Andrew Hates… MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie, 2015

Exasperated by their increasingly reckless activities, CIA chief Alan Hunley disbands the Impossible Mission Force and reassigns its agents. But the timing couldn’t be worse as Ethan Hunt and his team discover the existence of the IMF’s terrorist counterpart – a mysterious agency known only as ‘The Syndicate’.

For the past two decades, the Mission: Impossible franchise has established a reputation the like of no other action series in the world – it has taken its leading man and utilised his death-defying mantra to dumbfound its audience with some of the most astonishing practical stunts that we have ever seen. Like him or not, where Bourne brandishes ballpoints and Bond wields Walthers, Cruise achieves the impossible. Not only that, he embraces it.

The fifth in the series, Rogue Nation makes good on the franchise’s promise and does one better. Whereas its predecessor Ghost Protocol built the film around that spectacular set piece with Cruise climbing the tallest building in the world with Abu Dhabi’s Burj Khalifa, Rogue Nation is daring enough to place that Tom-Cruise-clinging-to-a-plane stunt at the opening of the film in a pre-credit sequence that is more exhilarating than anything 007 has ever fired at us. The fuse ignites and burns up and down in rollercoaster fashion for the next two hours as we are lavished with exotic locations, tongue-through-cheek humour and bonkers plots which act as welcome excuses for Cruise to jump off things.

The cast reunites Ving Rhames as old-school Luther Stickell, Simon Pegg as tech-savvy Benji Dunn, Jeremy Renner as company man William Brandt and Cruise along with newcomers Rebecca Ferguson portraying Ilsa Faust, an ambiguous “M:I-5” ally of Hunt, and Alec Baldwin as the weary CIA chief who grows more discontent with Hunt’s devil-may-care attitude by the minute. McQuarrie, writer of The Usual Suspects and director of Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, has such a tailored cast to work with that it shines a harsh light on the likes of the Marvel franchise which is compelled to establish solo stars before uniting them as an ensemble. With Rogue Nation, every member of the cast bounces off one another that it’s difficult not to yearn for ‘The Adventures of Ethan and Benji’ or ‘The Odd Couple starring Luther and Brandt’.

If there is a slip in Rogue Nation’s step it’s with its antagonist, Solomon Lane, played by Borgias alumni Sean Harris. With an adversary as dramatically compelling as an anti-IMF, surely there should exist some mirror image of Ethan Hunt? Regrettably we do not get such a battle of wits or fists but the remainder of the cast click so well and the film in itself is so exhilarating that it’s hard to dwell on its shortcomings. Luckily Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious rogue British agent keeps us playing the guessing game long enough as to her true nature that the thought of any fixed villain is abandoned.

Dodging its Christmas Day release date and the Star Wars/Bond competition that comes alongside it, Rogue Nation slots into a last-minute summer placement. Not primo-positioning for an ageing movie star trying to keep a franchise alive in its fifth instalment but Cruise and co. prove that Mission: Impossible is the unorthodox, adventitious blockbuster that abolishing would be a mistake we may regret.

Mission: Impossible remains an innocuous pleasure where logic is tossed aside faster than Michelle Monaghan and stunt coordinators take precedence over writers. Nevertheless, Rogue Nation is a mission so bold and bright that it’ll keep me clinging to the side of my seat until their next one, should its audience choose to accept it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… ANT-MAN

Ant-Man

Dir: Peyton Reed, 2015

Recently released from prison, master thief Scott Lang is sought out by retired superhero Dr. Hank Pym and persuaded to wear the Ant-Man suit – a weapons prototype which allows its wearer to shrink in size and increase in strength – in a last-ditch effort to pull off a heist that would protect the secret of the Ant-Man technology from falling into the wrong hands.

This is the twelfth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The twelfth. Which means we’re a little over halfway through the films that Marvel have authorised to consume our summers from 2008 until 2019 (and most likely onwards). So it’s not surprising that it’s becoming hard to find a new story with fresh characters and atmospheres for us to devote ourselves to while superheroes hurl each other through buildings. It’s nice to have your cake and dunk your face into it too, right?

And yet following on from the Cold War, fearmongering subtext of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the facetious space-western Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man plays as a recycled Marvel outing salvaged from the scrap metal of the original Iron Man film. Both are tales of much sought-after weaponised outfits that put the ‘war’ in ‘wardrobe’ but Iron Man’s post-9/11 cultural significance dramatically outguns Ant-Man’s post-Avengers superhero canon. In addition to Corey Stoll’s slimy, spoilt brat of an antagonist failing to fill the villainous void that Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger exudes in Marvel’s first foray.

Putting motifs aside, the blazing comic book exuberance that previous director Edgar Wright would have undoubtedly brought to the front is also clearly lacking, replaced by the hollow, muted voice of Yes Man director Peyton Reed. What was blatantly designed to be the latest in irreverent, sharp-tongued protagonists is instead neutered and transformed into a heavy-handed Robin Hood with a disdain for violence and a string of bad luck to boot.

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is the utter superfluity of his character. Evangeline Lilly portrays Hope van Dyne, the daughter of Hank Pym, who has the necessary skills, temperament and charisma to follow in her father’s footsteps but is repeatedly swatted away by Pym, noting a secret yet ultimately contrived reason that expresses more of a motivation for Marvel to keep its line of super-males dominant (despite their announcement of the forthcoming Ms Marvel film). Rudd, while no Chris Pratt, is a fun figure to watch exchange quips on-screen but not punches whereas we’ve seen Lilly hold her computer-generated own in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.

Where the first hour of the film dwells on the laboured introductions of the characters and plot, the second half is where the faint vestige of Wright’s involvement and the bounce of co-writers Rudd and Adam McKay’s script begins to mesh, culminating in a vastly publicised action sequence involving a train set in a little girl’s bedroom. The ant-sized sequences are compelling enough to occupy adults whilst enchanting children and the gags provide sufficient chuckles to get you through Douglas’ scientific mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, this Ant-Man results in a playful placeholder in the MCU that serves its purpose in tiding us over until next summer’s Civil War but could’ve massively benefitted from a step in the Wright direction.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World

Dir: Colin Trevorrow, 2015

Jurassic Park is fantastic. I mean, just isn’t it? It’s terrifying, it’s exciting, it’s enlightening and it’s wonderful. I remember it being one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema and I recall vividly how it caused my imagination to explode into a billion pieces, reaching far and wide across the realms of impossibility. And yet, I thought, this could happen. Now, not this exactly but even then I could understand how, as Dr Alan Grant would come to say in the less-than-positively received Jurassic Park III, some of the worst things imaginable are done with the best intentions. And yet, I don’t see even the slightest bit of aspiration or well intent in Jurassic World. I see big, cartoonish dollar signs in its eyes.

As Sam Neill’s hat and Jeff Goldblum’s chest hair are retired into the Jurassic canon, we are introduced to our new heroes [sic]. Twenty-two years after the events of the first film (apparently ignoring the second and third entries), the park is now open to assumedly wealthy patrons with Bryce Dallas Howard’s operations manager overseeing the integration of a genetically engineered hybrid amongst the park’s attractions. When it breaks out, Howard must call on raptor-wrangler Chris Pratt to contain the beast and save her teenage nephews, who are lost in the wilderness of Jurassic World’s restricted areas.

Chris Pratt is fast becoming Mister Hollywood, fresh off the back of the relatively sleeper-hit Guardians of the Galaxy and amidst rumours of Pratt donning that fedora in the near future, so how does the film manage to put across Pratt as incredibly dull? Simple, there is not a single character developed in this film or written with a drop of charisma or profundity. Dallas Howard’s character is made out to be some sort of definition of the 21st century woman – successful, intelligent, sophisticated and yet is ignorant toward every responsibility that comes her way. This is a film whose gender politics are so skewed to the point where the moment Howard’s character’s nephews see her dispatch a pterodactyl in badass fashion, they immediately opt to go with Pratt’s conventional ‘man’ character, whom they had never seen before let alone seen do something of equal measure to Howard’s turning point.

The big bad of this piece is the Indominus Rex (an appellative cousin of Unobtanium, no doubt) a genetically-modified dinosaur that can camouflage its exterior, mask its thermal signature, etc. all tricks to “up the wow factor” among Jurassic patrons who are bored by regular dinosaurs and who have complete faith in this new and improved dino-island because the word “Park” has been replaced by the word “World”. I don’t know about you, but the thought of a ‘til-recently-extinct, ravenous predator snapping at my heels is scary enough without needing to give it superpowers.

Then, there’s possibly the dumbest of the dumb in Vincent D’Onofrio’s military contractor Vic Hoskins. Fresh off playing a layered villain in the sympathetic yet sociopathic Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) in Netflix’s Daredevil television series, D’Onofrio cashes in as Jurassic World’s human antagonist who is determined to employ the velociraptors as super-soldiers for the United States military. If a villain is indeed meant to be the most misguided of all the characters, D’Onofrio certainly clinches it, but only just.

Admittedly, Jurassic World is meant to be fun, whereas the first of the franchise was entertaining and intelligent with a very precise message and with compassionate, cleverly written characters to create an empathetic audience – such is the nature of science fiction. Jurassic World does no such thing, throwing idiotic plotlines and protagonists at the screen haphazardly and hoping they’ll stick, with tired and lazy action set pieces that we’ve seen time and time again. A T-Rex attacking a jeep is replaced with an Indominus Rex attacking a gyrosphere; pteranodons attacking Alessandro Nivola are replaced by pterosaurs attacking faceless extras. The essence of chaos, indeed.

Not to say that Trevorrow and co. didn’t even aim for subtext, there are parallels with the Hollywood film industry and images of Jurassic World’s Samsung pyramid are quickly followed up by an enthused takedown of corporate sponsorship by New Girl and Safety Not Guaranteed’s Jake Johnson in a gag that seems to play more like an excuse than satire. But the greatest piece of subtext that Trevorrow succeeds in getting across is the film itself. The idea of Jurassic Park itself is an arrogant demonstration of mankind’s meddling in its vie to control that which is greater than themselves – nature. Jurassic World is an arrogant demonstration of film studios’ meddling in their vie to control that which is greater than themselves – film. And as long as we keep paying to see said demonstration, capitalism will, uh, find a way.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here

Andrew Hates… THE WOLVERINE

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Dir: James Mangold, 2013

Haunted by the death of Jean Grey, Logan has once again retreated into the wilderness of the Canadian mountains, giving up the moniker of Wolverine. There he is found by Yukio, who convinces him to travel to Tokyo as the final wish of dying Japanese billionaire Yashida, whose life Logan saved during World War Two’s bombing in Nagasaki. Upon arrival, Yashida declares he wishes to repay Logan for saving his life by making him mortal.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not well received. Many criticisms were made of the over-abundance of mutant characters, the lacking script and the butchering of fan-favourite Gambit. But of course, it was extremely profitable and therefore a sequel was never out of the question. So, producer Lauren Shuler Donner enlists The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Darren Aronofsky, who is bent on securing an R-rating. Already things are looking up. That is, until Aronofsky drops out and rewrites are made to McQuarrie’s script.

As much as The Wolverine’s pre-production resembles a game of musical chairs, director James Mangold does enter the void with all the best intentions. It’s clear that Mangold is aiming for an Origins antidote, maintaining the focus strictly on Logan and keeping the mutant counter to a minimum (apart from including the maddeningly dull and confusing “Viper”). However despite sidestepping the little mistakes that Origins made, The Wolverine dives head-first into the bigger ones all the while trying to convince us that this is a different film.

The Wolverine depicts Logan in exile, more lost than ever, vowing never to hurt anyone again. Of course, this vow lasts all of ten minutes until some poor saps make the mistake of killing a bear and Logan comes looking for vengeance in full PETA-mode. Then we’re introduced to the cute yet staggeringly badass Yukio who brings Logan to Japan and it’s there where a whole load of nothing happens.

As bizarre as this sounds, Origins is a hard film to follow-up because there isn’t much of a story left to tell. We’ve seen Logan become the Wolverine, we’ve seen his X-peditions with that lovable mutant school and now what? Well we have Logan daydreaming in cleavage-heaven with Jean Grey, having nightmares about the events of X3: The Last Stand (and so say all of us) but as far as heightening the drama for the character, this just doesn’t fly. Mostly because these interludes with Famke Janssen force audiences to reminisce about that disastrous third film, which is akin to vividly imagining bowel movements before tucking into a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

The action scenes are refreshingly intimate compared to the Metropolis-destroying, aircraft-crashing set pieces of the summer so far, but they’re far too formulaic and feel like Mangold has a timer of no more than fifteen minutes before the claws must come out. Samurai tropes are thrown around frequently but the energy and innovation of the bushido are lacking, replaced with stringently edited violence and CGI mechanical monsters. This is very much a Hollywood film set in the Far East.

The Wolverine lacks the courage to commit to both its story and its setting, instead revelling on a half-immortal Wolverine and a beautiful Japanese backdrop that is spoiled by every Asian cliché under the sun, including chopstick gags, bathhouses and Yakuza versus Samurai. Ultimately, the audience is reminded of what could have been under a different writer and director and instead left with a mid-credits scene that overshadows the entire film.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here

Andrew Hates… THE BLING RING

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Dir: Sofia Coppola, 2013

A group of spoiled, glamour-hungry teens decide to take advantage of the naivety of the socialite celebrities of the Hollywood Hills. Using gossip websites to track the stars’ schedules and Google Maps to pinpoint their addresses, the “Bling Ring” enter through unlocked doors and repeatedly raid the wardrobes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and many others.

Sofia Coppola clearly has some form of obsession with the vacuous nature of celebrity lifestyle. Maybe it’s due to her upbringing with her father dragging the family all over the world, I’m not really sure and I don’t really care. But as evident through her style, it seems as though the language barriers and the razzle-dazzle and the long stays at the Chateau Marmont have left such an impression on Coppola that she just can’t imagine anything else. So I’m sorry to say that a filmmaker without imagination has no place making films.

The Bling Ring constitutes teen fashionistas going to celebrity homes, wowing over their swag and then wearing said swag to their favourite nightclub. Wash until glistening, rinse and repeat for roughly an hour. The problem with The Bling Ring is it is a news story, nay, a Vanity Fair article that was inadequately transformed into a Comic Sans screenplay. David Fincher’s The Social Network took the idea of online communication, showed its development and established its importance on a global scale. The Bling Ring attempts to make the same form of commentary through characters as transparent and devoid of connection as the film’s Los Angeles setting. There is no empathy for the main characters nor is there empathy for the victims.

It’s entirely possible or even probable that the blank, conventional format of The Bling Ring is an intentional directorial approach from Coppola. That the dialogue that consists primarily of “Shut up”, “Wow” and “Let’s get the f*** out of here” is as natural to the characters as it feels unnatural to us. That despite the good performance from Emma Watson, hers and the other characters are meant to tread on our nerves swiftly and brutally. Unfortunately, all of the above combined with the thirty minutes of material stretched to a malnourished ninety don’t make for an entertaining experience, proving Coppola to be the arthouse equivalent of Michael Bay.

Sofia Coppola is in a state of mind-numbing limbo, where she regurgitates vessel after vessel of replicated superficiality that is as shallow as a puddle and has the same level of captivation. The Bling Ring is no different, portraying hollow, emotionless characters in a hollow, emotionless world that provides momentary captivation due to its real-life resonance but founders in the hands of a one-trick pony director.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… BEHIND THE CANDELABRA

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Dir: Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Scott Thorson, a young animal trainer for Hollywood films, is introduced to Liberace (“Call me Lee”) backstage at one of his Las Vegas concerts. Immediately taking a liking to one another, Scott moves in with Lee and they begin a romance which would come to define the last ten years of Liberace’s life and change his legacy forever.

“It’s funny that this crowd would like something this gay”, states Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson during Behind the Candelabra’s opening Liberace performance. To which Scott Bakula’s character replies, “Oh, they have no idea he’s gay”. In essence this exchange sums up the entire film as Soderbergh (with the help of Thorson’s source material) peels back the synthetic surface of what was Liberace’s fame and reveals an intimate, no-holds-barred glimpse into a remarkable relationship conflicted by, in a word, identity.

As mentioned previously, we first meet Liberace through the eyes of 17-year old Scott Thorson during a magnificent rendition of the Boogie Woogie that razzles and dazzles in the ways that Mr Showmanship excelled at. After that, we strip away the piano but not the pearls and are introduced to Lee, who Michael Douglas slips into like a rhinestone-studded glove. Though kitted in cosmetics aplenty, Douglas avoids wearing his role like a mask, as we do get with so many of those heavy-handed biopic portrayals. Douglas becomes Liberace – diva incarnate – exhibiting so much gusto that it’s almost bursting through the screen. However it’s Matt Damon who has the harder role as the impressionable and youthful viewpoint, unsure as to his orientation and suddenly strewn into a new world in which wealth is lavished upon him. Fortunately, Damon is equally superb as Douglas, though his role is slightly reminiscent of his turn as Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley.

The story is hardly complex and it’s all a mite predictable but none of that matters to the enjoyment of the film. Rob Lowe is hilarious as Lee’s waxed, stretched plastic surgeon who looks more mannequin than man and Dan Akyroyd grounds the film just enough as the frustrated agent, tired of dealing with the Liberace’s short-lived affairs. It’s simply a shame that Behind the Candelabra was released as a HBO TV movie in the States and is therefore ineligible for any Academy Awards, for this might be the finest performance Michael Douglas has ever given while also being one of Soderbergh’s best pictures.

Bound by vulnerable performances from a committed cast, Behind the Candelabra is a marvellous and heart-warming presentation of the hidden life of Liberace – one that is flamboyant and comical but refrains from slipping into tasteless caricatures. Soderbergh expertly crafts a perfect blend of style and subtlety, capturing one of the most peculiar relationships the world has never seen.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… WORLD WAR Z

World-War-Z

Dir: Marc Forster, 2013

When a sudden outbreak of a zombie virus sweeps across the globe, former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane is called back into action. In order to keep his family safe, Lane is tasked with locating the origin of the virus so that a vaccine may be developed.

There have been many page-to-screen adaptations that have left fans of the source material a little vexed. The Lord of the Rings enthusiasts were disappointed with Peter Jackson’s omission of minor character Tom Bombadil. Readers of graphic novel Watchmen found Zack Snyder’s depiction overly loyal to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s classic. Such is the prospect that you can’t please everyone. But when Brad Pitt bought the rights to Max Brooks’ acclaimed World War Z – a book of fictional interviews that switches characters every few pages – and attached himself to star, suffice to say there was a radical backlash from fans. So how does one adapt a zombie novel with such a unique perspective on narrative? Pitt’s answer is evidently you don’t.

Marc Forster’s socio-political horror begins with an explosive action sequence in which we go ground-level in a chaotic Philadelphia, where millions are reacting to an immediate zombie epidemic. Eventually Pitt’s family are airlifted to a military base and as quickly as the film bursts into a hysterical rampage, it slumps into state affairs and military operations. This is more surprising due to Drew Goddard’s penning of the third and final rewrite of the screenplay, the man who brought us Cloverfield which was praised for its intimate interpretation of an alien invasion.

World War Z’s shortcomings are a clear indicator of its troubled development and frequent rewrites. Forster wrangles that tension which horror films need well (though no doubt he is a puppet director for Pitt) and the set pieces are entertaining, if a little formulaic, but unfortunately the film falls victim to that recurring built-for-the-trailer genre. The opening riot scene is brilliant and the third-act plane crash is commendable but these are brief interludes in a tenuous film which frequently causes the audience to wonder when the next scene from the trailer will come along.

As a repercussion of radically straying from the source material, World War Z borrows elements of genre films from 28 Days Later to 30 Days of Night while cramming the timeframe despite multiple long trips across the globe. World War Z may well be an example of too many writers spoiling the script but not as much as an example of sheer capitalist cinema. The violence is toned down to a bare minimum, joined by the redundant inclusion of 3D and a resolution so baffling that Roland Emmerich will probably feel better about Independence Day’s computer virus shtick. Forster does his best but World War Z is merely a been-there, done-that zombie film which mildly entertains and is ultimately forgettable.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.