MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015) Paramount Pictures

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Yes.. yes.. yes.. The Missions are back on!! To say the continuing saga of Ethan Hunt carries on with a bang – would be putting it lightly.

A few things to note right off in this latest boot-up of the Mission Impossible franchise – 1. We are going rogue.. 2. Tom Cruise at 53 is the new 33 – I’m telling you – watching him doing these stunts is truly eye popping and 3. Rebecca Ferguson is a fantastic femme fatale bad ass – Hands down – no questions asked – she knocks it out of the park here.

I’m not going to go into full detail here as with all action films, as not only do you need to see it for yourself, but they don’t go for a big emotional point to the storyline..they go for the action and action you shall receive. In abundance.
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Rogue Nation opens on “Ethan Hunt” (Tom Cruise) hanging off the side of a plane, which has been notably played up as the holy-shite-Tom-Cruise-actually-did-that-himself stunt moment. And play up they should as once you hear the familiar theme music – whooosh…you fall right in step with the action.
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This time round the IMF team is on the track of ‘The Syndicate’ an evil group of agents whom are all listed as supposedly dead or MIA along with the fact that no one seems to believe they exist, leads us to understand quickly enough who the bad guys are and who the good guys are..or in the case of one character..it might beg the question..do we?

Simon Pegg back again as “Benji Dunn” adds the expected comic relief at the right intervals and is a fun watch here. Alec Baldwin as CIA naysayer “Alan Hunley” who believes The Syndicate might just be a figment of Ethan’s imagination, and who begs the question if the IMF is really relevant any longer as he feels they’ve more or less just been ‘lucky’ so far. Jeremy Renner “William Brandt” & Ving Rhames “Luther Sitckell” are both back and here to stay. Rebecca Ferguson as “Ilsa Faust” is truly the one who takes it all here. She is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, the right blend of strong and sexy – not knowing if she is friend or foe makes her all the more mysterious and carries in the movie well. My motto of ‘you’re only as good as your villain’ also comes across well with a notably beardless Sean Harris as baddie “Solomon Lane”.
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While Rogue Nation is most definitely an adrenaline ride fueled by high octane action sequences, it’s also wittier than past M.I. films with Cruise facial reactions to some of what’s going on let’s you in on the secret that yes..he knows how impractical it all seems.. but yet makes you feel as it’s not. There are great moments of comic relief mixed with suspense and a wonderful cast that has great chemistry with one another.

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Cruise might have been underappreciated in Edge of Tomorrow but it’s clearer than ever that Ethan Hunt is one of Cruise’s better signature roles and to that extent, just might be back. And to answer Baldwin’s character’s meta-question: Can Mission Impossible stay relevant in this new era of bigger and better-let’s outdo the next guy film? The answer is decidedly maybe. Ok..Definitely maybe. 😉

Grade: B-
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Screening: Monday, July 27, 2015 courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In wide release: Friday, July 31, 2015

REVIEW: “SAMBA” (2015) Q & A w/ Omar Sy – Broad Green Pictures

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As “Samba” – a Senegalese immigrant who has been illegally living in France for 10 years, is the wonderful French actor Omar Sy. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Sy had gotten his start as part of the French comedy duo of Omar & Fred and went on to films with his most prominent being “The Untouchables” for which he won the César Award – touted as the French Oscar – for Best Actor in 2011. In “Samba” he is on form here though possibly a bit more subdued and subtle, a likable guy who just wants to stay in the country (France) as he’s been employed and living with his “L’oncle (Uncle) Lamouna” (Youngar Fall) all that time.
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He strikes up a friendship with “Alice” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a shy charity worker who is more or less volunteering at the immigration center and has some problems of her own which are quite hilariously explained during the film. She tries to help Samba with all his legal paperwork but he is still forced to adopt different names and work in different jobs under the radar of the authorities.
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This film is by all means not done as a documentary or political statement. The picture it paints of the French immigration system isn’t too bleak or depressing with some of the other co-workers there offering some of the best comedic outtakes of the film. The characters all have an agreeable warmth to them and as we watch the story patiently play out, you can’t help but feel more charmed by their dilemmas rather than disturbed. Gainsbourg is lovely as the depressed executive who slowly opens up to Samba’s easygoing nature, while Sy invests the character with just the right amount of persuasive nonchalance. Both performers are amusingly supported by Izia Higelin as “Manu” Alice’s colleague and Tahar Rahim as “Wilson aka Walid” Samba’s co-worker and our favourite Arab/Brazilian – who steals a high-rise window-washing, Coca-Cola strip off scene like no other!!!
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With Sy being reunited here with the team of Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano from the 2011’s highly acclaimed The Untouchables who make an unappealing subject engaging and worthwhile that is what makes this completely worth the price of a ticket. One of the better films I’ve seen so far in 2015. Go out and support this film!!

Post Q & A with Omar Sy:
Sy charmingly engaged the audience entertaining us in both French and English – which he wants to learn better and gave far more than most do in these. Sy noted that even though he’s now been in a few big “Hollywood” films such as Jurassic World & X-Men Days of Future Past, he was attracted to the screenplay of this film and loved the way the story was told it being an interesting topic at this time not only in France but everywhere. With his family being from Senegal-though born in Paris himself-he met with a lot of immigrants in France who helped him shape his character here.
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Also something new to me at least is that Omar came from comedy background – talking about the excitement of dramatic challenges in addition to comedy.
Re: the challenges of learning English and working here vs France, he is still learning – he advises work hard and never get discouraged. On what he would like people to take away from seeing this film?
“It’s always difficult to say what people have to think, what people have to learn or what people have to see. The goal for us is to take a different look on these people. And if someone’s view is different after the movie, it’s a success.”

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Grade: B
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Screening Wednesday, July 22, 2015 courtesy of LAFTV & Broad Green Pictures. Q & A: Friday, July 24, 2015 at Landmark Theaters, Westside
In limited release in theaters now.

REVIEW: “TRAINWRECK” (2015) Universal Pictures

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And your comedy-date movie for the summer is…(drum roll please) “Trainwreck”!!

Written by and starring this year’s comedic ‘it-girl’ Amy Schumer as “Amy” it chronicles the misadventures of its leading character as she runs through boyfriends, numerous sexual encounters acting all the while as a chronically commitment-challenged career woman, is some serious comedic gold. When her boss “Dianna” (an unrecognizable and hilarious Tilda Swinton) assigns her a story to feature a young sports surgeon “Aaron” (Bill Hader) something happens to Amy she didn’t know was possible…she falls in love.
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The film romantic-comedy side solely rests on the perfectly imperfect character of Amy who I think we can all relate to – as either being it at some point in our own lives or in someone we know. I mean let’s be truthful here … who of us ladies hasn’t walked into a room inappropriately dressed or sat at a baby shower giving a big eyeroll at the “my life is perfect” banalities and so wanting to shut it down. Amy is that girl, the friend we love to have around because she isn’t afraid to do or say what we wish we had the guts to do or say…though she pretty much goes overboard every time and that goes double here and yes, that’s why we love her.
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Schumer is a force here, knocking every gag out of the park but also displaying some quite impressive dramatic skills that one doesn’t expect from a stand-up comedian. Bill Hader is finally given and masters the lead role he deserves perfectly. He is lovable, relatable in every way and is the perfect match for Amy on the big screen. Their chemistry here is undeniable.
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The supporting cast of the film is absolutely solid. Brie Larson is wonderful as “Kim” – Amy’s sister, Colin Quinn is “Gordon” Amy & Kim’s dad, Mike Birbiglia is “Tom” Kim’s husband, and the little scene-stealer child Evan Brinkman as “Allister” rounds off the family. Vanessa Bayer’s “Nikki” is Amy’s co-worker and just as on SNL, she holds her own here.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is are the 2 big name athletes of the film in LeBron James trainwreck 2playing himself and John Cena as “Steven” one of Amy’s flings that you just can’t help but love while grabbing a scene your eyes won’t soon forget. And while I don’t know or follow basketball much (just like Amy in the film I might add) I do know who LeBron is and as it turns out the basketball superstar’s comedic timing is might just be as impressive as his game. The plethora of SNL cast, athlete and musician cameos were a welcome bonus to the movie. trainwreck 4

By now we know that with a Judd Apatow films you’ll get a nice blend of raunchy humor and heart. It is a tried and true formula – and it works again here but with something different and that’s Amy Schumer. Sure there might be a few uneven moments..but the duo here help create one of the funniest romantic comedies I have seen in a long time with one of the most fun finale scenes I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all year long. Most of all – I think we can all say a big HELLO to Amy Schumer – “Moviestar” when this hits theaters..
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This film is fantastically fun, full of laughs, new one-liners for you to memorize and a sweet story to prove that yes, my friends, there is someone for everyone in this world.

Grade: B
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Screening at Arclight Hollywood – Thursday, July 9, 2015 courtesy of Universal Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, July 17, 2015

REVIEW: “MINIONS” (2015) Universal Pictures

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Everyone!! Meet Kevin, Stuart and Bob, our adorable minions who decide to leave the home they have set up as all the minions are getting depressed (in some of the movies funniest ‘depressing’ scenes) to go and find an evil master to serve. This takes them on journeys far and wide until they eventually find a master who they think is evil enough in “Scarlett Overkill” (v/o Sandra Bullock) who along with her husband “Herb Overkill” (v/o Jon Hamm) is shall we say, just a bit obsessed on obtaining the royal crown and being Queen of England. Needless to say, without even trying the minions manage to annoy and disappoint her just by the sheer dumb luck of what is happening to them.
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Before we even meet Ms. Overkill though, the film takes us on an adventure to see how the minions have spent their years trying to find an evil master to serve. This creates some of the best and most amusing moments of the film showing what the minions have been doing during some historic time periods.
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While it lagged some in the middle of the film, it picked itself back up with the parts in England and inclusion of Queen Elizabeth being fun along with the British stereotypes, made for some humourous moments. I think the best thing to say about this film is that I surrounded by loads of kids and shockingly enough they were quiet in the best way possible throughout the film – by that I mean they all seemed to love it and be very entertained by it.. laughing at different parts show that it was well catered to them though I’m not sure how parents are explaining the prequel part to them, it might not be all that necessary.
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For me, the soundtrack used in the film is a must mention with some absolutely fantastic songs from start to finish. Though I’m guessing only the adults will catch on to some of the references made such as running into The Beatles in the now famous Abbey Road album cover.

All in all, this movie will be a summer-time box office smash and a must see for anyone with young children.

Rating: C+
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Screening at Mann’s Chinese Hollywood – Monday, July 6,2015 courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Nationwide release: Friday, July 10, 2015

Added bonus shot: ME with the Minions!!! 😀
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REVIEW: “SELF/LESS” (2015) FOCUS FEATURES

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“SELF/LESS” is billed as psychological science fiction thriller with Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley as “Damian” as an extremely wealthy man dying from cancer who finds out about a radical underground medical procedure called “shedding” that can transfer his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man in Ryan Reynolds the younger version of Damian. As with anyone given back a younger self, Younger Damien then proceeds to take full advantage of that situation but with all the knowledge of his older self, to mix it up New Orleans party style. As long as he takes his ‘special’ pills that is. self less 1

But as you figure out within the first 15 minutes of the film, all is not as it seems as Reynolds “Younger Damian” starts experiencing flashes of a woman “Madeline” (Natalie Martinez) and a child “Anna” (Jayne-Lynn Kinchen), which leads to him going on an action-fueled rampage to figure out the mystery of who they are and what they lead to – aka the body’s origin – and the underground organization lead by a “Professor Albright” (Matthew Goode) that will kill anyone who tries to find out its secrets.
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This film’s only surprise for me was that I thought I was going into a sci-fi type film (the premise seemed quite interesting from the trailers) – was actually a sluggish, very predictable, ‘point/less’ (pun intended) action film. And while I might question why we are led to believe that Ben Kingsley is one of the main attractions of the film, as he’s only there for a very short period in the first act, I will say I did absolutely love the use of Louisiana flare and colour that they squeeze in at every possible moment from jazz bands to Mardi Gras and yes, even chicory coffee!
Beyond that we are left with Michelle Dockery “Claire” (trying her hardest to give a good American accent) as older Damian’s daughter with whom he feels that if given another chance by doing this shedding experiment, he can repair his relationship with her. Add in a supporting cast of older Damien’s best friend “Martin” (Victor Garber) & his wife “Judy” (Melora Hardin) with a few secrets of their own that the younger version will discover and a interchangeable henchmen “Anton 1” (Derek Luke) and “Anton 2” (Brendan McCarthy) and you’ve wrapped up your film in a handshake.

Ben Kingsley as Damian in ``Self/less.''

Ben Kingsley as Damian in “Self/less.”

While I was told there has been comparisons with a 1966 John Frankenheimer film called “Seconds” which I’ve not seen, I can only say that SELF/LESS might have tried hard to be this but took a sharp left turn in the wrong direction as it’s more interested in sending Damian on the run with an upset wife and child in tow as he tries to keep them in the dark over what’s really happening..and you can imagine how realistic that all is. (clue: it’s not)
Essentially the story is your basic standard fugitive plotline with any inter-personal connections aspect of it being severely underwritten.

Rating: D
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Screening: Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 at The Grove-Pacific Theatres courtesy of Focus Features & LAFTV
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, July 10th, 2015

REVIEW: “MAGIC MIKE XXL” (2015) Warner Bros.

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Well it’s been three years since “Magic Mike” (Channing Tatum) retired from his life as a male stripper, now running his own struggling custom furniture business and he decides to reunite with what’s left of his old team with plans of bowing out once and for all after a final performance at a big 4th of July weekend stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, FL.

What happens along the way is what truly makes this a much better film than the first one with one or two exceptions – one of them being no Matthew McConaughey as emcee extraordinaire “Dallas” this time round and as expected Jada Pinkett Smith as “Rome” cannot even come close to filling his shoes. (If you watch Gotham at all, it’s almost the exact same character portrayal here). Two, no Alex Pettyfer and it’s perfectly fine as you don’t miss him in the slightest.
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Magic Mike XXL is in essence, a comedic guys road-trip movie with a lot of dancing, a couple hits of ecstasy & lucky for us, there is at least one stripping scene per stop ensuring us all a good time on the road with these boys. At points its hard to care that they throw caution to the wind and just pause the plot entirely when so much effort was put into making each stop outrageous, hilarious and insanely sexy. If your only reason for coming to watch just to see hot, sculpted men, you will not be disappointed either.
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The film wastes no time reuniting what’s left of Mike’s old male stripper team. Matt Bomer plays “Ken” – the charming pretty boy of the team – who shows off some of his strong Broadway vocal ability here in a version of “Heaven” that slays everyone. Kevin Nash is back as “Tarzan” the big guy who can’t dance but loves to paint. Adam Rodriguez is “Tito” who along with Gabriel Iglesias’s “Tobias” is unsure of his future prospects. The stand out of these guys might just be Joe Manganiello as “Big Dick Richie” who on top of being built like a god, is the most unexpectedly funny member of the team with a convenience store challenge to die laughing for and sure to be new tag-line of the year “How much for the cheetos & water” scene you can’t help but love. Leading the supporting cast is Amber Heard as “Zoe” who at first simply appears to be Mike’s love interest though in the end she is revealed to be much more than that in being a central part of the finale in an very unexpected way. Add in Stephan ‘Twitch’ Boss as “Malik” doing some absolutely amazing dancing routines and Donald Glover “Andre” singing like no other and you just can’t help but smile and enjoy yourself.
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Once the road trip gets going, the film spends most of its time just observing the guys hanging out as they travel from place to place running into obstacles along the way, but always finding time to dance and/or take their clothes off. The guys are all charming and with a somewhat low-stakes plot, XXL’s laid back ideals are perfect for a movie that is really contingent on the audiences likability of the cast and that we are able to engage with their characters. The film provides us endless opportunities to do just that as like them we do and not just as sexually alluring beefcake.
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In the end, this movie is just fun. That is just about it. Well…except I would be totally remiss to not mention one little last tidbit in calling out the spectacular cameo strip off that Michael Strahan gives as “Augustus” – it’s almost beyond words it’s so fun!!
There is no dramatics here or Oscar-worthy performances. But what there is are a lot of smiles, oodles of good fun & laughter, some really great singing and fantastic choreographed dancing. To sum it up there will definitely be a “Tsunami of dollars” made opening weekend from this one!!

Grade: C+
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Screening Monday, June 27th at The Grove/Pacific Theatres courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Nationwide release – Wednesday, July 1st, 2015