by Alan Yudman
I wasn’t sure about MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION going in. A fifth movie in the franchies. Could have been simply a paycheck for star and producer Tom Cruise. After about 5 minutes, I knew I was wrong. I was in. Completely. This is one of the best opening sequences to a movie I’ve seen in a while. You may have seen the shot of Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane that is taking off. That’s in the first 5 minutes, and the movie never stops. The “hero shot” of Cruise that introduces him into the movie is the stuff actors dream of. It is darn near perfect. The rest of MI:RN is just as good. Christopher McQuarrie gets both directing and story credits and both are spot on. It hits all the right beats and includes everything you expect to see in this franchise. Cruise is Cruise. Say what you want about him, he never mails in a performance. The teaming of him with Simon Pegg is great. Rebecca Ferguson is not just a pretty face, she kicks ass. Sean Harris is a menacing, smart and threatening villain. What really makes this great is the way it nods to the TV series. More than any of the other movies in the franchise. It has a lot of the same plot devices, and it doesn’t slow down the storytelling. The intrigue is interesting and doesn’t get muddled with too many twists. It’s funny, thrilling and edge of your seat exciting. The whole thing is hugely satisfying. And it has to be said, Tom Cruise was one of the producers on MN:RN and he gets it. He hires the right people for the right jobs then does what he does best…get out of the way and just be Tom Cruise. This may be the best of the five Mission Impossible films (much better than 2 or 3). And the good news, Cruise says they are already working on the next one. This is a must-see film.
— by Alan Yudman
Amy Schumer is a brilliant stand-up and sketch comedian. Just look at some of her Inside Amy Schumer shows on Comedy Central. But if you really want to get “inside” Amy Schumer then you have to see TRAINWRECK. It’s a semi-autobiographical look at a woman who acts more like a guy. The movie begins with her father (Colin Quinn) hilariously warning her and her sister Kim that monogamous relationships are not realistic. Amy is the embodiment of her fathers advice. Her sister is not. Kim is married with a stepson and another child on the way. Amy sometimes wakes up and doesn’t know where she is. Whose bed? Which borough? But it seems to be working for her until her editor at a men’s magazine assigns her to write a profile on a sports medicine doctor (Bill Hader). The two fall for each other. Hard. Amy is confused by all this. She thinks her sister is the one who is crazy. A relationship? Whaaaatttt?? How Amy deals with all of these new, unfamiliar feelings is the central comedy of the film. But there is more. Quinn is absolutely brilliant as the bitter, M.S. afflicted dad. His scenes are all gold. Hader continues to prove how good an actor he is. More than just Vincent Price and Stefan, Hader really pulls off the straight-man enabling Amy’s relentless disfunction. The movie is filled with great performances. Lebron James (yes, Lebron James!) as Hader’s patient/friend really has some chops and a feel for comedy. Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable as Amy’s completely inappropriate editor. Dave Attell is the homeless guy who lives outside Amy’s building, but is also kind of her conscience and delivers some great punchlines. John Cena also is surprisingly adept at comedy. He plays Amy’s boyfriend and has two brilliantly funny scenes. One where he tries to talk dirty during sex, the other in a movie theater. But Amy is the star here. The script is brilliant, hilarious and poignant. It is true to Schumer’s talent for using comedy to make cutting social satire. Schumer is a great comedic actress also, and that should not be glossed over. Her commitment is obvious and her ability to make you weep is as important as her talent for making you laugh. TRAINWRECK is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. And you should see it too. — Alan Yudman
— by Alan Yudman
ANT-MAN had all the earmarks of a potential disaster for Marvel. Edgar Wright wanted to make this movie. It was his passion project, but “creative differences” and scheduling conflicts forced him out. Several others were rumored before Peyton Reed was chosen. Then there are the multiple screenwriting and story credits. Those are rarely good signs. Well, ignore all that because ANT-MAN is great. Michael Douglas plays Dr. Hank Pym the man who created the Pym particle, the thing that allows Ant-Man to shrink. But, disillusioned with S.H.I.E.L.D. he quits and hides his invention (great cameos from Hayley Atwell and John Slattery in the opening scene). Rumors persist that the particle exists, and the new head of Pym’s company (the great Corey Stoll) is trying to recreate it with disastrous results (at least if you’re a lamb). Pym discovers what’s going on with the help of his daughter (Evangeline Lilly) and he realizes he has to steal his invention. That’s where Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) comes in. The engineer and former burglar is just out of prison and in need of a job. Pym sets Lang up to steal the Ant-Man suit and and persuade him to help carry out his plan. The casting here is great. Douglass plays the mentor very well, using his calming voice and patrician nature to teach Scott to be Ant-Man. Rudd brings charm, heart and sense of humor to the role and makes it sing. Lilly is cool and sexy and tough as nails. Stoll is no longer the victim you saw in HOUSE OF CARDS. He smirks and channels menace with the best villains. MIchael Pena is also great as Lang’s friend and fellow thief. The only thing keeping this from being an all-time super hero movie is its Marvel-ness. Sometimes the comic book giant is too impressed with its own narrative and that gets in the way of cohesive storytelling. For example having to break into the new Avengers HQ to steal something, but the only one there to defend it is the Falcon. Really? Couldn’t at least get Captain America for a cameo? But that fault is minor here. Peyton Reed picks up Edgar Wright’s torch and runs with it with thrilling and hilarious results. The balance is perfect. This is better than either Iron Man sequel. Here’s hoping ANT-MAN doesn’t go that route.
Leave it to Marvel to pull off what seemed impossible: turning a lame superhero into one that is not only a lot of fun to watch, but also the most exciting. Ant-Man has the fun that’s been lacking in recent Marvel offerings. While most thought last summer’s “Guardians” was fun, I didn’t think that Emperor had any clothes. Ant-Man lays out the groundwork of backstory, explains the science of it all and then goes to town with the concept. This one ranks up there with the first Iron Man, both Captain Americas, and the first Avengers. By the time the words “Ant-Man will return” appear on screen, you are excited to see him again. And stay through the credits for one last geek-gasm…a scene comparable to the one after the first Iron Man.
There is only one Pixar. No one does animated movies like Pixar. That doesn’t mean no one else is making good animated movies. Two of the most enjoyable animated films of the last five years were DESPICABLE ME and it’s sequel. Gru’s little yellow henchmen, the Minions became wildly popular (rides, games, etc.). So it was natural that Universal would want a movie called MINIONS. Despite it’s over-marketing and the Minions overexposure, this isn’t a bad movie. It’s a Minion origin story, describing where they came from. Spoiler alert, they’ve always been around. This time, after failing to help Napoleon they run to the arctic where they live in exile, without purpose. One Minion, Kevin, is inspired to go find their next boss. So he sets out with Stuart and Bob in search of a purpose in life. The humor here is not sophisticated at all. It’s pretty slapstick and physical. Sandra Bullock voices the villain Scarlet Overkill, but the character lacks any kind of depth. She’s all about being bad. In Despicable Me, Gru was bad but he had heart and layers. No character here possesses that kind of arc. MINIONS falls flat when it tries too hard to get all touchy-feely. But the humor is there. The bits are funny, the Minions are lovable. You get to see how they met Gru. It’s a fun movie and one you can take the kids to. There’s nothing of questionable taste or that you’ll have to worry about having uncomfortable talks with your children. Just enjoy the ride. Oh and stick around until the very end. There is an exceptionally funny post-credits scene that is worth the wait. It ain’t Pixar, but it ain’t bad. — Alan Yudman
A fifth Terminator movie? I was all in. No question I was going to be there to see it. I’ve seen them all. Even TERMINATOR: SALVATION which I like less every time I see it. TERMINATOR: GENISYS is better than that. Is it good? Hmm. I still don’t know. It has everything you expect to see, including Arnold Schwarzenegger back in real life and CGI version. The humans keep winning and SKYNET keeps trying to find ways to survive by going back in time to eliminate John Connor from existence. So the plot is the same, it’s all about how they execute it. Can they find a new twist, a new way to keep us interested. Mission barely accomplished. GENISYS refers to a new multi-platform operating system that will go online soon (you listening Google and Apple?). But GENISYS is really SKYNET. Oops, possible spoiler. It has all the appropriate nods to the the previous films. Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, the T-1000 and a somewhat cool new version that merges human and machine in an effort to get the job done. But this deals with several timelines, changes in the past changing the future and sometimes it just gets a little too deep into the weeds on that. I call it Star Trek syndrome. At some point the producers of Next Generation became all too fascinated with going into the past and not changing or changing it or something that got away from the heart of the series. GENISYS doesn’t go that far, but it dances on the edge. For me, what made the films work was the Sarah Connor character. Her fight to survive in the first movie, then her battle to prove she wasn’t crazy in JUDGEMENT DAY gave the story its center. It gave it humanity, rather than just about some computer trying to kill everyone. I was so looking forward to Emilia Clarke (the Mother of Dragons from Game of Thrones) taking over the role of Sarah. I just don’t think they gave her enough to do here. She kicks ass, but the internal struggle is missing. She is so singleminded that there is no room for any doubt. She even dismisses Jai Courtney’s (Kyle Reese) knowledge and truth as complete fiction. It was great to see Schwarzenegger in a role he was born to play. The set pieces are great, the CGI fantastic. Technically it’s a great film. Will there be a sequel? Count on it. They set one up. Should there be one? Maybe, if they can find a way to give it less flash and more substance. Will I be there on opening night. You bet I will. — Alan Yudman
I was enticed to see THE OVERNIGHT when the studio released the first 7 minutes of the film on the internet. I watched it and it seemed to have the indie-comedy vibe I love. So, I plunked down my $11 already sorta knowing what I was in for. I was not disappointed. This is a hard R sex comedy. Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott are new to L.A., having moved from Seattle with their young son. Scott is a stay-at-home dad, Schilling works in some unknown business, but it’s not relevant to the story. They meet Jason Schwartzman and his son at a park and hope they’ve made their first friends in their new home. Schwartzman invites them over for pizza and to meet his wife played by French actress Judity Godreche. The pizza is eaten, the wine is drunk and it looks like the night is over. But, it is just beginning. From that point, THE OVERNIGHT turns from an amiable mumblecore-ish comedy to something decidedly weird. Godreche’s character is an actress who’s only role appears to be in a breast pump instructional video. Schwartzman sells water filtration systems and also paints assholes. Actual assholes. There’s pot smoking, suggestive dialogue that makes Scott and Schilling wonder what the heck they’ve gotten themselve into. There’s also a bizarre field trip to a Thai massage parlor (and that’s all I’l say about that). There is also a lot of full frontal male nudity and discussion about penis size. At the end, it seems that Schwartzman and his wife have dragged Schilling and Scott into their weird rabbit hole. But then there is a twist that is sort of satisfying but also feels like it was tacked on just to explain all the weird shit you just watched. Schwartzman is at his weird hipstery best, playing a role you’ve seen him play before. Schilling’s awkward charm fits perfectly here. Writer/Director Patrick Brice is creative and inventive and bends the genre in an odd direction. I look forward to where he goes from here. But please, next time do it with less discussion and visuals of penises. — Alan Yudman
A sequel that stays true to the original yet kicks everything up a few notches: that’s the fun of Jurassic World. It does what fun sequels are supposed to do and does it well. It takes the dinos from the first one and follows what would be the natural evolution of these animals, along with a theme park, and of course the merchandising. Plenty of winks to the audience and plenty more thrills, this world was a fun place to visit and delivers.
If you were expecting insightful, thoughtful or something exploring emotional depth you walked into the wrong theater. TED 2 is none of those. Oh, it occasionally tries to explore love and trust and hurt. But most of the hurt and pain is the physical kind, a result of slapstick, screwball comedy. Seth MacFarlane is back on track after the disappointing A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. Maybe he’s figured out what works. His “Family Guy” brand of humor ramped up for an R rating. It’s all right there. TED 2 is just a continuation of what made TED funny. There is a storyline on which MacFarlane and Alec Sulkin built their pyramid of hilarity. Ted and Tami-Lynn get married but after a quick jump forward we see things are working out. They fight like, well, a stereotypical Boston Southie couple. Ted professes his love and gets advice that maybe what they need is a baby. First they try for a sperm donor. But an ill conceived attempt at appropriating the sainted Tom Brady’s seed goes wrong. So Ted asks John (Mark Wahlberg) if he can help out. That ends in disaster at a fertility clinic. Next, the couple tries to adopt, but they cannot because Ted is not viewed as a person. The state thinks he is property. The rest of the movie they are fighting for Ted’s civil rights. Mila Kunis and Wahlberg are divorced, so they pick up Amanda Seyfried along the way as a well-meaning but inexperienced attorney. Every situation is an opportunity for a pot joke or a dick joke.. and most of the time they hit their mark. I laughed. A lot. This is very funny stuff, especially if you “get” MacFarlane’s sense of humor. There are two outrageously funny cameos, one from Liam Neeson and the other from Jay Leno. There are several running jokes about Arizona State University and Seyfried’s resemblance to a character from a hugely popular fantasy trilogy. Giovanni Ribisi is back as the creepy Donny. Patrick Warburton is also back as John’s gay co-worker Guy. He has a new boyfriend played by Michael Dorn. Fans of THE TICK and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION will really appreciate a bit that goes off at ComicCon in New York. Where this movie fails is when it tries to get all “messagy” or “thinky”. Just keep the fart jokes coming and light a bong. That’s when TED 2 is at it’s best. — Alan Yudman