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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 31, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 31
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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M:I fuse still ablaze with relentlessly thrilling rogue nation
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -
ROGUE NATION
Now playing


The Impossible Mission Force (IMF) has been disbanded. CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) has made the case the unit is a dinosaur, a relic of an age gone by, its methods and its tactics causing more harm than good. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) fought the good fight, sticking up for his fellow agents as only he could, but with so many secrets unanswered and cases unfinished this was a losing battle from the start, especially with the biggest question of them all remaining a puzzling mystery: Where is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise)?

The fifth entry in the popular spy vs. spy series of action spectaculars, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is a relentless thriller that ends up being marvelously entertaining even if many of its signature moments and beats feel in some way repeats of events from the preceding motion pictures. Once again the IMF agents find themselves the targets of baseless accusations of conspiracy and treason. Once again they're facing off against an impersonal Eurotrash villain (this time played by veteran Brit character actor Sean Harris). Once again Cruise does a number of his own incredible stunts making one wonder more than a little about the Hollywood superstar's sanity.

And it works, oftentimes stunningly, the script by director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher), from a story co-written with Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3), a tightly wound menagerie of double, triple, quadruple, heck even quintuple-crosses that never loses sight of the bigger picture. Things are layered beautifully, playfully, scenes joining one to the other with delectably intimate precision that's extraordinary. More than that, the film itself is impressively self-contained, and by the time the mic was dropped and all the evil oozing through the proceedings was wheeled out as if trapped in a shiny glass box I was grinning ear-to-ear.

The central plot mechanics revolve around Hunt's belief that a shadow organization known as The Syndicate is responsible for acts of terror around the globe. Working on his own, he finds himself drawn to the enigmatic Isla (Rebecca Ferguson), the one woman who can confirm the international organization's existence. But as to which side she's actually on, that's anyone's guess, Ethan both saved from being interrogated by a thug going by the nickname 'Bonecrusher' (Jens Hultén) by her only to later find the spy assisting in a convoluted assassination plot.

That's essentially the movie in a nutshell. Ethan runs down Isla, she either saves his life or puts him danger, fellow former IMF agents Brandt, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) playing catch-up as they follow their friend's trail, assisting him in his duties when they can, all before Hunley wrongly does them all in. Rinse. Repeat. Do it again. And again. And again. And once more, if only just for good measure.

Along the way McQuarrie stages a number of crackerjack set pieces, not the least of which is the much talked about pre-credits assault on an A-400 military transport plane where Cruise dangles precariously off the side during an actual liftoff. In many ways, even more impressive is a daringly clever Hitchcock riff (think The Man Who Knew Too Much) at the Vienna Opera House, the nuts and bolts of the sequence giddily rhapsodic. There's also a stupendous motorcycle sequence on the Casablanca highway (you can't have a main character named Isla and not end up in Casablanca) even if it does recall a much too similar showcase featured in Mission: Impossible II.

There is a reliance on coincidence that's a little annoying, while another big underwater sequence never feels as tense or as terrifying as it should have even with Cruise doing much of it himself. Also, Harris isn't a particularly compelling villain, both Baldwin and Simon McBurney (as Hunley's British MI6 counterpart) making more of an imprint in limited screen time than the guy everyone is chasing frustratingly does. Finally, there's a truly terrible car crash sequence that utilizes some of the most glaringly inept CGI of any film this summer, an unintentionally laughable hiccup that risibly stands out for all the wrong reasons.

But Cruise is as good as ever, while Ferguson successfully, and magnetically, navigates the interior machinations of a character whose motivations and desires are seldom, if ever, clear. Additionally, the film's 131 minute running time seems to fly by in the blink of an eye, McQuarrie traveling from one action sequence to the next with confident aplomb. Rogue Nation isn't the best entry in the Mission: Impossible series, the fourth chapter Ghost Protocol still holds that distinction, but it's still pretty darn good, proving keeping the fuse lit on this franchise is as excellent an idea as producer and star Cruise has had at any point in his hugely successful career.


Existential sci-fi thriller Self/Less self-destructs
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SELF/LESS
Now playing


Billionaire New York real estate tycoon Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is dying. With precious little time remaining, he is approached by the mysterious Albright (Matthew Goode), a charismatic young man who offers him an intriguing proposal. For a price, he will preserve this titan of industry's mind in a new, organically grown shell, an empty vessel, if you will, giving him another five decades or more of life to continue with his work and hopefully add even more of value to the world at large. It is called 'shedding,' and although the risks and the challenges involved are enormous, the opportunity to, not so much live forever, but to be given a second lifetime, are just too irresistible to ignore.

There are issues, not the least of which everyone everywhere has to believe he has died, and that includes his estranged daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery). But after hitting the ground running in New Orleans, and making a new friend in the outgoing Anton (Derek Luke), other than a few disturbing visions, things are going pretty well, Damian starting to think he's made the right decision about continuing to live on inside another human form.

Suffice it to say, just when all looks fine that's when the biggest problem of them all rears its ugly psychological and physiological head in director Tarsem Singh's (Immortals, Mirror Mirror) latest thriller Self/Less, a movie that owes just as much to the 1966 John Frankenheimer classic Seconds as it does a random 'Twilight Zone' episode. Turns out, the shell Damian is inhabiting wasn't grown, it was stolen, the body that of a former Middle East war veteran, Edward (Ryan Reynolds), with a wife, Madeline (Natalie Martinez), and young daughter, Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), both of whom believe the man they loved drowned in a tragic accident.

All of which is fine. Singh sets the mood beautifully, building tension with his typically fanciful skill, and while the film isn't as visually opulent as say The Cell or The Fall you can certainly tell the guy who helmed those two picturesque stunners is the one barking out orders behind the camera. Kingsley projects the right amount of melancholic regality, while the early sequences with Reynolds learning to enjoy and utilize his new physical form crackle with jovial hedonistic electricity. Goode is suitably menacing yet in a hypnotically entrancing way, while Victor Garber's early scenes as one of Damian's best friends and confidants deftly plant seeds for revelations and surprises to come later in the story.

But there are cracks in the façade, and at a certain point no amount of directorial embellishment can mask them. David and Alex Pastor's (The Last Days, Carriers) script gets sillier and sillier as it moves along, building to bursts of outright stupidity that are almost laughable in their outlandish lunacy. The way Madeline and Anna react to David/Edward is insane, impossible to believe long before the truth comes out, while Albright's actions as he tries to get his latest project back into the fold are flat-out insulting to any viewer with even a modicum of intelligence. At a certain point, the whole thing begins to morph into The Bourne Identity, the rules the writers initially set forth in regards to Shedding continually broken time and time again as events progress to their inevitable conclusion.

I think what might be the worst about all of this is that the film wastes a very good performance from Reynolds. He's doing yeoman's work here, forced to mine multiple emotional territories as he's essentially portraying two very different people inhabiting the same human physique. He brings to life Damian's discomfort and untapped humanity at the whole situation with graceful complexity, a scene between Reynolds and Dockery late in the film heartbreaking in its authentic simplicity. The actor is excellent, even when the film around him is falling to pieces, and as plusses go that isn't one to marginalize or make light of.

And it does fall to pieces. Even with an intriguing (if not entirely as original as I imagine the writers believe it to be) start, even with a terrific performance from Reynolds, even with some unique visual flourishes from the always idiosyncratic Singh, Self/Less is ultimately something of a minor disaster. The film gets increasingly brain dead as it progresses along its relatively pre-ordained path, building to a final 20 minutes that are as idiotic as they are unintentionally silly. There's nothing creative or inspired about what ends up happening, the only thing novel being just how bad this misbegotten train wreck of a sci-fi thriller finally becomes.


Latest Vacation a very bad trip
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

VACATION
Now playing


It's been thirty years since Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and his family took a crazed, bizarrely hyperactive cross-country road trip to Walley World that, as littered with pitfalls and calamity as it was, proved to be one of the more memorable events of the low budget commuter airline pilot's life. With his own family in a bit of a disaffected rut, he decides to rent a vehicle, pack everyone in and hit the road, redoing the vacation of his youth but now as a husband and a father and not as the youngest wide-eyed son along for the ride.

Thus the seeds are planted for Vacation, the fifth film in the apparently endless saga of the Griswold family begun back in 1983 when Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and the rest of their clan hit the road in National Lampoon's Vacation. That film, directed by Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club), spawned three sequels (only one of which, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, is any good) and an exceedingly loyal following. More than that, it's been slowly but surely reevaluated over the decades, becoming just as much a critical favorite now as it was a smash-hit with audiences back during its original release.

I feel pretty safe in saying no amount of time will cause anyone, anywhere to look at this new Vacation as anything close to a classic. As comedies go, this is pretty disastrous, and save for a few beguiling moments and one winning performance there's little of merit to talk about. If anything, the movie commits the same sin as Poltergeist did earlier this summer, trafficking almost entirely on the goodwill and affinity for the older film without ever making a case to exist for any reason of its own accord.

But this film fails on an even more calamitous level, forgetting the elements that made the Ramis/Hughes effort so memorable and long-lasting. It trades in platitudes instead of sincerity, elevating the gross-out antics to an even higher plateau yet leaving out the heart, soul and honesty that made all that icky silliness matter in a way it never could have otherwise. This is just a string of ever-escalating insults and debauchery, screenwriters and directors Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses 2) doing an absolutely horrific job of achieving anything approaching balance between the tender and the profane.

The bright spot is Christina Applegate. She's Debbie Griswold, Rusty's loving if exasperated wife who's doing her best to understand what it is her husband is attempting while at the same time trying to express her own wants and desires as the craziness careens out of control. She makes even the most idiotic and disgusting moments sparkle with an ebullience and an authenticity the rest lacks in spades. Whether it's acting like a complete moron at her old sorority house, or inadvertently bathing in a hot spring filled with human waste, she somehow makes even the most idiotic and insulting moment sparkle in ways they never could have otherwise.

But that's about it. Helms, who I've more often than not loved in everything from Cedar Rapids, to Jeff, Who Lives at Home, to even the first The Hangover, never connects with the material in the same way Chase did, a thing made all the more apparent when the man himself (along with cheery D'Angelo) appears for a third act cameo. The dynamic between Rusty's two boys James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is only interesting for the briefest of moments, building to an anemic climax that's hardly worth the effort it took to get there.

There is some fun to be found in the Chris Hemsworth sequence (he's an ultra-conservative Texas television weatherman married to Rusty's sister Audrey, played by a thoroughly wasted Leslie Mann), the action superhero having a blast upending his cinematic persona in rather clever fashion. I also quite liked a brief sequence between Gisondo and young actress Catherine Missal, the pair sharing a cute, enchanting poolside chat that goes all kinds of wrong when Rusty takes it upon himself to be his eldest son's romantic wingman.

Still, I have to ask myself, what's the point, Vacation so content to trade in the continued love for its titular predecessor that it rarely, if ever, makes a point to exist in its own right. The jokes rarely land. The characters aren't real. The emotions aren't authentic. The heart beating at the center doesn't ring true. It forgets why the original film has grown in stature to become a classic, becoming nothing more than a road trip comedy running in never-ending circles leading to a destination that's as pointless as it is forgettable.






Joe Dante interview - Burying the Ex and much more
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Brilliant Dance Like a Man gives us a real taste of India
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Village Theatre announces its 15th Annual Festival of New Musicals
Great Wall developmental production open to the public

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Dog days of August still have plenty of theatrical openings
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Verdi's Otello fully captured
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Gary Lightbody treats Seattle fans to rare, intimate solo performance
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WHEN POP GIRLS ROCK:
Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson both in Seattle next week

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M:I fuse still ablaze with relentlessly thrilling rogue nation
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Existential sci-fi thriller Self/Less self-destructs
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Latest Vacation a very bad trip
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