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Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

‘Mission Impossible 5′ is Still a Fun Ride

posted by jtotey
Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" (Paramount)

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (Paramount)

In 1996 when Paramount created the first Mission Impossible film, fans of the classic TV series were none too pleased when the makers decidedly killed off the team and turned the film into a “Tom Cruise film.” Still, the film worked well enough to create two more Cruise-centric Impossible films. But Paramount went back to the series’ roots with a team effort for 2011’s Ghost Protocol, making that film the most popular in the franchise, at least it for many of its fans. And it was not just good storytelling, but also image-improving as Cruise, at the time, was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. This time around, Cruise is getting a lot more attention for doing his own stunts.

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For Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation, the team is intact again – sort of. Paula Patton, who was such a great addition to the cast in Ghost Protocol, is nowhere to be seen or heard from in this film, even though there are some references to the last film here. Jeremy Renner as William Brandt and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell get a lot less screen time for this story as well, but Simon Pegg as Benji is promoted to a much more important role and shows a more serious side than he did in the last film.

Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) and Benji (Simon Pegg)

Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) and Benji (Simon Pegg)

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For this story, the IMF has burned a few too many bridges and is forced to shut down “even as the most harrowing threat yet known to the free world lies in the shadows” as stated in the film’s press release. You see, up until now, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and company have not proven that The Syndicate, a group of renegade spies, really exists. Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin), the CIA Director wants to shut them down but Hunt has gone missing. Meanwhile, Hunt and company are both hiding from and exposing the creepy looking and sounding Solomon Lane and the audience is left wondering if Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is good spy or a bad spy.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner)

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Unlike the Ethan Hunt of the previous films, here we see a more imperfect one. In fact, the film highlights a scene where Hunt is cleary not at his best and yet still manages to get the job done. There is something satisfying about not seeing Tom Cruise at his best. And like MI4, there is more than one hero. Baldwin is a nice surprise as well. The actor has done so much comedy in the last few years that we forget that he can really act. Not that his part is all that serious, but at least it’s not as goofy as those Capital One commercials. (Although it might have been fun to hear him ask someone else what was in their wallet.)

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation isn’t as much fun as Brad Bird’s film nor is the ending as spectacular. And while the storyline is a little difficult to understand, you should be able to hang on through it all. MI5 does make for a fine sequel. It is also surprisingly “clean” with little language and the violence isn’t as graphic as it could be.

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Quiet ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ Film is Plenty Creepy

posted by jtotey
Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer), Ki Hong Lee (Gavin Lee/3401), Brett Davern (Hubbie Whitlow/7258), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell/819), Johnny Simmons (Jeff Jansen/1037), Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp/8612), and Chris Sheffield (Tom Thompson/2093)  (IFC Films)

Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer), Ki Hong Lee (Gavin Lee/3401), Brett Davern (Hubbie Whitlow/7258), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell/819), Johnny Simmons (Jeff Jansen/1037), Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp/8612), and Chris Sheffield (Tom Thompson/2093) (IFC Films)

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While you may have to hunt around a bit to find a theater playing the indie film, The Stanford Prison Experiment, it will be well worth it if you enjoy thrillers based on true stories. The film is based on a Stanford University psychology study performed in 1971 where 24 students voluntarily applied to act out as either prison guards or inmates. Each was paid $25 a day, (a nice chuck of change back then), but it did require the inmates to stay in their mock prison 24 hours a day. The “guards” were to work either the day shift of the night. The study was to last for two weeks but they only made it through six days.

Billy Crudup gets all the accolades for playing the role of professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo, which he does an excellent job, but the tensions rests in the hands of the character actors playing the students who either give a chilling performance as intimidating guards or persecuted inmates. The film is a surprising psychological thriller, probably more so because it is based on true events. The real Dr. Zimbardo himself was on hand during the making of the film to assure its accuracy.

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After a series of interviews, the 24 men were told that they were selected for their roles based on their talents or personalities or something, but in reality, they were chosen by a flip of a coin. Those chosen as inmates begin the experiment quite jovial, while those made into guards take their jobs too seriously. The inmates are stripped of their clothing, (given rag dresses to wear instead of pants and shirts) and given numbers instead of names. The guards are all dressed alike and wear sunglasses to appear unified. Rules are given in the form of a contract that each participant signs stating that no one is to touch the others in any way.

The tension in this film sneaks up on you. One moment, the guys are playing around with each other but in no time at all, the mock guards become power hungry and create unrealistic and unnecessary tasks for the inmates to carry out just for fun. As tempers flare and push comes to shove, some of the inmates call “foul” on the breaking of the contract’s rules, but they are mostly ignored. The situation takes a toll on the weakest participants who start to believe that they are no longer a part of an experiment, but actually living in a prison. What is most chilling is that all this strange behavior happens under the watchful eyes of Zimbardo and his helpers with the study. One of those helpers has spent time in real prison, so he helps keep things real.

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In the end, the film is a cautionary tale of how easy it is to abuse power and take advantage of others regardless of who you are. One of the guards made it very clear in his interview that he could never see himself acting as a guard and in the end, he becomes one of the worst. By the sixth day, some of the guards start to break down while others are having the time of their lives. And while no one actually dies from the event, the humiliation and break down of the inmates’ psyches is enough to make your stomach turn. The professor himself is guilty of letting things go too far and is stunned to find out what he has become in the process as well.

By watching the film, you would think that you would have a lot to talk about afterward, but in a way, it just makes you feel numb, but definitely worth while to see.

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‘Brickumentary': Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Legos

posted by jtotey
Jason Bateman is the voice of the "Narrator Guy." (Radius TWC)

Jason Bateman is the voice of the “Narrator Guy.” (Radius TWC)

“Although we’re both known for more ‘serious’ films,” says Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson in a statement for the documentary, A Lego Brickumentary, [this movie] might be the most difficult film we’ve ever made.” And for those who think that this is just a big infomercial for the toy brand, you would be wrong. “Once [Lego] were sold on the approach, they were pretty hands off,” says Davidson. “We got to make the film we wanted to make while being granted all of the access we needed.” Which is as it should be when making a documentary – having the freedom to spread out all of the good, the bad and the ugly on the table. Then again, trying to dig up any dirt on Lego is a lost cause.

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At first, the film appears to have been made for young children as a yellow-toned Lego mini-figure, (voiced by Jason Bateman), pops on the scene and explains the wonders of the building block toy. However, the film quickly shifts focus from children to adults. Dave and Stacy Sterling are just two of those adults who build for fun and their “play room” would make most kids jealous.

Dave and Stacy Sterling are just two of those adults who build for fun.

Dave and Stacy Sterling are just two of those adults who build for fun.

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This 92 minute film covers just about everything you can think of related to Lego from the company’s early days in Denmark to how the product is used as therapy for children and entertainment for adult Brickmaster clubs. Footage was shot all around the world including the Lego factories, large presentations in Time Square, the Legoland theme parks, conventions, behind the scenes of the animated Lego Movie, on the set of independent “brick film” producers, and more.

This film is rated G, so it is a perfect way to introduce your children documentaries and learn to appreciate the art form. And with these dog days of summer, it is sure to spark some interest in your children to dig out their bricks and start building instead of playing video games. But don’t be fooled, adult fans of the brick will be just as inspired.

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‘Pixels’ Should Be More Fun

posted by jtotey
Brenner (Adam Sandler) and Ludlow (Josh Gad) show what it takes to beat "Centipede."

Brenner (Adam Sandler) and Ludlow (Josh Gad) show what it takes to beat “Centipede.” (Sony)

Do you remember when you were a kid and you went to the arcade to waste away all your quarters on your favorite video games like PAC-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Centipede? Remember how you had to wait in line behind the better, more experienced players before you got your turn? Sure, it’s fun to watch them play their game … for a bit. After awhile, it gets a little old. That is pretty much the same feeling you get while watching Adam Sandler’s Pixels.

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It’s not that Pixels doesn’t have its funny moments, it does. And the special effects are pretty cool too. When the aliens start hitting things on earth and they disintegrate into flashing cubes, it is fun to watch and is full of mystery. But overall, the film feels unfinished and it appears that the makers are unsure who their target audience is supposed to be. Like the example up above about the local arcade, younger generations cannot relate to it. If you are of a certain age, you experienced when video games went from playing “Pong” to “Donkey Kong.” This film seems to appeal to that generation, while also extending an olive branch to younger viewers, but the result is uneven at best. Being that this film was directed by Chris Columbus (Night of the Museum, Harry Potter), I expected more.

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Pixels begins in the early ’80’s where Brenner and Cooper, (young Adam Sandler and Kevin James look-alikes) are kids attending the grand opening of a new video arcade. To Brenner’s surprise, he finds that he has a knack for following the patterns and conquering the games. Cooper encourages him to sign up for a video game competition. It is there that they meet Ludlow the “Wonder Kid” (a lonely brainiac who finds conspiracies everywhere and falls in love with a computer game character) and his ultimate opponent, Eddie, who challenges him to a game of Donkey Kong that doesn’t end well.

The Dream Team: Violet (Michelle Monaghan), Brenner (Adam Sandler), Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage). (Sony)

The Dream Team: Violet (Michelle Monaghan), Brenner (Adam Sandler), Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage). (Sony)

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Fast forward to 2015, Brenner (Adam Sandler) now works as an electronics installer for a Best Buy-like store. His best friend Cooper (Kevin James) is now the president of the United States and the two meet up regularly just like out times but with secret service. Suddenly, the world is being attacked by aliens in the form of video games. The aliens choose to speak their messages to the inhabitants of earth by using old ’80’s footage of various celebrities and basically challenge Earth to a duel. The aliens will send down real life versions of former video games and it’s going to take a few Davids to match this Goliath. Of course, it is up to Brenner to lead the battle against the electronic beasts with the help of a grown up Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage, in a role that doesn’t do him any favors). The rest of the film is a fantasy adventure that doesn’t live up to its potential.

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Yes, Pixels is built on an unbelievable premise, but even so, movies are made all the time with unbelievable premises, but they succeed because they feature a storyline and characters that we actually care about. Pixels comes with all the right characters including the hot but unapproachable leading lady who happens to be mom on the brink of divorce (Violet played by Michelle Monaghan), the young son whose parents are getting a divorce and could really use a male role model (Matty played by Matt Lintz), the nice guy who never reached his potential (Brenner), the bad guy who hasn’t changed over the years (Eddie), the misunderstood genius (Ludlow) and others, but doesn’t do a whole lot with them and what’s worse, we don’t really care. Some of the star’s talents, namely Dan Aykroyd and Jane Krakowski, are wasted in forgettable roles.

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The biggest flaw with Pixels is its story. We never really learn how objects are turned into pixels, if things can be turned back and if they are lethel. An explanation on why the earth is being attacked is given early on, but it is done in a way that the audience has to trust the movie-maker. The movie seems to break it’s own rules as it goes. The story is too simple for adults and probably too confusing for young ones. For the climax, it is as if the writers just gave up and threw every computer game character on the screen because they didn’t know what else to do.

Despite all the negative, the film does feature some feel-good moments including a few cameos (the best is Matt Frewer reprising his Max Headroom persona) and the addition of Denis Akiyama playing the role of Professor Iwatan, the creator of PAC-Man. The movie is fairly unoffensive and has a few good one-liner. The film will be good for a rental, but not much more. In short, the film should have been more creative and fun given its source material.

Previous Posts

'Mission Impossible 5' is Still a Fun Ride
In 1996 when Paramount created the first Mission Impossible ...

posted 6:21:32am Jul. 31, 2015 | read full post »

Quiet 'Stanford Prison Experiment' Film is Plenty Creepy
[caption id="attachment_1076" align="alignleft" width="400"] Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer), Ki Hong Lee (Gavin Lee/3401), Brett Davern (Hubbie Whitlow/7258), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell/819), Johnny Simmons (Jeff Jansen/1037), Ezra ...

posted 6:06:46am Jul. 31, 2015 | read full post »

'Brickumentary': Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Legos
“Although we're both known for more 'serious' films,” says Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson in a statement ...

posted 2:16:07am Jul. 31, 2015 | read full post »

'Pixels' Should Be More Fun
Do you remember when you were a kid and you went to the arcade to waste away ...

posted 8:14:52pm Jul. 23, 2015 | read full post »

Meet a More Charming Sherlock in 'Mr. Holmes'
In all of the incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, from the traditional to the ...

posted 2:19:43pm Jul. 17, 2015 | read full post »

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