Mission Impossible: Fallout Review

It’s hard to believe we’re six films in and Tom Cruise is still going strong with his Mission Impossible series. In fact, I’d say his performance in Mission Impossible: Fallout is quite impressive, which I find to be rather abnormal for an actor this deep into a franchise. I’d have thought he’d lighten up, get lazy, or lose his passion for acting the part. But no. Not Tom Cruise.

We once again see international bad ass Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), along with his friends from the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), attempt to stop a global disaster. Solomon Lane (you may know him as the bad guy from Rogue Nation) and his fellow anarchists plan to use stolen plutonium to simultaneously detonate three Holy sites. This is of course where Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames step in to carry out a death-defying, heroic mission that some might call… impossible.

Mission Impossible: Fallout plays like an intense, action-packed video game. There’s a continuous cycle of debriefings, top secret missions, and exciting chase sequences that put the audience at the forefront of the thrilling entertainment. It’s a total action movie fan’s action movie.

With a lot of action movies nowadays I’ll catch myself dozing off, not really getting into the action or even paying attention to the details. With Fallout, there’s hardly a dull moment.

Scattered throughout the film are several chase scenes (along with plenty of hand-to-hand combat scenes), which can last up to fifteen minutes at a time. Every second of it’s rewarding though, with some moments flying by so fast I wish I could’ve slowed them down. Or even just rewind and watch again.

It’s well known that Tom Cruise prefers to do his own stunts, which are notoriously so over the top and dangerous that some might call it insane. I’d consider this aspect to be one of the key appeals to the Mission Impossible series. The dramatic stunt work gives an organic, practical feel to the Mission Impossible films; and coupled with the strong camera work and editing kept things interesting for the viewer.

Shots of Tom Cruise clinging to a helicopter as it takes off, parkouring across rooftops, and skydiving from a plane are as realistic as a film could possibly get, and that’s exactly how I like it.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is a rush of adrenaline more action movies should strive towards, and it’s backed by a cast of solid, witty actors dedicated to keeping this franchise moving in positive directions.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

 

Christopher Robin Review

Next on Disney’s extensive list of remakes and reboots, we have the reimagining of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends titled Christopher Robin.

Arguably the most original of the bunch, Christopher Robin details the later life of Christopher (Ewan McGregor) after a series of significant events have left him without joy. At his absolute lowest point, Christopher receives a surprise visit from, who else, his childhood buddy Winnie-the-Pooh (Jim Cummings). Pooh takes Christopher on one last nostalgia-filled adventure through London (and briefly through the Hundred Acre Wood) to rediscover the priorities and simple pleasures of life.

A harmless, well-intentioned story with a lot of heart and meaning behind it, Christopher Robin doesn’t deliver quite the quantity of fun I was hoping for.

The film puts a little too much time and emphasis on developing the gloomy and sometimes dark world that Christopher lives in, and never really puts in the effort to pull us out. Within the first half hour we see Christopher grow up, go to war, neglect his family, and put into a business situation where he will have to lay off many employees. We don’t even get to the Hundred Acre Wood until half-way through the picture, and even that gets to be depressing.

It’s well understood what the film was going for. We all face the unfortunate realties of work, war, and other tragic aspects of life, and having the innocent Winnie-the-Pooh show us the levity of simplicity is an excellent idea. I just don’t believe the film hits the intended mark as it should. These darker moments could’ve been conveyed more concisely, and the fun live-action scenes were sloppy and without the humorous style of the source material.

I don’t mean to sound as though this were some loathsome bore-fest, as there were several great aspects that made the film worth seeing.

Having Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin was a wonderful decision, and his interactions with Pooh, Tigger, and so on felt genuine and real. We see him juggle between family and work and can feel for him when he’s forced to make tough decisions. Christopher has people counting on him everywhere he looks, and sometimes it seems that there’s no time for games in life. As is typical with McGregor’s performances, all these traits are portrayed to the audience with the conviction can care of a true professional.

And even with Ewan McGregor at the helm (one of my personal favorite actors), the story is undoubtedly held together by our favorite silly old bear Winnie-the-Pooh. Every minute with Pooh on-screen is a pure joy, and his kind-hearted jokes and curiosity were always met with uproarious laughter. The warm personality of Pooh is precious and delightful, enough to make the dreary environment of post-war London amusing to the viewer.

I just wish the tone of Christopher Robin matched the pleasantness of our Hundred Acre Wood favorites. Or is that too much to ask for?

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Has there ever been as lazy of a topic as a cruise ship movie? Where all the characters of an existing franchise (in this case Dracula and all his monster buddies) get on a ship and take a vacation. Do film studios save money doing this plot or something?

Well, regardless of why this film happened, it happened. And somehow the creators of Hotel Transylvania 3 make it work for the best. Taking the greatest elements from the past films and boiling them down into a slightly less memorable and entertaining experience.

In the past I haven’t shied away from professing my love for the previous two Hotel Transylvania flicks. Lauding them as energetic, creative, and downright hilarious, my opinions of the franchise aren’t typically shared by many. Yet, miraculously after three movies, a television show, and a short film, critics seem to finally be letting up on the Hotel Transylvania series. Receiving mixed-to-poor critical reception in past releases, people seem to finally be picking up what Hotel Transylvania is putting down.

Now, if you’ve ever seen a movie, and I really do mean ever, then the main premise of Hotel Transylvania 3 will bring you no surprises. It’s a standard kids movie plot that parents and kids alike will predict way before the ending. Don’t let that scare you away from viewing this picture, as there are many absurd things throughout that can keep you engaged.

Jam-packed with slapstick humor and visual gags, all the jokes in Hotel Transylvania 3 involve the same theme of monsters and vacation. Frankenstein gets buried on the beach, gremlins have an airline service, and a skeleton eats an entire buffet table. It’s pure nonsense. And every available second of screen time not dedicated to progressing the plot is spent on these jokes. Often the ridiculous humor lands laughs. Or at the very least, light chuckles.

I’m hesitant to call this film “comedically bold”, but it takes a lot of surprising chances that most kids’ films this deep into a franchise wouldn’t make. Heck, the climax of the film is a dance fight that includes the Macarena, and it’s actually kind of cute. Enough said.

Everyone (including the extensive voice cast) returns for this free for all adventure. The animation of the characters is highly expressive and exaggerated, really allowing the voice actors free reign in their portrayals of these colorful monsters. I especially love Adam Sandler as Dracula, who’s quirky, charming, and quite a goofball. All without the annoyingness and aggravation that accompanies many Sandler performances.

Yes, the third time around isn’t as exciting or funny as fans of the series may wish, but that’s to be expected with a film whose sub-title is Summer Vacation. I mean, at least it wasn’t Chipwrecked.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Review

I was initially surprised to see the nail-biting 2015 drama Sicario get a direct sequel. The film was pretty conclusive and didn’t leave much story left to be told, so it was interesting to see what they’d do next. What was even better about this news was that Benicio Del Toro, arguably the best character in the film, would be reprising his role as a mysterious and sometimes frightening hitman.

I immediately knew that regardless of the quality of the film itself, Del Toro would deliver another solid performance and give more depth to a fascinating individual. How right I was.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado brings FBI agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and hitman Alejandro Gillik (Benicio Del Toro) back to Mexico to fight the cartel. However, this time drugs aren’t the name of the game, its people.

Attempting to start a war between the numerous cartel clans, Alejandro kidnaps the daughter of a kingpin named Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner). As they dig themselves deeper into the mess they’ve created, the life of young Isabela becomes in jeopardy, and Alejandro begins to question what exactly he’s fighting for.

I have to say that this concept doesn’t work as well when we don’t have that fish out of water character (like Emily Blunt) to latch onto. In the first Sicario, we the audience were just as helpless and confused as Blunt. We cared about her, felt sorry for her, and learned all the crazy plot twists along with her.

Here we have Isabela (a very well-written character) as an innocent child to care for, but that doesn’t work as well when it comes to plot suspense and tension. We’re constantly being fed spoonful’s of plot to come before the events even take place. It makes for some interesting scenes, but nothing feels as dramatic or tense with Brolin and Del Toro holding our hand through the chaos.

Speaking of Del Toro, one advantage Sicario: Day of the Soldado has over its predecessor is giving more focus on the character of Alejandro. This time around he isn’t as mysterious or menacing, and we even see a softer side to his existence. There’s some touching moments between Alejandro and Isabela that turn out to be the best scenes in the film. Moments that properly convey the message of how children and families are negatively affected by acts of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Sicario plays out as a fairly solid drama/action film, at least up until the last ten minutes. A couple of very bold choices are made in the direction of the film, and I was suddenly shocked into excitement over what might happen next to our leads. Lots of buildup for what is ultimately a letdown ending. Sicario concludes on a note that’s confusing, nonsensical, and overall anticlimactic. I feel like there may have been several scenes taken from the final cut that tied everything together. Rather than end the film hitting the message home, they instead decide to leave us with an obscure cliffhanger. How disappointing.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is an entertaining yet flawed mix of action and drama, with some light social commentary and great performances sprinkled in. If you’re expecting anything as hard-hitting or thought-provoking as the first Sicario, you’ll be leaving the theater more than dissatisfied.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

My Neighbor Totoro Review

After my review of Spirited Away back in 2017 (my most popular post to date, mind you), I immediately decided I wanted to review my second favorite Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbor Totoro. An animation studio that, to the extent of my knowledge, never made a bad film. As you can guess, this goal has been postponed, ignored, and procrastinated for a very long time. Finally, after over a year of slowly chipping away at this article, I feel I can competently and properly review this wonderful film.

My Neighbor Totoro follows two young girls named Satsuke and Mei, as they move to the rural countryside of Japan with their father. Together they settle into their home, awaiting their mother who’s ill at the hospital. Satsuke and Mei, full of curiosity, come across a group of good-natured spirits while exploring their new home. Most notable of these spirits is the lovable fan favorite Totoro, a snuggly and plush creature who leisurely roams the nearby forest.

My Neighbor Totoro is the kind of film that you could mute the dialogue and still understand everything occurring on-screen, while also having an enriching experience. The beautiful hand-drawn animation is abundant with warm, welcoming characters and relaxing watercolor skies, lulling the viewer into a sense of contentment. The magic of Ghibli’s animation maintains a well-deserved reputation for being immaculate, and it continues to delight me to this day.

On a purely storytelling level, Ghibli films often just “go with the flow”. There’s no predictable three act structure that audiences groan at because they know precisely what will happen next. We’re merely along for the ride, traveling through a myriad of dream-like sequences of awe-inspiring music and pleasant visuals.

This way of storytelling makes films like Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro so memorable. They stand out from the massive amounts of animated white noise that’s pumped out every year.

Years ago, the late film critic Roger Ebert noted how My Neighbor Totoro represents the perfect kind of world to live in. One without villains, conflict, or any sort of antagonist conceivable. Not only do I agree with this sentiment, I think it is key to what makes My Neighbor Totoro such a lovably relatable flick.

It’s an exploration into childlike wonder, taking you back to a simpler time of bliss. No need for bad guys in a peaceful reflection of childhood, only the curiosity and imagination you wish you still had.

My Neighbor Totoro is a family-fun masterpiece of the highest quality. There’s a reason Totoro remains so popular with audiences of all ages, garnering a cult following that only seems to get bigger as time wears on. And if there’s anything that time won’t wear on, it’s Totoro, which I believe will remain timeless and relevant for generations to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Ready Player One Review

The amazing thing about nostalgia is that, at one point or another, all of us feel it. Whether it’s watching a favorite childhood movie (like Back to the Future) or plugging in a long-forgotten video game (like GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64), everybody loves reminiscing. And never has this love for nostalgia and pop cultural ever been taken to such a level as Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster film, Ready Player One.

In the dystopian future of 2045, life has become so bleak that everyone plugs in and tunes out into a virtual reality video game known as the OASIS. In OASIS, anyone can assume the avatars of any creature, being, or pop culture related character, living the life they wish they could in reality. After the creator of this VR technology dies, a rat race ensues for a hidden Easter egg he placed inside the game. The first one who finds it receives not only untold riches, but the deed to the OASIS itself.

Enter our main character Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young orphan who’s become very good at the game, who looks to find the Easter egg first. With the help of his friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), they hope to save OASIS (and possibly the world) from a tyrannical company called IOI. All of our heroes learning true friendship, acceptance, and bravery in the process.

Ready Player One is chock-full of easily marketable nostalgic properties of some of the most iconic games and movies. The Iron Giant, Overwatch, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Street Fighter, the works. If you can name it (and it existed between 1980 and 2000), it was probably included in the movie.

The environment the characters inhabit (a pivotal piece to the film) is bleak and hopeless, especially once it’s contrasted with the slick, awe-inspiring creativity of the OASIS. The imagery is often colorful and attractive to the eye, and the many situations our protagonists come across test the imaginative boundaries of this world.

One scene that really caught my eye was the ten-minute sequence dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining, in which our main characters must travel through iconic scenes of the film in search of a hidden key. We see great homages to a great horror movie done in ways that could be described as funny, scary, and intense.

It’s well known that Spielberg was a friend of Kubrick and envied his unique directing style. The same could also be said for Kubrick, who wished he could make a mass-appealing family adventure flick like Spielberg but died before he could make that a reality. Well in Ready Player One Spielberg seamlessly weaves The Shining into his family-friendly action flick. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful director.

It’s this kind of care and affection that Spielberg has for his audience and fellow filmmakers that makes Ready Player One work on such a phenomenal level. Running the plot and technicalities of this film through my head, I came to the conclusion that this shouldn’t work. Such a mashup of pop culture should be, quite frankly, stupid; pandering to a small demographic of people who obsess over this sort of thing. Yet Spielberg pulled it off, effectively making the film both fast-paced and exciting for all audiences.

The film does come across its share of minor hiccups along the way. For example, a plethora of exposition is dumped on the audience throughout the first thirty minutes; so much so that some information is actually repeated twice. A lot of this backstory knowledge didn’t need explaining and could’ve easily been shown to the audience rather than told.

Another criticism is actually the main lead of Wade Watts, again played by Tye Sheridan. Sheridan fairs much better as a voice actor rather than live-action, as his expressions aren’t particularly strong or convincing.

This doesn’t damper the overall spirit of the film, which gets its messages across in a firm but gentle way. Escapism can be great and help us to connect and foster relationships with distant people. But as the creator of The OASIS nicely puts it, eventually we all need to face reality, as it’s the only place to get a decent meal.

There’s even potential commentary on the politics behind gaming, microtransactions, and advertising. Sometimes it’s clever and thought provoking, other times it’s so heavy-handed that I kind of relished it.

Ready Player One transcends fanboyism and taps into a wide audience of eagerly nostalgic individuals. At points it goes too far with the pop culture references, and sometimes it’s subtler (like a beloved television character who passes by in the background). I believe Ready Player One meets in the middle and fulfills the desires and expectations of a variety of moviegoers.

For the uptight contrarians who feel that this is mindless and of poor quality, perhaps you should wait outside the theaters playing Ready Player One. There, you can greet the multitudes of well-satisfied fans (young and old) to state your antagonistic case.

For what it’s worth, I had a marvelous time watching Ready Player One and truly believe that there’s something for everybody in it. It’s fast-paced, touching, and all-around fascinating, and I hope others can take as much pleasure from it as I have.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Young Frankenstein Review

During the month of October, I had the incredible experience of viewing Mel Brook’s 1974 comedy classic Young Frankenstein on the big screen. Sitting in an almost completely empty theater, I watched in admiration as one of my favorite actors played out one of his most famous roles, just as people did in 1974.

The story, a comedic spoof based on various film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, focuses in on the well-educated medical doctor Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder). Frederick discovers that he has just inherited the Transylvania castle of his famous grandfather, who conducted experiments in attempts to reanimate the dead. Initially hesitant, Frederick decides to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of an unlikely group of odd individuals.

If there exists a film that is so universally hailed as comedic and undeniably hilarious, then it was probably directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks utilizes every level of humor to its fullest effect, whether it be simple slapstick or a subtler humor that takes a couple of viewings to fully appreciate.

Discussing humor can be a difficult and daunting task, partly because of the subjective nature of comedy. There are only so many ways that I can say a scene from Young Frankenstein is funny, and only so many ways I can say entire films made in its image are not. Yet, with that established, I believe Young Frankenstein to be comedic genius. Brooks takes a beloved source material and handles it with such care, delicacy, and most of all, lunacy.

Pondering such questions as, “What if Igor was in denial that he had a hump?” Or even, “What if Frankenstein’s monster meeting the blind man had a more comedic punch to it?” It’s questions like these that any individual can conjure up in their heads, but only Brooks has the audacity to carry it out on the big screen.

Playing the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Gene Wilder gives what I would argue the best performance of his career. The frantic ravings and occasional lunacy of a mad scientist in denial about his family heritage is about as outlandish as imaginable, and Wilder fits the bill. Not only that, he becomes the character, going beyond the call of duty to give the audience an unforgettable experience. And is it surprising for me to say that whenever I hear somebody talk about Frankenstein, I first think of this movie, rather than the Universal classic?

One can hardly forget the enigmatic supporting cast, who help make this lovely masterpiece what we know it as today. My personal favorite would be Igor (Marty Feldman), a dimwitted wisecracker with a knack for making the situation worse. Something about Igor has always appealed to me unlike anyone else in the film. His onscreen presence alone is enough to elicit hysterical laughter from yours truly.

Young Frankenstein is a film I re-explore at least once a year, typically around the Halloween season, and for good reason. It’s listed as one of the greatest comedies of all time by the American Film Institute (14th), Bravo TV (56th), Rolling Stone (5th), and was even selected for the Library of Congress National Film Registry. It’s a beloved masterpiece that will hopefully be respected by moviegoers for years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint