Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation (2015)

93% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 175 reviews)

Runtime: 131 minutes

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris

From: Paramount

Yes, I already have seen this film. It was a late night viewing last night where I killed time before I picked someone up from the airport. Their flight was delayed a long while so that's how I was able to pull that off and I was not expecting to see it so soon. The Letterboxd review is below:

Last night, I was able to see this film, and on a giant screen. Watching it so soon wasn't the plan but circumstances allowed for me to do this. Now, I hadn't seen the last film that star and director did (Jack Reacher) but while I understand the hero of that novel had a hulking figure a la Dwayne The Rock Johnson and Tom Cruise is far from that, I still hope to enjoy the movie once I finally see that. I know that got many strong reviews so between that and the high ratings I saw for this movie, I was hoping this wouldn't be a letdown.

Of course I won't say more than what was revealed in the trailer so I'll just state that this is about the IMF under attack (again) and them having to go rogue (again); I think it's odd that has been a thing for a few of these films but otherwise I was fine with that. They go to several foreign countries both familiar to movie-watchers and those that may not be so familiar. Anyhow, the bad guys are a secret organization known as The Syndicate that is like the anti-IMF.

Two things I'll note that I can carp about... even by the standards of this franchise there are some points that things got absolutely illogical. More than once I wondered if Ethan Hunt was actually a T-800, so indestructible he was. I started to worry that I would be taken out of the story by how silly it was getting or get frustrated at how things were turning out. Thankfully it never got to that point and I was able to be entertained by this. Of course I can't give a set of rules or instances where in concrete I can say that when a movie reaches a certain point or various things happen, absurdity will ruin a film for me. It really depends on many different factors and in this case, I was able to look past that and be enthralled by this tale.

The other thing, I wish that some moments weren't shot so closely, so they could be clearer. Otherwise, I did enjoy the action scenes and can't complain about them. The insane stunt from the side of the plane is already known by everyone as it was in all the trailers, and that was the opening scene. The rest of the action included such things as gun battles, car chases, brawls, etc.

The cast as a whole did a fine job, from the returning faces to the newcomers. As many others have noted already, Rebecca Ferguson... when it comes to physical appearance I say that she's attractive. She is more than a pretty face, though. Besides being believable as an ass-kicker who uses martial arts to lay waste to the opposition, Ilsa Faust is a very interesting character as you aren't sure who she is loyal to and Ferguson also acts the part quite well. As others have noted, this better mean that she gets more high profile roles in the next few years, otherwise it was an opportunity squandered.

This is more a spy thriller than what you typically expect in this series. There is plenty of espionage to go around and there is mystery in trying to figure out who the Syndicate is and who is or isn't a member. To parrot another thought, besides the spy aspects it is also nice how there are long scenes with little to no dialogue. What you see at the Vienna Opera is the best example of this. There is no shortage of intrigue and suspense.

While it almost becomes too over the top at times, I am glad I still liked it about as much as many others have already. Hopefully it holds up on rewatch. As is, it was an entertaining movie with the right amount of humor to go along with the crazy moments and the more thoughtful ones.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Phantom Carriage

The Phantom Carriage (Korkarlen) (1921)

Runtime: 107 minutes

Directed by: Victor Sjostrom

Starring: Victor Sjostrom, Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm, Concordia Selader

From: Svensk Filmindustri

I saw this classic silent film last night and that was a wise move. The Letterboxd review is below. Note that I won't be posting here for a few days as right now I am rewatching the first four Mission: Impossible films, which I have reviewed here before.

Last night I noticed that TCM would be showing this classic silent drama and as I had never seen it before, it was the perfect opportunity to check it out... and I am glad I did.

Based on a Swedish novel, it's a fable of how a man turned wicked after being introduced to alcohol (his name is David; he's also ravaged by tuberculosis) is killed right before midnight on New Years Eve... which is a problem as there's a legend revolving around the title vehicle where the last person to die on the 31st of December has to pilot it and collect souls for Death. David is now in the afterlife and meets up with the previous carriage driver, Georges... who happened to be the man to introduce him to booze. Now, David has to atone for his sins and via flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks) you see that he was a real A-hole, and through his body language and attitude director/writer/star Victor Sjostrom does a tremendous job with that... along with the feelings of remorse later.

This movie was as great as I had heard. It was certainly well-made and more through its actions than the dialogue displayed on screen you went through various emotions. There was spookiness and creepiness early on, then anger at how awful David acted, then you felt inspired at the end. They were able to use at the time revolutionary special effects to make all the spirits transparent and it is certainly effective. The version I saw had an appropriate soundtrack from the musician Matti Bye and it only added to the experience.

This film influenced many people for decades to come. This was one of Bergman's all-time favorites and that was a big reason why he wrote Wild Strawberries for years to come and had Sjostrom as the lead. In addition, a key scene here was borrowed by Kubrick and became one of the most memorable moments of The Shining. I am thankful that even 95 years later this is still a quite effective movie that works as a tale against being selfish and treating others poorly as the ramifications of those actions can hurt many others.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The File Of The Golden Goose

The File of the Golden Goose (1969)

Runtime: 105 minutes

Directed by: Sam Wanamaker

Starring: Yul Brynner, Charles Gray, Edward Woodward, John Barrie, Adrienne Corri

From: Edward Small Productions

I realize this is a film you probably have never heard of before. I never heard of it until about an hour before I saw it would be on TV. The review of this UK-set movie (complete w/ a scene with some Mod people) is below via Letterboxd; it's unfortunately just average.

This was a random watch for me; I had never even heard of this spy thriller before I noticed it would be on MGM HD Wednesday night. I looked at the plot and the cast & I was interested.

In short, it's about an American Secret Service agent (Yul Brynner) who goes to the UK and teams up with an investigator from Scotland Yard (Edward Woodward) to take down a ring of counterfeiters who are copying American cash. The leader of that gang is known as The Owl... who is also a homosexual... only for shock value, at least according to how the movie plays it. That is lamentable but note that The Owl was played by Charles Gray. Another famous face in the movie is Walter Gotell.

The movie is pretty obscure these days and while not awful, I can only rate it as about average. In terms of the plot and characters, there are many other films such as this that do it better, all the intrigue, double-crossing, and the rest. At least I can say that Yul's performance was fine-and you see more of him than you do his English counterpart-and the score was the expected groovy late 60's spy movie music.

What was not expected: a scene that also managed to be the highlight for me. You get to see Gray and others at a psychedelic freak-out party... or at least what a bunch of squares thought a psychedelic freak-out party was. It was hilarious; I almost expected Austin Powers to show up. It was nice to have a good laugh like that. There isn't too much else to say about the film.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kid Galahad/Frankie And Johnny

Kid Galahad (1962)

Runtime: 95 minutes

Directed by:: Phil Karlson

Starring: Elvis, Gig Young, Lola Albright, Joan Blackman, Charles Bronson

From: The Mirisch Corporation

Frankie and Johnny (1966)

Runtime: 87 minutes

Directed by: Frederick De Cordova

Starring: Elvis, Donna Douglas, Harry Morgan, Nancy Kovak, Sue Ann Langdon

From: Edward Small Productions

Last night via the MGM HD Network I saw a pair of Elvis films. It had been a few months since I last saw one. The reviews of both are below, starting with Kid.

Recently I was thinking that I had seen several Elvis movies earlier in the years but the last viewing was a few months ago so I was overdue to see one. Suddenly, I saw that last night there would be a marathon of several films of Mr. Presley so that was perfect for me. I saw two of the four they showed; the second review will be posted tonight.

I'll be honest and say that I've never seen the original 1937 movie by the same name starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart; just from the talent involved I'll presume the OG movie is better and also has a hero who isn't a punching bag in the ring. I can't compare the two but that is OK. This is about a man (Elvis) who just got out of the Army and he ends up in the town he was born in. It's supposed to be New York state, although it's obviously filmed in California and the scenery there is pretty. He wants to be an auto mechanic but due to circumstances is proven to have one punch knockout power in the boxing ring, although at first he just absorbs punches from his opponent before knocking them out cold. We also follow his manager Willy Grogan (Gig Young), who is a cad that back stabs people, has trouble paying the bills, has heat with the mob and he ignores his girl. To think that Grogan's sister and Elvis fall in love...

While the movie does have a few songs that at least are catchy and there's some goofiness present, it does help that this is more serious than the other Elvis movies I've seen; it's not so flighty and lightweight. The cast all does a fine job (there's even a small role for Ed Asner) and as an action fan I definitely dug that in the role of Kid's trainer was none other than Charles Bronson, who you definitely could believe as an ex-boxer. I've mentioned in some other reviews I am not a fan of the sport-that doesn't matter here as that's only a small part of the story.

Like I said this isn't so fluffy and wacky. While I do laugh at the cornball movies Elvis typically made it is nice to see him in something a little more substantial.

Now, onto Frankie and Johnny.

This is the second Elvis movie I saw last night. With this one, I had heard the traditional American song of the same name before but otherwise I did not know what to expect from. Turns out, this had plenty of songs (I've heard this described as the one film in his oeuvre that is like a musical) and it's pretty goofy.

They had to make the movie fit the song so what they came up with is a riverboat casino setting in the late 19th century. Frankie and Johnny perform together in a stage production and are also a couple. Johnny also gambles... poorly, so one night while docked he and his friend Cully (Harry Morgan; hearing Col. Potter from M*A*S*H sing was quite amusing to me) find a Gypsy fortune teller. Needless to say this is not an enlightened portrayal of that ethnicity. There's also some other stereotyping going on; the only black person you see in the movie is a kid who of course provides the harmonica for a song.

Anyhow, the Romani lady is a sham so she makes up some poppycock about a redhead, and as Frankie (Donna Douglas, who I'll always know as Elly May Clampett) is a blonde, dopey Johnny looks for a redhead for a “good luck charm” at the roulette wheel and when Nellie Bly (the lady of his boss) walks in and fits that requirement, things become complicated. In this film's universe the title song was created based off of that fiery love triangle.

The movie is rather silly and yet I can still say this is average. There are laughs, even if some of them are unintentional, such as a few of the pieces of clothing you get to see people wearing. At least the clothing and sets are colorful. The story is flimsy but at least there's such silliness as “mistaken identity” takes up part of the plot. And where else can you find something known as “the lucky cricket”?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Java Heat

Java Heat (2013)

Runtime: 104 minutes

Directed by: Conor Allyn

Starring: Kellan Lutz, Ario Bayu, Mickey Rourke, Verdi Solaiman, Frans Tumbuan

From: Margate House Films

Here's another random Netflix Instant watch. This time it wasn't a good movie. I explain why below:

If you're wondering why I watched a movie called Java Heat starring the “fountain of charisma” that is Kellan Lutz (he actually is about as charismatic as a can of corn) and a already has pissed away his goodwill from The Wrestler Mickey Rourke, it is because I heard about it in a messageboard thread and someone said it wasn't that bad, which after having seen this I don't really agree, but it being set and filmed in Indonesia was of interest to me as it seems like a scenic country with a great culture and yet I haven't seen too much of it in terms of pictures or film.

The plot: Lutz is said to be an art history grad student from Cornell called Jake Wilde... I realize how preposterous that sounds; well, his real identity may be even sillier. Anyhow, he's in Indonesia when he sees a bombing at a party and a person of royalty is said to be killed... only it's a set-up for something else. Rourke is-shock of shocks-the villain and his accent I can only describe as “foreign”, as I have no idea what it's actually supposed to be in origin. Like in Iron Man 2, his character has an interest in birds. Anyhow, Wilde has to work with an Indonesian cop known as Hashim to bust the case, but neither likes the arrangement.

When you look at films from the country (whether it be insane 80's entries like Rambu and The Stabilizer) or more modern examples like The Raid series, this co-production between Indonesia and the United States just comes off badly. The plot is utter nonsense and it's not even worth trying to figure out. It's just poppycock. Wilde is definitely a “bule” (a dumb white person in Javanese, or so the movie claims) and he comes off as an annoying clown. Between the name and the buff body, he's like the lead of an 80's B movie, only not as charming or entertaining. He's just a blockhead.

There's no real need to see this really dopey and stupid action film when there are many better options on Netflix Instant, where I watched this. About the only thing of note was seeing life in Indonesia, from the customs and the dress to the architecture and scenery. However, there are better ways to explore such things than watching a goofy low-budget action programmer.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

An Honest Liar

An Honest Liar (2014)

97% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 35 reviews)

Runtime: 90 minutes

Directed by: Tyler Measom, Justin Weinstein

Starring: This is a documentary about James Randi

From: Several different companies

I explain why in my Letterboxd review below but once I discovered this was a thing it was a must-see for me; I have been familiar with Mr. Randi for a long while and this is something I do rate pretty highly.

This was another Netflix Instant watch. I knew I had to watch it as soon as I discovered this was a thing. That is because it's a documentary on the life of James Randi.

If you don't know who The Amazing Randi is, he is a great magician who turned into the championing of science and reason in the mission to take down such charlatans as psychics, faith healers, those that profess ESP powers, and others that claim to have paranormal, occult or supernatural powers. He had a clear influence on such people as Penn & Teller (he was on their Bullsh*t show a few times) and Bill Nye, The Science Guy... they are all in this. I've known for him for a long time and read my first book from him when I was a teenager, and I still have a copy of it now, though I've read a few things from him. So as I am greatly interested in the sort of work he does, love the way he takes down those fakers, and enjoy documentaries even though I don't see them often enough, that may color my rating and why I give it pretty high marks.

An Honest Liar covers his life, notes famous examples of him combating deceivers (from Uri Geller to Peter Popoff; if you don't know those names it's probably because Randi's debunking of these fakers tanked their careers) and talks about his personal life. He did everything from participate in a magic trick done on an old Alice Cooper tour to appear on an episode of Happy Days as himself. There are some surprises along the way. I won't reveal what those are, except that for me it wasn't Randi's sexuality. I did hear when he announced a few years ago that he came out of the closet. You do get to see him live with his longtime partner, someone who I knew nothing about beforehand.

If you are a skeptic who enjoyed seeing Penn & Teller go after these sorts of people on their old show BS, then I definitely do recommend this documentary... and I also recommend his works as an author. As you may be able to tell from this, the style of the books are light and entertaining, and it's an easy read and also great seeing him go after people who sometimes genuinely believe they have special powers but usually know they are trying to trick innocent parties.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The House at the End of Time

The House at the End of Time (La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos) (2013)

Runtime: 101 minutes

Directed by: Alejandro Hidalgo

Starring: Ruddy Rodriguez, Guillermo Garcia, Gonzalo Cubero, Rosmel Bustamante, Hector Mercado

From: Several different companies from Venezuela

Yes, this is a horror/thriller from Venezuela; I've had it in my Netflix Instant queue for awhile, and it was just today that I finally watched it... and I am glad I did. I explain why in my Letterboxd review below.

This is one of the many movies I've had in my Netflix Instant queue for a long while and today was finally the day where I watched it. This is said to be the first supernatural movie from Venezuela and as far as I know it's true.

The plot: It starts off in 1981 and you see a middle aged man in a hilariously creepy house (it has to be the spookiest in Caracas or wherever this was filmed) murdered-in media res is the term to use here, as the first frame is the middle of this chaotic night-and the mother of the house (known as Dulce) is blamed for the crime and the disappearance of her son but of course it was other forces that were actually responsible. She is let out of prison 30 years later and she returns to the old creepy joint, under house arrest; from there you go back and forth in time as the rest of the story is told, and a young priest helps her out in present time.

Back in the 80's, you see that the family is struggling to get by so there's a lot of tension. I won't reveal any more lest I spoil anything. I'll just say there are various twists and turns and surprises also... and I am not talking about how apparently in that country it's a thing to have water balloons only that they are filled with URINE. Don't worry, the rest of the film isn't like that scene in terms of tone or mood. I was definitely not expecting this movie to be what it was.

While there are some moments that made me go “Hey, wait a minute...” I ended up enjoying this more than I expected to. Various aspects of the plot reminded me of recent films but it's done here in a way that seems different. The performances are nice (especially from Ruddy Rodriguez as the lead), there are many creepy moments throughout, the house has a great atmosphere all its own, there's an awesome séance scene that I wish would have been longer, the cinematography is nice, and once you know what's going on it ends up being fun, due to how well put together this movie is. It's the sort of thing where you have to pay attention throughout; only half watching it will not work.

If you are a horror fan & you want to see genre fare that's not like the mostly lame entries from the Hollywood studios that have come out in recent years, it is well worth it to check out the movie on Instant and hopefully you'll be as pleasantly surprised by it as I was.