Most Anticipated 2015: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

27. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (PG-13) - Runtime: 116 minutes
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram

Guy Ritchie seems to get lost in the shuffle when people mention their favorite directors working today. The dude has done nothing but good films (and yes that includes the two Sherlock Holmes movies which were fantastic) and his take on an obscure TV show from the 60s is one of the best movies of the year so far and turns Henry Cavill into a legitimate Hollywood superstar.

The film is set during 1963 and with that comes along all the tropes of a spy movie from that era - luscious set pieces, great car chases and a very sharp sense of style. The whole film is shot perfectly - from the camera angles, to the costumes to the design work on every scene. It's amazing how distinct this movie looks and feels and it brilliantly captures the 1960s. Or at least, how modern Hollywood sees the 1960s. Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo, a thief turned CIA superspy who reluctantly has to team up with a Russian superspy (Armie Hammer) in order to stop some lingering Naht-zi terrorists with an atom bomb. The plot isn't the strong suit of the movie and that's okay because the cast and the jokes and the action all make up for it.

Henry Cavill is good as Superman. But there's a lot of baggage to playing that character, so it's hard to get a gauge on just how well he act. U.N.C.L.E. really lets him loose as he plays a dry-witted playboy who always is two-steps ahead of everyone else in the room. If you don't fall in love with Cavill after this role, you must be a robot. And his chemistry between Hammer is what really makes this movie shine. Hammer is Illya, a towering, hardened Russian spy who has little time for Solo's antics. They're constantly competing and thankfully Alicia Vikander's Gaby is there to diffuse a lot of the tension. She's fantastic in this role as a woman who really doesn't need to be saved by anyone.

The movie does a fantastic job of leveling off the action and drama with a lot of humor - there's a scene where Illya is being chased around on a speedboat while Solo sits back and enjoys a sandwich in a truck as their both trying to escape an enemy facility. And the action is top notch and Ritchie knows when to pull back and not bore us with too much of it. When the military decides to descend upon the enemy's island with full force, Ritchie doesn't bore us with lots of shoot 'em up shots of random goons getting pelted with bullets while they make their way through the island. Instead he creates a fun and criss-crossed montage that only lasts about 30 seconds (with lots of goons getting shot!) but was incredibly fun to watch.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has a fun time honoring the old spy movies of Hollywood while carving out its own special place. One of the best times I had at the theater this year, Ritchie's latest is eminently pleasing with its action and extremely funny - something hard to pull off in perfect doses. I highly, highly recommend checking this one out!



2015's Most Anticipated: The Replacements

Shane Falco is here to right some wrongs
It was inevitable that some of my most anticipated would get knocked back to next year, I even caught wind of one during my write up (Kung Fu Panda 3). There's been 3 other movies, one a runner-up, that have moved release dates into 2016. It's a shame, but there have been some surprising trailers popping up for movies I hadn't even heard of until I saw them.


Most Anticipated 2015: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

11. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (PG-13) - Runtime: 131 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
There are a lot of parallels between Mission: Impossible and the Fast and Furious movies. They both are getting better with each new movie and they've always upped the ante with their action set pieces. And their aging stars don't look like they're aging at all. Rogue Nation is a wonderfully fun and incredibly entertaining action movie. There isn't a whole lot of plot to uncover or get twisted, just Tom Cruise running (and flying!) around the world for our entertainment. It's a great end to a great summer.

While nothing will top Cruise's shenanigans atop the Burj Khalifa, the plane stunt in the beginning of the movie almost gets there, but every other action/stunt is beautifully done and tops all the other scenes from the previous movie. Plus you have a solid kickass female spy agent who actually contributes to the story and isn't some pretty face. Granted she has one side-boob scene that is pretty gratuitous, but I can forgive that when the rest of Rebecca Ferguson's time is well-spent doing cool things and besting Tom Cruise.

Because literally she is a better agent than Cruise. There is not one time where he gets the best of her - it's always her getting the last laugh. And that's awesome because what we're seeing here is the evolution not only of the action film, but of Tom Cruise himself. There comes a point in the movie where the characters question Ethan Hunt's motivations to keep going despite the odds and despite his old-man status. It's a clear and obvious metaphor - how much longer can you keep this up Cruise? It a question that lingers in the movie and is only answered by more action, but clearly Ethan Hunt/Tom Cruise are willing to keep going as long as people want him to.

The only other bad thing in the movie is the villain. I HATE it when villains decide they need to alter their voice with some oral defect on inflection. It's so terribly campy that it's not even wink-at-the-camera campy. And Sean Harris' portrayal of Evil Ethan Hunt is downright bad. He's poorly written and add on top of that an awful voice and you're bound to roll your eyes every time he's on screen.

The action is great and the jokes and comedic relief from Simon Pegg are perfectly executed and are not annoying. It's full of heart and bromance and you just want to love everything about the movie because it just works. Tom Cruise is yet again, charming and makes everything look too damn easy, and although I miss Jerry Maguire/Few Good Men Cruise, I'll absolutely plunk down my money to go see action star Cruise.



Most Anticipated 2015: Ant-Man

14. Ant-Man (PG-13) - Runtime: 117 minutes
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll
Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
There's been so much bad press surrounding the making of the movie and even leading up to the movie, that it seems like critics had written off Ant-Man before it even the editing room. But surprise! Marvel's righted the ship so it seems and has critics singing the film's praises. I myself gave into the critical machine, but Ant-Man is a really fun heist movie that just happens to star a Marvel superhero. It's got wit, fun action sequences and Paul Rudd, who works his usual charm on the audience.

First and foremost, this is a pretty straight-up heist movie. From the set up of getting an ex-con to do the job "one last time" to the montage of training for the heist to that actual planning as well. It's all there, but refreshingly seen through the lens of the Marvel Universe, a powerful and somewhat overbearing shadow hanging out in the background of the movie (well, at least for the most part). The best thing about Ant-Man is its unique perspective on filming action scenes where the camera shrinks down with Ant-Man himself and finds a lot of great visuals to make the fighting unique (that suitcase fight!) or just plain funny (Ant-Man getting stuck in the ground).

And Paul Rudd does this with ease, playing the heist master Scott Lang who inherits the Ant-Man suit from the original, Hank Pym. Pym is played by Michael Douglas and he does a great job at portraying a man on his last ropes trying to keep his secrets close to his chest. The rest of the cast is phenomenal as well despite there being some terrible two-dimensional characters (Scott's ex-wife's husband is a kind-of bad guy that has nothing but contempt for Scott and he's a jerk for no real reason). And bonus! Michael Peña steals every scene he's in for the comedic relief that isn't annoying.

There a couple stumbling blocks the movie has and that has to do with the women (or should I say woman) in the movie. Pym's daughter, Hope, gets the shaft when it comes to saving the day. She's basically treated as second fiddle throughout and there's nothing for her to do except worry about things. That said, she gets a consolation prize during the end credits when Pym gives her her own Ant-Man suit. Still, it's not enough to save her character's poorly written role. And the aforementioned two-dimensional characters? The same goes for the villain who doesn't get enough screen time to be menacing enough or to properly see his motivations. He was Pym's genius go-to guy but somehow became evil enough to sell the Ant-Man tech to Hydra of all people! It's a bit too silly.

I can't wait to see how Ant-Man gets pulled into the larger Marvel Avenger's story - his unique personality and powers should make for some interesting cinematography and perspective. He's basically a less narcissistic Tony Stark, so I can see them riffing off each other. Ant-Man isn't the best Marvel film, but it doesn't have to be. It's got a lot of heart and it is extremely fun and funny. One of the better action movies this year!



Most Anticipated 2015: Paper Towns

49. Paper Towns (PG-13) - Runtime: 109 minutes
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams
Director: Jack Schreier
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
I read the book before I saw the movie and I wasn't particularly fond of it. I just didn't connect with the characters. Maybe I'm getting old - I thought they were all naïve and dumb teenagers trying way too hard to be deep. The movie does do a lot of trimming of the book and the characters don't get a whole lot of room to breathe except the main character. The problem is the overbearing narrative of trying to figure out the mystery of Margo's disappearance. The film was light and fun and I applaud the author's and screenwriters' attempts at trying to deconstruct the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. There will be some SPOILERS BELOW.

The film is narrated by Quentin, who happens to fall very hard at a very early age for his neighbor, Margo. They used to be friends, but they went their separate ways in high school. He barely talks to her but still crushes on her hard. He thinks he's in love with her, but throughout the film it becomes painfully obvious no one knows who Margo is. I really enjoyed the idea that the story puts forth - we spend too much time idolizing and projecting our versions of people, especially women and celebrities (in this case, Margo is a celebrity in high school) onto them that we only understand who they are from our point of view. The movie finds itself presenting this at the end of the movie and it's quite the 180-spin that the movie is building up to.

Most of the movie we're taken on a whirlwind tour of Margo and her cool history and Quentin's obsession with finding her. It culminates in a long road trip to New York where Quentin professes his love and resoundingly gets rejected. I'm glad the story ends up at that point because it's an important message, but the film never hints at this ending or supports it throughout. You are expecting a tired, romantic ending because the film itself is tired and romantic. It ends with Quentin's realization that really his time with his friends was the most important thing in his life, not Margo. Which is nice, but it is completely obvious that the Quentin and Margo are very selfish and terrible people.

Quentin doesn't have time to hang out with friends unless they tag along with him on his quest to find Margo. He doesn't care that much about how their lives are going. And Margo is even worse - she selfishly runs away leaving her younger sister to deal with her awful parents alone and doesn't even bother talking to her best friend about all the drama that happened between her and her boyfriend. The kicker is that she decides not to go to college, but instead hang out in the middle of Nowhere, Upstate New York with no plans for her future.

I detest those hippy-dippy people who "live in the moment" and don't make at least some sort of plans. I understand trying to find yourself and exploring the world, but maybe you want to get an education so you're not working some lame waitressing job in your mid-thirties with no clue what to do and you've burned all your bridges back home so you can't rely on support. Ugh, it's just so selfish and dumb.

Okay, my rant on the characters are done. The movie is enjoyable enough, but it finds itself too fixated on mystery, rather than the characters, that it doesn't effectively draw me in. Maybe I'm old, maybe I'm too old-school with my thinking on education, but I just could not get past the baffling stupidity of these teenagers.