Friday, July 27, 2018

Movie Review: “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

***** out of 5
147 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at

No franchise has progressively improved as much as Mission: Impossible. While off to a rocky start — let’s face it, J. J. Abrams’s M:I3 was basically a reboot — continuity has held the series together. Each installment may be a sequel, but it’s one continuous story arch now. With writer/director Christopher McQuarrie returning — the first to do so — Mission: Impossible – Fallout is definitely the best film in the series, beating his own Rogue Nation and leaving Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol in the dust. Hyperbole, you ask? Just you wait!

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has just accepted his mission while in Belfast. The Syndicate is in a panic after the arrest of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and a group labeled “The Apostles” are looking for a man named “John Lark.” Lark has joined forces with the missing Debruuk (Kristoffer Joner) who are going to use three plutonium cores to wreak havoc across the globe.

Now, Ethan — along with Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) — must find the cores before the Apostles do. This takes them to France where they meet The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) who plans to sell the cores to Lark. Meanwhile, August Walker (Henry Cavill) — a CIA assassin — is trying to prove his suspicions to Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett). That Hunt has gone rogue and is really Lark, while Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) is on the hunt for Lane.

Hunt is also the best spy character in the business. From HALO jumping to flying his own helicopter, there’s clearly nothing Cruise won’t do. A funny conversation at my wife’s work puts his abilities in perfect perspective. Someone mentioned the word “diabeetus” and long story short, the realization was made that Cruise is five years older here than Wilford Brimley was when he made Cocoon. Let that sink in.

It helps that Cruise has found the perfect director in McQuarrie. The man can direct an action scene as well, if not better, than most. And while McQuarrie’s screenplay may be a tad convoluted, and labyrinthine as you’d expect, it always makes sense and is infused with plenty of fun. The film also manages to pay homage/respect to each of the first five movies. I’m sure it features its fair share of green screen, but there’s so much stunt work on display it boggles the mind. Jaw-dropping.

Fallout is the Dark Knight of the Mission: Impossibles. And I’m not just saying that because of Lorne Balfe’s epic score or because one character gets half his face disfigured. Fallout lives up the hype and then some. It demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible to get the most out of the IMAX footage, but it works phenomenally on a regular screen too. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Cruise and company accomplish the impossible and prove we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Movie Review: “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

*** out of 5
114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Considering its $615 million worldwide box office haul, it’s no surprise Mamma Mia! got a sequel. What is surprising is why it took so long. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes places 10 years after the original, which confused me because I didn’t realize it came out so long ago. Ol Parker may be a better suited director, but Here We Go Again is an interesting mixed bag. While it may be dumber than the original, it’s definitely better. The original has been playing on TV this week and after watching the last 30 minutes, it’s very clear that the best decision made was focusing on Donna’s (played by both Meryl Streep and Lily James) backstory and letting the youngsters have some fun this time.

Donna is dead and to celebrate her life, her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has rebuilt the Hotel Bella Donna. Sophie still isn’t married to Sky (Dominic Cooper). Thankfully for Sophie, Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is hanging around to help, along with her trusty manager Fernando (Andy Garcia). Invited to join in the celebration are Donna’s best friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), and her two other “dads” Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). With a storm encroaching, they wax nostalgic as we’re whisked back to 1979 to meet Young Donna (James) as she makes her way to Greece after graduating from Oxford. Meanwhile, we also see the development of Donna and the Dynamos and how Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Young Harry (Hugh Skinner), and Young Bill (Josh Dylan) came to possibly be Sophie’s father, dot dot dot.

Writer/director Parker offers a fun time to the audience, which is all they’ll want. You could nickname this Earworm: The Extravaganza! The target audience for Here We Go Again won’t care how dopey it is. Like Cooper longingly pouring himself a cup of tea during “One of Us,” or James performing slo-mo cartwheels through a field before trying to pick an orange that’s too high and falls on her bum while oranges drop all around her. Then spotting a goat spying at her through the fence which chases her down a trail after she makes a face at it. Luckily, the film never gets bogged down in histrionics. Anytime something even remotely dramatic happens there’s another musical number and the characters get over it.

But we all know everyone is coming for the music. Hopefully, not Streep. Spoiler alert: she’s only in the very last scene and the closing credits number. The young cast fare very well, even if James looks nothing like a young Streep — although, this is the star-making turn she’s been looking for — Keenan Wynn barely registers as a young Baranski, and Davies at least gets a few good laughs. The trio of young men are also an odd bag considering none of them sound like their mature counterparts. And then there’s Cher. She may look like she’s stretched smoother than a porcelain doll — and has the same amount of mobility — but she still commands the screen. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn’t the best film ever made, but that’s not what it’s here for. It offers a fun — if dumb — time at the movies and sometimes that’s good enough.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Movie Review: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Ant-Man and the Wasp

**** 1/2 out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence
Marvel Studios

Article first published at

If there’s one thing we can count on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s quality. Ant-Man and the Wasp may be their 20th film — and their fourth release since November — but Kevin Feige has made sure the MCU does not suffer from burnout. Returning director Peyton Reed ups the ant-e, delivering one of Marvel’s — and the year’s — funniest movies. Having star Paul Rudd credited as co-writer probably helped. But they also understand that the Ant-Man films are different from the rest of the MCU. They are now the heart and soul of the franchise and prove that it takes far more than superpowers to be a superhero.

Two years after the Leipzig/Halle Airport incident, Scott Lang (Rudd) is finally seeing the light at the end of his house arrest. Scott spends his days entertaining his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) when he’s not being harassed by FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). Meanwhile, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to build a quantum tunnel to find Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), whom Hank believes is still alive.

Meanwhile, the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is trying to steal the quantum tunnel to use it to save herself after an incident as a child caused her to be in an unstable quantum form. Now, Scott, Hope, and Hank must let go of the past to make sure that they all still have a future.

It will always be a shame that we never got to see Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man, but the franchise continues to be in safe hands with Reed. Keeping things on a personal scale is far more effective than finding Ant-Man battling it out with another flavor-of-the-week supervillain. Ghost is a fantastic enemy for the team to duke it out with since all she wants to do is get herself back to normal. Even if it means possibly tearing Janet apart from the quantum realm.

It’s usually never a good sign when a film has five credited writers — Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari join Rudd — but Ant-Man and the Wasp delivers in spades. The action is bigger, the jokes are funnier, the pace is faster, the villain is cooler. It’s everything you could want in a Marvel sequel. A particular episode with Scott having to visit Cassie’s school is one of the funniest sequences in years. Ranks on par with Deadpool’s baby legs. Also, Lilly and John-Kamen make terrific asskickers! Wasp is a superhero to be reckoned with no matter what size she is. And the daddy/daughter scenes are too precious.

Featuring plenty of nods to MCU current events and more laughs than most standard comedies, Ant-Man and the Wasp is another fantastic addition to the Marvel universe and shows they have no signs of slowing down. Let’s just hope we can all stand the wait until Captain Marvel releases next March! Yes, there are two end credit scenes and the requisite Stan Lee cameo — this one is hilarious — it’s best to keep mum about at least one of the end credit scenes, because it’s a doozy. Which is easy considering it takes place during the end credit scene and there’s another at the very end that’s more hilarious than connective. We MCU fans can rest easy with Ant-Man and the Wasp. It’s a perfect summer movie full of laughs, thrills, and a huge ol’ heart.