Mission Impossible Retrospective Part 5

So far this summer I’ve covered retrospectives and reappraisals of three major franchises with roots in nostalgia. Each of them is embarking on their fifth cinematic journey. To say that Terminator: Genisys and Vacation (2015) were coolly received would be an understatement. On the other hand, the Mission: Impossible series is in no danger of becoming antiquated and by virtue of that, Rogue Nation is an inexorably exciting entry in the spycraft subgenre.

Continuing from Ghost Protocol, the IMF has been dissolved due to the serendipitous events where a nuclear warhead narrowly clipped a skyscraper before submerging into the bosom of the ocean. Not known for their continuity, Christopher McQuarrie handsomely tweaks the conventions especially the embedded message inside a vinyl record where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is entrapped and incapacitated within a booth.

At this point, Cruise should be top billed for his audacious stuntwork like Jackie Chan or Burt Reynolds. In this installment of his practical prowess, he sprints onto an Airbus Atlas airplane and he is bodily latched to a door while it achieves breakneck altitude. Of course, Cruise doesn’t cease there. He holds his breath for nearly six minutes in a tour-de-force underwater sequence where he must switch profile cards in a tank whilst conserving his oxygen.

While I do venerate Cruise and his unflappable enthusiasm, it borders on vainglorious ego inflation when Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) blusters about him having “no equal” to the British Prime Minister. That aside, the main chink in the armor is the villain. Outside of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian, Mission: Impossible isn’t rife with outstanding foes for Hunt. Sean Harris is certainly unsettling with his slightly strangulated voice but they can’t stifle the fact that he is a cog in a wider conspiracy.

Unfortunately, possibly due to obligations elsewhere, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames are the proverbial benchwarmers this time out with Renner mostly poker-faced in front of formal government inquiries. McQuarrie occasionally mutes the Joe Kraemer score to properly refocus on the agog claustrophobia ala the aforementioned Moroccan power station set piece.

Admittedly, newcomer Rebecca Ferguson is a gorgeous femme fatale but her pendulous loyalty is rickety. Why would anyone align themselves with her after her incessant betrayals? She is akin to Mack from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The callback to the glass booth with Solomon Lane (Harris) is clever but the conclusion is a bit listless.

Suffice it to say, Rogue Nation is another scrappy, albeit hyperextended blockbuster in Mission Impossible’s belt and I wouldn’t be opposed to the proposed sixth film. As long as the 53-year-old actor-producer Cruise is the purveyor of quality, Mission Impossible have no foreseeable end game.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Vacation Retrospective Part 5

VACATION (2015)

To scrutinize what went irredeemably wrong with the latest Vacation reboot is to pinpoint exactly where comedy went awry in the mid-90’s. The Farrelly Brothers came to providence and their movies slathered both gross-out, scatological humor with pathos in equal measure (and to wondrous effect in There’s Something About Mary, Kingpinand Dumb and Dumber). However, every success is the surrogate father of bastardized imitations.

2015’s Vacation is a mean-spirited, consistently unfunny copycat of that era where comedy reached farther down for the gag reflex than the rib tickle. How else to explain the rampant pedophilia jokes (Norman Reedus materializes in a cameo as a scruffy sexual predator who lures children into his truck with a teddy bear) and gay panic scenarios about James (Skyler Gisondo), Rusty’s (a mugging Ed Helms) introspective son.

To their credit, Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley don’t waste any time before delving right into comically bankrupt material with an opening montage of random vacation photos over a Holiday Road redux. Rusty’s pubescent son Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a putrid caricature whose sole purpose is the shock value of a youngster spouting expletives and being an Omen doppelganger to his older, emasculated sibling. You’ll want to whisk him off the screen and you’ll quickly denounce Rusty and Debbie (Christina Applegate) as abhorrent parents for raising and placating such a prick.

Each joke is accompanied by a painfully obvious execution. For example, Rusty brags about the sensor system in his Prancer but it quickly malfunctions when he wedges his arm in the door. Rinse and repeat the Murphy’s Law ad nauseum. We could realistically empathize with the Griswolds when they accidentally took a detour in the 1983 classic or when they skulked for miles in search of the seasonal tree in Christmas Vacation. Nothing is remotely corporeal or grounded when they frolic in raw sewage or nearly descend down a waterfall.

A stab at meta references (ala the infinitely superior 21 and 22 Jump Street) to James not “hearing about the original vacation” backfire because the phraseology doesn’t flow in the context. As Stone Crandell, the Adonis husband of Audrey (Leslie Mann), a stranded Chris Hemsworth is equipped with a gargantuan phallic prop and faucet analogies which are pretty haggard traits for jocular possibilities.

For mercy’s sake, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles in a rather dejected capacity. Chase augments his Pierce wackiness from Community which is a complete disgrace to the nurturing Clark Griswold we all knew. Glimpsing Chevy fumble with a guitar is as unappealing a sight of forsaken instincts as Jerry Lewis in Hardly Working.

Perhaps, an Audrey-centric sequel might’ve been more fecund terrain since female-driven comedies like Spy and Trainwreck have done blockbuster business and garnered critical acclaim. Alas, we’re being suffocated by this unholy spawn. The ratio hasn’t swung in a continuation of the franchise’s favor. Time to repossess the Truckster and condemn Walley World as a contaminated wasteland.

Rating: .5 out of 5

Good Sports July 27th – Baseball Trade Deadline, NHL Offseason, World Cup Victory

Hey all, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can contribute some writing for the blog – Cory has been doing a ton with all his retrospectives, and I feel like I haven’t been pulling my weight.

Well I’m considering a way to have a regular column on the blog – and I already have one prepared – Good Sports! Instead of having posts whenever a significant event approaches, I want to try the column as a weekly post, highlighting those events of the week I deem worthy – could be playoffs that week, thoughts on significant NFL games, or trade rumors. We’ll see how thus goes the next few weeks and if it seems like I’ve got a good handle on it, hopefully it’ll stick.

1) Mid-season baseball

twinsplayer

The biggest part of this week’s Good Sports is for a mid season report on baseball – really the impetus for ramping up this column. Well, looking at my predictions from the beginning of the year, it isn’t top pretty. As with most sports expectants, I had high hopes for a number of teams and along the way we discovered some surprises. The biggest of these was the Minnesota Twins, in my opinion. I’d left them for dead, as lost as their neighbors in the NL, the Brewers. Under rookie skipper Paul Molitor, however, the team has expedited their rebuild and forced their way to the front of the AL Central division. While there was always a chance of the Royals repeating as a quality team and fighting for the division lead, I expected it would be the perennial champion Tigers as their opponent, not the rejuvenated Twins. Speaking of which, it looks as though the streak of four straight seasons as AL champs will be broken this season, likely by Kansas City or even Minnesota if they go on a hot tear at some point in the second half.

Continue reading Good Sports July 27th – Baseball Trade Deadline, NHL Offseason, World Cup Victory

True Detective Season 2 Episode 6 Review

I try to avoid speculative rumors about where this season is headed but if the theological conversations about Ray trapped in limbo are true, I’ll be sorely disappointed. This might not be the best season of any crime drama but it has been gaining traction with each new episode. For instance, the staredown between Ray and Frank in the kitchen with their guns adjacent from each other is accusational and menacing in a Tarantino way. Farrell dropped his voice a few octaves and he was in full Christian Bale smoky-vocals mode. It still worked beautifully in a long-fuse powderkeg moment.

Vaughn countervails Farrell’s indignation with the that Ray was just transmogrifying into his intrinsic, corrupt nature (“You think you were Superman before?”). Though it would be facile to stigmatize Frank as a superficial, manipulative villain, Pizzolatto scuttles this platitude for a multi-dimensional guise of ambivalence. I earnestly believe that Frank wasn’t cognizant that he was “setting [Ray] up” and the scene ends in rare appeasement. Ellroy Leonard’s fingerprints are incontrovertible in the bedeviling sign-off from Ray (“I’m going to see about killing a man”).

Now Ray is a sardonic vigilante with a Dirty Harry ulterior motive. It’s a bit nonplusing that Ray’s mercenarial activities have supplanted the blue-diamond investigation for the viewers’ focus. While I enjoyed checking in on Paul and Ani, their storyline is of waning interest next to Ray. Once again, the semiotics of parenthood reemerged during a Q&A between Paul and an informant where he discusses a reconnaissance mission’s orphaned children and Frank’s heartfelt interaction about resilience with his deceased colleague’s son.

I’m more impressed with Rachel McAdam’s feral, steadily volatile performance with each subsequent appearance. Fiddling with knives while her sister is exhorting her not to go undercover in a sex-worker party of Caligula-scale debauchery, McAdams never staggers and seems fully prepared for the dangers ahead. I love the murky perspective of Ani on Molly, it was a surreal Brian DePalma journey into a socialite den of iniquity ala a less abstruse, less pretentious, but equally disturbing Eyes Wide Shut.

This was a less plot-driven episode and the trio of McAdams, Vaughn and Farrell truly shined incandescent in their respective roles. Kitsch is still perpetually stuck in neutral and this might be his most utilitarian episode. He only infiltrates the party with his black-ops skills. Meanwhile, just when Ray had our approbation for his rehabilitation, he collapsed back into a bender of cocaine, alcohol and self-loathing.

Ironically, his non-contest of custody was the most lucid decision Ray ever made.In relinquishing his thwarted efforts at being a father, Ray is Pizzolatto’s figurehead for his condemning statement that Los Angeles (Vinci in particular) is an Island of Misfit Toys whose owners (parents) have abandoned them and they’ve had to harshly become autodidactic and self-reliant. With contractual documentation about the land deal and the thread about Ani’s missing person solved, it might be convenient but we are speeding towards the conclusion of this highly polarizing season.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Vacation Retrospective Part 4

VEGAS  VACATION-

Chevy Chase serenading The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” is a cue to the insipidness ahead for us in Vegas Vacation, the toothless, regurgitated swan song for Chase’s reign over the Vacation label. Stephen Kessler is an inept  hack director who resorts to a record scratch and zany music for guffaws. The one quasi-funny in-joke is Clark’s line that he “doesn’t even recognize [the kids] anymore” because the actors for Audrey and Rusty have been recast with each successive movie.

Like Jerry Lewis who should’ve outgrown his juvenile pratfalls, Chase is obviously anaesthetized as to when he should retire from a young man’s sports like being suspended bodily over the Hoover Dam. Chase is too listless to even lob jeers at Cousin Eddie. At this point, he is a doddering old man without copacetic comic timing.

Wayne Newton was a surprisingly Machiavellian villain in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane but this is a charmless send-up of his glitzy stage persona. Every rimshot is a joyless retread from Eddie’s disability capitalization to Clark yelling for Rusty (Ethan Embry) when he is plainly in sight to Cousin Catherine’s (Miriam Flynn) silent rage over “not having a minute free” and multiple pregnancies.

The Vacation movies don’t necessarily require obscenities for their levity but it’s a snapshot of the zeitgeist that they’ve shackled themselves from the R-rated original to this PG-rated appendage. Squeaky-voiced Wallace Shawn and loutish Randy Quaid can usually disentomb chuckles wherever they are but they are nuisances in this strident outing.

It’s such a tawdry, last-ditch effort to conjure the cockles of the heart when Lindsay Buckingham’s iconic song begins and Clark is revisited by the Girl in the Red Ferrari (Brinkley again). The payoff to the callback is that Brinkley is now a coquettish mom which is a pretty discouraging illustration of the passage of time and the necessity of sowing one’s oats.

After this debacle, Vacation would lie dormant like a Sleeping Giant before New Line bought the rights and began tinkering with the misbegotten notion of a remake. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and a sequel-reboot is slated for release July 29th with Rusty as the newfangled patriarch. Let’s hope it continues the odd number trend of solid comedies.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Vacation Retrospective Part 3

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION-

If the dreary European Vacation proved anything, it’s that the Griswolds are at optimal dysfunction when they are stateside which explains why Christmas Vacation is a mirthful, gregarious return-to-form for the franchise. While the ensemble of grandparents is an underwritten afterthought, Chase doesn’t buckle under the herniated pressure and this is only secondary to the first film for quality’s sake.

Of the paramount improvements is the reprise of Cousin Eddie and honestly, Randy Quaid plunders a majority of the yuk-yuks with his sweetly panhandling act. It’s difficult not to snicker when Eddie misconstrues Clark’s “heart bigger than his brain” insult as a compliment or when Eddie is disseminating his septic tank into the gutter because the “shitter was full”.

Chase exhibits a naturalistic chemistry with the ravishing D’Angelo but his security blanket are side-splitting scenes of quietly seething resentment with Quaid (“Anything I can do for ya?…Drive you out to the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”). John Hughes bores straight to the irritants of the season (ex. The Christmas lights assembly, gift-wrapping, the tree selection, etc.).

Personally, this might be the funniest performance by Chevy in the whole series. His innuendo-laden Freudian slips with a department store employee and his rooftop physical comedy are all pitched perfectly. His finest moment is Clark’s breathlessly verbose tirade against his cold-blooded boss (Brian Doyle Murray) after he supposedly receives his bonus check. Chase seizes the George Carlin-esque monologue and recites it in an outburst that is both senseless and achingly human.

Next door to the Griswolds is the zenithal target for Clark’s Murphy Law: two postmodern yuppies without a family to gather around the fireplace (the enjoyably stiff, Type-A foils Julia Louis Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest). The height of madcap lunacy is the squirrel chase and Jeremiah Chechik displays a knack for Mel Brooks delirium with Angelo Badalamenti’s score as an impish companion to the wildly overamped proceedings.

Today, this is deservedly lauded as a perennial holiday classic and it is repeated on television stations. For all intensive purposes, Christmas Vacation overshadows the 1983 paradigm in most viewers’ memories. If this had concluded in a trilogy, it would’ve been a hermetic franchise with terrific bookends. Purposelessly the Griswolds would sojourn to Las Vegas in their next disenchanting add-on.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Vacation Retrospective Part 2

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION-

Odd that the theme song for these films is “Holiday Road” and so far in the series, they haven’t acknowledged any holidays except for the yuletide season. Much to my chagrin, the Pig in a Poke jingle is catchy. However, the first signpost of errantly unsavory jollity in the inferior, redundantly lewd European Vacation is when the host John Astin passionately kisses Audrey (the nasally Dana Hill) in a distinctly predatory, creepy way.

As before, Chevy is the lifeblood of the franchise with his oblivious Father Knows Best routine. Amy Heckerling is clearly a novice at farce insomuch as she sprains herself early on with a botched Looney Tunes visual gag where Clark’s face is nearly cauterized by a BBQ flame. The grill flames are too low and the cartoonish soot on Clark is not broad enough. She simply cannot grasp slapstick for a supposedly hip female director.

The daydream of Ellen and Clark cavorting with the Royal monarchy is bizarre because it hardly broaches a punchline. Same goes for Rusty’s (the unsightly Jason Lively) nightclub fantasy. Audrey’s nightmare of body dysmorphia is a declawed remix on the Mr. Creosote skit. To top it off, the Sound of Music parody would be more apropos for a lame Family Guy episode.

The notion of the reverse passenger-driver seating and careening on the wrong side of the road is a more affable observation than outright hysterical. More than anything, the Griswolds are no longer the quintessential family; they’re the ugly-American archetypes. Clark’s tour guide factoids about the Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace are typically oafish.

This subsequently is the only theatrical sequel which doesn’t contain Randy Quaid’s buoyantly bawdy trailer-trash Cousin Eddie and it definitely suffers for it. In his place is the recurring character of Eric Idle’s The Bike Rider who is the laughingstock of the Griswolds’ recklessly dunderheaded streak (the geyser of blood squirting from his wrist (“Just a flesh wound”) is blissfully funny gallows humor on the wavelength of Monty Python).

How could John Hughes the originator of the series be so dreadfully wrongheaded on this international trip? The potshots at transatlantic culture are sordidly mean-spirited (the snobbish French waiter), it doesn’t possess warm-hearted pathos beneath its breastplate and there is no destination point for the Griswolds, just a caterpillar of sloppy episodes. Already in their sophomore slump, this could’ve been the cessation of the Griswolds’  travelogue monkeyshines.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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