors brought to the series and continued to build on it with a similar tone during the action sequences that once again took us around the globe. There is a fantastic opening action scene involving Cruise jumping on a plane while it's about to take off, then it is followed by another wonderful sequence at a Vienna Opera house, and it is topped by another one involving a heist in Morocco that ends with a spectacular motorcycle chase. If there is anything negative I can say about Rogue Nation is that the film opens in such a spectacular fashion and maintains such a steady pace that by the time the bike sequence in Morocco ends the film seems to overstay its welcome. There was just no other way to top those action sequences so the final thirty minutes were a bit of a letdown with the predictable twists that any fan of the franchise could see coming. Other than that this was a fantastic ride which proves once again what a star Tom Cruise really is.

Upon receiving instructions for his latest mission, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), discovers that it has been compromised by a rogue organization that he refers to as the Syndicate. He is captured by its leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). While held captive, right before being tortured a mysterious woman known as Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) helps him escape. Ilsa claims to be a British Intelligence officer who has gone deep undercover to infiltrate Lane's Syndicate and win his trust. Meanwhile, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), is forced to testify in front of the US Chairmen committee in response to the agency's latest dealings which haven't been accounted for. CIA director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), wants IMF disbanded because he believes Hunt is a liability. The committee decides in Hunley's favor convinced that the Syndicate doesn't exist and that Hunt is behind it all. IMF is disbanded so Brandt and Benji (Simon Pegg) are forced to work for the CIA and bring Hunt in. So Ethan is left on his own to try to stop this dangerous organization, but he always finds a way to get his crew back together and accomplish the impossible. Ving Rhames is also back for a fifth time as Luther Stickell as he and Cruise are the only characters who've been here from the start.

The screenplay for Rogue Nation which was written by McQuarrie himself hits pretty much the same beats as the previous two films in the franchise. It has a similar tone and it's surprising how similar these films are to each other considering they've been directed by different directors. You know what direction these spy stories are heading, but the ride is what you are here for. Rogue Nation opens with a spectacular first half and ends in a weaker note, but it is still one great experience thanks to those spectacular action sequences and Cruise's charm. McQuarrie also manages to do two things right: first of all making Sean Harris's Solomon Lane a threatening villain and second giving Rebecca Ferguson a strong female character with some great choreographed fighting scenes. These two additions provide the franchise with the freshness it needed to go along with the familiarity of what the rest of the cast always brings. Besides the three action sequences that stood out for me in this film, there is a cool moment where Ethan receives instructions for his latest assignment that is perhaps the best in the franchise. Similarly to what many action films are doing now appealing to the past and our sense of nostalgia, Ethan receives his instructions in a vintage record store in what was one of the most memorable scenes in the film and a great way to introduce the villain of the story. The early escape scene is also quite thrilling, but it was spoiled by the trailers. Rogue Nation proves once again that this franchise is very much alive and that Tom Cruise isn't getting slower despite his age.

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Unfriended
Unfriended (2015)
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Online, your memories live forever... but so do your mistakes."

In a time when most teens spend hours staring at their smartphones or in front of a computer screen, Unfriended introduces us to a pretty interesting concept: a film that takes place entirely in a computer screen through a chat room. That minimalist found- footage premise is the most interesting thing about this low budget horror film and one of the reasons why it's worth checking out. That is the only unique thing about Levan Gabriadze's Unfriended since its story is rather predictable and it's not hard to guess what the outcome will be. It hits pretty much every beat in the familiar haunted story genre and the characters aren't likable at all. Inspired by the real life suicides of Amanda Todd and Audri Pott, Unfriended has a heavy anti cyber-bullying message, but there is not much more to it. A girl is videotaped in a very compromising position and somehow that video went viral and as a result she began to receive hateful messages like "kill urself." The bullying led to her suicide which was also caught on camera.

The entire film unfolds over a computer screen and the first image we see is a viral video of a teen named Laura shooting herself in front of a crowd. Apparently it is the anniversary of her death. We immediately find out that it's Blaire's (Shelley Hennig) computer that we are seeing when she receives a Skype video call from her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Storm). The two begin to have an intimate conversation when all of a sudden they are interrupted by a group chat with some of their High School friends: Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), and Ken (Jacob Wysocki). They soon realize that there is a sixth guest listening to their conversations, but they believe it is just a glitch. As they are chatting, Blaire begins receiving some bizarre texts from Laura's Facebook account. By the time Val (Courtney Halverson) joins in on the conversation they begin to realize that this unwanted guest is someone who knows their darkest secrets. The guest, writing under the name of Billie and claiming to be Laura, begins threatening them and forcing them to play games. This guest threatens their lives if any of them abandons the chat or losses the game. It soon becomes apparent that each one of these kids had something to do with Laura's death, and someone wants them to pay the price.

At first the entire focus on one computer screen seemed too limited and restricted, but eventually the suspense and the story began to pull me in. If only the characters were a bit more likable I would've enjoyed this more, but it was still interesting enough to keep me watching. I wasn't familiar with the cast, but they did deliver convincing performances. The film managed to hold my attention without doing too much so I'd say it was effective in a way. It does become a bit repetitive and overstays its welcome. The horror scenes aren't all that great either, but the plot does have you wondering for a moment what each one of the kids was responsible for. Unfriended uses a fresh gimmick and it tries to exploit a familiar and relevant issue in today's society about bullying, but that is about it so many might leave the film unsatisfied with what it was trying to accomplish.

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Wet Hot American Summer
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

"Hey, let's all promise that in ten years from today, we'll meet again, and we'll see what kind of people we've blossomed into."

Its been almost 15 years since David Wain's Wet Hot American Summer was released and I honestly had never heard of it. This was Wain's first feature film but it bombed at the box office and wasn't warmly received by critics either. Somehow over time it has become a cult teen comedy thanks to its wonderful cast, and now Netflix is about to release a comedy series with the same cast in the form of a prequel. The series will revolve around the first day of Summer camp in Camp Firewood in 1981, while this film focuses on the last day. The comedy plays out as a satire of camp films from the 80's and it honestly feels like a movie made in that period. The actors wear tight shirts, colorful short shorts, and long white tube socks with eighties hair styles. The look and style of the film itself is worth a couple of laughs and Wain's love and homage for these campy films transcends the screen. Unfortunately I didn't find much else worth recommending other than a couple of hilarious scenes, but as a whole I found the absurdist humor a bit lame. This is a very different comedy than what we are used to seeing and it's hard to point out any other film that has a similar style. That is why I believe it has become such a beloved cult comedy. Wet Hot American Summer is a parody in which you have no idea what direction the story is going to go and it constantly shifts its tone and introduces plenty of twists. Even though this film is basically a satire of camp films it doesn't miss the opportunity at gleefully playing with familiar genre conventions such as teen rom-coms and sport cliches. These individual scenes work extremely well but they don't make up a whole movie. That is why despite not being a fan of this film, I'm looking forward to the Netflix series because in shorter segments this could work well and the characters are worth revisiting.

On the final day of Summer Camp there is still so much things to look forward to such as the camp director, Beth (Janeane Garofalo), falling for an astrophysics professor played by David Hyde Pierce. There is also a romantic triangle formed between camp counselors Coop (Michael Showalter), Katie (Marguerite Moreau), and Andy (Paul Rudd). Katie is worried about Coop not having hooked up with anyone during the Summer and she promises to help him find someone special for him before the end of the day. What she doesn't know is that Coop is in love with her, but she is currently dating Andy. Andy however doesn't seem to care too much for her since he cheats on her with Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks). Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) are focused on directing a musical for the talent show later that night, while Gail (Molly Shannon) is struggling to teach her arts and crafts class because her husband has recently left her. Victor (Ken Marino) and Neil (Joe Lo Truglio) are in charge of taking another group of kids water rafting, but Victor is eager to get back to camp so he can make out with Abby (Marisa Ryan). This is just a small sample of the many activities that are taking place on this final day with plenty of surprises and twists along the way, including an innocent escape into the city by a group of counselors that degenerates into something crazy and unexpected.

David Wain's most successful film to date is probably Role Models, but Wet Hot American Summer has been growing on people ever since. Paul Rudd has collaborated with Wain in all his films and here he plays a cocky and egocentric character to perfection. There isn't one main character, although if I was forced to pick one I'd say it is Michael Showalter's Coop which isn't really a surprise considering Michael co-wrote the screenplay with Wain. There are also some funny scenes involving the chef played by Christopher Meloni who is still suffering post traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War. The cast is fantastic here but there are so many characters that they don't actually get much screen time. Bradley Cooper is now an Oscar nominated actor, but this was his first film so he doesn't get much screen time. Marguerite Moreau was fantastic as well and it's a shame she hasn't really had much success after this. I recognized her from The Mighty Ducks franchise and it was fun to see her in a different role like this. The performances from this recognizable cast is probably the highlight of the film, but there are also several individual scenes that stand out such as the trip to the city and a hilarious motorcycle chase sequence.

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Conviction
Conviction (2010)
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"I'm sorry you wasted your life on this. Your brother killed that woman."

Inspired by a remarkable true story in which a sister practically gives up almost two decades of her life in order to save her brother who has been convicted of murder and has been sentenced to life in prison. It's an amazing and inspirational story, but unfortunately the film suffers from being overly manipulative at times and too conventional. Conviction has Oscar bait written all over it, and despite having a heavy clichéd script the excellent cast elevate the film and make it worth recommending. Many people remember Tony Goldwyn from his villainous role in Ghost, but he has also directed a couple of rom-coms. This is the first time he directs a fully dramatic film and it suffers from being overly sentimental at times (the score is way too melodramatic).

The film is saved however by its excellent cast. Hillary Swank is amazing as this working mother who decides to put her personal aspirations aside to help save her imprisoned brother. In order to do so she decides to finish High School and go through law school. Not an easy task considering Betty Anne has two children to maintain. Sam Rockwell plays Betty's brother, Kenny, who was arrested in 1983 for a brutal murder. Betty and Kenny had been very close since they were young because their mother was constantly working so we get several flashbacks of them spending their childhood days breaking into nearby homes and dreaming of a better life. This always got Kenny into trouble with the local authorities. Years later, when a woman was found brutally murdered in a trailer near to Kenny's place he was the first suspect. After some incriminating evidence against him he is sentenced and that is when her loving sister decides to dedicate her life to free him. The degree of devotion she has for her brother is unprecedented and truly inspirational.

The question one asks throughout the film is how far Betty is willing to go to help her brother considering it has led her to lose her husband and any attempt to have a life of her own. It has even affected her relationship with her two children, played by Owen Campbell and Conor Donovan, who feel neglected at times. There isn't one second in which she questions what she is doing and takes it more as a responsibility and a debt she has for her brother. Swank gives a powerful performance and her devotion to Kenny is completely believable. Rockwell is also great as Kenny in both the prison scenes and in some of the flashback scenes where we see some of his wild behavior. He plays his character extremely well, up to the point where you are never really sure wether or not this guy is guilty for the crime he has committed. The only person who seems convinced about his innocence is his sister and that made the film all the more compelling.

Minnie Driver plays Abra Rice, one of the law students who befriends Betty and helps her on the case. Her relationship with Betty could've been explored a bit better, but the entire focus of the film was on Betty's devotion and effort to try to free her brother so she is only introduced as this friend who helped with the case. The family dynamics between Betty and her children and between her and her ex husband is barely touched upon because the filmmaker's devotion was focused on the relationship between the two siblings. It didn't hurt that they were played by Rockwell and Swank, two extremely talented actors. I'm a huge fan of Sam Rockwell and I could personally watch anything he does so I might be a bit biased but their relationship in this film is what sold this movie. Melissa Leo has some small scenes in the film, but her presence is always welcomed. The film has its flaws and at times the pacing of the film does begin to drag and feel repetitive, but the performances more than make up for it at the end.

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Woman in Gold
Woman in Gold (2015)
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"If life is a race, you beat me to the finish. But if life is a boxing match, I'm the last one standing."

Based on true events, Woman in Gold is one of those films that ended up being far less interesting than the actual story it was trying to tell. If The Monuments Men failed to appeal to a wide audience I wonder what the producers of this film were thinking. It too centers on stolen artwork during the Second World War, but it takes us through the litigation process that Maria Altmann went through to try to regain what rightfully belonged to her family. At least The Monuments Men focused on a group of men trying to save famous artwork from being destroyed with a touch of comedy, but Woman in Gold is more of a dragged out drama with forced sentimentality. The general premise might be similar to that film, but in a way it also can be compared to Philomena considering the lead characters are played by an unlikely duo. In The Woman in Gold the pairing is between Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds is Randy Schoenberg, a young attorney who gets involved with a case that Maria Altmann (Mirren) presents him with. She's a Jewish refugee with a wealthy Austrian background. When the Nazis occupied Austria she had to watch how all these valuable art pieces were taken away from her family by these soldiers. Among them was one of Gustav Klimt's famous paintings, a portrait of her aunt known as Woman in Gold. Now almost have a century later she asks Randy to represent her and help her get the painting back which is held at an Austrian Museum. When Randy discovers the painting is worth more than one hundred million dollars, he doesn't hesitate to help her and so their unlikely relationship takes off as does their difficult task.

The chemistry between Reynolds and Mirren is solid, but I wouldn't say it comes close to being as charming as Coogan and Dench were in Philomena. The pacing in this film was tedious and I found most of the dramatic moments manipulative and overly sentimental. As good as an actress Mirren is, she wasn't given strong material to work with. She makes some witty and sassy remarks during a couple of confrontation scenes with some of the Austrian diplomats, but that is about it. Reynolds gets the look and the style of the 90's spot on, but there wasn't much to his character. I felt like this film worked basically as a timeline where we are introduced to important events, but we never really got to know these characters or how they related with one another. Fortunately the timeline wasn't told in chronological order, we get several flashbacks to when Maria was a child and to when she was a young woman fleeing from the Nazi officials, so at least we get some parallel action scenes. I'd say that those flashbacks were the most entertaining part of the movie. Tatiana Maslany played the young Maria Altmann and she delivers the best performance in the film. There is a great scene where she and her husband are fleeing from the officials, but that was one of the only few scenes where I felt engaged with the film. The story is a fascinating one, but one that I would've been better off reading about considering the film only seemed interested in telling the story rather than letting us get to know the characters.

Despite having a talented supporting cast, the screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell fails to give these characters any life. Take Katie Holmes for instance, who plays Randy's wife. She is given nothing to do except play the role of the wife without any dimension whatsoever to her character. The film fails to explore these dynamics between the characters because it's only interested in presenting the facts. Daniel Bruhl is also underused as he only seems to be in the film to remind Randy and Maria what a difficult task they are going to have despite the help he provides for them. The same can be said about the rest of the supporting cast including Max Irons, Charles Dance, and Jonathan Pryce. The film tries so hard to be about something important (mostly about being able to reconcile with the past) but Simon Curtis's film is unfortunately so dull that it fails to do so. It doesn't bring anything new to the familiar David versus Goliath tale and despite taking so much time to remind us what a difficult task this is going to be, the resolution seemed way too simple at the end. There are far better films that tackle the subject matter in a less manipulative way.

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