Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Genre: Action

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Zhang Jingchu, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Alec Baldwin

Running Length: 131 minutes

Synopsis: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the rest of the IMF team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Review: With the box office success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, it was inevitable that there would be a fifth movie in the M:I series, but it is still somewhat surprising to see Tom Cruise tackle the role with such energy and conviction after a 19-year run. Now 53 years of age, Cruise seems to have taken after the Jackie Chan model of filmmaking, eschewing green screen and digital trickery with actual balls-to-the-wall stuntwork apparently performed mostly by himself. Regardless of what has gone on in his personal life (and the recent HBO documentary on Scientology will do no favours for his already tarnished image), Cruise continues to impress in his performance as Ethan Hunt, and is largely the reason why Rogue Nation works, even though the film does not supplant Ghost Protocol as the best film thus far in the franchise. 

The earlier M:I films had valued style over substance, and the plot threads were exceedingly confusing to follow for audiences. This had improved dramatically in Ghost Protocol, and in Rogue Nation the trend continues, with the relatively straightforward plot pretty much checking off everything a stock spy thriller should contain – a menacing supervillain, a femme fatale with dubious loyalties, multiple locations across the globe, thrilling car chases and visceral action sequences. While James Bond still holds the crown for the spy movie genre (particularly the current Daniel Craig era films), Ethan Hunt and the IMF is a close second. 

There is no doubt that Mission: Impossible is a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, and he still manages to hold the fort here with impressive ease. Apart from his physicality, Cruise remains a charismatic actor, and plays his roguish charms here to the hilt. Rebecca Ferguson is a capable foil as the aptly-named Ilsa Faust, and kudos to McQuarrie for creating a strong female character that very rarely reverts to damsel-in-distress mode, who surprisingly is not positioned as a “Bond Girl” love interest for Hunt. Simon Pegg’s role was largely played for laughs in Ghost Protocol, but in Rogue Nation he has become a key character, though most of the comedic work in the film still falls squarely on Pegg’s shoulders. The other returning characters – Alec Baldwin, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames – are unfortunately sidelined and barely given enough to do to justify their presence here. Although there seems to be strong Chinese financial backing for the film, the only Chinese actress present, Zhang Jingchu, has such a minimal blink-and-miss-it role that her inclusion seems to be purely an afterthought.  

Disappointingly, despite screening in IMAX theatres, none of the footage in Rogue Nation seems to have been shot on IMAX cameras (compared to the near half-hour of IMAX footage found in Ghost Protocol). The film still dazzles on the largest screen format, but does not boast the immersiveness that Ghost Protocol had. Given that the action set-pieces in Rogue Nation are as impressive as Ghost Protocol, this truly feels like a wasted opportunity. However, Rogue Nation remains a strong entry in the M:I franchise, and it would not be surprising that a sixth installment is greenlit based on the box office performance of this one. 

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)



Genre: Comedy

Directors: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, E’Myri Crutchfield, Alkoya Brunson, Hannah Davis

Running Length: 98 minutes

Synopsis: The next generation of Griswolds is at it again – and on the road for another ill-fated adventure. Following in his father’s footsteps and hoping for some much-needed family
bonding, a grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) surprises his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons with a cross-country trip back to America’s “favourite family fun park”, Walley World.

Review: It has been 32 years since the first Vacation movie opened, and while it is surprising (in this age of remakes and reboots) that a sequel to the franchise hasn’t come along in quite some time (the last official installment being National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2 back in 2003), this new Vacation actually manages to do very well for itself. Of course, this is also because the expectations for such a movie is quite simple – it just needs to be entertaining and funny, and in these aspects the movie more than delivers.

Shifting focus from Clark Griswold to his son Rusty, now played by Ed Helms, the premise remains largely the same – Rusty is on a quest to bring his family on a road trip to Walley World, and hilarity ensues. Sure, it’s a wildly inconsistent film that perhaps gave away a little too much in its trailers, but when it hits a comedic sweet spot, Vacation can be a truly hilarious experience. Like most comedies of our era, this new episode of Vacation does delve a bit deeper into gross-out and scatological humour that its predecessors, but at least they are well-executed gags (Christina Applegate’s unfortunate visit to her alma mater is a particularly noteworthy one).

It’s to Goldstein and Daley’s credit that they have managed to find some new material for such a well-treaded subgenre – having the younger sibling be the bully is an inspired choice, for example, and breathes new life into the family dynamics of the Griswolds. There are also a good number of cameo appearances, and almost all these don’t disappoint either. Without going into spoilers, the Michael Day sequence as a white water rafting guide is both filmed innovatively and manages to bring on the belly laughs. Of course, it would be a crime not to mention Chris Hemsworth’s cameo as the extremely well-endowed Stone Crandall, and for some this extended sequence with Stone and Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) alone would be worth the price of admission.

Although Vacation starts to flag and lose the energy in its final reel, there’s enough goodwill in the lead up to not make the film feel like a total bust. There’s a nice, affable chemistry amongst the members of the Griswold family, and together with the high hit to miss ratio for the comedic elements, makes Vacation a worthy successor to the Vacation series and a fun cinematic experience for the grown-ups (its M18 rating is a well-deserved one), even if it doesn’t really come close to the iconic status and cultural relevance of the first film.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)



Genre: Action

Director: Peyton Reed

Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas, Abby Ryder Fortson, Martin Donovan

Running Length:  117 minutes

Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.

Review: It may seem strange that Marvel has chosen Ant-Man as the film to close out Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since he is definitely one of the smaller (in every sense of that word) heroes in the Marvel canon. However, if Guardians of the Galaxy is any indication, just because the character isn’t well-known doesn’t mean it won’t be a well-received film. And in this case, although Ant-Man doesn’t quite reach the heights of Guardians, it is very entertaining and as an origins film, sets the stage for yet another franchise opportunity for Marvel (although Ant-Man will already return in next year’s Captain America: Civil War).

There is this sense throughout the film that this is not considered a marquee Marvel property, and it shows in the anything-goes spirit that embodies the bulk of the movie. Even the trials and tribulations faced by the cast feel more personal than usual – there’s only the merest hint of a global crisis, and more often than not it is familial conflicts that propel the plot forward.

The amount of sight gags and humorous asides are second only to Guardians of the Galaxy, and it will be near impossible to not feel entertained by the film. Paul Rudd is an extremely amicable central protagonist, and his immense likeability, much like Chris Pratt’s Starlord, is one of the biggest reasons why Ant-Man works. Of the supporting cast, Evangeline Lilly once again takes on a strong female role as Hank Pym’s daughter Hope (though she isn’t given enough to do), but no one is as memorable as Michael Pena, and two excellent montages in which other characters “lip-sync” to his motor-mouth narration feel particularly inspired.

While audiences of any Marvel superhero movie would naturally expect a good number of action sequences, these scenes in Ant-Man aren’t particularly memorable, with a fair number of scenes that seem to exist simply to up the action to drama ratio. What does manage to impress is how effectively Reed manages to convey the differences in point of view between the human-sized and ant-sized Ant-Man – the sequence where Scott first uses the suit, where he literally falls through a number of “universes” is both fun and unique. There is, again, a lot of humour employed in these scenes, none more clearly so than during a climactic showdown on a Thomas the Train Engine toy track. Oddly, there does seem to be a higher-than-normal amount of product placement in Ant-Man, and though some of it is quite obvious, it never becomes excessive or too glaring.

Expectations may have been low for Ant-Man, the film has more than exceeded them, and quite easily ranks as one of the best films in Phase 2 of the MCU. It is also one of the most kid-friendly Marvel movies to date, an endearing smaller-scale film that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser and generate positive word of mouth.

P.S. Remember to stay throughout the end credits to catch two coda sequences, one mid-credits and one at the very end.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)


Our Sister Mambo

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Ho Wi Ding

Screenplay: Michael Chiang

Cast: Moses Lim, Michelle Chong, Audrey Luo, Ethel Yap, Oon Shu An, Joey Leong

Running Length: 93 minutes

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of modern Singapore, Our Sister Mambo follows the well-meaning efforts of the spritely second daughter, Mambo (Michelle Chong) to get her sisters – big sister Grace (Ethel Yap), third sister Rose (Oon Shu An) and baby sister June (Joey Leong) hitched, with hiccups and misunderstandings along the way. 

Review: Although it’s somewhat of a corporate vanity project, being Cathay Organisation’s celebratory film marking its 80th anniversary, Our Sister Mambo is a watchable film with relatively few awkward moments, though it does comes across as being too safe a filmmaking venture at times. 

Based loosely on two movies from Cathay’s stable of classic films, Our Sister Hedy and The Greatest Civil War of Our Time, Our Sister Mambo has a slew of plotlines, all revolving around the (mis)adventures of the Wong family, consisting of a genial patriarch (Moses Lim), a Korea-obsessed matriarch (Audrey Luo) and their four daughters. Mambo (Michelle Chong) is the narrator and ostensibly the core of the movie, but unfortunately her lawyer-to-chef storyline is the least interesting of the six family members. That’s not to say that the rest of the plotlines are necessarily that much more interesting – while Michael Chiang does his darnedest to weave the thin story threads together, there are literally no surprises to be had here. In fact, Our Sister Mambo frequently feels like an extended episode of an 80s or 90s TV sitcom, especially so since Moses Lim was, for many Singaporeans, part of essential TV viewing in the mid-90s as the head of the Tan family in Under One Roof. 

While there are multiple familial conflicts that unfold in Our Sister Mambo, there’s never the sense that anything is at stake, and the script is too eager to resolve each plotline and move on to the next, as though there’s an invisible checklist that Wi Ding and Chiang are marking off. There’s also a lot of wasted comedic talent in the film – while Moses Lim, Michelle Chong and even Siti Khalijah are rather heavyweight comedians, almost none of it is on display here, with all three playing their characters on the straight and narrow. 

What does manage to save the show are a slew of great performances from the cast, none more so than Audrey Luo. Although believability is a bit stretched with her being cast opposite Moses Lim despite being literally half his age, the duo shares a great chemistry. Audrey further ups the game with excellent comic timing, and is the main source of the laughs in the show. The four actresses playing the Wong daughters all do a relatively decent job, and it’s only Moses who is, surprisingly, the weak link, with nothing much to do in the show at all. 

Constrained by the need to shoehorn the film into Cathay’s 80th anniversary, the association does at times sit uncomfortably with the rest of the proceedings, but the awkwardness is kept to a minimum, and we are even treated to appearances by Cathay heavyweights Grace Chang and Maria Menado – though I must contest the indignity of the decision to cut away repeatedly from Grace Chang’s recorded video message to focus on a very inconsequential element of the plot. 

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


Magic Mike XXL

Genre: Drama

Director: Gregory Jacobs

Screenplay: Channing Tatum, Reid Carolyn

Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith

Running Length:  115 minutes

Synopsis: Picking up the story three years after Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, Magic Mike XXL finds the remaining Kings of Tampa likewise ready to throw in the towel. But they want to do it their way: burning down the house in one last blow-out performance in Myrtle Beach, and with legendary headliner Magic Mike sharing the spotlight with them. On the road to their final show, with whistle stops in Jacksonville and Savannah to renew old acquaintances and make new friends, Mike and the guys learn some new moves and shake off the past in surprising ways.

Review: While Magic Mike was one of the bigger surprises in 2012 – although it’s about male strippers, in the end it was the power of storytelling that held the movie together, and not the strip acts – Magic Mike XXL is much less of a surprise. It’s essentially a road trip movie involving a bunch of old friends, except that they are “male entertainers” who get their kits off quite a number of times along the way. One thing that’s for sure – if you enjoyed the acts in the first Magic Mike, this aspect has been truly upsized (the movie title is not a lie) and more than earns the film its M18 rating, which probably isn’t a bad thing for the intended audiences.

There’s no real reason for this sequel to exist, and it clearly shows in the paper-thin plot that the film hangs onto. No matter, since the majority of audiences would have other things on their mind anyway. Yet, there’s a certain charm to the laid-back, almost impromptu style of storytelling that Magic Mike XXL has chosen to employ, which is in contrast to how Soderbergh chose to present the original Magic Mike. The film is also genuinely funny – there are little moments along the way that ensures a belly laugh or two, none more so than the hilarious gas station sequence where Richie (Joe Manganiello) tries to make the attendant smile.

What’s more interesting is that Magic Mike XXL is obtusely a girl-power movie: although the main cast is dripping with testosterone, the positions of power in the film are almost exclusively female – Jada Pinkett Smith as the steely yet sultry strip club owner cum (ahem) emcee, Andie McDowell’s cameo as an aging but rich Southern belle, Elizabeth Banks as the owner of the male stripper “convention”, and even all the women that are busy throwing money at the strippers. This is a movie made for the ladies (sorry guys – both straight and gay, although more the former than the latter), make no mistake about that.

And of course there’s the strip acts – lensed and edited impeccably by Soderbergh himself (under his Peter Andrews pseudonym) and choreographed flawlessly, the scenes in Domina and the finale really showcase what would imaginably be the top tier of male strip acts in the real world. Rarely has a movie been able to convey the steaminess of such acts without coming across as being sleazy, and while there are times where the movie toes the line, it will successfully leave many audiences feeling hot and bothered. And how can anyone actively hate on a film that can evoke such a visceral response?

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)