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Mission Impossible: Rogue

Nation • Southpaw • Vacation

July 30, 2015

Mission Impossible:

Rogue Nation (***) PG-13

(Opening Thursday, 7/30, in Hickory)

It’s an interesting thing with these Mission Impossible films. What I mean by that is this is a franchise whose output seems to improve with each successive entry. After a decent but unmemorable first film directed by Brian DePalma and a really lackluster follow up directed by John Woo, the series seems to gain some real traction beginning with director J. J. Abrams’ third entry in the series. When Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Tomorrowland) took over the reigns with the fourth entry, it was pretty well agreed that the series had reached its creative apex.

So now we have the fifth entry in the series, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, which turns out to be, surprisingly, almost as entertaining and inventive as the previous entry. It cannot surpass MI: Ghost Protocol in terms of sheer spectacle but the latest entry has plenty of delights of its own. 

The film’s director and screenwriter, Christopher McQuarrie, seems to be the behind the scenes, go-to guy for series star Tom Cruise of late, having worked with Cruise on his last two projects.

Cruise did his own stunts in MI:RN live, this is not CGI

McQuarrie seems to be a nice fit for the Mission Impossible franchise and he brings a lot to the table in terms of keeping the entertainment bar set high for fans.

The film has a very distinctive James Bond-like feel. The story even seems as if it would be right at home with one of the Bond films in decades past. The film opens with an incredible set piece involving Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) attempting to retrieve a package from a plane in mid air. The film’s story then kicks into gear as CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) decides to shut down the IMF organization that Hunt is a part of, which immediately throws Hunt into rogue status. Hunt believes that he’s uncovered a shadowy operation called The Syndicate and has ample evidence that they may be responsible for a lot of turmoil and unrest in the world. With the aid of the tech savvy, Benji (Simon Pegg), Hunt puts himself on a mission to bring down this organization at whatever the cost, giving the film a convincing reason to trot out some really effective action set pieces. Along the way, he also connects with a comely British agent (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be who she claims to be. There is also ample screen time given to series regulars Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames.

What makes the film so appealing is its old school approach. Most of the action sequences rely on old fashioned stunt work with little to no CGI involvement. A terrific sequence set inside an opera house even harkens back to one of the best things found in The Godfather Part III. Add to this the film’s great sense of humor and you’ll find one of the better reasons to get out of the house and to get your butt to the movies.

Southpaw (** ½) R

I’m sure there are many filmgoers who are going to be inclined to see the new film Southpaw simply for the physical transformation of its star Jake Gyllenhaal. Truthfully, it is pretty impressive. Equally impressive is Gyllenhaal’s command of the screen in the film’s lead role. Less impressive, however, are the formula trappings that keep Southpaw from being the home run that it may have been had its script not been so riddled with familiar trappings and recycled clichés from every boxing film that you’ve seen in the last forty years.

If ever there was a case to be made for a film being saved by its performances, Southpaw would be exhibit number one. The entire cast hits their respective notes perfectly—I especially loved Claire Foley as Gylenhaal’s daughter Alice, who so effectively plucks at the heartstrings—and they single handedly save the film from caving in under the weight of its own formulaic storytelling. Well, not quite, but they manage to come pretty close.

I’m not sure how much of the film’s ‘surprises’ to reveal since they’ve all appeared in the film’s trailer. Still, I think it’s best to be vague here in case someone reading this review may have somehow gone unexposed to pre release clips of the film.

McAdams & Gyllenhaal in Southpaw

Gyllenhaal stars as Billy ‘the Great’ Hope, the currently reigning Junior Middleweight champ of the world. Billy’s got it all, the fancy house and cars, beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and cute and precocious daughter, Alice. Within five minutes of the film’s unspooling it’s very clear that Billy’s going to get the rug pulled out from under him at some point and have has his butt handed to him on a silver platter or else there won’t be a film. It happens sooner rather than later when Billy is challenged to a match by an upstart boxer (Miguel Gomez) with a big mouth and even bigger bravado. An unfortunate run in with Billy’s contender leads to tragedy for all involved and the eventual unraveling of the fabric of the reigning champ’s life.

The film then falls into that old and familiar story of the boxer who’s hit rock bottom and must find salvation and a way to get his life back on track. Here we get Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker standing in for the role that Burgess Meredith essayed in the first three Rocky films. Whitaker’s character, Tick, runs a gym and offers Billy the thankless job of cleaning toilets. The audience knows that it’s only a matter of time before Billy’s going to enlist Tick to help prep him for his match with his big mouthed contender and the film hits those plot points with untimely precision.

There are great moments in Southpaw and, as I said, some really great performances. The trouble is that great actors can only do so much with mediocre material. This essentially is the problem with Southpaw, an admirable effort that isn’t going to stay in anyone’s mind after it’s come and gone.

Vacation (** ½) R

It’s very telling that at the press screening for the latest attempt at a reboot of some sort—Vacation­—one of my prominent movie critic colleagues walked out at approximately the thirty minute mark. I wasn’t sure if it was due to an emergency or because of his distaste with the content found in the film. I found out several days later that it was due to the latter and I can’t say that it was unwarranted. This Vacation, an attempt to continue the shenanigans created by writer John Hughes and starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the loveable Griswolds, some thirty two years prior, is definitely a film for the current generation. You know them, they’re the generation who grew up watching these films on video and cable, but have been saturated with a nonstop barrage of gross out comedies in the prospective years. It’s an at times uncomfortable melding of gross out humor and nostalgia for the Vacation franchise that earned laughs from this critic but will offend others just as easily. Still, my rule of thumb has always been that if a film manages to make me laugh a decent number of times then I must be honest and give it some sort of credit. Vacation did make me laugh but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a great film, although the audience I was with were clearly having a great time.

The plot of the film can’t be scrutinized too closely.

Applegate & Helms in Vacation

It’s best to just suspend disbelief and go with it as the implausible elements pile up one on top of the other. Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), the son of Chevy Chase’s character in the original film series, is now an airline pilot who feels a certain disconnect with his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two boys. Over Memorial Day weekend (!) Rusty decides to take the wife and kids on a trek from Chicago to California to visit the infamous Walley World amusement park. Of course, misadventures ensue, from swimming in raw sewage to being menaced by a crazed trucker. If you’ve seen the other Vacation films you know the drill. Just turn the gross out level up to about an eight and you’ll know what you’re getting into.

The funniest section of the film, for me, at least, was Rusty and Debby’s detour to Texas to visit with Rusty’s sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann), and her hunky husband (Chris Hemsworth). The sight of Hemsworth parading around in his tight underwear, flirting with Debby, manages to bring some of the biggest laughs in the film. The opening and closing credits sequences are equally noteworthy.

Of course Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do turn up as the elder Griswolds who are now running a bed and breakfast. Their presence is welcome but they really just have what amounts to a glorified cameo and it’s a shame they didn’t have more screen time. Still, this Vacation isn’t all bad and if you’re willing to have an open mind you may just find yourself more than a little surprised at the number of times you find yourself laughing. I know I did.

Both Vacation and Southpaw are playing in Hickory at the Carmike, and all around the area.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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