“Alien” meets “Gravity” meets a smattering of other sci-fi thrillers in “Life,” a space tale that suffers from the lack of originality, but makes up for it in thrills.
Taking place almost entirely aboard the International Space Station, a crew of astronauts from around the globe (including Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds) marvel at the creation of a Martian organism, which rapidly grows into squid-like creature that’s hell-bent on killing each one of them.
Director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe Room”) creates a tense atmosphere as the film builds to an inevitable conclusion with a “Twilight Zone”-like twist. Espinosa gets high marks especially for creating a pair of on-screen demises that may never have been done before. It’s too bad the rest of the film couldn’t have been as inspired.
Director Danny Boyle reunites his incredible cast from the original “Trainspotting” 21 years ago with the cheekily titled “T2,” a compelling sequel to the original crime tale about the dangers surrounding a group of heroin junkies in Scotland in the 1990s.
“T2” appropriately picks up 20 years after the events of the first film, where Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), returns to Scotland after he stole 16 thousand pounds from his friends to bolt from the country and build a new life in Amsterdam.
But when that life falls apart, he decides to try to make amends with two members of the group (Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremer); a move that puts him in peril because the other friend, the psychotic Franco Begbie (Robert Carlyle, who is frightening and funny at the same time) wants Renton dead in the worst way.
Marked by great performances, fantastic tunes and inventive direction by Boyle, fans of the original will especially love “T2,” which perfectly brings the tale of Renton and his mates completely full circle after a 20-year wait.
Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie has officially worked on four projects with actor-filmmaker Tom Cruise, from writing “Valkyrie” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” to directing the action superstar on “Jack Reacher.”
Yet no matter how convicted Cruise was on those projects, McQuarrie said there was something extra special watching Cruise come to life as Ethan Hunt in their latest collaboration, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” and proving that the life of a legendary super-spy isn’t as perfect as you would expect.
“What was especially great in this one was Tom’s ability and his willingness to not only to have fun with himself, but with the character,” McQuarrie told me in a recent phone conversation. “It was fun to direct Tom in a scene where he was supposed to jump over the hood of a BMW. Your expectation is that it’s going to be this movie star hood-slide, but instead, he trips and takes a face-plant on the hood. That part was improvised. He said, ‘I got something, just roll the camera,’ and he did this great sight gag.”
New on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday (Paramount Home Media Distribution), Cruise again embodies Hunt, a rogue agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) and bane of CIA honcho Hunley’s (Alec Baldwin) existence. Tired of the destruction Hunt continually leaves in his wake, Hunley finally manages to convince the government to absorb — and effectively, abolish — the IMF program. Apart from his past misgivings, Hunley is also fed up with Hunt’s obsession with the terrorist organization known as “The Syndicate” — a group that the CIA claims is a product of Hunt’s (Cruise) imagination.
However, a deadly encounter with The Syndicate’s head (Sean Harris) confirms Hunt’s suspicions that the group is indeed for real, and he needs to enlist the handful of his IMF colleagues (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames) to bring the group down. The situation is so desperate that Hunt is forced to take a leap of faith and trust Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a Syndicate agent who for reasons unexplained, helps him escape torture and certain death at the hands of her employer.
“Rogue Nation,” like the previous “Mission: Impossible” installments, is chock-full of death-defying stunts, not the least of which Cruise’s heart-pounding scene as he clings to the outside of a cargo plane. Despite all of the planning that went into the scene, McQuarrie doesn’t deny that it’s the stuff nightmares are made of, especially for the guy directing the film.
“His falling off the plane was actually the least of my concerns,” McQuarrie said. “It was the debris on the runway and potential bird strikes that made me worry about him being torn off of the plane rather than falling. We realized as we got closer and closer to that stunt that there was really nothing we could do about it. You were really doing something that had never been done before, and you had to go with a ‘Let’s see what happens’ approach. It was pretty terrifying.”
The interesting thing about the shot is that the cat was let out of bag early about it. Not only was the sequence heavily featured in the film’s trailer and TV spots, it was depicted on the film’s theatrical poster. Because of that, McQuarrie used the scene very early in the film, and surprised many viewers in the process.
“We knew instinctively that it was the right thing to do to put the scene where we did,” said McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Usual Suspects.” “If we built the whole movie about that shot and put it at the end, it simply wouldn’t be fresh or satisfying.”
Perhaps one of the freshest surprises to come out of “Rogue Nation” is Ferguson, a Swedish actress relatively new to the Hollywood film scene. McQuarrie, who will be back with Cruise for yet another “Mission: Impossible” film in 2017, said he hopes Ferguson will be a part of it.
“Since I had such a great experience working with Rebecca, I would love-love-love to work with her again,” McQuarrie enthused.
Then, the writer-director suddenly remembered how “Rogue Nation” effectively catapulted the actress to superstardom.
“Unfortunately, everybody else in the world loves her as much as I do now. I only hope she’s available,” the director added with a laugh. “I just hope she returns my calls.”
Theaters had their share of movie hits and misses this summer. Here’s a look at the five best … and the worst.
5. “Spy” (R): Unlike the overrated “Trainwreck,” this latest teaming of Melissa McCarthy and her “Bridesmaids”/”The Heat” director Paul Feig was by far the summer’s funniest film. After hitting the wall with her obnoxious performance in “Tammy” last summer, McCarthy returned to a character with dimension – a vulnerable sweetheart who can also talk F-bomb-laced smack with the best of them – reminding moviegoers of the very things that had us fall in love with her in the first place. Having a winning cast including Jude Law, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne and an uncharacteristically funny Jason Statham to back McCarthy up didn’t hurt, either. And who says writing, direction and casting isn’t important to a movie?
4. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (PG-13): Tom Cruise continued to ramp up the intensity with more real-life, death-defying stunts in the fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” series, which has vastly improved since the underwhelming original. “Rogue Nation” isn’t as good as its predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” but clearly Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie have enough respect for their audiences to give them a twisty, challenging narrative to compliment the film’s exhilarating action scenes. Relative newcomer
gue-nation/" target="_blank">Rebecca Ferguson also brings a kick-ass performance and proper air of mystery to her ambiguous female lead, and Simon Pegg gives his funniest “M:I” performance yet as Benji Dunn, Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) techno-nerd right-hand man.
3. “Love and Mercy” (R): It’s only fitting that the biopic of Beach Boy icon Brian Wilson get a summer release, and one can only hope that it’s not forgotten come awards season in the fall. Director Bill Pohlad expertly tells the riveting story of Wilson during the “Pet Sounds” era (Paul Dano) and later in his career (John Cusack), where the tortured musician endured physical and mental abuse first from his father/manager, Murry (Bill Camp), and in his later years, from manager/psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (a haunting Paul Giamatti). When all is said and done, you can’t help but be affected by the fascinating, behind-the-scenes stories and heartbreaking plight of one of America’s greatest musical geniuses. Dano is brilliant as usual in the role of young Brian, and Cusack gives one of the best performances of his career as the elder composer/musician.
2. “Inside Out” (PG): After a few shaky years for the studio, “Up” Oscar-winning director Pete Docter brings Pixar Animation back to dizzying heights with his ingenious look at the changing emotions of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) as she relocates with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Docter keys in on five emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – and how they become seriously mixed up when they tamper with Riley’s memories. The film works for all ages, although adults – particularly parents – will become weepy when being reminded of their own childhoods and the rites of passage as their own children cross from childhood into adolescence. Beautifully animated with vibrant, iridescent colors, “Inside Out” is Pixar’s best since their 2010 Best Animated Feature Oscar winner “Toy Story 3.”
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (R): Thirty years after his last film in the original “Mad Max” trilogy starring Mel Gibson, writer-director George Miller comes screaming back with his hair on fire to make “Fury Road,” which is easily the most energetic, hyperkinetic, visually whacked-out ride to hit the big screen this year. The film is anchored by a charismatic Tom Hardy as the new Max Rocketansky and bolstered by yet another risky, kick-ass performance by Charlize Theron as female warrior aiding him in a showdown with the skeleton-masked leader (a menacing Hugh Keays-Byrne) of a society of post-apocalyptic crazies. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a brilliant extension of the original “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” movie experience as it captures the bat-s*** crazy tone that made the original films cult classics. After starting with low budgets with his original films, you can’t help but feel that Miller finally got the chance to realize the vision of the “Mad Max” movie he’s always wanted to make.
And the worst …
“Vacation” (R): While “Tomorrowland” was in the running for the worst movie of the summer with its preachy diatribe about how we’re all to blame for killing our planet, there’s nothing more painful than a smattering of dreadfully unfunny set-ups and pratfalls in a movie that shouldn’t have been remade in the first place. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, who are generally likable and talented performers, should be embarrassed about ever signing up for this dreck, which feebly attempts to retrace Rusty Griswold’s (Helms) path to Walley World (the famed destination of the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983). Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo sadly show up for cameos near the end of the film, which only make you lament what might have been if maybe they would have been more creatively involved. Any amount would have elevated this “Vacation” out of its comedic hell.
Runners-up for worst summer movie: “Fantastic Four,” “Ted 2” and “Hot Pursuit.”
Tom Cruise truly makes the impossible possible with “Rogue Nation,” a serious contender for the best installment in the five film “Mission: Impossible” series. Expertly directed and co-written by Christopher McQuarrie, “Rogue Nation” maintains the same energy, thrills and explosive action as it’s awesome predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” yet continues to advance the “Mission: Impossible” narrative instead of running into the trappings of most film sequels.
Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, a rogue agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) and No. 1 pain in the ass of CIA honcho Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who finally manages to convince the government to absorb, and effectively, abolish, the IMF program. Apart from his past misgivings, Hunley is also fed up with Hunt’s obsession with the terrorist organization known as “The Syndicate” — a group that the CIA claims is a product of Hunt’s (Cruise) imagination.
But after a deadly encounter with The Syndicate’s head (Sean Harris), Ethan confirms the group is indeed for real; but he needs the now small group of his fellow IMF colleagues to bring the group down. Ethan is forced to take a leap of faith and trust Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a Syndicate agent who for reasons unexplained, helps him escape torture and certain death at the hands of her employer.
The great thing about “Rogue Nation” is that it’s full of surprises, starting with the highly-publicized scene where Cruise hangs onto the exterior of a cargo plane. Usually the sort of show-stopping scene you’d see in the third act of a film, the plane scene actually kicks off “Rogue Nation,” raising the stakes higher than they’ve ever been for a “Mission: Impossible” film (with maybe the exception of the Dubai tower scene in “Ghost Protocol”).
From there, “Rogue Nation” is naturally jam-packed with riveting action scenes (including a dizzying cycle chase), yet never once loses sight of the film’s detailed narrative. Loaded with twists and turns, “Rogue Nation” will keep you guessing until the very end.
Cruise is spectacular once again as Ethan, and you have to really admire his commitment to the physical demands of the role and the ever-expanding narrative of the “Mission: Impossible” series. He’s clearly the star of the series, yet generously shares his screen time with co-stars Simon Pegg (funnier than ever), Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames — the only IMF agents he can trust.
Cruise also has an amazing eye when it comes to bringing new actors into the fold, particularly Ferguson, an experienced star of Swedish and British film and TV, who marks her second appearance in a U.S. film with “Rogue Nation.” Smart, physically lethal and sexy as hell, Ferguson possesses a classic Hollywood screen beauty rarely seen in today’s films. Even as a relative newcomer to American film, she more than holds her own against Cruise.
“Vacation” (R) 1 star (out of four)
The “Holiday Road” has hit a dead end with “Vacation,” a dreadfully unfunny remake of the Harold Ramis-directed gem “National Lampoon’s Vacation” from 1983. Packed to the gills with moronic jokes and forced humor at every turn, “Vacation” is easily a contender for worst movie of the summer, if not worst movie of the year.
After an amusing opening featuring a couple-dozen pictures you’d see in an Awkward Family Photo album (full disclosure – the first photo they show is of my wife’s second cousins), “Vacation” picks up with Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), who shifts gears away from the usual summer vacation destination and insists that his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and two sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) retrace his family’s cross-country trip to Walley World from 30 years before.
Renting a knock-off hybrid vehicle that instantly becomes trouble, Rusty loads up his wife and kids for the long trip from Chicago to California. Naturally, they run into one disaster after the next, yet hold out the hope of making it to Walley World in one piece.
Opening with a classic “Holiday Road” tune from the 1983 original film, the music switches gear to an F-bomb laden rap song, setting the tone for the sort of trashy movie the new “Vacation” quickly becomes. Whether it comes with the revelation of Debbie’s torrid sexual encounters during college to her puke-soaked attempt to regain her former glory during a stop at her alma mater; or the family’s dip into the festering sewer waters which was revealed in the film’s red band trailer, “Vacation” seems intent to make you cringe and gag in the hope that you’ll laugh at it, too. Cringe and gag you will. Laugh you won’t.
But that’s not the worst of it. There’s the youngest Griswold (Stebbins) who plays one of the most annoying characters in recent movie memory: a smart-ass preteen who drops the F-bomb with wanton abandon; and also kicks off the movie’s string of oh-so-funny (NOT) jokes about pedophilia and rape that pollutes the film.
By far the most embarrassing thing about “Vacation,” though, is Helms, who assumes the role played by Anthony Michael Hall as a child (if the filmmakers thought Hall wasn’t able to play himself as an adult, the joke’s on them). It’s too bad, because Helms (as evidenced by “The Office” and “Hangover” films) can be funny; but here he’s relegated to effectively playing the same, horribly misinformed dad that Chevy Chase embodied in the first film. Chase, naturally, shows up in a cameo, as does Beverly D’Angelo, but they’re really not given anything to work with because frankly, there’s nothing there.
As awful as “Vacation” is, there are a few bright spots: Chris Hemsworth, who plays the very well-endowed husband to the adult Audrey Griswold (Leslie Mann), is quite funny; and Charlie Day nails his bit role as a chipper whitewater rafting guide. While not as funny as the still photos in the opening credits, the stills to close the movie (along with yes, another trashy, F-bomb filled song) signals the film’s squandered potential. And, um, Thor does swing his mighty hammer in the end credits, so beware.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers