Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Movie Review: Hitman Agent 47 (R – 96 minutes)

I hesitate to say it, but we are officially past the summer movie season and have started into the fall movie season.  This is where you find the beginning of the horror rush (they like to drop those right around Halloween-ish times) and the average action movies that couldn’t quite cut it for the summer tentpole season.  They are dumped here because the big time summer blockbusters are still in theaters (you can still catch Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, Ant-Man, and Man From U.N.C.L.E. – and you should). 

This movie is an example of that.  It’s a competent action movie that executes the material, but does not elevate it. The first Hitman videogame was released in 2000.  Basically, you play as 47, a cloned assassin for hire.  He has a flawless record, which makes him in high demand.  You receive your target, then have to use stealth to eliminate the target.  Since stealth was the goal, there was a lot of clothes-changing to blend him, and hiding of dead bodies so as to not attract attention. Here's the latest version:

I find it interesting to be writing about this action movie based on a video game the same week that is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the movie Mortal Kombat, which is still the best translation of a video game to a movie to date.  This is not the first time someone has tried to bring the Hitman games to the big screen.  The only thing this one shares with the previous Hitman movie from 2007 starring Timothy Olyphant is the writer, Skip Woods. 

The first version starred Olyphant as 47, with Dougray Scott as his target and Olga Kurylenko as the woman.  Honestly, I don’t remember much about the plot.  I just remember it not being very good.  The hitman was a genetically-engineered and trained assassin that was hired by “The Organization”, getting his instructions from the mysterious ‘Diana’ and got caught up with Interpol and the Russian Military as he encountered a woman who made him question his programming. 

In this version, 47 has received a contract from Diana and is after Katia Van Dees – a woman who is believed to know the location of her father, Litvenko.  He is the scientist who created the Hitman program, where genetic engineering results in perfect killers.  However, Le Clerq, the head of an evil organization, has been working with genetic modification to try to replicate the program.  He hasn’t quite perfected it – so he is after Litvenko as well and has sent several agents after Katia.  One of the agents, John Smith – tracks her down and ‘saves’ her from 47.  Eventually, she realizes that Smith is not all that he seems, and she ends up partnering up with 47.  

47 lets her know some things about herself, including that her name isn’t actually Katia Van Dees, but quatre vin-dix; which is French for 90.  He then gives her some advice on how to make use of the genetic programming that’s already in her system, helping her get stronger and faster – and realize where her father has been hiding.  The two of them track down the old scientist, who is dying from lung cancer, just as Smith arrives to capture him.  This leads to our numerical heroes breaking into the villain’s headquarters to put an end to LeClerq, electrocute Smith, and not really rescue Litvenko.  Then, they don’t really escape just as Agent 48 – another hitman – appears to attempt to take them out, leaving space for another movie if necessary.

This is Polish director Aleksander Bach’s first feature directing job.  It certainly looks decent enough, and the action is just fine.  I will say that never before has a movie made Singapore look so gorgeous that I wanted to visit.  The gardens, the fancy hotel with the super fancy pools, the stunning shots of the city – I loved that.  It looks amazing!  

However, as I stated before – the movie executes the material – it doesn’t elevate it.  The difference can be seen when you watch Mission Impossible Rogue Nation – that material is not original, it’s just another spy flick.  However, the amount of attention paid to the stunts and the characters elevates that original material to something really entertaining.  This Hitman movie has a fairly unoriginal plot, and doesn’t do much to add anything extra to it.  Something that I found really a glaring issue was the notable use of stunt doubles.  If you are directing a movie that is action/stunt based, and you really want to sell that as the main piece, why not hire more capable fighters as your leads?

  • Rupert Friend from Pride and Prejudice and Homeland plays 47 – and he stepped into this role that was supposed to go to Paul Walker before his tragic passing.  I thought he was pretty good – he’s supposed to be flat and emotionless, and does that really well.  He’s also supposed to start feeling about halfway through the movie – and he also does that very well, in a really subtle way – just in the eyes.  I especially loved the sequence of him breaking in to and then out of the American embassy as he kept changing outfits to blend in – that being one of the parts of the original game that I remember.  He was good, but I can’t help but wonder how Walker would have done.

  • Hannah Ware from Boss and Betrayal plays Katia or 90.  I was pretty impressed by her.  Once she finally sinks into her training, and starts being more kick-ass and less frightened, she gets much more action-packed, helping 47 on his path to his ultimate target.

  • Zachary Quinto plays John Smith – and while it was nice to see him back in Sylar-y villain mode, I’m not sure I buy him as an action star – and his stunt double was very obvious.   Why not just cast a villain who can really do all the hand to hand combat?

  • Ciaran Hinds plays Litvenko, because why not cast an Irishman as a Russian?  He was barely in the movie, but spent the time he was around regretting what he had done to Katia and leaving her the way he did. 
  • Thomas Kretschmann plays LeClerq – he brings the same slick generic European bad-guy vibe to LeClerq.  Essentially he’s a guy who never leaves he super secure office.  Until, of course, Litvenko is brough it, then he can’t get down to the interrogation chamber fast enough. 
  • Jurgen Prochnow is also in this movie, and I used to get him confused with Thomas Kretchmann.  Prochnow has one scene in which he provides a fake ID to Katia.  It’s such a small scene that I can’t figure out why you would need Jurgen Prochnow for that.  Maybe he’s friends with the crew/director?
  • Angelababy – yes, that’s her taken stage name – plays Diana, the mysterious handler for 47, who then of course calls in 48 too, so who knows what side she’s on.

Overall it wasn’t terrible, just very average. You could wait, rent it, or just watch it on TV and get the same effect as seeing it in the theater.
6 out of 10 – Gained points for 47 stating how much he loved his suit.  Lost points for the “sub-dermal bulletproof vest” thing.  Gained points for Katia being really awesome once she started to learn her powers.  Lost points for  Quinto’s post-electrocution look – the Albino – which is something from the game that I am not familiar with?.  Gained points for the gorgeous shots of Singapore – which is now on my travel bucket list thanks to this movie!

Bonus Video 1:  Timothy Olyphant steals every scene of this that he's in – Gone in 60 seconds.

Bonus Video 2: Catch and Release - another Olyphant movie I love.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast interviews

Monday, August 17, 2015

Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E (PG13 – 116 minutes)

This is the second movie in two weeks to be based off old Spy TV shows.  Hopefully by now, you’ve already seen Mission Impossible Rogue Nation (because it was wonderful), and now you’re looking forward to the Man From U.N.C.L.E.  

The original Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show Starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, and Leo G. Carroll as Alexander Waverly.  

It debuted in 1964.  It featured the two top agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.), a clunkier acronym than S.H.I.E.L.D., fighting against the agents of THRUSH.  It was part of a rash of spy shows in the 60s, including Mission Impossible, I Spy, the Avengers, the Saint…I’m sure I’m missing one or two.

The show was fun with just a touch of camp, and Solo and Kuryakin tended to charm their way in and out of situations. That is very much used in this updated version. The story starts in East Berlin in the 60s when the cold war is picking up steam, and it’s shot to look like a 60s TV show at first. 

We encounter Napolean Solo as he is looking for the stepdaughter of a mechanic, because he’s really after her real father, an ex-Nazi scientist who is working (against his will) with some Italian Nazis to construct nuclear weapons.  He extradites her from East Germany, but not without barely escaping a huge Russian agent who is also tailing the girl, Gaby.  Once he gets her out, he learns that his handler and the Russian agent’s handler have made a deal that the two will work together.  You can imagine how well they take that information, having just tried to kill one another.

Their assignment is to take Gaby to see her uncle, who is working for the same Italians in the hopes of tracking down her father and stopping the Italian evil power couple from using their newly made weapons.  Along the way, we learn more about the two agents; Solo is an ex-art thief CIA agent who never loses his cool and can charm his way out of almost anything, Kuryakin is a KGB agent who is also the son of a disgraced agent and is struggling to keep his psychotic rage episodes in check. We also learn more about Gaby, who knows everything about cars and fixing engines, but is not really that interested in her father.  As she warms up to Kuryakin – well, as they warm up to each other, Solo romances everyone he can find and they eventually end up at the palatial estate of Alexander and Victoria to quickly learn that Victoria is really the mastermind behind the entire plot.  The two agents have to get over their differences and learn to work together to achieve their goal.  Once they do (spoiler alert – they succeed), they learn they have just both been hired to a new agency, U.N.C.L.E., and they are off on their next assignment.

It’s a fairly simple and straightforward plot, but what makes it so much fun is the very stylized look of the film.  Guy Ritchie is a really great director – I love Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) as well as Snatch (2000), but most people know him from the in-between-Iron-Man Sherlock Holmes movies.  Remember, if you like Elementary, or the Cumberbatch Sherlock - you have Guy Ritchie and RDJ to thank for bringing the character back to the forefront of cool.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. benefits from a lot of 60s mod style and wealth in the characters – the wardrobe is fantastic, and the splitscreens are fun.  There is some action, but really the bits between the action are done even better as we see Solo and Kuryakin slowly growing to trust one another.  I have to admit, the cast in this is fantastic (I was doubtful) and really pulls off this very specific look and feel.

  • Henry Cavill (6’1”) takes some time off from the terrible version of Superman to play Napolean Solo.  He is better in this than in anything else I have seen him in since the Tudors.  He is all slick elegance and early James Bond-style confidence.  He also was clearly prepping for superman as he is really broad under all his fantastic suits.  He’s so unbelievably charming that when he starts pickpocketing Victoria and showing her how he did it, she’s more charmed than angry.

  • With this movie, it seems that Hollywood may finally know what to do with the 6’5” Armie Hammer.  He broke out in the Social Network – playing the Winklevoss twins (mainly because he looks like them and had a similar upbringing…he comes from money – a LOT of money).  He was decently cast as the Lone Ranger, but everything else about that movie was so terrible, it gave him no chance.  He’s played ‘the handsome tall guy’ here and there, but his take on Illya Kuryakin is actually pretty good.  The accent is a little suspect, but once my parents pointed out that it sounded a little cheesy – exactly the way the accents sounded on the old show, that made more sense to me.  He does a really good job here, not just in the action – which we know he can do – but in the quiet more subtle scenes as he grows to trust Solo and warms up to Gaby.  Once thing I did not like was the ‘psychotic rage’ nonsense.  He would go into these fits where he was barely controlling his rage, but that never really paid off.  I would have liked to seen him use that rage at the end, but instead, it just sort of trails off. Either include it to use it – or leave it out.

  • Alicia Vikander, who was absolutely amazing in Ex Machina earlier this year (see that now if you haven’t already) plays Gaby, and does a really good job of first – being completely capable in her own right and never really a damsel in distress, which I was worried about, since this was set in the 60s.  Women didn’t usually fare so well onscreen in that era (check out some early Bond women if you doubt me).  She’s sharp, dryly funny, and self-assured. 

  • However, in terms of women who steal this movie, Elizabeth Debicki (who I had not seen in anything prior to this), is fantastic as Victoria.  She’s a completely evil genius villain who really lives up to that billing.  She is cold, cruel, very calculating, and seems to truly enjoy being bad.  She’s going to stop at nothing to get her bomb and go after her enemies, while completely and totally dressed to the nines.

  • Luca Calvani plays Alexander, her husband, and honestly, he’s almost an afterthought.  He got very little development (“he’s a playboy”), to the point that when Kuryakin has his big fight with him near the end, you have to try to remember who this guy is and why he’s significant.

  • Sylvester Groth plays Gaby’s Uncle Rudi, who is creepy and weird, and not what he appears to be.
  • Jared Harris plays Sanders, Solo’s American CIA handler (yes, the Irish son of Richard Harris plays the American handler, but just add that to the list of random nationalities in this flick). 

  • Misha Kuznetsov plays Oleg, Kuryakin’s KBG Russian handler.  Be on the lookout for a quick David Beckham cameo as the projectionist who flips a picture.

  • Hugh Grant shows up to play Waverly, charm the pants off everybody, steal some scenes, and set up some franchise possibilities.

Overall – it was really fun, very stylish, very slick, and really entertaining.  I wish they had done a bit better with the marketing, because judging by my parent’s reaction, those who used to watch the show will really love the movie.  Those who are too young to remember the show will like it, but may not get some of the style choices.  Check it out – I think you’ll enjoy it.

8 out of 10; Gained points for the wardrobe, some of those outfits are just too awesome, and I’ll need some earrings like what Gaby was wearing throughout the movie.  Lost points for the accent craziness – Cavill, a Brit, is playing the American – the American is playing the Russian, then another Brit is playing German, an Irishman is playing an American, and an Aussie seems to be playing British/Italian?  It doesn’t really matter – it all basically works.  Gained points for being another awesome Guy Ritchie movie, and making me really excited for his King Arthur movie next year- starring Charlie Hunnam (Australian) as the famous British knight.

Bonus Video 1:  Just for fun, here’s both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pre-Star Trek on a Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode.

Bonus Video 2:  RocknRolla – another crazy Guy Ritchie movie where Toby Kebbel gets to be insane.

Bonus Video 3: The first time the world saw Jason Statham was thanks to Guy Ritchie – “Too late Too late will be the cry – when the man with the bargains has passed you by!”

Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Movie Review: Fantastic Four (PG13 – 100 minutes)

Where to start with this one?   The Fantastic Four are Marvel's first comic-book team created by Stan Lee with artist Jack Kirby.  They debuted in 1961, and were comprised of Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic (he’s stretchy and a scientific genius/leader), Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman (she turns invisible, and can generate invisible forcefields and bubbles and eventually married Reed), Sue’s younger brother Johnny Storm, the Human Torch (he’s a hothead, literally and figuratively – he can shoot fireballs and fly) and Ben Grimm, the Thing, (he’s a big rock man with superhuman strength and a cheesy tagline  - also a former college football star and good pilot).  They each gained these different superpowers after exposure to cosmic rays during a mission to outer space.  The thing that makes them different than other superhero groups is the family dynamic.  They don’t really have secret identities (everyone knows who they are – they live in the Baxter Building in New York and it has a giant 4 on the top).  They often squabble and hold grudges, but they love each other, and that is their greatest power.

There was a live action version in the 80s, it's hanging around places, but never really saw a big release - it's supposedly terrible. 

The Fantastic Four made it to the big screen in 2005 in a movie directed by Tim Story starring Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, Chris Evans as the Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis as the Thing.  It also brought in Charmed and Nip/Tuck star Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom.  

The movie was averagely received – but honestly, I have always liked it.  Having never really been a fan of the Fantastic Four in the comics, I thought the movie brought a lot of fun and silliness to these characters, and maintained that tone over a simple story of them needing to learn to work together.

That movie did have some issues, notably – Dr. Doom’s origin story was all weirdly wrong, and some of the casting was suspect.  Okay – Jessica Alba’s casting was suspect – everyone else was pretty great.  This was followed up by the sequel, also directed by Tim Story in 2007 – which introduced Doug Jones with Laurence Fishburne’s voice as the Silver Surfer.  This one was not quite as good – and did something weird with Galactus, but I thought the Surfer looked amazing - and hey! the Fantasticar!

Both of these movies were Fox properties, and when Marvel studios got up and running they expressed interest in getting all their properties back.  Fox decided they had better make another movie to keep the property – similar to why you suddenly had another Spiderman reboot when no one was really asking for it.  So – they decided to reboot the franchise with an entirely new cast, and the result is this Fantastic Four.

The story begins by introducing us to young Reed Richards, a genius misunderstood by his classmates as he is working on a teleporter.  He gets befriended by Ben Grimm, and the two of them stick together until Reed is recruited by Franklin Storm of the Baxter Institute.  He moves into the institute that seems to be some sort of college?  He gets friendly with Sue, Franklin’s daughter, and his son Johnny.  Johnny is a bit of a hothead, and apparently a genius who would prefer to build and race cars.  He crashes one, and so his father tells him he’s not getting the car back without coming to help work on their teleportation device.  Franklin also re-recruits Victor von Doom – who apparently was on the project early, but was kicked out of the institute by the board – led by Dr. Allen.  

Together, the four of them successfully build the teleportation device, realize it’s going to a different dimension (not really teleporting), and successfully test it with a CGI monkey.  So of course, Dr. Allen then tells them thanks, and asks them step down while some full trained astronauts make the first trip.  Well, this upsets the three guys, who respond by getting drunk – then deciding to go that night on their own (never drink and teleport!).  Reed calls Ben, and they suit up to go to this other dimension.  Johnny, Ben, Reed, and Victor all head through the device – with Susan realizing they left.  The other place is super weird and looks a bit like the asteroid in Armageddon but with green glowing stuff under the rocks.  Things go bad, they lose Victor, and then Sue is able to pull them back – but gets caught in an explosion. 

The story jump cuts to the four being kept in a secret military base as we see how they have all been affected – Sue is phasing in and out of visibility, Reed is stretchy, Ben is a big pile of rocks, and Johnny is on fire.  Reed hears Ben calling for help and sneaks out of his cage to go for him, but can’t do anything, so ends up escaping. Dr. Allen approaches Ben to work with the military in exchange for them helping to ‘cure’ him and the others.

Then – for some inexplicable reason – a year passes.  We learn that Reed has been in hiding – Ben is working with the military, Johnny and Sue have begun to master their powers.   Johnny is about to begin working with the military which terrifies Franklin, so he asks Sue to help him find Reed.  They track him down in Panama where he is still attempting to find a cure for all of them – but apparently hasn’t tried to contact any of them in the year he’s been off the grid?  This pisses Ben off, of course, but they bring Reed back, and he’s able to finish off their rebuilt machine almost immediately – so Dr. Allen (who has suddenly developed a gum chewing thing) sends some expendable military personnel to the other dimension (which they are now calling Planet Zero).  Once there, they are approached by a limping figure, who turns out to be Victor – and they bring him back with them.  Apparently there’s no thought to whether or not a year in this place would have been detrimental to him – they bring him back no questions asked.   His containment suit has melded with his flesh – and he suddenly has some sort of telekinesis – which he promptly uses to explode heads.  As it turns out – he’s not really angry at being left behind, but he decides to sacrifice earth in order to assure that “his world” will survive.  

So he sets up a black hole that will suck all of this earth into Planet Zero.  Our newly reunited team quickly gets over their differences and works together to stop him.  If that sounded like too quick a statement on how that happens, trust me – it’s still longer than how it happened in the movie.  The epilogue is the Four being all buddy-buddy as Reed still promises he will find a way to cure them and they get a new headquarters (which is not the Baxter Building in New York – what?) and decide on a name.

Director Josh Trank (he also did Chronicle) recently tweeted that a year ago – he had a great version of this movie that you would have loved but you’ll never see it, due to the interference by the studio.  To me – that’s more than a bit shady.  He tweeted that on the opening weekend of this movie, and it seemed like a desperate move to distance himself from it.  Also – I don’t care what version he had a year ago, it still wouldn’t have been good.
Let’s start with what I liked:
  • Favorite thing in it: I thought Michael B. Jordan was an exceptional choice for Johnny Storm. The guy is crazy talented, and if you're not already on his badwagon - get on it before Creed comes out later this year.  He's exceptional, and is already building a strong career and is only going to get better as time goes on.  He did a great job with what he had here, but unfortunately, there just wasn’t much there for him.  He tried to breathe some upbeat life into this very morose and somber movie.

  • I thought Kate Mara did an okay job, really giving Sue some interesting talents in terms of pattern-recognition, and I liked the development of her powers.  I also read that she had wanted to read the comics as research, but the filmmakers explained that it was unnecessary because the film was an original story not based on directly on the comics.  Shame on them – and boo to her for not getting them and reading them anyway.   She was a little flat – and definitely not any fun – but I liked her interactions with Jordan.  Their relationship felt real and layered.   

  • I liked Reg E. Cathey as Franklin Storm as well – determined and hopeful when it came to the success of the kids. So I guess, my favorite parts of this movie were the Storm family.

  • Some of the look of the movie was interesting, and I actually did not mind the shifting of the comic’s cosmic origin to an alternate dimension origin in this movie.  I thought that made sense, and the early story of Reed’s genius and the project he was working on suddenly being in line with what the military/Baxter Institute was working on made for an interesting set up to the middle of the movie. 

Okay – Let’s shift over to what I did not like.
  • I love Jaime Bell, and I thought he was an interesting choice for Ben Grimm, however, why did Chiklis’s suit from 2005 look better than this 2015 CGI version?  And the Thing is always supposed to be the heart of the group – yes, bitter and angry that he can’t go back to being human, but he’s usually the one with the most heart, the one the audience can root for the most.  He was just angry and bitter here, and the heart was missing.  And yes, he did say that it was clobberin’ time, but only once – and unfortunately, the tone of this move was completely wrong for a tagline that fun.  Also – why was he not wearing pants?

  • Tim Blake Nelson is always interesting, and while he was originally going to be someone who becomes Mole Man, they changed that because this movie had so little to do with the comics.  However, what was with that sudden gum chewing habit?  It was never explained, and it was so over-the-top and obvious that it became really distracting. Aside from that, he was an interesting villain – but I really would have preferred to see his character from the Hulk come back.

  • I am not a Miles Tellar fan – if you read my review of Spectacular Now, you remember that.  Listen, he may be a great actor, but was his one-note portrayal of Reed in this movie his choice or the director’s?  In either case, it’s bad.  He’s completely disinterested and distracted throughout the whole movie.  At least Gruffudd’s Reed was distracted, but still really invested in helping his friends and mankind as a whole.  He loved science and was passionate about it.  In this version, Tellar seems to be half asleep, and the two flirting scenes with Sue have no feeling to them.  Also – why in the hell would he abandon his friends for a year with no contact?  Every version of Reed Richards I have seen puts his friends and family first above all else.  Even if he escaped and felt really guilty – he still would have tried to contact them almost immediately to tell them he was working on something and would come back as soon as he could.  Then, when they bring him back – he sits in a box with his head down – and even when telling Ben he’s sorry, it feels flat.

  • I think the pacing of this movie was a bit wrong – the first two acts of this movie (Reed and Ben as kids and starting their project, then Reed recruited and working with the others on the big project = 1.5; The four going over to the other dimension then getting and developing their powers = 2) takes forever and really moves slow.  When the climax finally shows up (Doom coming back and deciding to destroy the world as our heroes save it), it literally felt like the climax was five minutes long. Also, the amount of time we spent just watching characters sit around working without really getting to know them was crazy.  There was almost no character development.

  • The tone – oh my goodness – the tone is a huge issue.  If the MCU has proven anything, it’s that you can successfully make a fun superhero movie!  Ant-Man was hilarious, but also had great action and some quiet, touching moments too!  You do not have to sacrifice humor to make a good movie.  And this one just really missed the mark. It was so dark – literally and figuratively, you couldn't see anything in that military base.  The scene of them all trapped there was creepy and probably terrifying for kids.  There was no passion or fun in any of it, and for a story centered around characters whose first trait has always been that they are a family unit, there’s little to no chemistry between any of them.   I get that this is the origin story, and that some of them are just meeting, but come on.  The most relaxed they seem with each other is in the last 2 minutes when they are trying to think of a group name.  The whole thing was just such a bummer.  You should never feel bummed out after a superhero movie if it’s done right (still looking at you Man of Steel).

  • And perhaps my biggest issue – why, oh why, can no one bring a good version of Dr. Doom to screen?  He’s easily one of the most well-known and powerful of the Marvel Universe villains.  He’s an amazing character, and really fascinating, but for some reason – they keep screwing him up onscreen.  They blew it in this one.  They were even going to call him Victor Domashev, but changed that at the last minute, thank goodness.   Dr. Victor von Doom was created in 1962 and first appeared in The Fantastic Four #5.  Victor was the son of a Romani witch who became leader of the fictional nation of Latveria.  He is a genius inventor with some mystical powers due to his sorcery skills.  Kirby designed him using death as a model – replacing the skeleton with the metal armor.  After being raised in Latveria, he was offered the chance to go to school in the US at Empire University where he met Reed Ricahrds.  Doom created a machine intended to communicate with the dead, however, he got the calculations just  bit wrong, and did not listen when Reed attempted to warn him and there was an explosion that ruined Doom’s face.  Doom got expelled, and traveled the world – ending up with a clan of Tibetan monks.  He forged himself a mask and a suit of armor, and took the name Dr. Doom. 

  • He returned to Latveria – taking it over, and becoming the legal ruler of the country.  As ruler, he has diplomatic immunity – which allows him to escape prosecution for most of his crimes – and has total control of the nation’s natural and technological resources, along with its manpower, economy, and military.  He has created an army of Doombots – robots that look like him and that he is able to control telepathically.  His only real weakness is his arrogance. He does have a code of honor, which will often make it possible to work with him when needed to fight a greater foe.  He was done particularly well (everything was) on the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon (it’s streaming on Netflix).  Watch the below clip, it pretty much illustrates how awesome Dr. Doom can be if done correctly.

  • I love Toby Kebbel, he was great in Rock’n’Rolla and wonderful in Wrath of the Titans.  Honestly, I think he as Doom was great casting. The issue is not with him, the issue once again is with the material he was given.  This version seems to be an anti-government, earth-defending, anti-social computer programmer/hacker?  I get that in the ‘ultimates’ version he was in the experiment with the Fantastic Four that made them Fantastic, but he wasn’t in the original origin story – and I think adding him to that takes something away from the character because his powers were really self-attained, either through studying his mother’s sorcery, or using his immense wealth and genius to build something technologically superior.   

  • Here, he’s a bit whiny – and pining a tiny bit over Sue.  Both this version and the previous version make the same mistake of attempting to make Reed and Victor ‘fight’, or at the very least, clash over Sue – she’s not just some trophy, she’s a character on her own.  Also – exactly what powers does he have in this version?  Exploding peoples’ heads?  Nonsense. And why is he bent on sucking Earth into Planet Zero?  Really, he's usually only concerned about Latveria, and since that is on Earth, he's never about destroying Earth.  Also - his suit bonded with his body? No.  I miss seeing him in his castle demanding people leave because they are trespassing.  This is one character I would really love the MCU to get back.  He really would be amazing as an Avengers Villain (if done correctly) – or uneasy ally while fighting some mad titan or other.

Overall, it’s just a miss. It’s somehow too long and too short at the same time – no one in it seems to want to be there, and it’s just such a downer!  Honestly, I hope they get the chance to do a sequel, the four actors playing the four seem to get along well everywhere except on-screen. I hope they get the chance to make a good movie together.

3 out of 10 – lost points for being such a bummer.  Lost more points for having the potential for being better – lost points for Trank trying to distance himself instead of trying to help.  Gained points for the scene of them moving together – Johnny flying and Ben and Reed in a bubble Sue is creating, very comic-y and very cool.  Gained points for Tim Heidecker from Tim and Eric playing Reed’s stepfather at the beginning.   Lost points for multiple scenes of people putting goggles on and taking goggles off.

Bonus Video 1: Everything wrong with the old ones (still better than this one!)

Bonus Video 2: The Honest Trailer for the old one.

Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation (PG13 – 131 minutes)

This is the 5th installment in a franchise that completely reinvigorated the TV series from the 1960s which was about a spy organization taking on crazy missions to stop bad guys with one of the catchiest theme tunes ever.

Each installment has had different directors, Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and now Christopher McQuarrie.  Each has brought something slightly different to the movies, but they are all high quality action flicks.

Normally with a franchise, I would sum up the previous movies, but in this case, the Honest Trailer does a pretty good job.  Basically Ethan Hunt and his IMF force are a top-level operating force trying to stop all kinds of villains all over the globe.  If they ever get caught, they will get ‘disavowed’, meaning that they don’t officially exist, so if anything goes wrong, the government can act like they have no idea who or what these folks are. 

This particular movie picks up right at the end of Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, where Ethan realized the Syndicate was a real thing.  Basically, they are just like any other evil organization from any other spy-type franchise (Spectre, Chaos, the Evil League of Evil, etc.), and they seem to be out to cause trouble and perhaps take over the world.  You do realize very quickly the reason that the huge plane stunt has been in all the ads for this movie – it’s the cold open.  That amazing stunt happens right before the credits! 

That leads to Ethan stopping by a record shop in London to pick up another mission, should he choose to accept it.  However, this one turns out to be a trap, and he witnesses his contact get killed by a mysterious villain.  This results in him getting captured, and suddenly rescued by what turns out to be a deep cover British agent.  He tries to make contact with his team, but of course – he’s disavowed, so he has to go out on his own while the rest of his team tries to continue working off the record. 

A few months later, the CIA is still trying to track down Ethan, when he makes contact with his buddy Benji, sending him to Vienna to track what he believes to be the head of the Syndicate.  They bust up an assassination attempt of the Viennese head of state, and run into Ilsa (the British agent) again.  Once more, they go out on the run – this time following clues Ilsa leaves to track the Syndicate to Casablanca, where they seem to want to steal an encrypted file that they believe contains a list of Syndicate agents (it’s always some sort of file).  Ilsa steal it, which doesn’t matter because Benji already made a copy. Hunley – the head of the CIA - tells Brandt (who was running the IMF), that he’s bringing Ethan Hunt in one way or another, so Brandt calls Luther Stickell and they head to Casablanca, running into Ethan and Benji in the middle of an epic motorcycle chase sequence.  And this is after the epic water-file-retrieval sequence. 

Ilsa attempts to take the file back to her boss in London, Attlee, only to find out that she’s basically been disavowed and must head back undercover with the evil Syndicate boss, Lane.  Ethan and team come to London, Benji gets kidnapped by Lane, and in order to rescue him, Ethan and team have to open the encrypted file, which is not the list they thought it was – but instead is access to money, set up by the person who created the syndicate that will allow them to operate for years.  The file is a ‘red box’ file, and can only be opened by the Prime Minister of England.  So the team has to get to the Prime Minister.  Inevitably, they end up on top (not really a spoiler here, you knew they would come out on top), and Hunley gets to be the new ‘secretary’ in charge of the IMF – now that they are back to being ‘vowed’ instead of disavowed.

That all sounds very confusing – I know, but trust me, it’s put together in a really slick way, and it’s not confusing when you watch it.  Christopher McQuarrie is the director for this particular outing, mainly because Cruise requested him after working with him in Edge of Tomorrow and Jack Reacher.  He’s perfect for this, and the movie is fast-paced and fun.  The centerpiece of these movies are the action – and in case you were wondering how Cruise was going to top that hanging –off-the-Burj bit from MI4, the amazing plane sequence at the beginning of this movie is astounding.  I cannot wait to see how he tries to top this one in MI6 – because honestly, if they keep making these, I will keep watching them.  

  • Here’s a fun fact: Tom Cruise now is five years younger than Jon Voight was in the original Mission Impossible movie.  That is a mindbender. I keep waiting for him to look like he's aging, and while he looks a little older, he has apparently decided to not age like normal people. I know he’s a bit crazy – but he’s a man who loves movies, and cares about making the fans happy.  He overcommits to these movies in particular, and really wants to give the audience the best possible experience.  And yes – he does run.

  • Jeremy Renner is back as Brandt, and he fits in with the team a little better in this one.  He’s certainly capable for action movies, and really does well in this one – his job is still just to question what Ethan is doing, and point out that it sounds crazy, but that’s an important part of the team!

  • Simon Pegg is back as Benji Dunn and is basically just playing Simon Pegg in an MI movie, but that is just fantastic.  The whole scene of him being interrogated by the CIA repeatedly for Ethan’s whereabouts is pretty funny.  I also enjoyed the car chase sequence in Casablanca, during which Cruise was really driving, and Pegg was really hanging on for dear life.

  • Ving Rhames is back as Luther, and his job on the team seems to be mainly just backing Ethan up, despite whatever crazy decision he makes.  He and Cruise are the only two people who have appeared in all 5 of these movies, and Rhames is at his best here, providing a calm, smooth presence among all the crazy.

  • Rebecca Ferguson from White Queen plays Ilsa Faust, and she was an absolute joy in this movie.  Once again, we have really seen some impressive female roles in action movies this year and this is another.  Ilsa is a completely capable agent from the word go, and at no point needs Ethan or anyone else to ‘save’ her.  She is fantastic in the quiet moments, but even better in the action sequences.  I particularly like her big time fight with one of the bad guys at the end - the "bone doctor".  She owns the fight from start to finish, and I love love love the fact that Ethan does not run in to save her – she takes out the bad guy on her own – fantastic.  Most other movies would have had the male ‘hero’ come by just as she was about to get killed to save her.  She was great!

  • Sean Harris, who you’ve previously seen as Fitfield in Prometheus, plays Solomon Lane, the evil head of the Syndicate.  He’s so unbelievably good as the villain in this.  He plays everything with this slimy, evil, arrogance and just makes you hate him completely – the perfect bad guy to Ethan Hunt’s good guy.

  • Simon McBurney plays Atlee, the head of British secret intelligence who is Ilsa’s commanding officer.  He’s also a bit slimy and arrogant, but don’t worry – he gets his.
  • Alec Baldwin plays Hunley, who starts out chasing after Hunt and team, and ends up on their side.  Not really a surprise there, but it’s nice to see Baldwin back in this type of role, after all – we all loved the Hunt for the Red October.

Go see this – go see it on a big screen.  It’s a perfect summer action movie with lots of running and chasing and practical stunts and action-Tom Cruise (which is so much more entertaining than drama-Tom Cruise!). 

9 out of 10 – I loved it.  Gained points for the plane sequence, the water sequence, the motorcycle sequence, and the foot chase through London.  Lost points for no mention of Michelle Monaghan’s secret wife of Ethan Hunt from the last two movies.  I mean, it was a bit of a plot point in the last one that they faked her death so she and Ethan could be together.  Gained points for not forcing Ilsa and Ethan into a romantic sub-plot.  Lost points for the overly confusing plot that’s very similar to the plots of the other MI movies, but, hey – if it ain’t broke….

Bonus Video 1:  Everything wrong with MI4

Bonus Video 2:  Because I mentioned it – the Hunt for the Red October – Sean Connery not pretending to be Russian, Sam Neil vaguely pretending to be Russian, and Tim Curry overdoing the Russian.  Also – young Alec Baldwin!

Bonus Video 3: Tom Cruise Lip Sync Battling on the Tonight Show, because yes.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews