Film Review: Mission: Impossible (1996)

Release Date: May 20th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez

Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask you something, Kittridge? If you’re dealing with a man who has crushed, shot, stabbed, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you’re gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?” – Ethan Hunt

I wasn’t super fond of this when it first came out but I must have been stupid at 17 years-old. Revisiting this movie over two decades later was a real treat.

Full disclosure, I haven’t seen any Mission: Impossible movies since the second one and I haven’t watched any of them since that one came out in 2000. Friends always rave about them but I’ve always been like, “Meh, whatever.”

Since I’ve heard exceedingly good things about the last few, I figured that I’d start the series over and see how I feel about them now. Well, this one was a hell of a lot of fun and it resonated with me much more now than it did in 1996.

I really like Tom Cruise in this picture and Ethan Hunt really is the American equivalent to James Bond. However, he isn’t quite there yet, as far as being as cunning and as suave as Bond, but it is a work in progress. While this isn’t Ethan Hunt’s rookie mission, this story feels like the moment where he becomes more than human and actually evolves into a super spy or really, a superhero without a cape.

Brian De Palma did a nice job of creating an interesting and rich world. This is the smallest and most confined of the Mission: Impossible films, as they would get more and more grandiose with each release, but it is still a real big screen extravaganza. It feels and looks like a blockbuster. And while I’ve been a massive James Bond fan my whole life, I think it was the slightly more realistic approach with this series that didn’t allow it to click for me, as I had just come off of Goldeneye, a year prior. You see, Bond still had a good amount of cheesiness to it then.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mission: Impossible had some cheese too but it was less gadget-y and not full of sexy one liners and sexual tomfoolery every five minutes. That final confrontation where we see the helicopter go into a subway tunnel is absolutely insane and it bugged me in 1996 but in a way, it still kind of does because it didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the film. It felt like the movie jumped the shark there and even though I appreciate this more, that scene still made me cringe a bit in 2018.

But that’s really my only gripe about this motion picture. It had a very capable director and a solid cast, although I wish Emilio Estevez wouldn’t have gotten killed off so damn fast.

Most importantly, this gave birth to a massive film franchise and looking back, this wasn’t a bad launching pad.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Mission: Impossible sequels, the Bourne film series and the Kingsman movies.

Film Review: Piranha 3D (2010)

Release Date: August 20th, 2010
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Based on: Piranha by John Sayles
Music by: Michael Wandmacher
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer, Eli Roth, Ashlynn Brooke, Bonnie Morgan, Genevieve Alexandra, Gianna Michaels

The Weinstein Company, Atmosphere Entertainment, Chako Film Company, Intellectual Properties Worldwide, Dimension Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Kelly, trust us. It’s never cheating if it’s with another chick.” – Andrew

Well, this was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be: nothing more, nothing less.

There are killer fish, boobies (but not enough), gore (but it’s mostly CGI bullshit), bad science and insane characters. There’s also Elisabeth Shue and she’s a sheriff and well, I love a woman in uniform.

For the most part, this was just a hair above being boring and mundane. The story is weak and it completely misses the social commentary that was worked into the script of the original Joe Dante Piranha movie from 1978.

Okay, I guess there is some commentary here but it is mostly just about how party people are dopey meat heads, figuratively and literally, as they become fish food.

The overabundance of CGI in this film is disappointing. The original worked so well in its use of practical effects. All you need in these sort of films is some bubbly water, a person screaming and fake blood being released all around them. It’s pretty easy to create. But Alexandre Aja, a director I’ve never been a fan of anyway, would rather have people flail around and scream in the water and then just plug in some computerized fish in post-production with effects that reveal how limited the film’s budget really is.

The highlight for me was that the film had cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss but both of their contributions were minimal and didn’t enhance the movie very much.

This just had a terrible script and frankly, a film like this isn’t hard to write. You don’t have to come up with Oscar caliber dialogue or write in a bunch of character development for people that will just get eaten but you should come up with a solid string of action sequences or chaos that keep this film afloat.

Honestly, after about 30 minutes for setup, the remaining two-thirds of the film should have been insanity mixed with gore and boobs. And good gore, not just CGI fish burping up a CGI penis for cheap laughs that didn’t even get laughs. All we got with this film was ten minutes of Spring Break chaos and then a lame sequence of the teen hero trying to save his annoying girlfriend from a sinking yacht.

Making a Piranha movie shouldn’t be rocket science, especially in the 2010s. And the problem is, this wasn’t a bad movie but it also wasn’t a good one. It’s in that sort of limbo that I hate where I can’t praise the film and I can’t enjoy trashing it.

I’ll probably check out the sequel though because I heard its worse and in the case of this emotionless and creative dud, worse would be better.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Any of the Piranha movies: original series, remakes, sequels, etc. However, nothing tops the greatness of the original Joe Dante film.

Film Review: The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Release Date: November 1st, 1991
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: Don Peake, Graeme Revell
Cast: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer, Ving Rhames, Kelly Jo Minter, Sean Whaler

Alive Films, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, and maybe the President will make me Secretary of Pussy.” – Leroy

People Under the Stairs is a movie that I did not like when it came out in 1991. In fact, as much as I loved a few of Wes Craven’s films, the majority of them were like this, just weird and uninspiring without much to care about.

Having seen this film for the first time in a long time, I still don’t like it. However, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. But it was still weird and uninspiring, as well as boring and pointless.

I don’t understand what this film was trying to be. I guess it’s part horror, part comedy, part social justice, I don’t know. It’s a confusing mess and adding in two cast members from Twin Peaks doesn’t give you the license to be bizarre for the sake of being bizarre. It also doesn’t excuse a stupid picture.

No, actually, the more I think about it, I still hate this picture.

I hate it because its ugly, lame and insulting. Wes Craven is way better than this unless A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Serpent and the Rainbow were just flukes.

The monsters are awful, the psycho people are awful, the characters are awful, the plot is awful, the acting is awful, the direction is awful, the whole damn film is awful.

Yes, this is getting put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. Well, what we have here is a “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.”

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Release Date: April 10th, 2017 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Based on: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, Michael Rosenbaum, Seth Green, Miley Cyrus (uncredited)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 136 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been greatly anticipating this since the first one came out three years ago. I’ve wanted to see this more than any other Marvel movie.

Unexpectedly, the first Guardians of the Galaxy gave me the experience I had hoped to get with The Phantom Menace in 1999 but found myself gravely disappointed. Guardians truly felt like the real spiritual successor to the original Star Wars trilogy.

With the sequel, a lot of critics and fans seem to be knocking it already. Some have said its “more of the same”. Well, when the first one came out it was really unique. Should the sequel not follow the same formula and style? Was the formula and style only good for one picture? Of course it is going to be similar in style and tone. All the other Marvel movies are a lot more similar to each other than the Guardians films are to the rest of them.

I’ve seen people say that this one isn’t as good as the first. Well, the first film took everyone off guard and surprised audiences. That leaves any film to follow at a disadvantage. One, you can’t surprise them in the same way twice. Two, because of lacking the ability to surprise twice, audiences won’t leave the theater feeling the same sort of awe they did the first time.

To be honest, I like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 more than its predecessor. No, it didn’t leave me in awe in the same way but I didn’t expect it to. It just enriched the mythos and built on the characters that I loved in the first movie. It gave me more meat to sink my teeth into. It also greatly expands Marvel’s cosmic universe, introducing new aliens, new threats, new worlds, new characters and new ideas.

Comic book movies are supposed to be fun, at the end of the day. Even the dark and brooding characters need to put a smile on your face. Got that DC?

Point being, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 puts a big smile on your face. I feel it does this better than the first. The first was the introduction to the universe of Guardians. This gives us something familiar and lived in but the camaraderie of the characters, their family dynamic, their comedic timing, it all just works and flows better in this movie. Plus, the group expands and everyone that comes into the fold is a pretty great and unique character, one of them new, two of them already being in the first picture.

James Gunn’s work on this feels a lot more refined. Marvel probably gave him a lot more freedom this time and he was obviously a lot more comfortable, already having one of these films under his belt.

As good as the art direction and cinematography were in the first film, in Vol. 2 they really up the ante. Visually, this thing is stunning and beautiful. While the first film is amazing to look at, everything in this one is more pristine.

The cast additions, mainly Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone, were brilliant.

Russell was perfect as Quill’s father Ego, the Celestial being that is literally a living planet. When I saw that Russell was cast as Ego, I wondered if he would be Ego, The Living Planet from the comics but I was not disappointed.

Stallone plays Stakar, who is Starhawk in the comics. His role is more of a slightly extended cameo but it is to set up something bigger in the future, as Marvel and James Gunn have big plans for the cosmic side of the Marvel universe.

Another cast addition was Pom Klementieff as Mantis. She was great in the role and is a welcomed new character. There seems to be a link (possibly romantic) between her and Dave Bautista’s Drax, which will probably develop into something more in the third film.

Speaking of which, Drax was just on point in this film from beginning to end. I’d love to see Bautista get more work, as he is the only professional wrestler, other than The Rock, to enter into the acting world and be successful at it.

The relationship between sisters Gamora and Nebula evolves in this chapter and we get to see some closure to their rivalry and a reminder of their hatred for their father Thanos.

Rocket and Groot are even more fantastic in this. Rocket gets more lines and gets to be a lot more bad ass. I thought the Baby Groot thing would become tiresome but Gunn doesn’t hit the audience over the head with it too much. This version of the character was well-balanced between cute and still being cool. Let Baby Groot forever be the template for characters studios think they need to appeal to kids without driving adults friggin’ bonkers.

Star-Lord’s story is focused on his relationship with Ego, his biological father, and Yondu, the man who actually raised him. There’s some serious emotional stuff here, especially in how Yondu has an interesting story arc and he feels the need to save his surrogate son from his real father. In fact, Yondu is the best thing about the movie and he actually gets an amazing sequence that sees him take on his entire mutinous gang of thugs.

The Sovereign, a major threat that is introduced in this film but meant to carry over into the next, were well designed and looked gorgeous on screen. Their world was cool, their style and personalities were quite unique and they end their story in this chapter, on the verge of unleashing a really famous and powerful Marvel cosmic character on the Guardians. We’ll have to wait till part three for that.

We also get a look at another famous cosmic race in the part where Stan Lee has his cameo. If you were a fan of the What If…? comics, you’ll probably be smiling from ear-to-ear.

In regards to characters, I did miss Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz of the Nova Corps. I also missed Lee Pace, even though Ronan died in the first. But that just adds to the ongoing Marvel villain problem, where they are just all one-shot throwaway baddies. I also would have liked to have seen Benecio del Toro’s The Collector. But hey, we do get a Howard the Duck cameo again. And Pac-Man is in the film… just wait and see.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes all the good stuff from the first and improves and builds upon it. I would have liked more space-faring than what we got but the story and the building of relationships and making characters richer, was probably a better use of time. Regardless, there isn’t a moment where the picture isn’t exciting and doesn’t have you on your toes.

It’ll be interesting to see how this strong branch of the Marvel tree meshes with the Avengers when the two groups come together in the third Avengers film next summer. There were several Earth scenes in this film to keep audiences grounded in that reality, reminding them that this isn’t in a galaxy far away and long ago.

Personally, I’d rather just watch Guardians movies all day over the Avengers stuff but that’s because James Gunn keeps pumping out cinematic comic book masterpieces and those Avengers people just aren’t James Gunn.

Rating: 9/10