Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

So this is what launching a franchise should look like. A 1960's style spy-thriller pitting Russian, American, British and remnant Nazi forces against each other in the efforts to thwart nuclear proliferation and gain military control over the world. Mostly played as a straight political thriller with the appropriately occasional hijinks. The film stands on its own and never once felt like a placeholder or "just a setup". Characters were introduced in the first 10 minutes and then their relationships were allowed to develop/evolve throughout. If only Fantastic Four had been like this... But understand that this is not the next coming of Bond or Bourne. While colorful and active in plot and filming, the acting comes across as too mechanized, or too ordinary. Maybe this is intentional and part of the gestalt, but I found myself 'bleh' while walking out.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Advantageous

Set sometime in the future where automation has made jobs scarce, medicine has made health endless, and the economy has devolved into a serious have/have not. Gwen is the face of a prominent company that controls much of peoples lives and her face is the delivery mechanism for most information. However, youth is prized above all and her company is developing new products to deliver youth to the masses, at a cost of course. This is a remarkably personal portrayal of Gwen's life and career, her familial interactions and her careful deliberation over important life decisions. We are given the time to struggle with difficulty, without getting bored or feeling slow. It is a film that comes across as a book, in a good way. And yet, with all of this subtle, quality filmmaking, it still comes across as a pretty standard treatment of the sci-fi aspects of eternal youth. Well done, but in the end left me feeling flat.
3 stars (out of 5) 

Barbeque

A French film from last year that follows Antoine through a sort of mid-life evaluation. He has a heart attack even though he is the model of eating right and exercising. So he decides to change his model. The context for the story is a group of college friends that have stuck together for the past 3 decades and know each other perhaps too well. So while Antoine is the apparent protagonist, the story is really a relational medley, with each individual and couple dealing with their own mid-life issues. The serious issues and the too quick interest in throwing up smokescreens around them all ring true. And the friendly (occasionally hilarious) banter and visible effort at just moving along the life path makes this a fun and simultaneously introspective film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Fantastic Four

Full Disclosure: I have a special appreciation for The Fantastic Four. It is the only comic that I read regularly as a kid, and the only one that I would actually go to the comic store every week and buy new issues (even into college). Needless to say, I have been waiting for this franchise. Having seen the film, I can only say that I hope the franchise continues. Primarily because:

  1. I like the characters developed here and how they could develop into something fun, and 
  2. this was itself not a standalone film. It needs more films to justify its existence.

If you are not a huge Fantastic Four fan, then wait a few years, watch a couple of the next installments (which are sure to come) and then go back and watch this as an origin story prequel. This film is entirely back story. So much so that of the 100 minute running time, at most 2 minutes will be dedicated to the four working together as superheroes. So in that way, a huge letdown. We didn't even get to see the Fantastic Four being the Fantastic Four. That said, the characters developed are strong enough (on a superhero scale, not an Oscar scale) that I can see the possibilities for good films with this foursome in the future. So we got this out of our system, bring on the good stuff.
2 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg is an english professor who finds himself largely dissatisfied with life. He published a first novel but has no self identity as a writer. Instead, he is in a constant internal existential battle over purpose, not just for his life, but all life. Put this overwrought philosophical intellectualism into the psyche of a gambler and you get what turns out to be a pretty depressing film. I suppose if this were an arthouse film designed to take you along into the exploration and depression... but even with that scenario it is not good enough to pull you in. Wahlberg is an entitled SOB who feigns a self destructive nihilism as a coping mechanism for having gambled his way into life threatening debt. I found myself caring for the film about as much as Wahlberg cared for himself.
2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ant Man

A launching of yet another franchise in the Marvel world, and yet, totally different. The tone for The Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) is decidedly serious. This is not a comic, but a world saving endeavor and organization. Ant Man on the other hand plays as almost slapstick comedy in comparison. This is all about Paul Rudd and his irreverence and ability to cheese up any scene just with his personality. And it is brilliant. Rudd is an ex-con recruited by Michael Douglas to be the Ant Man. Douglass invented the suit and his protege is about to invent his own and sell it to HYDRA. So Douglas needs someone to stop that development. I love Rudd and I love his crew. This is definitely one of the best of the Marvel films.
4 stars (out of 5)

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation

Finally we hit our stride. This installment of the Mission Impossible franchise understands what it is about. Action, clever tricks, subterfuge, and ever so subtle comic-relief. While this follows the same basic plot as xXx: State of the Union (secret government agency gets shut down and has to operate rogue in order to justify its existence and save the world), and the previous Ghost Protocolit does so with humor and style. The nearly full theater (on a tuesday at noon, no less) was cracking up together throughout, or groaning together, as appropriate. This film knows when to take itself seriously and when to poke fun at itself. If you are only going to see one Mission Impossible, see this one.
4 stars (out of 5)